March 17, 2022

There’s no way I was going to let today go by without posting something… because today is St. Patrick’s Day, the two-year anniversary of when I started writing about the pandemic.

Facebook is kind enough to remind me of that, so I’m attaching that original post below this one, as well as the one-year anniversary post from last year. It’s funny looking back at these, for two very-different reasons.

The one from two years ago is ridiculously naïve, and, in hindsight, why wouldn’t it be? Nobody back then knew what was going on at all. This was all new to us, and we all quickly got used to seeing graphs with various curves… and our attempts to bend them. This post preceded all of that, but alluded to what the short-term future was all about. “Just three weeks”, etc. Ah, the good old days.

Last year’s post was exactly a year later, and we all had a pretty clear idea of exactly where things were at. But it was also naïve… me talking about how the end of all of this is just around the corner. Well, it felt that way… vaccines in our midst and diminishing numbers. Here comes summer!

So, it’s with trepidation that I try to predict anything this time. Last year, we’d heard of the Delta variant, but nobody seemed too worried about it as the vaccines would handle it just as effectively. Omicron was months away from existing. We were more worried about China than Russia. How things change.

Depending where you are and who you believe, your opinion on the pandemic is bounded by two possibilities: One, it’s over and no longer a big deal… if it ever was one. Or two, it’s very much not over… and we might find ourselves right back at square one if we’re not careful.

If option 1 is zero and option 2 is 100, my personal opinion is that we’re at a 28… and, optimistically, dropping. I think we’re really not going to know until much later in the year. If winter and a new variant once again conspire to arrive at the same time, there will be another wave… and, along with it, a lot of discussion as to whether this wave is part of an endemic future or a pandemic present for, yet again, one more go-around.

I could sit here and speculate some more, but there’s not much point. My brain is elsewhere… specifically, Cancún, as per the attached picture. No graphs, no charts, no numbers. But it does have beauty and serenity and a bit of green to honour the day.

A few minutes after the picture you see was taken, I was in it somewhere… and for what’s left of this trip, I’m trying to keep my brain somewhat disengaged.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day and Happy Two-Year Anniversary — I raise my green-infused tequila shot to you… served by a mask-wearing waiter, but surrounded by mask-less people partying like there’s no tomorrow. That — in itself — is probably just as good a summary as to where we’re at.

Salúd!

February 26, 2022

There’s no doubt Prime Minister Justin Trudeau handled the recent “trucker convoy” debacle poorly. In hindsight, there’s a lot he could’ve done better… beginning with taking it seriously at the outset, instead of contemptuously dismissing it like it’s an annoying fly that’ll eventually find a window and make its way out.

No… by the time the fly had bounced off all of the closed windows numerous times… by the time the shit had really hit the fan, there weren’t too many options left. He chose one that’ll be discussed for years, or at least, until the next election… arguably, too harsh – who knows, though it will probably cost him that next election – but in the end, things have mostly gotten cleaned up. Hard to tell, because, of course, the world’s attention is focused elsewhere.

That Canadian State of Emergency lasted 9 days, during which time we heard every version of the Trudeau-hatred spectrum. The lefties call him Hitler-esque. The righties call him Castreau. There are a lot of confused people out there, but that never stops anyone from following the usual formula: Pick the worst, most evil leader/president/PM/king/dictator, whatever… compare your present enemy to that guy, and then somehow endeavour to draw parallels between the two. The lines will be jagged and nonsensical, but that doesn’t matter. The plethora of memes are testament to it… everyone has an opinion, and those opinions need to be heard… even if they make no sense whatsoever.

And one of those opinions being loudly chanted was how now, finally, as we can all see, Canada has become a true dictatorship. This is the beginning of the end. State of Emergency, War Measures Act, Martial Law… here it all comes, and it’s here for good. See what happens when you don’t fight for freedom? You get this.

Of course, that’s all bullshit. The State of Emergency was never going to last 5 minutes longer than it really needed to, and that turned out to be 9 days. Two hundred and sixteen hours. What’s 216 or so hours?

People typically walk around 5km/h. If you didn’t stop, you could walk over 1,000 km in that time. But, of course, you’d be stopping here and there; it’s not a sustainable pace. You’d also be slowed down depending on what you’re carrying. For example, if you’re fleeing your home in Kyiv and trying to get to the Polish border with only whatever you can carry on your back… if you could average 3.5 km/h, it’d take you almost exactly those 216 hours to cover the 750km to freedom.

Yeah, freedom. *Real freedom*. Not the “This isn’t freedom if I’m forced to wear a mask while I wait for my venti half-caff triple ristretto with caramel drizzle” nonsense.

Startling how an actual, real dictator can really bring things into focus, eh?

Putin is undoubtedly the scariest of type of dictator there is. You can see it in his eyes; a soulless stare that balances a lot of both sociopathy and intelligence. He’s been waiting for this moment for a long time, a time in place and history he’s been working towards for years. Slow and steady wins the race. It would’ve been even easier for him, but the pandemic and Trump’s non-election of 2020 got in the way of his master plan. Yeah, the Trump you convoy-crowd love so much is the same Trump calling Putin a genius for his recent moves. There’s a zero-percent chance a Trump presidency would be sending troops to defend Ukraine… and when Biden made it clear he wouldn’t either, that’s all it took. So much for the “policemen of the world”.

