The Coming Storm

No, not that one. Or that one. I mean the literal one, this one, the first big winter storm of the season. Here is the situation as of this morning (map forecast for 8am ET Wednesday, the storm is the “L” off the Georgia Coast):

Winter storm forming over Southeastern US … GFS model of precipitation type and moisture transport.

Like hurricanes, winter storms have to have a mix of conditions come together to cause them to grow and evolve. The key to weather on the earth is the need to balance the warm, moist air from the tropics with the cold, dry air over the poles. This happens in a number of ways, but in the summer the most dramatic are of course hurricanes. In the winter, it’s nor’easters. A classic nor’easter starts out as a low pressure system just off the coast of the Southeast. It moves northeast along the coast, carrying with it the warm moist air of the Gulf of Mexico and Bahamas, pushing that air inland where it meets cold polar air. It is along that swath where the air masses collide that the potential problems for Humans comes in. The danger this morning lies Appalachians and western North Carolina where the precipitation may be in the form of freezing rain, as well as inland in Kentucky (on the map, the red/purple area). Here is what things should look like this evening around 7pm. Notice that the low is deeper (stronger), the blue moisture transport vectors are longer (stronger), and across the New York/Pennsylvania area snow will be falling. The zone of freezing rain will by then have shifted to western Virginia.

The situation tonight …

By tomorrow morning the Low should be more elongated and off the Massachusetts coast, still pumping moist, snow-laden are into the NorthEast. The storm should be off the Canadian Marine Provinces by Friday.

Thursday Night

In terms of impacts, again the big concern is the area where freezing rain and ice will be falling. For the Northeast, snow could be fairly deep in places – some forecasts are for up to 24″ – but it’s more likely to be disruptive rather than truly dangerous, and again conditions should clear out by this weekend. For the Deep South (GA/SC), this will be a rain event, even for North Georgia. As things continue to cool off with the approaching winter season, the risk for ice storms will move further south … but the impacts of this event will be in North Carolina and the NEUS. How should you prepare for winter storm season? Take a look at the FEMA/DHS Winter Storm page for tips …

The Vaccine question

My guess is every engineering student since the mid 1940’s has had to watch the video of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse. Other professions have similar cautionary tales of hubris, short cuts, innocent mistakes, misunderstanding of nature, and things that went terribly wrong. They are often clear in hindsight, but lost in the immediate noise and pressure of crisis decision making. Often progress requires risk – but the two require a rational balance. Now that a number of potential vaccines are approaching approval and distribution, everyone from government officials to individuals are soon facing difficult decisions: who gets what vaccine, when or if to take it, and what level of persuasion (or even coercion) should be used to get people to take them. Yes, these are difficult decisions, and to be blunt anyone who says it’s a “no brainer,” simple, or obvious is either fostering an agenda, being disingenuous, or doesn’t know what they are talking about. These questions are even more difficult because several of the potential vaccines on the verge of distribution are using technologies that have never seen wide spread distribution and use. Compounding that are issues of politics, National pride, and commercialism. The details are complex, and most of the simplified explanations I’ve seen (and more than a few technical ones as well) are biased either towards “trust us; don’t worry” or “it could be a beaker full of death.”

The answers to all of life’s questions may be found in Star Trek (the original, not the later crap).

As with most issues, the truth lies well within the extremes, but the the decisions are ultimately fairly straightforward. We have to weigh the consequences of COVID19 (to society and the economy as well as physical health) against the effectiveness and risks (known and unknown) of the various vaccines. Given the complexity, both advocates and detractors (some quite vocal) among the general public really don’t fully understand how any of the vaccines work or their implications. For the vaccines under development, there are four broad classes (link goes to Nature article with good graphics). The major vaccines that have been approved or are closest to certification are in three classes: killed virus (the Chinese Sinovac), viral vector, such as those based on the Human adenovirus (like the Gamaleya vaccine) or Chimpanzee adenovirus (AstraZeneca/Oxford); and those based on nucleic acid – the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna). The killed virus approach is how most current vaccines work. The viral vector vaccines are fairly recent, but there are a few that have been approved and in use for over a decade. The mRNA vaccines are substantively different. And it is here we have a bit of a problem.

