24 March 2020 – Tuesday – #9

Let’s start with fake news that seems more salacious than nefarious.

First off, these photos are of the Spanish Legion, which currently serves mostly in overseas deployments including NATO peacekeeping missions. Second, photos used in this and similar posts were first available online between 2013 and 2018, long before Covid-19 hit the scene last year. What is true about these photos, however, is that Spanish men are hot. Also, like me, they’re mostly in isolation right now. Not in the same place as I am, though. Que lastima.

The Army is reportedly in Barcelona, although I haven’t seen any of them yet on my street. According to the local press, they are involved in cleaning operations and setting up more hospital beds.

Speaking of enforcement, one of my friends reported this morning that a couple she knew was given a fine for shopping together. Apparently these fines are significant, like hundreds of Euros. The policy is one person at a time right now, probably to keep friends from congregating. My friend is a single mother and her concern is whether she’ll be fined if she takes her young daughter along. There isn’t really an alternative.

The unfortunate update to yesterdayś entry is that cases in Catalunya shot through the roof yesterday, with 1,939 new infections reported in a day. According to the chart I posted yesterday, this is roughly double the worst day so far. The total cases in the region is now 7,864. It looks like the lockdown will last a while longer.

The other unfortunate update is the movement in the US to curtail social distancing. After I wrote about it in yesterday’s entry, it came up again during a video chat with my friend Joel who lives in LA. He’s from Texas and much of his family lives there. Joel tipped me off that Texas wants to end social distancing and return to work, echoing the president’s call to get the economy going again. This morning I found reports of a Fox interview with 69-year-old Republican Lt. Governor Dan Patrick of Texas yesterday. Patrick advocates getting back to work as the best thing to do for the future of the country. That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

Florida’s Governor makes it sound good, too! Floridians will be testing the jobs-before-health plan for the rest of the country.

If I may say one thing sitting in my perch in Barcelona where we’re in the middle of a lockdown, it is this: don’t fucking stop social distancing!

If you don’t believe me, for the love of Goddess, check out what Director of Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security Tom Inglesby has to say about social distancing.

If you don’t believe me, for the love of everything precious, check out this thorough piece on Covid-19 response options available to governments, Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance. [Tl;dr: the most cost-effective response is to lockdown for about five weeks.] In a chart, here’s how a lockdown response (the “hammer”) compares to alternatives.

If you don’t like the “Hammer,” feel free to find a better response with this cool epidemic calculator on Github. Social distancing reduces R, the measure of how many other people an infected person infects. When R < 1, then an epidemic will attenuate on its own. You can bet your bottom dollar that public health officials know exactly how these equations work and that’s why they’re recommending social distancing and hand washing.

I think in about a week the US will feel this viscerally as we do in Barcelona today. Humans aren’t good at sensing exponential change. As nightmare reports emerge from hospitals and people start dropping like flies, social distancing seems like a really good idea.

So, why would Trump want to curtail social distancing, the main method experts advocate for reducing R? Why would he want to get people back to work? Why would he choose a strategy no other country is following? Is it really for the economy?

It could be for the economy. One obvious reason is that he’s watching the US economy tank and that hurts his chance for reelection. But the US economy isn’t going to significantly outperform the world economy, which, let me tell you from here in Spain, is also tanking.

It also could be for himself. Another reason he could be advocating more work and less distance is that his personal business is hemorrhaging worse than a Covid-19 patient. Six of his seven biggest revenue producing properties have been shut down. With Mar-a-lago closed, he’s also lost his closest social circle and favorite golf course. He claims not to know how a bailout would help his businesses, but that seems the first question he would have asked Mitch McConnell.

Another important question is why does anyone believe any public health claims by Trump at this point? I don’t ask that lightly. For instance, his assertion, based on an incomplete trial on 20-some people in France, that hydroxychloroquine is the silver bullet against Covid-19 has resulted not only in unnecessary deaths of people who believe him in the US and overseas, but in shortages of the drug for people who legitimately need it.

Please don’t stop social distancing. It will make me happy if you don’t.

Also, please don’t leave the Covid-19 outbreak in your city for what seems like a safer place in the country. A New York City friend posed that question yesterday on Facebook, considering driving with his roommates to the countryside.

Nantucket is one place people go to escape the city. A pretty fancy place. It has seen an increase in population during the Covid-19 outbreak on the east coast, presumably form summer residents seeking shelter from the virus. I’ve read, but not confirmed, that Nantucket has three ventilators. Summer residents who go to Nantucket for their own safety are potentially spreading Covid-19 to permanent residence. I have news for my city friends. The swamped healthcare infrastructure that’s going to get the most help is not in small towns like Nantucket, it’s in the big city where the cases are. Stick with your city.

A couple of pieces of useful news. This is the best article I’ve seen so far on food safety. It confirms what I’ve written before about decontamination. It also says that food and food packaging are probably not significant Covid-19 vectors. One point I hadn’t thought of is that Covid-19 transmission is through the human respiratory system, not the digestive system.

This 2018 overview of both experimental and observational study of respiratory viruses from the scientific journal Current [Opinion] in Virology (COVIRO) explains that respiratory viruses reproduce along the respiratory tract—a different pathway than the digestive tract food follows when you swallow it. And while you might say that you just inhaled that salad, more likely you ate it with a fork and swallowed it.

This is reminiscent of HIV, which is spread by blood-to-blood or semen-to-blood contact. You don’t get HIV from touching it or swallowing it. Same with Covid-19.

Another piece of news is that wearable experiments are starting. Here, for instance, is an article about using wearable rings to detect Covid-19 in healthcare workers. A smart thermometer maker aggregates thermometer data to make disease outbreak maps. The next phase of the pandemic, the phase that starts as soon as possible and that lasts until there is a vaccine, cure, or treatment, is the widespread testing phase. Lots of antibody tests are coming to market worldwide, which is good news. Those need to scale and reporting of testing results needs to be integrated into public health processes before this next phase helps the economy. Coupling Machine Learning with wearables to detect Covid-19 would add an important screening tool to this coming phase.

Is anyone at Apple, Google, or Fitbit using ML to detect Covid-19 on wearables?

Last, but not not least, my friend Rigel did research on the word quarantine and posted this from Wikipedia:

The word quarantine comes from quarantena, meaning “forty days”, used in 14th-15th-century Venetian language and designating the period that all ships were required to be isolated before passengers and crew could go ashore during the Black Death plague epidemic; it followed the trentino, or thirty-day isolation period, first imposed in 1377 in Venetian-dominated Ragusa.

One of Rigel’s friend commented about the Spanish association with the word:

It’s also tradition in Spanish speaking countries to have your first quarentena after you give birth. (Which in Spanish is Dar a Luz: to give light) which I always thought was really beautiful way of looking at birth and death

So, I’ve learned a little Spanish already today. We’re all learning a lot about birth and death.

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