Unofficial Advice from Italy (and New Jersey)

Here’s unofficial advice from S. Abbas Raza, who lives in Northern Italy (there have now been more deaths in Italy than China):

• Stay calm but be concerned: this is probably the greatest single challenge the world has faced in our lifetimes. Decisions made in a panic are not good … and don’t keep reading everything about Corona all day every day—I did that for a couple of days and then I couldn’t sleep. It is very important to pay attention to one’s mental well-being at this time, as well as physical.

• It is best to get serious advice and information from reputable scientific sources…. For example:

Centers for Disease Control Coronavirus Resource Page

World Health Organization Coronavirus Resource Page

Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center

Harvard University Coronavirus Resource Center

[Avoid the president’s daily “briefing”. He has turned them into campaign rallies. He downplayed the problem for weeks, wasting precious time, and is now bragging and spouting misinformation. Pressure is building to stop televising what he says live, since he’s become a public health risk. For example, here, here, here and especially here.]

• Stay at home. Buy groceries for at least a week at a time (two if you can do that) and then don’t be tempted to run out for that one brand of potato chips you suddenly have a craving for. Now is the time to be disciplined about this. As one doctor advised, behave as if you have the virus and don’t want to give it to others.

• A good way to make a comprehensive grocery list is to walk through each room in your house with a pad and pen and look around carefully and see what you might run out of in the next week or two. This way, I remembered to buy shaving blades when I was in the bathroom looking around, for example, which I would have forgotten otherwise. Same happened with laundry detergent in the laundry room, etc.

• Convince others to take the problem seriously and insist that they cancel plans for socializing, travel, etc. Do this calmly and without getting worked up, otherwise they will dismiss what you say as the product of irrational fear. This will only work if we all do it. Obviously.

• Avoid public transport and walk if you can. Driving a car is also better than public transport, for once.

• The natural tendency is to want to visit one’s parents and other family in a time like this. Don’t. [Use online video] with them and keep in touch more than normal through phone, email, social media, and every way except actually being there. Everyone needs reassurance these days, and it’s nice for people who love you to hear your voice.

• Just in case, make a plan with your family about what you will do if one of you gets sick. Better to do this while calm and healthy than in a panic.

• Use this time to exercise more…, read, do stuff you’ve been putting off that can be done at home. Or just watch TV….

• I’ve also found that keeping the house spic and span helps a lot psychologically to ward off thoughts of disease.

• …. Buy a variety of foods to store as you get sick of eating the same things….

• Be extra kind to everyone and remain patient and avoid emotional outbursts. And stay home if you can!

Unquote.

Also, use disposable gloves whenever possible. And consider a scarf when you have to go somewhere.

And wash your hands! A lot! Because “soap absolutely destroys the coronavirus”.

If you think governments are overreacting, see the graph from a couple days ago in this article. Italy tried to isolate the virus. Now it’s spreading and we are about nine days behind them.

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We’re Being Tested, But Not in the Right Way

There is good news on the coronavirus front. But not in this country.

From the Popular Information newsletter:

South Korea, a country of about 51 million people, conducted nearly 200,000 tests as of Monday. In South Korea, you could get tested for coronavirus in a drive-thru lane, without ever getting out of your car. The strategy appears to be working. “[T]he country has seen a steady decline in new infections over the last few days,” NBC News reports.

Initially, the United States conducted very few tests because the T—- administration decided to develop its own test kit rather than using functional kits from the World Health Organization or commercial suppliers. That test did not function properly.

But that problem appears to be solved….

So how many Americans have been tested? The CDC is not releasing comprehensive data on testing, so the best information comes from three guys updating a Google Doc. Aggregating state data, they’ve found only 7,695 Americans have been tested, as of Wednesday evening [NOTE: The latest number is 8,909 — but if we were conducting tests at the same rate as South Korea, we might have done 1.2 million by now].

As a result, coronavirus is still spreading undetected in many communities….The lack of testing increases the chances that things will get much worse.

As it turns out, having a functional test kit isn’t enough to perform a coronavirus test. You also need something called an “RNA extraction” kit to “prepare samples for testing.” And there is a shortage of these RNA extraction kits in labs across the country.

CDC Director Robert Redfield admitted to Politico that the shortage of RNA extraction kits was a major roadblock. “I’m confident of the actual test that we have, but as people begin to operationalize the test, they realize there’s other things they need to do the test,” Redfield said. Asked what he would do to address the shortage, Redfield replied, “I don’t know the answer to that question”….

The main supplier of RNA extraction kits is Qiagen, a Dutch diagnostics company. Qiagen “confirmed that its product is backordered due to ‘the extraordinary pace’ at which the world has increased coronavirus testing over the last few weeks.” In other words, other countries obtained the supplies they needed to conduct testing faster than the United States. Now that T—- administration officials realize that testing needs to accelerate quickly, the supplies are no longer available.

Here is what Dr. Marc Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard, had to say about the inability of the United States to conduct testing at scale:

The lack of testing in the United States is a debacle. We’re supposed to be the best biomedical powerhouse in the world and we’re unable to do something almost every other country is doing on an orders of magnitude bigger scale.

Recall that the administration had people with the relevant background and expertise to handle this precise situation. T—- fired them in 2018 and never replaced them….

Asked about the reduction in expert staff, T—- defended the decision and said he could get the experts back “quickly” if needed.

Unquote.

We’re lucky that something like COVID-19 didn’t come along sooner. We’ve been at elevated risk since T—- sat down in the Oval Office. (Actually, it did come along sooner when hurricane Maria destroyed much of Puerto Rico in 2017, but nobody much cared about a horrible government response to a disaster that didn’t affect “real” Americans.)