Previous COVID-19 roundups:
- COVID-19 News Roundup 3/14/20: New Travel Bans, Airline Suspensions, Israel Shutdowns, An Alternate COVID Approach, JetBlue Ban, TSA Changes, Poll, And More
- COVID-19 News Roundup 4/5/20: Shifting Origin Story, Billionaires Doing Good, Plague Of Wild Animals, Trapped Away From Home, Chicken Soup For The Soul+More
- COVID-19 News Roundup 5/12/20: Distancing On A Plane, De Blasio, OU Kosher PSA, True Number Of Deaths, Murder Hornets, Free Eilat Flights, Goodbye $10,000 Bumps, And More
Table of Contents
Thoughts On Super-Spreaders, And A Second Wave
There have been a surprisingly high number of reports of just one person in a family having antibodies to COVID-19.
How is it possible that a disease that has spread so fast is so often found with just one spouse? Or even in just one kid, and not the rest of the family?
The vast majority of the spread is from a limited number of super spreaders. These people can single-handedly infect hundreds of others and it’s happening with COVID-19 as well. This “k factor” helps explain a lot of the mystery of COVID-19 and why it breaks out clusters and often infects just one family member. Estimates vary, but it’s thought that 10% of people infected caused 80% of the infection’s spread.
In Israel they believe super-spreaders are responsible for nearly all of the infections, with 5% infecting 80%.
Just because you were exposed to someone who had COVID-19, doesn’t mean you’re immune to it. It can just mean you weren’t exposed to a super-spreader.
In the good news department, people who keep testing positive for COVID-19 after recovery don’t appear to be infectious.
And in other good news, asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 appears to be rare.
As COVID-19 infections dwindle in NYC, shuls are opening with complacency. I get nervous reading about packed shuls with no social distancing or masks that are already back to regular kiddushim. Hopefully nothing bad comes from it, but people should try to take more precautions even if there’s peer pressure not to wear a mask or socially distance.
My concerns are many, but there seems to be a lack of respect for a pandemic that has claimed so many lives. Finding a safe middle ground should be the goal for now.
Some houses of worship that have reopened have caused new clusters of COVID-19.
COVID-19 spread silently for months in the US before people started dying by the thousands. It’s impossible to know if that will happen again before it’s too late. It just takes the presence of one super-spreader in an indoor setting to start a deadly cycle all over again.
Surely we can take some precautions and maintain social distance, wear a mask, and forgo the shul’s cholent until things become more stable.
The 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic first started claiming lives in March and the economy suffered as well. In the summer the death rate went down to nearly zero, but by September and October the death rate shot up to become orders of magnitude worse than in the spring, killing tens of millions. A third wave then followed in the spring of 1919 before finally subsiding.
Nobody can tell us if that will happen again, but pandemics typically do come in waves.
We also don’t know the long-term effects of COVID-19. We know that some kids have serious symptoms months after being infected. But we don’t know what other mysteries this new virus may be hiding.
On the other hand, we can’t afford to just stay home and wait it out. Dr. Fauci has said staying at home until there’s a vaccine is not a viable option. But let’s try to maintain social distancing and wearing masks at the very least when we’re indoors, which is when the biggest risk is at hand.
Because if there is a killer second wave, it will once again be too late to act by the time we can see what’s happening.
Will We See Immunity Passports?
The jury is still out on conclusive evidence of antibody immunity, but researchers are optimistic that antibodies provide immunity for COVID-19.
Will that mean that people with antibodies will be able to roam the globe freely? Could that save the economies of countries like Israel by allowing tourists with immunity passports?
Not so fast.
First of all, countries are nervous that people will deliberately try to get infected in order to obtain an immunity passport. Not everyone who takes that risk will survive to tell the tale, but it will be tempting for many nonetheless.
Secondly, immunity tests are far from perfect. The Mayo Clinic has gone around the country testing people with a test that only has an 88% specificity for COVID-19.
Finally, the real question is how long that immunity will last. Antibodies for other coronaviruses only provide immunity for about a year. DDF member biobook points out that the study also found that people who got sick again after their antibodies stopped providing immunity had a similar reaction the 2nd time around. People with initial mild reactions had a mild reaction the next time, while people with severe reactions had a severe reaction the next time. The study also found that genetics plays a big part of how people reacted to the coronavirus.
Of course COVID-19 doesn’t need to play by the same rules of other coronaviruses, so the jury is still out. There’s simply no real way of knowing just how long COVID-19 antibodies will last. But here’s hoping that a vaccine is rapidly developed and it provides long-term immunity.
The CDC’s Flu Numbers Are One Reason People Underestimated COVID-19.
Next to the WHO, the CDC is the agency that’s going to wind up with the most egg on their face in this pandemic.
