How Did we ever survive the Hong Kong Flu?

The NY Post had a story of life during the pandemic; the 1968-69 Hong Kong Flu Pandemic.  That was one that featured over 100,000 deaths in the US, but if you check the history books, there doesn’t seem to be much about it.  It was a thing, and public health was concerned, but there was nothing like the mindless hysteria that swept across the US and the world this year for a very similar virus.  Of course historically, 1968 and 1969 were extremely busy years.  The Prague Spring, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the White Album was released, and of course, man landing on the moon and Woodstock.

Woodstock was actually what the Post story was about.

Why American life went on as normal during the killer pandemic of 1969

Patti Mulhearn Lydon, 68, doesn’t have rose-colored memories of attending Woodstock in August 1969. The rock festival, which took place over four days in Bethel, NY, mostly reminds her of being covered in mud and daydreaming about a hot shower.

…And all of this happened during a global pandemic in which over 1 million people died.  H3N2 (or the “Hong Kong flu,” as it was more popularly known) was an influenza strain that the New York Times described as “one of the worst in the nation’s history.” The first case of H3N2, which evolved from the H2N2 influenza strain that caused the 1957 pandemic, was reported in mid-July 1968 in Hong Kong. By September, it had infected Marines returning to the States from the Vietnam War. By mid-December, the Hong Kong flu had arrived in all 50 states.

But schools were not shut down nationwide, other than a few dozen because of too many sick teachers. Face masks weren’t required or even common. Though Woodstock was not held during the peak months of the H3N2 pandemic (the first wave ended by early March 1969, and it didn’t flare up again until November of that year), the festival went ahead when the virus was still active and had no known cure.

Sounds like a bunch of selfish punks trying to enjoy Spring Break.  At least that’s how they would be viewed now.  But the past is a different country, and the United States was a different country.

“Life continued as normal,” said Jeffrey Tucker, the editorial director for the American Institute for Economic Research. “But as with now, no one knew for certain how deadly [the pandemic] would turn out to be. Regardless, people went on with their lives.”

Which, he said, isn’t all that surprising. “That generation approached viruses with calm, rationality and intelligence,” he said. “We left disease mitigation to medical professionals, individuals and families, rather than politics, politicians and government.”

But Corona is different because reasons!

Aside from the different reactions to H3N2 and COVID-19, the similarities between them are striking. Both viruses spread quickly and cause upper respiratory symptoms including fever, cough and shortness of breath. They infect mostly adults over 65 or those with underlying medical conditions, but could strike people of any age. 

Both pandemics didn’t spare the rich and famous — Hitchcock actress Tallulah Bankhead and former CIA Director Allen Dulles succumbed to H3N2, while COVID-19 has taken the lives of singer-songwriter John Prine and playwright Terrence McNally, among others. President Lyndon Johnson and Vice President Hubert Humphrey both fell ill from H3N2 and recovered, as did UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson from COVID-19 last month.

Even more similarities abound.

During both pandemics, horror stories abounded — from the bodies stored in refrigerated trucks in New York last month to corpses stored in subway tunnels in Germany during the H3N2 outbreak. 

Those who had H3N2 and survived describe a health battle that sounds eerily similar to COVID. “The coughing and difficulty breathing were the worst but it was the lethargy that kept me in bed,” said Jim Poling Sr., the author of “Killer Flu: The World on the Brink of a Pandemic,” who caught the virus while studying at Columbia University. “X-rays after recovery showed scarring at the bottom of my left lung.”

But still, the country moved on, got up, went to work, and did what it had to do.  Millennial-Nation on the other hand, wants everything to STOP until there is absolutely positively, no more risk.

The average person used to be smart enough to understand that every day walking out the front door was a risk, as was deciding to not walk out the door. Apparently we’re a much dumber country now, so going forward one can only wonder how we’ll deal with seasonal flu since we now regard normal risk as something only a crazy person would entertain.

Brave Dumb World.

The US is in Relative Decline against China

This is certainly not a new story, but it does bear repeating.  From Marketwatch:

The U.S. is in ‘relative decline’ as ‘Chinese power is rapidly rising

The days of U.S. hegemony are numbered and China is waiting in the wings, argues Ray Dalio, in his most recent missive on LinkedIn…

…Dalio thinks that China is on a better footing and may soon surpass the U.S. The wealthy investor whose net worth is estimated to be $18 billion, according to Forbes data, isn’t the first to make such a prediction and he isn’t even the most audacious one to so.

There has been a sweeping assumption that China will eventually eclipse the U.S.’s economic dominance in real terms. Standard Chartered Bank, for example, had forecast that China will likely become the world’s biggest economy at some point this year.

At last check, U.S. gross domestic product, or GDP, was at $21.44 trillion on a nominal basis, while China’s GDP was around of $14 trillion. By another measure, known as purchasing power parity, which weighs a country’s respective purchasing power, China’s GDP would be $27.31 trillion, based on data from International Monetary Fund.

