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Rates of colds and flu have dropped dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic: at least some people are wearing masks.

2021-01-14

Despite the spiraling rates of coronavirus infection over the last few months, the rates of colds, flu, and other respiratory infections have plummeted. A Washington Post article from January 12 has graphs showing that the winter influenza season this year has simply not materialized. Other respiratory viruses like parainfluenza, respiratory syncytial virus, and human metapneumovirus, have not increased this winter the way they normally do every year.

A news feature article in Nature from December 15, 2020 has similar information. The subtitle says, “Measures meant to tame the coronavirus pandemic are quashing influenza and most other respiratory diseases, which could have wide-ranging implications.” The article says this isn’t just an artifact of reduced reporting: “After the pandemic started, positive tests for the flu virus plummeted by 98% in the United States, for example, whereas the number of samples submitted for testing dropped by only 61%. “

The Nature article states that the flu season in the Southern Hemisphere didn’t happen: “In Australia, Chile and South Africa, a grand total of just 51 cases of flu were spotted in more than 83,000 tests. “We know it’s less transmissible than coronavirus, so it makes sense,” says Olsen, but the decline was still “greater than expected”.”

It’s important to know that the coronavirus is more contagious than regular influenza. So even mask-wearing won’t completely stop SARS-COV-2, but it will block the flu.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a weekly influenza surveillance report; the latest I could find is for January 2, 2021. It states that the incidence of positive influenza tests is 0.1% and that “Flu activity is unusually low at this time but may increase in the coming months.”

So getting a flu shot (which more people than usual have done this year) is not as important as wearing a mask when you go out– but getting your coronavirus vaccine as soon as possible is very important.

On this note, the New York Times reports incredible bureaucratic difficulties in getting reservations online and over the phone for coronavirus vaccines in New York City. Comments to the article indicate a similar situation all over the country. The failure to prepare for the vaccine is yet another disaster preventing the timely suppression of the pandemic in this country.

(photo by pedro wroclaw courtesy of pixabay.com)

A very brief essay on American government: what is a “democratic republic” and what is “freedom”?

2021-01-14
photo by Wynn Pointaux courtesy of pixabay.com

The US is a “democratic republic” in theory. A “republic” is a country ruled by written laws, not run by personal leaders like kings or dictators. A “democratic” country is one that elects its leaders through periodic, ideally secret, voting; the leaders who receive a majority of votes are chosen to represent the people in governing bodies.

What is “freedom” under the law?

Certain written rules make a “democratic republic” a free country. The rules that limit the power of the government are set out in the Constitution or bodies of law. Such rules include, in our Constitution, freedom of speech, freedom of association, the right to petition peaceably for redress of grievances, and the right to worship (or not) in the religion of one’s choice (with the prohibition of government from favoring or restricting any particular religion.) One unwritten rule is that the majority of the people, through their government, cannot restrict the rights of minorities to exercise their freedoms.

Additional written rules characterize the United States as a nation with voting rights for all people who have reached adulthood, automatic citizenship for everyone born within the country, equal protection of the laws, and a prohibition from holding government office to people who have advocated or performed acts of sedition (defined as violent attempts to overthrow the government.)

The right to keep and bear arms– not within an organized militia, but on your own.

The US has enshrined certain unique laws within its written and interpreted (by the Supreme Court) Constitution. One of these, possibly the most unique, is the right of all adults who have not been convicted of felony acts (violent or nonviolent) or certain violent misdemeanors (specifically acts of intrafamily violence known as spouse abuse) to possess and carry in public certain relatively small firearms.

Restrictions upon this right to possess firearms are few in this day and age and include certain weapons that could be construed as “weapons of war” or those that may confer “unfair” advantages upon the possessor. Thus, automatic weapons (those that fire multiple cartridges with a single press of the trigger) and weapons that incorporate noise reducers, known colloquially as “silencers.”

Restrictions upon specific types of firearms vary from state to state. For example, “silencers” (or “suppressors” more accurately, since a silencer merely reduces the very loud noise of a firearm to more tolerable levels rather than silencing it) are broadly prohibited in the state of California but not in many other states.

