Archive for the ‘Medicine and Health’ Category

A time-lapse map of known COVID-19 deaths

July 10, 2020

The test of reality

June 23, 2020

For decades, the USA and other rich nations have had the luxury of dealing with self-created problems.’

Some were self-created (deregulation of finance, foreign intervention), some symbolic (the border wall, Confederate statues) and some imaginary (the Russiagate plot).

Now, however, we’re up against real things.  Pandemics don’t care about public opinion polls.  Climate change doesn’t care about the limits of the politically possible.

Some nations are demonstrating the resiliency needed to rise to these challenges.  Some aren’t.  In a few years, we’ll have the results of real-life experiments as to what works and what doesn’t.

My hope is that we Americans will learn from experience.  My fear is that we will be unable to endure the pain of facing reality and the consequences of what we have allowed our rulers to do.

COVID-19 is the quiz, climate change is the final exam by Jeff Masters for Yale Climate Connections.

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Unsafe mass protests can spread the virus

June 7, 2020

[Update 6/21/2020] Evidently outdoor protests were not as dangerous as feared.

It Doesn’t Look As If the George Floyd Protests Are Causing a Coronavirus Spike by Fred Kaplan for Slate.

Of course outdoor gatherings of people wearing masks are different from indoor gatherings of people unmasked.

Nicholas A. Christakis, a Yale professor whose specialty is how human biology and health are affected by social networks, wrote a Twitter thread about how mass protests can promote the spread of the coronavirus.

While protestors have the right to risk their own lives, they are likely to spread the disease into their own communities if infected.

He said it is possible to mitigate risk by means of masks and social distancing.  He also called upon police to avoid the use of tear case and to not throw protesters together in crowded cells.

Certain fundamental Protestant and Pentecostal churches have held services in defiance of social distancing rules.  Some members have become infected and some have died.

People who gather in mass protests risk the same fate.  The virus is a blind force of nature.  It doesn’t care if your religion is true or your cause is just.  It will spread just the same to you and, through you, to the people you care about.

During the urban riots in late 1960s and early 1970s, we US Americans talked about “long, hot summers.”  Now we’re looking forward to a summer of public unrest and mass protests against the backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis and a bitterly-contested presidential election.  Interesting times!

LINKS

Suddenly Public Health Officials Say Social Justice Matters More Than Social Distance by Dan Diamond for POLITICO.

Nicholas A. Christakis Thread: “I want to go on record with obvious point…”

Nicholas A. Christakis Thread Reader.  A copy.

The Perils of Writing a Provocative Email at Yale by Conor Friedersdorf for The Atlantic.

A World Historical Tragedy by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

Greta Thunberg urges climate protests to move online because of coronavirus outbreaks by Justine Caima for The Verge.  [Added Later]

Bacteria, viruses and the human mind

May 29, 2020

The following is a quote that I read in the June issue of Harper’s magazine.  It is from the forthcoming book, The Unreality of Memory by Elisa Gilbert.

Viruses and bacteria hijack our minds and make us act weirdly.

For example, Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite found in cat feces, makes mice less afraid of cats; this is an evolutionary strategy, making it easier for the parasite to get from the mouse to the cat.

When it spreads to humans, it may increase their risk-taking.  One study found that people with toxoplasmosis, the infection caused by the parasite, “are more likely to major in business.”  An NBC News story suggested optimistically that the parasite “may give people the courage they need to become entrepreneurs.”

That would be an extreme case of a microscopic parasite altering the course of our lives.  But viruses and bacteria influence our everyday behavior as well.

A 2010 study, for example, found that people become more sociable in the forty-eight hours after exposure to the flu virus, a period in which one is contagious but asymptomatic.  The infected hosts, researchers found, were significantly more likely to head out to bars and parties.

I know of no evidence that coronavirus infection influences human behavior.  None whatsoever.  I am not hinting or implying that it does.

But, as a thought experiment, suppose it did.  How would the virus influence its hosts’ feelings, thoughts and behavior?  What changes would it induce to help itself survive, reproduce and spread?

As the coronavirus lockdown ends (for now) …

May 21, 2020

Click to enlarge

The chart above, via Kevin Drum, shows that the United States has gotten off fairly lightly during the coronavirus pandemic, compared to other Western countries.

