Our social distancing guidelines are underthought

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Seriously under-thought.

One way Covid-19 spread is you shove your hand in your mouth, then you use your hand to gob onto a door knob, then the next person to come along licks the door knob. So don’t do that!

If you think I’m being silly, watch some pre-schoolers for a while.

But even adults, at a somewhat lower rate, continuously shed their sheddable viruses a little at a time onto every surface, where the viruses either die over a period of a few hours or get picked up by the next person.

So imagine a scenario in which a person is sitting in a room and a stream of people come in, one at a time, to socially distance at 6 feet away, masked, to have a conversation with that person. Further, imagine the person sitting in place is a teacher, and the visitors are little kids getting to meet their teacher before a semester of distance learning.

Sounds totally safe. Indoors, six foot distance, masks. Nothing can possibly go wrong.

OK, now lets backtrack and find the student in the parking lot. The student and her brother and two parents have just parked. They are coming from a sports event they’ve been attending weekly for a month, at which everyone is shouting and no one is wearing a mask. The are all infected but don’t know it yet. The family heads for the school, and let themselves in the front door. Four people have now touched the doorknob. They are now in the lobby and a school employee, masked and with a face shield, stops them and says, “OK, you’all stay here in the lobby but six feet away from the other families, and I’ll walk little sally to see Mr. Scary the teacher.”

While the student is away, the family gravitates over to some people they know, and start a conversation at what they think is a safe 6 foot distance, but they forget, don’t pay attention, whatever, and pretty soon they are closing in and talking around their masks at each other. Family 2 is now exposed, and has, say, a 1 in 30 chance of getting the virus. This scenario is, of course, playing out hundreds of times across the school district, so there will be some transmission at the door knobs and in the lobby. In the parking lot outside, even.

Little Sally is now being accompanied down an empty hallway by a person she does not know wearing a face shield and a mask, and she starts to cry (= major shedding) on the way down the hall and needs to have her hand held for the last few meters going into the room. While talking to her teacher she is overwrought being away from her parents in this strange place so she throws up breakfast. But that’s OK, the teacher and a para clean it up. But, remember, Little Sally is a carrier, so there is now a thin film of Covid-19 kooties from the lobby to the classroom, even where the hasty cleanup (everyone is behind schedule) happens. This is the first of a four day meet and greet, with two days this week, and two days next week. So this gives Mr. Scary and the para plenty of time to become contagious. So, on week two, one in 100 kids that come in to meet their teacher picks up Covid-19. That is’t many. But the school district has 10 elementary schools, and this scenario is happening in all of them, for a total of 3,000 kiddos. So there are now 30 sick and shedding elementary students mostly doing distance learning at home and, slowly, one by one, killing off the grandparents.

If you don’t like that scenario, make up your own. The point is, masking up and staying 6 feet apart slows, but does not eliminate, infection. As we return to schools, even with precautions, this is going to happen. Everywhere.

And now there is new research that gives us a better idea of how a 6 foot social distance is an oversimplified concept that provides a false, and in this case, deadly, sense of security. More to the point: People think that if everyone “wears” a “mask” (did you notice the scare quotes there?) and stays “six feet” away from each other, than the chance of infection is zero. It isn’t. It never was.

The following nuance inducing graphic is from “Two metres or one: what is the evidence for physical distancing in covid-19?” by Jones, Qureshi, et all, just published.

Risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission from asymptomatic people in different settings and for different occupation times, venting, and crowding levels (ignoring variation in susceptibility and viral shedding rates). Face covering refers to those for the general population and not high grade respirators. The grades are indicative of qualitative relative risk and do not represent a quantitative measure. Other factors not presented in these tables may also need to be taken into account when considering transmission risk, including viral load of an infected person and people’s susceptibility to infection. Coughing or sneezing, even if these are due to irritation or allergies while asymptomatic, would exacerbate risk of exposure across an indoor space, regardless of ventilation

I’m not going to provide much of a summary of the article. It is very readable and clear. Just click here and find it, read it yourself.

“Instead of single, fixed physical distance rules, we propose graded recommendations that better reflect the multiple factors that combine to determine risk. This would provide greater protection in the highest risk settings but also greater freedom in lower risk settings, potentially enabling a return towards normality in some aspects of social and economic life.

Key messages:

  • Current rules on safe physical distancing are based on outdated science
  • Distribution of viral particles is affected by numerous factors, including air flow
  • Evidence suggests SARS-CoV-2 may travel more than 2 m through activities such as coughing and shouting
  • Rules on distancing should reflect the multiple factors that affect risk, including ventilation, occupancy, and exposure time


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Laura is a Formidable Hurricane

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That’s what the National Hurricane Center says.

At this moment, Laura is a Category 2 hurricane edging over the next few hours into Category 3 territory. It is possible that Laura will reach Category 4 status before making landfall, but the storm is expected to weaken a little prior to the eye coming ashore. Laura is large, so while still at maximum strength, it will be affecting the coast directly.

