17 April 2020 – Friday – #33

It occurred to me this morning that there will be at least one clear signal when it’s okay to “open up the economy.” I woke up thinking about what test I might give my friends who insist it’s important to open up the economy, which I believe is their subconscious euphism for make life the way it was. The test was staring me in the face. It was in the letter from United Airlines to its employees from which I excerpted yesterday.

The test for my friends who tell me it’s time to open up the economy is this question: when is your next flight?

Before you tell me it’s time to “open up the economy,” tell me when you’re flying. That tells me that you believe it’s safe out there. If you’re not flying, it’s not for lack of available seats. It’s because you don’t feel safe sitting for hours in a sealed metal tube sharing Covid-19 enriched air with other people.

So, please, book your flight and then tell me it’s time to open up the economy. In the meantime, pay attention to the people who are dying while we, who sit in the safety of our homes working remotely, want things to be normal. When it’s safe for you to fly, it’s safe for them to work.

Yesterday the first Covid-19 fatality was reported at Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls, which now has 644 confirmed cases of Covid-19.

I stumbled onto this meat processing story because I was comparing South Dakota Covid-19 statistics to its neighboring states. As you may remember, South Dakota is going full Trump in it’s response. Governor Kristi Noem has not ordered social distancing, which is known to reduce Covid-19 infections. She wants the economy to keep going. Instead, on the advice of the president and his son-in-law, she has invested in hydroxychloroquine treatments. Unfortunately for South Dakota, studies show hydroxychloroquine does not improve Covid-19 outcomes.

It’s sad that meat processing workers in South Dakota and elsewhere are dying. It didn’t have to be. Processors could have invested in safer working condidtions. Some made small workplace modifications like suspending plastic sheets between workers, modifications that were enough to cover their legal liability, but clearly not enough to stop Covid-19 infections.

Instead of taking the pain up front when they had more flexibility, meat processors have to fix a health problem with no crebility that they care about anything other than profit. As meat processors close down plants in response to Covid-19, the entire meat industry is adjusting. On the suppy side, cattle auctions have stopped. On the demand side, meat prices are expected to rise.

“I lost him because of that horrible place. Those horrible people and their supervisors, they’re sitting in their homes, and they’re happy with their families.”

Angelita Rodriguez, 73, widow of Augustín Rodriguez, 64, the first Covid-19 fatality at Smithfield’s Sioux Falls pork processing plant, through a translator

To my friends who aren’t buying airline tickets and want things back to normal, remember that people are dying and critical food supply chains are breaking. It’s not that easy to “open up the economy.”

Also, Americans have to remember that US enemies are initiating and amplifying messages Americans share on social media to open the economy and use untested treatments like hydroxychloroquine. This is a perfect time for Russia, China, and North Korea to whittle away at US power. In fact, they are. So, my friends who aren’t buying airline tickets and claiming hydroxychloroquine is a valuable treatment and want to open up the economy, think about who wants you to propogate those messages.

Then there is Singapore to consider. Singapore is a cautionary tale that even when we think we can “open up the economy,” Covid-19 can come roaring right back.

Recent uptick in Singapore Covid-19 cases

Singapore had Covid-19 infections under control until last week when clusters of infections broke out in worker dormitories.

Time for a Trump rant. Apologies in advance. On 28 March, nearly three weeks ago, I wrote that Trump’s invocation of the Defense Procurement Act forcing auto makers to produce ventilators was a capitulation to Covid-19. It was his first concrete action acknowledging the reality of Covid-19 was something too large to paper over with messaging. It seemed like a sea change. I was hopeful that the president’s capitulation to the virus was a turning point in his administration’s response, that “things would happen,” as they say.

Things have not gone well since. The federal government has failed miserably to coordinate Covid-19 activities or provide critical medical supplies (other than hydroxychloroquine). Presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner has taken time off from his Middle East peace assignment to put his managerial heft behind Operation Airbridge, an effort to secure critical Covid-19 supplies so secretive that even FEMA, the government agency in charge of emergency responses, doesn’t know what’s getting shipped where.

