A general update

I’m largely not covering the covid-19 pandemic here mainly because there’s so much coverage and I largely have nothing to add but here are some general updates.

  • Australia has increased social distancing measures a notch and has now banned public gatherings of more than two people.
  • The data here is suggesting that maybe (and it will take days of data to confirm) that the graph is turning and rates of infection have slowed. (possibly premature) yay!
  • That does mean we are in for the long-haul: a slow spread through the population while keeping hospitals from being overwhelmed.
  • So…social distancing measures are likely to be months.
  • New Zealand might be in for a longer (but safer) haul. They might be close to containment (i.e. the virus not spreading at all) but that means waiting for a vaccine.
  • The UK still worries me.
  • The US frightens me but I know individual states may be doing a better job than federal response. Please stay safe and if you can, stay home.
  • On the right denial, misinformation and racism are still the thing. Interestingly, while the misinformation and racism is consistent across different groups, the denial is strongest on the pseudo-libertarian right rather than the alt-right.
  • There’s a big thing on the right that official Chinese government stats on covid-19 cases is all fake. Well, I guess I wouldn’t put to much faith on the Chinese governments honesty either but a big part of the disbelief is forgetting how regional China is as a nation and the degree to which the Chinese government controls internal travel. So, I’d guess those official numbers are understated, maybe even 50% higher in reality but…
  • …the USA probably still has exceeded the number of cases in China already. We’ll never know exactly which day last week or this week it was but that milestone has been passed. Eventually, unless there is a vaccine soon, China will exceed the USA again simply because it has more people but that’s another story.
  • The (very faint) upside is now is a great time for people who love to stay at home and look at data visualisations all day. Lots of great trackers available. The one I keep looking at is https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus because it has some handy customisations on its graphs. There’s a lot to wade through there though and there are better snapshot sites
  • What graphs am I looking at? The site above has a “Total confirmed cases of COVID-19 per million people” section. The default display is a map but you can switch it to a time series graph. Adjusting for population throws up a lot of noise for very small countries, so it is only useful for comparing countries with some consistent data collection. Using a log scale for the vertical axis makes it easier to compare trends but (obviously) makes totals look a lot more similar than they actually are.
Up to March 28 – Log scale

In the meantime, please all stay as safe as you can and wash your hands and be kind to one another.


33 thoughts on “A general update

  1. The whole difficulty with using “the Chinese virus” as a term is that it is clearly true (unlike, say “the Spanish flu” which clearly didn’t originate in Spain although where it did start is somewhat contested!)
    But it’s also all of a par with trying to find someone to blame, which is how human society functions, alas. We all like to take the credit but none of the responsibility. And racism is always easy.
    I do think it’s notable that the common names Bird flu and Swine flu were not especially labelled with geographical origins though (but MERS does contain a specific geographic element which is mildly interesting.)

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    1. I was under the impression that it was well-established that the “Spanish flu” really should have been called the “American flu”, that it almost certainly originated in Kansas, and that the US army (deployed for the First World War) was responsible for spreading it to Europe. (Source: John M. Barry’s excellent The Great Influenza.)

      Liked by 3 people

  2. I’m almost putting myself in quarantine from US news, because they make me so angry and sad and worried and scared that it is not good for me.

    Otherwise, reading what other countries are doing and how they react feels a bit strange as swede where we still have everything open and our limit is placed only at gatherings of 50 persons. We have a totally different strategy and way of reacting.

    I think in some way our strategy can only work for us because of culture, geography and a bit of pure luck. Having more people living alone than in any other country. Being sparsely populated. Having most of the population seeing a government recommendation as almost the law. Not as much socialising between generations and so on. Still feels strange.

    Anyhow, it takes time to recover from corona. Today I was short of breath and lost my voice after talking on the phone for 15 min. And had to rest for an hour after cleaning my cats litter box. The virus is still dormant, I can feel it like a disturbance in the force. It is just waiting for me to do something stupid.

