That is someone who crows a warning about COVID-19. Nevermore!


Hong Kong fluIn 1969 we had the “Hong Kong” flu circulating,  H3N2. It came to the US via some Marines who had caught it in Vietnam. We didn’t have flu shots back then. The results were 100,000 dead in the US and 2 million worldwide. You would multiply that by 1.5 for the proportional effect today in the US. Globally you’d double it.

In 1957, when I was one year old, we had the “Asian” flu, H2N2. It hit again in 1958. Combining the two waves we had 70K deaths in the US and 2 million globally. To correct for lower population back then, you’d double the US death total and very close to triple the world’s total to get the proportional impact today.spanish flue 1918

Spool back to 1918 and we have the “Spanish” flu, H1N1. (None of these influenza outbreaks came from where their name implied. Oh well.) This one hit us in 3 consecutive waves. About 10% of all recorded cases were fatal. By 1920 675,000 Americans had succumbed and globally 50 million had died. Seemingly the young and healthy perished in disproportionately high numbers.

It was so bad that by 1920 life expectancy in the US had dropped by 12 years. To get the population-adjusted numbers, multiply the US number by 3.2 and the global numbers by 5.

Influenza viruses evolve insanely quickly. Every year new threats emerge. Mutations happen so quickly that identifiable strains can differentiate in days. This means you get a potentially dangerous situation every fall. Now imagine a nasty flu emerging in the middle of the second wave of COVID-19. A perfect storm of 2 diseases plus a population that refuses to behave with all due caution.

What does all this mean? When it becomes available, get your goddamn flu shot!

flu shot

F-ing anti-vaxxers drive me nuts. Put on top of it the dangerous fools who won’t wear

Darwin award

masks when they are in close proximity to other people, the people who can’t be bothered to wash their hands after touching a public surface, the morons who invade your personal space or congregate in indoor crowds, and the idiots who won’t get tested and try to tough out their symptoms as though they weren’t sick. There is a dismayingly large percentage of the population just begging to receive Darwin Awards.

We’re still learning things about the virus. Lack of the ability to ethically test on live human subjects makes the discovery process slow. Despite moral limitations, there is still progress. The George Floyd protests have become an unintended experiment in COVID transmission.

Some cities have noted an uptick in new infections but it is difficult to tease out the effects of the protests from the effects of the general loosening of social distancing rules. Cities that did not loosen up but still had substantial demonstrations did not report increased infection rates. Loose outdoor gatherings are not a big threat in terms of disease transmission.

Studies have shown that exposure to direct sun kills 90% of the viable virus in 7

Face mask block
Yeah, I know that bacteria are smaller than viruses. But the droplets that spread them are the same size.

minutes. It now seems that open air and sunshine is the best of all environments to interact with other people. I would still wear a mask if I were close to other people and preferentially hang with other people wearing masks. Unless another person isn’t giving me my space, I wouldn’t worry.

It is still not clear if individual aerosol virus particles can infect a person or if there have to be droplets with many viruses inside it. Ordinary cloth or paper masks don’t stop aerosolized parrtcles. According to the CDC, current thought is that it is spread overwhelmingly by droplets. That means a face mask will protect you from other people as well as other people from you as it will catch incoming droplets as well as outgoing ones.

N-95 masks with goggles are the standard PPE that greatly reduces your chance of getting infected but they were all needed for medical people when the first wave hit. (The shortage of PPE was what was behind the WHO and CDC pronouncements that ordinary people didn’t need masks. Not any kind of science.) I think production has caught up with demand so it may not be unreasonable to lay in a few N-95s. If production has not spooled up adequately, good quality cloth or disposable masks will have to serve and give those N-95s to a nurse or someone who is immunocompromised.

There is strong evidence that the virus was circulating in Europe and the states early in December. They found this by testing sewage samples with different time stamps.  It appears that California had two infestations that died out before a third batch hit in January and stuck.

This leads to the next new discovery. CDC has become convinced that most of the disease’s spread has come because of “super spreaders.” It best matches the outbreak patterns. You can have ten sick people. Nine of them infect less than one other person each. The tenth person can infect dozens of other people; that’s how a cluster forms. If the disease hits but doesn’t manage to catch a superspreader, it dies out.  A super-spreader will infect enough people that there’ll likely be fellow super-spreaders in the group. They haven’t narrowed down the reason yet. It could be that some people naturally spew out large amounts of the virus while many don’t. Or it could be a behavioral issue. Or both.

super spreaders

CDC also says the total number of people infected could be ten times the number we detected by testing. That’s 20 million people distributed between asymptomatic, presymptomatic, and mildly symptomatic folks who are either in denial or decided to tough it out. Universal testing is the only way to go but people who want to minimize the problem won’t let it happen.

Per the CDC, the strain of the virus to hit the eastern US seems to be more virulent (more easily transmitted) than that in other countries. Just another aspect of American Exceptionalism, I guess.

Some things I do to protect myself are:

  • I keep doggy doo-doo bags on hand in case I need to touch a public surface. Gas pumps, keypads, door handles and knobs. I grab an extra bit of toilet paper or paper towel for restroom doors. If I washed my hands every time, I would not have any skin left.
  • Opening and closing doors and doing other stuff without involving my hands.
  • Instead of touching touch screens, I use a pointer. Or if I forget it, there’s always Purell.
  • Pay with my credit card in a chip reader.
  • If I notice someone coughing or wheezing or sneezing, I don’t care if they have a mask, I’ll turn away and leave the immediate vicinity.  Ditto for a$$ hats not wearing a mask and invading my personal space.
  • Wipe down my shopping cart. I had to back up a shopping cart boy who was getting a ration of $hit from a customer who got angry when he politely asked the guy to wear a mask. It’s the law here.
  • I go for produce and products that are neither in the top layer nor in the front. I figure they have less exposure to customer coughing and have been handled less.
  • I’ve been training myself to be aware of when I touch my face. I make a conscious effort not to when I’ve been in a public area until I’ve washed my hands.
  • Someone coughs, sneezes, or wheezes on me, I am tossing my clothes and mask in the laundry and thoroughly washing my face and glasses.
  • You can get infected through your eyes if someone coughs in your face. Glasses and sunglasses can help prevent that. For side protection, you’d need goggles of some variety. (I’m not quite to that level of paranoia yet.)
  • When I’m outdoors in a public area, I don’t bother with the mask unless there are other people nearby. But mask and doggy doo-doo bags are always in my pocket in case.
From: New England Journal of Medicine

We could probably find the answers to most questions about novel coronavirus spread by simply asking uninfected volunteers to spend time in various infectious situations and track what happened.  It would be considered unethical today, even if people gave informed consent. So we still don’t know how many viable viruses it takes to infect, whether aerosolized viral particles can infect, how efficiently the virus infects by touching contaminated surfaces, etc. The results are overcaution in some areas and undercaution in areas we haven’t even thought of. But, that’s how the world spins.