Day 271 – Safety first pays off

I walked to the local shopping mall this morning. I wanted to go to a single shop on the edge of the mall, and I didn’t want to have to deal with a) parking, or b) walking through the mall once I had parked. I would imagine that retail sales are going to be sharply down this year when compared to others, but you wouldn’t know it to look at the crowds in the shops.

My idea worked perfectly: I didn’t have to go near anyone at all, my shop was almost empty and I also lost 6 kilos by walking back home in the utterly ridiculous heat.

Safety first is definitely the best option at the moment. I can’t explain how Covid-19 is dominating everything here. Hospitals are overwhelmed, the news is a single-track on repeat and we all know people who have got it and who have died from it. It’s right on our doorstep and since I wrote this just 2½ weeks ago, the situation has somehow become immeasurably worse.

While you can’t protect yourself completely, the idea that one should treat everyone as if they have the virus is a sound one. I have been putting this into practice (it’s actually not a big thing as a microbiologist, because we treat everything as potentially infectious in the lab anyway) and yesterday it paid off. Instead of being worried about an interaction I had with someone who has since tested positive, I’m completely at peace, simply because of the care that I took in our brief meeting (outdoors, in that SouthEaster, at a distance, with a mask on).

If it wasn’t for that approach, I’d be thinking about spending my Christmas Day (already in tatters) sitting in an hours-long queue waiting to be tested for you-know-what. All while (quite likely) feeling pretty crappy as well.

It’s worth the effort to keep yourself safe.

Day 268 – Problematic Simon

Big news (it’s not that big) released last night by the Health Minister and his scientific friends is that we’re apparently under siege from a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Dr Mkhize spoke yesterday evening and, I think, did a very good job of explaining what the 501.V2 Variant is, how it was detected and what it means for the fight against Covid-19 in SA.

But then there was this:

I don’t usually listen to washed-up political hasbeens (you had your chance), but this tweet irritated me.

The line “I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but…” is akin to the old favourite “I’m not racist, but…” and is always, always the prefix to either a conspiracy theory or something overtly racist.

And Simon doesn’t let us all down (for once) by immediately spouting a ridiculous conspiracy theory.

Note: the “Genuine Question” bit at the start is not a disclaimer or an excuse.

This shouldn’t happen. Supposedly intelligent individuals shouldn’t be sharing their drunken thoughts in a public forum. It’s fortunate that the only people really listening to Simon at this point are the ones that no-one else really listens to, and so this uneducated, desperately foolish rhetoric will hopefully die quickly in his little echo chamber.

If you are tempted to tweet an utterly stupid conspiracy theory to your followers, then please do as Simon did, and tell us up front that you “don’t usually subscribe to this sort of thing” or some such, so that we can all save our time and simply ignore whatever follows.

Or better still, rather than vomiting your nonsense across social media, just quietly ask someone with a brain to gently explain it to you, thus preventing you from looking like a prize arse in front of the whole country.

Day 267, part 2 – An even easier way

We have – repeatedly – been through the ways that you can avoid infection and avoid infecting others with Covid-19, but there always seems to be some good reason silly excuse which means that you can’t follow through and actually do them, doesn’t there?

Wash your hands regularly

But my hands get so dry.
I have very sensitive skin, see? I get it from my mother’s side.

Wear a mask

It’s so hard to breath through a mask though, isn’t it?
And the rebreathing of all the carbon monoxide. So dangerous. So very dangerous.

Maintain a decent social distance

I’m just, like, a really tactile person. Like, I always have been.
I literally just need to hug everyone. I get it from my mother’s side.

Avoid poorly ventilated indoor spaces

Look, sure, my favourite bar is very small and has no windows.
But there are Happy Hour specials on vodka cocktails all this week!

I know, I know. It’s really not easy to alter your behaviour in order to protect other people.

But here’s a great plan and you don’t actually have to do anything at all. Quite literally.

If you are feeling unwell, just stay at home. 

This one has been on all the posters and the emails and everything else that you have seen and been sent, but it doesn’t make the headline advice because it’s clearly just so obvious.

Not rocket surgery.

Sadly, with hindsight, it seems that assumption might have been something of a misjudgement on our part. [sigh]

And so from now on, can we add this seemingly most straightforward of advice to the short list above?

