Good News with a pinch of salt

Living with Coronavirus
(SARS-CoV-2)
Sunday March 27th, 2022
06:55 AM

The news on Covid is good this week.  There are no new variations this week.  Ba2 (stealth) now composes 1/3 of all new cases in America and most of the world.  Ba2 stealth is less lethal than Delta, especially for the vaccinated.  Efficacy of the vaccines, even over 6 months, is still near 85%.  That is high for vaccines which average around 75, and need a minimum of 70% to be considered viable.

The numbers are down here, but increasing globally.  With this variation I expect underreporting and thus under estimates of spread, due to its “stealthy” nature.  Most people will not need masks, as most people won’t know they have it because it presents only mild symptoms to the vaccinated. 

The unvaccinated, as per the last few months, will bear the brunt of this invisible wave.  Especially the unvaccinated with known or unknown underlying health issues, which the virus exploits.  The elderly will have the most issues as they have had longer to collect other underlying conditions on top of the effects of age itself.

The pinch of salt is future mutations of Ba2.  If we are lucky, it will evolve further toward the common cold, with minor symptoms we scarcely notice.  If we are unlucky, it will remain stealthy but evolve further lung involvement, or become more lethal in some other way.  If we use a lot of salt it will disappear into the animal populations and then pop out again years later, unexpectedly, with some further adaptive mutation to go with it.

Global Infected      469,825,152                                   480,167,539                                                       
Increase             10,342,387
7-day average        1,477,483 infections diagnosed daily –Down

Global Dead          6,075,493                                          6,121,547
Increase             46,054
7-day average        6,579 deaths daily –Up

USA Infected         79,728,172                                       79,946,099
Increase             217,927
7-day average        31,132 infections diagnosed daily –Up

USA C-19 deaths      971,087                                                         976,652
Increase             5,565
7-day average        795 deaths daily –Up

Maine Infected       233,696                                                           234,839
Increase             1,143
7-day average         163 infections diagnosed daily –Down

Maine deaths         2,182                                                                2195
Increase             13
7-day average        1.8571 deaths daily –Down

In comparison, Ukraine is a bucket of salt on human hopes.  The world is once again becoming very aware of the potential for nuclear devastation.  As Putin’s army flounders, losing generals, having troops revolt and attack commanders, and facing very determined Ukrainian resistance: Putin has decided to just flatten Ukraine.  Like in WW2 civilians have become targets, not simply collateral damage, but primary targets, making this Putin’s Terror war, and Russia a de-facto Terrorist State, with Nukes.

So, the big question is will he, or won’t he?  By policy if he uses Nukes a nuclear response is demanded.  Mutually Assured Destruction.

Meanwhile Putin is destroying fields, crops, and infrastructure including hospitals and homes.

The truckload of salt is in the news about climate change.  Last week we had extremely warm air in Antarctica.  It was 42 degrees and raining in the east of Antarctica.  It snowed copiously in the center of the continent, where it almost never snows as it is too cold and dry.  Warmer air also brought lots of moisture.  You can see the snowfall added on satellites.

Research in Antarctica has been largely confined to the west and its huge ice sheet.  The east has been stable as a rock, resulting in less study because all the changes have been in the west.  Last week the east Antarctic ice shelf collapsed without any warning dropping an area the size of NYC into the ocean.  You can bet the scientists are all making new studies there as well.

Ice shelves float on the ocean so such a collapse won’t raise sea levels, but it will expose those ancient glaciers directly to the warming sea waters.  We can expect those to start calving off now, when they never have before.  Before they slowly oozed onto the eastern ice sheet which had been in place for millennia.  Now it is likely to start calving from two glaciers, directly into the sea come next summer.

Peru is suffering dangerous floods, and we have wildfires in Colorado and Texas, and the tick born heartland virus is moving north.  Scientists have discovered that almost all bird species are nesting and laying eggs a month sooner than before.  Now with Ukraine, all joint research into climate change has ground to a halt because people cannot go to the arctic on the Russian side, and collaborations between the world and Russia on all science matters is in question.

Mens Health—””A potentially deadly tickborne illness that’s usually found in the midwest is suddenly getting attention after it was detected in ticks in Georgia. Researchers studied ticks in the state for the virus after a Georgia resident reportedly died of the disease.

The study, which was published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, sampled 9,294 Amblyomma americanum ticks (aka lone star ticks) in 26 sites in Georgia between 2018 and 2019. The study’s researchers found the presence of Heartland virus in two different pools of ticks.

“Clinicians and public health professionals should be aware of this emerging tickborne pathogen,” the researchers concluded.  “This study confirms the presence of the virus in Georgia and, more importantly, that it is being transmitted by the most abundant tick species that bites humans in the state,” says study co-author Gonzalo M. Vazquez-Prokopec, Ph.D., an associate professor of environmental sciences at Emory University.

Vazquez-Prokopec points out that genomic sequences of the virus in the state’s tick collection sites and other states found that the Heartland virus sequences in Georgia “are quite distinct from other locations.” This, he says, “may indicate that the virus has been circulating in the state isolated from other locations.”

Heartland virus isn’t as well-known as other tickborne illnesses like Lyme disease but it can be serious. Here’s what you need to know about this virus.  What is Heartland virus, exactly?  Heartland virus is an illness that’s usually spread through the bite of an infected lone star tick. Most people who are infected with the virus develop the following symptoms, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Fever, Fatigue, Decreased appetite, Headache, Nausea, Diarrhea, Muscle or joint pain

While it’s possible to have a more mild infection, many people with Heartland virus are hospitalized because of their symptoms, the CDC says.

Heartland virus can also cause people to develop lower-than-normal white blood counts (which blood cells help your body fight infections) and lower-than normal counts of platelets, which help your blood clot, per the CDC.

Where is Heartland virus usually found?  Heartland virus is a “recently defined virus,” says William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Meaning, it’s pretty new to doctors and researchers. In fact, it was first detected in two Missouri farmers in 2009.

As of January 2021, there have been more than 50 cases of Heartland virus diagnosed in the U.S. It’s specifically shown up in these states, per CDC data:  Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee

But, Dr. Schaffner says, it’s possible the virus is even more widespread. “We’re now starting to do studies and discovering that it’s there,” he says.

(NOTE: this was published before the eastern ice shelf unexpectedly collapsed.)
Daily Mail–“Earth’s poles are both undergoing ‘freakish’ heatwaves – with parts of Antarctica more than 70°F (40°C) warmer than average, and areas of the Arctic more than 50°F (30°C) warmer than average, climate scientists have warned.  Weather stations in Antarctica shattered records last week as the region neared autumn, taking scientists by surprise because they were paying attention to the Arctic, where temperatures were also rising.

‘They are opposite seasons. You don’t see the north and the south (poles) both melting at the same time,’ explained Walt Meier, an ice scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Bouldor, Colorado. ‘It’s definitely an unusual occurrence.’  The heatwaves are causing alarm among climate scientists, who have warned the record temperatures could signal faster climate breakdown than previously predicted.

‘Not a good sign when you see that sort of thing happen,’ said University of Wisconsin meteorologist Matthew Lazzara. What likely happened was ‘a big atmospheric river’ pumped in warm and moist air from the Pacific southward, Meier said.

And in the Arctic, which has been warming two to three times faster than the rest of the globe and is considered vulnerable to climate change, warm Atlantic air was coming north off the coast of Greenland.

The two-mile high Concordia station in Antarctica was at 10°F (-12.2°C) on Friday last week, which is about 70°F (40°C) warmer than average. Meanwhile, the even higher Vostok station hit a shade above 0°F (-17.7°C), beating its all-time record by about 27°F (15°C), according to a tweet from extreme weather record tracker Maximiliano Herrera. The coastal Terra Nova Base was far above freezing at 44.6°F (7°C).

At the same time, parts of the Arctic were 50°F (30°C) warmer than average and areas around the North Pole were nearing or at the melting point, which is very unusual for mid-March, according to the experts.  ‘I have never seen anything like this,’ said University of Colorado ice scientist Ted Scambos, who returned recently from an expedition to Antarctica.

Lazzara monitors temperatures at East Antarctica’s Dome C-ii and logged 14°F (-10°C) last Friday, where the normal is -45°F (-43°C).  ‘That’s a temperature that you should see in January, not March. January is summer there. That’s dramatic,’ Mr Lazzara said.   

Both Lazzara and Meier said what happened in Antarctica is probably just a random weather event and not a sign of climate change.  But if it happens again or repeatedly then it might be something to worry about and part of global warming, they said.

Scientific American—”An ice shelf the size of New York City has collapsed in East Antarctica, an area long thought to be stable and not hit much by climate change, concerned scientists said Friday.

