Day 555 – A sudden realisation & How to spot the bad guys

Oh My Deity.

Can you even begin to imagine the SA Moonbats if when we get to Day 666 of all this extraordinary mess?

For the record, we’re back down to Level 1 again in SA as of yesterday morning, with an amazing opportunity right in front of us to stop this thing right in its tracks.

Will we take it? Probably not.

I wrote about a week ago about people spreading misinformation about vaccinations, ivermectin and the like. Someone asked me how to know which bits are true; how can we separate those people from the “good guys”. Fortunately, even if you’re not able to see through the BS because you’re not a scientist and you don’t have the time to trawl through someone’s twitter or Facebook history for clues, then there are still super simple signs you can look out for.

The use of the word “tyranny”, for example.

This is Drama Llama-ism and privilege at it’s finest. You might not like our government much (and I’m with you on that), but honestly, get a grip. You’re not – despite your desperate protestations – living in Nazi Germany.

No, this isn’t “jUsT LiKe LiViNg iN nOrTh KoRea”.
You went to the pub last night and they asked you to sanitise your hands when you went in?
Oooh. How very Pyongyang!

“Tyranny” is a good marker because no-one publicly uses “tyranny” to describe how they are living their daily lives, simply because if they were living their daily lives under any sort of tyranny, they wouldn’t be allowed to say anything publicly.

What else? Well, quotes from George Orwell books are a dead giveaway. Especially the one he never wrote:

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”

not George Orwell.

Or any reference to 1984 (which he did write).

And then there are the links to science stories which have been interpreted by right-wing, conservative news sites (generally) from the US. These will inevitably and unswervingly follow the narrative of “Ivermectin good, vaccine bad” (and yes, that was a deliberately chosen root quote, just for fun), and will be from a website whose title will be something along the lines of RationalPatriot dot com, NationalObserver dot org or MaintainingLiberty dot net.

The scientific paper that they review will exist, but it won’t say the things they say it does. If there’s enough fuss about it, the paper’s author might get in touch on twitter and tell them that they didn’t get it right. This inconvenience will be ignored and the story will not be retracted.

Some mention of Bill and Melinda Gates.

Any link to disclose dot tv.

Use of the word “sheeple”.

And then the obvious stuff like: “the vaccines are killing more than the virus”, “covid isn’t real” and “ivermectin prevents/cures covid” (which isn’t real).

I hope this helps in working out what you can believe and what you can’t.

Day 554 – Communicating the science

Covid-19 can be scary.

For some, it could be scary because they’re concerned that they or their families might get infected, get sick or die.
For others, it could be scary because they are worried about the safety, efficacy or side-effects of the vaccine.

For many people, it could well be both.

As scientists, I feel that we have a responsibility to try to allay these fears as much as possible.

Information – accurate, proven information – is key to dispelling these concerns. But even if we do our level best to ignore, debate, rebut or ridicule individuals intent on sharing misinformation around the subject, and perhaps because of the mess on social media and throwing around of SO MANY numbers by both sides, it seems to be difficult for science to get what should be a fairly straightforward message, across to the general public.

It’s no use us reading and understanding a research paper and thinking that that’ll make everything ok, if that information isn’t then provided to the layperson in a usable form. We need good, knowledgeable, approachable scientific communicators to accurately decode the often high-level, technical language into something that everyone can understand. Whether we’re talking about scientific, legal, engineering or any other field, this translating of complex information so that everyone can understand is such a hugely important skill.

I think we’d all like to see an end to this pandemic. We’d like life to go back to something like we had before; we’d like to travel freely again and live our lives without the restrictions that Covid has placed upon us. If this positive potential scenario doesn’t describe your feelings, then this post isn’t for you. Your situation is beyond my remit. Sorry.

I’m very deliberately not going to use numbers in this post, nor am I necessarily going to link to papers and articles that support my points. I have done a lot of reading, and I understand a lot of the detail, but in the greater scheme of things, that detail is unimportant and can even muddy the waters: it’s the principles that actually matter.

Working from that standpoint above, we all have to understand that there is no silver bullet here. No one single 100% solution. Getting back to anywhere close to normality is going to require a combination of efforts, none of which by alone will end the pandemic. On the plus side, the more of these you personally put into place, the better protected you and those around you are, and the more you will be doing to end this horrible situation.
The more people that also put them into place, the quicker this thing is over.

