Previous “COVID-19” posts

No Ink Is Used 

Wednesday, April 21st, 2021

Since early on in our global pandemic, Anna Chojnicka has been creating art. Her medium of choice? Bananas. Through the simple act of bruising banana peels, Chojnicka has created some impressive works of (temporary) art, and raised money for good causes as well. The Washington Post has more.

[S]he inspects her daily sketch, takes a photo and then eats the banana — she doesn’t like waste.

You can view hundreds of Chojnicka’s creations over on her dedicated Instagram account, @banana_bruiser.

A banana modified into a octopus

If Marizio Cattelan’s “Comedian” is worth $120,000, these ought to sell for millions.

A Shortage of Garden Gnomes 

Friday, April 16th, 2021

Add “garden gnomes” to the list of items now in short supply due to both COVID-19 lockdowns and the Suez canal blockage.

Visualizing the Risk-Reward Calculus of the J&J Vaccine 

Wednesday, April 14th, 2021

Following up on yesterday’s piece, this Washington Post article is worth a read. It discusses an assortment of numbers and statistics, and also offers a decent visualization of our current understanding of the risk-reward calculus for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Nearly everything we do is a balance between risk and reward. Driving down the street, as mentioned above. Walking outside, where a meteorite could suddenly slam into your skull. Sitting on your couch, where your floor could give way or an electrical fire could break out or a bear could crash through your window. None of these things is likely, so we don’t worry about them, but they could. We draw a balance.

That’s the debate that occurred at the CDC: What’s the balance of the risk of the clots with the reward of vaccinations? Perhaps more important, how does the presentation of that balance affect how people perceive the risks and rewards?

My hope is that this pause will turn out to be a minor blip. Nevertheless, it continues to feel like a misstep, one which will cost many more lives than it saves.

Do Less Harm

Tuesday, April 13th, 2021

Early this morning, I awoke to news that the CDC and FDA are recommending a pause on all vaccinations using the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. This is very bad news, though not because of a problem with the vaccine itself. The issue at hand, “severe blood clots”, seems to be vanishingly rare. There have thus far been 6 reported cases out of 6.8 million doses administered, making this literally a one in a million issue.

The much bigger problem is the act of immediately and publicly pausing the vaccine’s rollout. This seems certain to lead to vastly more negative outcomes than the issue being investigated. Until the CDC and FDA complete their reviews, many fewer people will be vaccinated, which will result in many more people contracting COVID. When more people contract COVID, more people die.

Worse than the short-term delay in vaccination may be the long-term reduction in confidence this pause will lead to. No matter how quickly the government gives an all-clear, some amount of damage will already have been done. Vaccine hesitancy seems certain to increase both in America and abroad. It may take a long time to overcome that.

The result of this decision is sure to be a lower number of people vaccinated, over a longer period of time. We know that will cause more COVID deaths. By contrast, just one death is currently associated with this vaccine. It’s unpleasant to measure one set of deaths against another, but that’s precisely what must be done in a public health crisis. If we were able to vaccinate all of the US with the J&J vaccine, we would currently expect to see about 330 issues with blood clots. Meanwhile, more than 560,000 Americans have lost their lives to COVID already, with 330 more being killed by COVID every few hours.

Human beings are horrifically bad at understanding large numbers and terrible at assessing broad risks. Public health officials ought to take that reality into consideration before making a move like this. I fear that they have not, and as a result, many more will suffer.

The ultimate goal when it comes to public health must be the highest number of positive outcomes. Even if we accept that there may be an extremely rare issue with the J&J vaccine, the cost of not administering it would appear to be many orders of magnitude higher. It seems terribly ill-advised to throw a wrench into things so completely “out of an abundance of caution”. In the middle of a global emergency, an abundance of caution could well be far more deadly.

Krispy Kowards

Wednesday, March 24th, 2021

On Monday, I saw a headline noting that Krispy Kreme was offering free doughnuts to anyone who showed a COVID-19 vaccination card. While I’m incredibly eager to be vaccinated, I’m not yet eligible. Thus, I found this promotion slightly exasperating, as it was taunting me about two different things I can’t yet have.

This was, admittedly, stupid. While I do think it’s reasonable to want to be vaccinated immediately, a free doughnuts is just a free doughnut, and I can shell out to buy one of those if I want. Also, the nearest Krispy Kreme is hundreds of miles away after their big time flop here in the birthplace of Dunkin’ Donuts. So fine, whatever. I moved on.

