COVID Journal: Too Much Information, more time to think

It’s now almost four weeks since we started to check out from social society. This week I veered off a bit from obsessing on insecurities surrounding my attempts to learn to be an oil painter. Instead I devoted a bit more time to listening to experts in the world of the virus.

Some significant events of the past week (March 30 to April 5):

On April 2, I virtually attended the Stanford HAI Conference on AI and COVID-19, all five and a half hours of it. It’s all a blur now, but it was thrilling to watch one scientist after another describe how they have pivoted their research so quickly to respond to the pandemic. One of the most interesting technical responses to the outbreak was described by John Brownstein (Twitter: @johnbrowstein) at Harvard. He and his colleagues are collecting fever data from Kinsa smart thermometers and have an army of web scrapers (people, not bots) trying to assemble data from all over the world. The result is the realtime website COVID Near You. Now all we need is data from every hospital and every person who thinks she has the virus.

The next evening, I watched over an hour of the second COVID-19 Grand Rounds from UCSF’s Department of Medicine. This one was a followup of the the first one held two weeks earlier. While UCSF has a dozen or so COVID patients, they are ingesting daily peer-reviewed studies from China, Italy and the US, and are trying to figure out what to expect will be coming into their hospitals in the next months, and more importantly, how they can treat patients to reduce the mortality rate. But they seemed a bit stymied, because four months into this thing, there are still not enough data points. UCSF itself is starting up ten or so clinical studies for different treatments.

Meanwhile Dr. Matt Willis, the chief county health officer in Marin County has been at home recovering from his infection. He reported in the newspaper that he self-monitors his fever and blood oxygen level and reports it to his physician, so that they can make the decision together, if it comes to that, to check him into the hospital. Wishing him and all of the afflicted the shortest and least painful times with the virus.

The cheap cloth masks I ordered for our children and ourselves arrived from Etsy one day after the CDC buckled and admitted that wearing masks was not a bad idea, after months of concerted messaging from the Surgeon General and others discouraging mask use by non-medical workers (obviously in order to keep us all from trying to buy up all available supplies). Kudos to Zeynep Tufecki for starting the ball rolling on promoting masks three weeks ago. All the panels at Stanford and UCSF this week were asked about masks, too, and pretty much said we should all be wearing them. So this will be a new thing whenever we go into a populated area or market.

Based on the information from Brownstein, I scoured Ebay, and ordered a Kinsa thermometer, so I can contribute to their health maps. We’ll see if it arrives. And because I fear I may be hit like Dr. Willis, I also ordered a finger pulse oximeter from ihealthlabs.com. No shipping information yet, so I’m just hoping it will come before I need to use it. Add these to my app-enabled blood pressure monitor. Welcome to the age of personal digital health monitoring.

Cultural notes:

Before licensing issues ended their online runs, I was able to catch the last two American Conservatory Theater productions for this year. Both Toni Stone and, especially, Gloria were a joy to watch. They were taped in front of live audiences just a month ago. Hearing the laughter and applause from a crowd was bittersweet. One of the main subjects of Gloria has something to do with the futility of the 21st century “creative” workplace (in this case a print magazine in the internet age). Office spaces which have now disintegrated into everyone working from home.

From Twitter I swerved into a few discussions on the intersection of politics, philosophy and epidemiology from two sources, engaging articles in the Italian review Antinomie, and a post on the magazine Perfil by the Argentine writer Pola Oloixarac. They both are in the same circle of thinkers. Now I have to read and think a bit more also. Less coding, more thinking ahead?

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