Friday, January 14, 2022

Filling in the gaps

Sometime in late 2020 I realized that while the COVID-19 graphs provided for free by the Financial Times were wonderful, flexible, versatile sources of graphic information, they had one flaw: While you could easily specify a starting date for the x-axis, you had no control over the ending date - it was always the most recent day for which data was available. Which means that, in the event something like the Omicron variant came along and dwarfed all previous y-axis values, you permanently lost the ability to look at the detailed variation of the past data. I realized this early on when data from early March 2020 was rapidly compressed to insignificance by the enormity of the numbers coming in beginning in late March 2020.

Unfortunately, my blogging hiatus in the second half of 2021 meant that the last set of graphs I posted before the end of the year were from July 10, 2021. Nearly six months of data, including the rise of the Delta variant, the failure of the Great Unmasking, and the coming of the Omicron spike were just...missing.

But not really. Just because I hadn't been posting these graphs didn't mean that I hadn't been saving them. Here are the relevant ones, the ones that tell the story, and present the data before it got crushed  to nothingness.

July 16,  2021, six days after my penultimate 2021 post.
The Delta wave was here, taking advantage of the summertime Great Unmasking.

July 22, 2021. Where just weeks before it looked like we were on a trajectory to grind COVID-19 into the ground, the Delta variant combined with the end of mask mandates to undo two months of progress.

July 31, 2021: while the nation was on an upswing, it wasn't affecting every state equally. This graph displays new cases per 100,000 people. The top states by far were in the South, while Pennsylvania was lurking near the bottom. This would change a lot by the end of the year.

August 7, 2021: The same sort of breakdown shows things getting worse everywhere, but continuing to be especially bad in the Southern states.

September 4, 2021: New mix of top states, still all from the South. Pennsylvania is climbing its way up.

December 5, 2021: The same sort of graph, but now the top spot is held by New Hampshire, with Southern states dropping low, and Pennsylvania vying for the top spot.

September 6, 2021: A tale of two countries, the United States and Norway. Cases per 100,000 people. Norway has consistently done better than the United States in dealing with COVID-19. Maybe we should try to do what they're doing.

September 4, 2021: Deaths per 100,000 people attributed to COVID-19 in the United States and Norway. We really should have been doing whatever the hell Norway is doing. 

So that's it. I wish I had captured more graphs. The data is still out there, waiting to be analyzed.


The latest, using the same sort of graphs that are displayed above:

New cases in U.S. as of January 13, 2022. Continuing to set new records every day.

New cases by state, per 100,000 people. Sates in the Northeast now dominate, with Delaware just missing the cut below New Jersey, and Pennsylvania lagging a few spots behind. For some reason, Florida is right up there between New York and Massachusetts. Maybe Ron Desantis can explain. (He'd probably blame Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for visiting her mother in Florida last week.)

Norway vs. the United States, cases per 100,000 people. Norway actually led the U.S. by a considerable margin from early November through late December, but the U.S. raced ahead after that.

Norway vs. the United States, deaths attributed to COVID-19 per 100,000 population. Obviously Norway is doing something right that the United States is not. We need to find out what.

Sunday, January 09, 2022

On the Last Day of Christmas

Well, Christmas is over, officially, by almost every measure.  Today is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and in the Catholic Church that's the end of the Christmas season. (Some older traditions push it to Candlemas Day, February 2nd, but I don't know if anyone follows that anymore.)

Yesterday was "Russian Christmas," Christmas as observed by the Eastern Orthodox Church, which uses the Julian calendar. By tradition this is the last day to have lights on, and many people in this area light everything up in solidarity with the Eastern Orthodox celebration. Traditionally it always snows for Russian Christmas, and this year was no exception. We had our first decent shovelable snow of the season on Friday, a light fluffy powdery inch of snow that brushed away with little effort. That was followed today with a thin layer of ice which required an application of salt to sidewalks.

Today was undecorating day for the Christmas Tree. I was very happy with this year's tree, even though in reviewing pictures from last year it doesn't seem substantially different from last year's tree. It was a pleasant thing to have in front of me throughout my work day, and I'll have to think hard of what to put in its place.

All now carefully sorted, boxed up, and going into storage until the tree goes up the weekend after next Thanksgiving, November 26 or so. God willing.

Saturday, January 08, 2022

Goodbye, Wayne

One of my classmates from high school was buried today. He died of COVID, the first of our class to do so, as far as we know. I didn't go to the funeral, or the memorial.

I did go grocery shopping this afternoon. About half the shoppers and all of the employees were wearing masks, which is a big improvement over the last time I was there. I wanted to grab the unmasked people and say "We buried someone I knew in high school today. He died of COVID. Do you think you're safe? Do you think this is over?" I didn't. Instead I got my groceries and got the hell out of there as fast as I could.

COVID deaths in Pennsylvania, as in all of the U.S., continue to climb. This isn't slowing down. This isn't over. Get vaccinated. Wear a mask.


