Americans need to take the hint...
As cases of COVID-19 skyrocket across the country, it's clear that Americans need to abide by stricter social distancing measures.
But Americans have remained the anomaly. In fact, many European nations have reported almost no cases at all in recent weeks. Additional countries like New Zealand, Vietnam, and Taiwan have kept their numbers dormant for months.
What all of these coronavirus-free meccas had in common was their hard-hitting methods of social distancing. New Zealand imposed strict lockdowns back at the beginning of March, which everybody followed and, as a result, completely eliminated the disease.
Meanwhile, places like Taiwan ramped up testing availability and made masks a requirement. While that's all well and good on a global scale, Americans have proven to be too ignorant to wear a mask or merely stay inside.
So perhaps there are ways to encourage social distancing that are a bit more...fun? Countries still embroiled in disease are saying: absolutely. Here are just a few creative, less-draconian ways of asking people to keep their distance.
JapanAt the Izu Shaboten Zoo in Shizuoka, Japan, the cafe has been filled with massive stuffed capybaras to encourage socially distant dining. From giraffe's to tigers and even a lemur, the adorable toys sit scattered at every table to keep people distant without feeling lonely.
"Why capybaras, you ask?" wrote Johnny Suputama, who shared the viral photo of the cafe on his social media. "Well, this zoo is credited with being the first (in 1982) to introduce the animals to hot baths."
Germany's legendary football league The Bundesliga knows that football isn't half as fun without the stadium's screaming, hungry fans. As the first professional sports league allowed to resume its interrupted season, 4,500 cut-out pictures of fans were placed throughout the stadium to mimic live crowds.
Amsterdam's legendary Mediamatic arts centre already takes the cake for the most sophisticated social distancing tactic. The center adopted a project called Serres Séparées, which translates to "separate greenhouses," that allow guests at the centre's ETTEN restaurant to sit in sleek, glass-enclosed greenhouses along Oosterdok marina.
Servers additionally wear plastic face shields and gloves and set the food into the patron's glass box using a long piece of wood. Overall, the greenhouses seem very intimate and romantic.
In San Francisco's iconic Dolores Park, painted circles are a minimalist and classy way to indicate 6 feet of distance from your neighbor. Domino Park in NYC is also taking on this measure, which has proven to be effective in encouraging park-goers to social distance.
Athens is known for its profound collection of Archaeological sites. Thankfully, most of them were able to reopen back in May, with many of them observing a clever variation of social distance measures. At the Acropolis, in particular, visitors stand behind a sanitized plexiglass shield. The effort keeps guests from safely spewing droplets everywhere, while also minimizing interference with photos.
At Hong Kong's reopened Pure Fitness, joggers are enclosed in thick plexiglass to keep from spewing droplets while they workout. Additionally, they have increased sanitizing policies, and most people have grown accustomed to wear a mask while they work out. While gyms, in general, are probably some of the unsafest destinations, it's nice to know some methods can help minimize the risk.
New evidence suggests asymptomatic transmission is less likely than previously thought.
On Monday, a representative from the World Health Organization called asymptomatic transmissions of the coronavirus "very rare." This was quickly bolstered by conservative lawmakers to call for the end of social distancing guidelines and the mandatory wearing of face masks. Many health experts and scientists questioned WHO's statement, citing a lack of evidence.
Today, WHO has walked back their original statement, clarifying that the observation "was based on a relatively small set of studies," and, "Evidence suggests people with symptoms are most infectious, but the disease can be passed on before they develop."
So What Happened?
Essentially, the original statement was referring to a small set of data from various countries in instances where an asymptomatic case had been followed up and secondary infections among the asymptomatic person's contact had been sought out. This data suggested that infections among the people the asymptomatic person had come in contact with were "very rare."
The WHO emphasized today that there is no way of knowing if this trend is true on a global scale.
According to the BBC, the Director of the WHO's health emergencies program, Dr Michael Ryan, said he was "absolutely convinced" asymptomatic transmission was occurring, but "the question is how much."
What Exactly Does Asymptomatic Mean, Anyway?
According Dr Van Kerkhove, the WHO's head of emerging diseases, there are three categories within the designation of "asymptomatic."
- People who never develop symptoms (asymptomatic)
- People who test positive when they don't yet have symptoms - but go on to develop them (pre-symptomatic)
- People with very mild or atypical symptoms who do not realise they have coronavirus
Should I Continue to Social Distance and Wear a Mask?
Yes. There is still so much that experts don't know about the spread of COVID-19, so while some evidence may suggest the virus isn't as easily passed on by as many people as previously thought, that doesn't mean you won't contract the virus if you aren't careful.
Whether he knows it or not, that is the effect of his rhetoric
In recent days protestors have gathered in Michigan, Ohio, and North Carolina to call on state officials to end social distancing and shelter-at-home requirements.
