OPINION: People head out. Guard gets dropped. COVID counts climb

Two nurses work around a car with four individuals receiving COVID-19 tests at a DeKalb County Department of Health COVID-19 drive-thru testing site in Atlanta on November 17, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Two nurses work around a car with four individuals receiving COVID-19 tests at a DeKalb County Department of Health COVID-19 drive-thru testing site in Atlanta on November 17, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

I got a COVID-19 test Wednesday morning and then headed downtown to cruise by the craziness that is Alex Jones, the noted crackpot and conspiracy theorist nonpareil.

I stayed on the periphery of the 150 or so “Stop the Steal” protestors packed shoulder-to-shoulder outside the Georgia Capitol as they shouted slogans, including something about face masks. They don’t like them. I kept my mask on and didn’t interact with anyone because of the outside chance that I had the virus, even though many attendees would dismiss the disease as a hoax or something akin to a cold.

The quick trip downtown was a scouting mission because I was considering writing a column about the end-times lunacy hitting our streets and airwaves. But let’s do that another day.

The fact that so many mask-free people pack themselves together and shout at the top of their lungs is in itself a kind of madness and part of the absurd political divide that says exercising caution shows you’re a weak, freedom-surrendering lib. (Yes, the protests over the summer also probably spread the disease. But at least I saw a lot more masks.)

Noted conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and some 150 protestors pack the sidewalk on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, in Atlanta outside the Georgia Capitol. Masks were rare. Photo by Bill Torpy
Noted conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and some 150 protestors pack the sidewalk on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, in Atlanta outside the Georgia Capitol. Masks were rare. Photo by Bill Torpy

Credit: Bill Torpy

Credit: Bill Torpy

I went and got tested Wednesday because recently my wife and I may have been exposed to COVID-19. I had a handful of friends come over almost two weeks ago to sit outside and drink beer around the fire pit. A couple of them are now positive. Later, my brother tested positive and my wife and I had visited with him on a separate occasion. (Still hadn’t gotten my test results as I wrote this, but I feel good and it has been almost two weeks, so …)

Also, other friends and family have recently gotten COVID-19. One was hospitalized. Early on in the pandemic, it was someone you sort of knew who got it, or a friend of a friend’s cousin. Now, my COVID-positive son-in-law isolates in his basement while my daughter leaves him food by the door. (They’re out of state and we haven’t seen them in a while.)

The place I got tested is near Toco Hill and was going crazy. I got tested at the same site three weeks ago (someone I was talking with at a post-funeral gathering had COVID-19). During that visit for a test, there were six cars there. On Wednesday, there were at least 40 vehicles, perhaps 50. A lady working the line said they’re running through 500 cars a day now.

The number of cases is up, as is the worry about such cases, as people get tested to make sure they’re “clean” before heading off to see grandma at Thanksgiving.

After a while, the strategies early in the pandemic of isolating yourself to shut down the disease started to seem like overkill. I remember even wiping down my groceries, until I learned that was a waste of time.

Chip Ney, owner and operator of Highland Tap and Fontaines, in Atlanta on July 30, 2020. Ney has seen business plummet since the coronavirus pandemic hit Georgia, but he's worked out a deal with his landlord to keep the business running — hopefully for another 31 years. (REBECCA WRIGHT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)
Chip Ney, owner and operator of Highland Tap and Fontaines, in Atlanta on July 30, 2020. Ney has seen business plummet since the coronavirus pandemic hit Georgia, but he's worked out a deal with his landlord to keep the business running — hopefully for another 31 years. (REBECCA WRIGHT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Isolation fatigue has overtaken many of us. Simply put, you just can’t maintain that level of vigilance. Or, more realistically, we just don’t want to. We miss social interaction, of bellying up to the bar, gathering with friends and family, or guffawing in a crowded restaurant.

So, over the past eight months many of us have put a toe back into our former lives and then dipped in deeper. The home-cooked meals with just family members in your isolation pod turned into take-home restaurant grub with a couple of friends outside on the patio. Then it moved inside with a few chosen folks, then inside a restaurant because those who are running eateries are getting killed and we, as good citizens, want to support them.

Georgia was a battleground in the COVID war before it was the frontline in the Trump Wars. Gov. Brian Kemp and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms famously trotted out their Mask/No Mask tango on the national stage. The mayor wanted masks to be mandatory. The Gov was in suggestion mode.

Now cases are ticking upward again, although a White House task force report says Georgia is in relatively good shape — or, more accurately, less bad shape — when compared to most states in the onset of new cases. In fact we’re 48th — again, good. But that’s because other places are getting worse faster. Or at least they’re a few weeks ahead of us.

One reason seems to be the long anticipated “fall factor,” that colder weather is driving us inside where we can breathe our droplets all over each other. It goes to reason that places up North are ahead of us on that front. The rate of Midwesterners being hospitalized is roughly twice that of those of us in the Southeast. Illinois and Iowa are 465 and 479 cases per 100,000 residents, respectively, compared to Georgia and Alabama, which are 198 and 265.

Hospitalizations always lag exposure by a couple of weeks, then followed by death. We just crossed the quarter-million gravestones marker in the U.S. and 8,500 deaths here in Georgia.

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The White House task force says Georgia’s rising case numbers are “an early sign of future deterioration.” It reminds me of back in July 1994, when my editors sent me to to Albany after massive rainfall in North Georgia. The city wasn’t flooding when I got there. But after a day or two of flowing south, the floodwaters sure as heck came, swamping that town.

To help alleviate the eventual COVID-19 flood, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging us not to travel for Thanksgiving, and our old pal Dr. Anthony Fauci is warning us the nation is getting infected one dinner party or football-game gathering at a time.

“These innocent, family-and-friends gatherings, six, eight, 10 people come together in someone’s home. You get one person who’s asymptomatic and infected, and then all of a sudden four or five people in that gathering are infected,” Fauci said.

The specter of a long, more lonely COVID-19 winter is upon us and is certainly daunting. But there has been good news on the vaccine front and a new study indicates that immunity for those who’ve gotten sick lasts for years or even decades.

So, there seems to be a way out of this hell. Here’s to a better year next year. We can make that a toast this Thanksgiving, albeit with a smaller crowd.

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