    My mother wrote an article for the swedish newspaper about how it felt as a 70+ to get the virus and how much it weakened her. She wrote from her perspective as a doctor. That if she had just been a tad bit weaker or had another ailment, she would have ended up in hospital at a respirator. She wanted to warn other people of her age to understand that they might have felt as healthy as she was (she’s a force of nature), but it wouldn’t help as elders have a biological weaker immune system.

    My brother is almost ok again. A friend of mine who is only 30 had a hard time breathing and is now at hospital and is being tested for corona after having needed oxygen for some time.

    Our experts say that we are now in the fast part up the curve, but estimate that our healthcare system will be able to handle it. They can’t say when the peak will be, but hope the worst will be over sometime in May. Perhaps we will get harder restrictions before then.

    Oh, don’t trust most Swedes writing under hashtags such as #coronasweden. They are mostly rightwing extremists trying to spread desinformation and smears. Not that there aren’t many worried people, but most aren’t that rage filled.

    Liked by 6 people

  3. All the US numbers are underestimates too, the only uncertainty is by how much. They aren’t testing most people who might have the virus, and if someone isn’t tested or hospitalized they aren’t counted.

    The town I used to live in, Arlington, Mass. increased the alert level because of seven coronavirus cases (in a population of about 43,000). Except that at that time, I knew two people in Arlington who were sick with what hey thought was probably the virus, neither of them counted in that seven. I know less than 100 people in Arlington, even if you count people I would vaguely recognize.

    That’s one town in Middlesex County (which was briefly considered a hotspot of the pandemic). Each US number you see is a minimum, and may not be even close to the actual caseload. We went from not testing because they didn’t have tests, to not testing because they couldn’t spare the gloves and masks for the people who’d be administering the test, frighteningly fast.

    Yeah, the Chinese may be underestimating the number of cases, but so what?

    Liked by 5 people

    1. We have changed the whole testing strategy. We only have a limited number of tests each week, around 10 000 now which os about one test per thousand persons. And we most likely have several hundreds of thousands of people.

      So we *only* test if people are deemed ill enough to need to stay at hospital. My mother, who was lying at home with a hard time breathing, had an ambulance checking upon her, but as she wasn’t ill enough to need hospital care, they didn’t test anything. The policy is that you should stay at home as soon as you feel just a bit sick. And if the test won’t change what you do or how you are treated, then the test is seen as unnecessary and better saved for hospitals or elder care.

      What is now worked on is making sure that all hospital personal can be regularly tested. Not until that is done will they care about the rest of the population.

      We do some testing at random in the rest of the country, but that is only for studying the spread of the virus.

      So you can’t really look at our figures either. None in my family will be included in them.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. The situation in the US just seems insane, a thousand deaths in New York State alone, almost three and a half million people losing their jobs (and presumably health insurance, the president casually suggesting 100 -200 deaths would be a job well done…

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      1. Sadly, in the U.S. that common purpose is so often ‘you can’t tell me what to do!’ which is rather counter-productive to say the least.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Here in Washington State (I’m in Seattle), we just had a huge burst in the number of tests over the weekend, and they say they finally caught up with the backlog. At one point the University of Washington (UW) tweeted that they were running out of samples to test and asking for doctors to send more.

    That led to a tripling of the number of new cases reported, right when we were hoping to see signs that our lockdown was starting to reduce new infections, but it’s still worth it if it means we finally have adequate testing resources.

    For much of the country, this is going to be the week from Hell. Last week, roughly a thousand people died from COVID-19, but this week, it’ll be close to 10,000. Hospitals will hit their limits, and people will die from lack of care. Here, though, they’re saying that between the lockdown and some things they’ve done to increase hospital capacity, they think we’ll make it through the week, and that this may be the peak for us.

    If the social distancing efforts around the country don’t work out, next week will be even worse, with almost 100,000 dying. (It’s actually running at a factor of 8 per week, not 10, and I’m just extrapolating the exponential to get these numbers.)

