Covid-19 Diary : Monday 20 April, 2020

 

I’m going to guess that you’re not filling your days quite so wall-to-wall searching out and pondering virus-related articles as I am.  At times I fear this is damaging-to-my-mental-health.

My biggest frustration is that we are now, depending on what date you used to start your “Virus Clock”, somewhere between one and two months into this nightmare, but not really any further forward.  For me, I first wrote about the virus in January, did my first major feature piece on 20 February, and started doing daily diary entries on Monday 16 March, so today marks the start of the sixth week of diary entries and nearly three months from the first time I mentioned it.

There have been some changes during this time, of course.  We’ve flipped our discussion from “should we close” to “should we re-open”.  We’re not so focused on how much worse the daily new cases and deaths will get – they both seem to have more or less leveled out, and now the discussion is more on how quickly they’ll drop down to acceptable levels (whatever they may be) to support re-opening.

But the magic date on the calendar when we can claim to have finally resolved the virus, with no more cases, and no more risk of new cases coming in from other countries – when will that be?  It seems as far away and as uncertain today as it was on any previous day.  At the same time though, the directly related question – how much longer will our economy survive this disruption – becomes more urgent and more pressing.

The ultimate uber-question is “Which will happen first?  We get rid of the virus or destroy our economy and lifestyle back to the stone age?”  The early optimism of expecting to be quickly rid of the virus well before fatal damage to our economy is, at least for me, evolving inexorably to a fear that the economic stone age is more likely to be greeting us before we say farewell to the last of the virus.

As well as fear, there is frustration.  Much has been made of the leadership of essentially every western country wasting a month or more when they “should have known” the virus was about to hit us.  We’re more forgiving than some on that point, and suggest dwelling on that is akin to crying over spilt milk.  There’s a more important question that now needs to be asked.  How have we spent our time after the reality of the virus has been acknowledged?  What have we done and what are we doing to increase survival rates and decrease infection rates?

Never mind January and February.  Has any part of March and now two thirds of April been time well spent?  What has been achieved, other than tens of thousands of deaths, all around the world?  How many more months of living in a limbo must we endure?

The frustrating edge to the question is the knowledge that improving things is not rocket science.  All it takes is determination.

An effective lock-down program would take two weeks to end the growth of the virus and three weeks to see a significant diminution in new case numbers.  The above chart shows what one could expect, and is all the more interesting because it shows daily new case numbers in South Korea – a country that never instituted a major lockdown but instead used the strategy of tracing cases and alerting other potentially infected people.  Their economy, as a result, is still expected to grow this year, albeit by 1% less than before, and of course, depending on just how devastating the global depression we’re creating will become.

But in the US we’ve never had an effective program, neither lock-down style nor contact tracing style.  So the virus continues to flourish – another 28,000 new cases today in the US, little changed from two weeks ago or three weeks ago, and more than twice what it was four weeks ago.

And, the amazing illogic is that instead of this causing us to see the error of our ways and now double down on an effective process of reducing the ongoing level of new cases, people are clamoring to lift the partial restrictions that have been in place.

Doing so will almost unavoidably bring us right back to square one, meaning we’ve wasted months of time and trillions of dollars, all for nothing.

Current Numbers

Here are the rankings for the eight states of any size with the highest infection rates.  There were no changes in ranking today.

  • San Marino/462 cases/the equivalent of 13,616 cases per million people
  • Vatican City/8 cases/9,988 cases per million (unchanged)
  • Andorra/717/9,280
  • Luxembourg/3,558/5,684
  • Iceland/1,773/5,196
  • Spain/200,210/4,282
  • Gibraltar/132/3,918 (unchanged)
  • Faroe Islands/185/3,786 (unchanged)

Here are the top six major countries, showing death rates per million of population in the country  :

  • Belgium/5,828 deaths/503 deaths per million
  • Spain/20,453 deaths/446 deaths per million
  • Italy/24,114 deaths/399
  • France/20,265/310
  • United Kingdom/16,509/243
  • Netherlands/3,751/219

To put those numbers into context, the death rates per million in the US/Canada are 128/45.  The world average (not a very reliable number) is 21.9.