Limiting the spread of the virus is how we end this pandemic.

The first way is obviously the vaccines. The vaccines are undoubtedly very effective, but they’re not perfect. They aren’t 100% effective, so yes, you will hear of people getting Covid after they have been vaccinated, and you will hear that vaccinated individuals can pass the virus on. But your chances of contracting, becoming ill from, becoming hospitalised by or dying from Covid are massively reduced when you have been vaccinated. And just as importantly, your chance of passing the virus on to other people is hugely reduced as well. This is big news, because every person that you don’t infect can’t infect anyone else either. Limiting the spread of the virus is how we end this pandemic.

It’s no surprise that the countries that are beginning to open up again and drop many of their Covid restrictions are ones with high levels of vaccination. The benefits of a lack of strain on their healthcare systems because of fewer people being infected and fewer people needing hospital treatment are clear to see.

And the vaccines are undoubtedly safe. Again, they’re not 100% safe (but then, what is?), but your chances of becoming ill or dying from the vaccine are absolutely tiny compared to the sickness and death rate of the virus. Sure, you will have heard many, many horror stories on Facebook, but take stock of where you are hearing them from and whether or not they are at all believable. This is not a new, untested technology, merely one that we have been using for a while and that can now be adapted to assist us in the fight against Covid.

The vaccine is by far the best and most important tool that we have in our armoury against Covid. It’s now readily available, free of charge right across SA and much of the rest of the world. There really is no reason not to get it.
If you are reading this and you haven’t been vaccinated yet, please make a plan to go along and get it done. A bit of a sore arm for a couple of days is nothing – nothing – compared to even “mild” Covid.

But there are other things you can do – and should be doing – as well.

Self-isolation. I know it’s a pain. I know you want to get on with your life. But if you have been exposed to someone with a Covid-19 infection and you stay at home for 10 days, you can’t pass it on. And again, all the people that you might have passed it on to – at the shops, at the restaurant, on the bus etc. – they can’t pass it on now, either.
Remember: limiting the spread of the virus is how we end this pandemic.

And then these three. SO EASY TO DO, but if everyone just did them, it would make such a huge difference.

Masks – they won’t stop coronavirus completely. Wearing a mask will reduce your chances of contracting Covid-19 a little, but far more importantly, they limit your chances of spreading the virus a great deal. Remember that some people will be lucky enough to be unaware that they are carrying the virus at all. If those people limit their chances of spreading it by simply wearing a mask, we’d be a lot better off. And again, every little bit towards limiting the spread of the virus… you know the rest by now already.

Social distancing – The further away you stand from a smoker, the less strongly you’ll smell their smoke.
Same goes for Covid. Yep, sure, you could still get Covid from someone more than 1.5 metres away, but it’s very unlikely. The further away you stay from people, the less likely you are to get the virus if they have it. Even less so if you’re wearing a mask. Ever more less so if they’re wearing a mask. And if you’re both vaccinated? Basically no risk at all! It all adds up.
And I’m lobbing ventilation in with this one – just like the smoking analogy above – the better ventilated a public space is, the less likely the virus is to spread. So avoid crowds, avoid busy, indoor spaces, open the taxi windows (ok, good luck with that one) and choose to sit outside at your favourite restaurant.

Handwashing – Soap, water, santitiser. Use what you want. We now know that Covid isn’t spread much from surfaces, but high-traffic, high-touch areas like door handles, life buttons, light switches and escalator handrests can still pose a small risk. If you wash you hands after using them, you reduce that risk to yourself. If everyone washes their hands before using them, there is no risk. Again, it’s a tiny thing, but like the whole of Cape Town not letting the tap run while they brushed their teeth during the drought, if enough people do it, and in combination with everything else, it makes a difference.

Limiting the spread of the virus is how we end this pandemic, and we all have access to the tools we need to achieve that.
An hour getting your jab. Asking a friend or neighbour to drop you some shopping in because you sat next to Barry at that meeting and he tested positive yesterday. Putting your mask on – properly – while you’re around other people. Choosing not to join huge crowds right now, going for an outdoor option whenever possible, and washing your hands, just like we were taught as kids.

It’s completely possible if we work together.

