Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Prediction: Judge Sullivan will Sentence Gen Flynn

I hope I am wrong about this one.  Everyone says there is precedent that Judge Sullivan must dismiss the case against Gen Flynn since the DOJ has filed to dismiss the case.  I don't think he will care about precedent.

The judge has made (if I remember correctly) statements about Gen Flynn being a traitor.  He apparently strongly dislikes the general and must have been watching CNN or one of the other fake news channels to draw that conclusion.  I'm pretty sure the government only filed that Gen Flynn had made false statements to FBI agents and not that he had committed treason.

Further, the judge has drawn out sentencing now for about three years.  Who can afford to pay for criminal attorneys for three years?  Gen Flynn is wiped out.  You think Judge Sullivan cares?

The judge has also failed to allow Gen Flynn to withdraw his guilty plea, and as far as I can tell, has not called for a hearing since all of the new exculpatory material has come out.

My guess is that Judge Sullivan will claim that Gen Flynn plead guilty to the charges and confirmed his guilty plea with the judge.  [Irrespective of Gen Flynn's claims that the government threatened to bring charges against his son.]  He will insist the exculpatory evidence does not dispute that Gen Flynn lied.

Judge Sullivan will deny the motion to dismiss the charges again Gen Flynn.  He will then sentence the general to somewhere between probation and six months in jail, and he will order Gen Flynn jailed pending appeals.

Do you think I am wrong?  Let's hope so.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Local Businesses Opening at 25% Capacity

Since I predict (see my last blog) that infections will continue to rise, and so will mortality (slowly), during a reopening, there's going to be push-back to reopening businesses at full capacity.

So I just wanted to take a moment to think (and talk) about the impact of opening at 25 or 50% capacity.  A small retail store may not be impacted.  They probably only get a few people at any one time anyway.  That might not be true of a small retail store in a tourist area, where they are normally packed.

But consider just about any restaurant.  You have kitchen staff sized for anticipated breakfast, lunch and dinner crowds.  At 25%, you will never get anywhere near your peak crowds.  Only some of those kitchen staff will be needed.  Likewise with wait staffs.  You don't need nearly as many waiters or waitresses or cleanup folks.  So you've either made everybody part time or you've laid off quite a few of your full time folks.  My guess is you cannot rehire at more than 50% of what you employed pre-COVID.

Then there is the taxes that are charged on each sale.  The state/county/city is only going to bring in 25% of it's usual sales tax.  That assumes people feel safe enough to actually go out when the government thinks it's only safe enough to serve at 25% capacity.

Then there are the businesses that government didn't open when they opened some at 25% capacity.  The government is not getting any taxes or fees from those businesses.

So 25% is a big loss for government income.  It's a big failure to get people back to work.  And it's a real inconvenience to the public that wants a normal life back.

So a 25% capacity limit is going to be upped quickly by government.  They will go to 50% capacity within a couple of weeks.  Maybe three at most.

Remember, the loss in government income isn't just a new and larger deficit figure for those non-federal government units.  This isn't taking out a bond for a new arena, or committing to pensions 10 years down the road.  This is loss of daily liquidity for paying government employees.

And the most obvious government employees to most of you is police, sheriff and fire departments.  In some locations and localities, it will include water, sewer, garbage collection, and even electricity.  Not that they don't make you pay for some of those, but sometimes the municipality has taken over the utility and run it themselves.

So where are the municipalities, counties and states going to make cuts?  Can they make cuts without legislative action?  If they don't, where do the pay and benefits come from when the state is getting 10 to 25% of its normal income?

If your local government is run by democrats, my guess is they will try taking out bonds.  They will also expect the feds to bail them out before they file bankruptcy.  Maybe they will, but the republicans will generally be opposed to government bailouts.  Republican US senators (congressmen don't count since they are in the minority) may be willing to pay for COVID-19 health costs, but I do not expect many of them will want to reimburse states for lock down losses.

Anyway, no matter how much governments want to open safely, they are going to be squeezed hard if they don't start substantial re-openings soon.  My guess is the reluctant ones will use protests as their excuse to relax their lock downs.  The country will reopen, and it will reopen soon.

COVID-19 Modeling and the Future

I hit the modeling topic in the prior blog.  But I've also had more time to think about it.  The IMHE models at Healthdata.org were frozen (unchanged) for about four days, from a couple of days before May 1 to a couple of days after.  When they were frozen, the graph for Texas was showing a bunch of up and down bounces in the past data, just like you would expect.  The death rate was low enough that daily variations showed up distinctly.  Once the freeze stopped, those bounces disappeared.  The data was now smooth with one exception.  On May 1 there was a minimum and then a sharp rise thereafter.

So a death rate that is at least 14 days behind the curve in infections, decided to jump up the day that Texas began reopening.  The same thing happened with the US mortality.  I didn't actively follow the other states, so cannot say what happened there.

So either IMHE drastically changed their model or their data.  My suspicion is they did both.  They used to use actual data for plotting the curve in the past and projected data for plotting the curve in the future.

It looks to me like they've now fit the past data into a 'best-fit' curve of low order (high order would have more inflections).  So you cannot see what real data is actually being reported or recorded.

Since they showed an inflection point the day reopening began, I suspect they jumped the infection rate (R) value significantly and they did it at least two weeks before May 1.  Either that, or they artificially changed the model to reflect an immediate rise in mortality on May 1.

To me, they are lying scum.  Maybe whoever was providing their data changed it, and I should apologize.  But I won't.  They should have made a big statement on their prediction website with a big warning icon.  Maybe it's in the FAQ, but I won't look.

They could have continued to show their previous model output as it evolved after reopening so we could see how the reopening actually affected the data and their model.  They did not do that.  Instead, they drastically changed their model and data on the reopening day.  How can anybody trust them after that?  I WILL NOT.

On the future.  I don't believe it matters now whether the infections and mortality rate rise.  People and businesses cannot continue to survive without income.  The feds cannot continue to print money without causing a financial failure.  States do not have the income to continue to provide services.  The economy will reopen, and it will not close again.  

The economy will be sputtering for a while.  States are limiting opening by social distancing and capacity.  That will hurt most businesses.  And many people will still want to hide at home.  The mainstream media will still be trying to scare the public to help Joe Biden beat Donald Trump.

You may see a few cities or counties go into lock down again if their infection and mortality rates decide to jump up.  But state wide, people won't take it.  I'm not even confident that if a city or county opens, for more than a week, they will be willing to go into lock down again unless it gets really bad.

Unfortunately, I don't think people will wear masks in places where it's not required.  Especially if they are mad at the government for other reasons; and a lot of people are mad at the government.  And most especially if they do not feel at risk.  And risk is kind of limited to those over 65 and those with multiple comorbidities.  The vast majority of people believe they have only the risk of a bad flu.

So like my simple math predicted, I think the virus will continue to spread.  I think the hospitalization and mortality rates will go up some, but not a lot.  It will spread slowly to the states that weren't really infected.  The cumulative death rate is going to continue to rise nationwide, but we won't see dramatic jumps like we did with New York.

I see little chance of highly effective new therapeutics or vaccines.  We'll have to get to herd immunity the hard way.  Keep those high risk people safe!

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Garbage at Healthdata.org

The IMHE models at Healthdata.org are just garbage.  If you looked at the US and Texas yesterday and then today they are completely different.  Yesterday we had lots of little small ups and downs in the curves for the prior couple of weeks.  Today, those have disappeared (the curves became relatively smooth) and the numbers nearly doubled.  They even changed the types of data they were reporting on.  Any curve that used to approach an asymptote (they leveled off), now keeps heading towards infinity.

This is all just crap.  In previous blogs, I've told you why the models are bad.  I also described how a simple back of the envelope assessment would show that infections would continue to increase until we had herd immunity or a vaccine.  I guess the virus could also mutate into an innocuous strain.

All of the IMHE models used to have a hump and then went down.  Now, they have a big, big hump and barely go down.

My conclusion is that IMHE simply uses assumptions about mitigation efficiency from lock downs and social distancing as the PRIMARY variables in their models.  That is, you can change variables to change the model's output, and the variable that affects the output the most is what I am calling the primary variable.

They are apparently not using past data to validate their models and do smaller and smaller refinements.  They are jumping an effective R from 1.1 to 2.0 (I made those numbers up) because they see some states starting to open.  That is, they made a radical change in a primary variable.

The issue is that it has been less than a week since openings began.  It takes 2 to 14 days to develop symptoms and up to another two weeks for a person to die.  They have absolutely NO data on what state openings are going to do to the numbers.  They are making guesses.

Have you been surprised at how accurate the models have been in the past?  Me neither; they've been horribly inaccurate and a failure at prediction.  Why would you want to believe their new guesses?

I hate to say it, maybe they put their best modelers on this (ha ha).  But it sure looks like more fear mongering to me without a sound basis for any kind of reasonable estimate.

So once again, this is all just garbage.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Ugly Visit to the Verizon Store in Selma TX

Saturday was just a bad day.  I've recently been having battery problems with my iPhone X.  Early last week, I used it half a day and was checking my email, and it went blank.  No low battery warning or anything.  So I went online to see how much Apple charged for a battery replacement.  It was reasonable, so I sent my iPhone in for service.  The Apple stores here, like everywhere but China, are still closed.

