Well hello, my friend. Welcome to that weird time where it’s nearly Christmas but not quite, and some people return your emails but some have already mentally checked out, plus shopping is overwhelming and this year it’s worse because it makes your face itch.
First, a short update on COVID. Then, a long, rambling story about a new word I learned. Challenge: make it to the end without crying.
1. Where were you on December 9, 2020?
Well, I have good news and bad news. Which do you want first?
Remember when, back in The Coronavirus Issue 2 1⁄2 on November 19, I said that given how many new cases had been reported on Nov. 13th, approximately 3,000 people would die from COVID on Dec. 6th? It took four extra days, but we crossed the 3,000 mark [1 minute+ read, covidtracking.com] two days ago, on Dec. 9th.
That’s the bad news.
The good news? I thought I caught it over Thanksgiving but have gotten two negative tests, so apparently while it probably is a coronavirus (a.k.a. the common cold), it’s not the one we’re worried about.
But wait. One man’s health doesn’t really balance out hundreds of thousands of dead Americans, does it? That would be sort of selfish of me, wouldn’t it? To weigh my own health, or that of my immediate family, against the health of my entire community, or the entire country?
Yeah, that would be disastrous, now that I think about it. If everyone considered how dangerous it was to them, but didn’t really think through how they might play a part in its spread to others, that could lead to some really bad outcomes.
If people thought like that, we might be in a situation where we’ve all decided that it’s worth the risk—that we’re not scared of the small percentage chance we’ll get sick or die—and so we let down our guards, go to a party here and a function there, spend time indoors with family over the holidays, go out to eat. And then we do actually end up fine, on average, but there’s a new 9/11 worth of death every day for several months, and it’s all of our faults just a little bit. That would be terrible. Think of the guilt we’d all have to carry around, for years to come.
Thank goodness we’re not that selfish.
2. Get some Vitamin D in you
I wasn’t planning to include any other COVID news in this issue, but I just watched two videos that changed my mind.
So first, if you’re not already taking Vitamin D, start immediately. There is now a breathtaking amount of solid scientific evidence for it preventing and ameliorating coronavirus infections. Here are the dosages I’d recommend (keeping in mind I’m not a doctor or medical professional):
Children under 8: ~2,000 IU/day
Childred over 8 and skinny adults: 4,000-6,000 IU/day
Overweight adults: 6,000-9,000IU/day
Obese adults: 12,000-18,000 IU/day
This should be continued all winter long, until you’re regularly in the sun with exposed skin for long periods of time.
And if you get COVID symptoms, take a few days in a row of giant doses of Vitamin D, on the order of 20,000IU.
If you’d like a super-geeky breakdown of the research, as well as an explanation for why you need to take more if you have carry more body fat, check out this in-depth exploration from the absolute best resource for up-to-date COVID info, MedCram [~1 hour video, youtube.com].)
3. Okay, I’m really mad now 🤬😡🤯
The above MedCram video led me to the below MedCram video, which is from just before Thanksgiving.
In it, Dr. Michael Mina talks about why at-home rapid antigen tests could end the pandemic in a matter of weeks, and outlines the reasons we don’t have them yet.
What is a rapid antigen test?
It’s a small strip of paper with some molecules printed on it that turn a color when they detect a protein that’s part of a SARS-CoV2 infection. Think home pregnancy test. Same idea.
You wipe the strip of paper in your nose, squeeze a drop of activator on it, and wait a few minutes to see if a line appears. That’s it.
Has anyone invented one yet?
Yep. Tons of companies have developed and are already manufacturing them: Abbot, 3M—all the usual players, plus a few startups. In some countries including Germany, you can buy them at the drug store for around $5.
So why don’t we have them?
The FDA hasn’t approved them. This is partly due to concerns that they’re not accurate enough. However, that’s just not true, for several reasons that I encourage you to learn about by watching the video below. Here are the cliff notes:
Basically, PCR tests (the kind we’re familiar with in the U.S.) detect the RNA of the virus. They can detect it as soon as it’s in your system, and continue to detect it for weeks and maybe months afterwards. They do not detect whether you’re contagious.
Antigen tests detect a protein that is related to an active infection of the virus. They absoultely do detect whether you’re contagious. But before and after the 4-5 day window where you’re contagious, they come up negative.
So if you have COVID and recover, a rapid antigen test will be negative, but a PCR test will be positive. And so I guess the theory is that we’re all stupid and can’t handle that level of complexity and shouldn’t have access to that kind of test.
How much do they cost to make?
At current manufacturing rates, they cost about 50¢ to make. If we scaled up, they would get even cheaper.
How would they end the pandemic in weeks?
The plan goes like this:
The government makes or buys at least 20 million of these little strips per day. They send them to anyone in America who says yes.
At home, all of us take tests while we’re brushing our teeth twice a week—on Monday and Friday mornings.
If negative, we go about our day.
If positive, we stay home until tests go negative (usually about 5 days).
After a few weeks of everyone who has COVID self-quarantining, the virus stops spreading and we all get to stop wearing masks and start hanging out with our friends again.
We keep taking the tests on a regular basis to keep things under control until we know for sure that vaccines are working as advertised.
But wouldn’t that be expensive? To give everyone free tests twice a week for the foreseeable future?
Here’s the rub on that:
The U.S. has spent more than 7 trillion dollars on the pandemic so far.
Estimates are that we will spend ~$17 trillion by the time it’s over
The economy is being robbed of literally billions of dollars every day because of closing small businesses, high unemployment, crowded hospitals, and so on.
The total cost of manufacturing and distributing enough of these paper tests to everyone in America for all of us to take one twice a week for an entire year would be something less than $10 billion, or around 0.1% of the money we’ve already spent. It’s a rounding error, and could give us a 1000x return on our investment.
Honestly, having it all laid out like this, and knowing that Dr. Mina and others have been beating this drum since the spring, and that politicians across the country have known all of this for all of that time and have not taken action—it makes me want to punch something.
I HAVEN’T SPENT TIME WITH FRIENDS IN SIX GODDAMN MONTHS.
And there are $1 pieces of paper that already exist, that we could rub in our nostrils twice a week, and if about half of us in this country did that on a regular basis the whole pandemic would be over by February.
I mean, I just don’t get it.
Anyway, definitely watch the full video [~1 hour video, youtube.com] if you’d like to get more and more irate over the course of a very informative conversation between two very smart people with lots of knowledge and sources and graphs and things.
And visit rapidtests.org for more info, or text “RAPID TESTS” to 50409 to send a letter asking your congresspeople to add rapid tests to the pending COVID relief package.
4. Frisson? What the heck is frisson?
Okay, so my plan was to not talk about COVID today, and to tell you all about my journey into the world of searching for a certain kind of feeling.
But I think it’s fairly unlikely that most of you will make it even this far. So I’m going to save the frisson for the next issue. What will I call it? I have no idea. How exciting!
So, yes, that means this post has literally no frisson in it, but I didn’t change the name.
Anyway, good luck with your shopping. Get your orders in soon—the delivery services are all reporting significant cloggage.
P.S. (Keep your eye out for the actual frisson issue in a few days. And forward this email to someone!)