Why can’t we get ice cream during coronashutdown?

The only way that I am able to demonstrate my usefulness to children is taking them to ice cream shops. Recently, however, this has been a failure. On the first warm Sunday of what we here in Massachusetts jokingly call “spring”, it took 30 minutes to get a few cups. Where the shop previously would have had perhaps 4 or 5 people working behind the counter, only 2 soldiered on, perhaps unaware that unemployment now pays much better than scooping obesity. They had no soft-serve, which is what my customers actually wanted, and wouldn’t put the ice cream into cones, but would put cones into a bag and let customers reconfigure their ice cream once in a secure location.

Earlier this week, I took the kids to Bob Lobster, a seaside shack with picnic tables (closed off with yellow tape against a virus that survives only 30 seconds in sunlight; people are supposed to eat in their cars) that is walking distance from 2B2. There is a tempting ice cream cone sign outside. They had no ice cream to sell. I said “After we get back to Hanscom, I’ll take you to McDonald’s on 128 and we can get McFlurries.” McDonald’s had no ice cream to sell.

What’s going on? If sales at fast food outlets are down at least 50 percent, why don’t they have ice cream? Is it that all of the workers are at home soaking up unemployment and there aren’t enough to clean the soft serve machines?

A few snapshots from the trip. All of the bumper stickers are from one car.

Update: Success in Maynard, MA! With a minimal wait, we obtained four legal cups of take-out ice cream with edge-of-the-law cones stuck on top (not legal to serve ice cream in a cone, apparently).

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Security clearances during the coronapanic

A friend from graduate school needs a security clearance for some work that he is doing (I guess I can’t ask what!). An investigator telephoned me to check out his story and mine. She said that this would have been an in-person interview (which she prefers) during ordinary times, but that it was all phone-based due to coronaplague.

When our enemies have mined out all of our secrets five years from now, will that turn out to have been a hidden cost of the shutdown?

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Plague-proof the U.S. with nursing home and hotel pairings?

One of my bored-in-quarantine activities is mocking Facebook friends for their faith in various Utopian government-run schemes for winning the war against the evil coronavirus. Most of these schemes require a perfectly efficient government, the elimination of the Constitutional rights of healthy young people, and a perfectly compliant population (including the 22 million undocumented).

Usually they respond by defriending me, because the only thing more offensive than someone who doesn’t hate Donald Trump is a Holocough Denier. Occasionally, however, they’ll ask “What would you do, then?”

My first response is “I’m sure that ‘Do nothing’ would be a better plan than what U.S. state and federal governments have done.” Then I will disclose my favorite plan, which is to pair eldercare facilities with hotels so that all of the workers in a nursing home, for example, could move into the associated hotel as soon as a plague was declared, receiving battle pay for their 24/7 quarantine. In non-plague times the hotel could receive regular guests. Presumably there wouldn’t be too many left by the time the plague was upon us, so there would be hardly any non-staff guests to kick out. Any worker that didn’t want to suffer through the quarantine could leave, forfeiting the battle pay and, at least for the duration of the plague, the job at the nursing home.

The advantage of the above scheme is that nursing homes could be much better protected than they are now and have been during coronapanic. Currently, workers come and go every day, with no possibility of testing for the virus itself, and get a basic forehead temperature check when they report for work. A single asymptomatic infected worker could easily wipe out an entire nursing home. A second advantage is that it would be safe to run the rest of the society, including schools, for anyone under age 60 and in reasonably good health. Data from mass.gov:

It is true that some people younger than 60 died, but 98.3% had “underlying conditions.”

How much of a hit would an economy take it everyone over 60, plus those with a serious health condition, retreats into bunkers? Workers over age 40 are considered to be of such low quality by employers that the government has to force companies to hire and retain them.

I thought that this was an original idea, but of course a friend pointed me to an interview with Knut Wittkowski (“For 20 years, Wittkowski was the head of Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Research Design at The Rockefeller University’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science”):

The ideal approach would be to simply shut the door of the nursing homes and keep the personnel and the elderly locked in for a certain amount of time, and pay the staff overtime to stay there for 24 hours per day.

It is essentially the same as my idea, but with cots instead of comfortable hotel rooms.

(The rest of the interview is packed with heresy against the Church of Shutdown:

Governments did not have an open discussion, including economists, biologists and epidemiologists, to hear different voices. In Britain, it was the voice of one person – Neil Ferguson – who has a history of coming up with projections that are a bit odd. The government did not convene a meeting with people who have different ideas, different projections, to discuss his projection. If it had done that, it could have seen where the fundamental flaw was in the so-called models used by Neil Ferguson. His paper was published eventually, in medRxiv. The assumption was that one per cent of all people who became infected would die. There is no justification anywhere for that.

