Our three grown children love their home town; two of them have moved back. All three have the same reaction to what used to seem like a sleepy town on a peninsula, far from the main highways:
Drivers are nuts.
The back streets, where our children walked to school and some of our grandchildren now walk, have become obstacle courses for drivers that run stop signs, tailgate, speed, make turns without signaling, and other dangerous moves.
I hasten to add, the offenders are not some mysterious “them,” outsiders new to the ways of suburbia or America. The enemy is us – commuters and other locals, mostly in the physical prime of life, trying to control mammoth vans and SUVs, with one hand on a cup of coffee, the other hand on a smartphone. (That adds up to two occupied hands.)
I recently did a stint, driving a family member to an early train for a month or so. Heading toward the station in the morning is worth your life, with drivers exhibiting white-line fever, fearing they will miss the last available parking space in town. Drivers would speed around you as your passenger disembarked. Many of the drivers do not seem to be making eye contact, or looking at anything in particular. They are just in panic mode.
Is it Ebola, or ISIS, or the stock market, or looming college tuition, or general anxiety that none of us will be able to meet the shocking taxes and expenses of living in a nice Long Island suburb?
It’s not just family members that feel this way. I was waiting to cross a main street the other day, when a 30-ish driver made a dangerous left turn across two lanes of oncoming traffic. The crossing guard and I shook our heads. She grew up in town. Things are different these days, she said.
The crossing guards do their best. The guards based near the post office are great at screaming at dangerous offenders, making them stop and listen to a lecture. Good for them. They are standing up for their town. But they are dealing with drivers who seem to have grown up thinking the rules do not apply to them.
The other day I saw a welcome sight – an unmarked car, parked unobtrusively, with a radar gun outside the driver’s window, monitoring the main street, not far from where a pedestrian got run down and killed a few months ago.
Dropping the speed limit from 30 to 25 would be a good idea, too. But I’m not sure our pre-occupied new breed, on their smartphones, would notice.
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.