Pandemic Roundup: December 31, 2020

Welcome to the Pandemic Roundup: an inclusive, curated selection of new information and fresh perspectives on Covid-19 published every Thursday.  And yes, that Covidopoly game is real and it is free.

This week: US vaccine rollout is glacial, there was a vaccine saboteur, more Americans died in 2020 than any other year in American history, there are 18-hour waits for ICU beds in LA and the sheriff is arresting partiers, the super-contagious mutation is now here, nurses across the US are literally breaking... Plus new info on Long Covid, what happened to those cruise ships, restaurant patrons are terrible, and much more.

Skip to the end to see why I think we should still celebrate the New Year.

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Vaccine news

Exuberance and excitement about vaccination in the US was quickly replaced by anger and frustration as the vaccine rollout has become “a nightmare” according to Kaiser Health News (among others).

Many states did not get the allotments of doses they expected. Worse: the stupidly-named federal “Operation Warp Speed” is moving so slowly that “Adequately vaccinating Americans will take 10 years at current pace,” reported NBC News.

According to NBC’s numbers, to achieve widespread immunity 80% of America’s 30.7 million population would need to be vaccinated — 3 million a day if late June is the goal. Currently, only 2 million (total) have been vaccinated in the past two weeks. Intelligencer (NY Mag) puts it closer to seven years. They wrote: “in many places, this first batch of vaccine is set to expire in late January, around the time Joe Biden, who has been criticizing the rollout and promising to accelerate it, is set to take office.”

The Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is set to be authorized for emergency use in the US (it already is in the UK) but we won’t see it until at least April. And it’s looking like if you want to travel next year, you’ll be needing a vaccine passport.

Stanford University deserved all the ire it received when the first vaccine doses didn’t go to frontline doctors and nurses but instead went to senior staff working from home (among others), blaming the favoritism on an algorithm. Well oops, they did it again: over the weekend non-clinical and non-frontline affiliates and researchers got the next round of shots in what they are characterizing as a “mistake.”

There are mistakes, and then there are monsters. Healthcare network Advocate Aurora acknowledged Wednesday that in an intentional act of sabotage, an employee at its Grafton hospital (Wisconsin) intentionally “removed the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from a refrigerator resulting in nearly 500 doses having to be thrown away.” The employee, no doubt suffering from Facebook brain poisoning, has been fired and authorities have been called in.


The new Covid-19 strain is here

Two weeks ago we saw a new Covid-19 variant come out of the UK and learned that it made this extremely contagious virus somehow even more transmissible; it had traveled to various EU countries by last week.

Now it is in the US, identified in Colorado and Southern California so far. On Monday the CDC issued a warning about this more contagious strain. More states are expected.


United States updates

More Americans died in 2020 than any other year in American history; nearly 345,000 as I write this. One out of every 1,000 Americans have now died from Covid-19.

On Christmas in Los Angeles, one person died from Covid-19 every ten minutes. Hospitals are placing patients in conference rooms and gift shops, some operating at 140% capacity. Sunday hit a breaking point for the LA County-USC Medical Center.

“There was not one available bed for at least 30 patients who needed intensive or intermediate levels of care, and the hospital had to shut its doors to all ambulance traffic for 12 hours,” reported Los Angeles Times. Some “experienced wait times as long as 18 hours to get into the intensive care unit.”

On Monday Los Angeles shattered its daily record for Covid-19 deaths (227 in one day) while California neared 25,000 deaths total. California now has the worst Covid-19 spread in the US.

LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva tweeted “During the month of December, 235 arrests were made… I have made it clear that we will seek out & take law enforcement action against all “Super-Spreader” events [and underground parties].” San Diego is following suit.

If only officials were as aggressive in other locations — or similar hard lines had been taken to prevent this year’s unreal amount of holiday travel. On December 28 the TSA tweeted that it had: “screened 1,284,599 people at airport checkpoints nationwide yesterday, Sunday, Dec. 27. It is the highest checkpoint throughput since the pandemic hit. It is also the 6th day in the last 10 that volume has surpassed 1M.”



More on Long Covid

This week I came across the Patient-Led Research website for Long Covid, and it looks like they’ll be releasing new research soon. Amng what they’re finding out, the symptom list alone is shocking.

One thing is clear: ‘Long Covid’ is anything but a mild illness (Guardian).


Vaccine for me, but not for thee

Excluding HIV-positive people from Covid-19 vaccine trials not only disproportionately affects LGBTQ people, it also impacts BIPOC populations. Fortunately, people fought tooth and nail to get Pfizer and Moderna (only) to change course, but both vaccine makers refused to comment on the record about it.

“Even though [Lynda Dee, executive director of AIDS Action Baltimore] was able to exert pressure on much of the hulking bureaucracy that decides who gets injected first, she still laments that it took so long for the vaccine makers to change their rules.

“We got ’em in,” she said, “but my God, what a mistake,” she said of the initial exclusion of those with HIV… Dee, who watched all of her friends die of AIDS in the ’80s, said she’s ready for this next fight.” —Inside the fight to include HIV-positive people in Covid-19 vaccine trials (NBC News)


Don’t be that guy

What kind of people are going to restaurants during a pandemic? The worst kind.

“Working at a restaurant in 2020 has meant constant exposure to people who don’t take safety, or the health of service workers, seriously. Abigail recalls overhearing a table at her previous restaurant discussing how they recently attended a huge party at a local creek in the hopes of catching COVID-19 and “getting it over with.” “I had to warn the server and the bussers to make sure to wash their hands extra after dealing with this table,” she says. “It’s just so awful.”
…Many customers refuse to wear masks, or get angry when asked to wear a mask at the door. “We call them ‘mask-holes,’” says an operations manager of a restaurant group in Mississippi who asked to remain anonymous. They often take their anger out on the people working at the host stand, who are frequently some of the youngest employees of the restaurant group.” —The Customer Is Not Always Right (Food & Wine)


About those cruise ships

Content warning for suicide. In the pandemic’s early months, cruise ship quarantines garnered much attention. Passengers were eventually released and flown home — but the ship’s crews did not receive the same treatment.

“After the guests went home, tens of thousands of workers stayed at sea for months. Some described feeling like prisoners or pieces of cargo with no ETA…
Separated from families, confined mostly to tiny cabins, with no obvious legal recourse and at times no pay, sailors experienced a more extreme version of the household lockdowns that have sent people tumbling into depression.
…In addition to the estimated 100 or so passengers and crew who died of causes linked to Covid, there have been at least a half-dozen other fatalities among crew members who were trapped at sea. Most of these are suspected suicides.” —The Cruise Ship Suicides Began After the Last Passengers Left (Bloomberg)

Our nurses need nurses

A lot of people — especially frontline healthcare providers — are openly wondering just how much anyone cares about them anymore. In a stunning and moving op-ed, a Seattle pediatric emergency physician wrote, “Compassion fatigue is real, especially all these months into a pandemic when it appears that half the population of this country no longer cares, about their loved ones, about their neighbours, or about you.”

“While constraints on hospital capacity and resources are a very real and present danger in many places around the US, every healthcare worker I know is enduring significant psychological distress from the callousness we perceive around us in the world, the oath we have taken to maintain compassion in the face of it all, and the crisis of reconciling these two realities.”

ProPublica did an 8-month investigation into the Department of Veterans Affairs, (America’s largest hospital system) pinpointing why doctors and nurses must still ration masks, make PPE, why patients are dying alone without equipment that might’ve kept them alive, and more. It will be important evidence if we can ever hold those responsible to account. “Those of us who don’t die,” a nurse told the outlet, “are going to quit.”

“Cline knew she needed to protect herself before entering the room, where a second COVID-19 patient was trembling under the covers, sobbing. She reached for the crinkled and dirty N95 mask she had reused for days.
In her post-death report, Cline described how the patient fell victim to a hospital in chaos. The crash cart and breathing bag that should have been in the room were missing. The patient wasn’t tethered to monitors that could have alerted nurses sooner. He had cried out for help, but the duty nurse was busy with other patients, packed two to a room meant for one.” —“Those of Us Who Don’t Die Are Going to Quit”: A Crush of Patients, Dwindling Supplies and the Nurse Who Lost Hope (ProPublica)

One year in

The ‘plague year’ article in this week’s New Yorker reads like a dystopian crime noir novel, and it is the only thing I’ve read so far that succinctly distills everything that’s happened so far. Unlike other media storytelling of late, it does not hold back when it comes to naming and blaming. I recommend it highly (fyi it’s a longread).

“He offered to send a C.D.C. team to Wuhan to investigate, but Gao said that he wasn’t authorized to accept such assistance. Redfield made a formal request to the Chinese government and assembled two dozen specialists, but no invitation arrived. A few days later, in another conversation with Redfield, Gao started to cry and said, “I think we’re too late.””
The Plague Year (New Yorker)



Thank you for being here

When I started doing this Pandemic Roundup in August I had been incorporating Covid-19 news items into my Cybersecurity Roundup since January. My intent was (and still is) that the Pandemic Roundup is temporary. A way for us to put all the moving parts into perspective once a week so we can navigate sailing through the storm. 

I'll be honest: common sense told me a year ago that I might still be writing about it now. Six months ago I knew I'd be writing this roundup for at least another year. Not because I believe we'll still be in hell by June 2021, but at the very least because I want to make sure we observe the beginning, middle, and end stages of this. Why? So we have markers, so we can get a sliver of closure. You know, that thing denied to us by breakups, by death, by injustice, by projects we can't finish for whatever reasons, by dreams.

