For more than 15 years I’ve been writing these Future Hope columns. I’ve tried, as best as I can, to write about topics or in a way which helps readers have hope that yes, transformational change for the better is possible in this often-hard-to-be-hopeful world. In that time I’ve never once written about the coming of spring.
Spring brings the varied and often-beautiful songs of birds. New species of on-the-move birds can be seen as the sun moves higher in the southern sky (in the northern hemisphere) and the air, land and ocean warm. Photo credit: Shutterstock
In retrospect, that surprises me. In the natural world it’s hard to think of anything more hopeful, more life-giving, more inspiring than the arrival of spring.
Spring melts the snow, for the final time, ‘til next winter. That was a big deal this year in northern New Jersey where, for a month and a half, half-a-foot to a foot-and-half of snow, hard snow, frozen hard by colder-than-usual temperatures, stayed on the ground. It is a welcome relief to walk with much surer steps on snow- and ice-gone surfaces.
Spring brings the varied and often-beautiful songs of birds. New species of on-the-move birds can be seen as the sun moves higher in the southern sky (in the northern hemisphere) and the air, land and ocean warm. Where I live, spring brings mating couples of geese from the city pond behind my house onto our back and front lawns, as certain a spring occurrence as the daily rising of the sun.
In the several small gardens at the eastern front and southern side of our house, new shoots of green break through the Earth and buds begin to appear heralding the arrival of daffodils, hyacinths, honeysuckle, fennel, milkweed (for the monarchs which we pray we will see later in the summer) and much more. I begin to think about getting ready to plant our vegetable garden.
The grass is still pretty brown, but some green is beginning to show and I look forward to it filling out as the rain and the sun do what they have done for millennia.
Spring, of course, brings warmer temperatures, which means I can now do my early-morning bike rides without the experience of returning home with cold and hurting fingers and toes. It makes the rides more joyful. I see the skeleton-like trees, devoid of leaves or flowers, but with new spring eyes I see the limbs and branches reaching upward toward the sun, which with the rain will provide new growth and beauty in coming days, weeks and months.
As spring evolves, it will mean seeing more walkers, bikers and runners out sharing the early-morning quiet and expectation-of-dawn with me. Over time I will see them less weighed down with garments to protect from the cold. I will see more animals—deer, wild turkeys, raccoons, groundhogs, possums and an occasional fox.
Spring makes me feel much more often that I am lucky to be alive and relatively well for 65.
But spring sometimes brings other reasons to have hope and love life. Often over the 46 years that I have been an activist and organizer, a revolutionary, spring has brought with it major mobilizations of people into the streets for mass demonstrations around war and peace, justice, climate or other issues.
I am involved with one such initiative, Beyond Extreme Energy, which has had a productive winter building an escalating campaign against FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Two months from now we will be nonviolently blockading the FERC entrances for a week-plus, following up on our successful week-long blockades in November. We will keep demanding that they stop serving the fossil fuel industry and instead protect the American people and the world’s destabilizing climate. We expect many hundreds of people to take part from May 21-29.
Students active in the fossil fuel divestment movement are taking action. Just last week two divestment office occupations were initiated at Swarthmore College and the University of Mary Washington, and I will be very surprised if the spring doesn’t bring more, hopefully a swelling flood of them.
And in the political realm, an email arrived in my inbox as I was in the middle of writing this from Sen. Bernie Sanders, laying out the truth of what is happening in this country and with our climate. Once again, as he always does, Bernie makes very clear and effective connections between the climate crisis and the crisis of economic injustice and inequality. I hope we keep hearing more and more from Bernie as a declared Presidential candidate in the coming weeks and months.
So many reasons to have hope this spring!
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After sustained declines in the number of COVID-19 cases over recent months, restrictions are starting to ease across the United States. Numbers of new cases are falling or stable at low numbers in some states, but they are surging in many others. Overall, the U.S. is experiencing a sharp increase in the number of new cases a day, and by late June, had surpassed the peak rate of spread in early April.
