It tasks me, it heaps me, an inscrutable malice sinews it

August 21, 2021

We have begun another school year battered and bruised but not broken by COVID-19. Vaccines now shield most of my colleagues and loved ones from hospitalization and death, even as the Delta variant, pandemic fatigue, and pathological politics have overwhelmed our hospitals and spread contagion in our schools. I remain resilient and resolute, but the pandemic tasks me.

He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it.

I invoke Ahab’s and Khan’s word purposefully: this pandemic tasks me. For 18 months, helping my school district fight the pandemic has been my top priority. A relentless scouring of reliable sources for insights and expertise, with the continual collection and analysis of data, has guided the development of our protocols, all with tremendous support from across our district. So many have fought so long and so hard in these battles.

But instead of a mighty leviathan, we are fighting a scourge so tiny that one can debate if they are even alive, these genes that escaped their host all dressed up in a protein coat. They bear no inscrutable malice – the only evil arises from ourselves when we lose our grip upon the truth, when we fail to empathize, when we daunt our courage or engage in selfish, hypocritical, or destructive acts.

In the spirit of the times, much of my campaign has been electronic: countless virtual meetings and emails, lengthy district tallies of isolations and quarantines, and steadily accumulating data I gather and chart on the status of our struggle. They say amateurs talk strategy and professionals talk logistics. My talk has been of protocols, procedures, and pragmatism…tempered with compassion and fortitude.

Meanwhile, Wendy led the repair and servicing of our district Chromebooks as we expanded to provide one for every student, teacher, and administrator in the district. We made it through the dark winter to a brighter spring. And then one night in April, a policeman rang the doorbell to tell us we had lost Wendy’s mother. As Edie once sang, “There were hard times.”

But the pandemic subsided; district cases collapsed to single digits. As the school year ended, I took the opportunity to cleanse my Facebook profile of 12 years of posts, leaving behind only happy photos. We had a brief vacation atop a mountain in Arkansas. We visited my parents.

Alpha, beta, gamma…

Delta surged here in July. Less than a third of the people in our county are fully vaccinated, the CDC bungled its mask messaging yet again, and mandatory public health precautions have become a partisan political issue. So, a week into the new school year, we have more COVID-19 positive students than ever. I’m again leery of restaurant dining and travel; I’m back to wearing a mask in the schools. Angry parents say we’re doing too much or too little. I’ve started my second medication for hypertension.

It tasks me. So every Wednesday I post my local charts, and on Thursdays I post the broader update from trusted sources. I am blessed to see and hear the gratitude of those who follow the fight with me. I dream about the day when I can again cleanse my Facebook profile of this pandemic, leaving behind only photos from the Pathfinder Parkway.

We shall manage, we shall adapt, we shall overcome. But when will these battles end? When will we win the war? I have long held that herd immunity was an illusion, a dream undone by mistrust and ignorance. But the pandemic will surely end some day. When enough people have gained sufficient immunity either through vaccination or infection, it will not be eliminated, but it will become endemic.

Those who are most resistant to simple precautions will collectively fare the worst, but their lack of understanding and perspective will bring continued collateral damage and needless suffering. But I do find comfort in that all of the infections they promote do hasten the end.

Hospitalizations and deaths will eventually diminish, and boosters will re-up immunity for the wise. There will still be outbreaks, probably seasonally, but we will resume more normal, albeit changed, lives. As Sarah Zhang wrote, “The coronavirus is not something we can avoid forever; we have to prepare for the possibility that we will all get exposed one way or another.” My loved ones and I will be prepared for that.

We are exposed to four common coronaviruses as children. The resulting disease is mild, and we are likely reinfected every so often, which merely updates our immune response. This fifth coronavirus will eventually assume its position on that hand we are dealt.

I am no Ahab, and our district is not the Pequod. It tasks me, but it shall not destroy me. Our ship is not doomed, and its mission is based on service, not revenge. As I have shared on Facebook and across the district:

When you can’t control what’s happening, challenge yourself to control the way you respond to what’s happening. That’s where your power is.

Adjust your sails. Welcome and support those who follow your lead, and be a light, not a judge, for those who follow a different and darker path. They may yet turn and seek the light…let it shine from you.

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Prix de West 2021

June 18, 2021 | Photo Album

We ventured to Oklahoma City to celebrate Father’s Day with my parents. One of the countless fun things my 96-year-old father has introduced me to is the annual Prix de West art show and sale at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Wendy and I enjoy this event each summer, although the pandemic prevented us from attending in 2020.

Our visit was free since we used our Woolaroc membership cards, which carry the wonderful NARM benefit that grants us free admission to many of our favorite museums. The receptionist said she usually only sees a NARM admission about once per week, but lately it has picked up.

We both admired the pointillism technique of artist Sonya Terpening. Wendy snapped The Spring in Fall in both a master shot and close-up.

The Spring in Fall by Sonya Terpening

The Spring in Fall by Sonya Terpening

Skyscape with Lilies also nicely shows how one’s vision blends its dabs of paint into a lovely reflective scene.

