Tag Archives: COVID-19 spike

Suicides (Surprisingly) Went Down During 2020: Possible Reasons And Insights

Every now and then, I go out of my way to highlight good or uplifting news. From brave priests who do defy the Vatican to wholesome comic strips involving Mr. Rogers, I try to use these stories to lift everyone’s spirits during difficult times.

Let’s face it. We’ve had a lot of that lately. Last year gave us plenty of difficulties, to say the least. It certainly doesn’t help that good stories rarely make the news, mostly because it doesn’t garner ratings or shock value. I tried to do my part, but I admit it wasn’t easy.

I managed to find some silver linings, by they hardly made up for all the soul-crushing hardship that year wrought. My spirit is still not fully intact after being so broken by last year.

Even so, I still want to make that effort to highlight good news, especially when it’s unexpected or surprising. One such story involves the less-than-uplifting topic of suicide, something that is both emotionally charged and incredibly devastating for a great many people and their families.

If ever there was a year during which people could be forgiven for thinking such morbid thoughts, it’s 2020. If a story came out that indicated suicides went up during 2020 as the pandemic raged, then I doubt anyone would be surprised. It probably wouldn’t even be news.

However, according to a story from CBS, that’s not what happened. In fact, the opposite occurred. Against all dire assumptions and understandable cynicism, the number of suicides in the US declined significantly during 2020. I’ll give everyone a minute to wrap their heads around that.

CBS News: U.S. suicides dropped last year, defying pandemic expectations

The number of U.S. suicides fell nearly 6% last year amid the coronavirus pandemic — the largest annual decline in at least four decades, according to preliminary government data.

Death certificates are still coming in and the count could rise. But officials expect a substantial decline will endure, despite worries that COVID-19 could lead to more suicides.

It is hard to say exactly why suicide deaths dropped so much, but one factor may be a phenomenon seen in the early stages of wars and national disasters, some experts suggested.

“There’s a heroism phase in every disaster period, where we’re banding together and expressing lots of messages of support that we’re in this together,” said Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “You saw that, at least in the early months of the pandemic.”

An increase in the availability of telehealth services and other efforts to turn around the nation’s suicide problem may have also contributed, she said.

I want to make one thing clear again before proceeding. Suicide is a serious issue that affects a lot of people. If at all you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts, please consider calling a help line or reaching out to someone. There are people out there who will listen.

Having said that, I also want to note that this news genuinely surprised me. Even as someone who tries to have more faith in humanity than most, this is pretty much the opposite of what I would’ve assumed and in the best possible way.

During a crisis, people tend to panic. We all saw that last year. Anyone who fought someone for access to toilet paper remembers that. When people panic, they get stressed out. When they get stressed, they tend to get depressed. How else are you supposed to feel when you see the death toll climbing every day?

Despite all that, fewer people fell beyond that darkest of dark points. More chose to endure. That bold part is something I highlighted because that is a real effect. Whenever a disaster strikes, people tend to come together. Things like political divisions, racial strife, and what not tend to fall to the wayside when we’re all at the mercy of something we can’t control.

It’s one of humanity’s greatest strengths. Our tribalism may divide us a lot during times of peace, but when the going gets tough, we come together for the sake of survival. That’s powerful sentiment and one that can bring out the best in people. During a global pandemic, we all have to come together to some extent to make it through.

In addition, some cite the rise of telemedicine and the ability to treat people with mental illness remotely as a contributing factor. I certainly think that played a part, but I suspect that the shared struggle and solidarity that often comes during a disaster was a larger factor.

That same shared sense of community and commonality directly counter some of the most powerful risk factors for suicide. Those who make that dire choice often feel alone and isolated. They feel they lack that core sense of community that’s so critical to any social species.

The fact it was strong enough to reduce suicide during a once-in-a-century pandemic is both revealing and encouraging. It shows that this shared sense of community has tangible benefits to large swaths of people. It also hints that the world we had prior to the pandemic wasn’t given enough people this sense of connection.

You can blame that on any number of things, from smartphones to outrage culture to politics. I certainly have my theories, but I’m not smart enough or informed enough to make them credible. I highlight this story because I think it offers and important perspective.

