Skip to content

My retweet for today: Monica Lewinsky: “I wish we could prosecute mosquitos.”

photo by Fotoshop Tofs via

This tweet courtesy of Buzzfeed, dated October 17, 2020 at 5:48 AM.

Teenager transmits infection to 11 relatives after negative rapid COVID-19 test: MMWR.

Muscat Avenue with green leaves

During this period (since February) I have been using this blog mostly to document new things I have learned about the novel coronavirus. There is a lot that I don’t document. There may be things that I do document that seem trivial. Nonetheless, each post reflects new knowledge that strikes me as important.

This article in The Washington Post (dated October 15) is an example of reporting about things that strike me as important (even if they are not entirely new): a case report, published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) on October 5.

The Post article states that a 13 year old girl who tested negative twice spread the virus to 11 of her relatives during a three week period during which she visited families in four states. Her only symptom was a stuffy nose. Three of her infected relatives with symptoms tested positive only on blood antibodies, not on the nasopharyngeal (NP) swab with reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR)– which has been described as the gold standard but was early on shown to be false-negative in as many as a third of patients with confirmed infections.

The MMWR reports that eleven relatives who stayed in the same house with the index patient (the 13 year old) developed symptoms and were diagnosed as having COVID-19. Two other relatives who stayed in the same house did not develop symptoms, and six other relatives who stayed outdoors and distanced from the others also remained asymptomatic.

The index patient was exposed in a large outbreak in June and had a rapid antigen test four days after exposure (while she was asymptomatic) that was negative. The test she had was only approved for use during the first five days after symptoms develop, not in asymptomatic patients. This is an example of improper or inadequate testing, followed by failure to isolate.

She did develop a stuffy nose, but apparently was free of symptoms otherwise. This is an example of transmission from a relatively asymptomatic pediatric patient to numerous others, both children and adults. Eventually, she had a blood antibody test that was positive.

Three of the cases did not develop symptoms until two weeks or more after their first contact with the index patient. Two teenagers who were not counted as cases never developed symptoms (one tested negative by RT-PCR and the other was not tested.) Two teenaged cases developed symptoms late; one had a positive blood antibody test and the other was not tested. Both were counted as “probable” cases.

From the conclusion of the report:

This outbreak highlights several important issues. First,
children and adolescents can serve as the source for COVID-19
outbreaks within families, even when their symptoms are mild
(2). Better understanding of transmission by children and
adolescents in different settings is needed to refine public health
guidance. Second, this investigation provides evidence of the
benefit of physical distancing as a mitigation strategy to prevent
SARS-CoV-2 transmission. None of the six family members who
maintained outdoor physical distance without face masks during
two visits to the family gathering developed symptoms; the four
who were tested for SARS-CoV-2 had negative test results. Third,
rapid antigen tests generally have lower sensitivity (84.0%–97.6%)
compared with RT-PCR testing; negative results should be
confirmed with RT-PCR if used for persons with high pretest
probability of infection, such as those with a known exposure
(4). Fourth, regardless of negative test results, persons should self-quarantine for 14 days after a known exposure (5) or after travel
when mandated by state, territorial, tribal, or local authorities (6).
Finally, SARS-CoV-2 can spread efficiently during gatherings,
especially with prolonged, close contact. Physical distancing,
face mask use, and hand hygiene reduce transmission; gatherings
should be avoided when physical distancing and face mask use
are not possible (7).

Thus, we see that rapid antigen tests are not as sensitive as RT-PCR and that a negative rapid test should be followed by RT-PCR when there is a high pre-test probability of infection. The CDC recommends that people in this situation should self-quarantine for 14 days regardless of the test results.

Equally important is the apparent absence of transmission of the virus to people who keep their distance and remain outdoors, even in the absence of face masking. This suggests that outdoor protest gatherings and even rallies are not likely to result in widespread virus transmission.

This blog post is worth reading: “Like a fly on an elephant’s back, your troubles should be”… and other blogs I like.

happy photo courtesy of 5688709 via

This blog post (which is like-fly-elephants-back or “like a fly on an elephant’s back”) is good to read if you need help with “framing” to get through your troubles today. “Framing” is a psychological technique for reducing the obsession we have with the things that are wrong right now.

