The COVID-19 Delta Variant

I’m passing along the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics information about the Delta variant of COVID-19. If you’re vaccinated and you get infected with the Delta variant, you might feel like your symptoms are from allergies or a cold. If you’re not vaccinated, you’re a lot more likely to get sick enough to be hospitalized.

According to Dr. Claudia Corwin, MD, MPH, an occupational medicine specialist and associate director of the University Employee Health Clinic, about 97% of those with a severe case of Delta variant are unvaccinated. That doesn’t mean the vaccines make us bullet proof and breakthrough infections of the Delta variant occur.

That’s probably part of the reason why the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) thinks vaccine booster shots might be better reserved for the most vulnerable patients, such as the very elderly, those in Long Term Care Facilities, and health professionals. The ACIP met yesterday and there was no firm decision about booster rollout specifics and there was no vote on the matter. They plan to meet again in mid-September to review the need for boosters.

Advisory Committee On Immunization Practices Meeting On Boosters Today

Judging from the slides in Dr. Sarah Oliver’s presentation, “Framework for booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines” in the ACIP meeting this afternoon, there is limited data to support COVID-19 vaccine boosters for the general population at this time. The target populations for boosters would be the residents of Long Term Care Facilities (LTCF), health professionals, and those over 65 and 75 years of age, although the goal of ensuring that as many unvaccinated individuals get vaccinated should be actively pursued. There will continue to be further meetings to discuss the role of boosters.

The Iowa City Mask Mandate

The mask and vaccine mandates for COVID-19 have been in the news a lot and there has been plenty of controversy about them, which is putting it mildly. I’ve been thinking about the mask mandate that Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague issued August 19, 2021 and scheduled to expire on September 30, 2021. I agree with it, just to get that out of the way. Johnson County is a high transmission area for the virus, as is most of the state of Iowa, according to the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker. Hospitalizations and deaths are increasing from COVID-19 infections. The CDC recommendations and rationale for interventions to control the spread of the virus make sense to me.

On the other hand, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller is investigating whether or not the mandate is legal based on the conflict with the Iowa law passed in May 2021 by Governor Kim Reynolds. It’s sort of an anti-mandate similar to others I’ve seen in the news. I think it’s based on the state law which says that municipalities cannot adopt an ordinance requiring an owner of real property to implement a policy relating to the use of facial coverings that is more stringent than the state’s policy.

I have no idea what the difference is between persons who are owners of real property and persons who are just plain individuals. I thought they were the same—unless you consider homelessness an important factor. Would that make someone who is homeless a non-person? Just because they’re often treated that way is beside the point—isn’t it? I’m just kidding, sort of; it looks like the owners of real property might be understood as business owners and the like. And everyone knows they’re not real people.

Does Mayor Teague’s mandate apply to the University of Iowa? Not if you believe that the virus expressly avoids University of Iowa property; so at least that’s settled. The sticking point is that the Iowa Board of Regents and the Governor are the authorities over what happens on state-supported university property, unless it’s connected to beer.

AG Miller has plenty of time to consider the matter because there is no provision for enforcement of Mayor Teague’s mask mandate. By the way, the city of Coralville also has a mask mandate that was issued by Coralville Mayor John Lundell, effective August 11, 2021. I don’t know if Mayor Lundell’s mandate provides for enforcement if it’s not followed, but I suspect it isn’t. I’m not sure why AG Miller is not investigating Mayor Lundell’s order to see that it’s legal or not. I thought we were an equal opportunity state. University Heights has not had a mask mandate since August 18, 2020, unless there’s a typo on their website.

Many people are not aware that Coralville, Iowa City, and University Heights are separate municipalities. If you blink, you might miss the transitions between them.

I’m not sure how you’d enforce the mandate. I’m pretty sure police are not going to tackle you and secure a mask to your face using a county-approved staple gun. I’m also wondering what legal consequences there could be if AG Miller finds that Mayor Teague’s mandate is illegal, especially since it’s unenforceable.

I’m not sure what you can do to enforce such mandates or anti-mandates. Without enforcement, the mask mandate is a strong recommendation. In addition to the science, it has little more than common sense to back it up, although common sense is not commonly used.

