More on the Great Shift (Plague, Day 77, May 21, 2020)

A couple of weeks ago, I started reading about the unusual way that COVID was affecting kids. Spots on the hands and feet. Blisters on the mouth and tongue. Decreased blood pressure. Fever. Today’s NYT’s Daily podcast discusses this topic.

In the beginning of March, Ian had spots on his hands and feet. The blisters on his mouth and throat that were so severe that he was hospitalized for three days. He was diagnosed with a mild form of Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a rare reaction to epilepsy medicine.

We stopped the medicine. He recovered.

But then the news about the COVID presentations in children made me wonder. Maybe he had COVID in the beginning of March. It was certainly spreading in our community at that time. So, I called the doctor, and she had him tested for antibodies.

He came back negative. No COVID antibodies. So, the epilepsy medicine was definitely the cause of his problems in early March.

Now, you would think this was good news, but it isn’t, really. It would be better for him to have COVID than to have an extreme and rare sensitivity to epilepsy medicine, which he’ll need to take for the rest of his life. Also, it means that probably none of us in the family had the disease yet.

Steve, who traveled into Manhattan on packed commuter trains every day, didn’t get it back then. Jonah, who was living in the toxic waste dump that was his off-campus college housing, didn’t have it. Ian and I, who spent are entire days in one of the nation’s hotspots for the virus, didn’t have it. Hell, we were all in the emergency room of a hospital without any PPE just a week before everything exploded in our area. None of us had it.

I suspect that outside of New York City very few people have actually been exposed and developed an immune system to combat this virus. Social distancing worked. But now that we’re lowering our guards and heading out into the world, we’re going to see some really bad shit soon.

Knowing this, my family is still lowering our guard. My college kid has to get out of the house and get a job. We have to rent a vacation house by the beach soon. Without school or college, family sanity demands some outlets.

I mean, we’re not going to start going mask-less and waving “Freedom” banners outside state capitals. Steve will be working from home until at least next January. I don’t expect that there will be any camps for Ian. But we’re making changes.

Which means that everybody is going to get really sick in September. Are we prepared for that?

53 thoughts on “More on the Great Shift (Plague, Day 77, May 21, 2020)

  1. Given our very limited knowledge of how the virus spreads, and our even more limited knowledge of how our fellow human beings will behave, I would very much hesitate to make any predictions. (Especially about the future, as Yogi Berra may have said.)

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    1. y81,

      Local outcomes seem to be extremely dependent on inputs, with a wide range of results, depending on local conditions and quirks and just sheer chance.

      These guidelines for school reopening sound really dystopian:

      https://ricochet.com/759954/the-cdc-wants-you-to-homeschool/

      By the way, it’s well past time to remove “blower” hand-dryers from public restrooms or at least disable them for the duration. Those things are a menace.

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    2. Hey, we’re in agreement! I wholeheartedly agree that there is a great deal of unpredictability and that anyone who recommends courses of action with a high degree of predictability

      We still have to make decisions in the face of that uncertainty, though.

      It’s interesting to watch Laura’s evolution on day gazillion of the quarantine (which certainly many are undergoing). What changed?

      In WA, we are mumbling about being able to do contact tracing now. The National Guard have been inducted into doing contact tracing by phone. The governor is exhorting people to answer the phones for their own safety. We are talking about making use of the Apple/Google apps that promise to notify you if you’ve been near a COVID+ case (which would have to be voluntary).

      Our kiddo has an orthodontics appointment scheduled. But, Seafair, in August, Independent school conferences in December 2020, and the AAAS meeting in 2021 have all been cancelled. Education officials are signalling that the “as usual” school scenario is unlikely for fall.

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      1. I’m interested in the “excess death” metric. Is it helpful to look not at people who have COVID19 on their death certificates but instead at the sheer # of people who died and to compare it to the previous years? Thoughts, bj?

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      2. I like the excess death statistics as an addition, and, as of mid april, neither Georgia nor Florida were showing significant excess deaths compared to COVID deaths. The week of April 11th, Georgia’s COVID deaths were greater than the “excess” calculation at the NY Times.

        Reporting/deaths could have changed, but I was watching that to see if there was a real concern that deaths were being under reported. We should keep an eye on the data as a check, but I don’t think we should presume that reporting is bad without some evidence.

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      3. bj wrote, ” The governor is exhorting people to answer the phones for their own safety.”

        Oh, man.

        I hope they at least text or leave a voicemail?

        “Our kiddo has an orthodontics appointment scheduled. But, Seafair, in August, Independent school conferences in December 2020, and the AAAS meeting in 2021 have all been cancelled. Education officials are signalling that the “as usual” school scenario is unlikely for fall.”

        I was just watching a video of our head of school explaining fall plans. They are producing “skeleton plans” for 25% occupancy (the current TX rule), 50% occupancy and 100% occupancy. Furthermore, our school is planning for school shutdowns. (I personally feel that schools need to be prepared for the possibility of needing to shut down and open up repeatedly for 2020-2021.) The head of school also said that they are talking to teachers and pooling experience to figure out how to improve remote school. She promises that remote school should be better going forward, because they won’t be trying to create it on the fly. They’re apparently ordering some stuff and setting up some stuff to make things go smoother, for example integrating google classroom with the existing school interface. Fingers crossed?

        What I would like to see is a big parent instructional survey, although I understand that that would be a big can of worms.

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      4. Wendy said, “I’m interested in the “excess death” metric. Is it helpful to look not at people who have COVID19 on their death certificates but instead at the sheer # of people who died and to compare it to the previous years? Thoughts, bj?”

        Not bj, but it sounds like excess death is really important.

        Granted, some people have died because they are not seeking medical help for non-COVID stuff (heart attacks, strokes, etc.), but that’s a COVID caused death even if it’s not a COVID death.

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      5. Apparently, car collision deaths are not down as much as miles driven is down because driving like shit is up.

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    3. Yes, that Georgia article was being a bit to confident. I agree that Georgia is not showing an increase in cases. They seem to be on a more than month long plateau (I also can’t see a decrease in cases). But, there is no increase, either, in a curve that looks like much of the nation (though different states are plateauing at different numbers of cases).

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    1. ds said, “Because… Universities are screwing the permanent faculty!”

      Also, colleges are letting adjuncts go while leaning harder on full-time faculty to teach more sections (cause coronavirus social distancing).

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  2. Two long articles I read all the way through:

    Atul Gawande:

    “Amid the Coronavirus Crisis, a Regimen for Reëntry
    Health-care workers have been on the job throughout the pandemic. What can they teach us about the safest way to lift a lockdown?” https://www.newyorker.com/science/medical-dispatch/amid-the-coronavirus-crisis-a-regimen-for-reentry

    Ed Yong:

    “America’s Patchwork Pandemic Is Fraying Even Further: The coronavirus is coursing through different parts of the U.S. in different ways, making the crisis harder to predict, control, or understand.”
    https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/05/patchwork-pandemic-states-reopening-inequalities/611866/

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    1. That is a good article (which mostly means I agree with it). Maybe the part about how there is no documented case of someone contracting the disease by walking past another person outdoors will assuage Laura’s concern when she is walking in the park. It’s also an example of why prediction is hazardous: to the extent that people live according to the principles in that article, it may be that “reopening” does not trigger a resurgence of the disease. Or there might be a mild resurgence among some groups, overbalanced by more intelligent nursing home practices. Or whatever.

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    2. Yes, it is a list of reasonable individual decisions to make. But, the effect of personal mitigation measures, plateauing at 1000+ deaths a day, if we really do plateau at that level, is a 1000 deaths a day. We may not be able to do better, but I did hope for suppression of the virus.

      Also, it limits the nature of our opening — diminishing the safety of large[er] gatherings, like conferences, rallies, religious services, and, most important to me, schools and colleges. As long as the virus is circulating at non-negligible levels, all of those places are potentials for significant increase.

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      1. “[T]hings are likely going to get better, then worse, before they get better for real.” Prediction is hazardous, but if you make it that Delphic, no one can call you out.

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  3. Well, I’m going to the beach this weekend. I’m incredibly thin and I’m going to wear my bikini. Of course, I can’t get a doctor’s appointment to check why I’m suddenly losing weight. I hope it isn’t cancer. But, that’s apparently unimportant in today’s world. The only medical condition that counts is COVID19. If you care about anything else MH will scream ‘tard at you and declare you can’t criticize anyone because Trump is president.

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  4. Our zoo is opening at the end of the month. I’m cautiously enthusiastic (outdoors!). It will be nice to have another place to have to take the 1st grader. I’m not sure what their protocol is going to be, but we would avoid crowds and indoor stuff.

    One more day of school left! The senior gets a front door social distancing graduation this weekend and then possibly/probably a real group graduation at the end of June?