It's understandable. The economy is suffering under the strain of the COVID-19 quarantine. It has decimated the stock market and resulted in an unprecedented spike in unemployment, and people want to get back to their lives. They want to reopen the country, and so does President Trump—whose ardent supporters have been among the most vocal and visible protestors. He's worried that if this situation continues on his watch, the economic damage may hurt his chances at re-election, as businesses small and large suffer losses that threaten their very survival. Leaving aside the fact that reopening too early will result in worse economic damage, there is another group that doesn't seem to concern him as much and whose survival actually depends on continuing the quarantine: People. Hundreds of thousands of people.
So when Donald Trump was suggesting that "large sections of the country" could re-open for Easter, it was cause for concern. But with the impact of the pandemic still far from its terrifying peak in hotspots like New York city, it seemed likely that Donald Trump would back off his overly-optimistic stance—and he did.
That's often how things work with Donald Trump. He will make a show of how tough and no-nonsense he is with some dramatic posturing that seems to fly in the face of the experts and will then be cowed by behind-the-scenes efforts to make him see reason. Unfortunately for the country, most of his followers are not similarly attended to by an entourage of people trying desperately to steer them away from catastrophic idiocy. So now that Easter has come and gone and Donald Trump is continuing to hint that he may soon reopen the country—maybe even against the wishes of governors in individual states—chaos was bound to ensue.
While some of the protesters have remained in their cars—honking their horns and blocking the passage of at least one ambulance—others crowded together to scream their rejection of science in one proud voice and one shared cloud of breath.
Chants of â��recall Whitmer,â�� â��USAâ�� and â��lock her upâ�� outside Michigan Capitol. #OperationGridlock https://t.co/7Q7niiNFUF— Malachi Barrett (@Malachi Barrett)1586967874.0
For Donald Trump, the political effect of his latest hints and ambiguous comments about wanting to reopen the country and authorizing governors "to implement ... a very powerful reopening plan" while telling them, "You're going to call your own shots," is that he can have his cake and eat it too. While taking no direct measures to reopen the country amid continued medical advice to extend restrictions, he can still communicate to stir-crazy and cash-strapped supporters that he's doing everything he can for them and that maybe they should talk to their governors.
And that's just what they've been doing. In Michigan—where Operation Gridlock was so effective that even emergency vehicles couldn't get through—protestors directed their frustration at Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, with chants of "Recall Whitmer" and "Lock her up." In North Carolina, at the ReopenNC protest, more than 100 angry citizens assembled to protest Governor Roy Cooper's stay-at-home order and to spread conspiracy theories that the COVID-19 death toll is being inflated—though the opposite is true.
This looks like a still from a horror movie. It's not. It's yesterday outside the Ohio Statehouse. Incredible shotâ�¦ https://t.co/eaQ3n6c8fI— Shawn Mitchell (@Shawn Mitchell)1586883247.0
In Ohio the scene was particularly disturbing, with dozens of protestors gathering at the statehouse in Columbus with Guy Fawkes masks, Trump hats, and signs reading "This is tyranny," and "Quarantine the sick not the Contitution [sic]." Eventually a group pressed close together against the locked glass doors to shout their feelings with no concern for social distancing.
What these people need is financial assistance that isn't delayed by politics or targeted at millionaires and massive corporations, as well as reassurance that the current approach is necessary and effective—that our leaders are unified in following the guidance of health experts. What they get instead, from Trump and top Conservative voices, is constant waffling and hedging about the cost to the economy and tacit endorsement of these dangerous protests.
Important to remember that #Covid-19 epidemic control measures may only delay cases, not prevent. However, this helâ�¦ https://t.co/vhIVsvMt3Q— Drew A. Harris, DPM, MPH (@Drew A. Harris, DPM, MPH)1582868853.0
Just as he has had every opportunity to decry violence done in his name, Donald Trump could end these protests. If he were open and honest about the fragility of our hospital system and our country's best hope of getting through this crisis intact, then he could quell much of this unrest and dispel false narratives equating this virus to the flu or car accidents. Instead he feigns careful consideration while effectively encouraging defiance that will inevitably result in more infections and more death.
Stay home and stay safe.
COVID-19 should not be a partisan issue.
Candace Owens, a right wing activist well-known for speaking out against anything any democrat does, took to Twitter today to share that she is actively spreading COVID-19.
Owens' tirade was triggered by an experience in Whole Foods in which her and her husband were asked to put on medical masks or otherwise cover their mouths. Apparently, Owens was unaware of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser's April 8 mandate requiring customers to "wear a mask or mouth covering" when shopping. According to Owens, this polite request to do her part in stopping the spread of a deadly virus is an indication that the country is "spiraling into tyranny."