The blog post explains that we are evolutionarily adapted to concentrate on and remember the things that are wrong, that is, the things we need to pay attention to and fix to get through and live another day (so we can have more children.) So, if we are depressed by thinking about the things that are wrong (that we can’t fix) we need to perform an exercise in framing.

Think hard about the positive things happening today. Fix them in your memory. The negative things will begin to recede. Remember what things were like a year ago– you may be able to think of the positive things, and if you can’t, think harder. The negative things about a year ago have mostly receded (I hope) already, and if they haven’t, think harder. If those negative things are too strong to forget, then you need to speak to a therapist.

Framing, in essence, is just thinking of the negative things as being like a fly on an elephant’s back. The positive things will (I hope) outnumber the negative things.

Here’s another blog I like: “Bits of DNA” and here is the latest post on that blog: “The lethal nonsense of Michael Levitt.” I myself have already contributed several comments to this post. If you have any doubts that trying to achieve “herd immunity” to the novel coronavirus before there is a vaccine is a bad idea, you should definitely read this post.

Finally, if you are really scientifically minded, you should follow “Retraction Watch”, which is a blog that keeps an eye on retractions of scientific papers. It has really blown up in the last several years, and some of its posts are fascinating. In fact, that is where I got the blog post that started this blog post– the one about the fly on the elephant’s back…

Genome sequencing of SARS-COV-2 can help with contact tracing for COVID-19: studies reported in WaPo

SARS-COV-2 particles emerging from a dying cell: EM by NIAID

These reports in The Washington Post describe how genome sequencing can help speed contact tracing for COVID-19, an effort that is otherwise fraught with difficulty. Contact tracing is limited by tracers’ ability to get information from people who may not be willing to talk or who do not remember with whom they came into contact. Having an accurate sequence can narrow down the number of people who were potential contacts or were infected by the same person.

Other countries have done much better than the US, not only in contact tracing by interviews, but also in sequencing the genomes of many more individual virus isolates.

The new article in WaPo (available free at the link) describes a fictional example of how sequencing helps with contact tracing, using novel graphics to help explain the process:

Imagine a place where politicians and public health experts use every tool at their disposal to contain the coronavirus.

Welcome to the fictional town of Scienceville.

I strongly recommend this article to anyone interested in how we can use science to get out of this pandemic more quickly.

A concrete example of how the method works was described in this preprint published on MedRxiv on August 25, 2020. The preprint was also discussed in this story on WaPo. An outbreak in Boston that eventually spread to thousands of people was analyzed by looking at 772 viral genomes, all from within the first week of its spread. Over 80 separate introductions of the virus into Massachusetts were revealed.

Not only do viruses mutate as they are transmitted from person to person, but several variants of a virus may co-infect a single person. This preprint published on BioRxiv (updated on June 2, 2020) discusses significant variation of the virus within individual patients.

Comment of the Day Redux: the email — and other–transgressions of the current administration vs. those of Hillary Clinton et al.

Hillary by John Hain via

The recent tirade by the president includes the fantastic claim that Joe Biden is ineligible to run for president because the Crossfire Hurricane investigation was a coup attempt– and that Hillary Clinton should be in jail too, for her emails.

Of course, members of the current administration, including the presidential daughter, have been guilty of using private emails for official business. The current administration has done more treasonous things than trying to prevent the current president from taking power– which arguably is not treason, but an attempt to save the country from the disastrous “leadership” of the current president…

From this Washington Post story on October 9 comes this comment:

Or [redacted] himself talking loudly on a cell phone in a public place, about his extortion plot with Ukraine.  This wasn’t on a government phone, but on a private cell phone. 

Why is Hillary continually harassed by the media for doing something that was careless, but not a crime? 

[redacted] has done far worse.  The day after [redacted] fired Comey, he celebrated with the Russian Ambassador, even gave him classified information, face to face.  Of course our news media was excluded, but we have a photographic record, courtesy of the Russian press, who were invited into the Oval Office celebration… that [redacted] had successfully removed the man in charge of the FBI and the Russian investigation.  He removed Comey’s successor.  He tried to remove Mueller, but since that failed, he fired AG Sessions and replaced him with Bill Barr.  Who conveniently omitted the second chapter of the Mueller report in his “summary” to the public.  The part where Mueller lays out  multiple instances of obstruction of justice… and posts a final warning that we, as a nation, are in serious danger!

