COVID-19: Part 11

March 27, 2020 3:44 pm
  • Last week's number of first-time unemployment applications released: ~3.3 million (previous max was ~700,000).
  • The Senate passed (Wed. night) a third massive stimulus/relief bill, $2.2 trillion; the House passed the bill Friday afternoon and Trump signed it.
  • More states (finally) enact shelter-at-home orders over the last few days: Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico, Washington, West Virginia (and more, I think). The restrictions and enforcement vary, but the gist is still "stay home."
  • South Africa announces 3-week nation-wide lockdown.
  • China is re-closing all movie theaters.
  • Trump orders GM to immediately begin producing ventilators under Defense Production Act authority.
  • Rhode Island and Florida have begun using border checkpoints to instruct travelers from out of the area that they must quarantine for 2 weeks.
  • Alameda county cases: 204; 4 deaths
  • U.S. cases 90,000+; 1,300+ deaths

I guess stunning headlines is the new normal because they hardly feel stunning. Within 2 days multiple major events that have never before happened in our country's history, crazy. And these kinds of headlines will continue since the worst is still to come.

In an interview, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said he expected this $2.2 trillion package to stabilize the country for 3 months. But who knows, White House officials in the current administration have laid a long history of lying about anything and everything. So that number comes with a huge salt crystal attached. The problem with lying all the time--when your credibility suddenly really matters, you have none.

I've mentioned how the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) has been doing a few times in this series, but I don't think I've mentioned the bond market. On 3/25, the 1-, 2-, and 3-month Treasury Bonds all closed at 0.00%. 2-year bonds have been bouncing around 0.3% this week; with 10-year bonds around 0.8%. On 3/9 all Treasury bonds, from 1-month to 30-year closed below 1.0%. The 30-year bond has since "recovered" to ~1.4%. It's absolutely bonkers. The thinnest of silver-linings here is that I expect we'll be able to refinance our mortgage at around 2.5% at some point. We already have a 3.625% rate, so it wouldn't be a monumental change, but would still save thousands of dollars over the life of the loan.

Yesterday (3/26) Ohio's governor gave a press conference with Ohio Department of Health's director Dr. Amy Acton which contained this exchange between Dr. Acton and a reporter (at about 38:40 in this video:

Reporter: One quick clarification. You referred to this 6,000-8,000 cases--
Dr. Acton: --at peak--
Reporter: In what context? When? Is that what you perceive as the maximum?
Dr. Acton: Yah, our modelers, based on the best data we have available in Ohio--umm, and, again, that data will get better and better and refined. And that's why you'll see, when you go and look online at our graph, it's sort of shadowy because it's from like our least amount to most; umm, that will be at the peak surge that we could be seeing that many cases a day.
Reporter: You're referring to 6,000-8,000 cases at the same time?
Dr. Acton: A day.
Reporter: A Day?!
Dr. Acton: A day.
[5-seconds silence]
Reporter: New cases a day.
Dr. Acton: Yes. Remember this is doubling--in New York right now it's doubling every three days.
Reporter: Do you agree around the May 1st time frame?
Dr. Acton: That's our best projection. And it's really holding true; that's some of the national modeling that had been done in the U.K. modeling and it's looking from our preliminary look--our first look into Ohio's data that we had at least enough to do that general forecasting--it's looking like that. But everything we do--I know this sounds terrible, but the more we can push that surge off the better our hospitals are getting ready--they're getting ready and building out their systems, so every day matters.

Here is the modeling graph she referred to:

As you can see, at least in Ohio, this is just beginning (since they have been mitigating spread). And that's true of most, if not all, of the rest of the country too. I haven't been able to find any modeling specifically for California.

From China, over the next couple of weeks we'll begin to find out what happens after suppression measures are lifted. Their numbers had been looking under control (assuming the data can be trusted), but a re-closing of movie theaters may suggest they're already seeing upticks in infection rates.

Jess ordered "Frozen II" as a quarantine monotony breaker which arrived today. So the girls have that to look forward to sometime in the next few days.

Erin had some fancy cookies delivered to us yesterday.

Heather and Corinne were able to spend some time outside on their bikes today. Corinne is working on figuring out the balance bike (no pedals). She's picking it up pretty quickly.

I've modified my schedule this week. Due to consistently low-quality sleep for the last many days I'm no longer setting my alarm. I figure if I'm actually asleep in the morning it will be better to get that sleep than to force myself out of bed. With the girls needing attention it's not like I can sleep in late anyway, but why add an extra intrusion to possible sleep? With that schedule change I've also been taking my daily walks at the end of my work day.

Earlier this week Jess braved the healthcare system to have some blood work done and to pick up her new migraine medication. She said there was a person doing screening outside the facility who would then mark a paper indicating your destination and that you'd been screened. It was question-based screening, not temperature-taking or anything.

Our wisteria looks like it's going to have a ton of flowers this year. It seems to be regrowing pretty strongly after cutting it down to replace the pergola and clear the rotted sections.

COVID-19: Part 10

March 25, 2020 4:38 pm
  • India locks down entire country for 21 days.
  • Several manufacturers announce plans to convert assembly lines to produce medical personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators.
  • Data from two of the contaminated cruise ships suggests the virus can survive on some surfaces for at least 17 days.
  • SF Bay Area counties extend school closure until May 4.
  • Atlanta mayor reports their ICUs are at capacity.
  • Alameda County cases: 124 (though that number is from yesterday).

The girls' usual schedule each day is breakfast then exercise, math & language arts worksheets (Heather) / alphabet practice (Corinne), and chores. Free time until lunch. After lunch, drawing practice with Mo Willems (YouTube videos), "States of Matter" workbook (Heather). Free time until snack at 3. After snack, if the weather is nice, play time outside or a walk.

They've been watching a fair bit of "Science Max" videos. This appears to be the 2020 incarnation of the "Bill Nye the Science Guy" concept. One might think the host's name is "Max", but it's "Phil". Apparently he "takes every experiment to the max".

Congress is still trying to pass a third stimulus/relief bill. On the news of a third bill (of almost $2 trillion) being almost complete the DJIA jumped 2,100+ points (11+%) yesterday and another 500 points today.

In an interview yesterday Trump seemed to be suggesting that everything will be back to normal by Easter (18 days), which doesn't seem to match reality. And "having the churches packed with people for Easter" would be a terrible, terrible idea.

Last night Jess and I started watching the HBO miniseries "Chernobyl" (2019). Haven't decided whether it's a bad idea to watch another catastrophe unfold right now or not. Sadly there seem to be some parallels with the people in charge denying that any problem exists until it's completely out of hand.

The current dessert is chocolate-chip cookies I made on Monday and Oreos. I've run out of chocolate milk. Dinner last night was hotdogs cut up in baked beans. Historically one of Heather's favorites, but, apparently, she's over it now.

Today's picture is from our own backyard:

COVID-19: Part 9

March 23, 2020 4:33 pm
  • Virginia ends their school year.
  • New York is requesting the Army Corps of Engineers begin immediate construction on 4 temporary hospitals.
  • New York orders hospitals to figure out how to increase their capacity by a minimum of 50% as soon as possible.
  • New Zealand and the United Kingdom enact nation-wide isolation measures.
  • More states are issuing shelter-at-home or only-essential-business orders. They vary in strictness and enforcement so it's hard to track what each state is doing, but new restrictions were announced by Delaware, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, and Virginia.
  • The Federal Reserve announced they will undertake an unlimited quantitative easing program to try to stabilize the financial markets.
  • The Fed also announced plans to extend credit directly to businesses and cities; something way beyond their scope historically.
  • DJIA closed down another 3.0% (18,592, down 11,000 points since January).
  • Congress failed to move forward the third stimulus/relief bill. The goal was to pass it today, which isn't likely to happen.
  • 2020 Summer Olympics have been postponed, likely to 2021.
  • Alameda County cases: 112.

Last night Trump tweeted out that we need to loosen restrictions and get people back to work to improve the economy. This morning the Surgeon General gave a press conference emphasizing that the situation throughout the country is only going to get worse this week. So messaging is mixed-at-best coming from the Federal Government.

The Lab has officially transitioned to "Minimum Safe Operations" as of today in response to Alameda County's shelter-at-home directive that went into effect last week. Only those necessary for the safety and security of the facility are allowed on site without approval. I am now starting my third week working from home.

Restaurants, closed to dining-in, have been providing delivery or take-out orders of prepared food and many have started providing retail access to their supplies. It's interesting, the restaurant space represents an entirely separate supply chain from the retail grocery space. With the strict restrictions on restaurants their supply chains are presumably glutted with excess product. Meanwhile, retail grocery supplies are being stripped bare.

It seems likely there are people trying to work out the fastest way to divert restaurant supplies to store shelves, but that's going to take time. UPCs need to be entered into computer systems, contracts need to be written up and signed, trucks and warehouses need to be retasked. Though, if retail supply chains have plenty of product and it's just a matter of delivering it, then it may not make sense to bring in another logistical system. Meanwhile, I can go to the quickly-thrown-together online-ordering website for a restaurant in town and order butter, strawberries, chicken nuggets, ground beef, flour, oats, hamburger buns, potatoes, pasta, bread, etc. and pick it up the next day.

I baked some bread yesterday and for dinner we had fresh bread, apples, and Vermont cheddar cheese. Heather declared it one of the best meals she's ever had. Heather and I had more of the same for lunch today.

From today's walk, another fairy house:

COVID-19: Part 8

March 22, 2020 11:43 am
  • New Jersey issues a shelter-at-home order. ~25% of U.S. population now under varying degrees of shelter-at-home orders.
  • 3 Congress members have now tested positive.
  • Alameda County reporting 100 confirmed cases.

The weekend is fairly calm so far (Sunday morning).

I reached 14-days of extra-familial isolation on Friday. Then I went to the grocery store last night to refresh our supply of perishables.

Safeway wasn't as bad as I feared, but it was still like nothing I've ever seen or ever expect to see again once this has passed. Plenty of fresh produce, milk, cereal, chips, snacks, & desserts. No eggs, pasta, rice, beans, flour, yeast, sugar. Limited quantities of yogurt, cheese, butter, and frozen goods.

Bread, milk, and eggs were all on limit-2 per household restrictions.

The store wasn't crowded, but of the people there many had either face-masks or gloves on. I wore nitrile gloves. I keep a box in the garage for working on the car or doing other tasks that get messy but still require digital dexterity. I did not buy them in response to this event--I've had them for months. So I'll use what I've got to try and slow the spread.

Safeway is usually open 24/7; under the isolation measures it now closes at 10 for restocking and cleaning. I left as they were announcing that they were preparing to close and everyone needed to begin checking out. They've installed clear plastic barriers between the cashiers and the customers to avoid as much respiratory interaction as they reasonably can.

When I got home I stocked the new goods in the garage to quarantine them for several days. Perishables got wiped down with at least some kind of sanitizing solution before being put in the fridge. It may not be effective on coronavirus, but I figure it's better than nothing.

Should be able to avoid leaving the house again for another 1.5-2 weeks. I only expect the medical conditions to get worse in that time frame. No idea what to expect for the food availability. Will people just keep hoarding as it comes in or will they eventually decide they don't actually need any more and shelves will refill?

This morning I walked down to the local Mexican Market to see if I could find some eggs. They did have eggs and a few other things I couldn't find at Safeway.

I will not be surprised to see states starting to do border closures at this point. If the federal government doesn't start actually doing something to enact isolation measures nationwide it's going to start looking like every-state-for-itself. California started earliest, so that's encouraging. It's still not going to be good, but better than it would have been. I'm shocked that Washington State still doesn't have shelter-at-home orders in place since it is one of the worst-hit places already.

We're going to get the girls outside to ride their bikes today before more rain moves in.

