28 May 2020 – Thursday – #74

Every pandemic creates a new normal.

Here’s what a pandemic looks like when most of the victims are gay, people of color, drug addicts or sex workers.

NY Times, page 18, “U.S. Reports AIDS Deaths Now Exceed 100,000,” 25 January 1991

Here’s what a pandemic looks like when it threatens the economy.

Washington Post headline “100,000 Deaths,” 28 May 2020

While Covid-19 is disproportionately killing low-wage workers and minorities in the US, the reason that Covid-19 gets headlines when AIDS didn’t is the profound impact Covid-19 lockdowns have had on the worldwide economy. Even if you’re a white collar employee who works remote from Covid-19 hotspots, this pandemic has found a way to get under your skin. It’s attacking your alligator skin wallet!

The story of the Navajo Nation and Covid-19 couldn’t make it any clearer how the US prioritizes money over Covid-19 outcomes for minorities. The Covid-19 outbreak has hit Navajos hard with 3,204 identified cases and 102 confirmed deaths. They weren’t ready and they knew it.

For decades, tribes, advocates, and a handful of lawmakers have been calling attention to the drastic underfunding of the Indian Health Service and Indian country’s lack of infrastructure. In 2003 and in 2018, the US Civil Rights Commission found that tribal infrastructure was chronically underfunded by billions of dollars. Since virus prevention requires access to information, electricity, running water, cleaning supplies, food, and medical care, many Navajos are already at a disadvantage.

Wired, “Covid-19 Is Sweeping Through the Navajo Nation,” 23 May 2020

The US response is so bad that the foreign aid group Doctors Without Borders has arrived to help the Navajo. Yes, the US is receiving foreign aid for the Navajo Nation because it’s not able to deliver adequate help.

A team of nine people from Doctors Without Borders was sent to provide assistance to the Navajo Nation in Kayenta and Gallup, New Mexico, according to a statement provided to The Arizona Republic by organization spokesperson Nico D’Auterive.

Arizona Republic, “Doctors Without Borders, UC San Francisco send health care workers to Navajo Nation,” 14 May 2020

And when the Trump Administration finally delivered aid, it paid off former administration officials and delivered substandard results.

ProPublica revealed last week that Zach Fuentes, President Donald Trump’s former deputy chief of staff, formed a company in early April and 11 days later won a $3 million contract with IHS to provide specialized respirator masks to the agency for use in Navajo hospitals. The contract was granted with limited competitive bidding

ProPublica, “Masks Sold by Former White House Official to Navajo Hospitals Don’t Meet FDA Standards,” 27 May 2020

Mr. Fuentes probably skimmed a few hundred thousand dollars off the Navajo Nation mask order and then delivered a product that failed to meet FDA standards. Much hand waving ensues. Everyone covers their butts.

But the point is simple. The current US government does not care about the Navajo people. It cares about how to make money. I can tell the same story about meatpacking plant workers. I can tell the same story about African American communities. Etc.

The 100,000 dead from Covid-19 headlines in the New York Times and Washington Post are not for these disadvantaged communities. The headlines are because of the economy.

So now that the economy is in the tank, what’s a winning political message for the communities that weren’t affected by Covid-19? I know, let’s go after the lockdowns. No one liked them. Let’s make lockdowns the bad guy.

The new Trump spin is that it’s not his fault because he just did what the doctors said to do. Those lockdowns were unnecessary and ruined the economy. You won’t hear this from Trump directly, but conservative media repetition of this misinformation accrues to his benefit. He’s out golfing instead of helping people because he’s role modeling just how unnecessary lockdowns are.

But lockdowns work! I guess not everyone read my entry yesterday about Covid-19 misinformation.

If you think lockdowns are the cure that’s worse than the disease, there’s not only Sweden and Ecuador to give you second thoughts. Now there’s Brazil. Brazilian President Bolsonaro sidelined his public health experts in order to keep Brazil’s econmy running.

Cabinet members tried numerous times to persuade Bolsonaro to endorse a nationwide lockdown, according to a person with direct knowledge of the discussions. Bolsonaro refused, the person said, believing the virus would soon pass and that health officials were exaggerating the need for physical distancing that had proved effective in other parts of the world.

Reuters, “Special Report: Bolsonaro brought in his generals to fight coronavirus. Brazil is losing the battle,” 26 May 2020

The result of not locking down? Predictably, deaths are soaring and the Brazilian economy is in the tank. Bolsonaro has created not only a public health disaster, but an economic disaster as well.

Here’s how things look on the health front.

Covid-19 per capita mortality for Sweden, United States, Brazil, and Germany

I put Germany on this chart to show the result of a well-executed lockdown. German Covid-19 mortality peaked at about 100 per million people. It’s clear how poorly Sweden is performing with its “lockdown lite” at about five times worse than Germany. The US did a poor job at its lockdown, but it appears finally to be flattening its Covid-19 mortality curve in the range of 300 deaths per million, or about three times worse than Germany.

Everyone should be horrified about Brazil’s trajectory. It’s still inflecting upward and its numbers are probably under-reported. Also, with 210 million people, it’s going to surpass the US soon in total number of Covid-19 deaths. This is about as bad an outcome as one could hope for.

Because of the health crisis, Brazil’s economy is shutting down without a lockdown. “Manufacturing activity has collapsed, unemployment is rising and Brazil’s currency is down around 30% against the dollar this year.” The argument I make with anti-lockdown people is that the economy doesn’t necessarily work if a country doesn’t lockdown. Brazil is showing why.

Earlier this month, citing Brazil’s inability to manage its Covid-19 outbreak, “Barclays cut its 2020 gross domestic product forecast for Brazil to -5.7% from -3.0%.”

So, before you buy the line that lockdowns don’t work, please look at Brazil.

The last thing I want to mention today is that I forgot one very important piece of Covid-19 misinformation on yesterday’s misinformation entry: Plandemic. Wired has a good article on how Facebook moms made this video go viral.

The scary part to me about Plandemic is not so much that people buy this kind of misinformation, but that the people who made Plandemic designed it to go more viral when social media platforms took it down.

As Zarine Kharazian from The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab found, the messaging around the Plandemic was designed for it to be censored – Mikovits, so the conspiracy theory went, had been silenced, now she was speaking out, but soon the big technology platforms would censor her again. The big technology platforms dutifully obliged, not by limiting the spread of the conspiracy theory but by simply deleting it.

Wired, “The Plandemic conspiracy has a wild new fan club: Facebook moms,” 27 May 2020

It’s like a zombie virus. Every time you try to take out Plandemic, it just comes back stronger. In the world of Covid-19 shows us who we are, this is more somehow more terrifying than Covid-19 itself.

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