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.

A COVID-19 log 1/n

I can’t help but record a few thoughts so that I have something to look back on when reflecting on this period as a future me. I may try to do this weekly for as long as there’s something to say. Be safe, y’all!

“We’ve never dealt with anything like this before. Everyone’s reaction, no matter how unlike mine, is normal.”

This is what I keep telling myself while navigating the news and reactions around COVID-19. It’s taking us all some time to collectively get on the same page. It seems like it’s happening, though there will be plenty of people that take longer than others and plenty of people who decide not to change.

A few days ago there was somehow still a widespread attitude—which is hopefully easing off—that if you aren’t in an at-risk category you can feel free to go about as if nothing has changed. Unfortunately, we know that many coronavirus infections are spread by people who are not showing symptoms, so that line of thinking causes a significant problem to the greater community.

Our county does not have a confirmed case of COVID-19 yet, though testing has been extremely minimal—the county had something like 14 total available test kits last week. Washington has 769 confirmed cases as I write this and will probably cross 1000 within the next 48 hours and 2000 by the end of the week. It’s hard to imagine it has not made its way to this side of the state with so many people traveling back and forth to Seattle weekly via car and plane. And many students will likely come back to Pullman after spring break in a week to participate in “distance learning” from their dorm rooms and apartments. WSU has continued to maintain that the university will be operational. They have so far only suggested that at-risk employees work from home.

Our local chamber of commerce has been encouraging people to continue to support local businesses and there’s a good chance many people are not yet worried. The mood does seem to have changed a bit in the last few days. My guess is that Pullman, as a small rural town, will do relatively okay overall, though WSU has a history of poorly managing community spread.

It was announced this evening that Governor Inslee will be signing an order tomorrow morning to shut down restaurants and bars across the state. This comes only a couple days after the announcement of a state-wide school closure through the end of April.

Things like this should cause some pause and start to change WSU and Pullman’s positions. 🤞🏻

The statement “the novel coronavirus, SARS-COV-2, causes COVID-19 in humans” took a few weeks before I paid enough attention to actually parse into its pieces so that I understood. Now it feels like something I won’t ever forget.

I don’t remember ever hearing the terms “social distancing“, “community spread”, or “flattening the curve” before, but here we are: learning.

At the moment, Michelle and I are coming to terms with and embracing the importance of social distancing. I’ve also been starting to use the words “physical distancing” (thanks Eric) as we really will need to lean on each other in the coming year.

I already work from home almost every moment of the week—beyond the handful of visits to coffee shops, something I am very grateful for. For the last week we’ve reduced the number of reasons to go out and engage with public spaces. No gatherings with people, eating in restaurants, and no visiting multiple stores at a time. On Wednesday I had an excellent book club with 4 others over Zoom. I’m open to trying other types of virtual gatherings over the next few months.

It was February 26th that we decided to finally buy a couple large bags of rice and a few extra canned goods as a way to start stocking up without going overboard. Over the last few weeks we’ve filled in a handful of other staples. We’re thankful to have already had a chest freezer with a good amount of frozen broth, meat, soups, and vegetables. From a caloric and nutritional standpoint, we’re good to stay inside for quite a while if needed.

I’ve also settled on a “this is likely safe” routine for buying some more perishable or last-minute items. I’m okay walking into a store—hopefully at an off time, spending a few minutes picking up items, checking out, coming back home, and washing my hands. It seems smart to avoid trips to multiple places as it increases the number of possible touch points and times I may inadvertently touch my face.

We are still enjoying the outdoors, something we’re lucky to do because of our rural surroundings. It’s perfectly safe to go for hikes and walks and soak in the fresh air and sun. It would be tough living in a large city and trying to establish a good routine for getting out while keeping distance.

However prepared we are, the chances seem good that I’ll be infected by SARS-COV-2 in the next year or so, along with a large portion of Americans and much of the world.

None of this really scares me as an individual, though I definitely don’t look forward to it and definitely hope I’m wrong. Even though I was a heavy smoker for much of my 20s and even though I have had pneumonia, it’s hard to imagine being diagnosed with COVID-19 and not being able to manage it. Of course thinking we’re invincible is one of the things humans are best at, right?

I’ve only scratched the surface on thinking through the long-term global impact and the news we’re going to be dealing with as things get worse. A global event like this is shaping up to be something “we”, our living generations, have never really had to experience.

It would be so nice to know that we have acted in time, that the curve will flatten, and we’ll all feel a little silly a few months from now that we reacted so strongly.️