Throughout this whole pandemic, I think one of the biggest things that we as a nation have fumbled on has been political cohesion between our various levels of government. Whether it was Trump shrugging the virus off and thinking it would just “magically go away when it got warmer – around Easter!” or local governments dueling over safety precautions, we’ve never really had the whole lot of them on one unified place to confront this thing together, and at least for me that’s been incredibly frustrating.

Case in point – kids wearing masks in school.

Right now they’re a requirement for all kids in public schools in my community, however soon they might not be…

This is because yesterday my county rescinded their local mask mandate, leaving it up to local businesses to require masks on their own whim.

Today our Superintendent of schools reported that masks could be made optional in schools by the end of April. He later clarified that although he thought they should remain in place for the rest of the school year, because we no longer have a local mask ordinance in place, the school district is relying on our governor’s emergency order for the State of Florida to require masks in our schools.

That order, unless the governor chooses to extend it, expires at the end of April.

…the same governor who’s been on a tirade for the last week about how vaccine passports will never happen in Florida, despite support of the cruise industry who he’s also desperate to see re-open again…

It’s just scary because all across our country, we’re seeing safety procedures entirely played out along partisan lines – red governments at all levels think COVID is a bunch of baloney and want to see “everything back to normal” while blue governments are trying to keep restrictions in place. And as a result, instead of coming together and agreeing on how to address the pandemic, we’re left fighting among ourselves – people who want mask rules in place vs those who don’t, vaccine supporters vs anti-vaxxers, etc, etc…

From day to day, everything swings very delicately in this balance and it’s incredibly frustrating both waiting to see where the next card falls and also trying to figure out what we’ll do if the next changes aren’t along the lines that we’re hoping for.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about vaccine passports – namely the ethicality of requiring people to be vaccinated to enter a place of business. And admittedly I was on the fence about them for a while, however the more I think about it and the more I read the comments from people who are so vehemently opposing of them … ironically I think that’s swayed me to want to support them after all.

As a side note, our idiot used car salesman/governor here in Florida just recently declared that vaccine passports wouldn’t be allowed in our state, however the same people who support his Executive Order for this were against local ordinances putting the other COVID restrictions into place, so…

Anyways, here’s my thought process with these things:

  • We’re not talking about requiring proof of vaccination to go to the grocery store or the mall, or probably not even to eat in restaurants, although increasing the current limits and reducing social distancing concerns me.
  • Vaccine passports would be most effective for large gatherings like events, theme parks, cruise ships, etc…
  • Speaking of cruise ships, Royal Caribbean has stated that they will require all crew and passengers to be vaccinated once they resume sailing, while Disney Cruise Line has stated they will not.
  • As far as vaccine distribution is concerned, right now we’re doing great here in the United States – in fact, we just celebrated a record day of 4 million doses given, which is awesome! I believe the goal I saw was 90% of adults vaccinated by this summer if we keep up this rate, however that’s only doable as long as you’ve still got people who are willing to get vaccinated.

And frankly what scares me is that polls have shown a not insignificant number of people who don’t want to get vaccinated, most of whom I’ve got to assume are the ones who are most against vaccine passports to resume their normal lives, too.

Right now it’s not a huge problem for me personally because we only go to the store and take the kids to school, both of which are still requiring masks. But you won’t catch me going to a theme park, or on a cruise ship, or even attending large family gatherings at this point because there’s no guarantee that the adults have been vaccinated and at this point there’s no protection for our kids whatsoever.

It would be one thing if vaccination numbers were surging and COVID cases were WAY down, but so far that’s not exactly the case. The numbers are looking better, but when you consider the massive surge that we had around the winter holidays, we’re still in the neighborhood of what we saw last summer and that’s with 18% of our population fully vaccinated…

So ultimately my take is this – I’m ok with standing in a room, without masks and without knowing that everyone is vaccinated, once the numbers drop so dramatically that it’s clear we’re finally on the other side of this pandemic. That doesn’t necessarily mean no new cases, but I would expect very, very low.

Until then, I’m going to expect the places where I go to have adequate protections in place to make me and my family feel safe.

  • For basic stores, that’s requiring masks and social distancing.
  • For restaurants, I’m honestly not there yet with the kids so we’ll continue to stick to takeout, but part of that is just because kids are horrible in restaurants in general! 😉
  • For larger gatherings, I want to know that everyone present has been vaccinated. End of story.