Thanks so much.

Day 266 – None of it is good news

With bugs and diseases like TB or Measles or HIV, we don’t often learn much new significant stuff anymore. That’s mainly because we already know a lot of stuff about those bugs and diseases and so there’s less unknown stuff to learn. But it’s also there’s less research being concentrated into those bugs and diseases (which again is possibly because we already know so much about them).

SARS-CoV-2 and Covid-19 don’t fit that bill. They’re new, we’re (desperately) researching them in great detail and we’re learning new things every day.

Seemingly, none of it is good news.

I’ve mentioned many times on this blog that the governments dealing with Covid-19 often find themselves between a rock and a hard place. There are no easy answers here: what might work well in one place won’t necessarily work well somewhere else. Countries are different; their economies, cultures, populations and population densities are different. And this is all new.
There is no one right way to deal with this pandemic. Equally, something is going to have to give: you sacrifice lives or the economy, depending on how you choose trying to manage the pandemic in any given place. And while that might seem like a no-brainer at first, sacrificing the economy will also cost lives in some form or other. It’s important to understand that it’s not a zero-sum game and it’s also important to remember that this is a virus that is going to kill some people.
Sad and blunt, but true. If you are criticising those in charge because of each and every death – devastating as each one is – you’re simply being obtuse.

That’s not to say that this couldn’t have been better managed. Of course it could and hopefully, if this ever happens again, we will have learned from the mistakes that were made this time around. Some of which were unavoidable, and some of which, well…

…seem inexcusable.

Sweden, once lauded for its “softly softly” approach to dealing with Covid-19, is back under the spotlight, and for all the wrong reasons. While it was being lauded in the early part of the pandemic for taking a different path, by July, it was already clear that it hadn’t worked:

The pay off was meant to be apparent when the second wave came around: with so many infections, would there be a degree of herd immunity and a much lighter caseload?

No.

And suddenly, those claiming that Sweden’s approach was the way to go:

have seemingly quietly moved on to other nonsense.

While those who are usually very quiet about… well… everything, have chosen to speak out at just how badly the government there have handled the pandemic:

Again, I’m not blaming any government for their stance on dealing with Covid-19. But I feel strongly that it’s important that those who supported Sweden’s approach and insisted that it was working when all the figures showed us otherwise, shouldn’t now be allowed to just brush their mistakes under the carpet and try to advise us on how we should be dealing with the situation in which we find ourselves.

Our hospitals are full and according to some reports, some difficult decisions are now having to be made on criteria for admission to ICU beds. At times of stress and overcrowding, these decisions often have to be made, but if the cutoff age that I have seen quoted (38) is correct, then we are clearly in a very, very dire situation. And of course, that’s not just for Covid-19 cases. If you are involved in a car accident today in Cape Town and you need an ICU bed, well, that’s probably not going to happen.

Across the pond, new evidence has come to light that yes, while death from Covid-19 is predominantly amongst the older population, that’s not an exclusive club:

Young adults are dying at historic rates. In research published on Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, we found that among U.S. adults ages 25 to 44, from March through the end of July, there were almost 12,000 more deaths than were expected based on historical norms.

In fact, July appears to have been the deadliest month among this age group in modern American history. Over the past 20 years, an average of 11,000 young American adults died each July. This year that number swelled to over 16,000.

It’s a lot of young lives lost. And the tragic thing is that so many of those deaths will have been avoidable. Simple steps like wearing a mask, washing your hands regularly, avoiding close contact and crowded or indoor spaces can hugely reduce your risk of contracting or spreading SARS-CoV-2.

But all that has been said until we’re blue in the face (from frustration and exertion, rather than inadequate oxygen saturation) and yet still not many people seem to think it applies to them.

I could understand that as we started this journey, it all seemed so surreal. But what I don’t quite get is how people can still think that this is a problem for someone else. I’ve often mused over what it will take for these people to realise that it might affect them too. Sadly (or weirdly, maybe thankfully?) the second wave of infections seems to be hitting a lot closer to home for a lot of people – I personally know at least 20 people affected in the last week alone – and maybe that will be a bit of a reality check.

As I mentioned yesterday, we’re going to just hunker down for the next few weeks. If you’re reading this in SA and you are also lucky enough to have the option to do the same, I’d strongly advise it.