Today is an exciting day for our family: Elijah is getting his first vaccine shot! We got on the list pretty quickly after it was announced but the wait times were a couple weeks everywhere I called. So three weeks from now he’ll get his second shot. Two weeks from then he’ll be fully vaccinated, and that will be the best (late) Christmas present for our whole family.
On a broader scale, it’s been over five months since my last post and the whole situation has gotten more and more frustrating. Now we’re in an argument about whether or not you can force someone to get a shot. Why is this even an argument? How did we get to a point where people are fighting against helping themselves and everyone around them by getting the shot? I pray that we quickly get to the point where science will outweigh politics, but I think we’re in for a very long haul and we might not have seen the worst of it yet both in terms of infections/deaths and in the economy.
So… woosah… I’m thankful that Elijah is able to get the vaccine now. Thank you to all the doctors, scientists, researchers, manufacturers, and government agencies that have joined forces around the globe to give us this life-saving option. Soon my family will be able to reassess the risks and figure out what things we can do that we weren’t doing before. We’ll be able to do that with much less risk of getting COVID ourselves or spreading it to the vulnerable population that we encounter.
P.S. Here are a few links I’ve found helpful lately:
We made it! Today marks the end of our family lockdown! As I mentioned last week, we kept our socializing minimized even past our completed vaccine date to help Elijah finish out the year without having to stay home for any symptoms. But today is his last day of school, we’re fully vaccinated, and summer awaits! We still have to figure out how to handle the summer since Elijah is unvaccinated but the risk levels look a lot different than they did last summer.
Virus activity in our area had another big burst while the rest of the country declined but it’s coming down now and the hospitalization rates are coming down too. I’m eagerly awaiting our first days without any deaths, but everything points to the vaccine being effective. I’m also eager to see the rest of the world get flooded with vaccines too so the global numbers can drop too.
My hope and prayer is that this is the last of my COVID-19 posts. To wrap up the series, I thought I’d list out positive changes that this ordeal has had in our personal lives.
The comic already says this one, but I hope that we can all continue wearing masks if we aren’t feeling well. I went into Home Depot the other day and noticed that there was no sign requiring masks anymore. I counted 70-80 people in the store (it was late in the evening) and only three people were not wearing a mask.
Curbside pickup is awesome! I love ordering online, tapping a button in an app when I arrive, and then having my order brought out to me.
Online meetings are very convenient. For example, our church council meetings typically happen at 6pm in the evenings. So I used to stick around at work for a few extra minutes, drive over to church, have the meeting, and then get home after Elijah is asleep or at the end of this bedtime routine. Now I just hop online for a bit, have the meeting, and I don’t give up the entire evening with my family. Keeping with the church theme, I’m excited for online small groups and Bible studies so we can skip rush hour traffic and make it easier to invite friends to join.
Why do I ever need to go into the office again? I have a better setup at home than I do at the office, and my team is hiring vigorously in Atlanta. By the time we are welcomed back to the office (currently set for September), I will have more people on my team outside of Redmond than local. So even if I go in, I still need to do everything remote. I’m not sure how we can say “being in the office is important” at the same time we say “creating an inclusive environment is important.” I’ll at least be taking advantage of the 50% work from home option, but the option of living farther away is very tempting.
At some point I started trying to intentionally plan a family adventure at least once a month. That meant going somewhere new, driving a little farther than we normally would, or doing something a little bigger than a normal Saturday trip.
As soon as the pandemic hit, I got more serious about setting a specific schedule for grocery shopping. We make a list throughout the week, and then I go Friday mornings at around 6:30am when the store is empty. It made me realize how much time I wasted with “oh I’ll just stop on the way home and grab something if we don’t have enough meals planned”.
My search for news that isn’t leading me towards an opinion has helped me easily identify any name-calling, bias, or rhetoric, even if it’s supporting my viewpoint. It has taught me a lot about my own writing and learning to speak without inflammatory language or virtue signaling. I have a long way to go on that journey but I want to consciously keep working on that.
