Embrace the Outdoors

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S1: What you’re about to listen to may include some party talk. Then again, it may not. I hope it does, though.

S2: It’s Monday, April twenty seventh, twenty twenty from Slate at The Gist.

S1: I’m Mike PESCA. Donald Trump’s weekend Twitter rant misspelled hamburgers and also berated journalists for their ill gotten Nobel Prizes. Of course, he meant Pulitzer Prizes. Well, maybe it was that. He didn’t mean journalists. He meant physicists, so called physicists with force multiplied by mass equaling fake momentum. Yet, listen, you can’t fault a guy for getting his prize is wrong because there are so many prizes and it’s hard to keep up. Trump had phony Time magazine Man of the Year covers posted in his golf course. He bragged about this one award he got at least seven times from the campaign until now.

S3: I was honored five years ago, Man of the Year in Michigan. That was a great honor for me.

S1: There is no evidence he ever received such an award. In fact, there is no evidence such an award was ever given by that county Republican Party that hosted him for a dinner one night. But maybe he has dissuaded zere. That’s when you can’t tell one award from each other. They just appear backwards and assign to random people. Like the time he went to Twitter and told Bong Joon Ho that he should never have won the National League MVP or yelling at Bob Dylan that he did not deserve the Pritzker Prize for architecture railing against Phoebe. While the bridge is a total punt pass and kick competition faker saying three 6 mafia just did not deserve that MacArthur genius grant. Oh, I remember as a tweet thread about how crash didn’t deserve to win. Best picture. Total joke. I mean, he got that right. He’s right. Everyone’s wrong. Today he was back at it at a press conference where he actually somehow didn’t endorse any liquid or miracle cure or medicine. He didn’t tell us to do anything that should be injected, ingested or invested in. So that’s good. That’s progress. And that is why I bestow on Donald Trump the Darwin Award. You’re doing something right, mr. Because it’s named after a great thinker. What would be a greater honor for you than a Darwin Award? You did it. You keep doing it, Donald. You win the Darwin on the show today. I shpiel with confidence and certainty about these times, which can be described by quite a different term. But first, Henry Agrabah, who covers transportation and municipal decision science. All the good stuff for us here at Slate drops by. It’s a really good conversation that will give you useful information out masks and the chances you take when you interact with people indoors, outdoors, fleetingly or in-depth.

S4: And speaking of In Depth and Gabbar, the other day I was riding my bike with the kids. And let me say, it is the first activity of the year. First time we could do it based on whether we masked up. We wiped down because my bike is actually a city bike, a little nervous about that Clorox, everything. And we were riding around and then we came upon a site near the park that said under-construction only it wasn’t under construction and it had been under construction for weeks. And I said to myself, damn it, if they just done and finished the construction, this necessary sidewalk thoroughfare would be wide and open and not forcing everyone to constrict their movements into a single file, which is extremely ill advised in this time of Corona, which got me to further thinking, my god, isn’t this a good time? In fact, maybe a great time to do all those projects that had been put on hold for a variety of reasons? Well, when I talk about municipal projects, there’s no one at Slate I’d like to talk about it more with then Henry Goodbar. Henry Raba’a covers municipal matters and is he’s also been hosting the What Next TBD podcast where you may have heard him do advertisments for bidets. Hello, Henry. Thanks for joining me. Hi, Mike. It’s a pleasure. So here are the arguments for. Let’s do some construction and infrastructure. 1. There is not a whole lot of other traffic to be delayed. 2 We do need an injection of cash into the economy. 3 There’s probably a lot of people who we get assigned to these construction jobs who be very thankful to get to work. But then I guess an argument against it might be, well, maybe construction crews can spread the virus. So how do you look at this calculation?

