With another year of fear in the rearview mirror but omicron threatening to make a mess of 2022, it might be a good time to look back at how lucky you are to live in Alaska – if you happen to live in Alaska – and what a train wreck journalism has become.
First the good news. Twenty-one or 22 months (depending on how you count) into the biggest pandemic since the Spanish flu of 1917-’18, Alaska has a Covid-19 survival rate of which most other states can only dream.
As of this writing, the Worlometer tracker records the state confirming 151,583 infections and registering 947 deaths. At that rate, the data says Alaskans who catch the disease have about a 99.37 percent chance of surviving.
Or, to look at it another way, the risk of dying if you catch the disease here is about 0.63 percent. Compare that to hard-hit Alabama, where 16,455 people are dead and the odds of dying are 1.85 percent – nearly three times worse than in Alaska – or Massachusetts where 20,221 are dead and the odds of dying are only slightly better than in Alabama.
Even Hawaii, which has been heralded for its low per capita death rate, is doing worse than Alaska with nearly 110,000 known cases producing nearly 1,100 deaths. That translates into a risk of dying of about 1 percent for those with confirmed Covid cases in the island state.
That 947 Alaskans, about 43 per month on average, have had their lives cut short since the start of the pandemic is tragic. Premature deaths are always tragic.
But to put this in perspective, those 43 deaths per month translate into an annualized death count of 516 people in a year. That’s 82 more than died in accidents in 2019, according to the latest report from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, and given the way a lot of Alaskans drive they don’t seem to care at all about the risk of accidental death.
And Covid doesn’t even come closes to the number of Alaska deaths – many of them preventable through lifestyle changes – from cancer and heart disease. Those two diseases killed almost 1,900 Alaskans, and no one paid much attention save the families and friends of the dead.
Few gave much thought to precautions either.
Health versus health care
You can’t put on a mask and hope it will keep cancer and heart disease at bay, but there are things you can do to minimize the risk, or to maximize it.
A 2020 study that looked at cancer in sedentary people from 2003 to 2007 found they had a 52 percent greater risk of dying from that disease than those who are active. “Getting regular physical activity is a proven way for people to lower their chance of developing cancer and dying from it,” Medical News Today reported in the wake of the study.
The association between inactivity and heart disease, meanwhile, was known long before 2020 and is now well documented. The still ongoing Framingham Heart Study linked cardiovascular disease to physical inactivity, obesity, high blood pressure and smoking more than five decades ago.
Few paid much attention. Americans, in fact, just kept getting fatter and exercising less. The U.S. obesity rate topped 40 percent, the highest ever, in 2020, according to the Trust for America’s Health.
If you watch much TV, you might have noticed the new “fat acceptance” movement in the country. Advertisers know who drinks all those seltzers and stuffs down that fast food. They have now clearly targeted their advertising at the overweight.
About this no one seems too concerned either, even though the same factors that boosted deaths from cardiovascular disease and cancer also boosted deaths from Covid, which some take to be the plague of the new Millenium.
It’s not. The “black death,” the great plague, is estimated to have killed 40 to 60 percent of the people in Europe between 1347 and 1352. One in every two people in Paris died, according to a history compiled by the Hardin Library for Health Sciences.
Europe wide, a third to three-quarters of the people who caught the disease perished. The current pandemic is nothing like it, but sometimes….
“It was the worst of times; it was the worst of times — again,” writes reporter Michael Armstrong .”People who naively thought that the Dumpster fire of 2020 would burn out in 2021 had their illusions shattered as 2021 turned out to be another bleak year of the pandemic. After a respite in spring and early summer when it looked like life would return to normal, a new variant of COVID-19, delta, roared through Alaska. Case counts, hospitalizations and deaths spiked, many of them among unvaccinated people.”
Armstrong is a thoughtful and well-meaning, small-town reporter in Homer, the city before the end of the road at the end of the spit that juts into Kachemak Bay at the south end of Alaska’s famous Kenai Peninsula.