For major countries and/or outbreaks, and in general :

Same Day
Last Week
Yesterday Today
Total Cases 1,923,769 2,404,866 2,480,503
Total Deaths/Percent of all Resolved Cases 119,598 164,925 170,397
Active Cases (ie not yet died or cured) 1,360,249 1,615,093 1,663,778
US Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million 586,866/23,621/1,773 763,594/40,527/2,307 792,759/42,514/2,365
UK Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million 88,621/11,329/1,305 120,067/16,060/1,769 124,743/16,509/1,838
Canada Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million 25,680/780/680 35,056/1,587/929 36,829/1,690/976
Worst affected major country/case rate Spain/3,638 Spain/4,249 Spain/4,282
Second worst country affected Switzerland/2,968 Belgium/3,322 Belgium/3,450
Third worst Belgium/2,639 Switzerland/3,205 Switzerland/3,229
Fourth Italy/2,638 Ireland/3,089 Ireland/3,170
Fifth Ireland/2,156 Italy/2,960 Italy/2,997

 

I Am Not a Doctor, But….

We’ve seen some truly weird and obviously fanciful claims for how to avoid getting infected by the virus – and invariably such claims seen to involve the purchase of an expensive product.

But here’s a fascinating claim that would be great if true.  Listening to music that you like might boost your immune system.

Let’s hope it is true.

Who Should Pay?

Yet again, it seems that big business gets the big bucks, while small business gets bupkis.  This article tells of a Seattle business owner who has applied to six different private, state and federal assistance programs, and hasn’t received anything from any of them.

The infuriating part of this would probably be how none of us are really surprised.  Isn’t one of the key concepts of government to help the needy, not the rich?  To redirect “surplus” funds from those who can spare them, and distribute them to those who need them?

But instead we have a government that creates money from nowhere, and gives it to wealthy individuals and businesses.

Timings And Numbers

This is starting to become a well-worn record, although it is interesting how the “B-side” of the record is getting as many plays as the A-side.  Some jurisdictions are clearly seeking to over-count and inflate the number of virus deaths they are experiencing, while others are trying to downplay the numbers.

Today’s example is Spain, a country that has a very high death rate (446/million) exceeded by only one other major country (Belgium with 503/million).  Perhaps unsurprisingly, Spain is trying to undercount its virus deaths, and this article suggests there might be as many as 50% more deaths that have not been counted.

Here’s good news, if true.  Another Californian study has come out suggesting that the actual virus infection rate could be between 28 – 55 times higher than the reported numbers.  It seems the study’s authors have a better understanding of sampling errors, too.

Closings

There’s that fateful phrase again “out of an abundance of caution” – a phrase which always means “there’s not really any logical reason for this at all, but we’re doing it anyway and don’t you dare criticize us”.  This time, the abundantly cautious people are at my local city administration.  They’ve canceled all summertime events, both those coordinated by themselves, and any others which require a city permit to be held, through 31 August.

Oh, they also tell us that “the health and safety of the community is our top priority”.

And while they talk about “this unprecedented and rapidly evolving situation” it seems their crystal ball is clear enough for them to be able to foretell all the way to 31 August.  We wish we had such clarity of vision.

Here’s a stunning statistic that is very hard to adequately comprehend.  96% of world-wide travel destinations are currently closed to tourism.  We don’t just mean museums and amusement parks, etc.  We mean the cities and countries they are located within.

Shortages

I made a comment on Twitter yesterday about how grocery stores may be “forced” to close entirely, as reported in this item.  I observed that I’d hate to rely on someone else to choose my fruit, vegetables, and meat.

The virtue-signaling folks at Twitter found this outrageous.  How dare I denigrate the integrity of store employees, I was furiously asked.  Apparently they deemed it outrageous that I’d want to be able to choose between an avocado so overripe that it squashes between your fingers when you pick it up, and an avocado so unripe that it could be used as a wood replacement.

How outrageous I’d want to choose the broccoli crowns that were indeed crowns rather than 90% thick stalk.  How outrageous that I might not be happy getting the oranges that have gone rotten and are covered with mold on the side you don’t see in the prepacked bag of oranges.  How outrageous I’d prefer to get my $15/lb steak with an appropriate amount of fat on it rather than accept one with a huge layer of fat (the fat of course also costing $15/lb) that I’d immediately trim off the meat before cooking.  And how selfish, when buying fixed price cauliflowers, that I’d prefer to buy a big fresh one than accept a small stale one.

The thing is, we already know all of this. Supermarket staff prove to us every day they can’t be trusted when it comes to these products, but now we’re expected to pretend the opposite.