The USA has the most total deaths because it has the largest population, but the death rate is the key measure.  The USA is a big country.  Some parts of it are relatively safe and some aren’t, but overall things aren’t as bad as they might be—at least not yet.

 

Click to enlarge

The chart above, also by Kevin Drum, shows that the number of new deaths from the coronavirus is tapering off in Western countries.

As the lockdowns end, the death rates will probably rise again—hopefully not to their previous peak.  If they don’t rise, a lot of what epidemiologists have been telling us about contagion is wrong.  I expect we’ll learn the epidemiologists were right.

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Where are you most at risk of the virus?

May 10, 2020

The Risks – Know Them – Avoid Them by Erin S. Bromage, associate professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.  Hat tip to Naked Capitalism.

COVID-19 Superspreader Events in 28 Countries: Critical Patterns and Lessons by Jonathan Kay for Quillette.

Is the U.S. capable of fighting the virus?

May 10, 2020

The question nobody seems to be asking is whether the United States has the operational capability for “test, track, and isolate” regardless of the party in power.  I don’t see how an automatic “yes” answer is possible.

What we have instead is a series of natural experiments, with the states as “laboratories of democracy” as it were, as we would expect in a Federal system.

And that’s before we get to parties.  If Trump had ordered Cuomo to shut down New York two weeks earlier, what would the reaction have been?  If Obama (or whoever) had ordered Florida to shut down before Spring Break, what would the reaction have been?

I started calling the United States a “failed state” more as a polemic forcing device than a serious diagnosis, but the more I watch how “our democracy” is meeting the #COVID19 challenge, the more I think the term is appropriate.  

Fortunately, under the leadership of Joe Biden…. Oh, what’s the use?

Source: Lambert Strether for Naked Capitalism

LINKS

How Covid Will Play Out in America by Ian Welsh [Added 5/12/2020]

We Knew the Coronavirus Was Coming, Yet We Failed Five Critical Tests by Elizabeth Rosenthal for Kaiser Health News.  [Added 5/12/2020]

The economic consequences of the lockdown (3)

May 9, 2020

The best thing I’ve read so far on this topic is an interview of Thomas Ferguson by Paul Jay.

They’re both interesting characters. Ferguson is a professor emeritus of political scientist and the best U.S. expert on money in politics.

Paul Jay

Paul Jay, along with Sharmini Perez, is a co-founder of The Real News Network, an alternative web-based news site.  Last summer they left or were ejected from the organization for reasons unknown to the public.  Jay has started a new podcast called theAnalysis.news.

In the interview, Ferguson made the point that, in the recent bailout, Congress chose to bail out big businesses with the expectation that this would enable them to hire laid-off and idled workers.

Instead, he said, most of the CEOs decided to keep the money and let working people fend for themselves.  Ferguson said it would have been far better to provide individual relief.  They would have spent money and helped to revive the economy when the lockdown ended.

Congress also should have provided aid to cash-strapped state, county and municipal governments, he said.  One economic effect of the lockdown has been to choke off tax revenue they need to provide essential services.  The federal government, unlike the states, has the power to create money and isn’t limited, as many states are, by constitutions requiring balanced budgets.

LINKS

Big Business Takes Cash As Workers Laid Off, States and Cities Go Bust, an interview of Thomas Ferguson by Paul Jay for theAnalysis.news.  A bit long, but comprehensive and highly recommended.

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Dr. Tedros, the WHO, Africa and Chinese power

May 8, 2020

Nikolai Vladivostok is the blog handle of an Australian expatriate who has worked extensively in the Horn of  Africa.  He made four posts that contain good information about China, and its influence on the World Health Organization and Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director of WHO, which I haven’t come across elsewhere.

Here are links to the four posts—all well worth reading.

Dr. Tedros

Trust WHO?

Who the hell is Tedros?

How did China wrest control of the WHO?

How does Tedros manipulate the WHO?

N.V. described how the Chinese have extended their economic influence into Africa and used their leverage on African governments to influence United Nations agencies, including the World Health Organization, and how that paid off during the coronavirus pandemic.

I’ve been skeptical of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s attempt to blame China for the spread of the virus.  I see it as a cynical attempt to divert attention from U.S. failures and to weaken China politically.

But propaganda—systemic attempts to influence public opinion—is not necessarily false.  There is circumstantial evidence that the virus could have originated in a Chinese research lab (not a bio-warfare lab) and escaped into the world through negligence.  I don’t claim to know the whole story, but there certainly is something to investigate.

