El Uso de Cubrebocas Es Obligatorio!

This poor child’s joy at finding an urchin is obviously mediated by the horror of having to wear a face mask, outdoors. If she were lucky enough to live in los Estados Unidos, she wouldn’t have to wear one. Here in the obviously backward country of Mexico, face coverings (cubrebocas) in urban areas are universal indoors, and common outdoors. In the rural areas, this is a little less true, but most clerks and waiters still wear them. Hand sanitizer and temperature checks are the doors are still pretty common, as is the use of KN95 and surgical masks, rather than cloth.

I really don’t understand the rush to discontinue face coverings in schools, which have been shown to work, a couple of months before the end of the school year. If we didn’t have a chorus of screaming idiots whining and crying about the dreaded mask, it would probably look a lot like Mexico in our towns and cities, and fewer people would be sick or dying.

Obligatory picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe after the break.

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It’s a Strange World

Yes, as a matter of fact, that is a shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe, in the middle of a bike path, in La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Note the tiny Juan Diego under the Virgin. As I write this, sitting in a campground far to the south of this shrine, a pair of British overlanders are parking their rig near mine, and the man who is directing his wife could be a double, in posture and appearance, to Wallace from Wallace and Gromit.

I have a bunch of photos and thoughts to share, but I’m working on this trip and I’m naturally lazy, so those thoughts and photos will have to wait until I’ve had my fill of tequila and fish tacos. Until then, here’s another strange fact. Did you know that John Lewis had a set of graphic novels written about his life, and that he would attend Comic-Con in San Diego, dressed as he had been when crossing the Edmund Pettus bridge, and lead a march through the convention floor? Here’s the first graphic novel in the series:

And, yes, these images are large. Open thread.

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Do Not Travel!!!!

John called me the other day to see if I’m alive, since the last time I posted it was about contracting COVID. It was a mild case for me and my wife (both vaccinated and boosted), and after our quarantine, we continued our trip.

We entered Mexico with great timing — one day after the State Department put Mexico into the “Level 4 Do Not Travel” sin bin, because of COVID. We’re in Baja wine country right now, after a couple of days in Tijuana.

Here’s what I saw on the ground in Tijuana and the wine country:

  • Masking indoors is essentially 100%. On the streets of Tijuana, over half of the citizens wear masks outdoors.
  • KN95 masks are widely used – at least half of the masks we saw were higher quality than surgical or cloth masks (at least in TJ). This includes service workers, especially waiters.
  • Entry into many restaurants is preceded by mandatory temperature checks and use of hand sanitizer. Masking is enforced (no entry without one).
  • Entry into the cathedral in Tijuana is preceded by a mandatory temperature check, and masks are required. Even though the Virgin of Guadalupe has great power, the Catholics here aren’t leaving it up to her alone.

According to the health ministry, the Omicron wave in Mexico has peaked and is receding. Hospitals are nowhere near capacity, and 80% of the adult population is vaccinated, with the over-40 population being offered boosters.

Mexico’s response to COVID isn’t going to win any contests, but I feel far safer here than in West Texas, where we contracted COVID.

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More on Antigen Tests and Immunity

Shortly after I wrote this post about my experience with an antigen test, Josh Marshall posted this (paywalled) piece about a real-world experience with an antigen test. The net of the piece is that antigen tests may have false negatives when a person is first experiencing COVID symptoms, but they can perhaps serve as a proxy for whether a person is infectious. Josh linked to this thread from an epidemiologist/immunologist about the role of antigen testing:

Read the whole thing, and look at the graph, but his basic point is that the immunity conferred by vaccination leads to earlier symptoms because the immune system “kicks in” immediately, since it is primed to recognize the COVID virus. This means that the immunized might have symptoms prior to being contagious.

Open thread.

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Insert Clever Title Here

I was off grid during most of the big 20th anniversary celebration here, so I wanted to wish John and the rest of you a very belated happy blog anniversary. You can only write variations on “Manchin and Sinema are killing us” a finite number of times, so my plan for late 2021 and 2022 was to write a bit about some of the traveling I’m doing in rural red areas. As the picture clearly shows, my travel plans took a bit of a hit. I wanted to share a bit of my Omicron experience for any of you who need to travel.

