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Virginia and Surroundings
August 2019 - July 2020
Virginia Travelogue 3
August 22nd (Thursday): Dutch Wonderland

Connie and I always go to the Lancaster area in PA for a day in the summer to visit the Amazing Maize Maze at Cherry Crest Farm and do some other sightseeing. This year, we decided to spend the night and make it a two day trip. Both to break up the driving and to give us time to do some more stuff.
Speaking of the drive, I decided to use it to test out our brand new Honda Odyssey, which we just bought a week ago. As hoped, it's great for road trips. It'll also be really useful when we have visitors. On top of that, it was Zack's first time facing forward in the car seat. I think the combination of that and the van's big windows kept him pretty happy since he managed to make it pretty much the entire drive without needing a phone, tablet, or anything besides a couple toys.
But anyway, we decided to use the first day of our trip to take Zack to Dutch Wonderland, which is a theme park in Lancaster that's been around for over 50 years. Now, before you read any further, I should make one thing clear. Dutch Wonderland is for kids. Specifically, little kids. If everyone in your group is at least 10 years old, there's absolutely no reason to go. Head to Hershey Park instead, it's got plenty of stuff for all ages. Honestly, I suspect even a lot of 8 year olds would have more fun at Hershey. That said, Dutch Wonderland is great for little kids. All the rides are kid friendly (either solo riding or with parents). Even Zack, at 2 1/2, was tall enough to go on the vast majority of them. And he loved it. He rode the whip five times in a row, and would have stayed on longer if we didn't lure him away to try other rides. The park isn't overly large, but there's a good number of kids rides, some shows (which we didn't watch so I can't comment on) a big sandbox and playground area, and a water park (mostly a large elaborate splash pad, with handful of small slides).
We stayed until mid-afternoon, at which point Zack really needed a nap, so we left to check into our hotel. For convenience, we stayed at Hershey Farm (not related to Hershey Chocolate), since Connie and I always eat at the buffet there anyway. While it's not the cheapest hotel in the area, the rooms are fairly nice and they've got a pool, two playgrounds, farm animals, and the buffet (breakfast is free, and you get 20% off other meals). You can even buy smoothies and ice cream 24 hours a day in the lobby, which I saw quite a lot of people take advantage of. They can also get you discounted tickets to a number of local attractions. Anyway, after Zack's nap and a bit of time in the playground, we hit the buffet for dinner (very good, as described in previous years' travelogues) and then Zack chased geese for a while before bed. I knew he loved chasing birds, but it was a bit odd to see him chasing a after a whole flock of geese that were each as big as he is. It's good that they're not especially aggressive.
Unfortunately, despite being tired, Zack really didn't want to go to sleep (he's been fighting it a lot lately), which made our night a bit more exhausting than it should have been, but otherwise it was a pretty good day.

August 23rd (Friday): Hands-On House
We were planning to spend the day at Cherry Crest Farm. Unfortunately, there was a very sudden change in the weather over night and what was supposed to have been a nice sunny day turned into steady rain, wrecking our plans. As such, I ended up spending much of breakfast on my phone, looking up nearby indoor activities that would be good for Zack. On a side note, the breakfast buffet at Hershey Farm is pretty good. It has all your classic breakfast foods along with less well known local specialties (such as scrapple, though that's not something I eat).
But anyway, we settled on a visit to the nearby Hands-On House, a children's museum and play area. It was a pretty nice place, though really crowded since it looked like quite a lot families in the area had the same idea as us. There were several different themed areas including a farm, grocery store, dress up area, and factory. There was also a large outdoor area, but we didn't get to check it out due to the rain. Zack had fun, though there were a few things he wasn't quite old enough to enjoy. If you need an indoor kids' activity in the Lancaster area, it's a good option.
Eventually, we decided to get a quick lunch and drive back home a little early. It wasn't a bad day, but missing out on the farm and maze was pretty disappointing. We're planning to head back there for a day trip sometime soon.

August 30th (Friday): Cherry Crest Farm
Connie and I were planning to go to Cherry Crest Farm when we did our overnight trip to Lancaster. But the weather had other ideas. So we went back today for a day trip. This year, Zack was old enough to enjoy most of the different activities on the farm. There's a huge variety and they keep adding more each year. In addition to feeding the goats, which were the surprise highlight of his visit last year, Zack especially loved the water pumps, the wagon train, mini-town, animatronic chicken show, and the corn barn. Speaking of which, I went in the corn barn with him for a while. The dried feed corn they fill it with has got to be at least a foot deep. It's also surprisingly comfortable. I think I'd take a beach of that stuff over sand. Though it does really get stuck in your clothes.
We decided not to take Zack into the big maze this year. There's no way he'd say in a carrier or stroller the entire time, unless he was asleep, and I was worried that he might run off and get lost. So Connie played with Zack while I did the maze. The theme this year is the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. As usual, I went for the "ultimate challenge" which means not only finding the exit, but also tracking down every hidden map piece and crossword puzzle answer. It was a pretty good maze design and I scored one of my better times, making it out in a little under an hour and a half.
All in all, went spent several hours at the farm and, if he didn't need a nap, Zack probably could have played there the rest of the day. But he was getting pretty tired so we left mid-afternoon and decided to get an early start driving home. It was a fun day. The maze was great, as always, and Zack had a blast. Looking forward to going back next year.

November 3 (Sunday): Busch Gardens and Howl-O-Scream
When I went to Busch Gardens Williamsburg back in the Spring, I was mostly focused on Zack so I didn't get to go on many of the rides. But, with Connie and Zack in China, I decided to go back get a better feel for the park. This ended up being their last full day of the season, and the last day of Howl-O-Scream, their Halloween event. While Howl-O-Scream doesn't really kick into gear until the evening, there were still decorations up all over the park. Anyway, as previously mentioned, Busch Gardens Williamsburg is sorta European themed. You start out in England and there's also, Ireland, France, Germany, Oktoberfest (which is essentially still Germany), Italy (which is also broken up into two areas), and...Northern Canada? Not to mention the two kids areas (Land of Dragons and Sesame Street).
Anyway, I made my way slowly through the park, checking out all the rides, shops, etc. as I went. In addition to that VR motion simulator I rode last time, there's a number of roller coasters. I'd say The Griffon is probably the best one in the park. Though all the big ones are fun, if sometimes a bit on the short side. One that really surprised me was Verbolten, which looked like a pretty simple and low intensity coaster at the start, but ended up having a lengthy dark section with a surprising twist. The newest ride is Finnigan's Flyer, which is a giant swing, not a coaster (there's a new coaster coming next year). A lot of fun, at least as long as you're ok with heights.
There's also animals. Not as many as, say, Disney's Animal Kingdom or Busch Gardens Tampa, but they've got wolves, bald eagles, and a lot of other birds. I even ended up hearing the eagles chirping(?) at something when I passed by in the evening. Didn't sound like I expected. There's also that pet show that I saw with Zack last time.
So I walked around and tried different things out. Unfortunately, my neck was a bit off (it's a chiropractic thing) so I had to take a break between coasters to avoid getting really motion sick, but it was still fun. Due to the time of year, a few attractions were closed (water rides, for example). Maybe next time. I will note that the European theme isn't especially deep. Not like, say, Epcot, which can be fairly educational in addition to fun. But it works. As a note, the best place to eat is in Italy (which has a lot more than just Italian food).
While I'm not big on Halloween, I figured I might as well stay for a bit of Howl-O-Scream. And besides, the sun sets really early these days. Before the main event there was a family friendly Halloween...disco? There was still a bit of time to kill before it got dark, so I decided to save some time and line up by one of the haunted houses. I ended up going through three of them (out of six), just because I was there. They seemed pretty much in line with the other theme park haunted houses I've been in (not counting Disney's Haunted Mansion, which is much higher quality but also much more family friendly). You follow a twisting path through loosely themed corridors filled with creepy decorations, dismembered limbs, and people in costumes trying to scare you. All fine, I guess, but they just don't do it for me. For one thing, stuff like that doesn't scare me in the least. Plus I'm extremely hard to startle (you basically have to catch me entirely off guard and even then it's iffy). In the end, the only time I was even a little surprised when when the girl behind me freaked out and hit me in the back. And since I'm not in love with the bloody horrific style Halloween aesthetic (pumpkins and ghosts can be kind of fun through), there just isn't much attraction. At least when I'm by myself. They can be kind of fun to visit with a friend, especially if he or she scares a lot more easily than I do. Outside of the haunted houses, there were also sections of the park where costumed actors roam around and try to scare you as you pass by. Once again, I don't care that much either way, but watching some other people scream and run was amusing. What I would have been more interested to try were the special Halloween escape rooms, but they cost extra and weren't open that weekend anyway.
So, to summarize, Busch Gardens Williamsburg is a pretty good theme park. In this general area, I'd still give Hershey the nod for its larger selection of rides and coasters, though Busch may have more for younger kids and a bit more variety when it comes to food. As for Howl-O-Scream. If you're looking for a big fancy teen - adult Halloween event, it seems like a pretty good one, even if I personally don't care too much either way.