The Chinese government has used the coronavirus pandemic to increase its geo-political influence.  It presents itself to the world as a kindly helper—the opposite of the U.S. government, whose diplomacy is based on threats and naked self-interest.

As the old saying goes, you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.  But if you are a fly, it doesn’t matter how you are caught.

The economic consequences of the lockdown

May 7, 2020

Adam Tooze is one of the world’s outstanding economic historians.  He is the author of The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of Global Order, 1916-1931; The Wages of Destruction: the Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economyand Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World.

In the interview above, he talks about the impact of the coronavirus on the global economy.  The actual interview begins about four minutes in.

He points out that ending the lockdowns won’t automatically restart the economy.  Ford and General Motors closed their plants without any lockdown order.

Labor unions that represented their workers protested working under unsafe conditions.  Suppliers were unable to provide necessary components on schedule.  And the automobile sales collapsed.  So what was the point of staying open?

Tooze also says that the talk of being in a war economy is wrong.  In a war economy, the objective is to mobilize everyone to produce war materials.  In a pandemic economy, the objective is to limit production to what is absolutely necessary. People should be paid to stay home to help limit the spread of the virus.

He doesn’t predict a second Great Depression, but neither does he rule it out.

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Social class in a time of pandemic

May 6, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has shown us Americans how we are divided by economic class.  Robert Reich, the well-known labor economist, outlined the four main ones.

Robert Reich

The Remotes: These are professional, managerial, and technical workers – an estimated 35 percent of the workforce – who are putting in long hours at their laptops, Zooming into conferences, scanning electronic documents, and collecting about the same pay as before the crisis.

This group is doing fine.  Their main problems are boredom and not being able to deal with their normal activities.  Yet, interestingly, they get the bulk of the coverage in my local newspapers and in on-line newspapers I follow.

The Essentials: They’re about 30 percent of workers, including nurses, homecare and childcare workers, farm workers, food processors, truck drivers, warehouse and transit workers, drugstore employees, sanitation workers, police officers, firefighters, and the military.

Some of them are well-paid for the important work they do, and also are given what protection is available.  But many aren’t.  In a pandemic, janitors and cleaners are key to stopping the spread of infection.  They ought to get hazard pay and the equivalent of a military medal for their work.  Yet we mainly hear of the essential workers when they strike for better pay or better protection.

The Unpaid: They’re an even larger group than the unemployed – whose ranks could soon reach 25 percent, the same as in the Great Depression. Some of the unpaid are furloughed or have used up their paid leave. So far in this crisis, 43 percent of adults report they or someone in their household has lost jobs or pay, according to the Pew Research Center.

If the United States as a nation requires certain people to stay home in order to protect the rest of us, then we as a nation ought give them the means to stay home and still pay their bills.  If not, they can’t be blamed for defying the lockdowns.  We the public only hear of them when they engage in protest demonstrations.

The Forgotten: This group includes everyone for whom social distancing is nearly impossible because they’re packed tightly into places most Americans don’t see: prisons, jails for undocumented immigrants, camps for migrant farmworkers, Native American reservations, homeless shelters, and nursing homes.

Everybody, including movie stars and prime ministers, is vulnerable to the virus.  But people in jails, nursing homes, meat-packing plants and the like are the ones who are going to die in largest numbers.  When pundits or politicians say a certain number of deaths is acceptable, these are the people who are being written off.

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Countries that are beating the coronavirus

May 5, 2020

Click to enlarge

Countries Beating COVID-19 on Endcoronavirus.org.

Tale of Two Cities Redux: Hong Kong to Ease Its COVID-19 Restrictions, While New York City Situation Remains Dire by Jeri-Lynn Scofield for Naked Capitalism.

The coronavirus pandemic in perspective

May 4, 2020

Over the weekend, I read an insightful five-part on-line series of articles on the coronavirus pandemic by Prof. Maximilian C. Forte of Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, on his Zero Anthropology Project web site.

He doesn’t think the pandemic is a temporary emergency that will soon blow over.  He thinks it is a major turning point in history.  So do I.  Of course we both could be wrong, but I don’t think we are.

Here is an excerpt from the first article.  Links to the full five-part series are below.

Max C. Forte

The plain fact of the matter is that until a vaccine is developed, and everyone on Earth has been vaccinated, the struggle against the virus will not truly be won.

Anything less than that is merely a temporary, selective and fragmentary means of approximating an end—something that is better than nothing, with each decrease in lives lost being something that is heroically gained by front line workers risking their own health.

Otherwise, anything short of total vaccination boils down to a way of indirectly apportioning the virus to some, while managing it for everyone else.

Unnecessary deaths will not be rendered any less unnecessary, they will simply be confined and reduced in number, for a while.  In other words, without vaccination it is absolutely inevitable that what comes next will be worse.

The main issue now for public officials appears to be how to ensure that what comes next will not be as bad as it could be—making worse less worse.

To be clear, the most recent estimates are that a vaccine for COVID-19, which has not yet been invented, would—to be optimistic—become available within the next year to 18 months.

Not only has a vaccine never been invented for any prior coronavirus (with previous research prematurely shut down), even discovering a vaccine before five years would be a record-breaking pace when compared with other vaccines.

Experts think it would be unprecedented.  Plus the coronavirus is apparently mutating profusely, which complicates efforts to develop a vaccine.

Without a vaccine or effective therapy, the assessment from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health is that “prolonged or intermittent social distancing may be necessary into 2022,” and that there could be a resurgence of the outbreak as late as 2024.

Instead, from the UK to the US and Quebec, an understanding that is prevalent among officials involves foggy, even dangerous ideas about “herd immunity,” which assumes—with little conclusive evidence and despite some contrary evidence—that (a) immunity against COVID-19 can be acquired and (b) that the immunity is permanent or long-term.

To make matters worse, some researchers think a vaccine for COVID-19 may never be found and that the virus is likely not to be containable.

No matter which decisions governments take—whether to continue mass confinement and a closure of most of the economy, or to gradually reopen economic activity (though it was never fully closed) and loosen restrictions—it will seem like the wrong decision will have been taken.

It’s not even a matter of choice between the “economy” versus “health.”  Without health, there can be no economy.  Without production, distribution, and consumption, health may be undermined.

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Death tolls: COVID-19 vs ‘war on terror’

May 1, 2020

Sirte, Libya, after NATO bombing (via Craig Murray)

Craig Murray, a former British Foreign service officer, had an interesting observation on his blog.

Nobody knows how many people died as a result of the UK/US Coalition of Death led destruction of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and, by proxy, Syria and Yemen.

Nobody even knows how many people western forces themselves killed directly. That is a huge number, but still under 10% of the total.

To add to that you have to add those who died in subsequent conflict engendered by the forced dismantling of the state the West disapproved of.

Some were killed by western proxies, some by anti-western forces, and some just by those reverting to ancient tribal hostility and battle for resources into which the country had been regressed by bombing.

You then have to add all those who died directly as a result of the destruction of national infrastructure. Iraq lost in the destruction 60% of its potable drinking water, 75% of its medical facilities and 80% of its electricity.   This caused millions of deaths, as did displacement.

We are only of course talking about deaths, not maiming. This very sober analysis from Salon makes a stab at 2.4 million for Iraqi deaths caused by the war.

[snip]

There are also the vast unintended consequences. The destruction of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria launched a wave of refugee migration which led to politicial instability throughout Europe and contributed to, among many other consequences, Brexit.

For the purposes of argument, I am going to put an extremely conservative figure of 5 million on the number of people who died as a result of Western military intervention, direct or proxy, in the Middle East.

Now compare that to the worldwide death toll from coronavirus: 220,000.

Let me say that again. Western aggressive wars to coronavirus: 5,000,000 : 220,000.

Or put it another way. The total number of deaths from coronavirus in the UK so far is about half the number of civilians killed directly by the US military in the single city of Mosul.

Makes you think, doesn’t it? There are four horsemen of the apocalypse, and while of course I do not blame people for focusing on the one which is riding at them personally, do not forget the others.  

Coronavirus has not finished killing. But then nor have western wars.

Source: Craig Murray

That’s not all.  U.S. economic warfare against Iran and Venezuela is helping the virus to spread in those countries.

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The worst of all possible health care systems

April 29, 2020

Employer Provided Health Insurance Delenda Est by Scott Alexander, a psychiatrist who practices on the West Coast, for his blog, Slate Star Codex

Death rates in the year of the coronavirus

April 27, 2020

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Death rates from the coronavirus could be 60 percent higher than estimated, according to an article in the Financial Times of London.

