Covid-19 Diary : Sunday 31 May, 2020

 

 

It is nice to be properly back after yesterday’s 12 hour power cut.  So lots of stuff, below.

What a curious few days it has been.  The good news – almost exactly nine years after the cancellation of the Space Shuttle program, the US successfully sent people back into the space.  It has been a bizarre decade, to be relying on relatively old and stodgy (but reliable) Russian Soyuz technology that dates back to the 1960s, and with neither NASA nor private companies able to match the Russians.

It is now wonderful to see the success of Elon Musk’s Space-X venture and its Dragon-2 rockets.  Bravo.  Our country definitely needs a bit of national pride at present.

The bad news has to be yet another appalling demonstration of what is increasingly an out-of-control and unaccountable police “force” in our country.  The truth of these statements “out-of-control” and “unaccountable” is pointed to by the fact there is no official tracking and compilation of police use of excessive force or of police killings – it seems no official group wishes to even acknowledge these acts.  The FBI collect and share a huge amount of data on criminal activity, but they choose not to track something that is very much in the public interest – police killings.  Various third parties attempt to do so, and estimates seem to suggest about 1,000 people a year are killed by the police in the US.

Compare that to Canada (eight in 2019, five in 2018) or the UK (three in 2019, one in 2018).  And before someone rushes to blame this on us – “it is because everyone own guns and are killing the police” – there is no evidence of that at all.  Police deaths are in equal measures accident/chance as they are unlawful killings, with the latter showing no sign of any increase over the last twelve years.  Being a police officer is a relatively safe occupation.  It is more dangerous to be a grounds maintenance worker or a truck driver than it is to be a police officer.

But I don’t wish to wade into this topic here, other than as an introduction to a virus-related matter.

The only thing worse than gratuitous unnecessary police killings such as inflicted on George Floyd in Minneapolis is the orchestrated violence and rioting that follows.  The curious thing about this is that while the media eagerly decry people failing to socially-distance when going to peaceably enjoy themselves in a park or at a beach, they have fallen totally silent when it comes to the rioting.  Now it is true that failure to socially-distance is the least of the rioters’ transgressions, but where, in general, is the public condemnation of the rioting overall?

We see plenty of pictures of the destruction the rioters are wreaking on cities all around the nation (the entire LA county was subjected to a curfew 30 minutes ago, and rioters are even now getting within a few miles of my home – I’ve unlocked my safe and cleaned/oiled the “anti-riot” devices inside), but where are the headlines condemning the rioting and the rioters?  How is it that our media and thought-leaders find it easy to condemn people peaceably protesting continued lock-down orders, and easy to ridicule people wishing to go to church to worship, but fall silent when gratuitous violence and destruction is dumped upon innocent people and businesses by rioters.

To restate – I’m as appalled and outraged by police actions as any rioter.  I’ve seen the way community policing can work, in New Zealand (not all excellent, but generally much better and less adversarial than here), and have some specialized knowledge of what is going wrong with police training in the US.  I feel the militarization of the police in the US is making things worse not better.  But my concerns about this do not cause me to go and set fire to cars belonging to other ordinary people – not least because many of whom probably agree with me about this problem.  My feelings don’t cause me to throw bricks through shop windows, and I can’t understand how stealing a television set from a retail store helps advance a public debate about the need to rethink our policing.

These riots are outrageous and must be stopped.  I’d even look the other way and give the police a free pass for any, ahem, casualties among the rioters.  But why is it the mainstream media is more willing to condemn people for not wearing a mask and going to a beach or church than to comment negatively about these rioters?


Here’s a searing indictment on extraordinary incompetence in Britain’s public health system. How is it that the most advanced/enlightened countries in the world seem to have the worst responses to this virus problem?

Current Numbers

I’ve had some feedback in response to my pondering what numbers to present each day and how to present them.  Can I ask you to participate in a quick “instant survey” to help me decide.  Which would you prefer?

As it is at present

As it is at present, but comparing a week ago rather than yesterday

As it was before

Charts showing the change in numbers over time

Something else

Anything is fine

The data is not really of interest

Simply click the link which best represents your preference.  That will create an email to me, with your answer coded into the subject line.  If you are choosing “Something else” please tell me what it is you’d prefer.  And feel free to add comments to any of your other chosen answers too – I’ll read them all, but can’t promise on replying to them.

I’ll assemble all the responses and report back to you with the results.