Friday mid-day, I got the iPhone back.  They have you do an erase before you send it in, and they also have you pull the (Verizon) SIM card from the phone.  So I put the SIM back in the 'repaired' phone and went through the phone restore process.  I used an iCloud backup.

Then, for some reason, the phone did an update to IOS 13.4.1.  I had done that a week earlier.  Was this a replacement rather than a repair?  They did the service awfully quickly.  Once the update was done, the iPhone wanted to do a cellular activation.

The activating message stayed on the phone for quite some time, then it told me it failed, and I needed to connect to a PC running iTunes or a Mac. At this cellular activating stage, there is no way to get out of the 'activating' cycle, you cannot get to the home page or any of your apps.  The phone is pretty useless.  I found out later, if you pull the SIM out, you can get to the home page and the phone will do everything except use cellular.  You know, everything except make phone calls and texting.

So I hooked it up to my PC, and it tried activating through iTunes.  Another failure.  I hooked it up to my Mac and used Finder (the newest MacOS does not run iTunes).  Activating through iTunes resulted in another failure.  So I left the phone for the evening and tried to relax.

Saturday morning I got up and got on the Verizon chat support line.  They took me through a bunch of stuff.  Part of which also showed that the IMEI on the iPhone was not the same number as before I sent it off for repair.  I was pretty sure this was a replacement iPhone, though Apple had not told me that.  The support guru finally told me to take the iPhone into a Verizon store and get a new, free SIM.

So off we (my wife and I) went to the Verizon store in Selma.  The closest one that was still open.  When we got there, there was a Verizon rep outside the door taking a look at people's phones.  After a few minutes, I got my chance.

Please take the following as a paraphrased account.  I do not have perfect recall.

I told the 'gentleman' about my problem.  That Apple had replaced my battery and now the iPhone wouldn't activate cellular service and the Verizon chat support had told me to come in and get a new SIM.

He looked at my phone, which was on the Update to IOS 13.4.1 Complete page (where the activation starts after pressing the Continue button.)  He told me I needed to update my phone and handed it back to me.

I told him I had already updated my phone and gave it back to him.  I told him the IMEI didn't match what Verizon had on their device page, and re-emphasized that Verizon tech had told me to get a new SIM.

He told me it didn't matter what my IMEI showed, and that a new SIM would not make a difference and handed the phone back to me.

I was starting to get pretty heated.  I don't like going to ask for tech support in person, as most don't have a clue.  But this guy wouldn't even take me in and try to solve the problem.

So I asked to speak to the manager.  He said he was the manager, and he had 20 years of experience.  That it wasn't a SIM problem and that it was a phone issue.  And he handed the phone back to me again!

I asked him to pull the SIM, he did, and I showed him that the iPhone was fully functional except for the cellular activation.

At some point during our conversation, I think about now, he had hit the Continue button and saw the attempt to activate.  He also saw that the phone go to the Connect to a PC or Mac page.  So he told me to take it home and connect to a PC or Mac.

I told him again that I had done that, also with the Verizon chat tech, and they had told me to go to a Verizon store and get a new SIM.  I was pretty heated, and my voice was probably fairly loud.  We were outside the store and people were lining up behind us.  I drove 25 miles to this store at the Verizon tech support's recommendation, and this guy wasn't even going to try a new SIM.

He finally said to come into the store, but that my wife could not accompany me.  They had a guard on duty inside that was locking and unlocking the door.  The Verizon guy said they were only allowing one person in the store at a time.  Seemed there were half a dozen Verizon people in there, but nobody but me as a customer.

Well, he pulled out a new SIM from the back of the store and put it in, and it behaved the same way as the previous SIM.  He told me to take it home, connect to iTunes or a Mac and get back on line with a tech rep.  I asked him whether he meant Verizon or Apple, and he said Verizon.

So I went home, connected the iPhone to my Mac, and called Verizon support on my wife's phone.  They went through the whole story again, had me hold for a bit, then told me they would connect me to Tier 2 support who had more troubleshooting ability.  I was on hold for an hour listening to their music before I gave up and hung up.  Then I did a bit of troubleshooting on my own.  I tried a reset and this time I didn't do an iCloud restore, thinking maybe the previous restore had somehow messed up.  Didn't do any good.  Had the same cellular activation problems.

So I decided to go to my media room and watch some TV to relax.  I got there and tried to turn on my projector.  But it's status lights wouldn't even come on.  The projector had failed too.

I did not go to bed happy yesterday.

Today I got up and connected to the Apple support chat line.  I like chat because I can be exact and don't forget anything, and it is easier to stay cool.  They are always very polite!  Anyway, I went through the problem with support person #1.  After a while, she transferred me to her supervisor, support person #2 that claimed to have more tools and expertise.  After a while, he said he needed to transfer me to phone tech support, and he scheduled a call in about 5 minutes.  He said I should have iTunes up on my computer, and that he thought they could fix the problem from their end.

Apple support person #3 called on schedule, and I went through a lot of the story again.  He went off and did some checking.  Then pointed out that they had replaced my iPhone rather than repaired it, and that he believed the replacement iPhone was defective.  So they are sending me another replacement iPhone.  That's where I am in the process today.

I want to point out that the Verizon store manager was correct about it being an iPhone problem rather than a SIM card problem.  At least, that seems likely.  I hope it isn't a bug in the new IOS 13.4.1.  But that manager was the rudest customer service rep I have ever encountered.  I sure hope his employees don't follow his lead on how to make their customers happy.  The Verizon chat and phone support people were nice though; despite not providing useful help.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Fantasy Novels - A Rare Misfire by Martha Carr and Michael Anderle

In most cases I really like Martha Carr and Michael Anderle's books.  Martha Carr tends to favor urban fantasy novels that seem written without an excess of sexual detail; rather refreshing.  Michael Anderle seems to like to write fantasy in a science fiction setting.  They have collaborated quite a few times.  They've generated a number of fantasy 'worlds' that have included spin offs and collaborations with others.  They are prolific, and I like almost all of their work.

I just started reading "The Witches of Pressler Street" series.  This seems more likely a Martha Carr work with Anderle assisting.

But it's got a big gotcha in the plot that is almost impossible to get through.  You've got the three sister witches trying to avoid the usual world ending attack by the evil entity.  To do that, they have to destroy at least seven of twelve magical generators and capture the entity.  The generators are in known locations, and the sisters have a couple of tools that let them destroy the generators pretty easily.  They also have the magical ability to transport themselves to the locations of the generators.  If the entity starts up six generators, the world will end.  And the entity only has to capture six witches to do that.

So do they take a day and destroy the generators?  No!  Well why not you might ask?

Because it will interrupt their work and love lives.  The senior sister is an archaeologist on a summer sabbatical and wants to get it done, but doesn't think it is safe to do the generator destroying alone.  They need all three sisters.

The middle sister is a musician and cannot, of course, cancel any of her performances.

The youngest sister is an aspiring chef and has a new boyfriend.  She won't skip out on her shifts or cancel any of her dates.

This has got to be the stupidest plot line I've ever seen from either author, and in reality, from any author.  They get around to a generator once or twice a week.  The only thing more stupid than their attitude is that the evil entity doesn't seem to be any smarter or faster.  Why, I don't know.

Unfortunately, their writing, besides the plot, is as good as usual.  Read at your own risk.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Half-Baked Ideas

As usual, I feel irritation when people make arguments without thinking them through.  The two half-baked ideas I’m thinking about today are (1) We cannot reopen the economy safely without wide-spread testing and (2) App infection tracing will allow us to reopen safely.

First, I could dispute that reopening safely soon is possible in any set of circumstances.  But I don’t want to go that route.  Instead, let’s look at what testing or app infection tracing get us.

I’ll start with testing.  We have several options:

  1. Tested recently and you have the virus
  2. Tested recently and you do not have the virus
  3. Tested for antibodies and you probably have recovered
  4. Tested for antibodies and you probably never had the virus
  5. You haven’t been tested recently and you are a complete unknown
Who do we allow to go back to work?  Remember, these great medical thinkers want us to be safe, so they don’t want workers spreading the virus.  Tested #3 is the only really safe worker.  Tested #2 is good for at least a day after testing; but thereafter, could have picked up the virus.  Tested #4 is a person who hasn’t had the virus and enough time has passed to develop enough antibodies for protection, but they might also still have an infection, or they might get one tomorrow.

In short, only tested #3 going back to work is the safe approach.  But that means we only allow you to go back to work if you’ve had the virus.  Numbers today show only 1 million are in that category, and most of those are presumed from virus (not antibody) testing and recovery.  Actual antibody testing has been limited to sample sizes of about 1,000 people in several areas.

So, let’s assume we can scale up antibody testing massively in a short period (probably a poor assumption).  If the current sampling is correct, maybe 2% of the population has had the virus and recovered.  It’s almost certainly a much smaller percentage since the sampling was in high-case areas.  But let’s make an even more ridiculous assumption, 5% of the working population has had the virus and recovered.  People want to keep social distancing and masks, so mitigation is expected to continue to slow the spread.

Can our economy run on 5% of it’s workforce?  Can it run on even 20% of it’s workforce?  My assertion would be no.  Too many without paychecks and too many businesses without sufficient employees.  We would have a crash.  So the ‘must do testing first’ is a half-baked idea.

