While we were away, it appears the pandemic ended in the minds of most even as COVID-19 infection rates surged in many states; American kids grew even fatter; and the National Football League (NFL) season kicked off as if all was back to normal.
Packed stadiums would, more than anything, indicate the once widespread, fear of COVID-19 appears to be fading fast, if not already dead, despite continued media hysteria about how you could catch the disease and die.
And, of course, you could. Personally, I wouldn’t want to attend a football game in a domed stadium full of “screaming fans.”
“Millions of people have been attending baseball games, soccer games and other sports events all summer – without many outbreaks. Why worry now about football games?” Kaiser Health News observed as the season began.
“There have been rare reports of outbreaks from major league baseball stadiums, which often pack in 40,000 fans. But that could be changing, too, because the more highly transmissible delta variant has been widespread only since July. Also, the experts said, it’s difficult to track how many fans get sick because the incubation period can last a week or more. People may not connect their illness to the game, especially if they assume outdoor activities are safe.”
The “news” arm of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health lobby, KHN suggested that fans who couldn’t stay away from the stadium mask up although exactly how much help is questionable.
But there were some huge caveats. Standard cloth masks were reported to have an “imprecise zero” effect, and the statistically significant changes in infections happened only among those over age 50.
A surgical mask worn by those over the latter age appeared to help reduce risk by a quarter, and that grew to a third for those over age 60.
“… Since alpha was the primary variant in circulation during the study period, we have to be careful about applying these results to the delta strain currently causing all the chaos. We wouldn’t assess a vaccine’s efficacy against delta based on its ability to control alpha. The same rule ought to apply to masking,” Cameron English noted on the website of the American Council on Science and Health.
The only foolproof way to avoid contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus remains the way clear since the beginning of the pandemic – stay away from other people and mink, another known carrier.
Hard to do
Unfortunately, most people are social animals. They yearn for contact with other members of the species.
And with COVID-19 vaccines having proven amazingly effective (the data is all over the place, but even in the worst-case studies of performance they appear to cut the risk of infection by more than 60 percent and the risk of death by an even more), many people appear happy to go back to the way life was before this all began almost two years ago.
Some remain concerned enough to continue masking, but the debates between the maskers and the anti-maskers appear largely and thankfully over.
Masks are now sort of like religion. There are believers, and there are non-believers.
To each his own.
And don’t scoff at religion. There are some scientific studies out there suggesting that going to church is good for your health. (Full disclosure: The author hasn’t been to church in decades and isn’t a believer.)
“Compared to non-churchgoers, churchgoers who attended church more than weekly had a 49 percent, unadjusted reduced risk for all-cause mortality,” a peer-revied PLOS One study reported only a few years ago.
Consider it one possibility for marginal gains in protecting yourself against death.
Going to church, getting vaccinated, dieting down to a healthy weight, starting a healthy exercise regimen, wearing a mask when indoors around others, taking a maskless walk in the forest…who knows how much protection against the SARS-CoV-2 virus one might develop by combining them all.
Or you could just ignore the pandemic as some now seem to be doing.
After all the months of people insisting COVID-19 is not the flu, it is increasingly being treated as if it were the flu, another contagious and sometimes deadly disease that “goes around.”
This adaptation was to be expected.
“…When subjected to living in fear, we have time after time accepted the danger and found ways to adapt to it in the way the species has found ways to adapt to everything,” it was noted here back in December of last year.
At the time, the reporting of the BBC’s Tom Geoghegan on the 70th anniversary of The Blitz was cited as a prime example:
“For eight consecutive months, every dawn brought a new terrible toll – more bodies, more craters in the street, more buildings reduced to rubble and more fires.
“People emerged from air raid shelters, from under railway arches or merely from under the stairs, to see if their homes were still standing, or if their neighbors were still alive. Then they dusted themselves down and went to work.”
Americans now appear to be in the dusting themselves down and going back to work stage of the pandemic.
There is no longer anyone talking about eliminating the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It has been accepted as endemic, and people are starting to live with it knowing some – even among the vaccinated – are sure to get sick and some will die.
This acceptance is human nature. Fear is a short-term emotion. It cannot be sustained over the long term. People either adjust and move on or suffer debilitating emotional breakdowns.
And in this, there might be a lesson for those worried about climate change.
