Saturday, May 16, 2020

Weekend Reading: The Tempers Fraying Edition

I am on the fourth day of a headache. It recedes sometimes, but keeps coming back. On Wednesday, it was what I call an "almost migraine" - I was feeling woozy and getting cold in addition to having a headache, both of which are signs that if I didn't go back to bed I'd probably end up with a full migraine. Thursday was better, but Friday morning the almost migraine was back. This morning, it is just a garden variety headache again.

I'm not sure what triggers these. The best guess is probably hormones. I have mostly figured out how to handle them so that I don't lose too much work time, but the combination of feeling behind on the things I need to do and the headache itself makes me short-tempered. Which is why I had a stupid argument with my husband on Thursday night about the fact that I was the one filling out the paperwork for our aftercare, like I always do. (And I do mean always: this was my ninth straight year of filling these same forms out.) They had only given us one day notice on when the submission period would start, and in general you need to get the paperwork in on the first day of the submission period to be sure of a spot. Who knows if that will be the case this year, but we wanted to submit on Friday and so the paperwork had to be done Thursday night.

Anyway, I slammed my clipboard with my to do list down on the table in a fit of pique that I am ALWAYS the person who fills out the paperwork, not realizing that my phone was on the table under some other papers. And that's how I cracked the screen on my phone. It cost $200 three years ago, so it was not a catastrophe that I broke it, but it was annoying. I decided to buy another $200 phone and got the exact same phone I'd just bought for Petunia earlier in the week, the Samsung A10e. I ordered it Thursday night, it was delivered yesterday, and I am almost done setting it up. So I guess as "stupid things I did to myself because I was angry" things go, this one wasn't too bad. The old phone was starting to need to be charged multiple times in a day, anyway.

This did make me realize, though, that we need to rebalance some of how we split up tasks to take into account the way life is right now. I am usually the one who figures out processes to make life work better and Mr. Snarky is the one who does a lot of the maintenance chores. Neither of us loves these tasks, but they fit our strengths well and it has been a fairly even split in time and annoyance. Until now. His stuff is still about the same as it was before all of this started, and he has even commented on how nice it is to be able to go out and do some gardening after lunch most days. My stuff, on the other hand, has increased at least 10-fold. I have figured out new ways to get groceries, what extra things we should order to be prepared for whatever is next (multiple times, since "what's next" keeps changing), what our mask processes should be (e.g., where we store them, when we wash them - only if we've come within 6 feet of someone else or we wore them a lot, what to do about the fact that masks won't stay on Petunia's ears, etc.), how to help the kids stay in touch with their friends, how to help Petunia keep doing art classes, and more.

I keep thinking I have everything sorted and we can just run with our processes, and then things change again. I don't think I would have been so angry about the aftercare forms if I didn't have the headache, but I probably still would have been cranky. There is just so much to do and I am tired.

But you didn't come here to read my whining. You came here for links! Here's what I have this week:

You maybe saw the picture of the man at the grocery store in a Klan hood. That was in Santee, which is a suburb of San Diego. It has long had a reputation for racism and intolerance, so much so that it has the nickname of "Klantee." This article in my local paper explains the history and also the way that many of the people living there now are trying to change things and build a more inclusive future.

I found this personal essay about the lure of conspiracy theories very insightful.

The Washington Post interviewed some public health experts about what they think is safe and what is risky. It is a good read.

Also very good: the blog post from a UMass biology professor named Erin Brommage about what we know about the risks right now. It has been all over the internet, including in the comments to last week's post here, so you've probably already read it. But if you haven't, it is good.

One of the cool things about Talking Points Memo is that long time readers will often write in with "front lines" sort of reports. There are two reports that posted this week that I encourage you to read: one from a manager at a grocery store and one from an American living in New Zealand.

I follow both the Wellington and Auckland Zoos on Instagram, and also Zealandia, a bird sanctuary near Wellington. They are all opening up now as New Zealand continues loosening its restrictions because they have the outbreak under control. We're hoping to call my in-laws this weekend to hear how that's feeling for people in the country.