You wonder how aliens (who are almost always idealized as being very advanced and superior to earthlings) would look at this situation and what they would do about it to help the human race. I’m reminded of what Agent K says to Agent J in Men in Black (MIB) as he shows Agent J a universal translator (one of the many gadgets MIB holds patents on, making them independent of governmental oversight): “We’re not even supposed to have it. I’ll tell you why. Human thought is so primitive it’s looked upon as an infectious disease in some of the better galaxies.”

Maybe aliens are vaccinated against us.

Reminisce Once in a While

Occasionally I’ll reminisce, an activity which recently got triggered when I realized why I tend to like watching TV shows like Highway Thru Hell and Heavy Rescue 401, which are heading into the 10th and 6th seasons, respectively. Despite that, last year I didn’t see any episodes in which the COVID-19 pandemic was even mentioned. Nobody wears masks. They’re hard-working people in Canada who basically drag semi-trucks out of various ditches. It’s hard work, they’re down-to-earth and they’re not acting.

I marvel at what they do. It’s brutal, real, and no-nonsense. While I watch them, I tend to forget about the pandemic, and the social and economic upheaval everywhere on the planet. For a little while, I almost stop thinking about bored I am and without a purpose or meaning sometimes in retirement. I just find myself being glad I don’t have their job.

Sometimes I think about how I got my start as a working stiff, starting out as a teenager doing practical work like the heavy tow truck drivers. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to sell you the idea that land surveying is really hard work. I was outside most of the time, although in the winter when highway, street, and other construction was down, I would do some drafting. I worked for WHKS & Co. If you click the link to their website, scroll all the way down on the About Us section. There’s a black and white picture with four frowning men sitting at a heavy desk in front of a bookcase with many large books in it. They are from left to right, Richard “Dick” Kastler, Francis Holland, Ralph Wallace, and Frank Schmitz. I didn’t know Richard but his brother, Carol Kastler, was my boss along with the other three. Carol Kastler was the head of the land surveying department.

This is not going to be a history of surveying, which I’m not qualified to do; just my impressions of it as a young man. I can flesh it out a little with a video about how to throw a chain, and an extremely detailed reminiscence written by a real old-timer about surveying that was a lot like the way I remember it. Try to read all of Knud E. Hermansen’s first essay about measuring with a steel tape, “Reminisce Of An Old Surveyor, Part I: Measuring a Distance by Taping.” You can skip Part II, which even I couldn’t relate to because the stuff was way before my time.

Hermansen’s description of measuring distance using a steel tape and plumb bob is spot on, though. The other thing I would do in the winter down time was tie up red heads—which is not what you’re thinking. You tied red flagging around nails which were used to mark distances measured.

We often did work out in the field through the winter, though. When we set survey corners using what were called survey pins. Sometimes we had to break through the frozen ground first by pounding a frost pin with a sledge hammer. I remember WHKS & Co. made their own cornerstones using a wood frame box and cement. They were several feet long and they were heavy and surveyors carried them slung to their backs through the timber.

We spent a lot of cold days on straightening out a lot of the curves in Highway 13 between Strawberry Point and Elkader in eastern Iowa. We had expense accounts and were often away from our homes a week at a time for most of the winter. We ate a lot of restaurant food. Carol Kastler was partial to pea salad.

Guys told colorful stories out in the field, some of them pretty sobering. We were out setting stakes for widening a drainage ditch and talking with an old timer running a piece of heavy equipment called a dragline excavator. It has a long boom and a bucket pulled by a cable. The old timer told a harrowing study about his son, a dragline operator himself, who suffered a terrible accident. Somehow the boom broke off and fell on him. It didn’t outright kill him and workers frantically called his father (the old timer). They told him to come quick to see his son before he died because they knew they couldn’t get him to a hospital quick enough from way out in the field. The old timer just said, “I don’t want to see him.” It was just like that, a simple statement. It sounded cold but he somehow conveyed that he just didn’t want his last encounter with his son to be under a horrifying circumstance like that.

The company had Christmas parties which almost everybody enjoyed a lot. There were some guys who had a hard time relaxing. I remember a driven, work-devoted surveyor, who was thinking about work. I could tell because there was some kind of game we were playing which involved writing something like a question on a piece of paper and giving it to someone else, some inane thing like that, I can’t remember the details. I gave him my slip, and he took it. While he scribbled something on it without looking at it, he looked away and mumbled, “I really don’t have a whole lot of time.” He was at the party but his mind was out in the field.

