being more northerly

Some people in the Binghamton NY area where I live have the unfortunate habit of thinking that the area has the cloudiest weather possible.

They have not been in London UK in winter. There has been very little sunshine in the nearly two weeks we have been here. This is partly due to cloud cover which is nearly constant. There hasn’t been that much rain, though there is some. It’s also quite breezy, all of which is typical of winter here.

The other reason that there isn’t much sunshine is because the amount of daylight available at this latitude is much shorter than it is in Binghamton. On December 22nd, when I arrived in London, there were nine hours and six minutes of daylight in Binghamton, but only seven hours and 54 minutes here.

One thing that is in evidence here, as elsewhere around the world, is weather weirding. It has been very warm for winter here. E has only seen frost one morning so far and the temperatures here have stayed almost entirely in the 10s Celsius (50s Fahrenheit). It’s unusual for it to stay this warm for this long in winter, which is typically, while not the cold and snow of the US Northeast, chillier and closer to freezing than what we are seeing this year. We are also having a warmer than normal early winter back home. In both places, it’s likely the climate-change induced impacts to the jet stream in conjunction with the ocean currents causing the unusual warmth.

At least none of us are having to shovel snow…
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/01/03/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-3rd-2022/

travel in Omicron time

In October, we made plans to visit daughter E, son-in-law L, granddaughters ABC and JG, and L’s parents with whom they live in London, UK for the holidays. I hadn’t shared much about our plans here for fear that we would have to cancel, as we did with a planned visit in November 2020. At the time we made our plans, vaccination rates and COVID rates looked amenable for travel for three people who had had three doses of Pfizer vaccine, due to our participation in the clinical trials.

And then, in November, the Omicron variant appeared.

Travel and testing policies changed. Everyone wanted to know how virulent it is, if vaccines are protective, how severe it is, where it is spreading – and they wanted to know right away. Unfortunately, science doesn’t work that way. It takes time to gather and analyze data.

It actually was to our advantage that there were several weeks before our trip for some preliminary conclusions to be discerned. Yes, Omicron is more transmissible than the very contagious Delta but tends to cause less severe disease and to run a shorter course. Vaccines were less effective than against other variants but having a booster greatly increased protection.

And Omicron was rapidly spreading almost everywhere.

My home state of New York in the US was experiencing a spike in Omicron on top of a spike in Delta. In London, Omicron was taking over with over 90% of new COVID cases caused by it.

Still, travel was open for vaccinated people to enter the UK, we had our required testing scheduled both in the US and the UK, and the UK had not imposed restrictions on gatherings in private homes, so we were good to go, scheduled to fly out of Newark on Monday night, Dec. 20.

On Thursday, Dec. 16, L tested positive for COVID. He had been testing at home every day before going to work in the schools and didn’t have symptoms. He immediately had a follow-up test with a medical facility to confirm, then went into isolation in a bedroom. He developed symptoms which were like having a bad cold, which seems more typical with Omicron. In accord with UK protocol, the adults in the house tested themselves every morning. If they were negative, they could go out for the day. The children would only need to be tested if they had symptoms.

Obviously, this was scary news a few days before our trip, but, being used to uncertainty by now, we decided to go ahead with our plans.

On Saturday morning, we did COVID tests at the local pharmacy. The results were supposed to be available by noon on Monday and our flights wasn’t until 10 PM, so no problem, right?

Except that they didn’t come. We headed to Newark airport, which is about three hours away, hoping to get a rapid test there, but the testing center closed early, so we waited for our results to come in. As it turned out, only mine came through in time, so I flew to Heathrow by myself. This was the first time I had ever flown internationally without being part of a group, but I managed, admittedly with a lot of helpful staff and fellow travellers who could probably tell that this silver-haired woman wasn’t quite up to snuff, especially after a sleepless night on a plane. E met me at the train station and helped me get settled – and do my COVID test that the UK required. I needed to stay in isolation until I got a negative result.

Meanwhile, B and T re-booked their flight for the next evening, stayed at a hotel overnight, and went to the airport bright and early to go to the rapid test center. They had finally gotten their negative results from the Saturday tests but, because they were now flying on Tuesday, that test was too old to meet the requirements. Fortunately, I was already checked in to the hotel so they could start their UK isolation/testing bit, too. I’m happy to say that the UK results came much more quickly, so we were out of isolation by the time we moved to our Airbnb in E’s neighborhood on Thursday.