Laura, large, looming below the Louisiana littoral.

The most recent intensification, during which the storm grew in strength from Category 1 to Category 3 over several hours, is called “remarkable” by the NHC. Projections of Laura’s ultimate strength, days out, did not suggest that the storm would reach 3, close to 4, intensity. And, I think this is a pattern. Atlantic Hurricanes have developed this recent habit of either moving faster, forming more quickly, or getting stronger, than expected based on the usual models. It is like the models all need to have their sights adjusted a little.

Very soon, as of this writing, Laura will move in on the coast, and the eye will cross over in the wee hours of the morning Thursday AM. Some time between nightfall tonight and sun rise tomorrow, this Category 3 with gusts up to 150 mph will take a run at the Texas-Louisiana border. The best guess location for the eye to come ashore is between Beaumont Texas and Lake Charles Louisiana, with the front-right quadrant mainly in Louisiana.

Again, this is a large hurricane (and is a bit asymmetrical at least at the moment) so the storm surge flooding ie expected to cover a very large area, across the entire Louisiana coast line, even New Orleans. Much of the storm surge will be over 9 feet over the ground (not above sea level, but above where your feet are planted as you nail plywood over the front window of your house). There are complexities. Many areas along this coast have levees that will keep the storm surge completely out, until a levee is over-topped or breached. Then, it all comes in rather quickly.

You will recall that Hurricane Harvey (2017) messed up Port Arthur and Beaumont. These communities are under threat again, but the main effects will probably be to the east of there.

A typical Atlantic hurricane season has about 12 named storms, between 6 and 7 being hurricanes. Half the storms usually occur by about this time a year or a week or so later. So far this year, we have had 13 named storms, four of which have been hurricanes, and Laura, the only major one so far, is the strongest. All of the pre-season predictions said this was going to be an active year, and that has turned out to be true. This year seems to be characterized as having had an early start, with the formation of storms setting “earliest formed” records 10 times so far. This is a somewhat obscure statistic. For example, Cristobal, the third storm of the year, formed three days before the next earliest third storm (June 2 beating June 5). Laura, the 12th storm, formed 8 days earlier than the previos record holder, Luis, which formed August 29th 1995. Of note, most of the prior eariest records are from one year: 2005. You may remember that year, it included Katrina and Maria.


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Teachers: This one neat trick could save your life

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This is for all teachers, but only some of you will be able to do this. Depends on your topic. This may pertain mostly to biology teachers, maybe stats or math, but by extension, any science or empirical topic including history.

Never mind that the first thing bio students to know is about Hydrogen bonds, or that the first thing stats students need to know is basic probability theory. You already probably do some sort of introduction thing that gets the students oriented to your subject, with a “get to know you” component, etc.

Replace that with this. The first thing the students should encounter in your classroom is some sort of topic appropriate, level and age appropriate, encounter with pandemic reality. Many of your students are not taking this pandemic seriously. They’ve been hanging round mask-less and in close quarters with their friends all summer, maybe practicing on a team, whatever. They are not going to properly manage their own viral shed or the possibility of someone else’s pathogenic effluence. They are going to be gobbing all over each other, their desks, and you.

Now is the time to use your mad teaching skills to push at least some of your students in the direction of being more careful, and possibly, slowing the spread of the Covid-19 causing disease.

I know, I know, you are saying “we are doing distance learning, this does not matter.” But it does matter. The back to school outbreak is going to happen whether or not you, or your school, is doing distance learning, and your small part of the learning community overlaps with the rest of it. And, you never know when your college, HS administration, or school district is going to send the students back into your room. This is your chance. Take it.

Can’t think of an example of a lesson that would smart up your students, to enhance the behavioral part of their innate immune system? Don’t give me that! Of course you can, you are a great teacher! In face, once you’ve thought about it, I want to hear your ideas. Let’s get moving on this!


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Before the Covid-19 Vaccine, This.

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Antibodies may precede vaccines in fighting Covid-19. Antibody treatments involve producing antibodies against a disease, either by harvesting them from previously infected individuals or, better, making them using some sort of scientific magic (aka technology that is hard to explain). An antibody treatment can fight an existing virus, and avoid infection short term. Eventually the antibodies go away, so this does not confer immediate immunity.

This is not an uncommon situations. Lots of diseases appeared out of nowhere, and were initially treated this way until other longer term solutions could be developed. But many of those diseases were rare to begin with and remained rare, so the antibody treatment was not scaled up. Just read all those books and stories about “emerging diseases” from back in the “Hot Zone” literature days and you’ll see these stories played out.

