John C. Barry

My reminiscences, thoughts, and travel experiences

Tag: COVID-19

COVID-19: Science behind vaccination development. Weekly updates with statistics and the latest news

It took Moderna 48 hours to produce a vaccination.  It took 48 years to accomplish that feat.  As you read this account, did you or your children elect to forgo…

It took Moderna 48 hours to produce a vaccination.  It took 48 years to accomplish that feat. 

As you read this account, did you or your children elect to forgo vaccinations for Polio, Tetanus, Influenza, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis A, Rubella, Measles, Whooping Cough, Streptococcus vaccine, Mumps, Chickenpox, and Diphtheria?  What about the pain inflicted from shingles, did you get your Shingrix shot?

Understanding the science behind the rapid production of the COVID-19 vaccinations is both fascinating and critically important to understand.  Recognizing the role of women in facilitating this scientific breakthrough is vital.  The average population is ill-informed about the steps leading up to the vaccination development process.  Some are ignorantly afraid, consumed with conspiracy theories, religious bias, political bipartisanship, and a strong opinion that the vaccination was produced too quickly.  Their invalid conclusion, therefore, is that it is unsafe, ineffective, especially by not understanding that development took decades.  Half the voters who supported Trump in the last U.S. elections refuse to get vaccinated, a demographic of less-educated whites.  Many are consumed by conspiracy theories that the vaccination will result in a chip being inserted in your body so that Bill Gates will track you or that the devil will reside within your DNA.

In a New York Times article, they discuss how white Evangelical’s vaccine refusal could prolong the pandemic, impacting the need for herd immunity where at least seventy percent of the population is vaccinated.  Their objections included: “She believed it contained aborted cell tissue.”  A preacher “received a divine message that God was the ultimate healer and deliverer: The vaccine is not the savior.” Another: “she did not need the vaccine because God designed the body to heal itself if given the right nutrients.”  There are about 41 million white evangelical adults in the U.S.  According to the Pew Research Center, about 45% said in late February that they would not get vaccinated against COVID-19, making them among the least likely demographic groups to do so.  Some high-profile conservative pastors and institutional leaders have endorsed the vaccines.  Franklin Graham told his 9.6 million Facebook followers that Jesus would advocate for vaccination.  Pastor Robert Jeffress commended it from an anti-abortion perspective on Fox News. “We talk about life inside the womb as a gift from God.  Well, life outside the womb is a gift from God, too.” Southern Baptist Convention, J.D. Greear, president, tweeted a photo of himself receiving a vaccination.  Across white evangelical America, reasons not to get vaccinated have spread as quickly as the virus that public health officials hope to overcome through herd immunity.

By the end of March 2021, more than 551,000 Americans died of COVID-19.  Within my one immediate family, seven got infected from this virus, with one dying.  On March 31, 2021, 2.4 million Americans are getting vaccinated daily, yet cases and deaths are trending up again. 

On January 11, 2020, Chinese researchers published the genetic sequence of the virus. Moderna finalized the mRNA vaccine in about 48 hours.  The reality is that the science of genetic engineering started in 1972.  It is what preceded this January 2020 date that is critical in understanding how the vaccine could be developed quickly.  The vaccination topic piqued my curiosity.  What role did science and technology play in bringing the vaccine to market in under one year?  That is the subject of three books that I read recently, identified below.

On March 22, 2021, while watching The Late Show on CBS with Stephen Colbert (7 minutes 15 seconds) interviewing Walter Isaacson to discuss his newly published book The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race, I decided that I needed to know more.    It is a phenomenal work, a great read, and I recommend everyone who has the slightest interest in this topic to read Isaacson’s book.  Isaacson’s book was published on March 9, 2021.  During this interview, Walter describes Jennifer’s work with CRISPR and gene editing.  With my understanding that Pfizer and Moderna used this technology to develop their vaccines to fight COVID-19, I was interested in learning more.

“Look at the halo of letters—GCACGUAGUGU—on the cover of this book. It is a snippet of the RNA that creates the part of the spike protein that binds to human cells, and these letters became part of the code used in the new vaccines.”

After additional research, I requested from the library A Crack In Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution by Jennifer A Doudna and Samuel H Sternberg, published August 21, 2018.

To put it mildly, I was so impressed with Jennifer and Samuel’s work that I purchased the book for my 14-year-old granddaughters.  I encouraged them to read the book and added the following comments to the inside cover of their book.

If you read this book, I believe that you will learn the following:

  • Jennifer read a chemistry book at age 12 that established an ambition to study for an undergraduate degree, Masters, and Doctorate that ultimately led to a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020.  (Update: the book Jennifer read was The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA, by James D. Watson.  See additional detail below).
  • Jennifer turned 57 on February 19, 2021.  She amassed numerous awards for her life work.
  • Jennifer is unquestionably an intellectual with deep thought, expressing cogent and rational arguments.
  • Jennifer did not do it on her own.  She stood on the shoulders of many people globally, clearly understanding the benefit of collaboration.  She published her research frequently.
  • The science was applied to horticulture, animals, fish, insects, bacteria, and eventually humans.
  • Jennifer’s book got published before the COVID virus, but her work led to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations that protect us today.
  • Jennifer attracted $500,000 investments for her team to carry out research.
  • There are many scientific and biological terms that you are unlikely to understand; I do not.  Read past them, but do not let that stop you from getting significant value from reading this book and understanding her process—words including Gene Editing, DNA, RNA, CRISPER, Cas9, GMO, and more.
  • The further you read, the more exciting and educational the book becomes.
  • One concern is if we use this technology to influence the characteristics of newborn babies, eugenics for short.  Jennifer screams aloud that human selection is unacceptable.
  • The bottom line: Reading the book will provide a way to universally understand science and government regulations controlling or limiting innovative thinking. An open mind helps.
  • As you read this book, could you be an author telling such a compelling story? (One twin has ambitions of becoming an author).
  • Remember, you can ask questions.  Try your dad, mom, or me—a pleasure to help.
  • Use Google to search “YouTube CRISPER” and other technology to learn more.

My motivation was two-fold in providing this encouragement.  When I grew up, I was not encouraged to study in any field other than engineering.  I was tested in high school and recommended by an industrial psychologist to follow a career in accounting.  While in engineering school, we had one female scholar in a class of over one hundred students.  Somehow, the thinking back in my day was, women do not have a place in science and technology.  A myth I wanted to be dispelled for my granddaughters.

After reading Jennifer’s book, I have dived into Walter Isaacson’s book.  I was blown away by his research.  He interviewed everyone that influenced Jennifer’s career, laboratory students appointed by her, competitors, scientific publishers, and business partners.  The book consists of noticeably short chapters that hold your interest with page-turning excitement—58 chapters in 476 pages, or 8.5 pages per chapter, on average.  The detail is reverting and exciting in the extreme.  Consider intellectual property patent intrigue.  Can you imagine a patent lawsuit being retried multiple times over eight years?  Jealousy and envy are terrible diseases in a competitive field, resulting in backstabbing.  Sadly, competitive relationships can become highly toxic, benefitting no one and creating a bitter relationship between former colleagues.  What about using this technology for terrorism?  What did the U.S. government invest in protecting or reversing nefarious use?  What position did religious leaders take?  How would or did politicians react to this technology?  How did the global community respond, vilify, or support?  What happens when a potential solution results in death?  What if international companies promote gene editing for newborn babies with desired characteristics?  What if the protagonist ends up being found guilty in a court of law with a heavy fine and jail time?

My mom died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2019.  Might it be possible to convert the APOE4 gene into a benign version?  The Alzheimer’s Association projects that by 2050 people 65 and older with Alzheimer’s will reach 12.7 million. The most significant protection against a person or laboratory using the technology to pursue eugenics, is lawsuits.

With Walter’s book, you do not require a doctorate or even an undergraduate degree in chemistry or biology.  Everything is explained in simple terms. It helps develop one’s understanding of the science involved with these breakthrough vaccinations.

Walter interviewed many collaborators, competitors, partners, and Jennifer’s team members.  Walter references 365 people in his book.  He provides cameos of multiple people, making the biographical story more human and exciting.  The text reads like a murder mystery, not that anyone got murdered, but some of the intrigues in the competitive laboratories are both exciting and entirely unbelievable.  Who stole ideas from whom?  Why the lies?  Could it be the result of competitiveness, who was the first to make a breakthrough scientific discovery? As with any scientific or technological endeavor, one must contend with charlatans out for publicity and fame.  The repercussions can be devastating, especially for the naïve coconspirators.  

The book challenges one on many moral issues.  If a deaf couple has a baby, it will likely be born deaf.  Should the medical profession take action to ensure the child is not deaf?  If technology allows the embryo to be altered so that the child will be a regular hearing child, is that morally acceptable?  Or what if you are a black couple wanting a light-skinned child?  Could Prince Harry and Megan Markle have made use of this process with Archie?  (Recall the troubling comments made during the Oprah Winfrey interview about Royal’s concern about the couple having a dark-skinned baby.  Racism anyone?).  Or short parents wanting to give birth to a tall child?  Should we morally establish a goal of inheritable gene edits?  Eradicate sickle cell disease?

I know that I have never been involved in this industry, and I am surprised when I read about the events that have taken place over the decades, how uninformed I am. 

If my granddaughters read Jennifer’s book, I plan to purchase Walter’s book for them to read.

Walter’s book is an essential read to understand what may be possible regarding baby selection in terms of desirable traits.  We cannot stop science or the inevitable outcome of what parents may choose within the characteristics and health of their offspring.  What if society becomes a robotic clone of each other? 

Isaacson’s book is an essential read.  I would challenge that the title Code Breaker is misleading.  The book challenges one to understand developments that have taken place in recent years in terms of genetics and the potential for how it could be employed in the future. What if this technology was only affordable by the ultra-wealthy?

I was so enamored with Isaacson’s book that I will reread it.  It is worth my time to gain even more knowledge after my initial read.  Think about the effort that went into multiple laboratories to develop a COVID-19 test.  None of the labs wanted the tests to be a moneymaking venture, only a way to isolate patients with the virus.

The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA, by James D. Watson.  By identifying DNA structure, the molecule of life, Francis Crick and James Watson revolutionized biochemistry and won a Nobel Prize.  At the time, Watson was only twenty-four, a young scientist hungry to make his mark.  The book was first published in 1968 and republished on August 16, 2011.  I consider myself a detailed person.  With my engineering and computer background, I am used to reading technical information.  I found, in an amusing way, that Watson wrote like a raconteur.  Do I need to know which pub Watson had dinner in London and what he ate?  Watson uses this tactic to explain the process they went through on their path to their breakthrough discoveries.  I can only imagine that Watson kept a diary of what he did daily to document all this detail.  That, or he must have a phenomenal memory.  The book consists of noticeably short chapters, a few pages each, resulting in an easy and quick read.

As a reminder, Jennifer Doudna’s reading this book as a child set her career choice.  I appreciate the coincidence that the last three letters of her last name are “DNA.”

James D. Watson was born in Chicago on April 6, 1928. After graduation from the University of Chicago, he worked in genetics at Indiana University, receiving his Ph.D. in 1950.  He spent a year at the University of Copenhagen, followed by two years at the Cavendish Laboratory of Cambridge University, England.  There he met Francis Crick, and the collaboration resulted in their 1953 proposal of a structure for DNA.  After two years at Cal Tech, he joined the Harvard faculty, where he remained a biochemistry and molecular biology professor until 1976. In 1962, together with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, Dr. Watson was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.  It has been recognized that Watson and his colleagues did not correctly attribute colleague Rosalind Franklin for her contributions to the discovery of the double helix structure.

In Watson’s book, he is critical of Rosalind or Rose as she was known.  In a prologue written for the re-release, he apologized for his unkind words and recognized her contribution.

My message to my granddaughters.  Reading Watson’s book will teach you that scientific breakthroughs do not happen in a blink of an eye.  It is the result of years of dedication, disappointments, persistence, and ultimately a positive outcome.  It is not necessarily a guaranteed result.

To add to our interest, we watched the 1997 movie Gattaca.  DNA sequencing is a laboratory technique used to determine the exact sequence of bases (A, C, G, and T) in a DNA molecule.  Gattaca was made up of those four letters. “A genetically inferior man assumes the identity of a superior one to pursue his lifelong dream of space travel.” Well, it is science fiction but provides food for thought of the possibilities. 