It has been a but weird following how things are going in NZ. The country has about the same population as San Diego county, so in some ways we can directly compare. But as a country, NZ can impose strict quarantines on people coming in. San Diego county can't do that. It is clear we're still getting visitors from other parts of the state. The local newspaper interviewed people from Orange and Riverside counties on our beaches the first weekend they were open. We're also getting visitors from other parts of the country. Pumpkin has been playing a game in which she looks for each state's license plate in alphabetical order. She got Vermont in February and has been stuck on West Virginia. She got it this week, walking around our neighborhood. We've never seen that car here before. We also see plates from New York, Louisiana, Nevada, Iowa, Washington, and South Carolina. Some have been here a long time, but some are new.

There are also still people crossing the border with Mexico - both legally and illegally. That is a complex topic I'm not going to go into today. My point is just that the patchwork "let the states and counties handle the response" approach we have taken in this country due to the failure of Federal leadership has some serious limitations. No one is going to be able to have a New Zealand-like response because no one has the ability to control new arrivals like New Zealand did.

We need a national plan. We don't have one. Ezra Klein's piece laying that out is infuriating, but really worth your time.

In comparison, here's a nice write-up of what New Zealand got right in its response.

Lest you think that New Zealand is some sort of perfect society.... here is a creepy story about a Subway worker abusing the access to contact information given to him due to the epidemic response. Everybody talking about having lists of who visits restaurants, etc., as we start to reopen should be thinking about the potential for abuse and how we can protect against it.

Derek Lowe continues to publish excellent explanatory pieces at In the Pipeline. I'll link to his Q&A about vaccines and monoclonal antibodies both because it is very good and because I encourage you to search for the comments from "Mammalian scale up person" for a dose of reality about the challenges ahead once a good monoclonal antibody is found and validated. In the Pipeline has A LOT of readers in pharma and biotech and his usual commentariat is unusually well-informed. It is one of the few places where I always at least scan the comments.

I am pointing you to Mammalian scale up person's comments not because I don't think we could overcome the challenges described, but because doing so is going to take a level of Federal leadership (and international coordination) that we're not getting right now. Add this to the things that are at stake in the November election.

Also, the fact that a vaccine is almost certainly farther away than the optimistic "18 months" we keep hearing doesn't mean that we're doomed to stay isolated until then. If we can get cases down to the level where good old-fashioned contact tracing followed by isolating contacts is feasible, then we can get more things back with less risk. I feel like we're doing a really poor job of explaining that to people.

And we should be wearing masks. Making that a partisan thing is one of the worst things that has happened in our response. Here is a video from a professor explaining what his computational model shows about the impact of near universal mask-wearing on transmission. Their model indicates that 80% of people wearing masks by about day 50 of an outbreak, we can significantly reduce the size of the outbreak. For those of us who are living under stay at home orders, if we mask up as we exit those orders we can help keep the case numbers flat.

This case study from Canada is striking - a symptomatic COVID-19 patient on a long international flight wore a mask and no one else on the flight got infected.

It is frustrating that the early advice from the WHO and CDC was against mask use, since that added to confusion. But one way to look at it is that our sacrifice in staying at home for the last two months bought time for the research and discussion needed to change the thinking on use of masks. We now know more about how to reopen some things more safely.

Here's a reminder of yet another reason to be cautious: SARS-CoV-2 infection appears to be linked to an increase in Kawasaki-like disease in children. This is very worrying.

Which is why I think I also need to share this tweet:

In better news, Gilead is taking steps to scale up availability of remdesivir.

Stat News had a very good summary of the key takeaways from the Senate hearing about the COVID-19 response. Read the first takeaway: our leaders are too optimistic about vaccine development. They're looking for an easy out. We need leaders who are putting together a plan for the reality of a long haul instead.