November 24th (Sunday): The National Museum of American History
Before Connie and Zack returned, I wanted to go to DC for a day to see a museum or two that I hadn't gotten to yet. Top on my list, the National Museum of American History. It's a huge museum with a wide variety of exhibits. They're not really organized in any particular way, so I just went from floor to floor. I started out with the founding of the US and creation of the government. Next up, immigration, followed by one tracing the history of an old house and the families that lived in it. All were fairly interesting, and they had some cool artifacts, especially from the country's founding. But one of the coolest things in the museum (though you can't take pictures) is the original Star Spangled Banner. As in, the actual flag that inspired (and is sung about) in the national anthem. Then, for something quite different, a section on American innovations, which featured some notable American inventions and a few pop-culture items from famous TV shows.
I ate lunch in the cafeteria (the menu isn't as diverse as, say, the Native American Museum, but still fairly good) then on to another floor for more pop-culture, both modern and classic. There was even a little section with video games that heavily feature the US (such as Earthbound and Red Dead Redemption 2), and another about the history of audio/music playback devices. Moving on, there was a section dedicated to American presidents and first ladies, and another about wars in which the US was involved (with the main focus being on the Revolutionary and Civil Wars).
Moving on to another floor...an exhibit about food? Um, ok. Sort of about the history of food production and distribution in the US, tied into how people at different times ate. It even had Julia Child's kitchen. Next up, the Hall of Transportation, which was a lot more interesting than I expected, as it was less about showing off different types of vehicles, and more about how the creation of different methods of transportation, roads, and the like, changed the way people in the US lived. For someone like myself who has driven all over the country, it was interesting to think about how many of the highways that we currently take for granted didn't even exist when my parents were young. Next, a bit more pop-culture with the Batmobile and Ralph Baer's workshop (if you don't recognize the name, he was an important figure in the early days of the video game industry and also electronic toys in general). Finally, I finished in a section on American enterprises (which also had a lot of notable inventions and pop-culture items).
I'm pretty sure I forgot to mention a few exhibits but that's the highlights at least. I took a fairly leisurely pace through the museum, though I did tend to skim a bit in some areas, and it ended up taking me most of the day. Personally, I found it to be one of the more interesting Smithsonian museums (though that certainly depends on personal preferences). There's a kids play area as well, which would have been useful if Zack was along with me. I'm a little disappointed that I only managed to visit one museum, but it was a fun and interesting day.

May: COVID-19 Part 1

So, the coronavirus, COVID-19. I'm going to write out my thoughts, both on the virus itself and all the lockdowns and other precautions being taken. First off, everyone has an opinion. So why should you listen to me? I mean, I am a university professor, but I'm not in the medical field. However, my father, brother, and both of my in-laws are doctors (of several different types). Growing up with my dad especially, I can safely say that, while I'm not an expect by any means, I know a lot more about health and medicine than the average person. I've also read a lot about the virus from the early days (since my wife is from China, I started to follow this with the Wuhan outbreak), and not just opinion pieces. I've read a lot of actual data and studies. Finally, I'm the type of person who forms opinions (and reforms them, if needed) based on facts, logic, and data rather than emotion.

So, with all that out of the way, let's briefly go over the history. The virus started in Wuhan China (and no, it's not racist to point that out, it's a fact). Most evidence now implies that it was an accidental release from a research lab there. And no, it wasn't bioengineered (probably not, at least). Basically, there are some researchers (including Dr. Fauci, interestingly enough) who say that various animal based coronavirus strains may eventually mutate to the point where they can infect humans, so we should research that process to learn more about it, develop medicines, etc. ahead of time just in case. Problem is, to do that, you need the a strain of the virus that can infect humans. I won't go into the whole process, but basically the researchers cause the virus to mutate much more quickly than normal until they get a strain that can infect humans and then they work with that. Once again, the idea is to be prepared for any future outbreaks. The problem is that, in the process, you're actually creating a version of the virus that can infect humans which, if there was an accident at the lab, could cause the very outbreak you're trying to prevent. If there was no research, the virus may have never undergone that particular mutation, or it may have done so far in the future or in a place where it wouldn't have come into contact with a large human population. Unsurprisingly, that type of research is very controversial and actually fell out of favor in the US a while ago.

Now, I really like China (the country; its government, no so much). My wife is Chinese (she immigrated to the US when we got married) and I've visited China several times myself. That said, China isn't great when it comes to sanitation or safety regulations, which you probably already know if you read my travelogues. So I have no trouble believing that the virus accidentally got out of the Wuhan lab (which is what all the intelligence communities are saying). Though the wet market theory is totally believable as well. Either way, when the virus first started popping up in Wuhan, the Chinese government engaged in a massive cover-up (lending credence to the lab escape theory), going so far as to silence doctors who spoke about the new virus and actively preventing accurate diagnoses and treatment. Eventually, thanks to that, plus China's poor sanitation and high population density, the virus got too big for them to cover up so the Chinese government shifted to some of their other common ways to deal with problems. First, misinformation (willing aided by the mostly worthless WHO (World Health Organization)), which is continuing today as we still don't have reliable info about the spread, number of deaths, etc. there. Also, an extreme military style lockdown (which seems to be China's go-to for most internal problems). That said, it's possible that all the other factors made things in Wuhan so bad that the lockdown was necessary. But the data we now have on the virus, and some things I've gleaned from Connie (who reads Chinese news, listens to Chinese podcasts, etc.) implies that it probably did more harm than good (starvations, suicides, people actually dieing of fear, etc.).

Prior to the lockdown, China also did nothing to prevent the virus from spreading abroad. And for quite a while everyone, including the WHO, all notable US mainstream media outlets (most of which drastically changed their tune a little later), and most major US politicians (including the ones who are currently super gung-ho about the lockdowns) were saying that there was no real risk, especially in the US. They were especially saying that after Trump put a China travel ban in-place. Suddenly most media and every Democrat politician was rushing to call him racist for that. None of them ever apologized, though they did very quietly drop their opposition to that particular policy once the virus started to become a bigger deal. As a note, I'll try not to get political here (I don't like to do that on this site), just stating facts.