I learned how to cut Elijah’s hair! The first few times were a little rough, but I think I’m finally getting the hang of it. It’s not flawless, but he loves me cutting his hair and I’m up for continuing to save $20/month.
The “life lessons” below overlap a bit with the list above but seemed like they deserved their own section:
It’s easier to keep your principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold to them 98 percent of the time.
When two people are screaming at each other, the truth is probably in the middle… but that’s not always the case. If you’ve got a racist person screaming at someone else, the truth isn’t in the middle. The racist person is just wrong.
On the surface, some of the commandments seem pretty easy. For example, “You shall not murder.” Sure, I got that one. But the fifth command isn’t just telling us not to shiv someone, it’s telling us that we shouldn’t hurt or harm our neighbor. How do you do apply that when your mere presence might give them a fatal disease? In the fourth commandment we’re told to honor our government and others in authority. What’s the best way to honor them in complicated situations or when they disagree? And how do you make these decisions as the leader of an organization? I’m thankful that my salvation doesn’t depend on how well I keep the commandments, because there are a lot of times when I don’t even know which choice is better.
You know that one camping trip you had when it was cold and there was torrential rain the whole time? Now when you go camping and there is bad weather you laugh and say “Well at least it’s not as bad as that one time…” We may deal with worse things in life than this pandemic, but I have a feeling that COVID will be our “rainy camping trip” in a lot of situations.
Pastor used a song in his service a few weeks back that I’ve probably played 100 times since then. It talks about how we can feel like everything is crumbling around us, but Jesus isn’t just a happy thought that we use to ignore our troubles. He’s here. He’s powerful. He is worthy to stand before the Father and declare us righteous. The Father loves us. The Spirit is moving among us. The God of all creation is caring for us. We need to continually remind ourselves of this. So to end my last COVID post, here is Andrew Peterson singing “Is He Worthy”.
Today we get our second vaccine shot, so two weeks from now, we’ll be fully vaccinated! Since that gets us so close to the end of Elijah’s school year, we’ll just stretch our family lockdown a couple more weeks because if any of the three of us have symptoms that overlap with COVID, he can’t go to school. After this long in lockdown, a couple more voluntary weeks to help him finish out the school year doesn’t seem too painful. Plus, with the spike in cases going on around here right now, we’re not to eager to take our 95% immunity out for a test drive.
Besides, I think it’s going to take us a while to emerge back into civilization. Sometimes it feels like we’re stepping out of a bunker and blinking our eyes to adjust to the light while we field invitations to immediately jump into situations that we haven’t experienced for 14 months. Logically, I’m excited to remember what it’s like to take a walk without crossing to the other side of the street whenever I see someone coming. I’m excited to see friends and family again. I’m excited to worship in person again. I’m excited to shake hands with someone outside my household again. But emotionally? It’s a lot to deal with and it’s going to take time.
For my last post in this series on the final day of our family lockdown, I’m queuing up a big list of positive things from the pandemic. But I’ve also been thinking about how we, as a society, can learn from this experience. What an amazing time to be studying sociology, epidemiology, psychology, economics, data science or a host of other topics. This pandemic has generated material for thousands of PhD theses. Below are some of the things that I hope we’ll be able to do a better job at answering together as a civilization because many of them apply to a lot more situations than just COVID. COVID just threw them at us more rapidly than other forces do.
How many times can “official guidance” be changed before people ignore it completely?
How do we keep science and politics separate, or is it wrong to separate them?
How can the scientific community do a better job of communicating uncertainty in their findings without people pointing to the uncertainty as a reason to throw out the entire study?
How do we strike a balance between people’s right to not be hurt by you and your right to live your life? How do we measure the impact of those choices?
How do we convince people to make sacrifices when the benefits that aren’t easily observed on a personal level?
How do we get people to respect large data trends instead of their local observed experience, especially when exponential growth is in the mix?
How do we promote respect for experts while still leaving room for conflicting research?
