Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Hesitancy

June 15, 2021

Probably realizing that the term anti-vaxxer has a lot of problematic (and inaccurate) ramifications to it, the term I see being used a lot these days for folks who haven’t sought out a COVID vaccine is hesitant. I don’t think the frequent vitriol behind this term is any more muted than that behind the term anti-vaxxer. But it sounds nicer. Until you start listening to what is being said to and about those who are hesitant.

I fall into that hesitant camp. Even though I’ve had and recovered from COVID without issue (as the vast majority of those infected with COVID do), I’m being told in the media that I still need to get vaccinated. My question is why. The vaccine is intended to prompt and instruct the body on how to produce antibodies capable of fighting a COVID infection, either preventing full-blown infection or reducing the symptoms of such an infection (thereby decreasing the odds of winding up in the hospital on a ventilator). That’s how the vaccine has been explained to us. However, since I had COVID, my body already knows how to produce those antibodies. It had to learn that a harder way, some might say. But it learned. It produced the antibodies, and it now knows how to produce those antibodies again should it need them.

A study released late last month indicates as such. And the report asserts people who have recovered from even mild cases of COVID have exactly the same anti-body producing capabilities as those who receive the vaccine. Yet the CDC’s current recommendation is that relaxing of mask and social distancing rules – not to mention potential travel and other restrictions – be lifted only for those who are vaccinated, and not for those who have recovered from COVID (and would presumably be given the option of a paper or digital certification that the associated antibodies have been found in their bodies).

What is being created is a dangerous and, at least in my lifetime, unprecedented division based on health decisions. One set of rules for people who have received the vaccine, and another for those who have not. The lunacy of this goes beyond simply the logistical level, and I believe contributes a great deal to the hesitancy and skepticism of some people – the very people the CDC apparently wants desperately to convince to get vaccinated.

Why won’t I get the COVID vaccine until it is unavoidable? Why am I hesitant or skeptical?

