Tag Archives: Coronavirus

The Blue Sky is Pink

 

226,000 Americans have died of Covid-19. Yesterday, the US reached a record high of coronavirus cases per 7-day average of nearly 70,000 new cases of Covid-19 per day. Yet astonishingly, the same day from the White House Department of Science and Technology, a list was issued of first term accomplishments of the Trump administration. One of the listed “accomplishments” was “ending the Covid-19 pandemic.”

 

As Dr. Jonathan Reiner said, “This was mission accomplished right? We had 73,000 new cases today. We have been averaging over the week 70,000 new cases per day. In the last week more than half a million people contracted this virus…Our death toll now is approaching 1,000 per day. So we’re spiking the ball. Congratulations Mr. President it’s over.” Can you imagine saying “ending” the Covid pandemic is an accomplishment?

I recently heard a commentator say that if Trump approached some of his supporters staring at a beautiful blue sky and he said it was pink, they would believe him. They actually would. They believe him. They believe him with theological devotion.

I wonder how the millions of people who work in health care in the US feel about this. They have been working incredibly hard non-stop for about 9 months or so and it is now getting worse! How do they feel?

As Dr. Reiner said, “As we are in the midst of a giant wave, to hear the White House basically laud the completion of a mission well done when we are basically being swamped is outrageous.” It is actually worse than outrageous. Whatever that is.

This is where believing crazy stuff gets us.

Sullen Madness

I have recently been struck by the fact that the current COVID-19 health pandemic we are facing resembles what happened to the Indigenous people of North and South America after the arrival of Europeans on their hemisphere. Only that was much more extreme!  It was even worse than the epic flu epidemic of 1918. We have a lot to learn from that  encounter.

The adaptation of indigenous people to the European invaders was remarkable, but they were fighting against the odds. As Professor Richard White said, “The ecological invasion that European contact had continued unleashed and  continued unabated. Diseases previously unknown to Indians, and to which they had no resistance, ravaged North America. Other diseases, such as syphilis and tuberculosis, which may or may not have been present earlier, spread to new areas.

 The new diseases were horrendous to people who had no natural immunities. Just like the current COVID-19 epidemic is proving a challenge to western nations even with their incredible wealth, science, experience, and expertise. the indigenous people of the Americas were not blessed with such advantages. One would have thought the modern western countries were in a good position to respond to the current threat. But they have not responded as well as we might have expected.

Non-indigenous people of the west, after epidemics and pandemics in recent years that have included: Ebola, SARS, MERS, swine flu, avian flu and COVID-19 are beginning to appreciate this, even though none of these came anywhere near matching the extraordinary effect of diseases on indigenous people of the Americas after contact that might have killed nearly 95% of the native population. There might have been 90 million people killed after the European invasion! But that was not the whole ugly story. There is more.

The new diseases of North America and South America ravaged some peoples and decimated others. Yet that was not all. As Professor White pointed out,

“But these new diseases did more than kill. They polluted the channels of everyday life. Smallpox disfigured those who survived. Rubella harmed the fetuses of pregnant women and marked the children for life. In the wake of epidemics, blind or scarred survivors or mourning relatives could become suicides, taking their lives in what the English trader James Adair called “sullen madness.” Venereal diseases turned love and pleasure into pestilence: they also took their toll on the generation to follow. Syphilis caused miscarriages and infected infants at birth. Tuberculosis made what once had been secure if dark longhouses and earth lodges into pest houses where the tuberculosis bacilli thrived. It made what had been the tasks of daily life—for example the chewing fibres to make baskets—into sources of contamination.”

Imagine living on continents or in nations or tribes where 95% of the people died! Think how the survivors must have been shell-shocked by that. Our current experience pales into significance in comparison. Even after all that, their misery it was just beginning! Life for “those who made it” became even worse—it was hell.

I will continue this discussion soon.

A Day of Adventure in the hospital

 

Frankly, I had an adventure on Thursday. On that day the COVID-19 pandemic got personal. Too personal. It was an exciting day. It was one of the most interesting days of my life, but not the most fun by a long shot.  Much too exciting for an old man who no longer looks for thrills.

The day started mildly. I spent a pleasant hour or two sitting in our lovely sunroom reading and occasionally peeking out at the birds at our bird feeder.  Nothing special.

