A COVID-19 Log 6/n

A neighborhood cat appeared on a ledge while we were were walking by tonight and meowed out to us. I stopped and gave it a pet for a second. As we started walking again I said: “oh, that’s right, cats can get COVID“.

So that’s how things are going in week 10000.

Of course I’m not really concerned about the unlikely transfer from this friendly outdoor cat—the chance that I would touch my face without washing my hands after petting a cat in normal times is already very low, but… that the thought even ran through my head is a sign of the times.


I’ve done even better this week at avoiding the trap of the live news blog. I think I even went well over 24 hours without checking the JHU charts at some point. A little bit of avoidance and a routine go a long way toward getting things done.


I had a dream early in the week or late last week where I was out somewhere and all of a sudden felt chilled in the way you do when you have a fever. The “oh shit, I’m sick” moment hit and I of course started down the path to assuming that it was COVID.

I woke up and felt fine.

Most of my other dreams have gone back to normal. I spent an extraordinary amount of time one night trying to find a longer cable for my guitar before a show and then realized I didn’t remember how to play any of the songs. Exhausting!


We still don’t know enough about food and coronavirus, but I found “Do I need to disinfect my groceries?” interesting this week.

Takeaways: probably not, though washing is good. Stay away from people. Don’t pretend you’re good at using gloves.


The Guardian has a nice roundup of what scientists know 5 months in.


Today’s Spokesman Review editorial calling for Washington to reopen its economy soon was pretty disappointing. I don’t disagree with the need or desire to loosen restrictions on what business can be open, but it’s completely unhelpful to continue to compare COVID-19 to the seasonal flu.

Like, obviously different in so many ways. That piece without those two sentences becomes a much more meaningful editorial.


Naysayers and an absolutely inept president aside, it’s amazing to stop and realize how many people across the country and the world are taking this seriously and coming together by staying apart.

I like to think naive thoughts like: maybe this is the last gasp of the last gasp of hatred and nationalism.

Anyhow, that’s me, the optimist. Still hanging in here! 🍷

A COVID-19 Log 5/n

“Everyone has lots of ways of feeling. And all of those feelings are fine. It’s what we do with our feelings that matter in this life.”

Fred Rogers, as quoted by Jay Inslee in Monday’s press conference.

This is the week where things settle in.

I’ve conditioned myself to not look at global or local case numbers every hour. I instead check about once a day.

I’ve hidden all of my browser bookmarks to news and numbers sites. I’ll go large chunks of time without checking in on the latest-most-extreme-important headline of the hour.

I still see plenty, and I’m still learning plenty, but I’m doing a better job of taking a step back rather than pretending I can do anything with the information I’m gathering.

Part of settling in is setting new expectations in my brain for how long we’re going to be in this current state. When I do spend time thinking about the what-ifs, I find myself spinning off a hundred different threads of possibility and assigning various risk scores to them. When will I be comfortable walking into a store again? When will I be comfortable sitting and having a beer across from someone again? When might it be okay to hang out in the back yard with a few people, chairs 10 feet apart? When will it be okay to give someone a hug?

I continue to be grateful to be in a rural area of a state that made changes earlier than others. If we didn’t have a large city like Seattle seeing rising numbers in early March, it’s easy to imagine the stay at home order being implemented a few weeks later and it’s easy to imagine the spread having that much more time to have an impact. Our county had 12 confirmed cases and has now shifted it back to 11. This probably means something more like 100 total cases, though we really have no idea.

I continue to be grateful to have a partner who is my best friend. While video chats are great ways to check-in with each other at a distance, not being able to actually see and sense physical behaviors in the same way can be tiring. Having actual long conversations in person with someone about what is going on and how we’re handling it has been healthy and helpful.

We’ve established a handful of walks that keep us active, but close to home. It’s nice to have our little system of primitive trails a couple blocks away. It’s also nice to dream about the day it will be okay to go off for a proper hike on a mountain somewhere.


During our Happy Prime lunch call on Friday, we talked about how quickly time is moving. It seems like things pause for barely a minute over the weekend. Then it’s Monday. Then it’s Friday. Then it’s the weekend again.

