Lazy Caturday Reads

Good Morning!!

My state remains number three in coronavirus cases behind New York and New Jersey, despite the act that Gov. Charlie Baker has acted responsibly and Massachusetts citizens are overwhelmingly supportive of the state’s social distancing and other mitigation efforts.

The Washington Post: In educated and affluent Massachusetts, coronavirus cases surged. The decline has yet to come.

Massachusetts has one of the most educated and affluent populations in the country. It’s home to some of the nation’s most preeminent medical centers. And it has political leaders who have worked cooperatively, across party lines, in the face of a crisis.

Massachusetts also has the third-highest number of confirmed state coronavirus cases, along with the fourth-highest death toll. And despite predictions that numbers would be falling by now after a month and a half of people staying at home, new case counts have instead remained stubbornly high.

The state’s struggle to combat the coronavirus reflects just what a tenacious adversary it really is. Even for a place that has a lot going for it, the toll has been severe — and it is growing by the day.

As of Friday, Massachusetts had more than 64,000 cases — behind only New York and New Jersey, its larger northeastern neighbors. New cases totaled 2,106, continuing a dismal streak lasting more than two weeks of at least 1,500 additional cases per day. Deaths hit 3,716, behind only New York, New Jersey and Michigan….

The persistence with which people keep getting sick in Massachusetts has been matched in other hard-hit states. Rather than a precipitous decline, the number of new cases in places such as Illinois, California and the D.C. metro area has instead been leveling off slowly.

Experts say that is to be expected, even if it means a long road ahead.

“If social distancing is done well — and Massachusetts has done it pretty well — the effect is going to be to flatten the curve and spread it out over more time,” said David Hamer, professor of global health at Boston University and an infectious-disease physician at Boston Medical Center. “Instead of a peak, it’s a prolonged plateau. It’s going to be a gradual decline.”

Massachusetts is also working to incorporate cases and deaths that may have been left out of official counts. That will make our numbers look worse. Boston Magazine: Brace for Bigger Numbers of Official Massachusetts COVID-19 Cases.

The warnings have come again and again over the past several weeks: The official count of confirmed cases of COVID-19 is not what it seems. Month-to-month death totals show spikes that far outpace existing data on virus-caused fatalities. Antibody tests suggest neighborhood infection rates as high as one-in-three, far outpacing the number officially confirmed by nasal swabs. People wary of leaving home to seek treatment for any illnesses—pandemic-related or not—may choose to ride out their symptoms at home and may never get official confirmation of what ails them. Without a massive effort to swab every single person in Massachusetts all at once, which would be impossible, it seems the best we can do is make an informed guess about how many people have been touched by this thing, and what we should do in response.

So a new effort to make that guess more accurate may produce some shocking figures, but they shouldn’t come as a surprise. State public health officials now say they are working to count even unconfirmed COVID-19 cases in pandemic-tracking data, and expect to see the official numbers jump upward as a result. The new approach will see those with milder symptoms, or those who have not been tested and do not meet more stringent criteria for classifying illnesses as COVID, added to the tally in hopes of better tracking and responding to the spread of the disease.

In aggregate, more accurate data can give us a look at how the pandemic is trending overall. But the specifics of the results from the tests themselves, it seems, don’t tell us very much. There just aren’t enough tests to tell us conclusively who has had the virus and when, and how they got it, and where.

Read more at the link.

When will the state reopen? The Boston Globe: Expect a painfully slow reopening process, Mass. business leaders say.

Safely resuscitating an economy laid low by the coronavirus likely will be painfully slow and require a gradual return to the workplace supported by mandatory face masks, social distancing, and an expansion of state testing that could cost $720 million a year.

That is the sobering assessment of a high-powered Massachusetts business group — backed by research from top medical academics and professionals — that has the ear of the advisers who Governor Charlie Baker will rely on as he weighs how and when to begin lifting COVID-19 restrictions.

Stephen Pagliuca, the private equity investor and co-owner of the Boston Celtics, has been circulating a 70-page report that details the necessary conditions for reopening and recommends that companies bring back workers in phases, based on age and industry, with white-collar employees who can work remotely the last to come back.

“It’s going to be a while before we get back to normal,” Pagliuca, cochairman of Bain Capital, said during an online presentation to business leaders Friday. The report was put together by the Massachusetts High Technology Council and incorporates research from Bain Capital, McKinsey & Co., and a long list of academics including Brandeis professor Michael Rosbash, who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2017.

So that’s the situation where I am. I’d love to hear what’s going on in other Sky Dancers’ states.

