25 October 2020 – Sunday – #118

When I moved to Barcelona on the first of the year, I was looking forward to short flights from BCN to cities in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. Covid-19 changed that plan.

Wednesday, I took a three hour train ride with Henrique for a long weekend in Valencia. It’s my first time out of Catalonia this year. It had been so long since I traveled that I had a little trepidation, worrying about things I don’t usually worry about when I travel, things like leaving a charger behind or finding the right train.

The good news about traveling to Valencia is that Covid-19 levels are about half what they are in Catalonia. The other good news is that Valencia, Spain’s third most populous city, is beautiful and vibrant.

Friday, we walked from the old city to the beach, starting from the Torres de Serranos, a medieval fortification near the original Roman city.

Torres de Serranos.

Along the way, we passed the Museo de las Ciencias, a spectacular building by Santiago Calatrava in the City of Arts and Sciences. To put things in perspective, the museum opened about 700 years after the Torres de Serranos opened.

Museo de las Ciencias.

We got a little lost, but made it to the beach in time for an evening meal and walk.

Playa de las Arenas.

The beaches are long in Valencia with fine sand. So late on a fall weekday, they were nearly deserted.

Valencia is the home of paella and there is no shortage of paella restaurants here. We shared a traditional Paella Valenciana at Casa Roberto.

Paella Valenciana at Casa Roberto.

In anticipation of my trip to Valencia, I cooked my first paella last week to understand the process. The main difference in the Casa Roberto recipe is the addition of snails and flat beans. There wasn’t much socarrat in this paella, just a bit of crust along the circumference and in the middle of the pan. I learned that if you want more socarrat, you have to order it. Due to reduced demand during the Covid-19 pandemic, the restaurant only served one other table for dinner. That made me feel safe eating inside, but was a shame for the business.

The timing for this trip may have been perfect with Spain debating a new State of Alarm. Spain became the first European country to surpass one million Covid-19 cases last week. It’s not clear how much longer I’ll be able to travel outside Barcelona.

Regions with bad outbreaks like Rioja are asking the central government to declare a State of Alarm so they will have the legal framework to impose a second round of severe Covid-19 restrictions. Travel restrictions and curfews seem most likely this time around rather than complete lockdowns. During our trip, Valencia announced a curfew from midnight until six in the morning, subject to court approval.

While Covid-19 cases stayed flat in Catalonia most of the summer, the virus has been heating up this month.

Confirmed new Covid-19 cases in Catalonia. Source: Catalan News.

Due to differences in reporting, it’s difficult to compare the second wave to the initial Covid-19 outbreak in Barcelona, but it’s clear hospitalizations are increasing again. Deaths will follow in the coming weeks. So far Catalonia has closed restaurants and restricted social gatherings to six people. Masking was mandatory already. It will be another week until the numbers show whether more and longer restrictions are needed.

Spain is not the only European country with a second wave of Covid-19, but it seems like the most disorganized. One sign of disorganization is that every region is adopting unique curfew hours. Another sign came last week when, rather than focusing on Covid-19, the opposition party wasted two days debating a no-confidence vote against the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, a vote it knew it could not win. The natural power struggle between Spain’s regional governments, its central government, and its political parties will have to give way to the reality of rising Covid-19 cases.

At least Sánchez isn’t promoting bad science like his counterpart in the US. The Covid-19 problems in Spain are child’s play compared to the US, especially as the 2020 election exacerbates Trump’s politicizaton of public health. While Trump claimed in last week’s final presidential debate that the US was turning the corner on Covid-19—a claim he has made repeatedly since the beginning of the US outbreak—new Covid-19 cases surpassed 80,000 per day for the first time in the US. The US is turning a corner, for sure, but around this corner is increasing death. Without any changes to Trump’s Covid-19 public health policies, University of Washington researchers predict 500,000 deaths by February.

The clearest example of public health politicizaton is masks. Yes, there was confusion about wearing masks at the beginning of the pandemic. That confusion went away in the science community as evidence piled up over the summer. Here’s one recent proof point.

Masking compliance versus spread of Covid-19 symptoms.

Like most masking proof points, this one isn’t perfect. It shows correlation rather than causation. No one has shown direct causation for masking and reduction in Covid-19 cases and severity, but the accumulation of proof points like this chart makes it nonsensical to insist that masks don’t help. If there were any high cost to masking, it would make sense to look for more proof points before adopting masking as public health policy. For Trump, the cost of masking seems to be suffocation. For those 250,000 who predicted to die before the inauguration, the logic of Trump’s masking analysis will have failed.

Covid-19 bits.

  • Covid-19 cases increased in places where Trump held campaign rallies which typically feature large crowds without masks.
  • Researchers have discovered that inhibiting something called factor D (not to be confused with vitamin D) may control inflammatory responses in Covid-19 cases.
  • Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca restarted their respective Covid-19 trials.
  • Three billion people live in places without cold distribution systems needed to deliver many Covid-19 vaccines candidates.
  • New Jersey’s governor signed a law that releases thousands of state prisoners early to avoid Covid-19 infections.
  • San Francisco’s oldest restaurant, Tadich Grill, will reopen for inside dining.
  • The CDC changed its definition of “close contact” to mean close indoor proximity to someone with Covid-19 for any 15 minutes during a 24 hour period. Previously it was for 15 consecutive minutes.
  • Members of Vice President Pence’s staff tested positive for Covid-19. Although the Vice President, who chairs the Coronavirus Task Force, was in close contact with several infected staff members, he will carry on campaigning rather than self-isolate.

I write this for my sanity. If it helps you, please pass on to friends and family. I tweet Covid-19 information frequently, so follow me there for the details.

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