The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

All-or-nothing doesn't work

Harvard Medical School epidemiologist Julia Marcus argues that "quarantine fatigue is real," and it may be healthier to start relaxing self-isolation (for many people) than to continue it:

Public-health experts have known for decades that an abstinence-only message doesn’t work for sex. It doesn’t work for substance use, either. Likewise, asking Americans to abstain from nearly all in-person social contact will not hold the coronavirus at bay—at least not forever.

I’m not talking about the people who are staging militaristic protests against the supposed coronavirus hoax. I’m talking about those who are experiencing the profound burden of extreme physical and social distancing. In addition to the economic hardship it causes, isolation can severely damage psychological well-being, especially for people who were already depressed or anxious before the crisis started.

[T]he choice between staying home indefinitely and returning to business as usual now is a false one. Risk is not binary. And an all-or-nothing approach to disease prevention can have unintended consequences. Individuals may fixate on unlikely sources of contagion—the package in the mail, the runner or cyclist on the street—while undervaluing precautions, such as cloth masks, that are imperfect but helpful.

[A]s years of research on HIV prevention have shown, shaming doesn’t eliminate risky behavior—it just drives it underground. Even today, many gay men hesitate to disclose their sexual history to health-care providers because of the stigma that they anticipate. Shaming people for their behavior can backfire.

Scientists still have a lot to learn about this new virus, but early epidemiological studies suggest that not all activities or settings confer an equal risk for coronavirus transmission. Enclosed and crowded settings, especially with prolonged and close contact, have the highest risk of transmission, while casual interaction in outdoor settings seems to be much lower risk. A sustainable anti-coronavirus strategy would still advise against house parties. But it could also involve redesigning outdoor and indoor spaces to reduce crowding, increase ventilation, and promote physical distancing, thereby allowing people to live their lives while mitigating—but not eliminating—risk.

Of course, the Trump Administration's abject failure to provide adequate testing and safety guidance will only prolong our anxiety and isolation. But right-wing governments never make the trains run on time, no matter what their propaganda says.

Disbar Barr

I read the news today, oh boy:

Finally, the USS Nevada, a battleship that survived World War I and Pearl Harbor until the Navy scuttled her in 1948, has been found.

The plan is to have no plan

So believes NYU media professor Jay Rosen about how President Trump will try to win this fall:

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.

Stated another way, the plan is to default on public problem solving, and then prevent the public from understanding the consequences of that default. ... The manufacture of confusion is just the ruins of Trump’s personality meeting the powers of the presidency. There is no genius there, only a damaged human being playing havoc with our lives.

In other fun stories:

Oh, and 151 years ago today, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads completed the Transcontinental Railroad.

Fifty days in

Illinois has had a stay-at-home order in effect for over seven weeks now, though last week the state and county opened up forest trails and other outdoor activities that allow for proper distancing and discourage people clumping together in groups. So today I drove up to the northern suburbs to the site of the largest Civilian Conservation Corps project undertaken during the agency's run from 1933 to 1940.

It was good to get outside. Not my fastest-ever pace, but still respectable, and somehow I got over 10,000 steps just on the walk.

And when I got back, this was waiting in my inbox:

When did this become a thing?

Writing for the Washington Post, Michele Norris has had enough of white dudes toting firearms at "peaceful" protests:

We’ve gotten far too accustomed to the image of white protesters carrying paramilitary-level firearms in public spaces. The presence of guns — often really large guns — at protests has become alarmingly normalized. It is time to take stock of what that means.

Accepting and even expecting to see firearms at protest rallies means that we somehow embrace the threat of chaos and violence. While those who carry say they have no intention of using their weapons, the firepower alone creates a wordless threat, and something far more calamitous if even just one person discharges a round.

Is this brazen display of force about the right to own firearms or the right to make armed threats for political purposes? Just asking, because the latter is not a “right” that can be equally asserted. The protests are purportedly about reopening America. A parallel goal is realignment — using the Second Amendment to conduct regular and routine shows of force to intimidate elected officials into enacting a political agenda.

Polls show that most Americans prefer a go-slow approach to reopening most businesses. The armed protesters in places such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and North Carolina represent a tiny minority. Some surveys put the most insistent open-now crowd at less than 10 percent. But the weapons make their influence seem larger — and they know that. We see protests punctuated by guns almost every day. It has become routine. We have normalized something that should be shocking.

This sort of thing has happened before, in other times and places, and it hasn't ended well.

Unprecedented numbers

The US unemployment rate exploded to 14.7% in April as 20.5 million people officially left the workforce, with millions more people leaving full-time work and others not even trying to find new jobs. April's job losses were more than 10 times the 1.9 million reported in September 1945 as the US demobilized from World War II.