Now let’s look at app tracing of infected people.  Let’s make the ridiculous assumption that 75% of the population old enough to be out on their own with phones has signed up, downloaded the app and keeps their status up to date.

Let’s further assume that we have the 5 test cases we looked at in the previous discussion.  Everyone keeps their test status up to date in their app.  However, in this situation, we just have slowly growing testing.  It’s not yet widespread testing.

So what is the safety benefit from this app?  Supposedly, it’s going to tell you (the government) who has come in contact with a contagious individual.  Maybe the app will also tell you (the user) when you’ve been exposed.  So far, no safety benefit yet.  If you’ve been exposed, you might get priority for testing.  Some might assume that contagious and exposed people will be ineligible for working and would be quarantined and isolated.  But if the infected are quarantined or isolated, there would be no exposures for the app to detect and trace.  Hence, one assumes there is neither effective mandatory government quarantining or voluntary isolation.  Again, no safety benefit.

Suppose the primary safety benefit or use is to identify individuals ineligible to work.  And the app tracking is all post exposure after someone is tested and updates their status.  That is, any contacts in the last 14 days has to self isolate for another 14 days.  So, nobody gets to work unless the app gives them a clean bill of health for the last 14 days; i.e., no exposure during that period.

Ok.  Now suppose the app became available and the 200 million workers in the US all downloaded it on day 1.  The 1 million cases update their status.  The 6 thousand tested for antibodies do the same.  There is no historical contact data, so everyone else shows clean, irrespective of their actual status.  Let’s assume that the government is smart and prevents reopening for 14 days until contact histories are available.  With current mitigation, you might have 1.5 million now possibly exposed.  So everyone else can go back to work safely?

Well, unless you take into account the 75% of infected who were asymptomatic or had symptoms comparable to a cold or flu.  The app simply cannot find those people and in turn, the people that they came in contact with.  The app would give government the ability to do contact tracing for those hospitalized.  But with 75% asymptomatic, that’s a pretty useless capability.  It also assumes a huge contact tracing operation.

So app tracing might supplement testing, if enough people sign up.  But by itself, all it would do is allow widespread reopening with a lot of contagious, asymptomatic workers.  Workers that would be spreading the infection.

So, I consider app tracing/tracking to be another half-baked idea.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

COVID-19 There’s No Indication That ...

I’m quickly coming to the conclusion that medical authorities either mislead or directly lie to the public nearly all the time.  As a physicist and engineer I’ve always had my concerns about doctors and their knowledge.  I’m sure most have good intentions, but I get the impression that they just draw on a body of knowledge to make a best guess.  If they don’t give you a test, it cannot be more than a good guess.  It’s likely to be better than mine.  If they do tests, they may arrive at a conclusion with a higher probability.  But there is very little certainty.

Take my prostate cancer.  In my fifties I had a high PSA test.  They did a biopsy that seemed to take samples at random.  The samples suggested I had a mild, non-aggressive version of cancer.  They recommended watchful waiting, but also said I had the option of removing my prostate.  I took the option.  Analysis of the removed tissue indicated the cancer was moderately aggressive.  Their recommended watchful waiting could have killed me.  Their biopsy had produced the wrong conclusion.

Now take the Wuhan virus.  China and the World Health Organization (WHO) both said there was no evidence of human to human contagion.  This was in early January.  In this case they both lied.  A little later they said the virus did not spread easily between humans.  Sure thing.

More recently, after several animals were found to be infected with COVID-19, the WHO said there was no reason to believe that animals could give COVID-19 to humans.  So if the virus jumped from bats to humans as both China and the WHO insist, as opposed to escaping from a lab, how do they make that claim?  Maybe they said pets and not animals, so they wouldn’t have been literally lying.

Then take there’s no evidence that masks will protect you from the virus.  They even said they could be harmful.  That was the WHO, CDC, and the US Surgeon General.  What do people think the masks were created to do?  How stupid did they think the public could be?  Are you now using a mask?

Then there’s the common, there is no evidence that medicine X will cure COVID-19.  Any data is purely anecdotal.  So take a French report that says hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin, and zinc sulfate can prevent a serious case of COVID-19 when used early.  New York does clinical trials and only uses it in serious cases, much later than the ‘anecdotal’ report suggested.  Or the trial doesn’t use all three.  Or it uses chloroquine instead of hydroxychloroquine.  The trial doesn’t work, so they say hydroxychloroquine cannot assist in COVID-19 cases.  Sure.

And that last one brings in the media.  Most of the media and all the democrats want Trump to do poorly and lose the upcoming election.  You should believe what they say at your own risk.  My personal opinion is that most will use the fear of the virus to keep the lock downs in place as long as possible.  If republican governors open early, additional deaths can be thrown at their feet.  A crumbling economy to them is just gravy.  It hurts Trump and let’s the House pass more spending bills to increase the dependency of the public on government.

I’ll close with the testing mantra.  Sure, doctors want more testing.  The media and democrats want lock downs to continue until testing of everyone.  It’s kind of like waiting for a vaccine.  More testing and continued lock downs could save more lives.  But I haven’t seen anyone give a realistic plan that shows how more testing let’s us open up sooner.

Believe what you will.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Suppose President Trump Had Issued a National Lock Down Order

I wanted to do some thought experiments.  Namely, what would have happened if President Trump had tried to institute a national lock down to mitigate the corona virus epidemic?  Lots of the media and democrats criticized him for not doing that; they wanted a national, uniform response, not just a set of recommendations or guide lines.

First, I tried looking up the legal basis for martial law.  As far as I can see, there isn't any in the US.  A few presidents have used it in limited areas and situations, and the Supreme Court has imposed restrictions on what they can and cannot do.  So apparently, the courts will sometimes allow the use of martial law, but no president has tried anything on a national basis.

How about the use of natural disaster or health disaster laws for presidential use?  Yeah, they exist and are used.  But they primarily allow the president to apply funds to support whatever disaster is happening or has happened.  They may allow for federal government to control freedom of movement in disaster areas when the local governors or managers are unable to do so.  State laws tend to allow that level of control also.  Nothing I've ever seen or heard about allows shutting down businesses and ordering people to shelter inside at risk of fines or jail when their area has not undergone significant physical damage or loss of life.

But back to our thought experiment.  The media and democrats wanted a national directive from President Trump shutting down businesses and ordering people to stay at home.  Some may have been sincere in that desire.  However, others may have been simply trying to find something to criticize President Trump about.

Suppose he had taken the bait and issued an executive order shutting down all non-essential businesses and ordering shelter-in-place across the nation.  Maybe he even called up the National Guard and had them start patrolling highways and cities for violators.  Just like the democratic governors did and many republican governors.  Of course, they used police for the most part and didn't really do much arresting or fining; but they did some.  But in this thought experiment, the governors didn't get the chance to act, the President did.

Now, just like with anything President Trump does, the media will start complaining it was wrong and the House of Representatives will start investigating his impeachable offense.  But we'll also get the lawsuits started in federal district courts with Obama appointed judges.

Inside of days, some federal district judge will say his actions were unconstitutional and were applied heedless of the situation in their region.  He or she will issue a nation-wide injunction against the Executive Order.  President Trump will ask the Supreme Court for an immediate hold to stop the judge's order.

Unlike most nation-wide injunctions, this one actually addresses an unconstitutional action.  But the Supreme Court, at least a few of them, think the Executive Order is the right thing to do even so.  So they put the district judge's order on hold and ask for an emergency hearing with arguments from the parties within a week.

In the meantime, Antifa and Black Lives Matter and democrats throughout the nation are demonstrating against the President's order.  Rising cases in New York and New Jersey are pretty much ignored by all of the media except Fox.  Everyone else insists this is just a bad case of the flu.  And it's especially bad in New York.

The President rushes to build emergency hospitals, build up testing capacity, and directs manufacture of ventilators.  The media derides these unnecessary actions.  Much of the country hunkers down like directed, fearful for their safety and trying to wait out the evolution of the bug to see if it is a bad flu or a plague.

Congress points out how the President is quickly destroying our economy, and even some Republicans agree.  They rush to quickly pass a $10 trillion relief package that gives money to everyone, including illegal aliens, all business in the US, and states and localities impacted by reduced income.  All businesses have to give up some of their ownership stock, limit executive salaries, and agree to an $18 minimum wage.  They plan up to 4 more relief packages like this unless the President withdraws his edict.

Now the Supreme Court meets and the questions show that conservative justices think the President's order is unconstitutional on its face.  The liberals seem to be simply trying to point out how the order was not needed in the current circumstances.  Two days later, they announce a unanimous decision that the edict is unconstitutional and order the Executive Order in abeyance.  The liberals wrote their own assenting opinion stating they believed such an order could be constitutional, but not in these circumstances.

Before the President and his team can respond, governors across the nation issue hygiene and social distancing guidelines.  Some order stay-at-home and shutdown of non-essential businesses for a few of the larger cities with break-out hot spots.

The President comes on national TV, points out the hypocrisy of everyone that wanted him to issue a nation-wide executive order, and talks about all of the great work he's done getting the medical community help to prepare for the pandemic.

The 25 million people out of work for a month now, start going back to work.  But demand is down, and people still are avoiding crowded stores and arenas.  The now $30 trillion deficit and all of the new dollars in circulation start generating inflation.  Supply chains are still under stress, so everything goes up in price.