mRNA vaccines and related technology have only seen small scale experimental use, usually in the context of cancer or other deadly diseases, and have never before been certified. In theory they should be safe, perhaps even safer than traditional approaches, but there are some potential risks and more than a few unknowns. At least some viral vector based technology has been around for 17 years and Gameleya, for instance, has a number of vaccines (including an Ebola vaccine) that have been approved and in use for years. For those vaccines there have also been long term studies as to adverse reactions. So while the actual vaccine for SARS-COV-2 is new (since, obviously, the virus is new), the vaccine methodology itself isn’t – in fact, one was in development after the SARS-COV-1 scare back in 2008. For the mRNA vaccines there have been no long term trials or monitoring, and no previous vaccines approved for human use based on these technologies. Another factor is that the various studies are not using consistent criteria and methodologies. This is a distinction lost on many in the media, such as the NY Times article last Sunday discussing the commencement of distribution in China (Sinovac), Russia (Gamaleya’s SputnikV), versus Great Britain (the Pfizer vax). The FDA briefing materials for the Thursday Pfizer approval meeting also glosses over this issue, but is clear there are a lot of unknowns.

With all of the vaccines, there are unknowns, and always some side effects. How effective is it in the real world? And by “effective”, be very careful how that is defined – some of the criteria in the current Phase III studies seem like pretty low bars compared to past studies. Do they minimize transmission, protect the person inoculated from getting sick, minimize (but not prevent) symptoms? How long does immunity last – and how do the inevitable mutations impact effectiveness? But the ultimate question is do the advantages in reducing the consequences of COVID outweigh the potential side effects of the vaccine – especially given the need for mass inoculations of 80%+ of the population? There is little doubt that the benefit/cost radio of vaccination will be in favor of vaccination if – and it’s still a big IF – they work as the early results indicate, and adverse reaction rates are similar to other vaccines. But can we assume that? Most advocates are. With the mRNA vaccines there are additional unknowns as to the long term impact of the underlying delivery methodology. Again, in theory it should be as safe, and perhaps even safer than more traditional approaches using a live, killed approaches. But we just don’t know. While the short-term impacts seem low based on the early trials, they are just that: short term, relatively small scale studies (weeks to months, thousands of people). No one knows what, if any, the long term consequences of this kind of vaccine as a whole might be when applied to the general population over time. It’s never been done before. There is no reason at the moment to suspect there is some hidden gotcha – but the designer of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge didn’t think it would rip itself apart either.

Opinion and Conclusion: As I have said before, COVID-19 falls in a gray area. If it were causing wide scale deaths across a wide range of groups, and mRNA vaccines were the only viable option, then maybe we would need to “roll the bones” with a new technology. And yet, COVID is bad. But for all the disruption and pain COVID has caused, it’s not smallpox or the black death, much less the FGC-347601 virus Dr. McCoy had to deal with (and recall in that tale, the disease itself was actually an unforeseen side effect of a noble original objective).

Make no mistake: mRNA therapies have the potential to be a major innovation in the treatment of all kinds of diseases from cancer to COVID. But while pressure often leads to rapid advances, we’ve also seen far too often in the history of technical advances that the temporal or economic pressure to do something now leads to catastrophe. Tacoma Narrows. Challenger. Mars Climate Orbiter. The pharmaceutical industry isn’t immune either: Thalidomide, or more recently Vioxx. Darvocet. That said, don’t fall into the anti-vaxxer trap of seeing every adverse reaction as evidence of a conspiracy. It’s painful to say it but a certain adverse reaction rate is acceptable in light of the impacts of the pandemic. And, yes, Big Pharma sees this as a huge money making opportunity, and that requires monitoring and regulation. But Pharma have done a lot of good work, and in the present system, being profitable is how things get done.

