Wednesday/ at Harborview Medical Center

At 7.45 am, I joined the social-distanced line of a dozen of so, outside the nondescript little building at the back of Harborview Medical Center— thankful that I was wearing my padded jacket (47 °F/ 8 °C).

By 8.00 am I was in the door. Hey, you and I have the same birthday, said the young woman that checked me in. I filled out a form with a few questions, and then went to one of the 5 stations with a nurse, for my shot. (I got Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine, not Moderna’s).

Three weeks to tick by, and then I can get the second shot. It feels good to have the first one.

The Facilities & Engineering building on Terrace Ave (on the right) is where the Harborview hospital’s vaccination clinic is run out of. I had just exited down the stairs.
One of the hospital’s delivery gates. I’m making my way back to the big parking garage overlooking I-% and downtown Seattle.
I love the Art Deco detail on the buildings. The construction was completed around 1931.
The entrance off Eighth Avenue. Harborview Medical Center is the only level 1 trauma center* for Washington State. *Capable of providing complete, life-saving care for the most seriously ill or injured patients, through rehabilitation.
The roof of the parking garage off Eighth Avenue, across from the entrance to the hospital. Last year in November I thought the PEACE letters was for the holidays, but looks like it has became a permanent installation (and why not). That’s Columbia Center (cpl. 1985) and Seattle Municipal Tower (1990) in the back.

Tuesday/ the J&J pause

My personal D-Day in the war against the vaccine is here: I will get my first shot at 8 am on Wednesday morning.

I believe it will be the Moderna vaccine that I’m getting.
The Johnson & Johnson it will not be, with the pause that was announced today by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) here in the US. Of the 120 million or so shots administered in the States, less than 7 million were J&J, and White House officials expressed confidence that the roll-out here in the States will not be negatively impacted.

The unwillingness of people to get the vaccine, the so-called ‘vaccine hesitancy’, is the bigger challenge.

Cartoon by ‘J&J jab under observation’ by BRANDAN REYNOLDS, published in Business Day (South Africa), Wed. Apr 14, 2021.

Wednesday/ fair weather & a ferry

We got to 61 °F (16 °C) here in the city today.
Late afternoon I braved the rush-hour traffic on I-5, to get to West Seattle for a little doubles tennis.

It’s now optional to play with a mask — outside or indoors (at Amy Yee Tennis Center). I decided to keep mine on until I get vaccinated.
The governor announced today, that here in Washington State, from April 15th on, everyone 16 & older will qualify for the vaccine.

I had a little time on my hands before the tennis, and stopped at the Fauntleroy ferry terminal to check out the action there. Here is the 5.15 pm ferry (the Issaquah), just departing for Vashon Island.

Wednesday/ everyone, first of May

Now we are tall and Christmas trees are small
And you don’t ask the time of day
But you and I our love will never die
but guess we’ll cry come first of May
– lyrics from First of May, recorded by the Bee Gees in 1969


People sit at a mass coronavirus vaccination site at Lumen Field Event Center in Seattle on March 13. (Lindsey Wasson/Reuters)

All Washington State residents older than 16 will qualify to get the COVID-19 vaccine, come May 1.
I will be one of the last group*, 1.2 million of the State’s 6 million adults, to get my shot (or two shots).

*I’m not complaining. I’m very lucky to be able to get the vaccine this early, compared to people in most other places around the globe.

I guess it’s time for me to start plotting the moves that I will be willing to make once I am vaccinated. Maybe I will ride the bus again — alongside some wet-nosed ‘passengers’ such as this adorable pooch. His name is Banana and the bus is on Route 62.
[Picture posted on Twitter by Kev @kaveniii].

Thursday/ maybe it will be May, for me

Washington State has published new dates and target groups that qualify for getting the vaccine. I’m not making the cut, yet.

President Biden has promised that there will be enough vaccine doses for all Americans by the end of May*.  It takes a lot of logistics to get that vaccine injected into people, of course.

*For example, Merck and Johnson & Johnson will collaborate to ramp up vaccine production, with the help of the federal government.

Descriptions of the groups that qualify next for the vaccine. I’m not sure how if or how it will be verified that a person has two or more comorbidities.
And here is Washington State’s timeline for Covid-19 cases. We’re down to about 1/3 of the highs in December, but still double where we were in September of last year. The state has now crossed the 5,000 mark as far as recorded Covid-19 fatalities. A little bit of good news: so far, this is the mildest flu season in the 25 years that records have been kept. Of course, it kind of should be: people are wearing masks and not congregating in large numbers.

