Flying without a net

zukes

Journaling the coronavirus Friday April 10th: a tough Good Friday, the drumbeat for a re-opening, mad at the WHO


Today is Good Friday.  The rains have cleared and the sky is blue and spring is in full bloom everywhere in this part of northern California – through my open office window I can smell the jasmine climbers on my neighbor’s fence. Orange poppies nod at the sides of the roads. Yesterday a squirrel climbed up almost eye level to my third story office, and then napped at the top of the fence on the sun-warmed wood. His tail slowly went flat, even hanging down off the fence. When he woke up, it curled back up like a bushy S.

Every day is a record death day. The death toll in the US soared past 18,000 today; we add about 2,000 more deaths every day. In New York City, the 24 hour death toll is 777, among the highest daily rates in the worst hit places in the world, still.  Cardiac arrest deaths at home are up almost 400% – more than 200 people are dying at home each day, thats 10x what is usual. The crematories are backed up for two weeks. In Brooklyn the funeral homes have had to turn to temporary interment in the potter’s field on Hart Island,  where the normal rate of burial of 25 bodies a week is now 25 interments per day.  Historically, inmates from Riker’s Island dig the graves, but probably the National Guard is handling it, they are everywhere.

We didn’t lose anyone we could have saved, says a visibly weary Governor Cuomo. Everyone is tired – of working, of stress, of uncertainty, of being alone, of not being alone. Frontline healthcare workers’ faces are tattooed with deep indentations and bruising from the pressure of masks. Contradictions abound and we’re tired of those too. The White House Coronavirus Task Force recommends we follow the president’s guidelines but also says we should obey local and state authorities, though in some places these are opposing suggestions.

Under the umbrella of the coronavirus there are definitely two Americas. In one America, people are home and bored, their paycheck assured, an ability to work from home or a job to go back to, well-stocked on toilet paper and having everything they need delivered, easily maintaining physical distance.  In the other America, people are going out to jobs where they are surrounded by people who may be infected or are definitely infected, people are witnessing many consecutive deaths and digging many consecutive graves and immolating many consecutive remains and still they keep coming, they’re tired and they are getting infected and afraid of getting their families infected, and most don’t even have paid sick leave.

The testing situation is still pretty balls up, and the story seems to be that we’re just going to open the country up as though the low numbers of infections that represent the lack of testing are actually representative of the actual number of people infected.

In other dystopia news, the demand for food aid has increased by 8x with the national guard deployed to help food banks cope. But, as a hunger crisis looms, thousands of pounds of food is rotting in the fields, rotting in storage, and being tilled underground. Dairy producers are flooding their fields with excess milk or pouring it down drains in production facilities.  Doesn’t seem like it would take McKinsey to solve this mismatch of need and surplus, though wouldn’t it be nice if they took the case on.

In San Francisco our total positive cases have reached 724, with ten deaths. We’ve been sheltering in place one week longer than the rest of the country, and are starting to feel the pressure. Mayor London Breed addressed the citizens of San Francisco today, urging us not to get any ideas with the gorgeous weather and decide to flock together for the Easter weekend unless we maintain physical distance for necessary outings.  Your parks are still open, she reminds us. Don’t make me shut them down, is the message. As I write this the window is open, the temperature a mild 65 degrees Fahrenheit, the breeze is breezy and the neighbors’s wind chimes are chiming musically. If this weather holds I predict a big crowd at the beaches, and a lot of indignant posting on Next Door.

plane

Photo by David Grunfeld, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

Seventy-year-old New Orleans Archbishop and recovered COVID-19 patient Gregory Aymond climbed into the open-air cockpit of a World War II-era biplane and blessed the population of New Orleans, sprinkling holy water  from the Jordan River from a distance of a thousand feet up. Apprehensive about flying in a plane older thane he is, with just one pilot and one engine, the archbishop says he asked a lot of questions and “Eventually my questions became trust.”  Reminding us, if your questions remain unanswered, and become a lack of trust you don’t have to get in the plane. And that questions, ultimately are not just good but necessary – the act of asking them is not ‘fake news’ or an ‘attack’ or ‘unfair’.

At the pressers of yesterday and today’s abbreviated update, the theme “we’re nearly over it!” is now a steady drumbeat. “Three weeks ago it was catastrophic, I think we’ve hit the bottom,” the president declares. The last two pressers have made it abundantly clear, he intends on America being opened May 1st. Maybe not everywhere, but somewhere.

I wonder why anyone thinks small businesses will be ready to throw their doors open…most of the $350 billion in stimulus money that’s gone to the banks will not have trickled to businesses or families by May 1st.  Small business owners on news programs make it clear, they went underwater the first of April or expect to the first of May, while their banks are still ‘readying themselves’ to distribute funds.  “We’re only servicing people with existing loans or existing accounts” but even those are told they are on enormous wait lists with no ETA.  “The biggest challenge is trying to get through to click submit,” says a business owner representative of most.  “First come first serve,” warn the banks. Not telling us how many have come or how many they’ve served.

”The only thing that can save the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world. That’s what poetry does.”

~Allen Ginsberg

The famous City Lights bookstore in North Beach is teetering on the brink, resorting to a Go Fund Me to keep the doors open. It’s inconceivable to me that this place that is an American institution, publisher of Allen Ginsburg’s Howl and Other Poems, could perish so swiftly, vanishing beneath the surface of the pandemic as easily as as any other business.

Also I’m wondering, will people be able to afford to go anywhere, once the shelter in place orders are lifted? Almost half of Americans work for a small business, and the great majority of them have lost their job and their health insurance and might not be ready to start consuming again for awhile.

The International Monetary Fund is beating a different set of drums entirely, saying  it expects the pandemic to bring the worst economic fallout since the Great Depression. Health experts say ending the shutdown prematurely would be disastrous because the restrictions have barely had time to work, and because U.S. leaders have not built up the capacity for alternatives to stay-at-home orders – such as the mass testing, large-scale contact tracing and targeted quarantines that have been used in other countries to successfully suppress the virus.

Even one of the most optimistic models used by the White House predicts a death toll of 60,400 by the end of August — but that, only if current drastic restrictions are kept in place until the end of May.

New York Mayor de Blasio says he won’t relax any restrictions until there is sustained evidence of improvement, which he defined as three key metrics trending down in unison: hospital admissions for suspected COVID-19, ICU admissions for suspected COVID-19 and the percentage of people testing positive. Most public health experts are projecting this won’t/can’t happen until late May or June. San Francisco Mayor London Breed has already ordered us to shelter in place through May 3rd.

The president tells us antibody tests being developed at “breakneck speed” and is confident that they will scale up to tens of millions of tests, and we’re leading the world in testing, and other countries are coming to us asking if they can buy the tests and we’re going to make that possible. We’re never told what countries are making these requests. I’m betting its not South Korea, Taiwan and Germany which have kept the COVID-19 death toll far far lower than the US, both in total and as a proportion of the population.

Every American should be proud of what our country has achieved, the president reads from his binder, repeating the number of hospitals and beds that have been built in 12 states and bragging that he has used the DPA “like a hammer” (“the media said we weren’t using it and we we’re using it like a hammer, all we had to do was say the words and people really did a very good job…with a few exceptions”). The highlights:

  • “We’re making thousands of ventilators which we won’t need and we’ll build up the national stockpiles and the state stockpiles which they should have had (this is a dig at Cuomo by the way), and we’ll sell to countries who are in no position to build ventilators, so we’re going to be helping quite a few of the countries.”
  • Air Bridge numbers are once again painstakingly repeated, first by the president then by the Vice President. We’ve heard about these flights at least ten times now, to the point if you mistakenly thought every time they were mentioned it was a new flight being accounted for, the skies would seem to be fairly swarming, not unlike fighter planes in World War II except delivering a payload of PPE at the enemy instead of bullets or bombs
  • Mask sterilization machines have been shipped – apparently, with all those brilliant people around, no one thought to sterilize the masks, but luckily the president just asked the question and miracle of miracles, they said, “We can!” Thank god, you guys, what would we do without this very stable genius in the White House?
  • “We passed the largest emergency relief package in American history,” we were reminded. It’s as if the person writing these notes is worried that the briefing will be full of people new to the topic, and unaware of all that has transpired.  If he started the meeting reading from his binder “I am Donald Trump, president of the United States”, it would be par for the course.