When you weigh all the factors, in my opinion it is simply too soon for the wide scale application of some of these vaccines in relation to the risk from COVID (again, not to minimize that risk). Much of the harm of this virus has been self inflicted – a coherent global response would have cut the economic impact five fold, and the death toll by a third in my estimation. If everyone would just behave responsibly, between mitigation and other measures we would have some time to sort this out. Let’s take a deep breath, proceed cautiously, roll out the various vaccines in a reasonable way and not get hung up on national pride (noting some vendors in China have an unfortunate reputation), or commercialism, while moving expeditiously to apply new technologies in parallel as they are validated. The rollout of the new, untested vaccines can and should be spaced over several years. Supply chain issues may force that in practice anyway, but that should have been the plan from the start. And foreign developed vaccines – properly vetted for safety, without nationalistic biases – should be allowed in as part of the mix. The Gamaleya vaccine is likely a prime example. But even the vaccines based on established methodologies need more testing.

I think it is reckless to push the wide spread distribution of novel vaccines on tens of millions of people until there is a longer safety and performance baseline. As noted above we have absolutely no idea what the medium term (2-3 years), much less long term (5-10 years) implications are with respect to adverse outcomes for some of these approaches. It is especially reckless where there are several candidate vaccines with more well understood risks. Maybe the mRNA based vaccines are fantastic, but not only do we not know, we don’t even have the data to know and won’t for several years. To coerce hundreds of millions of people to take these vaccines in an experiment of this magnitude is simply unethical. Should ever increasing numbers try it? Of course – with an appreciation of the risks, under careful supervision and long term monitoring. Those at highest risk? Absolutely – although I’d be careful with otherwise healthy members of the health care community upon which we depend. Tens or hundreds of Millions? It’s just too soon.

Don’t mistake this post as “anti-vax“. It isn’t. I got a flu shot back in September. I get other vaccinations and boosters as needed for travel, etc. For what it’s worth, I’ll try to get one of the vaccines based on established methodologies when available, or, as a number of biomedical researchers have said – usually privately but in this link one does publicly – wait a couple of years until there is a longer term baseline regarding both effectiveness and adverse reactions. The bottom line is that in every medical decision, you have to weigh the pros and cons. Primum non nocere – first, do no harm. Are we doing that by rushing out the novel COVID vaccines for mass vaccination? Needless to say, I’m concerned.

Addendum: I’m not a physician, but I do understand a lot of the issues surrounding this at a fairly detailed level More importantly, I am pretty knowledgeable (some would say expert) in emergency management decision making and how things go wrong in complex scientific and technical processes. To be absolutely clear, I’m not advising anyone not to get one of the new vaccines. I think a lot of people probably should get them. At the moment there is no reason to suspect there is anything wrong with them. In fact many if not most of the fears of the mRNA vaccines are way overblown. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t rational to have some concerns, and saying “we don’t have any reason to suspect there is anything wrong” is VERY VERY DIFFERENT from saying “here is a 5 year followup study that shows nothing is wrong”. Read the actual FDA briefing materials to see how often the word unknown is used. There are lots of competing blog posts and opinionating on all of this, and much of it lacks nuance. Don’t be stampeded into one position or another out of fear. Fear is the mind killer …

The 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season

The 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season has ended, and there have been much written about the record setting number of named storms. There are several issues with the numbers based on named hurricanes. The problem is that these are based on shifting criteria (naming) and technology (wind speed measurements) that tend, in my opinion, to make recent seasons (especially since 2000) look worse than they really are in context. While it was a very active season with significant damage and impact, the total number of storms is a bit exaggerated – several storms would probably not have been named using the criteria prior to the mid 2000’s. Here are a couple of other ways of looking at things to put the season in perspective.

One measure of the intensity of a season is the Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) index. It is summing the square of the wind speed for each storm at six hour intervals (recalling that the kinetic energy is related to the square of the wind speed). By that measure the 2020 season is the 13th most active since the mid 1800’s – with the caveat we know there is an undercount of storms, and likely an underestimation of intensity (by modern standards) as well, especially for storms that did not make landfall. So more than likely 2020 was still in the top 20, but probably not above 15th.

What about damage? By that measure, if we use the existing distribution of population and infrastructure for past storms, again we have a bad season (especially for the Gulf Coast and Central America), but depending on how you crunch the numbers far from record setting. 2020 just breaks the top 10 in total damage.

Estimated Economic Impact of Tropical Cyclones in the Atlantic

It does better if you use the criteria of the number of people who experienced tropical storm force winds, coming in at number two, but that is a bit misleading because many people are counted twice (or even three times) since Central America and Louisiana were hit by more than one intense storm. Taking the double counts out it drops to eighth (2012 is by far number one due to the broad Sandy wind field sweeping through the densely populated northeast).

Estimated population experiencing tropical storm winds or greater

So the official Atlantic season ended on November 30th. There is still an invest area in the far eastern Atlantic that has winds well above tropical storm strength, but it does not really have tropical characteristics so has not been named. There is a cyclone at tropical storm strength about to make landfall on Ceylon today, followed by southern India. And the southern hemisphere season is kicking off … the world keeps turning and the seasons change, but there are always weather disasters going on somewhere. For the Blog, will continue to report on cyclones and earthquakes of course, but will be posting more on winter storms in the coming weeks. Interestingly, for many years the biggest property insurance loss numbers come from broken pipes … and you haven’t really experienced terror until you’ve driven the perimeter in Atlanta (much less navigated Spaghetti Junction) with so much as a single ice crystal sighted in Marietta 😛

Still activity in the Northern Hemisphere Tropics …

Cyclone Nivar make landfall yesterday in India, causing flooding, power outages and wind damage along the southeastern coast (link goes to Al Jazzera article), especially the Tamil Nadu region …

NIVAR makes landfall … US holiday so no fancy graphics 😛

In the Atlantic, the US National Hurricane Center has two “watch” areas, one of which is being tracked as invest area AL99. Neither are a threat to land at the moment, and arguably don’t have much potential to become actual tropical systems, although AL99 might develop some hybrid characteristics and meet the forecast criteria for a “subtropical” system by Sunday.

So what’s the weather going to be on Thanksgiving?

This year people are more attuned to the weather – for good reason. Given COVID19, gatherings outdoors are far safer than inside, so the weather is a bigger factor than usual. I’m getting a lot more questions like “what’s the weather going to be like next St. Swizzen’s Day” – be it for a holiday, wedding, birthday gathering, protest march, golf game, or whatever. My usual reply is “I study disasters; if I can tell you then you probably don’t want to know” doesn’t make people happy 😛 Of course I’ve got the tools here to do pretty much any kind of forecast from “nowcasts” to climate, but how does the average person answer that question without annoying their favorite scientist/blogger? Which provider is best? As it turns out, that’s an easy question to answer. Your tax dollars have funded a really great organization, the US National Weather Service, and they have some nice on-line tools for planning your holiday. Virtually all the other providers – be it big companies, TV stations, whatever, are using NWS data and perhaps “adding value” (although in most cases I’d argue they are adding FUD, but that’s a different post). So lets walk through using the NWS web site to see what tools are available, and if you can hold that Thanksgiving gathering outside, or if everyone will have to stay home and use video …

The starting place is Here’s what the main page looks like. Any warnings will be color coded:

The map is clickable … click on the location you’re interested in; it doesn’t have to be perfect, you’ll get the chance to refine it. But for your home location, enter the place name you want in the box on the left. You can use a zip code or place name – for example, you can enter “Ardsley Park, Savannah, GA” and the system will give you matching names …

If you click “remember me” then whenever you go to your local forecast will pop up on the left side. Clicking “Get detailed information” and you will jump to the point location forecast … here’s where you can really get into seeing what is going on:

The page itself is a nice overview, but if I’ve got family coming over at 4pm Thursday, with dinner at 6pm, and people will probably start to go home at 8pm. How likely is it that we can eat outside at the picnic table, or will I have to set up tables all over the house inside, or just cancel? Jackets, build a fire in the fire pit, or Savannah being Savannah will we need bug spray? If you scroll down and look under the map on the right there is a box called “additional resources” …

Click the graph and you get the hourly forecast data.

