Friday, July 31, 2020

The Covid-19 Pandemic Crisis, the Great Great Economic Lockdown of 2020, and the Extended Economic Distortion: A Californian's Timeline.

   “We are in a worse place than we were in March. Back then we had one epicenter. Now we have lots.”
          - Dr. Leana S. Wen, former Baltimore health commissioner.

   “This is not a once-in-a-century event. It’s a harbinger of things to come.”
          - Dr. Julie Gerberding, former director of the C.D.C.

   "If you look at what happened in Europe, when they shut down or locked down or went to shelter in place - however you want to describe it - they really did it to the tune of about 95% plus of the country did that. When you actually look at what we did - even though we shut down, even though it created a great deal of difficulty - we really functionally shut down only about 50% in the sense of the totality of the country."
          - Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
            Dr. Anthony Fauci, testifying before the House Select Subcommittee
            on the Coronavirus Crisis.


The Covid-19 Pandemic Crisis, the Great Great Economic Lockdown of 2020, and the  Extended Economic Distortion continue to plague the image of the Dream held by the overconfident American.

The pandemic again demonstrates that Americans have little understanding of the importance of the most basic government services, in this case public health. Partly this is a simple outcome of the inherent bigotry built into capitalism - the "I'm better than you" theme.

We've seen bits and pieces of this in such happenings as the Flint, Michigan, water crisis that began in 2014 and the AIDS pandemic of the 1980's.

Epidemics with fatal consequences caused by microbes which human behavior spreads through the population are not unusual events in history (and pre-history).

It is clear that within the United States the potentially effective Great Economic Lockdown failed because, as noted above by Dr. Fauci, we as a people cannot shift how we think within two months. We simply are unable to abandon the greed inherent in capitalism, shifting to government economic dependency without a definite end date.

In fact, members of Congress are still bickering among themselves, between the two parties, between the Senate and House, and with the Administration, over an extension of foolishly time-limited, about to expire, programs to shore up the economy.

This is all in the midst of the Extended Economic Distortion, the existence of which appears intuitively obvious but is clear from these two charts based on data released this week (click on charts to see full size):

Regarding the 9.5% second quarter drop in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which when combined with the 4.8% drop in the first quarter represents a 13.8% drop for half the year, we need to understand that if this loss were annualized we would see a drop of 28%± in the GDP.

About distortion. The reality is that the drop in the GDP has not affected the so-called 1%, the wealthy. In terms of wealth it also has impacted only a low percentage of upper middle class wage earners as opposed to low income service workers. Distortion.

With the formal unemployment number at around 17 million, or about 12%, and evidence that the number is increasing there is little doubt that our economy is now distorted.

The extreme distortion is that the unemployed are primarily lower-paid workers. While the initial $1,200 aid payment to all plus the additional $600 per week to the unemployed limited the distortion, as of August 1 the effect of those limiting efforts will cease.

How will all this play out in the future? It would have been better if we were one nation of united peoples, but the United States was not created for that purpose. Perhaps the only time in our history that we offered such a picture of unity was during WWII.

We know that different nations have achieved different levels of infection, some having minimized the infection spread.

But we must acknowledge the quote by Dr. Wen - the U.S. has "lots" of epicenters. At some point the pandemic became hundreds of smaller epidemics, each with its own characteristics based upon the behavior of people of local cultures.

It has become clear that with each state having its own Covid-19 policy, the result is a 50 state epidemic management program.

Within each state, localities have seen infections develop and spread differently creating local epidemics with differing impacts. For instance, this week the last county in California without a confirmed case, Modoc County, reported two.

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, in our household we have begun to limit our tracking of the illness statistics to California and to our county.

When California issued the first statewide "stay-at-home order" the stated purpose was to gain time to prepare our hospitals. So how is California doing? Let's look at the graphs (click on graphs to see larger version):

In fact, California successfully kept the hospitalizations low for the three months from mid-March to mid-June. Since the lifting of elements of the stay-at-home orders, the hospitalizations climbed and has begun to flatten, as expected.

The "as expected" is emphasized because at no time did any knowledgeable Californian think that Covid-19 infections were not going to climb. If you look at the deaths chart you will see a reflection of the increasing caseload. A steady increase can be seen, until after the Fourth of July when the line started a slight curving upward.