Skyscape with Lilies by Sonya Terpening

Skyscape with Lilies by Sonya Terpening

The standout work for me was Benjamin Wu‘s Working in the Old Barn with its masterful portrait, drapery, and lighting.

Working in the Old Barn by Benjamin Wu

Working in the Old Barn by Benjamin Wu

That splendid work reminded me of Daniel Ridgway Knight’s Le Premier Chagrin, which we were fortunate to see at the Brigham Young University Museum of Art in the summer of 2018.

I also was struck by the bold coloring and treatment of the foreground and background in C. Michael Dudash‘s The Crossing. The camera cannot fully capture the effect it created of foreground figures arrayed against canyon walls in the far distance.

The Crossing by C. Michael Dudash

The Crossing by C. Michael Dudash

Much of the Prix de West works are realistic, so I was intrigued by Ed Mell’s Nightfall, with its landscape of abstracted geometries.

Nightfall by Ed Mell

Nightfall by Ed Mell

When I introduced Wendy to the museum in 2014, she was amazed to see Bob Wills’ fiddle on display. So I led us back into the permanent collection display to see it again. As we drove past downtown Tulsa on our way to OKC, we saw the new OKPOP museum is under construction just across the street from Cain’s ballroom, which was the home of Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys from 1935 to 1942. We look forward to seeing its future displays of more artifacts from the career of the King of Western Swing.

Our vaccinations have enabled us to venture out into the world of art again, delighted yet wary. As I write, the Delta variant is surging in Arkansas and northern and southwestern Missouri. Far too many Oklahomans likewise remain susceptible. I am reminded of one of H.L. Mencken’s caustic comments: “The older I get the more I admire and crave competence, just simple competence, in any field from adultery to zoology.” I am grateful to have been able to admire more than competence on display at the Prix de West.

Photo Album

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The Misty Mountain

June 2021 | Photo Album

Until June, our 2021 travels were restricted to a brief visit with my parents in Oklahoma City and trips to and from Checotah, Oklahoma to arrange for and attend the funeral for Wendy’s mother. It had been a long hard time since the pandemic shut down our travels in March 2020.

So with summer break finally underway and the Pfizer vaccine protecting us from COVID-19, Wendy and I were eager to take our first real vacation since December 2019. The pandemic had forced us to cancel a cabin we had reserved for spring break 2020 at Mount Magazine in Arkansas, so we chose that as our destination. With Oklahoma exiting an unusually cool and rainy May to enter a hot and humid June, it also seemed a good idea to spend a few days up in the clouds at the highest point in Arkansas, where it is usually about 10° Fahrenheit cooler than the river valley 2,100 feet below.

Ft. Smith Regional Art Museum

We drove down to metropolitan Tulsa to enjoy a Sunday lunch at the Charleston’s restaurant in Broken Arrow. Then we headed southeast on the Muskogee Turnpike, but instead of exiting around Muskogee as we had to do for our previous trips to Checotah, we continued 10 miles south to I-40 and headed eastward to Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Route Map

We had already strolled about the eponymous fort on our 2015 trip to Mount Magazine, so this time we stopped to see the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum. The building was a classic example of Mid-Century Modern design, originally built in 1963 as the Superior Federal Savings and Loan Bank. The floating staircase made me feel like I had been transported back to my childhood when many such structures were springing up in Oklahoma City.

Instrument Flying CertificateWe first toured the temporary exhibition Art in Aviation, although the subject matter was of limited interest to us. Wendy did snap an “Institute of the Blind” certificate awarded in 1943 to Lt. L.D. Whittaker for completing a course in instrument flying. Only 14 years earlier had Lt. Jimmy Doolittle made the first complete flight from takeoff to landing solely by the use of instruments and radio.

Pineapple #19

Pineapple #19 by Robert Burridge

We took the floating staircase up to the second floor exhibit of items from the museum’s permanent collection. Wendy was surprised and pleased to finally see in person two pieces by Robert Burridge, an artist she has long enjoyed watching on YouTube. She had even seen him paint a pineapple in 2019 similar to his Pineapple #19 of 2014 which he donated to the museum, along with Floral Study #147.

Wendy also liked Radishes Encore by Elizabeth Powers, and I admired the aquatint Line Dancing by Wilfred Loring, Jr. Spring on South by Elizabeth Ryan also caught Wendy’s eye.

In the basement’s Dr. W.E. Knight Porcelain Gallery, we toured the collection of Boehm porcelain. I can’t say I am a fan of that company’s porcelain birds and wildlife, but Wendy readily identified and admired their Supreme Peace Rose.

I have always considered Thomas Kinkade‘s paintings to be kitsch, yet I nevertheless admired John Bell, Jr.‘s Cabin at Greenleaf State Park which is quite Kinkade-like with its depiction of a brightly lit cabin beside the lake which features a fellow fishing by lantern light in his boat.

Cabin at Greenleaf State Park

Cabin at Greenleaf State Park by John Bell, Jr.