Now we are precariously dangling, over the edge, of a banana republic abyss.   If [redacted] wins the election not [even with– ed.] by popular votes, or votes from the electoral collage, but from his personal nominee at the Supreme Court.  We are finished!  America is done!  This may very well be our last election, and the death knell of us all.  To be at the mercy of an unrestrained, cruel and vindictive madman, and his henchmen… Nazi Germany ring a bell?…  I sometimes wonder, if I am not already dead, and living in a constant state of purgatory.  Out of all the month’s of Hair Fuhrer’s reign, this is the one I have feared the most.  As well as the months leading up to inauguration day.

[redacted] is losing, and he is desperate!  No telling what sort of rabbit he will try to pull out of the hat.
Pray for us!  We need all the help we can get, to rid ourselves of this abomination of a man!

To wordpress programmers: the following bugs need to be fixed: First, the () ‘ keys don’t always work; Second, when using ctrl-V to paste a multiparagraph bit of text into a “quote” block, the quote block disappears and has to be re-placed into each paragraph separately; then, the separate quote blocks have to be re-joined into a single block by going to the junction and pressing ‘back’ key, which joins two quote blocks together.

Thanks for fixing the bugs in the ‘insert link’ feature which changed the highlighted text after finishing the insert operation…

Some thoughts on the president’s apparent recovery from COVID-19: “a Gift From G-d” that may help him lose the the election.

photo courtesy of and Erika Wittlieb

According to this article in The New York Times on October 7, 2020, the president called his illness “A blessing from G-d”, supposedly because he discovered the effectiveness of Regeneron’s experimental monoclonal antibody treatment.

The article notes that the president appeared to be more heavily made up than usual, in a darker shade of orange, and that he seemed to be out of breath at times. This is subjective, but it seems to jibe with other information that has come out: namely, the suspicion that he has COVID-19 pneumonia and his apparent well-being is a result of side-effects from his steroid treatments.

Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody therapy development has been supported by a $500 million grant from the federal government as part of its “Operation Warp Speed” program. The antibody is expensive, difficult, and time-consuming to make. About 50,000 doses have been produced, with the capacity to have 300,000 doses by the end of the year. There have been some statements that suggest that the president was given an extra-large dose; 8 grams intravenously was mentioned, but it is unclear whether that represents a normal dose or not.

A single dose of antibodies would last about a month in the body. An antibody is a large protein, not filtered from the blood by the kidneys, and thus would continue to circulate for some time before it would be degraded. There have been suggestions that it would be useful prophylactically as well as for therapy.

To be clear, this treatment was given in a “compassionate use protocol” as it has not been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for general use. While the president claims he wants “everyone” to get it free of charge, there is not likely to be enough available to treat more than a small fraction of patients who would need it. Regeneron announced that they will request an emergency approval for general use. This will short-circuit Phase III trials now in progress since no-one will want to enroll in a trial where they might get a placebo instead of the real thing.

In addition to the monoclonal antibody, the president was given remdesivir in a standard dose as well as dexamethasone. The dose of dexamethasone was not mentioned, but normally six milligrams daily is given, which is considered a modest dose for this drug. The president’s upbeat mood, energy, and lack of fever has been ascribed to side effects of dexamethasone. How long this would be continued is unclear, although it was mentioned that this is the only drug he is still getting.

Some critics have claimed that the president has been behaving in a particularly erratic fashion since his release from hospital. For example, he stopped negotiations on a coronavirus relief package in Congress which one would think would have helped his re-election chances. The president is normally hypomanic all the time, and the steroids would make him even more manic.

Just today, the president refused to participate in the debate October 15 after it was announced that it would be held virtually. His handlers claim that a virtual debate would allow his opponent to use a teleprompter, a truly absurd accusation. It appears that the president’s real fear is that the moderators would find it easier to cut off his microphone when his opponent is speaking– since he used his open mic to talk over and interrupt his opponent repeatedly during the last debate.

In addition, the president may fear another debate after his drop in the polls following the first debate. Apparently many people were put off by his behavior, calling it bullying and disruptive.

Some misleading statements have appeared, as well as a lack of transparency about the president’s overall condition. For example, the results of his lung scans have not been given; some experts have suggested that the president has pneumonia (which would explain why he was given dexamethasone, which is usually reserved for people with severe disease who are on continuous oxygen supplementation.)

