June 13, 2021

Happy rainy Sunday!

And you know what that means… it’s bragging-rights-and-$100-to-your-favourite-charity contest time!

Yes… whoever guesses closest to the total number of C19 new cases (Saturday, Sunday, & Monday) that’ll be revealed tomorrow wins! Just enter your best guess in the comments below.

To clarify the rules… there will be exactly one $100 prize awarded, and it will go to person who guesses the closest answer first. If there’s a tie (and there are many versions of ties), whoever was first will win. It might be worth it to scroll down the list of guesses before placing your “hopefully-not-a-duplicate” entry.

Here’s the recent data, leading up to today, to help you a bit…

Apr 24,25,26: 2,729
May 1,2,3: 2,174
May 8,9,10: 1,759
May 15,16,17: 1,360
May 22,23,24: 974
May 29,30,31: 708
June 5,6,7: 482

And just to confuse things… the last three days of numbers before the weekend — the appropriately-named collection of WTF: 481

Hmmm… basically a flat line all week, on average. Indeed, hello Delta variant… what do you have in stock for us?

Fortunately, probably not a notable increase in hospitalizations or death… but certainly in cases. Not ideal, but at least it makes for a more-interesting contest.

Good luck!

June 9, 2021

While the effects of the Delta variant remain to be seen, there’s reason to be quite optimistic around here.

The usual timeline sees infections on day 1, a spike in hospitalizations 10 to 14 days later, and deaths a week after that. Those are rough numbers, but purely from a “leading indicator” point of view, they’ve been pretty consistent.

One thing that’s emerging is that the May long-weekend didn’t cause any big outbreaks. We’re not seeing growing hospitalization numbers; on the contrary.

There are, at present, 195 people in B.C. hospitalized with C19. That’s the lowest number since Nov. 16th. Of those, only 47 are in the ICU, also the lowest since mid-November. And for the first time… More



June 8, 2021

“What could possibly go wrong?” – famous quote, and not words that should be spoken out loud. It’s a rhetorical question, best left to your inner thoughts; when you speak it out loud, you’re daring the universe to answer: “Well… let me show you…”

In the midst of the optimism of re-opening and getting back to normal comes a curveball being thrown at the world… the Delta (formerly “Indian”) variant of C19.

To begin with, it’s undoubtedly more contagious than any predecessor. The original UK variant (now known as Alpha) is 50-100% more contagious than the original strain that dominated 2020. And Delta is 50% more contagious than Alpha. Let’s hope this frat-house-inspired naming convention never gets to Omega.

One positive is that, generally, the more contagious it is, the less harmful it is. That’s not for sure, yet… but quite likely, this strain isn’t going to cause disease any worse than the previous strains. It’s just that it’s much easier to catch. Indeed, all the little spikes we’re seeing in different places – little spikes for now, but we all know what that can grow into – are caused by upticks predominantly of the Delta variant.

So… vaccines… how much protection do they have against it?

To begin with… the vast majority of people who’ve become infected with Delta have had zero vaccinations.

With one dose – you’re not there yet; the one-shot effectiveness of Pfizer/Moderna/AstraZeneneca on Delta is only about 33%, compared to north of 60% for other variants. It’s the second dose that makes a huge difference in this case.

But, beyond that… in the U.K., only three people who’ve been fully vaccinated have been hospitalized as a result of Delta. Three people out of 40% fully-vaccinated people out of a population 66 million people equals one in 9 million.

So, there’s no guarantee you won’t catch it. You may well catch it and never know it. You may be exposed to it and never know it… or catch some mild symptoms. But the big takeaway: If you’re fully vaccinated, you have a one in 9 million chance of being hospitalized due to the Delta variant. Sure, those numbers will get worse… bit it’s a good starting point. The equivalent of throwing 9 dice onto the floor. As long as they don’t all land on the same number, you’re good.

While two doses of any vaccine will do the trick, we’re talking about the U.K. here… and when we talk about the U.K., we’re talking almost exclusively about AstraZeneca. Over there… whether it’s one or two doses, almost all are AZ.

