Category Archives: Covid

Covid reflections

Ah, Covid.  Some thoughts:

1.) When things were first shut down last spring, I, and most people with a cerebral bent, asked, Won’t it just pop back up again?  Interestingly, and depressingly, this is exactly what is happening in Europe.  Apparently Bill Gates’s and everyone else’s wishful thinking is wrong, and this thing isn’t going away until we achieve herd immunity (by vaccine or infection).   This is depressing because most of the major countries in Western Europe have infection rates (as estimated by death count) comparable or higher than the US.

I started tracking European numbers more closely a few weeks ago, and the resurgence has been clear at least since at least mid-August, both in Europe and NYC.  Unfortunately, we’re now experiencing a surge in my county as well.  We are sitting ducks in the Seattle area, because due to Inslee’s over-cautious restrictions, we have no immunity of any kind.  (I estimate less than 6% of our county has been infected.)

2.) I am worried that if Biden is elected, he will attempt to impose national shutdowns.   The debate with Trump was embarrassing to watch, and Trump’s attack on Biden’s son was shameful, but I thought Trump won the most important part – the Covid discussion.  Trump has done many things wrong in managing Covid, but Biden didn’t bring up any of them.  He vaguely said he’s “listen to the science” but didn’t go into specifics.  He could have, for example, said he’d ensure domestic production of N95 masks so that every man, woman and child could go back to (nearly) normal life with appropriate PPE.

Furthermore, I think he is way too old to be president in the best of times, and particularly now.  It kind of made me a little ill when he paternalistically announced Harris’ nomination.  If she’s so great, why not step aside and let her actually run for president?  (You, too, Sanders and Warren – get out of the way of the younger generation.)  Harris is just so energetic, intelligent, vivacious and  . . . young.  She is a much better president for the Covid era than Biden.

3.)  I am continuing to follow along with what’s happening in Victoria, Australia.  For those not paying attention, they’ve been on some level of strict lockdown since this thing started.  Australia, with its secure borders and low population, actually has a prayer of kicking this thing.  But it is HARD.  With the crazy endless “don’t got more than 5 km from your house or you’ll be arrested” lockdown, they are STILL getting new cases.  They are, however, right to continue the lockdown.  Basically, you have two options – eliminate the virus, or live with it.  If you choose the latter option, you should, in my opinion, only take steps needed to protect the most vulnerable (nursing home residents and over 70s) and keep hospitals from getting overwhelmed.  If you choose the former, however, you have to completely eradicate it.  That means getting to zero community spread.  Victoria is now around 10 to 15 cases a day, but they are probably still a month out from zero, at least.  This is one case in which “open up to soon” actually means something – just a tiny number of cases can set off a huge outbreak that takes months to control.  That is why elimination is impractical for most countries.

4.) If you’re not trying to eliminate the virus, “opening up too soon” doesn’t mean much.  Basically, if your hospitals are overwhelmed, you opened up too soon.  That has only happened in a couple areas in the US, mostly New York City.  The root cause wasn’t “opening up too soon” but the stealth build of the virus before people realized it was around.

5.) I continue to think that the closure of schools is the biggest tragedy of this whole thing.  The impact on vulnerable students is impossible to predict, but it will undoubtedly be severe.  It’s shameful.  Here’s a WaPo editorial that summarizes my feelings on this.   Seattle’s big move has been to create a committee to examine equity in online learning.  Here’s a hint: it is not equitable in any way.

6.) Ireland brought its case count down to goose eggs, then opened up.  It’s hard to argue that they opened up “too soon.”  They have two major problems.  (1) An insecure border with Northern Ireland aka the UK which allows Covid to seap in from the UK, where elimination was never achieved.  In many regards, Ireland is quite similar to NZ, but NZ has secure borders.  Ireland has a group called the NPHET which is meant to recommend measures to contain Covid based on “science.”  The group recommended that the entire country go to “Level 5” which means no one can go more than 5 KM from their house.  Everything shuts down.  The government declined and went to Level 3 instead, which limits travel to work and school and says everyone must stay in their county.  (Irish counties are quite small.)   It is going to be interesting to see what direction they go in, as infections are rising quite rapidly, and I tend to agree with the NPHET that to really stop it, they’d need to do the full lockdown, but I agree with the government that this is not worth the economic impact.  However, that is the path that the US has taken, more or less, and it has seemed like Ireland was taking a more conservative approach.

