Dodging covid-19

I’m now among a minority of Americans because I haven’t contracted covid-19. A recent Monmouth poll found that 52 percent of Americans polled say they have come down with covid-19.

I’ve never tested positive for covid-19 either. I suppose it’s possible I’ve been exposed but before getting on a cruise December 1st I passed a PCR test. That was the only PCR test I’ve taken. We have three Antigen test kits in the house. I suppose I could use one of these, but they are only good for helping figure out if you were recently exposed to the virus. I’m feeling fine so using the test kit is kind of pointless.

It’s becoming easier for me to unmask in indoor public spaces. Yesterday about a dozen of us age 55+ guys in our neighborhood went out for dinner. We were unmasked in the restaurant and all the staff was unmasked too. I felt safe in part because my wife volunteers one day a week at the local emergency room and there were zero covid patients while she was there, the first time this happened since the pandemic.

But it’s still out there. This was driven home to me today when I learned that my next door neighbor Jeff, an elderly widower probably around age 90, caught covid. We were wondering why there was an ambulance at his house and finally learned of his condition. After a long bought in the hospital he’s home but reportedly still not doing great. So far there has been no known fatalities from covid-19 in our 55+ community of eighty people or so.

It’s tempting to brag that we’ve escaped covid, but it’s too early for that. There’s some evidence we are moving from a pandemic to an endemic disease. Covid-19 becoming an endemic disease hardly means that we’re out of the woods, just that it’s becoming manageable. What’s going on today also happened after the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. At some point people stopped caring; it became yesterday’s news. They just got on with life although and preferred to ignore the disease.

I’ll never know for sure, but I think the main reason my wife and me have been lucky so far is that we’re retired. It’s just the two of us and most days are spent at home. Still, I’ve been half expecting us to get it too. My wife also volunteers at the local survival center. Both it and the emergency room gig have pretty aggressive covid-19 masking and distancing protocols, but I half expected it would sneak into our household this way. It somehow got our neighbor Jeff too, probably via his son who’s a frequent visitor.

We’re both probably destined to get the disease at some point. I like to think though that somehow we will be the exception. It may take another year or two, but I’ll probably get it. I do expect that if I get it, the symptoms will be relatively mild. But I slipped to Medicare age this year. Seniors like me are more likely to get more severe cases, particularly if you have underlying conditions. My wife has more than a handful. I can count being overweight as a stroke against me. There’s no way to know in advance if we’ll remain the exceptions.

That’s because dodging covid-19 is all about playing the odds. Arguably, I’ve been playing the odds. We took two cruises, one at the start of the pandemic, and didn’t get anything. My wife’s volunteering has been playing the odds. My apparent reluctance to get to a normal body weight is playing the odds. But not having to run to a job every day and not having school aged children in the house definitely has been helping a whole lot.

The Washington Post article notes that 57 percent of Republicans report getting covid, while only 38 percent of Democrats got it. In this case, just me being a Democrat has improved the odds. It’s not too hard to figure this out. The Republican Party is rife with antivaxxers. If you are going to ignore science, you are much more likely to get the disease. While not religious, we were religious in believing in science. We got shots and boosters just as soon as we could, although getting the first shot was a huge hassle. We may be getting a bit complacent. We can now get a second booster but so far haven’t. Hopefully we’ll take care of that in the next week or so.

In general, our success to date probably comes from having a survivor’s mentality. My mother was a nurse. My father was an engineer. So both sides told us what we needed to do in these situations, which was listen to scientists and public health experts. We expected guidance to be off at times and improve as the disease was better understood.

In the beginning of the pandemic we were wiping down surfaces all the time. That was likely a waste of time and money. Learning it was a respiratory disease helped a lot, which meant that masking was useful. Still, the masking we got was really not up to the task. We needed N95 and KN95 masks that were largely unavailable. We needed the government to step up and make billions of these masks and give them out for free. It wasn’t until February 2022 that I could get a free N95 mask at our local CVS.

Since then, I generally use an N95 mask in public, like I did today in the grocery store. Most of the people there were masked, but most were not using N95 or KN95 masks. I suspect Massachusetts (where I live) is the exception with so much masking. I expect there is a lot less mask wearing in other states.

We’re cautiously reengaging in life again. We sat unmasked while we watched the movie Dog recently, our first move in a theater since the pandemic. (The theater was mostly empty, which helped.) We were unmasked at a local Chinese restaurant too, even before our meal was served. Mostly I’ll wear my N95 mask in public. I’m used to it now and it’s no big deal. If you do anything regularly, it ceases to feel like much of a nuisance.

