Our COVID Data Is Inaccurate, And It’s Going to be Spun

The Daily Escape:

Sand Harbor State Park, Lake Tahoe, CA – 2020 photo by debarnec

Happy belated tax day! Two disturbing articles about both the accuracy and reliability of COVID-19 data were in the NYT yesterday.

First, the collection and reporting of data is increasingly reliant on outdated technology to deliver test results:

“Health departments track the virus’s spread with a distinctly American patchwork: a reporting system in which some test results arrive via smooth data feeds but others come by phone, email, physical mail or fax, a technology retained because it complies with digital privacy standards for health information.”

The problems are compounded by human error:

“These reports often come in duplicate, go to the wrong health department, or are missing crucial information such as a patient’s phone number or address.”

Before the pandemic, nearly 90% of laboratory test results for diseases tracked by public health departments were transmitted digitally. But the need for substantially greater Coronavirus testing has brought many more players into the public health arena, including companies that usually run employment screening tests, and small clinics that usually test for diseases like the flu and strep throat.

This has increased the share of lab tests coming to public health departments via fax and phone.

The result is unreliable information. The Times quotes Janet Hamilton, executive director of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Nationally, about 80% percent of coronavirus test results are missing demographic information, and half do not have addresses…”

Hard to trace an infected person without an address. America’s health system is a jumble of old and new technology that make it difficult to track what’s really going on with the COVID pandemic.

Also, the Trump administration’s guidelines on demographic data haven’t taken effect yet. In June, they required laboratories to report a patients’ age, race and ethnicity, so public health officials could better understand the demographics of the Coronavirus pandemic. But, those rules won’t take effect until August, and they only state that laboratories “should” provide patients’ addresses and phone numbers. They do not mandate it.

Dr. Frieden, former CDC director says:

 “You’ve got hundreds of laboratories and thousands of tests. Nothing is interoperable because they haven’t been mandated to do that.”

Other countries have a unique number identifier for each patient, something that Congress refuses to provide in the US. Instead, data often come to public health authorities using only the information that laboratories need to track the record, not the details that public health officials need to help manage the disease.

Anyone who has healthcare knows that patients routinely fill out the same information on multiple forms in multiple offices. The need for doctors and testing services to use fax machines betrays the fundamental lack of modern technology in some health care settings.

And remember, it’s not for lack of money: There’s plenty of money in the US health care system.

The second item regarding COVID data is more troubling. The NYT reports that: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The Trump administration has ordered hospitals to bypass the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and, beginning on Wednesday, send all coronavirus patient information to a central database in Washington — a move that has alarmed public health experts who fear the data will be distorted for political gain.”

From now on, HHS, and not the CDC, will collect daily reports about the patients that each hospital is treating, how many beds and ventilators are available, and other information vital to tracking the pandemic.

This is seen as an inherently political move by outside public health experts. The NYT quotes Nicole Lurie, who served as assistant secretary for preparedness and response under former President Obama:

“Centralizing control of all data under the umbrella of an inherently political apparatus is dangerous and breeds distrust….It appears to cut off the ability of agencies like C.D.C. to do its basic job.”

This is more disturbing than finding out that the data are terrible. Alex Azar, who runs HHS, is a Trump crony and has clearly used his position to be helpful to Trump’s re-election campaign.

If there ever was any hope for a dispassionate, reasoned, and scientific FEDERAL response from Trump, it is certain that these two problems, one with the quality of the data, and the second with how it will be spun as it is reported, show we’re doomed.

How many health care workers will have to die? How many people living in states run by Trump’s personal bootlickers will get the treatment that they need?

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Can America Avoid Becoming a Failed State?

The Daily Escape:

Fall sunset, Shenandoah NP, VA – photo by juliend73

Sorry, but this column is going to be a downer.

We’ve been talking for the past few days about how hard it is to get politicians to focus on fixing what’s wrong in America. Wrongo originally started down this path in 2009. His plan was to lay out the problems, and to suggest ways in which America might fix them.

But 11 years later, little of what has been suggested here has occurred. Explaining what’s wrong has made very little difference.

Our really big problems now seem to be locked in: Climate change will happen. We can’t (or won’t) deal with the burgeoning disinformation platforms that threaten civil society. It’s difficult to see what will change our growing income inequality. As always, politicians are itching for a fight with some country. Today, the villain is China. Globalization has won, our supply chains now hold us hostage, and our economic future is increasingly controlled by Asia.

America is fast becoming a failed state: Our president tells people to drink bleach. There are more than 100,000 dead in the pandemic, and a significant percentage of them probably were needless deaths.

We have the ability to deal with the crises,but we’re choosing not to. Trump and McConnell, along with Biden, Pelosi and Schumer, all have access to the same, or more likely better information than we do.

They are choosing to ignore that the country is going to hell. Instead, they use each individual crisis for their own political benefit, and for their patrons’ financial benefit. They choose to ignore the near-certainty of a second wave of infections in the fall of 2020, bringing with it the possibility of a second economic collapse, along with more deaths.

We no longer provide the basics for our citizens. We live in a nation where income, savings, happiness, trust in government, and social cohesion are all in free-fall.

This is a recipe for social collapse.

In America most infrastructure is decrepit, from airports, to schools, to roads, because there hasn’t been much public investment. That’s because Americans don’t want to pay higher taxes like the Europeans do. Politicians on both sides still believe the evidence-free ideology of neoliberalism: We’ll all be rich if we invest in nothing, and wait for Mr. Market to correctly allocate resources.

No one cares about anyone else. Nobody will support any group’s pursuit of any goal unless it is also their goal. American life is becoming purely individualistic, adversarial, and acquisitive.

We haven’t invested in the systems that provide healthcare, education, retirement, and childcare. As a result, the average American family now goes without many of these things, since they’re priced out unless they have high paying jobs.

We pay absurd prices for health care. Having a child? That’ll be $50K. An operation? It will cost about what you would pay for a starter home. If she didn’t have health insurance, Wrongo’s daughter’s medication would cost $10,250/month. These basics of life are affordable in the rest of the rich world, but in America, they cost more than the average person can pay.

The average American now dies with $62k in debt. Life has become a sequence of unrepayable loans. Student debt becomes credit card debt and a mortgage, which leads to medical debt. These forms of debt define life in America. The average American is now a poor person, in the sense that they barely make enough to pay for the basics of life. Today, 80% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, struggle to pay their basic bills, and 63% can’t raise $500 for an emergency.

These are the statistics of a nation that is descending into poverty.

Can it be fixed? Sure, but who’s going to pay for it? If taxes can’t be raised, if deficits can’t grow, what will happen? Nothing.

Except that we will move closer to a collapse. Our leaders say it’s because there isn’t an alternative. They say that we don’t have the money to pay for the changes we want. 70% of Americans say they want decent healthcare, retirement, and education, but they never vote for it.

Not even when it is offered during the primaries.

And it’s never offered in the general election, because nobody will vote for higher taxes to fund a functioning society. The idea simply isn’t acceptable to either of our political parties.

Wrongo’s decade of writing about what’s wrong hasn’t changed anything. Change requires a commitment to taking political risks, and massive voter turnout.

Otherwise, same old, same old is the path to our society’s destruction.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Get Back to Work Edition, May 11, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Pileated Woodpecker chicks – photo by JH Cleary

Americans are starting to peek out of their nests again. Governors have decided, and 30 of them are re-opening their states. Those states are not exclusively Republican; there are a few Democratic states too. The logic behind reopening is that of risk assessment and risk management. Somewhere between prudence and overreaction lies today’s American toxic politics.

We judge risk versus gain for everything, including for other causes of death. We try to model healthy behaviors. Most of us wear seatbelts, most watch our diets, and have stopped smoking years ago.

We also have to judge the risks associated with whether to end, or continue the lockdown. That means deciding which steps to take that will minimize both the spread of the virus, along with minimizing the crushing economic hardship being experienced by many Americans.

Ignore that the government isn’t currently taking care of healthcare and housing if you are unemployed.

The lockdown could go on for much longer if the federal government was willing to underwrite living costs for those who are out of work, until such time as it was safe to go back to work. But they have no intention of doing that.

So, from the Trump perspective, the choice is clear: Businesses need to open and their workers need to go back to work, despite the risks. Their argument is that living with COVID-19 isn’t as risky as it seems. Twenty-two states have had fewer than 100 deaths. So far, only 15 of 50 states have had total deaths for the crisis that are higher than NYC’s current rate of 500 a day

The original goal of lockdowns was to keep the health care system from being overwhelmed, and in the largest cities, that risk seems to be behind us. Whether that will be true in rural America where few hospitals operate, remains to be seen. Derek Thompson said in the Atlantic:

“This crisis represents an existential threat to America’s small businesses. Almost half of all job losses in April occurred in leisure and hospitality, where small businesses are overrepresented in companies like restaurants and stores. The decimation of small business would have long-lasting implications. It would destroy jobs that would be unlikely to return quickly, while creating a crisis of long-term unemployment.”

And all of those restaurants, cafés, theaters, community centers, and specialty shops that are part of the local fabric of our towns and villages could be wiped off Main Street. Losing many of them would be an economic tragedy. More from Thompson: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The virus is real, the hospitalizations are real, the deaths are real, the need for masks and social distancing is real, the threat to millions of restaurants and shops is real, and the incomparable levels of unemployment are real, too. The White House plan to reverse this cavalcade of horrors is to “reopen” the economy. But 20 million Americans just lost their jobs in the past few weeks, not because the government shut down the economy, but because a pandemic scared millions of Americans into staying at home. There is plenty to be wisely afraid of, but Washington thinking that a pandemic economy is like a garage door that it can reopen by pressing a button might be the scariest thing of all.”

No one knows what will happen between now and Election Day. It’s not just a matter of businesses opening up. For people to go back to work, schools must be open, day care must be open, public transportation must be safe, and customers must show up.

Are you up for all of that?

In the Great Depression, we learned that unemployment at today’s scale required massive government intervention to address: Jobs programs, infrastructure investment, and a robust social safety net.

It required an FDR to galvanize the country. Needless to say, neither Trump nor the Republican Party have the desire to provide that leadership. They will be every bit as uncaring and incompetent at rebuilding our economy as they have been at stopping the pandemic.

Time to wake up America! The economy has been opened, and you need to protect yourself whether you’re back to work, or trying to find a new gig. And you know that Trump isn’t going to help you protect yourself and your family, and he’s certainly not going to help you find a new job.

To help you wake up, listen to Guns ‘n Roses cover Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” which played during Trump’s visit to an N95 mask manufacturing plant in Phoenix:

Remember all of this in November.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 10, 2020

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has an interesting new report showing that New York City’s subway system was a major disseminator of COVID-19 during the coronavirus’ initial infection of the city during March 2020.

They show that subway ridership correlates directly with new cases, particularly in Queens. The near-shutdown of subway ridership in Manhattan (down by 90%) at the end of March correlates strongly with the reduction in the rate of increase in new cases in Queens thereafter.

They superimposed maps of subway station turnstile entries with zip code-level maps of reported coronavirus incidence. That showed Coronavirus propagation followed a process strongly consistent with subway riding. Moreover, local trains appeared to have a higher propensity to transmit infection than express trains, perhaps because people spent longer on those trains. Bus hubs served as secondary transmission routes out to the periphery of the city.

The subway was shut down because of staffing issues on March 25, not because the mayor or governor thought it was an important disease vector. Since then, at least 98 transit workers have died from coronavirus. On to cartoons.

Jogging in Georgia requires evasive tactics:

Trump did it again:

It never ends. On Fox and Friends, Trump said there is “no question” the video of the Ahmaud Arbery shooting is troubling. But, he hinted that further evidence might emerge that could possibly exculpate the shooters:

 “You know, it could be something that we didn’t see on tape. There could be a lot of — you know, if you saw things went off tape and then back on tape”

BTW, the NY Daily News reported that no burglaries had been reported for seven weeks before the shooting.

Small man sits near a great man:

America grows smaller as the president tries to make himself bigger, all the while failing at the actual mission of leading the Republic.

Pro-life doesn’t get in the way of reopening:

The only animal Trump wants at the White House:

Dropping charges against Flynn looks partisan:

Another reason to stay indoors:

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Saturday Soother – May 8, 2020

The Daily Escape:

The Second Wave, Coyote Buttes North, AZ, bu\ it’s easiest to reach from Kanab, UT – March 2020 photo by thatstheguy

“You know, that might be the answer – to act boastfully about something we ought to be ashamed of. That’s a trick that never seems to fail.” – Joseph Heller

Happy Saturday, fellow disease vectors! That’s quintessential Trump. He’s doing with the Coronavirus what was patented by Richard Nixon in Vietnam: “Declare Victory and Get Out”.

Trump had no intention of using the agencies of the US government as a positive force to deal with the pandemic, and now he’s backing out of any role helping the country to recover. From Eric Boehlert:

“Trump has no plan to “reopen” the country and he has no plan to manage this pandemic moving forward. The way I see it, the press dutifully starts each day assuming today is the day Trump gets serious and finally provides serious leadership. It’s not going to happen, though.  We’re on our own, yet the press stubbornly pretends otherwise because presidents are supposed to provide leadership in times of crisis.”

Boehlert refers us to Jay Rosen, an NYU journalism professor, who writes:

“The plan is to have no plan, to let daily deaths between one and three thousand become a normal thing, and then to create massive confusion about who is responsible— by telling the governors they’re in charge without doing what only the federal government can do, by fighting with the press when it shows up to be briefed, by fixing blame for the virus on China or some other foreign element, and by “flooding the zone with shit,” Steve Bannon’s phrase for overwhelming the system with disinformation, distraction, and denial, which boosts what economists call “search costs” for reliable intelligence.”

Trump’s playbook is to have his re-election ride on manufactured confusion. There won’t be a plot for us to expose, it’s happening right before our eyes. We all know that Trump has no intention of leading. That he has no desire to get involved in helping to solve the greatest American crisis since 9/11. And the disconnect is, that a president acting like this would have been inconceivable before Donald Trump.

It isn’t debatable: Trump has washed his hands of the pandemic, and plans to blame the governors when things go wrong, while taking credit for anything that goes right. He isn’t even trying to hide that anymore.

We heard this week that Trump buried the CDC’s detailed advice about reopening. The administration doesn’t want the public to know what the scientists are recommending. That means people won’t be in a position to hold their employers, or their local governments, to a standard that they either can’t, or don’t want to meet.

At this point, all we can do is grit our teeth, and try to protect ourselves and our loved ones as best we can.

It seems likely that Trump, because of opting out of what a president is supposed to do in a crisis, will be the proximate cause of the deaths of thousands. All as a cover for his callous ineptitude.

And there’s little that we can do about it, except hunker down and be careful as we try to get through it.

We need a break from all of this negativity.

We need to settle back in a comfy chair at a socially distant spot, and de-stress from another difficult week. It’s time for another Saturday Soother, those few moments when we move to a different and better emotional plane. This weekend includes Mother’s Day, so it’s also a time to think about family and how we got to where we are.

To help with that, take a few minutes and listen to some of the world’s biggest current musical artists who collaborated on a BBC Radio 1 cover of the Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These”. Each performing from their own homes, as has become the standard these days. The group was dubbed the “Live Lounge Allstars” and included the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl:

Wrongo knows very few of these artists, perhaps showing his age. But this also shows that they should make more music outside of their usual genre. Those who read the Wrongologist in email can watch the video here.

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World’s Most Expensive Health Care System Can’t Provide Minimum PPE

The Daily Escape:

Tim Hunter, BSN, in Brooklyn, NY – April 2020 photo by Tim Hunter

Tim Hunter, an acquaintance from the world of show dogs, is a nurse living in Buffalo, NY. In early April, he accepted a traveling nurse assignment at Kingsbrook Jewish Memorial’s ICU in Brooklyn, NY to help out on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight. Tim posts on his experiences, and he graciously agreed to share this dispatch from earlier this week:

“Wednesday May 6th starts Nurse’s Week 2020

The last time we worked, we were informed that we will, moving forward, only be getting our body suits and can no longer get a disposable gown to put over the suit. Big freaking deal right? Wrong. What does this mean? This means we will enter rooms “protected” but after leaving a room we will be tracking COVID all over the unit. Nurses are buying spray alcohol to try and kill whatever lands on the suit so we don’t risk getting each other sick. Or do you take off the suit in between care? Absolutely not. What if you need to intervene right away? There’s no time to get it on.

People who have no relevant education or experience are protesting having to sit at home, while we watch people who have been intubated for weeks struggle, while we’re standing in patient’s rooms and intervening we’re looking at posters of patient’s family, of these people who are dancing at their daughter’s wedding and giving their grandson a piggy back ride. People that were once fine and people that should be able to still be doing those things.

We drive to work in dead silence because we have no idea what we’re in for. Maybe it will be a super typical hospital shift, or maybe it will be the worst night you’ve ever worked.

We’re watching people get tracheostomies after weeks of intubation in hopes that MAYBE someday they’ll be okay enough to have their life back. We’re drying patient’s tears when they wake up from their sedation and they’re terrified!

We’re watching people who we were once hopeful would maybe get off of the vent sustain lung injuries from not being able to handle the pressures of mechanical ventilation any longer.
We listen to family members cry because they don’t know if they will ever see their loved one again, and they mourn that they’re going through this alone.

We see patients grabbing our hands begging us not to leave rooms because they’re lonely, and scared.

We walk past tractor trailer trucks full of dead bodies on our way in and out of work every night. Because there is no way to manage, no morgue can keep up with the amount of people dying. Even now with the “down swing”.

And the end of a shift we feel like our head is in a vice grip, and literally crave a breath of actual fresh air after rebreathing CO2 all night.

We wake up in the middle of the night with a panic because of a headache or any symptom and literally fret over that one time we did compressions or were a part of an intubation, because of how high risk those events are.

You know what nurses want for nurses week?
To know they’re safe, to know that in AMERICA that we can be afforded a shitty disposable gown to help protect ourselves from sitting in a virus. To not become so neurotic that our hands are completely raw from washing them so much. We want you to have enough respect for human life to not make stupid decisions. We want you to pay attention to science and not stupid conspiracy theories.

We don’t want to be called heroes, we don’t want shitty pizza, or signs. We want to be safe, well-staffed, and to not feel like every day we’re risking our own well-being.

Returning to the bedside has been the most amazing thing I’ve ever done, but after this I will go back to my job with an insurance company. While people that actually deserve your accolades keep fighting this.

So think this status is for attention, likes, call it fear mongering or whatever. But really it’s just so maybe for a second you’ll take this seriously. I have 33 days left in my contract to keep fighting with these people, and I honestly hope that things are headed back towards normal when I drive home. But with all of the small gatherings that pop up on social media that you’ve convinced yourself are fine, masses of people standing outside of a damn Dairy Queen, and seeing all the people in streets ignoring social distancing measures, it’s honestly unlikely.

Happy Nurses Week though…”

#EndRant

This is the state of American health care in 2020. Tim, thanks for your bravery and insight.

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Who Should Fight America’s Pandemics?

The Daily Escape:

Lightning strikes with rainbow, Dickinson, ND – photo by Lightcrafterartistry

COVID-19? Nobody thought anything like this would ever happen. Wrong. Lots of people did. From VOX:

“Per capita, the United States is currently seeing about twice as many confirmed coronavirus cases as Canada and about 30 percent more deaths.”

The key difference between the US and Canada says David Fisman an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto:

“We have a federal government that is supporting provinces’ responses….You have a chief executive who is directly undermining the public health response.”

Politics and politicians by definition, are always in the loop in a national emergency. Yesterday, we talked about how civic-minded politicians stand aside, letting the experts decide strategy. Then they help the experts by making the government work to support the strategy. And they then help with communicating priorities to citizens.

Our national response to the pandemic has been mostly incompetent. The wealthiest, most scientifically advanced country in history has been brought to its knees by a virus it knew was coming. As late as 2016, we had a coordinated national strategy to combat pandemics.

What can we do to insure we do a better job in the future?

This has been a hot topic in pundit land for the past few weeks. There are two threads of discussion: First, make the US military the leader in fighting pandemics. Alternatively, an “empowered” civilian agency or possibly, an empowered public-private partnership should direct the fight.

Let’s start by talking about how civilian government agencies might do a better job, if they were “empowered” and also funded. In 2005, GW Bush said: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“If we wait for a pandemic to appear, it will be too late to prepare….we need medical personnel and adequate supplies of equipment…In a pandemic, everything from syringes to hospital beds, respirators masks and protective equipment would be in short supply….If a pandemic strikes, our country must have a surge capacity in place that will allow us to bring a new vaccine on line quickly and manufacture enough to immunize every American against the pandemic strain…”

Bush thought it would take $7 billion to build out his plan, plus annual appropriations thereafter. But that wasn’t supported by Congress. Obama built on Bush’s plan, but his efforts also were not sustained by a Tea Party Congress. Trump’s FY 2021 budget proposal reduces CDC funding by 16%. It was submitted just 11 days after the WHO declared the Coronavirus a public health emergency.

What should we be doing? First, we need to invest in ourselves, to break our reliance on offshore sources of PPE and pharmaceuticals. We saw that China stopped exporting PPE to the US, husbanding it for their own needs, and subsequently, showing a preference for shipping these goods to nations they perceived as friendlier.

Second, we need to empower an elite governmental team to combat a pandemic. The 2014 Ebola outbreak told us we needed a health security infrastructure. By 2016, America had coordinated an “all-government response” to the next pandemic. Laurie Garrett, a science journalist summed up the infrastructure created by Obama as a:

 “…special elite corps inside of the National Security Council, the Department of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services and CDC…an emergency capacity for surge drug approval at FDA… a lot of co-ordination with the states… a division that was doing nothing but training hospitals in infection control and appropriate epidemic responses… and…Study on how to surge hospital beds, how to surge physicians out of retirement…”

Sounds great, no? It needs to be rebuilt if we are to have effective control of our pandemic response.

The story of using the military also begins with Garrett. In September 2014, she briefed the Joint Chiefs of Staff on how the US military could help the countries affected by Ebola. She says that this was:

“…unprecedented in US history; we’d never mobilized US military for a medical response like that before”.

But today, the military wants the job. From Roll Call:

“To many lawmakers, the Defense Department is an attractive place to fund medical programs, partly because the defense budget is so large and enjoys support from both political parties, especially Republicans.”

Congress not only funds the NIH, it also provides $1 billion a year for DOD research labs looking into cures and treatments for cancers and other diseases.

Going forward, the military would like to see an increased focus on health as a part of national security. The debate is not a matter of either health security, or military security, it has to be both.

With a new administration, we need to think beyond stimulus packages, to fundamentally rethink what national security means. In the next pandemic, we can’t be scrambling for enough face masks to protect our medical professionals and hoping that the military can save us.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 3, 2020

Last Sunday, PA Governor Tom Wolf requested:

“…as many people as possible wear a nonmedical or homemade mask when leaving their homes.”

This week in Mercer PA, a protest against the Pennsylvania governor’s stay at home restrictions yielded this sign:

If this woman thinks wearing a mask is slavery, then she has no idea what slavery is. She, (along with the rest of us) aren’t permitted to drive on the wrong side of the road, either. This isn’t the time for people who are asked to stay at home and to wear a mask when outside to sing: “Nobody knows the trouble I see”.