Small Country
Case Rate

Large Country
Case Rate


Large Country
Death Rate

TodayYesterdayTodayYesterdayToday
(The World Average)79180347.648.0
Qatar19,783Spain6,124Spain  6,128Belgium 816Belgium817
San Marino
unchanged
19,779USA5,492USA5,553Spain580Spain580
Vatican City
unchanged
14,981Belgium  5,022Chile 5,219UK566UK567
Andorra
unchanged
9,889Chile4,966Belgium5,039Italy551Italy553
Bahrain6,722Peru4,727Peru4,994France441France441
Luxembourg6,428UK4,021UK4,049Sweden 435Sweden435
Kuwait6,341Italy3,848Italy3,853Nether-
lands
347Nether-
lands
348
Mayotte
unchanged
6,242Sweden3,677Sweden3,719USA319USA321
Singapore5,967Portugal3,157Portugal3,187Ecuador 189Canada193
Iceland
unchanged
5,295France2,890France2,894Canada188Ecuador191

 

Today saw Qatar, a relatively new entrant, now move to the top of the small country case rate list.  San Marino moved down one place in return.

Also changed was Bahrain moving up one place, swapping with Luxembourg, and Kuwait moving up one place, swapping with Mayotte, which has now gone two days with no numbers reported.  Closed for the weekend?

In the large countries, Chile moved up and Belgium moved down in the case rate ranks.  Canada moved up one and Ecuador down one in the death rate ranks.

The Rt.live site, which shrank from 11 down to eight US states showing growing case rate numbers yesterday grew again to ten states with growing case rate numbers today.

I Am Not a Doctor, But….

True, I’m not a doctor, but here’s an extraordinary open letter to The Lancet raising concerns and questions about their publishing the controversial hydroxychloroquine study that was signed by three pages of doctors and professors.


This is a fairly even-handed explainer on the study reported in The Lancet.  There are a number of major points of concern it raises, including new ones I’ve not mentioned before like the apparent doses of HCQ being prescribed in the study being unusually high and above the normal guidelines.  Does the study end up simply telling us that “if you prescribe HCQ in dangerously high doses that are not recommended, bad things happen”?

But the point I most wanted to focus on today is this

For their part, the authors stand by their work, arguing that their results are largely in line with other research. “With these findings, we join agencies including the FDA, as well as several other observational studies reported in the NEJMJAMA, and the BMJ, each of which have pointed to either no benefit of drug regimens using hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine or even a signal of potential harm in a hospitalized population,” Desai told me.

This is the “democratic” approach to proving studies, apparently.  The majority is right.  Because other (also flawed and equally criticized) studies have come to generally similar (but probably also erroneous) conclusions, they must be all correct.

It reminds me of how cigarettes used to be sold.  “More doctors recommend/smoke (our brand)….”.  And, while I’ve been biting my tongue and desperately trying to not say this for weeks, I have to just lightly mention another eerie similarity.  All the studies and projections about climate change, and the claims that “all scientists agree”.  Never mind the studies/projections are invariably shown to be wrong, never mind we’ve gone from predicting global cooling to global warming to now just an anodyne statement of “climate change”, and never mind that all scientists most decidedly do not agree.

The big thing is that whereas climate change predictions usually are for the longer term, the virus predictions are usually for the very short term and so are more easily measured by the demonstrated reality of their predictions.

Now that we’re discovering how just about every model and projection/prediction about the virus has proven to be wrong, sometimes spectacularly so, and now that we’re coming to appreciate that the raw data – even such obvious unambiguous things as counting how many people die – is totally flawed and inaccurate, it sure makes me wonder how accurate some of the climate change data and resulting projections/predictions are, too.


While the media continues to give its headlines to any bad news they can find about hydroxychloroquine, if you search beyond the mainstream media and their headlines, you’ll find a steady drumbeat of good news, too.

Here’s an item in India about how their Indian Council for Medical Research has now conducted three studies that found positive results from HCQ use, and so is advising broader use of it in the general population, including as a preventative treatment, the same as being adopted by President Trump.


Here is one of the many frustrating articles that has a question as its headline, but which never answers the question.  In this case, the headline is “So Where Did The Virus Come From?”

However, if we had to guess, we’ll suggest that the Wall St Journal, in which the article appeared, did not want to come directly out and offend any particular country (especially ones beginning with the letter “C” and ending with the letter “A”) and so insisted the article remain inconclusive while allowing it to contain hints.

Our reading of the article focuses on this statement in its opening “lede”

the simple story of an animal in a market infected by a bat that then infected several human beings no longer looks credible.

as first demolishing the “politically correct” version of the truth, then after some discussion about the unusual nature of the virus, and comparing it to laboratory created viruses, states

We can’t exclude the possibility that this came from a laboratory experiment.

You might well read the article differently and gain another interpretation.  As we said, it is frustrating that the headline never gets a direct answer.

Who Should Pay

In theory, the federal government is paying the costs of Covid-19 hospitalization.  But tell that to the person who received an $840,386.94 bill for his hospital stay.

