Yesterday, I retweeted this list of stimulus packages from around the world and added a rant on how it means that when the US economy reopens (see Marcy here on why it’s not Trump’s call to make, despite his claims), the US will be left in the dust because so many workers who were laid off during the shutdown will have lost everything and likely will face a long delay in finding re-employment.
Stimulus packages around the world:
UK: 80% of workers’ salaries
Denmark: 75% of workers’ salaries
S Korea: 70% of workers’ salaries
Netherlands: 90% of workers’ salaries
Canada: $2k per month
Australia: $1k per month
US: One time $1200 check that may take months to arrive
As you can see from the list, much of the world is taking care of workers to see that they are able to meet their basic needs of shelter and food until social distancing begins to be lifted. (I won’t even go into the fact that the rest of the world also assures universal health coverage as well, so as not to upset my blood pressure even further).
The sad reality of these numbers is that in the US, workers simply aren’t acknowledged as human. They are merely tools the “job creators” use to enrich themselves. This Washington Post article from yesterday drives that point home in disgusting detail. Here’s a screencap of the headline and subhead:
That subhead, coupled with the comparison of different countries’ approaches for stimulus packages, perfectly sums up the complete negation of humanity for US workers. In the civilized portions of the world, governments are stepping in directly to make sure workers continue getting paid at a rate that is fairly close to their usual wages. In the US, direct payments to the public at large are essentially taboo, so token $1200 payments have been approved and we can rest assured that the Trump administration will drag their feet and fuck this up enough to make sure most workers won’t see this money for a very long time if ever. So, enter the plan to funnel money to workers through the SBA and the “job creators” who are so sacred to the distorted US view of how to structure the economy. But even here, “job creators” just can’t grasp the idea that workers are humans who need food and shelter during the time that, through no fault of their own, they can’t work. The idea of paying workers to do nothing simply never can be entertained, even if it literally means life or death.
Here’s how the Post article opens:
Bob Giaimo, founder of the Silver Diner restaurant chain, is hoping to receive emergency funding in the coming days through a federal loan program. But he doesn’t want to spend the money right away.
Small-business owners are supposed to use the loans immediately to keep employees on their payrolls during the coronavirus crisis, but at the moment there is little for Giaimo’s workers to do. His restaurants in Virginia, Maryland and the District will be closed for sit-down service until local officials allow them to reopen.
“Getting the loan is hard enough. Using it is harder,” said Giaimo, who is lobbying his members of Congress for more flexible loan terms.
No, Bob, using those SBA funds is not hard. The whole fucking point of this program, right there as the Post says, is “to keep employees on their payrolls during the coronavirus crisis”. It doesn’t matter that they have nothing to do. What matters is that they need to buy groceries and pay rent.
Let’s get back to Bob, because he’s such a gem of a “job creator”.
For Giaimo, part owner of Silver Diner, which runs 19 restaurants, the mandated timing of the spending is a problem.
In his 30 years in business, he says he’s never laid off an employee, until now. After the coronavirus hit, local authorities ordered restaurants to close for sit-down service, forcing Giaimo to temporarily lay off 1,600 of 1,800 workers, he said. Most of them are now collecting unemployment, he said. (Some regional restaurant chains qualify for the loans even if they employ more than 500 people.)
He applied through a local bank for a $9.5 million emergency loan and is awaiting approval. But rehiring his workers immediately would be impractical, he said.
“There’s no job for them,” he said. “We would use all the loan proceeds while we’re closed, and we’d be out of funds to reopen.”
But poor Bob. Even though his business doesn’t really fit the definition for small, he’s found a loophole to still apply for a $9.5 million forgivable loan that is specifically designed to keep employees of actual small businesses on the payroll. But, you see, he cut 89% of his employees off the payroll to join the flood of those seeking paltry state unemployment benefits. And Bob has needs now:
Giaimo wants the rules to change so that the companies can qualify for loan forgiveness if they wait to rehire workers until they are legally allowed to reopen. Meanwhile, he’d like to use part of the loan to pay the workers he has retained and to pay suppliers of food and other goods, but he says paying suppliers isn’t an allowed use of the funds under current regulations.
You see, Bob has bills. He needs to pay those bills, like the ones from his suppliers. As for all those workers he laid off? Fuck their bills.
It should be noted, although this point will be totally lost on Bob, that this loan program is already under discussion for expansion, presumably to extend the amount of time workers could continue to be paid as we await the chance to restart activities like dining in restaurants. But it just never enters Bob’s little mind that he could take these funds, which he wouldn’t have to repay, and use them to pay those workers he laid off, even if they can’t work right now.
Trump And Southern Governors Team Up To Kill Republican Voters
The New York Times is out with another set of jaw-dropping cell phone data. This time, the analysis addresses, on a county by county basis, when various areas reduced their average travel below two miles a day. When I saw the map, it immediately looked to me like the map for the 2016 presidential election results. Because the areas where people still had not curtailed travel by March 26 were primarily in the South, I grabbed that section of the map and pulled a similar cut from a map of the 2016 voting results.
There really isn’t much that needs to be added to this, other than to point out that Southern Republican governors, by delaying statewide stay home orders, allowed control to devolve to the county and city level. The small pockets of blue you see in the 2016 election results overlay almost perfectly on the pockets which shut down despite the lack of action by Republican governors. My little island of blue, Alachua County, stands out nicely in north central Florida. Note also how isolated the Birmingham area is in Alabama. This map makes it not at all surprising that Birmingham elected a progressive mayor in 2017.
The correlation is not complete, as I’m a bit stumped by St. John’s county appearing to have shut down travel around the same time as Alachua County. I don’t think they ever did a county shut down, and in fact they didn’t even close their beaches until March 29, after a viral photo showed massive numbers of people on the beach on the St. Johns side of the line at Duval County on March 28.