You can change the date to see up to a week in the future; in this case let’s set the start point at 12am (midnight) on Thursday. Click submit and you get:

So for Ardsley Park area in Savannah, the temperature should be 70 degrees, light wind, 31% Cloud Cover. The precip chance is 18% – but if you look at the graph, it never gets above 20%, and drops to only 8% by 7pm, so chances are this is not a sharp rain producing weather system. Now that you’ve tagged this as your “remember me” location any time you to to on that device it will have your forecast on the main page – and you can easily get the very detailed details!

But what if you are travelling? Just click on the national map … it will take you to the forecast for that point. In this case, as noted on the first map I directly clicked on Andrews NC, then got the “additional details” to see the timing and intensity of any rain:

Looks like rain overnight Wednesday (80% chance at midnight!) and perhaps Thanksgiving morning, but will clear out and be nice overnight, with rain maybe coming back Friday night (back up to 30% chance) .

When planning an event, obviously the closer in time the better the forecast. By the time we’re within three days they are pretty good; 3 to 5 days are fair, over five days takes some interpretation. I’ll try to do some more posts on that in the future, but hopefully this will get you started …

Tropical Cyclone Update for Saturday 21 Nov (#Honduras, #Nicaragua)

Although it is still raining in places, the flooding is receding in some areas of Honduras and Nicaragua, and the process of assessing the damage is underway. This is a huge natural disaster (EuroNews summary in this link) that does not seem to be getting as much attention as it probably deserves. Some are saying it will ultimately prove worse than 1998’s Hurricane Mitch. The death toll so far is much less, but the economic impact seem to be on par with Mitch. And there will possible yet a third disaster: conditions for the estimated 250,000 people who sought shelter are conducive to spreading the virus that causes COVID19, so disaster planners are concerned that there will be an explosion of cases in the region in the coming weeks.

Elsewhere, NHC has a broad region south and east of Bermuda flagged as a 10% chance of subtropical storm formation in the next 5 days. The NCEP objective probability model has it below 3%, but still shows some potential for formation in the southwest Caribbean in the region still generating rain over Central America. There are two “invest” areas in the Indian Ocean forecasters at JTWC are watching, one that might become a tropical depression before hitting Somalia …

Continuing to watch Central America after #Iota; other watch areas

Although Iota has formally dissipated, the rains continue, and unfortunately more is on the way. Some areas in northern Nicaragua and Honduras are still cut off and damage assessments have not even started, as there are extensive floods and landslides in this ongoing crisis. For more information, here is the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Situation Report.

The US National Hurricane Center has two watch areas but neither are much of a threat of becoming an actual tropical system at the moment, both tagged as less than 20% over the n next five days. That said, one of them is associated with a low developing in about the same place that Iota formed. That system is likely to drift over Central America dumping even more rain on the ravaged region. Here’s this morning’s analysis from TAFB, overlain on the mid level water vapor image from GOES East. Compare how moist the air is streaming into Central America (grays/whites with colored blobs of storms) with the cool dry are to the north (oranges/reds) ..

GOES East Water Vapor, Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch analysis, Thu 19 Nov 2020

In the East Pacific, Tropical Storm Polo is off the coast of Mexico, and will fade out over water. Nothing in the West Pacific, in the Indian Ocean the Joint Typhoon Warning Center is watching a system in the Arabian Sea that is in a somewhat favorable environment but not likely to develop in the next day or so.

