Thursday, January 6, 2022

New Year -- 2022 off to a rocky start -- Jan. 6, 2022 column


 Hey, 2022, could we have a do-over?

 You may be hardly a week old, but this in-with-the-new thing isn’t working out. A new year promises a fresh start and a clean slate, but, honestly, you haven’t delivered.

 It’s bad enough that we’re entering our third year of coping with an invisible enemy, the coronavirus. The first case of COVID-19 in the United States was identified on Jan. 20, 2020. We didn’t know then it was called alpha to distinguish from later variants.  

 Vaccinations and boosters were supposed to set us free, but no. Even those who did the right thing, got their shots, wore masks and washed their hands got caught by the latest and most transmissible variant, omicron.

 People who want to be tested must stand in long lines, if they can find tests at all. The good news is the people who followed health guidelines are less likely to be hospitalized and to die than those who shun vaccinations and boosters.

 Still, omicron is disrupting society as it rampages the country and the world.

 Hospitals and the saints who take care of patients are slammed, mainly by those who haven’t gotten their jabs. Airlines canceled thousands of flights around Jan. 1 due to staff shortages caused by sick and quarantining employees. Then a snowstorm hit the East Coast.

 Those who abandoned air travel for cars and trains this week were also headed not for their destinations but for misery. We simply couldn’t get there – or anywhere – from here.

 The debacle on nearly 50 miles of I-95 in Virginia, coupled with gridlock on surrounding roads, created a logjam that affected hundreds of motorists trying to head north and south. Amtrak trains were also stuck under the weather, unable to handle even the most basic of passenger needs – food and toilets.

 Schools in Chicago and other places shut down or returned to remote learning as the pandemic again made in-person classes risky to teachers, staff and students. Businesses pulled back on bringing staff to their offices. Reports of the death of the Zoom culture were premature.

 It’s easy to make New Year’s resolutions for other people – and much more satisfying than making them for oneself – so here’s one for Virginia and federal transportation officials: Work together to focus on essential services.

 We need a country where the systems work. Competence may not be sexy, but it is necessary for peace and prosperity.

 We know Northern Virginia hadn’t had a good snow in a couple of years, and the bizarre change from balmy temperatures in the 60s over the weekend to rain and then heavy snowfall – up to 2 inches an hour – on Monday was discombobulating.

 Transportation officials said they couldn’t pretreat highways because the chemicals would have washed away in the rain. But other states routinely deal with heavy snowfalls without such disastrous consequences.

 And once nearly a foot of snow stopped traffic, surely authorities could have done something to help people stranded in their cars in the cold and dark for more than 24 hours.

 Gov. Ralph Northam wasn’t helpful when he stated the obvious, that people should have stayed off I-95. I’m sure they wish they had.

 But truckers, who are trying to alleviate supply chain shortages and have schedules to keep, as well as other seasoned motorists, know interstates are usually cleared of snow first and are safer than secondary roads in inclement weather.

 When people were finally able to get off I-95 near Fredericksburg, they faced more gridlock on secondary roads. Many travelers reported an absence of authorities to direct traffic or help in any way.

 As officials probe what went wrong, they need to avoid finger pointing, make solid recommendations and implement them.

Americans don’t want more politicking. We want to know we can go where we need to go, safely, and at reasonable speeds. We want our highways and trains to operate efficiently.

 So, while we might like a do-over for the first disastrous week of the new year, there are still 51 weeks left to inspire confidence in America’s ability to function – even if more snow falls. We’re counting on you to do better, 2022.

 ©2022 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


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