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  5. The invaluable @politicalmath (a WA engineer and COVID nerd) has a newsletter up on Florida data issues:

    https://polimath.substack.com/p/a-long-one-about-the-florida-data

    I can’t do justice to the whole thing (it’s about the weirdly harsh press treatment of Florida), but here are some quotes:

    “In fact, Florida’s excess death data shows the opposite of New York’s. It shows that, excluding COVID deaths, excess deaths are lower than normal.”

    What about the Florida data fraud story involving Rebekah Jones? @politicalmath has a long an exhaustive treatment.

    “The truth is that Jones made a mistake in allowing an auto-export of a PDF before the data had been reviewed by Florida’s epidemiological team for accuracy. The director, seeing that the unchecked data had gone out into the wild, requested that it be removed until it could be verified. This message is relayed to Jones through her boss and she, anxious that this data removal would impact people checking the dashboard, argued that they should keep it as it is. She was overruled and complied with the request, disabling the auto-export.”

    Her boss is an epidemiologist with 27 years of experience. Jones got reassigned.

    Jones sent out a couple of explanatory mass emails to the journalists and members of the public that she had been keeping up to date, but her phrasing was such that they decided that there was a big cover-up going on and the media pile-on commenced. But because the story was badly sourced, the media accusations were super vague.

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  6. I forgot to mention that the head of our private school says that we may start school unusually early in August, both for remediation and in order to get some extra instructional time to cushion possible later shutdowns. (We normally start somewhere between August 15-20, depending on how the calendar works, but this would presumably be a week or two early.)

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  7. Irrelevant story, but I share. I just ordered delivery from Panera and my usual delivery guy came. He is an older man (late 60s/early 70s), always wears a mask, and we started talking because he checked on my order (“Did you order X, because that’s not your usual order.” I told him I had a friend coming over to sit on my deck and I wanted a few bakery items for her kids to snack on) (Also, I didn’t have time to make anything because last minute decision, plus E was taking an AP Stats exam and cooking would have distracted him.) And then he said, “You know what our idiot president just said?” And then he told me (something about requiring churches to open). And we chuckled together.

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    1. Big (well, middle sized) moneymaking opportunity for the software weenies in our midst! Zoom for Choristers! Enabling church choirs to sing together from home and produce sound files which can be slotted in for the service, and then after singing everyone sits in her own kitchen and drinks coffee and chats with the others whose faces are on her screen.

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    2. Chattering class member meets working class member, channels him in order to relay authentic voice of the people to her chattering class audience. Very hackneyed rhetorical device.

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  8. From Laura’s twitter, somebody says, “Just got an email from the kids’ school that there’s no school on Monday lol how will I know.”

    Me (wrecking the joke): Because there won’t be any due dates in google classroom for that day.

    We’re all done with school…I think? The reason it’s a bit fuzzy is that there might be something that got missed or that needs to be redone.

    The 1st grader/2nd grader is discovering the joys of Adopt Me. I got tired of hearing about her looting and pillaging activities on Dragon Adventure. (Somehow, it’s not clear exactly how, she started playing online games at some point in the last month–it’s her big sister’s current favorite game.)

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  9. I just outsourced going over all the quizzes in my online summer classes to my son. New editions of texts in both classes. And I’ve never been busier between online task force/boot camp for faculty new to online teaching, re-credentially in Quality Matters (a course review system for online learning), finishing grades last Monday and courses opening next Tuesday. So my son will learn a bit of Gender Studies. All I need to know is if the material is actually in the new book, so if he can tell me he found it and the page numbers, that will help me immensely.

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  10. I read some of that article and I do think its wrong to jump to conclusions or assume bad intent. However, starting an answer to any complex question with “The truth is . . . .” is a suspect practice. We all do it sometimes, and there are facts for which there may be an absolute truth, but that is unlikely to be the case for why someone was removed from a job.

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    1. bj said, “We all do it sometimes, and there are facts for which there may be an absolute truth, but that is unlikely to be the case for why someone was removed from a job.”

      Here’s a version that isn’t quite as nice to her, but is pretty detailed:

      https://www.nationalreview.com/news/fired-florida-data-manager-has-a-long-record-of-incompetence-and-insubordination-according-to-state-officials/

      “Helen Aguirre Ferré, communications director for Florida governor Ron DeSantis, explained that Jones’s “function” was “to load the data into the graphics.” “That is not an accurate assessment, that she built [the dashboard], she participated in putting the dashboard together, she played a role in the development of the website dashboard,” Ferré told National Review. “She’s not a content creator. She doesn’t she’s not a data analyst, she’s not an epidemiologist, she wouldn’t have access to the raw data, much less how to interpret the raw data of the information that she was receiving.””