In the post pandemic era (yes, I think there will actually be one) China still looks like the strong horse.  China was economically damaged, yes but not in the way that almost the entire industrialized West damaged itself.  As far as the self-imposed economic damage goes, what the West did to itself will last for years.

Of course China did sustain other damage to itself that won’t be so easy to repair. China’s behavior, from hiding the true extent of the virus, and therefore exporting it all over the world, to revealing it’s true face by threatening to withhold pharmaceuticals from the US, has caused the scales to fall from the eyes of some US policy makers.  I say ‘some’ since many more are still in the pro-China camp.  Particularly those of the establishment bent.

This could have some interesting results for the election, offering a clear foreign policy choice between the two candidates; one that regards China as a threat and an enemy, and one that regards China as friend and partner and RUSSIA as the true enemy.

 

 

Face Mask Madness

My favorite morning show has usually started off the opening of each show with a litany of “so what did you do last night” openers; the type of conversation starter used to kick off large cast morning shows for years.  That usually leads to some story highlighting drinking or some other stupidity to last until for the first commercial break.

But that was in the before times.

Now, the daily opening topic of conversation revolves around “I went to [fill in the blank] last night and so many dum dums were not wearing masks!”  Usually followed by a “hrrmph,” or “my word.”  The Karen’s in the Morning are only a symptom of how quickly the science and social convention have flipped on face masks.

Let’s step back into the wayback machine to that long ago era of less than two months ago.  It seems like a different age, but at that time the Surgeon General, back on March 2nd said:

“You can increase your risk of getting it by wearing a mask if you are not a health care provider,” Adams said. “Folks who don’t know how to wear them properly tend to touch their faces a lot and actually can increase the spread of coronavirus,” he added.

Adams’ comments Monday reiterate his blaring tweet from the weekend, urging people to “STOP BUYING MASKS.” He said that they were “NOT effective” to the general public and noted that the increased demand in masks puts medical professionals at risk.”

Besides the Surgeon General, the CDC agreed with the boo masks policy.

“The CDC said last month it doesn’t recommend people use face masks, making the announcement on the same day that first case of person-to-person transmission of coronavirus was reported in the U.S.”

So that was the state of SCIENCE (PBUH) just a few weeks ago.  Masks were for dum dums.

But that was then…

Now of course, we live in a different age, in which to mask or not to mask has great social and legal significance. In Philadelphia the cops dragged a man off a bus for not wearing a mask, and there have been several fights over to mask or unmask.  At this stupid point of societal change, the face mask is a social statement.  The good people wear masks, and the ne’er-do-wells have none.

Mask shaming has elevated the nation’s Karen’s, who a mere two months ago were a mocked and derided group, into America’s version of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, seemingly authorized to wave their fingers in the face of any unmasked person and of course, waving the threat to call the manager.

I’d like to say that it takes a nation of Karen’s to keep me down, but in the past week I’ve twice had to go to places that required the mask, and…I wore the mask, fully aware that I was participating in a weird sort of face mask theater, where my wearing the mask was a social marker of approval more than any medical one.  I just find it bizarre how public attitudes can turn on a dime. Who knew it was so easy to manipulate human behavior?

Well they know now.

 

Quick HBO Reviews: Post Game of Thrones Edition

A year ago, watching the season finale of Game of Thrones with my wife, I watched Jon Snow knife his aunt/lover Daenerys, watch as a dragon flew Aunt Dani’s body to who knows where, watch a council of randos decide the future of the 7 (now 6) Kingdoms, and finally, in a case of Law & Order: King’s Landing Unit, see Jon Snow plead down regicide to exile.

Me: “Well that was nice, time to go to bed…”

Wife: “Noooooooooooo!”

Me: “Be sure and cancel HBO in the morning.”

In spite of the betrayal of my wife and millions of others at the hands of the Game of Thrones showrunners (she read the books, poor thing), she did not in fact, cancel HBO, in spite of my monthly requests for her to do so upon receiving the cable bill. So in the year since GoT went off the air, millions of HBO subscribers have wondered, “With Game of Thrones gone is HBO worth it?”  My response to my wife right after GoT wrapped was clear.

So a year later, we still have HBO. I’ve watched a couple of the shows the network has tossed up just to justify the fact that we’re paying for even more TV in an age in which we’re inundated with content from streaming services and already have more to watch than we have actual free time to do the watching.

Years and Years

From the time I saw a trailer for this BBC/HBO limited series, I knew that the only reason this show existed was because of, who else, Trump.

The show tracks a dysfunctional family in the UK over a series of decades in the future; a future created by Trump engaging in a nuclear attack because, of course he would. The show can be summarized as, in the future everyone is gay and refugees are good, with a few Black Mirror-like touches thrown in.