Another example of misleading information was the statement that the president has tested positive for antibodies to SARS-COV-2. It was pointed out that the positive test would most likely be a “false positive” given that he has just received a dose of exogenous antibodies. In fact, we wonder why one would even test for antibodies after having given them, unless they have some way of distinguishing exogenous from endogenous antibodies. For example, a test for IgM antibodies might be performed (the exogenous antibodies are all IgG.) This was not explained.

A final example of lack of transparency that has been brought up: no results of testing for the presence of the SARS-COV-2 virus after the treatment have been given. This test would determine whether he is still contagious to others and help us to determine how well he has responded to treatment. This particular information is especially important.

At last, we have the question of when was the last time the president tested negative for the virus. People who came to the debate last Tuesday were supposed to be tested, but the Republican contingent arrived too late and they were not evaluated. This glaring lack of testing should have halted the debate, but instead the Republicans came in and refused to wear masks during the proceedings.

The lack of information about the president’s virus test results makes his positive test on Thursday night, about 48 hours after the debate, extremely concerning. Was he already positive or during the window of contagiousness at the time of the debate? A lack of information, which the president’s doctors have failed to clear up, has us all concerned about the exposure of others at the debate– especially the president’s challenger in the upcoming elections.

Fortunately, Joe Biden has tested negative so far, but he is, like the rest of us, still not out of the woods.

The president was infected with SARS-COV-2 by one of his aides, possibly Hope Hicks: Slate

photo courtesy of engin akyurt and

This article from Slate magazine on October 6 suggests that our president received his novel coronavirus infection from his aide Hope Hicks. Ms. Hicks was on the plane with the president when he flew from Minneapolis to Duluth on Wednesday, September 30. The article claims that he was already displaying signs of illness.

From the article, on Wednesday: “Hope Hicks, an aide who had been physically close to the president for long periods during the week, felt sick.”

The article goes on to claim that he concealed his illness in order to attend fundraisers where he expected to obtain $5 million from donors.

I don’t know if I buy this whole story, but it does suggest that he was ill before he acknowledged it– and that he knowingly exposed others in his eagerness to obtain more money for his campaign. He definitely needs the money, since he has been significantly outraised by his opponent for two months running.

In fact, he has burned through more than a billion dollars in campaign cash over the last few years– a record amount of money. Despite all that spending, he is losing badly in the opinion polls, and he is getting desperate.

There is a lot to be said for the argument that this president has NOT been tested “every day” or even every other day. He has relied on testing for other people to whom he is exposed– an illogical idea. Chances are that he has not allowed himself to be subjected to an invasive post-nasal swab on a regular basis.

Like everything else, the assertion that this man is being regularly tested is so much prevarication. The rash of infections that have occurred at the White House was inevitable given that no-one there was wearing masks or respecting “social distancing.”

Other news reports say that contact tracing has not been performed to any significant extent and that the CDC’s offer of help was refused. It is the height of irresponsibility during this pandemic to not provide contact tracing to all of the people that the president has been around during the period from September 26 on.

A large event at the White House on that date has resulted in fourteen known cases of COVID-19, including Senators, the head of Notre Dame, and multiple aides. This event, among others in the ensuing days, would have to be thoroughly evaluated by trained contact tracers to prevent further spread of the virus. It will not be traced, and the pandemic will continue to spread unchecked.

How Newt Gingrich led us to the current president: a retrospective: the Atlantic

Swiss Guard at the Vatican– photo by lorenzogallo via

This article in the Atlantic dated October 17, 2018, explains how Newt Gingrich led the Republican Party to its dénoûment today.

When I ask him how he views his legacy, Gingrich takes me on a tour of a Western world gripped by crisis. In Washington, chaos reigns as institutional authority crumbles. Throughout America, right-wing Trumpites and left-wing resisters are treating midterm races like calamitous fronts in a civil war that must be won at all costs. And in Europe, populist revolts are wreaking havoc in capitals across the Continent.

Newt Gingrich was a a 35 year-old college teacher when he entered politics in 1978, finally winning a seat in the US House of Representatives. His message to College Republicans during his campaign was to stop being nice:

“One of the great problems we have in the Republican Party is that we don’t encourage you to be nasty,” he told the group. “We encourage you to be neat, obedient, and loyal, and faithful, and all those Boy Scout words, which would be great around the campfire but are lousy in politics.”

For their party to succeed, Gingrich went on, the next generation of Republicans would have to learn to “raise hell,” to stop being so “nice,” to realize that politics was, above all, a cutthroat “war for power”—and to start acting like it. …

The GOP was then at its lowest point in modern history. Scores of Republican lawmakers had been wiped out in the aftermath of Watergate, and those who’d survived seemed, to Gingrich, sadly resigned to a “permanent minority” mind-set. “It was like death,” he recalls of the mood in the caucus. “They were morally and psychologically shattered.”

But Gingrich had a plan. The way he saw it, Republicans would never be able to take back the House as long as they kept compromising with the Democrats out of some high-minded civic desire to keep congressional business humming along. His strategy was to blow up the bipartisan coalitions that were essential to legislating, and then seize on the resulting dysfunction to wage a populist crusade against the institution of Congress itself. “His idea,” says Norm Ornstein, a political scientist who knew Gingrich at the time, “was to build toward a national election where people were so disgusted by Washington and the way it was operating that they would throw the ins out and bring the outs in.”

The end result of Newt’s plan was the election of 2016, in which the “establishment” candidate was overwhelmed by negative messages from the Republicans and their rumor-mongers about her and her participation in government. Her opponent, on the other hand, claimed to be an outsider and represented an alternative in which government would be radically restructured and even shrunk to the point where it could be “drowned in a bath tub” as one famous Republican, lobbyist Grover Norquist, had it:

I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.

The new president immediately set about filling the administration’s politically-appointed posts with rich sycophants who had no experience in government, or else had spent their previous careers (either in government or out) trying to tear down the departments they headed. The professional career civil servants tried to resist.

The president’s executive orders and the changes he instituted in government rules and regulations destroyed the previous departmental structure. They became demoralized and began to quit or retire. Now we have a number of government departments– most of them, in fact– that are dysfunctional and no longer able to perform the services they were instituted to do.

The Postal Service (USPS) is the latest victim: subsidies were refused, previous unworkable and unsustainably expensive orders were continued (I’m talking about the order to prepay USPS retirees’ health expenses, which predictably is bankrupting the Service), and the only thing that is sustaining the USPS now is the massive increase in package deliveries due to online buying caused by the pandemic.

Predictably, the president has threatened to dramatically increase the charges that USPS would be forced to impose upon packages, to the point where the package senders (such as Amazon) would be better off building their own package delivery services. The loss of package revenue would cause the USPS to be bankrupted within six months. This has been the goal of the Republicans for many years: to destroy the USPS and offload its services to private companies, which could charge more and show a profit.

There are certain services, such as mail delivery and prison administration, which are unprofitable, yet vitally necessary for an orderly society. The Republicans are trying to force private, profit making entities into these vital services at the expense of society. The private provision of critical, yet essentially unprofitable services would make society worse while extending the dominance of capitalism into all areas of life.

There’s nothing wrong with capitalism when it provides non-essential things that can be scaled from really cheap all the way to luxuries– things that poor people can live without. Mild regulations, however– that prevent capitalist entities from cheating people and providing unsanitary or unsafe products and services– are critical to our quality of life.

But essential products and services that give us life or death necessities, like prisons, mail delivery, infrastructure (e.g. roads and sidewalks), and medical care are unsuited to capitalist exploitation. Republicans can not seem to understand the differences between essential and non-essential products and services– they don’t want government entities to provide essential things. Republicans only want government to provide armies and police– instruments of control, both internal and external.

Republicans are trying to give us moral regulations that intrude upon personal privacy and women’s right to control their own bodies. At the same time, they are encouraging capitalist entities to take over all aspects of our lives. They want government to provide only moral regulations and battlefield capabilities (like soldiers and policemen.) We must resist these attempts to control our lives and force us to submit to capitalist exploitation.

Government, when it supplies essential goods and services, doesn’t exert control over us (despite Republican claims that “socialism” tries to “control” us by taxing those of us who can afford to pay)– it gives us a better quality of life, regardless of the sizes of our bank accounts.

Newt Gingrich is one of the main architects of the Republican takeover of government that has resulted in the election of the worst American president in history. Newt has been richly rewarded with a government sinecure– his wife is American Ambassador to the Vatican (a “government” that controls nothing but a huge bank account and a few square blocks of land where the leader of one of the world’s major religions resides.)

