over COVID?

Over the last few weeks, many people here in the United States have said publicly that they are “over COVID” or “through with the pandemic” and are going to “go back to normal” which means living like they did before SARS-CoV-2 appeared.

Guess what? Pandemics don’t disappear just because we are tired or frustrated or in denial. There were 3,622 COVID deaths reported in the US yesterday, adding to the almost 900,000 deaths in the US since the start of the pandemic and 5.7 million deaths worldwide. These staggering totals are almost certainly undercounted, as some regions don’t have the will or capacity to track and report. Also, some deaths result from lasting heart, lung, or neurological damage from COVID rather than from the active infection itself and so may not be identified as COVID related.

Some people are saying we just have to live with COVID, as we do with flu and other viruses. Thus, they are saying that it is now endemic, but here is the problem. There is a specific definition of pandemic, “(of a disease) prevalent over a whole country or the world” (Oxford Languages). Looking at case numbers in the US and around the world, it’s obvious this is still a pandemic. We will get to a point where it is endemic, someday, through a mix of vaccination and immunity from having been infected, although no one yet knows how long immunity acquired through either route will last. Dictionary.com has a handy non-epidemiologist explainer of pandemic, epidemic, and endemic.

The subtext of being “over COVID” seems to be more along the lines of I’m tired of masking and distancing and avoiding crowds, so I’m just going to get back out there because a) I’m vaccinated/boosted so I don’t think I’ll get sick or at least not seriously so; b) I am young/strong/take vitamins/exercise so I’m not going to get sick; c) I don’t believe there is such a thing as this virus; d) you can’t tell me what to do; or e) we have to ease up on restrictions now so that we can re-institute them when the next variant or spike in cases occurs.

The thing is that a virus doesn’t care about your age or status or location. It’s only mission is to live and replicate and it will adapt to make that happen as easily and widely as possible. Exhibit A: the Omicron variant, which is wildly contagious and somewhat able to cause breakthrough infections in the vaccinated.

As regular readers here may recall, spouse B, daughter T, and I are all part of the Pfizer/BioNTech phase three vaccine trial. We are all vaccinated and boosted, although we were boosted on the early side of the curve, B and T as part of the trial that is contributing efficacy data that we see reported out in the news, and I who received a booster through the trial as soon as it was authorized for public use but before most people in my age range were eligible. I am also contributing data for the study, but I’m not on the leading edge like B and T. Therefore, while many of the boosted can get comfort from knowing that their immunity is likely still strong because the data from the trials is showing that, I don’t know if B and T might be showing a decline because there hasn’t been enough time to collect and analyze that data. I’m sure we would all love to know that booster immunity lasts a year or longer but it’s only been about seven months so far, so we can’t know. Likewise, we don’t know how long immunity lasts after infection.

I know that I am unlikely to become seriously ill, to be hospitalized, or to die if I contract COVID, but that doesn’t mean that I’m ready to be cavalier about it. I don’t want to be sick if I can prevent it by continuing with masking, distancing, and avoiding crowds. Even mild cases of COVID can result in months of symptoms, which is termed “long COVID.” As someone who has lived with a person suffering from FM/ME, which causes similar symptoms, I find the prospect of long COVID frightening.

What frightens me even more is the danger of spreading COVID to someone else. I have many friends who are older than I and at higher risk, as well as friends who are immunocompromised. Young children still are not eligible for immunization, although Pfizer/BioNTech has just applied for emergency use authorization for children 6 months-4 years of age, so perhaps that will begin in the coming weeks. I’m sure I also happen upon unvaccinated people because the fully vaccinated rate in my county is 62% and the boosted rate is only 33%. Some of the fully vaccinated are not yet booster eligible but we know that boosted people have the best chance against Omicron, so, if I am out in public, chances are that only 1 in 3 people I encounter will be a similar status to me.

Those are not great odds, especially with a variant as contagious as Omicron accounting for 99% of US cases. I have recently upped my mask protection to N95s, as I wrote about here. I’m learning how to deal with them as someone who needs progressive lenses in her glasses. The tighter fit of the N95 masks makes it difficult for my glasses to be in the correct position, so I can get a headache from eyestrain if I try to do close work for any length of time. Still, I’m trying to wear the N95s when I have to go out with a surgical mask/good quality cloth mask combo if I have to take the N95 off.

I used this site, https://covidactnow.org/us/new_york-ny/county/broome_county/?s=28791756, to find today’s Broome County statistics. (You can use it to find statistics in your area in the US. International data may be found here: https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/.) It rates our risk level as “Extremely High.” While other may be “over COVID,” I am not ready to take that much risk for myself, my family, and my community.

