COVID-19: Day 342

The infection numbers are finally coming down around us. They’re coming down to the levels we had leading up to Thanksgiving. Those were already high but at least we’re heading in the right direction.

I continue to be impressed with my company’s response to the pandemic. Along with from providing direct aid and support for researchers and leading the way with dashboards to share the facts, now they’re opening up their unused buildings as a vaccination site.

On the home front, Elijah had his second COVID test. I almost wished I had some symptoms so I could at least do it with him. This one was worse because he knew the pain that was coming from the test, but he was a trooper and we survived. The negative test eases our own nerves but it also helps his school to know that there’s nothing to worry about on their end. Thanks to his school’s administration and the cooperation of all the families, there have been zero cases of COVID spread within the school.

It has been awesome to hear from those of you getting your vaccine shots. I now know two people who have received both shots! A new vaccination dashboard from the AI For Health group at Microsoft is fun to watch, at least for first world countries. Washington is lagging behind a bit, but we have 4.1% of the population fully vaccinated and if we keep at this pace we’ll hit 20% by the end of April. My dose is nowhere in sight but I’m happy to stay home while people who need it more get their shots. I’m very interested to watch how the infection rates change as the vaccinations become more prevalent, and I’m also curious about how we’ll get this spread to the rest of the world.

Personally, these last few weeks have been some of the hardest weeks of this whole ordeal. I’ve learned how to handle COVID within my family, as a member of the community, as an employee, and as a parent at Elijah’s school. The major missing piece is that I have not learned how to deal with COVID as a leader in my church. I’ve written and erased a mountain of text here, but it boils down to the fact that I’m a sinner making choices in a sinful world about how to share God’s Word with sinful people. The only perfect decision is to be kneeling before God in prayer receiving forgiveness through Christ.

James 1:2-5 Consider it complete joy, my brothers, whenever you fall into various kinds of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces patient endurance. And let patient endurance finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any one of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives it to all without reservation and without finding fault, and it will be given to him.

COVID-19: Day 300

Three hundred days of COVID-19 at least for our family. I remember thinking back in May that we’d be out of it before too long because maybe if we just do the lockdown, it will go away. Nope. The only way it’s going away is with a vaccine and thank you God that it’s rolling out.

We’re eager to get the vaccine but we’ll almost certainly be at the end of the line. It sounds like they’re shooting for 1 million per day. It’s unclear to me if that’s 1 million people getting totally vaccinated or just 1 million doses per day. Everyone needs two doses, but regardless, the math on that means we’re going to be well into next fall before we get a vaccine at the projected pace. There have been plenty of hiccups getting the machine spun up in our country but places like Israel are moving very quickly. They have administered vaccines to 18% of their population! (This data is available from Our World in Data and is a nice visualization of the data.)

I wrote about the increased death rate in the last two posts but I finally found the CDC page that shows weekly deaths from COVID, total deaths, and how the total death number compares with what we’d expect based on previous years. Read the footnotes before drawing conclusions, but it shows that a lot of extra people are dying this year. Some members of our government say the COVID numbers are inflated and maybe that’s true, but something is out there killing a lot of extra people this year.

I mostly succeeded in keeping the pandemic out of my end of year post, but there were a lot of related thoughts that I want to capture and they revolve around being a parent through this situation. What is Elijah learning from it? What do I want him to learn from it? How much of it can he grasp at his age? What will he remember when he looks back on this time? I’ve kind of figured that I’m just bumbling my way through it and not doing a very good job, but when I woke him up on December 31 I said, “Hey buddy! It’s the last day of 2020!” Most other people would have replied with “Good riddance!” but Elijah got very sad and said, “But I don’t want it to be over.” I tried to contain my shock and asked him why and he started listing off good things about the pandemic. We’re home together more. We took interesting family adventures. He didn’t have to share his new toys with anyone. The list went one for a while and ended with “But obviously I don’t like the part about people dying.” What a wonderful answer!

It got me thinking more deeply about the specific lessons I’d like teach him. These are too much for a 7 year old to fully grasp but if these are common themes throughout his time in our house then hopefully they’ll stick.

  • How do we decide what is ok to do and what’s not? The first step is always to read the Bible and see if it has anything to say about the topic. If not then a good principle for the pandemic is “If everyone did this, would we have more or less infections?” Unfortunately many people aren’t answering this one correctly and that leads to the next bullet point.
  • How do I know what information is true? The Media Wise project has lots of good information but the basics I try to repeat are looking at the raw data, respecting the experts, and reading conflicting opinions. “Don’t believe everything on the internet.” Along with that comes being willing to change your mind when confronted with better information.
  • What if someone says something I don’t think is true? What if they have authority over me? God tells us in 1 John 4 that we’re supposed to test everything we hear to compare it to what the Bible says. If Pastor preaches something that doesn’t line up with the Bible, it’s my job as an elder to confront him and ask him about it. The same applies to everything we read on the internet or hear, even from those in positions of authority.
  • Why is everyone else doing X but we aren’t? This was a big one for us even before the pandemic, but the answer is the same. “Be in the world but not of the world.” That’s not a direct quote from the Bible but it comes from John 15:19 and John 17:14-16. We’re part of society but this sinful world is not our home. Thanks to our redemption through Christ, we don’t belong here. So feeling different or left out is just one of the many tricks the devil will use to try to keep us from heaven.

When asked about 2020, Bill Gates said, “This is a communications exercise. So far, the U.S. doesn’t get a very high grade.” We took science and made it political and the parties twisted the facts to meet their agendas. Hopefully we’ll do better in 2021, but ultimately I’m hopeful that we’re training our children to be better at this then we were.

John 14:14-16 14 I have given them your word. The world hated them, because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I am not asking that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the Evil One. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.

Excess Deaths

On Monday I mentioned that I couldn’t find a good graph showing the increased number of deaths in 2020 (from any cause) in the US. This post is a quick update to say that I’ve found better data. This ourworldindata website shows the number of deaths per week and compares it to previous years. You can also choose other countries and read about where they get their data sources. Note that their data isn’t fresh enough to show a lot of impact from the current spike that we’re going through.

Reddit user sjaquemate took a few countries and made radial line graphs for various countries.

COVID: Day 276

needle in vaccine vial

Friday was an exciting day: the FDA approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine and since then, the CDC has also recommended it! Health care workers have been bearing a heavy load this year, but they will be rewarded with the first vaccines and a dramatic increase to their safety while they do their jobs. My family and I are probably still looking at waiting until at least next summer before we get it. This New York Times calculator gives a rough idea of what part of the line we’re in and as expected, we’re pretty much at the end of the line.

Globally, it’s hard to imagine how long it will take to distribute this. In the US it’s maybe a bit easier to estimate but the numbers are sobering when you think about the current death rate. I’ve seen a couple charts like this one that show the number of deaths per day over the last ~10 years, but I’ve only see them for other countries. From what I’ve seen, it takes the US a year or two to collect the final statistics, but using data from 1999-2018 and provisional numbers from 2019 and 2020 is still interesting. If you take the maximum number of monthly US deaths from 1999-2018 and compare them with this year, you can see the impact of COVID. April was 37% (+86,000 deaths) higher than the previous max, May was 18% higher (+42,000) and June was 11% higher (+24,000). The data only goes through June, but given the peak in July and the one that we’re going through now, I expect it to continue to be ugly. There are some other small factors that contribute to the increase like increasing population, but if you look at the trends, these numbers are extreme outliers and they’re in the same ballpark as the COVID death totals we’re seeing. [UPDATE: I found better data. See this follow up post.]

Someone recently mentioned that stem cells were used to produce vaccines and it felt like a gut punch. I’ve been so excited for the development of the vaccines that I hadn’t even considered that. Thankfully that wasn’t totally correct. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were created without the use of stem cells.

