Thursday Reads

in-a-deep-dark-december, Stephen Keller

In a Deep Dark December, by Stephen Keller

Good Afternoon!!

We can soon bid farewell to 2021. The past two years have been awful, thanks to Trump and Covid-19. Will 2022 be any better? We can only hope. For now, the new Omicron variant is infecting more people than ever before.

The New York Times: The U.S. breaks its single-day case record, nearly doubling the highest numbers from last winter.

With a caseload nearly twice that of the worst days last winter, the United States shattered its record for new daily coronavirus cases, a milestone that may not adequately illustrate the rapid spread of the Delta and Omicron variants because testing has slowed over the holidays.

As a second year of living with the pandemic was drawing to a close, the new daily case total topped 488,000 on Wednesday, according to a New York Times database. (The total was higher on Monday, but that number should not be considered a record because it included data from the long holiday weekend.)

Wednesday’s seven-day average of new daily cases, 301,000, was also a record, compared with 267,000 the day before, according to the database. In the past week, more than two million cases have been reported nationally, and 15 states and territories reported more cases than in any other seven-day period.

The rise in cases has been driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant, which became dominant in the United States as of last week. So far, however, those increased cases have not resulted in more severe disease, as hospitalizations have increased only 11 percent and deaths have decreased slightly in the past two weeks.

Because Covid tests have been in short supply over the holidays, Wednesday’s numbers still may not fully illustrate the havoc caused by the two variants, which have sent caseloads soaring and have worsened a labor shortage, upending the hospitality, medical and travel industries, among others.


December, by Hans Baluschek

Demand for tests has outstripped supply, particularly in the last month as the Omicron variant has spread at an astonishing speed. And the holiday season offers its own disruptions to the U.S. case curve, with many testing sites offering limited hours and labs and government offices not open to report test results.

Last year, the national case curve showed pronounced declines after Thanksgiving and Christmas that did not reflect real decreases in new infections. The impact of holidays may be even more noticeable this time around, as illustrated by the Labor Day holiday in September, because states are reporting data less consistently than they did a year ago.

Head over to the NYT if you want more details.

Massachusetts is one of the most highly vaccinated states, but case numbers here are hitting record highs. CBS Boston: Massachusetts Reports New Single Day Record Of 15,163 COVID Cases, Positivity Rate Also Hits New High.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health reported 15,163 new confirmed COVID cases on Wednesday, a new single day record. The previous record was set last week when the state reported 10,040 new cases on Christmas Eve.

As of Wednesday, the seven-day weighted average of positive tests in Massachusetts had also increased to 13.58%, also a new record high.

There were also 45 additional deaths reported Wednesday.

Health officials said the total number of confirmed cases in the state is now 1,017,429. The total number of confirmed deaths is now 19,737.

There were 91,974 total new tests reported.

There are 1,711 people currently hospitalized for a coronavirus-related illness.

There are also 392 patients currently in intensive care.

Governor Baker plans to speak about the crisis later today. It’s happening everywhere.

According to an expert quoted in this article at The Washington Post, most people are probably going to get the virus eventually. We just have to hope the vaccinations protect us from serious illness and death.

Across the nation and the world, people who thought they knew how to avoid covid are getting a rude surprise. Safety precautions that had for so long felt talismanic ― get vaccinated, mask up, avoid large indoor gatherings — have in the past week or two collapsed under the weight of omicron, a much more highly transmissible variant than the ones before it.

Dark December Day, Eileen Ziegler

Dark December Day, Eileen Ziegler

Schools and colleges returned to virtual learning. Flights were canceled as airline staff caught the virus. Long-anticipated holiday plans fell apart as people — young and old, vaccinated and unvaccinated — tested positive right and left. Those with negative tests worried it was only a matter of time.

They are likely right, according to Robert Frenck, professor of pediatrics and director of the Vaccine Research Center at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. “You know what? You’re probably going to get covid,” he said, but if you have been vaccinated you are unlikely to become seriously ill.

Instead of thinking they lost the race against the virus, Frenck encouraged people to redefine their concept of winning. “It’s not that you failed,” he said. “You actually succeeded. You dodged the bullet. … What are people trying to prevent? Are we trying to prevent the common cold? Nobody’s going to do that. You’ve gotten your booster, you’ve done everything, and you still get covid, but how sick did you get?”

For most infected people with vaccines, he said, “What they’re having is a cold.”