#Iota aftermath in #Nicaragua, #Honduras

Iota was downgraded to a tropical depression as of the 4am forecast this morning Wednesday 18 Nov). But that isn’t really the storm – although a Category 4 at landfall, the biggest impacts are inland due to landslides and flooding across northern Nicaragua and south/central Honduras. Communications is limited, and there are many areas that remain cut off from the floods caused by Hurricane Eta two weeks ago. This is a multi-phase, ongoing disaster that will only get worse as the weeks go on. Tens of thousands of people are in shelters in Nicaragua and Honduras, so it is likely there will be a spike in COVID cases in these countries in the days to come. Here is the present tropical analysis:

TAFB Analysis, Wed. Morning 18 November 2020

There is concern that the low pressure center forming off the coast of Panama, and the approaching tropical waves, will dump even more rain in the already saturated regions hit by Eta and Iota. It is very possible that we are looking at damage and, ultimately, deaths approaching the levels not seen since Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

There will be important foreign policy implications and decisions resulting from these storms. In the past, the economic privation and deterioration in the security status of Central American countries resulting from natural disasters triggers waves of migration towards the US. It is certain that (as seems likely at the moment) this will coincide with a relaxation in immigration restriction by an incoming Biden administration. While many try to put this in clear-cut humanitarian or homeland security positions the two political parties in the US have staked out, it’s not so straightforward. For one thing it ignores the impacts migration have on the original countries, something pro-immigration advocates tend to overlook. It is also destabilizing because many of those who leave are those who are the foundation of the economy. Then there is the danger of the migration routes themselves, and the exploitation of the migrants by gangs that fosters those criminal enterprises. Some countries encourage immigration because they see it as reducing their burden by getting the “surplus” poor populations out of the way – often “double dipping” by accepting US aid, but letting the security situation deteriorate so people leave anyway. All told, my position is that while we need to treat those who reach our borders with dignity and all humanitarian consideration, we should be aggressively supporting, stabilizing, and building up the countries of Central America so that people can (and will want to) remain in their homelands. We need to spend at least as much attention to economic development and assistance as we do to “security” (drug control) issues, which sadly is the prism through which the region is viewed. A comprehensive stabilization plan will be better for the region long term, as well as the United States.

The remains of Iota are probably going to end up in the East Pacific. The chances of it reforming are low at the moment. Aside from the low in the Caribbean noted above (20% chance) NHC also has an area in the central Atlantic tagged with a 20% chance for tropical development in the next 5 days. Even if something does get organized out there, while it might have winds approaching TC criteria, it will not likely be a real tropical system – it’s getting late in the year for that kind of thing out in the Atlantic.

#Iota Landfall

Iota made landfall overnight as a category 4 hurricane, and is rapidly losing wind speed. But the huge amount of moisture being dragged into Central America means the disaster is really just beginning. Iota is hitting virtually the same areas impacted by Eta two weeks ago. Here are the wind swaths – you can grab the slider with your mouse/finger and move it back and forth to compare …

Comparison: Eta (AL29) and Iota (AL31)

While the coastal damage is significant, it is inland where the major concerns are at the moment. The following map is showing moisture transport, computed from the GFS model as of this morning.

Moisture Transport, valid for 10am EST Tuesday 17 November 2020

As you can tell from the arrows, moist air from both the Pacific and Caribbean are being pulled inland, with a major convergence over central Nicaragua. Combined with the pre-existing damage and saturated soils from Eta, flooding and landslides are inevitable. This is likely to be a historic disaster in Central America. And more bad news is potentially on the way – there is another tropical wave crossing the region, and it is likely to encounter the same favorable environment that spawned Iota, and even if it does not become a formal system, it will bring more rain to the region in five or six days, just as the impacts of Iota would ordinarily be lessening …

Pandemic Update: things still going great (for the virus …)

With the late season storms both here and in the West Pacific, and the developing catastrophe in Nicaragua/Honduras, haven’t formally checked in to see how the virus is doing until today … Yep, the virus is doing fine. Humans? Not so much. True, it’s not a Monty Python style dystopian “bring out your dead” kind of pandemic, but a lot of people are still passing away from this thing who would not have otherwise died. How do we know this? Forget the death counters popular on TV. As I have discussed before, the absolute numbers aren’t nearly as important as the concept of excess mortality – how many people are we losing who wouldn’t have died otherwise? For some more background on that take a look at this post. For those paying attention let’s jump right to the numbers. Here is the overall US chart for deviations in mortality over the last four years, as of the last week of October. Above average is above normal, below zero is below average. No, the numbers aren’t any more recent than the end of October. I’m so tired of ranting about the craptacular public health data reporting system in this stupid country, a system that is even worse than the stupid election system that can’t manage to count live ballots any better than it can dead bodies – the gallows humor there writes itself these days.

