January 6, 2022

Usually I know what I’m talking about (or, at least, think I do)… but I’ve been trying to figure something out, and I am going in circles. Some things require questioning.

There are 2.8 million people in BC who are 50 or older, of which some 700,000 are ages 50 to 60… and this particular demographic (which I’m part of) is the one who got their first shot in late April/early May, their second shot in late June/early July… and, therefore, have become eligible for the booster in recent weeks. The invites may have been sprinkling down like tiny snowflakes at first… but now… we’ve seen in recent days what a real snowfall can look like. Terrific. As soon as you get your invite, book your appointment. Hopefully you can get to it.

But wait… here’s the question: If you recently had Covid, should you wait for the booster? How long should you wait? Why?

So… I’ve asked a lot of people and I’ve read lots of articles and data, and the best response I can formulate when presently asked, is… “Good question!” or “I sincerely don’t know” or “Ask me in 6 months”.

Here in BC, we don’t get to find out what variant we had. They’re obviously collecting the data, but for some reason, don’t want to disclose it. I wish they did, as do many people, because it might make some difference in the chosen course of action, given that the present vaccines are designed for Delta and previous versions; the booster is too. There is no doubt that one, two and three vaccines confer protection against serious illness no matter what version you’re unfortunate enough to contract, so everyone should eventually get all of them. But the issue is… if you’ve recently had Covid as the result of a breakthrough infection (ie 90% of us who got sick in December), when should you get the booster? Pouring a cupful of boiling water into an already-boiling pot doesn’t do much… but if that large pot of water has cooled off a bit, then it does.

I got in a bit of trouble trying to ask this question in one of the BC Covid Facebook groups; the moderators refused to allow it, and gave me pithy and useless one-line responses to my questioning their attitude. Yes, I know you can get the booster 14 days after your symptoms subside. Yes, I know Dr. Henry said just get the booster as soon as you can, no matter what… and I understand where she’s coming from; she doesn’t want to see a flood hospital admissions, and the best way to achieve that given what we don’t yet know – and to umbrella to the whole issue – is to just get everyone as vaccinated as possible… as soon as possible. But that’s not necessarily a medical decision; it’s based on mitigating the local worst-case scenarios with respect to overwhelming the medical infrastructure. My counter-argument would be, “Sure, ok… but maybe someone else needs that booster more at this very moment.” Indeed, there is a lot of talk of “super-immunity” that you have (for a while… how long? A month? Two months? Three?) after a vaccine/vaccine/infection course. If I’m presently “super-immune”, why waste a booster on me right now? Depending who you ask, here are the recommendations:

BC says get it two weeks later.
Ontario says one month.
Quebec says two to three months.
One American article I read said up to six months.

I’m a big fan of Dr. Henry and usually agree with her, so it was interesting to be treated like some sort of anti-vaxxer just because I dared asked a question that threatened to go against the (present-day) gospel of our PHO.

As we all know, science evolves and, as we learn more, so do recommendations. Dr. Henry herself has course-corrected many times, as she should. I suspect this issue will evolve over time as well as more data is collected, analyzed and understood.

But in the meantime, there are all sorts of complicated reasons and mitigating factors going into these various opinions, and there are too many variables… and, of course, different places have different priorities and/or concerns. Vaccine shortages? Bed shortages? Percentage of population vaccinated? Which strain was the infection? Etc etc.

For what it’s worth, I’m leaning towards waiting a month to six weeks. I’m pretty certain I got Omicron given the symptoms, lack of symptoms, and course of the illness… and, that being the case, that covers me (for a while) from all presently-known strains. Certainly, I should be good till the end of the month, and then I’ll reconsider. Or, of course, I might read something in an hour that’ll change my mind. I’m counting on the fact that actual data and facts on the topic will emerge every day, and my (and everyone else’s) opinions and decision making won’t be based on just rudimentary data, speculation and gut feel. And if you’re in the same boat, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments; I’d love to hear where you’re thinking is at.

On a separate note, one that requires no speculation or changing opinions… we’ve been hearing for a long time that if you’re sick and/or unvaccinated, stay away from people who may have compromised immune systems. As healthy and immune as you may be from contracting the illness, not everyone is so lucky. So, stay away.

Even if you choose not to stay away, the potential victim usually has a say. If you’re not vaxxed but your relative is, and they tell you to stay the hell away, they themselves can flee the scene if you’re so entitled as to impose yourself upon their presence.