I’m hoping this approach will let us to keep defying the odds. It’s much easier to give in to your emotions, but if you are primarily left-brained like us, it’s not hard to take logical precautions and perhaps possible to never get covid-19.

A surfeit of adult babies

We’re coming up on the twentieth anniversary of 9/11. It was an unwanted seminal moment for us Americans, including me.

I was working by the National Mall at the time and recall the smoke rising from the Pentagon (where I had worked until 1998) and the otherwise surreal picture perfect day. It caused me to reassess a few things, including the risks of working in downtown D.C. As a result, about two years later I had switched jobs to one at the U.S. Geological Survey a few miles from my house in suburban Northern Virginia. It felt too dangerous to work downtown in a building butt up against the railroad tracks.

One result, in retrospect, was it made us more distrustful and paranoid as a people. Suddenly we had a reason to suspect all Muslims hated America, even those born and raised here. By definition, paranoia is generally not a reasonable fear. It’s still here today, but it’s far more irrational twenty years later.

When you live in fear, you tend to strangle reason. Civil rights and democracy can become nice-to-have things. Many of us crave autocracy instead, confident that a strong leader who mirrors our prejudices is the only solution to our need to feel things are somehow in control.

Still, not in my wildest dreams did it devolve into what we actually have today. Essentially, we have huge numbers of adult babies: grown up Calvins, determined to bring the whole system down because reality makes them anxious. Previously they were conservatives and took comfort in rule of law. Now they want to blow it all up and unleash the war and chaos that bothered them in the first place.

There’s no convincing these adult babies, at least with reason. They die disproportionately of covid-19 because they mostly aren’t vaccinated. Even as they die hooked up to ventilators they don’t believe they actually have covid-19. They ingest horse paste thinking an anti-parasitic is going to kill a virus when, at best, it’s only going to give them a bad case of the runs. They line up to receive monoclonal antibodies, a clinically proven treatment for those with cases of covid-19, while rejecting three highly effective vaccines clinically proven to dramatically reduce the likelihood of acquiring the disease, or if you get it, greatly reduce its likely severity. Their own opinion leaders, most of who were quietly vaccinated, are urging them on to recklessly endanger their own health. They have no idea what freedom actually means and no belief that shared sacrifices like masking are sometimes necessary. Freedom seems to mean the unrestrained ability to bring sickness and death both to intimates and society at large if you want to.

Reality is so inconvenient that apparently it must be killed. Public health officials warned that if we didn’t follow their advice we’d end up exactly where we are at. These adult babies have needlessly killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, many of whom make up their intimate circle. If life feels too discordant or truth feels too close, outlaw it. So don’t allow any critical teaching about racism in our public schools. Lying is now the point and apparently if you lie enough, it becomes truth.

And so we get a pro-life party willing to let their kids come down and die of covid-19 in public schools because masking Junior is somehow anti-freedom. Apparently they can deal fine with their own cognitive dissonance, since they’ll deny covid-19 is real through their dying breath. So everyone else has to as well.

Just grow up already! Except they can’t. Their psychoses are so engrained and advanced that there is no way out except through self-destruction that threatens the safety, health and civil order needed for society to function.

Since they can’t, I am finding it’s completely rational for me to wish they were all dead. They seem to be busy doing just that to themselves. I just hope there are enough of us rational people left to bring back order to the chaos they are unleashing.

Give me a mask, please

So after months of waiting, I get my first covid-19 shot tomorrow.

I’d like to say it was easy, but it was just the opposite. I did discover that if you are determined enough, it is possible. It just meant some compromises. In my case, it meant compromising my sleep. I’m still on the waiting list for the Massachusetts mass vaccination sites, but there are a limited number of CVS drug stores where you can get the shot. The problem is if you go to their website to book an appointment, it will always say there are no appointments available. But from friends and neighbors I learned that they open up new appointments between 3 AM and 3:30 AM. It’s not all CVS stores.