Michelle and I are at 24 days in isolation at this point and before we know it it will be May.


What else to remember?

Washington State did announce on Monday that schools would be physically closed for the rest of the year. Inslee did leave open the (very unlikely?) possibility there may be a chance for students to gather for a couple days at the end of the year, but stressed that staying healthy is most important.

WSU will not have physical class for the remainder of this semester or the summer, but is planning on in-person sessions in the fall. I’m sure planning is also moving along in parallel on what a full virtual semester or school year might look like next year.

What a different world it would be as a first year student to arrive at a virtual university. What a different world it would be as any student to arrive on campus in fall after a 2020 that has started like this.


It’s been 24 days since I gave blood, and I’ve effectively done nothing since, but it was still a little eerie to see that a Vitalant employee from the Spokane Valley donor facility tested positive after showing symptoms on March 31. Of course it’s all very unlikely, but there’s a chance the phlebotomists on our donor bus have a home base near that location. And there’s at least a small chance that someone who donated that day was an unknowning spreader.

All very low probability, but still very easy to see how quickly connected we can become across great distances.


Contact tracing is the latest term everyone is getting familiar with, including me. So far I’ve read the announcement by Apple and Google on their proposed method for contact tracing over bluetooth between phones. Around the same time I read this great cartoon that explains some of the possibilities for a “private” solution. Joe Kent published a nice technical breakdown of the Apple/Google solution.

What I found most interesting so far was a piece by Ross Anderson that covers how app-ifying contact tracing may not be the right answer.

In the pandemic, the public health folks may have to tweak all sorts of parameters weekly or even daily. You can’t do that with apps on 169 different types of phone and with peer-to-peer communications.

and

the rhetoric of terror puffed up the security agencies at the expense of public health, predisposing the US and UK governments to disregard the lesson of SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2015 — unlike the governments of China, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea, who paid at least some attention. What we need is a radical redistribution of resources from the surveillance-industrial complex to public health.

Emphasis mine. I want to read more along those lines, but it’s a statement I can connect with.

Stay healthy, y’all! 🥃

A COVID-19 Log 4/n

I forgot to mention last week that I started having my first real coronavirus dreams.

In the first, I was talking with a friend in the WordPress community. He had just gotten back from a bakery and was showing off all of the newly purchased goods to a group of us. As he was talking I felt a droplet hit my cheek and my dream brain all of a sudden got wise and started looking around at the room wondering why we were all talking to each other so closely.

In the second, I was in a seat on an airplane and sitting next to—what is my brain even doing—another friend from the WordPress community. The rest of the plane was empty except for our two seats and the seats directly in front of and behind us. Once again, my dream brain all of a sudden got wise and started wondering why the hell we were all sitting so close together.

In the third, I was in a line waiting to be tested for COVID-19. Apparently widespread testing was in effect and there were hundreds of people waiting in three lines that started merging toward the test point. At the merge, people started getting closer and closer to each other until I was shoulder to shoulder with the people beside me. I said something like “welp, looks like we all have it now!” and people looked at me like I was crazy.

And in the fourth (that I remember), I woke up from a dream in which I came into contact with somebody that had COVID-19. As I got out of bed, I noticed that I had a deep cough all of a sudden and started checking for other symptoms, wondering if I was imagining it because of the dream or of something else was going on. I then woke from that dream and felt fine. 🙃

There was another that I don’t really remember well in which Michelle and I were traveling somewhere that should have been super populated, but all of the landmarks and maybe even complete towns were completely empty.

What’s funny is that my biggest takeaway is probably that I miss hanging out with everyone. Also, what is “normal” going to look like when we get there? Let’s get there!


The Washington state department of health continued to have trouble updating case information on their website this week and posted a quick explanation as a PDF. I had seen the term “notifiable conditions” before, but this is the first time the Washington Disease Reporting System was mentioned. These reporting processes are all things that are up and running and probably working fairly well—so much so that we hardly pay attention until there’s a pandemic.