By the time of the election, the unemployment rate is down to 11%, and the media and democrats are decrying the lousy economy that President Trump caused through his order.

Joe Biden has avoided debates and all the people have seen are ads showing him 5 years earlier when he didn't have dementia.  He picked Kamala Harris for vice president.

The election is a runaway for Joe Biden.  Trump goes down hard.  Democrats pick up big majorities in the Senate and House.  One week after Joe's inauguration, he resigns due to medical issues.  Kamala Harris becomes president.  The country never recovers and 10% unemployment and zero percent growth last forever.  Freedoms disappear year after year as democrats pass ever more restrictive laws.  Except of course, for their open borders that bring in millions of democratic voters each year.

Thought experiment conclusion:  It's a good thing President Trump did not issue an executive order locking down the nation!

COVID-19 Antibody Tests ARE Good News

I guess I want to argue again with Scott Adams.  He disparages the news that antibody tests show large portions of the populations of California and New York had corona virus but were not included in the official number of 'cases.'

His argument took two hypothetical bugs (reasonable since we don't know anything really about COVID-19 statistics).  One was a low spreading flu with low mortality rates.  Another was a quickly spreading corona virus with high mortality rates.  He claimed it was ridiculous to compare the two, that the corona virus was a blight on humanity while the flu was an inconvenience.  Those are my words, not his.

But he was making the same case about the antibody test results that showed it fast spreading.  He said it didn't mean anything because it was still a killer and a killer that spreads fast.  That the antibody results are not good news.

The point he doesn't seem to take into account is that the mortality and hospital rates are a lot lower than anticipated.  They should be compared to the earlier assumptions about COVID-19 and not some lesser flu.  He persists in comparing apples to oranges, when all the antibody data does is refine our understanding of COVID-19.

If the antibody results showed that no one else had gotten the virus that wasn't an official case tested at hospitals, then the mortality rate would have been high, and you could just argue that mitigation efforts (lock downs and hygiene) successfully retarded the spread and kept the death rate down.  You would have to remain fearful about the virus' effects in rural America.

But now we know that mitigation was not nearly as successful as we expected.  That mortality rates are lower.  And that hospitals, at least of the quality of those in New York, can handle a widely spread epidemic of COVID-19.

Now we have data that we can apply to more sparsely populated counties and states.  We know what the hospitalization and mortality rates could be if they get a 20% infection rate.

What I don't know is whether those areas have sufficient hospital capacity.  Yet even so, it is useful data that can inform state and local managers on how fast they can afford to reopen.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

COVID-19 Testing, Herd Immunity and Vaccines

Let’s talk about the ‘normal’ flu for a moment.  Actually there isn’t a normal flu.  Apparently there are many versions.  Each year somebody guesses which strains are going to hit and tries to target our annual vaccine to those strains.  Usually we hear the vaccine is 30 to 60% effective.  I’m not sure whether that means the vaccine doesn’t work against the targeted strains or whether they guessed wrong on which strains to vaccinate against.

Let’s stay on flu for a bit longer.  Have you ever heard of anyone getting a flu test to see whether they have a flu virus?  I would guess if you go to a hospital, they might administer a test.  How about anybody ever getting an antibody test to see if they have recovered and are immune to another bout?  You might assert we have herd immunity from those who’ve been sick and those who get the vaccine?  Then why do 20,000 to 60,000 die each year from the flu?  Maybe the medical community doesn’t think the costs of additional testing will have any benefit?

Now to COVID-19. I initially heard there were two strains of the virus.  The last report I saw indicated a dozen strains.  Now, not being medical, nor having seen the reports, I cannot say what that means to potential vaccine effectiveness or to potential herd immunity.  I am not making any claim that COVID-19 is just another flu.  What I am doing is trying to make some points about expectations on handling COVID-19.

First, even if we get a vaccine or vaccines at 12 or 18 months, or even at 6 months, we shouldn’t expect it to be more than 30 to 60% effective.  I would rough that out to mean if you get a vaccine, you’ve only reduced your risk by about 50% if you are exposed to the virus.  Every bit helps, and I would still like to get a vaccine.

Now, would you like herd immunity?  That would mean enough of us are immune so a seed of the virus couldn’t spread.  Obviously a good thing if it can be achieved without a lot of people dying.  From our experience with multiple strains of the flu, limited flu vaccine effectiveness, and known rates of people willing to get a vaccine, herd immunity seems unlikely to happen.

Let’s look at herd immunity from a different perspective.  I’ve seen reports that to achieve herd immunity (e.g. with measles or mumps) you have to get 60% of a population immune or vaccinated.  We’ve already touched on vaccinations.  What about through normal spread?  They say it’s much more contagious than the flu (although I haven’t seen any evidence or data); so let’s assume that is true.  Further, they say the worst cases are so much worse than the flu; maybe.  But the point I’m making is that fear has caused us to shut down the economy and hide.  People are accused of being heartless and murderers if they congregate or go around without a mask.  The result is that we have done everything possible to slow the spread of the virus and prevent herd immunity.

So my conclusion is that both vaccine promise and potential herd immunity are questionable.  We need to get on with life and learn to live with COVID-19.

Now I want to touch on testing for a moment.  A couple of blogs back I pointed out my views on widespread testing—not that helpful.  But that was a macro view.  What about the micro view?

Suppose you have a county with 1,000 cases and 50 deaths up to now.  You’ve got at least one mid-sized city and 200,000 people.  You are still seeing a dozen new cases every few days.  You’ve been on shelter-in-place with non-essential businesses closed.  Let’s say the governor is letting the county manager do their own thing.  30% of your workers are out of business with nearly all small businesses closed and at risk of bankruptcy.  You want to start opening again, but everyone is saying you need extensive testing.

What are the considerations?  Current testing constraints say you can only test 0.5% of your population each week.  If you let only recovered or immune back to work, you can only let 1,000 people go back to work now.  You can start broadening testing up to 1,000 people per week.  Assuming all those are negative or have antibodies, you can open up at a rate of 1,000 per week.  With 30% unemployment, that might be 1,000 out of 30,000 people.  It would only take 6 months to get everyone back to work.  And that’s if you only tested healthy, unemployed working age people.

But what about customers for the stores you open?  Do they get tests?  You don’t have enough.  What about the regular workers not out of work.  Do they get tested?  What about contact tracing for new cases, do you test them too?

If the government is able to get more testing supplies, maybe they can double the testing in a month or two.  It’s not clear to me that any significant quantity of large-scale testing machines are being built.  Do we want to wait 2, 3 or 6 months with a closed economy until we can get huge numbers of people tested?  I don’t.  And I sure haven’t seen any testing capability in the past that says we can actually achieve that goal.

Stop reading these and get on with your life.  Be safe!

Reopening Day at a Texas State Park

Thought I would depart for a few hours from COVID-19 posting.  The governor of Texas allowed state parks to reopen yesterday.  And I wanted to go hiking before they closed them again.  But it was a pretty weird experience.

Even before they had closed a few weeks ago, they had started requiring you to go online and get a day pass.  The offices were supposed to be closed, and so were the RV/tent camping areas.  The online site was going to reopen Sunday at noon to start taking reservations.  But for a couple of hours after noon, all it said for Guadalupe River State Park was that you should call for reservations; but the phone line was disconnected.  I tried back mid-afternoon and got a reservation/day use pass.

Apparently, they are allowing 100 passes per day for a pretty large park.  Although they have a section north of the river that gets very few visitors and it was allowed 60 passes per day.  The big draw for the main park (south section) is the river.  Almost everyone goes there or to the RV park.

But the main park also has what many would call a back country trail system. I put together a set of trails that are just shy of 5.5 miles that I can do in under 2 hours.  If you go to the northern section, you could add several miles.  But the main park is 20 minutes away, the northern section is a 30+ minute drive.  On the trail system in the main park, I usually encounter 1 to 2 people in the 0800-1000 time frame (no weekends, I don't like crowds).

For some reason, the governor mandated masks while in the park.  At the crowded river section, that would make sense.  On an empty hiking trail, it's just idiocy.  If you hike fast, you are going to need a lot of air, and those masks are made for standing around a hospital bed.  Anyway, I was hoping it would be cool enough I could use my buff and just pull it up if I came to anybody.  But it got hot in the car, so I took it off.  I used an industrial mask when showing my pass, but then took it off as I parked.  I carried the mask in my fanny pack, but figured I would just step off the trail 10-12 feet and let any other hikers or bikers pass.

Well, the hike started normal enough.  It's pretty rocky in sections, and the grass had grown up without hikers and made it a bit treacherous.  I'm glad I've got strong ankles.  I didn't see anyone for the first hour.  But at about 45 minutes into the hike, I saw a shadow cross the trail up ahead.  I just caught it in my peripheral vision.  I figured it was a deer that had noticed me and run across the trail.

Well, as I passed the tree beyond which the animal had run, I started looking around to see if it was still in the vicinity.  That's when I heard a sound halfway between a growl and a bark.  I looked to the left and there was the ugliest boar I had ever seen, about 30 feet away, staring at me.  I've been ready for bears (in other areas) and know to make a fuss with black bears and to gently walk away with grizzlies.  But no one ever said what to do with a boar.  The few I had seen before were far away and didn't come close.