Reporters compiled weekly death rates from cities and countries where this information is available, and compared the current death rates with the five-year average for previous years.

As the charts show, death rates are unusually high in certain countries and cities.  These figures actually may undercount the number of coronavirus-related deaths because they do not take into account possible savings of lives due to the lockdowns, such as fewer auto accidents.

Click to enlarge

LINKS

Global coronavirus death toll could be 60% higher than reported by John Burns-Murdoch, Valentina Romei and Chris Giles for the Financial Times.

We Still Don’t Know How the Coronavirus Is Killing Us by David Wallace-Wells for New York magazine.

The Pandemic Doesn’t Have to Be This Confusing by Ed Yong for The Atlantic.  [Added 4/29/2020]

Some advice on dealing with the coronavirus

April 25, 2020

This is a copy of an e-mail from my friend Walter Uhrman.

The following is from Irene Ken physician, whose daughter is an Asst. Prof in infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University, quite informative.

* The virus is not a living organism, but a protein molecule (RNA) covered by a protective layer of lipid (fat), which, when absorbed by the cells of the ocular, nasal or buccal mucosa, changes their genetic code (mutation) and converts them into aggressor and multiplier cells.

* Since the virus is not a living organism but a protein molecule, it is not killed, but decays on its own.  The disintegration time depends on the temperature, humidity and type of material where it lies.

* The virus is very fragile; the only thing that protects it is a thin outer layer of fat. That is why any soap or detergent is the best remedy, because the foam CUTS the FAT (that is why you have to rub so much: for 20 seconds or more, to make a lot of foam). By dissolving the fat layer, the protein molecule disperses and breaks down on its own.

* HEAT melts fat; this is why it is so good to use water above 77 degrees Fahrenheit for washing hands, clothes and everything.  In addition, hot water makes more foam and that makes it even more useful.

* Alcohol or any mixture with alcohol over 65% DISSOLVES ANY FAT, especially the external lipid layer of the virus.

* Any mix with 1 part bleach and 5 parts water directly dissolves the protein, breaks it down from the inside.

* Oxygenated water helps long after soap, alcohol and chlorine, because peroxide dissolves the virus protein, but you have to use it pure and it hurts your skin.

* NO BACTERICIDE OR ANTIBIOTIC SERVES. The virus is not a living organism like bacteria; antibodies cannot kill what is not alive.

* NEVER shake used or unused clothing, sheets or cloth. While it is glued to a porous surface, it is very inert and disintegrates only

  • -between 3 hours (fabric and porous),
  • -4 hours (copper and wood)
  • -24 hours (cardboard),
  • – 42 hours (metal) and
  • -72 hours (plastic).
  • But if you shake it or use a feather duster, the virus molecules float in the air for up to 3 hours, and can lodge in your nose.

* The virus molecules remain very stable in external cold, or artificial as air conditioners in houses and cars. They also need moisture to stay stable, and especially darkness.  Therefore, dehumidified, dry, warm and bright environments will degrade it faster.

* UV LIGHT on any object that may contain it breaks down the virus protein. For example, to disinfect and reuse a mask is perfect. Be careful, it also breaks down collagen (which is protein) in the skin.

* The virus CANNOT go through healthy skin.

* Vinegar is NOT useful because it does not break down the protective layer of fat.

* NO SPIRITS, NOR VODKA, serve. The strongest vodka is 40% alcohol, and you need 65%.

* LISTERINE IF IT SERVES! It is 65% alcohol.

* The more confined the space, the more concentration of the virus there can be. The more open or naturally ventilated, the less.

* You have to wash your hands before and after touching mucosa, food, locks, knobs, switches, remote control, cell phone, watches, computers, desks, TV, etc.  And when using the bathroom.

* You have to Moisturize dry hands from so much washing them, because the molecules can hide in the micro cracks. The thicker the moisturizer, the better.

* Also keep your NAILS SHORT so that the virus does not hide there.

Andrew Cuomo as pandemic fighter-in-chief

April 24, 2020

Gov. Cuomo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York—not Joe Biden, not Bernie Sanders—has emerged as the Democrats’ alternative to President Trump in fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

He is like Mayor Rudy Giuliani in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks—a reassuring symbol of leadership.  Of course many of us think differently of Giuliani now than we did then.

