BONUS: What A Great New Song!
Yesterday, I interviewed 3 people for two different jobs that would entail being inside my home. All came masked. And when I asked each if they had been vaccinated, all answered that they had, but when I followed up with a question about a booster each said they hadn't been. The two I wanted to hire said they would get boosters before starting the 2 jobs. I asked each why they hadn't been boosted yet and they all said the same thing-- the making appointments part was too complicated for them. That's a working class thing that non-working class government officials should have thought about.
The NY Times reported on a different division yesterday: risk takers vs risk averse. That sounded like bullshit to me because I'm a risk taker about everything... except my health. I drove through Afghanistan, went hiking-- twice-- in the Himalayas and wandered into the Sahara Desert in Mali and spent a day with a tribe of Tuaregs who were known for kidnapping foreigners. I also started a business, which many people consider the ultimate in risk taking. But not getting a jab or taking simple precautions? To me that isn't about being risk averse; it's about being a moron. Jason Horowitz's piece for The Times though, is about how vaccinated people in Italy are living their lives. Nearly 90% of the population are vaccinated, compared to just 64% in the U.S. The most vaccinated states are Vermont (79%), Rhode Island (79%) and Maine (78%). The least vaccinated are still the socially backward Trump states: Alabama (49%), Wyoming (50%) and Mississippi (50%).
"As the Omicron variant of the coronavirus personally touches or swirls around so many individuals," he wrote, "vaccinated and largely protected families are strained by varying comfort levels. It is much the same the world over, especially where significant portions of the population have been vaccinated, like Italy, which now has one of the highest rates in the world. Initially slammed by the virus, Italy today holds the promise of a near future where the schism in society is no longer between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, or the socially responsible and the scofflaws, but between the risk takers and the risk averse. For many with booster shots, life has become a constant negotiation between those who want to resume dining in restaurants, those still reluctant to accept deliveries and those who just want to get the virus already and get their mandatory quarantines over with."
An e-mail I got from a friend today, after telling him I won't be ready to get together until the pandemic emergency in L.A. is over, probably in March:
You can visit here and still observe all the protocols. 6 feet etc. outdoors. Or indoors across the room. With all the doors open. And I'm vaccinated TIMES FIVE. We can sit 50 feet apart."
Also writing for The Times yesterday, Benjamin Mueller and Eleanor Lutz tackled the problem of why the death rate in the U.S. is much higher than in other wealthy countries, with deaths in the U.S. now surpassing the worst days of the autumn surge of the Delta variant, and more than two-thirds as high as the record tolls of last winter, when vaccines were largely unavailable.
They wrote that "Some of the reasons for America’s difficulties are well known. Despite having one of the world’s most powerful arsenals of vaccines, the country has failed to vaccinate as many people as other large, wealthy nations. Crucially, vaccination rates in older people also lag behind certain European nations. The United States has fallen even further behind in administering booster shots, leaving large numbers of vulnerable people with fading protection as Omicron sweeps across the country. The resulting American death toll has set the country apart-- and by wider margins than has been broadly recognized. Since Dec. 1, when health officials announced the first Omicron case in the United States, the share of Americans who have been killed by the coronavirus is at least 63 percent higher than in any of these other large, wealthy nations... The United States faces certain steep disadvantages, ones that experts worry could cause problems during future Covid waves, and even the next pandemic. Many Americans have health problems like obesity and diabetes that increase the risk of severe Covid."
For all the encouragement that American health leaders drew from other countries’ success in withstanding the Omicron surge, the outcomes in the U.S. have been markedly different. Hospital admissions in the U.S. swelled to much higher rates than in Western Europe, leaving some states struggling to provide care. Americans are now dying from Covid at nearly double the daily rate of Britons and four times the rate of Germans.
The only large European countries to exceed America’s Covid death rates this winter have been Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Greece and the Czech Republic, poorer nations where the best Covid treatments are relatively scarce.
“The U.S. stands out as having a relatively high fatality rate,” said Joseph Dieleman, an associate professor at the University of Washington who has compared Covid outcomes globally. “There’s been more loss than anyone wanted or anticipated.”