On videos, I had seen them charging hunters.  So I was a bit nervous.  Actually, quite nervous.  I kept walking away, at a slightly slower pace so it wouldn't think I was running, while checking to see that he wasn't charging.  He growled/barked again, but didn't come towards me.  I checked behind me for a while after that.

Well, another 15 minutes go by, and I hear some internal combustion engines up ahead.  They are supposed to be working on the RV/camping areas, so I thought maybe it was construction.  Though I wasn't really near those areas.  I come around a bend, and there are two park maintenance guys running weed-eaters and wearing masks.  They don't seem to be social distancing.  I've never seen any park rangers or maintenance on foot, in the probably 100 visits to this trail system.  I've seen guys on tractors with mowing decks twice.

This isn't my pre-planned encounter.  They aren't moving, so I cannot get off the trail to let them pass.  And I don't have my mask on.  So I slow down, and slowly approach with the plan to get off trail and pass them.  But they turn their weed-eaters off and put them on the ground.  They seemed ready to either tackle me or run off, and I don't think they were going to run off.  My wife said it was probably just courtesy, but you can let off the trigger, and still let the weed-eaters run.

Of course, as I approach they state that the Governor has required everybody entering the park to wear masks.  The speaker sounded about 18 years old.  I pointed out that they were the only people I had seen on the trail, and that I wore my mask when I entered the park.  They didn't seem amused.  So after I passed them, I got my mask out of the pack and put it on.  After I got out of sight, I pulled it down, but left it around my neck.  I was coming up on an area where, if I saw anybody, they would be hiking.

Towards the end of my loop, I encountered a biker.  We both stopped and pulled up our masks.  When we got close I mentioned the park weed-eaters had pointed out the masks.  He said yeah he knew.  He was the only other person I saw on the 5.5 miles of trail, beyond the ridiculous weed-eaters.

Remember, this is a back country trail.  It is not marked as being accessible, and anyone with any kind of difficulty walking long distances or over rocks should not use it.  I don't even want my wife with her weak ankles walking there.  I always thought it was stupid to use the mowing deck.  But weed-eaters are just plain idiocy.  I'm a bit unhappy that my taxes and park pass fees are going to that kind of trail maintenance. 

Another thing that was peculiar.  My route first takes me to a horse trailer parking area.  There's a picnic table and a nice bench.  A second nice bench had been added.  About a third of the way around, there is a nice bench out in the middle of nowhere.  It had been replaced with a cheap $20 monstrosity built from one or two 2" x 8"s.  Why?  Another third of the way, they have a horse hitching post (metal) and two nice benches under the trees.  The benches under the trees were gone, and there were two monstrosities next to the hitching post in the open sun.  One was only a foot away from the post.  Again, why?

There was also one picnic table near the RV area, but along the trail, that was still there.  I had thought they might take away the tables (and maybe the benches) during the COVID-19 crisis.  But taking away only the benches and replacing them with crude seats was unanticipated.

And by the way, at the trail parking area (about 8 spaces), there was one other truck.  As I was driving out, two older folks walking a dog turned into the parking area from the road to go to that truck.  Neither were wearing masks.

If you want to go to a Texas state park, get online soon and get your reservation made.  And take a mask.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

COVID-19 and Democrats' Testing Drivel

This one will be short.  I'm getting pretty irritated hearing democrats insist we cannot open the economy without more testing.

What do they think testing will add?  We know how many are presenting themselves for assistance, hospitalized, in the ICU, and die.  Suppose we knew the status of everyone else in the country?  Let's take the situations one at a time.

First, let's suppose testing showed everyone has either got the virus or has had it.  Would we open?  Yes.  No one is left to overload our hospital system.

Second, let's suppose no one that is outside the hospitals shows active infections.  Some number show they have had it.  Would we open?  Yes. No one is left to infect the others.

Now suppose the situation is fifty/fifty.  Say half the population outside the hospitals either have the virus or have had it.  Further, assume that half is split evenly.  Would we open?  Yes.  The hospitalization rate and mortality rate are so low, we can handle any future cases.

What do they expect to find that would justify keeping the economy closed?

About the only thing I would find of use, from an opening standpoint, is an unusually high rise of asymptomatic cases in a locality.  Any rise is more severe cases can be detected when patients ask for doctor assistance.  That might imply a soon-to-be hot spot breakout, and would justify a local lock down.  But the same thing can be identified through rising doctor and hospital visits with lesser testing.

So any insistence on saturation testing is just drivel.

Friday, April 17, 2020

COVID-19 Weird Data

This post is all about anecdotal reports and my inferences.  I'll talk about possibilities, some that may sound like conspiracies, but I don't have a high confidence in any of the data or the conclusions I may draw below.  Take it for what it's worth.

First, we have China with its 85,000 total cases and 3,500 deaths.  Only one hot spot breakout (Wuhan and its province), a two month lock down, and the virus seems to disappear.  Why?  How is that possible for a reportedly quickly spreading virus significantly more contagious than the flu?  Especially when a third of the city of Wuhan left before the lock down.

Next we have Sweden.  Effectively no government ordered mitigation or lock downs.  Sure, individuals may take safety precautions.  But videos show the malls, shops and restaurants all open and well filled.  But their mortality rate is not significantly different than that in the US and nations where mitigation occurred.  And their hospitals are not overrun.  How can this be?

The epicenter seemed to move from Wuhan to southern Europe to the New York metropolitan area.  Sure, international travelers were likely to seed hot spots in those areas and probably in that order.  But there are lots of big cities around the world that get international travelers.  And China is a big exporter of everything, including travelers.  Why haven't we seen other big hot spots?  Sure, we instituted lock downs.  But those are pretty poor lock downs.  Everyone goes out for food.  The streets in New York look empty, but the roads in the rest of America where we don't use public transportation are almost as crowded as ever.  There's plenty of opportunities for an aggressive virus to spread through the rest of the world.  But where are those big hot spots?

Then there's the ever-falling model mortality rate in the US chasing the actual mortality rate.  Sure, the models are too complex to be accurate, but you would have thought one of them would have been in the ball park.  Kind of like pollsters; someone ought to have guessed the actual outcome.  Yet, there doesn't seem to be anyone that claims their model was close.  Why?

If the data peculiarities were limited to China, I could accept that China is lying or hiding something.  Some say they couldn't hide big break outs or a vaccine or an effective therapeutic.  I'm not so sure about that.  They control the media, communications, and their Internet portal.  With international travel stopped, they could hide anything.

Let me focus on the 'rest of the world' for a moment.  They saw China, Europe, and the US be cut off from all international travel and effectively quarantined.  They have limited resources for testing, and probably average to poor hospital systems.  Why would they do extensive testing and reporting to the WHO?  So they can be the next epicenter?  Or get their own border shutdown for international travel?  With no testing, no vaccines, and no therapeutics, will they just treat patients for their symptoms like they've been doing for years?  Unless they want COVID-19 crisis support from other countries, they are not going to report themselves into the next 'epicenter.'  They are going to do as much mitigation as they can and get by.

Finally, apparently their is a California study where they tested asymptomatic volunteers.  They found a 50 to 84 fold increase of those with antibodies over the reported number of cases.  Keep in mind, the US is generally only testing those with severe COVID-19 symptoms.  The California study suggested a very much greater spread of the virus than currently reported.  And those numbers would drop the mortality percentage way down.

So something is wrong with our understanding of the virus and how it is spread.  If it weren't for Sweden, you might say we don't really understand the effectiveness of various mitigation techniques.  And actually, I'm pretty sure we don't. 

Those mortality models we see in the US should have included models of how the virus affects the human body once it is gets there, how the virus is spread from human to human, how the mitigation measures slow the spread, and how the mitigation varies from region to region.  Way too many variables and unknowns to create an accurate model.  And the data is just not there to do good validation of a model.

But like I said earlier, somebody should have gotten a model in the ball park, just from random chance.

What I'm hoping is that the virus is at least as contagious as the experts suspect, but that it's mortality is way lower, and the various mitigation techniques' effectiveness is less than anticipated.  You'll see why in a moment.

Suppose the elderly or those with comorbidities (serious chronic diseases) are really the only ones, for the most part, that are going to have serious problems and potential death.  Those people are, or should be, hiding.  Some won't be able to (no family support structure) and some won't be willing to give up their few remaining years of freedom to hide in their homes.  Some may feel they've had a good life and if the Lord wills it, they are ready to move on.

But my point is that, given that assumption, there is only a certain percentage of the population that is going to be hospitalized.  Say 10% of the population is at risk.  75% of those are hiding.  So 2.5% of the population has a high risk of getting the virus.  Only some of those are going to come in contact with infected people.  And it will happen over time, with either a short peak or a flattened peak.

We would see small rises in cases, hospitals able to handle the load, and just a few moderate hot spots once mitigation (hiding of the susceptible) takes place.

If you don't get that high persistent fever, or serious trouble breathing, or endless painful coughing, you won't go to the hospital or get a test.  If the virus is spreading rapidly, and the symptoms for 90 to 98% of the infected do not rise to that level, we can get by.

That might explain most of the weird data.  New York and southern Europe got hit before the susceptible population went into hiding.  The susceptible in Sweden saw what was happening in time and went into hiding on their own.  In China, the Wuhan lock down made the situation obvious to everyone.  But they also locked down a lot of other cities--cities that never reported monumental cases like Wuhan.  Once could explain that by a combination of timely hiding and Chinese information control.

