Category Archives: Virus/pandemic

Monkeypox — New Virus In Need of a Response & A New Name

Monkey pox is a reminder — we need to prepare for emergent diseases

World Health Organization director may come under fire for declaring monkey pox a global health emergency, Gwynne Dyer writes.

“COVID-19 is broadly viewed as being a ‘once in a lifetime’ or ‘once in a century’ pandemic. Modelling work based on historical data shows that this is not necessarily the case,” reported the epidemiological startup Metabiota last year. That’s because “the frequency of ‘spillover’ infectious diseases like COVID is steadily increasing.”

It’s increasing because quick-killer pandemic diseases only started thriving in human societies when we began living together in large numbers. Lethal viruses and bacteria probably always “spilled over” into human populations from time to time, but if they infected little hunter-gatherer groups of 50 or 100 people they just died out along with the victims.

The natural home of those diseases were birds and animals that lived in big flocks and herds: lots of potential victims to sustain the transmission. But when human beings started living in big civilizations and domesticated some of those animals, the pandemic diseases happily transferred across and thrived among us, too.

For most of the history of civilization, successful transfers didn’t happen all that often: big new killer pandemics only came along every 500 years or so. However, now that there are eight billion people and millions criss-cross the planet every day, the disease vectors have more opportunities to spread and they move much faster.

At the moment, according to Metabiota’s calculations, it’s even odds that we will have another new pandemic on the scale of COVID-19 in the next 25 years. More precisely, they estimate the probability of another global pandemic as deadly as COVID to be between 2.5-3.3 per cent each year. It could even arrive next year.

Monkey pox is not that disease. Despite its rapid spread to so many countries, the majority of cases are men who reported intimate sexual contact with other men. There is an existing, fully effective vaccine for it (the same one that eradicated smallpox, which no longer exists in the wild). And hardly anybody dies from it.

So WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had some explaining to do when he broke a stalemate at his “emergency committee” and decreed that monkey pox is a global emergency.

He explained that it was to speed up research on “the new modes of transmission that have allowed it to spread,” and to press countries to use vaccines and other measures to limit the numbers infected. These are all sensible things to do, but they really don’t justify declaring a global health emergency.

What he carefully avoided saying is that he really intends it as a reminder of our peril and a spur to action.

Ghebreyesus is manipulating the system in a well-meant attempt to persuade the world to build better systems for containing dangerous emergent diseases in general, and he may come under serious fire for doing so.

But you can see his point, because we haven’t learned enough from our harrowing experience with COVID.

Just spending one-hundredth of what the world spent on fighting COVID to improve global readiness for dealing with the next pandemic — building local vaccine production facilities, regional labs with good analytical capabilities, and stronger reporting networks — could spare us another two years of the misery and loss we had with this pandemic.

If that’s Ghebreyesus’s real goal with this monkey pox business, it’s all right with me.

New York joins calls for the WHO to rename monkeypox over its ‘painful and racist history’

By Euronews and AFP — 27/07/2022

Image from Stanford Medicine

City authorities in New York on Tuesday called on the World Health Organization (WHO) to rename the monkeypox virus, a name that is seen as stigmatising and may cause patients to isolate themselves rather than seek care.

“We have a growing concern for the potentially devastating and stigmatizing effects that the messaging around the ‘monkeypox’ virus can have on these already vulnerable communities,” New York City Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan wrote in a letter to WHO’s Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The latter had already mentioned this possible change in mid-June when Tedros said the WHO was “working with partners and experts from around the world on changing the name of the monkeypox virus, its clades and the disease it causes”.

While the WHO said at the time that an announcement on the name change would be made “as soon as possible,” there have been no new developments in the month since.

On Saturday, the global body declared an international health emergency over the outbreak, calling it “extraordinary”.

According to the city’s Health Commissioner, concerns have been raised about “the painful and racist history within which terminology like this is rooted for communities of colour”.

In his letter, Vasan recalled the negative effects of misinformation during the outbreak of the AIDS virus (HIV) or the racism suffered by Asian communities after the COVID-19 pandemic, which then US president Donald Trump referred to as the “China virus”.

