23 March 2020 – Monday – #8

Remember last month when reclining seats was the hot airline topic? It’s no longer a question of how comfortable I’ll be flying back to the US, but whether I can fly to the US at all. According to yesterday’s email from the US State Dept (or “Deep State Dept” as Dear Leader now calls it):

U.S. citizens who wish to depart Spain should do so now. Options to return to the United States from Spain using commercial carriers, via direct flights or flights with layovers in third countries, are extremely limited. We expect commercial flights to end this week. We expect all hotels, hostels, and other accommodation to close this week.

The State Dept probably is sending this because it’s not clear it will be able to maintain consular functions in Spain in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak here. Also because it’s probably accurate.

It feels weird knowing I can’t go home for weeks, probably months. There’s no going back for now. I’m entrusting myself to Spain.

On the other had, what the fuck is going on in New York City.

One reason I decided not to return to New York (or California) is that it seems like Spain, in spite of the horrific increase in Covid-19 cases here, is responding better than the US. President Sanchez announced yesterday that the country would add fifteen more days to the general lockdown, bringing the total lockdown days to 30. My understanding is that the President could order the first 15 days on his own, but needs congressional approval for additional days. My local friends say the lockdown is bound to last longer, but telling the Spanish they have to stay inside until May would be political suicide.

According to yesterday’s official numbers, there are four regions in Spain that are bearing the brunt of the infection, La Rioja, Madrid, Navarra, and País Vasco. Charts for each of these four regions show the increases in Covid-19 notifications (I believe, but haven’t confirmed, that a “notficación” means a report to the government of a case) (note different vertical axis scales).

Things in Catalunya, by comparison, don’t look so bad.

The largest per-capita Covid-19 outbreak in Catalunya so far has been in Igualada, not the capital, Barcelona. If the trend continues for a few days, it’s safe to say the region in general, and Barcelona in particular, has escaped the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic for now. This looks a lot safer to me than New York or California.

Parenthetically, following up on yesterday’s Catalonian government form mystery, my friend Ruben found an explanation for its use. The form itself (Certificat autoresponsable de desplaçament en el marc de l’estat d’alarma per la crisi sanitària per la COVID-19) shows the reasons you may leave your residence.

As Covid-19 cases multiply exponentially in the US, hospitals there are facing dire shortages of beds, supplies, and staff. Absent a federal government response (ah, memories of AIDS), state and local governments are stepping in. Even hospitals are putting out calls for help. In Boston, Massachusetts General Hospital asked people with 3D printers to produce masks. In New York City, teaching doctors like Craig Spencer are helping out in Emergency Rooms.

Meantime, the Trump administration is bickering. After Dr. Fauci’s comments about working with the president, we’ll see if the president invites Fauci to join him at the podium ever again. Perhaps this is Fauci’s way of calling the president’s bluff, essentially putting the president on notice that if he (Fauci) can’t call the public health shots, the president should find someone else.

Meantime, the House and Senate are bicking over a US$2 trillion stimulus package, McConnell breaking off negotiations to push a corporate bailout while Pelosi and Schumer fight for more aid to low income people. A vote is set for noon ET today. I’m not sure why Congress cares how the money is allocated. Trump, who just survived an impeachment for misspending taxpayer dollars in Ukraine and who has invoked his emergency powers to hijack DoD budget for his Mexican wall, should have a field day spending US$2 trillion to buy his 2020 re-election. Don’t believe me? Trump wants US$500 billion to spend as he sees fit! You can’t make this stuff up.

Ironically, the first US senator to test positive for Covid-19, Rand Paul, is a doctor. Like most politicians, he is a social creature. He used the Senate gym yesterday before the test result. He left the Senate immediately after receiving his positive result. Now at least one other senator is asking why Paul didn’t isolate himself sooner, like, you know, instead of going to the gym. Did I mention Rand Paul is a doctor? You can’t make this stuff up.

And look who else is infected with Covid-19: celebrity inmate Harvey Weinstein! Which, if there were any justice, should alert officials that populations of prisoners, immigrant detainees, and refugees are at enormous risk of Covid-19 infection. Keeping large populations clustered together with minimal or non-existent medical services is a public health recipe for disaster. State and local prisons are cutting off access to oversight committees that monitor public health at prisons and that might order the release of low-risk convicts and low-income inmates who can’t make bail. Instead of releasing immigrant detainees to reduce public health risks, the Trump administration is ordering immigration court workers to continue proceedings, increasing the health risks not only to immigrants, but also to employees of the immigration justice system. Around the world, migrants and refugees everywhere are at the mercy of local authorities and, like these Tajik refugees stuck at airports with nowhere to go, have no defense against Covid-19. You can’t make this stuff up.

It’s not that bad, is it? Covid-19? Not that many people who get it die, right? If you still think that, then read this Michael-Crichton-like tale about what happens when you get infected with Covid-19.

And last, but not least, for today. If you lose your sense of smell, isolate yourself immediately. About 30% of Covid-19 cases present with loss of smell, or anosmia. I’m still checking out why anosmia would be related to Covid-19 infection. It may be nothing more than Covid-19 causes sinusitis and sinusitis is a cause of anosmia. Correlation is not causation. But it’s better to be safe than sorry. [UPDATE: In the US, it looks like anosmia is common in older adults with a higher prevalence in Blacks. So, anosmia seems like a valid indicator for Covid-19 infection unless you’re over 80.]

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