It’s been killing me to watch so many of my friends Tweet about how nobody cares if they die. Brilliant and lovely people. Writers, artists, activists, musicians. The immunocompromised, the high-risk. Souls whose presence on Earth makes Earth a better, brighter place. People who’ve made me a smarter, better person just by sharing their thoughts and art.
People crying out in desperation as they feel like the world is giving up on them. Like everyone’s pretending they don’t exist, deeming them expendable, throwing their bodies into the furnace that fuels the engine of capitalism.
But the evolving nature of COVID, and medical science’s race to out-pace it, means public-health guidelines not only can but must change to get the best possible outcomes for everyone.
A few weeks ago, NFL analysts like me couldn’t help but notice a sudden and dramatic change in COVID spread. Testing, quarantining, masking and travel protocols that had for months contained breakouts to no more than couple of dozen leaguewide were overwhelmed in a matter of days:
A combination of rolling-off vaccine efficacy, winter weather forcing people indoors, and the arrival of the Omicron variant made “test positive today, stay home tomorrow” more or less useless. A team that had a few new positives one day might have seven new ones the next. Teams were activating their entire practice squads to have enough to play, then signing new players to their practice squads, then activating those players because another raft of positives popped.
But…a lot of those players felt fine.
There are 1,696 active roster spots in the NFL, plus around 640 coaches. Despite 96.4 percent of players being vaccinated, and “nearly 100 percent” of coaches, as of this writing there were 256 players and coaches on the COVID-19 list. That means eleven percent of the entire league is out of commission. Over the last few weeks, hundreds of players and coaches have sat at home and watched their short-staffed teams play critical late-season games on TV.
While they felt fine.
For professional athletes trained to suck it up and play through bumps, bruises, strains, sprains, tissue tears and bone breaks? Who grew up in a sporting culture that lionizes Michael Jordan for gritting out 38 points through a visibly severe case of the flu in the 1997 NBA Finals? Being forced to miss a game could determine whether the entire season was a success or a failure only because some sheet of paper somewhere randomly said you had to…well, it started to grind the gears of even the most thoughtful, considerate players:
“If we stop testing right now, we’d have very few positive cases, if any,” said then-President Donald Trump in June 2020.
At the time, most Americans were rightly outraged: The problem wasn’t positive tests, it was millions of people getting sick and hundreds of thousands dying. Overwhelming our hospitals, overwhelming our morgues, forcing anyone with any other illness or injury to forgo necessary treatment—thereby adding to the grim toll of newly dead or disabled.
With no vaccine, a huge constellation of very common symptoms, few effective treatments and no mass-testing infrastructure in place, every new case was a potential death sentence—or, with the emergence of Long COVID, a permanent, life-changing disability.
Those who took this threat seriously have spent nearly two years begging everyone else to take it seriously, too. Attacking, as if their lives depended on it, anyone who pooh-poohed taking precautions, suggested the risk might not be that bad, or compared COVID to the flu. Because our lives did depend on it.
But it’s not June 2020 anymore.
We have vaccines that are over 90 percent effective against the original strains, 60-70 percent effective against the Delta variant, and 30-40 percent effective against Omicron. With three Pfizer shots, the National Institute of Health says protection against original and Delta rises to well over 90 percent, and Omicron to 60-85 percent.
Breakthrough cases are far more likely to be asymptomatic, far less likely to be severe, far less likely to require hospitalization, and far, far less likely to kill you. The occurrence of various lingering symptoms and disorders we collectively call “Long COVID” is pretty closely tied to severity, so the vaccinated are also much less likely to suffer those aftereffects.
But just how likely is “less likely”? You know me and facts and data, so let’s break it down the numbers in my neck of the woods:
We’re deep into sloppy, back-of-a-napkin territory here. But a week or so after the peak of what’s been by far our biggest wave yet, only something like 0.78 percent of boosted folks are positive, and only 0.03 percent are in the hospital.
As a 40-year-old, no-risk-factored, triple-Pfizered person, when I leave my house I probably face a greater threat from literally driving on the roads than from COVID.
