Tuesday/ ‘two masks are the new masks’

Well, I played tennis last night with my mask on, as mandated by the Amy Yee Tennis Center. My mask had three layers of cotton fabric. It got a little ugly at times.

As you huff & puff after a long rally — through the mask —your panicked brain roars ‘MORE OX-Y-GEN ..NOW! MORE OX-Y-GEN ..NOW! .. and it makes you want to yank the suffocating $@#! mask right off your face.

So! I’m definitely going to have to try a few more different masks.

From the New York Times. I suppose this works if you are a body at rest (as they say in Physics), silently observing what’s going on. (One could just stay home, of course, and not attend these public events). Pete Buttigieg is President Biden’s Secretary of Transportation nominee, and did very well at his Jan. 21 nomination hearing. The vote for his confirmation is still pending.

Tuesday/ more than 400,000 lives lost

Exactly one year ago on Jan. 19, 2020, a 35-year-old man checked into an urgent-care clinic in Snohomish County, Washington, with a 4-day history of cough & fever. He had arrived at Seattle-Tacoma airport on Jan. 15, after traveling back from visiting family in Wuhan, China, for three months.

The next day, the CDC confirmed that the patient’s nose and throat swabs had tested positive for 2019-nCoV, in a PCR test. He was the first known case of Covid-19 in the States. The patient got worse before he got better, but by Feb. 3, he was well enough to go home.

There must already have been many other unknown carriers of the virus in the Seattle area, though. The Life Care Center of Kirkland, Washington, was the first Covid-19 hotspot in the US. In February and March, 46 people lost their lives there.

By Jan. 19, 2021, the virus had made it into every county in the entire United States, and had killed 400,000 people.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. with his wife, Jill Biden, and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff. Today, Mr. Biden paid tribute to the victims of the pandemic, the same day that the death toll in the United States topped a staggering 400,000.

[caption from the New York Times/ Photo by Doug Mills/ NYT]

Saturday/ winter tennis

My social tennis club organized a special winter session for us: outdoors at the courts at Lower Woodland Park by Green Lake.
The sun did not really shine (48 °F/ 9 °C), and the courts were not completely dry – but hey, we got to play some tennis.

The sports fields at Lower Woodland Park by Green Lake. Is that thing the sun? Why yes, it is.
A company called Curative operates this Covid-19 testing kiosk at Lower Woodland Park. One collects one’s own sample by swabbing a Q-tip inside each cheek, upper and lower gums, underneath and top of the tongue, and the roof of the mouth. Results in 48 hours, by text & e-mail. The test is 90% accurate. Cost is $325 and per Curative’s website ‘COVID-19 testing could be reimbursed by your health plan or the government’. So that’s a definite maybe.

Tuesday/ welcome on board

Cabin crew dressed in personal protective equipment (PPE) await passengers before a flight from Amsterdam to China. [Photo: Justin Jin for South China Morning Post newspaper]
We still have airplane passengers here in the States that get away with wearing no mask on the airplane. Why is that? They need to be removed and added to the no-fly list for 10 years, with the rest of the FBI’s domestic terrorists.

Here are a few excerpts from photojournalist Justin Jin’s recent visit to Shanghai (to visit his cancer-stricken dad in the hospital), as described in the South China Morning Post:

To get on one of the few exorbitantly priced flights, I have to pass two Covid-19 tests. One will draw a sample from my nose and the other from my blood, with both needed to be taken within 48 hours before departure at a lab approved by the local Chinese consulate. When I get my results, I have to upload them together with a long list of personal data via a phone app to the consulate, which then activates a QR “health” code on my phone required for boarding my plane in Amsterdam.

Many of the mostly Chinese passengers come fully protected, too. Since each of us carries double-negative results to get on the flight, this cabin must be one of the safest places in Europe. The Chinese passengers also follow instructions to stay in their seats as much as possible, even avoiding the toilet during the 12-hour flight. I also avoid the bathroom, my confidence shaken by the behavior of those around me.

Upon landing, customs officers comb through the plane to see if anyone has fallen ill. Our flight gets the all-clear to disembark, and we file into a Covid-19 testing station, getting another QR code and passport check along the way. Almost everything is shielded and contactless, a precise choreography of anticipated human movement.

Even though I have by now three certified negative test results, I am still a suspect in China’s eyes. There’s always a chance of catching something on the way. And since the tests I have had are not perfect, I shall endure a 14-day strict quarantine at my own cost. (At the hotel, Justin describes the severe cleaning procedures at the hotel. The hallway is disinfected every time a person had entered it, for example).

. . .

In free and democratic Europe, people live under the repressive shadow of Covid-19. In China, the system is restrictive, but people are almost completely safe from the virus imprisoning much of the world. They are free to hug, to party and to prosper.

The same night my brother takes me to a crowded wine bar in Shanghai with friends. There are no masks, no talk of vaccines and, for a moment, no worries. It feels so 2023.

Tuesday/ testing, at a cost

The pandemic killed the second-hand clothing consignment store that used to be here on 15th Ave. & Republican St on Capitol Hill.
I see a same-day Covid-19 testing service has set up shop there, next to Rudy’s barbershop. The PCR test* they offer is not cheap: $195. They promise results within 36 hours. Another option is the quicker, but less reliable, rapid antigen test ($175).

*The PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test actually detects RNA (the genetic material) that is specific to the virus and can detect the virus within days of infection. The antigen test looks for protein fragments created by the immune system’s response to the presence of the virus.

The same-day clinic on 15th Avenue, is run by Praesidium Diagnostics, based in Venice, California. To be sure, there are several other options for testing in Seattle, and some are free. I guess it might be difficult to get an immediate appointment, though – or the wait in the walk-up/ drive-up line, might be several hours.
2021 … The Year We Make Contact, says this cartoon. Yes: I hope to get by without needing a test, until I get my vaccine. We just have to get the vaccines that have landed, out of the freezers that they were sent in, and into the arms of the humans that are clamoring for it. We need to use those empty sports stadiums & convention centers, and run thousands of people through them every day. 
Cartoon Credit: AMORIM
Source: Correio do Povo – Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
Provider: CartoonArts International

Monday/ the vaccine rollout: make haste

A vial of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine contains 5-ish doses. After storage for up to 30 days in the Pfizer thermal shipper, vaccination centers can transfer the vials to 2-8°C storage conditions for an additional five days, for a total of up to 35 days. Once thawed and stored under 2-8°C conditions, the vials cannot be re-frozen or stored under frozen conditions.

Of the 11.4 million doses distributed here in the States, only 2.1 million first doses have so far been administered, says the CDC’s website.

Slow and steady may win the race, but we need to make haste. Many lives are at stake.

Here’s an infographic explaining how the RNA-based vaccines work (in German, sorry. English translation notes below it).

1 Coronavirus Sars-CoV-2 | RNA genome | Shell with proteins
2 A section of DNA is the blueprint for the protein in the virus shell
3 The RNA segment can be produced and replicated in the laboratory
4 Vaccine
5 Vaccination: the vaccine is injected into the muscle
6 ‘Protein factories’ (ribosomes) in the human cells produce the protein found on the virus shell
7 The human immune system reacts against the protein ..
8 .. and produces antibodies
To become sick from Covid-19, a person would have to be infected with the complete virus. The protein from the virus shell will not make one sick.
9 Infection: If a person is infected with the Sars-CoV2 coronavirus ..
10 .. the antibodies will bond with the protein on the virus shell and that is how the immune system will fight off the virus.

Sunday/ vial, tray, carton, box with dry ice

Dry ice was poured into a box containing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as it was prepared to be shipped from Kalamazoo on Sunday. [From the New York Times/ Pool photo by Morry Gash]
Here come the vaccines. UPS and FedEx started shipping the first of the initial  3 million doses of vaccine from the Pfizer facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to sites around the United States, today.
Worldwide, dry ice production and making ultra-cold freezers, are being ramped up. I read somewhere that airlines are now allowed 15,000 lbs of dry ice in their cargo, up from 3,000 lbs. The stuff sublimates, which means it evaporates into CO2 gas directly from its solid form. The crew have to keep an eye on the COlevels.

Ordinary people will have to be patient. I hope I can roll up my sleeve for my first shot (of two) by say, April.

How Pfizer will ship its vaccine and keep the temperature very low. Graphic by Washington Post.

Tuesday/ William Shakespeare gets his shot

William Shakespeare (81), became the second person to officially receive the Pfizer-Biontech COVID-19 vaccine, at University Hospital Coventry, England.
(My apologies to the current day-William Shakespeare that had appeared in the original picture, for replacing his visage with one of The Bard. I could not resist).

In 1593, a year or so before Shakespeare wrote ‘Romeo and Juliet’, a powerful wave of the bubonic plague struck London. Theatres closed for 14 months and some 10,000 Londoners died. People died in all kinds of ways in Shakespeare’s plays, but nobody ever died of the plague. Thinking of the plague was terrifying, and any references to it in plays, was almost completely taboo.

