Mixed Messages

We’re at a weird time in America. At the same time many of us are completing our COVID-19 vaccinations, getting our vaccination cards, and feeling like we are on the cusp of returning to some reasonable measure of personal freedom, and some states are beginning to loosen their restrictions, we’re getting dire warnings from national leaders and public health officials about a potential “fourth surge” of the pandemic in the United States.

(Would it really be only a “fourth surge”? I’ve lost count, frankly.)

The statement made yesterday by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the Director of the CDC, is pretty jarring for those Americans who hope that the worst of the pandemic is behind us and there is a light at the end of the tunnel, just ahead. After reporting on increases in the number of COVID cases (now topping more than 30 million Americans) and hospitalizations, Dr. Walensky went off script to confess, in emotional terms, to feeling a sense of “impending doom” and said she was “scared” that the country could be on the verge of a new surge as COVID variants infect the unvaccinated parts of the population. President Biden also said that “now is not the time” to remove masking and social distancing requirements.

The statements by Dr. Wallensky and President Biden have to rattle the confidence of people who believe a return to “normal” is not far away. The average citizen is getting pretty mixed messages right now. We’re feeling good that vaccinations are being made available to most age groups and seeing lots of social media posts with pictures of bared arms getting jabbed and vaccination cards, and we know that restrictions are being loosened in many places–but at the same time we are getting alarming warnings and, for many of us, we know people who are continuing to come down with COVID even now.

And part of the problem with this confusing mix of data and messages is that it is occurring against the backdrop of obvious pandemic fatigue and, in some quarters, a growing distrust of the pronouncements of our public health officials and concern that they are never going to let the world get back to 2019 normality. The CNN analysis piece linked above describes the unsettled situation this way: “The nation is caught on a ledge between triumph and a late game disaster in a fight against a pathogen ideally engineered to exploit lapses in public health, resistance to mask wearing mandates and the frayed patience of a country¬†disorientated after a year when normal life went into hibernation.

These different perspectives necessarily inform how people react to the messages we are getting. When the doctor who is the head of the CDC admits to being “scared” and feeling a sense of “impending doom,” is she conveying a legitimate, albeit emotional, reaction to the latest data, or is her message part of the newest effort to keep people frightened, masked up, and in their houses indefinitely?

Now that we are vaccinated, we’re going to try to get about our lives–but prudently. I’m still going to engage in social distancing, and I’ll gladly continue to mask up in enclosed spaces. I don’t think we’re done with COVID-19 just yet.

Major’s Minor Incident

Poor Major Biden.

The three-year-old German Shepherd has been sent from the White House back to the Bidens’ home in Wilmington, Delaware after a recent incident where the dog bit the hand of a Secret Service agent. The Secret Service said the injury was “extremely minor” and “no skin was broken.” However, some anonymous White House sources — there apparently are anonymous White House sources about everything, even dogs — said that Major also has been having issues with aggressive behavior, including jumping up on people, barking, and charging at White House staff and security. In a recent interview the First Lady said she has been focused on trying to get Major and the Bidens’ other dog, 13-year-old Champ, settled since the Bidens moved into the White House. She noted, for example, that the dogs have to take an elevator and have a lot of people watching them when they go out on the White House South Lawn for exercise.

I feel sorry for Major and other White House dogs, because the White House has got to be a tough environment for a dog. There are strangers coming in and out at all hours, and lots of people feeling stress and pressure–including, at times, the President and First Lady. Dogs are sensitive beings, and I’m sure Major feels the increased stress levels and is unsettled by all of the new faces. At the same time, if Major is nipping, jumping up, barking, and charging people, that poses a tough predicament for the Bidens, because dog misbehavior can escalate. You’d like to have your dog around, as one of the members of the family, but you can’t run the risk of the dog jumping up on a foreign dignitary or a member of Congress or the Cabinet, or really biting someone and doing some damage. And if the dog is barking and charging people, that’s got to be really tough for White House staffers, who can’t be sure whether Major is going to be a good boy or a growling threat the next time they see him in one of the White House hallways or the Oval Office.

Sending Major back to Delaware seems like a sensible approach to the problem and a good way to keep Major’s minor incident from becoming a real major problem.