The Year of Covid

“Thought-Provoking Entertainment” isn’t just a This is True slogan, it’s an illustration of my mission in life: to promote more thinking in the world. If thinking was truly valued by society, the U.S. wouldn’t have had such a struggle with the pandemic.

A Story Arc that Perfectly Illustrates
Why I Concentrate on Thinking…

Social commentary is a weird profession, especially the way I do it: while each story has a point, it’s sometimes hard to see the big picture without putting the puzzle pieces together. My commentary on the pandemic came from many different angles, thus this interactive multimedia collection that, all told, covers the progression of the story, particularly in the United States.

Each entry shows its publication date, usually in the (source area) of the story. Unless otherwise noted, all dates mentioned are in 2020. Click each story slug to open the story text. Most of the photos and illustrations on the page get larger when clicked.

The Beginning

The first person to die was a 61-year-old man in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province in China, on 9 December 2019. But, the New York Times reassured its readers the next day, “there is no evidence that it can spread among humans” — at least, according to Wuhan’s Health Commission despite the fact that they had already identified 41 cases of the “mysterious, pneumonialike [sic] illness.” It had first appeared in the city eight days before.

The first Covid-19 death in the U.S. was thought to be in late February, 2020 — an elderly nursing home resident in Washington state. But once medical examiners started to learn what to look for, they realized no, the first victim died much earlier, and much younger.

The first known U.S. death is now recorded to have occurred on 6 February. Patricia Dowd, a non-smoking manager for a semiconductor company in the San Francisco Bay Area who “exercised routinely, watched her diet and took no medication,” died at 57.

As a volunteer medic in my rural community in southwest Colorado, and as a journalist who constantly skims the news looking for commentary fodder, I quickly started monitoring the reports, not wanting to jump in immediately because I wanted the real details, not panic-fed rumors.

It all begins, of course, in China….

Worse than Daytime TV in the U.S.
State television in China is doing a series of reports on the “heroes” in the fight against the Covid-19 coronavirus, but they’re backfiring. One showed nurse Zhao Yu treating patients in a hospital in Wuhan; Zhao is heavily pregnant. “Can we stop all this propaganda?” complained a viewer on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. “What is this, a show for political purposes?” another asked. Another report sparked even more complaints: it shows nurses weeping as their heads are shaved bald to “make it easier” for them to wear “protective head gear” as they treat patients. Viewers complained that there’s no reason to shave the women’s hair completely: if needed for “protective head gear,” surely simply cutting their hair short would be more than enough — just as it is for men, who weren’t similarly shaved. (1 March/BBC) …People who have been ordered to sit at home for weeks have lots of time to think.

Freshly-shaved nurse cries at her treatment.
Screencaps from Chinese television were quickly shared online …with angry criticisms.
Contingency Plans
What if Covid-19 goes truly pandemic and kills a lot of people? Well, Britain’s National Association of Funeral Directors is ready. NAFD is in “dialogue with the government and local authorities to seek early guidance on steps funeral directors may need to take,” it told the media in a written statement, especially “in the event of a ban on public gatherings,” such as funerals. If that happens, “one option” would be virtual funerals online, “as many crematoria now have these facilities.” Meanwhile, “We could start describing it as a pandemic,” says the World Health Organization, “but at the moment we are saying it is clusters and outbreaks in some countries.” (8 March/Sky) …Or, everyone could just wash their hands more.
  • March 11: the World Health Organization finally declares Covid-19 a pandemic.
Florida Man is Florida Man No Matter Where He Is
With the Covid-19 coronavirus sweeping through Colorado, particularly in the tourist-laden mountain ski resorts, Vail Resorts announced that it “made the difficult decision to suspend the operations of all our North American mountain resorts” until it’s safe to reopen. “Thank you for making this announcement as we are driving in to Vail,” whined Jeff Kottkamp on Twitter. “Came all the way from Florida only to have our family’s vacation destroyed.” Kottkamp is the former Republican Lt. Governor of Florida — where the Disney World Resort is closed, among other tourist destinations. Colorado politicians were quick to condemn Kottkamp, including the governor, but no one was more scathing than Sage Naumann, spokesman for the Colorado Senate Republicans, who re-wrote Kottkamp’s tweet: “‘Came all the way from Florida only to realize Colorado is actually stepping up to prevent the spread of a global pandemic,’” he wrote. “Fixed it for you, Lieutenant Governor.” Kottkamp deleted his tweet. (15 March/Denver Post) …Next year, try the Matterhorn.
Crack Open the Champaign
The residents of Champaign, Ill., are aghast at the powers granted to the mayor upon her declaration of an “emergency” — which Deborah Frank Feinen has issued in response to the Covid-19 virus, even though there have been no known cases in the region. “So many of those powers, I have had from the beginning,” Feinen said. “All we have done is enumerate them and now the public is aware of them.” Like what? “I can shut down bars yesterday, I could have shut them down two years ago,” she shrugged. She is also specifically allowed to ban the sale of firearms and ammunition, ban the sale of gasoline for emergency generators, direct the shutoff of utilities, take possession of private property “and obtain full title to same,” and more — it took 31 pages to document it all. (15 March/WAND Decatur) …And if any residents complain, BANG! — she’ll own their house.

The Year of Covid
My cartoon/meme site Randy’s Random also features dozens of examples pointed comments on the pandemic, this one from 20 March.
Glad We Got This Straight
The State of New York has clarified what businesses are “essential” and can thus stay open during the Covid-19 crisis after Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered “non-essential” workers to stay home. Liquor stores qualify, the New York State Liquor Association announced. Pennsylvania, meanwhile, says beer distributors qualify as a “life-sustaining business” and can continue their important work. Governors in states where the sale of marijuana is legal have gone a step further: dispensaries are “essential” in apparently all of those states, and are allowed to remain open. (22 March/WRGB Albany, WPXI Pittsburgh, ABC) …Sure: the governors know where their tax money is coming from.

Nothing to Hide
The Little Darlings strip club in Las Vegas, Nev., announced it would stay open despite the surging numbers of Covid-19 cases in town. In fact, they said, they would even introduce a new feature: “XXX” hand sanitizer wrestling. The joint is “easily one of the safest and cleanest places to be in Las Vegas,” claimed operations manager Ryan Carlson. But when the governor’s declaration made it clear that strip clubs and brothels are definitely not “essential” businesses, Carlson said the business would close down, even though strippers are “part of the American fabric of life.” (22 March/KNTV Las Vegas) …Though not all that much fabric.
Antisocial Media
“SHARE SHARE SHARE ! ! ! !” demanded a social media post, announcing that the Rapides Parish, La., Sheriff’s Office issued an order that if deputies encounter anyone infected with Covid-19, they should “SHOOT ON SIGHT”. There was, of course, no such order, and investigators say they tracked the post to Waylon Allen Bailey, 27. He was arrested without incident on a terrorism charge, and faces up to 15 years in prison. “We are all in this together,” said Sheriff William Earl Hilton, and “communicating false information to alarm or cause other serious disruptions to the general public” is a crime which “will not be tolerated.” (22 March/KALB Alexandria, Alexandria Town Talk) …Now that’s a precedent that ought to shake up social media.
The Year of Covid
“Be Careful What You Ask For” — 27 March

As the fear of SARS-CoV-2 in the U.S. built, it was clearly time to confront those fears in my 30 March podcast (12 minutes, transcript):

065: Beating the Fear over Covid

  • 4 April: The U.S. exceeds 10,000 Covid-19 deaths, 59 days after the first — an average of more than 169 deaths/day.
Decidedly Contrary to His Training
Eduardo Moreno, 44, a train engineer with Pacific Harbor Line at the Port of Los Angeles in southern California, was “suspicious” about the USNS Mercy, and said he thought “it had an alternate purpose related to Covid-19 or a government takeover.” He thus “spontaneously” got into a locomotive and drove it full-throttle down the track toward the white ship emblazoned with red crosses, denoting its mission as a non-commissioned U.S. Navy medical ship. It had docked in Los Angeles to provide medical care as the pandemic overwhelms area hospitals, just as the USNS Comfort was dispatched to New York. The tracks ended long before the speeding locomotive reached the ship, and the train came to rest more than 800 ft (250m) from the dock. Moreno has been charged with train wrecking, a federal felony punishable by 20 years in prison. “You only get this chance once. The whole world is watching,” Moreno told the arresting officer, who witnessed the crash and chased Moreno down as he ran from it. “I had to. People don’t know what’s going on here. Now they will.” (5 April/Washington Post) …Actually, we do know: an obliviot believed something ridiculous he read on the Internet. What else is new?

