Reports and Reports and Reports

Yesterday, Governor Cuomo announced the results of the state’s “completed antibody testing study, showing 12.3 percent of the population have COVID-19 antibodies” in New York State, and 19.9% in New York City. I’m going to round that 20% if nobody minds.

The NYC number comports with previous estimates, so I don’t see any urgent need to update the numbers, other than to point out that adding up the State’s figures for “Confirmed” deaths (13,538) with the City’s figure for “Probable” deaths (5,387) with my own figure for “Still-ignored” deaths (~4,500) yields ~23,500 COVID-19 deaths in NYC to date which would put the IFR – based on this calculation: 23,500/1,600,000, and using 8 million as the rich-people-absent-adjusted NYC population – at ~1.5%, which is higher than I would’ve expected.

I know I keep promising to write about Kim Phillips-Fein’s excellent book, Fear City – and I will, I promise (though I hope perhaps this long drum roll has stirred your interest in her work in the meantime), but today, I’m both feeling like I felt two months ago – namely, scared by the utter inadequacy of our collective response to this crisis – and wanting to get outside to enjoy the sun with my partner, even if that’s just on the fire escape or something.

Briefly, the streets of the West Village are full. People are wearing masks if and when they please. Lots of people are sitting out on stoops in groups with to-go drinks in a festive mood. It’s not quite a parade environment, but it’s verging on a street fair. I hope I’ve made it clear in recent months that I’m not an ideologue when it comes to personal responsibility and the pandemic. We succeed or fail in this together, and if you did or didn’t wear a mask once – well, who cares? Not me – but when I look around outside right now, it is clear to me we are failing.

In Wuhan, a city of comparable size to NYC that faced a comparably devastating outbreak, it took 75 days (so ~ two and a half months) of strict lockdown to fully suppress the wave of COVID-19, and from what I gather, their measures were much more stringent than our own, and included removing infected people from households to prevent within household/family spread. (Meanwhile, we’re having block parties.) The Chinese Government has obviously also acted aggressively to put in place public health/non-pharmaceutical fundamentals: Testing, contact tracing, isolation and quarantine, etc. I see promising signs here in New York, but it is in no way clear to me that we are doing half of what’s necessary, and yet here we are, acting as if we’re already on the other side of this.

We’re not, and – if I’m not quite “terrified” as I was on March 7th – I’m certainly afraid of where this is taking us. This interview (which starts around the 2 min. mark and resumes at the 31 min. mark) with Dr. Jim Kim – the co-founder of Partners in Health and former head of the World Bank – outlines with remarkable clarity exactly what governments that have successfully confronted COVID-19 to date have done as well as what it is we have failed to do, as yet, in this country. I recommend listening to it.

Among other things, Dr. Kim points out how foolish it is to speak of having “defeated” the virus; in fact, in his view, a key to continued success in confronting the virus is understanding that it is never defeated – at least not until the global deployment of a successful vaccine, or total eradication of the disease worldwide, and even in either of those instances, vigilance would remain necessary.

Ali Alkhatib has a great piece up entitled “We Need to Talk About Digital Contact Tracing” which, in my view, pretty thoroughly dismantles the case being made for the Apple-Google digital exposure/contact tracing API. Read it, please. It’s great.

Lots of people are criticizing the IHME model at this point, which just keeps getting things wrong, while – contrary to overly sanguine perspective that have often been propped up by the IHME model’s overly sanguine numbers – this report, from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota asserts that “this pandemic will not be over soon and that people need to be prepared for possible periodic resurgences of disease over the next 2 years.”

Imagine it’s not 24 months but 26.2 miles – well then, you don’t win a marathon by sprinting to mile marker two, three, or four, and you certainly don’t win it by walking the first quarter and then getting drunk with your friends while smoking a cigarette. Our response has been a national embarrassment. It will very likely mark the end of US world dominance (which, in many respects, could be a very good thing, but my emphasis there is on the conditional), and it will certainly have, and is already having absolutely devastating consequences for tens of millions of people in this country.

I found this “graphical guide” from the journal Nature to the “race for coronavirus vaccines” helpful; it’s refreshingly simple and straight-forward, and you might enjoy having a look.

Finally, I’ve mostly stayed away from the kerfuffle over the latest film from Michael Moore, but to the extent that anyone is still taking Moore seriously, I recommend reading this piece from Josh Fox (the director of Gasland) entitled “Meet the New Flack for Oil and Gas: Michael Moore,” and with the lede: “Planet of the Humans is wildly unscientific, outdated, full of falsehoods, and benefits fossil fuel industry promoters and climate deniers.” Then read this piece from Bill McKibben himself (who is apparently the villain of Moore’s film) from which a gem within the following paragraph stood out to me:

To be clear, I doubt that [building cynicism to undercut the climate movement] was Moore’s goal. I think his goal was to build his brand a little more, as an edgy “truth teller” who will take on “establishments.” (That he has, over time, become a millionaire carnival barker who punches down, not up — well, that’s what brand management is for). But the actual effect in the real world is entirely predictable. That’s why Breitbart loves the movie. That’s why the tar-sands guys in Alberta are chortling. “People are going ga-ga over it,” Margareta Dovgal, a researcher with the pro-industry Canadian group Resource Works, told reporters. The message they’re taking from it is “we’re going to need fossil fuels for a long time to come.”

And finally, in continuing to draw the connection between the crises of pandemic and of global climate disruption, I encourage people to read Kim Stanley Robinson’s recent New Yorker piece, from which I quote:

The virus is rewriting our imaginations. What felt impossible has become thinkable. We’re getting a different sense of our place in history. We know we’re entering a new world, a new era. We seem to be learning our way into a new structure of feeling.

Robinson – whom I heard speak at Columbia just weeks before COVID-19 hit NYC (on a panel from which I don’t believe the disease was mentioned once) – has put it nicely, and I hope his plain-spoken look to the future speaks to many readers as we seek to get through the coming weeks and months (and two years) while also looking ahead to the work ahead of us in this decade and this century.

4 thoughts on “Reports and Reports and Reports

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