Volcanoes are erupting in The Philippines, but on-fire Australia received some welcome rain. The Iran war cries have been called off and The Donald’s military powers are about to be hamstrung by the Senate. Meanwhile, his impeachment trial is starting, and we’re all on Twitter for a front-row seat.
Omicron brings skyrocketing cases but fewer deaths
Omicron is partying like it’s, well, 2022. But the party may be over soon. South Africa has already passed its peak, and there are early signs that London may have as well, which has led The Spectator, in the previous link, to speculate that England as a whole may be turning the corner soon. In England, hospital admissions are rising but the use of both ventilator and critical care beds is falling, and they have avoided the Covid-flu killer combo that could have appeared this winter. Canada, too, is so far avoiding a hospital crush.
In the United States, where daily cases surpassed one million on Monday, one ICU nurse manager in Miami has a steadying message in Slate: “This time, patients just aren’t as sick. The general mindset now is we’re going to treat their symptoms till they get past it. . . . Now, whether or not that changes, we won’t know until it actually happens, but for right now, the majority of the patients that we have are not in danger of dying.”
Note that daily confirmed Covid deaths for the period from November 24, when Omicron first appeared, to the present have held steady, despite the spike in confirmed cases.
A month ago it felt somewhat risky to conjecture about Omicron being a milder variant. Now it’s almost passé information, as more and more research emerges that Omicron prefers to nestle into the throat, not the lungs, making it more transmissible and less dangerous. In still new and not-yet-determined science, a very small study in South Africa found that recovery from the Omicron variant meant protection against the Delta variant, which if borne out by further data could mean an “Omicron-dominated world” with “fewer hospitalizations and deaths than one in which Delta continues to rage.”
“Maybe pushing Delta out is actually a good thing,” Alex Sigal, a virologist at the Africa Health Research Institute, who led the study, told The New York Times, “and we’re looking at something we can live with more easily and that will disrupt us less than the previous variants.”
We could have even less disruption if the pan-coronavirus vaccine that we mentioned in our last newsletter, currently moving into Phase 2 trials, pans out. The US Army project could result in a vaccine that would fight against all COVID and SARS variants—all variants that were, that are, and that have not yet come to pass. Seriously: such a vaccine could prevent future pandemics caused by any virus in the coronavirus family. How does that work? The short answer is “nanoparticle vaccine technology.” The long answer is here, at the newsletter Your Local Epidemiologist. If the vaccine passes through Phase 2 and 3 trials, it would be the first universal vaccine ever created. We’ve tried to develop one for HIV, malaria, and the flu, but so far without success.
America, the . . . Beautifully Fair?
Federal law now bans out-of-network bills for emergency medical care in emergency rooms and urgent care centers, elective care in in-network hospitals with out-of-network doctors, and air ambulances. Instead of the patient being surprised with a bill, care facilities and health insurance companies have to duke out who pays between themselves. Now that out-of-network doctors must also inform patients of potential costs, be on the lookout for forms that waive patient protections. They look like this. Ground ambulances are not included in the new law, so it ain’t perfect, but it will certainly, as Axios put it, “save a lot of patients from financial ruin.”
Republicans, Democrats, and independents coming together to fix gerrymandering. It sounds like a pipe dream, but it just happened in Michigan, where a citizen ballot initiative hatched an independent commission to redraw voting maps. (Okay, so it was more like everyday citizens coming together to fix gerrymandering. Power to the people!) The initiative survived a Republican lawsuit in the summer of 2018 and was passed into law in the fall of that year with 61% of the vote. The new maps do not come without criticism, but nothing ever does. You can see them here.
Before we go
Socially conservative Switzerland started out 2022 with the surprisingly progressive move of making legal gender transition a one-step process. If you’re over 16, all you need to do to register a gender transition is visit a civil registry office and inform them of the change—no medical permission, evaluation, or treatments required. In Europe, only Ireland, Belgium, Portugal, and Norway share this simple setup. Denmark, Greece, and France also have easier processes than the rest of the bloc, but are not quite one-step.
A four-foot-long medieval sword covered in shells, resting innocuously in the sands off the coast of Ireland. A drawing, purchased for $30 and now worth $50 million, identified as a sketch drawn by a Renaissance master. Relish in the feeling that the world is a trove of ancient treasures waiting to be discovered in this list of fascinating finds of 2021.
For American readers especially, if you understand your order is delayed because of supply chain issues but you don’t know what that really means, read this interview.
Below in the links section, a US fast food chain embraces meatless chicken, Sweden hits back at disinformation, Chile writes a climate-friendly constitution, and more.
Stilbruch: Hamburg’s city-run department store for recycled goods
With momentum from the repair and reuse movement at its back, this “IKEA for waste” is pushing back against throwaway culture. | Read more
Other good stuff in the news
- Scientists are working to restore the American chestnut tree to its former glory | Modern Farmer
- Yes in my backyard! It’s time to get serious about solving America’s housing crisis | Persuasion
- Delicious plant-based fried chicken is coming to KFCs nationwide | Fast Company
- An Illinois prison education program is addressing a gender gap in education for incarcerated people | The 19th
- The “world’s biggest offshore wind farm” has produced its first power | CNBC
- Canada will ban the manufacture, sale, and import of single-use plastic items | CBC
- Chile is confronting climate change head on with a new constitution | The New York Times
- Sweden has launched a Psychological Defense Agency to counter disinformation | The Telegraph
- Bali’s “trash for rice” recycling scheme is giving families a pandemic lifeline | Reuters
- The new use for abandoned oil rigs: artificial reefs | BBC Future
- A new coronavirus vaccine heading to India was developed by a small team in Texas that wants nothing in return | The Washington Post
- An elusive night parrot was rediscovered after disappearing for more than a century | The New York Times
- The “tequila fish” has been successfully reintroduced to its native Mexico after being declared extinct in the wild | The Guardian
- Reasons to be optimistic in 2022 | Freethink
TPN Member originals
- 5 reasons to be optimistic about 2022 | Charles Kenny
- 99 good news stories you probably didn’t hear about in 2021 | Angus Hervey
- Resolve to think bigger in 2022 | Anne-Marie Slaughter
- The vanishing case for student loan forgiveness | Matthew Yglesias
- Katherine May on how “wintering” replenishes | Krista Tippett
- Predictions of a better year ahead | Diane Francis
- What Squid Game tells us about the changing face of globalization | Gillian Tett
- Three ways to be more rational this year | Steven Pinker
- Not all polarization is bad, but the US could be in trouble | Robert B. Talisse
Start the year off right with our long list of the week’s progress links.
Friday Fireside Chat | Rita McGrath and Anne-Marie Slaughter | January 7
Until Next Time
We would like to know if this revised rule also applies to previously excluded foods like ice cream and spaghetti.👇