Newt is happy with what he is done, and is enjoying the rewards of his political career. We need a different government, and a different Ambassador to the Vatican.

The world today: US is vulnerable, but foreign leaders will not attack until after election. It is time for the US to re-unite and exert its influence for good over the rest of the world.

Boris on Muscat Avenue facing East– personal photo

The following is a completely personal essay. After writing it, I became concerned that it was too controversial– but, really, it’s not. It’s just too long. All the values in it are in agreement with majority public opinion in the United States. So:

This is about the situation in America and the need for us to come together as a country to return to leadership of the world. America’s greatest strength was its aspiration to be a multicultural democracy of immigrants. The Spanish approach– subjection of the aborigines (Native Americans) and forced conversion to Catholicism– was rejected. The English approach– naive, but well-intentioned– was accepted. We didn’t realize that the diseases we carried would wipe out 95% of the aborigines because they had no immunity.

Over the years, our country gradually became more inclusive and less white supremacist, less patriarchal. Under Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, our government began to develop equality of representation and checks against capitalist oppression (Food and Drug Administration, Health, Education, and Welfare, Equal Opportunity Commission.)

But our government has been subverted by ultra-conservatives for the last forty years, left to the mercy of capitalists since the deaths of the Roosevelts, and handed over to a psychopathic narcissist for the last four years.

Now we are in danger of being reduced to a secondary power by China’s new strength and Russia’s attempts to weaken us through internal division. We must not start another war, but we must re-assert our power to protect freedom where it still can exist, especially in Canada, the European Union, England, Australia, Taiwan, and the Philippines (and Iceland.)

With our president suffering the mental effects of COVID-19 and the virus sweeping through the Republican leadership, national security heads say the US is distracted by internal problems. We are uniquely vulnerable because of government corruption and incompetence, the pandemic, and internal dissension over racial injustice.

The leaders of antagonistic countries will not respond yet– they will wait until after the election. Our country is likely to be most vulnerable between the election and the inauguration, a period of two and a half months when we will be consumed by legal and public strife over the outcome of the election.

At this time, most of the world is not ruled by democratic governments. US democracy is in peril. Great Britain is formally democratic, but is suffering from continued strife over COVID-19 and Brexit. India’s democracy has been subverted by nationalism. The European Union, while democratically ruled, is also distracted by the pandemic and the rise of right-wing irredentist forces. Poland and Hungary are in the hands of right-wing nationalists.

The second largest country in the world, China, is in the grip of an authoritarian government that is still resentful over its subjugation by Western countries during the period from before the Opium Wars to the Communist victory in 1949– well over a hundred years. The Chinese are still influenced by their desire to shake off foreign countries’ attempts to control their internal affairs.

Since the Communists consolidated control over the entire country in 1949, China turned inward and tried to develop itself without the malign influence of other countries. They realized that they needed help from the rest of the world in the 1970’s. The radical authoritarian Communist Party has controlled China and shaped the minds of its people for seventy years. Now they are trying to extend their authority over the East with attempts to take over the China Sea and control other countries in Asia.

The Chinese Communist Party has begun to extend its control over other countries in the East, from Vietnam to the Philippines. They have used their economic power through the Belt and Road initiative over many poor countries in Asia and Africa, even into South America. The construction of infrastructure throughout the East has been accompanied by huge loans to poor countries, loans that can never be repaid and that will allow China to exert control over the foreign policies of these countries.

Now the Chinese have come into military conflict with India, at a time when India has been weakened by the pandemic. China has gotten the upper hand over the coronavirus through its massive control over the behavior of its people. India has no such social control, and is unable to quarantine its people as a result.

Russia is no longer democratic and has been attempting to revanch its control over territories it lost when the Soviet Union collapsed. They have regained power over the Crimea and are still attacking the rest of Ukraine. They have attacked Georgia and other small countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union.

After a brief period of chaotic democracy, during which oligarchs bought out industries and infrastructure at bargain basement prices, President Putin has gradually returned Russia to a police state. The oligarchs have cooperated with Putin and exert their power through extralegal means.

The opposition in Russia has been nearly crushed by taking over the media and persecuting dissenters. Physical intimidation and assassination have been freely used by Putin’s internal security apparatus for years, even in other countries.

