“Are you sure you should still be going to Alaska?” Those were the first words my mother said to me yesterday when I called her. She turned seventy this year and still lives in the rural hinterlands where I grew up. She’s fully vaccinated, but less than fifty percent of the county where she lives are–and the fully vaxxed number is unlikely to rise very much unless factories and other blue collar gigs start requiring vaccinations–so she stays inside of her house most of the time, doing nothing but watching cable news. And note that I’m not saying she shouldn’t be worried, but she’s on a steady diet of gloom–including the fact that the Anchorage hospital system is being swamped with Covid cases.
I’m not immune to it (no pun intended), but I also try to keep a healthy perspective. A recent article on the situation in Los Angeles was helpful:
Fully-vaccinated people represented only 5% of L.A.’s hospitalized Covid patients in April. By July, that number had risen to 13%. Overall, however, the percentages of vaccinated people who test positive, are hospitalized or die from Covid remain low — all less than 1%. Of the nearly 5.15 million fully-vaccinated county residents as of Tuesday, 27,331 have tested positive. That’s a rate of 0.53%. Only 742 were hospitalized, for a rate of 0.014%. Only 68 have died, which makes for a rate of 0.0013%.
Further, a New York Times investigation of several states indicates that those with breakthrough cases who have been hospitalized are predominantly older adults and those with weakened immune systems. Now look, Mr. Pretty and I aren’t stupid–we both had severe cases of Covid in December (mine resulting in double pneumonia that required hospitalization). We know there’s still risk. That said, we both became fully vaccinated in early April. Our risk of infection remains low. Our risk of hospitalization is low. Our risk of infecting kids who can’t yet be vaccinated or vaccinated older or immunocompromised people is low. There’s an acceptable amount of risk, all things considered. Alaska is still on.
Acceptable risk, yes, but we each bear responsibility to mitigate even acceptable risk. The Alaska trip gives us some unique opportunities to do just that–and it comes with some challenges too.
- A significant risk factor for contracting Covid is the act of eating–in enclosed spaces, in groups, etc–and Alaska at the time we’re going will be slightly chilly. Average highs and lows are 42 to 54 degrees, respectively, but things can vary quite a bit. Eating outside when it’s 40 degrees isn’t exactly an exciting idea. But let’s say that we get lucky, and it’s closer to 55 degrees the whole time–we’ll be there after tourism season ends, which means fewer businesses will be open. That said, I’ve done an extensive amount of research to find restaurants with outdoor seating options–and I’m prepared if the temps dip too low for that: I’ve found a small handful of restaurants that are requiring vaccination to reserve.
- Even when there’s not a pandemic, we’re not exactly prone to rushing head-first into huge, tightly-packed crowds of people. That is definitely going to be true in Alaska. I’ve got as many outdoor activities on our list of things to do as possible–activities that do not require us to be with strangers or in crowds. Social distancing should be relatively easy.
- Anchorage is the most populous city, and we’re limiting our time there. Homer and Girdwood aren’t exactly backwoods towns, but–especially for Girdwood–it won’t be ski season yet. We’re hitting at a good time, sort of in between busier times of the year. Even so, Mr. Pretty and I are dedicated mask-wearers.
That’s our strategy to mitigate risk, and I’m really looking forward to the trip. There is the issue of plane travel. It seems like I went to Amsterdam during a weird sweet spot, just as vaccinations were lowering cases but not yet in the throes of the Delta variant increase. I’m less concerned about the cleanliness of the planes–the airlines are doing a good job, although I do wish all of them would mandate vaccination; I’m more concerned about the unvaccinated masses in airports, particularly since we have a short layover at the DFW airport on the way to Anchorage. As usual, our plan will be to avoid other people as much as possible. That seems to be the running theme of this pandemic: hell is other people.