Once you've absorbed that, there's more:

Finally, today is the 75th anniversary of V-E Day, when the Nazi army finally surrendered to the Allies, ending the war in Europe. Germans celebrated the event today as a day of liberation from the Nazis.

The economic consequences of the pandemic

The differences in the way Democrats and Republicans have approached the pandemic shouldn't surprise or shock anyone, but one might still expect Republicans not to say the quiet parts quite so loudly. Last week, 3.2 million more Americans filed for unemployment benefits, bringing the total to 33.5 million since mid-March and the unemployment rate to nearly 20%. The last time we had 20% unemployment, Herbert Hoover (a Republican, let's remember) sat on his ass in the Oval Office waiting for the market to fix itself. Millions starved and lost their homes. The economy didn't recover fully for over a decade, and then only because we had to mobilize the economy around the biggest war in human history.

So how is this Republican administration trying to save the economy? Pretty much the same way Hoover's did, except with less compassion and more stupidity.

This morning, the Small Business Administration announced that its Economic Injury Disaster Loan program had all but run out of money, so they won't accept new applicants and they will only give out $150,000 awards instead of the $2m loans people have applied for.

Here in Illinois, downstate Republicans want to reopen businesses soon rather than wait for the empirical triggers in Governor Pritzker's plan to apply. What they haven't said here, but what seems obvious from the experiences of other states, like Georgia, is that they want to reduce unemployment insurance payments by forcing low-income workers back to work even if it's not safe. What do the owners or Republican legislators care, right? See, if shops and businesses are legally entitled to open, and workers refuse to go in because, you know, they want to live a few years longer, then the workers will no longer qualify for unemployment insurance. QED. This is almost explicitly Georgia Governor Brian Kemp's plan.

As Josh Marshall wrote today, "Again and again, the Trump Era forces us to the crudest and most unsubtle portrayals of the role of wealth and privilege in our society. But it’s no surprise since that is the essence of Trumpism."

Finally, one of the president's valets tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, which reportedly made the president angry. Did the president express concern for the guy or his family? Oh, how droll.

What's a Wednesday again?

Remember slow news days? Me neither.

  • Republican legislators and business owners have pushed back on Illinois Governor JB Pritzker's plan to re-open the economy, preferring instead to force their employees into unsafe situations so they can return to making money.
  • Professional dilettante Jared Kushner's leadership in getting a bunch of kids to organize mask distribution went about as well as one might predict.
  • More reasonable people simply see how it means we're going to be in this a while.
  • California has sued Uber and Lyft for violating AB5, claiming the two ride-sharing companies “gain an unfair and unlawful competitive advantage by inappropriately classifying massive numbers of California drivers as independent contractors,” according to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
  • Assuming states were allowed to go bankrupt, Crain's Steven Strahler believes an Illinois bankruptcy might not be what anyone actually wants.
  • Illinois' $560m shortfall in gasoline taxes right now has put transit projects at risk.
  • The BBC tries to help the rest of the world understand why the US has a backlash against face masks, as does NBC.
  • If you take New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut out of the equation, the number of Covid-19 cases continues to rise in the US.
  • Bottled water sales have gone up 57% year-over-year, so Consumer Reports wants to know why people are paying so much for someone else's tap water? Especially since bottlers often don't pay their water bills while residents are getting their water shut off.
  • Anyone remember that it's the 20th anniversary of the ILOVEYOU virus?

And finally, a cute diner in Toronto where I had breakfast last June has moved to delivery service during the lockdown. Too bad they can't deliver to Chicago.

At least the tunnel has walls now, even if we can't see the end of it

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker announced this afternoon a five-phase, evidence-based plan to reopen the state:

The five phases for each health region are as follows:

Phase 1 – Rapid Spread: The rate of infection among those tested and the number of patients admitted to the hospital is high or rapidly increasing. Strict stay at home and social distancing guidelines are put in place and only essential businesses remain open. Every region has experienced this phase once already, and could return to it if mitigation efforts are unsuccessful.

Phase 2 – Flattening: The rate of infection among those tested and the number of patients admitted to the hospital beds and ICU beds increases at an ever slower rate, moving toward a flat and even a downward trajectory. Nonessential retail stores reopen for curb-side pickup and delivery. Illinoisans are directed to wear a face covering when outside the home and can begin enjoying additional outdoor activities like golf, boating and fishing while practicing social distancing. To varying degrees, every region is experiencing flattening as of early May.

Phase 3 – Recovery: The rate of infection among those surveillance tested, the number of patients admitted to the hospital, and the number of patients needing ICU beds is stable or declining. Manufacturing, offices, retail, barbershops and salons can reopen to the public with capacity and other limits and safety precautions. Gatherings limited to 10 people or fewer are allowed. Face coverings and social distancing are the norm.

