An interrupted holiday season
Despite Dr. Anthony Fauci, having vaccinated Santa Claus, and NORAD’s annual wink-wink chase of his sled, this is clearly an interrupted holiday season from pole to pole.
Bethlehem, the seasonal focus of international Christianity, planned a humble midnight mass instead of the usual star-studded blowout. All intensive care beds in the city’s hospitals are occupied, the Ministry of Health said.
Rome, which cradles the seat of the Roman Catholic Church, will also be gloomy. Italy, like many European countries, is subject to strict restrictions to slow the rise in infections and deaths.
And in the United States, where more than 327,000 people have died from the coronavirus and infections overwhelm the southern states, families face empty seats and economic despair. Many cannot afford large meals or gifts, and those who celebrate can choose to do so on their own, in their own households, or in small groups.
Worryingly, this is no different than Thanksgiving, which has contributed to the current surge in infections and deaths through micro-spread events.
Christmas could pose an even greater risk: there are more viruses circulating, and it’s a longer holiday season when people are used to having multiple gatherings over several days.
U.S. air travel is down 60 percent compared to that time last year, but more than a million people still passed the Transportation Security Administration checkpoints as of Wednesday, most since March.
However, don’t expect spikes to be reflected in the data right away. At least 15 states will not be releasing statewide data this Christmas, and some test sites will close or limit their opening hours. The seven-day new case average, perhaps the best indicator of the national outlook, is expected to be skewed until at least January 8th.
“The darkness seems pretty dark right now,” said Rev. Timothy Cole, a Washington bishop priest who has recovered from his own battle with the virus. But like other Christians around the world, he finds hope in the spiritual meaning of the holiday story: a small event, the birth of a child, which turned out to be a turning point in human history.
And like many Christian priests, Mr. Cole hopes to awaken hope with his Christmas sermon this year: “Just as wars end, so do pandemics,” it says in his readings. “Until then, we will be supported and strengthened by what we are celebrating on this day.”
Check herd immunity
In the early days of the pandemic, scientists predicted that the coronavirus would be under control if 60 to 70 percent of the population were resistant to the virus, either through antibodies or through vaccination.
This is herd immunity when there are simply not enough hosts available.
Initially, Dr. Fauci, the leading epidemiologist in the US, hit the same ballpark that came from animal testing. “When polls said that only about half of Americans would take a vaccine, I said herd immunity would be 70 to 75 percent,” he told my colleague Donald G. McNeil Jr. in a recent telephone interview.
Apr. 24, 2020, 8:33 am ET
Dr. However, Fauci admitted that he had gradually increased his estimate. About a month ago he started saying “70, 75 percent” in television interviews. Last week he raised it to “75, 80, 85 percent”.
“When recent polls said 60 percent or more would make it, I thought, ‘I can cheer that up a bit,” he said over the phone.
Dr. Fauci said he was initially cautious about publicly raising his estimate because Americans were hesitant about vaccines. But now that health care workers proudly post their connected biceps on social media, some polls show that a lot more Americans are ready, even eager, to get the shot.
Dr. Fauci propped up the goal posts on purpose, based in part on gut instinct and in part on new science about how the virus works in human populations. Now he believes it takes nearly 90 percent immunity in a population to stop the virus. This is roughly what it takes to stop measles, which is considered the most contagious disease in the world.
The new, more infectious variant of the coronavirus that is appearing in the UK, South Africa and possibly other places can further increase the percentage required.
A year of resilience
As much as the pandemic was a story of loss, it was also a story of resilience – of people, families, and communities who not only survive but find ways to help others.
International correspondents for The Times told stories of unlikely joy and creativity, bright spots in the middle of the sea of darkness. In Brazil, a teacher made a “hug kit” for her students. Italians read to the elderly and over the phone. A man was crossing Wuhan, China to feed stranded cats when the city’s pandemic separated them from their people.
“It was worth it, not just for the cats, but also so that the owners can have peace of mind,” he said. “When I look back on that time now, everything feels like a dream.”
“My husband was the one who put the tree up and dressed up like Santa Claus every year,” said Maribel Rodriguez, a resident of the hard-hit Rio Grande Valley in Texas, whose husband, mother and aunt died from the coronavirus. “I can’t bring myself to do it. I end up crying before I touch any of the ornaments. “
China will suspend direct flights to and from the UK indefinitely to fend off the new variant circulating there.
Scientists in Nigeria have discovered a variant that shares a change with the new British deviation, but it is not yet clear that this variant is more contagious.
Here is a summary of the restrictions in all 50 states.
What else are we pursuing
A black doctor in Indiana died of the virus two weeks after posting a video on Facebook in which she said a white doctor downplayed her pain. “I keep going and I pretend if I was white,” said Dr. Susan Moore in the video, “I wouldn’t have to go through this.”
Some New York City hospital workers have taken the time to get vaccines even though they don’t directly treat infected patients.
The nations of the European Union will start vaccinating people on Sunday.
There is a range of dubious information about so-called cures for the coronavirus – as was the case with the 1918 influenza epidemic.
What you are doing
We’re not going to celebrate Christmas with my parents this year. You live an hour away from us. On Tuesday night, after practicing our five songs for five nights, my husband and I took our three children, rang my parents’ door, and sang them and my sister (who was quarantined with them) Christmas carols outside on the porch with our masks that completely cover our faces. It is the first time in my life that I have given my mother, father and sister exactly what they wanted for Christmas. – Megan K. Farrelly, Raleigh, NC
Let us know how you are dealing with the pandemic. Send us an answer here that we may publish in an upcoming newsletter.
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