Thursday Reads

Man reading

Man reading, by Franco Americano

Good Morning!!

News just broke of an explosion outside the Kabul airport in Afghanistan. The New York Times: An explosion is reported at Kabul airport, after warnings of a security threat.

An explosion rattled an area outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Thursday, the Pentagon confirmed, just hours after Western governments had warned of a security threat there.

Since the Taliban takeover of the city earlier this month, thousands of Afghan civilians and foreign citizens have gathered at the airport, which has a military and civilian side, desperate to be airlifted out of the country.

“We can confirm an explosion outside Kabul airport,” John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a post on Twitter. “Casualties are unclear at this time. We will provide additional details when we can.”

A U.S. military official confirmed that at least one explosion had occurred at the Abbey Gate, a main entryway to the international airport. Early reports indicated that the explosion was caused by at least one suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest. It was unclear how many people were injured or whether anyone was killed, but large crowds have been gathering at the gate in recent days.

I guess we’ll hear more details as the day goes on.

In other news, the Supreme Court’s conservative justices have decided to interfere with the U.S. President’s immigration powers. Ruth Marcus at The Washington Post: Opinion: Thanks to the Supreme Court, a federal judge in Texas is making foreign policy decisions.

It’s easy to miss amid the flood of other news, but thanks to the Supreme Court, a big chunk of our national immigration policy is now being run by a federal trial court judge in Texas. Oh, yes, also our foreign relations.

Not just any judge, by the way, but a Trump nominee named Matthew Kacsmaryk, who, before being named to the bench, described homosexuality as “disordered,” characterized being transgender as a “delusion” and “mental disorder,” and, of course, criticized Roe v. Wade.

My beef, though, isn’t with Kacsmaryk as much as with his superiors at the Supreme Court. In a brief order Tuesday evening, the justices — with the three liberals dissenting — refused to disturb Kacsmaryk’s ruling requiring the Biden administration to resume Donald Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy at the southern border, first adopted in 2019.

That is bad policy. The Migrant Protection Protocols, as the program is officially named, have required tens of thousands of asylum seekers to stay in Mexico, often in squalid and dangerous conditions, as they awaited hearings. The Trump administration’s argument was that this approach would help speed up the process and reduce backlogs….

Santiago Rusiñol, Romantic Novel

Santiago Rusiñol, Romantic Novel

But who has the better policy, Trump or Biden, isn’t the real issue here. It’s what role the federal judiciary should play in flyspecking that policy and, in particular, what should happen while the legal questions are being sorted out….

As acting solicitor general Brian H. Fletcher told the justices, the order “requires the government to abruptly reinstate a broad and controversial immigration enforcement program that has been formally suspended for seven months and largely dormant for nearly nine months before that.” David Shahoulian, assistant secretary for border security at the Department of Homeland Security, said complying would be “near-impossible.” State Department official Ricardo Zúñiga said that “mandatory and immediate re-implementation of MPP on a wide-scale basis would undermine the U.S. government’s flexibility and discretion, negatively impact U.S.-Mexico bilateral relations and subject already-vulnerable individuals to increased risks.”

And then there are layers of hypocrisy. The conservative justices were remarkably solicitous of the Trump administration’s unprecedented and frequent pleas for emergency orders, especially in the immigration context.

As University of Texas School of Law professor Stephen I. Vladeck noted, of 28 emergency stays that the court issued in response to Trump administration requests, 11 involved lifting district court injunctions against Trump administration immigration policies. 

Too bad all those Hillary haters refused to vote for her in 2016.

I hate to write about the pandemic again, but it’s still dominating the news because it’s getting worse.

The Washington Post: Hospitalizations hit 100,000 in United States for first time since January.

More than 100,000 people are hospitalized with covid-19 in the United States, a level not seen since Jan. 30 — when coronavirus vaccines were not widely available — as the country grapples with the delta variant’s spread.

By Steve Christopher Seward

By Steve Christopher Seward

Hospitalizations are highest across the South, where every state in the region has a higher portion of its population currently hospitalized with covid-19 than the national level, according to a Washington Post database. More than 17,000 people are hospitalized with covid-19 in Florida, which has the most hospitalizations for covid-19 of any state in the country, followed by Texas, which has more than 14,000.

Amid a raging debate over mask requirements in schools, current pediatric hospitalizations for covid-19 have reached 2,100 nationally, topping 2,000 for the first time since August 2020.

New coronavirus cases are being reported across the country at similar levels to those seen in January. About 151,000 new daily cases were being reported on average on Jan. 30; on Wednesday, that figure was 148,000. However, even as many hospitals are under strain and report shortages of intensive care unit beds, overall deaths are far lower; the daily average of deaths at the end of January was 3,100 and about 1,100 as of Wednesday.

This is interesting, but not surprising from Joshua Green at Bloomberg News: Vaccinated Democratic Counties Are Leading the Economic Recovery.

With Covid-19 cases once again rising across the country, the U.S. is struggling to curb the latest, delta-driven surge, as hospitalizations and deaths have steadily climbed. But at least so far, the economy has proved highly resilient. There are many reasons for this, ranging from generous stimulus checks to the Federal Reserve’s commitment to buying bonds and holding interest rates low.

But some interesting new data on the overlap of electoral politics and economic dynamism suggest another reason: The geography of America’s economic engine is heavily concentrated in counties that Joe Biden won in 2020. These counties are much more heavily vaccinated than the rest of the country and thus better able to withstand the economic effects of Covid’s delta variant.

Read the rest at the link.

In the red counties and states, people are poisoning themselves rather than get vaccines. Miami Herald: Calls about animal dewormer as COVID treatment soar in Texas, poison center says.

The Texas Poison Center Network has received dozens of calls this month about people exposed to ivermectin, an animal dewormer some are using for COVID-19 treatment.

But the drug, which is flying off the shelves in many parts of the United States, is not a suitable treatment and health organizations are warning against its improper use….

Of the 150 people who have called the center this year regarding exposure to the drug, 54 said they intentionally misused it.

Common side effects of the drug are allergic reactions, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and hypotension, the center said.

“Patients who take concentrated forms that are used for large animals like horses and cows are more likely to experience severe side effects and toxicity,” Texas Poison Center said in a statement to McClatchy News. “Accidental poisonings in children may also occur when this medication is kept in the home and is improperly stored. As a result, the Texas Poison Center Network does not encourage the use of ivermectin outside of its intended use.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization have all also advised against using ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19 outside controlled clinical trials, McClatchy News reported earlier this month.

A large dose of ivermectin intended for a horse could cause a human to have complications that include “low blood pressure, rapid heart rates, seizures” along with damage to the liver and layers of skin falling off, Dr. Shane Speights, site dean at the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine, told KAIT8.

By Franz von Defregger

By Franz von Defregger

Some doctors in Idaho and Arkansas are even prescribing this stuff. For Christ sake, why won’t these idiots just get the vaccine and wear masks?

Florida has become the Coronavirus epicenter of the U.S. The New York Times: In Florida, the pandemic is worse now than it has ever been before.

More people in Florida are catching the coronavirus, being hospitalized and dying of Covid-19 now than at any previous point in the pandemic, underscoring the perils of limiting public health measures as the Delta variant rips through the state.

This week, 227 virus deaths were being reported each day in Florida, on average, as of Tuesday, a record for the state and by far the most in the United States right now. The average for new known cases reached 23,314 a day on the weekend, 30 percent higher than the state’s previous peak in January, according to a New York Times database. Across the country, new deaths have climbed to more than 1,000 a day, on average….

And hospitalizations in Florida have almost tripled in the past month, according to federal data, stretching many hospitals to the breaking point. The surge prompted the mayor of Orlando to ask residents to conserve water to limit the strain on the city’s supply of liquid oxygen, which is needed both to purify drinking water and to treat Covid-19 patients.

