Covid 19 pandemic, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: A break in the weather

November 22, 2021

It’s 52 degrees and mostly cloudy. There’s a two percent chance of rain through the next hour, with a high of 56 this afternoon and a low of 33 tonight. The Thanksgiving outlook is, “Intervals of clouds and sunshine. High 63F. Winds SW at 5 to 10 mph.” Sounds like a good day to walk off a big meal and enjoy the fall colors.

While these particular numbers are innocuous, the accuracy of a weather report can mean the difference between life and death. When my wife and I owned a beach house, we religiously watched the local news and the National Hurricane Center for signs of a storm.

The credibility of the forecaster is vital. That’s why it was so outrageous when Trump doctored a hurricane map. So why would the Weather Channel share its online real estate with a fake-news purveyor that’s blasting out anti-vaccine hysteria?

News Break is among the sponsored content (clickbait) floating around on the channel app. Founded by a Chinese media exec in Beijing, it aims to crack the U.S. market by billing itself as, “your #1 local news app for current events, free live news, business news, and more.” Here’s a sample.

Not surprisingly, the comment section is full of hatred and vitriol. Some reviews: “The trolling is out of control along with the racists.” “The News Break App is nothing short of a racist’s paradise.” “Never in my life have I seen such [a] hate-filled, threatening, racist, cruel, vile, & disgusting ‘news’ site.'”

I know the Weather Channel is not directly responsible. And yes, clickbait makes money, which is why it’s everywhere. But there’s a difference between, “Kourtney Kardashian Shows Off Toned Abs,” and “Pfizer’s Whistleblower Reveals Vaccine Data Integrity Issues.” A weather operation that’s built around science puts its own integrity at risk by propagating this junk.

Needless to say, the app is gone from my phone, like a couple of anti-vax musicians are absent from my playlists. (I also deep-sixed NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” from my radio for its unfunny ageism.) Even if you can’t fix stupid, you can keep it out of your space and send a message to whoever put it there. Take care, have a great Thanksgiving, and be safe.

Covid 19 pandemic, music, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: Blues and the cold, hard truth

November 12, 2021

Trees in autumn colors on mountain road.
Photo by Ladyfern Photos on Pexels.com

Fall has arrived in Georgia in earnest, slowly overtaking the sugar maple and ginkgo trees we planted last year in our yard. Though we feared they might not survive, thanks to the summer rain they’re growing fast, showing us a palette of red, orange, yellow, and still a bit of green.

In a few weeks the leaves will be gone. I’ll miss seeing those colors out my window in the morning sun, but there’s always a time to let go: of objects, emotions, and people. Today it’s musicians, great artists I’ve listened to for years who are, sadly, on the dark side of the pandemic.

Van Morrison has been ranting about “fascist bullies,” and equating Covid lockdowns with slavery. As a result, he’s being sued for defamation by the Northern Ireland health minster, who says Morrison damaged his reputation and is giving great comfort to, “the tin foil hat brigade.” I’m with the minster and not because his name is Swann. We’re not talking about moondances and brown-eyed girls. This is global life and death.

Cutting Morrison from my playlist is no problem because I never cared for his post-70s records anyway. If I still had a favorite album, it’d be “Astral Weeks,” his very first one. Eric Clapton is another matter. I’ve been a fan since the days of Cream and the Bluesbreakers. Fifteen years ago in Atlanta he delivered one of the best rock concerts I’ve ever seen, burning through his catalogue with a killer band. He seemed to be one of the few from his generation who hit bottom, survived, and got better with age.

Now he calls science “propaganda” and finances anti-vax musicians in England. He’s even palling around with the governor of Texas, an anti-vaccine tyrant who signed his state’s vicious, anti-woman abortion ban.

I’m not going near him if he hits ATL again. His next tour also won’t include the great blues singer and guitarist Robert Cray, who played with Clapton many times and says he won’t do it anymore. Sorry Eric, you’ve been Marie Kondo’d.

Of course, this isn’t the first time my heroes have changed their spots late in life. Thankfully, rockers like Gene Simmons have stayed on the side of the common good and common sense. There’s plenty of great music for this moment in time, including a favorite of mine from the 90s by Bob Mould, David Barbe, and Malcolm Travis, better known as Sugar. It’s called “Changes.” Take care and be safe.

coronavirus, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: The kids will be all right

Little girl with nurse putting band-aid on her arm.
Photo by CDC on Pexels.com

The word that young children will soon get Covid shots reminds me of when I received my second and final round of polio vaccine. I had the Salk type, the first one approved for the US, when I was too little to remember it. I suspect I didn’t care much for the needle, but that wasn’t a problem in the 1960s with the more effective Sabin, which was given orally on sugar cubes. No red-blooded eight-year-old would turn down one of those.

