Home » 2020 » May

Monthly Archives: May 2020

Back to Black – Racism and Police Homicides in America

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Mr. George Floyd of Minnesota

Once again, an egregious police homicide of a Black man caught on videotape shatters the calm and erupts into national protests and outrage. This time it is George Floyd of Minnesota. His life was slowly squeezed out of him as he lay bound and helpless while a seemingly depraved and indifferent cop pinned Mr. Floyd’s neck to the pavement with his knee.

Once again, the eyes of the nation turn towards the seemingly intractable problem of racism that, among its many forms, would cause African Americans to be nearly twice as likely to die at the hands of law enforcement than White Americans. Racism is our greatest barrier to becoming a more perfect union and at present, the racists seem to have ascended to power.

And once again, this despicable racial killing by a cop in broad daylight has ignited a blaze that masks an underlying outrage behind the numbers. About one-thousand American civilians are being killed every year by our civilian police force. From January 1, 2015, through December 31, 2019, there have been 1,179 police homicides of Black citizens, 2,242 homicides of White citizens, 843 police homicides of Hispanic civilians, and a total of at least 4,947 civilians killed by police.

Data is from the Washington Post database. Analysis by the author.

Civilian homicides by police always rise to public attention because they so disproportionally target African-Americans. Once the problem is framed as a systemic racial issue the proposed remedies never reach beyond the disproportionality question. The fact that our highly aggressive and militant police training is resulting in thousands of needless deaths never comes to light. Until that is addressed, the proposed solutions will never be to anyone’s satisfaction.

Data from the Washington Post database. Analysis by the Author

Civilian homicide rates by law enforcement in America are orders of magnitude higher than in Great Britain, France, or Germany. Yet, the actual number of civilian deaths could be considerably larger still. There is no mandatory federal tracking of homicides caused by police in the line of duty. Federal reporting is all voluntary and spotty at best. The countries best numbers come by combing through local newspaper accounts and gleaning what can be learned from the public account of police-involved civilian deaths. This civilian effort to track police homicides only started about five years ago. It is an imperfect system. Clearly, not all police shootings make it into the local newspapers. The information reported is rarely investigated by local reporters. They are the accounts given to the press by the local police officials. And there are undoubtedly police-related fatalities of civilians that are never reported in the local press.

No racial activist would be or should be satisfied if successful remedies to the racial problem merely end racial disparities. In practical terms that would mean about 103 fewer Black minority deaths each year while still tolerating 133 annual minority homicides. It would be equally crazy to accept 448 White civilian death by the police as long as this carnage is in proportional to the number of Blacks and Hispanics that are also killed each year.

Data is from the Washington Post database. The analysis is by the author.

The militarization of the American police force is its own grave problem that must be addressed. If German laws and police practices were adopted here, adjusted for our larger population, the United States might expect only about 40 police homicides per year, mostly justified uses of force, as opposed to nearly 1,000.

The arguments for this position on police homicides are in numbers found in the tables I created from the data contained in five year’s worth of information collected by the Washington Post. Seeing all the names as you scroll down that database of the dead is sobering.

——————————————–

Memorial Day Lessons in this 2020 Pandemic

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW


Before we flood back out into the world over Memorial Day of 2020 to remember our fallen soldiers, let’s remember the fallen in this viral war we are fighting today. If you plan to head out to the beaches, locker rooms, barbeques, churches, or synagogues, first remember to honor the lessons taught to us by 100,000 Americans who have already died. They are telling us that we cannot wash away this modern plague. We can not pray it away or wish it away. Until we control the virus through testing, isolating, and contact tracing, or through vaccinations, we are on our own. We must protect ourselves and everyone around us from the air we all breathe.

 

First, we need to understand that a virus is not a bacteria. Bacteria are small cellular critters that live on surfaces and feed off of the residues of film and grime that cover every surface. Bacteria are alive in most meanings of that word, and if you pick up enough of them on your hands, and touch your eyes, nose, or mouth, you can infect yourself with them.

 

Viruses like COVID-19 are 100 times smaller. They are mere strands of genetic material with no living activity when not in contact with host cells. They flit about in the air for a time, some of them floating around in moisture droplets released into the air that soon falls to the ground. Other virus strands end up in much smaller aerosol particles that stay suspended in the air for hours until they are sucked into your body when you take in a breath (think MASKS). If you touch a surface recently sprinkled with moisture droplets containing the virus, and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth without first washing or sanitizing your hands, you may also infect yourself. This is a less common way to catch the virus because these viruses don’t stay intact long when the moisture dries up.

