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Notebook: Must Reads, Jiffy Masks, Surfer Ban, New Data -- Plus: Orangutan Handwashing Technique


Must-reads. As a public service, many of the nation's most respected and most credible online and print news organizations currently are providing their journalism about the coronavirus pandemic free to readers.

It is a providential, if regrettable, benefit of the crisis that publications like the Atlantic and the New York Times have suspended their paywalls for Covid-19 content. For news junkies, nowhere is this boon more notable than in a trio of consequential must-reads in this Sunday’s Washington Post which, taken together, provide the fullest account yet of how the federal government reacted, starting with the first national security intelligence reports about the virus outbreak in China.

  • “The U.S. Was Beset by Denial and Dysfunction as the Coronavirus Raged” is a deeply reported, 6,593-word investigative narrative that offers previously undisclosed information and perspective about how the whole of government responded, or failed to do so: “The United States will likely go down as the country that was supposedly best prepared to fight a pandemic but ended up catastrophically overmatched by the novel coronavirus, sustaining heavier casualties than any other nation."

  • ”Inside the Coronavirus Testing Failure: Alarm and Dismay among the Scientists who Sought to Help” is a sweeping examination of the original sin of America’s botched handling of the crisis, the failure to quickly develop and distribute a lab test that could have been used to contain the contagion, a scandalous fiasco that contrasts with several other nations. One university scientist who created a test within the first few days but could not get the government's attention, “channeled his energy into the paperwork problem, spending more than 100 hours filling out forms and collecting information needed for the (government application)...but when he finally submitted the material, an FDA official told him the agency could not accept it – because he had emailed it.”


  • “How Trump’s Attempts to Win the Daily News Cycle Feed a Chaotic Coronavirus Response” describes in infuriating detail how Trump’s warped world view continues to punish the nation with deadly impacts: “Trump is a sales guy, and it’s all about point of sale,” said (a longtime Republican operative). “It’s not about repeat customers and follow-ups. He wants to get the sale — that’s it — he wants to sell you the undercoating for your car, and it’s not his problem if the car breaks driving off of the lot.”

Superb public interest journalism: Newsmakers says check it out.


And now this message from our sponsor. Today’s post is brought to you by the American Handwashing Association (AHA).


Everyone by now has seen 13 or 14 of those public service-y videos that prove you’ve been washing your hands wrong your entire life, like this one, or that explain why it's so important.


In our view, nothing does a better job of demonstrating the virtues of thorough and frequent handwashing as this presentation from Sandra, the first orangutan in history granted legal personhood (you could look it up), who now resides at Florida's rescue Center for Great Apes.


And now back to regularly scheduled programming.

Surf’s down (II). San Diego County this weekend banned all swimming, surfing and recreational boating on its beaches, expanding an earlier order prohibiting activities at local facilities.

San Diego, with 1,209, has the second largest number of coronavirus cases among the 58 counties in California.

Amid multiple episodes of crowded parks and beaches, the order also came after warnings about activities in and around the ocean raised by a scientist at the nearby Scripps Institution of Oceanagraphy.

As Newsmakers previously reported, prominent atmospheric scientist Kim Prather believes that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, can enter ocean waters and, worse, coastal winds.

In Santa Barbara, Board of Supervisors President Gregg Hart told us that, although he has read about Prather’s comments in the media, the county is taking all due actions, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and under statewide orders from the governor’s office.

Hart said that if the county at some point decided to close the beaches, by blocking access to parking lots, for example, it would be due to crowds congregating or large numbers of people violating the six-foot social distancing guideline, not because of a speculative theory about viral infestation of the ocean.


So far, he added, that not has been necessary, noting that he personally checked out Arroyo Burro Beach on Saturday and was impressed with the cooperation of locals.

"Hendry’s Beach at 12:30 today,” he wrote, texting us photos of the scarcely populated beach. “Way to go SB!”


Similarly, Mayor Cathy Murillo told Newsmakers that she has “not had one discussion about prohibiting surfing or swimming, no.”

Cathy said the council will discuss issues surrounding of beaches and parks at Tuesday’s meeting.

