4 October 2020 – Sunday – #115

Last weekend two things Covid happened. One is that a friend in Barcelona, whom I’ll refer to as C., got sick with Covid-19. The other is that the White House hosted a Covid-19 superspreader event to honor the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

When C. told me last weekend he didn’t want to meet up because he thought he was coming down with a flu, there was something in his voice that made me ask if he’d lost his sense of smell, a sure sign of Covid-19. He said no, so I relaxed and told myself not to be paranoid. Memories of the AIDS crisis, when every sniffle seemed like a premonition of infection and death. Covid-19 is rare in Barcelona and Catalonia these days. Hospitalizations have leveled off for a month and new cases look like they’re dropping. The transmission rate R stayed below 1.0 all September except for mid-month when it bubbled up just over 1.0 for a week.

In the middle of last week, though, C. did lose his sense of smell, confirming what I thought I heard in his voice. C. is younger than forty, so he’s not high risk. I check in with him every day or two. He’s feeling under the weather and he’s concerned about infecting others, but he’s okay for now. There’s not much for him to do but wait it out. I worry because just when Covid-19 looks like it’s clearing up, it can take a turn for the worse. But that’s my paranoia. Things go south far more frequently for people my age than C.’s.

While things Covid are okay here in Catalonia for now, they are bad elsewhere in Spain, especially Madrid. Currently Madrid has over one third of the Spain’s new Covid-19 cases. Under protest, the regional government will implement the central government’s Covid-19 restrictions this weekend, putting Madrid back into a lockdown. The politics of this are still a little complex for me.

Like conservatives in the US, conservatives in Madrid don’t want the state telling them how to lead their lives. While the conservative attitude towards Covid-19 is often expressed as a desire to control one’s own health decisions, this expression seems more like a rationalization of a different attitude, that my money is more important than whether I’m a viral vector for your infection.

Speaking of Madrid and conservatives, I want to divert for a moment to an observation that female leaders outperform male leaders in managing Covid-19. Early data through mid-May suggest that observation holds, at least at a national level.

F-led and M-led countries matched using GDP/pc, Pop, Pop Density and Pop over 65.

However, the observation is not holding true at the regional level. Clearly Madrid is flunking Covid-19 containment. The president of the Madrid region is Isabel Díaz Ayuso, a member of the conservative PP who’s been leading the region for about a year.

In the US, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, a Republican, is another counterexample to females leading successful Covid-19 responses. Noem is guiding her state through one of the worst state Covid-19 responses. South Dakota hosted, for instance, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally which was a Covid-19 superspreader event.

It’s clear that leadership is an important—perhaps the most important—factor in the success of a Covid-19 response, both in terms of health and economy. Based on data so far, it appears males are less likely to lead an effective national response than females, and conservatives are less likely than liberals. That doesn’t mean, though, that any particular woman or liberal will succeed. I can’t wait for the PhD theses on this topic.

Madrid doesn’t have a monopoly on Covid-19 resurgence. Things Covid also are bad in Paris. Nicole planned a trip there for a “zero” birthday. In these days of Covid-19 travel, it’s hard to know what to do as conditions change on the ground. Last I heard, the plan is to take the trip and avoid public spaces. With masks and ventilation, that seems reasonable. Travel trade-offs are impossible right now.

Back to last weekend’s events. Besides C.’s Covid-19 infection, the other thing that happened last weekend was a White House superspreader event that appears to have resulted in Trump’s Covid-19 infection. The White House response to Trump’s infection gives me an opportunity to talk about Covid-19 misinformation.

In the past 72 hours, 27 people who were at the White House event last Saturday or who subsequently had contact with people at the event have tested positive, mostly Republicans and including POTUS, FLOTUS, three Republican US senators, and former Republican governor.

As this number increases, Covid-19 is throwing the Republican party further and further into disarray with an election 29 days away. I’ve read the word “schadenfreude” more in the last 24 hours than in the past 24 years. Republican party Covid-19 misinformation came back to haunt its lovely Supreme Court nomination party.

