Monthly Archives: July 2020

school and covid

Most Seattle area schools have announced closures for the first six weeks.  How are things in Seattle?  Well, here are our confirmed case counts:

Doesn’t look great, right?  Well, it’s worth looking at test counts.  We are currently at about 3.5% positives, compared to something like 20% positives early in the year.

As you can see, test numbers have risen dramatically.   Here are hospitalizations:

For me, hospitalizations are the most informative measure for understanding short-term Covid status.  Median time to symptoms is 4 to 5 days.  My understanding is that hospitalization normally occurs rapidly (within a few days at most) after symptoms arise, if it’s going to be necessary.  Looking at this plot, there is a definite uptick, but it is small.  King County provides paltry statistics on hospitalizations and Covid in general compared to, say, Texas, but we do know the following:

  • 2.4% of hospital beds are occupied by Covid patients
  • 64% of hospital beds are occupied / 36% are free

Deaths are obviously the best indicator of the impact of Covid, but there can be a huge lag.  Nevertheless, here are deaths in King County:

I don’t see any uptick in deaths whatsoever.  The “surge” started in mid-June, so if there were a legitimate increase in cases, I would think we’d see that reflected in deaths by now to at least some degree, but time will tell.

Again, I share all this to answer the question, should schools in the Seattle area open?  Should I send my children to school or elect the online option if they do open?

It’s also worth considering at some level the risk to various populations from Covid as compared to the flu.  Note that the CDC has updated their estimate of Covid fatality in the US from 0.4% to 0.6%, a significant increase, but still quite low (or quite high, depending on how you look at it, I suppose.)

Fatality rate is only part of the question.  How many people catch the illness is the other, and Covid appears very contagious.  I decided to look at deaths through the end of June for Covid and use the knowledge that the CDC says roughly 5% of Americans have been infected.  Let’s assume very conservatively that 100% of Americans would be come infected if we went about business as usual.  Therefore, to compare the relative impact, I multiplied fatalities through late June by 20 and compared against the worst fatalities for that age group from the flu in the last ten years.

Age Group Flu Max Deaths Covid Deaths Predicted Covid Deaths – 100% Exposure % Risk Delta
0-4 396 17 340 0.86
5-17 870 14 280 0.32
18-49 5240 2970 59400 11
50-64 6751 20665 413300 61
65+ 50903 92280 1845600 36

Now, 100% exposure would never be reached.  While a densely populated urban area might be able to reach close to 100% exposure, most places will not, so there is inherent conservatism in the approach.  However, given the overwhelming uncertainty, I think some conservatism is warranted.  Also, I should note that I calculated this a few weeks ago and haven’t updated it.  The risk should obviously remain constant as Covid spreads, but more data will make it more accurate.

In summary, the risk from Covid for a child between 0 and 4 is slightly less than a bad flu year.  Between 5 and 17, the risk is substantially less – less than a third the risk of a bad flu year.  The 18-49 age group is obviously of interest to all of us.  We have roughly 10 times the risk of a bad flu year from Covid.  Now, I consider my risk of death or permanent injury from flu negligible.  What’s 10 times negligible?  I think still extremely low and not worth worrying about.

50+ your risk is SIXTY times a bad flu year.  Given that at 50, your risk from the flu has also increased, this is starting to get alarming, and the Covid death numbers reflect this.  Obviously, the 65+ folks are hit the hardest.  While they have “only” a 36x factor on the flu, you can see that 50,000 people in this age group die of flu in a bad year, so their risk from flu is high to begin with, and 36 times high is very dangerous indeed.  Tell your parents and grandparents to stay home.  (I do, and they half listen to me.)

My conclusion from all this is that yes, Seattle schools should stay open.  Teachers aged 50 or older and with any co-morbidities should stay home.  Students who share a household with someone over 50 or with co-morbidities should stay home.  That’ll probably result in about half the kids in classrooms and half at home.  In a separate post, I’ll share the steps my school is taking for safety, as recommended by the state DOH.  If Seattle schools cannot support everyone going back, they should at a minimum open their doors to all students on free or reduced price lunches, typically less than half the student population in Seattle.

What do you think?

Since I started writing this, almost all Seattle-area public schools have announced they will be 100% virtual.  I expect them to remain virtual through next summer, given current numbers and what I know about vaccine development efforts.   Our small private school is currently planning to open its doors with an extensive array of safety precautions.  We are planning to send the kids to school.   (It wouldn’t surprise me if the county DOH forces the school to close, but we’ll see.)

Again, what do you think?  Am I being stupid and risking the lives of my family?  What would you do?

I should add that my job disappeared with Covid, and so I’m not working right now.  I’m enjoying being home with the kids, and I love that S gets to see her sisters all the time.  However, language immersion doesn’t really work through remote learning.


It’s odd to me how conservatives are lining up behind a no-mask position.  I certainly appreciate why some people would find it troubling for the government to mandate covering one’s face.  For me, it’s uncomfortably close to the sexist policies in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim theocracies.  However, all indications point to masks being very effective, and it seems like a small imposition.  I feel like some states have gone too far – Pennsylvania mandates that 2-year-olds wear masks, indoors and out.  In my opinion, that’s over-the-top.  Others I think have not gone far enough – Texas only requires masks indoors if you’ll be within 6 feet of others.  I actually think Washington has found the Goldilocks policy for masks.  They’re required in all indoor public spaces but outdoors only if you’ll be within six feet of others.  They’re required for ages six and up and recommended for ages four and up.  My own impression is that many, but not all, four and five year olds can wear masks.  I have seen younger children wearing masks, and the vast majority seem to be chewing on them or have them around their chins, and it’s just silly.  For me, the biggest issue is school closures by far.

(I found the tale of the hair stylists with hundreds of clients who didn’t transmit Covid encouraging.  However, it’s such a small sample size (two stylists) that it’s a data point, not  a trend.  I would really like to get my hair done, but it seems like such a needless risk that I’ve been holding off.)

H just got back from NYC.  While there, he interacted with hoards of people, including lots in the hospital.  He was on two crowded flights and took multiple taxi rides.  He stayed in an apartment with his sister recently arrived from Houston, which is obviously a hot spot.  While I think it’s unlikely his sister had Covid before leaving Houston (though she does have an 18 year old son who probably doesn’t follow the rules), I’m guessing there was at least one Covid positive on her flight.  So, he decided to get tested upon his return.  To get an *evaluation* of whether a test would make sense would cost $100.  He decided not to get a test after all.  (If he shows symptoms, he’ll get a test, but by then, he’ll have spread it to all of us, not to mention anyone else he interacts with.)  Positive tests are around 4% here in King County.  Target is 2% and 1% would be better.  Why is it still so hard to get a test?

Don’t get me started on the ridiculousness of all the teachers’ unions refusing to go back to work and claiming they’re worried about the health of the children.  The data strongly suggest children between 5 and 14 are at no greater risk from Covid than from the flu, and probably significantly less.  The risk to teachers and effect on community spread of opening schools are very legitimate concerns, but it’s such BS for teachers to claim they’re concerned about the health of the children.  Please.  There have been in the US so far 14 deaths from Covid for 5 to 14 year olds, as compared to 211 deaths from the flu last year and 528 deaths from the flu the year before.  Of course the exposure level is not the same, but still.  Link to CDC.

Also, people are saying that children won’t go back to school because bars and gyms opened in places like Texas and Georgia. Um, no.  Seattle public schools are currently planning on kids being back in school one or maybe two days per week.  The teachers’ union is refusing to even support this extremely cautious and conservative plan, so it’s extremely in doubt whether kids will get to go to school at all.  And yet, bars are closed.  Gyms are closed.  Restaurants are at extremely limited capacity.  Non-essential travel (ie vacations) is banned.  Daycares are closed to non-essential workers.  Nannies and babysitters are not allowed to non-essential workers.  Playgrounds are closed.  Pools are closed.  Essential workers are required to work from home if possible.  We are having one to two deaths a day from Covid – about the same as a mild flu year.  And yet – still public schools will be open to most kids one day a week.

This is not college, or even high school.  Elementary school and middle school kids need to be in school.  Disadvantaged kids and parents will pay for this for a generation.

(For what it’s worth, I think bars and nightclubs should be closed.  But in places that have been quite conservative with reopening, it doesn’t seem to have made any difference.  Schools are closed anyway.  Teachers are apparently trending the hashtag #nocases14days or some such nonsense.  Heck, who wouldn’t want an indefinite paid vacation? )


on police

H’s mother was hit by a car in NYC last week.  Now, first of all, I’d like to note that I can’t think of anywhere worse to live than NYC.  OK, maybe Barrow would be worse.  But seriously, I can think of few redeeming features of NYC, particularly now as the epidemic rages.  In what other city would getting mowed down *on a crosswalk* draw so little notice?  H’s mother was in surgery for 6 or 7 hours afterwards.  Her life will be permanently impacted.  At 84, she will never fully recover from this.  It’s unclear whether she’ll be able to continue living on her own.  I can’t begin to fathom the financial impact.  And yet, to get the police report, H had to go the precinct in person.  Once there, he felt so intimidated by the NYPD, that he was able to extract almost no useful information from them.  The report itself minimizes MIL’s injuries and provides no indication that anyone is planning to pursue any type of punishment for the driver that ran her down.  He “misjudged.”  OK.  My personal opinion is that if you hit someone on a crosswalk, you should go to jail.

I’ve been sitting back watching the anti-police demonstrations around the country with very mixed feelings.  In Seattle, removing police from a few blocks for a few weeks resulted in two teenagers dead and another in critical condition.  In Atlanta, I read that an 8-year-old girl got shot.  That is heart-breaking and utterly unacceptable.  Suffice it to say that in my opinion, getting rid of cops entirely or even significantly defunding them is not a good choice.

However, there is clearly a problem.  Even H’s experience with what he perceived to be hostile cops at the precinct to me indicates something is broken.

Ultimately, I think we need to disarm the people so that we can disarm the cops.  I don’t think you can do the latter without the former.  I believe our higher shooting rates in the US by cops are not primarily about racism but about the proliferation of weapons in this country.  However, this solution seems intractable right now.

I’m honestly not sure what the “next best thing” is.  Getting rid of bad cops would be a good start.  There was a bill in congress with a lot of commonsense reforms, but I haven’t heard anything about it since.  People’s attention span is practically zilch.