What other superpower can help? What other superpower has nukes or armies that at least could make some threats? China and India support Russia in this, so that’s pretty much it. Putin got in there before Ukraine became part of NATO, and that’s no coincidence. It’s open for season for Putin, and if he’s successful in Ukraine, I’ll be surprised if he stops there.

It’s actually hard to figure out how the same party that Reagan led in jamming a cold-war victory down the USSR’s throat is the same party now staunchingly defending Trump, their leader. And that’s putting it a little harshly; there was a lot of “greater good” thinking that went into what Reagan and Gorbachev ultimately achieved in the 80s… a greater good that’s now eroding every hour. Did you know Gorbachev is still alive? I wonder what he thinks of all this. I’m guessing “bitterly disappointed” would be a good summary.

If you’re still deranged enough to think waving a Canadian flag and honking your horn and blocking traffic is doing anything for freedom, tell you what: Change that flag from red and white to blue and yellow. Flooding the streets with the cacophony we’ve seen recently makes a hell of a lot more sense if you’re waving a flag from a place that’s actually going through a struggle most of us should be lucky enough never to experience.

We haven’t heard any stories yet of anyone walking 750km to freedom, but that’s only because it’s only been a few days; they’re still walking. They’re still heading towards their freedom, one defiant and heavily-laden – both physically and politically — step at a time.

December 31, 2021

Talk about a perfect storm… a surging variant, a ridiculous cold snap, and this period of time between Christmas and New Year’s when everyone is barely working… and those who bother showing up are basically phoning it in. The reporting arm of the health department in Alberta has actually given up. “Yeah, we think today’s number is around 4,000… use that for now. Ask us next year. See you January 4th”.

Who can blame them; the temperatures are dipping to the levels where it doesn’t matter whether you measure it in Fahrenheit or Celsius because it’s the same number. You know, sort of like the snowfall forecast we got around here two days ago… you can expect 10 (mumble) of snow. Ten what? Centimetres? Inches? Whatever.

Well… not all things are “whatever”.

The staggering number of new cases around the country (and the entire continent… and, while we’re at it, the entire planet) beg some questions that require some answers but, due to all of the above, the simple responses are not so forthcoming.

Trying to consolidate the numbers with respect to new cases and hospitalizations and ICU admissions has been a real exercise, but what’s most important aren’t actually the case counts; at least, not around here. Dr. Henry made a statement which alluded to the fact that there are far more cases out there than we know about. That’s been the case since the start, but it’s far more pronounced in recent weeks. Her guess is 3x to 5x, but that’s what I’d have guessed months ago. These days, we don’t have the proper testing infrastructure to get accurate numbers and, even if we did, that majority of people aren’t going to get tested. Depending who you ask, in fact… people are being told not to go get tested. You’ve got symptoms? Pretend you have it. Isolate, take care of yourself… and don’t bother us unless you need medical attention. And those who actually tried to go get tested found multi-hour waits, or got sent home with a rapid test, or found that the testing site that’d been shut down because of the cold.

A quick note about those rapid antigen tests: they’re nearly useless. I say nearly, but not entirely… only because they probably work just fine if they’re used correctly, and if the test patient has a high-enough viral load to register. Unfortunately, neither of those things seem to overlap enough to get accurate results. A positive result certainly means you have it, but a negative result doesn’t mean anything.

If you’re taking a rapid-antigen test – and I am speaking now from direct experience, having subjected myself to be a guinea pig for a friend who was trying to figure out the validity of these things – you need to scour deeply — approaching your brain — for ten seconds a nostril, complete with long, uncomfortable swirls — to get a valid result. I took a few of these tests; a gingerly tickle of the inside of your nostril does nothing. Even a medium-sized dip into your nose doesn’t do it. Unless that gargantuan Q-tip makes your eyes tear up and cause you to cough, you didn’t do it right. And it was only when I did that *and* was symptomatic that I got a positive result.

Anyway, that aside, getting a positive test these days is somewhat secondary to what it implies. Around here, with our enviable “fully-vaxxed” rate, it’s pretty good. The daily new case numbers (5,000 on paper, closer to 100,000 in my opinion) are not translating to hospitalizations. At least not yet, but for now, that’s really good news. As a general statement, if you have a normal healthy immune system and you’ve been double-vaxxed or better, the overwhelming evidence implies that you’ll suffer some cold-like symptoms at worst, and that’ll be it. It still needs to be taken very seriously because, of course, you might end up passing it along to someone who wouldn’t handle it so well… and none of that has changed. Older, immune-compromised, at risk people… they’ve been taking the necessary steps to stay safe, and we need to do the same for their benefit.

The relative success story (for now) that we’re seeing here seems to be consistent with other places with high vaccination rates. Those with lower rates are being hit hard, but only because the sheer volume of cases at some point is going to translate to an overwhelming amount of more serious cases.

Looking at the graphs below, you’ll see that hospitalization rates have not gone up dramatically in Western Canada. Ontario and Quebec are indeed seeing more hospitalizations, but barely an increase in ICU cases. Manitoba, too… to a lesser extent. But West of that, numbers are actually down.