When things get really bad, people will come together. It’s only when they get bad enough that we realize how much more we can do as a community than we can as individuals. We shouldn’t forget that. Even after this pandemic is over and things revert to some semblance of normalcy, we can’t forget that we’re a social species.

We need each other.

We need friends, family, and neighbors. It doesn’t just make us all stronger during a crisis. It’s an integral part of being human.

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Why I’m Still Going To Wear A Mask (For Now)

Australia's about-face on masks and Covid-19: why our health advice was  late to the party | Health | The Guardian

The past few months have been full of objectively great news in terms of ending the COVID-19 pandemic. Given how, at this time last year, the entire world was shutting down and the news kept getting worse with each passing day, I welcome that news. Hell, I’m willing to celebrate it.

It’s now safe to say with a straight face that we’re almost through this once-in-a-century pandemic. The trend line, both in terms of new cases and deaths, is going down. It’s still terrible in some parts of the world, but unlike last year, we have multiple vaccines with which to fight it.

Again, this is a good thing. I got my vaccination and I cannot overstate the relief I felt when it was all said and done. I still take precautions when I go out in public, mostly because there are still some restrictions in place and I understand that not everyone has gotten their vaccine. That includes wearing a mask.

Then, last week, a big announcement from the Centers for Disease Control brought more good news to those who have been vaccinated. Apparently, if we get the vaccine, then there’s no reason to keep wearing a mask. Here’s the story from NPR.

NPR: Fully Vaccinated People Can Stop Wearing Masks Indoors And Outdoors, CDC Says

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that fully vaccinated adults can safely resume activities indoors or outdoors without masks or distancing, in gatherings large or small. The announcement marks a major milestone in the effort to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky announced the new guidance Thursday.

“You can do things you stopped doing because of the pandemic,” Walensky said.

The new policy is based on recent real-world studies from Israel and the U.S. on people who’ve been vaccinated, she said.

Once again, I welcome this news. Like everyone else, I’m sick of having to wear a mask, just to go and get groceries. I also don’t like wearing a mask when I work out. That’s just one other piece of cloth that gets all sweaty and stinky. I’m as eager as everyone else to discard them.

However, despite this welcome news, I’ve already made a choice. I will continue wearing a mask in public, at least for now.

My reason for doing so has nothing to do with my trust in the science. I believe it’s legitimate. This is the Center for Disease Control. They’re not some wannabe guru trying to sell vitamins as a cure all. These brave men and women have been on the front lines since this crisis began. They’ve earned that credibility.

For that same reason, I choose to wear a mask because I understand that not everyone trusts the news and policies that public officials have given. That includes those who refuse to get the vaccine and refuse to wear masks. As a result, these people, who are a sizable chunk of the population, are still vulnerable. They’ll remain vulnerable until the infection rate is at a point where it’s easy to track, treat, and contain.

We’re not quite at that place yet. As of this writing, only about half the population has been vaccinated by at least one of the available vaccines. Just this past week, most clinics and pharmacies in my area started offering walk-in vaccinations without an appointment. That’s a great thing and people now have no excuse not to get one.

However, until that vaccination rate gets to a point where the virus can’t easily spread, I’m still wearing a mask. Even though the vaccine does prevent me from getting ill or showing symptoms, there’s still the possibility of breakthrough infections. While those vaccinated may never feel ill at all, they may still spread it and they could spread it to someone who is not vaccinated.

I do not want to be one of those people.

I do not want to be someone who spreads this terrible disease to someone, even if I never feel sick.

Yes, wearing a mask is uncomfortable and I look forward to discarding them.

No, I’m not willing to risk hurting other people for my own personal comfort.

That’s not just an informed choice. It’s the right thing to do and it’ll get us out of this crisis that much sooner.

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Got My Second Shot Of The COVID-19 Vaccine!

Countries in the Americas notified of first COVID-19 vaccine allocations  through COVAX - PAHO/WHO | Pan American Health Organization

It’s official. I got my second shot of the COVID-19 vaccine! As of now, I can count myself among those who are fully vaccinated against this terrible disease that has so ravaged the world. To say it’s a great feeling doesn’t do justice to all those who have endured hardship over the past year.

Once again, I cannot praise the brave nurses and doctors behind this effort enough. They are true heroes and, coming from a lifelong fan of superhero comics and movies, that’s saying something. This pandemic has been harder on you than most. Your efforts, your bravery, and your commitment to healing the sick is truly astonishing.

Like my first shot, this one was just as smooth. I showed up a few minutes early, stood in line for a bit, showed the nurse my vaccine card, and they did the rest. It was no worse than a flu shot. My arm was sore for a while, but other than that, I felt fine.

Now, I feel even better. I cannot overstate how big a relief it is that I’ve gotten this vaccine. It’s not just more peace of mind than I’ve had since early last year. Having been vaccinated, along with other friends and family, I can actually start planning things beyond this pandemic.

Last year, I couldn’t travel. In fact, I have not left my home county since October last year. I’m ready to get out again. I’m ready to visit friends, family, and beaches. I am so ready.

I missed out on a lot of great moments last year.

I don’t intend on missing out this year.

Once again, to the doctors, nurses, researchers, and scientists who helped develop this vaccine in record time, I sincerely thank you. On behalf of everyone who has lived through this once-in-a-generation pandemic, thank you from the bottom of our collective hearts.

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Jack’s World: How Will We Tell Future Generations About The COVID-19 Pandemic?

The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s a more serious video than I usually do. I started working on it a number of weeks ago. I’ve been writing about the COVID-19 pandemic off and on since it began last year. It has been depressing, to say the least. I don’t deny I have been downright dire at times.

However, the end is in sight. Having gotten my first shot of the vaccine, I can honestly say the worst is behind us. It’s not over, but it does raise a number of questions. This pandemic is going to have a ripple effect for generations. People are going to remember this. It led me to wonder how we’ll talk about it in the future. I decided to make this video as a means of offering a big picture overview.

It’s serious, but I try to make it hopeful. Enjoy!

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Why I’m (Still) Hesitating To Make Plans For The Summer Of 2021

This is usually the time of year when I celebrate the end of winter. For months, I’ve dealt with cold days, long nights, and a frustrating inability to comfortably wear flip-flops when walking around my neighborhood. At this point, I’m ready for warm weather. I’m downright eager for it.

However, this is not a usual year. I still remember vividly how, around this time last year, I was making ambitious plans for the summer. I knew where I wanted to go, who I wanted to visit, and what I wanted to do during the hottest days of summer. This is fairly typical for me.

Then, the pandemic hit and I don’t think I need to remind everyone of how that messed up my plans.

Needless to say, a lot of plans in 2020 got messed up. Plenty of plans in 2021 have been disrupted as well. However, there is legitimate hope that we are turning the tide against this pandemic. We have multiple vaccines being implemented all over the world and more are likely to arrive in the coming months.

The end of this pandemic is in sight. I’m trying to take comfort in that. I really am.

After last year, though, I just can’t bring myself to be that optimistic. I had my hopes and spirit crushed repeatedly last year. I missed out on opportunities and big family events that still break my heart to this day. I can never get those moments back.

I still want to try to create new moments this year, but a lot has to go right for that to happen and after last year, I’m not ready to make such lofty assumptions. The less-than-efficient vaccination efforts have already done plenty to disappoint.

Even so, the trend lines for the pandemic are going in the right direction, for the most part. We can say with a straight face that the worst is behind us. That doesn’t mean the end will come as soon as we want.

Then, there’s the matter of new variants to the virus. That, more than anything, has me concerned about making summer plans. If just one of those variants proves to be a problem, then everything would be set back considerably. We might not be back at square one, but we would be pretty damn close.

So far, it does appear that the vaccines are effective against these new variants. The key term there is “so far.” If we learned anything last year, it’s that things can change very quickly and go horribly wrong in the span of a day.

I don’t want that to happen.

I hope it doesn’t happen.

It may still happen and a part of me can’t help but brace for that.

I still want to make plans for this summer. I want to go to the beach, go to the movies, visit friends and family, go to a baseball game, and enjoy a family barbecue at some point. Even if I can’t do everything I hope to do, I’d like to be able to do some of it.

I hope the world is healed enough by then to make that possible.

I hope everyone else gets a chance to make summer plans as well. We’ll just have to wait and see, once again hoping for the best while bracing for the worst.

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The COVID-19 Pandemic: One Year Later

At this time last year, the world was a very different place. There’s a running joke that people now refer to this as “the before times,” but in retrospect, it’s no laughing matter. The world, as we knew it, before the COVID-19 pandemic might as well have been a different universe. Honestly, I look back at those times with mixed emotions now.

Back then, we could go to a crowded movie theater and not feel unsafe.

Back then, we could go to a restaurant without a mask and not feel at risk.

Back then, we could go to a concert or sporting event and enjoy being surrounded by thousands of cheering fans.

Back then, we could decide to travel on a whim, going wherever we pleased without concern about what was closed or cancelled.

I long for those times, as well. I miss them as much as everyone else. Even with all the encouraging news about vaccines and improved treatment, the world is a long way from returning to those fanciful times. Some wonder if we’ll ever go back. I hope we do, but I don’t want to dwell too much on that.

The reason I’m bringing this up is because, here in America, we’re nearing the one-year mark for one things really went south. The COVID-19 pandemic may have begun in late 2019, but the world didn’t really start feeling the effects until February 2020. That’s when the news started to get scary and dire. That’s also when things started shutting down, from major sports to major events.

However, it really didn’t sink in until March 2020. That’s when it became painfully clear. This was not going away quickly. This was not some storm that would pass. It was not going to go away after a few weeks, despite what some claimed. It was when the harsh reality sank in. The pandemic was here and our lives were never going to be the same.

I remember where I was at this time last year. I was having coffee with my mother on a Sunday morning. She too had been watching the news. We were both concerned, but didn’t know just how bad it was going to get. On that same day, I started getting notices from friends and family. The next day, the state made it official.

Everything was being locked down. Schools were closing. Movie theaters were closing. Everything that wasn’t essential was being locked down. People had to either start teleworking or lose their jobs completely. Nobody could travel outside their state. Some states even began stopping people with out-of-state plates from entering. It was that serious.

It happened so fast. In just a few days, the world as we knew it shut down. We didn’t know how long it would last. We didn’t know how bad it was going to get, but it got pretty damn bad.

To date, over 2.5 million people have died from this pandemic. Millions more have been sickened and left to suffer. Numbers like that are impossible to wrap your head around. This pandemic crossed borders, cultures, and classes of all kinds. It didn’t matter what you believed in or who you voted for. You were still vulnerable.

It’s hard to overstate how much this pandemic has changed our world in the past year, so I’m not going to try. I don’t doubt that it will have a major place in future history books. It will also be a traumatic moment in our collective memories.

Regardless of your age or background, you’ve felt the effects of this pandemic. This past year has seared itself in your memory for all the wrong reasons. We’re at a point where we can barely remember what the world was like before all this happened. It’s a painful reality, but one we cannot and should not ignore.

I’ll definitely remember this past year. No matter how long I live, I suspect I’ll feel the effects of this year until my dying days. I don’t claim to know what will happen in years to come or how much the world will change from here on out. I just know that, one year ago, the world as I knew it changed forever.

We all took it for granted. We can look back on it fondly, but let’s not dwell on it too much. We can’t change the past. We can only effect the present.

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Finding An Available COVID-19 Vaccine With A (Very) Useful Website

I’m not a doctor. I’m not the least bit qualified to give medical advice. Unless it involves superhero comics, football, or 90s sitcoms, I have little to no expertise in that field. I’m just a guy who writes sexy stories and makes YouTube videos.

With that disclaimer aside, I do feel comfortable giving one bit of advice. It’s simple and you’ve probably heard it from people who are much smarter than I’ll ever be.

Please, if you can, get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.

I know that’s easier said than done. Hopefully, with the recent approval of a third vaccine, it’ll be even easier in the coming weeks. Even with supplies being so limited, I encourage everyone to make the effort. To help, I’d like to share a very useful tool that I recently found, courtesy of NPR. It’s called Vaccine Finder.