His observations, however, mirror those of many mainstream reporters around the country, though one has to wonder about the accusation that people were naive. Maybe they were just believing Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government Covid guru, who assured them in December 2020 that the end of the pandemic was near.
“It’s bittersweet that we have the beginning of what will ultimately be the end game of this pandemic,” he told National Public Radio’s Rachel Martin at that time. “I would say 50 percent would have to get vaccinated before you start to see an impact. But I would say 75 to 85 percent would have to get vaccinated if you want to have that blanket of herd immunity.”
A reported 74 percent of Americans have now received at least one dose of the vaccines and 63 percent are fully vaccinated, and the blanket of “herd immunity” has proven to be as full of holes as the whole idea of herd immunity against a virus evolving rapidly since it first appeared.
Omicron, the newest variant, is thought to be about twice as transmissible as the Delta variant that came before it and about four times as transmissible as the original variant with early research indicating vaccines appear less protective against it.
Well it is, and it isn’t. Infections in most places are way up over March 2020, but death rates aren’t at all comparable. In the United Kingdom (UK) – where omicron is running wild and hit a peak of 112,000 news cases in the week before Christmas – deaths and infections have been going in separate directions, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) Covid-19 dashboard.
At the peak in March 2020, there were about 30,000 cases per week in the UK, and deaths peaked at 6,400 per week in early April. Flash forward to the end of 2021.
More than 195,000 cases were reported in the week ending Dec. 13 last year, and the total death toll since then and through Dec. 27 was less than 850.
Doctors in South Africa, where the omicron variant was first noticed, and at least one prominent scientist in the UK have described omicron as causing a different, less-lethal disease than the sparked by the first Covid-driving, SARS-CoV-2 viruses.
The graphs of UK infections and deaths would appear to support that conclusion. The differences between then and now are so great they jump out at a viewer.
But with so many infections, deaths are sure to start ticking upward. They almost have to even if the case fatality rate is low. There are just so many people getting infected.
And this probability has been getting most of the attention, which brings this back to the state of journalism today.
Fear seems to be what sells.
Whether it is the new fear of government trying to deprive you of your freedom by ordering you to wear a mask, or the now old-fear of “climate change.” Alaska saw a doozie in the latter case.
The wildly variably weather for which the state is famous, at least to those who live here, went truly crazy and hit 65 degrees in Kodiak the day after Christmas, which led the U.S. media to go equally crazy over global warming.
“Imagine running a 5K and winning the race by 10 minutes,” trumpeted the Washington Post. “That’s analogous to what is transpiring in Alaska at the moment. An exceptional slew of records has tumbled in the wake of extreme warmth, with highs up to 45 degrees above average.”
How that is analogous – ie. “comparable in certain respects” – is hard to imagine, especially given it’s not hard to imagine someone winning a 5K by 10 minutes. An elite runner could show up at many a local 5K “fun run” and likely win by 10 minutes.
RunRepeat, a statistics site for runners, says the average 5K finishing time in the U.S. was down to a little over 39 minutes by 2018 as U.S. runners get slower and slower by the year. It might have something to do with the epidemic of overweight and obesity, given that running – like most racing – is all about power to weight ratio.
And how much you win by invariably depends on what sort of competition shows up. But never mind that, the WashPo story went on to tie the Kodiak warming to the deadly summer heatwave in the Pacific Northwest and then reached the predictable conclusion:
“Parts of Alaska have warmed more than 2.5 degrees since the 1970s, outpacing the remainder of the Lower 48 by about two-thirds. Alaska’s North Slope is experiencing the greatest human-induced climate warming, with entire ecosystems at risk amid the abrupt biome and environmental shifts.”
Why is it, one must ask, that the people who preach “weather is not climate” when it’s snowing in California or colder than Antarctica in Chicago, ignore that very same dictate every time someplace gets abnormally warm?
This approach has probably made more Americans skeptical about climate change than the ranting of the most over-the-top critics of the climate-change theory. And yes, climate change is a theory.