Two interesting parts of the explanation:

  • The system was built to log positive tests only. Notifiable conditions include things like influenza, plague, mumps, and many other things that are probably interesting to those collecting data whenever they have spikes, but maybe not so interesting as a percentage of total tested. Now that it’s being used to capture negative results for COVID-19, the pipeline is clogged.
  • Duplicate case data is handled manually right now and there were more than 2000 duplicate records one day last week. That obviously takes a lot of attention from actual people to resolve.

If you search Twitter for “@wadepthealth” around the time you would expect the latest case information to be updated on the Washington State Department of Health’s COVID-19 page, you’ll see a whole slew of angry people demanding numbers. These are numbers that aren’t actionable to most of us and won’t cause us anything other than stress until they start going down significantly. But here were are, wanting to know—and I check in on those numbers daily!

I’m not surprised by much of this, though if I was I would be surprised that the state did not stress test the system to mimic pandemic conditions. It seems like small numbers overall. Handling thousands of data records in a day is much different than handling millions. But I also have no idea what’s actually being collected and how much manual attention it needs.

The new system has been up for the last few days and seems to be working much better. There’s a delay on some of the numbers, but the consistency and stability has been nice.


Zoom has been huge over the last several weeks and has been running the gauntlet of another form of stress test: attention.

Doc Searls wrote a series of excellent posts picking apart various privacy issues that didn’t have clear answers. It took less than a week for Zoom to introduce a new privacy policy and to announce new efforts to continue addressing concerns. I’m impressed by their response so far.


I keep on learning new words related to viruses and pandemics. This week I learned comorbidity.


Another super-spreader party story from a Seattle party.

And a super-spreader choir. This is actually the first place where I’ve seen (or paid enough attention to see) a definition for “aerosols” as “a particle smaller than 5 micrometers that can float in the air for minutes or longer”. I’ve been wondering what “aerosol” actually means after seeing the study in which the coronavirus could last up to 3 hours and trying to measure it against reading how droplets emitted through sneezing, coughing, or breathing are heavier than air and will immediately start falling towards the ground.

It’s also strange how I started this blurb earlier in the week and it already feels like this is ancient knowledge I’ve had for years.

The choir article also mentions a 1977 Alaska Air flight in Alaska between Homer and Kodiak in which a large portion of the plane got sick. This intrigued me enough that I went digging. There’s a paper from 1979 in the Journal of Epidimiology, “An outbreak of influenza aboard a commercial airliner“, that is pretty interesting. It’s crazy that we may not have really understood influenza as transmitted via air. Though when I started thinking about that, I realized 1977 was only 59 years from 1918 and we’re already 43 years from 1977. Whew.

There’s more in “Airliner Cabin Safety and Health Standards“, a report of a “Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Aviation of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.” It too is an interesting read.


Vincent van Gogh, The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring(1884) ©Groninger Museum.

Some opportunistic art thieves stole Vincent van Goh’s painting, The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen from the Singer Laren musem. I wonder how long until we get a heist movie that takes place during a pandemic.


We ordered groceries online for the first time through our local grocer, Dissmore’s. It was fun to see that their site is powered by WordPress and a theme from Freshop, which specializes in exactly this.

The process was super smooth and we got everything we needed. In some ways I was wondering if we should be going to the store ourselves, but in other ways I think we’re helping to stress test the system a bit without going overboard. (Can you tell that’s a focus right now?)

If this goes on for the rest of the year somehow, it will be nice to know that stores were able to ramp up now toward providing delivery to everyone. And I have to imagine keeping extra humans out of the store is healthier (COVID-wise) for the employees.


This is the week in which masks really took off in the US. We still haven’t made some, though we’ve talked through our design a bit and will get to it shortly. I enjoyed Kottke’s breakdown on masks and appreciate most the idea of normalization.


The Internet Archive took a big political stand and created a National Emergency Library.


The University of Washington Medical Center was loaned a couple of testing machines from the Washington State Patrol’s DNA lab.


Some hospitals are running out of money. Pullman Regional is cutting wages and has just over 60 days cash on hand. So much more is going to take its toll on the healthcare system than individual cases of COVID-19.