But… that’s not always the case, and the specific case I want to talk about are babies.

Human babies are pathetically frail when compared to other mammals. Some animals are good to go on their own mere hours after being born. It’s only humans that rely on parental protection for so long. Years, not hours. Babies depend on us to keep them safe, and the reason I mention this is that a recent article pointed out a very simple stat that speaks for itself: All of the babies presently hospitalized in Ontario due to complications from Covid-19… are from unvaccinated mothers. All of them. One hundred percent.

Yes… some other things don’t require any questioning at all.

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.

October 13, 2021

The Great Divide; it keeps getting wider… and every day is happy to provide examples to suit whatever argument you wish to agree with. If we were ever all together in the same boat, drifting in the same direction… well, that’s over. The river forked, and some went this way and others went that way. Depends who you ask. And yes, geologists, sit down… I know, rivers don’t do that… but you know what I’m trying to say… just trying to symbolize the ever-increasing gap in people’s opinions.

Like… It’s almost over! The U.S. border will be open soon! The Canucks are playing their first regular season game in over 18 months in front of a sell-out crowd!

Or… todays Covid deaths… 38 in Alberta and 11 in Saskatchewan… are more than we’ve seen since January. There are so many critically-ill patients in Saskatchewan that they’ll be sending them to Ontario hospitals. Yeah, here we go again.

OK, so what’s the deal? Where the hell exactly are we? Is it heading towards being over? Is it heading for a fifth wave? Will it ever end? We had such High Hopes.

Pink Floyd has a song called High Hopes… from their 1994 album “The Division Bell.”
The song contains lyrics like “The grass was greener” and “The light was brighter” and “The taste was sweeter”. How things were. And where we hope we’re once again headed… soon.

An interesting thing about that song… the eponymous (“relating to the person or thing for which something is named”) Division Bell itself plays a prominent role. You can hear it on every 4th beat of most of the song. One-two-three-DING one-two-three-DING… and I don’t mean some little “next, please” chime or a little sleigh bell… I mean an actual gigantic bell, the sort you see in a belltower of a mediaeval church. The song starts with lots of bells, but then just settles on this one… keeping that 4th beat. Then comes the wall of sound… the drums, the bass, the guitars, the keyboards, David Gilmour’s voice… but, by the end of the song, all of that has faded away and we’re left with nothing but… yes, you guessed it. When I purchased tickets for that concert, I was hoping they’d have an actual bell on stage.

Sidenote… I stood in line all night for tickets to that concert… and bought the maximum 6 tickets when it was finally my turn. I think 4 of the 5 friends who came to that show with me back in 1994 might be reading this.

Anyway, I was not disappointed. Prominently occupying the back of center-stage was a gigantic bell, and it well-served its purpose for the final song of the night; there was a solitary percussionist whose only job was to hammer it every 4 beats.

The persistence of it… they symbolism isn’t difficult to grasp. It’s not subtle… it hits you like… well, like being clanged by a bell-hammer every four beats: It doesn’t matter what’s happening now; it’s temporary. It’ll fade. But what came before and what’ll come again; that’s permanence. You can almost hear the bell ringing from a thousand years ago and ringing a thousand years into the future. But here we are for the moment and, as per above, where are we?

Before we answer that, it’s worth answering “Where should we be?” All things being equal, this pandemic should be over.

Let’s remind ourselves about R-naught (“Rø”)… a number which, at the start of this pandemic meant everything. Rø measures the “spreadability” of a disease by calculating how many people, on average, an infected person is themselves infecting. An Rø of less than one means the disease is on its way out. An Rø of greater than one means it’ll continue spreading.

The original C19 had an Rø of between 1.4 and 3.9. The Alpha variant doubled that. And then the Delta variant came along and doubled it again, to somewhere between 5 and 9. For comparison, a seasonal flu has an Rø of 0.9 to 2.1. Measles has an Rø of 12 to 18. We are closer to measles territory than a conventional flu.

If we had vaccines and treatments and no variants, this might all be over. There is a direct correlation with respect to herd immunity and Rø… and it’s exactly what you’d expect; the more infectious the disease, the more people need to be immune to it to prevent it from spreading. The originally-thought herd immunity level for beating this thing was around 70%, and with an Rø of 3, that’s about right. But now, unfortunately, it’s far from being the case. With the Delta variant, we need to be approaching 90%.

Originally, good hand washing and masks and social distancing and restrictions were thought to be the key… and they were. Without vaccines, all of those things help tremendously in stopping the spread, effectively bashing down the Rø because they prevent the virus from spreading unchecked. The world provided some examples as to what happens when you let that native Rø run its course, and it wasn’t pretty.

So… instead of a quick end, what we got is a far more contagious variant… and far more vaccine hesitancy/denial/insanity than anyone could’ve predicted. Those two things very-effectively have served to extend this… and, in essence, convert it from a pandemic to what’ll ultimately be an endemic disease that’ll be with us forever.

OR…

Well, here’s a funny thing. Much like a broken clock is right twice a day, when the fanatical anti-vaxxers scream that the scientists don’t understand this thing at all, there’s one particular aspect where they’re right… and it has to do with the mysterious 2-month cycle of Covid-19. One example of nailing the broken clock is this:

It seems, with some regularity, that when there’s a surge in cases, they seem to plateau after about two months and then drop off. Indeed, look at the numbers and pretty pictures and they all tell the same story. There’s a definite plateau off of the two-month surge, and in the U.S., who started down the path before us, a notable decline in new cases… 35% since September 1st. Indeed, worldwide, cases have dropped 30% since late August and when cases drop, so do hospitalizations and ICU admissions and deaths. The surge in ICU cases and deaths in Alberta and Saskatchewan today are due to the new case surges of two weeks (and longer) ago… but today’s new-case numbers are all, at worst flat, and, at best, a lot lower (more than 50%) from the recent past. Here’s a not-so-bold prediction: in a month, things in those two provinces (and Canada in general) will be looking a lot better.

Why is this happening? Nobody is too sure, because all of the variables have been written out of the equation. It’s warm, it’s cold, masks on, masks off, social distancing, easing of restrictions, vaccines. Whereas all of those things are treated very differently around the world, there’s a very evident pattern: Generally speaking, cases rose from February to late April, fell until late June, rose to highs in late August and have been falling ever since. In Canada, we were a little late to the party, so add a month to all of that. But the pattern is there. And so, Canada numbers will continue to go down, the border will open and Canucks fans will flood to Seattle for games and we will all be back to normal.

No, not quite… but given vaccinations and the pattern above, there’s reason to be optimistic. Those two things imply that the worst is over. And yes, it could change again. Pick an as-of-yet unused Greek letter, attach “variant” to it, and a frightening Rø, and you can throw the optimism out the window. There’s the other broken clock. We simply don’t know what we don’t know… and that’s why the bell keeps ringing, and will do so till the end of time.

Like the song ends, and like we might all be feeling, drifting with the current, destination time and place unknown…

With friends surrounded
The dawn mist glowing
The water flowing
The endless river
Forever and ever

Ding… ding… ding…

October 13, 2021

September 10, 2021

Hey… it’s been a while! So… sit back and relax, because this is going to be a long one. We have plenty to cover.

I’ll start by glossing over a bit of the current situation, because we’re all familiar with it, and although the numbers continue to provide a glaringly obvious message, there are those who refuse to look at them.

Depending where you look, you’ll find variations on the same theme… and they all say things like your chances with vaccines are not 20% or 60% better… it’s more like 2,000%… or 6,000%. Every single person in BC today in the ICU that’s under the age of 50 is unvaccinated. The vast majority of people in hospital are unvaccinated. We can talk about BC, Alberta, Ontario, Canada, California, Nebraska, Florida, whatever… it’s all the same everywhere; just a different multiplier, often based on vaccination rates. The numbers all range from quite significant to truly significant. There are no exceptions anywhere; the vaccinated population is way, way better off.

I’ve included the usual three rows of graphs, though the top one – the graphs of daily new cases – once, the most important graphs imaginable… are becoming somewhat irrelevant. Much more relevant is who got infected (Vaccinated? Unvaccinated?) and how it’s affecting them. The real numbers to look at (and the graphs that go with it) are hospitalizations and ICU admissions; the bottom row of graphs. There’s certainly a kick upwards, especially in Alberta and Saskatchewan, who are seeing levels comparable to back in May… but for the rest of us, it looks pretty reasonable and no reason to panic. Especially if you’re vaccinated.

In the last three days, the average daily number of C19 deaths in Canada is 34. Since the American population is about 9x ours, you might expect a death rate 9 x 34, which is around 300. But instead, it’s close to 2,500. And needless to say, largely due to overwhelmed hospitals way beyond capacity in jurisdictions with low vaccination rates. No matter how you slice the data, it all points to the same thing.

