April 14, 2022

There was a time, in the increasingly-distant past, where I actually imagined this pandemic ending in the blink of an eye… literally instantly. A simple declaration – Hey, it’s all good! – and that would be the end of it. Imagine Tinkerbell flying around in relative darkness, among the shadows… where everything is some gloomy shade of gray. Then, with a simple tap of her tiny magic wand — and a little puff of pixie dust — it all transforms into beautiful colours… and the sun comes out and the sky is blue and the birds are singing and we all live happily ever after.

Unfortunately, life isn’t a fairy tale… and there’s no little fairy to rescue us like that. Indeed, it’s more like a bigger ferry… like the Queen of Esquimalt, when it’s going to dock in Schwartz Bay and suddenly it starts groaning and slowly turning 180 degrees because the cars are all pointing the wrong way. And everyone on board also starts groaning. Oh no, this is going to take forever! We’re going be late for our Tea At The Empress™!

Somewhere between the fairy and the ferry lies our reality; it’s not instant, and it’s a slow turn… but, eventually, we get there. We’re in the midst of that turn right now, but unfortunately, it’s very foggy and we can’t really see how far we’ve gone… nor how far we have to go.

This sort of reminds me about the whole pot ordeal of recent decades. For a long time, it was totally illegal. Today, it’s totally legal. Do you remember the many years of ambiguity? Hey, that guy is standing in the street smoking a joint. Is that legal? Can he do that? Well, maybe he can if he’s not selling it. Really? Who knows? Who cares?

It’s the “who cares” that’s a bit of an issue these days, because while a lot of people do indeed not care anymore, many still do. Also, there are some loud and credible voices stating in no uncertain terms: Hey, this isn’t over. Far from it…. while, at the same time, there are equally loud voices carrying a message that raises some eyebrows: Yeah, it’s over… if for no other reason than we’ve had enough and we’re not doing this anymore. Anyway, look at the numbers. What’s the big deal? Life goes on.

Who do you believe? Who do you want to believe? Every single day, you can choose what you want to believe and there will be a credible source to back you. Today, a Russian warship sank. The Russians say a fire accidentally broke out and detonated some ammunition. The Ukrainians say they hit it with a missile.

Like “Where are we at?” and like getting reliable news out of Ukraine/Russia, the pandemic analysis has also gotten murkier. Attached are numbers and graphs as best as I can do these days, which isn’t much because reliable data is few and far between. Most of it (what’s in italics) is extrapolated. I’ve done away entirely with the vaccination data because, as important as it as and as transfixed as I was every day watching the vaccination percentages creep upwards… now, the numbers are meaningless. From that aspect, we’ve done all we can. Anyone who wants a shot or two or three can get one almost immediately.

In summary, numbers are up, but just a little up. In BC, hospitalizations are close to where they were a month ago, but they’d dipped two weeks ago. ICU numbers continue to drop. In Ontario and Quebec, they’re in the midst of a sixth wave… and of course, what Toronto and Montreal dictate must apply to the rest of the country… so I guess we are too. But while hospitalizations are up, ICU numbers aren’t growing appreciably; in fact, down slightly. Everything is a lot better than it was at the start of the year, but arguably, headed in the wrong direction.

It’s all ambigious and uneasy and, to some extent, ends up being what you want it to be… which, for the present day, is probably as good as it’s going to get. It takes a while to turn the ferry around because if you don’t do it right… like, too quickly, you end up with a big mess on board and lots of complaints. Do it too slowly and there will also be complaints. Hey man, we have reservations, you know?

Well… I’m pretty sure… that if you’re going to be paying $89 per person for Tea At The Empress™, they’ll hold the reservation for you, even if you’re going to be a bit late. And, don’t worry… the ferry will get turned around, docked, and you’ll get there… eventually. Yes, you wish a little magic wand could get you there instantly. I also wish it could get us all there instantly, too… wherever that ultimate “there” is.

But, again, life isn’t a fairy tale. More like a ferry tale, I guess.

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.

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.

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.

November 29, 2021

My first thought upon hearing that there’s a new, far-more contagious variant emerging was, “Great… finally.”

Given the world’s sudden panic with respect to it, I guess I should clarify. I’m not some Evil Overlord awaiting the demise of humanity; quite the opposite. So… here’s what comes to mind…

Let’s rewind to the beginning of the pandemic. But no, not this one… the big one a long time ago. And no, not that one either… I’m not talking about the 1918-1919 Spanish flu. Let’s jump further back… and arrive at the 1889-1890 Russian flu pandemic. That pandemic killed around a million people out of a world population of 1.5 billion… roughly 0.7% of everyone which, if you map it to today’s world population, would be a death toll of over 5 million… a number which, unfortunately, has already been far-exceeded by Covid-19.