How do we teach people to look at the raw information source before accepting the journalistic summary?
How can data models do a better job of taking into account the difference between what the government recommends and what people actually do, especially as that varies by area?
Not to make light of serious medical conditions, but do we have some kind of mass PTSD after all this time in lockdown?
I doubt there are answers to many of those questions, but there have to be improvements that can be made. And as I think about those questions, I also think back on all the positive content that popped up. The list is so long, but there are three quotes that stick out as I think about them now:
Adam Savage said that Jamie Hyneman had no inertia for changing his mind when presented with enough data to overturn his current understanding. What an amazing compliment! When I heard that, I immediately wondered how I would go about teaching that to Elijah. It’s an incredibly complicated problem because it gets into building an understanding of what data is valid and what it should take to overturn your current understanding. On a related note, a moderator of /r/changemyview said that one of the first things he likes to ask is “What would it take to change your mind?” Imagine if every discussion about a disagreement started with that question!
While researching the various presidential candidates, I found a page talking about their approaches to the pandemic. There were the obvious responses like “no lockdown” and “shut down the economy”, but another candidate didn’t support either one. Instead, they argued for devoting enormous and immediate energy into testing and regularly sharing consistent information. The idea was that most people aren’t going to knowingly run around infecting people or making choices to prolong the epidemic. I’m not saying that made this candidate worth voting for, but in a world where it seems like there are only two buckets of viewpoints, the response of “both answers are bad” really stuck with me. (I left the name out because it doesn’t matter for the purposes of this post, but because you’re probably wondering, it was Jo Jorgensen.)
I logged into a meeting at work a couple months ago and there was an employee who had just moved to the Redmond area from New Zealand. Somebody commented that life must feel pretty much the same because all the meetings still happen virtually. He replied, “Yeah, except you all do COVID a lot differently than we did.” I admit that I was clueless about what he meant so after the meeting I started reading. There were 26 deaths in New Zealand from COVID. That’s not a typo. Twenty six deaths in a country of 5.1 million people and almost all of those were before the end of April 2020. (If they experienced the US fatality to population ratio, they’d have 9200 deaths by now.) Wikipedia has a thorough listing of the timeline of their response, but after that initial total lockdown last March and April, they’ve been living a life generally unhindered by COVID including large concerts with 50,000 attendees. I’m really interested to circle back to this one after the dust settles and learn more about the pros and cons of their extreme response.
I’ve written all this almost looking back on the pandemic because that’s how it’s looking for my family. But globally? Daily infections are pretty close to the highest they’ve ever been. The stories coming out of Brazil and India are nightmarish. For example, in India, the number of people testing positive every day equals the population of Cleveland, OH. This virus is far from over and as the United States pulls out of it and has the luxury of wondering what it’s like to shake someone’s hand again, we can’t forget about the rest of the world.
Instead of a Bible verse this time, I’ll finish with a video from one of our churches in South Carolina. While this pandemic may have left us feeling crushed and isolated, this hymn is a good reminder that God is the one who can bring us all together again.
Bind us all as one together In your Church’s sacred fold, Weak and healthy, poor and wealthy, Sad and joyful, young and old. Is there want or pain or sorrow? Make us all the burden share. Are there spirits crushed and broken? Teach us, Lord, to soothe their care.
I couldn’t decide which comic to use so why not celebrate a little and use both.
WE GOT THE VACCINE! 402 days after our family lockdown began, Tyla and I had got pokes in the arm that will help us learn how to fight the virus. It was fairly easy to find a shot via covidwa.com and we only had to drive a few miles from our house. It’s not quite as fast as Neo learning kung fu, but cranking out a vaccine this quickly is still an amazing collaboration between researchers, tech providers, doctors, epidemiologists, politicians and average citizens.
Tyla and I will be fully vaccinated by June 1 which aligns pretty well with our plans to stay in lockdown until Elijah is out of school. It’s really tough when he gets sick during school so I think we can hang out at home for a couple additional weeks to help him out.