On that note, the daily vaccination rates show a significant slowdown. That’s the middle row of graphs. It hasn’t totally died out, but we’re nowhere near the rates of early July… though it’s picking up a bit again, and I have something to say about that.

There are a lot of people who’ve recently gotten vaccinated because of the “vaccine passport” that’s coming alive in 72 hours.

Side-note with respect to the rollout; I am an IT/tech/computer guy and I can be as critical as they come, especially when talking about deploying systems to massive amounts of people who’ll all use it simultaneously. I have a lot of experience in that, and I know it’s complicated, so I know what you have to plan for, etc… and so I have to say, Kudos to those involved with this thing. It certainly wasn’t without some initial little hiccups, but that’s to be expected when unprecedented numbers of people suddenly flood to it. In fact, if it hadn’t bent a little under the load, I’d be complaining they spent too much on it. It’s like building a 16-lane Lions Gate Bridge, 8 lanes each way… when it’s only needed for New Year’s Eve. Sure, you’ll never have traffic problems on the bridge itself, but just imagine Georgia St. or Taylor Way. What a mess it’d be without addressing them too.

And this thing has to not only be its own infrastructure, it has to communicate with varying other older systems and not flood them with too many connections and requests. The queuing system seems to have worked well; I jumped on it the moment I saw the url and found myself in a 17-minute line-up. That queue grew to over an hour at some point, and indeed, some people got 503 errors and gateway timeouts and whatever else. So what. Moments later, it worked. I have yet to hear about anyone who got past the queue and then had a problem, and that implies excellent design. Everything past the choke-point, that single point of failure… so far has been flawless. And, after all of that… at this moment, the wait time is zero and it’s likely to remain that way, even with the flood of people on Monday rushing to get it.

But let’s talk about those people who, today, would get a “No Record Found” if they tried to fetch their card.

For the last two years, there have been those people… well all know a bunch… masks are useless, vaccines are useless, conspiracies and so on. Now, perhaps having done some actual research and listened to some actual reliable sources, maybe they’ve come to the conclusion that getting vaccinated would be the intelligent thing to do. But how can they, without totally losing face? Admitting they’re wrong now would mean admitting they’ve been wrong all along, and that’s a tough pill to swallow. Some people’s egos just can’t take the hit.

Well… now they have the perfect out. They can proudly and loudly announce how they still feel vaccines are useless… but… they just want to live their life in peace and do things they want… so, they just got vaccinated and there’s their little blue vaccine card, and soon, after their second dose, it’ll be green. Yay!

And if you’re one of those people or know someone… yes, do it. Tell them to do it. Go for it. All of your friends and family who’ve been pleading to you to get vaccinated couldn’t care less about your justification, whether it’s the inward-facing or the outward-facing version, however different they may be. Just go get it done. Go right ahead and blame it on anything and everything else. It doesn’t matter. All of those aforementioned people will welcome your decision with open arms.

Looking back at where a lot of this anti-everything came from, and removing Donald Trump’s catastrophic contribution to the public sentiment, in hindsight, there may have been two things that might have “spun” better. Better “optics”. It’s not like pandemics have a PR department, but if they did…

For one thing, naming this a novel coronavirus initially convinced people that this is something new, unseen and a complete mystery. If instead they’d labelled it originally what it really is… a new version of something old, perhaps there’d have been a lot less hesitancy when the vaccines appeared. Everyone understands sequels. Remember SARS from years ago? Well, here’s “SARS 2: The Killer Returns”. And everything we’ve learned from the original SARS we can now put to use. This is not a new story; it’s a continuation of an old one. So instead of a brand new vaccine technology being quickly developed against a pathogen the likes of like we’ve never seen before, people might understand that it’s just a new version of a virus that’s been around for decades, being fought by R&D technology that’s also been around for decades. In Hollywood terms, that story certainly would’ve “tested better.’

That didn’t happen, and that lesson didn’t get learned, and then that skeptical crowd was met with “Vaccine Passports”. Once again, something new, untested and worthy of rebellion.

Calling it was it is – an immunization record – would also have “tested better”. We all already have an immunization record… with words like smallpox and measles and diphtheria and mumps and whatever else in it. We all have it and many of us have needed it. Some employers demand it. Some schools demand it. Some travel destinations demand it. All doggy daycares demand it too. There’s nothing new with immunization records… but you throw the word “passport” in there, and the implications of not having one, and the “Freedom And Rights!!1!1!!!1!!!” crowd shows up.

And on that note… if you think I’m going to voice my disgust at people who picket and protest outside of hospitals, insulting healthcare workers and blocking access for actual patients… I am, but that’s only part of it.

The other part of it is the symbolism associated with it. I happened to see among the pictures of the protesters a person wearing a little yellow star with “Not Vaccinated” written on it, where conventionally you’d expect to see the word “Jude’”.

Cultures these days are up in arms about appropriation. Here’s a cheap dreamcatcher for $5.99, available in the local tourist shop. It’ll look so cute in the window! Here’s a bundle of sage; take it home and light it and wave it around. That’s called smudging. Isn’t that cute? And Woke? We’re *so* Culturally Lit!!

Yeah, one can see how offensive that would be to people who understand the depth and significance of what those things really are. Their history. What they symbolize. What it meant to the people for whom it was intended.

So, let’s talk about that little yellow star. First of all, and this part of it isn’t so well known, that wasn’t the only Nazi-imposed oppressive symbol of The Holocaust. Red triangle? Communist. Brown triangle? Gypsy. Purple triangle? Jehovah’s Witness. Pink inverted triangle? Homosexual.

And for a brief moment, imagine the outrage from the LGBTQ community if that pink triangle were appropriated for this purpose. Idiots screaming about freedom, comparing it to the struggles of a community that’s been marginalized for centuries.

But they’ve chosen that little yellow star to complain about their lack of freedom, so let’s go with that. That little yellow star is indeed a striking symbol of lack of freedom. For those who had to wear it, it meant a loss of freedom, and depending on what year, it meant something different. From 1933 to 1945, at differing times, it meant the loss of freedom to travel. To go to school. To own a business. To operate a business. To own property. To have your own home. To own anything. And finally, to live… slowly and surely, those rights were eroded until there was nothing left. But really, at no point, did it have anything to do with being able to book a table at that sushi place in Yaletown where they make those awesome cube-like nigiri that they roast with a blowtorch. No… the Jews of the Holocaust weren’t worrying too much about stuff like that and, further, if the solution to their problems could’ve been solved by a disease-preventing inoculation, I can think of at least 6 million people who gladly would’ve taken advantage of it.

If you want to complain about freedoms being ripped away from you, talk to the women of Afghanistan. Hell, you don’t even need to go that far. Talk to the women in Texas… both groups of women who until recently had rights which were ruthlessly and unexpectedly ripped away from them.

So… I look at these despicable people marching with their ignorant, illiterate signs and their tasteless and inappropriate symbols… and here’s what comes to mind: Many years ago, I took a few law courses at VCC… a sort of evening-adult-education thing. It was more about getting familiar with some business law issues, but we covered a bit of criminal law as well. Interesting stuff. One thing I remember is the difference between assault and battery. Those two terms are commonly used somewhat interchangeably, but there is a difference… and the word assault is sometimes used incorrectly. Hitting someone isn’t an assault; that’s the actual battery. There doesn’t need to be any physical contact for there to be an assault… just inducing fear or threats or intimidation; that’s an assault. Of course, it’s hard to hit someone without there having been some element of those three things beforehand, so it’s often assault and battery combined.

Why do I mention this? I mention it only because, in my case, it’ll undoubtedly be both that I’ll be charged with if I see anyone wearing one of these little yellow stars… because I will walk up right up to them and rip the fucking thing right off their shirt or jacket while simultaneously punching them in the face. A very quick one-two.

My thinking is that it’d be so quick that there technically might not be time for it to be an assault. Just battery… for sure. Anyway, nitpicking… but I think everyone who knows me well would be surprised… that the guy who goes out of his way to shoo a fly or bee or even spider out of the house, instead of so-easily squashing them… would be the guy arrested for punching a protester in the face. Truthfully, I haven’t been in an actual fistfight since I was 10 years old. But I’m telling you right now – perhaps somewhat blowing my potential “moment of rage, no pre-meditated intent” defence: If I run into one of these people, they will need to visit the hospital to which moments earlier they’d been blocking access.

Well! You’ll either hear about me in the news… or I’ll be back here in due course with more to say; this has already gotten a bit long. Enough for now. Have a great weekend… till next time!

May 17, 2021

Encouraging local numbers today… and if you don’t like analyzing numbers, just look at the pretty pictures… specifically the B.C. one… which, in a nutshell, shows the rise and fall of the 3rd wave. Our numbers these days are exactly where they were at in early March, when things started to go sideways.

And, actually, not sideways… just up… sharply. But as you can see, as quickly as they went up, they’ve come down. That little plateau was in the second week of April, and it’s been downhill (in the good sense) ever since then. What’s going up sharply these days is the temperature… and vaccinations.

Looking across the country, as it turns out, nobody has managed this third wave as well as B.C. Quebec would be a close second though; their worst is over and they’ve slid down to the bottom of their own hill.

Alberta has turned the corner, but has a ways to go. Saskatchewan as well, though slower… but Manitoba is still arguably headed in the wrong direction; really not sure what happened there, but this week will tell a lot.

And Ontario… certainly headed in the right direction… their daily numbers and their average is lower… but it’s still wildly volatile and it always feels like they’re near a tipping point. Aided by warmer weather and lots of upcoming vaccinations, their worst is also likely over.

I don’t want the maritimes and the northern territories to feel left out… all looking good.

Locally, nothing will change before the May long weekend… but, by then, we may be poised to see some significant relaxations. Don’t hold me to it; I don’t make the rules… but given all of the above, given what we’ve learned in a year, given where we are with vaccinations, given what we now know about the colossal difference in risk between indoor and outdoor gatherings, given that we know it’s a tiny number of people who infect lots of others.. not everyone infecting one or two others… given all that, it wouldn’t be difficult to put some rules in place that really open things up in an effective way.

To be honest, they would’ve done it already if they could count on people sticking to the important parts. Like, golf? Out golfing with friends? Risk of transmission on the golf course… near zero. Risk of transmission on the 19th hole, downing a pitcher of beer? Much higher. Can we count on people to play a round of golf, but then not spend three hours in a crowded, poorly-ventilated pub? This is where the give an inch/take a mile issues come into it, and managing that, going forward, will be the bigger challenge.

April 19, 2021

The “Presidency” of Augusto Pinochet in Chile lasted until early 1990. But you can’t really call him a President, because the Republic of Chile never actually democratically elected him into power.

So… in other words, when I was living there in 1987/1988, life under a military dictatorship was in full swing. It meant that a lot of the civil liberties we take for granted here in Canada simply didn’t exist. But other things, that we do take for granted *not* to exist… did. Such as… checkpoints.

Whenever you run into a checkpoint here… 99.9% of the time it’s to sniff out DUIs. The checkpoints are strategically placed so that if you find yourself heading into one, there’s no escape. Just over the hill on the Granville St. bridge, southbound – heading out of downtown on a Saturday night – is a good example.

And as you approach it, you will feel one of two things. If you’ve been drinking, dread. Fear. A complete freakout. And now you get to pay the steep price for making the poor decisions that put you in this situation.

Or, you haven’t been drinking, and you feel a mix of relief and indignation. Relief that you get to have a brief and friendly chat with the cop before you’re on your merry way… and a bit of indignation. How *dare* they stomp on my civil rights. Who do they think they are. I should be free to drive wherever I want. This is a free country. I should be able to do whatever I want.

We’ve been hearing a lot of those sentences recently, in a very different context… but these two different contexts will be merging a bit on the near future, much to the horror of civil libertarians.

Living under a military dictatorship kept you on edge. Every single time I went through one of those checkpoints… and, might I add, they not only popped-up unexpectedly, but many were semi-permanent. Imagine a checkpoint in the middle of the Lion’s Gate Bridge. In both directions… License and registration and insurance, please. Why isn’t this car in your name. Why are you going downtown. Who do you know on the north shore. How often do you travel this route.

That would be a permanent checkpoint… a little hut in the middle of the bridge, manned by a solider 24/7. Except it wasn’t 24/7… just to mess with you, sometimes the hut was empty and you could just go through. Just to mess you with and keep you on edge.

But usually, it was manned… so, you’d jump through the hoops; you let them execute their little power trip, you acquiesce to their bullshit. And unless you’re actually up to no good, you’re unlikely to have a problem. I was asked a lot of stupid questions… “Where’d you get that car radio?” “Canada? Is that one of those little states way up north?” but it was never more than a few questions before “Have a nice day”.

I’ve been back to Chile many times post-1990, and all of those checkpoints are gone… but the little huts are still there. And I drive by them now and think… what was the point of that. Seriously, what was the point.

Well, the point was that they wanted to keep you in fear. They wanted to constantly remind you… don’t forget who’s in charge. We control you. Don’t, for a minute, think you’re free.

It took a radical change in government to get rid of that but, rest assured, the right-wing military junta of Augusto Pinochet had zero in common with today’s NDP government of John Horgan… something to remember when people start screaming about today’s announcements… that for several weeks, travel restrictions… where you simply shouldn’t leave your local area. And you may run into a checkpoint. It’s temporary and it makes sense, but, oh boy… here comes the screaming and yelling from the freedom/liberty crowd.

I don’t expect to get pulled over at any checkpoint because I don’t expect to be transiting from home any time soon… but in a warped way, I’d look forward to it… because I wouldn’t be able to not compare it to my experiences from 30 years ago… the difference between slowly pulling up to a young, potentially itchy-trigger-fingered solider armed with a loaded semi-automatic weapon… and some VPD or RCMP cop whose only job in this context is to try to keep people safe. I’d look at today’s checkpoint and realize that the cop is on my side, that this is temporary, that this is necessary… and resign myself to the fact that we put ourselves in this situation.

It’s more serious than many people realize, but that’s counteracted by the measures already in place which *are* having a positive effect… and warmer weather, and vaccines. The outcome of this collision course is approaching… do we go the Israel route or the Ontario route in the near future?

Well, let’s look at the Chile route. Way ahead on vaccinations, and fully locked up… because they took that freedom and abused the hell out of it and things went from being under control to totally messed up. That’s what can happen. That’s what might happen here if strict and sudden measures weren’t put in place. So ironic that checkpoints in Chile might have prevented their full-on lockdown.

Around here… may I say… temporary. Can I repeat… temporary. As in – what we need to do today, so that we don’t all have to be doing this forever. I’m pretty sure we can do this for just a few short weeks.

I sure hope so. Otherwise, it won’t be short and it won’t be weeks.

April 6, 2021

I’ve heard from a few people who’ve gotten the AstraZeneca vaccine recently that maybe they should’ve waited for Pfizer or Moderna. After all, those latter two have efficacy rates around 95%, while AZ is somewhere in the mid-60s. That’s a notable difference. Or is it?

The efficacy number basically tells you the percentage reduction in disease with respect to vaccinated vs. unvaccinated people. A 95% reduction in the test groups of P & M vs. a 65% reduction with AZ.

But what that’s really measuring is whether you get it at all. What if you get it asymptomatically? Of the 30% difference, what if all of those case are insignificantly mild?

As it turns out, there’s a better number to look at… hospitalizations and deaths. As has been quoted widely, there is a 100% reduction in hospitalizations and deaths with Pfizer and Moderna. What about AstraZeneca, and other vaccines? Here’s a list of the “Big 6”, and their percentages of preventing hospitalizations and deaths… not efficacy:

Pfizer: 100%
Moderna: 100%
Janssen (J&J): 100%
Sputnik V: 100%
NovaVax: 100%
AstraZeneca: 100%

So… ask me again, “Should I get vaccinated?” Yes, you should. “Does it matter which one I get?” No, it doesn’t. If you want to avoid serious illness, they will all do the job. And as much as we’ve heard about Pfizer and Moderna and AstraZeneca… the Johnson and Johnson vaccine will be here by the end of the month, and if I had the option to pick one, that’s the one I would go with. One single jab, and a month later… you’re as immune as you’ll ever be, with zero chance of serious illness.

I recently had a discussion with someone that hinged on the “You don’t know what’s in it” argument. Actually, you do… the ingredients are all listed publicly, for all of them. There is a popular meme going around questioning people who’ll eat junk food without knowing what’s in it, but would hesitate with a vaccine… and that’s the thing; it all ends up in your bloodstream. One way or the other, that’s where it has to go to make its way around your body. To what degree it’s been broken down or metabolized or synthesized or whatever… food, water, medicine, drugs… if it’s not getting into your bloodstream, it’s not doing much. If you’re eating McRibs, but fear getting vaccinated, you might need to rethink the logic.

There are places in the world drowning in excess vaccine, but B.C. isn’t one of them. For the moment, there is a consistent demand by everyone who wants to get it… because, so far, it’s only been 16% of us. That number will rise significantly in the near future as more doses arrive, but now we’re in a bit of a race. Ontario is facing crisis numbers and lockdowns and school closures, and we’re on that exact path unless things change, probably a month behind… and with hospitalizations and ICU cases rising sharply over the weekend, we’re into a critical week. Some say it’s not too late, some say it’s inevitable.

