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Here's what we know. What we really know.

Covid isn't going away.

In May 2020, Laurie Garrett told New York Times columnist Frank Bruni that her most optimistic time horizon for the pandemic was 36 months. The math isn't hard: May 2023. That's the optimistic timeframe.

If you don't know Laurie Garrett, she wrote The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance. As a Harvard fellow, she'd worked closely with the emerging diseases group, a collection of faculty concerned about the surge in epidemics of previously unknown or rare viruses and bacteria.

Published in 1994, The Coming Plague spent 19 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. It was one of those "change the way you think about everything" books.

In the intervening years, we forgot Garrett's warnings. At least most of us did. The infectious disease scientists kept working away while the rest of us grew complacent, largely because outbreaks of infectious diseases were pushed back.

Garrett was not complacent. After she wrote The Coming Plague, people kept asking what the solution was to the threat of global pandemics. As she tells it, her background was in journalism, so she was more accustomed to identifying problems than locating solutions. But like many of us, she realized that her job description had changed.

In 2000, she published Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health. Progress in public health, she discovered, was "chained to economics." Instead of building a robust international public health system, we were weakening public health by placing cost-cutting above results.

Betrayal of Trust won the expected accolades. But for the most part, it didn't change policy. The safety net continued to deteriorate.

Then Covid-19 hit.

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Laurie Garrett, American Cassandra

We have a stark choice. Do we continue bathing in denial or do we listen to Laurie?

The facts: Vaccines may prevent death or serious illness. We know now that breakthrough infections happen. Some can be serious. We don't know much, yet, about long-haul problems in vaccinated people who contract coronavirus, but they seem to exist.

We do know, as of last week, that the Delta strain of the virus can be transmitted, whether or not you've been vaccinated.

So, no. It's not going away. Listen to Garrett talking to Bruni in 2020:

“I’m quite certain that this is going to go in waves,” she added. “It won’t be a tsunami that comes across America all at once and then retreats all at once. It will be micro-waves that shoot up in Des Moines and then in New Orleans and then in Houston and so on, and it’s going to affect how people think about all kinds of things.”

Bruni asked: Is 'back to normal,' a phrase that so many people cling to, a fantasy?

"This is history right in front of us,” Garrett said. “Did we go ‘back to normal’ after 9/11? No. We created a whole new normal. We securitized the United States. We turned into an antiterror state. And it affected everything. We couldn’t go into a building without showing ID and walking through a metal detector, and couldn’t get on airplanes the same way ever again. That’s what’s going to happen with this."

No more illusions, please, America. If you're not all warm and fuzzy about humanity, consider the cost. According to the non-profit FAIR Health, 15 to 20 percent of people who get COVID-19 and seek treatment may need a hospital stay for the disease. The average charge for a COVID-19 patient with no health insurance or seeing an out-of-network provider was $73,300. That charge is the estimated cost for a patient with no health insurance. The average estimated in-network amount per privately insured patient was $38,221.

Inpatient COVID-19 hospitalizations in 2020 were projected to cost the U.S. healthcare system, including both for-profit payers and Medicare, between $9.6 billion and $16.9 billion, according to industry publication Health Care Finance News.

Federal and state Medicaid payments are expected to range from $440 million to $780 million.The cost of hospitalizations, on top of any other required treatments for COVID-19, were calculated at $546.6 billion.

The upside? Health insurance rates didn't go up as much as expected because everybody was afraid to go to the doctor for normal ailments.

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Ted Mooney, Novelist

The Delta variant of COVID 19 is twice as infectious as the original, and on average people infected with it have 1,000 times more copies of the virus in their respiratory tract that those who suffered from the original. It's time to shut unvaccinated people completely out from most public and social privileges: no restaurants, no movies, no school, no sports events, no air travel, no hotels, no car rentals, etc. Never vaxxers: your ill-conceived idea of "freedom" without responsibility ends here. Fun's over. Let the serious among you isolate yourselves and sacrifice your place in our commonality, our society, to show the depth of your convictions. You will be prisoners of conscience and enjoy all the moral credibility of true conscientious objectors. Those of you who survive may thank your government.

Ted Mooney is the author of several novels, most recently, The Same River Twice. His first book, the award-winning Easy Travel to Other Planets, remains seductively prescient.

James McMurtry, Musician

As I write, there are sixteen ICU beds available in the 11-county Trauma Service Region which includes Austin Texas, and provides service to over 2.3 million residents. Again, sixteen beds, two point three million residents.

We’re back to square one, if not further back. I’m older than my father was when he had to have a quadruple bypass. I’ll have to put off any major illnesses or injuries for a while, I guess, not that I mind all that much. Our Governor will not allow even a mask mandate.

My girlfriend/life partner/ whatever you want to call us after 21 years tends bar in Austin. She was glad to get back to work in May. The other night, a doorman walked her to her car and she gave him a ride to his car. They were both fully vaccinated and masked.

He felt bad the next day and has since tested positive for Covid. She tested negative today and will take another test tomorrow. Maybe masks work.

There has been a rash of breakthrough infections in the Austin music scene. Singers and drummers, those with the most aerobic jobs seem to be particularly hard hit. Makes sense. They have to breathe down to their toenails just to maintain. if there is a viral load to be had, they’re gonna have it. I was supposed to restart my weekly residency next week, but I have opted out. Today I heard that Travis County, County Seat Austin, has gone to stage five “precautions.” Stage Five Precautions means there would be a mask mandate if our governor was a Democrat.

There is method to his madness. Abbott doesn’t care that his anti health policies are killing mostly Republican anti-vaxers. Republicans need chaos. The more death, the more blame to assign, the more economic ruin for which to assign more blame. They will try to spin the carnage and blame it on Biden and their base will support them.

To take hold, fascism doesn’t require the absolute breakdown of society, but such a breakdown would speed the fascist agenda along. Think how much easier Trump would have had it if, when he rose to office, we had been reduced to the economic level of Weimar Germany, rolling wheelbarrows full of cash to the grocery store, rather than coasting on the Obama economy, eight years after the Bush crash.

Trump did his best to tear down the economy with his trade wars and trade deal pull outs, but he didn’t quite tear it down enough to keep himself in office. Americans still aren’t hurting bad enough to really hate, most of us anyway. But Republicans are not quitting. They are ready to start the civil war if that’s their only play. And it pretty much is their only remaining play.

Sixteen Beds. Thanks Gov.

PS. Sorry, I probably shouldn’t have called Governor Abbott a douche bag. Douche bags might actually be useful. Some folks like them anyway.

James McMurtry is one of the country's most revered singer songwriters. His new album is The Horses and the Hounds.

McMurtry Playlist by fellow Texan Paul Cullum

“You Got to Me”/Complicated Game

“How’m I Gonna Find You Now?”/Complicated Game (official video)

“State of the Union” (45)


"Ruby and Carlos"/Just Us Kids

“Choctaw Bingo”/Saint Mary of the Woods

“Rachel’s Song”/Where’d You Hide the Body?

“Where’s Johnny?”/Candyland

From the new album The Horses and the The Hounds

From the first album "Too Long in the Wasteland"

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