A Winter Solstice COVID-19 Update from Dr. Smith: 12/20/20

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, Dr. Craig Smith, Chair of the Department of Surgery, sends updates to faculty and staff about pandemic response and priorities. Stay up to date with us.

Dear Colleagues,

I intrude primarily to emphasize the importance of vaccination, to which I will return below.  We are entering a week usually marked by travel and gaiety. Not this year. As you all know, non-essential travel should be avoided, at least outside the Canton of Cuomo. Columbia is hedging its bets, and signaling loss of faith in the honor system, by requiring “gateway” testing for everyone after January 4, whether they admit to travel or not. The large numbers of us who worked through the surge are no longer grandfathered out, so make plans to schedule your testing.

As you also know, distribution of the Pfizer vaccine began last week. The process was remarkably well managed, and thousands of our colleagues were vaccinated in a few days, accounting for a surprising proportion of all vaccinations in the State. More Pfizer supplies are on the way, and we may start receiving the Moderna vaccine next week. The science that produced these vaccines so quickly is truly miraculous.

To escape enslavement by the Coronarvirus we must build a wall. Each person vaccinated is a brick in our wall. Each person who develops antibodies after being infected is also a brick in our wall, but those masons have to pick their way through crowds of the unprotected to add their bricks. Since the risks of infection vastly exceed the risks of vaccination, the safest method for firing each brick is obvious. When risk wins, and a brick falls out and shatters, it must be replaced immediately by another brick. It’s all about the wall, not the bricks.

Someone will be wondering if I’m unaware of Pink Floyd’s take on bricks in the wall, or if I’m missing the point Roger Waters was making—"Teacher, leave them kids alone!” Not at all. Until we build our new wall, we’re all walled in by lockdowns, travel restrictions, PPE, and political nonsense. “We don’t need no education/We don’t need no thought control.” The beauty of our new wall, once built, is that it makes the other walls go away. When it’s my turn, I will eagerly get my vaccination and I urge all of you to do the same.

Tomorrow, Monday December 21, is the winter solstice. I will add my voice to the many who’ve already pointed out how meaningful the solstice is in 2020, when in the dead center of the longest night of winter we can look forward to longer days and spring. That all begins on Tuesday, dragging hope along with it. December 21 is serving up an even spookier astronomical event this year. A grand conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn will begin tomorrow night, as if to put an exclamation point on this year’s solstice. The conjunction of the two planets hasn’t been this close in nearly 400 years, and hasn’t been visible at night for almost 800 years. You can practice tonight—an hour after sunset, look low in the southwestern sky. Jupiter will be easily visible. Saturn will be fainter, slightly above and left of Jupiter. At the conjunction, on December 21, they will reverse positions. May we as well!

Craig R. Smith, MD
Chair, Department of Surgery
Surgeon-in-Chief, NYP/CUIMC

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