8 April 2020 – Wednesday – #24

Seeing laundry out to dry is normal in Barcelona. It doesn’t matter what kind of neighborhood. I’ve used the secadora every time I’ve done my wash. It’s a bad American habit I haven’t been able to shake. Until yesterday. I finally hung my laundry out to dry yesterday. It was nice to watch it dry. It put some excitement in the day. Next time maybe I’ll drink a vermut while I watch, just to spice it up a little.

The questions on everyone’s minds in Spain are when and how. When do we get to go out? How do we do it? My friend Nicole is desperate for instructions. She’s been cooped up in her apartment with her four year old daughter for almost a month. She deserves a medal! Both of them do, really. We’re getting answers to these two questions bit by bit.

The Spanish government is mounting a Covid-19 testing program it calls Orfeu. I like the name Orfeu because Orpheus, as I know him, not only tried to rescue his wife from the dead, but also was a handsome musician, just the kind of guy I want to rescue me. Also because the Spanish put some imagination in their naming. I expect the Trump administration will name the American version of Orfeu something less inspired, like, I don’t know, maybe Project Re-elect Trump. Anyway, the goal of Orfeu is to test every Spaniard, including, I hope, residents like me.

Currently the government is running 24 x 7 Covid-19 PCR test manufacturing efforts from three locations, Centre de Regulació Genòmica, Institut de Bioenginyeria de Catalunya, and Institut de Recerca Biomèdica. It expects to provide 170,000 test kits in six weeks. Obviously, that is shy of Spain’s population of 47 million. At the expected rate of manufacturing, it would take Spain 32 years to test the current population once.

Project Orfeu is expected to ramp up additional manufacturers and to extend to other kinds of diagnostic tests. According to the La Vanguardia article, Spain has found a supply of reagents to build plenty of PCR tests. PCR tests determine whether someone has active Covid-19, but take a few days for results. The government also expects to roll out antibody testing, which is quicker but tests for Covid-19 exposure rather than for active virus.

Project Orfeu is a little light on the details so far, but it looks like the earliest we can expect to go outside is mid-May. The good news is someone in government is working on a testing plan. The hard part of good governance is in the details, especially the details of testing 47 million people. My friends and family in California and New York should pay attention because California and New York have roughly the same population as Spain and Spain is about 1-2 weeks ahead on the Covid-19 mortality curve. Mid-May gives the government here time to work out Project Orfeu details and gives me plenty of time to watch my laundry dry.

Unfortunately in the US, it’s America First in Covid-19 cases.

Covid-19 cases by country, 7 April 2020

While curves of Covid-19 cases remain flat in Asia and are flattening in Europe, the US president is trying to blame everyone but himself for continued growth in US cases. Trump denies knowing about memos in January and February warning over 500k Americans would die of Covid-19, memos that he should have known about, but that doesn’t keep the president from blaming WHO officials who he says “should have known and they probably did know” how bad covid-19 was in China. It’s classic for this president to project his guilt rather than to acknowledge a shortcoming.

In the absence of a federal government response in the US, state governments are stepping up coordination. As an example, state governors are coordinating scarce ventilator resources, with Washington Governor Inslee returning 400 ventilators for other states to use. It seems like the states are reinventing the federal government, making a version that works for the states instead of for the president.

My social media feeds have started to look a bit like 4chan. Somehow the unproven drug hydroxychloroquine, the drug the president is hawking at his campaign rallies press conferences, has become a raging debate. Hydroxychloroquine is Trump’s Kool aid.

Friends also are making the “cure is worse than the disease” argument that Trump threw out, that a lockdown does more damage than letting Covid-19 run its course. I point them to Ecuador and Turkmenistan as examples of what happens when there is no Covid-19 response, either due to lack of resources or strongman policies.

From my remote view in Barcelona, I see this social media lunacy as a kind of grasping at straws while the US Covid-19 numbers skyrocket and the virus pandemic sweeps through less developed countries. It’s a landscape that plays to the benefit of confidence men and strongmen. It’s all horribly reminiscent of AIDS.

In my 18 March Covid Diary BCN entry, I wrote about the Spanish artist José Manuel Ballester who removes humans from iconic artwork. It’s a genre now. Two San Francisco bay area artists have started a website full of social distancing masterpieces in the time of Covid-19.

Stay home. Save lives.

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