People misunderstand what the vaccine is designed to do, Frenck said, adding that unvaccinated people are dying at a rate 20 times higher than people who are vaccinated and boosted. “Vaccines are going to stop people from being hospitalized and from ending up in the ICU and from dying,” he said. “This is nature saying, it hasn’t gone away now, and we need to go out and get vaccinated.”

Vaccinated people are dying from breakthrough cases though. Here are the latest numbers from Massachusetts: 20,247 New Breakthrough Cases in Mass., 70 More Deaths in Vaccinated People.

Massachusetts health officials on Tuesday reported more than 20,000 new breakthrough COVID cases over the past week and 70 more deaths.

In the last week, 20,247 new breakthrough cases — infections in people who have been vaccinated — were reported, with 353 more vaccinated people hospitalized, Massachusetts Department of Public Health officials said Tuesday. It’s a 45% increase in the rate of new breakthrough cases in Massachusetts — last week saw 13,919 new COVID infections in vaccinated people — but a decrease in the number of deaths among vaccinated people.

The new report brings the total number of breakthrough cases to 134,565, and the death toll among people with breakthrough infections to 854.

Both figures remain a tiny percentage of the total number of all people who have been vaccinated.

Yes, the numbers are relatively small, but I wonder how many people who died are in my elderly age group?

The Washington Post reports that Coronavirus risk calculations get harder as a study suggests rapid tests may be less effective at detecting omicron.

As the coronavirus spawns a record-breaking wave of infections, new research suggests that rapid tests widely used to identify potential covid-19 cases might be less effective at identifying illness caused by the swiftly spreading omicron variant.


Country Lane in Winter, by Stuart Black

The finding is the latest complication for anyone trying to strike a common-sense balance between being vigilant and returning to normalcy as the country approaches the third year of the pandemic.

The research, issued Tuesday by the Food and Drug Administration and produced by the National Institutes of Health, said the rapid antigen tests — which have been in high demand and often hard to find this holiday season — “do detect the omicron variant but may have reduced sensitivity.”

Although rapid tests showed reduced sensitivity to omicron compared with earlier variants in a lab study, the real-world implications are not clear and are still under investigation, said Bruce J. Tromberg, director of NIH’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering and lead of RADx Tech, an effort to assess and speed up the development of tests in cooperation with the FDA. The findings do not necessarily mean the tests will be less sensitive in the real world.

Unfortunately, the truth is that we still don’t know very much about the Omicron variant. I just hope the reports that it is milder than previous versions of the virus hold true.

In other news, Ghislaine Maxwell was found guilty yesterday. NBC News: Ghislaine Maxwell convicted of federal sex trafficking charges for role in Jeffrey Epstein’s abuses.

British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell was convicted Wednesday of five federal sex trafficking charges after a jury concluded that she played a pivotal part in recruiting and grooming teenage girls to be sexually abused by her close confidant, the wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein.

Maxwell was found guilty of five of the six federal counts she was charged with and faces up to 65 years in prison. The judge has not set a sentencing date.

The jury of six men and six women reached the verdict in the federal sex trafficking trial in New York City after six days of deliberations that bookended the holiday weekend. As deliberations dragged on, U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan, who oversaw the case, worried that the omicron variant of the coronavirus and rising case numbers in the city could lead to a mistrial, and she had told the jury that if no verdict were reached, it would have to deliberate through the holiday weekend.

Caspar David Friedrich, Winterlandschaft (1811)

Caspar David Friedrich, Winterlandschaft (1811)

Late Wednesday, however, the jury came to its conclusion.

Maxwell was convicted of conspiracy to entice a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, conspiracy to transport a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors and sex trafficking of minors.

She was not found guilty of enticing a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, which carried a five-year sentence.

According to Insider, Maxwell can either appeal or turn on other people who were involved with Epstein: After her guilty verdict, Ghislaine Maxwell has two options: Cooperate with investigators and start naming names or appeal the decision. Either way, she may face decades in prison.

In light of the conviction, she has two paths forward, and neither one may keep her from spending significant time behind bars.

“Maxwell truly has two options: She can fight this case and take it up on appeal, where she will likely face a 65-year sentence, or she can start issuing some names of who else was involved for a substantially lighter sentence,” said Matthew Barhoma, a criminal-appeals lawyer in Los Angeles….