Limitations upon firearms vary even more. Automatic weapons are not completely prohibited in most states, but regulated by very large taxes that dramatically reduce their availability to the general public. Even ordinary firearms generally are expensive, making the possession of a firearm that is more effective at killing more of a luxury than it would otherwise be.

What is wrong with “freedom” in the US?

The upshot of “freedom to carry a firearm” is that poor people can only afford knives. Freedom comes at great financial cost. Wealth in a capitalist society brings more “freedom.” This is the ugly truth behind American worship of “freedom.”

True freedom means personal responsibility, not the license to impose your opinions on others. That is what too many right-wing people don’t understand: your freedom does not mean that you can impose your ideas of what is right and wrong upon other people. That is what is wrong with the 40% of people who ascribe to the notion that they are “Christian conservatives”: they want to use government to limit the freedoms of other people who don’t agree with them.

What about freedom in other countries?

This essay will be expanded at a later date, and the title will be changed to alert readers of new material.

Multiple reports place police, military, and community pillars in the mob that stormed the Capitol on January 6 after casing the place the day before.

2021-01-14

A few dozen of the people who stormed the Capitol on January 6 have been identified and arrested so far. We can guess that at least 20,000 people were on the Capitol grounds and several hundred gained access to the building after pounding on the locked doors for half an hour. So many did not wear masks, or had other obvious identifying patches, badges, hats, or paraphernalia that hundreds were readily picked out on photo and video.

The people who entered the Capitol did not bother to try to hide their identities. They seemed oblivious to the many cameras or even posed for selfies. A few posed with police officers who were supposed to be keeping them out.

Those who have been identified represent a cross-section of the white community: businessmen, doctors and nurses, politicians, policemen, many ex-military members (and a few current members), and other gainfully employed functioning members of society. There was not a predominance of young agitators; in fact, most of the crowd was not in college nor recent graduates.

There were no left-wing group members identified, despite conservative canards that the violence was perpetrated by Antifa or other agitators. It appears that the left avoided the Capitol on that day. A middle-aged black woman in the crowd outside was assaulted despite her intended appearance to support the demonstration. There were virtually no other black or dark brown people in the crowd.

A more disturbing observation was reported by a Congressperson (an ex-helicopter pilot for the Navy) and enclosed in a letter to Capitol authorities. On the day prior to the assault (January 5), she noticed unusual groups of people apparently touring the Capitol building. She received word from the Sergeant at Arms that any groups would have to have been escorted in by members of Congress or their staffs.

No tour groups have been sponsored in the Capitol since March 2020 as a precaution against spreading COVID-19. The ex-Navy pilot described the unusual groups as appearing to be engaged in “reconnaissance” and an attempt to figure out which way was best to enter the House floor or the Senate chamber. These groups, if they were brought in by members of Congress or their staffs, suggest a higher level of organization than has been proposed.

These reconnaissance groups, along with the two distracting pipe bombs in nearby buildings that were discovered before they could explode, suggest a more intense and comprehensive organization. These suggestive findings are sinister to contemplate. Conspiracy theories about attempts to take members of Congress hostage or even murder them are hard to avoid. We should try to maintain open minds and not assume that there has been a deep conspiracy afoot, but neither should be be naive about this situation.

We are suffering under an avalanche of COVID-19 infections, with record hospitalizations overwhelming hospitals all over the country. Vaccinations cannot come too soon. At the same time, we should be alert for opportunistic attempts to overthrow our democratic form of government.

(sleeping fox by pexels via pixabay.com)

Comments of the Day: Capitol Police Officer is killed by a blow to the head with a fire extinguisher– delivered by a supporter of the current president.

2021-01-11

Here are some comments from a New York Times article about the death of Brian D. Sicknick, a Capitol Police officer who was murdered while trying to defend the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021 from a mob of more than ten thousand mostly young, overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly male people who had been infected with a “brainworm.”

The term “brainworm” comes from a reference by a commentator on MSNBC today who described the people who were convinced by the lies from the current president about the election held last November. To recap, the current president claimed that he had won the election “by a landslide” when in fact, in a free and fair election, he had lost by a margin of more than seven million votes and an Electoral College score of 306-232 (I looked this up on archives.gov/electoral-college/2020 so I’m pretty sure it’s correct and our current government says our current president lost the election officially.) The people who believed him were also deluded by a number of other lies, but the main lie was the actual, not fraudulent, results of the election.

