“I believe in innovation, and the way you get innovation is you fund research and you learn the basic facts.” – Bill Gates


Even Less Positive 

JM is negative. So are PR, RT, and SC. K is positive. So is PB, my trainer.

PB’s result was not a surprise. In the week between contracting the virus and having symptoms, I trained with him three times. That was three hours of proximity when I was breathing heavily indoors. So that makes two positive, four negative, and eight that are currently asymptomatic but waiting for results.

I’m back to reading the most recent studies, trying to answer the questions everyone is asking:

* How deadly will the current surge be?

* How close are we to herd immunity?

* Is the current strain of the virus less virulent than the older ones?

It’s now six months since we had our first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the US. Back then, the facts were very few and the models for predicting the infectiousness and lethality of the virus were very poor. Some of the important speculations made at the time were scarily wrong.

Today, there is loads of data to look at.

The problem is that the Corona Crisis has become so politicized that it’s impossible to gather the information you need from press reports. The left-leaning media reports almost exclusively findings and conclusions that are frightening. The right-leaning media reports almost exclusively findings and conclusions that are optimistic.

So what I’m doing is looking at as many studies as my research assistant and I can find, note the results, ignore the conclusions, and focus on the facts.


How deadly will the current surge be?

 Here are the facts:

As I said on Monday, the current surge began a month ago. On June 8, there were 21,269 new cases and 908 new deaths reported in the US. As I write this, on July 7, the number of two-week-average new cases in the US is 44,343 with 705 two-week-average new deaths. The number of two-week average new cases two weeks ago was 25,274, while the two-week-average new deaths was 675. That represents a surge of 75.5% in new cases, but an increase in average new deaths of only 4.4%.

Here’s an example of the bias you’ll see in interpreting the facts. While the right-leaning media was pointing out the “good news” that the rise in the death rate has been very small, the left-leaning media was reminding us that there is an average two- to three-week lag time between symptoms and death. “Expect to see a surge in deaths soon,” they said.

That didn’t happen.

So the left-leaning press moved on to scarier stories (like the diminishing ICU bed capacity in Texas and Florida). And the right-leaning media has been reporting on studies that suggest the current strain of the virus might be less virulent than what we experienced in March and April.

Whatever the reason for the currently low death rate, the fact is that new cases are still climbing. And they are likely to keep climbing until social distancing becomes widely practiced among the younger populations.

My guess is that the current surge in new cases will peak soon, probably in the next week or two, and then it will fall, almost as fast as it climbed. But then we will have a second wave in September or October, unless, by some miracle, we can achieve herd immunity before then.


So, how close are we to herd immunity? 

Viruses don’t extinguish themselves. They proliferate until their basic reproductive rate (R0) drops below 1. And that happens only when the percentage of the population that has achieved immunity reaches a certain threshold.

The classical model that epidemiologists use to predict herd immunity estimates that the threshold for COVID-19 is around 60% of the population. But the model assumes that a population gains immunity due to a vaccination program, rather than as a result of infection during an outbreak.

Meanwhile, mathematicians at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom and Stockholm University in Sweden realized that different groups of people within a population spread infections at different rates. And when they updated the classical model to take into account rates of transmission in different age groups and among people with varying levels of social activity, the threshold for herd immunity was way below 60%.

The new model suggested that herd immunity would be achieved once 43% of the population had contracted the virus. At that point, the infection would stop spreading and the outbreak would come to an end.

Two other studies have suggested that the pandemic could be over sooner and be less lethal than feared.

One, conducted by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, found that the prevalence of immunity to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 might be much higher than indicated by previous research. And a study by researchers associated with the University Hospital Tübingen in Germany found that people who have been previously infected with versions of the coronavirus that cause the common cold also have some immunity to the COVID-19 virus.

In the Swedish study, researchers performed two tests. One was meant to identify the presence of antibodies produced in response to COVID-19 infections. The other was to check for T-cells, another virus-fighting component of the immune system.

“One interesting observation was that it wasn’t just individuals with verified COVID-19 who showed T-cell immunity but also many of their exposed asymptomatic family members,” said one of the researchers. “Moreover, roughly 30% of the blood donors who’d given blood in May 2020 had COVID-19-specific T-cells, a figure that’s much higher than previous antibody tests have shown.”

In the German study, researchers analyzed blood samples of 365 people, of which 180 had had COVID-19 and 185 had not. When they exposed the blood samples to the COVID-19 coronavirus, they found, as expected, that blood from those who had had the illness produced a substantial immune response.

More significantly, they found that 81% of the subjects who had never had COVID-19 also produced a T-cell immune reaction. This would suggest that earlier common cold coronavirus infections might provide about eight in 10 people some degree of immune protection from the COVID-19 virus.

These were not huge studies. They have to be tested again. But if they prove out, it would be very good news.


Is the current strain of the virus less virulent than the older ones? 

I haven’t found the answer to this question yet.

I have read about several studies that suggest it might be true – that the strain of coronavirus that currently affects about 70% of those that are infected is less virulent than the strain that killed so many people in March and April. But I haven’t yet found those studies, so I’m going to have to report on this again when I do.

For now, I can say this: The people to whom I gave the virus and I have had minimum to moderate symptoms. That’s too small a sample to draw conclusions from, but it’s enough for some hope.


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Not So Positive 

“Just as despair can come to one only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings.” – Elie Wiesel

In Friday’s blog post, I told you that I had contracted COVID-19 from someone that was, at the time, asymptomatic. So that answers one question: Yes. Asymptomatic carriers can be infectious.

But my contact with this person was not casual or brief. I spent an hour wrestling with him. As I said in an earlier essay on the virus, I can’t imagine a more efficient way of transferring a virus than by wrestling with someone for an hour.

Well, I can – which brings me to this: K tested positive. This was hardly a surprise to either of us. We had been sharing the same bed before I discovered I was infected. She, like me, has had only mild, flu-like symptoms. And yes, she’s not happy with me. She’s staying at the beach house. I’m still in the doghouse.

I’m not worried about her health. She’s youngish and super-healthy. As I said on Friday, I’m worried about the people on my “contact list.” Three, in particular, would be categorized as vulnerable. Two with a compromised immune system and one an octogenarian.

One of them got results yesterday. He was negative. He’s someone I exercise with, so I was relieved. All of which brings me to a question about the current surge in cases.

There have been several reports that these new cases are caused by a strain of the virus that is slightly different from the strain that was dominant in March and April. This new strain, some researchers are saying, may be more contagious but less virulent. If that is true, it would explain why we’ve seen such a sharp rise in cases nationwide (really, worldwide) but have not seen a rise in average death rates.

We have to be careful about comparing current cases with current deaths because of the lag time between symptoms and death. I was unable to find exact numbers, but the estimate that has been repeated is three weeks.

The current surge began on June 8, about a month ago. That’s more than three weeks. On June 8, there were 21,269 new cases and 908 new deaths reported in the US. As I write this, four weeks later, the number of new cases in the US is over 40,000 with 737 new deaths. That’s encouraging news, but it’s nothing to feel good about. The current two-week average death count has not climbed much, but it has climbed a little. My guess is that the primary reason the death count is not rising sharply is because such a high percentage of recent cases are young people. And their chances of dying from COVID-19 are relatively low.

