Air Travel

For my entire professional career I have travelled extensively. My practice has taken me across the United States, Europe and even to the Amazon. I have tons of frequent flyer points on many airlines. On United alone I have flown close to 1 million miles. That is until the second week in March 2020 when the Corona virus pandemic brought my travel to a screeching halt. From March 8, 2020 until a week ago I did not set foot in an airport nor board a plane.

I have been in no rush to resume flying. ‘Why take the risk?’ has been my feeling all during the pandemic. And then my granddaughter in St. Louis became engaged and I found myself driving to BWI Airport to go to St Louis for her engagement party. Had both my wife and I not been vaccinated we would in all likelihood have not gone, but since we are vaccinated we determined it was a controlled risk and decided to go.

What I encountered was definitely not what I had expected.

I should have realized my expectations were off when, at 8 am on a Sunday morning, I had difficulty finding a parking space at the airport. The lines at the TSA stations should have been another indicator. But it was not until I passed trough security and into the terminal proper that it became clear to me that, but for masks, the airport in all other respects was just had been the day I left it a year ago: packed with people, one on tp of the other, rushing to their departure gates or to retrieve their luggage at baggage claim.

Our Southwest flights were full. In fact, our return flight did not have a single empty seat. Social distancing was non-existent in the terminal and impossible on the plane. The terminals were as busy as ever. Except for the masked faces you would never know that we are in the midst of a pandemic.

If you travel by air…be prepared.

Lucky

Lucky. I am one of the lucky ones.

I have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. By sheer luck I was able to navigate the still broken vaccine appointment “system” (if you can call it a system) and obtain an appointment for a vaccine. Two shots later I am one of the fortunate. And while there is still a way to go, a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I am on the way back to “normal”. Of course, I must continue to be cautious, follow CDC guidelines, mask, and social distance, but I do feel safer.

One need only follow the news and data emerging from Israel which is leading the world in vaccination of its citizens, to recognize the critical importance of vaccination as the key to ending this pandemic once and for all. With 4 million of its citizens vaccinated, the overwhelming data points to the 95% plus efficacy of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The robust vaccination program there is now allowing that country to open up for the vaccinated in a way unheard of, indeed impossible, over the last year. Businesses, malls, restaurants, cultural and sports venues are now opening up for the vaccinated. The Israeli Government has issued a digital green pass which enables the fully vaccinated to enter these venues, while the non-vaccinated may not.

Unfortunately, in the US we are a long way from the day when our society will reopen in such a wide and safe manner. Vaccine distribution remains problematic and insufficient. Vaccine appointment systems and web sites are deficient and difficult for many – especially the most vulnerable – to navigate. Robust public education and awareness campaigns which are critically needed to educate the public on the safety, effectiveness, and importance of vaccinating are woefully lacking. And the vacuum is being filled by much vaccine “fake news”.  

Mass vaccination is our only pathway out of this pandemic. Come on America get your act together and let’s end this pandemic!

unjustifiable

Last Monday I was among the lucky ones – I received my first vaccine shot. It was not an easy task to find a location dispensing the vaccine shots and to get an appointment. I was lucky.

Though the United States governments (federal, state and local) have had ten months to prepare for the vaccination of the public and while science miraculously performed the “impossible” during those same ten months and produced multiple effective vaccinations, our governmental apparatuses have utterly failed to construct effective information and delivery systems critical to the vaccination of the public and defeating Covid-19. As a result, I fear that many who are unable to navigate the utterly confusing, inefficient, and ineffective “system” (if you can call it a system) will give up and remain unvaccinated. This is especially concerning at a time when more infectious mutants of the Covid-19 virus are spreading throughout the world.

The following article from today’s Washington Post demonstrates the dire situation.

Vaccine rollout gets ‘below an F’ grade

By Robert McCartney

Canceled appointments. Insufficient doses. Contradictory eligibility rules. Infuriating websites.

Multiple mishaps have mangled the region’s rollout of vaccine doses that an exhausted citizenry expects will end the pandemic. The problems, also evident nationwide, add to the list of failures that the world’s richest country has compiled in a year of battling the coronavirus.

“If I were a teacher, I’d give [the effort] whatever is the grade below an F,” said Kavita Patel, a physician at Mary’s Center in Prince George’s County and a former White House policy director in the Obama administration.

Much of the fault for the debacle lies with the Trump administration, which once again dumped responsibility onto state and local authorities for a national task that a centralized system would have handled better.AD

“I was surprised that the federal Operation Warp Speed of the previous administration did not include plans for the last 12 inches of the vaccine effort — getting doses into arms, arguably the hardest logistical path in the process,” said Michael P. McDermott, president of Mary Washington Healthcare in Fredericksburg, Va.