I’ve added a third row of graphs today. While the top two rows are the cases, hospitalizations, ICUs and deaths since September 1st, the bottom row are the daily new case counts starting at the very beginning of the pandemic. They’re interesting to look at for numerous reasons… like, you can see clearly the different waves… but have a look at Quebec, from day 1. Near the very beginning, in that first little wave, there’s a notable spike. That spike was from early May, 2020… when over a 3-day period, they saw more than 4,000 new cases and over 300 deaths. It’s interesting to note just how insignificant that little spike looks compared to what came after, especially what’s going on now. But, back then… that was honestly the moment were all thinking that we’re totally screwed. That we, here in BC, were two weeks away from a tidal wave of cases and deaths.

We’ve learned a lot since then, and one of the most important is the realization of just how effective these vaccines are. We see today’s skyrocketing case numbers and we’re nowhere near as freaked out.

On that note… I haven’t written about Trump in a while, but it’s worth mentioning this: For as long as this pandemic has been going on, he’s been talking out of both sides of his mouth. He initially played it down, no big deal, it’ll be gone in a few weeks… and it became the rallying cry of his most-extreme base. His fervent supporters were as anti-mask, anti-vaxx and anti-science as he pretended to be… notwithstanding he took great pride in being responsible for funding Operation Warp Drive which indeed had a lot to do with developing these miraculous vaccines. You know, the ones he claimed we didn’t need and don’t do anything anyway because the virus is no big deal BUT I’ve created the greatest vaccine ever to combat the China virus BUT you don’t really need the vaccine BUT yeah, I got the vaccine, as did my entire family… we all got it quietly while nobody was watching, as did every Republican politician in Washington BUT really, you’re fine, forget vaccines and masks BUT yeah, we all got the booster too BUT….

Recently, and this is the eyebrow-raising part, Trump has been announcing to his followers that yeah, he got the booster and, you know what, they should get it too. But rather than listen to their fearless leader, they boo him and disagree with him. He, of course, doesn’t care… but why is that? It’s a 180, and it needs to be understood.

From the people’s point of view, they’re so deeply sunk into that mindset that they can’t, at this point, admit it’s wrong. They’ve already drowned in the Kool Aid. A lot of them can be heard saying they’d rather die of Covid than get the vaccine, and many of them will get that wish granted. Trump doesn’t care; he never did. But he does care about making himself reasonable and relevant for 2022 and beyond, so now he’s pandering to the bigger Republic base… those that aren’t so anti-everything. And that leaves those fringe people completely abandoned, discouraged and betrayed. And, in a bit of trouble if they don’t change their mind because that’s the demographic that makes up the vast majority of pandemic-related deaths. The anti-vaxx crowd.

Our BC fully-vaxxed rate is 90%. The majority of people in hospital for Covid come from that remaining 10%. The math isn’t complicated. And the American fully-vaxxed number isn’t even close to 90%… more like 62%. Unfortunately, for some select demographics, it could get quite ugly.

Last year, at exactly this time, I wrote a relatively optimistic piece about how the worst is over. Vaccines are just around the corner, and once we all get them, this will all have been a bad dream. Well, that was a little naïve, but I’m going to say the same thing again. Given the direction of Omicron and where we are with all of this, by this time next year, Covid won’t be a distant nightmare from the past that’s still haunting us. Rather, it’ll be an endemic annoyance for which we’ll have an armada of weapons: Vaccines, treatments, prevention therapies, whatever. Every day is one step closer to C19 becoming the common cold of the future, but we’re not there yet. Next year…

So… wishing you all a Very Happy, Prosperous and – most of all – *Healthy* 2022. All the best… and Cheers!

October 5, 2021

Well… I guess it depends how you look at it.

A little over 20 years ago, a group of terrorists took over four planes with the intention of crashing them into buildings. Three of them succeeded. So… what was the death toll? If you count the total of passengers, crew and terrorists on the planes, they add up to 284. Is it fair to say the death toll of 9/11 was 284? Of course not. We also have to count all of those on the ground.

Do we count the hundreds that were killed instantly upon impact? Do we count those that were killed trying to escape their building but were caught when it collapsed? Do we count those that preferred to jump, and die on their own accord, with a final breath of fresh air instead of being burned alive? Do we count the hundreds of firemen who lost their lives trying to rescue all of the aforementioned people? The answer to all of that is agreed upon to be yes… and it adds up to just under 3,000.

But many of those people that survived that day succumbed to injuries later. Many rescue workers developed respiratory problems and cancer due to the toxicity of Ground Zero. And how many suicides emerged from the shattered lives of those left behind? Do we count those?

And, of course, 9/11 launched a war, one that lasted twenty years. Add all of those casualties – military, civilian, other… and now we’re well over 70,000. Did those terrorists kill over 70,000 people? I don’t know where you want to draw the line, but here’s a simple fact: Were it not for the terrorists, most of those 70,000 would be alive today.

Closer to home… when this pandemic began, the “it’s no big deal” crowd loved throwing out bullshit numbers like “Covid has only killed 0.0000234%” of the population. With a bit of time and science behind us, we can get a pretty accurate feel for where things are actually at… and where they’re going.

To begin with, like my 9/11 example above, there are complicated philosophical arguments that can be made as to what counts and what doesn’t. There are also abhorrent arguments that can be made like “old people were going to die anyway, so if it’s from Covid, it shouldn’t count.” Tell that to a 9/11 widow whose husband took his own life a year after the attacks because he just couldn’t handle it.

