Pandemic Roundup: August 27, 2020

Welcome to the Pandemic Roundup: a weekly curated selection of new information and fresh perspectives on COVID-19. This new roundup publishes every Thursday and grew out of a section in my weekly Cybersecurity Roundup that needed its own space. My intention is for this roundup to have a limited run and to end when it is no longer needed. This is not a linkdump. I read everything carefully, examine the source, and I verify before I trust.

The focus is on the American experience — curating these links came from my own need to find answers and to share factual, practical information with readers at a time when it’s very difficult to cut through the noise and disinformation here.

My lens is human-focused. I curate and comment keeping in mind disenfranchised communities and groups typically excluded from mainstream coverage and issues — at-risk groups, LGBTQ (all bodies, all genders, all orientations), BIPOC, poor and homeless populations, those with physical and cognitive differences/abilities, and I remain staunchly critical of tech, corporations, and classism. Every roundup will be from a harm-reduction perspective.

This roundup is not a call to feel overwhelmed, depressed, nihilistic, fatalistic, make feel you even more tired, or to generate outrage (though all these feelings are extremely justified). Instead I hope to leave you with the sense that I am running toward the fire so we can figure out how to put it out together. While it’s true that in the US right now there are some unbelievably bad people with power who are really trying to kill us, it is equally true that there are far more people with intelligence, resources, and a fierce unrelenting dedication to fight for everyone’s survival. Let me show you.

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Pandemic Roundup links:

* Here is the “shit show” everyone’s talking about right now: incomprehensibly, the CDC now says people exposed to covid do not need to be tested. “CDC’s new guidance recommending fewer people be tested (not to test asymptomatics) — was made “under the cover of night” by WH pressure.” … “The CDC previously had advised local health departments to test people who have been within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes. But on Monday a CDC testing overview page was changed to say that testing is no longer recommended for symptom-less people who were in close contact situations.” This is a mistake because: “80% who get COVID don’t know where they got it. 40% of people are asymptomatic, 1/2 of transmissions occur before symptoms occur.”
CDC changes outbreak test advice, sparking some confusion (Mercury News/AP)

* On the flipside, this is fantastic. In Wednesday’s briefing California Governor Gavin Newsom said: “What is significant in this partnership is we are demanding test results back within 24 hours — at the latest, 48 hours — and we have provisions in the contract to guarantee that turnaround time.”
California Signs Deal to More Than Double COVID-19 Testing Capacity (KQED)

* This explains how covid data (disease surveillance) is used to slow and prevent the spread in other countries, and what it means that the US is “flying blind” right now because the pandemic has been made politically-charged. Also, here you’ll meet some of the people working their asses off to fix this: “Political meddling, privacy concerns and years of neglect of public-health surveillance systems are among the reasons for the dearth of information in the United States.”
Why the United States Is Having a Coronavirus Data Crisis (Scientific American)

* On the other hand, less people will be getting the seasonal flu (as seen recently in Australia) because we’re trying to stay safe from covid. “UCSF doctors on Tuesday warned that the upcoming flu season could hamper efforts to battle covid-19 if left unmitigated by an unvaccinated population.”
UCSF scientists warn of flu season colliding with ‘third wave’ of covid-19 (Mission Local)

* These graphics via Derek Thompson are fantastic, clear, and show “The outdoors are almost entirely in the safe green zone. So is silence in most contexts. Masks + short-term exposure, too. The danger zone = most combinations of shouting, indoors, poor ventilation, extended exposure”
What is the evidence for physical distancing in covid-19? (BMJ)

* My best friend got covid in March and she is still crippled by lingering symptoms. “In the United States alone, which has more than 5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, there are probably hundreds of thousands of long-haulers.”
Long-Haulers Are Redefining COVID-19 (The Atlantic)

* This is clear and helpful (although long). “Name a body part or system and Covid-19 has left its fingerprints there.”
Seven months later, what we know — and don’t know — about Covid-19 (StatNews)

