Post #564: A few random bits of good news

Posted on March 22, 2020


Terminator 2: No fate but what we make

Source:  Flickr.

In the US, we’ve reached the (completely predictable, Post #550) part of the pandemic where the case counts are rising rapidly.  And so, all you are going to see in the news is … well … that.  Every possible variation of … that.

Despite the fact that it’s not really news.  Despite the fact that almost every Western nation has experienced/is experiencing some variation of that exact same curve.  Yes, we’re still on the uphill slope of the curve (below).  And by any reasonable estimate, it’s still too early for us to hit the “inflection point” — the top of the hill, in the curve below.  So we’re going to be going up that curve for a while yet.

And, as of this morning, the US case count is far higher than my naïve prediction of 10,000 from Post #550.  But there’s no way to tell whether that’s due to the lack of testing early on in the US, or to truly more rapid spread of cases here than in other countries.  Or a generally crappy prediction methodology.   Or some combination of those.

But I ran across three things yesterday that lifted my spirits a bit.  I thought I’d share.

Shopping therapy

I have been food shopping at the Pan Am Safeway, out of long habit.  Keeping it to once a week.  (And I respect those who are opting for grocery delivery for the time being, despite that service being in exceptionally high demand at present.)

But even before the coronavirus, the workers there had a hard time keeping the Safeway stocked.  By the end of a typical Saturday, the shelves usually looked pretty moth-eaten.

It’s stressful enough to go food shopping.  Make your list, wash your hands, maintain appropriate social distance, don’t touch your face, stifle any urge to cough/sneeze/clear your throat, don’t handle things except to put them in your cart, get home, wash your hands, put away the groceries, wash your hands.

And then wash your hands again, because, eh, it can’t hurt.

I haven’t reached the point of washing canned goods and such, but that’s because most of mine will sit on the shelf for quite a while before being used.  And I don’t wear a mask — yet — because my guess at odds says I ought to keep whatever stock I have of those, for the time being.  But I respect those who do.

So it’s not exactly an ordeal, but it’s hardly anyone’s idea of a good time.

The sight of empty shelves, and inability to get everything on the list, just adds to the stress. This, despite the fact that intellectually, I am absolutely sure there has been no material interruption in the grocery store supply chain thus far.  But some things are just not rational.  Maybe it’s the primordial fear of starvation.

Which is kind of hilarious, given that I could probably live off my body fat alone for the better part of a year.  The rule of thumb is that a pound of body fat provides about 3500 calories.  Or about two day’s worth of energy once your metabolism shuts down and goes into starvation mode.  Have you thanked your love handles lately?

Another weird plus of grocery shopping in the coronavirus era is that I have learned to stifle a sneeze — without touching my face — merely by thinking about it, really hard.  As in OMG, I’m in a grocery store, I can’t sneeze here.  Old dog, new trick.

Yesterday I decided to try Fresh Market, just to see what the littlest and least-used grocery store around looked like.  It was a pleasant surprise.  It was not exactly fully-stocked, but … pretty close.  It was almost like a regular, normal trip to the grocery store.   They had some of everything that was on my list, and the bare shelves were few and far between.

It’s not a cheap place to shop, by any means.  But as a form of therapy, yesterday, it was well worth the expense.  I talked to the clerk as I was checking out, and their produce, milk, eggs, etc. were wiped out by the the 3/14/2020 weekend panic shopping.   Just like everybody else’s.  But for whatever reason, they have their store largely back in good order.  I didn’t see any TP, but I honestly don’t even know if they carry it.

Anyway, it was a much-needed bit of near normalcy.

As an afterthought, I’ve been trying to figure out why this is so.  Why Fresh Market looks so much better than Safeway at this point.  One possibility is purely physical:  It’s a small, well-staffed store, with limited stock of each item, and so fewer total boxes are required to restock it.   (As opposed to Safeway, which is gargantuan and was thinly-staffed at the best of times.)  So their net-time-to-restock is lower.  Maybe it’s just lightly used, and people are such creatures of habit that nobody would try shopping in anything but their “regular” store?  But it also occurs to me that stores might be giving home-delivery orders first pick for scarce items.  If I were in their shoes, that’s exactly what I’d do.  Safeway has its own dedicated home-delivery service, while Fresh Market only has Instacart.  So maybe, in part, I’m seeing the fact that Fresh Market doesn’t really have home delivery as a major portion of its business?  No way to tell at this point.


