Monday, May 3, 2021

the pandemic that (perhaps) never ends

One on my reading list has pointed out that, the more the virus flourishes in - at the moment - India and other Asian countries, the greater the likelihood that a new genetic variant will emerge that is immune to and unaffected by our vaccines, either completely or partially enough to be significant. The actual likelihood of this happening is uncertain, because we don't know enough about the virus's evolutionary patterns, but it's certainly more than zero and becomes higher the more transmission is going on.

This is not a point I'd previously directly considered, though I certainly know that it's possible.

In which case, the person points out, we'll have to start all over again with the lockdowns and the development of a new vaccine.

And what I say is: if we get to that point, then the pandemic will never end. Because there are three reasons why it's dragging on as long as it is, and only one of those reasons is slowness and inefficiently in the distribution of vaccine. The other two are 1) failure of a sufficient number of people to abide by lockdowns and other safety procedures; 2) failure of a sufficient number of people to get the vaccine.

And if we have to start all over, the number of people too weary of all this to either abide by safety procedures or to get the new vaccine will only increase. What they can't grasp is that rigid adherence for a long enough period is the only way to end this. If you give up because you just want it to go away, it never will.

I've been reading, for instance here, that countermeasures are being dropped too quickly and not enough people are getting vaccinated. A few more weeks should do it, the writer says, but it's not happening. And yet, as the writer doesn't say, that applies only to the U.S. and assumes nothing more virulent comes from overseas, which of course it will if it exists at all.

The original writer says that, considering the possibility of a renewed pandemic, we should therefore take advantage of our newfound freedom to do things, because it may not last. And to an extent that's good advice. But everything I've read about "so what can we do now?" talks about balancing: the risks - because the vaccine isn't 100% protective and there's too many unvaccinated still spreading virus around - against your personal need to do these things. The risk seems constant; it's the extent of the need that allows you to take greater risks.

Those needs are usually expressed in psychological terms - there's a limit to how long you can stand being cooped up at home all day - and here, as an extreme introvert, my needs are low. Back last fall, when the virus transmission increased dramatically, I cut out the few things I was going: supplementary grocery shopping (in addition to our weekly pickup order) in person, and getting takeout meals from indoor restaurants. Once I was vaccinated, I resumed those things. And I'm also going back to the gym, which I ceased when the pandemic started last March, not in the fall (to be fair, that's when the gyms closed).

But not much more. I've had exactly one outdoor dine-in restaurant meal. My brother and I are planning a day's travel expedition when he visits next month, and that will involve more meals. I'm prepared to attend socially distanced, preferably outdoor, concerts when they resume, like Menlo's potentially in July. (The San Francisco Symphony just now got around to telling me, as a subscriber, something I already knew from news reports, that they're going to start a few indoor but distanced concerts in May and June, but I doubt I'll go: too much nuisance getting there.)

Two more things I am definitely not attempting until and unless things markedly improve. 1) overnight car trips: too much still shut down, and too many logistical hassles also involving my advancing personal health issues. 2) Airplane flights. That's the one area where I don't trust the conventional assuring wisdom, in this case that the air circulates so it's OK to be cooped up with strangers for hours. I don't trust it because I have too much personal experience of catching nasty colds and flus from airplane rides.

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