Thursday Coronavirus Reads: Denial of Science and Collective Trauma

Katherine Bernhardt’s new public mural painted in Guatemala, 2020. Courtesy of the artist.

Good Morning!!

Yesterday the world watched in horror as Trump forced another scientist to soften remarks he had made in the media. We also learned that the government scientist who was in charge of Covid-19 vaccine development was demoted because he criticized Trump’s advocacy for an unproven and dangerous drug combination to treat the virus. Day after day in his “coronavirus briefings, Trump is trying to crush scientific expertise with his iron fist of ignorance.

The Washington Post: Under Trump, coronavirus scientists can speak — as long as they mostly toe the line.

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, issued a candid warning Tuesday in a Washington Post interview: A simultaneous flu and coronavirus outbreak next fall and winter “will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through,” adding that calls and protests to “liberate” states from stay-at-home orders — as President Trump has tweeted — were “not helpful.”

By Wednesday evening, Redfield appeared at the daily White House briefing — saying he had been accurately quoted after all, while also trying to soften his words as the president glowered next to him.

“I didn’t say that this was going to be worse,” Redfield said. “I said it was going to be more difficult and potentially complicated because we’ll have flu and coronavirus circulating at the same time.”

What about the first CDC director to speak out back in March?

In another instance, Nancy Messonnier, the CDC’s director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, was removed from her post as her agency’s coronavirus response head after sounding early alarms that Americans should begin preparing for “significant disruption” to their lives from a “severe illness.” The CDC held its last daily briefing on March 9 — a forum through which the nation would normally receive critical public health information — in part out of a desire not to provoke the president.

There’s much more at the WaPo link.

A painted fence depicts president Trump as the coronavirus, Photo by Josh Edelson, APP Getty Images

The New York Times: Health Dept. Official Says Doubts on Hydroxychloroquine Led to His Ouster.

The official who led the federal agency involved in developing a coronavirus vaccine said on Wednesday that he was removed from his post after he pressed for rigorous vetting of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug embraced by President Trump as a coronavirus treatment, and that the administration had put “politics and cronyism ahead of science.”

Rick Bright was abruptly dismissed this week as the director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, and removed as the deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response. He was given a narrower job at the National Institutes of Health.

In a scorching statement, Dr. Bright, who received a Ph.D. in immunology and molecular pathogenesis from Emory University, assailed the leadership at the health department, saying he was pressured to direct money toward hydroxychloroquine, one of several “potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections” and repeatedly described by the president as a potential “game changer” in the fight against the virus.

“I believe this transfer was in response to my insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the Covid-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit,” he said in his statement. “I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science — not politics or cronyism — has to lead the way.”

Read the rest at the NYT. In another horrifying moment at yesterday’s briefing, Dr. Fauci defended Bright’s ouster.

A dog walks past a mural depicting a coronavirus cell, Dublin, Ireland, Photo by Aidan Crawley, EPA

Meanwhile, more than 47,000 Americans have died from Covid-19 complications, and Trump isn’t capable of mustering even a drop of sympathy for the heartbroken survivors or for those currently battling the disease in hospitals and homes around the country.

Today the total of confirmed cases in the U.S. is 842,624, based on our extremely limited testing. What does the future hold for survivors and the rest of us?

Charlotte Jee at Technology Review: Many covid-19 survivors will be left traumatized by their ICU experience.

There’s a phrase to describe what we’re experiencing: collective trauma. We are all grieving—whether it’s for the deaths of loved ones, the loss of our way of life, or the knowledge that things will never quite be the same again. Most of us are experiencing some level of anxiety. The loss of control over major aspects of our lives and lack of a clear end point to the crisis are both partly to blame. For some, stress will spiral into a diagnosable mental health problem.

But we’re not all going through the same thing. Health-care workers who treat coronavirus patients every day are likely at increased risk of such issues. Many worry about working with inadequate protective equipment. The stress they’re under now could take months or even years to process, so we won’t know the pandemic’s full impact for a long time.