If this trend continues, we could see the surge as a positive development in that it would be getting us closer to herd immunity. And that, as I’ve pointed out previously, is the only way COVID-19 can be eradicated. (An effective vaccine, widely distributed, is the fastest and safest way of achieving herd immunity.)

Which brings us to another question that I’ve been trying to answer since I got the bug:

Do the antibodies produced by a person who has been infected with coronavirus protect them from becoming infected again? 

Here again, I rely on the best report I’ve seen on the virus recently, from Harvard Health Publishing:

Most people who are infected with the COVID-19 virus, whether or not they have symptoms, produce antibodies (proteins that fight infections). New research published in Nature Medicine looked at how long those antibodies last.

Results from this small study suggest that levels of one type of antibody dropped sharply within two to three months. However, the decrease in neutralizing antibodies, which target the spike protein on the coronavirus and can help protect against reinfection, was much smaller.

Whether or not the remaining antibodies protect against reinfection, and for how long, is still unclear. It’s possible that even low levels of neutralizing antibodies may be able to protect against reinfection. On the other hand, the presence of antibodies does not guarantee immunity.

Another consideration is that antibodies are only one part of the body’s immune response. Memory B cells, for example, can quickly generate a strong antibody response to a virus that the body has encountered before.

So that’s something to hope for.

More on Wednesday…

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“Accept the terrible responsibility of life with eyes wide open.” – Jordan Peterson

I’m Positive
I’ve written at least a half-dozen essays on the coronavirus and COVID-19 since the beginning of April.

I was positive that the original case fatality estimates were wrong. I was right about that.

I was positive that we would get a second wave because of the successful slowing of the virus and herd immunity. I was right about that.

My earliest projection of the US death toll for COVID-19 was that it would be between 60,000 and 600,000. (I know. Right now, it seems like an easy guess. But I made it when the projection was 2 million to 3 million.) I’m sticking with this.

And then I was sort of positive that I could go back to grappling without catching it. I was wrong about that.

On Wednesday, I found out that I was positive.

As you can imagine, I have mixed feelings about this. I have zero worries about myself. I am as healthy as a bull. But I am very worried that I might have shed the virus to someone more vulnerable during the 8 days that I had it but didn’t know I had it.

Worse, I’m ashamed of the fact that I went back to training, confident that I wouldn’t get infected when the disease was spiking like mad all over Florida. In retrospect, it seems insane. I cannot attribute it to anything but self-delusion, self-indulgence, and arrogance.

I’ve had some bad moments since finding out. What if I infected someone that gets badly sick or dies from it?

I thought about offing myself.  But my sense of ex-Catholic guilt wouldn’t allow that. I thought of going quiet. My sense of Judeo-Christian morality wouldn’t allow that. Finally, I summoned up Zeno and the Stoics and decided to stop worrying about what I could not control and work on what I can control. And so I’m writing about it.

Today, I’m going to share a few of the emails I wrote to the dozen or so people with whom I was in contact between catching the virus and discovering I had it.


Memo 1: Monday noon, June 29, 2020

I’m writing to let you know that I had bad flu-like symptoms Sunday night and today. I’m feeling better now after a long rest. But to be safe, I’m going to get tested for COVID-19 today.

I’m writing, obviously, because we were in contact in the last two weeks. I’ll let you know what the results are.


Memo 2: Tuesday evening, June 30, 2020

I was hoping I’d get the results today. No dice. My doc said I’d have them tomorrow morning. I’ll let you know as soon as I do.


Memo 3: Wednesday noon, July 1, 2020

I tested positive. I have COVID-19. I am feeling fine. My symptoms were strong only for about 18 hours, and I slept about 14 of them.

But you have been exposed. So you should consider getting tested.


Memo 4: Wednesday afternoon, July 1, 2020

In my email to you this morning, I suggested that you should get tested ASAP. According to a bit of research I’ve done since then, ASAP is the correct time to get tested only if you have been exposed and also have symptoms.

If you have been exposed (as you have) but don’t have symptoms, the best time to get tested is 7+ days after exposure. The reason for this is that the reliability of the current testing is very low the day of and the day after exposure and then improves to about 95+% at 7 days.

So when was I infected?

It was the morning of Saturday, June 20th.

I know that because it was the day I took a BJJ lesson from a friend who was diagnosed positive last week.

If you were in contact with me from that date till June 26, you can get tested right away. If you were in contact with me within the last 7 days, you should schedule your test for 7 days since the day we were together.

You can, of course, can get tested as soon and as often as you wish. Just remember that getting tested before the 7-day lapse will give you a result you can’t trust.

Note: The test I’m talking about is the swab test – not the serology test. The swab test determines whether you have COVID-19. The serology test determines whether you had it before and recovered from it.

Also note that during the first days of infection, the amount of viral material in the body may be too low to be detected. If, for example, you get tested on the day of contact, your chances of getting a false negative (the test says you are negative, but you are positive) are 100%. If you wait 4 days to get a test, the chances of a false negative drop to 40%. At 7 days, the chances of getting a false negative are quite low.

That’s why the CDC guidelines recommend getting the test about 7 days after contact.

Except, of course, if you develop symptoms sooner than that.


Memo 5: Wednesday afternoon, July 1, 2020

First, some hopeful news: No one that I am writing these emails to has had any symptoms so far. According to the CDC and a report that I’m reading from Harvard, the most common incubation time is 3 to 4 days. That period of time has passed for all of you. That doesn’t mean you are out of the woods. The virus incubated for 8 days in me before showing itself. In rare cases, they say, it can incubate up to 14 days.

Second, you’ve asked about my symptoms: They were as follows: Initially (Sunday night), I noticed a loss of appetite and a lack of focus. I was tired and couldn’t concentrate on my work. I went to sleep and woke up the next morning with fairly severe flu-like aches and pain in the joints. I could barely get out of bed. I had a strong suspicion that I had contracted the virus. After making an appointment to be tested that afternoon (by my doc) and writing to all of you, I went back to bed. When I woke up later that afternoon, I felt 90% recovered.

Today, I feel 100%. That means, I hope, that the viral load I took on was relatively small and the viral load I have been shedding is relatively small as well. But we can’t be certain.


Memo 6: Thursday morning, July 2, 2020

The hopeful news: I’ve been reconstructing the details of my contacts since June 20. Of the 14 people I’ve been in contact with, I’m quite certain I kept a good social distance from all but 4. Those were K, J, G, and R. If you remember differently, let me know.

Also, since I was asymptomatic during this time (no fever and not coughing or sneezing) and since my symptoms were brief and not very severe, I’m hopeful that the viral load I was shedding was low.

The annoying news: Since you have been exposed, you will have to follow the recommended protocol. That means self-isolation as much as you possibly can, and wearing a mask and keeping social distance if you have to be around people. I am very sorry to have put you in that position. But believe me, you don’t want to be in my situation now – worrying that you might have infected someone else.


Memo 7: Thursday afternoon, July 2, 2020

Two people asked me, “How long after I am infected will I continue to be contagious? One person asked, “At what point in my illness will I be most contagious?”