A few weeks ago when we went on vacation, you might recall that we didn’t actually visit any of Disney’s theme parks and instead stuck to our resort. Last year Sara and I were supposed to go on a cruise for our anniversary and we agreed (until it got canceled) that because it was just the two of us, we would still go as long as masks were required and worst case scenario we’d lounge on our balcony the entire trip.

Again, I think a bigger part of what continues to make me nervous about all of it is that while I’d be ok to go on a vacation right now where everyone is taking precautions, what I’m not eager to do is get on a cruise ship filled with COVID deniers who think this is all “the government trying to control everybody” and who will be the first to shirk off any possible precaution whenever anybody’s not looking.

It’s the same reason why whenever I do finally travel back to my hometown in Michigan again, I won’t be visiting the new barbecue place downtown that’s been fighting the health department over COVID rules this whole time … if I can’t trust you to follow basic guidelines for the general health of your community during a global emergency, how do I know that you’re following other health standards in your day to day operations?

So that’s it. If the numbers prove that we don’t need precautions anymore, then I’m good. Otherwise I’d like some proof that you’re actually taking this thing seriously. Because I certainly am.

So this week we took our family on vacation for the first time in probably a year and a half, but not like those pictures we’re seeing of packed beaches and bars and alcohol and germs flowing freely.

The kids probably wouldn’t have enjoyed that very much anyways…

We ended up taking everyone over to Disney for a few days at Animal Kingdom Lodge, a personal favorite where the rooms have giraffes and zebras and all sorts of fun animals grazing around outside that the kids got a real kick out of, too. We didn’t go to the parks at all, or Disney Springs … we pretty much stuck to the two Lodge buildings and just spent our time playing in the pool and laying around the room and watching all of the animals and generally just relaxing.

For Disney’s part, I think they did a pretty good job of putting safety precautions in place – masks were required basically everywhere except if you were sitting down and eating, or in the pool, and I only saw a couple of random people not wearing them. Places where crowds would gather like gift shops and the restaurant and the pool bars had markers on the ground to help people socially distance, and even the elevators were limited to one party at a time.

The resort didn’t really seem all that crowded, though we admittedly went out of our way to avoid people by eating most meals in our room and trying to keep our distance in the pools while a handful of other guests seemed to push our comfort levels, particularly after having a few drinks from the nearby bar. 🙁

All in all, we really had a fun trip and it was nice to get everyone out of the house for a few days. By the end, it had me wondering what this “return to normal” will even look like and what it will take for our family to be comfortable going to a crowded theme park or eating lunch at a busy restaurant with everyone unencumbered by masks in close proximity.

Frankly, there are parts of that normal that I’m not sure I even want to see return, but I’ll save those thoughts for a separate post!

The truth is, I think we all know that everything isn’t just going to magically get better tomorrow with the turn of a calendar page.

Coronavirus doesn’t care about the date – all it knows is to spread.

And that spread has killed 354,215 Americans and 1.8 million people worldwide over the last year.

I think we’ve finally got some hope in the new vaccines that are now being distributed to those closest to the disease, but there’s still a long road ahead of us. The people who denied the virus in 2020 and refused to take basic precautions to protect the people around them are going to continue to fight those precautions in 2021 even as they undermine our battle to actually rid society of this terrible pandemic.

We can’t change those people, but we don’t have to let them change us.

Fatigue over restrictions and the general impact of the virus is likely to grow in 2021, and the numbers will probably get worse before they start getting better. But the reason for wearing a mask on Day #292 hasn’t changed from Day #1.

We don’t wear masks to protect ourselves – we wear our masks to protect the people around us.

And I have to believe that despite all of the ignorance and the politics and the greed and the apathy that has made this pandemic all the worse throughout 2020, it’s going to be our compassion for each other that puts an end to COVID-19 – whenever that actually happens.

Happy New Year, stay safe, and don’t lose that compassion. We’re still going to need it in 2021.

Coronavirus, Day 266 – COVID Fatigue

December 6, 2020 4:12pm
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I get that everyone is really freaking tired of this pandemic by now, but what I don’t get is being so tired that they’re willing to put their friends and family and neighbors at risk by not following safety precautions – some of which are really pretty simple.

I mean, I get tired of parenting from time to time, and work, and all sorts of things, but that doesn’t mean I can just stop doing them because I don’t feel like it anymore!

You change things up and try to make it a little more pleasant. Maybe try to get some help. But you can’t just quit.

Especially when we’re just talking about wearing masks and avoiding gathering in large groups … because I can’t think of a more selfish reason to spread a disease that’s killed 1.5 million people globally than “I just had to go out because I miss my friends.”

You can call them. Text them. Email them. Zoom them. IM them. Share a socially distanced meal together.

What you can’t do is just pretend like this whole pandemic isn’t actually a thing, or something that “everybody’s going to get anyways” and so it’s not worth taking precautions over.

Tell that to the people who’ve lost someone this year, who will be wrapping one less Christmas gift or setting one less place at the table for dinner, and who maybe didn’t even get to say goodbye to their loved ones in person.

I have a lot of sympathy for people whose businesses are struggling right now – I really do. This is an unprecedented time and frankly, our government has really failed the American public by not making more of an effort to shore up our safety nets instead of focusing its efforts like usual on the super wealthy and protecting companies from liability for not taking COVID seriously. There’s absolutely no excuse for it.

But you can’t just slough off the rules that have been put in place because you’re angry or tired or frustrated or frozen in disbelief that COVID is a real thing. We’re not done yet. We will be – eventually – and then we can throw big parties and celebrate for everything that we missed out on in 2020, but now’s not the time for that – not when we’re in the middle of a third wave that makes the first two look like something out of the kiddie pool…

Coronavirus, Day 251 – The Long Haul

November 21, 2020 10:55am
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I’m not sure which is crazier – that we’ve been dealing with this thing for almost nine months now, or that we might only be at the halfway point.

Don’t get me wrong – the recent news of vaccines being almost ready are great to hear, but just like the real impact of people simply wearing masks, I’m not sure that many understand that we’re not out of the woods the moment that vaccine becomes available.

I saw a tweet the other day that I thought addressed it quite thoroughly…

And that doesn’t even include how long it will take the average American to get access to the shots! Not sure how that whole debacle will play out yet … I’d like to think that medical personnel on the frontline will be first, followed then by people’s level of risk, however we all know that “VIPs” are going to end up getting preferential treatment and people like Congressmen, executives, and others that can afford to pay a premium will still likely get it first.

Estimates put your average Joe getting vaccinated sometime mid to late next year, assuming that he’s willing to be vaccinated, which is a whole other issue that we won’t even get into!

I know that tensions are already high, and the holidays are coming, and people are getting tired of this thing and the sacrifices that we’re all making for it, big and small. Yet over the last week, we’ve seen the death toll hit an average of 2,000 people a day … that’s the equivalent of a 9/11 every day and a half…

As I type this, we’re at 260,000 deaths and if that trend continues, we’ll likely top 350,000 dead by the end of the year.

A terrible, dumpster fire of a year that sadly I don’t think is just going to stop when the proverbial ball drops and ushers in 2021. And that’s going to have its own psychological effects because plenty of people don’t want to see themselves “giving up” Thanksgiving and Christmas, so the idea of these terrible events continuing despite the change of calendar is going to be a tough one to bear.

But we owe it to the 1.38 MILLION people around the world who’ve died from COVID-19 keep doing our best to not let that death toll double or triple before we get to the end of this.

Coronavirus, Day 234 – A COVID Election

November 4, 2020 4:34pm
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Votes are still being counted as I type this, but it looks like Biden might’ve actually won.

Which is a relief, but I’ll write more about that later!

The delay, as we expected, is due to the huge spike in mail-in ballots thanks to the pandemic – almost 3x the number of mail-in ballots from 2016, which is kind of NUTS if you think about the sheer volumes…

Total Ballots

  • 2020 (so far) – 137 million
  • 2016 – 127 million

Mail-In Ballots

  • 2020 (so far) – 65 million
  • 2016 – 24 million

Early Voting – In-Person Ballots

  • 2020 – 36 million
  • 2016 – 23 million

Election Day – In-Person Ballots

  • 2020 – 36 million
  • 2016 – 82 million

In a way, it’s comforting to see that so many people took the COVID precautions seriously enough to vote via mail instead of in person on election day – at least 40 million extra people at the polls certainly would’ve increased the risk of exposure! I ended up voting early for my first time and it was super easy, so it’s likely something I’ll do again in the future just to avoid the crowds even after the pandemic has passed.

…which despite the unscientific argument of many politicians, is still definitely here even with Election Day itself behind us, as the US logged another 94,000 cases and almost 1,200 deaths just yesterday. I know that even if/when Biden does win, we’ve still got a couple of months of Trump policies to deal with before he takes over, but I can only hope that come January having a different voice in the White House changes the American perspective on this virus so that we can actually get in front of it and stave off more waves while we wait for a vaccine to be ready.

It’s ok to fear things that can kill you.

There’s nothing wrong with being afraid any more than there is crying or being anxious or any other emotion. For a disease that’s killed 215,000 Americans in the last seven months and literally put our nation’s leader in the hospital, it was disappointing that this was his message the moment he got out.

Not urging people to take necessary precautions. Not compassion for all of the people before him who struggled with COVID-19 but didn’t have access to the best medical treatment in the world.

Instead, it was just more pandering to his base to minimize the affects of COVID and make the people who are taking it more seriously … like his opponent in the election … look weak by comparison.

…and he’s not even done being sick yet…

One of my pet peeves lately has been watching company layoffs when I feel like businesses could really be doing more to support their own employees. The most significant of these examples is Disney.

Last week Disney announced that it would be laying off 28,000 employees from its theme parks division, presumably mostly because Disneyland hasn’t yet reopened, although the parks here in Florida are also seeing heavy reductions.

This bothers me because unlike a lot of other businesses struggling with the effects of COVID-19, The Walt Disney Company has an astonishing $23 BILLION in cash on hand right now.

To put that in context, Disney could pay every one of the 28,000 people they’re laying off $825,535.71 … or more realistically because they’ve said that the majority are part-timers, they could spend a mere 10% of their cash reserves and still have an excess of $80,000 to help support each employee who directly plays a hand in creating Disney’s highly coveted Disney magic…

Now I know that companies don’t normally operate this way, but if you want to talk about actually maintaining a culture of family and inclusion, why not? Think of the incredible goodwill that Disney could gain by financially supporting their people instead of turning them loose on unemployment benefits and food pantries to survive, not to mention the press from doing the right thing.

Shareholders might not be as crazy about Disney spending its cash on its own employees instead of new attractions that can further boost earnings per guest, but … I just don’t have the energy for that argument right now because without their staff, who’s going to sell their tickets and load their rides and keep their parks flowing for millions of paying guests every year???

In general, it really makes me uncomfortable to see more and more people relaxing their concerns about this virus and trying to push us “back to normal,” as if COVID will understand that “We’re all tired of it…” and move on to greener pastures to infect.

It certainly didn’t help with Florida’s governor being the first to relax our restrictions, at least as much as he could, by not only removing capacity restrictions for businesses but also by trying to pull the rug out from underneath local mask mandates by telling counties that they can’t assess fines for people not following them anymore.

For the most part, businesses are keeping their rules in place. Maybe not so much for restaurants, but honestly we’re not eating out anytime soon anyways. What’s tough is that it opens the doors for more people to challenge these businesses, and each other, and start fights over whether they still have to wear a mask or not. I know that we had a handful of questions that turned aggressive on the kids’ school Facebook groups when parents asked if the kids still had to wear masks to school after the governor’s announcement.

As a side note, so far our kids’ schools have had four cases between the two schools, although only the first case prompted one of them to close.

Just this morning I read a story out of New York about two old guys who got in a fight at a bar over wearing masks and one pushed the other, who ended up hitting his head and dying.

And lastly, admittedly I haven’t really looked at our stats in a while, so it was interesting to see that Florida’s cases have gone down by about a third over the last month…

…however nationally they’ve been slowly trending back up again.

Curiously, if you look at the number of tests being done each day, Florida is doing dramatically less than we were this summer – 25k down from 65k – however nationally we’re almost double – nearly 1M today up from 500-600k over the summer!

Particularly here in Florida, I worry that we seem to be preparing for the perfect storm with the next wave between less testing and less restrictions coupled with more people being frustrated and wanting to fight things like mask rules. Right now the majority still seems to be wearing masks and keeping their distance, however I think that’s going to become more of a struggle as that anti-mask group grows more vocal and especially if people start getting self-conscious about taking precautions if not as many people are doing them.

The other day I noticed a stark contrast just between going to Walmart and Target – our local Walmart stopped putting its sign about masks out front by the doors and the greeter doesn’t challenge anyone, as displayed by a couple without masks walking right in without a word, whereas at Target there are signs front and center, plus several employees inside to monitor the door, and they even had an announcement reminding everyone of their safety procedures while we were shopping.

I don’t care what happens with government rules – at least for right now, I won’t shop at someplace that doesn’t actively take COVID-19 procedures seriously and that includes requiring masks for anyone and everyone.

I’m afraid of this disease that’s killed at least 4-8x more people than the flu did last year because our risk of contracting it is greatly diminished simply by following a few basic precautions. My family’s lives, and the lives of our friends and neighbors and people we’ve never met, are worth those minor inconveniences.

I’ve tried to take in as many different perspectives on America’s COVID-19 experience as I can because I know that there are a lot of variations to how individuals are going through this.

For example, at 10:30pm last night one of the schools that my kids attend announced that they were switching to virtual school immediately because a staff member had tested positive for COVID. We’re still waiting for more information, but understandably a lot of parents are frustrated and upset because they have to work outside of the home during the day and can’t stay home to supervise kids in virtual school.

My wife and I are very lucky in this regard because I can work from home and she only works part-time on the weekends.

That said, when I look across the measures that we’re still taking to prevent the spread of the virus – everything from masks to some businesses being closed to quarantines – I can’t help but think that the reason why we’re still having to endure these invasive measures is because, quite frankly, we didn’t do a very good job of facing this virus as a whole from the very beginning.

  • Medical personnel spent the first month struggling to get their hands on basic safety equipment for their staff.
  • Political leaders shrugged off the seriousness of the pandemic and downplayed its potential instead of making critical early steps.
  • The financial support offered by Congress was rife with abuse and often went to people and corporations who didn’t need it, and archaic unemployment systems left even more Americans begging for relief.
  • Some Americans fought tooth and nail against restrictions aimed at keeping people safe, and even today chatter about the virus being a hoax is common.
  • Testing never really went mainstream by being too confusing, unreliable, and an undue burden to establish a regular testing cycle needed to truly monitor the population.
  • Speaking of monitoring, contact tracing never really took off here, either, because vocal Americans determined that privacy was more important than safety. Case in point – for my son’s school, we don’t know if the employee ever had contact with Christopher or not, which makes it difficult for us to manage his potential exposure here at home.
  • Despite the importance stressed on opening schools, many were never given safety equipment that they needed, with some schools here in the Tampa Bay Area giving each teacher only “a rag and a spray bottle” to keep their classrooms clean.

I know it feels like we’ve all been through a lot in the last six months, and we have, but it’s hard to not ask ourselves if we really did everything that we could when you look at other countries that experienced a curve back in the spring and basically have it more or less stabilized at this point.

If America is supposed to be the greatest country in the world, or the richest, or whatever, why are we struggling with this so much?

So here we are, I guess.

Five months ago we were averaging 25% of the daily cases that we’re seeing today and in-person classes came to a halt, replaced by virtual learning for the rest of the school year.

On the upside, I’d like to think that we’ve learned a bit about COVID-19 since then … more people than not are wearing masks out in public and social distancing has become the norm, even though there are definitely still some among us – some in positions of power – who will fight tooth and nail for the right to ignore this global pandemic and pretend that it’s not the reality that we all live in today.

I know that our teachers will do the best they can because that’s what they always do, but I also feel like in critical times like these that that’s not good enough.

I’ve read posts over the weekend about teachers not being given enough supplies by their administrations to clean and even protect themselves, which isn’t surprising considering the laundry list of supplies that parents are asked to contribute to classrooms each year … but if reopening schools was really so damn important to kickstarting the economy, it sure would’ve been nice to actually see teachers getting the support that they need for a change.

As for our three kids, we’ve opted to send two of them to in-person classes and the third will do virtual school at home with the help of his in-home therapist who he’s been working with all summer.

I, for one, am incredibly nervous and we went back and forth all summer about whether we’re making the right decisions, but ultimately A) the two that are going in-person are much more likely to actually wear their masks than the third, and B) virtual school for Pre-K is kind of a throwaway anyways … so we decided to give these choices a shot and if we either see that things aren’t working or if new cases start absolutely skyrocketing, we’ll have to deal with that when/if it happens.

Obviously that’s my biggest fear because as much as everyone likes to tout that “Kids are basically immune to the virus!” and “Their risk of exposure is very, very low…”, I can’t help but think that it’s mostly due to how quickly we isolated the kids in school during the spring that has helped to keep their numbers so low compared to the rest.

I sincerely hope that I’m wrong, but if we’re being honest, kids are like walking petri dishes even without a global pandemic at hand, and as much as I’m sure everyone is going to try to keep them distanced and masked as much as possible … well, I guess I just hope that they do better than the worst of the adults right now who are getting in fights with store clerks over masks and acting like COVID-19 hasn’t already killed 180,000 Americans in the last five months.

We’ve spent the last five months trying to emphasize to the kids why they need to wash their hands thoroughly and how we can’t do certain things that they love right now because of all of the germs that are getting so many people sick.

I hope we’re not expecting too much of them by sending them back to school when the end of this thing still seems like it’s nowhere in sight.

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