25 October 2020

Necessity and the northern winter

 We're heading into the boreal winter with Canada, the UK, and the US seeing rates of COVID infection increasing.  This is likely due to sending children back to school. American Thanksgiving, and from the sound of things UK Christmas, are going to be additional clusters of spreading events.

We know a few things about COVID-19.  Dose -- how many virus particles you were exposed to -- matters to severity.  Most people who get infected don't infect anybody else, but about one person in five is a super-spreader and infects many people.  Aerosol spread is much, much more likely inside, if there's talking, if there's singing, and as the time spent inside increases.  

With less understanding, we know you can get COVID-19 twice, and nothing says it's less severe the second time.  And various learned persons have pointed out that there's no actual reason to suppose COVID-19 isn't seasonal -- worse in the winter -- just because it demonstrated greenfield spread in the summer.  

My take is that this winter the ongoing or pending mass evictions due to COVID-19 related job losses are going to push people into tight quarters with inadequate sanitation at best, and that we're going to see people caught in multiple super-spreading events between forced job attendance, winter forcing people inside, and the inadequate testing to identify the infected.  Exposure to multiple super-spreader events will make back-tracking or contact-tracing impractical even if the infrastructure to do it is in place (it's not), and the ability to control spread cannot now be implemented in time to prevent this.  The dose increase from being caught in multiple events will push mortality and morbidity up.

Am I wrong?  Hopefully.

However locked down you can get still seems only prudent through at least March.

Even if COVID-19 goes away tomorrow out of some inexplicable miraculous mercy, try to remember,  next summer and the next time you vote, that this didn't have to happen; that we've got ample demonstration that a competent public sphere has several effective options for containing this disease.  Try to remember that the purpose of a system is what you see it do, not what might be claimed about it.  The "Western democracies", especially and particularly the English-speaking ones, are now sufficiently mammonite that they care considerably less about the health and well-being of their citizenry than traditional communist Vietnam or the dystopian autocracy of the PRC have been seen to do.  (Never mind Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, or Singapore.  Or New Zealand, who have apparently escaped the mammonite curse through being small and agrarian.)


James said...

There was somebody being interviewed on the radio today who was talking about the options available for the poor (not their term) when exposed to or diagnosed with Covid on the domestic front (income, crowding, etc.). My immediate thought was: why aren't you talking as well about the work conditions which make the spread likelier? (The obvious answer being that enforcing change in work conditions puts demands on the employers.)

There is little appetite for addressing this systemically and structurally and as a result they will be fighting rearguard actions into next summer.

(It's not unlike the CBC investigation which showed that nursing home operators get away with repeated violations without being brought to book. What the coverage fails to focus to draw the conclusion that successive governments have been unwilling to crack down because that gives them two options: dump seniors in the street as homes are closed down for egregious violations or take a direct, activist (and expensive) role in reforming the system.)

Not to mention that even easing up in March is dependent on governments leaning on a lot of people to be vaccinated, which they may be unwilling to do, beyond the level of ads in subway systems, even once sufficient vaccine stock is available.

Graydon said...


To go off on a bit of a tangent, I find myself increasingly convinced that the opposition to taking climate change seriously comes not simply from being defensive of the fossil carbon sector and its profits (or at least the associated accessible cash flow) but from a refusal to consider obvious consequences. We're in for at least a century of angry weather; that means we're in for having to deal with every ditch, dam, sump, storm drain, settling pond, canal, and culvert being the wrong size. The power lines are made to the wrong spec; so is nigh-every roof. This is going to be very expensive; talking about lower taxes in such times is obvious nonsense.

But the whole mammonite creed sits on the illegitimacy of taxes. Not only can you not spend on the poor, you can't spend on infrastructure, either. So you have to either become some kind of apostate mammonite, or you can ignore the problem.

I don't think we're going to get a vaccine any time soon; I'll be delighted to be wrong about this, but despite the massive effort, the leading candidates keep failing stage 3 trials quite hard. "At least March" is a nod to my tendency to pessimism. I think it's at best fifty-fifty that we'll have a vaccine while we retain enough of a public sphere to apply it.

And, yeah, one of the major failures in Canada has been a general refusal to enforce quarantines. I don't understand this at all.

Zeborah said...

New Zealand has farms run by farmers with strong opinions but it's really not an agrarian country. The bulk of our population, like most countries, are in cities.

Small and isolated, you could say. But it wasn't all that isolated before we locked down, either, we got a *lot* of international travel for business and tourism.

We escaped because we happened to have a left-wing government in power (it could easily have gone the other way last election, it was literally down to Winston Peters' whim), with a PM who a) is willing to listen to experts, b) is willing to be decisive in an emergency, and c) is a *fantastic* strategic communicator; and because we're small enough that our politics haven't got so polarised that a large portion of the population would revolt at the idea of extreme measures not because they're extreme but because they're being implemented by the Other Side.

So I think that "small" was a factor in the social cohesion required to respond, not in how Covid directly treated us. Covid was gearing up to rip through us just like it's ripped through everywhere else.

Peter T said...

On resistance to addressing ecological issues - I think the big factor is that the effort required can only be made by a more equal society, as that's the only way to mobilise - and keep mobilised - enough of the population. For existing elites, this means loss of status and wealth. It probably means loss of status even for middle class folk. And status is the key element in human societies.

Graydon said...

+Peter T
Most of the middle-class are middle class because they own their home.

Nigh-all such homes are worthless; dependent on fossil carbon and unsuited to the changing weather. Status is deeply connected to open-loop extractive capitalism, for everybody, pretty much everywhere.