The answers come from Harvard Health Publishing:

People are thought to be most contagious early in the course of their illness, when they are beginning to experience symptoms, especially if they are coughing and sneezing. But people with no symptoms can also spread the coronavirus to other people if they stand too close to them. In fact, people who are infected may be more likely to spread the illness if they are asymptomatic, or in the days before they develop symptoms, because they are less likely to be isolating or adopting behaviors designed to prevent spread.

Most people with coronavirus who have symptoms will no longer be contagious by 10 days after symptoms resolve. People who test positive for the virus but never develop symptoms over the following 10 days after testing are probably no longer contagious, but again there are documented exceptions. So some experts are still recommending 14 days of isolation.

One of the main problems with general rules regarding contagion and transmission of this coronavirus is the marked differences in how it behaves in different individuals. That’s why everyone needs to wear a mask and keep a physical distance of at least 6 feet.

Here is a more “scientific” way to determine if you are no longer contagious: Have two nasal-throat tests or saliva tests 24 hours apart that are both negative for the virus.


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I’ve been writing poems for years. Hundreds and hundreds of them. A small percentage get into print. And most of those, when I reread them after a year or two, are disappointing.

This one was not. I like it as much now as when I wrote it.

But it is, as I say, a found poem. It was written the day after I heard the conversation. It was winter. I bought a cigar at OK Cigars in NYC. I asked if they had a smoking room. They did. It was in the basement. I expected a nicely furnished room with plush leather couches and the like – which is typical of cigar store smoking lounges. But this was just an old, overstuffed chair in an unfinished basement. The conversation that I observed was between two employees that were opening crates at the time.


 Found Poem: In the Basement of OK Cigars

Have you ever made your own envelopes? It’s a hobby of mine. It’s just a thing, kind of strange…

I thought of doing that, but I was afraid the postman might object. Like not sending it, or holding it up for some stupid technical reason. Is there a legal standard for envelopes?

I don’t know, man.

I don’t even know if there should be.

I’m really skeptical of stamps these days – that they will stay on. Like especially ever since they came up with self-sticking stamps.

For sure. You see the edges curling up and you wonder… They might not make it through the scanners!

That wouldn’t be cool.

I think about putting tape on it but I wonder if the dudes at the post office would have a problem with that. I just want it to go where it’s going.

My dad has a massive stamp collection. As a kid I had to soak envelopes to get them off. That’s all I did for years. The sink would get clogged up with glue. The slugs would eat the stuff.

I had to pick dandelions in the yard with one of those two-pronged pickers because my parents were hippies and wouldn’t use weed spray.

But it’s work, man, and work is good. It’s better than doing dishes, I guess.

I can’t watch people doing dishes. It drives me crazy when they don’t rinse them right.

Yeah, that’s bad. That’s really bad. I am so obsessed with rinsing.

Me too. Do you use the rack or dry them with a towel?

I use the rack, man. Why would I go to all that trouble of rinsing them and then wipe them with a crappy towel?

Yeah, it’s like having a washcloth in the shower. I haven’t seen one of those in ages.

So old school.

It’s not right, man. It’s just not right.


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“Testosterone is a rare poison.” – Germaine Greer


Do Sex Hormones Determine Our Thoughts?

Let’s talk about hormones.

I have just come up with a theory. But before I present it, you should know this:

It’s well established that testosterone is the primary hormone that generates the emotions that have been traditionally described as masculine: confidence, competitiveness, aggressiveness, and even arrogance. Countless studies show that men with higher-than-average testosterone levels tend to exhibit these characteristics regardless of the circumstances they find themselves in and regardless of their chosen careers.

Likewise estrogen, the “female” hormone, generates emotions such as cooperativeness, compassion, and the nurturing instinct.

Both men and women produce testosterone and estrogen. But, typically, the average adult man has about seven to eight times more testosterone than the average adult woman.

Here’s an interesting fact: Testosterone levels change after a win or a loss. They drop during and after a loss and rise during and after a win. But the degree and the duration of change differs with the individual. Some experience a great and longstanding drop or rise. Some experience a change that is less dramatic and enduring. By measuring those changes through blood tests, researchers found they could predict what a competitor would likely do about the next competition. Losers that had large drops in testosterone were less likely to compete again, compared to those that had more moderate and less enduring drops.

Another interesting fact: According to Business Insider, testosterone levels can predict how people in the financial community will fare. Traders and financiers with higher-than-average testosterone levels – both men and women – tend to rise faster and make more money than those with lower-than-average levels.

Studies have shown that CEOs – both men and women – tend to have higher testosterone levels than is typical for their sex. (There’s even a rumor that Wall Street companies search out women with higher-than-average testosterone levels because it means they’re more likely to take on risk.)

In one study, researchers found that “young male” CEOs (younger than 45) were “more likely than older [male or female CEOs] to both initiate and kill M&A deals.” They noted, “Young male CEOs appear to be combative… [as] a result of testosterone levels that are higher in young males. [Average testosterone levels drop significantly as men age.] Testosterone… has been shown to influence prospects for a cooperative outcome of the ultimatum game. Specifically, high-testosterone responders tend to reject low offers even though this is against their interest.”

Some other facts:

* High testosterone levels are common among those that advance in other professions, too, such as politics, the military, and even academia.

* There is evidence that testosterone levels are higher in individuals with aggressive behavior, including prisoners (male and female) that have committed violent crimes.

* Researchers found that men with increased testosterone “were 27% less generous towards strangers with money they controlled.”

Neuroscientists generally agree that emotions and thoughts are not biologically distinct. One affects the other. And both exist in specific areas of our brains that are stimulated by our sex hormones.

So my theory is this: Testosterone and estrogen affect the way we think and the sort of thoughts and ideas we prefer.

One example…

My fellow book club members and I were having a discussion about the sort of books we like to read in our club as compared to the books that our wives like to read in their clubs. There is an obvious difference. Our wives prefer to read fiction, and they read only fiction in their clubs. We read half fiction and half non-fiction, though a good third of us read the fiction selections grudgingly.

On those occasions when we and our wives have read the same books (fiction), we preferred the darker novels like Heart of Darkness and No Country for Old Men, whereas the women preferred novels like Vanity Fair and The Goldfinch.

When it comes to genre fiction, the women preferred historical fiction like Wolf Hall, whereas we preferred crime stories like The Killer Inside Me.

Of course there are exceptions and degrees. Within our group, there was a stark divide between those that liked Where the Crawdads Sing and those that abhorred it. Those that liked it were generally more accepting of literary conventions. Those that disliked it saw it as a thinly disguised romance novel.

I was thinking of the people that write for my publishing companies, and I could see a difference there, too. The male writers tend to be more contrarian and confrontational when they write advocacy pieces, and they gravitate to subjects like economics and investing, where conflicting opinions are common. The women tend to be more compassionate and consensus seeking in their writing, and they gravitate towards subjects like travel and natural health, where the emotional content is less volatile.

Again, there are exceptions.