Despite days of Twitter dunking on President Biden’s so-called “get vaccinated or die” speech, Biden was…not wrong? Throughout 2020, Trump was rightfully excoriated for focusing on optics instead of the actual threat. But right now, those who are fully vaxxed and boosted face very little actual threat.
What about everyone else? Those who are older, or much younger, are immunocompromised or are physically disabled? What about those who live in higher-density areas, or where vax rates are lower and mask use is minimal? What about all the people on my timeline who are up in arms about the CDC changing test-and-quarantine guidelines to prevent essential services and businesses from going through the same few-are-sick-but-many-are-unavailable personnel shortage as the NFL?
Well, for those who medically can’t get vaccinated, there’s a new preventative treatment called Evushield. For those who do get sick, there’s a powerful new antiviral called Paxlovid; during trials it prevented hospitalization in 88 percent of unvaccinated COVID cases that seemed likely to end up hospitalized. And though the government should be distributing them freely, there’s finally good availability of N95 masks. None of this even touches the mounting evidence that Omicron results in far fewer hospitalizations and deaths than Delta, despite being far more easily spread.
I know a lot of people will conflate what I’m saying now with what all the numbskull deniers were saying at the onset of the pandemic, when there was no way to prevent infection and practically no treatments: “people die every day,” “we all live with risk,” “there’s a 99.9 percent survival rate,” etc. That is not what I’m saying.
I know our hospitals are as strained as they’ve ever been, with thousands of excess deaths every day—people dying not because they have COVID, but because COVID cases have occupied all the space and people who could treat them. That’s a rolling tragedy, a self-inflicted 9/11 every day, and it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better.
But trying to stop this wave of COVID with testing and quarantining not only won’t work, it can’t work. We know, because we were already testing and quarantining and it didn’t work. Changing these procedures might feel like giving up to those few whose life literally depends on herd immunity preventing community spread…but community spread is already rampant.
Trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube would be as costly (in money and lives) as failing to screw the cap on all the way was in the first place.
The NFL has stopped testing vaccinated players who don’t feel sick. Only those with symptoms (and, if they test positive, their close contacts) get tested—and, if they pop positive, can return to work once they’re not contagious. That’s not ‘giving up’ on health and safety, but a reflection of reality: quarantining asymptomatic, vaccinated people won’t do anything to stop the spread of a virus that infected half a million people on Wednesday alone.
We didn’t implement vaccine mandates when we should have. We didn’t do enough to encourage the vaccine-hesitant, the vaccine-stupid, and the vaccine-delusional. What’s happening now is a result of that. But 2022 is not going to look like 2021, just as 2021 didn’t look like 2020. Medical science is going to continue to mitigate the threat COVID poses, and the weather will warm back up.
Until that day when we reach containment again—my county had a string of zero-new-case days just six months ago—it’s still everyone’s duty to take all appropriate precautions. But stopping boosted, masked and sanitized people from going out and safely living their lives won’t make anyone else safer.
Instead of attacking health authorities for making data-driven decisions, or those who correctly say shelter-in-place lockdowns right now would do more harm than good, attack the leaders who let eviction moratoriums lapse. Who let enhanced unemployment benefits run out. Who let the increased child tax credit expire. Who, nearly two years in, have still failed to make sure there are plenty of effective masks and tests available for everyone. Whose ongoing failure to fully include the disabled in work and public life makes the threat of disability so scary.
This current wave is on the government’s failure to get our vaccination rate high enough to stop it. So the best use of our energy now would be to insist they do whatever’s necessary to fix that mistake.
In fact, here’s an idea to get them started: instead of paying people to stay home, pay people to get vaccinated.
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My sources for this napkin-y exercise were a combination of the Ingham County and Eaton County COVID dashboards, along with the State of Michigan’s vaccine dashboard. Eaton’s numbers aren’t as granular as Ingham’s, and so there were a couple of necessary fudges (like conflation between “active cases” and “in December”). The upshot is the same: To a healthy, triple-vaxxed person in my area who follows guidelines, COVID now poses a comparable long-term health risk to many others we unworriedly assume every day.
I love that “The Muppet Christmas Carol” is having a bit of a moment online, because—as I always say—it’s both the best Muppet movie AND the best adaptation of A Christmas Carol.