It's New Year's Eve. I'm trying to decide what to wear for my living room party of one (plus two luscious chonky cats who I now know may be smarter than half of the entire United States). 

San Francisco is half-empty, in shelter-in-place, under a curfew, and we are fighting like hell to get people to stay home, not gather, stay masked. The Examiner recently had a cover with a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge with a headline in bold reading, "No Traffic, No Tolls." Our annual fireworks are canceled and there is no extended nighttime BART or MUNI (bus, subway) service. 

Despite a variety of signs on every light pole, door hangers on our front doors, messaging on every social media account, emergency text messages we all get from the city, plus the daily videos and broadcasts from City Hall... my landlord is having a multigenerational family party next door to my apartment tomorrow. Meanwhile, my apartment's heater is broken but since my landlord quit masking a while ago, I'm cold because I don't want him to come in and try to fix it. New quandary. Freeze or die?

As always I am invited to the big party next door. I have gone every year. They know I have no living family so they always include me. At it, people are awkward but welcoming. Many of them have privately. politely told me why. They're awkward because I'm not their family, that they consider my confusing no-family situation inconceivably broken (plus I have the extra outsiderness of not being Filipino or Catholic), yet they always have a seat for me. But lately I never see any of them in masks. 

With social situations I'm normally the proactive one about safety, the one who figures out a clever social-engineering way to prompt people into considering safer behavior. Yet with this situation (and others) I find myself staying a minimum of six feet away in my mask and just making polite conversation until I can safely exit. I don't know what else to do. It sucks. I wish I had someone to talk to about it when it happens. But I know that no one knows what to do in these new situations. We're all here without a map.

I'm reminded of a scene in the BBC show Killing Eve where an operative survives an assassination attempt and wakes in a hospital bed well aware of what's happened, to a clueless nurse asking if he's been under any stress lately. And he just cracks up laughing, looking around like omg anyone else seeing this?

For the past week my newsfeeds have been subsumed by existential struggles in which media outlets and columnists try to project content that will make people feel better. Can you imagine being assigned a hopeful year-end piece right now? Or just having to sum up the year in a way that avoids swearwords and pleases advertisers. Or worse, like, who is the monster pushing articles right now about NYE lipstick trends?

I resent all of it. My feeds are avoiding the pain and fumbling for meaning. A pastiche of normalcy ("pandemic party trends"). "Both sides" sympathy for people who've made it all worse ("living with Karens") as if we could all just carry on after this. Pretending we'll wake up tomorrow in 2021 feeling different, or like I'm seeing on social media, making fun of people who are hopeful that we might.

We might. There are myths we tell ourselves to make us feel better. We've seen a lot of that this year, deadly myths. But I think New Year's 2020-2021 is not one of them. 

This silly holiday... Look, it feels more arbitrary than ever after a year passing warpy-weird for all of us, and time becoming malleable in lockdown. I think this New Year's offers something we really need for the first time in my lifetime, at least. It offers something our year of anguish, loss, and grief (plus the horrible feeling of anticipating grief) denies us. A slice of closure.

I'm big on setting intentions when I come to turning points, opportunities for closure, moving through the hard and ouchy parts of change, of going through doorways from one thing to the next. So let me set a couple of things here for our New Year -- and I thank you for indulging me. I've lost so many people. Another friend yesterday.

Change isn't about losing what you love. it's about seeing the world through new eyes.

Survival is how you honor them. Remembering and teaching is how you avenge them. 

Please stay. Trust me: It's worth it.

Stay apart, stand together, mask up, and stay strong.

xo,

Violet


How to support this roundup

I work on this roundup every day: I hunt for news, read and analyze, fact check and compare sources, organize the material, then combine it into original writing and reporting. All while keeping up with the pandemic’s rapid changes. Doing this helps me understand what’s going on — I hope it helps you, too.

This roundup is only possible thanks to the support of patrons. And people who chip in through other channels like my PayPal, my Square Cash, or my Venmo (MissVioletBlue), or help out with via my Amazon wish list. Gift cards for necessities or frivolities are most welcome: I’m violet at violetblue dot com.

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COVID-19 resources I use:

CovidExitStrategy.org (Covid Exit Strategy)
COVIDcast Real-time COVID-19 Indicators (Delphi Group | Carnegie Mellon University)
Johns-Hopkins Global COVID-19 Dashboard (ArcGIS |Johns-Hopkins)
COVID-19 Trends for US Counties (ArcGIS Online)
COVID-19 Tracker | United States (Microsoft)
COVID-19 Vaccine Trials Tracker (Microsoft)
The American Association for the Advancement of Science Newsroom (AAAS)
COVID-19 Self-Assessment tool (Mayo Clinic)
COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool (biosci.gatech.edu)
Test Finder: Baseline COVID-19 Testing Program (Project Baseline)
Dear Pandemic (dearpandemic.org)
microCOVID activity calculator (microCOVID Project)



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