Which leads me (and anyone who’s had the AstraZeneca vaccine) to one again ponder the dilemma of AZ or Pfizer for the second dose, especially factoring in timing. I had my AZ dose April 22nd. I think I’d be able to get AZ relatively soon; Pfizer, I’m not sure. And so… while I’ve been waiting patiently for Pfizer, now I’m wondering about the alternative. Maybe go right back to that little mom-and-pop pharmacy a few blocks away and get the AZ… and then, that’s it.

My decision will be based on what happens around here in the next week or two. I was always a proponent of “get whatever is offered to you”. I changed my mind, watching the data from the European studies (Spain/UK/Germany) implying mixing AZ with Pfizer yields better results. But I’m not against changing it back if the situation calls for it.

And that’s more than ok. There’s another famous quote… from the father of lateral thinking, Edward de Bono: “If you never change your mind, why have one?”

May 28, 2021

What you read here is often thought up while I’m lost in thought, riding my bike… and today, I started by thinking about this crazy anti-vaxxer who decided to drive her car through a vaccination tent set-up in a parking lot in Tennessee. Fortunately, nobody was hurt… but there were plenty of near-misses. I was pondering from which angle to approach that – and there are many – and was specifically thinking about how some people are just assholes, plain and simple… and while having that illuminating thought, the following happened…

I was cycling on the seawall, near English Bay, heading west… somewhere between the Burrard Bridge and Cactus Club… it’s a nice stretch of road between BB and CC these days – a whole street lane dedicated for bikes. As such, there is plenty of room for two-way bike traffic… and what I saw was a guy on a bike, coming towards me. There was also a Canada Goose sitting on the street, right next to the curb. This guy had plenty of room to go by… enough room that he had to make an extra effort to stick out his right leg and kick the bird as he went by. This happened about 20 feet in front of me. The goose wasn’t seriously hurt… it just squawked and fluttered a bit. But I slammed on the brakes and yelled after him… I guess what one would call a declarative sentence – like “Have a nice day!” – except that’s not what I said. He barely slowed down and didn’t look back; just held up one solitary finger as he rode off into the distance. Seriously, what an asshole.

I resumed my ride now trying to figure out where the overlap of assholes might fit into what I have to say; what does a psycho-anti-vaxxer have in common with a guy who kicks an innocent bird for no reason?

The quick conclusion I came to is that I’ve already wasted enough time thinking about these pieces of crap… so we’ll leave it at that.

Moments later, I saw a sign that announced that tonight’s Lotto Max is up to $65 million… so I started thinking about how I might analyze previous draws, and try to use that to predict future ones. Turns out there’s 4,000 draws of historical data to analyze, and that’s what I’m doing right now… potentially far more rewarding than writing about assholes. With some intelligent analysis, I might reduce the odds of winning from a gazillion to one to just one in a zillion.

So… on that note… I’m going to get back to it now… still a few hours before the draw… wish me luck… and if you’ve read this far, tell you what… if I win $65 million dollars, I’ll take $5m of it and split it with everyone who likes this post.

May 27, 2021

You’ve heard me say, “Start at the finish line and work backwards from there.” It’s a strategy that’s served me well in life, and looking at today’s B.C. graph reminded me of something.

Back in high school, grade 12 — our science teacher wanted us to figure out absolute zero experimentally. This isn’t a complicated experiment; it’s simply based on the assumption that the volume of a gas changes with temperature. The hotter the gas, the more space it wants to occupy… so if you’ve got the gas locked into a fixed-volume chamber, by measuring the pressure at different temperatures, you can learn a lot.

Side-note… I got into an argument once with someone who insisted that it’s possible to have a temperature colder than absolute zero. Given that temperature is really just measuring the speed of molecules, and that absolute zero is the speed at which they stop, I think it’s impossible for anything to be colder that that… in much the same way it’s impossible for your car to be going any slower than “stopped”. If any experts want to tell me how it might be possible, I’m listening. In fact, like the speed of light, I believe you can’t even get to it… you can just get really close… but if you reach it, all sorts of universal rules break down.