Saturday/ the J & J vaccine: one and done

Late today, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) granted emergency use authorization to Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose coronavirus vaccine.

The vaccine works a little different than the messenger-RNA vaccines of Pfizer-Biontech and Moderna. It uses a modified adenovirus as a wrapper for DNA material.

There are three approved vaccines in the US now. I added my notes to a slide that the Today Show from NBC showed on Friday.

Sunday/ a grim milestone

The number of daily Covid-19 infections in America — and hospitalizations — are going down (again), but losing 500,000 souls was unimaginable a short year ago. Six hundred thousand now seems inevitable.

An estimated 750,000 Americans lost their lives in the four years of the American Civil War (Apr. 1861- May 1865).

Monday/ the B.1.351 strain is trouble

The AstraZeneca vaccine ran into trouble in South Africa.
Preliminary findings, which have not yet been peer-reviewed, of a study of around 2,000 participants (median age 31), were disappointing. The vaccine had been showing a 75% efficacy against mild to moderate COVID cases, before the B.1.351 strain became dominant in South Africa. These days, 90% of new infections in SA are of the new strain. For these new infections, the efficacy seems to have dropped to just 22% percent, based on 42 symptomatic cases. The 42 cases is too small a number to draw firm conclusions, but it’s a big red flag, for sure.

South African health authorities have now put the roll-out of the AstraZeneca vaccine on hold. They are negotiating with Johnson & Johnson for 20 million doses, and trying to ascertain if there is value in giving shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine to younger people.

One million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine (produced in India) arrived in South Africa last week. Testing from October showed 75% efficacy, but there seems to be a dramatic drop in efficacy against the B.1.351 strain of the virus that is dominant in the country now.  [Picture from South African newspaper The Sowetan]

Saturday/ come as you are

Hundreds of people lined up for Covid-19 vaccines at Seattle University and other clinics after a refrigerator broke at a nearby hospital, meaning nurses had to quickly give out 1,600 doses of the vaccine or throw them away. The call went out at 11.00 pm and by 3.30 am all 1,600 doses had been administered. [Photo: David Ryder/Getty Images]
From the New York Times, Sat. Jan. 30:
Wearing bathrobes, pajamas or whatever else they could quickly throw on, hundreds of people flocked to get Covid vaccines in Seattle on Thursday night after a refrigerator that was chilling 1,600 doses broke down, leading to a frenzied overnight inoculation drive.
The impromptu vaccinations began after a refrigerator malfunctioned at a Kaiser Permanente hospital in Seattle, meaning the Moderna vaccines inside had to be quickly injected or they would become less effective and need to be thrown away. Health officials reached out to two other hospital systems in the city, and an urgent call was issued around 11 p.m., alerting residents that they had a rare chance to get vaccines if they could come right away.

Friday/ the South African variant is here

Two patients in South Carolina with no connection to each other, and with no history of travel, have been found to be infected with the South African variant, 501Y.V2.  Then there is the United Kingdom variant, also known as B117, which could be dominant in the United States by March, say Dr Fauci and others.

In spite of this, Seattle, with surrounding King County, is once again allowed to loosen restrictions from Monday (25% indoor dining, 25% gym capacity, 5 persons from two households, blah blah blah).  Small businesses want to reopen, and people need to work.

None of this makes any difference to my daily routine. I’m not going anywhere.
When will I get my vaccine? is all I want to know.
Shots are in very short supply — and I don’t qualify for one at this point, anyway.

‘There you go! The rest comes later!’ At this point there is not enough vaccine to go around — does not matter where in the world. 
[Cartoon by Klaus Stuttmann in German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel]

Tuesday/ ‘two masks are the new masks’

Well, I played tennis last night with my mask on, as mandated by the Amy Yee Tennis Center. My mask had three layers of cotton fabric. It got a little ugly at times.

As you huff & puff after a long rally — through the mask — your panicked brain roars ‘MORE OX-Y-GEN ..NOW! MORE OX-Y-GEN ..NOW! .. and it makes you want to yank the suffocating $@#! thing right off your face.

So! I’m definitely going to have to try a few more different masks.

From the New York Times. I suppose this works if you are a body at rest (as they say in Physics), silently observing what’s going on. (One could just stay home, of course, and not attend these public events). Pete Buttigieg is President Biden’s Secretary of Transportation nominee, and did very well at his Jan. 21 nomination hearing. The vote for his confirmation is still pending.

Tuesday/ more than 400,000 lives lost

Exactly one year ago on Jan. 19, 2020, a 35-year-old man checked into an urgent-care clinic in Snohomish County, Washington, with a 4-day history of cough & fever. He had arrived at Seattle-Tacoma airport on Jan. 15, after traveling back from visiting family in Wuhan, China, for three months.

