Lazy linking

One of the clear signs that US society doesn’t work probably, is the fact that people have to do fundraisers to cover medical costs and increasingly, to cover basic costs of living. One of the big platforms for these fundraisers, is GoFundMe. Now, the CEO of GoFundMe is speaking out, pointing out that this is wrong

GoFundMe CEO: Hello Congress, Americans need help and we can’t do your job for you

Coronavirus surge of fundraisers on GoFundMe shows why Congress must pass emergency aid for monthly bills, restaurants, small businesses and food.

The opinion piece in USA Today doesn’t tell us anything that most of us didn’t already know, but it is good that a CEO of a company, which is benefiting greatly from the current situation, is speaking out.

The Burger Flipper Who Became a World Expert on the Minimum Wage

As a 16-year-old kid flipping burgers at a Seattle McDonald’s in 1989, Arindrajit Dube was earning the state minimum wage of $3.85 an hour. “I remember feeling privileged that I was going to go on to college, while there were many older workers working at that wage,” he recalls.

He still thinks about the minimum wage, only now it’s from his perch at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he’s possibly the world’s leading authority on its economic effects. Dube’s research is guaranteed to get a bigger audience as Democrats in Congress attempt to make good on President Biden’s pledge to raise the federal wage floor to $15 an hour by 2025.

Intuitively, it makes sense that increasing the minimum wage, would force companies to increase prices, drive down sales, reduce company profit, and will even force companies into closing. Fortunately, as with many things, intuition is wrong in this.

This is for a few reasons:

  • Wages only form a portion of the costs, and the costs can be spread over many items. E.g. in the classic example of a burger joint, the employer sells many burgers per hour, meaning that the price increase per burger will be minimal.
  • Increasing minimum wages will allow people to work fewer hours, and not e.g. two jobs as we see all too often now, thus opening the job market up for more people.
  • It will give minimum wage employees more money to spend, thus increasing the demand on goods.

Yes, there might be companies surviving on the very margins, which can’t increase their sales, which will close, but my guess is that many of those companies already have closed during this pandemic.

Further reading: Home Articles Making the Case for a Higher M… SHARE: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call Making the Case for a Higher Minimum Wage by Arindrajit Dube

Big Tech as an Unnatural Monopoly

Interesting piece by Tim Brennan in the Milken Institute Review, where he takes a look on Big Tech as monopolies, why they defy the current anti-trust laws, and what can actually be done about Big Tech.

Further reading: Rethinking Antitrust by Lawrence J. White (also in the Milken Institute Review)

This COVID-vaccine designer is tackling vaccine hesitancy — in churches and on Twitter

Immunologist Kizzmekia Corbett helped to design the Moderna vaccine. Now she volunteers her time talking about vaccine science with people of colour.

Kizzmekia Corbett’s twitter feed can be found here.

It is a low bar that President Biden has to clear, but I find it so nice that the US now has a president who is willing to thank people for their hard work

 

The vaccine rollout has started in Denmark

Like everywhere there has been some bumps during the upstart, but the vaccinations has started in Denmark, and there is now a plan for how the vaccine roll-out is going to happen.

The plan is obviously in Danish, but it runs through June, and most people will probably be in group 12 (over 16 or 18 years). The name of the category shows that it hasn’t been decided the age cut-off for vaccination is 16 or 18 years. I am guessing that it is likely that children will get vaccinated after all the adults are (high-risk children are already vaccinated in this plan).

Currently just over 100,000 people have received their first dose, which is approximately 1.75% of the population. This number includes everyone living in nursing homes.

I will almost certainly be in the general group of vaccinations, so it might take up to half a year before I get my vaccine. I obviously hope to be get it already in April, but fully understand why those of us not at risk, have to wait until it is our turn.

The plan is going to be updated regularly so it reflects the actual progress and the delivery rate of vaccinations, but even if it subject to change, the mere fact that there is a plan that one can look at/follow along, is somewhat of a relief.

Restless in the time of COVID-19

I am sorry that I have been quiet, but I have somewhat overburdened with work. Denmark has gone into lock-down again, which means that there are a lot of companies that are entitled to compensation, as soon as the politicians hammer out the details (often while going through an approval process in the EU, ensuring that no countries sneak in illegal subsidies disguised as Corona relief. The involvement of politicians and the EU makes developing and supporting the compensation systems a bit of a moving target.

