Published on: April 23, 2020
Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…
• In the US as of this morning, there have been 849,092 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 47,681 deaths and 84,050 reported recoveries.
Globally, there have been 2,653,899 coronavirus cases, 185,061 deaths and 727,857 reported recoveries.
Let's underline the US results for a moment. We are within days of having more than one million coronavirus cases, and more than 50,000 deaths … which is a roughly five percent mortality rate, if my math is correct. Of course, the mortality rate probably is a lot lower than that - but we don't know what it is because relatively few people in the UDS have been tested.
Which makes it very difficult for state governments and private businesses to make informed decisions about when and how to reopen … it remains an enormously fluid situation. All they can do is their best, while maintaining as many options as possible and the ability to pivot when the science indicates they should.
• From the Wall Street Journal:
"A pair of newly reported deaths in California have challenged the longstanding timeline of the coronavirus pandemic, raising new questions about when and how the virus first arrived in the U.S. and the costs of the nation’s lack of preparation earlier in the winter.
"The first U.S. death from the coronavirus took place in early February, according to a county in the San Francisco Bay Area, nearly three weeks earlier than U.S. health authorities had previously realized … Previously, the first known U.S. deaths from Covid-19 involved two people in the Seattle area who died Feb. 26 … It isn’t known when the people who died in Santa Clara were infected."
In a different context, the great William Goldman once said, "Nobody knows anything." Which seems about as true when talking about the Covid-19 coronavirus as anything.
• From Bloomberg:
"Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he anticipates most of the U.S. economy will restart by the end of August after the coronavirus has led to social distancing measures that have shuttered many businesses."
“We’re operating under the environment that we are going to open up parts of the economy and we’re looking forward to -- by the time we get later in the summer -- having most of the economy, if not all of the economy, open,” he said yesterday.
• The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that "research on the new coronavirus and how coughs spread suggest the virus can travel further, and linger longer in the air, than previously believed.
"So far, the consensus has been that the virus that causes the disease Covid-19 is mostly transmitted through large droplets that are created when people cough, sneeze or talk." But now, "Some scientists are looking at other modes of transmission, such as through contact with infected surfaces and through inhalation of tiny virus-containing particles called aerosols that can stay suspended in the air for hours. While it remains unclear whether such aerosols are infectious, yearslong research on how respiratory droplets travel, combined with emerging data about the viability of the new coronavirus in aerosols, have prompted some scientists to question whether current public-health and health-care guidelines are sufficient."
There are going to be a lot of studies of the coronavirus and the way it has and can be spread … and my feeling is that I'm pretty much going to pay attention to what Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says. (If I understand the Journal story correctly, he's been a little skeptical about this new research.)
But I also think one other thing is important. I suspect that most of us see the current situation as the worst case scenario … that we're at the bottom of the hole, and now it is a matter of climbing out of it. It strikes me as at least possible that we are not at the bottom … that things could happen that would make things worse, and the hole deeper … and that as a culture, we have to be ready for that. Absolute certainty about anything would seem to be a mistake, I think.
• Albertsons Companies yesterday "announced a $50 million commitment to hunger relief across the 2,200+ neighborhoods it serves in 34 states and the District of Columbia through its Nourishing Neighbors Community Relief campaign … The new cash commitment is in addition to the $3 million the company already pledged to its fundraiser for neighbors affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Over the last four weeks, customers have generously donated more than $13 million to the effort at the company’s stores, which include Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Jewel-Osco, Acme, Shaw’s, Star-Market, Tom Thumb, Randalls, and other banners."
"This time of extraordinary need demands an unprecedented response,” said President and CEO Vivek Sankaran. “The basic needs of many of our neighbors have been threatened like never before. With a strong presence in more than 2,200 communities, we are committing an additional $50 million to help ensure that people in our neighborhoods have access to the healthy food they need. We are hopeful that more companies will join us and use our broad hunger relief network to distribute help locally, where it is needed most.”
• Los Angeles magazine reports that LA County will begin publicly listing places where coronavirus cases have occurred, including restaurants, nursing homes, treatment facilities, prisons and "other institutional settings."
The story notes that "the move to publicly disclose the information about restaurants comes after strikes and protests at several local food service operations where employees felt their health was put at risk."
This seems akin to the letter grades that many communities assign to restaurants based on their food safety procedures, and that must be posted on those businesses' doors or windows. It makes a lot of sense, though food safety violations often are self-inflicted wounds, and the institutions may not be able to help whether one of its employees comes down with the coronavirus.
• CBS News reports that Publix Super Markets has launched a new initiative - buying fresh produce and milk that farmers were planning to sell to the now dormant restaurant and foodservice industry, and then donating that product to local Feeding America food banks.
In the first week alone, the story says, "some 150,000 pounds of produce and 43,500 gallons of milk is expected to be donated."
