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!

March 10, 2022

It’s been a while since I watched the Dr. Henry update, but I did today, if for no other reason than the fact that it’s going to be the last one… at least as far as scheduled ones are concerned. Two years ago, and for many subsequent months, you’d have found me glued to the screen on a daily basis, watching intently and trying to figure out what the hell is going on. That was my daily question, and the answer always was… “We’ll see.”

Today’s final press conference, close to two years to the day of the first one, came with some announcements that were expected… and will make some people very happy, and others not so much…

One big question people have been wondering about is when do we see the end of vaccine passports, and the answer is – assuming things remain on the path they’re on – April 8th. The provincial requirement for vaccine passports goes away April 8th and, in a perfect world (don’t we wish), stays away forever. We’ll see.

The other biggie is, of course, mask mandates: Also gone, as of midnight tonight… and notwithstanding some minor exceptions (medical settings), places like restaurants and concerts and hockey games will no longer require them. But let’s clarify that… restaurants will no longer be required to require them. I am guessing there will be some places who will be hesitant to just say it’s open season, and that’s likely to cause some problems. Some people will be offended that the person next to them is voluntarily wearing a mask. For others, it’ll be the exact opposite. Some restaurants, for their own reasons, may choose to stick with it… not for the scientific, but for the psychological reasons. We’ll see.

There is a huge, and I do mean… huge… difference between the science and the psychology of where we are today. I realized that recently when walking into my house and subconsciously reaching for my mask. Part of my brain is now on that autopilot; going from outdoors to indoors? Put on a mask.

That sort of autopilot has saved my life, literally… on a few occasions walking the streets of London. Here’s some advice, especially if you’ve never been there: When you’re crossing the street, look both ways. It’s that simple. Don’t try to think about traffic and where it’s coming from and where it’s going and who’s turning to and from where… just look both ways. I once came within inches of getting hit by a bus because I was quickly going to cross the street and there was nothing off to the left. Of course there wasn’t, because that’s not how it works over there.

So how’s it going to work over here? A mask or no mask is unlikely to be a matter of life and death, but the psychology of un-training our brains may take a while. I have a tremendous amount of empathy for people who aren’t automatically young and healthy and fearless. I feel for teachers who are worried about the fact that all students K-12 will no longer require masks after Spring Break.

I feel for them because the fear that’s been around for two years doesn’t go away so easily. Obviously, at some point, the mask mandate has to go away, and it’s the science that’s driving that decision today. But no matter when that was going to be, it was going to result in a lot of issues… and here we are. For a long time, we’ve been told we’re wearing masks for the benefit of others… but long after Covid is gone, there will be people with masks… and in that case, it’s entirely for themselves and their mental well-being. Whether it’s tomorrow or in 6 months or in 2 years, you will see people with masks. To quote our fearless Dr. Henry: “Be kind, be calm.” Perhaps the “Be safe” part of it is not so relevant anymore, at least not for you. But it is, and will remain so, for others.

Speaking of what’s relevant and not… I’ve been wondering for a while how long I’ll be updating these numbers and charts. “Until they’re no longer relevant” is my inward-facing answer to that. Does any of this mean anything anymore?

For a long time, case counts meant everything. Cases turned into hospitalizations and ICUs and deaths, etc. Well… it’s been a while since the daily case numbers have meant much. Testing protocols have changed… and while, for a long time, we knew that reported cases were significantly undercounting reality, we never knew by how much. That’s never been more true, to the extent that the published numbers no longer mean much at all… so much so that many jurisdictions are no longer publishing them on a daily basis, if at all. You’ll see a lot of italics in today’s chart… those are interpolated numbers. If it was 170 last week and it’s 100 today, you’ll see it stepping down by very pretty and consistent and italicized “10” on a daily basis. Does that really mean anything at all? Honestly, not much. But it’s better than blanks and then a big jump. And, to be fair, it’s a relatively fair view of a trend… though, again, the trend isn’t actually as important as simply: Where are we today?

So… where, in fact, are we today…

Today, B.C. has around 400 Covid hospital cases. That number was close to 1,000 a month ago. Also today, B.C. has 58 Covid ICU cases. A month ago, it was close to 150. To the extent this has always greatly been about managing the pressures on the health-care system, we’re nowhere near frightening levels, and continue to head in the right direction.

And, on that note, what do these numbers actually mean? Everyone admitted to the hospital these days gets a Covid test. If you go to the E.R. with a broken arm and test positive, you’re on that list. If you have a heart attack and wind up in the ICU, and happen to have tested positive, you’re on that list too. And if you die with Covid, notwithstanding it may have had nothing to do with it, you’ll count there too.

So… look at all the pretty charts, because they won’t be around much longer. I have to be honest and say that I don’t think they’re conveying too much useful information anymore. You can see the hospitalization and ICU and death trends pretty clearly; they’re what you’d expect… and unless there’s some unheard of Omegaplex variant coming down the line, all of those charts should be going downhill (in the good way) forever. Every single graph shows where we are, and every single graph is in a much better place than it was a month ago… by far.

I suppose this is what the end-game of the pandemic is supposed to look like; it’s what it was going to look like all along… a fuzzy finish line at best. Initially, like two years ago, I somehow imagined a V-E day-type ending to all of this… where the announcement is made, the case-counts are near zero, the death counts have been zero ten days in a row and we’re all out dancing in the streets downtown throwing our masks in the air and hugging strangers. Nothing remotely close like that will happen, and the only people jamming downtown are the insane trucker anti-mask anti-vax “freedom” brigade who are on their way to Victoria to protest… to protest what? Nothing left to protest, but that won’t stop them, so we’ll see.

In fact, that’s a good motto going forward… it answers a lot of the rhetorical questions: Do you feel comfortable in a crowded place? We’ll see. Where nobody has a mask? We’ll see. And nobody had to show a vaccine passport? Honestly, speaking for myself, I don’t know.

We’ll see.

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.

February 14, 2022

Happy Valentine’s Day!

The symbol of the day is, of course, hearts. Big, red… and/or fluffy and/or chocolate-filled and/or arrow crossed – hearts. We all know what Valentine’s Day looks like.

Funny thing, symbols… how they come into existence and what they mean to people and how, sometimes, they get co-opeted for nefarious means and ruined forever.

There is an ancient Sanskrit symbol used to convey good wishes and well-being that was very popular until relatively recently. You could find it on Coca-Cola bottles. You could find it on bottles of Carlsberg. Even the Boy Scouts used it, and, in fact, the Girls’ Club of America named their magazine after it. Closer to home, many hockey teams named themselves after it and used it as their logo.

The pictures of those teams, though… are all in black and white because all of the above preceded World War II. At that point, the symbol was seized-upon by the Nazis, and the rest, as well as the symbol itself, is history. In common parlance, the swastika has been “canceled” and, unlike some celebrities who manage to claw their way back from permanent exile – for example, Arnold Schwarzenegger – the swastika Won’t Be Back.

For decades, especially after the aforementioned World War, the Canadian Flag has been a world-wide symbol of awesomeness. If you’ve ever backpacked through Europe, hopping from hostel to hostel, you’ll understand the warmth with which you’re received when they see that flag, especially in places like Holland.

Around here, Canadian flags being waved loudly in the streets has always been in celebration. If you’d told me a few months ago that there’d be huge screaming crowds waving flags and dancing in the streets in early February, I certainly would’ve assumed it was sports-related; perhaps because the Canadian women once again won Olympic gold… and/or the men… and/or our national soccer team qualified for the World Cup… that sort of thing. But then you throw in the swastikas and the violence and the “F🍁ck Trudeau” flags and, suddenly, it looks quite different.

I categorically refuse to allow what’s going on these days to tarnish the meaning of our flag and our Maple Leaf. I recognize that the symbolism and what’s behind it isn’t flawless; I certainly recognize that Canada Day is far from something to celebrate for some populations of Canada, but that’s our internally inward-facing problem to acknowledge and respect and make right. Nobody else’s.

So, back to the question… who exactly has seized upon the moment to tarnish our image, both inward and outward-facing, to suit their own particular agenda?

The big news a few hours go was that there was a data leak; that the spreadsheet of all of the truck convoy donors was stolen. Indeed, that happened… and I’ve managed to get a hold of it (don’t ask).

There’s a lot to learn from all that data, but here are the broad brushstrokes:

– around 90,000 individual donors totaling more than $8 million (USD)

– the majority of donors were American (58.8% US vs. 41.2% CA)

– the top donor, a donation of $90,000, came from an American billionaire who’s well known for backing Republican causes

– there were around 50 American donations of $1,000 or more, as opposed to around 150 Canadian donations of $1,000 or more

– the lower the donation amount, the more the quantity seems to skew towards Americans. Like, of donations over $10, there were 46,700 US vs. 35,100 CA. Of donations less than $10, Americans “outweighed” Canadians 5 to 1. In other words, there’s a relatively small group of Canadians who’ve seized upon this “seriously” and have thrown some bigger money at it. The majority of the rest of it comes from down south.

Who the hell are these thousands of Americans throwing $5 or $10 towards this? The answer is pretty obvious, but for those who don’t get it or don’t want to get it, I’ll spell it out for you… it’s the same mindset as the $90k guy at the top, who are interested in pushing their own agendas that have absolutely nothing to do with the pandemic or freedom or whatever else. If you’ve ever wondered who’d ever come into Canada pushing agendas with respect to more guns, less abortions, even fewer vaccines and no masks – it’s these guys.

I’m well aware there are people reading this thinking hell yeah! That’s what we want!

Well… I’ll tell you what: If that’s what you want, go right ahead and do your part trying to vote it in. After all, this is a democracy… and if that’s what most people want, they’ll eventually vote it in and get it.

However, the last thing anyone around here should be welcoming is meddling from the outside. Americans, in general, are notorious for jumping borders and imposing their will. They’re our closest neighbour and biggest trading partner and ally, I know… but I’ve always been a big fan of the 49th parallel and what it’s managed, both physically and spiritually, to keep in and out. America has plenty to offer, but it should always be up to us what we take… because America is also well-known for, after imposing their will, washing their hands of it, walking away, and leaving a huge mess, having achieved whatever it was that they were after. Most countries for whom that’s happened might not have seen it coming. Here, it’s staring us in the headlights. Can we please not let that happen?

If you’re the sort of American that’s happy to share your Super Bowl commercials and commercialized Valentine’s Day, great! Thank you… those of us who want that will take it. I’ll admit to being a fan of at least one of those things.

But if you’re the sort of American who wants to shove their agenda down our throats for your personal benefit, and to hell with us and our symbols and our flags and whatever else we may hold dear… well, I do say this is the most respectful and polite and Canadian way I can: F🍁ck off.

January 18, 2022

At the start of the pandemic, it became clear that John Horgan wanted no part in the decision-making. This was intelligent for two main reasons: First and foremost, let the experts do their thing. Secondly, if the shit hits the fan, he can point fingers at the experts who messed it all up.

As frustrated and pissed-off and as much finger pointing as there has been, history will be very kind to the province of BC, especially when compared to other similar and comparable jurisdictions. And, to be honest, love her or hate her, the decision-making that has come from the PHO hasn’t been perfect, nor has it necessarily been consistent, but it’s been far more good than bad… and, to the greater benefit of all of us, has been driven by science and not politics.

I know a lot of people take exception to that, but it’s because you’re only comparing the local apples to themselves. Look around at other provinces, states and countries and you can see the astonishing damage being done by politically-driven agendas. I can assure you, it was not John Horgan who picked up the phone and said, “Hey Bonnie… you gotta open up those gyms, eh…”

And really, there’s no better proof than this recent gym debacle. Over the last seventy-two hours, there have been near-riots with respect to the messaging that come out of the PHO. That’s what happens when you let real doctors talk, and not political spin-doctors. A politician would have worded things very differently.

So… gyms have been shut down for a while. And a few hours before they’re hopefully set to re-open, the message we get is that they’re to remain “closed indefinitely”. What the PHO.

Could that have been worded any better? That’s not the right question. More like, could that possibly have been worded any worse? No. It could not have been worded any worse. If you really want to piss of everyone as much as possible and perhaps instigate some civil unrest, just make it sound like gyms are closed forever.

Indefinitely – what does that word mean? Here’s the textbook definition: “for an unlimited or unspecified period of time”. You know, that’s a big difference… and we’re all very used to it meaning the former, especially these days. A business putting up a sign that says they’re closed indefinitely comes shortly before the “For Lease” sign appears. Of course, nobody meant to imply that gyms are closed for good… but, even so, the word has this ominous ring to it, like it’ll be months. The Coquihalla Highway, which was very recently “closed indefinitely” (and we all thought it would be several months), is today open to all traffic.

If the PHO had managed to word things a little more clearly, it would’ve been a very different last couple of days: “Hey guys, we’re reviewing where we’re at. Numbers are certainly growing, but, around here, modelling shows that while hospitalizations may still rise a bit, we’re perhaps past the worst of it and can consider opening some things. On that list, of course, are gyms… and this week we’ll have more to say. Rather than arbitrarily announcing another month of closures, give us a few days to figure it out. Until then, they remain closed… but hang tight”. Jeez… that would’ve been a lot better, eh?