The collapse, captured by satellite images, marked the first time in human history that the frigid region had an ice shelf collapse. It happened at the beginning of a freakish warm spell last week when temperatures soared more than 70 degrees (40 Celsius) warmer than normal in some spots of East Antarctica. Satellite photos show the area had been shrinking rapidly the last couple of years, and now scientists wonder if they have been overestimating East Antarctica’s stability and resistance to global warming that has been melting ice rapidly on the smaller western side and the vulnerable peninsula.

The ice shelf, about 460 square miles wide (1200 square kilometers) holding in the Conger and Glenzer glaciers from the warmer water, collapsed between March 14 and 16, said ice scientist Catherine Walker of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. She said scientists have never seen this happen in this part of the continent, making it worrisome.

“The Glenzer Conger ice shelf presumably had been there for thousands of years and it’s not ever going to be there again,” said University of Minnesota ice scientist Peter Neff.

The issue isn’t the amount of ice lost in this collapse, Neff and Walker said. That is negligible. It’s more about the where it happened.

Neff said he worries that previous assumptions about East Antarctica’s stability may not be correct. And that’s important because if the water frozen in East Antarctica melted — and that’s a millennia-long process if not longer — it would raise seas across the globe more than 160 feet (50 meters). It’s more than five times the ice in the more vulnerable West Antarctic Ice Sheet, where scientists have concentrated much of their research.

Helen Amanda Fricker, co-director of the Scripps Polar Center at the University of California San Diego, said researchers have to spend more time looking at that part of the continent. “East Antarctica is starting to change. There is mass loss starting to happen,” Fricker said. “We need to know how stable each one of the ice shelves are because once one disappears” it means glaciers melt into the warming water and “some of that water will come to San Diego and elsewhere.”

Scientists had been seeing this particular ice shelf — closest to Australia — shrink a bit since the 1970s, Neff said. Then in 2020, the shelf’s ice loss sped up to losing about half of itself every month or so, Walker said. “We probably are seeing the result of a lot of long time increased ocean warming there,” Walker said. “it’s just been melting and melting.”

Still, one expert thinks that only part of East Antarctica is a concern.

“Most of East Antarctica is relatively secure, relatively invulnerable and there are sectors in it that are vulnerable,” said British Antarctic Survey geophysicist Rob Larter. “The overall effect of climate change around East Antarctica is it’s chipping away at the edges of the ice sheets in some places, but it’s actually adding more snow to the middle.”

Last week, what’s called an atmospheric river dumped a lot of warm air — and even rain instead of snow — on parts of East Antarctica, getting temperatures so far above normal that scientists have spent the last week discussing it. The closest station to the collapsed ice shelf is Australia’s Casey station, about 180 miles (300 kilometers) away and it hit 42 degrees (5.6 degrees Celsius), which was about 18 degrees (10 degrees Celsius) warmer than normal.

And that, Walker said, “probably is something like, you know, the last straw on the camel’s back.”

AP (BERLIN, Germany) —” Countries scrambling to replace Russian oil, gas, and coal supplies with any available alternative may fuel the world’s “mutually assured destruction” through climate change, the head of the United Nations warned Monday.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the ‘all-of-the-above’ strategy now being pursued by major economies to end fossil fuel imports from Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine could kill hopes of keeping global warming below dangerous levels.

“Countries could become so consumed by the immediate fossil fuel supply gap that they neglect or knee-cap policies to cut fossil fuel use,” he said by video at an event organized by the Economist weekly. “This is madness. Addiction to fossil fuels is mutually assured destruction.””

AUGUSTA, Maine (WMTW) – “A new report released by the U.S. Census Bureau Thursday morning shows how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected population numbers and growth in Maine and across the country. Every county in Maine had more deaths than births in 2021, something known as a natural decrease.

Only three other states – New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Delaware – also saw a natural decrease in every county, though the Census Bureau says there was a natural decrease in more than 73 percent of all counties across the country. That is the most ever and up sharply from the 45.5 percent of counties with natural decrease in 2019 before the pandemic.

However, the report from the Census Bureau also shows many people moving away from some of the largest metro areas in the United States and toward more rural areas, like Maine.  Most of the nation’s counties – 65.6 percent – experienced positive domestic migration overall from 2020 to 2021.  That migration means nearly every county in Maine actually had an overall population increase from 2020 to 2021, despite the natural decrease.

Only Androscoggin and Aroostook counties had overall population losses from 2020 to 2021. The biggest gains were in Lincoln and Piscataquis counties.

“The patterns we’ve observed in domestic migration shifted in 2021,” said Dr. Christine Hartley, assistant division chief for estimates and projections in the Census Bureau’s Population Division. “Even though over time we’ve seen a higher number of counties with natural decrease and net international migration continuing to decline, in the past year, the contribution of domestic migration counteracted these trends so there were actually more counties growing than losing population.”

In the first full year of the pandemic, the New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago metro areas had the greatest population losses in the nation while Sunbelt metros like Dallas, Phoenix and Houston had the biggest gains. The exodus from the biggest U.S. metros was led by New York, which lost almost 328,000 residents.

On the flip side, metro Dallas grew by more than 97,000 residents and metro Phoenix jumped by more than 78,000 people.”

Newsweek –”The COVID-19 subvariant BA.2 has been making its way through the United States, signaling a rise in cases in certain regions as most states are loosening their mask mandates.

The BA.2 variant, a subvariant of B.1 that is commonly known as Omicron, was discovered in the U.S. in January. Using genomic sequencing to identify the variant and look specifically for different strains of SARS-CoV-2, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that BA.2 accounts for about 35 percent of the latest cases recorded in the nation.

The data, which has been updated most recently on Tuesday with figures from the week of March 12-March 19, showed that BA.2 is most prevalent in the Health and Human Services (HHS) Region 1—which includes Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Last week, the variant accounted for 55.4 percent of the sequenced cases recorded last week.

Region 2, made up of only New York and New Jersey, also showed that 51.8 percent of the recorded genome sequenced cases were BA.2. Region 9—which includes California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii—had the third-highest percent of BA.2 cases last week, at 41.3 percent.

Three other regions showed percentages above 30. Region 10, which includes Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, showed 39 percent of its sequenced cases last week were BA.2. Region 3 (Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Delaware and Maryland) and Region 5 (Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Ohio) were both just over 30 percent.

Region 7 (Iowa, Kansas Missouri and Nebraska) had the lowest percentage of BA.2 cases last week, according to the CDC, with the subvariant accounting for 19 percent of cases.

Meanwhile, nearly all states in the country have moved in the last month to end mask mandates. The CDC stated at the end of February that mask protocols could be eased for roughly 70 percent of the U.S. population.

On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, told ABC’s This Week that the BA.2 variant had a “degree of transmission advantage over the original Omicron [variant], but not a multi-fold advantage.”

“It’s about 50 percent to 60 percent or so more transmissible, which means ultimately it might take over as a dominant variant. So, it does have an increased transmission capability,” Fauci stated. But while the speed of transmission is more capable, the subvariant does not appear to be more dangerous than the Omicron variant.  “When you look at the cases, they do not appear to be any more severe and they do not appear to evade immune responses, either from vaccines or prior infection,” Fauci said.”

US news and world report–“The highly transmissible subvariant of omicron known as BA.2, or “stealth omicron,” is the dominant strain circulating worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

Virtually all new coronavirus cases reported to WHO are from omicron, which has several subvariants. The BA.2 subvariant was responsible for nearly 86% of the omicron cases sequenced over the past month, according to the organization.

“Among the major omicron descendent lineages, weekly trends show that the relative proportion of BA.2 has increased steadily since the end of 2021, with BA.2 becoming the dominant lineage by week seven of 2022,” WHO wrote in a report released Tuesday.  WHO did qualify the development by noting a significant decline in available sequencing data, meaning they might not have a fully accurate picture of the global situation.

BA.2 is considered more transmissible than the original omicron strain, which was already very contagious to begin with. However, it does not appear to cause more severe cases of COVID-19 or evade vaccines better than the original omicron strain.

BA.2 has been blamed for coronavirus surges in several European countries in recent weeks. WHO reported that it was the second consecutive week that new coronavirus cases increased globally, though reported deaths are continuing to decline.

In the U.S., the subvariant was responsible for nearly 35% of new infections last week. But in areas like the Northeast, it’s responsible for more than half of new cases, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While nationwide coronavirus infections are down, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday that New York and New York City – where BA.2 is the dominant variant – have seen small increases in infections.

“This small increase in cases in the Northeast is something that we are closely watching as we look for any indication of an increase in severe disease from COVID-19 and track whether it represents any strain on our hospitals,” Walensky said during a press briefing. “We have not yet seen this so far.””