Even as cases continue to surge, with more than 17,200 people hospitalized with the virus across Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has held firm on banning vaccine and mask mandates. Several school districts have gone ahead with mask mandates anyway.

I wonder if DeSantis reads the newspapers or watches anything other than Fox News?

WFLA.com: Bodies stacked to the ceiling as COVID-19 surge creates backlog at Florida funeral homes, crematories.

WINTER GARDEN, Fla. (WESH) — At West Side Crematory in Winter Garden, they’re overwhelmed with the remains of people that need to be cremated.

There’s an influx of bodies like they’ve never seen, worse than the first wave of COVID-19. The area where bodies are stored prior to being cremated is stacked to the ceiling. The staff is working day and night to honor the dead.

By Arthur John Elsley

By Arthur John Elsley

WESH 2 called 20 funeral homes and crematories and many were too busy to be part of our story. Some were too busy to even talk on the phone. One funeral director said that in a 30-minute period where he talked to his partner, four new cases came in.

Mike Marchetti, the area manager for Newcomer Funeral Homes, says as much as they don’t want to, sometimes they have to delay meetings with families and delay funerals because they only have so much staff.

“So the family comes in and they say we would like to have the funeral on Friday and we have to tell then ‘I’m sorry we can’t accommodate a funeral on Friday because our schedule is full,” Marchetti said.

A death care industry struggling to meet demands at a level they’ve never seen before, and families struggling to cope with grief at a level a community has ever seen before.

And then there’s South Dakota, where Governor Kristi Noem welcomed about 700,000 unmasked bikers to party in a a small town named Sturgis.

NBC News: South Dakota Covid cases quintuple after Sturgis motorcycle rally.

Two weeks after the annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, reported Covid infections in the state have risen nearly sixfold.

South Dakota counted 3,819 new cases in the past two weeks, including seven deaths, up from 644 cases in the 14 days preceding it. That makes it the state with the largest percent increase in Covid cases in the past two weeks.

The state’s rate of Covid-19 infections per capita in the past two weeks is in the bottom half of the country, but it’s the sharp and sudden increase in case counts that sets it apart.

Meade County, home to Sturgis, has counted 330 new cases in the last two weeks, up from the 20 reported in the two weeks before the rally, according to Johns Hopkins University’s case count. The 1,550 percent increase comes after the motorcycle rally, which usually draws around half a million people, possibly had its biggest year ever, according to County Sheriff Ron Merwin.

By Richard Boyer

By Richard Boyer

The Daily Beast: Warnings About the Sturgis Rally Have Come Tragically True.

In western South Dakota’s Meade County, more than one in three COVID-19 tests are currently returning positive, and over the last three weeks, seven-day average case counts have increased by 3,400 percent. This exponential growth in cases is likely attributable to the 81st Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which drew an estimated half a million visitors to Meade County and its environs from Aug. 6 through 15, potentially acting as a superspreader event….

…while Southern states have been the main drivers of this surge thus far, the recent spike in cases in South Dakota warrants special concern.

The state more broadly has witnessed a 686.8 percent increase in daily case counts over the past three weeks, currently more than 10 times the nationwide rate. Meade County’s post-Sturgis uptick is certainly a contributor to this state-level increase, but neighboring counties have experienced a sharp incline in cases, too—ranging from a 1,900 percent increase in the past three weeks in Butte to a 1,050 percent increase in Lawrence.

Those two counties are also key focal points for the rally, which is not, in reality, confined to Sturgis. And because the rally is widely attended by residents all across South Dakota, it’s not surprising that counties further away—like Charles Mix County, which saw a 1,500 percent increase—are experiencing an incline in cases, too.

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally represents the perfect storm for a superspreader event across this region: a large gathering with no testing, no masks, and no vaccination requirements. Though many (but not all) of the goings-on occurred outdoors and thus offered more protection against SARS-CoV-2 transmission than if they hadn’t been, the South Dakota Department of Transportation reported that 525,768 vehicles entered Sturgis over the 10 days of the rally. The sheer number of people in attendance paired with a lack of additional precautions presented prime conditions for viral transmission.

There’s much more at the link.

Sorry about all the bad news. Take care and hang in there, Sky Dancers!!


Lazy Caturday Reads: The Threat From Trumpist Mass Delusions

Franz-Marc-1880-1916-Chatte-et-ses-petits

Franz Marc (1880-1916), Chatte et ses-petits

Good Morning!!

As we all know, there’s a substantial portion of American society that has surrendered to mass delusions. The things these people believe are so insane that you have to wonder of a large proportion of them may actually have serious, previously undiagnosed psychological disorders. From Twitter yesterday: Two examples of apparently insane people speaking at local board meetings about covid-19 conspiracies.

Some of these crazies have actually acted on their delusions. Recall the man who traveled from North Carolina to Washington DC to investigate the “pizzagate” conspiracy–the belief that Hillary Clinton and other Democrats were using the basement of a pizza restaurant to sexually abuse children and then extract “adrenachrome” from their adrenaline glands to gain immortality. There isn’t even a basement in the restaurant. He took his AR-15 into the place and waved it around. Now he’s in prison.

Believe it or not, the “adrenachrome” delusion comes from the book by Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I read it several times back in the day and I clearly recall the hilarious scene in the book. This is from Raw Story this morning in a very useful piece by Thom Hartmann: Trump’s shared psychosis is destroying the fabric of society

Thompson was bemoaning running out of hashish and being almost out of opium when his “fat Samoan” sidekick offered an alternative:

“As your attorney,” he said, “I advise you not worry.” He nodded toward the bathroom. “Take a hit out of that little brown bottle in my shaving kit.”
“What is it?”

“Adrenochrome,” he said. “You won’t need much. Just a little tiny taste.”
I got the bottle and dipped the head of a paper match into it.

Mary Fedden2

By Mary Fedden

“That’s about right,” he said. “That stuff makes pure mescaline seem like ginger beer. You’ll go completely crazy if you take too much.”

I licked the end of the match. “Where’d you get this?” I asked. “You can’t buy it.”
“Never mind,” he said. “It’s absolutely pure.”

I shook my head sadly. “Jesus! What kind of monster client have you picked up this time? There’s only one source for this stuff…”

He nodded. “The adrenaline glands from a living human body,” I said. “It’s no good if you get it out of a corpse.”

When Thompson asks his “attorney” where the adrenochrome came from, the fictional character tells the fictional tale of having once been hired to represent a child molester/murderer who’d presumably extracted it from one of his victims.

“Christ, what could I say?” Thompson’s sidekick told him. “Even a goddamn werewolf is entitled to legal counsel. I didn’t dare turn the creep down. He might have picked up a letter opener and gone after my pineal gland.” Which then led them to a discussion about eating pineal glands to get high…

The pineal gland episode is even wilder. I doubt if very many of these Pizzagate/Q-Anon cultists have read Hunter Thompson, but somehow this fictional episode was absorbed into their conspiracy theories.

Q-Anon-inspired delusional beliefs have led to a number of real-life incidents of deadly violence. This horror happened a couple of days ago:

HuffPost: Surf Instructor Dad Killed Kids Over QAnon ‘Serpent DNA’ Fears: Feds.

A Southern California man has been charged with killing his two young children with a spearfishing gun, deluded by QAnon conspiracy theories that made him believe that his kids were possessed with serpent DNA and that killing them would save the world, authorities said.

Matthew Taylor Coleman, 40, of Santa Barbara, was arrested Monday while reentering the U.S. from Mexico, where the bodies of his 2-year-old son and 10-month-old daughter had been found earlier that day, according to the criminal complaint.

Coleman, who founded a surf school in Santa Barbara, had been reported missing by his wife after she told authorities that he unexpectedly took off with their two children on Saturday while they were planning a family camping trip. He didn’t say where he was going, failed to answer her text messages and didn’t have a child’s car seat in his vehicle, she told authorities….

Mexico authorities later reported to U.S. officials that the bodies of two children matching the missing kids’ description had been found that morning in a ditch with large puncture wounds in their chests.

In a recorded interview, authorities said Coleman confessed to killing his children and leaving their bodies in Mexico. He said he drove them across the border on Saturday, having “believed his children were going to grow into monster so he had to kill them,” according to the criminal complaint.

Coleman told authorities that he was “enlightened by QAnan and illuminati conspiracy theories and was receiving visions and signs revealing that his wife … possessed serpent DNA and had passed it onto his children,” according to the complaint.

Killing his children, he told investigators, would be “saving the world from monsters,” the complaint said. He knew it was wrong, “but it was the only course of action that would save the world.”

Brigid Marlin, 1936

By Brigid Marlin, 1936

How many of these Q Anon cultists actually have undiagnosed psychological disorders? I’d bet quite a few. A bit more from the Thom Hartman article quoted above:

The University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism notes that 68 percent of the open Qanon followers arrested at the US Capitol on January 6th who had also committed crimes before or after that coup attempt “have documented mental health concerns, according to court records and other public sources.”

Their psychological issues included “post-traumatic stress disorder, paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and Munchausen syndrome by proxy.”

The “Qanon Shaman” of so many iconic 1/6 pictures has now pleaded mental illness as his reason for showing up at the Capitol, as have two others who “were found to be mentally unfit to stand trial and were transferred to mental health care facilities.”

Of the six women arrested on 1/6 who’d also committed crimes before or after the coup attempt, the researchers note, “all six…have documented mental health concerns.”

These people are not only committing crimes because of their Trumpian delusions, but also they are helping to spread the coronavirus by claiming it is a government hoax and refusing to get vaccinated and wear masks. And powerful Republicans like Ron DeSantis and Gregg Abbott are catering to their delusions with deadly results, as I wrote in my Thursday post. The latest dire reports from Florida:

Tampa Bay Times: Florida COVID deaths rise as delta spreads; infections hit 21,600 a day.

Florida continues to see record COVID-19 infections across the state. Now, deaths are rising too.

The state reported 151,415 infections from Aug. 6-12, according to the state Department of Health. That’s an average of more than 21,600 cases a day. It’s the third week in a row that the Sunshine State set a record for weekly cases. Only Louisiana saw more infections per capita.

Florida also reported 1,071 deaths, a 74 percent increase from the previous week. Two children are among the dead.

More than 500,000 Floridians have been infected since June 19, when cases began climbing again. The more contagious delta variant is the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the nation, rewriting the old rules of staying safe as it powers the fourth — and worst — wave of the 17-month pandemic.

The burden on Florida hospitals continues to grow with an average of 2,222 new COVID-19 patients admitted every day over the past week, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. As of Friday, there were 15,441 confirmed COVID-19 patients being cared for in state hospitals.

The Sunshine State accounts for more than one out of every six infections and one out of every five hospitalizations in the U.S. this past week.

Gertrude Abercrombie, White Cat

Gertrude Abercrombie, White Cat

Buzzfeed News: Florida Hospitals Are “Stacking Patients In Hallways” As The Delta Variant Surges.

The calls came fast, first with a cardiac arrest case, next with multiple patients who were having trouble breathing, and all were suspected to have COVID. Usually, Stew Eubanks, a paramedic in Sumter County, Florida, deals with lots of minor emergencies, but now it’s mainly life-threatening cases. After a nonstop 24 hours, his Wednesday shift ended with another cardiac arrest.

“It’s bad right now,” Eubanks, 39, told BuzzFeed News. “We’re stacking patients in the hallways, stacking patients in the waiting room.”

Florida’s hospitals are filling up, with nearly 85% of inpatient hospital beds occupied, according to the Florida Hospital Association’s latest report. In the last week, the state has averaged more than 20,000 new COVID-19 cases a day, with nearly 15,000 people hospitalized. That’s shattered previous case records for the state, and COVID-19 deaths, which had been steadily declining since February, are also steeply rising.

By the end of his shift, Eubanks had transported 14 patients, a sharp increase from the six he’d see on a normal day prepandemic servicing the Villages, the largest retirement community in the country. Not only did he have more patients than normal, but they were also much sicker and required more critical care. Of the 13 hospitals in the local area, eight had limitations on which patients they would accept, including a standalone ER that warned it did not have enough oxygen to admit more COVID patients. Eubanks said even patients who manage to get admitted are waiting over 12 hours to receive care and that hospitals no longer have the space to separate highly contagious COVID patients from other people requiring emergency medical attention.

“Everybody is on fire and nobody has any water,” Eubanks said.

And from Texas:

Carma Hassan at CNN: ‘Your child will wait for another child to die.’ Amid Covid-19 surge, Dallas County has no pediatric ICU beds left, county judge says.

Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations are surging and in Dallas County, Texas, there are “zero ICU beds left for children,” county judgeClay Jenkins said in a news conference Friday morning.

“That means if your child’s in a car wreck, if your child has a congenital heart defect or something and needs an ICU bed, or more likely if they have Covid and need an ICU bed, we don’t have one. Your child will wait for another child to die,” Jenkins said. “Your child will just not get on the ventilator, your child will be CareFlighted to Temple or Oklahoma City or wherever we can find them a bed, but they won’t be getting one here unless one clears.”

The judge added no ICU beds have been available for children for at least 24 hours. The Texas Department of State Health Services told CNN the shortage of pediatric ICU beds is related to a shortage in medical staff.

Faragó,_Géza_-_Slim_Woman_with_a_Cat_(1913)

Géza Faragó, Slim Woman with a Cat

“Hospitals are licensed for a specific number of beds and most hospitals regularly staff fewer beds than they are licensed for. They can’t use beds that aren’t staffed. With the increase in COVID cases, hospitals are experiencing a shortage of people to staff the beds that they are licensed for,” department spokesperson Lara Anton said in an email, adding that staffing agencies in the state are working on recruiting medical surge staff from across the US.

Earlier in the week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced more than 2,500 medical staff would be deployed to hospitals in the state to help with the increasing number of Covid-19 patients. More than 11,200 people are hospitalized with Covid-19 in Texas, according to state data, with roughly 323 ICU beds left available statewide.

Jenkins spoke alongside other elected officials as well as leaders from the Workers Defense Action Fund and other groups who said Abbott’s handling of the pandemic is putting residents in danger.

In July, Abbott issued an executive order combining many of his earlier Covid-19 orders, which included language that no governmental entity, including school districts, could require masks.

The Austin-American Statesman: Doctors see Texas’ COVID surge lasting months as hospital resources stretch thinner.

Austin-area doctors who are seeing COVID-19 cases regularly — and some of the more severe cases up close — say they believe we could be dealing with this latest surge for months to come.

Driven by the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus and fueled by a significant unvaccinated population, the spike in COVID-19 cases has squeezed the number of available hospital beds in Texas to a pandemic low of 7,187 — in yet another troubling sign of a strained hospital infrastructure.

According to state data, only about 439 total hospital beds are available for an 11-county region, made up of 2.3 million people across Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Fayette, Lee, Llano and San Saba counties. The region had only seven staffed intensive care unit beds available Friday, up from just two on Tuesday.

“It’s much more cases in the hospital than we’ve ever really dealt with,” said Dr. Brian Metzger, the medical director of infectious diseases at St. David’s HealthCare. “It’s rough. Everybody is just tired.”

