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.
It remains difficult to see clearly what lies ahead–at a time when I had hoped that things would make more sense. The late-summer Delta surge is dropping in the United States, but it’s hard to say how far it will fall. In some countries where the surge came earlier, cases eventually dropped, reaching remarkable lows. In Britain, by contrast, a sharp drop was followed by a quick bounce. While vaccinations unquestionably are preventing many deaths, the Delta variant is putting the unvaccinated at greater risk.
I’ve been continuing to write about the pandemic, but I’ve found time to look beyond this dreadful coronavirus. Instead of clinical trials for primary doses, I’m now reporting on data about boosters from Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. In recent weeks I’ve also written about why we don’t have tails, dreams of resurrecting woolly mammoths funded by Bitcoin billionaires, and ancient desert footprints that could change the way we think about how people came to the Americas.
I had hoped that this fall I’d be able to get back to giving talks in person, but it looks like book festivals are going to be rolling back to the realm of the virtual. The silver lining is that I can reach people without their needing to leave their house. I’ll be talking about Life’s Edge at the Brooklyn Book Festival on Sunday October 3 at 5 pm ET, and at the Brattleboro Literary Festival on October 17 at 2 pm ET. The following day, October 18, I’ll be moderating a panel at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Medicine on how science has driven policy during the pandemic (it’s open to the public). I’m still scheduled to appear in person at Charleston Literary Festival in November, but that might go virtual, too. And if you’re interested, you can watch the video of a recent conversation I had about A Planet of Viruses, hosted by the Science Writers of New York.
Originally published October 1, 2021. Copyright 2021 Carl Zimmer.