The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

We now return to your pandemic, already in progress

Today's news:

President Trump claims he knew COVID-19 was a pandemic all along, even though he had a strangely ineffective way of showing it.

Finally, and not related even a little to COVID-19, Olga Khazan writes in the Atlantic about "the perks of being a weirdo."

Today in your apocalypse

Actually, things seem to have quieted down. Bars and restaurants in Illinois closed last night at 9pm, and my company has moved to mandatory work-from-home, so things could not be quieter for me. I'm also an introvert with a dog and gigabit Internet, meaning I have a need to leave my house several times a day and something to do inside. (I'm also working, and in fact cracked a difficult nut yesterday that made today very productive.)

Outside of my house:

Finally, I was able to get everyone on board with a new date for Apollo After Hours. That only took five days...and 80 emails...

It's worse...

The Dow Industrial Average index of 30 blue-chip stocks dropped almost 3,000 points today, erasing almost all the gains the index made since President Trump's inauguration. This comes on the first business day after the Federal Reserve dropped interest rates to near zero, and the CDC issued new guidance on avoiding groups of 50 or more for the next 8 weeks.

Related stories, just from today:

I will now resume beating up a partner organization for deploying software on Friday night that broke literally everything on our side.

Screeching to a halt

Illinois governor JB Pritzker has closed all bars and restaurants (except for carry-out and delivery) from the close of business tonight until March 30th:

“There are no easy decisions left to make as we address this unprecedented crisis,” Pritzker said at a news conference Sunday afternoon. “Every choice now is hard, and it comes with real consequences for our residents. But as your governor I cannot let the gravity of these choices prevent us from taking the actions that the science and the experts say will keep people safe.”

Effective end of business Monday, bars and restaurants will be closed to dine-in customers, with options of delivery, drive-thru and pickup through March 30, the governor said. The state is working with bars and restaurants across the state to ensure they can keep kitchens safe enough to continue home food delivery.

The closure of bars and restaurants goes a step further than an earlier announcement by Chicago officials that the city would limit any establishments that serve liquor to 100 people, or half their regular capacity.

This quite obviously suspends the Brews & Choos project, at least until April. Fortunately I've already written the next four posts and I've got a fifth one ready to go. I'll just space them out a little bit more. So after tomorrow's post, expect to see a new one every three days instead of every two.

How not to engage in crisis profiteering

Some dingleberry from Tennessee thought he'd make easy money by stocking up on hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes. Now he's got a garage full of things Amazon won't let him sell. And he's whining about it to the New York Times:

On March 1, the day after the first coronavirus death in the United States was announced, brothers Matt and Noah Colvin set out in a silver S.U.V. to pick up some hand sanitizer. Driving around Chattanooga, Tenn., they hit a Dollar Tree, then a Walmart, a Staples and a Home Depot. At each store, they cleaned out the shelves.

Over the next three days, Noah Colvin took a 1,300-mile road trip across Tennessee and into Kentucky, filling a U-Haul truck with thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer and thousands of packs of antibacterial wipes, mostly from “little hole-in-the-wall dollar stores in the backwoods,” his brother said. “The major metro areas were cleaned out.”

Matt Colvin stayed home near Chattanooga, preparing for pallets of even more wipes and sanitizer he had ordered, and starting to list them on Amazon. Mr. Colvin said he had posted 300 bottles of hand sanitizer and immediately sold them all for between $8 and $70 each, multiples higher than what he had bought them for. To him, “it was crazy money.” To many others, it was profiteering from a pandemic.

The next day, Amazon pulled his items and thousands of other listings for sanitizer, wipes and face masks. The company suspended some of the sellers behind the listings and warned many others that if they kept running up prices, they’d lose their accounts. EBay soon followed with even stricter measures, prohibiting any U.S. sales of masks or sanitizer.

Now, while millions of people across the country search in vain for hand sanitizer to protect themselves from the spread of the coronavirus, Mr. Colvin is sitting on 17,700 bottles of the stuff with little idea where to sell them.

Let me suggest other things he can sit on.

Closer to home, my own foraging yesterday turned up odd gaps in supply chains. The Trader Joe's in Evanston ran out of dairy and frozen food; the Whole Foods closer to my house had lots of dairy, but no frozen food or dried beans. They had tons of bulk rice, though, so I wonder what people are eating their beans with. Other friends reported Jewel stores having no produce, and Mariano's having no working escalators, which I suppose is less a problem for the public than it sounds.

