– Ben Martens

COVID-19: Part 7

I’ve been working from home for over a month now and schools have been closed almost as long. Let’s start of with great news: IT IS WORKING. While there are hot spots where the hospitals are overrun (e.g. New York and New Jersey) the curves are starting to flatten and in some states we’re even seeing the total number of cases decrease. Washington was one of the first states to notice the outbreak and we’re leading the charge on the downslope too. It looks like we hit peek hospital usage around April 5.

Now that there is a glimmer of hope, people are starting to think about when we can lift the bans. Short summary: don’t hold your breath.

Let’s look at the data. We just peaking now. We’re roughly halfway through this. My new favorite data site (in addition to this one) is Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation site. Their data can be viewed by lots of different areas and it shows how counts are increasing and decreasing relative to the available ICU and standard hospital beds. It also does a good job of describing the uncertainty in the forecast models. But it generally looks like by early to mid-May, states might see their first days of no deaths from the virus.

So we can crank up the baseball season? Nope, at least not with crowds attending. Those models assume that everyone stays in lockdown. At this point, there’s nothing to stop this from starting up all over again. Until we have tests that work very soon after you get infected, give quick answers, are cheap to purchase and can be manufactured by the millions/billions, we will be keeping some form of restrictions. If a vaccine gets developed in 18 months, it will be the fastest vaccine ever completed. Then we have to manufacture lots of the vaccine, get it to everyone, etc. And remember we’re only talking about the first world here. What about the third world countries where staying home and not working means that you and your family starve?

Washington leaders are talking to various sectors of the economy about what it might look like to relax restrictions so those talks are starting to filter out to the public through word of mouth. Obviously these are early talks transmitted by word of mouth so the reliability is low, but I’ve heard from multiple people that it’s possible we won’t be eating together in a restaurant for another year.

If you doubt the legitimacy of that, look at some summer events like the Marymoor beer festival. That’s postponed indefinitely. And check out the news from Microsoft saying they have converted every in-person event/conference into an online-only event through July 2021 with a note that they might push beyond that. That’s not a typo. 2021.

Will we be working from home that long? Will kids be schooling from home in the fall? My gut says no, but even if schools re-open in the fall, they’re going to need some very strict measures in place. In some schools you have to walk through a metal detector to get in, but maybe now you’ll also need to be tested or at least have your temperature checked. Life is not going to be “normal” for a long time.

Luckily for all of us, this is an election year. So science and math will get politicized and ripped apart by both sides until it’s only very loosely related to the original evidence. We’ll get to hear both sides screaming at each other about how they did or didn’t do the wrong thing at the wrong time. Yay. I’m sure that will be helpful.

Maybe I’m way off base, but as we start to start coming down from the peak, I hope they start getting the message out to the public about what the changes will look like. It’s good for people to get excited and see that their efforts are working, but I do think there are a lot of misconceptions about how this is going to play out.

Until we know more, stay home. Don’t have contact with anyone other than people you live with. The only reason the numbers didn’t immediately stop after 2 weeks of lock down is because people are still having contact. Obviously there are some essential workers and we all need to get food, but there is plenty of unnecessary contact still happening. Stay home. Let’s end this together and then we can figure out how to keep it from flaring up again.

Isaiah 43:1-2

But now this is what the Lord says,
    the Lord who created you, O Jacob,
    the Lord who formed you, O Israel.
    Do not be afraid, because I have redeemed you.
    I have called you by name. You are mine.
When you cross through the waters, I will be with you.
    When you cross the rivers, they will not sweep you away.
    When you walk through fire, you will not be burned,
    and the flame will not set you on fire.