As conditions change, I will re-evaluate and adjust my behavior as I see fit. Until then, I hope that those I meet will respect my viewpoint.

I’m not “over COVID” yet.

DT and COVID

As I’m sure the whole world knows, the president of the United States is hospitalized with COVID-19. It’s been a bit difficult to get the straight facts on his condition, but it is increasingly looking like his case is on the more severe side.

He does have multiple risk factors, including his age, gender, and weight. He is being treated aggressively by his medical team, including with an experimental antibody treatment and with remdesivir. These are both given early in the course of the disease to help the body fend off the virus.

Today, though, it was revealed that the president is being given the steroid dexamethasone, which is usually given only to more severe cases later in the disease course, when there are significant lung complications and/or the need for a ventilator.

The medical team is even talking about the possibility of discharging him back to the White House, which does have its own sophisticated medical unit, tomorrow.

This doesn’t seem to add up. If his condition warrants dexamethasone, it would seem best to keep him in the hospital for close observation.

Another concern is that days seven through ten of COVID often see an exacerbation of symptoms. The president is only on day four. It seems it would be much safer to keep him in the hospital. It’s not as though he is cramped for space or lacking amenities in the presidential suite at Walter Reed; besides medical care, it also has its own secure conference room and kitchen/dining space.

I also wish that the president would temporarily sign over powers to Vice-president Pence in accordance with Article 25 of the Constitution. We know that the president has suffered with a high fever and times when his blood oxygen level has dropped below normal. COVID is nothing if not unpredictable. Foreign powers could take a provocative action, surmising that the president would not be well enough to respond appropriately. I think it would be safer for the country to have the vice-president, as long as he remains well, exercise the presidential powers until the president is fully recovered. Pence can always confer with president when his symptoms are well-controlled, but he would have the power to respond on his own if the president were to be unwell when a crisis arose.

The president and First Lady’s illness with COVID would be problematic enough, but a number of senators and other government and campaign staff and advisors have also been infected or exposed. Because the incubation period can extend to fourteen days, there are many people who should be in quarantine to make sure they don’t expose others while pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic. Somehow, despite the seriousness of the situation, Sen. Mitch McConnell plans to push ahead with the confirmation hearing of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. He considers that worth the risk, while he won’t put the latest House-passed coronavirus relief package up for a vote.

Voters, pay attention to how candidates on your ballot are handling this health and governmental crisis. Are they prioritizing your and the country’s health and well-being or their own power?

One-Liner Wednesday: environmental education

“Whereas in the beginning it [environmental education] was mainly centered on scientific information, consciousness-raising and the prevention of environmental risks, it tends now to include a critique of the ‘myths’ of a modernity grounded in a utilitarian mindset (individualism, unlimited progress, competition, consumerism, the unregulated market).”
— Pope Francis, Laudato Si’ paragraph 210
(In preparation for the upcoming Paris climate talks, I am sharing some quotes from the papal encyclical.)

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays!  Find out how here:  http://lindaghill.com/2015/11/11/one-liner-wednesday-a-cup-of-cheer/

