Friday, September 18, 2020


Perhaps the biggest question about the new world will be:  What will the economy look like?  The answer right now?  No idea.

We've been playing around with possibilities, such as this and that, but there aren't any guideposts or signs or peeks over the horizon.  We can look at what is the case right now, and say, "Hmm... "

Yelp is an app that rates restaurants and other businesses.  It's the most frequently-referred-to app of its kind, but it is, apparently, also a vast storehouse of basic data on businesses.

Yelp says that, at the end of the second quarter of 2020, the number of businesses that were closed in the US had decreased, from 177,000 in April to 132,500 in early July.  Good news!  However, of those businesses closed in July, more than half - 72,842 - were closed permanently:  they had indicated to Yelp's data collectors that they were not planning to open again.  Ever.

72,842 businesses that existed in February, gone in July, forever.  And that's just July.  As the American pandemic doldrums drag on, more and more businesses will have to let go, and give up.  Which means that the 'recovery' (which is not, at this point, even a twinkle in Chris Columbus's eye) when it begins, will have to do without them.  72,842 businesses that will not be re-opening their doors, ordering supplies and materials, hiring or rehiring staff, and welcoming customers back at long last.  We'll start more than 72,842 businesses behind.

,That's gonna leave a mark on the new world.

Collateral Damage

We've heard about the baby boom (reduced access to family planning resources) and the baby bust (can we afford to bring a child into the new world?), each of which might have an impact on the size and character of the population of the new world.  Now Nature brings us the story of stillbirths, from a survey of 20,000 women who gave birth in nine hospitals in Nepal.  It seems that in this population, between March and May, stillbirths increased by 50%.  The same result - increase in stillbirths of around 50% - was found in a study of four Indian hospitals, between March and June.*

In England, a similar study found that stillbirths increased fourfold.  There may be an uptick in Scotland, as well. 

There is some confusion about the numbers, at least in Nepal and India, involving percentages, absolute numbers, and lack of data. The basic issue is that women did not come in to their medical providers for regular or emergency visits at anywhere near the normal rate, and the number of women who gave birth in hospitals fell by half in Nepal - while the number of stillbirths recorded in hospitals remained the same.  What happened to the half of women who normally would give birth in a hospital but, during the lockdown, did not?  That's the "lack of data" part.  No one knows.

I find it chilling to think of mothers - millions of them? - who were unable or unwilling to go into a dangerous world to get essential care and resources which would lead to a healthy birth.  And the fact that after they fell off the radar, their access to these resources was gone.  How many complications led to how many tragic disasters?  How many empty cradles around the world?  We don't know.

Asma Khalil, an obstetrician involved in the English study, calls these findings "the collateral damage of the pandemic."  Indeed. 

* - The original study in Nepal is here; the Indian study (both in The Lancet), is here..  The original English study, in JAMA, is here.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Fonts Again

You may have noticed that I've got the fonts under control finally.  The secret?  Never copy/paste.  Ever.  I used to write posts in a word processor (so that if something went wrong I had it saved), and then copy it all to Blogger.  No more. I'm living on the edge.  And every indented quote, every long title, everything from somewhere else, has been completely retyped.

Blogger, it seems, cannot make imported text its own - when I highlight the whole post and change it all to Verdana font (which is what I use), it says it's all converted but it lies.  So everything has to originate in Blogger.

Anyway - you're welcome.

And, by the way - I'm not going back and retyping all the wonky posts from long ago.  Sorry.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020


While I was working at my 35 year career, I liked to get into work early.  I had a routine that had me up at 5:30 AM, and it worked well for me.

But after I retired, and no longer had to get up on any kind of regular basis, I woke up at 5:30 anyway.  Eleven years later, that's still the case.

So - sleep habits:  nature or nurture?  Clearly nurture in my case.  If this is generally true, the new world could see a lot more sleep disruption.

Back in June, it seemed that our sleep cycles were becoming more natural, because of a reduction in structured activities that normally would cause "social jet lag."  Now we are hearing about the aptly named "coronasomnia," caused by the increasing stress and anxiety of a world in chaos.

This is, apparently, a real thing, and something that is being taken seriously by the medical community.  It isn't hard to understand why.  Many of us have been set adrift, perhaps with adequate finances but disconnected from everything.  Zoom is not real life.  Others of us have had our jobs, our finances, our futures uprooted.  And none of us can see any hope if it changing soon.

Those who had difficulty sleeping in the before have significantly more difficulty; those who have had occasional nightmares are having significantly more.  In addition to "stress" and "anxiety," these sleep problems are described as being the result of "dread."

If this goes on long enough, there may be no springing back.  A particularly distinct form of PTSD.  A lot more cranky, touchy, less-productive, unfocused - tired - people in the new world.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Busted, in the New World

 "You have to say 'hi' to them.  My parents saw you wander into the frame."

                                                                                                  The New Yorker, 9/8/20

Some (Just a Little) Good News, Finally

I am tired of reading about vaccines.  In fact, I've stopped reading about vaccines.  Wake me up sometime next year, when we're nearly there.

But it seems that the work on the COVID-19 vaccine has already propelled us, all unknowing, into one small corner of the new world.  Apparently, vaccines will never be the same again.

The current pandemic is not, of course, the worst we have ever seen.  The 1918 flu killed millions; the Black Plague, half of Europe.  But it is dangerous, it spreads like wildfire, and no one in their right mind wants to get it.  So the work of creating a safe, effective vaccine has taken on a special urgency around the world.

And this effort - truly enormous, using the highest of tech and supported to the fullest - has resulted in innovations that will very possibly allow for the next pandemic vaccine to be developed much more quickly.

The new world, we are told, will contain much more innovative vaccine trial designs, such as running human and animal trials in parallel.  New types of vaccines are being developed - for instance, those based on messenger RNA - and are being found useful.  And the speed with which the virus's genome was decoded and shared worldwide - a necessary step before we can even begin any high-speed work on a vaccine - was unprecedented, and there's no reason to believe that this won't become the norm.  And as research into side effects continues, databases are being shared globally, reducing redundancy and increasing reliability of results.

After the 2014 Ebola outbreak, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was formed.  Launched in 2017 (without the US's participation) , CEPI "aims to accelerate the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases and enable access to these vaccines for people during outbreaks.  These folks were ready, and now they're funding nine different candidate vaccines, more than any other organization in the world.  So going forward, there is an international, full-time, well-funded scientific community standing as the first line of defense against the next pandemic

And the new world will apparently include universal adult immunization.  Once the vaccine is widely available, herd immunity can be achieved if everyone gets it, or enough get immunized that the virus finds it impossible to spread.  That's how we did it with all those communicable diseases that our kids get shots for, but for COVID-19, we adults will have to join in.  Right now about a third of us get our flu shots every year; once the COVID-19 vaccine is added to the mix, they'll become more popular.  I can't find anyone who's willing to estimate what percentage of the population needs to be immunized to achieve herd immunity for COVID-19, but there's general agreement that the technical term "just about everyone" will come close.

So, good news.  You're welcome.  Now prepare to return to your regular diet of distress and despair. 

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Polls, Then and Now

"Admiral of the Ocean Sea Christopher Columbus today announced the results of a poll of his crew regarding the time it would take to complete the voyage.  Just under 58% thought it would be less than two weeks.  Fully two thirds of the officers predicted this result, although fewer of the rated seamen..."

Well of course not.  But I'll bet that at least 58% of the conversations, officers and men alike, were speculations on when they'd reach land.

An actual poll, released yesterday, suggests that 44% of us in America think it will be six months or more before "things return to normal," and 15% guess three months or more.  So a majority of us are in for the long haul, at least until Christmas.   

The same poll suggests that 2/3 of us don't think school reopenings are going well, and of that group, only half think we'll ever get it right.  We're drifting in the doldrums, alright.

Oh - and by the way - the 3-month and 6-month respondents were the optimists.  27% thought that "things will never get back to normal."

People are losing faith in the new world entirely.  Unfortunately, we can't turn the ship around and sail east.