The CDC blocked private tests in favor of their own COVID-19 test that didn’t work due to contamination. That set the US on a course from which it would take much longer to recover as it would take too long to get enough tests to trace the spread.
The CDC also failed to recommend masks until tens of thousands of Americans died, despite evidence from other countries that masks worked really well in preventing the spread. Were they afraid of regular Americans buying up masks that hospitals needed? Eventually they got the message out that Americans can use cloth masks that wouldn’t harm the medical supply, but by then far too many had died.
President Trump reassured the nation that COVID-19 was just like the flu based on CDC estimates of how many people die from the flu, some 25K-69K Americans annually.
This opinion piece claims that those numbers aren’t real. They are estimated based on deaths from the flu and pneumonia that are lumped together and then multiplied to try to guess how many deaths there were. Actual reported deaths have been 3K-15K in a flu season, which also explains why most people don’t know anyone that has died from the flu. Another Doctor says that this extrapolation is something the CDC needs to correct or at least clarify as it leads people to discount the severity of a pandemic like COVID-19.
Will An Israeli Breathalyzer Test Succeed For COVID-19 Testing?
One of the keys to reopening countries and tourism will be assuring people that things are safe there. That can be done with testing.
An Israeli claims to have developed a rapid breathalyzer test. If it works well enough, it can potentially be a game changer:
Israel has developed a breathalyzer COVID-19 test that produces the result in 60 seconds! Israeli innovation! Pretty cool.
Posted by Leibel Mangel on Tuesday, May 19, 2020
Want An Empty Middle Seat? Fly Delta Or JetBlue
Passenger numbers are climbing by the day and planes on some airlines are filling to capacity.
But for now, Delta and JetBlue are committing to some level of social distancing.
JetBlue is guaranteeing that you won’t be seated next to someone you don’t know through July 6.
Delta is adding flights so that they don’t sell more than 50% of first class seats and 60% of coach seats through June 30.
Meanwhile United is happy to sell a plane to capacity, but at least they have committed to letting passengers know if their flight will be full and allow free changes:
— Ethan Weiss (@ethanjweiss) May 9, 2020
American is flying full planes as well:
Hertz Files For Chapter 11, Will They Survive?
Hertz has filed for bankruptcy. Ford sold the company in a private equity deal that saddled the company with massive debt. It owes $19 billion and only has $1 billion of cash on hand.
It certainly doesn’t look good.
But chapter 11 is designed to reduce debts and make the company viable without going out of business. A big question for Hertz will be when will the tourism industry recover? Their competitors don’t have the same debt levels and can afford to wait it out longer than they do.
In the meantime, expect deals on used cars as Hertz sells off its fleet to pay down its secured debt.
If Hertz does go under, it will also take down wholly owned Thrifty and Dollar with it. That would leave just the Avis Budget group and Enterprise/National/Alamo group as the remaining competitors.
Over the long term, ride sharing has cost rental car companies market share and will likely continue to do so. If self-driving ride sharing ever becomes a thing, it will likely spell the end of rental car companies. But we’re a ways away from that happening.
Lufthansa Will Be Bailed Out
Germany has approved a $9 billion bailout for Lufthansa in order to save their national airline. The airline has agreed to limits on executive pay as well as not paying a dividend to shareholders.
Airlines have a lot of leverage as no country wants to be left without a flag carrier. In the case of COVID-19 it’s even easier for countries to bail out their airlines as they can sell it to the taxpayers that it wasn’t the airlines fault. Whether that’s entirely true or not is another question.
In some cases, failing airlines like Alitalia and South African may even find that COVID-19 saved them from going out of business.
El Al Returns To Istanbul, Loses Hundreds Of Millions In Bad Hedges, Fights With Its Pilots
El Al bailed on flights to Turkey over a decade ago, but they received permission to bring their own security forces and fly Cargo to and from Istanbul once again.
Yesterday El Al revived flights numbers 581 and 582 to fly to and from Istanbul with their 787 Dreamliner.
It will be interesting to see if El Al will revive passenger flights there. Turkish Airlines dominates the route with up to 10 flights a day while serving highly rated locally made kosher food and having 2 synagogues and an award winning lounge in Istanbul’s airport. It will be tough for El Al to compete on the route.
Meanwhile, El Al is not only suffering because of COVID-19 passenger demand, but they also locked in jet fuel and interest rates that are causing the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars from bad hedging. Talk about a double whammy…
אירוע חריג בישיבה שקיימה הנהלת אל על עם נציגי הטייסים: נציגי מועצת העובדים, פוצצו את הישיבה, ולדברי עדי ראייה השתוללו, קיללו וזרקו כיסאות במחאה על המו"מ שמנהלים הטייסים עם ההנהלה בלעדיהם. יו"ר ההסתדרות ארנון בר-דוד הודיע למועצת עובדי אל על וליו"ר על השעייתם לאלתר. @ynetalerts pic.twitter.com/2x18e7ulmx
— איתי בלומנטל Itay Blumental (@ItayBlumental) May 25, 2020
70% Of Israel’s COVID-19 Spread Came From The US
Given that United is the only airline that has maintained daily flights to Israel throughout the pandemic, and that the flight comes from NYC metro, a US hotspot, that’s not much of a surprise.
