Sweden’s approach to the coronavirus

An interesting piece in today’s Times.

Sweden is, unlike its neighboring Scandinavian countries, not directing social distancing or other stringent mandates. I read the article with a sort of, “Hmm.”

But then I read this with a sort of, “Whoa!” (I’ve bolded the “Whoa” part):

Sweden’s approach appeals to the public’s self-restraint and sense of responsibility, Mr. Tegnell said. “That’s the way we work in Sweden. Our whole system for communicable disease control is based on voluntary action. The immunization system is completely voluntary and there is 98 percent coverage,” he explained.

“You give them the option to do what is best in their lives,” he added. “That works very well, according to our experience.”

In explaining Sweden’s current strategy, experts point to other underlying factors: The country has high levels of trust, according to the historian Lars Tragardh, and a strict law in the Constitution prohibits the government from meddling in the affairs of the administrative authorities, such as the public health agency.

While we’re assembling adjustments to our Constitution in the face of (1) a rampaging president and (2) the shock of finding out how much a (rampaging) president can do because there are no Constitutional barriers to stop him, can we consider Sweden’s advanced idea to separate and protect experts from fools?

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Dr. Rob answers my questions about the virus

I’ve been doing what I was told to do: I stay indoors as much as possible; I wash my hands regularly; I wear gloves and a mask (with a lining I braced up with a vacuum cleaner bag) whenever I go into a store; I’m restricting my shopping to a couple of times a week, and I shop primarily in stores with wide aisles.

Still, the other week I found myself gazing upon a tangerine which was to be my dessert and wondering,”The skin. Should I be doing something about the skin?” And feeling pretty foolish, I washed it. But not in hot water and not with soap.

Was I being crazy?

So I’m asking Dr. Rob, my brother-in-law who is retired from a medical practice and therefore has the time, the discipline, the knowledge and the wit to answer possibly silly questions.

First, Dr. Rob says:

Let me begin with the following disclaimer since some of my answers will be an attempt at humor, and some of them will be an attempt at giving real advice, and since it will be up to any reader to figure out the difference, and since I am retired and no longer have malpractice insurance, don’t think for a moment that following any advice given that results in significant physical or spiritual harm will entitle you to any monetary damages.

Now we’ll get to the Q &A. (I’m the Q. He’s the indented A. In red.)

Q. Raw foods? I’ve temporarily sworn off fresh salads because I don’t know how retentive of viruses lettuce might be and since I wash them in cold water…Is is silly for me to buy only greens veggies I can steam myself? The only fruit I buy and eat has thick, inedible skin. But when I peel it, should I worry about viruses lurking in the prickly skin of, say, pineapple? Or transferred onto tangerine or banana peel?

A. The danger is that some asshole coughed or sneezed on your fruit or vegetable. To protect yourself, they should be washed under running water just as you should have been doing even before COVID 19 appeared. It is advised to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before preparing or eating foods. So fresh salads are fine.

Q. Plastic and cardboard packaging? Ethan [bro] told me he wears gloves when he handles packages. Is this reasonable?

A. It’s recommended to leave cardboard packages like those from Amazon in a safe place for 24 hours before touching them. Wash hands after putting them in the safe place, and a day later, after handling it. They say coronavirus can live up to 3 days on plastic.

My solution to many of these problem situations is frequent hand washing and training oneself not to touch one’s face. When I go out to my mailbox to get the mail I don’t wear gloves. I open my mail box which a sick mailman might have touched, get my potentially contaminated mail, open my mail, throw out most of it, wash my hands well, and feel safe. I do this this with anything I can imagine could have gotten contaminated.

Q. What are effective face masks made of? Do they have to be tight over the nose and below the mouth?

A. N95 respirator masks are only helpful if they have a tight fit over the nose and mouth. And they should not be used outside of a hospital setting.

Surgical masks are used to protect the public from someone who is sick. Not sick, don’t use one. Different cultures have different norms. In China, not wearing one makes you an asshole. Other countries it’s the reverse.

N95 respirator masks are not for use by the public. They block very small particles. Surgical face masks are looser, block only larger particles, are made with different thicknesses, and protect from splashes, spray or splatter that may contain bacteria or viruses, and reduce your saliva and respiratory secretions from harming others.

Q. Is it possible to get any useful advice from Trump? Or does listening to Trump present a health risk?

A. Absolutely. Given, due to his malignant narcissism, his monumental ignorance, his corrupt soul, his cowardice, lack of empathy, and pathological lying, the ratio of false unhelpful statements to helpful true ones, is approximately equal to the ratio of grains of sand in the Sahara Desert to the grains of sand in my miniature Zen garden that sits on my tiny bedside table, one cannot reasonably go wrong doing exactly the opposite of any advice the moron in chief gives.

Q. Any particular insight that Tibetan Buddhism can offer us as we try to survive a pandemic?

A. Most important: Wash hands and don’t touch your face.

Q. Any particular insight that Tibetan Buddhism can offer us as we try to survive an unusual type of agitated boredom?

A. Meditate! Get a good meditation app. This will increase your ability to concentrate, which is the antidote to boredom. Not only will this help with boredom, it can get you to remember to wash your hands and STOP TOUCHING YOUR FACE! Which can save your life!!

Q: Anything you’d like to add?

A. Yes, have a nice day.




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The Trump (absent) administration, in one devastating article

Not many of us can keep track of all the mediocrities who are fully dysfunctional in the Trump administration.

Not many of us want to keep track of how Trump and his mediocrities have emptied the federal government of the sort of quality professionals our government needs in order to run effectively.

Today, the Times published this: “Job Vacancies and Inexperience Mar Federal Response to Coronavirus: Unfilled jobs and high turnover mean the government is ill equipped for a public health crisis, said many former and current federal officials and disaster experts.”

Read it.

Here are a few excerpts to give you an idea of the emptiness and empty-headedness within our federal government. I’m breaking up the paragraphs so you can pause to take deep breaths. I’m also bolding the names of the agencies.

WASHINGTON — Of the 75 senior positions at the Department of Homeland Security, 20 are either vacant or filled by acting officials, including Chad F. Wolf, the acting secretary who recently was unable to tell a Senate committee how many respirators and protective face masks were available in the United States.

Wolf, drew…criticism from lawmakers when he failed to provide basic information on the coronavirus outbreak at a Senate appropriations hearing. “Mr. Secretary, you’re supposed to keep us safe,” said Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana. “You’re the secretary of homeland security and you can’t tell me if we have enough respirators.”

Mr. Wolf said the United States was “several months” away from getting a vaccine. “Your numbers aren’t the same as C.D.C.’s,” Mr. Kennedy said, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Don’t you think you ought to contact them?”


The National Park Service, which like many federal agencies is full of vacancies in key posts, tried this week to fill the job of a director for the national capital region after hordes of visitors flocked to see the cherry blossoms near the National Mall, creating a potential public health hazard as the coronavirus continues to spread.


At the Department of Veterans Affairs, workers are scrambling to order medical supplies on Amazon after its leaders, lacking experience in disaster responses, failed to prepare for the onslaught of patients at its medical centers.

The [Veterans Affairs] secretary, Robert L. Wilkie, has no experience in emergency management, and he has been largely absent from public briefings with senior officials on the pandemic…Mr. Wilkie recently fired his second in command, who had worked in past disasters, and his head of emergency preparedness retired.


Some 80 percent of the senior positions in the White House below the cabinet level have turned over during Mr. Trump’s administration, with about 500 people having departed since the inauguration.

One high-profile case came with eliminating a directorate at the White House’s National Security Council that was charged with pandemic preparations. In 2018, John R. Bolton, then Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, ousted Thomas P. Bossert, Mr. Trump’s homeland security adviser and longtime disaster expert. The directorate was folded into an office dedicated to weapons of mass destruction.


Equally notable may have been the resignation last year of Scott Gottlieb, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, who was an early advocate for broad coronavirus testing and stronger mitigation policies. He was succeeded by Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, a noted oncologist, who has struggled during Senate hearings to explain some of his positions…Many members of Mr. Gottlieb’s team departed with him, leaving the agency with many people new to their jobs.


…Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, is scrambling to have enough officials in place to accommodate the additional workload stemming from four emergency lending programs, two new stimulus bills and a delayed Tax Day, even as departures are in store…Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the Treasury Department is the thin staffing at the Internal Revenue Service. The tax collection agency has faced deep cuts to its budget over the last decade, leaving some of its technology out of date.

Now the I.R.S. must cope with Tax Day being delayed by three months and a deluge of questions from confused taxpayers calling employees that are teleworking. The shortfall in staff is likely to be especially problematic as the Treasury Department tries to send stimulus money to Americans by using the I.R.S.’s taxpayer database to track them down.


Even the Pentagon, which is broadly viewed as better positioned than many other agencies for the pandemic response, is not immune. More than a third of all Senate-confirmed civilian positions at the Defense Department are vacant or filled by temporary officials, a peak level for the administration outside of the transition period, according to Pentagon statistics. Of 60 senior positions, 21 lack permanent appointees.

I’m being kind to call these characters “mediocrities,” but I don’t know the word for “beneath mediocre.”

Would it be gratuitous for me to mention that we have an Acting Chief Executive, too?

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