The Middle East is controlled by authoritarian rulers, both in the Arab countries and formerly democratic Israel. Syria’s Assad and Turkey’s Erdogan are only the worst of these brutal tyrants.

Here in the US, we have been taken over by big capitalist interests. A concerted covert campaign by ultra-conservative forces has borne fruit in the capture of parts of the media (e.g. Fox, Facebook, and One America News Network.) The court system has made corporatist and anti-worker decisions at the same time that marriage rights have been extended to same-sex unions by the pressure of public opinion.

Conservatives have controlled the Senate and the presidency for almost four years, resulting in the appointment of many ultra-conservative judges. The rights granted to same-sex unions and the rights of women to control their own bodies are now at risk; worker’s rights are at an eighty year low. Another conservative Supreme Court Justice will seal the high court for many years against democracy (unless the Senate becomes Democratic and the Court is packed.)

Democracy in the US is in danger of voter suppression and intimidation in an attempt to keep control of the presidency and Senate for ultra-conservatives. At the moment, opinion polls suggest that, if a free election were held in November, the conservatives would lose their positions. The ultra-conservatives are panicking and trying to suppress a free vote.

The world is in a disorganized condition at a time when concerted action is needed to stop the carbon dioxide emissions that are causing global warming. Even the Communist Chinese recognize that our world’s ecosystems are on the brink of critical damage due the increase of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere.

Democratic forces in the US and the European Union can band together with the unfree world to stop global warming. At the same time, we must recognize that we need to oppose the control over unfree populations that authoritarian and nationalist governments exert. Cooperation on global warming must be balanced with opposition against authoritarian governments for their control over their people– and we must oppose their attempts to extend their control to other countries.

Taiwan, Ukraine, and the Philippines, in particular, are at risk and need the support of the US government to resist authoritarian encroachment from the Russians and Chinese. Syria, Lebanon, and many other countries are also at risk or have gone under.

Other countries need us to be free and to exert our powerful influence to protect them. Only the end of Republican government control in this country can lead to our extension of protection to small countries that will otherwise be overwhelmed by Chinese bullying and Russian subversion.

The Russian and Chinese governments benefit by our infighting and weakness. It is time for liberal forces in America to reassert control over our government so that we can help the rest of the world, at least the parts that have not yet been overwhelmed.

This WaPo article from Sep 24 tells how Postville Iowa meat plant COVID-19 outbreak was traced to a single source: free content

Agriprocessors plant Postville via wikimedia commons

This article in the Washington Post from September 24, 2020 tells the story of genomic epidemiologic analysis for the COVID-19 outbreak at a meat-packing plant in Postville, Iowa. It’s a long, detailed, fascinating story for anyone who is interested in how genomic epidemiology can trace the spread of the virus called SARS-COV-2 from one person to another.

The genomic study is described in this MedRxiv article, in pre-peer-review research online.

The WaPo article describes the unique situation in meat-packing plants, where minority, immigrant workers are forced to work close together for low wages at a grueling job– one that has been designated as “essential” by our president as a political favor to his agri-business lobbyist “friends.”

The story also tells how the outbreak was kept a secret. Even the employees themselves were not told who among that had gotten sick, nor how many. The aim? To keep panic from spreading in a small community with few medical resources– a weakness that could easily have been remedied by the company that controlled the plant and the town.

Ironically, in the absence of accurate, timely information, panic spread all the more quickly among the employees and people of the town. In the end, most of the people who worked at the plant were infected. More than a quarter of the plant developed antibodies in a serum study conducted after the outbreak had crested. The town and the area continue to have active cases and mask-wearing is a rare exception among the population, who seem to think the virus is gone.

The plant had a long and troubled history. From the article:

Agri Star confirmed Postville’s first coronavirus cases in mid-March, fracturing the uneasy peace among its diverse residents: the Orthodox Jews who help run the plant, the immigrants from Somalia, Mexico and Central America who make up much of its workforce, the White descendants of the German and Scandinavian farmers who founded the town generations ago.

The plant was targeted by ICE:

Twelve years earlier, the plant had been the target of one of the largest Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in history. The town rebounded after Friedman, a Canadian business magnate, bought the plant out of bankruptcy in 2009. But the effects of the raid are still felt in the way people mostly keep to their ethnic enclaves. Conversations about the coronavirus are held in hushed tones — when they are held at all.