Click to embiggen this utterly depressing graphic.

So it’s absolutely, unambiguously clear: something is killing ‘Muricans this year at greater numbers than past years, and it’s pretty clear it’s the SARS-COV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. And it’s not “just the flu”. “Just a bad flu” is what that spike in late 2017/early 2018 is. No, it’s not “Spanish Flu” bad, much less the Black Death, but it’s bad enough. Even correcting for the mild 2019 influenza season, (which is partly responsible for the early spike in COVID deaths – vulnerable people who would have died in 2019 lived into 2020 to fall victim to COVID instead), COVID has really distorted the mortality statistics.

What about the State of Georgia? Here’s that graph. Note with ha smaller sample size, it is “noisier”, but clearly the same story …

Yet another depressing graphic.

Before anybody says “oh, it’s getting better!” Remember these numbers are a couple of weeks old, and the lag between infection and death is around 4 weeks, so this is maybe 6 weeks behind the curve. The last few entries are certainly low as it can take four weeks or so to collect all the mortality data (insert primal scream here).

This graph looks like the normal cycling of a mostly out of control virus, where people notice it’s bad, react, it drops some, then they get complacent, and it rebounds, as well as the fact that we are seeing the virus move in to different populations in different areas. The other problem is that we are entering the normal respiratory virus season, and, flawed as they are, the other metrics – case counts, hospitalizations, positivity rates, and so forth – are all trending upwards. So it’s likely these numbers are about to trend higher.

Again, the problem with SARS-COV-2/COVID19 is that it’s bad – but not bad enough. It slots nicely into a place that scares some people in to overreacting, and others into under reacting, exacerbating existing fault lines in society depending on where you fall on the security/freedom and personal/collective responsibility prioritization scales.

So what do we do? Mostly it’s common sense. But that is in remarkably short supply. The problem is a critical mass of the population across the country (and even world)has to act responsibly. Otherwise the slow burn – punctuated with flare ups – will continue. And with flare-ups politicians will feel forced to “do something” dramatic, most likely things like shutdowns and restrictions which won’t work in the long run, but will further the social and political divisions, not to mention the incredibly fragile economic situation. An interesting question arises: If the mortality rate settles in to a new, higher value, say 20-30% above the previous average, will people ultimately just accept that and get on with life? It’s going to be interesting to watch the media coverage with respect to the statistics as the likely change in administration progresses. Will things actually be better next year, or will they just seem better with an (on the surface anyway) more coherent approach and a vaccine? When will the media give up on coverage and move on to other stories? Hard to say. Those are all issues just as important – maybe more so – as the biology and epidemiology of the virus itself.

I’m also very afraid that the vaccine won’t be the deus ex machina that people are hoping it will be. For starters, the 90%+ effectiveness reports are unlikely to be seen in widespread use. Those number always come down once things move in to general use, so there’s an expectations problem building. There’s also a fair enough chance one or more of several potentially unfavorable scenarios will come to pass – not the least of which will be that in the rush to get vaccines out, long term adverse reactions will start to crop up in six months or a year once widespread vaccination takes off. The other is potential risk is that immunity will decline rapidly and be seasonal at best. Great for the bottom line of Big Pharma, probably not so good for the rest of us.

Sense some frustration here? Yep. COVID19 long ago stopped being a mostly scientific problem, and after the behavior of both political parties in the US the last few years, only a hard core political activist affiliated with one of the tribes can be optimistic (aka delusional) about all this. Those of us in the real world will just have to continue to suffer through their shenanigans and try to keep out of the way …