30 August 2020 – Sunday – #110

When Alexa came over Thursday to share Indian food on the terrace, I felt a hint of fall in the evening air. By yesterday, I was wearing long pants again. According to the forecast, the scorching summer is over in Barcelona.

By contrast, weather reports from friends and family in California are hideous. Ricardo sent a photo of the wildfire smoke that’s blown into San Francisco. He said he’d take Covid-19 over the wildfires because both require masks, but at least with Covid-19 it’s possible to breathe outside. Unfortunately, San Francisco gets both Covid-19 and masks. It’s 2020, so expect an earthquake soon, too.

Smog from wildfires in San Francisco, 28 August 2020.

Spain’s Covid-19 situation is similar to last week. In Barcelona, small Covid-19 accommodations keep appearing. Here’s a parking area that’s been converted into outside dining for the pizza and ice cream restaurants on the corner. I know what you’re thinking. Brad and I chose Casa Solar because there’s both pizza and ice cream places on the corner. I won’t deny it.

Parking area on corner converted into outside dining in Barcelona.

With the August surge in infections, Spain surpassed 100,000 Covid-19 cases last week. I was considering a day trip to Girona until I saw a report about the bar scene in nearby Queixans. Actually, even though Queixans is in the Girona region, it’s nearly three hours by car from Girona proper. Stay tuned on the Girona trip.

Madrid and Murcia continue to be the Covid-19 hotspots that make Spain’s post-lockdown recovery look bad compared to the rest of the EU.

EU post-lockdown Covid-19 infections.

Looking at this map, maybe instead of Girona, I should travel to other EU countries. I might be safer outside Spain if I’m willing to try my luck with planes and trains. Unfortunately for Spain’s travel industry, many Europeans probably are thinking the same thing.

Speaking of travel, Nicole asked this week if I knew when Spain would accept travelers from the US. The answer is that every month the EU evaluates the Covid-19 situation in countries outside the EU against a set of criteria. Based on this evaluation, it allows non-essential travel from countries that meet the criteria.

I told Nicole I don’t expect non-essential travel from the US until mid-2021 at the earliest. A resumption in 2021 requires changes in behavior and increases in Covid-19 testing Trump has not been able to achieve.

The Sturgis event in South Dakota earlier this month illustrates how much the US needs to change its behavior to stop Covid-19 from spreading. This video shows where people traveled from to reach Sturgis and then potentially how they spread Covid-19 afterwards.

The good news is that initial testing after the event indicates the town’s Covid-19 mitigation efforts may have helped keep the infection rate low. But the question remains: why do Americans prioritize non-essential travel over reducing Covid-19 infections?

If Trump wins the election, then non-essential travel from the US to the EU probably resumes 2022 or 2023. Why so long? The White House Covid-19 policy (to the extent that it has any policies) now seems to be prioritizing the economy and letting the virus run its course.

White House Covid-19 policy appears to be to let the virus run its course.

The good news is that we appear to be developing immunity to Covid-19. The bad news is that without any vaccine, the US needs about a million more people to die before the virus runs its course to the point that the country reaches herd immunity. At the current Covid-19 death rate, that will take about two years.

A Covid-19 vaccine may accelerate this “run its course” timeline, but a highly effective vaccine isn’t likely until mid-2021 at the earliest. Even then it wouldn’t reach the scale needed for herd immunity until 2022. The timeline may be shorter, too, if scientists determine that exposure to previous Coronaviruses counts towards herd immunity. That is an open question for now.

In other news, Spain has published guidelines for schools to re-open. These include “bubbles” of students that a Maine summer camp studied found to be effective at limiting Covid-19 spread. The Spanish guidelines also include good ventilation, hand washing and, for children over six, masks. It would be great to see more testing, but at least testing is recommended when symptoms are detected. My biggest questions are whether Spanish schools can implement these guidelines in time and whether local infection rates should factor in the decision to return to class.

Opening schools is treacherous. Even South Korea, which has one of the best Covid-19 track records in the world, has had to revert to online classes. School re-openings in the US are, as the world is coming to expect, a disaster. College re-openings this month prove the point.

The big US news last week was the Republican National Convention. I watched the time-shifted speeches online here in Barcelona. I had to check several times to make sure I hadn’t time-shifted to 2019. No platform, let alone a Covid-19 plan, and lots of praise for Trump’s Covid-19 response without mentioning the death toll. It seemed like either Covid-19 didn’t happen or it was over already.

The differentiation between the two US political parties with respect to Covid-19 couldn’t be more clear. At the earlier Democratic National Convention, Biden spoke directly about following the scientists’ advice to stop Covid-19. At last week’s RNC, Trump pitched an imaginary post-Covid-19 V-shaped economic recovery.

The RNC cognitive dissonance followed a rich Republicans tradition of cognitive dissonance, especially on issues like climate change. Wait! Did I mention that the RNC stuck with its V-shaped recovery narrative even as Tropical Storm Marco and Hurricane Laura slammed into Louisiana? Was anyone at the White House allowed to know there was bad weather anywhere?

Here’s one of my favorite examples of Republican climate change cognitive dissonance.

Senator Inhofe (R-OK) throws a snowball in 2014.

This is, of course, like eating a McDonald’s Happy Meal, burping, and then wondering out loud how anyone can imagine there’s hunger in the world.

In fact, the US Republican Party has distinguished itself as the only major conservative party in the world that denies climate change. At last week’s RNC, the party again distinguished itself as the only major conservative party to talk about Covid-19 in the past tense.

Rachel Maddow summarizes RNC Covid-19 statements.

Trump is a great con man selling a bright future. If the Sturgis event teaches anything, it’s that Republicans aren’t going to let Covid-19 stand in the way of even their motorcycle rallies. Maybe they believe that 182,000 countrymen gave their lives so that they could ride a chopper. Trump certainly isn’t going to tell them to stay home and save 182,000 more countrymen. That might ruin their day.

Republicans have set a very low bar for Trump and Trump is delivering them the Happy Meal of cons: you don’t need to worry about Covid-19 as long as I’m in the White House.

I’m glad I moved to Barcelona.

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