From artist Debbie.lee Miszaniec’s COVID-19 Sketchbook. Courtesy, Debbie.lee Miszaniec, Calgary

And there’s another group we need to prepare for: people who have been admitted to intensive care with covid-19 and survived. It’s very difficult to predict how many people will end up in this situation. The vast majority of those who catch coronavirus won’t need a hospital stay, according to a study of nearly 45,000 cases in China carried out by the country’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that 81% of infections are mild.

These survivors are going to be dealing with the aftereffects of major trauma.

For those who make it out the other side, their stay in intensive care is likely to be one of the most traumatic things they will ever experience. Being able to breathe is something we take for granted. But patients who have such difficulty breathing that they need to be intubated (which involves having a tube inserted into their mouth and down their airway) often believe they are going to die at some point during their stay in intensive care. Anecdotally, ICU doctors say patients with covid-19 tend to need a particularly large amount of sedation, which damages muscles and nerves, especially in the lungs. That damage can be permanent—which can in turn undermine the patient’s mental health.

“Their lives will never look exactly as they were before. Being admitted to an ICU is one of those ‘before and after’ life events, like having a child, or a parent dying,” says Megan Hosey, a psychologist who treats ICU patients.

Patients on ventilators often become delirious. They can drift in and out of consciousness, hallucinate, and become confused about what’s happening to them. It’s common for them to form delusions and misremember what’s occurred. “They can recollect that a nurse or doctor was trying to hurt them when they were doing a procedure to help them,” says Timothy Girard, associate professor of critical care medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. It’s unsurprising, then, that so many ICU survivors go on to experience depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, and other mental health issues.

Read the rest at MIT’s Tech Review.


Scientific American offers an article on personal growth following traumatic experiences: The Coronavirus and Post-Traumatic Growth, by Steve Taylor.

Post-traumatic growth (or PTG) is the idea that, in the long run, traumatic events and experiences—like illness, accidents, bereavement, addiction and divorce—can have beneficial effects. Often, after the initial shock and pain of a traumatic situation has faded away, people report feeling more appreciative of their lives, and sensing a new inner strength and confidence. They feel that their relationships are more intimate and authentic, and that they have a new sense of meaning and purpose. They often become less materialistic and more altruistic, more concerned with the well-being of others than with their own success and status. They develop a more philosophical or spiritual attitude to life, with—in the words of Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun, two of the pioneers of the theory of PTG—a “deeper level of awareness.”

Overall, it appears that nearly half of people who experience such traumatic events are likely to experience PTG in the aftermath.

Over the last 10 years or so, my own research has focused on what I call post-traumatic transformation. I have found that psychological turmoil and trauma may not simply bring about growth, but a dramatic transformation. After a period of intense suffering (such as a diagnosis of cancer or a long period of depression or addiction), a person may undergo a sudden shift of identity.

Painting to honor the heroes of the service industry, Terrance Osborne, New Orleans, LA

All of a sudden, they feel like a different person inhabiting the same body, with heightened sensory awareness, an increased sense of compassion and connection, and new values or goals. For example, a woman who experienced post-traumatic transformation after the death of her daughter told me that she felt like she had broken through “to another state. I’ve moved up to another level of awareness which I know is going to stay with me.”

As I showed in my book The Leap, many people could specify a particular moment at which transformation occurred, often at the moment when they shifted into an attitude of acceptance of their predicament. For example, a man told me how, as an alcoholic undergoing the Alcoholics Anonymous recovery process, he experienced transformation at the moment when he “handed over” his problem. Another person had become severely disabled and underwent a shift at the point when he heard an inner voice say, “Let go, man, let go. Look at how you’re holding on. What do you think life’s telling you?” A woman who went through a period of intense postnatal depression, entering into a psychotic state, which led to four nights without sleep. In the midst of this turmoil, she had an argument with her husband, which suddenly triggered what she described as “feelings of such perfect joy and peace. I remember thinking afterward ‘so that’s what I’m supposed to feel like!’ Within that one instant, you are forever changed.”