We look at the disease and how it's consumed the world
By Anthony Lee, MD
Faculty, Harvard Medical School
As we make our way through this pandemic, many of us are wondering about its scale and what's in store for the future. Objectivity is lost in the swamp of catastrophic thinking, conflicting opinions, and political agendas. To regain our objectivity, we must examine the numbers.
Many different sources supply us with numbers describing past, present, and future trends in various places around the globe. These numbers tend be focused regionally and are often used in conjunction with info relating to Italy as the de facto standard.
This makes sense, given that data should be relevant to local needs and that Italy has been through the worst of it. Hospitals are using this information to predict how this pandemic will affect their areas locally and allocate resources accordingly. Public policy should also be driven by this data.
Like most authors, I have included Italy in the mix, and I've highlighted the effects of its lockdown on March 9th in terms of cases and deaths. I've added Belgium because it locked down 9 days after Italy, and it would be useful to see if their results resemble Italy's.
The UK's situation is an interesting one; initially it just let things happen so that herd immunity would develop, then later mandated social distancing followed by a relative lockdown. Ireland and Northern Ireland were added separately to represent progressively smaller scale versions of the UK only in terms of when they started social distancing (March 23-24) and eventual relative lockdowns (March 26-27).
New York State was included because it carries approximately 36% of all cases in the US and roughly 10% of all cases in the world. Finally, Sweden is noteworthy because it enacted measures very late (March 29). But when it did, the measures were significantly less restrictive than those of other countries.
The charts used below present data as cases vs. time, or deaths vs. time. With this presentation, it appears that the US has the most cases, and that things must be terrible here. In places such as NY State, it is.
But keep this in mind: the population of the entirety of the US is 331 Million, while the population of NY State and NYC is 19.5 Million and 8.6 Million, respectively. While the US has about 422,800 cases in total as of today, NYC has roughly 78,000 cases.
If these numbers were expressed on a per 100,000 population basis, you'd get a clearer picture of specific geographic severity. For example, the US situation is better expressed as 128 cases per 100,000, and NYC's very concerning 903 cases per 100,000.
By comparison, Italy, a known hot spot for the COVID pandemic, has 139,442 cases today with a population of 60.48 Million. That's 230 cases per 100,000 people. Therefore, for charting both the number of cases and deaths with respect to time, the values will be expressed as per a 100,000 population basis.
Due to time differences, US data reports lag behind the UK and European countries. Therefore, US plots are likely to be limited to the day before a report is published. In some cases, late reporting from European countries and the UK may also limit plots to the day before.
Figure 1. Cases per 100,000 population by location and correlated rate of change.
Looking at Figure 1, we can see the effects of lockdowns and social distancing. It took Italy 10 days to finally reduce the number of daily new cases (basically, the rate of change curve has flattened). This trend has continued for the last 20 days, producing the trailing edge of Italy's pandemic.
Within 9 days Belgium reduced the number of daily new cases and continued on a downward trend for the last 12 days. It took Ireland 6 days of lockdown to reduce their daily new cases, and this trend has continued over the last 6 days. Northern Ireland took 7 days of lockdown to reduce their daily new cases, and this trend has continued over the last 5 days.
Despite loose social distancing, Sweden continues on a low and flat trajectory. Perhaps this can be accounted for by lack of testing.
Due to the setting of social distancing policies, the UK remains on a low and flat trajectory.
Despite a shortage of testing NY State and NYC cases are rising dramatically. Testing has increased in Massachusetts over the last 2 weeks, and this is reflected in the figure. While NY has been about 5-8 days behind Italy over the last several weeks, Massachusetts has been roughly 21-23 days behind.
Although both NY and Massachusetts started their social distancing advisories at the same point in time. Relative to Italy's social distancing, Massachusetts had a roughly 2-week head start on NY. This may have caused the relative flattening of new cases in Massachusetts over the last 6 days. This may change, however.
Rates-of-change plots appear in surges or waves. In locations that are improving, each subsequent wave is smaller than the previous one. This forms the trailing edge of the pandemic in a given location. In locations that are worsening, each subsequent wave is larger than the previous one, forming the leading edge of a worsening pandemic.
Figure 2. Deaths per 100,000 population by location and correlating rate of change.
In Figure 2, we can see the rising deaths by location.
In the rates-of-change chart, the number of daily new cases flattened are delineated by date.
From the point of delineation rightward, we can see when daily deaths begin to decrease. This lag time varies with locations. For Italy, this lag time was 8 days. For Ireland, these reversals were basically at the same time. For Northern Ireland, the lag time was 1 day.
For these countries, the time between lockdown/social distancing and reduction of daily deaths was 18 days for Italy, 6 days for Ireland, and 8 days for Northern Ireland.
I will update and discuss these charts in future installments of this series.
Sources of data: Worldometer.com, Spectrum News NY1, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, HSC Public Health Agency