* While in some ways it has declined in much of the developed world, and early treatment was disastrous, “COVID is now the No. 3 cause of death in the U.S. — ahead of accidents, injuries, lung disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and many, many other causes.”
COVID the Third-Leading Cause of Death in the U.S. (Web MD)

* “It was a representative of the Ministry of Health, informing me that I was required by law to leave my premise and report to a hospital that evening. The Saudi government was implementing a mandatory, state-organized quarantine.”
I Wrote a Pandemic Love Story in COVID Prison (Jessica Eise)


Topic of the week: NYT's “free” coronavirus coverage

In addition to the link roundup each week I’ll examine a wider topic. This week it’s so-called “free” coronavirus coverage that requires a sign-up. Some coverage is actually free (no sign-up), like Washington Post’s Live Updates page. Others say they are free and take your data while pretending it’s worth nothing, and that’s a problem.

Six months ago, when many of us began sheltering in place, most paywalled news outlets were publishing covid articles and information behind their paywalls — effectively shutting out segments of the population from life-saving information. I was one of many people who loudly complained about this, and collective outcry moved news ogs into making their covid coverage more accessible.

This was a good thing. There is still just one problem: outlets like New York Times still hide vitally important covid articles behind a sign-up — with the claim that the articles are “free” if a reader signs up for a “free” account. This is deceitful. Forcing people who can’t afford a subscription to sign up is forcing us to surrender our data, our device information, our browsing habits on their websites, and forces us to agree to allow the company and all its partners access to copy, share, and use our data. Also, how well is that data secured?

Take for instance the article What We Know About Your Chances Of Catching The Virus Outdoors (NYT). We scroll down to find out and are blocked. The interstitial reads: “Create your free account or log in to continue reading.” To proceed any further, we must surrender our email address. It’s like going to a covid information desk but you can’t get any information without giving them your phone number. 

Worse, there is nothing on that interstitial telling you what will be done with your email address and all device information/metadata being collected at that moment, or what rights you have to opt-out of anything. No privacy policy, no alternatives.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The only clickable thing is “Subscription options” which gets you that page, plus links at the bottom with a Privacy Policy, California Notice, and an unlinked piece of text that says, “We No Longer Sell Your Personal Information.” You know who else says they don’t sell user data and personal information? Facebook. It’s a semantics game.

Anyway, click on California Notice and you’ll see the amount of data NYT is collecting on reader accounts. You’ll see NYT explicitly acknowledge “the sharing of personal information with third parties in exchange for something of value” — NYT is indeed profiting off everything it can grab from accounts, including everything it can infer (gender, geolocation) and what they get from tracking cookies. Californians can opt-out, but only thanks to our California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (the CCPA).

Imagine you’re a parent scared to send your kid to school because covid kills people, and an in-depth investigation about what’s happening with schools right now might just have more information to help you make the next series of terrifying decisions, ones that could preserve or destroy your family. 

To me, strongarming desperate people for data reeks of blood money. For many, it won’t feel like anything they can fight, or not a big deal for the possibly life-saving information, and that’s fine. But just don’t call it “free” and claim you’re not selling our data.


How to support this roundup 

This weekly roundup is free, and I am a journalist who (along with some amazing colleagues) has been laid off temporarily (we all hope!) due to pandemic cuts.

If you can help me out right now, here’s how: Pitch in here on Patreon, help out with rent on my PayPal, my Square Cash, or my Venmo (MissVioletBlue), or help out with quality of life stuff for me and my sweet cat Max via our Amazon wish list.

Patrons make roundups like this one possible, as well as this three-part series on managing your mental health (and staying sane) online, as well as this guide for Adafruit, Digital privacy and security measures for staying safe while protesting.

If you can’t help out in a concrete way right now, I completely understand. Please consider sharing this free weekly roundup on social media.

Main post image via Lori Granito; second post image of a sign in Atlanta -- via Stacey Stegman.

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