Anyway, “brainworm” it is– the term for being overcome by a barrage of “big lies”, conspiracy theories and just plain “gaslighting” (another recently popular term.)

Here are a selection of most-liked comments to the article:

Northernd Toronto Jan. 8

Times Pick

We can not judge the capital police too harshly who were on ground [who] were there and don’t know what was going through their minds re: selfies, moving aside and letting people pass. [And] I’m certain most of those officers were doing their jobs. But we certainly can judge the lack of preparation by the chief and the lack of involvement by other security forces. On the other hand the world cannot judge Trump harshly enough. It is truly unbelievable and unfair if that man doesn’t end up in prison. He has had a hand in the four deaths at the Capital building and countless other deaths from his mishandling the Covid-19 crisis. I say mishandling but it was worst than that – he just didn’t care. Time for Trump to face justice. If Trump doesn’t pay a price of his freedom then there will never be justice.

Dotconnector New York Jan. 8

Times Pick

Beyond Jan. 20, let us never forget the names of the complicit, starting with Hawley and Cruz. Meanwhile, they’re raising funds from the fires of deadly insurrection that they fueled. Such so-called politicians are unfit to hold any political power. Ever.

EPMD MA Jan. 8

Times Pick

The willingness to tolerate this white mob lead to the death of this officer. I am astonished that the Capitol Police force did not use deadly force to stop these rioters from entering federal property where national secrets are kept. None of them should have been allowed to cross the threshold of the Capitol buildings and the officers should have shot anyone who crossed it. Any foreign or domestic terrorist, could have entered with that mob and possible killed dozens of these members of the Congress and Senate and possibly the VP or stolen national secrets. Senator Warnock was arrested in 2017, as part of a peaceful protest, in the same Capitol Building and lead away in handcuffs. How much of a threat was he compared to armed rioters? The police should never have been allowed them to cross the threshold. The same way I would expect them to use deadly force against a possible foreign terrorist forcibly trying to enter any one of our most secure government buildings.

VMG NJ Jan. 8 [reply to EPMD]

@EPMD I agree, there was a joint assembly of Congress in process and a well placed bomb could have wiped out our government in a single stroke. Many more heads need to [roll] for the catastrophe.

esox lucius Jan. 8

I have entered my ninth decade as a citizen of this country, and I will not likely be around long enough to see it repaired of the damage done by Donald Trump and the man who prepared the ground for him, Rupert Murdoch. We all struggle against our darker impulses, hopefully prevailing most of the time. But for 25 years, Fox News, and its online imitators, have glorified and legitimized those impulses, fertilizing and tilling the soil for the poisonous growth that became the Trump presidency. My deepest sympathy to the family of Brian Sicknick, and God help us all.

Some readers have also pointed out that the literal pipe bombs that were found at the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee offices a few blocks from the Capitol were intended to distract police from the mayhem taking place in and around the Capitol.

These bombs suggest that there was a group or groups who intended to make the disaster even worse by preventing the police from effectively responding to the invasion of the Capitol building. What role did these groups have in the planning and execution of the gathering at the Capitol? Did they intend to actually take hostages?– Clearly, even if they did, they had few or no people on the ground in the front of the crowd.

There is also another threat that could disperse the National Guard: demonstrations at the State Capitol buildings, similar to what happened on January 6. There were demonstrations and threats of similar violence at many State Capitols on the same day the whole nation was watching Washington, DC. This could force the National Guard to mobilize to protect the States as well as the national capitol. It is time to provide active duty military forces to protect the entire country– activate them now, because it takes time for them to get together and prepare their equipment.

At a time when the pandemic has worsened to the point where an average of a quarter of a million new positive tests are reported every day and the death rate has exceeded 4,000 people on some days, this is the threat that could turn our country into a disaster area. Experts are saying that the riot on January 6 represented a “super spreader” event– with many asymptomatic, unmasked people getting together from around the country, shouting and screaming for hours, then getting on planes and going back home. An untold number of new infections will be started all over the country; no-one will be able to count them accurately because they are so spread out. The only thing that we will be able to see is that the overall, country-wide new case rate will go up, again.