“Continuing to use the term ‘monkeypox’ to describe the current outbreak may reignite these traumatic feelings of racism and stigma — particularly for Black people and other people of colour, as well as members of the LGBTQIA+ communities, and it is possible that they may avoid engaging in vital health care services because of it,” Vasan added.

Anyone can get monkeypox, but since its emergence in Europe and the United States, the virus has been spread overwhelmingly among men who have sex with men.

New York is the most affected city in the US in terms of the number of current cases, with 1,092 infections detected since the beginning of the epidemic.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been 19,188 reported cases globally in 76 countries as of Monday.

Of those cases, 18,861 infections were noted in countries that have not historically been affected by the virus.

Trump’s Superspreader Packing Plants

[NOTE: Since I live in North Carolina, the #2 biggest meat packing state, issues of disease, pollution & regulation of these industries were familiar, well before COVID.

But the pandemic highlighted some key problems: while Governor Roy Cooper and the state health secretary Mandy Cohen delivered daily “don’t panic” briefings,  outbreaks in areas with large meatpacking operations were frequent, but too often wrapped in a fog of doublespeak or silence. Cohen revealed why in a little-noticed interview: in 2010, when Republicans won a big majority in the state legislature, one of their early achievements was to strip state agencies of almost all meaningful inspection and regulatory powers. These were “replaced” with voluntary reports, “self-regulation,” and slick PR; aka “thoughts & prayers.”

When COVID arrived in 2020, incomplete local data pointed to repeated major outbreaks in areas with packing plants; but state responses were mostly about statewide stats, masking, and later vaccines. The big packers basically got a pass. The GOP is still in charge at the statehouse, and is ready to fight any COVID resurgence by outlawing critical race theory & closing down women’s health clinics. Continue reading Trump’s Superspreader Packing Plants

Dead Meat: How Trump & Cronies Turned Slaughterhouses Into Covid Death Traps

[NOTE: Since I live in North Carolina, the #2 biggest meat packing state, issues of disease, pollution & regulation of these industries were familiar, well before COVID.

But the pandemic highlighted some key problems: while Governor Roy Cooper and the state health secretary Mandy Cohen delivered daily “don’t panic” briefings,  outbreaks in areas with large meatpacking operations were frequent, but too often wrapped in a fog of doublespeak or silence. Cohen revealed why in a little-noticed interview: in 2010, when Republicans won a big majority in the state legislature, one of their early achievements was to strip state agencies of almost all meaningful inspection and regulatory powers. These were “replaced” with voluntary reports, “self-regulation,” and slick PR; aka “thoughts & prayers.”

When COVID arrived in 2020, incomplete local data pointed to repeated major outbreaks in areas with packing plants; but state responses were mostly about statewide stats, masking, and later vaccines. The big packers basically got a pass. The GOP is still in charge at the statehouse, and is ready to fight any COVID resurgence by outlawing critical race theory & closing down women’s health clinics.

Posts about the industry have appeared here before, one about the fact of Chinese ownership of the biggest plant, Smithfield, which runs what’s described as the world’s biggest hog slaughterhouse; and NC industrial hog farming, as the source and center of one of the state’s most, um, significant current landmarks, the “Great Brown Wave,” aka Big Poop.

A special congressional subcommittee has been investigating the industry’s performance during the pandemic, and their report, scathing but not shocking, is described below. It’s welcome, but will it change much?  Mark me as dubious. And as Covid case numbers are rising fast again, keep that mask handy, and your boosters up to date.

Plus, don’t forget the Thoughts & Prayers.]

AP News: Report: Trump officials, meat companies knew workers at risk

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — During the first year of the COVID19 pandemic, the meat processing industry worked closely with political appointees in the Trump administration to stave off health restrictions and keep slaughterhouses open even as the virus spread rapidly among workers, according to a congressional report released Thursday.

The report by the U. S. Houses Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis said meat companies pushed to keep their plants open even though they knew workers were at
high risk of catching the coronavirus. The lobbying led to health and labor officials watering down their recommendations for the industry and culminated in an executive order President Donald Trump issued in spring 2020 designating meat plants as critical infrastructure that needed to remain open.

Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn, who leads the subcommittee, said U.S. Department of Agriculture officials and the industry prioritized production and profits over the health of workers and communities as at least 59,000 workers caught the virus and 269 died.

The shameful conduct of corporate executives pursuing profit at any cost during a crisis and government officials eager to do their bidding regardless of resulting harm to the public must never be repeated,” Clyburn said.

Former Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who now leads the University System of Georgia, declined to comment Thursday. A spokesman for the university system said Perdue is focused on serving the students of Georgia.”

The report is based on communications among industry executives, lobbyists and USDA officials and other documents the committee received from government agencies, Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, JBS, Cargill, National Beef, Hormel and other companies. Those firms control 85% of the beef market and 70% of pork production nationwide.

The North American Meat Institute trade group said the report distorts the truth and ignores the steps companies took as they spent billions to retool plants and purchase protective gear for workers.

“The House Select Committee has done the nation a disservice, the trade groups President and CEO Julie Anna Potts said. The Committee could have tried to learn what the industry did to stop the spread of COVID among meat and poultry workers, reducing positive cases associated with the industry while cases were surging across the country. Instead, the Committee uses 20/20 hindsight and cherry picks data to support a narrative that is completely unrepresentative of the early days of an unprecedented national emergency.”

A major union that represents workers at the processing plants condemned the way the Trump administration helped the industry.

“We only wish that the Trump Administration cared as much about the lives of working people as it did about meat, pork and poultry products, when we wanted poultry plants to shut down for deep cleaning and to save workers lives, said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

The report said meat companies were slow to take measures to protect workers from the virus and pushed to make government recommendations to require masks to be worn, install dividers between work stations and encourage social distancing in their plants optional.

But JBS spokeswoman Nikki Richardson said the company “did everything possible to ensure the safety of our people who kept our critical food supply chain running.”

Tyson Foods spokesman Gary Mickelson echoed that sentiment and said Tyson has worked closely with both the Trump and Biden administrations, along with state and local officials, to respond to the pandemics challenges.

Smithfield spokesman Jim Monroe said the industry reacted quickly, and Smithfield has spent more than $900 million so far to protect workers. He said it was appropriate for meat companies to share their concerns with government officials as the pandemic unfolded.

But the report cited a message that a Koch Foods executive sent a lobbyist in the spring of 2020 that said the industry shouldn’t do more than screen employees’ temperatures at the door of plants. The lobbyist agreed and said, “Now to get rid of those pesky health departments!”

To that end, the report said USDA officials — at the behest of meat companies — tried to use Trumps executive order to stop state and local health officials from ordering plant shutdowns.

Even with those efforts, U.S. meat production fell to about 60% of normal during spring 2020 because a number of major plants were forced to temporarily close for deep cleaning, widespread testing and safety upgrades, or operated at slower speeds because of worker shortages. Companies closed plants in consultation with health officials after outbreaks were confirmed.

“Throughout the pandemic we’ve worked hard to maintain safe and consistent operations. At the same time, we have not hesitated to temporarily idle or reduce capacity at processing plants when we determined it necessary to do so,” Cargill spokesman Daniel Sullivan said.

Documents the companies provided to the committee showed that meat companies pushed hard for the executive order partly because they believed it would help shield them from liability if workers got sick or died — something a federal appeals court later rejected in a lawsuit against Tyson over worker deaths at an Iowa plant. Emails show the companies themselves submitted a draft of the executive order to the administration days before it was issued.

Early on in the pandemic, meat companies knew the virus was spreading rapidly among their workers because infection rates were much higher in the plants and their surrounding communities. The report said that in April 2020, a doctor at a hospital near a JBS plant in Cactus, Texas, told the company and government officials in an email that there was clearly a major outbreak at the plant because every COVID19 patient at the hospital either worked there or was related to a worker. “Your employees will get sick and may die if this factory remains open,” the doctor warned.

The report also highlighted the way meat companies aggressively pushed back against safety recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. That led to the final guidance including language that effectively made the rules optional because it said the recommendations should be done “if feasible” or “where possible.”

Two Weekend Bulletins: Cases and ‘Canes?

Okay, enough with all the bad news about the leaky Supreme Court, ThrillBilly elegies in Ohio, World War 2.5 in Europe, and a stock market sinking like a Russian flagship. Time for some upbeat happy news!

Um, sorry, I don’t have any.

But will you settle for some different stuff to worry about?

Like that pesky pandemic, and maybe — a possible “subtropical event”?

Well, I’ll mention them anyway.

Can we remember those giddy Good Old Days when the daily total of new Covid cases got as low as 27000? (It had been at 500,000 daily at Christmastim

Me neither, but it did, and here’s a hint: it wasn’t even six weeks ago. Yep, March 30. Take a look: Continue reading Two Weekend Bulletins: Cases and ‘Canes?

Scaring the Shirt out of me: living with a busted supply chain

I hear about the messed up supply chain all the time. You know: the pandemic, a shutdown, an economic crash, China, the rollercoaster recovery, the Delta wave, etc., etc.

I’ve written about it too, how our washer has been on the blink for ten months now, waiting for a small part, made in China, which is Out There Somewhere. . . .

Well, here comes the complaint again, but this time there’s a bit of an upside. And I hope, some style. Because it’s about shirts.

l expect many readers are like me, and get catalogs in the (postal) mail. And if like me you’re of a certain age, you get catalogs aimed to make your “golden years” more comfortable.

But don’t worry, I’m not going for the gross-out stuff about geezer gadgets and gimmicks to help us relieve ourselves, replace our ears, hair, feet, backs, eyes and other incidentals.

Instead, let’s talk about shirts. Continue reading Scaring the Shirt out of me: living with a busted supply chain

Surviving our COVID-Induced Coma

Yes, things could definitely be worse: the filibuster is still in place. The Chief Insurrectionist remains unindicted. And the wildfires and hurricanes!

But there has been some summer relief around here. The fires and hurricanes have missed us so far. Delta has too, tho it’s still prowling the neighborhood. And we’re (almost all) out of Afghanistan.

Yet we have paid some pandemic dues. Maybe one of the biggest hits is the member of the household remaining in a COVID-induced coma, which has now lasted almost nine months.

No, it’s not me, or the Fair Wendy, and not our cat.

It’s our washer. (Washer-dryer, actually; a cool compact combo.)

The thing served faithfully for eight years,  including the first three seasons of the pandemic. But then around last Christmas,  it came down with a fever, which soon became general & paralytic.

The appliance guys came and did major surgery.  It wasn’t as bad as it looked, they said. Recovery was sure, they said. But to beat the bug definitively, and before stitching it back together, they said they needed a part. Maybe it was in the truck. Continue reading Surviving our COVID-Induced Coma

Breaking! OMG — Friends David Zarembka & Wife Gladys Kamonya Dead of Covid

This is a developing story. Watch for Updates.

I’m stunned.

I just learned that David Zarembka, aged 77,  a very distinguished Friend from Baltimore Yearly meeting, who lived for more than a decade among Friends in Kenya, and his wife Gladys Kamonya, 73 have both succumbed to Covid. Both passed in Eldoret Kenya. Gladys Kamonya died on March  23, 2021;  David  died on April 1.

Below is his autobiographical sketch published in the book Passing The Torch. More to follow:

David Zarembka, in his own words: From Passing the Torch

I find the world an extremely interesting place and I participate in as many aspects of it that I can. Conversely, I don’t find myself very interesting at all and therefore don’t often write much about my life’s 76 year journey. This article therefore is a major exception.

In order to understand where I ended up, I have to explain where I came from. Although it might seem that my life has been unconventional, it really hasn’t been when one considers where I came from and how I grew up.

My paternal great-grandfather, Mathias Zarembka, came from then Russian-occupied Poland to the United States to work. Those were the good, ole days in the late 19th century when people could just come and go. He stayed in the US for seven years and then went back. He had seven children, six of whom immigrated to the US, while only one remained in Poland. My grandfather, Frank Zarembka, immigrated to the US in March/April 1914.

If he had waited a few months longer, the guns of August which started World War I would have begun, and he probably would have been drafted into the Russian army where the ill-equipped and untrained Polish soldiers were mowed down by the Germans. He left behind my grandmother, Lotti Wilant (notice the German name although she knew of no connection to Germany), and my one-year old father, Richard Zarembka. They were not able to immigrate to the US until 1921 when the family reunification act was passed in the United States. They lived in St. Louis in the Polish section of town. My grandfather worked for St. Louis Coal and Ice and pulled ice from the ground to be cut up in blocks to be put in iceboxes. Even when I knew him as a child, he was physically very strong.

My maternal grandfather was Ernest Elmer Colvin. He was a newspaper man. My Mom, Helen Jane Colvin Zarembka, was a great family storyteller so I have lots of old stories. My grandmother was so worried about my grandfather when the Associated Press in St. Louis assigned him to cover the 1919 so-called “race riots” in East St. Louis – it was actually just a massacre of what were then called Negroes. When he retired around 1954, he was copy editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. My maternal grandmother, Flora Scott Colvin, died even before my parents were married. She had grown up in Kansas City where my grandparents met. She and her sister, Fanny, started the first kindergarten in Kansas City. Each morning they would hitch up the horse and pick up the kids for school – something that women were not supposed in those old days. So, my roots run deep. Continue reading Breaking! OMG — Friends David Zarembka & Wife Gladys Kamonya Dead of Covid

Learning How Today’s World Works (& Doesn’t) Without Leaving Home

The truth is out there. But so are lies. This week, some pieces of the truth were emerging in a Minnesota courtroom. Here we pass that by with bowed head.

Other pieces, one being an enormous cargo ship, were emerging, or not, from the Suez Canal, and I can’t elide them. Or one piece in particular.

What I can’t avoid is that somewhere out there, but closer to the canal, I still believe —  is my bushing.

My what? Bushing. A small piece of machined metal. I think it would fit in my hands, maybe one hand. The cost should be between ten to thirty bucks.

It’s not really “my” bushing, though. It’s destined for our washing machine.

The device is a compact Haier washer/dryer combo, worked fine for eight years, til last December. Then it started making clanging noises, rocking back & forth, and finally the Fair Wendy shut it off before something melted down.

Okay, stuff happens. We called an appliance repair place; they’d come before, to fix the fridge. It took two visits: they had to order a part. But a few days later, as promised, they returned & got it done.

With the washer, it started the same: they tinkered & replaced something. But to finish, they needed a part. A bushing, for the tub inside.

They tapped a tablet, checked their shelves. It needed to be ordered.

No problem they said. A few days: they were in direct touch with the factory.

I knew this story: the “Just in time” system. Saves money in inventory & storage costs, and moves fast. Usually.

It had worked the first time. So okay.

But after two weeks, there was still no bushing, and the truth started to leak out. Continue reading Learning How Today’s World Works (& Doesn’t) Without Leaving Home

Hugging the Extremes: Carolina Quakers & the 2020 Election

Yep — down it went.

[Trigger Warning: Quaker jargon ahead] I’m just finishing a book about the demise of North Carolina Yearly Meeting, which came about in 2017 after the group’s 320 years of existence. [Watch for a book announcement soon.] That long, unQuakerly process was covered in detail in this blog as it unfolded, and the story will not be rehashed here. (But if you want to go over it, click this link.)

The book was supposed to be done by now. Yet what with the seemingly endless succession of calamities and catastrophes this year, completion was delayed until this week.

That meant there were now election results to take account of. So I just wrote an “Election Postscript” for it.

Election results?  I hear someone wonder. We’ve been hearing about them nonstop. What have they got to do with Quakers? Continue reading Hugging the Extremes: Carolina Quakers & the 2020 Election

Superspreader Campaign: target, Durham NC

My Hometown, Durham NC, is surrounded. Besieged.

I’m stuck in the epicenter of a battleground state, targeted from all directions by the Superspreader presidential campaign.

At least, that’s how it feels.

Yesterday I made a list of all the visits and rallies in North Carolina by principals of the Republican presidential campaign during the last two months.

The tally came to twenty, including several which are set for later this week  (and I might have missed one or two).

Twenty essentially maskless rallies, many with ten thousand-plus crammed in, shouting, cheering, breathing hard.

Continue reading Superspreader Campaign: target, Durham NC