What the Times map shows, though, is that we have a massive social experiment underway. In the South, red counties have been much slower about curtailing travel (and presumably social contact) than blue counties. According to Marcy’s constantly updated list, Florida, Georgia, Mississipi and Texas have statewide shut down or stay home orders going into effect today or tomorrow. I do hope that the cell phone tracking data collection continues, so that we can see if there even is compliance in these deep red areas. Considering Trump’s early rhetoric and the blather from Fox News, it would not surprise me in the least if compliance is much slower and spottier in these areas.
It almost goes without saying that the longer these areas continue social mixing, the longer the rest of us who are already isolating will have to wait before there can be a consideration of a general easing of restrictions. And, of course, we can sadly expect the death toll to stay high longer in those areas continuing to travel. The end result of this is that Trump’s failure to move quickly on a national stay home order, coupled with red state Republican governors parroting that rhetoric, means that in the South, counties that vote predominantly Republican could see deaths stretching out much farther into the summer than in counties and cities controlled by Democrats who enacted social distancing much earlier.
Update: I am too angry to address this any further than to give this link and a couple of paragraphs:
Hours after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order Wednesday, he quietly signed a second order to override restrictions put in place by local governments to halt the spread of coronavirus.
The second order states that new state guidelines that take effect Friday morning “shall supersede any conflicting official action or order issued by local officials in response to COVID-19.” In other words, local governments cannot place any limitations that would be more strict than the statewide guidelines.
Locally, it means Hillsborough County cannot mandate churches close their doors, a rule that drew national attention and the ire of the local Republican Party after Tampa megachurch The River of Tampa Bay held two Sunday services, leading to the arrest of pastor Rodney Howard Browne.
Seriously though, fuck Ron DeSantis very thoroughly.
New Orleans Is Drowning. Again.
August 29 will mark 15 years since Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. The next day the country watched in horror as the levees broke and thousands of residents who could have been evacuated but were neglected by many levels of government and public safety officials, were forced onto rooftops to await rescue. Many of the rescues were not by government agencies but by fellow citizens with boats in what became the Cajun Navy. For days, people pleaded for rescue. Many did get moved to safety. Many did not. The “official” death toll states that 1577 died in Louisiana. That figure is widely believed to be a large underestimate, as many of the dead and missing came from the neglected fringes of society.
I often return to Mary Gauthier’s poetic description of the the losses and displacement suffered by those affected by the flooding, with many of them evacuated as far away as Houston with no means to return and nothing left in New Orleans to return to after their homes were destroyed.
Although there were too many to count, one of the most tragic developments during the flood was at Memorial Medical Center. The hospital was not evacuated before the storm. It appears that there were at least 45 deaths at the hospital during the time that it was marooned and without electricity, supplies or rescuers. The choices the marooned staff faced were stark and ugly. From a New York Times description in 2009:
Within days, the grisly tableau became the focus of an investigation into what happened when the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina marooned Memorial Medical Center in Uptown New Orleans. The hurricane knocked out power and running water and sent the temperatures inside above 100 degrees. Still, investigators were surprised at the number of bodies in the makeshift morgue and were stunned when health care workers charged that a well-regarded doctor and two respected nurses had hastened the deaths of some patients by injecting them with lethal doses of drugs. Mortuary workers eventually carried 45 corpses from Memorial, more than from any comparable-size hospital in the drowned city.
Charges were filed by the state in 2006 against the doctor and two nurses. The Times continues:
The physician, Anna Pou, defended herself on national television, saying her role was to “help” patients “through their pain,” a position she maintains today. After a New Orleans grand jury declined to indict her on second-degree murder charges, the case faded from view.
In the four years since Katrina, Pou has helped write and pass three laws in Louisiana that offer immunity to health care professionals from most civil lawsuits — though not in cases of willful misconduct — for their work in future disasters, from hurricanes to terrorist attacks to pandemic influenza.
I don’t want to go into details of what might have led Pou and the nurses to hasten death for these patients or even if they did. Instead, let’s just focus on the fact that in such a situation, the health care workers are faced with helping those they can help while knowing that there are some who are destined to die no matter what they do. Further, with such limited resources, effort spent on those destined to die runs the risk of harming those who have a shot at recovery.
Doesn’t that sound familiar? Right now, various hospitals are drawing up their priority lists for allocating life-saving resources when the COVID-19 outbreak overwhelms staff, space and equipment. Note that even in this 2009 article, Pau mentions how the Katrina situation will not be unique and that a pandemic could lead to the very same scenario.
And with that, we come to the NOLA.com story from which the feature image of this post is derived:
A woman who identifies herself an Ochsner Medical Center nurse has published a gut-wrenching post on social media, going into detail about how she has seen coronavirus overwhelm a patient and pleading with the public to say inside “as if your life depended on it.”
Claudia Griffith’s 416-word Facebook post explains how the disease can take over a person’s lungs and kidneys. And “if it makes it to your kidneys, you’re lucky to be alive because your liver is next,” Griffith explains.
The story continues:
“As a nurse you cry at the window knowing there’s nothing you can do,” she writes.
“You spend hours in your (patient’s) room gowned up head to toe sweating and not able to breathe. Then you realize…this is it. I can’t save this patient anymore. You sit there and say your goodbyes while they pass without family or loved ones because nobody is allowed in the hospital for everyone’s safety. You are their only contact and hope. You sit and watch as the (heart rate) and (blood pressure) can’t read anymore. You lost your patient to COVID19. You don’t even know how this virus works but you watch as it kills your patient,” she says.
In a very real sense, those patients she is describing are drowning as the pneumonia from COVID-19 relentlessly fills their lungs just as relentlessly as the Katrina floodwaters rose.
The best I can tell, Ochsner Medical Center in Jefferson and Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans are only four miles from one another. It is such a tragedy that they find themselves in the same dilemma just shy of 15 years apart.