Coronavirus vaccination appointments canceled in D.C. region as health officials confront scarce supply.

But our state and local authorities also share the blame. Despite months of advance notice that vaccines were coming, they failed to manage public expectations about how long it would take to procure the vials of vaccine to administer.

They also did not build user-friendly IT systems so people could easily schedule appointments.

They changed eligibility requirements in the middle of the process, partly under Trump officials’ prodding.

The result is that political and bureaucratic snags have dimmed the glow, for now, of the historic scientific achievement of developing vaccines in record time to protect against a new and deadly disease.

The problems are typical of others that have bedeviled the U.S. coronavirus response and led many abroad to experience a novel feeling about the country they once admired: pity.

In the spring and summer, we had similar delays and difficulties in launching testing and contact-tracing programs. Although the Washington area has done better overall than much of the country, the shortcomings reflect decades of underinvestment in public health.

What to know about the coronavirus vaccine rollout in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

“There has been no centralized, well-considered plan,” said J. Stephen Jones, president of the Inova hospital system in Northern Virginia. “It’s clear evidence that we have chosen as a nation to forgo public health, and we are paying the price today.”

All three of the region’s top leaders — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) — did damage control at news conferences last week.

They pleaded with the public to show patience, saying they couldn’t do much until the federal government sped up its delivery of vaccine doses to them.

Hogan: “The plain truth is that for at least the near future, the demand for vaccines will continue to far exceed the supply that will be available to us.”

Northam: “The biggest challenge that we have . . . is the supply.”

Bowser: “We will continue to have less vaccine than we need.”

All true, but questions remain. Why didn’t they warn the public ahead of time of how long it was going to take to get vaccinated? Why did they widen eligibility without having enough vaccine and, thus, give false hope to hundreds of thousands of people who weren’t at the front of the line to get shots?

“Expectations were never managed well,” said J.B. Holston, chief executive of the Greater Washington Partnership. “The public clearly was led to believe that once vaccines were available, it would be really clear who they were available for and how to sign up. That didn’t happen.”

Most nursing home workers don’t want the vaccine. Here’s what facilities are doing about it.

Authorities expanded eligibility before they were sure of procuring enough vaccine doses to meet demand, partly because the Trump administration, in its waning days, urged states to include the elderly in addition to ­top-priority groups such as front-line health-care workers.

“This was a parting shot of the Trump administration,” said Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. “Governors started to feel pressure [to expand eligibility]. What our members found was, once the governors are feeling pressure, there’s not much you can do. There’s reason and science, and then there’s politics, and you’ve got to respond to all of them.”

The eligibility rules were especially chaotic in suburban Maryland. In Montgomery County, people 65 and older are able to get vaccinated at the county’s hospitals and pharmacies, where state rules apply. But the cutoff is 75 and older at the county’s health department facilities because Montgomery wants to be sure the most vulnerable population is vaccinated first.

In a liberal suburb, latest pandemic challenge is distributing vaccine equitably

At a facility in Prince George’s County, where state guidelines allowed for any Maryland resident to sign up, large numbers from outside the county did so. That led County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) to cancel nonresidents’ appointments, to ensure that her own constituents got first crack.

In Northern Virginia, Inova canceled thousands of vaccine appointments last week when the stateabruptly changed its distribution method and cut its delivery of doses to Inova from 19,500 in one week to zero the next.

For many residents, the biggest frustration has been spending hours at the computer trying to schedule appointments on unwieldy websites that weren’t designed to account for different priority groups and other features of the coronavirus vaccination process. It is necessary in many cases to seek appointments on a hodgepodge of websites, such as those for the state, county, individual hospitals and pharmacies.

Northam said Virginia will develop a statewide system for people to schedule appointments. Earl Stoddard, Montgomery’s emergency management director, said he hoped Maryland would do the same.

Again, that’s a need that should have been anticipated.

West Virginia, which has one of the nation’s best records so far in getting shots into arms, has drawn praise for, among other things, using a single, transparent website for scheduling appointments. As we continue flailing, perhaps we need to rethink all those jokes about how our mountainous neighbor is supposedly so backward.

We need to do better. Lives are at stake.

I have been privileged to live in the Washington D.C. area for many years and to attend and photograph several Presidential inaugurations. This year, as a result of the pandemic and the horrific events of the last ten days, today’s inauguration is like no other in our history. The unfortunate contrasts are dramatic as can be seen in the following photo essay.

