Indy Digest: March 17, 2022
The Indy Digest (formerly known as the Daily Digest) celebrated its second birthday earlier this week.
However, the celebration was subdued, because this newsletter—which was birthed on March 13, 2020, during the period of utter shock we all experienced as the world began to shut down—after two years and now 306 editions, is still reporting on COVID-19 … and will have to continue to do so for quite some time.
As we phase out the word “pandemic” and bring in the use of the word “endemic,” things currently seem pretty OK as far as how the Coachella Valley is dealing with SARS-CoV-2. As reported on Monday, virus levels in Palm Springs’ wastewater are among the lowest they’ve ever been since they started testing. While more than 200 people with COVID-19 were in the valley’s three hospital less than two months go, there were “only” 20 as of yesterday. The Riverside County test positivity rate (with a 7-day average and a 7-day lag) is down to 2.9 percent. (I’d share the weekly report for our county district here, like always, but last week’s report had not yet been posted as of this writing.)
But just when it looks like things are approaching normal, this damned virus seemingly always makes a comeback. And that may be starting to happen again.
The New York Times today published a piece with this online headline: “Europe’s rising caseloads could foreshadow a second Omicron surge in the U.S.” That story said:
Experts warn that another coronavirus wave may be imminent in the United States, fueled by a more contagious Omicron subvariant that is spreading rapidly in Europe, though they said the trend was more a cause for caution than alarm.
The Omicron variant this month began its second sweep through Europe, where past virus surges have been a harbinger of what was to come in the United States. Many countries thought they were free of the worst of COVID and raced to lift restrictions in February and March, but a highly transmissible Omicron subvariant, BA.2, is contributing to the new surge.
The surges have not led to a widespread rise in hospitalizations in Europe, though the number of COVID patients is on the rise in a few countries, including Austria, Britain and the Netherlands, according to Our World in Data. And BA. 2 does not appear to cause more severe illness than BA.1, and existing vaccines are effective against it.
As for what’s happening in the U.S.: We now know that increasing levels of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater are usually the first sign of an uptick in cases. Well, regarding that, here’s a piece from NBC News earlier this week:
Government scientists confirmed Tuesday that there has been an uptick in the presence of COVID-19 in wastewater samples across the U.S.
The potentially troubling trend comes as the country is shedding masks and easing pandemic restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of a virus that in two years has killed nearly a million people in the United States.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged the increase after Bloomberg reported that a third of the agency’s wastewater sample sites showed a rise in COVID cases from March 1 to March 10.
The U.S. could soon see COVID-19 cases rise again and vulnerable people are likely to need a fourth vaccine dose, one of President Joe Biden’s top health advisers warned as the White House calls for more money to fight the pandemic.
Anthony Fauci, the longtime head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a Biden adviser, said U.K. officials are already warning him of an increase there driven by the BA.2 sub-variant, easing restrictions and waning protection from vaccines, and that the U.S. tends to be a few weeks behind case curves in the U.K.
“We have all three of those factors right now in this country,” Fauci said in an interview Thursday. “I would predict that we are going to see a bit of an increase, or at least a flattening out and plateauing of the diminution of cases. And the question is how do we deal with that.”
At this point, I am more annoyed by COVID-19 than I’m afraid of it. The vast majority of people who are vaccinated and boosted will be just fine. But still … the fact this is still news after two years and nearly a million U.S. deaths is frustrating.
I am not fearful. But I’m not getting rid of my face masks, either.
From the Independent
By Theresa Sama
March 17, 2022
While the Pacific Crest Trail spans 2,650 miles, you don’t have to hike for months to enjoy the adventures of the PCT. You can make it a week-long trip, a weekend, or simply a day hike.
By Jacob Rostovsky
March 15, 2022
I’m not asking for a lot. In fact, all I’m asking for is access to a basic human right: The ability to safely use the bathroom as a transgender man.
By Daniel Seymour
March 16, 2022
The Grunberger family is sent to Auschwitz, where the two sisters’ father, mother and six siblings are murdered in the gas chambers. The girls, Manci and Ruth, survive seven months there, and another five months marching through the Sudeten Mountains at the mercy of Nazi soldiers. Here is their story.
March 17, 2022
Topics tackled on this week’s comics page include butt massage, NATO, hugging, Electric Thor—and much more!