Q & A on the poetry workshop

In response to my post about the writing workshop opportunity I am contemplating, my friend, artist and poet Lorrie Lane, sent a series of clarifying questions to me via Facebook. Here are her questions and my answers:
1. Why are you writing poems? It can’t be for the money – hahaha.
I write poems because I have something to say. A large part of the turn to poetry for me was losing my will/venue/capability to write church music, coupled with an extraordinary opportunity to study “Women Who Run With the Wolves” with Yvonne Lucia and a wonderful group of women.
2. What are you trying to say that can’t be said in an essay?
Essays are lovely, but some ideas and images live much better in poetic form. I love the concentration of language and meaning in poems. I also love the greater room for the reader/listener to enter the poem. Essays tend to report or expound on the views of the author, I often try to leave some mystery in my poems – to give space for the reader to bring their own thoughts and experiences to the poem, although I am finding that some readers and editors do not like this approach.
3. Are you trying to talk to others, yourself, or both?
I write both for myself and for others, sometimes at the same time and sometimes not. There are some poems I write that will probably never be shared, although a couple of poems that started out that way have been seen by at least a few others.
4. How much risk are you willing to take? Will you risk exposing your flaws, your weakness, your guilty pleasures, your loves, your infidelities, your hatreds, your selfishness, your gullibility, your foolishness, your vulnerabilities? and by ‘you’ I certainly mean ‘y’all.
While I am not by nature a risktaker, I am willing to take a calculated risk as long as the threat of harm isn’t dire. The things most at risk would be my pride and my sense of competence, but I think I am mature enough now to shake it off if things go badly. In the second question, there are some of those attributes that I would risk writing about my/y’all’s experience, but some that I would choose not to. For example, I don’t think I could write credibly about infidelities, possibly not about hatred or selfishness, either. It’s hard for me to write about things I don’t understand well and I think it would show if I tried.
5.  Are you more interested in manipulating words or manipulating ideas?
I don’t think I am interested in manipulating at all. I use words to evoke ideas, but I am not wedded to others’ ideas being identical to mine.
6.  What inspires you? Would going to a workshop be inspirational or kind of boring?
I draw inspiration from random everyday encounters and from personal history that can take a long time to distill into a poem. I think that the setting of this workshop is one of the things that draws me to it. It is in a familiar place with ties to personal and family history, but it has been transformed into this arts community. Interestingly, I have a first draft of a poem that I wrote about the work of a particular artist when we visited MASS MoCA a couple of years ago. I think that the combination of the art and the place and my personal connection to it could produce some really interesting poems that would be cohesive enough to eventually become a chapbook.
7.  Would it be better for your poems to go off for a week by yourself? Because other people’s voices could confuse yours…
I don’t think I would be able to go off on my own and write for a week without some kind of interaction. I’ve learned through the Binghamton Poetry Project and my critique/workshopping group that it is incredibly helpful to have other voices to point out parts of the poem that are not concise enough or redundant or confusing. I’m still developing judgement on taking advice and on revision – and learning that what one editor likes, another won’t. I have a feeling that, even over years of writing, the balance between my voice and the critical voice of others will be difficult to achieve. At the moment, I feel that the other voices are helping to make my work stronger so that a bit of it can get out to the public in some way.  I do consider myself a general audience sort of poet, rather than a more erudite “poet’s poet.” That being said, there needs to be a certain level of craft to get work published and I need others’ help to achieve that.
8.  Think of the most ridiculous and long poetry project you can–say, a blank verse epic about some obscure historical event–and write the first page. (That’s not a question, is it? Well, do they make you do these kind of exercises in poetry workshops and why don’t they?)
Some workshops do give prompts or assignments, often around poem exemplars. Usually though, they give several prompts from which you can choose one to work on. I have some experience writing from prompts from Binghamton Poetry Project, which is how I actually attempted a slam poem – not my natural bent! I don’t think that this workshop will be set up like that, though, as it seems that the expectation is that some people may be generating new work while others may be revising individual poems or collections.
9.   Are you, a polite person, willing to write a rude poem? then do it or why not?
If I were writing from a prompt, I could write a rude poem, perhaps even a profane poem. I would probably than tear it up and throw it away. I write to express myself and would only share work that I felt conveyed what I wanted to say in the manner in which I wanted to say it.
10.  If you read all the literary journals published in 2014, would you ever be able to do anything else for the rest of your life?
There are a zillion literary journals – and they come and go all the time. I would not attempt to read a year’s worth of journals, because, yes, it would take a lifetime. I do read a variety of contemporary poetry, but snatched from here and there. And, yes, I do understand that my journal publications will reach relatively few and rarefied readers, but it seems to be part of the way things work. Enough journal publications – and some of the “right” ones, eventually – are needed to get a small press to consider a chapbook. Or people self-publish, but I don’t think I am cut out for that.
11.  Can you learn anything other than technique at a workshop? This applies to painting workshops, and my answer has been ‘no.’ Technique is essential but secondary.
I think that one can learn things other than technique at a workshop, but first I have to consider the subject of technique. Whereas you studied both English and art at the collegiate level, the last time I had formal instruction in poetry, I was an 8th grader in Monroe Bridge. One of the things I enjoy about Binghamton Poetry Project and Sappho’s Circle is the opportunity to learn more technical aspects and craft of poetry. Other things I can learn are some of the ins and outs of the editorial and publishing processes, at which I am a novice, at best. I also think that I could learn a lot about my by-then 55-year-old self, as I will be walking into an unknown territory, interacting with a group of new people which is daunting for someone who has become more and more of an introvert over time, facing the possibility that I could be totally out of my depth, and perhaps spectacularly failing in front of an award-winning poet and publisher. But, probably not. I hope.
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