      “Leon County court records filed in July 2019 show that Jones faces a misdemeanor charge of cyberstalking and a misdemeanor charge of sexual cyberharassment.”

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      1. The governor’s communication director knows the details of the qualifications and abilities of a “low level” employee? Seems like a lot of high level effort at discrediting her

        The quality of the data going forward should speak for itself. And hopefully it will be good and Florida will be doing ok.

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      2. “The governor’s communication director knows the details of the qualifications and abilities of a “low level” employee? Seems like a lot of high level effort at discrediting her” well, when the, shall we say, fan has been hit as spectacularly as in this case, the spokesperson is damn well donna GET familiar with anything in sight. Throw (spaghetti) at the wall, and see what sticks!

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      3. I hope that it is nothing but the fog of early data. Because, we really do need accurate data transparently provided. I will wait, keeping an eye on the data.

        A bunch of press recently for the CDC, Florida, Georgia combining antibody & viral testing results is indeed terrible. I recently compared it in a recent discussion, to adding apples and oranges and then realized it is much much worse. Apples and oranges are at least both edible fruits that can be substituted for one another. A friend suggested that it was like adding apples and inflation, which is a much better analogy.

        But, I do think believe the non–evil intent explanation, that in the beginning almost all the data on COVID+ was from viral testing, and so the few extra antibody results were thrown into the mix. As antibody testing became more common and more available, the antibody testing became a bigger portion of the results, skewing them. And, the DOH’s hadn’t developed the workflow to separate them yet. We can blame underfunded, overworked, undervalued health departments, but don’t need, without further evidence, to blame governors who make up their own data.

        I haven’t seen the issue discussed explicitly but, antibody testing would produce plateaus in the data, since it is a measure of cumulative viral infection, the integral, and not the daily count of infection.

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      4. bj, A bunch of press recently for the CDC, Florida, Georgia combining antibody & viral testing results is indeed terrible.

        Well, according to a news search, as of 3 days ago reporters had found 11 states that combined the two types of tests in reports. So let’s say, “at least 11 states.” It’s likely to be a widespread practice.

        To quote: Contacted by CNN, public health officials in most states said they haven’t combined numbers from antibody and diagnostic tests. But 11 states reported mixing the numbers together at some point.
        Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont and Virginia have all done so, but some states have stopped the practice.

        Officials in Virginia and Vermont said they’ve fixed the issue. New Hampshire said it only reported the combined numbers for a day, and Colorado said it did so for about a week. Maine now separates out its numbers as well.

        Texas said it will be separating the numbers this week, and Georgia says it’s working to provide greater transparency. Of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, CNN has not yet received responses from Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Iowa, and Kentucky. https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/22/health/cdc-mixing-coronavirus-tests/index.html

        It would vastly inflate the perception of the number of currently active cases. And there’s still a selection effect. Who’s being allowed to take the antibody tests? It’s not a random sample of people. I looked into it online in our state, and you had to pay for it yourself, and not have been “in contact” with a currently infectious patient in the last 2 weeks.

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      5. Cranberry said, “Who’s being allowed to take the antibody tests? It’s not a random sample of people. I looked into it online in our state, and you had to pay for it yourself, and not have been “in contact” with a currently infectious patient in the last 2 weeks.”

        I have an anecdotal case.

        One of my neighbors (a good guy but a young “floomer”) went out and got an antibody test 2-3 weeks ago. It was apparently covered by his insurance. It came out positive, which thrilled him, because he’s a member of the “everybody already got it and it’s no big deal” school.

        My neighbor has a science PhD.

        (For those unfamiliar with the term floomer, it’s a portmanteau of “Boomer” and “flu” and it refers to people who think that COVID-19 is “just the flu.”)

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  11. Here’s my deep thought of the day:

    What if HIPAA prevents/limits the deployment of effective Asian-style contact tracing in the US?

    I was reading an anecdote about a South Korean teacher who infected a bunch of people (can’t find it right now) and wondering–would it even be legal to share this information in the US?

    https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/south-korea-races-to-contain-new-coronavirus-cluster-linked-to-clubs-as-infections

    “Incheon city is also on high alert for mass infections after a 25-year-old teacher and resident was found to have infected at least 11 people after visiting King Club on May 2-3. Those infected include five high school students at the academy where he taught, a colleague and an acquaintance.
    He also infected a middle school student whom he tutored privately, as well as the student’s mother and twin brother, and the brother’s tutor.”

    It says in the article that authorities promised anonymity–but how feasible is that, really?