“One possibility is closing the parking lots of the beaches as a way of discouraging overcrowding,” she saud. “It’s impossible to close the beach. We would never put up fencing. Nor would that work.”

World’s easiest face mask. Amid the growing consensus about the wisdom and good citizenship of wearing a face mask in public (except for, you know, the President of the United States), high end designers are churning out new models and spurring a national revival in sewing.


Not being all that handy, and Michael’s being closed and all anyway, our Department of Calamatous Craftsmanship and Medical Millinery Appurtenances has signed up with how-to geezer Stan Cravens, who takes only 2 1/2 minutes to show how to make a perfectly serviceable mask -- no sewing required.



New database. Santa Barbara, the 23rd most populous county in California, currently ranks 15th in the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the state – and 10th in cases per 100,000 people, according to a new, regularly updating, county-by-county mapping tool of the U.S., from the NYT.


Key numbers compiled from state and local public health agencies around the country, as of 5 p.m. Saturday:,

  • 13,894. Number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in California.

  • 5,277. Number of cases in Los Angeles County, which tops the list.

  • 168. Number of cases in Santa Barbara County, 15 th highest total among California’s 58 counties.

  • 35.5. Cases confirmed per 100,000 population statewide.

  • 37.9. Cases confirmed per 100,000 persons for Santa Barbara County, with a population of 443,738, the 10th highest rate in the state.


Both the number of individual cases, and the rate within the population, are substantially higher for Santa Barbara County than for the five counties closest to us in population – Tulare (107/23.2); Sonoma (107/21.3); Placer (101/26.6); Solano (78/17.8) and Monterey (62/14.3).

However, it simply is impossible to know the true scope of the spread of the disease because of the widespread shortage of testing kits, and the uneven distribution of tests, within and across counties, even if at first glance the numbers may suggest the virus is more prevalent in Santa Barbara.


Of the five counties closest in size to Santa Barbara, for example, only Sonoma and Monterey counties even have information about local testing posted on their web sites (Sonoma has conducted 2,271 tests, nearly twice as many as Santa Barbara at 1,271, while Monterey has conducted 1,014).


Amy Schoenfeld Walker, one of the graphic editors who put together the map and data base, said the Times produced the project because of inconsistent information being provided by public health officials across the country.

"I think we were struck — and continue to be — by the unequal levels of information offered by the counties. Some sites offer detailed charts and maps, while others note just the total cases for the county,” she told a reporter for the news organization's California newsletter.


"This is likely because of different levels of staff and resources, but we know that many residents are looking for more information in their communities," she added. "There is a promising trend for readers who are seeking more details: We’ve noticed that local sites tend to offer more data over time, as testing access improves and case tallies go up."

Deep in the weeds. In an involuted piece at 538, titled "Coronavirus Case Counts are Meaningless," chief propellor head Nate Silver posited that it is nearly impossible to use contemporary data to gain an accurate sense of where things stand:


The data, at best, is highly incomplete, and often the tip of the iceberg for much larger problems. And data on tests and the number of reported cases is highly nonrandom. In many parts of the world today, health authorities are still trying to triage the situation with a limited number of tests available. Their goal in testing is often to allocate scarce medical care to the patients who most need it — rather than to create a comprehensive dataset for epidemiologists and statisticians to study.

But if you’re not accounting for testing patterns, it can throw your conclusions entirely out of whack. You don’t just run the risk of being a little bit wrong: Your analysis could be off by an order of magnitude. Or even worse, you might be led in the opposite direction of what is actually happening.

A country where the case count is increasing because it’s doing more testing, for instance, might actually be getting its epidemic under control. Alternatively, in a country where the reported number of new cases is declining, the situation could actually be getting worse, either because its system is too overwhelmed to do adequate testing or because it’s ramping down on testing for PR reasons.

So there's that.


Stay home and stay safe.


JR

Images: Washington Post above the fold Page 1, 4-5-30; Center for Great Apes YouTube channel; Hendry's Beach 4-4-20 (Gregg Hart); Stan Cravens YouTube channel; New York Times charts showing 1) California counties, ranked 1-15 in Covid-19 cases; 2) counties ranked 1-15 in cases per 100,000 population; Deep in the weeds guy.

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