The people working at the plant were also often members of the community:

“The problem was here, but people didn’t want to talk about it,” said one ranch worker, whose wife — an Agri Star employee — was hospitalized with covid-19 for more than a week.

The people who controlled the plant talked about it among themselves, but they didn’t tell the workers:

Agri Star acknowledged three early cases connected to the plant in a brief statement in The Yeshiva World, an Orthodox Jewish online news publication. But Toj and her colleagues, many of whom speak little English, didn’t read the article. Though Guerrero said the company told supervisors to notify anyone who worked near someone who tested positive, six workers who got sick told The Post that no one from the plant warned them about their potential exposure or asked who else they might have infected. Workers said they were forced to triangulate their risk based on snatches of rumor and snippets of fact.

The town had minimal health resources:

The closest health clinic to Postville had so few covid-19 tests that many residents were sent to Gundersen’s main hospital in La Crosse, where Kenny worked, more than an hour away.

The company could have asked for help from the state, but they waited a month after it should have known that it had an uncontrolled outbreak:

The company said it asked the state to test its workers on April 20, more than a month after it confirmed the first infections connected to the plant.

Before then, plant executives told employees to stay home if they had symptoms, Pérez said. That wasn’t much of an option for Agri Star’s low-wage employees, who, like about a quarter of all U.S. workers, have no paid sick leave. The emergency coronavirus legislation passed this March includes a requirement for paid sick leave, but it does not apply to businesses like Agri Star with more than 500 employees — even when workers are instructed to quarantine.

The article goes on to describe the acute, coronavirus-positive illnesses that several workers suffered a few days after they were instructed to clean out the offices, bathrooms, and dining areas that the rabbis had used when they had been certifying the kosher portion of the meat (the rabbis left and did not return to work.) Some of these employees conducted the cleaning without any protective equipment; most of them became ill. One of them called the plant supervisor for financial help when they were forced to stay home due to illness; no help was given.

Townspeople became anxious about the high case counts; “the county’s positivity rate was almost as high as Manhattan’s.” But the state health department refused to disclose anything about the illnesses:

But when the Republican councilman asked the state health department for a breakdown of infections in each of the county’s 18 townships, the state refused.

Officials claimed that would violate medical privacy law, even though many other states stratify case counts by Zip code. The state wouldn’t even tell Ellingson how many cases were in his own town. When he persisted, the department stopped returning his calls.

The reporting from state health department generally is deficient:

review of outbreak data led by former CDC director Tom Frieden found that no state discloses even half of what health experts consider “15 essential indicators” for managing the disease.

As the government shifted its coronavirus reporting system, numbers have vanished from CDC Web pages. News organizations have had to sue for information about racial disparities in deaths. In many Florida counties, officials won’t tell parents whether there are coronavirus cases at their children’s schools.

Iowa is no exception. The state has refused to release its pandemic plan, which guides its response to the coronavirus, saying the document is “confidential.” The health department’s covid-19 dashboard doesn’t list hospitalizations among health care workers or outbreaks in congregate facilities such as homeless shelters and prisons.

The genomic study found that a widespread outbreak centered on the meat-packing plant occurred in late March and early April. This was never acknowledged by Iowa health department officials. The people who worked for the health department were threatened with firing and even imprisonment for reporting on the outbreak. It’s all in the article, and it is outrageous.

Data from the outbreak was reported on MedRxiv by Paraic Kenny, a tumor geneticist:

“A single viral introduction led to unrestrained spread within the facility,” Kenny wrote in a study on the website MedRxiv, where scientists post “preprint” research that has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal. His research, he said, showed “the collateral damage resulting from widespread dissemination of this disease from a meat-packing epicenter across a large midwestern region.”

It’s a long article, but fascinating and outraging if you have any interest in why the US has, as of today, more than 7.4 million known cases of COVID-19 reported– the largest outbreak in the world (with the possible exception of India, which has more than four times as many people as the US.)

The bottom line is that the public health system was completely unprepared to respond to the novel coronavirus, and the authorities and the owners of the meat-packing plant kept everything a secret as much as possible. No one helped– when the CDC could have responded with a lot of assistance if they had been asked.

This is a continuing outrage. As of now, the virus has penetrated to the highest level of government due to secrecy and incompetence. The expertise was available from the CDC, but it was never used because the administration tried to play it down and failed. All because of the colossal ego of one man.