Rating: Garbage Pail

Euphoria

Compared to Euphoria, Years and Years is good, wholesome family fun.  One almost never finds a reason to use the word “degeneracy” in our degenerate times.  When everything’s degenerate, nothing is, but this show, yeah is degenerate. So naturally it’s renewed for season 2. If you’ve always felt that what television lacks are gym scenes with 20 or so wagging penises, this is the show for you.

Rating: Bleech

His Dark Materials

 

This fantasy show is based on series of books by Philip Pullman, which I admit, I don’t get.  I saw the movie, The Golden Compass; found it boring, and watched this TV treatment, and also found it boring. Verdict?  The show is true to the source material.

Rating: Zzzzzzz

 

Avenue 5

This is supposed to be a SF comedy.  Well, I guess technically It’s sort of science fiction, but the comedy is thin, unless you think a crowd of stupid people yelling at each other is funny. The premise is that in the near future, a space cruise ship, through a series of unfortunate events, goes off course and is not able to return to earth for 6 years.  Since the ship is filled with typical cruise ship passengers, every interaction between crew and passenger is both annoying and stupid. They even managed to stretch the Karen meme (I want to see the manager) for the entire season. Great cast, but they are totally wasted in this pay cable Love Boat in space.

Rating: Loud Screeching

Westworld (Season 3)

After the debacle of season 2, I had no intention on wasting any more time with Westworld.  I should have learned my lesson many JJ Abrams shows ago, but then I saw some of the trailers for season 3 and thought to myself, “man that looks pretty good.”

So they sucked me back in.

Well fool me once, shame on you JJ Abrams, but fool me a couple of times…then I have to own this one.  The first few episodes started off promising, as if the show was really going somewhere substantial, but the closer it got to a payoff, the quicker it degenerated into the typical JJ Abrams no-idea-where-this-is-going, so just have some good special effects.  Ultimately, little of this made sense, just like season 2.

Rating: Cruelly Disappointing

 

The Outsider

If there was one saving grace from the past year of HBO shows, it would be The Outsider.  Based on a Stephen King novel, this show starts in a small Georgia town as a local paragon of the community is accused of a brutal child murder only to have contradictory accounts showing he seemed to be in two places at once.  Great story; great cast, and satisfying conclusion.

But still, it doesn’t justify paying for HBO for an entire year.  So if it’s not obvious by now, this entire post is a passive aggressive plea to my wife to save us some money and cancel this darn thing.  You don’t even watch HBO!

New York Was Always the Problem

I’ll give credit to The New York Times for outing their home town as the major source of COVID-19 infections in the United States.

Travel From New York City Seeded Wave of U.S. Outbreaks

“The coronavirus outbreak in New York City became the primary source of infections around the United States, researchers have found. 

New York City’s coronavirus outbreak grew so large by early March that the city became the primary source of new infections in the United States, new research reveals, as thousands of infected people traveled from the city and seeded outbreaks around the country.”

Thanks New York.

Just reading that, this leads to the obvious conclusion that Trump’s European travel ban was the right decision, however not so fast say the Times.  We can’t give Trump credit for nuthin’!

“During crucial weeks in March, New York’s political leaders waited to take aggressive action, even after identifying hundreds of cases, giving the virus a head start. And by mid-March, when President Trump restricted travel from Europe, the restrictions were essentially pointless, the data suggest, as the disease was already spreading widely within the country.  Acting earlier would most likely have blunted the virus’s march across the country, researchers say.”

Hear that?  Trump enacted the ban too late.  It seems like everyone has forgotten who opposed the ban in the first place.  As Breitbart reported:

House and Senate Democrats are responding to the coronavirus outbreak in the United States by supporting measures to effectively strip President Trump of his authority to impose travel bans to protect American citizens.

While Trump has implemented travel bans on China and Iran — two of the most coronavirus-affected nations in the world — House Democrats are looking to roll back the president’s authority to enact travel bans from regions of the world.

The “No Ban Act,” introduced by Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) and co-sponsored by 219 House Democrats, would have prevented Trump from immediately implementing a travel ban on China once the outbreak of the coronavirus spread past its origins of Wuhan.

I don’t expect much action on the “No Ban Act” now, but it’s a good reflection on what sort of response we could have expected from the Democrats if they had been in charge.

Racial Profiling in the Age of Corona

There is a full roundup of stories dealing with Identity Politics in the hysterical times we’re living in.  Even though the Coronavirus seems an ill-suited square peg to be stuffed into the round identity politics hole, for some people, that’s all they do, so as I wrote about here and here, stories abound.

For Blacks, the real threat isn’t the virus, its racial profiling.  I came across two stories on how Blacks are hardest hit when they wear masks.

