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Let’s survive the coronavirus pandemic

Many people are making this mistake about the pandemic

I just saw the following comment on Steve Sailer’s blog. The comment is wrong. It contains a logical mistake. This mistake is very common. Many people think the same way as the guy who wrote the comment. I want to explain their mistake and help you understand why their conclusion is false.

If you want a good laugh, drive by any local hospital. They’re dead. I just drove by several (on the edge of a big city). Ghost towns. I saw one lonely guy standing at the entrance to an ER with his gear on to sanitize newcomers I guess. Please go visit them. They’re so lonely.

(I don’t live in NYC which supposedly has 50 million corpses stacked up)

From the guy’s sarcasm and the fact that he thinks his observations are funny, it’s clear that his point is that covid-19 isn’t really a problem.

This guy is reasoning as follows:

1. Hospitals are empty.

2. Therefore there’s no serious epidemic.

This guy is making several mistakes. The one I want to talk about has to do with exponential growth. Covid-19 is spreading exponentially but this guy doesn’t understand that idea.

When something increases exponentially, the amount can increase from tiny to overwhelming in a short time. This is what happened with the number of covid-19 patients in Wuhan, Iran, and Italy. It’s happening now in New York City and will soon occur in some other parts of the United States.

Exponential growth is a mathematical idea, and most people shy away from mathematical ideas. But it’s not hard to understand. You don’t need to learn any math. All you need to do is think about the following riddle.

I read this riddle in a book when I was a child 60 years ago. I don’t know who thought it up.

Somebody plants a water lily in a pond. Every day it doubles in size. The first day it has one leaf. The next day two leaves. The day after that, four leaves. And so on.

On the 30th day, the lily becomes so big that it covers the pond.

Question: on which day was the pond half covered?

Answer: the 29th day.

If that question was too easy, here’s a slightly harder one:

Question: on which day was the pond one-eighth covered?

Answer: the 27th day.

The leaves are covid-19 patients and the pond is your local ICU, the one you’ll have to rely on if you have a heart attack.

On Monday the ICU is seven-eighths empty.

On Thursday the ICU is full;

On Friday there are so many patients that only half of them fit into the ICU and the rest are sent away to die without treatment.

I’m exaggerating the rate of increase because the number of covid-19 patients isn’t doubling every day. It’s doubling “only” every three, four, or five days. But the idea is the same: the number of cases increases from unnoticeable to overwhelming in a short period of time. That has already happened in several places, it’s happening now in New York City, and it will soon happen in some other parts of the United States.

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Covid-19 is now clearly visible in flu/pneumonia stats

Two weeks ago I asked whether covid-19 was beginning to show up on the CDC’s FluView graphs. A week later I reported that the matter was no longer in doubt.

New versions of the graphs appeared today showing that covid-19 is now skyrocketing upward (red arrow). By next week covid-19 will be higher than the maximum reached by the flu in the past year even though covid-19 is barely getting started.

Week 12 (ends March 21). Red arrow added by Rob.

Source of graph: US CDC FluView

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What Hannity should have asked Trump

The Internet is rolling its eyes today at something Trump told Sean Hannity in an interview last night:

I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You know, you’re going to major hospitals sometimes, they’ll have two ventilators. And now, all of a sudden, they’re saying, can we order 30,000 ventilators?

Hannity is as ignorant and foolish about these things as Trump, so he didn’t challenge the president. But here’s what I wish Hannity had said:

Mr. President, none of us has a crystal ball. We can’t be certain about the future. If it turns out you’re wrong and we do need those ventilators, how many people will die?

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Greg Cochran doesn’t suffer fools gladly

Greg Cochran responding yesterday on his blog to somebody who thinks covid-19 can kill only a few thousands or tens of thousands of people worldwide:

Unfettered, a brand-new virus like this one, with an R0 > 2, will infect over 50% of the population. Got that?

A closely observed population on the Diamond Princess, lost 1.4% of all those infected – dead as Judas Iscariot. That was with good hospital care.

That fraction goes way up if there is no such care, and that is inevitable if huge numbers of people all get sick over a short time. So, in that situation, more like a 4% death rate.

(3.3e8)(0.5)(0.04) = 6.6 million. Bob’s your dead uncle.

Which part of this argument do you disagree with? The laws of multiplication?

That 6.6 million is potential deaths in the United States alone, not the world, as you already know if you took the time to read Cochran’s numbers, because 3.3e8 (330 million) is the approximate population of the US.

Cochran is right about this but most people can’t tell because they can’t understand arithmetical arguments, even one as simple as this. The math here is nothing more than elementary school arithmetic, but even though almost everybody knows elementary school arithmetic, very few people have the ability to think with it.

Cochran is one of the smartest people publishing today, and he deserves a wider audience. His writing is extraordinarily terse, and I suspect it goes over most people’s heads. If the average IQ were 160, he would be famous.

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The United States is on a uniquely dreadful trajectory

The best graphs of the pandemic that I’ve seen come from John Burn-Murdoch on the Financial Times website.

Do you notice anything strange in this graph of his from last night (March 25)?

Look at the curve for the United States. It’s the only curve that bends up. The curves for all other countries bend down.

That means the rate at which deaths are increasing in the US is itself growing. In every other country on that graph, the rate of increase is decreasing.

As always with covid-19 graphs, we’re seeing here a conflation of changes in the amount of testing with changes in the thing that’s ostensibly being measured. But even so, this is worth noticing.

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That didn’t take long

Nine days ago I predicted that the next president of the United States will be one of the state governors. I wrote:

By the time the election rolls around in November, the US will have gone through its worst ordeal in living memory. For the survivors, it will be like having lived through a war…

Everyone will know that the incompetence of those federal officials cost millions of lives…

For the first time in many decades, Americans will become serious and will want a genuinely capable president…

Right now there are no famous American governors. That is about to change. Some of them are going to shine. And one of them — maybe somebody that most Americans have never heard of yet, from a small state — will be the next president.

Nine days later, Governor Cuomo of New York is shining brilliantly. What a difference between this man and the one in the White House.

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How to disinfect packaged food

See also How to disinfect fruits and vegetables.

Food packages should be disinfected because they were handled by workers who may have had virus particles on their hands or gloves. Gloves can get as dirty as hands. Here’s how to do it.

This method works on all waterproof packaging: cans, plastic bags, jars, milk containers, waxed cardboard boxes, etc. Don’t use it on cloth or plain paper because the solution can soak through and make the food taste bad.

Viruses survive longer in cold temperatures — up to a month — so it’s especially important to disinfect refrigerated and frozen items.

Step by Step

Step 1. Get a spray bottle. You can buy one or reuse one that contained a purchased product.

Example of 16 ounce spray bottles. See them on Amazon.

Step 2. Get bleach that contains sodium hypochlorite as the active ingredient. I like to use food-safe bleach because it leaves less residue after it dries. See this page for information about food-safe bleach.

Example of food-safe bleach. See it on Amazon.

Step 3. Mix 1 teaspoon of bleach into 1 pint of water (about 3 tablespoons per gallon) and put the mixture in the spray bottle. Don’t save this mixture for more than a day. The mixture should smell like chlorine (like a swimming pool). If it doesn’t, your bleach is probably old and you should get a new bottle.

Step 4. Spray the packages. Get them dripping wet on all surfaces. They should remain dripping wet for at least five minutes.

Step 5. If you want to rinse them with plain water, you can, but it’s not necessary.

Step 6. Let the packages dry.

Technical

Available chlorine in fresh solution before contact with organic matter:

Percent NaOCl in bleach
1 tsp bleach/pint H20
3 tbsp bleach/gal H20
Percent NaOCl in bleach
5%
1 tsp bleach/pint H20
500 ppm
3 tbsp bleach/gal H20
562 ppm
Percent NaOCl in bleach
6%
1 tsp bleach/pint H20
600 ppm
3 tbsp bleach/gal H20
675 ppm
Percent NaOCl in bleach
8%
1 tsp bleach/pint H20
800 ppm
3 tbsp bleach/gal H20
900 ppm

Links

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US covid-19 cases are now showing up in statistics

Six days ago I asked:

Why don’t US covid-19 cases show up in flu/pneumonia stats — or do they?

In that article I speculated that a small uptick on one of the CDC’s FluView graphs might be the first sign of covid-19 cases in official statistics.

That graph just updated with another week’s data and sure enough, the uptick has grown dramatically.

It’s now clear that the uptick shows covid-19 cases. I marked it with a red arrow in the graph below.

