18 June 2020 – Thursday – #95

Two news items today. First, Barcelona is moving to Fase Tres! We’ve reached the New Abnormal!

Spain has reached the New Abnormal with not a small amount of controversy over its Covid-19 mortality reporting. Matthew Bennett points out the discrepancies.

Matthew Bennett on discrepancies in Spain’s Covid-19 mortality statistics, 18 June 2020.

Incorrect Covid-19 mortality reporting or not, things are better and people are ready to get back to abnormal. Walking past the packed outdoor restaurants along Passeig de Sant Joan yesterday evening, I didn’t have to read the news to know Barcelona was well into Phase Three before we officially arrived.

Since all of Catalonia is in Fase Tres, I believe I can take that day trip to Girona I’ve been contemplating. I cannot, however, travel to Madrid yet because it remains in Fase Dos.

Today’s second news item is closer to home. Brad got his visa no lucrativa! It’s a small miracle when it happens in normal times. It’s a gran milagro during the New Abnormal. For the record, if you need a Spanish visa, the consulates appear to be operating, but only by appointment.

If you think travel within Spain and within Europe is complicated, try travel between Barcelona and the US. It’s easy to buy a ticket for a flight. You can purchase surprisingly cheap ones.

The hard part is buying a ticket for a flight that actually will depart on the scheduled date. The flights from San Francisco to Barcelona haven’t taken off for months. It turns out there are no direct flights from the US to most European destinations. The best bet is to search for flights through London, Paris, or Frankfurt.

If you book round trip Premium Economy from San Francisco to Barcelona, as any sensible person would, you get two options.

Premium Economy options from San Francisco to Barcelona round trip, 18 June 2020.

If you pay the extra US$2,358, you not only can change your flights, but you also can choose who you want to die with sit near.

With things opening up, my European friends are ready to roll. It doesn’t look like we’ll be suffereing through a four-hour check-ins, but travel is changing the way it did after the September 11 attacks.

For instance, my friend David in Germany pointed out that each European country has a different contact tracking app and that the Google and Apple app stores are country specific. That creates a problem traveling across European borders. In each new country, it requires a traveler to set up a new account in that country, to switch his/her mobile so the app store thinks the device is in that country (which it may or may not be), and finally to download that country’s contact tracking app. Whew!

While the EU is developing a data sharing standard, every country is responsible for providing its own app with all the attendant data privacy issues. The devil, as they asy, is in the details.

In the US, Covid-19 has done to Amtrak service what Republicans have dreamed to achieve with legislation for decades.

“Due to the long-term impact of COVID-19 on ridership, Amtrak has made the decision to operate with reduced capacity through FY21. We are planning 32% fewer frequencies on the NEC, 24% fewer for our state-supported, service and plan to reduce most long-distance trains to three days per week, beginning Oct. 1, 2020.”

Christina Leeds, Amtrak spokeswoman, Trains, “Amtrak plans triweekly service for almost all long-distance trains as of Oct. 1,” 15 June 2020.

First world travel problems.

Be thankful you are not a refugee in the time of Covid-19. Refugees face life-and-death travel and relocation problems without great options.

“Refugee households are taking on additional debt and are not able to pay their rent anymore. Serious protection risks are also growing, including risks of child labor, gender-based violence, early marriage and other forms of exploitation.”

Andrej Mahecic, UNHCR spokesman, Voice of America, “COVID-19 Increases Economic Hardship for Syrian Refugees, UN Says,” 16 June 2020.

In first world countries, though, Covid-19 often starts as a disease of the upper classes who carry the virus across continents on long haul flights, only to become a disease predominantly of the lower classes.

A study of Covid-19 infections in San Francisco’s Mission District highlights the class disparities. As an example, people whose work required them to travel to work had more infections. They were disproportionately Latin and male.

Nine out of 10 of [infected] people said they could not work from home. That compares with 57% of the overall sample of workers and residents who reported not being able to work from home. Not being able to “shelter in place” at home may put people at greater risk of exposure to the infection.

Live Science, “San Francisco COVID-19 testing reveals stark burden on the poor and marginalized,” 5 May 2020.

The New Yorker published a great in-depth look at Covid-19 and homelessness. It’s a hard problem and it’s worth a read.

Sadly, I think Trump’s unconscionably poor Covid-19 management may be related to his disregard for the lower classes.

A couple of quick follow-ups on the recent Dexamethasone news. It appears the steroid provides significant benefit to severely ill Covid-19 patients. However, while the press release looks good, researchers haven’t released their data yet. We’ve seen that movie before.

Also, Derek Lowe makes two important points about Dexamethasone. First is that its application to Covid-19 isn’t actually an off-label use. It’s a steroid that reduces inflammation and immune system response, which is what it does for Covid-19 patients with severe inflammation and cytokine storms. Second is that Dexamethasone isn’t the only drug that’s been used to attenuate immune system response in Covid-19 patients. It appears that tocilizumab does the same thing, although it’s not clear yet which works better.

A few quick updates on Trump’s poor Covid-19 response.

US healthcare. A pre-Covid-19 rating of healthcare systems called Which Country Has the World’s Best Health Care? seems to line up well with Covid-19 responses by country. Germany and Taiwan scored well in the rating and also responded well to Covid-19 outbreaks. The US was rated the worst healthcare system and has, by far and away, the worst Covid-19 response of any country on the list. Trump is currently in court attempting to dismantle Obamacare without providing any alternative plan.

America First pharmaceuticals. Trump signed an Executive Order giving a company named Phlow nearly US$1 billion to create a complete Covid-19 pharmaceutical supply chain within the US. Experts say Trump’s America First effort cannot help with Covid-19 because not only will it cost tens of billions of dollars, but it also will take a decade.

Operation Warp Speed. Trump claims Operation Warp Speed will provide 300 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine safely this year. No one knows how to deliver this much vaccine safely in six months.

Hydroxychloroquine. The US now owns 63 million doses of hydroxychloroquine. That’s money that was not spent on PPE or other Covid-19 efforts. The purchases appear to have been made at the request of Trump supporters.

Those are pretty much the highlights of Trump’s Covid-19 response. The low light is over twenty US states with increasing Covid-19 cases. Also, the US is on track to pass 120,000 Covid-19 deaths today.

If you’re not worried about high infection rates because you’re betting on herd immunity, you might want to check this out. According to the Dallas NBC affiliate, a woman there has a second case of Covid-19.

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