Day 544 – Misinfo, disinfo

The pandemic has brought with it an equally* horrific wave of misinformation on social media. If there is one plus side to all this, it’s that it’s become more clear who is spreading the misinformation and why they are doing it. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say, and so you can now identify these people more often and challenge, ignore, pity or ridicule them as you so desire.

The first sort are undoubtedly the most dangerous. They are intelligent enough to know what they are sharing is wrong, but they do it because it suits their agenda and it gives them a sense of power. More often then not, these will be wealthy, white, Christian women in America (or their SA wannabe counterparts) or they will be middle-aged men who have a podcast or radio show on some unknown mid-West radio station like KayEnOhBee or some such. Or maybe they’re a writer for a website with a name like “Freedom News” or “Rebel Dispatch” (they always are).
They are being nefarious in spreading their bullshit, because they know it’s not incorrect and morally wrong, but they do it anyway.

Then there are the ones that don’t analyse stuff, because it suits their chosen narrative. Ivermectin stats, Covid deaths, Vaccine side-effects. They see it being posted by their pseudo-celebrity heroes and they just hit SHARE. If they had the inclination to delve a little deeper and get past their biases, they might understand that it wasn’t actually true, but they don’t want to be bothered with that much effort when there’s a Retweet button to be clicked right there. Just lazy.

And then there are the lowly third group. So utterly thick that you could put them together and make one long plank. They are so deeply unintelligent, so completely down the rabbit hole and so far up the arses of the first lot that they don’t have a clue what’s real and what’s not anymore. They think that the sky is making them sick and that the earth is flat. Easily manipulated and radicalised, they are the foot soldiers of the movement, undyingly paranoid and loyal to causes like ‘5G killed my poodle’ or ‘Space may be the final frontier but it’s made in a Hollywood basement’.

And the stuff they are posting is so easily disprovable. Look at this, shared just two days ago:

Yeah. That looks pretty bad, until you take into account a couple of things. Like the death rate from Covid-19 in the Western Cape, which has been higher than that worldwide figure just about every day for the past couple of months.

Aaand, it’s disproven. That really wasn’t so hard, was it?

But how can that be? Is the figure above incorrect? No. The figure above is from (as you can see in the bottom corner) 8th March 2020. Before the pandemic really got started. You can’t apply that to now. Things change. That’s like making a calculation of how many people have died from planes crashing into buildings in New York, but choosing to look at it on September 10th 2001.

World War 2 wasn’t so bad: only 68 people were killed… (in the first two days).

Because Covid-19 comes in waves and hits various countries at various times, the daily death rate also varies, but the daily average since March 2020 is well in excess of that TB figure at the top of the chart.

[Can we agree to just ignore the outlier?]

And while I’d certainly rather that it didn’t, I can see how an extra 10,000 deaths each day might affect the world economy.

And the guy who shared the table about ‘crashing the world’s economy’?
I would have popped him in the middle lot I described above, but then to make what is basically a hundred-fold mistake on the widely publicised death statistics seems more than lazy, it seems criminally stupid or entirely deliberate.
So… you decide.

* not really

Day 539 – Vaccine boosters? Yes, please!

There’s lots of chatter at the moment about Covid vaccines, waning antibody counts, natural immunity and the need (or not) for booster jabs.

I’m fully vaccinated, but when the time comes, if I need a booster jab, I will get a booster jab.
And if I need two booster jabs, I will get two booster jabs.
And so on.

Here’s why.

Despite being very, very careful, I got Covid. And by very, very careful, I mean that I was applying my laboratory safety training and standards to everything I could. I got Covid simply because I couldn’t control some environments that I ended up in.
Like Checkers in Constantia. Well, specifically Checkers in Constantia, to be honest.

But let’s not get bogged down in the details: the fact is that I did everything I could to avoid getting infected, but I still got infected.

I had a mild case of Covid. Thankfully, I avoided a severe case. I avoided supplementary oxygen, hospital, ICU, a ventilator and death. And sadly, we all know how that awful chain of attempted medical intervention proceeds, because we all know people who have ended up at every point along that pathway.

Our Covid-19 vaccines aren’t perfect yet. This is a new, rapidly evolving pathogen and until things settle down and find their natural balance, we’re always going to be playing a bit of catch up. But the vaccines are an incredible weapon against the disease. They’re out best chance. They’re your best chance.
There are plenty of data which tell us that vaccines limit your chances of ending up with a severe case of Covid-19. And to be honest, that should be enough for anyone to get vaccinated, because surely reducing the likelihood of ending up in hospital and all that comes with it is just common sense.

