22 November 2020 – Sunday – #122

The strangest thing happened this week. Something clicked in my brain and de repente I could habla the español. My anxiety of never learning to speak Spanish transformed overnight into my anxiety that I will forget how. If my language seems a bit confused today, es porque tengo huevos revueltos entre mis orejas ahora.

I’m starting this 122nd diary entry with some pretty photos of what’s going on around Barcleona. First, if you’ve wondered how movers haul someone’s worldly possessions in and out of a fifth story walk up on a narrow Gracia street, here’s the exterior elevator platform they use.

Moving into a Gracia apartment.

The second photo is an update on the remodeling of the L’Abaceria Mercat in Gracia. Each district in Barcelona has its own mercat, a sheltered farmers market. As I’ve mentioned, it’s one of the highlights of Barcelona for me.

The L’Abaceria Mercat has operated from a temporary location on Passeig de Sant Joan since I arrived. The demolition of the original structure has been hidden but, as its façade disappeared last week, it became clear the remodel is extensive—all the way down to the bones.

L’Abaceria Mercat demolition.

Today’s third and final photo is a restaurant on Passeig de Sant Joan called Kook. I discovered it on my scouting trip here last year, so I have a sentimental warm spot for the food. With Catalonia’s restaurants closed due to Covid-19 restrictions, Kook’s doors have been sealed for weeks. It was a pleasant surprise when I walked by on Friday to see someone wheeling in crates of produce in advance of next week’s re-re-opening.

Kook restaurant preparing to re-open.

The photos are a way of saying day-to-day life goes on, with or without Covid-19 restrictions, with or without live performance and other cultural accoutrements of city life. Some days it seems like it’s hardly worth living in a city until humanity figures out how to dance with this virus. No concerts, no theater, no clubs, no large gatherings. Might as well wake early and fish on a river.

Yesterday was a pleasant break from the day-to-day. U.b., Will, and their daughter hosted a delicious pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving at their place in Gothic. After the meal, Vicki recited a Mary Oliver poem and Claudia sang an Italian love song from an opera I couldn’t place. Live performances! Later, over evening margaritas, we discussed Barcelona’s cultural history. It was a multicultural oasis in the Covid-19 cultural desert.

Back to my mundane day-to-day life. After all, diaries can’t be all highlights. Last week, I wrote that I’d have have a progress update on my flu vaccination. The update is that Spanish bureaucracy was designed by Franz Kafka.

The saga continues. To get vaccinated, I need to provide CatSalut, the public health system where one gets vaccinations, a document called an Acreditativo del Derecho a Asistencia Sanitaria. It identifies me as a corner case, someone who doesn’t qualify for public assistance, but who should be allowed vaccinations anyway because I happen to reside here. Needless to say, no one seems to know how to obtain this form because there are so few people in Spain who don’t qualify for some form of public assistance.

I’m supposed to obtain the document from INSS, the Spanish Social Security administration. INSS office visits, already space constrained by Covid-19 restrictions, are also date constrained because demand for unemployment is up. So I’m navigating the INSS website in Spanish, filling out online forms (is my sex “M” for masculino or “H” for hombre?), and hoping for the best. Stay tuned for exciting developments. I may end up getting a sex change along with my flu shot.

The flu shot is practice, of course, for the Covid-19 shot. News on that front was very good last week with Pfizer applying for FDA approval of its Covid-19 vaccine and Moderna announcing its Covid-19 vaccine is 94.5% effective.

While this Covid-19 vaccine news from Pfizer and Moderna is great, there are many hurdles to distribution and administration.

Here are a few Covid-19 vaccine distribution issues in the US:

  • No agreement how cash-strapped state public health systems will pay for vaccines.
  • Runaway Covid-19 infections already stretching healthcare systems to limit.
  • No state has a system to track low-temperature distribution logistics at scale.
  • Many rural areas lack low-temperature distribution infrastructure.
  • No state has a system to track that adults get the second booster shot.
  • One in three Americans say they will not get a Covid-19 vaccination.
  • CDC should coordinate the vaccine program nationally, but very low morale.
  • Trump refuses to coordinate a public health transition with President-elect Biden.

Due to its regional public health system, Spain’s vaccine logistics problems are similar to the US. That makes Phase-3 trials of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine welcome here (and the UK). The J&J vaccine has less stringent cold storage requirements than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, simplifying vaccine logistics. For example, the J&J vaccine can be stored a refrigerator temperatures for three months before inoculation.

Spain has two advantages over the US in deploying a vaccination program. One is that it doesn’t have a lame-duck president stiff-arming an incoming administration. The other is that, in stark contrast to the US, 71% of Spaniards say public health restrictions are more important than the economy. That means the restrictions imposed after the second wave of Covid-19 here are, for the most part, taking hold and Covid-19 infections are dropping.

Still, it will be a month or more for Spain’s Covid-19 numbers to come back to tierra.

Covid-19 news in Catalonia continues to be good. A month after initial restrictions, numbers are turning the right way. New cases load was about 1,000 per day during the summer. It was running about double that last week, but it’s dropped to a third of the peak reached about three weeks ago.

Covid-19 confirmed cases in Catalonia, 20 November 2020. Source: Catalan News.

Hospitalizations here are dropping and ICU beds are opening up which allows the Catalonian government to relax restrictions over the next two months. With an election coming up in three months, public health decisions are becoming more political, but nothing like the US.

Restaurants will re-re-open tomorrow. First reports were that they could serve lunch, but had to close seating areas by 5:30p. New reports say indoor dining has to close at 9:30p.

Catalonian businesses that had been closed will re-re-open with capacity limits. Travel restrictions between municipalities will be eased over the coming month. Social gatherings will continue to be limited to six and the 10p curfew will stay in effect for at least a month.

Day-to-day drama here isn’t Covid-19. It’s the unending US presidential election, a huge distraction even from across the Atlantic. Trump’s theatrical coup hit its high note during last week’s “big dripper” press conference. Here’s how Australian news summarized Giuliani’s drip and other US election events last week.

Trump’s strategy is to keep states from certifying elections and to encourage Republican state legislatures to send alternative slates of electors in order to break the Electoral College. That would send the final election decision to the US House of Representatives, the only place now where Trump can win.

Trump is spewing conspiracy theories to make his case and amplifying them on social media. One conspiracy theory says that votes from districts that happen to be largely black are chock full of fraudulent ballots. What Trump supporter won’t eat up that claim?

Trump’s wilder conspiracy theory is that Clinton and Soros have teamed up with Antifa and Black Lives Matter to change votes on a server in Germany owned by Dominion, a company started by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela to control elections there. I’m not kidding.

Trump has given so much credence to conspiracy theories that they’re popping up everywhere. It seems like a day doesn’t go by when conspiracy theories move Americans to violence.

Covid-19 is the icing on Trump’s social media-fueled conspiracy theory disinformation festival. Having lived through the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, I’m not surprised to see Covid-19 denialism the same way I saw HIV denialism.

Here’s one example of how Covid-19 news is misinterpreted to fit a point of view and then amplified on social media. A Danish study of face masks published last week has anti-maskers in a tizzy. Data for the study were collected last spring as Covid-19 was breaking out in Europe. The study is well designed, but unfortunately its results are being misinterpreted as saying that masks don’t work.

I spent the better part of a day last week pointing out to a group of anti-maskers / anti-vaxxers that, in spite of what headlines say, the Danish mask study did not say that masks were ineffective against Covid-19 transmission. The study says masks are ineffective in a very strict set of circumstances and, in these specific set of circumstance, masks failed to protect the wearer against infection. What the study explicitly did not say is 1) that masks fail to protect the wearer from infections in different circumstances, 2) that masks fail to protect others from an infectious wearer, and 3) that masks don’t reduce the severity of infections by reducing the amount of virus transmitted.

Even though all three of those things are probably true (that masks protect the wearer in many circumstances, that masks protect others around the wearer in many circumstances, and that masks reduce viral load of an infection, so, the severity of the resulting infection), the anti-maskers say they need proof. Of course. Even after I pointed out that US states have seen Covid-19 infections drop after mask requirements, the anti-maskers wanted proof. Even after I pointed out the study’s author advocates for wearing masks, the anti-maskers wanted proof.

There is more and more data that Covid-19 restrictions, including masking, do work.

The case of the Danish mask study shows that one poorly written headline gives believers permission to misinterpret important public health information in a way that fits their preconceived notions, and then to amplify their misinterpretations through social media.

Covid-19 bits.

Let’s end today’s entry with Quarantined with You, a song from Catalan musician G’beats (h/t Brad!).

I write this for my own sanity. If you like it, please mention it to friends and family. Follow me on Twitter for more frequent updates. Thanks!

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