Sunday, April 26, 2020

BTRTN: Operation Gambit....Kemp Offers Georgia as a Test for What Happens When We Ignore Science

Steve reflects on the actions of Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, and suggests that when George Santayana said “Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it,” the great philosopher probably didn’t think there were people dumb enough to ignore the history that happened last month. 

It is part of the lore of D-Day: mini-submarines arrived at the Normandy beaches in advance of the main landing forces to place navigational markers that would guide incoming vessels. The mission was code-named “Operation Gambit,” using a word whose literal meaning is “a device, action, or opening remark, typically one entailing a degree of risk, that is calculated to gain an advantage.” 

In chess, however, it has a far more specific meaning.  A “gambit” in chess is “an opening in which a player makes a sacrifice, typically of a pawn, for the sake of some compensating advantage.” I suppose "Operation Gambit" is a marginally better name than "Operation Some of You Are Going to Die For the Greater Good," but the point was made nonetheless.

Thank you, Governor Brian Kemp, for offering up your state as America’s “Operation Gambit.” We are grateful that you are willing to risk sacrificing an unknown number of your citizens in order to test the validity of sheltering-in-place and social distancing. 

If only we could wall off your state and limit the carnage to the Republican voters who were stupid enough to vote you in. 

When the history of the coronavirus is written by those who survive, there will be heroes, there will be villains, and there will be fools. Surely, Donald Trump will take the grand prizes in the latter two categories, but in his acceptance speech, he will want to mention the enablers, sycophants, and dolts in his supporting cast.

Governor Kemp has taken an early but commanding lead in the race to be Trump’s ranking idiot-de-camp.

It was on April 2 that Kemp stood at a podium in Atlanta and made this astounding proclamation:

“Finding out that this virus is now transmitting before people see signs, so what we've been telling people from directives from the CDC for weeks now that if you start feeling bad, stay home... those individuals could've been infecting people before they ever felt bad. But we didn't know that until the last 24 hours. And as Dr. Toomey told me, this is a game changer for us."

Translated from the Governor’s clumsy, meandering English: he did not know that COVID-19 was being transmitted by “asymptomatic spread” – by people who were carrying the virus but experienced no symptoms whatsoever.

Dr. Anthony Fauci made this absolutely unqualified declaration about the asymptomatic transmission of the coronavirus on February 3, a full two months earlier:

“There’s no doubt after reading (the New England Journal of Medicine) paper that asymptomatic transmission is occurring. This study lays the question to rest.”  

For the next two months, the meaning of “asymptomatic spread” itself spread through the population, helping people understand that they were vulnerable to this virus when in the company of seemingly healthy friends and neighbors. Even more terrifying: it made people realize that they, themselves, could be carrying the virus, unknowingly infecting loved ones, grandparents, neighbors, and strangers at the Rite-Aid. It was this concept that helped make people understand the need for sheltering-in-place. 

So the Governor of the State that is the home to the Center for Disease Control remained ignorant about one of the most crucial facts about this virus spreads a full two months. This is a such a ruthless, primal ignorance of such basic fact that one assumes Kemp had been, Trump style, practicing social distancing from reality itself. 
Now Governor Kemp is galloping ahead in the race to be our nation’s Guinea-Pig-in-Chief, acting on what Donald Trump says on a Monday, oblivious to the high odds that Trump would pull a one-eighty by Wednesday. 

This is indeed precisely what happened this past week. Kemp jumped on what he perceived to be Trump’s desire that states re-open as soon as possible. Picking up on the cues in Trump’s “Liberate Michigan,” “Liberate Minnesota,” and “Liberate Virginia  tweets of Friday, April 17, Kemp raced to announce that his state would be open for business even before May 1, which had been the earliest possible date offered up by the Dr. Fauci’s team as even remotely possible. Indeed, by this past Friday, Georgia had already given the green light to certain categories of business to resume operations. 

Kemp apparently felt validated by phone calls from Trump and Pence that happened on Tuesday, April 21. The Atlanta Constitution reported as follows:

”Both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence had called Kemp, reportedly in support of his plan to reopen Georgia’s economy this week. Earlier Wednesday, Kemp’s spokeswoman, Candice Broce, said only that the calls ‘went well.”

The Trump endorsement was not merely behind closed doors.  On Tuesday, Trump had stated publicly that Kemp was “a capable man who knows what he’s doing.”