Essentially, that is about the best that can be expected as the days, weeks, and months pass. (No caseload chart is offered as the testing effort is not a reliable indicator of actual cases.)

The hope is that the hospitalization graph line will continue over time to turn downward. That would indicate what is happening in terms of the number of cases.

Because we don't know enough about the virus to predict when it might take a pause, all we can do is scroll down looking at the timeline to the right.

Hopefully that will help maintain perspective and patience. We will need that because the Extended Economic Distortion will not be corrected in the period of the timeline.

Monday, July 27, 2020

For What It's Worth - Will the wind of "I've got mine" selfishness sweep aside BLM goals as it did to California's '60's racial equality protest goals

Being old during this time of protest means trigger-memories are being activated. One of those is the Buffalo Springfield song "For What It's Worth" (view the YouTube video above).

Beginning March 1, 1964, in response to the racially discriminatory hiring practices at the Sheraton Palace Hotel in San Francisco approximately 4000 people protested, occupying the hotel, seeking equal hiring practices and for the hotel to have black individuals in executive positions.  Reminiscent of current political thinking, as explained in Wikipedia:

    The administration of UC Berkeley believed that on campus political advocacy was partially to blame for the high percentage of student involvement in the widely media publicized Sheraton Palace demonstration. In response to such student political activity, on September 16, 1964, Dean of Students Katherine Towle released a letter stating that political organization was no longer permitted on the corner of Bancroft and Telegraph. This intersection had served for years as a gathering place for students to hand out pamphlets and organize for political means. In protest of the recent ban on political activity and on-campus political organizations, the student group, CORE, erected a table in front of Sproul Hall.

U.C. Berkeley became infamous for the protests of the 1960's. Note that at the beginning the issue was racial equity, not Vietnam.

Fast-forward to the Sunset Strip riots in West Hollywood, California in 1966, early counterculture-era clashes that took place between Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputies acting at the behest of city administration and young people of the hippie and rock and roll counterculture. As described in 2016's What Were the 1966 Sunset Strip Riots Really Like? Eyewitnesses Look Back:

    It all climaxed on Nov. 12, 1966, outside teen hangout Pandora’s Box, with the infamous “Riot on the Sunset Strip.” The riot itself was a long-simmering eruption triggered by weeks of harassment of teenage freaks by the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, which had begun to aggressively enforce the 10 p.m. curfew after a ceaseless tide of complaints from Sunset Boulevard business owners annoyed by the sidewalk-clogging congregation of youths.
    “The curfew enforcement was just a tool because all these long-haired kids were out ’til 2 a.m.,” says Michael Rummans, a founding member of Pandora’s Box staples The Sloths. “Walking down the street, sitting on bus benches, just hanging out. The merchants said it was bad for business, we were scaring customers away, and they influenced the Sheriff’s Department to start cracking down.”
    "Next Saturday...the one thousand came: frat party boys, Marines on leave, pre-hippies and stoned high schoolers, plus cameos by Peter Fonda, Sonny and Cher and even Gilligan, Bob Denver. As we headed up Crescent Heights, we could see the battle lines being drawn up ahead. Two squad cars roared past us — the pigs were shutting it down, man.”
    Kids stalked around with corny protest placards (“We're Your Children! Don't Destroy Us,” “Ban the Billyclub”), blocked traffic, broke a few windows. Sonny and Cher pleaded for calm outside Pandora’s Box. That was about it. They weren’t even riots...."

The irony is the Sunset Strip riots' most lasting effect had to do with the music that came out of the event. "For What It's Worth (Stop, Hey What's That Sound)" written by Stephen Stills because of the Sunsent Strip riots became an anti-Vietnam War song. But in truth it is about the conflict between the police and protesters. Here are the lyrics:

And so for my generation of Californians, it seemed that the 1964 protests about the racially discriminatory hiring practices at the Sheraton Palace Hotel in San Francisco and the Sunset Strip police-versus-the-defiant riots in 1966 evolved into the nationwide 1968 violence-of-the-right culminating in the Kent State shootings of 1970. We still remember the Chicago Police, at the urging of a Democratic Chicago Mayor, using violence against "anti-patriotic" protesters objecting to both Civil Rights and Vietnam War policy failures at the Democratic National Convention held during a year of violence, political turbulence, and civil unrest, particularly riots in more than 100 cities following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4 and then Robert F. Kennedy on June 5.

Just as in today's protests, none of the state-sponsored violence was necessary. Just as today the state-sponsored violence comes from an underlying popularity of fascist beliefs associated with the fear-of-others-tradition of American greed. The economics of business was pitted against the objection to racial inequity and the police misuse of authority. Then, of course, it was buttressed with anti-communist propaganda creating a fear of loss of capitalism.

Today businesses, particular small businesses in huge numbers, are threatened by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Covid-19 pandemic has deliberately been made into an issue for the right akin to the Vietnam War - protecting the freedom of Americans versus left-extremists who must be suppressed.

In addition the right-wing elements in the federal national and international security apparatus and the military have effectively created an unwarranted fear of the only remaining meaningful "communist" nation, China, as a source of business and job losses. And while to some not paying much attention it may seem that it is a Trump Administration/Republican effort, in fact Democrats in the Senate and House are supporting this propaganda.

And if you haven't noticed, small groups split off from the BLM protests to damage property. Initially they were a few vandals and petty crooks. But the number and nature incidents are growing leading to indignant condemnations from the middle-aged, middle class white community.

I recognize that many, maybe most, would consider these thoughts as some kind of paranoia. But having lived through the 1960's, working as a reporter on a daily newspaper in 1967-69, what I see happening today looks thematically all too familiar.

Ultimately, the real issue is whether the goals of the current protests will blow away in the wind of American business-owner "I've got mine" outrage as it did by the mid-1970's. It will be sad if that happens.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Covid-19: Will it become the annual "cold" infection that kills people forcing major lifestyle changes?

The above drawing offers an assumption that "this" will be "all over." Still it suggests that "everything" should change. But what if Covid-19 will never be "all over"?

Hopes and promises expressed about Covid-19 herd immunity gained from...
  • widespread infections or 
  • a vaccine 
...should be received with considerable skepticism.

On April 21 we noted here in a post regarding herd immunity:

    Though people who recover from Covid-19 likely will have some degree of immunity for some period of time, the specifics are unknown. For instance, we don’t yet know why some who’ve been diagnosed as “fully recovered” from the virus have tested positive a second time after leaving quarantine. For instance, we don’t know why some recovered patients have low levels of antibodies.

In mid-June some of us read Chinese study: Antibodies in COVID-19 patients fade quickly telling us: "The authors said the findings suggest that it could be risky to assume that recovered patients are immune to reinfection, which may have implications for how long to maintain physical distancing restrictions."

This week an article in The Guardian Immunity to Covid-19 could be lost in months, UK study suggests explains:

    People who have recovered from Covid-19 may lose their immunity to the disease within months, according to research suggesting the virus could reinfect people year after year, like common colds.
    Prof Jonathan Heeney, a virologist at the University of Cambridge, said the study confirmed a growing body of evidence that immunity to Covid-19 is short-lived. “Most importantly, it puts another nail in the coffin of the dangerous concept of herd immunity,” he said.
    “I cannot underscore how important it is that the public understands that getting infected by this virus is not a good thing. Some of the public, especially the youth, have become somewhat cavalier about getting infected, thinking that they would contribute to herd immunity. Not only will they place themselves at risk, and others, by getting infected, and losing immunity, they may even put themselves at greater risk of more severe lung disease if they get infected again in the years to come.”
    Prof Robin Shattock of Imperial College London said the study was important and indicated that neutralising antibodies rapidly wane. “This certainly suggests that we cannot be confident natural infection will be protective for a significant proportion of individuals, nor certain of the duration of any protection.”
    “It does indicate that vaccines need to do better than natural infection, providing consistent responses in the majority of individuals and sustained levels of protective antibodies. Ultimately this may require the use of annual boosting immunisations, particularly for the most vulnerable. This could be delivered alongside annual influenza immunisations.”

Of course, it would be great if we get a vaccine. Unfortunately for the United States there is a significant overlap between the anti-vaccination crowd and the anti-mask folks. If Covid-19 becomes the annual "cold" infection that kills people, instead of herd immunity we might see a thinning of the herd in the U.S.

But what if we never achieve "herd immunity" because we never find a really good vaccine? It might be worthwhile to consider how life would change beyond regularly working from home for those who can.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Living "self-cloistered without self-sufficingness" on the Fourth of July in the year of COVID-19. About a new context for old Californians and others

The Fourth of July in the year of Covid-19 certainly offers a new context for an old Californian.

Four months ago, March 4, 2020, our Mendocino County Health Officer declared a local health emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On that day monitoring the expanding pandemic became a fierce focus in our household.

We are among Californians over the age of 75, among the group identified as having the highest health risk in the pandemic. We are among those who remember Polio epidemics. We are among those who remember parents and grandparents who lived through, but rarely discussed, other disease epidemics. Fortunately through the efforts of public health programs those diseases were eradicated or effectively suppressed.

Subsequent to the availability of a Polio vaccine, we saw and felt the impact of annual flu epidemics, though they were and are limited by imperfect vaccines. We lived through the HIV tragedy feeling the sorrow of death among acquaintances. We read with concern the stories of Ebola.

Truthfully, those of us who have lived most of our lives in the post-1958 "Western world" have simply been lucky.

Why and how to live self-cloistered without self-sufficingness

On the July 4, 2020, aka The Fourth of July, it will have been 160 days or 5⅓ months since the first confirmed Covid-19 case arrived in California, 166 days or 5½ months since the first confirmed U.S case, 230 days or 7⅔ months since the World's first confirmed case occurred. (Click on the timeline to right to see relevant dates.)

It has also been 109 days or 3⅔ months since March 16 when public health officials in seven counties around the Bay Area introduced approximately 7 million residents to the concept of mandated "protective sequestration."

"Protective sequestration, in public health," according to Wikipedia, refers to "social distancing measures taken to protect a small, defined, and still-healthy population from an epidemic (or pandemic) before the infection reaches that population."

It must be truly baffling for Americans who remember living through the four years of rationing and fighting of WWII to watch the widespread lack of patriotism in the current generations. People today have been asked to give up some of the life they led prior to 2020 for less than four months to protect the lives of other Americans and they have balked at the idea.

California's "shelter-in-place" protective sequestration efforts were for the purpose of "flattening the curve" for a sufficient time period to expand hospital capacity to deal with the inevitable infection surge. Based on the charts below reflecting data through June 30, California succeeded in keeping infections down. Now that we are "opening up" it is obvious what's going to happen, what is happening.

By Fathers Day, June 21, the expected Covid-19 infection "First Wave" surge had begun using those hospital beds. In some California hospitals the ICU beds are full.

We do have widespread testing for infections which are very useful for slowing the infection surge. Finding the infected persons allows officials to place them in quarantine. But the data is not yet useful for defining the extent and impact of the surge.

Yes, today more people have been infected compared to yesterday. But those statistics also show that more people have been tested. And what they show is a very small percentage of Californians are infected (see table at right).

Since we know that 10% of the population has been tested, it might be reasonable to assume one could multiply those percentages in the table by 10. But we also know that prior to mid-June most of the testing subjects were people with symptoms. Further, the testing only indicates who is currently infected, not who was infected a month ago or will be infected a week from now.

It also appears from the chart below that death statistics are not good indicators of surge levels.

In fact from the February 6 when the first Californian died, through the end of June, Covid-19 has killed 6,000+ Californians, which is 0.017% of the population. That is over a period of 21 weeks. On average every five weeks an equivalent number of Californians die of heart disease. Of the deaths in California to date, 94.0% are persons 50 years of age and older, indeed 75.4% are 65+.

Today no protective sequestration stay-at-home order is in effect. But with or without an order, a choice exists.

On March 13 we chose to become "self-cloistered without self-sufficingness" The goal is simple. Avoid being hospitalized because of a Covid-19 infection.

