Tag Archives: socialdistancing

Can COVID Burst America’s Bubble While The World Battles The Virus?

On May 13, after combating three waves of the coronavirus, the CDC released guidelines stating that  Americans who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 can resume activities without wearing masks or physically distancing in most settings, indicating that the pandemic may be near an end.

“If you are fully vaccinated you can start doing the things you had stopped doing because of the pandemic,” announced CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

But experts at a May 14 Ethnic Media Services briefing questioned whether it was too soon to go back to normal.

“Bubbles are beautiful, but bubbles do not last long in this world,” remarked Dr. Ben Neuman, Chief Virologist at the Global Health Research Complex at Texas A&M University.  “Any vaccine bubble that may exist is going to be fragile, unfortunately.”

As Covid-19 outbreaks occur in Michigan, Florida and Puerto Rico, the AMA reports  there is potential for a fourth pandemic surge.

And yes, the Indian B.1.617 variant is here, says the CDC. It’s monitoring the Indian mutation that the World Health Organization classified as “a variant of concern at a global level” because it may spread easily. According to the CDC, new mutations of the virus are more transmissible and are resistant to treatments or vaccines. These include five notable variants – B.1.1.7: (UK),  B.1.351 (S. Africa), P.1 (Japan/Brazil), B.1.427 and B.1.429 (identified in CA).

Going back to normal could expose adults and children to deadly new strains of the virus and its variants, rippling across the US and elsewhere in the world.

 

Can America survive in its Covid-19 bubble?

Variants can burst our bubble said experts, voicing concerns about our vulnerability to virus mutations and the prospect of ever reaching herd immunity.

Dr. Neuman has been sequencing the virus strains in Texas, and has identified different variants thriving even locally. At the peak of Covid-19 in January, he found that 30% variants of concern were from the B.1.1.7. UK variant. By late April and early May however, he added, “every single virus …has been a variant of concern.”

The virus is changing in unexpected ways, explained Dr. Neuman, driving certain lineages of the virus out of existence.  It’s a Darwinian process that  showcases “an increase in viral fitness.”

But, without any checks or balances on the virus which operates on a short-term risk-reward cycle – a 6-to-8-hour timetable – scientists find it difficult to predict long-term movement.

You can trust a snake, a chicken, or a cat to act in its own best interests to the best of its ability said Dr. Neuman, but “a virus has no such impulse.” Instead, it has an evolutionary incentive that drives it not in the direction we would hope or expect, but in the direction of more severe, sustained disease.

Over time the virus will continue to mutate, and vary unpredictably, warned Dr. Neuman, and solutions will have to be updated continually.

“In this particular place and time, there is approximately a 100% chance that you will run into something that grows faster, and has the potential to spread farther, and perhaps hit harder than one would be expecting otherwise.”

The world has underestimated the virus over and over by relaxing restrictions and causing a virus resurgence, reiterated Dr. Neuman.

 

The question is, “Can we do the wrong things and still expect the right results?”

One outcome that scientists predict could keep the virus at bay or banished altogether is Herd Immunity, a popular concept that is mired in misconception and misunderstanding. Dr. Marc Lipsitch, Professor of Epidemiology and Director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at the Harvard School of Public Health, described herd immunity as a state in which completely immune completely or partially immune people in a population slow down transmission by making it impossible for the virus to pass through them from one person to another in a sustained way, “till the virus essentially goes away.”

Will vaccinations and infections create herd immunity in the current phase of the pandemic? Dr. Lipsitch believes that’s an unlikely scenario – even with the vaccines we have.

At the start of the pandemic, before lockdowns and social distancing, a person infected up to 21/2 or 3 people each. But compared to early versions of the virus, contagious new variants have increased transmissibility by up 4 to 5 persons each. To reduce transmissibility by a factor of 5, explained Dr. Lipsitch, means immunizing 80% of the population,  a challenge that may be impossible given a number of factors.

At the moment, every variant in the world is present in the US.  Immunizing the nation won’t be easy because vulnerable populations – especially racial/ethnic minority groups and economically and socially disadvantaged communities – lack equitable vaccine access, children under the age of 12 are ineligible, and vaccine hesitancy is prevalent.

In the US vaccine hesitancy is based on a lack of trust in its efficacy. At issue also, is that all vaccines currently available in the US do not offer 100% protection. But added Dr. Neuman, “I trust the virus less!”

