Shite Is Still Shite, Whether In London Or L.A.

The Guardian asked it's readers to describe 2020 in one word. In actuality, "shit" was an even bigger winner than it looks like on the graphic above. That's because people also offered variants on shit, like "shite," "shitshow," "crap," "shithouse," "shitstorm," and "trumped."

Los Angeles is having a rough time pandemic-wise. In the last 8 days there were over 100,000 new cases-- "the fastest acceleration of new cases than at any other time during the pandemic," according to county officials. Hospitals are on thin ice with over 300 new admissions a day and over 5,400 already hospitalized (21% in intensive care units). This is the Thanksgiving surge.

Yesterday, California reported another 41,801 cases-- more than any country in the world other than Trumpistan. Saturday there were 13,651 new cases in L.A. County and yesterday another 13,298. There were more cases reported in L.A. yesterday than in Mexico, France, Poland, Holland... 8,875 Angelenos have died from COVID-- more than hard-hit countries like Sweden, Hungary, Egypt, Switzerland, Israel... China has had 4,634 deaths in total; Japan has had 2,873.

I'm retired; I don't have to go out much-- the grocery store once very ten day, 2 doctor appointments since last January, a dental appointment that scared the bejesus out of me, and a few hikes in the open air every week. Other than that, I've spent time with one person: Roland-- and he's more paranoid about this than I am. If someone wants to spend time with me, they need to bring sturdy walking shoes and be ready for pretty steep hills.

Lately, the supermarkets have been scaring me. Yesterday a gigantic idiot was in front of me at the check-out line. She took so long that I was wondering if she was applying for a mortgage. She was back a few minutes after I was getting checked out, arguing with the cashier about the false eyelashes she bought, mask down around her chin. What the hell was she doing in my neighborhood? What the hell was I doing in an Albertson's, a relatively inexpensive store. The Gelson's in my neighborhood is expensive but everyone figures it's less likely to be infectious-- as silly as that sounds-- because people who live in crowded situations can't afford to shop there. So everyone has started to go there and it's too crowded to get into and there are long lines, sometimes half an hour before you can even enter. And the prices have become not just expensive but predatory. There's an even worse one, not far away, a new Erewhon which is way more predatory, so predatory that it is never crowded. But, look, how can anyone justify spending $7.99 for a box of organic blueberries when Albertson's charges $4.00 for the same berries?

Yesterday, the most read story in the L.A. Times was about how the supermarkets are seeing unprecedented infection rates. Reporter Soumya Karlamangla wrote that the strain on an essential service that needs to remain open despite the new stay-at-home order [order? Let's call it what it is-- a tepid, toothless request from a political class afraid to get anyone angry] is responsible for more outbreaks-- "an unavoidable consequence of so many people falling sick in the region. But those at grocery stores and other essential retailers pose a unique challenge for officials attempting to reduce coronavirus transmission, as well as for county residents trying to pare down their activities to only what is necessary... The increase in outbreaks drives home officials’ warnings that the only way to stay safe is to stay home, even as many businesses remain open.

Barbara Hughes, a cashier at a Food 4 Less in Palmdale, said she had to put in 70 hours last week because so many of her colleagues are out with COVID-19. Twenty-one employees have recently tested positive for the virus, according to county records.
“Every single one of my managers has COVID-- one of them is really sick,” said Hughes, 61. “It’s stressful, but I just tell myself: ‘You gotta go. You gotta work.’”
Hughes wears two sets of gloves and two masks throughout her shift. In her nine months of ringing up customers during the pandemic, the risks have never been higher.
County officials estimate that 1 in 80 people in the county are infectious with the coronavirus, the highest prevalence yet recorded. With so many people infected, it’s likelier than ever that a co-worker or customer could be ill, and that a single case could multiply into dozens.
“The number of outbreaks is extraordinary-- we’ve just never had this many,” said Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, L.A. County chief medical officer.
Of the six outbreaks at Food 4 Less locations reported to the county during the pandemic, three-- including the one at Hughes’ store-- were first logged this month, linked to the current surge, according to a Times analysis of outbreaks posted on the county’s website. An outbreak is defined as three or more cases among staff in a 14-day period.
There have also been new outbreaks reported in December at three Trader Joe’s locations, two Whole Foods Market stores, three Sprouts Farmers Market branches and several smaller grocery chains, county and company records show.
Indoor environments where people are often in close, prolonged contact can become hotbeds for the coronavirus, especially when the pathogen is so widespread, experts say. The Times analysis also found a jump in outbreaks this month at banks, postal outlets, pharmacies, hardware stores and many nonessential businesses.
“Everything becomes more dangerous than it was last month-- every type of activity,” said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, an epidemiologist at UC San Francisco. “When 1 in 80 people in L.A. are infected, even if you’re just going to the grocery store … there’s a higher chance today than there was two weeks ago that you’ll be exposed to COVID-19.”
Gunzenhauser recommended consolidating trips to businesses, perhaps visiting the grocery store every other week instead of weekly, if possible. People should also be prepared to leave and return another time if the store is too crowded, lines are long or shoppers aren’t wearing masks.
“You should have a Plan A and a Plan B,” he said. “If things are operating as they should, I’m comfortable with that-- people shouldn’t have an irrational fear that just walking in the building is a problem.”
He pointed out that customers are more likely to be in close contact with other shoppers than with employees, so community prevalence may be a better indicator of risk than whether a store recently suffered an outbreak among staff.
County officials have tried to limit the potential for outbreaks at stores and last month dropped the maximum capacity allowed at grocery stores and other essential retailers to 35% and to 20% at all other retailers as part of a stay-at-home order. Officials so far have said they are not planning to further tighten restrictions.
...Hughes says some of her regular customers have fallen sick as well; one of them, a mother of young children, died from the virus. Vendors who drop off goods at the store also have come down with COVID-19, she said.
It remains unclear where these shoppers and vendors became infected, as well as with whom the store’s outbreak originated. County health officials say it is extremely difficult to pinpoint the sources of infections when so many infected people are asymptomatic.
...The county health department has fined more than 200 businesses since August for violating COVID-19 precautions, none of which have been grocery stores, according to county records.
However, Gunzenhauser, of the health department, said that less serious violations were common. Half of the businesses visited by county investigators last week were found to have some kind of safety lapse, such as people not properly wearing masks or distancing, he said.
Still, he said that business owners were largely becoming more compliant and often found themselves in a tough position, as cases linked to their workplace don’t necessarily originate there. Sometimes cases spread when workers spend time together in close quarters after their shift ends, he said.
“When you get to 15,000 cases that we’re diagnosing [each day] and you just look at where those people are, you’re going to suddenly realize a lot of them work,” he said. “It’s just because there are so many cases-- whether they get it at the workplace or they got it at the community.”