Journal of my COVID-19 Plague Year

The Hoax Narrative

Waaaay back on March 27, I stuck in my file drawer of “Stuff to Be Blogged About” the Coronavirus Hoax narrative. The President started selling this campaign rallies back in long-ago February. In those rallies, he was pitching the coronavirus as the Democrats’ new hoax to replace the impeachment hoax. He wasn’t actually calling the virus fake–he was using it as a political attack. See this Snopes post for the legalistic parsing of his rally rhetoric.

But Trump’s very familiar with hoax narratives and is quite experienced at spreading them. Here’s one of his global-warming-is-a-hoax claims:

There’s many more. He was also a ringleader of the Obama-is-a-Kenyan-Muslim hoax. I often call him the Birther-in-Chief.

Anyone familiar with his hoaxer past would have to suspect that he launched this coroanvirus scam narrative in order to get this image on the Faux News Network and out to his millions of followers that way.

Ron Paul, always ready to help spread right-wing nuttery, weighed in too.

At the White House level, the hoax narrative didn’t last long. By March 16, the White House had started putting out its own guidelines–initially a “15 Days to Slow the Spread” campaign, and now extended to 30 days. It’ll be more like. . .June, I think. Anyway, everyone in the political press noticed the White House’s frantic attempts at a rewrite.

It’s worth noticing that the stock market had two huge drops between the launch of the hoax narrative and the White House change in tone: March 9th and March 12th. It crashed even further on the 16th.

But once you launch a hoax narrative out into the politicized ether, you can’t just turn it off. Some of your followers keep spouting it. Others use it as an excuse to justify inaction. Still others use it to attack science. Hoaxes have consequences. In this case,the consequences are delayed state-level responses to the virus spread, lives jeopardized and lost needlessly, and a prolonged economic catastrophe .

3D printing for victory

Saturday one of the Mate’s nurse friends asked if anyone could 3D print face shields for medical people in clinics she works at. I have a recently-upgraded Prusa I3 Mk 2.5 printer and said I’d try.

A little digging around on the intertubes turned up face shield model files on Prusa’s own website. They’d been developed with some input from the Czech health authority. The design had a 3D printed frame, used rubber bands to hold it on, and used whatever clear plastic sheeting was available. The Mate’s friend Helen was able to get clear plastic page dividers at an office supply store. I thought “desperation is the mother of invention.”

Prusa had “stacked” files for four and eight copies of the frame. I printed a stack of 4 and had my iPad Mini make a timelapse of the 8.5 hour print.

This first batch printed brilliantly and came apart easily. The second batch of four also printed beautifully but wouldn’t come apart at all–even broke my knife! Arghh. I started printing two at a time, separately, instead. Each print takes 2:47 this way. So I can make 8-10 per day.

It’s quite a failure of free market capitalism that this is necessary.

Anthony Fauci Interview

Yesterday Science magazine published an extraordinary interview with Anthony Fauci, head of the  National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He’s been essentially the only technical voice of the Administration for the COVID response. Otherwise, it’s been all politicos–Kushner, Pence, etc. T’was brilliant of him to give this interview to Science magazine and not the mainstream media. On the other hand, I read this thinking that Fauci’s begging to be fired. One just doesn’t gainsay the President in a public, on the record interview. And he did it more than once. I have to believe he’ll be gone by the end of the week.

Fauci wasn’t in today’s presidential briefing. Today’s WaPo article doesn’t mention the Science article, though it quotes from it, but the administration is apparently about to “pivot” towards “reopening” the economy. That’s clearly not what Fauci thinks should be done at this point in time. Pivoting towards profit again over health and safety is being championed by the usual right-wing suspects: Larry Kudlow, Stephen Moore. The talking point is that the “cure shouldn’t be worse than the problem.” And since we have a businessman president who refused to divest his holdings, it’s worth noticing (as he surely has) that his own businesses are collapsing along with the services and tourism sectors.

In the same vein, on Twitter today historian Mar Hicks suggested today that even the “liberal” New York Times is helping the White House with the pro-business framing:

The graphic is about people. The headlines, $$$$. This isn’t a surprise to a sometimes-historian of climate change denial, of course. It’s the same logic. Profit for a few outweighs the health of the many.

