April 23, 2023

We’re now well into the fourth year of Covid. It’s still out there. I’ve had two friends come down with it in the last few weeks. Fortunately no one I know has been sick enough to require hospitalization in recent months but I’ve had a couple of patients who have done badly and at least one where the additional strain on the body and physiology was likely what caused their death. We remain around 20,000 hospitalizations and 1500 deaths a week in the US. And we’ve decided that we’re just going to live with that as background noise as our lives careen along. That’ll come out to about 75,000 annual deaths assuming we have no additional surges or mutations. That’s slightly more than double the number of US deaths in motor vehicle accidents. Speaking of those, since the pandemic began, traffic accident deaths have spiked up about 20% over where they were in 2019. I wonder why that is? I doubt Covid is causing brakes to fail or engines to explode. I suspect it has to do with the significant uptick in mental health issues as we have all had to cope with the pandemic and its associated social changes. There’s probably a higher prevalence of distracted driving and possibly some increased willingness to take risk.

I’ve been fielding a lot of questions regarding another Covid booster. Here’s my latest advice. The bivalent booster which is more active against omicron has only been available since September so, if you haven’t had a booster since then, getting one to get a bivalent dose is not a bad idea, no matter who you are. If you have had a bivalent booster, the word out of the FDA is that a spring bivalent booster is reasonable if you are over 65 or if you have a condition that compromises your immune system. They aren’t pushing hard, but it’s an option and you’d be covered by federal payment should you trot on down to your local Walgreens. The caveat is that the federal public health emergency will expire on May 11th of this year. After that date, the federal government is no longer guaranteeing payment for shots or tests. It’ll be up to you and your health insurance company to cover the costs (and we all know how much private health insurance cares about public health).

It’s been a weekend of theater around here. Thursday night, Steel Magnolias at The Virginia Samford Theater. I remember the first time I saw it on stage, sometime in the later half of the 80s and being impressed at how Robert Harling built a whole small town world in the confines of the beauty shop and the words of the six women who worked or patronized it. I’ve never really cared for the film (sacrilege for a gay man living in the Deep South) but I thought that the material lost something when it was opened up and we met the men in the women’s lives rather than simply seeing them through their eyes. Anyway, the production was quite good, well performed and designed. My old friends Celeste Burnum as Ouiser and Jan Hunter as Clairee walked off with the show as they always do. I can’t wait to be onstage with either of them again.

Friday night was Hansel and Gretel at the Day Theater produced by Opera Birmingham. As president of the board, I am obligated to say nice things but I would be saying them anyway. The music was spot on between the singers and the Alabama Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Cris Frisco. The singers were in excellent voice and I find that the size of the Day is such that it’s easy for a smaller scale production to seduce you into its musical and artistic world, letting you forget yourself for a couple of hours. There was an unexpected entrance during the prelude that I will not soon forget which greatly added to my mood of enjoyment.

Last night, my friend Holly McClendon and I went to Shen Yun, one of the seven wonders of the PR world. I’d always been at least mildly curious, having been bombarded by their advertising for some years. I can now say that I have seen the ‘Chinese Mormon Space Cult Dance Show’ (Holly’s words, not mine, which seem to perfectly encapsulate the experience). The aesthetic is Mormon church pageant. The production numbers reminded me of The Ice Capades, only without the skates. The costumes are gorgeous, if occasionally wrong headed (like the pale green ones with the long sleeves which made the ensemble look like dancing celery sticks). The set is a huge LED screen on which they project computer generated backdrops which seem to have been done by the same artists that do videogames. The big trick is having dancers run up a set of stairs towards the screen, drop down behind them, and be immediately replaced by a digital counterpart which can continue on in an animated way. It was fun the first four or five times. There’s nothing wrong with the big dance numbers, although they’re a bit repetitive. There are a few times where the descend into Falun Gong cult propaganda (if you don’t know who they are, look them up. Shen Yun is an outreach program of theirs). And there was a bass solo of some sort of Falun Gong hymn by perhaps the worst professional singer I’ve ever had to suffer through. I can now say I’ve seen it. I have no desire to return.

Heading off to the other performance of Hansel and Gretel. When you’re the president of the board of directors of the opera, you do these things.

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