New York city and northern Italy suggest the contagion rate must be about as high or higher than believed.  So we are left with the mortality rate and mitigation/hiding effectiveness as critical unknowns.  Let's hope the mortality rate is really low and that those susceptible are successfully (and will continue to be) hiding.

COVID-19 and the US Reopening

Yesterday, I gave my off-the-cuff quick reaction to the presidential reopening plan.  My primary problem was the criteria to move to the first or next phase.  My second problem is anticipated issues with a pseudo-random (I exaggerate) regional reopening.

Before I get into the problems with the plan, I want to present a few ideas to think about.

  1. The original goal was to flatten the curve.  This was to slow the spread of the virus so that hospitals were not overrun and people would not die for lack of care or ICU beds or ventilators.  The goal was not to reduce the number of cases or to eliminate the virus.  I think the 'flattening' goal has gone by the wayside, and Governors are trying to eliminate the virus.
  2. How about a simple reopening plan like everyone without serious illnesses under the age of 45 go back to work now (except for hot spots).  Compare the risks of that simple plan to one were we have a patchwork of regional or state plans as in the President's proposal.
  3. I've seen reports that the chemicals needed to do testing are about to run out due to the worldwide run on the items.  If that's true, we'll have to scale back testing instead of expanding it.


Let's look more closely at the gating criteria.  There's one for symptoms, one for cases, and one for hospitals.

  • SYMPTOMS:  "Downward trajectory of influenza-like illnesses (ILI) reported within a 14-day period AND Downward trajectory of covid-like syndromic cases reported within a 14-day period."
  • CASES:  "Downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period OR Downward trajectory of positives tests as a percent of total tests within a 14-day period (flat or increasing volume of tests)."
  • HOSPITALS:  "Treat all patients without crisis care AND Robust testing program in place for at-risk healthcare workers, including emerging antibody testing."
According to the President's plan, you need to meet all three criteria before entering Phase 1, Phase 2, and Phase 3.

I'm not too worried about the HOSPITALS gate criteria.  Protecting hospital workers should be doable.  I'm not sure what they mean by "without crisis care."  Is this not a crisis?  Are not all COVID-19 patients being treated under the states' crisis plans?  Maybe they mean without withholding care to those least likely to survive because care has to be rationed?  That seems most likely to me.  But the wording is just horribly ambiguous.

The SYMPTOMS and CASES criteria are also poorly worded.  What is a "Downward trajectory ... within a 14-day period?"  In physics/ballistics, a downward trajectory means the item drops continuously throughout the path.  So the most common usage would mean a continuous drop in [cases] over a 14-day period.  I would assume you could throw out a couple of days where you had increases.  But that is a truly idiotic criteria--until you get near saturation, it's very difficult for a spreading virus to produce ever smaller numbers of cases and symptoms. Either they are using another interpretation, or they are idiots that don't want the economy to reopen.

Let's take SYMPTOMS.  This is essentially the reported number of cases with flu-like symptoms AND the reported number of cases with COVID-19 symptoms.  If testing keeps rising and more people interact, you almost cannot, under any circumstances, meet this gate criteria until herd immunity is reached.  Though, it might happen if summer causes the virus to recede.  That's why I think they don't mean a downward trajectory for 14 days.  Maybe they mean at the end of any 14-day window, the end number is less than the starting number.  But that too is ridiculous, since it looks only at instantaneous values that may not represent a trend.

The CASES gate criteria is a little better.  You still have problems with the "downward trajectory" terminology, but this time it's an OR situation; i.e. either of two situations is enough to meet the criteria.  The first criteria is just a downward trajectory of documented cases.  I expect that means cases where the patient has tested positive for COVID-19.  But again, if testing increases as the virus spreads, this one is hard to meet.

The second criteria is a downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests, but they add a parenthetical of flat or increasing volume of tests.  The parenthetical suggests that if the number of tests executed drops, you cannot meet this criteria.    Except for the parenthetical, I kind of like this criteria.  Testing and cases can still increase (what you might expect), but if the percent of tests that are positive drops, you can still go into the next phase.

My take away is that the SYMPTOMS criteria is tough to meet.  The CASES criteria might be a little easier.  The HOSPITALS criteria should be fine anywhere except a small county hospital.  But the terminology, if taken literally, would make the criteria almost impossible to meet.

Also, there is no criteria that requires a state, region, or locality to fall back to a previous phase.  Yet that would seem pretty likely if hot spots break out.

I would assess a grade of D- for the gating criteria.  The ridiculously ambiguous terminology means every decision maker will read them however they want.  If they try to use them rigidly, they won't be able to open their economies.


Let's start by thinking about an option that the President did not present.  Opening the entire country using a consistent set of criteria.  An example would be Scott Adam's "everyone under 45 without serious illness could go back to work now."  You would have problems with senior managers not being available--giving companies a lot of second thoughts.  And he didn't describe how/when the others would go back to work.  But his 'all under 45' plan has the benefit of all businesses potentially restarting at once except for those in hot spot break out areas.  Manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, retailers, service industries and consumers all start back together.  There are no major supply chain issues except for an initial delay.  Products and services start flowing and most consumers start buying.

Now we go to the President's plan.  Let's make some assumptions that may or may not be true.  Either way, they will be representative of what could happen.  Let's say the northeast states maintain their lock downs for another month and a half, maybe through mid summer.  They've been hit the hardest and are afraid to open up.  The west coast does a partial opening.  They want to be safe, and they are used to telling their citizens what they can and cannot do with endless freedom-crimping laws.  They keep closed what they call non-essential businesses.  Florida has so many elderly residents that they keep some kind of lock down.  The rest of the country goes lighter, and opens more, but it's hit and miss.  Big cities stay locked down.  Blue states tend to retain tighter restrictions.

Now let's go into businesses in some of those states.  Assume you are a retail shop that is reopening, and you get your key items from a manufacturer in the northeast.  That manufacturer is closed because his state either retains a lock down or considers those products non-essential.  The retail shop has no product to sell until the manufacturer reopens or they can find an alternate supplier.

Let's look at a bigger business.  Say one that produces military aircraft.  The big business is an integrator.  They sourced parts from around the country so that every senator and many congress persons would all have something to lose if they cancel the aircraft program.  But their suppliers in the northeast and on the west coast cannot deliver.  The big business cannot keep their production line open.

Now turn to the leisure travel industry -- people on vacation.  I'll only look at in-country travel for this issue.  You cannot go to Disney World or Disney Land or any of the theme parks near them.  I didn't make an assumption about national parks, but let's assume they open or close depending on their state and it's phases.  So some parks will be open.  But most people are going to drive to get to them.  What happens if they are starting from a locked down state or need to go through one?  It's probably safe if you stay on the interstates (for tickets), but try and get a hotel room in a locked down state (ha).  Most of the popular beaches will also be closed.  Will Las Vegas open?  It's in a blue state near California.  Vegas has lots of crowds.  I doubt it.  Camping at your local state park seems the most likely option.  If your state doesn't think that hookups and picnic tables present too big of a risk of spreading the virus (Texas thought so).

My conclusions are that this plan has the potential for chaos where supply chains are broken and the public is very limited in how they can use their vacation time.

If I were a governor, I might use the Phases approach to specify what people and businesses should do.  But I would make my own gate criteria.  Most people won't have access to the data to tell whether the gate criteria are being met anyway.  And the President didn't try to make his plan mandatory for anybody.

It looks some regional groupings of governors are going to try and do a coordinated reopening (or continued lock down).   My guess is it's going to be a chaotic free-for-all that makes no one happy. 

Thursday, April 16, 2020

COVID-19 US Fed Reopening Plan

This will be a short one and I could be wrong.  I’ve only briefly seen the charts on TV.  What bothers me is there is a gate for transitioning from one phase to another, including before you start Phase 1.  The gate includes at least one criteria that I don’t think can be met.  Number of cases need to go down for 14 days. Maybe they mean new cases.  But the problem is they keep expanding testing.  Thus, they will keep finding more and more cases as the virus spreads.  If you have any, even small hotspots pop up or even small resurgence, any state will fail the gate.

Maybe I don’t understand the gate criteria. To me they look like BS for any state with major cities.

Worse, if one state is still in Phase 1 but somebody from a Phase 2 or 3 state wants to do non-essential travel, they couldn’t go to a Phase 1 state.  It’s like the concealed carry state-by-state rules.  You can’t take your weapon on a trip because you don’t know the local rules.

And what happens if you get a decent sized hotspot but are in any phase?   There was no criteria to fall back a phase or to state-wide lock down.  I want my country back, not a hodgepodge of chaos.  I can understand city hotspot lockdowns.  But this?  Crap.

COVID-19 and Life’s Missed Opportunities

I’ll give you a bit of background and then get into a day on a thru hike.  I’m now 64.  A few years ago I retired early so I could try to hike the Appalachian Trail.  I figured I didn’t have that many good years left where I could do something like that.  My career was military and engineering, and I had never had more than two weeks off at a time.  I pretty much fell in love with backpacking and the outdoors.  My wife, not so much.  So I’ve spent about 3 months on the AT and CDT.

