Monday, March 30, 2020

Apparently, I have shit for brains. Or so I've been told, lol.

I know arguing with people online is pointless, but I still sometimes fall for the temptation to try to explain. The person on the other side may be unwilling to understand, but I hope someone else will be helped.  

Yesterday, I gave up on explaining after being informed that I have shit for brains. That may be so, but the only way we currently have to contain the spread of Covid-19 is for people to limit interactions and stop traveling.

Preventing Americans from gallivanting off to neighboring nations is not done because of some form of reverse racism or to make Trump look bad - it's to stop the spread of a potentially lethal pandemic.

Seriously, during my lifetime we have never had closed borders between Sweden, Norway, and Finland. The mere idea would have been preposterous. Today, it's a fact. It doesn't mean that Finns no longer like Swedes or that Swedes and Norwegians have developed a sudden quarrel - it means that people need to stay put.

Now when that's settled... ;-)

No matter what your favorite leader says, this situation will not be resolved in two weeks, or by the end of April. Even if the virus were to "suddenly go away" it's likely to come back, because history shows us that pandemics tend to come in waves. The Spanish Flu for instance affected people on and off for three years.

No matter where you are right now, or whether you're under a shelter-in-place order or just told to practice a physical distancing to other people, try to find a mindset where you can ride this out long-term.

Absolutely hope for a vaccine, but be aware that developing vaccines is a lengthy process. (Yes, we get flu vaccines quickly, but this isn't a flu.) I don't think we'll see a vaccine this year. Maybe in 2021.

Long before that, I think and hope we'll see antiviral remedies that can help the people who fall really ill. I also think and hope we will have a convenient way to test if people already had the infection.

I personally don't think this is a type of disease where we will develop a long-term immunity, but I'm a science fiction writer and not a virologist, so what I think may not be relevant. Even if I'm right, people might be immune for at least a couple of years.

That means, if we can test to see if people already had the virus, a bunch of us may be able to go back to work - keep society going and care for those still at risk.

It is definitely tempting to call for shelter-at-home orders and quarantines - there have been times during the past few weeks where I have longed for being ordered to stay at home, because it would make it easier for me to justify my decision to do so. Though, it isn't feasible to keep entire populations locked in their homes for six months or a year. A couple of weeks, sure, but you have to know that the virus will still be out there, so life won't return to normal just like that.

This sounds like doom and gloom in writing, but at this point in time, I think realistic expectations will help all of us cope with what's ahead. We're clever beings, we can adapt and get through this!

And, there's always this great video from Lady Flufferton!

Monday, March 23, 2020

I am concerned about my country

Don't get me wrong - at a time like this it's prudent to be concerned for the whole world, but Sweden and our scientists seem to have caught another virus that might be just as dangerous as Covid-19: Hubris.

All along, they've been saying that younger persons don't really have to worry. People under the age of 70 should be cautious and not visit older relatives, because older people must be protected, but everyone else will get a "really mild illness."

Reports have streamed in from all over the world, saying that while it's mostly older people who die, younger people also require intensive care. We're talking about spending three weeks in a respirator and emerging without a lung.

Sweden is still going, "No, everyone who isn't older will get a really mild illness."

Right now, about half of persons who require hospitalization because of Covid-19 in Sweden are younger. Experts are saying it's a fluke, and these numbers will change.

Meanwhile, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis of US cases from February 12 to March 16 shows 38% of those sick enough to be hospitalized were younger than 55.

French health ministry official Jérome Salomon says half of the 300 to 400 coronavirus patients treated in intensive care units in Paris are younger than 65.

Italian media has reported numbers of around 35% of people in Intensive Care being under 65.

Half of the ICU patients in the Netherlands are younger than 50.

But in Sweden, younger people are apparently invincible. At least if you're to believe health officials.

(They've also said children couldn't be affected, and several weeks ago we had "reached the peak" and cases would start to go down. Both these things were also false.)

I think there is a risk in understating the consequences for younger persons. Doing so makes us careless. And once the average person sees that the authorities were wrong - again - and our statistics follow those of other nations, the public will lose faith and stop listening.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Please be kind and show respect!

Right now, people all over the world are struggling. Many are afraid, if not for themselves, for their loved ones. Many worry about the future. Will they have jobs? With so many industries affected, will they be able to support their families?

With all this worry going around, try to think of the people around you.