Speaking of masks and rules, how about Mike Pence:

Why didn’t the Mayo Clinic say: “Thank you for visiting us, Mr. Vice President, but I’m afraid you can’t enter the clinic without a mask per our policy.” Mayo may do fantastic work, but they failed utterly by letting Pence go in unmasked.

Will Mitch pass aid to the states?

Where Wrongo lives, the nurses, fire fighters, police, and town workers are preponderantly Republican voters. Have they been screwed enough to realize they’ve been voting AGAINST their own self interests?

Biden can’t run from this, no matter how many Dems hope he can:

Even the cows know opening meat processing plants without PPE is wrong:

We’re entering a different kind of graduation season:

(It’s control P for a PC)

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Saturday Soother, Covid Plateau Edition – May 2, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Spring flower bloom at Keukenhof Garden in Holland. (Hat tip to Ottho H.)

Remember when we had fifteen COVID-19 cases, and they were just going to be gone, like a miracle?

If you ask Trump, that’s where we are, plus a few orders of magnitude. All of the recent happy talk about reaching or being past the peak have omitted the detail that so far, “flattening the curve” isn’t substantially reducing the number of cases, or deaths.

The theory was that once we “flattened the curve”, we could ease up on social isolation, mask-wearing and get back to work. When we think about the downside of the curve, we think bell curves, with a sharp rise and fall from a high peak. As Wrongo said on April 20, that was unlikely to be the outcome, because it didn’t happen like that in countries that started fighting the virus long before us. And that’s how it seems to be working out. Here is where we are:

Source: Washington Post

The chart tracks a 3-day average of cases, since that smooths out some of the big day-to-day variances. As of April 29, it seemed clear that we have reached a peak, but we’re not showing any real signs of a rapid decline. This means the COVID-19 curve could remain elevated for a long time.

And we should remember that 878,839 cases are still active.

Politicians are obsessed with “the peak.” Are we at it? Are we past it? When will it come? Has it come? Now they’ve turned to communicating their plans for reopening the economy. That makes sense. Re-opening is becoming urgent, with more than 30 million Americans out of work, but it’s dismissive for politicians to say we’re past the worst of it “medically” while more people go to the ICU every day.

Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker (R), sees the plateau, and wonders when the curve will start to decline:

“Baker focused on hospitalizations and ICU admissions, saying, we’ve basically been flat for 12 days. We’re flat at a high level. But 12 days, 13 days counting today — you’re not going to find a lot of other places that just sit like this for 13 days.”

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb MD, an advisor to Baker, tweeted:

IHME (mentioned in the tweet) is a closely watched model from the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

What we do over the next few weeks will determine whether we get this right, or whether COVID remains a large ongoing threat. We need to understand the potential risks that come with a decision to reopen, and make plans to mitigate these risks as best we can. Some states, like Connecticut, are planning carefully.

If we look state by state, in about half of the country, the numbers of cases are still rising. In about another third of the country, there is a leveling off. Only in a minority of states are the numbers actually coming down on a daily basis. New York, Washington, Louisiana and Idaho have had reductions of more than 50% from their peaks in new infections.

According to STAT, there are several possible outcomes: Recurring small outbreaks, a monster wave of cases, or a persistent crisis. And no one knows which outcome is most likely. We should expect new infections to start rising again in states without much testing, but with large populations that opened early like Texas, Florida and Georgia.

We should also realize that in some states, cooking the books about new cases and deaths will happen. Newsweek reported data compiled by Florida medical examiners was no longer being reported by the state government. The official state data has not been updated in over a week.

Acting like we’re flattening the curve when we really don’t know if we are, is likely to create a San Andreas-sized political earthquake if cases spike again.

But let’s try to get past all this, because it’s time for another Saturday Soother, when we stop checking Twitter, and think about spring.

Here on the fields of Wrong, the pear, plum and cherry trees have flowered, while the crab apples are soon to bloom. We have bluebirds nesting in both bluebird houses. Our weather remains cold and wet, so stay indoors and brew up a hot mug of Bengal Spice tea.

Now grab a socially distant chair and have a few minutes of fun with a song parody by the Opera Guy, Matthew Ciuffitelli. Here’s his parody of “Phantom of the Opera”, called “Phantom of the Quarantine”. Wrongo promises you won’t be disappointed:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Supreme Court Voting Remotely, Denies Wisconsin Voters the Right to Vote Remotely

The Daily Escape:

Super moon, Crested Butte, CO – 2020 photo by itsaberglund

First, here are the latest national pandemic numbers from The COVID Tracking Project: (as of 4/7):

  • The good news is that the daily rate of increase in new infections is now in single digits (see green above).
  • Deaths have again spiked, and the percentage of deaths to total cases is rising steadily.
  • Daily testing has stalled (again) at about 150,000/day. Growth in testing is again lagging growth in new infections.

Next: The Wisconsin primary debacle: Wisconsin held its presidential primary on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, Bernie Sanders dropped out of the race for the Democratic nomination. Unifying the Party will be much easier than in 2016. The stakes are different, the mood is different, and Bernie seems to like Biden more than he liked Hillary.

But that was far from the most surprising thing about the Wisconsin primary. The big Wisconsin news was that the US Supreme Court decided a case called “Republican National Committee v. Democratic National Committee along political lines. The symbolism is glaring.

The issue before the Court was whether to stay a lower court’s decision that would have extended absentee balloting for a week due to the Coronavirus. And the most notable race wasn’t the Democrat’s primary. It was a conservative Republican’s battle to keep his seat on Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court. From the WaPo: (brackets by Wrongo)

“The scant, 10-page opinion issued Monday night highlighted the [US Supreme] court’s ideological and partisan divide. The justices’ inability to speak with one voice on matters as serious as the coronavirus pandemic and voting rights raised concerns about the legal battles bound to proliferate before the fall elections.”

The great irony in the SCOTUS decision is that the justices didn’t meet together. They are practicing social distancing, because of the Coronavirus, conducting their business via teleconferences. They have also suspended all public Court proceedings for the current term, because, you know, public safety.

But the Supreme Court’s Republican majority felt it was proper to insist that Wisconsin’s normal rules about elections be followed, and hold the primary as if there was no pandemic, no public health threat.

The best comment on the ideological divide in America today came from Tom Sullivan’s column, where he quotes a 2018 observation about conservatism by Frank Wilhoit: (emphasis in the original)

“Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect….So this tells us what anti-conservatism must be: the proposition that the law cannot protect anyone unless it binds everyone, and cannot bind anyone unless it protects everyone.”

More on Wisconsin from Sullivan:

“This morning’s online headline at the Washington Post reads, ‘The coronavirus is infecting and killing black Americans at an alarmingly high rate.’ Wisconsin Republicans on Tuesday made them stand on line in Milwaukee for hours to vote during a deadly pandemic. That will show them.”

And this tweet from Sen. Cory Booker underlines the evil intent:

“Milwaukee is home to the largest African-American community in Wisconsin. Don’t tell me that forcing people to choose between their health and their right to vote today is anything but an appalling act of voter suppression. https://t.co/4Leq1CtMHZ

— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) April 7, 2020

Chief Justice Roberts may claim that he is only calling balls and strikes, but he’s using a different strike zone for his friends.

Finally, let’s spend a moment remembering that both John Prine and Bill Withers died this week, Prine from the Coronavirus.

Both released their debut albums in 1971. Both were among the true greats. Here’s a Prine song that shows his social consciousness. Written in 2005, it was prescient. He wrote about the kinds of people who would eventually lead the nation in 2020 in his “Some Humans Ain’t Human”:

Sample Lyric:

Have you ever noticed When you’re feeling really good There’s always a pigeon  That’ll come shit on your hood Or you’re feeling your freedom And the world’s off your back  Some cowboy from Texas Starts his own war in Iraq

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

And this Withers song about Vietnam has always hit Wrongo hard. “I Can’t Write Left-Handed”:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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