Meanwhile, states like Georgia and Texas are risking reopening businesses even as cases and deaths rise.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution yesterday: Georgia’s COVID-19 death toll increases to 1,165; cases nearly reach 27.5K.

UPDATE [6:30 p.m.]: Since 11:30 a.m., state officials have increased Georgia’s coronavirus death toll by 18, meaning 1,165 Georgians have died due to the outbreak.

In the past 24 hours, the Georgia Department of Public Health has recorded 33 COVID-19 deaths.

In addition, the DPH confirmed 358 cases of COVID-19 since 11:30 a.m., bringing the state’s total to 27,492. Of those, more than 5,300 patients have been hospitalized at some point in Georgia, which is about 19.3% of all cases. At least 1,229 patients have been admitted into a hospital’s intensive care unit due to the virus.

More than 168,000 tests have been conducted in Georgia, and about 16.3% of those have returned positive results.

ABC News: COVID-19 cases on rise in state that starts 1st phase of reopening.

Texas reported its highest daily number of COVID-19 deaths, just a day before Governor Abbott’s stay-at-home order expired and the state began reopening.

On Thursday, the Lone Star State death toll reached 50, bringing the total number of coronavirus fatalities in the state to 782. Positive cases increased by 1,033, the biggest one-day jump in three weeks.

These numbers precede phase one of the governor’s reopening plan, taking effect May 1. Under the new guidelines, all retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and malls may reopen, but must limit their capacity to 25% of their listed occupancy. Museums and libraries are permitted to open under the same guidelines, while churches and places of worship remain open.

“As we open Texas, we are each called upon to be Texans; to act responsibly as we reengage in the economy, to continue following all health precautions and sanitizing guidelines, and to care for our vulnerable neighbors. Lives depend on our actions. I know you will respond as Texans,” Gov. Greg Abbott stated in his report to open the state.

The Texas Democratic Party has criticized the Republican governor, posting on twitter, “Governor Abbott’s slow reaction to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent rush to reopen the state is shameful.

Though the state has eased restrictions, many cities are keeping their own safeguards in place.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is working overtime to cover up their mistakes in dealing with the pandemic.

The Washington Post: White House blocks Fauci from testifying before House panel next week.

The White House is blocking Anthony S. Fauci from testifying before a House subcommittee investigating the coronavirus outbreak and response, arguing that it would be “counterproductive” for him to appear next week while in the midst of participating in the government’s response to the pandemic.

The White House issued a statement about Fauci’s testimony shortly after The Washington Post published a story Friday afternoon quoting a spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee, who said the White House was refusing to allow Fauci to appear at a subcommittee hearing next week.

In fact, Fauci is expected to appear at a Senate hearing related to testing the following week, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning.

The Republican Senate, that is.

A Cat Accepts a Lick from a Cow at a Dairy Farm in Massachusetts, photo by Ira Block

Los Angeles Times: Trump administration blocks public disclosure on coronavirus supplies.

The Trump administration is refusing to disclose how it is distributing medical supplies for the coronavirus response that were brought to the U.S. at taxpayer expense through a White House initiative known as Project Air Bridge.

The administration instead has allowed six multibillion-dollar medical supply companies that are receiving government aid to import the supplies to block public release of the data, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Trump Administration continues its whole-of-government response to COVID-19, including safely opening up America again and expediting vaccine development, it is counterproductive to have the very individuals involved in those efforts appearing at congressional hearings,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere. “We are committed to working with Congress to offer testimony at the appropriate time.

“At this time, FEMA does not have the authority to release this information,” a spokesperson for the agency said in response to questions from The Times.

A spokesperson for McKesson Corp., one of the companies, denied making any demand that information be kept secret. “Consistent with McKesson’s commitment to fighting this pandemic, McKesson is cooperating with FEMA to facilitate the release of state-by-state data as appropriate,” the spokesperson said.

Nevertheless, the lack of disclosure effectively hinders any public accounting of which states are receiving the most assistance and what formulas are being used to distribute the equipment, despite a public investment of tens of millions of dollars in the airlift operation.

The lack of transparency about distributions comes on top of the administration’s refusal to provide information about the financial terms the White House struck with the medical distribution companies, which together reported more than $2 billion in profits last year.

The New York Times: Trump Moves to Replace Watchdog Who Identified Critical Medical Shortages.

President Trump moved on Friday night to replace a top official at the Department of Health and Human Services who angered him with a report last month highlighting supply shortages and testing delays at hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic.

