Life: November 2020: COVID-19 Pandemic

So, in addition to dealing with the record-breaking and dramatic U.S. elections, we still have the pandemic to cope with.

COVID-19

This month, the U.S. surpassed 2 million confirmed cases and 250,000 deaths.

It’s bad. We have something like 4% of the world’s population but more than 20% of the COVID-19 cases.

Americans are even now traveling and visiting each other for Thanksgiving, so there are very grim projections for December. Extremely grim. Something like 40% of Americans surveyed planned interstate travel for the holiday.

I mean, we’re already at 2,000 deaths per day. Reuters reported in this article that there is a U.S. COVID-19 death every 40 seconds. But that isn’t enough to make some people change their plans.

From https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/, as always.

Some of the spread is persistent political toxicity – people recall that Republicans insisted that this GLOBAL PANDEMIC was just a hoax to make the U.S. President look bad. [eye roll] The heartbreaking story last week was of people in North Dakota denying on their literal deathbeds that COVID-19 is real, and abusing their hardworking nurses and other caregivers. (We really need to stop both-sides-ing partisanship folks. One particular side is dying of it.)

{My own circle’s COVID infection numbers are climbing VERY slowly, thankfully, and feel like they are tapering off from earlier seasons. I still have just one first degree friend who was infected (and was denied a test), but seven second degree contacts had it, and more than 8 third degree contacts… And that’s without having checked social media for a year to find out who in my wider circle has been infected.}

Vaccine Testing Progress

The good news is that the vaccine trials are going well. While the data is still being compiled, theoretically nearly all of the advanced trials are showing something over 90% efficacy, though the math seems to work differently for each of them.

I could just share the data, but why do that when I can also share an Oxford comma joke?

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Pfizer vaccine: effective, protective and safeModena vaccine: effective, protective and safeOxford vaccine: effective, protective, and safe

So, there is hope that we can get treatments next year, but they won’t be 100% protective, and we don’t know how long their protective effects will last. And some asshats still think the virus is a hoax, even as they are spreading it or dying from it, so getting people to use the vaccine or any other protective measure will be a challenge.

COVID Treatment and Prevention Risks (beyond the obvious nationalist ones here)

Plus, there are new variants of COVID-19, including a strain that leapt from domestic mink to humans, which is not a thing we need right now – it’s just another front to manage when we aren’t even managing the human infections. (See this article in Scientific American about the infection that has spread to more than 200 people in Denmark.) . This is yet another time when I gripe and say that everyone who eats or wears animals is endangering all of society with their lifestyle. Yes, there is the massive environmental damage and greenhouse gases, and water consumption, and land consumption, and related pollution – all of that – BUT ALSO these animal diseases jump to humans and spread around the world, and we really wish you would stop. Swine flu global pandemics, bird flu global pandemics, COVID-19 from an animal market as a global pandemic… I’m not even going to discuss Ebola.

HUMANS – learn from these pandemics – for all of us – PLEASE.

To me, a non-expert who reads lots of news, this feels like it means:
-ongoing major losses of life;
-ongoing need for funding and expansion of health support needs for people who have long term side effects (and a big expansion of health services worldwide);
-six months to another year of major precautions, perhaps followed by many years of less serious precautions IF we can manage long term immunity, with changes in design, ventilation, and occupancy of indoor spaces, and
-lots of hard work to recover in all the ways that matter to society.

This really is a world-changing event, and managing the changes will be a big challenge for us.

Life: November 2020: U.S. Elections

How do I even write about this month? There is so much. There is too much.

The Election

The biggest event dominating my waking hours in November was the 2020 U.S. elections. So much work, so much volunteering, so many campaigns, so much at stake – including the hope of breaking the cycle of having the Republican Party find new ways to disenfranchise voters, as well as a chance to stop the country’s slide into authoritarianism.

I’m not alone in my concern about authoritarianism: the current administration and the GOP have been sliding that way for a while. This is measurable, and has been observed outside of the U.S.:

Republicans closely resemble autocratic parties in Hungary and Turkey – study

The Republican party has become dramatically more illiberal in the past two decades and now more closely resembles ruling parties in autocratic societies than its former centre-right equivalents in Europe, according to a new international study.

This also was a trend prior to this administration, and I view this administration as more of a symptom of white conservative extremism than a cause. There are some studies which have supported this view:

Opinion | New study connects white American bigotry with support for authoritarianism

Since the founding of the United States, politicians and pundits have warned that partisanship is a danger to democracy. George Washington, in his Farewell Address, worried that political parties, or factions, could “allow cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men” to rise to power and subvert democracy.

Political scientists Steven V. Miller of Clemson and Nicholas T. Davis of Texas A&M have released a working paper titled “White Outgroup Intolerance and Declining Support for American Democracy.” Their study finds a correlation between white American’s intolerance, and support for authoritarian rule. In other words, when intolerant white people fear democracy may benefit marginalized people, they abandon their commitment to democracy.

—from https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/trump-effect-new-study-connects-white-american-intolerance-support-authoritarianism-ncna877886 – it’s very interesting, and worth a full read!

Add to this the fact that as projections favored the Democratic ticket, DT began screaming about fraud even before the election started, while his fans publicly planned to brandish weapons at voting locations and some even plotted to kidnap Democratic governors he had targeted, and… it really felt like I imagine Germany felt in the 1930s.

For many of us, this election wasn’t just about minor policy differences, but whether or not we will live in a democracy.

So, when the counting started and/or results trickled out on Election Day, Tuesday, November 3rd, it felt like the entire country – the center, left, and what was once the mainstream conservative population, at least – was tense and fearing violence. With pandemic ballots coming in by mail in larger numbers than in prior elections, results trickled in day by day, and it was agony for me to even hold out hope. By Saturday, November 7th, the results were clear – Biden & Harris won the White House for the Democrats – and celebrations broke out in the streets (though not close to my own sleepy/boring neighborhood).

From https://wethepeople.care/page/view-post?id=428 and various people on Twitter

Next, the courtroom dramas began, with overt announcements of an intention to throw out ballots – especially those from areas with many persons of color.

To add to the drama, the international community felt slow to offer Biden their congratulations (points to France for sending 7 November congrats!), with lots of foot-dragging from authoritarian leaders such as Putin and Xi. And the official responsible for funding presidential transitions would not do so.

Things turned another, more-final feeling corner just this week.

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It has been 23 days since Joe Biden was elected the 46th President on the United States.🇺🇸Since then, Trump and his allies have lost 38 separate lawsuits and won 1.🥳 Trump hates when I tweet this, so please don’t share it.🤦‍♂️

Now we’re watching someone capable choose a capable cabinet, and only vaguely remember what people who are well-adjusted act like. The transition is being funded. Even autocrats are belatedly congratulating Biden.

We’re mentally processing the fact that millions of people still want authoritarian leaders. We’re processing the fact that the election was a landslide and was record-setting, but that notorious individuals in the Senate and House maintained their seats and still have the support of enough of their constituents to maintain power, which limits the options for fixing voter suppression in their regions. And that a runoff in now-blue Georgia is set for early January, and remains wildly important, so we can’t relax.

Also, NOW there are nonsensical editorials by conservatives & Republicans telling Democrats that a big victory like this should be treated like a loss, and Democrats winning means that people really want Republican policies… Also, that the same people who wore shirts that literally said “f*ck your feelings” should be treated with great sensitivity over their election loss. And that their ideas, no matter how terrible, should be seriously considered again, unlike how they approached our ideas. And that all of the corruption and law-breaking in the current administration should be forgiven, legally and politically.

No, just… No.

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I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t want to “unite” with the people who kidnap and jail children, ban Muslims, discriminate against transgender troops, and are committing criminally negligent homicide–or their supporters. I want them held accountable. That would unite us.

Accountability would be a better theme! Tolerance and forgiveness for corruption just begets more corruption.

So, this month has been exhausting. And I haven’t even gotten to discussing the pandemic…

Words: Handmaid

There is some extremist judge being considered for the U.S. Supreme Court (again), and she’s in a spin-off religious sect that once bestowed the title of handmaid upon her. (AP)

This evoked the famous Margaret Atwood novel, The Handmaid’s Tale (en.wikipedia.org), and so there were some awkward news flurries about how HER faith group was NOT the inspiration for THAT story.

There was even a grumpy denial from the U.S. Senate Majority “Leader” (guardian.co.uk) in which he said, among other things, that the term was being used pejoratively, “because one liberal author put it in the title of an anti-religious novel in the 1980s…”

I’m in a religion, and I did not think the Handmaid’s Tale was anti-religious in any way… because I don’t naturally associate the oppression of women, including treating women as property, forcing women to conceive children with men not of their choosing, or restricting other basic human rights with religious values. You’d have to be part of a religion with a similarly oppressive belief system to see that horrifically dystopian novel as an insult to your— oh. OH.

News: 8 Million US COVID-19 Cases

From https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/, of course

What is concerning is not just the numbers, but the cases that go on and on, where people don’t fully recover for months. We need to look after those people, too – long term. And, as a country without a coherent health system, we would need to do things differently to handle that.

A conventional news story on the topic from the UK:

Long Covid: what we know so far

At the start of the pandemic we were told that Covid-19 was a respiratory illness from which most people would recover within two or three weeks, but it’s increasingly clear that there may be tens of thousands of people, if not hundreds of thousands, who have been left experiencing symptoms months after becoming infected.