The patients are the unvaccinated, mainly in their 30s and 40s, but some in their 20s as well as some older people. Metzger is also starting to see families. Currently in his hospital are two brothers who have been in the intensive care unit for weeks. He also had been treating a husband and wife: She’s on a ventilator, and he died last night.

CNN reports that the crazies may be building up to more January 6-style violence: Calls for violence online similar to before January 6 Capitol attack, DHS Intel chief says.

Online extremist rhetoric is strikingly similar to the buildup to the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, with increasing calls for violence linked to conspiracy theories and false narratives, Homeland Security Intelligence chief John Cohen said in an interview with CNN.

There have been online comments such as “the system is broken,” “take action into their own hands” and “bring out the gallows,” Cohen said, offering as paraphrases of what has been observed.

Youki-and-cat-Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita

Youki and Cat, Leonard Tsuguharu

While the conspiracy theories vary, there has been an ongoing narrative focused on the false premise that the presidential election was illegitimate, Cohen said. That narrative is paired with an increase in calls for violence to rectify the situation.

His comments come as the Department of Homeland Security issued a new terrorism bulletin warning the public about increasingly complex and volatile threats and days after DHS alerted state and local authorities to an increase in calls for violence online tied to election-related conspiracy theories.

“It’s very similar to the stuff we saw prior to January 6,” said Cohen, the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis senior official performing the duties of the under secretary. But the comments have stopped short of specific dates and threats, he noted.

Several swirling conspiracy theories point to a process that will change the results of the election.

“Concern from a law enforcement perspective is at a certain point in time, all of the conspiracy theories that point to a change occurring through process are going to sort of wear out. And the question is going to be, are people going to try to resort to violence, in or in furtherance of, that false narrative?” Cohen said.

What can be done about all this mass delusion? I frankly have no idea. All I can do is try to lay out what’s happening. Please let me know what you think. As always, this is an open thread.


Tuesday Reads: Coronavirus News

Frida in Flames, 1953-54

Frida in Flames, 1953-54

Good Afternoon!!

The illustrations in this post are by paintings by Frida Kahlo

I hate to focus another post on Covid-19, but honestly I think it’s the biggest story today. Cases are rising again, even in highly vaccinated states like Massachusetts. 

WCVB ABC 5: Massachusetts seeing COVID-19 surge; 717 new cases reported since Friday.

Despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the United States, Massachusetts is seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health shows an additional 717 confirmed COVID-19 cases were reported Monday. The data includes new positive coronavirus cases reported since Friday.

The data shows the biggest percentage increase in cases was on Cape Cod, where 59 new cases were reported, or a 0.4% increase since Friday.

Middlesex County reported 147 new cases since Friday. Suffolk County reported 114 new cases, Worcester County reported 73 new cases and Norfolk County reported 59 new cases.

The COVID-19 positivity rate has also increase, from a seven-day weighted average low of 0.31% in mid-June to its current mark of 1.16%.

According to Monday’s report from the DPH, 106 patients with confirmed coronavirus cases were hospitalized in Massachusetts, of which 31 were reported to be in an intensive care unit.

The seven-day average of hospitalizations has increased every day since July 9, increasing from a low of 85 to its current number of 106.

Still Life with Roses

Still Life with Roses, 1925

Some of these cases and deaths are breakthrough cases. Boston NBC 10: Breakthrough COVID Cases in Massachusetts, Explained.

At least 79 people have died and more than over 300 have been hospitalized in Massachusetts due to COVID-19 breakthrough cases after they were fully vaccinated, state health officials say….

A vaccine breakthrough case occurs when a person tests positive for COVID-19 after they’ve been fully vaccinated against the disease.

A person is considered “fully vaccinated” two weeks after receiving the second dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID vaccine, or two weeks after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine….

Seventy-nine vaccinated residents in Massachusetts died from COVID-19, either without being hospitalized or following a hospital stay, DPH said. That death toll reflects 1.78% of the 4,450 confirmed breakthrough cases and 0.0019% of the 4,195,844 people fully vaccinated as of July 10.

“All available data continue to support that all 3 vaccines used in the US are highly protective against severe disease and death from all known variants of COVID-19. The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is to get vaccinated,” the DPH said in a statement to The Boston Globe.

Stephen Collinson at CNN on the state of the pandemic in the U.S. as a whole: A day of reckoning shows America’s pandemic battle is sliding backward.

If Joe Biden’s July Fourth fireworks marked a moment to declare the darkest days of the pandemic over, Monday was the day when reality dawned that the nation’s fight against Covid-19 is quickly sliding back in the wrong direction.

A hybrid version of American life that will pass for normality for the foreseeable future is coming into view, in which most of the vaccinated live and many of those who refuse their shots get sick or die.

In a moment of stark symbolism, new schools guidance released Monday from the American Academy of Pediatrics on mask wearing dashed hopes that kids robbed of a chunk of their childhoods by Covid-19 could go back to carefree schooldays this fall. The prospect of millions of youngsters over 2-years-old in face coverings in class epitomized how the nation is still under siege from the virus. It’s also likely to unleash yet another political culture war in some GOP states that abhor masking and have banned schools from seeking to protect the vulnerable that way.

thinking-about-death-1943.jpg!Large

Thinking about Death, 1943

In another shock to the national psyche on Monday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged more than 700 points in its biggest drop of the year as alarm over virulent Delta variant infections hammered travel, leisure and energy stocks that had been juiced by the idea of a summer of freedom.

And at the same time, eyes were drawn toward Tokyo, where more worries loom. So often, the Olympics forge cathartic national unity thanks to athletes inspired to go faster, higher, stronger. Such a moment has rarely been so needed. But these Games are unlikely to offer that feeling of escape, as they often do — a sheen of reflected glory for the White House….

All these developments, in many cases, represented a realization that hopes that the virus would be in the rearview mirror this summer were unfounded and that some kind of new national effort is warranted.

“If we don’t get a significant proportion of these recalcitrant people vaccinated, you’re going to be seeing a smoldering of this outbreak in our country for a considerable period of time,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases expert, told CNN’s Kate Bolduan on Monday.

In fact, the Olympic games could still be cancelled. CNBC: Tokyo 2020 chief Muto doesn’t rule out 11th-hour cancellation of Olympic Games.

The chief of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee on Tuesday did not rule out a last-minute cancellation of the Olympics, as more athletes tested positive for COVID-19 and major sponsors ditched plans to attend Friday’s opening ceremony.

Asked at a news conference if the global sporting showpiece might still be cancelled, Toshiro Muto said he would keep an eye on infection numbers and liaise with other organizers if necessary.

“We can’t predict what   will happen with the number of coronavirus cases. So we will continue discussions if there is a spike in cases,” said Muto.

“We have agreed that based on the coronavirus situation, we will convene five-party talks again. At this point, the coronavirus cases may rise or fall, so we will think about what we should do when the situation arises.”

tunas-still-life-with-prickly-pear-fruit-1938.jpg!Large

Tunas. Still Life with Prickly Pear, 1938

Two new polls reveal discouraging news about the people who are refusing to be vaccinated. 

Yahoo News: Unvaccinated Americans say COVID vaccines are riskier than the virus, even as Delta surges among them.

When asked which poses a greater risk to their health, more unvaccinated Americans say the COVID-19 vaccines than say the virus itself, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll — a view that contradicts all available science and data and underscores the challenges that the United States will continue to face as it struggles to stop a growing “pandemic of the unvaccinated” driven by the hyper-contagious Delta variant.

The survey of 1,715 U.S. adults, which was conducted from July 13 to 15, found that just 29 percent of unvaccinated Americans believe the virus poses a greater risk to their health than the vaccines — significantly less than the number who believe the vaccines represent the greater health risk (37 percent) or say they’re not sure (34 percent).

Over the last 18 months, COVID-19 has killed more than 4.1 million people worldwide, including more than 600,000 in the U.S. At the same time, more than 2 billion people worldwide — and more than 186 million Americans — have been at least partially vaccinated against the virus, and scientists who study data on their reported side effects continue to find that the vaccines are extraordinarily safe.

Yet 93 percent of unvaccinated U.S. adults — the equivalent of 76 million people — say they will either “never” get vaccinated (51 percent); that they will keep waiting “to see what happens to others before deciding” (20 percent); or that they’re not sure (22 percent).

Read more details at the link.

Axios: Axios-Ipsos poll: Convincing the unvaccinated.

Most Americans who still aren’t vaccinated say nothing — not their own doctor administering it, a favorite celebrity’s endorsement or even paid time off — is likely to make them get the shot, according to the latest installment of the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

Why it matters: The findings are more sobering evidence of just how tough it may be to reach herd immunity in the U.S. But they also offer a roadmap for trying — the public health equivalent of, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.”

Henry Ford Hospital, 1932

Henry Ford Hospital, 1932

What they’re saying: “There’s a part of that population that are nudge-able and another part that are unbudge-able,” said Cliff Young, president of Ipsos U.S. Public Affairs.

  • “From a public health standpoint they’ve got to figure out how you nudge the nudge-able.”

Details: 30% of U.S. adults in our national survey said they haven’t yet gotten the COVID-19 vaccine — half of them a hard no, saying they’re “not at all likely” to take it. We asked the unvaccinated about how likely they’d be to take it in a number of scenarios:

  • The best prospect was a scenario in which they could get the vaccine at their regular doctor’s office. But even then, 55% said they’d remain not at all likely and only 7% said they’d be “very likely” to do it. That leaves a combined 35% who are either somewhat likely or not very likely but haven’t ruled it out.
  • The Biden administration’s Olivia Rodrigo play won’t reach a lot of the holdouts, according to these results: 70% said the endorsement of a celebrity or public figure they like is “not at all likely” to get them to take a shot, and just 4% said they’d be “very likely” to do it. But another combined 24% could be somewhat in play.
  • What if your boss gave you paid time off to get the shot? 63% said they’d still be not at all likely to do it, while 5% said they’d be very likely. Another 30% combined are potentially but not eagerly gettable.
  • Similar majorities said they’d be unmoved by community volunteers coming to the door to discuss the vaccine, the option to get a shot at work or a mobile clinic, or being lobbied by friends or family members.

Again, go deeper at the Axios link.

At CNN Oliver Darcy reports on the horrifying vaccine hypocrisy at Fox News: Fox has quietly implemented its own version of a vaccine passport while its top personalities attack them.

Tucker Carlson has called the idea of vaccine passports the medical equivalent of “Jim Crow” laws. And other Fox News personalities have spent months both trafficking in anti-vaccine rhetoric and assailing the concept of showing proof of vaccination status.

But Fox Corporation, the right-wing talk channel’s parent company, has quietly implemented the concept of a vaccine passport as workers slowly return back to the company’s offices.

Fox employees, including those who work at Fox News, received an email, obtained by CNN Business, from the company’s Human Resources department in early June that said Fox had “developed a secure, voluntary way for employees to self-attest their vaccination status.”

fx1The system allows for employees to self-report to Fox the dates their shots were administered and which vaccines were used.

The company has encouraged employees to report their status, telling them that “providing this information to FOX will assist the company with space planning and contact tracing.”

Employees who report their status are allowed to bypass the otherwise required daily health screening, according to a follow-up email those who reported their vaccination status received.

“Thank you for providing FOX with your vaccination information,” the email said. “You no longer are required to complete your daily health screening through WorkCare/WorkMatters.”

The concept, which was first reported Monday by Ryan Grim on The Hill’s morning streaming show, is known internally as “FOX Clear Pass.”

While the “Fox Clear Pass” is voluntary for employees, and other companies have similar tools, it is still remarkable, given how vocal Fox’s top talent has been in criticizing the concept of vaccine passports.

There was a bit of good news yesterday in Indiana. The New York Times: A Federal Judge Upholds Indiana University’s Vaccine Requirement for Students.

In what appeared to be the first ruling upholding a coronavirus vaccine mandate by a university, a federal judge affirmed on Monday that Indiana University could require that its students be vaccinated against the virus.

A lawyer for eight student plaintiffs had argued that requiring the vaccine violated their right to bodily integrity and autonomy, and that the coronavirus vaccines have only emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, and should not be considered as part of the normal range of vaccinations schools require. He vowed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary….

He said that the appeal would be paid for by America’s Frontline Doctors, a conservative organization that has been pursuing an anti-vaccine agenda. Mr. Bopp, of Terre Haute, Ind., is known for his legal advocacy promoting conservative causes.

Mr. Bopp filed the lawsuit in June, after Indiana University announced the previous month that faculty, staff and students would be required to get coronavirus vaccinations before coming to school this fall.

viva-la-vida-watermelons 1954

Viva la Vida, 1954

The university, whose main campus is in Bloomington, Ind., said that students who did not comply would have their class registrations canceled and would be barred from campus activities.

The requirement permitted exemptions only for religious objections, documented allergies to the vaccine, medical deferrals and virtual class attendance.

On Monday, Judge Damon R. Leichty of the U.S. District Court for Northern Indiana said that while he recognized the students’ interest in refusing unwarranted medical treatment, such a right must be weighed against the state’s greater interest.

“The Fourteenth Amendment permits Indiana University to pursue a reasonable and due process of vaccination in the legitimate interest of public health for its students, faculty and staff,” his ruling said, also noting that the university had made exceptions for students who object.

Judge Leichty was appointed by former President Donald J. Trump.

Sorry for the boring post, but unless we get a grip on this pandemic, any chance of a return to “normal” life is going to disappear. 

As always, this is an open thread.


Tuesday Reads: The Pandemic Isn’t Over

Good Morning!!

Art in Digital Form by Jessica Johnson

Art in Digital Form by Jessica Johnson

Over the long Fourth of July weekend, many Americans celebrated as if the pandemic is in the rear view mirror. Unfortunately that’s not the case. The Delta variant of Covid-19 is establishing itself around the country, especially in the places where people have resisted getting vaccinated.  And now there’s a new strain of the virus, the Lambda variant, which originated in Peru and is now appearing in Europe.

Cases are rising in the U.S. now, even in states like Massachusetts where 70 percent of the population is vaccinated. Boston 25 News: Delta variant beginning to push MA COVID numbers up.

Actually, though things are pretty good, they are far from back to normal. In fact, COVID is once again going in the wrong direction in Massachusetts, according to the state’s numbers. While infections remain extremely low, they are suddenly on the upswing – very slightly.

From June 23 to June 27, the state confirmed 291 COVID cases. In the following five days, tests confirmed 376 cases. That was an increase of about 29%. And there’s something troubling behind the numbers.

Dr. Richard Ellison, an infectious disease specialist at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester said, across New England, about a quarter of the new cases have been traced to the highly transmissible Delta variant.

“So, Delta is here and there is an opportunity for it to increase,” Dr. Ellison said. “So New England’s the safest part of the country, but we’re going to have to watch it.”

And that’s in a place where most people aren’t denying the existence of Covid-19. Missouri is one of those places. ABC News: Missouri sees rise in severe COVID-19 cases among the young, unvaccinated as delta variant spreads.

Health care workers in southwest Missouri are sounding the alarm over a wave of young, unvaccinated COVID-19 patients who are now filling hospital beds.

Leanne Handle, an assistant nurse manager of a medical surgical COVID-19 unit at CoxHealth in Springfield, Missouri, said she and her staff have seen the patient population over the past year go from elderly people who are immunocompromised or have multiple other conditions to, more recently, younger individuals who “don’t think COVID is real” and haven’t been vaccinated against the disease….

Outsized, Overwhelming Impact of COVID-19

Outsized, Overwhelming Impact of COVID-19

“So, what we’re seeing now are the patients who are coming in who don’t think that they’re going to get sick from it, who aren’t mentally prepared to make life and death decisions of do they want to be intubated, do you want CPR if your heart should stop,” she added. “We have very few patients who have been admitted that have been vaccinated. So it has been proven to keep you at least out of the hospital, and from severe disease.”

Handle also noted a “scary trend” among younger patients with the spread of the so-called delta variant, a highly contagious strain of the virus that was first identified in India and has since been detected in more than 80 countries around the world as well as dozens of U.S. states, including Missouri.

“With the new variant in our area, these patients are getting sicker quicker,” she said. “They are progressing through this spectrum very, very quickly.”

From Today’s Washington Post: Their neighbors called covid-19 a hoax. Can these ICU nurses forgive them?

The hospital executives at the lectern called her a hero, and the struggle that had earned Emily Boucher that distinction showed on her face: in the pallor acquired over 12-hour shifts in the intensive care unit, the rings beneath eyes that watched almost every day as covid-19 patients gasped for their final breaths.

The pandemic had hit late but hard in the Appalachian highlands — the mountainous region that includes Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee — and over the winter many of its victims had ended up on ventilators tended by Boucher and her fellow nurses at Johnston Memorial Hospital.\They were enduring the traumas known to ICU workers across the world: days filled with death, nights ruined by dreams in which they found themselves at infected patients’ bedsides without masks. But they were also enduring a trauma that many doctors and nurses elsewhere were not: the suspicion and derision of those they risked their lives to protect.

Conspiracy theories about the pandemic and lies recited on social media — or at White House news conferences — had penetrated deep into their community. When refrigerated trailers were brought in to relieve local hospitals’ overflowing morgues, people said they were stage props. Agitated and unmasked relatives stood outside the ICU insisting that their intubated relatives only had the flu. Many believed the doctors and nurses hailed elsewhere for their sacrifices were conspiring to make money by falsifying covid-19 diagnoses.

Boucher and her colleagues were pained by those attacks — and infuriated by them.Unlike their exhaustion, that anger rarely showed on their faces, but it was often there: as they scrolled Facebook to see local ministers saying God was greater than any virus, or stood in line with unmasked grocery shoppers who joked loudly about the covid hoax.

Hope, by Alexander Allen. Man on beach with U.S. Naval Ship Comfort in the distance

Hope, by Alexander Allen. Man on beach with U.S. Naval Ship Comfort in the distance

All of us are endangered by these delusional people. CNN: These parts of the US could become ‘breeding grounds’ for potentially more Covid-19 variants, expert says.

Out of the Covid-19 pandemic, two Americas are emerging: One protected by vaccines and the other still vulnerable to infection — and experts say progress made across the entire US is being threatened by low-vaccinated regions.

“We’re already starting to see places with low vaccination rates starting to have relatively big spikes from the Delta variant. We’ve seen this in Arkansas, Missouri, Wyoming … those are the places where we’re going to see more hospitalizations and deaths as well, unfortunately,” Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, Dr. Ashish Jha, told CNN.

“And any time you have large outbreaks, it does become a breeding ground for potentially more variants.”

Parts of the South, Southwest and Midwest are starting to see spikes in cases, and many of those states — like Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi — are among those with the lowest rates of vaccination, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recent Covid-19 case rates are an average of three times higher in states that have vaccinated a smaller share of their residents than the United States overall, CDC data shows.

If there is another surge, Dr. Megan Ranney, associate professor of emergency medicine at Brown University, said young unvaccinated adults could be a big part of the problem.

“We’ve already seen that the highest number of infections over the past few months have been in those younger adults,” Ranney said. “These are the people that thought they were invincible.”

David Axe at The Daily Beast: This Is What America’s Next Big COVID Wave Will Look Like.

“The Delta variant will likely become the dominant strain in the U.S. by the end of the summer,” Lawrence Gostin, a Georgetown University global health expert, told The Daily Beast. “It is entirely foreseeable that the U.S. will experience surges, particularly in states with relatively low vaccination coverage.”

Thanks to its sprawling pharmaceutical industry and carefully worded contracts between the vaccine-makers and the federal government, the United States is one of the few countries where supply of vaccine far exceeds willing recipients.

Virtually anyone in the U.S. can get vaccinated, for free, at any time. So far, 54 percent of all Americans have taken advantage of that rare privilege and have gotten at least one dose. But vaccination rates are uneven across U.S. states and, unsurprisingly in this polarized era, map fairly neatly on political alignment.

Colour Blind, by Sarah Racaniere, a poem by Duke Al Durham

Colour Blind, by Sarah Racaniere, a poem by Duke Al Durham

Vaccine uptake is high in states governed by Democrats. Consider California, where 61 percent of the population is at least partially vaccinated. In Republican states, uptake is generally low. Just 36 percent of Mississippi residents have gotten their first shot.

There’s a politically charged vaccination disparity in the United States, and the Delta lineage is taking advantage of it.

The new variant now accounts for around a quarter of all new infections in the U.S.. But it’s not evenly distributed. Five states where Delta is prevalent—Arkansas, Missouri, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming—are all seeing significant increases in new COVID cases, even though case rates are probably still flat on the national level.

Not surprisingly, those are the states where vaccination rates are lowest.

“When you have such a low level of vaccination superimposed upon a variant that has a high degree of efficiency of spread, what you are going to see among undervaccinated regions, be that states, cities or counties, you’re going to see these individual types of blips,” Anthony Fauci, head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN.

“It’s almost like it’s going to be two Americas,” Fauci added.

Chris Beyrer, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said he’s especially worried about Southern states. “The Deep South is a real concern, where political leadership was much too slow to endorse the science, and scientific literacy is lower than in many parts of the country,” Beyrer told The Daily Beast. “The more infectious variants, like Delta, will exploit these vulnerabilities. That’s what viruses do.”

There’s more at the link. But, as I wrote above, cases are rising even in states with high vaccination rates, and there’s a report from Israel on reduced effectiveness of vaccines against the Delta variant. What will happen as new variants continue to develop? What about the Lambda variant?

EuroNews: Lambda: What do we know about the latest COVID variant flagged by the WHO?

The latest variant to be highlighted by the World Health Organization, named Lambda, has now been found in at least 27 different countries.

It is especially widespread across South America, having first appeared in Peru in August last year, and is accounting for more and more cases in these countries.

Pipetting The Sample by Ali Al-Nasser

Pipetting The Sample by Ali Al-Nasser

Having found its way to Europe, where there is already an ongoing battle against the Delta variant, due to lack of study it is still unclear how major a cause of concern it might be.

The latest variant to be highlighted by the World Health Organization, named Lambda, has now been found in at least 27 different countries.

It is especially widespread across South America, having first appeared in Peru in August last year, and is accounting for more and more cases in these countries.

Having found its way to Europe, where there is already an ongoing battle against the Delta variant, due to lack of study it is still unclear how major a cause of concern it might be.

It is not yet listed as a ‘variant of concern’, rather a ‘variant of interest’ by the WHO, meaning it has been identified as causing transmission or detected in multiple countries.

Read more at the link.

We’ve learned that we will be affected by what is happening with the virus in other countries. Therefore, I want to call your attention to two longer articles–one about Russia and one about India.

Alexey Kovalev at Foreign Policy: The Shocking Enormity of Russia’s Botched Pandemic Response.

MOSCOW—As I write this, Russia is firmly in the grip of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Every day, there are about 22,000 reported new infections—twice as many as during the peak of the first wave in May 2020—and more than 600 deaths. The new Delta variant of the virus, which Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin says is responsible for 90 per cent of new infections in the Russian capital, has caught Russia almost completely unawares. Despite having access to the brain power and resources of one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world, Russian authorities have repeatedly squandered almost every chance to beat the pandemic. Their massive, bloated propaganda apparatus failed to do the one job it was designed for: Get the message out. Instead, the pandemic has exacerbated the crisis of trust between the Russian government and citizens. Now, the campaign for parliamentary elections in September could make fighting the pandemic even harder, since the ruling United Russia party may be even more reluctant to impose unpopular measures such as lockdowns.

Russian independent observers and journalists—including me and my colleagues at Meduza—already knew something was terribly off with Russia’s handling of the pandemic in late spring of 2020. We had looked at the numbers and recognized that COVID-19 deaths were being underreported in many regions of Russia. According to the official statistics at the time, tens of thousands of Russians were dying in 2020 of a mysterious pneumonia epidemic unrelated to COVID-19. This was hardly plausible. The more likely explanation: Russian regional authorities were writing off the majority of COVID-19 cases as “community-acquired pneumonia.”

There is no evidence of a cover-up ordered from the top. More likely, regional governorates were simply being discreet to avoid being the bearer of bad news to the Kremlin. Underreporting COVID-19 cases in the early stages of the pandemic plausibly made many Russians question the existence of the virus or lulled them into a false sense of security, although there is no poll data to back this up. What’s certain is that by November 2020, according to independent polling institute Levada, the majority of Russians did not trust their government’s COVID-19 figures: 33 percent thought them too low, while 28 percent believed they were exaggerated.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Read the rest at Foreign Policy.

Naturarte by Angela Araujo, Sunsuet collage made from cuts from Nature covers

Naturarte by Angela Araujo, Sunsuet collage made from cuts from Nature covers

MIT Technology Review: What went so wrong with covid in India? Everything.

America may seem to be approaching the end of the pandemic, but covid-19 remains a surging catastrophe in India, with more than 30 million people infected and more than 400,000 deaths—official figures that many believe are far below the real numbers. A more likely scenario, the New York Times reported on May 25, is that 539 million people have been infected and more than 1.6 million are dead. On June 27, the Wall Street Journal published figures from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, whose modeling also suggests that India is undercounting. The institute estimates the death toll at over 1.1 million, or three times the official figure. 

But the crisis was not an unavoidable tragedy. Even the new delta variant discovered to be sweeping through the country was not some terrible random error. Instead, the catastrophe that has struck millions of Indians is the direct outcome of the government’s failures: its failure to plan ahead by increasing hospital capacity and acquiring medicines; its failure to figure out contact tracing, collect adequate data, and purchase vaccines. Even after it became clear that a second wave was inevitable, the government went ahead with superspreader events that served its own political purposes—and gave the virus a new opportunity. And at the center of the crisis—paying little attention to science, seemingly refusing to heed good advice, and appearing concerned primarily with holding on to power at any cost—stands India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist whose arrogance and underpreparedness have cost the country an incalculable amount. 

Read the rest at the Technology Review link.

NOTE: Read about the pandemic art works in this post in this Nature Medicine article: Art in a Pandemic: A Digital Gallery.

What else is happening? What stories have captured your interest today?

 
 


Lazy Caturday Reads: The Latest Covid-19 News

Suzanne Valadon

By Suzanne Valadon

Good Afternoon!!

Things have been looking up for the U.S. now than we have a responsible, knowledgeable president with competent advisers. But we we’re still in danger as long as the worldwide pandemic rages in other countries. Right now India isin the spotlight. We also need to deal with the anti-vaxxers and the Trumpists who refuse to accept vaccines. We’re also still learning about the long-term effects of Covid-19 as well as how the disease is transmitted. 

How bad is this pandemic? Maybe worse than the 2018 flu, reports The New York Times: How Covid Upended a Century of Patterns in U.S. Deaths.

A surge in deaths from the Covid-19 pandemic created the largest gap between the actual and expected death rate in 2020 — what epidemiologists call “excess deaths,” or deaths above normal.

Aside from fatalities directly attributed to Covid-19, some excess deaths last year were most likely undercounts of the virus or misdiagnoses, or indirectly related to the pandemic otherwise. Preliminary federal data show that overdose deaths have also surged during the pandemic.

A New York Times analysis of U.S. death patterns for the past century shows how much 2020 deviated from the norm….

Since the 1918 pandemic, the country’s death rate has fallen steadily. But last year, the Covid-19 pandemic interrupted that trend, in spite of a century of improvements in medicine and public health.

Marcel Dyf Jeune Fille Avec Chaton The Kitten

Marcel Dyf Jeune Fille Avec Chaton The Kitten

In the first half of the 20th century, deaths were mainly dominated by infectious diseases. As medical advancements increased life expectancy, death rates also started to smooth out in the 1950s, and the mortality rate in recent decades — driven largely by chronic diseases — had continued to decline.

In 2020, however, the United States saw the largest single-year surge in the death rate since federal statistics became available. The rate increased 16 percent from 2019, even more than the 12 percent jump during the 1918 flu pandemic….

Combined with deaths in the first few months of this year, Covid-19 has now claimed more than half a million lives in the United States. The total number of Covid-19 deaths so far is on track to surpass the toll of the 1918 pandemic, which killed an estimated 675,000 nationwide.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10 percent of the deaths last year can be directly attributed to Covid-19, which overtook other leading causes of death — like chronic lower respiratory diseases and unintentional injuries, such as car accidents and overdose deaths — to become the third biggest killer, after heart disease and cancer.

Read the rest at the NYT.

What about the today’s flu viruses? The New York Times: The Flu Vanished During Covid. What Will Its Return Look Like?

There have been fewer influenza cases in the United States this flu season than in any on record. About 2,000 cases have been recorded since late September, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In recent years, the average number of cases over the same period was about 206,000.

As measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus were implemented around the country in March 2020, influenza quickly disappeared, and it still has not returned. The latest flu season, which normally would have run until next month, essentially never happened.

After fears that a “twindemic” could batter the country, the absence of the flu was a much needed reprieve that eased the burden on an overwhelmed health care system. But the lack of exposure to the flu could also make the population more susceptible to the virus when it returns — and experts say its return is certain….

Experts are less certain about what will happen when the flu does return. In the coming months — as millions of people return to public transit, restaurants, schools and offices — influenza outbreaks could be more widespread than normal, they say, or could occur at unusual times of the year. But it’s also possible that the virus that returns is less dangerous, having not had the opportunity to evolve while it was on hiatus.

“We don’t really have a clue,” said Richard Webby, a virologist at the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. “We’re in uncharted territory. We haven’t had an influenza season this low, I think as long as we’ve been measuring it. So what the potential implications are is a bit unclear.”

motoko kamada; Japan - Warm Lifting

Motoko Kamada; Japan – Warm Lifting

One more from The New York Times: Patients With Long Covid Face Lingering Worrisome Health Risks, Study Finds.

The health effects of Covid-19 not only can stretch for months but appear to increase the risk of death and chronic medical conditions, even in people who were never sick enough to be hospitalized, a large new study finds.

In the study, published Thursday in the journal Nature, researchers looked at medical records of more than 73,000 people across the United States whose coronavirus infections did not require hospitalization. Between one and six months after becoming infected, those patients had a significantly greater risk of death — 60 percent higher — than people who had not been infected with the virus.

The research, based on records of patients in the Department of Veterans Affairs health system, also found that nonhospitalized Covid survivors had a 20 percent greater chance of needing outpatient medical care over those six months than people who had not contracted the coronavirus.

The Covid survivors experienced a vast array of long-term medical problems that they had never had before — not just lung issues from the respiratory effects of the virus, but symptoms that could affect virtually any organ system or part of the body, from neurological to cardiovascular to gastrointestinal. They were also at greater risk of mental health problems, including anxiety and sleep disorders.

Click the link to read more about the study results.

We’re still learning about how the coronavirus is transmitted from person to person. CNBC: MIT researchers say you’re no safer from Covid indoors at 6 feet or 60 feet in new study challenging social distancing policies.

The risk of being exposed to Covid-19 indoors is as great at 60 feet as it is at 6 feet — even when wearing a mask, according to a new study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers who challenge social distancing guidelines adopted across the world.

MIT professors Martin Z. Bazant, who teaches chemical engineering and applied mathematics, and John W.M. Bush, who teaches applied mathematics, developed a method of calculating exposure risk to Covid-19 in an indoor setting that factors in a variety of issues that could affect transmission, including the amount of time spent inside, air filtration and circulation, immunization, variant strains, mask use, and even respiratory activity such as breathing, eating, speaking or singing.

Bazant and Bush question long-held Covid-19 guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization in a peer-reviewed study published earlier this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America.

“We argue there really isn’t much of a benefit to the 6-foot rule, especially when people are wearing masks,” Bazant said in an interview. “It really has no physical basis because the air a person is breathing while wearing a mask tends to rise and comes down elsewhere in the room so you’re more exposed to the average background than you are to a person at a distance.”

Early Portrait of the Artist's Daughter, 1893-4, by Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938)

Early Portrait of the Artist’s Daughter, 1893-4, by Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938)

The important variable the CDC and the WHO have overlooked is the amount of time spent indoors, Bazant said. The longer someone is inside with an infected person, the greater the chance of transmission, he said.

Opening windows or installing new fans to keep the air moving could also be just as effective or more effective than spending large amounts of money on a new filtration system, he said.

Bazant also says that guidelines enforcing indoor occupancy caps are flawed. He said 20 people gathered inside for 1 minute is probably fine, but not over the course of several hours, he said.

“What our analysis continues to show is that many spaces that have been shut down in fact don’t need to be. Often times the space is large enough, the ventilation is good enough, the amount of time people spend together is such that those spaces can be safely operated even at full capacity and the scientific support for reduced capacity in those spaces is really not very good,” Bazant said. “I think if you run the numbers, even right now for many types of spaces you’d find that there is not a need for occupancy restrictions.”

Clearly, we have a lot to learn about how the virus is spread.

I mentioned the disastrous situation in India. The Guardian: India’s daily Covid death toll hits new record amid oxygen shortages.

India’s daily coronavirus death toll passed a new record Saturday as the government battled to get oxygen supplies to hospitals overwhelmed by the hundreds of thousands of new daily cases.

Queues of Covid-19 patients and their fearful relatives are building up outside hospitals in major cities across India, the new world pandemic hotspot, which has reported nearly a million new cases in three days.

Another 2,624 deaths, a new daily record, were reported in 24 hours, taking the official toll to nearly 190,000 since the pandemic started.

More than 340,000 new cases were also reported, taking India’s total to 16.5 million, second only to the United States.

But many experts are predicting the current wave will not peak for at least three weeks and that the real death and case numbers are much higher.

More from CNN: No respite in India as country sets Covid-19 infection record for third straight day.

India reported 346,786 new cases of Covid-19 on Saturday — the third day in a row the country has set a world record for infections during the coronavirus pandemic, according to government and scientific tallies.

The related death toll for the previous 24 hours hit 2,624 — also a daily record for India — for 189,544 total fatalities.

The sky-rocketing Covid-19 infections are devastating India’s communities and hospitals. Everything is in short supply — intensive care unit beds, medicine, oxygen and ventilators. Bodies are piling up in morgues and crematoriums.

INDIRA BALDANO artist painter naive art Индира Балдано живопись

Indira Baldano, naive art Индира Балдано живопись

Twenty critically ill patients died at a Delhi hospital Friday night after its supply of oxygen was delayed by seven hours, according to Dr. DK Baluja, medical director at the Jaipur Golden Hospital.

“That happened last night. Everything we had was exhausted. The oxygen was not supplied on time. It was supposed to come in at 5 p.m. but it came around midnight. People who were critically ill needed oxygen,” said Baluja.

The hospital is currently scrambling to arrange more oxygen but has not received a fresh supply all Saturday morning. “We have only 15-20 minutes of oxygen left now. It may take hours to get another tanker,” Baluja told CNN.

Delhi hospitals have been facing a severe oxygen shortage as the number of Covid-19 cases have soared in the national capital in the past two weeks….

Delhi recorded 24,331 new cases Friday, including 348 deaths, according to the Covid-19 health bulletin issued by the Delhi government.

Countrywide, India has now recorded more than 16.6 million cases since the start of the pandemic, a CNN tally of figures from the Indian Ministry of Health reveals.

In contrast, Vietnam successfully limited the spread of the virus. The Verge: Vietnam defied the experts and sealed its border to keep Covid-19 out. It worked.

As the pandemic took hold last year, travel restrictions quickly proliferated — they were the second-most-common policy governments adopted to combat Covid-19. According to one review, never in recorded history has global travel been curbed in “such an extreme manner”: a reduction of approximately 65 percent in the first half of 2020. More than a year later, as countries experiment with vaccine passportstravel bubbles, and a new round of measures to keep virus variants at bay, a maze of confusing, ever-changing restrictions remains firmly in place.

But few countries have gone as far as Vietnam, a one-party communist state with a GDP per capita of $2,700. The Haiphong checkpoints timed for Tet were the equivalent of closing off Los Angeles to Americans ahead of Thanksgiving — within a country that was already nearly hermetically sealed. Last March, the government canceled all inbound commercial flights for months on end, making it almost impossible to fly in, even for Vietnamese residents.

Today, flights are limited to select groups, like businesspeople or experts, from a few low-risk countries. Everybody who enters needs special government permission and must complete up to 21 days of state-monitored quarantine with PCR tests. (Positive cases are immediately isolated in hospitals, regardless of disease severity.)

This strict approach to travel, global health experts say, is directly connected to Vietnam’s seeming defeat of Covid-19. Thirty-five people have reportedly died in total, and a little more than 2,700 have been infected with the virus during three small waves that have all been quickly quashed. Even on the worst days of the pandemic, the country of 97 million has never recorded more than 110 new cases — a tiny fraction of the 68,000 daily case high in the United Kingdom, which has a population one-third smaller than Vietnam, or the record 300,000-plus cases per day only the US and India managed to tally.

Paula Modersohn-Becker (German, 1876 – 1907) Cat held by a child

Paula Modersohn-Becker (German, 1876 – 1907) Cat held by a child

Finally, The Daily Beast addresses the crazy anti-vaxxer situation: The Anti-Vaxxer Hunt for Dead People Is Getting Even Weirder.

Starting in mid-January, several social media channels and websites emerged as hubs for stories, generated by admins and users pulling together snippets from across the internet and crafting them into cohesive narratives and brief posts, linking reported deaths to COVID vaccinations. Several of these platforms have grown notably, and become more formalized, in recent weeks. Unsurprisingly, given the robust safety profile of the vaccines in use in the United States, they rarely detail how a vaccination supposedly caused a given death.

Read much more about these wackos at The Daily Beast.

So . . . What do you think? What else is on your mind? As always, this is an open thread.