Later, in the morning I noticed I was not feeling well. I was a developing what I thought was a mild fever. I kept quiet about it because I did not want Chris to worry about me. But the fever got worse. Around noon or slightly later, Chris noticed I didn’t look good. Worse than “normal” in other words. She suggested strongly I take a nap. I did not argue with her, as I thought that might make the fever go away.

I feared the fever meant I had COVID-19 because it is one of the common symptoms of it is the flu-like coughing, along with shortness of breath, or a runny nose. So I did not like that. I hoped after a nap I would feel better.

When Chris woke me up I did not feel better; I felt a lot worse! This was starting to get serious. While I had been shopping Chris did a little investigating and found out I should go the Emergency of the Hospital.

The most amazing thing happened next. I had such a strong fever that I became delusional! Again, even more delusional than “normal.” When Chris came to see if I was ready to drive with her she found me sitting on the bench seat by the shoe wrack and I was making strange movements with hands. “What are you doing?’ she asked. I replied, “I’m scrolling my computer.” When she challenged me I realized I was delusional. There was no computer near me. I had no idea what I was doing. Fever is a powerful force. My confusion was a powerful effect of fever. I had never experienced that in my life. I know people think I have often been delusional but this was big delusion.

I actually thought I could drive to the office where I wanted to have some work done while I was gone to the hospital for a test. I wonder what would have happened if a person who did not realize the difference a shoe rack and a computer was driving down Main Street? So Chris wisely drove me to the hospital.

In the hospital I got the COVID-19 test which felt like the technician stuck a pipe cleaner through my nostril right into the centre of my brain. Thankfully the extreme discomfort did not last long. They did a number of other tests as well.

In the hospital I was running a temperature (fever), my blood pressure was very low, and I was not getting enough oxygen. While I was waiting I heard an ugly word—“sepsis”. I had never heard of sepsis until my sister Diane contracted it after a ruptured appendix. She was virtually unconscious for 6 months, nearly died that night, and never lived independently again. And now the same word was used in relation to me. Now I was really worried. For the first time, the seriousness of my condition started to sink in.

In time they solved all the problems and determined my problem was pneumonia not COVID-19. The test results later confirmed this. So I am fine though still taking medication for the pneumonia.

I want to say one important thing however. I want to thank the hospital staff for the outstanding care I received. I asked everyone for their names, but don’t remember all of the staff the first day I was in. I remember some names like Maria, Mark, Shauna, Colleen, Melissa, Jimmy, Dr. Hof and Dr. Johwanda, if I spell their names correctly. Most of them are women. I just want to concentrate on Maria as an example. She was one of the most perky people I ever met. She said thank you to every single health worker who went through our unit. She was very upbeat yet very professional and never afraid to walk into my little room even if I was wearing my mask improperly.

These people who work in the emergency rooms put their lives on the line, often with inadequate protective gear and work on any and all patients. They are the genuine heroes of this pandemic along with food service workers and all kinds of service persons. They are not the highest paid people in our society by a long shot. Many of them are women and immigrants. I salute them. I thank these people from the bottom of my heart.

When I got back I heard Ken Burns, the producer of those wonderful PBS documentaries, interviewed on TV. This is what he said. “What could be a more noble position than a nurse right now. All of us are sheltering in place and building moats around us to protect ourselves and our families and that is understandable. And we have people, mostly women, who are moving toward the danger and that to me is ennobling.” Here, here.

 

All Minds on Deck

 

I didn’t want to make this coronavirus a political issue. At least until it was over. But I noticed that every time Donald Trump speaks he makes sure to tell us what a great job he is doing as do his Fox News minions. He brags about how he gets all this free TV time. So this is a political issue, whether we like it or not. I didn’t make it political; Trump and his supporters did. I know some of my friends don’t want to hear me speak about Trump. But I will.

I have a confession to make. When Donald Trump got elected President of the United States in 2016 I was fearful. I did not panic, but I was scared. As President of the richest and most powerful country in the world, and our neighbour in Canada, the United States has a profound affect on Canada whether we like that or not. As is said, ‘When the U.S. coughs, Canada catches a cold.”

