20 April 2020 – Monday – #36

What does the planet look like in a year? I wrote this note to myself last Friday. The NY Times beat me to an answer. The Times gives both sides of the story, on the one hand that science and technology are making enormous strides, on the other that everyone still could be cooped up at home in twelve months. The best answer continues to be: no one knows. If you lived through the AIDS crisis, this phase of the pandemic is familiar and frustrating.

I could tell the Covid-19 story in Tweets. That’s for another day.

This tweet looks so odd from Barcelona. It’s a face off between Denver area residents protesting the Covid-19 lockdown and two healthcare workers blocking the protesters. It’s the people worried about their money and the people worried about patients with Covid-19 having a difficult time understanding each other. It’s an accurate reflection of my social feeds right now.

To me, this tweet is a clear manifestation of divisive US leadership in a time of crisis. For all of Spain’s difficulties, people are staying at home and there aren’t mass protests like in Denver and elsewhere in the US to end the lockdown.

We’re not all in this together, especially in the US. Minorities, low wage workers, and the poor and taking the brunt of the pandemic. Blacks are dying disproportionately. Inmates face higher Covid-19 mortality due to jail conditions. A couple days ago, I brought up deaths in meat processing plants where management has failed to provide low wage workers a safe working environment. In cities like New York and Las Vegas, large numbers of low wage jobs require close proxmity to the public, while in cities like San Jose, tech employees work remotely from the safety of their homes. In parts of the US (and Europe), Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes account for more than 1/2 of overall mortality. And, of course, healthcare workers are front and center for Covid-19 infections.

I’m not saying Europe doesn’t have its fair share of equality problems. I’m saying protests like the lockdown protests taking place in the US reflect a gaping failure of its leadership and a huge distraction from the Covid-19 problem at hand. All the socio-economic problems I listed above can be addressed and largely resolved. The US president doesn’t build his political capital that way. I put blame for these divisive protests, protests that pit privileged against those in harms way, squarely on the White House.

Why is Trump distracting from the core issues of Covid-19 right now? Because states are relaxing their lockdowns over the coming weeks and no one knows what’s going to happen. The problem from where I sit is that most places (Spain included) don’t have enough testing. At least Spain’s testing program is moving in the right direction (see 18 April). The so-called “opening up the economy” in most US states consists of taking small steps to enable business to function, not going back to normal. It’s good that governors are taking incremental steps. It’s bad they don’t have a way to measure what works and what doesn’t.

Trump’s failure to address and resolve Covid-19 problems doesn’t mean he won’t win re-election this year. His political strategy to push decision making to US governors is brilliant. If the governors succeed, he’ll take the credit. If they fail, he will claim that he alone can fix it. After all, he used that claim successfully in 2016 and none of his base is holding him to acount for his Covid-19 response.

I want to switch gears and look at a few specific stories that interest me.

One story is Boris Johnson. Up front, I wish the PM a full and healthy recovery. It’s been a week since he left hospital, though, and we haven’t seen him publicly yet. It’s a reminder that Covid-19 can wreak havoc on the human body beyond damage to the lungs.

Half of Covid-19 patients develop gastrointestinal symptoms including diarrhea and vomiting. A few also develop acute viral hepatis. In Wuhan and New York City, 15%-30% of Covid-19 ICU patients are reported to develop kidney damage, often requiring dialysis. A term you will hear more and more is “cytokine storm.” A cytokine storm occurs when the body’s immune system goes into overdrive and releases an excess of cytokines, a protein that tells the the immune system where to attack. Cytokine storms during a Covid-19 infection cause hyperinflammation and in inflammation throughout the body. They seem to be related to heart muscle damage and to central nervous system conditions.

Prime Minister Johnson initially advocated herd immunity for UK’s Covid-19 response. As other European countries were locking down, England lost critical days until Johnson changed his mind and ordered a lockdown. Now that he’s been through the Covid-19 wringer, I’m interested in whether he’ll present with long-term health problems and how his healthcare journey will affect his Covid-19 policy formulation. The PM has an extraordinarily personal opportunity to help everyone understand Covid-19 and provide leadership that is sadly lacking in the US.

Next up: the weird business segment.

Students at two universities are suing for tuition refunds or reduction because they are not receiving classroom instruction. I expect many small educational organizaitons will go bust during the Covid-19 depression. Larger educational institutions that survive will have to articulate to future students why classroom instruction is worth more.

Obviously, the casino business is in the tank because almost 2 billion people are social distancing. Business at online gambling sites is expected improve as people stuck at home look for things to do. If you’ve already blown through your government stimulus check, online sites are offering free versions of their games to attract new users with nothing to do at home. Bookmakers are the one online segment suffering during the pandemic because of the dearth of sporting events. Not to worry! Wagers are now available for everyone’s favorite, the Belarussian Football League.

If you’re stuck at home doing drugs, you’ve probably noticed already that prices are up. You can learn some manufacturing and supply chain tricks from the cartels while you’re waiting for your dealer to evade the lockdown police.

Cartels are increasingly shifting away from drugs that require planting and growing seasons, like heroin and marijuana, in favor of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, which can be cooked 24/7 throughout the year, are up to 50 times more powerful than heroin and produce a greater profit margin.

Associate Press report on drug trafficking

I’m sure you’ll be proud that I learned some Spanish this morning. It’s el covid, not la covid.

I’ll end with this tweet. There’s something about music that resonates with unspoke feelings. This touched something primal inside me this morning.

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