Monthly Archives: February 2021

I was due for another Covid rant . . .

Anticipated vaccination (first dose, 50% vaccinated): August 2021

I am really stunned at the ongoing school situation here in King County.   It has been roughly a year since the Pandemic started – 2/29 was the day the first local person died, just up the road from me, thanks to a man who came here from Wuhan and then attended a nursing home party.

Edmonds School District, which borders Seattle, just announced that grades 3-12 will not return to school in any capacity this year.  I expect Seattle to follow suit shortly and announce that grades 2-12 will not return to school this year.  Most of the other school districts will do the same.

Currently, most schools in the area remain fully closed.  There are a couple of exceptions – Bellevue and Red.mond.  Belle.vue is the best local school district, and it does not surprise me in any way that they were the first to reopen.  After a standoff with the teacher’s union and mini-strike, they reopened to grades K-2, 3 half days a week.  In other words, the kids spend 30% of their time in the classroom and 70% at home.  (The teachers’ strike resulted in reducing school days from 4 to 3.)  They expect to expand that to four half days, or 40% of time in school, in a few weeks.  I don’t know the details in Redmond, but I believe it’s similar.

Some 37% of Seattle teachers have stated that even after being vaccinated, they do not want to return to the classroom.

For the record, the governor has allowed schools to open since September.  Guidance has been that they could facilitate community spread above VERY low levels of Covid until around November, when the guidance changed.  The updated guidance says that K-5 should be open regardless of Covid levels, and other grades should be phased in as levels drop.  Levels are quite low here now.

Private and parochial schools have, for the most part, been open since fall.  Bri.ony (1st grade) returned to school around the beginning of October, first every other week, then full time.  Isla returned to school in November, first part time, and recently they expanded to full time.  The kids wear masks and eat lunch at their desks, and there is no gym.  However, they have three outdoor recesses a day which gives them plenty of time to stretch their legs and socialize in a more relaxed manner.  There has been one case of Covid which did not spread beyond the child who tested positive, despite extensive testing in response.

What is going on with schools where you are?  Sarah – I know your kids are in school.  Do they wear masks?  What other changes have they made to keep things safe?  Anybody else?  What grades are in public school in your area?  Full time or hybrid?  What measures are being taken for safety?

I just can’t help but wonder if all the parents whose kids are in school full time are aware of what’s going on in many parts of the country.  And I can’t help but wonder if parents in the Seattle area and other places where kids are not in school AT ALL know that in many cities and towns and counties around the country, kids have been in school full-time since the fall.  Not just K-2, but K-12.  Protests have started to spring up in the Issa.quah area, but it’s been very limited.  More than a hundred thousand people protested George Floyd’s death locally – deservedly so – but only a few dozen think it’s as bad or worse for hundreds of thousands of kids to be out of school for a YEAR and counting?  Especially given the disproportionate impact on less privileged kids?  Why are people not more upset about this?

I predict that in the Seattle area, most kids will not be back in school more than 50% time next year.  And I predict that local schools will likely close grades six and up completely next winter.  I hope I’m wrong.

Here’s the thing.  All the signs I’m seeing predict Covid will bottom out this summer, while schools are closed and people get vaccinated.  But variants resistant to vaccination will start to dominate and spread, and we’ll likely see a lot more deaths in the next 12 months.  For the first 12 months, Covid killed about 500,000 people, making it the third leading cause of death in the country, after cancer and heart disease.  I would guess we will see between 100,000 and 200,000 more deaths in the next twelve months.  And that Covid will hang out with accidents (170,000 annual deaths), chronic respiratory disease (156,000 deaths), stroke (150,000 deaths), and Alzheimer’s (120,000 deaths) in causing about 150,000 deaths a year.  Many of those deaths will be “borrowed” from other categories, but we will still see excess deaths due to pressure on hospitals, which have basically no excess capacity over what was required pre-COVID, and other factors, like lack of preventive care, isolation of the elderly in nursing homes and retirement communities, and so on.  The question is, how do we want to live given this threat?  For me, once a vaccine is widely available to everyone over 18, I’m ready to return to regular life, or something very close to it, and devil take the consequences.  That means visiting my parents, no masks for kids in school, athletic competitions, international travel, large marathons, etc., the whole nine yards.  Do you agree?  Or will you want to be more cautious?


New host!

Anticipated first vaccine date: August 2021 (50% of Washingtonians have received first shot)

After years of being grumpy at the $9.99 per month fee Dreamhost was charging, I finally changed hosts to Greengeeks.  I now pay $4.99 per month, and am much happier.  This low rate is locked in for three years, after which I’ll probably have to switch to Siteground.  Ha.

My site was down for a couple days, and it’s funny how much I missed it.  I actually write posts significantly more often than I publish them.  Often, the act of pouring out my thoughts is sufficient to release some pent-up frustration, and I don’t burden my faithful readers with the blather.

Anyway, glad to be back online.  I’m not sure what’s up with my photos, but hopefully that’s not too hard of a problem to solve.  Let me know if the site isn’t working for you!

power failures

Expected first vaccine date WA: July (50% vaccinated)

About ten years ago, we had what I characterized at the time as a “stiff breeze” here in Seattle.  The wind didn’t strike me as particularly exceptional compared to what I was used to in Virginia and other places I’d lived.  Certainly, it wouldn’t register in a place like Texas.  However, here in Seattle, most of the powerlines were above ground and they didn’t bother to trim the trees around the powerlines.

As a result of this moderate wind, I, like millions of others, lost power for five days.  High temperatures were in the low 30s, and it was late December, so we had maybe seven hours of daylight a day.  By the second day, my house was in the 30s, and it stayed that way.  I had no candles or flashlights or anything.  It. was. awful.  Many people actually lost power for much longer – for up to three weeks.

I was absolutely furious.  Absolutely.  Fucking.  Furious.  Why wasn’t Seattle robust to a moderate windstorm?  Something I wouldn’t have even characterized as a windstorm if it happened in Virginia?  Something that wouldn’t have caused power loss where I grew up because powerlines are, sensibly, underground?

I am reminded of this reading the fury of my friends and relatives who are Texans.  Texas is a much bigger more populous place than the Seattle area, so more people are affected, but the theme seems the same.  What should be a fairly routine weather event, colder than usual temperatures, causes utter chaos and misery.

For me, what separates a developed country from the third world is reliable power and potable water.

I would just like to pitch to ALL my friends, wherever you live, that you consider purchasing a kerosene heater.  This is one that looks identical to mine.  I bought mine after the power loss debacle.  I swore I would never be that cold again.  Even if you have backup gas heat, like we do now, it is really important to have another backup, because gas can also fail.  (If we have an earthquake, I’m sure gas will fail.)  So if you don’t have a woodstove AND wood, a kerosene heater is a fantastic option.  When my furnace failed a few years after the power loss incident and it took a week to get replaced (in winter), that little kerosene heater did a fabulous job of keeping my house livable.  This was my 1200 sq ft house, but even in a larger house, it’ll keep the heat level tolerable in a large living area.   I also have several of these lanterns.  We have regular power outages around here (which continues to infuriate me, incidentally).  These lanterns are awesome for providing light.

With all that being said, I think it’s somewhat reasonable that Texas not be fully robust to a weather event that occurs every thirty years.  However, the “rolling” power outages don’t seem to be rolling at all.  Some people are not losing power at all, or only for a few hours total, while others are losing in for several consecutive days.  If they could maintain three hours on and three hours off for everyone, or one hour on, two hours off for everyone, people would be able to maintain safe, if uncomfortable housing temperatures.   In Seattle, there were 18 deaths due to the wind power outage (due to cold and unsafe attempts to heat houses.)  It’s not OK for people to be without power for days on end.  It IS OK, I think, once a decade or two to have intermittent power for a day or three.  Don’t even get me started on the water loss, though.

Last thoughts: a big reason for this debacle is that many Texan homes are heated by heat pumps.  I had one growing up.  Heat pumps are crazily inefficient at low temperatures.  Electricity demand goes up not by 20% when temperatures drop by ten degrees, but by an order of magnitude.  In Virginia, we ALWAYS had a backup heat source to our heat pump – either a wood stove, kerosene, or propane.  You wouldn’t think that would be necessary in Texas, but I guess it is.  There’s been an argument about whether wind or natural gas is to blame, but I think that’s kind of missing the point.  If people in Texas heated their homes with natural gas rather than electricity, the demand would have risen proportionally rather than exponentially as the temperature dropped, and the system would have had to deal ONLY with the impact of cold on power generation, instead of the double whammy of supply drop and demand skyrocketing.  In WA, they are starting to ban gas heating and require electrical heating instead.  I’ve always been opposed because of my experience growing up with a heat pump in VA.  (We had a heat pump rather than gas because gas was not available on our mountain.)  Watching the TX debacle makes me even more opposed.

A couple plots to ponder:

This plot shows two things.  First, wind went offline first.  Second, the increase in demand on gas no doubt contributed to the failure of that system.  Could the gas supply have coped with a 45% increase in demand rather than a 450% increase in demand?  Again, I think the nonlinear increase in demand on the system, especially on gas, was undoubtedly a huge part of the problem.

Again, another plot showing the huge increase in gas demand, failure of wind, and then the drip in gas, which was the harbinger of system failure.

One more plot:


Anticipated vaccination date: July

(50% vaccinated with one dose in WA)

I read an article today about how the failure to distribute vaccines to poor countries is not only a moral failure but also a threat to the rest of the world as new variants emerge.

(The biggest vaccine hoarder is Canada by a wide margin, by the way.  The US, in terms of doses per capita, is in family with European countries.)

Let’s address the moral failure first.  When we talk about poor countries, who are we talking about?  Not places like India, since they have lots of vaccine.  Presumably we’re talking about places like Uganda. (I chose Uganda at random by googling.)

First, is it really a moral failure to not provide Uganda with vaccine?  Here are some facts about Uganda:

  • Median age – 15
  • 3.3x the birth rate of the US
  • 2.38% of population is over 65 (vs 17% in the US)
  • Infant mortality rate 6 times that of the US
  • Maternal mortality rate 20 times higher than that of the US
  • 0.17 physicians per 1000 population (15x fewer than the US)
  • 6% of adults have HIV
  • 10% of children under 5 are underweight
  • 30% of women and 17% of men are illiterate
  • Leading causes of death:
    • Neonatal disorders
    • HIV/AIDS
    • Malaria
    • Lower respiratory infections
    • Tuberculosis

Honestly, you cannot tell me that Covid is a significant problem in Uganda.  I imagine Uganda, like almost all desperately impoverished countries, has a small class of rich people who are at risk, but I would be shocked if Covid is even in the top five causes of death.  In the US, Covid comes in at #3 behind cancer and heart disease, and cancer and heart disease aren’t even in the top 5 in Uganda.  The reasons why cancer and heart disease are not Uganda’s biggest problems – a younger population – are exactly the same reason why Covid isn’t their biggest problem.  Honestly, if I were in charge in Uganda, I’d ignore it completely and focus on prenatal care.  Yes, we should try to get vaccine to poorer countries.  But – vaccine, just like in the US, SHOULD go to those 65 and older first.  And poor countries don’t have many people over 65.

I read a ridiculous article about how Uganda’s “tough” approach to Covid had paid off (as of August).  First of all, I don’t believe that their tough approach really paid off.  Barring a truly draconian lockdown which is not possible in the developing world, it is not possible to contain Covid.  Furthermore, read the following:

But the nation of 42 million people has recorded just over 1,200 cases and five deaths since March, a strikingly low total for such a large country.

As the number of cases in Africa approaches one million, Uganda’s experience shows what can be accomplished when a government with a firm grip on power acts quickly and enforces a strict lockdown. But its success came at a cost, critics say.

Jobs were lost, and economic growth is set to plunge to as low as 0.4% in 2020, from 5.6% last year, according to the World Bank.

Some pregnant women died in labour, unable to reach hospitals because of travel restrictions. Security forces – criticised by rights groups for abuses – beat and arrested some rule-breakers.

Right.  That made a ton of sense.

However, the emergence of variants is a serious problem.  The thing is, however, getting vaccines is only one small part in the equation, as has been demonstrated in the US and Europe.  Distributing them is another.  Consider the measles.  Measles is still rampant around the world.  In Africa as a whole, only 73% of children are vaccinated against the measles (one dose, when two are recommended), and that’s been achieved only with intense effort.  There are several countries worldwide that have a measles vaccination rate under 50%.  ANNUAL Covid vaccination will take decades to achieve, if it is achievable at all.

The article is very correct that this is a problem due to emerging variants.  I’m not sure what we’re supposed to do about that.  It’s bad news for these poor countries that may find themselves more isolated due to the virus variants they produce.  And of course also bad news for the rest of us who will continue to see our lives disrupted by these variants.