Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 — November 3, 2021

  “Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

396.  A British museum faces long term Covid-19 effects

         QHas the pandemic caused lasting effects in the arts?

         A:  Many museums worldwide have been affected by the pandemic.  The New York Times recently published an article that reviewed the experiences at the Victoria and Albert Museum, known locally as the “V&A,” in London.  This museum is open only 5 days a week instead of the previous 7.  In addition, many of the galleries remain closed, including the furniture exhibits and much of the ceramics collection.  The V&A attendance has yet to reach half of what it was before the pandemic.  The financial crisis is not only due to lost revenue from admissions fees.  Gift shop and catalog sales have also plummeted.

Last August, Tristram Hunt, the V&A’s director began planning to save about 10 million pounds (about $13.7 million) annually.  He asked the museum’s departments to plan for budget cuts of about 20%.  He also proposed that the museum’s curation and research departments be rearranged so that they would no longer focus on the materials of the different objects being housed (fiber, glass, ceramics, etc.) and instead be organized by historical eras.  By February, when these moves had started and become public, things did not go well.  Christina J. Faraday, an art historian, publicly wrote in the Daily Telegraph newspaper that the plan “struck at the heart of the museum’s identity.  Tristram Hunt is in danger of becoming the director who found the V&A marble, and left it brick,” she wrote.  While the reorganization plan has since been curtailed, the loss of many experts in their separate fields is expected to affect the quality of the artifacts for years to come.  And staff shortages will continue to curtail the ability for displays to be seen.

397. In NH, protests over Covid mandates roil state and local governments.

         Q: Is all of New England like Connecticut following public health policies?

         A:  The business of local and state government in New Hampshire is under increasing strain as anti-government activists have turned traditionally quiet meetings into ugly shouting matches.  These activists include foes of Covid-19 vaccinations, mask mandates, and even receiving federal grants to fight the virus.

In NH, all executive decisions have to be approved by the governor’s Executive Council.  At a recently heavily attended public meeting, there were arrests of nine anti-vax mandate protesters.  Amid the chaos, the Executive Council voted 4-1 to reject two “controversial” federal contracts to expand the state’s vaccine program to get more people vaccinated through regional health networks. It makes NH the only state in the nation to reject such funding.  This while the crowd shouted: “We won” and “thank you.”

Governor Chris Sununu had supported the contracts, which had been tabled a month earlier after protesters disrupted a previous meeting.  One opponent of receiving these funds said it would allow the federal government to access individual personal data, which is not true.  Another said the council already had approved $13 million for a mobile vaccine van and that this additional $27 million is not necessary.

At the start of the meeting, state police said there were 173 opponents and protesters in the building and police said more than that were outside but could not get in because of limited room capacity.  About 30 uniformed police were inside the meeting while others were outside as the room was at the capacity limit.

398. Booster shots have been approved, but the process was seen as controversial.  

         Q:  What was the discussion over a controversy approving the booster shots?

         A:  The FDA and the CDC have approved the use of a third shot of the mRNA vaccines.  Tens of millions of Americans are now eligible for these booster shots.  Limited data show that, with the exception of adults over age 65, the vast majority of vaccinated Americans are currently well protected against severe illness and death from Covid.  But as president Biden and federal agencies exerted pressure, the panels’ scientists had become concerned about the widespread confusion and concerns resulting from political controversies.  The roles of the advisory committees are to evaluate the efficacy and the risks for the drugs being considered.  Not to consider how to reduce public confusion and concerns.  Newspapers focus on people who disagree and the press reports that scientists were in disagreement captured the public’s attention.  There was no controversy over the science.  The science showed that a third shot did grant greater immunity and there was little if any risk. Some scientists said they were worried about confusing the public further by dissenting — while also worrying that the decision to approve boosters could make hesitant Americans less likely to get the first dose.

It becomes evident that initially, Pfizer, followed by the other manufacturers of the vaccines led the effort by introducing the concept of “booster” shots, perhaps as a marketing effort to sell more doses of the vaccine.  And Biden quickly promoted the effort, perhaps to deflect from the strong criticism at the time over the “hasty withdrawal” from Afghanistan.  The data did show that over many months, and more so for older patients, the immunity granted by the initial vaccines began to wane.  News reports cited Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC “overruled her advisory committee” by including all age groups in qualifying for the booster shots.  But the advisory committee had not included this in their recommendations, and her action was not to overrule them, but to supplement their recommendations.

399. Covid-19 vaccinations evaluated for children ages 5 through 11.

         Q:  How soon can we begin vaccinations for school-age children?

         A:  Last week, federal regulators evaluated the safety and efficacy of a coronavirus vaccine for children 5 to 11, saying that the benefits of staving off Covid-19 with the Pfizer vaccine generally outweighed the risks of the most worrisome possible side effects in that age group.  The analysis came on the same day that the Food and Drug Administration posted data from Pfizer showing that the vaccine had a 90.7 percent efficacy rate in preventing symptomatic Covid-19 in a clinical trial of 5- to 11-year-olds.  The findings could add momentum for F.D.A. authorization of the pediatric dose on an emergency basis, perhaps as early as this week, opening up a long-awaited new phase of the nation’s vaccination campaign. The agency’s independent vaccine expert committee is set to vote quickly on whether to recommend authorization.  The agency said it had balanced the dangers of hospitalization, death, or other serious consequences from Covid-19 against the risk of myocarditis, a rare condition involving inflammation of the heart muscle.  Vaccinations of school-age children will very soon be taking place!

400.  A cultural/social phenomenon of change is emerging called “The Big Quit.”

         Q:  Why are so many lower-paying jobs unfilled and others going on union strikes now?

         A:  The New York Times published a recent article tracking the progression leading to what it now calls, “The Big Quit.”  In August, a record 4.3 million Americans left their jobs — the highest number in two decades. Across industries including health care, education, retail, food services, and child care, people are saying goodbye to their employers.  There are several reasons for the mass resignations. People have lingering fears of getting Covid at the workplace, better unemployment benefits are now available, and savings built up during the pandemic that make it easier for them to turn down jobs they don’t want, or don’t pay a living wage. For the first time in decades, many workers across the income spectrum have some leverage, and they are using it to demand better pay and superior working conditions.  “It’s like the whole country is in some kind of union renegotiation,” Betsey Stevenson, a University of Michigan economist, recently told The Times. “I don’t know who’s going to win in this bargaining that’s going on right now, but right now it seems like workers have the upper hand.”

Behavioral scientists say times of disruption and transition create new opportunities for growth and change.  Staying the course, whether in an unfulfilling job or an unhappy relationship, can cost you, Lindsay Crouse and Kirby Ferguson in Opinion wrote last week.

Despite what many of us were taught in childhood — that quitters are losers — there can be significant penalties to passively remaining in place, particularly in the form of missed opportunities. For example, research has shown that one of the best ways for women to increase their salaries is to quit their job and find a new one.   Thoughtful quitting, Lindsay and Kirby argue, may actually increase your power, as was the case with Simone Biles, the U.S. gymnast who started a global conversation about mental health after withdrawing from the gymnastic finals in the Tokyo Olympics.  “I’m not saying quit everything. Lots of great things require perseverance — our relationships, our health, our careers,” Lindsay said. “But think about it: perseverance shouldn’t be a default; it should be a choice.”