What’s the efficacy rate of enough people doing what we need to do to prevent this from getting out of hand? An excellent question. We’ll be finding out in the next couple of weeks.

March 26, 2021

The good news with numbers is brief. Yesterday, B.C.’s vaccination rate went from nine point something to ten point something percent. Today, so did Alberta and Ontario… all of which allowed me to change the percentage to one decimal place instead of two. That’s one small step for a decimal point; one giant leap for significant figures as it pertains to reaching the end of this thing. I look forward to Manitoba joining the club soon.

And that concludes the numbers-related good news.

Today, B.C. had over 900 new cases… for the first time since November. What’s also bad is that the new-case growth rate was over 1%… not a particularly good direction for the trend to be heading.

Here are the weekly new-case averages per week, starting 6 weeks ago:

433, 441, 480, 559, 537, 560, 699. There was a nice dip a few weeks ago… right around the time Dr. Henry was calling it a turning point; it’s up to us, yadda yadda… so, how’d we do? There you go.

We’re likely to see the new-case numbers crawl over 1,000 in the next few days… so, to be clear, we’re very much in a 3rd wave… the question is, how bad will it get? Nowhere near as bad as it’d be if we didn’t have improving weather and vaccines. But nowhere near as good as it’d be if we didn’t have variants… and if we’d all properly followed those rules we used to be so good at. Half of that we can’t control… but the other half…

Now it’s Spring Break; people are traveling and doing their own thing. This is how we roll, and for the people who’ve simply “had it” with the pandemic, none of this matters. Ask me in two weeks how much it really matters, but as good or bad as it gets, when it comes to reaching the finish line, it’s not that we’re not running towards it as fast as we can… it’s that we keep pushing it our further. It’s a tough race to figure out when the finish line keeps moving, but it’s even more frustrating when we’re the ones moving it.

Stay tuned for Monday’s numbers… and don’t hold your breath for any radical change in restrictions. If anything, we’re presently going the wrong way.

February 28, 2021

Welcome to the end of February. Tomorrow begins March… and you’ll recall last year, March 2020 felt like the longest month in history. To some extent, it’s been a year but it feels like we’re still in it. Happy Sunday, March 334th.

At this time last year, Canada had seen 15 cases of Covid-19. Seven of them were here in B.C. Another 7 were in Ontario, and the other was in Quebec. By the end of March 2020, Canada had over 8,000 cases and 100 deaths. A month later, the case-count was over 50,000 and the deaths were around 3,000 and we were all freaking the hell out.

We’re all too exhausted to be freaking out anymore, and we’ve realized the numbers didn’t follow that trajectory. Had they, my quick math implies we’d all have caught it by the end of July, and we’d all have been dead by the end of Summer. None of that happened, and none of that will… but it’s worth thinking back to how things felt at the time, just to remember that things can change quickly and we shouldn’t take anything for granted.

On the flipside, like a lot of people, I’m actually starting to wonder what society is going to look like after this is all over. Many profound changes, and I’m not just talking about remote work and Zoom and virtual offices and things like that; let’s recall that in no small part, the end of the 1918 pandemic launched the roaring 20s… a decade of romanticised, glamorous fun that lasted until the economy collapsed and The Depression took over.

But here’s something else that with great subtlety changed the world drastically…

Up until 1918, there were steam cars and there were electric cars… and internal combustion cars were around, but not so popular. People with steam cars used to fill them up at horse troughs… free water, everywhere… but, with the pandemic, and standing water being a great collection point for mosquitos, those troughs got covered up… and the car manufacturers like Henry Ford seized that opportunity to tell the world how awesome gas-powered cars were. No waiting for it to charge, no waiting for the water to heat up, no chance of a steam explosion. Gas stations sprung up everywhere… and a hundred years of R&D that’s gone into gas-powered cars might have gone into steam-generated engines and/or electrical systems and batteries. Hard to imagine what society might look like… and how it would’ve evolved… without this dependency on oil.

I wonder what’s changing these days that’ll have such a profound effect on the entire world. What will they be talking about 100 years from now as one of the largest radical shifts caused by all of this?

I don’t know… I’m just asking the question… but happy to hear you thoughts.

23 Likes, 3 Shares

Go to Top