My mother drove me to the closest vaccination site, where a local radio station happened to be doing a remote broadcast. A smooth-voiced man with a microphone asked me a few questions while a record was playing, then repeated them live on the air. I don’t recall what I told the listeners of WKZO-AM, “590 on your dial,” or the moment I swallowed the cube. (I had no idea I’d someday make my own career in radio either.) The event was simply no big deal, for me or any of my friends and classmates.

Of course, by that time the frightening polio outbreaks of the 50s had ended. We didn’t need masks or social distancing. There were no closed restaurants and theaters, no broken and upended lives, and no debate about whether vaccination was necessary and proper. None. Ever. Zero. Bupkes. Period.

Anybody who claimed “freedom” or “personal choice” as an excuse for sending an unprotected kid to school would’ve been run out of town. There were safety problems with badly prepared batches of Salk, including deaths, but they didn’t stop us from trying to wipe out the disease. People could decline the drug on religious grounds. The congenital loudmouths could write letters to the newspapers and that was about all.

I’m not a parent. I’m not telling anyone how to raise their kids. But I’m damn glad that when I was one, we were sane and civic-minded about public health. If we’d had MMR in those times, my folks would’ve made sure I was first in line. In my childless but humble opinion, the decision should be equally easy now. Take care and be safe.

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, new old age, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: Boosted

September 27, 2021

Confirmation screen for Covid booster appointment.

That was easy enough. Instead of heading across town to a mass vaccination site, I drove five minutes to a drugstore and came away with my third and hopefully last dose of Pfizer. Nobody thought to put this event on live TV, but it was definitely worthwhile. Everyone waiting in line was patient and courteous, chatting with each other about kids and sports, just normal things. Some of us, probably most, remember how to be civil.

Because I’m a couple of years past 65, the decision to get the booster was easy too. As you know, there’s a lot of debate about how much the vaccines’ effectiveness declines several months after the initial shots. With the case count and death toll as high as they are here in Georgia, I’ll take any protection I can find. Not surprisingly, some of the worst outbreaks are hitting families with school-age children, and even vaccinated parents are coming down with breakthrough infections.

Though there aren’t any kids in my circle, I’m uneasy about even being around them in public. Only about 45% of the people in this state are fully vaxxed, which is ten percentage points lower than the nationwide number, which is still not high enough either. Why take a chance?

Needing a booster doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the drug. I get a flu shot every year and recently had one for shingles as well. All of this is standard practice. Vaccines generally don’t last forever (unlike, for example, the treasonous Republican effort to undo the last election and rig the next two).

If you’re eligible, please think about a Pfizer booster dose, and keep alert for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson info if that’s what you had before. Take care and be safe.

Covid 19 pandemic, life, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: Useful terms

September 9, 2021

Limbo. The word originated with the Latin limbus, meaning boundary or border. In Catholic theology it’s the place between heaven and hell, for those who die in original sin but aren’t among the damned in the underworld. It has nothing to do with the dance shown below, though it feels like the pandemic has forced me into similar contortions.

Hell. According to Jean-Paul Sartre, it’s other people. It’s also the realm whose hottest, most painful spot should be reserved for WHOEVER INVENTED THE BLOODY LEAF BLOWER THAT’S BLASTING OUTSIDE MY WINDOW. But I digress.

If J. P. had to navigate this country right now, he’d amend his definition to “unvaccinated, unmasked other people and the shitheads who lead them on.” (That’s connards for all you French purists.)

Smart. What jam-packed football stadiums are not. Kudos to LSU and the other schools that require proof of vaccination or a negative test.

Mandate. Formerly a bureaucratic buzzword; now radioactive. Not to be confused with mansplaining. However, the rabid anti-mandaters are often overbearing, bad-tempered men, while the nurses who hold their hands in their last moments are almost always women.

The Fish Cheer. If you’re too young to remember Woodstock (or got so stoned that you forgot you were there): This was when Country Joe McDonald of Country Joe & the Fish yelled, “Gimme an F! Gimme a U!” etc., from the stage and the crowd yelled the letters and the word back at him.

In those times, f*** never appeared in print or on the three TV networks we had. Today’s culture has freed us to use all its variations and forms: “Oh My Fucking God, Get the Fucking Vaccine Already, You Fucking Fucks.” Imagine 100,000 people screaming that. Maybe at an LSU game!