The Omicron variant continues to make hay of all previous graphs. This variant is allegedly "milder" than previous versions, but can also walk through walls - vaccinations provide very little protection against getting it, but they do minimize its effects, allegedly. Even masks and social distancing seem to offer little protection. The official line is "everybody is going to get Omicron," which means that we've basically entered the "Fuck it, whatever" stage of the pandemic. (And the new catchphrase now is "It's no longer a pandemic, the disease is now endemic," which is a distinction meaningless to most of the people uttering it.) Schools are open, while at the same time many local (and state, and federal) offices are closed. Many people are being ordered to return to the workplace, where it's impossible to avoid being exposed to infected coworkers. These are the same schools and workplaces that closed in March 2020, when COVID cases and deaths were so low they don't even show up on current graphs.

The other view is "Not to worry, if you've been vaccinated and aren't disabled or have other comorbidities, you'll be fine, so everything is OK," which is not at all comforting to those who are disabled, have those comorbidities, are immune compromised, or are unable to get the vaccine for medical reasons. It feels like they're being written off as an acceptable loss.

Sometime soon this graph will be unreadable without a logarithmic y-axis.
The logarithmic version. I first started using this when it looked like cases were going to drop so low that the day-to-day variation would be unreadable. Now new cases are rising so high that the previous variation may soon be unreadable with a linear y-axis, much like the March 2020 data is now.

Far more cases of a less deadly variant have resulted in a fairly steady rate of deaths. It's math.

There was an upturn to the slope from December 2020-March 2021, and a downturn from March 2021-August 2021, but overall this has been a fairly straight line since April 2020. Assuming the dynamics continue as they are, we'll hit one million deaths by June 2022.
But it's not a safe bet that the dynamics will continue as they are.

Sunday, January 02, 2022

First post-apocalyptic grocery run of 2022

Something seemed off as soon as I left the house.

I hadn't meant to go shopping today. Sure, sometime this week - I had a coupon worth $5 off a $25 order that needed to be used within two weeks of December 23 - but I still had half of a half gallon of milk left, and really didn't need much else. But my mom told me she needed bananas, and a refill for hand soap, and large Band-Aids, latex-free, so the hunt had begun. I drew up a list of a few other things we needed, geared up, and set out.

I heard a commotion in the distance as I walked to the car. It sounded like a crowd of people all shouting and arguing at the same time. The sound seemed to be approaching, and gradually took on the tone of a great many dogs barking excitedly.  I looked up and scanned the sky. Soon I located the lopsided V of geese high overhead, flying south. On January 2nd. Better late than never, I suppose.

The parking lot at the supermarket was crowded, but less so than on recent trips. I strapped on my mask, grabbed a cart, and headed in. I immediately started seeing faces - unmasked faces, customers and employees alike. As if there were no pandemic going on. As if Pennsylvania were not having its highest infection rates ever.

Pennsylvania is having its highest COVID-19 infection rates ever.

But that wasn't the weird thing. Not wearing masks has been the standard around here since the summer, when it looked like maybe we were about to beat this thing and the state dropped the mask mandate. No, what was weird was what I saw as I made my way past the pastries and baked goods, past the fried and rotisserie chicken, to the fruit displays - the empty fruit displays. Not all empty, just some. Maybe some fruit was now out of season, even for import, and the displays were being changed over for whatever would take its place? No big deal. All I needed were the bananas my mom had asked for. I headed for the banana display in the back.

No bananas.

No onions or potatoes, either. The whole area was empty, as if some accident had happened requiring everything to be thrown away.

Not to worry. There was another grocery store about a mile away. I could get bananas there. Maybe.

I ran through my list. I found almost everything on it. Store brand hand soap refills were nowhere do be found, but I was able to get a more expensive jug of the Softsoap brand. Still, among things I didn't need, there seemed to be random shortages. No frozen chicken, or so I heard. No My-T-Fine lemon pudding and pie filling. No Reddi-Wip whipped cream. No canned cat food, or almost none. I had promised my cats as I was leaving the house that I would get them something from the store, so I went to the cat toy section where I had just been the day after Christmas. The same things that were missing that day were missing today, including the catnip satchels that the cats had gone nuts for on Christmas. I remembered I wanted to pick up potato sandwich rolls. There were none. Well, none of the brand I usually buy, or my first or second alternate brands, or anything other than a lone orphan pack of generics that had apparently been rejected by everyone else. I decided I would look for them when I went to the other store for bananas. 

As I headed to the checkouts, I heard a vaguely familiar song on the piped-in music. It gradually resolved into "Hot Hot Hot!!!" by The Cure, from 1988's "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me," a song I hadn't heard in about twenty years.

I hit the other store and picked up Reddi-Wip - which I had decided I actually needed -, bananas, cat toys, and potato sandwich buns.  (I found the brand I liked there, but only in slider-sized. I took them.) 

I got home and found out one of my high school classmates had died of COVID.  The first, as far as I know. Probably not the last.


Small changes to the national COVID graphs since December 31, 2021:

Tomorrow, much of the country goes back to work, with many back in their offices. Many children will go back to in-person learning at school. Meanwhile, airlines continue to cancel flights due to weather - and COVID. Police in New York City are calling off sick en masse (well, nearly so) with COVID, which continues to be a major cop-killer, in part because of resistance to getting vaccinated by many members of the police. Expect to see infection rates in the next four weeks to soar well above where they are now. Expect to see deaths continue to climb, too.