Wednesday, December 23, 2020
These are the darkest days of winter. And this morning, pondering the imperceptible lengthening of the daylight that began this week and reading about the pandemic reaching Antarctica, I suddenly realized that the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, is a Northern Hemisphere event. I should have known that by now. I remember my Dad telling me how the Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year and I think I just assumed that this applied to everybody in the world. Of course he would have known better. He was fascinated with astronomical events like this week’s alignment of Jupiter and Saturn.
What would he have made of the COVID pandemic, now on every continent? Dad was born in 1918, the year of the worldwide influenza pandemic. Pandemics have been declared since then, but only the “Spanish Flu” of 1918, which infected about a third of the world’s population, came close to what we are experiencing now. None of us living today can remember a plague like COVID, which now reaches the entire world.
On Monday The Los Angeles Times had an article that asked why this winter’s lockdowns aren’t succeeding the way the spring lockdowns did. One component was human behavior, of course. I know I was beginning to be overconfident. COVID has dominated our lives since the lockdown in March. Back then we were ready for things to be really bad here in California. A navy hospital ship was moved to Los Angeles harbor for backup. Hospitals checked their inventories of N95 masks and ventilators and scrambled to get more. Both the governor and the President gave daily briefings on supplies and procurement and we all learned what PPE stood for. Soon testing would be available to everyone, the President said. We would control the spread with testing and contract tracing, said the governor.
Remember when we weren’t sure we needed masks? Masks became de rigeur sometime in between Kate Hudson’s much-maligned Instagram mask selfie on Feb. 26 and April 1 when the L.A. Times ran an Opinion piece titled: “An about-face on masks.” Then we learned that you had to get the right kind. Then Target and Amazon ran out of all of them.
In the spring many of us didn’t know anyone who had COVID and here in California it didn’t seem that hard to “flatten the curve” We saw the overwhelmed hospitals of northern Italy and New York City on television and we hoped we wouldn’t come to that. Spring and summer brought more cases but hospitals seemed to be functioning as usual. We began to feel more confident. I know I did.
But it’s not just overconfidence and human behavior that drive the current crisis. It’s the numbers themselves. The greater number of cases spirals the number of hospitalizations higher. The hospitals are full because more cases generate more cases. The higher numbers of positive tests mean that when you are out you have more chance of encountering the virus. This means that whatever you were doing to be careful, whatever has worked so far, will not be enough any more.
On December 16 Health Director Barbara Ferrer announced that 1 in 80 people in Los Angeles County have COVID-19. Here are the latest trends for percent of positive tests, hospitalizations, and deaths for Los Angeles County:
In the spring CIDRAP epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm said that in time we will all know someone close to us who has COVID-19. That time is close. For the first time, I know people who know people who have COVID. There is a new strain in England that spreads faster. And today we’re hearing about a strain in South Africa that spreads even faster than that one.
The stress on local hospitals is beginning to show. A few recent examples:
- “Nurses Demonstrate Outside OC Hospitals As COVID Crisis Worsens,” KCAL 9, CBS Los Angeles, Dec. 23, 2020. https://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2020/12/23/nurses-demonstrate-outside-oc-hospitals-as-covid-crisis-worsens/
- “Officials: COVID-19 patient beat fellow patient to death at Antelope Valley Hospital,” Eyewitness News ABC 7, Dec. 23, 2020. https://abc7.com/covid-19-patient-killed-covid-antelope-valley-hospital-beating-coronavirus-deaths/8993951/
- “New Video Shows COVID-19 Patients Lined Up In SoCal Hospital Hallways As Surge Continues,” KCAL 9, CBS Los Angeles, Dec. 22, 2020. https://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2020/12/22/coronavirus-hospitals-overwhelmed-patients-in-hallways-outside/
The good news is that vaccines are being rolled out that will reduce the numbers of infections in the community. I’ve never been so glad to be 75. Therapeutics and interventions are improving daily and new research is underway on areas like the effect of COVID on children and the treatment of long-term COVID. I’ll be looking into these soon because I like research and because the solstice is a time when light brings hope to the world. To both hemispheres, please.
As a gift of joy at this dark time, I would like to share this song that my choral group, The Festival Singers, put together on YouTube:
Please enjoy our new virtual holiday wish:
We Need A Little Christmas
And don’t forget to look for the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn low in the western sky soon after sunset between now and Christmas Day. It looks like a big glowing star.
Today’s Notable Headlines
“California once quelled COVID with stay-at-home order. Why this one isn’t working as well,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 21, 2020. https://news.yahoo.com/california-quelled-virus-surge-march-130028525.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly91cy5zZWFyY2gueWFob28uY29tLw&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAEalB7Yg5ssFDFadHlMQGEC_mfRaTnejIaSjz2T0RHZDOeoem99IcMPu0r4godkpb-ZQrHrdF4NISZtKn9sdDpsHFA8liUl_PORhvcZ9x2YGzKrmCdmtFpWhiXZCAifODXkIf0Yr1BKZXqrKXSMlAfyi0JYTymNliFdg55tnhdWC
“1 in 80 people have COVID-19 in L.A. County, which reports highest number of deaths since pandemic began,” KTLA-5, Dec.16, 2020, https://ktla.com/news/local-news/l-a-county-officials-provide-coronavirus-update-as-regional-hospitals-are-on-brink-of-icu-capacity/
“Second COVID Mutation, From South Africa, in U.K.: ‘Even More Transmissible’ Than First,” Newsweek, Dec. 23, 2020./ https://www.newsweek.com/second-covid-mutation-found-uk-south-africa-even-more-transmissible-first-1556982
“Watch for the ‘Christmas Star’ as Jupiter and Saturn come closer than they have in centuries,” CNN, Dec. 21, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/21/world/christmas-star-jupiter-saturn-solstice-scn-trnd/index.html
L.A. County COVID-10 Data, Dec. 23, 2020. http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/Coronavirus/data/index.htm
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, Dec. 23, 2020. https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html
“Amid confusion about reopening, an expert explains how to assess COVID-19 risk,” MPR News, All Things Considered, June 18, 2020. Interview with Dr. Michael Osterholm.
Why am I doing this?
The coronavirus pandemic will be indelibly written on our memories just as the Great Depression or the Battle of Britain left their mark on past generations. It is my intention to journal the pandemic experience from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary crisis.
You are on History’s Edge.