Update August 15, 2021.  I discovered another worthwhile educational video.  Netflix Explained, Season 1, “Designer DNA.” 18-minutes, released May 23, 2018.  Scientific feat or a terrifying social experiment?  Specialists in the field discuss the high stakes and ethical controversies of gene editing.  Just 18 years ago, scientists successfully mapped the human genome, identifying all the genes that make us who we are. These genes determine our eye color and our blood type. They affect our height, our risk of heart disease, how strong our bones are, and even our body odor. And sometimes they cause life-threatening diseases like cystic fibrosis and breast cancer.  Now we have the technology to edit our genes. Scientists have figured out how to reprogram an ancient bacterial immune system called “CRISPR” to track down and edit genes in any organism, allowing us to tinker with the source code of life.

The bottom line: I am disappointed at the amount of disinformation and ignorant comments I have read about these life-saving vaccinations.  Get a life.  Get vaccinated.

I extracted partial information from the weekly text detail below to create the table to rapidly see COVID developments in the USA over time.

Date COVID Cases Deaths Fully Vaccinated One-Dose Vaccination Rate/Day
April 10, 2021 31,084,962 566,238 68,202,458 114,436,039 3.1 million
April 17, 2021 31,574,340 565,260 80,609,818 127,743,096 3.9 million
April 24, 2021 31,730,950 567,352 91,175,995 137,234,889 2.28 million
May 1, 2021 32,091,429 572,190 101,407,318 144,894,586 2.36 million
May 8, 2021 32,403,159 577,041 110,874,920 150,416,559 1.75 million
May 15, 2021 32,681,787 581,573 120,258,637 155,251,852 1.82 million
May 22, 2021 32,885,010 584,975 127,778,250 161,278,336 1.76 million
May 29, 2021 33,041,551 590,212 133,532,544 166,388,129 1.38 million
June 5, 2021 33,148,701 593,377 137,455,367 169,735,441 1.01 million
June 12, 2021 33,259,537 596,572 142,095,530 172,758,350 1.09 million
June 19, 2021 33,341,986 598,713 148,459,003 176,290,249 1.36 million
June 26, 2021 33,425,231 600,859 151,615,554 178,491,147 735,800
July 3, 2021 33,514,681 602,731 156,255,896 181,650,678 1.09 million
July 10, 2021 33,631,656 604,251 158,629,431 183,542,871 599,100
July 17, 2021 33,836,677 606,190 160,686,378 185,424,899 562,000
July 24, 2021 34,312,832 608,113 162,435,276 187,579,557 500,000
July 31, 2021 34,818,278 610,264 164,184,080 190,509,183 590,000
August 7, 2021 35,530,951 613,658 165,918,256 193,764,457 650,000
August 14, 2021 36,410,213 617,787 167,699,170 197,081,471 650,000
August 21, 2021 37,396,282 624,213 169,998,983 200,421,787 750,000
August 28, 2021 38,527,411 632,786 172,646,952 203,475,192 820,000
September 4, 2021 39,668,869 643,405 175,538,025 206,461,869 840,000
September 11, 2021 40,703,234 654,409 172,899,458 208,704,230 890,000
September 18, 2021 41,754,903 668,442 180,572,171 211,097,597 720,000
September 25, 2021 42,635,447 682,646 182,958,696 212,861,380 600,000
Date COVID Cases Deaths Fully Vaccinated Booster Doses Vaccination Rate/day
October 2, 2021 43,409,950 696,603 214,597,690 3,023,065 720,000
October 10, 2021 44,105,375 708,784 216,573,911 7,284,455 930,000
October 16, 2021 44,709,010 720,228 218,318,056 10,023,131 950,000
October 23, 2021 45,235,796 731,931 219,900,525 12,037,101 680,000

Periodic Updates

Update June 16, 2021.  Pfizer had evidence the mRNA vaccine could stop the virus. The vaccine is composed of a lipid nanoparticle, a sphere of fat molecules encapsulating a strand of messenger RNA, which instructs human cells to make proteins that trigger antibodies and prime the immune system against future viral invasions.  But it would do little good unless Pfizer could rapidly take the new nanoparticle technology from lab to mass production — a feat never before accomplished — making immunizations available in America and around the world.  The company and its vaccine partner BioNTech would ultimately master the job of churning out large batches of mRNA vaccine, making it the clearest winner among drug companies to emerge from the pandemic. The company is producing vaccines in greater quantities than any other company and has secured an advantage in the quest to use next-generation mRNA technology for treatments of other diseases.  The company says it expects to make enough for 3 billion shots in 2021, twice as much as initial projections and enough of the two-dose immunization for 1.5 billion people. It has said it will make $26 billion in vaccine sales in 2021, which would make it the biggest-selling medicine ever.

Update June 27, 2021: Paddy Doherty, of County Donegal, Ireland, recently became the fifth person in the world to have cells deep inside his body altered by the gene-editing tool CRISPR/Cas9.  Two researchers behind CRISPR won the Nobel Prize last year, including American scientist Jennifer Doudna, and it has already been used to edit blood cells removed from the body and infused back in, as well as genes in the eye.  But the trial Doherty participated in was the first time anyone’s whole body has been infused with the CRISPR tool.  It seems to have worked as planned.  In Doherty and five others with the same condition, the one-time treatment appears to have turned off a gene that was causing a fatal build-up of protein in their tissues. The three who got the lowest dose saw more than a 50% decline in their blood levels of the protein, according to a presentation Saturday morning and a publication in The New England Journal of Medicine.  Doherty and two others who got a three-times higher dose saw an 87% reduction. He thinks he was the one in the group identified as having a 96% reduction.  But if such CRISPR gene-editing continues to show as much promise, the results could herald a new era for transthyretin amyloidosis and dozens of other genetic conditions, including hemophilia, sickle cell disease, and a more common trigger for heart failure.  CRISPR/Cas9 (which stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats and CRISPR-associated endonuclease-9) has mostly been used as a research tool since its 2012 discovery.  Patrick Doherty had always been very active. He trekked the Himalayas and hiked trails in Spain.  The breathlessness on a hillside walk last fall wasn’t Doherty’s first sign of trouble, but it was the one that finally got him to go to the doctor.  Doherty, 65, a mechanical engineer, lost his father at age 67, and two uncles died young, too.  After months of appointments and scans, Doherty ended up with a devastating diagnosis: an inherited form of a disease called transthyretin amyloidosis with polyneuropathy. It meant clumps of proteins were slowly clogging up his heart and nerves, and after years of pain and progressive heart failure, would kill him.  So Doherty was thrilled when he found out that doctors were testing a new way to try to treat amyloidosis.

Updated July 8. 2021: New study on delta variants reveals the importance of receiving both vaccine shots, highlights challenges posed by mutations. New laboratory research on the swiftly spreading delta variant of the coronavirus is highlighting the threats posed by viral mutations, adding urgency to calls to accelerate vaccination efforts across the planet. A peer-reviewed report from scientists in France, published Thursday in the journal Nature, found that the delta variant has mutations that allow it to evade some of the neutralizing antibodies produced by vaccines or by a natural infection. A single shot of a two-dose vaccine “barely” offers any protection. But the experiments found that fully vaccinated people — with the recommended regimen of two shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca vaccine — should retain significant protection against the delta variant. That echoes another report authored by a collaboration of scientists in the United States and published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Update August 13, 2021.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorizes extra vaccine doses for immunocompromised patients to bolster protection against the coronavirus.  Regulators took steps today to shore up the defenses of millions of vulnerable Americans against the coronavirus, authorizing extra doses of two widely used vaccines for some people with weakened immune systems.  Details about how the shots will be administered — and who exactly will be eligible for them — are expected to be hashed out on August 14, during a meeting of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisers.  The discussions have become increasingly urgent as the delta variant wreaks havoc in many parts of the country, and some studies indicate a waning of the vaccines’ protection over time.  According to the CDC, about 7 million people, are immunocompromised. Some, like transplant patients, take immune-suppressing drugs to prevent organ rejection. Others have blood cancers and other illnesses that damage the immune system. Still, others are on cancer chemotherapy. 

Update August 23, 2021.  Federal regulators granted full approval today to the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine — a milestone that could help increase inoculation rates and spark a wave of vaccine mandates by employers and universities amid a surge of new cases and hospitalizations fueled by the ferocious delta variant.  The Food and Drug Administration action marks the first licensing of a vaccine for the coronavirus, which has swept the United States in repeated and punishing waves since early 2020, exhausting nursing staffs, filling intensive care units, and raising fears among the vaccinated and the unvaccinated.  The vaccine has been approved for two doses, three weeks apart, in people 16 and older. It remains available under emergency use authorization for adolescents ages 12 to 15.  In the end, the vaccine approval was the fastest in the agency’s history, coming less than four months after Pfizer-BioNTech filed for licensing on May 7.

Update August 31, 2021.  Another variant of COVID-19 detected in nine countries is causing concern among scientists because it is more transmissible and resistant to vaccines than other variants of the virus.  A pre-print study that emerged last week said the C.1.2 variant, which was first detected in South Africa in May, has since been found in Botswana, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Kingdom, Mauritius, New Zealand, Portugal, and Switzerland.  There are four other variants of concern of COVID-19 among scientists—Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta—and another four variants of interest—Eta, Iota, Kappa, and Lambda—in global circulation. Alpha, Beta, and Delta have had the most impact globally in terms of transmission and immune evasion.  But the newly discovered variant seems to have an unusually high mutation rate and more mutations of other variants of concern (VOCs), the study, led by a team of South African scientists, noted. It also noted that it is more likely to cause severe COVID-19 than other variants.

Update September 10, 2021.  President Biden announced sweeping new coronavirus vaccine mandates Thursday designed to affect tens of millions of Americans, ordering all businesses with more than 100 employees to require their workers to be immunized or face weekly testing.  Biden also said that he would require most healthcare facilities that accept Medicare or Medicaid funding to vaccinate their employees, which the White House believes will cover 50,000 locations.  And the president signed an executive order compelling all federal employees to get vaccinated — without an option for those who prefer to be regularly tested instead — in an effort to create a model he hopes state governments will embrace. He is also ordering all staffers in Head Start programs, along with Defense Department and federally operated schools for Native Americans, to be vaccinated.  Taken together, the moves represent a major escalation by Biden of the pressure against those who have resisted vaccination. The announcement comes amid growing signs that the highly contagious delta variant, and the persistence of vaccine resistance, are combining to drag out the pandemic, slow the economic recovery and prevent Biden from turning his focus to other matters.  The delta variant has upended calculations on the virus, sending new infections surging to more than 150,000 a day and daily deaths to 1,500.  The American Federation of Teachers, the country’s second-largest teachers union, applauded the effort. “We stand in complete support of this plan and of the administration’s effort to protect as many people as possible,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten.  Republican leaders in the United States are blasting President Biden’s sweeping new coronavirus vaccine mandates for businesses and federal workers, decrying them as unconstitutional infringements on personal liberties and promising to sue.  Republican governors from Texas to Missouri and Georgia threatened to fight back. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called the mandates “an assault on private businesses” and said the state is “already working to halt this power grab.” Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon said he asked his state’s attorney general “to stand prepared to take all actions to oppose this administration’s unconstitutional overreach of executive power,” and South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem said, “See you in court.” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said the group “will sue the administration to protect Americans and their liberties.”

Update September 23, 2021.  The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday authorized a Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus booster shot for people 65 and older and adults at risk of severe illness, an effort to bolster protection for the most vulnerable Americans against the highly transmissible delta variant of the virus.  In addition to older Americans, boosters should be made available to people 18 through 64 years of age at high risk of severe illness from the coronavirus and those “whose frequent institutional or occupational exposure” to the virus puts them at high risk of serious complications from the disease caused by the virus, the agency said.  The agency said the extra dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine should be administered six months after its standard two-shot regimen.  In a rare move, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky late Thursday overruled her agency’s advisory panel and added a recommendation for boosters for people whose jobs put them at risk of infection.

Detail of COVID-19 Cases, deaths, fully vaccinated, one-shot, vaccinated by series, and rate of vaccination.

Update April 10, 2021. USA COVID-19 cases, 31,084,962, deaths 561,074.  Fully vaccinated 68,202,458, (20.5%) one-shot 114,436,039 (34.5%).  Currently, the concern is for a potential fourth wave, especially among younger adults.  The current rate of vaccinations in the U.S. is 3.1 million per day

Update April 17, 2021. USA COVID-19 cases, 31,574,340, deaths 565,260.  Fully vaccinated 80,609,818, (24.3%) one-shot 127,743,096 (38.5%).  Currently, the concern is for a potential fourth wave, especially among younger adults.  The current rate of vaccinations in the U.S. is 3.9 million per day.