Note that Louisiana doesn’t even make it into the list in the Washington Post article detailing huge disparities in how the Trump Administration is allocating emergency reserves of supplies and ventilators. And you can read here about the dire situation Louisiana hospitals are facing, with maximum capacity likely to be reached by this time next week. The people of New Orleans and all of Louisiana desperately need help, but I fear that we as a country can’t find the way.
Donald Trump Just Killed A Man. Now He Wants To Kill A Million Americans.
It wasn’t in the middle of Fifth Avenue, but yesterday, Donald Trump killed a man. The man’s wife survived, and did not have good things to say about him. Here’s NBC News on the death:
An Arizona man has died after ingesting chloroquine phosphate — believing it would protect him from becoming infected with the coronavirus. The man’s wife also ingested the substance and is under critical care.
The toxic ingredient they consumed was not the medication form of chloroquine, used to treat malaria in humans. Instead, it was an ingredient listed on a parasite treatment for fish.
The man’s wife told NBC News she’d watched televised briefings during which President Trump talked about the potential benefits of chloroquine.
The wife talked further with NBC:
Woman in ICU: “Trump kept saying it was basically pretty much a cure.”
NBC: “What would be your message to the American public?”
Woman: “Oh my God. Don’t take anything. Don’t believe anything. Don’t believe anything that the President says & his people…call your doctor.” https://t.co/C8EiTQQ3r1pic.twitter.com/UAOXBNsS4t
This death and near-death drive home the danger of Trump’s daily “press briefings” which he is now using as a replacement for his political rallies. His touting of chloroquine on Friday has now killed someone in the US. Recall that Nigeria had to put out a warning Friday as well, as NBC in the same article reported that there were at least two known chloroquine poisonings there right after Trump’s presser. (Chloroquine is more widely available in areas where malaria is endemic.)
But the chloroquine story is far from the biggest problem with Trump’s daily gaslighter. It’s hard to believe that we are only at one week since the publishing of the epidemiological model that really seemed to get the attention of even those who felt COVID-19 fears were overblown. Here’s a summary of the US findings of this modeling, as written by University of Minnesota researchers:
To understand how mitigation or suppression would play out, the Imperial College team, led by Neil Ferguson, OBE, ran a model based on three scenarios. In the first, US officials do nothing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, schools and businesses are kept open, and the virus is allowed to move through the population.
This would result in 81% of the US population, about 264 million people, contracting the disease. Of those, 2.2 million would die, including 4% to 8% of Americans over age 70. More important, by the second week in April, the demand for critical care beds would be 30 times greater than supply.
If mitigation practices are put in place, including a combination of case isolation, home quarantine, and social distancing of those most at risk (over age 70), the peak critical care demand would reduce by 60%, and there would be half the number of deaths. But this scenario still produces an eightfold demand on critical care beds above surge capacity.
In order to suppress the pandemic to an R0 of below 1, a country would need to combine case isolation, social distancing of the entire population, and either household quarantine or school and university closure, the authors found. These measures “are assumed to be in place for a 5-month duration,” they wrote.
So, with no social distancing, this model predicts over 2 million deaths in the US. Even with fairly strong mitigation practices, there are still over a million deaths and we will need more than 8 times the number of ICU beds we have now. Sadly, from what I can tell, we are somewhere around that level of mitigation with perhaps a few states going a bit more stringent. The UK just yesterday went to social distancing of the entire population, a move that Trump has resisted. Note also that even should the US move to full distancing, the model suggests a need to do so for five months. I’ve seen some pushback against this model, but I would argue instead that if anything, it is an underestimate because I fully expect compliance to fall far short of the assumptions in the model. I’ve seen suggestions that lack of compliance with early distancing orders drove much of the rapid outbreak in Italy.
It appears that the World Health Organization agrees that the US is far short of the level of distancing needed to quash the outbreak here. From Reuters:
The World Health Organization said on Tuesday it was seeing a “very large acceleration” in coronavirus infections in the United States which had the potential of becoming the new epicentre. Asked whether the United States could become the new epicentre, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told reporters: “We are now seeing a very large acceleration in cases in the U.S. So it does have that potential.”
I can only imagine Trump’s presser on the day we become “number one” for the virus.
So even though there was a push for distancing as the Imperial College model was released, we’re already hearing that Trump has had enough. To be fair, Trump and his team were only talking about a 15 day process from the start, but any fool can see that we are still moving in the wrong direction in terms of new cases being discovered to even contemplate letting up on social distancing.
David Farenthold suggests one reason Trump wants to ease restrictions in the Washington Post:
President Trump’s private business has shut down six of its top seven revenue-producing clubs and hotels because of restrictions meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, potentially depriving Trump’s company of millions of dollars in revenue.
Those closures come as Trump is considering easing restrictions on movement sooner than federal public health experts recommend, in the name of reducing the virus’s economic damage.
In a tweet late Sunday, Trump said the measures could be lifted as soon as March 30. “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF,” he wrote on Twitter.
Heaven forbid that Trump should lose a few dollars to save some lives. Sadly, though, Trump isn’t the only one spouting the bullshit. In fact, it’s pretty clear that Trump’s tweet about the cure being worse than the problem came right after he heard that phrase on Fox News. And to soften the territory for easing distancing, Fox yesterday had the Lieutenant Governor of Texas on to suggest that old grandparents like me need to be prepared to sacrifice our lives so that the economy can get going again. Of course, that’s complete bullshit, as once distancing is reduced anywhere, the effects will be spread over a huge area and across age groups. Anyway, here it is:
Texas Lt Gov Dan Patrick went on national tv & argued elderly people should die for the health of the market. Capitalism is a system that priorities profits over people. This fight is literally a matter of life or death. Battle lines are being drawn. Which side are you on? pic.twitter.com/GI3LQZG7uo
So that’s where we find ourselves today. We are perched at a spot where WHO is convinced that the US will be the epicenter of the outbreak within a few days. Instead of moving ahead with the full nationwide lockdown that will be needed actually flatten the curve, Fox News is helping Donald Trump to prepare the public for losing grandma and grandpa so that Trump properties can generate income again and Trump can hold his ego-stoking rallies. If distancing is reduced in a week, as Trump is wanting, the death toll in the US will reach catastrophic levels somewhere between the 1 and 2 million mark Imperial College calculated.