FEMA has reported that the agency does not actually know how much PPE is being sent on the Project Airbridge flights until they’re loaded overseas, which [U.S. Representatives] Thompson and Maloney say makes it “unclear” how federal authorities determine where to send the flights to, if they don’t actually know what supplies will be available. The Times also reports that the federal government is seizing or canceling PPE orders placed by states—despite telling the states that they should be getting their own supplies—since the Airbridge strategy requires distributors to send half of their shipments to whatever regions the federal government has prioritized, with only the other half going to companies or states that had actually placed orders. And what areas the federal government deems a priority appears to be shaded by personal politics, as the Times notes that Kushner has pushed supplies to states that have happened to get President Donald Trump on the phone, even if they haven’t submitted formal requests.

Lawmakers Want to Know: WTF is Jared Kushner Doing, Vanity Fair, 9 April 2020

As with Middle East peace, Kushner has no idea what he’s doing. The administration’s problems go far beyond Trump’s reliance on someone as inept as Kushner to pull off a supply chain miracle. The president argues with state governors instead of coordinating their efforts. He announces a Great American Revival before Covid-19 has peaked in the US. He blames WHO and China because, unlike countries like South Korea and Germany that paid attention to WHO, he doesn’t want us to notice he cannot articulate a coherent Covid-19 response.

The Trump Administration is failing to manage not only its Covid-19 repsonse, but also the faltering economy. One shining example is Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mark Calabria, formerly a top aide to Vice President Mike Pence. Calabria is clinging to his libertarian free market principles in the midst of the worst economic meltdown since 1929. In declining to backstop mortgage lenders because idealogically he insists on shrinking Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, he could single-handedly destroy the US housing market in the middle of a pandemic. Regardless of your philosophical leanings, this is hardly the best financial environment to risk restructuring a key component of the US economy.

Now, surprise!, it looks as though the White House also is using Covid-19 funds to pay off its friends. While avoiding congressional oversight of the US$2 trillion Covidd-19 stimulus package, the Trump administration quietly awarded US$55 million for N95 masks to Panthera, a bankrupt Virginia company with no office and no employees. Because the Trump Organization’s most profitable properties are closed by public health orders, it seems entirely possible Trump is using deals like this to bail out his own business empire with taxpayer money.

Trump made another capitulation yesterday, a political capitulation, by officially turning over the country’s Covid-19 resonse to state governors. That is to say, officially acknowledging what has been going on for the past three weeks, that the governors, not the president, are managing America’s Covid-19 response. Is yesterday’s capitulation the end of Trump’s political career? Is it his surrender to Biden? My fear is that Trump is looking at Duterte in the Phillipines and Orban in Hungary for ways to hold on to power.

Whew, okay, done with that rant.

Two more things.

There’s some good news on Remdesivir other than it’s easier to type than hydroxychloroquine. Clinical studies suggest that critical Covid-19 patients are responding to the HIV antiretroviral. Two patients died, but many recovered in less than a week. I want to emphasize this was a clinical study without a control, so no one knows yet whether Remdesivir is an effective Covid-19 treatment.

The totality of the data need to be analyzed in order to draw any conclusions from the trial. Anecdotal reports, while encouraging, do not provide the statistical power necessary to determine the safety and efficacy profile of remdesivir as a treatment for Covid-19.

Gilead Sciences statement regarding recent Remdesivir studies

There are enough glimmers of good anecdotal results from Remdesivir and Truvada (see yesterday’s entry) to suggest some cocktail of HIV ARVs may at least attenuate Covid-19 mortality.

There’s some bad news on the nursing home front. This one is a little close to home. Brad reported that two people at his mother’s retirement home tested positive for Covid-19. My mother reported this morning that two people tested positive at sister facitilty to her retirement home.

US news is focused on the 17 bodies found in an abandoned New Jersey nursing home. Rachel Maddow reported yesterday that 52% of Covid-19 deaths in Pennsylvania are at retirement homes. The same is true here in Spain. Reports today say that over half of Spain’s Covid-19 deaths have been at nursing homes, often abandoned the same way the New Jersey facility was.

Whle this news is terrible, especially for those of us with relatives in retirement and nursing homes, it is instructive. If we make sure these facilities have decontaminiation protocols and follow them, we can reduce Covid-19 mortality by as much as half.

I’m 46,918 words into this project. That’s about 1/2 of a novel. I’m writing this for my own sanity. If it helps with yours, please share on your social feed or email to friends who might find it useful, too. Thanks!

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