My wife and I had started our travel in the Southwest but we had to drive back to the Dakotas for some family issues. Then, on New Year’s Day we left -17 temps to travel back South. At some point I want to devote some time to writing about the National Park Service, but the short story is that we lucked into some campground reservations at Big Bend National Park, so we ended up in West Texas early last week. We travel in a conversion van so the only exposure we must have is some shopping, which could be touch-free. But, since we’re vaxxed and boosted, we decided to do a little bit of eating out non-peak hours, preferably outside. Unfortunately, it was pretty cold in West Texas so we could only eat indoors. We had a total exposure of under two hours mask-free dining indoors, but apparently that was enough.

We arrived at Big Bend mid last week feeling fine. My wife had a night or two with a bit of a dry cough. I had the same a day or so later, and a bit of a runny nose. We’re at a mile of altitude and pretty close to zero humidity, so we both thought that it was a reaction to the altitude, dryness and dust. Since I was “sicker”, I took a BinaxNow antigen test, which was negative. I followed the instructions and took another one 3 days later, which was positive. By then, we were at a hotel in nowhere West Texas, and we decided to find another hotel nearer to services and quarantine for the recommended five days. We’re both experiencing mild cold symptoms and feeling blah, but we’re clearly going to survive without medical intervention. Here’s what I think I learned from my extensive sample of two (my wife and me):

  • That Binax Now antigen test was purchased a couple of months ago at a WalMart in North Dakota. They are basically unobtainable in retail settings right now. I bought two boxes (four tests total), so I’m rationing the last two to test us after 5 days of quarantine. My initial negative test is consistent with these tests being less sensitive to Omicron and having a large number of false negatives in general. If you’re feeling bad and get a negative antigen test, I wouldn’t trust it, and the shortage of antigen tests is a real problem.
  • West Texas had little to no masking and very little evidence that we were in the middle of a pandemic. The Midland/Odessa area where we think we picked up COVID has a 46% positive test rate and a 47% vaccination rate. In a high-COVID environment, even vaccination, boosters and masking (N-95) everywhere you can won’t prevent transmission if you engage in anything risky, even for a short period of time.
  • “Quarantine” when traveling is difficult, and the CDC recommendations for exiting quarantine aren’t going to prevent sick people from going out. The guideline for vaccinated, positive people is to end quarantine and go out with a mask on after 5 days “if you are fever-free for 24 hours (without the use of fever-reducing medication) and your symptoms are improving.” Neither of us have had fevers, and if we had gotten positive PCR tests 5 days ago, we’d be clear to go out by those guidelines, since our symptoms are more-or-less improving. Even people following CDC guidelines will be going out with a mask while possibly being able to transmit the virus.

This isn’t a “woe is me” post — we decided to take some risks given our vaccination status and general health, and we came down with an unpleasant but not deadly (to us) virus. I just wanted to share our experience. Open thread.

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What You Miss Not Being on the Internet

My 91 year-old dad is still pretty sharp, but he’s not on the Internet. He reads the daily paper and watches MSNBC, national and local TV news. So, he’s as generally well-informed as he can be, but yesterday I had to explain a couple of things to him.

First, he was not acquainted with the concept of “fuck your feelings” — he was trying to decipher a picture of a Trump flag that was waving during the Capitol assault and wasn’t quite sure that’s what it said. I had to explain the whole concept of the most sensitive people in the world, who whine at every opportunity and whimper about being cancelled while appearing on cable news, disregarding the feelings of others.

Second, he didn’t understand “own the libs”. The context here was a Doonesbury cartoon that showed someone in an ICU bed with COVID saying that at least they “owned the libs.” I don’t know if I fully explained that one, since the whole notion of “being owned” was generated on the Internet.

Before you accuse my family of elder abuse for not getting him Internet access, just trust me when I say that many have tried, and all have failed. This guy gets a couple of pounds of mail every day and is single-handedly financing the local Post Office with the amount of mail he sends, but he just doesn’t want to learn how to use an iPad or even a Jitterbug smart phone.

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It’s the Stupid That Kills

Two pieces of COVID news:

First, Josh Marshall wrote a piece titled No More Dying of Covid where he discusses the new treatments from Merck and Pfizer, which were approved today. The key point that supports his thesis:

Merck’s pill (molnupiravir) reduced the risk of hospitalization by 50% if taken within 5 days of symptom onset; Pfizer’s pill (paxlovid) reduced the risk of hospitalization by 85% if taken with 5 days onset and 89% if taken within three days.