But it does seem that an imbalance in the testosterone/estrogen ratio in favor of testosterone stirs up contrarian, unconventional, even strident, trains of thought and a preference for non-fiction writing that emphasizes such thinking. And an imbalance in the other direction stimulates ideas that are more conducive to consensus and a preference for non-fiction writing that is more accepting of conventional norms – even if those conventions are presented as radical or revolutionary.

I’m generalizing, of course. Some of the best women non-fiction writers I know are contrarian thinkers. And some of the most successful male writers I know advocate ideas that are mainstream and conventional.

But does that refute my theory or support it?

I remember reading a book by Deborah Tannen, a linguist, about the way men and women talk about their experiences. According to Tannen (based on a bunch of studies she did), men tend to present their experiences as examples of how well they fare in competition. Women tend to present them as opportunities for bonding.

One chapter of the book looked at the way husbands and wives talked about vacations they had taken together. The men overwhelmingly reported them as successful, whereas the women told stories about problems they’d encountered. Tannen theorized that the reason for this discrepancy was that, for men, any admission of problems with a vacation they had spent time and money on was tantamount to admitting failure. For women, it was a way to evoke sympathy.

I’m sounding terribly misogynistic, so I should probably drop this theory right now. But I’ll end with a question…

Since we know that the sex hormones (testosterone and estrogen) have a proven effect on emotions, and we know that emotions are inextricably connected with our preferences in many areas (career choices, leisure activities, etc.), why wouldn’t these same hormones also affect the way we think – our preference for certain kinds of ideas?

But before you answer that… have your bloodwork done and compare your hormone levels to the averages.



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“‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers / That perches in the soul / And sings the tune without the words / And never stops – at all” – Emily Dickinson


Fear and Hope for Young People Today 

“I feel sorry for young people today,” a friend said to me recently. “They are growing up in a terrible time.”

I gave him a sympathetic nod. I didn’t want to get into it. I don’t have the same feeling. And I’m not even sure why.

I can understand his point of view. We are going through unprecedented times, as everyone is saying. Never before in modern history (or perhaps in all of recorded history) has so much of the world’s commerce been intentionally shut down for fear of a potential catastrophe. What does this mean for the future? Are we moving into another Great Depression? Will another virus overwhelm us? Will climate change and/or a nuclear war decimate the human race?

The answer comes easily: Maybe… or maybe not.

We don’t know. And so we can’t be sure how we should feel. Or what we should do.

Much of this is a matter of emotion: fear and hope. And emotions are greatly influenced by the information we take in. My friend is a heavy consumer of the mainstream media, and mainstream media long ago learned that fear sells better than hope.

But as to this particular question: Are kids today living in such terrible times?

I was thinking about that when I received the following email from a colleague:

Imagine you were born in 1900. On your 14th birthday, World War I starts, and it ends on your 18th birthday. 22 million people perish in that war.

Later in the year, a Spanish Flu epidemic hits the planet and runs until your 20th birthday. 50 million people die from it in those two years. Yes, 50 million.

On your 29th birthday, the Great Depression begins. Unemployment hits 25%, world GDP drops 27%. That runs until you are 33. The country nearly collapses along with the world economy.

When you turn 39, World War II starts. You aren’t even over the hill yet. And don’t try to catch your breath.

On your 41st birthday, the United States is fully pulled into WWII.

Between your 39th and 45th birthday, 75 million people perish in the war.

At 50, the Korean War starts. 5 million perish. At 55, the Vietnam War begins and doesn’t end for 20 years. 4 million people perish in that conflict.

On your 62nd birthday, you have the Cuban Missile Crisis, a tipping point in the Cold War. Life on our planet, as we know it, should have ended. Great leaders prevented that from happening.

When you turn 75, the Vietnam War finally ends.

Think of everyone on the planet born in 1900. How did they survive all of that?

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“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” – Albert Einstein

The Questions Nobody Is Asking 

I meant to write today about the economic impact of the Corona Crisis. But I feel compelled to continue with yet another discussion of the mysterious logic and undisclosed arithmetic that has been part of this crisis since the beginning. 

Answer This 

Here’s a question: If knowing that the lethality rate is important in plotting a strategy to deal with coronavirus, why haven’t we done the right kind of testing? Why are we testing only frontline workers and people that are exhibiting symptoms?

I’m serious.

Why aren’t we conducting a large random study to determine what percentage of the population has COVID-19? If we knew that, we could answer the critical question: How lethal is it?

If you’ve been following the major media, your answer will be: We have to test people with symptoms to save lives.

But is that true?

Think about it. This is the current protocol…

Step One: You feel that you have symptoms. You call your doctor or some public health service. You describe your symptoms. They ask your age – i.e., if you are over 65 – and if you have diabetes, cancer, asthma, or any other relevant comorbidity issue. If your answer is no, they tell you not to worry.

Step Two: You answer yes and get an appointment for a test. If the test is negative, you are sent home. If it is positive but your symptoms are not severe, you are sent home.

Step Three: Your symptoms are severe enough to be admitted to a hospital. They may, if you are lucky, give you an unproven medication like hydroxychloroquine to get more oxygen in your blood. If that doesn’t work and you get worse, they put you in ICU and keep an eye on you. If you can’t breathe, they intubate you. Your chances then of living are, at best, about 50/50.

Here’s the thing: If you are diagnosed with coronavirus today, your chances of being hospitalized are about 10%. Of those hospitalized today it looks like about 20% of them die. (This percentage is based on the states that are reporting this data.) So that sounds like your chances of dying from coronavirus might be 2%.

But again, this assumes that we have diagnosed 100% of those that have coronavirus, which we’ve seen is an understatement by a factor of 10 to 100. Factoring those numbers into the equation means that hospital intervention, though heroic, is effective for fewer than two-tenths of 1% (0.2%).

That’s sounds terrible, but it’s just another way of saying what the medical establishment has been saying all along: There is no statistically valid medical intervention for successfully treating coronavirus.

So why do tests?

There’s actually a very good reason. If, as I’ve been arguing, the real fatality rate of COVID-19 is a fraction of 1%, we need to know that. It could suggest another protocol for ending the disease than the one we are on now.

The Test We Need 

We can find the real mortality rate with a different sort of testing than we are doing now. If, instead of testing only those with symptoms (and even severe symptoms) we tested a good-sized random sample of apparently healthy people, we could arrive at the number we are searching for.

If we tested 50,000 Americans that don’t have symptoms, we could find out how many of them have been infected and use that percentage as the multiplier we need. Say, for example, that we found out that 10% of those tested had the virus. We could then assume that 10% of the population – about 33 million people – have been infected.

If we do that and discover that the fatality rate is 0.02% (see my April 13 blog), we could then begin an intelligent discussion about the best way to battle the virus.

We still wouldn’t have a treatment. But we would have the three most important facts: How lethal is it? How infectious is it? And how many people have already been infected?

I’m talking here about a big random test, big enough to come up with reliable answers to those questions. But you should know that there have already been several tests on smaller populations. And the results of those tests indicate that the real mortality rate is not the 10% that was first reported, nor the subsequent estimates of 6% and 3%, nor the 1% that Dr. Fauci and Surgeon General Jerome Adams have started using, but just a small fraction of that.