Update April 24, 2021.  USA COVID-19 cases, 31,730,950, deaths 567,352.  Fully vaccinated 91,175,995 (27.5%) one-shot 137,234,889 (41.3%).  Currently, the concern is a reluctance for people to get vaccinated.  Some states have more vaccinations available than people willing to get vaccinated.  The current rate of vaccinations in the U.S. is 2.28 million per day.

Update May 1, 2021.  USA COVID-19 cases, 32,091,429, deaths 572,190.  Fully vaccinated 101,407,318 (30.5%) one-shot 144,894,586 (43.6%).  Vaccine fully vaccinated by series: Pfizer 51,134,807 Moderna 42,065,146 J&J 8,162,494.  The current rate of vaccinations in the U.S. is 2.36 million per day.  Concerns that some people after receiving the first dose of Pfizer or Moderna are not returning for their second dose.

Update May 8, 2021.  USA COVID-19 cases, 32,403,159, deaths 577,041.  Fully vaccinated 110,874,920 (33.4%) one-shot 150,416,559 (45.3%).  Vaccine fully vaccinated by series: Pfizer 56,659,985 Moderna 45,501,811 J&J 8,665,290.  The current rate of vaccinations in the U.S. is 1.75 million per day.  The best news is that the rates of COVID infections in the US are dropping by 14% daily cases for a positivity rate of 3.9%.  Our granddaughters, over the age of 12 will be vaccinated next week getting their first Pfizer dose, the only vaccination authorized for them currently.

Update May 15, 2021.  USA COVID-19 cases, 32,681,787, deaths 581,573.  Fully vaccinated 120,258,637 (36.2%) one-dose 155,251,852 (46.8%).  Vaccine fully vaccinated by series: Pfizer 62,113,204 Moderna 48,745,748 J&J 9,348,976.  The current rate of vaccinations in the U.S. is 1.82 million per day.  Rates of COVID infections in the US are dropping by 20.6% daily cases for a positivity rate of 3.4%.  Our granddaughters, over the age of 12 received their first shot of Pfizer vaccination.

Update May 22, 2021.  USA COVID-19 cases, 32,885,010, deaths 584,975.  Fully vaccinated 127,778,250 (38.5%) one-dose 161,278,336 (48.6%).  Vaccine fully vaccinated by series: Pfizer 66,045,495 Moderna 51,727,326 J&J 9,951,785.  The current rate of vaccinations in the U.S. is 1.76 million per day.  Rates of COVID infections in the US are dropping by 20.4% daily cases for a positivity rate of 4.7%.  Now states are bribing their citizens to get vaccinated.  Ohio offering a $1 million lottery prize, New Jersey, Maryland, and Connecticut a “shot and free beer,” vaccinations in Wisconsin at a pub for a day.  New York offers a vax and scratch lottery worth $5 million, Maryland offers $2 million and West Virginia offering saving bonds.  Krispy Kreme a free doughnut, some dispensaries—free marijuana.  Is this all to reward irresponsible behavior? Democrat Nancy Pelosi instructed all members of the House of Representatives to wear masks because Republicans refuse to get vaccinated or admit they have been vaccinated.  Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced a “$2 million Vax Cash promotion”. Every Marylander 18 and over who gets vaccinated will be entered into a daily drawing to win $40,000 from the Maryland State Lottery — culminating in a $400,000 drawing on July 4.  Meanwhile, the University of Virginia and Indiana University are joining a growing list of universities requiring vaccinations.  At least 389 colleges (universities) across that country have required vaccinations for at least some students or faculty, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.  For the first time since March 2020, the 7-day average for deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. has fallen below 500, White House coronavirus response senior adviser Andy Slavitt tweeted Friday. Dr. Scott Gottlieb’s comments Friday came as the country’s seven-day average of daily new coronavirus infections fell below 30,000 for the first time in almost a year; in late March, that figure was around 66,000.

Update May 29, 2021.  USA COVID-19 cases, 33,041,551, deaths 590,212.  Fully vaccinated 133,532,544 (40.2%) one-dose 166,388,129 (50.1%).  Vaccine fully vaccinated by series: Pfizer 68,735,221 Moderna 54,244,825 J&J 10,495,883.  The current rate of vaccinations in the U.S. is 1.38 million per day.  Rates of COVID infections in the US are dropping by 22.4% daily cases for a positivity rate of 2.5%.  Abbey Bugenske (22) who lives in Cincinnati is the first winner of $1 million Vax-a-Million lotteries in Ohio’s bid to encourage more people to get vaccinated.  Abbey was one of 2.76 million Ohioans who entered the drawing.  14-year-old Joseph Costello of Englewood won a four-year scholarship to any Ohio college/university he chooses as part of the lottery.  California on Thursday became the latest state to announce huge cash prizes to incentivize vaccination against the coronavirus, offering $116.5 million in giveaways — many smaller payments as well as a final drawing for 10 winners of $1.5 million each.  California will also give out 2 million $50 “incentive cards” starting Thursday for as long as supplies last, officials said.  Anyone who receives their full vaccine regimen — two shots if applicable — can get a card.

Update June 5, 2021.  USA COVID-19 cases, 33,148,701, deaths 593,377.  Fully vaccinated 137,455,367 (41.4%) one-dose 169,735,441 (51.1%).  Vaccine fully vaccinated by series: Pfizer 70,597,177 Moderna 55,914,615 J&J 10,884,243.  The current rate of vaccinations in the U.S. is 1.01 million per day.  Rates of COVID infections in the US are dropping by 32.8% daily cases for a positivity rate of 3%.  The country’s declining Covid-19 case rates present an unrealistically optimistic perspective for half of the nation — the half that is still not vaccinated.  The adjusted rates in several states show the pandemic is spreading as fast among the unvaccinated as it did during the winter surge.  For events like Covid-19 infection, rates are usually calculated by dividing the number of cases by the number of people in the population. For example, if there are 12 cases among a population of 100 people, the rate would be 12 people per 100. The Washington Post reduced the denominator to exclude most vaccinated people. So if 20 people got vaccinated, that would mean there were 12 cases out of the remaining 80 unvaccinated people, for an adjusted rate of 15 cases per 100 people.  Data shows vaccines are about 90 percent effective in preventing cases among people who have received the shot.  Cases among vaccinated people are called breakthrough cases.  To be conservative, The Washington Post estimated that up to 15 percent of the vaccinated population could still be infected.  So, in the example above, instead of removing all 20 vaccinated people, The Post removed 17.  That would leave 12 cases among 83 people, for an adjusted rate of 14.5 cases per 100 people.  But adjustments for vaccinations show the rate among susceptible, unvaccinated people is 73 percent higher than the standard figures being publicized.  The adjusted rates in several states show the pandemic is spreading as fast among the unvaccinated as it did during the winter surge. Maine, Colorado, Rhode Island, and Washington state all have Covid-19 case spikes among the unvaccinated, with adjusted rates about double the adjusted national rate.

Update June 12, 2021.  USA COVID-19 cases, 33,259,537, deaths 596,572.  Fully vaccinated 142,095,530 (42.8%) one-dose 172,758,350 (52.0%).  Vaccine fully vaccinated by series: Pfizer 73,593,112 Moderna 57,194,116 J&J 11,246,809.  The current rate of vaccinations in the U.S. is 1.09 million per day.  Rates of COVID infections in the US are dropping by 11% daily cases for a positivity rate of 1.8%.  The latest CDC data shows that the gap between vaccination rates in Republican-controlled states and Democrat-controlled states is vast, and it’s only getting wider. Right now, the 10 Republican states that have fully vaccinated the smallest share of their residents are Mississippi (28 percent), Alabama (30 percent), Arkansas (32 percent), Louisiana (32 percent), Wyoming (33 percent), Tennessee (33 percent), Utah (34 percent), Idaho (34 percent), Georgia (34 percent) and Oklahoma (35 percent).  Meanwhile, the 10 Democrat states that have fully vaccinated the largest share of their residents are Vermont (60 percent), Massachusetts (57 percent), Maine (57 percent), Connecticut (56 percent), Rhode Island (54 percent), New Hampshire (53 percent), New Jersey (51 percent), Maryland (51 percent), Washington (49 percent) and New Mexico (49 percent).  The vast majority of the 100 U.S. counties with today’s highest per capita case counts (COVID infections) are in Republican conservative areas.  According to the most recent Yahoo News/YouGov poll, more than three-quarters of Democrats (76 percent) say they’ve already been vaccinated, while less than half of Republicans (49 percent) say the same.  A full 28 percent of Republicans say they will “never” get vaccinated.  The Biden administration is buying 500 million doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine to donate to the world as the United States dramatically increases its efforts to help vaccinate more of the global population.  The first 200 million doses will be distributed this year, with the subsequent 300 million shared in the first half of next year. The doses will be distributed by Covax, the World Health Organization-backed initiative to share doses around the globe, and they will be targeted at low- and middle-income countries.  Pfizer is selling the doses to the United States at a “not-for-profit” price.

Update June 19, 2021.  USA COVID-19 cases, 33,341,986, deaths 598,713.  Fully vaccinated 148,459,003 (44.7%) one-dose 176,290,249 (53.1%).  Vaccine fully vaccinated by series: Pfizer 77,705,677 Moderna 58,962,325 J&J 11,725,891.  Unknown 2-dose 65,110.  The current rate of vaccinations in the U.S. is 1.36 million per day.  Republican Gov. Phil Scott announced Vermont had become the first state to vaccinate 80 percent of those eligible with at least one dose. Vermont has given out 131,473 doses per 100,000 population. By contrast, in Mississippi, only 35 percent of the overall population has received at least one dose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts the Mississippi vaccination rate at less than half that of Vermont, or 61,278 administered per 100,000.  Where vaccine coverage is strong, the pandemic is receding.  The new delta variant is significantly more contagious and may lead to more severe disease than the earlier variants.  The worry is that those who are hesitating to get vaccinated now will be sickened in the fall.  The announcement that a new two-dose vaccine in the United States, developed by Novavax, is 90 percent effective in a large-scale clinical trial is a reason for hope. 

Update June 26, 2021.  USA COVID-19 cases, 33,425,231, deaths 600,859.  Fully vaccinated 151,615,554 (45.7%) one-dose 178,491,147 (53.8%).  Vaccine fully vaccinated by series: Pfizer 79,671,066 Moderna 59,859,140 J&J 12,017,294.  Unknown 2-dose 68,054.  The current rate of vaccinations in the U.S. is 735,800 per day.  Nearly all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. now are in people who were not vaccinated, a staggering demonstration of how effective the shots have been and an indication that deaths per day — now down to under 300 — could be practically zero if everyone eligible got the vaccine.  Vaccination rates vary enormously across states: Some states have given at least one dose to two-thirds of the people, while others have given it to slightly more than one-third.  In Wisconsin, 48% were vaccinated.

Update July 3, 2021.  USA COVID-19 cases, 33,514,681, deaths 602,731.  Fully vaccinated 156,255,896 (47.1%) one-dose 181,650,678 (54.7%).  Vaccine fully vaccinated by series: Pfizer 82,684,230 Moderna 61,148,426 J&J 12,352,133.  Unknown 2-dose 71,107.  The current rate of vaccinations in the U.S. is 1.09 million per day, a 52% increase over the week before.  CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a Thursday White House briefing that preliminary data reviewed by her agency suggests 99.5% of the people who died from Covid-19 over the past six months were unvaccinated, a stunning statistic in support of her assertion that nearly every virus-linked death is now preventable.  Several states and the District of Columbia have reached the 70 percent target, and more should follow soon.  Many states, particularly in the South and Midwest, are still far from reaching the threshold.  Infections and hospitalizations have been rising in many places with low vaccination rates.  Local officials are sounding the alarm over an increase in Covid-19 infections just as the nation prepares to celebrate a Fourth of July holiday that many hoped would mark the start of the resumption of normal life.  With July 4th holiday coming up and eventually kids going back to school, we have to be concerned that this would be a trend that could continue.  And if it does, it would appear that we may be in the beginning of the third surge of Covid-19 here in the state of Arkansas,” he said.  More than 90% of active virus cases are people who have not been vaccinated, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said during the briefing.