Anyway, once China started their extreme mass lockdowns, they and the WHO could no longer get away with saying that the virus was no big deal and the WHO suddenly shifted gears to their usual reaction to any new sort of illness, apocalyptic warnings (they really on have two modes, "it's nothing" or "we're all gonna die"). The mainstream media mostly backed them up because that type of stuff is great for clicks, viewership, etc. Then there was the report... A British professor wrote a report predicting that COVID-19 would cause 250,000 deaths in the UK and over 2 million in the US, and that was assuming strong preventative measures were taken. That led the British government to reverse course on their previous decision to just let things play out and caused them to go all in with lockdowns and social distancing. That report also had a huge influence on the COVID-19 response in the US and much of the rest of the world. But there's a problem. The professor who wrote the study actually has a long history of drastically overestimating the death toll of pretty much every single new illness that's popped up during his professional career. And I don't mean that's he's slightly off. When all is said and done, his numbers generally end up being off by a factor of several hundred or more. So why does anyone still listen to him? Good question. In fact, two or three weeks later, an American researcher challenged his methodology at which point the British guy quietly revised his estimate to 1/5th of his original numbers (as a note, deaths so far in the UK haven't even hit that level). As an interesting aside, that same British Professor recently resigned from his post after he was caught violating Britain lockdown (which he himself help instigate) to meet up with his mistress. So yeah...
But he wasn't the only one who got it wrong. The major US research models predicting the number of COVID-19 deaths (while nowhere near as high at that British one) have all been revised numerous times, reducing the predicted number of deaths to a fraction of what they originally were.

Now there's two different ways you can take all of that. The first would be to say that everyone was very wrong from the beginning, the virus isn't nearly as dangerous as they thought, and the lockdowns and other measures probably weren't needed (at least in most areas). Or you can say that the virus is just as deadly as they said, but the far lower death tolls are because all of the extreme lockdowns and social distancing measures are working even better than we hoped. So which is the case? Well, this has already gotten extremely long so I'll address that next time.

May: COVID-19 Part 2

Last time, I talked about the origins and spread of COVID-19 and had just gotten up to the lockdowns and quarantines and whether or not they're effective, let's continue from there.

Like I mentioned last time, the number of COVID-19 deaths is far below all the predictions. Not to downplay the number of people who have died, but this pandemic hasn't been remotely as deadly as early predictions implied. So is that because of the measures we've taken, or in-spite of them?

First, we should note that most of the measures being taken in response to this virus are entirely unprecedented. It's common enough to quarantine sick people or, at times, those who are especially vulnerable to a particular outbreak (generally the sick or elderly). But mass closing of businesses and public places, forcing healthy people to stay home, etc., that's never really been done. So we actually have no real scientific evidence to say how effective it is, or isn't, at stopping the spread of an illness. On the one hand, it does kind of make sense. If people stay away from each other, it's harder for the virus to spread. However, most people can't completely isolate themselves. They need to go shopping occasionally, or at least get deliveries. And you can't close down everything. We need food production, grocery stores, warehouses, delivery services, utilities, etc. If you actually shut everything down we'd have no water, no electricity, no food, etc. Not everything can be done from home. So there's still a decent number of people out and about. Yes, other actions are also being taken. Increased sanitation, masks, social distancing, etc. But it's still hard to say how much all the lockdowns and such are slowing down the spread of the virus. Maybe a lot, maybe very little.
One other thing that's worth keeping in mind is that some researchers and doctors warn that, if the lockdowns and social distancing actually are working well and limiting the spread of the virus, that would also also slow the development of herd immunity (when an illness can no longer effectively spread amongst a population because the majority of people have developed immunity). Without that, there could be another major outbreak in the future. So, if the measures we're taking do work, they could end up causing more problems down the line. But, once again, that comes back to the question of whether or not all the lockdowns, quarantines, and social distancing actually work.
We really have no way to know for sure. We can, however, look at the case of Sweden. It's the only modern country that didn't undergo a massive lockdown or social distancing. In Sweden, businesses, schools, and even restaurants and bars were allowed to stay open. People were told to take precautions (washing hands, watching their health, etc.) and there were some regulations mostly designed around protecting the elderly and other highly vulnerable groups. For most Swedes though, life continued as normal. So how'd that work out? Hospitals haven't been overwhelmed and Sweden's COVID-19 death rate (when adjusted for population and such) isn't bad. It's higher than some countries (though not extremely so) and lower than others. Plus, according to Swedish health officials, the country's major population centers (yes, Sweden does have some fairly large cities) are nearing herd immunity so the chance of a future spike in cases is low. Yes every country is different (climate, population density, health and sanitation, etc.), but Sweden's example does seem to imply that at least most of the lockdowns and such weren't needed, or even that effective.

Now, some people will argue that Sweden is different (to a point, but probably no so much that that's a valid argument), or that things there will get worse in time (it's not looking like it, but we have no way to know for sure), or that all the lockdowns and such are worth it even if they only save a small number of lives. We'll talk about that one in more detail later. So let's look the lockdowns and other preventative measures taken in the US (we'll talk about how dangerous the virus actually is, or isn't, later). The federal government has mostly given advice and left it up to state and local governments to determine what measures should be taken. That's a move I agree with as rural areas with low population density (like South Dakota) probably don't need to take the same measures as highly populated urban centers like New York City. Though I don't agree with the steps many of those state and local governments have taken. But anyway...
In most parts of the US, all "non-essential" (as determined by local governments) businesses have been closed, or at least have their operations severely limited. Schools and universities have been closed or moved online. Gatherings of more than a handful of people are banned. Restaurants are limited to take out. Some areas have gone further, requiring masks, closing parks, forcing anyone who enters the state into a quarantine, etc. Some have gone even further, banning people from simply driving around, walking outside, gardening in their own yards, or even buying "non-essential" items in stores (as in, you can buy food and clothes in Target, but not toys). Some of the these restrictions make sense, at least if you believe that lockdowns and social distancing work and that slowing the spread of the virus is critical. Others, however, clearly have nothing to do with stopping the virus and are nothing but the result of petty wannabe dictators reveling in their power. And I really hope those people pay a price for it either legally or at the ballot box.

