There goes Ed Yong, being massively pessimistic

He’s also being scientifically accurate, realistic, and honest, which is the scary part.

Rudderless, blindsided, lethargic, and uncoordinated, America has mishandled the COVID-19 crisis to a substantially worse degree than what every health expert I’ve spoken with had feared. “Much worse,” said Ron Klain, who coordinated the U.S. response to the West African Ebola outbreak in 2014. “Beyond any expectations we had,” said Lauren Sauer, who works on disaster preparedness at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “As an American, I’m horrified,” said Seth Berkley, who heads Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “The U.S. may end up with the worst outbreak in the industrialized world.”

He also has some suggestions for what the country needs to do to improve, not that our current leadership will care.

This is all kind of wrecking me. I’m home, totally alone, not meeting anyone, and having video contact at most with my family and students, which means I’m banging around in an empty house fretting. I definitely need to go read a book (not World War Z) or watch a movie (no zombie flicks) or play a game (dang, I don’t have much in the way of games on my computer) or something just to keep from turning into an obsessive ranting bearded prophet of doom. It may be too late.


  1. Akira MacKenzie says

    “As an American, I’m horrified,” said Seth Berkley, who heads Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “The U.S. may end up with the worst outbreak in the industrialized world.”

    Meanwhile, people like my father look at the currently “low” death toll, start crowing that the worst is over and we should all go back to work again before the economy tanks. Dad, I had to be a bummer, but THIS SHIT HAS ONLY JUST BEGUN AND IT’S GOING TO GET A LOT, LOT WORSE NO MATTER WHAT BREITBART OR DEAR LEADER TRUMP SAYS.

    Of course, since my father doesn’t handle political/religious opposition from his children (particularly from me) very well, I dare not say it. I just have to crank my earbuds up to the max to drown out his stupid, bigoted, uninform rants and ramblings.

  2. waydude says

    Hey if you want, you can get in our game. usually we play every saturnight Dnd, Warhammer, etc.. now we are going to do it by Skype or Facetime or something

  3. davidc1 says

    Bampa will end up shouting at kids to get off his lawn if this goes on much longer .
    Not that we Brits have anything to gloat about ,bojo wasted 7 weeks fecking around with his herd crap .
    And the NHS are short of PPE gear ,and we are short of medical staff because all the foreigners who used to work in the NHS
    have left ,and the this govt are asking retired DRs and nurses to help out .

  4. Akira MacKenzie says

    @ 5

    This weekend I was supposed to attend Gary Con, but that got shut down when this shitstorm hit. A lot of us have moved our events to online venues to create a “virtual” convention. I’ll be running a few sessions of Empire of the Petal Throne this weekend. I’ve also been inspired to try to start up or join a VTT game of something for the duration.

  5. says

    Ooh, Charlie Stross just sent me an advance copy of “Dead Lies Dreaming”, his new book that will be out in October. That title…it sure sounds cheerier than what I’ve been seeing online.

  6. blf says

    @6, I’ve still got plenty of tea — but until I finally ventured out to shop today, no coffee — but am starting to run uncomfortably low on vin. Still have a case-ish worth of various beers, and several bottles of rum, port, whisk(e)y, and so on — but running low on the Absinthe, Pastis, and Farigoule de Forcalquier. Strangely, it looked like the local (and rather good) cave à vins is open in the morning (well, this is France, where vin is important… but an “essential service”?); I’ll check it out, perhaps, tomorrow morning when I anticipate completing my “necessities” shopping.

  7. brikoleur says

    If I may recommend Disco Elysium? It is utterly wonderful and I think would suit your sensibilities.

  8. says

    If you like basic computer games, you can play a lot of older ones in emulation in your web browser (which blows my mind in every way, I must confess) over at There’s a huge collection of old arcade games, they have Wolfenstein 3D and Prince of Persia, and if you feel like spelunking into the pre-web you can take a look at old published HyperCard stacks, in an actual Classic Mac emulator running in a browser window.

    (And, of course, if you prefer later console games, it is totally illegal to put the name of the game you like and “ROM emulation” into Google, find an emulator program like OpenEmu and a download site, and play things like Mrio 64 or Fnal Fantasy 4/5/6/7 or Legend of Zlda: Mnish Cap, so I am definitely telling you not to do that.)