S5: Well, I think that was the debate you saw play out in New York City’s decision to initially keep construction going as an essential service. And then about a week later decided actually most construction had to stop. One of the primary concerns was not even the bigger picture thing you’re talking about, which is what a great opportunity we can borrow money at almost no cost. The streets are empty so we can sort of dig things up and do business the more that workers in the construction. Industry really, really depend on these paychecks and not to the extent we can keep anyone employed. We should.

S4: Construction is a major industry. I think it’s read about third after up in private industry manufacturing the restaurants. But there’s a difference between indoor construction and outdoor construction sites. So what about outdoor construction? You have eight guys, maybe you guys or women on a crew. They don’t have to be right next to each other, but they are working at a job. Should we worry about them transmitting Corona to each other?

S5: Ultimately, where New York settled on this was that it was a risk, not because of the way the workers were perhaps interacting in the actual act of construction, but just because of the general lack of sanitation and good health that’s associated with those sites. So even if they’re working outdoors, they might be sharing space in an elevator. They certainly don’t have anywhere to wash their hands. Most of the time they’re using you know, you got 12 guys sharing one a potty on the side or something like that. So those were some of the reasons that were cited when New York decided actually we’re going to put all the new apartment buildings, all the new offices, we’re going to put all those on hold.

S4: So what about just being outside and in somewhat close proximity to each other? This is the part of the conversation where construction is a stand in for all the advice and dictates we’ve been given about social distancing outside. And at a six foot distance, how necessary has this turned out to be?

S5: Well, I am trying to get to the bottom of that myself. And so I’ve been reading everything I can about outdoor transmission risk from Corona virus. And the sense that I get from most doctors is that the risk outdoors is very, very low and that that includes, for example, in Chicago where I live, I’ve been walking down the sidewalk wearing a mask. I see somebody walking the other way. And we do this kind of dance where we rotate around each other so as to keep six feet of distance between us. And I got interested in this when I started looking into contact tracing programs in South Korea, where they’ve been very successful at tracing every single person who has had the Corona virus and how they might have passed it onto their contacts. Now, by necessity, that restricts the definition of contact to, you know, your roommate or a guy at the office or the barista at the cafe you you went to. And what that means, basically, is that they’re discounting the transmission value of these random encounters in the street. And it seems to be working for them so far.

S4: And for what next, TBD? You interviewed another contact trace there besides the South Korean one, right?

S6: Yes. We also talked to a doctor in San Francisco who’s in charge of their contact tracing program. There’s is a little different than South Korea, but they’ve basically made the same decision, which is that when they get San Francisco back up and running, they’re going to try and trace everybody’s close contacts, which is to say the types of people whose numbers you might have in your phone to tell them that that someone they know and that they’ve been in contact with has tested positive for a coronavirus. And again, in San Francisco, they’re basically saying if you walk by someone on the street, number one, we’d never be able to find that person anyway. And number two, we think that that is such a low risk encounter that we don’t need to take it into account to create a contact tracing program that works. The fact that contact tracers have decided that they’re going to basically ignore these kinds of fleeting outdoor interactions, I think speaks to two things. Number one, it would be almost impossible to track them all. And if that’s what was required, then we really do all have to stay inside forever until a vaccine comes up. And number two, and more importantly, they seem to think that contact tracing can be done without taking into account these kind of interactions, joggers going by each other on the Embarcadero. And that’s what I was thinking about. So, you know, it’s another example to me of an outdoor space where people are going around and everything seems to be OK from what you’ve studied.

S4: What about the fleeting outdoor encounters? Makes it I’m not going to say safe, but not the most dangerous thing that we know about. Is it the fleeting? Or is it the outdoors?