It looks like $100 billion was earmarked for hospitals in the stimulus bill. There are 5198 community hospitals in the US, which works out to around $19 million per hospital, which is about a third of Pullman Regional’s operating budget. This is all very quick napkin math and I’m sure the amount available to individual hospitals will be much lower than that, but hopefully the path to getting money is not hard! A donation could definitely be where a portion of our “stimulus” money goes.


Every week I mean to log where I went last in public beyond neighborhood walks before this all came crashing down around us and every week I forget.

Except this week!

  • March 20: (16 days ago) Blood donation on a bus outside Pullman Regional Hospital. Close contact with a bunch of people.
  • March 18: (18 days ago) Safeway for some perishable staples: eggs, milk, ice cream sandwiches, and a few other things.
  • March 14: (22 days ago) Stopped at Chevron on the way back from walking on the trail to top the car off. We’ve probably used a quarter of a gallon since?
  • March 13: (23 days ago) Safeway and Rite Aid to find a couple more rolls of toilet paper (but not in a hoarding way!). This was the last day of school in Washington State and the shelves were getting pretty empty.
  • March 11: (25 days ago) Our last trip to the co-op in Moscow. Also my last visit to the credit union. (Finally checked out the app and mobile deposit works well!)
  • March 8: (28 days ago) Last time eating out. Stephen and I tried to play pool, but the poolhall was closed after a Mardi Gras party so we went to The Breakfast Club instead. I remember being a wary of how close we were sitting to the table next to us.
  • March 6: (30 days ago) Maybe the last really “normal” day? Coffee shop in the morning, Paradise Creek for lunch with Happy Prime, Noshies for a couple beers, the chiropractor, and the co-op for groceries.
  • March 3: (33 days ago) The last time we played pool. Very much looking forward to that again!

The riskiest pieces keep getting further away. I continue to be amazed how slowly things happen and how quickly time is going by. 🥃

A COVID-19 log 3/n

REM’s It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine) has been appearing on various charts all of a sudden, along with a handful of other tracks that have new meaning.

I’ve learned more about viruses in the last month than I ever expected. There’s a chance we covered this in high school biology, but I wasn’t familiar with or didn’t remember the difference between enveloped viruses and non-enveloped viruses. FiveThirtyEight’s piece on how coronavirus testing actually works was really interesting. The concept of priming RNA was vaguely familiar, but not much. It’s all very interesting to explore and a notable side effect of, uh… viral news.

Sorry.

Whitman County confirmed its second case of COVID-19 last Monday and its sixth at the end of the week. On Monday, the county’s director of public health estimated local facilities had “supplies on hand to conduct about 50 tests”. The current test count on the county’s test result page is 92, so it looks like we may have access to more now.

Crosscut had a good piece on how rural hospitals were prepared to deal with the spread. One interesting bit is how our local hospital, Pullman Regional, “is used to staffing large events, like Washington State University football games.” This means a “pandemic stock” of some supplies already exists. Good to know!

Also on Monday, I watched a live governor’s address for the first time in my life. Jay Inslee announced Washington’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order. He did a good job though looked appropriately exhausted. I really appreciated the lines he quoted from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, 33. I’ll quote that entire section:

I understand the large hearts of heroes,
The courage of present times and all times,
How the skipper saw the crowded and rudderless wreck of the
steam-ship, and Death chasing it up and down the storm,
How he knuckled tight and gave not back an inch, and was
faithful of days and faithful of nights,
And chalk’d in large letters on a board, Be of good cheer, we will
not desert you
;

Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, 33

That message of hope? solidarity? is good to hear. There is no denying that we are all in this together.

Washington’s cases continue to double about every 5 days. The department of health changed how they’re reporting the data this evening in a way that I think seems more clear. The numbers posted every day are for confirmed cases as of 11:59pm the day before. There are several different graphs that now appear on the page. Hopefully they get the loading speed dialed in as bits of the page load in very slowly when pulled in live from Microsoft Power BI. I appreciate the historical views of data rather than the daily snapshot. It looks like hospitalization data will be up soon as well.

It’s stories like this one about a super-spreading party that help highlight how very connected we all are without even realizing it.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington has a COVID-19 projections page up that is updated regularly based on current data. As of now it looks like both Washington’s and the overall US’s peak will happen in just over 2 weeks.

It’s still just so nuts to watch all of this unfold in slow motion.

One thought that just hit me: how tone-deaf it would be if various internet companies still went all in on April Fool’s Day. And sure enough, Google has cancelled theirs this year.

The onslaught of COVID-19 emails from various companies seems to have started to die down. It was getting ridiculous for a bit there.

How about longevity? The news out of Wuhan of recovered patients testing negative and then positive again is worrisome. And “the longest observed duration of viral shedding in survivors was 37 days” in one study from this month is eye opening. The median was 20 days. I still don’t think I have my head wrapped around how contagious asymptomatic carriers are. Is it only for the first 14 days, or is it as long as viral shedding occurs?

More to learn!

After the sort of winters we have had to endure recently, the spring does seem miraculous, because it has become gradually harder and harder to believe that it is actually going to happen.

George Orwell, Some Thoughts on the Common Toad

Hanging in there and rooting for spring to bring some change. ☀️

A COVID-19 log 2/n

Another week. 🥃

I donated blood on Friday morning after reading of a blood shortage in the inland northwest. I’m happy to have been in a position to donate and I’m very happy to have done so in a county yet to have confirmed a case of COVID-19.

But. It was pretty stunning how cavalier the donation bus was. I made an appointment for 10am under the assumption that only a couple people would be donating at the same time and only a few people would be on the bus at once as a way to maintain physical distance.

I was the first to arrive at the bus and was sent to the front door of the hospital before boarding so that my temperature could be checked as a way of screening for symptomatic donors. My temperature was normal, so I went back and waited just inside the bus door while the blood team finished their prep. After a couple minutes I sat down with one of the people to answer a bunch of questions even though I had filled out a fast track form ahead of time.

I was still the first person to actually get setup on a bed and it wasn’t too long before all 4 were full. Once things were in full swing there were probably 8 or so people crammed onto this lovely bus. The air circulation was good and things seemed sterile, but the lack of masks and lack of any concern for distance was really a disappointment.

As Stephen later mentioned, it would be interesting to see a comparison of how many lives are saved with the blood we donated and how many lives may be endangered due to SARS-CoV-2 spread on donation buses.

I only stayed on the bus for a few minutes after I was done. Not thinking, I grabbed a bag of Doritos—how am I supposed to pass up chips!—and sat for my post-donation snack. Of course, if I was somehow already a carrier, I spent that whole time polluting the bus air. All for a bag of chips and a little conversation. Normality is a vice!

As I walked away from the bus I looked back and saw a decent line of people waiting to donate. They were huddled as close as could be, chatting as if everything in the world was normal.

So. While I’m happy to have donated—it really did feel like I was doing something to help—I can’t see donating again in 8 weeks unless I can be sure that the practices have changed.


“If anyone is living a normal life today, you are not doing what we need for you to do if we are going to save lives in this state”

Governor Jay Inslee

Exactly.


Many local businesses are starting to focus on establishing delivery services and providing take-out instead. While this may not be entirely fair, we’ve decided not to order take-out from restaurants as the chain of how food is handled is just too unknown at this point. That said, this food safety article from Serious Eats is full of interesting information that I want to explore further. Once we get into the routine of the new normal, it may make sense to order out from time to time.

I was happy to place an order with our local brewery for cans of beer, something that can sit for a few days before we start consuming it.


Arrival. 👾

As of today, Whitman county has its first confirmed case of COVID-19.

We’ve been expecting this for weeks and really have just assumed it’s been hanging out undetected while people are asymptomatic or experiencing mild symptoms they attribute to a cold or the flu. The general lack of test availability means we have little visibility into how things are spreading unless someone has severe symptoms.

The part that has me confused is “the patient has recovered and is self-isolating at home.”

It’s excellent that they have recovered, but what does that mean? Were they in the hospital with symptoms, were they self-isolated at home the entire time with light symptoms? I’m still fuzzy on how long it takes for a test to complete and how long someone may have had to go about their daily lives before finally being eligible for one.