Putting those petty tyrants aside, we were originally told that the lockdowns and such would be for around two weeks in order to "flatten the curve," keeping the number of new COVID-19 cases from growing so rapidly that hospitals would be overwhelmed. Then two weeks turned into four, then six, then eight. At this point, most states are starting up open up at little bit, but mostly very slowly as part of long multi-stage plans. And some have made it clear that many restrictions will remain in-place until "it's safe" which, depending on who is talking, either means until there's a miracle cure, a vaccine, or at very least a lengthy period of time with no deaths and/or no new virus cases. So why the sudden switch? From what I can tell, it's a mix of genuine fear of the virus on some counts (whether that fear is justified is another matter) and politics on the others (there are some people who have a vested interest in keeping restrictions going as long as possible, but we'll get to that too). Thing is, that was never the original goal and this new "until it's safe" goal is ridiculous.
First, the original goal succeeded. Deaths are steadily going down in most parts of the country and hospitals never came anywhere close to being overwhelmed, even in New York City, which was the hardest hit part of the country by far. In fact, many hospitals have far less patients than normal since most states have temporarily banned elective procedures and a number of people are actually avoiding hospitals for fear of catching the virus. As a result, a large number of doctors, nurses, and hospital staff have been laid off or furloughed. Once again though, whether or not we "flattened the curve" with lockdowns and social distancing, or there was never any need to flatten the curve in the first place, is debatable.
Now, as far as waiting until it's safe... There's a few different drugs that have proven promising for treating the virus, which is great, but no definitive "cure" yet. Disturbingly, there are some people who actively root against some of those treatments for political reasons. For example, when President Trump spoke optimistically about a drug that was proving promising, a number of news outlets and politicians were tripping over themselves to convince everyone that said drug was useless and the president was a fool (or worse) for suggesting otherwise. There were even a handful of Democrat governors who actually banned doctors in their states from prescribing that drug to treat the virus. Yes, governors with no particular medical knowledge or experience telling doctors, who should know best about how to take care of their patients, what they can and can't prescribe. So that's where we are on the "cure" front.
As for a vaccine, I keep hearing that a number of different labs are closing in on one and we might even have it by fall. That said, typical development time would mean we don't get one until mid to late next year and we can't keep things locked down anywhere near that long (we'll talk about why later). And that's assuming there will be a vaccine, there are plenty of illnesses we still don't have vaccines for so it's hardly guaranteed. And, even if we do get one, we don't know how effective it will be (the flu vaccine, for example, varies from around 20% - 60% effectiveness depending on the year). On top of that, not everyone will get vaccinated. It would take too much time plus some people won't want the vaccine. I won't get into the whole vaccine debate here (though I will note that, if you actually read them, the arguments against vaccines are often far more intelligent and nuanced than they're made out to be so it's not really clear cut), but some people have legitimate medical reasons for not getting vaccinated. As for waiting until there are weeks and weeks with no new cases, or at least no deaths, that's another thing that's going to take too long. Even with herd immunity or a vaccine, the virus probably isn't going to totally disappear. Illnesses don't do that. Some of them get extremely rare, but we'll likely still be seeing at least a handful of new case pop up every week or month for years. And, as long as there are new cases, there will be some deaths as well (though only a tiny fraction of the number of cases result in death). And, once again, we can't keep up all these restrictions for even a few more months, much less years.

So why can't we keep things up that long? Especially if the virus is really so dangerous...or is it? More on that next time.

May: COVID-19 Part 3

In Part 1, I talked about how the COVID-19 coronavirus got started and spread. Then, in Part 2, I talked about some of the measures taken here in the US and their potential effectiveness, or lack thereof. In the end, we can't say with complete certainty how effective the shut downs, stay at home orders, and the like have been. Personally, the evidence I've seen leads me to believe that it's not all that much. But there are people who argue that all measures, no matter how strict, are worth it if they save even a few lives. We'll talk about that but for now, I'd like to go over just how dangerous COVID-19 really is. There are people who say it's no big deal, and there are others who seem to think that everyone who leaves their house is flirting with death. So what's the truth?

As previously covered, all the initial predictions about the death rates for COVID-19 were far too high. Part of the reason was due to the lack of reliable data from China. The other part was researchers (especially an idiot British professor) with bad models. As a quick aside, I'm a tech guy and computer models are universally terrible at predicting the future no matter what you're looking at (health, weather, finances, etc., etc., etc.). They're great at predicting the past, but that's because you can just keep tweaking them until you get the results you're looking for. The future though, is guess work and I've yet to see any computer model that can reliably predict the future of anything. So how dangerous is the virus, really?
Well, back in the earliest days when it was still mostly a Chinese concern, the numbers indicated an infection rate of around 10% (as in, around 10% of the people in the area got infected) and around 3% of those infected died. A bit concerning, but not so high that I was especially worried at the time. For comparison, H1N1 (Swine Flu) has a highly debated mortality rate of somewhere between 1% - 15%. Ebola, on the other hand, is about 50% (now that's one to be scared of). And the plain old seasonal flu is around 0.1%, or a bit lower. That said, we now know that the numbers out of China aren't at all reliable so we can throw that out. Actually, mortality rates for COVID-19 in general aren't very reliable because it's a very new virus and the mortality rate is calculated by the percentage of recorded cases compared to the number of recorded deaths. Thing is, the number of confirmed cases is entirely reliant on how much testing is being done so, unless you're periodically testing the entire population (which would be insanely difficult and impractical), the number of confirmed cases is probably going to be far lower than the number of actual cases, because most people are only going to get tested if they're required to for some reason, or they're feeling really sick. So getting a true grasp of the mortality rate of an illness takes time and a lot of data. So it's better to forget about percentages and confirmed cases and just look at the number of deaths compared to the population of the area (deaths per million, or hundred thousand). But anyway... As the virus spread to South Korea and Japan we started to get a bit more data and the death rate was looking more like 1%. Not quite so scary, huh? But that's not the end.
The US, however, has been doing a massive amount of testing, combined with immunity testing, and now we've got a lot more data in general and we're found some things. First, it looks like the virus reached at least some parts of the US far earlier than we realized and it's much more contagious than we thought. Forget 10% of the population, it could easily infect two or three times that; it might have already done so. That's bad (and higher than the infection rate for the regular flu). However, if that many people have been infected, that means the death rate is actually really low. Estimates based on current data put the mortality rate for COVID-19 at somewhere around 0.1% - 0.2%. So a bit higher than the seasonal flu, but not extremely so, and far below all the earlier predictions.
Not convinced? Let's talk actual numbers. In the US, we're currently looking at just over 90,000 deaths. Well, maybe. The CDC keeps two different sets of numbers. One is currently sitting at just over 90,000, the other at 67,000. The higher number is the one used in all the news reports. The lower number, however, is based on actual death certificates and likely far more reliable, if potentially a bit slower to update. The CDC's reasoning for the difference between the numbers is a bit dubious. But even the lower total is suspect. A number of prominent researchers, doctors, politicians, and even morticians have called the CDC's numbers into question, saying that they could be as much as 25% higher than the actual death count.
Why the would that be the case? Well, first off, it comes down to what's counted as a COVID-19 death. Naturally, anyone who actually dies of the virus counts. But many states are also counting everyone who tests positive for the virus and dies, regardless of the actual cause of death. So if you test for COVID-19 but die of a heart attack (which is not one of its potential symptoms), that's marked as a COVID death. Presumably that would also apply if you died from a car accident or something so long as you tested positive for the virus. Some states go even further, marking everything as a COVID-19 death without any sort of test so long as the doctors think the person might have had the virus based on their symptoms or medical history. Some medical professionals have even gone on record and said that they're being pressured by higher-ups to record as many COVID-19 deaths as they can. So why would that be the case? Well, there's a political angle, but we'll get to that later. There's also a couple more practical ones. First off, some of those professionals have said that it's just faster and easier. People are expecting lots of virus deaths and it's less time, effort, and testing to just run with it. Second, Medicare pays out considerably more money for COVID-19 patients, especially if they were on a ventilator. So there's certainly an incentive for hospital administrators (if not necessarily regular doctors) to game the system a bit. Even more so when you remember that most hospitals are losing a lot of money right now without elective procedures

However many COVID-19 deaths we've actually had (90,000, 67,000, or even lower) that number will still grow a bit but the numbers of deaths are tending drastically down (even the states that started opening up early have had a notably decrease in deaths, despite dire warnings from some officials and politicians about "opening too early"), so we're probably far past the halfway mark. In that same period of time, the US has seen 86,000 non-COVID related pneumonia deaths. And since October 2019, there have been around 40,000 deaths (the actually broad estimate is 24,000 - 62,000) from the boring old seasonal flu (which does have a widely disseminated vaccine, albeit an not very reliable one). In fact, the flu tends to average around 40,000 deaths per year in the US. And the worst flu season on record (which was decades ago) saw over 150,000 deaths, a number COVID-19 seems unlikely to top. In context, the virus isn't seemingly quite so dangerous is it?