Israel could have banned all flights, but they chose to retain connectivity to the outside world. Some rumors even say that the state subsidized United’s losses to keep flying.
On the other hand, Israel’s quick restrictions on foreigners meant that they kept their infection and death rate relatively low. It will be an interesting case study to see how early restrictions affected the ultimate death toll.
Palestinians Refuse UAE Aid Sent On Etihad
Last week I wrote about the first flight between the UAE and Israel as Etihad brought COVID-19 aid for Palestinians.
The Palestinian Authority rejected that aid, citing the Etihad flight to Israel. They didn’t want to help normalizing Israeli relations with the Arab world.
I’m still hopeful that one day I’ll be able to take an Etihad or Emirates flight to the holy land.
Until then, there’s always the Avi Liberman method of flying to Israel on Etihad:
A Fascinating Look At Air Sinai Flights
Nonstop service to Cairo is mandated as part of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, but boy is it complicated.
The flights cost a small fortune, but I’d love to fly on it one day. I earned my Egypt passport stamp crossing into Taba in 2007, but seeing the pyramids has always been on my bucket list. Now if only there was a way to redeem miles for the flight…
Can’t Reach Your Airline? Don’t Do This.
The passenger put their record locator in the ad. With that information, someone can take over your ticket, obtain your mileage number, and wreak all sorts of havoc.
A good way to contact your airline if they don’t answer the phone is via social media. Otherwise, a credit card chargeback or a complaint to a government agency always gets their attention.
Will Australia’s Push For a Coronavirus Inquiry Yield Any Answers?
The world wants to know the COVID-19 origin story and Australia is pushing for an independent inquiry.
I’m skeptical that we’ll ever get real answers, but it’s certainly a good start. In completely unrelated news, China has threatened Australia with new tariffs.
COVID-19 Side Effects: No Organ Donors
With so much of the country staying home, organ donor rates plummeted. People stopped dying in car accidents and in other accidents like drowning.
That’s good news for the people saved from those accidents, but bad news for those hoping to move up on organ donor lists…
Texas Lifts Self-Quarantine Order For Arrivals From Hotspots
Texas previously ordered people arriving from hotspots like NJ and NY to self quarantine.
That order has now been lifted as the state opens back up.
Meanwhile Hawaii still has the strictest rules in the country. When they will welcome visitors again is anyone’s guess.
Stranded In Svalbard
4 years ago I spent a couple of glorious days in Svalbard in the high Arctic. It’s truly a magical place, but I can’t imagine spending extended periods of time there.
2 researchers committed to spending 9 months there. That’s a long time to spend in a place where the sun doesn’t rise for several months in the winter and where you are required by law to carry a rifle due to the threat of polar bears.
They’re facing another winter in a cabin with no running water as their ride home has been cancelled due to COVID-19.
But hey, at least they’re isolated from the virus!
Why Fans Won’t Be Returning To Stands Anytime Soon.
The WSJ explains why we have a long way to go until we can go to a sporting event:
Chase Spending Drops By 40%
Among those with incomes higher than $92K, spending fell by 46%, with the biggest drops found on travel and dining categories.
That makes sense of course, but it’s still amazing to see hard data on the overall spending contraction. That will have to change for the economy to go back to normal. Travel companies and restaurants that make people feel safe will pave the way for recovery. Delta and JetBlue seem to get that. American and United, not so much.
Can’t Keep Track Of COVID-19 Restrictions? Here’s A Helpful Map
IATA has an interactive map with a list of who isn’t allowed to enter each country in the world due to COVID-19 restrictions.
I still plan on setting a record this year for the most consecutive days I’ve been off a plane since I got married, but it’s good to know where I’ll be able to go when I’m ready to travel again.
Will Etihad Bail On The A350 And A380?
Etihad is considering ditching their A350 and A380 aircraft as they prepare to shrink after COVID-19.
The A380 is Etihad’s crown jewel with business class studios, first class apartments, and the residence:
I flew from the Maldives to JFK in the Etihad first class apartment. It’s certainly stunning, though I didn’t find the seat or bed to be particularly comfortable and the shower suite itself is a poor imitation of the Emirates shower suite. The service was mediocre as well.
That being said, the A380 gives the airline a premium halo over all of its products. I’d imagine that will go away if they ditch the jumbo. But at this point, survival matters more than a halo.
Luckily, Emirates announced that they will continue to operate their A380 fleet for years to come, so the plane isn’t endangered. Yet.
