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.

Up your game with an N95 mask

So I’ve taken to wearing an N95 mask. I don’t use it all the time, obviously, but I do when I’m out (or rather indoors) with the rabble. I wore it yesterday in the pet food store and also at the Costco. At the latter, I surreally saw quite a number of unmasked patrons. I’m guessing the Town of West Springfield (Massachusetts) isn’t requiring indoor masking, which is crazy.

I also picked up Chinese food the other day in nearby Williamsburg (Massachusetts). I of course was wearing my N95 mask but one of the patrons came in and picked up his order without having any mask on. I’m pretty sure it’s required in Williamsburg, so I suspect this man was one of these free-range “I don’t care if I get it and infect you too” types. You can bet I was really glad I had a N95 mask on then.

Other types of masks reduce the likelihood that you will get covid-19 but are much more about helping ensure you don’t pass it on to others. Covid-19 is typically asymptomatic for days, which is why it’s so hard to stop its spread. Thoughtless boobs though clearly don’t give a damn. Or maybe they are fully vaccinated and figure this means that can’t get it. Vaccinations and boosters definitely lower the odds, but they are designed to keep you out of the hospital, not from getting the disease.

Perhaps you read this story on Reddit, which has been widely shared. Basically, a doctor has called it quits after being assaulted by a family of anti-vaxxers, shortly after informing the family that the father had passed away. In the case of this story on Reddit, the family was deeply upset that the doctor wouldn’t save the father by injecting Ivermectin into him and giving him massive doses of Vitamin C.

I confess I was wondering if this was made up, but I doubt it. Health care workers are quitting in droves due to harassment like this, not to mention the stress, long hours and fatigue of taking care of those down with covid-19. The vast majority of these people can accurately be describe as covidiots, i.e. those who aren’t vaccinated from it but easily could have been. These covidiots are making life very difficult for the rest of us. For example, there are all these people that need theoretically “elective” surgery for issues like heart valve bypasses but can’t schedule them because hospitals are overwhelmed with covidiots. A lot of these people will die, not of covid, but because they can’t get the timely treatment then need.

This Omicron wave looks like it will be short but very intense. Covid-19 is getting harder to avoid. An N95 or KN95 mask, which can actually block the virus in most cases, is one of the few tools left. I had given away to a local hospital my one N95 mask at the start of the pandemic because our local hospitals were looking for donations. Other than wearing a N95 or KN95 mask, there’s not much certain about avoiding it other than staying isolated. We excel at that, which will mean just me and the missus for Christmas this year.

Given the hassle of coping with it, it’s understandable why so many of us are at wits end. Our case as a retired couple makes things pretty simple. We’re not juggling school aged children. But just throwing up your hands is stupid. The United States has over 800,000 official covid-19 deaths and reaching a million deaths is a virtual certainty. The rational person uses every tool at their disposal and is careful to judge acceptable risks.

It was acceptable for me to go on a cruise recently. The odds of acquiring the disease were not zero, but acceptable. Holland America’s ships are comparatively small, the passengers tend to be age 60+, and the testing to get on the ship was rigorous. That plus all the indoor masking and shore excursions where you were masked and in a bubble made it acceptable. I would have avoided booking cruises on large cruise ships. Perhaps you read about large outbreaks on Royal Caribbean’s Odyssey of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas because these ships are enormous and the cruisers younger.

As this pandemic keeps rolling on, I’m also developing a sense of when to chance the odds and when not to. This makes living with the pandemic easier. When we booked the cruise in early September, I judged that booster shots would probably be available and that a wave was likely to crest on or after Christmas. I bet that cases would be manageable in early December when we were to cruise. But I booked with cruise insurance just in case I was wrong.

By the time we were back in port, it was clear the Omicron wave was going to hit us shortly. That’s when I judged the odds were too high again and went to my next line of defense: the N95 mask. Wearing the mask is not that uncomfortable, it’s just harder to put on and tighter than I am used to. As it is much snugger though, it also feels safer.

I’ll let health officials judge the odds because they will be much better at it than I will be. Infection and hospitalization rates will tell me what I want to know. That the Omicron wave is likely to be sharp but brief also suggests the pandemic is winding down. More of us have been vaccinated or acquired some immunity from being infected. The virus is running out of new hosts. It is likely that toward late 2022 that it will move from pandemic to endemic, allowing life to return to some semblance of normal with periodic minor spikes.

The new best practice is to wear an N95 or KN95 mask when indoors with the public. These masks are not too hard to acquire now either. It’s time to up your game, if you haven’t already.