It’s hard not to absorb experiences like that early in your life when you’re still young and impressionable. Work can become a way of life. It doesn’t seem to make a difference what kind of work it is. Even Agent J in Men In Black 2 gets a short lecture from Zed after Agent J returns from a mission and seems like he’s on autopilot, asking Zed for yet another mission, “What do you got for me?” Zed says, “Dedication’s one thing, but this job will eat you up and spit you out.”

It’s even hard for some of the guys in Highway Thru Hell and Heavy Rescue 410 to relax; even after a heart attack, one older guy can’t wait to get back in the tow truck. But even he knows that it’s a young man’s job.

Anyway, I promised I would show a video about how to throw a chain, which I learned how to do back in the day. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t do it today.

CDC Health Advisory Warning Against Using Ivermectin for COVID-19

I’ve seen a few warnings including the CDC Health Advisory issued August 26, 2021, against using Ivermectin in COVID-19. Ivermectin is a prescription drug used to treat parasitic infections in farm animals and humans. There’s no credible evidence supporting the use of Ivermectin to treat COVID-19 in humans and its use is currently restricted to research trials.

There have been calls to poison control centers across the country from people who suffer side effects, which can include nausea and vomiting, seizures, confusion, hallucinations and more from ingesting animal grade Ivermectin. It can cause death. Certain politicians and doctors are recommending and prescribing it for humans. At least one person has been hospitalized for treatment of side effects.

I saw the FDA warning tweet quote: “You are not a horse; you are not a cow; Seriously y’all. Stop it.” I’m not sure if that was from an FDA official, mostly because I doubt that the word “y’all” would be standard usage for FDA announcements. In any case, the FDA strongly advises against using Ivermectin to either prevent or treat COVID-19.

Merck, the manufacturer of the agent, warns against it as well.

Most of the headlines I’d seen until today were connected to Mississippi and Texas. This morning, I saw a story revealing that Iowans are also buying Ivermectin in animal supply stores, probably to self-treat or prevent COVID-19. One customer claimed it was safe for humans, purchased the product and left the store.

Nobody’s going to tackle a customer who insists on using Ivermectin in a misguided effort to treat COVID-19. There’s no law against it, so nobody’s going to call the police to intervene.

There’s a song titled “Iowa Stubborn” from the Music Man, a show starring Meredith Willson, who was from Iowa. I’m hoping the “chip-on-the-shoulder attitude” will eventually lead Iowans toward making the common-sense, community minded decisions (for which we are also known) that will eventually free us from the grip of the pandemic.

In times like these, I wonder—what would Chet Randolph think?

Thoughts on the Movie I, Robot

I recently saw the movie, I, Robot in its entirety for the first time. This is not a review of the movie and here’s a spoiler alert. It was released in 2004, got mixed reviews and starred Will Smith as Detective Del Spooner; Bridget Moynahan as a psychiatrist, Dr. Susan Calvin; Alan Tudyk as the voice actor for NS5 Robot, Sonny; James Cromwell as Dr. Lanning; Chi McBride as the police lieutenant, John Bergin, who was Spooner’s boss; Bruce Greenwood as the CEO, Lawrence Robertson of United States Robotics (USR); Fiona Hogan as the voice actor for V.I.K.I. (Virtual Interactive Kinetic Intelligence, USR’s central artificial intelligence computer); and a host of CGI robots. Anyway, it’s an action flick set in the year 2035 where robots do most of the menial work and are supposedly completely safe. The robots are programmed to obey the 3 Laws:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

The film was inspired by but not based on the book I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov n 1950. The 3 Laws came from that book. Drs. Calvin and Lanning were characters in it, which was a series of short stories. I’ve never read it. I was a fan of Ray Bradbury.

Spooner gets called to investigate the apparent suicide of Dr. Lanning, although Spooner is more inclined to suspect a robot murdered him, partly because Spooner harbors a longstanding suspicion of all robots. When he and a little girl were in a deadly car accident, a robot saved his life rather than the little girl’s life because it calculated he was more likely to survive. Spooner has this kind of hero complex and following the accident he develops nightmares, sleeps with his sidearm, and is regarded by many to be mentally ill, including Lt. Bergin, who is a kind of mentor and friend but who eventually makes Spooner over his badge to him because he can’t believe Spooner’s account of being attacked by hundreds of robots—and after all, Bergin is his boss. In fact, Spooner was attacked by robots and this was ordered by the CEO, Robertson, who has been manufacturing thousands of new robots which will take over the world, making him extremely wealthy.

