Doctor, I think I’ve had a breakthrough.
I’ve actually taken two summer vacations of nearly a week long.
I’ve always been busy in the summer, working overseas at major events or schlepping off to the inane din of ball parks. My wife used to say, why don’t you be smart like Dave Anderson and take a whole month off and relax? (For that matter, editors and readers always asked why I couldn’t be more like Dave Anderson.)
Anyway, I thought I’d try it.
The first vacation to Cape Cod was a little scary because I kept getting reports of marauding sharks and infectious sea lions and wandering bears and skittish foxes.
The second vacation began in western Massachusetts, where I did things like swim in a lake and watch ducks and kayakers glide past, and hang out with friends in a delightful home.
Sometimes we watched the clouds and the sky and the hills. Sometimes we talked about the Yankees or politics or thwarted hoop dreams.
Then my wife and I drove to central New York to visit my kid brother and his wife who are on the faculty at Colgate and live out in the country in an 1842 stone house. While the women went to an all-day antique fair in town, my brother and I picked vegetables in his garden and watched the farmer’s cows on the other side of the fence.
But the highlight of upstate was having time for two trips to Cooperstown, for the Glimmerglass Festival – a total revelation. I had always thought of it as an outdoor summery diversion, but in fact it is an indoor auditorium used only a few months a year with a very high level of performance and staging.
We sat in the third row for an old French opera, Armide, with a strong cast including a charming ballet corps, and on Monday we came back for Lost in the Stars, the pre-Mandela South African story of a tragedy striking black and white families.
From the third row, we were especially captivated by the bass, Eric Owens, and the tenor, Sean Panikker, two Pennsylvanians on their way up. After the performance, the principals came out in street clothes and answered questions from the audience.
Afterward, the four of us went out for home-made ice cream and zucchini bread on Route 20, and talked about making this excursion to Glimmerglass an annual event.
Then my wife and I drove back toward the city under a gathering storm, seeing more sky than we ever can around New York.
I know I am not saying anything profound here, Doctor, but I think I have proven the point that I can take a week away from cities, from work, and not go nuts.
Of course, now I am back in high gear – drawn back by the Lance Armstrong saga, getting ready for a few cameo gigs at the Open tennis in the next two weeks. Deadlines. Assignments. Anxiety. The dreaded R-word is taking its own well-deserved vacation. Still, this is progress, isn’t it, Doctor?
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.