It Matters, 7 o’clock cheering

Andy Newman, New York Times

I left the city a few weeks ago to eke out the shelter-in-place mandate where I can take long walks without wearing a mask or having to worry much about social distancing. Far from the city, it’s easy to maintain a safe distance from the few people I encounter outdoors.

Though I realize how lucky I am to be able to do this, I miss the city, especially at 7 p.m. I used to set the alarm for 6:55 every evening so we wouldn’t accidentally miss the time when New York opens its windows to cheer, clap and crash pots and pans. We thank and show our appreciation to health care workers and all the others who risk their lives to perform the essential services that make it possible for the rest of us to quarantine ourselves safely at home.

CIMEDICALCENTER.org

Even though we could barely hear or see our neighbors from the 35th floor, we joined the chorus in the hope that the intended audience would feel our support and recognition of their selfless service.

My alarm still rings daily to remind me that it is 7:00 and New York is cheering. But now, even farther away from neighbors who could hear and be heard, I give thanks in silence.

Tonight I read a post on the Upper West Side Nextdoor blog that affected me deeply. I still have tears in my eyes. I hope Julie Brickman won’t mind that I repost it here:

Tonight, as I was standing at my open balcony window at 7 o’clock, clapping and cheering as the health care workers returned home from their long 12-hour shifts, risking their lives to save ours, a young man in shorts stopped to talk to me. My balcony is only one story up and the window is 8-feet high and leads onto a little Juliet balcony, so everyone can see me there; sometimes people shout something from their cars or give me thumbs up in return.

But tonight, this young man left me in tears.

“I think I’m one of the people this is for,” he said. “And I want to tell you how much it means to me.”

I was stunned. So little to give for all that he’s doing, and yet I can’t stop crying. I wish I could tell him how deep is the gratitude in my heart to see such dedication and bravery at a time when there is so much else that I won’t name, because I’m not going to stain the wonder of this moment, of seeing the kind of humanity I have admired and respected all my life, standing in front of me and speaking with heartfelt gratitude about the decency he feels coming from all of us, locked down in this “joyless” city, yet showing up from our diverse solitudes to cheer those who are using their skills, energy, heart and moral courage on our behalf.

I thought it was worth sharing with all of you who are cheering too.

Yes, there is decency out there. Yes, I had the chance to see it tonight. Yes, it made a difference.

It made me believe in the long arc again; of justice or “what love looks like in public,” and especially of goodness. It made me believe we will survive this and create, if not a better world, at least a decent one again.

All I want to say is: Bless this health care worker who spoke out. Bless everyone who is helping get us through. Bless Upper West Siders and New Yorkers and everyone suffering through this lonely pandemic. May you stay well, safe, happy and find your own ways to give to our community following in the spirit of this amazing young man.

Like Julie, I want to believe that after Covid-19 the world will be better: more just, harmonious and cleaner. Looking beyond the catastrophe in Washington, it’s easy to find generosity and selflessness. Look no further than the Pennsylvania workers who volunteered to labor round the clock in 12-hour shifts for a month at their factory. Without ever going home, they slept on makeshift beds and produced millions of pounds of PPE materials, uncontaminated by the virus.

Self-sacrifice and the American can-do spirit are alive and well.

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Killing the virus, Trump style

Donald Trump is the object of ridicule, not only in the United States, but internationally. After the President mused about taking household disinfectants internally, Twitter exploded. Almost immediately, medical doctors and the makers of cleaning products and disinfectants hastened to refute Trump’s suggestions and warn people not to believe the President’s theories.

Sarah Cooper (@sarahcpr), a writer and comedian, posted a video of herself mouthing Trump’s own words, in his voice, proposing to bring “the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way. … Sounds interesting. I see disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute, one minute, and is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning.” Transcript below

The Italian Newspaper Il Corriere della Sera is one of many news media worldwide that picked up the story. “Injections of disinfectants, UV lamps to ‘dry out’ the virus: these are two of the absurd proposals advanced yesterday by the president of the United States Donald Trump during his daily Coronavirus briefing from the White House,” wrote the Corriere. In the video, the paper also focused on the speechless horror of Dr. Deborah Birx as she watched her boss promote remedies for the Coronavirus that would sicken and potentially kill anyone who heeded his remarks.

Why would any sane person consider injecting or ingesting highly toxic products?

Donald Trump is desperate. He sees his prospects for reelection rapidly decaying. He can no longer tout a strong economy and low unemployment. The economy is in tatters now, and though the stock market is recovering from a precipitous fall, the Dow Jones is still almost 6,000 points lower than its record high two months ago. Twenty-two million people are out of work, more than during the Great Depression. Trump will seize on any remedy that might end the pandemic, let people go back to work and revive the economy.  Trump’s ignorance of science is manifest. Realizing that blue states have much higher rates of infection than red states, could he be dreaming that Democrats will drink the KoolAid, die off, reduce their number, and so improve his chances in November?