Taylor argues that traumatic growth can also happen within communities. Read all about at Scientific American.

One more rather dark look at our future from John Harris, founding editor of Politico Magazine: Stop Looking on the Bright Side: We’ll Be Screwed By the Pandemic for Years to Come.

…my wariness toward seeing the glass half-full is grounded in the experience of the past generation. Unfortunately, that experience offers ample reason to be pessimistic about the next one. People who feel that the pandemic is going to “break the fever” of the last couple decades—that it will finally drain public life of its malice, its addiction to remorseless conflict and conspiracy theory, its devil-take-the-hindmost nihilism—carry the burden of proof. I’d like to buy it but can’t yet.

A glass sculpture entitled “coronavirus – COVID-19” created by British artistLuke Jerram, Bristol, southwest of England on March 17, 2020.

What if instead of ushering in a new era of respect for science—including the obvious truth that most policy questions around science involve mixed evidence and relative probabilities rather than absolute certainties—the next several years are marked by a distorted, dishonest, told-you-so debate over the pandemic? What if instead of launching a new season of public interest, a weak economy leaves little money or political will to solve long-deferred problems like climate change? What if this cataclysm makes us even more selfish and short-term in our thinking?

In short: What if we’re screwed?

None of this is a prediction. Nor is it a generational lament. Unlike some younger friend —who feel they came of age with events conspiring against their life prospects and are aggrieved about it—I was already in my thirties at the turn of the century and my basic worldview was pretty well set. That view was that the tides of modern life were moving unevenly but inexorably toward liberal democracy; that politics often could be distorted by corruption or fanaticism but was more rational than irrational; that public life was contentious and chaotic but more on the level than not.

like many of the thinkers commissioned by POLITICO, my impulse was to respond to the succession of astounding, can-this-really-be-happening events of the past 20 years by assuming they might somehow be occasions to hit the reset button, to get back to normal. Maybe a bizarre election in which George W. Bush became president under disputed circumstances will cause him to transcend ideological warfare and find common ground. Maybe the horror of 9/11 will be a great unifying event in the United States and for civilized people around the world. Maybe Hurricane Katrina will focus useful attention on climate change and the need to invest in improved national infrastructure. Maybe the 2008 financial crash will bring pressure to bear on income inequality. Maybe Donald Trump surprised even himself with his 2016 victory and will actually prove to be an effective post-partisan dealmaker.

Read more at the Politico link.

I hope I haven’t completely bummed you out. I tend to be an optimist generally, but right now I’m more in agreement with John Harris’ take. What do you think? What stories have you been following?

30 Comments on “Thursday Coronavirus Reads: Denial of Science and Collective Trauma”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    See more coronavirus street art at The Guardian.

  2. bostonboomer says: Elizabeth Warren’s Brother Dies Of Coronavirus

    Elizabeth Warren’s oldest brother died of the new coronavirus, the U.S. senator announced Thursday morning.

    Don Reed, 86, died in Oklahoma about three weeks after contracting the virus. Warren’s oldest brother was a 20-year Air Force veteran.

    “I’m grateful to the nurses and frontline staff who took care of him, but it’s hard to know that there was no family to hold his hand or to say “I love you” one more time—and no funeral for those of us who loved him to hold each other close,” Warren said on Twitter. “I’ll miss you dearly my brother.”

    • dakinikat says:

      He sounded like a really nice guy.

  3. Pat Johnson says:

    Why are so many people unwilling to challenge Trump’s lies and exaggerations.

    I only heard yesterday – for the first time by the way – journalist Jonathan Karl fire back at Trump when he called his reporting “fake news” and Karl protested with “no it’s not”.

    Most of them sit there like total mutes while this idiot meanders and mumbles on for 2 interminable hours lying, congratulating himself, contradicting, and confusing the public day after miserable day. Granting him this forum is an abomination.

    Turn him off. Tune him out. Deprive him of the audience he craves and to whom he appears to crave to feed his oversize ego.