The next day, the CDC confirmed that the patient’s nose and throat swabs had tested positive for 2019-nCoV, in a PCR test. He was the first known case of Covid-19 in the States. The patient got worse before he got better, but by Feb. 3, he was well enough to go home.

There must already have been many other unknown carriers of the virus in the Seattle area, though. The Life Care Center of Kirkland, Washington, was the first Covid-19 hotspot in the US. In February and March, 46 people lost their lives there.

By Jan. 19, 2021, the virus had made it into every county in the entire United States, and had killed 400,000 people.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. with his wife, Jill Biden, and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff. Today, Mr. Biden paid tribute to the victims of the pandemic, the same day that the death toll in the United States topped a staggering 400,000.

[caption from the New York Times/ Photo by Doug Mills/ NYT]

Saturday/ winter tennis

My social tennis club organized a special winter session for us: outdoors at the courts at Lower Woodland Park by Green Lake.
The sun did not really shine (48 °F/ 9 °C), and the courts were not completely dry – but hey, we got to play some tennis.

The sports fields at Lower Woodland Park by Green Lake. Is that thing the sun? Why yes, it is.
A company called Curative operates this Covid-19 testing kiosk at Lower Woodland Park. One collects one’s own sample by swabbing a Q-tip inside each cheek, upper and lower gums, underneath and top of the tongue, and the roof of the mouth. Results in 48 hours, by text & e-mail. The test is 90% accurate. Cost is $325 and per Curative’s website ‘COVID-19 testing could be reimbursed by your health plan or the government’. So that’s a definite maybe.

Tuesday/ welcome on board

Cabin crew dressed in personal protective equipment (PPE) await passengers before a flight from Amsterdam to China. [Photo: Justin Jin for South China Morning Post newspaper]
We still have airplane passengers here in the States that get away with wearing no mask on the airplane. Why is that? They need to be removed and added to the no-fly list for 10 years, with the rest of the FBI’s domestic terrorists.

Here are a few excerpts from photojournalist Justin Jin’s recent visit to Shanghai (to visit his cancer-stricken dad in the hospital), as described in the South China Morning Post:

To get on one of the few exorbitantly priced flights, I have to pass two Covid-19 tests. One will draw a sample from my nose and the other from my blood, with both needed to be taken within 48 hours before departure at a lab approved by the local Chinese consulate. When I get my results, I have to upload them together with a long list of personal data via a phone app to the consulate, which then activates a QR “health” code on my phone required for boarding my plane in Amsterdam.

Many of the mostly Chinese passengers come fully protected, too. Since each of us carries double-negative results to get on the flight, this cabin must be one of the safest places in Europe. The Chinese passengers also follow instructions to stay in their seats as much as possible, even avoiding the toilet during the 12-hour flight. I also avoid the bathroom, my confidence shaken by the behavior of those around me.

Upon landing, customs officers comb through the plane to see if anyone has fallen ill. Our flight gets the all-clear to disembark, and we file into a Covid-19 testing station, getting another QR code and passport check along the way. Almost everything is shielded and contactless, a precise choreography of anticipated human movement.

Even though I have by now three certified negative test results, I am still a suspect in China’s eyes. There’s always a chance of catching something on the way. And since the tests I have had are not perfect, I shall endure a 14-day strict quarantine at my own cost. (At the hotel, Justin describes the severe cleaning procedures at the hotel. The hallway is disinfected every time a person had entered it, for example).

. . .

In free and democratic Europe, people live under the repressive shadow of Covid-19. In China, the system is restrictive, but people are almost completely safe from the virus imprisoning much of the world. They are free to hug, to party and to prosper.

The same night my brother takes me to a crowded wine bar in Shanghai with friends. There are no masks, no talk of vaccines and, for a moment, no worries. It feels so 2023.

Tuesday/ testing, at a cost

The pandemic killed the second-hand clothing consignment store that used to be here on 15th Ave. & Republican St on Capitol Hill.
I see a same-day Covid-19 testing service has set up shop there, next to Rudy’s barbershop. The PCR test* they offer is not cheap: $195. They promise results within 36 hours. Another option is the quicker, but less reliable, rapid antigen test ($175).

*The PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test actually detects RNA (the genetic material) that is specific to the virus and can detect the virus within days of infection. The antigen test looks for protein fragments created by the immune system’s response to the presence of the virus.