The Headline of the Week occasionally was pandemic-related. An example from 5 April:

Put Away Your B Cups
No, You Can’t Make an N95 Mask out of a Bra
CBC headline

A Side Feature in This is True is the Honorary Unsubscribe — an interesting obit which features “The people you will wish you had known.” The 5 April issue brought the first honoree to die from Covid-19, and it hit close to home for me after nearly 26 years as an online journalist:

Tech reporter Anick Jesdanun
Born in Pittsburgh, Jesdanun grew up in New Jersey. After finishing school at Swarthmore College in 1991, he got a job with the Associated Press, a cooperative news organization that supplies news outlets with stories. He was the first at AP — in the year 2000 — to get the title “Internet Writer”: he covered technology, and the online world in particular. He emphasized making sure he got the details correct, and providing context. “Before people knew the Internet was full of falsehoods,” says Michael Liedtke, another AP technology writer, “he was the guy who said, ‘We’d better check that.’”
The Year of Covid
A 2007 example of Jesdanun’s unique (for a time!) byline. Screencap by the author.

As the first such writer at AP, Jesdanun taught new reporters in his specialty how to cover technology stories. “Nick was the steady bulwark of AP’s tech team for two decades,” says AP’s first technology editor, Frank Bajak. “He had the deepest institutional memory of AP’s tech coverage and patiently educated dozens of novice colleagues in all things digital.” For fun, Jesdanun ran marathons — completing at least one on every continent (yep: including Antarctica) — and watching films, usually in theaters since “There’s still no substitute for a movie theater.” In 2019, he watched 365 movies. “I feel fairly confident that there was nothing on his bucket list,” said Risa Harms, Jesdanun’s cousin. “There was nothing he wanted to do that he didn’t have a chance to do.” Jesdanun never left the Associated Press: it was his only employer. Anick “Nick” Jesdanun, who had risen to deputy technology editor for AP, died in New York on April 2 from Covid-19. He was 51.

  • 8 April: The first Covid death in our rural Colorado county. My EMS colleagues, who had been briefed on symptoms and safety protocols weeks before, had transported the man to the hospital.
In Hot Water
Police in Merseyside, England, raided the Hot Water Comedy Club for holding an event in violation of pandemic shutdown orders. They got the tip from a streaming video from the club, which showed a packed audience enjoying the show. Club management says security camera video shows “about 20 officers” showed up to scatter the crowd — but no one was there: they were streaming an event from their video archive, and say the online feed was “clearly” labeled as recorded. (12 April/Sky) …It’s not very often that a comedy club gets the last laugh.
Thou Shalt Not
The San Joaquin County (Calif.) Health Department ordered the Cross Culture Christian Center in Lodi to shut down to avoid spreading the coronavirus among its parishioners. “We’re going to meet as often as we can meet,” said the defiant pastor, Jon Duncan, “and we do believe that this right is protected by the first Amendment and should be considered essential.” He hired a lawyer to sue the county and state, and continued to hold services. With Easter fast approaching, county officials were deciding what to do, up to chaining the church’s doors closed, but they didn’t have to: the church’s landlord, Bethel Open Bible Church, changed the locks in the building to lock Duncan out. (12 April/KTVU Oakland, KTXL Sacramento) …“I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place; … I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’.” —Job 38 (NIV).

This is True has space for free-form editorials, such as this from 12 April:

This week my wife threw a virtual (Zoom video chat) birthday party for me, which was actually a lot of fun. She invited a lot of old friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in quite some time, and the “cocktail hour” party lasted 3-1/2 hours! Probably the last hour was two guys, Matt and Matt, who had a lot in common, chatting. Weird times can also be fun times, especially as folks get more inventive about maintaining human connection.

The scenario discussed in my blog post Stay Put looks more and more likely: that pressure on government officials to let businesses “open back up” is growing, and it’s way too early for that. The badly named “social distancing” (we need to be social; it’s “physical distancing” that’s important!) truly has worked to blunt the rate of infection, keeping the death rate way down while we wait for a vaccine. Stop the isolation too soon and infections will shoot up, as we’ve seen before.

If you’re not already aware of how easy is it for a few sick people to create a huge number of infections, read this article: How a Premier U.S. Drug Company Became a Virus ‘Super Spreader’ (New York Times, 12 April). It’s sobering. If politicians do something stupid like let our guard down too early, I highly recommend “staying put” for a couple weeks anyway to see what happens.

I sure hope readers took the advice.

Obviously, not everyone was rendered stupid by the pandemic. My 13 April podcast features two women who stepped up to help their neighbors stay healthy (16 minutes, transcript):

066: Masking the Problem

Tag Team
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered citizens to “shelter in place” and “non-essential” businesses to close to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. Less than two weeks later, he granted an exception: “employees at professional sports and media production [companies] with a national audience” would qualify as an “essential business” if the company’s sporting event “is closed to the general public.” The loophole was apparently custom tailored for World Wrestling Entertainment, which has a production studio in Orlando. “People are chomping at the bit,” DeSantis explained. “If you think about it, we have never had a period like this in modern American history where you’ve had so little new content, particularly in the sporting realm. I mean, we are watching reruns from like the early 2000s.” WWE quickly went back into production. (19 April/Tampa Bay Times) …The governor lacks imagination: how about putting cameras in the ICU at Orlando’s AdventHealth Children’s Hospital so viewers can wager on which kids will live?
I’d Like to See the Manager
John-Paul Drake, the Director of Australia’s largest independent grocery chain, Drakes Supermarkets, posted a video online telling the story of a customer who asked for a refund. The unidentified customer used 20 people to shop for him to stockpile goods ahead of the Covid-19 pandemic arriving in the country. But, the customer told him, his eBay store had been shut down — presumably for price gouging. So, he continued, could he return and get a refund for 150 packs of 32 rolls of toilet paper, and 150 1-liter bottles of hand sanitizer? In the video, Drake demonstrated his response to the man by lifting his middle finger, commenting, “That is the sort of person that is causing the problem in the whole country.” (19 April/7 News Australia) …Once the guy left, Drake needed to use one of his cleansing wipes.

The Year of Covid
Screencap from Drake’s pointed video.
The Lord Works in Mysterious Ways
Like most church pastors, Scott Mowery of Immanuel Baptist Church in Butler, Mo., is doing services by streaming video online. He was delivering a sermon via Facebook Live when his wife sent him a comment: “You’ve got filters going on,” the message that popped up on his screen said. “And I’m like, what? What’s going on? I can’t see anything,” Mowery said. Indeed, Facebook was overlaying multiple comical “masks” over his face, such as cat ears, googly eyes, space helmets, and wizard hats. His wife shared the video with a pastors’ wives forum, and from there it went viral, spreading around the globe. “I’ve never had a video with even 1,000 views,” Mowery said. “And I never thought this is what I’d be known for.” (19 April/WDAF Kansas City) …Is he sure that devil mask was from Facebook?

