“Lighting the Flame of Spiritual Leadership” — UUS:E Virtual Worship, May 16, 2021

Gathering Music (Mary Bopp) (begins at 9:50)

Welcome and Announcements (Beth Hankins, Sunday Service Committee member)

Prelude

“Why Are We Here”
composed and sung by Eileen Driscoll

Chalice Lighting (words by Beth Hankins)

Opening Hymn

“Enter, Rejoice, and Come In”
by Louise Ruspini
#361 in Singing the Living Tradition
led by Sandy Johnson

Enter, rejoice, and come in.
Enter, rejoice, and come in.
Today will be a joyful day;
Enter, rejoice, and come in.

Open your ears to the song…

Open your hearts ev’ryone…

Don’t be afraid of some change…

Enter, rejoice, and come in…

Opening Reading

“To Be of Use”
by Marge Piercy
ready by Kate Kimmerle

Joys and Concerns

Offering

The recipients of our May community outreach offering are MARC, Inc. and MARCH, Inc.

Marc, Inc. provides advocacy, employment, residential, respite, and retirement services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. March, Inc. provides residential programs and supportive living programs to people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities.

Offering Music

“What Does the World Require of You?”
by Jim Strathdee, arr. Pawel Jura
sung by UUS:E Choir

Reflections “Lighting the Flame of Spiritual Leadership”

  • Centering in Gifts (Beth Hankins)
  • Covenanting (Stan McMillen)
  • Binding to tradition (Beth Hankins)
  • Meditation on Doing Our Inner Work (Lynn Dove)
  • Faithful Risking (Rhona Cohen)

Closing Hymn

“My Life Flows On in Endless Song”
#108 in Singing the Living Tradition
led by Sandy Johnson

My life flows on in endless song above earth’s lamentation.
I hear the real though far-off hymn that hails a new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife I hear the music ringing.
It sounds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing!

What though the tempest ‘round me roars, I know the truth, it liveth.
What though the darkness ‘round me close, songs in the night it giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that rock I’m clinging.
Since love prevails in heav’n and earth, how can I keep from singing!

When tyrants tremble as they hear the bells of freedom ringing,
when friends rejoice both far and near, how can I keep from singing!
To prison cell and dungeon vile our thoughts to them are winging;
when friends by shame are undefiled, how can I keep from singing!

Extinguishing the Chalice

Closing Words

May faith in the spirit of life
And hope for the community of earth
And love of the light in each other
Be ours now and in all the days to come.     

Coffee Hour / Breakout Rooms 

 

Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19, May 12, 2021

  “Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

The UUS:E church is scientifically monitoring the pandemic to identify when it will be safe to reopen.  Some modifications to the building and program may also be required, but we will monitor the disease by viewing the five data metrics from the group, Covid Act Now, to identify an acceptable risk to gather together.  www.covidactnow.org is the website to find this data.  Click on the Connecticut map on opening, and scroll down to view the 5 graphs.

271. Mandatory Metric 1: “Daily New Cases per 100,000 population”

         Q: What does this metric measure?

         A:  Within Connecticut, newly diagnosed cases of COVID-19 are reported daily to the State Health Department.  This data is collected and displayed on this graph.

         Q:  What does it predict for future trends?

         A:  An increase in cases over time indicates the public may not be covering their faces with masks, keeping social distances, nor washing their hands. On the other hand, if the daily curve bends downward, it shows mitigation is working, and the disease is coming under control.

         Q:  Why is this given in units of 100,000 population?

         A. This shows the prevalence or proportion of a group having a disease. Incidence is the counting of patients.  “New Hampshire may have a lower incidence (number) of cases, but Connecticut has a lower prevalence (proportion) because of its increased vaccinations.”

         Q: Where are we now?    

         A:  On May 7, this metric had been dropping for the past 6 weeks and was then at 14.0/100,000 population.  This daily ratio identified 497 new cases.  (The detail was shown by placing the cursor over the line at any point, and the black box appears.)  The data shown was in the orange category.

         Q:  What is the goal before we can reopen?         

         A: “The metric must be within the yellow – medium category at or below 5 new cases per 100.000 population or (178 or fewer people) for 21 consecutive days (3 weeks).”

272.  Mandatory Metric 2: “Infection Rate”

         Q:  What does this metric measure?

         A:  It gives the average number of infections each person with COVID-19 gives to others.  If 10 people spread it to 16 new patients, the rate would be 1.6.

         Q:  What does it predict about future trends?

         A If the infection rate remains at .9, fewer people will catch the disease each cycle and the spread of the disease can expect to be diminishing.  In reverse, if the infection rate is 1.5, the disease can be predicted to spread.

         Q:  What can be done to mitigate against this spread?

         A:  Testing and contact tracing can identify newly infected people early, isolate them before they infect others, and slow down the train of progression.

         Q. Where are we now?

         A.   On May 7, this metric showed it was fluctuating in the green area, below .9 for about 4 previous weeks.

         Q:  What is the goal before we can reopen?         

         A: “The metric must be in the green – low category at or below 0.9 for 21 days (3 weeks).”  It is noted that on May 7, the trend was slowly moving upward just .04 away from the threshold.  Check it to see if it remained in the green since last Friday!

273. Mandatory Metric 3: “Positive Test Rate”

         Q:  What does this metric measure?

         A:  It determines if a sufficiently large number of tests are being done to validly identify people in the state who can infect others.

         Q:  What does it predict about future trends?

         A If testing is adequately done, it serves as a “roadmap” to define the extent of the disease.  If enough people are tested, those tested positively, especially the asymptomatic patients, can be isolated to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

         Q: Where are we now?

         A: On May 5 we were in the green zone for the past 16 days and at 2.0%. It is noted this trend has remained downward for over 6 weeks.         

         Q:  What is the goal before we can reopen?

         A: “The metric must be in the green – low category at or below 3% for 21 days (3 weeks).”

274. Mandatory Metric 4: “ICU Capacity Used”

         Q:  What does this metric measure?

         A:  It identifies the percentage of all the ICU beds in the state that are filled.

         Q:  What does it predict about future trends?

         A: The smaller the number of ICU beds available, the more hospitals have to adjust for any surges beyond that capacity.  From stopping elective surgeries to free-up ICU beds, to setting up ICU equipment in other units, to transferring patients to other hospitals to the dire decision to enact critical standards of care, medical care will suffer.

         Q: How prepared are we in Connecticut?

         A: This state has established and frequently exercises a system to manage patient surges.  Coordinated transfer of resources between hospitals, and organized patient transfers between hospital are often implemented for other medical issues.  The number of hospitals and other resources help to reduce the impact of this issue for this state.

         Q: Where are we now?

         A:  On May 5, the ICU capacity used was 56%.  Thus, nearly half the capacity has been available should there be a surge of COVID patients.  It’s noted that for the past 8 months – since this data has been collected – this state’s metric has constantly remained in the green area.

         Q:  What is the goal before we can reopen?         

         A: “The metric must be in the green – low category at or below 70% for 21 days (3 weeks).”