S6: It’s both. So I talked to a bunch of epidemiologists and infectious disease specialist about this for an article. They made two points. Number one, when we think about contact, it’s like almost a medical definition of contact. It involves proximity and it involves time. So you need to be I think the standard they’re using is six feet, although it’s been pointed out several times. That’s a little bit arbitrary. But let’s say six feet and you need to be with someone for for a moment. So what the doctors told me basically is that passing by someone on the sidewalk is not something you should be worried about. I think they are by nature reluctant to say things like, it’s OK. Go outside. Have a good time. But I think they basically agree that if we could bring ourselves to follow the rules and not let a trip to the beach turn into making a human pyramid in sand, then that kind of outdoor recreation is basically OK. When I talk to people, they say they said many of them say that they think that parks and gardens and beaches should be open because we know quite little about outdoor transmission. From what we know, it is possible, but extremely improbable. But we know that outdoor space has an enormously beneficial effect on people’s mental and physical health. There is some research on it to join me to get to that.

S4: Yes, of course. That’s one of the reasons you’re here. I mean, you got this great speaking voice that really does a lot for me. But the research I love.

S5: All right. Let’s get let’s get to the research. So I think one one of the reasons people were alarmed was that there were a series of studies that set off alarm bells. There was this Belgian report suggesting runners should stay 65 feet away from each other. So that turned out to be total Libya’s. There was also a doctor who was quoted in the Atlantic castigating a coronavirus patient for riding a bike through New York. And then and then there was this third piece that was the Journal of American Medical Association article that suggested that the virus could travel 23 to 27 feet from, say, a sneeze or something like that.

S6: That was a model done in it’s not like not even a laboratory experiment. It’s like a mathematical model. And what the doctors I’ve spoken with have said that you can create a model to project just about anything. In reality, it does seem like indoor transmission can happen over relatively long distances. We have these frightening examples. The restaurant in Gwang Jo, where the air conditioning apparently passed coronavirus between tables, the choir in Washington state where several people got sick after singing practice dÜhring, which they said they stayed several feet away from each other. And what the doctors I’ve spoken to have emphasized is that outdoors and indoors are completely different ball games when it comes to viral transmission and ventilation.

S4: Yeah. And but even in that famous it’s so funny. Like we all know these studies, even in that famous Gwang Jo restaurant study, there are tables, ABC and D, I think, and one of the tables. It’s not that it’s further away from the table with the guy who or woman who came in with the corona and infected others. It’s just that it wasn’t in the stream of the air conditioning. So you can’t be close, but if you don’t have the virus blowing on you for in excess of 15 minutes, everyone at that table walked out of the restaurant. Fine.

S6: Yeah. And oh. And they were all there for more than for basically an hour together.

S4: Huh. Interesting. So let’s bring it to this. And now one of the reasons I know of all these studies is I was on Trump cast with Virginia Heffernan last week and I mentioned that I’m going to do my last jog without a mask. And we were talking about jogging with a mask. Now, I have since gone masked while jogging, and I will explain why. But I know you run. You might not even jog.

S5: You might run to use a mask like I’ve been running without a mask, which I feel a little bad about. But I run mostly in the middle of the street and keep my distance from people. So I hope that I’m falling on the right side of the public health advice, even if I am not successfully enforcing the social norm that we all wear masks everywhere.

S4: I agree with that. But I still wear a mask because a it’s part of New York state, not law, but at least at least federal, at least gubernatorial directive. But I believe in the norm theory of changing people’s behavior. And I think for a lot of people, mask wearing actually could be beneficial. So if they see me not wearing a mask, it is just, you know, one small drop in the don’t wear a mask argument. But if they see everyone else wearing a mask, maybe those people who should be wearing a mask will decide, oh, I better get with the program or else I’d be shamed. So what I did was I went online and I shopped for essentially the least restrictive mask I had been running with, essentially a newfangled ski mask. And that’s terrible to breathe through. So I found the least restrictive mask, get straps around the ears and basically hangs down over my face like a a window shade or a drip or drapery. But the most important thing is it gives perhaps a little protection. But mostly it gives the appearance of a mask. And then I’m doing my part as far as social norm and norm adherence.

S6: It’s for what it’s worth, I agree with you about the masks. I think that public health authorities here made a big mistake by basically lying to us about whether masks were good or not. And it turns out masks do seem to be good and that they likely would prevent you from potentially giving the infection to.