The Year of Covid
Some of the pastor’s virtual masks.
Essential Service
Walter Lamkin, 69, an attorney in Town and Country, Mo., survived Covid-19. He then discovered the blood bank in St. Louis was looking for Covid survivors to donate plasma as a treatment for victims in critical condition, and went right in to contribute. “It’s transplanting somebody’s immune response into someone else’s body,” explains Dr. Emily Schindler, Mercy Blood Donor Services’ medical director. She says Lamkin’s plasma was used to treat three patients, all of whom are improving. “I’ve lost two people in my life to this awful virus,” Lamkin said. “I can’t donate again for another three weeks, but I’ll certainly be back. This is about my friends, and doing something to help other people so we don’t lose any more.” (19 April/St. Louis Post-Dispatch) …In 2020, that qualifies as a superhero.

The 19 April podcast took a bit of a contrarian view: An American company that makes masks and other PPE chose not to ramp up production to help with the Covid pandemic. That sounds like a decision to be criticized, but it’s actually a true example of Uncommon Sense (14 minutes, transcript):

067: Counterintuitive

Permit Me
With most contact-heavy personal services shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s been hard to get a haircut. But if you live in New Hampshire, don’t you dare cut your own hair: that’s a criminal offense punishable by up to a year in prison. It’s similarly illegal to give someone else, even a family member, a shave. Why? Last year, the state’s Office of Professional Licensure raked in $13.2 million in licensing fees, and most licenses are available only after taking hundreds of hours of classes and a written examination; legislators wanted violations in licensing laws to be punished by much more than a slap on the hand. (26 April/Manchester Union-Leader) …What politicians really need: a License to Legislate, available only after taking hundreds of hours of classes and a written examination, and paying a $100,000 fee.

Everyone says they want to “go back” to “normal” rather than have the constant uncertainty of the pandemic. But what “normal” do we want to “go back” to? In my 27 April podcast, I argued it’s time to think about a new normal — what do we want to go to as this craziness ramps down? (11 minutes, transcript):

068: What Normal?

Turkey in the Straw
The Bovine and Barley bar in Houston, Texas, is suffering a massive business downturn due to the quarantine. If customers can’t come to them, they’re hitting the road and going out to customers with a new “adult ice cream truck,” which delivers frozen drinks like piña coladas, margaritas, and daiquiris. Delivery is free, but some sort of food purchase is required; their $1 home-made potato chips are a popular add-on. They post their route on Facebook, and hit the streets each day at 11:00 a.m. (3 May/KHOU Houston, Houston Chronicle) …Because it’s always 5:00 somewhere.

The Year of Covid
Making a delivery (Photo: Bovine and Barley)
The management association for Florida’s Fisher Island, near Miami, applied for and received a “forgivable” emergency loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration — $2 million — in response to the pandemic. Two days later, the Board of Directors of the Fisher Island Community Association voted unanimously to direct the management association to not accept the loan. As of 2015, the 216-acre (87.4 ha) island, reachable only by boat or helicopter, had the highest per-capita income of anywhere in the country — $2.5 million. Not only have none of the 130 groundskeepers and security guards been laid off, but they’ve been given extra paid days off. “There’s small businesses that are in this country right now that need money,” said resident Matt Barnes. “We need to make sure that they get the money as quickly as possible. I don’t think Fisher Island needs $2 million.” (3 May/Miami Herald) …But it’s The Government Way to give money to those who don’t need it while cutting off the little guy who does.
Bunker Mentality
When the novel coronavirus swept through the United States, architect Joseph Badame had cause to say “I told you so!” He didn’t know what calamity was coming, but Badame prepared for nearly everything: he designed and built an 8,500 square-foot, partly-underground house on 3 acres in Medford, N.J., surrounded by an electric fence, plus enough outbuildings and food to accommodate 120 friends and family for a full year. He even thought to stock 4,200 rolls of toilet paper, and buried tanks to hold gasoline, kerosene, diesel fuel, and heating oil. He installed a coal-fired furnace supplied by “tons” of coal stacked outside. What does he think now, with Covid-19 killing thousands per day? “This is much more severe than I even planned for,” says Badame, now 77, “when you combine the trigger of the coronavirus and then the reaction to it.” But his decades of preparation and million-dollar stockpile of supplies aren’t helping: he lost the house to foreclosure in 2017, and now lives with a friend. (10 May/ …Along with 118 others.
Club Omaha, a “gentleman’s club” in Omaha, Neb., figures if churches are allowed to open up during the pandemic, they should too. “Some of the churches can hold 300 people,” said owner Shane Harrington. “We won’t have nearly that many.” He assures would-be patrons that his dancers will still take it all off — except for the mandated masks and gloves. The governor’s orders specify that such establishments must stay closed through the end of the month, but Harrington did open as promised, at “25 percent capacity,” and a police “compliance check” didn’t result in any citations, he said. There was a similar anxiety in 1918 during the Spanish Flu pandemic, when people demanded to be freed from quarantine. City officials relented, and the first lawful public gathering was a burlesque show. “Crowds lined up for admission” to that midnight performance, notes the Omaha World-Herald. That, however, helped to spark a “second wave” that killed about as many people in Omaha as the first wave. (17 May/Omaha World-Herald) …“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” —George Santayana (1863–1952), a philosopher who was overly optimistic to think that those who did remember the past wouldn’t also repeat it.

The Honorary Unsubscribe from the 17 May issue:

Ann K. Mitchell
Born in Oxford, England as Ann Katharine Williamson, Mitchell attended secondary school at Headington School in Oxford, and then was awarded admission at the University of Oxford. She was one of only five women in her class, and she had chosen an unusual concentration. “My headmistress firmly told my parents that mathematics was not a ladylike subject” and shouldn’t take the offer from the prestigious university, she said. “However, my parents overruled her and I pursued my chosen path.” It’s a good thing: upon graduation in 1943 she was recruited by Bletchley Park to work on the intense and secret effort to break Germany’s Enigma code machine. She worked nine hours a day, six days a week, from fall 1943 to VE Day. For her first Christmas on the job she wrote in her journal, “Worked like the devil all day. Good fun.”

The Year of Covid
The best period photo I could find of Mitchell: her marriage in 1948. (Family photo)

“The majority of the girls at Bletchley were part of a factory — a conveyor belt, really — to deal with the component parts of codebreaking,” says historian Tessa Dunlop, who wrote The Bletchley Girls, a book about the women who worked to break Germany’s codes. “But Ann was exceptional in the work she did finding the formula for the codebreaking machines. She was discreet, intelligent, and modest, and although she would never describe herself as a codebreaker, she was recruited for her mathematical ability.” After the war, she married (taking the name Mitchell), and worked as a marriage guidance counselor in Scotland. She then went back to school, earning her Master’s degree in Social Administration at the University of Edinburgh, and studied and wrote extensively on marriage breakup and divorce, especially how it affected children. Once the veil of secrecy about the Bletchley Park operation was lifted, Mitchell gave her oral history about her role, and was commemorated on the Codebreakers Wall at the Bletchley Park Museum. “Her experience was in many ways like that of Alan Turing and will long remain an inspiration to many,” said James Turing, the great-nephew of Alan Turing, who led the effort. Mitchell died in Edinburgh May 11, from Covid-19, at 97.

The Fix is Out
The Georgia Department of Public Health posted encouraging news about the Covid-19 pandemic: cases in the state’s five hardest-hit counties were dropping steadily, shown on a chart showing the daily case rate in a quick ramp-down over two weeks, which showed the state was definitely not “opening up” too early. There’s only one problem with the chart: it was manipulated to look that way, and the “ramp” wasn’t “down.” The appearance of the decline was accomplished by using preliminary data, sorting the dates by the number of cases rather than present the chart in date order, and by changing the order of the counties as needed to create the look. A spokesman for the governor tried to blame a vendor, but Candice Broce, a spokeswoman for the governor, admitted the date sorting was on purpose. “Our mission failed,” she said. “We apologize. It is fixed.” (17 May/Atlanta Journal-Constitution) …State officials were astounded to find people in the state aren’t as stupid as the school system is designed to make them.

Note: This story led me to electronically cut up their misleading chart and go into deeper analysis of the implications as a separate explainer/opinion piece.

  • 27 May: The U.S. exceeds 100,000 Covid-19 deaths just 54 days after hitting 10,000 — an increased average in this span of more than 1,666 deaths/day.
Dancing Around His Discomfort
Switzerland is figuring out which types of businesses and events can reopen as the pandemic apparently winds down. Training for contact sports may resume, but so far, competitions for those sports cannot. Ballroom dancing is still out, but what can resume is perhaps a bit surprising: prostitution, which is legal in the country. “There are certainly personal contacts but a concept of protection seems possible,” offered Interior Minister Alain Berset, adding, “I am well aware of the bizarre aspect of my answer.” (31 May/London Telegraph) …But Minister: ballroom dancing is kind of like sex while standing up!

This Randy’s Random item was set to run on 8 June after I made it a couple of days earlier. I had to remake it that morning just before publication to adjust the second line, which is to scale with the first — by then it didn’t fit inside the box:

The Year of Covid
“Not All Memes are Funny”
Welcome to India!
State tourism officials have urged hotels in Dharamsala, in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains in Himachal Pradesh, India, to reopen despite the Covid-19 pandemic. But, the officials continued, guests must first be screened for fever, kidney problems, and lung disease before they can register. Those who do pass those tests may not go sightseeing, take tours, visit markets, or even go outside the hotel during their stays; if they do, “action” will be taken against the hotel. And by the way, hotels must provide one meal a day to guests, but only from a menu dictated by the government. Hoteliers refuse to reopen under those conditions, and also point out that tourists are still not allowed to travel on planes, trains, or buses into the area. (14 June/Chandigarh Tribune) …Trying to make molehills out of mountains is just as ridiculous as the other way around.
Sweet 16
With Florida urging businesses to “reopen” after the Covid-19 pandemic, quarantined people are venturing out. One group headed to Lynch’s Irish Pub in Jacksonville Beach to celebrate a birthday. “We knew we were pushing it,” admits Kat Layton, who noticed the bar was crowded, and no one was wearing masks. But the coronavirus was “out of sight, out of mind,” she said, and besides, they didn’t know anyone who had the disease. Plus, they were reassured by the governor and local mayor. Within days, the 16 friends started getting sick, and got Covid tests. All of them tested positive. “We want to tell people it’s really not ready” — it’s not safe to congregate, Layton said. “It’s too soon.” (21 June/WFOR Miami) …And for some, it’s too late.

The Headline of the Week from 21 June:

The City Plans an Online Meeting to Address the Matter
The Internet Is So Bad in this Community Some People Drive to Zoom Meetings
CBC (Halifax, N.S., Canada) headline

No Surprise
The Barbosa family of Carrollton, Texas, got together for a surprise birthday party. But Ron Barbosa, a volunteer medic, and his wife, a doctor, refused to attend as they thought it was unsafe during the pandemic. The attendees “did their best” to keep “socially distant,” and besides, it was “just family.” Sure enough, one nephew in the family was sick. “It wasn’t that long. It was only a couple of hours,” Ron Barbosa said. “But during that brief time, somehow the other 18 family members are now infected with Covid,” including his father and mother, Frank and Carole Barbosa. Frank is in critical condition in ICU; Carole is out of the hospital and recovering at home. Ron’s sister, Ani Stone, says their parents’ 68th wedding anniversary is coming up. The family, she says, are “going to have a big ol’ party July 26 and everyone is going to be there with y’all.” (28 June/WFAA Dallas, KXAS Ft. Worth) …I’m guessing Ron refers to Ani as the “slow one” in the family.
She’d Had Enough Caffeine Already
After a San Diego, Calif., Starbucks employee refused to serve a customer who wasn’t wearing a mask, she took a photo of barista Lenin Gutierrez and posted it on Facebook. “Meet lenen [sic] from Starbucks who refused to serve me cause I’m not wearing a mask,” she wrote under the name of Amber Lynn Gilles, who is “not a Covid-19 believer.” Within hours the post went viral, bringing more than 133,000 comments — most criticizing Gilles. “What Lenin did was the right thing,” said Matt Cowan of nearby Irvine. “He was just doing his job and didn’t deserve to be berated.” Starbucks backed their employee, and Cowan put up a “virtual tip jar” on GoFundMe for the barista. In less than a week the fund broke $86,000. (28 June/KFMB San Diego) …That’s fine, because Gilles isn’t the sort who tips baristas.
Still Overcaffeinated
Amber Lynn Gilles’ attempt to shame a barista at a San Diego, Calif., Starbucks for not serving her because she wasn’t wearing a mask completely backfired (This is True, last week). “I’ve received death threats, thousands,” she claims, and “it’s very upsetting. It’s very scary.” People sympathetic to barista Lenin Gutierrez have contributed to a GoFundMe campaign to give him “tips” — and that fund has broken $105,000. He still works at Starbucks, and plans to use the money to go back to school. He has been meeting with a financial planner, and wants to donate some of the money to others. But Gilles, 35, says she wants a cut of the money in the fund — and may sue over it. (5 July/KNSD San Diego) …Which pushes her from a “Karen” to a “Stella”.

(For the uninitiated, I also wrote the True Stella Awards.)

“I f—ed up and went out a couple of weeks ago,” Tommy Macias posted on Facebook, “and I contracted the coronavirus.” He went to a BBQ with friends; one had Covid-19, but didn’t have symptoms — and wasn’t wearing a mask. Macias was wearing one, but “Because of my stupidity, I put my mom and sisters and my family’s health in jeopardy.” Ten other friends were also infected at the party. Two days after his diagnosis, Macias, 51, of Lake Elsinore, Calif., was so short of breath he called an ambulance. Within hours, he was bad enough that doctors put him on a ventilator. “Hopefully, with God’s help, I’ll be able to survive this,” he had posted. But about an hour after being intubated, he died. “You know,” said Macias’ niece, Danielle Lopez, “people who argue saying that they’re incapable of breathing properly through [a mask]: You can breathe perfectly fine. It’s to protect other people from you and it should be common sense. You don’t want to go around infecting and killing people. How can anybody have that on their conscience? All you have to do is wear a mask and you can prevent that.” (5 July/Fallbrook Valley News) …The lack of common sense: why the U.S. has the worst Covid problem in the world.
Take One Down and Pass It Around
During an online board meeting for the Western Heights Public School District in Oklahoma City, Okla., Board Member Linda Farley made a motion. As Board President Robert Everman was calling for a second, Farley could be seen drinking from a bottle of beer. Parents say she should resign. Everman claimed he looked at the video and admitted “it could have been” beer, but “I have no idea what she may have had.” Farley was more forthcoming: she sent out a written statement to apologize, and to explain she has been “suffering from a severe kidney infection,” and was drinking beer “to flush out my kidneys.” (5 July/KFOR Oklahoma City) …The thing that really upset parents: it was a Corona Extra.

The Year of Covid
Farley getting flushed. Yes, it really does appear to be a Corona (video screencap).
Stronger Than a Man
“If I can wear a mask through 38 hours of labor, a C-section and recovery,” tweeted Jai Kershner, a morning-drive radio host in Nashville, Tenn., “you can do it for an hour while running to the grocery store.” Some responses said that’s not a big deal because she “only” had a C-section. On the other hand: she also has asthma. Julia Kite-Laidlaw, who works for the New York City Dept. of Transportation, tweeted much the same — except she had twins, and they were in the neonatal intensive care unit for two weeks, and she always wore a mask for her daily visits. “Yet there are grown men in this country who can’t deal with being asked to tie a rag around their face to go to the supermarket? I’ll never think of myself as a weakling again.” Plus, she says, “There’s so much we don’t know about coronavirus. If you could save a life by just putting a mask on, why wouldn’t you?” (19 July/ABC) …Because they don’t actually think “all lives matter.”
Good Fences Make Good Neighbors
Canadians are a bit aghast after watching an interview on CNN with White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley. Washington bureau anchor Brianna Keilar asked about Canada closing its border with the U.S. The U.S. has around 3.9 million cases of Covid-19, with more than 143,000 deaths, while Canada has not quite 112,000 cases, and under 9,000 deaths. “I’m not sure why you would want to go to Canada when we live in the greatest country on the face of the planet,” Gidley replied. “Well,” Keilar said, “if you want to get away from coronavirus you might.” (19 July/Ottawa Citizen) …Which is exactly why Canada closed the border.
Taxes — Not Just for the Middle Class Anymore
Millionaires for Humanity, a group of more than 80 millionaires in the U.S., has sent an open letter to multiple national governments, including the U.S. government. “The problems caused by, and revealed by, Covid-19 can’t be solved with charity, no matter how generous,” the letter says. “Government leaders must take the responsibility for raising the funds we need and spending them fairly.” And how will they do that? “Tax us,” the millionaires say. “Tax us. Tax us. It is the right choice. It is the only choice.” Morris Pearl, formerly a managing director of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, is one of the signers. “It might be fun to make more millions this month or next month, but over the long run I want my children and grandchildren to have the opportunities that I did,” he said, “and they won’t be able to if we don’t change course.” He noted that he is “wealthier than I was before the pandemic, and I don’t even work for a living.” (19 July/CBS) …Well, as long as they don’t go after the billionaires, OK.
Crying Over Spilt Milk
A Ralph’s grocery store employee in Los Angeles, Calif., informed a customer that he was required to wear a mask in the store, or had to leave. A witness says the man “was just screaming about the mask. He didn’t want to wear a mask.” The unnamed man used his shopping cart to repeatedly ram the employee. Another shopper tried to push the man away, but he kept slamming into the female employee. Fearing for her safety, she pulled out a can of pepper spray and hosed him down; it quickly stopped the attack. Medics took the man to a hospital, and it was unclear whether he then went to jail. Despite witnesses confirming that the employee was simply defending herself, and bystander video supporting that, Ralph’s — a Kroger brand — suspended the employee for “not following de-escalation procedures.” (2 August/KCBS Los Angeles) …Looks like a perfectly effective de-escalation procedure to everyone else.

The Year of Covid
Witness photo of the aftermath. Readers were very unhappy in their comments at Kroger’s lack of support for their employee. (Witness photo)
Shocking Development
“It’s there for social distancing,” says landlord Johnny McFadden, who runs the Star Inn in St. Just, Cornwall, England. “People were not following social-distancing and were doing as they pleased,” he said, “but now people take heed to the guidance around social distancing.” How did he get customers to comply? He set up an electric fence around the bar, with a sign that warns customers. Yes, it’s real: a couple of drunk customers complained they were “electrocuted” by the fence, but McFadden was unapologetic: “It’s for everybody’s benefit.” (2 August/Cornwall Live) …Especially the onlookers’.

The Year of Covid
Photo provided by the Star Inn.
Speaking of Which
Last week, David Hines of Miami, Fla., was upset after he was given a $100 citation for not wearing a mask in public. That infraction pales in comparison with other things, he told the officer: “The government, the Treasury, they gave $2 trillion for PPP loans for small businesses. Eighty-five percent went to major corporations.” This week Hines was arrested by federal investigators: he allegedly fraudulently obtained a $4 million Paycheck Protection Program loan from the Small Business Administration. “Instead of funding payroll,” investigators allege, “Hines spent the PPP money on personal expenses at dating websites, luxury jewelry and clothing retailers, and Miami Beach resorts. Hines also spent PPP funds to purchase a 2020 Lamborghini sports car for $318,497.53.” He faces up to 30 years in prison. (2 August/WSVN Miami) …Right: you have to be incorporated to use federal money on a Lamborghini.
The Year of Covid
“Clarification” from 3 August.
No Coverup Going On
“The province recently made a change to its definition of a patio,” said Dr. Mustafa Hirji, the Medical Officer of Health for the Niagara Region of Ontario, Canada. The context? The change allowed the Sundowner “gentleman’s club” in Niagara Falls to reopen. “Their intention is to open a patio as [a] food service venue with less than completely clad servers,” he said. Businesses aren’t allowed to offer live entertainment, and they couldn’t serve diners indoors, so the Sundowner built a covered patio to allow what they called its “historic” reopening. Dr. Hirji made it clear what allowed the opening: “If it is covered but at least two of the four other sides are open, then it qualifies as a patio.” (2 August/St. Catharines Standard) …Which is surprisingly similar to how the staff is dressed.

My 3 August podcast tells the story of a conservative man who “believed the virus to be a hoax.” He found out the hard way that it was anything but (18 minutes, transcript):

076: Leading Yourself Down a Path

Schindler’s List
After her father, Francis Perreault, died at 78, Stephanie Schindler was heartened by how many people showed up for his funeral in Lake Park, Minn. “During the service, almost everybody wore a mask, and we all were kind of separated from each other,” said Kathleen Keene, one of Schindler’s oldest friends. But after the service, everyone mingled and took off their masks for “doughnut hour.” A few days later, Schindler heard one attendee was ill. Then another, and another: so far, about 30 of the 50 attendees have Covid-19, and five of her close family members were hospitalized, including one in intensive care. Schindler herself has Covid, as does her husband, mother, daughters, and Keene. “We’re having such guilt and heaviness about everything,” she said. “We feel like, ‘what if they had just Skyped?’ This might not have happened.” (9 August/St. Paul Pioneer Press) …“Might”?
High Strung
Adam Michael Zaborowski of Slatington, Pa., is “not handling the pandemic well,” admits his attorney, John Waldron. Zaborowski allegedly lost it in a Bethlehem Township cigar store when the clerk said that he had to wear a mask. Even though the clerk offered to deliver his purchases to the sidewalk, Zaborowski allegedly grabbed two cigars and headed for the door, and the clerk followed because he hadn’t paid for them. Zaborowski pulled a pistol and started shooting. He didn’t hit the clerk or other customers, and fled. Police got a warrant for his arrest, staked out his house, and were waiting for the Municipal Emergency Response Team to arrive before attempting arrest. But before the team could arrive, Zaborowski, 35, got into his truck and drove away. Officers pulled him over, but he jumped out with a pistol and a high-capacity AK-47 and started shooting. Police shot back, hitting Zaborowski twice, and arrested him. He is charged with seven counts of attempted homicide, seven counts of attempted first-degree murder of a police officer, seven counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and being a felon in possession of guns. Waldron didn’t fault the police at all for shooting at his client. “It’s kill or be killed,” he said. “So the fact that he got shot twice with non-life-threatening injures when he had an AK-47 and another handgun, Adam is very fortunate he ended up the way he did.” (9 August/Easton Express-Times) …More fortunate: the residents of the Lehigh Valley.

Editorial from 9 August:

I Got a Note This Morning from a 20-year Premium reader — I’ve always noticed him because of his name: Mr. J.D. True. Really. If you thought I was Mr. True, nope! It’s him. I had noticed he let his Premium lapse this summer, and with his note today, I found out why.

“My Premium subscription recently lapsed,” he wrote, “but has now been renewed. I am just out of the hospital after spending weeks there with Covid-19. It was during my hospital stay that the subscription lapsed, as at my sickest I really had no interest in anything at all. But I look forward to getting back to reading your newsletter. I still have a long recovery ahead of me, and it will be a great comfort to look forward to each and every week.”

Well, the first thing I did after wishing him well was to send him the seven issues he missed so he could catch up. I also asked J.D. if it was OK for me to both run his note and mention his last name because, well, it makes it all so much more on point! I also asked if he had anything he wanted to add, knowing his note would be in this issue.