I was fearful that now the richest and most powerful country in the world was led by a man who was not very bright, but was narcissistic, shallow, bombastic, full of bluster, unaccustomed to modesty or humility, petulant, possessed as much empathy as a turnip, lacked basic curiosity, had not a jot of appreciation for the truth, ignored evidence and data, and in making important decisions relied on hunches, feelings, and instincts instead of critical thinking. And those were his best points!

American voters handed such a man the power to bring peace to the world or to annihilate it, and to save or wreck the world economic order. And he could do that more or less alone without significant foresight or oversight. The adults in the room who might restrain him, like Rex Tillerson or John Kelly, remember them, have long gone. I worried what would happen when we had the next financial crisis? I had admired President Obama and liked his strong support of solid thinkers in most areas of his cabinet. Trump had no such support.

Now in 2020 we have both a major economic crisis (and maybe soon, if not already, a financial crisis) and a major health crisis at the same time! This is not just a time for all hands on deck as the pundits and politicians keep saying. This is also a time for all minds on deck. And I fear—I deeply fear—that we don’t have that. At best we have mediocre minds on deck with some wonderful exceptions like Dr. Anthony Fauci, who does not hesitate to contradict the President.

A Crisis like this requires the best minds with the best data and the best advice. Do we have that? I think not. We have a mediocre mind (or less) at the helm. And he seems to be getting most of his advice from right-wing television pundits who seem to have, like their leader, distrust for science and experts when we urgently need both and have a taste for lies and untruth joined to loud bombast. These are scary times.

Frankly, this scares me.

COVID-19 and Wildlife Trade

 

There is yet another problem with human activities. Besides our disruption of natural places like forests, we bring in animals, often strange animals, into our cities and towns and put them together when they have never been together before. and they have never been together with us. Sometimes species jump from one species to another and then to humans, with devastating effect. As I learned from listening to David Quammen on National Public Radio often the route to us is through an intermediary species. This is a particular problem in Asia with something I have seen—wet markets.

 These are informal markets that have sprung up in part because people in Asia often lack refrigerators or distrust them. I don’t want to demonize them. People in Asia need them. There animals are slaughtered, cut up and sold on the spot and then hung up. Or sometimes they are kept alive until the buyer arrives and wants one killed. In Asia people believe in fresh, not refrigeration. As they are hanging they often defecate on the other species below them. This is how a petri dish for pathogens is inadvertently created. Again as a result of humans who recklessly don’t care what they do to other species. Apparently there was a wet market in Wuhan where the coronavirus was first discovered to have infected humans. 

As Thomas Gillespie Professor of environmental sciences at Emory University said, “Wet markets make a perfect storm for cross-species transmission of pathogens. Whenever you have novel interactions with a range of species in one place, whether that is in a natural environment like a forest or a wet market, you can have a spillover event.”

The wet market in Wuhan sold numerous wild animals including wolf pups, salamanders, crocodiles, scorpions, rats, squirrels, foxes, civets and turtles and many others. To us those seem like very exotic creatures. To Asians not so much. In Africa they add monkeys, bats, rats, and dozens of bird species as well as other mammals, insects and rodents. It is all a matter of what you are accustomed to.

Scientist Kate Jones also said “The wet market in Lagos is notorious. It’s like a nuclear bomb waiting to happen. But it’s not fair to demonise places that do not have fridges. These traditional markets provide much of the food for Africa and Asia.” Others say that wild animal trade is a much bigger problem.

Pogo was right: I found the enemy and the enemy is us!

The bottom line, according to Brian Bird, a research virologist at the University of California is that we must be prepared. As he said, “We can’t predict where the next pandemic will come from, so we need mitigation plans to take into account the worst possible scenarios, the only certain thing is that the next one will certainly come.” We should not be cutting back on research and preparedness as the Americans did recently. We should be expanding our preparedness.

My point is simply that all of this points to careless human activities. Too many people just don’t care how we interact with other species. After all we are the lords of the earth. Aren’t we? That is the attitude that has got us into trouble. We need a new attitude to nature. One that is more respectful, more modest.

One crazy last day

 

It was bound to happen—one last crazy day in a crazy holiday. We had been fleeing Arizona because our Canadian government urged all Canadians to come home, “while we can.” That sounded ominous. Our last week in Arizona was spent mainly talking about the pandemic and what to do about it.

From Sioux Falls South Dakota, the land of the free in the west we headed for home. Much to our surprise after travelling all the way from Arizona and finding it very difficult to find a restaurant other than take-out restaurants or drive-through restaurants, both of which are a bit inconvenient for travellers, we found out that anything goes in South Dakota. Last night we ate in a restaurant where there were no rules. No social distancing and the attitude was do what you want. After all we were in the land of the free? But were we in the land of the dumb? Were we dumb? We were dying (I hope not literally) to eat in a restaurant so we did it.

We cleaned our table, menu, and did not touch anyone or anything we did not know was “clean.” We had been told no standard items would be brought to the table that had not been cleaned specifically for us at our table. That sounded good. Was it? We ate a great meal.

In the morning we paid particular attention to the weather forecast as we had heard about a storm coming in from the west. We had just come from Colorado where they were expecting a blizzard. Don’t they always travel west? Like to where we were and where we were headed? Friends phoned us while we were traveling and they were in Colorado caught in that blizzard and it did not seem like fun.

Well we soldiered on. First I-29, normally a busy highway was eerily empty. Only a few lonely (crazy?) souls were on the road. Were we stupid? That made driving easier. But we had a variety of weird driving conditions on this last day. We drove through fog, snow, rain, freezing rain, blowing snow, and snow packed roads. It changed between those conditions about every mile or so. Fro about 6 hours we drove with constant stress. It never stopped being tricky, but never got dangerous so we thought. There were a few vehicles that had slid into the ditch or meridian. We drove carefully but steadily.

We also kept worrying about what would happen at the border. Canada just announced today that the border was closed to all except Canadian and American citizens and only for essential travel. We considered ourselves “essential” of course. Would the border authorities agree? We had also been advised that if we showed signs of the coronavirus we would not be admitted to Canada. On the entire trip from Arizona we worried that we might develop symptoms. Of course we did not want to get sick. After all we were in the high-risk category of old people with underlying conditions. What would they do if they detected symptoms? We would actually already be in Canada when we reported to the customs authorities at the border. If Canada turned us back would we be able to drive back into the United States?  Likely they would not be keen to have us back. Would we have to camp at the border? Thankfully none of that happened. The Customs official hardly looked at us and believed us when we said we had no symptoms.

We were instructed at the border we would have to “self-isolate” for 14 days. When we got home we were lucky to have some angels of mercy. My wonderful sister Barb and brother-in-law Harv had purchased some essential supplies for us and delivered delicious home made soup. She even added Street Smart candies because she knows how much I like them. Wow! Good friend Garry Giesbrecht delivered tasty stew and offered to pick up essentials. And not just liquor either. Another good friend Cyndi Friesen also offered to get stuff. We were very lucky.

There was one inconvenience. Our television service could not be reconnected for some bizarre reason, even though we had phoned ahead a couple of days and been told it would be all ready when we arrived. Now we found out they could not send a techie guy to fix it either. Technical people were not allowed in our home. This was a serious annoyance as we began a 14-day quarantine. And there was nothing we could do about it. But we soon realized it was not elegant to schlem about it. After all we were safe and sound and at home. Around the world people have been suffering seriously from the coronavirus and its consequences. We just had to buck up and stop complaining.

Friends and relatives phoned or emailed or texted us to see how we were doing. Life was good. Very good. Yet we think about those who don’t have it so good and wish them all the best in these difficult circumstances.

To panic or not to panic

A couple of days ago I suggested to our photo club that we cancel our monthly meeting in the home of one of our members. We usually meet in a small living room and look at slides and discuss them and photography in general.

One of our members suggested we were all overreacting and panicking. My fellow photographer said we should look at both sides.  He suggested we watch a video with Judge Jeanine.  So I watched it and listened to her rant in her typical fashion about those stupid liberals criticizing President Trump and panicking over a flu! It’s just a flu she said.

I agree that most questions have two sides.He said he intended to carry on his life as usual. We need to look at both sides carefully. Important public questions should be based on the best available evidence. Not comments by pundits. And there are many of them on both sides of many questions like this one.

I would suggest that for complex public health questions we consult with experts in the health field, instead of retired judges (or lawyers for that matter.) Trump has some good ones in his camp and we should respect what they say.

And the experts suggest we should be very careful because coronavirus is a very serious health concern. They do not urge panic and they are not overreacting. They have warned that the rate of infection will likely jump sharply in the very near future and they have said “all Americans” (and we should include Canadian in that) should take serious measures to contain the spread and if we do that we have a chance of minimizing the harm. Doing nothing and carrying on as we have always done is not the right approach. If we do that we run a serious risk of making things worse. Much worse.

Trump’s experts have recommend that we keep safe social distances from each other.  Our groups should be small. I think if our entire photo club came to our leader’s home that would not qualify as a safe social distance. It would be dangerous–for someone. If the virus was passed on to someone young and healthy, like our youngest member, for example, he might be safe, but he could pass it on to someone who is not. Like his grandparents or even a stranger he encounters.

Some points made by Judge Jeanine are correct. Most importantly panic is not helpful. I did not advocate panicking. I do advocate that all of us take reasonable steps to protect vulnerable people, including old people with underlying health conditions. I know a  few people like that. The coronavirus can be very serious for them. Young healthy have much less chance of getting seriously sick from it, but they should not take unnecessary chances that risk harm to others. If they just harm themselves I wouldn’t care what they do.

Another expert is Dr. Theresa Tam who has been strongly recommended to me. She is Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer and is a pediatrics specialist in infectious diseases. This is what the World Health organization says about her:

“Dr. Theresa Tam was named Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer on June 26, 2017. She is a physician with expertise in immunization, infectious disease, emergency preparedness and global health security. Dr. Tam obtained her medical degree from the University of Nottingham in the U.K. She completed her paediatric residency at the University of Alberta and her fellowship in paediatric infectious diseases at the University of British Columbia. She is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and has over 55 peer-reviewed journal publications in public health. She is also a graduate of the Canadian Field Epidemiology Program.

Dr. Tam has held several senior leadership positions at the Public Health Agency of Canada, including as the Deputy Chief Public Health Officer and the Assistant Deputy Minister for Infectious Disease Prevention and Control. During her 20 years in public health, she provided technical expertise and leadership on new initiatives to improve communicable disease surveillance, enhance immunization programs, strengthen health emergency management and laboratory biosafety and biosecurity. She has played a leadership role in Canada’s response to public health emergencies including severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), pandemic influenza H1N1 and Ebola.

Dr. Tam has served as an international expert on a number of World Health Organization committees and has participated in multiple international missions related to SARS, pandemic influenza and polio eradication.”

This sounds like the sort of person we should listen to on such important health issues. Not television commentators.

This is what Dr. Tam said 3 days ago: “Let me be very clear. Today I am asking everyone to take strong action to help us delay the spread of COVID-19 and protect as many people as possible.” She also said the following: “With cases rapidly increasing in Canada … our window to flatten the curve of the epidemic is narrow.”

Those measures include cancelling non-essential travel outside the country; avoiding large public gatherings, increasing your public space and talking with your employer about working from home, she said. She also said, “This is our chance, right here, right now. We need to act now and we need to act together… You do not want this disease transmitted rapidly. Whatever you can do to decelerate that transmissions and break those chains of transmission is really important. We can do something about this now.”

We don’t want to panic or over react but we should all take the problem seriously not just for own sake, but for the sake of others around us.

While Trudeau said that Ottawa had not ruled out making self-isolation mandatory, Tam said that such a move would be difficult to police. “This is a voluntary self-isolation. It is impossible to be essentially keeping tabs on every single traveller that comes in,” she said.

“This is a social phenomenon, this is a societal response and everyone must take that responsibility,” she said.

I think this is what each of us should do to the best of our ability. For the sake of us all.

The end of civilization as we know it?

 

Is this the end of civilization, as we know it? Today after a few days of wringing our hands and contemplating what to, we made the big decision. We decided to pack up our kit bag and head out to Tiperarry.  Home in other words. Today we heard the Canadian government say that Canadians who were out of the country should return home “while we could do that.”  What did that mean? Was it possible they would not allow us back into the country? Impossible. Right?

Yesterday, my neighbour Gary, told us that a local Ammo store here in San Tan Valley had a 2 hour waiting line to get in. Why were people stocking up on ammunition? Here in Arizona, everyone has a gun or rifle. Why were these people worried about running out? Were they worried that the revolution was about to begin?

I also thought about the fact that grocery stores were out of food. As of yesterday, the Fry’s store nearby  had many empty shelves. We had tried for about 5 days in a row to get toilet paper. Why were people hoarding toilet paper. Food that I could understand. But I was mystified that toilet paper was sold out for 5 days in a row. I heard it was just as bad in Canada. This is not an America phenomenon.

I also know that when people are out of food things start getting serious. If your family was out of food what would you do? There is no telling what we would do. I suspect societal norms would be insignificant in such circumstances.

I had earlier gone to buy paper napkins when we could not get toilet paper. Chris called this hoarding. But we were just buying enough to cover our journey home if we could not find any. Is that hoarding?

This made me think. Are we approaching the end of civilization as we know it? Surely not. But who ever thought that grocery stores in the U.S. or Canada  would be empty of most supplies. This was inconceivable. But, inconceivable or not, the grocery shelves were empty.

That was why Chris emailed some friends that  were going home because I was worried that people with guns would invade our home to get our paper napkins Crazy. Right? But aren’t empty shelves in grocery stores crazy too? What would you do if your family was hungry and you desperately needed food? Or toilet paper?  Invade my house?

Is it time to panic?

WalMart with empty shelves

This country is on full-fledged panic mode. Stores have run out of toilet paper! None of the shelves. Now this is getting serious. A financial crisis and a health crisis. What does this mean?

I have no idea what this means. The stock market is plunging (or is it recovering?)  Either way, there is very little less rational than the stock market. Reason has nothing to do with it. I don’t know how serious either crisis is. The financial crisis seems to have been brought on by the coronavirus crisis. I don’t know how serious it is.

But there is one reason I think that panic is a serious option.  Now I know some of my faithful readers will criticize me for bringing Trump into the discussion. Some people seem to think I blame him for everything. I don’t think that is true, but I acknowledge their concern. That won’t stop me from commenting on him. And I know he may not be to blame, but I doubt that he has helped either.

The real problem is two-fold.  Like it or not, Donald Trump is the leader of the free world (though I don’t acknowledge him as my leader and I think I am part of the free world.) The real problem is that he is a person who does not think evidence and data are relevant to his job as President. I started to worry when I heard Trump say, “I have a hunch the problem is not as serious as the Disease Control Center says it is.”  Earlier he said, echoing the right wing pundits from whom he does take advice, I think it is a hoax.”

I am not really concerned about Trump. His Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said “he’s a fucking moron.”  Sorry for my bad language, but the quote is not real without the bad word. I think Tillerson was right. I know some friends of mine think he is smart. After all he got elected as President of the United States. I think Trump is cunning. He knows what is good for Donald Trump. He has a keen sense of that.  He is able to disregard the interests of everyone else other than himself. This allows him to avoid distractions and concentrate on his goal–i.e. what is good for himself.

But ultimately I think Tillerson is absolutely right. What really scares me is that about 55 million voted for him and most of them still like what they see. They like him. Now, from my perspective, the United States is led by a man who is obviously unfit for the job.

Even more important however is that Trump is uninterested in data or facts. And he won’t listen to experts. This is what Trump said on CBS 60 minutes the week the latest IPCC report was issued, when asked if he still thinks that climate change is a hoax? “Look I think something is happening, something is changing and it will change back again. I am not denying climate change but it could very well go back.” He added that his uncle  was a professor of science. Trump never talked about climate change with his uncle, but Trump assured us, “I have an instinct for science.” Trump wants us to base vitally important decisions not on science but an instinct for science. It doesn’t matter that Trump knows nothing about science he expects us to trust him. And guess what? Millions of Americans do exactly that. They are not accustomed to basing important decisions on facts and reasoning on those facts. They base decisions on things like hunches, faith, trust, and instinct instead. And they vote for leaders who do exactly the same thing. Would you want a cancer surgeon who based his decisions on science, data, evidence, and careful reasoning on that data or a surgeon who based his decisions on instinct or faith? During a serious health or financial crisis would you want the country to be led by a President who respects science or one who has a instinct for science? Take your pick. But his scares me.

I am about ready to panic.