Here’s an article that points out the obvious truth.  We might love the idea of airlines keeping the middle seat free at present, but we shouldn’t expect that to last long.  As soon as airlines find themselves turning away passengers, they’ll start filling those seats again.

And while we shouldn’t refuse any element of social distancing, if we were to have proper six feet separation, we’d have two people in one row (one in each window seat on opposite sides of the aisle) then no-one in the two rows forward.  That would be 16 seats out of every 18 – eight seats in every nine – blocked out.  Just taking out the middle seat still has us too close to the person one seat over, too close probably to the person on the other side of the aisle, too close to the people in the next two rows and the previous two rows.

Logic?  What Logic?

The US and Canada have extended their border closure for another 30 days.  We simultaneously understand and do not understand the calls for border closures.  Okay, that’s a fairly crazy sort of statement to make, isn’t it!

My point is this :  Border closures can make sense if three conditions are met, but these conditions are generally never met, and so what is the point of going through the charade?  The three essential conditions are :

  • The closures are absolute and complete
  • The closed area has a realistic plan to then eradicate the virus within its borders
  • There is a plan to subsequently re-open the borders safely that won’t simply see the virus come flooding back again

Nowhere in the US meets any one of these three conditions, let alone all three.  So why do we have such ridiculous things as a closed border with Canada?

It strikes us as a bit of meaningless virtue-signaling which achieves nothing except to create another layer of inconvenience for people on both sides of the border.

Medical

Here’s further discussion on the uncertainty about how long any immunity gained from being infected by the virus might last.  This is an important issue to understand, because the herd immunity concept is one of our “Hail Mary” hopes for finally getting us out of this mess.

Some more good news if true – further good news about a possible treatment for people with Covid-19 infections.

Money

The week is off to a disappointing start with the Dow dropping 592 points (2.4%) to close at 23,650 today.

Other

Facebook has decided to censor discussion of constitutionally guaranteed rights to assemble and protest, even though the actions are condoned and supported by the President.

I’m not saying that the anti-lockdown protests are appropriate or sensible at all.  But I am saying that clearly it is a matter of debate and difference of opinion in our country at present, and refusing to allow this debate and discussion does not help our democracy at all.

Freedom flourishes in the light, tyranny thrives in the dark, and the thought that Mark Zuckerburg can override our legal system and our administration at all levels and unilaterally decide what is right and wrong, what is permissible and what is not, is not a welcome outcome of Facebook’s ubiquity and almost monopoly over online discussion/debate.

Bad news for some people who thought they found good deals for toilet paper online.

When all else fails, try the bagpipes? I did write, above, that music might boost one’s immune system, but I qualified that with the requirement that it be music you like.  But we’re sure this father/daughter pair mean well.

 

Please stay happy and healthy; all going well, I’ll be back again tomorrow

 

Please click here for a listing of all our Covid-19 articles.

 

6 thoughts on “Covid-19 Diary : Monday 20 April, 2020”

  1. David, altho I agree with you that FB ‘should’ allow open discussion, they are not required to or breaking any laws in limiting speech.

    Freedom of speech and freedom of the press protects us, the people, from the government. We are not required to run open forums, nor is anyone required to use FB.

    Indeed, your newsletter is your private forum, to say what you want, allow what you want to appear, and to not include whatever you don’t like. You would not want to include my opinions on many subjects, nor should you be required to host them.

    Thank you for the daily briefings! Rick

    1. David Rowell – Seattle, WA, USA – New Zealander now living in the United States.

      Hi, Rick

      The subject is complicated. Yes, I do know the first amendment doesn’t mandate any publisher to publish anything other than what it wants, with a couple of associated issues.

      First, Facebook is essentially a monopoly when it comes to public social forums, and monopolies are generally required to observe higher standards of behavior or else they trigger anti-monopoly provisions.

      Second, if Facebook is going to start filtering the information it allows to display, it then accepts liability for the information it allows. It is fiercely resisting accepting liability, but you can’t have one without the other.

      There’s another thing which I find intellectually offensive as well. Facebook isn’t saying “our editorial position on this matter is ‘XYZ’ and so we are refusing to publish views counter to that”. Instead they are saying “We are a neutral platform where all views are welcome, as long as they are correct” – and then there is an invisible asterisk alongside that statement going to some invisible fine print which says “And we’ll decide what is correct and incorrect, we don’t trust you to be able to make that decision yourself. Trust us, we know best.”

