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How to become a coronavirus hotspot

It can happen to you, wherever you are.

Lamar County courthouse

Barely a week ago, rural Lamar County in Texas could make a pretty good argument for reopening on Friday.

Less than a dozen of the 50,000 residents of the area, which is right on the border with Oklahoma, had tested positive for the coronavirus – and none had died.

The mayor of Paris, Texas – a pit stop for drivers passing through to snap a selfie with the city’s miniaturized Eiffel Tower – had drive-thru virus testing in the works, just to give locals peace of mind. Some wore masks but many saw little reason to bother.

Then an outbreak at a nursing home turned up over the weekend, with at least 47 people at Paris Healthcare Center infected.

Now 65 people county-wide are infected and stores are second-guessing reopening as Lamar County becomes a cautionary tale of the fragility of Republican Gov Greg Abbott’s plan to get Texas back in business faster than many states.

[…]

Up until last weekend, Lamar County looked like a contender to begin to reopen under the loosest restrictions.

There had been just eight cases of coronavirus as of April 23, and six of those people had recovered.

“And then: ‘Boom,'” Paris Mayor Steve Clifford said, with the first positive case at the nursing home appeared the very next day.

“It hits us, like, right between the eyes, and all of a sudden we have this really huge, huge outbreak.”

According to The Paris News, there area fears of cross-contamination at another facility where an employee of Paris HealthCare also works.

“We are on the state’s radar now, and inspectors were at a second nursing home today,” Paris Mayor Pro Tem Paula Portugal told the newspaper.

“Austin knows our situation, and I believe they will help us with testing if we have a positive in a second nursing home.”

Now Clifford, a radiologist, worries about a second wave.

He worries about getting more testing kits, which has been a chronic problem that may have masked the true number of cases in his city from the start.

Recently, a courier drove 11 hours through the night to pick up testing kits.

Clifford had purchased 1,500 antibody tests – a big gesture for a city of 25,000 – and did a trial run of drive-thru testing April 23, in preparation for opening up for three days this week.

The nursing home outbreak scuttled those plans. One resident has died, but Clifford said if Texas doesn’t open back up soon, “every business in my city is going to go bankrupt and no one will have a job, and then there will be poverty.”

This is an Associated Press story. I saw it in the print section of the Saturday Houston Chronicle, but the only place I found it via Google News search was The Guardian, so go figure. I actually don’t intend for this to be a scare story. What happened in Lamar County could happen anywhere, but in most places it hasn’t happened, and God willing it won’t. We hate to admit such things because we all like to believe in our own virtue and fortitude, but sometimes it’s just bad luck, and this time Lamar County drew the short straw. The point of the risk mitigations we have taken against coronavirus – the shutdowns, the face masks, the social distancing, the hand washing, etc etc etc – have been about making the odds of such bad luck longer.

The parallels to what I do in real life in cybersecurity are striking. You can’t prevent all bad things from happening, but there are a lot of things you can do to make them less likely to happen, and to make them less damaging and easier to contain when they do happen. There are always tradeoffs – in IT security, they’re between stronger protections and ease of use. It’s one thing to weigh the risks when it’s your own personal safety or fortune on the line, and it’s another when the risks involve other people as well. This is why your corporate proxy server blocks certain URLs, and doesn’t let you send or receive executable files in your email.

I’m not asking you to believe that if you eat in a restaurant tomorrow you’re going to get sick and die. I am asking you to believe that your actions and decisions affect others as well as yourself, and the risks you are willing to take for yourself may impose an unbearable cost on someone else. That’s always been true – there’s a reason we have speed limits and laws about where you can legally shoot firearms, for example – but it’s a whole lot more visible to us now. I don’t know why this is so hard for some people to handle.

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6 Comments

  1. Joel says:

    “I am asking you to believe that your actions and decisions affect others as well as yourself, and the risks you are willing to take for yourself may impose an unbearable cost on someone else. That’s always been true – there’s a reason we have speed limits and laws about where you can legally shoot firearms, for example – but it’s a whole lot more visible to us now. I don’t know why this is so hard for some people to handle.”

    For the maybe one-fifth of Americans (and probably a higher number of Texans) who are essentially Libertarians, and for their fellow travelers, their entire worldview depends on failing to acknowledge anything like this. Several of them make that plain regularly, right here in the comments.

  2. Wolfgang says:

    @ Joel

    Isn’t libertarianism a euphemism in this context?

    Anarchism is a political philosophy and movement that rejects all involuntary, coercive forms of hierarchy. It radically calls for the abolition of the state which it holds to be undesirable, unnecessary and harmful. — Wikipedia

    And even if the government were dismantled or abolished, how about the Golden Rule? Will its repeal be the last act of the legislature before it is dissolved for good?

  3. Bill Daniels says:

    The protests you are seeing, with people disregarding the edicts and diktats of various government officials does have a libertarian lean to it, but more correctly, it is the Texas, and American spirit, in action. One of the hallmarks of our government is, the implicit understanding that the people consent to be governed, and the government respects those people. Well, the people gave government some leeway early on, when we didn’t know a lot about the Wuhan virus, but we know enough at this point to understand that we have been lied to about the reasons for our response.

    We were initially told we had to shut down for two weeks to ‘flatten the curve’ and not overwhelm our medical system. That time period was extended, and the people chaffed, but were still OK, because they bought into basic premise.

    We’re long past that now. Field hospitals have been built and dismantled because they weren’t even used. The hospital ships were virtually unused, treating a few hundred patients at max.

    We’ve participated, and suffered, together, for one common goal, but now the goalposts keep changing, and We, the People, have had enough.

    The people of Texas were just fine being Mexican, right up until Mexico changed their laissez-faire policy and became overbearing and heavy handed to the residents. We all know how that turned out. Come and Take It! Remember the Alamo! Those Texas heroes, Mexican and Anglo alike, no longer consented to be governed by the Mexican government, and they did something about it.

    Did anyone see the video of Venice Beach, CA, closed by diktat of Gov. Newsom? For the second time in 80 years, Americans stormed a beach in the name of freedom. How about the Wisconsin legislature voting on whether to approve Whitmer’s edict to continue that state’s lockdown? Armed, yet peaceful patriots stormed the capitol building to express their displeasure with further lock down. They petitioned the government for the redress of grievances. It really doesn’t get any more American than that.

    You will continue to see more and more Americans who will unite to say, no more of this foolishness, we are a free people, and tin pot dictators like Lina la Exploradora, and yes, even Greg Abbott, should understand that there are limits to their whims and powers.

    This whole thing only works if the people consent to be governed by our leaders, and that consent is rapidly ending. So word of advice for Lina, Abbott, and the rest…….your job now should be making recommendations, not diktats. People can make their own decisions. I will give Abbott some credit for at least understanding that the people are at their limit, and capitulating on keeping businesses closed, beaches closed, etc.

  4. Ross says:

    So, Bill, what are those alleged liberty loving folks going to say when they are gasping for air as their lungs clog from the effects of the virus?

  5. Ross says:

    Oh, and Bill, we need Hidalgo et al to keep promulgating limits so the moronic “freedom lovers” don’t kill the rest of us, since they obviously don’t give a shit about anyone but themselves. They aren’t for liberty at all, they are for “mine, mine, mine”, just like their uber god Trump, who also doesn’t give a shit about anyone but himself, just one of the reasons he will be treated badly by the history books, going down as the worst President in US history.