What is likely to interrupt Trump’s desire here, though, is the rate at which New York hospitals are filling. It sounds like they will be overwhelmed as soon as this weekend, so I’d like to think that there will be too much pressure to increase rather than decrease distancing once that reality strikes.
With Trump, though, there are no guarantees and reality often gets left in the dust.
Trump’s Customs And Border Protection Just Created Hundreds Of New COVID-19 Superspreaders
Earlier this week, Donald Trump announced Vladimir Putin’s dream of travel restrictions in response to the the COVID-19 pandemic, “banning” travel from Europe, but excepting the UK, where there are many more cases than in a number of European countries. Trump eventually was forced to add the UK to the ban. As the new policy began to roll out yesterday in the major international US airports, there was nothing less than a clusterfuck of epic proportions. The feature image for this post comes from a Brooke McDonald tweet showing a huge crowd trying to clear customs at O’Hare. Here is a tweet from a Fox station in Texas showing the crowd trying to clear customs at DFW:
What could possibly go wrong? With large crowds of people coming back from infection hot zones, milling about for what was reported to be up to seven stress-filled hours, it’s hard to imagine a scenario more conducive to efficient spread of the virus.
Under the new screening rules, when travelers arrive at 13 designated airports they are to be interviewed by a Customs officer, who will also review the person’s travel history using a Homeland Security database. The officer will ask them about their current medical condition. If they don’t show symptoms, they will be asked to quarantine in their homes for 14 days. Depending on their symptoms and previous medical history, travelers could be subject to an additional screening by a medical professional at the airport. They could also be subject to a federal quarantine.
Seems simple enough. But in Trump’s era of never having enough of the right employees in the right place, this simple screening resulted in the massive delays. Here is the Acting Head of Customs and Border Protection on the situation last night:
We are aware of the reports of increased wait times at some airports across the nation. CBP along with medical personnel are working diligently to address the longer than usual delays. Nothing is more important than the safety, health and security of our citizens. Full statement: pic.twitter.com/JyPRSS9snr
Yeah, right. Nothing is more important that the health of our citizens, so you trap thousands of people into tight spaces that are virtually guaranteed to have symptom-free people shedding large amounts of virus.
Here’s how that happens.
First, we know that virus can be spread by folks not showing symptoms. From CNN:
New studies in several countries and a large coronavirus outbreak in Massachusetts bring into question reassuring assertions by US officials about the way the novel virus spreads.
These officials have emphasized that the virus is spread mainly by people who are already showing symptoms, such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing. If that’s true, it’s good news, since people who are obviously ill can be identified and isolated, making it easier to control an outbreak.
But it appears that a Massachusetts coronavirus cluster with at least 82 cases was started by people who were not yet showing symptoms, and more than half a dozen studies have shown that people without symptoms are causing substantial amounts of infection.
Next, as the CNN article notes, the Boston cluster of cases arising from the Biogen conference resulted in many people being infected from a small number who were infected but asymptomatic at the time. From WBUR:
Among the coronavirus numbers that Massachusetts officials have shared recently, one is particularly striking: Of the state’s 95 cases detected as of late Wednesday, they say 77 stemmed from a meeting that the Cambridge biotech company Biogen held in late February.
In public health parlance, the Biogen meeting is looking like a “superspreading event.”
The article continues:
Yale professor Nicholas Christakis, a physician and sociologist who studies networks, says the current outbreak in Italy also stemmed from a “superspreader.”
“We know from genetic analyses in Italy that the epidemic there was started, we think, by two people, one of whom gave it to 43 other people,” he says.
But here’s the kicker:
Christakis from Yale says other factors could cause people to become superspreaders — like even a propensity to cough.
“Maybe they have a lung disease, for example,” he says. “And so they’re doing more coughing anyway. And so compared to a person who doesn’t cough, they transmit it more.”
The environment can contribute to spreading, too, he says — poor ventilation, overcrowding.
Yep. There we have it. Overcrowding can create superspreaders. And Customs and Border Protection just overcrowded thousands of people for long periods last night. In thirteen different airports.
I keep re-reading the description of the “screening” and don’t see how the outcome of screening would be any different if people cleared Customs in a normal way but were given a set of printed instructions informing them that if they were returning from Europe they should self-quarantine for at least 14 days and that if they have or develop any symptoms they should notify their health provider and/or county health department. At that point it would seem safer to have them call a call center where they can share their travel history with someone coordinating the DHS database. Making people mill around for so long really appears to have accomplished nothing other than spreading the virus.
Airports around the country were thrown into chaos Saturday night as workers scrambled to roll out the Trump administration’s hastily arranged health screenings for travelers returning from Europe.
Scores of anxious passengers said they encountered jam-packed terminals, long lines and hours of delays as they waited to be questioned by health authorities at some of the busiest travel hubs in the United States.
The administration announced the “enhanced entry screenings” Friday as part of a suite of travel restrictions and other strategies aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Passengers on flights from more than two dozen countries in Europe are being routed through 13 U.S. airports, where workers check their medical histories, examine them for symptoms and instruct them to self-quarantine.
And WaPo even went there:
But shortly after taking effect, the measures designed to prevent new infections in the United States created the exact conditions that facilitate the spread of the highly contagious virus, with throngs of people standing shoulder-to-shoulder in bottlenecks that lasted late into the night.
We Are In A Liminal Space In The COVID-19 Outbreak
This will be a short post, mostly to give us a new conversation thread.