The death data suggests that for those of us over 65 being "self-cloistered without self-sufficingness" is prudent. We are "self-cloistered" meaning we are staying at home. Being "without self-sufficingness" simply means acknowledging that we are not self-sufficient, we do not grow all our own food, we do not create our own soap. So to safely sustain the basics of our manner of living within the time of the current pandemic, we choose to interact with people only from a distance mostly through 21st Century technology.

In practice that means ordering food and other necessities online which results in deliveries via the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, FedEx, Instacart, and others.

We have not left our home, our property, since March 13, 2020. That was three days in advance of those first "shelter in place" orders covering the Bay Area, five days in advance of the first Mendocino County order, and one week in advance of the first California state order. On the Fourth of July we will have been "self-cloistered without self-sufficingness" for 3¾ months, or 16 weeks, or 113 days.

But while Californians like us who live in the forest can limit our risk from Covid-19 by staying home, the risk from wildfire is another story. This past Sunday 40 homes were lost to a wildfire in rural Niland. One resident died. For us Covid-19 is an add-on risk

Unfortunately it is one which has seriously damaged the economy.

Labor Day and the Extended Economic Distortion

News reports on Thursday announced that the unemployment rate in mid-June fell to 11.1%. The headlines offered feelings ranging from "great news" to "hopeful." What the headlines didn't say is:
  • unemployment levels remained higher than any time since The Great Depression;
  • there were still nearly 15 million fewer jobs in June than in February;
  • data was collected in mid-June, before coronavirus cases began to surge causing many cities, counties, and states to roll back the phased reopenings that brought many jobless workers back into the labor force;
  • because those unemployed do not include anyone who works only one hour or more a week, the headlines did not indicate that full-time employment remains 12 percent lower than it was in February while part-time employee numbers are above pre-pandemic levels with twice as many working part-time involuntarily; and,
  • on the same day those mid-June unemployment numbers were reported the same news sources reported  that 1.4 million filed new claims for state unemployment benefits last week, the 15th straight week that the figure exceeded 1 million, and another 840,000 filed for benefits under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.
Nor did the headlines mention the probable continuing reporting error affecting the level of unemployment:

Finally, with regard to unemployment there is the matter of rising numbers of layoffs becoming permanent:

The number of permanent layoffs has doubled since April reflecting a growing awareness by employers that the "great" economy ended sometime in February replaced by an Extended Economic Distortion discussed here on May 7 in Expect a consumer-based Extended Economic Distortion after the Great Economic Lockdown. In terms of employment we likely will have a clear indication of the level of the problem in the private sector by Thanksgiving. We will not get a clear picture of the impact on the 3 million jobs in California state and local government including school districts until next Spring.

By Labor Day we likely will begin to see from the Covid-19 Hospital Patients graph how extended and how distorted the economy will become prior to a Second Wave which likely will happen if we are unable to produce a reliable vaccine.

This too shall pass, though it may take entire decade

As noted at the beginning of this post, the Fourth of July in the year of Covid-19 certainly offers a new context for old Californians like us.

What we don't know about the cause of the immediate crisis, a virus, after these few months leaves us ignorant of long-term impact on many, many people ages 14-50 who become infected but survive.

What we don't know about the short- and long-term impacts of the crisis on California's economy, the world's 5th largest, is significant. The Trump Administration's trade war and disdain for other economic powers now being reflected in international travel bans imposed against Americans will magnify the damage to California's economy. All this triggered by the pandemic Trump supporters denied was happening while their grandparents were prematurely dying.

As noted in the above-referenced May 5 post, in the 20th Century, beginning intensively in 1929 and lasting 50± years,  massive changes in the legal, economic, political, social, cultural, environmental, and technological subsystems were implemented. This created not only the established reality of two "seniors" ordering goods and receiving entertainment over the internet, but the possibility of a significant percentage of workers effectively working from home.

Covid-19 forced the expanded working-from-home trial which could be indicative of more massive changes in the legal, economic, political, social, cultural, environmental, and technological subsystems. It is not surprising that the pandemic enabled younger generations to push more visibly for major revisions to the legal, economic, political, social, cultural, and environmental subsystems to assure some greater semblance of equity by the mid-21st Century.

Yep, the Fourth of July in the year of Covid-19 certainly offers a new context for an old Californian.