10 April 2020 – Friday – #26

Here’s a Barcelona Covid-19 report from Sky News yesterday. The report makes it clear that, even if Spain has turned the corner, the situation in hospitals here isn’t improving yet.

I’m a little unclear now about Spanish Covid-19 mortality numbers, not only from this Sky News report, but also from the research I did after I posted yesterday about BCG vaccine and how it might have affected Spanish Covid-19 mortality. On news as important as the BCG vaccine, I try to cover my bases before I write. I relied on two sources for what I wrote as well as a scientific paper, so I stand by my basic story. I have to retract the Spanish part of my BCG vaccine story for two reasons.

The first problem with my Spanish claim is that I didn’t check a footnote carefully. The BCG World Atlas says that all of Spain received BCG vaccinations from 1961 to 1981. I didn’t pick that up and it’s inconsistent with what I wrote yesterday. Apologies for that. Subsequently, I haven’t been able to confirm what the BCG World Atlas reports. Several local sources (who are old enough to know) don’t remember any BCG vaccine program in Catalonia.

The second problem with my claim is Spain’s official Covid-19 mortality numbers. My Covid-19 calculations based on Google search results line up within a few percent of the Covid-19 numbers in El País. What the El País country wide numbers show, though, is that not only are Catalonia and Basque Country Covid-19 deaths per capita low compared to Madrid, but also that the rest of Spain is low compared to Madrid. More importantly, when I showed my numbers to one of my doctors and asked about getting a prophylactic BCG vaccination, his response boiled down to don’t rely on the official Spanish numbers to make that decision.

Parenthetically, as I researched this, I ran across two interesting tidbits. One is that Madrid’s population has been surreptitiously escaping Madrid at night when the police aren’t watching. Unlike New York City, whose population can leave whenever it pleases (except, as Brad notes, Fran Lebowitz, who’s everyone’s designated New Yorker), Spain imposed travel restrictions on Madrileños to keep them from carrying Covid-19 to the countryside and overwhelming rural healthcare. Based on utility consumption and trash production, mayors outside Madrid estimate their populations have doubled or tripled from the nocturnal exodus.

The second tidbit is that there are some excellent resources for tracking Covid-19 that I didn’t know about. I’ll put these on the Resources page so everyone can find them later. One resources is the NIH Covid-19 clinical study list. There were 388 studies when I looked yesterday. There are 410 studies right now. Another Covid-19 resources is the Covid 19 research page maintained by the National University of Singapore. This has a good list of Covid-19 related articles and it’s easy to tell what’s new. A third resource is a public Covid-19 data lake on Amazon AWS. Large data sets differentiate the Covid-19 pandemic from previous epidemics and may be the way the world gets to a Covid-19 solution faster than ever. Unfortunately, that comes with the caveat that it’s sometimes hard to know, as in the case of Spanish Covid-19 mortality data, the quality of the data during such a rapidly unfolding event.

Anyway, apologies for yesterday’s Spanish claim. I did qualify it when I wrote it and provided an update as soon as I knew about possible problems with what I wrote. The rest of what I wrote yesterday is based on the two sources and the scientific paper, which you, dear reader, may check. It still looks like BCG vaccine is a viable Covid-19 prophylaxis and can attenuate mortality until there is a vaccine. I’m waiting to request a vaccination until there is more information on the trade-offs. I’m not in a hurry for another ugly scar.

My predicament about how to value Spain’s official Covid-19 mortality numbers is also a predicament about how to value the models predicting where the Covid-19 pandemic goes from here. One problem is good data, another is a good model. Looking at the official Italian and Spanish numbers, I’m still optimistic that both countries have peaked. But if I’ve learned in the last twenty four hours of research on BCG vaccinations in Spain, it’s that there is a lot of uncertainty in both data and models.

While I’m trying to role model good data analysis and reporting, Fox News, which has a somewhat larger audience than Covid Diary BCN, claims that that the US is over-reporting Covid-19 mortality. Fox commentators are asserting that if someone has, say, a heart condition and dies while they have Covid-19, then that case should be classified as a heart failure rather than a Covid-19 casualty.

“We’ve made it very clear, every time I’ve been up here, about the comorbidities.This has been known from the beginning. So those individuals will have an underlying condition, but that underlying condition did not cause their acute death when it’s related to a COVID infection.”

U.S. coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx during Wednesday’s White House coronavirus task force press briefing

The Fox News agenda is to get people back to work. And it’s working, at least for religion and gun rights. In Kansas, the GOP overrode the governor, who had banned religious gatherings. In Idaho, Ammon Bundy is leading a so-called Liberty Rebellion. At a meeting that probably violated Idaho’s restrictions on social gatherings, Bundy said, “If it gets bad enough, and our rights are infringed upon enough, we can physically stand in defense in whatever way we need to.” Infringement of rights is code for taking away guns. “In whatever way we need to” is code for using guns. Meanwhile, Vice President Pence is already laying out the plan to open up the US economy. In the Vice President’s words, “No one wants to reopen America more than President Donald Trump.”

I hope Fox News, the Kansan GOP, Ammon Bundy, and the people advocating a rapid reopening of the US economy take a look at the Sky News report above. Spain is officially over the mortality hump, but its hospitals continue to add capacity for patients.

Trump and Fox News want a narrative that the US economy is opening in order to win re-election. If anyone is sure that the pandemic is ending soon or claims to know how this pandemic ends, it’s likely because they have something to sell. The truth right now is no one knows how it ends.

While we’re on the subject of having something to sell, I haven’t noticed any shortages at the stores I’ve visited in the past week. In the US, though, it seems that food distribution is having some of the same problems as toilet paper distribution. That is, there is plenty of food, but the food in commercial distribution systems to restaurants and cafeterias doesn’t have a good way to get into retail grocery outlets. For one thing, commercial food products typically are larger and commercial recipes are often by can size. How many households can use a #10 can of green beans that weighs six pounds? Nevertheless, with the restaurant business closed down, restaurant wholesalers now are opening up for retail business.

In Barcelona there are long lines in front of stores, not because of any shortages, but because everything closes down from Friday to Monday for Easter weekend. Except Saturday, a fruit stand owner at Mercat de La Concepció reminded me twice yesterday as I dropped strawberries in my cart. The stores will be open Saturday.

There was a line at the post office, too, but the nice thing was being allowed to wait outside at the post office instead of inside. I think all post offices should consider making outside lines a permanent policy.

Line outside the post office on Passeig de Sant Joan in Barcelona.

All this holiday store closing shenanigans is an adjustment for someone from New York, the city that never sleeps. Or is it the city that never slept?

Happy Good Friday. To my Jewish friends, a belated Happy Passover. Everyone is making Covid-19 adjustments to their rituals.

A friend in Egypt pointed out that the month long Muslim celebration of Ramadan is right around the corner. He’s worried that shortened store hours during the holiday will set the stage for overcrowding and infection.

My San Francisco friend David posted on his Facebook page The Coronaggadah, A Passover Haggadah for This New Age of the Plague, a very amusing update to Jewish tradition.

Saint John the Divine Church, once my neighborhood Episcopal church, will celebrate Easter as a Covid-19 field hospital. It’s a good holiday story about putting aside our differences to help one another. I hope someone in the White House hears it.

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