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Plague journal

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Sign: 'Wash ya paws, ya filthy animals.'

This is a compilation of posts from 2020.

2020-03-14: Now wash your hands #

It turns out that malignant narcissists tend not to make good policy decisions.

In late January, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar went to Trump with the news that a new coronavirus was spreading, and that it was serious. Trump didn’t want a program of testing for the virus, though; he thought that increased infection numbers might harm his chance of re-election. Researchers in Seattle were ordered not to test people. Earlier this month, Trump wanted to keep passengers on an infected cruise ship so that infection numbers wouldn’t officially increase.

The World Health Organization had a working test, but in typical style the US decided it was going to ignore the rest of the world and develop its own test. Weeks later, it still didn’t have a working test.

So now it’s the middle of March, and we still have no real idea how many people in the US have the SARS-CoV-2 virus. We’ve done somewhere around 5,000 to 8,000 tests in total, whereas South Korea has been doing 10,000 per day.

It doesn’t help that Trump fired the entire US pandemic response team in 2018, eliminated the seat on the National Security Council, and cut funding by 80% that the CDC had been using to help fight pandemic outbreaks in China. Even now, they are planning further cuts to CDC budgets. Why? We don’t know, because discussions on pandemic response are considered classified information. We’re just expected to trust the administration.

It also doesn’t help that Trump’s trade war with China means that many essential medical supplies have had additional taxes imposed on them this year. Those tariffs are now being reduced, but any price reductions will likely be reversed by the imposition of new rules requiring that the government buy only American-made supplies. (Alex Azar was formerly a senior executive at US pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, fancy that!)

Trump overruled CDC officials who wanted to advise senior citizens to avoid plane travel. Meanwhile, Trump himself has been flying around the world, shaking hands and having dinner with people exposed to SARS-CoV-2. Days after that, he literally shook everyone’s hands at the coronavirus press briefing.

You might think that he has secured his place as the most irresponsible idiot of 2020, but this week Boris Johnson decided to join the contest.

About a week ago I idly wondered if the galaxy brain antivaxxers who take their children to chickenpox parties would start trying to organize coronavirus parties. Well, imagine my surprise when the UK government announced that laughably stupid idea as their strategy.

It’s simple enough: don’t close schools, don’t shut down mass gatherings, only have people self-isolate for 7 days, and try and get 60-80% of the population infected. Hopefully the people who get COVID-19 once will develop immunity, and the disease will then gradually die out. Yes, around 300,000 people will die, mostly old and sick people, but apparently that’s an acceptable success metric now.

So-called “experts” have pointed out a few flaws with Boris’s brave strategy, though. For starters, a very recent study in The Lancet suggests that the long term COVID-19 mortality rate might be around 5.7%. That would mean 2.25 million dead, rather than a mere 300,000. There’s also recent news that some people who survived COVID-19 once have recently tested positive a second time. That would suggest that SARS-CoV-2 is more like smallpox, polio, chickenpox or flu, where no amount of exposure results in herd immunity. Even Tory rhyming slang Jeremy Hunt thinks the idea is “concerning”. Still, if we’ve learned one thing from Brexit, it’s that Boris won’t abandon a plan just because experts tell him it’s a terrible idea. Good luck, England!

So because the Trump administration have botched the response to COVID-19 so badly, we have very little idea how many people in the US are infected right now. Estimates of the fatality rate for infection vary widely as well, from as low as 0.16% in some areas, up to (say) 5.7%, with a consensus at the moment of around 1%, and the chances of death rising rapidly after age 50. This makes it very hard to estimate exactly how many people will die. It’s safe to say that Trump’s February 26th estimate of close to zero cases is inaccurate, however.

Absolute best case scenario? It’s about twice as bad as the flu, and around 60,000 die this year. Worst case scenario? 80% infected and 5.7% death rate is 15 million dead. Those are some huge error bars.

The real magic number, though, is around 1 million. That’s the number of hospital beds there are in the US. We know that 10-20% of COVID-19 sufferers require hospitalization. Let’s be optimistic and assume that it’s actually 10%, and that every hospital bed is currently empty. A little simple math then tells us that if we go much above 3% of the population infected and symptomatic at any given time, hospital beds are going to run out. (3% × 10% × 327m is about 1m.)

I don’t know about you, but I am really confident that we’re going to go above 3% infected and symptomatic at some point. And remember, that’s the wildly optimistic scenario. In reality, we may have a million beds, but we only have 160,000 ventilators.

That’s why all the experts have been talking about slowing the rate of infection through self-isolation and social distancing. We really, really need to slow the rate of spread, so that what passes for a healthcare system in the US can deal with the ongoing cases. Or as The Onion put it: “ Health Experts Worry Coronavirus Will Overwhelm America’s GoFundMe System”.

I’m doing my part. Recently I’ve been socially distancing myself by telling everyone what a terrible Presidential candidate Joe Biden is, but in truth distancing has been a lifelong habit; as a young child my parents would have to force me to go out and interact with other kids.

I’ve also been a compulsive hand-washer for decades. I can’t tolerate any kind of dirt or grime on my hands, particularly if it’s sticky. As my mother once pointed out to a girlfriend, “You watch, the first thing he does when he gets home is wash his hands.” So as far as current strategies go, I think I’ve got this.

We stocked up on groceries the week before everyone started panic buying. We went to get a few more items on Thursday, and they were totally out of toilet paper. This, of course, makes no sense. COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, not dysentery; if you get it, you’re going to be coughing a lot, not shitting yourself to death. But apparently one local supermarket shelf stacker got attacked when he went to put toilet paper out, and now they have police supervising restocking.

Empty supermarket shelves

There was also a great shortage of pasta sauce and pasta, and a shortage of chili-making ingredients, it being Texas and all. No canned beans in the regular aisle, but apparently people didn’t think to go to the Mexican food section and buy Goya branded foods.

Still, no matter how annoying things are right now, it seems pretty clear to me that they’re going to get a whole lot worse. I’m reluctant to speculate what the world is going to look like in a month’s time, let alone this summer. I don’t think apocalypse, but we might see FEMA camps offering palliative care to large numbers of sufferers.

Some have suggested that the reckless response to the virus and the resulting likely disaster might be what brings down Trump. I wish I could be confident in that. Right now FOX News is still pushing the idea that it’s all mass hysteria, a conspiracy to try to harm Trump, no worse than flu. They even advised viewers that it was a great time to fly, in spite of their own corporation banning non-essential travel. Still, I’ve a feeling that Trump and FOX News will ultimately lead to tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths — but that the families of the deceased will gladly vote for Trump again. Still, he’s been exposed to the virus multiple times, and it’s particularly deadly for people over 70 with major health issues, so thoughts and prayers, eh?

2020-03-15: Pandemic at the Disco #

There’s a common logical pattern you’ll see in bureaucratic decision making:

  • We must do something
  • This is something
  • Therefore we must do this

Late last week it became clear to the Trump administration that denials weren’t effective against SARS-CoV-2, and they suddenly felt the need to be seen to be doing something. So Trump announced that starting on Monday night, remaining flights from Europe to the US would be blocked.

Right now there are over 2,100 reasons why the travel ban is unlikely to be very effective, and thousands more who are out partying or enjoying spring break at the beach, blissfully asymptomatic. Still, you might think that as knee jerk reactions go, a travel ban is at least harmless, and could do a little good, right?

Unfortunately, there’s that minor detail, “starting on Monday night”. So this weekend has seen a flood of travelers from everywhere in the world rushing to fly to the US before the travel ban takes effect. The CDC weren’t prepared, the TSA weren’t prepared, Customs and Immigration weren’t prepared. As a result, US airports are packed to capacity with international travelers waiting to be processed.

What should we be doing? Well, I’m no expert, but my initial answer would be “ Whatever South Korea has been doing”. Of course, South Korea has universal healthcare, like every sane country.

At the local level, Austin saw three COVID-19 cases last week, and immediately shut down all the schools, and rothko’s classes are canceled for at least the next few weeks. SXSW had already been canceled. Downtown 6th Street is significantly quieter than usual, though still somewhat busy. South Boston saw big crowds on Saturday, and in response the St Patrick’s Day parade has been canceled and the city has been locked down.

Not all cities are taking the hint. New York is apparently still buzzing, and if nothing changes it’s likely to have a problem like Italy’s in just over a week from now.

Of course, if you’re young and irresponsible, the likelihood of your dying from COVID-19 is pretty small, probably not more than 1%. To a teenager on spring break in Miami, that probably feels like zero, though I suspect RPG players have a very different perception. We’ve all rolled a double zero on percentile dice, right? It may not happen often, but still, I’d rather not make that roll. How about you?

