13 September 2020 – Sunday – #112

Every month there seems to be at least one day of celebration in Barcelona. Friday was Catalonia Day, another annual holiday that most of Barcelona celebrates by closing down.

On the eve of Catalonia Day, Brad and I hosted four Catalan friends for a BBQ at Casa Solar. They are part of a group of Catalan men who call themselves “The Carnivores.” The Carnivores is an informal group that meets about once a month at a restaurant in Barcelona serving high quality meat.

Here’s what we grilled for The Carnivores.

Manel butchering a Txogittxu steak.

Since there was a lawyer and a cop at dinner, I was able to ascertain that local customs allow the growth of one or two of what might be called strong herbal plants on the terrace. No one will call the cops and I won’t need a lawyer.

After hanging with the Catalan, I feel like I’m scratching the surface of their culture. My Brazilian friend Henrique said that he feels like he never has any time since he moved to Barcelona a year ago. I told Henrique that I feel like a child learning Spanish and Catalan languages, food, history, and customs. It’s a 24/7 job.

Learning about food didn’t stop at dinner with The Carnivores this week. Last night I had a another more vegetarian Catalan food adventure cooking Cigrons amb Espinacs (Garbanzos with Spinach).

Cigrons amb Espinacs

If you buy me a vermut, I’ll cook it for you or give yuou the name of the Catalan cookbook, whichever you prefer.

It’s feeling safe to make food porn in Catalan, where new cases of Covid-19 remain level, and especially at home right now because Spain is lagging the rest of the EU in managing Covid-19 post-lockdown. Spanish officials are quick to point out that September isn’t like March, that even though Covid-19 cases are on the rise, they are asymptomatic with fewer deaths. That’s a nice rationalization of not doing a good job.

Besides Madrid, most of the new Covid-19 cases are in Murcia. Murcia is fighting Covid-19 restrictions.

Murcia protests over bar closings after Covid-19 cases spike.

Seeing Murcia protest over what are now common sense measures to prevent transmission makes me worry that Covid-19 misinformation is floating from the US across the Atlantic.

I write often about how misinformation from Trump, social media, Fox News, and OAN keeps the US from reducing its Covid-19 transmission. In a bombshell report last week from Bob Woodward’s book Rage last week, Trump acknowledges that he’s been hiding bad news about Covid-19 from the public.

MS-NBC and Washington Post report on Woodward’s book Rage.

After Woodward released his telephone calls with Trump, Trump claimed that his intent was to keep America calm. In this Twitter thread, David Frum examines how Woodward’s report and Trump’s response to Woodward’s report reveal Trump’s incompetence.

David Frum thread on how Woodward’s report shows Trump’s incompetence.

I boil down Frum’s arguments like this: Trump is incapable of articulating anything as sophisticated as the Covid-19 response that all European leaders were able to articulate successfully. It may be that Trump isn’t smart enough. It may be that his malignant narcissism traps him. It may be that the only way he knows to survive is to create chaos. It may be that he views all problems through the lens of money. It may be that he’s listening to Putin. It doesn’t really matter. Chose your reason, but Trump cannot figure out how to articulate a Covid-19 response that will stop or slow transmission in spite of having many examples of how to do just that.

Trump’s misinformation campaign continues today. His appointees at the CDC, including Michael Caputo and Paul Alexander, are doctoring standard CDC reporting on Covid-19 to advance Trump’s ineffable agenda. Alexander complained that the CDC’s Morbity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) contradicts messaging from the White House.

“The reports must be read by someone outside of CDC like myself, and we cannot allow the reporting to go on as it has been, for it is outrageous. Its [sic] lunacy. Nothing to go out unless I read and agree with the findings how they [sic] CDC, wrote it and I tweak it to ensure it is fair and balanced and ‘complete.'”