When you are browsing through Airbnb’s site, you can’t see the exact address. We knew we were in the neighborhood, but were pleased to find out we are only about three blocks from their house. Given that we are trying to limit our exposure to crowds, it’s nice to just have a short walk between the two places. It’s also nice to have our own kitchen. We even have an enclosed back garden, although it’s been too rainy to use it.

We benefited from a change in UK policy. Instead of having to isolate for ten days, people are allowed to leave isolation sooner if they have two negative test 24 hours apart. This meant that L was able to get out of isolation in time to have Christmas Day together. (You can read about the menu here.)

In deference to the wild spread of Omicron, we are not going to church or other kinds of crowded venues, like museums, during this visit. We are pretty much going back and forth between the two houses. While B, T, and I and L’s parents were all boosted, E and L were scheduled to get their boosters on Sunday, three days after Larry tested positive. E’s COVID exposure delayed her getting a booster until Dec. 24; L can get his in several weeks. For the record, E and L were not negligent in scheduling their boosters. Rather, they were following the UK protocols, which are different than the US ones.

All of us are trying to be protective of ABC and JG, who are too young to be vaccinated. Realistically, B, T, and I also need to stay COVID-free to be able to travel back to the US in January. Fingers crossed that the travel and visiting policies stay stable so that there are no more glitches, delays, or restrictions.

But, hey, we’ve already shown we are flexible, if need be.

methane and climate

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last decade plus thinking, writing, angsting, and trying to work on climate change issues. This was especially evident during the protracted battle to ban high-volume hydraulic fracturing in New York State, as we also endeavored to help our Pennsylvania neighbors cope with the damage they were seeing from the industry. I was part of a team that wrote comments on media articles and rebutted industry talking points with facts and science.

Because of this, I read a lot of science and heard a lot of speakers on the topics of fracking, fossil fuels generally, and climate change. Because the Binghamton area where I live was one of the most heavily targeted by the fracking industry, there were frequent rallies that drew experts from the Ithaca area, most of whom were connected to either Ithaca College or Cornell University, which is where my daughter T did her undergraduate degree in environmental science.

One of the many environmental warnings that we sounded was the risk of accelerating climate change, particularly due to methane leakage, which occurs at every point from production through transport, storage, and use.

The powers that be didn’t listen.

Atmospheric methane levels climbed to all-time highs, which has the effect of forcing climate change effects in the near-term. While methane is much more short-lived in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, it is much more potent in trapping heat than CO2, over a hundred times more in a ten-year timespan.

Finally, at the COP26 climate change summit currently meeting in Glasgow, over a hundred countries have agreed to limit methane emissions. In the United States, the Biden administration is finally putting in place regulation of existing fossil fuel wells regarding methane leakage as well as tightening of other rules regarding methane emissions from the fossil fuel industry. Previous efforts targeted new wells only.

One of the sorrows of dealing with climate change is the “what if” factor. What if governments and industry had acted to curtail methane emissions over a decade ago when scientists and activists were pointing out the dangers? What if government and industry had taken global warming from carbon dioxide seriously over fifty years ago when scientists, including industry scientists, made clear the dangers of burning fossil fuels?

If they had, we would not be dealing now with the large increases of extreme weather events, heat waves, floods, and droughts; rising sea levels; loss of glaciers and polar ice; ocean acidification and massive death of corals; weakening of ocean currents; climate refugees; and the threat of even worse consequences in the decades to come.

We can’t redeem the missed opportunities, but we can take action now, including helping those already suffering from climate change impacts.

We can’t afford further inaction.

alarm

Because of family circumstances, I have spent most of the last six years focused on taking care of various generations, fitting in some writing and environmental/social justice advocacy as time and energy allowed.

During all those years, there has been an undercurrent of increasing alarm and distress over the unraveling of the social structure and government of the United States.

The roots of the current dysfunction predate the Trump candidacy and presidency. While there has always been racism, discrimination, and prejudice in the US, it became more overt during the historic presidency of Barack Obama, the first Black man to be elected to that office. There were wild conspiracies that President Obama had not been born in the United States, that he was secretly a Muslim terrorist, that he was going to take away all the civilian guns, and on and on.

During his presidency, we also saw the Republican party lying and fear-mongering about legislation, such as the Affordable Care Act. They blocked valid appointments to executive and judicial branch posts. It was the precursor to the current situation where the Republicans have essentially stopped cooperating in governing, even on previously non-partisan issues like raising the debt ceiling and voting rights. They have even blocked votes on nearly all the ambassadorial appointments, so that President Biden is in Europe for global meetings without having ambassadors in most of the countries involved.

The Trump presidency seemed to radicalize – or, at least, reveal unexpressed sentiments of – a swath of the electorate who, through fear or inability to distinguish between truth and lies, have perpetrated or suffered harm because of it.

The largest amount of suffering and death are due to the lies about COVID-19, possible treatments, and vaccines. Because Trump, his administration, and some Republican governors did not convey and act on the evolving medical and research science, the numbers of Republicans/Trump voters who have been sickened or have died from the infection is disproportionately high. It’s sad and appalling. It’s also made it impossible to tamp down community spread in the ways needed to end the pandemic and get our country to the point of establishing a “new normal.” I’m trying to be hopeful that the impending authorization of the Pfizer vaccine in children aged five to eleven will help to cut down community spread; it may well in some regions, such as the Northeast where I live, that have higher rates of teen and adult immunization, but in places where the majority of adults remain unvaccinated despite almost a year of availability, a higher proportion of people will continue to get sick and die. Those people will include vaccinated people because no vaccine is 100% effective and some people, especially the elderly and immunocompromised, do not build up as strong an immunity from the vaccines. They need the additional protection of being surrounded by vaccinated people so that the virus can’t find enough vulnerable people to infect and stops spreading.

The more terrifying impact for the future of the country is the millions of people who now believe that our elections are rigged and that President Biden is not rightfully serving as president. Court cases, recounts, and audits have shown over and over again that Biden beat Trump. Investigative journalism and official investigations are continuing to reveal how some members of the Trump administration tried to engineer overturning the election results. Some of these machinations boiled over into the attempted insurrection on January 6th, which, even though much of it was recorded and has been attested to by Trump supporters who were participants, many Republican officeholders claim was not really an insurrection. Many Congressional Republicans refuse to even state the obvious truth that Joe Biden was fairly elected president, despite there being no credible evidence of wide-spread election fraud.

Cynically, these same Republicans are now voting against legislation that will strengthen voting rights to ensure that all eligible voters can have their say in our elections, even as some states are acting to restrict voting rights and putting in place partisan election officials or even giving state legislatures the power to appoint presidential electors pledged to the candidate that did not win the popular vote.

These kinds of things are terrifying because they have occurred in the past when autocrats have come to power. I have heard several interviews with Timothy Synder, author of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, which are stark reminders of parallels between recent currents in the US and a number of countries in Europe in the last century where democracy was subverted by fascism, Nazism, or communism. (Ironically, many current Republicans try to paint Democrats or Independents as being socialist or communist when they are actually continuing to espouse capitalism and US constitutional values.) There have also been several more recent books looking specifically at the current state of democracy in the US, including Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could by Rep. Adam Schiff.

While I know my own reach is limited, I make sure I post facts about vaccines and the pandemic. I also post facts about the political situation. Joe Biden is the duly elected and serving president. The Republican party has no current policy platform, having carried over the 2016 platform at the 2020 convention instead of writing a new one that addresses current issues such as COVID and increased incidence of violence against people of color, people of faith, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Rather the Republican minority leaders in Congress, Rep. Kevin McCarthy and Sen. Mitch McConnell, instruct their caucuses to vote against all Democratic proposals with only rare exceptions, such as the Senate infrastructure bill.

Tuesday is Election Day. In New York State this year, the elections being contested are local but there are several state-wide ballot propositions which will strengthen our voting laws. I will proudly vote in favor of all those propositions.

I also will continue to participate in civil discussion whenever the opportunity presents itself. Granted, there are not many opportunities these days, but I will continue to try.

New York State update

The first topic of my (hopefully brief) updates is the state of affairs in New York, where I live near Binghamton.

Governor Cuomo is resigning effective August 24th in the wake of an investigative report from the attorney general about allegations of sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment. While the governor still contends that he did nothing criminal, he has decided to resign rather than face impeachment by the State Assembly and a trial in the State Senate.

Cuomo has almost no support from any Democrats in state or national office. He actually hasn’t had their support for months, as I alluded to in this post from March. Now, though, the outcry is even greater, so he decided he could no longer be effective as governor, and thus, resigned, giving two weeks notice, which allows time for Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul to prepare to take over the governorship.

In practical terms, the state is in a better time to transition to a new governor now than it was in March. The budget is in place and, while the delta variant has driven up case numbers in recent weeks, New York is in a much better position than many other states with lower vaccination rates. Lt. Gov. Hochul has been very actively involved in policy against the pandemic, particularly in her home region of western NY, and has long been “on the road” for the administration, visiting all sixty-two counties every year. She has often represented the governor’s office on economic development issues.

She will be the first woman to serve as New York’s governor and is known for her collaborative style of leadership, which will be a stark contrast to Gov. Cuomo. Unfortunately, she is taking over the governorship in the third year of a four-year term, so she will almost immediately face having to gear up a campaign for the Democratic primary next spring.

I wish her well with the New York State motto “Excelsior” which is usually translated as “ever upward.” Despite the challenges of 2021, I look forward to her tenure as governor and to her leadership as we continue to deal with the pandemic.

Vaccinated and (mostly) unmasked

Shortly after I wrote this post, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published new guidance regarding mask wearing/distancing among fully vaccinated people in response to newly published research findings.

The good news is that fully vaccinated people can stop wearing masks indoors with extremely low risk of contracting or spreading coronavirus. Mask wearing is still recommended in medical settings such as hospitals. Requirements to mask on public transport remain in effect, as do any mandates or policies put in place by state/local governments and businesses.

The bad news is that people who are not fully vaccinated might also stop wearing masks – and wouldn’t stand out because others would just assume if they weren’t wearing a mask that they were vaccinated – and so could be exposing themselves and their contacts to coronavirus, which would drive up infection rates. This is not helped by states that have already dropped their mask mandates or never had them in the first place.

Some governors immediately dropped their mask mandates while others, such as Governor Cuomo of New York where I live, are reviewing the situation before making any changes.

Personally, I expect that I, though vaccinated, will not be making many changes in my mask behavior immediately. The few stores that I frequent are likely to keep their mask policies in place for now. Visiting my father in the health care building of his senior community will probably still require masking because, although they are vaccinated, the residents are still vulnerable due to their age and underlying health problems. If the state does drop the mask mandate, small businesses, such as hair salons and restaurants, may decide to let vaccinated customers unmask and could easily ask for proof of vaccination to give peace of mind to their employees and customers.

I am frustrated by the media commentary surrounding this CDC announcement. For weeks, commentators have been complaining that the CDC was too slow in changing its recommendations for vaccinated people and that it was a disincentive to get vaccinated. The CDC was waiting for additional scientific findings to be published before making changes, but, now that they have, the commentators are complaining that it happened too fast.

They are also complaining that the CDC guidance is confusing. It’s not. It is meant for use on an individual level and it’s very clear about what activities fully vaccinated individuals can do without masking/distancing and what activities unvaccinated people can do without masking/distancing. The CDC and the federal government are not the ones with authority to require masks in stores, churches, etc. State and local governments and businesses do that.

So, please, everyone, stop whining, learn about the recommendations from the CDC and the policies in place in your local area, and behave accordingly for the safety of yourself and others.

If you are eligible for vaccination but haven’t done it yet, make arrangements to do so as soon as possible so you don’t become seriously ill or pass the virus on to someone else.

Remember to be kind and respectful to others. Some vaccinated people will choose to continue wearing masks because they are immunocompromised and more susceptible. I know people with allergies who are continuing to mask outdoors to protect themselves from high pollen counts. Some parents of children who are too young to be vaccinated wear their masks to be a good example for their children. It is not your business to criticize someone else’s decision and masking is never a wrong choice when it comes to public health. In some countries, masks have been common for years, especially during flu season or when there are air quality problems.

The CDC recommendations rely on public trust. Unvaccinated people need to demonstrate that they are worthy of trust by following the public health guidance. Overall infection and death rates are down, but they will spike again if people don’t continue to vaccinate and mask/distance until they complete the vaccine process. A spike might not happen until colder weather drives more people indoors, but it won’t happen at all if we can get the vast majority of teens and adults vaccinated by fall.

The prospect of the epidemic phase of COVID-19 being over by fall is within reach, but only if people follow this guidance and get vaccinated.

Let’s do it!

Another Pfizer vaccine advance

Yesterday, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 was granted emergency use authorization for children aged 12-15, extending the prior age range of 16+. These younger teens can receive the same dosage as older teens with similar effect. This is good news because all high school and most middle school students should be able to be protected before schools open in August or September 2021.

Pfizer and other vaccine suppliers are currently studying the proper dosage for younger children. These eventual approvals will probably be split into several groups, 5-11-year-olds, 2-4, and 6-23 months. The research with these younger children takes longer because they have to start with lower doses and increase to find the lowest possible dose that will still mount a strong immune response. Until these children can be vaccine protected, they need for all the teens and adults to get vaccinated to reduce their chances of being exposed. While young children tend to be less sick than adults if they get infected, they can become very ill, even fatally, and suffer long-term symptoms. Even if they have mild or no symptoms, they also keep the community spread of the virus going, which means that the pandemic phase cannot end.

Canada gave authorization for 12-15 for the Pfizer vaccine last week. It’s expected that Moderna will be doing so soon. Pfizer has also applied for full authorization in the US, a process that will take several months to complete. I am especially pleased with the success of the Pfizer vaccine because data from spouse B and daughter T are part of the research findings that are showing how safe and effective the vaccine is. Monitoring for them continues to see how long immunity lasts and whether boosters are needed. I also continue to participate in the trial, but, because I was originally part of the placebo group, I didn’t receive the vaccine until February so my data are not useful for the longevity factor, although I could become part of a test group for boosters in the future if warranted.

Internationally, vaccine companies are continuing their research and manufacturing, but distribution is neither fast nor broad enough. India is particularly tragic, with widespread disease, scant treatment, and, despite being a major manufacturer of pharmaceuticals and vaccines, very little vaccine protection among its residents. President Biden has joined growing calls for vaccine companies to suspend their patent protections so that countries around the world can manufacture vaccines for their regions. This would also entail making available the raw materials, supplies, and expertise to manufacture the vaccines, some of which require new techniques such as mRNA.

I feel an odd mix of hope, dread, and sorrow. The COVID rate in New York State where I live is very low now. We are gradually relaxing some of our restrictions and I am planning to go on a writing retreat later this month. This summer, we think we are finally going to be able to travel to the UK to visit daughter E and her family and get to hold our granddaughter JG for the first time, although she is almost walking on her own and may not want to stop long enough to be held by the time we can get there.

At the same time, there are still people sick and dying in my state and exponentially more in other states and countries. It’s frustrating because we have treatment tools and vaccines now that we didn’t have a year ago but they aren’t reaching all the people that need them. What’s most frustrating is people who do have access but don’t take advantage of the opportunity, letting their fear, ideology, contrariness, or sense of invincibility stand in the way of personal and public health.

Please, everyone, continue to do all that is within your power to end the pandemic. This will look different depending on personal and community circumstances, but mask in indoor public spaces, distance when appropriate, be careful about the size of gatherings, stay home if you are sick, vaccinate when it’s available for you, keep up to date on the newest public health recommendations.

Show your respect for others and do your best to protect them. Pandemics are, by definition, phenomena that affect us all. It takes all of us working together to end one.

SoCS: carousels

To my immediate left is a throw on the back of the couch which features carousel horses.

Here in Broome County NY, carousels are part of our identity. Back in the early part of the twentieth century, one of the important sources of jobs for immigrants and for people already established here was the shoe company named Endicott-Johnson for its founders. They also gave their names to two of the villages, Endicott and Johnson City, that with the City of Binghamton make up the Triple Cities of Broome County. I’m sure everyone is excited to learn this local geography!

The Endicott and Johnson families wanted their employees and their families to have a good quality of life, so they paid them fairly and helped with home ownership, as well as innovations like providing health care and pensions. They also invested in creating recreation opportunities, which brings us to carousels.

The families installed carousels in six public parks scattered around the area. Because they didn’t want anyone to be deprived of a ride, part of the stipulation of the gift was that they would always be free to ride. And because one of the founders recalled the disappointment of getting onto a carousel but being on a stationary horse, all the horses on these carousels are “jumpers” which means they go up and down as well as ’round and ’round.