    Eric and I are staying inside almost all the time. We venture out for a walk in the afternoons. We have an N95 mask we bought when we did some work on our old house a few years ago, and Eric wears that to visit the supermarket. The city is a ghost town. It’s like one of those apocalyptic stories. Even at rush hour, the big roads near our condo only have occasional vehicles moving on them.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. //Eric and I are staying inside almost all the time. We venture out for a walk in the afternoons. We have an N95 mask we bought when we did some work on our old house a few years ago, and Eric wears that to visit the supermarket//

      I had some N95 masks from helping a neighbour with some fertilizer but…used them up or gave them away during the smoke days in what feels like a century ago but was only January! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Hampus, I’m glad to see you’re recovering (slowly) and that your mother will also be all right, eventually. Her immunity will be a valuable resource.

    We were basically hermits anyway, so we did shelter in place before it was ordered. I go out once every 10 days or so to buy what I can. Deliveries are getting later and more delayed. One of my usual deliveries said it was going to be a day late. Ended up being a day and a half, and the box was half the size of usual, since there just isn’t stuff to order. Still, some fresh fruit and lettuce was nice. Also chocolate covered pretzels, as we seem to be going through snack food at an alarming rate. The world is carbo loading.

    I’ve had a few telephone appointments with my regular doctors. The one I spoke to this morning is a specialist, and says she only goes into the clinic one day a week for urgent cases.

    Went outside to hang some laundry on the line yesterday and the fresh air was quite nice. When I do drive, there’s almost no traffic. I see a few people (usually wearing masks) taking afternoon constitutionals in no more than family groups. Or one person hurriedly walking a dog. That’s when it’s not raining.

    We don’t have enough tests either. The federal government sent us (California) a bunch of broken respirators. They were driven 350 miles overnight to a pop-up repair facility, and then back, all over the weekend. Luckily California had a sensible policy in place much quicker than other states. I drank Guinness at home on St. Pat’s, watching other people doing the same, listening to an Irish storyteller.

    The cat (who had to raise funds on File 770) was overdue for his rabies shot. So I parked in the vet’s lot, a girl all gloved and masked took him out of the car and then brought him back, as we stood 6 feet away from each other. That was last week, I don’t know what the policy is now. Vets are basically only doing emergency cases or else quick things like shots. All humans must stay in the car and phone when they arrive.

    We were entertained on Saturday by Twitch running a 12 hour fundraising concert wherein a variety of musicians appeared from their living rooms. Mostly acoustic save the DJ’s, with the OONTZ and lasers. 12 hours and quite a variety. Most doing songs from their new albums that they can’t tour to support.

    Mr. LT went to In N Out last night so we can haz cheezburger, and they’re only doing drive-through. The line was half an hour long, bent triple through their parking lot and out to the traffic light.

    The local con scheduled for late May has been moved to early November.

    I may be forced to catch up on laundry, gasp. We did take this as an opportunity to finally see Baby Yoda.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Thanks!

        In today’s exciting news, Mr. LT mowed the lawn. Several days of rain followed by warm sun meant it was in danger of taking over. One spot (on the way to the clothesline) was nearly knee-high.

        Our local pizza place has remained open for takeout only, so that’s some delightful normality as we get a pie once a week. A large lasts us 2 days, so it also saves on groceries. Luckily we’d bought a small chest freezer dirt cheap a few months ago and it’s come in very handy now.

        A friend in England says the National Theatre is going to be streaming a different pre-recorded play every week on YouTube, starting a few hours ago. More free entertainment. Stephen Colbert is doing some great work recording his show from home. Last night he had Daniel Radcliffe showing off a Lego Jurassic Park.

        Tomorrow afternoon I speak with my physical therapist. Talking to a shrink on the phone is fine, but it’s suboptimal for someone whose job it is to see if I’m doing my exercises correctly. Still, it does mean I don’t have to put on shoes and drive.