The unfortunate part of it is that there’s a demographic that thinks this is in response to all of the complaining. Like a bunch of mask-less people working out in Metrotown is what swayed the Provincial Health Office’s policy. No, it wasn’t. But you’ll never convince them, because that’s also the demographic that fails to see the big picture. Like… none of them were wearing masks, because, for some reason, supporting businesses and their right to operate also means you don’t believe in masks. Makes sense, right? Of course not.

We are all in the same boat, and the waters are rough… but if you look at the horizon, you can see the other boats that are a week or two ahead of us… and while it looks pretty stormy up head for the next little bit, beyond that there’s a hint of sunshine, blue skies and calmer water. Hopefully those who enjoy rocking the boat don’t make us all seasick… and I don’t mean that from a “infecting us all with Covid because they don’t wear masks” point of view. I mean it more from the incessant “us vs. them”, black/white right/wrong polarizing that this pandemic has imposed on all of us. We’ve all had enough.

January 13, 2022

When this whole crazy thing started two years ago, there was exactly one number that mattered: Daily New Cases. Indeed, it’s the only thing I was tracking when I first started writing about the pandemic, and I got pretty detailed in analyzing what it looked like. How fast was it growing? What’s the rate of change? What’s the rate of change of the rate of change? What degree of exponential growth is that? What’s the Time To Double?

Yes… if you were following this from the start, you inadvertently got a lesson in differential calculus, regression analysis, statistics and good old-fashioned estimation.

At the time, the reasoning was simple: You can’t get sick, hospitalized, intubated, ventilated or die… if you never got infected in the first place. Accordingly, that is *the* stat we need to watch.

Eventually, I added hospitalizations and ICU admissions and deaths to all of that, and, finally, of course, vaccination rates. The picture you see attached to this blurb has a lot of info on it… and, of course, Daily New Cases figures prominently.

A good question for the day is… Why? That number is now useless.

It’s not entirely useless, but let’s backtrack a bit. For a long time, and I do mean a long time… like since almost the beginning, there are people who’ve been saying the number is meaningless and useless and very much an undercount.

I don’t disagree that it’s an undercount; the question has always been by how much. And, more importantly, whether it’s been a consistent undercount. If so, then the number is still useful. To make it easy, let’s imagine the number is always off by an order of magnitude; by a factor of 10. Let’s call that the Factor of Undercount (FoU). With a FoU of 10, if Dr. Bonny says there were 154 new cases today, it was really 1,540. If she says it was 2,583, it was actually 25,830.

The reason it’s not useless in that scenario is because we can still analyze the trends. Basically, the shape of the curve, the slope of the line, the acceleration/deceleration… is all the same. If you take out the units from the X and Y axes, you’d never know the difference.

Also, whatever the numbers actually are, there’s no disputing the hospitalization numbers, the ICU numbers and the death numbers. Those ones we know exactly. So, again… with a consistent FoU, we can tell a lot with respect the load on the medical system.

Anyway, that used to be the case… but you’d have to be crazy… indeed, un peu fou… to believe any part of recent case numbers. For numerous reasons, we’ve certainly lost the consistent FoU, and with that, the numbers mean nothing.

It’s disappointing just what a massive failure our testing infrastructure has become, and it’s surprising. To some extent, the focus in this province has always been to make sure we don’t overwhelm the medical system. But to some other extent, the medical system doesn’t really want to deal with you at all, unless your condition is bad enough that it needs attention. The mantra of “stay home and isolate if you don’t feel well” trumps everything; test results are irrelevant. Unfortunately, there’s now absolutely no way to know who’s isolating, who’s walking around sick, who’s walking around infecting others, who’s walking around coughing behind their mask and not caring, who’s vaccinated, who’s not, etc. Contact tracing has gone out the window.

When we talked about overwhelming the medical system, we’ve always thought that meant hospitals… but it’s not just the hospitals; it’s everything else too. We are all, indeed, crazily overwhelmed.

So let’s look at what matters now: Hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths. The two graphs below the new case counts show what those three things look like. The top one, since last September. The one below it goes all the way back to September 2020, for context. Just how bad are things now compared to back then?

The answer is really good or really bad or somewhere in between, depending how you want to look at it. Hospitalizations are way up, of course. Record levels here and in all the big provinces. That’s not good. But proportionally, ICU cases aren’t following suit. That’s good. It’s the ICU cases that ultimately turn into deaths, so how’s that conversion rate looking?

Well, if things were kept proportional, we’d be seeing deaths at least 7x higher than they are. We’ve already agreed cases are well undercounted, so this example is actually even more extreme: Last January, Canada. saw 200,000 new cases… and 4,400 deaths. This January, which isn’t yet halfway done, we’ve seen 500,000 new cases and 871 deaths. If the death rate were the same as last January, we’d be facing more than 11,000 deaths this month.

And that’s the good news; this isn’t going to spiral crazily out of control. Because most of us are vaccinated and because Omicron is indeed less lethal and because we know a lot more these days about treatment.

I’m therefore going to stick with my optimistic hope that we’re nearing the end of this; not that it all goes away, but that we’re on the doorstep of when it becomes a seasonal pesky disease that’s manageable and treatable and, if you stay current with vaccinations, likely avoidable in any serious form.

I base that on the patterns of places that are a week or two ahead of us; new cases spike up very quickly and then very quickly spike right back down. Hospitalizations, etc. trail that, but Omicron is spikier in both directions compared to all of the previous variants. Two weeks from now might look surprisingly calm compared to where we are today. A month, for sure.

The thing is getting there, and most people are more than sick and tired of it. All of it. If you’d asked me at the start of this almost two years ago that by January 2022, I wouldn’t be that interested in daily case counts, I’d obviously have thought that it’s because it’s all over.

Crazy, I know.

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!

December 17, 2021

OK – it is indeed time for an update. I meant to do this a couple of days ago, but…

There are a lot of questions floating around these days, and it’s frustrating when, for some of them, there are no real answers. Let’s start with the obvious one… you can guess what that is. It rhymes with notthisshitagainicron.

I am still sticking with the cautious optimism that as contagious as it is, the symptoms are, and will remain, mild. And, on that note…

A few days ago, I started feeling a little under the weather. Headache, fatigue, cough… but also, fever. The sort of thing where in the old days you just bundle up for a day or two and are ok, but these days, our minds go elsewhere. Yesterday afternoon, I went and got tested… and waited in an 80-minute lineup to do so. A week ago, that lineup was three cars when I drove past it.

Test results take 24 hours, but I mentioned this to a friend… who came over with a rapid antigen test – which came back negative. Excellent. I thought so, but better safe than sorry. I was already feeling a little better, and then I had a good night’s sleep. I woke up without a fever and feeling pretty ok.

So… it was a rather blunt kick in the face to receive the official PCR result a few minutes ago: Positive.

Well… shit.

So, now… instead of speculating, here’s what I can tell you. Knock on wood that I’m past the worst of it, because if this is as bad as most double-vaxxed otherwise-healthy people get this thing, we are well on our way to seeing an end to it. I’m looking at the silver lining, which is… now, getting sick, coupled with two shots, I’m good to go – perhaps to the end of this entire nightmare. Like so many others whose second vaccine dose was in late June, I’ll be getting my invitation for the booster next week. I’d been hoping to avoid Omicron for a few more weeks, because the AZ/Moderna/Moderna series seem to be very effective against it, but things don’t always go as planned. Looks like I’ll be developing immunity the old-fashioned way.

But this brings up another of those yet-to-be-answered questions with respect to the mildness of these symptoms… how many people are walking around with Omicron-Covid19 right now? I’m going to guess – a lot. Far more than will ever get tested. I say that because while we all have little slip-ups once in a while, I’m exceptionally careful with respect to masks and open spaces and proximity to people and all the rest of it. Where and when the hell did I get infected? I sincerely don’t know. And if I can get this thing, anyone can get it… and, like I’ve said, it’ll eventually hit us all… though, ideally, when you’ve already received your three-shot course.

Which leads to another question, one I’ve heard 20 versions of… what do we do? And the preamble to that has a lot to do with airline tickets and hotel reservations, many of which at this point are non-refundable. Do we go? Do we bail? Help.

The answer very much depends on a number of variables which are very different and vary wildly from person to person. If you’re not worried about getting sick (and a plane-full of double-vaxxed and masked people heading to a place of warmth and sunshine and outdoor restaurants is actually a pretty safe place), what’s the problem? Well, WestJet threw a valid question back at the government a couple of days ago; where’s the science? Why are you telling people not to travel? They do have a point; on this fourth go-around, the one thing we’ve learned is that travel restrictions do nothing to prevent the spread. If they were perfectly implemented and 100% enforced, they would. But that’s not the case… and as we’ve seen with exponential growth, that 99.9% “good enough” decays to 80%, 30%, zero very quickly. A travel restriction might, at best, delay some numbers for a few days… but as we already have seen, by the time the whistle was blown on Omicron, it was already everywhere. The hastily-imposed travel restrictions on ten African countries have been lifted because they did absolutely nothing.

So why advise people not to travel? There may be many reasons such as the pressure on the testing infrastructure and the risk of being stranded overseas and the risk of wherever you’re going imposing some unforeseen restrictions on you; all of those are valid concerns, but they have nothing to do with preventing the spread of the disease. Questions related to needing to be back on a certain day or you’ll lose your job – are perhaps more relevant. At the end of the day, the government has to do *something* — so, we get travel advisories if for no other reason than if this all goes to hell, they can say they didn’t do *nothing*.

Can it all go to hell? Unfortunately, yes. I am basing this on my now-personal experience that Omicron symptoms are generally mild. If that turns out not to be the case, given how contagious it is, we could overrun our health-care system… and that’s what they’re trying to avoid. Dr. Henry’s rather specific list of restrictions imposed today target the sorts of gatherings that are highest risk; she just wants to be sure we don’t run out of hospital beds. Fair enough.

For the moment, this eternal optimism of mine always tries to look at the bright side, and while we see a frightening rise in cases, we’re far from seeing a frightening rise in hospitalizations and ICU admissions. On the contrary; the numbers are significantly down over the last 10 days. Around here, with our excellent vaccination rate, we’re in good shape. Red states down south? It remains to be seen. Around here, new-case numbers will go up, as they are all across Canada. The implications of that remain to be seen. But if you look at the pretty picture, while the unprecedent growth in new cases is alarming, look below it to hospitalizations and ICU cases. It’s a good counterpoint.

As far as I’m concerned, my positive test has certainly derailed our holiday plans, but whatever… we’ll make the best of it. On that note, let’s try to turn my positive test into a positive for you.

I have two pairs of tickets (great ones: center-ice row-3 club seats) for this Sunday’s Canucks game (7pm against the Coyotes) that I suddenly won’t be using… so let’s have a good old-fashioned contest like the old days. I’d base it on BC numbers, but they don’t publish over the weekend… so our neighbours to the east will help us out. Over the last three days, here are the new-case numbers:

Ontario: 1,808 2,421 3,124
Quebec: 2,386 2,736 3,768

The complete list since Nov 29th is on the pretty picture.

So, guess away! Submit two guesses per entry – your guess for Saturday’s numbers for Ontario and also for Quebec. Something like “ON: 4,000 / QC: 5,000” and whoever is closest for each province wins a pair of tickets. Ties go to whoever guessed first.

See? Here’s how we make lemonade out my particularly lemony test result… good luck!

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go off and curl up in bed for 10 days.

November 5, 2021

When I was a kid, I thought the little piggy that went to market was going shopping. I imagined the pig, walking upright, dressed nicely, wearing a little hat and pushing a shopping cart in the produce section, judiciously picking out the best cobs of corn. I also imagined that the little piggy that stayed home just didn’t want go shopping. Then there was the little piggy who was eating roast beef, so why would he want to go anywhere… and then the other little piggy who wasn’t hungry. And finally, the little piggy who cried “wee wee wee” all the way home; that didn’t quite add up, because I thought all of them (except the one that went shopping) were already home. But whatever.

Years later, I learned a pig “going to market” means something quite different, and when you read the innocent little nursery rhyme in that context, it all takes on a completely different meaning. The first little piggy is going to slaughter. The second little piggy isn’t quite ready to go to slaughter. The third little piggy needs to be fattened up a bit before it’s his turn. The fourth little piggy needs no more fattening up, and so we all know where he’ll be heading soon.

Distinguished literary scholars have (I suppose), for centuries (the original nursery rhyme is from 1760), been discussing the fifth little piggy. Did he escape from the market and run home, squealing with delight all the way home? Was he taken to market, not purchased, and is now squealing with relief that he gets to go back home, back to his friends… at least temporarily? Or perhaps he was purchased after all, and is now squealing in terror as he’s being taken to his new “home”. We may never know. The questions may linger for another few centuries, but it really doesn’t matter… because that’s totally not the point.

The point is… we learn something initially one way, and sometimes, in due course, as we learn more and new facts emerge, our understanding of what we originally thought gets completely transformed. It took me more than 40 years to understand what’s happening to those five little piggies… and now it’s something you yourself will think about when you’re counting and wiggling the toes of some nearby baby.

Similarly, as this pandemic has progressed, a lot of what we innocently thought we knew has changed dramatically as time has gone by. It bothers me greatly to see conclusions of scientific method and research turned right around… presented as evidence that those conducting the research don’t know what they’re doing. If science and understanding didn’t evolve, then there would be something to complain about, but the reality of the world is the exact opposite. We learn from new facts. We learn when we make mistakes. Nobody has ever been right “all along”.

Starting at the beginning of the pandemic, we were told that with handwashing and social distancing, we’d be ok. No need for masks. Dr. Henry said so. Dr. Fauci said so. They all said so… until the moment science realized that this is an airborne disease after all, and then… a very quick 180 on masks. Yes, indeed, after all… having now studied the matter more and seen more data… masks do make a difference. A big difference. Enclosed spaces? They weren’t talked about much, at least initially. They certainly are now. As the science, data and knowledge have evolved, so have the directives. It’s to be expected. Does this mean they didn’t know what they were talking about? Does it meant they don’t know what they’re talking about now? Of course not.

But sometimes, the science, data and knowledge evolve… and nothing changes, because the initial assumptions were perfectly correct in the first place… and such is the case with vaccinations.

While we’re in the midst of fine-tuning vaccinations… the length of time between doses, the benefits of mixing and matching, the necessity for a booster… this is all just rearranging the furniture and painting the walls… of a solidly-built brick house. The big bad Covid wolf may have been able to blow down the initial straw house and the subsequent house made of sticks, but here we have a rock-solid infrastructure… one in which we can all feel safe. Covid can huff and puff all it likes, but is it likely to kill us? Not by the hair on our chinny chin chins.

Yeah, I know… those three little pigs are very different from the five little ones on your toes, but here’s something worth mentioning: All three pigs in the latter story survive.

The first one, a wolf-denier, built a flimsy house out of straw. The second one was wolf-hesitant and made a bit more of an effort, but sticks aren’t good enough protection. The third little pig understood the big picture and what was at stake, and built his brick fortress… and when the big bad evil Covid wolf came around huffing and puffing and ultimately blowing down those first two houses, its occupants ran screaming to that brick house – whose pig welcomed them with open arms. Finally… a fairy tale with a happy ending, because the good guys survived… even though, initially, they weren’t really deserving. It’s very rare that life, circumstance (and/or fairy tales) reward the “wrong” ones. The whole idea is to learn a lesson. Shouldn’t those first two pigs have been eaten by the wolf? The five little piggies didn’t have a choice… they were all destined for slaughter.

But the three little pigs… they made choices, and the two that made poor choices almost paid with their lives. Yet… sometimes, real-life echoes the fairy tale. Guess what; it’s not too late. If you’re reading this and realizing you’re metaphorically and presently inhabiting a flimsy house, it’s an easy fix; while building a brick house takes effort, choosing to inhabit one doesn’t… it’s as easy as booking a vaccine appointment.

It’s unfortunately looking a lot like the big bad wolf is going to be around for a while, and you never know when or where he’s going to make an appearance with his huffing and puffing. In which house do you want to be when he shows up?

October 26, 2021

The numbers fluctuate a bit… but, generally speaking, if the question is “How many people under the age of 50 currently in the ICU battling Covid are unvaccinated?”, the answer is… “All of them.”

It’s been 100% before. At this very moment, it’s 94.4%… specifically, 34 out of 36 here in B.C.

And here’s a simple example… easy to wrap your head around:

Imagine there are 100 people. Of them, 99 are fully vaccinated. One of them is not.

Two of them wind up in hospital. One of them is the unvaccinated person. The other is one of the 99 that unfortunately got a breakthrough infection. For what it’s worth, that vaccinated person in hospital has a much better prognosis than the unvaccinated one, but that’s not the point.

Some people… they will scream and yell… “See?!? Half the people in hospital are vaccinated!! 50/50!! Vaccines are useless!! It makes no difference!!”

Indeed, when you have a pre-determined conclusion you wish to reach, and your grasp on numbers and their interpretation isn’t your strongest suit… yep, that’s what you can come up with. In fact, in the idyllic situation where vaccination rates are 100%, that would also be the percentage of hospitalized patients who are vaccinated. All of them; 100%. “Check it out!! Every single hospitalized Covid patient has been vaccinated!! In fact, I bet it’s the vaccines that got them sick!!”

That is a good example of what I would call “true” misinformation, similar to something like… 99.8% of people who die in skydiving accidents at some point got some professional instruction on how to do it. Conclusion: It’s much safer to jump out of a plane without having someone tell you what to do.

Be very careful reading interpretations of data… because the data may be perfectly correct, but the messenger may be presenting it in a very disingenuous fashion. I should backtrack a bit… the people who believe this sort of data are in many cases simply incapable of understanding what they’re seeing and reading. They’re the smaller part of the problem. The bigger part are those who are creating and spreading this misinformation, with their fancy fonts and glossy graphs and astonishingly professional productions.

Yes… mangling facts into some grotesque representation of reality has truly become an art form. The most ridiculous, absurd content imaginable comes presented with such a slick and sophisticated look that it could pretty-much fool anyone. And if it happens to agree with whatever you already think, you won’t dig too deep. You won’t question it at all. You’ll Like it and Repost it. Just one more official confirmation of what you already know, and now you’re doing your part just passing it along, It’s unfortunately all too easy, and we’re all suffering the consequences; still in a pandemic that would’ve and could’ve and should’ve been over long ago.

Dr. Bonnie Henry may have been a little bit ahead of her time when she came up with the “Be kind, be calm, be safe” thing. Like, we’re slowly going to get to the two-year mark of hearing that little refrain, and when we started hearing it initially, I recall thinking “Do we really need to hear this?” – you know, we’re mostly Canadians around here, or, at least, Canadian-minded… to the extent that we’re so programmed to be kind to each other, we apologize to everyone (and everything) for, often, no reason at all. I’ve been known to apologize to a door after absentmindedly walking into it.

But yeah… 19 months later, perhaps we all need to listen to those words, and I count myself among those. My patience is running out, and, along with it, the kindness I may have offered that crowd at some point.

There was a time when the reasonable, educated, scientifically-minded, masked and vaccinated people would, at worst, roll their eyes at the ignorant, anti-vax, anti-mask, anti-science crowd. “Yeah, you’re entitled to your opinion… sure, if it makes you happy… whatever.”

But, as time has gone on, it’s become abundantly clear that while it’s entirely appropriate to offer everyone a right to their own opinion, there’s absolutely nothing that says those opinions are to be equally respected. Some opinions are worthless and dangerous, and to consider them as simply an equally valid opposing side… is a big mistake.

My sympathy for that crowd has waned its way down substantially, because their bullshit is affecting me, my friends, my family and my freedom to enjoy life. You can’t go to your favourite restaurant or sporting event because, as of yesterday, you’re not fully vaccinated? You’re a healthcare worker who, as of today, can’t work because you’re not vaccinated? You’re the electrician’s assistant who was supposed to come do some work at the house today, but I won’t let you in… because you’re not vaccinated? See the little dot under the question mark at the end of this sentence? That’s the size of the violin I’m playing for you; take its sad, little song and wallow in its misery.

I get it… nothing will change your mind, and, at this point, it’d be almost impossible. Admitting you’re wrong now would mean admitting you’ve been wrong all along, and the “I’m right and you’re all wrong” crowd is well-known for being particularly stubborn on that point.

Society has offered you many outs; get vaccinated so you can enjoy life. Get vaccinated so you can work. As per the implication of the top paragraph, get vaccinated so that if you do get Covid, it won’t be so serious.

Are we actually at the finish line of discussion? It’s starting to feel that way. What else is there to talk about? Be part of the solution or be part of the problem? That’s no longer the discussion. The anti-vax anti-science anti-common-sense crowd isn’t part of the problem. They *are* the problem, and some problems can’t be solved, just managed… which leads to the unfortunate truth as to why we’re all going to be stuck in this for a lot longer than we ever thought.

That being said, I’ll be at the Canucks home opener tonight, along with 19,000 other fully-vaccinated people. Life does indeed go on, at least for most of us. And for those who, because of their choices, it doesn’t… notwithstanding I feel like I’m wasting space saying the same thing over and over… here it is again, and it’s just a suggestion because, I know, you don’t like listening to people telling you what to do because freedom and all that… but anyway, you know, it’s not a bad idea… at all: Go get vaccinated.

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