100 days of masking to save thousands of lives

I shared a link in November that highlighted the many stressors that our local hospital system was facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been a brutal winter, it’s not over, and it remains very serious.

I shift to a lot of administrative work in the winter, and the field work that I do is often solo or with small teams, so it’s not too disruptive to my work. (It did, however, disrupt one of N. America’s most iconic long term ecological research projects). Winter and early spring is also conference and annual meeting season; these gatherings bring fresh energy and life into our discipline, and online meetings just aren’t the same. It’s very disappointing, but it’s a light burden relative to what most are facing.

As we’ve discussed here, the pandemic is highlighting many ecological features of our common life together. Whether or not we learn the lessons, time will tell.

With the new year, however, has brought the promise of several highly effective vaccines. These are very, very good news. And now our difficult task is turning vaccines into vaccinations. This depends on the boring but vital public health and healthcare infrastructure that most of us in normal times take for granted.

I had the great pleasure to take advantage of our volunteer-time-off program to assist in the vaccine rollout at the local hospital. So did one of my colleagues, Debbie Palmer, the Executive Director of the Lake Maxinkuckee Environmental Council. You can read about her experience on her blog.

But if you are reading this post, you probably can’t do much to help manufacture more vaccines, or distribute them from the factories to the states. The rollout is starting slow and even with great effort, it is going to take many months to achieve herd immunity

I was very encouraged to see our new President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Chief Medical Advisor to the President Dr. Tony Fauci gather together last night to announce our nation’s first federal plan to tackle the virus. The 15 minute address can be seen here:

A part of that plan we can all participate in is accepting the President’s challenge for all of us to mask up for 100 days. Scientists are telling us that making this behavior universal would alone save some 50,000 lives.

Read that again…

Unfortunately, masks were made into a political statement in the United States, when they are simply an evidence-based practice to reduce (not eliminate) the transmission of the virus. It does more to protect others than it does yourself.

But the simple reason we can take the time to put a piece of cloth over our faces is that we care for others. It’s not just about us, our feelings, or our comfort. We may also feel that it’s a patriotic duty, or we may want to show solidarity, to remind people that they are not alone in their struggle.

but in humility consider others better than yourselves, mask - Google  Search | Humility, Mask quotes, Cool words

Now, I’m not saying wearing a mask is some heroic act that deserves a Presidential Medal of Freedom. To the contrary, it’s a minor inconvenience compared to what so many have borne. But neither do I have much time for cynics who deride mask-wearing as holier-than-thou exterior signs of virtue. How childish! (I’d better mute myself here before continuing to write down my thoughts on that!).

There’s a sign in our Motherhouse that I love, and it states, “Please recycle. The Earth deserves our diligence.” It gets me every time. I’m not so important that I can’t spare 10 seconds to care for our planet’s community of Life. Nor am I so important that my freedom is more important than the community’s security.

(Speaking of diligence, here’s a picture of the hardest-working lumberjills I know. Let us do the work while it is still before us.)

I have verified with testing that I have antibodies from a previous, mild COVID-19 infection. This has relieved some anxiety about my own personal safety, but I will still wear a mask. (I was definitely glad I was wearing a mask when I had to take a family member to the emergency room for a non-COVID issue… it turned out I was likely infectious at the time). We still don’t know a lot about reinfection, we don’t know if the vaccines will reduce transmission or by how much.

But most importantly, there are still vulnerable people waiting for the vaccine, and waiting for economic relief. Or they live with someone who is medically vulnerable. Or they have decided not to get vaccinated yet (including a large number of healthcare workers). Or they are one hospitalization away from bankruptcy.

Those of us with some measure of protection via a previous infection, or a vaccine, and/or a low-risk workplace setting… we need to consider others. We’ve made it this far, now let’s hold the line.

This is going to feel like it’s taking forever, but it’s not forever.

100 days would bring us into April*, past the entirety of the Lenten season. During Lent we remember our mortality, our earth-iness, the brevity of life, and our reliance on our Creator, the Sustainer of the 13.8 billion year-old Cosmos. It seems like an apt practice.

(*We will likely need to rely on masks longer than this, but that’s for another post!).

Enjoying the 30,000 Sandhill Cranes migrating through Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area, Porter County, IN. Clearly no one taught them about distancing! But humans were distanced and masked on the viewing platform.

news round-up: new year edition

Well, it’s only been 1 month since I posted some reading items, but there’s a lot to share!

Here’s a view of our Silver Maple during the ice storm + slushy snow:

The Gate of Heaven Is Everywhere (Harpers) Fred Bahnson reports on one of Richard Rohr’s conferences, and speaks to the American spiritual landscape in a way that I had been unable to articulate.

Here’s a great example of using drones to teach about prescribed fire. This is educational video about specific prescribed fire techniques, produced by the Purdue University Extension. I appreciate all the work that Jarred Brooke, extension wildlife specialist, has put in to educated the public on this and many natural resource issues.

Food for thought? French bean plants show signs of intent, say scientists (The Guardian) Many botanists dispute idea of plant sentience, but study of climbing beans sows seed of doubt

I think I first found the Voyageurs Wolf Project via social media. They do some seriously top-notch science communication work, and publish results of their research in both popular and scientific journals. Take a look at this one:

This Winter Marks an Incredible ‘Superflight’ of Hungry Winter Finches (Audubon) Across the country, birders are being treated to one of the biggest irruption years of boreal birds in recent memory.

Stimulus Bill Is Laden With Climate Provisions, Including a Phasedown of Chemical Super-Pollutants (Inside Climate News) Lawmakers call it the most significant climate victory to pass Congress in a decade. It includes aid and tax credits for wind and solar, and requires phasedown of HFCs.

They Know How to Prevent Megafires. Why Won’t Anybody Listen? (ProPublica) This is a story about frustration, about watching the West burn when you fully understand why it’s burning — and understand why it did not need to be this bad.

Successful Recovery of Bald Eagle Marks Big Win (Wayne Dale News) Indiana’s Natural Resources Commission (NRC) recently removed the bald eagle from Indiana’s list of state endangered and special concern species due to evidence of successful recovery.

The Resistance: In the President’s Relentless War on Climate Science, They Fought Back (Inside Climate News) The scientists’ efforts were often unseen and sometimes unsuccessful. But over four years, they mounted a guerilla defense that kept pressure on the Trump Administration.

Two centuries of energy transitions in one animated graphic: see how U.S. energy use has changed from 1800 to today (click to see the visualization).

How Did This Poisonous Plant Become One of the American South’s Most Long-Standing Staples? // The plant’s inherent toxicity hasn’t deterred those who swear by its delicious flavor and purported medicinal properties.