the 200th of March

Six months into the Covid era. It is now 193 days since we were sent home from campus on 6 March, and 183 days since the UK lockdown took effect on 16 March. We are in a twilight regime where the only enforceable directives are the group limit of six (unless it’s for school or work or grouse hunting where anything goes) and the requirement to wear a mask in enclosed public areas “unless there is a reasonable excuse for removing it.” Even these are not being enforced. Everything else is a recommendation – the usual strategy in this pandemic when a rule would make human sense but someone, usually business, objects.

Bookcrossing books on the table

I sat on the Waterfront with four people and a dog at the monthly Bookcrossing meetup on Saturday, will be going into London shortly to collect books and papers the office at my last gig, and am contracted for some in-person teaching this term, if we’re not sent home from that. It’s been nice knowing you all.

Official figures are 41,637 deaths, plus up to 20,000 extra deaths that might have been related to Covid. There are officially 371,125 confirmed cases, which is meaningless because everyone knows many people with it have not been tested and now we don’t trust the tests. The government has stopped reporting the number of tests and people tested, and it is clear that many tests have not even been read.

Covid tweet about testing backlog by @chrischirp @Gabriel_Pogrund

A study published last week showed reported cases doubling every week. Independent Sage, a watchdog group of scientists which publishes readable reports, has sharp words about what needs to happen to get to “zero Covid”: better contact tracing and testing, and incentives for those asked to isolate.

The case graph looks like this is the expected second wave. Kids are back in school, full days. The university term starts in a week and Independent Sage thinks it should start online. Parkrun is supposed to restart at the end of October. Most UK science fiction conventions through the end of the year are already cancelled, postponed or online.(Octocon is still running online by the way – it’s a mistake to say it’s cancelled. They’re doing practice runs with taster panels from September 19.)

Town information is now easier to get than county information: Ipswich has recorded 746 cases to 14 September, including 8 cases in the last week, and 127 deaths. There were 6 cases per 100,000 people this past week compared with a national average of 18.

One of the few things we are sure of is that masks slow the spread. Yesterday I saw on-the-street mask sellers in Ipswich for the first time. Mail-order mask makers, you had a nice long run but it’s ending, aside from arty masks with cool fabrics and designs. Specialist food businesses have done well: our splendid Asian supermarket was was featured in a Times article about – well, mainly promoting Google, but it was nice to see. The local veggie shop has also expanded into a supermarket with an online side.

Long Covid reports are more and more disturbing. It can look like anything – it has joined tuberculosis, sarcoid, syphilis and AIDS on the list of most protean diseases (Trisha Greenhalgh in BMJ video below). Effects can include chronic fatigue, mental health problems, and glaucoma (other reports), as well as the more widely reported respiratory and circulatory conditions.

There are many reasons people with symptoms aren’t getting tested, we see in news and anecdote: not enough tests locally (the case in hotspots, according to headlines), they don’t have a car (think about the class implications of that) or they don’t want to risk further infection/spread by traveling long distances to the nearest non-auto testing center. People who are asymptomatic are even less likely to be tested, unless they’re healthcare workers. People who do get tested when they are asymptomatic have been shamed for using scarce resources.

(However, there are NHS home finger-prick tests now. Fellow ICR presenter Elene Marsden just did one live in a public video on FB, as part of an Ipsos Mori study. She tested negative.)

So things are objectively terrible, and in a few months we’ll have Brexit disrupting things again. But it could always be worse. We could be on fire.


Today’s Zoom humor on the blue site:

Cousin N: “Can everyone see my screen?” How many times have you said this today?
Me: Can you hear me? CAN YOU HEAR ME? Covid will be the end of inside voices.
Cousin N: When I’m on video, I need to make sure my inside voice doesn’t appear on my face.

Posted on by Diana ben-Aaron
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