Anyway, here is what some experts say quoted in a recent Science coverage by Jon Cohen:

“If you were going to put your money down, you would bet that you get the answer with the monoclonal before you get the answer with a vaccine,” says Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

and

“Antibodies have the potential to be an important bridge until the vaccine is available,” says Ajay Nirula, a vice president at Eli Lilly, one of several large companies investing in them. Likely to be more effective than remdesivir and dexamethasone, the repurposed drugs shown to help against COVID-19, antibodies could protect the highest risk health care workers from becoming infected while also lessening the severity of the disease in hospitalized patients. But producing monoclonals involves using bioreactors to grow lines of B cells that make the proteins, raising concerns they could be scarce and expensive. On 15 July, Lilly, AbCellera, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Genentech, and Amgen jointly asked the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) whether they could share information about manufacturing their monoclonals without violating antitrust laws “to expand and expedite production.”

Antibody expert Amy Jenkins (Pandemic Prevention Platform (P3) program at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) suggests a N ovember-December time line for seeing this technology in the field is not unrealistic.


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Opening the schools, Plan B

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This should really be Plan A but no school district is going to adopt this plan until after just the right cute little kid or beloved teacher dies of Covid-19 on a news day with few other distractions. This plan pertains to High Schools only. Perhaps later we can extend a version of this to other grades.

Here’s the plan.

1) Admit there is a deadly pandemic and that we need to not feed the virus. Also recognize that a realistic estimate of when a vaccine starts to be available is during the school year after the upcoming one, and that it will take a year or so to fully deploy it in the US. The plan for starting school should not be, as it is now, “we’ll do this for the first week then… who knows?” The plan should be one that will flexible but outlined for a two or three year time range, because that is the time range over which this pandemic is going to play out.

2) Change the requirements for graduating from high school. Henceforth, students must meet the core* class requirements, and do not need to meet total credit requirements. All students who have met these requirements are graduated instantly. That would instantly reduce the number of students in the schools by a few percent.

4) Add one year to the high school plan. Call it “Covid-Extention-Year.” (Why? See below.)

3) Identify (mainly) Seniors and Juniors who have only a few core class requirements to finish. Spread those required classes over the next two years (some Seniors will thus be extending their school time into CEY). Many students in most schools will in this manner only have one class at a time, at most, with many semesters/quarters not having to attend school at all.

4) Restrict all other teaching to core requirements only. So, no electives. All teachers are switched to core requirements, all students are taking core requirements.

Suddenly, 3-4% of students would be gone. Within one semester, another 10-15% of students would be graduated, while another 20% of students would be committed to attending school for only one or two classes over about a year and a half. These first four changes simply thin out the herd gracefully and without killing anyone, as opposed to the current approach, which will thin out the herd the hard way.

5) Do as much distance learning as possible, but if classes are required…

6) Revise the one room schoolhouse model.

  • Students stay in one room.
  • Passing time and bathroom access is set up to minimize hallway contact.
  • Teachers move from room to room (teaching core classes only) and wear hazmat
  • Very few students in each room so when an infection pops up the total number of students removed from school is small. They can come back in a few weeks.
  • Since teachers are suited up they do not have to be quarantined when a student in their room tests positive.

It is essential to keep the teaching staff intact. There will be more needed than usual because several will be out sick for more time than usual. Classes, both distant and in person, should have smaller class size (for most classes, some distant learning classes may not need that). The one room schoolhouse method not only reduces infection, but serves another goal: Relationship building will be easier and more solid in mostly distance learning settings.

*Many schools use the term “core” to refer to a specific subset of academics. What I mean here is different, and includes more. Think of it this way: Look at a set of class records for a sample of seniors. Consider the total number of classes, and the types of classes, that make those students viable HS graduates, and cut out everything else. In other words, pare down. Most students manage to get what we think of as a full on high school degree with a few classes extra. Some students do everything in three years, and earn a year of college. This does not mean removing art or music. It means paring down the individual student’s total work, and probably, the full range of options.

By reducing the number of students and keeping the number of teachers the same, and simplifying the offerings, it is easier to have smaller one-room learning units. While distance learning is ongoing the one-room learning units are not necessary, but they are ready to go when the students and teachers are called back into the classroom. This might be after a vaccine is available, but is still being deployed, and the virus is in smaller numbers but still a threat, which one might estimate to be some time during the 2021-2022 school year.


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Isaias is coming to an Atlantic Coast near you.

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Tropical Storm Isaias is now affecting, and is in the process of leaving, Hispaniola, and will spend the next few days transiting the Bahamas pretty much at the worst possible angle. During that time it will turn into a hurricane. Expectations are that it will not likely be a major hurricane, but the trend lately has been for hurricanes to be worse, or speedier, or both, than expected, so expect worse. By next Monday afternoon, the hurricane will be in a good position to make some sort of landfall in South Carolina or North Carolina. It will hug the coast as a hurricane or a storm all the way to Massachusetts and possibly beyond.