2020-03-16: It’s getting real #

Germany is banning gatherings in churches, mosques and synagogues. Wynn and MGM have closed their Vegas casinos. Here in Austin, the city has shut down swimming pools, golf courses, and libraries. All Alamo Drafthouse movie theaters are closed. San Francisco is expected to issue a “shelter in place” order any time now.

Not everyone got the memo, though. Disneyland (California) was closed down at the end of last week, but Disney World (Florida) stayed open for large crowds on Sunday night. Mercedez-Benz in Spain ordered workers to stay on the production line after a worker was confirmed to have COVID-19; they were rewarded with a wildcat strike.

The UK saw a half marathon take place in Bristol, with over a thousand competitors. Officially, though, people are now being told to avoid nonessential travel, and the talk of a herd immunity plan is now being explained away as a miscommunication or misunderstanding.

Italy is paying the price for failing to tackle the problem sooner. Their new draft proposals state that people over 80 will simply have to be left to die as triage dictates that resources be focused on the young. Although it’s less likely, young healthy people can still suffer respiratory failure from COVID-19 and need to be put on a ventilator.

Corporate responses to COVID-19 have been varied. At the responsible end of the scale, Apple have closed down all their stores, switched their developer conference to be online only, and told Apple Card holders that if they’re having trouble due to being temporarily unemployed, they can skip their March credit card payment. Of course, Apple has $202 billion in cash squirreled away, so they can afford it.

Similarly rich is the corporation which owns Louis Vuitton. They have switched production from expensive perfume and cosmetics to hand sanitizer, which they intend to give away to the French government for distribution.

Then we have Matt and Noah Colvin of Hixson, TN. They weren’t rich, but last week they did find time to drive their SUV around Tennessee and Kentucky and buy tens of thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer, which they started selling on eBay and Amazon for up to $70 a bottle. Then eBay and Amazon stopped letting people resell hand sanitizer, and they were left with a stash of 17,700 bottles of the stuff. After the New York Times story led to an inevitable backlash, the Colvins promised that they would donate their stash. After a mysterious lack of information about where the donation would be taking place, on Sunday the Attorney General of Tennessee went to the Colvins’ storage units and assisted them in donating the supplies.

Back in 2016, a team of scientists in Houston believed they were close to a cure for many coronaviruses. Unfortunately in 2016, SARS was a distant memory, and there wasn’t much money to be made curing something as minor as the common cold, so the possible cure ended up sitting in a freezer rather than put through human testing.

Now that we have a crisis, though, things are very different. Trump reportedly tried to poach a German pharma company which has a promising possible COVID-19 vaccine, with the goal of making it a US exclusive, but so far that isn’t happening.

The delightfully named Gilead Sciences owns another promising possible COVID-19 vaccine. The drug is now being tested as a last resort on some coronavirus patients. Meanwhile, the company is involved in a major legal battle with China — they applied for a patent on the drug in China to cover all coronaviruses, but now a Chinese company has applied for a patent covering its use on the new 2019-nCoV, which didn’t exist at the time of Gilead’s patent. The company are worried that the Chinese government might start making the drug without paying Gilead $50-100 per dose.

A more affordable treatment is Jim Bakker’s colloidal silver. Of course, it’s completely ineffective, but that didn’t stop him from claiming that it would eliminate coronaviruses. Austin’s Alex Jones has also been peddling colloidal silver, including in his special silver toothpaste — which contains no fluoride, obviously.

The CDC has announced guidelines saying no gatherings of more than 50 people. This evening the White House said please, no gatherings of more than 10 people.

2020-03-17: Pool’s closed #

My gym has closed until at least April 1st. I had already decided not to risk it anyway. I’m a swimmer, and it’s not totally clear whether SARS-CoV-2 is destroyed by swimming pool bromine treatments or not. Instead, I’m getting some exercise by going out and walking.

My parents have decided to self-isolate. Dad has Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, so he’s at high risk. It means they don’t get to see the grandkids, but it’s the right thing to do. This evening I’d normally be spending the evening with a friend and her young son, but I’m doing social distancing, so I’m just eating some microwaved chili and writing this instead.

The UK government has definitely abandoned its high risk “herd immunity” strategy, after belatedly realizing how many deaths it would lead to. There were some stories yesterday trying to say it was all a misunderstanding or that the government hadn’t had all the facts, but the Editor of The Lancet isn’t buying that.

The US government passed a bill to ensure that 20% of workers be guaranteed paid sick leave, because unbelievably there is no requirement that companies offer any sick leave at all. Unfortunately even that proved too ambitious for the Republican death cult controlling the Senate, so it was scaled back further.

FOX News has suddenly decided coronavirus is real and an actual problem, reversing their position so quickly that some of their viewers have presumably ended up with whiplash. Four days ago it was a great time to fly, today Fox and Friends were practicing social distancing on the show.

It has been reported that Trump the germophobe would have taken COVID-19 seriously, except Jared Kushner convinced him it was media exaggeration. Maybe he needed time to get his web site set up to make money from it.

The Federal Reserve has now pumped $2.2 trillion into the banks to try to slow or reverse the stock market downturn. For all the good it did, they might as well have shoveled the money into a burn pit and set fire to it. Curiously the people who always ask “How can we afford it?” when a universal US healthcare system is suggested, remained silent during this debacle.

What Congress ought to be doing right now is working out a plan for offering everyone at least the option of Medicare coverage. What they’re actually planning to do is discuss a bailout for casinos. No, really, and also cruise ship operators, airlines, hotels, and the oil and gas lobby. You might think the airlines at least have a legitimate need, but that would be to ignore the fact that they spent 96% of their recent cashflow buying back their own stock.

Meanwhile, a company that makes ICU ventilators — which, remember, we only have around 100,000 of — said that it could increase production fivefold, but that there have been no orders from the US. Asked about this, Trump told states they should try to get their own.

The Federal Department of Veterans’ Affairs is supposed to assist with medical treatment in case of major pandemic, but that information has been quietly removed from the VA web site.

There have been a few positive changes, though. The TSA has relaxed the arbitrary stupid rule about liquids, you can now carry hand sanitizer on the plane. Internet providers have turned off their arbitrary cash-grabbing bandwidth limits. Police have stopped helping landlords evict tenants. All kinds of arbitrary policies have been revealed as totally unnecessary.

Ohio has even started releasing low-risk inmates from jail, because they don’t actually need to keep people in jail for minor offenses. What will happen in prisons if coronavirus spreads through them? Well, inmates aren’t allowed hand sanitizer, and lots of US prisons have terrible overcrowding and ventilation issues that have been largely ignored for years. Thank Joe Biden.

Still, the US is actually only about the 100th most overcrowded prison system. Iran is much worse; they’ve now released 85,000 prisoners, including political prisoners. They’ve also dug two huge mass burial trenches which were spotted from space by civilian satellites.

Back in the US, ICE said on Friday that it had no positive cases of coronavirus in any of Trump’s concentration camps. I wish I believed that. For now, let’s all note that they have been warned and are aware of the risk.

And remember these thoughts I found:

after this is all over, be sure to remind people, as often as they’ll allow you to get away with it, that:

  • telecoms did not need data caps, had plenty of capacity to donate to low-income folks, and were never in danger of going bankrupt because of the lack of data caps or the additional usage
  • folks who work on computers all day can do that wherever computers are; most tech offices are merely trophies to show off to other tech offices.
  • the government wasn’t concerned with helping people, it was concerned with helping business. it was people who were helping people and often the government merely got in the way of that.
  • trillions of dollars was found to allocate as soon as they wanted to; every time anyone asks how anything will be funded it’s merely to shut down the conversation.

keep a running list of your favorite facts and get them in front of as many folk as you can, as often as you can, and maybe, just maybe, we can get more folks on board for change

Pandemic graffito: “Cough on cops”

2020-03-18: The abnormal becomes normal #

It’s amazing how quickly one can become used to something. On Monday and Tuesday I had a hard time doing anything, but today I got on with work pretty much normally. Yes, we’re in the middle of a massive crisis, and tens of thousands of people are going to die, maybe even over a million… but on the other hand, my daily life isn’t much different to the way it was before.

The year everyone was forced to be an introvert for months! I’m trying to imagine how it would feel if the situation was reversed, if some strange disaster meant that I was required to go out to a party and meet a bunch of strangers every evening. I’d probably want to die by the end of the first week. Sorry, extroverts, I guess this must be awful for you. But for me, it’s two more days until Animal Crossing is released for the Nintendo Switch, and I can retreat into that happy fantasy life.

I haven’t paid much attention to the news, but I did see that Nevada forced all remaining casinos to close, and 15,000 people who went to a dental conference in Vancouver have been told to self-isolate.

Austin has now officially closed all dine-in restaurants and bars, and is saying no gatherings of more than 10 people.

2020-03-19: One more day #

After telling the public that everything was fine, Richard Burr quietly dumped a ton of his stock. Recordings now prove that he knew weeks ago that the epidemic was going to be serious and just opted not to tell the rest of us.

The CDC is now saying that contrary to earlier belief, younger people are being hit badly by COVID-19 too, with 20% of US hospitalizations being 20–44 years old. Some states are seeing a 20x increase people filing for unemployment, so expect those figures to look terrible next week as they’re already worse than the worst week of the last major recession. A survey suggests we could be looking at 14 million newly unemployed, i.e. 9% of the population, and the official prediction is up to 20% unemployment in the longer term. If you want a graph of how the epidemic is going for assorted countries, the FT one is probably the best choice.

Tomorrow is Animal Crossing release day. It’s about the only thing I can think of to look forward to right now. I don’t expect to take much of a vacation this year, and I’m sick of living in this slow motion train wreck. I’m ready to retreat into a fantasy world.

2020-03-20: Animal Crossing day #

Today rothko went to the supermarket so we could restock a few items. She went alone, the idea being that two of us in the supermarket have a bigger chance of getting infected than one of us. She also went in the morning, to try and avoid as many people as possible, and wore disposable gloves. When she got back we wiped everything down with bleach wipes before putting it away.

Meanwhile in Florida, following on from spring break partying, there’s a major uptick in people with a fever. The only other place seeing a spike like that is NYC. If those fevers are coronavirus, there could be a lot of dead elderly people in Florida in a few weeks.

The USA is now outpacing every country except China for coronavirus infection spread, and we haven’t even started serious testing yet. But I’m going to continue with social distancing and other precautions, because if we end up with a hundred thousand dead — or even perhaps a million — I don’t want that on my conscience.

Today was the release day for Animal Crossing: New Horizons on Nintendo Switch. If you’re not familiar with the game, it’s an incredibly chill life simulator that’s played in real time. People play it for years. I’m counting on it to get me through the rest of 2020. For the few hours I played it after work, I literally forgot that coronavirus was a thing, and found myself smiling.

2020-03-21: Ready to do something else #

So the answer to “How long would it be before mathew decided he’d quite like to leave the house and interact socially with some people?” is “About 8 days”. I haven’t changed much in that respect. My parents used to have to literally force me to play with other kids. I’d be quite happy with a book or a giant box of LEGO, but they’d take me out to playdates whether I wanted it or not.

Someone who was in one of rothko’s classes has tested positive. It’s possible they were infected at the time they attended the last class, but more likely that they caught the disease afterwards as the time to symptoms is typically closer to a week per the reports I’ve seen. A friend who works at the airport was symptomatic and got tested, but test results are currently taking 6-7 days because the labs are backed up. In the mean time they’ve recovered somewhat and the current symptoms don’t seem so much like COVID.

New York state has over 10,000 coronavirus cases, about half the country’s total. New York City is about 2-3 weeks from running out of key medical supplies.

It occurs to me that assuming most of the population gets infected eventually, and assuming the estimated fatality rates are correct, I probably know at least one person who will die of COVID-19. I’ve seen other people talk about the AIDS epidemic of the 80s, but I don’t think I knew anyone who died of AIDS; my gay friends were all too nerdy or too young or both. (Sorry guys, but you know it’s true.)

2020-03-22: Pretending to see the future #

Apple is donating millions of face masks to medical professionals.Texas is up to 325 cases as of yesterday, 6,522 tests administered.

The Fed is predicting that we could see 30% unemployment and a 50% drop in GDP in Q2.

US infection rate has now apparently outpaced where every other country was at this point in their infection curves. Each country started the battle on a different date; but N days into the respective battles, we have more infected than China or Italy and a faster rate of increase.

If you think “Oh, well, I can ignore that because it should be per capita”, note that Italy has more hospital beds per capita than the US and still ran out, and check out the helpful per-capita version of the graph someone plotted. Notice that the per-capita infection level at which Italy was forced to go on lockdown matches tomorrow’s expected US levels, and notice the estimated US ICU capacity line we will blow through a week from now unless social distancing measures turn out to have been having a significant effect.

I’m not optimistic about that, because today Senator Rand Paul got tested for coronavirus, went to the gym, had a swim in the pool, had lunch with other Republican senators — and then found out that yes, he has the coronavirus. And he’s a doctor so you’d expect him to know better about the importance of social distancing. I mean, why was the gym even open? They’ve all closed here.

My message here: I hope you’re already taking this situation very seriously, because it is extremely serious, and it’s going to get a lot worse before it starts to get better. Read about what Italy was going through a week ago, because they’re effectively talking to us from two weeks in the future. Sure, I’ll be delighted if it turns out that we’ve been dramatically overestimating US infection rates and everything is fine, but I’m going to try to mentally prepare myself for that not being the case. I don’t think false hope is helpful in a situation like this.

Case in point, Trump praised an antimalarial drug. Lots of hopeful people are apparently self-medicating with it, because there are reports of poisonings. There are horrible side effects from all of the antimalarial drugs which doctors think may prove to be effective against coronavirus; you do not want to take them without medical supervision.

So what did I do today? I made pancakes for breakfast. I went for a walk, and kept my distance from everyone I encountered. I chatted to family via FaceTime, and I played Animal Crossing.

2020-03-23: Republican death cult removes the mask #

Starting to see the stories of horrific COVID-19 deaths appearing in the media. On Fox News, Hannity read off a letter listing ingredients for a quack preventative for coronavirus.

After Trump mentioned chloroquine phosphate as a cure for the coronavirus, a man in Arizona ingested it, and died.

Trump had to shut down almost all his hotels, including the ones that make him most of his income. In an amazing coincidence, he has started to talk about wanting to ignore experts and lift the coronavirus lockdowns soon.

Matthew Dowd of ABC News agrees with the President that perhaps large numbers of people should die for the good of the economy.

Dan Patrick, Lt Governor of Texas, thinks old people should volunteer to die to save the economy.

I had a somewhat productive day at work, played Animal Crossing, and then played The Division 2 for a bit.

Tomorrow Austin goes on lockdown. I’ve read the proposal and it basically means everyone is going to be legally required to do what we’ve been doing for a week and a half or so, so I’m not upset at all.

2020-03-24: Leaving the house #

Today I had a phone appointment with my doctor to get some updated prescriptions; I figured it was a good time to make sure I had all my asthma inhalers up to date rather than making do with old expired ones that still basically worked. As we hung up I wished her good luck. (It was supposed to be a video chat, but the video system wasn’t working at their end.)

The CDC announced that traces of SARS-CoV-2 were found on the Princess Cruises ship 17 days after the passengers disembarked. Yes, that’s not active viruses, just RNA; but, you can get infected from enough pure enough RNA from a SARS-type virus. So it seems that like anthrax, part of what makes this coronavirus so deadly is the way it sticks around.

Later I left the house for the first time in days, to go to the pharmacy. There were cars and people around, but it was still very, very quiet. Austin is now under shelter-in-place order until at least April 13th.

Seeing the eerily quiet city was worse than staying indoors. I can stay indoors and just pretend I’m being me, but if I go out and see empty streets and emptied shelves and makeshift barriers it drives home just how bad the situation is.

Sign in window: “Don’t cough on me”

2020-03-26: Bill Hicks #

Woke up yesterday from dreaming about Bill Hicks. An Austin startup had worked out how to bring him from his timeline to ours. He was still going to die of pancreatic cancer at 32, but they could scoop him into the present day for one last sellout performance.

Since this is a dystopian SF timeline we’re in, you can download the SARS-nCoV-1 genome on the Internet. Maybe you can turn it into a pretty picture or a piece of music?

Probably thanks to Mardi Gras, Louisiana how has the fastest coronavirus growth rate. Florida will probably be next to see a big leap because of spring break. Mississippi is refusing any kind of lockdown. Here in Austin, dozens of people were spotted going out for a swim at Barton Springs.

Our local supermarket chain did a better job of preparing than the Trump administration.

Today US unemployment rose by four times the record set in the 80s.

I now know two people who are symptomatic and have been tested for coronavirus, but neither has the lab results yet because the labs are backed up. Both were also tested for flu and know it isn’t that, though.

2020-03-29: Losing count #

I miss restaurants. Cafés too. Eating out or going for coffee was one of life’s little pleasures, and a signpost that helped me remember where in the week we were. Now the days have started to run into each other like one big formless gray existence.

Some people are still deep in denial. You can show them the graphs, and they’ll say that all the other countries undercounted their cases but that the US is counting them accurately, and that’s why the US looks like it’s doing worse then literally every other country.

People in Florida are still packing the beaches. Trump supporters are still throwing coronavirus parties, even though that guy who claimed COVID-19 was a media plot against Trump has now died from it. Even Trump supporters who’ve spent days in the ICU won’t take it seriously.

I got a face mask in Animal Crossing a couple of days ago. Yesterday a gift balloon dropped me some toilet paper, one of the animals taught me how to sneeze, and another animal got sick. I’m convinced Nintendo have deliberately tailored the game to help us process the current situation. Given their track record of fitness products, and the care they’ve taken to things like gender issues in the new Animal Crossing, it doesn’t seem unlikely.

Animal Crossing screenshot

2020-04-03: Self care and surrealism #

Another month-long week has passed. March 32nd went better than expected after everyone decided April 1st had outlived its usefulness. In a world where RuPaul is fracking and Republicans are actually urging letting grandma die to help the stock market, the April Fool tradition has outlived its usefulness.

The official story is now somewhat in accordance with reality. People no longer tell me I’m crazy for saying we will see over 100,000 dead. I wish being right felt better but it doesn’t, it hasn’t since 2016.

I was becoming a fan of at-home mail order medical tests even before the current situation, but now the chance to skip visiting a doctor’s office seems very appealing. It’s colon cancer screening time. You can work out what that involved. I couldn’t help thinking of John Waters’ “Pink Flamingos” (RIP Divine). It probably didn’t help that we watched a nature documentary this week that featured actual pink flamingos. When I went to take the box to the UPS Store I couldn’t help noticing that Austin finally has its traffic problems solved. Pity it required an apocalypse.

Mental health self care is exhausting. Don’t look at the news. Every story on every channel is about the nightmare, so don’t look.

Try a podcast. This American Life brings you stories from the Apocalypse. Radiolab brings you their new series about Guantanamo and torture and the creeping fascism under the surface layer of disaster. Planet Money on the economics of why the hospitals don’t have ventilators. Two hours of Ross and Carrie in quarantine. Back Story and Stuff You Missed In History on the history of past pandemics. OK maybe not podcasts then.

Don’t look at the train wreck. You’re in the train, and the driver is a madman, but don’t look.

Social media? Sure, let’s check in on how many of your friends have COVID-19, how many are unemployed, how many are short of food, how many are falling apart mentally. Let’s watch people scream at each other because they have to let it out somewhere. OK maybe not social media.

Don’t look at the car crash. That’s your friend in the wreckage, but don’t look.

How about some TV? A nice sitcom. Laugh at the people in their pre-apocalyptic world. Oh look they’re at a restaurant. Oh look they’re visiting friends. Oh look they’re hugging. I remember those things. OK not TV then.

Listen to some music. Oh this is a live recording, remember gigs? Remember crowding into venues? Something else. A studio album. A bunch of musicians in close proximity in an enclosed studio space. Maybe not.

Play video games or something. And try not to think about the fact that next week is going to be worse.

I saw an article talking about the sense of doom during the Cold War, but that wasn’t like this. Normal life was normal during the Cold War. Plus, I had a plan: if we got the warning, I would climb to the top of the tallest building I could get to, face towards the US nuclear command and control bunker located about 10 miles away, and wait to be instantaneously vaporized by the first round of Soviet missiles.

I didn’t say it was a good plan.

I looked up the bunker for old time’s sake, and learned that it was shut down in 2007. It has been photographed by some urban explorers, and is now a listed building.

All the usual routines are gone, and everything feels surreal, like a nightmare you can’t wake up from. That’s why Animal Crossing is so massive, getting extensive coverage in The Guardian, the New York Times, NPR, and other outlets that wouldn’t normally cover a video game. Everyone is using it to stay sane. It ought to be allowed HSA spending.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go see a raccoon about a bridge.

Graffito: “What if it never goes back to normal?”