Global warming, which is real and apparently driven by the increasing volume of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, is the fact upon which is built the theory that the temperature will keep going up until doomsday.
The theory appears sound, and there are at least a dozen good reasons to reduce the global consumption of fossil fuels unrelated to climate change, starting with the facts that gas and oil are non-renewable resources, and coal is a clean air problem no matter how clean you try to make it.
Those might be even better reasons to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels given that climate change lacks the evidentiary foundation of, say, evolution. Evolution takes evidence from the past and tracks it forward to where we are today in the world.
Anyone with any remaining doubts about that theory should simply turn their attention to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. We’ve all been witness to evolution in real-time in the form of that invisible little sucker.
Climate change, unfortunately, exists in the future, and though the top scientists can be credited with the knowledge to make better-educated guesses than the rest of us, nobody has a foolproof crystal ball. That people being asked to make sacrifices in the name of climate change might get extra skeptical of the whole idea when the people pushing the climate-change agenda are less than honest is only predictable.
So, yes. The temperature hit 65 degrees in Kodiak on the day after Christmas.
It was the weather. The climate, even the short-term climate, has Kodiak on track to finish the month of December 1.1 degrees below normal, according to the National Weather Service in a year in which the island-city is on track to finish with an annual temperature below normal.
In fact, the most interesting thing about the 65-degree high, which was 20 degrees above the old record, might be the way it spiked. The day went from a low of 35 to a high of 65 degrees in an island environment moderated by a lot of cool water surrounding it.
Daily temperature swings of 30 degrees are not the norm for Kodiak. This isn’t the high desert of Nevada where daily temperature changes between highs and low are on the order of 50 or 60 degrees.
Kodiak weather tends to shift more slowly up and down, more on a weekly basis than a daily basis.
The temperature, for instance, dipped to a low of 10 degrees on Dec. 12 and posted a daily average of 12 degrees. That was a full 20 degrees below the norm for the day. But the WashPo seems to have missed that as most of the national media has missed the cooling of Alaska since it set a heat record in 2019.
There were a lot of cold years in there; 1956 set the record with an annual average of 31.1 degrees at Ted Stevens International Airport
That was more than 10 degrees colder than the annual temperature in 2019 when the Alaska weather went crazy and attracted the attention of the world. Anchorage ended the year with an average of 42.5 degrees, and the state as a whole saw an average annual temperature above freezing for the first time in its history.
Globally, 2019 made Alaska the poster child for global warming. Locally, Alaska sun-worshippers might end up remembering it as the good old days. The Fourth of July became the linchpin for all sorts of climate records that year:
- Hottest day ever, 90 degrees on the Fourth.
- Historically hottest day overall by average, 74.5 degrees on the Fourth.
- Most days when the temperature hit 80 degrees or more, six of them starting on July 3.
- Warmest month in history, July with an average of 65.3 degrees.
- Longest run of days of 75 degrees or warmer, a dozen of them starting on Aug. 6.
- Most 75 or warmer days in a year, 31.
- And most 70 degree days in a year, a whopping 49 of them. The average, for comparison’s sake, is 16.
Then Anchorage slid back toward being the Anchorage of earlier in the decade when the New York Times’ “Nature in the balance column” tagged Alaska’s largest city “as the place to be” for those looking to avoid the global warming apocalypse.
July of this year was the coldest July since 20`12, and the summer ended with but 10 days with temperatures at or about 70 degrees. That was a fifth of the nice days of 2019 and only about two-thirds of the average.
For those fearing climate change, this had to be good news. But it might have put the chill on Anchorage as the near ideal, not-too-hot, not-too-cold climate refugium.
Too bad Anchorage. It could get worse.
Were this to happen, it would take place over the course of years; that’s climate. Not over the course of days; that’s weather. Kodiak, it is worth noting, is now back to something approaching normal.
Actualy a little below normal. The National Weather Service forecast a New Year’s Day low dipping to 11 degrees. The long-term “normal” low for the day is 26.