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Sign of the times. Or, how to not kill people on accident

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You are in motion. You may not realize this, but you are, even while you think you are standing still. Long ago physicists realized that everything is in motion, but they probably were not thinking of you. But I am thinking of you, and you are in motion.

Let me sharpen the point of this polemic so you get it right away. You are on a subway platform (a subway is like a train but it runs underground, in case you are in the Midwest or something) and you are in motion. When you move around on the platform, you may randomly bump into someone, and then maybe they bump into someone else. And so on. Every now and then, somebody is bumped off the platform and onto the tracks, and right away the subway (underground train) comes by (the engineer is a guy named Murphy) and runs that person over.

Did you see that part where you are in motion, and that actually caused someone to get run over by Murphy’s subway?

If you don’t vote, that is not not doing something. You are in motion, remember? Just “sanding there” not voting has consequences. You didn’t vote, you knocked someone off the subway platform. Get it?

I live in a suburban townhouse complex. Those of you who have always known me will know that I wasn’t born in one, never lived in them for most of my life, and it may be a bit of a surprise, but I almost never chose where I live (or what car I drove, for that matter) partly because there are other things I chose to choose instead. Anyway, here I am in this suburban townhouse complex in an outer ring white flight bedroom community of the Twin Cities. It is campaign season, and it is time for me to put out my campaign signs. Maybe a BLM sign and maybe a Vote Climate sign. I’ll probably mix them up, move them around, keep them visible and busy. Keep them in motion. Because I am in motion, and I confer some of that motion to my lawn signs. (I quickly add: In this political district, lawn signs do vote. You should see them on election day, springing along on their spindly little legs over to the polling place at the community center. But I digress.)

Naturally, the lawn signs cause a controversy. Sort of. Two things are in motion at the same time. Someone complained about lawn signs. The representative from our HOA’s management company swings into motion. A lawyer is consulted. The presumption is that the signs are bad. The presumption is that they are illegal. Oh no, wait, look it up, they are not illegal. But there are limits. Limits I say! Limits on time and limits on space, and damn well better move them when the vast green lawns are getting their grooming. Those who go beyond the limits must be told “No, no, that is a no-no!” We don’t want controversy. We don’t want the “liberal media” (yes, that term was actually used by the lawyer) to write a story about us! No no. Heavens no.

I’m on the board of the HOA, so I see this stuff in motion.

Meanwhile, I sit on my porch, with my lawn signs out there. My actual neighbors come by. “Hey, can I get one of those signs?” “Hey, can I get one of those other signs?” The signs cleverly stashed in my garage are in motion. They are marching on their spindly legs across the neighborhood and planting in the lawns everywhere. This is a sign of something, I figure.

So I delve into the email flurry about the law and the signs and the perception and the liberal media. I say, look, change your attitude. We need more, not fewer, signs. Do you not realize that sitting there in your Daly City inspired little townhouse in the white flight bedroom community suburb and grumpily scanning your neighbors’ lawns for signs of signs is exactly how you knock people, innocent people who did you no harm, and often, innocent people who actually require your protection and not your attack on them, off the subway platform into the unforgiving path of Murphy’s subway car? Do you not get this? “More signs!” I say. Put them in motion!

Move over, people who think they are standing still, and are satisfied with that, who even think it is the way to be. Everything is at risk right now. Every thing. Move purposefully, because you are, right now, moving randomly. There is no still. There is only do.


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Cool Minecraft Seeds: In or near a village

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If you don’t know what a Minecraft seed is, you don’t want to bother with this post. But if you do ….

Spawning in or near a village provides game play opportunities that are otherwise hard to come by. If you want to materialize in such a location, and are using version 1.16.1, try one of these seeds. To use the seed, enter the number as it is here (including the negative sign if there is one) in the seed box under “options” when you are creating a world. The version of Minecraft you are running matters. These seeds are for version 1.16.1

Version 1.16.3

NEW

This seed is a mixed bag. You appear very near a deep forest village that is a short distance from a desert biome. There is a lot of coal but almost no iron as far as I can tell. But, it is a nice village.

Seed: -4718454556811912285

Near a village with amazing mine/chasm

This seed: 5532707655392736628 will get you a couple of hundred blocks from a village. At the edge of the village is a squarish and deep chasm. Down in the chasm is a pretty good mine complex. The bottom of the visible complex is at altitude ca 34, but nearby is a deep extention of the chasm (but no old mine down there) that will get you to 12 blocks elevation. So the entire range of mining possibilities is already dug for you, though not easily navigated.

It is a very large and nice village with major water, like an inland waterway. If you explore along the waterway you’ll find a most unusual shipwreck, entirely on land, like it was buried in an old sandbar.

There is a desert village not too far away (a few hundred blocks) which also has a shipwreck near it (but this one is totally under the desert-side ocean).