Last fall, I was starting to plan another CDT section, when family plans changed.  Well, I ended up buying a Mercedes Sprinter cargo van and putting it in the shop for conversion to a camper van. I figured I could boondock out west in BLM land or national forests and do long day hikes.  But still sleep in a soft bed!

Well, the van is still in the shop.  And if it’s finished, I’m not so sure it will be safe (or allowed in some places) to take it out.

So, I’m sitting here at home getting more and more upset about another spring going by without backpacking or hiking.  The news is infuriating.  Most of the movies and shows are social justice crap.  I’m staying in bed way too long trying to avoid the irritations.  Here’s a rather long view of a day on a thru hike...

I’ve spent a month planning and getting ready.  My pack’s going to be 23-25 lbs with food and water. I’ve been doing 5-8 mile hikes several times a week to get in shape.  But don’t usually carry over 15 lbs.  I’ve got anxiety about getting to the trail.  It’s a 23 hr bus ride to the AT and about a 16 hr ride to the CDT.  I HATE bus rides and especially bus stations—both are crowded, dirty, and uncomfortable. By the way, I don’t like crowds, and I hate shelters and hostels— trying to sleep with strangers all around you making weird noises.  And being in my sixties, I usually have to get up to relieve my bladder.

Anyway, you make it to the trail and you are ecstatic.  The first day or two on either trail is a killer.  The state park steps up the mountain on the AT are plain tough.  The heavy water load on the CDT makes you feel like you are carrying a bag of heavy rocks.  Those first couple of days are exhausting, and I’ll skip them.

A few days in, you aren’t really noticing the weight any more.  You get a rhythm going up the hills or mountains.  I’ll start after dinner on one of those good days.  I stopped about 5:00 pm, pitched my tarp, fixed dinner and ate.  By six o’clock, I’ve drunk about as much water as I could.  I plan to go to sleep about dark (8:00 to 9:00 pm).

At six, I stop drinking water.  The plan is to take a leak about 9:00 so I can last through the night.  I didn’t bring a pee bottle to save the extra 2 oz of weight.  I usually work on the day’s photos and blog for a couple of hours.  Sometimes I use my MP3 player and listen to music.

I’ve either set up my tarp (preference if I don’t expect lots of rain) or my Zpacks Altaplex tent.  The tent is better for bugs and rain, but you don’t get the open feel of the outdoors.  The tarp is pretty close to cowboy camping with a rain safety measure.  And the tarp/bivy combo is a couple of ounces lighter than the tent.

I’ve blown up my 2.5 inch air mattress and put it in the bivy.  My down quilt goes in the bivy on top of the mattress.  I’ve got a small ground cloth under the bivy, and I drag my pack under the tarp.  The tarp is set up like an A-frame with one end lower for weather considerations.

When I get in the bivy under the quilt, I can lay on my back and see the stars, clouds, or the tops of trees.  Laying on my side I can see the forest or desert floors under the edges of the tarp.  I tend to roll from side to side all night, stretching my back and legs when I’m laying on my back.  I don’t get aches or pains from hiking, but my hips will get sore on the air mattress.  Rolling over helps.  I don’t think I fully wake up, but I am aware of rolling over.

You here the sounds in the forest or the yipping of coyotes in the desert.  I don’t fear the animals or the night or being alone.  It’s all just relaxing and great.  I do occasionally see a spider near my bag and I don’t like those.  The pattern of rain, the boom of thunder, or the flash of lightning are all relaxing.  At least until the sound and flash from lightning get too close.  The wind can be relaxing or an irritant.  Too strong, and you have to hide your mouth or cover up from the cold.  The desert wind has sand in it, and you have a hard time keeping it out of your mouth and nose.

The night is refreshing, but the sore hips and full bladder make me ready for the day.  You watch the forest or desert appear out of the darkness.  I hate to use a headlamp, so I wait till I can see a bit under the tarp, and crawl out of the bivy.  I’ve usually slept in my hiking clothes without a jacket.  If it was cooler I will also wear my wind shirt.  And if it is near freezing or below, I will add a down jacket.

So I change into my cold morning hiking layers, rub some lubricant around my toes and put my shoes on.  Now I put everything I can into the pack, leaving out any breakfast, and of course the tarp and ground cloth.  Then I get out from under the tarp and do my morning toiletries.  If it’s not too cold, I’ll eat a quick breakfast (no cooking).  Otherwise, I’ll warm up on the trail and then stop for a breakfast bar.  I’m usually off within about a half hour of getting out of the bag.  And it’s usually about sunrise.  In the forest though, you never see the actual sun rise.

On most days, I’m feeling really good.  I almost never get blisters or have aches and pains.  I don’t take Ibuprofin.  My feet do not get sore.  I will get tired.  And occasionally, I’ll feel a muscle ache around a knee or ankle, though it will usually disappear quickly.  I have gotten ‘hurt’ on two of my trips.  On the AT, I tried walking without letting my feet splay out—and I pulled a muscle above my ankle.  NEVER try to walk differently!  On the CDT, I misjudged the risk on a deep, sandy, steep Jeep trail.  I slid onto my rear and then my pack rotated me around, and I pulled my knee.  Both injuries caused me to get off the trail.  The moral of those stories, be careful!

But back to the trail.  You try to drink a lot of water before you leave camp.  If possible, there is a water source nearby to refill your bottles. On the AT the water sources are a pleasure.  On the CDT, at least in New Mexico, they are disgusting.  Since I am out there for fun and not desperate to complete a thru, I worry little about mileage.  On the other hand, I do pay attention to the guides to be sure I don’t run out of water.

On the AT, it always seemed that heading out of camp meant going up a mountain.  So you concentrated on warming up and getting your body going at speed.  On the CDT, the biggest challenge seemed to be keeping on the trail.  Sometimes it seemed more like bushwhacking.

But on both trails, the scenery was enchanting and always changing.  The flowers, cacti, moss and trees always seemed to change and create new patterns.  You spread your consciousness between trail obstacles, observing the scenery, sounds, and animals, getting your body through the current physical challenge, and whatever’s in your own mind.  Sometimes you think about food (at a restaurant!), a shower, a favorite song, or what’s ahead on the trail.  You tend to zone out and get in a rhythm.  It’s just you and the creator’s greatest creations.

If you are not comfortable with your own company, you probably need to hike with others.  But for the most part there is no fear, just a feeling of happiness.  Of course, you do get a bit of a rush when you come around a corner and see a moose, buffalo, snake or bear.  Luckily, the bear was far off.  The others required action to avoid.  I’ve only felt uncomfortable about one fellow hiker.  He pulled out this huge Bowie knife in a shelter and set it down next to his bag.  He said it was for bears.

Occasionally I see a fellow hiker on the trail.  Most will give you a happy greeting.  Some of the older ones will stop and chat for a few minutes.  I joined up with another hiker for most of my CDT miles.  It was nice to have someone to talk to, but I think I still prefer the freedom of solo hiking.

About every hour to an hour and a half, I like to stop for five minutes and have a snack.  I usually try to find a log or rock to sit on, but if it’s not muddy, just sitting on the ground is fine.  I try to take the weight off my leg muscles.

These were attempted thru hikes, so they were not casual strolls through the forest or desert.  While I love the scenery, they also were not park discovery trails.  I tried to go just below my top speed.  With hills, roots, and rocks, I often didn’t get anywhere near my top speed.  But I usually got hot and sweaty; though use of layers minimized sweat staying on me.

By lunch time, I was usually still feeling pretty strong.  My favorite lunch is peanut butter and jelly on a tortilla, a big one.  Normally, I would take my time, about twenty minutes.  This included taking the pack off.  By about 2:00 pm, I usually started to feel the strain and would be getting tired.  It wouldn’t be a wall, I just couldn’t go as fast, and really didn’t look forward to long uphills.

Usually, by 4:00 to 4:30, I would start looking for a good stopping place for the night.  If possible, I would try to get near the next water source.  On the AT, I liked mountain tops.  Open spaces were hard to find.  On the CDT, usually any moderate open space near some trees would do.

One critical factor for setting up my tarp is a flat spot.  I’ve made the mistake several times of thinking a spot was flat enough only to find my head was downhill or my bivy was moving downhill every time I rolled over.  Putting down my ground cloth and laying down on it is now my regular practice.

I set up the tarp as soon as I get to camp.  If water is nearby, I get it.  Then I cook my dinner.  An alcohol stove is my favorite.  I only boil water, and never put food in my pot.  All food is in a ziplock bag.  I do take whey protein powder and drink a shake with dinner.  The entree is usually a freeze dried meal.  Most times I also have freeze dried fruit.  Water and vitamins complete the meal.

If it’s raining, I will cook under the edge of the tarp.  But I will also eat a lighter meal to avoid the mess.

As I mentioned earlier, I try to drink a lot of water with dinner, or by 6:00 pm.  I also drink a lot while hiking.  Dehydration is not fun on the trail, and it also isn’t good while trying to sleep.

After blogging, listening to music or just light napping, I get ready to sleep.  That is usually a trip to the bushes, then changing into my sleeping attire, and adding more foot lube to the toes before putting on clean socks.  The clean socks are usually put on with the last light.

Usually three to seven days like this will go by before I get to a town.  The last day or so, lots of thinking involves anticipation of good food, a shower, and a soft bed.  There’s also a bit of anxiety about the availability of a hotel or hostel.  When I can, I try to call a day before I get into town to get a reservation.