However, Trump’s intent in the three “liberate” tweets was to create civil unrest in three states with Democratic governors. That was going to be a win-win. If Trump could pressure those states to open too soon, he could blame the Democratic governors for upticks in sickness and death. If the economies surged, he could take credit for pushing them to re-open. 

But Kemp had foiled his plan by offering up a state with a Republican governor to be the petri dish for an aggressive timetable for restarting commerce. 

By Wednesday’s “Combined COVID-19 Task Force Briefing and Mega MAGA Mojo Rally,” Trump attempted to socially distance himself from Governor Kemp. “I want him to do what he thinks is right, but I disagree with him on what he is doing… I think it’s too soon.”

The notion of being “thrown under the bus” somehow does not do justice to Trump’s triple-axle flip, which climaxed with Trump sticking the landing on Kemp’s face on national television. In order to protect his own reputation should Kemp’s experiment go sour, Trump humiliated the guy who was trying to dislodge Mike Pence as Trump’s ranking sycophant.

Hey, maybe I was a bit harsh in implying that Governor Kemp was a 30 watt light bulb because he did not understand the concept of viral asymptomatic spread, but when you throw in the fact that he actually trusted Donald Trump, you conclude that Kemp is a First Team All-Pro imbecile.

And now the good governor has unleashed his “Let My Corona Free” campaign upon the good citizens of Georgia, overriding the desperate pleas of the mayors of Atlanta and Savannah. Add this fact to the mix, and I suspect that if you look up “moron” in the dictionary, it says “a stupid person, but not quite as stupid as Brian Kemp.

O.k, America! Let’s watch! Let’s see what happens when a major state which has not met the key criteria established by the Trump administration for considering reopening for business decides to roll the dice. We are going to find out once and for all if the elder folks in Georgia are as willing as Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick to give up those last few golden years so that we see an uptick in mani-pedis. Apparently the tattoo parlors will be offering a special on the tat that reads “God Bless My Grandma Who Went to Her Heavenly Reward So I Could Get This Rad Ink.”

It’s a pity that Brian Kemp so thoroughly sheltered-in-place from fact, information, and knowledge over this past two months. Too bad he has not seen the videos of overmanned medical workers in New York City hospitals frantically trying to keep up with the flow of desperately ill patients waiting to be treated in an ICU. Kemp had a chance to learn, observe, and make reasoned inferences about what a premature re-opening for business might look like in his own state. 

He had a choice between pursuing a conservative, prudent course, and sticking his finger in the air and saying “WTF.” He opted for the latter. 

As he sends his implicit signal to the vast army of Georgia Trump supporters that you really don’t have to take those social distancing guidelines seriously, and all those vigilantes with “Liberate Georgia” signs gather in close quarters on public squares, we may finally learn what the unchecked contagion rate for COVID-19 really looks like.

Maybe Brian Kemp is right and everything will be just fine. For the sake of the souls who do not deserve to have this fool toying with their mortality, I pray things do go far better than I fear will be the case. 

You know what the worst part is? 

For at least a month -- probably longer -- it is going to seem as if things are indeed just fine. It’s going to seem like Trump and Kemp were right. 

Why? Two reasons. 

The first is that the citizens of the United States don’t buy what Kemp and Trump are selling. A Politico/Morning Consult Poll conducted on April 18-19  shows that 76% Americans – Republican and Democrat alike – believe that social distancing should continue “as long as necessary.” Only 14% of the population agreed that social distancing should be relaxed in order to restart the economy. Just because Georgia is “open for business” does not mean that its residents are going to race out to bars and restaurants simply because they are open.

Ironically, the very behavior of informed, educated citizens is likely to considerably offset the negative impact of Kemp’s ignorance. Many of the shops that were eligible to open in Georgia on Friday opted not to. Many people elected to continue sheltering-in-place. 

Who knows? When your President, your Governor, and your Mayor are saying three entirely different things, small wonder that many Georgians simply want to bury their heads under their pillows and wait for some semblance of clarity. 

The second reason, however, is the nature of how this virus spreads through the population.

Georgia, like everywhere else, ramped up slowly, from dozens of new cases a day in mid-March, to hundreds a day by late March, to thousands a day in early April, peaking at 1,500 new case on a single day, April 7. Of late Georgia has gone down a bit, but it still has had between 600 and 1,000 new cases per day over the last five days, is still growing at about 4% per day cumulatively, which is right on the national average. Georgia is hardly a model for "first to open." It is, at best, middle of the pack.   

