24 April 2020 – Friday – #40

I really wanted to start today’s entry talking about the toll the Covid-19 pandemic is taking on friends. However, my social media feeds are lit up about Trump’s suggestion yesterday that injecting bleach or disinfectants and then switching on a UV lamp could treat Covid-19. I don’t really want to spend any more precious time on Trump, but I feel obligated to say one thing. With the current president, the US government is broken. It is time to acknowledge that and move on.

If you need help moving past Trump, Susan B. Glasser has documented Silicon Valley’s attempt to help the flailing administration respond to Covid-19 in the New Yorker. There are plenty of other places to read similar accounts. Repeat after me: The Trump administration does not know how to manage Covid-19.

What [Silicon Valley execs] did not foresee was that the federal government might never come to the rescue. They did not realize this was a government failure by design—not a problem to be fixed but a policy choice by President Trump that either would not or could not be undone. “No one can believe it. That’s the No. 1 problem with the whole situation: the facts are known, but they are inconceivable,” Ries told me. “So we are just in denial.”

Susan B Glasser describing the efforts of Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup and CEO of Long-Term Stock Exchange, and other Silicon Valley executives to help the Trump administration.

In case you still believe the stream of conscious press releases from the White House, here are three quick reminders of how broken the Trump response is.

First, food. There is plenty of food, but it’s in the wrong distribution channels, so farmers are throwing it out and people are going hungry. Not only did the administration cut SNAP, the food stamp program, it hasn’t lifted a finger to fix distribution.

Second, disbursement of stimulus money. The administration can’t get stimulus money to business or individual that need it and, when it does, the money may be confiscated by debt collectors instead of stimulating the economy.

Third, prisons and immigration detention facilities. The Trump administration has failed to coordinate prison releases of non-violent criminals or people who’ve been arrested, but can’t make bail. It also ordered immigration courts to keep processing claims, putting not only immigrants, but ICE and immigration officials lives at risk. The Executive Director of the ACLU explains how these incarceration systems are spreading Covid-19 needlessly.

ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero explains how prison systems spread Covid-19.

During AIDS, the gay community realized Presidents Reagan and Bush wouldn’t help. We protested, but we didn’t depend on them when we needed solutions to AIDS. Stop paying attention to Trump. Even in the face of Covid-19, Trump’s agenda continues to be to dismantle government, not make it work.

Just because the Trump administration is dysfunctional doesn’t stop meaningful progress. Two billion people around the world are in lockdown and many countries are measuring a decrease in infection rates. Test production is ramping up. This is all to the good.

Until we get a treatment or vaccine, a great way to control Covid-19 after the initial spike of infections is contact tracking. For contact tracking to work, when someone tests positive for Covid-19 RNA, public health officials track down and test all the people that person has contacted.

How officials from six countries are planning to contain Covid-19.

Contact tracking is difficult and labor intensive. In a weak labor market, it might provide a useful stimulus program, more useful right now than infrastructure or other WPA-like stimulus programs. Even with available labor to track all contacts, though, it’s a management nightmare to track the information and get it right.

Google and Apple have provided an app that potentially tracks all contacts, albeit with significant privacy concerns. Brad pointed out a different anonymized approach to tracking Covid-19 outbreaks, an approach that couldn’t have existed five years ago.

Epidemiologists rely on SIR and SEIR models to forecast the course of an outbreak. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and UMass at Amherst are applying Machine Learning to identify Covid-19 signals in new ways. They call their models “nowcasting” and, like many big data projects, make forecasts by training machine learning models empirically rather than using analytical models. You can see example Covid-19 forecast maps on CMU’s CovidCast site. If efforts like these pan out, it may be possible to spot problem areas even if contact tracking isn’t in place or breaks down.

I had conversations with two friends yesterday whom I don’t need to identify. Both expressed anxiety about lack of control. One had a personal disappointment that triggered a kind of meltdown about life in general. The other isn’t sleeping well, if at all. My own sleep patterns are off, but I’m getting adequate rest.

Other friends are navigating the changing work environment. If they have a job, they are doing the calculus of how long it will last. If they don’t, they are doing the calculus on how long they can last. Temporary roommate situations are not so temporary. Houses that should be fail safe investments are illiquid. Divorces can’t get started or resolved. All this will get fixed, but no one knows when. It feels to me like the enormity of Covid-19 is settling in with everyone I know. As one friend noted yesterday, if someone could just say when we could go outside, it would help.

These are the kinds of feelings that come up after a death or a natural disaster, except that there’s more certainty about timelines and outcomes. That seems like the thing we’re all freaked out about. No one knows when this joyride ends.

Yesterday, l teased an update about blood types, clotting, ACE inhibitors, testicles, and oral sex. The Trump idiocy has distracted me and left me with little time to investigate. First of all, anything I write about this is speculative at this point, based on preliminary, unproven studies.

Similar to early days of HIV, there are many Covid-19 interactions with humans that aren’t well understood yet. There are still HIV interactions that aren’t well understood, but they don’t matter much at this point. The unproven Covid-19 studies above are scattered clues about how Covid-19 might interact and I’m hoping there are scientists figuring out from these scattered clues how to trick Covid-19 into deactivation. My intuition is that the first three are connected, but I don’t know how.

Someone random on Grindr sent a warning about sexual transmission of Covid-19. Covid-19 transmits so well in the air and on surfaces, that I hadn’t looked for any information on sexual transmission. Sexual transmission didn’t even occur to me until I saw the study that testicles may provide a safe haven for Covid-19. The reality, though, is that if you’re intimate enough to have sex with someone who’s infectious, kissing is probably the most dangerous sexual activity possible. But who knows, maybe there is a hazmat suit fetish I don’t know about. At any rate, sex toys are still safe. Just wash them with soap first.

The only good news at the White House lately is that they have finally hired the president a coach to help him through his campaign rallies Covid-19 briefings. Thank goddess!

Trump’s new press conference advisor.

Thanks for your time. Stay safe. If this is useful to you, please pass it on to your friends!

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