Tag Archives: Pandemic

India’s COVID Nightmare: “Bring Oxygen or Take Your Father Away”

At 5 a.m. on Saturday, Aparna Bansal’s cellphone rang. “Can you come now?” said a man from the New Delhi hospital where her 76-year-old father is being treated for Covid-19. The instructions were clear, she said: Bring oxygen or take your father away.

Her husband lines up at 4 a.m. every morning at an oxygen-supply store in east Delhi to buy two cylinders of oxygen to take to separate hospitals treating her mother and father. Neither facility has enough supply to treat the waves of patients coming through every hour.

India is fighting the highest COVID caseload of any country so far. Hospital beds and especially oxygen are running critically short, and deaths are increasingly rapidly. The medical system has nearly collapsed:

India has been reporting more than 2,000 deaths a day for five straight days. The real toll is likely much higher. It is expected to grow in the coming weeks.

A general relaxation of caution earlier this year, along with several massive superspreader events, seeded the current crisis:

Life returned to normal. Weddings and parties resumed. Masks slipped, as did social-distancing rules. A new season of state-level elections ushered in big political rallies and street parades. A massive religious festival known as the Kumbh Mela was allowed to take place, bringing millions of Hindu pilgrims to the banks of the river Ganges and sending a message that there was no reason to worry about Covid-19.

By mid-March, cases started climbing again—then accelerated with breathtaking speed, becoming a vertical line rather than an upward sloping curve.

Much more here.

Many had put their faith in an herbal remedy called Coronil, which was even touted by Indian Health Minister Harsh Vardhan. However, there is little evidence behind the treatment.

Reports from people inside India right now are dire:

You can find the full thread on India’s crisis here, and another excellent thread on how it began here.

Dig into these posts for more on COVID:

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Restaurants’ Newest Struggle: Finding Workers

Reopened restaurants are finding it increasingly difficult to find workers:

Capacity restrictions and distancing requirements have drastically cut wages for workers like servers, who rely on tips to make up for an hourly wage at or near the federal tipped minimum of $2.13 in many parts of the country, prompting them to find better-paying work. Others shifted to better-paying jobs in fields that boomed while dining imploded, such as retail fulfillment, especially as companies like Amazon and Target pay or have raised hourly wages to $15.

The problem doesn’t just affect independent or higher-end establishments. Fast-food mega-chains like McDonald’s and Taco Bell are pushing to hire thousands of workers in an effort to reopen dining rooms, even holding drive-up spot interviews in parking lots.

More here.

If restaurants are beset by capacity restrictions and closures, impacting your tips, you may be reluctant to return. Especially if you’ve left for a job at, for example, an Amazon fulfillment center, which is never subject to those restrictions and pays a predictable wage. You’re also far more likely to get benefits working for a major company than a small restaurant, which is particularly relevant in the middle of a health crisis.

With e-commerce growing rapidly, I see little incentive for restaurant workers to return. Perhaps the industry will wind up permanently smaller, more automated, or both.

For more on business and the economy, check out these posts:

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Photo: “waiter” by zoetnet is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Why Someone Dying After Getting Vaccinated Doesn’t Mean Anything

We keep hearing scary stories about people getting sick or dying shortly after getting a COVID vaccine. But we shouldn’t confuse correlation with causation. From the mathematician Gary Cornell’s excellent blog:

For example, within one week after vaccinating 10,000,000 people, you will likely have around 98 people keel over and die for no apparent reason and if all of them were pregnant women, almost 27,800 miscarriages.

In this post, he has a table with the expected rate of many diseases we often hear are associated with vaccines, such as Guillain-Barre syndrome. It turns out, a substantial number of people are going to get those illnesses anyway, with or without a vaccine.

My wife made an excellent analogy on this subject recently. “Someone might have drank tea and had a stroke in the same day. But it probably wasn’t the tea.”

Same idea here. And with the US having given out over 90 million shots, mostly to the elderly and frail, the fact is some people are going to die shortly thereafter. But it doesn’t say anything about the vaccine.

The clinical trials carefully compared the vaccinated and unvaccinated groups in the trial and found no higher rate of complications amongst the vaccinated. And that’s the data to act on.

Photo: Me getting the Moderna vaccine on February 22. I am alive and well as of this writing.

For more on COVID and vaccines, check out these posts:

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How Planned Parenthood Is Providing Critical Care…Even in a Pandemic

Providing critical medical care to patients who sometimes have very few resources, all in the face of enormous political opposition, is challenging at the best of times. The pandemic has made it even harder. But Planned Parenthood is adjusting rapidly to make sure that people who need help get it.

I just got off a Planned Parenthood Federation of America Leadership Briefing call, and the steps they’ve taken to keep helping people in a difficult time really impressed me. Here are some of the great things they’re doing:

  • Reaching 25 million people online in 2020 with sex ed, counseling and telehealth
  • Using a new chat text program available in Spanish to provide counseling and information to those who may not be comfortable in English
  • Training staff nationwide how to provide sex ed online, as opposed to the usual in person offerings
  • Providing COVID vaccine safety information to patients. Many patients trust Planned Parenthood, so hearing from a trusted voice that the vaccines are safe can mean a lot!