The overwhelming blue of the painting was striking in its contrast to the fiery cabin. I’ve hiked at Greenleaf several times, and I opted to buy a print in the museum gift shop as a reminder of this happy vacation after the long and successful struggle to avoid the coronavirus. But I will also enjoy its reminder of Joan Didion’s withering yet accurate take on such paintings:

A Kinkade painting was typically rendered in slightly surreal pastels. It typically featured a cottage or a house of such insistent cosiness as to seem actually sinister, suggestive of a trap designed to attract Hansel and Gretel. Every window was lit, to lurid effect, as if the interior of the structure might be on fire.

On the Mountain

I love the views and hikes at all three of Arkansas’ lofty state parks along the Arkansas River Valley to the northwest of Little Rock. Easternmost is Petit Jean, with little Mount Nebo and its girdle of trails only 20 miles away. Another 20 miles west rises mighty Mount Magazine, which is not part of the Ouachita mountains, but has a commanding view of several of their northeastern ridges.

Usually the Skycrest Restaurant at the Mount Magazine Lodge would be an attraction for us to stay there, but I’d been warned by our friend Lynne Shaw that the restaurant was stuck in buffet-only mode, with mediocre fare. So Wendy and I stocked up at the CV’s Family Foods in Paris before driving up the mountain to our cabin.

CabinWe had stayed at a room in the lodge in 2015, but we craved more privacy for our return. So I booked one of the 13 cabins arrayed along the mountainside on either side of the lodge. Our cabin was clean and spacious. I noticed that the door onto the deck overlooking the Petit Jean River had a familiar mechanism.  Sure enough, it was a Pella door similar to the one installed a week earlier at Meador Manor when we had all of the windows and the patio door replaced. I wonder how long it will take me to stop noticing Pella windows and doors on my travels.

Mount Magazine

The view from the deck

The deck offered a tremendous view of the river valley and Blue Mountain Lake. I enjoyed reading Alastair Reynold’s Revenger trilogy on my Kindle in a rocking chair on the deck, taking breaks from its dark tales of space piracy to enjoy the panorama. Wendy read books by Bill Bryson and Lewis Black during our visit to the mountain.

The weather was often overcast during our stay, with the usual morning fog over the valley which would often rise up and envelop the mountaintop. The lodge and cabins are a bit under 2,600 feet in elevation, with the highest point in Arkansas atop Signal Hill north of us at 2,753’ while the Petit Jean River to the south is at 350 feet.

Ouachitas

Peaks of the Ouachitas jutting above the cloud deck

One morning the peaks of the Ouachitas became islands jutting out of the fog. The island peak to the left was that of Potato Hill Mountain, which tops out at 2,226’ while the ridges on the right were Flood Mountain peaking at 2,238’ and Petit Jean Mountain at 2,223’.
The Petit Jean River at 113 miles is the longest river to be contained entirely within the Arkansas River Valley, rising at White Oak Mountain about 22 miles southwest of Mount Magazine and winding its way around Boney Mountain before flowing eastward past Mount Magazine, dammed to form Blue Mountain Lake, on its way to join the Arkansas River just north of Petit Jean State Park.

Intermittent rain kept us indoors for much of our respite, but we did venture out to Cameron Bluff on the first evening for the gorgeous view.

Cameron Bluff Overlook

Cameron Bluff Overlook

I didn’t realize that since our last visit they had cleared and restored part of the old CCC amphitheater just north of the main overlook, so we will have to see that on a future visit.

Trail Track

A morning walk

The next morning I braved the mist and drizzle to follow the wide sidewalk past the cabins to the lodge, passing pretty flowers. I reached the central portion of the new lodge, which I now know is perched on the footprint of the original lodge built by the WPA in 1940 which burned in 1971. The Cyclopean stone retaining wall below the lodge is all that remains of the old lodge…or is it? I remembered there was a short trail somewhere below the lodge that doesn’t appear on the park’s trails brochure.

Below the east building with the 60 guest rooms and swimming pool, I found the Old Lodge Trail loop which ventured down the mountainside to a few overlooks. I had my faithful Tilley LTM8 hat to keep my head dry despite the drizzle, but I wasn’t wearing my usual Columbia hiking boots. I hadn’t planned on going off the paved trail, and I’ve recently taken to wearing Kizik shoes. They have a spring-back heel you can easily crush with your foot to pop them on without stooping. I really like the blue Madrid Camo Knit shoes I recently purchased, which are quite comfortable. But because of the rain, I was instead wearing my grey Cupertinos, which look fine and are less likely to be problematic in mud, but did make my feet sore when I walked too far in them along the Pathfinder Parkway last fall.

The old trail was so tempting that I braved it despite my lack of appropriate footwear, stepping cautiously to avoid slipping on wet rocks. I passed spiderwort and daisies before reaching an overlook with the Blue Mountain Lake Dam directly ahead down in the valley.

Old Lodge Trail Overlook

Overlook along the Old Lodge Trail

To the side I could see the palisade of bluffs along the southern flank of the mountain. Stepping stones kept me out of the mud as I made my way along to climb the slope to behind cabin #5. I retraced my steps to the lodge and wandered again off the paved sidewalk to a more challenging overlook above the rock climbing area where I could see the lake framed by the limbs of a dead tree. A large broken stone revealed its red interior normally hidden by its gray and lichen-coated crust.

