April 17, 2020

This news has shaken me as much as anything has recently.  It seems to me now inevitable that there will be widespread, uncontrolled resurgence. Some states are prematurely relaxing restrictions; others still haven’t imposed them.  Active defiance of lockdown orders is appearing, amplified by partisan media.  Mix in the terrible economic impacts and inflammatory rhetoric, and I fear civil unrest becomes a real possibility.

It seems like many won’t take this seriously until someone they are close to is dying–and by then it is far too late.

April 15, 2020

Stimulus money arrived via direct deposit today.  I’m grateful that we can direct it to others who need it more.

Once again for those in the back: it’s not the flu!

Right-wing protests demanding that the country be re-opened are beginning to pop up around the country.  It’s hard to accept that things aren’t just one day going to be back to normal.

I fear we are about to have the worst of all worlds: squandered opportunities to prepare in the ramp-up, an economically destructive lockdown, and then a chaotic and uncontrolled reopening that in one month leads to widespread resurgence.

The rationalist “probabilistic reasoning” crowd tries to understand their own underreaction to the looming pandemic.  But humans just don’t reason with Bayes’ Theorem day-to-day–especially if there are implications we’d rather avoid.

Humor helps.

April 13, 2020

Back to the grocery store… mask fraction is up to about 2/3rds.

Governors on the coasts are forming coalitions to coordinate when to re-open.

Lines at drive-through food banks are miles long.

Does returning to normal mean forgetting what we saw?

April 11, 2020

Are these beautiful days… a plague sent to torture us???  I went for a bike ride through the neighborhood at twilight.

Folks are putting bears and other stuffed animals in their windows to give kids something interesting to look for on walks.

More predictions that the bottom is about to fall out of the academic job market.

Email threads from top health officials as the crisis unspooled…

A kind of order is emerging in NYC hospitals, and a dash of optimism?

The perverse incentive that rewards firefighting, but not fire prevention…

April 10, 2020

Due to concerns that the good weather will draw people to them, Seattle has announced the full closure of its major parks this weekend.

Apple and Google have announced plans to provide automated contact tracing.

This is an astonishing story on so many levels: UW paid $125k for 100k tests via a Chinese contact referred to as “Strawberry,” and weren’t sure until the boxes arrived what they were getting.

Might the coronavirus be more infectious and less fatal than we feared?

Nationwide testing capacity before relaxing social distancing?  “Nice to have.”

Reviewing plans for what’s next.  Then this gem:

Administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations, say the White House has made a deliberate political calculation that it will better serve Trump’s interest to put the onus on governors – rather than the federal government – to figure out how to move ahead.

April 9, 2020

Today was beautiful spring day in Seattle.  Sunny, mid-60s.  I was able to make time for a couple walks around the neighborhood and resumed my quixotic quest to uproot all the dandelions in the median.

Parents of grade schoolers are starting to talk about stepping back from organized “remote learning” activities–the burden on working parents is just overwhelming.

There continues to be a tremendous amount of furor over the updates to the IHME model for COVID-19 spread in the US.  Gratefully the projected number of fatalities is decreasing, but many are using the decrease to paint the threat as overblown–this despite the fact that the current best estimates are well within the broad uncertainties on previous projections.  The modeling process is intrinsically hard and the models have real limitations, but the many unknowns don’t absolve us of the need to make decisions now and to do so based on data.

April 8, 2020

The depressing saga of federal seizures of critical medical supplies continues.  Take ventilators ordered by a Democratic governor, credit the Republican Senator when giving 20% of them back.

The president has a financial interest in the maker of hydroxychloroquine!?  Partisan advocacy for the drug are making it hard to determine if it actually helps.

“If [NYC] had adopted widespread social-distancing measures a week or two earlier… then the estimated death toll from the outbreak might have been reduced by 50 to 80 percent.”

The National Academies don’t think the virus will drop off in the summer.  Will a warmer planet bring back old pandemics?

The coronavirus is highlighting major racial disparities in underlying health.

Model-projected deaths are now moving in an optimistic direction–good!–but that leads to claims of over-reaction and discounting expert opinion.  It’s a failure to understand uncertainty.  But social distancing has made the difference!

The AEI has a plan for reopening the country–it requires a lot of testing.  Unfortunately South Korea continues to see flare-ups as it tries to return to normal.

At least Business Town is back again.

That reflection I mentioned my spouse wrote?  It was read on the floor of the House of Representatives!

April 6, 2020

Schools in Washington State are closed through the remainder of this academic year–so my oldest won’t return to Kindergarten.

Summer meetings are starting be cancelled.

It’s… interesting? how the hive mind coalesces around certain goods (flour, seeds, baby chicks) and how rapidly they are all sold out and back-ordered.  If you think of something you might want or need before everybody else does, you might still be able get it.  If you read about it online you are too late.

There is no plan for how we get out of this.  Currently, because of (successful! necessary!) curve-flattening, only about 3% of the population has been infected–which means that as soon as containment is released the virus will spring right back up.  (We clearly seem to be incapable of test-and-trace at any scale.)  We need to get to >70% of the population immune, either by everyone having had the disease (terrifying, lots of people die) or a vaccine (a long way off, and how much do Americans like vaccines again?).  Even if the basic facts of the modeling were clear (what is R0? is it seasonal? how many asymptomatic carriers? how long are people infectious?) this is not an environment where people just accept expert consensus.  It’s deeply depressing how quickly hydroxychloroquine has become subsumed in partisan epistemology. PPE definitely helps, why don’t these folks get excited by that?

A powerful metaphor for the experience.

April 5, 2020

For lots of complicated reasons today I masked up and went to the grocery store to do our own shopping–the first time in a month.  I got there right at opening (assuming restocking was most likely to be completed then and the crowds the smallest).  There were purchase limitations on some items and no stock of others (tough luck on adult Tylenol), but I snagged most of what I was looking for, most importantly a bag of flour.  Despite the new CDC guidance only about a third of shoppers were wearing masks, and even fewer workers.

We’re finally getting some warmer weather, so later in the day the oldest and I went for a bike ride around Magneson Park.  Presumably to minimize the number of people in the park, most of the large parking lots were barricaded.  There were still plenty of people, though, and my son only intermittently remembers that he’s supposed to keep distant from others.  So it ended up being somewhat stressful, and I wondered if it was a reckless move: after a month of zero contact with anyone but immediate family, today we encountered tens of people (albeit briefly, in passing, outside)…  It’s hard to judge risk.  So far I have managed to keep a lid on latent tendencies towards mild OCD (I’m not scrubbing grocery boxes yet), but reading about what’s happening in the hospitals makes me start to feel a little twitchy.

Pro cyclists did a virtual Tour of Flanders.

Well, this seems to complete the story about what’s happening to the federal stockpiles of PPE (purchased by the taxpayer): they are being given (?) to private middleman distributors and sold to the highest bidders!


April 3, 2020

I’ve been working at home for a month.  There’s at minimum another month ahead, and likely more…

The Army set up a field hospital in Seattle?  It is currently empty (as is the medical ship in New York, the latter due to bureaucracy rather than lack of need).

In what seemed to me a surprisingly quick change, the CDC now advises #Masks4All.  The commander-in-chief “doesn’t think he’s gonna be doing it.”

I’m trying to keep this focused on the personal rather than the political, but the WH provisioning of PPE, ventilators, tests, etc. has been–almost malicious?  Pres. tells states to “try to get things yourself,” only in the last few days invokes the Defense Production Act to expedite large-scale production, and says “New York should have had more ventilators.”  Then we learn the feds are confiscating goods that states have managed to secure.  Where are they going?  Who knows, both Trump and Kusher says they’re “ours” and edit websites accordingly.  Meanwhile the governor of MA got so frustrated with mask orders getting intercepted that he arranged a secret order and sent the NE Patriots plane to pick them up…  Illinois is handing off multi-million dollar checks in parking lots to get PPE.