Sometimes, it is very difficult to live in a country that is opposed to joint solutions to problems… literally difficult to preserve one’s own life, or the lives of others!

News: COVID-19 Pandemic, continued

The COVID-19 pandemic continues apace, and remains out of control in the United States.

If there is any good news (beyond the low rates of infection and death in my own region and social circle, for which I am grateful!), it is that while infections continue to rise, a smaller percentage of confirmed infections are serious. There was some earlier, sparse data suggesting that people who wear masks may be receiving low enough exposure to the virus to fight it off successfully; now, data about viral load specifically is being examined, and is trending in a more convincing way.

I don’t want to post ALL the news on this topic (every news organization in is already doing that, it would be duplicative), but this viral load issue is interesting.

Covid-19 death rates are lower worldwide, but no one is sure whether that’s a blip or a trend

After working for three months straight at Detroit Medical Center, Said El Zein noticed that the coronavirus patients who began arriving in May appeared less sick than those who came before. More than 4,000 miles away in northern Italy, researcher Chiara Piubelli was struck by the same thing.

I’m describing this as good news, but even if this trend holds, it would still mean that more than 2 million people just in my country could potentially die. Which isn’t great, especially if you are one of them! It also remains ominous that children can have such high viral loads, as that may bode ill in those families/situations where they are looked after by grandparents and other senior caregivers. But fewer people getting the life-threatening version of the infection is good.

I’ll take any potentially positive trend, at this point.

~me, right now

I’ve completed 31 weeks of local/regional sheltering-in-place and minimizing in-person interactions with others to help prevent the spread of this illness. I am lucky and privileged to be able to do so.

While the wildfire smoke has compounded my lack of physical fitness (and added variety to my pre-wildfire allergic (?) cough), and the quarantine has kept me from seeing my parents (2-4 hours away), none of what I’m experiencing from the pandemic is important: essential workers are having a very different, more demanding experience, as are the many people whose livelihoods are risky, unsafe, or just otherwise disrupted due to safety concerns during this time.

I’m glad my locality continues to ban evictions (and won a challenge from landlords in court!), and that the schools are offering meal support along with other food charities. But it pains me that we aren’t one of the countries that is just paying everyone 80% of their salary to be sure they (and the businesses that employ them) make it through this.

While someone at my local pharmacy said they feel bad that kids won’t get to enjoy trick-or-treating for Halloween, I feel sad for EVERYONE. *

*Except the anti-maskers and the authoritarians, for whom I have no sympathy.

I miss my relationship with my hometown, and all that comes with that. I miss my relationship with the bayshore, with the people who run restaurants and shops I frequent, with my friends, with the library, with the museums, with the cafes, and just walking through the neighborhoods of this city, which are each so distinct in character… I’m eager to resume these interactions when it is safe. I’m hoping very strongly that safety will be possible.

News: COVID-19 global deaths topped one million on Monday

A milestone no one wanted us to cross, yet here we are. Today’s numbers from Johns Hopkins.

I’m rather discouraged. Not just because the pandemic continues to rage out of control, but because the conversation has shifted from, ‘how do we emulate countries that got this under control’ to ‘how do we try to fall somewhere in the middle of the range of countries where people hate their governments too much to save the lives of those around them?’ Which is a pretty dramatic drop in ambition.

I am still concerned that this isn’t going to be our only pandemic, now that I see how BAD some humans are at taking precautions. All the jokes about how zombie movies show humans putting in waaaay more effort not to become zombies than is realistic are hitting me kind of hard right now. (Also, Train to Busan is an entertaining addition to the Zombie genre.)

News: Pandemic Precautions in San Francisco

From the excellent SF Department of Public Health page at https://www.sfdph.org/dph/alerts/coronavirus.asp

First off, I’d like to give a general shout out to my local department of public health for doing such a great job of data sharing. The website (sample above) is clear, and there is lots of data about how this has played out neighborhood by neighborhood, zip code by zip code. This information has really helped me think about my relative risks and make informed decisions.

Next, I have to give praise to the people of my beloved hometown, San Francisco. A city of 800,000+ people still managed to keep the infection rate very low. I LOVE YOU PEOPLE!

The City is still adjusting what services are safe based on infection rates around the state. (SoCal keeps messing things up for us.) The current version of the game plan is here:

Reopening San Francisco

We are gradually reopening to keep our City safe and healthy.

My museums are writing to me with some excitement about their October re-openings, which will provide a new experience: uncrowded, carefully timed exhibit viewings! That’s… actually rather appealing. (I can’t sit to draw, but I can live with that.) I’m contemplating that now, and the complex logistics of getting around.

