Wednesday, May 20, 2020

No legal privilege to spread COVID-19

By Mathew Goldstein

Religious freedom is one of our first amendment legal principles. There are multiple different legal principles and they sometimes conflict with each other, which is why they cannot be absolute. Religious freedom is not a shield that protects criminal activity or authorizes harming people. Claiming that God wants you to seize someone’s property is not a valid defense for theft. 

Government stay at home policies that restrict the size of public gatherings, or require wearing face masks, or require maintaining some distance from other people, to protect the health and economic welfare of the local community from a contagious disease are not unconstitutional or tyrannical because they interfere with religious exercise. Many religious worship congregations acknowledge their communal responsibilities and some have moved religious services online. But too many of the governments within the United States have risked the health and economic welfare of their citizens by carving out exemptions for religious institutions so that they can continue to operate while similarly situated non-religious institutions cannot.

Maryland is an example of this. Governor Hogan has declared that “Social, community, recreational, leisure, and sporting gatherings and events of more than 10 people (“large gatherings and events”) are hereby prohibited at all locations and venues”. But he then singled out religious facilities for an exemption (as of May 15), declaring that “ churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other similar religious facilities of any faith ... may open to the general public“. Prince George’s County, in contrast, is not discriminating between religious and non-religious facilities. The state and county wording are identical except that the state omits “religious” from its list of gatherings that are limited to ten people. County Executive Angela Alsobrooks declared (as of May 14) “... social, community, spiritual, religious, recreational, leisure, and sporting gatherings and events ("large gatherings and events") of more than 10 people are hereby prohibited at all locations and venues ...”.

Laws designed to protect public health and safety are constitutional when they are applied neutrally, across the board, without favoritism. Thus, if plays, concerts, sporting events, lectures, etc., sponsored by non-religious non-profits are shut down, then religious services may, and should, also be shutdown. A virus doesn’t discriminate between someone reciting a prayer or giving a lecture. Government officials should respond to a non-discriminatory virus with a non-discriminatory policy that similarly restricts all non-essential gatherings, religious and non-religious, or none.

No one likes the current situation. We all want to return as soon as possible to a normal life. Our return to a normal life is being made more difficult by some religious institutions that are resisting bans on large gatherings and by some elected officials who are creating government policies allowIng large gatherings for religious activities that they are unwilling to grant for non-religious activities.

Free exercise offers religious practices additional protection against being victims of government targeting. Judges evaluate whether government actions that interfere with religious practice are doing so incidentally within a context of conducting a properly justified government function, or because of popular or governmental resentments or prejudice against the inconvenienced religion(s). Free exercise should not automatically grant all religious practices an exemption from government policy interference.

Another weakness with these policies is that they tend to be incomplete, specifying only the conditions triggering the phase out of the precautionary policies without specifying the triggering conditions for re-applying the precautionary policies. Contagious diseases exhibit a tendency to wax and wane over time. Weakening a policy that is effective in inhibiting the spread of a disease will tend to hasten the spread of the disease. A good policy to manage a contagious disease would be a better policy if it were defined to self-adjust in both directions.

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Some COVID-19 defense suggestions

By Mathew Goldstein

Protecting people from a contagious illness invariable harms the economy and protecting the economy invariably increases infections. One way to break this cycle of misery and deprivation is with widespread testing and contact tracing. Another way to break this cycle is a medical remedy. Alternatively, after some years, sooner if the economy is prioritized over individual health, COVID-19 could almost exhaust itself by infecting almost everyone provided that everyone who survives thereby acquires a long lasting immunity (which also implies an effective vaccination could be developed). It appears likely one or more of these cycle breaking scenarios will happen eventually. While we wait for a medical or epidemiological remedy without knowing how long this will last, we can take precautions against the risks posed by COVID-19.

If you have an Apple Mac, Linux, or MS Windows computer you can install the folding@home program which simulates the dynamic movements of the proteins the virus creates (with the help of the hijacked cells). This information is useful for finding a medicine that blocks the functioning of the proteins. You can report your daily health status information to epidemiologists and health care researchers by installing the COVID-19 symptom tracker application on your mobile device

You can make a face mask by cutting a cotton t-shirt. Here is one way to do this: Cut about seven inches from the bottom. Then make a vertical cut and fold it horizontally in half. Shorten the overall length of folded fabric to about 18 inches by cutting vertically on the open side. Then cut out the horizontal middle 5 inches from the open side for about 12 inches. Then unfold and put over the nose and mouth, tying the upper two strings behind the head and the lower two strings on the top of the head. The sizes are approximate, people with larger or smaller faces and heads should change the cutout sizes accordingly. Consider cutting and combining two cotton face masks from one t-shirt and wear them together, one over the other. A single layer may work better for aerobic exercise heavy breathing. Wash the face mask after each use. If you go out multiple times in a day you need multiple face masks.

The eyes are another potential route for infection. Consider purchasing silicon frame goggles. If you wear eyeglasses you will need over the eyeglasses (OTG) goggles. The face mask and goggles combination can reduce the quantity of any invisible dose of virus that reaches us. A lower initial dose of virus may (or may not, this is speculation) give the immune system more time to successfully build resistance to the virus. The face mask reduces the spread of infection by wearers who are infected but asymptomatic. Contagious COVID -19 infections are often initially, and sometimes completely, asymptomatic. 

More humidity decreases the amount of virus floating in the air faster (some laboratory studies have shown reduced transmission of the virus under more humid conditions) while increasing virus survival duration on surfaces. Therefore, you may want to pair trying to keep indoor humidity between 50 -70 percent with cleaning or disinfect commonly touched surfaces.

If you have a yard and are getting deliveries from online shopping then consider setting up an outside shelter, maybe using a tarp that is secured with bricks, to protect against rain and wind. Silicon gloves can be useful whenever you lack confidence in the safety of the objects you are touching. Remove the gloves into a garbage can without touching the exterior of the gloves. Turn the gloves inside out as they are removed, placing a bared finger under the second glove, twisting to get a better grip, and then pulling it off. 

Consider leaving packages outside overnight (some advocate leaving  packages outside for as long as three days). Place some containers or carrying bags in a foyer, hallway, or room near the place where the packages reside outside.  Remove and discard all of the original packaging and fill your containers or bags. Wash your hands. 

Ultraviolet light disinfects both surfaces and the air and can be used against SARS-CoV-2. Consider using a UVC lamp with a timer. Keep it away from children and pets and people’s eyes and skin. Shine the ultraviolet light on items brought in from the outside to disinfect them. Run a slow fan together with the UVC lamp to disinfect the air in a room.

Consider using a water electrolysis machine to generate hypochlorous acid from water combined with non-iodized salt. Hypochlorous acid is a weak acid disinfectant that can destroy viruses at concentrations from 200-500 per million within about 10 minutes (it may also work at lower doses). You can make you own as needed, it is considered to be safe enough to use on uncooked vegetables and fruit, and it can be sprayed on almost anything, including around a kitchen. Nevertheless, avoid breathing or drinking it.

Exposing your skin to some sun each day produces Vitamin D which improves the immune system response to the virus. Low or modest dose zinc and selenium supplements appear to be good bets for improving your odds of prevailing over COVID-19. Also, be prepared in advance for what could happen. Having an oximeter (in addition to the more commonly possessed thermometer) can assist with deciding whether to go to a hospital. Establish beneficiaries for your savings and property.