275. Advisory Metric 3: “Percent Fully Vaccinated”

         Q:  What does this metric measure?

         A:  It measures the percentage of all residents (adults and children) of Connecticut who have received full vaccinations.

         Q: What are “full vaccinations?”

         A: Vaccinations are displayed in two categories:

Partially vaccinated having received:

1 dose Pfizer. or

1 dose Moderna

Fully vaccinated having received:

1 dose Johnson and Johnson, or

2 doses Pfizer, or

2 doses Moderna

         Q: Why not the higher number?

         A: Those with just one of the 2 required shots have a reduced immunity from the vaccine and that immunity has not proven to last as long as full vaccinations.

         Q: Why is this an “Advisory Metric?

         A: It is not color-coded to guide decisions predicting the future course of COVID-19.  For example, if a variant emerges that ignores the vaccines now used, the other four metrics would show the disease surging while this metric would simply continue to increase its percentage.

Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 — May 7, 2021

  “Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

  1. Tracking the progress of Connecticut vaccinations

       Q:  Reports say the number of vaccinations is dropping.  How are we really doing? 

       A:  We all know that vaccines work.  The more people who get vaccinated, the more the public becomes immune from being infected.

Percent of People in Connecticut Who Are Fully Vaccinated

As of Last Sunday, May 2, 2021

40.0%

                                       – Source: Covid Act Now.com   

40.0% of Connecticut’s population had been fully vaccinated, leaving 60.0% who are not, further reducing the chance of a mutation emerging within Connecticut.

 

Vaccination Fact #5: The percentage of fully vaccinated data is an “advisory metric,” not one of the proposed “mandatory metrics” being proposed to identify when the decision can be made to reopen UUS:E. It does not predict when there is an acceptable risk. If a coronavirus-19 variant were to emerge that isn’t affected by the vaccines being used, the other mandatory four metrics would show a surge in risks while the people being vaccinated would simply continue to increase.

 

  1. India is only one of many “hot spots” of surging COVID-19.         

       Q. What is going on in India where the disease is out of control?      

       A:  News reports over the past few weeks have focused on India with its major outbreak of COVID-19.  At its roots, the cause is a lack of understanding of epidemiology (science) and planning.   The prime minister, Narendra Modi, positively viewed the lowering of the number of new cases in January, and assumed the threat was over.  He allowed large political rallies to take place, and huge crowds to gather nationally for Hindu celebrations.  As new cases surged in late March, no lockdowns were ordered to isolate those who had become infected.  In the last few weeks, with a population about 4 times that of the U.S., the number of new cases each day has been equal to the entire population of Connecticut!   Hospitals and clinics are now running out of oxygen, and what limited supply is available is not organized for priority use.  Large crowds still gather outside of hospitals demanding beds and at mass cremation sites for funeral rituals.  And vaccination rates continue to be very low.

But India is not alone.  Brazil, Argentina, Turkey, and Iran are all facing massive surges in their COVID cases.  All four of these countries are also facing a lack of oxygen supply and lack of adequate hospital care.  Latin America is also aflame.  The impact on the U.S. could be quite significant.  With high caseloads, the possibility of new variants increases.  And any mutation that is more infectious, more lethal, and more evasive of the vaccines we are now using could take us back to March 2020 where the protections we now enjoy may no longer work.  The remedy?  We have to consider the world as our one community and share resources across all nations to conquer this disease.  That’s quite a challenge!

  1. Education, alone, won’t lead to people accepting vaccinations as safe.

       Q. What will it take to get more people to stop thinking that vaccines are dangerous?

       A. Traditionally, public health education programs are created to change the public’s behavior away from harmful activity. Stop smoking!  Eat less!  Cover your cough!  Get vaccinated!  These are some of the often-repeated messages.  Saad B. Omer, Ph.D. MPH, Associate Dean at the Yale School of Medicine, has published studies that examined vaccine skepticism.   He and other social psychologists found that those who doubted the value of vaccinations have a highly developed sensitivity of “liberty” or the rights of the individual.  They are less likely to accept the words of those in power be they scientists or governmental officials.  This is parallel to the concept of personal health as being the decision-making process with the right to accept or deny medical advice for yourself.  This is opposed to public health, where an individual’s decision may affect the health of others and therefore must be regulated.  Other researchers have found that the skepticism against many public health measures is “morally intuitive,” and quite strong.  They resist having their views overturned by “education” programs and messaging.  One conclusion from this is the need to be patient with the skeptics.  Social interaction with others and a continuous flow of information on how vaccinations actually help them can be persuasive.

  1. Vaccine passports – an increasing demand with increasing difficulties

       Q:  I’m planning to go on a cruise in November.  Where can I get a vaccination passport?

       A:  Several months ago, news media warned newly immunized people not to post their vaccination cards on social media to show they got vaccinated.  “Too easy for it to be copied and used as a forgery…” we were told.   Well, now we are here.  Last Thursday, the Hartford Courant ran an article that fake vaccination cards were being passed out at a State Capitol rally with over 3,000 participants present last week.  The State Police confiscated these fakes but stated they were not investigating the issue any further and turned the matter over to the state health department.  It is alleged that several internet sites are selling these duplicate blank CDC cards – like the ones filled out and handed to each person getting a shot.  While it is claimed that selling blank CDC vaccination cards is illegal, it is left to citizens to report this to the federal agency inspector general, and there is no explanation about what will then be done.

This appears to be an unsolvable problem.  Vaccinations are given by the states.  The states used multiple vaccinating agencies to administer the shots.  These agencies collect the data of who is being vaccinated and pass summary data back to the states. If a single federal or state agency were to issue vaccination passports, how would it access the data needed such as names and addresses?  If every agency were to issue their own passports, how would a sports arena or airline officials know which were real and which were fictitious?  What would it cost for the equipment and staffing to manage this?  Would fifty states’ legislatures need to enact laws authorizing state-level vaccination passports?

It will be fascinating to watch if (and how) this is resolved.  Will venues and tour/travel agencies have to accept apparently official but possibly fake ID cards, or will those requirements be removed allowing anyone – vaccinated or not – to gather close together by the thousands for concerts, sports events, travel, or tours?

  1. Early-stage trials begin on an oral Covid -19 therapeutic

       Q:  Can someone with COVID-19 be treated at home?

       A:  Most of the drugs developed to treat COVID-19 have to be administered intravenously.  This is why these therapeutics are usually given to hospitalized patients.  Pfizer has developed an antiviral medication intended to prevent coronavirus-19 from replicating in the cells.  This has been given the name “PF-0732133.”  Early-stage clinical trials have begun on this new product.  If successful, later stage, expanded trials will be held to determine its effectiveness.  If eventually granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), it can be taken at home at the first sign of an infection to delay or eliminate the need for hospitalization.  While this may be months in the future, it illustrates the continuing attempts by science to control this pandemic.

Frequently Asked Questions About COVID-19 – April 21, 2021

  “Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

 256.  Tracking the progress of Connecticut vaccinations

          Q:  Everyone getting vaccinated is feeling joyous.  But how well are we really doing? 

