All eyes were on the US election last week. People here are well informed and attentive. Local friends checked in, sent political cartoons, shared updates, and made prognostications. My friend Simon even stayed up all night after Tuesday’s election watching returns come in. He outlasted me. The alcohol I’d consumed overpowered my election nerves insomnia. I drifted off around 1am.
On Wednesday, I woke up at 5am to check online for a result. I’d have been better off sleeping in. Amy, Nicole, and Nicole’s daughter came over that afternoon to celebrate, although by 3pm the outcome still wasn’t entirely clear. It was nice to process the continuing election anxiety with compatriots. The vermut didn’t hurt.
Covid-19 added to my election anxiety. Wednesday night Nicole messaged that a teacher and a student at her daughter’s school tested positive. That left Brad and me in a bit of social limbo until Nicole’s daughter got her negative test result late Friday.
All last week, store proprietors who knew I was American (not hard to discern from my accent) asked polite non-partisan questions until I allowed as how I voted for Biden. Then we commiserated—as much as I can commiserate in Spanish—about the last four years of US political disaster. My commiserations boiled down to “Trump es loco.” Their commiserations felt like a blend of making sure I was okay and venting to an American. I wasn’t diplomatic in my responses. After all, the possibility of ongoing Trumpism, with or without Trump, is a big reason I’m residing in Barcelona.
Last night, after five tedious days of unending election website refreshes, eons after the winner was clear, the news services finally called the election for Biden. I found out from the zillion messages my local friends sent.
Overnight, my US friends sent messages of relief after four years of Trump’s race baiting and homophobia. Celebrations in the US spilled into the street.
The open questions today are who will deliver the bad news to Trump and whether Secret Service will have to escort him from the White House in January. As the Twittershpere notes, Trump is now like millions of Americans who got Covid-19, lost their jobs, and face eviction.
Before it was clear Biden would win, many friends in the US mentioned how smart my decision to move to Spain looked. Even my mother said that, which is a pretty big concession since she’d preferred I stay closer to home when I left. After Biden’s win, I’m content to watch the reconstruction from afar. It will take years to de-program Trump’s cult.
There is, of course, always foreign interest in US elections. This year interest is higher than normal, especially in Europe. Trump damaged US alliances bigly in four years. His nonsensical demands that NATO allies pay their fair share (they already were) and that Russia re-join the G7 (after multiple heinous international transgressions) are a couple of well-known examples of the way he upset world order in favor of authoritarianism. There are plenty more.
Covid-19 added to international anxiety about Trump. His Covid-19 response was another manifestation of his America First authoritarian streak. He alone decided on the US response, not public health experts, not scientists. He had no interest in cooperating with the rest of the world. He prioritized the US economy over its public health, then discounted the mounting death toll (“it is what it is”).
The result of prioritizing the economy while allowing Covid-19 to run its course has been predictably disastrous. By election day, the US surpassed 100,000 new Covid-19 per day. 27 US states set new records for Covid-19 cases. ICUs in Minneapolis-Saint Paul and Iowa are now over capacity. Today there are nearly 240,000 confirmed dead from Covid-19 in the US and another 100,000-200,000 projected to die by the time Biden is sworn in. In nearly every Covid-19 statistical category, the US is at or near the bottom compared to the rest of the world.
Not that Europe’s Covid-19 response has been perfect. After a summer with little Covid-19 in the air, it’s back with a vengeance. Spain set a seven day record for new cases led by Murcia, which has an as yet uncontrolled outbreak. Paris hospitals are at capacity. The UK is a week into a four week lockdown. Italy, which led the first wave of Covid-19 in Europe, has another bad case of Covid-19.
Here’s a good Twitter thread on the situation in Europe.
Unlike Trump, European authorities pay attention to experts as they shape Covid-19 policy and they prioritize health over economy. Where European leaders have failed is in building the testing and tracing capacity required to contain Covid-19 and in responding quickly enough to new outbreaks. Unlike Trump, who is doing nothing while Covid-19 burns through the US population, every European country has imposed restrictions during Europe’s second wave. European restrictions may be late, but they’re working (again).
I’m going to toot Catalonia’s horn here. While Murcia and Madrid dillydallied as Covid-19 infections soared this summer, Catalonia imposed restrictions quickly as infections took off at the beginning of October. Three weekends ago, health authorities here closed down bars and restaurants and limited social gathering to six. Two weekends ago, they imposed a 10pm – 5am curfew. One weekend ago they limited transit between municipalities during weekends. Here’s what happened.
Catalonia’s Covid-19 statistics are moving the right direction. The reproduction rate R is below 1.0 again and the highly sensitive outbreak risk is dropping. Hospitalizations have peaked.
Trump’s inaction on Covid-19 is a drag on Europe and most of the rest of the world. Brazil’s President Bolsonaro is perhaps the best example of Trump’s deadly influence. But Trump’s influence is pervasive. He implicitly has empowered conservative politicians like Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the president of the Madrid Region, to ignore public health officials and tout freedom from government at the expense of high Covid-19 infection rates. Trump implicitly empowers protests against masks and other forms of government “intrusion.”
Covid-19 is an important reason the world watched last week’s election. Foreign leaders did not wait for Trump to concede before congratulating President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris.
Two stories from last week highlight the difference between the way Trump and Biden approach Covid-19.
Trump sees Covid-19 as a hindrance to his aspirations, as something best swept under the rug. When White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows tested positive last week, Trump ordered the result kept secret. A positive test didn’t fit Trump’s campaign narrative that he’d controlled the virus and the economy was coming back.
Meadows attended several election day events without a mask, probably super-spreading the virus to White House staff and Trump supporters at the Trump election night party at the White House.
Parenthetically, it’s not clear whether Florida Representative Matt Gaetz, who also tested positive, was in contact with Meadows. Gaetz is the fourth member of Florida’s Republican delegation to get Covid-019.
Contrast Trump’s management of Meadow’s test result with President-elect Biden’s first official action on Covid-19. Tomorrow Biden is scheduled to announce a twelve member Covid-19 task force. He’s announcing his Covid-19 task force before he nominates any cabinet members. We already know the task force will be lead by “former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith from Yale University.”
The world will see a very different US attitude about Covid-19 emerge in the next 2-1/2 months.
There are a couple of other Covid-19 stories from this election that I don’t understand yet. One is that the economy rated higher as a factor in voters’ decision making than Covid-19. The other is that 93% of US counties with the most new Covid-19 cases per capita voted for Trump. I’m waiting for the avalanche of election analysis coming in the following weeks to understand how either of these is possible.
The big surprise to me is that Trump didn’t call out this election result. North Dakota voters elected a Republican who died of Covid-19 to the state legislature. This fits Trump’s narrative perfectly that if we simply disregard Covid-19, everything will be normal.
- Barcelona has experienced a 12% increase in bike riding since the Covid-19 pandemic started. Here’s a rundown on bike riding increases in Barcelona and other cities.
- I was excited that San Francisco’s oldest restaurant, Tadich Grill, was set to reopen. Its reopening is postponed because San Francisco has postponed full reopening of restaurants. In other San Francisco news, the Chinese New Years Parade has been cancelled.
- Columbia University researchers developed a nasal spray that blocks Covid-19 infections. This looks similar to the Aeronabs technology developed at UCSF.
- Denmark, Netherlands, and Spain are culling their entire mink populations due to Covid-19 spread linked to the mink.
- Disease and design: how old radiators were designed to heat apartments to the surface temperature of the sun so you’d open your windows to clear out contagion.
- Good rundown on the dispersion factor k, why we should avoid large groups, and how tracing outbreaks backwards to the source may be a better strategy than searching forward to who got infected.
- Best article I’ve read on how Covid-19 hacks the immune system.
I’m ending this election edition of Covid Diary BCN with a heartfelt reaction to the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
I write Covid Diary BCN for my own sanity. If you like it, please pass it along to friends and family. Follow me on Twitter for more frequent updates.