Covid-19 Diary : Monday 6 April, 2020

 

It was a lovely spring day today.  As is often the case in normal times, in a nearby street with higher density houses and smaller lots, many of the families were outdoors and playing on the street, together – children and parents alike in various ball games and just general fun.  Not so much “social distancing” though.

Out of curiosity, because this seemed a clear violation of Washington’s fairly strict “stay at home” edicts on what can and (mainly) can’t be done, buttressed still further by restrictions enacted by our county as well, I called the local police department to ask for guidance as to what was allowed.

The woman who took the call quickly interrupted me.  “Oh no”, she said, “We don’t enforce any of that.”  I spluttered a bit in surprise, and she sensed my hesitancy and so offered, further “If you wanted to, you could file a report on the special state website for such things”.  She gave me the url and eagerly ended the call.

Now curious, I went to the website, where I saw a form to file a report on any businesses contravening the lockdown orders.  But the site went on to say that these reports were only to be filed for violating businesses.  Individuals who were violating should be reported to the local police department instead.

That was the point where I rolled my eyes and gave up.  But the matter will become increasingly important in the weeks that follow, and not just because the weather will be getting better and better.  The good news is starting to get more prominence than the bad.  Europe is showing some encouraging signs, and there is a pronounced shift in people’s perspective from the negative to the optimistic, and the restless – “When can we start to do normal things again?”.

Austria has announced some lifting of its strictest social distancing requirements – the chart above shows its decline in daily new cases – and other countries are pondering doing the same.

But, this would all be tragically wrong.  The virus is still out there and everywhere, the same as before.  The instant that communities start returning to former patterns of people mixing and mingling together, the virus will return with the same suddenness of before.

We’re now moving to a socially challenging phase of the pandemic – when people are starting to get restive and frustrated, and when there are no longer headlines screaming out each day’s worse news than the day before.  Understandably, people will start to think the virus is conquered (this article says that we in the US are underestimating how long the disruptions will last).  It isn’t conquered, it has just been battled to an impasse, and the minute we relax our defenses, it will come back exactly as before.

There are two problems – politicians who are sensitive to the public pressures and unwilling to press unpopular measures on voters; and the under-informed who at the best of times during the last few weeks have been only partially cooperative with social distancing measures.

Talking about social distancing, this is probably the clearest proof yet that things are returning to normal in China.  I find this astonishing, if true, and almost wonder if this means China has a secret drug for curing or preventing the virus now.  If they do, I hope they’ll share it.

The amazing incompetents at WHO have done it again.  They issued an excited statement today, announcing their latest major discovery.  They have discovered that people with the virus can be contagious and spread it for several days prior to developing symptoms.  The rest of the world has known this for weeks, and now, finally, WHO discovers it too.

WHO employs about 8500 people in almost 150 countries.  It has a $4.4 billion budget (not sure if that is annual or two-yearly).  And this is the best it can come up with?

Here’s an interesting and lengthy article about the challenges associated with coming up with a cure for a virus based infection.  It is an upbeat article with lots of hope for the future.  But specific promises for the present?  Not so much.

Viruses are truly such weird and strange things, it is hard to understand how they ever came to be and what purpose they fill in life.

Current Numbers

Iceland moved up one place today, and Luxembourg moved down one to compensate.  Here are the rankings for the seven states of any size with the highest infection rates, which are :

  • Vatican City/7 cases/8,739 cases per million (unchanged)
  • San Marino/277 cases/the equivalent of 8,164 cases per million people
  • Andorra/525/6,795
  • Iceland/1,562/4,577
  • Luxembourg/2,843/4,542
  • Faero Islands/183/3,745
  • Gibraltar/109/3,235

Here are the top six major countries, showing death rates per million of population in the country.  There were no changes in ranking today :

  • Spain/13,341 deaths/285 deaths per million
  • Italy/16,523 deaths/273 deaths per million
  • Belgium/1,632/141
  • France/8,911/137
  • Netherlands/1,867/109
  • Switzerland/765/88

To put those numbers into context, the death rates per million in US/UK/Canada are 33/79/9.  Of note is that the UK is next in line after Switzerland.

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

Same Day
Last Week
YesterdayToday
Total Cases785,7771,272,5141,346,035
Total Deaths/Percent of all Resolved Cases37,815/18.6%69,413/21.0%74,654/21.1%
Active Cases (ie not yet died or cured)582,355941,616992,847
US Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million164,253/3,165/496336,327/9,605/1,016367,004/10,871/1,109
UK Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million22,141/1,408/32647,808/4,934/70451,608/5,373/760
Canada Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million7,474/92/19815,512/280/41116,667/323/442
Worst affected major country/case rateSpain/1,881Spain/2,816Spain/2,923
Second worst country affectedSwitzerland/1,840Switzerland/2,438Switzerland/2,502
Third worstItaly/1,683Italy/2,133Italy/2,192
FourthAustria/1,068Belgium/1,699Belgium/1,796
FifthBelgium/1,027France/1,422France/1,502

There is a definite stabilization in the rate of new cases being announced each day, which is all the more encouraging because we sense that globally, there are growing numbers of tests being administered each day to uncover more and more potential cases

This is very encouraging, but it is not final victory.  I’ll be writing more about that in the next day or so.

Timings And Numbers

As we’ve touched on before, any statistic on Covid-19 deaths is almost sure to be lower than it should be.  Here’s another insight into the “collateral damage” being created by a health system overloaded by the Covid-19 virus.

I’ve also observed that one of the data sets on the excellent Worldometers site – the number of resolved/closed cases other than when the patient died – is hopelessly wrong (for example the UK is still showing only 135 people have recovered from the virus, compared to 5,373 who have died).  Some countries just don’t seem to be keeping track of that at all, which is very regrettable because it helps us better calibrate our guesses as to what the fatality rate is for the virus.

But even if countries were to be more assiduous at collecting and reporting this data, there’s no clear consensus as to when a person is recovered.  Yet again, the more we look at this data, the more we find inadequacies and errors and limitations.

Here’s yet another possible precursor to or symptom of the virus – eye pain.  The interesting thing is not just that eye pain might imply you have the virus, but also how this has been established – by matching Google search terms to virus outbreaks.  That’s an amazing new use for the information Google is amassing on us all.

Closings

The US Postal Service is struggling to keep its service operating at present.  We understand and appreciate their efforts – while it is easy to criticize many of their limitations, the reality is that most of the time, for most of us, they do an extraordinary job of moving the mail around the country.

But at a time when they are struggling to keep things going, maybe it would be okay for them to ease off on the continued deluge of junk mail?  Here’s an article that includes that point.

Medical

Truly, the more we learn about this virus, the worse it gets.  If one were to deliberately engineer a weaponized virus, it is hard to see how a country could do better than to create and release the coronavirus.

The latest item to go into the “really bad news if true and prevalent” category is a suggestion that some recovered Covid-19 sufferers now have damaged hearts.  So that’s lungs, brains, and hearts that can all be damaged by the virus.  What next – sexual organs!?

Money

Great news from the Dow today.  The general shift in the tone of the news seems to have flowed through to investors over the weekend, with the Dow rising an impressive 7.7%, ending the day at 22,680.

Other

Another strange thing about the virus is the apparent ease with which it crosses species.  There are cases of the virus being found in cats and dogs, and now, in a tiger at the Bronx Zoo, too.

 

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.

 

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

  1. David, I absolutely enjoy your articles and read them more so than any other source on Coronavirus. But, shame on you if you called the police on a “family” outside playing with their own children. Regardless what restrictions the government places on us, we all have “brains”. Why is going to the grocery store so much less dangerous than playing a game of catch outside with our own children? It’s not! In fact, anyone with a half a brain knows that having entire neighborhoods congregate in a central location touching items and breathing in an enclosed area (ie the grocery store) is CONSIDERABLY more dangerous than playing a game of catch with your 10 year old outside.

    Yesterday, we had a “drive thru” birthday party for a friend’s son. All of the parents parked 4-5 ft away and made a tunnel of vehicles, maybe 30. The kids sat on our roofs where the birthday boy’s family drove thru and we held signs up and honked singing Happy Birthday. Our police (no less than 4 police cars) showed up to shut it down. We live in a city of 25,000 people with 70 cases (0 deaths) and have a shelter in place warning. It’s very likely we were violating this. I think it’s absolutely appalling.

    Additionally yesterday, a man training for a marathon that was cancelled decided he would have his own “marathon” in our neighborhood with his family. They made a finish sign and after running his own marathon in our VERY large neighborhood (with his family following in a golf cart). Our police were also called to break this up as it seems he had 4 kids. And, some “concerned” neighbor decided this was just too many people.

    I know personally I’ve had enough of this non-sense. And, hopefully, you were really calling more inquisitively rather than being a naughty snitch!

    1. Hi, Heidi

      Thank you for your note. You raise an interesting point and I’m happy to clarify and explain exactly the danger that this neighborhood activity presented.

      First, to more clearly explain. As I wrote, it was not “a family”. A single family is not a risk. It was many families. There were children and adults, all together in close proximity, from a number of families.

      many of the families were outdoors and playing on the street, together – children and parents alike in various ball games and just general fun.  Not so much “social distancing” though.

      Now let me explain the risk factor.

      So let’s say Mr A went to work, and somehow acquired a virus infection. If he stayed at home, only with his family, and if he and his family have no contact with others, his infection – while possibly transferred among family members – goes no further.

      But instead, while asymptomatic, he is outside, playing with his children, the neighbor’s children, and chatting with the neighboring adults. In doing so, in violation of all edicts and common sense requirements, he passes the virus on to Mrs B. Plus he has already infected his daughter, Miss A, who passes the virus on to Miss C.

      Now Mrs B, while asymptomatic too (and keep in mind that people are at their most infectious while asymptomatic), goes to the neighborhood grocery store (using your point about shopping being more dangerous than playing outside), and sneezes on a row of cans of baked beans. She takes one, leaving the others. Ten minutes later, I come along, take another can of beans, transferring the virus to my hands, and a short while later, to my mouth, and I become infected too. I’m an older guy and I die. All because Mr A broke the social distancing restrictions/requirements.