7.) There has been all this discussion about Trump causing a vaccine to be released too soon.  Frankly, I’m not losing a lot of sleep over this possibility.  I’m much more concerned about (1) If we’re going to have a vaccine at all and (2) how effective it will be.  Are we getting a flu-style vaccine which will likely have fairly minimal impact?  Or are we getting a measles style vaccine which could return life to normal?  Well??  It doesn’t seem like anyone knows.

schools rant

I voted straight ticket Republican for the first time in my life in August’s primary.  Historically, I’ve voted without regard to part affiliation in local elections (which are often non-partisan anyway) and begrudgingly vote Democrat at the state level and higher.   But the forced closure of all schools locally, including private schools, pushed me over the edge.

My kids’ school spent the summer jumping through all the local DOH hoops to prepare for school.  Some of the guidelines made a ton of sense, like ensuring sufficient distance between desks and masking.  Others, like truly excessive handwashing and a disinfectant spraying machine, seemed performative.  But, whatever.

However, I knew –  I just KNEW – that the optics of public schools all closed while private schools opened would not be allowed to stand in this state.  I told my husband this, and he said it would never happen.  But, of course, I was right.  A couple weeks before schools were to open, it was announced that the local DOH strongly recommended all private schools close.  A couple have opened in defiance of the recommendation, but the vast, vast majority have fallen into line.

To put this into perspective, my own city just went nearly a month without a single Covid case.  In the county, our hospital Covid levels are at or below 2%.  Positive tests are between 2 and 3%.   “Re” was 0.6 at least report.

It. Is. Nuts.

The governor is the most important position.  Inslee got about 50% of the votes in the primary, but there were 30 candidates.  I really like the phsyician who I voted for, but sadly, he didn’t get the nomination.  Instead, this guy did.   I don’t love him.  Nevertheless, I plan to vote for him anyway.   Here’s what he has to say about Covid:

I believe that state government should be involved in encouraging and supporting public health. However, I believe that its proper role is to educate people as much as possible on the mechanics and risks posed by communicable diseases—and then trusting Washington citizens to make the best decisions for themselves, their families and their local communities. After all, no one cares more about your health than you.

I believe Washington’s current Governor has drastically overstepped his proper and Constitutional role during the COVID outbreak thus far. He has twisted the emergency powers that Washington State law gives him. Rather than focusing on educating the people, the state agencies under his control have withheld good data and information! And he’s focused on making legally-dubious proclamations to create the illusion that he’s “doing something” or “acting decisively.” This is outrageous and demonstrates the type do-nothing government Washington citizens are tired of seeing from their elected public servants.

That is much more in-line with my views than the continuing Inslee dictatorship.  Unfortunately, we are a single party state and Inslee will almost certainly win again.  Maybe there are other people getting as mad as me.  We’ll see.  If it weren’t for Covid, I’d almost certainly vote for Inslee again.  I can’t be the only one deeply unhappy about ongoing closures.

The good news actually is that if Biden wins, Inslee will possibly / likely be off to Washington.

According to the New York Times, elementary and middle schools should be fully open here, and high schools partially open.  I’ll be shocked if any public schools in my county open this school year.  We shall see, I guess.

Melbourne

I’ve been following the situation in Melbourne, Australia with great interest.  If you haven’t been following along, Australia was initially shielded from an early Covid surge, presumably by its geographical remoteness and low population and population density.  (Australia has a population of only 25 million, less than California or Texas.)  Australia went on lockdown and effectively stamped out Covid.  A couple months ago, however, the state of Victoria, where Melbourne is, experienced a resurgence.  The government instituted another lockdown, comparable in severity to what’s been done in more conservative states like Washington and Pennsylvania.  When that lockdown failed to be effective, they instituted a second lockdown for six weeks that I can compare only to communist China.  This lockdown, not surprisingly, has been effective.

It’s worth noting that the second outbreak was seeded by Australians returning from the USA who were staying at quarantine hotels.  It’s a little unclear to me exactly what happened, but there were rules violations either by the hotel residents, workers, or both.  I think both.  Their quarantine hotel system is pretty severe, and it’s interesting / depressing how a limited number of violations touched off a major outbreak.  The US’s honor system quarantine rules don’t have a prayer, in my opinion.

In any case, here’s a graphic of Victoria (Melbourne) cases.  Victoria has a population of 7 million.  That’s about the same number of people as we have in Washington.

To put these numbers in perspective, in Washington state, numbers peaked at about twice these levels in June / July.  And Washington state has had maybe half the cases per capita at peak as compared to Texas or California.  So, Melbourne experienced a very real surge, but nothing like US hot spots.

For reference, you can see here that initially, they had very few cases (though I suppose we don’t know how effective testing was), and they were effective stamped out.

The draconian lockdown Victoria residents are currently under includes, as a sampling, restrictions like the following:

  • Very limited list of essential businesses which people can leave the house to work at.  (The US has a very broad list of “essential businesses.”)
  • One person may leave the household per day for groceries or essentials
  • No one may go more than 5 km from their house.  This is enforced with checkpoints.
  • Playgrounds are closed.
  • You may not leave the state without a permit from the government.  One person who had such a permit but failed to quarantine upon their return to their state has been sentenced to six months in prison.
  • No demonstrations or protests of any kind.  One woman was arrested for posting about a protest on social media.
  • Playgrounds closed.

As you can see from the chart above, the lockdown has been successful.  Some analysts are saying that if the lockdown is continued through the end of *October*, they could eliminate Covid completely from Victoria.

The government is supposed to announced a plan this Sunday for leaving lockdown.

Now, it’s hard to say whether this kind of management makes sense.  My personal opinion is, given the severity of Covid, absolutely not. However, maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe Australia will eliminate Covid.  Lockdown will end, and Australians will be able to go about their normal lives with kids in school, sports, parties, jobs, etc., all back to normal by the end of the year while we in the US are still home schooling (or at least those of us in Democrat-run states).  To achieve this, Victorians will have spent many months on lockdown, including six or more weeks as virtual prisoners in their homes.

If it doesn’t work, and they can’t stamp out Covid and have to either resort to more lockdowns, or give up, then this will have been a colossal disaster for Australia. If it does work and they can go back to their normal lives, maybe it will have been worth it.  It will be fascinating to see how things pan out.

I don’t think this approach was ever a possibility in the US due to culture, larger population and population density, much more extensive spread in CA and NY before we knew what was happening, lack of strong federal leadership, lack of enforceable state borders, and on and on. I am very glad I don’t live in Australia, but for a more severe illness, this is exactly the right sort of approach.  And I don’t think the US will have the will or ability to implement it, no matter who is president.

 

covid deaths and New York

I feel like not enough time has been spent asking, “What the hell happened in NY?”  Lately, there has been a lot of attention focused on high case counts in CA, TX and other states, but I feel like this is a bit of a red herring.  The deaths per capita in these states continue to be low or in family with Western Europe, Canada, etc.  Also, while case counts can give you a feel for what’s happening in a specific area, what really counts are deaths.  Deaths-wise, the US is in family with the harder hit countries in Western Europe, but the US is so large, it’s not really fair to compare it to an individual country in Europe.  Comparing it to Europe as a whole is also problematic because I don’t trust the numbers coming out of many Eastern European countries, including Russia.  So I think there’s value in looking at individual states.  So, let’s do that.  Here’s a ranked list of some states and countries in terms of deaths per capita.  I think it reveals that New York and New Jersey may have been the hardest hit places on the entire planet.  To which I ask again, why?

Consider the following table.  The only place that remotely matches the devastation of New York State is Lombardy, Italy.

Location Deaths Per 1M People
New York City 2813
Essex Co (Newark) 2640
New Jersey 1801
New York State 1692
Lombardy, Italy 1673
Massachusetts 1283
Connecticut 1249
Belgium 857
London 766
Spain 612
UK 609
Italy 586
Sweden 573
USA 524
France 466
Harris Co (Houston) 388
Texas 345
King Co (Seattle) 316
California 285
Canada 239
Washington 234
Australia 16
S. Korea 6
New Zealand 4

Seriously, what the hell happened in NY?  And how can we stop that from happening anywhere else?

As a side note, I find it incredibly ironic when Cuomo or De Blasio offer advice to any other state or city.  Those two presided over an incredible loss of life, and they should probably be doing a post mortem and asking themselves the same question as I am – what the hell went wrong?  They should probably, honestly, given how poorly things went, be considering submitting their resignations at the very least.

Covid vs car accidents

I was curious how Covid compares to car accidents in terms of impact.  I think car accidents are an interesting comparison because, like Covid, you can prevent accidents by staying home.

On the surface, it seems like Covid has been way worse.  After all, we have had 169,275 Covid deaths but “only” 36,120 people died in car accidents last year.  Seemingly, Covid is 4.7 times worse . . . and counting.

However, I don’t think this captures the true story – years of life lost.  Median age of death due to Covid is 78.  Life expectancy at 78 is 10 years, so we have lost 1.69 million years of life due to Covid.  This is obviously a broad estimate.  It neglects the fact that the spread in age under 78 is likely larger, thus leading to more years of life lost.  However, it also neglects the fact that people dying of Covid are less healthy than the general population, therefore leading to fewer years of life lost.  I think it’s a fair estimate for this comparison.

I couldn’t find a median age of death for car accidents, so a little more math is required.  Data is from 2018.

  • 0-4: 443 deaths, 77 years lost = 34,111
  • 5-14: 765 deaths, 69 years lost = 52,785
  • 15-24: 6434, 59 years lost = 379,606
  • 25-44: 12281, 45 years lost = 552,645
  • 45-64: 11368, 27 years lost = 306,936
  • 65-74: 3996, 15 years lost = 59,940
  • 75+: 4117, 9 years life lost = 37,053

Total years life lost: 1.4 million

So, in summary;
1.) Years of life lost to Covid so far: 1.7 million

2.) Years of life lost to car accidents in 2018: 1.4 million

My guess is that by the time this is over, Covid will claim around twice as many years of life in its worst year (2020) as compared to car accidents.  It is worth noting that car accident death rates in the 1970s were about twice what they are now (per capita).   Should people refuse to work at the office / classroom because driving there is too hazardous?

Well, I guess it could be worse

We could be Bolivia:

With no end in sight to the coronavirus pandemic, school districts from Europe to New Jersey have been teaching virtually, the idea being that educating children must not stop, no matter how imperfect the instruction.

Then there is remote and largely rural Bolivia.

There the government has just announced a far more extreme approach. It flat out canceled the school year, which comes to a close at the end of November, saying the internet connections just weren’t good enough for virtual classrooms. If parents are worried that their children will be held back, Interim President Jeanine Áñez says not to worry because the government plans to pass everyone to the next grade level anyway.

“There’s no other option than to close the school year,” said Yerko Núñez, a government minister. “The fiber optics, unfortunately, only reach the cities.”

I honestly just don’t get the attitude (prevalent in Seattle) that if you can’t teach everyone, you teach no one.  Wouldn’t the best choice for Bolivia be to teach children in cities?  Furthermore, the median age in Bolivia is only 25, and I bet it’s lower in rural areas.   (Our median age is 38.)  I bet the death rate in Bolivia would be quite low from Coronavirus even if medical care there is inferior to what it is in wealthier countries.

(In case you’re wondering why, for example, there hasn’t been an explosion of cases in places like India, I’m guessing asymptomatic and mild cases in an overwhelmingly young population is a huge driver.)

From the article:

Ms. Áñez, also a presidential candidate, acknowledged the problems the decision creates for parents. “It is very difficult, but we’re doing this to ensure the health of Bolivians, especially our children,” she said in a video posted on her Twitter account.

Sound familiar?  I find it very difficult to believe that Covid poses and greater threat to the children of Bolivia than it does the children of America, who are having virtual instruction to preserve their health.  How heartwarming that everyone is so concerned about the children.