To Covid or not, so what is the answer?

Amid the daily avalanche of media reports about the Covid pandemic—some based on science, others on speculation and still others, perhaps the majority, on Internet conspiracies and high-octane bullshit—occasionally you run across a new angle to this topic. 

Such was the case with a July 22 piece in the The Atlantic magazine, that designated an increasingly small portion of the American population, about 18 percent, who so far have never been touched by the virus, as the "Covid virgins."

In April, Stew and I ended our two-year travel fast with a trip to Croatia and a few days in Vienna on the return leg. Though we brought the requisite supplies of antiseptic gel and masks, almost immediately we jettisoned all caution. Neither the passengers nor the crew of our KLM flight wore masks, or the passengers aboard the cruise ship or on the ground at airports or cities we visited. The only exception seemed to be passengers aboard trams and buses in Vienna. 

Complacency set in and we implicitly declared ourselves "Covid virgins" who hadn't been touched by the virus because we had been vaccinated and "boostered," and we lived in a ranch outside any populated areas. So the hell with masks, gel, potions and safe distancing. 

Wrong move. When we got back to San Miguel, Stew came down with what we thought was a case of the common flu and an raspy cough that lasted three days, and which he passed on to me. Neither one of us had any fever or other symptoms. I went to the local lab for an unrelated blood test, and out of curiosity, asked for a Covid test, which to my shock turned out positive. Stew also was positive. So much for Covid virginity.

The Vienna State Opera getting ready for Wolfgang.

Stew did some Googling about the incubation period of the virus and placed the probable site and time of our infection at the elegant venue of The Vienna State Opera, where we saw a performance of Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro." 

While Figaro, Cherubino and the rest of the characters were carrying on onstage for three and a half long hours, nobody in the sellout audience of about four thousand, including twenty or thirty young standees immediately behind us, wore masks. The only masks I saw were among a few ushers in the lobby. Signs urging the wearing of masks seemed so much like part of the ornate décor of the place.

Our bad luck with Mozart's Figaro also confirmed our preference for Italian or French operas, and their more in-your-face dénouements where characters jump off balconies, die of tuberculosis in unheated attics, commit hara-kiri or just plain go to hell.

During a visit to San Antonio, for some medical tests, we went for our fourth Pfizer vaccine at a Walgreens, in addition to a pneumonia vaccine and a previous flu shot. But even after all those shots, we're not any more confident about how to keep from getting re-infected with Covid, amid all the conflicting signals, articles and advice.

In Mexico masks are still prevalent in streets and most establishments. But in Texas and in Europe they seem like yesterday's news. Did the rest of the world get an "all clear" signal that we missed in Mexico?

The Atlantic magazine article says 82 percent of the U.S. population has had a brush with the virus, and experienced the gamut of symptoms from mild, as in mine and Stew's case, all the way to death. According to the daily Covid tally published by the New York Times, as of July 30, the daily average of cases reported was 124,090, 44,207 of which required hospitalizations, put 5,100 people in intensive care and resulted in 477 deaths. Since the virus exploded in the U.S. at the beginning of 2020, an astonishing 1,026,322 people have died from it. 

Whatever is going on, it seems as if the Covid threat, while not as dire as two years ago, is hardly over.

Mask liquidation in Vienna. 

I used to believe that a vaccine against Covid shielded you from the virus. But a friend who is an M.D. and used to work at Abbott Labs in North Chicago, which developed one of the Covid tests, corrected me: Vaccinations greatly increase your odds of not being hospitalized or dying from Covid but are no guarantee of not being infected. 

Exhibit A of that would be President Joe Biden, who has been quadruple-vaccinated against Covid, and presumably works in a highly protected environment, yet has tested positive twice and is in his second quarantine. He also received the drug Paxlovid after his first infection, but now it's not clear whether it was useless or in fact is to blame for his rebound infection.  

Also my cousin Pablo, who was also vaccinated and "boostered" (his son Ariel is a pharmacist at Walgreens) and picked up the virus and was hospitalized during a vacation in Boston. Our gardener Ulises was sick for two days last week with what he called a "gripa" that included a high fever, and which he treated with an all-Mexican concoction of garlic and honey. When he returned to work we gave him a Covid test we had picked up in San Antonio, and it turned positive. We gave him another test kit to use on his wife, who was negative. He says his parents and wife had been vaccinated but not him. Why?

Faced with these contradictions, my brother-in-law and his wife, and likely millions of other Americans, perhaps understandably have come to suspect media reports about Covid and rely on fabulist reports on the internet.  They refuse to be vaccinated. The internet says that some undertakers have found clots in the veins of cadavers of people who were vaccinated so dense they could not be embalmed. The internet says there has been a quantum increase in deaths among athletes; could that be a result of the Covid vaccines? And so on, even after he had a three-day bout of Covid that left his senses of smell and taste partially impaired. The internet says. 

Locally, just yesterday someone posted a notice on the expat internet bulletin board that honey could be effective in the treatment of Covid. Maybe my Mexican gardener is on to something, or the opinion of person touting this Covid cure is, ahem, compromised because she sells honey. 

Out of all these conflicting inputs, Stew and I have drawn some conclusions. We are going after whatever new vaccinations are offered as new variants of the virus show up. Vaccinations may not be a guarantee against infections, but evidence strongly suggests they greatly reduce the chances of serious symptoms let alone death from Covid. 

We also will continue to abide by the Mexican insistence on wearing masks, annoying at they are, and limit our dining options to restaurants with outdoor seating, an easy choice given San Miguel's temperate climate. 

And just to cover our options, including some long shots, I'll take extra care of my plot of 15-odd garlic plants, and resurrect our four beehives which Stew has allowed to fall into disrepair. Is his touch of sloth a symptom of Covid? You can never tell.  


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