28 June 2020 – Sunday – #101

Mobile World Congress is a huge event every February in Barcelona. Mobile technology companies from around the world meet in Barcelona to show their latest wares. Faster chips! Sharper cameras! 5G! Barcelona’s best hotels and restaurants are sold out a year in advance. Deals are done over vermut and paella.

One of the many reasons for moving to Barcelona was that my friends Donna and Steve attend MWC every year. Since they live in Arizona, that meant I was more likely to see them in Barcelona than in the US. I was disappointed last fall when they shelved their 2020 trip to Barcelona, but I figured I would be crazy during this year’s MWC anyway, getting my residence card and finding a place to live.

Of course, the whole event was called off. Not because Donna and Steve weren’t coming, but because MWC was scheduled to start 25 February, just as all hell Covid-19 was breaking loose in Wuhan. As I expected, I was busy getting my residence card and searching for an apartment the week MWC organizers called off the conference. I barely noticed the news except that suddenly I could get a table at any restaurant without a reservation.

I wasn’t thinking about any of this last week when I read that University of Barcelona researchers measured Covid-19 in Barcelona’s sewage in March 2019. I had to read that twice. March 2019, not March 2020. Sewage is a leading indicator of Covid-19 outbreaks, so it makes sense that Barcelona researchers were checking how early Covid-19 was here. It’s just that March 2019 is an unexpected result. Covid-19 in sewage is a leading indicator of an outbreak by about five days, not by a year.

My first thought was that the researchers needed to check their results. March 2019 is preposterous for Covid-19 in Barcelona. I wasn’t alone in this sentiment.

Prof. Gertjan Medema of the KWR Water Research Institute in the Netherlands, whose team began using a coronavirus test on waste water in February, suggested the Barcelona group needs to repeat the tests to confirm it is really the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Reuters, “Coronavirus traces found in March 2019 sewage sample, Spanish study shows,” 26 June 2020.

I remembered Professor Medema from my 3 May 2020 entry. He knows his shit, so if he thinks the U. of Barça study could have measured the wrong thing, that was good enough for my confirmation bias. March 2019 was far too early to see Covid-19 in Barcelona.

But then I remembered an article early on in the pandemic questioning whether the infamous Wuhan seafood market was, in fact, the source of Covid-19. Chinese researchers looking at 41 early Covid-19 patients found that 13 of them had no connection to the seafood market.

[Georgetown University infectious disease specialist Daniel] Lucey says if the new data are accurate, the first human infections must have occurred in November 2019—if not earlier—because there is an incubation time between infection and symptoms surfacing. If so, the virus possibly spread silently between people in Wuhan—and perhaps elsewhere—before the cluster of cases from the city’s now-infamous Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market was discovered in late December.

Science, “Wuhan seafood market may not be source of novel virus spreading globally,” 26 January 2020.

And then I wondered why Covid-19 would show up in Barcelona sewage in March 2019 only to disappear until January 2020. And then, while I was looking at the horrendous increase in Arizona’s Covid-19 cases this week, I remembered Donna and Steve and the cancelled 2020 MWC event. And then I asked myself, did any companies from Wuhan attend the 2019 MWC?

Well, it turns out, yes, at least one company called Wuhan GreenNet traveled to Barcelona at the end of February 2019. It’s not clear whether they sent staff from Wuhan or Beijing, but they did send someone. In case you want to know, the company “provides products relating to the fields of fixed networks, mobile networks and Internet of Things.” Wuhan GreenNet’s headquarters are “located in what is known as ‘China Optics Valley,’ Wuhan East Lake High-tech Development Zone Software Park.”

So, when Univeristy of Barcelona researchers confirm their findings, as I now expect they will, I hope at least one of them finds this diary entry and gives someone at Wuhan GreenNet a call. I sent a LinkedIn request to an employee there. Let’s see what happens.

[UPDATE: 12 July 2020. This article has more details on the wastewater findings.]

The other big news story in Spain is travel. Tourism officially opens up 1 July, but Spain’s R is already rising as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

Reproductive rate R = 1.48 for Spain, 28 June 2020.

The increase in Spain’s R is concerning, but neither unexpected nor alarming, as I wrote two entries back. With small case numbers, a few outbreaks can spike R even though all the outbreaks are under control.

Speaking of keeping outbreaks under control, there are useful tracing techniques emerging from the Covid-19 study in the Mission District of San Francisco. Researchers are now using Mission District data to connect viral mutations of SARS-Cov-2 to social interactions.

Viral relationships can reveal social relationships, making connections we otherwise wouldn’t make, which has implications for contact tracing.

Applying this technique, researchers were able to determine, for instance, that two workers at the same plant who came down with Covid-19 had different strains of the virus. That showed that the workers didn’t get infected working together and allowed the plant to remain open.

Anyway, even as tracing improves, Spain’s increasing R gets more problematic when people start flying to Spain from places with higher Covid-19 activity. While Spaniards are worried about the Brits bringing along Covid-19 for their vacations on la playa, the EU (and Canada) are worried about Americans bringing along their freedom from masks and soical distancing.

The immediate concern here at Casa Solar is how Brad returns. I think a motorcade and parade along Gran Via would be perfect, but Brad is more concerned about navigating customs wherever he enters the EU. In a world where Americans aren’t welcome until they get their Covid-19 act together, the number of intercontinental flights is shrinking and the way to Barcelona is through a larger hub, like Heathrow or Frankfurt. In theory, Brad’s residence visa qualifies him for essential travel. In practice, we’ll know more after the EU finalizes its regulations next week.

The global concern is whether American can get is Covid-19 act together. Dr. Gilman has assembled a list of 16 questions leaders need to answer in order to turn around the situation.

This week, I’m going to leave you with some tips on masks. I’m getting used to mine. I hope you get used to yours. Here’s how much just one layer helps protect others if your sick.

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