COVID Impact Journal

15 thoughts
last posted April 1, 2020, 2:20 p.m.
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I bookmarked the John Hopkins COVID-19 dashboard on January 25 2020, when there were 2k cases in China. I should have started a thoughtstream at that time as well, but I have been out of the habit.

Here I’m trying to capture the kinds of things that can get hard to recall after the fact: impressions of the present, and evolving guesses about the future impact of this virus on any area of life.

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My (at the time) half-serious Twitter thread started Jan 23. I felt comfortable tweeting about it because we weren’t yet inundated with the subject.

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The USA’s neatly fractured view of the pandemic (along political lines) is something to behold, and will be fascinating to watch as the year progresses.

  • “Recall how, in the run-up to the Iraq war, the White House signaled preferred policy outcome so heavily that it skewed the analysis and advice it received. Can see similar alignment b/w preferences Trump and his team were signaling, and strategic posture of his crisis managers.” —Jeremy Konyndyk

Second one above seems to have played out among the public at large, not just among administration team members and support staff.

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As with so many aspects of society, the US public’s model has done a “hard fork.”

It seems to me that one xor the other is going to run smack up against the painful difference between its model and reality. Maybe such a disillusioning event would be a silver lining for our society.

I'm not so sure about the exclusive-or though. Might we emerge from this with each side of the fork just as or more convinced than they were before? Or might both experience a smack-up? Maybe the forks themselves will fork?

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Personal Prognostication Snapshot:

  • The crisis will increase in severity through at least July, driven by severe healthcare shortages and consequent too-late severe quarantine measures further braking the economy, as we have seen in Italy.
  • No measure big enough to offset major economic downturn will be able to pass in Congress.
  • So, lots of unemployment and almost no relief.
  • If we get the disease, and the public mood, under control before June, Trump is reelected in November. This is soon enough to avoid the worst economic pain, so that we all recalibrate our narratives and return to our baseline levels of (dis)satisfaction. Biden will be an ineffective nominee and, perhaps narrowly, end up as John Kerry 2.0.
  • If we get there between June and September, Trump loses in November, since by then it’s too late to prevent the massive economic pain’s effect on his already-bad approval numbers.
  • If the crisis drags on much of the way through September, the Trump admin attempts to use emergency powers big pressure in Congress from WH and some states to postpone an imminently disastrous election. Honestly not sure if SCOTUS upholds against the inevitable legal challenge. [edit 3/19/20: apparently the prevailing legal theory is that only Congress can change the date of the election. How exactly that plays out in a pandemic, I’m not sure. But even so, I think election-postponing is for sure going to be on the discourse table.]
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You can see I’m on the side of the fork that says that the virus is real and serious, meaning there will be many thousands of deaths due to an overwhelmed healthcare system, and many thousands with permanent lung damage. I expect that my wife and I will get the virus, and am cautiously optimistic that we will not require medical attention to live through it.

The outcome that would pose an something of an ideological smack-up for me would be if less than 50 thousand people die from COVID-19 (i.e. fewer people than do from influenza in a typical flu season) or have permanent lung damage (and assuming SARS-CoV-2 spread doesn’t become a new seasonal event like H1N1). As dumb as it would make me feel, this would be my preferred outcome.

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Today I found out that a co-worker's son wired a house for someone who has now tested positive for COVID-19, and subsequently fell sick, missing a week of work. My co-worker, who is now working remotely, spent time at his son’s house while he was sick.

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Seems apparent that the lack of testing capacity is going to require blunt, blind quarantining measures, which have a heavy heavy economic toll, rather than targeted quarantining measures which would have a lighter economic touch.

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Developments today:

  • Grocery store workers included in definition of “emergency workers” in MN, qualifying them for free healthcare.

  • Some more malls closing, following MoA’s closure yesterday.

  • Trump has invoked an act that gives him the authority to direct private production in times of war (ventilators? testing?) but is dithering about whether he will use it.

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Gov. Walz dithers about a statewide shelter-in-place order

Gov. Walz is, I think, two steps behind the curve of what we actually need to happen right now. By his own account to WCCO this morning: A) today's numbers are going to jump way up, and B) the rate of growth is going to accelerate! Besides this, he knows that the ratio of tested cases to the actual number out there is abysmal. And yet: a shelter in place order is “not the situation we believe we're at.”

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Yesterday the Governor announced a “stay at home” order will be in place in Minnesota for 2 weeks starting Friday at midnight.

Many people are confusing this with a “shelter in place” order, which would be much more stringent. The stay-at-home order allows us to leave home for a number of reasons, such as to get groceries, exercise outside, work jobs in exempted/critical sectors, etc.

The last one is interesting. The guidance on exempt industries is very broad. According to MN’s Dept of Employment commissioner:

About 78 percent of the jobs in Minnesota are in critical industries as defined by the executive order, so it's just 22 percent that are not. (source)

There is also no enforcement, so companies can declare themselves exempt and require their workers to come in as usual. My own employer has taken this route. We sell desks and monitor walls, but since some of our customers are in exempt agencies they have decided we are exempt as well.

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On another note: a lot of celebrities seem to believe they can help us during these trying times by …being famous online from home. It’s getting old.

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Felt impacts in Minneapolis so far:

  • No rush hour traffic whatsoever for the last couple of weeks.
  • Jess (spouse) has been home with the kids and the loss of any outside activity (gym, social gatherings with other adults, playground visits) combined with so much time with the kids who also have no other outlets, combined with the larger uncertainty about Everything, is taking a mental toll on her, as it would be on me if I were home alone with the kids.
  • This has exacerbated the already suboptimal divide between our two lives, hers centered at home and mine at work. Ideally we would both be home at this time. I’m upset with my employer for taking the stance that all of this represents some kind of business/profit opportunity rather than doing its part to limit the spread as much as possible.
  • My 4-year old has regressed in independence somewhat; he has no time with his preschool teachers and peers, and the more he is stuck at home the more constantly he demands our attention to keep himself from being bored. This is not unusual considering his age. He’ll obviously grow past this, but it’s affecting us now.
  • Jess went for groceries yesterday morning and the place was pretty empty for a Saturday morning. Lots of reminders to keep six feet apart. No one was using the self-checkout.
  • Various people at work who have the option (i.e., their work can be done remotely) have been working remotely.
  • Political chatter in the hallways and around offices has ticked up very noticeably. The vast majority of it is pro-Trump, which makes sense because most of my co-workers are right-wing.
  • A couple of my siblings are filing for unemployment benefits due to reduced or no pay from their jobs.
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It’s been a couple of weeks now since the John Hopkins COVID-19 dashboard was at all useful in the US. It was handy for tracking the global spread during the early stages, but at this point we all know cases are everywhere and skyrocketing. The useful dashboards and tracking sites are those that operate on a more local level.

It will probably become interesting to look at again in a couple of months, when we might start to see a plateau or decline in the global number of cases.

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Today a co-worker tested positive and was hospitalized, the first one in our company and the first such person personally known to me. This person has worked remotely for a long time, so there is no reason to think they carried it to others here in the office.