And remember, a lot of people are at virtually no risk from COVID-19. It's somewhat more dangerous if you're elderly, especially if you have certain pre-existing conditions (mostly serious respiratory and immune issues). Outside of those groups, it's practically a non-issue. According to the data we have both in the US and abroad, there have been very few deaths of people below middle-age and virtually all of them had preexisting conditions. In fact, over half the COVID deaths in the country were people in nursing homes. Though the virus isn't automatically fatal to the elderly or people with those pre-existing conditions either. Plenty of people in both groups have recovered. Over all, it seems that the majority of people who contract COVID-19 have no symptoms whatsoever. That's right, without testing they never even know they have it. The second largest group has mild symptoms, no worse than a normal cold or flu, then recovers. A much small percentage have moderate to serious symptoms and need to visit a hospital but even most of that group recovers in the end.

So, if you're elderly or have certain pre-existing conditions, you probably should take some precautions against COVID-19. For everyone else, there really isn't much to worry about. Not that you'd realize that from watching/reading the news as much of the mainstream media, and many politicians, tend to try to make the virus sound as dangerous as possible. There's a portion of the population (10% or 15% from what I've heard) who are convinced that catching the virus means almost certain death and that relaxing restrictions even the tiniest bit will cause massive amounts of people to catch the virus and die. There's examples from famous high ranking figures (like New York's governor saying that "the virus is death"), to regular people (a woman on Facebook who commented on a story about the possibility of local schools re-opening in the fall "I won't send my children there to die!"). Of course while some of those people believe what they say (likely due to misinformation and a personality more predisposed to panic), some are more agenda driven, or some combination of the two.

May: COVID-19 Part 4

So, we've covered how the virus appeared and spread, the measures taken to mitigate it (and how they might not really be doing much), and how dangerous the virus is (not much unless you're elderly and/or have serious preexisting conditions). Now, before we get on to the next topic, there's a couple things that have come to light recently that are worth mentioning.

First off, while it has not been widely reported (we'll get to the likely why later), the CDC recently announced that COVID-19 doesn't really spread via surfaces. In other words, while you could catch it if an infected person breathes in your face, if you touch a surface that person touched or breathed on, you're fine. So all that hand sanitizer people were hoarding? Not very useful. All the reminders to frequently wash your hands? Not a bad idea in general, but not going to reduce your chances of catching the virus much. Wearing gloves when going outside? Pointless. Constantly sanitizing surfaces at stores and such? Closing self service counters? Deep cleaning a building anytime someone who worked there tested positive? Not really effective. It even negates half the reason for wearing masks (breathing on a surface or object that someone later touches won't spread the virus). Of course, like I said, it hasn't been widely reported and I've yet to see any state, business, or organization retract some of the previously mentioned "safety" measures as a result.

The other thing to mention is the increasing information coming out about the nursing home policies in certain states. Now, remember that the elderly are far more at risk from COVID-19 than others, especially if they have certain preexisting conditions (which is relatively common among those in nursing homes). Also, remember that over half the COVID-19 deaths in the US have been nursing home residents. So why am I restating all that? Well, it's come out that a number of states (pretty much all the ones with the highest COVID-19 death counts actually, like New York) have official policies that say that, if a nursing home resident is diagnosed with COVID-19, but isn't in any immediate danger (remember, while they are more at risk, plenty of elderly people do recover), instead of being allowed to stay in the hospital until the virus has run its course, they're forced to return to the nursing home where they live. Of course, that significantly increases the likelihood of the infection spreading to other nursing home residents, which will probably result in at least some deaths as well.
Now, I have a tough time understanding the reasoning behind forcing nursing homes to take in people who test positive for the virus. And none of the governors or health officials who made these policies have seen fit to explain themselves (they tend to avoid the question or get angry at the person asking). My best guess is that the idea was that they didn't want to spare any hospital beds for patients who weren't themselves in immediate danger to keep those beds open for the predicted crush of COVID-19 patients that would overwhelm the hospitals and cause our entire healthcare system to collapse. Problem is, as I discussed before, hospitals never came anywhere close to being overwhelmed, yet these policies have continued on regardless. I honestly can't think of any other possible reason...unless the person who made the policy actually wanted to increase the number of infections and deaths from the virus. I really don't think that's the case (I'm not the type to buy into conspiracy theories). That said, thanks to certain things I've seen, I actually wouldn't quite put in past some people (we'll talk about why that is later) so I suppose it's not entirely out of the realm of possibility in some cases.

Ok, so now that both of those issues have been covered, let's get to today's main topic. As I've talked about in previous posts, quite a lot of the measures being taken supposedly to prevent the spread of the virus are actually worthless and many of the others are untested so we're really not sure if they're doing much good or not. Not to mention that we quickly took the most extreme measures possible before we really knew if this virus was anywhere near dangerous enough to warrant it (as previously covered, it's not), with only the actions of the Chinese government (which rarely, if ever, serve as a good example to follow) and a study from a professor with a very firmly established track record of overpredicting the danger posed by viruses and other illnesses by insanely huge amounts. At this point, all but the most irrational and uninformed person will admit that at least some of the things we've done were unnecessary and potentially harmful in other ways. I'd argue that applies to most of the measures we've taken, while others might say that only applies to a few of the most extreme ones. Either way, most of us can agree that we did some things that we didn't need to, or even shouldn't have. But it's all ok because any measure, no matter how inconvenient or potentially harmful, is worth it if it saves at least one life. At least that's what some people (including some very prominent politicians) say. So let's take a good at that argument.

Now, the idea that any measures are worth it to save a life sounds nice. Saving lives is good, no question about that. But let's add some logic to the equation. When you actually think it, "any measures" doesn't make sense. There's a certain amount of risk we all have to put up with in order to have a functioning society and just enjoy life in general. Let's leave off more extreme and risky hobbies like base jumping and focus on daily life. What if we really wanted to take any measures necessary to save as many lives as possible? Well, last year about 38,000 people died in the US as a result of automobile accidents. We could reduce that number drastically if we reduced all speed limits everywhere to 10 mph. Or we could prevent all automobile deaths by banning cars entirely. And let's not stop there. Around 2,000 people drown each year in the US so we should probably ban swimming pools, beaches, and bath tubs (just to be extra safe). Then there's food allergies,which kill around 200 people per year in the US so we should probably ban peanuts (or just nuts in general), shrimp, diary, soy, and whatever other foods are most likely to cause serious allergic reactions. Or, for a more directly related example, the normal seasonal flu kills an average of 40,000 people every year in the US (the record was over 150,000) so maybe we should close stores and businesses, force people to stay at home, and all the other things we're doing right now every flu season.
I could go on, but I think you see what I'm getting at. There's a point where you just have to say that yes, some people will likely die, but taking extreme actions to prevent that would just be too cruel (banning swimming or peanuts) or inconvenient (banning cars, shutting down every flu season) for everyone else to justify it. Of course we take plenty of reasonable actions and precautions to keep people safe. Foods have allergen warnings. Cars have advanced safety features and drivers must obtain a license and follow traffic laws. But we don't do everything possible to save just one more life (or even thousands of lives). Of course, different people will have different ideas of where we should draw the line between safety and fun or convenience, but no sane person would disagree that a line is needed. Acceptable risk is a necessary part of nearly everything that we do. So the argument that any and all measures taken to stop the spread of COVID-19 are worth it as long as they save even one life is utterly ridiculous. Anyone who makes that arguement either doesn't think about what they're saying (an idiot), or they're hoping that you won't think about what they say (a manipulator). Remember, as important as emotions are, you always have to consider facts and logic as well.