We also note the next column over shows a $2,190,580.60 total.  We guess that is either the “you saved this much” or the “total before insurance negotiated discounts”.

In either case it shows the completely lunatic evolution of the astronomical cost of hospital stays, something we totally can not start to comprehend.  One time I was in an Emergency Room for, I forget, two or three hours, due to a kidney stone.  I had an ultrasound, some painkillers, and then was sent home.  I forget the cost, but it was more than $5000 and less than $10,000.  That’s for two or three hours, mainly sitting in a hospital bed doing nothing, and seeing a doctor two or three times, for a minute or two on each occasion.  No surgery, just an ultrasound and some painkillers.  How is that possible to add up to more than a few hundred dollars?  Where did the extra zero on the final invoice come from?

Whenever I try to get a sensible answer from someone who should know, I end up with less rather than more comprehension.  “Hospitals have to pay for uninsured people’s care”, we’re told.  That begs the question of why they should have to do that, and if they do, a wry observation that they aren’t actually paying any part of that, they are simply shifting it over to us.  Do they have ten times as many uninsured people as insured people each day, even in wealthy Bellevue, WA?  If so, can I please be uninsured, too!

I’m told it is the cost of the doctors needing malpractice insurance.  That is a total non-issue.  Malpractice insurance costs anything from under $10,000 a year up to $30,000 a year.  Let’s, for fun, say it is $26,000 a year (ie at the high end) which comes to $500/week or $12.50 an hour.  Yes, the doctor I saw for less than five minutes in total probably had a $1 insurance cost associated with his five minutes with me.

I’m told that hospitals have massive administration and building costs.  I’m told they always need to keep spare capacity for “surges”.  You know, that sounds a bit like a hotel to me, with an expensive sales and marketing department, general manager, and so on, fancy deluxe rooms, and only 50% occupancy.  But you tell me a hotel room, anywhere in the world, that gives you a tiny uncomfortable bed in a tiny curtained off section of a huge room, and charges you thousands of dollars every hour.  I could stay overnight in one of the world’s truly luxurious five star hospitals, eat the most expensive meal I could find, drink champagne and single malt all night long, and, ahem, arrange for an in-room “massage”, and still have a bill under $2000 the next morning.

How can a hospital expect to have any shred of credibility when it maintains that the normal price for the treatment they are charging for is $2.2 million, but they’ve agreed to a special discount with the insurer that drops it down to 40% of the list price?  Why should a person who goes to a hospital and says “I’ll save you the bother of going through an insurance company, I’ll simply pay for this, myself, when I’m discharged” be charged 2.5 times more than someone who pays through an insurance company?

I’m far from the only person puzzled by this.  Here’s a recent item from NPR.

Shortages

Here’s a scary headline “US food prices see historic jump and are likely to stay high”.  But if you read the article, you’ll see the historic jump is only a blended 2.6%, and some of the prices are already dropping down again.

On the other hand, after the concerns about meat plants, perhaps it is now time to have another look at what is happening to other agricultural workers on farms.  Here’s an astonishing case where one farm had every one of their workers test positive.

That is really surprising, because in all the other situations where you’d expect close to 100% infection rates (think cruise ships in particular, but meat plants as well) the infection rates have topped out way below that number.  Even the Diamond Princess cruise ship, if you remember way back to that, had only about 700 of the 3700 people on board get the infection.

Logic?  What Logic?

Here’s a semi-interesting article, but what caught my eye was this strategy adopted by a family traveling somewhere.

What we had decided to do was just have a single contact person for all interactions. It didn’t matter if it was with the check-in counter or if it was with a shop to buy a magazine. Every person in your party that interacts with another person is another opportunity for infection.

With respect, that makes very little sense.  By concentrating all the risk in one person, you make it much more likely that one person gets infected, and then, of course, the chances are they infect many/most/all of the other family members.

Virus?  What Virus?

We have commented a lot recently about all the “mock masks” out there.  Face coverings, yes.  Validly protective masks?  Who only knows, but probably, a lot of the time, not.

Now there’s a new complicating factor.  Which masks will be most comfortable in hot weather?  We suspect surgical masks are probably the best choice – not respirator masks, but surgical masks like pictured above.

This article raises the question, but we don’t think it gives sensible answers.

Medical

I’d like to come back to my comment above that generally, in places where you’d expect to see close to 100% of everyone in a group infected, you almost never do.  Even a 50% infection rate is rare.

I’ve been wondering for a while if there’s some sort of mysterious issue or unknown immunity factor at work.  If there is, we should be eagerly and urgently trying to find out what it is.  Here’s an article that wonders the same thing.  Here is a similar article, and yet another speculation on this point here.

Shouldn’t we urgently toss a few billion into research on this point?

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.

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