11 June 2020 – Thursday – #88

Last night Alexa and I picked up pizza from the recently reopened corner pizza shop and ate on the terrace. I’m not sure if the pizza tasted better than I remember because, you know, hot pizza or because it’s actually better. Even though the pizza shop had well-spaced seating, the terrace felt safer.

Anyway, Alexa and I got to talking about the New Abnormal. As we discussed the seating at the pizza place and how it still seems strange eating with others in public, I recalled how the police closed down crowded clubs on the first night of Barcelona’s Covid-19 lockdown. Alexa said the police aren’t closing clubs anymore. I was confused about how packed clubs could be allowed to operate when restaurants still had to space out their tables.

Because each region of Spain is rolling out its own version of the lockdown relaxations, it’s a hard to parse what it means now that Barcelona is in Fase Dos. Even my Catalan friends aren’t quite sure where we can travel and what we can do within Catalonia.

Luckily, there’s a WhatsApp cartoon to help.

The humor is good, but the reality is that Covid-19 cases in Spain doubled yesterday, mostly in Madrid and Catalonia (which, by the way, are verde oscuro on the map). A doubling is not completely unexpected after lockdown restrictions were relaxed and it only means 84 new cases. Still, the news of increased cases only adds to the anxiety of figuring out what we can do and what feels okay in Phase 2.

During my conversation with Brad yesterday about his theoretical August return to Barcelona from San Francisco, it’s clear how much Covid-19 factors into what were once routine decisions. I mentioned that a friend managed to snag a flight next week from Buenos Aires to Barcelona by flying to Madrid and taking a bus the rest of the way. That, Brad noted, meant contact with more people and higher risk. We discussed that aircraft ventilation systems could clear the air of viral material if the nozzle is pointed correctly, that most of the passengers would be from San Francisco where Covid-19 infections are low anyway, and that the position of his seat in front of a bulkhead would block Brad from a coughing passenger behind him.

One wave of Covid-19 was plenty. Everyone is trying to figure out how to avoid a second wave. Where is our Covid-19 rulebook?

One thing that adds to the confusion of what to do is misinformation and political narratives forced on top of public health policy. This keeps us asking questions (good), but also keeps us from believing experts (bad).

The political narratives are difficult. My friend Andy, the one who de-friended me on Facebook, kept insisting that I was pro-lockdown because the economic consequences were better for me. That’s kind of a standard dig from the anti-lockdown Covid-19 argument playbook. As much as I noted that my financial situation actually would be much less risky if the economy weren’t disrupted by Covid-19, Andy stuck to his assertion. I see this inability to get beyond the political narratives repeat itself over and over on social media. I may even be guilty of it. It’s how Facebook keeps us engaged.

Here’s how crazy political narratives get. The anti-lockdown US president, who should be somewhat trustworthy, is declaring that the US is now living in a post-pandemic world at the same time the public health expert Dr. Fauci worries about ongoing Covid-19 outbreaks.

Honoring white supremacy, Trump to hold his first “post-Coronavirus” rally in Tulsa, home of the Tulsa race massacre, on Juneteenth, the day celebrating freedom of slaves.

Notice how I worked my political narrative into the attribution above?

Another thing that adds to the post-lockdown Covid-19 confusion is the growing legion of armchair epidemiologists who, for instance, criticize public health policy flip flops.

When experts change their advice, they draw criticism. Although some changes reflect errors, many are responses to new, better information. Wearing masks is an example. As evidence of asymptomatic spread emerged, it became clear that infections can be reduced if people wear masks when they are within six feet of one another, particularly indoors. The changed recommendation was progress, not correction of a mistake.

Washington Post, “How amateur epidemiology can hurt our covid-19 response,” 11 June 2020.

I try not to be one of those armchair epidemiologists (and please call me out if I am). I try to research information and, when appropriate, present contrasting points of view. I scold my friends for their misinformative social media posts. I allowed myself to evolve my thinking about masks.

That last point is a good thing, because there are more and more indications that masks reduce Covid-19 transmission and the chance of a second wave.

In all scenarios the study looked at, routine face mask use by 50% or more of the population reduced COVID-19 spread to an R of less than 1.0, flattening future disease waves and allowing for less stringent lockdowns.

Reuters, “Widespread mask-wearing could prevent COVID-19 second waves: study,” 10 June 2020.

I used the word “indications” because wearing masks is not a done deal for stopping Covid-19. “Brooks Pollock, a Bristol University infectious disease modelling expert, said the likely impact of masks could be much smaller than predicted.” We have to try wearing masks to see whether the models’ predictions are right. We haven’t measured in real life that masks work.

We don’t know that much yet. We will have anxiety. It’s okay.

Well, it’s okay if you don’t work for the man.

We all know about Covid-19 and the meatpacking industry by now.

Remember how Elon Musk threatened to move his Tesla plant from Fremont, California to Nevada or Texas if he couldn’t start make cars? So, guess what happened at the Tesla plant after it reopened. Will you buy a Tesla?

It gets worse. The Wall Street Journal reports on how the US is outsourcing Covid-19 manufacturing deaths to Mexico.

I’m not sure if this Covid-19 mortality outsourcing is part of Trump’s upgrade of the NAFTA agreement, but the US has managed to kill not only Mexican immigrants with Covid-19, but also Mexican workers who don’t want to come to the US. Parenthetically, almost no one in Barcelona is talking about traveling to the US these days.

To attenuate your Covid-19 angst, allow me to reiterate that an effective Covid-19 vaccine won’t be available this year. There will be something Trump can claim is a vaccine before the election. You can take that prediction to the bank.

While there won’t be an effective Covid-19 vaccine this year, you should feel less anxious. Vaccines are hard, but there is really great vaccine science happening. This New York Times discussion with vaccine experts lays out where we are with updates on recent human testing. It also accompanies nicely the vaccine chart I included here.

Still worried after that good news about Covid-19 vaccines? Don’t be. The Happiest Place on Earth is reopening.

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