          A:  We all know that vaccines work.  The more people who get vaccinated, the more they become immune from being infected.  The more rapidly the percentage of people becoming vaccinated rises, the slower new mutations will develop.  Let’s continue to check on how that important metric is progressing,

Percent of People in Connecticut Who Are Fully Vaccinated Each Week for Past 2 Months on Sundays

 

February 28Average per week for 8 weeksApril 18
8.4%18.6%31.6%
                          – Source: Covid Act Now.com   

 

Vaccination Fact #3: The good news is that as more people get vaccinated, the number who have hesitated to get their shots is diminishing.  The bad news is that as time moves along, the high number of COVID cases tends to produce additional variants, some of which are more infectious, thus increasing the number of cases.

As of last week Sunday, 31.6% of Connecticut’s population had been fully vaccinated, leaving 68.4% who are not yet fully   vaccinated.

257. No single variable can explain or predict when COVID will fade away.

         Q. If vaccines create immunity, how come the number of COVID cases are rising as the percentage of vaccinated people is increasing?

         A. There are many variables that affect the risk of COVID spreading or the safety of its diminishing over time. One dynamic that has been identified is that once a person gets vaccinated, they feel they can’t catch the disease.  They stop wearing masks, and gather in crowded settings with impunity.  Scientists have yet to determine if a vaccinated person can still be infected and remain asymptomatic.  There is the possibility that an immunized person can still spread the disease to others without ever knowing they are a carrier.  As we explore ways to predict when it will be safe to reopen at UUS:E, we cannot just look at one set of data like the percentage of the population that is fully vaccinated.  We also have to look at other data such as the number of tests being given to determine if testing is adequate to identify asymptomatic patients.  No single variable can explain or predict when COVID will drop to an acceptable risk.

258. COVID protection for church religious education is parallel to that for schools

         Q:  Why can’t we open up the church now to give my daughter a chance to go to RE?  After all, the local schools are opening up now!

         A:  Everyone wants to get back to normal, and the sooner the better.  But the challenge is to do this safely.  Local schools are opening up following the detailed requirements issued by CDC.  Key among these requirements is that children have to stay 3 feet away from others and there must be adequate ventilation.  It has taken weeks and months for local schools to rearrange space, enhance the ventilation systems, and make purchases just to get ready. The costs for all this have been extraordinary.  So much so that the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 passed last month has already sent out $81B to enable schools to reopen. Another $100B is proposed in the upcoming infrastructure legislation to help schools modify their buildings.  At UUS:E, we are not eligible for any of this federal funding.  And we don’t have enough space downstairs for 3 foot spacing for all our eligible participants.  Without sufficient windows, some of our classrooms cannot just let the fresh air in.  Be assured there are many people working to solve these issues.  And to solve the underlying question of when and how we will reopen.  We are doing this by considering science and safety as being paramount.  You will hear more about this effort soon.

259. The planning now underway to project when it will be safe for UUS:E to reopen is tentatively focusing on 5 variables that are scientifically defined and studied

         Q:  How does science figure in calculating when we can reopen?

         A:  The science of infectious diseases control – epidemiology – is based on evaluating the health of communities, the well-being of populations.  This concept of public health differs from medical health of an individual, which everyone who makes appointments to see a doctor is quite familiar.  If someone views vaccinations only as protection for the one who is getting the shot, that is the perspective of individual medical care.  The public health view is to consider the health of the population.  This requires the inconvenience of wearing a mask and keeping social distancing after being vaccinated – not to protect yourself, but to protect others who may not be vaccinated.  After all, you might still be contagious without having any symptoms.

Nationally, a consortium of public health scientists and statisticians has created a formal system to help groups and organizations study making decisions of when it is safe to reopen their organized activities.  This approach is now being reviewed by UUS:E to help create safe and scientifically driven projections.  The consortium recommends several variables to be evaluated and provides the data to help define the risks for reopening.  We have tentatively selected the following 5 variables using Connecticut data to examine:

  • The first variable, mentioned above, is the percentage of fully vaccinated people;
  • The trend (upward or downward) of daily new cases of COVID-19;
  • The average number of new cases that each contagious person infects;
  • The degree to which the number of COVID tests being given is effective to identify the hidden, asymptomatic patients;
  • The ability to have ICU beds available for new COVID patients needing them.

Daily reports updating data for each of these variables are available.  A standardized grading scale of risk for each variable is also available.  Work is currently underway by the UUS:E Emergency Preparedness Task Force to develop this system for our use,  Everyone interested in this project will soon be hearing more about it.

260. In just a short time, the B.1.1.7 Variant COVID has become dominant in the U.S.

         Q:  What is so different about the “UK variant” strain of coronavirus?

         A:  Studies have shown that the mutant strain of coronavirus first identified in the United Kingdom (properly labeled the B.1.1.1 variant), was first reported to infect a U.S. patient in December.  It is now the most common strain in America.  The main reason for this explosive surge is its higher infection rate – as much as 70% greater than the original coronavirus.  Being more efficient in infecting people, this variant has crowded out the less infectious strains.  It is also more deadly, but this outcome is blunted somewhat by the development of improved therapeutics. One of the observable outcomes of the B.1.1.1 variant was reported by Michael Osterholm, MD, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.  He stated, “We’re now seeing substantial numbers of outbreaks in schools and school-related activities.”   One reason for this is obvious – children have not been eligible for vaccination leaving young people as a group more vulnerable, especially to a virus that is more easily transmitted.  A rapidly growing outbreak of COVID-19 in Carver County, Minnesota has been linked to school-sponsored and local sports activity.  A similar outbreak was reported in Dane County, Wisconsin where all the children in a child care center tested positive.

Another problem caused by the B.1.1.1 variant is that  it carries a couple of genetic mutations in the spike protein known as “deletions.”  Part of the genetic codes in the spike protein are missing.  It is the spike protein that triggers antibodies to fight the infections.  The missing genetic codes have been shown to help the B.1.1.1 variant escape these antibodies, enhancing the spread of the disease.  That also allows several commercial testing kits to miss the spike protein gene resulting in false negative test results.  Because young children are not able to keep social distancing on their own, this adds to the further spread of the disease.  The only positive findings from recent studies are indications that children under age 6 cannot easily spread the disease to others including family members at home.

Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 — April 14, 2021

  “Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

 251.  Tracking the progress of Connecticut vaccinations

         Q:  Everyone getting vaccinated is feeling joyous.  But how well are we really doing? 

         A:  We all know that vaccines work.  The more people who get vaccinated, the more they become immune from being infected.  The more rapidly the percentage of people becoming vaccinated rises, the slower new mutations will develop.  Let’s continue to check on how that important metric is progressing,

Percent of People in Connecticut Who Are Fully Vaccinated

 

March 24March 31April 7
18.6%20.4%%39.1%
       – Source: Covid Act Now.com

 

Vaccination Fact #2: The data on our COVID vaccinations only goes back to the clinical trials that scientifically studied their risks and effectiveness leading to FDA approvals.  These trials are continuing and we learn more about the vaccines over time.  One study is how long the immunization will last.  So far, scientists have determined that the protection from infection lasts for at least 6 months – the period studied so far.  This estimate may be extended as demonstration of immunity continues over time.