      If there were half a dozen other Facebook type sites of similar size, it wouldn’t matter. That’s a bit like with media in general – now that most media outlets are becoming fragmented and so it no longer matters that newspaper A or television network B has a particular slant/bias. We can go elsewhere to get the rest of the coverage.

      But what other social media platform boasts 3 billion members?

  2. lifegotinteresting

    I agree with your comment about mental health and focusing on Covid. It can feel overwhelming at time. Some of the media seem to be promoting terror-porn (videos of suffering patients in ICU’s, images of mass graves, daily body count graphs displayed almost continuously).

    But I feel that learning as much as we can about what is happening, through numbers, reduces fear. Blind fear is caused by the sense that we have no control over our lives (or deaths). That the grim reaper may reach for us at any time. But there ARE intelligent things we can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones. And knowing as much about the strengths and weaknesses (yes, weaknesses) can give us a sense of resilience and control that we need.

    I would also add that (safely) communicating with and helping others can also give us a sense of doing something useful, sharing our common humanity, and reduce this horrible fear that comes and goes. At one personal low point a few weeks ago I came upon your diary, and it helped reduce my anxiety, as I learned more about our enemy …

    1. David Rowell – Seattle, WA, USA – New Zealander now living in the United States.

      Hi, Peter

      Your point about learning as much as we can echoes my original purpose of these diary entries. To record and share my own search for knowledge and understanding.

      For a while, it worked, and I felt better.

      But now, I’m feeling very gloomy indeed. Not so much because of the virus. I can clearly see what needs to be done to control it and to minimize its impact on our lives now and into the future. You are correct, things are not so scary once they are identified and understood. Sadly, you are also correct that fear is caused by the sense we have no control, and that brings me beyond the fact that we truly don’t have personal control over this viral infection to the tragedy and dawning realization on my part that the people who do have control are a bunch of hapless and helpless idiots.

      The damage to our economy is mainly caused by inappropriate responses to the virus, at a personal level (“I’m an American, it is my constitutional right to engage in risky behavior that threatens not just my life but the life of everyone else in my community”) and at the level of the political leaders who are creating and implementing the policies we are required to follow.

      If China’s numbers are to be believed (and probably they’re about as real as Santa Claus, but without the gift part) then we’ve seen a clear example of what is required to stop the virus totally in its tracks. Total fully controlled isolation for about a month. No exceptions. “But that’s un-American” people shout. Maybe it is, but is it American to doom our economy, to destroy our savings, and to put us all on breadlines (but with no bread forthcoming)?

      If China’s numbers are not to be believed, we should instead look at South Korea and their management of the spread of the disease by notifying people who might be at risk. Again, the predictable voices chorus how un-American that is. But tell me of the better choice?

      However, please do not tell me that what we’re doing at present is working. The problem with that is that while we are slowly slowing the disease spread, we’re not yet stopping it, but even that is not actually the big problem. The big problem is we’ve no cogent strategy for what we do next after we’ve brought the disease numbers to an acceptable point. With nothing else changed, if we relax the social distancing, the disease comes back. So just when companies are wondering if it is safe and prudent to open their doors and start rehiring, they slam then shut again. The models from Harvard and elsewhere suggest this cycle of open/close could continue for – well, I don’t know how long. They only published projections through 2022, at which point we were only half way to herd immunity, assuming it to be an achievable objective at all.

      My article https://blog.thetravelinsider.info/2020/04/safely-living-with-and-avoiding-the-coronavirus.html considers these issues. I believe my suggestions therein to be the only solution until such time as we have a vaccine, herd immunity, and/or a cure. But other than a few people saying “this is what we need” there is no evidence whatsoever that the authorities in general are in agreement and are doing anything to implement such a system.

      So that is why I feel so gloomy. The problem is not the virus. South Korea showed how they controlled the virus with only a 1% hit to their GDP, and little social disruption. The problem is us and our terribly maladroit response to it.

    1. David Rowell – Seattle, WA, USA – New Zealander now living in the United States.

      Hi, Richard

      I’d written, a few days ago, about regular UV type processes, but this is different. Maybe it is a good thing, and certainly it seems promising in the Nature article.

      Thanks for the helpful comment.

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