I meet so many people who say all this is hysteria or panic. If you feel that way, that is also a valid emotion - and it might be a reaction to what's happening - but you don't have to tell every other person you meet that they are hysterical.

Your feelings are valid, and theirs are valid too. Please respect that. People who are worried for their future or their loved ones have good reason for that, and they won't worry less because you tell them your feelings on "worldwide panic."

I also encounter many who don't care, because there's a good chance the disease won't make them very sick.

If that's you, please stop gloating about your good health. Put it to use instead. I bet there's someone physically close to you who doesn't have the fortune of good health and might need help with going to the store.

The past few days have held some intense discussions with people who refuse to stay home, because they're just "a little sick." If you're just a little sick, staying home can be boring, I get it. But the people you meet when you go shopping, hang out at the animal shelters, or whatever it is you want to do, might be at risk. Going there can mean sentencing another person to death.

Stay home until you feel well, even if you're convinced you only have a cold. Because, passing your cold to someone can lower their resistance to infection.

Follow your local authorities' advice and instructions.

Some people - like me - can work from home. It doesn't matter where we are physically, and that's a huge privilege at a time like this.

A lot of people can't do this. Nurses and doctors are obvious, but also the people who empty your trash, the mail carrier, the truck drivers who make sure goods will be delivered to stores, all the people who put items on shelves and work cash registers... The list is nearly endless.

They are worried too. The person in the grocery store may have to encounter a thousand people before going home to a loved one who is elderly or has a pre-existing condition. Please be kind.

It isn't their fault if the item you're looking for isn't available. It isn't their fault if you have to stand in line. Thank them for the job they do. Be kind, and try not to take your frustration out on them. It can make a world of difference to someone who's struggling with getting through the day.

These things should be self-evident, but I guess they're not.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Harry Potter, Illustrated

I have a confession to make, and it is completely unrelated to viruses and the state of the world. It is a horrible thing for a book nerd such as myself: I don't have the Harry Potter books.

I've been meaning to buy them, but never got around to it.

I've read them, but I borrowed them and never bought them.

Looking around online, I saw that there's an illustrated version. Currently, only the first four books are available and they're quite pricey, so I decided to buy one to see if I'd like it. I got it yesterday, but didn't really have time to look.

Unpacking it this morning made me go "Ooooh!"

It's amazing. It's gorgeous - almost every page is decorated. It's huge, like a magical book in a fairy tale.

I hope all of the books will be available in this format at some point in the future, and that the whole collection will be in my shelf. :-)

Friday, March 13, 2020

Understanding "the curve" and why the number of infections is important

I heard some statements today that were weird to me. Like, "The Italian healthcare system must be bad if they can't take care of their people." And, "How can the Italian healthcare system not be equipped to deal with emergencies." Then I realized that people have faith in their system and never had to think about how it works.

This is the thing; all healthcare systems around the world are dimensioned for handling a normal influx of patients with a mix of illnesses.

There is a finite amount of hospital beds, equipment, doctors, and nurses. Many western countries have 4 hospital beds per 1,000 inhabitants. That is 0.4%. The average for the USA is lower. On any given day, most of these spaces will be occupied by people with broken bones, cancers, heart issues, respiratory issues, child births, children with tummy aches, and so on.

Let's go with Manatee County in Florida where I used to live as an example. There's Blake Medical Center with 383 beds, Manatee Memorial with 319 beds, and Lakewood Ranch Medical Center with 120 beds. (There might be some other facility I've forgotten about, but these are the big ones.)

That adds up to 822 beds. The population of Manatee County is roughly 385,600. That means 0.2% of the population can be hospitalized at the same time - and at that point, the hospitals are at capacity. (I spent many nights waiting with Mike at Blake Medical Center, because they didn't have a spot for him, so they are full from time to time.)

Now, imagine that your already full hospital with 383 beds gets another 1,000 patients with the same medical issue at the same time. There's no way to make room for them. Unfortunately, all the other hospitals in the area have the same issue. And, your staff is specialized in pediatrics, oncology, rheumatology, and other things - none of which is infectious diseases.

This is a problem with no solution - it's like trying to pour a gallon of milk into a quart size jug.

This is what has happened in Italy, and it will happen to my country and to your country if we can't "flatten the curve." That really means spreading the cases out over more time. The same amount of people fall ill, but not at exactly the same time. Instead of getting 10,000 persons over the span of two weeks you may get them over a span of three months, giving the healthcare system a chance to help everyone.