The White House waited until after business hours to announce the nomination of a new inspector general for the department who, if confirmed, would take over for Christi A. Grimm, the principal deputy inspector general who was publicly assailed by the president at a news briefing three weeks ago.

The nomination was the latest effort by Mr. Trump against watchdog offices around his administration that have defied him. In recent weeks, he fired an inspector general involved in the inquiry that led to the president’s impeachment, nominated a White House aide to another key inspector general post overseeing virus relief spending and moved to block still another inspector general from taking over as chairman of a pandemic spending oversight panel.

Mr. Trump has sought to assert more authority over his administration and clear out officials deemed insufficiently loyal in the three months since his Senate impeachment trial on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress ended in acquittal largely along party lines. While inspectors general are appointed by the president, they are meant to be semiautonomous watchdogs ferreting out waste, fraud and corruption in executive agencies….

[Ms. Grimm’s] report, released last month and based on extensive interviews with hospitals around the country, identified critical shortages of supplies, revealing that hundreds of medical centers were struggling to obtain test kits, protective gear for staff members and ventilators. Mr. Trump was embarrassed by the report at a time he was already under fire for playing down the threat of the virus and not acting quickly enough to ramp up testing and provide equipment to doctors and nurses.

That’s all I have for you today. I’m getting ready for a visit from my brother and at least one of my nephews. They can’t some inside, but we can take a walk and sit on a bench outside on this lovely spring day.

Have a nice weekend, Sky Dancers!


31 Comments on “Lazy Caturday Reads”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    The Washington Post: Trump uses White House events to project return to normalcy while relying on testing that public lacks.

    At the White House this week, President Trump sat less than six feet from New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) in the Oval Office. He invited small-business owners to crowd behind the Resolute Desk for a photo shoot. His vice president toured a medical research center without a face mask in defiance of its policy.

    The daily images projected a sense of confidence that life, at least for the nation’s most prominent resident, is returning to a semblance of normalcy during the coronavirus pandemic — a visual cue to the public that conditions are improving as Trump pushes to restart sectors of the economy.

    Yet even as Trump aides have signaled that he could soon begin regular travel, the reality is that the White House has created a picture of security that is propped up by special access to the kind of wide-scale testing for covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, that most of the nation remains without.

    Trump, Vice President Pence and their aides are tested regularly, and all who enter the White House campus to meet with them are required to undergo on-site rapid tests developed by Abbott Laboratories, which provide results within 15 minutes.

  2. bostonboomer says:

  3. bostonboomer says:

    • dakinikat says:

  4. bostonboomer says:

  5. quixote says:

    “and all who enter the White House campus to meet with them are required to undergo on-site rapid tests developed by Abbott Laboratories, which provide results within 15 minutes.”

    Part of me is trying to do a gallows humor laugh about this, but I can’t even manage that.

    What a cesspit.

  6. bostonboomer says:

    • NW Luna says:

  7. quixote says:

    By the way, some interesting points raised by a reporter who looked at superspreader data very carefully. Jonathan Kay writing in Quillette.

    The main groups of infection arise from places where people are in close proximity, indoors, and talking, laughing, singing loudly. That fits a pattern of mainly airborne infection by large droplets.

    Being in close proximity for extended periods, such as members of the same household, is also very good at spreading it. But in terms of people you’re less close to, it seems to do best in enclosed areas where people are expelling air forcefully. The sport of curling, for instance, where the sweepers are practically nose-to-nose while working hard. That’s also why slaughterhouses are such a hotbed. Workers are inches away from each other, very noisy environment, and they have to shout to each other to do their work.

    Not spread by aerosols (very small droplets) primarily, because then superspreading events would be in offices, on aircraft, and similar. New Zealand had a sort of natural experiment on that. One of their biggest clusters was centered on a flight attendant who worked on one of the usual nearly day-long flights before travelling to a wedding. The people on the planes he took did not get sick. People at the wedding did. (He was asymptomatic at the time.)

    Also not primarily spread by touching surfaces, because then people like FedEx workers would be getting sick and being superspreaders. That’s not the pattern so far, either.

    This isn’t to say you can’t get it via aerosol or sorfaces. Just that those don’t look like the main routes.

    It’s a fascinating article, quite long, well worth a read. The news-you-can-use part is that it means masks, any masks, even tea towels, plus distancing are the two most useful things to do when out and about.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Very interesting. Thanks for the link Quixote.

    • NW Luna says:

      In-person, indoor groups with loud talking and singing — yes, very high risk for spread of infection. But I’d still question the large-droplet vs small droplet concept. Reminds me of an article tracing a cluster amongst in IIRC Snohomish Co, WA, which turned out to have been spread during a choir practice session. High-volume singing will produce far more small droplet spray than normal-volume speech. Definitely, use of masks will reduce the amount of infectious substance in the air and reduce chances of contracting covid-19.