Openings below ledge

Openings below the rock ledge

I scrambled about for more views and spotted what I will generously call two small cave openings beneath the ledge before making my way back to the cabin as the drizzle became a shower.

There were deer and cottontail rabbits about the cabins, as well as far less welcome flies and large black ants. I entertained myself by occasionally blowing ants off the deck pillars.

Wendy got to see both the deer and rabbits when she ventured out with me on the third day of our stay to walk the paved sidewalk all the way past the lodge to the far end of the row of cabins. Along the way, she noticed the bright yellow and waxy petals of a creeping buttercup. She also spied the bird she had heard during our stay which she had suspected might be a mockingbird from its repeated and varied songs. But it was a brown thrasher, which repeats a song twice before moving on to the next, while mockingbirds sing a song thrice.

We never dined at the lodge restaurant during our vacation. It was too wet to grill, but we enjoyed bacon, eggs, and biscuits for our breakfasts, turkey sandwiches for lunches, and Wendy cooked steaks and baked potatoes with the cabin stove and oven for our dinners.

Return

Rather than return to Ft. Smith along Arkansas highway 23, also known as the True Grit Trail, we drove Wendy’s minivan down the south slope of the mountain to Havana and took Arkansas highway 10 to Greenwood, taking a spur to US 71 to drive into Fort Smith. I had discovered that Calico County, our favorite restaurant in Amarillo, Texas, had a sister restaurant there. We enjoyed chicken fried chicken with vegetables for lunch and then made our way back home.

Throughout our trip, the only time we were required to wear masks was in a recently built Love’s Country Store at Vian, Oklahoma. All of the employees but only a few of the patrons joined us in masking up. Of all our pit stops along the way, however, a convenience store in little Magazine, Arkansas sticks out in my mind because it featured a classic group of old guys gathered around solving the world’s problems…or perhaps it was a Liars Club meeting.

The pandemic is not over; I fully expect a surge among the unvaccinated this winter, especially in areas like our county in Oklahoma where currently only 25% are fully vaccinated. But seasonality and vaccinations have brought us a welcome respite for now. We plan to enjoy it further late this month when I take 12 days away from work. Maybe we’ll venture to Kansas City and/or Crystal Bridges for some short escapes.

Photo Album

Posted in art, day hike, photos, travel | Leave a comment

My spiky crystal ball

Glass COVID-19 by Luke JerramApril 25, 2021

Soon the Pandemic Response Committee I chair in our school district will conduct its 50th meeting since March 6, 2020. I provide this overview of our experience as we enter a welcome new phase of the pandemic: it has been five weeks since we had a new positive staff case, we’ve had no new student cases for two weeks, and we only have three out of over 5,800 students in close contact quarantine, all due to non-school exposures.

Those remarkably low numbers may not hold, but I don’t expect them to explode, either. So I’m consulting my COVID-19 crystal ball as I contemplate how to adapt. Even though hygiene theater has finally been discounted, I still can’t rub my hands across my crystal ball’s glassy surface, since it is studded with spike proteins. But I can gaze into it to dimly perceive what life in our schools might well be like for the rest of 2021.

The Trail We Have Trod

Santa Fe

Shakespeare’s line from The Tempest is relevant

To plot our path from here, we need to look back at the tortuous trail we have trod. In the summer of 2020, our committee painstakingly devised detailed procedures to resume in-person instruction in August 2020. The initial drafts were repeatedly amended after feedback from regular physically distanced meetings in a Johnstone Park outdoor pavilion with our district administrators, after parent and staff surveys, and after distanced public meetings at our high school stadium as well as staff and school board webinars.

We had to review rapidly evolving and often conflicting guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH), and Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE). A few were adopted, many were adapted, and some were discarded.

Offering both in-person and virtual instruction for all

An instructional decision that came early on from Supt. McCauley was to offer both in-person instruction and full-time virtual classes every day to all students. We had seen the learning losses when the state suspended in-person classes from Spring Break to the end of the 2019-2020 school year in late May and realized that, while we had 1:1 Chromebooks in our middle and high schools, we couldn’t acquire enough Chromebooks to outfit each elementary student until early fall. So unlike some urban school districts, we decided that offering daily in-person instruction to all, except for planned and ad hoc distance learning days, was important to fulfilling our district mission.

Distancing strategies I developed

We started the school year in August 2020 with almost one in five students fully virtual. With over 80% of our students still in-person, offering daily in-person classes meant we had to ignore the six-foot spacing distancing the CDC recommended. Research said three to four feet should still help a lot, so I advised staff to aim for that as a desirable minimum. We successfully followed that course for seven months before the CDC finally said three feet would do.