Parts of China not badly hit by the virus are reported returning to near-normalcy

Count of daily increase in COVID-19 cases in China.  Source:  World Health Organization report on coronavirus in China, see Post #551.

Recall that they only hit their inflection point (the peak of the hill depicted above) at the end of January.  Less than two months later, and the reports are trickling out that areas that were not badly hit by this are returning to near-normalcy.  E.g., schools have reopened.

No way to tell yet whether we’ll follow that curve or not.  Authoritarian regimes can do a lot more to keep people isolated when necessary.  On the other hand, they spent a couple of months just figuring out what this was.  Plausibly, they may have actually fumbled around for longer than we did.  (Which doesn’t excuse us, since they didn’t know what it was and we did, but facts are facts.)

And the understanding of this continues to improve.  For example, the WHO report on China (Post #551) said that there was no approved treatment, in China, at that time.  That report is less than a month old.  But as of a few days ago, China had approved one cheap, easily-manufactured, currently available, largely obsolete, but apparently effective drug for this (Post #562).  One that physicians can use right now.

An extended rant on chloroquine/hydroxychloroquine.  Sure, some dumbass who knows nothing about viral infections or arithmetic was touting this as some sort of miracle that would stop the epidemic.  But, as Einstein is reported to have said, “There are only two things that are infinite — the universe and human stupidity — and I’m not so sure about the first one.”  So don’t let the presence of basic ignorance at the highest level of government allow you to dismiss this.  To be clear,  at present, hydroxychloroquine is a treatment for those who are already sick.  Which, pretty much by definition, ain’t going to stop the spread of the disease.  It has not been subject (yet) to a large-scale randomized controlled trial of effectiveness.  Further, it doesn’t cure anyone.  All it can do, at best, is reduce the severity of the illness somewhat, presumably by blocking some step in the replication of the virus.  Again, somewhat.  But that, by itself, will be extremely helpful in avoiding exceeding the capacity of the US hospital system, because reducing severity and duration of illness probably a) helps avoid some hospitalizations all together, b) helps avoid ICU use within hospitalizations, and c) reduces length-of-stay and so frees up hospital beds sooner.  Finally, it is being tried on an experimental basis to see if it can reduce the likelihood of infection within a family, of which at least one member is known to have the virus.  So if that latter use actually pans out, it might — emphasis might — play a minor role in preventing some of that second phase of disease spread, the one the WHO report characterizes as being within family units.  That said, despite all limitation and caveats, assuming it works as it currently appears to, it beats the hell out of having nothing but folk medicine (Post #552) on hand to treat this.  And that’s something to be thankful for.

I’m not going to give citations to particular reports.  I’m just saying that amid the relentless pounding of bad news about coronavirus, you might want to Google “china return to normal”.  Clearly there’s some propaganda mixed in with the truth.  And “normal” is not “the same as it was before coronavirus”.

But if we can just keep our act together, we might be able to do as well as the Chinese.  Maybe even better.  That’s an OK thought.

Virginia’s not so badly off, Fairfax County included.


I realize that, as a retiree, I don’t really have to face the worst of this.  Other than having my brother joke in an email about this virus being renamed “boomer remover”.

That said, while case counts continue to rise, in absolute numbers, things still look fairly manageable.  The graph above looks awful until you focus in on the scale at the left.  Yesterday, there were 34 new cases reported in Virginia.  In the entire commonwealth.  You have to keep the current scale of this in perspective.

Anyway, as my wife and I were out walking yesterday, we happened to meet a couple of folks.  (We chatted a while, carefully maintaining the required 6′ distance.)  One of whom works with the local ambulance providers.  I have a handful of those N95 masks (mine are P95 for lead paint, but same difference).   I asked if I ought to donate those to the Vienna VFD.  And the answer was, no, there’s no supply problem here, right now.  Just hang onto them.

So even as I am not facing a lot of the problems that working people now face, we in this community are not even close to hitting the real horror show that is now going on in parts of Italy.  And if we can just keep our act together, there’s no reason we should have to.