Anyway, with this experiment, you measure the pressure of the gas at different temperatures… and then you graph it. You plot the points on a graph; pressure vs. temperature. And since this is a linear relationship, you should be able to find the temperature by finding the line that cuts through all the data points and then eventually hits the graph at zero. This process is called extrapolation… where you take certain data, figure out the rules that apply to it, and make intelligent guesses with data points you haven’t actually measured experimentally. If your car passes a fence post every 10 seconds at 50km/h, can you figure out how fast you’d need to be going if you wanted to pass a fence post every one second? You can measure and graph it at 50, 100 and maybe even 150km/h… and if you plot that, there’s a perfect straight line to show you you’d need to be going 500km/h. Much easier than trying to do it experimentally.

Of course, if you’re relying on the graph to give you the answer, it’s important the measurements be accurate because a couple of dots just a bit off will move the line significantly. An extrapolation of absolute zero that’s +/- 3 degrees of the real answer is a good result.

But I chose to start at the finish line… and found exactly where, on the graph, absolute zero would be (-273.15 C.)… and drew my line from there to my first data point. And then, magically, all of my results landed perfectly onto the line.

When the teacher was handing back the lab books next class, he stopped at my desk.

“Congratulations on your excellent result, Mr. Kemeny.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Don’t you find it extraordinary that, armed with just some rudimentary equipment, you managed to find a result accurate to within a 10th of a degree?”

“It’s quite remarkable, sir.”

“How do you explain it?”

“It must be due to the excellent science instruction I’ve been receiving in this course, sir.”

“Thank you, but I’m not that good. Please keep in mind, Mr. Kemeny, that life rarely offers you shortcuts.”

“I suppose that means that when it does, we should take them?”

He just handed me back the lab book. I got 8/10. Everyone else got 10. I didn’t argue.

Looking at today’s B.C. graph, it’s a linear descent towards zero new cases a day. Like bad data, a couple of bad days can significantly affect the landing point, but until it does, let’s have a bit of fun with the numbers.

You’ll see below three new graphs. The first one is a consolidation of all of the vaccination rate graphs. Yes, we get it, they’re all going up, nobody is getting un-vaccinated, and those graphs are small enough that the nuanced differences between provinces are indistinguishable. So now, they’re all on one graph… if you want to compare apples to apples.

The other two graphs, as per above, are extrapolations… one is Canada and the other is B.C. The thick line is the real data up to today. The dotted line is where we’re headed if nothing changes. This is still very much a work in progress… so, we shall see. I’m no expert… just some guy plotting points and drawing lines.

It’d be nice to be able to work backwards; certainly, it’s what our provincial health ministry has tried to do with our 4-step re-opening plan… but here we’re stuck doing the actual experiment… and, it should be noted… if these numbers and graphs are anywhere close to reality, we will easily achieve the targets of out provincial 4-set plan. I’d certainly give that a well-deserved 10/10.

May 26, 2021

Just to briefly touch upon a big question mark… that’s slowly being answered as research emerges… what’s the deal with the delayed second doses? Why are we playing with the science, etc…

To rewind a bit, let’s remember that the timeline for these vaccines to be released into the wild was compressed – things happened much faster than usual. This doesn’t mean the science was skipped or compromised; it was the bureaucracy around it.

That being said, in an effort to get the thing out the door as quickly as possible, a different sort of question was asked; not one that’s typically asked of vaccines.

The question was: What’s the shortest period of time where a two-shot regimen would be effective? It was known that one dose of an mRNA vaccine wouldn’t generate enough of a response… and the answer to the question of spacing doses has two answers, because there are two different questions. One is how soon can it be to be effective? And two is… what’s ideal?

The former question was chosen to be answered in the same way that many of life’s problems get solved – decide what’s most important. “Good enough” far outweighs “Ideal” in this case, and that’s what we got. This is not to say that people who got the shots 3 weeks apart got anything bad; on the contrary… that’s what was tested, verified safe, and verified effective with a 95% efficacy.

