17 March 2020
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Is What We're Doing All Wrong?

As I have mentioned before, my only genuine expertise in epidemiology is that I can spell the word. Even so, as an American I have and am entitled to spew thoughts and opinions, regardless of their validity. Here are a few.


This is the great puzzle, at least to me. I read article after article about how the availability of tests is improving, and then article after article about people waiting hours for tests, days for results, or, worst case, unable to get tested at all. But even if the test were easier to obtain, I think we're making two basic mistakes:

  • Much of the testing being done now is unnecessary.
  • And it's almost all testing the wrong thing.

There is no specific against Covid-19 and treatment is for symptoms only. They are similar to those of a cold or influenza, and self-treatment seems to be the same as well. If you're only mildly ill, it doesn't really matter what you have, since you don't need hospitalization and you're already staying home or otherwise isolating yourself. If your symptoms worsen and you need hospital treatment, everyone you see will be protecting themselves from coronavirus and treating you as if you have it, whether you do or not. Are test results at this point actionable? Maybe only in retrospect.

Covid 19 is a disease with an especially wide spectrum. You can contract it and have no symptoms, or, to put it as gently as I can, it can kill you. At this point nobody knows how many people have contracted it and recovered, and there seems to be no way of finding out. Lethality based on known cases seems to be a per cent or two. But what of those cases of which we're unaware? For example, I believe I got it and recovered after CES. I was one of 175 thousand people there! I also believe in the principle of mediocrity in other than astronomical contexts. Surely I wasn't the only person; what if it was hundreds? Or tens of thousands? I have no idea, and neither does anyone else, expert or not. The only way to find out is to randomly test a lot of people, not to see if they have the disease, but whether they have the antibodies that will show they've had it and recovered. I don't think such a test is available at all. And that undiscoverable number is what will determine just how lethal it is.

It is my possibly flawed understanding that people who have recovered have a measure of immunity that will last an indefinite period of time, perhaps a year. If there are millions of them (or us), it would be nice to be able to identify them and send them back into the trenches of the economy.

Does All Social Distancing Make Sense?

The current wisdom is that young people are at much lower risk of serious illness than we, the "elderly," are. But if by not discouraging young folks from mingling we can reduce the population still susceptible, would that make sense?

Why are schools closed? To protect grandparents. Why are business closed? To prevent workers from bringing contagion to a home where old people may live. Should all businesses and schools be closed or should an attempt to be made just to isolate the most vulnerable and let important portions of the economy approach normalcy?

Why Are Some People Getting Much Sicker Than Others?

Why is there such a variability of outcomes in a similar group of people. Is it genetic? Initial viral load? Incubation period, which may be related? In the media-spawned All-Coronavirus-All-the-Time world we are living in, I have yet to hear anything remotely authoritative about this. The question reminded me of a blogitem I wrote 12 years ago asking the same question, albeit about chemical rather than viral exposure. If we somehow could tell which individuals would be most affected, they could be isolated, not the entire population.


Instead of frantically buying victuals and other supplies in fear of a prolonged shortage or inability to shop, shouldn't we already and continuously be "prepped"? Did you know there are enough calories in a large jar of peanut butter to live on for a week? Do you throw out food beyond its "best by" date? You can use peanut butter, Nutella, and, well, almost everything years after it’s “expired.”  Same with many prescription drugs.  Even shrimp are good after ½ year in the freezer.  In addition to tuna fish under the coffee table and dark chocolate almost everywhere, we would all benefit in our “prepping” by not throwing perfectly good food and medicine away. The government is busy promulgating many hastily conceived and somewhat dubious ukases. While they're in the mood, why not add this to the list:

In addition to the ‘best by’ date, manufacturers shall add a ‘do not use after’ date based on reality.

I’m sure congress will turn that into 100 or so pages and squabble it to death, but that’s basically it.

If you live in a New York City apartment or other tiny abode, you can't hoard toilet paper because there's no room. Perhaps the government should create a Strategic Toilet Paper Reserve. Or, see joke below.

How Long Can the Coronavirus Live On a Banana?

Serious question if you're trying to manage your bananastash. I've mentioned that it's my habit to eat a semi-banana every day. To accomplish this I must have bananas, which come in "bunches." I suppose that now with companies offering free delivery for the duration of the emergency, I could just subscribe to one every two days, but some inefficiencies are too much even for me. The coronavirus has added a wrinkle to my purchase planning, even beyond risking death-by-shopping. A banana's "ripeness" can be determined by its spectral reflectivity. It's normally sufficient to buy a bunch* of ripe or nearly-so bananas, knowing that they will be consumed before they get too mushy. But if we knew how long the coronavirus could remain viable on bananas, one could purchase pre-ripe bananas and let them ripen while the virus loses its virulence. Now that's efficiency!

Are You Old Enough to Know This Joke?

Q: I've run out of toilet paper.
A: No problem, just order some from the Sears Roebuck catalog.
Q: If I had a Sears Roebuck catalog, I wouldn't need toilet paper!

Staying Charged

Back in the days when one traveled because there was somewhere to go, I planned excursions to recharge the car at a Tesla supercharger. Now it just sits at home and, in my own extravagant spasm of prepping, I gave it a full charge in the garage.

* I admit that "bunch" isn't exactly a scientific term, given that each individual component varies in avoirdupois and the numerical quantity that form the bunch can be from two to about eight. In the degenerate case, I suppose even a single banana might be considered a bunch.

Richard Factor


"Goin' Downtown"

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Even I, who don't speak basketball, know what this shirt is about.

Alas, not this year.


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