Update July 10, 2021.  USA COVID-19 cases, 33,631,656, deaths 604,251.  Fully vaccinated 158,629,431 (47.8%) one-dose 183,542,871 (55.3%).  Vaccine fully vaccinated by series: Pfizer 84,127,283 Moderna 61,840,480 J&J 12,587,850.  Unknown 2-dose 73,818.  National vaccination rates have slowed considerably from their mid-April peak of 3.3 million doses administered daily, on average.  In the last week, an average of 599,100 doses per day was administered, a 45% decrease over the week before. The vaccination campaign has slowed, and the delta variant is spreading rapidly.  New infections, which had started to plateau about a month ago, are going up slightly nationally.  Surges are likely driven by pockets of dangerously low vaccination rates.  The number of people catching the virus has risen in more than half of the states over the past two weeks. And 18 states have greater numbers of new infections now compared with four weeks ago, including Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Missouri, and Oklahoma, where new daily cases have doubled. In the last week, an average of 593,800 doses per day was administered, a 47% decrease over the week before.

Update July 17, 2021.  USA COVID-19 cases, 33,836,677, deaths 606,190.  Fully vaccinated 160,686,378 (48.4%) one-dose 185,424,899 (55.9%).  Vaccine fully vaccinated by series: Pfizer 85,373,703 Moderna 62,435,576 J&J 12,799,762.  Unknown 2-dose 77,337.  A doubling of COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks suggests the United States has entered a fourth wave of the pandemic.  Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the seven-day average of coronavirus infections soared nearly 70 percent in just one week, to about 26,300 cases a day. The seven-day average for hospitalizations has increased, too, climbing about 36 percent from the previous seven-day period, she said.  Florida emerged as a national hot spot, accounting for 1 in 5 cases in the past week. Four states were responsible for more than 40 percent of cases in the past week, health officials said. And 10 percent of counties have moved into “high transmission risk.”  More than 97 percent of hospitalizations are among those who are unvaccinated, Walensky said, and almost all covid-19 deaths — which climbed 26 percent in the past week — are among people who have not received a shot.  The delta variant has become the dominant strain worldwide and is responsible for the majority of U.S. cases, said Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Update July 24, 2021.  USA COVID-19 cases, 34,312,832, deaths 608,113.  Fully vaccinated 162,435,276 (48.9%) one-dose 187,579,557 (56.5%).  Vaccine fully vaccinated by series: Pfizer 86,495,061 Moderna 62,870,544 J&J 12,987,754.  Unknown 2-dose 81,917.  The current average rate of vaccinations in the U.S. is 0.50 million per day, down from a peak of 3.3 million doses administered per day in April.   Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, issued a stark warning Thursday about the spread of the delta strain of COVID-19, saying the variant is one of the “most infectious respiratory viruses” scientists know of.  People infected with the variant appear to carry a viral load that is more than 1,000 times that of those infected with earlier forms of the virus, allowing the virus to spread rapidly among unvaccinated people, scientists have found.  The dire message comes amid urgency from public health officials that Americans get vaccinated.  The daily average of confirmed coronavirus cases has roughly quadrupled during July, from about 13,000 per day at the start of the month to 43,243 now.  The CDC said earlier this week that cases of the delta strain now make up about 83% of new infections in the U.S., and a majority of deaths from the disease are among unvaccinated people.  The strain is much more transmissible than the alpha strain, or the initial version of COVID-19, and has led to surging case numbers in every state in the nation.  The number of new cases has risen almost 250% since the beginning of July, and states with low vaccination rates, including Florida, Texas, and Missouri, are experiencing some of the worst outbreaks three states with lower vaccination rates accounted for 40 percent of all cases nationwide.  Coronavirus-related hospitalizations in Alabama have more than doubled this month, with 213 patients in intensive care units, up from 79 on July 1.

Update July 31, 2021.  USA COVID-19 cases, 34,818,278, deaths 610,264.  Fully vaccinated 164,184,080 (49.5%) one-dose 190,509,183 (57.4%).  Vaccine fully vaccinated by series: Pfizer 87,580,002 Moderna 63,322,317 J&J 13,195,772.  Unknown 2-dose 85,989.  The current average rate of vaccinations in the is U.S. 0.59 million per day, down from a peak of 3.3 million doses administered per day in April.  It is time to shift how people think about the pandemic.  The delta variant of the coronavirus appears to cause more severe illness than earlier variants and spreads as easily as chickenpox, according to an internal federal health document that argues officials must “acknowledge the war has changed.”  It captures the struggle of the nation’s top public health agency to persuade the public to embrace vaccination and prevention measures, including mask-wearing, as cases surge across the United States and new research suggests vaccinated people can spread the virus.  One thing is finally grabbing the attention of millions of unvaccinated Americans — the invasion of the hyper-contagious delta variant of the coronavirus. The document strikes an urgent note, to emphasize vaccination as the best defense against a variant so contagious that it acts almost like a different novel virus, leaping from target to target more swiftly than Ebola or the common cold.  Vaccinated people infected with delta have measurable viral loads similar to those who are unvaccinated and infected with the variant.  There is a higher risk among older age groups for hospitalization and death relative to younger people, regardless of vaccination status.  Estimates suggest that there are 35,000 symptomatic infections per week among 164 million vaccinated Americans.

Update August 7, 2021.  USA COVID-19 cases, 35,530,951, deaths 613,658.  Fully vaccinated 165,918,256 (50.0%) one-dose 193,764,457 (58.4%).  Vaccine fully vaccinated by series: Pfizer 88,685,831 Moderna 63,726,330 J&J 13,415,537.  Unknown 2-dose 90,558.  In the past week new daily cases rose 40.4%, deaths rose 49.1% COVID-related hospitalizations rose 29.5%.  The current average rate of vaccinations in the is U.S. 0.65 million per day.  Dr. Anthony Fauci has a sobering prediction: “Things are going to get worse.”  The White House chief medical advisor made those remarks amid rising Covid cases nationwide, due largely to the virus’s newly dominant and more transmissible delta variant.  Though it’s tough to imagine a situation direr than the country’s current surge, “we’re looking to some pain and suffering in the future because we’re seeing the cases go up,” Fauci said.  Delta has run rampant through the U.S. in recent weeks, surpassing last summer’s peak of new daily cases and hitting the country’s relatively large population of unvaccinated people — 50% as of Thursday afternoon — particularly hard.  So long as a virus can spread, it can mutate and create more dangerous variants. And while the Covid vaccines in use appear to work well against current variants, “there could be a variant that’s lingering out there that can push aside delta,” Fauci said.  Most of the virus’s current ability to spread across the U.S. — which has a plentiful vaccine supply — is due to America’s large population of unvaccinated people. About 30% of the adult population in the U.S. has not received at least one dose, and roughly 33% of eligible children ages 12 -17 have yet to receive a shot.  New data from the CDC has also raised concerns about breakthrough cases, where vaccinated people can occasionally transmit the delta variant to other people.

Update August 14, 2021.  USA COVID-19 cases, 36,410,213, deaths 617,787.  Fully vaccinated 167,699,170 (50.5%) one-dose 197,081,471 (59.4%).  Vaccine fully vaccinated by series: Pfizer 89,857,077 Moderna 64,113,369 J&J 13,634,118.  Unknown 2-dose 94,606.  In the past week new daily cases rose 20.8%, deaths rose 26.8% COVID-related hospitalizations rose 22.6%.  The current average rate of vaccinations in the is U.S. 0.65 million per day.  The highly transmissible coronavirus variant called delta is now the dominant strain in the United States.  Modeling shows that the variant now accounts for more than 90 percent of new infections, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  CDC Director Rochelle Walensky has described the delta variant as a very different virus than the one that took hold last year, capable of generating infections even among vaccinated people, though those are likely to be far less severe.  “The delta variant is showing every day its willingness to outsmart us and to be an opportunist in areas where we have not shown a fortified response against it,” she said in July.  The CDC said that the variant may cause infections that are more severe than previous versions, and that vaccinated people can spread it.  Walensky has described delta as “one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of and that I have seen in my 20-year career.”  The good news, Walensky has said, is that all three coronavirus vaccines authorized in the United States offer strong protection against severe disease and death from covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. Preliminary data from several states over the past several months suggests that 99.5 percent of covid-19-related deaths occurred among unvaccinated people, she has said.

Update August 21, 2021.  USA COVID-19 cases, 37,396,282, deaths 624,213.  Fully vaccinated 169,998,983 (51.2%) one-dose 200,421,787 (60.4%).  Vaccine fully vaccinated by series: Pfizer 91,440,711 Moderna 64,576,676 J&J 13,887,110.  Unknown 2-dose 94,486.  In the past week new daily cases rose 11.1%, deaths rose 43.4% COVID-related hospitalizations rose 11.2%.  The current average rate of vaccinations in the is U.S. 0.75 million per day.  The United States on Wednesday became the latest country to embrace the widespread use of coronavirus vaccine booster shots, citing new data that shows the vaccines’ effectiveness waning over time.  The Biden administration said it plans to make booster shots available to Americans starting the week of Sept. 20, pending reviews by federal health agencies. Officials said those who received the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines can receive a booster shot eight months after the date when they got their second vaccine dose. Officials said they are waiting for additional data before setting a plan for people who received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

Update August 28, 2021.  USA COVID-19 cases, 38,527,411, deaths 632,786.  Fully vaccinated 172,646,952 (52%) one-dose 203,475,192 (61.3%).  Vaccine fully vaccinated by series: Pfizer 93,259,507 Moderna 65,206,722 J&J 14,083,866.  Unknown 2-dose 96,857.  In the past week new daily cases rose 10.9%, deaths rose 34.9% COVID-related hospitalizations rose 5.8%.  The current average rate of vaccinations in the is U.S. 0.82 million per day.  More than 100,000 people are hospitalized with covid-19 in the United States, a level not seen since Jan. 30 — when coronavirus vaccines were not widely available — as the country grapples with the delta variant’s spread.  Hospitalizations are highest across the South, where every state in the region has a higher portion of its population currently hospitalized with covid-19 than the national level. More than 17,000 people are hospitalized with covid-19 in Florida, which has the most such hospitalizations of any state, followed by Texas, which has more than 14,000.  Amid a raging debate over mask requirements in schools, current pediatric hospitalizations for covid-19 have reached 2,100 nationally, topping 2,000 for the first time since August 2020.  New coronavirus cases are being reported across the country at levels similar to those seen in January.  About 151,000 new daily cases were being reported on average on Jan. 30; on Wednesday, that figure was 148,000.

Update September 4, 2021.  USA COVID-19 cases, 39,668,869, deaths 643,405.  Fully vaccinated 175,538,025 (52.9%) one-dose 206,461,869 (62.2%).  Vaccine fully vaccinated by series: Pfizer 95,227,588 Moderna 65,942,167 J&J 14,268,555.  Unknown 2-dose 99,715.  In the past week new daily cases rose 4.9%, deaths rose 28.7% COVID-related hospitalizations rose 1.1%.  The current average rate of vaccinations in the is U.S. 0.84 million per day.  Nationally, covid-19 deaths have climbed steadily in recent weeks, hitting a seven-day average of about 1,500 a day Thursday, after falling to the low 200s in early July — the latest handiwork of a contagious variant that has exploited the return to everyday activities by tens of millions of Americans, many of them unvaccinated. Top federal health officials have warned the White House that the Biden administration’s plan to begin offering booster shots to most Americans later this month may have to be limited initially, with third shots made available only to people who had received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, according to people familiar with the matter.  Janet Woodcock, acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, and Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients on Thursday that their agencies may not be able to approve a more expansive coronavirus booster plan that they, along with other top doctors across the administration, endorsed last month.  Woodcock and Walensky told Zients they may be able to approve and recommend booster shots only for people who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.  Americans were told they should plan to get a third shot eight months after they received their second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine. Biden said people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would probably need a booster shot as well, but officials would need more time to analyze data.  Now, Woodcock and Walensky, who have faced criticism for endorsing a plan before FDA approval, have warned that their agencies may need more time to make a determination about recommending boosters for people who received the Moderna vaccine. The FDA has only partial data on Moderna and Johnson & Johnson boosters.

Update September 11, 2021.  USA COVID-19 cases, 40,703,234, deaths 654,409.  Fully vaccinated 177,899,458 (53.6%) one-dose 208,704,230 (62.9%).  Vaccine fully vaccinated by series: Pfizer 96,782,513 Moderna 66,608,458 J&J 14,406,820.  Unknown 2-dose 101,667.  In the past week, new daily cases fell 10.8%, deaths rose 4.9% COVID-related hospitalizations fell 0.8%.  The current average rate of vaccinations in the is U.S. 0.89 million per day.  Fights about wearing masks in schools intensified Friday, as the United States reported a record number of infections among children in recent weeks after schools reopened.  In Florida, an appeals court sided with Gov. Ron DeSantis to reinstate a school mask ban, while the Education Department said it is investigating whether the state was violating the rights of students with disabilities by preventing school districts from requiring masks. In Texas, attorney general Ken Paxton filed lawsuits against six school districts for defying Gov. Greg Abbott’s order regarding mask mandates, adding that he expects to file more suits against noncompliant districts.  Nationally, Republican leaders blasted President Biden’s sweeping new coronavirus vaccine mandates for businesses and federal workers, decrying them as unconstitutional infringements on personal liberties and promising to sue.  Unvaccinated people were 11 times more likely to die of covid-19 than those who were fully vaccinated this spring and summer, according to one of three major studies published Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Update September 18, 2021.  USA COVID-19 cases, 41,754,903, deaths 668,442.  Fully vaccinated 180,572,171 (54.4%) one-dose 211,097,597 (63.6%).  Vaccine fully vaccinated by series: Pfizer 98,509,241 Moderna 67,388,413 J&J 14,570,912.  Unknown 2-dose 103,605.  In the past week new daily cases rose 1.7%, deaths rose 24.2% COVID-related hospitalizations fell 7%.  The current average rate of vaccinations in the is U.S. 0.72 million per day.  Expert advisers to the Food and Drug Administration voted unanimously Friday to recommend that the agency authorize a booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine six months after vaccination for people 65 years and older and for anyone at risk for severe illness.  The raw number of deaths is horrifying – roughly equal to the populations of Las Vegas, Detroit, or Oklahoma City. So too is the proportion of Americans who have succumbed to the virus: 1 in 500.  It is a public health catastrophe that has taken loved ones from hundreds of thousands of families.

Update September 25, 2021.  USA COVID-19 cases, 42,635,447, deaths 682,646.  Fully vaccinated 182,958,696 (55.1%) one-dose 212,861,380 (64.1%).  Vaccine fully vaccinated by series: Pfizer 100,115,440 Moderna 68,051,592 J&J 14,685,582.  Unknown 2-dose 106,136.  In the past week, new daily cases fell 17.8%, deaths rose 1.4% COVID-related hospitalizations fell 7.6%.  The current average rate of vaccinations in the is U.S. 0.60 million per day.  More people have died of covid-19 in the United States than are estimated to have died of influenza during the 1918 pandemic. More than 682,000 coronavirus-related deaths in the United States have been reported since Feb. 29, 2020.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that is roughly how many died of influenza in the United States from 1918 to 1919 — along with more than 49 million killed globally during the “deadliest pandemic of the 20th century.” (The coronavirus has killed nearly 4.7 million people globally.)

Update October 2, 2021.  USA COVID-19 cases, 43,409,950, deaths 696,603.  Fully vaccinated 214,597,690 (64.6%) booster-dose 3,023,065.  Vaccine fully vaccinated by series: Pfizer 101,414,770 Moderna 68,524,278 J&J 14,804,442.  Unknown 2-dose 108,926.  In the past week, new daily cases fell 10.9%, deaths fell 6.2% COVID-related hospitalizations fell 9.3%.  The current average rate of vaccinations in the is U.S. 0.72 million per day.  Pharmaceutical giant Merck announced that in an international clinical trial, its drug, molnupiravir, reduced the risk of hospitalization and death by nearly half among higher-risk people diagnosed with mild or moderate illnesses. The company said it would seek regulatory approval as soon as possible, meaning the United States could have its first anti-coronavirus pill in a matter of months.  Merck and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics said in a news release they would apply for emergency use authorization for the drug.

Update October 9, 2021.  USA COVID-19 cases, 44,105,375, deaths 708,784.  Fully vaccinated 216,573,911 (65.2%) booster-dose 7,284,455.  Vaccine fully vaccinated by series: Pfizer 102,879,624 Moderna 69,003,393 J&J 14,923,459.  Unknown 2-dose 111,445.  In the past week, new daily cases fell 10.4%, deaths fell 8.3% COVID-related hospitalizations fell 7.9%.  The current average rate of vaccinations in the is U.S. 0.93 million per day.  At least 120,000 American children lost a parent or primary caregiver to COVID-19, according to a study published Thursday in the medical journal Pediatric which examined the fifteen-month period between April 2020 through June 2021. The study’s lead author told NPR that the number is closer to 175,000 today.  “This means that for every four COVID-19 deaths, one child was left behind without a mother, father and/or a grandparent who provided for that child’s home needs and nurture — needs such as love, security, and daily care,” Dr. Susan Hillis, the lead author, and a researcher and epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in an interview with NPR.  Black and Hispanic children were particularly hard hit. They account for more than half of the children who lost a primary caregiver to the pandemic, even though their racial groups represent just 40% of the total population.

Update October 16, 2021.  USA COVID-19 cases, 44,709,010, deaths 720,228.  Fully vaccinated 218,318,056 (65.8%) booster-dose 10,023,131.  Vaccine fully vaccinated by series: Pfizer 104,091,511 Moderna 69,407,846 J&J 15,041,965, Unknown 2-dose 113,847.  In the past week, new daily cases fell 13.7%, deaths fell 8.4% COVID-related hospitalizations fell 7.4%.  The current average rate of vaccinations in the is U.S. 0.95 million per day.  An independent advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration on Thursday unanimously recommended a booster dose of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine for people 65 and older and for adults who are at high risk of severe illness because of underlying conditions or exposure on the job.  The recommendation will now be considered by FDA officials, who are expected to reach a decision on the Moderna booster within days. An advisory committee to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that makes recommendations on how vaccines should be used is scheduled to meet Wednesday.  Moderna presented studies of about 350 people who were given a booster dose six months after their initial shots.  Vaccination rates against COVID-19 in the United States have risen by more than 20 percentage points after multiple institutions adopted vaccine requirements, while case numbers and deaths from the virus are down.

Update October 23, 2021.  USA COVID-19 cases, 45,235,796, deaths 731,931.  Fully vaccinated 219,900,525 (66.2%) booster-dose 12,037,101.  Vaccine fully vaccinated by series: Pfizer 105,146,362 Moderna 69,765,141 J&J 15,151,881, Unknown 2-dose 116,169.  In the past week, new daily cases fell 13.3%, deaths fell 5.2% COVID-related hospitalizations fell 8.4%.  The current average rate of vaccinations in the is U.S. 0.68 million per day.  The green light from Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, means that eligible Americans at risk of severe disease can choose any of the three boosters now authorized in the United States regardless of their original shot.  Tens of millions of Americans can sign up to get Moderna and Johnson & Johnson boosters beginning yesterday.  The evidence shows that all three COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the United States are safe — as demonstrated by the over 400 million vaccine doses already given.  The availability of boosters will be particularly welcome to the 15 million recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, many of whom have been particularly fearful of breakthrough infections given that shot’s lower level of protection compared with the messenger RNA vaccines.

The number of persons in the USA potentially eligible for a booster dose, in millions, on October 22, 2021.

Age Group Pfizer Moderna J&J Total
18-29 4.7 3.0 2.4 10.1
30-49 11.9 8.3 4.5 24.7
50-64 13.2 10.1 4.0 27.3
65+ 17.3 17.7 1.9 36.9
Total 47.1 39.1 12.9 99.7

 

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Cape Town COVID-19 Adventure

We left the US on March 5, 2020, for a 37-day vacation in South Africa to visit family and friends.

Update: February 4, 2021.  I pondered over the past year the reason we were not sufficiently intelligent to cancel our trip to South Africa due to the COVID-19 pandemic before departing in early March 2020.  On returning to the U.S., I did extensive research documenting pages of information from multiple newspaper and website sources.  I concluded that as regular citizens, we were not informed of the pending danger, mainly because President Donald J. Trump did not want to scare anyone, electing to ignore the threat to keep the stock market resilient and the economy thriving.  Some well informed in Congress were altered to the pending danger, sold some investments ahead of a market crash.  These are a few critical dates. 

  • In late November 2019, coronavirus broke out in Wuhan, China. 
  • On December 31, 2019, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) became aware of cases in China and reported to HHS (Department of Health and Human Services).
  • January 1, 2020.  CDC Director Robert Redfield got informed by a counterpart in China and alerted HHS Secretary Alex Azar, who shared this information with NSC (National Security Council). 
  • Donald Trump was alerted to the situation in his PDF (Presidential Daily Brief) in early January.
  • WHO (World Health Organization) issued a report on January 5, 2020, advising against travel.
  • During the week of January 6, 2020, HHS, CDC, and Dr. Anthony Fauchi, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, met to discuss the situation. 
  • January 18, 2020, Alex Azar addressed the coronavirus outbreak with Trump, who criticized him as an alarmist.
  • January 31, 2020, the White House banned entry for foreign nationals who had traveled to China within the last 14 days.
  • February 11, 2020, the WHO announced the official virus name as COVID-19.
  • February 24, 2020, the U.S. Stock market plummeted over coronavirus fears.
  • February 26, 2020, California announces the first COVID-19 case in the U.S.
  • February 29, 2020, Trump announces travel restrictions involving Iran, Italy, and South Korea.
  • February 29, 2020, reported the first U.S. COVID-19 death in Washington state.
  • March 6, 2020, Trump signs an $8.3 billion emergency spending package to combat coronavirus outbreak.

As you review the above dates, recall that we were somewhat ignorant of the danger of undertaking this trip on March 5, 2020.  Trump was more concerned about a potential market and economic collapse that he saw would impact his reelection bid in November 2020.

Reading Bob Woodward’s book Rage, released September 15, 2020, with 466 pages, covers hundreds of hours of interviews with Donald J. Trump.  He warned Trump in January 2020 that the COVID-19 pandemic could reach the scale of the 1918 Spanish Flu that killed 675,000 Americans.  “In 17 on-the-record interviews with Woodward over seven volatile months—an utterly vivid window into Trump’s mind.  The president provides a self-portrait that is part denial and part combative interchange mixed with surprising moments of doubt as he glimpses the perils in the presidency and what he calls the “dynamite behind every door.”  Below are a few excerpts from Woodward’s best-seller book. 

“A meeting was scheduled with Trump for the morning of March 11, 2020. …. But now the word came from [Jared Kushner that] his father-in-law that he needed immediate help on the mounting Covid-19 crisis. In the Oval Office that morning, there was a consensus among the national security and health officials that they needed to act immediately to close down travel from Europe.

“Treasury Secretary [Steven] Mnuchin was opposed. Travel from Europe was about five times that from China. “This is going to bankrupt everyone,” he said dramatically. “It’s going to destroy the economy.” “What data are you relying on for that?” asked [Dr. Deborah Leah] Birx [Whitehouse Coronavirus Task Force] “You’ve been asking me for my data. What data do you have?” Mnuchin said that was how the economy and markets worked.

“Trump eventually approved the travel restrictions. They would be consistent with his decision on China. Kushner assisted with drafting the prime-time television address that Trump had decided to give that night from the Oval Office. It was only the second of his presidency. A nationally televised evening address gave the speech the stamp of important business.

“That afternoon, the World Health Organization officially declared Covid-19 a pandemic. “This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history,” Trump said at 9:00 that evening. “From the beginning of time, nations and people have faced unforeseen challenges, including large-scale and very dangerous health threats,” Trump read. “This is the way it always was and always will be. It only matters how you respond.”

“The president announced he was halting travelers from most European countries for the next 30 days. “Last week, I signed into law an $ 8.3 billion funding bill,” he said. Several hundred times that would soon be required. “The vast majority of Americans: The risk is very, very low,” Trump said. “Wash your hands, clean often-used surfaces, cover your face and mouth if you sneeze or cough, and most of all, if you are sick or not feeling well, stay home.”

“He made no mention of social distancing—staying six feet apart from others—and urged only those who were sick or not feeling well to stay at home. “This is not a financial crisis, this is just a temporary moment of time,” he said reaching to calm the markets. “The virus will not have a chance against us.… Our future remains brighter than anyone can imagine.”

“The speech received poor reviews. Trump seemed depleted on air, not in command of the material. He displayed none of the verve of the spontaneous, engaged true believer of his political rallies. Peggy Noonan wrote the next day in The Wall Street Journal, “The president gave a major Oval Office address Wednesday night aimed at quelling fears; it was generally labeled ‘unsettling.’ ”

“That day, March 11, marked the beginning of a new consciousness in the country. There were over 1,000 cases and 37 deaths in the country. Trump acknowledged he would likely have to cancel his upcoming rallies. Testifying before Congress, Fauci said that testing for the virus was “failing. I mean, let’s admit it.” The distribution of faulty test kits had prevented officials and scientists from getting a clear picture of the number of infections in the crucial early days of the virus’s spread across the U.S.

“By the beginning of March, fewer than 500 tests had been conducted. The Dow Jones fell 10 percent on March 12, prompting The New York Times banner headline: “WORST ROUT FOR WALL STREET SINCE 1987 CRASH.” A giant chart on the front page of The Wall Street Journal showed the surging growth in the Dow from the early days of Obama’s eight-year presidency and the first three years of Trump’s. Then it fell off the cliff, down 20 percent since 2009.”

“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told Woodward, as I reported earlier in this book.  “I still like playing it down because I don’t want to create a panic.”

Back in Wisconsin, our children, Robyn, and Sean did hit the panic button.  They sent their first text on March 19, 2020.  “State Department travel warning.  Come back to the U.S. or be prepared to stay where you are for an indeterminate amount of time.” 

Currently, (February 3, 2021), we have 26,535,848 COVID-19 cases in the U.S., with 450,435 deaths.  The U.S. accounts for 25% of worldwide cases and deaths, with only 4% of the global population.  When all the election counts were in after November 3, 2020, Joe Biden became the 46th U.S. President with 81,283,098 popular votes against Trump’s 74,222,958 voters.  More critical was Biden’s 306 Electoral Votes versus Trump’s 232.  Tony Fabrizio, Trump’s chief strategist, reported that Trump lost the election because he mishandled the COVID-19 pandemic, based on exit polling.

Trump’s legacy will go down in history as the only president to have been impeached twice.  Without the shield of his presidency, Trump faces several lawsuits, including a charge of rape.  Trump will be recognized for encouraging the Capitol’s insurrection on January 6, 2021, where five people died.  Between November 3, 2020, and January 6, 2021, Trump and his allies filed 62 lawsuits in state and federal courts seeking to overturn election results in states Trump lost.  All but one failed, and it was inconclusive, providing election workers three days to correct a few ballots.  Trump told more than 30,573 lies during his four years in office.  Here you can view lies listed by category. Trump will be remembered for his racist, bigoted, xenophobic leadership, supporting white supremacists, and promoting fake news with his constant Twitter feed totaling 56,571 during his four years in office.

Update September 18, 2021.  If you read my blog about the science behind COVID-19 vaccinations, https://johncbarry.com/covid-19-science-behind-vaccination-development/ you will see that I read three books to inform me about vaccination development. 

The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race, by Walter Issacson

A Crack In Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution by Jennifer A Doudna and Samuel H Sternberg

The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA, by James D. Watson

Now I can add to the above list the next book I read to inform me about the virus in the United States. 

Michael Lewis’ book The Premonition, A Pandemic Story.  I am an avid reader of non-fiction.  Michael’s book stirs every emotion: humor, anger, frustration, sadness, disbelief, incredulity, etc.  It reads like a page-turning James Bond “who done it.”  The book delves into the 1918 flu pandemic, referencing historian John Barry’s book The Great Influenza, about the deadliest plague before COVID-19 and the lessons learned to prevent epidemics in the future. 

What is alarming is the federal bureaucracy with agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and state-run health departments were afraid to provide any guidance or recommendations initially.  What if the advice was incorrect?  Who would get fired?  California was identified as an example for the country to follow in stopping the spread of the virus and likely helped Gavin Newsom not to get recalled as a governor. 

The book identifies knowledgeable and experienced experts while detailing the work they undertook to influence decision-makers.  The Trump administration refused to take a leadership position in controlling the pandemic and handed control to individual states without direction or supervision.  For-profit health organizations were equally incompetent supporting states by striving for outrageous fees, charges, and impossibly long turnaround times for testing as one example. 

As of today (September 18, 2021), we have 668,841 mostly preventable deaths and nearly 42-million COVID-19 cases in the U.S.  The United States did not provide global leadership in controlling the pandemic.  Here is one Michael Lewis quote.  “On March 18, 2020, Park and Patil presented the model’s output to Governor Newsom’s senior advisors.  When we showed them what the model was saying it sucked the air out of the room.  The next day Governor Newsom issued the country’s first statewide stay-at-home order.”  Reading the book increased my admiration for Cyril Ramaphosa’s strategy of shutting down South Africa to stop the spread of the virus. 

Here is a longer and more troubling quote from Michael’s book.

“They watched the U.S. government repatriate Americans from Wuhan on January 29. The first group went to March Air Reserve Base, in Riverside County, California; the second, in early February, to four different places, one of them a National Guard base just outside Omaha, where they remained quarantined for fourteen days. The Omaha National Guard base was a short drive from the Global Center for Health Security, the place charged with treating Americans infected with mysterious new pathogens and run by James Lawler.

“Lawler discovered—and could not quite believe—that the CDC didn’t plan to test any of the new arrivals unless they had a fever. All of the foreigners being shipped home from Wuhan were being tested before they got on the plane, and the CDC felt that was adequate. The Germans and the Australians and the Japanese had tested all of their citizens after they’d flown home from Wuhan and discovered that 1 to 2 percent of them were infected and that many of those had no symptoms: the tests in Wuhan hadn’t identified any of them.

“Lawler called the CDC to ask if he might test the Americans now quarantined down the road from his hospital—if for no reason other than to make sure they didn’t let them loose while they were still shedding the virus. “There was very little data to support the fourteen-day quarantine,” he said. “There are clearly people who have incubation periods of twenty-one days. I thought we needed to know if they were infected when they got here or shedding when they leave.”

“He and his staff had already created their own test, based on the test created by the World Health Organization, and so they didn’t require the CDC’s help, merely its approval. The CDC sent one of its epidemiologists to visit James Lawler. At the end of the meeting, the guy said he needed to check with Atlanta.

“The next day I get this panicked call from him,” said Lawler. “It’s gone all the way up to [CDC director Robert] Redfield. He said, ‘You can’t do it!’ I said, ‘Why?’ He said I would be ‘doing research on imprisoned persons.’ ” Never mind that every single one of the fifty-seven Americans in quarantine wanted to be tested: the CDC forbade it.

“And Lawler never understood the real reason for the CDC’s objections. Did they want to avoid finding cases to avoid displeasing Donald Trump? Were they concerned that, if they tested people without symptoms and they found the virus, they’d make a mockery of their current requirement that only people with symptoms be tested? Were they embarrassed or concerned that someone other than the CDC was doing the testing? If so, then why didn’t they just perform the tests themselves?

“Whatever the reason, fifty-seven Americans spent fourteen days quarantined in Omaha, then left without having any idea of whether they’d been infected, or might still infect others. “There is no way that fifty-seven people from Wuhan were not shedding virus,” said Lawler.”

Now you can listen to the original blog or read on to see some of the photographs and video clips.

Click to hear 50-minute audio of the blog text below or read and enjoy.
See photographs below

Monday, March 23, 2020.  I woke at 6:00 am to a rude awakening!  Checking my iPhone messages, I discovered United Airlines canceled our flights to the United States from Cape Town, South Africa, scheduled to fly on March 26, 2020.  I receive a follow-up message to say they are flying again.  What I did not know then is that this pattern that would repeat several times over.  Let me back up and tell the account coherently.

We left the US on March 5, 2020, for a 37-day vacation in South Africa to visit family and friends.  We planned to return home on Easter Monday, April 13, 2020.  For our trip, we flew Delta Airlines from Milwaukee, Wisconsin; to Detroit, Michigan; on to Amsterdam, the Netherlands; to Cape Town.  In hindsight, had the Trump administration told the American people the truth of the COVID-19 pandemic, we would never have traveled in the first place.  We witnessed our investments plummet.  A select few Republican Congresspeople were informed of the imminent catastrophe, sold their investments, some in the millions of dollars before the public learned of the pending danger.

United Airlines started a seasonal service between Newark, New Jersey, and Cape Town on December 15, 2019, through March 25, 2020.  Travel to South Africa is on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.  Return flights to the US are on Monday, Thursday, Saturday.  The distance of 7,817 miles (12,580 kilometers) is the longest route flown by United.  Flying time to Cape Town is 14 hours, and back to the US, 16 hours.  United operates this route using a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner with 48 business class seats, 88 Economy Plus, and 116 economy seats.  Frankly, I had no idea that we caught the last flight for the season back to the US until I did my research from home in Wisconsin.  Then too, South Africa went on lockdown at midnight on March 26, 4 hours after our scheduled departure.  Consequently, no other flights could have taken off on the following days.

After Trump stopped flights from Europe, and other countries from flying into the US, the rumors started flying, and fake news prevailed.  Our daughter and son in the US were in a panic after the US State Department issued a proclamation, return to the US immediately, or remain overseas indefinitely.  We sprang into action.  We did not want to be stranded forever in South Africa, lovely as the country is.  We purchased new and additional tickets on United Airlines flying from Cape Town directly to Newark, New Jersey, in the New York area, with a connecting flight to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  For the record, our one-way tickets on United Airlines were more expensive than our return tickets on Delta.  We canceled our return ticket on Delta and should get a credit toward our next flight, but there is no cash refund.

When I woke on March 23 at 6:00 am South African time on Monday morning, it is 11:00 pm Sunday night US Central Time.  The first text from United was sent at 10:43 pm SA time when I am already asleep (3:43 pm Central).  It states that our flights “are canceled due to the unprecedented circumstances.”  At 11:53 pm SA Time (4:53 pm Central), I receive a follow-up text stating the flights are not canceled!!  The follow-on text states that non-US citizens who have visited certain countries will be denied entry to the US.  We may be subjected to 14-days of self-quarantine.  We had planned to follow an isolation recommendation in any event.  We quarantined ourselves in South Africa for the two weeks, ending March 21, and beyond that date until we departed.

When I booked the United flight on March 20, 2020, there were only two seats available in the economy class, and they were not situated next to each other.  I had a decision to make and paid for an upgrade to Economy Plus.  In hindsight, it was a wise decision because there is much more legroom.  If the passenger in front decides to recline their seat, there is sufficient space available to enjoy the trip without a seat backrest in your face.  Our problem is that with this experience, we will never fly the regular economy class again.  I have been a frequent flyer for many years, regularly flying for business and occasionally for pleasure with our family.  I am knowledgeable enough to know that to get an early boarding allocation; I need to obtain our boarding passes 24-hours before take off.  At 8:00 pm, South African time, on Wednesday, March 25, I logged on to the United Airlines website to secure our boarding passes.  It was the start of a 90-minute ordeal.  Let me hasten to add that I retired after 50 years in the computer industry as a developer, designer, educator, trainer, consultant, and salesperson, so technology should not be a challenge for me.  Little did I know.

I keyed in my confirmation number to be informed that the flight had been canceled!  My wife was three hours away in Cape Town, so I made contact with her immediately to alert Linda of our challenge.  Linda contacted my daughter and son, who were both working from home in the US with their respective companies requiring employees to work from home due to COVID-19.  The four of us now worked to figure out if and why the flight was canceled.  I started the process off by attempting to secure my boarding pass.  At some point, I was required to scan my passport with a warning that it will take some time for the system to register the document. 

I again received the message that the flight was canceled.  We had to verify that we had not traveled to a list of countries where we could not get access back to the USA.  My wife scanned her passport into the system, and again we were informed that the flight had been canceled.  Our children in the interim were on the United Airlines website and showed that the plane was flying.  After an hour and a half, the boarding process was complete, and we could print our passes.  My conclusion is that the programming was substandard, and rather than report there were problems with the information we entered, the program reported an erroneous flight cancelation.  To verify that we were not unduly stupid, where we were seated on our flight home, a few passengers near us complained that they, too, got these flight canceled messages.

In the US, we are recommended to arrive at the airport three hours before takeoff for all international flights.  Our flight out of Cape Town was at 8:00 pm.  We arrived at the airport at 3:00 pm, 5 hours before the scheduled departure.  We were surprised by the number of people in line, but the gates had not yet opened to allow us to check our luggage.  Maintaining our social distance, we had interesting conversations with other passengers waiting in line.  The airport itself was a madhouse, especially with passengers flying to the UK.  To pass through the multitude of people to get to our check-in position in itself was a challenge with a large number of people, each in very close proximity to one another. 

The check-in agents arrived about 4 hours before boarding, giving us sufficient time to go through security and passport control.  At 7:15 pm, the boarding process started.  While seated on the plane, at 8:00 pm, the captain advised us that 28 passengers were stuck trying to check their luggage and get through security.  He kept us informed as to how many people were waiting to board the flight.  He was wise enough to hold takeoff until all passengers could board. 

The captain did tell us that part of the holdup was some of the check-in agents had not shown up for work, and that helped slow the process dramatically.  The captain walked through the plane before takeoff to answer questions that the passengers may have.  Once in the air, an hour and fifteen minutes after our scheduled departure time, the captain made up time to arrive in Newark close to the stated arrival time.  He announced the flight crew was volunteers due to COVID-19.  The captain informed us that we would not be processed by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) for temperature checks after deplaning.

Arriving at a near-deserted airport in Newark was another experience.  We arrive at Terminal B.  We proceed through passport control, then had to relocate by train to Terminal C to collect our luggage, pass through customs, and check in our bags for transport to Milwaukee.  Next, take a bus to Terminal A, catch a small regional jet for the two-hour flight to Milwaukee.  We knew we had 90 minutes to complete this process, and we were fortunate to make our flight without delay.  The jet was less than half-filled with passengers.  Probably the most challenging situation was the toilets in the terminal buildings were locked, and I have a weak bladder.

The surprises did not stop yet.  We arrived in Milwaukee at General Mitchell International airport at 10:00 am at a deserted airport.  The shops were closed, and there are no people around.  We make our way to baggage claim, and our three bags are the first on the conveyor.  My son and his girlfriend (Sean and Erica married November 13, 2020–a Friday the 13th) were outside the baggage claim area.  Sean tosses the keys to my wife, making sure there was no close contact and headed off home with his girlfriend.  My next surprise was my drive home.  In thirty-four years we have lived here, I have never seen the roads so quiet.  Once back home, we started the sterilization process, cleaning all our luggage, taking a shower, and doing six loads of laundry washing everything we took to South Africa, including the clean clothing we brought home in our bags.

Friday, March 27, 2020, was the start of our 14-day isolation.  I cannot deny, now, into a few days of this experience, that we have experienced a significant adjustment.  We have arranged to have groceries delivered, and seriously miss our daily 40-minute walk around the neighborhood.  I feel starved of exercise.  Naturally, we miss seeing our children and granddaughters.  Facetiming is not the same.  We are not able to socialize with any of our neighbors in our condominium complex. 

Now that I have reached the end of my account of getting home, I will start at the beginning.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

A friend kindly drove us to the airport in Milwaukee. Our flight to Detroit was only 75-minutes on a regional jet. Delta requested us to be at the airport 3 hours ahead of departure. With Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee being a small airport, this seems an excessive request. The bad news when we finally got to Cape Town was that we discovered the Transport Security Agency had searched my large suitcase, one of three checked bags. They found nothing worth confiscating.  The flight was uneventful. We had a three-hour layover in Detroit and had a meal at PF Chang’s.

I filed a complaint with Delta for not issuing boarding passes with TSA Precheck.  They said it would take a week or more to respond.  TSA (Transport Security Administration) is a government organization responsible for security at the US ports of entry.  Precheck is a program that one can apply for at a cost, where your background is vetted, and when going through security at the airports, they are more lenient in what passengers are asked to do.  We do not have to remove shoes or belts, for example.  More than that, I hold a TSA Global Entry that speeds up the process when returning to the US from overseas travel.  Delta advised that the TSA Precheck is a privilege and not always provided to passengers.  Strange, when I paid $85 for the convenience.

We boarded a flight to Amsterdam. With a flight time of eight and a half hours, I watched the movie Bombshell. It is the story of Fox News and the sexual advances made by Rodger Ailes on female anchors. South African actress Charlize Theron played the part of Megyn Kelly, who sued Rodger. If any of the faithful Trump followers watch this movie, I cannot see how they will vote for Trump again, unless he convinces his base that this movie is all lies and fake news. I watched Judy about the life of Judy Garland. What a short sad life she had, getting manipulated by men wanting to profit off her voice at any cost. Finally, I watched a single episode of the TV series The Neighborhood with a Chinese family living in white suburbia and the racism they faced. And yes, it was a comedy.

The flight to Amsterdam was not full, Linda and I had a spare seat to ourselves.

Friday, March 6, 2020

By the time we crossed the Atlantic, it was early morning In Amsterdam. We did not have much of a layover and boarded a massive Boeing 777 300 for the 12-hour flight to Cape Town. When you arrive at Cape Town International Airport, the passengers are split into locals and foreigners to go through customers and immigration. There were a handful of South Africans, with the majority of us being international passengers. Frankly, with all the bad press South Africa is getting, I am surprised to see any visitors. I read before our departure that tourism is down.  

A few days after our arrival back in the US, Moody’s Investors Service cut South Africa’s credit rating below investment grade, delivering the country a full house of junk assessments as it grapples with a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. The currency, the Rand, devalued dramatically against the US$, and other global currencies.  South Africa has been in a recession for the past six months.

The Hotel Verdi, which is a stone throw from the airport, listed 11:30 pm and midnight as shuttle pickup times. A taxi driver told us that the 11:30 shuttle had left at 11:20. I called the hotel to complain, and they responded immediately with another shuttle.  I have stayed at this hotel previously and recommend it highly.  Everything from the rooms to the dining facilities is of the best available.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

After a short night’s sleep and a great breakfast, we took the shuttle to the airport to collect our Hertz rental car. Hertz provided us with a Renault Stepwise, a compact small vehicle. We drove to the hotel, loaded our luggage, and I tried to connect my dashcam to one of the two cigarette lighters. Neither worked on this low mileage car, and I was disgusted. The more significant issue was that on two occasions, I tried to close the rear door and ended up cutting myself in two different spots on my face. The rear doors are an above-average height with a sharp edge. From an engineering design point of view, the vehicle is a disaster. Linda bumped her nose on the silly door but did not break her skin.

Hertz exchanged the car for a Volkswagen Polo. I had to change the feed to the dashcam from a cigar lighter to a USB port. So far, it appears that the dashcam did not get the needed electric connection. The Rexing dashcam shows that it is activated when you switch the car on.  When I looked at the camera display, after several day’s driving, it was blank.  I discovered that the SanDisk micro SD card was my problem in that it will not permit multiple over-recordings with the overwrite feature.  I replaced the SIM card with a Kingston product.  The biggest disappointment for me is that I was not able to save videos of drives we went on to add to YouTube and my blog.

On leaving the airport, we drove to a nearby friend’s home to borrow a Taser for our short duration in the Cape. Wally drove me to a nearby shopping center for me to draw rands from the ATM. At a minimum, I needed cash for the tolls on the way to my sister in Montagu. After tea and cookies, we made our way to my other sister, living in the northern suburbs of Cape Town. Linda had never seen their home, and I had not seen the renovations. After another round of tea and snacks, we followed through driving three hours to my sister and brother-in-law’s farm in Montagu. That night we stayed in Cottage 3 on the farm.  Please appreciate that driving in South Africa required me to drive on the left-hand side of the road with a stick shift rental car.

I am the proud owner of three pairs of eyeglasses; one for general use, one for computer use, and sunglasses.  When we arrived in Montagu, unpacked, and set everything in its place, I realized that my “regular” eyeglasses were missing.  A quick call to Hertz verified that I had left it in Renault’s glove compartment/cubbyhole and that they would keep it in a secure place until we retrieved it on our return to Cape Town on Tuesday.

A dozen of us met for a tapas dinner at the BluVines restaurant, including Simon, and wife Yvette (more about them later), Jonathan and Sharon (additional detail to follow), Linda, and me. I wrote about Richard Weilers and his restaurant in a blog, and with the delicious food and waiters who entertain with singing.  You may imagine what a wonderful evening we had.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Eating is essential, so we started the day at Sergio and Cay Fernandes’ Rambling Rose restaurant. Sergio always does an excellent job of making all his patrons feel like royalty, but we are regulars, so we got an even better treatment. Cay’s kitchen skills are unparalleled.  Having Linda and me back in Montagu added to the excitement.  You can read about The Rambling Rose Restaurant in my blog about Montagu. 

Linda, my sister Gail, and I headed off to Gecko Private Reserve in the Little Karoo, owned by Jonathan and Sharon Deal. Driving time is 45 minutes to an hour from Montagu, depending on the speed traveled. Gail was driving a 4X4 vehicle. I have been to Gecko Rock on several occasions, and knowing the corrugated gravel roads; I would never drive a regular car there. Gecko is 4,000 hectares in size.  (10,000 acres, or 15 square miles). New Berlin, Wisconsin, is 37 square miles (95 square kilometers). New Berlin has a population of 40,000. Imagine half of the New Berlin population living on Gecko Rock.

With a few bungalows or cottages on the premises, Gecko can accommodate 50 people.  You should be able to imagine how each unit is positioned so as not to see another soul. The concept is to fully enjoy the mountains, flowers, some wild animals, and nature in general.  The cabin we stayed in, is self-contained with a lounge, kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom.  The quiet is so peaceful and almost deafening in its silence.  I asked Sharon where the water for the cottage is supplied?  It is piped and pumped from the main house, and this is how each cabin gets its water supply.  Please understand this is not a straight line.  It is a mountainous environment.  They live entirely off the grid.  Electricity is supplied from solar panels on the cottage roof, with a battery pack in the kitchen.  The bedroom has large panoramic windows so that you can lie in bed and enjoy the view of the mountains.  Imagine a life without internet access.

Jonathan provides handgun training for certification to own a firearm, a South African legal requirement. Gecko offers hiking, off-road riding, and facilities for conferences for up to 70 people, including a camping site where you can erect your tents.  Meetings focus on self-improvement.  The attendees are required to provide meals.

Sharon provided a late lunch before heading to our cabin, so we did not have to fuss with food. The friendship with Jonathan and Sharon was enjoyable, and we even played a trick on Gail’s husband when he joined us later in the day.  As he arrived at Sharon’s home, we pretended to all be drunk.  It is what friendship is all about.

Jonathan wrote a book entitled Timeless Karoo.  I was so impressed that I wrote a blog about the book. 

Monday, March 9, 2020

Sharon met us early morning at our cabin for 3.5 miles (6 kilometers) walk on the estate, including heading back to their home.  After another meal, Gail drove us to the cabin to collect our belongings, and we headed back to Montagu.

Today’s game plan was to enjoy the Montagu Country Hotel, the only Art Deco hotel in South Africa, and furnished with original period furniture.  The original hotel was built in 1875.  The Art Deco hotel was erected behind the original structure in 1922.  The old structure was demolished, and the hotel was renamed in 1941.  Gert Lubbe purchased the hotel out of bankruptcy in 1966.  Gert passed away a few months ago.  See a separate blog discussing this hotel.

Before heading to the hotel, we spent time watching Simon train horses on Gail and her husband’s farm.  When Linda was growing up, she spent her 6-years during her schooling, riding horses daily.  During that time, she was the proud owner of four horses, one at a time.  One horse was bought from the renowned golfer, Gary Player.  Linda and two close friends would go to the stables after school, groom, feed, and ride their horses.  All of Linda’s horses were older and unlikely to be too energetic for young girls. 

However, how do you go about training a horse to be able to be ridden for any age group?  Gail and her husband have numerous Arabian horses on their farm.  Simon contracted to teach their son and the team of six-horse handlers how to break in a young horse without using any violent methods.  I will not get into more detail now, but there is much information I could share.  I will likely produce a blog about this exciting learning experience.  Simon and his wife Yvette have a horse training business in Johannesburg and spent time with the “horse whisper” guru, Monty Roberts, on several occasions in Salinas, California.

The connection to the Montagu Country Hotel is interesting to understand.  Colene Basson is a charted accountant.  Colene previously worked with Gail and her husband as their accountant.  P-J Basson is the CEO of the hotel.  Colene joined P-J in his business, helping to run the hotel.  After I wrote the blog about Montagu, Gail asked me to write a blog about the Montagu Country Hotel.  I said that it would not be ethical if I had not stayed there, so I made a reservation from the US before going on this trip.  P-J got to hear about our visit and gave us a complimentary upgrade. 

I requested P-J to allow me to interview William, the pianist who played beautifully during our dinner.  You name it, and he played it, including music from Les Misérables, West Side Story, and other well-known favorites.  I was so intrigued by the extensive repertoire that I went to chat with him.  I wanted to see what sheet music he was using.  William told me that he couldn’t read sheet music.  He hears a tune and can play it almost instantly—what a talent.  I want to interview him to learn more about his background and skill.

We enjoyed an excellent sleep in this stylish hotel after dinner in an elegant lounge.  In truth, we did not need to eat again.  The hotel had secure parking for our rental car alongside the hotel. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Yes, we are at it again, with another meal, this time breakfast.  Gail had organized a tea so that Linda and I could meet people we had contact with while writing my Montagu blogs.  Richard Weilers from BluVines Restaurant joined us along with other dignitaries.  I had not met Helen Gooderson, the CEO of the RAD Foundation. Helen explained they take at-risk kids off the street and mentor them with music and arts.  She shared a story about one youngster who had never been out of the Montagu community. 