Typically, I pick up a resupply box from the post office, shower, and go to a restaurant.  Oh, the real food!  Then you also have to find a laundry.  You do your clothes while attired in your rain coat and pants.  If you don’t pick up a box, you will need to go to a grocery to stock up.  You will also, about every other town, need to look for stove alcohol or a canister.  Then you get to lounge on a soft bed, watch TV, and catch up on uploading your blogs.

If you are taking a zero, you will stay two nights.  Oh the luxury!  If you are not young, zeros help with muscle recovery.

Leaving town is the worst part of a stop.  It’s almost always uphill with a pack full of food (heavy).  And places to stop for the night can be less than ideal.

Those stops can be expensive.  Even so, when you come off the trail, you will most likely be somewhat depressed.  The joy on the trail is not like anything you have at home or on the job.  You really don’t want to head home.  Of course, if you did the complete thru over six months, you will likely feel differently—being totally exhausted.

Back home, you just want to hit the trail again!

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Scott Adams, COVID-19 and Easter Services

I'm starting to lose my interest in watching Scott Adams (Dilbert cartoonist).  Early on in the Wuhan virus crisis, he stated that he wanted to present a positive outlook and avoid negativity.  He says we are all in this together.  And for the most part he follows that.  But sometimes he's a bit inconsistent.

Let's take an example or two.  Remember when President Trump talked about how hydroxychloroquine was a promising therapeutic?  And a day or two after, several democratic governors decided to outlaw the use of the drug for COVID-19 patients?  I think Nevada was the first place, and it's governor said that he wouldn't allow the use of an untested and dangerous drug for COVID-19 patients (paraphrased).  Well, for some reason Scott was asked about it, and he speculated that it must be because they didn't want a run on drugs that were needed for malaria and lupus.  He completely ignored the actual statement.  It was pretty obvious to all that the democratic governors were trying to oppose anything that might make President Trump look good.  I think since then Scott has talked about the media's drive to oppose the drug.  Of course soon after that the democratic governors said of course, they were restricting hydroxychloroquine to avoid shortages for lupus and malaria patients.

I guess a bigger peeve I have with him is that he does not discuss democratic push back on President Trump's initiatives.  In fact, while we all may be subject to the impact of the virus, we are NOT "all in this together."  And Scott seems to downplay any Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS).

But that is his choice.

What I really wanted to focus on today, was his comment about attending Easter Service.  Somebody, I think, asked him what he thought of people doing an in-person service.  He made statements (paraphrased) that it was the equivalent of someone killing their grandmother or attending Satanic services.  And I've made it sound way worse than Scott did, so I hope he forgives my awful paraphrasing--but both "killing grandmother" and "Satanic services" were in there.

But I think his statements are nuts and pretty much unforgivable.  First, let's look at the government and CDC's guidelines.  Wash your hands frequently, stay six feet or more apart, and where masks when you are going to be near others.  They also say no large gatherings; which I took as meaning stop gatherings because people don't stay six feet apart.  I'll also add in the nearly universal dining-in ban.  Our local restaurants had started eliminating tables to get the six feet distance before our state's dining-in ban was ordered.  I've assumed the ban was to avoid multiple people touching tables and chairs where someone has coughed.  But I also occasionally cough when I eat too much (a variation on indigestion).

So, can churches meet those guidelines?  Sure, except for the <10 person gathering, but they can even meet the intent of that.  First, make services by reservation so you know and can limit how many will attend.  Have a 6' to 6' line to get in to the service.  Mark available seats and have one usher.  All seats will be at least 6' from every other one with perhaps some near doubles for couples.  This might reduce seats from say 300 to 30 or so.  You would have say 5 services in a day.  Plenty of time in-between to allow leisurely entry and exit.  No exiting cars while anyone is near.  Everyone wears masks, gloves, and preferably long sleeved shirts and pants.  All pews are wiped down between every service.  Eliminate hymnal singing (minimal air movement) and prayer books.  Use projectors as needed.  Have more presentations, prayers, and individual singers on stage. Skip the schmoozing before and afterwards and keep the services succinct. Anyway, if the government's guidelines are correct, it can be done safely.

Now think about the people that want to come.  I reduced the 300 to 150 (over 5 services) since I'm guessing at least 50% would rather not take any risk and attend services.

But Scott said attending was essentially killing your grandmother.  But suppose your grandmother is in isolation?  The precautions I describe above are at least as effective as going to the grocery or Home Depot.

Your grandmother might even attend herself.  If she's 87, she might want to attend Easter and hear the resurrection story one more time in her life.

Then there's the single person or couple that is isolated at home, working from home or out of work, and only going to the grocery.  They may get to chat with another grocery shopper that don't know for a few seconds.  They hear nothing but bad news on the TV.  Trump is killing the country with his bad decisions.  Going to church is uplifting and often gives hope.  Saying they cannot go violates the constitution and is just morally wrong.  Sure, the elite think a psychologist is better than a pastor, but most people cannot afford online sessions with a psychologist.  And the psychologist is unlikely to speak about God and their faith.

Anyway, it should be a person's choice.  Assuming the church takes adequate precautions.  Worshipers could attend without risk of killing their grandmother.  Most will not be Satan worshipers.  Scott should apologize.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Scott Adams and COVID-19 Modeling

Since the crisis started I’ve been watching Scott Adams (Dilbert cartoonist) religiously.  He live streams on Periscope twice a day.  Most of his views are really great.

But today he made a general claim that models are built to be used for persuasion, not to be accurate. I believe he has an MBA and did some modeling for businesses he worked for.  He states that he never claimed his models, and their predictions, were accurate, just useful for his bosses to make decisions.

I will concede that there may be ‘modelers’ that do not expect accuracy.  I will also concede that the output of models in certain domains, can be used for persuasion.  In particular, I believe the President’s Coronavirus Task Force used the COVID-19 mortality predictions to persuade US citizens to modify their behavior.

I will also concede that modelers expect early versions of their models to be inaccurate or less than valid in their modeling of reality.

However, every model I built I expected to be accurate, or at least have a reasonably reliable margin of error.  I also believe every modeler in the physical sciences tries to, and in many cases expects, their models to be accurate.  I cannot say what modelers expect from their models in the social sciences.  I’m also not sure what doctors and medical research might have in the way of model expectations.

The point is, most modelers create their models (or simulations) either to understand how something works or to predict future behavior of the reality being modeled.  They all want their models to be accurate.

Now the degree of accuracy, or the margin of error, is going to vary and depend on a lot of things.  Let’s take a look at how a model is built.

First you start with some understanding of how your relevant portion of the world (what you are modeling) works.  You might only have a theory.  But you identify all of the variables or factors that that you believe have significant affects on the model.  Usually, you are aware of some variables that you know are relevant, but probably have insignificant effects.

You put together equations that show the relations between the variables, inputs and outputs.  Sometimes you will need to simplify variables or relationships.  Say, you know a variable depends on another variable or factor, but you are not sure how.  So you ‘assume’ for that version of the model that that dependency does not exist.

Maybe you even leave out variables you suspect are significant so you can more easily create early versions of the model.

Next, you code up a simulation that lets a computer run a model over time, or any other variable.  The scientist, engineer or modeler should have collected some data from the real world.  That is, given a set of inputs, what outputs are observed over time?

The modeler wants to validate that their model is accurate (or determine how far off from reality it is).  So they run their simulation with the real world input.  If the simulation produces the same output, one can claim the model is validated for the range of that tested input.

More often than not, there is a difference between the expected (real world) output and what the model’s simulation produces.  In most cases, the modeler knows that either some of their assumptions are wrong, their relationship are not correct (bad theory) or they have not included all of the relevant variables.

So they modify their model and simulation and try again.  And again, and again... (:-)

Now shift to models of a spreading, new virus.  You’ve got billions of people that behave differently, and whose immune systems respond differently to the virus.  You’ve got data taken from countries and regions where you don’t understand those differences.  The data is unreliable due to incomplete testing, different doctors’ guidance to patients, imperfect logging, and even government behaviors that hide real data for political purposes.  And to top it all, you’ve only got an early theory about how the virus works in the body and how it spreads.

No modeler is going to expect a model in that situation to be accurate.  The modelers are going to try and build in error bars to reflect the uncertainties in their model. We saw big error bars on TV.

And of course as new data comes in, they are going to update their models in an attempt to increase accuracy.  But which part(s) of the model are most in error?  Is it how it spreads, the effectiveness of social distancing, or how the virus attacks the body?  They are going to do iterations of the model until their output is as close to observed reality as possible.  In this case, the mortality rate is probably what they are trying to hit first.  But we see beds, ICU and ventilator predictions still off.

My point is, no real modeler was going to trust the 100,000 to 240,000 mortality prediction.  You might expect the error bars to capture reality, but with such big error margins, I doubt anyone had much confidence in the model.

My point is, that every modeler hopes and tries to create accuracy.  They usually know when their models are not accurate.  Did you see anybody interview the modelers and ask them?  Of course not.  None of them were going to go on national TV and say what they know about their models.

One final thought.  Do you think virus propagation and top level medical results (mortality, ICU, etc.) over 30 days is a tougher job than earth environment predictions over 100 years?  There are a lot of gullible people out there.  Are you one?