As of last week Wednesday, 39.1% of Connecticut’s population had been fully vaccinated, which was 19.3% more than a week before.  This was a significant increase.

252. An insight: “Oh, I get it now!”

        Q:  I get so confused about public health statistics; I don’t even read them anymore!

        A:  Try this… please read on, we’ll make it short!  Children.  Birthday parties.  Musical chairs.  A circle of 10 chairs with children.  The music starts and the kids get up and walk around the chairs.  One chair is taken away, and the music stops.  The child who cannot sit down leaves the group and after a bit the music starts again.  As this is repeated, if an average of 9 children for every 10 has to leave the group. The ratio by which the number remain after the group shrinks will be 9 out of ten.  The shorthand way to say this is .9 is the ratio of children remaining with chairs.  Instead of “children with chairs,” substitute “COVID-infected patients.”  If a group of 10 COVID-infected patients infect only 9 new patients, the “rate of infection” would be .9.  If the rate of infection is below 1.0, the disease will eventually disappear.   Did this help?  Can you now say, “Oh, I get it now!”

253. Science and data should be used to decide when our UUS:E can reopen.

         Q. When will UUS:E reopen the church for indoor activities and services?

         A. The State of Connecticut has established minimal guidelines that allow many groups to reopen. We see examples all around us.  The need to “return to normal” is universal, and lowering the standards for restaurants, businesses, theaters, and sports events satisfy our economic and psychological interests.  But are they safe?  Look at some of the data that frames Connecticut now, as these loosening of restrictions are made:

  • Less than half the population is fully vaccinated,
  • The percentage of Connecticut’s population being infected with COVID has risen dramatically since March 1,
  • the infection rate that defines if the number of infected patients is rising or going down shows a steadily increasing surge since February 1.

As a general observation, states all around the country have opened up as soon as it looked like COVID was getting under control, only to reimpose restrictions later.  This cycle has happened over and over again.  Right now, Connecticut and most of the other states are beginning what the CDC is calling the “Fourth Surge” of COVID cases.

The good news is that there are several data sources that can serve as “prevention predictors.”  If the percentage of the population being vaccinated rises to a high enough level, there will not be enough people remaining without immunity to become infected.  That data can be used along with others to better predict when it will be safe to reopen.  The Emergency Preparedness Task Force at UUS:E has begun examining these “prevention predictors” to answer that important question of reopening.  One key prevention predictor will require children to be authorized by the FDA to receive their shots, and vaccinations delivered before that safe level of population can be reached.  That may take at least until September, 2021.  Updates on the essential data being reviewed and the predictions they point toward will be reported frequently in future FAQ columns.

 254. Compliance with CDC guidelines will shorten the time to control COVID

          Q:  How do people refusing to use masks when shopping affect the control of COVID?

          A:  The Atlantic published an article on April 4 that was highlighted: “vaccinated and unvaccinated people are getting more lax with behavior at a time when vigilance really matters.”  This article was authored by Katherine J. Wu, Ph.D., who is a science and health reporter for the New York Times.  She holds her degree in microbiology and immunobiology from Harvard University.  She is writing about people who are struggling to navigate the new world of partially vaccinated people. “Even as infection rates tick up again, people are bending, stretching, and breaking the rules,” she states.  When she wrote the article, only about one-fifth of the population had been vaccinated.  At that point, the CDC had given the okay for vaccinated people to visit others who live in the same households without wearing masks.  Yet people were openly visiting anyone in small groups anywhere.  She also points out that “across the country, states are rushing to lift mask mandates, tolerance for social distancing is flagging, and vaccinated people are amending the new guidelines as they see fit.”  She continues, “Amid all the fudging, the sentiment is starting to become a constant refrain: ‘Really, what’s the harm?’

She answers that question by saying, “The harm is frankly mathematical.  Over time, our vaccine cheat days start to add up.  Now is not the time to relax – quite the opposite.  The problem is our lapses don’t just slow us down.  They set us back in the same way that repeatedly opening the oven door will prolong the time it takes to bake a cake (and, at worst, make your delicious cake collapse).  Having made so much progress, we risk a lot with our impatience.  And right now, we’re in serious danger of botching our grand pandemic finale.”

She quotes an expert in behavioral economics that it’s human tendency to take any ambiguity or uncertainty in guidance and spin it toward a most favorable outcome.  People are always looking for a loophole to justify what they want to do.  Another factor was discussed.  At the beginning, the perception of risk from the unknown was threatening.  Compliance with guidelines was easier.  But with vaccinations, people have the perception of reduced risk and greater safety.  This shift in perception leads to a lessening of compliance with existing guidelines.

Dr Wu concludes her discussion with a warning, “we can’t take the pandemic’s endgame for granted.”  To forestall the possibility of new mutations occurring, “we still have to consider our collective risk, not just our risk as individuals,”

255. More evidence of blood clots from the AstraZeneca vaccine.

         Q:  Is it true that the AstraZeneca vaccine is still producing blood clots in patients?

         A:  In Europe, the agency that reviews vaccines and therapeutics for safety and effectiveness is known as the European Medicines Agency (EMU).   This agency is the equivalent to our Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The EMA recently reported very rare cases of blood clots forming in patients who had been given the AstraZeneca vaccine.  Political leaders in more than a dozen countries in the EU have requested they stop using this vaccine, and an emergency meeting has been called.  This marks the second time that AstraZeneca has been challenged with this same finding.  Public health officials have again reported that “the risk to the general public of getting a serious blood clot is very small compared to the risks from possible COVID-19 infections – which itself can also cause similar clots.  AstraZeneca is the most available vaccine in Europe, and it costs less than other vaccines.  This political perception of threat is having a dramatic effect of slowing down the vaccination of people in Europe.  It is distressing to see how risks can be perceived so differently.  This is one case where the cost of the cure is NOT greater than the disease itself, despite public perceptions.

“On Becoming You” — UUS:E Virtual Worship, April 11, 2021

Coordinators: Kristen Dockendorff and Beth Hankins
with contributions from Peggy Webbe and Dorothy Bognar
Musicians:  Dorothy Bognar and Jeannine Westbrook

Gathering Music  (begins at 9:50)

Selections from “Lyric Preludes in Romantic Style”
by William L. Gillock
performed by Dorothy Bognar

Welcome and Announcements (Beth Hankins, UUS:E Sunday Services Committee)

Centering (Kristen Dockendorff, UUS:E Sunday Services Committee)

Prelude

“Turn! Turn! Turn!” by Pete Seeger and “The Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell
performed by Dorothy Bognar

Chalice Lighting

“Flame of Fire, Spark of the Universe”
by Leslie Pohl-Kosau
spoken by Beth Hankins

Opening Hymn

“Just As Long As I Have Breath”
Words by Alicia Carpenter, music by Johann Ebeling
#6 in Singing the Living Tradition
led by Jeannine Westbrook

Just as long as I have breath, I must answer, “Yes,” to life;
though with pain I made my way, still with hope I meet each day.
If they ask what I did well, tell them I said, “Yes,” to life.

