Mental Pandemic and Ideological Lockdown

“Don’t let anyone arguing to “reopen the economy” get away with “we have to let people work to stay alive.” That’s a rhetorical trick aimed at suckering you into accepting their toxic worldview. The real question is this: how did the richest nation in the world get into a mess like this in the first place?”
~Sam Smith, How Many Dollars Is a Life Worth (and Why Did We Choose This)?

If you’re familiar with low-carbohydrate diet debate, you’d know one of the big names is Ivor Cummins, AKA the Fat Emperor. He isn’t a health professional but a chemical engineer by training. For some reason, several engineers and others in technological fields have become major figures in the alternative health community, especially diet and nutrition along with fasting, sometimes in terms of what is called biohacking. They have the skill set to dig into complex data and analyze systems in a way most doctors aren’t able to do. Cummins runs a health podcast, is active on social media, and has a large following. His popularity is well deserved.

He has been on our radar the past couple of years, but recently, along with Dr. Paul Saladino, he has been at the center of contentious debate about COVID-19 and lockdowns. Besides seeing his active Tweeting, we were reminded of him with some commentary by Chuck Pezeshki, another thoughtful guy we respect (see his post, The Curious Case of the Fat Emperor — or How Not Understanding How to Merge Knowledge is Creating a Culture War). Here is Pezeshki’s description of Cummins: “What is most interesting is that he was not only a systems integrator — someone who floats between the different disciplines churning out various subsystems for complex products. He was a “systems system integrator” — where he was in charge of a team of systems integrators. The first-level integration positions are relatively common. Boeing has a whole employment line dedicated to Liaison Engineering, which they pronounce “Lie – a -zon”. The second tier up — not common at all.” So, not an average bloke, by any means.

We agree with Cummins in sharing his views on the importance of diet and metabolic health. Right from the beginning, we had the suspicion that COVID-19 might never have reached pandemic levels if not for the fact that the majority of people in the industrialized world now have metabolic syndrome — in the US, 88% of the population has some combination of major metabolic issues: obesity, diabetes, pre-diabetes, insulin resistance, heart disease, liver disease, etc. These conditions are prominently listed as comorbidities of COVID-19, as metabolic health is inseparable from immune system health. Also, we’re in line with his anti-authoritarian attitude. Like Cummins, on principle, we’re certainly not for top-heavy policy measures like lockdowns, unless there is good justification. Yet early on, there was strong justification as a response to emergency conditions and many, including Cummins, initially supported lockdown.

Since then, he has become a strident opponent and, even as his heart seems in the right place, we find his present approach to be grating. He has become ideologically polarized and has fallen into antagonistic behavior, including dismissive name-calling. This doesn’t encourage meaningful public debate. We’re trying to resist being pulled into this polarized mentality in looking at the situation as dispassionately as possible, especially since we have no desire to dismiss Cummins who we otherwise agree with. We’re not even sure we exactly disagree about lockdowns either, as we feel undecided on the issue with a more wait-and-see attitude in anticipating a possible worst second wave if caution is thrown to the wind with a simultaneous ending of lockdown, social distancing, and mask-wearing as is quite likely in the United States. The public attitude tends toward either it’s the Plague or it’s nothing, either everything must be shut down or there should no restrictions at all.

Cummins strength is also his weakness. As an engineer, his focus is on data, not on the messy lived experience of humans. In his recent Tweeting, he is constantly demanding data, but it feels like he is overlooking fundamental issues. Even if there was good enough data available, we only have data for what is measured, not for what is not measured. About lockdowns, the confounding factors in comparing countries are too numerous and there are no controls. But to his engineering mind, data is data and the details of human life that aren’t measured or can’t be measured simply are irrelevant. Engineering is a hard science. But how societies operate as complex systems — that are living and breathing, that have billions of moving parts — can’t be understood the same way as technical systems to be managed in a corporate setting, as is Cummins’ professional expertise. He appears to have no knowledge of sociology, anthropology, psychology, cultural studies, philosophy, history, etc; that is to say he has no larger context in which to place his demands for ‘data’.

The dietitian/nutritionist Adele Hite hit the nail on the head in a response she gave in another Twitter thread: “You know data is never *just* data, right? It comes from somewhere, is collected, displayed & interpreted via some methods & assumptions & not others. […] Take a few science studies courses? maybe some science history? or just read some Bruno Latour & get back to me. It’s not nihilism to recognize that there is no such thing as a “view from nowhere” (the context of her comment, I presume, is here working on a PhD in communication, rhetoric, and digital media that, as she says on her official website’s About page, taught her “to ask questions I couldn’t have even articulated before”). She also points out the importance of listening to scientists and other experts in the specific fields they were educated and trained in, as expertise is not necessarily transferable as demonstrated by the smart idiot effect that disproportionately affects the well-educated.

According to his standard bio found around the web, Cummins “has since spent over 25 years in corporate technical leadership and management positions and was shortlisted in 2015 as one of the top 6 of 500 applicants for “Irish Chartered Engineer of the Year”.” That means he is a guy who was shaped by the corporate world and was highly successful in climbing the corporate career ladder. He then went on to become an entrepreneur as a podcaster, blogger, author, and public speaker. That is to say he is a high-achieving capitalist within the businesses of others and his own business, not to mention an individual having benefited from the status quo of opportunities, privileges and advantages afforded to him. The sticking point with lockdowns is that they don’t fit into the ruling capitalist ideology or at least not its rhetoric, although oligopolistic big biz like Amazon and Walmart does great under lockdown.

Our own biases swing in a different direction. We’ve had working class jobs our entire lives and presently we’re unionized public employees. Opposite of someone like Cummins, we don’t see capitalism as the great salvation of humanity nor do we blame lockdowns for economic decline and failure that preceded the pandemic for generations. All that has changed is that the moral rot and psychopathic depravity of our society has been exposed. That brings us to our main point of contention, that of a typically unquestioned capitalist realism that has been forced to the surface of public awareness with pandemic lockdown, as previously touched upon with the issue of what David Graeber calls bullshit jobs (Bullshit Jobs and Essential Workers).

Though lacking a strong view on lockdowns, we do have a strong view of those with strong views on lockdowns. It is hard to ignore the fact that those who are most vocal about reopening the economy are those whose lives are least at risk, those not working in service jobs (Their Liberty and Your Death). One might note that Cummin’s precise demographic profile (a younger, healthier, wealthier, white Westerner) is the complete opposite of the demographics hardest hit by COVID-19 and problems in general (the elderly, the sick, the poor, and minorities); though to his credit, he has spoken about the importance of protecting vulnerable populations, even if his understanding of vulnerability in our kind of society is ideologically and demographically constrained.

Here is the point. You won’t hear many working poor people, especially disadvantaged minorities, demanding to have the right to risk their lives and their family’s lives to work poverty wages, few benefits, and no affordable healthcare to ensure the capitalist ruling elite maintain their high levels of profits. Imagine how frustrating and disheartening it must be to be poor and/or minority as you listen to wealthy white people who are healthy and have great healthcare discuss lockdowns versus reopenings when the infection and mortality rates in your community is several times worse than in the rest of the country (Jared Dewese, Black people are dying from coronavirus — air pollution is one of the main culprits; Jeffrey Ostler, Disease Has Never Been Just Disease for Native Americans).

Think about this: “black people are more than 3.5 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than white people, and Latino people are nearly twice as likely to die of the virus as white people” (Bill Hathaway, New analysis quantifies risk of COVID-19 to racial, ethnic minorities); now increase that death rate several times higher when comparing poor minorities to wealthier whites, high inequality locations to low inequality locations, et cetera. And it’s even worse for other minorities: “In Arizona, the Indigenous mortality rate is more than five times the rate for all other groups, while in New Mexico, the rate exceeds seven times all other groups” (APM Research Lab, THE COLOR OF CORONAVIRUS: COVID-19 DEATHS BY RACE AND ETHNICITY IN THE U.S.). For those important people on the corporate media or the thought leaders on social media, COVID-19 for their own communities really might not be any worse than the common flu. Meanwhile, for disadvantaged populations, COVID-19 could be described as nothing other than a pandemic in the fullest sense. Yet the fate of these disadvantaged is being decided by the very people disconnected from the reality of those who will be most harmed.

Let’s put this in context of a specific example — in the District of Columbia where so many powerful people, mostly whites, live in determining public policy, blacks are only 44% of the population but 80% of the COVID-19 deaths. Many states show immense disparities: “In Kansas, Black residents are 7 times more likely to die than White residents. In Wisconsin and Washington D.C., the rate among Blacks is 6 times as high as it is for Whites, while in Michigan and Missouri, it is 5 times greater. In Arkansas, Illinois, New York, South Carolina, and Tennessee, Blacks are 3 times more likely to die of the virus than Whites. In many states, the virus is also killing Black residents several multiples more often than Asian and Latino residents” (APM Research Lab).

It’s not only that minorities are more likely to die from COVID-19 but more likely to get infected with SARS-CoV-2 in the first place and so this is another multiplier effect as measured in the total death count. This is exaggerated to an even greater extent with poor brown people in some developing countries where COVID-19 is also killing large numbers of the young (Terrence McCoy & Heloísa Traiano, In the developing world, the coronavirus is killing far more young people; Louise Genot, In Brazil, COVID-19 hitting young people harder). COVID-19 may be a disease of the elderly and sick among well-off white Westerners, but to other demographics the entire population is vulnerable. Furthermore, mostly ignored in Western data are poor whites and rural whites or even middle aged whites — all of which, in the United States, have shown increasing mortality rates in recent years. There is no data, as far as we know, with a demographic breakdown of deaths within racial categories. Then there is the issue of pollution, in how it increases vulnerability and maybe in how it could help spread the virus itself by riding on air pollution particles, and of course pollution is concentrated where poverty is found — keep in mind that pollution alone, without pandemic, is linked to 40% of deaths worldwide (Socialized Medicine & Externalized Costs; & An Invisible Debt Made Visible); combine that with COVID-19, pollution is then linked to 80% of deaths (Damian Carrington, Air pollution may be ‘key contributor’ to Covid-19 deaths – study). [For more resources on the inequities of COVID-19, see ending section of this post.]

By the way, we appreciated that Chuck Pezeshki did touch upon this kind of issue, if only briefly: “The problem is that because COVID-19 is truly novel, ringing that bell, while it may daylight the various ills of society, it also at the same time obscures responsibility for all the various ills society has manifested on all its various members. I have a whole essay, almost written, on the meatpacking plant fiasco, which is really more of a damning indictment of how we treat people at the bottom of the economic ladder than the COVID-19 crisis. For those that want the short version — we keep them trapped in low wage positions with no geographic mobility, with undocumented status, and poor education so they have no choice but to continue their jobs. COVID-19 is just an afterthought.” It’s too bad such understanding hasn’t been included to a greater extent in public debate and news reporting.

This is a situation about which everyone, of course, has an opinion; still, not all opinions come with equal weight of personal experience and implications. Being forced to potentially risk your health and maybe life while on the frontlines of a pandemic creates a different perspective. We are more fortunate than most in having a decent job with good pay and benefits. But similar to so many other working class folk with multigenerational households, if we get infected in our working with the public, we could become a disease vector for others, including maybe bringing the novel coronavirus home to family such as our elderly parents with compromised immune systems. The working poor forced to work out of desperation have no choice to isolate their vulnerable loved ones in distant vacation homes or highly priced and protected long-term care centers.

Meanwhile, some of the well-off white Westerners dominating public debate are acting cavalier in downplaying the concerns of the vulnerable or downplaying how large a number of people are in that vulnerable space. We’ve even seen Ivor Cummins, an otherwise nice guy, mocking people for not embracing reopenings as if they were being irrational and cowardly — with no acknowledgement of the vast disparities of disadvantaged populations. Imagine trying to have a public debate about government policy in a city or state where the poor and minorities are two to seven times more likely to die. Does anyone honestly think the poor and minorities would be heard and their lives considered equally important? Of course, not. No one is that stupid or naive. Now consider that the disparities of wealth, pollution, sickness, and death is even greater at the national level and still greater yet in international comparisons. At the local level, the poor and minorities might hope to get heard, but they are as if invisible or non-existent within the public debate beyond the local.

Still, that isn’t to say we’re arguing for a permanent lockdown even as we do think the lockdown, if only for lack of needed leadership and preparedness, was probably necessary when the crisis began — from the DataInforms Twitter account: “Not saying it’s the right action if you’ve planned for a Pandemic. Saying it’s the inevitable action to minimize risk, when you haven’t planned for a Pandemic. By not paying attention to 2003 outbreak we brought this on ourselves.” Besides being politically paralyzed with corrupt and incompetent leadership, we Americans are an unhealthy population that is ripe for infectious diseases; and one could easily argue that a public health crisis has been developing for centuries, in particularly these past generations (Dr. Catherine Shanahan On Dietary Epigenetics and Mutations, Health From Generation To Generation, Dietary Health Across Generations, Moral Panic and Physical Degeneration, Malnourished Americans, & The Agricultural Mind). The terrain theory of infection proposes that it is the biological conditions of health that primarily determine the chances of infection and hence, in a situation like this, determine how bad it will get as a public health crisis. As we earlier noted, the 1918 flu also began mildly before becoming fully pandemic later in the year with a second wave (Then the second wave of infections hit…), not that I’m arguing about the probability of such an outcome since our present knowledge about pandemics in the modern industrialized world, the West in particular, is only slightly better than full ignorance (Kevin Kavanagh, Viewpoint: COVID-19 Modeling: Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics).

All of this puts us in an odd position. We simultaneously agree and disagree with Cummins and many others who support his view. Our main irritation is how the entire ‘debate’ gets framed, in terms of cartoonish portrayal of libertarianism versus authoritarianism. The frame ends up dominating and shutting down any genuine discussion. We noticed this in how, for all the vociferous opinionating about lockdowns, there is still no agreement even about what is a lockdown. When confronted about this, Cummins has repeatedly refused to define his terms, the most basic first step in attempting to analyze the data, in that one has to know what kind of data one needs in knowing what one is hoping to compare. The haziness of his language and the slipperiness of his rhetoric is remarkable considering engineers like him are usually praised for their precision and held up as exemplars in the alternative health community.

We weren’t the only ones to make this observation — Gorgi Kosev asked, “Did you reply to the people who asked to specify what counts as lockdown vs what counts as distancing?” Cummins responded to many other Tweets in that thread but he did not answer this question and appears to not be interested in such a dialogue. To be fair, I did come across one of his Tweets buried deep in another thread, in response to an inquiry by Gregory Travis, where he vaguely clarified what he meant but still did not operationalize his definition in a way that would help us categorize and measure accordingly. When asked for a specific list of what he considered to be lockdowns and not, he would not specify. In attempting to get at what is the issue at debate, Philippa Antell asked him, “Are you comparing lockdown Vs non lockdown ( in which case define those in detail)? Or sensible Vs non sensible lock down rules (again define)?” Cummins did not further respond. A point we and others made to him is that there has been a wide spectrum of government policies — Toshi Clark said that, “This whole thing seems predicated on making a distinction between distancing and lockdown policies. It’s not a binary thing”; and someone simply named Ed said that, “I think one of the problems Ivor is it doesn’t have to be black and white but shades of grey. Lockdown is a terrible term that is unhelpful as there has never been a full lockdown and no measure of each mitigation.”

Such comments were the opportunity to begin debate, rather than in the way Cummins took them as the end of debate. I get that he is probably frustrated, but he is avoiding the very heart of the issue while continuing to demand ‘data’ as if facts could exist separately from any frame of analysis and interpretation. I’m sure he isn’t actually that naive and so, even if his frustration is understandable, it’s unfortunate he won’t get down to the nitty gritty. As such, others understandably feel frustrated with him as well. One of the main points of frustration, as shown above, is clear and yet remains unresolved. In our own Tweeting activity responding to Cummins, we noted that, “It feels like he is trying to force debate into a polarized black/white frame that turns it into a political football, a symbolic proxy for something else entirely.” At this point, it’s no longer really about the data for it has become an ideological battle verging on a full-on culture war, and one of the first victims is the mental flexibility to shift frames as the polarized opponents become ever more locked into their defensive positions — a lockdown of the mind, as it could be described.

Let’s consider a concrete example to show how the ideological lines get drawn in the ideological mind, as opposed to how fuzzy are those lines in reality. In one of his few responses to my seeking to engage, Cummins shared an earlier Twitter thread of his where he compared the ‘social distancing’ of Sweden and the ‘lockdown’ of New Jersey; a bad comparison on multiple levels. Yet when asked what is a lockdown, he still never offered a definition and, even more interesting, he decidedly emphasized that his priority was not the data itself but his principles, values, and beliefs. He was asked point blank that, “Since I showed that there effectively was no implemented and enforced stay at home full lockdown in even some of the worst hit places like NYC, what are we talking about in terms of a lockdown? What is the real issue of debate?” And his answer was, “Civil Liberties and our future freedoms. Principles. And the Scientific Method being respected.” Those principles seem fine, at least in theory assuming they are part of a genuinely free society that sadly is also theoretical at present. The problem comes with his conflating all of science with his libertarian beliefs taken as ideological realism. His libertarian conviction seems to be both his starting assumption and his ending conclusion. It’s not that the facts don’t matter to him, that he is merely posturing, but it is obvious that the data has become secondary in how the debate is being so narrowly constrained as to predetermine what evidence is being sought and which questions allowed or acknowledged.

Our interest was genuine, in seeking to clarify terms and promote discussion. That is why we pointed to the actual details in how it played out in actual implementation. In New York City, there was a supposed full lockdown with a stay at home order, but that didn’t stop New Yorkers from crowding in public places (Stephen Nessen, More New Yorkers Are Crowding Onto Buses And Subways Despite Stay-At-Home Order) since it’s not like there is a Chinese-style authoritarian government to enforce a Wuhan-style lockdown. That is the problem of comparisons. In terms of effective actions taken, the Swedish example involved more restrictions than did what happened in New Jersey and New York City. That is because the Swedish, in their conformist culture of trust, enforced severe restrictions upon themselves without government order and for all practical purposes the Swedish had implemented a greater lockdown than anything seen in the United States. Unless a police officer or soldier is pointing a gun at their head, many Americans will continue on without wearing masks or social distancing. This is a cultural, not a political, difference.

It is bizarre to see libertarian-minded individuals using the example of the anti-libertarian Swedish society as evidence in defense of greater libertarianism in societies that are completely different from Sweden. These are the same people who would normally criticize what they’d deem an oppressive Scandinavian social democracy under non-pandemic conditions, but all of a sudden Sweden is the best country in the world. If we think the Swedish are so awesome, then let’s imitate their success by having the highest rate of individuals living alone in the world as promoted by government policy, a population that does social distancing by default, a cultural willingness to sacrifice self-interest for the common good, a strong social safety net paid for with high taxes on the rich, and socialist universal healthcare for all (Nordic Theory of Love and Individualism). Once we implement all of those perfect conditions of public preparedness for public health crises in promoting the public good, then and only then can we have a rational and meaningful debate about lockdowns and social distancing.

Otherwise, the critics are being disingenuous or oblivious about the real issues. Such confusion is easy to fall into during an anxiety-inducing crisis as we all struggle to see clearly what is at stake. Cummins is highly intelligent well informed and, most important, he means well. But maybe he has lost his bearings in being pulled into ideological polarization, which is a common malady in Western society even at the best of times — one might call it an ideological pandemic. No one is immune to such ideological mind viruses, which is all the more reason to be highly aware of the risk of memetic contagion and so handle the material with the proper intellectual protective gear, rather than assuming it’s only those other people who are mindless ideologues ignoring the cold hard facts. Obsessing over data can create yet another blindness, specifically when it leads one to seeking the data that confirms what one is looking for. The reality of diverse data, conflicting data, and missing data is far more murky, and the mud really gets stirred up when we are floundering amidst unstated assumptions and undefined terms.

The present debate isn’t really about public response to infectious disease. If it was only about that, we could be more fully on board with Cummins since, in terms of health data, we are in his camp. The other component to the ideological conflict is a failure of public trust in countries like the United states, as opposed to the success of public trust elsewhere. In terms of economics and health, the Swedish had comparably similar results as their Nordic neighbors who followed different government policies, which further demonstrates it’s more about culture than anything else. Lockdowns did cut the number of lives lost in those countries, but the greatest protection appears to have been cultural, which is to say how the population behaves under various government policies. Scandinavians have a culture of trust. The United States does not. I can’t speak for other countries that fared less well such as Italy and Spain, although hard-hit Brazil obviously has some public trust issues. Social distancing without any closures and restrictions probably works great in almost any strong culture of trust, whereas a lack of full lockdown could be a catastrophe where public trust is deficient. That would be a more interesting and meaningful debate.

What is it about American and British society, in particular, that soft issues of society and culture are reduced and rationalized away or dismissed and diminished by putting everything into a frame of economics and politics? It used to be that religion in the form of the Christian church was used as the frame to explain everything. But now capitalist realism, both in economics and politics, is the dominant religion. Notice most of the opponents of lockdowns are doing so in defense of capitalism (liberty), not in defense of democracy (freedom). It’s posing a particular kind of politics in opposition to a particular kind of economics. The idea of a genuinely free society is not in the frame, not part of the debate.

This is part of an old ideological conflict in the Western mind. It erupted more fully when the neoliberals took power, as signaled by former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s declaration that, “there’s no such thing as society.” Karl Polanyi theorized about the rise of a market culture where everything came to be understood through an economic lens. Even politics has been made an extension of capitalist realism. This is more broadly part of a mindset obsessed with numbers. Everything can be measured. Everything can have a price put on it. Not only was religion demoted but all ‘soft’ approaches to understanding humanity and society. This is how we can have a debate in comparing different cultures while few people even bother to mention culture itself, as if culture either does not matter or does not exist. We have no shared frame to understand the deeper crisis we are suffering, of which the perception of pandemic threat and political malaise is merely a symptom.

The sense of conflict we’re experiencing in this pandemic isn’t fundamentally about an infectious virus and governmental response to it. It’s about how many societies, United States most of all, have suffered a crisis in loss of public trust based on destruction of traditional community, authority, self-sacrifice, etc. Libertarianism is inseparable from this cultural failure and simply further exacerbates it. In opposing authoritarianism, libertarianism becomes psychologically and socially dependent on authoritarianism, in the way drug rehab centers are dependent on influx of drug addicts (think of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly). What gets lost is radical envisioning of a society free of ideological addiction of divisive polarization that is used for propagandistic social control. Control the public mind with frame of libertarianism versus authoritarianism and the ruling elite can guarantee freedom is suppressed.

We must understand difference between Latin ‘liberty’ and Germanic ‘freedom’. The former originated from the legal status of not being a slave in slave society; whereas the latter as etymologically related to ‘friend’ originally meant being a member of a free society, as being among friends who would put common good over individual interest. Philip K. Dick liked to say that, “The Empire never ended,” in seeing the Roman Empire as fundamentally identical to our own. Well, the Norman Conquest never ended either. Romanized Norman thought and language still rules our public mind and society, economics and politics. That is the sad part. Even the word freedom has become another way to invoke the liberty worldview of a slave society. This is taken as the unquestioned given of capitalist realism. Negative freedom (Latin liberty) almost entirely replaces positive freedom (Germanic freedom). Another difference between Latin is that it was more abstract than German. So liberty as negative freedom is much more of an ideological abstraction. One can have freedom in theory even while being oppressed in lived reality. Liberty ideology can justify lack of freedom.

Interestingly, this brings us back to an important point that Chuck Pezeshki made in his post where he was looking upon Ivor Cummins with more support and sympathy. One of the reasons,” suggested Pezeshki, “I fervently believe our current society in the U.S. is collapsing is the loss of noblesse oblige — the idea that those of us that are better off in some definable way should help those who are less fortunate. I view my role as a full professor as one where I am supposed to think about complex and complicated things for the common good, just like a rich person is supposed to build housing developments for the poor.” Basically, we agree, even if we take a meandering path and throw out a bunch of side commentary along the way. Noblesse oblige, one might note, was a carryover from feudalism. Like the Commons, it was intentionally destroyed in creating our modern world. We have yet to come to terms with the fallout from that mass annihilation of the public good. There has been nothing to replace what was trampled upon and thrown away.

Such loose human realities can neither be counted in profit nor measured in data. Yet they determine what happens in our society, maybe even determining whether an infectious disease is a momentary inconvenience or turns into a deadly pandemic, determining whether it kills high numbers of the vulnerable or not. The terrain in which a virus can gain purchase is not only biological but environmental and economic, political and cultural. We need to talk not only about physical health for a public health crisis is about the health of the entire society and in this age of interconnectivity with mass trade, mass transportation and mass travel that increasingly includes the larger global society. It’s not only about your own health but the health of everyone else as well, the least among us most of all.

* * *

The Coronavirus Class Divide: Space and Privacy
by Jason DeParle

Harvard Researchers Find ‘Inequality On Top Of Inequality’ In COVID-19 Deaths
by James Doubek

No Wealth, Poor Health: COVID-19 Has Exposed the Depth of Inequality For Marginalized Communities
by Shelly M. Wagers

Poverty, Tuberculosis, COVID-19 and the Luxury of Health
by Amy Catania

How The Crisis Is Making Racial Inequality Worse
by Greg Rosalsky

Social distancing in Black and white neighborhoods in Detroit: A data-driven look at vulnerable communities
by Makada Henry-Nickie & John Hudak

Poor New York City Neighborhoods Seeing Deaths From Covid at More Than Twice the Rate of Affluent Areas
by Julia Conley

COVID-19 outbreak exposes generations-old racial and economic divide in New York City
The Bronx is home to 1.5 million New Yorkers, many of them essential workers.
by Juju Chang, Emily Taguchi, Jake Lefferman, Deborah Kim, & Allie Yang

Divergent death tolls in New York’s Rockaways show Covid-19’s uneven reach
by Sally Goldenberg & Michelle Bocanegra

Density, poverty keep L.A. struggling against virus
by Brian Melley

In Mississippi, families of COVID-19 victims say poverty and race determine survival
by Candace Smith, Knez Walker, Fatima Curry, Armando Garcia, Cho Park & Anthony Rivas

Poor Health, Poverty and the Challenges of COVID-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean
by Samuel Berlinski, Jessica Gagete-Miranda, & Marcos Vera-Hernández

India COVID-19: The killer virus is still poverty
by C.P. Surendran

Iran COVID-19 Crisis: Poor People Are Victims of Regime’s Criminal Policy of Forcing People Back to Work
by Sedighe Shahrokhi

‘We’re expendable’: black Americans pay the price as states lift lockdowns
by Kenya Evelyn

How air pollution exacerbates Covid-19
by Isabelle Gerretsen

Air pollution has made the COVID-19 pandemic worse
by Ula Chrobak

Air Pollution May Make COVID-19 Symptoms Worse
by Alex Fox

Are you more likely to die of covid-19 if you live in a polluted area?
by Adam Vaughan

COVID-19 severity and air pollution: exploring the connection
from Healthcare In Europe

Can COVID-19 Spread Through Air Pollution?
from Environmental Technology

Air Pollution Is Found to Be Associated with Vulnerability to COVID-19
by Shuting Pomerleau

Exposure to air pollution and COVID-19 mortality in the United States: A nationwide cross-sectional study
by Xiao Wu, Rachel C. Nethery, Benjamin M. Sabath, Danielle Braun, & Francesca Dominici

Black people are dying from coronavirus — air pollution is one of the main culprits
by Jared Dewese

One reason why coronavirus is hitting black Americans the hardest
by Ranjani Chakraborty

Covid-19 Flares Up in America’s Polluted ‘Sacrifice Zones’
by Sidney Fussell

Study shows how air pollution makes COVID-19 mortality worse for marginalized populations
from News Medical Life Sciences

Air pollution, racial disparities, and COVID-19 mortality
by Eric B. Brandt, Andrew F. Beck, & Tesfaye B. Mersha

Air Pollution and COVID-19 are worsening existing health inequalities
from European Public Health Alliance

In the Shadows of America’s Smokestacks, Virus Is One More Deadly Risk
by Hiroko Tabuchi

‘I’m Scared’: Study Links Cancer Alley Air Pollution to Higher Death Rates From Covid-19
by Yessenia Funes

The Health Emergency That’s Coming to West Louisville
by John Hans Gilderbloom & Gregory D. Squires

COVID-19, pollution and race: new health concerns for Nicetown
by Nydia Han and Heather Grubola

Philadelphia’s coronavirus numbers show stark racial and income disparities
by Yun Choi

Many cities around the globe saw cleaner air after being shut down for COVID-19. But not Chicago.
by Michael Hawthorne

Pollution rollbacks show a ‘callous disregard’ for communities hard hit by COVID-19
by Justine Calma

COVID-19 Is Not a Reasonable Excuse for Continued Pollution
by Janet McCabe

COVID-19 Cannot Be An Excuse For More Toxic Air
by Amy Hall

How Trump’s EPA Is Making Covid-19 More Deadly
by Michael R. Bloomberg and Gina McCarthy

Dirty air, weak enforcement hurt Arizona during COVID-19
by Sandy Bahr

Then the second wave of infections hit…

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The 1918 Flu did not begin as an obvious pandemic and public health catastrophe. When the first cases appeared, experts and officials realized it was worse than the common flu, but it still seemed relatively mild and manageable. Beyond some closings in specific places, few took it seriously.

