I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write today, but there’s a lot of things that make this weekend special:
- This is the 100th day since I started working from home.
- Elijah and Tyla finished up the school year yesterday
- Monday is Elijah’s birthday.
It seemed like all of that warranted a “where are we now” post.
Since the last post, King County has moved to Phase “1.5”. It’s basically like Phase 2 but with lower limits. So if a restaurant might be allowed to have 50% capacity in Phase 2, in Phase 1.5 they can have 25%. King County is a bit behind some other counties mostly because they aren’t doing enough testing. It’s hard to ramp up to test the right percentage of the population when you have the most populous county in the state.
The risk assessment dashboard from Washington state is the main data source that I’m watching these days. It shows the metrics that each county needs to hit to apply for the next phase. Looking at that website, it appears that King County has really been ramping up their testing and infection rates are falling so we will probably be applying for phase 2 next week.
When we were in phase 1, it was very easy to draw the line on our interaction with people outside our house because there was none. Now that we’re able to have outdoor interaction with 5 people, it’s more challenging to draw the lines. It’s important to get Elijah outside to socialize with his friends and burn off some energy, but how do you keep that to 5 people? As we’ve seen all along, these rules are difficult to implement, but we continue to do our best to follow the orders and when in doubt, I apply that guideline I quoted early in this series: If everyone else was doing the same thing, would it be ok?
As if deciding how to handle things inside my own family wasn’t enough of a challenge, I’m also an elder at church which means I’ve been having a lot of difficult meetings to figure out how to minister to our members. Our behavior inside the walls of thechurch are even more complicated since we aren’t bound biblically or constitutionally to follow guidelines that tell us not to worship together. However, up to this point we’ve been abiding by them by choice. As a group, we decided to open up a very limited service this week, following the same rules that the state government gave for other businesses even though they have said that indoor church services aren’t included yet. It was a tough choice followed by many more tough decisions about what precautions to take.
My main challenge in this was separating out valid Christian needs and desires from political anger and frustration. While the church will be open this week, my family won’t be attending this one. My thinking is that King County appears to be on the verge of Phase 2 when I’ll be able to attend church without exercising my right for civil disobedience. I don’t know how things will shake out down the road but at least for this weekend, that’s the plan. (If you want an excellent survey of what the Bible says about our responsibility to follow the government and how that applies to these pandemic orders, check out this blog post by Dr. Ryan MacPherson. It’s fun to hear from him again. We went to church with him while he was getting his PhD at Notre Dame.)
Socially, it’s challenging to have a new opportunity in our bag. Outdoor visitation with five people per week outside of our household? That is very easy to burn through. How do you pick the five people? How do you kindly tell close friends that you’re not picking them this week? I don’t have answers but we’ll figure it out.
I’m thankful that things are opening up despite the new challenges that it presents. I’m thankful that the outdoor spread of this does seem to be small as evidenced by the lack of an uptick in Seattle despite the large protests. However I’m nervous about counties like Yakima and Spokane. Yakima has one tenth the population of King County but yet they have three times more cases than King County. The quick answer from the people who want to ignore this is that “they’re just doing more testing.” If you look at the data, that is true but despite how many tests they do, they’re still getting the same rate of positives. That implies that there is a huge untested population that has the virus. Spokane is also headed in the wrong direction. After lowering their numbers and demanding that they be allowed to go to Phase 2 with the counties around them, their numbers are shooting up much higher than the first spike. Will we see more hot spots like that as things reopen?
It’s easy to get lost wondering if and when the second wave is going hit or what will school be like in the fall or will we really get a vaccine in the beginning of 2021 or how long will it take them to produce enough for everyone globally or how big will the outcry be from the anti-vaccine crowd? All of that is out of my control so I focus on my family and living our lives one day at a time. I don’t have to get through a year at a time. I just have to get through today.
With that in mind, I recommend reading the June 10 devotion from our church body titled “A New Day“. It focused on the comforting refrain from the first book of Genesis: “There was evening and there was morning.” Every day, the sun comes up and the sun goes down. God continues to be in control. He watches over us and keeps his promises. He gives us what we need each day.
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.
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.
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: