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COVID-19: Day 122

I’m changing the title of this series to give a better idea of how long we’ve been in the slog. I’m marking March 13 as the start of our lockdown. I started working from home on March 5 and March 13 was Elijah’s last day of in-person classes.

https://xkcd.com/2330/

It’s been quite a while since I’ve done one of these posts, and frankly that’s because it feels less and less safe to document my thoughts on the topic. I talked previously about how we all started off in the same boat, then we we were just in the same storm, and now I’m not even sure we’re on the same planet. As with most topics on 24-hour news channels, it feels like we’re taught that if you’re not screaming the same thing as me then you must be my mortal enemy. Can we just agree that the truth lies somewhere (undefined) in between the two extremes? Isn’t that almost always the case?

I timed my last post right at the bottom of the trough for Washington. Since then we’ve been climbing very steadily. If you look at the raw diagnosis numbers, it looks like we’re getting infected at a much higher rate than we were in March and April. But the other side screams, “It’s just because we’re testing more!” Look one step further and realize the truth is in the middle. Yes, the numbers are going up, but no the virus isn’t spreading as fast as it was in March and April. So much is unknown about the actual spread back then, but the best estimates show we were at an R (reproductive rate) of 2 back then in King County, and we’re probably around 1.4 now. So should we be concerned about this regression? Absolutely! But do we need to lock everything down as drastically as we did back then? No, not yet anyway. Very early in this series, I wrote that we’re going to go through a series of ups and downs as we figure out the right level of safety precautions to balance a functioning society with not killing off 2% of the population. We’re in for a roller coaster ride of these infection waves because there is no magic cure out yet. We’re just as vulnerable as we were on March 6, but the good news is that we’re in a better position to analyze the spread and jump on it sooner.

It’s encouraging work at a company that is so heavily involved in analyzing the data. There’s obviously a tight partnership with the Bill Gates Foundation and their jobs all revolve around fighting disease on a global scale. Combine the two groups and you have a real powerhouse. Some of the information is still being vetted and worked on but I’ll give you four solid links to peruse if you want to focus on the data and not the media’s interpretation of it:

That first link is probably my favorite as it gives you an apples to apples comparison of the infection rates by US county (or by country). Even that can be a little misleading when you look at very sparsely populated counties where a single case can change the color of the county, but still, when you hear a friend across the country say things are good or bad, you can compare the infection rate in their county per 100k people with your own and compare their statement with your own personal feelings.

The other link that caught my attention this week is the COVID-19 Survival Calculator. As we collect more and more data about the virus and about the people catching it, these kinds of statistical models get more and more accurate. My odds of dying this year (without COVID-19) are around 1 in 700 according to the CDC. My odds of catching COVID-19 and then dying from it are 1 in 400. So while that’s not going to cause me to hide under my bed for the next year, it’s a significant increase. If you’re elderly, lower income, etc those odds can get horrifically bad to the point where if you get COVID-19, it’s like sticking a revolver to your head and being forced to play Russian Roulette.

Getting a good handle on the raw data is an important step in arming yourself to not be taken in by bad information. The internet is aflame with people using “data” to argue their point. For example, this chart was floating around the internet recently.

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid_weekly/index.htm

That one comes from the CDC so it must be legit, right? Sure, the data is right but read the fine print and you’ll see that it can take weeks for the data to roll in and even if the data was instant, people don’t die from the disease as soon as they get diagnosed with it. So this chart is very much a lagging indicator of what’s going on. Go back and check that chart when you we get into late August and see if it still looks as rosy. You have to be so careful whenever you read the news or peruse social media.

The first step in the battle is just knowing when you’re being manipulated either directly or via a share of a share of a share of a share. I wish I could give more details but we get some incredibly interesting security talks inside the company and they go into great detail breaking down misinformation campaigns post by post and tracing it back to the bad actors running those campaigns. I’ll summarize with this: assume that everything you read is fake. It’s almost impossible that in your internet browsing today, you haven’t read a story, post or comment that is written by someone explicitly trying to game your emotions to push you to one side of the war or the other. Be on the lookout especially for “us vs them” talk. Once they get you screaming at the other side, nothing productive will happen. They want us to hate each other. Destin from Smarter Every Day had some a nice Instagram story about this exact topic the other day. I’m paraphrasing but he said “Don’t let this affect your heart. If you met someone on the street, would you run up to them screaming? Wouldn’t you be able to have a polite conversation even if you disagreed with them? Remember Proverbs 15:1: A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Now’s a good time to rewatch his great series about disinformation on the internet.)

We’re in this for the long haul. We could be 6-12 months or more away from a vaccine but there is still question about if we can produce a vaccine or if it will be effective for more than a few months. And even if we can make the vaccine, how long will it take to distribute to everyone in the world? And how many people are going to refuse it? Sure, 2020 is bad, but it’s not like 2021 is going to be all sunshine and roses. This is going to take time.

So woooosahhhhhhh. Be kind. Seek the truth in the middle ground. Be wary of information presented in arguments. Show grace to those who are struggling with this on both sides. But most importantly:

Above all else, guard your heart,
    for everything you do flows from it.
Keep your mouth free of perversity;
    keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
Let your eyes look straight ahead;
    fix your gaze directly before you.
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
    and be steadfast in all your ways.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
    keep your foot from evil.

Proverbs 4:23-27

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