Just as long as vision lasts, I must answer, “Yes,” to truth;
in my dream and in my dark, always that elusive spark.
If they ask what I did well, tell them I said, “Yes,” to truth.

Just as long as my heart beats, I must answer, “Yes,” to love;
disappointment pierced me through, still I kept on loving you.
If they ask what I did best, tell them I said, “Yes,” to love.

Reading

“The Desiderata”
by Max Ehrmann
read by Peggy Webbe

Joys and Concerns

Offering

For the month of April, the recipient of our Community Outreach Offering is the CT Alliance to End Sexual Violence.

Offertory Music

“Adagio Cantabile” from “Sonata, Op.13”
Ludwig van Beethoven

Reflections

“Introduction to Becoming” (Beth Hankins)

“On Becoming You” (Kristen Dockendorff)

“Turn! Turn! Turn!” (Dorothy Bognar)

“The Greatest Skill of All” (Beth Hankins with reading by Robert Terry Weston)

Closing Hymn

“Love Will Guide Us”
by Sally Rogers
#131 in Singing the Living Tradition
led by Jeannine Westbrook

Love will guide us, peace has tried us,
Hope inside us, will lead the way
On the road from greed to giving,
Love will guide us through the hard night.                                                                                              

If you cannot speak like angels,
If you cannot speak before thousands,
You can give from deep within you.
You can change the world with your love.                                                                                                            

(Repeat first verse.)

Extinguishing of Chalice

“May the Light Around Us Guide our Footsteps”
by Kathleen McTigue

Closing Circle

May faith in the spirit of life
And hope for the community of earth
And love of the light in each other
Be ours now, and in all the days to come.

Coffee Hour / Breakout Rooms

Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 — April 7, 2021

  “Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

246.  Tracking the progress of Connecticut vaccinations

         Q:  Everyone getting vaccinated is feeling joyous.  But how well are we really doing? 

         A:  Many people are eagerly looking forward to getting rid of the COVID-19 disease.  There is raising political expectations to quickly reopen the economy.  Yet it’s truly difficult to know where we really are.  Especially now when science is telling us the number of cases are actually rising, and younger people are now more at risk than before.  Let’s begin by identifying measures that we can examine over time to chart how we are actually doing as we progress.  Take, for instance, vaccinations.

We all know that vaccines work.  The more people that are vaccinated, the more people become immune from being infected.  The more rapidly the percentage of people becoming vaccinated rises, the slower new mutations will develop.  Let’s start checking how that important metric is progressing,

Percent of People in Connecticut Who Are Fully Vaccinated

 

March 24March 31
18.6%20.4%
       – Source: Covid Act Now.com

 

Vaccination Fact #1:  There are two ways to measure when people get vaccinated; when they get their first shot, or when they get the number of shots needed depending on the manufacturer.   For Johnson & Johnson, they become fully vaccinated after one shot.  For Pfizer and Moderna, full vaccination comes after two shots that are weeks apart.  The metric of “full vaccinations” is more accurate to determine those who have the greatest immunity from all the different vaccines.

As of last week Wednesday, 20.4% of Connecticut’s population had been fully vaccinated, which was 1.6% more than a week before.

247. Experts agree that to fully control COVID, children need to be vaccinated.

         Q:  If herd immunity requires 75% to 90% of the population to be vaccinated, can we get there without children being inoculated?

         A:  Children can spread coronavirus-19 to other people.  It is estimated that children from birth to age 17 make up 22.1% of the U.S. population.  While it is true that there is wide variability by age on exposure opportunities to become infected and social interaction to spread the disease, the immunity controlling the infecting of others requires that children must be vaccinated.  “We’ll never get to that immunization level of herd immunity until we vaccinate kids,” says Jennifer Nayak, division chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.  Even if the U.S. reached herd immunity among just adults, local clusters of population below that protected status would allow the disease to continue being spread.  That’s where unvaccinated children may play a critical role, says Dominique Heinke, a researcher and epidemiologist in North Carolina.  Variants also play a role in this dynamic.  Vaughn Cooper, a microbiologist and molecular geneticist at the University of Pittsburgh, identifies that the Africa variant B.1.351 and Brazil variant P.1 can infect people with immunity from previous natural infections.  “That basically creates more chances for more infections in adults and more opportunities for transmission and subsequent evolution,” Cooper said.  “We’re not going to be able to stop that until we stop transmission among kids.”

None of the approved vaccines now in place were clinically tested for anyone under the age of 17.  Clinical trials are now underway for children ages 12 to 16.  The findings to date look promising for this age group, and approval may take place for vaccines to be administered to middle and high school aged students before the start of the next school year.  Testing for children from birth to age 11 is yet to be held and vaccination of these children will probably have to wait until 2022.

248. New therapeutics for those who contract COVID-19 are in development.

         Q. Are there any new drugs being tested to treat COVID?

         A. Pfizer, well known for its pioneering work on developing and testing a vaccine to prevent people from getting the disease, has developed an oral antiviral medication for people to take if they do get infected. Early trials have begun on this candidate drug, currently inauspiciously named as “PF-07321332.”  It is a protease inhibitor that prevents the virus cells from replicating in the host cells.  Pfizer is also studying an intravenous antiviral therapeutic for treating COVID-19 patients who are hospitalized.   Merck & Co., Roche Holding and Atea Pharmaceuticals are in mid trials for their different antiviral drugs.  The FDA has already issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to Eli Lily for its drug Bamlanivimab alone and in combination with Etesevimab and a combination therapy with Regeneron.  There is even additional therapeutic research going on with obvious advances in treating patients who become infected.

 249. While we are entering a fourth surge of COVID-19, this one may be different.

         Q:  Why are the number of COVID cases  rising as more and more people are being vaccinated?

         A:  The people representing the number of rising cases are primarily those who have not been vaccinated.  While just over 20% of Connecticut people have been vaccinated, 4 out of 5 people have not.  The role of mutant or variant viruses may also play a role.  The infection rate of some of these variants means that a higher percentage of unvaccinated people are now more likely to get the disease than when the pandemic first emerged.  America as a nation is entering this fourth surge with a strong advantage over other countries.  We have a much stronger effort to produce and administer vaccines.  As we push toward the goal of herd immunity, we are curtailing the number of infected people providing the opportunity for new variants to emerge.  However, it has to be recognized that herd immunity is not a binary threshold; we are not all safe or all unsafe at any one time.  It is not a switch where we go instantly from one to the other.  Instead, it is a threshold where the continuing disease no longer can sustain itself over the long term.  Once herd immunity is achieved, people will still get sick and may die, but in steadily diminishing numbers.

250. Confusion and controversies delaying plans for a “COVID Passport.”.

         Q:  Where can I get a passport that verifies, I have been vaccinated?

         A:  Like so many components of our previous administration’s public health policies, the responses to COVID-19 have been fragmented, unrecognized or not planned in advance.  This has resulted in controversy and unexpected interruptions.  A “COVID passport” is an officially valid document that verifies the holder has been vaccinated.  In January, President Biden issued an executive order directing agencies to assess the feasibility of digitally linking coronavirus vaccinations to previously existing vaccine cards also known as “international certificates of vaccinations or prophylaxis.”  Andy Slavitt, a senior advisor to the current White House Coronavirus Team said a week ago that it is not the role of government to create such a document or to hold that kind of (medical) data on U.S. citizens.  Yet the Biden Administration will provide guidance to the private sector on this effort.  Slavitt projected that an ideal coronavirus passport should be free, equitable, secure, accessible, in multiple languages and be available both digitally and on paper.  The scope identifying the users of such a system remains unclear.  The travel industry is strongly advocating this to encourage passenger safety by allowing employees of airlines, cruise ships, bus and train services to deny boarding of those passengers who have not been vaccinated.  Others sponsoring concerts and sports events want to use this to identify those vaccinated before allowing entry to stadiums, arenas and theaters.  Politically, there is the expressed fear that coronavirus cards would lead to demands by employers to show proof of vaccinations (which many Republicans want to dissuade people from taking) before being hired.  Fear of publicly providing private, personal medical information is touted to discourage having such documentation.

Early in the vaccination process, the CDC cards filled out at vaccination sites were publicly discouraged from being posted on social media sites to proudly proclaim their vaccinated status.  People were cautioned that photocopies of these cards could easily be duplicated by those people who are opposed to being vaccinated to become eligible for travel or admission to large venues without getting their shots.  The CDC card does not have a photo on it to identify that the holder was the person who was vaccinated.  Also, not all vaccination sites provide these cards.  If a private company is to be awarded a contract to provide these passports, several other barriers remain.  Where is the data base located with the data of all vaccinated people located?   If pictures have to be included, do people have to appear somewhere for this?  There is much more discussion to take place before we will have coronavirus passports.

 

“Break Forth Into Joy” — UUS:E Virtual Worship, April 4, 2021

Gathering Music by Mary Bopp (begins at 9:50)

First Musical Introit


“I’ve Got Peace Like a River”
by Marvin Frey
performed by Warren Vadas

Second Musical Introit

“Here Comes the Sun”
by George Harrison
performed by Pat Eaton-Robb and friends

Welcome (Gina Campellone, UUS:E Director of Religious Education)

Announcements (Rev. Josh Pawelek)

Our flowers are given in loving memory of Bob and Marilyn Richardson

Centering (Gina Campellone)

Prelude

“To the Spring” 
by Edvard Grieg
performed by Dorothy Bognar and Mary Bopp

 Chalice Lighting and Opening Words

“Pandemic Song” by Carl Johnson

Opening Hymn

“Morning Has Broken”
words by Eleanor Farjeon, Gaelic melody
#38 in Singing the Living Tradition
led by Carol Simpson and Bob Hewey

Morning has broken like the first morning,
blackbird has spoken like the first bird.
Praise for the singing! Praise for the morning!
Praise for them, springing fresh from the Word!

Sweet the rain’s new fall sunlit from heaven,
like the first dewfall on the first grass.
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden,
sprung in completeness where God’s feet pass.

 Mine is the sunlight! Mine is the morning
born of the one light Eden saw play!
Praise with elation, praise every morning,
God’s recreation of the new day!

Story

Meet Jesus: The Life and Teachings of a Beloved Teacher (excerpts)
by Lynn Tuttle Gunney
illustrations by Jane Conteh-Morgan
presented by Gina Campellone

Music

“Hunter’s Chorus”
by C. M. von Weber
performed by Simone Ford

Meditation  (Rev. Josh Pawelek)

Musical Meditation

“If I Can Come Back”
written and performed by Eileen Driscoll

Joys and Concerns

Musical Meditation

“Idylle”
by Benjamin Godard
performed by Peggy Webbe

Offering

For the month of April, the recipient of our Community Outreach Offering is the CT Alliance to End Sexual Violence.

Offering Music

“Allegro Pastorale (Spring) from the Four Seasons”
by Antonio Vivaldi
performed by Anne Stowe and Mary Bopp

 Music 

“Ose Ayo” (Nigerian Sunrise Song)
arr. Brian Tate
performed by the UUS:E choir

Homily

“Break Forth Intro Joy”
Rev. Josh Pawelek

Music

“Break Forth Into Joy”
by Dave and Janet Perry
performed by the UUS:E choir

Closing Hymn

“Joy, Thou Goddess”
words by Frederick Shiller, music by Ludwig van Beethoven
#327 in Singing the Living Tradition
with second verse of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee”
words by Henry Van Dyke
led by Carol Simpson and Bob Hewey

Joy, thou goddess, fair immortal, offspring of Elysium,
mad with rapture, to the portal of thy holy fame we come!
Fashion’s laws, indeed, may sever, but thy magic joins again;
humankind is one forever ‘neath thy mild and gentle reign.

Joy, in nature’s wide dominion, mightiest cause of all is found;
and ‘tis joy that moves the pinion, when the wheel of time goes round;
from the bud she lures the flower, suns from out their orbs of light;
distant spheres obey her power, far beyond all mortal sight.

All thy works with joy surround thee, earth and heav’n reflect thy rays,
stars and planets sing around thee, center of unbroken praise;
field and forest, vale and mountain, blossoming meadow, flashing sea,
chanting bird and flowing fountain call us to rejoice in thee.

Extinguishing the Chalice

Closing Circle

May faith in the spirit of life
And hope for the community of earth
And love of the light in each other
Be ours now, and in all the days to come.

Postlude

“Walk in the Light”
anonymous
performed by Nancy Madar

Virtual Coffee Hour and Breakout Rooms

 

Frequently asked Questions about COVID-19, March 31, 2021

“Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

 241. COVID testing is on the decline while cases rise.

          Q:  Why haven’t I heard more about testing lately?

          A:  The number of daily tests in the U.S. has declined since January by 35 %.  “We have to do more,” Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at John Hopkins University stated.  “The pandemic is not over.  We still have dangerously high levels.”  In the meantime, testing methods have improved dramatically.  A new, more effective and less expensive rapid take-home antigen test is now in a clinical trial.  Citigroup is participating in this trial by giving this kit to some of their employees in Chicago and New York.  Each kit consists of a nasal swab, some liquid and a strip of paper.  “It works a little like a pregnancy test,” said Lori Zimmerman, MD, Citigroup’s medical director.   After a swab sample is taken, the test result is available in just 20 minutes.  The goal, Dr. Zimmerman said, is to help people learn if they have COVID before they go to work and can infect colleagues or customers.  If this trial is successful, and if the FDA grants an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), Citigroup plans to purchase a sufficient number of kits to distribute them to all 6,000 bank branches in the U.S..  This is the ambitious goal that many medical experts are hoping to have quickly available.

A comprehensive testing program for every state can pay for itself.  If a combined testing and vaccination program can exist, the payoff would result in lives saved and businesses and schools being able to reopen safely much earlier.  There are three steps needed to expand the U.S. testing program:

  • Funding: The test being evaluated by Citigroup costs about $5.00 each.  The recently passed U.S. virus rescue legislation provides $50 billion for expanded testing, including $10 billion for schools.
  • Logistical help: President Biden is now establishing coordination centers that can assist state and local authorities organizing area-wide testing programs.
  • FDA approval: This rapid antigen test Citigroup is using will soon be in an application for an EUA to allow widespread use.  Two other rapid tests have already been approved but are more expensive and are not yet widely available.

242. There are currently 18.6% of the Connecticut population fully vaccinated

         Q:  How many people in Connecticut are vaccinated?

         A:  Statistics can be confusing, to say the least.  Let’s clarify the answer.  First, focusing on the word “vaccinated,” statistics are often cited that identify the number of people that have had their first shot.  For two of the vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, two shots are required spaced weeks apart.  Johnson and Johnson vaccinations require only a single shot.  A better statistic would be to record the number of people who have had all the shots required to gain full immunity.  The term “fully vaccinated.” is used to record this.    The number of people vaccinated (with a first shot) and fully vaccinated people are different.  The percentage of fully vaccinated people will be the data set preferred to allow easier comparison as vaccine levels increase over time.

Thus, the Connecticut percentage of people fully vaccinated last week was 18.6%

To put this number in perspective, the percentage of the population with immunity when the pandemic can no longer continue and will diminish to its end is estimated to be between 75% and 80%.  At that stage, there would be fewer people remaining without immunity to become infected.  This point is often referred to as herd immunity.  Connecticut’s current level of immunity is only about a fourth of that required for herd immunity.  This demonstrates the need for everyone to continue to follow CDC guidelines.  While those who are fully vaccinated are able to visit in-person with other people living in a single household without using masks, the risks are still great if everyone is not wearing a mask while shopping or gathering – indoors and outdoors – in groups.  Social distancing and washing of hands (or using hand sanitizer) remain important regardless of being vaccinated or not.  There is a misperception that once a person becomes vaccinated, they can quickly go “back to normal.”  Those who are not vaccinated quickly pick up on this and also start ignoring the recommended mitigation steps.  Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, the director of CDC, on Monday noted that there is a growing upswing in the number of new COVID-19 cases, especially in the northeast (including Connecticut) that is on the verge of blossoming into a fourth major surge.  She sees this as an “imminent disaster” and strongly recommends masks and social distancing continue to be practiced until more people become vaccinated.

243. Some long-hauler COVID survivors profit from vaccinations.

         Q: My neighbor is a long-hauler from COVID last year.  Should she get vaccinated?

         A: During the earlier clinical trials for all the approved COVID-19 vaccines, the issue of prolonged problems and protracted recovery were not known.  Therefore, there are no scientific studies on how vaccines affect “long-haulers.”   Long-haulers are a significant number of COVID-19 survivors, suffering a variety of different continuing issues including fatigue, “brain fog”, nausea, heart problems, migraines, hair loss, chest pains, abdominal pain, asthma, and painful inflammation in eyes.   Many long-haulers have lined up for vaccination shots to guard against becoming reinfected resulting in possible worsening of their conditions.  A scattering (but not all) of long-haulers have reported that after becoming vaccinated, their COVID-19 symptoms have faded away.

Even a year after the outbreak of the disease, scientists have not come to a consensus defining the condition of long-term continuation of COVID signs.   There are also no standard tests or treatments.  Now the group of long-haulers themselves are sharing information to fill this very large gap in knowledge.

Recent studies have shown that between 10% and 30% of COVID-19 cases lead to prolonged medical issues well beyond otherwise usual recovery times.  Some have had serious infections that left organs riddled with damage that take months to be repaired.  Lekshmi Santhosh, MD, A pulmonologist and long-COVID researcher at the University of California San Francisco said that he was optimistic that vaccines will help reduce the seriousness of future infections.  But other long-haulers emerged from less serious cases, even from asymptomatic infections.  Akiko Iwasaki, MD, an immunologist from Yale University proposes three explanations for long-COVID-19 disease:

  • The virus remains in isolated areas of the body, still replication, yet below the level needed to trigger an immune response;
  • Fragments of the coronavirus RNA or other proteins remain in the system, but are unable to replicate;
  • Finally, the immune system has been damaged and is reacting without any pathological remains of COVID-19 being present.

Long-hauler’s post-vaccination outcomes are “all over; it’s anecdotal.” Melissa Pinto, a nurse and long-COVID researcher at the University of California Irvine said.  “We don’t even know what makes a person at risk for long-COVID or how long-COVID happens without a vaccine.”  Much more needs to be studied.

244. In case you missed it, in Connecticut, anyone over age 16 can be vaccinated.

         Q:  The dates get changed frequently.  I’m 18 years old.  When can I get vaccinated?

         A:  As part of the national push to get people vaccinated quickly, Governor Lamont announced that as of April 1, everyone who is 16 and older are eligible to become vaccinated.  Be advised and be patient…  This will include millions of people who will immediately be calling for appointments starting this week Thursday.  And many who secure an appointment may find it is later in the month – or even into May.  Lower your expectations and you will find your path less unpredictable.  The goal is to get everyone vaccinated by the end of May.  The good news is this will lead to the expectation that for summer classes and by next fall, high school students can all be vaccinated.  Trials are now under way for children between ages 12 and 15, and it is possible by the end of summer, children in grades 7 and 8 may become vaccinated.  Elementary school children will likely have to wait until 2022 before they can be vaccinated.

245. More than half the states, COVID-19 cases are rising; is a surge coming?

         Q:  Why are cases rising in several states?

         A:  Even in Connecticut, the total number of daily COVID-19 cases is rising.  With a larger proportion of older people having been vaccinated, the surge in cases is dramatically affecting those who are younger.  Adding to this shift is the large number of young adults who have ignored the mitigation steps of wearing a mask and continuing social distancing.   Spring breaks, parties, opening of indoor dining and sports events are among the attractions for large numbers of people.  Anthony Fauci, MD reported on Monday that scientific data is clearly showing it is the governors, mayors and individuals who are ignoring the CDC guidelines that are the major cause for the expansion of cases.

Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19, March 24, 2021

  “Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

 236.  Science v. science! Different decisions from looking backward or forward.

          Q:  Why are some scientists disagreeing with the CDC about relaxing restrictions?

          A:  Michael Osterholm, Ph.D., MPH, is the Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.  He had served President Biden on transition team advising on plans to manage the pandemic.  After the inauguration, he now is outside the government, but he retains his decades-long reputation at predicting the course of infectious diseases.  For weeks, he has been one of many scientists opposed to CDC guidelines for slowly relaxing the preventive measures for controlling COVID-19.  The premise of his opposition is that CDC bases its recommendation on scientific examination on how COVID-19 has reacted in the past as preventive measures have been introduced.  These retroactive studies can predict how various measures can control the disease studied.  It also identifies measures no longer useful that can be loosened.  Dr. Osterholm has studied the mutations of the coronavirus-19.  Variant strains or mutations can change the way past measures may have value in the future.  This prospective view requires a different approach for making decisions.

Dr. Osterholm has classified the variants into three groups based on their effects.  First are those variants that are more infectious than the original strain.  Next are the mutations that evade some or all the natural immunity or protection offered by current vaccines.  Finally, are the variants that are more virulent – not affected by any of the therapeutics or treatment procedures we have learned over the past year.  He points out that a particular variant may have one or more characteristics of each of these classifications.  The UK variant may be 60% more infectious, but vaccines and therapeutics can prevent hospitalizations or death.  The newly discovered New York variant may be even more infectious than the UK variant, but it may also evade protection from natural or vaccine immunity.  A future variant that is more infectious, evades natural or vaccine immunity and is also more virulent could be unlikely, but quite possible.  And this would be quite disastrous.  Dr. Osterholm’s perspective is to shift from a primary focus of changing guidelines based on retrospective studies, and instead first focus as a priority our full attention on significantly reducing the very large caseload of infected people through accelerated vaccinations.  This will greatly reduce the emergence of new variants significantly reducing this underlying threat.

The CDC last week came out with new guidance for opening schools.  A thorough scientific study of schools in Massachusetts demonstrated that seating students wearing masks in grades 1-6 closer than 6 feet apart did not increase their risk.  That was a retroactive study.  Dr. Osterholm had urged the CDC to delay its new guidance that student seating at 3 feet apart would be the “new normal” until more prospective analysis could be done.  It might be more difficult to change back to 6 feet distancing in just a few weeks if it is learned that these current new variants are more infectious than the one studied retrospectively in Massachusetts.  A better understanding of retrospective v. prospective factors may help slow down the decisions needed for a successful outcome.

237. Europe is facing a major COVID surge with lockdowns being put in place. 

         Q. Why are several European countries now being locked down because of COVID?

         A. It is true that European countries are experiencing a rapid daily increase in the number of COVID-19 cases resulting in a third wave. Three countries, the U.S., Israel, and the United Arab Republic have rapidly deployed an increased production of vaccines to their citizens, and this correlates to the reduction of their cases in the past several weeks.  European countries have lagged in vaccinating their citizens, correlating with this oncoming surge.  The New York Times last week tracked the 3 major reasons for this difference.   First was the focus on bureaucracy.  The EU spent much time working to get the 27 nation members to negotiate and sign an agreement with manufacturers on how to fairly allocate the vaccines throughout the EU.  Their initial approach placed process over fast development and rapid availability of the vaccines.  Second was reluctance to invest the funds needed for rapid deployment of the vaccines.  Time was spent on negotiating low prices.  Israel paid Pfizer for each rapidly available dose about $25, the U.S. about $20 and the EU paid from $15 to $19.  From a national standpoint, the money saved by a lowered price will be more than offset by greater economic losses from having to initiate new lockdowns.  The third factor is vaccine skepticism.  In a published survey asking if they would take a proven-safe and effective COVID vaccine, in China 89% of the people said yes.  In the U.S., 75% agreed.  As did 68% in Germany, and 65% in Sweden, 59% in France, and 56% in Poland.  Another variable at play is the lack of confidence in the EU over the medical science approving vaccines.  After authorizing the AstraZeneca vaccine in the EU, a news report was published that several patients had developed blood clots.  France’s President Macron last week made the political decision to block this vaccine from being used.  Germany and Italy followed suit.  Scientists have pointed out that the percentage of vaccinated patients with blood clots was less than those in the general populations.  The WHO is now urging the return of AstraZeneca to wide-spread use.

238. CT Freedom Alliance continues to ask courts allow students to avoid masks.

         Q:  I read in the Hartford Courant that a group is suing to let students not wear masks in school.  Won’t that put others at risk?

         A:  This is a continuation of seven months of court action by the Connecticut Freedom Alliance to remove restrictions on opening schools during a public health emergency.  In this instance, the group had filed a request to Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher for a ruling without a full trial to invalidate Governor Lamont’s order that children attending in-person classes in schools must wear masks.  The Alliance’s position is that wearing masks is not only dangerous to a child’s heath but that “children are constitutionally entitled to a physical learning experience under the Connecticut Constitution.”  Judge Moukawsher issued a 36-page ruling denying the request.  Governor Lamont has recently been subject to criticism over his issuing of nearly 100 executive orders dealing with the pandemic.  Other cases have been heard in court, and many of these are causing appeals to be heard by the Connecticut Supreme Court.  The Freedom Alliance will be included in the Supreme Court case by asking it to overturn the denials given by Judge Moukawsher.  Who is right – parents who want their freedom to decide what’s best for their children, or the government to protect the public health?  That question frames many discussions about how well – even if – we will ever end this pandemic.

239. Follow up: U.S. stockpiled AstraZeneca doses to be given to other countries.

         Q:  Is Biden going to follow his plan by giving spare COVID doses to other countries?

         A:  In last week’s column, it was identified that the “National Strategy for the Covid-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness” plan called for the U.S. to join with the approximately 190 other countries to participate in a global vaccine distribution agreement called COVAX.  In this agreement, participant countries agreed to share vaccine doses with other countries that are unable to produce enough for their people.  AstraZeneca now has tens of million doses of vaccine in storage in the U.S. that can’t yet be used here because it has yet to be approved by the FDA.  Yet this vaccine has been approved by 70 other countries.  Earlier, President Biden continued making courtesy calls to national leaders around the world.  While broadly discussing issues with the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Biden mentioned the problem of children crowding our mutual border overwhelming the U.S. immigration system.  It was reported that during that call, an impromptu agreement was reached to explore the possibility of Mexico helping us restrict Central American citizens coming into Mexico before traveling north to our border.  In exchange, we would ship millions of doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to help Mexico immunize its citizens.  Before the deal was formalized last week, Canada had been brought into the deal.  As a result, large quantities of our stored vaccine will be sent to both Canada and Mexico as those countries help us with our immigration problem!

240. OSHA is planning to release regulations requiring masks in the workplace.

         Q:  Many of my friends want to get back to normal right away.  How will things change?

         A:  The CDC is contemplating guidelines for returning to work.  CDC guidelines are only recommendations, and previous problems in the workplace, especially in meat packing plants led to guidelines being ignored.  Former President Trump encouraged this avoidance.  The Occupational Health and Safety Administration within the U.S. Department of Labor is one federal agency with the power to enforce workplace safety standards.  The interim guidelines being considered is to require masks to be worn by all employees in a workplace where they may come within six feet distance of others during the time at work.  This requirement would probably be temporary, until the pandemic was under control.  But how well would such a rule be received by businesses and by the public?  A lot of discussion is taking place at CDC – and OSHA.  It will be interesting to watch this unfolding program.  Related to this is another workplace consideration being talked about: can an employer require their employees  be vaccinated before they can remain on the job, return to work, or be initially hired?