Trying to scare people into making lifestyle changes necessary to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (or lose weight, for that matter) is almost certain to fail as it has generally been failing.
It’s easy to talk about cutting emissions; it’s a lot harder to actually do it. China has talked about capping emissions by 2030, but its actions – building ever more coal-fired power plants – point to nothing but continuing increases.
The so-called Green New Deal, which Investopedia estimates to cost $93 trillion, proposes to get U.S. emissions to “net zero” by 2030 but looks to have little hope of winning Congressional approval – no matter how much fear-mongering – at a time when the country is choking on $28.5 trillion in debt.
If COVID-19 , which hits hard at the obese, wasn’t enough to scare parents into helping their children avoid obesity, the threat of a hotter planet due to global warming is unlikely to scare anyone into doing anything.
And the short-term climate gains of the pandemic – a 10 percent drop in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions as people began working from home and limited social contact – are already fading fast. Just take a look around at the new, old traffic on the roads.
The answer is now a resounding “no.”
Despite “a growing number of large companies in Massachusetts hav(ing) again delayed plans to return to the office until later this fall, if not 2022,” Boston.com reports, traffic levels have crept to with “5 percent of 2019 volumes as of last month, suggesting that many people have indeed shifted from public transit to personal vehicles.
“The trend worries transit advocates, who say Boston’s nation-leading congestion from before the pandemic could somehow get even worse if that shift holds as workers return to the office.”
The shift to personal vehicles is likely linked to people making the sensible decision to avoid packing into trains and buses with others possibly shedding SARS-CoV-2, given that the airborne spread of the virus is now widely accepted.
A long-term abandonment of mass transit, at least for those who can afford it, appears a possibility with significant global warming implications. The same for a return to working in offices far from home instead of remotely.
Too often the latter involves people who have no need to be in an office other than without them there much of middle management has nothing to do. But who cares.
Led by machines
One would have hoped that the interest groups concerned about climate change would have latched onto the pandemic to pitch remote work, active travel and the infrastructure development necessary for the latter as a big plus for both the climate and health, but that didn’t happen in the U.S. as it did in parts of Europe, where many cities are by design better suited to human-powered transportation than in the country that developed in lockstep with the internal-combustion engine.
Henry Ford and his automobiles helped transform the first Industrial Revolution into the Technological Revolution, and by the end of the First World War the machines were already beginning to dictate how Americans worked and lived.
By the end of World War II, they had made possible the suburban boom that has shaped the country ever since. By 2019, Americans were, on average, spending 1.2 hours per day driving to work, the store or elsewhere, according to the U.S. Burea of Labor Statistics.
That number dropped by 47 minutes – a reduction of about 65 percent – during the first year of the pandemic, but is now rapidly climbing back up as the average American exercise program once again reverts to walking from a seat in the house, usually with a view of a computer or television, to a seat in a motor vehicle to drive somewhere.
Largely as a result of all the sitting and, often, the accompanying eating, “the U.S. adult obesity rate stands at 42.4 percent, the first time the national rate has passed the 40 percent mark, and further evidence of the country’s obesity crisis,” the Trust for America’s Health reported just days ago.
And this at a time when obesity, which has long been linked to cardiovascular disease and various cancers, has been shown to more than triple the risk of deadly COVID-19 infections, according to a major meta-analysis.
The so-called “sedentary lifestyle” made possible in large part by the automobile with a modern-day assist from entertaining display screens of various sorts has been killing people for decades with the old illnesses – heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancers, asthma and more.
But with the arrival of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, obesity helped push the death rate to a new, even higher level.
One can only wonder how many lives could have been saved by encouraging people to lose weight and improve their fitness when the pandemic began, but who would ask them to do that?
That said, maybe it’s time for health advocates and climate change worriers to link hands to see if some progress can be made on both fronts.
There are simple things that could be done – tax incentives, for instance, for both individuals engaged in and businesses assisting active travel – that could help to get people out of automobiles and walking or biking to work or other store or more.
Urban/suburban zoning could in many places be changed to put stores within reach of many people instead of miles and miles and miles away. Some of the pavement devoted to cars could even be turned over to people on foot or on bikes to encourage human-powered transport that both improves health and cuts greenhouse gas emissions.
But it seems more likely the country will go on just going on as it did before the pandemic because change is hard.