• COVID-19 is also on the rise in China—and as a result, supply-chain issues will probably keep getting worse. The New York Times explains: “As Chinese officials scramble to contain the country’s worst outbreak of COVID-19 since early 2020, they are imposing lockdowns and restrictions that are adding chaos to global supply chains. The measures in China, home to about one-third of global manufacturing, are disrupting the production of finished goods like Toyota and Volkswagen cars and Apple’s iPhones, as well as components such as circuit boards and computer cables.”
• Related: The fact that supply-chain issues are here to stay for a while has led Ford to begin selling new cars that are incomplete. The Verge explains: “Ford will soon start selling and shipping some Ford Explorers without the chips that power rear air conditioning and heating controls, according to a report from Automotive News. The automaker will instead ship the missing semiconductors to dealers within one year, which they will then install in customers’ vehicles after purchase. Ford spokesperson Said Deep told The Verge that heating and air condition will still be controllable from the front seats, and that customers who choose to purchase a vehicle without the rear controls will receive a price reduction. According to Deep, Ford is doing this as a way to bring new Explorers to customers faster, and that the change is only temporary. … As pointed out by Automotive News, Ford’s decision comes as an attempt to move the partially-built vehicles crowding its factory lots. Last month, hundreds of new Ford Broncos were spotted sitting idly in the snow-covered lots near Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant, all of which await chip-related installations.”
• Time magazine looks at the people who now, finally, are getting their first COVID-19 vaccine shots—around 80,000 or so adults per day in the U.S.: “Time’s deeper analysis reveals that some subgroups of the unvaccinated population have more potential to come off the fence than others. If the country’s vaccination rate ticks higher, it will likely be because people who are still feeling unsure today finally took the plunge. Grassroots health organizations are working to find those people. But they’re not always easy to spot. The CDC data show that willingness isn’t necessarily tied to a person’s race, gender, or any other topline demographics. More nuanced factors such as work mandates, friends’ and family opinions, and political influences are all part of the equation.”
• The last couple years have made a crisis involving children’s mental health much worse—and the state is dealing with a serious shortage of mental health care providers. Our partners at CalMatters look at the steps being taken to address this mess: “State officials know they have a serious problem and have vowed to address it. Along with county public health departments, school districts and other agencies that serve children, the state is grappling with a complicated challenge: Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration plans to build a brand new system to solve these problems in the coming years. But pressure is mounting to help children like Amanda —now. … Last year, Newsom’s administration allocated $4.4 billion in one-time funds to create a statewide Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative. The proposed sweeping transformation of the children’s mental health system will be funded by a sum many describe as ‘unprecedented.’ The bulk of the money has yet to be distributed, but efforts to develop a vision and work with stakeholders are under way. Tony Thurmond, the state superintendent of public instruction, recently told CalMatters he has visited 45 schools since July. Staff tell him that they don’t have the resources to help struggling students.”
• Also from our partners at CalMatters: The state has asked people to use less water due to the record drought. However, that’s not going so well: “Californians used 2.6% more water in January compared to before the drought emergency was declared, a sign that urban residents are ignoring the state’s pleas to take the drought seriously and cut back. The increased water use in California’s cities and towns came during the second-driest January on record, as the Sierra Nevada snowpack continues to dwindle—and another dry summer looms. The new data, which details urban water use statewide, shows that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s repeated pleas for a 15% voluntary cutback in water use are failing to reach people in cities and towns. Yet Newsom has stopped short of issuing a mandatory order.”
• The Los Angeles Times examines the racist roots of Article 34, a barrier to affordable housing that keeps escaping repeal efforts. Key quote: “The article is a provision of California’s state Constitution that requires voter approval before public housing is built in a community. At the time it passed in 1950, the real estate industry argued taxpayers should have a right to vote on low-income housing projects because they were publicly funded infrastructure similar to schools or roads. The campaign also appealed to racist fears about integrating neighborhoods and featured heated rhetoric about the need to combat socialism.”
• And finally … is Chick-fil-a a “public nuisance”? CBS News reports: “In Santa Barbara, the city is close to dubbing its sole Chick-fil-A a ‘public nuisance’ due to long drive-thru lines that often has cars filled with hungry customers backed into the street for hours at a time. The eatery known for its waffle fries and chicken sandwiches has had a restaurant in Santa Barbara since 2013, drawing a steady flow of patrons whose vehicles block nearby driveways and sidewalks and make city buses and emergency vehicles find other routes, according to city officials. Chick-fil-A’s drive-thru lane heightens the odds of traffic collisions and pedestrians getting injured. At peak-volume, the drive-through blocks one lane of traffic for as much as 90 minutes on weekdays and for as much as 155 minutes on Saturdays, according to a city traffic report.
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