COVID and Ordinary People

Trying to stay on top of COVID news? We have no choice but to do so, to best protect ourselves and our loved ones. It’s stressful and draining, but essential.

This post is paraphrased and shortened from an article by Alanna Shaikh, a global public health expert and a TED Fellow, for tips on how to navigate this information overload while staying safe and sane. ( for full article, see here )

1. Look for news that you can act on

When you’re trying to figure out what stories to stay on top of, ask yourself: “Will having this information benefit my life or my work? Will it allow me to make better-informed decisions?”

Accumulating masses of information that you can’t use isn’t so helpful.

For most people, the most critical information for you to follow is how the virus is transmitted. Scientists are still learning every day about how people get infected.

2. Turn to trusted sources

If something reaches you on your whatsapp or instagram in Blikkiesdorp, chances are people professionally covering the pandemic heard it before you did.

So go and see what they say about it. COVID-19 has been heavily politicized, and even some major news sources are basing their content more on opinion than on science.

You can generally trust the accuracy of top news sources like Nature, Wired and The New York Times — to name three examples.

Why? Cos their reputations are at stake. And they have the kind of budget that lets them hire full-time journalists who will stand by the facts or who rely on fact-checkers to verify their information.

3. Check where their information is coming from

No-one actually KNOWS, so be wary of articles or sources that claim to have a definite answer to a complex question.

For example, Dr. Anthony Fauci is currently saying that there should be a vaccine for COVID-19 in early 2021;

the Gates Foundation has a longer estimate; and

others are warning that we may never have a vaccine for it.

Right now, there is no consensus about a timeline — these people and organizations are simply offering their best guesses. Use fact-checking sites – find one here.

4. Look for news that works for you

For ordinary people whose expertise lies outside global health — i.e. us, you and me — find sources of information that you can read and digest without having to devote your whole day (or brain) to it. Like the Think Global Health website; it’s aimed at passionate non-experts. It’s not dumbed down, but it doesn’t assume you have a PhD.

Johns Hopkins University is publishing some great work on COVID — more technical, but not too technical.

So is Vox; they have some terrific explainers.

5. Be prepared to change your behavior based on new information

No source is perfect, but that doesn’t mean you should disbelieve all sources. Research constantly changes and informs and shapes our ideas.

Remember when wiping down surfaces was the MAIN thing? Now, reputable organizations and scientists basically agree on masks, contact tracing and the existence of transmission of COVID by people who aren’t showing symptoms. If you get sick you will probably never know who ‘gave it to you,’ as they would have felt as healthy as you did the day the virus was transmitted.

Some of this info may change again, but we need to keep going along with best practice AS FAR AS WE KNOW TODAY.

6. Refrain from arguing with people who ignore the facts

Save your breath. Yours and theirs might be contagious!

You WON’T change their minds.

You are not a law enforcer.

Like it or not, this situation isn’t going anywhere. This pandemic is awful and complicated and changing. Finding our way through it won’t be smooth, nor easy, nor emotionally comfortable. It’s a constant, dynamic process of learning new things and adapting as we learn.

….

Lovely pic from the cover of Wits Review Oct 2020, magazine for University of the Witwatersrand alumni.

Nothing New Under the Sun

The quote ‘there is no new thing under the sun,’ comes from the Bible book of Ecclesiastes, which is said to be written by a King of Jerusalem. ‘He’ tells of his experiences and tries to learn from them. He is often refreshingly self-critical. The author writes under the pseudonym ‘Kohelet’ – translated as Ecclesiastes.’

He introduces ‘the kohelet’ – thus not himself – as the son of David. Who the author actually is, is never revealed. Only right at the end does he change from ‘quoting Kohelet’ and give his own thoughts, proclaiming all the actions of man to be inherently vain or futile, as . . . we all die.

At least he does endorse living wisely; he says we should live a good earthly life, even if it has no eternal meaning. Enjoy the simple pleasures of daily life such as eating, drinking, and taking enjoyment in one’s work.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Lockdown Loaded – 2

– ConJunct- tivitis Dove – ConJunct- tivitis Dove –
– carpenter bee –
– which butterfly blue? –
– big thunderhead to the north of us –
– why we’re here –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Then it rained and I remembered a bit late about my duvet! I had put it out to dry in the sun! So I brought it inside – wet – and stayed inside. Mistake! I shouldn’t have! ALL the neighbours showed me what I missed – a rainbow in a sunset!

– Palmiet neighbours – tonight’s sunset pics –
Palmiet neighbours pics

~~~oo0oo~~~

Who Spreads Fake News? You! Me!

WE are the problem.

There’s an instinct to point fingers; to find someone to blame for the information hellscape in which we now find ourselves. Every day one tech giant or another is forced to play defense, whether it’s Facebook being called out yet again for letting advertisers exclude audiences by race or Twitter bending to the whims of white nationalists who want to target reporters. Because we can’t quit the products, we become desperate for the companies to save us from ourselves. For more, read this article on WIRED.

When something “sounds right” to us we forward it – we promote Fake News. When something “sounds wrong” we ignore it. If it was true even though we didn’t like it, we promote Fake News. Unless we get into the habit of being careful and – at the least – waiting for more info, we’re part of the problem.

It usually takes only minutes to check. Until you have checked – whether that’s quick, or you can’t find it – WAIT. Don’t forward! Adding ‘Dunno if this true, but . . ‘ doesn’t help. Don’t Forward. Just as we are in lockdown and social distance, so we need to Break The Chain of information that we don’t know is true. Don’t Forward it. Let it die in your ‘inbox.’ Rather write your own post to trusted friends asking ‘Do you know anything (not just ‘heard of’) about the rumour about ‘X’?’

There are many ways to check: Wait to see if the story comes up on News 24 or Mail & Guardian or Eye Witness News. Or go to specialist fact-checking sites like these (remembering always that ALL humans have bias – no site magically gives THE ONLY CORRECT viewpoint – keep reading, keep checking):

snopes.com – ‘the definitive internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation.’

Africa Check: Africa’s first independent fact-checking organisation with offices in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Senegal and the UK checking claims made by public figures and the media in Africa.

RMIT ABC Fact Check: An IFCN-accredited fact checking organisation, launched in 2017, jointly funded by RMIT University in Melbourne and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

USA:

  • Politifact Pulitzer Prize wining site run by editors and reporters from the Tampa Bay Times (Florida) newspaper. “PolitiFact is a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims by U.S elected officials and others who speak up in American politics…. The PolitiFact state sites are run by news organizations that have partnered with the Times.” Read about their principles under ‘About Us.’
  • FactCheck.org “FactCheck.org is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania….a nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate” for U.S voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases.”
  • FlackCheck “Headquartered at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, FlackCheck.org is the political literacy companion site to the award-winning FactCheck.org. The site provides resources designed to help viewers recognize flaws in arguments in general and political ads in particular.”
  • OpenSecrets.org “Nonpartisan, independent and nonprofit, the Center for Responsive Politics is the nation’s premier research group tracking money in U.S politics and its effect on elections and public policy.”
  • Fact Check (Washington Post) “The purpose of this Web site, and an accompanying column in the Sunday print edition of The Washington Post, is to “truth squad” the statements of political figures regarding issues of great importance, be they national, international or local.”

~~~oo0oo~~~

Duke Reporters’ Lab: Fact Checking Includes a database of global fact-checking sites, which can be viewed as a map or as a list; also includes how they identify fact-checkers.

International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles The International Fact-Checking Network “is a forum for fact-checkers worldwide hosted by the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.”

Glorious Self Isolation

So I’m at home in self isolation. It’s like I’m underwater in a diving suit, ‘cept this suit is full of holes. The holes being my kids and their friends and their gregarious, roving ways.

Yes, Dad, they say earnestly after getting my full explanation of what gives, having gazed deep into my eyes, nodding every five seconds.

Hey, where you going?

Out to see the girls!

*** sigh ***

– the weight around my neck represents Jess and Tom !!! –

Who’s in the kitchen?!

Me and my mate José.

Have you fellas washed your hands?

Um . . er . ja, we’re washing them now . . of course . . !

Slowly I’ll hope to improve the actual isolation effectiveness . . I’ll probably need to apply a lot of alcohol . .

Meantime, I’m luvin’ it!!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Corona Words of Wisdom

“Everything we do before a pandemic will seem alarmist. Everything we do after a pandemic will seem inadequate.” Don’t panic, but do prepare.

Here’s why everyone should self-isolate:

– do go to telliamedrevisited.wordpress.com – well worth reading –

So if you’re wearing a mask at work right now; or telling your workers to stay home and work online; or insisting people wash their hands often; you’re going to be mocked if nothing much happens. If all hell breaks loose, no-one will give you credit; Later they’ll say ‘We all did that,’ forgetting – or choosing to forget – that they did not – until much later; and they’ll ‘forget’ that they initially mocked your ‘over-reaction.’

We humans are weird. Try telling a hugger not to hug. Or a handshaker not to clasp paws. Why? Oh, just to reduce the chances of transmitting a disease. You may cause mortal indignation. Later it’ll be, ‘Why didn’t you TELL me!?’ or ‘I stopped hugging quite soon.’ Our memories work overtime to show us up in a good light.

Here’s good advice from a very good source:

1/ Get your flu shot. Reason: To save health-care resources for others in need.

2/ Make sure you and your household are prepared for a period of self-isolation or quarantine lasting two weeks, or perhaps longer.

3/ If you develop symptoms of a cold or flu—even mild symptoms—please stay at home. Don’t try and impress by coming to work while you’re sick.

4/ If a member of your household becomes ill, stay at home – you and her both.

5/ Let’s all start practicing more restrained physical interactions, and thus set good examples not only among ourselves but also for our colleagues and friends. That means skipping hugs and handshakes, for the time being.  Instead, you might put your own hands together and bow your head slightly to greet or congratulate someone. Or maybe an elbow bump, if you really must make contact.

6/ Prepare now to stop your work on short notice.

7/ Be prepared to cancel your attendance at gatherings – scientific conferences, work, academic or social events – as new information arises. Even if an event organizer decides to push ahead, you don’t have to go. Think about not flying – or delaying purchases of airfares until an event is closer in time, given the current uncertainty.

9/ And maybe the hardest advice of all: Practice good personal hygiene. Cover your mouth with your forearm or the inside of your elbow when you cough or sneeze unexpectedly.  (If you know you’re sick, then you should have disposable tissues handy. Use those to cover your nose and mouth completely, and dispose of each tissue after one use. If you find yourself coughing or sneezing repeatedly, stay home, avoid contact with others. Wash your hands thoroughly after you’ve touched shared surfaces, especially before eating. And most difficult of all, avoid touching your own face.  This coronavirus can survive for hours as tiny droplets on surfaces, which we may inadvertently touch (“fomite transmission”). Then, when we touch our mouth, nose, or eyes, we can infect ourselves.

10/ Get your news from trustworthy, reliable sources. If it becomes clear that infections are spreading locally, or even if you are just concerned about that possibility, then avoid crowded public venues.

11/ If you do isolate yourself, whether because of illness or concern, make sure to maintain frequent social contact with your family, friends, and the lab via phone, email, or whatever works best for you. Don’t let physical isolation and loneliness make you feel miserable. We are all stronger together, even if we might have to be physically apart.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Everything we do before a pandemic will seem alarmist. Everything we do after a pandemic will seem inadequate. This is the dilemma we face, but it should not stop us from doing what we can to prepare. We need to reach out to everyone with words that inform, but not inflame. We need to encourage everyone to prepare, but not panic.” — Michael O. Leavitt, 2007, former Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Interesting: How do they test for COVID-19? Labs use a molecular biology technique called RT-PCR to detect the virus genome in a patient’s sample. This technique targets specific regions of the genome and allows labs to distinguish it from other viruses. This is real science done by real scientists – the ones who develop vaccines. Please read about them, and read their work (eg. here) and not the rubbish written by know-nothing “anti-vaxxers.”

~~~oo0oo~~~