“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it!” – George Santayana -1905.
Or as most of us know the quote as delivered by Winston Churchill to Parliament in 1948 as ‘Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”
Despite the warnings from parents and caregivers when we were very little, it seems most of us have to learn that the metal spiral on the stovetop is rather hot when it turns red. A mistake most of us will make only once or twice. It takes only once getting your hand slammed by a car door closing to not do so again. Or not peeling out from the drive-through at McDonald’s or Starbucks with a cup of 180-degree coffee between your thighs without a sealed lid. Or any one of the hundreds of other precautions we take for ourselves and our loved ones daily based on prior experience.
Then again, it doesn’t take previous experience actually doing it to know that skateboarding Filbert Street in San Francisco is probably not a great idea for most of us. One look at the steps along the side of the street in place of sidewalks would convince most of us that unless you are the skill level of a Tony Hawk, you are very likely to skin knees, elbows, palms, and chins even attempting to try and skate down a street with a 31% grade.
We have all lived with SARS CoV-2 for well over a year and a half. Most of us took masking and social distancing seriously and did what we could for ourselves, our families, our co-workers, and our communities. Yes, we got caught up in some of the safety measures that turned out to be a bit too extreme in hindsight, like wearing nitrile gloves while shopping or wiping down bags and boxes from the grocery before bringing them inside. All in all, we did what we were asked by health professionals.
As vaccines became readily available in the spring of 2021, most of us proudly got our jabs, and despite sore arms or a few hours of queasiness were happy to be protected and move forward with our lives. We continued to wear masks and social distance almost everywhere as doing so became pretty routine.
That all changed on April 27, 2021, when the CDC relaxed masking guidelines for vaccinated Americans. Not that it worked that way. The bungled announcement pretty much spelled the end of mask-wearing for almost everyone. One moment masks were everywhere, the next they were gone. The CDC guidelines were that vaccinated persons no longer needed to wear masks, and those who were unvaccinated should still wear them. Yet, masks virtually disappeared everywhere overnight. If Americans were being honest and principled, only 40% of them should have removed their masks in most places. Yet, masks were almost nowhere to be seen anywhere one went. In fact, in my informal survey of those wearing masks, almost all of them had been vaccinated and were just exercising caution.
Within a few short days you seldom ever saw a person on the streets wearing a mask. Restaurants stopped distancing diners and filled with patrons eager to enjoy the company of friends and family. Even nightclubs filled up once again with young patrons rubbing shoulder to shoulder enjoying their favorite adult beverage while partying for the first time in over a year. In just a couple of weeks, COVID became past tense, something that happened last year, even though it was still spreading around the world.
Then came the rumors of vaccination verifications or vaccine passports. Of course, any attempt to verify vaccinations was quickly squashed by politicians and pundits decrying government overreach or potential databasing. Never mind that this country has a long history of vaccine requirements. George Washington had his troops inoculated against Smallpox to stem the ravages of the disease that was taking on his ragtag army in their fight for independence in 1775. More than a dozen vaccines are mandatory for military service in the US, including annual flu shots. Vaccinations have long been required of school children across the country. Where much of the civilized world is setting up vaccine or health passes with fines that can run well over $1000 US for violating health decrees, the U.S. is on the honor system with very few actually honoring the system.
That could be starting to change, however. Yesterday, New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio just issued a mandate that requires proof of vaccination to participate in indoor activities including visiting gyms and restaurants. If the expected court challenges don’t stop the implementation, we can expect other major cities to follow.
Even today, more than three months after the relaxing of CDC guidelines, just over half of the United States adult population is fully vaccinated. Which of course led us to the inevitable spread of the Delta variant in the United States and around the world. The Delta variant of the coronavirus contains more than 1000 times the viral load of the initial COVID-19 strain, making it far more contagious. While the mRNA vaccines, as well as the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine approved by the FDA under emergency measures, seem to offer strong protection against the Delta variant, they do not make those vaccinated impregnable. More and more vaccinated people are contracting COVID, though because they are vaccinated mostly suffer only minor symptoms. It is estimated as I write this that 96% of all COVID cases that require hospitalization are by those who are not vaccinated.
As I write this, COVID cases are skyrocketing across the country, especially in the South. There are three reasons for the surge. The first, of course, is the dominance of the B.1.617.2 Delta variant of the Coronavirus that is so much more contagious than the original strain that spread throughout 2020. The second reason, as history repeats itself, is that summer in the south is unbearably hot in most places, so people find refuge indoors where air conditioning, which is mostly recycled air, can cool things down. We saw a similar surge last summer in the southern states. The third reason is that southern states have repeatedly resisted social distancing, masking, and now, vaccines, making them breeding grounds for virus spread. Just this week, the governor of Louisiana, reinstated an indoor mask mandate, even for those who have been vaccinated to help curb the spread of the Delta Variant in the state.