Seven day rolling average of number of people confirmed to have COVID-19, per day (not including today). This chart gets updated once per day with data by Johns Hopkins. Johns Hopkins university doesn't provide reliable data for March 12 and March 13. Johns Hopkins CSSE Get the data
To Have a Second Wave, the First Wave Needs to End.<p>A wave of an infection describes a large rise and fall in the number of cases. There isn't a precise epidemiological definition of when a wave begins or ends.</p><p>But with talk of a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/27/new-covid-19-clusters-across-world-spark-fear-of-second-wave" target="_blank">second wave in the news</a>, as an <a href="https://www.american.edu/cas/faculty/mhawkins.cfm" target="_blank">epidemiologist and public health researcher</a>, I think there are two necessary factors that must be met before we can colloquially declare a second wave.</p><p>First, the virus would have to be controlled and transmission brought down to a very low level. That would be the end of the first wave. Then, the virus would need to reappear and result in a large increase in cases and hospitalizations.</p><p>Many countries in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0908-8" target="_blank">Europe and Asia have successfully ended the first wave</a>. <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/08/new-zealand-abandons-covid-19-restrictions-after-nation-declared-no-cases" target="_blank">New Zealand</a> and <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/06/08/how-iceland-beat-the-coronavirus" target="_blank">Iceland</a> have also made it through their first waves and are now essentially coronavirus-free, with very low levels of community transmission and only a handful of active cases currently.</p>
Different States, Different Trends<p>Looking at U.S. numbers as a whole hides what is really going on. Different states are in <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html" target="_blank">vastly different situations right now</a> and when you look at states individually, four major categories emerge.</p><ol><li>Places where the first wave is ending: States in the Northeast and a few scattered elsewhere experienced large initial spikes but were able to mostly contain the virus and substantially brought down new infections. <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/new-york-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">New York</a> is a good example of this.</li><li>Places still in the first wave: Several states in the South and West – see <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/texas-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Texas</a> and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/california-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">California</a> – had some cases early on, but are now seeing massive surges with no sign of slowing down.</li><li>Places in between: Many states were hit early in the first wave, managed to slow it down, but are either at a plateau – like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/north-dakota-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">North Dakota</a> – or are now seeing steep increases – like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/oklahoma-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Oklahoma</a>.</li><li>Places experiencing local second waves: Looking only at a state level, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/hawaii-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Hawaii</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/montana-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Montana</a> and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/alaska-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Alaska</a> could be said to be experiencing second waves. Each state experienced relatively small initial outbreaks and was able to reduce spread to single digits of daily new confirmed cases, but are now all seeing spikes again.</li></ol><p>The trends aren't surprising based on how states have been dealing with reopening. The virus will go wherever there are susceptible people and until the U.S. stops community spread across the entire country, the first wave isn't over.</p>
What Could a Second Wave Look Like?<p>It is possible – though at this point it seems unlikely – that the U.S. could control the virus before a vaccine is developed. If that happens, it would be time to start thinking about a second wave. The question of what it might look like depends in large part on everyone's actions.</p><p>The <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1086%2F592454" target="_blank">1918 flu pandemic</a> was characterized by a mild first wave in the winter of 1917-1918 that went away in summer. After restrictions were lifted, people very quickly went back to pre-pandemic life. But a second, deadlier strain came back in fall of 1918 and third in spring of 1919. In total, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/1918-pandemic-history.htm" target="_blank">more than 500 million people were infected</a> worldwide and upwards of <a href="https://theconversation.com/compare-the-flu-pandemic-of-1918-and-covid-19-with-caution-the-past-is-not-a-prediction-138895" target="_blank">50 million died</a> over the course of three waves.</p><p>It was the combination of a quick return to normal life and a mutation in the flu's genome that made it more deadly that led to the horrific second and third waves.</p><p>Thankfully, the coronavirus appears to be much more <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.meegid.2020.104351" target="_blank">genetically stable</a> than the influenza virus, and thus less likely to mutate into a more deadly variant. That leaves human behavior as the main risk factor.</p><p>Until a <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-needs-to-go-right-to-get-a-coronavirus-vaccine-in-12-18-months-136816" target="_blank">vaccine or effective treatment is developed</a>, the tried-and-true public health measures of the last months – <a href="https://theconversation.com/this-simple-model-shows-the-importance-of-wearing-masks-and-social-distancing-140423" target="_blank">social distancing,</a> <a href="https://theconversation.com/masks-help-stop-the-spread-of-coronavirus-the-science-is-simple-and-im-one-of-100-experts-urging-governors-to-require-public-mask-wearing-138507" target="_blank">universal mask wearing</a>, frequent hand-washing and avoiding crowded indoor spaces – are the ways to stop the first wave and thwart a second one. And when there are surges like what is happening now in the U.S., further reopening plans need to be put on hold.</p>
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