He has said he isn’t interesting in running for President this year.  But he would be a more electable candidate than Biden, so who knows?  Whether he’d do anything to end the forever wars, rein in Wall Street, negotiate nuclear disarmament or deal with climate change is another question.

LINKS

The Foundations of American Society Are Failing Us by Bernie Sanders in the New York Times.

Trump’s poor poll numbers trigger GOP alarm over November by Alex Isenstadt for POLITICO.

News media stoke Gov. Cuomo narrative as counter to Trump by Jeffrey M. McCall for Microsoft News.  Cuomo, not Joe Biden.

Gov. Cuomo’s speech to the New York National Guard on March 27, 2020.  Actually, a stirring speech.

Andrew Cuomo: Emergency Responder by Michael Greenberg for New York Review of Books.

There Are Worse Governors Than Andrew Cuomo, But None Who Are Responsible For As Many Coronavirus Deaths on Down With Tyranny!  [Added 4/26/2020]

Even in a Pandemic, Andrew Cuomo Is Not Your Friend by Akash Mehta for Jacobin magazine.

Photo via Rand Blog.

Should we scapegoat China for the pandemic?

April 24, 2020

The Trump administration blames China for the coronavirus pandemic.  Administration sources say that if Xi Jinping had acted a week sooner than he did, some 95 percent of the infections in China could have been avoided.

Some go on to suggest that the Chinese government may lying about the pandemic.  They say it may have originated in a bio-lab and not in unsanitary live-animal meat markets as is generally believed.  And they say that Xi Jinping is lying about China’s success in bringing the pandemic under control.

Xi Jinping

I think there’s something to the first claim, but it’s a case of a pot calling a kettle black.  The world would have been better off if Donald Trump had acted six weeks sooner than he did.   People who live in a glass house throwing stones.

And while it’s possible that the Chinese government is lying, the U.S. government does’t have a good record for truth-telling.  Recall the claims that the Iraqi government had weapons of mass destruction, that the Syrian government used sarin gas against its people and that Iran was developing nuclear weapons.

I’m reminded of a comment made by the late Richard Feynman when somebody asked him whether it was possible that UFOs are piloted by extraterrestrials.  He replied that he wasn’t interested in what was possible, but in what was so.

Lots of things are possible, but claims require evidence—or at least the considered opinion of some qualified expert who doesn’t have a conflict of interest.

The states of Missouri and Mississippi are suing China in U.S. courts.  Presumably the lawsuit won’t get anywhere because of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which bars lawsuits against foreign countries.

There’s a good reason for such a law.  If the Americans could sue foreign countries in U.S. courts and get damages, presumably by seizing foreign assets in the United States, then foreigners could sue the USA in their own courts and seize American assets.

My first thought in writing this post was that ramping up the cold war with China was a terrible idea because the U.S. depends on China for 80 percent of essential drugs.

However, a Google search turned up an article in Reason magazine that show this dependence is greatly exaggerated.  Nobody knows for sure, but the likely figure is closer ti 13 percent from China.

It is true that we Americans are overly dependent on foreign countries overall for medical supplies and much else.  We should do what we can to reduce that dependence, but that will be a project that will take years—assuming we can do it at all.  Meanwhile we can’t afford any break in these fragile global supply chains.

The other problem with scapegoating China is that it is a distraction from American failure.  For example, many countries screen travelers arriving at their airports from foreign countries.  If the traveler has a temperature, he or she is placed in quarantine for 14 days.  But travelers arriving at the New York City airports are allowed to go their way without checking.

It’s not a good sign when governments put excuses for failure in place while the crisis is still ongoing.  It means nothing will be learned from experience.

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Trump’s guidelines benefit him no matter what

April 20, 2020

Doug Muder, on his The Weekly Sift  blog, pointed out that President Trump’s Opening Up America Again guidelines are different from what he says they are.  His handling of the guidelines enables him to say he was right no matter what happens.  Here’s some of what Muder wrote—

Thursday, the White House released the long-awaited guidelines Opening Up America Again.  It was rolled out in a quintessentially Trumpian way, one that will allow him to claim credit for any successes and blame someone else for any failures.  

This sleight-of-hand is achieved by a simple trick: What the document says is very different from what Trump says about it.

He says it’s a plan by which parts of the country can start relaxing stay-at-home orders almost immediately — even before his previously stated goal of May 1.  