Earlier in the week, a Pullman firefighter was quarantined after contact with a patient that was displaying possible symptoms. They were released from quarantine less than 24 hours later (I think) because the test came back negative. Also good news, but I was surprised to see that our county had the ability to test someone with a 24 hour turnaround time.

All very confusing. I’m sure it will stay that way for quite a bit.


Pullman itself halted many services on Monday of this last week.

Most city services are closed to the public or open by appointment only. The library is closed and encouraged folks not to return their books yet. Bonus? There are a couple books that both Michelle and I will have a chance to read now. 📚


If you’re reading this column, I’ll assume today is shaping up to be very different than a normal Tuesday.

You may be working from home. You may be teaching your children how to do long division. You may be wondering about how many hours your manager can carve out for you this week at work. You’re likely hyper-alert to every cough, sniffle or sneeze within a two-block radius.

Craig Staszkow – “Committed to staying agile, keeping readers informed

The Moscow-Pullman Daily News has done a great job of adapting and is turning out really informative local stuff daily. The introduction of a community bulletin that lists all of the various closings and changes to business hours was a welcome addition. And they’ve lowered the paywall on all coronavirus related articles.

I feel good that I finally subscribed to a print paper again!


On Thursday, WSU suggested students don’t return from spring break if they are able. It sounds like more groups are pushing their teams to work from home. Earlier in the week, the university announced extreme social distancing measures that limit the number of non-essential people on campus. Jake published a great post on how to manage a research lab remotely. It will be interesting to see which of these practices various labs adapt and keep when this is all over.


A poorly inserted graph showing a rate of increase in COVID-19 cases in Washington State.

Last week Washington State had 769 confirmed cases. We crossed 1000 on Tuesday and are just shy of 2000 on Sunday. It appears that the number of cases has doubled every 5 days for the last two cycles. If that maintains, we’ll cross 4000 on Friday and 8000 on April 1st. Hopefully the messaging across the state of Washington has done it’s job and the curve will start to flatten sooner than that.


It has been interesting to watch how data has started to come together. The State of Washington went from seemingly unreliable numbers to a page that is now updated once a day with specific county information. They also launched an ArcGIS page with mapped data by county.

Our county went from having nothing to something that at least shows a rough set of case data. My guess is now that we have a case that data will start to get more accurate.

It must be nuts for things like JHU and The COVID Tracking Project to find accurate numbers across the country and the world.

A thing to remember when this is over: Sharing health data in a pandemic in 2020 is something county websites all over the country are figuring out how to do individually. Maybe there’s a better way?


Things are starting to feel a little less normal.

We ran out of fresh apples and bananas this week. Rather than chance frequent trips to the store for fresh produce, it’s time to switch to frozen and canned for a bit.

CDC ads are appearing everywhere. I had already seen them as promoted Twitter moments. While driving back from giving blood the other day, I found myself in awe at this message on hand washing and covering your coughs and all I could think was how eerie of a thing it was to hear on the radio.

Tonight’s Westworld had a similar ad in front of it as well, though was mostly strange because of the upbeat music that accompanied the cartoonish illustrations.

We’re still able to enjoy walks in the neighborhood, but it is really weird to cross the street back and forth when coming across other groups of people.

One of the very much strange things is the almost visceral reaction to hand-shaking or close contact among strangers in movies. We watched Girlfriends (1978) on Friday night and both cringed when the main character shook the hand of somebody she met at a party. Distance yourself!

It will be interesting to see what movies are made after this has passed.

We have been successful at video chats. Our local friend group hung out over drinks on St. Patrick’s Day and a few of us had another session on Wednesday. We’ve been making good use of our recently spun up Slack organization and have relied on Zoom for the face to face. Next we’ll have to figure out some games!

Hang in there. And if anyone does want to have a Zoom beer, give me a shout! 🍻

Edited March 23, 2020 8:53am: I opined too much on the current state of affairs at WSU and have removed a couple unnecessarily critical paragraphs as well as some misinformation as to how the university is managing the pandemic. This weekly log should be reserved for personal experiences, links to sources, and careful criticism after more thorough research.