Most of the figures on the carousels are horses, but some also have a couple of other animals included, such as a dog or boar. Most of the carousels also include chariots to accommodate babes-in-arms or anyone who can’t climb up onto a horse.

When my daughters were young, we spent many hours at the various carousels. They traditionally open Memorial Day weekend and close after Labor Day weekend. I admit that I also love to ride carousels and we would see many other adults there, too. Sometimes, bridal parties will even make stops at the carousels to take photos. My favorite visitors would be elders who grew up in the area but then had moved away; they would come to take a ride and tell stories of how it had been visiting the carousels when they were young.

In our photo albums, we have a succession of years of photos of E and T visiting the carousels. It was a privilege when granddaughter ABC was living with us to introduce her to the carousels, too. It won’t be this summer, but maybe next it will be safe to travel and we’ll get to bring ABC and her little sister JG to the carousels for a ride. We’ll take photos with our phones that they can look at when they return home to the UK and remember.

ABC’s first carousel ride in a chariot being held by her mom with her dad riding on the horse beside them

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week was to write about the memories evoked by what was to one’s immediate left when writing the post. Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/05/07/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-may-8-2021/

New York voting

Georgia has already passed laws restricting voting access. Texas, Florida, and a raft of other states are considering similar bills.

When voting rights advocates complain, officials say that they aren’t really tightening access to the ballot. They are making their laws more like New York’s and New York is a liberal state, so the measures they are taking must be okay.

One major problem: New York, where I have lived most of my adult life, is way behind the vast majority of states when it comes to making registering and voting fair, accessible, and convenient.

While we do have voter registration and address change available through the Department of Motor Vehicles, the wait time between registering and actually being able to vote is long. This also applies to changes in party registration, which affects access to primaries, which are closed. (A closed primary means that only those who have previously registered with that party are allowed to vote. When I was growing up in Massachusetts, political independents could request a ballot for any party they wished on voting day, fill it out, hand it in, and then have their name removed from the party list, going back to their independent status.) I would love to have same-day registration as some states do. A voter can then cast a provisional ballot which will be counted as soon as eligibility is verified.

Many states have long had no-excuse absentee voting or extensive vote by mail options. New York has not. Absentee ballots were restricted to those who would be out of town on election day and those who were physically unable to get to the polls. In 2020, people were allowed to check the box for illness/disability for fear of contracting COVID, so the basic structure of absentee voting is still intact. One useful option we do have is that one can file as having a permanent illness/disability and an absentee ballot will automatically be mailed to you for every future election. This has been very helpful to my parents and my friends who are elders.

2020 was the first presidential election in New York State with early in-person voting at centralized locations. Previously, the only way to vote in person before election day was to go to the county Board of Elections office, request a ballot, fill it out, and turn it back in. The early voting period was October 24-November 1, with election day being November third. In our county, the lines were long. We waited about three hours in line to vote; our county lengthened the hours available after a few days to cut the waiting times. As it turned out, we could have waited to vote on election day as our planned trip to visit family in the UK was cancelled the day before we were to leave, so we were in town on Nov. 3rd. Many states have much more extensive early voting periods, beginning several weeks before election day.

One thing that New York had been good about was having long hours on election day. Polls were open from 6 AM through 9 PM. Anyone who was in line by 9 PM could remain to vote, no matter what time that actually occurred.

New York has also been very slow with counting votes. Absentee votes couldn’t be counted for at least a week after election day. In some cases, the waiting period was closer to two weeks. While the presidential outcome was clear, some races were not officially certified for weeks after the election. The most severe was our Congressional district, which resulted in our representative not being sworn in until February 11th.

New York is continuing to pass legislation to make voting more accessible. Meanwhile, these other states that are claiming to be “keeping up with liberal New York” are in reality making vote more burdensome for their citizens. They are also adding ridiculous things like making it a crime to give food or water to people waiting in line to vote.

So remember, the next time you hear some politician crow about making their voting system more like New York’s, it is probably not a good thing.

The various shenanigans that are going on with states restricting voting access points out the necessity for action at the federal level. I am hoping that the For the People Act (H.R.1/S.1) and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act will be passed by Congress for President Biden to sign into law. Taken together, these would ensure equal access to the ballot for all citizens, no matter where they live. It would be even better if the bill to make Washington DC a state is adopted so that the 700,000 people that live there finally have votes in Congress.