That flu epidemic has been studied ever since, and it certainly got a closer look in 1918, when scientists were trying to figure out what they were dealing with. As it turns out, after a century of research, with scientists all-along trying to shoehorn in what sort of flu virus that might have been (because nothing made perfect sense, and nothing really fit), a simpler explanation has recently come to light… and it’s become evident that the Russian flu pandemic wasn’t actually the flu after all. It was… yeah, you guessed it.

This sort of retro-science is obviously much easier in hindsight… indeed, that’s the only way to do it… so when you read about the symptoms of that ancient pandemic these days, and read about the high fever, chest inflammation, respiratory issues, killing predominantly older people, loss of taste and smell… yes, it does all sound somewhat familiar… and it’s not the flu.

As it turns out, the great Russian flu pandemic was actually caused by a coronavirus strain labelled OC43, one that has been found to have jumped into the human population exactly around 1890… and it certainly hit the ground running, infecting and killing countless people.

But here’s an interesting fact, 130 years later… OC43 is one of the leading causes of… the common cold. Has it gotten weaker over the years? Is it now more contagious but less virulent? Are we just more immune to it? Did we acquire some of that immunity from our parents? Are treatments more common and accessible to the extent that it’s no longer a big deal?

Yes – to all of the above. It’s just a common cold. We’ve all been dealing with it all our lives, and it’s generally – the vast majority of the time — not a big deal.

For virus like OC43 to go from killing close to 1% of the population to being no big deal took over a century. These days, we’re not interested in waiting that long. We have nowhere near the attention span. The sort of mindset that demands we be able to binge-watch an entire seven seasons of some show during three days of lockdown is the same mindset that insists everything, including pandemics, be dealt with in a quick and efficient manner.

Nature doesn’t really care what we think, so we simply have to take what we can get… but what we’re getting, as per my opening paragraph is, in my opinion, cautiously optimistic.

Like a common cold, we’re all going to come into contact with it. Everyone scrambling to close their borders? It’s a nice theatrical exercise, but the truth is that the Omicron variant is probably already here. Where’s here? Exactly. Everywhere. Watch for cases to start rising dramatically… everywhere.

And is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. Cases will go up, but far-more-importantly, will hospitalizations? ICU admissions? Deaths?

I won’t go out of my way (yet) to say it’s all a good thing, but there’s one potentially very positive version of this: That this is the virus’s end-game. That this is where it gets a lot more contagious and a lot less virulent. Indeed, if we start getting data that this thing spreads like wildfire but causes only mild symptoms, we’re actually well on our way out of this mess… on a global scale. While it’s still too early to say for certain, initial indications imply a milder disease. While Delta cases cause elevated pulse rates, low oxygen levels and the loss of taste and smell, Omicron cases seem to cause different symptoms: Fatigue, head and body aches, and occasional sore throats and coughs.

And if that’s the extent of it – what sounds like nothing more than a common cold – and if it’s so virulent that we all get it and, with that, develop antibodies against the underlying C19… mission accomplished. Problem solved.

It’s interesting that this variant was first identified in South Africa.

On a somewhat related noted, it’s interesting to note that for the most part, the entire continent of Africa bypassed conventional telephone lines. It just wasn’t worth it to wire the entire country. They missed out on decades of the benefits of telephones in every household… but they’re making up for it now. Cellular infrastructure has arrived and, with it, internet and apps and everything that comes with it. They missed telephony the first time around, but thanks to leapfrogging technology, are pretty-much caught up. They’re exactly where you and I are with mobile phones, and, given how much we pay for cell service around here, probably a bit ahead. They leapfrogged into the cellular age… and they may end up leapfrogging vaccines.

The pathetic vaccination rates in Africa (not because they don’t want it, but because it just hasn’t been made available) might quickly become as irrelevant as an old Bell telephone (you know, the old ones… the ones where you could deliciously slam down the receiver in frustration) – because the prevalence of a mild and very-contagious version of this virus might finally be the thing to slam it out of existence. Africa may immunize themselves out of the pandemic by simply infecting each other with a much milder strain. And if that turns out to be the case, it won’t just be Africa; it’ll be everywhere.

I sincerely hope I’m not completely wrong. It’ll take a bit of time to confirm (or shoot down) some of these assumptions.., but I think it’s fair to put out there that there’s a version of this doom and gloom that’s not so gloomy and doomy. Far from it. The news that initially sent the world into a panic and markets tumbling and airports shutting down flights… might turn out to be a significant positive turning point.

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.

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

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