Friday, June 19, 2020

COVID-19, Masks, Idiots, and You!

In this post, we'll go through what COVID-19 is, the data around the pandemic, how to interpret the data, and what to do to keep everyone safe.

The US government is turning COVID-19 safety into a political issue. This is stupid since then virus doesn't care who you vote for and will try to infect everyone equally. Spreading misinformation and turning public health safety efforts into political lines in the sand will only help the virus and delay the healing. I'd like to end the pandemic sooner, so am writing this post to collect thoughts and resources to help. I have a Masters in Public Health studying respiratory virus transmission. DARPA paid for half my tuition so my lab could figure out how to predict if soldiers would get the flu before missions when they were still asymptomatic (no coughing, sneezing, fever, etc.). Bruceman paid for the other half. I know enough to call bullshit on a lot of the misinformation floating around, and can point you towards good trustworthy sources. Hopefully this helps!

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is an acronym standing for coronavirus disease of 2019. COVID-19 is a respiratory virus spread from person to person. Pretty much a sick person will be breathing out COVID-19 particles and sneezing/coughing up snot droplets everywhere around them. If a non-sick person breathes in these particles or droplets they get sick. If they touch one of those snot droplets then touch their eyes or mouth, it's just like breathing in the virus, and they'll get sick.

Once someone's been exposed to a sick person and potentially has the virus inside their body, COVID-19 needs 2-14 days to grow and multiply inside the new host person to the point where symptoms develop. While the virus is still growing, people are considered asymptomatic (they don't have symptoms). This is the dangerous time because they feel fine, but can still spread the virus to others. Infected people are most contagious when they have symptoms, but will still spread the virus to others before they feel sick. This makes controlling and stopping the spread of COVID-19 very tricky.

"COVID is just the flu"

COVID-19 is dramatically different from influenza viruses (the flu). They vary at the phylum level of taxonomy. This is like comparing a human to a mushroom. Check out how Pokemon vary at the phylum level if you want to see how ridiculous this is. Dramatically different biology at work, even if they present with similar symptoms.

Main differences include the following:
  1. COVID-19 is easier to spread than the flu.
  2. COVID-19 results in more severe complications than the flu.
  3. COVID-19 mortality is higher than the flu (>30x according to the World Health Organization).
Good sources to read:

The Data - How bad is it?

It's not looking good in the United States. Cases are on the rise after prematurely ending quarantines. Google does a pretty good job of showing new cases and will tailor the results based on where you're currently browsing from. For more detail, each US state setup their own variation of tracking. Here's the site from my home state of Michigan which has one of the lowest COVID-19 levels in the USA.  Our World In Data is doing a fantastic job compiling and visualizing the world's COVID data. Their interactive tools let you see many different angles. Max Roser's twitter is fantastic for commentary on the analysis and tools if you'd like a guide to understand what we're looking at.

How to interpret the data?

In the United States, the Republican party leaders are ignoring science and turning the pandemic into a political issue. This is one of the least effective ways to fight a virus and is causing a whole cascade of policy screw ups that have caused 118,434 deaths and counting in the United States (as of June 19th, 2020).
You can avoid political bias by looking at how other countries are reporting on and treating the United States. Living in Michigan, I pay attention to how Canada treats us.
This is a good summary of what happened in the United States. We reopened the country prematurely.

To stay informed, I look at the daily numbers of cases and deaths in Google and Our World in Data. I pay close attention to Andy Slavitt and the CDC Director for added context to the story. Andy gives daily detailed status updates simplifying what experts are saying. Highly recommend giving him a follow. Here's his update from June 19th (click into twitter to see the full thread):

How to stay safe?

The United States President is currently a public health idiot. DO NOT take advice from Donald Trump about staying safe from the coronavirus. We're fighting a pandemic, not selling a used car. His false confidence will get your friends and family killed.
The best way to stay safe is to wear masks and social distance. Wash your hands after any contact with anything someone could have sneezed on. If 80% of us wore face masks, the virus would stop spreading and we could end lock downs and quarantines sooner. Here's a few diagrams showing how masks protect others.
Most people won't get severe symptoms when they get sick. Mask wearing is to protect older people and people with weaker immune systems where getting sick is a death sentence. If you're 50 years or older, you have at least a 5% chance of dying if you become infected with COVID-19. This increases dramatically as age goes up.Wearing a mask is the easiest thing you can do to stop the virus from reaching these populations and save a life today.