  9. Bruce Fuentes says

    We have 6 lbs of Puerto Rican whole bean coffee and 47, no, make that 46 bottles of wine. Also, a fairly well stocked liquor cabinet. I guess i should order more coffee and wine. The liquor stores will be the last thing to close here in Wi, so will be good on that

  10. johnson catman says

    Bruce Fuentes @14: Well, liquor stores are DEFINITELY an essential service. If they closed, this would turn into a shooting apocalypse pretty quickly.

  11. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    PZ, if you are looking for an interesting popular science read, “The Infinity Problem,” by Frank Close is a pretty good overview of modern theoretical physics–including electroweak unification, the Higgs boson, quarks, etc. It’s also a pretty good recounting of the politics that goes into awarding Nobel Prizes.

    The physics is also correct (Close is a theoretical particle physicist).

  12. logicalcat says

    If you want to interact with people and your computer can run it, Final Fantasy 14. Its an mmo. Id be playing it right now but gotta save money due to getting my hours cut thanks to the pandemic. At least I still have a job tho so I’m thankful for that.

  13. blf says

    @14, Yes, I found it amusing that in the UK, off-licenses (liquor stores) are considered “essential” and allowed to open. An admittedly quick search — I did not check the official French government site — suggests cave à vins here in France are allowed to open, albeit apparently one local authority tried to close them (a ban which lasted all of 24h), UPDATE: Halt on French local authority’s alcohol ban during lockdown.

  14. slatham says

    I put my name into a list of potential volunteers as a gene jockey for coronavirus testing. 20 years since I pipetted anything, I have no current certifications for hazardous materials or anything, so maybe I can only help by doing childcare while researchers/technicians participate. I can give blood (apparently they are currently very short because community blood drives have ended during this time). I wrote to some folks that maybe their lab reagents or thermocyclers could be put to use.
    Mostly I sit around and wonder how the testing occurs (like why the countries all seem to adopt different PCR protocols), and whether antibody tests will be important, that kind of stuff.

  15. says

    China knew in mid-December. The WHO knew on December 31 and didn’t test human-to-human transmission for three weeks.

    Taiwan says WHO ignored its coronavirus questions at start of outbreak

    Speaking to reporters in Taipei, the island’s Centres for Disease Control chief Chou Jih-haw said that it written to the WHO and China as early as Dec. 31, asking for information about the newly uncovered virus outbreak in China’s Wuhan city, including whether there was human-to-human transmission.

    “We asked them whether there’s a possibility of human-to-human transmission. We indeed asked them and reminded them of the matter,” Chou said. He said the WHO confirmed it had received the letter but did not respond to it.


    China confirmed human-to-human transmission on Jan. 20. The WHO said on Jan. 12 there was no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.

    Sadly, the only way those responsible will face consequences is by mob justice.

  16. nomdeplume says

    Oh PZ, we are here for you. I am depressed and fearful (having all the risk factors) and can see no end in sight. But at least I am here with my wife, and my children are very close by. I don’t have any useful suggestions. Have just read Neal Shubin’s new book, which is very good. Inspired me to re-read some Darwin. I have a number of Shakespeare’s plays on DVD which I am inspired to watch now having seen “The King” on Netflix – neither history nor Shakespeare. And I may , inspired by remembrance of times past (before 2020) try, yet again, to read Proust (or at least the first 3 books which is as far as I have ever sort of got). And I am making a point of reaching out more regularly to family and friends. Normally I assume people are alright unless I hear otherwise, but this virus reverses that.

    But do not, I repeat do NOT, laser the cat.

  17. springa73 says

    Being isolated plus reading bad news constantly is a recipe for depression and other mental/emotional issues. I’m finding that out myself. Remember that feeling miserable is not going to help anyone. I hope you (and I) can find more pleasant things to focus on.

  18. blf says

    Intransitive@21, One problem is Island China (Taiwan) is not part of WHO (or the UN) due to Big China insisting it, and only it, is “China” (and Island China makes the same stoooopid claim, which doesn’t help in the slightest). From memory, Island China has been getting / reporting WHO data via the States.

  19. blf says

    springa73@23, “Being isolated plus reading bad news constantly is a recipe for depression and other mental/emotional issues. I’m finding that out myself.”