That uptick, that little upward curving line marked by the red arrow, means that parts of the US are about to become like Lombardy. ICUs will be overrun and patients will be turned away to die.

This could have been avoided. The US could have done what South Korea has done. But it didn’t do those things because US federal officials are incompetent. It’s not just Trump. It’s HHS, CDC, FDA, and Congress. Utterly incompetent. And now hundreds of thousands and maybe millions of people are going to die unnecessarily.

Week 11 (ends March 14). Red arrow added by Rob.

Source of graph: US CDC FluView

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How to disinfect fruits and vegetables

See also How to disinfect packaged food.

This page gives instructions for washing your fruits and vegetables in a mixture of bleach and tap water. This may sound strange, but it’s a standard method of disinfection used by farmers and wholesalers, and you’ve been eating fruits and vegetables that were sanitized this way your whole life.

This method is highly effective and easy to do at home. It kills many kinds of germs including the virus that causes covid-19. It doesn’t hurt fruits or vegetables, and everything tastes normal afterwards.

The basic idea is simple. Soak the food in a mixture of bleach and water for two minutes, then rinse thoroughly with plain water.

Step by Step

Step 1. Buy plain bleach containing sodium hypochlorite as the active ingredient. Choose a product that’s approved for washing fruits and vegetables by a government agency. In the US, that’s the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). I’ll explain how to identify such products at the bottom of this page. Here’s the product that I’ve been using myself. I’ll list a few others below.

Example of food-safe bleach. See it on Amazon.

Step 2. If the food is dirty, wash it. This usually isn’t necessary with food from a supermarket.

Step 3. Mix two teaspoons of bleach into a gallon of room temperature drinkable water. The mixture should smell like chlorine (like a swimming pool). If it doesn’t, add another teaspoon of bleach. If it still doesn’t smell like chlorine, your bleach is probably old and you should get a new bottle.

Step 4. Submerge fruits and vegetables in the mixture for at least two minutes.

Step 5. After two minutes, the mixture should still smell like chlorine. If it doesn’t, discard the mixture and repeat steps 3, 4, and 5.

Step 6. Discard the mixture. Rinse fruits and vegetables in fresh water until they no longer smell like chlorine.

Step 7. Drain the fruits and vegetables in a colander, dish drain, rack, etc.

Technical

Water temperature should not exceed 120° Farenheit (49° Celsius).

The water’s pH matters, but if you’re using tap water you don’t need to test it.

Available chlorine in fresh solution before contact with organic matter:

Percent NaOCl in bleach
2 tsp bleach/gal H20
3 tsp bleach/gal H20
Percent NaOCl in bleach
5%
2 tsp bleach/gal H20
125 ppm
3 tsp bleach/gal H20
187 ppm
Percent NaOCl in bleach
6%
2 tsp bleach/gal H20
150 ppm
3 tsp bleach/gal H20
225 ppm
Percent NaOCl in bleach
8%
2 tsp bleach/gal H20
200 ppm
3 tsp bleach/gal H20
300 ppm

How To Tell Whether a Bleach Product is Approved for Sanitizing Fruits and Vegetables

In the US, such products are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). If an American product gives instructions for washing fruits and vegetables on the label or manufacturer’s website, you can assume it has been approved for that purpose.

You can usually find the approval letter from the EPA if you search in Google. For example, here’s the approval letter for the product in the photo above. Page 17 of the attachment to that letter shows instructions for sanitizing fruits and vegetables.

Another way to find a suitable product is by looking in the Product Safety Alliance Database. Go to the “Single Sheet” tab and look for products labeled “For Use in Fruit and Vegetable Wash Water.”

Links

Partial List of Bleaches Approved for Washing Fruits and Vegetables by US EPA

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An email conversation between a friend and me

A friend wrote to me yesterday for advice. She lives with her husband and two teenage children in New York City. They own a vacation house in a rural area that I’ll call “Lake Bliss” to protect her identity. Sarah’s not her real name.

Hi Rob,

If you were me, where would you stay? We are both working remotely now and likely will pull kids out of school. Blissville [town near her vacation house] has a large hospital. But large enough? Where do you think is a better place to ride this through? I value your advice.

Love,

Sarah

Dear Sarah,

My biggest piece of advice: Get the kids out of school now. Don’t let them go Monday. That’s your biggest risk. There are almost certainly infected kids in their classes, and if your kids catch it, you will very likely catch it from them. The Chinese found that approximately 75% of covid-19 cases caught it from family members.

I don’t think it matters where you live for the next several months as long as all four of you avoid being physically close to other people and you disinfect items that come into your home. That means nobody goes to a store or movie theater or restaurant, etc. Even walking on the sidewalk might be risky, I don’t know, because you pass so many other people in NYC. You definitely don’t want to be on public transportation. Did I send you the paper about the guy on a Chinese bus trip who infected 11 other passengers?

Theoretically you could isolate yourselves this way in Brooklyn. But kids are kids and I’m guessing it will be easier to keep them away from other people if you are at the lake. You know better than me.

If none of you is infected yet (the kids may be almost asymptomatic so you might not know), and you really isolate yourself and disinfect, i don’t think you’ll catch it. But you have to be very compulsive and who knows how long you’ll have to keep it up. Months. I bathed carrots last night in bleach solution. I can’t imagine how hard it might be to make the kids comply.

I can’t emphasize enough how bad this disease is. People who think the panic is unjustified, etc., people who think the death rate is low, people who think covid-19 is like the flu — they misunderstand what’s happening. If the US were doing what Taiwan, Singapore, China (outside Wuhan), etc., have done, yes, very few people would die. But the US isn’t doing those things!!!!!!!!! The US is on course to duplicate what happened in Wuhan and Italy.

Blissville has a large hospital. But large enough?

In some parts of the US, no hospital will be large enough because even the largest hospitals usually have only a few dozen beds where critical cases of covid-19 can be treated. Such patients require isolation, ventilators, intensive nursing by specially trained staff, etc. Have you read about what’s happening Lombardy? The hospitals are turning away critical patients over the age of 65. They don’t have enough ventilators etc. for everybody. The same thing happened in Wuhan. Due to the US government’s incompetence, it looks pretty certain that this is going to start happening in some parts of the US soon. Whether it happens in Blissville, I don’t know how to guess.

I wish I had something more cheerful to say.

Love,

Rob

P.P.S. One more thing about the kids going to school on Monday. Ever since we started talking about covid-19, because I didn’t want you to worry unnecessarily, I’ve emphasized that kids rarely get severely sick But in case you don’t know I should tell you that kids do sometimes get very sick and sometimes die. The death rate in China for teenagers was 0.2%. One out of five hundred. Low but not zero. A larger number of teenagers got severely ill and required ventilation, which is an extremely unpleasant treatment requiring sedation, intubation, and sometimes restraints, typically for weeks.

Dear Rob,

Thank you. Plan is to pack up and head to lake today.

Love,

Sarah

Dear Sarah,

Great. I’m relieved.

Love,

Rob

Dear Rob,

In packed car heading to Lake now. Just found out that someone in our office tested positive. I don’t know who but from the description of interactions I don’t think I was in meetings or other interactions. But I am self-quarantined now.

Love,

Sarah

For all you folks out there in Internet land, did you catch that last bit? People are probably infected at your office too. People are probably infected in your childrens’ classrooms. The virus is everywhere now, and unless you live in China, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Singapore, your government has been incompetent, there hasn’t been enough testing, and you have no way to know.

If you can possibly manage it, even if it takes a financial sacrifice, it’s time to take your kids out of school and stop going to work.

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Recent posts

Many people are making this mistake about the pandemic (March 28, 2020)

Covid-19 is now clearly visible in flu/pneumonia stats (March 27, 2020)

What Hannity should have asked Trump (March 27, 2020)

Greg Cochran doesn’t suffer fools gladly (March 27, 2020)

The United States is on a uniquely dreadful trajectory (March 26, 2020)

That didn’t take long (March 23, 2020)

How to disinfect packaged food (March 21, 2020)

US covid-19 cases are now showing up in statistics (March 20, 2020)

How to disinfect fruits and vegetables (March 17, 2020)

An email conversation between a friend and me (March 15, 2020)

Why don’t US covid-19 cases show up in flu/pneumonia stats — or do they? (March 14, 2020)

The next president of the United States will not be Donald Trump or Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders (March 14, 2020)

Can I catch covid-19 from boxes, objects from the store, letters, etc? (March 12, 2020)

Fatality rates will be different in different European countries, and here’s one reason why (March 10, 2020)