Neama Rahmani, the president of West Coast Trial Lawyers and a former federal prosecutor, told Insider that he didn’t believe Maxwell had a legal basis to appeal, but that he expected she would anyway.

“She’s going to appeal because otherwise, she’s going to die in federal prison,” Rahmani said. He added that he believed the prosecution’s case against Maxwell was strong.

Barhoma agreed, but said he thought Maxwell could have some strong claims in an appeals process….

Even if Maxwell had some success in the appeals process and the case was retried, prosecutors would still likely get a conviction, based on the strength of their case and the other accusers’ testimonies, Barhoma said. It was extremely unlikely, he said, that the conviction would be thrown out entirely.

Read more at the link.

In politics news, this is a scary piece by Nicholas Riccardi at AP: ‘Slow-motion insurrection’: How GOP seizes election power.

In the weeks leading up to the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, a handful of Americans — well-known politicians, obscure local bureaucrats — stood up to block then-President Donald Trump’s unprecedented attempt to overturn a free and fair vote of the American people.

In the year since, Trump-aligned Republicans have worked to clear the path for next time.

Claude Monet, Snow Scent at Argentuil

Claude Monet, Snow Scene at Argenteuil

In battleground states and beyond, Republicans are taking hold of the once-overlooked machinery of elections. While the effort is incomplete and uneven, outside experts on democracy and Democrats are sounding alarms, warning that the United States is witnessing a “slow-motion insurrection” with a better chance of success than Trump’s failed power grab last year.

They point to a mounting list of evidence: Several candidates who deny Trump’s loss are running for offices that could have a key role in the election of the next president in 2024. In Michigan, the Republican Party is restocking members of obscure local boards that could block approval of an election. In Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, the GOP-controlled legislatures are backing open-ended “reviews” of the 2020 election, modeled on a deeply flawed look-back in Arizona. The efforts are poised to fuel disinformation and anger about the 2020 results for years to come.

All this comes as the Republican Party has become more aligned behind Trump, who has made denial of the 2020 results a litmus test for his support. Trump has praised the Jan. 6 rioters and backed primaries aimed at purging lawmakers who have crossed him. Sixteen GOP governors have signed laws making it more difficult to vote. An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll showed that two-thirds of Republicans do not believe Democrat Joe Biden was legitimately elected as president.

“It’s not clear that the Republican Party is willing to accept defeat anymore,” said Steven Levitsky, a Harvard political scientist and co-author of the book “How Democracies Die.” “The party itself has become an anti-democratic force.”

Republicans who sound alarms are struggling to be heard by their own party. GOP Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming or Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, members of a House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection, are often dismissed as party apostates.

One more before I wrap up this depressing post. NPR: As the Jan. 6 attack anniversary nears, one Capitol officer fears a violent repeat.

“This is how I’m going to die.”

That’s what U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell thought on Jan. 6, 2021 as an angry mob stormed the Capitol and dragged him by the leg.

“I could feel myself losing oxygen and recall thinking to myself, ‘This is how I’m going to die, trampled defending this entrance,'” he said last July before a House Select Committee investigating the riot that disrupted a joint session of Congress as it affirmed the results of the presidential election.

On that January day, Gonell was assigned to guard the west entrance to the Capitol, which he’s described as a “medieval battleground”.

Nearly a year later, the emigrant from the Dominican Republic still can’t raise his left arm due to injuries he sustained during the attack, and the psychological wounds have also not healed for him or his family.

Gunnell says he and some fellow officers believe it will happen again.

“A lot of the officers have in mind the possibility of this being a recurring annual or every four year thing, which is why officers like myself are being outspoken about it, because we don’t want to go through this again,” Gonell said.

Nevertheless, he says he would, if it’s required of him.

“It’s mind boggling to hear some of the things that are coming from some of these elected officials. But at the end of the day, our job is to make them safe and make their work environment safer, regardless of our opinion or political affiliation,” Gonell said.

Read more at NPR.

I hope you all have a peaceful Thursday and a relaxing long weekend. Take care Sky Dancers!

18 Comments on “Thursday Reads”

  1. dakinikat says:

    I thought I’d share this if anyone else has this issue besides me.

    Love the tree paintings! It’s like 80 here but by Sunday it will be 37. What a rollercoaster!

    Have a good end of the week!

    • djmm says:

      I don’t know: one of our kitties had IBD all his life. It was in his gut, not his head. (He passed at age 18 and one month.)

