Friday, May 21, 2021

Effects of the Pandemic: Expected, Unexpected, and Unknown

Beyond the coronavirus case, hospitalization, and death statistics, all steadily improving, related things are happening in America.

One is a failure to understand how small the risks are once we are two weeks past our final shots, as shown in Linsey Marr, Juliet Morrison, and Caitlin Rivers’ “I Got My Covid Vaccine.  Now Can I Hug My Mom?,” in the March 19th New York Times.  All three authors are professionals in pandemic-related fields, but two recommended meals, even between two fully vaccinated people, be taken outside of restaurants to stay away from “new variants circulating” and “lots of people” who “will be indoors and unmasked.”  They offered similar answers to related situations.  I trust that now, two months later, they have noticed that only microscopic shares of those immunized have either received or spread the virus, and that new variants have thus far shown no real ability to overcome existing vaccines.  We have done well thus far to be cautious, but, if we don’t need to be any longer, we should stop.

A month-plus later, was it true, though, that “America’s Workplaces Are Still Too Dangerous” (David Michaels, The New York Times, April 28th).  This former OSHA leader bemoaned how small and recently ineffective that agency has become, and exemplified their lack of legal sanction by saying that “the maximum fine for a serous OSHA violation is $13,353 – petty cash to any large employer – and the criminal charge for the work-related death of an employee is a misdemeanor, not a felony.”  Now that vaccines have been available to all American adults for weeks, it is safer to be on the job, whether protected or not, but that is a recent development.

To little surprise, we learned from Edmund DeMarch in the May 3rd Fox News that “’Herd Immunity’ looking unlikely in US, report says.”  That expression “means that a virus is no longer easily jumping from person to person,” as good a definition as any, and “nobody knows for sure what the herd immunity threshold is for the coronavirus, though many experts say it’s 70% or higher.”  According to The New York Times yesterday, we now have 38% fully inoculated, meaning it will be fall, later, or never to reach seven-tenths. 

Less expected, per Michael Wilson in the May 4th Times, was that the “Sudden Decision to Reopen Leaves New Yorkers Dizzy and Divided.”  The announcement two days before that many, but hardly all, restrictions in the city would be lifted May 19th got reactions such as “it’s too fast” and “seems a little hasty,” though also the likes of “it’s about time.”  Although restaurants, for example, are now allowed 100 percent capacity, they still need to keep patrons six feet apart, which in many means little change.  What has happened, though, appropriately most benefits those fully vaccinated.   

An emphatic David Brooks opinion piece, published May 6th also in The New York Times, described “Our Pathetic Herd Immunity Failure.”   He asked something posed often in recent years, “Could today’s version of America have been able to win World War II?” and concluded that “it hardly seems possible,” decrying immunization refusal with “we’re not asking you to storm the beaches of Iwo Jima; we’re asking you to walk into a damn CVS.”  Perhaps we and our leaders have underplayed this civic-duty aspect, but Brooks didn’t, devoting this entire column to it.  I find it noteworthy that those in our political segment most likely to call themselves patriotic have here been, in general, the worst.

We have seen various pieces, usually premature, projecting how the truly post-pandemic United States will be affected by our shared experience, and we can all propose possibilities.  Two from my sphere of interest are American Contract Bridge League customers and management discovering the advantages and disadvantages of online tournaments, which will certainly continue after widespread in-person play resumes, and local public radio station WJFF learning how effective it was to hold a fundraising auction on Facebook.  More generally we have “Pandemic forces many to consider new jobs,” by Dee-Ann Durbin et al. in the May 19th Times Herald-Record.  Not only additional labor opportunities have caused that, but “many workers don’t want to go back to the jobs they once had” for personal reasons.  Strong employment markets have always meant a lot of job-hopping, and this one clearly is no exception.

If there is an overall message here, it is the same as before.  Ending the pandemic is now, above all, a matter of personal choice.  If you want to do that, get vaccinated.

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