COVID-19: Thinking Ahead

Thursday, April 02, 2020

1. Nate Silver's site, FiveThirtyEight, which seems to model everything, has not tackled the current pandemic. They summarize the problem, which having decent data would help, with the following analogy:

Models were a lot more fun when I was a kid... (Image by Irene van der Poel, via Unsplash, license.)
Think of it like making a pie. If you have a normal recipe, you can do it pretty easily and expect a predictable result that makes sense. But if the recipe contains instructions like "add three to 15 chopped apples, or steaks, or brussels sprouts, depending on what you have on hand" ... well, that's going to affect how tasty this pie is, isn't it? You can make assumptions about the correct ingredients and their quantity. But those are assumptions -- not absolute facts. And if you make too many assumptions in your pie-baking process, you might very well end up with something entirely different than what you were meant to be making. And you wouldn't necessarily know you got it wrong.
Every model ends up making assumptions. But modeling this pandemic requires so many that the models we do have differ by as much as an order of magnitude in their estimates for how many Americans will die due to this disease.

This problem has hampered current mitigation efforts and is making it hard to plan for the long term.

2. A big problem I have had with the current government response of instituting lockdowns -- aside from its long-term economic and societal unsustainability -- is that they are leaving us without herd immunity.

I have also accordingly been concerned about the disease raging back upon lifting of restrictions. Unfortunately, I seem to have a valid concern. Two authors from from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health note this problem as they consider possible ways forward:
Viruses do not remember they were previously under control and will resurge when restrictions are lifted. Just look at what happened in 1918, when cities that had cracked down on the transmission of influenza lifted their restrictions and flu transmission rose again. Mathematical models of Covid-19 by our group and others that incorporate these lessons show that, in the short term, social distancing and other interventions can reduce the impact of the virus. But the same models show that when these interventions are eased, the problem returns. [links removed]
Their suggested two-pronged strategy of making good use of the time social distancing is buying us is right on the money.

3. Alex Epstein of the Center for Industrial Progress offers these six filters to apply to COVID-19 claims:
  1. Do they assume freedom of action means recklessness?
  2. Do they assume lockdown means optimal virus prevention?
  3. Do they advocate universal measures for the highly vulnerable and low-vulnerability alike?
  4. Do they equate diagnosed infections with actual infections? (This is a tactic used to hyper-inflate death rates.)
  5. Do they devalue freedom and quality of life?
  6. Do they treat the goal as eradication instead of management?
I am grateful to Epstein for his clarity on all of these. The last seems especially pervasive on the broadcast news, where every other sentence seemed to be Stop the spread yesterday evening.

4. In the same post, Epstein notes two more things I think every reader here should consider.

Last week I shared with you that "In this crucial election your for energy, with the industry under siege, my small teams and I have big plans to change the debate... Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis has put these plans in jeopardy."

I asked you to consider becoming 2020 "Accelerators" of our work. You can learn more about the Accelerator program, including the rewards involved, at [bold added]
On the most recent episode of The Human Flourishing Project, I shared some tips on how to handle a time of mass disruption.
The emergency responses to this pandemic has decimated the time I have for deep work, upended all my carefully worked-out routines, and made the whole idea of planning ahead look like a bad joke. I will be listening to this the next time I'm in the car by myself, probably Saturday.

I have gotten great value out of this podcast series, and am glad Epstein is offering his thoughts on this huge problem.

-- CAV

No comments: