Tag Archives: COVID-19

ANOTHER COVID-19 Surge Among Unvaccinated: A Product Of Math, Science, Politics, And No More Excuses

More vaccinated than unvaccinated Britons are now dying from the coronavirus

I do not want to keep talking about the COVID-19 pandemic. I really don’t.

I don’t want to keep urging people to get vaccinated. I’ve already provided tools. I proudly announced when I got my dose of the vaccine. I even went so far as to tell the anti-vaxx crowd that they’re actively killing people. I even cited a video to help debunk the most common anti-vaxx claims.

Now, I understand that I am not a very influential figure. My audience is very small, compared to other voices on the internet. I’m completely aware of my limitations with respect to getting my message out there. At the same time, I can’t keep hiding my frustrations.

This pandemic should be over. We have multiple vaccines. They’re free, they’re widely available, and they work. Most of the restrictions that we lived under for over a year have been lifted. We are in a better place now compared to last year and we have these vaccines to thank for that.

Unfortunately, it’s still a problem. The crisis is not over yet, but it’s not because we lack the tools to resolve it. It’s because people are refusing to do what’s necessary to save lives and end this madness.

I still like to have faith in humanity, as a whole. I really do believe that most people are good. However, the people currently prolonging this pandemic are really challenging that faith. These are people who, for reasons that range from politics to ignorance to completely insane conspiracy theories, refuse to take this vaccine.

As a result, there’s another surge of COVID-19 cases across the country, including my area. However, this surge is different. This surge isn’t as widespread and indiscriminate as previous surges. This time around, the surge in cases is among the unvaccinated. That’s not too surprising, but it’s also a perfect manifestation of the current political land social divide.

NPR: U.S. COVID Deaths Are Rising Again. Experts Call It A ‘Pandemic Of The Unvaccinated’

The death rate from COVID-19 in the U.S. is rising steadily for the first time in months as the nation grapples with a renewed burst of cases in what’s become “a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

The seven-day average of new cases has increased by nearly 70% to almost 30,000 per day; hospitalizations are up 36%. And deaths from the virus have risen steadily in recent days, reversing a months-long downward trend that began in mid-January.

“There is a clear message that is coming through: This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s director, said at a Friday briefing of the White House COVID-19 Response Team. “Our biggest concern is we are going to continue to see preventable cases, hospitalizations and sadly deaths among the unvaccinated.”

The upward trend in national statistics is being driven almost entirely by outbreaks in places with low vaccination rates, such as the Ozarks, Florida and parts of the Mountain West. Some counties, especially in Missouri and Arkansas, are recording more cases now than they did during the winter.

“Unvaccinated Americans account for virtually all recent COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths,” said Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator. “Each COVID-19 death is tragic, and those happening now are even more tragic because they are preventable.”

More than 99% of recent deaths were among the unvaccinated, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said earlier this month on NBC’s Meet the Press, while Walensky noted on Friday that unvaccinated people accounted for over 97% of hospitalizations.

That bolded text is my doing because it makes an important point that I haven’t been able to make until now. A reasonable can have reasonable concerns about a vaccine that was approved in record time. A reasonable person can even be forgiven for waiting until a certain amount of the population took it before getting it themselves.

I understand that.

I really do.

Nobody likes getting shots. They’re uncomfortable, stressful, and leave your arm feeling sore for days.

However, there comes a point where reluctance becomes absurdity and that absurdity is causing more suffering. It doesn’t help that these vaccines have also become politically charged. There is a clear, but distressing correlation between how you identify politically and whether or not you’re getting vaccinated.

If you’re liberal or left leaning, chances are you already got vaccinated and this surge isn’t affecting you.

If you’re conservative or right leaning, chances are you haven’t been vaccinated and you’ll eagerly cite less-than-reputable sources to justify those choices.

While I don’t want to get into the politics of those pushing anti-vaccine messages, I do want to point one thing out to those who take them seriously. Please note that this is not a personal attack. This is not me talking down to you as someone who has been vaccinated and who probably gets his news from very different sources. This is just me making a sincere, honest observation.

At this point, we’re beyond politics and science. You can have different politics. You can even have certain attitudes towards science. At the very least, though, you have to undestand that simple, basic math cannot have an agenda.

I’ll restate what the NPR article said. This latest spike in COVID-19 cases is affecting the unvaccinated at a rate of 99 percent in terms of deaths and 97 percent in terms of hospitalizations.

That is not a trivial difference in terms of margin.

When something is 99 percent, it’s as close to definitive as you can get without god-like aliens coming down to Earth and affirming the results. Think of it in terms like this.

If a pill had a 99 percent chance of curing cancer, would you take it?

If a fruit had a 99 percent chance of killing you, would you eat it?

If a car had a 99 percent chance of exploding every time you turned the key, would you drive it?

If a slot machine had a 99 percent chance of winning the jackpot, would you play it?

I could go on, but I honestly don’t know how much more I can belabor this point. These vaccines work. They prevent COVID-19 from infecting and spreading. If enough people get it, the pandemic will end. The suffering will stop. That’s all there is to it.

The science says they work.

The doctors, experts, and medical authorities throughout the world who dedicate their lives to this sort of thing says they work.

Now, even the math says they work.

At this point, if you’re still skeptical or hesitant, you’re not just being unreasonable. You’re not just being absurd. You’re just being an asshole. We all want this pandemic to end and you’re preventing that. As a result, more people will suffer and die. Face it. You’re out of excuses and the damage this surge does is on you.

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It’s Official: I’m Going To New York Comic Con 2021!

New York Comic Con Essentials You Need to Know | Expedia Viewfinder

I’ve been sitting on this news for a while. In my defense, I needed some time to make sure it was real and make the necessary plans. I make no apologies because I’m just too excited to announce this.

I got my ticket to New York Comic Con 2021!

Just typing that put a big smile on my face. Words cannot do justice to the joy I felt once it sank in.

Now, I’ve been to New York Comic Con before. I’ve shared my experience on this site on multiple occasions. It has been my favorite annual tradition since I started going back in 2013. Being in that big convention hall, surrounded by so many spectacles and people who share my love of comics, is such a thrill. Every year, it seems, I find another reason to love it.

However, last year was nothing short of heartbreaking for reasons I don’t want to dwell on. Even though I expected it, the news that the New York Comic Con was cancelled was just devastating on so many levels. It felt weird in those first few weeks of October, not dressing up and spending time in New York City. I had serious concerns that I might go another year without going to a comic book convention.

Well, I can set most of those concerns aside for now. I have my ticket. I made my travel plans. I’m even making plans to wear a different costume this year. Again, I cannot overstate how excited I am for this.

It’s not just a sign that the world is healing and things are steadily returning to a sense of normalcy. It’s a chance to make up for what was lost last year. Every year I go to New York Comic Con is special, but I’m more determined than ever to make this year even more special.

I’ll be sure to share some of those plans as they materialize. I don’t want to confirm anything now, but you can be certain I won’t be able to contain my joy, more so than usual. Also, if anyone else is going to the New York Comic Con this year, I encourage them to follow that same spirit.

Last year sucked.

This year, more than most, is worth making extra awesome.

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Dear Vaccine Conspiracy Theorists: You’re Killing People (And Making A Fool Of Yourself)

Wednesday, March 17th 2021: JJ McCartney LIVE on St. Patrick's Day 3-5pmET  – JJMcCartney 24/7 – The Re-Union Station

In general, I try to respect the sincerely held beliefs of others. It’s something I hope most decent human beings can agree upon. Mocking, belittling, or denigrating someone else’s beliefs isn’t just bound to cause conflict. It’s just a dick move.

I say that as someone who has criticized organized religion many times before. Within those criticism, though, I make it a point to say that I try to respect those who are sincere in their beliefs. I’ve no desire to mock them or make them feel lesser for believing what they belief.

All that being said, I draw a clear line when those beliefs get people killed.

This brings me to vaccines and the conspiracy theorists who love whining about them. These are people whose beliefs are hard to respect in any context. They’re not just skeptical about the efficacy of vaccines. They go out of their way to protest their use, even during a global pandemic that has killed millions.

I’m sorry, but I just can’t respect that. I don’t care if it’s for religious or non-religious reasons. This sort of thing is killing people. That’s objectively bad.

Now, I predicted last year that religious zealots would be among those who refuse to take vaccines and go out of their way to denigrate scientists. Unfortunately, that prediction proved distressingly accurate.

However, what I didn’t predict was how many self-professed “skeptics” would protest vaccines for non-religious reasons. I knew it was going to get absurd. I just didn’t know it was going to get “vaccines are making people magnets” absurd.

Seriously, I wish I were making that up. That’s a real testimony from a registered nurse, of all people, during an Ohio public hearing. Here’s the story from the Huffington Post. Be warned, though. Your faith in humanity will be shaken.

Huff Post: Nurse’s Attempt To Prove Vaccines Make People Magnetic Hilariously Backfires

An anti-vaccine Ohio nurse attempted on Tuesday to prove that COVID-19 vaccines make people magnetic, but ― to use a gymnastics term ― she failed to stick the landing.

Registered nurse Joanna Overholt, testifying before the Ohio House health committee about what she said were potential coronavirus vaccine dangers, tried to use her own body as proof.

Overholt said she heard during lunch that vaccines cause magnetism in humans, so she decided to prove her point on herself by attempting to show how a bobby pin and a key would stick to her exposed skin.

Spoiler alert: It didn’t go well.

Now, I don’t know this woman’s full story. I have no idea what’s going on in her life or what led her to belief something this absurd. I’m fairly certain she didn’t just wake up one day and decide to believe bullshit conspiracy theories about vaccines.

Whatever her story, it doesn’t change the implications or the consequences. What she’s promoting isn’t just wrong or absurd. It’s legitimately harmful. On top of that, we’re still dealing with a pandemic and rhetoric like this is going to get people killed.

That’s the main takeaway I glean every time I see stories like this. That’s what sets them apart from other absurd conspiracy theories. Believing there are alien bodies in Area 51 or that the moon is made of cheese doesn’t directly harm anyone. Just being ignorant of certain facts is also forgivable. The internet is full of dumb falsehoods these days.

However, there are some facts that just aren’t in dispute. Chief among them is the demonstrable fact that vaccines save lives. The fact that nobody has died from smallpox in five decades is proof enough of that. In fact, few advances have ever saved as many lives as vaccines. The vaccines for COVID-19 are only adding to that total.

Unfortunately, these anti-vaxx conspiracy theorists are only fueling a sense of vaccine hesitancy that was always going to be an issue. Even before the age of the internet or modern religion, there has always been a skepticism about scientific advancements. This is just making it worse and getting people killed.

It’s one thing to make yourself look foolish in public in a manner that’s recorded and spread throughout the internet. That usually doesn’t have major consequences beyond making certain people internet celebrities for all the wrong reasons. It’s quite another to be foolish in a manner that undermines public health and leads to undue suffering.

There’s just no getting around it. Lower vaccination rates mean more disease. More disease means more suffering. In this case, it’s not a minor inconvenience. It’s potentially fatal. I feel like that last detail is worth emphasizing.

The problem is that those pushing anti-vaccine conspiracies don’t see that detail, either by ignorance or by choice. They may, in their heart of hearts, believe they’re saving lives by preventing people from getting vaccines. However, basic biology and math say otherwise. The data is not in dispute.

These beliefs are killing people.

The people who push these beliefs are responsible for propagating that suffering.

These beliefs do not deserve respect.

Consider this both a plea and an angry rant of sorts. If you are pushing these conspiracy theories, you’re not just a misguided fool. You’re going to get people killed. After last year, we dealt with enough death. Please don’t add to it.

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What The COVID-19 Pandemic Lockdowns Have Helped People Realize (According To Reddit)

Let’s be honest. At this time last year, a lot of us were in a bad place. The COVID-19 pandemic was going full throttle. We didn’t have a vaccine yet and had no idea how long it would take to get one. Even by then, the deniers and the idiots couldn’t avoid it. This crisis was real. These lockdowns and public health measures were real. We didn’t know how long it was going to last. Normal, as we knew it, may as well have been another lifetime.

Now, we can actually say with a straight face that the pandemic is almost over. Thanks to widespread vaccine efforts, we’re at a point where many of those emergency measures are being lifted. Even among the states that were hardest hit, the final restrictions are coming down. The normality we once took for granted is almost upon us once more.

I cannot overstate how big a relief that is. I also doubt anyone will forget what it was like to endure over a year of lockdowns and restrictions. I like to think we won’t take this sort of thing for granted again, although that may be hoping for too much. For me personally, this pandemic has taught me a lot about just how frail our modern world is. It also taught me how vulnerable we still are as a species and a society.

That’s just one of many lessons. Others have learned them to and then some. Now, as the restrictions are lifting and life as we knew it is returning, I think it’s beneficial that we all take a moment to reflect on what this pandemic helped us realize. Many of those realizations were harsh, to say the least. They’re still worth acknowledging.

To that end, I found a helpful video from the YouTube Channl, Radio TTS. This channel covers some posts from the popular r/AskReddit subreddit. Some of these responses are a lot more personal than anything I experienced. They’re still worth sharing. If you have others you’d like to share, please do so in the comments.

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Rethinking Homework For The Post-Pandemic World

Homework sucks. Nobody likes doing it. I think that’s an uncontroversial opinion, even in these contentious times. I may no longer be in school, but I vividly remember how much I hated it. From grade school to college, it was often the worst part of any class, course, or subject. I doubt I’m alone in that sentiment.

That said, I understand why it exists. Like taxes or colonoscopies, it’s a necessary evil. It’s a means by which we test and reinforce the knowledge we teach to young, curious minds. At the very least, it’s a mechanism for determining who is actually learning and who is not.

I bring this topic up not to start a crusade against homework, as some already have in the past. I’m not looking to uphold or expand it, either. I’m raising the issue because the current state of public education is in a precarious state, especially in America.

It’s already well-documented that America’s ranking in the world of education leaves a lot to be desired. There are many systematic issues for that, some of which I’ve ranted about before. Changing that system doesn’t come easy, but if ever there was a time to re-think our approach, it’s now.

A global pandemic has caused huge disruptions to a lot of things, our schooling system being just one of them. In the span of a year, we’ve upended decades of entrenched educational traditions. The whole ritual of getting on a bus, going to a big building, and shuffling kids through multiple classes every day has been tabled.

Yes, it’s distressing for students, parents, and teachers alike.

At the same time, it presents an opportunity. This is a chance to rethink how we go about education. Why not start with homework? Nobody likes it. If we’re going to change anything, let’s start with that.

As tempting as it is to claim homework doesn’t have a single benefit, I can’t overlook the research that has been done on this topic. People have actually studied it. While the conclusions aren’t clear-cut, the current body of evidence suggests some amount of homework is beneficial in terms of student achievement.

How much constitutes “some?” That depends on a lot, both in terms of the students and the subject matter. Some students can handle more homework than others. For others, it’s genuinely detrimental to a student’s achievement. When you look at the data, the only consistent result is inconsistency.

To me, a guy who despised homework as much as any other school-age kid, its impact varied. There were some subjects that I was naturally more interested in than others. Subjects like history, biology, and writing were already something I did in my free time. Homework in those subjects wasn’t too much of a burden.

In other subjects, like English, Spanish, and certain math classes, it was little more than a test in frustration. I never learned anything from it. I just did it to get it done so that I wouldn’t have to worry about it. I honestly can’t think of anything I actually learned from that kind of homework.

I know that’s just anecdotal on my part, but the research seems to bear that sentiment out. If a kid is interested in something, their natural curiosity will lead them to explore it. Homework can actually help with that effort. I can attest to that.

Back in high school, I took a world history course in my sophomore year. Around that same time, I developed a fondness for watching the History Channel, especially its many World War II documentaries. I wasn’t assigned to do it. I just did it because I was curious. It ended up paying off.

Later that year, we took an exam on the World War II period. I did not study at all for it, but I still got a perfect score. I just knew the material that well. The teacher even singled me out for my score, which was a nice bonus.

The same thing happened whenever I had to do an essay question for a test. I liked writing, so that was easy for me. I’m mediocre to awful at every other form of testing. I knew plenty of others who were the opposite. That’s kind of the point. Not everyone learns or tests the same way.

The same logic applies to homework. Since not everyone learns the same way, assigning the same kind of homework for everyone is bound to have mixed to negative results. It’s a blanket solution to a complex problem, which may ultimately hurt more students than it helps. It’s a reason why some jurisdictions have already experimented with eliminating it completely for certain grade levels.

I don’t think that solution is feasible, given how entrenched homework is within the current system. While I’m sure many students would celebrate its abolition, those same students may miss out on the benefits of learning outside school hours.

I know if there were no homework when I was going to school, I probably would’ve been more inclined to slack off. There’s a critical balance to strike when it comes to after-school learning. If school becomes too easy to brush off, then nobody benefits in the long run.

That’s why I’m more in favor of reforming it. One potential alternative is to switch from homework to retrieval practices. That practice emphasizes recalling what you learned rather than doing pre-made assignments. That may actually be easier in the current situation, given the growing prevalence of online schools and distance learning.

There are other alternatives that include a greater emphasis on projects, exploring basic life skills, or assigning certain educational games. Some may or may not be as effective, but like I said earlier. This might be the best possible time to consider those alternatives.

It has been year since I’ve been in school, but I remember enough to know that the system I went through had plenty of room for improvement. I also realize I was lucky. I went to public school in a relatively affluent area. I realize that my school had resources that others didn’t.

The current system for schooling hadn’t changed much since I graduated. Up until this year, public schools had clung to their tried and true traditions, which included their approach to homework. I think the time is right to rethink those traditions.

This past year has completely disrupted the schooling for an entire generation of kids. We don’t yet know the extent of that impact, but there’s still time to guide it. Reforming how we approach homework won’t fix everything, but it’ll definitely help the overall experience for the students. School is hard enough, even without a global pandemic. At the very least, let’s make this one arduous aspect of it a bit more bearable.

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COVID-19 Restrictions Lifted: Thoughts, Feelings, And (Unexpected) Implications

Mayo Expert: Fla. Will Suffer 'Unnecessary Deaths' As COVID-19 Restrictions  Are Lifted | WJCT NEWS

This past week marked a huge milestone for my home state. Like so many others, the COVID-19 restrictions that have pretty much defined our lives since late March of 2020 were finally lifted. At this very moment, we are no longer in a State of Emergency.

There are no more capacity restrictions on restaurants, bars, gyms, and movie theaters.

There are no more mask requirements that are enforced by the state.

There are no more social distancing requirements for outdoor or indoor events.

Just typing that out put a smile on my face. It also fills me with this strange array of emotions that I don’t quite know how to articulate. Like so many other fellow Americans, I watched this year-long horror show that was the COVID-19 pandemic unfold before my eyes.

I felt it affect me, my friends, my community, and my family in profound ways. I know people who got the disease. Some of them still don’t have their sense of taste and smell back entirely. I know people who have died from this disease. I also was unable to attend major family events, including a wedding, because of this damned disease.

I could go on, but I won’t. It’s just impossible to overstate how big an impact this disease had on our world. It’s going to leave scars that will last years. It’s going to define an entire generation and beyond. If I ever have kids, I’m going to struggle to explain to them what it was like, navigating this pandemic.

For a time, it felt truly apocalyptic. There was a long stretch last year where my dad and I were constantly making up dates for when things would get back to “normal.” At one point, it was May 15th, 2020. At another, we thought the 4th of July would be the end of it. Then, we started looking towards Labor Day.

At some point, we just came to realize that there was no use hoping anymore. We had no idea when this would end. For all we knew, this pandemic would draw out for years. Even after news about a vaccine emerged, we were still skeptical. A life without COVID-19 restrictions still seemed so far away.

Now, that day has come.

However, the effects are still there.

Recently, I went out to have breakfast with my parents at one of our favorite diners. There were no capacity restrictions. There were no mask requirements either. However, a number of people were still wearing masks, including most of the staff. My parents even wore masks when they first entered, even though they’re both fully vaccinated. I didn’t wear one, but I had one with me, just in case.

To some extent, it was downright jarring, not having to wear a mask. Yes, it was liberating in some ways, but it still felt so unusual after having spent over a year under these restrictions. You almost feel more vulnerable not wearing one, especially in an enclosed space like a crowded diner. I’m sure that’s a feeling we’ll have to get used to again, but it doesn’t change one inescapable truth.

This “normal” that we’ve been waiting for doesn’t feel “normal” to us anymore.

I don’t know if that’s temporary or if that’s something that will linger on for years to come. I know people who have stated outright that they’re going to keep wearing masks, even if the number of COVID-19 cases drops to zero. To them, the mask has become just another part of their lives. The see it like a seatbelt or hand soap. It’s not about avoiding a disease anymore. It’s about staying healthy.

That’s an implication that I don’t know that we’ve collectively processed. I certainly haven’t. I’ve no inclination to throw away my masks. I also have no plans to stop the frequent handwashing that I’ve come to embrace since last March. That does lead me to wonder whether this is truly our new “normal.”

I put that in quotes because, now that the state mandated restrictions are lifted, it’s on us to determine what form that normal takes. Will that mean always wearing a mask in certain settings? Just the other day, I went to the grocery store and I still wore a mask. The signs on the front doors saying they were required were still there. Until they come down, I’ll keep doing so.

At the same time, a part of me feels like I’m still adjusting. I’m almost reluctant to embrace a post-pandemic world because I saw how bad it got last year. Maybe that feeling will fade with time. Maybe within a few months, mask wearing will become a rarity and everyone will be eager to put the memories of the pandemic behind them.

I don’t claim to know what will happen. I just know that it’s going to take a while to get out of this mindset that a year of pandemic restrictions has wrought.

That’s just my experience, though. How do you feel? Have the restrictions in your state been lifted? If so, how have you and your family reacted? Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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Ode To Zoom And How It Helped Me Get Through The Pandemic

Zoom for beginners: how to best use the app for your video calls - The Verge

A year and a half ago, not many people knew what Zoom was. In fact, if you asked someone if you wanted to set up a Zoom call, they would probably just stare at you blankly and wonder if you had been watching too many cartoons. They were more likely to respond to Skype calls or FaceTime. That seemed to do the trick for most video conferencing needs.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Need I say more?

Suddenly, we couldn’t just wake up, meet up with friends or family, and interact like we’ve always done. We had to rely more and more on technology, especially video conferencing, to fill that gap. In doing so, we realized that Skype and FaceTime just weren’t enough.

That’s where Zoom came in. We all learned quickly that this software wasn’t just much more useful. It was a vital link between friends, family, teachers, students, and so much more. We all came to rely so heavily on Zoom that it has basically supplanted all other forms of video conferencing in the span of a year. That’s a hell of a accomplishment.

Most people don’t fully appreciate the story behind Zoom. It’s actually really sweet in that it has a romantic sub-plot. Being a lover of romance, I certainly appreciate that. The basics are that the company’s founder, Eric Yuan, was struggling to maintain a long-distance relationship with his then-girlfriend, now-wife. He was familiar with video conferencing technology, but quickly realized its limitations.

Rather than lament on the frustrations of long-distance relationships, he decided to actually do something about it. That’s what led him to create Zoom. It really is a beautiful story and I just gave the bare basics of it. If you want a more complete story, check out this video by the YouTube channel, Company Man. Seriously, you’ll appreciate Mr. Yuan and Zoom even more.

Beyond the story behind this software, I can attest to how vital it has been to keep me connected with friends and family. When the pandemic hit, we had no idea how long it was going to last. I had still made plans to visit friends and family over the course of the year. As those plans were crushed by the pandemic, just maintaining contact became a challenge.

At first, we tried to use FaceTime, but that proved unreliable. It was also a pain in the ass to get multiple people on the same call. Once we discovered Zoom, an entire world opened up. It started simply with my mother organizing this big group Zoom call between the family and a relative who was getting married. It proved so successful that many of us started finding other uses for Zoom.

One of the most important to me, personally, came from my dad. While he’s usually reluctant to adopt new technology, he came to enjoy scheduling video chats with me and my brother every Saturday morning. We would just sit in our kitchens, open up a chat, and sip coffee while talking about this or that. It felt very much like a normal meet-up. Even after we’ve all been vaccinated, we still do it. It’s a much better way to keep up than a typical phone all.

On top of that, Zoom has helped me strengthen ties with siblings who don’t live nearby anymore. One of my favorite daily rituals during the week is to join my oldest sister in a Zoom call while she and her friends watch Jeopardy. It has been a great way to both meet new people and grow closer to her, even though she doesn’t live nearby anymore.

Without Zoom, none of this would’ve happened. It wouldn’t have even been possible, given how cumbersome FaceTime and Skype has been. For that, I’m grateful. I’m sure I’m not the only one. I imagine Zoom has helped plenty of people stay connected with friends and family in ways they wouldn’t have been able to do with simple phone calls. It has also helped people who usually resist new technology to embrace it. I consider that a good thing.

Even after the pandemic is over, I still plan on using Zoom to keep up with friends and family, especially during times of the year when it’s harder to travel. I hope others do the same. Connecting with loved ones is critical during a crisis. Staying connected when times are good is every bit as important.

To Mr. Yuan, on behalf of everyone who has benefited so much from Zoom, I sincerely thank you.

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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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