May: COVID-19 Part 5

Did I mention that I don't like the governor of Virginia (my current home state)? Note that this dates back long before COVID-19. He's done a lot of things that I, and many other people judging by the protests, don't like. As far as his COVID-19 response though... Well, it's a heck of a lot better than that of New York, Hawaii, California, Michigan, or Pennsylvania, to name a few. But "it could be worse" is hardly a ringing endorsement. While he's certainly not one of the worst US governors when it comes to COVID-19, he's nowhere near one of the best either. Anyway, over the weekend he had a mini-scandal of sorts. As far as his scandals go, this is pretty minor. But anyway, he decided to visit the Virginia Beach over the holiday weekend. The town recently re-opened its beach and boardwalk, albeit with a lot of restrictions and social distancing guidelines. Well, our governor showed up and ended up taking some selfies with the beach goers (not quite sure why anyone would want a picture with the guy after everything that's come out about him, but whatever). Basically he ends up catching a whole lot of flak online for violating his own social distancing policies (you can't really take a selfie with someone while standing six feet away from them) and not wearing a mask (not actually required in Virginia, but the governor strongly recommends them). His response? To declare that everyone in Virginia now has to wear masks in all public indoor spaces. Now, regardless of your opinion of how useful masks are or aren't, it's kind of ridiculous to suddenly start requiring them here now, when COVID-19 cases in the state are steadily declining anyway. I really hope the guy loses his next election.

Ok, rant over. In the last part of my COVID-19 series, I went over the very stupid idea that any and all measures taken to combat the virus are worth it so long as they save at least one life. Remember, saving lives is wonderful, but that particular statement completely fails the test of logic. Another common argument is that, if some or even most of the measures we've taken to combat the virus are unnecessary, it's better to be safe than sorry, right? I mean, we are talking about people's lives here.
Thing is, more and more reports and studies are coming out (from notable sources including the UN, Stanford University, etc.) about the catastrophic results of the widespread quarantines, lockdowns, and economic shutdowns and how, when all is said and done, they may very well be far worse (and deadly) than the virus itself.

Let's start with the economy. Now, whenever someone brings up the economy, the pro-lockdown crowd loves to attack them for caring more about money than people's lives. But that's dishonest. The economy is about more than the stock market numbers. It's easy to discount the economy if you're working from home or in an "essential" position and still getting a salary (which seems to describe most of the pro-lockdown people). I am, and I'm grateful for it. But I know a lot of people who are out of work and have been out of work for months now. We're looking at depression levels of unemployment and all of those people have to make rent, pay utility bills, buy food, etc. Stimulus checks and unemployment benefits can only keep them afloat for so long, especially those who live in expensive areas (like northern Virginia, for example). I suppose the government could make more stimulus payments, increase the length of unemployment benefits, etc. But even that can't last. With so many people out of work, tax revenues are dropping drastically. Sooner or later, the government will run out of money. And what about businesses? They still need to pay rent for their buildings, utilities, and all of that. It's not like you can just keep them shuttered from months and then expect them all to open up again at the end. Every week more and more small businesses are closing for good, costing more jobs and destroying people's life work and savings. And, while it's not as politically correct to bring it up, we really shouldn't forget big businesses either. I know of at least one major restaurant chain that has shut down for good and lots other big businesses that are struggling and closing multiple locations. Yes, it's trendy to hate big business but there's nothing inherently evil about them and they employ a massive number of people. People that won't have any jobs to go back to if they shut down.
But hey, business owners are all evil versions of Scrooge McDuck sitting on big piles of money. Same thing with landlords, so they can just waive everyone's rent payments until this is all over, right? Uh, no. Business owners (including big business) aren't all rich assholes with unlimited money. That's an incredibly biased and simplified world view. And landlords? While I really admire the ones that can and have waived or delayed rent payments for their tenants, not all of them can do it, and certainly not for very long. They've got bills they have to pay as well.
The economy isn't just numbers. It's people's livelihoods.

Beyond that, the lockdowns and such are actually costing people their lives. Yes, our attempts to protect people from COVID-19 are actually causing deaths. Financial woes and the lack of social contact and interaction lead many people to depression. That's caused an increase in domestic abuse and a massive spike in suicides (California, for example, has already had as many suicides as they normally see in an entire year).
But that's not all. To ensure that hospitals have enough capacity for that massive crush of COVID-19 patients that never came, most states have banned "elective procedures." As we already discussed, that's actually caused hospitals to lose lots of money and lay of staff. Thing is though, some "elective" procedures are actually very important and there are people who have died because their elective procedures were delayed for too long. Don't believe me? The Canadian government released a report on it a while back.
And that's still not all. Because the media and many politicians and such have been non-stop disaster, doom, and gloom, some people are too scared to go to the hospital, even in emergencies, because they're afraid of contracting COVID-19 from the other patients. I know of at least one person (a young woman who was at virtually no risk from the virus) who died of an easily treatable infection because she was too scared to visit the hospital. And I'm sure she's not the only one.
And there's more. The UN released a report saying that, due to the economic impact the global shutdowns have had on poorer countries, there will likely be twice as many people facing starvation this year.

So really, it's not simply a matter of taking extreme actions just in case to be safe and hopefully save some lives. We're sacrificing lives and livelihoods in order to hopefully, maybe, save some other lives. So at best, we're making a trade-off and sacrificing some lives for others. At worst, we're sacrificing lives and livelihoods and saving few, if any, people. Perhaps you think that the virus is still the worse of the two. I disagree (and I believe the data does as well) but that's still a valid position to take. However, you need to at least be honest and admit that our actions to combat the virus are costing lives as well and it's impossible to say which approach would end up being deadlier when all is said and done.

June: COVID-19 Part 6

I've already gone over the origins of the virus, how dangerous it is (or isn't), the effectiveness (or non-effectiveness) of many of the measures taken to combat it, and some of the arguments for continuing the lockdowns and such for as long as possible and why they don't hold up. Before moving on to today's topic though, a couple updates since last time...

The idiot British professor who made the wildly inaccurate computer model (like all the other ones in his career) that led to governments worldwide adopting quarantines, lockdowns, and all the rest of these unprecedented measures actually came out and admitted that Sweden ended up getting similar results without all the drastic measures taken elsewhere. He tried to downplay it a little bit by saying that Sweden might still have a spike in the future...but he basically admitted that he, and all the policies he recommended, didn't produce a result any better than Sweden, which was mostly able to maintain normal life and a strong economy.