Stock market
The president explained that we’re experiencing “the biggest stock market increase in FIFTY years” (even during a short week!) and  tells us that this means that there is pent-up demand that “they” want to get back to work.   “Something very good is going to happen,” he excitedly tells us. “We’ve done well, the market thinks we’ve done well, we’ve had four days of increases, the best in more than fifty years, the greatest mobilization of our society since World War II, deploying every resource to defeat the virus.”

The monster

“This monster came and worked its horrible spell over the world!”
~President Donald Trump

The president has floated the idea the virus is a “monster” that we are at war with several times now…each time, I end up deleting it from my notes because it sounds so histrionic, but then realized that he’s saying things that are true, a monster came and worked its horrible spell all over the world and we will defeat this monster, we the American people working together can do it. Yes we can.  And unlike the president I am confident in giving a date, we can do it in seven months.

Dr. Birx  is wearing her scarf tied to the side today. She thanks the president “for outlining how well we are doing”.  She gives long recitations of cities with comments about stabilizing log rhythmic curves, mixing in thanks to the mayors and their communities for changing the curves. We’re united in social distancing and that’s been very encouraging to all of us, she tells us. Also we are told our COVID-19 mortality is much less than other nations, even correcting  for population, but reader, Taiwan, a nation of 23 million, has had no deaths, and South Korea has also suffered very few, not to mention Germany,  so Dr. Birx is not *exactly* correct here.

The polysyllabic spree
Increasingly it seems the Vice President and the President have their remarks written by a speech writer, and not someone with an operational or managerial focus. It sets a weird tone, to hear them drone out these formal-sounding sentences to the same crowd day after day. It makes me wish I could get my hands on that binder and make it easier on all of us:  “We’re incredibly proud of (our public health leaders at the city level, at the state level, the national level, working with their citizens in their communities.) Americans.”

You wish someone would just say: “We heard this already, say something new.”

There has been so much rah rah about how great we are doing with the thirty days to slow the spread that I am surprised when Dr. Birx says, buried in a bunch of compound sentences so that I almost miss it: “We have not reached the peak.”  Dr. Fauci tells us in no uncertain terms, “This is not the time to feel that since we’ve made such important advance in success of mitigation that we need to be pulling back at all.” For the second time in as many days he reminds us to check out clinicaltrials.gov (Guys! PowerPoint slides with QR codes WORK!) where we can read the progress on randomized trials of hydroxychloroquine, reminding us strongly “the randomized is the gold standard to find out if something is safe and effective,” and “in the summer we’ll start to see which are working and which are not” which  means, Reader, that he does not recommend you take hydroxychloroquine, he does not share the president’s What can it hurt attitude, he wants you to wait ’til summer and see what the science says.

We’re told the White House Coronavirus Task Force is bringing innovation to the crisis, revising FDA guidelines to allow the laundering of surgical gowns. We are assured the providers of these gowns and presumably launderers of same will follow FDA guidance and will be compliant with Medicare and Medicaid requirements and it sounds to me like someone’s getting a great big contract.

Thank you to America for helping to flatten the curve and save lives, says Surgeon General Adams when it is his turn to take the podium. He says, “I’ll finish by reiterating what you’ve heard,” and before anyone can stop him he does that, and it takes awhile and it is just as boring and fruitless and end times as it sounds. He finishes up with some orders: stay at home, follow the guidelines, keep six feet away from people, wear a mask, wash your hands and then in a surprise ad lib, also adjures us to “Avoid alcohol, tobacco and drugs. Call your mom.”  There is a brief furor when a reporter wants to know, are you telling just people of color to not drink, and he says no, he means everyone, he means you and me.

The president says that he hopes nobody steals our Surgeon General, that he doesn’t get lured away to “one of these big companies for a fortune”.  Don’t leave us, everyone says you’re doing a great job, says the president, and in a way it sounds as disturbing as hearing him tell someone they are a nasty horrid person and fake news, just for different reasons.

Then the Vice President retakes the lectern and rethanks the president, and then he says, somewhat unnecessarily, “Today the Coronavirus White House Task Force met and updated the president” which we already know because the president has just updated us on the update. 

The Vice President is undeterred by this fact and goes through the hits: gratitude, working round the clock, let me add my thanks and my admiration to the entire team. He reminds us Good Friday is always followed by Easter Sunday and “there is hope in this moment, thanks to the fact Americans are listening to state and local leaders we are getting there we are making progress but it is imperative we continue to follow the guidelines to slow the spread.” He is never breathless uttering these long sentences. He squints a lot, I wonder if he needs glasses or is this just the way he communicates earnestness? He mentions the CDC will be communicating new guidance but doesn’t say about what, and I briefly long for powerpoint slides that let me tune out the droning of his voice.

We hear again the figure of  2.1 million tests have been performed, and that “we continue to work to expand the ability to test”. There is some talk about an outbreak at a meat packing facility and I’m glad I’m a vegan though I worry about contamination on everything, really, including the dented rinds of avocados that look like the perfect welcoming surface for a virus. The Vice President spends a few minutes thanking and naming all the workers up and down the food supply chain from the grocery store clerks to the farmers.  

The Vice President  repeats all of the information about PPE supply shipments the president has already read through (do they get the same binders?). He goes through the figures on number of national guard troops activated, active duty medical military personnel deployed, number of states they are deployed in, number of Air Bridge flights completed, still planned, and scheduled, and how many surgical gloves and masks etc. they are carrying and we can only thank God he doesn’t have his hands on the manifest for each plane and the menu they serve the crew on each flight because reader, I fear he would read those too, squinting sincerely the whole while.

He winds it all up with a five minute plea to Americans to tithe to their church, and without telling people not to go to Church and keep socially distanced, he urges us obliquely to not go to church and stay socially distanced by saying he and Karen will be at home, reminding us “My Christian brothers and sisters across the country, Jesus said wherever two  or more are gathered, there he is already.”  He leaves the podium, and the president says Great job, before turning to the reporters and says in a way that might be joking or not, who knows, “It’s Good Friday, let’s be nice, let’s be real NICE.”  I found the Pope’s words on where we’re at in the world more inspiring than anything said today, so I’m including them; he’s a wise man, something we need a lot more of these days.

“We are in the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, all of us called to row together.”

~Pope Francis

Reporter Q&A highlights, in the president’s own words

  • On oil: OPEC & others agreed to cut back, we don’t even have room to store it they are using ships to store it  in fact, there has never been anything like this.
  • On Mexico: they didn’t agree, he had some political difficulty and I understand that, so I agreed to pick up some of the slack. and they’ll make it up to us at a later date, it could be in a different form.  (if you close your eyes and listen between the lines, you’ll hear the echo of a 2016 Trump telling a screaming crowd, we’re going to build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it)
  • On Dr. Fauci’s popularity:  I told Tony,  why don’t you move to New York and run against AOC, you’ll win easily!
  • On Morgan Chase projecting a 40% downturn in 2Q: My economic advisers are interested in the 3rd quarter and 4th quarter. We’ve never been hit like this, probably not even in 1917 when Europe took the brunt, we didn’t, with the world trade center, that was three thousand people, we’ve doubled that in the same area, MORE than doubled it, so with all this news what would make you believe we’d have the best stock market? It’s pent-up demand I tell you.
  • On restaurants: Deductibles will be great for restaurants.
  • On airlines: we have a great plan for the airlines, it’s never been a great business but it’s a vital business. We can’t let anything happen to Boeing.
  • On Governor Cuomo being wrong:  in New York they need far fewer hospital rooms, beds than we thought, Dr. Birx told me that four, six weeks ago, she said “Those numbers are too high we won’t need that” and we built Javitz and we brought the ship in we made it COVID.
  • On business interruption insurance:  I would like to see insurance companies pay, they know what is fair, I know what is fair, they’ve been paying for years. We can’t let that happen, the insurance companies saying they’re not going to pay it.
  • On testing: we’re taking testing from a broken system that I inherited to having the best tests anywhere in the world!

Reporters ask, will the president really re-open the country without a national testing system and we’re told there’s not a lot of issues with testing, and the states of Iowa, Nebraska, Idaho are mentioned as very very capable states with big distances, a lot of land, you don’t need testing there.

If there’s a little hot corner someplace we’l be testing, the president says. But vast areas of the country just don’t need it.  We’ve done more testing than any country in the world (but not per capita, reader).

Will there be contact tracing before the country is re-opened, a reporter asks, and the president says we’ll take a strong look at it. With every question about re-opening you can feel the president’s confidence ratchet up. “Our country will be stronger than ever. what’s going to happen is we’re going to have a big bounce rather than a small bounce. You can never replace the people who were lost but we will have succeeded in many ways.”

Boo, WHO
The president is still mad at the WHO and assures us there will be an announcement next week, and there is more listing of how much we gave the WHO and how much China gave this year, last year, and the two years before that and how very unfair it is and how we’re gonna be talking about that in great detail because we want to make sure money is properly spent.  The president is not going to put up with the US being taken advantage of! He rants and fumes for awhile about how China has siphoned the strength of the US through a non-biodegradable WHO straw, and how stupid that the people who stood here allowed it to happen, meaning of course Obama who apparently still lives rent free in the president’s head.

If you reopen in May and there is a new spike of infections are you open to shutting down again? asks a reporter, and the president says Yes. Then he says, Depending. It turns out it will depend on the Opening Our Country Council, a great group of people who will meet by teleconference and we are not told who, only that it is a lot of great names, different businesses, different people from different parts of the country. Attorney General William Barr said the stay-at-home orders and other restrictions are “draconian” and says they need to be reevaluated next month, so that’s what this council will be doing.

There is a question of the administration blocking shipments of PPE? But the president says no, that must be about blocking shipments of drugs which are coming into the US by sea now, because the very powerful wall loaded up with senosors and cameras and drones has stopped drugs from coming to the US by land. So now (we are told) a lot of people are trying to come into the waterways. we’re being tough on human trafficking, it’s mostly females, he tells us, and it’s HORrible, you may think of human trafficking as an ancient thing but it is not, it’s bigger than it’s ever been because of the internet, he says. (I think, Hey also because of guys like your friend Jeff Epstein and Prince Andrew but understandably those names don’t come up). The president shakes his head in disbelief at the problem of human trafficking but then reassures us we have a big naval force that’s stopping it, also, those ships are finding a LOT of drugs.

The Churchillian prose writer is at it again, and the presser closes on a bunch of Trope-on-a-Rope verbiage that is going for rousing but ends up somewhere else entirely, like Akron or Hackensack.

“We will unleash the full might of the united states of America to vanquish the virus. It’s a beautiful Friday, our country is a great place, this is artificial, close it down they say, close it down, and we’re healing and we’re going to get it back. We’re at the top of the hill and now we’re going downward.  We are supremely confident in the magnificent future that awaits the American people.”

Dr. Birx tells us 1.5 million tests have been reported in (you can still can only get a test if you have certain CDC-defined symptoms though) but by now I’m so unclear on differences in meaning indicated by reported, distributed, and processed I can’t really say what’s going on with tests, except there aren’t enough of them. Ten percent of infections are among people under the age of 25; twice as many 65-85 year olds are infected. Men are about 50% more likely to be infected than women.

Good news: citing the “progress of human civilization”, the Chinese government announced a new policy that would forbid the eating of dogs. In Lake Michigan, the water is so clear you can see hundreds of previously unidentified shipwrecks at bottom. InfoWars founder Alex Jones has been ordered by the FDA to stop telling people they can stave off coronavirus with products sold on his website.


See past entries in Coronavirus Event

 

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