Its been quite some time since I blogged. Not gonna make excuses…its just been really low on the priority list lately, just trying to survive work, kids virtual school, staying at home, surviving anxiety, and combating some health issues (not related to Covid, but made more difficult because of its presence).
Some folks might know that IRL, I’m an industrial hygienist (IH). In UK-English speaking countries, its also called occupational hygiene, but either way, its a field most people have never heard of. There are various definitions of what a IH does, but basically, we work at the intersection between environmental health and public health in an occupational setting, with a focus on hazards created by the work itself. Our job is to predict, identify, measure, and document certain types of health hazards in the workplace and offer guidance and recommendations about how to control or mitigate them. We specifically look at physical hazards such as noise or vibration, radiological hazards, chemical hazards (things you might inhale or absorb through your skin), ergonomic hazards, etc. We apply a combination of research and regulatory requirements to advise people on how to best stay healthy while doing jobs that create health hazards. I say all this to explain that, while I’m no virologist, in my day job, I am a scientist with actual experience at interpreting and applying data and, more importantly, perhaps, trying to explain it to people in a relatable way.
As of today, there have been 26,957,001 recorded/confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the United States. This number is almost certainly artificially low–as many as half of all infections may be asymptomatic or so mild that they are explained away as other things by people that never get tested.
On average, a person with Covid-19 probably infects 2 other people (estimates are between 1.5 and 3, though the real picture is that lots of people don’t infect anyone and a few people infect lots of people because too many people are still idiots and assholes).
As of today, 462,037 people in the US have died. I’m picking on the US because we have demonstrated ourselves to be the stupidest populations in the world, with a wide swathe of people incapable of following the simplest of precautions.
On January 20, a friend posted a photo of Woodstock from overhead as a demonstration of what 400,000 people might look like. Four hundred thousand people is a hard number to visualize. This photo of Woodstock has about 500,000 people in it, according to TIME:
Its hard though, to estimate numbers from pictures…or even when doing population counts (I’ve done, for example, a number of bird counts…and I’m not that great at estimating flock numbers). I prefer something my brain can wrap around more easily.
At some point, I started using city populations to compare the COVID-19 death rate in the US because I was sick of seeing idiots that don’t understand statistics misuse percentage rates to mischaracterize the seriousness of this illness.
Back in mid-November was the day the number of US deaths reached the population of the county I was born in. The equivalent of dozens of small cities and towns and farming communities outside of a major metropolitan area (St. Clair County, IL is located right across the Mississippi River from the city of St. Louis).
Not even a month later (Dec 14th), you could have upgraded to the population center across the river; imagine the entire city of St. Louis, empty.
By the 19th of January, the death toll was equivelent to the city of Arlington, 49th largest city in the US.
By the end of the 20th, Tulsa, Oklahoma.
By the 21st of January, it was expected to be equivalent to the population of Tampa, Florida
By next week probably (at this rate), Oakland, then Minneapolis a few days later.
At the time, my prediction was that in 2 weeks, the number of deaths would be equivalent to the populations of Virginia Beach, followed by Colorado Springs, Long Beach, and Miami. Seventeen days after I wrote that, we are almost at a number of deaths equivalent to a hurricane taking the entire city of Miami off the map.
Give it a day or two.
By Valentines Day, an Atlanta or Sacramento worth of people will have died. I’m not sure when we are predicted to hit 600,000 deaths, but at that point, we can start talking states worth of people–our least populated state, Wyoming, has around 583,000 people.
At some point, large numbers become abstractions for most of us. Even for those of us that are used to looking at large numbers in data sets, there’s a certain distancing that comes from the abstraction of a number so big we cannot really wrap our minds around the significance of it. We need a way to ground ourselves with what it really means.
For me, its cities. A death isn’t just the loss of a person, its the loss of their memories and knowledge. Its the loss of their love and energy towards whatever it is in life that was their passion. Death empties a home, puts a hole in a family, rips out a few threads of a community.
This past year, we have lost an extra major metropolitan area’s worth of people from our country.
Since science has the ability to model the effects of different measures taken and how they affect transmission rates and death rates, I feel comfortable saying that a good chunk of those deaths were preventable.
A good chunk of those people were killed by those among us who bought into by pseudoscience, idiotic conspiracy ideas, and propaganda.
So don’t tell me I should get over my fury at those of you that were complicit in engaging with, defending, and spreading this administration’s poisonous nonsense. Don’t tell me in the interests of “unity” that I should ignore how too many of you cared so little for your neighbors and your communities that you chose subservience to a small minded, small hearted braggart over the actual doctrine of your professed faiths. Don’t tell me we just have a simple difference of political opinion when you aren’t even done washing the blood off your hands.
We have killed an entire major city’s worth of moms and dads and grandparents and kids and veterans and teachers and nurses and doctors and cooks and clerks and construction workers–from a single disease that was largely unknown to science before 2019–people who had lives and families and communities that depended on them, whom they loved, and whom will forever be missing them, wondering if their beloved dead was a death that could have been prevented.
These are extra deaths beyond the normal background death rate. So the next time some moron on your timeline comments that “only 1% of people die from it” (the 1% probably incorrect–depends on whose estimates you use, far from certain, and given the rate of underreporting of infection, there’s just as much evidence for an underreporting of COVID deaths as well), 1% is a fucking lot of people when we are talking about a virus that is spreading exponentially. Also, anyone that applies the “just 1%” logic to the fact that the virus does not affect populations equally, as an excuse to accept much higher death rates for *some* people, things start to sound awfully…well, like an embrace of eugenics.
We can’t stop a runaway pandemic on a dime. This isn’t going to end, even with vaccines being rolled out, for months. Every person infected is a chance for further mutations that can make the disease more communicable or more deadly…or worse, immune to the vaccine we’ve just created.
Wear your damn mask. Stay the eff home. Listen to fucking scientists not sycophants.