I have finally–and reluctantly–joined the vast numbers of my fellow citizens and become part of the COVID statistic. There are many things–good streaming shows or films, books, travel–where I do have a fear of missing out. What if I never get to go to Italy? What if I miss seeing that show with the original cast? What if that restaurant that everyone says is breathtakingly good goes under before I get to try their soup?

Not catching COVID, let me tell you, is not like missing Hamilton live on stage. There is nothing about this virus–even in a fairly mild state, with prior vaccinations and and an antiviral on board–that I would not have cheerfully missed. I have been sicker than this–I remember measles, when I was eight, and a truly awful flu sometime in the 1980s–but not much. And at least at the times of those infections I had no idea of what the long-term potential damage could be.

And this is with a modest infection. I got Paxlovid (which may or may not be pronounced “Pax-LO-vid” — no one will confirm the pronunciation) and took it diligently*. I took it more or less easy (after the first 36 hours it really wasn’t bad…) and by Saturday last the test showed that while I was still positive, it was only faintly so. So, convinced that I was moving out of COVID-land, I probably overdid it on Sunday. My husband, who was also COVID positive, and I cleared out parts of our unspeakable basement, because really we’re lying around the house feeling like slugs, and we weren’t working that hard and…

Not smart. Monday I tested again and…wow. More positive than on my first day of positivity. And I felt like someone was hitting me with hammers, which I am assured is not the case. So yesterday I took it easy. I napped–anyone who knows me will tell you how bizarre that is–and lay on the couch staring into the middle distance, and watched a movie on my phone, and was otherwise slug-like.

Today I seem to be better. I’m working from home, drinking an unseemly amount of water, taking all the vitamins, and not doing much more than going from the couch to the kitchen and back. It is really boring.

But let me tell you: if you have dodged this particular Cultural Event, hold that thought and keep up the good work. I masked diligently for 3+ years and managed to stay safe (I suspect that someone whom I love was not quite so diligent, but that’s viruses under the bridge at this point). And the minute I am really-O-truly-O negative, I will go right back to masking.

Because viruses don’t care about your opinions or your politics. Viruses are driven to replicate–it’s their only purpose in life. Don’t let them move in. You won’t like it, I promise.


* Yes, it leaves a foul taste in your mouth. Celebrate when you’ve finished the course and eat yummy things, but don’t screw around and drop

Acting Collectively

I find myself thinking a lot these days about the difference between individual and collective solutions to problems.

As a lifetime martial artist, I believe personal responsibility is important, especially in a crisis situation. But personal responsibility does not necessarily mean individual solutions; rather it means that you take action in a situation instead of wringing your hands.

It can, for example, mean you follow the evacuation plan out of a disaster area. Or that you organize your neighbors to deal with a disaster. Or that you follow public health recommendations about things like wearing masks and getting vaccines. You take personal responsibility to behave in a useful and collective way.

But in the United States, we all too often take the attitude that all problems are individual, not collective, with the “you do you” approach to the pandemic being only the latest example.

A couple of weeks ago I did a lot of driving on California freeways, which made me extremely aware of how building a society around cars takes individualism to an extreme. We have this whole network of high-speed roads, driven on by people with varying degrees of skill in vehicles of all sizes and in all conditions of repair.

Individualism only goes so far in that situation. Even if I’m doing my best to drive safely and responsibly, there are only so many options to protect myself on a six-lane highway clogged with cars if someone else is driving like an idiot or even just has a tire blow out.

43,000 people died due to traffic “accidents” in the U.S. in 2021. (I put “accidents” in quote marks because I read Jessie Singer’s There Are No Accidents, a book that points out that many of the deaths and injuries we put under that title are caused by policy decisions. I wrote about it here.)

I wonder what our life would be like today if we had put the same amount of money that went into motor vehicle infrastructure into rail systems.

Rail is collective; cars are individual. Continue reading “Acting Collectively”

On Not Tolerating the Intolerable

The pandemic buzzword these days is “endemic,” which is being used to mean Covid’s going to stick around so we might as well just go back to normal lives.

That is not what endemic means, of course. Endemic means an illness that constantly exists at a baseline level of some amount in an area without being brought in from elsewhere. The common cold is endemic in most places. So are a few more dangerous illnesses — the plague, for example.

The other key thing about endemic disease is that the illness doesn’t spread at an epidemic pace. Covid’s clearly not close to endemic. Here’s a piece in Nature that explains that better than I can.

Also, just because an illness becomes endemic doesn’t mean everything is rosy. In the Nature article, Oxford Professor Aris Katzourakis points out:

A disease can be endemic and both widespread and deadly. Malaria killed more than 600,000 people in 2020. Ten million fell ill with tuberculosis that same year and 1.5 million died.

I recall a doctor who was working for a pharmaceutical company telling me years ago that no companies wanted to work on TB drugs because there wasn’t any money in it. That’s why those people are dying.

Coming back to the virus at hand: what endemic does not mean and should never be used to mean is letting people die so we can get back to “normal.”. But in many corners of the U.S., people are using the term to mean precisely that. Continue reading “On Not Tolerating the Intolerable”