Here’s where it helps to be an older male. Our prostates will naturally wake us up in the middle of the night anyhow. Of course at 3 AM while awake, you are not generally able to focus on a task more complicated than emptying your bladder. But with my tablet computer while sitting on the john, I could scan the list of CVS sites provided by the state. Since my wife has two co-morbidity symptoms, she had priority. After fifteen minutes of trial and error I found a CVS in Chicopee and got her an appointment there. The next night I tried again for myself with no luck. But the third night was the charm. Tomorrow at 11 AM I expect to get the first dose of the Moderno vaccine at this same CVS in Chicopee, about a half hour drive in Hampden County. Welcome to our modern world.

But it may be the beginning of the end of this madness. Just today the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that traveling is fine two weeks after your second shot. I doubt I’ll be on the first plane to Hawaii, but maybe the second one. Living in Hampshire County is fine but at this point I … want … out … of … here!

But I have the feeling that we’re still quite far from the end of this. You would think after three waves of covid-19 people might have learned something from it all. But, no, we’re Americans, which means huge portions of us are either too desperately poor to do much about it or, most likely, figure they are immortal. It’s often the young people that are the most reckless, so of course they flocked to Miami Beach and rubbed a lot of shoulders, and now a fourth wave is building across the country, which seems to be affecting younger people more this time. The stupid compounds on the stupid. About a fourth of the country says they won’t get a shot. If they’re serious, that means we can kiss the idea of herd immunity goodbye … and that’s the very reason a lot of these people were out maskless in the first place … supposedly to bring about herd immunity!

It sure appears they’d like to get there via unnecessary deaths than through vaccinations. That’s because at least some of them are anti-vaxxers, which essentially means they refuse to believe in science. Others are convinced tiny microchips from Bill Gates are in the serum, so the government can track us or make us communist or something. It all doesn’t make any sense, but to these people the very fact that it doesn’t make any logical sense means they are probably right. America: the land where freedom means you have the right to be as stupid as you want and where civic virtues does not extend to doing your part to keep preventable illnesses from spreading.

Indeed, the evidence is pretty widespread that American is rapidly dumbing down. Sixty years ago we were anxious to down sugar cubes to avoid polio. Vaccine exemptions were not a thing; parents could go to jail if they didn’t get their kids vaccinated. Sixty years ago science was cool and patriotic. We looked up to scientists. Now we don’t accept any science that conflicts with our biases and political philosophies. The only good thing from all this vaccine hesitancy is that those with this trait are self-selecting themselves to be wiped out. Darwin would be amazed that people would choose their own natural selection.

Well, not all of us. I’m the product of a nurse and an engineer. My Dad was left-brained to the max, my Mom spent a lot of time scrubbing with disinfectants and tracking our vaccinations to make sure we survived to adulthood. It naturally rubbed off on me and my siblings. The mere idea of not following the recommendations of medical professionals and scientists was not only absurd, but was obvious lunacy. We knew medicine was not an exact science and were comfortable with advice evolving at covid-19 was better understood. The virus continues to evolve, making it likely that we’ll be getting annual booster shots, at least.

Unsurprisingly, the virus unfolded largely the way the experts predicted. Trump scoffed at the idea of a half million Americans dead of covid-19. We passed the milestone and have hardly tallied the last casualty. We endured more than a year of stupid leadership by stupid people. Unsurprisingly, about the time we got rid of the last president, things started to improve in a meaningful way. After four years of doing pretty much everything completely counterproductively, we have a government determined to work with nature and reality rather than deny it.

At least some Americans are waking up from their dogmatic stupors. Vaccination rates are rising and the number of people saying they will never get a vaccination is declining. I’m quite confident Bill Gates won’t be controlling me via a tiny microchip after my vaccination tomorrow.

The second shot is scheduled for May 1, which means on May 15 I’m largely out of covid-19 jail. I still won’t be able to do everything. There is maybe a ten percent chance I can still acquire the disease, but it won’t hospitalize me or kill me. It’s possible one of the variants could sneak in somehow. As I said, there is no guarantee. There are simply improving probabilities that it can be avoided or its impact lessened if acquired. I’ll probably still wear a mask a lot of the time I am in public. We may start eating in restaurants again, but we’ll keep the masks on until the food is served and put them on shortly afterward.

I’ve come to appreciate the value of the low-tech mask. If Americans had brains, they would use this opportunity to use masks routinely during the cold and flu season. The flu largely didn’t happen this year, thanks to all the masking. While I was aware a lot of illness was transmitted in the air, I can now clearly see the link and the virtues of wearing masks. It’s no longer that big a deal.

I just wish most Americans could embrace the idea that rather than limiting freedom, using masks allows freedom not just for you, but for everyone else too.