    We learn nothing. Those who stand behind him are no better to be honest, even the revered Dr. Fauci.

    Our lives are at stake here and to “pretend” that this man is using every thing possible to assist is an affront.

    Stop the lies. The press needs to send that signal by refusing to show up for the Five O’ Clock Follies out of respect for the rest of us.

    • NW Luna says:

      I don’t understand why no one calls out the Emperor’s New Clothes for the ugly reality it is either.

  4. dakinikat says:

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  7. bostonboomer says: MA Singled Out As Obama Weighs In On Coronavirus Response

    Former President Barack Obama weighed in on the federal response to the coronavirus crisis, saying a “coherent national plan” is still necessary, while praising the response by Massachusetts.

    “While we continue to wait for a coherent national plan to navigate this pandemic, states like Massachusetts are beginning to adopt their own public health plans to combat the virus–before it’s too late,” Obama tweeted Wednesday afternoon.

    Obama linked to a New Yorker article from this week titled “It’s Not Too Late To Go On Offense Against The Coronavirus.” The article, written by a special adviser to the Bay State’s pandemic response, singles out two ways the state has been ahead of much of the country.

    First is contact tracing, the first-in-the-nation program Gov. Charlie Baker announced at the beginning of April. The program, which is still growing, consists of a virtual call center that reaches out to people who test positive for the coronavirus. The call center then tries to get in touch with anyone that person may have had close contact with and alerts them.

    The second is testing. Baker announced a goal in March of testing 3,500 Massachusetts residents a day. More than double that target are now being administered daily.

    • quixote says:

      Hillary, Mass., now Obama, are all pointing to the principles outlined in the New Yorker article because — I know everyone here knows that — it’s the established science. (The author is one of the people advising MA.)

      Isolate, to get ahead of it

      Test, to find out who’s infected

      Trace, to find out who else is infected

      Provide paid sick leave, quarantine, and treatment to everyone who needs it.

      It a total “Duh.”

      When this thing first started blowing up, I wasn’t even worried because, hey, it’s an infectious disease. We know about them now. We know how to deal with them. We’ll do that, and the problems will not get totally out of hand.

      Yeah. Hysterical laughter.

      • NW Luna says:

        WA state is doing contact tracing too. Doing this nation-wide would be a good way to put more people to work if they had the right equipment at home and sufficient training. Oh, but Federal.

        • quixote says:

          Oh, but Federal is right! And since there are not national borders between states, meaning you can’t control movement across, the *only* real way to do it is Federal.

          So double and triple and quadruple, “Oh, but Federal” !

  8. dakinikat says:

    I think he’s suggesting his voters kill themselves by drinking lysol or something …

    • quixote says:

      Well known that lungs are made out of stainless steel, so this seems like a really good idea.

      Seriously, there’s a movement like this out in the wildlands of the web. H2O2, hydrogen peroxide, inhalation to “clean the lungs.” I am not making this up.

      One of the commenters wanted to know what she’d done wrong because she still had the flu and all that happened was the vapor bleached her hair a bit.

      I know. Right?

      Next up will be the Orange Mental Turd finding these crazies and saying, “I said it first! It’s the best! I love it!”

  9. bostonboomer says:

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  12. NW Luna says:

    So many people still put hydrogen peroxide on cuts and minor skin injuries thinking it kills infection. Don’t do this! Hydrogen peroxide kills those newly healing cells! Stop!

    Takes so damn long for scientific findings to get out into practice.

  13. Minkoff Minx says:

    This is gold:

    • NW Luna says:

      I’ll give up my disinfectant so he can inject it!

      • joanelle says:

        That is shear lunacy and someone needs to give him a new ‘jacket’ and carry him into a special room. Any leader who just sits there or even worse continues to support him is complicit in any deaths that occur due to his suggestions.
        We know there are some folks out there who will hear his words and think since he’s the president it must be a good idea. How much longer will we let people die because of this horror?

  14. NW Luna says: