Gimme Shelter, Gimme Testing Data

On Day 2 of our Alameda County Shelter-in-place order, I am creating graphs, mostly for my sanity. Today’s topic is data, in particular, Covid-19 testing data. If you’re a data geek like me, this is for you.

I have blathered on for days (?or is it weeks? I’ve lost track…days seem like weeks) that our biggest problem right now is lack of testing. We don’t know what we don’t know. Because the U.S. didn’t roll out testing capacity early on, people who feel sick or at risk for Covid haven’t been able to get tested. We’ve heard that for weeks and are still hearing it. Because people who know they’re sick can’t get tested, we have no idea who is sick and how many would test positive. Without knowing that, everyone has to STOP moving. That’s the problem right now.

Yes, it’s definitely a problem that hospitals are starting to become overwhelmed and might become swamped. It’s definitely a problem that travel is cancelled and that there is a black market for toilet paper and sanitizers. (Anybody know where we can get some ramen? That turns out to be a big concern in our house.) It’s an even bigger problem that we don’t know how long this will last, and we won’t know until there’s a robust testing structure in place. South Korea put in an excellent testing structure early on, and they seem to be moving into a better part of the pandemic curve. We can learn something from their experience, and we can learn something looking at data.

The Most Important Data Is Under-Reported

The problem has been a lack of good data, and good testing data is still hit and miss. In a world that’s used to hitting the “refresh” button every minute and seeing numbers update, having data that is only reported every few days or not at all is killer to the psyche. Up until about a week ago, data on how many people were being tested was nearly impossible to find. This was due partly because few had been tested; I might also speculate that some didn’t want the public to know just how few that was.

I can illustrate this by looking at Daily Case data compared with Daily Testing data. Here is the number of cases in California, shown per day and total to date. By the way, note that the red bars (daily cases) are linked to numbers on the left side and the purple line (cases to date) linked to the right side. Showing data on different axes is important because if you show cumulative and daily on the same graph, the cumulative would make the daily increases too small to see. You would have no sense of the underlying infection curve.

Graph of California Covid cases
Graph by kajmeister based on data sources in COVID Tracking project.
Continue reading “Gimme Shelter, Gimme Testing Data”

Extraordinary Woman, Extraordinary Times

Here’s a great story to brighten your day and bend your attention away from That Other Thing that’s on our minds.

Suppose you were Michael Jordan or Tom Brady, the greatest player of a sport in your generation, in the middle of your statistics-blowing career, on your way to winning the Nth of your many championships–and you just decided to take a few years off to help the world? Nuts? Unheard of? No one would do that?

Maya Moore did it.

Maya Moore, as a freshman, in the Boston Globe, photo by Bob Child.

What Makes a Legend

In college, Maya Moore was such an annoying player!–for everyone who wasn’t a UConn fan. Even when she was a freshman, the Boston Globe was suggesting she could be “the best female player ever,” as she began to amass statistics and wipe out opponents. The coach was comparing her to Derek Jeter, and he wasn’t wrong. Moore was always where the ball was, on offense and defense, until opposing coaches would just throw up their hands. She helped lead Connecticut to two back-to-back national championships, a 90-game winning streak, and an overall record of 150-4 in her college career.

I was a fan of northern California teams that she beat and would cringe every time I heard her name. Which was every twenty seconds. When you watched her play, she seemed to be on another level from everybody else. Hold that thought.

Continue reading “Extraordinary Woman, Extraordinary Times”

Trash Dance

Photo of plastic lid to collect compost
How shall I collect compost? Let me count the ways… photo by kajmeister.

The biggest excitement in my life for the past week has been hearing the Bulky Trash people pick up my pile of Things. Last Monday, at 7:02 am, after the morning compost truck had banged its way along our suburban street, I heard the sound of backing up. I was, in fact, waiting for it; had, in fact, already gone out to examine the pile we had sneaked out there after dark on Sunday night to see if it was still humbly awaiting pick-up. (It was.)

Oh beautiful Bulky Trash truck, I was never so glad to see you! I heard the discussions outside in between sounds of metal scraping on concrete; I heard dragging; I heard crunching. Then, the Doppler effect of that engine driving away, and I dared to peek. All gone! All gone! I spent the rest of the day humming to myself and doing a little ceremony and dance, Bulky Trash! Bulky Trash! Everybody do the Bulk-y TRASH! Do you think me simple for getting so excited about trash? Definitely. To paraphrase Jango Fett, I am a simple person just trying to make my way through the universe.

Our Education Regarding Trash

We have come a long way just in my lifetime dealing with the Things we acquire and then jettison. Sesame Street many moons ago had a video with a little song, What about garbage? Where’s it go?Where’s it go-o-o-o? as they showed smiling men putting the trash in the trucks, and the trucks putting it on the barges, and off the barges sailed into the sunset….. Well… not exactly, right?

We learned when we got older and put away childish things that the trash got dumped in the ocean. Or landfills which filled up, begatting new landfills and more and more, until we realized we were going to run out of land for landfills. Voila! Earth Day and the 1970s and recycling, first a few hippies dragging trash bags full of beer cans, then a whole industry, and finally a regulatory imperative. Fast cut to 2020 where we have tri-partite trash, multi-colored cans, and 79% of our county trash avoids landfills.

But it’s not so easy, is it? Even though the Bay Area has some of the highest recycling rates in the country, even San Francisco has had to extend its Zero Waste goal another ten years, stuck at 89% because of leather, rubber, flame retardants. Or, as I found out, because nobody wants a 20-year-old metal bunk bed. We already separate out all the organics, cans, bottles, foil, paper, cardboard, egg crates, hard-molded plastic, yet there’s still cellophane. There are still Cheetos bags. (Don’t judge.)

Continue reading “Trash Dance”

Let Facts Go Viral

Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, photo from historyofvaccines.org

The question was asked yesterday: What’s something you’ve longed believed to be true, but now you know is not true?  When it comes to worldwide problems, we often think: It can’t happen here. I mused about this while watching the news, with story after story about the coronavirus, topped by Our Leader at a press conference emphasizing that there are only 15 U.S. cases of the virus, and really that would soon be zero. That same day, the 60th case in the U.S. was confirmed, a case which is literally Here, near-ish to where I live. At the moment, they don’t know how the person became infected, and they don’t know who she came in contact with.

It can happen here.

Americans seem to sway between attitudes of invulnerability and full-scale panic. It can’t happen to us, that’s only for exotic people in China or Iran. Next day, we’re in long lines at Home Depot asking where we can buy HAZMAT suits. I’d like to take a middle road here and discuss some fact facts about pandemics—risks, likely scenarios, treatment, and precautions.

Lessons of History

There have been pandemics before, the most prominent being the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, where 30 million people died. An estimated 500 million, 27% of the world’s population, became infected, and the death rate averaged around 2%. As many as 675,000 Americans died of the 29 million thought to have contracted the disease. The outbreaks occurred in two waves: one in the winter of 2018 during normal “cold and flu” season and a second, deadlier wave, in late summer. An unusually high number of young adults died in that second wave, unlike a typical flu. The disease hit hard even in isolated communities like the Pacific Islands and Alaska, with communities like Samoa losing 30%. In other places, such as the U.S., the mortality rate was closer to 0.5%. Not everyone was exposed. Not everyone exposed became infected. Not everyone who became infected died.

For comparison, a normal flu season in the U.S. kills between 20-40,000 people annually, about 0.1%. Like the coronavirus, the typical flu spreads when infected people cough or sneeze. People who die from the flu are usually those most vulnerable to respiratory diseases because their immune system is already compromised or they have other risk factors. Not everyone is exposed. Not everyone exposed becomes infected. Not everyone who becomes infected dies.

Continue reading “Let Facts Go Viral”

The Secrets of Mary Jane …Somebody

She was born Mary Richards, or Mary Jane Richards. Or Mary Elizabeth. She married and became Mary Bowser/Mrs. Wilson Bowser. Also Mrs. John T. Denman and/or Mary J.R. Gavin. Sometimes she used the name Mary Jane Henry or Richmonia Richards. Maybe Ellen Bond, although that has been disputed. Maybe this is her photograph, although that has been disputed.

Grainy photo Mary Bowser
Mary Bowser, but which one? Photo from Wikipedia and Pinterest.

If you were an educated black servant in the slave-owning state of Virginia in 1861, little would be known about you. Your words would not have been written down and what was written about you by others, even the wealthy abolitionist friend whose family you served, would be filtered through their lenses. Scraps of information remembered later by family members who were children when they saw you would come to be taken as fact, whether true or not. Grainy photos replicated might be mislabelled, speculations treated as accurate, oral embellishments become history. All truth would be distorted, like seeing through a glass darkly. This would be especially true if you were a Union spy in the Confederate White House.

Continue reading “The Secrets of Mary Jane …Somebody”