S5: To somebody else, if you were in an extended conversation or passed by them in the grocery store or something like that. I want to share with you a couple more studies that I’ve seen about outdoor transmission risks. Thank you. That’s how I know you care. So so what is this Chinese study where they traced 300 outbreaks outside of Hubei? So this is in the provinces, not including Wuhan, where the outbreak originated. And they involved more than 7000 individual cases in these outbreaks. And out of these 7000 cases, they found only one documented outdoor transmission, which is a man who got sick after a conversation with another man who had come back from Suhan. All outbreaks involving three or more cases occurred inside. And they conclude that the transmission of respiratory infections such as SA’s COVA to from the infected to the susceptible is an indoor phenomenon. Now your mileage may vary as to where you stand on the reliability of research coming out of China. But I think this is more or less in line with what doctors know about the way viruses get transmitted outside, which is that it can happen, but it’s a pretty low probability event. Thanks to both the dispersion of the air that’s coming out of your mouth and the natural decay of the virus particles. So, for example, with tuberculosis, I talked to a tuberculosis expert and he said that there is basically, to his knowledge, never been a documented transmission of tuberculosis outside, even though we think of it as a highly infectious respiratory disease. And Al, obviously this isn’t tuberculosis and we there’s a lot of things we don’t know about it. But give the sense that I got and this was from talking to them was that they think that basically it’s okay to let people go and recreate outside. They think they should wear masks. And and I have to say, I basically agree with them if if only because it enforces this social norm, which is which is good. But then it you know, we should allow people to use parks and beaches and jog outside and open up the streets where possible to give people more space to to get outside. I mean, everything we know about the disease points to it being a disease that’s that’s passed from person to person inside.

S4: Henry Gabbar is a staff writer at Slate magazine and a fun guy to talk to because he has all the research at his fingertips.

S7: You want a friend like that? Thank you, Henry. My pleasure. My.

S1: And now the schpiel. So a little bit about my media diet. It’s all replays of the 1968 World Series on the MLB Channel never gets old. Now it’s mostly governors and the president on tape delay and then at double speed. And then at night most weeknights, one premium cable show plot against America. We’re living it. Ozark great Jason Bateman’s blue period. Chernobyl compared to the present. Pure escapism. But it’s weekends or weekends that I am exposed to commercial television. When I actually get to watch the commercials and that means I’m exposed to one sentiment, one turn of phrase that has become the go to descriptor of the moment. It’s the 20/20 version of or the terrorists win the ubiquitous sentiment of our age. Here it is to everyone navigating these uncertain times. That’s the principal financial group in these times of uncertainty. That was Mazda. See if you could tell who this next advertiser is. We’re living in uncertain times. But here at Cadillac. Yeah, kind of giving it away there. I didn’t want to leave any uncertainty. So we have Cadillac on the high end. Let’s hear from the Cadillac of breaded chicken served by evangelical Christians at Chick-Fil-A. We know the little things make a big difference. That’s why even in uncertain times like these, we’re still here for you. Yes, indeed. We are living in uncertain times, which is just a five syllable extra way of saying we are living at the risk of pondering who are the ad wizards that came up with that one. I do wonder about the dynamics of the pitch meeting where these commercials were born. Did they have the same guy from the same marketing company who ran the same focus group independently telling every car company, chicken company, financial company and drain removal service? Here is the phrase you got to go with. OK, fellows. OK, guys. Sara, you too. We can’t depress people. We just can’t come out and say now is a time of deadliness. The focus group apparently hates that. We also can’t go with it scary out there. And I know you’re maybe hiding or grieving or hiding and grieving. Let me tell you, that will never move product. So let’s go around. Let’s spitball. Tim, what do you got?

S8: How about. It’s an apocalypse of savings. Frickin apocalypse. I told you, if Skelley wouldn’t fly, why you’re taking us all the way to the Apocalypse Now. We need a word that sounds like it’s acknowledging reality, but in just a slightly tinge way because it really describes things as they always are. I got it. I got it.

S1: Sometimes it seems like the world is spinning at a thousand thirty seven miles an hour. Calculate how see diameter of the equator divided by 24. You’re right. But you know, it’s a tad too specific. Anyone got anything else? Well, how about this? In these uncertain times, we want South Florida to know Sun has your back. Well, we’re in Minnesota and we’re selling power tools, but let’s go with it. Oh, the uncertain times. Now, normally, they present the uncertainty of our times via the soothing voice of a female narrator or the kind voice of the kind of man who you just know has gray flecked temples. So soothing, so very flecked with gray usually, but not always all attention Medicare recipients.

S3: Medicare has expanded benefits to help you during these uncertain times.

S1: You don’t say what specifically do you have to allay my discomfort? And can you bring on an expert? Hi, I’m Joe name. Wow. I did not expect Joe Namath to be showing up weak knees through 50 more career interceptions than touchdowns. He’s Mr. Uncertainty.

S8: Tell me, Joe, what specific programs do you have that combat uncertainty rides to medical appointments? Oh, where’s the driver been? Has he wiped down the vehicle? Private home aides? Absolutely not. Keep your distance and even home delivered meal. Where was it cooked? Did you sanitize the packaging?

S1: You know, with solutions like that, it’s no wonder so many customers are saying your name, senior Navy coquito.

S9: And we think you should know something. See, I’m not really sick.

S1: And if you think that celebrity cameo was powerful, I mean, how do you leapfrog the burning celebrity of Joe naysmith if you think that was a good one? Check out this one. This is Sonny Perdue. U.S. secretary of agriculture. In these uncertain times. OK. Good stop there. At least all of the companies are addressing the uncertainty head on, not using it as a cheap ploy to separate the weak and vulnerable from their money.

S10: These are uncertain times. What if you knew more about what was going to happen next? For over 30 years, thousands of people have found hope and relief from talking to the professional advisers. That psychic sauce?

S1: Oh, no, it’s a psychic phone service. See, I was hoping it would be, I don’t know, some sort of counselling service or, you know. The Mormons, but a psychic source. You know, I did not see that coming. The truth is we’re always living in uncertain times. Uncertainty is the background condition. Now we’re living an anxious, frightening, deadly times. But the products being offered don’t exactly address that. At first, I appreciated that advertisers weren’t going ahead with the usual silver bullet coming through cold-weather bacchanalia. But with this toe touch into sensitivity, untethered as it is to substance is just words, which is better than the wrong words. As we learn every day from the highest sources, I can’t wait to put this pandemic behind me. For all the glaringly obvious reasons, but also this new one. Now, I can not wait to stop being told how uncertain these times are. I’m not going to go by 14 consecutive days of dropping infection rates or 90 percent contact tracing. Now I will know we have climbed the mountain and are on the downslope. When I see a commercial on TV that goes like this.

S8: Hey, you. What do you got to worry about? Try the all news certain burger. Why sweat it? You’ve got it all locked in. Nothing’s gonna hurt. You tried to pattiz pickles, onions, lettuce slathered in thousand island dressing with a side of waffle fries. The certain burger new from Jack in the box where nothing has ever gone wrong.

S1: And that’s it for today’s show, Margaret Halley produced The Gist. She’s something she always wanted to admit to Joe Namath. It’s that Roman Gabriel will always be first in her heart and then maybe second norms need just. Producer Daniel Schrader actually wanted to see what Sonny Perdue had to say. Maybe he was offering up a Department of Agriculture psychic hotline to tell you where pork futures are headed. The gist, according to New York Post, I often work so hard, I skipped lunch. So fifty five thousand dead. I skipped lunch. We all sacrifice. We were desperate to prove it. Thanks for listening.