But there are a few things that show us that reality is setting in in our society, if not necessarily in the White House. Virtually all professional and college sports are now shut down. Most universities are online only now. Many public schools have closed. More and more businesses are allowing employees to work from home.
We are now in a liminal space. Our church introduced me to that term while we are searching to replace a minister who recently retired. A liminal space is that time between what was and what will be. Thanks to COVID-19, normal is what was. It is gone and will be gone for quite some time.
Sadly, the beneficial effects of the social distancing that is finally coming into being will be delayed. Before we get to the benefits, we will experience the whirlwind that has been unleashed by months of denying the virus. This is just my estimate, but from all the published comparisons between the US outbreak and Italy’s, we are just a few days, probably less than a week, away from hospitals in the hot zones being over capacity and having to resort to excruciating levels of triage, literally choosing who lives and who dies.
Also, Republicans are being dragged kicking and screaming into the realization that our healthcare system and our gig economy mean that huge swathes of our population, without government intervention, face bankruptcy and death with no chance of treatment.
Each of us will have to choose how we live in this liminal space. For those who are able to go along with social distancing, we will need to learn to eat all our meals at home. We will need to find ways to occupy our time if we aren’t working and the usual sports entertainment is unavailable. But it is vital that we realize that despite being physically separated, we must embrace our shared humanity and the shared experience of facing the unknown together.
Maybe there’s someone who lives close to you who is even higher risk than you are. Perhaps you can give them a call and ask if they’d like you to leave a meal at their door. Maybe you have acquaintances whose employment has disappeared today. Maybe you can slip them a few bucks if you can afford it. Maybe they’d also like a meal at their door.
Even more frightening, is the “what will be” for folks who must continue working. Somehow, grocery stores will have to stay open. Police and fire services have to continue, along with EMS, of course. Healthcare workers are soon to be completely overwhelmed and most likely sequestered for the duration of the outbreak in areas where hospitals near capacity. If you know families of those workers, maybe they could use a hand with errands or meals. They will be terrified about their loved ones staying healthy while on the front lines of this battle. Support those families any way you can.
In the meantime, many thanks to all in this wonderful emptywheel community who have been chiming in with timely updates and analysis. Please keep it coming. So many people are getting so much help from you. But also, let’s have some fun too, to ease the tension. Share a joke. Share ideas for entertainment streaming for those sequestered. Above all, know that we are all in this together and our best bet for getting through it is to work together (just don’t cough on me or touch me).
John Galt Is Impotent In A Pandemic
Whatever term you might choose to use, there’s no disputing that if the epidemiologists are correct, the COVID-19 pandemic will be the largest, most impactful world event since 9/11. How we respond to the pandemic will define our society, likely for generations to come.
The response to 9/11 was close to exactly the opposite of what I would consider best. Instead of asking why small groups of people felt so ostracized and minimized that violence was their last resort and then acting to address the root causes, the US chose to demonize and further ostracize Muslims in generally, thereby creating a much larger and endless supply of new terrorists to fight. Over a million people died, many more millions were displaced and an entire generation of US military lives were wasted. But a handful of people got filthy rich off it.
The business and political worlds of today live for these discontinuities. Back when I was running an agricultural biotechnology startup, we were instructed that Monsanto and their spin-offs were so successful because they stood ready to respond to market discontinuities in their areas of operation. Regular, 1-3% annual changes in markets were for chumps. Giant change is what mattered, and so be it if mom and pop seed operations were obliterated by consolidating the entire seed industry. Likewise, in business generally in that era, the rise of the big box store was seen as a John Galt-like hero development as the parasitic small stores disappeared. Today, Big Bezos seems to be feasting off even those big boxes.
On the political front, Naomi Klein laid out in excruciating detail in Shock Doctrine how various disasters have been exploited by the political class to advance the interests of the oligarchy. Both civil rights and economic opportunity for huge portions of the population have been eroded.
Naomi Wolf warned us a few days ago to be on guard against deterioration of our rights in the COVID-19 outbreak:
As coronavirus spreads I just want to remind everyone to be on guard agains power grabs against civil liberties, using virus as rationale. “Never waste a good crisis” to mask the advance an otherwise unacceptable agenda, is the silent mantra of many political leaders.
The US aviation industry and the Trump administration are in a pitched battle over the response to the coronavirus pandemic, three sources familiar with recent calls between officials from several government agencies and US airlines have told CNN.
In a series of contentious conversations, agency officials and aviation executives have clashed over the administration’s demand that airlines collect new kinds of data from passengers to help officials track potential virus carriers.
Okay, on the surface, I’m all for public health officials being able to access information quickly on who was sitting near whom on a flight with an infected person and quickly contact those who need to self-quarantine and get tested. But how do we make sure that data doesn’t wind up being misused? Also, it appears that the Trump Administration also wants the airlines to collect information on recent other travel by passengers:
This industry official says it took the US aviation industry two years to meet post-9/11 requirements, which also involved data collection.
Airlines are concerned that the Federal Register gives no clear end date on the data collection and worry that the US government could continue forcing them to collect it “for other purposes.”
“It seems they want us to do this for forever and we are pushing back,” the first source familiar said. The airlines — particularly their lawyers — are worried about what Customs and Border Protection officials will do with the information.
Yeah, I wouldn’t trust the Trump Administration on that, either. I will leave it to Rayne to address what seems to be a real argument between the administration and the industry on just what information the airlines already have and whether their existing technology can provide it to the government. And Marcy can address whether it’s feasible or even possible to have any kind of effective firewall between public health officials and intelligence, criminal or immigration investigators when it comes to access to this information. There are serious competing interests here and recent experience suggests it won’t be resolved in favor of civil rights for many groups of people.