But if you read the document (and how many MAGA-hatters will bother?) it lists a set of criteria not much different from those put forward by public-health experts all over the world — or by Joe Biden a week ago: a downward trend in cases, a rebuilt stockpile of medical equipment, extensive testing even of those with no symptoms, and exhaustive contact-tracing of those who test positive.

Since no state is anywhere near achieving those criteria, none can use these guidelines to justify opening up anytime in the near future.

You might expect all this open-up/stay-closed confusion to hinder both the economy and the fight against the virus — and you’d be right — but jobs and lives are not the point. The primary goal is to allow Trump to claim vindication no matter what happens.

  • If a state reopens its economy soon and everything works fine, then Trump takes credit for all the jobs gained, because he told them to reopen.  Even better, he overruled both Democrats and scientists, who were wrong when he was right.  The stable genius wins again!
  • If a state relaxes its lockdown rules, sees a spike in infections and deaths, and has to lock down again, it’s not Trump’s fault that the governor misapplied what was clearly written down in the guidelines.  Blame that loser, even if he’s been a loyal Trumpist like Ron DeSantis or Greg Abbott.
  • If a state doesn’t reopen soon, then any economic or psychological distress caused by the continued lockdown is also the governor’s fault, and Trump is the champion of the suffering people trapped in their homes.  Liberate Michigan!

It’s a neat trick.

LINKS

Trump’s Guidelines Aren’t What He Says They Are by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.  Read the whole thing to get the highlights of the Opening Up America Again plan..

“It’ll all be over by Christmas” by Charles Stross for Charlie’s Diary.  A Scottish science fiction writer on the hard facts.

Off-and-on lockdowns and a pandemic yo-yo

April 13, 2020

Tyler Cowen, an economics professor at George Mason University, expects off-and-on lockdowns and no quick end to the coronavirus pandemic.  Here’s what he had to say—

I don’t view “optimal length of shutdown” arguments compelling, rather it is about how much pain the political process can stand. 

I expect partial reopenings by mid-May, sometimes driven by governors in the healthier states, even if that is sub-optimal for the nation as a whole. 

Besides you can’t have all the banks insolvent because of missed mortgage payments

But R0 won’t stay below 1 for long, even if it gets there at all. 

We will then have to shut down again within two months, but will then reopen again a bit after that. 

At each step along the way, we will self-deceive rather than confront the level of pain involved with our choices. 

We may lose a coherent national policy on the shutdown issue altogether, not that we have one now. 

The pandemic yo-yo will hold. 

At some point antivirals or antibodies will kick in (read Scott Gottlieb), or here: “There are perhaps 4-6 drugs that could be available by Fall and have robust enough treatment effect to impact risk of another epidemic or large outbreaks after current wave passes. We should be placing policy bets on these likeliest opportunities.” 

We will then continue the rinse and repeat of the yo-yo, but with the new drugs and treatments on-line with a death rate at maybe half current levels and typical hospital stays at three days rather than ten. 

It will seem more manageable, but how eager will consumers be to resume their old habits? 

Eventually a vaccine will be found, but getting it to everyone will be slower than expected. 

The lingering uncertainty and “value of waiting,” due to the risk of second and third waves, will badly damage economies along the way.

Source: Marginal REVOLUTION

I think he’s right.  But what does the need for this trade-off say about our economic system?

Here’s a quote from In These Times.

What would the federal government do to best mitigate the devastation that this pandemic will visit upon human beings?  It would, first of all, provide free healthcare to everyone. ..Imagine instead, if you had an entirely different goal: protecting capital.  What would you do then?  Well, you would prioritize the health of corporate balance sheets, rather than human bodies.  You would keep the healthcare industry, now booming, in private hands.

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Bee Gees parody on the coronavirus

April 11, 2020

Looking back on the influenza pandemic of 1918

April 8, 2020

Click to enlarge. Source: Our World in Data.

I managed to acquire a copy of THE GREAT INFLUENZA: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry before the libraries and bookstores closed.

It tells the story of the 1918 influenza pandemic, the deadliest in history in terms of absolute numbers.

Nobody knows for sure how many died.  The old consensus estimate was 20 million; the new one is 50 million.  Barry believes that the virus killed at least 35 million and probably between 50 and 100 million people.

In the USA, the estimated pandemic death toll was 675,000—more Americans that were killed in battle or died of wounds in all the wars of the 20th century..