    Indeed. I had to step away from reading the news, and commenting here at FtB (especially in poopyhead’s current [Pandemic and] Political Madness All the Time threads) for several days. Instead, I listened to some wonderful music — thanks to whoever it was here at Pharyngula who happened to mention Patty Gurdy — and audio books, but weirdly did not watch any films / shows or attack my pile of yet unread books. And I’m still in the process of cleaning-up my computer, and implementing a revised backup strategy for both it and the mobile.

  20. Mark says

    Have you tried playing the game called Ball In A Cup? It’s a ball, on a string, attached to a cup. You flip the ball until it lands in the cup. It’s hours of fun. Oh, never mind, the evil cat might join in.

  21. blf says

    Evil cat in the cup?
    The mildly deranged penguin plays a similar game, Trebuchet launched cat to aninteresting place (swimming pool, Mediterranean Sea, superyacht in the harbour, on a eejit’s head, a trampoline, the local(-ish) Foreign Legion, orbit …).

  22. Duckbilled Platypus says

    I’d recommend a couple of waste-away-the-hours computer games:

    If you have only hours to spare, Dear Esther. It’s a walk across a deserted island with a spoken monologue as you reach places. You will be tempted to piece together the story from the fragments thrown at you. There is no score, not even much in the sense of game mechanics – you don’t win or lose, you just walk towards the end and draw your conclusions. There is some incredible design to admire along the way. Closest thing to literature I’ve seen in a game engine.
    If you have plenty more, Red Dead Redemption 2. Despite the bad press it got because some players used it to show off abusive, misogynist behavior, it is miles apart from their GTA franchise and I believe Rockstar made an effort to steer away from the usual cowboy movie stereotype gender roles (even if they did not entirely succeed at times). The story is compelling enough, the voice acting is great, the game is astoundingly huge and ridiculously detailed, but really, even if you aren’t into the game mechanics, it is an utterly satisfying and peaceful experience just to ride horse through its magnificent 19th century Northern America scenery (provided you are not attacked by gunmen or animals). It’s living picture book of your country’s natural wonders, and an ode to its beauty.

  23. Trickster Goddess says

    Re: liquor sales

    Ontario also left the liquor stores stay open as essential services. As their health officer put it, although in politer language, forcing tens of thousands of alcoholics to suddenly quit cold turkey would cause a secondary health crisis.

  24. Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach says

    My best friend and I have a coop campaign in Total War: Warhammer 2, the girlfriend and I started a huge new world in Civilization 6, I set up a Minecraft realm for her kids and I, and in my alone time I have Red Dead Redemption 2. I may be sick, but quarantine is, at least, not boring. The food and liquor stores deliver, as does the firewood guy. I wish I had some kind of workout equipment tho, I think my legs are atrophying.

    So jealous you got an early copy of Stross’s next Laundry Files book! Can you ask him to send me one too?

  25. says

    The wonderful thing about the internet is that it gives you access to as many games and movies and books as you could ever want. I’d recommend Disco Elysium, it’s the best game I’ve played in a very long time, and as an RPG I’d guess it’s pretty accessible.
    I’m currently reading Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco, which is absorbing me quite nicely. Or try Gnomon. Reading that is like going slowly insane anyway.

  26. jrkrideau says

    @ 11 blf & johnson catman

    an “essential service”?

    Why not? The Province of Ontario has deemed liquor stores and bicycles shops essential.

    @ 29 Trickster Goddess
    forcing tens of thousands of alcoholics to suddenly quit cold turkey would cause a secondary health crisis
    And he was right, not to mention sparking a likely crime wave. B&E’s, muggings, etc.
    Shoplifting a bottle of Listerine and chugging it probably ties up police, ambulance and emergency room staff for hours. And this can happen when the LCBO is open.

    Given we have Ford at the helm, the province seems to responding fairly well.

  27. whheydt says

    Well….. For reading material at the moment, I’d suggest Graydon Saunders’ Commonweal books. In order: The March North, A Succession of Bad Days, Safely You Deliver, Under One Banner, and A Mist of Grit and Splinters. They are not “alternate history”. They aren’t on Earth at all. He drops interesting hints about that, including the use of the French Revolutionary Calendar. They’re available on Google Books, so you can get them while sheltering at home.

  28. says

    I am re-watching season 5 of Supernatural. It plays a little different at the moment but still good.