Sunday/ Rudy joins a long list

Rudy Giuliani (76) finds himself in hospital today after testing positive for Covid-19. Giuliani is Trump’s lawyer. I don’t believe he has ever worn a mask in public.

Already a national laughing stock for his embarrassing cameo in the ‘Borat Subsequent Movie’ film, he has not let that stop him from making evermore outlandish, baseless claims about election fraud.

It’s hard to keep track of the hordes of Trump administration officials and staffers that have contracted Covid-19, but the New York Times comes to the rescue (see below).

Thursday/ way back, in the vaccine line

I took the little quiz in the New York Times that produces an estimate of where I will fall in the Washington State line for getting my vaccine. (I’m in the ‘Everyone Else’ category; the equivalent of Group 5 or Group E for boarding an airplane).

The result:
Based on your risk profile, we believe you’re in line behind 268.7 million people across the United States.
When it comes to Washington, we think you’re behind 5.8 million others who are at higher risk in your state.
And in King County, you’re behind 1.6 million others.


Monday/ better late than never

Two items in the ‘Better Late Than Never’ category, in the fight against the pandemic, were in the news today.
1.  Dr. Scott Atlas, Trump’s coronavirus adviser resigned.  (His ‘expert advice’ appalled public health experts).
2.  Washingtonians can finally activate or download the Coronavirus Exposure Notification app.  (In Western Washington, the number of new daily cases jumped six-fold just from September to November). The diagram below shows how this works.

Here’s how the Exposure Notification smartphone app, developed by Apple & Google, works. (Technical question: Bluetooth signals work up to 30 ft/ 10 m away. Does that mean I will get a notification if I had been as much as 30 ft away from a person that had tested positive for COVID-19 the last 14 days? I guess so! The fourth panel does say it needs to be ‘a significant amount of time’ – 15 mins, I would guess – that the phones had been in close proximity). [Graphic from the Washington State Dept. of Health website]

Thursday/ looking at 2021

We now know most of the answers to the questions we had pondered in March, about the pandemic.

Looking back, some of them are really shocking. We had to forego most of the public celebrations of summer. Kids could not go to school. Even so, the country is now in worse shape than in March. We have to give up this year’s traditional Thanksgiving, Christmas & New Year celebrations as well.

The patchwork of approaches to mitigate the pandemic, and the communications failures from the White House down, did little to stop the virus.
We have now crossed 250,000 fatalities here in the States, and logged some 170,000 new infections just today.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, though. The milestones that I look forward to are –
1. The Pfizer-Biontech/ Moderna vaccine gets its Emergency Use Authorization (by Dec. 31);
2. President-elect Biden takes office (Jan 20).

Monday/ the Corona Winter of 2020

These screenshots are from a German TV commercial that has an older man from the future reminisce and talk of the ‘Corona Winter of 2020’, as if it had been a war. (Germany reverted to stricter stay-at-home measures on Monday Nov 2).

The commercial is nicely done, but has had a lukewarm reception in Germany. Someone on Twitter said that Germans like to complain about Germany.

I think it was the winter of 2020 when all the eyes of the country were upon us. I had just turned 22, studied engineering in Chemnitz, when the second wave arrived.
22, at this age you want to party, to get to know new people and all that. Going for drinks with friends.
Yet fate had different plans for us. An invisible danger threatened everything we believed in. Suddenly the fate of the country was in our hands.
We mustered all of our courage and did what was expected of us. The only right thing. We did ..
.. Absolutely nothing. Being lazy as raccoons. Day and night we kept our a**** at home and fought the spread of the virus. Our sofas were the front and our patience our weapon. You know, sometimes I have to smile at myself when thinking back to this time. This was our fate. This is how we became heroes. Back then, during that Corona Winter of 2020.
Become a hero too and stay at home. Together against Corona.

Sunday/ back to where we were in March

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee was on TV this morning, announcing that indoor social gatherings are prohibited. (No, the sheriff or policemen are not going to knock on the door and arrest people, but everyone is asked to take responsibility and comply).

Indoor dining is prohibited.  In-store retail is limited to 25% indoor occupancy. No wedding and funeral receptions, and so on. The restrictions are statewide and will remain in effect until Monday, Dec. 14.

– It’s still safest to stay home.
– If you go out, stay six feet apart, wear a face covering and wash your hands.
– Stay local.
– Fewer, safer interactions are crucial.

Numbers for Washington State, from the New York Times. While we are still in better shape than many other states in the US, the number of daily cases in WA state has doubled in just 14 days, an alarming trend.

Monday/ the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine’s 90% .. take with a grain of salt?

