Saturday, June 19, 2021

California is opening up and we are so ready. Smiles, hugs, and singing feel so good!. But I can’t help asking, as Cole Porter once wrote: “Is it for all time or simply a lark? Is it Granada I see or only Asbury Park?” Whether this is at long last the end or simply a breathing space, I’ll take it for as long as it’s here.

Opening up doesn’t mean going back to 2019. We are entering an unfamiliar world which differentiates between vaccinated people and unvaccinated people, where navigating public transportation, school, church, childcare, sports, summer camp, and the workplace requires reading the fine print. You can see the state guidelines at https://covid19.ca.gov/ , but individual businesses and institutions can vary on mask and vaccination policies. For example, the University of California system, in a reverse of policy, has decided to require vaccinations for students, staff, and faculty. I carry a mask everywhere, but only wear it if required. I also carry my vaccination card everywhere, but so far no one has asked to see it.

So we have not gone back to normal. We have not even reached a “new normal,” a phrase which implies a measure of stability. Instead we are entering an indeterminant period of change and adaptation, a time of economic and social transition. Right now I see three ways that the pandemic continues to affect our future: Long COVID, hotspots, and variants.

Long COVID remains a concern. The disabling and damaging effects of this disease will be with us for quite some time. The CDC has just published guidelines for follow-up care for hospitalized, mildly ill, and asymptomatic patients with post-COVID conditions. See https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/clinical-care/post-covid-clinical-eval.html. More treatment centers are opening up. I just saw an article in my UCI Magazine called “Help for Long Haulers,” describing a new outpatient treatment center at UCI Health. See https://www.ucihealth.org/news/2021/04/covid-recovery-program-opens for details.

Hot spots are still erupting. We still have a pandemic, which means a worldwide epidemic with uncontrolled spread. Countries where the cases are currently going up include Bolivia, the Philippines, South Africa, Indonesia, Iran, and the United Kingdom. Cases in India are going down after an extremely high peak and cases in Brazil remain high. But hot spots don’t just apply to entire countries. Hot spots, or areas of rapid spread, can break out without warning and be very localized such as the current spread of COVID in southeastern Missouri which has been linked to the Delta variant, originally identified in India.

Variants mean that COVID-19 is a moving target. The Delta variant, first identified in India, is the newest variant of concern and it is spreading fast. Last week it was 6% of new cases in the U.S.; this week it is 10%. In the UK it comprises 60% of new cases. causing the country to delay a planned reopening by 4 weeks. Lambda, a new variant from South America, has now been added to the list of variants of interest. Variants are discovered and tracked through genomic testing.

As a reminder, a variant of interest is implicated in community transmission or is found in multiple countries, while a variant of concern shows increased transmissibility, more severe disease, and/or resistance to diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics. Right now we have seven variants of interest and four variants of concern. Here are the latest charts from the WHO–and by the way, the Epsilon variant, aka B.1.427/B.1.429 was identified right here in California.

And here are the latest variants of concern:

If you want to read more about variants and genomic testing, I have addressed them on several occasions:

  1. Pandemic Day 240: Mutant
  2. Pandemic Day 283: The Variant That Stole Christmas
  3. Pandemic Day 315: Genomic Sequencing and CAL.20C

So, no, the pandemic is not over. But we can still celebrate reopenings whenever and wherever we can find them.

Today’s Notable Headlines

“California college system makes COVID vaccines mandatory for students, staff and faculty,” Sacramento Bee, June 15, 2021. https://www.sacbee.com/news/california/article252138713.html

“Some Residents Confused On If They Should Continue Wearing Face Masks As Mandate Is Lifted,” CBS Los Angeles, June 15, 2021. https://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2021/06/15/face-mask-mandate-los-angeles/

“UCI Health launches COVID-19 recovery program to address long-term effects,” UCI Health, April 8, 2021. https://www.ucihealth.org/news/2021/04/covid-recovery-program-opens

“Missouri Tourist Hotspots Also Heating Up COVID Counts As New Variant Spreads,” St. Louis Public Radio, NPR, June 12, 2021. https://news.stlpublicradio.org/health-science-environment/2021-06-12/missouri-tourist-hotspots-also-heating-up-covid-counts-as-new-variant-spreads

“WHO says delta Covid variant has now spread to 80 countries and it keeps mutating,” CNBC, June 16, 2021. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/06/16/who-says-delta-covid-variant-has-now-spread-to-80-countries-and-it-keeps-mutating.html

“New COVID-19 variant ‘Lambda’ identified in 29 countries: WHO,” TimesNowNews.com, June 16, 2021. https://www.timesnownews.com/international/article/new-covid-19-variant-lambda-identified-in-29-countries-who/771629

“U.K. to delay reopening as Delta variant accounts for 90% of cases and U.S. court upholds mandatory vaccination,” Marketwatch, June 14, 2021. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/u-k-expected-to-delay-reopening-as-delta-variant-accounts-for-90-of-cases-and-u-s-court-upholds-mandatory-vaccination-11623680526

Sites of interest

https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/data/new-cases Johns Hopkins University data for individual countries

https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories.html/ State Department Travel Advisories

https://www.who.int/en/activities/tracking-SARS-CoV-2-variants/ ,Tracking SARS-CoV-2 variants, WHO updated May 31, 2021.

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.

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