Both treatments showed 100% efficacy against death.

Second, the CDC released a study [via LGM] which shows that the non-vaccinated died of non-COVID illness a lot more than the vaccinated:

After excluding COVID-19–associated deaths, overall SMRs [Standardized Mortality Rates] after dose 1 were 0.42 and 0.37 per 100 person-years for Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, respectively, and were 0.35 and 0.34, respectively, after dose 2 (Table 2). These rates were lower than the rate of 1.11 per 100 person-years among the unvaccinated mRNA vaccine comparison group (p <0.001). Among Janssen vaccine recipients, the overall SMR was 0.84 per 100 person-years, lower than the rate of 1.47 per 100 person-years among the unvaccinated comparison group (p <0.001).

In other words, in the period of December 14, 2020 to July 31, 2021, an unvaccinated person was at roughly twice to three times more likely to die of something other than COVID than a vaccinated person. This was a large cohort study that tried to adjust for factors like sex, age and ethnicity.

My unscientific, purely anecdotal time spent perusing the Herman Cain Awards leads me to believe that Josh Marshall is being a little too optimistic about the impact of the Pfizer and Merck drugs. This isn’t because the anti-vaxx population won’t take those drugs — they’re willing to take antibody infusions, after all. Rather, it’s because a good part of the unvaccinated population either can’t or won’t look for medical care in the first few days of onset of COVID.

A typical Herman Cain recipient’s course of illness begins with denial. By the time they’re sick enough to believe that the Ivermectin, bleach and vitamins aren’t working, they’re really sick. So the 100% efficacy against death in a pharma company study that used subjects who were recently diagnosed probably won’t be the real-world outcome of using these drugs. There ain’t no cure for stupid, and the stupid with COVID are going to be hard to cure.

The good news is that doctors have a tool that they can use with the vaccinated immunocompromised and elderly who contract COVID. I hope it works for them, if they can get past the unvaxxed assholes clogging up our medical system.

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Gosar Censured

The House just voted to censure Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and remove him from his committee assignments for tweeting out an anime video that showed him killing AOC and wielding a sword against Biden. The only Republicans who voted for censure were Cheney and Kinzinger.

Any bets on whether Gosar will stand in the well of the House while his censure is read?

I’m surprised that he did, according to the Post:

Shortly after Wednesday’s vote, Gosar stood in the “well” of the House chamber as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) read aloud the censure resolution and a verbal rebuke.

Also, does this make Gosar more or less of a martyr than Ashli Babbitt?

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m going to be traveling and my wife is taking a break from her job, which means we’ll be on Obamacare, which is called Healthy New York in our home state. I mentioned earlier that it is shit insurance. Here’s how bad it is: We need insurance for December. Since my wife and I don’t have any really serious health problems, the bronze plan we’ll be using will cost almost $771/month and it is limited to $14K total outlay for the month of December.

In other words, this program, which Democrats killed themselves to pass, will allow me to feel secure that the most I can possibly pay for medical care next month is around $25K. And, by the way, it was a complete pain in the ass to enroll, and it was only because I was lucky enough to get an excellent call center rep to help me that I was able to enroll. Or, at least, I think I’m enrolled — I have to wait a couple of days for the insurance company to get my file from New York State, and then I need to pay my premium.

Folks going door-to-door in Virginia said that the number one issue on voter’s minds was healthcare. This is the Democrats’ current answer to that concern. It sucks, badly. And if I qualified for premium support, so what? Even if my entire premium were paid via premium support, the spectre of $14K of uncovered medical expense on a ~$40K paycheck-to-paycheck salary is absolutely the opposite of a feeling of security. Sinema and Manchin’s foot dragging and watering down of the BBB plan is just another nail in our coffin given the horrific state of our medical insurance system.

My other update is a little less ugly: I had asked in the comments a while back if anyone knew of an English-language Mexican newspaper. I don’t think anyone mentioned Mexico News Daily. From what I can tell, it’s basically someone (or a few people) re-writing stories in English using the big Spanish-language Mexican newspapers as a source. For $29/year, I’ll take it.

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