Trump appointee Paul Alexander to CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield. (Souce: POLITICO)

The Covid-19 stakes couldn’t be higher for the US with weeks left until the election. Fauci and several Covid-19 models expect another Covid-19 wave this fall, with one model predicting over 400,000 Covid-19 deaths in the US by the end of 2020.

One upshot of Trump’s Covid-19 misinformation campaign is that it gives people permission to ignore Covid-19 models predicting 400,000 deaths this year, or to discredit them when they don’t predict accurately. But epidemiologists use different models for different applications, statistical models to forecast, for instance, deaths under current conditions and mechanistic models to test what-if scenarios. Results from Covid-19 deaths forecasts are generally accurate for 2-3 weeks but, because conditions are changing rapidly, become less reliable further out.

Another upshot is bad data for the modeling. When Trump appointees edit scientific reports from the CDC and other sources, they can skew model results. The resulting chaos may play into Trump’s message that science doesn’t have the answers, but it also exacerbates the poor government response to Covid-19.

When Trump leverages CDC, social media, Fox, and OAN to con Americans with Covid-19 misinformation, it erodes trust in public health. This short video from a Trump campaign event last week shows the results.

Trump followers rationalize why they don’t need to wear masks.

The video shows three (white) men rationalizing why they don’t wear a mask, each in their own way. One says he can’t hear others speak when people wear masks (which shouldn’t keep him from wearing a mask), a second says that most people are dying of underlying conditions rather than Covid-19 (like saying Titanic passengers died because they couldn’t swim in freezing water rather than because the ship hit an iceberg), and the third says it’s God’s plan whether he survives Covid-19 (except that he might infect his friends and family which, from their point of view, would be his plan rather than His plan). When Trump allows people to crowd into his rallies without masks, he implicitly endorses these rationalizations. In effect: Hey, if POTUS says it’s okay, how can I be wrong? Social media, Fox, and OAN reinforce Trump’s con.

Unfortunately, there are real costs to Trump’s con. One, of course, is health. The other is money. A by-product of the Sturgis Motorcycle rally is the data on Covid-19 transmission that researchers need to characterize both costs. Here’s a screen grab from a UCSF Grand Rounds video that characterizes these costs.

Screen grab from UCSF Grand Rounds video showing costs of Sturigs Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota.

Because Sturgis attendees don’t bear most of these costs, they have no strong incentives to stay home. Because Trump implicitly endorses their behavior, attendees believe their own rationalizations that they should feel free to congregate without appropriate social distancing or masks. However, as the UCSF video points out, it would have been cheaper overall to pay each of the Sturgis participants $26,000 to stay home. This is an economic cost Trump and his followers don’t want to hear.

It’s an expensive con, to tell people things are going back to normal. Social media, Fox, and OAN make lots of money promoting Trump’s con. The Americans who believe the con and feel empowered to spread Covid-19 pay little of the costs of keeping Trump in power.

This gives me the sense that Trump’s supporters will continue to drink his KoolAid.

Trump followers without masks or social distancing at campaign rally.

For those who don’t know the beverage reference, the con man Jim Jones convinced his followers to drink cyanide-laced KoolAid in 1978 as US officials were unmasking him. Trump’s cult is behaving no differently from Jones’ cult.

Falling for Trump’s con, drinking his KoolAid is expensive. Trump’s campaign stops are about 5,000 people, about one hundredth of the size of the Sturgis event. After ten campaign stops, the US can expect another 25k Covid-19 cases and another $1.2B in healthcare costs. Trump will pay none of those.

I hope transmission of Covid-19 misinformation doesn’t reach Spain, especially at Trump’s scale.

Other notable Covid-19 tidbits from last week.

Last thing. Last week I made an attempt at a table summarizing Covid-19 vaccine development. The Internet saw how bad it was and came up with a much better graphic.

Chart of Covdi-19 vaccine testing status.

[Updated 18.40 CET to correct math error.]

I write this for my sanity. If you like it, pass it along to friends. For daily updates, follow me on Twitter.

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