To hoard or not to hoard

My country has a Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB in Swedish). They work with issues concerning civil protection, public safety, and so on. For years, they've been trying to tell people that we need to be prepared, that we are responsible for being able to look after ourselves, and that everyone should have a contingency plan for at least a week in case something happens.

Up until now, they've had a hard time getting traction. They've sent out brochures to all Swedish households. They created a TV series, like a reality show, with a simulated crisis. They sent out lists of what to think of what to keep in the house, how to rotate groceries so your supplies are edible in a time of crisis, and so on. 

Most people went "Meh, whatever." 

Right now, even we Swedes have noticed supply chains may be shut down in a time of crisis. We're having to wait for our purchases from China, and some things are sold out in the stores. I think it triggered a collective hoarding instinct where everyone realized we may need supplies for a two-week period.

Last night on TV, a reporter called a representative from this agency to talk about the hoarding. I'm pretty sure the angle was supposed to be that people shouldn't hoard, but it became pretty funny.

The woman from MSB said, "We want people to be prepared. We've been trying to make everyone stock up for years."

Journalist: "But store shelves are getting empty. Doesn't this worry you?"

"They will be restocked."

"Not hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer is out."

"People can use soap and water."

"But, aren't you worried about permanent shortages and delivery problems?"

"Not at this time. People may not get exactly the brands they're used to eating, but we don't predict a shortage of food."

And so it went. This probably wasn't as funny as it seemed to me, but her attitude was so refreshing. 

Have you stocked up on anything? Do you think you will need to?

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

That's pretty funny, for real!

The other day, I blogged about the gap between self-insight and lack of knowledge. Sometimes it becomes pretty funny. This popped up in my news feed, and I'm assuming it isn't a Photoshop. 

In a way, it's comforting that stuff like this happens to everyone. 

A less hilarious level of ignorance is: people seem convinced that if they believe they're infected with the COVID19 virus, they should go to the ER. 

Don't do that. An emergency room is crammed with people who are sick or hurt for other reasons, and going in there will almost guarantee that you spread the disease to someone with a compromised immune system who might die.

If do you need urgent medical care, call before going and follow their instructions. That way, healthcare professionals can help you in the best way possible without risking themselves or anyone else.

We can do this! 

Monday, March 9, 2020

Coming soon: Conscripted

Conscripted is turning into a short novel and will be ready soon. I haven't set a date yet, but my goal is to have it available before summer.

Since my hobby is kidnapping people and sending them to space, it will start something like this...

“I’m not going.”

Viola stared at the uniformed man outside her door come to give her wonderful news. Not.

Yes, she was aware of her society being on the brink of war.

No, she did not feel that this related to her in any way.

War and peace were someone else’s problems. There were people paid to deal with all this. The United Planetary Systems might be a loose organization, but it was an organization with a fleet of starships, and if someone else wanted a piece of the action, whatever the action might be, professionals should take care of it.

Not her.

The man didn’t even blink.

“You have the option to cooperate of your own free will. Pack what you need and come with me right now.”

“I’m not going.”

Repeating the words didn’t faze him. He spoke into his collar.

“I will require an extraction team.”

“What? You require a what?”

She tried to pull the door closed, as if that could prevent them from just bringing her. He said, “It really is easier for you to come willingly, but it’s the same to me.”

His story about ten thousand civilians with suitable skills being drafted seemed preposterous. She was good with electronics and math. So were androids, and they would be much more useful on a starship.

“It’s not what you know, it’s what you have the potential to be.”

Had he read her mind? It didn’t seem likely, but in this day and age, who knew.

“That makes no sense.”

A shadow of a smile tugged at his lips.

“It doesn’t have to make sense right now. You will learn on the ship.”

“This is what all the surveys were about.”

There had been a lot of them, all sounding official, claiming to chart everything from government websites to woodland usage, and the statistical questions had seemed weirder and weirder.

Gender, household size, do you like aliens?

Income bracket, highest education, would you fight to defend your family/home/planet?

Race, type of employment, are you interested in space exploration?

On their own, the questions seemed silly, but innocent. She had assumed they were to ascertain if people paid attention. Thinking back, the statistical questions must have been the real ones.

“I think I need to sit down.”

He looked suspicious, but she didn’t feel so good all of a sudden. Her heart raced and her legs wanted to fold. She took a step backwards and sat down on the little stool in the hall, the one where she sat while tying her shoes in winter.

Would she ever experience a winter again?

