COVID Miscellany #1

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April 3, 2020 3:49 p.m.

Let me run through a number of small updates and links on the crisis.

*** We’ve discussed the IHME model out of Washington state which appears to be becoming the canonical model for governments and hospital systems for predicting the course of the epidemic. They are updating it most days by plugging in the latest new data and seeing how the model changes. From March 31st to April 1st the estimate for overall mortality nationwide rose 11,624 to a total of 93,765. Yesterday the number ticked down by a couple hundred. Today they say their next update will be tomorrow. We shouldn’t make too much of the absolute number. They are actually broad ranges of predicted possibilities. The point is that currently lack a lot of the data the models require to approach something like accuracy. As more nuggets of data – what actually happened – comes in the predicted outcomes can change rapidly.

*** I recommend reading this article on the use of digital tracking technology to manage COVID containment in the period after the initial outbreak until we have a vaccine. On its face this seems very Orwellian and kind of crazy. But there are solid arguments that it is somewhere between a good and necessary idea. The starting point is that contact tracing at scale in a country of 330 million people isn’t viable. And we desperately need to find ways post-initial crisis to open the country up to at least partially economic function as soon as possible. Apps and phone geolocation with anonymized data provides a possible tool for notifying people that they should be tested if they were in contact with someone who tests positive. This article is about groups thinking through how this might be done, done voluntarily and with some level of privacy that respects our values. Here’s the piece.

*** President Trump won’t stop talking about his decision to block most travel from China after February 2nd. Unfortunately it was almost certainly too late. ABC got access to travel data from the Commerce Department and Customs and Border Protection that shows that during December, January and February a total of 759,493 people entered the country from China. 228,000 of those were Americans returning home. The rest were mostly Chinese nationals here for education, business, vacations and all the other reasons people travel abroad. Another 18,000 Americans returned from China in February and March. When you add people arriving from Italy, Spain, the UK and five other hard hit countries the number balloons to 3.4 million.

*** Iceland is doing something that approaches mass surveillance testing and they’re finding that 50% of COVID-19 infections have no symptoms.

*** Massachusetts officials have found COVID outbreaks at 85 long-term care facilities across the state (defined as at least one confirmed COVID infection in a single facility.) Meanwhile, a Veterans hospital and assisted living facility in Holyoke, Massachusetts had a COVID-19 outbreak going back till the beginning of March and kept it a secret from state authorities. It only became known after a whistleblower at the facility contacted the mayor and told him what was happening.

*** A tragic super-spreader event in Washington state (a church chorus practice) shed new light on the role of airborne transmission of COVID-19.

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