"As a food retailer, we have the unique opportunity to bridge the gap between the needs of families and farmers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic," said Todd Jones, Publix CEO. "In addition to providing much needed produce and milk to food banks, this initiative provides financial support to farmers during this challenging time."
• The Boston Globe reports that Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has no plans to require that the state's supermarkets only engage in pickup and delivery or orders, essentially closing grocery stores to shoppers.
The Globe points out that "some experts have suggested the drastic policy may be necessary to keep grocery store workers safe and limit the spread of COVID-19 … Many smaller, independent grocery stores — and even a few select Whole Foods and Kroger locations across the country — have converted to delivery or curbside pickup due to concerns that in-store crowding could spread the virus between customers and workers.
"However, both methods require more in-store staff, and online grocery ordering services have already been overwhelmed by high demand amidst the pandemic. Baker noted Wednesday that a statewide order could also create crowding outside the stores."
I think that closing stores to shoppers is a bridge too far … for the moment, as long as most people behave in a responsible way, adhering to official guidance about masks and physical distancing. There will be places where retailers will make the strategic decision to convert certain unites to "dark stores," but, to be honest, I'd be willing to bet that some of that was going to happen anyway. The pandemic just put the process on fast-forward.
• Bloomberg reports that "a giant study that examined outcomes for more than 2,600 patients found an extraordinarily high 88% death rate among Covid-19 patients in the New York City area who had to be placed on mechanical devices to help them breathe … Overall, the researchers reported that 553 patients died, or 21%. But among the 12% of very sick patients that needed ventilators to breathe, the death rate rose to 88%. The rate was particularly awful for patients over 65 who were placed on a machine, with just 3% of those patients surviving, according to the results. Men had a higher mortality rate than women."
• From Los Angeles magazine:
"Even L.A.’s most famous record store is struggling to survive the pandemic. Amoeba Music has lost nearly all its revenue while closed, 400 workers have been furloughed, and owner Marc Weinstein is worried about paying rent for his three stores when May 1 rolls around. On Monday, Weinstein launched an Amoeba Go Fund Me campaign, seeking to raise $400,000 to cover immediate expenses for the store and staff."
“We have weathered many storms: 9/11, recessions, the internet, downloading, and streaming. But we don’t know that we can weather the COVID-19 storm,” Weinstein said on the Go Fund Me page. “We’d like to reassure you that we’re doing everything we can to keep Amoeba going, and to position ourselves to play a vital role in what is for now a very uncertain future. We know how much we’re all going to need Amoeba again, this oasis of music, where we can find each other once more.”
• Axios reports that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) "has confirmed that two pet cats living in separate New York state homes have tested positive for the coronavirus … These are the first pets in the U.S. to test positive for COVID-19, the agency said. The cats experienced a mild respiratory illness from the virus and are expected to recover."
The story says that "the first cat, which was tested after showing mild respiratory issues, was not living in a home with confirmed coronavirus patients. The owner of the second cat tested positive for COVID-19, but another cat in that household hasn't shown symptoms."
Axios reports that "there is still no evidence that pets can spread the coronavirus in the U.S., the agency said in a statement, and routine testing of animals is not recommended."
• The Well & Good website offers a prescription for how to cope with the pandemic.
At least, that's what a lot of people seem to think, since "somehow, it’s become the unofficial baked good of COVID-19. Everyone, it seems, it making it." Google searches for banana bread recipes are off the charts.
"Now, certainly there’s nothing wrong with banana bread; it’s about as uncontroversial as baked goods come. (Hey, fruit cake can’t say the same.) Unlike other baked goods, the name gives it an air of health superiority. It’s bread, not cake. And it’s made with bananas. Surely it’s the health equivalent of having a salad for breakfast!"
Well & Good did some research and found that "as it turns out, COVID-19 is not the first perilous time in history when people turned to banana bread. Food historian Sarah Wassberg Johnson says that the first time anyone made banana bread was likely during the Great Depression - another time of extreme economic and social hardship for most Americans."
The reason? "The ingredients are cheap, bananas are easy to find regardless of season, and it’s easy to make. 'We don’t think of bananas as a seasonal fruit, the way we do apples, even though apples can be found at the grocery store year-round. So there’s a timelessness with it,' Johnson says. 'Also, unlike apples or some other fruits, the texture of bananas is easy to work them into a mix because they’re already soft. It takes less work than some other ingredients'."
Plus, there are "specific qualities banana bread has that make it primed to be a food hero right now, especially when it’s straight from the oven. Food that’s warm, sweet, and carb-loaded is comforting - and who doesn’t want a thick slice of comfort when they’re in the middle of a pandemic?"
I am officially craving banana bread right now. I have a bunch of bananas in the kitchen, and I'm going to dig up a recipe.