Whose fault is it? You know his name. Just don’t say it because that’s what he wants– more publicity.

(photo courtesy of pixabay.com)

CDC modelling shows asymptomatic carriers are responsible for more than half of new COVID-19 infections

2021-01-07

A model of SARS-COV-2 transmission published in JAMANetwork Open from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on January 7, 2021 shows that more than half of new COVID-19 cases are passed on by asymptomatic or presymptomatic carriers.

From the abstract:

Design, Setting, and Participants  This decision analytical model assessed the relative amount of transmission from presymptomatic, never symptomatic, and symptomatic individuals across a range of scenarios in which the proportion of transmission from people who never develop symptoms (ie, remain asymptomatic) and the infectious period were varied according to published best estimates. For all estimates, data from a meta-analysis was used to set the incubation period at a median of 5 days. The infectious period duration was maintained at 10 days, and peak infectiousness was varied between 3 and 7 days (−2 and +2 days relative to the median incubation period). The overall proportion of SARS-CoV-2 was varied between 0% and 70% to assess a wide range of possible proportions.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Level of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from presymptomatic, never symptomatic, and symptomatic individuals.

Results  The baseline assumptions for the model were that peak infectiousness occurred at the median of symptom onset and that 30% of individuals with infection never develop symptoms and are 75% as infectious as those who do develop symptoms. Combined, these baseline assumptions imply that persons with infection who never develop symptoms may account for approximately 24% of all transmission. In this base case, 59% of all transmission came from asymptomatic transmission, comprising 35% from presymptomatic individuals and 24% from individuals who never develop symptoms. Under a broad range of values for each of these assumptions, at least 50% of new SARS-CoV-2 infections was estimated to have originated from exposure to individuals with infection but without symptoms.

Conclusions and Relevance  In this decision analytical model of multiple scenarios of proportions of asymptomatic individuals with COVID-19 and infectious periods, transmission from asymptomatic individuals was estimated to account for more than half of all transmissions. In addition to identification and isolation of persons with symptomatic COVID-19, effective control of spread will require reducing the risk of transmission from people with infection who do not have symptoms. These findings suggest that measures such as wearing masks, hand hygiene, social distancing, and strategic testing of people who are not ill will be foundational to slowing the spread of COVID-19 until safe and effective vaccines are available and widely used.

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2774707

This study was reported in the Washington Post today with commentary. The article is freely accessible via the link– you don’t need a subscription to the Post to read it. Sorry I don’t have time to go over the study and comment in detail, but it basically confirms what scientists have been saying for months: the virus is spread by asymptomatic carriers in roughly half of cases.

Carriers don’t have as much virus in their breath as people who are sick (especially those who are gravely ill) but they spread the virus just as readily, and the higher contagiousness of the new UK strain B.1.1.7 makes this even more dangerous.

(Electron Micrograph of SARS-COV-2 from Groopman lab)

Double Standard evident in treatment of White “protestors” at Capitol evident to all but white supremacists. Black lives don’t matter enough to the police.

2021-01-07

I neglected to mention in my previous rant about yesterday’s riot at the Capitol that the double standard displayed by DC police in their treatment of the white mob yesterday was starkly apparent even to those who have not been paying attention.

The juxtaposition of the Bible-toting president walking through a square violently cleared of peaceful protestors on June 1, 2020 with the lack of excitement showed by White insurrectionists says volumes about the attitudes of Capitol police and Washington DC metropolitan police.

Clearly, white lives matter more than black lives to the police.

(photo by Dkadume courtesy of pixabay.com)

“… Who are the enablers?” Businesses who wanted lower taxes, less regulation, and access to power have enabled the soon-to-be ex-president.

2021-01-07

Who has been enabling the president’s actions and the wide swath of damage he has wreaked upon the government– not to mention the damage to the country?

Who are the people who, actively, or passively, helped the president get to the position he has been in for the last four years, and especially yesterday? Before we answer that question, let’s review what happened yesterday.

What Happened Yesterday? A riot.

The soon-to-be ex-president has been promoting a “wild” rally in the capital for weeks. He has been saying the election was “rigged” for months– well before mail-in ballots were even solicited. He lied to everyone about the role the Vice President could play in front of Congress yesterday– and called him a coward when Mr. Pence gave a written statement that he couldn’t and wouldn’t play that role.

