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Sunday, March 08, 2020

COVID 19 and ISA

Posted March 25: On March 8, I wrote the following note to a colleague who wondered why I was thinking about withdrawing from the ISA conference in Honolulu, scheduled for March 25-28. S/he was comparing the virus to the flu and noted Hawaii's lack of cases at the time. I have slighted edited it to fix typos, add links, and assure anonymity of individuals.


I understand the flu risk argument and Hawaii’s lack of cases. However, the lack of cases is likely because of lack of testing. The US really dropped the ball on this with delays in preparation, a flawed first test, and an illogical containment strategy. Many experts are now saying containment obviously failed in many communities and it is time to consider mitigation of community spread.

The logic: The doubling rate for known cases outside China is every 4 days. Given the number of deaths in the US (20 now, I think), between 450 and 2000 people likely have the disease already. Nearly 500 have tested positive. The NYT reported yesterday that nearly 2800 New Yorkers are in self-quarantine. There are 76 in Hawaii. The Atlantic Monthly reports that fewer than 2000 people have been tested in the entire US – only 16 tested as of yesterday in Hawaii. If the true number of current cases is merely 500 people right now, we could still have 1 million US cases in 6 to 8 weeks time if the status quo prevails. There are serious concerns the virus could quickly outstrip the health system’s ability to function. This thread is from someone who used to work at CDC as an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer:

With testing just about to ramp up, many experts say the number of US cases is about to “explode” as the CDC guy wrote.

I actually have a personal story that illustrates the poor planning** in the US so far:  I had a colleague return from a research trip to Wuhan on December 14. We had beers together a week later at a popular local bar and socialized again together on New Year’s eve. By late January, however, the news coming from China was of such concern that the University required recent returnees from China to spend 14 days at home in quarantine. Of course, for people in my friend's social circle, the horse would have already been out of the barn if he was infected. 

Until this week, no one in Kentucky had been tested for the virus. They’ve tested 14 across the entire state and identified only 1 person with the virus. What scientists don’t really know with certainty is if asymptomatic people could be carrying and spreading the disease. 

That’s really the problem. Who knows?

And the risks are worrisome.

The evidence not only seems to suggest that that virus spreads much more quickly and readily than the flu (because of airborne droplets) – but that it is perhaps 20 times as lethal. I had the flu vaccine in the fall, but there is no vaccine against this virus. Even though the lethality is greater for the elderly, people in my age bracket are still dying at a 10-fold rate. With flu, about 1% of people end up in the hospital with a serious respiratory problem. With COVID 19 it is more like 15 to 20%. That’s largely why the health systems could be broken with a huge outbreak (to flu-like levels of cases)

Mitigation measures are going to become fairly draconian for the US:

Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said today on Meet the Press that “You don't want to go to a massive gathering, particularly if you're a vulnerable individual. If we continue to see the community spread go up I think you need to seriously look at anything that's a large gathering.”

Austin, Texas, canceled its annual South by Southwest event. Numerous universities are ending travel outside the CONUS. The Physics people canceled their large meeting in Denver. A friend who works in Department of Energy in DC told me that all work travel has been suspended. Someone tested positive who had just attended the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) conference, where both Trump and Pence spoke.  

The Trump administration is still insisting that we are in containment mode, which means 14 day quarantines. Thus, if anyone at the ISA conference develops symptoms and tests positive, attendees could end up spending weeks in quarantine [Hawaii subsequently ordered all arrivals to the island to quarantine]. Even healthy people from the first cruise ship were quarantined for about a month (2 weeks offshore or in Japan and 2 weeks in the US).

I don’t think I’m especially alarmist.


** "Poor planning" compared to Taiwan, for example, a democratic partner of the US, which learned about the disease in December and began its countermeasures at that time: "As early as the beginning of December, Taiwanese health officers started boarding flights arriving from Wuhan to check passengers for symptoms before they could leave the plane."

"Poor planning" also in that US public health officials could have immediately starting investigating recent arrivals from Wuhan, China, and finding out if those people, family members, or contacts in their social circle had unusual illnesses in December, January, or February. Top policymakers and members of Congress certainly received briefings about the dangers that early and some were worried: From Senator Richard Blumental (D-CT) after the January 24 briefing the Senate received: “We are far from having this potential epidemic under control. We should be worried and concerned about this potential epidemic as a nation” 

Sadly, it appears the negligence started at the top: "President Donald Trump ignored reports from US intelligence agencies starting in January that warned of the scale and intensity of the coronavirus outbreak in China, The Washington Post reported Friday."

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Saturday, February 29, 2020

Best films of 2019

Metacritic produces an annual list of the top films of the previous year based on top-10 lists created by various film critics. This is an aggregation based on lists produced by 340 critics:
Movie and Metascore# 1st Place# 2nd Place# OtherPoints
196 Parasite7733137.5434.5
283 Once Upon a Time in Hollywood3827124.5292.5
394 The Irishman2445118280
493 Marriage Story1427117213
590 Uncut Gems201887183
695 Portrait of a Lady on Fire121079135
791 Little Women51285124
882 Knives Out9582119
987 Pain and Glory10766.5110.5
1089 The Farewell2787.5107.5
1191 The Souvenir3955.582.5
1281 Us1173.578.5
1384 Booksmart255268
1478 19175542.567.5
1572 Midsommar3252.565.5
1683 The Lighthouse3250.563.5
1783 The Last Black Man in San Francisco4246.562.5
1882 Transit4728.554.5
1980 Ad Astra134554
2059 Joker4530.552.5
2158 Jojo Rabbit423450
2278 Avengers: Endgame3138.549.5
2378 A Hidden Life323447
2485 Atlantics033743
2579 Hustlers1037.540.5
2680 Waves412539
2785 Ash Is Purest White322437
2877 High Life1131.536.5
2969 Her Smell2225.535.5
3088 Apollo 110228.532.5
Through February, I've now seen 15 of the 30 listed films. My rankings would be (roughly):

Tier I Outstanding: top award choices

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Marriage Story
Little Women

Tier 2 Very good: strong consideration for awards

Knives Out!
Uncut Gems
The Irishman

Uncut Gems was very well done, generally, but I didn't care for the 3 artsy shots used by the filmmakers to peer and travel inside a human colon, a gemstone, and an open wound. The film it most reminded me of this year was Her Smell, actually, as the two main characters of these films were seriously flawed and frustrating to observe.

Tier 3 Above average, but flawed in some way

The Souvenir
The Farewell
The Last Black Man in San Francisco
High Life
Ad Astra
Apollo 11
Her Smell

My rankings are not very precise. Virtually all of the films listed here have real strengths and are worth your time.

Tier 4 Skip it


I'll update this list with highlighted additions after this post first appears.

Of the 15 films I've missed as of the original post, it's unlikely I'll see Midsommar anytime soon as I'm not a big fan of horror.

These are all of the unlisted films in alphabetical order. I'll move them up as I see them:

Ash is the Purest White
Avengers: Endgame
A Hidden Life
JoJo Rabbit
The Lighthouse
Pain and Glory
Portrait of a Lady on Fire

On any given day, I might feel slightly differently about film rankings within the different tiers. In any case, 2019 was another good year for film.

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