Sunday Reading – 05/24/2020


The following links are just news items and opinions that pass my desk throughout the week. I don’t necessarily support or advocate any of the items, they are just interesting reads.

East County schools still mulling over July opening – In far East County where school traditionally begins in July, district officials are still mulling over what classes will look like and whether to start the school year later because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The five school districts on the modified traditional school calendar, which include schools in Brentwood, Oakley, Byron, Knightsen and Discovery Bay, have joined forces to decide on the opening date and formats depending on health protocols. In these districts, schools usually open in late July and there is a two-week break in October.

The modified traditional school districts had been looking toward a potential later start date, but given Gov. Gavin Newsom’s suggestion about opening schools earlier to mitigate the loss of learning experienced during closures, the districts have rethought their calendar, Liberty Union School District Superintendent Eric Volta said.

State Superintendent of Schools Tony Thurmond in a Facebook Live session last week said each of the state’s nearly 1,000 school districts will have to decide what’s the best time to return to the classrooms through the state will offer guidance on reopening.

Superintendent Volta, whose district covers the high schools in Oakley and Brentwood, added that administrators will need to know the necessary protocols to prepare for any opening of classes, such as whether personal protective wear will be required for teachers and students and whether there will be a limit to numbers of students allowed in classrooms or on campus. Read More > in the East Bay Times

70% of people would rather watch movies at home, even if theaters reopen: survey – After more than two months spent sheltering in place during the pandemic, many Americans have grown more comfortable entertaining themselves at home.

In fact, if new movies were available in both theaters and on streaming services for the same price right now, 70% of people would still choose to stream the first-run feature at home over going to a movie theater, according to a new survey published in Variety. A mere 13% said they would prefer to catch the new release at the cinema, and 17% weren’t sure.

And that fear could linger for some time. More than one-third (37%) of respondents said that they will go to movie theaters less often in the future, and 10% said they may never go to the cinema again. Read More > at MarketWatch

How staying indoors affects your immune system – For the past two months, a sizable chunk of the world’s population has been shuttered inside their homes, only stepping out for essential supplies. Although this may have reduced our chances of being exposed to coronavirus, it may have had a less obvious effect on our immune systems by leaving us more vulnerable to other infections.

Humans evolved on a planet with a 24-hour cycle of light and dark, and our bodies are set up to work in partnership with sunlight. One of the most obvious examples of this is the production of vitamin D in the skin in response to UVB exposure. This daily dose of vitamin D can help to strengthen our bones and teeth, but it also has an effect on our immune cells.

Vitamin D enables the macrophages in our lungs – a first line of defence against respiratory infections – to spew out an antimicrobial peptide called cathelicidin, killing bacteria and viruses directly. It also tweaks the activity of other immune cells, such as B and T cells, which orchestrate longer-term responses. People with low levels of vitamin D are at greater risk of viral respiratory tract infections such as influenza.

Researchers are now investigating whether vitamin D supplements could even reduce the risk of some of the severe complications associated with Covid-19. Earlier this month, Rose Kenny, a gerontologist at Trinity College Dublin, and her colleagues published data suggesting that European populations with the highest death rates from Covid-19, including Spain and Italy, have the lowest levels of vitamin D. This may sound counterintuitive, given their sunny climates, but it is thought that changes in lifestyle have led people to spend more time indoors, which combined with greater use of sunscreen in these countries, may be responsible for the lower levels of vitamin D. Read More > from the BBC

Suicides on the rise amid stay-at-home order, Bay Area medical professionals say – Doctors at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek say they have seen more deaths by suicide during this quarantine period than deaths from the COVID-19 virus.

The head of the trauma in the department believes mental health is suffering so much, it is time to end the shelter-in-place order.

“Personally I think it’s time,” said Dr. Mike deBoisblanc. “I think, originally, this (the shelter-in-place order) was put in place to flatten the curve and to make sure hospitals have the resources to take care of COVID patients.We have the current resources to do that and our other community health is suffering.”

The numbers are unprecedented, he said.

“We’ve never seen numbers like this, in such a short period of time,” he said. “I mean we’ve seen a year’s worth of suicide attempts in the last four weeks.”