Even With Plummeting Travel Demand, Resort Fees Rise
Talk about misreading the room…good luck on that recovery.
Everyone: “Las Vegas won’t be the same!”
— Vital Vegas (@VitalVegas) May 16, 2020
The Future Of Travel Is Subsidized
In the last roundup I asked if the future of travel is subsidized after a sweetheart subsidized travel offer from Sicily was being planned.
Now Japan is jumping into the fray, with a $12.5 billion travel subsidy program that could start as early as July.
With tourists wary of traveling, countries need to convince them to return and jumpstart their tourism sectors. I can’t wait to see the competition for tourists after years of complaining about over-tourism in so many places!
One Man Keeps The Lights On And Water Flowing At The W Barcelona
From turning on all the taps in the hotel, to creating a giant heart in the iconic hotel’s facade, he sure has his work cut out for him!
I’ve always wanted to check out this hotel, but I’ve yet to make it to the Iberian Peninsula. But in the meantime, I’ve been enjoying the half size bottles of Peraj Ha’abib from Spain. One of my favorite wines and it’s perfect for a couple of glasses with dinner.
Protests Return To Hong Kong
Hong Kong had problems long before COVID-19. The special administrative region of China saw massive protests against efforts by China to limit their self-determination despite promises to leave the British system in place until 2047.
Cathay Pacific was hurting then and that won’t let up anytime soon as protesters are back decrying new laws that will strip the region of its liberties. Whether they can survive is an open question.
Between COVID-19 and the ongoing protests, Hong Kong and Cathay Pacific may never recover. Asia’s primary finance hub was already shifting from Hong Kong to Singapore and I think that shift will accelerate in light of the unknowns in Hong Kong.
Who Knew? Call Your Bank To Get A Refund For Foreign Exchange Fluctuations
I’ve often noticed that when I refund a travel reservation that was billed in a foreign currency that the refund amount differs from the original charge due to foreign exchange fluctuations. Same goes for any item returned when abroad.
Gary points out that you can call your bank to request a refund of those charges. You won’t want to do that when the refund turns out to be profitable, but give it a shot the next time you lose money on a foreign currency refund!
Ohio Will Allow 300 Person Weddings Next Week
Members of the Jewish community in Cleveland often have weddings in NYC metro where they are far more affordable. It will be funny if there are NYC weddings that will be held in Cleveland, but I’ll bet that many won’t happen due to sticker shock. Frankly I’d be nervous if that became a trend as COVID-19 cases in the community around me have been few and far between so far.
The Doordash Arbitrage Story Is Amazing
Doordash became an overnight success story by launching in communities across the country and adding every restaurant in the area to their platform without actually signing agreements with them. The goal is to get a restaurant’s customers hooked on using the service and eventually signing an agreement with the restaurant that pays Doordash a healthy cut on sales.
If a restaurant balks, they’ll eventually be cut off from the service.
One restauranter saw that Doordash added his restaurant on their platform, but they made a typo on the menu, charging just $16 for a specialty pie that he sold for $24.
He started ordering pies by paying Doordash $16 and Doordash would pay him back $24. Eventually he realized he didn’t actually have to make pies, so he just gave the Doordash delivery person a box of dough.
No word on where he sent the dough to, but the story just shows how much money is being thrown around to win the restaurant delivery wars. But much like ride sharing apps, nobody knows if they’ll ever be profitable.
The Seychelles Bans Cruise Ships Through December 2021
Cruise ships are always floating petri dishes. They make me nervous in good times, but in middle of a pandemic they have been deadly.
So it’s no surprise to see countries like the Seychelles announced that cruise ships are not welcome there for the next 19 months.
Cities like Venice have been complaining about cruise traffic for years. Those passengers don’t benefit the economy in the same way that overnight guests do, so they have an outsized negative impact relative to their economic benefit. I have to wonder if COVID-19 docking restrictions will stick around long after the pandemic has ended in many locations?
Japan Wants To Extradite Carlos Ghosn’s Accomplices
The Carlos Ghosn escape will certainly be made into a movie one day.
But Japan is humiliated and now they’re going after his American accomplices that helped him escape.
Those men have been arrested in the US as they await the decision on whether they will face justice in Japan. Japan hasn’t formally requested extradition, but they plan on fighting any extradition request if it comes through.
What Happens When You Are Assigned Elon Musk’s Old Phone Number
Now when she tells people that they haven’t actually reached Elon, they often don’t believe her.
I have to admit that I’m somewhat disappointed by her responses to messages for Elon. I would have so much more fun with that 😀
Omri Caspi Interviews Amare Stoudemire
Well here’s an interview I never thought I’d see between 2 NBA players. Shabbos, Yom Kippur, Torah study, kashrus, midos, guarding your eyes, the whole 9 yards! Wow!
What are your thoughts on these stories and what other COVID-19 articles caught your eye?