As I’ve been saying for two weeks now, if it turns out that the actual fatality rate is this low, it would mean that just about everything we’ve been doing so far to stop the disease hasn’t made any significant difference.

Not in terms of the final death toll.

I know. That’s sounds crazy. It contradicts everything you’ve been told. But hear me out.

Another Question That Nobody’s Asking 

Slowing the spread of the virus would mean fewer overloaded hospitals. That’s for sure. And that would mean, for example, a better chance that hospitals would have enough ventilators available for their COVID-19 patients that needed them.

But has a lack of ventilators actually been a problem?

I spent an hour this morning looking for cases where hospitals ran out of ventilators. I found none. As far as I’ve seen, everyone that has needed to be on a ventilator was put on a ventilator – even in New York City.

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that 100 patients have been denied ventilators and that half of them died. Since we know that, at best, ventilators save half of those that are put on them (the consensus is between 50% and 10%), that’s 25 people out of a population of tens of millions that were infected. It’s not a statistically significant number.

As I mentioned on Monday, predictions of such shortages is what persuaded me to think that the protocol of social distancing and the shutdown was sensible. But if that isn’t the case, and isn’t going to be the case, we have to consider whether slowing the virus is going to save lives… or possibly increase deaths.

Again, I’m sure this sounds crazy if you trust the information and advice you’ve been hearing from Dr. Fauci and the major media. But what they are saying – that slowing the virus will reduce deaths – doesn’t make sense to me.

The only thing that can stop a virus from spreading is herd immunity.  I hear what you are saying: Vaccination is the way. But vaccination is a type of herd immunity, as I’ll explain in a minute.

Herd immunity is what happens when a large percentage of the population is immune to a virus. Depending on the virus, that percentage can range from 40% to 60%. When you get to those numbers, the virus cannot spread like it needs to because its host population is too small. So it dies off naturally.

This is what happens with the flu each year. Approximately 50% of the population gets vaccinated. And some other percentage catches the flu and gets over it. As I said above, vaccination is not a different strategy from herd immunity. It is an artificial way of accelerating it.

It is also a way to protect the most vulnerable, which is usually the old and those with a compromised immune system. That, too, is standard protocol for the herd immunity strategy. Protect the vulnerable from the higher risk of dying by encouraging them to get vaccinated. Do the same with the general population. But don’t worry if the young and healthy ignore that advice. So long as 40% to 60% of the population becomes immune (by vaccination or by contracting the disease), the virus will die out naturally.

Social distancing is not a way to achieve herd immunity. It is a way to slow the spread of the virus so that hospitals won’t be overwhelmed. But until you have herd immunity – either by vaccinating 40% to 60% of the population or by allowing that many to be infected – the virus won’t die. It will keep coming back until the host population is too small.

This is why epidemiologists are warning us about a second and third wave. It is almost certain to happen precisely because we are slowing the spread of the virus with social distancing.

Put differently, social distancing neither decreases the lethality of coronavirus nor the eventual number of people that die from it. It only decreases the speed at which it spreads.

(Now isolation is another matter. If you are old and have comorbidity issues, self-isolation will definitely reduce your chances of contracting the disease and thus dying. I’ll handle that in a future blog.)

A Final Question 

This brings me to my final question: If we could achieve herd immunity before the middle of next year – i.e., before we can vaccinate 120+ million Americans – wouldn’t that be what we should be striving towards?

If we accept the facts that (1) herd immunity is the only way to kill the virus, (2) the real fatality rate is 0.1% or 0.2%, and (3) that a vaccine is a year or so away, doesn’t it make sense to try to achieve herd immunity as quickly as we can before then, while doing everything we can to isolate those who are most vulnerable?

By achieving heard immunity naturally, by isolating the vulnerable but otherwise letting the virus spread, wouldn’t that render the second and third waves weak or even impotent?

Of course, I don’t know the answers to those questions. But it bothers me that so few people are asking them.

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“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” – Winston Churchill

Corona Crisis: Business Survival Tactics 

I’m reading a lot about how to stay busy during the shutdown. Practice meditation and yoga. Catch up on old movies. Learn a foreign language, etc.

If I were retired or happily unemployed, that’s what I’d do.

I don’t have that option. Like almost all the businesspeople I know, I’m working as hard as I can ever remember working.

And with good reason. We are in a crisis. A pandemic-triggered, macro-economic, business-demolishing crisis that has already killed 10,000 people, shuttered and/or bankrupted thousands of businesses, and put 15 million workers on the dole.

My guess is that the virus won’t end up being as deadly as many fear. But my fear is that the economic repercussions will be great.

The business outlook is grim.

Since March 1, the restaurant industry has lost more than 3 million jobs and $25 billion in sales, and roughly 50% of restaurant operators anticipate having to lay off more people in April.

Three out of five small businesses cannot conduct business remotely. And that’s probably why, on March 26, 74% of small businesses polled by the National Federation of Independent Business said they are being negatively impacted by the Corona Crisis. Just two weeks earlier, the equation was reversed. At that time, 75% said they were doing well.

Trimming the fat is important. Making sales is more important.

In my April 1 blog, I talked about how, despite my instincts and objections, I agreed with some of my partners – particularly in restaurant, hotel, and apartment businesses – to slash every dollar of unnecessary expense and to put some non-essential employees on furlough.

My brother, in whose real estate business I have invested for many years, has done that and more. He has put off improvement and expansion projects, furloughed non-essential employees, and asked those that remain to take on more responsibility. His hotel managers are manning the welcome desk. His apartment managers are selling leases.

He’s also reducing debt expenses by negotiating terms with banks. He’s put in nine applications for the government payroll programs, and he’s applying for additional small business loans.

This is a downside of the hotel business that neither of us anticipated. His plans for surviving market downturns and even extended recessions were predicated on occupancy reductions of 15% to 50%. We never even imagined a scenario where you have virtually no customers. That wasn’t the case even in the Great Depression.

So he’s doing everything he can think of in terms of expense reduction and loans. But he’s also looking to buy triple-net leases and sell them to his investor base. A year ago, a good deal might get you 4%. Today, he’s finding properties that are yielding 6% and 6.5%.

None of these efforts individually would have been enough to keep these businesses running. He and his executive team have had to work doggedly, tirelessly, and creatively to cover cash flow obligations through the rest of the year,

And even if business gets back to normal in 2021, he’ll still be dealing with a considerable debt load that will take him years to pay off.

If you are in the supermarket, alcohol, or delivery business, your sales are probably doing fine. The online publishers I work with haven’t yet seen a drop-off in revenue.

But they are not relaxing. Rather, they are working furiously to keep sales going. They are completing marketing campaigns that once took months in weeks or even days. Our legal and compliance teams are working overtime to get those advertising campaigns approved and out the door. And so far at least, all those extra efforts are paying off. About 75% of these online publishers have maintained their previous revenues. The other 25% are actually doing better than before.

You Don’t Know What Your Customers Want 

It makes sense to imagine that at a time like this the last thing consumers want is to buy products and services that are not essential. They should be saving their money to pay for staying alive. They can start buying your products again next year, when the threat of COVID-19 has receded.

That has a certain logic to it. But it’s not how consumers are responding now. For just about every industry where consumers can keep buying, they are. That may change. But for the moment, we need to keep that in mind.

The Good News About the Current Business Environment 

When things get as scary as they are today, the brain’s reptilian and emotional representatives begin arguing. The reptilian rep wants to fight or flee. The emotional rep worries about the damage either action will cause and blames the reptilian rep for causing the problem in the first place.

These conversations are loud and boisterous – so loud and boisterous that they make it impossible for the representative from rationality to get a word in edgewise.

I am happy to know that most of my partners and key employees understand that. They have all made plans for a serious drop in sales, but they are also pushing hard to optimize their sales and marketing.

And there are good reasons for them to be optimistic.

* The cost of media is dropping fast. 

If you are a digital marketer, you’ve already noticed that the cost of advertising on Google (PPC) and Facebook and other social media platforms is coming down. The main reason for this is that there are far fewer companies marketing now. As the demand for ad space goes down, so does the price of it. I’ve been told that the same thing is happening with TV and radio advertising. Less competition and lower prices sounds like a good thing. Don’t you agree?

* The demand for many products is still strong. 

The publishing businesses I own or consult with sell books, magazines, and newsletters. The topics range from business to travel to health and to investing. In February, when we began talking about options for dealing with impact of the Corona Crisis, we expected to see sales drop and refunds soar.

They didn’t. In fact, there has been little to no fall off on either front-end or back-end sales so far. Three of my clients have seen increased sales this first quarter. Most are seeing steady sales. For some, sales are dropping – but only by 10% to 15%.

There is a logical explanation for this. Most of them are publishers of health, business, and investment information and advice. One could argue that at times like this, consumers want more information and advice from sources they trust. I do think that’s what’s happening here. But I do not believe that these businesses are immune to the Corona Crisis. I have advised them that if the economy stays in lockdown for more than another month or so, they should expect the honeymoon in sales to end.

The main point is this: We considered the cost savings we’d get by reducing our ad spend but decided to continue for a few more weeks, and were rewarded for it.

But the larger decision to keep selling isn’t the only thing we are doing. We are also trying to figure out how to attract new customers and possibly capture market share during this time when so many of our competitors are standing aside.

* New opportunities are emerging. 

 Several of my colleagues in the information-marketing world, for example, have launched crisis-focused publications that talk about how the crisis is affecting their particular industries, with specific advice on how to respond.

A friend of mine in the furniture business has been advertising year-long, zero-interest payment plans. He tells me it’s working. In fact, he says, sales in March were higher than they were last year. (This is also something the car industry is doing.)

I’ve received several notes from legal firms I work with, offering to take care of any estate-planning “issues” I might want to address. And notes from accountants offering to help process government loan applications for me. (I might have seen such efforts negatively if they had come from firms I didn’t already know. But since they came from trusted sources, I took them as helpful and replied to some of them. Good for them and good for me.)

During the bull market that ended with this crisis, big companies and brands grew tremendously, as you’d expect. Small businesses did, too. But at times like this, small businesses have an advantage over their larger competitors. They can move more quickly – adapt and innovate to not just maintain revenues but also increase them by capturing bits and pieces of the market from the big guys.

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 “Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.” – Mark Twain

Coronavirus Update: Bad Math, Dumb Reporting, Unthinking Citizens 

I had planned to publish an essay today about business strategies for surviving the Corona Crisis. I’ve decided to put that off till Wednesday to talk about the latest numbers the media has been reporting – how they don’t make sense and how the new serology tests may help us understand the two questions no one as yet has been able to answer: How many Americans will get infected? And how many will die?

If there is nothing else I will take away from following this story, it is this: Too many doctors and  scientists pretend to know more than they do, and the media’s reporting on the coronavirus and COVID-19 has been uncritical, irresponsible, and sometimes just plain dumb.

I could give you a dozen examples, but I will stick to just a few.

The Case Fatality Rate 

At the beginning of March, when the coronavirus began to be front-page news, the media was reporting that COVID-19 had a “case fatality rate” (CFR) of 10%. In other words, out of every 10 people that had tested positive for the disease at the time, one had died.

Since I didn’t understand what “case fatality rate” meant, that alarmed me. The regular old flu infects between 10 million and 50 million people each year, according to the CDC. So 10% would mean between a million and five million dead.

That was scary. And there were predictions like that at the time. But after thinking about it for about five minutes, I realized that it was impossible to project deaths based on the CFR. As I pointed out in my March 30 essay, it was an almost useless statistic.

* It was flawed because it was measuring current total deaths against current total cases. (Which makes no sense because of the lag time.)

* It was flawed because it was based first on reports from China and then from Italy. (The first were unreliable; the latter skewed by the age of the infected population.)

* It was flawed because it did not take into account the number of negative cases that were negative because the patients had already had and defeated the virus.

But the worst thing about that number was that the media never figured out or explained the difference between the CFR and the true mortality rate, which is the only statistic that ultimately matters.

I said then that I was flabbergasted that no one in the media was talking about these flaws. I became further flabbergasted when – for at least a week and maybe two – Dr. Fauci and other epidemiologists were not mentioning it themselves.

Since then, they have, but only occasionally, mentioned these important variables. But they never explained how important they were in the calculations. They never admitted that the first estimate of 10% and the subsequent estimates of 6% and 3% (the “scientific consensus”) were utterly useless and entirely misleading, based on ignoring logic and bad math.

As I write this, I’m still astonished by this – the bad science and the dumb-as-doornail efforts at reporting. Why was I able to point out the most obvious problem with the CFR – that it had to be much, much higher than the actual mortality rate?

If you want to read more about my logic and the arithmetic I used, you can do it here. Meanwhile, the media is still reporting unthinkingly on the new numbers coming from not just Dr. Fauci and Surgeon General Jerome Adams, but from Governor Cuomo and other politicians that have accepted these numbers without questioning them. Without asking one basic question.

The question is this: For every person diagnosed as positive, how many that have (or have had) the virus have not been tested?

Based on the fact that, at first, we were only testing people with all the symptoms who had been in China or in close proximity to senior centers and other “hot spots”… and that 80% of those diagnosed as positive had mild symptoms or were completely asymptomatic… how could the difference between the CFR and the real mortality rate be anything less than a multiple of 10?

That’s what I said then. And based on that (and the other flaws mentioned above), I estimated that the actual mortality rate would be between 0.85% and 1.02%.

A few days later, Dr. Fauci, the CDC, the politicians, and the media were all talking about a “fatality” rate of 1%. (They had stopped saying “case fatality,” which I didn’t notice at the time.)

In that same essay, I said that as time passes and many more tests are done, the CFR should begin to move closer to the real rate. Was I right?

Not at this point. In fact, the CFR today is actually higher than the 3% bandied about then. It is closer to 6% globally and 4% in the US!

Check it out for yourself. Right now, the number of cases globally is about 1.7 million. And the death rate is 106,000. That’s a CFR of 6%!

And in the US, the number of cases is 520,000 with 20,000 deaths. That is a CFR of about 4%!

So why are all our trusted sources saying 1%?