THEN

AND NOW

All images © Judah Lifschitz 2021

January 1, 2021

Out with 2020 in with 2021. A new year. A new begining?

Unfortunately, over time, we become numb to statistics. Though the troubling pandemic stats of numbers of infected, critically ill, and deaths are enormous and growing daily and exponentially, after these many months, except for those directly and personally effected by the pandemic, the vast majority of us seem to have grown accustomed to the numbers and accept them as unfortunate realities of the pandemic. The second wave, however, and the increased devastation it is bringing in its wake, is likely to change this mindset as Covid-19 becomes more “personal”, almost unavoidable, to a greater number of people.

Take myself as an example. Two weeks ago two co-workers tested positive and our law firm was forced to return to remote operations. I have heard from more and more individuals who had returned to their workplace during the summer and who are now questioning whether to revert back to working remotely from home. This week I learned of others who have become infected. This past Sunday I had my own scare when a rapid test I took to allow my return to the office reported a false positive only to be contradicted two days later by a negative pcr test. Yesterday, a lawyer in Virginia with whom I work told me that he has been in quarantine after having been exposed. It seems as if the clock has reset back to March 2020.

Winter is just beginning. The holiday season impact has yet to be realized. The mutant virus is now confirmed in the US. Many Americans are Covid fatigued. Vaccines have been approved but our governments can’t figure out how to get them administered efficiently and swiftly.

All in all a recipe for a very difficult beginning to 2021.

Be vigilant. Be safe. Be smart.

best wishes for 2021

sooner or later

Our law firm has been very fortunate. We were able to work remotely rather seamlessly during the initial months of shelter in place and we were able to return to our offices this summer in a safe, healthy environment. I have been especially impressed and proud of our entire team and the highly diligent and respectful manner in which everyone has observed all of the various protective practices and requirements which we imposed to protect against becoming infected in the workplace. And beginning in the summer when we returned to our offices and continuing until a week ago we were uniformly Covid free. Then two of our employees, both of whom have been very careful both in and out of the workplace, tested positive. Thankfully, they have mild cases and are doing well under the circumstances. And thankfully no one else has come down with Covid-19.

The immediate impact has been to return our law firm to remote operations until after the Christmas holiday. It has been impressive how quickly we were able to return to remote operations under which we will be operating for the quarantine period. In talking with clients and colleagues I have learned that our experience is not unusual. Many businesses have had similar experiences no matter how careful they and their staffs have been.

Sooner or later Covid-19 strikes. Fortunately, the vaccines are on their way.

the third night of chanukah

© Judah Lifschitz 2020

© Judah Lifschitz 2020

© Judah Lifschitz 2020

happy chanukah!

© Judah Lifschitz 2020
© Judah Lifschitz 2020
© Judah Lifschitz 2020
© Judah Lifschitz 2020

a covid-19 chanukah message

© Judah Lifschitz 2020

Tonight, as I light the Chanukah menorah for the first of eight nights, the eternal message of the Chanukah holiday will be especially meaningful and powerful.

Unlike other holidays on the Jewish calendar which are biblically ordained, Chanukah is a rabbinically established holiday which commemorates the victory, against all odds, of the Maccabees against their Greek rulers and oppressors. After their victory, the Macabees returned to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and sanctified it anew after it had been defiled by the Greeks. When they went to light the menorah, they could find but one flask of pure undefiled oil sufficient for only one day. Miraculously, that one flask of oil lasted a full eight days until pure oil was able to be processed. We light the Chanukah menorah each night of the eight days of Chanukah to commemorate this miracle.

Our tradition teaches us, however, that there is a much deeper meaning to the holiday and the lighting of the menorah. Biblically the Jewish holidays are either in the fall or in the spring. Winter, the season of short days and long nights, frigid temperatures, snow and ice has no biblical holidays, no times for joyous celebration, no bright spots. It is long, dark, cold, and dreary time of the year. That is until the rabbis, divinely inspired, established the eternal holiday of Chanukah; the holiday that lightens the darkness , warms our hearts, and raises our spirits.

Winter is a metaphor for the difficult periods in one’s life when all seems dark and hopeless, when despair is plentiful and hope is scarce. Chanukah reminds us that even in one’s darkest and most difficult moments there is light, there is hope, there is a bright future which lies ahead.

How appropriate this message is in this year of the pandemic. And how uplifting it should be for us all that literally on the eve of Chanukah the first Covid-19 vaccinations are beginning to be distributed and administered. A heavenly voice is speaking to us. “There is hope. There will be an end to the pandemic. There is light at the end of the Covid-19 winter.”

Happy Chanukah to all.