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Sunday, November 15, 2020

Short takes on Rhode Island’s pandemic struggle

State of Rhode Island in “critical” condition with pandemic “uncontrolled”

By Will Collette

One good thing you can say about our current situation is our experience from last spring's surge  made our medical system better at treating COVID, reducing the death rate.

That’s fortunate because all Rhode Island’s other statistics are pretty terrible, especially the sudden and enormous increase in the daily count of new cases, making Rhode Island currently the worst state in the whole northeast.

We’ve gone from daily case counts of under 100 during most of September to between 500 and a thousand new cases per day in November.

As new cases surge past last spring’s levels, hospitalizations and deaths rise with it. Simple math: more cases = more death.

Even if you survive COVID or show no symptoms, research indicates you may suffer significant long-term damage to the lungs, heart, brain and other vital organs. There are mental health issues as well. The bottom line is that you really, really do not want to catch the coronavirus.

Former RI Health Department Director Dr. Michael Fine told GoLocalProv that Rhode Island should immediately undertake a serious new strategy to get the pandemic under control. He suggests:

Deploy More Healthcare Workers: 4,000 additional healthcare workers immediately be deployed, working on population management, isolation housing support, and masking compliance

- Isolate Infected in Hotels; Isolation Housing for 7000-10000 people a night - if someone has the virus they leave their home to avoid family spread

- Lockdown and Pay Businesses to Close: Statewide lockdown with full financial support for people and businesses for 2-6 weeks, until each city is down to 2 new cases per 100,000 a day -- a standard far lower than the Raimondo administration's failed standard of 100 new cases per 100,000 per week

Transform Testing Strategy: Twice a week asymptomatic PCR testing for anyone working out of their house  (likely 100,000 tests per day).  Need 24-hour turn around on testing to be most effective. Fine says state should stop symptomatic testing unless a person needs hospitalization.  Symptomatic people belong in out-of-home isolation - hotels 

- De-Emphasis of Contact Tracing - It is too late: Use Contact tracing for institutional outbreaks only. There is too much virus to trace infections now

- Regional Approach: A regional compact with Mass and Connecticut for all openings and closings

- Keep Schools Open, But Expand Testing: "In a first iteration, I might keep schools open as they are," said Fine. We have good control there.  Only move testing of teachers student and staff to two times a week. 

- Masking and Penalties: A strong public education campaign to promote masking and citations for those who do not comply.

Like President-Elect Joe Biden, Dr. Fine says flatly that we have to get coronavirus under control as the only practical way to save the economy from total ruin.

Charlestown unemployment drops, for now

According to the RI Department of Labor and Training, Charlestown’s unemployment rate dropped to 9.5%. That’s the "good" news because it’s half April's record high rate of 18.9% when the COVID recession began.

But the bad news is that the last time we had 9.5% unemployment in Charlestown was April 2014. Since our state COVID rates are so high, we’re also looking at more restrictions and possibly a shut-down that will, of course, jack up the number of unemployed.

I have been urging the Town Council to use our budget surplus to put unemployment Charlestown residents to work by, for example, hiring unemployed construction workers to carry out projects the town needs done instead of hiring an outside contractor.

They could be hired on a project contingent basis under our Department of Public Works. Construction workers are used to their work being contingent on projects. At least one recent road project had been set aside because the bids from private contractors were too high.

Maybe the new Town Council will take a serious look at a DIY approach to town projects.

“Slow spending Rhode Island”

We have almost ONE BILLION DOLLARS in unspent CARES Act funding that Rhode Island must use by December 31 or the money will revert to the federal government.

This money was part of a $1.25 billion allocation Rhode Island received last March to fight the pandemic and soften its financial effects. But as Alexa Gagosz reports in the Providence Business News, we haven’t spent but a small fraction of it, with an Oct. 1 balance of around $900 million.

That’s beyond unacceptable.

We are not alone

Even though Rhode Island may be the worst off in the Northeast at present, the coronavirus surge is nationwide and worldwide. In the US, the most critical states are those Red states where Republican governors have followed soon-to-be-ex-Dear Leader in denying science and reality.

When COVID-19 had its first surge spring, Donald Trump directed genius son-in-law Jared Kushner to come up with a national plan. The prevailing story is that Jared told our Dear Leader that no national response was needed because the virus was largely killing people in Democratic regions which they saw as a good thing.

From that dubious conclusion came the Trump strategy to deny the virus existed, or if it did, it wasn’t so bad, and it will go away “very soon.” So no need for masks, hand-washing, social distancing and especially not lock-downs. No coordination to make sure health care workers have the PPE they need.

Maskholes and covidiots keep the pandemic going strong by refusing to mask, social distance and, I’m sure, wash their hands.

Because of Dear Leader, we have no national strategy – never have and never will until he leaves the White House.

Other countries (e.g. Britain, Germany, France) faced the new surge in COVID by re-imposing restrictions including lockdowns and are being rewarded with declining cases. What we are learning from our shared global experience is that this virus cannot be stopped unless we all follow sound anti-virus social practices.

Of course, we are all waiting for the arrival of a safe and effective vaccine.

The vaccine

Store at -70 C. or -94 degrees Fahrenheit
I share the joy of so many others at Pfizer’s news that it’s vaccine shows 90% effectiveness and will be ready to go in the coming months. We need it.

But Pfizer’s version may not be the best or the most practical. 

Roughly 2/3’s of the world will not be able to use the Pfizer vaccine because of the problematic logistics. The vaccine must be stored at deep subzero temperatures – impractical in any area without reliable equipment and electricity – and requires two doses given at a precise interval.

Just as a practical matter, there will be some unknown but large number of people who get shot #1 but don’t get shot #2.

Fortunately, there are several other vaccines in the pipelines that don’t carry these challenges. They are also going through clinical trials. Ideally, we should have several choices of vaccines, all safe and highly effective, allowing communities and countries to choose the one that is most practical for mass immunization.

That’s the only way to “herd immunity” without the deaths of millions of people.

Cooking a French quack’s goose

Finally, Didier Raoult, the French doctor who put the bug in Trump’s ear that hydroxychloquine was a COVID wonder drug is being hauled before a French medical disciplinary board. He is charged with ethics breeches for touting hydroxychloroquine despite having no evidence that it worked on COVID.

When I wrote about Dr. Raoult last May, I noted the remarkable resemblance Raoult bore to Trump’s own doctor Harold Bornstein. He’s the guy who signed Trump’s clean bill of health report that we later learned had actually been written by Trump.

They both bear some resemblance to Star Trek star (Data) Brent Spinner’s mad scientist character in the 1996 movie Independence Day. Add twenty years and longer whiskers to Spinner’s face and, voila, they may all be the same person.

If QAnon needs another conspiracy theory to promote, I give this to them gratis.