But enough about my work.

Or rather, instead of talking about my work, let me make clear how privileged I have been, having had work through both the lock-down starting in March, and now this current lock-down. What’s more, due to the extreme time pressure and ever-changing nature of the demands, I have had to go to work every day, meeting up with a core group of people, working on clearing the path for the developers of the systems (most of developers work from home).

This is probably what has kept me stable.

I am an extrovert, probably even an extreme extrovert. Social contact means a lot to me. If I hadn’t had regular contact with other people, I would almost certainly have sunk into something akin to depression, or at least have gotten stressed.

Going to work, instead of working from home, means that I have to be more careful about social contact outside work, than I would have been if I worked from home. Now, I am not only risking my health, but also the health of everyone working together with me.

As not only an extrovert, but quite a social person, it obviously pains me to not be able to see my friends. This is however a price I have to pay, and one that I think everyone in a position similar to mine (working with other people, living with at-risk people etc) should be willing to pay. The stop of the spread of Corona starts “at home”, and we all have to do our part.

This also means getting tested if we have been at risk at being exposed. In Denmark there is a track-and-trace app based on Bluetooth, which tells you if you have been close to someone who afterwards reported that they had gotten infected. This app is quite sensitive, and since Bluetooth can’t control for all the other factors for whether you have been at risk for exposure. Nevertheless, I have taken any warning I have gotten from it quite seriously, and Friday I went and had my 9th COVID-19 test, after having been told by the app that I had been exposed to a risk of infection. I am still waiting for the results, but given that I have no symptoms and I haven’t heard that anyone, that I have actually spent time, is infected, I am expecting the test to be negative as were all the tests before it.

In usual times, I spend a fairly large part of my spare time socializing and traveling, both things which I can’t really do at the moment. I have been to short trips to Vienna, Austria and Rome, Italy this year, but this is nothing like what I had planned, or what I normally travel in a year.

The lack of socializing and traveling makes me restless, and makes me miss the social aspects of the internet 20 years ago, where I used to hang out on chat boards, discussion forums, and blog comment sections. These communities don’t seem to exist the same ways as they used to. Now, there are Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and Discord, and while there is nothing inherently wrong with these things, I am not part of any communities there, like I used to be in e.g, the Mercedes Lackey Mailing List, Salon’s Table Talk, The Doonesbury Town Halls, Readerville, the comments at the blogs over at ScienceBlogs etc. Even places I used for social purposes a decade ago, e.g. Twitter, has become much less so now, as the medium has grown, and becomes such a hose of information.

I know this sounds like an old man complaining about change, but I quite understand that a lot of things are pretty similar to back then, I am just the one who hasn’t followed along. Until earlier this year, I hadn’t even looked at Discord, even though it is a major networking/community tool for a lot of people. I just miss the comfort of the past, obviously ignoring all the bad parts from back then.

Even after apparently becoming a bit of a Luddite on the internet, I have still managed to keep some contact with friends and family around the world, even making some new friends along the way.

This is part of what makes it possible to keep my restlessness in bay. Knowing that it is still possible to socialize and make friends around the world. It also gives me something to look forward to: being able to meet my friends (new and old) when we can travel again.

Because we will be able to traveling again. And socialize.

We just have to be patient for a little longer – the vaccines are here, but they need to be produced and distributed in large enough numbers. As someone said, it is not the vaccines that stop the pandemic, but the vaccinations. And that’s the stage where we are now. Vaccinations have begun, with the most vulnerable and exposed people getting them first, as is entirely proper.

Later the rest of us will get the chance. When enough have, we can normalize things. Things will probably not go entirely back to normal – I can easily see a situation where proof of vaccination/negative test is required for traveling and for participating in sporting events, festivals and other places where a lot of people are gathered.

When it is possible to socialize again, I will be throwing a party, inviting all my friends, and then start planning my travels.

Until this happens, I will stay restless, getting tested occasionally, and spending all too much time on work.

Culling the Danish mink

It is a story that has gotten some traction in international media, but which might have been overlooked by people focused on the US election.

The Danish government has ordered the culling of all mink in Danish mink farms.

Denmark is the biggest mink fur producer in the world, so this is a multi-million dollar industry that is getting wiped out.

The reason for the decision, which I am sure wasn’t taken lightly, was that the mink poses a health care risk – more precisely, they are a source of new mutations of the corona virus – some with worrying characteristics. Or as BBC explains it:

Mink kept in large numbers on mink farms have caught the virus from infected workers. And, in a small number of cases, the virus has “spilled back” from mink to humans, picking up genetic changes on the way.

Mutations in some mink-related strains are reported to involve the spike protein of the virus, which is targeted by some, but not all, vaccines being developed.

“If the mutation is on a specific protein that is being currently targeted by the vaccine developers to trigger an immune response in humans then it means that if this new virus strain comes out of the mink back into the humans, even with vaccination, the humans will start spreading it and the vaccine will not protect,” Dr Peyre told BBC News.

While the culling is going on, the region of Denmark where the strain has been observed in humans, has been shut down. People have to stay in their municipalities, avoid gatherings, and all bars, restaurants and cafés have been closed. An effort to test everyone in the region (approximately 280,000 people) has begun.

Some politicians in the Danish parliament, especially those in opposition to the government, has questioned whether the measures are necessary, but it is worth noticing that the only scientist in the Danish parliament, Stinus Lindgreen, has come out in clear support of the measures, stressing the need to react quickly to ensure this doesn’t turn into a greater problem.

Currently, there is negotiations going on about how to compensate not only the people directly affected, but also people who are indirectly affected by the culling and the shut down of the region.

 

The very real cost of racism in human lives

There is a very important article in Slate that everyone should read.

Racism Is a Pandemic

When two colleagues and I started examining infectious mortality rates during the early 20th century, we were looking for regional differences in how the United States handled influenza, tuberculosis, and other kinds of infections. Of course, we were especially interested in that era’s deadly pandemic. The 1918 flu had killed on a scale that’s hard to fathom: an estimated 50 million people worldwide, and half a million in the U.S.

To get a detailed look at infectious disease mortality in that era, we digitized and carefully checked old public health records, linked them to census population estimates, and categorized the causes of death. We didn’t believe the results. We discovered that white mortality during the 1918 flu pandemic was still lower than Black mortality, up to that point, had ever been. This wasn’t only true in the South, but in every region of the United States. This wasn’t about regional public health—it was about racism.

[…]

This spring, while recovering from my own COVID-19 infection, I wondered whether the same thing would still be true today. I found it unfathomable that the disaster unfolding around me that spring in New York, where my parents live and where I had become sick, could bear any resemblance to more typical life in the United States. And yet, thinking about how the 1918 results had stunned me, I wanted to see for myself. As life ground to a halt in the midst of another cataclysmic pandemic, how did the toll of this one compare to that of the more ordinary, ubiquitous catastrophe? Will white mortality during the coronavirus pandemic still be less than what Blacks experience routinely, without any pandemic? I began to work out equations and search for data.

[…]

If the Black population did not experience a single death due to COVID-19, if the pandemic only affected white people, Black mortality in 2020 would probably still be higher than white mortality.

This is a thought experiment. In reality, of course, COVID has hit Black populations hardest, and the inequality in death rates is likely to greater than it has been in many years. Racism is making Black Americans, along with indigenous and immigrant populations, most vulnerable to the pandemic. But the hypotheticals give us an important perspective on the reality: Racism gave Black people pandemic-level mortality long before COVID.

And it is racism that is killing Black people. “Mortality modelers” like me know that there are an awful lot of reasons one person might live longer than another. But when we see that one group in a society consistently dies at younger ages than another, we can look for trends. America excludes Black people from mechanisms of generating wealth, consigns them to the worst schools, confines them to neighborhoods with more pollution and more poverty, targets them with routine violence by state authorities, and treats them with suspicion and hostility when they seek medical care. There is no mystery in those early deaths.

We all know the devastating cost of COVID-19, yet as the article makes clear, the cost of racism on the Black communities is as high, or even higher, year after year.

This has to change. As the article states:

It is time we honestly confront the magnitude of racial inequality in the United States: a pandemic’s worth of death, every single year. Once we do that, our question about radical proposals to combat racism should shift from what is politically palatable to, simply, what will work.