Kacey Hansen has worked as a trauma nurse at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek for almost 33 years. She is worried because not only are they seeing more suicide attempts, she says they are not able to save as many patients as usual. Read More > at ABC 7

The pandemic hasn’t killed California’s big housing plans — but they have mutated – Here’s what you need to know about California lawmakers’ latest plans to create more housing, and how COVID-19 has changed them.

Atkins’ suite of bills retains one of the more controversial provisions of Senate Bill 50, the “upzoning” proposal from Sen. Scott Wiener, Democrat from San Francisco: the elimination of single-family-only zoning throughout California.

Wide swaths of cities around the state currently prohibit any type of housing more dense than a single-family home. A new jointly-authored bill from Atkins and Wiener would force cities to allow homeowners and developers to convert single family homes into duplexes or even fourplexes, if the property is big enough. Those conversions would not have to be reviewed for environmental impacts by local governments, an often lengthy and expensive process.

While technically California ended single-family-only zoning with the passage of a 2019 law that allows homeowners to build accessory dwelling units — granny flats — in their backyard, the prospect of duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes popping up next door is sure to engender more pushback from homeowner groups resistant to more visible changes to their neighborhoods. Read More > at CALmatters

Less than HALF of Americans know the true meaning behind Memorial Day – Only 43 percent of 2,000 Americans surveyed were aware that the holiday honors military members who died while serving in the US Armed Forces, according to research revealed on Thursday.

The poll, conducted on behalf of University of Phoenix, found that 28 percent of respondents confused Memorial Day with Veterans Day – a holiday honoring all military veterans for their service.

It’s a common mistake: 36 percent of people admitted to not knowing the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

But to others, the revelation of Americans not knowing the holiday’s true meaning came as a surprise.

Less than half, or 46 percent, of respondents knew Memorial Day is celebrated on the last Monday in May. Read More > in The U.S. Sun

The Global Economy’s Fuel Gauge – At a global level, the pandemic didn’t change the fact that oil powers 97 percent of transportation. All commerce requires moving materials, food, finished goods, and people. Thus the oil used by planes, trains, and automobiles serves as the fuel gauge for the economy. The reaction to the coronavirus was, effectively, an x-ray of this reality.

The March lockdowns, which kept so many people and goods from moving anywhere, crushed global oil demand by 30 percent. Shortly thereafter, data showed that global GDP had collapsed by nearly 10 percent. Now that U.S. gasoline demand is starting to rise, many claim we are headed for a long, slow rise back to pre-crisis levels of congestion and oil use. But perhaps not.

Consider the view that communications will now replace commutes—an idea dating to the dawn of the Internet and even to the dawn of telegraphy. But most of what most people do at work requires showing up, not video conferencing. And, by now, many Zoom-weary people have rediscovered that in-person meetings are not only more time-efficient but also reveal important cues that get lost in flat, tiled images. Teleconferencing will surely continue, and grow, but post-Covid, most people will still travel to work. This is because we’ll rediscover that “ideas have sex,” to borrow zoologist Matt Ridley’s expression. Centuries of experience show that innovation, inspiration, and commerce happen with close, regular human interaction.

There is one thing the pandemic will change and that’s the trend to cram employees closer together in open-plan offices, and simultaneously reduce air-exchanges in buildings to make them more energy-efficient. More space between employees and more (clean) air will boost electricity demand in the summer and heat in the winter. Meantime, in the travel sector, reservations for fuel-guzzling recreational vehicles are reporting all-time highs. That mirrors a trend seen after 9/11, when Americans bypassed foreign vacations for domestic ones, traveling to those destinations mainly by cars, which use more energy per passenger mile than aircraft.

…Young professionals, for example, were already moving to the suburbs. Odds are that the urban exodus will only intensify, with many baby boomers joining in. Car commuting and suburbia are essentially synonymous. As for mass transit, in post-recovery China, ridership remains down some 30 to 50 percent… Read More > at City Journal

Ancient DNA From Siberia Provides Oldest Genetic Link to Native Americans – A 14,000-year-old genome scraped from a prehistoric tooth found in southern Siberia is now the oldest known connection linking living Native Americans to North America’s first migrants.

Research published today in Cell provides a population history of people living in the Lake Baikal region of Siberia from the Upper Paleolithic through to the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. A total of 19 human genomes were analyzed in the study, but one of these genomes is especially significant in that it’s now the oldest known DNA linking Siberians to indigenous Americans.