It’s an old story.

Parenthetically, check out this great story in The Atlantic about Covid-19 reproduction rates (R) and dispersion rates (k). You’ll understand how Covid-19 thrives at events like the White House superspreader.

The problem for Trump is that his infection throws his entire campaign on its head. Not wearing a mask, it turns out, has consequences. Trump’s infection runs counter to the campaign narrative that Covid-19 is over and the US is back on track. It forces the message back to today, not what the US might look like in a year or two. Trump’s Covid-19 misinformation campaign blew apart in his unmasked face. His challenge now is to become the hero of this catastrophe at the same time he’s ill in the hospital.

One might hope that the White House would worry about the presenting the facts and advising anyone who’s been in contact with Trump to test and quarantine. Nope. Studies came out in the last week showing Trump is the source of over one-third of all articles with Covid-19 misinformation (as well as lots of voter fraud misinformation), so it’s no surprise that in the aftermath of the superspreader party, the White House misinformation machine spews misinformation as Trump recuperates.

One of the new stars in this misinformation campaign is telegenic White House physician Sean Conley who insists Trump is fine while misspelling the names of the experimental treatment Trump had and correcting his timeline of events. The fact that Trump was receiving an experimental treatment is a sign that either he’s much sicker than Conley stated or he’s been watching Fox News suggest he take the treatment. Or both.

With performances by Conley and others, it’s hard to know what’s true in Trump’s Covid-19 saga. The worst reports, though, line up best with the action of moving Trump from the White House to Walter Reed Hospital. It seems Trump was contemplating death on Friday.

On Friday, Trump grew visibly anxious as his fever spiked to 103 fahrenheit and he was administered oxygen at the White House, according to three Republicans close to the White House. Two sources told me Trump experienced heart palpitations on Friday night—possible side effects of the experimental antibody treatment he received. Trump has wondered aloud if he could defeat the disease. “Am I going out like Stan Chera?” Trump has asked aides, referring to his friend, New York real-estate developer Stan Chera, who died of COVID in April.

Vanity Fair, “‘This is Spiraling out of Control:’ Allies Panic About Trump’s Hospital Stay as White House Deflects,” 3 October 2020.

After Trump moved to Walter Reed, the White House spin machine started. Even when the White House does its best to make Trump look good in videos and stills, though, he doesn’t.

Saturday’s photo shoot at Walter Reed is full of reality TV props to make everything look normal.

But it’s obvious that much has been edited (in this case with an Adobe video editing product), that we’re watching the reality TV version of Trump’s recovery.

This Twitter thread illustrates more of the problems with the underlying message in Saturday’s photo shoot, the misinformation that all is well and Trump is ready for his heroic comeback.

Trump has relied on misinformation during the entire Covid-19 pandemic. He’s not stopping now. The net result is no one knows what’s going on.

I’ll go back to my friend C. for a minute before I wrap up because C. is a real person in my life, not a reality TV star.

C. got his Covid-19 infection about the same time as Trump. The difference is that C. is young and in good shape. Not that any two case are the same, but Trump’s probably is worse than what his physician claims. Trump probably felt bad enough Friday to think he was going to die. C., on the other hand, never felt like he was going to die.

I worry about C., but his chances are good. His voice sounds healthier now. His mood is better. In real life Covid-19 sucks. C. doesn’t need to mislead me.

Trump? He’s a con man. I’ve never believed his spin. I look at the misinformation and wonder why he insists on it right now. The subtext of his entire recovery misinformation campaign is that he does need to mislead me. I don’t wish him ill, but I think his misinformation suggests he has a very rough week coming up.

Covid-19 bits.

Stay safe in all your travels. Keep your distance, wash your hands, and wear a mask.

I write this for my sanity. Daily updates on my Twitter feed. Pass on to friends and family.

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