She arranged for this kid to spend time in Boston, Massachusetts.  Helen explained to this boy what he would experience during this travels and venture.  He could not understand the concept of flying.  He arrived at the airport in Cape Town with his grandmother.  He was concerned when they took his suitcase and saw it disappear on a conveyor belt.  He wanted to know what if on the two 11-hour flights he needed to use the bathroom.  Helen explained the process, and he wanted to know, looking up, where the excrement goes after he flushed.  Since I have crossed the Atlantic at least 100 times, I cannot relate! (Helen subsequently moved to Alford, UK).

After saying goodbye to Gail, we detoured to Hertz in Cape Town to retrieve my glasses.  It is a process that should have taken two minutes.  30-minutes later, we left, eyeglasses in hand.  The agent had to look in many locked cupboards.  With not being able to locate them, he sent a broadcast text to all off duty personnel to request information as to where it was stored.  The process did not provide the information requested.  In desperation, the agent emptied the locker that he first looked in, and after unpacking everything, he found them in the back underneath all the other lost items that were stored there.  Sadly, this did not create an excellent impression of their efficiency.

Linda was anxious to get to her sister and renew her acquaintance with her sister’s daughter and grandson, Alex.  We arrived at her house at lunchtime. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Linda was up very early to take her sister to the hospital.  They left at 5:45 am.  The procedure was a success.  I took 17-month old Alex for a 30-minute walk to give her mother, who was working from home, time to make business calls.

One challenge faced by residents of South Africa is the unreliability of electricity.  The power utility company, ESKOM, cuts power, known as load shedding, done in stages.  Today was a day when the power got cut twice, each for two and a half hour periods—one in the late afternoon, the other during the midnight hours.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

With Linda’s sister in hospital, recovering from her knee replacement surgery, Linda spent the entire day at the hospital.  I spent some time playing with 17-month-old Alex.  As part of my caring for him, I took him for a long walk: me walking, Alex in his pushchair. 

A great curse in sunny South Africa is a corrupt and incompetent government.  Electricity production and distribution are through the bankrupt Eskom, the electrical power utility.  Due to a lack of maintenance, they need to shut the power.  It is complicated; they have various stages; each stage has additional shutdowns in 2.5-hour increments.  Stage 1 and 2 have one shut down for the southern suburb of Tokai in Cape Town, where Linda’s sister lives.  Each suburb or region throughout the country is on a different schedule!  Where my sister lives in Montagu, stage one has no shutdown, and stage 2 is a single shutdown.  Stages go all the way to Stage 8, in Montagu power is cut three times in the day, and the same for Tokai.  How does anyone keep track? 

I have an app EskomSePush on my iPhone that tells you by day and location the status of load shedding, as it is named.  The only silver lining is that we do not live in Zimbabwe where electricity is cut for 16-hours a day.  It only comes on in the very early morning when families need to rise and cook for the day if groceries are available in the shops.

While at Linda’s sister’s house, we do not watch TV.  The only entertainment is to read the news on our iPads if there is available electricity, and therefore Wi-Fi.  One other issue is that when power is cut, it is critically important to unplug all electronic devices.  If left plugged in, when the power comes back on, there is a power surge that burns out electronic device printed circuit boards.  Then too, we read lots of books.

Friday, March 13, 2020

The highlight of the day was my opportunity to attend a dinner with Rondebosch Old Boys.  Several hundred attend this event with 12 from our 1963 graduating year.  It is held at an exclusive Kelvin Grove club in Newlands, a southern suburb of Cape Town, close to where we attended junior and high school.  The fee of R475 ($30) covers the 3-course meal and drinks, wine and beer only.  If you want hard liquor, you pay for it separately.  As a side note, for many years, Rondebosch would not hold the event at this club because, in the early days, Jewish people were not allowed to join this club, or attend functions at this club!  That bigoted policy got rescinded many years ago.

Growing up in racist South Africa with its apartheid policies creates interesting but sad stories.  The newly appointed principal of Rondebosch Preparatory School is a non-white gentleman.  Ian Ryan told of being raised at previously disadvantaged schools, and the struggle to get a good education.  He did say that the most challenging position as a principal that he held was at the previous girl’s junior school.  He said that if you thought teaching boys was a challenge, try teaching girls who tend to be more intense about their studies.

It was the 111th anniversary of our Old Boys’ Union.  Dinner comprised a salad, braised lamb shank for the main course, and Crème Brulee for dessert.  When I returned home, I told Linda that I did not think the lamb was particularly tasty.  She reminded me that I made the same comment after last year’s dinner.  I guess catering for a few hundred patrons is not easy.

Returning to my sister-in-law’s house was challenging.  I only arrived at 11:00 pm.  Linda had stayed up to help me with the garage doors, and to then set all the complicated security alarms.  It is no exaggeration when I say that it is like living in prison, where everyone is extremely fearful of criminals entering your home.  After I parked my low mileage rental car, we went to sleep.  The next morning the domestic informed me that I had left the car lights on overnight.  I had visions of a dead battery, but I dodged a bullet.  The car started and started repeatedly.  After a three-hour drive to Montagu, the battery problem was a distant memory.

The other big news of the day is that Linda brought her sister home from the hospital. 

Saturday, March 14, 2020, and Sunday, March 15, 2020

Nothing much exciting to report—with one exception.  While at the Rondebosch function, a school friend told me that a millionaire was living close to the home where I originally grew up.  Linda and I drove to the neighborhood on Sunday to see what my youthful home looks like 65 years later.  I must stress that we grew up dirt poor, the house we had back then was tiny, a semi-detached house, not something to be proud of, especially while attending a prestigious boys’ school.  It was a rental that my parents moved to at the time I was born.  The change in the neighborhood was alarming.  Every house now looked like a fortress.  Where we initially lived, there was a large sports field across the road, and that location currently consists of multiple homes, all fortified as protection from criminals. 

South Africans live with a siege mentality.  I chatted with one neighbor who told me that there is one elderly lady who has lived in the area all her life.  I could not recall her from my early days.  We drove around the corner to the home my parents built in 1961.  That home has also been fortified by the current owners so that nothing is visible from the street.  As Linda reminded me, the large outer wall is the one my parents had erected.  The entry gate is remote-controlled, and also massively high and new since we lived there.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Today I woke up and carefully packed the small rental car, a Volkswagen Polo, about the size of a Golf.  I needed to detour to my sister Monica and her husband, staying with their son in the northern suburbs of Cape Town.  I had to find space for Monica’s sizeable cool box, three suitcases, and what looked like a 6-months supply of groceries in plastic bags.  Somehow we found space in the small car and set off for Montagu.  Driving in the late morning had its advantages, as there were relatively few large trucks and other traffic on the road.

When you drive through the Huguenot tunnel on the road to the north you pay a toll.  A few months ago, it was R38.25, and now it had been increased to R41.50.  Most people pay cash, while credit cards are accepted, but why don’t they charge a nice round number like R40 or R45.  Why mess with coins?  Several motorists drop the coins on the ground when handed back from the toll operator, and then hop out their car to retrieve the small change.  It causes chaos with irritated motorists also trying to get through the tolls.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

I filled the VW Polo today with petrol/gas at the cost of US$50.  Outrageously expensive for a small car.  My sister Gail fetched our sister Monica and her husband, and then picked me up from the farm, as we headed to a restaurant midway between Montagu and Barrydale along Route 62.  This restaurant is literally in the middle of nowhere on a farm where they produce wine.  Leon, who runs the restaurant, told me the business has been slow since the municipality made him remove all the road signs advertising his place.  We met a British gentleman who is spending a month in Montagu on vacation.  I am guessing he must be in his late 50s.  He started cycling at 5:00 am from Ladismith along Route 62 to Montagu, a distance of 63 kilometers or 40 miles.  Leon, the restaurant owner, told me that a couple stopped at his restaurant while cycling from Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, to South Africa, a distance of 5,240 kilometers or 3,256 miles.  (New York to LA is 2,800 miles).

Wednesday, March 18, 2020, through Wednesday, March 25, 2020

It may not be apparent in what I have written about so far, but for all intents and purposes, Linda and I were in quarantine due to the COVID-19 virus.  After my school function on Friday the 13th, we began a process of isolation.  Linda in her sister’s home, and me in the cottage on my sister’s farm.  We made significant efforts to stay away from people, and in both cases, only interacted with our immediate families.  We clearly understood that being back home, we would need to begin a fourteen-day isolation process all over again.

Before setting off on this vacation, we had several family and friends that we wanted to meet, and in some situations, stay over and visit for a day or two.  None of that happened.  After I wrote my blog about Montagu, I discovered additional sites that I should visit and expand the blog.  That, too, did not occur.  The sad reality is that after our long trip on three aircraft and four large airports teaming with people, we had no assurance that we had not contracted the virus or were carriers that could affect other people.  The responsible action was to practice social distancing.  I am fortunate that I have visited South Africa on numerous occasions, and escaping the cold of Wisconsin for the warmth and sunshine of South Africa, could have been an even more enjoyable experience.

COVID-19

Arriving back home after three weeks in South Africa was a shock to be in a different world in terms of the reality of the Coronavirus, COVID-19. We received email, text, and telephone discussions from local families, friends, and neighbors about the prevailing practice. In one situation, we even had a face-to-face conversation with a friend, three meters/ten feet apart. 

Locally in Wisconsin, people still shop.  Let me use grocery stores as an example.  Seniors typically buy early morning, return home, shower, and launder all the clothing worn to the store.  Some purchase groceries and have goods delivered to your door.  If it is more urgent, people will order and pick up at the supermarkets with purchases brought to your vehicle.  In all cases, the bags or boxes are left at the entrance door on returning home, groceries are removed and sterilized, and packaging trashed.  Naturally, the next step is washing and disinfecting your hands, finally packing the groceries away.  

To put it mildly, when we arrived at the Milwaukee airport, it was like a ghost town.  There was virtually no one there; all the shops were closed.  Our state governor, Tony Evers, has declared all non-essential workers to stay home.  On the drive from the airport to our condo, I could not believe how light the traffic was.  One nearby church had 80 attend a service, afterward, ten tested positive for COVID-19, and 43 are sick.

It is very important for Donald J. Trump that America is the biggest and the best.  We are.  We have more COVID-19 cases than any other country in the world.

In our condo complex, we have a community room and a fitness room.  Both are locked until the virus passes.  

Our strategy to stem the virus was to launder everything that we journeyed with, including all clean clothing.  All suitcases got wiped down and sterilized.  We even washed our shoes. Our children stocked our home with food that should see us through for the next four weeks at a minimum. 

Social distancing is a reality.  People are staying at home and avoiding contact with others.  If you go for a walk and someone is on the pavement on your side of the road, you cross the street so as not to make close contact.  When we went through the security at the airport in Newark, they had an officer continually crying out, “stay at least six feet apart.”  

Our son, Sean, and his wife Erica drove in two cars to the airport.  Sean tossed my car keys to Linda, waved from a distance, and headed home.  If you have not yet got the message, we are taking this pandemic seriously.

The bottom line, if you meet someone today, who has met someone else in the last few days, you may have got yourself infected with a virus that can live for three weeks.  

We had a few unusual financial situations after we returned home.  We needed to cancel our Delta return ticket.  They did not offer us a refund, but we could use a credit on a future flight.  Hertz charged us an additional amount of $48, even if we returned the rental 18 days early.  I queried the charge, and they did not respond but did issue a credit of $47.  The difference was due to the fluctuation and devaluing of the South African Rand. 

If you go to the grocery store and purchase several items, and charge it to your credit card, you do not expect to see an itemized list on your card for bread, milk, apples, tomatoes, etc.  United Airlines listed 12 separate charges, including South Africa Passenger Security Charge $1.30, South Africa Passenger Safety Charge $1.50, US APHIS User Fee $3.96, US Passenger Facility Charge $4.50, September 11th Security Fee $5.60, etc.  I guess if you wish to dispute any of these charges through your credit card company, this may be helpful.  I have never seen this detail on my Delta Airline bill.

As I reflect on our trip, my only disappointment was in not visiting family and friends that I wanted to meet.  Then too, I am sorry that we could not have additional sightseeing opportunities that we planned before our trip.  However, the seriousness of the COVID-19 virus cannot be underestimated, and being responsible and practicing social distancing was and is the sensible option.

Stay safe, one and all.

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