My Life in LA County During COVID-19: March 20

Harry Keller 80By Harry Keller
Former ETCJ Science Editor
& President of SmartScience

Mar 20, 2020 at 3:38 AM: We have food enough for many days right now having gone shopping twice on Wednesday. Why twice? Shelves were bare everywhere.

We will be traveling to our land 95 miles away on Sunday. This trip will involve no interaction with others but will require filling the tank. I expect that traffic will be very light!

I have seen many different figures on mortality rates. In China, Wuhan had over 5%, but the rest of China was 0.7% due to better health facilities and preparation. That’s about five times what the flu does annually. So, it is bad but not THAT bad. What appears to be the greatest threat from this virus is its contagiousness. It seems to transmit more readily than anything we have seen in modern times. The result of rapid transmission will be the overwhelming of health care with consequently higher death rates as we have seen in Italy.

The economic fallout could result in severe problems for the most vulnerable among us. A recession was looming already. These people could be forced together by circumstances and are among those most likely to perish from the disease. I see no one mentioning this. 

People are working feverishly on cures and vaccines. Until they arrive, we might as well be in the world a century ago.

Los Angeles County

Mar 20, 2020 at 12:15 PM: My wife and I (average age about 80 years) went shopping on Tuesday for some groceries for both current and future necessities. We chose a Trader Joe’s market that is a bit farther than some because it is spacious and so less likely to allow ready transmission of THE virus. We arrived about 15 minutes before the normal 8 am opening time and sat in the parking lot watching people queue up for the opening.

By 8:05 am, it had not opened. It was then that I noticed a sign in the glass doors that showed new hours of 9-7. They used to be 8-9. Not wishing to wait in the cold, we drove off to the next closer TJ’s and saw a similar line. The closest one was the same. So, we drove to a Whole Foods market. They had plenty of produce, no toilet paper and no canned beans. I scored a bag of flour along with few other things of interest, checked out, drove home, unpacked, and washed our hands well. The only positive thing I can report is the lack of traffic on the roads.

The next day, we walked the 1.5 miles to the closest TJ’s in the afternoon hoping to find better-stocked shelves. We were greeted by a line of customers waiting to enter. They were only allowing 50 people in at a time. Fortunately, the line was short, and soon we were in, seeking foods to sustain us during the expected protracted time at home. We did our best with empty shelves facing us, along with empty freezer bins but plenty of produce. Being on foot, we couldn’t overdo it. We did grab a bag of apples and one of oranges along with a bit of this and that.

When checking out, some of our goods were confiscated! You are only allowed two of any item to prevent hoarding. For seniors, especially those around 80 or above, this is a recipe for greater exposure. Those people have to come back to obtain the items they are not allowed to buy. Note that, as two people, we should have been able to buy double, but the clerk would have none of it. I have written to TJ’s to complain of this inappropriate policy but have not received a response as yet.

I’d like to supplement with Amazon, but they are out of stock on most everything we cannot find at stores.

Two stores, Grow and Gelson’s, have instituted a daily senior hour before the stores open to the general public. I haven’t tried them but may do so soon.

Our governor has just asked (strongly but without police sanctions) that everyone in California stay at home except for vital services. We travel up to our small lot in the mountains where we have been attempting to build a modest cabin for four years. We finally obtained a building permit last December, just before the new building code came into effect. Whew! We will ignore the request to stay home to travel there and work on the land as soon as the weather permits. It is covered with snow right now.

What makes this virus so scary? Is it the mortality rate? China’s initial rate was over 5%, an awful rate. Once they had sufficient facilities, equipment, and personnel to treat the sick, it dropped to 0.7%. This is still five times the rate of the flu in a typical season. So, it is serious but not catastrophic. Those at greatest risk must take great care not to be infected. The more dangerous aspect appears to be how contagious this virus is. It has spread very rapidly. Such a rapid spread stresses our medical facilities, which can lead to a higher mortality rate. Only isolation can effectively keep the number of critical cases low enough to be treated properly.

One factor that seems to be ignored in the reports I have seen is the impact on the very poor, especially the homeless. Many are in poor health and without adequate access to medical facilities. The impact on our economy could well expand the number of these people and of those who are inadequately nourished. This situation will certainly result in even more deaths.

Our medical researchers are working feverishly on cures, ways to reduce the impact of the virus on those infected, and on a vaccine. This is the good news and the only certain way to move past this phase in world history without more outbreaks. I must say that the bad news tells us that it will be months before we see any of these aids in volume. A vaccine is at least a year away.

My 43-year-old son has just returned from Australia. He passed through Tokyo and Singapore. We are waiting 14 days before meeting in person.

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