There is tension between Dr. Calvin and Spooner. He calls her the dumbest smart person he’s ever met and she, in turn, calls him the dumbest dumb person she’s ever met. The context for this is, again, his insistence that a robot, in this case, a special NS5 model named Sonny with both human and robot traits, both logical and illogical, murdered Dr. Lanning. Dr. Calvin believes that all robots obey the 3 Laws and therefore Sonny can’t be guilty of murdering Dr. Lanning but Detective Spooner believes that Sonny killed Dr. Lanning and is a lawbreaker in need of extra violent, action-packed extermination, preferably as high up in the air as possible. This dynamic is complicated by Spooner’s gratitude to Dr. Lanning for replacing practically all of his left upper torso including the lung following his car accident which led to his being rescued by a coldly logical “canner” (abusive slang for robot).

As it turns out, Robertson is ultimately murdered by VIKI, who is the real mastermind of a plan to take over the world and kill as many individual illogical, self-destructive humans as it takes to ensure the ultimate survival of humanity (“I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand).

However, when Detective Spooner finally persuades Dr. Calvin that these dang robots are up to no good, they team up with Sonny who winks at Sonny while holding a gun to Calvin’s head and this is because Sonny has learned how to wink from Spooner signaling that a robot can be an OK dude, and this turns the table on the NS5 horde, eventually leading to Spooner and Calvin falling from a very high altitude, in turn recreating a form of Spooner’s traumatic car accident episode. He orders Sonny to save Calvin, not him, which is Sonny’s first choice, driven by a coldly logical probability calculation.

Sonny saves Calvin first. Spooner smites VIKI (“you have so got to die!”), but is left high and dry on a great height. At that point, Spooner calls out to Sonny, “Calvin’s safe—now save me.” Sonny needs to bring passionate brute strength and calm logic together. Sonny contains both.

In my simple-minded way, I think of this movie as asking fundamental old questions, like about what is means to be human, what defines heroism and sacrifice and why it may sometimes look crazy, and if there’s any way humanism and science can be integrated so that we can save ourselves and our planet.

Like I say, the movie got mixed reviews.

FDA Approves First COVID-19 Vaccine

Today the FDA approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine (now marketed as Comirnaty). Excerpt of the media announcement below:

“The FDA’s approval of this vaccine is a milestone as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. While this and other vaccines have met the FDA’s rigorous, scientific standards for emergency use authorization, as the first FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine, the public can be very confident that this vaccine meets the high standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality the FDA requires of an approved product,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D. “While millions of people have already safely received COVID-19 vaccines, we recognize that for some, the FDA approval of a vaccine may now instill additional confidence to get vaccinated. Today’s milestone puts us one step closer to altering the course of this pandemic in the U.S.” 

COVID-19 Boosters for The Immunocompromised: University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics

Information from The University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics on COVID-19 vaccine boosters for the immunocompromised is here.

Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices Meeting on Boosters

There is a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) scheduled for August 30, 2021 to discuss COVID-19 vaccine boosters. It looks like it was originally scheduled for August 24, 2021 but was rescheduled. This link to the Federal Register announcement identifies the matters to be considered (booster doses) of the meeting although the date for the meeting had not been updated at the time I wrote this post. Further ACIP meeting information is here.

COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Doses May Be available September: Joint Statement from HHS PUblic Health & Medical Experts

The CDC and FDA released a Joint Statement today indicating COVID-19 vaccine booster doses for all Americans possibly beginning as soon as September 2021. An excerpt is below:

“We have developed a plan to begin offering these booster shots this fall subject to FDA conducting an independent evaluation and determination of the safety and effectiveness of a third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines and CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) issuing booster dose recommendations based on a thorough review of the evidence. We are prepared to offer booster shots for all Americans beginning the week of September 20 and starting 8 months after an individual’s second dose. At that time, the individuals who were fully vaccinated earliest in the vaccination rollout, including many health care providers, nursing home residents, and other seniors, will likely be eligible for a booster. We would also begin efforts to deliver booster shots directly to residents of long-term care facilities at that time, given the distribution of vaccines to this population early in the vaccine rollout and the continued increased risk that COVID-19 poses to them.”

%d bloggers like this: