The Morning Jolt


The Worrying Increase of COVID Hospitalizations

A woman gives a haircut after Arizona enters an early phase of reopening in Cave Creek, Ariz., May 11, 2020. (Nicole Neri/Reuters)

On the menu today: Like it or not, spots in California, Arizona, and some southern states have reason to worry about increasing numbers of hospitalizations; protesters are, so far, rarely testing positive for the coronavirus; and an ignoble and influential Byrd whom you probably haven’t heard much about.

Southern and Western States Get Their Turn in the Coronavirus Wringer

The world may want to move onto yet another police shooting of a black man that appears unjustified, arguments over the president’s health, or Ted Cruz daring actor Ron Perlman to get into the wrestling ring with Jim Jordan.

But the coronavirus pandemic is still going on, and some parts of the country have good reason to be concerned — even though it’s summer, even though we endured ten weeks of lockdowns, even though the national daily death rate has declined to less than a thousand a day, even though the daily rate of new cases has been relatively flat for a month nationwide. Some voices in the media are calling this current increase in the number of cases a “second wave,” but it’s more accurate that this is the first wave passing through communities that weren’t badly exposed in the spring.

An increase in confirmed cases in a region or state is not, by itself, concerning, particularly if that increase is slower than the rate of increase in testing. An increase in the number of hospitalizations is concerning. So a place like Miami-Dade County in Florida can breathe a little easier, because while that county’s number of positive tests is increasing, the number of hospitalizations is dropping.

An increase in a state or region’s hospitalization rate should concern us — and should also have us looking at local nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. In Ventura County, Calif., the number of residents in the hospital being treated for coronavirus infections doubled in a week, from roughly 20 to more than 40. Not all of that rise stems from one facility, but a significant chunk of it does:

A contributing factor to the rise is an outbreak at the Ventura Townehouse long-term care facilities in Ventura that emerged last week and has infected at least 27 residents and 11 employees, according to a facility official. Public health leaders said on Tuesday nine residents from the facility had been hospitalized in acute care units with three others who tested positive at one point held at hospitals as part of a strategy to limit spread in long-term care sites.

The site’s memory care unit, on a separate campus from the rest of the facility, was hit hardest with at least 23 residents testing positive for the virus. Two of the residents died, facility officials said Wednesday.

Early Thursday evening, Ventura Townehouse Executive Director Evan Granucci said a third memory care resident had died from complications of the virus.

Does this mean everyone else in Ventura County can relax? No, they should still be wearing masks in public, social distancing, washing their hands frequently, avoiding crowds, and so on. Those staffers are still going home and going to the grocery store and interacting with people outside of their workplace.

We should also keep in mind that statewide numbers probably aren’t the most useful measuring sticks. Elsewhere in California, Riverside County saw a jump of 55 percent compared to late May, while Los Angeles County saw an increase of 12 percent. But the more sparsely populated counties in the state barely have any cases. Colusa County has seven cases since the pandemic began, Trinity County has three, and Alpine County, the state’s least-populous county, has one.

Because it takes time for an infection and symptoms to develop, and time for those symptoms to become serious enough for someone to go to a hospital, hospitalization rates are showing us how much the virus was spreading roughly two weeks ago. Memorial Day weekend was three weeks ago; this spread is probably not driven by activities that weekend but by the week or so afterwards, as Americans started to enjoy summer weather.

Hospitalizations continue to creep up in certain parts of Texas like Austin, Houston, and Dallas. Alabama’s hospitalization rate is at its highest point yet, and state health officials there attribute it to the post–Memorial Day reopening of society. Washington Regional Hospital in northwest Arkansas announced that they had seen a 350 percent increase in the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the past week. South Carolina officials are worried that their numbers are all moving in the wrong direction.

This may all seem pretty grim, so keep in mind the good news, which is that the percentage of infected Americans who will need a hospital bed is not as high as doctors initially thought:

A model created by the Harvard Global Health Institute made a different assumption that also turned out to be too high. Data from Wuhan, China, suggested that about 20% of those known to be infected with COVID-19 were hospitalized. Harvard’s model, which ProPublica used to build a data visualization, assumed a hospitalization rate in the United States of 19% for those under 65 who were infected and 28.5% for those older than 65.