On the home front not much has changed. We were hunkered down for Thanksgiving and we’ll do the same for Christmas. Hospitalization rates are almost back up to where they were at the end of March and the numbers are still going up. The isolation gets old but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and we’re not giving up now.

Tyla and I have been plowing through the episodes of Bill Gates and Rashida Jones Ask Big Questions. There’s so much good content in each episode and it’s really helpful to hear smart people talking about tough issues.

Pastor is putting out a series of videos covering the psalms and one of the most recent was Psalm 34. It’s full of reminders to take refuge in the Lord and put our trust in him:

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears.
From all their distress he delivers them.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.
He saves those whose spirits have been crushed.
Many are the troubles of the righteous,
but the Lord delivers him from them all.

Psalm 34:17-19

COVID-19: Day 262

The current situation isn’t great: since I wrote last, cases have continued to rise. Increased restrictions don’t seem to be bringing the numbers down. The daily confirmed case counts are higher than they’ve ever been around here, but it’s hard to compare the various peaks since we’re always increasing the number of tests being performed. The death count is probably a better way to compare, but it is a lagging indicator. It takes people a while to die once they get it and then reporting takes more time. The chart below (source) shows where it’s at now, but it feels like we’re going to hit close to the peak from March. Hopefully it’s not worse than that. It will be hard to tell because the reporting is going to be wonky during Thanksgiving week because of people traveling, the day off, etc.

Despite the increasing death count, there has been some very encouraging news about vaccine trials and we could be a few weeks away from it being approved for emergency use. In the first world, the rollout could easily take a year and it will take much longer than that to cover the globe. Given that we aren’t frontline medical workers or in a high risk group, I expect it will be next summer-ish before my family gets it, but we’ll be lined up and ready to go when our turn comes. It’s easy for me to get bogged down dreading all the misinformation that’s going to spread causing more deaths because some people won’t get the vaccine, but I’m trying to stay positive. It’s incredible that we can even have the discussion about vaccines already, and I’m thankful for all the rules and regulations that are in place to produce a safe and effective treatment. What a bonus that there are a few vaccines that all look promising. I keep thinking about going through this 20 years ago. How would we have even gotten information about the vaccines? And yet today I searched around for info on the vaccine and was immediately presented with CDC pages including this page for individuals and a deeper page targeted at health care professionals. The road ahead won’t be easy, but it’s the way out of this mess. Stick that needle in me so I can safely leave my home and figure out what our new normal looks like.

Continuing the positive internet news, the seemingly unlikely duo of Bill Gates and Rashida Jones launched a podcast. I’m not all the way through the episodes they’ve released so far, but I’m really enjoying it. Rashida Jones asks the questions we’re all thinking, Bill Gates has devoted his life to global eradication of diseases, and they bring in additional experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci. The episodes aren’t all focused on COVID, but the series starts off in that subject area.

On the home front, we had a very different Thanksgiving, but as with all things this year, we looked for new opportunities to make special memories. We made all our favorite foods, baked Christmas cookies and got started with Christmas decorations. We had already planned to do Thanksgiving with just the three of us many weeks ago, but that decision was reinforced by a strong request from health officials to not celebrate outside of your household. On top of that, Elijah has a cold and got a COVID test on Tuesday (a negative result came back within 24 hours) so with all that piled on, we were thankful that we already had plans to stay in our bubble. Christmas will be the same way.

As I wrap up this check-in, I’m taking comfort from Deuteronomy 31:8:

The Lord himself will go ahead of you. He will be with you. He will not abandon you, and he will not forsake you. Do not be afraid and do not be overwhelmed.

Those words were from Moshes to Joshua and all the Israelites just before they entered Israel. Their situation was so much more stressful and complicated than this lockdown but those same promises apply to us. God is a constant. God is guiding our path. God is here.