So, what’s the problem? There is no problem… but now we have enough time and data to answer question two, and it’s what most experts expected… because it’s what’s typically seen with these sorts of vaccines.

Anyone who’s ever had a vaccine booster barely remembers the timing of what’s being boosted. It’s often measured in years… or, at best, months. Never weeks. My recent Shingrix vaccine against Shingles had a follow-up booster that was to be taken within two to six months after the first dose. But what’s optimal? 2? 4? 6? I couldn’t find anything to support a more specific number, but the answer to all of them was “good enough”.

The answer to the optimal spacing of C19 mRNA vaccines… as it turns out, while 3 weeks is certainly good enough, it seems waiting a little longer is “better”. It should be noted that “better” in this context is similar to how, for the purposes of putting out a candle, a firehose is “better” than a garden hose.

Specifically, for Pfizer… people who received their booster 11 to 12 weeks after their first dose were found to have 3.5 times higher peak-antibody levels.

It’s quite likely this is the same for Moderna. And it’s certainly turned out to be the case for AstraZeneca… just ask the U.K.

The whole point of this isn’t really to say what’s “better” – it’s more to point out what’s “not worse”… and the answer is… all of it. All of it is “not worse”. If you’re getting a second jab, you’re good… no matter when. And yes, of course… if the second jab is 5 years from now, it’s a different story. But it won’t be; given supply and demand… everyone is falling into that range… from “good enough” to “more than good enough”.

This big question mark has been shrinking consistently as more and more results emerge, and I expect it’ll vanish by the time any of us need a 3rd booster. In fact, by then, it’s possible we’ll have learned that all that’s needed from now on is a once-a-year boost – one that could easily be combined with the annual flu shot. Either way, one big question mark extinguished.

May 21, 2021

If you look at the B.C. chart below, you’ll notice that the black 7-day moving average of cases is remarkably consistent. You could put a ruler to it and not be far off. Someone asked, given that slope, when would we see zero cases?

Extrapolating it, if it stays that consistent, we’d hit zero on June 16th. There’s a picture of it in yesterday’s comment section. Is that actually possible?

Above and beyond the restaurant closures and social restrictions and masks and all the rest of it, is the very real and excellent fact that lots and lots of us are getting vaccinated. Let’s remember… this is a virus, not a live bug. It needs a host. If the virus has exhausted its time on a particular host and wants to go elsewhere, it needs to find a viable destination. A host that’s not immune… and that’s, fortunately, becoming more and more rare.

So… what does that mean for a return to normality?

We’ve been told we need to exceed 75% / 20%… meaning 75% of people with at least one jab and 20% fully immune with two.

If 50% of the population has one jab and 3% of the population has two jabs, what’s the shortest period of time it could take to get to 75% / 20%?

OMG, it’s your worst nightmare coming to life – an actual real-world application of a math *word problem* – the sort your prof promised you’d never have to deal with if you study really hard and just pass this one last final math exam. Wait, come back! – sit down… I’ll do it for you.

We’ll make the math conveniently easy, because it’s very close to this; we are 38,000,000 people and we are vaccinating 380,000 people a day. Exactly 1%. And note that not all 38M can get vaccinated, and that 380,000 number could go up… so these numbers are conservative.

If the intent were to get to 75 / 20 as fast as possible, we’d have to allocate vaccine so that, on a daily basis, we’re incrementing both of those numbers in such a way that we hit 75 / 20 simultaneously… but a simple way to look at it is to get to 75 right away, and given the present strategy, it’s almost what’s happening… all first jabs. In 25 days, well before the end of June, , we’ll be there. And then, there are only 17 days needed for second jabs… if you stop giving people the first ones entirely for 2.5 weeks.

So… might I suggest this strategy… keep red-lining first jabs for another three weeks… that’ll get us to 71% by June 11th, and then, start splitting doses 50/50 till Canada Day… at which point we’ll be at 81% / 14%… and then, spend a week primarily on second doses. Then, another couple of weeks for all of that to kick in. If we do that, by the fourth week of July, we’d theoretically be ready to throw open the border.