It could be because they realized that quoting the CFR was hugely misleading. And rather than admit it and explain the difference, they apparently decided to start quoting their estimates of the real fatality rates. That is the only explanation I can think of. Can you think of another?

So today, we are being told that the fatality rate is about 1%. But nobody in the media seems to be questioning how it went from 3% to 1%. They are assuming that the drop is due to washing hands and social distancing. But that can’t be true!

Adaptive behaviors can slow the spread of the coronavirus. But they do not account for these continued differences between a case fatality rate of 4% (or 6% globally) and the new consensus fatality rate of 1%. The difference, as I’ve explained, is in all the flaws I mentioned above.

But nobody is talking about that.

The Projected Death Toll 

The CDC’s original prediction – a worst-case scenario – was for 1.7 million deaths. On March 29, every newspaper and newscast in the nation led with an amazing update on the Corona Crisis. The new estimate was that 100,000 Americans would die from COVID-19… maybe as many as 240,000.

This was big, exciting news for everyone but little old me and anyone that had bothered to do the math I’d done. My estimate was 85,000 to 205,000.

But I didn’t pretend that my figures were anything but extrapolations based on the numbers I had to work with and the questions I had about how they were figured. I used only a few calculations. One to account for the lag time problem. Another to adjust for the difference between real and reported cases. And one that was a simple matter of multiplying my projected real mortality rate against the estimates we were getting on the number of Americans that would eventually get infected.

That third number was based on estimates that ranged from 20 million to 60 million to 200 million. For reasons I explained in my March 30 essay, I eliminated the high and the low and used the 60 million number as the factor.

But I didn’t know then and I still don’t know exactly how those estimates were arrived at. I explained that, like the government’s other numbers, they were likely derived from the number of people that became infected in China and then in Italy and then in the state of Washington.

It is, in fact, impossible to know what the infectious rate really is because it is an equation that has its own flaws. You can figure out what it could be in a regulated environment – in a lab with rats, for example (if rats responded to the virus the same as humans) or with a lesser degree of certainty in walled-off hot spots such as retirement homes and prisons.

But that number is based on unfettered movement for the virus. And since adaptive behaviors can reduce the speed at which the virus spreads, figuring out how many people will get infected will be impossible so long as society is implementing those measures.

The Arrival Date 

There is a bigger problem here, too – one that was not reported initially and is only now being touched on by marginal news outlets. (The major media are dismissing it as a conspiracy theory.)

That is the question of when the virus was first introduced. The generally accepted story is that the first case in the China was diagnosed on November 17, 2019, and the first case in the USA was diagnosed on January 20.

From the Los Angeles Times, April 11:

“The virus was freewheeling in our community and probably has been here for quite some time,” Dr. Jeff Smith, a physician who is the chief executive of Santa Clara County government, told county leaders in a recent briefing.

How long? A study out of Stanford suggests a dramatic viral surge in February.

But Smith on Friday said data collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, local health departments and others suggest it was “a lot longer than we first believed” – most likely since “back in December.”

“This wasn’t recognized because we were having a severe flu season,” Smith said in an interview. “Symptoms are very much like the flu. If you got a mild case of COVID, you didn’t really notice. You didn’t even go to the doctor. The doctor maybe didn’t even do it because they presumed it was the flu.”

This is one of several reports like this that are now appearing. Given how contagious coronavirus is, this means that the differential between the reported cases and the actual cases could be much higher than 10 (the number I used).

On April 8,  I reported that one epidemiologist from Harvard, Dr. Michael Mina, estimated that the differential could be 50 to 100!

Given what I’ve explained about how these projections are made, I can’t think of how he could have arrived at that number other than because he believes, as I’m beginning to suspect, that coronavirus was introduced into the US before January.

And what does that mean?

As I write this, there have been about 500,000 Americans diagnosed with COVID-19. A 10 times multiple suggests that 5 million have or have had it. A 50 times multiple would be 25 million, and a 100 times multiple would be 50 million.

Does that sound crazy?

Not if coronavirus arrived in the US a month or so earlier than reported.

So if that is true, what about the death rate? If so many millions are (or have been) infected, wouldn’t that mean that the projected death toll should go up proportionately?

But that’s not what happened. In fact, On April 8, Fauci and company revised the projected death toll down from 100,000-240,000 (the March 29 estimate) to 60,000!

As has been the protocol since day one, they didn’t explain how they arrived at that lower number. They didn’t provide the media with the analysis. And the media didn’t question it. They just announced it and, again, attributed it to the success of social distancing.

That makes no sense because social distancing only reduces the speed at which the virus communicates. It doesn’t reduce its natural infectiousness.

It could reduce the number of deaths due to lack of ICU space. And that’s why I concluded my March 30 essay by agreeing with the decision to shut down thousands of businesses and to mandate social distancing and curfews. (Not to mention criminalizing purposeful coughing.) But it turns out that the terrible predictions of patients dying in hospital hallways has not materialized. In fact, it looks like that isn’t going to be a problem.

As I said, social distancing cannot account for that 60,000 projection on April 8. Something else was going on. Could it be that Fauci and company decided to (or agreed to) reduce the high level of panic by talking only about how many would die through the summer, but not mention that by the end of the year the numbers would likely be in the 100,000-240,000 range?

To me, there is only one explanation for all this suspicious math we are being fed: The real mortality rate might be lower, even considerably lower, than 1%.

If, as suggested above, the differential between the reported cases and the actual cases is 50 or 100 instead of 10, the real lethality rate is 5 to 10 times lower than the 1% we’ve been hearing. In other words, one-tenth to two-tenths of 1%. Which is the lethality rate of the ordinary flu.

That doesn’t mean the coronavirus is the same as the flu. It is still very contagious – probably much more contagious than the flu. (The hot spot syndrome is good evidence of that.) And also, when the symptoms of COVID-9 are bad, they are sometimes much worse. That’s why it is much more dangerous than the flu for older people and people with compromised immune systems.

However, if these lower fatality rates turn out to be accurate, there is a good argument to be made that the shutdown was the wrong move. That we would have had fewer deaths and a shorter crisis if we had practiced protocols for establishing “herd immunity.” (Isolating the vulnerable only and allowing the rest of the population to interact as we do and have always done with the flu.) In theory, the “goal” of a herd immunity strategy would be to get half of the healthy population infected as soon as possible. Once that happens, epidemiologists say, the virus dies out on its own.

If we can get those new serology tests going quickly and widely, we will be better able to determine how many Americans have the virus (by comparing in a random test the percentage of those with antibodies) and have, for the first time, a good idea of what the real lethality rate is.

But again, what do I know? We’ll have to see how this plays out in the next few weeks and months and in the fall.

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“Every glittering ounce of [good news] should be cherished and hoarded and worshipped and fondled like a priceless diamond.”– Hunter S. Thompson

Coronavirus Pandemic: Hope and Progress 

Today, we are going to take a break from all the noxious news and daunting data about the Corona Crisis to give you some hopeful facts.

Yes, we know that, with shutdowns in nearly every country in the world, economies are faltering. But to provide some immediate relief, governments have pledged to support citizens and businesses with subsidies, loans, suspensions of tax and rent, and other measures.