But in the U.S., that percentage proved much too high. Official hospitalization rates vary dramatically among states, from as low as 6 percent to more than 20 percent, according to data gathered from states by The COVID Tracking Project. (States with higher rates may not have an accurate tally of those infected because testing was so limited in the early weeks of the pandemic.) As testing increases and doctors learn how to treat coronavirus patients out of the hospital, the average hospitalization rate continues to drop.

People may be thinking, “Aha, this must be the result of the George Floyd protests!” So far, that doesn’t appear to be the case — emphasis on so far. The University of Washington medical school says that so far, fewer than one percent of 3,000 tests of protesters have come back positive. About 528 tests of protesters in Minneapolis and Saint Paul revealed a 1.4 percent infection rate. On Friday, I noted that a handful of protesters, police officers, and National Guardsmen at the protests have tested positive, but we haven’t seen a sudden spike in illnesses among those participating in protests or policing them. A 19-year-old in Portland who tested positive says he protested for seven nights, and that he wore a mask until police used tear gas — or he may have gotten it at his job with Amazon.

Then again . . . some cities may not want to know if the infected are catching it from protests:

Over the two last weeks, Mayor Bill de Blasio and others have voiced concerns that packed police brutality protests across the city could trigger a new wave of COVID-19 infections.

Whether or not that’s the case, however, remains unknown — and de Blasio’s team won’t be directly trying to find out.

The hundreds of contact tracing workers hired by the city under de Blasio’s new “test and trace” campaign have been instructed not to ask anyone who’s tested positive for COVID-19 whether they recently attended a demonstration, City Hall confirmed to THE CITY.

“No person will be asked proactively if they attended a protest,” Avery Cohen, a spokesperson for de Blasio, wrote in an emailed response to questions by THE CITY.

Why would a city program that is designed to prevent the spread of disease have a sudden reluctance to know about whom an infected person has been in contact with?

At this point, someone is probably shouting at their phone or computer screen that they aren’t willing to endure lockdowns again. The argument may be moot; in some places like Arizona, some businesses are temporarily closing their doors again after infections of the staff*:

In the last seven days alone, Chelsea’s Kitchen in Phoenix, The Porch in Phoenix, Hash Kitchen in Phoenix, SanTan Brewing in downtown Chandler and Phoenix, Spirit House in downtown Chandler, Floridino’s Pizza & Pasta in Chandler, The Shop Beer Co. in Tempe, and PHX Beer Co. in Scottsdale have all announced temporary closures, citing individuals or employees who have reportedly tested positive for the virus.

Prior to those, Venezia’s Pizzeria in Gilbert, Oregano’s in Queen Creek, Helton Brewing in Phoenix, Alo Cafe in Scottsdale, La Rista New Mexican Kitchen in Gilbert, and Drawn To Comics in Glendale have also publicly posted about potential positive cases.

Some restaurants have closed and since reopened. Others did not indicate they had closed or not, aside from alerting their followers to the potential exposure. Others remain closed.

(*I nearly wrote “staff infections,” and then realized that would sound like “staph infections” to anyone reading it aloud.)

More Than You Ever Wanted to Know about a Flock of Byrds

Michael Paul Williams, writing in the Richmond Times Dispatch: “Christopher Columbus survived multiple voyages across the high seas. But his Richmond statue met an inglorious end at the bottom of a Byrd Park lake . . . The pervasive mood has shifted from whitewashing history to unmasking travesties, including the torture and genocide of indigenous people in the West Indies by Columbus.”

There’s an irony that Williams didn’t mention. Byrd Park is named after William Byrd II, the founder of Richmond, as well as a viciously abusive slaveowner and confessed rapist. (In addition to the park in Richmond, a high school in Vinton, Va., is named after him.)

For those wondering, William Byrd II is not the ancestor of former West Virginia senator Robert Byrd, who was an “Exalted Cyclops” in the Ku Klux Klan. As many have noted, quite a few bridges, freeways, interchanges, courthouses, academic, government, and community buildings are named after Byrd in the state of West Virginia. His statue remains untouched, as of this writing, in the West Virginia state capitol.

However, William Byrd II is the ancestor of Harry F. Byrd Sr., who was governor and senator of Virginia and promoted “massive resistance” to desegregation, and his son Harry F. Byrd Jr., who retained his father’s segregationist beliefs and served in the state senate and the U.S. Senate from 1965 to 1983. Yes, the elder Byrd was a Democrat; the younger Byrd began his political career as a Democrat, left the party in 1972, won reelection as an independent, and then caucused with the Democrats for the remainder of his time in the Senate. A statue of the younger Byrd stands in Richmond’s capitol square.

Earlier this year, Republican state delegate Wendell Walker introduced legislation to remove the Byrd statue, but apparently intended it as a dare to Democratic lawmakers who wanted to remove statues of Confederate leaders. Legislative Democrats surprised Walker by supporting his proposal to remove of the Byrd statue. Walker withdrew his legislation, but a new legislative effort to remove the statue began this month.

On Friday, many, many progressives on Twitter sneered at me that of course all right-thinking Democrats supported removing the statue of Robert Byrd (and, presumably, renaming all of the facilities in West Virginia named after him as well). A few insisted that Byrd was different from other now-notorious historical figures because he renounced his past membership in the Klan.

I’m fine with bringing down all the statues of all the Confederates and all the lawmakers in either party who joined the Klan. (While we’re at it, how about everything named after Woodrow Wilson, who re-segregated the government and called African Americans “an ignorant and inferior race”? Franklin Roosevelt, who never supported anti-lynching legislation and threw Americans into internment camps based upon their race? Everything named after John F. Kennedy, who some historians now contend was a bystander to the Civil Rights movement for most of his career, who warmly accepted the endorsements of segregationists, and who didn’t want Sammy Davis Jr. performing at the White House because of his marriage to a white woman? History reveres a lot of deeply flawed figures.)

But we have zoning committees and a legal process to remove statues and replace them; any process of removal other than that is rule by mob, the strong enforcing their will upon others because they can.

Let’s check back in a few weeks or a few months and see if anything changes. Right now, Republicans control modest majorities in the West Virginia state senate and house of delegates, and the governor, Jim Justice, switched from the Democratic Party to the GOP in 2017. Progressives on Twitter may want to take down the statues and rename Byrd’s plethora of sites. But Democratic lawmakers don’t appear quite so enthusiastic, and I suspect that the current wave of outrage will pass, leaving the Byrds almost entirely unscathed.

ADDENDA: Apparently believing that everything the public needs to know about the origin of the coronavirus and the Wuhan labs can be summarized in three paragraphs, Jake Bittle of The New Republic declares that I am “the media personality who jumped farthest down this rabbit hole” of investigating the labs. (At least he thinks I have personality.)

Bittle writes, “The virus, they claimed, did not emerge in the Wuhan market where most experts believe it appeared.” Gao Fu, director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, declared in late May that the Huanan Seafood market was not the origin of the virus. Try to keep up, Jake.

If you want a really solid and even-handed assessment of the potential origin of this virus — and if I have too much personality for you — check out Ian Birrell over at Unherd: “There is no firm evidence of an accident or leak beyond a set of strange biological quirks and suspicious coincidences. But nor does the alternative hypothesis — that this is a freak event of nature and humans were the perfect host for a new zoonotic virus — have indisputable supporting evidence at this stage. No one has discovered an intermediate host, nor offered credible explanation of how a coronavirus moved from some bats in dank Yunnan caves to infect people hundreds of miles away in the bustling city of Wuhan. Indeed, in many ways this is the more frightening concept: if it has emerged in such natural spillover style, surely next time it will be even more lethal.”


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