While Yale Medicine rated Pfizer-BioNTech at 95% for preventing symptomatic disease, its stability depends on strict storage requirements; Moderna has a similar high efficacy of 90% upon full immunization, while the single shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine has a 72% overall efficacy.

There is also concern about waning immunity and about revaccination. Limited studies that exist clarify that antibodies decrease over time, but there is uncertainty about at which point a person is no longer protected.

Annual boosters may be necessary at a minimum, confirmed Dr. Neuman, but although each of the vaccines is reasonably effective against each of the variants, there is definitely a lower effectiveness against some, like those coming out of Brazil and South Africa.

It’s more the virus changing than waning immunity that will drive the vaccination cycle.

 

Defanging Not Defeating the Virus

In the wake of the CDC’s new mask guidelines, Dr. Neuman noted that people calculating what precautions to take – to mask, social distance, or get vaccinated – are making decisions predicated on the original versions of the virus.

As ‘stay-at-home’ lockdown measures gradually ease, NIH reports also say that much of the population may return to spending increasing amounts of time in inadequately ventilated workplaces, offices, schools and other public buildings, where they may be exposed to a risk of acquiring viral infections by inhalation.

So, in the midst of an ongoing epidemic, as social barriers to transmission are lowered without reaching herd immunity, and high-risk populations in the other parts of the world face vaccine shortages, we are “in some sense “ said Dr. Lipsitch, “not ‘totally defeating, but simply defanging the virus,” – just making it less dangerous to have transmission.

He predicts “a quiet summer” followed by “some virus resurgence in the fall” as people move indoors and continue to lower their guard.

 

Fighting the Virus at Warp Speed

All the experts argued that the only way out of the pandemic is to ensure that more vulnerable populations across the world get vaccinated.

Peter Maybarduk, Director of Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines Group, called for a global response at warp speed for the world – a catalyst for more funding, sharing resources and technical assistance, more manufacturing, and a definite plan to vaccinate everyone, everywhere, with at least 8 billion doses of MRNA vaccine within a year to make up the global shortfall.

Apart from the moral argument, added Dr. Lipsitch, “we like having interactions with the rest of the world, and for all the reasons we value the rest of the world, we should value their health as well.”

Dr. Neuman called for a single global solution to vaccinate everyone within a window of six months to a year.

Maybarduk, an expert on the Covax initiative which partners with the World Health Organization to get vaccines to low-income countries by sharing vaccines equitably, pointed out that wealthy countries have purchased much of the global supply of doses in bulk, so less than 5 % of the world’s population – only 340 million (one quarter of the doses already administered in the US alone) – have been vaccinated worldwide.

In Brazil only 17% of Brazilians have been vaccinated, said Dr. Rosane Guerra from the Department of Pathology, Biological and Health Sciences Center at the Federal University of Maranhao (UFMA). Brazil does not have an adequate supply of medication to prevent or control the virus.

Covax aims to vaccinate 20 percent of the world with a 2 billion dose target for 2021 but has only been able to ship 64 million doses, stated Maybarduk.  Worldwide access to vaccines is hobbled by the lack of manufacturing capacity, inefficient distribution channels, and low production volumes, access to raw materials, export controls, meeting regulatory requirements for safety and efficacy, obtaining qualifications from WHO for manufacturing facilities, and by politicians prioritizing their own citizens for vaccination first.

Sharing vaccines and vaccine knowledge (like the Trips waiver) is imperative to overcome the vaccine shortfall Maybarduk suggested, and getting vaccines to those who desperately need it in other countries..

“We should not cross our fingers and assume all is going to work out.”

Fighting the virus is like mobilizing for a world war which requires collective, integrated human effort towards achieving one goal. “I don’t think halfway solutions are going to get us there,” said Dr. Neuman. Getting to the next stage requires an integrated effort that scientists know is doable but is ultimately a political decision that world leaders must make.

“It’s impossible to have any kind of bubble in a world when people can move between countries in the middle of an epidemic. We have to close every border to control the disease,” Dr.Guerra concluded.

The bubble could burst as restrictions are relaxed before the pandemic is under control, said Dr. Neuman. “I don’t think that is the path that leads to the fastest extinction of the virus.”

“Get the vaccine, wear a mask, and when the numbers go down, then you know it’s safe to relax!”


