The Virus and the States

Lake Superior-no salt added, shark-free, along the North Shore NW of Duluth MN

OK so I wasn’t gonna do any research on a topic, just an impromptu essay for the sake of writing on what’s been happening lately. But it morphed into 2,800 words with a fair amount of data and info. So it goes. A few dozen folks still read these posts nowadays as I don’t promote them much anymore, barely at all actually, but I’m gonna pick that back up and advertise/market like crazy on social media again when I get the podcast going and keep this Dispatches as the companion site.
The Secular-Science (SCISEC) podcast has been sitting idle for 2 months as I’m really enjoying the income of teaching 4 courses for the first time in a summer (usually can only get 1-2), AND having Social Security checks each month. Retired, but not. It’s allgood.
Been able to fund the materials for house projects and take short trips with my bride of 26 years—fixing up the house and travelling a bit (amidst the coronavirus pandemic-more on that later).

Put flooring in the bath-bedroom hallway and my attic study–looks fantastic!
Being able to afford it, and do the hard work myself, and it’s fun and interesting: DIY projects-such satisfaction! Put in a skylite too!

And since May we’ve been to the Lake Superior North Shore (3rd time, we will return again) to see the waterfalls,

and I scoped out the Superior Hiking Trail-Boundary Waters Canoe area for future hikes-canoe trips.

Got the chance to hike the Mississippi Palisades trails up and down the bluffs in NW Illinois towering above the Big Muddy. Stunning views here too.

And snuck in a 12 mile jaunt in my home county along the Conservation District Prairie trail thru the fields and towns,

… met some interesting critters along the way, a few humans too.

Cant seem to stop heading back west of home here in No Il to see the Mississippi again and again this spring, this is the view just north of Dubuque, IA where the Wisconsin River dumps into the Big Muddy…the photo just doesn’t do the panoramic-breath-taking view justice:

Last but not very least, just got back from a 2,000 mile drive to the Gulf Coast. This is the view out our hotel room window of one of the many barrier islands along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, Biloxi MS:

So I guess it has been a pretty busy 60 days or so since the SP20 semester ended, and I didnt intend this essay to be a travelogue but so far it mostly is. I’ve been fortunate in having no break in work/income-all my classes suddenly switched to online mid-March and its second nature now. Busy with work, projects and travel sandwiched in between.

The contrast in the different states response to the coronavirus pandemic couldn’t have been more obvious…and appalling.
Illinois has had mandatory masking for some time and we dont venture out anywhere at home or on the road without a mask on and hand sanitizer in the car and/or in our pockets. Daily trips to the grocery store or the gas station and the mask goes on the second we step out of the car. You just assume someone near by may be contaminated and/or the counter or pinpad you touch may be as well. Hand sanitizer gets applied getting back into the car before even touching our masks. Been following this protocall religiously since March now. And any of you that read this blog know I dont do nuthin’ religious…

I’ve read so many stories of folks who, for whatever reason thought they would/could never get it and regretfully tell their stories of being sick as a dog for weeks at home, infecting a loved one, or being hospitalized…alone…struggling to breathe and expecting death like so many around them. Most ICU’s and emergency rooms are like war zones-some take awhile to deteriorate and die, others come in struggling to get a breath, get tubed and wind up dead within hours.
So we have been careful everywhere, especially when traveling.

Wisconsin was a joke. Most of the locals in every town we went thru: no masks, little to no social distancing in bars, maybe hand sanitizer (cuz its ez to do, and we’re already used to it) at the entrance to stores. The restaurant’s staffs all wore masks and sat us social distanced apart: we ONLY ate outside, but the locals were clueless, almost smug. We saw that a lot, in Wisconsin, Mississippi, and extreme southern Illinois next to Kentucky…we even got weird looks being the only ones in a gas station with masks on there.

Minnesota was the complete opposite. EVERYONE wore a mask, not just restaurant or gas station or hotel staff, all the tourists and locals. Mississippi was a bad as Wisconsin, EXCEPT the casino-hotel where we stayed. The casinos in Vegas got sued by the huge hospitality union after they re-opened without enough precautions to keep employees from getting infected and a few dying…evidently they learned their lesson (the hard way-so common here in ‘Murica) as the hotel-casino in Biloxi (owned by a Vegas group) had security folks handing out masks at every entrance and enforcing full masking EVERYWHERE in the building. They did it right. We felt very safe, and again ate ONLY outside or carry-out in our room
The locals… not so much, few if any masks, hanging out at restaurants and bars, altho the staff at MOST places had masks. One dipshit bartender didn’t, nor did any of his patrons. We kept ours on (the ONLY ones in the entire restaurant) and didn’t sit long waiting for a table on the balcony, on one corner, 10 ft away from anyone else, 20 ft up in the stiff Gulf breeze with a view like the photo above from our hotel room. Safe and stunning at the same time. We had some great fresh Gulf seafood and great views all 4 days there.

So even tho both states of Minnesota and Wisconsin have somewhat progressive Democratic governors, the genius Repub legislators and Supreme Court in Wisconsin shot down their governor’s similar to Minnesota’s state-wide recommendations, turning Wisconsin into what he lamented “the Wild West” as far a coronavirus policies go. We got to see the results firsthand driving thru both states with as I said above, most Minnesotans masking and taking the virus very seriously, while the Cheeseheads laughingly ignored it. Just for a comparison Wisconsin’s largest city Milwaukee metro is about 1.5 million people, and Minny’s biggest density is Minneapolis-St.Paul metro area with twice as many people-over 3 million. If anything we have seen in the US, its the big cities that get hit hardest: NY, CHI, Detroit, LA. Even with good policies it is so hard to control that big a population and the amount of contact folks have when they are all crammed together. You can get away with no mask out in the boonies, with few folks around, but it doesnt take much in dense areas for a few infected people to spread the virus effectively, when they ignore the policy or just refuse to wear a mask.

With similar populations and density-Minnesota is at 39,000 infections, Wisconsin 36,000 with Minny adding around 400 per day now, and Wisconsin adding nearly 600 per day. The numbers this fall may say a lot. Only some of the Wisconsin large cities have adopted mandatory masking (the Capitol-Madison-Dane County) mostly its just recommended…and many in Wisconsin ignore it, while many in Minny take it to heart. Suggesting or merely recommending mask-wearing doesnt cut it, at least in this country.

The common thread in all the denial and lack of precautions we saw in Republican governors and/or legislatures that just have to learn the hard way…is a disdain for science promulgated by the hard-core Xian sects in so many states. The arrogance of religion once again. Only this time its causing lots of sickness and death.

As of April 1st (no foolin’), 33 Republican governors had ZERO restrictions in their states, despite the warnings from around the world, the CDC, WHO, and the early outbreaks in Washington, New York, Illinois, Michigan. In contrast, countries like Japan and Vietnam took action as early as January/February when their cases were just in the hundreds…Hmmm
Washington, Illinois, New York all took “early” precautions for the US states at least, but by mid-March, still weeks to months behind responses across other countries…oops.

Florida is a classic example of outright Repub Guv denial, having a few thousand infections April 1, less than Illinois where I live, but then passed us up just a few days later…to a few thousand…such numbers seem quaint, if not unreal now. As of yesterday July 8, Illinois was way behind Florida now, with…wait for it… only 151,000 cases with Florida zooming to over 220,000.
Un-fucking-believable, and Florida is adding nearly 10,000 new cases per day now, while Illinois post-lockdown and with mandatory masking is adding well under 1,000 cases perday. Best part is, Governor DeSantis of Florida, a staunch Trump Republican and hard-core Xian, gloated over New York’s mess back in the spring when there was little infection in Florida…what an asshole. And still today with Florida cases growing exponentially (and growing deaths lagging but a few weeks behind)- still no state-wide lock-down or mandatory masking.
Florida has about 20 million people, Illinois – 13 million, with the majority of over 9 million in the densely populated Chicago Metro area. Its been the dense population areas of NYC, LA, Chicago, Detroit, that have seen the worst explosions.

Contrast the situation in Florida, with 20 million people and the largest city-metro area being Jacksonville at around 1.5 million people with Japan: 126 million people crammed on that tiny island of 146,000 square miles (Florida is about half that size at 65,000 square miles)…so Japan averages about 836 people per square mile, Florida would need 3x their current population to be as crowded as Japan…YET
Japan has a total of 20,000 cases, with less than a thousand deaths, adding under 200 new cases per day–with 6x’s the population, having 40 million people-twice all of Florida in Tokyo metro alone.
Florida stands at 10 times the cases (220,000) with 1/6th population of Japan and climbing at about 10x the new cases per day (10,000 versus 1,000)…it is mind-boggling!

I could do similar staggering comparisons with a number of Asian countries: Vietnam, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore…so what did they do? In Japan’s case, masking with as close to 100% participation-cooperation of the populace without it being mandatory seems to have been the key. Altho Japan did not have full lockdown, their government did promote the 3 C’s: avoiding crowds, contact, and closed spaces, and they did close down bars, sporting events and other large-crowd venues early on. Also the Japanese tend not to hug or shake hands, but to bow. But they are crammed together like sardines on public transportation and on the crowded streets-but nearly everyone wears a mask.

You can read dozens of articles all trying to decide what was the main factor in their success at keeping infections and deaths low’ Here’s a good one from Japan Today-late March. It cites masking and Japan cleanliness culture and the 3 C’s, yet most of the comments to the article poo-poo all those ideas, and claim it is Japan’s very low testing rate and even hiding deaths due to coronavirus.
Yet, 3 months later here in early July, Japan’s deaths are still incredibly low and there has never been an overwhelming of their hospital system. So if they just don’t test as much as the US or other countries, if they had anywhere near similar rates of infection as Italy or Iran or NYC or now Florida (and Arizona and Texas) have experienced, we would certainly see similar death numbers and reports of overloaded hospital systems, especially with their incredible large populations and population density. The infections, resulting in massive hospitalizations (like the US now) and deaths would be there even if cases were under-reported due to minimal testing. And Japan is not alone among Asian and European countries with low numbers compared to the exponential mess occurring in the US as I write.

OK, I lied, I did do a little bit of research on the #’s, and the articles,and the images…cant help myself. Information transfer is all we got to bring us out of a subsistence, disease-ridden existence…

The confusion over masks early on was understandable. They don’t call it the NOVEL coronavirus for nuthin’. The scientists made tentative predictions based on the flu and other corona virus’ about how this one would act, but it was just that-educated guesswork. Some ideas turned out correct, others, not so much. It is called learning and scientists, unlike religionists and politicians, are always up front about what they don’t know. WHO worldwide was not as committed to masks as much as hygiene and social distancing as they weren’t sure of the airborne transmittal details. The CDC in America at first told the public not to mask up, as the US had a shortage of masks desperately needed for front-line workers. And most thought only the N95 masks would work.

Now we know that cloth masks and surgical masks stop not only an infected person from spewing big droplets up to 6 ft before gravity drops them to the ground (where they got the social distancing guideline) but also the tinier aerosols (just super-small droplets) that can carry the virus farther and may linger in the air a bit and get recycled by indoor A/C systems.
It looks now like masks are the number 1 way to reduce your chance of infection, and surface transmission may be minimal.
BUT, Republican governors and legislators starting with Trump and Pence on down have turned mask wearing into a political issue, sucking up to the anti-science attitude of so many of the Xian denominations in this country, of which so many Repubs are members.

So even if Japan is under-reporting cases due to minimal testing, they and other Asian countries with incredible population densities compared to most US cities and states, should have been inundated with cases and deaths comparable to Iran, Italy, Brazil and the stubborn US…but they weren’t. Near universal mask wearing, and early on, seems to be the common factor. So if it wasn’t the hyper-hygiene or standard social distancing of Japanese culture that has kept the virus down, or Japan’s low testing rate, they and all the other Asian and many European countries apparenlty used mask wearing to great effect to really slow down coronavirus transmission.

Altho only the N95 masks are close to 100% effective at stopping the tiniest of virus laden aerosols, it seems now that any mask blocks the droplets and enough aerosols, to stop or lessen the viral exposure that might get thru, enough to protect the vast majority of wearers worldwide.

Now if the US would just catch on, we could reverse our exponential virus explosion and save a lot of lives and get back to more normal society. It most likely wont come from Trump or the head of his coronavirus task force Pence, who is a Creationist Evangelical Xian who doesn’t believe in much science anyway, especially when it conflicts with his religion’s absurd claims.

Maybe the governors can unite as a group and effectively produce a nationwide mandatory mask policy by each state adopting one. The Repub governors are caving in one-by-one, to either not block their cities mayors from implementing mandatory masking, or adopting mask policies for their states themselves in the past few weeks. Caving in to religious sentiment hasn’t worked for anybody. There’s so many stories of pastors ignoring the virus precautions, holding large worship services (or Xian summer camps) and winding up sorry about it when a whole bunch of the congregation gets sick…or dies…or wind up dead themsleves.

The most recent episode of Republican-religious denial bordering on the galactically stupid comes from the Mississippi Legislature. They held a couple weeks of session- mostly the Repubs, and given that they’re in Mississippi, many prolly are good Baptists or members of some other hard-core Xian sects – all without masks or social distancing. Now, as of yesterday, at least 26 have COVID-19 – that’s one in six legislators. Nice shooting, kids! Like the dead pastor who said God would protect him, how’s that working out for y’all?

Plenty of innocent people who aren’t blockheaded and bullshitted by religious arrogance will get ugly sick or die because of the rampant science denial promoted by smug religious attitudes in this country. But they all catch on eventually. Reality has a way of biting them on the ass and even the hard-core Republicans and religious figures finally catch on. Let’s hope for many more folks sake, it doesn’t take much longer or too many more deaths for the deniers in this country to wake up:

“It’s the masks, stupid”

end religion now.