Numbing Numbers

On Epidemic, Ronald Klain talked about how long a shutdown may last.

“I’m asked this question when I’m on TV all the time, what’s the date, what’s the date? But this discussion about the date is the wrong discussion, the question is, what are the preconditions that we need to have in place before we can reopen large swaths of economic activity?”

That’s a harder question.

The CoVid19 situation is like a Sudoku board with very few numbers filled in. If that’s a nine this might be a four which makes that a two—shit that can’t work. There are so many interchangeable parts it’s easier to ask, ‘what’s the date?’

To get away from ‘what’s the date’ questions we can add one more small step, asking why.

‘Why’ gets us to answer.

For example, why is social distancing six feet? Is this a case like a power law where the bulk of the results come from one source? For example, when researchers looked at what size particles passed through what size fabrics, “0.02 micron Bacteriophage MS2 particles (5 times smaller than the coronavirus)“, a surgical mask stopped 89% of the particles, a vacuum bag 86%, and a cotton blend t-shirt stopped 70%. Not bad.

But when they doubled up, masks improved to stopping 89% and shirts to 71%. Small relative increases.

Is social distancing like that? Six feet is like wearing a mask made from a cotton shirt? Maybe not. The gas cloud research rather than aerosol or droplet research—the six feet origin work was done in the 1930’s—hints that viruses could travel twenty-seven feet in the air.

It’s hard to not recommend something other than ‘when we hear numbers we should ask why‘ but there’s so much ambiguity that’s all we can say with confidence. As for dealing with the here and now, here’s how to gamble with the coronavirus.

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