Migrant workers hit hard by pandemic

If there is one thing you can be sure of, is that every time a pandemic hits, it is the poorest among us that suffers the worst. COVID-19 is no exception. And it is clearly demonstrated in Singapore, where the poorest people are, as often is the case, the migrant workers.

Covid-19 Singapore: A ‘pandemic of inequality’ exposed

Once lauded for its containment of the virus, Singapore’s success crumbled when the virus reached its many foreign worker dormitories, something activists say should have been seen coming a mile off.

Now months on, Singapore is reporting single figure daily cases in the local community. People are going back to work, cinemas have reopened and laughter can be heard coming out of restaurants again.

But many of Singapore’s lowest earners remain indoors, facing uncertainty.

The dormitories are overcrowded, with too few facilities for the number of people living there. A ripe place for a virus to spread rapidly, and so it has done.

COVID-19 cases in Singapore

COVID-19 cases in Singapore (image source: BBC)

As the above image of COVID-19 cases in Singapore in general versus among people living in dorms shows, the difference is stark. A lot of the differences is that the people in the dorm are quarantined until they have been tested. Or as the BBC article explains

The authorities decided that the dormitories would have to be sealed off.

Around 10,000 healthy migrant workers in essential services were taken out to other accommodation – a skeleton staff to keep the country running.

But the majority were trapped in the dorms – some not even allowed to leave their rooms – while mass testing was carried out. Infected workers were gradually removed, isolated and treated.

It was a remarkably different experience to the lockdown the rest of the country was going through, with shopping allowed, daily exercise encouraged and every type of outlet offering delivery. These people were well and truly locked down, with only basic meals delivered to them.

“Once the lockdown was in place, we were not allowed to come out of the room. We were not allowed to go next door too,” Vaithyanathan Raja, from southern India, told the BBC.

This is an inhuman way to treat people, and it makes it a certainty that everyone in a dorm would get infected if anyone in it, is infected.

We have seen similar things happen in US jails and ICE detention centers. I would guess that it has also happened among the many migrant workers in India, who were severely affected by the sudden shutdown of India.

It seems like the pandemic are forcing some employers in Singapore to provide better places for foreign workers. Hopefully this will last. And hopefully, it will lessen the impact of the next pandemic.

The mother of all super spreader events

One of the things we learned early about COVID-19, was that a lot of the cases comes from so-called super spreader events. Events where a lot of people got infected, and then spread the virus after going home.

So far, the biggest super spreader event has probably been the Atalanta-Valencia Champions League match in February, which is thought to have pretty much been the reason for the rapid spreading in Italy. It could probably be considered a number of super spreader event. The actual football match at the stadium, where a lot of people got infected, but also the many gatherings of people watching the game, where many people undoubtedly got infected.

Back then, people at least had the excuse of not knowing any better. The virus was not yet well known in Italy, and few cases, if any, had been identified. This changed rapidly after the match, where Italy became one of the worst hit countries.

The same excuse cannot be made by anyone now, especially not in the US, which is one of the worst hit countries.

This is one of the things that makes this year’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally such a baffling event. Who in their right mind would think it would be a good idea to gather nearly half a million people during a pandemic? Many of these people not even doing the simplest measures, e.g. masks and social distancing, to avoid the spreading of the COVID-19 virus.

Sadly someone obviously thought it was a perfectly acceptable idea, and allowed the event to go ahead.

Now, a study, The Contagion Externality of a Superspreading Event: The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and COVID-19 (pdf), has evaluated the results of the rally, and have estimated that it has resulted in up to 219,000 infected people since the start of the rally, which is approximately 19% of all cases in the US during that period. Due to the diverse geographical origins of the participants of the rally, the spreading is not just in South Dakota where the rally took place, but in the surrounding states as well.

On top of looking at the spreading of the virus, the paper also estimates the financial costs to society. The paper estimates that the rally has cost more than $12B so far.

In other words, the human and financial costs of the rally is truly staggering, and is probably only going to grow, as time goes on.

Will this event be a lesson for other organizers and local authorities? One would think so, but sadly there is nothing in past behavior to indicate that this will be the case