Besides, some were loudly vocal in their opposition to what they perceived as overreaction in trying to control the viral outbreak. And most leaders wanted to keep the economy going and the keep the factories open, if only for the war effort. A few more deaths of workers was deemed acceptable as sacrifices for the national good, the health of the economy, and whatever other reasons were given.

This allowed infections to spread around the world during the early period. And in spreading, it allowed this influenza virus to further mutate and quickly take hold across the global population. This set the stage for what was to follow when the next flu season came around later that year.

Then the second wave of infections hit with a new strain that was far more deadly. It is that second wave that we now remember as the greatest pandemic of the 20th century. Many millions of Americans died and, at that point, it was too late to have attempted to get it under control. The spread of the infection had to burn its way through the population.

Does the first part of that sound familiar? We now await the second wave of COVID-19 infections. No one knows what will happen. Going by testing data, it appears that only a small portion of the the United States population has been infected so far. One difference to the 1918 Flu is that governments this time around did put control measures into place, but that has only temporarily halted the spread while the virus goes partly dormant with warmer weather.

We will find out what happens this next fall and going into winter. The pandemic might fizzle out with only a few hundred thousands of Americans dead from COVID-19. Or as the leadership pushes to reopen the economy and larger society with few systematic and coordinated protective measures put into place, we might see a repeat of history with millions of American lives sacrificed. It’s a gamble.

* * *

There is nothing wrong with making an informed calculation about public health, but it’s not clear this is what has motivated the present reopening. Few politicians have been transparent about their decision-making and the data it’s based upon. And fewer still, not even in the media’s supposed role of holding officials accountable, are talking about the long term scenario we are facing, a possibility even of a pandemic that lingers for years.

Instead, those in power and influence are acting as if the pandemic is coming to an end, not merely passing through a momentary reprieve. The public is not being prepared, psychologically or practically, for another period of infectious spread. Yet it’s certain that plenty of people in the leadership know about the high probability of an even worse return of the pandemic later this year, but obviously they don’t want the public to know about it or worry about it.

If preparations are being made for what might come, it is being done covertly. That is understandable, in that they might want to avoid further politicization of the situation. And no doubt any officials who spoke of the pandemic not only continuing but getting worse would find themselves a target of the Trump administration and many other powerful interests, a not comfortable or safe position to be in.

The problem is this is yet more paternalistic authoritarianism in shutting down democratic process and public debate. Decisions are being made for us and we are being kept ignorant. We are being treated as children not to be trusted with full knowledge and adult responsibilities, children to be taken care of and told what to do. So, like good worker-citizens, we should return to our proper place within the capitalist hierarchy and, as Bush Jr told us after the 9/11 attack, our patriotic duty is to get back to shopping.

The appearance of normalcy is what has been deemed most important. The status quo is dependent on it, as is the power and profit of those who have most benefited from this entrenched system of neoliberalism. But viruses don’t concern themselves with political priorities, economic demands, and ideological rationalizations. We will never return to normal and this will become ever more apparent as we enter this era of crisis after crisis, no matter what does or does not happen as we move toward the end of the year.

None of this is being discussed, not how this pandemic is probably related to climate change and environmental destruction, not how this pandemic was exacerbated by generations of a public health crisis, not to mention a public trust crisis. Simply put, we’ve been in a crisis for a long time and, pandemic or not, the state of crisis will remain unresolved. Besides, even if this pandemic dwindles away in a less than dramatic fashion, it’s almost guaranteed that we will be facing other pandemics in the near future as the conditions are ripe for the spread of disease, similar to the spread of invasive species we’re also experiencing worldwide.

This is not a time to let down our guard. Then again, those well-informed have known this for decades. So, why do we keep finding ourselves surprised and unprepared when each new crisis appears on the horizon?

* * *

Much of this has to do with our public imagination, what we are collectively capable of thinking about and envisioning. This COVID-19 situation does not fit our perception of how a pandemic is supposed to look. When we have a pandemic in mind, most of us look back to something like the Black Death where so many people died that there weren’t enough people left to keep up with burying the dead.

It doesn’t occur to us that even some of the worst pandemics could begin so unimpressively, as was the case with the 1918 Flu. And since we have no living memory of a pandemic in the Western world, we have no basis to consider even what this pandemic might mean even as we’re in the middle of it. All the average person knows is that governments are reopening their economies and, intentionally or not, that sends a signal that all is well again.

Since there aren’t dead bodies piled in the streets, maybe most people assume that either the pandemic is over or there never really was a pandemic in the first place. The thought that the worst might be yet to come is simply not in public awareness, as it’s not a part of public debate, much less public messaging from officials and experts. And plenty of those seeking to shape the public imagination are happy to keep the public ignorant, so as to suppress fear and anxiety and panic.

Yet public imagination has permanently been impacted by these events. Most Americans still are reluctant about the economy reopening, not supporting the idea of being forced back to work when there is still a chance that they can be infected and die or that they might endanger the lives of loved ones. As increasing number of politicians take measures that indicate everything is winding down and returning to normal, a sense of caution and concern remains in the air. More people than ever are wearing masks, for example.

Despite lacking accurate historical knowledge of other pandemics, maybe on an unconscious level the public does sense that we are far from being in the clear, that the world still is not yet safe. Suppressed though it is, the public imagination is also being informed by the lack of public trust specifically in those trying to manipulate and manage public perception. Whether or not they could consciously articulate it, much of the population likely has a sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

* * *

This brings us back to the precautionary principle. We are entering an era of crises. There is no doubt that governments are preparing for disasters, but the kind of preparation governments tend to make have to do with hurricanes, wars, and such. It seems apparent that the United States government had almost no serious preparation for a pandemic.

A slow-burning pandemic like this simply doesn’t fit into the political imaginary. The weakness of the precautionary principle is that it’s dependent on our ability to imagine possibilities. We need experts who are educated and trained to imagine what others find impossible to imagine, so as to prepare for what otherwise would be unpredictable.

In general, hyperobjects that pose slow violence don’t inspire collective action. They are too hard for most people to comprehend. Examples of this are invisible things like lead toxicity and climate change. We can’t see them happening, can’t see what they are doing to us and the world around us. So, we have no emotional and visceral response to their threat.

Related to COVID-19, another example is that of the chronic diseases that are comorbidities of infectious diseases. These are also referred to as the diseases of civilization, as they appear with the rise of civilization and worsen with the development of civilization, from agriculture to industrialization. How health declines across generations was scientifically studied in the early 1900s by Weston A. Price and Francis M. Pottenger Jr, although observations were made in the century or two prior.

The earlier 1918 flu became a pandemic because of changing conditions. This included the mass urbanization and industrialization that was changing lifestyles and diets, such as creating crowded conditions and malnutrition. Just hitting adulthood was the first generation that was majority urbanites. In the early 1900s, European immigrants were already noticing that American children looked chubbier, an early sign of metabolic disease, although obesity wouldn’t be considered a public health crisis until the 1950s.

The 1918 flu may never have become a pandemic if not for the worsening health in the Western world. The same might be true now for COVID-19. Such conditions of public health could be the decisive factors for which infectious diseases become pandemics.

As a precaution, the best preparation possible for any and all crises is to improve public health. Even preparing for war requires a public healthy enough to serve as soldiers, a problem Western countries faced a century or so ago when much of the population couldn’t serve in the military because of malnutrition and maldevelopment. Obesity has become a problem in the military now.

A pandemic doesn’t come out of nowhere. The conditions for it develop over long periods of time, sometimes over generations. Such conditions might determine if infectious diseases remain a minor concern or run rampant across a population. Other conditions that unleash infectious diseases have to do with environmental destruction that stresses the health of both humans and wild animals.

The precautionary principle suggests we should expect the worst and expect the unexpected. It also suggest we shouldn’t push our luck.

* * *

Relevant articles:

Three potential futures for Covid-19: recurring small outbreaks, a monster wave, or a persistent crisis
by Sharon Begley

Coronavirus may last 2 years, study warns- and its second wave could be worse
by Dennis Wagner

Why a Mayo Clinic expert has concerns about second wave of COVID-19
by DeeDee Stiepan

Harvard epidemiologist: Beware COVID-19’s second wave this fall
by Len Strazewski

Why a Second Wave of Covid-19 Is Already a Worry
by John Lauerman

What If Covid-19 and Flu Both Flare Up This Fall?
by Robert Roy Britt

How will we know whether the coronavirus will come back stronger in the winter?
by Amina Khan

As States Rush to Reopen, Scientists Fear a Coronavirus Comeback
by Donald G. McNeil Jr.

A second wave of COVID-19 is probable, if history tells us anything
by Ashley Wadhwani

‘The 1918 Spanish flu’s second wave was even more devastating’: WHO advises caution to avoid ‘immediate second peak’
by Quentin Fottrell

What a Second Wave of Coronavirus in the Fall Could Look Like
by Heather Grey

Second more deadly wave of coronavirus expected ‘to hit Europe this winter’
by Anne Gulland

Aftershock: If coronavirus swells in a second wave later this year, will the nation be ready?
by Dennis Wagner

Flu and coronavirus will launch dual ‘assault’ on America next winter if we don’t prepare now, CDC chief warns
by Brandon Specktor

CDC director warns second wave of coronavirus is likely to be even more devastating
by Lena H. Sun

COVID-19 Update: US Second Wave May Happen in Fall and Winter; Here’s How to Stop it, Says Fauci
by Jamie P.

Dr. Anthony Fauci on How America Can Avoid a Second Wave of the Coronavirus
by Soo Kim

For historical perspective, see the Twitter feed by John Zahorick:

100 YEAR OLD NEWS is like new news.
October 7, 1918
“Daily influenza reports ordered”
“All churches, fraternal orders, and clubs were requested to remain closed on Sunday.”
“SALOON MEN PROTEST AGAINST CLOSING ORDER”

Image

October 11, 1918
“Severe Embargo on Schools, Theaters, Churches and All Public Gatherings, Effective Tonight”
“A number of speakers to voice a protest against the closing order as being more drastic than the emergency demands”

Image

December 17, 1918
“SPANISH INFLUENZA MORE DEADLY THAN WAR”
“More deaths have resulted in a little more than a month from this disease than through our whole 18 months participation in the battles of WW I”

Image

July 30, 1919
“Congress Urged to Pass Flu Bill”
“The epidemic found the nation unprepared”
“470,000 deaths in America last year, 50,000 this Spring”
“Economic loss in ran into the billions”

Image

A Pandemic of Ignorance

The main failure in this COVID-19 pandemic has been about knowledge. The United States government was unprepared for dealing with a pandemic, specifically in being unprepared for quickly gathering the data, analyzing it, basing official policies on it, and communicating it to the public. We were blindsided and slow to respond.

We not only have lacked necessary info but, more importantly, lacked leadership in relationship to what we needed to know. Government positions and corporate practices for the most part have not been dependably based on good data nor did those making the decisions emphasize the importance of getting good data. Instead, we’ve too often been handed partisan politics, campaign rhetoric, and slogans.

Unlike in some other countries, US government and major businesses have failed to do mass infection testing, temperature scanning, contact tracing, and app tracking. All of this would’ve offered useful data for controlling the spread of infections and making informed decisions about which actions to take. Compare companies that kept running in the US to some in other countries.

In the US, meatpacking plants that have close working environments weren’t even requiring employees to wear masks and that is insane, as quickly became apparent. A German company, on the other, managed to keep infections down using not only masks but data collection to quickly determine the infected so as to isolate them. The same pattern was seen in how many Asian countries were much more systematic in their control measures. Why did those other places seek out knowledge early on and acted on it while the US decision-makers embraced willful ignorance in hoping everything would be fine?

Even when US leaders had info, they would sometimes keep it a secret, instead of sharing it in a way that could’ve helped. For example, health officials were apparently afraid of their being a run on medical masks and so, instead of being honest with the public, they intentionally lied to us by stating masks offered no protection. This led many to not take the protective gear seriously, including in extended care facilities that weren’t using protective gear.

This lack of transparency and accountability has continued. Governor Reynolds of Iowa has continually repeated that she is basing all her decisions on careful and regular analysis of detailed metrics, but she has never shared any of the supposed data and instead just makes declarations. Or consider how the Trump administration has silenced the CDC by disallowing their official report to go public. Are these officials worried what the public would do or demand if they had full knowledge?

Even now, decisions are being made about reopening businesses, schools, etc without any clear basis on data, at least not data that is being shared with the public. Almost no one in media or government is talking about how the second wave in fall will likely be far worse than anything we’ve seen so far. Many officials are acting like the pandemic is coming to an end and that now it’s time for everything to go back to normal, even as the reality is that waves of infections could continue for years.

Obviously, we still lack the knowledge we need. It’s true we know that COVID-19 isn’t as deadly as first thought, although it still is far more deadly than the common flu. All these months after the pandemic began spreading globally, there is no mass infection testing in the US nor are places of business implementing the basic tools like temperature scans used elsewhere from the beginning.

So, we aren’t sure how many Americans have been infected. On top of that, despite some hoping herd immunity will save us, our knowledge about immunity to this novel coronavirus is next to nothing. There might be some short term immunity, but even then it might not last long enough to prevent the same people getting infected again with the second wave. And no one knows if we will have a vaccine soon or ever.

Why is the US economy being reopened when even the most basic message of mask-wearing hasn’t been consistently and effectively communicated to much of the population? Instead, most of the major leaders are refusing to wear masks while speaking in public and so are modeling to Americans that they shouldn’t wear masks. Are we still at the level of not even agreeing on masks?

What lesson have we Americans learned from our mistakes during this pandemic? Have we learned any lessons? Would our leadership respond differently if the same situation happens again? When this pandemic began, we were in a state of collective ignorance and we were caught without even the capacity to ameliorate our ignorance. So, we acted blindly. In the same state of collective ignorance, we’d be forced to respond in the same way again or something similar.

The worst part is that this demonstrates the culture of ignorance that dominates in the US, as part of a broader failure of democracy. Much of the American leadership is brazen in pushing ignorance and much of the American public is apathetic in accepting it. There has been little political will to pursue data-driven policy and to put respect for knowledge front and center. Sadly, in the understandable mistrust by the public, those officials and experts worthy of trust are equally dismissed as the rest.

Our response in American society has been based primarily on ideology. The related problem in the US is that, in our reactionary hyper-individualism, a large part of the American population is dismissive to the very concept of public health, as if no individual should ever sacrifice the slightest freedom to save the lives of others. No healthy society can function that way.

Some of the most successful methods, besides masks, have been contact tracing and tracking apps. But many Americans would call that authoritarianism. It’s understandable that we should be cautious about what we allow in a society that aspires to democracy (aspires, if rarely succeeds). The problem is when paranoia destroys the culture of trust that is essential to a democracy. By promoting mistrust, the sad result is that authoritarianism becomes inevitable. Truth becomes whatever is declared by those with the most power and influence, by those who control the media and other platforms.

That is exactly what President Donald Trump has taken advantage of, in his own brand of authoritarianism. He loves to play on people’s fears, to scapegoat and attack all sources of authority other than himself so as to muddy the water. In his authoritarian worldview, US workers should be forced to go back to work with nothing in place to protect their lives because to an authoritarian workers are expendable and replaceable. This was his position from the beginning and no new data was ever going to change this position.

Yet most Americans are opposed to fully reopening the economy. That is largely because the top US leadership has utterly failed in the most basic test of human decency, even ignoring all of the deception and demagoguery. Americans don’t trust Trump or many other figures of authority, including the capitalist class asking for Americans to sacrifice their lives for the profit of others, and they aren’t sure who to trust. If some basic protections were put into place as is done in certain other countries, we could begin to rebuild some public trust.

The American public health crisis first and foremost is a public trust crisis. And it is a crisis that has been a long time coming. If not remedied, it could become an existential crisis. And the only remedy would be democratic reform through an informed public. That means the public will have to demand knowledge or, failing that, will have to educate themselves. A functioning democracy with transparency and accountability is the best preparation for any crisis, but that would require nurturing a culture of knowledge and learning, a shared respect for intellect and expertise.

Disaster Capitalism Causes Disasters

Many have wondered why some places have been hit hard by the pandemic (Spain, Italy, New York, etc) whereas others still are barely affected. Some likely factors are public transportation, population density, and multiple generation households. Socioeconomic conditions and probably inequality also is involved, as poverty correlates with higher rates of immunological compromise and dysfunction because of stress, food deserts, parasite load, lack of healthcare, and such.

Air pollution, for example, increases asthma which is a major comorbidity of COVID-19. And, of course, poor areas tend to have far worse air pollution, not to mention heavy metal toxicity from old paint and pipes, toxic soil from old factories, and toxic waste dumps. But it turns out that the virus SARS-CoV-2 can also be carried by air pollution particles: Ron Brackett reports that, “Air samples were collected at two sites in Bergamo province in northern Italy’s Lombardy region, the area of the country hit hardest by the pandemic. Testing found a gene highly specific to COVID-19 in multiple samples from the province, one of the most polluted in Italy” (Researchers Find Coronavirus on Pollution Particles). That might be another explanation for why dense urban areas like New York City could worsen infection and death rates.

Consider the example of Italy (Conn Hallinan, How Austerity and Anti-Immigrant Politics Left Italy Exposed; & John Buell, Disaster Capitalism and the Real Culprit in the Italian Covid-19 Catastrophe). Since the 2008 recession, the number of Italians in extreme poverty has doubled which no puts it at more than 10% of the population (Eva Pastorelli & Andrea Stocchiero, Inequalities in Italy) with another 6.8% barely above poverty (Federico Razetti, Poor, scarcely poor and almost poor: what’s going on in Italy?) — combined together, that equates to around 10 million Italians, which is more than the entire population of New York City. Bergamo province is in northern Italy. Even worst poverty is found further south, the location of 70% of the poor (Michael Huang, 10 Facts About Poverty In Italy That Everyone Should Know).

Two of the countries most devastated by COVID-19 are Italy and Spain, both of which have suffered from high rates of poverty combined with economic austerity. As in the United States, it’s the most impoverished and underprivileged who bear the brunt. Shockingly, in New York City, almost half the population is at or near the poverty level with one in five fully in poverty (NYC Opportunity, Poverty in NYC). Although NYC poverty has dropped slightly, inequality remains as high as ever (Elizabeth Kim, NYC Poverty Level Drops To Record Lows, But Income Inequality Persists). It’s unsurprising that such immense poverty and inequality crippled the public health response in such places and specifically harmed those worse off, such as seen in Spain (Guy Hedgecoe, In Spain, austerity legacy cripples coronavirus fight; Brais Fernandez, Spain’s Hospitals Have Suffered Death by a Thousand Cuts; & Stephen Burgen, Poor and vulnerable hardest hit by pandemic in Spain). Such pandemic inequality has been seen all across the United States with poor minorities hit the hardest.

For a combination of reasons, the poor are hit hardest and specifically where poverty is concentrated and exacerbated by high inequality. And this pandemic will only worsen poverty and inequality, unless we demand reforms that are both democratic and progressive. But if we let disaster capitalism run rampant, it will bring on further disasters.

* * *

Austerity in the Age of COVID-19: A Match Made in Hell?
by Paul Rogers

The Impact of COVID-19 Is All Down to Inequality
by Mariano Aguirre

How austerity measures hurt the COVID-19 response
by Cristina Fominaya

As Coronavirus Deepens Inequality, Inequality Worsens Its Spread
by Max Fisher and Emma Bubola

The coronavirus pandemic is already increasing inequality
by Steve Schifferes

Covid-19 shows why tackling inequality benefits everyone
by Han Fook Kwang

The pandemic strengthens the case for universal basic income
by Ishaan Tharoor

The Pandemic Now And Going Into The Future

“I think people haven’t understood that this isn’t about the next couple of weeks. This is about the next two years.”
~Michael Osterholm, infectious-disease epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota

“Everyone wants to know when this will end. That’s not the right question. The right question is: How do we continue?”
~Devi Sridhar, public-health expert at the University of Edinburgh

A week ago, the highest daily Covid-19 death count for the US was more than 2,000. Now it reached over 4,500 over the past day. That is an expected exponential increase. And that is with strong measures like lockdowns taken place across the country. When doing a recount by adding in all deaths now known, China increased their Wuhan deaths by 50%. That is probably true in many places where hospitals were overwhelmed and many died without medical care.

This isn’t to imply China was necessarily being deceptive in covering up the real numbers. For a while now, medical staff in the US have said the same thing about hospitals here underreporting Covid-19 deaths. Healthcare worker deaths may also be higher. In another article, there was shared the photographs and stories of some of these people who died while helping others. I noticed that all of them looked overweight, indicating metabolic syndrome which is one of the main comorbidities.

By the way, one expert talks about five stages for the pandemic. We are in the second phase which is mitigation following the initial containment. After that will be another period of containment while we wait for a vaccine, other treatments, and improved lab testing. That could take us into next year, but the economy will begin to restart during this time.

As communities begin to open up again, the government will have to become very strict, systematic, and targeted in quarantining the infected. Cleaning and disinfection of public places will become a priority, as will the use of protective gear. The fourth stage comes when we have a vaccine, assuming we get one in the relatively near future. The hope is to be in a more advanced situation of containment before a second wave of infections might hit in the fall.

With everything reasonably under control, we end with the last stage where we assess the situation, determine successes and failures, and then prepare for the next pandemic. That means making pandemic preparation central to national security.

This situation, of course, has long term consequences. Donald Trump being president exacerbates this. Even before the pandemic, his actions as leader were driving a wedge between the US and its allies. Many foreign governments were seeing the US as no longer trustworthy and reliable. Trump’s attacking and defunding the WHO, if somewhat deserved, has further undermined US authority — specifically among the G7. The US might never recover its position in the world. This might be the end of US hegemony.

Now most likely Trump will be re-elected. So four more years of more of the same, precisely at the moment when confidence has been shaken in national leadership and the federal government. The main promise Trump made was that he would make the American economy great again, but now it will be in shambles. All his scapegoating will only go so far. While Americans suffer, people will want actions and reform, not snarky blame games for political gain.

For years and maybe decades to come, we might not only be recovering from the pandemic and all that is related to it but a more general sense of decline and malaise, if not further catastrophes that become existential crises. If we are to enter a re-building phase, it’s going to require entirely new leadership in both of the main parties. We can hope for an era of large-scale reform that will transform our society, but it’s hard to see hope at the moment.

* * *

Some articles of interest:

Some Thoughts On Thinking Critically In Times Of Uncertainty, And The Trap of Lopsided Skepticism: Coronaspiracy Theory Edition
by Denise Minger

In case you didn’t notice, the cyber-world (and its 3D counterpart, I assume, but we’re not allowed to venture there anymore) is currently a hot mess of Who and what do we believe? This is zero percent surprising. Official agencies have handled COVID-19 with the all grace of a three-legged elephant—waffling between the virus being under control/not under control/OMG millions dead/wait no 60,000/let’s pack the churches on Easter!/naw, lockdown-til-August/face masks do nothing/face masks do something, but healthcare workers need them more/FACE MASKS FOR EVERY FACE RIGHT NOW PLEASE AND THANK YOU/oh no a tiger got the ‘rona!; on and on. It’s dizzying. Maddening. The opposite of confidence-instilling. And as a very predictable result, guerrilla journalism has grown to fill the void left by those who’ve failed to tell us, with any believability, what’s going on.

Exercising our investigative rights is usually a good thing. You guys know me. I’m all about questioning established narratives and digging into the forces that crafted them. It’s literally my life. Good things happen when we flex our thinking muscle, and nothing we’re told should be immune to scrutiny.

But there’s a shadow side here, too—what I’ll henceforth refer to as “lopsided skepticism.” This is what happens when we question established narratives… but not the non-established ones. More specifically, when we go so hog wild ripping apart The Official Story that we somehow have no skepticism left over for all the new stuff we’re replacing it with.

And that, my friends, is exactly what’s happening right now.

The dangerous conservative campaign against expertise
by Michael Gerson

Motivated reasoning is usually just tiresome. At its worst, it can be dangerous. Sometimes drawing the wrong lesson badly obscures a right and necessary lesson. Sometimes the interpretation of a crisis is so dramatically mistaken, so ludicrous and imprudent, that it can worsen the crisis itself.

Such is the case with conservatives who look at the coronavirus outbreak and see, of all things, the discrediting of experts and expertise. In this view, the failures of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have brought the whole profession into disrepute. The judgments of health professionals have often been no better than the folk wisdom of the Internet. The pandemic is not only further proof of the fallibility of insiders; it has revealed the inherent inaccessibility of medical truth. All of us, scientists and nonscientists, are walking blindly on the same misty moor and may stumble on medical insights.

This argument assumes an intellectual fog that is just lifting. Though we are still relatively early in the pandemic, this much seems clear: The medical experts recommended aggressive social distancing to bend the curve of infections and deaths downward. Americans generally trusted the experts. By all the evidence, aggressive social distancing is bending the curve of infections and deaths downward. And places that were earliest and most aggressive in this approach have seen the best results.

This outcome doesn’t strike me as murky. It is difficult to see how experts whose advice clearly saved tens of thousands of lives can be called discredited. It is easy, however, to see how making this false claim might undermine public adherence to their advice, which still matters greatly in the crisis.

Our Pandemic Summer
by Ed Yong

If it turns out that, say, 20 percent of the U.S. has been infected, that would mean the coronavirus is more transmissible but less deadly than scientists think. It would also mean that a reasonable proportion of the country has some immunity. If that proportion could be slowly and safely raised to the level necessary for herd immunity—60 to 80 percent, depending on the virus’s transmissibility—the U.S. might not need to wait for a vaccine. However, if just 1 to 5 percent of the population has been infected—the range that many researchers think is likelier—that would mean “this is a truly devastating virus, and we have built up no real population immunity,” said Michael Mina, an epidemiologist and immunologist at Harvard. “Then we’re in dire straits in terms of how to move forward.”

Even in the optimistic scenario, a quick and complete return to normalcy would be ill-advised. And even in the pessimistic scenario, controlling future outbreaks should still be possible, but only through an immense public-health effort. Epidemiologists would need to run diagnostic tests on anyone with COVID-19–like symptoms, quarantine infected people, trace everyone those people had contact with in the previous week or so, and either quarantine those contacts or test them too. These are the standard pillars of public health, but they’re complicated by the coronavirus’s ability to spread for days before causing symptoms. Every infected person has a lot of potential contacts, and may have unknowingly infected many of them.

The Pandemic Will Cleave America in Two
by Joe Pinsker

When someone dies, there are three ways to think about what caused it, according to Scott Frank, a professor at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine. The first is the straightforward, “medical” cause of death—diagnosable things like heart disease or cancer. The second is the “actual” cause of death—that is, the habits and behaviors that over time contributed to the medical cause of death, such as smoking cigarettes or being physically inactive. The third is what Frank refers to as the “actual actual” cause of death—the bigger, society-wide forces that shaped those habits and behaviors.

In one analysis of deaths in the U.S. resulting from “social factors” (Frank’s “actual actual” causes), the top culprits were poverty, low levels of education, and racial segregation. “Each of these has been demonstrated to have independent effects on chronic-disease mortality and morbidity,” Frank said. (Morbidity refers to whether someone has a certain disease.) He expects that the same patterns will hold for COVID-19.

To begin with, the physical effects of COVID-19 are far worse for some people than others. There are two traits that seem to matter most. The first is age. Older people are at greater risk of experiencing the more devastating version of the pandemic, in part because the immune system weakens with age. Early data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that, in the U.S., the risk of dying from the disease begins to climb at around age 55, and is especially acute for those 85 and older. “I think the pattern we’re going to see clearly is an age-related pattern” of mortality, Andrew Noymer, a public-health professor at UC Irvine, said. (Younger people aren’t invulnerable to the disease, though; the CDC found in mid-March that 20-to-54-year-olds had accounted for almost 40 percent of hospitalizations known to have been caused by the disease.

The second trait that puts someone at increased risk is having a serious health condition such as diabetes, heart disease, or lung disease. These conditions seem to make cases of COVID-19 more likely to be severe or fatal, and the risks rise considerably for older adults who have any of these conditions, Frank told me.

But while everyone ages, rich and poor alike, these health conditions are not evenly distributed throughout the population. They’re more common among people with less education, less money, and less access to health care. “We know these social and economic conditions have a profound effect on chronic disease,” Frank said, “and then chronic disease has a profound effect on the mortality related to COVID.”