‘Drug companies are notorious for exaggerating and skewing their early findings in public announcements to grab attention and boost investor interest’.
– Julia Belluz writing for explain-the-news website Vox

The Pfizer-Biontech vaccine candidate BNT162b2 got a ton of press here in the US today, and boosted the stock market indexes. Is the reported 90% efficacy for real? (The Phase III trial is still a tiny population vs. the 100s of millions of humans that will get the vaccine). And does 90% mean 90% of vaccinated persons will get no symptoms? Mild symptoms? Or could vaccinated people still get quite sick, but it will cut the death rate by 90%? Will it work for young people as well as old people? We don’t any of this yet.

Then there is the matter of transporting and storing the vaccine at -80°C (-112°F) in a special freezer with dry ice, and making sure two doses, three weeks apart, are given to the patient. (This is after the patient has been convinced to get the vaccine. Will Americans trust the CDC and the FDA that say ‘get the vaccine’ after their disastrous, incoherent Covid-19 messaging,  and political interference through all of 2020?).

The Pfizer-Biontech vaccine uses brand-new technology: lipid nanoparticles — fat bubbles — that surround a strip of genetic material called messenger RNA. Cells in the human body react to the messenger RNA strands by running a ribosomes over it. Ribosomes are macromolecular machines, found within all living cells, that manufacture proteins. The resulting proteins built from the mRNA strands are now the same as the ‘spike’ proteins that sit on the surface of a real SARS-CoV-2 virus. The human body detects these spike proteins, sees them as invaders and develop antibodies for the spike proteins. If the real SARS-CoV-2 virus now enters the body, the antibodies are at the ready to neutralize them and prevent them from replicating. [Graphic tweeted by Dr. Ali Nouri @AliNouriPhD on Twitter]

P.S. The leading vaccine candidates are of three kinds:
a. killed Sars-CoV-2 virus;
b. a hybrid, with spike protein bolted on to a completely different kind of live virus; and
c. messenger RNA (such as described above) that carries instructions to human cells to make spike proteins.

Sunday/ a new all-time high

Today, the U.S. set a new record for new cases averaged over a 7-day period: 68,954.
The previous high was 66,844, set on July 23.
– The COVID Tracking Project @COVID19Tracking on Twitter

A new record for the 7-day moving average. Yes, hospitals have learned how to increase the survival rate of critically ill patients. Still, more than 800 lives are lost every day in the United States, a number that has been increasing since September.

Tuesday/ got my flu shot

Sign at Bartell Drugs, where I got my flu shot. (Not a very compelling tagline there – ‘Don’t Let Flu Stop You’. Maybe say ‘Flu Can Kill You’? .. or is that too harsh, seeing that we are in a deadly pandemic already?

I waited a little this year to get my flu shot, but got it today.

I got it too early last year – in August! – and then I learned that the protection from it wanes a little too early as well (when flu is still going around, at the end of the season).

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that in the 2018–2019 season, some 35.5 million Americans came down with the flu and that about 34,000 of them died from it. Flu shots prevented another 4.4 million cases and about 3,500 deaths. [Source: Scientific American].

Friday/ the White House: a superspreader

Trump and at least 34 White House staff members & other contacts have tested positive for the virus. If anything, it’s a surprise that it took so long for this spate of White House infections to happen. All of them from Trump & Pence down, regularly flaunted standard safety measures.

Just recently 200 people were packed into the Rose Garden for the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett. Was it a super spreader event? Yes, it probably was, says Dr. Tony Fauci.

The cover of the latest TIME magazine: the White House as coronavirus superspreader.

Wednesday/ inside, with outside ventilation

It rained all day and into the evening, which meant the five amigos (my friends and I) could not sit outside on my uncovered deck, for our regular pizza and beers (socially-distanced, of course).

Luckily, my garage is big enough for socially-distanced seating, with good ventilation.

We opened the big garage door and a side door, to keep the ventilation going through the garage. (My garage is not usually this tidy and clean! .. and I’m hiding a few unsightly items under a brown tarp at the back).

Tuesday/ an American failure

As we enter the fall season here in the United States, the country has now crossed the 200,000 mark for Covid-19 deaths.

Says TIME magazine Editor-in-Chief Edward Felsenthal in his closing remarks, writing about this:  ‘There is some good news. The data suggest that we are reducing the death rate in America among people who contract the virus.  .. and it’s possible that at least one vaccine may be available by the time 2020 comes to an end, although distribution will create many new questions and challenges. In the meantime, it is not too late to do better’.

An American Failure. Time magazine replaced its red frame for the cover, with a black one – only for the second time, ever. The first time was for 9/11.