A picture from yesterday's walk:

COVID-19: Part 7

March 20, 2020 2:45 pm
  • U.S./Mexico border closed.
  • Illinois puts in place a shelter-at-home directive.
  • New York puts in place a not-quite shelter-at-home directive. If it expands to a shelter-at-home directive (which it likely will) it, with Illinois and California, would put ~22% of the U.S. population under shelter-at-home directives.
  • The State Department shuts down visa services and advises U.S. residents to not leave the country and if abroad to return home immediately or prepare to stay where they are indefinitely.
  • As additional economic-bailout-measures are debated, states are enacting moratoriums on evictions; moratoriums on utility disconnects have already be enacted in many places.
  • Between loss of demand and increased production by Russia and Saudi Arabia oil prices have collapsed. WTI is trading at ~$20/barrel, down from ~$60 in January.
  • Financial firms are forecasting GDP drops of 10-24% per quarter.
  • DJIA down another 4.5% today.
  • Alameda County is reporting 45 cases as of today.

It appears that much of the rapid implementation of strong isolation requirements is due to the release of this report dated March 16 from the WHO Collaborating Centre for Infectious Disease Modelling, MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, Abdul Latif Jameel Institute for Disease and Emergency Analytics, Imperial College London. This is apparently a very well respected epidemiology group.

The report is...I'll say "sobering" rather than "terrifying" (oh, too late). It describes three broad scenarios of response: do nothing special, "mitigation", and "suppression" (further broken down into particular measures). Using the best available information and filling in the gaps with their own expert-based opinions the team performed computer modeling of how the disease would affect the U.K. and the U.S.

The "do nothing special" category suggests 2.2 million U.S. deaths; peaking in late June and ICUs already being overwhelmed by mid April.

Applying "mitigation" measures over a three-month period suggests that number could be reduced to 1.1 million U.S. deaths.

We therefore conclude that epidemic suppression is the only viable strategy at the current time. The social and economic effects of the measures which are needed to achieve this policy goal will be profound.

From the summary:

We show that in the UK and US context, suppression will minimally require a combination of social distancing of the entire population, home isolation of cases and household quarantine of their family members. This may need to be supplemented by school and university closures, though it should be recognised that such closures may have negative impacts on health systems due to increased absenteeism. The major challenge of suppression is that this type of intensive intervention package – or something equivalently effective at reducing transmission – will need to be maintained until a vaccine becomes available (potentially 18 months or more) – given that we predict that transmission will quickly rebound if interventions are relaxed. We show that intermittent social distancing – triggered by trends in disease surveillance – may allow interventions to be relaxed temporarily in relative short time windows, but measures will need to be reintroduced if or when case numbers rebound. Last, while experience in China and now South Korea show that suppression is possible in the short term, it remains to be seen whether it is possible long-term, and whether the social and economic costs of the interventions adopted thus far can be reduced.

And this is what has the world freaking out. Governments were reading this report on Monday (and presumably inside groups were being briefed on the findings before the report was completed).

Note: I can't find an explicit statement in the report of the modeled death count when applying "suppression" measures. They have a complicated chart with technical language I'm not versed in and am not sure how to read.

With "suppression" measures in place, the modeling suggests U.S. ICUs being overwhelmed in early August, but only by 40% rather than the 1500% in the "do nothing" approach. This assumes the full suppression measures are in force by early April.

With that modeling, under a best-case scenario the worst of it is still weeks away and when the suppression measures are lifted we'll still get clobbered about 6 weeks later, requiring waves of suppression.

However, we emphasise that [it] is not at all certain that suppression will succeed long term; no public health intervention with such disruptive effects on society has been previously attempted for such a long duration of time. How populations and societies will respond remains unclear.

So, yah. That's not comforting. Of course, it's possible that this analysis is fundamentally flawed. As more data (especially testing) becomes available these models will be updated and re-run. Until then, this seems to be the best information available. And when the best information available says that even with mitigation measures a million people are going to die then people start freaking out.

Here's a picture of some flowers I saw on my walk today. Deep breath.

I spent my work day implementing tests for code that will populate names for active users and clean up duplicate accounts. Feels super relevant.