A quarter of our state is fully vaccinated, many countries are barely getting started, we don’t know how long it will last, and there are endless arguments still in play, but I want to take a moment and say WOOHOO! Thank you Lord!
Philippians 4:4-84 Rejoice in the Lord always! I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Have you seen the flu stats this year? It turns out that masks, social distancing and 20 million more flu vaccines than last year are great ways to fight the flu. This is the lowest flu activity in 25 years. The stats are incredible. For example, over the last three years, there were an average of 177 pediatric deaths from influenza. This year? One.
The same number of tests were performed as in a normal year but only a tiny fraction of them are coming back positive so it’s not like they’re just getting reported as COVID instead. The CDC pages show the numbers by type of testing lab and each one tells the same story but I wanted to see the numbers all up so I pulled the raw data and made my own charts. The first chart shows the number of tests being run for each season (the series title is the year of the start of the season and each new season starts on week 40 of the year). Obviously the current series isn’t complete yet but up to this point, we’re running a comparable number of tests.
And of those tests, here are the counts of positive tests. I can’t figure out how to show the current season on the same chart as the others. The counts are so tiny compared to previous years.
There also aren’t nearly as many flu visits as normal this year either.
This is some feel good data! It’s fun to flip through these charts and see how much the flu season was stopped in it’s tracks while we fight back against COVID. If you want to dig through the data yourself, here are some links: source, source, source.
We’re more than a year into this so let’s check in on the progress. Locally in King County, we are thankfully way down from the peak after Christmas and levels are now around where they were in October. There’s a uptick in cases over the past couple weeks and if past trends are any indication, that usually means we’re heading for another peak. The trend we’re seeing here is being echoed in the rest of the world as well as cases are on the rise again.
The state has been relaxing restrictions over the past few weeks and the vaccine rollout is in full swing. Around 16% of the state is fully vaccinated with 28% having received their first dose. There are about 6 million adults in the state. Today 3 million are eligible and about two thirds of the eligible people have received their first dose. Over the next week, another 2 million will be eligible and on or before May 1, the final 1.2 million will be eligible. (source) If the current rate of vaccinations in our state stays the same, we’ll have about 3.5 million vaccinated by May 1. That’s a lot of data to swallow but the key question that comes out for me is how quickly should we be adding people to the list? If we go too slowly, we risk not keeping the pipeline full and wasting days and vaccines. If we go too quickly, we risk missing some of the most at-risk people who may have trouble getting to a vaccination site. But how many people of the people currently eligible are not planning to get the vaccine? Our current plan is to hop on the list as soon as we’re eligible and trust that the decision makers are doling these out fairly. I’m curious to see how long our wait will be when that happens.
It’s wonderful to see the vaccines going out much more quickly than planned. I pray that enough people get the vaccines and that the vaccines are effective enough to see a more permanent drop in numbers. Then we wait to see for how long they are effective.
The loosening restrictions and quick vaccine rollout has thrown me back into the world of figuring out how to adjust our own behavior. For a long time our personal guideline has been to reduce the amount of risk we put into the system. In the big picture, any contact outside your house increases risk and the more the risk rises, the more cases we have and the more people die. So we helped by keeping our risk input very low. If I catch it and take up a hospital bed, I want to know that it was because I was doing an approved activity and being as careful as I could. But now that a lot of the highest risk people are vaccinated, the math changes. It’s less critical if we have ten teenagers get sick than ten octogenarians. A lot organizations are putting a higher focus on hospitalization rates and indeed, those are looking pretty good around here, or at least we have some buffer capacity available.