Then I saw this from Krispy Kreme’s promotion FAQ:

We understand that choosing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine is a highly personal decision. We advise all employees and guests to consult with their healthcare provider regarding whether to obtain a COVID-19 vaccination and which vaccine to receive after reviewing the available information. If you have made the personal decision to not receive the COVID vaccine, please visit us on Mondays, 3/29/21 – 5/24/21, to receive a free Original Glazed® doughnut and a medium brewed coffee to get your week off to a good start.

Yes, it seems Krispy Kreme wanted to appease anti-science forces as well, elevating misguided and baseless thinking to the level of “a personal decision”. Predictably, this carve-out didn’t work. Because no depth of stupidity is too low for someone to sink to, anti-vaxxers still lashed out at the doughnut maker.

The science on the COVID-19 vaccines is very clear, and it should not be controversial to encourage people to get vaccinated. That’s beneficial for society. Playing both sides, on the other hand, is cowardly and harmful to society. Next time, just stay on the sidelines, Krispy Kreme.

For the rest of us? Stay home. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Get vaccinated.

I’d Read the Entire List of New Words 

Thursday, February 25th, 2021

At the moment, I am experience Impfneid, envy of those who’ve received the COVID vaccine. What new German word best describes your pandemic experience?

Our Immune Systems Are Adorable 

Wednesday, February 24th, 2021

Last fall, Reuters published a great look at viruses and vaccines. I hadn’t seen it until just recently, but it’s a great primer, and still worth a look.

COVID-19 Virus, magnified 1000000x

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines which are now in widespread use in America are mRNA vaccines.

Yardi Gras 

Tuesday, February 16th, 2021

Today is Mardi Gras, a day that would ordinarily include a huge parade in New Orleans, replete with elaborate costumes and traveling floats. In the midst of a still-raging pandemic, such an event would be ill-advised. However, the people of New Orleans have come up with a solid substitute: House floats.

When the parades and festivities that mark Carnival were canceled due to COVID-19 last fall, New Orleanians found another way to celebrate.

Within weeks, hundreds had signed up to decorate their homes as elaborate house floats to replace traditional parade floats.

Now, with just two weeks until Mardi Gras day, it’s hard not to walk through the city and find something to smile about, despite the ongoing pandemic and the toll it has exacted.

The Atlantic has a great collection of pictures, showing just how far folks are going.

He Was There Live. He Was Not a Cat.

Wednesday, February 10th, 2021

Like so much of the world, the criminal justice system has gone virtual during the pandemic, with cases being conducted via Zoom. In a recent court case in the 394th district of Texas, attorney Rod Ponton showed up with a kitten filter turned on. It was tremendous, and thankfully, the judge uploaded the video to share with the world. Here’s a screen capture:

The full video is well, well worth a watch or 20.1

The video is just over 40 seconds long, and yet there’s so much to enjoy, including:

  • The judge’s initial courtesy in attempting to alert Mr. Ponton to the issue.

  • The way the cat’s eyes shift downward when the filter is first mentioned, conveying shame.

  • H. Gibbs Bauer in the lower-left, leaning forward and putting on his glasses to examine just what the judge (heard only in voiceover) is describing. It seems he hadn’t noticed until then.

  • Rod Ponton’s first vocalization, a sort of “Augh” that beautifully captures his feelings as he and his assistant are no doubt scrambling to correct the problem.

  • The lower-casing of “ron ponton”, which doesn’t seem correct for a lawyer, but would be just right for a cat lawyer.

  • The cat’s nodding, as it agrees that this is indeed a filter.

  • Mr. Ponton’s willingness to “go forward with it”, seemingly meaning he would be content to conduct the proceedings as a cat.

  • Mr. Ponton’s statement that “I’m here, live. I’m not a cat”.

I think my very favorite part, however, is Jerry L. Phillips in the upper right trying and failing to keep his composure at the very end. Perhaps Zoom can provide a “Serious Jerry” filter he could use in the future.


Footnotes:

  1. I can’t fathom this video ever disappearing from the Internet, but just in case, it’s archived here. ↩︎

This Might As Well Happen 

Tuesday, February 9th, 2021

Sure, why not test for COVID-19 by using anal swabs? Pile it on, world.