A month ago, during reports of turbulent weather on Long Island, I looked out the west side of our house and saw leaves being twirled in a cone shape, by a brute force.
Not long after, three distinct tornados hit ground east of us—a calling card from the future.
We are receiving predictions of global warming, but we don’t do enough. Wouldn’t want to upset the federal budget, would we?
The weather is getting worse everywhere. One tornado tore through Middle America on Friday, killing hundreds, tearing up Mayfield, in western Kentucky.
The destruction touched home with me, coming at this time of year, when darkness falls early, and people try to light up the night with holiday decorations. A December tragedy reminds me of 1970, when a mine blew up in eastern Kentucky, killing 38 miners one day before New Year’s Eve, and as a regional news reporter for the NYT, I happened to be in the area, and rushed to the scene of the disaster.
Whenever something like this happens nowadays, I think I have a journalist’s version of PTSD, viscerally recalling the gloom of long nights, people gathering, at the mine, at the funeral parlor, at the little country churches.
My family got to know Tornado Alley from 1970 to 1972, when we lived in Louisville, getting acclimated to another part of the world, including its weather.
My wife knew about tornados. She had lived just west of Dallas as a kid and remembered what people did when they saw funnel clouds. If the car radio brought tornado watches, and the sky looked ominous, she would pull off the road and look for the lowest dip in the ground.
One day, I had to rush to a town about an hour southeast of us, where a tornado had struck without warning, killing a little boy who been sleeping upstairs – blowing him into the branches of a tree just outside his window. By the time I got there, it was a lovely morning.
Tornados are lethal. My wife kept saying one was going to come blasting up the Ohio River, to the sweet little suburb where we lived. On April 3, 1974, about 18 months after we chose to move back home to Long Island, a tornado came right up Brownsboro Rd., blowing down the garden apartments at the corner, taking off the roof of the school our two girls had attended.
That same tornado soon decimated Xenia, in Ohio, to the north, killing 38 and dislodging thousands.
My wife had called the 1974 tornado, just as she heard about a virus on the loose early in 2020, and predicted the pandemic that will not abate, given the arrogant people who will not get vaccinated.
Now we have Mayfield, essentially leveled to the ground, and parts of six states grievously broken.
What can we do? Our so-called leaders, political and commercial, hear the science of global warming, but they cannot move as fast as a tornado, roaring across the countryside.
The best we can do right now is give some money, to care for the current victims.
The Commonwealth of Kentucky, wisely led by Gov. Andy Beshear (whose grandparents’ house is in stricken Mayfield) has a disaster fund:
And, thank goodness, there is always the Red Cross, on the site, in minutes. (I remember the Red Cross quickly at the scene in 1970, passing out sandwiches and blankets and first aid outside the Hyden mine.)
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.