In other news, the new requirements to wear masks indoors here in Virginia got me doing a bit of research on masks. Especially considering that the CDC can't seem to make up its mind on how helpful they are. It's one thing if you have those medical grade N95 masks, but most people don't so lets focus on the regular disposable masks that most people are wearing. Turns out, there's actually no medical or scientific consensus on the effectiveness of masks when it comes to protecting you or others. The only serious study on the matter that I found actually proved that the masks do very little to stop the transmission of germs, bacteria, and such at close range. With the counter argument being that the study only tested close range, so maybe the masks reduce the range of transmission (or maybe they don't, no one seems to have studied that), and that the tests took place a while ago before COVID-19, so maybe the masks are magically more effective when it comes to this particular virus. So yeah. There's nothing wrong with wearing masks, but they're not necessarily doing much for you or others. To be clear, I have no problem with people wearing masks if they want to, or with businesses requiring them for employees and/or customers (though it annoys be a bit when I'm forced to wear one). But it should be a choice, not a government mandate.

Anyway, on to today's topic. Why, especially after all this time and all the new data (the curve was flattened a while ago, the virus isn't nearly as dangerous are originally thought, etc.), are some people still so invested in maintain strict lockdowns, social distancing, etc.?

Let's start with ordinary people. Quite a lot of people have had enough and want the country the country to open back up, either fully or with various precautions. But there are some who really, really don't. For example, there's the woman I saw on a Facebook discussion about when local schools will be reopening who declared that she wouldn't send her children to school to die. Or, when a local woman was harassed and chased out of a supermarket by another shopper for not wearing a mask (prior to the requirement) because she has a medical condition that prevents her from wearing one. Most of the people talking about it on the local message board were very supportive however, there was a small but very vocal minority attacking the harassed woman and praising her assailant as a hero. If you look on social media or just across the country, there are many more stories like those, some are much worse. Not to mention all the people who say that, even if things reopen, they won't be leaving their home any time soon.
Some of those people are truly, legitimately afraid. And I can't totally blame them. If you listen to much of the mainstream media, and a number of politicians, you'd think that being in the same zip code as someone without a mask will lead to you catching the virus and, if you catch the virus, you're probably gonna die. Totally doesn't line up with the actual facts and data, but that's the story that much of the media and political worlds are pushing (we'll get to their reasons later). Unfortunately, a lot of people don't have the time or drive to look outside of their favorite news source and get the whole story. And, even when presented with the facts, they're often too afraid to accept them.
But that's not the only reason. It's one thing to be scared, but a number of people are self righteously sanctimonious about the whole thing, smugly telling off anyone who dares disagree. This is a little philosophical, but people need meaning in their lives. In the past, most people derived meaning just from the struggle to stay alive but these days, in developed countries, staying alive isn't really a struggle, even for most people in poverty. Other traditional sources of meaning are religion and family. But more and more people are discarding religion, or at least relegating it to a minor portion of their lives, and are in no hurry to start a family. So they look for meaning in other places. For many, their meaning in life comes from supporting a cause (often social and/or political). They're heroically championing the cause of the environment, or some oppressed group, or whatever. Not to say there's anything wrong with causes in general. Some are great, some are bad. But when someone derives much of their meaning in life from a cause, they tend to react very poorly to anything that goes against that cause (regardless of how its presented and whether or not its true). There are a lot of people out there who actually think (and loudly proclaim on social media) that they're heroes, saving lives and even the world by staying home, wearing masks, and social distancing. If you try to tell them that all (or even a little bit) of that wasn't really necessary, they get angry and defensive. It deprives them of meaning and harms their sense of self-worth. This is a trend that's not at all limited to the virus and is the cause of a whole lot of problems in modern society. If you can't deal with conflicting opinions, or even consider the chance that you might be wrong, you really can't function well in society. But that's a whole different topic.
It's also interesting to note that most regular people who are strongly in favor of the lockdowns and such are the ones whose lives were the least disrupted. Sure they may have had to cancel a few social outings, but they're in no danger of losing their job and are sitting quite comfortably in their houses or apartments so they really can't sympathize with the people who lost their jobs and businesses. To them, lockdowns are a small price to pay for safety. After all, they're "saving the world."

There's a line from a favorite fantasy novel of mine. I don't remember the exact quote, but it basically boils down to that people can be made to believe any lie because they either want it to be true, or that they're afraid that it's true. And that's basically the situation here. But what about the people feeding them the lie in the first place? Let's start with the media.
First, the media loves disasters, bad news, and panic. That gets people buying newspapers, watching TV, and clicking on links online. A headline like "Everything is Nice and Peaceful" doesn't get anyone reading or watching the news. A headline like "Apocalyptic Pandemic Could Leave Millions Dead," now that's a money maker. Just like every storm is the storm of the century and every theft or murder is the start of a massive crime wave. It's just normal for the news to blow things out of proportion. And, as previously discussed, China's extreme measures and the bad information coming from them and the WHO didn't help.
But soon it became more than that. Now, I make a point of not getting political on this site but I'm going to have to touch on politics here. That said, I'll try to keep the focus strictly on the facts of this situation and keep my own political opinions to a minimum. Anyway, these days it's really no secret that most of the mainstream media in the US leans towards the left, politically. The only real question is how far left. MSNBC is about as far left as you can go. CNN, the New York Times, and the Washington Post seem to be competing for the number two slot. And most of the rest are somewhere between them and center left. Don't believe me? It's very obvious if you take a look at their coverage of any sort of politically divisive issue or figure which side they're on. Now, whether or not that's a good thing depends on your own political leanings. I'm not going to get into that here, other than that, while I don't really have a problem with news outlets having a specific political bent, it does bother me when they claim to be neutral but they're clearly not. Anyway, there are a few exceptions. Fox News has the reputation of being far right. It's actually not that clear. Some of its anchors and commentators are solidly on the right, a couple are actually fairly far left, and many are somewhere in between. If you look at the station as a whole these days, it's actually getting close to the center. Talk radio, however, tends to be pretty far right, as are a handful of online news outlets (though most of the biggest ones are far left). Once again, whether any of this is good or bad depends on your political leanings and that's a topic I don't want to get into here. The reason I'm mentioning it is because, these days, politics drive a lot of the news coverage. News outlets and their individual reporters, anchors, commentators, etc. often have a very clear agenda they want to drive with their stories. And it benefits the left if people believe that COVID-19 is extremely dangerous.
Why? Well, because then they can attack President Trump, his team, and Republican politicians in general for not taking things seriously enough, mishandling the situation, caring about money more than lives, etc. For the record, I agree with some of Trump's decisions in regards to COVID-19 and disagree with a lot of them as well. I think Republican and Democrat politicians both made a ton of mistakes. Though I will note that all the states with the highest death tolls and the disastrous and deadly nursing home policies are run by Democrats, which also tend to be the states with the strictest lockdowns, so I think they came off the worse of the two parties in this whole mess.
If you don't believe that much of the COVID-19 news coverage is political, just look at how things have changed in light of the current protests and riots in regards to the death of George Floyd. Now that's a different topic and one I will not discuss on this site. But compare how the media reacted to protests in previous weeks to end lockdowns and re-open businesses. The protestors weren't all practicing proper social distancing. Some of them weren't wearing masks. Those protests were called dangerous and the protestors reckless, foolish, and even murders. Those protests, we were told, would cause a massive spike in COVID-19 cases and result in many lives being lost. On the other hand, the same media outlets and politicians that decried those protests are fully supportive of the George Floyd protests (despite a similar lack of social distancing and masks). I've only heard a couple of voices worrying about these protests and riots causing an increase in COVID-19 cases and those voices have been very muted. It's not like COVID-19 is any less dangerous or infectious than is was a week ago (at least if you listen to the media), but the George Floyd protests are useful for promoting various leftist social and political agendas (once again, whether those agendas are good or bad is another topic and one I'm not getting into here) so the media doesn't want to derail that. The re-opening protests, however, are more in line with the right, politically. So the media freaks out about protests that don't help their cause but completely forgets about the virus when it comes to protests that are in line with their agenda. Once again, trying not to take sides, just pointing out facts.

