First, some good news:
UPDATED w/ @mikedebonis @seungminkim House moves toward quick vote on Democratic coronavirus package https://t.co/YQrGhcEBLT
— Erica Werner (@ericawerner) March 11, 2020
… Outlines of the plan were shared Wednesday evening with Trump administration officials, with the hope of reaching a bipartisan deal ahead of the vote. The legislation includes free coronavirus testing, up to three months of emergency paid leave benefits to all workers affected by the coronavirus, and could also include an 8 percentage point increase in the federal share of Medicaid payments to states, lawmakers and aides said.
The House effort shows the urgency with which political leaders are moving to contain the economic turmoil caused by the coronavirus outbreak. Although the Senate may not have time to act before a congressional recess scheduled for next week, a number of Republican senators indicated openness Wednesday to at least some elements of the House plan and said it was important to act quickly…
Events were developing rapidly on Capitol Hill after the World Health Organization announced it was declaring the coronavirus a pandemic. A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal thinking, said that the White House would review details of the plan before commenting. But this official was complimentary of the effort by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), saying, “From the beginning, ideas the speaker had were important parts of the conversation.”
President Trump was scheduled to address the nation from the Oval Office later Wednesday and could announce more economic proposals to address the virus.
Some GOP senators were waiting to take their cues from the White House. “A lot of it will depend on what the White House says,” said Senate Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa).
Trump is pushing aides to develop a large tax cut package, and he could allow people to delay filing their taxes. Trump pitched Republican senators Tuesday on a big payroll tax reduction that could last through the end of the year and his reelection. But the response was skeptical, and House Democratic leaders are not including any such measure in their plan.
The paid sick leave component of House Democrats’ plan would replace two-thirds of wages for most workers, up to a $4,000 a month plan. The proposal would extend eligibility for unemployment insurance. It is also expected to include about $1 billion in emergency appropriations to expand access to food security programs including food stamps, Meals on Wheels and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. The overall price tag of the plan was unclear as of Wednesday evening, but was expected to be in the tens of billions of dollars at least…
Pelosi spoke twice Tuesday with Mnuchin, including just before meeting with the House Democratic caucus Wednesday evening to discuss the legislation, but she told reporters that White House priorities — included the broad payroll tax cut Trump supports — will not be included in the House package. The tax cuts alone that the White House has proposed could cost as much as $400 billion over one year.
“We made our proposal, and we’ll see how they are in agreement with it,” Pelosi said, adding that White House priorities might be added “for the future, but for right now, families first.”…
Biologist Trevor Bedford is one of the experts I’ve been following for my COVID-19 updates, but a lot of his best stuff is too technical for quick Twitter extraction. Vanity Fair has a new piece on his work — ““The Nature of Viruses Is to Mutate”: Mapping the Spread of a Deadly Disease”:
The map looks like an elaborate subway schematic of lines and circles, except that the dozens of dots aren’t stations in an urban metro system. Colored violet, orange, sky blue, and lime, these circles are places you definitely don’t want to be in. To find yourself inside one of the multihued dots on this highly viral online map means you are at risk of exposure to Covid-19—the novel coronavirus.
Few people are more aware of the literal micro-movements of this tiny bug that’s unnerving billions of people than the map’s cocreator Trevor Bedford, a 38-year-old evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutch, a medical research center in Seattle, the city that also happens to be something of a ground zero in the U.S. for Covid-19. With red, wavy hair and a reassuring smile, Bedford is part Holmesian sleuth, DNA detective, and graphic artist in the mold of Yale statistician and artist Edward Tufte, whose visual depictions have made data not only accessible, but often beautiful.
Since the outbreak began, Bedford (@trvrb on Twitter) has also become an unlikely social media star. “It’s been very, very surreal,” he said. “I now have 70,000 Twitter followers who are all very interested in genomic epidemiology.” At last glance Bedford had over 106,000 followers.
All of this attention is being directed at a previously obscure website that Bedford cocreated in 2015, now called Nextstrain (nextstrain.org)—which last week recorded over 400,000 hits. Nextstrain tracks the genetic mutation patterns of Covid-19—changes in the virus’s genetic code that appear in newly infected people in different cities and countries—as it spreads around the world.
“The nature of viruses is to mutate,” said Bedford, explaining that as these microorganisms rapidly reproduce, genetic errors can occur. But these aren’t the scary mutations that wipe out billions of people like in Hollywood films. “The vast majority of these mutations are absolutely meaningless,” said Emma Hodcroft, an epidemiologist who is on Bedford’s team and based out of the University of Basel in Switzerland, “but they are useful to help us see how the virus travels and changes.”…
The data for Nextstrain is provided by hundreds of scientists the world over, working to sequence samples of the virus as it expands into new locales. “We can post new data in as fast as five minutes between a genome being released and Nextstrain being updated,” said James Hadfield, a geneticist in Bedford’s lab. “I’d say the vast majority is being done within an hour.”
The sequences that feed into this system, however, can take between one and five days to complete, depending on the logistics on the ground—faster than before, said the CDC’s MacCannell, “but it needs to be even faster.”…
Intriguing article from Asia Times — “Why are Korea’s Covid-19 death rates so low?”:
Robust healthcare, prior preparation, aggressive testing – and good fortune
South Korea has the dubious distinction of suffering the second-highest number of Covid-19 infections after China – but can also boast the lowest death ratio among countries with significant numbers of cases.
According to the WHO on March 6, the crude mortality ratio for Covid-19 – that is, the number of reported deaths divided by the number of reported cases – is between 3-4%. In Korea, as of March 9, that figure was a mere 0.7%.
While 7,478 cases were confirmed in South Korea by the Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) on Monday, only 51 have died. Meanwhile, according to data from John Hopkins University, Italy has 7,375 cases and 366 deaths, while Iran has 7161 cases and 237 deaths.
Amid the outbreak, neighboring China has used a “Great Wall” strategy to cordon off entire cities. South Korea has stuck to a liberal playbook: even its most affected city, Daegu, has not been isolated. This makes Seoul’s apparent success in the struggle against Covid-19 a potential benchmark for other affected democracies.
What is behind Korea’s low fatality rate from a virus that has spooked the world? Government briefers speaking to foreign reporters in Seoul on Monday offered some pointers.
Key factors include a robust national health service; prior experience of virus outbreaks and related preparations; aggressive execution of testing, isolation and treatment protocols, fully backed by the law – and two incidences of good fortune…
And a longish (semi-stripped) twitter thread, on what we *should* have learned from earlier pandemics:
1/ Dr. Max Starkloff was a hero who saved countless lives in St. Louis during the Spanish flu pandemic. City governments today ought to follow his example to mitigate the impact of #COVID19.
— Debra Caplan (@debra_caplan) March 10, 2020
2/ Starkloff was the city health commissioner of St. Louis. In October 1918, St. Louis had its first 7 cases. Two days later, Starkloff abruptly ordered the closure of ALL schools, movie theaters, bars, sporting events, religious services, playgrounds, and other public places.
3/ It was a bold move, just two days after the first cases were identified. The mayor backed Starkloff and gave him legal authority to make public health edicts.
City residents had one day to prepare.
4/ St. Louis was the only city in the country to react so swiftly and aggressively. Many in St. Louis initially thought that Starkloff was overreacting. Theater owners protested. There were angry letters to the editor.
5/ Newspapers published political cartoons like this one, entitled "Life's Darkest Moment." pic.twitter.com/29mvctmcnx
— Debra Caplan (@debra_caplan) March 10, 2020
6/ St. Louis’s 7 initial cases quickly grew into hundreds, and then thousands. Starkloff responded by expanding the closures to include most businesses except for banks, newspapers, embalmers, and coffin-makers.
7/ People were furious. Presidents of major companies made statements denouncing Starkloff. The pressure was immense, but he didn’t back down…
10/ But Starkloff never backed down. He instructed his deputies to assert that “the lives of the people should be considered first and the business and money interests of the city later.”
City officials, it’s time to #BeLikeStarkloff…
15/ Starkloff’s measures lasted about two months and had a dramatic impact on the impact of the pandemic on St. Louis.
St. Louis ended up with the lowest mortality rate of any major US city.
16/ Max Starkloff saved lives with quick and decisive action.
No U.S. city has taken up anything like the measures that he put into place, yet. But Starkloff's story offers a powerful illustration of how brave individuals in city government can save lives on a massive scale. pic.twitter.com/RhPDX4cpW8
— Debra Caplan (@debra_caplan) March 10, 2020
Random thought for Juicers who still have to work with the public — ask your managers if they’ll let you wear gloves on the job (nitrile is good, though they make your hands sweat). I’m not a doctor or epidemiologist, but what I’m reading makes it sound like it may help as long as you don’t touch your face with them.
@Mnemosyne: I wear them when I take public transportation. They’re not too bad, though *surprise* fingerprint sensors don’t work.
@Mnemosyne: Months ago when I was using a cashier at Kroger, I noticed she had on gloves. She correctly knew that cash is filthy.
I now wear gloves (disposable vinyl) whenever I go out. Wearing the gloves also acts as a reminder not to touch my face!
Stay away from latex gloves if you can – be nice to those with latex allergies who often are nurses.
Thats an outstanding quick-strike plan by House Dems. Which is why Trump will shoot it down immediately, and then accuse them of being do-nothings.
Congressperson Katie Porter on Chris Hayes for the win. She pointed out there is already a federal regulation on the books that allows the CDC to pay for testing & treatment during a declared national healthcare emergency. Guess we’ll learn in an hour if Trump has finally been persuaded to take COVID-19 seriously.
The unemployment extension will be needed – I’m in that demographic right now – but they need to include a suspension of the job search/application requirements. Yes, most of it does done online, but most interviews are still gonna be face to face. And there won’t be jobs to apply for if places are shut down
Packed stands for the US Women’s soccer team match against Japan at Toyota Stadium, Frisco, TX.
@Leto: Friend in Plano texted a few days ago that the Coronavirus has been found in Frisco. Ugh.
A Ghost to Most
My wife (RN at college) saw two students today who were referred for coronavirus testing. Wee!
The Senate better damn well pass the House bill before going on recess. Since many of them are up for re-election, not passing it seems like political suicide. Yes I’ve given up on Republicans doing the right thing based on principle.
@eclare: Well I’m sure everything will be a-ok. Texas being renown for it’s public health and all.
We’re switching to online instruction with a whole 10 days to ramp up. It’s highly stressful but I guess it gets my mind off the virus in a weird way.
I had heard the St Louis hero story. People tell me now I’m overreacting. At least I’m in good company.
@Leto: My friend in Plano now takes a shower after every time he ventures out. And washes his clothes.
My writing group moved this weekend’s meeting to a Zoom session, so that’s good. They’ve confirmed a case in Pasadena, so it’s definitely here now.
Shitgibbon is just breathtaking in his evil, isn’t he. A payroll tax cut for months can only have the effect of making Social Security less solvent. Disaster capitalism at its finest.
Denmark is going on lock-down. Trying to keep case numbers low and not overstress the health system. All educational institutions, libraries and cultural centers, and non-essential government offices closed for the next two weeks. Bars and discos urged to close, along with all sports facilities and groups such as churches, clubs, etc. Extra public transport being provided to reduce rush-hour crowding, and people urged to work from home.
FEMA’s Atlanta office, meanwhile, sent all employees home on Wednesday after an employee contracted the virus.
So much winning. :-(
Wow. Great story about Starkloff. He doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page (though his great-grandson, with the same name, does).
Gin & Tonic
Our symphony concert for Saturday has been cancelled – too bad, as the Grieg piano concerto is my wife’s favorite. But the state health department is strongly discouraging gatherings of more than 250 people and is cautioning those over 60 about going out – and a classical music concert probably has a median age well above that.
I’m working from home tomorrow, as the company has all the tech people working from home various days this week to make sure we’re in a position to support the entire company working from home if it comes to that.
Ukraine has introduced a national quarantine – no school, no gatherings over 200 people, no spectators at sporting events.
Russia, to my knowledge, is doing nothing except changing the law so comrade Vladimir Vladimirovich can rule as long as likes.
A Ghost to Most
@A Ghost to Most: Wife’s university is joining the online exodus. A large number of international students means she keeps working. Until she tests positive.
My middle kid is in Sarasota to watch Spring Training games and other Florida stuff. She says the stands are packed, people sitting close to each other, the bars and restaurants are the same. No one is taking it seriously. She’s surprised but says they won’t think it’s a big deal until Trump takes it seriously.
She told me she’s worried she might be an asymptomatic carrier because she lives in Seattle. I’m not sure if staying put there or coming home would be better.
She should probably self-quarantine as best she can when she gets back. I just had a conversation with my brother in IL about our mom who lives with him. We’re lucky that she’s pretty much a hermit who never goes anywhere, but we’re still nervous because the first cases in their area were diagnosed this week.
330 million Americans,
137 million Americans with Medical Debt.
GST is “generalized social trust,” for those who would like to actually understand Jay’s cryptic RSS feed.
@eclare: My friend in SF has been doing that for 2wk. Every time we converse, I have new reason (as in: “new news”) to remind him that he was merely 2wk early.
I have a friend living in London. I IMed with him tonight, to see if he was taking it all seriously. His employer is still not at WFH (he works in software, so they could be WFH with no loss except to managers’ egos) and after sthe cuvome pushing from me, he was at “I’ll take an Uber to work tomorrow and WFH after that”. I did my best to convince him that he shouldn’t trust the government to get it right, given that the case curve in the UK is still rampant like in the US. And they’re doing nowhere near enough testing. NHS stripped -down, etc. “Look at Italy, compare to SK”. Etc.
All the things that, thanks to the FPers, we’ve been inundated with for weeks now. I sure hope I convinced him. I’d hate for him and/or his wife to get it.
had it in the first version of the post, two tweets total, but WordPress ate the second tweet, cleaned up the second tweet, WordPress ate the first tweet, so I gave up.
posted tweets lead back to twitter, for those who havn’t enabled security features, so I figure, that like with links, the curious can follow them back to where they go.
so few do.
I’m a software developer with an international company. We were notified today that we are now mandatory WFH for the next 2 weeks minimum. Essential personal only in the buildings. Anyone else needs permission from the CTO or one of their direct reports to event enter.