    • NW Luna says:

      IBS is not all in the head! Grrrr. During grad school I was a research assistant on an IBS study funded by the NIH. That was a while ago, and I didn’t keep up on IBS as I went from primary care into a neurorehab subspecialty, but there are objective physical findings associated with IBS.

      IBS still hasn’t been studied that much, because it occurs primarily in women and it doesn’t kill you (cynical laugh).

    • roofingbird says:

      I was pretty pissed at that article. I have a few stories myself.

  2. darthvelma says:

    Ghislaine Maxwell is a terrible person and deserves time behind bars. But I have a real problem with the fact that time may be several orders of magnitude longer than any man serves for actually sexually assaulting a girl/woman.

    • NW Luna says:

      Yes. It’s obvious that her sentence is dramatically more harsh than the slap on the wrist given to Epstein, who was male. Does this reflect the “boys will be boys” bullshit?

    • bostonboomer says:

      Maxwell participated in some sexual encounters according to a victim who was 14 at the time.

  3. NW Luna says:

    On Tests for Covid Omicron variant, and note that nearly all home tests are via nasal swab:

    Saliva samples yielded more accurate results in PCR analyses when Omicron was involved compared with those collected via nasal swabs. When patients carried the Delta variant, on the other hand, nasal swabs were more accurate…

    For the Delta variant, the positive percent agreement for each sampling method, in comparison with this “gold standard,” was 71% for saliva and 100% for the nasal swabs. But this was reversed for Omicron, with 100% agreement between saliva samples and the gold standard, but only 86% for nasal swabs.

    Nasal swabs have been the standard for COVID-19 screening and diagnosis ever since the virus was discovered, but that may no longer be appropriate in an Omicron-dominated pandemic landscape, the authors concluded.

    However, while saliva sampling may be easier to perform than nasal swabbing, the researchers noted that it’s not as simple as spitting in a cup. At Groote Schuur, patients were instructed to swab the inside of the mouth — both cheeks, above and below the tongue, the gums, and hard palate — for a total of at least 30 seconds. They were also told not to eat, drink, smoke, or chew anything for at least 30 minutes beforehand.

  4. NW Luna says:

    Yes, the numbers are relatively small, but I wonder how many people who died are in my elderly age group?

    Agree. I’m sure the death toll is higher as a percentage of cases the older one gets.

    • NW Luna says:

      Far higher than earlier.

      COVID-19 positivity rate soars near 50% at some Seattle-area testing sites, straining capacity

      • MsMass says:

        That makes me think we are literally all going to get it. I’ve been isolating, I guess I’ll continue it till Covid catches me. Gotta help keep hospital census down ,even though I’m tempted to just say screw it. Seems inevitable I’ll get it.

        • Riverbird (ouzel) says:

          I’ve been isolating too, going nowhere and having groceries delivered. I think the longer we can hold out, the better, because treatments are becoming available.

        • NW Luna says:

          Antibodies produced after Covid infection are often less than those produced after vaccination. I’m not an immunologist so don’t understand why, but the take-home is that natural infection won’t necessarily give you extra protection.

  5. NW Luna says:

    They’ll refuse to take credit for it.

  6. quixote says:

    Yes, the numbers are relatively small, but I wonder how many people who died are in my elderly age group?

    This. Plus it’s symptomatic in way more young people than previous variants. Plus it’s too early to know how bad the long covid is that this variant might bring. Etc etc etc.

    I get mega-annoyed at the Oh-it’s-mild BS.

    Point One: it’s clearly not that mild because thousands of people are still being hospitalized.

    Point Two: We don’t know anywhere near enough about omicron to be putting “mildness” out there as if it was a fact, disregarding millions of vulnerable people. And disregarding long covid.

    Point Three: All people (and governments and health authorities!) are really saying is “I’m betting I’ll be okay, and your problems don’t matter so long as they don’t bother me.” (Which is working out about as well as idiotic selfishness always does, as airlines stop flying and hospitals cut back because no staff.)

    As Riverbird said, the only useful strategy now for individuals is to hold out as long as possible in the hope that eventually vaccines / treatments will be good enough to avoid long term damage.

    As some bright wit said, when we “learned to live with” typhoid we did it with closed sewers and cleanliness. Not by just saying oh-the-hell-with-it and continuing to make dinner with poopy fingers.