And yet, we’re still hesitant to expand our bubble quickly. Regardless of whether we are exposed to COVID, increasing our contact with others means that we are increasing our risk for catching a cold, the flu, or other common sicknesses. If any of us have any sickness, Elijah can’t go to school. And if he gets any of those symptoms, it means that I have to drive him for his third COVID test. I’m not sure my dad heart can handle watching him get another brain tickle. So yes, we’ll start expanding out a bit and it’s great that we can technically invite vaccinated people into our home, but we’re still not going to be pushing the limits of the guidelines. Tyla and I will hopefully be finishing up our shots around the time that Elijah is out of school and then we can really evaluate stepping out of our bubble to socialize more. But we’ll figure out those details when we can see what the world looks like at that point. For this entire school year, Tyla and I have been almost totally isolated to give Elijah the best shot at a good school year. His school has done a great job following all the guidelines and fostering a positive attitude. We’re not going to give up now.
Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be overwhelmed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Yes, I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – Isaiah 41:10
One year ago today Microsoft sent us home for at least “three weeks.” Little did we know at the time how serious and life-changing this pandemic would be. So why does it say day 356 at the top of this post? Elijah’s school didn’t start staying home for a bit longer and when his school closed, it really set in that something serious was happening so I used that as the start date for our family. As scary and confusing as it was, it almost feels like an easier part of the pandemic because we were more united.
So here we are “one year” later and two vaccines are getting spread around the United States faster than expected. About 8% of all people in Washington state have been fully vaccinated. Those two vaccine pipelines are in full swing, but now there’s a third joining the mix from Johnson & Johnson. This one has some advantages in that it can be stored for months at refrigerator temps and it only involves one shot. The downside is that production is just starting up on that so it won’t give an immediate big boost to the numbers, but pharma giant Merck announced that they are going to devote two entire plants to producing J&J’s vaccine. I love the cooperation and it gives me more hope that my family will be vaccinated by the end of the year.
The other big challenge for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is, surprise surprise, public perception. The J&J vaccine is “85% protective against the most severe COVID-19 and 66% effective in moderate cases.” (source) So why would the FDA approve it if the other vaccines are 95 and 98% effective? The problem is that the numbers are difficult to compare because they were tested against different strains of the virus. We don’t have stats for the efficacy of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines against the current strains.
Maybe we will need additional shots or new vaccines in the future, but hopefully these early vaccines will be enough to let us open more businesses, ditch the masks, and socialize again. None of it will be “normal” and the change will be gradual but it feels like maybe we’re through the highest death rates, at least in the first world countries.
John 14:27 Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, and do not let it be afraid.
On the home front, Elijah had his second COVID test. I almost wished I had some symptoms so I could at least do it with him. This one was worse because he knew the pain that was coming from the test, but he was a trooper and we survived. The negative test eases our own nerves but it also helps his school to know that there’s nothing to worry about on their end. Thanks to his school’s administration and the cooperation of all the families, there have been zero cases of COVID spread within the school.
It has been awesome to hear from those of you getting your vaccine shots. I now know two people who have received both shots! A new vaccination dashboard from the AI For Health group at Microsoft is fun to watch, at least for first world countries. Washington is lagging behind a bit, but we have 4.1% of the population fully vaccinated and if we keep at this pace we’ll hit 20% by the end of April. My dose is nowhere in sight but I’m happy to stay home while people who need it more get their shots. I’m very interested to watch how the infection rates change as the vaccinations become more prevalent, and I’m also curious about how we’ll get this spread to the rest of the world.
Personally, these last few weeks have been some of the hardest weeks of this whole ordeal. I’ve learned how to handle COVID within my family, as a member of the community, as an employee, and as a parent at Elijah’s school. The major missing piece is that I have not learned how to deal with COVID as a leader in my church. I’ve written and erased a mountain of text here, but it boils down to the fact that I’m a sinner making choices in a sinful world about how to share God’s Word with sinful people. The only perfect decision is to be kneeling before God in prayer receiving forgiveness through Christ.
James 1:2-5 Consider it complete joy, my brothers,whenever you fall into various kinds of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces patient endurance. And let patient endurance finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any one of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives it to all without reservation and without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
Three hundred days of COVID-19 at least for our family. I remember thinking back in May that we’d be out of it before too long because maybe if we just do the lockdown, it will go away. Nope. The only way it’s going away is with a vaccine and thank you God that it’s rolling out.
