By Herbert James Draper – The Bridgeman Art Library, Object 181779, Public Domain

We had a palm tree removed from our front yard. I really didn’t want to do it but there

palm tree
Topping the tree.

were over riding reasons. When we bought to house it was about 40 ft. tall and 28 years old. another 28 years later it was about 70 ft. tall. Keeping it trimmed was expensive. Not trimming it meant palm fronds would fall after every wind, sometimes landing on the neighbor’s cars.

There was a nest of ravens living in it and we were waiting for the chicks to leave home before we removed it. One day we had a strong wind that blew the nest right out and onto our roof.  The chick that was in it was almost grown and went to hide in some shrubbery. The parents stayed with it, bringing it food and dive-bombing anything that came near it.  Eventually, it matured enough to fly on its own and that was that. Previously there’d been a nest of owls in it.


Charlie Daniels had died at 83. His most famous work is The Devil Went Down to Georgia. He founded a nonprofit to aid injured veterans, The Journey Home Project, and was active in veterans’ affairs.

Daniels had been active in music since the early 1960s and even wrote music for Elvis. His story-telling approach to many of his songs reminds me of the late Johnny Cash.


Things have certainly been crazy as of late. With all the predictions of doom and gloom, some people are stressing out. (Thank you, Hobo Moon)


Just in case you want to survive the apocalypse, CNET has come up with the series for you. Whether a mega-tsunami or a nuclear winter or a pandemic, they’ll have the information you need.

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Now, no sooner do I post something about the general expert consensus being that most COVID-19 is spread by droplets and not aerosols but that I learn a lot of experts are disagreeing with that assessment. Here’s the PDF of the original report.

The WHO/CDC position is that viruses in droplets of moisture produced when someone coughs or sneezes or talks or is breathing hard are the predominant form of spread. Experts are now challenging this with evidence that viruses in aerosol form, floating around in poorly ventilated areas are also important.

So why would WHO or the CDC low-ball the risks of airborne spread? Maybe because they don’t believe the great unwashed are bright enough to understand. Maybe it will mean that hospitals and other buildings would have to spend a lot of money on additional ventilation and PPE. Or maybe they are culturally unable to change a position once they’ve taken it because it is viewed as an admission of error.

The precautions one takes doesn’t change. We just need to well ventilate shared indoor environments.


“Aerosol” viruses are viruses that remain floating in the air for some time. They emerge from lungs as droplets of various sizes. The very smallest droplets don’t fall. They float and quickly evaporate until there’s no droplet left, just a particle with viruses stuck to it. Something that small does not fall out quickly. Air currents and even Brownian motion keep them suspended

Typical masks worn by people best protect against larger droplets. Dried up particles are many times smaller than even a small droplet. While a common mask can catch the large moist droplets as they leave your lung, most consumer-level masks are not as useful against breathing in floating dried particles.

mask
Click for larger version.

In order to block virus particles, the standard is the N-95 respirator. These masks are called respirators because they must be fitted so tightly that no air can bypass them.  (Ordinary surgical masks let some air out around the edges.) It gets its designation because – if properly worn – it filters out 95% of .3 micron particles.

The COVID virus is less than half that size, .12 micron. But no virus floats around naked. They are always bonded to something much bigger. All the goop that was in the droplet it was expelled in is still there, just dried up. The N-95 still stops them as well as all larger droplets.

There are also N-99 respirators and N-100 respirators. N-100s are powered because you could not breathe through the dense filter. Even so, the N-100 only filters 99.97% of particles. There is a very slight Vader-esque sound to them.

Homemade masks may not be as effective at stopping airborne viruses as an N-95 but they still have some benefit. Something is a hell of a lot better than nothing. The idea is to keep the viral load low enough you won’t get infected, not to reduce it to zero. It turns out layering high thread count cotton with either silk or a thick flannel is effective at reducing airborne coronavirus by up to 80%. A good face fit is important.

Lots of ventilation is the most important factor is preventing infection by aerosols. AC units should be set to vent, not recirculate. Windows should be open if they can be opened. If an indoor setting is crowded or feels stuffy, that’s where aerosolized virus presents a danger. Aerosols are not an issue outside which may be why the BLM protests were low-risk events.

Since COVID-19 might just be transmissible through the eyes, some kind of eye protection might be in order if you have to associate with people in close quarters. All it would take is one good unmasked cough right in your face. For most of us, it doesn’t seem to be worth the effort. There isn’t any evidence that this mode of transmission is common.

Dr. Li Wenliang after coming down with COVID-19.

The first public warnings about a new contagion came from a Chinese ophthalmologist, Dr Li Wenliang who was warned to shut up if he wanted to stay out of prison. He later died of the disease he discovered.

Everyone ought to behave as though they were infectious. Masks are extremely useful against your passing the virus on. It is always in a droplet when it leaves your lungs and can then be caught by a mask. Ventilation indoors serves to dilute the viral concentration so that you don’t receive an infectious dose. Outdoors, normal air circulation is even more effective. Sunshine kills the virus very quickly. The Geroge Floyd protests have shown that large outdoor crowds aren’t a big contributor to infection.


Speaking of WHO, they’ve been forced to revise their COVID timeline a bit. It turns out they did not find out about COVID-19 from the Chinese government on December 31. Their China office learned about it when they saw reports of “unknown viral pneumonia circulating in Wuhan” posted online by… Dr Li Wenliang. After pestering the Chinese government, 9 days later they were informed of “a novel coronavirus that has caused no deaths.”

Hmm…


On the positive side, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals has developed a “cocktail” of antibodies called REGN-COV2 that is based on the most effective antibodies produced by the human immune system. The intent is to administer it to serious COVID-19 infections and to the people who care for them to measure effectiveness and monitor for low-frequency adverse reactions.

Monoclonals
Making monoclonal antibodies.

Since plasma of recovered COVID-19 patients is a rare commodity, the company took an immune cell that had been trained to produce the specific antibodies and cloned it – hence the term monoclonal antibodies. With as many copies of the cell as they need they can spool up manufacturing to whatever level they need.

It is in stage 3 clinical trials which means it is probably safe, probably effective but still needs to be tested on a statistically significant population. This will initially be about 2000 volunteers who have regular exposure to COVID-19 patients and later – if it appears safe and effective – to the patients to see if it shortens recovery time.

Other research indicates the mutation rate for COVID-19 is about half that of the influenza virus. The mutation rate is why every season we need another flu shot because by the next fall the virus has mutated into a form our immune system doesn’t recognize. Having half the mutation rate makes it more likely we’ll be able to stay immune for a while, whether from being infected or from a vaccination. We still might need to update that vaccination every year.

The search for a vaccine is going on at a frantic rate. The Chinese claim to have an effective vaccine but they are only issuing it to their military. Hmm…

There are plenty of other vaccines in various stages of development. AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford has a vaccine in Phase 3 trials that uses a different virus to deliver COVID-19 genes to human cells and provoke an immune response. They think it could be available by October for emergency use and early next year for general availability. Unlike any other vaccine producer, they claim to be able to deliver 2 billion doses.

That still leaves 5 billion other people on a waiting list. But it is a start.