A Case for Being Careful with COVID

One of the primary sites I have used to track the status of momentum for COVID-19 is rt.live.

It shows up to date state-by-state figures for a variable called Rt, also known as the transmission rate. The site defines Rt as "the average number of people who become infected by an infectious person. If Rt is above 1.0, the virus will spread quickly. When Rt is below 1.0, the virus will stop spreading."

Below you will see 4 charts from the site. Each chart shows the Rt figures for every state (+ Washington DC). These charts show the respective statuses of each state at the mid-point of each of the last 4 months, beginning with the chart from April 15th and ending with the chart from today.

April 15:

May 15:

June 15:

July 15:

It does not take a data scientist to see that the way things have trended this summer does not bode well for America in terms of the virus. Of course, all of this data is meaningless if we cannot trust the methods of collection, calculation, and presentation to be reasonably sound. I tend to trust them as of today based on the website and those I have seen cite it but admittedly I have not done as much of my own diligence as I would need to authoratatively argue that you should do the same. Still, I do not feel irresponsible in sharing my personal view as long as I am clear in expressing that it is only that.

I also want to share an update on my personal level of caution in regards to the virus, such that it may be helpful to someone else's thinking about determining their own. In the last month, I have started golfing with friends (in separate and sanitized carts or walking), going to Lauren's house some weekends, and I am driving up to Cape Cod to hang out with two of my best friends one of whom I have not seen since I left San Francisco in late 2018. I am comfortable taking these calculated risks because I believe my level of caution is probably in the 80th or 90th percentile nationwide and I figure that gives me and my family (which is acting similarly) a very low chance of getting a virus which has so far infected about 1 in 100 Americans. I am comfortable enough with the product of that small chance and the also small chance that anyone in my family would have a very severe case if we did get it, let alone in the worst case scenario, a fatal one.

No decision that involves the possible outcome of premature death is an easy one, even if it is a 1 in many thousands chance. Another thing I am concerned about less than death but more than having a bad virus for a few weeks is the possibility of any lasting damage from acquiring the virus because I have seen next to nothing conclusive on the subject. These are not easy decisions we are making, and as such they are ones that most people try most of the time not to think about, myself included to some extent. It is easier to simply decide your rules (or lack thereof) and abide by them until something forces you to change your mind. Still, it is important to recognize that this is a dynamic disease that will not die soon and so it is worth checking in with yourself once every couple of weeks or month at least to re-evaluate the state of play, re-consider what you are doing, and ask yourself if you are taking too much risk or if you can afford to ease up a little on a couple of risk-increasing activities that you most would enjoy and not want to miss.

In most cases, when choosing between a safe option and a less safe one, I have a hard time imagining a situation where I would ever regret doing the safe thing. The safe thing is often easy and the less safe thing is often tempted by laziness and resistance to change more than it is by a strong desire to do that thing. That is why I usually end up on the safe side.

At my house we are still getting groceries online because it is just or almost as good as going to the store (I actually think it is better). We are not going many places very often and are using masks anywhere inside when we do because it is easy and it is safer so why not? I am generally taking every precaution outside of the few exceptions that I named above which involve doing a few of my favorite things with a few of my favorite people.

I understand the people who argue against living in fear. I also understand the people who cannot understand those people. There is not enough understanding these days by people on either side of people on the other. This is an unprecedented time for everyone alive and the best we can do is the best that we can. We don't all need to agree on everything.

I personally am choosing to remain careful with COVID. I have a hard time imagining a future where I would regret it. Some days are tough, sometimes for no good reason, but on the average day I can make the best of it.

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