And all over America (and the rest of the world), businesses, large and small, are stepping up to combat the virus and provide commercial and economic relief.

Across the globe, thousands of doctors, scientists, and researchers are working to find a vaccine. But they are also working hard on treatments to reduce symptoms and improve outcomes. The SARS-CoV-2 pathogen is similar to coronaviruses scientists have studied before, including the SARS virus that struck in 2002. That has given them an advantage in terms of moving in the right direction. They already know, for example, how the virus enters cells.

These early discoveries are being shared through hundreds of medical and scientific journals.

And the pace of all this work and all these actions is amazing. Almost everything listed below has happened in the last 30 days.

 Treatments, Remedies & Vaccines 

* A team of Canadian scientists has isolated and grown copies of the coronavirus. And Australian scientists have figured out how the body’s immune system fights it.

* Scientists at Israel’s Institute for Biological Research said that they have made a “significant breakthrough” in understanding the biological mechanism of the virus, including the way antibodies are produced by those who already have it.

* A team of scientists at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine said that they are making “quick” progress in developing a potential COVID-19 vaccine.

* The first US clinical trials for a potential vaccine have begun in Seattle. Biotech company Moderna has fused a piece of the genetic code for the pathogen’s S protein – the part that’s present in other coronaviruses, like SARS – with fatty nanoparticles that can be injected into the body.

* Imperial College London is designing a similar vaccine using coronavirus RNA, its genetic code.

* Johnson & Johnson and French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi are working with the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to develop vaccines. Sanofi’s approach is to mix coronavirus DNA with genetic material from a harmless virus. Johnson & Johnson’s approach is to attempt to deactivate SARS-CoV-2 and switch off its ability to cause illness.

* Recent reports suggest that some existing antiviral drugs, including remdesivir and the Japanese flu drug favipiravir, may have an effect on the new coronavirus. Zhang Xinmin, an official at China’s science and technology ministry, said favipiravir, developed by a subsidiary of Fujifilm, had produced encouraging outcomes in clinical trials in Wuhan and Shenzhen involving 340 patients. “It has a high degree of safety and is clearly effective in treatment,” Zhang told reporters.

* Doctors in India have reported success in treating infected patients with a mixture of drugs usually used to tackle HIV, swine flu, and malaria.

* In China and Japan, doctors have had promising results using blood plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 to treat newly infected patients. This well-established medical technique could even be used to boost the immunity of people who are at risk of catching the disease.

* On March 27, the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for a new test developed by Abbott Laboratories that can deliver coronavirus results in as little as five minutes. Metro Health Medical Center in Cleveland is already using the new test.

* The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has started testing for antibodies to see if healthy people previously had the coronavirus. The tests could help the agency better understand the virus and its spread, indicating how prevalent the virus has been and whether a significant number of people have had it without actually getting sick.

* Preliminary studies in China report that the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine shows promise. “Cough, fever, and pneumonia went away faster, and the disease seemed less likely to turn severe in people who received hydroxychloroquine than in a comparison group not given the drug.”

* In hospitals in Boston, Alabama, Louisiana, Sweden, and Austria, researchers are conducting clinical trials to determine whether giving nitric oxide to patients with mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 can help them. The impetus for this was a report that showed good results from earlier trials in Italy that were themselves promising.

* A San Diego biotech company is developing a vaccine with Duke University and the National University of Singapore.

* A new drug, EIDD-2801, shows promise in reducing lung damage. Results of initial tests on mice were published April 6 in the journal Science Transnational Medicine. The tests showed that, when given as a treatment 12 or 24 hours after infection, EIDD-2801 could prevent severe lung injury in infected mice. “This new drug not only has high potential for treating COVID-19 patients, but also appears effective for the treatment of other serious coronavirus infections,” said senior author Baric. What is especially hopeful about EIDD-2801 is that it is a pill.

* Erasmus Medical Center has found an antibody that can fight against the coronavirus. While not a cure, it seems to be halting the infection temporarily and giving the patient time to recover.

Companies Helping Out

 * The sports world is raising money for stadium employees, Uber Eats is providing free delivery to help independent restaurants, professional soccer players are entertaining viewers with a FIFA tournament, restaurants are doling out free food to those in need.

* Formula 1 racing engineers at Mercedes have joined forces with University College London to develop a breathing device that can be used instead of putting patients on a ventilator in intensive care.

* Distilleries across the US are using high-proof alcohol to make hand sanitizer and are giving it away for free.

* Google is digging into its massive trove of data tracking the movements of people around the world to produce a series of reports designed to help policymakers and researchers in the fight against the coronavirus.

* Several major health insurers have promised to cover COVID-19 costs.

 * When the coronavirus outbreak spread through Microsoft’s home state of Washington, Bill Gates teamed up with Amazon, another Seattle-based tech giant, to provide at-home test kits to residents in the area.

* Bill Gates is also funding the construction of seven factories to manufacture vaccines rapidly when they are approved, instead of wasting time by waiting to find out which vaccines work… and then building the factories.

Economic Support 

* The US has passed legislation to give $1200 to most American adults and $500 to most children as part of a stimulus package that also includes loans to businesses and local and state governments, funds for hospitals, and more unemployment insurance.

 * Australia is paying AU$750 (around $445 or £380) to all lower-income citizens, and is offering loans to small and medium-sized businesses.

* Denmark is subsidizing 75% of workers’ salaries.

* France has promised that no company will be allowed to fail as a result of the pandemic. It is freezing tax and rent payments for small businesses and expanding the welfare system for workers.

* Germany has pledged at least 500 billion euros ($550 billion) in loan guarantees.

* Italy has promised help for families and one-off 500-euro payments to people who are self-employed.

* Spain has announced a 200-billion-euro rescue package in loans for small businesses, and is freezing mortgages and utility bills for individuals.

* Sweden is subsidizing 90% of workers’ salaries if they’re affected by coronavirus.

* The UK is guaranteeing 80% of workers’ salaries and providing limited sick pay to those who are self-employed.

 People Helping Out 

 * Many people have joined volunteer mutual aid groups to support the vulnerable in their own communities. When the UK government called for volunteers, more than a quarter of a million people signed up in a single day.

* People and businesses are creating online resources to help ease the tension and inconvenience of quarantine, many of them free or discounted.

* Kind gestures are everywhere, from thank-you signs for garbage collectors to asocially distanced “welcome home” parade for a young cancer patient.

* In the UK, people around the country simultaneously took to their windows, balconies, and gardens to cheer and applaud the health workers of the NHS.

* Apple, Facebook, and other companies are donating millions of face masks.

* Cuban doctors traveled to Italy to help deal with the spread of the disease.

* Celebrities are doing their bit, whether it’s James McAvoy donating £275,000 to health care workers, Amy Adams and Josh Gad reading stories for children, or John Krasinski starting a YouTube channel dedicated to good news.

A Growing Number of “Good News” Sources 

Thanks to the internet, it’s easy to keep up with the “good news” – and, thankfully, there’s plenty of it. I found the following online in less than 5 minutes:

 * “John Krasinski launches ‘good news’ network from quarantine”

* “The Good News Dashboard” LINK

 * “A look at some ‘good news’ across the US” LINK

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