When the crowd assembled– many people, possibly hundreds of thousands– he gave a speech just before Congress was to meet to ceremonially confirm the decision of the Electoral College. In that speech, he repeated the same lies he has been telling for months.

Instead of his promised “facts” about alleged fraud and illegal voting, he rehashed a litany of debunked conspiracy theories and wrong statistics. He repeated the canard that the election must have been stolen because so many Republicans thought it was stolen– ignoring the fact that he was the one who had been telling them all along that it would be stolen.

He told the crowd that, if Vice President Pence had the courage, he could simply invalidate the results of the Electoral College unilaterally. He said that the Congress was getting ready to complete the process of “stealing” the election from him and had to be stopped.

He told them to march down Pennsylvania Avenue and make sure that the Congress didn’t certify the votes of the Electoral College. He told them to be “strong”; he said that his own Vice President (who had wisely and publicly concluded that he had no power to abrogate the Electoral College’s conclusion) was “weak” and a traitor to his cause.

So the crowd walked down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol Building and entered it, as easily as you please. The police were unprepared for the pressure of the crowd– they were undermanned and underequipped, almost by design. They were so undermanned that they would not have been able to stop them without shooting, which they were loath to do because many had friends in the crowd (and there were no Black or Brown people to shoot at.)

It took six hours for the Capitol police, reinforced by hastily called-up FBI SWAT teams, city police, officers from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF), and several other agencies, to clear the Capitol. They were so undermanned that they couldn’t arrest anyone because they didn’t have enough officers to keep arrestees under control (at least that’s what they said.)

Who done it? (who made it possible?)

So who is responsible for the behavior of the President of the United States? Who has enabled his five-year reign of lies? Who allowed him to incite a riot? (Seriously, all the elements of the offense are there; it only takes a courageous prosecutor to assemble them and present the facts to a jury.)

It was business leaders who contributed money to all of the Republican PACs that enabled him to pay for all his publicity and his thinly disguised bribes. It was business leaders who paid for the mailers soliciting more money from individual Republican voter/donors. It was business leaders who decided that televising his rallies in full was good for TV’s bottom line. It was business leaders who wanted what he had to offer: a plan tailored to suit the interests of every billionaire and would-be billionaire– tax cuts for the rich and corporations, fewer pesky business regulations, conservative business-favoring judges, and hollowing out government agencies meant to keep business honest.

Here’s a quote from Andrew Ross Sorkin, a business reporter for the New York Times, in an article on January 7, 2021, about who is responsible for the money that has supported the soon-to-be former president for the last five years:

Yet in this moment when our democracy is under siege, important questions must be asked about business leaders who enabled Mr. [redacted] and, in turn, share some degree of responsibility for the disgraceful acts that took place in Washington yesterday.

And there were many enablers — educated, smart, articulate, often wealthy people who were willing to ignore Mr. Trump’s threat to democracy in the name of economic growth, lower taxes, lighter regulations, or simply access and proximity to power.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/07/business/dealbook/capitol-mob-enablers.html

These business people who held the purse strings and made the decisions are responsible for the mess we are in now. They made it possible for the man who will not be named to ride down the golden escalator and speak to a crowd who was paid (reportedly $50 a head) to listen to his seditious lies as he launched his candidacy for president.

These are the people who most need to be held accountable, and are least likely to suffer in the slightest from the deadly riots yesterday in our capital. One woman was shot dead by police while trying to break into an interior room in the Capitol Building– she should have known better; she was a combat veteran who should have been at home with her husband no matter how much she disagreed with the politics of Joe Biden. Three other people died in “medical emergencies”, meaning they may have suffered fatal heart attacks from the chaos and excitement yesterday.

Stephen Schwarzman, head of Blackstone, is one enabler.

All of these people’s blood is on the hands of the soon-to-be ex-president and his enablers– and they know who they are. Many of them are already furiously trying to cover their tracks.

