One million people exhaling billions of viruses

Apparently the Coronavirus has become more contagious. It appears we can get infected more easily now than during the first wave. There’s nothing mysterious about this. It’s just natural selection at work. Masking and self isolating was impeding the virus, dramatically reducing the rate of infection. So the most contagious of the viruses are the ones that manage to spread. Suddenly it becomes much more dangerous to go without masks, to be around other people, to share air indoors with those other people. We’re now at the point that the likelihood of being infected by being indoors around others is apparently much higher than it was in the spring. Masked or not, being in restaurants, grocery stores, bars, churches, or conference rooms is risky. Being indoors where anyone is going unmasked is dangerous. Being indoors where people are talking loudly, or laughing, or yelling or singing is very high risk. Being in a car or a bus with people is risky. Hanging out with friends indoors is risky. Masks reduce the danger that you will be the one spreading the virus, and it’s somewhat effective at keeping you from being infected. But not being indoors where other people are indoors is the most full proof method of not being infected. People are kidding themselves otherwise. Every trip to the grocery store is a roll of the dice. Every time you sit down inside a restaurant is a roll of the dice. Sitting down at a bar is rolling snake eyes.

I’ve stopped looking at my Facebook feed. Too many pictures of crowded places. Too many complaints about all the people in the grocery store. Too many people with pictures of them with too many friends. It only takes one virus exhaled one time by one person and inhaled by you within two or three minutes to give you a ten per cent chance of becoming desperately ill for a very long time. Sure, that sounds like long odds, until you realize just how many viruses an infected person exhales in a single breath. If the recorded case numbers of Covid 19 is one tenth the actual number of infected people, and every one of those people is shedding viruses with every breath, then there are one million people in Los Angeles County exhaling billions of viruses today. One million people is ten per cent of the county’s population. One out of every ten people around us is infected, and only one out of those ten infected people are aware that they are infected. 90% of the people infected with Covid-19 don’t realize they are exhaling perfect little copies of the coronavirus. Next time you’re in the store look around and think about that. Imagine you can see the viruses, a mist of Covid 19 wafting about as people move, breathe and talk.

Stay home

Considering that in LA there is a big variety of stores (we have eighteen) that will deliver a huge range of groceries in under two hours to your home for a very minimal fee I am completely mystified as to why nearly everyone I know is still going shopping themselves. Grocery stores are probably the highest risk place you can go for Covid infection this side of a hospital. There is no need whatsoever to go to one. There is no need to go to a pharmacy where people with hay fever and colds go to buy over the counter medications and cough and sneeze. You don’t need to get stuck in a line for take out. You have options. Fyl and I haven’t been in a store or a restaurant or a business of any kind almost since the shutdown. Yet our fridge, freezer, cupboards, bar and medicine cabinet are stuffed with everything you put in fridges, freezers, cupboards, bars and medicine cabinets. We have restaurant leftovers up the wazoo. We have all the stuff that other people are going to grocery stores, pharmacies, liquor barns, and restaurants for. And those people are several hundred times more likely to get infected than are we up here atop our hill in isolation.

Because every single time an even asymptotic infected person exhales, even just a simple silent breath, viruses tumble out and float about in the air for several seconds. If you breathe in air where they breathed out air just seconds before you have a very strong chance of inhaling a Covid virus, even just a single tiny one, that they just shed. Because the six foot radius we’re supposed to be keeping is a dynamic radius, so that everywhere an infected person just moved from leaves a danger zone. It’s not the infected person himself that is dangerous as much as it is the air in which he just exhaled. That is where the virus exists in the largest numbers, in the exhaled air we leave around us, so there will be a trail of air following the infected person that will be full of living viruses for at least several seconds.