After all is said and done, there’s very little to counteract against the simplest measure of all; Excess Deaths. You can argue that someone with serious pre-existing medical conditions shouldn’t count. You can argue the someone who had mild Covid but died in a car accident on the way to the hospital shouldn’t count. You can argue that a family that died of hunger or misery or loneliness because their sole bread-winner died of Covid – shouldn’t count. There are plenty of arguments that can be made on both sides of those, but it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, it’s excess deaths. If a certain population typically sees 1,000 people die during a certain period of time but now it’s 1,200, unless you have a very obvious explanation for those 200, if it’s been in the last 18 months, I’m going to assume it’s directly related to Covid.

Globally, the official death count is around 4.8M. That number is way off, and as per all of the above, you can argue what should count and what shouldn’t, but I can tell you this… the real number is around 16 million, with a 95% confidence interval of somewhere between 9.9M and 18.5M. And where exactly do I get this? Excess deaths, of course.

The issue with all of this is that the analysis of this data is only as good as the data itself. From a North American point of view, excess deaths seem to be about 20% above the official C19 numbers… and that’s if you believe the numbers, which generally, you should. There was a period of time when the Trump White House took control of the numbers and everything suddenly dropped. The issue these days is that many sources of data seem to have become less reliable. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, you can’t fudge death numbers. Those are publicly available and out of anyone’s hands to manipulate.

In other places though… China’s official death toll from C19 is… less than 5,000. As you may have noticed, China no longer cares what anyone thinks, nor do they even make an effort to hide behind plausible deniability. They will do and say whatever they want without feeling the need to answer to it, and there’s no better example than the recent hostage exchange. The two Michaels came this way, Meng went that way. Notwithstanding China has been saying for two years how these two are spies and they have evidence and here’s an 11-year sentence, etc… a few minutes after Meng was released, so were they. There was no re-trial. There was no “new evidence” to show their innocence. There wasn’t even a “it’ll take a couple of days to process their release.” Nothing… and to hell with the optics. Here are your prisoners; we’ll take ours. Think whatever you want. We don’t care.

China’s official Covid death toll probably undercounts reality by about 11,000%. Their true death toll is estimated to be between 210,000 and 1.5M. There are countless examples around the world where the official counts are way out of touch with reality… and what’s emerging out of the data is are things like dire humanitarian crises in many countries in Africa. The excess deaths are in many cases, like in China, thousands of percentage points higher than the official numbers. The same can be said about some countries in Latin America.

Anyway… that’s where we’re at, and it’s unfortunately far from over. Or is it? Is there a global light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel? Like all of the above, it very much depends how you look at it… but that’s a topic for another day.

October 5, 2021

June 18, 2021

If you grew up in these parts and have been around long enough, you certainly remember Expo 86. The world came to visit, and the city hasn’t been the same since.

One thing that most people who visited the World’s Fair had was an Expo passport. You’d carry it around and get stamps from everywhere you visited at the fair. Somewhere in my basement storage is my well-tattered Expo passport, and it’s full of pretty-much every stamp that existed. Every pavilion, every restaurant, every ride, every kiosk… all had their own unique stamp, and it became my mission to get them all. Even the Expo 86 mascot, Expo Ernie, had one… and if you could find him wandering around, he’d stamp your passport too.

There were a few very rare ones… like, for example, Jimmy Pattison. He had his own stamp, and the story of how I got him to stamp my passport is pretty good. Jimmy P, the well-known legendary-yet-ruthless businessman / epic philanthropist / CEO of Expo 86, at least back then, drove a monster of a car… like one of those 8-gallons-to-the-mile Lincoln Continentals from the early 80s. And maneuvering a big car like that around the tight spaces surrounding the fair wasn’t so easy, I guess… and, on one bright sunny summer day in 1986, he almost ran me over. It wasn’t actually that close, and I wasn’t actually that shaken up… but he stopped and made sure I was ok and asked if I needed anything. Yes, Jimmy, in fact I do… and that is how I got the coveted JP Expo 86 passport stamp.

It’s starting to feel like any sort of vaccine passport will have the look and feel of an Expo passport, where instead of visiting countries and getting their stamp, you’ll visit their vaccines and get those.

What’s starting to become apparent is that there is no such thing as *the* vaccine. That was a concept we all collectively came up with last year; “once *the* vaccine shows up, we’ll all be saved.”

Not so simple now, is it.

All vaccines are not created equal. And even if they were, it seems some vaccines are more equal than others. We’re starting to see some hints of vaccine “protectionism”… like, in the U.S., if you want to go to the Springsteen concert (yeah, how appropriate… Born… In The U.S.A….), you will need an American-made vaccine. Pfizer? Yeah man. Moderna? Sure dude. AstraZeneca? Not so fast, old chap.

This morning, Singapore began offering the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine, and clinics were overrun with demand. This, notwithstanding the fact that Pfizer and Moderna have been available there for a long time, and half the population of 5.7 million have already had one or the other. And notwithstanding that Pfizer/Moderna have efficacy rates of around 95% while Sinovac is only 51%.

None of that matters. What matters is… that if you’re a Chinese national who lives in Singapore and wants to travel to mainland China, the only way to avoid quarantine upon arrival is to have the Sinovac vaccine. Oh, you’ve already had two shots of Pfizer and are completely immune? That’s nice, but if you want to visit our country hassle-free, you’ll have to have this one as well.

And so, perhaps, once it’s established that there’s no way to O.D. on vaccine, people will have some decisions to make. If AstraZeneca is going to be treated like a second-class citizen south of the border, what do you do? What does it mean for those who’ve had two doses of AZ and want to cross the border? What if you’ve had one AZ and one Pfizer/Moderna? What if you’ve had AZ, Sinovac, J&J *and* Sputnik? What if you’re so loaded with vaccine that you’re immune till 2027 and serve as your own 5G beacon?

These are not irrelevant questions. The U.S. may consider AZ a 2nd-tier vaccine just like China considers Pfizer/Moderna… but Canada will end up making its own policies as well. And it’s going to get messy, because people will scream discrimination. And, of course, that’s exactly what it is. Little of this has anything to do with actual science or vaccine efficacy or actual practicality. It’s mostly just bullshit politics.

One of the tag lines of Expo 86 was about “Inviting The World”, which we certainly did. And we still do… though, in future… well, bring your well-stamped passport with you.

May 11, 2021

Since 1980, the Vancouver Canucks have won fewer than 10 Stanley Cups. Also, since 1980, the Edmonton Oilers as well… have won fewer than 10 Stanley Cups.

While both of those facts are entirely accurate, they certainly fail to convey the real picture. But someone who’s not too sure can make that blanket statement, and nobody will argue it… though it might make you wonder if the person who said it actually understands what they’re talking about.

Similarly, the CDC has announced that “less than 10 percent” of C19 transmission is occurring outdoors. This number was picked up by the media and repeated… and has become the “de-facto” standard accepted description for the frequency of outdoor transmission. And sure, it’s without-a-doubt – accurate. The number is most certainly less than 10%.

What’s the real number? The actual number of documented outdoor transmissions may actually be lower than 0.1%, and even that is questionable. It may be a lot lower than that.

Part of it is defining what’s an outdoor space. A poorly-ventilated tent is not an outdoor space, though some stats have classified it that way. A huge outlier in outdoor transmissions has been data from construction sites in Singapore. For example, one particular study of over 10,000 worldwide instances of transmission found that only 95 of them were outdoors… and all 95 of them were from construction sites in Singapore. What gives?

That’s pretty simple, actually… those guys work outdoors in the hot sun, but eat lunch and congregate and relax in cool construction trailers, sometimes for lengthy periods of time. But since the job overlaps with indoor and outdoor spaces, and the classification needs one or the other, they erred on the side of caution and labelled it outdoor.

This erring on the side of caution is a problem, because it’s led to a lot of confusion and uncertainty. What exactly is risky? When exactly do you need a mask?

What the evidence is showing (though the guidelines still have to catch up) is that the highest risk – perhaps the only risk – is indoor spaces, especially ones that are poorly ventilated. Should you wear a mask while shopping? For the moment, absolutely. Vaccinated/not vaccinated/healthy/recovered… whatever… wear a mask. And understand why being in a crowded restaurant or bar for several hours is a lot different than a quick in-and-out at the mall to pick up something you need.

There are a lot of people wearing masks outdoors, but the science is implying that it’s almost entirely unnecessary. Sitting outside for several hours in close proximity to a lot of people is still not a good idea. Sitting outside next to one particular person, talking for hours, is also still not a good idea. It’s not an issue of being inside or outside; it’s an issue of proximity and potential viral load. Someone infectious breathing on you with conversation for hours is a risk, no matter what the venue. But when you’re outside, even a concentrated blast of virus dissipates very quickly. The distinction between droplets and aerosols and where they come from and how far they can reach and how long they can linger… all of it becomes rather moot when you’re outside, as in truly outside. It disperses… quickly.

So what about walking around on the street? Sitting around on a park bench by yourself? Should you be wearing a mask? As it turns out, the negligible risk implies maybe not. It might be the equivalent of walking down the street wearing a helmet… just in case a flowerpot falls off a window ledge.

An analysis of over 7,000 cases in China found exactly one case of outdoor transmission… but it was two people in conversation, in close proximity, for a lengthy period of time. And many other studies have concluded the risk of outdoor transmission to be insignificant.

That particular 0.1% number comes from analyzing numbers in Ireland… roughly 260,000 cases, roughly 260 of which were classified outdoors… but, again, that included construction sites and people in close proximity for long periods of time… with perhaps some indoor time included. Also, some sporting events… but it’s changing rooms before and after that are the real threat. Covid-19 ripped through the Canucks dressing room and affected most of the players and coaches and some others. But no opposing players caught it from any Canuck.

But… we’ve been erring on the side of caution, and we’ve gotten used to it… and it’ll be a while before people are comfortable with the idea of being around others without a mask, no matter where you are. And for the all-or-nothing crowd – where the only choices are black or white, right or wrong… there’s no easy way to convey this information. At the end of the day, there are circumstances where a mask is absolutely necessary. But by providing one single case where it’s not, you’ll hear back “You see?! We don’t need masks blah blah blah I’m not listening blah blah blah!!” – end of discussion.

So… as exaggerated as it’s been, that’s been the messaging. It covers the all-or-nothing crowd, much like saying the Canucks have won fewer than 10 Stanley Cups.

I, for one, would love to see the Canucks win at least one in my lifetime… and I’d like it to be in a crowded Rogers Arena along with 20,000 other people. And the silver lining of this is that, of course, by the time the Canucks are in any shape to win a Stanley Cup, masks will long have been a thing of the past.

But for now, if you need a general rule, wear a mask. And if you understand the big picture of all of the above, and especially if you’ve already had a jab or two… you can certainly start thinking about taking it off outdoors, especially if there’s nobody around.

I realize this isn’t yet the official messaging, but soon enough, it will be… because if you believe in science… and it’s the science that’s helping get us out of this mess… this is what comes next.

March 10, 2021

There’s a lot to learn from looking at the list of countries who managed to secure significant doses of vaccine early in the game, because it begs a lot of questions. Why are they doing so well? Where did they get it from? Why did they get it and not us?

Starting at the top of the list and sorting by Doses… either by “population percentage with at least one dose” or simply “doses per 100 people” – the results are pretty much the same. There, it makes sense to remove the “big” names because the answer is obvious… those that are making the vaccines are using it for themselves as much as they can. The U.S., the U.K, China, Russia. Also remove from there places whose numbers are skewed because of low populations. The Maldives, the Seychelles… tiny populations, mostly vaccinated.

The top of the list now is of course Israel, who was on top of the list before anyone else was removed. They have a population of 9,000,000. They’ve administered 9,000,000 doses. They’re not all first doses, but most are. I saw a picture of a café in Tel Aviv yesterday… and outdoor patio, crowded, no masks, people having a blast. We’ll be there one day… but they’re there now.

How did Israel do it? A pretty sweet deal with Pfizer – one that worked out well for everyone. Lots of data, lots of healthy people. There are plenty of articles to read about how it all came about.

But who’s next on the list now? A terrific outlier to study, as far as I’m concerned.

Chile… and I’m interested because I was born there. Because I have friends and family there. Because I used to travel down there on an almost annual basis, and I know how things work; I know more about doing business with Chile than anyone would ever want to know… which led me to ask the relevant question… who’d they hustle and how’d they do it? Their population is about half of Canada. 22% of those people have had at least one dose. We’re at 5%.

May of 2020 was a bad month down there… 100,000 new infections and almost 1,000 deaths. That’s when they began taking their vaccine plan seriously. Their ministry of health set up meetings with 11 labs around the world, a number that went down to 5 as talks progressed. Internally, it was agreed that when the health regulators of those jurisdictions approved those vaccines, they’d be auto-approved in Chile. To lock in those supplies, meetings were scheduled *in person*. The Chileans flew out to numerous places, including Abu Dabi and the UAE, principal operational hubs for Pfizer and BioNTech. And this is where the Chilean way of business kicked in. I wasn’t in those rooms, but what I know is that those Chileans did not leave without firm deals to receive vaccine; letters of intent, confidentiality agreements… and, probably, agreements not so different from Israel – yes, for sure, we’ll give you the data… we’ll red-line vaccinations… whatever you need… just get us the stuff, AND, if *you* don’t comply with your end of it, there will be hell to pay, as enforced by whatever international laws apply.

I’m speculating a bit and drawing on my knowledge on how things work, and what sort of leverage (the only sort that could possibly be applied) might have worked… because it ultimately worked, and worked well. Very early in the game, Chile was already ahead. By September of last year, Chile was setting up clinical trials for Sinovac and Janssen. Some 3,000 Chileans happily volunteered between October and November. And, for doing so, Chile locked in a $14/dose cost of vaccine and top of the delivery schedule. Chile stuck to their end of it, and the manufacturers have stuck to theirs. Win-win.

Around here, we’re paying $35/dose, when we can get it. Yes, I know – we’ve all read the same news – we will get it all in due course, and just because we keep getting dropped down the list it doesn’t mean anything. Patience, etc. By the time our anger and head-shaking subsides, the pandemic will be over and we’ll have moved on and nobody will care. But allow me to put it in writing; our government let us down. Good intentions are not good enough. Intention to have enough vaccine in a timely manner. Intention to have an infrastructure for booking appointments. Getting up in front a podium and TV cameras isn’t worth anything if you don’t deliver. Nobody is interested in finger pointing and lame excuses, especially how it’s “out of our control”. Your job as our leaders is to find a way to put it into *your* control. Our control. Many governments around the world, with far less resources at their disposal, managed to navigate this process far better.

Ultimately, I’m familiar with the Canadian way of doing business too. The 300,000,000 doses we’ve procured – in the same way Seinfeld “procured” a car reservation in that famous episode – was done with lots of emails, phone calls, Zoom meetings. Whiteboards and PowerPoints. Lawyers and contracts and back-and-forth mark-ups, with nothing in there that could incur any liability. And with nothing to offer in return, very little teeth in those agreements. How can we be sure they’ll hold up their end? It doesn’t matter… and don’t worry about it because with all the “best efforts” language in there, we have zero recourse anyway. Let’s just hope for the best.

Chile started at the finish line. They simply asked, “What is the fastest way to get vaccines into the arms of our population?”… and assigned a group of intelligent resourceful people to just get it done. And they did. Pisco Sours all around. Salúd.

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January 25, 2021

A year ago today, a man who’d recently returned from Wuhan, China, wasn’t feeling well… and wound up at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital, where he became Canada’s first test-positive C19 case.

Hearing that this morning made me think back… what was I doing at the time? Thanks to modern technology, it doesn’t take much to scroll back through recent history.

A year ago last night, I was at the Chan Centre watching my talented nephew, acting in a very engaging and entertaining theatre production. It was excellent, and so, appropriately, the venue was jammed.

A year ago today was a Saturday, and, at 10am, we were back at UBC — at TRIUMF this time — for a couple of lectures. One was about earthquakes – the famous impending “big one” that will hit the south coast, sometime between tonight and 500 years from now. The other was about black holes, cosmic collisions and sensing gravitational waves. Takeaway: If a large earthquake shows up off the south coast, don’t be in Tofino. And, I guess, if a black hole shows up off the south coast, don’t be in Tofino either… but you won’t have much too time to worry about it.

These lectures are super-interesting if you’re into this sort of thing, so, accordingly, it was crowded. Sold out in fact. So sold out we couldn’t get tickets online, and just crashed the venue, hoping we could sneak in. The tickets are free, but seating is limited; fortunately, some people didn’t show up and they let us in.

The kids were there too, and perhaps it took a bit of gentle bartering to get one of them there as well, because we wound up going out for dinner that night, to Kobe. Kobe is excellent, and always crowded as well; you end up sharing a table/cooking surface with complete strangers for a couple of hours.

Talk about taking stuff for granted. Three very different things, but all had one thing in common; hanging out in close proximity with strangers… and thinking nothing of it. That’s how it was.

So, what’s happened in that one year… today also marks another milestone; today, the world went over 100,000,000 known C19 cases. There have been over 2,000,000 deaths. There have also been over 72,000,000 recoveries. In Canada, more than 750,000 cases came after that guy.

My prediction was that here in Canada, we’d be seeing the worst of this pandemic… right about now. Now would be the time when the gradual decline would begin, and while it’d take a long time to snuff it out in due course, it’d never get worse than what we’re experiencing now.

This completely-non-professional opinion was based on the confluence of a few things, but primarily, it’s this: any negative effect that would’ve been caused by the holiday season would now be known and we’d be in the midst of handling. Whether they were supposed to or not, people got together over the holidays. Some of them passed on infections, etc… so how bad was it? Well, it definitely caused a spike, but if you look at the graphs and numbers, things are clearly trending favourably. Couple that with the fact that there are no large family-gathering-type holidays any time soon… and given that vaccines are every day making slow but steady progress into bloodstreams… and that the majority of people and businesses are still towing the party line… put it all together and, optimistically, the worst is behind us. That being said, who could’ve predicted newer mutations that are more virulent, and which could possibly lead to more cases. The answer to that question is epidemiologists… and they did.

We’re far from sounding the all-clear, but the numbers and pictures at the moment tell a cautiously-optimistic story; declines everywhere… ranging from steep (Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec) to moderate (B.C) to mild (Ontario, Saskatchewan)… but the entire country is trending in the right direction. For now.

Today’s versions of cool lectures, theatre productions, and restaurants look nothing like what they did a year ago. There are online and socially-distanced versions of all of that, but they’re nothing like the real thing. A year ago we had the real thing… and every indication is that a year from now, we’ll have it again.

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January 19, 2021

OK Saksatchewanites/Saskatchabusihes/Saskatchawenians… you now have your hospitalizations graph… thank you to my friend Richard for providing that data in a usable form. But today, let’s talk about the opposite of that… the opposite of needing to go to the hospital is what’ll prevent the vast majority of us from doing so… and that is… vaccines. And there is news to report.

The headline I read screamed, “Thousands of Israelis Tested Positive for Coronavirus After First Vaccine Shot!!!!!” – the exclamation points are mine, but the rest is verbatim… and while that sounds like a disastrous claim, it’s not. If the headline is meant to grab everyone’s attention, it works… but, as usual, there’s more to the story. Let’s dig into the numbers a bit.

First of all, part of the reason Israel managed to get so much vaccine ahead of everyone else is that they were willing to be, in essence, a test-bed for what it would look like to distribute the vaccine through a first-world technologically-capable infrastructure and collect as much valid real-world data as possible… straight from the source. As previously written, many other places who’ve had vaccines long before Pfizer/Moderna came around (China, Russia) have been putting out numbers… which, for numerous and valid reasons, are met with skepticism. But here we have accurate data, so what does it tell us…

Some 12,400 Israelis tested positive after being vaccinated, and, among them, 69 who’d been vaccinated twice. That first number sounds big, but that’s out of 189,000 people – which amounts to 6.6% — an efficacy of 93.4% — which for any vaccine is off-the-charts successful, and is almost bang-on with the expectations of ~95%

Digging a little deeper into the numbers… 100,000 people were tested a week after getting the vaccine; 5,438 were found to be positive… a 5.4% infection rate. A different set of 67,000 people was tested in the 8-14 days-after period, and 5,585 tested positive… 8.3%.

People were also testing positive more than two weeks after getting the first dose, but in declining numbers as time went on. Immunity is meant to start ramping up in days 15 to 21, and that’s reflected in declining positivity numbers… especially after the second dose.

It should be noted that there are other relevant factors; the majority of those who’ve received vaccinations are over 60, and it’s well-understood that people’s immune systems erode as they get older. Flu shots, for example, are less than 60% effective in those 65 and older… as compared to 80% to 90% for those younger than that.

With the Pfizer vaccine, for what it’s worth, 102 employees at one particular medical center were tested a week after immunization. It was found that 100 of them had antibody levels 6 to 20 times higher than the previous week.

In summary, the vaccine works well. Very well. It’s not perfect, because 95 does not equal 100, and its effectiveness varies on numerous factors; some people are simply far more susceptible to infection, and age is one of those contributing factors. At the end of the day, the idea is to get to herd immunity, and that’s achieved when enough people are immune that they’ll protect those who aren’t – and, possibly, who can’t be. By far, the quickest way to get there is through vaccination.

That’s the plan currently being rolled out across the planet, with varying degrees of success; get the shot into as many people as possible, while carefully following the results to make sure they’re in-line with what’s expected. With Israel leading the charge and making available all the data… from what we can see so far… so far, so good.

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January 15, 2021

Nothing too exciting to report in the U.S. today – well, other than the revelation that the insurrectionists did indeed intend to take hostages and assassinate government officials. But other than that.

So… let’s get back to vaccines…

As promised, some Canadian jurisdictions have blown through their supplies, jabbing as many arms as they can, with the vast majority of those being first doses… many people having now decided that that’s the way to go – get it into as many people as possible, stretch the time frame a bit, and catch up in due course.

The advantage of that is that it maximises the number of people who are at least a bit immune, which is obviously better than nothing at all. If not being vaccinated is a 0 and being fully vaccinated and immunized is a 9.5 (there is no 10; there are no guarantees), it’s not like the first dose gets you to 2 or 3. Depends who you ask, it’s anywhere from a 5.2 to a 9.0… and then the second dose gets you up to 9.5.

That being the case, the right strategy for the big picture is to give everyone a first dose… and counting on getting the second dose in time. But don’t pick 50 people and give them both. Or don’t do it where 33 people get two, 33 people get one, and 33 get zero.

Here in B.C., we’ve administered 98% of the vaccine we’ve received, and the plan is in place to keep doing that; that we have the infrastructure to dish it out as fast as they can serve it to us, and that the limiting factor is supply. It should be noted that 100% of that 98% are first doses.

Interestingly, Alberta has administered 112% of their vaccine. They’ve received 74,000 doses from Pfizer and have injected 84,000 arms… also all first doses. How is that possible? Notwithstanding the fact that every vial of vaccine ostensibly ships with enough for 5 doses when thawed and diluted, doctors have found you can squeeze out perhaps 5.2 or 5.3… so 5 doses per vial might turn into 6 or even 7 after a while of collecting scraps. Pfizer has not said that’s ok, but they haven’t said it’s not. We’ve all scraped the bottom of the peanut-butter jar… with a spoon, with a finger, with whatever… because we all know there’s no difference in yumminess. Hopefully the vaccine is the same.

In Quebec, though… they may be stretching things a bit far. They’ve similarly administered 110% of their vaccine… but that’s not the issue; it’s not the extra doses they’re squeezing out… it’s that they’re aiming to measure those second-dose timings in months, not weeks… and the risk is that Pfizer pulls the plug on that. The province has said that of course they’ll follow those guidelines if it comes down to not getting the vaccine at all, but for now… they will pedal-to-the-metal red-line it while they can. And for the moment, 100% of that 110% has been first doses… over 127,000 of them. Why does this sound like it might be even remotely ok? Because there’s some British science to back it.

According to Pfizer, the vaccine is only 52% effective after the first dose. But according to British scientists, who are measuring the results differently, that number is 89%.

For comparison, according to Moderna, their vaccine is 80% effective after one dose, 96% after two…. and with respect to the CoronaVac vaccine developed by Sinovac in China… none of these results have been peer-reviewed and they’re all over the place, so hardly worth comparing… but here they are. The press releases from countries using it vary widely: Turkey says 91% effective… Indonesia 66%, Brazil 50%… and all of those results are based on the full two doses.

A few days ago, I wrote about this aspect of it, and was corrected by a few people… in my case, I was uneasy about B.C. stretching the dose-gap to 35 days. As I’ve learned, that’s no big deal. In fact, even though Pfizer has recommended 21 days for their vaccine, and Moderna 28 days for theirs… Canadian guidelines, ie the Federal Public Health Advisors have OK’d up to 42 days for both.

But, Quebec… 90 days. Three months instead of three weeks. Their argument for doing that? Well, see above. Good idea? Again, as per above… it’s a definite maybe.

Meanwhile, New Brunswick has administered around 8,000 doses, but 2,000 have been second doses. That being said, New Brunswick today had 25 new cases and zero deaths. Quebec had 1,918 new cases and 60 deaths. A very different sense of urgency.

Today we hear the dire projections from models that imply things could get a lot worse if we don’t clamp down… and immunizing as many people as possible in that scenario is the right call. About the only thing that could mess this up is if not enough vaccine shows up for those first doses (let alone the second).

Since early 2021 hasn’t completely let go of the 2020 shitshow quite yet, today we hear that there will be vaccine delays. To be sure, don’t worry, we’ll be able to catch up in due course, a minor hiccup, etc… but of course, the issue is that we need them now. We’ve been assured that the timeline to get everyone vaccinated by the end of the year is not in jeopardy… and I believe it, especially given the quantity of vaccine Canada has procured… 10 doses for every person, specifically to mitigate this sort of situation. But it’s the bird-in-hand vs. birds-in-the-bush situation… I’d rather have one rickety old fire engine show up quickly… than five glistening bright-red new ones after everything has already burned down.

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