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents

Photo by Marc Sendra Martorell on Unsplash

Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash


 

Here to Stay: Important Phrases of 2020

The year 2020 has been so dramatic that mere words are not enough to capture its uniqueness, absurdness, and plain scariness. It needs phrases. And not surprisingly, the top phrases of 2020 seem to fall into two neat catastrophic categories: health and politics. And one can’t forget the inevitable categories: life and future. 

HEALTH

Covid-19. 

Definition: CO for corona; VI for virus; D for disease; 19 for 2019. 

Origin: Ironically, we had never even heard of it in 2019, although there were already some rumblings of the disease in China. And even when we first became aware of it in early 2020, we were referring to it as “the coronavirus”. Then on February 11th, Dr. Tedros (Director-General of WHO) declared it officially as Covid-19. Many of us who had grown used to calling it “the coronavirus” were disturbed to learn that there are also other coronaviruses. And we were more perturbed by the suffix “19”. Does that mean there could be a “covid-20”? “Covid-21”?

Related phrases: pandemic; and for the non-believers, plandemic.

Related movies: Virus (Malayalam film); Contagion; Outbreak; The Andromeda Strain; Panic in the Streets;…  Actually, it may be better for the nerves to watch happy, pretty, totally escapist Emily in Paris on Netflix.

Social Distancing.

Definition: What we really mean to say is “physical distancing”, meaning staying 6 feet away from anyone who is not a member of your immediate household in order to minimize chances of catching covid-19. Social distancing can actually be detrimental to our health, especially when we’re also physically distancing. In fact, to maintain our mental health, we need to be socially close to our family and friends at this time via phone, texting, video chats, social media, etc.

Origin: No one knows, but as long as we practice physical distancing until a vaccine is available, no one cares. However, physical distancing can be very difficult in mega-cities like Mumbai, Sao Paulo, and New York City – especially for the poor.

Related phrases: isolating; quarantine; lockdown; wear the mask (it’s not a political statement); flatten the curve.

Related movies: Think Home Alone 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. And Home Alone 6 is in the works … but not coming soon to a theatre near you because production is delayed due to covid-19.

The cure is not the vaccine; the cure is the vaccination.

Definition: The CDC defines a vaccine as “a product that stimulates a person’s immune system to produce immunity to the specific disease, protecting the person from that disease”. It defines vaccination as “the act of introducing a vaccine into the body to produce immunity to a specific disease”. Dr. Anthony Fauci and other medical experts have stressed that simply developing a vaccine against covid-19 is not sufficient; people have to take the vaccine to protect themselves against covid-19.

Origin: The reason to make such a seemingly obvious statement is that there are a substantial number of anti-vaxxers: people who believe that vaccines are harmful. A recent study in Lancet reports that “31 million people follow anti-vaccine groups on Facebook, with 17 million subscribing to similar accounts on YouTube”. The anti-vaxxer movement has, if anything, grown during the pandemic. And it may also be influential in other parts of the world – e.g., India, Brazil

Synonyms: rollout strategies; COVAX initiative

Antonyms: I don’t believe in science; The world is flat; I died.

Related movies: Worryingly, a recent study concludes that “Cinematic portrayals of immunization are increasingly unrealistic and negative”. 

POLITICS

Polarized.

Definition: Polarized used to mean the special lenses on our sunglasses that reduced glare. But now it means breaking up into opposing factions – as in Republicans vs. Democrats. 

Origin: The word is old, but it is becoming more ubiquitous and more dangerous, as it relates to an increasingly divided United States. It denotes disagreements on core issues and more worryingly, core values

Related phrases: hyperpartisan; narrow-casting; identity politics; populism

Related movies: Friendly Persuasion; Glory; Sarkar (Hindi film); Lincoln; Sarkar (Tamil film).

The election was stolen.

Definition: President Trump is saying that he has lost the US 2020 election because of large-scale election fraud: including voter suppression, accepting voters who are not eligible, and manipulation of voting systems. However, the election has been declared legitimate by the OSCE and many other neutral institutions.

Origin: President Trump. 

Synonyms: The election was rigged; Stop the steal; Disinformation.

Antonyms: The election was legitimate; international election monitors; Peaceful transfer of power; The Election Commission of India

Related movies: The Candidate; Kissa Kursi Ka (Hindi film); Good Night, and Good Luck; Swing Vote; All In: The Fight for Democracy; Whose Vote Counts, Explained

JUST LIFE

Essential workers.

