Our relatives in London were hoping we’re okay. Our friend outside Tokyo was wishing us well. My friend in Ontario said they have had very little snow this winter. We've heard from Brazil and Norman, Okla., and Grapevine, Tex., and my sister Jane outside Atlanta, waxing nostalgic about childhood sledding on Red Brick Hill in Queens.
That is the difference between now and the great storms of the distant past. We are all connected.
Nowadays the storms have doomsday theme music on the all-news radio. Sometimes they live up to the hype. This one fell short of the worst-case. The storm veered eastward on Long Island -- which is 120 miles long -- and we got what looks like 6-8 inches to me, but officially could be 8-12 in this area, near the city. The lights have not flickered here.
There was no all-news radio back in 1947 when I was 8 years old. I don’t remember any warning whatsoever. It just snowed and snowed – 26.4 inches, one source says. Did my father miss work because he couldn’t get to the subway? (There was no “working from home” the way some members of the family are doing on Tuesday.) How long were we out from school in 1947? How did my mom feed us all? How long was it before my Irish grandmother walked to church? I don’t remember.
I remember two things from that Big One of 1947 – the Rose Bowl on the radio on New Year’s Day, touching off national envy of sunny California (Michigan beat USC, 49-0; I looked it up) and also a major thaw, days or weeks later, sun glaring in our eyes, rivers flowing down off the glacial hills of Queens, toward Hillside Avenue, kids sloshing up to our knees.
The point of reference in 1947 was the Big One of 1888 – 21 inches, according to one source, with drifts 30 feet high. Thirty feet? The newspapers of 1947 carried 1888 photos of wires sagging over narrow city streets, a locomotive overturned. People in 1947 who were the age I am now talked with great clarity about their own memories of 1888, without the help of electronic clips.
In recent years, the web sites of our age tell me there have been other two-foot storms in New York. They all tend to blur, which is a good sign, because it means we survived.
The worst hardship came from Sandy, two years ago, when we were out of juice for 10 days but people on the Atlantic coast, friends, suffered much worse. I have no complaints.
To Sam and Jen in Islington, Haruko outside Tokyo, Bruce in Hamilton, Altenir in Rio, RJ in Oklahoma, Jane outside Atlanta: we’ve charged our gadgets, put batteries in the mobile lanterns and flashlights, checked the all-weather cord to the generator from our lovely neighbors out back, that would give us a modest charge, if and when.
Fifty years from now, some people will tell their grandkids about the Big One of 2015. For the record: I just saw a snowplow down the hill, scraping the road clear, and our neighbor Kirk cleared our driveway for us. It's all good.
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.