Super Mine

This is the best mine I’ve seen, so I’m breaking the theme and giving it to you even though you do not spawn in a village

Enter the world and TP to -670 70 -280 There is a village here and several interesting nearby open caves. There is a second smaller village so close it might be the same village. Mining under the village you will find an extensive mine system with a lot of exposed ore and three chests with good stuff in them.

The seed is -8494316167453570516

Spawning within or in sight of a village:

-1053128584069537523

This spawns within sight of a village on an open landscape near desert and water. There is a mineshaft at about 416 ~ 128, beneath the desert and ocean region.

Spawn right in front of a pillager outpost

Then you die then yo respawn then you die then you respawn… have fun!

See: 9220675143558309571

_______________ everything below this is 1.16.1 or 1.16.2

-6792219503154658043

Spawns right in the middle of a village.
There is a river running through the village, and down river not too far is a mineshaft. The nearest point to the mineshaft is on the surface near 68.90 ~ -261.54

Spawning near a village:

-5296127309940685884

The village is 207 blocks away.

Sparsely populated forest village with some rugged terrain.

Go right around or over the steep sided squarish mountain the village is next to to find a cave with plenty of surface charcoal. There is a mineshaft nearby as well, north of the village, also on the other side of that mountain.

Even though you are in a forest, there is ocean within 400 blocks, where you will find a buried treasure at about -40, -325. Dig around, you’ll find it.

This map also has one of the more spectacular mountain-ocean interfaces.

-1498961200349013624

The village is just over 300 blocks away. There is a mineshaft close by. There is a large house with a library inside. Go to the front steps, then measure out about 8 paces from there, and dig straight down, and you’ll hit the mine system.

2336358023575630299

The spawn point is near a fairly deep cave with a lot of potential, inclining lava.

A Village is just over 100 blocks to the northwest, but you’ll have to go through thick woods and rugged terrain. Head for high ground, you’ll probably find some path blocks there to give you a clue as to where it is.

There is a tall house with a second floor only reachable by an outside stairway. The lower floor has a bed and a crafting table. Go to the front of the house and head out about five or six blocks and dig straight down. That will be your mineshaft. You will have to dig down just over 40 blocks, but it is a spectacular mineshaft with many hazards including water and lava.

807383736090756821

You will spawn on a small island off an elongated, mountainous peninsula. Head north, crossing the water. After going around a big mountain you will find a village.

In the village is a squarish house with a red carpet and a brewing station in it, with some grass overgrowing the floor. Directly below the red carpet is a void containing a special prize. You’ll have to dig down about 16 blocks or so.

To locate the nearest underground mineshaft, locate the house on stilts that has the cartography table in it. Go to the back of the house and move about 15 paces (blocks) north. Then walk west about 21 paces, through the garden area. You will need to dig down about 40 blocks, then you will be in part of the mine.

Head east from the village, along the shore, to find large island mountain with a huge void in the middle of it. Off a low rocky peninsula of the island, facing east, is a comma shaped sandbar/island. Just off the sandbar, under the water and under the sand, is a buried treasure that has lots of goods stuff in it.

-3100377989373862997

You will spawn at about 15.50 63.00 41.50 just a short distance from a desert village. There is a mineshaft not too far away. One point within the mineshaft is 277.48 26.00 35.11. Happy digging.

-6936997656315095788

Spawn at -168 82 204
Nearest village: -226 74 128 (Medium size village with nearby cliffs and good terrain, and water.)

Another village: 170 64 157

Mineshaft not too far away at -383 74 304
Point inside the mineshaft: -404 24 295
Buried treasure on a small island at 425 66 473

6014823249579880796

Spawn at 231.50 70.00 3.50 and travel from there to a desert village at 63.00 63.00 106.68.
There is a nearby mineshaft. If you can dig your way to about -48.85 15.00 87.80 you will find an interesting integration between a large natural chasm and the mineshaft. Careful. The floor is lava!

Bonus village at -790.54 63.94 748.07.

Bonus adventure seed!

Try this seed: -8376010895890193196

You will spawn here: -3.50 110.00 -1.50. Good luck with that.


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Understating Airborne Covid-19

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My title is slightly misleading but meant to tell you what this essay is about. I want to talk about recent reports that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, is airborne.

The concept of airborne in thinking about pathogens is probably the single most misunderstood thing in epidemiology, not by epidemiologists but by regular people. It is also probably the most evocative, and stupifying. Recently, the word “airborne” has been used in discussions of Covid-19, and this led to many extreme reactions. Like this:

Input: Bla bla bla Covid-19 bla bla bla airborne.

Output: All the credible experts have agreed that Covid is airbone! it is no longer spread by contact, but now it is airborne! The Fauci mutation probably made it airborne! And so on!

SARS-CoV-2 is spread by shedding from an infected person’s respiratory system and getting into a new host’s respiratory system via droplets of mucus that go from hand to hand, hand to mouth, mouth to hand, mouth or nose to surface, surface to hand then hand to mouth, etc. Human upper respiratory bodily fluids (snot, etc.) get on stuff and then people touch stuff and then it get into their respiratory system. This is how most cold and flu infections are passed on, generally. That is not airborne spread.

Among all the many viruses that give us colds or the flu — the many strains of influenza, rhinovirus, coronaviruses other than SARS-CoV-2, etc. — this is how infection happens.

Again, this is not airborne spread. It might be airborne in your head, because you imagine someone sneezing, into the air, droplets of virus-containing spittle and snot flying around in the air, and since that stuff flies through the air it must therefore airborne. But that is not what airborne means, and the distinction is important.

There is probably a certain amount of true airborne transmission in any of the above mentioned categories of virus, including the flu and more common colds. But it is rare enough that these diseases are not said to be airborne.

So what is airborne then, if it is not simply flying snot particles?

Airborne spread requires several things to be true often enough that an observable number of cases were spread in this way. First, the virus must be aerosolized. This means that the virus is embedded in a very small gobs of snot, perhaps near 5 microns, droplets that are small enough to be suspended in the air. Larger drops will fall out of the air, these smaller drops will float in the air like they were part of the air. They act like a gas in the air.

The droplets also have to be small enough to get into the parts of the respiratory system that the virus targets, which for SARS-CoV-2 is not too much of a limiting factor since it likes to inhabit the upper respiratory tract. But, since it also can invade the lungs, there would be the possibility that airborne transmission would be more associated with a more serious infection, if and when it happens.

Airborne spread also requires that the virus can live in the air long enough to get to its target. The longer the virus can live in the air, the worse of a problem it is because it can travel farther, through ventilation systems, down hallways, etc. There is no evidence that SARS-CoV-2 does that like, say measles, the king of airborne infection does it. Whatever environmental conditions are experienced by this suspended droplet have to NOT kill the virus. IV light kills SARS-CoV-2, so it is not going to get far during the day, outside, when the sun is out. SARS-CoV-2 might like certain humidity levels. None of this is really known for SARS-CoV-2, but it is a virus of type that we generally know about. Other forms of coronavirus are known to survive a while in the air, so that may pertain here. Be cautious in reacting to what you hear though. Detecting a virus some distance away from a sneeze does not mean that the virus is viable or capable of infection

Also, the virus has to be out there in the air in sufficient numbers to actually cause an infection. One would think that it only takes one single virus to infect someone, but generally it takes a much larger number. There seems to be a threshold for most viruses. The body dispenses of the first N viruses, then after that it gets harder, and eventually the system is overwhelmed. Maybe. The point is, virus experts will tell you that is has to be a large number for most viruses, and this is certainly true for SARS-CoV-2.

Truly aerosolized, viable, in sufficient numbers.

Finally, note that if SARS-CoV-2 was mainly airborne, we would know it by now. You can look at it, epidemiologically, and say, no, the main form of transmission is not airborne. That does not mean that there is not an airborne component, but it means that airborne is not the major way of spread. That has not changed.

What does the new research tell us?

Well, by the standards of peer reviewed scientific research, pretty much nothing, because that research is still in its infancy. But here is what happened. Several cases of infection have been reported that can be best explained by airborne infection. How many? So few that some would interpret that as potentially useless data. These may be cases that are simply misreported. Somebody licked someone else’s tongue and refuses to admit it. Does that really happen? Well, ask any expert on the epidemiology of sexually transmitted diseases about it. Of course it can. Most rare cases can be explained away or ignored.

But in this case, a large number of experts have settled on a provisional consensus: They see enough cases of possible airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to ask the overarching institutional authorities like the CDC to seriously consider it and look into it. Yeah, that is it. Important, concerning, should shape policy modestly for now, requires more consideration. The smart money is on SARS-CoV-2 being transmittable via aerosol, though that will probably not be the main modality of transmission in most settings. That is my bet. Airborne transmission can happen, and will happen in some cases. More on that below. But, this is provisional.

What this does not mean.

This does not mean that there is a new mutation. Repeat: this is not a new mutation. This has been there all along, and the fact that it has not been obvious since the beginning means, as stated, this is not the new mode of transmission. This does not mean that the virus has changed. Probably.

This also has no impact on mask wearing. Airborne transmission will go right around the masks most people wear, but we already know that if airborne transmission is happening, it is not the main way the virus is spread. This is NOT AN ARGUMENT TO NOT WEAR MASKS so don’t go making that argument or you are a full-on jerk. Ignorant jerk. I know you won’t, but if you see that argument being made by others, that is what you are seeing. That argument is so stupid, you can expect Trump to make it soon.

What this might mean.

This is the important part of all this, worthy of careful consideration. Assume that normal near-distance non airborne transmission is the normal and most common form of transmission by a large margin. We assume that if people are kept a minimum of 6 feet away from each other (or 10 if you like) and do not share objects with their hands and faces, i.e, social distancing, that transmission will be minimized. This works for social gatherings, according to some, especially if masks are worn.

However, over longer term, while people are avoiding infecting each other by keeping their mucus to themselves, a low level background transmission via the air could be happening at a small level.

It would be rare. Say one hour of exposure within a single medium size room with modest air circulation has a one in a thousand chance of one infected person giving the disease to one other person in the room. (I am totally making up all these numbers, but just bear with me.)

But now, we take that room and put between zero and three infected people in it, and 30 target non infected people. But we put then in that room for 8 hours, and do that for 185 days. This configuration of people might sound familiar to you.

This is a classroom full of students social distancing. But wait, you say, if they are social distancing, they can’t fit 30 people in the room. But you would be wrong in some cases. Elementary schools with the pod system have four classes of 30 (including teachers) in the room. They will get their social distancing by spreading out into larger rooms in closed high schools or other places (gyms, etc.), so the main class of about 30 is still in one room. Maybe not. The point is, in the worst case scenario, we divide 1,000 by 8 (hours) then again by 185 (days) to get a baseline on transmission probability (though the math is slightly more complex than that) to arrive at this conclusion: Transmission within the classroom where there are one or two virus shedding individuals on any given day is nearly inevitable if there is a low probability of airborne transmission. Most classrooms may have zero infected people most of the time, but in a given school there would be several classes. In a given school system, maybe dozens and dozens.

If the air circulation does not remove the viruses, maybe they are being spread across the school. Students passing in halls, or any classes where the kids are reshuffled add to the dynamic, families with multiple kids (or both kids and staff) in the same school, etc. add to the dynamic.

You can do a similar calculation for restaurants and bars. Regular inside dining and bar hopping even with social distancing and mask wearing is probably not recommended if there is a low level of airborne transmission. More limitations on how retail shopping happens may be recommended. Certainly, unnecessary retail shopping maybe an unnecessary danger.

The final meaning of it all: When it comes to basic day to day life, under the current conditions of caution and distancing, this airborne problem would not have that much of an effect because it has to be rare. We know it is rare (if it is real) because if it was common we would see it. But, under school or large workplace reopening conditions, or reopening of indoor dining and shopping, etc., it may be a factor that causes two really bad problems.

1) More outbreaks, and some insidious ones. The school children, some getting very sick and maybe dying, others never becoming ill, passing the disease on to their families. Ignoring the airborne problem may involve asking our children to kill their grandparents, then live with that for the rest of their lives. You might get sick because you needed to shop for a new comic book or try out the headphones at the electronic store instead of ordering on line.

2) Not discussed anywhere else as far as I know, but I would think obvious: if we set up a situation where the rare airborne transmission has a better chance of actually transmitting the disease, we may also be setting up a positive selective environment for that. In other words, we may help make SARS-CoV-2 more airborne by giving it this chance. That is pure speculation on my part, but speculation based on some damn powerful theory (Darwinian evolution). It is not a chance I’d like to take.


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The War On Science Is Over, Though The Fight Continues

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The Battle of New Orleans, one of the major battles of the War of 1812, was fought on January 8th, 1815. The War of 1812 had ended the previous December. Awkward. In South Africa, the “Second Boer War” broke out for a number of reasons, but the common thread was about how the various territories of the region should be organized and governed. War was declared in October 1899, and formally ended on May 31st, 1902. The political and ideological struggle continued, and it was not until 1910 that the first official agreement to address the initial reasons for the war emerged. But even after that the struggle continued. The American Civil War ended on April 9th, 1865. A half dozen major battles and 16 months later, the fighting in that ended war petered out. The ideological struggle related to that war continues today, and thousands have died over it, after it was over.

A purely ideological war (though not without material casualties) is the war against the teaching of evolution in American public schools. There was a lot of action in that war throughout much of the 20th century. On December 20th, 2005, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania decided Tammy Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District in favor of the science of evolution being taught unfettered, and identified the last breath of a pseudo-scientific creationist doctrine as an expression of religion. Sure, people still continued to fight over the issue, but after the Dover decision, there were very few significant fights in public schools over evolution, the battles being brought to state legislatures, where they never took root because of Dover. Fighting continued, ideological battles continued, just like in all those other wars, but the war on evolution in the US public school system ended in December 2005.

I declare the war on science over this month, July, 2020. Nice round patriotic number. We can pick a date later after history has sorted out some details. But the war ended when this happened: American anti science forces having spent months telling people that Covid-19 was a hoax, not really deadly, not really as bad as it seemed, and that masks did not really matter … well, they started wearing masks. Pence and Trump surrendered the war when they said wear masks. The people in my local grocery store, that had been not wearing masks, masked up. The end. War over.

Most of my friends are pedantic skeptics, just like you dear reader, and you won’t let me say that the war on science is over because bla bla bla bla. That is why I wrote the little introduction at the beginning of this blog post. If we treat every thing like we were Wikipedia editors, than every thing would be slightly to very warped and things like wars would never be over. Get over it. This war is over, even if sporadic fighting continues until the Sun expands.

By the way, did you notice that there are some wars that actually unambiguously end, like World War II? Do you know why they get to end but other wars, from a pedantic perspective, never do? I’m not sure but I think those are wars started by individuals, or small groups of different kings or leaders, then when the opposition (usually, the good guys) catch up to them and put them down, the war ends, more or less instantly. But I digress.

There is still a fight, there are still more fights over science and justice and all that. But the systematic Republican controlled war on science in America got won. By us.

Mask up!


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I shall not presume to dwell at length about the associations that cluster about this day….

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And if you like that kind of talk, I’ve got more for you in a minute.

The person who said those words was the Vice Presidential running mate on the Equal Rights Party ticket (though he did not ask to be). He was a criminal; born a slave, but escaped. He’s on a stamp. Two stamps, I think. He wrote this book, this book, and this book. And, he gave a few speeches.

Here are some great kids, and by “great” I mean “great, great, great, great, great!” kids giving his Forth of July Speech, originally delivered on July 5th, 1852. By Frederick Douglass

Don’t be fulled by the children’s brevity. Nobody was brief in 1852. Here is the full speech: Continue reading I shall not presume to dwell at length about the associations that cluster about this day….


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Your Normal Fourth

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I read the news today, oh boy. To coin a phrase.

Here is what my local paper’s headline said: “Socializing is a must for many on the 4th.”

Digging in we find that “For some, it was a time to throw caution to the wind and reclaim normalcy as they headed to a lake cabins, parks and backyard barbecues…Across the state, Minnesotans are making their own decisions while health care and government officials hold their breath…”

The quest for normalcy is powerful enough to make people dishonest with themselves, so you get sentences of this form: “I heard the Virus did/didn’t really do this/that/other thing, so I guess it is OK if I whatever-whevever [fill in idiotic decision here].”

Let me tell you what normal is. You go a week without a funeral. Several weeks. Maybe months, or a year. Normal is not when one of your relatives, friends, work associates, one of the kids in your child’s class, or the parent of one of the kids, or the old person that lives two doors down but you never talk to much but they just took her away in the ambulance, or a checkout person who’s name you never knew, or two of the nurses at the hospital your kid was born in, etc. etc. … normal is not when one of those people dies on average about every 14 day or so (but sometimes with longer gaps, sometimes in clusters) at the peak of Your Local Epidemic.

If you want to achieve normalcy during the 365 days between moments of must, when you must do the thing that is least recommended by people who must be much smarter than you are, then you must not. This applies to gatherings on the fourth, it will apply to all the holidays throughout much of the year. Next winter holidays, like Christmas and New years, or before that, Halloween which seems to have become the local Spring Break party holiday among America’s 20-somethings, or the most traveled day of the year, Thanksgiving, if you must seek normalcy the grim reaper must seek your family and fiends.

And eventually, not your parents, cousins, children, or neighbors. But you. Ask not for whom the germ theory tolls.


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Donald Trump Says: “Do not buy this book.”

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This is the description of Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man by Mary Trump.

In this revelatory, authoritative portrait of Donald J. Trump and the toxic family that made him, Mary L. Trump, a trained clinical psychologist and Donald’s only niece, shines a bright light on the dark history of their family in order to explain how her uncle became the man who now threatens the world’s health, economic security, and social fabric.

Mary Trump spent much of her childhood in her grandparents’ large, imposing house in the heart of Queens, where Donald and his four siblings grew up. She describes a nightmare of traumas, destructive relationships, and a tragic combination of neglect and abuse. She explains how specific events and general family patterns created the damaged man who currently occupies the Oval Office, including the strange and harmful relationship between Fred Trump and his two oldest sons, Fred Jr. and Donald.

A firsthand witness to countless holiday meals and family interactions, Mary brings an incisive wit and unexpected humor to sometimes grim, often confounding family events. She recounts in unsparing detail everything from her uncle Donald’s place in the family spotlight and Ivana’s penchant for regifting to her grandmother’s frequent injuries and illnesses and the appalling way Donald, Fred Trump’s favorite son, dismissed and derided him when he began to succumb to Alzheimer’s.

Numerous pundits, armchair psychologists, and journalists have sought to parse Donald J. Trump’s lethal flaws. Mary L. Trump has the education, insight, and intimate familiarity needed to reveal what makes Donald, and the rest of her clan, tick. She alone can recount this fascinating, unnerving saga, not just because of her insider’s perspective but also because she is the only Trump willing to tell the truth about one of the world’s most powerful and dysfunctional families.


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