        Most of the internet April Fools’ jokes were canceled, which is good. The one game what put googly eyes on all the characters is amusing.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. In more good news, I talked to my physical therapist. Not much she can do for me till we can meet in person. But she said that when the ER is overwhelmed with cases, they call in the PTs to help out, and she hasn’t been called in yet. So that’s good.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. The UK under lockdown is weird. I’m working from home with the rest of my family. Just made a weekly supermarket run, the aisles are all marked out with 2m strips and special arrangements at the tills and so on.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. There are two main reasons why it matters if the news from China was significantly distorted:

    1. If the deaths in Wuhan were much higher than reported, it helps with some nagging questions epidemiologists have had. Why did the disease seem so much worse in Italy than in Wuhan? Was it because of different social/political factors? Or did a difference in some biological factor (in either the people or the virus) make it worse? If the answers are respectively “It wasn’t really”, “Yes but mostly in terms of honesty”, and “There’s no reason to think so”, then it means our understanding of the disease is not far wrong, it is just a generally bad disease.

    That is bad news in that it means we shouldn’t expect to do as well as Wuhan allegedly did with the measures they were allegedly using, but good news in that there’s less mystery about it so we may at least be on the right track.

    2. The massive attention to chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine (CQ/HCQ) has been almost entirely due to two things that happened last month: a report from China said they had had great success with CQ in clinical trials, and a small study from France also seemed to show some benefit. (There’s also of course the earlier in vitro work that showed it theoretically could have antiviral uses, but that’s true of many drugs and wouldn’t by itself have led to so much focus on this one.) The French study had very severe design flaws, and is now also under suspicion of having been either deliberately falsified, or just so badly done that there’s no way to get valid information from it. And it’s looking more and more likely that the Chinese announcement was also bogus— not just because they may have lied about the death toll, but also because the actual data behind it was never released (you may have seen a lot of citations of what looked like a journal article, which mentioned specific clinical trials that had supposedly yielded good results, but it did not actually provide the data and attempts to find any of the data via the usual reporting channels have been unsuccessful; those channels said that the studies had been started, but then, silence).

    This matters because it means we have virtually no clinical evidence that CQ/HCQ is helpful. It is still worth looking into, and trials are under way, but there’s no basis for even saying it’s very promising or should be prioritized over other things, let alone Trump’s incredibly irresponsible talk about it being a great thing that’s had all kinds of success. The best you can say about it is that it’s cheaper than other things and that HCQ is relatively benign (unlike CQ which has a lot of toxicities). I think it’s important for people to understand this, because the right wing has been spreading a lot of stuff about “this is all the fault of liberals and ‘experts’ for not just using this wonder drug”.åç

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Btw, I feel I should accompany any of my long-winded comments on this subject with a disclaimer that I am not a doctor or epidemiologist, but I am a former RN with experience in reading clinical trial reports, specifically in terms of pharmacological research in viral diseases. My knowledge of statistics is still pretty crappy, but in terms of qualitative statements I can at least adequately translate what these kinds of reports are saying.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. And in the interests of full disclosure I’ll also mention that some asshole in a Facebook group has accused me of being a pharma industry “mole” because of my “negativity” about chloroquine (i.e. telling him he was misreading the articles he posted). If so then 1. I hope people will at least admire my deep cover in terms of having a widespread non-anonymous online presence and 2. when will I receive my checks?? Seriously though I’m sort of flattered, because I never thought I was important enough to be worth libeling in front of thousands of people.

        Liked by 3 people

    2. I’m not sure how far the Chinese numbers can be trusted, but there really are significant differences in death rates in different countries. For example, Germany’s death rate is much lower than italy’s or Spain’s to the point that our health authorities were accused of lying. Our death rate is up now, largely due to the virus hitting a few nursing and care homes, where a lot of people became very ill and died, but it’s still lower than Italy’s or Spain’s or France’s rates.

      Part of the difference may be due to culture – less hugging and cheek kissing – or the fact that many of the people who fell ill in Germany caught it during their ski holidays or carnival events, which are not activities fequented by the elderly (the parts of Germany with the least infections are also regions where carnival celebrations and skiing are uncommon). But another difference is that Germany has more hospital beds and ICU beds per capita than Italy or Spain or the US for that matter. I read somewhere that Germany has 28000 ICU beds (my own hometown has 430 ICU beds, two of them currently occupied by people with COVID-19), whereas all of Italy has 6000.

      Germany also does quite a lot of tests, though I’ve heard about cases, mostly in bigger cities and badly affected areas, of people having difficulties getting tested. The official numbers probably still miss people with mild symptoms and they probably also miss some of the dead, since there have been cases where someone died of what was assumed to be other illnesses (an elderly man with pneumonia, an elderly woman with diarrhea) and were only tested postmortem, when a partner or relative tested positive.

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      1. First, you can’t really compare deaths among population as a whole. You have to do it among the age groups.

        Second, deaths will look vastly different depending on how many persons that have been infected. And that in its turn will look different depending on how many you have tested.

        Third, about half of the deaths aren’t from the corona virus by itself, it is from secondary bacteriological infections. And differences in antibiotic resistance will make a difference in death rates. Country regulations on use of antibiotics will have an impact.

        Fourth, everything from how close you live, how you socialise between generations, if you can take paid sick leave, will have an impact.

        But I think it is a mistake to draw too many conclusions now. We can in perhaps half a year, when we know if the different measures taken are sustainable. And a slow toll doesn’t necessarily mean saving more lives than a faster spread. Everything depends on how the healthcare system coped.

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    3. I took HCQ in the late 80s until my liver said Nope. It was fine till it wasn’t. And people do need it for conditions it actually does treat, so RWNJ don’t need to be using the supply.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. The U.S. official fatality rate is now higher than the Chinese official fatality rate in only a few weeks. The actual fatality rate in both countries is probably much higher. There are a lot of “pneumonia” deaths going on that probably are the virus. Most of the people in the U.S. who have the virus aren’t tested and officially counted. Only if you’re being hospitalized or possibly with someone who is being hospitalized are you getting tested in the U.S. Earlier and in some areas, they are testing more folk, but they don’t have enough tests because the federal government has refused to get them tests and even when they get in more tests, they don’t have enough PPE for the people who have to administer the tests, so they’re only testing when absolutely necessary. The federal government is refusing to supply effective PPE to most states and making states bid for the equipment, while FEMA also bids on that equipment, running up the price, which presumably FEMA plans to hoard. Kushner is still trying to make money off of testing, causing countless delays. Trump keeps pretending he’s using the Defense Production Act to get companies to make masks, ventilators and other stuff, but none of them seem to be doing so. Pence seems to have just given up, because the minute he started getting media attention for being put in charge of the task force, Trump went wild and took back the mic for his daily ranting rallies which he thinks is a t.v. show.

    Some Republican states have been slow to shutdown or even still aren’t really shutdown (Arizona is refusing,) so the spread is continuing. The CDC guidelines for those who have had the virus and survived it to stop full isolation is much shorter than the WHO’s guidelines, which means we may have thousands of former patients going to the grocery store who still can pass on the virus. Several young relatives of mine have now been fired (including for having the disease,) or furloughed, but even though there are supposed to be rent freezes, they don’t seem to be happening. And we still have a toilet paper crisis which defies all explanation except profiteering. And NYC is getting a giant hospital tent from religious bigots who only want it used for straight people who aren’t Muslim. Even for the U.S., we have now entered bizarro world. On the bright side, the early hot spots — Washington state and San Francisco — show signs of having flattened the curve and decreasing cases. So it can be done. But federally we are being run by pirates propping up a king with dementia, so it’s been a mess. And we don’t know if we’re going to be able to have elections to get rid of him and his buddies.

    What did in Italy seems to have been that the right-wing politicians there leaked to the media that the government was going to lockdown northern Italy to contain the virus, causing tons of people to flee to southern Italy before the lockdown and bring the virus with them. Otherwise they might have flattened the curve. Right now they are stabilizing the curve, which may lead to a decrease and improvement. It’s truly amazing how fast this all has happened. The worst part is having family members in various medical and financial crises and you can’t go to them and can only help them in very limited ways. People are dying alone. Medical folk are trying and working so hard (we have doctors in the family risking their necks,) and watching the clowns prance and call them thieves is a nightmare.

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