I was also impressed that not only are they offering telehealth, they’re gathering data to measure how well it works. This data-driven approach tells you that donor dollars are in good hands.

I couldn’t helped but be incredibly impressed with the hard work of the PPFA staff under these most difficult of circumstances. If you want to support their work, you can donate here.

Bonus: One of the attendees mentioned that they worked at Pandia Health, a company I had never heard of. It is a startup in Sunnyvale, CA that provides birth control by mail on a convenient, subscription model. As an investor, I was intrigued. The Yelp reviews look impressive. I’m gathering more information.

Photo: “Rally to support Planned Parenthood” by Fibonacci Blue is licensed under CC BY 2.0

New Study Predicts End to Pandemic in Q2 2021

Photo: Dr. Maciej Boni, Associate Professor of Biology, Pennsylvania State University, study co-author

Assuming high vaccination coverage (> 28%) and no major relaxations in distancing, masking, gathering size, or hygiene guidelines between now and spring 2021, our model predicts that a combination of vaccination and population immunity will lead to low or near-zero transmission levels by the second quarter of 2021.

I came across a new study posted on January 15 that analyzes data from Rhode Island and Massachusetts to find optimal vaccine policies and predict when the COVID pandemic will end. With reasonably optimistic assumptions, the authors conclude we may be out of the woods by the second quarter of this year.

I find their 28% vaccination target plausible. It’s ambitious, but we need to be ambitious right now. Getting to 28% coverage would take about 1.1 million shots a day, 7 days a week, which seems achievable at current rates. ((330 million Americans * 2 shots each * 0.28)/163 days until July 1 = 1,133,742 shots/day).

We’ve recently passed 1.2 million shots in a day:

The study also finds that it’s best to vaccinate health workers first and then the elderly, which is what we’re doing.

In a time when the news is often grim, I find this study very hopeful!

The Painting I Love the Most

I’ve always found Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon particularly beautiful. When you walk into the room where it lives in the Museum of Modern Art, it’s impossible not to be drawn to it. The bright, rose color, the striking jagged shapes, and the eyes of the women staring back at you always hold me rapt.

I particularly liked to go to MoMA during the wonderful Free Fridays, but last March the pandemic shut MoMA along with everything else. I remember being home at night, looking at the darkness outside, and thinking that inside that gallery was dark now too.

For perhaps the first time since it was made in 1907, no one was looking at my favorite painting. Perhaps a caretaker came by from time to time to check on it, and cleaning crews to sweep up, but aside from that it was alone. I missed it like a friend. And I wondered if it was lonely.

In the fall, I finally got the opportunity to see my old friend again. I relished looking at the warm colors and the beautiful figures. I was happy to be together with it again, happy to reclaim something of the life I’d had. And maybe the painting was happy too, to be admired once more.

My point: what we’ve lost, we will regain. Even more. Let’s be patient and look forward to that day. Everything we’ve loved before, we’ll appreciate more than ever.

What International Travel Is Like Right Now

So I’m a bachelor again…at least until Sunday.

On Saturday evening, I loaded my wife’s luggage onto a bus and kissed her through my mask…very 2020! She headed to JFK Airport, bound for her home country of Japan for the first time in a year.

Yes, you can travel overseas during a pandemic…if you’re very, very patient. Her flight was delayed by 8 hours. Once they finally let her on, the plane was almost empty and no one was sitting anywhere nearby. The lack of passengers and the powerful air filtration systems means flying is not nearly as dangerous as most people think. You’re a lot more likely to get COVID at the supermarket.

She arrived in Tokyo after midnight. Next came a required COVID test. She waited an hour or two for the results, and then was free to leave the airport.

One problem: it was the middle of the night, so no transportation was available. She thought she’d have to wait another 6 hours or so until a car service could pick her up. People who have just come from overseas are barred from using public transit, even with a negative COVID test, which strikes me as extreme.

Her brother saved the day by renting a car and picking her up. I didn’t even know he had a license! Soon, she was with her mom having coffee at a new cafe in their neighborhood. She later tortured me with pictures of beautiful dumplings they had for lunch.

This trip was actually the second one she booked…she had booked another on Air Canada that was cancelled. They refuse to provide a refund. The only option they give is rebooking on itineraries that take days to reach Japan. I strongly recommend avoiding Air Canada at all costs. She wound up going with ANA at a price around double what we paid last year.

Given the enormous number of delayed and cancelled flights, her friend who works for ANA strongly recommended booking a direct flight. My wife took her advice and was glad she did.

Being with her family is restorative for her, but for me, I’m not going abroad until all restrictions are lifted. The combination of delayed and cancelled flights, long waits, and high costs are enough to keep me close to home.

“File:Boeing 787 N1015B ANA Airlines (27611880663) (cropped).jpg” by pjs2005 from Hampshire, UK is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0