      • quixote says:

        I gather (just from that article, total amateur on this) that singing produces lots of larger-than-aerosol droplets. The main variable seems to be how much muscle you’re using to produce the sound. Lots = plenty of larger droplets. No noticeable effort, like quiet speech = aerosols.

        Definition of the difference: aerosols are small enough to float, larger just means large enough to be subject to gravity. Not large enough to see necessarily. (Ewww. I don’t know how infectious disease experts stand it. I mean, GROSS! There’s a reason I’m a botanist!)

      • roofingbird says:

        I don’t think plumbing, venting and bathroom apurtanances should be discounted either. Toilet sharing is common in nursing/rehab homes. Hubby shared his with three others, plus the visitors.

    • NW Luna says:

      Found that article, which turns out to have been one of the clusters that writer investigated:

      With the coronavirus quickly spreading in Washington state in early March, leaders of the Skagit Valley Chorale debated whether to go ahead with weekly rehearsal. The virus was already killing people in the Seattle area, about an hour’s drive to the south. But Skagit County hadn’t reported any cases, schools and business remained open, and prohibitions on large gatherings had yet to be announced. On March 6, Adam Burdick, the choir’s conductor, informed the 121 members in an email that amid the “stress and strain of concerns about the virus,” practice would proceed as scheduled at Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church. …

      Sixty singers showed up. A greeter offered hand sanitizer at the door, and members refrained from the usual hugs and handshakes. … After 2½ hours, the singers parted ways at 9 p.m.

      Nearly three weeks later, 45 have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or ill with the symptoms, at least three have been hospitalized, and two are dead.

      The outbreak has stunned county health officials, who have concluded that the virus was almost certainly transmitted through the air from one or more people without symptoms. …people who were at the rehearsal said that nobody there was coughing or sneezing or appeared ill.

      https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/a-mount-vernon-choir-went-ahead-with-rehearsal-now-dozens-have-coronavirus-and-2-are-dead/

      • dakinikat says:

        My daughter’s practice was there before she switched, They’re discussing how to open live music venues here eventually and I don’t know how that happens without the vaccines and high levels of immunity

        • NW Luna says:

          That’s what worries me about opening up restaurants even to 50% capacity which WA might do near the end of May. Lots of restaurant goers speak in loud voices. At least concert-type events are put off until July. But regardless of how far back group events are pushed, it’s just as you said — without vaccine or other immunity numbers of infections and deaths will start rising again.

  8. dakinikat says:

    Well, I guess even he felt he had to say something.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I never thought I’d feel nostalgic for Bush. He was a terrible president, but he’s a human being, unlike the monster we have now.

    • NW Luna says:

      Even Shrub addresses this crisis far better than does Trump.

  9. bostonboomer says:

    • NW Luna says:

      Oh hell! It’s that Asian giant hornet. There were a couple of sightings in WA state last fall and notices to report any sightings so the Ag folks could come eradicate them. That one in the photo looks like a small one. They have been also called “yak killers” in Asia, which tells us something.

  10. NW Luna says:

    I’m concerned that some of this is too early, such as the 50% occupancy OK’d for restaurants, with groups up to 5 people, as of May 25 or later, whereas libraries and museums not until June 15 or later.

    Here’s when things in Washington might reopen according to Inslee’s 4-phase plan

    No one is getting a professional haircut before May 25, nor will you be able to sit in a restaurant before then. Missing public libraries or your gym? You’ll have to go at least another month without. Oh, and there will be no big concerts played in Washington at least until July.

    As expected, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Friday that Washington’s stay-home order to curb the coronavirus spread has been extended through May 31. However, Inslee also unveiled a four-phase plan that state officials will adhere to as they try to navigate the reopening of businesses in Washington.

    Phase 1 is expected to begin Monday. Inslee noted that each phase will run for a minimum of three weeks to give officials time to evaluate whether it’s safe to move to the next level. He conceded that it’s possible the four-phase timeline could be accelerated if “we catch some massive break because of climatic conditions or because a cure is found.” But, “We can’t count on that,” Inslee said.

  11. MsMass says:

    Northampton MA here- small rally of Trumpies before Coolidge bridge, maybe 25 people. They mostly had masks but closer than 6 feet apart. One had the sign” get a brain, morans”. That’s Mass repugs , 1/2 to 2/3 as bad as the regular trumpies.