The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Covid isn't like the flu. It's like smoking

The Atlantic makes a solid case for treating Covid-19 as a behavior problem, not a virus:

The “new normal” will arrive when we acknowledge that COVID’s risks have become more in line with those of smoking cigarettes—and that many COVID deaths, like many smoking-related deaths, could be prevented with a single intervention.

The pandemic’s greatest source of danger has transformed from a pathogen into a behavior. Choosing not to get vaccinated against COVID is, right now, a modifiable health risk on par with smoking, which kills more than 400,000 people each year in the United States.

The COVID vaccines are, without exaggeration, among the safest and most effective therapies in all of modern medicine. An unvaccinated adult is an astonishing 68 times more likely to die from COVID than a boosted one. Yet widespread vaccine hesitancy in the United States has caused more than 163,000 preventable deaths and counting. Because too few people are vaccinated, COVID surges still overwhelm hospitals—interfering with routine medical services and leading to thousands of lives lost from other conditions. If everyone who is eligible were triply vaccinated, our health-care system would be functioning normally again.

We haven’t banned tobacco outright—in fact, most states protect smokers from job discrimination—but we have embarked on a permanent, society-wide campaign of disincentivizing its use. Long-term actions for COVID might include charging the unvaccinated a premium on their health insurance, just as we do for smokers, or distributing frightening health warnings about the perils of remaining uninoculated. And once the political furor dies down, COVID shots will probably be added to the lists of required vaccinations for many more schools and workplaces.

It's time to cough up a better strategy for getting people jabbed.

One million dead (or more)

The CDC reported today that the US has officially passed 1 million Covid deaths:

The confirmed number of dead is equivalent to a 9/11 attack every day for 336 days. It is roughly equal to how many Americans died in the Civil War and World War II combined. It’s as if Boston and Pittsburgh were wiped out.

Three out of every four deaths were people 65 and older. More men died than women. White people made up most of the deaths overall. But Black, Hispanic and Native American people have been roughly twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as their white counterparts.

Of course, the CDC also believes we passed 1 million actual Covid deaths a few months ago, as the total number of excess deaths since 1 February 2020 has passed 1,119,000.

NPR reports that vaccine misinformation and Republican Party politics has led to a majority of those deaths in unvaccinated populations:

[W]e've been hit so hard due to fragmentation and inequalities in our health care system, as well as vaccine hesitancy, often fueled by politically motivated misinformation. Consider this, A - if you tally up the number of unvaccinated people who died from COVID after vaccines were open to all adults last year, it's about 319,000 lives lost, according to a Brown University analysis.

So Covid has killed more Americans than any other single event by many hundreds of thousands:

Earth Day

Today we celebrate the big rock that gives us days in the first place. One out of 364 is pretty good, I guess. And there are some good stories on my open browser tabs:

Finally, the Defense Department will open a Defense Innovation Unit just down the street from my current office in June. I knew about these plans a couple of years ago when I worked on an unclassified project for the US Military Enrollment Processing Command and was looking forward to it. I'm glad it's finally gotten to Chicago.

Lazy Sunday

Other than making a hearty beef stew, I have done almost nothing of value today. I mean, I did some administrative work, and some chorus work, and some condo board work. But I still haven't read a lick of the books I've got lined up, nor did I add the next feature to the Weather Now 5 app.

I did read these, though:

  • An Illinois state judge has enjoined the entire state from imposing mask mandates on schools, just as NBC reports that anti-vaxxer "influencers" are making bank off their anti-social followers.
  • Across the border, Canadians, generally a less sociopathic lot than American conservatives, have run out of patience with their own anti-vax protestors.
  • The Washington Post demonstrates how the worst gerrymanders in the US work—like the one here in Illinois.
  • Local bicyclists have had enough of winter, blaming the city for filling bike lanes with slush. But...the city didn't make it snow, right?

OK, back to doing nothing. Cassie, at least, is getting a lot of attention.

The numbers are better but the feelings aren't

Last night I went to the "Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!" taping at Harris Theater in Chicago, and afterwards my friend and I talked about how gloomy the weather and darkness of winter are. I pointed out to her that tomorrow, February 5th, the sun rises at 7:00 for the first time since November 15th, and we've got 55 minutes more daylight than we had at the solstice six weeks ago. In other words, yes, it still gets dark early and we get up most weekdays before dawn, but things have already improved since the darkest days of December. And we get another hour of daylight only three weeks from now, on February 27th.

Same with the weather. Temperatures in Chicago lag the seasons by about a month, which gives us our hottest days at the end of July and our coldest at the end of January. But despite all the snow on the ground and the likelihood of below-freezing temperatures until Tuesday, the worst part of winter really is behind us. February is, on average, noticeably warmer than January. March warmer still. Spring starts 23 days from now no matter what today's weather looks like.

And, of course, same with Covid-19. While we still have Covid jerks like former half-term Alaska governor Sarah "Rogue" Palin, along with masking recommendations that seem to change more frequently than people can follow (but, really, don't change much at all), the numbers have plummeted recently.