We’re eager to get the vaccine but we’ll almost certainly be at the end of the line. It sounds like they’re shooting for 1 million per day. It’s unclear to me if that’s 1 million people getting totally vaccinated or just 1 million doses per day. Everyone needs two doses, but regardless, the math on that means we’re going to be well into next fall before we get a vaccine at the projected pace. There have been plenty of hiccups getting the machine spun up in our country but places like Israel are moving very quickly. They have administered vaccines to 18% of their population! (This data is available from Our World in Data and covidvax.live is a nice visualization of the data.)
I wrote about the increased death rate in the last two posts but I finally found the CDC page that shows weekly deaths from COVID, total deaths, and how the total death number compares with what we’d expect based on previous years. Read the footnotes before drawing conclusions, but it shows that a lot of extra people are dying this year. Some members of our government say the COVID numbers are inflated and maybe that’s true, but something is out there killing a lot of extra people this year.
I mostly succeeded in keeping the pandemic out of my end of year post, but there were a lot of related thoughts that I want to capture and they revolve around being a parent through this situation. What is Elijah learning from it? What do I want him to learn from it? How much of it can he grasp at his age? What will he remember when he looks back on this time? I’ve kind of figured that I’m just bumbling my way through it and not doing a very good job, but when I woke him up on December 31 I said, “Hey buddy! It’s the last day of 2020!” Most other people would have replied with “Good riddance!” but Elijah got very sad and said, “But I don’t want it to be over.” I tried to contain my shock and asked him why and he started listing off good things about the pandemic. We’re home together more. We took interesting family adventures. He didn’t have to share his new toys with anyone. The list went one for a while and ended with “But obviously I don’t like the part about people dying.” What a wonderful answer!
It got me thinking more deeply about the specific lessons I’d like teach him. These are too much for a 7 year old to fully grasp but if these are common themes throughout his time in our house then hopefully they’ll stick.
How do we decide what is ok to do and what’s not? The first step is always to read the Bible and see if it has anything to say about the topic. If not then a good principle for the pandemic is “If everyone did this, would we have more or less infections?” Unfortunately many people aren’t answering this one correctly and that leads to the next bullet point.
How do I know what information is true? The Media Wise project has lots of good information but the basics I try to repeat are looking at the raw data, respecting the experts, and reading conflicting opinions. “Don’t believe everything on the internet.” Along with that comes being willing to change your mind when confronted with better information.
What if someone says something I don’t think is true? What if they have authority over me? God tells us in 1 John 4 that we’re supposed to test everything we hear to compare it to what the Bible says. If Pastor preaches something that doesn’t line up with the Bible, it’s my job as an elder to confront him and ask him about it. The same applies to everything we read on the internet or hear, even from those in positions of authority.
Why is everyone else doing X but we aren’t? This was a big one for us even before the pandemic, but the answer is the same. “Be in the world but not of the world.” That’s not a direct quote from the Bible but it comes from John 15:19 and John 17:14-16. We’re part of society but this sinful world is not our home. Thanks to our redemption through Christ, we don’t belong here. So feeling different or left out is just one of the many tricks the devil will use to try to keep us from heaven.
When asked about 2020, Bill Gates said, “This is a communications exercise. So far, the U.S. doesn’t get a very high grade.” We took science and made it political and the parties twisted the facts to meet their agendas. Hopefully we’ll do better in 2021, but ultimately I’m hopeful that we’re training our children to be better at this then we were.
John 14:14-16 14 I have given them your word. The world hated them, because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I am not asking that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the Evil One. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.
On Monday I mentioned that I couldn’t find a good graph showing the increased number of deaths in 2020 (from any cause) in the US. This post is a quick update to say that I’ve found better data. This ourworldindata website shows the number of deaths per week and compares it to previous years. You can also choose other countries and read about where they get their data sources. Note that their data isn’t fresh enough to show a lot of impact from the current spike that we’re going through.