One of the worst things about the pandemic is that its highest death rate was among people in their 20s and 30s, the young and healthy whose immune systems over-reacted to the ‘flu virus.

If the highest estimate of the death toll is correct, from one in 10 to one in 12 of the world’s young adults may have died, according to Barry.

The influenza pandemic arose in a world at war, and spread because of the war, just as the coronavirus pandemic spread because of a globalized world economy.

Barry said the first cases of the new influenza were reported rural Haskell County, Kansas, and then in Camp Funston at Fort Riley, Kansas, in March, 1918, where draftees were being trained and readied to be shipped overseas.

A short time later it appeared in Camps Forrest and Greenleaf in Georgia, and rhino in 24 of the 36 U.S. Army camps.  It was reported in Brest, France, a short time after American troops arrived there.  Soon it spread to all the nations and colonies that participated in the war. and then over the whole world.

At first, it was no worse than ordinary influenza—the “grippe,” as people called it.  But a second, deadlier wave arose during the summer, a mutant form of the first.

It killed in frightening ways.  Some turned blue or black, because of lack of oxygen in the blood.  Some spurted blood from their noses and even eyes and ears, for reasons nobody yet understands.

There were some who had air migrate from congested lungs to air pockets under the skin, which made a crackling sound when bodies were turned over.  One nurse said she could never eat Rice Krispies again.

The United States in which the influenza arose was more of a police state that it has ever been, before or since.  When war was declared on April 6, 1917, every American and every American institution was expected to be fully committed to the war effort.

There was a spy network, a propaganda network and a war bond-selling network, all reaching into every American town and neighborhood.

A Food Administration, Fuel Administration, Railroad Administration and War Industries Board had absolute power to carry out their missions.

But there was no Health Administration, only a relatively powerless U.S. Public Health Service.  No federal or state agency had responsibility for fighting the pandemic.  A volunteer organization, the American Red Cross, filled that vacuum, along with municipal health departments, private physicians and a few dedicated scientists.

What federal authority did do was try to protect civilian morale by suppressing news of how bad the pandemic was.

The seriousness of the pandemic was only acknowledged in the last month or two of the war, and that was in the context of charging Germany with waging germ warfare.

Censorship also suppressed news of the pandemic in Britain, France and Germany.  The first news accounts came from Spain, a neutral country.  From this people got the idea that the ‘flu originated in Spain

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Social distancing in the 1918 pandemic

April 8, 2020

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge

LINKS

How they flattened the curve during the 1918 Spanish flu by Nina Strophic and Riley D. Champline for National Geographic.

What the 1918 flu pandemic can teach us about COVID-19 by Sara Chodosh for Popular Science.

Rochester, NY, and the 1918 influenza pandemic

April 8, 2020

Alex Zapesochny, publisher of the on-line Rochester Beacon, wrote an interesting article about how Rochester, N.Y., coped with the 1918 influenza epidemic.  He pointed out that our city did much better than its peers.

Source: Rochester Beacon

Source: Rochester Beacon

Zapesochny went on to explain how Rochester public officials and business leaders acted promptly, before the pandemic was upon them.

Shortly after being warned by the state that a possible influenza epidemic was coming, Rochester began preparing, even though it had only two unconfirmed cases at the time.

A separate ward to take care of potential patients was set up at Rochester General Hospital.

By Oct. 9, Rochester’s commissioner of public safety announced the closure of all schools, as well as theaters and skating rinks.

Next, the city and the Chamber of Commerce asked manufacturing and retail business to stagger hours to prevent overcrowding on trolley cars.

Soon after the city closed churches, bars and “ice cream parlors.”  

In the meantime, five makeshift hospitals were set up around Rochester to augment the capacity of local hospitals, which would otherwise have been overwhelmed by the 10,000 influenza cases that occurred in October 1918.

Toward the end of October, as the number of cases started falling, residents and workers pushed the health commissioner to quickly lift the restrictions, especially to help those whose livelihoods were being affected.  

Despite being sympathetic to their request, the health commissioner acted carefully again, waiting another week before finally lifting the restrictions.

In other words, local officials in 1918 were doing many of the same things we see being done in Rochester today.

And while each epidemic has its unique dynamics, the one thing 1918 clearly teaches us is that different approaches by local officials can yield very different results. 

LINK

A lifesaving lesson from 1918 by Alex Zapesochny for the Rochester Beacon.