Face coverings has been another major issue for us. All along we deliberately omitted students below the 4th Grade from the requirements, based on early research that the youngest students should have a lower rate of infection with fewer symptoms. But for everyone else we ratcheted up our requirements in the fall and winter from face coverings when in close contact to at all times, and eventually banned face shields for over three months in early 2021. During the winter surge I strongly recommended N95 masks for high-risk staff members. So our face covering guidance has always strayed from CDC guidelines in various ways. Blair Ellis, the Executive Director of the Bartlesville Public Schools Foundation, and Dr. Stephanie Curtis, BPSD’s Executive Director of Personnel & School Support, were instrumental in acquiring various forms of personal protective equipment for students and staff which Kerry Ickleberry, our Director of Health & Safety, helped distribute.

Contact tracing

Given those deviations from the CDC recommendations, it was important for us to identify and contain any potential superspreaders from our in-person offerings. In June, I completed a 7-hour contact tracer training course from Johns Hopkins. Eventually over 40 district staff members would complete that training, with dozens of them spending untold hours isolating positive cases, identifying and quarantining close contacts, and following up with families. I  developed our internal tracking system, which includes a live public view of our student and staff isolations and quarantines by site, and shared historical timeline charts. Our hardworking contact tracers, led by Health & Safety Director Kerry Ickleberry, maintained our robust and fully-CDC-compliant student contact tracing effort throughout the school year. District Nurse Lisa Foreman has brought an invaluable health perspective to our committee decision-making and the ongoing contact tracing. Meanwhile, the state’s own contact tracing program utterly collapsed and was eventually judged to have “had no measurable impact on the pandemic” with a lack of timely and accessible data.

With four weeks of classes left in this school year, we have isolated 321 student cases and imposed 4,794 student quarantines. And in all of that, it is very important for our future planning to note that we have seen no clear signals of school-based spread. We didn’t have any signals of in-school spread even during a stressful peak of student and staff cases in late January and early February, which was happily brought under control by a two-week lockdown from Mother Nature when ice, snow, and severe cold shut down classes and much of the other activity in Bartlesville.

The 1 week of DL then Winter Break in that chart is when we cancelled in-person classes for the final week of the first semester as our local hospital ICU was overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases. That and Winter Break kept everyone out of the schools for three weeks during the worst of the winter surge for hospitals in the state’s NE Region 2, although the overall impact on Tulsa hospitals peaked a few weeks later in mid-January.

Jane Phillips Hospital and COVID-19

Distance learning days

Shifting to sitewide or districtwide distance learning was another example of us charting our own course. The OSDE alert level guidelines we initially adopted in August were soon abandoned when it became apparent there was poor coupling of student and staff case rates with that of the county as a whole. We endured the criticism that we were shifting the goal posts, recognizing that our protocols needed to evolve with experience. We should end this school year with 151 days of in-person instruction, whereas if we had stuck with the OSDE guidelines, we would have had less than 60 days. Our committee decoupled all of our protocols from them until recent weeks, instead relying on citywide, student, and staff case rates as well as hospital metrics to guide when to tighten or relax our protocols and trigger any sitewide or districtwide distance learning periods.

This academic year we had 16 districtwide distance learning days, 9 inclement weather days, and put Central Middle School into distance learning for two additional days due to high student/staff case rates. Bartlesville High School had one distance learning day early on to allow for deep cleaning, and that experience led us to refine our deep cleaning protocols to avoid additional closures.

That deviation also eventually turned out to be the right call, with the CDC finally acknowledging, over a year after the pandemic became a nationwide phenomenon, that disinfecting surfaces does little to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. We now know that the risk of contracting the virus from touching a contaminated surface is less than 0.01%. The run on hand sanitizer last year turned out to be pointless, since COVID-19 is transmitted by breathing, not touching. Having the CDC finally admit that, many months after a scientific consensus had formed, has finally allowed us to discontinue unnecessary deep cleaning with no pushback. Yet even now the CDC still advises everyone to perform hygiene theater when a positive case was around within the past 24 hours, which strikes me as more about appearances than reality.

Pick a color, any color

The disparate alert level systems have been another challenge, both internally and externally. The OSDH still publishes a county map based on an alert system that was essentially useless after early October, simply reporting Orange for months even as county cases more than quintupled and hospital intensive care unit capacity collapsed. The OSDE adopted a modified alert system and the OSSBA publishes a county map for it. As cases mounted over the winter, the OSDE system similarly lost its discrimination.

As the politically inconvenient winter surge worsened, Oklahoma’s governor deliberately stopped distributing White House Task Force reports, which had its own more discriminating alert levels and routinely offered advice which he ignored. For weeks, Oklahoma was a top three state in cases, positivity, and hospitalizations, and would have posted similarly high death rates, except that the OSDH knowingly failed to provide accurate and timely death counts for months. And its useless alert system stayed stuck in Orange statewide, since it was repeatedly altered to make it impossible to ever signal Red for a single county.

The CDC now has its own county data tracker with a “Level of Community Transmission” that was once part of the White House Task Force reports, and throughout the pandemic there have been popular systems from Covid Act Now and others with their own idiosyncratic alert levels.

Alert Levels

An example of the conflicting signals and lack of discrimination for three of the most prominent alert systems in Oklahoma

This confusing array of conflicting alert levels remains problematic. Oklahoma’s Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency found that “OSDH’s COVID-19 reporting fails to align with stakeholders’ needs” and “the data provided by the State was either lacking in substance, withheld, misaligned, or never developed for public consumption.”