And now the things that are helping me through right now:

This article about a 1000-year-old mill in England starting back up to address the flour shortage is wonderful.

Last night, Mr. Snarky and I watched some of the recording of the livestream Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires did in support of their new album. It was set up so that they could see the people watching them on Zoom, and they interacted a bit. We talked a little about how people are finding ways to make connections and community happen right now, and how seeing that is one of the nice things about this time.

Along those lines, if this isn't real, I don't want to know:
In other interesting music we watched last night, there were two songs from LA-based bands about this moment in time that we really liked and thought captured the feeling well:

First up, OK Go, a band that is most famous for its elaborate videos. Stay long enough to see the best use of a toy piano in a music video:

"Everyone alone all together on the precipice" is a great line.

And next The Regrettes, who have the best band name ever:

These cats have social distancing figured out:

Here is your rabbit of the week:

Happy weekend, everyone!


  1. I don't think it's true that TX Republicans are banning masks at their convention. I can't find anything about that from news sources and it would be all over the TX papers if it were true. Also: I can't imagine them not selling MAGA and related masks at the convention itself.

    1. I am glad to hear that! I should have gone and checked before tweeting.

  2. I keep thinking we need more rigid division of labor to make sure things are fair but I realize that our semi rigid semi fluid way of doing things is why they are more fair than not. When it comes to household stuff (not money or car stuff because I feel strongly about the money and he has strong opinions on how to do car stuff), we adapt to doing what's needed as it comes up if the other person isn't available as often as we leave it for the other person to do. But it's also prone to imbalance as well. The past few weeks I've been getting my work done because his workload was light but then he took all the childcare and food prep and dogwalking burden entirely and I mentally checked out. Oops. We're adjusting again. A bit.

    1. We made a chores schedule with the kids today. I introduced them to the idea of treats as a way to make an unpleasant meeting better and we all ate chocolate and agreed on our schedule... hopefully that will help with some of the strain both the adults in the house have been feeling! We hadn't increased their chores because we didn't want to overload them in the early days when they were adjusting to the new way of doing school, but it was time to change that.

  3. Thanks for the info about contact tracing as a solution to our current isolation. Everyone is only talking about vaccines so I didn't see a way to safely see people in person again until the vaccine, but contact tracing does offer a solution to keep the epidemic from exploding again.

    Also, did you fix the problem with Petunia's masks staying on? My husband prints mask straps that go around the back of your head on his 3-D printer and we're mailing them out to anyone who needs them. I'd be happy to share some if you want and are willing to share an address.

    1. Thank you! I've bought some mask extenders from Esty. The first one I tried is cute and would work for when she has to wear the mask continuously, but is too fiddly to quickly take on and off, like when we're out walking in our neighborhood and mostly can stay far enough away from people to not need the masks. I have another design that arrived yesterday and we haven't tried out yet. But I also tried sewing buttons on a stretchy headband, and that's worked pretty well, and she can take the mask on and off on her own with that method. I may have to buy more headbands!

  4. I watched the simulation showing why everyone needs to wear masks, but I wonder where they came up with the number of 70% efficacy of homemade masks. Do you know? Everything I've seen says that we don't have any proof that homemade masks can reduce transmission. I still wear a mask just in case but 70% seems like a best case scenario.

    1. I don't know where they got a 70% effectiveness number - since that group is in Hong Kong, that may come from data on surgical masks which are more available there. I have seen a range of numbers for cloth masks, which makes a certain amount of sense, since it will depend on the cloth and the design. But the consensus of what I've seen is that while cloth masks aren't very good at protecting the wearer from other people's infections, they are pretty good at protecting other people from an infection the person wearing the mask has - which is why we need high percentages wearing masks to protect us all. The key is that transmission seems to be mostly droplet, not aerosol, and a cloth mask can act as a physical barrier to keep the droplets from getting out. I'll dig up something reliable that summarizes for next week's links!

  5. Also - loved the OK Go song. Thanks for sharing!


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