Please, if you ever bookmark a website, make it this one. It may very well help end this horrible pandemic just a little bit sooner. If you need more information on it, here’s the same NPR story that I came across that explains what it is and how to use it.

NPR: CDC Launches Web Tool To Help Americans Find COVID-19 Vaccines

Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in partnership with Boston Children’s Hospital and Castlight Health, is launching a new tool that allows Americans to search for COVID-19 vaccine providers with stock of vaccine where they live.

The tool, which builds on the existing VaccineFinder.org platform, will capture inventory data from vaccine providers around the country.

In most states, the initial launch is limited to certain providers — those getting the vaccine directly from the federal government. In Alaska, Indiana, Iowa and Tennessee, the tool shows all the vaccine providers, including hospitals, clinics and public health vaccination sites.

Residents of those four states can look up their cities or ZIP codes and find an interactive map of all the places administering COVID-19 vaccines and see which ones have vaccine doses in stock.

Again, I’m not expert, but this website will help you link to people who are. Check it daily. Make it part of your morning routine. Make your coffee and then use this site to try and locate a vaccine. Then, make the appointment and follow all the necessary steps. You’ll help yourself, your loved ones, and your entire community.

We’re almost through this horrific pandemic. We’ll get through it faster if we all make the effort. Hopefully, this website will help.

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Vaccine Update: Making Sense Of The (Critical) Data On The Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

Last year did a lot to crush my usually optimistic outlook on the future. I experienced a level of cynicism I haven’t felt since high school, a time when I only ever assumed things would get worse and rarely made an effort to change that. It was bad. Global pandemics have that effect on people.

I still made it a point to note when positive things actually happened, especially when it came to news of the vaccine. That marked the ultimate turning point. A vaccine was always going to be our best weapon in terms of ending the pandemic, regardless of what the anti-vaxx crowd says. The fact that we now have two vaccines at our disposal is genuinely encouraging.

Yes, I know the distribution of these vaccines has been a mess, to say the least.

I also don’t deny that the emergence of new mutant strains of the virus could hinder their effectiveness.

Those are legitimate concerns. We should all be worried about how this will impact our ability to finally end this awful pandemic that has caused so much damage. At the same time, we should also be hopeful. Believe me, I’m trying.

That hope got another boost recently when it was announced that a third vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson had completed its final round of trials. Having a third weapon against this virus can only help. In addition, this one has the advantage of being a one-shot vaccine, as opposed to the two required by Moderna and Pfizer.

While that’s good news for those who hate needles, there is a trade-off. According to the research reported by the media, the vaccine is effective. However, the numbers aren’t quite as promising as what we got with the first two. This is what CNN reported.

CNN: Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine is 66% effective in global trial, but 85% effective against severe disease, company says

Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 single-shot vaccine was shown to be 66% effective in preventing moderate and severe disease in a global Phase 3 trial, but 85% effective against severe disease, the company announced Friday.

The vaccine was 72% effective against moderate and severe disease in the US, the company said.

It’s a striking difference from vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, and it may give pause to people uncertain about which vaccine to get or when they can get one. The vaccines already on the market in the US are about 95% effective overall against symptomatic Covid-19, with perhaps even higher efficacy against severe cases.

But experts say the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will still be useful against the pandemic in the United States and around the world.

I know the numbers are the only thing that stands out in this piece. That seems to be the main sticking point for most reports about this virus.

Those numbers are still good. The 66% may not be as promising as the 90% promised by the other two, but that’s still more effective than a standard flu vaccine. On top of that, being a one-shot vaccine that can be easily stored in a typical refrigerator will help even more. It means more of this vaccine can get to people, especially in places with less-than-ideal health infrastructure.

This will definitely help in terms of ending or at least mitigating this pandemic. However, there’s one other critical point of data that’s worth highlighting with this vaccine. It’s in some of the reports, but it’s often difficult to discern, mostly because the media’s track record with reporting science is not that great.

For this vaccine, it’s boils down to certain degrees within the data. It’s true the Johnson & Johnson vaccine won’t give you the same protection you’d get from the other two. There’s a good chance that, even after getting this vaccine, you could still become very sick with COVID-19. However, and this is the key, it will help ensure that you don’t become severely ill and die.

That’s not just a sales pitch. According to the research, there were no hospitalizations or deaths among people in the vaccine arm. That may mean some did get sick. Some might have even spread it. However, they didn’t get so sick that they ended up in the hospital. They all survived.

To me, at least, that’s the most important result. Getting sick is one thing. Getting so sick that you die in a hospital bed is something else entirely. One is a bad flu. The other is debilitating illness. That alone makes this vaccine a critical tool in the effort to end this pandemic.

I admit that if I had a choice between the three, I would choose Moderna or Pfizer. I actually know someone who got the Pfizer vaccine and their experience gives me great assurance that it works as intended.

However, if those two were not available and all I could get was the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, I’d take it in a heartbeat. It could mean the difference between being sick and being deathly ill. In a pandemic, that’s the only difference that matters. To all the doctors, nurses, participants, and health care workers who were part of this effort, I sincerely thank you. A lot of lives will be saved because of this vaccine. That makes you true heroes in a world that badly needs them.

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A Post-Pandemic Valentine’s Day Prediction (That I Hope Is Wrong)

I’m sick of this pandemic. I know that’s a poor choice of words, but there’s no better way to say it.

I hate this goddamn virus. It has done so much damage to this world, killing so many people and causing so much suffering. I want it gone as much as everyone else.

Thankfully, the end is in sight. We now have two effective vaccines with which to end this pandemic. A third one is likely be approved very soon. This, along with other treatments, will help get this monster virus under control. It may not happen as fast as we hope, but it will happen.

I eagerly await the day when I can go to a movie theater, hang out at a bar, and not panic every time I forget my mask when I leave my house. Like many others, I find myself watching the trendline of the virus every day. I watched with the same dread as everyone when it went up towards the end of 2020. That was genuinely distressing.

Now, it’s trending downward. As more and more people get the vaccine, that trend is likely to continue and accelerate. Again, it won’t happen as fast as we want, but the data is encouraging. I sincerely hope that the worst of this pandemic is behind us.

That being said, I do have a prediction/suspicion about that trend. I’m not the best when it comes to predicting the future and I freely admit that every time I try. However, if ever there was an instance where my prediction turned out dead wrong, it’s this one.

That’s because I predict we’re going to have one last surge of COVID-19 cases before we can say the pandemic is over.

It probably won’t be nearly as big as the one we saw in late 2020. The vaccines will make certain of that. I still think we’ll see one last spike. Moreover, I think that spike will come as a direct result of Valentine’s Day.

I know those who are single, lonely, and/or not a romance fan like I am already despise this holiday. I personally have mixed feelings about it, being both single and a romance fan. At the same time, I don’t deny that some people take it seriously. Others just use it as an excuse to get frisky. It can be a beautiful thing most of the time.

There’s nothing wrong with getting extra romantic on Valentine’s Day when there’s not a pandemic going on. Unfortunately, this is not one of the times. It’s for that reason I believe the weeks following Valentine’s Day will see a surge that will frustrating everyone hoping the current trend continued downward.

Let’s face it. Being romantic on Valentine’s Day doesn’t exactly accommodate social distancing. Unless your fetish involves washing hands, it’ll probably create a few extra opportunities for the virus to spread. The same thing happened with the holidays in 2020. All the gatherings and get-togethers basically gave the virus a free ride to infect.

Valentine’s Day may not inspire as much traveling and gathering as Thanksgiving or Christmas, but it’s still an excuse for getting cozy and frisky with that special someone. Let’s face it. When you’re in love and/or horny, you’re not going to think straight. You may forget to wash your hands and cover your face for a while. Many will get away with it, but a few won’t.

Again, I sincerely hope I’m wrong about this. In the coming weeks, as more and more vaccinations occur, the end of this pandemic will draw closer. We’ll continue seeing those numbers drop. It’ll happen gradually, but it will happen. I don’t know when we’ll be able to officially declare this pandemic over, but that day will come sooner rather than later. I just worry that the various activities associated with Valentine’s Day may push that day back.

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