Take care and be safe. I’ll be saying this for a while longer, but not forever. I mean it, too. Gimme a T!

coronavirus, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: Writer on duty. Call now.

August 24, 2021

Row of tombstones in cemetery.
Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Friends, have I got an offer for you. Because SEO isn’t my specialty, I’m asking you to share this post with your network immediately. Don’t sweat: I won’t steer you wrong. This is the real deal, but for reasons I’ll explain directly, y’all need to act right away.

Here’s what’s on the table: My services as a writer for that once-in-a-lifetime occasion when a cheap hack or your unemployed English-major nephew won’t do. If you’re the kind of person I’m trying to reach, you don’t want to trust this to the jerks in the MSM either. I’m talking about your obituary.

What makes me think you need one? Well, you swear you’ll never get a Covid shot. You don’t care that the vaccine is now fully approved. Freedom is your middle name. You’d boo Donald Trump if he urged you to get vaccinated, like some of your buddies in Alabama did the other night. Sure, you’ve always been healthy, but the way things are now, with no immunity and of course no mask, you might not even make it to football season. This is the reason for the urgency I spoke of before. It’s time to get this duck securely in the row.

I’m not being morbid. In the news business, where I worked for many years, it’s standard practice to prepare obits in advance for newsmakers, and people like you are in the news every day. If you’re wondering about my qualifications, my LinkedIn profile will show you that I’ve handled all kinds of assignments under tough deadlines (no pun intended).

This is a serious proposal. In the spirit of public service and bipartisanship (since the great majority of you are Republicans), I’ll write your last chapter at no charge. I promise to be respectful and thorough. Here’s a taste of what your loved ones might read.

“(Your name), who loved life, worked hard at his job and even harder at being a great husband and dad, died Wednesday on a ventilator in a jammed Covid ward. He passed moments after his devastated wife said her final goodbye over the phone. He was 34.

Unlike other vaccine skeptics who’ve recently died, he never wavered in his belief, expressed last week on Facebook, that the Lord and a healthy lifestyle would protect him from the virus. Friends said he’d been excited about taking his children, Tyler and Jen, to their first (your school) game next month.

If you think I’m exaggerating or being snarky, here’s a real obit. It used to be said that one’s name should appear in print just three times, at birth, marriage, and death. Please don’t make me write yours too soon. Take care and be safe.

coronavirus, life, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: At the crossroads

August 10, 2021

I have some big choices to make: Compassion or fury? Hatred or empathy? Resilience or hopelessness? Depression or mere frustration?

If you haven’t guessed, these are the emotions and impulses rolling around my brain like surfers on a big wave, in light of the ghastly upsurge in Covid cases, hospitalizations, and now deaths. Most of the time I’m mad as hell at the willfully stupid unvaxxed. Not those who are uneasy because the vaccines are so new or the working people who can’t take time off for side effects or the Black people who remember Tuskegee. I mean the ones who put lives in danger for purely political reasons and the legion of cretins who cheer them on.

The impact of these people’s selfishness ripples far beyond their own families and friends. Right now a lot of Atlanta hospitals are so overrun with Covid cases that they’re being forced to divert emergency patients elsewhere.

Chart showing covid patients overwhelming hospitals and emergency rooms.

If I have a heart attack or get hit by a car, I might not get treated quickly enough to save my life. Because people won’t take a vaccine. Just like the ones that wiped out smallpox and polio and still save millions of kids from measles, mumps, and rubella.

Meanwhile in Florida, where I used to make my home, the governor wants to cut off the salaries of school administrators who mandate masks for children, most of whom have no vaccine available. Let that sink in.

It’s no wonder I’m PO’d. However, as John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) once said, “Anger is an energy.” It helps me write, which in turn keeps my head level, and allows me to cope with disappointments and burnout.

I’m determined not to fall into the pit of hatred and bile. I take no pleasure in seeing anyone sick and dying, not even anti-vaxxers. However, it made my day when one of the most loathsome was suspended from Twitter. Take care, mask up, and be safe.

Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing the battle of good to overcome evil is already won.

John Lewis, Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, depression, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: Back into your life it will creep

July 22, 2021

Man in yellow hazard suit and gas mask holding spray bottle.
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Among the current flood of bad news is the word that a few fully vaccinated people are testing positive. According to this widely-cited study, their most common symptoms are headache, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, and loss of the sense of smell.