      Let’s not forget also the infection that Mr A also passed, via his daughter, to a second neighborhood family. They are a multigenerational family, including grandparents. Miss C of course infects her grandparents. They both die, again because of Mr A and his daughter ignoring social distancing laws.

      I could continue, but if you don’t get the point already, there’s little purpose.

      Now let’s address the issue you raise about going to a grocery store being considerably more dangerous than playing outside, although you are still misstating the comparison. I’m not talking about me playing with my 10 yr old son. I am talking about me and the neighbors all playing together.

      I’ve not seen any studies to suggest this is less risky than shopping – can you cite some? The empirical studies I’ve seen suggest it to be many times more dangerous to play together than to carefully shop. You likely have physical contact, and you have heavy breathing due to exertion which means much greater transmission of viral particles in breath than when at a normal level of activity. You have floods of viral particles pouring out into the adjacent air – that is a huge elevation of gratuitous unnecessary risk.

      Going to a grocery store is a necessary activity, and can be controlled in the sense of the social distancing that was not being observed by the neighbors (how do you play a game of soccer while keeping six feet apart?) and your time of exposure can be limited to the essential minimum to dash in, buy the stuff you need, and leave again.

      We can’t eliminate every risk, but we should do all we can to minimize the risks we can. Playing outside with the neighbors is a non-essential and high-risk activity.

  2. Absolutely correct David. I communicate with my neighbours by email and WhatsApp. We’re friends, but if any of them decided to invite anyone else to a BBQ I would report them without hesitation. I’m sorry if that makes me a snitch, but I view it as a civic responsibility.

  3. I appreciate your response. First, I actually didn’t realize your neighbors were playing together. Your description seemed to suggests they were playing with their own families. Please view my response under the light of that miscommunication.

    However, with that said, I do take a issue with a few items in your response. And, figured hey I have 15 minutes to take up this debate as I do think it’s healthy to have varying points of view on any topic.

    “let’s say Mr A went to work, and somehow acquired a virus infection. If he stayed at home, only with his family, and if he and his family have no contact with others, his infection – while possibly transferred among family members – goes no further.”

    Problem with this argument is as you’ve already stated grocery shopping is a necessity? Meaning someone in this household has been to an indoor, grocery and very likely has spread this to others in this community.

    “Now let’s address the issue you raise about going to a grocery store being considerably more dangerous than playing outside”. There are several studies actually that specifically cite the increased dangers of being in an enclosed areas with any virus or bacteria that’s airborne. I’m not a doctor, don’t play one on TV either. But, this took 5 minutes to research (I’m sure there are better studies; I picked the first couple that popped up):

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4515362/

    Based on the VLP (virus like particles) concentrations measured in this study, we estimate that the total number of VLPs inhaled daily by humans are approximately 6 × 106 VLPs, where 5 × 106 VLPs are encountered indoors and 1× 106 VLPs are encountered outdoors.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3311988/
    Environmental factors affecting respiratory virus transmission (check this section).

    Scientist believe the flu is more seasonal (at least one of the factors) because of the amount of time spent indoors in closed environments.

    Is it a fact that viruses spread more easily indoors in a grocery store as compared to outdoors playing with your children? Maybe not at this point. But, it certainly seems like the scientific community agrees that’s very likely at least one reason most viruses are seasonal.

    To your argument “you likely have physical contact, and you have heavy breathing due to exertion which means much greater transmission of viral particles in breath than when at a normal level of activity. You have floods of viral particles pouring out into the adjacent air – that is a huge elevation of gratuitous unnecessary risk.”

    There actually is evidence to the contrary. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7116927/
    “The Eurowinter Group showed physical host chilling can increase the severity of viruses…….outdoor exertion sufficient to cause sweating was protective.”

    Now, let’s get to the point that “Going to a grocery store is a necessary activity”. I DISAGREE fully. Eating is essential, not grocery shopping indoors. If we make the assumption that all of the social distancing is necessary and warranted, then you nor your neighbors should be going inside a grocery store to shop. It most certainly is NOT a necessary activity. After all, there’s an app for that. Quite easily most grocery stores should adopt a policy of having you order your groceries online or via phone, etc. Schedule a pickup time and have the groceries delivered to the back of your car. This avoids you being indoors or exposing yourself to others. The least amount of contact with people outside of your immediate family circle would be achieved.

    If you say that National parks should be closed, the reservoir by my home, beaches, etc. all HAVE to be shutdown because people were not following the social distancing guidelines, then you obviously have not visited your local grocery store or Walmart anytime recently.

    You are free to disagree with me; luckily, in this country that’s your right. But, it doesn’t take much to figure out why there is significant growing discontent with what some would consider government policies that clearly make little sense.

  4. The transmission of Covid-19 to animals seems absolutely relevant (from human to animal transmissions)? I’m really confused as to why this would not be important to know if in fact the zoo keeper caring for this animal transmitted it to the tiger? What’s the implications for farmers and live stock? At the very least, it’s worth studying and investigating.

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David.