16 April 2020 – Thursday – #32

A couple days ago, I wrote about Covid-19 statistics in South Dakota and its neighboring states Nebraska and North Dakota. South Dakota has twice as many per capita Covid-19 cases as its neighbors because its governor hasn’t ordered social distancing.

Sadly, 300 employees at the Sioux Falls Smithfield processing plant, which produces five percent of US pork products, have tested positive for Covid-19. This, along with the four employee deaths at a Tyson processing plant in Georgia, highlight the dangers not only of maintaining the food supply through the pandemic, but also of lifting lockdowns prematurely.

At a Tyson facility in GA, workers are still shoulder-to-shoulder on the deboning line, many earning less than $14/hour. Four employees have died of COVID. The workers I talked to there said they felt like they have to choose between their health and their livelihood.

Charlie Gile, NBC News producer

It’s a reminder that prematurely lifting lockdowns is mostly a white privelege thing. Until there’s a vaccine, remote workers and office workers won’t die in numbers like the production and retail workers who make our physical world livable.

In case you don’t remember, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem does have a response to Covid-19. Her response is extensive hydrochloroquine trials. I hope she hangs up on Jared Kushner and reads this.

Unfortunately, the first hydroxychloroquine trial I’ve seen with a reasonable sample size and a control group indicates the drug provides no benefits and poses cardiac risks. 84 patients received hydroxychloroquine within 48 hours of hospital admission, and 97 did not. According to the researchers, “These results do not support the use of HCQ in patients hospitalised for documented SARS-CoV-2-positive hypoxic pneumonia.”

And, in case you thought Dr. Raoult’s hydroxychloroquine trials were too good to be true, those same trials Trump relied on to say he had the Covid-19 magic bullet, well, they were. In his second “study,” Raoult claimed 98% cure rate. No health institution was reporting anything close to that anecdotally, let alone in a proper trial.

Until there’s a proper study, don’t trust anything will save you from Covid-19. Even nebulized hydrogen peroxide, which, for some reason, I expect Trump to tout next.

The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt. Even those of the intelligent who believe that they have a nostrum are too individualistic to combine with other intelligent men from whom they differ on minor points.

Bertrand Russell, Triumph of Stupidity, his essay about the rise of the Nazi movement

There always will be quacks and the people who love to tweet about them, but there also is great science in action. The effort to create a Covid-19 vaccine is unprecedented. Within six months of the first Covid-19 cases, over 100 vaccines are in development. By comparison, in the 40 years since the first US AIDS cases, there have been six human trials of HIV vaccines (HIV still infects about two million people per year).

Here’s a great overview of the pipeline of Covid-19 vaccines. Johnson & Johnson has the most aggressive stated delivery of January 2021 for a Covid-19 vaccine available through FDA Emergency Use Authorization. That’s if nothing goes wrong. What could possibly go wrong? A whole list of complex things like safety, efficacy, scaling, and distribution. Oh, and funding. Remember Trump stopped paying WHO yesterday. Well, many of these Covid-19 vaccine efforts are funded by WHO.

Most vaccine efforts from large pharmaceutical companies expect a scaleable product by late 2021. That seems like a reasonable timeframe for planning purposes.

My social feed is again full of people worried that the lockdown is an over-reaction, that “the cure is worse than disease,” that public health isn’t taking the economy seriously. In my mind, this is a symptom of on-going angst from staying at home with nothing to do but watch the value of retirement and bank accounts plummet. People’s concerns about money are rational. And irrational. We humans are like that.

The world is headed for a worldwide depression. If you’re not clear about that, read this no-nonsense update from United Airlinee to its 100,000 employees about its current condition.

Travel demand is essentially zero and shows no sign of improving in the near-term. To help you understand how few people are flying in this environment, less than 200,000 people flew with us during the first two weeks of April this year, compared to more than 6 million during the same time in 2019, a 97 percent drop. And we expect to fly fewer people during the entire month of May than we did on a single day in May 2019.

United Airlines letter to its employees

The falling economy adds to the feeling of loss of control that Covid-19 leaves in its wake. Many people aren’t happy when they lose control. In Michigan, for instance, Operation Gridlock brought thousands of protestors to the state capitol with calls to “lock her up.” “Her” being not, of course, Hillary Clinton, but Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who’s ordered a statewide lockdown.

I’m wondering if the Michigan protestors thought guns would make them safer from the virus. They should try shooting one. More likely the protestors want guns in case Covid-19 makes people do irrational things. Did any of them remember to bring a mirrror?

Then there’s Ohio, which has pulled off a great Covid-19 social distancing response with a commensurate low death rate. Not everyone is happy with these great results, though. Here’s a great photo of protestors who want to reopen Ohio.

One Wyoming study asserts that the US actually comes out US$5.2 trillion ahead in spite of huge economic losses from the lockdowns. It estimates the lives saved by social distancing and assigns a value of US$10 million to a life, a common amount the government uses to value human life. This seems like as reasonable a way as any to assess the economic benefit of lockdowns, but there are plenty of other studies people can cite in their social media feeds to assert that the lockdowns cost more than they’re worth. I think this debate will fill many PhD theses.

My pat response to “the cure is worse than the disease” is: take a vacation to Ecuador. If you don’t like government lockdowns, try Guayaquil’s de facto lockdown after its healthcare system collapsed and Covid-19 mortality reached 1,000 – 2,000 deaths per million.

Another way to look at it is, take a vacation to Taiwan or Vietnam, where testing and quarantines were so effective, these countries Covid-19 mortalities don’t register on Covid-19 comparison charts. You’ll have to quarantine for 14 days when you arrive, but then you can enjoy life without Covid-19. Taiwan now is exporting masks to Europe and the US to help their Covid-19 responses. Of course there is a White House scandal. You knew there had to be. The scandal is that while Trump was telling Americans masks weren’t necessary, the White House placed an order with Taiwan so its staff would have masks.

However fast we “reopen the economy” (I still don’t know what that means), the I-told-you-so-ing will swamp my social media feed. This is a preview of what I expect.

Get ready for I Told You So

If anything really sucks during the time of Covid-19, it’s dating. I was having lots of fun meeting men in Barcelona before 10 March. I even paid for a Grindr subscription a couple weeks before the lockdown. Without a subscription, Grindr limits how many men you can “see” and sorts them by vicinity. Because of the Generator Hostel a block away, that meant that my Grindr view of gay Barcelona was swamped by nearby young male travelers. Not that that’s so bad, but I wanted to explore a little further than 500 meters from the apartment.

Now that I have a Grindr subscription, I can hardly believe my extended, ahem, range. I “see” men all over Barcelona and even as far away as France (I know, I know, “I see London, I see …”). I even can have more involved interactions (wink, wink) when we decide to move over to WhatsApp or Zoom. But, you know, the thing that sucks about all this online wooing is that actual physical intimacy is weeks away.

I almost felt sorry for myself. Then Brad sent me this.

Clearly I’m not doing the online dating thing right.

I’d love it if you help me meet men. In the meantime, if you like what you read, please share me with your friends.

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