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5/27/2020 COVID-19 Part 5

Did I mention that I don't like the governor of Virginia (my current home state)? Note that this dates back long before COVID-19. He's done a lot of things that I, and many other people judging by the protests, don't like. As far as his COVID-19 response though... Well, it's a heck of a lot better than that of New York, Hawaii, California, Michigan, or Pennsylvania, to name a few. But "it could be worse" is hardly a ringing endorsement. While he's certainly not one of the worst US governors when it comes to COVID-19, he's nowhere near one of the best either. Anyway, over the weekend he had a mini-scandal of sorts. As far as his scandals go, this is pretty minor. But anyway, he decided to visit the Virginia Beach over the holiday weekend. The town recently re-opened its beach and boardwalk, albeit with a lot of restrictions and social distancing guidelines. Well, our governor showed up and ended up taking some selfies with the beach goers (not quite sure why anyone would want a picture with the guy after everything that's come out about him, but whatever). Basically he ends up catching a whole lot of flak online for violating his own social distancing policies (you can't really take a selfie with someone while standing six feet away from them) and not wearing a mask (not actually required in Virginia, but the governor strongly recommends them). His response? To declare that everyone in Virginia now has to wear masks in all public indoor spaces. Now, regardless of your opinion of how useful masks are or aren't, it's kind of ridiculous to suddenly start requiring them here now, when COVID-19 cases in the state are steadily declining anyway. I really hope the guy loses his next election.

Ok, rant over. In the last part of my COVID-19 series, I went over the very stupid idea that any and all measures taken to combat the virus are worth it so long as they save at least one life. Remember, saving lives is wonderful, but that particular statement completely fails the test of logic. Another common argument is that, if some or even most of the measures we've taken to combat the virus are unnecessary, it's better to be safe than sorry, right? I mean, we are talking about people's lives here.
Thing is, more and more reports and studies are coming out (from notable sources including the UN, Stanford University, etc.) about the catastrophic results of the widespread quarantines, lockdowns, and economic shutdowns and how, when all is said and done, they may very well be far worse (and deadly) than the virus itself.

Let's start with the economy. Now, whenever someone brings up the economy, the pro-lockdown crowd loves to attack them for caring more about money than people's lives. But that's dishonest. The economy is about more than the stock market numbers. It's easy to discount the economy if you're working from home or in an "essential" position and still getting a salary (which seems to describe most of the pro-lockdown people). I am, and I'm grateful for it. But I know a lot of people who are out of work and have been out of work for months now. We're looking at depression levels of unemployment and all of those people have to make rent, pay utility bills, buy food, etc. Stimulus checks and unemployment benefits can only keep them afloat for so long, especially those who live in expensive areas (like northern Virginia, for example). I suppose the government could make more stimulus payments, increase the length of unemployment benefits, etc. But even that can't last. With so many people out of work, tax revenues are dropping drastically. Sooner or later, the government will run out of money. And what about businesses? They still need to pay rent for their buildings, utilities, and all of that. It's not like you can just keep them shuttered from months and then expect them all to open up again at the end. Every week more and more small businesses are closing for good, costing more jobs and destroying people's life work and savings. And, while it's not as politically correct to bring it up, we really shouldn't forget big businesses either. I know of at least one major restaurant chain that has shut down for good and lots other big businesses that are struggling and closing multiple locations. Yes, it's trendy to hate big business but there's nothing inherently evil about them and they employ a massive number of people. People that won't have any jobs to go back to if they shut down.
But hey, business owners are all evil versions of Scrooge McDuck sitting on big piles of money. Same thing with landlords, so they can just waive everyone's rent payments until this is all over, right? Uh, no. Business owners (including big business) aren't all rich assholes with unlimited money. That's an incredibly biased and simplified world view. And landlords? While I really admire the ones that can and have waived or delayed rent payments for their tenants, not all of them can do it, and certainly not for very long. They've got bills they have to pay as well.
The economy isn't just numbers. It's people's livelihoods.