But what of the COVID-19 disruption? Rayne’s post yesterday provided much of the stark data. This tweet thread from Eli Pariser even goes so far as to suggest that we are just days away from the point at which Italy shut down large regions:
When hospitals are completely overwhelmed, there will be no Galt’s Gulch where heroes can wait out the outbreak. If we really see 20, 30 or even more than 50% of the global population being infected, the concept of isolation breaks down. No heroic action can be taken, because every single individual will be at risk for infection.
This impotence against the virus is because public health, in the end, is a social exercise. Will the outbreak become the discontinuity needed to convince the US to join the rest of the civilized world in making health care a social effort rather than a perk reserved for the very rich? If this doesn’t do it, it’s hard to imagine how it will ever happen.
US COVID-19 Cases Now Spreading Due To Trump’s Testing Restrictions And Dismantling Of Pandemic Response Teams
Back on January 31, Pulitzer Prize winner Laurie Garrett warned us how Donald Trump has dismantled the country’s ability to respond to a pandemic. Her Foreign Policy piece, headlined “Trump Has Sabotaged America’s Coronavirus Response“, Garrett opened with a description of the extreme measures taken in China:
The epidemic control efforts unfolding today in China—including placing some 100 million citizens on lockdown, shutting down a national holiday, building enormous quarantine hospitals in days’ time, and ramping up 24-hour manufacturing of medical equipment—are indeed gargantuan. It’s impossible to watch them without wondering, “What would we do? How would my government respond if this virus spread across my country?”
The problem, though, is that although Barack Obama built a working pandemic response structure during the Ebola outbreak (which of course Trump criticized incessantly on Twitter), that structure has now been obliterated:
In the spring of 2018, the White House pushed Congress to cut funding for Obama-era disease security programs, proposing to eliminate $252 million in previously committed resources for rebuilding health systems in Ebola-ravaged Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Under fire from both sides of the aisle, President Donald Trump dropped the proposal to eliminate Ebola funds a month later. But other White House efforts included reducing $15 billion in national health spending and cutting the global disease-fighting operational budgets of the CDC, NSC, DHS, and HHS. And the government’s $30 million Complex Crises Fund was eliminated.
In May 2018, Trump ordered the NSC’s entire global health security unit shut down, calling for reassignment of Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer and dissolution of his team inside the agency. The month before, then-White House National Security Advisor John Bolton pressured Ziemer’s DHS counterpart, Tom Bossert, to resign along with his team. Neither the NSC nor DHS epidemic teams have been replaced. The global health section of the CDC was so drastically cut in 2018 that much of its staff was laid off and the number of countries it was working in was reduced from 49 to merely 10. Meanwhile, throughout 2018, the U.S. Agency for International Development and its director, Mark Green, came repeatedly under fire from both the White House and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. And though Congress has so far managed to block Trump administration plans to cut the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps by 40 percent, the disease-fighting cadres have steadily eroded as retiring officers go unreplaced.
But it’s even worse than that. Until sometime over this last weekend, the Trump Administartion, through the CDC, blocked all entities other than CDC from running tests for COVID-19. They only allowed testing under such extremely narrow circumstances that pitifully few tests have been carried out to this point.
In an interview yesterday on KPFA (that I’m only halfway through listening to but just had to stop and write this part up) Garrett pointed out that New York City has had its own dedicated lab ready to go for testing for the past six weeks. Coupling that with the various reports coming out today on just how long it’s going to take for testing kits to get widespread distribution now that manufacturing is FINALLY kicking into high gear, we are presented with direct evidence of just how much damage Trump’s COVID-19 policies have done.
As Garrett points out, we are now seeing “community transmission” of the virus, meaning that cases are appearing in patients who have not traveled to known hot spots and who are not known to have had direct contact with someone confirmed to have the virus. Once community transmission is seen, the correct public health policy with respect to testing is to switch from narrow testing criteria to widespread testing. China was remarkably quick in developing and mass manufacturing DNA-based tests for the virus as soon as the sequence became available. That this was not done in the US is criminal, and the mounting death toll, now at 9, will drive this point home. That’s because, if you listen to the early part of Garrett’s interview, she compares COVID-19 to the 1918 flu pandemic. She describes characteristics of the spread of the virus that make widespread testing an incredibly important tool in containing its spread. Today’s news says we are weeks away from widespread testing. I fear just what we will see when wider testing is available.
Ted Yoho Says Lynching Is Not A Hate Crime
Yesterday, in an historic vote by the overwhelming total of 410 to 4, the US House of Representatives passed HR 35, the Emmitt Till Antilynching Act. Here is how the Washington Post described the efforts leading to the bill, which took over 100 years to pass:
The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed legislation that would make lynching a federal hate crime, more than 100 years since the first such measure was introduced in Congress.
H.R. 35, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, was approved on a bipartisan 410-to-4 vote after a sometimes emotional debate in the House. Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.), who sponsored the legislation, said the bill will “send a strong message that violence, and race-based violence in particular, has no place in American society.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also took to the floor to salute Rush for spearheading the bill and to urge members to support it.
“We cannot deny that racism, bigotry and hate still exist in America,” she said, citing the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, among other recent incidents.
The measure’s passage comes after lawmakers tried, and failed, to pass anti-lynching bills nearly 200 times.
So, who could possibly be against the idea of lynching being a hate crime? One of them turned out to be the Congressman from my district, Republican Ted Yoho. In an interesting coincidence, another is the Congressman from Marcy’s district, Independent Justin Amash. Yoho and Amash differ by the caucuses to which they belong. Yoho, along with fellow No-voter Louie Gohmert of Texas, belongs to the Freedom Caucus, which routinely supports the most extreme right-wing conservative Republican policies, especially those that repress any citizens besides old white males. Amash, on the other hand, along with fellow No-voter Thomas Massie of Kentucky, caucuses with fellow Libertarians. One might try to say that at least the Libertarians are trying to make the point that we don’t need an extra law to declare lynching a hate crime because killing is already a crime. I would counter that lynching occupies a position of huge significance in the history of our country and that its especially heinous nature, coupled with the intent to inflict terror on all people of color, makes it the ultimate hate crime and worthy of distinction even if no other crime rose to the level of a hate crime. For the Freedom Caucus members, it’s much easier to see how they get there. They are straight up racist in the bulk of their policies and they support a president who praised violent white nationalists who killed a protester in Charlottesville.
I’ll leave it to Marcy to go further into what may have led Amash to such a despicable position on this bill. The rest of this post will be aimed at describing and placing into context the severe harm that Yoho has done with this vote.
As a scientist, a horse owner and neighbor living just a few blocks away, I have struggled since his election to try to find some way to like Ted Yoho or to at least find a reason to admire him on even one front. After all, before he ran for office, he treated one of our horses once when he was the weekend area horse vet on call and one of our horses had a problem. Sadly, even though I know for a fact that he is a competent vet with the commensurate professional training and compassion for animals, his behavior in Congress has been to throw in with the extremely low-brow, anti-intellectual hate mongering that characterizes Trump’s Republican Party. Then, when he announced recently that he would not seek reelection this year, I had new hope that he would stop role-playing to get election funds and vote his conscience. That hope got dashed when Yoho continued boorish Freedom Caucus behavior and voted against both Trump articles of impeachment. Yesterday’s vote, then, leaves me unable to draw any other conclusion than that Yoho actually believes the racist tripe that the Freedom Caucus spouts if he’s willing to team up with fellow retiring dead-ender Gohmert to cast such a hate-filled vote.
But it gets much worse. As a resident of Alachua County, it seems impossible that Yoho would not know that our county has embarked on a Peace and Reconciliation Plan aimed at confronting the history of racial violence and lynching in our county. In November of 2018, a busload of Alachua County residents went to Montgomery, Alabama to visit the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Here is part of the description of that trip:
As part of a trip to Montgomery, Alabama, last month, members of our community visited the Legacy Museum, which explores the aftermath of slavery, lynching, Jim Crow laws and their link to mass incarceration in U.S. history. We met with officials from the Equal Justice Initiative, which administers the Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice about a mile away.
Through the Equal Justice Initiative’s work, descendants of lynching victims and others collect soil from the crime scenes into containers labeled with their names. Dozens of glass jars filled with dirt and clay line museum shelves. The intention is to gather the dried blood and tears, the symbolic DNA of the victims, to take it to a place where it will be honored and memorialized, instead of leaving it at a forgotten parking lot, roadside or remote wooded area.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice lists the names of more than 4,000 African American men, women and children lynched between 1877 and 1950 in 800 different counties across the country. The names are engraved on coffin-shaped metal slabs that stand or are suspended over the memorial space. From a distance, the rusting monuments in various shades of brown call to mind the bodies of these victims that haunt our history.
We read 18 names on the Alachua County slab, although local researchers have already identified more than twice that number of actual victims. Remembering this cruelty and honoring the memories of its victims does not mean we are dwelling in the past. Naming them and our role in this terror is a step in the process of transcending the past and beginning to heal.
The idea is to go through a truth and reconciliation process, and for each county to claim a replica of their historical marker to take back to their own community. As part of Alachua County’s truth and reconciliation process, we need to take an honest look at the following: the history of the role of slavery in the creation of wealth in our county; the history of lynching and illegal corporal punishment; and documentation of disproportionate negative contact and prosecution of persons of color by law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
More recently, on February 7 of this year, there was a memorial service in Gainesville to recognize the victims of racial violence in our county and to continue the process aimed at a permanent memorial in their honor. Here’s a partial screencap of the Gainesville Sun article on the service, showing the crowd gathered for the service. I was able to attend this service and found it extremely powerful:
That service was followed by another bus trip, this time to both Selma and Montgomery, Alabama on February 13 to February 15. I was able to join this group, as well. The feature image for this post is a view from inside the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, looking toward the large structure housing the monuments for each county’s list of lynching victims. Here’s the Alachua County monument:
But what really seared into my memory were the multiple collections of jars of soil from lynching sites. Here’s my photo of one such wall in the building housing the meeting room and gift shop at the National Memorial:
This powerful video, recorded prior to the completion of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, includes Bryan Stevenson (yes, this is the same Bryan Stevenson you will recognize from the movie “Just Mercy”) describing the soil collection process and shows some collections as they occurred:
When our group gathered for an informational meeting prior to the trip, we each drew a name of a victim of racial violence in Alachua County to take with us on the trip. Here’s the name I got:
This name is not on the memorial in Montgomery, as only 18 are carved in now. After further research, there are now over 40 known vicitms in our county. It was moving to walk through these sites commemorating what has happened to people of color in our county out of fear, prejudice and hate while holding onto this name. Then, on Tuesday of this week, our group re-gathered to share a meal and to hold our own memorial service. As each victim’s name was read off the list, a candle was lit in their honor and the person who had carried the name stood in our circular gathering of chairs. Just typing this memory brought me to tears.
On April 4, our community will gather just west of Gainesville in the small town of Newberry, but still within Alachua County, to collect soil from a known lynching site. I will do my best to go to this, since Reverend Josh Baskin(s) was among the Newberry 6 lynched in August of 1916.
Now consider just how damaging Ted Yoho’s vote yesterday is. Our community has been coming together for years in a process meant to draw attention to, to commemorate and to honor the victims of racial violence in our county. In the midst of this process, Yoho just inserted a vile piece of racial hatred that reminds us that the road to peace and reconciliation will not be short. It has taken 100 years for these victims to be recognized and for Congress to pass legislation pointing out the level of hatred involved. Yoho’s vote reminds us that the first African-American US president has been followed by a president who thrives on stoking racism and hatred.
But we must not give in. This quote from Rep. John Lewis’s book “Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America” was reproduced in the booklet with our trip information (and I had highlighted it when I read the book just before leaving):
Take a long hard look down the road you will have to travel once you have made a commitment to work for change. Know that this transformation will not happen right away. Change often takes time. It rarely happens all at once…
Use the words of the movement to pace yourself. We used to say that ours is not the struggle of one day, one week, or one year. Ours is not the struggle of one judicial appointment or presidential term. Ours is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe even many lifetimes, and each one of us in every generation must do our part. And if we believe in the change we seek, then it is easy to commit to doing all we can, because the responsibility is ours alone to build a better society and a more peaceful world.
There is so much comfort in these words from such a dedicated veteran of the movement. Sadly, Congressman Lewis was too ill to be present to cast a vote in favor of HR 35, but we can rest assured that he has voted in favor of every previous attempt to pass such a bill during his tenure in Congress.
To Ted Yoho, all we need to say is that your time for promoting hate in the US Congress is coming to an end at the end of this year. Your views will eventually lose out, and peace and justice will eventually come to our country. There are simply more people who are working for peace and justice than there are promoting hate. Even within our current Congress, which has many Republicans who endorse the bulk of the racist Republican agenda, you were outvoted by over 100-1 on the issue of lynching being a hate crime. The Senate and House versions of this legislation will soon be synchronized, and even if your racist president chooses to veto, there are enough votes to override this last-ditch effort to spread hate.
Preparing For The Inevitable Coronavirus Disease 2019 Outbreak
I am quite late to getting to a post on the new coronavirus, but headlines yesterday finally forced me to move ahead and gather info today. First, watch this incredibly informative video from the World Health Organization. It gives very good information on the biology of the virus and what’s going on in the outbreak:
Although Donald Trump and his media partners have been denying that Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a real cause for concern, there were multiple statements yesterday from US health officials that ranged from quite alarming to somewhat more reassuring. The announcements were summarized well by the Washington Post. Perhaps the most attention was paid to portions of what Dr. Nancy Messonnier provided in a telephone briefing yesterday morning. Dr. Messonnier is the Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. A recording of the briefing and a full transcript can be found here.
Of most note from the briefing is when Messonnier stated:
Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in this country. It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.
So, yes, spread of COVID-19 in the US is inevitable. Messonnier continued, discussing what can be done to try to contain the disease. Because there’s no vaccine or specific treatment for the virus, control has to be through what is termed non-pharmaceutical interventions or NPIs:
There are three categories of NPIs. Personal NPIs which include personal protective measures you can take every day and personal protective measures reserved for pandemics. Community NPIs which include social distancing measures designed to keep people who are sick away from others. And school closures and dismissals. And environmental NPIs which includes surface cleaning measures.
It’s in the category of potential community NPIs where the biggest concerns start to appear:
Now I’d like to talk through some examples of what community NPIs look like. These are practical measures that can help limit exposure by reducing exposure in community settings. Students in smaller groups or in a severe pandemic, closing schools and using internet-based teleschooling to continue education. For adults, businesses can replace in-person meetings with video or telephone conferences and increase teleworking options. On a larger scale, communities may need to modify, postpone, or cancel mass gatherings.
Messonnier expanded on the disruptions:
Secondary consequences of some of these measures might include missed work and loss of income. I understand this whole situation may seem overwhelming and that disruption to everyday life may be severe. But these are things that people need to start thinking about now.
So, yes, there may well be significant disruptions to everyday life in parts of the US. We of course don’t know when this would occur, or where in the US it would be. But this is a good time to start thinking about how a disruption to moving around for a couple of weeks would affect you. Here in Florida, we regularly have to prepare for a week or more of loss of electricity during hurricane season. Preparing for community control measures would be a bit different. Right now, my thoughts for our household are that I will stockpile a few extra large cuts of meat in the freezer. These are things I’d eventually use anyway, so it won’t hurt to have them around. I’ll increase a few of the pantry items that I wouldn’t otherwise increase until the start of hurricane season. I’ll beef up my supplies for baking bread. If a disruption starts looking more likely locally, I’ll even add some frozen veggies to my stockpile, but for now I’m going to rely mostly on my ongoing CSA supply.
But I’m not going to rush out and buy an N95 respirator facemask. The current recommendations from CDC do not recommend facemasks for the general public. They are only recommended for people who are sick or for those who are caring for someone who is sick. This and the other CDC recommendations for treatment and prevention can be found on this helpful page.
The key thing to remember in trying to avoid catching COVID-19, as described in the video above and on the CDC page linked just above, is to avoid being very close to sick people. The guideline mentioned is six feet. If you see someone who looks symptomatic, it shouldn’t be too hard to stay six feet from them. Also, if the virus is known or suspected to be in the area where you are, be especially careful to keep your hands below your shoulders at all times and to wash your hands frequently if visiting public places. As CDC describes here, transmission is thought primarily to be through aerosol droplets such as sneezes and coughs, but it remains possible that the virus could be picked up by touching contaminated surfaces.
Finally, people are also quite concerned about the prediction discussed here by Professor Marc Lipsich, an epidemiologist at Harvard. He has stated that it’s possible that a COVID-19 pandemic could result in 40-70% of people world-wide becoming infected. As Lipsich points out, however, that estimate must be coupled with the realization that we currently have no good estimate for what percentage of people who become infected develop few or no symptoms. In fact, moving out from his discussion, there currently are widely ranging estimates of what percentage of infected people die. Inside Wuhan, where the virus first emerged, estimates now are that 2.8% of those infected die. Outside Wuhan, however, that number drops to 0.18%, a difference of over 15-fold. For a discussion of how early we are in the process of understanding the epidemiology of this virus and why these numbers differ, see this paper.
The featured image for this post is in the public domain and comes from CDC. Here is the caption CDC provides: “This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).” Credit for the image goes to Alissa Eckert, MS, Dan Higgins, MAM.