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Friday, Feb. 19, 2021

Ash Wednesday always feels transitional to me. It brings back that gray stretch between Christmas and Easter when one day blended into the next and school seemed like it would last forever. After 11 months I’m almost used to doing things the pandemic way, like celebrating Mardi Gras with a Zoom pancake supper. Last February, when thing were “normal” seems far away. But even as I begin to adjust to it, the nature of the pandemic is changing: decrease in hospitalizations, increase in variants, increase in vaccinations. Articles are popping up about whether the decrease is due to the season (maybe, with snow covering 70% of the country this week), more compliance with NPIs (code for non-pharmaceutical interventions and I doubt it), or acquired immunity (from exposure both direct and vaccinated). We haven’t seen these discussions before.

I felt like celebrating when I saw this statement from geosciences professor Gabriel Vecchi: “The influence of climate and weather on infection rates should become more evident . . . as growing immunity moves the disease into endemic phases from the present epidemic stage.” (bold is mine, see source 1 below). Hey, did you hear that? We’re moving into the endemic phase! That’s when the disease reaches a level we can live with, for better or for worse. Experts are beginning to suggest that the novel coronavirus will always be with us, but not in the same way we are experiencing it now. Things will be changing over the next six months. We just don’t know how next year will be different any more than we knew how this year would be different.

For example: last Tuesday was Mardi Gras. The day before Ash Wednesday. People associate it with Carnival in Rio and festivities in New Orleans, traditionally the big party before the quiet season of Lent. Last year, in 2020, Mardi Gras was on Tuesday, Feb. 25. There were parades and partying in New Orleans which attracted people from all over. Louisiana had very few reported cases of COVID at that time, but Mardi Gras festivities were later reported as a “superspreader event.” This year the city was quiet. No parades, no parties. But next year, who knows? People will celebrate, of that I’m sure. But not like 2020. And not like 2021.

The Episcopal Church celebrates Mardi Gras, or Shrove Tuesday, with a traditional Pancake Supper. Last year I skipped the pancake supper. I was so busy! I had to prepare my taxes and rehearse for the March 1st Festival Singers’ concert, go to hair and nail appointments, and get ready to leave for Portugal the next week.

This year the calendar is mostly blank. But I’m getting used to this. So Tuesday night I took part in the traditional pancake supper at 6:00 PM on Zoom wearing Mardi Gras beads which I had picked up in a Lenten bag at the church earlier. I donned my beads, flipped my flapjacks, propped up the iPad, and sat down to a shared feast. It was fun! Next year I expect that we will get together in person. And I expect it to be different.

Wednesday night I put a purple scarf across the table, lit a candle, got the little container of ashes out of the bag, and turned on Zoom. I’ve seen a lot of Ash Wednesdays in my time, but none like this. We read psalms and prayed and marked our foreheads. “Remember that you are but dust and to dust you shall return.” A sobering thought, especially when you mark yourself. This time last year we were in church. Next year we will be again. We are already on the way.

How will Zoom’s role change, I wonder? Right now, it’s my social life and it has no boundaries. I spent most of the week preparing a presentation on West Nile Virus and the history of viral research for my oldest son’s Mensa group in Hawaii. Several islands were represented. Gave that last night–it was fun. I’m currently reading “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” for an upcoming book club discussion which include two of my school friends from Tehran–one now living in England and the other in Lancaster, PA. Tomorrow night is our weekly family Zoom visit with people from Virginia, Georgia, Hawaii, and sometimes parts of the Midwest. Will these gatherings fade away as we start getting together with our local groups again?

The virus is headed down the endemic path, of that I am sure. That is, it will always be present in low numbers in the population, like chicken pox or the common cold, maybe with seasonal variation. A recent article in Nature (link below) shows the pathways that COVID-19 might take. It is unlikely to be eradicated, the article points out. Although there are a few countries in the world that have successfully reduced cases to almost nothing, this results from creating a highly artificial environment where travel is restricted and quarantines of each arrival are rigidly enforced. Not a sustainable situation for most economies. In a poll of virologists and researchers, Nature found that 89% believed that SARS-CoV-2 is likely to become endemic. They have an interesting flow chart of the possible scenarios, which I highly recommend. See “The coronavirus is here to stay — here’s what that means,” link below, and figure out where you think we’re headed.

And then hold on tight, because one thing is for sure–we’re not standing still.

Today’s Notable Headlines

“Health officials say the coronavirus will likely become endemic in the next several years. What does that mean?” USA Today, Feb. 17, 2021. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2021/02/17/covid-19-likely-become-endemic-experts-say-heres-what-means/4487953001/

“Mardi Gras celebrations toned down after last year’s revelry may have led to COVID-19 spike in New Orleans,” USA Today, Feb. 16, 2021. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2021/02/16/mardi-gras-celebrations-toned-down-amid-covid-new-orleans/6761698002/

“The coronavirus is here to stay — here’s what that means,” Nature, Feb. 16, 2021. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00396-2

“Doctor predicts another Covid surge amid presence of new variants,” CNBC, Feb. 1, 2021. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/02/01/doctor-predicts-another-covid-surge-amid-presence-of-new-variants.html

Sources:

(1) “Winter COVID-19: Climate less important than control measures,” Medical News Today, Feb. 19, 2021. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/winter-covid-19-climate-less-important-than-control-measures

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. I intend to journal the pandemic experience from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, as a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary world crisis.

You are on History’s Edge.

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