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.

April 2, 2020

Working all day at my makeshift standing desk gave me so much shoulder pain I had trouble sleeping last night :-/

Virtual Zoom backgrounds do make meetings nicer!

We ordered hair clippers…  sadly missed the rush and the best choices are already sold out.

Washington’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order has been extended now to May 4.

10 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the last two weeks.

1 in 5 hospitalized in New York City are under 44.

New York City EMS is no longer taking heart attack patients to emergency rooms if they cannot be revived at the scene.

April 1, 2020

Well, this has been the first April Fool’s Day in years without a cavalcade of annoyances.

I’m finally updating my laptop’s OS so I can belatedly get on the Zoom background train—if only to spare my coworkers constant views of our basement.

California schools won’t be opening again this school year.

Photographs from inside a Brooklyn hospital.

It’s depressing watching revisionist narratives being tested and perfected in the political world.  I had thought that crushing reality of a preventable pandemic would be immune to spin–naive of me, once again.  Especially when well-intentioned advertising policies determine whose messages can go out at all.

A great article capturing how different this experience is for those with kids and those without:

I feel alienated from my friends without kids in a way that I really never have,” Kelsey, who’s from Texas, told me. “They’re all talking about how to deal with boredom and anxiety, and I’m rearranging my life to work 15-hour days so I can split childcare shifts with my husband. They’re sad about not going to the gym, and I’m trying to cram on child development so my kid doesn’t fall behind. The level of disruption just feels so different.

The article adds texture to a feeling I’ve been trying to come to terms with: I feel like we are only barely coping–but I know there are others who are facing incomparably greater challenges: job losses, special needs kids, domestic violence, COVID-19 itself…  It feels easiest to hunker down in survival mode and avoid thinking too much about the yawning problems all around—but might that be counter-productive, in addition to selfish?

This is a terrible time for everyone. The only way to get through it, though, is to try not to think of it as a competition of who has it worse and try to think of how you, as an individual, can help those who are struggling — with or without kids, with or without jobs, with or without safety nets. And then, after you do what you can as an individual, you can start thinking about how much less stress there might be and how much more prepared we might be to weather a similar crisis in the future if we have systems in place that don’t force each of us to figure out solutions on our own. And then, when this is over — we can act, and vote, accordingly.

March 31, 2020

The children were like wild animals today–happy, cheerful animals, but animals nonetheless.

Hospitals are firing doctors for speaking out on lack of PPE.

Trolls are disrupting online classes, thesis defenses, and more by “Zoom bombing” them with obscene imagery and chats.

Scientists are discussing how to relax the lockdowns without leading to a second wave of infection.

An epidemiologist’s blistering critique of the NYT’s White House coverage during the crisis.

The stories from New York are heartbreaking and terrifying: constant sirens, 911 triaging patients on the phone as too ill to care for, vast swathes of first responders fallen ill, hundreds of sick patients dying isolated from loved ones…  It is the future we feared was coming to Seattle.  So far there is reason to hope it will not be so bad here.  But there is some survivors’ guilt, nevertheless, and fear for the rest of the country as the graphs tick ever-upward.

Sometimes at midnight, in the great silence of the sleep-bound town, the doctor turned on his radio before going to bed for the few hours’ sleep he allowed himself. And from the ends of the earth, across the thousands of miles of land and sea, kindly, well-meaning speakers tried to voice their fellow-feeling, and indeed did so, but at the same time proved the utter incapacity of every man truly to share in suffering that he cannot see.  –Albert Camus, The Plague