Finally, there's the politicians. I would assume that a few of them (and a few people in the media, for that matter) are genuinely scared of the virus (see my comments on normal people). Most, however, are trying to use it for political gain. Especially the Democrats. It's no secret that the left really hates President Trump and is desperate to win the upcoming election and kick him out of office. It's also no real secret that, even if you love his policies, Joe Biden himself (the presumptive Democrat nominee) is a terrible candidate that can't seem to get through a single public appearance without shooting himself in the foot somehow. And, love him or hate him, one thing Trump really had going for him was how great the economy was doing prior to COVID-19, with raising wages, record low unemployment across the board, tons of new jobs being created, etc. And a good economy tends to strongly favor the incumbent in a presidential race. Not to mention that Trump has handily beaten every alleged scandal that the Democrats have tried to use to take him down, include the impeachment attempt early this year. COVID-19 provided a new method of attack. First, they accused him of doing too much (his China travel ban). Then, when worry about the virus grew, they accused him of doing too little. Even better, at least for their political fortunes, all the lockdowns and such tanked the economy and created depression levels of unemployment. The kind of conditions that favor a regime change in elections.
But there's a problem. The virus wasn't nearly as deadly as predicted and started burning out relatively quickly so people want the country to re-open. There are top Democrat strategists who have stated in various party meetings that they're worried that, once the country opens up, the economy will quickly rebound, allowing Trump to not only boast about a strong economy, but a miraculous economic recovery, making it far more difficult for Biden in the coming election. Naturally, the Democrats want to prevent that. The longer states stay closed, and the longer people stay afraid of the virus, the slower the eventual recovery will be and the more it'll hurt Trump. Yes a lot of people will get hurt, but that might be worth it to defeat Trump, at least according to some.
And it's not just politicians that believe that way. There was a rather disturbing man on the street video taken in New York City during the early days of COVID-19. People were asked if they would make a hypothetical deal with the devil where the virus would last longer and kill more people but Trump would be guaranteed to lose the next election. Some people said they'd never do that, politics weren't worth sacrificing lives. Quite a lot, however, were in full support of the idea. One man even said that there was no amount of deaths that was too high as long as it meant defeating Trump. Now I'm not going to talk about my political views or who I want to win the election. But I can't imagine actually wishing for people to die just to ensure that my candidate is the victor. Honestly, that's sick. But that's how much some people hate Trump. And if that's the man on the street, just imagine his actual political opponents.
One final aspect of politicians' behaviors, and one that affects both Democrats and Republicans, is public image. With the media whipping up a panic and fully supporting lockdowns and such, any politician that dares to buck the trend will be loudly and repeatedly declared a murderer. Didn't put in enough restrictions? You're killing people! Starting easing restrictions too early? You have blood on your hands! Just look at how the media treated the governor of Florida, despite the fact that Florida has had a fairly low number of COVID-19 deaths despite having a very high elderly population. No one wants that and, for many politicians, staying on the media's good side (or at least avoiding their bad side) is a key factor in any decision.

So there you have it. We have a virus which, due to horrendous mishandling on the part of China and the WHO, wildly inaccurate predictions on the part of various scientists (especially that idiot in the UK), media bias and spectacle, and political gain, was blown far, far out of proportion. Yes it's very contagious and somewhat dangerous to small subset of the population but not all that much more than the flu. And for that we've drastically increased depression, suicides, domestic violence, and starvations. Cost millions of people their jobs, cost many others their businesses and life savings, and quite possibly destroyed some social norms for years to come. That is COVID-19. When people look back on this time years later, it will be quite clear that the "cure" was far worse than the virus ever could have been. I just hope that, at very least, the world learns from this mistake and doesn't repeat it in a couple of years when the next new illness comes around.

June 21st - 23rd: Ocean City, Maryland
Ever since we moved to this area, Connie and I have talked about taking a short summer trip to Ocean City, but for various reasons, we never got around to it. Well, with no big summer trip this year thanks to the COVID-19 situation, we were ready to get out of the house for a bit and Maryland was a little further along than Virginia in its reopening plans so, once the weather forecast looked good, we finally decided to take that beach trip for a few days, driving up on Sunday and returning Tuesday evening.
There's a number of beach towns here in the northeast, but Ocean City is one of the more popular ones and also one of the closer ones to us (a three hour drive). On top of that, I've got a bit of history there. My mom used to go with her family when she was young and she took me and my brother a couple of times when we visited my grandparents in Pennsylvania. That said, I hadn't been back in close to 20 years and my memories of it were rather fuzzy.
Anyway, we set out Sunday morning and had a pleasant drive, mostly through the countryside and across one of the longest bridges I've ever seen, before arriving in Ocean City. The interesting thing about Ocean is that the resort portion of the town is set on a very long and very narrow island (only around 3 - 4 blocks wide) with the beach on the eastern side and a bay on the west. To make up for that, it stretches quite a long way from north to south, three miles of which is lined by a boardwalk which follows the ocean. Connie and I got a hotel roughly in the center of the boardwalk. The boardwalk itself is wide, well maintained, and lined with hotels, restaurants and beach shops. I will note that most of the of the shops and restaurants are on the southern half while the northern half is quieter and less crowded, with mostly hotels and vacation rentals. There's even amusements parks and both ends of the boardwalk and a dozen or so mini-golf courses scattered about the area. It makes for a very pleasant walk. The shops and such are mostly cheap beach equipment and goofy t-shirts, as opposed to the high-end fashion shops that you tend to see in Hawaii. But I'm fine with that. There's plenty of restaurants and snack stands too, though they're not big on variety. If you like pizza, fries, burgers, and seafood, you're set. If you want more foreign options, you may have a tough time of it. There are some really good fries and pizza though.
Of course, while the boardwalk is fun, the main reason people visit Ocean City is for the beach. I've been to a lot of beaches and Ocean City's is really nice. It's very long and wide, and the sand is deep and pretty comfortable, despite being rather large grained. The water wasn't quite as warm or clear as in Hawaii, but it was fine and you could actually walk out a few dozen yards and still stand, which is something I always enjoy.
Zack was thrilled to see the ocean and we ended up dividing most of our time between the beach and the pool at our hotel (which he also loved). I personally would have liked to spend a little more time walking on the boardwalk (never did make it all the way to the southern end) and maybe play some mini-golf, but Zack was having fun so I can't really complain. Despite a little bit of trouble with sunburn (I over-estimated how long I could go without sunscreen) and Zack getting to sleep at night, it was an extremely relaxing trip. I'd been a bit burned out lately with everything going on, despite being on summer vacation, and it was great to just ignore the news, play with Zack, and have fun in the water.
I suppose, given the timing, I should mention the COVID-19 situation. At the time we went, masks were required indoors (though the enforcement seemed a bit lax). Outdoors, the beach and boardwalk were perhaps a bit less crowded than they'd normally be, and people were spaced out a bit more than I'm used to seeing on the beach, but for the most part, things were pretty normal, which was nice. The only real issue was that our hotel had replaced their breakfast buffet with a crappy bagged breakfast.
But anyway, it was a great mini-vacation. Connie enjoyed it as well and it's safe to say that we'll be heading back to Ocean City again in the future, quite possibly a little later this summer.

Virginia Travelogue 3

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