Knowing that the epidemic would be over in three weeks, and the number of people dying would be minor, just like a normal flu, the governments started shutting down in mid-March. Why? Because somebody pulled it out of his head that one per cent of all infected would die. One could argue that maybe one per cent of all cases would die. But one per cent of all people infected does not make any sense. And we had that evidence by mid-March.

Scientists are in a very strange situation. They now depend on government funding, which is a trend that has developed over the past 40 years. Before that, when you were a professor at a university, you had your salary and you had your freedom. Now, the university gives you a desk and access to the library. And then you have to ask for government money and write grant applications. If you are known to criticise the government, what does that do to your chance of getting funded? It creates a huge conflict of interest. The people who are speaking out in Germany and Switzerland are all independent of government money because they are retired.

One third of all deaths in New York State were in nursing homes. One could have prevented 20,000 deaths in the United States by just isolating the nursing homes. After three or four weeks, they could have reopened and everybody would be happy.

That would have been a reasonable strategy. But shutting down schools, driving the economy against the wall – there was no reason for it. The only reason that this nonsense now goes on and on, and people are inventing things like this ‘second wave’, which is going to force us to change society and never live again, is that the politicians are afraid of admitting an error.

It is a good thing that this guy is retired. He is definitely never going to get funding again!)

It is probably too late to do anything about coronaplague, but I wonder if we could implement this system in time for the next virus that turns out to be smarter than humans. I’m not sure that it would cost any money to have it ready to go. One thing that is cheap during a plague is hotel rooms. I would think that a hotel near a nursing home would be happy to have a contract guaranteeing them 75 rooms paid for during the duration of any plague on condition that they evict the general public. Who pays for the hotel rooms during the plague? Medicare! They’re going to be saving a ton of money during a plague due to the deaths of beneficiaries and the shutdown of ordinary health care, so let them use some of these savings to isolate the nursing home workers.

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Only about 1.7 percent of Danes had Covid-19 antibodies back in April

“Estimation of SARS-CoV-2 infection fatality rate by real-time antibody screening of blood donors” (medRxiv; thanks, Colin!) describes testing donated blood in Denmark (nearly 10,000 samples) and finding that only 1.7 percent were positive for coronavirus antibodies. The blood had been donated April 6-17.

Does this mean that, now that the Danes are emerging from their bunkers, they will essentially start all over with a coronaplague? If 98 percent of the population has no immunity to plague, how is that different than if 100 percent of the population has no immunity (presumably, the situation back in December/January)? If it wasn’t safe for people to mix back in mid-March, now that 2 percent of the population is presumed immune, it is suddenly safe?

What do we make of this seemingly crazy low number for a purportedly exponentially growing disease that had at least two months to run free in Denmark? Here are some possibilities:

  • Except in certain high-density cities, coronaplague is not very contagious, nowhere near as ferocious as we were told
  • A lot of people simply aren’t susceptible to coronaplague, just as a lot of people won’t catch a cold that is going around, and, having never been truly infected, don’t develop antibodies
  • The antibody tests that we have are not reliable for determining if someone has previously been infected with coronaplague

[Another aspect of the paper that I suspect won’t interest anyone:

Using available data on fatalities and population numbers a combined IFR in patients younger than 70 is estimated at 82 per 100,000 (CI: 59-154) infections.

In other words, a person under 70 who actually does get infected with this evil virus has a 0.082% of dying (about the same as the annual risk of death from commuting via motorcycle 4,000 miles per year). Given the current popular mood, however, I think any number larger than 0% will be a sufficient justification for cowering in a bunker.]

Some other studies in the most plague-ridden areas have found 20-30 percent of the adult population with antibodies. That too, however, suggests to me that a lot of people are somehow naturally immune.

Readers: Could Denmark have truly missed this first wave of plague?


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Tele-primary care costs during the Coronapanic: $1,220 per hour

I had called my primary care doc at the end of March to see if something should be done about the 5-week dry cough (Covid-19? Some other Massachusetts plague?).

The bill arrived today for “Phone evaluation and management by physician or other qualified health care provider, 11-20 minutes” (the cruel enemies of medical billing nirvana at Verizon Wireless unreasonably recorded this call as having lasted 10 minutes)

The cost billed to insurance? $305.

I hadn’t seen this doc for a while so they tried to get my old policy to pay, thus resulting in an unexplained disallowance and a bill to me for $305. If we assume that the doctor can do four of these “11-20 minute” calls per hour, that’s $1,220 per hour. A physician working from home full-time solo, therefore, could make $2.44 million per year.