Transcript of President Trump’s remarks on remedies to vanquish the Novel Coronavirus

So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous, whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light, and I think [Dr. Deborah Birx] said, that hasn’t been checked but you’re gonna test it. 

And then I said, supposing it brought the light inside the body, which you can either do either through the skin or some other way, and I think you said you’re gonna test that too, sounds interesting. 

And I then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in one minute, and is there a way you can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it’d be interesting to check that. So you’re going to have to use medical doctors, but it sounds interesting to me, so we’ll see. But the whole concept of the light, the way it goes in one minute, that’s pretty powerful.”

Politifact

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Coronavirus News

Princess Sofia of Sweden
  • Princess Sophia of Sweden became a medical assistant to aid in the fight against the novel coronavirus and is now working in a hospital, cleaning and cooking.
  • Trending on Twitter: #ObamaCommencement2020. President Barack Obama is being besieged by thousands of high school and college seniors who want him to deliver a national, online commencement address to the Class of 2020. Because of social distancing and quarantine the students will will be deprived of the traditional graduations and proms. “In an unprecedented time, it would give us great comfort to hear your voice,” tweeted high-school senior Lincoln Debenham, 17. His tweet has been liked by 218,500 and retweeted 44,400 times.

  • Respirators may not be the ideal treatment for Covid-19, as evidenced by the 80 percent mortality rate of patients on ventilators in New York City. Some doctors argue that respirators do more harm than good. The high mortality rate may also be due to the scarcity of lung specialists. It takes special training to master the subtle adjustments required. Covid-19 patients have lung damage that may not respond well to mechanical respiration. AP News
  • President Trump is encouraging resistance against quarantine and social distancing in states where his supporters have been clamoring for “liberation” from these restrictions. In a series of tweets, he also specifically names– in all caps– states with Democratic governors who want to extend these measures and delay “reopening.” The Democratic governors are heeding doctors who warn that quarantine and social distancing are resulting in fewer hospitalizations and that discontinuing them too soon will result in a new wave of infections. It seems that Trump embraces tactics that will, he believes, jumpstart the economy (to improve his chances for reelection), though they are potentially harmful to the public.

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Coronavirus: No gloom and doom here

Cuban medical team arrives in Milan

Despite the death, disease, and disruption the novel coronavirus is visiting on nations across the globe, it is also responsible for generosity and good deeds. 

International cooperation is always good news: Italians welcomed a team of 35 doctors and 15 nurses sent by Cuba to aid in the fight against the novel coronavirus that is ravaging Italy. The Cuban medics came with expertise gained in combatting ebola and other infective diseases in Africa. Three million face masks are arriving in Italy from Egypt, India, and China, which is also sending 100 ventilators. Russia expedited one million face masks and nine huge cargo planes carrying eight mobile medical teams, medical equipment and aerosol disinfection trucks. Ironic that Europe is now receiving aid from its former colonies, and Russia and China, rather than the other way round. COVID-19 has a way of turning everything on its head.

People on diverse continents are working together to fight the virus. Labs and doctors worldwide are sharing their research and results on therapies and vaccines.

COVID-19 is sparking innovation. An Italian company designed a prototype of a respirator valve in three hours. They 3-D printed 100 valves in 24 hours for a hospital at a cost of about $1.00 each, according to the BBC. Materialise, a Belgian company, is making hands-free door openers.

In the U.S., Carbon is one of the companies that uses 3-D printers to make products of diverse materials. It has now pivoted toward face masks, nasal swabs and ventilator parts. Pres. Trump gave automakers Ford, General Motors and Tesla the go-ahead to make medical supplies instead of cars.

On a local level, here in Manhattan, young people are volunteering to run errands and go shopping for anyone who fears to go out or is unable to. 

News outlets are compiling video and TV watchlists. For music lovers, the Metropolitan Opera is streaming a different opera from their HD archives each day. (To see the weekly calendar and access the opera, scroll way down the page.). The NY Public Library has a vast array of digital resources available online. It is easy to find many more institutions sharing their previously paywalled gems to help shut-ins cope with isolation. It is a good time to catch up on reading, perhaps that interesting you didn’t have to finish.

Another way of passing time is reviving old friendships, connecting with friends on your Christmas card list, the ones you never have time to speak with. Now, people are rediscovering the telephone and communicating with live voices, not dry text. Social distancing is actually making many of us more social. Parents and children now have opportunity to spend time together and listen to each other.

The most exhilarating reaction to COVID-19 that I know of is the daily concerts in Italy that ring out from windows and balconies. Italians of all ages, amateur and professional, fill the air with music. With instruments and voices, they comfort and support each other and spark joy in everyone. Their indomitable spirit encourages the rest of the afflicted world. 

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Coronavirus Dilemma

Last night I posted a commentary on the President’s unhelpful and mendacious handling of the Coronavirus crisis. I appended a list of precautions to take to protect against being infected.

If everyone were to follow my advice, the epidemic would be stopped cold. The problem is that the effect on the US economy would be equally devastating. There is a very thin line between keeping the population healthy and causing an economic disaster.

The busiest intersection in Milan at rush hour during the Coronavirus crisis.

The recommendations that regard personal hygiene should definitely be followed, but the others involve making difficult decisions. Avoiding crowds is recommended for personal safety, but if no one shops or goes to restaurants or theaters or hairdressers, those will quickly face bankruptcy, go out of business and drag their landlords and suppliers along with them. 

Contagion travels like quicksilver and the stock market reacts accordingly. Italy is a case in point. As of today, February 28, almost 900 people in Italy have tested positive since the first case was announced on Feb. 21. Almost all the cases are clustered about Milan, a major city in Lombardy, a region in the North. 

At the end of January, a Chinese tourist couple fell ill, tested positive, and was put in isolation. None of the people they had been in contact with tested positive. All flights to and from China were banned.

Then on Feb. 18, “Patient One,” a 38-year-old man, took himself to a hospital, but wasn’t tested because he hadn’t been to China. He was surrounded by other sick patients. He returned home, then back to the ER the following day because he felt worse. He was diagnosed with the Coronavirus on Feb. 20, but by then he had infected at least eight people. On Feb. 23, the Italian government cordoned off the “Red Zone,” forbidding travel in or out of the towns where the outbreak is located. Many residents were commuting to the city for work.

Though there are no known cases in Milan, the financial capital of Italy is a ghost town. The streets are deserted as anxious people stay home and workers telecommute. Schools, universities, museums, bars, restaurants, hairdressers— all closed. Most Italians are rabid soccer fans, but in the North, games are being played in empty stadia. Worried by the effect these closures are having, the authorities have declared that schools, museums and other public places will reopen on Monday, a week short of the recommended 14-day quarantine.

It’s almost impossible to navigate the strait between the Scylla of economic wreckage and the Charybdis of a decimated populace. It took less than a week for the paralysis in the industrial North of Italy to bring the third-largest economy of the Eurozone to the brink of recession. Worldwide, panic and the pandemic have caused the disruption of supply chains, postponement of travel plans and cancellation of major events, bringing the global wipeout to $6 trillion.

And yet, most people have no reason to panic if they wash their hands frequently and keep their distance from people with respiratory disease. Even if they do contract COVID-19, healthy people seem to recover without ill effects.

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Combatting the Coronavirus

Credit: Scientific Animations

Knowledgable health officials are telling us that a Coronavirus epidemic will not spare the US. It’s a question of when it will arrive, not if. They warn that we must not lose any more time in preparing for the onslaught of the disease.

[Update: scroll to end for tips on how to protect yourself]

As of now, we are grievously unprepared. We don’t have enough hospital beds to accommodate both the predicted large numbers of victims and the patients hospitalized for the usual reasons. We don’t have nearly enough masks and other gear to protect health workers constantly exposed to the disease; we lack testing kits to identify and confirm infection. These are indispensable for preventing or at least limiting the spread of COVID-19, as the new Coronavirus is now called. 

There has been no concerted effort to remedy these and other deficiencies because two years ago Trump fired the global disease expert and eliminated the agency established by President Obama to deal with domestic epidemics and global pandemics. (Trump thought emergency preparation was a waste of money because without an epidemic, there would be nothing to do.) The President defunded the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), stripping away the infrastructure we now desperately need to deal with the crisis.

Instead, Trump assured Americans in a press conference on February 26 that he and his administration are doing a “great job” and have the situation completely under control. There are only 15 cases, he asserted, and there will soon be zero as those people recover. Actually, there were 59 cases in the US (now 60). Trump preferred not to count the 44 Americans  infected with or exposed to the Coronavirus who were airlifted home from Asia. Despite the insistence of the CDC that they be isolated, the Trump political appointees with no medical expertise had them travel in the same plane with their healthy comrades. Even worse, A whistleblower today revealed that the personnel sent to welcome the 14 persons in quarantine were not trained or equipped with protective gear. Moreover, after being exposed to the virus, they went their separate ways across the country, possibly exposing an unknown number of other people.

As of today, 49 countries have reported more than 82,000 cases and more than 2,800 deaths from the disease. But Trump denies we have an imminent crisis, controverting the scientists’ warning that we cannot avoid the certainty of an epidemic.

Trump believes that his reelection depends on the continuing record-breaking climb of the stock market. The market has been tanking for six consecutive days since February 20, significantly eroding the gains of the Trump years. The decline is a reaction to the virus and its adverse effect on the global economy, but Trump blamed it on the Democrats’ debate (which took place on February 25, after four days of market free fall) and the media, which he accuses of exaggerating the seriousness of the situation.