The Huntington Connection

This year I’ve been fortunate to be spending half my time on a new Huntington Foundation fellowship, to establish a new joint research institute with Caltech in the history of science and technology. As part of that, I’ve had an office on the Caltech campus, an obligation to assemble a two week workshop in June that is to result in a published volume of essays, and an obligation to attend a weekly Fellows meeting on Wednesdays. The fellowship also comes with library privileges at the Huntington Library, USC, UCLA, and others–an awesome thing indeed! But all that has fallen apart over the past couple of weeks. Here’s how.

It feels like years ago already, but on March 8, my co-organizer for the workshop, W. Bernard Carlson of University of Virginia, arrived in town. He was to give a lecture on his recent book on Nikola Tesla on Thursday, March 12, at Caltech. On Tuesday, Caltech cancelled his lecture, under the guidance that groups over 100 people should no longer meet. The Huntington Library also cancelled its large lecture series through the end of May. Our small (10 person), late-June workshop didn’t count under those initial guidelines. Bernie made arrangements to take Amtrak back to Virginia, leaving Wednesday night.

Wednesday morning, Bernie and I met at the Huntington’s 1919 Cafe to work out our detailed schedule. Steve Hindle, the director for research at the Huntington, was called into an emergency meeting about the COVID situation, so we met with the administrator who was handling our logistics. Steve ran in briefly and we asked him when we’d know about June cancellations–after all, anyone paying attention to the disease spread had to be suspicious that the May cancellations were likely to turn into June cancellations (and, I’m betting right now, July cancellations.) Steve said we’d know in a fortnight, which conformed to our expectations. So we wrote to our participants Thursday morning that we’d know the workshop’s fate in a couple of weeks, but in the event of cancellation we’d continue working towards the volume. No reason not to, as we can write an edit a volume from our locations of Splendid Isolation. Our workshop was cancelled later that day.

The Long-Term Fellows Working Group dissolved on the same schedule. The group’s purpose was to facilitate our individual work and publications through reading each other’s work and providing feedback and critique at a weekly meeting. This was a really wonderful experience, and I learned a great deal from the others. It was a fun group. What happened, effectively, is simply that it became untenable. A number of foreign scholars had to leave, fearing they wouldn’t be able to later. For a couple of days, Steve Hindle wanted it to become voluntary, but the Library eliminated even small meetings. Again, for a couple of days it appeared that the research library would remain open so the Fellows could at least continue their research, but that changed, too. On March 18, the Library closed completely. Most of the Fellows returned to wherever their homes were. I wish them all well.

As the above image indicates, the Huntington Library and Gardens ultimately closed completely through April 19th. I won’t be surprised if the reopening is much later.

Starting to Log the Pandemic

My old friend Alice Dreger says we should record our experiences during this pandemic. And she’s right. It’s been such a surreal few weeks at Casa Conway that it’s worth trying to capture, at least at some level.

First, some background. It’s very likely that the Mate and I have already had the disease. She had two trips back East in January (DC Jan 8-10, Dallas Jan 25-28. . .both East-ish from Los Angeles) and became very sick. By January 31st, she was bedridden, 103F fever for 3 days, all the rest of the symptoms we’re now familiar with for COVID-19. Of course, we didn’t know what it was then but as the COVID stories started to appear, we became convinced that’s what she had. I also got sick but in my case, instead of the 3 weeks of illness, 3 days of 103 fever, respiratory issues, falling, etc., that she went through, for me the whatever-it-was lasted a week: 1 day of 100F temp, terrible headache and sinus congestion for several more days, and then recovery. I was tested at my own doctor’s office for the seasonal flu, and it wasn’t that.

If the above is correct, the Mate had the virus within 10 days of the first confirmed patient in the US (which was announced January 21, 2020.)

Since our recovery from the mysterious illness, we traveled to India (21 – 29 February), and then I attended the Columbia History of Science Group meeting at the Friday Harbor marine research station on San Juan Island (5-8 March). The India trip occurred just as official response (beyond the pointless travel bans) was beginning.

My own quasi-isolation from the world started with the trip to Friday Harbor. On March 2nd, my manager requested that I telework from my return on 8 March until 22 March. The precaution of telework was based on the single known case of “community spread” case of COVID-19 in the Seattle area. I can do most of my job remotely, so I didn’t argue.

That end date, while it hasn’t passed yet as I type this, is now moot. On March 17, my employer put about 6000 of its 7000+ employees on mandatory telework. Today the State of California issued a “stay home” order , which has no end date. It’ll be another month at least before I go back to work.

Gotta do some other things now but I’ll be back with more.