Beyond that, the lockdowns and such are actually costing people their lives. Yes, our attempts to protect people from COVID-19 are actually causing deaths. Financial woes and the lack of social contact and interaction lead many people to depression. That's caused an increase in domestic abuse and a massive spike in suicides (California, for example, has already had as many suicides as they normally see in an entire year).
But that's not all. To ensure that hospitals have enough capacity for that massive crush of COVID-19 patients that never came, most states have banned "elective procedures." As we already discussed, that's actually caused hospitals to lose lots of money and lay of staff. Thing is though, some "elective" procedures are actually very important and there are people who have died because their elective procedures were delayed for too long. Don't believe me? The Canadian government released a report on it a while back.
And that's still not all. Because the media and many politicians and such have been non-stop disaster, doom, and gloom, some people are too scared to go to the hospital, even in emergencies, because they're afraid of contracting COVID-19 from the other patients. I know of at least one person (a young woman who was at virtually no risk from the virus) who died of an easily treatable infection because she was too scared to visit the hospital. And I'm sure she's not the only one.
And there's more. The UN released a report saying that, due to the economic impact the global shutdowns have had on poorer countries, there will likely be twice as many people facing starvation this year.

So really, it's not simply a matter of taking extreme actions just in case to be safe and hopefully save some lives. We're sacrificing lives and livelihoods in order to hopefully, maybe, save some other lives. So at best, we're making a trade-off and sacrificing some lives for others. At worst, we're sacrificing lives and livelihoods and saving few, if any, people. Perhaps you think that the virus is still the worse of the two. I disagree (and I believe the data does as well) but that's still a valid position to take. However, you need to at least be honest and admit that our actions to combat the virus are costing lives as well and it's impossible to say which approach would end up being deadlier when all is said and done.

And that'll do it for today. The next entry will probably the last and will look at the reasons why some people are strongly invested in increasing fear and seeing the lockdowns and such continue as long as possible.

Josiah



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5/25/2020 COVID-19 Part 4

So, we've covered how the virus appeared and spread, the measures taken to mitigate it (and how they might not really be doing much), and how dangerous the virus is (not much unless you're elderly and/or have serious preexisting conditions). Now, before we get on to the next topic, there's a couple things that have come to light recently that are worth mentioning.

First off, while it has not been widely reported (we'll get to the likely why later), the CDC recently announced that COVID-19 doesn't really spread via surfaces. In other words, while you could catch it if an infected person breathes in your face, if you touch a surface that person touched or breathed on, you're fine. So all that hand sanitizer people were hoarding? Not very useful. All the reminders to frequently wash your hands? Not a bad idea in general, but not going to reduce your chances of catching the virus much. Wearing gloves when going outside? Pointless. Constantly sanitizing surfaces at stores and such? Closing self service counters? Deep cleaning a building anytime someone who worked there tested positive? Not really effective. It even negates half the reason for wearing masks (breathing on a surface or object that someone later touches won't spread the virus). Of course, like I said, it hasn't been widely reported and I've yet to see any state, business, or organization retract some of the previously mentioned "safety" measures as a result.

The other thing to mention is the increasing information coming out about the nursing home policies in certain states. Now, remember that the elderly are far more at risk from COVID-19 than others, especially if they have certain preexisting conditions (which is relatively common among those in nursing homes). Also, remember that over half the COVID-19 deaths in the US have been nursing home residents. So why am I restating all that? Well, it's come out that a number of states (pretty much all the ones with the highest COVID-19 death counts actually, like New York) have official policies that say that, if a nursing home resident is diagnosed with COVID-19, but isn't in any immediate danger (remember, while they are more at risk, plenty of elderly people do recover), instead of being allowed to stay in the hospital until the virus has run its course, they're forced to return to the nursing home where they live. Of course, that significantly increases the likelihood of the infection spreading to other nursing home residents, which will probably result in at least some deaths as well.
Now, I have a tough time understanding the reasoning behind forcing nursing homes to take in people who test positive for the virus. And none of the governors or health officials who made these policies have seen fit to explain themselves (they tend to avoid the question or get angry at the person asking). My best guess is that the idea was that they didn't want to spare any hospital beds for patients who weren't themselves in immediate danger to keep those beds open for the predicted crush of COVID-19 patients that would overwhelm the hospitals and cause our entire healthcare system to collapse. Problem is, as I discussed before, hospitals never came anywhere close to being overwhelmed, yet these policies have continued on regardless. I honestly can't think of any other possible reason...unless the person who made the policy actually wanted to increase the number of infections and deaths from the virus. I really don't think that's the case (I'm not the type to buy into conspiracy theories). That said, thanks to certain things I've seen, I actually wouldn't quite put in past some people (we'll talk about why that is later) so I suppose it's not entirely out of the realm of possibility in some cases.

Ok, so now that both of those issues have been covered, let's get to today's main topic. As I've talked about in previous posts, quite a lot of the measures being taken supposedly to prevent the spread of the virus are actually worthless and many of the others are untested so we're really not sure if they're doing much good or not. Not to mention that we quickly took the most extreme measures possible before we really knew if this virus was anywhere near dangerous enough to warrant it (as previously covered, it's not), with only the actions of the Chinese government (which rarely, if ever, serve as a good example to follow) and a study from a professor with a very firmly established track record of overpredicting the danger posed by viruses and other illnesses by insanely huge amounts. At this point, all but the most irrational and uninformed person will admit that at least some of the things we've done were unnecessary and potentially harmful in other ways. I'd argue that applies to most of the measures we've taken, while others might say that only applies to a few of the most extreme ones. Either way, most of us can agree that we did some things that we didn't need to, or even shouldn't have. But it's all ok because any measure, no matter how inconvenient or potentially harmful, is worth it if it saves at least one life. At least that's what some people (including some very prominent politicians) say. So let's take a good at that argument.

Now, the idea that any measures are worth it to save a life sounds nice. Saving lives is good, no question about that. But let's add some logic to the equation. When you actually think it, "any measures" doesn't make sense. There's a certain amount of risk we all have to put up with in order to have a functioning society and just enjoy life in general. Let's leave off more extreme and risky hobbies like base jumping and focus on daily life. What if we really wanted to take any measures necessary to save as many lives as possible? Well, last year about 38,000 people died in the US as a result of automobile accidents. We could reduce that number drastically if we reduced all speed limits everywhere to 10 mph. Or we could prevent all automobile deaths by banning cars entirely. And let's not stop there. Around 2,000 people drown each year in the US so we should probably ban swimming pools, beaches, and bath tubs (just to be extra safe). Then there's food allergies,which kill around 200 people per year in the US so we should probably ban peanuts (or just nuts in general), shrimp, diary, soy, and whatever other foods are most likely to cause serious allergic reactions. Or, for a more directly related example, the normal seasonal flu kills an average of 40,000 people every year in the US (the record was over 150,000) so maybe we should close stores and businesses, force people to stay at home, and all the other things we're doing right now every flu season.
I could go on, but I think you see what I'm getting at. There's a point where you just have to say that yes, some people will likely die, but taking extreme actions to prevent that would just be too cruel (banning swimming or peanuts) or inconvenient (banning cars, shutting down every flu season) for everyone else to justify it. Of course we take plenty of reasonable actions and precautions to keep people safe. Foods have allergen warnings. Cars have advanced safety features and drivers must obtain a license and follow traffic laws. But we don't do everything possible to save just one more life (or even thousands of lives). Of course, different people will have different ideas of where we should draw the line between safety and fun or convenience, but no sane person would disagree that a line is needed. Acceptable risk is a necessary part of nearly everything that we do. So the argument that any and all measures taken to stop the spread of COVID-19 are worth it as long as they save even one life is utterly ridiculous. Anyone who makes that arguement either doesn't think about what they're saying (an idiot), or they're hoping that you won't think about what they say (a manipulator). Remember, as important as emotions are, you always have to consider facts and logic as well.

This seems like a good place to stop for today. I still want to talk a bit about the downsides of some of the measures we've taken to combat the virus and get into the reasons behind some of the more extreme media coverage and even personal views about the virus and the response to it, so we'll pick this up again next time.

Josiah

5/22/2020 Taking a breather

I probably have another one or two posts left to write about the whole COVID-19 thing to finish off that series, and I was originally planning to just keep going until I finished, but I'm taking a break today since the last couple of days have been kinda exhausting. First off, I had a pipe break when I tried to turn on the hoses for the summer. Honestly, water damage seems to be pretty much an annual thing for me since I moved into this house. Or heck, since I moved to Virginia considering that there actually was an issue when we were living in the apartment as well. Fortunately, this time I caught it immediately and shut off the water before there was any real damage. Still ended up having to clear off my bookshelves (though only half of them this time) so I could dry the carpet. But this time it just took a few towels and a three hour visit from the handyman to get everything fixed. No need to replace the carpet, drywall, or anything like that. Though now that it's all fixed, I'll need to spend a few hours putting my shelves back in order. On top of that, Zack had a bad night for some reason, which means a bad night for Connie and I as well. So I'm kinda worn out and wasn't able to clear out my to-do list like I'd hoped.

So yeah, I'm going to get some sleep and most likely continue talking about COVID-19 on Monday.

Josiah


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