“Covid doesn’t care about your politics, your rights, or your beliefs. If it can get into your body and start replicating it will. If the particles you exhale can infect someone else, it will. As we begin to open businesses, please be safe.”
— Dr. David Chakoian
“I would do everything I can to avoid becoming infected as you don’t know individual outcomes.”
— Dr. Peter Piot, Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; battled Ebola and AIDS, COVID-19 survivor
By Dan Peak
Commoner Call (5/28/20)
Dear Fellow Readers,
Are we really experiencing a pandemic? Are we done, yet?
The numbers say we are experiencing a pandemic. But a lot of individual actions and opinions suggest otherwise.
One day we learned of the first COVID-19 death in the US and only 90 days later we soared to 98,200 deaths. Tuesday we officially exceeded 100,000. Yet the images we all saw from Memorial Day weekend were jarring, especially those from The Ozarks in Missouri.
Are we underestimating the virus? Apparently even the best of us can.
The point is reinforced early in the article: “Dr. Piot, 71 years old, is a legend in the battles against Ebola and AIDS. But Covid-19 almost killed him.” Piot admits, “I underestimated this one – how fast it would spread. My mistake was to think it was like SARS, which was pretty limited in scope. Or that it was like influenza. But it’s neither.”
“It hit me like a bus. Extreme exhaustion, like every cell in your body is tired. And my scalp was very sensitive — it hurt if Heidi touched it. That’s a neurological symptom…all you can do is lie there and hope it’s not going to get worse.” Piot was not put on a ventilator and as his oxygen saturation level rose he was sent home. But after being home, “Dr. Piot’s heart started to race to 165 beats a minute. The percentage of his blood oxygen dropped to the mid-80s again.”
Piot returned to the hospital for a chest X-ray that showed “my lungs were full of infiltrates, and they were a real mess. It’s called ‘.’” Hospitalizing him on oxygen would not help, “his lungs were “stiffening” and perhaps unable to absorb it.” Fortunately Piot responded to an intravenous steroid along with an anticoagulant.
Are there lessons to be learned here? Weeks later Dr. Piot is far from recovered.
“People think that, with Covid-19, 1 percent die and the rest just have flu. It’s not that simple — there’s this whole thing in the middle.”
He may need to take an anticoagulant for the rest of his life. Dr. Piot’s partner Dr. Heidi Larson also contracted COVID-19 but her symptoms were mild. There’s the “whole thing in the middle”.
Dr. Piot has another message for us, “tell your American audience: All these expensive tests are free from the N.H.S. [England’s National Health Service]”
Dr. David Chakoian, of Viroqua, Wisconsin advises, “…we’re seeing a strong uptick in cases…several over the weekend from what I understand, but so far it’s been a few clusters. We’ll see what happens with the churches reopening their in-person worship.” Chakoian also points out that we have “a large proportion of our population…taking this seriously…and so far we’ve kept it out of our nursing homes and other group living facilities.”
The statistic put forward is “a small number of people infected with the virus (9%) cause 80% of the transmission.” The high risk is from:
“…big events” such as a “funeral or a birthday party or a church service”.
A more recent article from the Washington Post adds this caution about “airborne transmission”:
“Since then, evidence has continuously pointed to airborne transmission of covid-19, as my colleague Linsey Marr and I . Scientists have detected the virus in places that can be reached only by air, such as ductwork; asymptomatic transmission is occurring, meaning people are spreading this without coughing or sneezing large droplets; and basic aerosol physics shows that people shed an entire continuum of particles when they cough, sneeze or talk, including large particles that settle out quickly and smaller ones that stay afloat for hours.
“Why is airborne transmission so important? One reason: super-spreader events. Covid-19 does not spread from one person to the next equally. Some infected with the virus may not spread it to anyone, while others may spread it to dozens or more. In fact, one recent paper found that led to about 80 percent of the spread.”
This from Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-ARK), “A high school swim party that I’m sure everybody thought was harmless. They’re young, they’re swimming, they’re just having activity and positive cases resulted from that,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson offered this ahead of the Memorial Day weekend and the resultant jarring photos of gatherings in the Ozarks in neighboring Missouri.
Dr. Chakoian linked to this article: A deadly ‘checkerboard’: Covid-19’s new surge across rural America
The article cautions that “death rates decline in the cities but not in rural America.” This statement does not look like a cause for dropping our guard.