Consequently, since August I have steadily refined my own tracking sheet of district, city, county, and state data. I update it daily to maintain my timeline charts of cases, vaccinations, regional hospital bed use, regional ICU bed use, state ICU bed availability, and the impact on our local hospital.  All of that, along with our district’s student and staff cases and student and staff absenteeism have been shared publicly and reviewed weekly by our Pandemic Response Committee.

Where We Stand

Under the leadership of Dianne Martinez, Exec. Dir. of Elementary Schools, and Jason Langham, Exec. Dir. of Secondary Schools, our site principals and teachers have scrambled as conditions improved to adjust as full-time virtual students migrated back to in-person. The virtual student enrollment which peaked in early September at about 20% has now fallen to about 11%.

Thad Dilbeck, the Director of Athletics and Activities, has spearheaded the efforts of our many coaches and sponsors in adapting to changing safety restrictions and procedures throughout the pandemic.

Jon Beckloff, Sodexo Director of Child Nutrition, has displayed immense creativity, flexibility, and perseverance throughout the pandemic. Thanks to amazing work by his dedicated staff, with steadfast assistance from our transportation department, over 1,000,000 meals will have been served during the pandemic to our students and staff.

As I noted earlier, our student and staff cases collapsed this month. Seasonality and vaccinations have changed the character of the pandemic: everyone is outside more with the warmer weather, where viral particles are readily dispersed. As of April 8, a significant majority of our staff had achieved full vaccination. But we’re seeing a noticeable dropoff in new vaccinations across the state, and currently only about 20% of our county’s total population is fully vaccinated. Masking is on the decline in public venues around town. So we remain vulnerable to more infectious variants and superspreaders.

OSDE Alert Levels

The improved conditions have allowed our committee to begin coupling our pandemic protocols to an alert level I will calculate. It uses the same color coding system adopted by the OSDE, but does not rely on the weekly rate of new positive cases for the county. Instead, I will calculate the city’s rate and, when feasible, average that with our rate of staff and student cases.

In recognition that conditions have changed, we are relaxing our face covering protocols so long as cases remain low, and we have relaxed usage of our staff screening app. Both of those protocols will escalate and de-escalate based on the alert level I will publish each Wednesday at BPSLEARN.COM.

The Trail Ahead

Here is the future I dimly see in my spiky crystal ball:

  • The majority of students and staff will become increasingly careless and complacent this summer, despite occasional breakthrough infections, although a distinct minority of students and staff will continue to mask throughout the 2021-2022 academic year.
  • We will have far fewer Distance Learning days in 2021-2022.
  • We’ll see a surge of infections next fall and winter, probably rising to Orange 2, and Red is certainly possible. The infection rate will be far higher among the unvaccinated, with some breakthrough infections among the vaccinated, particularly those who travel extensively, attend large crowded indoor events, and never mask. Hospitalizations will also surge but will not be nearly as predictably coupled to cases as they were previously, with far lower actual death rates.
  • Our full-time-virtual enrollments will likely be below 5%, although they could rise above that level during the winter whenever the surge becomes apparent.
  • Our middle and high school students will be offered vaccinations this fall or early winter, but many, possibly a majority, won’t take advantage of them.
  • Booster shots to better protect against variants of concern will become available this winter, and a majority of our district staff will get one.

Thus, for this summer and the 2021-2022 academic year, our committee will be working on coupling many more of our protocols to our district’s alert level. I expect to see distancing, contact tracing and quarantines, visitor restrictions, third-party use of our facilities, and which internal metrics we generate, along with face covering and staff screening requirements, to all fluctuate with the district’s calculated alert level.

In general, so long as we remain in the low Green or Yellow levels, our protocols will be more relaxed than what we had for most of the 2020-2021 academic year. But they will escalate at Orange Level 1 and, should we rise to Orange Level 2, most of them will be restored to what we became accustomed to this school year.

As the bard wrote, “…what’s past is prologue, what to come in yours and my discharge.”

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Pandemic Pastimes

Granger MeadorDecember 5, 2020

Wendy and I are concluding the ninth month of a contracted lifestyle during the COVID-19 pandemic. I expect we face at least six more months of daily masking, distancing, and hand hygiene at work. We’re probably going to have limited travel for another four months or more, with only remote contact with our elderly parents, since as educators we might be able to get vaccinated in early spring.

We would normally be enjoying vacations around the region and out west, so we daydream about our future travels. But it is likely that for over a year our farthest outings will wind up having been one-hour drives. We occasionally head south to Tulsa to get each of us a Chatsworth boxty to-go from Kilkenny’s (with Irish Balloons, of course). Then we head over to Southroads Shopping Center so she can get painting supplies at Michael’s while I browse at Barnes & Noble.