  Salon—”Voting rights groups have filed a lawsuit seeking to stop a pro-Trump group from going door-to-door in Colorado in search of evidence to support voter fraud allegations that have already been debunked and rejected by courts.

The lawsuit alleges that the U.S. Election Integrity Plan — led by Shawn Smith, an ally of former Trump strategist Steve Bannon and MyPillow founder Mike Lindell — is sending armed members door-to-door in areas with large numbers of voters of color, questioning people about how they voted and taking photographs of their homes.

The lawsuit, which is backed by the state chapter of the NAACP, the League of Women Voters and Mi Familia Vota, alleges that the “voter intimidation” campaign violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, a post-Civil War law aimed at preventing white vigilantes from terrorizing Black people to stop them from voting.

The lawsuit cites the “County & Local Organizing Playbook” used by the group, which instructs members to “undertake citizen audit activities to either refute or confirm serious allegations of election malfeasance” in order to “support future legal action.” The group, some of whose members are armed, has been going door-to-door in El Paso, Mesa and Weld counties in Colorado, using public voter lists to identify areas where they believe ballots were fraudulently cast, the Colorado Times Recorder reported last year. The report prompted an alert from Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, who warned voters of unofficial canvassing efforts and urged residents to report harassment and threats to local law enforcement or the Justice Department.

“Defendants’ objectives are clear. By planning to, threatening to, and actually deploying armed agents to knock on doors throughout the state of Colorado, USEIP is engaged in voter intimidation,” the lawsuit states. “USEIP’s public-facing actions are a clear signal to Colorado voters — especially voters of color — that to vote in an upcoming election means facing interrogation by potentially armed and threatening USEIP agents at their doorstep thereafter.”

The lawsuit claims that some members have worn “badges” and falsely accused voters of fraud.

“Sometimes armed and donning badges to present an appearance of government officiality, USEIP agents interrogate voters about their addresses, whether they participated in the 2020 election, and — if so — how they cast their vote,” the complaint says. “It is reported that multiple agents have claimed to be from ‘the county,’ and have, without any evidence, falsely accused the residents of casting fraudulent ballots.”

The voting rights groups say the group’s efforts to seek out areas where they believe voter fraud occurred has largely focused on high-density housing areas and communities experiencing a growth in the number of minority voters.

“No one should have to be afraid to go to the polls or fear that doing so will mean being threatened in their own homes,” Courtney Hostetler, senior counsel for Free Speech for People and one of the lawyers leading the lawsuit, said in a statement. “Free and fair elections can only occur when people know that they are able to safely vote without reprisal or intimidation.”

The group’s “playbook” thanks Lindell, a leading election conspiracy theorist. Smith, the group’s founder, attended Lindell’s election conspiracy-laden “symposium” last year in South Dakota along with former Colorado election clerk Tina Peters, who was indicted earlier this month for her role in leaking sensitive voting system data that was published by QAnon conspiracy theorists and right-wing websites. Griswold’s office said earlier this year that Smith had also convinced another election official, Elbert County Clerk and Recorder Dallas Schroeder, to make copies of his office’s hard drives that he later gave to “unauthorized people in violation of Election Rules.”

Shawn Smith, the head of USEIP last month led a “lock her up” chant while discussing Griswold at a rally and said that “if you’re involved in election fraud, you deserve to hang.”

He can also seen in a video among a group of violent Trump supporters who clashed with police outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. He was accompanied by Colorado state Rep. Ron Hanks, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate who has also pushed false election claims.

Smith is also the president of another “election integrity” group called Cause of America, also funded by Lindell, which Smith announced on Bannon’s “War Room” podcast.

USEIP appears to have fully embraced the QAnon conspiracy theory. Its website and the first page of its “playbook” include the slogan “We Are the Plan,” frequently associated with QAnon believers. During a presentation organized by Sherronna Bishop, the former campaign manager for Rep. Lauren Boebert, USEIP leader Cory Anderson (who is also a member of the anti-government Three Percenter militia) described the briefing as “being red-pilled,” according to the Times Recorder. (That expression, originally drawn from “The Matrix,” is popular among QAnon followers and other far-right conspiracy theorists.)”

As I worked on this another 46,054 of my fellow human beings lost their battle with Covid, of those 5,565 were my fellow Americans and 13 were my fellow Mainers.

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