Reality Straight Up!

Thoughts & Observations of a Free Range Astrophysicist

COVID-19 Arrives

The Humanitarian Disaster is Here

Currently new cases of COVID-19 in Arizona are doubling every 7 days. ICU beds in the state are already full. The rest of the country isn’t that far behind us. You do the math.


There once was a man who jumped out of an airplane. It took him a while to realize that saying “I’m not falling” wasn’t working, but eventually he did open his parachute.  Sure enough, the parachute slowed him down.  But the parachute wasn’t comfortable.  So reasoning that the fact he had slowed down meant that everything was OK, he reached up and cut the parachute free.

 

When we reopened anyone with a brain knew what was going to happen, or at least should have.

My wife is an elementary school principal, and between kids, grandkids, and a long history of activism we are heavily invested in the Arizona education system. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that education — specifically reopening schools in the fall — was on my mind when I sat down to take a serious look at the implications of the recent upturn in cases in Arizona.
 

Just how bad is it?  Here is my take as of  June 24, 2020. It’s ugly. Really, really ugly.

Plans to open Arizona schools in the fall rely on the assumption that August 2020 is going to look pretty much the same as June 2020. Nothing could be further from the truth. As of June 24, COVID-19 cases in Arizona have been growing exponentially for several weeks. Currently the daily number of new cases is doubling every week.
 

Dystopian is an understatement.

That exponential growth can be seen not only in case numbers, but in hospitalizations and ICU bed usage. As of this writing, ICU beds in Arizona are already 90% full, which means Arizona’s healthcare system is about to be overwhelmed. What is going to happen when the demand for ICU beds is two or three or four times the available supply? I can’t picture that in my head, but it won’t be pretty.
 
The numbers I get from fitting current exponential growth are in pretty good agreement with recent models published by the Modeling Emerging Threats to Arizona team at ASU. Even if transmission miraculously declined abruptly, it still looks like at least 1.5% of the population of the state will be infected on the day schools are supposed to open. That means that teachers and staff would have to go to work and spend their days in close contact with students knowing that there are likely dozens of carriers of COVID-19 on campus.
 

I wouldn’t want to walk into a classroom this fall. Would you?

Schools are not just any environment. Quoting the June 16 Wall Street Journal article, “How Exactly Do You Catch Covid-19? There is a Growing Concensus:” “…the major culprit is close-up, person-to-person interactions for extended periods. Crowded events, poorly ventilated areas and places where people are talking loudly—or singing, in one famous case—maximize the risk.”
 
Close-up, person-to-person interactions, extended periods of time, poorly ventilated areas, loud talking, singing… If that is not a perfect description of a classroom, it is unclear what would be.
 
There is no way to responsibly send faculty, staff and students into such circumstances. In addition to the health risk to those at the school, schools would without question become spreading centers with a large preponderance of young, asymptomatic carriers. The consequences for the community as a whole would be dire. If schools open in August for face to face classes, many people will die as a result. Most of those people will never have set foot on a campus and will never know that the chain of infection that got them ran through a school.
 
COVID-19 USA

New COVID-19 cases in the US as of June 25, 2020. The exponential growth in Arizona and the impending humanitarian disaster is a microcosm of the nation as a whole.

Arizona is the Pathfinder

This post focused on schools, because that is what was on my mind, but it could have equally as well focused on countless other issues. And of course it is not just Arizona. Several other states are following closely on Arizona’s heels, including the very populous states of Texas and Florida. As for the nation as a whole, that same exponential is there. New cases across the US are currently doubling every 20 days.  Strangely, when New York had its crisis it was actually lucky. It went first, which meant that personnel and resources from across the country streamed in to help. But who is going to come help Arizona, or Oklahoma, or California when the medical system is overwhelmed coast to coast?
 
How many in Arizona will die? Unless we change direction soon, that number could easily be 50,000 or higher. How many Americans will die? That number could easily be well over a million. This did not have to be this way. Had Federal leadership – No, that is a euphemism. We are beyond euphemisms. 
 
Had Trump and his enablers been less worried about his poll numbers and their wealthy cronies, and more worried about the people who make up the nation, none of this would have happened. We knew it was coming. We had all the time in the world to act. And then after we finally sort of started to do something but not really… the polls! the Dow! the Base!
 
But what about the dead?
 
 
 

COVID-19 Arrives ^ The Humanitarian Disaster is Here  © Dr. Jeff Hester
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  • COVID-19 Arrives  The Humanitarian Disaster is HerePosted in Thoughts
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  • One Step at a Time  The  not-so-mysterious origin of lifePosted in For Your ConsiderationUnreasonable Faith
  • The Mind’s Siren Call  Being certain is a primrose pathPosted in For Your ConsiderationUnreasonable Faith
  • Constrained Hallucinations  How the brain uses science to perceive the worldPosted in For Your ConsiderationUnreasonable Faith
  • Entropy Redux  Why our universe isn’t boringPosted in For Your ConsiderationUnreasonable Faith
  • Currently new cases of COVID-19 in Arizona are doubling every 7 days. ICU beds in the state are already full. The rest of the country isn’t that far behind us. You do the math.

  • Now is not the time for scientists to be circumspect and silent. We are on the short end of a battle over whether truth even matters. If scientists do not stand up for what is real, who will?

  • The morning cyclist in my neighborhood may not be standing in the Michigan Statehouse carrying a gun and demanding her right to spread contagion far and wide, but she may as well be.

  • You know those nice charts and graphs that make it look like we are over the hump of COVID-19 and that things are about to get better? Those predictions are dead wrong, with an unfortunate emphasis on “dead.”

  • Imagine three gregarious scientists, each with the gift of the gab, all coping with stay-at-home orders. Of course we started a livestream/podcast talk show! What else would we do? Welcome to the kickoff episode of Scientists Stuck Inside.

  • Even after COVID-19 kills hundreds of thousands in the U.S. over the coming weeks, we will still be almost as vulnerable to the pandemic as we are today. We’d all love to “get back to normal” after that, but the price could be a second wave, worse than the first. Some see us facing either economic Depression or allowing vast numbers of preventable deaths, but that is a fool’s choice. There are better options if we have the will to find them.

  • There is a lot of information about COVID-19 out there, much of it misleading. When looking at the future, start with what the science really says.

  • If someone can’t tell you how they would know that they are wrong, they don’t have a clue whether they are right.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

  • Once seemingly incomprehensible, the origin of life no longer seems such a mystery. Most of what once appeared as roadblocks are turning out to be superhighways.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

  • Being certain lights up our brains like a junkie’s next hit. Literally. Unfortunately, being certain and being right are two very, very different things.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

  • The unique worlds we each consciously inhabit – the only worlds we will ever experience – are constrained hallucinations, products of hypothesis testing by our predictive brains.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

  • A month’s worth of sunlight could pay the entropy bill for a billion years of biological evolution. Entropy is evolution’s best friend.

    This article originally appeared in my Astronomy Magazine column, For Your Consideration.

Over his 30 year career as an internationally known astrophysicist, Dr. Jeff Hester was a key member of the team that repaired the Hubble Space Telescope. With one foot always on the frontiers of knowledge, he has been mentor, coach, team leader, award-winning teacher, administrator and speaker, to name a few of the hats he has worn. His Hubble image, the Pillars of Creation, was chosen by Time Magazine as among the 100 most influential photographs in history.
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