(Transit service was reduced dramatically to ensure compliance with the safety precautions, while providing minimum support for essential workers. This was hard on the essential workers! This resulted in stable access to everything for people who drive everywhere, and less access for socially responsible, environmentally concerned transit riders. 🙁 Yes, that is [sad face].)

I’ll review the SFMTA COVID-19 Core Service Plan (sfmta.com) before I try to go anywhere in October. IF I try to go anywhere…

News: Practice Safe SIX

I love this town. So much.

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More than ever, love is demonstrated with actions, to protect your family. When you wear a mask, you show that you love your loved ones. 40% of people with COVID-19show no symptoms. It is better to love from afar and protect them. Visithttps://t.co/cxFjh6Vhfs pic.twitter.com/0E2oCjOqK3

News: 200,000 Americans lost to COVID-19

The usual from https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/

The United States’ death toll is now being casually measured in other disasters, like how many September 11, 2001 death tolls occur EACH WEEK.

This truly is world-changing. The lost people alone are world-changing – history will run a different course than it would have if they were here… Also, the esteem in which New Zealand, South Korea, and Taiwan are held has truly risen quite dramatically. (Good for them! I’m jealous of their leadership!)

It is difficult to resume anything near normal life, in part because of the feeling that your safety depends on the least considerate people around you. Yes 90%+ of the people I encounter on my once to twice a week essential supply runs are wearing masks and keeping respectful distances from each other, but the ones that are blathering away on their phones without a mask, chain smoking on the sidewalk without a mask (pretend it is for fire safety), or merely averting their eyes while walking past without a mask – as if I can’t see them if they don’t look at me? – are there. We’re outside, and the odds are in my favor, but they are negative advertising for any optional indoor activities.

The UK press articles I’ve read are wavering a bit on how we SHOULD be living right now. (One is based in the UK, where a dramatic case spike is causing the anti-restriction government to impose restrictions.) For officials and news writers, is difficult to write about what death tolls are “acceptable” without sounding terrible. (There is a very tidy venn diagram of people who are willing to sacrifice entire categories of people for the economy and people who are terrible. ) It is baffling (and upsetting) to look at photos of partying crowds in known infection hot spots.

There is too little progress on improving our treatment of essential workers.

I’m hoping to be lucky enough to live through this, but also fear that this will be “the new normal” for far too long.

News: Marking the Passing of RBG

I’m one of countless people who admired and adored US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and her death yesterday comes as a terrible blow in a year of terrible blows.

She was an ICON. A heroine. A legend. A force for progress. Someone for whom people without specific religious beliefs prayed.

She worked in law, and was LOVED.

Her work, even before she joined the Supreme Court, CHANGED THE WORLD FOR THE BETTER.

I recommend this tribute/history:

Ruth Bader Ginsburg changed America long before she joined the supreme court | Moira Donegan

The most important feminist lawyer in the history of the American republic has died. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a supreme court justice and singularly influential legal mind, was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, the court’s second-ever female justice, and served for nearly 30 years. She passed away due to complications from cancer on Friday.

I used to post quotes from her dissents to my office door, back when I worked in a law firm. I loved her writing! I loved her irrepressible fight do to right by people! And her writing was so sharp, so pointed, so clear, so well-reasoned…

This tribute is adoring:

Perspective | Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave us more than enough

A few weeks ago, Ruth Bader Ginsburg officiated the wedding of a family friend. She looked as brilliant as she always did, and as tiny. A photograph circulated on social media, Ginsburg in her white collar behind a lectern, and the responses were joy giving way to panic.

I especially like this excerpt: “A gay man once told me that he had an elaborate fantasy in which he and his friends could swathe Ginsburg in bubble wrap and then carry her, in a careful phalanx formation, up and down the steps of the court each day for work. He was laughing when he started sharing the fantasy, but by the end, he was crying. He needed to believe in this version of reality, in which there was a way to extend her life indefinitely, in which six or eight gentle gay men could somehow keep the person safe who kept the country safe, in which hope could be suspended above their heads in bubble wrap.”

This morning, to help me process the loss to my country, I went on Twitter and actually found comfort in the community efforts to celebrate her life. (You know times are hard if you turn to TWITTER for comfort!)

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Her rest is earned. It is our turn to fight.

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I know the popular analysis is going to be “we’re screwed,” and I *feel you.* But nah. RBG didn’t go out like that and neither are we. I’m not speaking that, and I’m not believing that. We gon fight. That’s what we’re gonna do.

As seen on Twitter, in a Tweet by https://twitter.com/sewmc28 that I’m not posting, because it includes GOP senators in the image, and I don’t want to put you through that.

One of the themes that came through Twitter among progressives is that our system is broken if one woman’s passing can create so much fear and dread for the future. Our future should not depend on any one person.

There is so much to fix, and so much work to be done. Go find a way to do your part. AND VOTE.