The governor of Nevada, Steve Sisolak, has also reinstated an indoor mask requirement that included Clark County, home to Las Vegas, where Vision Expo West will take place in a little over a month. The mask mandate includes all public indoor settings, including, resorts, casinos, restaurants, bars, showrooms, and meeting places. Unlike Vision Expo East in Orlando earlier this summer, where most anything was OK, masks will probably be required in all booths whether the occupants at the time are vaccinated or not.
Some ask why the issue with putting pressure on those who choose not to get one of the three vaccines offered under emergency authorization. They say those who want it can get it and those who don’t can choose not to. Most of us remember the scene from the original Jurassic Park movie where Jeff Goldblum says “ Life finds a way” as a prequel warning of what was going to happen. Like all life, viruses find a way to survive and spread. Viruses are always mutating, always changing. That is one of the reasons flu shots each year was hit or miss. Virologists and epidemiologists take their best shot at what strains of viruses will be dominant and then companies go to work creating hundreds of millions of vaccine doses to curb influenza every fall. We got very lucky with the flu virus in 2020 because we all socially distanced and wore masks, not to combat a flu virus, but coronavirus.
While influenza and coronavirus are very distant viruses, there are lessons to be learned from the Great Spanish Flu of 1918-1920. Hence the reference to George Santayana’s famous quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it!” Just as the surge in the south is demonstrating, once the rest of the country moves back inside as summer wanes, we should expect to see cases rise precipitously there as well.
Who knows what the next variant of the Coronavirus could be? There are a number of variants that haven’t been front-page news because they either don’t spread so rapidly or aren’t any more dangerous than the initial COVID-19 virus, which is still very lethal. The next major variant could be quite benign…then again it could be even more lethal. Life finds a way…
While so many of us have thrown our masks into the back of our closets and resumed crowding into clubs and elevators, buses and concerts, restaurants, and churches, we would be well served in remembering the timeline of The Spanish Flu from a century ago.
When the first wave of the Spanish Flu hit in the Spring of 1918, there were a reported 75,000 deaths in the first six months of 1918. Keep in mind that the population of the United States of America at that time was 103 million. The U.S. population in 2020 was 331 million.
The second wave of the Spanish Flu was in late 1918 and extended into the Spring of 1919. There were a reported 292,000 deaths in late 1918 due to the Spanish Flu, eclipsing the first wave by a far measure. A third wave of the Spanish Flu in late 1919 that carried into the new year of 1920 was far more deadly than the first wave, but luckily less than half as virulent as the deadly second wave. If history is any indication of what we should expect this fall, we should see a sharp increase in infections and illness, especially from those who still refuse to get vaccinated as we move indoors once again when the weather changes.
Even with more and more businesses and organizations deciding enough is enough and putting vaccination requirements in place for their employees, most small businesses don’t want to hassle with creating a two-tier employee system, especially when experienced employees are in short supply.
The reluctance of half the population to get vaccinated gives the coronavirus a wonderful playground in which to mutate and spread. Will it mutate into something more benign? Will it mutate into something more lethal? Who knows? What is known, is that a virus, like all life, will do what it can and must to survive.
I don’t want to sound like one of those persons on the corner with a sign declaring “The End is Near”. Far from it. Like 2020, most of us will be inconvenienced, but we will survive. Those of us who are fully vaccinated, some 165 million Americans, will most likely escape being any serious effects of COVID should we contract it.
The lesson here is to be prepared. It is very doubtful the world will shut down like it did in 2020, and there is little reason it should. We know a lot more about COVID-19 today than we did a year ago. We are also better protected. Well, just over half of us anyway.
While we most likely won’t be exiled once more to our homes, the chances are good we will all be asked to wear masks again when we are indoors. The chances are good restaurants and other indoor venues will be asked to limit the number of guests in any given space at one time. The chances are good customers and patients won’t want to window shop and kibitz the way they used to when we are all hoping things would get back to normal and they would. What optical shops cobbled together in 2020 and early 2021 will need to be even better to make the most of the third wave in 2021/2022.
We learned to shop remotely in 2020. That trend will continue in 2021 and into 2022, especially if we need to social distance again. What changes did you make to your website in 2020? Or did you just wait out the virus? Do you have a showcase of the brands and models you carry? Do you have a way for customers to window shop before they come in? Do you have an online advertising program to reach customers who are sitting behind their screens? You should.
Now is the time to get your website and your staff ready for a third wave and have the protocols in place to serve your patients and customers safely and securely during this fall and winter. Now is the time to put together plans for employee vaccinations and/or PRC testing for those who choose not be vaccinated. Now is the time to plan for masking protocols once again. Now is the time to plan for frame cleaning protocols. Now is the time to plan for appointment setting for exams and frame fitting. Whether this is a pretty normal fall and winter or a true third wave, it always helps to be prepared. History however has taught us that bad things are still bound to happen this fall and winter. Let’s just hope we all plan ahead to weather the third wave.
Which brings to mind a much older but equally famous quote attributed to Cicero… “Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat; Fortunes Favors the Bold.
Jurrasic Park clip courtesy of Universal Pictures
History Repeating video, courtesy of The Propellerheads featuring Shirley Bassey