The article relates the story of Texas County, Oklahoma with, “patients pouring into the hospital with covid-19 symptoms are predominantly Hispanic and work in the local Seaboard Foods pork processing plant, which like many others has stayed open even after becoming the locus of an outbreak.”
“State health officials tested everybody at the plant two weeks ago and found that of some 1,600 asymptomatic employees, 350 were positive, nearly four times as were known, Seaboard said in a statement. “As of May 20, 440 employees have active cases of covid-19,” the company said.”
There is not a legal responsibility for a company to report medical information to the local community, but there is a moral responsibility; obviously, a community deserves to be informed. This from internal medical physician Jeffrey Lim:
“If you go to the local Walmart, I would say 10 percent of people are wearing masks, and the restaurants … that are open are packed,” Lim said.
“I’m a registered Republican, by the way,” he added. “But [people] don’t seem to know the science behind it. Even though they see the news, they just think it’s all overblown.”
The biggest rural risk is from meatpacking plants and prisons.
“The United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents those who handle about 75 percent of the beef and pork processed in the United States, says that at least 10,000 workers have so far contracted the virus — and at least 35 have died.”
Getting the “human capital stock” back to work … or sick
We see starkly contrasting examples of headlines, “We’re surging:” Alabama reports largest COVID-19 increases to date” versus Japan government declaring they have “beaten”the virus.
Alabama never had a shutdown and neither did Japan. Japan’s constitution rules out a compulsory lockdown but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a state of emergency, now lifted. Another comparison would be Sweden, which opted for achieving herd immunity with no lockdown, versus Denmark (or Finland, or Iceland) which did. Sweden is suffering while Denmark is relaxing restrictions.
All of these countries are democracies but consider this from the Financial Times:
“Japan not only avoided a compulsory lockdown, with some restaurants continuing to serve meals throughout the past seven weeks, but it did not carry out mass testing for Covid-19.
“Local explanations for Japan’s success include a culture of wearing face masks and obedience to government requests, and the effectiveness of the country’s contact-tracing system. However, the decisive factor or combination of factors is not clear.
“Mr Abe said the number of patients hospitalised with the virus, which at one point exceeded 10,000, had fallen below 2,000 and a panel of experts judged that the entire country was at a safe level to reopen.”
The key to Japan’s success is cooperation. Japan also had a culture that accepted face masks, something that is proving to be valuable to not only protect others, but if masks were more universal the rate of transmission of the virus would drop. Another entry from English nurse teacher Dr. John Campbell, “Scientific Evidence for Mask Wearing”.
The United States does not have COVID-19 cooperation. Consider this.
First, the GOP is leaning into a traditional 50,000 person indoor August convention. Trump is threatening break a contractual obligation with Charlotte, North Carolina to move the convention unless democratic Gov. Roy Cooper “guarantee” that there would be no coronavirus-related restrictions on the size of the event.” Cooper is not willing to offer that guarantee for an event that will be held in August, over two months away.
Into the void of “never let a serious crisis go to waste”, Gov. Ron ‘Mini-Trump’ DeSantis (R-FL) and Gov. Brian ‘Mini-Trump Wannabe’ Kemp (R-GA) serve up their states — and people — as host candidate.
This from a party that has Trump adviser Kevin Hassett refer to people as human capital stock, as in, “Our human capital stock is ready to go back to work.” And apparently off to an August GOP convention.
Testing was a ‘condition’ for reopening, but most of us knew Trump would never hold to that standard. But even as Florida and Georgia compete to host the GOP convention, putting 50,000 people in a confined space, we still do not have a national strategy for COVID-19 testing. The headline:
And the reality is that once again Trump is ready to accept credit for success and assign blame for failure to others. And to move goal posts as required, now claiming that anything less than 1,500,000 US COVID-19 deaths is a sign that effective steps were taken.
So there we are – Hunger Games and “human capital stock”. It is no wonder that “A third of Americans now show signs of clinical anxiety or depression, Census Bureau finds amid coronavirus pandemic”.
Most of us want simple answers for how we can all be safe; we are not — and cannot be — safe singularly, in a vacuum. Social distancing and safe steps to avoid and limit droplet transmission help. This is a very transmittable virus with a high death rate. Stay healthy but success is not an individual contest. We are limited by understandably high levels of distrust of government, and — for some — of science but the reality is that cooperation would be a better strategy than rejecting science or blaming.
Some people have channeled lockdown energy into hobbies or entertainment. Need a giant Kookaburra?
Or how about a jaunty dance with grandpa?