  1. I’ve had COVID (as verified by a state-run COVID testing site administered by professionals). Therefore, I have the antibodies to fight it. I have seen no documentation that disputes this is the case.
  2. I have seen zero evidence that having the vaccine on top of having recovered from COVID gives me any demonstrable improvement in my odds of fighting off or minimizing symptoms if exposed to COVID in the future. While some want to argue the vaccine somehow provides better protection, I’ve seen no reports explaining why this would be the case (let alone documenting that it is the case, whether we can explain it or not). Arguments that you can get sick with COVID again after having been infected with it once are not surprising to me, but the same argument can be used for the vaccine. There are documented cases of people being fully vaccinated and still getting COVID. This doesn’t surprise me either.
  3. Unlike a vaccine, I do not have worries that the antibodies my body created are somehow going to cause other problems in my body in the short or long-term. This doesn’t mean such complications or problems might not occur, but then it is a biological issue rather than an issue of someone else’s manufactured solution being found to cause problems. Articles repeatedly assert that vaccines are safe. What this means is not that the vaccine is safe, but rather that no health or other issues have been found directly related to the vaccine. This is a very different thing than safe.
    1. No organization can reasonably be expected to be able (let alone willing!) to test for every conceivable form of interaction problem or health problem.
    2. Even if such were possible, we would not necessarily be able to properly spot and identify those problems.
    3. While some short-term testing for some easily detectable problems has been done, there are no long-term studies about possible side effects. This is not possible because the vaccines are less than a year old. Despite being assured about their safety, already there have been many questions raised about possible direct side effects (heart issues, stroke issues, etc.) as well as indirect side effects (fertility issues in women, how the vaccine affects younger people and children). It is insulting when someone condescendingly dismisses concerns about safety as though I’m stupid because the vaccines have been proven safe. They have not. They have proven to be free of short-term, easily diagnosed reactions (in most people). We won’t know for years whether they are safe, either in and of themselves or in conjunction with other vaccines and medications.
  4. Science is once again making assertions without any serious attempt to validate or demonstrate why those assertions should be followed. Vaccines stimulate the body to create antibodies to fight off COVID. When infected by COVID the body creates antibodies to fight off COVID. Both create the same antibodies within the body (or do they?). Therefore, to treat the 30 million (at least) Americans who have been diagnosed with COVID over the last year as a health risk makes no logical sense.
  5. Therefore, I am skeptical about other intentions that could be at play here, with science and the pandemic being coopted to serve those ends. Creating a vaccine ID in any form that might be required for access to services or opportunities is a dangerous first step towards a broader system that includes or excludes people not based on their citizenship status or other longstanding criteria but simply based on whether they’ve done something the government wants them to do or not. Anyone with an awareness of history and human nature should be deeply concerned about any such efforts, even when they’re offered under the guise of protecting public health (or perhaps especially when they’re offered as such!).
  6. When scientists tell me something has to happen when science itself would seem to suggest otherwise, I get skeptical. Such reasoning is quickly dismissed in many corners as conspiracy theory stuff, and therefore not necessary to provide an intelligent answer to, or to take seriously. For me (and I don’t knowingly read conspiracy theories), there are two major, very possible (as vetted by history) reasons why science might be employed to push for universal vaccinations even though the science doesn’t support this is necessary:
    1. The vaccines include or do something beyond what the natural antibody response does. In other words, there is more to the vaccine than just COVID antibody instructions, and the important thing is that everyone gets whatever that other element is. Perhaps this wasn’t intended in the vaccine design but discovered afterwards. Or perhaps it was part of the design. This would explain why people who have recovered from COVID and therefore have the antibodies are being ignored or told this doesn’t exempt them from the need for the vaccine.
    2. The government is using this as an opportunity to push not simply for COVID vaccinations but to set the groundwork for a rolling, ongoing system of mandatory vaccinations to whatever is deemed viable. Vaccine IDs would be used ultimately not just for COVID vaccine (or even for just vaccines or health-related issues) but also flu shots and all the other vaccinations currently considered de rigueur as well as any future ones we might develop. Failure to participate in “recommended” programs and actions would flag you, limiting access to services and goods or requiring onerous practices in order to access them. If this sounds far-fetched, consider that California passed mandatory immunization legislation several years ago that mandates immunizations but does not require recipients to be told what vaccines they are being given (note item 11 under Section 1) and allows a state board/committee to decide when to add additional immunizations to the required list.

I’ve yet to see an intelligent response to these concerns either in total or in part. What I typically find in either belligerent dismissals of hesitancy or attempts at empathy boil down to unsupported assertions or fear-mongering. Get the vaccine because it’s a lot safer than the actual virus. The vaccines are safe and questioning that for any reason is dangerous and/or stupid. These are not intelligent answers, no matter how empathetic they’d like to be. They ignore logic, common sense, history, and science itself. A much better response would be a balanced one that acknowledges both what we don’t know as well as all of what we do know. A better response would explain why natural antibodies are not as good as vaccine-induced antibodies. A better response would explain why, if vaccinated people are safe(r), those who choose not to get the vaccine for any reason are not entitled to that decision and the inherent personal risk associated with it, knowing that anyone else at serious risk has more than likely made a similar personal decision to take that risk.

Meaningful and intelligent answers to these concerns would help alleviate my hesitancy regarding the COVID vaccine. They won’t alleviate my concerns about setting up a situation where people are treated as second-class citizens because of a personal health decision. But I think a lot of other hesitant folks would like to see some good solid answers to these questions without being mocked, insulted, or condescended to. Particularly at this point when COVID is decreasing around the world overall (with some exceptions).

I’m fully aware that COVID could surge again. And as many have pointed out, it isn’t likely to ever go away completely. Then again, a year ago that wasn’t the goal of these restrictions and limitations. The goal was to make sure that medical systems and facilities and personnel were not overwhelmed by the small percentage (but large numbers when dealing with millions and millions of cases) of severe cases. Is this still the goal? Is the goal eliminating the COVID virus? Is that possible (hardly). Is it providing universal and complete immunity to everyone (doesn’t seem to be either possible or reasonable). Are there other goals further down the line that aren’t being discussed, and if so, what are they and why not lay them out?

The media could be a big help in this if they actually reported facts instead of distorting the larger reality to focus on worst-case scenarios and exceptions to the rule. All we hear about is deaths or long-term health problems brought on by COVID. We aren’t presented regularly with the overall figures and percentages that help put all of this into a proper perspective, and without that proper perspective people are vulnerable to any number of bad decisions both personally and communally. Ultimately (and long-term) the best protection we have in pandemics is good, solid information and not necessarily just a couple jabs in the arm.

A Fine How-Do-You-Do

June 9, 2021

Remember all those banners and window signs and chalk drawings over the past year thanking our first responders and medical personnel for their service during the pandemic? Remember all those commercials about how these men and women in medical scrubs are heroes fighting to save lives?

Yeah, forget all of that because now we have a vaccine and if you don’t want to take it we’re going to fire you. That’s what nearly 200 health care employees in a Texas hospital system have been told – as they’ve been placed on a two-week suspension. It doesn’t matter how hard you worked to save lives, how you risked your own health or the health of your loved ones. All of that was just expected of you. But now we are going to dictate to you how you’re going to deal with your own health.

And if you disagree with us we’re going to smear you as people who don’t care about their patients.

The same people who have been saving lives for over a year.

Shouldn’t we be outraged by the brazen, callous language of a hospital system about its own employees? Shouldn’t we be outraged that these men and women who have been lauded as heroes for laboring to save lives at their own personal risk when there wasn’t a vaccine are now being smeared as selfish and uncaring just because there is a vaccine? A vaccine, mind you, with no long-term studies and that is more than likely – based on available current data – going to require additional boosters. And a vaccine that is being pushed and shoved despite the fact COVID case rates in the US (and around the world) have dropped dramatically.

I pray there are law suits brought quickly to stop this dangerous precedent. Not that it’s going to save these people from losing their jobs, most likely. But perhaps it will ensure that heroes are spared this unnecessary and outrageous treatment.

Mandatory Vaccinations

June 3, 2021

Interesting but pretty low-key coverage last week of an announcement from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that employers can mandate employees to get COVID vaccinations. Most news reports I read emphasized how employers could incentivize employees to get the vaccine, but the far more concerning aspect to me is that they can mandate the vaccine. No vaccine? No continued employment. How does that not qualify as “coercive”, something employers are supposed to avoid in their incentive programs? About the only part of the reports that make sense is that there will be a lot of lawsuits as employers and employees try to navigate whatever the EEOC is trying to accomplish but prefers to do so through the private sector rather than Federal decree.

What is the rationale for allowing employers this broad degree of control over the personal health choices of their employees? Will this be used in conjunction with future possible COVID-related shutdowns, so that companies that require their employees to be vaccinated will be allowed to continue operations while other similar companies with no such policy will be shut down if non-essential?

If an employer can mandate COVID vaccinations, what else can they mandate in the realm of personal choice regarding health care? Can they mandate flu vaccines? Under what conditions? The EEOC’s own website acknowledges that public health guidelines are subject to fluctuation, so what about companies that mandate the COVID vaccine (or any other vaccine) only to have public health guidelines alter or reverse? You can’t undo an injection.

Section K is the relevant section of the EEOC’s most recent COVID-related guidelines, and section K.1 stipulates that employers may require all employees to obtain vaccination as a condition for physically returning to a workplace. What this means is that in terms of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) there is no grounds as interpreted by the EEOC for claiming some sort of discrimination towards protected classes. It isn’t discriminatory of a company to mandate all employees be vaccinated. But that’s a rather narrow criteria for determining whether a company should be allowed to make such a requirement in the first place. All the EEOC is really focused on is whether such a mandate would be unfair to protected groups, and it’s pretty obvious that it wouldn’t be if it’s being applied evenly to all employees (instead of targeting certain groups) and accommodations are made for those who may have legally protected exceptions from such a mandate.

But shouldn’t all Americans be legally protected from being forced to get a vaccination (or any other specific health procedure) to keep their job? It might be easy to say from the outside that if you don’t like that particular policy, quit and go work someplace else. But anyone actually working (or who ever has actually worked for someone other than the government) understands that it’s hardly that simple. And if all employers decide to require such a vaccination, how does that impact personal liberties?

These are all questions unique to America. Many Americans don’t seem to understand this. It makes life as an American in America more complicated. But those complications are deemed warranted in order to protect something valuable – personal liberty. As we’ve learned after 9/11 and today in an age where fear is increasingly being promoted and used to drive people towards approving certain policies, personal liberty is difficult to obtain, easy to cede, and effectively impossible to take back once ceded. So these questions and issues are important to think through carefully, and to ensure that what is required of people either by the private sector or the government is as narrow and limited and carefully defined as possible. Precedents are being set in a time of panic, and once that panic is over the precedents will remain and will be used as justification for further erosions of personal liberty in the name of safety or convenience or whatever else seems effective.

“How Do You Spell Billiyuns?”

May 21, 2021

Shout out to my all-time favorite comic strip, Bloom County for the title and Carl Sagan for the inspiration beyond that.

Just a little side note to the whole discussion of making vaccines near mandatory, if not by government fiat then by the private market (insistence on proof of vaccinations in order to fly, etc.). There are nine new individual billionaires in the world, executives at major pharmaceutical companies who created and are selling COVID vaccines. The article doesn’t mention how many new millionaires there are related to vaccine production but it seems reasonable to assume there might be more than nine. The article also doesn’t indicate how close these nine people were to the billionaire mark prior to the COVID vaccine production, which I personally would have found relevant and interesting.

I’m not against companies and executives making a profit. I think this is a good incentive to innovate, create, etc. I don’t have definite thoughts on what sort of profit margins are reasonable (like the 30% profit margin the article cites for COVID vaccines). But it does make me itchy when there’s heavy public pressure and possibly even insistence to buy or use a particular product that someone is profiting off of. And I’m sure that 30% profit margin keeps some poorer nations from having access to the vaccines, something some of the companies try to address later in the article by promising 2 billion doses for poorer countries later this year.

I’m trying to think of another situation where people are pushed hard or required to purchase a product or service near universally. Car insurance is the first thing that comes to mind, though I suspect that market is somewhat regulated (does anyone know if this is true?). Still, I could opt not to drive and not have to pay for car insurance then. There are other transportation options available that make this realistic (depending on where you actually live).

Are there other examples that come to mind?

Beyond this, it makes me wonder what kind of pressure comes into play from lobbyists for these companies to keep the vaccine push on as long as possible, including the boosters they are now starting to talk about. Although some people like to talk about just following the science (at least until science says it’s OK to not wear masks if you’re fully vaccinated) reality is a lot more complicated than that.

And a lot more profitable.

You’re Welcome

May 19, 2021

Not that I think Dr. Fauci is monitoring my blog, but it was fascinating today to see articles reporting him saying that boosters – third shots – will likely be necessary for people who have already had their two initial doses. In the ongoing struggle to get good information, we are once again fed confusing and contradictory information.

Vaccine efficacy lasts “at least” six months according to Dr. Fauci. He then goes on to assert it is likely to last much longer. I’ve seen more than a few articles over the last year contradicting him, but I don’t know if those articles were specific to the efficacy in patients who recovered from COVID or those who had received the vaccines. I suspect it’s probably the former since the vaccines have been available for such a short time, but I’m curious about his optimism.

The article links to another article from March 2021 (updated in April), which affirms among other things that six months is the longest timeframe recipients of the vaccines had been studied prior to widespread deployment. The article expresses optimism that antibodies and immunity actually will last much longer, but provides no data to support this other than anecdotal evidence from other mRNA trials and experiments. While I hope the optimism is proved accurate, it still seems pretty early for such leaps. And Dr. Fauci’s statements about boosters make it clear that this is more likely the case.

Still no addressing of those who have actually had and recovered from COVID – nearly 10% of the US population alone – other than to insist they should also get the vaccine without any substantive discussion of the antibodies produced in those who have had COVID compared to those who are vaccinated.

But for now, regardless of whether you’ve had COVID or had vaccines, be aware your antibodies aren’t necessarily going to last forever and you’re going to need to get either full vaccinations or boosters – at least until we know more about what we’re dealing with.

The Other Antibodies?

May 18, 2021

According to the World Health Organization, over 32 million Americans have had COVID. That’s about 20% of the total number of Americans who have received both one vaccine installment and about 25% of the total who have received both installments. It’s a sizable group of people.

Although reliable data has been hard to come by from the beginning, data seems to demonstrate that both those infected with COVID and those receiving vaccinations generate antibodies which are supposed to provide protection against severe COVID symptoms, possibly protection against mild symptoms, and possibly protection against re-infection. Not only that, a recent study suggests that these antibodies gradually disappear from people at about the same rate regardless of whether the person had COVID or was vaccinated against it.

So I find it fascinating that while a major media push continues to urge people to get their vaccinations (both doses) and criticizes anyone who is reluctant or uninterested, there is absolutely no data available for how people who have had COVID may alter their social distancing and mask wearing, particularly in light of the Center for Disease Control’s recent proclamations that fully immunized people can dispense with both masks and social distancing in most indoor and outdoor situations. The CDC site says nothing about whether people who have had COVID can similarly do without masks and social distancing. Perusing the CDC site, you’d be hard pressed to know that 32 million Americans have had COVID, have recovered from it, and have the same antibodies and therefore presumably protections the vaccines are supposed to create.

Information is hard to come by. Some reports make it sound as though the vaccines provide better protection than actually getting COVID, which seems counterintuitive to me but admittedly I’m not an immunologist. There are a lot of TV news snippets that address this topic, and given the short amount of time involved there aren’t any good references to support the assertions.

I was excited to find this article from MIT on the topic, however they assert that it’s possible to get re-infected after you’ve had COVID, implying that this doesn’t happen with vaccinated people. However there have certainly been more than a few anecdotal reports of people still getting COVID after getting both doses of the vaccine. The article references this CDC page, but the information here reads strangely to me as well. Experts are uncertain how long any of the antibodies and immunities last, whether from having COVID or from getting the vaccines, because everything was rushed so quickly they didn’t have time to do longer term testing – something this page at least acknowledges to some degree, while still insisting that despite a general lack of knowledge and understanding, you should still get vaccinated even if you’ve had COVID.

At the very least it would be nice to see more discussion on this. Whether from COVID or from vaccines, it seems pretty certain the antibodies created and maintained after fighting off the infection don’t last forever, and probably aren’t reliably around in adequate numbers as soon as six to nine months after infection/vaccination. Which means that in addition to pressuring people to get their first round of vaccinations, they’re going to need to start ramping up a campaign to encourage people to come back in for a booster. Or two. It will be interesting to see how well this is received, as people begin to realize they’re expected (or perhaps even required!) to receive at least one if not two annual boosters to maintain their antibody levels. Will the emphasis on getting flu shots every year make the idea of an annual COVID booster more palatable? For how long? Are we moving towards a general expectation (or requirement) that everyone come in for a shot every year containing whatever new things are believed to protect us?

Curiouser and curiouser.

Making Way

April 14, 2021

….and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. – 1 Kings 19:16

Preach the Gospel. Die. Be forgotten. ~ Nicolaus Zinzendorf

This was part of the Old Testament reading this morning in chapel. Not the Zinzendorf bit, of course. That would be highly unusual in our culture of success and leadership, a culture that even the Church assumes in what it says and what it chooses not to say. Yet the Word of God continues to creep in when we aren’t vigilant and expose our foibles and send our idols tottering.

Elijah the last of the faithful prophets, on the run from a murderous queen after a victory that even by our social media influencer standards would be impressive, putting to death 450 false prophets of Baal after God shows his reality and presence in power and authority. Elijah despairing that he has been a failure. That he’s no better than the ones who came before him, who were also unable to turn the hearts of the people back to God, or curb the ambitions and apathy of the kings of God’s people. Hiding in a cave.

What would God say to this guy, this faithful man who has done much and suffered much and who, in his own words, has been very jealous for the Lord? What sort of half-time pep talk might we look for? A rousing, inspiring speech to reinstill Elijah with vigor and hope and purpose? To put him back on the path to personal fulfillment and professional success? How might God show Elijah his despair is out of place and what spiritual secrets to job satisfaction might the Lord of hosts reveal?

…you shall anoint to be prophet in your place.

It’s easy to pass over those words. Easy to focus on the first part of God’s response, which is for Elijah to anoint two new kings who are going to kick ass and probably not even bother to chew bubble gum. Promises of swords and judgment. Probably not overly inspiring to Elijah, though. Kings come and go. Elijah’s fathers were proof of that. And those final words probably occupied Elijah’s full attention. You need to anoint your successor. Your time is coming to an end.

I’ll admit I’ve never been one for reveling in youthful exuberance. Being a student both of history and an enrollee in the school of hard knocks, I’ve never been prone to Stuart Smalley-style encouragements (go ahead and look up Stuart Smalley on YouTube if you like, but I’m sure it would be considered quite inappropriate these days), and I’m a anachronistic hold-out against the modern acquiescence to ubiquitous therapy. Zinzendorf resonates with me and getting older has only confirmed his maxim.

And perhaps that maxim is useful to us as well in a culture hell-bent on exhorting and encouraging and affirming generations of people to goals they can’t possibly accomplish in carefully curated social media magnifying glass they can’t possibly compete with or sustain.

Odds are you aren’t going to change the world. Odds are you won’t reach the top of your profession. Odds are you won’t complete everything you set out to do. This is not a failure on your part. After all, who among us is really much better than our fathers before us? And what metric are we going to grab to determine that?

This isn’t a call to apathy or listlessness or despair. It’s a call to realism. A call to quit looking in the mirror, or more accurately to quit comparing the mirror to the fitness model or the wildly successful day-trader or the latest celebrity phenom. It’s a call to value and appreciate what you do accomplish today, what you do contribute, and more fundamentally, simply that you are. The real metric of self-esteem isn’t what we do at all, it’s simply that we’re here at all. We exist. We are created. And inextricably linked to this reality of created, unique existence is the reality of redemption not in what we accomplish but what our Creator accomplishes on our behalf through his Son, Jesus.

At that point we can deal with our finitude. We can deal with ordinariness, averageness. We can deal with moments of failure as well as moments of success. We can come to grips with the fact that someone is going to come after us and pick up where we left off and maybe finish some of those things we weren’t able to, and that in one way or another, we’ve done that for someone ahead of us.

Fear and Loathing in the Confessional

March 30, 2021

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” John 20:21-23

The work of the Church is declaring the good news of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ to those wracked with guilt and desirous of change. Often this gets abbreviated to just telling people about Jesus, but the crucial matter is what you tell them. If you tell them only that Jesus loves them, and never tell them of their sin and need for forgiveness, you haven’t shared the full story. If you only introduce them to the historical figure of Jesus without ever telling them why this historical figure matters to their lives unlike any other historical figure, you haven’t shared the full story. For someone who can see their sinfulness, their need for sin and forgiveness, the most beautiful part of the story is that this is exactly why Jesus is relevant to them. This is what Jesus brings them that nobody else can. And the Church is to be the place marked by both the proclamation of this reality and the actual forgiving of sins.

So when the Church (or a particular parish or priest) refuses to offer forgiveness to those desiring it, there’s a serious problem. An issue in one Roman Catholic parish in New Jersey recently due to the pandemic. Due to complications arising from properly disinfecting surfaces in the confessional – the small cabinet traditionally used in Roman Catholic churches to screen the penitent from the priest and allow them to confess their sins and receive absolution – a priest refused to allow un-vaccinated people to come to Confession, one of the sacraments of the Roman Catholic church.

People are understandably somewhat frightened and weary of COVID. But refusing to absolve repentant sinners is a gross failure of an ordained priest, and one rightly corrected by ecclesiastical supervisors.

The irony here is that the prohibition against any un-vaccinated person coming to Confession was ostensibly for their own “protection”. However to not receive forgiveness is a far greater danger to a person’s well-being than COVID, with potentially eternal ramifications!

Now, I’m not Roman Catholic and I do not necessarily agree with their traditional practice of Confession, or their understanding of the need and role for penance in receiving forgiveness. But if you’re going to tell people their forgiveness is dependent on Confession, and forgiveness is the means of eternal life, and then you refuse to hear their confessions, there’s a dangerous problem at play here!

Thankfully the situation was rectified quickly.

A COVID Year

March 17, 2021

One year ago I was driving out of Las Vegas. My buddy had just placed third in the world in his division after a multi-day battle. COVID panic was setting in and already the shelves in Las Vegas grocery stores were bare of many common toiletries, basic medical items, and of course toilet paper and paper towels. I bought the last multi-pack of tissue boxes they had. My wife was texting me from home telling me to keep my eyes open as the supplies were all gone there.

We loaded up in my SUV for the drive home. Not just my buddy and I who had driven out together but another teammate hitching a ride back, as well as our billiards league president and his wife, who didn’t want to risk another night in Vegas and maybe having their flight canceled the next day.

As we left the city limits at dusk there was a storm in the distance to the east over the mountains, with occasional flashes of lightning. A beautiful, complete double-rainbow amazed us all from the same direction. And the radio station dedicated to people on the highway towards and from Las Vegas had their classic rock lineup interrupted so the Governor of Nevada could announce Las Vegas was shutting down. Hotels and casinos would cease all operations in just a few short hours. Everything was to shut down by his order. COVID was upon us and we needed to bend the curve of new cases to ensure hospitals weren’t overwhelmed.

The drive home was pretty quiet. Inside the car we were all disappointed the world tournament was cancelled and none of us got to play in our team events. I suspect everyone was slightly in shock – Las Vegas could just shut down? Just like that? Outside the roads were quiet as well. We passed by deserted truck stops and hotels with empty parking lots.

A year later. My wife and I sit in a pub in St. Louis. Masks everywhere, even though regulations in the City have relaxed in the past week or so. Restaurants can seat people indoors if they maintain social distancing and limit the number of customers they allow in. Back home our county has dropped out of the most severe tier of COVID urgency. Things appear to be easing back towards normality but the news feed is full of warnings of a third wave of COVID likely as restrictions ease and a population exhausted by a year of isolation champs at the bit to get back out and be with each other again. Overseas Europe and Asia are reporting spikes in COVID numbers and renewed and more vigorous restrictions.

None of us thought we would be here a year ago. We hoped and prayed things would go back to normal in a few weeks. They haven’t. And if things keep on at the current rate, normality is a long way off. A new level of fear and paranoia grips people. The airports we flew in and out of barked at everyone to keep their masks on and stay six feet away from each other, but we were seated shoulder to shoulder on the airplanes (masked, of course). Now that the election is history all the news stations seem able to talk about is COVID. News reports are beginning to admit what was obvious all along but nobody wanted to say – the vaccines are an uncertain bulwark against the virus, and even if they function as well as intended, people are going to need to get used to annual booster shots, similar to flu shots. Frankly we’ll be lucky if we only need one booster a year. I’m guessing we’ll be told to get at least two.

The world has changed. Not for the better. You don’t hear much of the ridiculous blather that was pushed early on in COVID, about how we’re all in this together and we’re working together for the good of the people. We weren’t. We aren’t. We’re tired and exhausted. Some people are terrified still and others are throwing all caution to the wind. The toll this all has and continues to take will only unfold fully over the next decade of more, ensuring multiple generations of social scientists of all stripes have plenty to dissect and analyze and hypothesize about. And the list of core memory moments in my lifetime increases from Reagan being shot and the Challenger blowing up and 9/11 to include COVID and a year-plus of trying to be a source of assurance in the midst of chaos, of calling people back to the Word of God that transcends all things, and has itself sustained many, many generations through far worse disasters and atrocities than this.

We are still here. And those with the Word know where we’re headed. May we all have the strength and grace and peace of God to know He’ll bring us there in his timing and his way.

Condemning Without Examination

February 11, 2021

This article is a fascinating example of the importance of analyzing the intent of a communication. What is it the writer or speaker or producer wants to occur in my thoughts or actions after ingesting their work?

The tone of the article throughout condemns the various bans on facemasks throughout Sweden during the COVID pandemic thus far, repeatedly juxtaposing Swedish stances on the issue with the larger body of established evidence. We are to shake our heads at those poor Swedes whose government agencies have failed them during this crisis by communicating inaccurately and ineffectively. We will, rather the author intends it or not (which means they probably do) also likely lament the supposed fate of the Swedes. After all, if their government directly contradicted prevailing medical opinions, was silly enough to even communicate their concerns about the safety of facemasks to the international medical community, and then did a terrible job at communicating the need for facemasks and under what conditions, the average reader would likely conclude that things in Sweden are far worse than places that followed more conventional wisdom and communicated clearly and strongly to require facemasks as protection against COVID.

But while this is likely the inference of the average reader, the article nowhere bothers to confirm this reaction (let alone dissuade it). The author clearly feels Sweden was out of place in the course of action it has taken in downplaying the efficacy and safety of requiring citizens to wear masks. The author certainly substantiates with external links that such a course of action stands in marked contrast to what most of the rest of the world recommends. But the real proof in whether a travesty has taken place or not is whether this decidedly different approach resulted in a pandemic situation worse than those countries pushing mask wearing. In other words, going a different direction can be good, bad, or indifferent based on the results. Or it can be simply dismissed as bad in itself – taking a path contrary to the established norms of the larger group is always bad, regardless of whether what the larger group recommends is actually helpful or not. That’s ultimately what this article leaves you with.

But that’s not necessarily true. It can be. But as a rule of thumb, a guideline to live life by, it can be very dangerous and misleading, and is actually a logical fallacy – an appeal to the majority (ad populum, to use the Latin). Just because more people think something is true – or because a particular group of experts think something is true – does not necessarily mean it’s true. It’s certainly something to take into consideration! But the demonstration of whether they’re right or not must lie somewhere else or in something more than opinion.

So let’s do some research. Sweden has a population of roughly 10,400,000 people. The World Health Organization says there have been just over 604,000 reported cases of COVID, and just under 12,4000 deaths. That pans out to an infection rate of the overall population of about 6%, and a mortality rate of COVID infection of 2%. For comparison, the US has a population of 330,000,000. The WHO reports US COVID numbers as just over 27,000,000 infections and 468,000 deaths. That comes out to an infection rate of 8% and a mortality rate of 1.7%. Arguing for any number of mitigating factors like population density and we could generously say that the infection rates are roughly similar and perhaps the mortality rates are a smidge higher in Sweden than in the US.

What about a European comparison? Germany has a population of approximately 83,000,000 people, of whom 2,320,000 have had COVID leading to 64,200 deaths. That comes out to an infection rate of not quite 3% and a mortality rate of not quite 3%. Germany’s infection percent is half of Sweden’s but it’s mortality rate is 50% higher. Interesting trade-off.

The United Kingdom has implemented increasingly extremely restrictions and punishments to discourage gatherings and travel and stem the high rates of infection. The UK has a population of 68,000,000, of whom 4,000,000 have contracted COVID and 115,500 have died. That yields an infection rate of almost 6% and a mortality rate of just under 3%.

So it would seem that while Sweden’s advice on health masks has been at times contrary to prevailing ideas on the efficacy of face masks, and at other times confusing to the point of being almost useless, the resulting levels of infections and deaths have not been noticeably higher than those countries that have imposed very harsh restrictions and mandated facemasks in all public spaces (at the very least!).

Perhaps COVID isn’t the best way to examine issues of what and how governments communicate to their people. Or if you’re going to do that, you should focus more exclusively on that rather than implied judgment about whether what was communicated (however poorly) was the right thing to try and communicate or not. I think you could write an article showcasing poor communication skills without also implying pretty heavily that not only was the communication poor, the message was wrong.