    Anyway when all of this is done we are going to have a ton of examples of ideologues killing people. Ron DeSantis, Florida governor, refusing to issue a shelter in place order is a strong early contender…but I would like to put a word in for Tate Reeves, Mississippi governor, being the worst of the bunch so far. He countermanded all local shelter/work at home orders today. It is novel approach to say the fucking least.

  29. kome says

    I would suggest that you look into Jackbox Party games. Either try to set something up with your friends to play online, or maybe search for a Twitch streamer who’s playing it and ask if you can join in.

    It’s not much, but it’s something. A little goofy fun and some additional social contact, sort of.

  30. magistramarla says

    We still haven’t finished opening boxes since we moved into our house near the end of September. A PHD and a retired Latin teacher can certainly collect a huge number of boxes of books!
    While my husband works from home, I’m opening at least a box per day, while trying to keep up with laundry and house cleaning and cooking home cooked meals for us every day. I really don’t have time to be bored. I love watching cooking shows for inspiration, and I’m lucky to get to watch one of my recorded shows per day. I would love to have a day to just binge on a fun cooking competition show.

  31. says

    Meanwhile, people like my father look at the currently “low” death toll, start crowing that the worst is over and we should all go back to work again before the economy tanks.

    You got 5 times the dead of Germany, but only three times the number of inhabitants and you are a few days behind us. But I’m making a very gloomy prediction: Out of 10 people who believe T*ump right now, maybe one will change their mind because they become abhorred when the death toll rises and they lose loved ones. One will probably die. The remaining 8 will by then be so invested in the belief that Trump is doing a great job that nothing will make them change their mind, because changing their mind would mean taking some personal responsibility for the evil they supported.
    I’m somewhere between remote teaching and home schooling (more on this later today on Affinity) and I have a lot of garden to keep me occupied. While others seem to think that being at home is a wonderful opportunity to clean, I have decided that since nobody comes to visit anyway cleaning can go fuck itself.

  32. auntbenjy says

    We took our gaming online to Roll20. It seems to be working so far, and we can still hang out with friends. I’m in New Zealand, where we are taking our lockdown seriously.
    Oh, and very jealous about the Stross book. The Laundry Files is one of my favourite series.

  33. tardigrada says

    There’s a good (free) tabletop game simulator on steam. We used it a few times when my sister-in-law was feeling lonely at the other end of the world. Maybe that’s something to play with your wife and/or kids after the grandkids are in bed?

  34. blf says

    Intransitive@43, Whilst perhaps vodka can be used as a disinfectant (I have no idea), it should not be used in hand sanitiser. The reason is simple, you need at least 70% alcohol in the sanitiser, but vodka is “only” c.40%.

    (Below is a slightly edited cross-post from poopyhead’s [Pandemic and] Political Madness All the Time thread.)

    On making your own hand sanitiser: Not a good idea.

    Some quick searching confirms experts suggest you do not make your own hand sanitiser. Broadly, it’s difficult to get the concentrations right; the alcohol is harsh on your skin and you can actually hurt your hands; and the stuff is difficult to use properly. Through washing with soap and water is preferred, albeit carefully-made sanitisers, used properly, do work when hand-washing is not possible.

    For example, from Hand sanitizer or hand washing: which is better against coronavirus?:

    [… M]aking your own sanitizer, while potentially effective against some bacteria, is not something [London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine professor Sally] Bloomfield would recommend. “It’s very unwise, dangerous, even,” she says. Shop-bought products also contain emollients to make them softer on the skin, without which you run the risk of hurting your hands. Getting the mix right at home would very tricky — so it is a big no-no.


    The best option is soap and water. According to a 2019 study by the American Society for Microbiology, using running water and soap to wash your hands is more effective than a dab of gel that you have not quite rubbed in.


    Also, WHO’s guidelines for making sanitiser, according to CNN (Don’t try to make your own hand sanitizer just because there’s a shortage from coronavirus), are “intended for populations that do not have clean water or other medical-grade products in place.”

  35. blf says

    Whilst cave à vins &tc may be considered “essential”, Shooty McShootfaces are very definitely not. Nonetheless, US gun industry groups urge lawmakers to keep gun shops open:

    US gun industry groups are engaged in an intense attempt to persuade state and federal lawmakers that gun shops should be considered “essential” businesses during the coronavirus crisis, and therefore allowed to stay open.

    The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), one of the largest US pro-gun ownership groups, told its members this week it had been in contact with the White House, Capitol Hill and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to advocate for “national critical infrastructure industry” status.


    According to the Wall Street Journal, Lawrence Keane, NSSF senior vice-president for government and public affairs, said in a letter to the DHS the “critical infrastructure” designation should be extended to the whole gun industry, including dealers and shooting ranges.

    Food, water, shelter and adequate medical care are paramount for survival, but so too is the ability for an individual to defend his or herself, their family, as well as their home, business and property, Keane reportedly wrote.


    In Connecticut, Democratic senator and gun-control advocate Richard Blumenthal argued that closing gun stores would be broadly in line with other anti-coronavirus measures, including restrictions on travel and assembly.

    “Plain and simple, there is no reason why gun stores should be given this exemption,” the senator tweeted.

    But the stores stayed open and the National Rifle Association praised the state governor, Ned Lamont, its legislative wing saying in a statement it thanked him for upholding the right of law-abiding citizens to defend themselves and their loved ones.


    In Albuquerque, New Mexico, efforts to update a city ordinance granting the mayor emergency powers were approved only after repeated assurances from Mayor Tim Keller that the city would not restrict firearms sales.

    In other jurisdictions, including San Jose and Castro Valley, California, local authorities have ordered stores to close.

    “Since we don’t live in the wild west, where people are dependent on guns for food, and we do have a well-functioning police department, it would be hard to articulate a basis for arguing that a gun shop would be an essential service,” Sam Liccardo, the San Jose mayor, told the Wall Street Journal.

    The Los Angeles county sheriff’s department began closing gun shops on Tuesday, but dropped the effort less than 12 hours later. Sheriff Alex Villanueva told FOX 11 the county legal counsel had issued an opinion that under Governor Gavin Newsom’s statewide executive order, gun stores should be classified as essential.

  36. DanDare says

    I’ve been playing builder games like Dawn of Man and Surviving Mars. They are relaxing and engrossing. I bought a veridesk so I don’t spend hours at a time sitting in thee same position playing games.

  37. blf says

    (Slightly edited cross-post from poopyhead’s current [Pandemic and] Political Madness All the Time thread.)

    Here in France, SNCF deploys hospital TGV:

    SNCF [Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français, the French national railway company] has started transporting Covid-19 patients using a TGV Duplex trainset that has been has adapted as a mobile hospital unit. It is being used to evacuate recuperating patients from hot spot areas where the hospitals are saturated to regions which have spare capacity in their intensive care facilities.

    Described by Minister of Health Olivier Véran as ‘a first for Europe’, the train was first deployed on March 26 to move 20 patients from the Grand Est region to Pays de Loire, the French region least affected by the pandemic. […]

    According to SNCF President Jean-Pierre Farandou, the double-deck trainset can carry up to 25 patients. There is provision for four people in each trailer car, where the stretchers are supported above the seats, which have not been removed. Each vehicle has a six-strong medical team, comprising an anesthetist, a junior doctor, a nurse anesthetist and three nurses. The buffet car has been adapted as a ‘medical space’ in case the condition of a patient deteriorates en route.


    Last year, SNCF and the Paris SAMU [Service d’Aide Médicale Urgente] undertook a joint exercise to test the concept of a mobile rail hospital in the event of a pandemic or terrorist attack. On May 21–22 2019, 400 people took part in Exercise Chardon, which simulated the transfer to Paris of seriously injured victims from a supposed terrorist attack in Metz. ‘We took the example of a terrorist attack but the same approach could be used for pandemics or technological disasters’, the head of SAMU Paris Professor Pierre Carli told local media at the time.

    A science-led response with an excellent and basically free healthcare system and (largely-)integrated transport that does advance planning and drills / tests. What a radical idea!

  38. laurencocilova says

    Goddamnit. I’ve been trying so hard to be rational and reasonable but also optimistic and calculating. Stupidly pretending we can get through this and we won’t be a cliche apocalypse movie. Trying really hard not to listen to that little crying voice inside of me that new better all along. Goddamnit hell. Fuck.

    I’ve been doing everything right. I have food and supplies, I’ve been washing my hands, cleaning my doorknobs, isolating and working from home. And it doesn’t even matter because now I realize I haven’t been sanitizing my laundry basket and didn’t take my bread out of the bag and put it in a bowl so the virus is already inside the house. Hopeless. Hopeless, and lonely.