The DNA evidence was gleaned from a 14,000-year-old fragmented tooth found 44 years ago at the Ust-Kyahta-3 site in southern Siberia…

For much of human history, the Americas had no people at all. Northeast Siberia was the conduit from which Eurasians were finally able to migrate to North America at the end of the last ice age, likely through Beringia or a hypothesized coastal route linking the two continents. The first migratory wave likely happened some 23,000 to 20,000 years ago, with the new study suggesting a founding population from southern Siberia, rather than the north. Read More > at Gizmodo 

CDC: Coronavirus ‘does not spread easily’ except for close contact with infected patients – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued updated coronavirus guidelines that now downplay the chances of contracting the virus from surfaces, potentially offering relief to millions of Americans who have been concerned they might catch the disease from purchased groceries or delivered packages.

On its website, the CDC says that coronavirus is “thought to spread mainly from person-to-person.” Yet “the virus does not spread easily in other ways.”

“It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes,” the CDC also states on its site. “This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, but we are still learning more about this virus.”

Animal-to-people and people-to-animal transmissions are also unlikely, the agency states. Read More > at Just the News

California population may be peaking – The state Department of Finance calculated that California’s population growth — which had been as high as 600,000 a year in the 1980s — dropped to a net of 87,984 or 0.02% in 2019, leaving California just shy of 40 million people.

Why? Two reasons.

The first is that California’s production of babies has been declining while the number of people dying has been increasing.

The second is that the number of people leaving California for other states has been far higher than those who move here, while foreign immigration also has been waning.

Fewer babies, fewer young immigrants and the aging of the large post-World War II baby boom generation also mean that as California’s overall population growth slows to near-zero, its elderly population is still growing. And since the elderly population is mostly white, California’s black, Latino and Asian communities are destined to become ever-larger components of the state’s socioeconomic mix.

These demographic trends, if continued, would have enormous impacts even without the pandemic. If anything, the pandemic and the very sharp economic downturn it spawned will accelerate the trends, most likely retarding population growth even more. Read More > at CALmatters

Birth rates in the US decline to lowest level in 35 yearsBirth rates in the United States have dropped for the fifth year in a row, reaching a new low for the past 35 years, according to a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Once again, Americans are not having enough babies to replace the existing population.

Birth rates decreased in almost every group, but the report finds a notable exception: Women in their early 40s are having more babies. It could be that women in their 20s and 30s will have babies, they’re just waiting.

…Whelan added that decreasing birth rates often reflect a change in norms. In 2018, marriage rates were the lowest they’ve been since 1900, with 6.5 new marriages per 1,000 people. In addition to delaying or abstaining from marriage, more Americans may now value a smaller family size. But financial constraints also play a role in declining birth rates and Whelan believes some people are still reeling from the 2008 financial crisis. Read More > at Today

What Lockdown? World’s Cocaine Traffickers Sniff at Movement Restrictions – But OCCRP reporters have found that the world’s cocaine industry — which produces close to 2,000 metric tons a year and makes tens of billions of dollars — has adapted better than many other legitimate businesses. The industry has benefited from huge stores of drugs warehoused before the pandemic and its wide variety of smuggling methods. Street prices around Europe have risen by up to 30 percent, but it is not clear how much of this is due to distribution problems, and how much to drug gangs taking advantage of homebound customers.

What is clear is that cocaine continues to flow from South America to Europe and North America. Closed trafficking routes have been replaced with new ones, and street deals have been substituted with door-to-door deliveries.

…In Mexico, the cartels that control trafficking northwards into the United States have flourished under lockdown conditions. Seizures across the US border rose over 12 percent in the two weeks after the travel restrictions were imposed, indicating ongoing heavy traffic, according to figures from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Drug smugglers “have moved away from the traditional method of sending frequent but small shipments across the southwest border to less frequent but larger shipments,” the DEA said in response to reporters’ questions, adding that it was unclear if this was the result of COVID-19 or other factors.

Mexican cartels have used the crisis as a public relations opportunity. People associated with the cartels, including the daughter of imprisoned Sinaloa cartel chief Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, have publicly distributed food and other essential items to the poor.

Meanwhile, the country’s drug violence continues unabated, claiming an average of 80 lives per day. Read More > from OCCRP

A Pandemic Does Not Suspend the Rule of Law – The recent court decisions overturning COVID-19 lockdowns in Wisconsin and Oregon focused on abstruse issues of statutory interpretation. But both cases also addressed a more fundamental question: Is the rule of law suspended during a public health emergency?

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, state officials have imposed unprecedented restrictions on our liberties and livelihoods, acting on the assumption that they can do whatever they think is necessary to protect the public from a potentially deadly disease. The courts, which were initially reluctant to second-guess state responses to COVID-19, are beginning to recognize that public health powers, while broad, are not a blank check.

The Wisconsin case involved a dispute between two branches of the state government. The Republican leaders of the state legislature argued that Andrea Palm, a Democrat who runs the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, was exercising powers she had never been granted when she ordered the closure of “nonessential” businesses and confined residents to their homes except for purposes she approved, threatening violators with fines and jail.

This case was not simply a partisan spat. It raised the question of whether a single executive branch official can unilaterally criminalize heretofore legal behavior, based on nothing more than her own judgment of what is required to protect public health. Read More > at Reason

New Resolution to Terminate California Governor Gavin Newsom’s Emergency Powers – Two California lawmakers aren’t waiting for a California judge to strike down Gov. Gavin Newsom’s lockdown orders. “Since proclaiming a State of Emergency on March 4, Governor Newsom has issued 39 Executive Orders, unilaterally changing 200 laws spanning most sections of the California code,” Assemblymen Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin) and James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) said in a press statement about their new Resolution to terminate the Governor’s emergency powers. “This includes creating new voting laws for an election six months away and overhauling Workers’ Compensation rules.”

A “State of Emergency” in California is a legal term describing not merely conditions of extreme peril, but also the inadequacy of state and local institutions to combat the threat within the constraints of the State Constitution, Kiley and Gallagher wrote.

“This Resolution is meant to restore a proper balance between the legislative and executive branches,” said Assemblyman Kiley. “To the extent the Governor retains extraordinary powers, they should be limited in scope in coordination with the Legislature, which has authority to terminate those powers altogether.”

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst, in a report Sunday on the Governor’s May Revision, was “very troubled” by the authority the Governor seeks to take away from the Legislature. The report concludes: “we urge the Legislature to jealously guard its constitutional role and authority.”

“The Emergency Services Act was designed to grant extraordinary powers to a Governor under conditions of extreme peril,” Assemblyman Kiley said. “It was not meant to give a single person the ability to remake all of California law indefinitely. An open-ended state of emergency, with boundless powers vested in a chief executive, is incompatible with democratic government.”

Gov. Newsom is facing 11 lawsuits for overstepping his Constitutional authority. Read More > at California Globe

Weekly mortgage applications point to a remarkable recovery in homebuying – If mortgage demand is an indicator, buyers are coming back to the housing market far faster than anticipated, despite coronavirus shutdowns and job losses.

Mortgage applications to purchase a home rose 6% last week from the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s seasonally adjusted index. Purchase volume was just 1.5% lower than a year ago, a rather stunning recovery from just six weeks ago, when purchase volume was down 35% annually.

“Applications for home purchases continue to recover from April’s sizable drop and have now increased for five consecutive weeks,” said Joel Kan, an MBA economist. “Government purchase applications, which include FHA, VA, and USDA loans, are now 5 percent higher than a year ago, which is an encouraging turnaround after the weakness seen over the past two months.”

As states reopen, so are open houses, and buyers have been coming out in force, if masked. Record low mortgage rates, combined with strong pent-up demand from before the pandemic and a new desire to leave urban downtowns due to the pandemic, are driving buyers back to the single-family home market. It remains to be seen if this is simply the pent-up demand or a long-term trend. Read More > at CNBC

California’s Budget Bust-Up – Every state and municipal budget in America will take a big hit because of the coronavirus lockdowns, but no public purse is in as much trouble as California’s. Its Department of Finance recently estimated that the Golden State could face a $54 billion shortfall in the fiscal year beginning July 1, which surely must be the largest deficit any state has ever accumulated, surpassing the $40 billion hole that nearly swallowed Sacramento in 2008. Still, though Governor Gavin Newsome said last weekend that the staggering deficit was “a direct result of Covid-19,” that’s clearly not true. Critics have long warned that the state’s tax base is volatile, being increasingly reliant on wealthy residents and vulnerable to sharp contraction in the next recession. Combine that with California’s spending spree—including expenditures to fix problems that the state’s own bad policies have worsened—and the swing from prosperity to penury isn’t hard to understand.

It’s no exaggeration to say that California—with its 13.3 percent personal income-tax rate, the highest of any state—is the model of progressive fiscal policy. The state also takes a big tax bite out of capital-gains income, another significant source of revenue. In 2017, Californians reported $142 billion in capital gains, by far the largest amount of any state. Two-thirds of that total came from people making more than $1 million. The top 1 percent of California earners now account for about 23 percent of the state’s adjusted gross income but pay 46 percent of the income tax—nearly $50 billion last year, all of which came from an estimated 15,000 households. Before the coronavirus recession hit, California projected that more than 70 percent of its general fund revenues—or $102 billion—would come from personal income taxes. That’s compared with just 25 percent in the 1960s, when the top rate was about half what it is today.

California’s problem: the income of the rich is highly variable, based heavily on dividends, capital gains, and bonuses, which mostly vanish in recessions. In the 2008–2009 downturn, for instance, California’s income-tax collections declined by $7 billion—from $50 billion to $43 billion—in one year. They’ve come roaring back, especially in the last few years, as the stock market reached new heights. California added new taxes, bumping up the rate for those earning more than $250,000 a year and increasing the state sales tax. Originally passed as temporary measures, these tax increases were extended in 2016 for another 15 years. That helped fill the till even higher during the recovery but means that any future tax increases will come on top of already-high rates.

California officials blame the projected $54 billion shortfall on the coronavirus shutdown, but steep deficits always loomed in the next recession. Last year, the Public Policy Institute of California estimated that, even in a moderate downturn, the state would face revenue shortfalls averaging more than $22 billion a year for the next four years—totaling more than $90 billion. For a severe recession—as we may now be facing—the study projected revenue losses of $170 billion stretching over five years. Read More > at City Journal

Americans don’t know why they don’t trust self-driving cars – It probably won’t come as a surprise, but a new survey has found that most Americans aren’t too enthusiastic about the idea of self-driving cars — but maybe not for the reasons you might think. The study was conducted between late February and early March 2020 on behalf of Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE), an organization made up of industry players that aims to educate the public on the technology.

At first glance, the results aren’t great. To start, 48 percent of people said they would never get into a self-driving taxi. Worse yet, 20 percent think the technology will never be safe. In all, almost three in four Americans believe the technology is “not ready for primetime.”

For most people, more relevant to their mistrust of autonomous vehicles is that they hadn’t had a chance to experience the technology first-hand. Specifically, 58 percent said they would have greater confidence in autonomous cars if they could ride in one. That’s not surprising when you consider most of the self-driving vehicles out on the road today are test cars that the public can’t ride.

The outlook on autonomous vehicles is not all bad, however. Of the 1,200 people the organization surveyed, 678 were owners of cars with advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) like blind-spot detection and automatic emergency braking. As you might imagine, that group was more inclined to be in favor of autonomous vehicles. For example, 75 percent of them said they look forward to discovering what new safety features their next car will include. Likewise, people with mobility disabilities had more positive things to say about the tech than the general public.  Read More > at Engadget

Minor League Baseball Is in Crisis – …Following professional baseball’s shutdown in March, minor league clubs now exist in a sort of sports purgatory, 160 affiliates unsure whether they will have games to host and worried about how they will pay employees, settle debts, and potentially return millions of dollars in ticket and advertising revenue to fans and sponsors. Not to mention the existential anxiety they’ve felt since early last winter, when Major League Baseball proposed a plan that would reportedly eliminate 42 affiliates and give big league clubs greater control over the system.

A Sports Illustrated survey of minor league organizations, sent to all teams in late April, shows just how desperate the situation has become. The responses of 68 clubs—in addition to interviews with executives representing 21 of those teams—make clear that the minor leagues are facing a crisis that could destroy professional baseball in cities across the country. At every classification level, in markets ranging from metropolitan cities to rural outposts, front offices are worried about their clubs’ survival, concerned about the viability of rival teams and wondering how the minors will recover from a pandemic that is pummeling an American institution.

…amid months of tense back-and-forth between MLB and the minors over the Professional Baseball Agreement, which governs their relationship. Last extended in 2011, the deal expires this September and, as part of the negotiations, MLB is seeking to save costs by eliminating more than a quarter of affiliated teams by next season while pushing for other significant changes to its minor league partnership.

For those organizations that survive the massive restructuring, minor league executives said, congressional action might be needed to keep teams alive beyond the pandemic. Without extensive financial help, they added, clubs might be forced to shut down or declare for bankruptcy protection. Teams that have served for decades as community bedrocks—while providing an affordable way to have a night out at the ballpark—could disappear in an instant.

But everything that makes minor league ball special to tens of millions of fans each year has also made it exceptionally vulnerable during the pandemic. Social distancing doesn’t fit well with an industry that depends entirely on rear ends in seats. “Minor league teams don’t have the lucrative television contracts or the massive merchandise sales that major league teams enjoy,” says John Allgood, the former executive director for the Triple A Oklahoma City RedHawks who is an assistant professor in Temple University’s sport, tourism and hospitality management department. “Most teams are getting 70 games, over five months, to make every dollar that will carry them through the rest of the year. Every day with coronavirus shutdowns is one more day a team can’t make money. If no one is in the stands, 100% of that revenue has walked out the door.”

In other words, major league teams can play in empty stadiums this year because local TV contracts and three national deals (accounting for $1.7 billion in annual revenue, split among 30 teams) will soften the economic blow. By contrast, in response to SI’s survey, most teams said a canceled season would result in a 95% to 100% loss in annual revenue. Part of what ties minor league franchises so deeply to their communities is that they are supported, almost exclusively, by a few thousand fans each night, plus advertising bought by local restaurants and bars, the neighborhood orthodontist and the town pest-control company. Read More > in Sports Illustrated

Has the coronavirus eliminated the handshake for good? – The air kiss couldn’t do it. The bro hug couldn’t do it.

Will COVID finally kill the friendly handshake for good?

All across socially distanced America, hardly anyone is shaking hands anymore, even as the beaches fill with hordes of pasty shut-ins and the restaurant doors crack open 25% or 50%. Unless you’re a sidelined NBA player or a supermodel in heels, it’s a hard maneuver to achieve from six feet away. Yep, they’re giving last rites to the handshake everywhere.

…According to historians, the handshake first appeared in Greece in the 5th century B.C., and it had a very practical purpose. It was a symbol of peace designed to show that neither person possessed a weapon. During the Roman era, the handshake was actually more of an arm grab, but the message was the same: You’re not carrying. I’m not carrying. We’re good.

But the benefits were not only practical, as things turned out. While Socrates was musing that the unexamined life was not worth living, lesser mortals were discovering that the untouching life kinda stunk too. Humans, it seems, have always been drawn to mutual, physical contact, even outside the bedroom.

…If not handshakes, then what? There’s no shortage of candidates in the field right now, inadequate though many of them plainly are.

The hand wave. The head bow. A couple of fists thrown in the air. All those lack the physical contact that humans have craved through history.

…The handshake is clearly out of commission for a while, but no one can say for certain it is truly gone for good, whatever common sense and the epidemiologists are recommending.

So keep your hands in your pocket till this virus is finally beaten. Then carry a travel-size bottle of Purell — in case we have to shake on it again. Read More > at MarketWatch

Blame governors for the coronavirus deaths in nursing homes: Goodwin – At least 28,000 residents and workers in long-term care facilities already have died from the ­virus, according to a New York Times analysis done more than a week ago. That represented one out of every three COVID-19 deaths recorded in the United States at the time and was likely an undercount because of reporting lags and varying state methods.

The Times found 14 states where more than half of total deaths occurred in facilities for the elderly. It was 55 percent in Connecticut, 57 percent in Colorado, North Carolina and Kentucky, 58 percent in Virginia, 59 percent in Massachusetts, 61 percent in Delaware, 66 percent in Pennsylvania, 73 percent in Rhode Island and 80 percent in West Virginia and Minnesota.

The states with the most nursing-home deaths, New York and New Jersey, didn’t make the list because of so many other deaths, yet more than 10,000 people died in their facilities. The 5,500 nursing-home deaths in New York are more than the total deaths in all other states except New Jersey.

Many if not most could have been avoided. The earlier outbreaks in Asia and Europe demonstrated that the elderly were easy prey for the virus, doubly so when they have underlying health conditions. Everybody knew that.

Florida got the message and implemented a model response. Despite its vast enclaves of long-term care homes, it reported ­under 750 deaths in them, or slightly more than one for each of its 615 facilities.

The striking contrast between Florida on one hand and New York and New Jersey on the other can be traced largely to policy decisions by their governors. Gov. ­Andrew Cuomo of New York and Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey issued almost identical orders in late March requiring nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients being discharged from hospitals. The orders barred the homes from even asking if the patients had the virus, lest they be discriminated against. Read More > in the New York Post

In Northern California, a new invader threatens Tribal lands – A video posted on the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office’s Facebook page Tuesday (see above) featured Sheriff Matt Kendall describing an “invasion of illegal marijuana grows” propagating in Round Valley and vowed to increase efforts to eradicate them. The video explained the case of a missing San Jose man Victor Medina, who was last known to be working on a grow site near Covelo, prompted a search warrant being served on a Round Valley farm resulting in the arrest of two workers, detainment of 8 more, and the eradication of 22,148 plants.

Read More > at Redheaded Blackbelt

Colleges Worry They’ll Be Sued if They Reopen Campuses – Wednesday afternoon, 14 college presidents from around the country gathered in front of their computers. On their screens they saw their peers, along with Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who asked what they needed to reopen their campuses in the fall.

The presidents spoke about the need to be able to do more testing for the coronavirus, according to those who were either on the call or were knowledgeable about the conversation. But the presidents also said they needed to know their college wouldn’t get sued if anyone got sick, which is almost inevitable.

Colleges, in seeking that protection from Pence and from a Senate committee this week, aren’t alone. Manufacturers and business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have been pushing to be freed, at least temporarily during the pandemic, from being held liable if workers, customers and others get sick on their property — something a lawyer for Texas Christian University told senators is “foreseeable, perhaps inevitable.” Read More > at Inside Higher Ed

The Unexamined Model Is Not Worth Trusting – In early March, British leaders planned to take a laissez-faire approach to the spread of the coronavirus. Officials would pursue “herd immunity,” allowing as many people in non-vulnerable categories to catch the virus in the hope that eventually it would stop spreading. But on March 16, a report from the Imperial College Covid-19 Response Team, led by noted epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, shocked the Cabinet of the United Kingdom into a complete reversal of its plans. Report 9, titled “Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce COVID-19 mortality and healthcare demand,” used computational models to predict that, absent social distancing and other mitigation measures, Britain would suffer 500,000 deaths from the coronavirus. Even with mitigation measures in place, the report said, the epidemic “would still likely result in hundreds of thousands of deaths and health systems (most notably intensive care units) being overwhelmed many times over.” The conclusions so alarmed Prime Minister Boris Johnson that he imposed a national quarantine.

Subsequent publication of the details of the computer model that the Imperial College team used to reach its conclusions raised eyebrows among epidemiologists and specialists in computational biology and presented some uncomfortable questions about model-driven decision-making. The Imperial College model itself appeared solid…

As Ferguson himself admits, the code was written 13 years ago, to model an influenza pandemic. This raises multiple questions: other than Ferguson’s reputation, what did the British government have at its disposal to assess the model and its implementation? How was the model validated, and what safeguards were implemented to ensure that it was correctly applied? The recent release of an improved version of the source code does not paint a favorable picture. The code is a tangled mess of undocumented steps, with no discernible overall structure. Even experienced developers would have to make a serious effort to understand it.

I’m a virologist, and modelling complex processes is part of my day-to-day work. It’s not uncommon to see long and complex code for predicting the movement of an infection in a population, but tools exist to structure and document code properly. The Imperial College effort suggests an incumbency effect: with their outstanding reputations, the college and Ferguson possessed an authority based solely on their own authority. The code on which they based their predictions would not pass a cursory review by a Ph.D. committee in computational epidemiology.

Ferguson and Imperial College’s refusal of all requests to examine taxpayer-funded code that supported one of the most significant peacetime decisions in British history is entirely contrary to the principles of open science—especially in the Internet age… Read More > at City Journal

About Kevin

Mayor - City of Oakley, Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit, Transplan, San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority and RD 2137, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction
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