I got my second dose of Pfizer in March. I haven’t been in a big crowd since I went to the clinic for that shot. I know the vaccines are highly potent against the raging Delta variant, which is why 99.5% of the people dying are unvaccinated. I still wear an N95 in public places.

Unless we’re talking about University of Michigan football or basketball, I’m a pretty rational guy. Colleagues used to say I could keep a steady hand when things were falling apart. And except for the loss of smell, the effects of my seasonal allergies are almost identical to the Covid symptoms above. So why, when I woke up the other day with a congested nose and a mild sore throat – exactly the kind of allergic post-nasal drip I’ve had for years – did fear grab my insides while I ran to look up those symptoms?

Though it was probably wishful thinking, I thought I was done with pandemic heebie-jeebies. My anxiety went down several notches after we stopped sanitizing groceries and quarantining mail. When the first jab hit my shoulder, I felt real relief and hope.

What probably got to me is the roller-coaster effect: a terrible winter when cases soared, followed by a hopeful spring and early summer, normalcy popping out like the leaves on the trees, and now we’re hurtling backward. Again. A leading vaccine expert at the Mayo Clinic says this about Delta: “Don’t be deceived that ‘I got this far and I am OK.’ This is a very different variant. It will find you. This virus will find everybody who is not immune.”

Even though I have as much immunity as anyone, I’m recalibrating. From now on I’m following the doctor’s lead and masking up in all public spaces, indoors and out. However, I will not grind myself down with paranoia. Again.

Doing rational things (and writing about them) helps keep the neurosis at bay. A cold shot of vodka on a hot summer day doesn’t hurt, and neither does some good old rock ‘n roll by the Kinks. Take care and be safe.

Silly boy, you got so much to live for
So much to aim for, so much to try for
You blowing it all with paranoia
You’re so insecure, you self-destroyer
— Ray Davies, “Destroyer”

coronavirus, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: Delta blues

July 9, 2021

Meme advocating mask wearing to protect other people and community.

It’s official: #CovidIsNotOver, not with that hashtag and the picture above suddenly trending on Twitter. I knew the pandemic was still with us, but am feeling whipsawed by the confusing information and “guidance” coming from everywhere, and suspect I’m not the only one. Let’s see if we have all this straight.

  • The super-contagious Delta variant is now causing the majority (51.7% as of July 9) of U.S. cases.
  • Cases and hospitalizations are both rising, especially where the vaccination rate is low. (Here in Georgia it’s only about 25% in some spots.)
  • Studies in Israel indicate Pfizer vaccine is significantly less effective against Delta, even with two jabs.
  • Other studies say that’s not so.
  • Pfizer is working on a booster to counter the variant.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services argues vaccinated folks don’t need boosters yet.
  • The CDC says schools should fully reopen, and fully-vaccinated students and teachers don’t need masks inside buildings.
  • There’s no vaccine for kids under 12. In some states, the rate for those 12-18 is abysmal. (2% last month in Alabama. That’s two, not 20.)

After sixteen months, it’s depressing to realize how much we still don’t know. It’s equally disheartening and infuriating to think how little we’re willing to do in the name of collective safety.

The CDC is not recommending that schools require vaccination for students and staff. What happens when an unmasked, Trump-loving, vax-hating teacher infects a classroom? Meanwhile, do we pause or reverse other reopenings, like dine-in restaurants, offices, theaters, bars, concert halls, museums, hair salons, gyms, bookstores, and life?

I’m okay with keeping my head down and my mask on a while longer. It’s still getting awfully damn old, friends. Take care and be safe.

Fiction, Pandemic diary, Writing

A pandemic diary: New story, new times

June 21, 2021

Child climbing on seaside rocks.

My new short story is out, published by Flora Fiction in their literary magazine. The story, “Country Dark,” is about a young woman in an isolated rural home, desperate to escape a violent, abusive man.

The theme of this edition of the magazine is freedom and what it means to each of us. I’m trying to figure out how free I am from worrying about the pandemic, and I keep coming back to, “Not completely, no. Not by a long shot. Not yet.”

It’s true that nationwide case numbers and deaths have nosedived from their horrible peaks of last winter. However, the highly contagious delta variant has gained a foothold, and a big chunk of the country is unvaccinated. A lot of these people think “freedom” means ignoring science and their neighbors’ safety. None of this qualifies as “normal.”

But even if these days aren’t the familiar old times, for many of us they’re better than they’ve been in what seems like forever. Right now I’m looking out my window at a blue summer sky and the young trees in our yard pushing branches toward the sun. That’s plenty for me. Take care and be safe.