Archive for January, 2022

 

Jan 30 2022

Snowpocalypse, Averted

by at 2:58 pm

Well, that turned out to be a big nothing. Breathless weather-people on TV talked about nothing else for days, but all we got was a light dusting of snow and cold temperatures. Sort of like January… We had been planning to spend the weekend at the beach, but decided not to ride out the storm there. It was a wise decision, since that area got pounded by high winds, a foot of snow and power outages. I celebrated the good decision by making chili.

I spent the quiet midwinter weekend in DC cooking, reviewing grants and preparing for Monday’s Faculty Sector meeting. I hope to see you there (virtually — you can find the joining information for the meeting in this week’s newsletter). The Omicron surge is receding across the country, with DC and Maryland ranking amongst the lowest case burdens in the U.S. As we return to the campus, please remember to abide by university guidelines to maximize our communal safety.

Stay safe and be well.

Lou

 

 


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Jan 23 2022

Life in the Twilight Zone

by at 10:31 pm

When I was a kid, the creepiest show on TV was “The Twilight Zone,” created and hosted by Rod Serling, whose elegant, vaguely sinister demeanor haunted my dreams. As he said each week, “It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call The Twilight Zone.” Each 30-minute episode was a regularly scheduled fever dream. Does anyone else remember the aliens who came to Earth so they could serve humans? Then, it was back to reality, relieved yet shaken, occasionally stirred.

Sound familiar? How about two years of living in the twilight zone, starring a spiked bouncy ball that zips around the world, destroying lives seemingly at random, with shape-changing properties that allow it to evade would-be destroyers. And we watch in disbelief as it changes everything. Not for 30 minutes a week, but for 24 hours a day, every day.

We were speaking with friends the other day, wondering about the future of work in a post-pandemic world. One friend, a commercial builder, described how big clients are downsizing their space needs, without plans for future re-expansion. He expects the K Street downtown corridor to transform from commercial to residential. We generally agreed that some enterprises, such as medicine and laboratory research, will require in-person work, but many other types of work likely will be transformed. Another friend, a psychiatrist with keen insights into behavior, commented that we still need in-person human connections that add value to work and to its quality. At the end of it all we all agreed that things would change, but the precise contours of that change remain uncertain.

Meanwhile my week in the twilight zone was marked by an upper respiratory infection, which led to five negative tests (two by PCR) for COVID-19. Out of an abundance of caution I worked from home all week, and moved my Thursday clinic to telehealth. Such is the nature of life in the time of coronavirus.

Relief is on the way. I feel fine now, and look forward to the return of the university to in-person instruction as outlined in President DeGioia’s recent announcement. New COVID-19 cases in DC have plummeted over the past week, so it seems that the Omicron wave in fact was a flash flood. However, it is cresting elsewhere in the U.S., so this is not over. But, it is plausible to hope that we will be pretty much done with Omicron by the end of February. And, then what? That’s the big question. Will this mark the beginning of the endemic phase? Or will it simply presage a return to the Delta wave? Will we instead move on to the next variant? Relief? Misery? Both? I don’t know.

At some point we need to begin to fully live again, to leave the twilight zone. For some, that may require baby steps, others may just feel comfortable jumping into the water. That all remains to be seen. But that time is coming.

Meanwhile, stay safe and be well.

Lou

 

 


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Jan 18 2022

Winter

by at 6:59 am

For the first time in a while, we are experiencing a real winter. Serial snowstorms, cold winds, lousy roads, the whole nine yards. Winter means colds, flu and, over the past couple of years, COVID. So here I am, feeling well, but with slight nasal stuffiness, and a negative COVID-19 PCR and two negative antigen tests. I think I have a cold. But, who can really know?

We are more or less lying low, just in case, waiting for the Omicron spike to fade, as it will, hoping that there will be no nasty pandemic prizes in our future. The signs of a dropping infection rate in our region are certainly encouraging, and I hope we will be able to modify our behaviors in response to the changing face of the pandemic.

In some crazy way we have acclimated to pandemic living, each of us taking either a few or a lot of “chances” with respect to exposure to the virus. It’s becoming clear that we all are at risk of exposure, and while infection would likely be relatively uneventful I would prefer to wait until we have a bit more certainty that therapeutic antivirals will be readily available should we need them.

Meanwhile, I have plenty of work to do, and really look forward to a productive rest of the month.

Stay safe, and be well.

Lou


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Jan 09 2022

DC Goes Viral

by at 4:18 pm

So, here we are: 2022, still living in the time of coronavirus. Omicron is having its way, predictably, with the world, and with the United States in particular. Remarkably, DC has risen to the unenviable position of being the leading or second-leading SARS-CoV-2 hot spot in the U.S. since my last blog in mid-December. Viral chaos is everywhere. While most infected people are more inconvenienced than desperately ill, the impact of this pandemic wave on our society is profound. Effective vaccination clearly mitigates disease severity, though it certainly does not prevent breakthrough infections. Our university’s functions are constrained, the hospital is challenged by people admitted for COVID (the vast majority of severely ill people are unvaccinated) or admitted for something else, but with COVID as well. Because so many health care workers have tested positive, staffing shortages compound the challenges. Primary and secondary schools are beset by chaotic responses.

We console ourselves by stating (or perhaps hoping) that the infections will cause comparatively minor illnesses, and that this wave may be relatively short lived. Of course, we don’t know yet what will follow this wave — calm waters, or another series of storms? Herd immunity, or variants that evade immunity? A return to “normal,” or a new normality dominated by mitigation strategies? I don’t know, and while I can spin a hopeful scenario, I don’t know that I can plan for one just yet.

At some point, we need to devise better ways as a society to address this emerging, serious endemic, which is punctuated by quasi-pandemic episodes. How do we keep schools open so we can keep society functioning? Is the goal to prevent infections or to minimize their impacts? What measures can we take to minimize illnesses as opposed to infections when the causative agents are highly infectious viruses? What are the roles of vaccines in that context? What responsibilities, if any, do those who choose to refuse vaccinations have with respect to the allocations of health care resources? What is the role of government, and of its public health components, in devising national rules of the road in the face of public health emergencies posed by communicable diseases? And, of course, the bottom line: At what point does the greater good have precedence over individual freedom in this context? These are complicated problems — in some cases the solutions are obvious but difficult to implement due a lack of political consensus, while other questions have no obvious answers.

For what it is worth (as I have no authority in that regard), I am leaning toward favoring approaches to minimize the severity of COVID-related illnesses while maintaining normal societal functions as much as possible. Decisive moves in that regard probably must wait until the Omicron wave has crested and receded. Quite clearly, vaccines should be important components of any effective strategy. I received my Pfizer booster in late September, and hope I will be eligible for my next booster no later than March. We shall see.

In the meantime, work continues, though I am home more than I would like to be. I saw patients on Thursday, and also presented some our lab’s work at the Immunotherapy Working Group meeting. Fortunately, laboratory research can readily continue, as it is intrinsically socially distanced as long as people exercise good judgment. And that is my reminder to all of us to stay safe and be well.

Have a good week.

Lou

 

 


The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual.

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