 

When COVID-19 viruses get sucked into your lungs from the air, they land on the surface of your lung cells (or other cells). They trick the cell walls into letting them come inside. This is when they become active. They take control of the cell and force the cells into replicating them wildly until the cell ruptures, releasing an army of clones into the surrounding tissue. Some of these clones attach to surrounding cells and slip inside to begin replicating again. Others are caught up in the air currents and get rushed outside the body in a breath, or a cough, or a sneeze (think MASKS).

 

The amount of virus in the air (called virus load) depends on several factors, including how sick a person is who is breathing out the virus, how close to a sick person’s breath-cloud you are (think SOCIAL DISTANCING), the volume of air per person in a given enclosed space, the air exchange rate in a building or enclosure and the length of time that a sick person is breathing virus into the air in a room, for example (think MASKS).

The manner of a sick person’s breath matters also. A cough releases a lot more virus than a breath and a sneeze releases a huge amount of airborne virus that travels at up to 200 miles per hour across a room (think MASKS). But as we learned the hard way, even one pre-symptom person singing in a choir can release copious amounts of virus in the air and infect nearly everyone else at a rehearsal.

 

Finally, our exposure to COVID-19 virus in the air is dependent on two factors, the virus load in the air we are breathing (again, think MASKS) and the length of time that we are breathing contaminated air. It’s a little like radiation exposure in this sense. No amount of exposure is entirely safe, but the amount of radiation and the length of time we are exposed increases our odds of getting sick.

 

So, as you venture out and about in the coming days, don’t poke your face into anyone’s breath cloud. Keep your social distance. Wear a mask when you are in close contact with others. Always wear a mask in stores, gyms, churches, homes, or any other enclosure where you are not alone. You don’t need a mask in the open air where no one is by you, but keep it handy. Your life could depend on it.

An Alternative to Total Lockdown is Urgently Needed

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Forget the Swedish or the German model for controlling the COVID-19 pandemic. The United States should develop its own alternative model to control the outbreak, one based on science and the particular demographic data that have emerged about this disease.

An alternative approach is urgently needed because, a) a general lockdown of the entire country and its economy cannot be sustained for long, and b) the more obstreperous elements of our population, and the billionaire elites who may be pulling their strings, are already forcing states into lifting restrictions on everyone. We are heading into what will likely be a disastrously premature reopening of the economy

America is trapped in a binary choice between letting COVID-19 run its natural course or locking down society to minimize the infections and deaths until a vaccine is available. The ultimate civilized goal in a pandemic is to achieve herd immunity through vaccinations, or by any other scientific means that results in the least possible loss of life. In the absence of any civil interventions, a novel virus simply runs rampant through the population at exponential speed, making almost everyone sick and killing millions if it is a lethal strain. In the absence of vaccinations, people who recover from the novel virus are likely to develop antibodies that will prevent reinfection for some period of time, although there are exceptions. When enough people in a population have immunity following their illness or through inoculations, the whole population develops herd immunity. This means that even those people who are susceptible to illness when exposed to the virus are rarely ever exposed to it. They are safely buffered by the many people around them who are immune.

There are two demographic characteristics of COVID-19 morbidity and mortality rates that appear significant and potentially useful in creating an alternative approach to controlling the pandemic. The first is the very differential mortality rates according to age, and the second is emerging evidence that up to 50% of individuals who contract the virus never display any symptoms of the illness. Look at the mortality differentials first.

HIGH-RISK GROUP


CDC data (see table below) shows that 97% of COVID-19 deaths are of people 45-years-old or older. This agrees with data collected in Sweden, China, and other countries.  Also, death rates are much higher in people with underlying health conditions. From these data, we know that there is a high-risk group that requires optimal protection from exposure to COVID-19.  It follows that any adults caring for people in this high-risk group also need to be optimally protected from exposure to the virus. High-risk individuals by age or underlying medical conditions and their caregivers should be allowed to remain in social lockdown in those states that are starting to life restrictions.

When the data in this CDC age/mortality rate table are pictured in a bar graph, the trendline reveals an exponentially rising mortality rate with age. It turns out that 97% of all COVID-19 deaths are of people over the age of forty-five.

A confirming set of data that looks at age and hospitalization rates produces a similar pattern (see below). This graph was produced by the CDC. And it does make sense that those who are more deathly ill would be more likely to require hospitalization. Taken together it makes sense that limiting exposure to this age-related high-risk group should lower both mortality rates and hospitalization rates, thus helping to prevent our health care system from becoming overwhelmed.

NON-PERSONAL-RISK GROUP


There is data that suggests as many as 50% of the population may carry the COVID-19 virus while remaining symptom-free. These people apparently test positive for the active virus but remain free of illness. During the period of their contagion, however, they remain a vector for exposing others to COVID-19. This makes them especially dangerous to others while they, and others like them,  are not at risk of illness or death themselves. Furthermore, if the bodies of symptom-free individuals ultimately eliminate the virus, these people may also develop antibodies to prevent another contraction of the virus. If their bodies have some other way of fighting COVID-19, that should be studied investigated as it might lead to effective new therapies.

A careful analysis of the characteristics of this non-personal risk group should be conducted at once to sees if researchers can reliably identify who is likely to be asymptomatic after exposure to COVID-19. If people in this category can be reliably identified, then at the least these would people for whom initial phases of vaccinations efforts would not be as critical. That would greatly focus resources while manufacturing of the eventual vaccine is scaling up.

MODERATE-RISK GROUP


If identifying individuals who are at not at personal risk of coronavirus illness can be accomplished without any special testing (say on a demographic basis) then identifying them would be advantageous for a number of other reasons. One advantage would be to create a middle group of people who fall outside of both the high-risk category and non-personal-risk group. This middle group of people would likely mildly to moderate symptoms when exposed to COVID-19.  This group of people would know that have to maintain appropriate safety precautions to prevent getting sick when they become exposed to the virus. The greater certainty of having this knowledge would help inform their decisions and behavior when reintegrating back into a less regulated environment as states begin opening up the economy.  These are also the people who would most benefit from testing, isolation, and contact tracing to control the spread of the virus. Being a smaller subset of the population, this would help target precious testing capacity and focus it where it would do the most good. When members of this group do recover from the illness, they will presumably have developed immunity that can allow them the non-personal-risk group.

 

This three-tiered method of controlling the virus would permit a safer means to gradually reopen the economy and relieve the economic burdens on us all. It would allow us to direct medical and economic resources to where they are most needed and most necessary. When a vaccine is finally developed, this approach would pre-identify those who need to be inoculated first, thus not wasting precious doses on those for whom it is not in immediate need.

 

Pie in the sky? Maybe, but it is worth consideration.

Daily US COVID-19 Response Global Comparison

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

April 30, 2020 12:18 pm


[Check back for daily updates below]

Much of the national and local coverage of this coronavirus outbreak in the United States fails to set the proper global context as to how we are doing at handling it relative to every other country on earth. This lack of perspective gives us a false sense of success at how well we are doing in reducing new infections and COVID-19 deaths. This false sense of being over the hump fuels the polarized political debates that further divide us on every issue. We should be united behind the science of infection controls during a global pandemic rather than driving wedges into the public debate to support or defend our political instincts. The virus certainly doesn’t play politics, and neither should we.

So, for a better perspective on how the United States is doing in our efforts to control this epidemic against the backdrop of the rest of the world, here are a few observation based on the number of new infections and deaths from yesterday, April 29th:

1. The United States had nearly as many new cases of COVID-19 yesterday than the next seven countries combined. The USA has 35% of the world’s new cases but only 4.2% of the global population. 

2. The united states had more COVID-19 deaths yesterday than the next six countries combined. We had 36% of all COVID-19 deaths in the world in the prior 24 hour period.




These comparisons clearly show that COVID-19 infection rates and deaths make the United States a huge outlier in the world.  We are not doing nearly as well as most other countries. And keep in mind that every nation still only has social distancing as the primary means to control the spread of infections. Testing, isolation, and contact tracing are part of the mix, but keeping infected people away from healthy people is all we’ve got at this point until we have a vaccine or effective treatments available. We are all in the same boat. 


These data, by the way, are continuously updated from the Worldometer.info website, a non-government, non-affiliated international effort to provide global statistics in an easy to access formate. 


So, the question has been asked, why are we doing so poorly compared with other countries? 

The answer is clear and inconvenient for many Americans. We have a lack of political leadership from the top. 