To combat the horrible truths that emerge each day, as we learn of more cases in more places, Trump has decreed that the CDC and other medical authorities cannot advise and update the public without first submitting their comments to the vice president for his approval. From now on, with the experts muzzled, we’ll have to depend on leaks and sharp reporting to find out what is really going on. Shades of Stalin, as democratic norms continue to be shattered and totalitarian constraints and restrictions inexorably replace them. 

People, products, food and disease-causing micro-organisms traverse the globe in unprecedented numbers and historic speed. When they were free to share their concerns, professional medics warned us to prepare by readying hospitals, testing and stocking medical supplies. But how can individuals prepare? What should we do? The recommendations for avoiding contagion are mostly common sense procedures, no different from what we already know. 

  • First of all, prepare, don’t panic. Healthy people experience what will feel like a cold or the flu. Children don’t seem to be affected. Seniors, however, are at risk, especially if they have chronic conditions like diabetes.
  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, especially after touching handrails, doorknobs, elevator buttons, gym equipment— anything that others touch. Wash before eating and after using the bathroom. Use soap and hot water and scrub for at least 20 seconds: between the fingers, backs of the hands, under the nails. This video demonstrates the technique advocated by the World Health Organization as the best way to wash your hands. (It’s a little more complicated than what you’re used to.)
  • Don’t touch your face! Most of us do it all the time, but infection enters easily through mouth, eyes and nose.
  • For now, stop shaking hands.
  • Avoid touching handrails, doorknobs, etc. away from home.
  • Carry alcohol-based (at least 60 percent alcohol) hand sanitizer to use when soap and water aren’t feasible.
  • Keep your distance (six feet, if possible) from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Get a flu shot.
  • Avoid crowds. It follows that you should avoid public transportation whenever possible. Also sport events, theaters, conferences.
  • Keep a 90-day supply of your medications on hand.
  • Work from home if you can.
  • Stock your cupboard in case you have to stay home.
  • Avoid spreading your own germs:
  • Sneeze or cough into your elbow.
  • Stay home if you don’t feel well and see a doctor.

If you manage to follow these tips, you and your family will probably stay healthy. At least you won’t regret not taking the recommended precautions.

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Why Valentine’s Day?

It’s not just a Hallmark holiday: it commemorates a bishop of the 3rd century named Valentine. Hearts and flowers came later.

According to one story, Valentine was under house arrest in the home of a Roman judge. The judge challenged the Christian to prove the validity of his faith, bringing out his blind daughter, Julia. Valentine laid his hands on her and implored God to save the girl (and him). When he removed his hands, Julia’s vision was restored. Amazed by the miracle, the judge and all his household converted to Christianity. He broke all his idols and freed all the Christians in jail. 

Another account relates that Valentine continued to evangelize. He married Christian couples, which allowed the men to avoid conscription in the imperial army. To remind these men of their vows, Saint Valentine is said to have given them hearts he cut from parchment, which may explain the hearts of Valentine’s Day. 

Valentine supposedly wore a purple amethyst ring, as did other Christian bishops. He had an image of Cupid, a pagan god, engraved on it. Romans recognized the god of love and would ask him to marry them. (Probably because of the association of amethysts with Saint Valentine, the gem has become the birthstone of February, and is thought to attract love.)

Claudius, the emperor, was not pleased. He had Valentine brought to Rome, but he took a liking to the bishop, at least until Valentine tried to convert him. Claudius refused and condemned Valentine to death. On February 14, 269, he was stoned (or beaten with clubs) and then beheaded when the torture didn’t kill him. More than two centuries later, Pope Gelasius declared a feast day on that date. But sadly, it was downhill from there. Since 1969, inclusion in local liturgical calendars became optional.

Before his execution, some say Valentine wrote a note to Julia, the judge’s daughter, and signed it “from your Valentine,” a possible origin of Valentine notes and cards. Oh, and if you’d like to see what’s left of his head, his alleged skull is crowned with flowers and exhibited in a Roman basilica. Other relics are scattered throughout Europe.

Some say that Geoffrey Chaucer was responsible for the association of romance and St. Valentine. Chaucer wrote the Parlement of Foules on the first anniversary of the engagement of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia. The poem contains the lines, “For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.” But the royal engagement was on May 3, also the day another Valentine (of Genoa) died. So who knows? It’s impossible to know how much is fantasy and what part of the legend reflects historical fact. Indeed, there were actually as many as 12 St. Valentines.

By the 18th century in England, the 14th of February had evolved into an occasion when partners expressed their love for each other with flowers, chocolate, and other gifts. And in the 19th century, the sending of Valentine’s cards had become so popular that they began to be mass produced, especially in America and Europe.

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