As deadly as the Omicron wave has been, the situation in the United States is far better than it would have been without vaccines. The Omicron variant also causes less serious illness than Delta, even though it has led to staggering case numbers. Together, vaccines and the less lethal nature of Omicron infections have significantly reduced the share of people with Covid who are being hospitalized and dying during this wave.
In Western Europe, those factors have resulted in much more manageable waves. Deaths in Britain, for example, are one-fifth of last winter’s peak, and hospital admissions are roughly half as high.
But not so in the United States. Record numbers of Americans with the highly contagious variant have filled up hospitals in recent weeks and the average death toll is still around 2,500 a day.
Chief among the reasons is the country’s faltering effort to vaccinate its most vulnerable people at the levels achieved by more successful European countries.
Twelve percent of Americans 65 and over have not received either two shots of a Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine or one Johnson & Johnson shot, which the C.D.C. considers fully vaccinated, according to the agency’s statistics. (Inconsistencies in C.D.C. counts make it difficult to know the precise figure.)
And 43 percent of people 65 and over have not received a booster shot. Even among the fully vaccinated, the lack of a booster leaves tens of millions with waning protection, some of them many months past the peak levels of immunity afforded by their second shots.
In England, by contrast, only 4 percent of people 65 and over have not been fully vaccinated and only 9 percent do not have a booster shot.
“It’s not just vaccination-- it’s the recency of vaccines, it’s whether or not people have been boosted, and also whether or not people have been infected in the past,” said Lauren Ancel Meyers, the director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Covid-19 modeling consortium.
Unvaccinated people make up a majority of hospitalized patients. But older people without booster shots also sometimes struggle to shake off the virus, said Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician at Brown University, leaving them in need of extra oxygen or hospital stays.
...Americans began dying from Covid at higher rates than people in western European countries starting in the summer, after the United States had fallen behind on vaccinations. During the Delta surge in the fall, Americans were dying from Covid at triple the rate of Britons.
...More Americans have also come to express distrust-- of the government, and of each other-- in recent decades, making them less inclined to follow public health precautions like getting vaccinated or reducing their contacts during surges, said Thomas Bollyky, director of the global health program at the Council on Foreign Relations.
A study published in the scientific journal The Lancet on Tuesday by Mr. Bollyky and Dr. Dieleman of the University of Washington found that a given country’s level of distrust had strong associations with its coronavirus infection rate.
“What our study suggests is that when you have a novel contagious virus,” Mr. Bollyky said, “the best way for the government to protect its citizens is to convince its citizens to protect themselves.”
While infection levels remain high in many states, scientists said that some deaths could still be averted by people taking precautions around older and more vulnerable Americans, like testing themselves and wearing masks. The toll from future waves will depend on what other variants emerge, scientists said, as well as what level of death Americans decide is tolerable.
“We’ve normalized a very high death toll in the U.S.,” said Anne Sosin, who studies health equity at Dartmouth. “If we want to declare the end of the pandemic right now, what we’re doing is normalizing a very high rate of death.”
OK, do you have time for an end-of-the-day song? It's just a minute and a half and it's the latest from former Barenaked Ladies singer Steven Page. You can listen here on his Band Camp page. Steven has been one of my favorite lyricists for decades. There's no doubt which side he's on when it comes to Neil Young's dispute with Spotify over Joe Rogan. The song is called "Choose Young."
If you’ve gotta choose between spoken and sung
If you’ve gotta choose between your teeth and your tongue
If you’ve gotta choose between Rogan and Young
Pay him half a cent or pay him millions of bucks
Pay him while he cheers a bunch of traitors in trucks
You can try to dress him up in a tux
He still sucks
Sometimes you’ve gotta choose between Caesar & Christ
Sometimes you’ve gotta choose between naughty & nice
Sometimes you’ve gotta ban a comic book about mice
Don’t think twice
Don’t think twice
If you Look back now at how far we have come
And you’re asking how things could have gotten so dumb
We used to clap for the nurses every night on the landing
Now we dox em and we stalk em and we shout Let’s Go Brandon
Sometimes you’ve gotta choose between Pfizer and death
Sometimes you’ve gotta choose between Elon and Jeff
Sometimes you get confused about who’s actually oppressed
Let me guess