Since my last newsletter in August, it feels as if we’ve entered bizarre new equilibrium. In the United States, roughly two thousand people a day are dying of Covid-19, a rate about as high as the first peak in spring 2020. Unlike back then, this new round of devastation is unfolding in a country where 65 percent of eligible people are vaccinated. If you had told me a year ago that this is how things would stand in September 2021, I don’t think I’d have believed you.

Despite these terrible circumstances, I have been traveling, something I have not done for ages. My family has hit the road to see relatives and friends. Although we’re all vaccinated, we still take precautions such as masking in indoor public spaces and taking rapid antigen tests before spending a lot of unmasked time indoors with other people. My wife and I dropped off our kids at college, where they are having a semi-normal school year, a thankful change from endless Zooming. Continue reading “Friday’s Elk, October 1, 2021”

Last month, in an appearance on the Daily podcast, I warned against assuming that the pandemic was over. The Delta variant was poised to potentially sweep across the United States. It might create a surge that might even require that the country return to masking and other measures to slow it down.

I sensed that the Daily host Michael Barbaro did not welcome the news. And I could sympathize. After months of mass vaccination and crashing cases, it was easy to believe that the coronavirus was now behind us. But by early July, there was plenty of evidence that the Delta variant might well push back those gains. It bore mutations allowing it to multiply quickly inside a host and then swiftly spread to new victims. It had already overwhelmed countries like India and the United Kingdom. Vaccines work well against Delta–especially against hospitalization from Covid-19–but only after both doses. Only about half of Americans are fully vaccinated, leaving the rest easy targets for the variant.  Continue reading “Friday’s Elk, August 13, 2021”

During the month of June, the pandemic took several different courses at once. In the United States, the overall average daily case rate continued its fall to levels not seen since March 2020. India experienced an even more dramatic crash. But other countries, from Russia to Indonesia to Liberia, experienced startling surges. The Alpha variant, which dominated the world in early 2021, ebbed away as the even faster-spreading Delta variant, first identified in India, swept across the globe. 

As a journalist, I spent June following some of the different courses that science took through the pandemic. Major trials for two of the most prominent vaccines delivered results. Novavax’s trial in the United States put it on par with the most effective vaccines such as Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. Meanwhile, the German company CureVac, which I profiled in March, delivered dismal results, leaving experts to wonder if variants are a bigger threat to vaccine effectiveness than they thought, or if all RNA vaccines are not alike. Continue reading “Friday’s Elk, July 2, 2021”

I’ve been a fan of Atlas Obscura ever since it started out as a web site cataloging the world’s weirder places. Since then, it has grown into a far bigger operation, offering books, trips, and other features. Recently they’ve put together a series of online courses. I’m delighted to announce that next month I’ll be teaching a course called “The Meaning of ‘Life.'”

Here’s the course descriptionContinue reading “Friday’s Elk, June 4, 2021”

When my wife Grace and I moved to Guilford, Connecticut, 18 years ago, we were grateful that it was a town where you could walk for a reason. To go to the library. To get a pizza. To get your hair cut. To some people, those may seem like petty things. But for us, they meant a great deal.

Last March, our lives were disrupted in many ways. We stopped traveling by plane and train. Our time with extended families was mostly restricted to phone calls and Zoom sessions. But the nearby disruptions were just as bad. Trips into stores were quick, no-nonsense errands. The rest of our lives within walking distance began to lose out in our risk-benefit calculations. After a while, the isolation began to feel normal. Now that I’ve gained immunity, it takes effort to rediscover the town all around me. Continue reading “Friday’s Elk, May 7, 2021”