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    1. We have an enormous ‘rights’ orientation in US. I grew up with it, I like it, it’s part of my overall orientation to what constitutes a just and fulfilling society. We have just seen that some countries which have, shall we say, less…. rights orientation seem to be doing better at containing this virus. We can certainly say, well, that’s the cost of orienting society as we have, or we can say, the Constitution ought not be a suicide pact.

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  12. Laura tweeted, “When you panic shop after reading an article about upcoming shortages, what do you buy?”

    HEB’s meat purchase limits for our area are “Fresh beef, ground beef, fresh ground patties – limit 5 packages, combined total (not five of each) Brisket – Limit 1.” Houston has tighter limits.

    I take it that a lot of people have been grilling their stress away.

    The food (and paper goods) situation looks great at the store other than that. There’s an unprecedently large assortment of hand sanitizers now, some of it being from distilleries.

    Oh, and speaking of stress relief, our family recently gave away several ukuleles (as our oldest is done with running her high school ukulele club). They were very quickly snapped up.

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    1. I buy ridiculous amounts of mostly non-fiction paperback kid books, as well as craft kits. But the rising 2nd grader’s reading skills (which have been a matter of concern) seem to be coming ralong.

      Husband and I have also been religiously doing a weekly book order from the library for curbside pickup. The trick is to find a number of interminable series to jump into. Our current go-tos are Henry and Mudge (small boy and large dog) and My Little Pony comic books.

      We also ordered and got a mystery reading box from the new independent downtown bookstore (which I’d like to keep alive). You fill in a questionnaire and they choose $30 worth of books for you. The rising 2nd grader wasn’t over the moon about their choices, but I got some ideas. I plan to order a box a month from them for the duration.

      I also have a book swap going with the neighbors behind us, who I don’t know well, but who have 3 little girls who spend much of the day going BOING BOING on their trampoline.

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    2. HEB is really getting my attention as a supermarket that seems to have planned for the pandemic (as I’ve read, but also from what you report). Our Safeway is doing a pretty good job after a short ramp up. I think supermarkets are one of the holding places for the virus now and figuring out ways to moderate how we use them will have an effect going forward.

      Ideally, I want contact less pickup when at all possible.

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      1. bj said, “HEB is really getting my attention as a supermarket that seems to have planned for the pandemic (as I’ve read, but also from what you report). Our Safeway is doing a pretty good job after a short ramp up. I think supermarkets are one of the holding places for the virus now and figuring out ways to moderate how we use them will have an effect going forward.”

        My husband was at Aldi yesterday, and although there were very few people there, he was annoyed by several people violating the one-way traffic signage. There was practically no one there, but it meant that he kept involuntarily winding up closer to people than he wanted to. No masks, too. Not Aldi’s fault, but yikes!

        I believe just about all of HEB’s employees are masked up now, which (on top of putting their cashiers in clear plastic cages), helps communicate, “This is a big deal, y’all.” It will be a landmark when the clear plastic cages come down. I know there was a positive case among the workers at “my” HEB and I believe there’s been one other HEB worker case in town (this is out of 100+ total cases in my county).

        I’ve been breaking it to the 1st/2nd grader that they probably won’t be doing strict social distancing at therapy this summer. She was horrified. (She’s been known to give mini-Karen monologues on the subject of people she sees in public who she doesn’t think are social distancing enough and whether or not they could actually be members of the same household.) I told her to just follow the rules there.

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  13. My husband took some time last night to chart the history of new COVID-19 cases in our county and TX generally. Our county has generally very good stats (although we’ve had 8 new cases recently). My husband says that although TX has worse stats than our county, the rate of new infections in TX never got beyond square growth, even early on. He thinks that there was never exponential growth in TX. (Not a mathy person myself, just sharing the thoughts of the mathiest person in our household.)

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  14. Not to be a thread hog, but I thought this twitter bit by Mike Drucker was hilarious:

    BILL GATES: I need a way to track everybody

    ASSISTANT: Well there’s always cellphone data

    BILL GATES: Hm. Maybe I’ll make a virus that requires a vaccine

    ASSISTANT: Phones have GPS already

    BILL GATES: And then we inject everyone with microchips

    ASSISTANT: Ok but phones exist

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      1. The COVID-19 vaccine is supposed to be part of a conspiracy to implant locator chips in unsuspecting people.

        BONUS CRAZY: COVID-19 is supposed to be transmitted by 5G.

        It is SO much work for the imaginary conspiracy when (as the initial dialog points out) they already know where you are and what you’ve been doing.

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      2. My conspiracy theories center on 55 Savushkina Street! Gates, Schmates! It’s Putin who is to fear!

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