Here’s a quote from Stephen Schwarzman, the 73-year-old cofounder and CEO of the Blackstone Group, a ” private equity alternative investment management firm” (Google). Mr. Schwarzman was one of the soon-to-be ex-president’s “most ardent backers and confidants on Wall Street” (New York Times). This statement was quoted from the above article in the Times:

The insurrection that followed the president’s remarks today is an affront to the democratic values we hold dear as Americans. I am shocked and horrified by this mob’s attempt to undermine our constitution.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/07/business/dealbook/capitol-mob-enablers.html

I think he would have better said, “I am shocked, shocked to find that there is gambling going on in there.”

[For non-Casablanca fans, that’s what the police captain said when he was asked why he was shutting down Rick’s Saloon… then he was handed his evening’s winnings, which he had received as a slightly disguised bribe from Rick, and said, without evident surprise, “Oh, thank you.”]

(photo by Andrew Martin courtesy of pixabay.com)

“As a country, we need genomic surveillance,” of SARS-COV-2, “It needs a federal mandate.” The virus will mutate beyond the control of vaccines.

2021-01-06

The US has failed to perform genomic surveillance of the SARS-COV-2 pandemic, despite having one of the worst infections of any country in the world by the numbers. Less than 0.4% of SARS-COV-2 infections documented by PCR have had genomic sequencing in this country. Britain has had more than 7% of its infections sequenced. As a result, the British have been able to identify a new and dangerous mutation known as B.1.1.7, a variant that is more than 50% more contagious than the original virus.

See the New York Times article today, January 6, for details of the American virus sequencing deficiency. It is alarming– or prophetic of doom if we do not act now– the federal government must start sequencing at speed.

If we do not get this virus under control quickly, the mutations will soon cause it to escape the vaccines. If that happens, we will have to start all over again with new vaccines– this time against multiple variants of the virus. A return to normalcy could soon be simply an illusion.

(SARS-COV-2 electron microscopic photo courtesy NIAID)

The Georgia special election for the Senate is going for the Democrats: Warnock and Ossoff are the winners. Hillary Clinton’s revenge is complete.

2021-01-06

It’s all over but the shouting. Warnock has been declared the winner over Loeffler, and Ossoff is leading Perdue by at least 0.51% with over 98% of votes counted.

Stacy Abrams has been organizing Black people for over two years and registering them to vote. She has succeeded, at least partially. Voter suppression in Georgia has been overcome sufficiently to allow Democrats to win at the Senate level as well as the Presidential level.

At Washington, DC, where the two new Senators will be seated, a riot has been going on in slow motion. The police have clearly not been mobilized well enough to control the crowds, who remain in control of the outside of the Capitol. Apparently the inside of the Capitol is slowly being cleared of protestors by police. The National Guard is on its way, and a curfew has been declared for 6PM– an hour after sunset.

The win in Georgia has been accompanied by a loss in the nation’s capitol. Insurrectionists have been in control of the Capitol, walking calmly through Statuary Hall and occupying the Senate chamber. This is a sad day for our country, but it’s always darkest before the dawn (or brightest at sunset, if you prefer.)

(Hillary by John Hain via pixabay.com)

An attempted coup by protestors in the capital of Washington DC is in progress right now on television. I know whose fault it is: the current president.

2021-01-06

I am watching on television an out-of-control crowd of protestors that has breached the Capitol building and has been walking through Statuary Hall. Tear gas has been released on the Capitol steps. The current vice president, who is serving as President of Congress during the Congressional certification of the completed Electoral Count, has been ushered off the floor by the Secret Service.

Apparently the current president went before the protestors at noon local time or before to egg them on and they have responded by pushing into the Capitol building to interrupt the procedure of certifying the election.

Narrators on the news station don’t know what is going on; they are showing pool cameras from the outside and inside of the Capitol without being able to clearly describe events.

The cameras have shown protestors on the steps of the building and on the balcony at the top of the stairs. Now a cloud of vapor has appeared on the front of the building.

There is a protestor on the dais of the Senate, shouting “[redacted] won the election!” The National Guard has been formally requested to come to the Capitol building to clear out protestors.

This is clearly an attempted coup by the grass-roots of the Proud Boys and other far-right demonstrators.

Mitt Romney told a reporter for the New York Times that what is going on is an “insurrection.”

(picture by Open Clip Art Vectors courtesy of pixabay.com)