December 14, 2020

by eric

Today, I hope, marked the beginning of the end of COVID-19.  The first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine were administered to health-care workers around the country.  And the Electoral College voted for Joe Biden to be the next President.

I had hoped to capture a bit more of the last two and half months as it happened, but it has been an incredibly busy time.  While we hit our stride with remote schooling, work obligations for both my spouse and me skyrocketed, and today feels like the first time in months I could really take a breath.

October was particularly tough due to remote meetings.  Every science organization that normally would have planned an in-person meeting for the fall decided to try their hand at a virtual one, and they put them all in October.  If they were in-person meetings, you would decide if it was worth it to attend, if it was logistically feasible, etc.  And if you went you’d clear your calendar.  But for virtual meetings there’s no barrier to attending, and no good excuse for cancelling standing meetings.  So any open work time I had to write or code or even just skim emails evaporated.

We also spent a lot of our mental cycles processing the news.  Confirmation of a new Supreme Court justice.  A subsequent celebration that disregarded public health guidelines.   Result: a superspreader event that infected many Republicans, including the President.  The President is hospitalized, and for a weekend everything seems to hang in the balance.  And then–clearly too soon–he returns to the White House, and… recovers?  And begins campaign rallies again?  And suddenly it was time for the election, and the long, lingering farce that followed.

Our focus on politics distracted us from the start rise of the next and biggest wave of COVID infections, though, and in November it was here.  Hospital ICUs around the country were full.  Folks on the outer edges of our social network–friends of friends, distant social media contacts–reported catching COVID.  But unlike in the spring, nothing seemed to really change–Washington slightly tightened a few restrictions, but not in any really impactful way.  While our understanding of risk has improved since the spring, it seemed more a resignation that any sense of shared responsibility, sacrifice, or even reality had long since evaporated.  We waited for reckless Thanksgiving celebrations to drive the wave’s crest even higher.

For us, then, the dreary, darkening Seattle winter was a chance to turn further inward, and find (somehow) new energy and new family pastimes.  We had an all-Zoom Halloween inside our house.  The boys built elaborate Lego and MagnaTile and RC creations.  We played soccer and did windsprints in our muddy, sodden yard, the grass long since destroyed.  As the rain and the cold and the dark allowed, we pushed scooters and strollers around the same one-block lap.  We put up Christmas decorations, bought presents, and baked.  I put in new light fixtures and replaced light bulbs with brighter LEDs to stave off the darkness.  And, with all semblance of balance gone, we worked at night, almost every night, desperate to keep ahead of more-than-full-time obligations.

Yet peeking through the darkness was cause for hope.  Two newly-developed vaccines reported Phase III trial results of stunning efficacy.  States and local authorities began planning how to allocate the scarce supplies.  Last week the Pfizer vaccine was given an Emergency Use Authorization, with the same expected for Moderna’s later this week.  And so today our heroic health-care workers finally got the prioritization they have deserved.

We’re not out of the woods yet.  2,500 people a day are still dying, and the curves of infections still have not peaked.  We’re months away from having enough vaccines for the broader public, with big arguments about allocation (and conversely, persuading the vaccine-hesitant) still to come…