Would she ever see her home again?

“Are you okay?”

She couldn’t look up to meet his eyes.

“I don’t know.”

“The extraction team will be able to sedate you. You’ll be there before you know what happened.”

What is wrong with you? Anything would be preferable to following a person with so little empathy. She folded her hands on her lap to keep them from shaking.

“Okay, I’ll come with you. Let me go pack a bag.”

“You’re going to run out the back, aren’t you?”

COVID19, common myths, and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

During the past week, I've been increasingly surprised and concerned about people's attitudes to the new Corona Virus. Don't panic, of course don't panic, but take it seriously. 

Quarantined areas in northern Italy March 8, 2020
16 million people in Italy aren't quarantined because it's a fun thing to do. They're in quarantine to prevent further spread of the virus.

Some people apparently don't understand how viruses work at all. As in, "If you don't intend to meet someone who is affected, you can't get it." A man explained this to me in great detail the other day. His being right would make life a lot easier, unfortunately that's not how diseases work.

A lot of people say it's a cold or a flu. That's not true. Yes, symptoms resemble a flu, but the virus is different. And, it's so new that we don't know a lot about it.

I didn't think that particular misunderstanding would be all that important, until I watched the news during the weekend and the anchor kept talking about the flu vaccine. Her reasoning was that if you take the flu vaccine and still get the flu, you normally get less sick than you would without the vaccine. Thus, the same must be true for Covid 19.

The doctor in the studio kept pointing out that this isn't true at all since the Corona virus isn't a flu and taking a flu vaccine won't affect our immune response to it, but she concluded with "Great, I'll go get the vaccine."

Speaking of vaccines, many seem to think there will be a vaccine any day. Developing a vaccine to something brand new like this will take time. I personally doubt we'll see one in 2020. We - the worldwide community - need to work together to keep this at bay, so the scientists have time to do their thing.

Other comments show both ignorance and a callousness to others' suffering that's plain terrifying.

Besides this person having all their facts wrong, they apparently think 20% of people affected will die, and that's not a big deal. In fact, it's pretty funny.

I wrote a response, explaining, and it was promptly deleted by the person owning the page. 

Seriously people: The objective right now is to limit the spread, so society - and health care systems around the world - have time to prepare, and so we have time to learn about the disease.

Persons not believing it's real will be a problem in preventing it from spreading.

This leads to an interesting side track: have you ever wondered why the most clueless people are also the most stubborn? 

It's basically a cognitive bias where people know too little about something to realize they don't know. This is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

An 1999 article from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology states, "People who lack the knowledge or wisdom to perform well are often unaware of this fact. We attribute this lack of awareness to a deficit in metacognitive skill. That is, the same incompetence that leads them to make wrong choices also deprives them of the savvy necessary to recognize competence, be it their own or anyone else’s."

Naturally, this has a massive impact on decision making. 

In daily life, the phenomenon can be annoying, but rarely dangerous. (Think mansplaining. Many years ago I heard a friend - male - explain to another friend - female - where her house was, even though he was unable to find it when trying to visit. She tried to tell him that you go up the hill and turn right, and he kept telling her that her house is to the left.)

At a time like this, people who are dead certain they're right and everyone else is wrong can cause a lot of trouble for everyone else, because they're unlikely to follow instructions.

I don't know how to remedy this, since it seems hard to get through with actual information, but I guess we'll have to keep trying.

And while we wait to see where all this will go, follow any and all advice from the CDC. We'll be okay, but we need to meet this with clear minds and awareness.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Please stop hoarding stuff you don't need

You don't need a surgical mask to protect yourself from the Corona virus. They don't provide particularly good protection, and doctors, veterinarians, and nurses need surgical masks to protect their patients.

If you've stolen something like this from a
hospital, you're risking people's lives.
Give them back!
Surgical masks are designed to prevent a person from infecting others. This is super important during surgeries and when handling patients with compromised immune systems.

Right now, reports are coming in about people stealing surgical masks from hospitals. Clinics can't buy more, because they're out of stock everywhere. Veterinarians have to reschedule surgeries to make the masks they have last through emergencies.

This is not okay. We all need to cooperate.

There are other types of masks designed to filter out at least 95% of very small particles. The public is currently not advised to use these - they can cause other problems, but if you're interested in learning more, there's a good resource here.

I think hoarding during times of potential crisis is a survival mechanism. We feel that we're doing something, we're affecting our own destiny, taking steps to protect ourselves. That's fine, but not to the extent where people who really need something can't get it.

One of my friends took this at Target the other day. (I was naughty - I didn't ask if I can use her photo, I just took it. Bad Maria, bad bad Maria.) Similar sights meet people all over the world.

I've read pleas for help from women who are out of sanitary pads and can't find any in the stores, and someone who gave an elderly man her toilet paper, because she felt so bad for him when there wasn't any to buy.

I'm not saying not to be prepared - my government usually urges everyone to have enough supplies on hand to get by for one week and that recommendation stands - but do you really need 300 rolls of toilet paper or four gallons of hand sanitizer?

If you feel that you need to do something and you're just itching to prepare, make a list of how much you actually go through.

Make a plan of what you need for say a week, or two weeks. You can write a list of what you, your family, and your pets would need for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. How much shampoo, cleaning products, toilet paper, and similar you really need. Add things you like to eat - if there is an actual crisis, whether it's a hurricane or you're in quarantine in your house, you will feel happier if you have things you like.

Just writing the list is likely to make you feel better, and when you do go to stock up on your "hurricane supplies" you'll get the things you actually need. Instead of being at home with 300 rolls of toilet paper and no food, while someone else has to wipe their behind with crinkled up newspaper...

And, as always, don't just take my word or anyone else's: read and follow the recommendations from the CDC. We'll be okay, but we'll be more okay if we work together!

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Don't Panic - COVID19

Right now, people all around the world have something in common: we all watch and discuss the development of the Novel Coronavirus 19 development. Everyone and their pets have opinions. Some are panicking, others feel it's like worrying about a common cold.

As a science fiction writer, I'm obviously an expert on viruses. (LOL!)

First and most important, like Douglas Adams said: Don't Panic!

Panicking rarely leads to good results, whether a situation is real or imagined.

Now when we have that out of the way...

Covid 19 is not a common cold, or even a flu. I think people make this comparison because the symptoms resemble a cold or a flu, but that's like comparing brain cancer to a hangover because both can give you a headache. A symptom is not the same thing as the disease causing it.

1. Understanding the problem

  • Covid 19 is a new virus, which makes it highly unlikely that any human is immune
  • The incubation time varies between two and 14 days, so people can go around for a long time without knowing they're infected
  • Symptoms vary from virtually nothing to extremely sick
  • People who don't show symptoms can spread the disease, but we still don't know to what degree

2. What does this mean for me?

During the past week or so, I've heard a LOT of people claim Covid 19 isn't a threat to society because the death rates are fairly low. As this is written, Italy has the highest recorded death rates with around 4.5% and WHO estimates an average death rate of 3.4%.

First of all, the death rate isn't the only thing that determines whether an outbreak will cause disruptions in daily life. One of the problems with a brand new disease is that a lot of people will be sick at the same time.

How many will be infected in a major outbreak depends on the type of community and precautions taken, and there will be differences between professions and lifestyles. Let's assume an average of 25%, just so we have a number for the examples.

That would mean 1 out of 4 police cars are now standing still. 1 out of 4 firefighters are sick and can't help you if there's a fire. 1 out of 4 EMTs won't be there for emergencies. 1 out of 4 truck drivers aren't delivering goods, and 1 out of 4 farmers aren't producing food.

The hospitals would be bogged down with people in need of help, because the healthcare system isn't constructed for so many people being sick at the same time.

Going back to the death rate, imagine that your community has 50,000 inhabitants. 25% infected would be 12,500 people. The actual death rate will vary depending on demographics, but if we look at the 3.4% so many say is no big deal, 3.4% of 12,500 is 425. That is a huge loss for a community, and a lot to handle for individuals and society as a whole.

This is why it's important to stop the outbreak before it grows any further.

3. What should we do?

Don't Panic!

Pay attention to what actual representatives from the CDC or similar organizations in your country are saying. That is not the same thing as listening to your friends on Facebook, listening to a politician, or listening to the president. 

Which leads me to:

  • Democrats are not to blame for the Coronavirus
  • There is no evidence that the disease will "just go away" as April approaches
  • It is not okay to go to work as usual if you are infected.
  • The CDC are competent and a good source for information

Wash your hands, take reasonable precautions, and use common sense.

The Universe - or is it Fate - is fickle.

If someone had told me yesterday that an asteroid would collide with Earth, that we'd have a flood of Biblical proportions, or that a so...