And it is easy to see that as this first wave continues to slowly wind down to 500 cases per day -- still a ton -- a new "second wave" will emerge slowly but soon enough, additive to the first. The second wave could build the same way as the first, thought not as fast, given the caution of the populace and the fact that not every business is open. Without testing and proper contact tracing in place, slowly, inexorably, the dozens of new "second wave" cases that emerge in the next few months will turn into hundreds and then thousands yet again. With a more cautious re-opening policy, Georgia's 20,000 cases today might have ended at, say, 60,000, but the new cases that emerge could ultimately drive it well beyond that. 

The distressing implication is that the first month may lull Georgians themselves into a false sense of security and they become more casual about social distancing.  As attitudes become more relaxed, and Republican leaders eagerly jump to the desired conclusion that “all is well” – the geometry of contagion may re-ignite.  Will this take two months? Longer? Will it happen at all? Who knows?

Which brings us to our final topic: why the “science-based” portion of our population is so intensely focused on testing programs

Governor Kemp is turning the engine of commerce back on in Georgia without having an adequate testing program in place to know whether it is working according to plan – or not. 

Kemp’s adventure would be something else altogether if he actually had a world-class testing program in place, and was able to say “we are going to test a projectable sample of Georgians in every region of the state every single day so that we can instantly understand if community spread is rising to greater levels than we anticipate. If so, we will re-institute sheltering-in-place.”

But he is not. He is flying blind. He will have no idea what his experiment has triggered until it starts to show up in hospital visits, ICU patients, and morgues. 

One of the biggest failures of Donald Trump’s leadership is that he has essentially squandered the 40 days and nights that we have all been wandering in the desert of sheltering-in-place by failing to use this time to radically ramp up our national strategy for testing. We should have used the last six weeks to commandeer manufacturing capabilities and build the supply chain to implement a national testing strategy. Instead, Trump publicly questioned the importance of testing and attempted to off-load implementation to the states.  We have all stayed at home for six weeks, and Donald Trump’s White House utterly failed to use that time to figure out the plan for testing that actually could enable us to safely emerge from our homes.

That is the final irony of Governor Kemp’s “experiment.” It is not an experiment at all. Experiments are designed with metrics against which to measure the outcome, and a testing methodology that enables measurement to occur. 

But go for it, Governor Kemp. Let Trump bully you into re-opening your state, then disown you a day later, leaving you to hold the bag for whatever carnage ensues. 

While you’re at it, why not inhale some Lysol and shine some ultraviolet light down your esophagus. Wait 24 hours, and then listen as Trump tries to tell you he was only kidding. White mice in a B.F. Skinner Psych 101 maze experiment learn faster than you.

Those of us who have actually been paying attention, listening, and learning about the science and math of COVID-19 hope and pray that we will not see Georgia ablaze with the swamped ICUs, nursing home carnage, and out-of-control daily contagion rates. The sad truth is that only time will tell… and by the time it tells, it will be too late to avoid yet another needless tragedy. 

And yes… let’s talk about that super-important goal of getting the economy rolling again… that’s the whole reason you are doing this, right, Governor? If Atlanta’s office towers become mini-Wuhans that flood the transit system with raging communal spread, the good Governor may find that he has crushed commerce in Georgia for years.

But – again – all of this carnage may not materialize for months… and it may not materialize at all. No one – not Kemp, not Trump, not me – no one knows. But by then, Trump could have pressured a bunch of the governors who live in the darkness under his thumb into re-opening their states based on the wonderful example set by Governor Kemp and the great state of Georgia. Yes, other states may open up based on weeks of Georgia evidence – the exact period when the viral spread will be invisible. 

So, thanks, Governor. 

Nice of you to be willing to sacrifice your state so we all can finally learn that we must listen to the doctors, the scientists, and the competent, experienced governors. 

Give one up for team USA. 

But Governor, if you do set Atlanta aflame, we hope your citizens realize that this time, it was one of their own who lit the match. 

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1 comment:

  1. Testing has loomed large as an impediment to get a grip on the virus --- but it need not be that way. A blood pressure monitor and an oximeter (Contec08A is a combination of these, and the price is not high) can tell if an asymptomatic person is getting worse (abnormal blood pressure and lower than at least 90% oxygen);throw in a thermometer for good measure and you have a testing program that can be used anywhere, in schools, at jobs, churches, voting places, and so on. Why is noone picking up on this, and why has noone proposed it? Why has the government not funded it? Those who are not working (including politicians) could be working fast on this other thing to get the deaths down.


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