The wealthiest, most inventive, and industrious country in the history of the planet should, by now, have the capacity of testing 10 million citizens per day for the virus. Millions of people who are now unemployed should be hired, by now, to conduct testing, contract tracing, and welfare checks the millions who test positive for the disease and placed under quarantined. We should have in place a national stay at home order the same as every other country. We should have exceptions for stay at home order for essential workers, but we should have massive testing and mandatory guidelines, with aggressive enforcement, for those workers. We should not only have all the PPE we need by now, but we should also be exporting vast quantities of PPE to other nations that don’t have our manufacturing capacity. 


This is a picture of the nation we should be, the great country we once were. Nations of the world should be looking to us for guidance and help. Instead, we are inching our way back towards another round of disaster and death. 


______________________________________________________________________

MAY 1, 2020


The USA’s new infections are up and the death total is down today. Total COVID-19 tests are at 6,416,393 total tests or 19,311 per million population. We are ranked 44th in the number of tests/million. 



——————————————————-

MAY 2, 2020

The USA’s new infections are up to 36,007 new cases. That over 5,000 more cases in a day, more new cases than the next 9 countries combined. The death total (a lagging indicator) is down to 1,798 today. The total COVID-19 tests are at 6,600,878 total tests or 20,241 per million population. We are still ranked 43rd worldwide in the number of tests/million.




——————————————————————————————–

MAY 3, 2020

The USA’s new infections are down from yesterday to 29,744 new cases in a day, more new cases than the next 6 countries combined. The death total (a lagging indicator) is also down from yesterday to 1,691 today. The total COVID-19 tests administered yesterday were 328,511 for a cumulative total of 6,931,132 total tests or 20,940 per million population. We are still ranked 42nd worldwide in the number of tests/million.

__________________________________________________________

MAY 4, 2020

The USA’s new infections are down 2 days in a row from to 27,348 new cases, more new cases than the next 5 countries combined. The death total is also down from the past 2 days to 1,154 today. The total COVID-19 tests administered yesterday were 265,608 for a cumulative total of7,196,740 total tests or 21,742 per million population. We are ranked 41st worldwide in the number of tests/million.

When I started tracking how well we are doing fighting the virus compared to other countries a few days back I made the error of not looking back on the data far enough to see the existing pattern. I will correct that here with two bar charts. The first shows the shape of the curve for new cases of COVID-19 in the US and the second shows the death rates over time. Both reveal the spikes and dips in numbers as outbreaks flair and social distancing takes its effect on transmission rates. The overall message is one of encouragement as COVID-19 deaths are trending down and to a lesser extent, so are infection rates. The cautionary message is that some of the flair-up have spiked to record levels of transmission and death. This suggests that we should maintain our social distancing behaviors while being more proactively to take steps to prevent COVID-19 hotspots from flaring up in places where hotspots are likely to occur.

                                      

And because this is a global comparison, here is a side by side comparison of the graphs supplied by Worldometer on global and US deaths.  While the global graph is weekly and the US graph is daily, the overall time period is similar, so the graphs were sized alike to try and get a fair comparison of the shape of the curves, and they appear to be similar in slop.

_____________________________________________________________________

MAY 5, 2020

The USA’s new infections are down 3 days in a row to 24,713 new cases, nearly as many new cases as the next 4 countries combined. The death total rose, however, from 1,154 to 1,324. The total COVID-19 tests administered yesterday were 265,691, up just 83 additional tests from yesterday, for a cumulative total of 7,462,431 total tests or 22,545 per million population. We are ranked 41st worldwide in the number of tests/million.

_____________________________________________________________________

MAY 6, 2020

The USA’s new infections are up slightly to 24,798 new cases, nearly as many new cases as the next 5 countries combined. The death total rose again from 1,324 new deaths to 2,350 in the last 24 hour period. The total COVID-19 tests administered yesterday were 265,507, down 184 fewer tests from yesterday, for a cumulative total of 7,727,938 total tests or 23,347 per million population. We are ranked 41st worldwide in the number of tests/million.

To give us some perspective on how the United States is doing in comparison to other countries that have had a massive COVID-19 outbreak like us, Here are side by side comparisons of the daily number of new deaths and new infection rates for Spain, Italy, and the United States. You can clearly see that the United States is still struggling while the other two countries are clearly getting the virus under control.