We were far behind with our vaccine rollout, but we’re catching up. Perhaps we’re a bit behind with our “back to normal” rollout too, though I still believe in “better safe than sorry.”

But… around here, restaurants are opening up on Tuesday… and given everything I know now, and given that I’d be surrounded by people who already have one or two doses in them… yeah, why not… you might find me in one of them sooner than later.

May 14, 2021

After so much abundance of caution, the CDC has finally realized that there simply may no longer be cause for alarm… a conclusion reached after analyzing actual data that confirms what’s been evident for a while now.

The CDC has simply said… if you’re fully vaccinated, you have nothing to worry about. Masks off, forget social distancing… you’re good. Go live your life.

The blanket assumption, borne out by the data, simply suggests that if you’re fully vaccinated, your risk of illness is now at the same level of other things we hardly pay attention to. To be clear, we fasten our seatbelts and we wear bike helmets… but we drive and we cycle.

Vaccines are not 100%. Some fully vaccinated people will get infected… but… will they get really sick? Will they wind up in the hospital? Will they die? Exceedingly unlikely, to the point of not needing to worry about it.

There are numbers out with respect to “breakthrough infections” – people who’ve tested positive after vaccination. Here in B.C., breaking down the ~79,000 positive tests between Dec 7th and May 1st, ~78,000 (98.1%) were people who were unvaccinated. ~1,000 (1.7%) had one vaccine. ~100 (0.2%) were 7 days past their second vaccination.

How many of those test-positives wound up in hospital or worse? It’s not broken down with respect to one dose or two doses, but 141 required hospitalization and 30 died. The average age of those who required hospitalization was 81, and the average age of those who died was 87.

It’s important to note that vaccines simply don’t work for everyone, and one of the reasons is that our immune systems deteriorate as we get older. For some people, there is no immunity response to the vaccine; and overwhelmingly, those are the ones who show up in the stats.

Summary – for the majority, vaccines work, and they work very well. They’re the quick path out of this… and, here in Canada, “out if this” means 75% of us fully vaccinated. At present, while our partially-vaccinated number is around 43%, our fully-vaccinated number is just 3.4%.

Restrictions may come and go until we get to partially-75% / fully-20% — sometime this summer – but when we get to that point, we’ll be gliding down towards the finish… and assuming enough of us are fully vaccinated, by fall… we should be arriving where others have already landed.

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.

May 10, 2021

As expected, Dr. Henry spent a lot of time today talking about data… withheld, public and/or otherwise. My opinion hasn’t changed; as mis-interpreted as “too much data” may be for some people, I’d still want it to be out there. I understand the arguments against sharing everything… and I could probably strongly argue that side of it as well… but as much as I’d understand the reasoning, I still wouldn’t agree with it… and, anyway, going forward, more data will be made available. Good… I want to see it.

And looking at numbers around here, there’s reason to be optimistic. Vaccination rates are the highest ever, and going full blast… and case numbers, while still relatively high, are trending downward. Twenty deaths in three days isn’t great, but that’s due to the high case counts two weeks ago. If the present trends continue, the numbers will continue to dwindle down… and restrictions will be lifted and restaurants will open and some semblance of normalcy will slowly start crawling into sight… and perhaps we’re at the point where taking everything into consideration, we can measure it in weeks, not months. In the next few days, we’ll start seeing some tentative plans of how things might look sooner than later; we might see some positive, welcome changes shortly after the long weekend.

As much as it’s impossible to please everyone, the fact is… that B.C.’s handing of the P.1 (Brazilian) variant has been top notch. Understanding how it spreads, the restrictions and physical distancing and restaurant closures and gym closures and targeted vaccinations… have prevented what likely would’ve been a far worse outcome. Seeing some of that data that they like to keep to themselves likely would’ve helped explain some of those decisions that for many seemed too drastic. It wasn’t too drastic; it’s what was needed… and it’s what’s optimistically paving our way out of this.

Cautious optimism is certainly better than reckless pessimism… of which there’s still plenty around. Looking forward to that disappearing too. We’ve all had enough.

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