But it means a ton to me personally. When my wife Kelly and I started dating in high school, she’d already treasured it for years—and it’s been an annual must-watch for us ever since (the same goes for “Hocus Pocus,” all you witchy-come-latelies). When our church’s music director, our dear friend Nicole Martin, floated the idea to put on “It Feels Like Christmas” for the church on Christmas Eve? With the church musicians and kids’ puppeteers? I told her I’d fight anyone for the chance to be the Muppet Ghost of Christmas Present.
Like any performance, I wish I could have a do-over on a note or two—but I’m so happy with how it turned out, and it was an absolute joy to be part of the group that presented this to the First Christian Church Lansing children (of all ages). I hope you all enjoy it, too.
Yes, that is my hair.
I’m not familiar with the 1966 film “Andrei Rublev,” and only just got clued into legendary Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky through Waypoint Radio’s ongoing deep-dive on all things related to S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
But Brammer not only handheld me through the tone and themes of the entire film–an anthology-like series of 10 connected stories about the life of Rublev, a sainted Christian artist from 600-odd years ago–he managed to bring in context from the lives and work of Tarkovsky and Rublev while drilling down on one section: “The Bell.”
But what really resonated was Brammer’s commentary.
“Every artist is born into a conversation they did not consent to,” he writes. “The notion of the artist as a noble and singular figure distinct from society is a false one. As The Bell demonstrates, the act of creating something, anything, is collaborative. At times, oftentimes, maybe always, violently so.”
For those unfamiliar, ¡Hola Papi! is a self-described “deranged advice column.” Brammer’s writing is usually a brilliant mix of flippancy and depth, using levity as a light source to cast clearer shadows. This essay is pure reflection and meditation, and I will be thinking about it for a long time.
I usually use this section to highlight great original creative work, but this Twitter-share of a French TV commercial just cracked my shit up. So a hearty hat-tip thanks to meme creator and fanfic author @weiyikes:
This Christmas, I gifted one of my niblings Jen Wang’s “The Prince and the Dressmaker,” an absolute gem of a graphic novel. The giftee happily devoured the entire thing before all the wrapping paper had been cleaned up.
And therein lies the problem for artists like Magruder, a prolific fantasy author, illustrator, and cover artist who suddenly finds her work in great demand–but from a publishing industry that expects to be able to follow up a hit book with a sequel within a year.
It just flat-out takes a lot more time to draw a book’s worth of story, and it physically takes a lot more out of an artist. One picture might be worth a thousand words, but I can write a thousand good words in an hour. Comic artist Darryl Ayo recently pointed out that at a maximum pace of one page a week, a working artist should be able to sustainably create beautiful graphic novels every three or four years:
Magruder came to a similar conclusion. She noted that while the industry norm for illustrating 32-page kids’ picture books is six months, a YA graphic novel is six times as many pages–and editors want it done in only twice the time.
After the Februrary 2018 release of “The Prince and the Dressmaker,” Wang put out an unrelated middle-grade book in 2019. Assuming she worked at Magruder’s proposed pace, my nibling might only get one more YA book from her before theoretically aging out of the category. So, I get why publishers are pushing artists to produce!
But Magruder began her essay by noting that even though her career as an author is just beginning, she already feels like she’s aging out of the grueling work of illustrating her books. That’s not how we maximize audiences or readership.
I loved “The Prince and the Dressmaker,” and I’m 40. We’ll all be much better off if artists are allowed to grow and flourish along with their audiences, protecting their bodies and livelihoods along the way.
Okay, let me just…
Who goes by the same handle on TikTok.
Has this thing where she does the choreography from “The Feels,” a song by K-pop band TWICE, but set to other music.
What really sells it all is smallestkyle’s acting: The facial expressions, even lip synching, going perfectly with whatever audio is playing even though the audio frequently has nothing to do with the choreography (which they repeatedly nail).
So that, then, is my recommendation: Kate Halliwell’s Twitter thread of smallestkyle’s videos of the choreography from The Feels set to bizarre and random things like the Glee cover of The Thong Song.
In A&A, I wrote the scene where the hero and heroine both realize who each other are. It was a whole thing! It’s coming along slowly, but I’m very happy with how it’s turning out.