There is also plenty of evidence that being vaccinated means that you are less likely to get Covid at all, less likely to be sick with it and less likely to pass it on.
But perhaps you think that you’re not going to get a severe case of Covid-19 anyway. And sure, looking at the stats, even if you do get Covid, you’re more likely to have a mild case than a severe one.

So let me tell you about my mild case of Covid-19.

I was unable to get out of bed for over a week. I couldn’t even move.
I lost more than 10% of my body weight.
I have myalgia, arthralgia and headaches every morning until my medication kicks in.
I have had to have two chest x-rays.
I still can’t smell or taste anything, 9 weeks on.
I have had to have tests on my heart to check for cardiac damage.
I’m constantly tired all day; I can’t stay awake after 9pm.
I have had 67 separate blood tests.
I can’t remember people’s names. I can’t think of words. I can’t do simple quizzes anymore.
I used to run 20km a week. For six weeks, I couldn’t even walk up the stairs in my house without taking a break.
I’ve spent thousands and thousands of Rands on tests and drugs.
I’m still taking 12 different tablets every morning.
I’ve had malaria, influenza, Salmonella and meningitis in the last 20 years. This was far worse than any of them.
I can just about manage to walk a kilometre now, but running is a pipe dream.
I have other ongoing symptoms I don’t want to tell you about. (It’s better for both of us.)

It’s completely changed my life. And not in a good way.

You might not get it as badly as I did.
Or you might.

This isn’t a pity post. I’m not looking for sympathy. And I’m not for one moment suggesting that many, many people haven’t had it much worse. Of course they have.
This is just me telling you that “mild” is a massively subjective term, and completely belittles the experience that many of us have had (and are still having) with this disease.
But if you think that you don’t need a vaccination or a booster jab because a mild case of Covid-19 is something you just brush off and get on with your life, well maybe think again.

I got vaccinated, but the vaccinations for my age group arrived in SA too late for me to avoid getting sick. And given my experience, now that I am vaccinated, I will do everything I can to ensure that I am always as well-protected against Covid as I possible can be. If I can give myself a bit more chance of avoiding death, hospitalisation or even just a mild case of Covid by getting a free injection that takes 20 minutes to administer once every six months, well, why the hell wouldn’t I do that?
And then if I have to do it again in another 6 months, I’ll be right there.

If you are hesitant about getting a vaccination, because you are worried that it’s not safe; that might make you feel unwell; if you think that you don’t need one because you won’t get Covid or if you do it won’t be that bad; if you are scared of needles, please just talk to your GP. The benefits far outweigh any possible risks or unpleasantness.

If you just need a sign: this is it.

Give yourself a better chance of avoiding all this shit. Really.

Day 535 – Surprising screenshots

Yesterday turned out to be a pretty good day. I pushed myself (on doctor’s orders) to see what I could get done, and I got quite a lot done. Yes, I am suffering a little bit today, but nowhere near as much as I would have expected.

I’m almost – almost – daring to hope that I’ve turned a corner.

I put my watch on for the first time in weeks, mainly just to keep an eye on my heart rate (doctor’s orders again), and well, wow, look at this:

A whole dog walk round the block, sure, but the steps! The steps!
That’s the first time I’ve even come close to that figure since I got this damn thing. I really wasn’t aiming for anything, so it was a huge surprise when I spotted it.

Other points: 72 resting HR is still too high, but that’s why I had the watch on. 150bpm is also still too high, considering I didn’t actually do anything strenuous (yes, you guessed it, doctor’s orders). And the stress level, well that’s always a bit of an outlier on the days that I watch United play.

Although…

Wow. Amazing.

We’ve been waiting to spank someone for about 18 months now, so this was long overdue. And yes, it was “only” Peterborough, but we’ve been drawing to “only” Luton and losing to “only Huddersfield” recently, so this was really great to watch (if a little stressful for at least the first 51 minutes) (see above).

But aside from the result – even better than the result perhaps – this was a cohesive, skillful, positive, enthusiastic, even occasionally awe-inspiring Blades’ performance. Just look at the quality of those goals. JUST LOOK AT THEM!

I’m almost – almost – daring to hope that we’ve turned a corner.