Things get better before you notice them getting better. Happy thought for Friday.

"Endemic" doesn't mean "over"

What does it mean to say that Covid-19 has become endemicThe Atlantic argues, not much:

Endemicity says nothing about the total number of infected people in a population at a given time. It says nothing about how bad those infections might get—how much death or disability a microbe might cause. Endemic diseases can be innocuous or severe; endemic diseases can be common or vanishingly rare.

Endemicity, then, just identifies a pathogen that’s fixed itself in our population so stubbornly that we cease to be seriously perturbed by it. We tolerate it. Even catastrophically prevalent and deadly diseases can be endemic, as long as the crisis they cause feels constant and acceptable to whoever’s thinking to ask.

Endemic diseases, then, are the shades of suffering we’ve accepted as inevitable, no longer worth haggling down. The term is a resignation to the burden we’re left with. It can reflect unspoken values about whom that disease is affecting, and where, and the value we place on certain people’s well-being. Diseases such as malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis, which concentrate in less wealthy parts of the world, carry pandemic-caliber disease and death rates. And yet, they are commonly called endemic.

Well, we get a flu shot every year. I guess we'll need a Covid shot too.

Welsh government retracts advice about tenors

It turns out, tenors don't actually spread Covid more readily than the other three sections, despite what you may have heard from the Welsh Government:

The advice appears to have been motivated by a spoof social media news post, created by meme page Quire Memes to appear as if written by us here at Classic FM. A doctored headline claimed that ‘Tenors should sit three metres away from other choir members, COVID study says’.

The post, which is categorically fake news, is captioned: “Tenors found to disperse aerosols the furthest, in this in-depth coronavirus study.”

A government spokesperson denied that the advice was based on a spoof post, but said they “apologise unreservedly for this error and for any confusion it may have caused”.

Professional tenor and choral director Charles MacDougall told The Telegraph it was “preposterous” that the Welsh government appeared to have based their official guidance on a meme.

Believe me, tenors have enough problems without being blamed for spreading this particular disease. Gonorrhea, however...

Monday, Monday

The snow has finally stopped for, we think, a couple of days, and the city has cleared most of the streets already. (Thank you, Mike Bilandic.) What else happened today?

Finally, Weber Grills apologized today for its really unfortunate timing last week, when it emailed thousands of customers a recipe for BBQ meat loaf—on the day singer Meat Loaf died.

The line Boris Johnson crossed

Boris Johnson attending a holiday party the night before Prince Philip's funeral outraged the UK because no one hates anything more than moral hypocrisy:

Moral hypocrisy — behaving badly while simultaneously hectoring the rest of us to do good — evokes a level of anger that neither lying nor wrongdoing bring out on their own, studies have repeatedly found.

Mr. Johnson’s real sin, in this telling, was pushing Britons to go without for the common good, all while his office held events that violated this spirit of shared sacrifice and, by risking viral spread, undermined its effect.

As if to underscore the backlash that such transgressions can bring, the tennis star Novak Djokovic simultaneously faces, after his own long record of controversies never quite catching up with him, severe professional damage over accusations that he fabricated or obfuscated in his application for an exemption to Australia’s Covid vaccination requirement.

The incident has become a flashpoint in global debates over vaccine rules. But it has also inspired fierce anger perhaps in part because, like Mr. Johnson, Mr. Djokovic was seeking to benefit from society’s compliance with those rules, which made Australia safe enough to hold the tournament in which he was scheduled to play. And he has done it while bending or breaking those same rules to satisfy his own desires to avoid the vaccine and travel freely.

They're both reprehensible people. I'm glad they finally got people to understand that to the point where their careers will suffer.

Lunchtime roundup, falling temperatures edition

We have one of those lovely January days when a tongue of cold air pushes south from Canada and gives us the warmest temperature of the day at midnight. Yesterday the Inner Drive Techology World Headquarters got up to 6°C around 3:30pm, stayed around 5°C from 6:30 pm until 1am, and since then has cooled down to -5°C. The forecast calls for continued cooling until reaching -13°C around 6am tomorrow.

Yesterday's weather conditions encouraged the formation of "pancake ice" on Lake Michigan. Block Club Chicago has tons of photos and videos of the phenomenon if you're curious.

Block Club Chicago's story on pop-up Covid testing facilities bilking consumers and governments alike got the attention of Bruce Schneier, who assures his readers that no, these guys aren't going to sell your data. They're just ordinary multi-level marketing scammers.

In other Chicago journalism news, Chicago Public Media's board voted unanimously yesterday to acquire the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper. The deal will create the biggest non-profit journalism organization in Chicago, and has the backing of billionaire Michael Sacks. (Note: I am a Leadership Circle contributor to Chicago Public Media, and once worked for Sacks at GCM.)

Now, Cassie and I will brave the cold for a few minutes so she can take care of her important business.