Meanwhile, the Mayor of Chicago has just announced a cap on bar and restaurant patronage at the lesser of half the establishment's capacity or 100. Why they didn't do this yesterday, before massive crowds went out to St Patrick's Day celebrations, astounds me.

Be first. Be right. Be credible.

Those words appear on the cover of a 450-page CDC-written manual called "Crisis Risk Emergency Communications." Apparently, if anyone in the Trump Administration has read the book, they have chosen to do the opposite, instead of bungling everything accidentally:

Protecting vulnerable people from a virus that, according to some projections, could infect millions and kill hundreds of thousands, depends on U.S. leaders issuing clear public health instructions and the public’s trust to follow directions that could save their lives.

The fundamental principles behind good public health communication are almost stunningly simple: Be consistent. Be accurate. Don’t withhold vital information, the CDC manual says. And above all, don’t let anyone onto the podium without the preparation, knowledge and discipline to deliver vital health messages.

Nearly every day since the coronavirus landed in America, the White House has issued “mixed and conflicting messages from multiple sources,” the first guideline in the manual’s list of potentially harmful practices. “Overly reassuring and unrealistic communication” has come from the highest levels of government. The “perception that certain groups are gaining preferential treatment” has become a problem with health care workers complaining they can’t get tested while two asymptomatic Trump allies in Congress, Celine Dion and the members of the Utah Jazz basketball team were able to access tests.

The CDC manual devotes an entire chapter to “choosing the right spokesperson,” someone who gives the government and its message “a human form.” But the government’s leading health experts have had to repeatedly cede the microphone to politicians — with the nation’s top health officials repeatedly canceling news conferences to make room for Vice President Pence or Trump or to avoid upstaging other White House announcements.

And to my Republican acquaintances who say I'm criticizing the president because I just don't like him, you've got it backwards: I don't like him because of this kind of thing. His ineptitude has, and will continue, to cost lives.

As Aaron Sorkin once wrote, "We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. This a time for serious people, [Donald], and your fifteen minutes are up."

The hits keep coming

Last night I had the wonderful experience of performing Bach's Johannes-Passion with the Apollo Chorus of Chicago and the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra. I say "performing" because, recognizing that we had already cancelled our performance on Saturday and would probably cancel Sunday's as well, this was our one shot. Three months of preparation, hours of study and practicing German diction, gone. And I'm on my second half-personal-day at home dealing with the cleanup, which has included a few hundred emails, changes to the chorus website and ticketing system, consulting with the rest of the Board...and grocery shopping.

We cancelled Sunday's concert in part because Illinois Governor JB Pritzker ordered all events with 1,000 or more attendees cancelled, and recommended events with more than 250 people also be cancelled. Since we have 100 singers and 75 instrumentalists on stage...well, there you go. No audience allowed. 

This makes me no different than other performers and athletes all over the world right now. In Chicago alone, the list of local cancellations has dozens of items. Just now, the Chicago Teachers Union has demanded that Chicago Public Schools close as well. For parents and children who live with food insecurity, that could hurt a lot.

And yet, the thing that enraged me, and has generated near-universal opprobrium, was the President's speech on Wednesday night. Some reactions:

  • "Trump’s 10-minute Oval Office address Wednesday night reflected not only his handling of the coronavirus crisis but, in some ways, much of his presidency. It was riddled with errors, nationalist and xenophobic in tone, limited in its empathy, and boastful of both his own decisions and the supremacy of the nation he leads."—Washington Post
  • "This latest Trump speech was uniquely incompetent and inappropriate.... In my view it had three problems: how it was conceived; how it was written; and how it was delivered."—Former presidential speechwriter James Fallows
  • "At every turn, President Trump’s policy regarding coronavirus has unfolded as if guided by one rule: How can I make this crisis worse?"—David Frum
  • "Rather than focusing on what we need to do here at home, the president focused on trying to ward off the evil that he insisted was coming from abroad."—Chicago Council on Global Affairs president Ivo Daalder
  • "Donald Trump is panicky and clueless"—Kevin Drum
  • "Trump is singularly incapable of addressing this credibly or effectively, with anything like the right mix of realism and hope the crisis demands."—Andrew Sullivan

We live in really weird times. If only we had a leader to reassure us.

Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt

What an exciting 24 hours.

President Trump made a statement from the Oval Office last night about the COVID-19 pandemic that completely failed to reassure anyone, in part because it contained numerous errors and misstatements. By announcing a ban on travel from the Schengen area of 26 European countries that applies to non-US residents, he enraged our European allies while doing nothing to stop the spread of the virus for the simple reason that the virus has already spread to the US. Not to mention, having a US passport doesn't magically confer immunity on people.

But let's not question the virologist-in-chief at this moment, who has so far refused to heed his experts' advice to issue an emergency declaration until Jared Kushner signs off on it. And wouldn't you guess? Republicans in the Senate have balked at an emergency spending bill because it has the potential to demonstrate that government can help in a crisis, which is why they blocked prevention measures earlier.

A few minutes after trading started today, the New York Stock Exchange hit the brakes to hold the plunge in equities values to 8% for 15 minutes while traders pissed themselves. Trading seems to have stabilized as it resumed, but the markets have now fallen about 25% from their February records.

The National Basketball Association has suspended its season and the National College Athletic Association played the first few games of March Madness without audiences.

In Chicago, PepsiCo became the first company to close its headquarters building, and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange has halted in-person trading entirely. Following California's ban on assemblies of more than 250 persons, Illinois is considering a similar measure. (Scotland has banned groups of 500, and Ireland has cancelled St Patrick's Day events.) And local colleges have moved their spring classes online.

Finally, as a member of the Apollo Chorus of Chicago Board of Directors and as the co-chair of our annual benefit, I am in the position of having to make some of these decisions myself. In another post I'll talk about that. For now, I can say we've sent a few hundred emails around the organization in the past 24 hours because we have concerts scheduled for this weekend and a dress rehearsal scheduled for tonight.

And, of course, I'm working from home again, and I think I should vote today instead of Tuesday.

Updates as conditions warrant.

Updates

I spent an hour trying (unsuccessfully) to track down a monitor to replace the one that sparked, popped, and went black on me this morning. That's going to set me back $150 for a replacement, which isn't so bad, considering.

Less personally, the following also happened in the last 24 hours:

I don't have a virus, by the way. I'm just working from home because the rest of my team are also out of the office.

A century ago, in Kansas...

...the 1918-19 influenza pandemic began. Historian John M Barry studied the outbreak, summarizing his findings in a 2017 Smithsonian Magazine article that did nothing to help me feel more comfortable about our present circumstances:

At its worst, the epidemic in Philadelphia would kill 759 people...in one day. Priests drove horse-drawn carts down city streets, calling upon residents to bring out their dead; many were buried in mass graves. More than 12,000 Philadelphians died—nearly all of them in six weeks.

Across the country, public officials were lying. U.S. Surgeon General Rupert Blue said, “There is no cause for alarm if precautions are observed.” New York City’s public health director declared “other bronchial diseases and not the so-called Spanish influenza...[caused] the illness of the majority of persons who were reported ill with influenza.” The Los Angeles public health chief said, “If ordinary precautions are observed there is no cause for alarm.”

For an example of the press’s failure, consider Arkansas. Over a four-day period in October, the hospital at Camp Pike admitted 8,000 soldiers. Francis Blake, a member of the Army’s special pneumonia unit, described the scene: “Every corridor and there are miles of them with double rows of cots ...with influenza patients...There is only death and destruction.” Yet seven miles away in Little Rock, a headline in the Gazette pretended yawns: “Spanish influenza is plain la grippe—same old fever and chills.”

People knew this was not the same old thing, though. They knew because the numbers were staggering—in San Antonio, 53 percent of the population got sick with influenza. They knew because victims could die within hours of the first symptoms—horrific symptoms, not just aches and cyanosis but also a foamy blood coughed up from the lungs, and bleeding from the nose, ears and even eyes. And people knew because towns and cities ran out of coffins.

People could believe nothing they were being told, so they feared everything, particularly the unknown. How long would it last? How many would it kill? Who would it kill? With the truth buried, morale collapsed. Society itself began to disintegrate.

Time and time again, we see that public officials lying or minimizing imminent threats makes the results worse. Time and time again, they lie or minimize imminent threats.

Good thing Mike Pence is on the job today. It's not like he ever lied and minimized an imminent health threat, causing loss of life that his government could easily have prevented.