Next time you’re in your favorite grocery store, whether it’s a big giant chain store or a smaller, hipper one, look at all the people and imagine the infected air an infected fellow shopper would leave in their wake. Who knows how many Covid viruses are expelled with that person’s every exhalation. And who know who among your fellow shoppers is asymptomatically infected and shedding viruses like there’s no tomorrow, which there might not be for the poor high risk bastard who breathes in one. Because you only need to inhale one of those exhaled viruses. If it fixes itself to a cell in your lungs with its spikey little protuberances, it will puncture the cell wall and begin feeding off your cell’s innards like some ultra microscopic lamprey to get the nutrients it needs to generate copies of itself. It reproduces like the viruses that inhabit an infected computer. The principal is virtually identical and if you’re not protected by the right antibodies, it will do to your internal organs what a computer virus does to your hard drive. All that from the one single virus you breathed in at MegaMart or Hipster Haven, even though you were six feet away from everyone else in the store.

Of course this doesn’t only apply to shoppers at your favorite grocery store. It could be the completely healthy looking couple in front of you on the sidewalk. It could be one of the people in line in front of you at the Thai take-out. It could be one of your very best friends in front of you, smiling.

Stay home.

Mockingbirds

Listening to these mockingbirds improv reminds me of a factoid I read today in Daniel Tammet’s Embracing the Wide Sky that in order for male songbirds to sing some of the incredibly complex songs which change constantly, up to one per cent of the neurons in their song center are replaced by new neurons every single day, which adds up pretty quickly. That’s what those mockingbird brains are doing, rebuilding themselves continuously. Not adding brain cells to what is there already, but replacing them. It’s as if in order to speak we had to replace 100% of the neurons in our language center every 100 days. That is, all the grammar we’ve hardwired into our brain is replaced by entirely new brain cells with all new intricately laced connections between them four times a year. It’s not quite that simple (some of the neurons in the mockingbird’s song center will be replaced more often than others and others are more permanent), but still, our grammar and vocabulary would completely and fundamentally change over a period of a hundred days. Not all at once, but a little everyday so that you’d be speaking a completely different language in April from what you were speaking on January 1. I’m writing this in English now and a hundred days from now I’d be writing this in Armenian, and next year in Sioux. Plus I’d wake you up at five in the morning screaming outside your window.

Plague diary, March 24

It’s all so eerie. Emails have just about stopped. Facebook is a trickle. Even Twitter has slowed dramatically. Come nightfall you don’t see people on the street, the neighbors have almost disappeared, traffic is almost not there, and now almost everyone on social media has vanished. This is the weirdest fucking time I can ever remember. Where are we all?

It’s 3 am now and I keep thinking I have stuff to do today but I don’t. Places to go but there aren’t. People to meet but none of them either. I go out on our sundeck in the middle of the city and it’s silence.

Self isolation means literally self isolating.

Self isolation means literally self isolating. It does not mean going for walks or hanging out with friends, it does not mean your friends are any less infectious than perfect strangers, nor does it mean that you yourself are not an asymptomatic carrier of the coronavirus infecting everybody you come in contact with. The virus itself is not as dangerous as the people who spread the virus. We enable the virus. Without us exhaling it could not spread. Without us inhaling it could not spread. Every single breathing person you see including the person staring back at you in the mirror is potentially infected with the coronavirus, and the numbers of those of us who are infected is increasing at an exponential rate every day. The vast majority of people are infected by those in their family, and by their friends. Though you can be infected by a stranger you are far likelier to be infected by those you know very well.

Remember, the pandemic is not considered controlled until there are absolutely no new cases for fourteen days in a row. Because one infection very quickly becomes hundreds of new infections. That is how this becomes out of control so fast. That is why this is a pandemic. That is why everyone keeps telling you to please stay home.

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Plague diary, March 14

Today is the Feast of Saint Lidwid, patroness saint of the chronically ill and ice skaters. It occurs to me that if Ronald Colman got stoned he’d be James Mason. Try it yourself. Do Ronald Colman saying Bonita, smoke a joint, then do Ronald Colman saying Bonita again. Voila—James Mason. Sadly, if you actually can do Ronald Colman saying Bonita, you’re a cinch to be a coronavirus statistic. Hence, Saint Lidwid.

Our uniquely American coronavirus experiment

So it seems the United States has undertaken a fascinating experiment to see just how vulnerable septuagenarian presidential contenders in large crowds several times a week are to the coronavirus. Though death is unlikely—that increases dramatically after eighty—were any of them to fall ill to the virus they would certainly have to be hospitalized and quarantined, and I have no idea how long the hospital stay would be and when they’d be healthy enough to return to campaigning (let alone being president.) Even if the disease proves to be mild for most people it would likely still be severe for anyone in their seventies, perhaps even dangerously so. It’s hard to get around the fact that a presidential campaign in a rapidly expanding pandemic leaves candidates Biden, Sanders and Trump extremely vulnerable to getting very, very ill. Our presidential candidates are supposed to be seen personally by literally millions of people, wade into crowds, press the flesh, shake a zillion hands, kiss hundreds of babies, meet thousands of reporters, stay in hundreds of hotels and takes hundreds of trips by air. They must do everything the CDC tells you never to do.

And then there’s the matter of testing everyone each had been in contact with and then quarantining the infected among them, not to mention the possibility of having to hospitalize some of those people as well. There are very few people who meet as many people as a presidential candidate in the heat of a campaign. Each, once infected, would be an extraordinarily effective disease vector, a Typhoid Mary gone meta, viral gone viral. Just the selfies alone hold extraordinary potential for exponential virus transmission. An iPhone is exquisitely designed to transfer the coronavirus from one victim to another with a swipe of the screen.

Interesting scenarios at the very least.

Notes from a previous pandemic

From emails sent while down with the H1N1 flu, 2009…..

Flu hit suddenly Sat noonish. You will crack up…Fyl had made some hummingbird nectar and put it in a dry goods container that was easy to topple.  I envisioned sticky red hummingbird nectar everywhere and freaked out, poured it into the sink and raged a bit about sticky stuff, then retreated to the couch and had an inexplicable panic attack for about a half hour, obsessing over sticky stuff. [I am epileptic and this was apparently some weird epileptic panic attack set off by the virus.] Then I got incredibly sleepy and managed to make it into the bedroom, shut the blinds, strip to skivvies and slip into bed under the covers and slept for a couple hours. Woke up damp with sweat. Up maybe 15 minutes and back to bed. Woke up sweaty again, with a real flu-sy feeling. No respiratory stuff, some GI discomfort.  Just feverish and sleepy. Sometimes intensely sleepy. Chills and mild fevers come and go. I looked up flu symptoms and this matched the mild symptoms of the swine flu that are being reported, especially the “lethargy, sometimes extreme”. Just a hint of respiratory stuff, a sore throat for a hour or two, mildly stuffy nasal thing. Cramps and aches pretty minor, chills come and go, but wish I could shake the tiredness. Seems to lessen by the day.

On Friday we were at a jazz joint and ran into a friend who had just returned from NYC [where H1N1 was pandemic] and was telling me all about the packed nightclubs. He leaned right into my face a couple times to be heard. This thing started about 7 or 8 hours later. The force it hit with is obvious by how it so threw off my epilepsy meds and caused me to freak about sticky stuff. I suppose I would have freaked out about anything. Sticky stuff is just funny…..

Having trouble reading, btw.  Get groggy. A drag.

My only real complaints about this thing are that the drowsiness makes it hard to read and that it’s severely circumscribed my quality partying time. We must have our priorities.

I appear to be on the recovery side of a sudden flu that hit me Sat afternoon the symptoms of which match the current swine flu. Never had a flu quite like it. Mild but the lethargy was debilitating…you just stopped everything and fell asleep. Chills, bone aches, a little GI discomfort, like that…respiratory symtoms almost totally absent…looked like I was gonna develop some Sat nite but dissipated in an hour or two, and had a cough and sore throat the same way. But muscle cramping, aches, mild fever and extreme lethargy…. Damn thing hit so fast om Saturday that within an hour I was in bed, asleep and sweating. Very dramatic onset. You can see how were one to have more severe symptoms it could be life threatening really fast. The first sign that something was amiss was a panic attack for the stupidest reason that left me shaking and freaked out—apparently the immune system reaction was so strong it must have completely thrown off my epilepsy med levels…within thirty minutes of that I was in bed just about unable to move. It was very impressive.

I woke up after a couple hours and tried to use the head—GI was upset—but passed out of the toilet!!! Right back to bed. Woke up soaked later and recognized that flu-sy feeling all over. That’s when I started to look up symptoms and found out I was kinda textbook H1N1. Now….Friday night—less than 24 hours earlier—we ran into an old pal who had just gotten back from NYC where he spent times in the jammed nightclubs…and who to make himself heard over the band in the room was coming in close to my face….I kinda figure that was contact for me.

Anyway, I am so proud to be the first person I know of with swine flu [as it was being called in the media at the time.] Alas, I quarantined myself, and Fyl as well so we have not done a very good job of passing it on. Even kept separate from her as much as possible. Hopefully back at work on Thursday.

Been home on the couch with the swine flu a few days. There was just a knock at the door. Jehovah Witnesses. I shouted from inside Black Plague-like that “we have the flu in here”. Jehovah filled them up with fear, I guess, as they blessed me through the door and fled down the steps.

I’ve been fascinated with the pathology of influenza ever since my dad used to tell me the stories he’s heard from his mother about the 1919 Spanish Influenza.  I read whatever I could find on it, which hasn’t been much till the last dozen years or so..and what I could never fathom was how a flu could be so virulent…not so much how contagious it could be, that I could understand, but the rapidity of the onset. How someone could be feeling fine and within an hour desperately ill. It didn’t seem conceivable until last Saturday.  I went from perfectly fine, feeling great, to passed out in bed in less than thirty minutes. The first effect was a bizarre panic attack of a few minutes about nothing, without warning, absolutely out of nowhere, followed within a couple by trembling, then a sort of lower extremity numbness, followed by chills and then a sudden attack of fatigue so extreme that all I could do was go into the bedroom, close the blinds, undress, get under the covers and fall asleep. We are talking at most fifteen minutes here. I probably laid in bed at the most five minutes utterly exhausted before passing out utterly. Fyl got into the shower after my initial freak out (being married to an epileptic weirdo she paid little heed to that) and by the time she got out of the shower I was dead asleep. She woke me up I think two hours later. I vaguely remember being sweaty and having vivid dreams. I got up. dressed, and I think told her we could still do the things we had planned on that night. I felt like I had the runs or something coming on, some kind of GI discomfort.. I passed out in the john, got up and immediately went back into bed. I guess i slept another hour and woke up sweaty again, got up, and realized that I felt like I had the flu. That flu feeling all over. Thus I had been sick for a good three hours but been so stricken with fatigue I didn’t even know it. That’s when I wondered if I might have that new flu, as this one was unlike any flu I had ever had. I knew the symptoms were mild, and there was so lung infection and just became completely fascinated. I was actually exited to be experiencing this new flu. At last I understood just how influenza could kill healthy people…. You see, the onset is so rapid, and so overwhelming, that if the symptoms did include respiratory problems, they would develop with incredible speed, so fast that even the healthiest body would be challenged to deal with them. The overwhelming immune response can kill the patient. All my responses—the crazy nervous system response—the panic attack—and the trembling and the fatigue were all side effects of my massive immunological response. That is how all those perfectly healthy young people died in 1919. That I knew. But this was how it felt. This was what it was like to have your body impacted by an extremely virulent form of influenza—even though the degree of infection was far smaller. And weird as it sounds I was really thrilled to get this. Now I knew.

By the way, the only thing I can compare it too in speed of onset is food poisoning. It hits with the same velocity and power.

My god I sound like Mr. Spock.

[I was the first person I knew to come down with the H1N1 flu and certainly the only one to admit it. I wasn’t allowed back to work for ten days. I knew dozens of people who felt achey and slept for several days, but none were dumb enough to call it the flu.]