People of color are worried they’ll be racially profiled if they wear homemade face masks

Activists and academics fear that people of color will be racially profiled if they wear homemade face masks in light of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation to make masks from cloth or bandanas when medical-grade masks are unavailable.

“We have a lot of examples of the presumed criminality of black men in general,” Trevon Logan, an economics professor at Ohio State University who won’t following the CDC’s recommendation, said in an interview with CNN. “And then we have the advice to go out in public in something that … can certainly be read as being criminal or nefarious, particularly when applied to black men.”

This story, besides hitting the usual marks about Blacks hardest hit by the virus, has “Activists and Academics” worrying, presumably, about Black people being shot by police for wearing masks.

Cops:  Pew Pew Pew! [Police firing his service weapon]

Masked Black Man:  Urrgghh…it is finished.  [Black man dying]

Cops:  He had a mask on, case closed. [Receives medal for bravery]

Along the same vein…

Why coronavirus mask-wearing orders leave black Americans facing a tough decision

The coronavirus pandemic has created life-and-death dilemmas for people all over the globe — and a particularly devastating one for black men living in America: Wear a mask for protection against COVID-19? Or go without one, simply to lower the risk of being perceived as a criminal?

This specific quandary comes amid some key factors: reports about black people dying of the coronavirus at disproportionately high rates, recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for all adults to now wear cloth masks in public, and, taking effect this week, a New York State order that everyone must wear a mask in public if social distancing is not possible.

That all leaves black men, many of whom have grown accustomed to monitoring their appearance so as to not look “threatening” in public, between a rock and a hard place.

So check about Black people dying disproportionally than white people, and check about the problem of wearing a mask when it’s a “life-and-death” dilemma.  Less clear is why it’s a problem “all over the globe.”  Do Black people face the same threat in Port-au-Prince and Lagos as they do in Chiraq?

The thing about both of these articles is that they’re heavy on the hand wringing and light on actual examples of police, store managers, or even the local Becky on her cell phone doing any actual profiling.

To find some actual profiling, I had to go here…

Racist Attacks Against Asians Continue to Rise as the Coronavirus Threat Grows

Hate crime task forces have been responding to calls and social media users who have been posting videos and tweeting stories of attacks — both verbal and physical — that have been posted online to try to find perpetrators who’ve been targeting Asians.

As a long time skeptic of “Hate Crimes,” as I wrote about during the Jussie Smollett hoax and earlier, I’m not one to dive right in and gullibly swallow every racial tale of woe.  The incentives of sacred victimhood are too sweet for there not to be hate hoaxes, but by the same token, there are also real attacks and crimes inspired by racial animus.  This article lists several reported attacks against Asians.  Some may eventually turn out to be hoaxes, but I also wouldn’t put it past some people to commit these crimes either.

Meanwhile we live during a period in which for the first time in American history, White America is more relieved to see a Black man with a mask waiting outside of Wal-Mart than one without.

I call that progress!

The Incredibly Shrinking COVID-19 Fatality Rate

Almost all of our knowledge of this virus initially came from Chinese data, which we’ve simultaneously accepted uncritically as accurate and at the same time, suspected as a fake Chinese disinformation campaign.  Back in February we were thinking (again based on Chinese Data) that the case fatality rate was 2.3%

Instead as we’ve gathered real data in our own country, we’ve learned this:

The recent Stanford University antibody study now estimates that the fatality rate if infected is likely 0.1 to 0.2 percent, a risk far lower than previous World Health Organization estimates that were 20 to 30 times higher and that motivated isolation policies. 

In New York City, an epicenter of the pandemic with more than one-third of all U.S. deaths, the rate of death for people 18 to 45 years old is 0.01 percent, or 10 per 100,000 in the population. On the other hand, people aged 75 and over have a death rate 80 times that. For people under 18 years old, the rate of death is zero per 100,000.

A COVID-19 case fatality rate of 0.1 to 0.2 percent is far lower than the fatality rates that frightened us into shutting down our entire economy.  Meanwhile the WHO still estimates a CFR of 3.4%; definitely it’s far lower than a Case Fatality Rate of 17% for SARS, or a whopping 34% for MERS.

By comparison, the case fatality rate of the annual flu is estimated to be around 0.1%.  So based on the Stanford antibody study, the COVID-19 case fatality rate is pretty close to that.  So…still not the flu, but not that far off.

Of course the Stanford study isn’t the only antibody test being conducted.  There was the LA County Study which got similar results; a far higher penetration of COVID-19 than previously thought, with most of the cases being mild symptoms or asymptomatic.

There are more antibody studies underway and no doubt we’ll see more results like this over the next few weeks.  So what can we conclude from this?

  1. COVID-19 is far more infectious than previously thought, with possibly millions of people who may have already had the infection and never knew it.
  2. It’s a lot less fatal than previously thought, with far fewer fatalities per capita than initially estimated.