The same-day clinic on 15th Avenue, is run by Praesidium Diagnostics, based in Venice, California. To be sure, there are several other options for testing in Seattle, and some are free. I guess it might be difficult to get an immediate appointment, though – or the wait in the walk-up/ drive-up line, might be several hours.
2021 … The Year We Make Contact, says this cartoon. Yes: I hope to get by without needing a test, until I get my vaccine. We just have to get the vaccines that have landed, out of the freezers that they were sent in, and into the arms of the humans that are clamoring for it. We need to use those empty sports stadiums & convention centers, and run thousands of people through them every day. 
Cartoon Credit: AMORIM
Source: Correio do Povo – Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
Provider: CartoonArts International

Monday/ the vaccine rollout: make haste

A vial of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine contains 5-ish doses. After storage for up to 30 days in the Pfizer thermal shipper, vaccination centers can transfer the vials to 2-8°C storage conditions for an additional five days, for a total of up to 35 days. Once thawed and stored under 2-8°C conditions, the vials cannot be re-frozen or stored under frozen conditions.

Of the 11.4 million doses distributed here in the States, only 2.1 million first doses have so far been administered, says the CDC’s website.

Slow and steady may win the race, but we need to make haste. Many lives are at stake.

Here’s an infographic explaining how the RNA-based vaccines work (in German, sorry. English translation notes below it).

1 Coronavirus Sars-CoV-2 | RNA genome | Shell with proteins
2 A section of DNA is the blueprint for the protein in the virus shell
3 The RNA segment can be produced and replicated in the laboratory
4 Vaccine
5 Vaccination: the vaccine is injected into the muscle
6 ‘Protein factories’ (ribosomes) in the human cells produce the protein found on the virus shell
7 The human immune system reacts against the protein ..
8 .. and produces antibodies
To become sick from Covid-19, a person would have to be infected with the complete virus. The protein from the virus shell will not make one sick.
9 Infection: If a person is infected with the Sars-CoV2 coronavirus ..
10 .. the antibodies will bond with the protein on the virus shell and that is how the immune system will fight off the virus.

Sunday/ vial, tray, carton, box with dry ice

Dry ice was poured into a box containing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as it was prepared to be shipped from Kalamazoo on Sunday. [From the New York Times/ Pool photo by Morry Gash]
Here come the vaccines. UPS and FedEx started shipping the first of the initial  3 million doses of vaccine from the Pfizer facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to sites around the United States, today.
Worldwide, dry ice production and making ultra-cold freezers, are being ramped up. I read somewhere that airlines are now allowed 15,000 lbs of dry ice in their cargo, up from 3,000 lbs. The stuff sublimates, which means it evaporates into CO2 gas directly from its solid form. The crew have to keep an eye on the COlevels.

Ordinary people will have to be patient. I hope I can roll up my sleeve for my first shot (of two) by say, April.

How Pfizer will ship its vaccine and keep the temperature very low. Graphic by Washington Post.

Tuesday/ William Shakespeare gets his shot

William Shakespeare (81), became the second person to officially receive the Pfizer-Biontech COVID-19 vaccine, at University Hospital Coventry, England.
(My apologies to the current day-William Shakespeare that had appeared in the original picture, for replacing his visage with one of The Bard. I could not resist).

In 1593, a year or so before Shakespeare wrote ‘Romeo and Juliet’, a powerful wave of the bubonic plague struck London. Theatres closed for 14 months and some 10,000 Londoners died. People died in all kinds of ways in Shakespeare’s plays, but nobody ever died of the plague. Thinking of the plague was terrifying, and any references to it in plays, was almost completely taboo.

Sunday/ Rudy joins a long list

Rudy Giuliani (76) finds himself in hospital today after testing positive for Covid-19. Giuliani is Trump’s lawyer. I don’t believe he has ever worn a mask in public.

Already a national laughing stock for his embarrassing cameo in the ‘Borat Subsequent Movie’ film, he has not let that stop him from making evermore outlandish, baseless claims about election fraud.

It’s hard to keep track of the hordes of Trump administration officials and staffers that have contracted Covid-19, but the New York Times comes to the rescue (see below).

Thursday/ way back, in the vaccine line

I took the little quiz in the New York Times that produces an estimate of where I will fall in the Washington State line for getting my vaccine. (I’m in the ‘Everyone Else’ category; the equivalent of Group 5 or Group E for boarding an airplane).

The result:
Based on your risk profile, we believe you’re in line behind 268.7 million people across the United States.
When it comes to Washington, we think you’re behind 5.8 million others who are at higher risk in your state.
And in King County, you’re behind 1.6 million others.