Elk River Trail

But an hour’s drive from Bartlesville in the opposite direction gets us to Elk City Lake, where there are many nice trails. During the pandemic, Wendy and I are only interested in day hikes on narrow nature trails if there are few fellow perambulators. Last summer we drove out to Osage Hills State Park west of Bartlesville, but decided to redirect to the city’s Hudson Lake when we saw how many people were out enjoying the nice trails at Osage Hills which I mapped years ago.  This fall we made the hour’s drive north for an enjoyable Halloween outing to the seldom-frequented middle section of the Elk River Trail.

link to trail photos

Elk River Trail hike

Bridge Project at Osage Hills

Ranger Nick

Ranger Nick at Osage Hills

Back at Osage Hills, I’m excited that a new roadway bridge is being built to reach Lookout Lake. Kenneth Standish, Jr. was one of Wendy’s Student Tech Support Team students last year. He made replacing the old bridge to Lookout Lake, which often washed out, his Eagle Scout project. We contributed $1,200 of an impressive $15,000 Kenneth has raised to partner with the Osage County Commissioners in replacing the bridge with a higher I-beam structure that won’t require repeated repairs. I truly appreciate Ranger Nick Conner’s updates at the Osage Hills State Park Facebook page.

I look forward to when I can drive across that bridge in my car, which is adorned with an Oklahoma State Parks license plate. That is a fun way to support them.

License Plate

You can support our parks with a nice state park license plate

Pathfinder Parkway

Most pandemic weekends you can find me strolling along one part or another of Bartlesville’s Pathfinder Parkway trail system. Back when the weather and foliage were cooperative, I shot many photos along the way and at Johnstone and Jo Allyn Lowe parks.

Flickr Photos

Photos from my summer and autumn walks in Bartlesville

Backbeat Fit headphones

My Backbeat Fit headphones 

Wendy joins me on walks in our neighborhood, but I’m usually solo on the Pathfinder. Since my brain is seldom in repose, I have always enjoyed listening to audiobooks on my walks and hikes. My classic Apple AirPods are okay, but I long preferred my Plantronics Backbeat Fit headphones for walks.

Bone conduction headphones

My bone conduction headphones

Then Mat Taylor of Techmoan, one of the YouTube creators I support on Patreon, posted a review of the Aeropex AfterShokz bone-conducting headphones. I trust his judgment and, given my tinnitus and hearing loss, decided they were worth a try. Wendy has far more acute hearing than I do, so I routinely use earphones around the house. These bone conduction ones don’t block the ear canal, so I can hear ambient sound better and just tap a button to communicate with Wendy or someone I greet on the Pathfinder, rather than push and pull plugs out of my ears.

The downsides to these bone conduction headphones are their Bluetooth reception and their rigid loop. Their connection to my iPhone or iPad is more likely to encounter interference from our microwave oven or cut out with distance. The rigid loop, compared to the loopless AirPods and flexibly linked Backbeat Fit plugs, has to be shifted when I’m relaxing in my recliner listening to YouTube videos on my iPad. But I wear them routinely, only shifting to my AirPods when the Aeropex ones need charging. And I hardly ever use my Backbeat Fit ones anymore.

Books ⇒ Kindles ⇒ Swings ⇒ Boox

Long-time readers of this blog will know that I am an avid reader. You might even know I was an early adopter of the Amazon Kindle e-ink devices. I have owned at least seven of them since I bought my first one a dozen years ago. The basic technology has changed little, with the most significant improvement being lighting beginning with the Paperwhite in 2012. I still use a Kindle Voyage I purchased in 2014, but I regret purchasing an Oasis in 2019.

Kindle Oasis

I don’t like the shape of the Kindle Oasis

With age, my eyesight has diminished along with my hearing. So I purchased the Oasis to get a bigger screen: the Voyage is the usual 6″ diagonal, and the Oasis bumped that up to 7″. But it didn’t make enough difference to matter, and I prefer a device of uniform thickness over its odd shape, which I find annoying to hold. I also prefer having forward and back buttons on each side on the Voyage over the one-side buttons on the Oasis. And if you like physical page turn buttons, none of the current Kindles have them except the Oasis.

So during the pandemic I have found myself often reading a book using the Kindle app on my iPad. There are two downsides to that for me: the screen and a lack of focus.

The iPad is bright, colorful, and interactive. That makes it great for my daily reading of the Tulsa World, USA Today, Washington Post, and Bartlesville Radio News, although the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise’s iPad app has been unreliable of late. And the iPad is great for YouTube and Facebook. But reading a book on its bright screen can be tiring, and any LCD screen is a poor experience outdoors.

The sepia mode on the Kindle app helps a bit, but then there is the focus issue. The screen is always sharp, so the issue is my own. It is far too easy on the iPad to jab the home button to shift away from a book to look up something on Wikipedia, get distracted with something on YouTube, or, heaven forbid, start doomscrolling on Facebook.

Henry Reed's Journey

A book from childhood 

This was driven home to me this autumn when I decided to read Keith Robertson’s crime novels. He wrote the Henry Reed series which I enjoyed as a child. Out of nostalgia and a desire to escape from the pandemic, I purchased Henry Reed’s Journey to revisit that tale and its fun illustrations by Robert McCloskey. I don’t enjoy illustrations on a Kindle, so I bought a used hardcover copy.

I enjoyed re-reading the book, but I was bemused to see how one incident, where Henry is stained brown to blend in with some Hopis, to ride with them on a parade float, has aged terribly.

Awkward story

The less said about this part of an old children’s story, the better

Originally I could not recall the book’s title or even Henry Reed, only that it had shared the adventures of a boy and girl riding across the country in a station wagon, and there had been multiple books with those characters.  The internet helped me identify it, but it also revealed that Robertson had written a series of crime novels, long out of print, using the pseudonym of Carlton Keith.

I couldn’t find them in electronic format for my Kindle, so out of curiosity I purchased on eBay an old pulp paperback copy of A Gem of a Murder, originally published as The Diamond-Studded Typewriter in 1958. Its cover was not illustrated by Robert McCloskey but by Harry Schaare.

Not a children's book

Murder is not for children 

I enjoyed the book, so I bought the rest of his crime books, again in used paperback and hardback copies. Amazon didn’t have most of them, but Abebooks let me order copies from used bookstores. One came in from Warr Acres, quite close to where I grew up, but others came in from Illinois, Ohio, New York, Tennessee, and…New Zealand. Isn’t the internet marvelous?

I spent part of the time reading the first book out on the patio on the covered two-seater swing which Wendy helped me assemble this summer. As it turned out, that experience proved costly.

Swing

The two-seater swing assembled but not yet placed 

I loved the swing, but found myself stretching out on it sometimes to read. Even at only 5’8″, my legs were sticking way out over one side when I did that.

So this fall I decided to move it to the mini-deck I had assembled beside our shed last year. For the patio I purchased a 3-seater version of the same swing, which Wendy again helped me set up. I can stretch out far more easily on it and have continued to enjoy both swings. So purchasing a 60-year-old pulp paperback on eBay for less than $10 led me to spend hundreds more on a larger swing. C’est la vie.

But, patient reader, you may ask, “What does any of that have to do with Kindles?”

Well, while reading that old paperback on the patio, I stayed engrossed in the story. It transported me from a sunny patio in Oklahoma to various locales in New England, wondering what its protagonist, a smart-aleck red-haired document examiner, would do next. I wasn’t able to distract myself by looking up the story environs on the internet, opening Wikipedia to check on something, or ending a chapter to wander off into a video.

I’m still no longer a fan of physical books unless they have illustrations. I prefer the Kindle. And I like an actual Kindle device, with its non-glare e-ink screen and laughably limited internet capability, over the Kindle app on my iPad. But while the 6″ screen on my Kindle Voyage is perfect for reading a book on the go, such as in a restaurant (oh yes, I’ve missed that for the past nine months), it is a tad small for me when relaxing at home.

I longed for an e-ink Kindle about the size of my iPad. But Amazon doesn’t offer any such thing. They stopped selling the 9.7″ Kindle DX years ago. But they do have the Kindle Android app…

I also am a Patreon supporter of Alec Watson of Technology Connections. Last year he showed an Onyx Boox Max 2 with a 13.3″ e-ink screen, although he advised viewers not to buy it, delving into its pros and cons. That led me to splurge on a 10.3″ Boox Note Air; here’s a review video. It has a fancy stylus, supports gestures, etc., but all I really care about is that I can read Kindle books on its big e-ink display.

It arrived earlier this week, but COVID-related work for the district was too unrelenting for me to have the energy to even turn it on until Friday night. I’ve only read a few pages of a book using the Kindle app on this Android device, but I’m quite hopeful that this will be a boon for my reading.

The shot below compares the screen sizes for my iPad, the Boox Note Air, the Kindle Oasis, and the old Kindle Voyage.

Comparison shot

The 10.3″ e-ink screen on the Boox Note Air is larger than the colorful 9.7″ LCD screen on my iPad

Holding my Boox Note Air feels much like holding my iPad, but its e-ink screen is actually a bit larger. Below I’ve opened the same book, one with an illustration, on each device. (For the curious, this is from the Cooling the Lava part of John McPhee’s The Control of Nature, about how the residents of Heimaey, Iceland saved their harbor by spraying water on the volcanic lava flow threatening to close it off.)

Boox Comparison

The same book on my different readers

I can adjust the brightness and hue of the Boox Note Air, going continuously from bluish to sepia to white. I’m hopeful the large non-glare e-ink screen will cause less eyestrain than reading on the iPad and keep my reading more focused.

One good thing about the pandemic is that it has supported my love for reading. Since COVID-19 canceled our Spring Break trip, I have read 22 books on my Kindle and listened to another 18 books on my iPhone. Adding in physical books brings my consumption in 2020 to 45 with four weeks still to go, whereas I read a total of 38 books in 2019 and only around 25 books each in the two years prior to that.

Lewis Meyer

Lewis Meyer

I think it is time to close this discursive look at some of my pandemic pastimes. I end with a quote from the lovable little Lewis Meyer, who reviewed books for decades on Tulsa’s channel 6 in the longest-running book show in America.

The more you read,
the taller you grow.

 

 

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