(And, here in Massachusetts, the enterprising child support plaintiff who has sex with that physician, could make roughly $400,000/year, tax-free, for 23 years; no need to target a specialist!)

If you have no familiarity with the U.S. system, you might ask whether I received a diagnosis in exchange for $305. The good news is that I got at least two diagnoses: (1) asthma, (2) some sort of dripping from back of nose down into throat that might go away after two weeks of twice daily pumps (not to say “injections”) of Flonase. I did actually buy Flonase and managed to get in a day or two of treatments before the cough disappeared.

Keep in mind that I am being billed by a not-for-profit enterprise…


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Use testing and tracing infrastructure to enforce alcohol Prohibition?

Back in 2016, I wrote “Reintroduce Prohibition for the U.S.?”, pointing out various advantages for American society if we could reduce alcohol consumption. This proposal was not well-received!

What about in the Age of Corona? Technocrats are gearing up for a massive testing and tracing operation. Example: “Here’s A Way To Contain Covid-19 And Reopen The Economy In As Little As One Month” (Forbes, by a Boston University econ professor). Excerpts:

The solution is PCR group-household testing of all American households every week. … If a household tests negative, each household member would be notified to go to their local pharmacy to receive a green wristband coated to change to red after one week.

This system is voluntary. But if you choose to have your household tested and receive your green wristband, you’ll be permitted by your employer to return to work, by your teachers and professors to return to school, and by proprietors to enter their restaurants, shops, cafes, etc. You’ll also be allowed to frequent the beach, attend concerts, go to the movies, …

Any household that tests positive will be required by the local board of health to quarantine in place for two weeks and then be re-tested. Households that don’t voluntarily get tested will be free to come and go as they wish. But without their green bracelets, they will have a hard time entering into workplaces and other establishments. Employers who hired the untested could face legal liability. The same holds for any business serving the public who lets someone onto their premises without a green bracelet.

My Dutch friend: “This will be just like it was for Jews after the Nuremberg Laws and similar. They were perfectly free, but couldn’t run a business, buy a movie ticket, or go to school.”

Electronic bracelets can also work: “People-tracking wristbands tested to enforce lockdown” (BBC). See also “US, Israel, South Korea, and China look at intrusive surveillance solutions for tracking COVID-19” (zdnet)

Covid-19 is a pernicious disease. It has killed nearly 300,000 people worldwide so far. But what if we could use the above technology and infrastructure to stop a much more destructive killer: alcohol. WHO says that 3 million deaths worldwide are attributed to alcohol. The average age of a death with/from Covid-19 in Massachusetts is 82 and more than 98 percent of those who died had “underlying conditions.” Alcohol often kills people who could have lived for another 40-100 years. In terms of life-years, therefore, we could save many more by discouraging alcohol consumption.

(Is Covid-19 different because an alcohol-related problem is due to a failure of personal responsibility? Consider the child of an alcoholic or a passenger in a car struck by a drunk driver.)

Given that people can brew their own beer or distill their own vodka, presumably it is not possible to achieve a 100 percent reduction in alcohol consumption. But if restaurants, bars, and airlines (to the extent any are left) were not offering alcohol to every customer and there were no convenient liquor stores (“essential”!), wouldn’t it be fair to expect at least a 10 or 20 percent reduction in alcohol-related deaths? (marijuana consumption increased following legalization in Washington State; shouldn’t we expect alcohol use to be reduced following prohibition?)

Since Americans have now decided that “saving lives” is more important than what used to be considered individual rights… If we succeed with alcohol prohibition using test/trace tech, why not use the same technology to attack HIV/AIDS, which has killed more than 700,000 Americans? (Covid-19 would have to kill 7 million Americans to take away a comparable number of life-years, due to the much younger age at which HIV/AIDS victims perish.) There continue to be 6,000 deaths annually here in the U.S., which is roughly comparable to the life-years lost from 60,000 Covid-19 deaths.

None of these public health interventions were doable in the 20th century. Epidemiologists predicted that HIV/AIDS would spread beyond the LGBTQIA+ community and kill millions of Americans. White upper-middle-class single Americans were terrified in the 1980s by this disease that merited cover stories of TIME magazine multiple times. Nobody would have tolerated the criminalization of sex outside of marriage in order to “save lives”. Today, however, there is no limit on the power of the government when there is a public health goal. (Maybe outlaw all sexual activity? If people want children they can be imported via immigration and/or produced locally and without HIV risk via IVF.)

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Massachusetts enters its third month of shutdown

Our schools and cubicle farm offices shut down more than two months ago. Our “non-essential” stores a little less. So I think it is fair to say that today is roughly the day that we in Massachusetts enter our third month of shutdown.

Charts of new cases and new deaths don’t suggest that whatever we did during the first two months of shutdown had much effect on the virus.

How are we doing compared to the Swedes? Our death rate thus far is up to 2.3X what they are suffering in “let the virus burn through the younger than 65 population” Sweden (see “Number of new COVID-19 cases worldwide is declining now?” for my tracking of the numbers).

How about compared to the states with no income tax? Our death rate is 20X that of Texas and Tennessee, 10X Florida’s, 7X Nevada’s, 75X what they have in Wyoming and Alaska.

With the virus failing to live up to its dramatic exponential promise, but also failing to go away, we’re grasping at straws such as a recent governor’s order to fine people $300 who don’t put masks (that are impossible to purchase) on 6-year-old children (who will probably not follow WHO guidance regarding proper use of the mask!).

The current IHME prophecy for Massachusetts is 9,629 deaths through early August on a slow decay:

How does this compare to a country with no lockdown? The IHME prophets predict 5,760 deaths for Sweden during the same time period:

Tough for me to discern a dramatic difference in these shapes (though of course there will be a higher death rate, adjusted for population, in Massachusetts, roughly 2.4X Sweden’s if IHME proves correct).

The slow/steady curve seems to be the virus’s plan for the entire world:

Maybe there is a downward trend visible in deaths, though? The flat graph for new cases is an artifact of increased testing?

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Don’t get the antibody test yet

I had a physical checkup scheduled for March (the U.S. health care system had so much spare capacity prior to coronaplague that it took only 3 months to get on the schedule). As part of this, the doc ordered some bloodwork. Of course, everything has been pushed back until at least June. But I thought I would call the doc to see if he would add a coronaplague antibody test.

“Don’t do it yet,” he told me over the phone. “Everyone is waiting for the Mount Sinai test, which should be available in a couple of weeks.”

He said that even the best of the existing tests, such as the one from Roche, suffer from being triggered by previous infection to unrelated coronaviruses, e.g., due to a common cold a year previously. This is at variance with the Roche press release, so I am not 100 percent sure that he is correct, but since there is nowhere to go right now maybe waiting a couple of extra weeks doesn’t matter.

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Modern buildings are LEED-certified plague factories?

One of the arguments advanced by citizens of our Boston suburb (Lincoln, Massachusetts) in favor of a $600/square foot renovation/reconstruction of the K-8 school (about $250,000/student, making it perhaps the most expensive school ever built in the United States) was that the 25-year-old windows in the classrooms and the exterior door from every classroom to the outside grass (single-story building) were leaky and prevented the building from reaching Net Zero nirvana. Without A/C in the classrooms, teachers had windows completely open for much of the year.

The construction project, contracted for at the very peak of the Boston real estate market, will commence in June 2020. (One argument by project proponents was that the vibrant local real estate economy would continue to expand forever, thus construction costs would rise at 5 percent forever, so we would be saving huge $$ by spending $110 million now.) The building shell will be sealed as tightly as possible and fresh air will be kept to the absolute minimum. Students will have to funnel in through one of a handful of exterior doors and funnel out through those same doors when school ends. Obstructing direct student egress from individual classrooms was sold as a defense against mass shooting. Apparently students are safer when trapped into their classrooms than they would be if they’d run 1/4 mile away.

I wonder if we have been and are building ourselves into a plague-friendly environment. Even with energy recovery ventilators, we still need to minimize fresh air in order to achieve Net Zero Nirvana. Green building advocates claim that somehow indoor air quality is actually higher in the latest green buildings, but perhaps they are comparing them to the failed Jimmy Carter-era energy crisis sealed office buildings (complete with plastic carpet emitting toxic fumes for decades!).

It is tough to believe that the new school, in which air gets in and out primarily via a handful of central pipes, will be as plague-resistant as the old school, in which every group of students had direct access to fresh air via a massive window bank and/or an open door.

As the U.S. population grows, thus packing a higher percentage of us into multi-family housing, and an ever-larger percentage of our buildings are designed for minimum energy consumption, will viruses end up being the primary beneficiaries?


  • “LEED Building Standards Fail to Protect Human Health” (Yale): One of LEED’s major accomplishments — saving energy by making buildings more airtight — has had the paradoxical effect of more effectively trapping the gases emitted by the unprecedented number of chemicals used in today’s building materials and furnishings. … Programs such as LEED place relatively little emphasis on indoor air quality.
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