By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (5/21/20)
Dear Fellow Readers,
Amy Goodman with Democracy Now! on May 19 hit all the high points: hydroxychloroquine, reopening, lack of testing to support reopening, criticism of the Centers for Disease Control, specific problems with antibody testing which are critical to understanding exposure to date, immunity and an outlook for a vaccine, a possible Moderna vaccine, global cooperation, and finally an outlook on immunity.
Goodman opens with a short Trump segment, “I happen to be taking it”, ‘it’ being hydroxychloroquine. Spoiler – don’t do it. Trump even has a heart abnormality that puts him at higher risk for taking the anti-malarial drug. I wonder if Trump is even taking the drug? He says he’s not COVID-19 positive yet claims to be taking a drug for treating symptoms, not a preventative. Let’s look more closely at what we could and should be talking about instead.
Goodman welcomes the director of Harvard University’s Global Health Institute, Dr. Ashish Jha. At the 3:47 mark Goodman also thinks out loud with Jha about Trump’s hydroxychloroquine, isn’t “this just an anti-science slap”? At the 5-minute mark Goodman and Jha turn to the free-for-all of state-by-state reopening plans and mixed federal message and then plow forward – the entire broadcast is worthwhile.
Questions of immunity and vaccine
Recent reports of small numbers of possible positive tests showing reinfection including one for the infected crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt. This raised troubling questions about whether we can build and sustain immunity against the virus. Retired English nurse teacher Dr. John Campbell explored the issue in a recent podcast and found that the virus is slow to mutate AND infection does lead to immunity AND that previously infected people are not infectious. These are all important, reassuring — though cautious — reports with more to be learned. Campbell notes second tests are detecting dead RNA not live virus.
The week began with big news of a possible vaccine from Moderna. While the outlook for an effective vaccine to provide at least limited immunity continues to be positive, the Moderna vaccine (one of a number showing promise) suffered a setback. With time to analyze the information released by Moderno, “several vaccine experts concluded… there’s really no way to know how impresseive — or not — the vaccine may be.” This is cautionary more than conclusive but worth noting.
3T’s for reopening: Testing, Tracing and Treatment
Contact tracing is revealing how and where you are more at risk from exposure to the virus: Contact Tracing Helps Scientists Study Ways Coronavirus Spreads.
An excellent question put to University of St. Andrews infectious disease specialist Dr. Muge Cevik, “which situations are high-risk vs. low-risk?”
“CEVIK: So after examining this series of contact tracing studies from all around the world, we can say that there are some trends. I know people regularly worry about grocery stores, bike rides and runners. But what we can say so far is most of the spread happens in groups of adults and usually indoors. And the majority of risk is, you know, in crowded environments with stagnant air.”
Early results show a small number of people infected with the virus (9%) cause 80% of the transmission. Keys to this are infected persons who are asymptomatic — or showing minor symptoms — who attend “big events” such as a “funeral or a birthday party or a church service”.
An example of this occurred in March in Albany: “Days After a Funeral in a Georgia Town, Coronavirus ‘Hit Like a Bomb’”.
The analysis shows this profile:
1) your chance of being infected as a supermarket client is .02%
2) your risk of being infected as a supermarket employee is 9% and,
3) your risk of being infected as a family member of the supermarket employee is 12%.
Wearing a mask is not a ‘gesture’, it’s to protect the employee and the employee’s family. Something you would want them to do for you if or when the situation is reversed.
The Angel of Death at church
Two megachurches at the “forefront of reopening” are closing their doors for a second time. The churches are in Ringgold, Georgia and Houston, Texas but the same article carries an update about a church hit by the virus in March:
“The report looked at a rural Arkansas church, where a pastor and his wife attended church events in early March. At least 35 of 92 attendees tested positive for the coronavirus, and three people died. An additional 26 cases and a death occurred in the community from contact with the church cases, the report confirmed.”
Anemic pandemic leadership
Donald Trump models taking hydroxychloroquine while his administration seems to have guns out for two ‘culprits’ – China, as always, but also CDC director Robert Redfield.
Management Lesson: If you don’t like the news hide the story or just blame someone else.
This kind of behavior is not limited to the White House, Gov. Ron ‘Mini-Trump’ DeSantis applies the approach to his own state of Florida:
“Late last Friday, the architect and manager of — praised by White House officials for its accessibility — announced that she had been removed from her post, causing outcry from independent researchers now worried about government censorship.”
The team of health officers was headed by Rebekah Jones, who with her removal cautions, “what data they are now restricting?” She does not expect the same level of “accessibility and transparency”.
Trump doesn’t like the facts so he changes the narrative. DeSantis does not like the facts so he changes the reporting. And in the case of Georgia Republican Gov. Brian “Wanna-be Mini-Trump” Kemp – you just change the reporting. Many say that’s exactly what he’s done with Georgia election reporting for years. Kemp’s reporting changed the presentation to offer the wrong conclusions showing a “downward trend” critical to ‘safe’ reopening:
“In fact, there was. The data is still preliminary, and cases have held steady or dropped slightly in the past two weeks. Experts agree that cases in those five counties were flat when Georgia began to reopen late last month.”
It took a lot of manipulation to show a downward trend vs. the actual ongoing trend of new cases. But also, “This unforced error — at least the third in as many weeks — is who have noted sloppiness in case counts, and other measures that are fundamental to tracking a disease outbreak.”
As noted above, on Democracy Now! Dr. Ashish Jha counseled on international cooperation for a global fight against the pandemic. Instead, Trump continues to blame China, threatens the World Health Organization (WHO) and refuses to agree to provide a vaccine for free to poor countries saying everyone will have to pay full price.
Chinese President Xi Jinping steps into the Trumpian void by providing support to other countries, supports the WHO and is calling for a vaccine to be made available to all. Xi’s opening is a gift from Trump, but that is not to be confused with Chinese beneficence. Xi continues to resist calls for transparency about the virus and, in the face of criticism from Australia, responded with punitive trade tariffs.
It’s almost as if there is a problem with letting right-wing populists govern. While the US is #1 in COVID-19 cases (1.6 million), Russia is now #2 (over 300,000) and Brazil will now be #3 by the time you read this (almost 300,000). Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro, another pandemic-denier, has supporters responding to calls for his impeachment with real noises about return to prior anti-democracy laws and even supporters adopting paramilitary uniforms echoing fascist movements.
Trumpster Republicans putting Wisconsin resident at risk
The subhead gives a good summary: While counties with the most in-person polling places on April 7 saw large case spikes in the following weeks, counties that used widespread absentee balloting saw the opposite effect.
If you want the details the study that underpins the spike in new cases following in-person voting in Wisconsin is here.
But once again, GOP disregard of Wisconsin residents is nothing unique. It is a nationwide feature.
The recruitment of 50,000 Republicans as poll watchers sounds more like voter intimidation, something regularly practiced by Republicans.
The take-away – vote-by-mail can be done safely. Just ask Oregon voters who demonstrated exactly that point with Tuesday primary elections.
A quick run-down of Trump pandemic corruption
At the top of the list has to be the new reporting about Trump’s and Sec. State Mike Pompeo’s firing of highly respected State Department Inspector General Steve Linick. Early reports of Linick’s investigations had Pompeo ordering staff to walk his dog, collect his dry-cleaning and run errands. Shitty stuff, but tame by Trump standards. Next Pompeo and his wife were using tax payer money to build his political influence, “Pompeo’s elite taxpayer-funded dinners raise new concerns”. Certainly bad, but then…
Concern over Trump arm sales to Saudi Arabia is not new but apparently Pompeo was not going to abide by investigation or oversight:
“…declined an interview request for into whether the Trump administration acted illegally in declaring an “emergency” to bypass a congressional freeze on to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates…”
Many of the poor who have died from the coronavirus lived in areas with high concentrations of airborne pollution, like African Americans living in Louisiana’s toxic “Cancer Alley”. This week we learned EPA staff warned the rollback of mileage rollbacks designed to lower air pollution had flaws. Trump officials ignored them.
Lies about vote-by-mail fraud, lies about illegal arms sales to Saudi Arabia (remember in 2016 nuclear technology was on the table), lies about use of Education funds, lies about virus treatments…
There is optimism for a vaccine. Immunity may not be permanent but more like 1-2 years But that is encouraging with some hope of vaccine progress in 2021. We are a long way from herd immunity, which is a reminder that the virus is highly communicable and the rate of death is high; significntly higher than the common flu.
We are reopening and increased risk of broad infection is real. Many predict a fall/winter second wave, but let’s focus on reducing our current risk.