Phase 4 – Revitalization: The rate of infection among those surveillance tested and the number of patients admitted to the hospital continues to decline. Gatherings of 50 people or fewer are allowed, restaurants and bars reopen, travel resumes, child care and schools reopen under guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health. Face coverings and social distancing are the norm.

Phase 5 – Illinois Restored: With a vaccine or highly effective treatment widely available or the elimination of any new cases over a sustained period, the economy fully reopens with safety precautions continuing. Conventions, festivals and large events are permitted, and all businesses, schools and places of recreation can open with new safety guidance and procedures in place reflecting the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Until COVID-19 is defeated, this plan also recognizes that just as health metrics will tell us it is safe to move forward, health metrics may also tell us to return to a prior phase. With a vaccine or highly effective treatment not yet available, IDPH will be closely monitoring key metrics to immediately identify trends in cases and hospitalizations to
determine whether a return to a prior phase may become necessary.

We're in Phase 2 right now, state-wide. How do we get to phase 3?

Cases and Capacity: The determination of moving from Phase 2 to Phase 3 will be driven by the COVID-19 positivity rate in each region and measures of maintaining regional hospital surge capacity. This data will be tracked from the time a region enters Phase 2, onwards.

  • At or under a 20 percent positivity rate and increasing no more than 10 percentage points over a 14-day period, AND
  • No overall increase (i.e. stability or decrease) in hospital admissions for COVID-19-like illness for 28 days, AND
  • Available surge capacity of at least 14 percent of ICU beds, medical and surgical beds, and ventilators

Testing: Testing available for all patients, health care workers, first responders, people with underlying conditions, and residents and staff in congregate living facilities

Tracing: Begin contact tracing and monitoring within 24 hours of diagnosis

In Phase 3 we'll be able to have private gatherings of 10 or fewer people, meaning we can finally, at that point, visit friends who aren't sick. But reading the criteria, we're at least 4 weeks away from phase 3, depending on what happens to overall testing and new case numbers.

We'll get through this. Someday.

Kim Stanley Robinson on our new "structure of feeling"

The science-fiction author sees hope in our response to Covid-19:

People who study climate change talk about “the tragedy of the horizon.” The tragedy is that we don’t care enough about those future people, our descendants, who will have to fix, or just survive on, the planet we’re now wrecking. We like to think that they’ll be richer and smarter than we are and so able to handle their own problems in their own time. But we’re creating problems that they’ll be unable to solve. You can’t fix extinctions, or ocean acidification, or melted permafrost, no matter how rich or smart you are. The fact that these problems will occur in the future lets us take a magical view of them. We go on exacerbating them, thinking—not that we think this, but the notion seems to underlie our thinking—that we will be dead before it gets too serious. The tragedy of the horizon is often something we encounter, without knowing it, when we buy and sell. The market is wrong; the prices are too low. Our way of life has environmental costs that aren’t included in what we pay, and those costs will be borne by our descendents. We are operating a multigenerational Ponzi scheme.

And yet: “Flatten the curve.” We’re now confronting a miniature version of the tragedy of the time horizon. We’ve decided to sacrifice over these months so that, in the future, people won’t suffer as much as they would otherwise. In this case, the time horizon is so short that we are the future people. It’s harder to come to grips with the fact that we’re living in a long-term crisis that will not end in our lifetimes. But it’s meaningful to notice that, all together, we are capable of learning to extend our care further along the time horizon. Amid the tragedy and death, this is one source of pleasure. Even though our economic system ignores reality, we can act when we have to. At the very least, we are all freaking out together. To my mind, this new sense of solidarity is one of the few reassuring things to have happened in this century. If we can find it in this crisis, to save ourselves, then maybe we can find it in the big crisis, to save our children and theirs.

A structure of feeling is not a free-floating thing. It’s tightly coupled with its corresponding political economy. How we feel is shaped by what we value, and vice versa. Food, water, shelter, clothing, education, health care: maybe now we value these things more, along with the people whose work creates them. To survive the next century, we need to start valuing the planet more, too, since it’s our only home.

It will be hard to make these values durable. Valuing the right things and wanting to keep on valuing them—maybe that’s also part of our new structure of feeling. As is knowing how much work there is to be done. But the spring of 2020 is suggestive of how much, and how quickly, we can change. It’s like a bell ringing to start a race. Off we go—into a new time.

Meanwhile, even as the number of people dying of Covid-19 continues to climb, the White House is threatening to shut down the Coronavirus Task Force. But don't call them stupid.