Every citizen deserves representation and an equal opportunity to vote!

post-vaccine life

With my immediate family in the US vaccinated against COVID-19, we are inching our way back to a more interactive life while still following the national and New York State guidelines.

The most important thing that has happened for us personally is a greater ability to see my dad, known here as Paco, who lives nearby in the assisted living unit of his long-time senior community. After months of not being able to visit, we can now go to his apartment, albeit in pre-arranged thirty minute slots. I can also sign him out to go for a car ride; previously, he was only allowed away from the unit for medical care.

This has meant that I can see him more times per week and that I can take him out for treats. Last week, we went to an ice cream stand in the afternoon. This morning, I was able to bring him to get a doughnut and coffee. We are still being cautious about indoor spaces, so I don’t bring him into buildings. We enjoy our treats in the car or at outdoor tables.

The best thing, though, was that my older sister and her spouse were able to come visit for a couple of days last week. They hadn’t been able to visit since last summer. They live in Maryland and couldn’t enter New York until recently due to our travel/quarantine restrictions. Because of the vaccines, those have been relaxed. With all of us vaccinated, we were able to have everyone to our house for dinner. B made lasagna from Nana’s recipe, homemade Italian bread, sautéed asparagus, and apple pie. It was all delicious – and extra heartwarming to be together after so many months apart.

We are also starting to work our way back to activities like dining indoors. I’ve had one lunch and one dinner inside restaurants. We wore masks when not eating or drinking and the tables were spaced so that we weren’t very close to other diners. We are likely to continue doing carryout more often than dining in for a while, especially because dining in most likely involves having to make reservations while carryout is easier to do spur-of-the-moment.

There was just a national policy announcement clarifying mask use recommendations for outdoor events in light of vaccinations. Vaccinated people can exercise, socialize in small groups, and eat outdoors without needing to wear a mask. They should, though, continue to mask if they are in a large group setting, such as a sporting event or concert where the crowd would be close together for extended periods. It is good to have this clarification, but it won’t make much difference for our family. New York has had a mask mandate in place for over a year, but it was adapted in order to deal with the circumstances. Given that we don’t live in a congested area, we were already accustomed to taking maskless walks in our neighborhood. If we stopped to talk to someone, we would just keep six feet of distance between us. Still, it was good to see that there are now different recommendations in place for vaccinated and unvaccinated people. Perhaps it will serve as motivation for people who haven’t yet been vaccinated to arrange to do that. In many locations, you don’t even need to make an appointment in advance.

If people need more motivation to get vaccinated, they can switch on a news report from India to see the horrific toll that the virus takes when it sweeps through an unvaccinated population. The infection and hospitalization rates are staggering. A new variant has emerged and there are so many deaths that the system to handle them is overwhelmed.

This virus remains very dangerous, capable of inflicting serious illness and death. The vaccines are safe and very effective. Everyone aged sixteen and over in the United States has access to vaccine and should be immunized unless there is a personal medical issue that precludes it. If you don’t feel personally vulnerable, remember that, even if you yourself don’t get severe symptoms, you could pass the virus on to someone else who could become very ill or die.

The only way to end the pandemic is for there to be large-scale immunity everywhere. Every effort we make, whether it is our individual vaccination and precautions or our large-scale efforts such as sending vaccines, treatments, and supplies wherever they are needed around the world, is part of what is needed to end this.

And remember: People taking vaccines approved for emergency use are not “guinea pigs.” The “guinea pigs” are the hundreds of thousands of people like me and my family who volunteered to be in clinical trials. (B, T, and I are all part of the Pfizer/BioNTech phase III trial. I’ve posted about it a number of times over the past months.) Government agencies and the pharmaceutical companies are continuing to collect data and have affirmed that the dangers of contracting COVID are much, much greater than any side effects of the vaccine.

Please, everyone do your part to keep yourself and others safe. Vaccinate, mask, distance, and practice good hygiene. Pay attention to credible medical and public health sources. The rewards of being able to safely gather, to give a hug to a loved one, to see a friend’s smile are simple, yet profound.

We just need to work together to make it possible for everyone, everywhere.

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