“I don’t really have any details to add,” he replied with the thumbs up to use his full name, “other than a plea to everyone to PLEASE practice social distancing and wear a mask in public. Too many people think this virus is no worse than the flu, and while that may be so for a lot of people, there are also a lot of people for whom this virus can be devastating. The mask is not to protect you, it is to protect anyone you might come in contact with. It is truly worth 30 minutes of the discomfort of wearing a mask in a store to get the virus under control.”

Boy, is he gonna love the seven issues he missed! 🙂

Millinocket, Maine, has had few cases of Covid-19, so it seemed like a great place for a wedding with about 65 guests. The guests apparently included one infected with Covid-19, who didn’t come down with symptoms until the next day. So far, that gathering has resulted 53 more cases of the viral disease, including family of guests who carried it back home; so far, one has died. At least seven of the newly infected are under 18 years old; one is just 4. The Big Moose Inn, where the reception was held, has been cited by the state as an “imminent health hazard” for hosting well more than allowed at an indoor event, and faces fines and a license suspension. Officials have not yet decided whether to cite the Tri Town Baptist Church in East Millinocket, where the wedding was held. (23 August/Bangor Daily News) …Because they’re gearing up for a surge of funerals.
What’re You In For?
Phillip Dupaul, 60, was summoned to the Cascade County (Mont.) District Court to serve as a juror. But despite the orders of the governor requiring people to wear masks in public places, and despite Judge John Larson’s direct order that Dupaul wear a mask in the courtroom, he refused, because, he says, the “covid scare” is “exaggerated.” The judge offered a face shield instead, but Dupaul refused that, too, so Larson ordered him to serve 24 hours in jail for contempt, starting immediately. When other inmates found out why he was being jailed, Dupaul says, “the whole cell block started laughing, loudly.” At almost the exact same time, Sheriff Jesse Slaughter was learning that there was a Covid-19 outbreak in his jail — with 55 cases, the worst of any jail or prison in the state. “They put me in a position where I could be infected,” Dupaul whined, “and that’s wrong.” (30 August/Missoula Missoulian, Great Falls Tribune) …And it’s because people don’t know in advance who is infected that everyone just needs to wear masks around others.
It’s Like It’s Contagious or Something
In July, all 60 residents of the Three Rivers Healthcare Center, a nursing home in Norwich, Conn., were tested for Covid-19. The virus has torn through most nursing homes in the state, but all 60 at Three Rivers came back negative. The day after the test results came in, nurse Mary A. Ciezynski returned from vacation, and came to work even though she wasn’t feeling well — and a supervisor said she had to remind her “repeatedly” to wear a mask, as required by state regulations and Three Rivers’ protocols. Sure enough, she later tested positive for Covid and at least 22 residents and 6 of the staff are also infected, including Ciezynski’s mother, and at least four residents have died, including Ciezynski’s mother. Mairead Painter, the state’s Long Term Care Ombudsman, has called for a criminal investigation, since “I do feel that this clearly rises to the level of an elderly abuse issue.” (13 September/Hartford Courant) …Prison for covidiots? That’s a good start.
The Name Fits
Prosecutors in Berlin, Germany, received “hundreds of complaints” against Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (Social Democrat Party of Germany) co-leader Saskia Esken, alleging she slandered them. The complaints came from anti-lockdown, anti-mask, and anti-vax protestors, and Esken had tweeted about them with a derogatory term. Prosecutors refused to file charges. “The pointed term ‘Covidiot’ is, as an expression of opinion in the political discourse in the coronavirus pandemic,” prosecutors announced, “not liable for prosecution and is covered by the constitutionally protected freedom of speech.” (13 September/Reuters) …And they’d have to be obliviots to not know that.
  • 22 September: The U.S. exceeds 200,000 Covid-19 deaths, or more than 66 times the toll of the “9/11” attacks. It took 119 days to get here from 100,000 deaths, making the rate during this span more than 840 deaths/day. We were coming off the peak …until Thanksgiving.
This Is It, Don't Get Scared Now!
Actor Macaulay Culkin, now 40 and best known as the kid who was left Home Alone in the hit film, has produced a public service announcement encouraging the use of masks to slow the spread of Covid-19. “Don’t forget to wear your masks, kids,” he says while wearing a mask imprinted with “the flayed skin of my younger self” — the classic publicity photo for the 1990 film. (18 October/WJW Cleveland) …And here you thought Culkin would look better with a mask!

The Year of Covid
Note: Yes, the included the photo was really shown in this very tiny size for reasons that will become clear if you click it (in which case it will get frighteningly large).

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait
Jesse Katayama, a boxing instructor from Nara, Japan, arrived in March for a visit of a lifetime at Peru’s Machu Picchu — just in time for the country to shut down for the coronavirus. He had planned to be there for just three days, but has waited nearby in Aguas Calientes since March, unable to go to the Inca ruins — or leave the country — since. The government announced plans to open the site in November, but Katayama couldn’t continue to wait: he appealed to Culture Minister Alejandro Neyra, who granted him access to visit the site by himself. “The first person on Earth who went to Machu Picchu since the lockdown is meeeeeee!” Katayama posted on social media, with a photo presumably taken by site caretakers. “This is truly amazing,” he posted to his hosts. “Thank you.” (18 October/Japan Times, BBC) …Tondemo gozaimasen.

The Year of Covid
Tondemo gozaimasen: “Not at all; don’t mention it.”
Extra Credit
With many schools closed due to the pandemic, students all over the U.S. are taking classes online. That has been a problem for fourth-grader Jonathon Endecott, 9, of Roswell, N.M.: his family can’t afford Internet service. His school is nearby, so the solution was for him to walk to his school, park himself outside the locked building, and use the school’s WiFi to get online. “Him just being outside of the building gives him that, ‘Hey, I’m at school!’ feeling,” says his mom, Angel Endecott, “even though he’s not around other classmates or teachers.” Teacher Shelby Dutton spotted the boy and took a photo of the hard-working kid, and Angel gave her the go-ahead to post it online. That created a stir, so Dutton started a GoFundMe campaign to help buy Internet access for needy students. More than 400 donors have chipped in more than $18,000 so far. (25 October/AP) …Dedication to schoolwork sometimes pays off for more than the student doing the studying.
Put On a Happy Face
Several days before Halloween, the Oregon Health Authority did a “Facebook Live” video with Trick-or-Treat safety tips. But before Dr. Claire Poché got to those details for the kids, she wanted to report 390 new cases of Covid-19, and “Sadly, we are also reporting three deaths today.” The problem: she is delivering the news wearing clown makeup, which is not even referenced in the video until several minutes later. “I’m sorry,” tweeted Portland Oregonian editor Samantha Swindler, “but who at the Oregon Health Authority thought this was a good idea?” Finally, 12 minutes in, Dr. Poché referenced her makeup. “As for me, we clowns kind of took a backseat to Halloween,” she said. “But I’m hoping to bring us back as the fun-loving and happy clowns that we have always been.” (1 November/Portland Oregonian) …Don’t worry, that will happen once we ramp back up to more than a thousand Covid deaths a day.

The Year of Covid
Seriously, who thought this was a good idea? (Screencap)
Deposit, Slipped
When a man stepped up to the teller at a bank in Fallbrook, Calif., the teller said to do business with the bank during the pandemic, he had to wear a mask. The man walked outside, put on a mask, and returned. He handed the teller a deposit slip with a note on the back: “Don’t do any sudden movements,” it started — it was a robbery. The teller handed over cash and the man left. Security cameras got a good photo of his face from the first round, and the robber is being sought by the FBI. (8 November/Fallbrook Village News) …As if we needed to know that people are stupid to not wear masks.

The Year of Covid

11 November: revisiting the Randy’s Random post from 8 June (above) was so sobering, I don’t want to do it again as I post this retrospective in late December:

The Year of Covid

Blatantly Obvious
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has continued to study the novel coronavirus and its transmission, and the results are very clear: more than half of all Covid-19 infections are caused by people who don’t yet know they have the disease, and don’t wear masks, or don’t wear them correctly, for instance leaving their noses uncovered. Also, masks do help healthy people from becoming infected, though it’s obviously much better when infected people wear them also. Not only that, says the lead researcher in the study, Dr. Monica Gandhi of the University of California/San Francisco, those who do get Covid while wearing a mask have less severe illnesses thanks to the mask reducing their viral load. “I am thrilled!” to confirm the findings, she said. Other researchers are finding that at least two layers of tight-weave 100 percent cotton material works best. The CDC says not only do both infection and death rates dramatically drop when people adhere to “universal masking policies,” but increasing compliance by just 15 percent would reduce the economic impact from lockdowns by about $1 trillion. (15 November/NPR) …And don’t say you didn’t know covering the nose is important: where do the test swabs go?
Drumming Up Business
“The ultimate goal with religion is to pass away and be with God,” offers Chad Getz of the Getz Funeral Home in Albuquerque, N.M. “How close can you be to God than someone who went there?” That, at least, is Getz’s justification for their idea to get around the governor’s order that limits indoor gathering sizes. The order is looser for churches, and funeral homes should qualify as a “place of worship,” Getz says. No way, the state says. “The funeral home in question was planning to host a large event with Covid-positive individuals in attendance, as well as encouraging interstate travel with attendees from El Paso,” which is also a violation of quarantine regulations, a spokeswoman says. When 60 people showed up for the funeral of someone who died from Covid-19, the state slapped Getz with a $5,000 fine — and warns that if they do it again, they can expect another $5,000 fine. (15 November/KOB, Albuquerque) …That’s nothing compared to potential lawsuit awards.

Also in the 15 November issue, a short editorial that leads to a long explainer response:

A Long-Time Friend and True reader complained — in the context of today’s Randy’s Random post — that she was “tired of the state telling me I have to wear a face diaper as a method of control. That is what is at stake here.” Happily, she ended her paragraph with “I would like to hear your opinion on all of the above.”

Well, I started to reply by email, but then decided that her thoughts, which are held by many, needed a more public reply. Thus, it all went on my blog instead: Covid: Think for Yourself (Dammit!) As you can probably already tell, I was not reserved in my comments. The post also includes today’s lead story (“Blatantly Obvious”), since it directly applies, though Terry didn’t see that story before she commented.

The 22 November podcast is about resilience vs burnout in these trying times. The irony: it was late largely because my research for it was interrupted by a tough ambulance call that took hours from our sleep (11 minutes, transcript):

084: Why You’re So Tired

The Honorary Unsubscribe from the 29 November issue:

Honestie Hodges
On December 6, 2017, Hodges headed outside her Grand Rapids, Mich., home with her mother to go to the store. They were confronted in their yard by several police officers. One yelled, “Put your hands on top of your—” before being interrupted by Honestie’s mother: “She is 11 years old, sir!” The officer said “Stop yelling!” and ordered the young girl to walk backward toward him with her hands up. He then grabbed her arms and handcuffed her as Honestie cried, “No, No, No!” Police explained they were looking for Honestie’s 40-year-old aunt as a suspect in a stabbing, but didn’t explain how they could mistake the child for a 40-year-old.

The Year of Covid
Honestie Hodges in a recent family photo.

“Listening to the 11-year-old’s response makes my stomach turn,” admitted Grand Rapids Police Chief David Rahinsky. “It makes me physically nauseous.” But after an investigation, he did not discipline any officers: they didn’t violate any departmental policies, but said officers made a “mistake” in how they handled the situation. Honestie was released minutes later — once they decided the 11-year-old wasn’t 40. The department was already under scrutiny for an incident months before, when officers held five teens at gunpoint, and took 10 minutes to handcuff them all. The boys pled for their lives thinking they were going to be shot. They had done nothing wrong: they were simply playing basketball. Officers were looking for two men who — someone said — had a gun, but none of the boys met the mens’ descriptions. The Honestie Hodges case spurred a national dialogue about how police deal with children. “We need to look at everything, from our hiring to our training to our supervision,” Chief Rahinsky said. “We do have a problem.” The result was the department’s “Honestie Policy”, which dictates officers use “good judgement” and act in the best interests of juveniles they encounter.

On November 9, 2020 — Honestie’s birthday — her mother took her to the hospital. The hospital diagnosed her with Covid-19, and sent her home. By evening an ambulance was called to her house: the girl was critical, and admitted to intensive care. Five days later, she was put on a ventilator. Honestie had no underlying health problems: she was “healthy and happy,” her grandmother said. “The world was open to her.” Honestie never regained consciousness, and died from the virus on November 22 at the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids. She was 14.

A Premium reader actually canceled his paid subscription over this one, claiming it was partisan politics. I just don’t quite see it that way:

The Greatest Generation
Dr. Marvin J. Farr of Scott City, Kan., has died from the coronavirus. His obituary notes he was born in the runup to World War II, “times of loss and sacrifice difficult for most of us to imagine,” where “Americans would be asked to ration essential supplies and send their children around the world to fight and die in wars of unfathomable destruction.” America has changed since those good old days. The obituary continues: “He died in a world where many of his fellow Americans refuse to wear a piece of cloth on their face to protect one another.” (6 December/KCTV Kansas City) …May he rest in peace.
Take a Walk and Cool Off
People living in Italy’s Covid-19 “Red Zones” are only allowed outside their homes for walks or bicycle rides “near” their homes, but the allowed distance is not specified in the order. A man in Como tested the limits: after an argument with his wife he stormed out to “clear his head,” and walked …and walked. So much so, his wife reported him missing. Police finally found him a week later in Fano — 450 km (280 miles) to the south. The unnamed 48-year-old clocked more than 60 km a day, and depended on the kindness of strangers for food and a place to sleep. Police in Fano called his wife to come get him — and pay a 400 euro (US$480) fine for violating the town’s curfew. (13 December/London Independent) …Boy is that gonna lead to a big argument.

Headline of the Week from 13 December:

See? It Could Be Worse
Hitting Quarantine Violators with Sticks ‘Not the Best Way to Address Pandemic’
Philippine Star headline

  • 14 December: The U.S. exceeds 300,000 dead from Covid-19. The rate is much higher than the previous 100,000: it only took 84 days, for an average of 1,190 deaths/day. In the 313 days from the first death on 6 February, an average of more than 950 men, women, and children have died per day, not counting an unknown number who died from Covid without it appearing on their death certificates.
As Easy as 1, II, C
Shortly before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first vaccine for Covid-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Operation Warp Speed ran an exercise to test vaccine distribution procedures. Colorado was one of 10 states participating: two boxes were shipped to the state. Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment called the test “successful,” even though only one box arrived; the other was found in Kentucky. (20 December/Denver Post) …Wow: that really is a realistic outcome.

I urged readers to listen to December 21st’s podcast episode “before you get the Covid vaccine or, perhaps even more importantly, decide not to get one.” (12 minutes, transcript):

086: Beating the Vaccine Scare-Mongers

  • 27 December (the day this page was posted): Worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, 1,754,493 have died of Covid-19 as of today, from a total of 79,232,555 cases. Since the first death in China on 9 January, an average of 4,956 people have died per day. The WHO data show that newly diagnosed cases are currently coming in at the rate of more than 430,000 per day, and more than 7,300 are dying per day.
What’s In Your Coffee Mug?
When the pandemic hit, people stuck at home sometimes passed the time with a drink. Or two, or four. Not only have many states deemed liquor stores “essential services” allowed to remain open, but some states now even allow alcohol take-away and delivery. “No one is talking about glasses of wine anymore,” says Martha Duke of New York, N.Y., a member of the online Sober Mom Squad community. Now, “People are measuring [consumption] by the bottle.” But with the pandemic dragging on, it’s becoming a real problem for many drinkers. Women in particular have been impacted, with their “heavy drinking” increasing 41 percent, vs 7 percent in men, according to a September RAND Corp. study. The new trend several are planning to get things under control: “Dry January” — and then go from there. (27 December/New York Times) …Pre-covid: “One day at a time.” Covid: “One month at a time.” Whatever works.

The 27 December podcast reflects my surprise at getting vaccinated for Covid-19 two days before Christmas. It recounts “My ‘Reaction’ So Far” (16 minutes, transcript):

087: I Got the Moderna Vaccine

Not the End

When there’s a significant amount of untimely death, statisticians have an interesting way to look at the loss to help put it into perspective: YLL, or “Years of Life Lost” — a “more insightful measure than death count,” says a researcher from the University of South Florida in the Journal of Public Health.

The idea: pair the statistics of the gender and age of the individuals in the group who died with the life expectancy each of the people of that age using data from the U.S. Social Security Administration and the U.S. Census Bureau. They then add it all up.

“While death counts are a vital initial measure of the extent of Covid-19 mortality, they do not provide information regarding the age profile of those who died,” said Dr. Troy Quast, a professor of health economics at USF’s College of Public Health, the lead author of a study on the idea. “By contrast, years of life lost tell us the extent to which deaths are occurring across age groups and can potentially help healthcare providers and policymakers better target clinical and governmental responses to reduce the number of deaths.”

The team used data from February 1 to July 11, a period with about 130,000 confirmed Covid-19 deaths.

The result of their number crunching: the pandemic had caused 1.2 million Years of Life Lost in that timespan.

The study came out in September. Now that we are reaching the end of 2020 — and will probably exceed 350,000 lives lost from the pandemic by then — let’s extrapolate the numbers. Assuming a similar assortment of age ranges and gender, we’re rapidly approaching 4 million Years of Life Lost …and counting.

Who wouldn’t give just about anything to have even one more week with a deceased parent. A dead spouse. A lost child? Yet we’re well over 200 million Weeks of Life Lost …and counting.

We Americans could have granted a huge percentage of those extra weeks or years to our family members, neighbors, and friends if we had simply all followed the scientifically based guidelines common to any contagious disease: wear a mask, stay home when feeling ill (or tested positive!), maintain distance from others. Wash your danged hands!

But hey: “Freedom!”

Many chose that freedom for themselves, but so many others paid for that choice without having the same freedom to make that choice for themselves.

“Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins,” said a theoretical judge in an essay by legal philosopher Zechariah Chafee Jr., published in the June 1919 Harvard Law Review. Yep, Americans certainly have rights. But the other side of the rights coin is responsibility, and so many insisted on the former and ignored the latter.

The Year of Covid
Thanks to being a volunteer medic in a small and rural county, I was lucky enough to get a shot from the first vial of vaccine delivered here as full-time paramedic Ruth Stewart, who got her shot immediately before, looks on. (Photo: Kit Cassingham, who got her shot immediately after.)

Meanwhile, as the vaccine rolls out, politicians — including those who downplayed the seriousness of Covid-19 (or sowed fear of the vaccine) — pushed themselves to the head of the line, taking priority over front-line medical workers, and those most at risk of dying if they contracted Covid. I’m not referring to President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President Mike Pence getting their shots on TV: that’s a great way for each to demonstrate confidence in the vaccine to their respective sides of the political spectrum. That’s a bandwagon other pols didn’t need to ride on. (Example source)

But they did it anyway because they are fully assured from past experience that by the time they come up for reelection, most voters will have long forgotten.

– – –

3 January Update: The CDC reported a record one-day high of 3,764 Covid deaths in the United States on 30 December, a total of 347,795 dead through 31 December, and more than 350,000 on 1 January — uncomfortably close to my prediction above.

The European Union beat the U.S. to 350,000, but it took the EU’s 27 countries combined to do it. The New York Times reported on the milestone on 27 December.

– – –

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This page is an example of Randy Cassingham’s style of “Thought-Provoking Entertainment”. His This is True is an email newsletter that uses “weird news” as a vehicle to explore the human condition in an entertaining way. If that sounds good, click here to open a subscribe form.

To really support This is True, you’re invited to sign up for a subscription to the much-expanded “Premium” edition:

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The Year of Covid
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8 Comments on “The Year of Covid

  1. Thanks to this page being so compelling and me being so compelled, now I’m going to be late to work!

    Yeah, this page takes a little time to digest. Luckily, it will be here when you get home. 🙂 -rc

  2. Thanks to teleworking, I didn’t have to wait until I “got home” — and Randy, can I share a link to the podcast 087 with a couple anti-vaccine folks I work with?

    “Spreading the word” is not only allowed, but appreciated. Share away! -rc

  3. I spaced this out and read it over the course of the day. That helped to keep me from becoming numb to the insanity and obliovicy. I might read it again tomorrow.

  4. I was going through my inbox and found a slew of old THIS IS TRUE newsletters. I marveled as I read this prescient post* from 2007 while in month 10 of COVID quarantine. We sure can’t say you didn’t warn us.

    I’ve been thinking about this stuff for a long time. -rc


    But here’s where the Chinese are a step ahead of the west: have a cold or flu, but you “have to” go out? Many wouldn’t dream of exposing others to their germs, so they wear a mask to protect others.

    Do that in the U.S. and people think you’re a freak. That needs to stop. People should do what they can to help keep others from getting sick; they’re doing it for you!

    If you’ve heard of the 1917-1918 “Spanish” flu epidemic that killed hundreds of thousands in the U.S. well before air travel made mobility easy, you know what can happen again. Now millions of lives are at stake, and with the population density of Asia (and the love for very fresh poultry), it’s a real danger here.

    …followed by a photo of a live meat market, which is thought to be the sort of place where Covid first spread. -rc

  5. Your discussion of immediate and underlying causes of death in the “Covid: Think for Yourself (Dammit!)” blog post is also worth a read. (Your description of that blog post didn’t mention that explanation.) Of course, I’m probably preaching to the choir.

    Well, I can’t say what every link in every post includes, but glad you found it worthwhile. -rc

  6. This is really impressive -– the work and the way you put it together. It doesn’t just remind us of these events, it also puts the year into perspective and paints a thought-provoking picture.

    I appreciate your comments, especially since I know you have extensive journalism education yourself. -rc

  7. Finally!

    Finally I finished reading the end of the year report. Informative, to say the least.

    You, Randy, might not be old enough to remember a very old TV show, but I am sure many of the older readers will.

    “TW3” or “That Was The Week That Was” was a satirical news program on the BBC, and was either imported to the US, or, because I lived on the border of Canada, was rebroadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Company (the CBC.) It was hosted by David Frost. (And FYI it was satirical comedy that used real news, not like “Weekend Update,” a sketch with fake news, presented as a part of “Saturday Night Live.”)

    I sort of lump some of what you post into the “satire” genre, and you as a sometimes satirist.

    So, if the end of year summaries are going to continue (and I hope they do) may I suggest they be titled “That Was The Year That Was?”

    Depends on the year, and whether there’s something to talk about. 2020 was quite a year, and I hope 2021 won’t be much like it!

    I’m aware of TW3, but have never seen it on “live” TV. I suspect you were getting it from CBC. But I wouldn’t want to use a satirical signoff because TRUE isn’t satire; it’s rather commentary on the news. Other readers have related it to Will Rogers and his “All I know is what I read in the papers” commentary, and that’s flattering — but I still wouldn’t claim to be his successor. -rc

  8. How ironic about The NY Times dismissal of the first international pandemic death! And yet they were the first ones to blame it on Trump.

    Please provide evidence of your assertion: I’d like to see that story at! -rc


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