Definition: those that need to show up to work despite lockdowns due to covid-19. Includes frontline workers in healthcare, childcare, water, energy, food production, food retail, construction, transportation, and social services. Hopefully, this will lead to well-deserved recognition and better remuneration for those whose services we need in our daily lives.

Origin: Covid-19.

Related phrases: frontline workers; ragpickers; migrant workers.

Related movies/shows: Superstore; Scrubs; Anbe Sivam (Tamil film); Norma Rae.

Black Lives Matter.

Definition: a political and social movement protesting against police brutality and racially motivated violence against black people. Not a new phrase, but one that unfortunately needs to be repeatedly voiced.

Origin: It began in the US in 2013 with the acquittal of a white man in the shooting death of a black teenager. The movement has since gone global, with over 450 major protests in 2020.

Related phrases: anti-racism; No justice, no peace; Dalit Lives Matter.

Related movies: Nothing But a Man; Malcolm X; Periyerum Perumal (Tamil film); Stay Woke

Zoom meetings.

Definition: An easy way that multiple people can have a video chat. It’s also free if you keep your chat under 40 minutes.

Origin: Hot-shot executives may have known about ZOOM since 2013 but they were keeping it quiet so that they could keep traveling all over the globe on business class. Now even your grandma likely knows about ZOOM and uses it to talk each week to all the members of her bhajan group. However, if your grandma is a Palestinian activist, she may be banned from using ZOOM.

Related phrases: Skype, Microsoft Team, Google Meet, JIO Meet, Say Namaste, etc. etc. etc..

Related movies: None…yet. And therein lies a business opportunity.

THE FUTURE

The next normal.

Definition: While ‘the new normal’ connotes change to a different and stable condition, ‘the next normal’ connotes an ongoing succession of changes. Given climate change, growing inequality, refugees, aging, and future pandemics, our world seems poised for a series of next normals. Hopefully, the next ‘next normal’ will again include trips to India.

Origin: likely the management consulting firm McKinsey, early on in the covid-19 pandemic.

Related terms: the usual unusual; same new, same new.

Related movies: (to be released in the next normal): No Time to Die; Black Widow; Mission Impossible 7; Laal Singh Chaddha (Hindi film); and of course, Emily in Paris season 2

May 2021 be less dramatic and less phrase-worthy than 2020. And may the next normal bring with it a subsiding of Covid-19, less noxious politics, greater pay for frontline workers, more racial equality, and face-to-face, hug-to-hug, meetings with all our beloved family and friends.


Ranjani Iyer Mohanty is a writer, editor, and phrase-lover.

Quarantet Celebrates LGBTQIA Win in Supreme Court

A Supreme Court win marks a historic victory for the LGBTQ community. In a 6-3 decision made by both conservative and left-leaning Justices, federal law now defends all gay, lesbian, and transgender employees from discrimination in the workplace. As stated by Justice Neil Gorsuch, “There is simply no escaping the role intent plays here: Just as sex is necessarily a but-for cause when an employer discriminates against homosexual or transgender employees, an employer who discriminates on these grounds inescapably intends to rely on sex in its decisionmaking.” The decision addresses decades of prejudice against the LGBTQ community within the workplace, and opens the door towards more civil rights for all sexual orientations. 

The fight for equality manifests in every aspect of our daily lives, including music. Composer, drummer, and dhol player Sunny Jain brought together a socially-distanced quartet in honor of Pride Month — a combination he likes to call a ‘Quarantet’. The composition is an intriguing blend of classical Indian and Western music, with instruments such as the mrudangam and dhol offset by Kathak rhythms. In his own words, Jain describes the RHYTHM AND PRIDE quarantet as “honoring Pride Month today & everyday, while also remaining committed to the rhythm of the streets & Black Lives Matter.” While recognizing the legacy of the LGBTQ movement through their spirited video, the group also plans to donate their proceeds towards organizations focused on racial equality, such as the Bail Project. This project represents the intersectionality between race and LGBTQ identities, and how these challenging times also permit us to celebrate both. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwLwOPHYXLQ

Learn more about Jain’s music at his Instagram and Facebook.

Kanchan Naik is a rising senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is also the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper The Roar, Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton, and Director of Media Outreach at nonprofit Break the Outbreak