Living with Pandemics

by Jon Thompson on April 15, 2020

From the CDC’s website for SARS:

Does the effectiveness of containment measures require 100% compliance?

No. Containment measures, including quarantine, are effective even if compliance is less than 100%. Even partial or “leaky” quarantine can reduce transmission. Therefore, strict legal enforcement is not necessarily always needed; in most cases, jurisdictions can rely on voluntary cooperation. Modeling studies of the relative contributions of quarantine and vaccination in control of smallpox outbreaks suggest a benefit from quarantine even when compliance is as low as 50%. The incremental benefit of quarantine approaches a maximum at a compliance rate of approximately 90%, with little additional benefit from higher rates of compliance. Therefore, containment measures can be important components of the response to a communicable disease outbreak even when compliance is not high.

It seems to me that we need to move the discussion to how do we integrate pandemics and other events into our daily lives and figure out how to avoid totally shutting down our lives and economy. I know many folks heavily impacted by the pandemic, myself included, and perhaps if we plan more effectively for future events we can greatly reduce the pain felt by the general population.

We knew the pandemic was coming but many local hospitals, state and Federal organizations failed to warehouse adequate stocks to ensure sustained provision during a prolonged pandemic. Those of us in the aid industry who have worked on epidemics in the past know all too well that adequate planning, maintaining a robust supply chain and sufficient warehousing is critical to properly managing an emergency.

Perhaps it is time for businesses to begin thinking about the next pandemic and how they might survive, albeit in a limited fashion, until the next pandemic subsides. Given that even partial quarantine can prove effective we might want to consider a phased shutdown as opposed to a full curtain drop. I realize that full shutdown is probably what is responsible for California’s low numbers but it also served as a gut punch to the economy. Why not ‘phase in’ the same way we are about to ‘phase out:

The reopening of the state will be less like flipping a light switch and more like adjusting a dimmer, Newsom said.

-The Sacramento Bee

Why can’t nail salons, hair salons, optometry shops, even grocery stores provide online scheduling of activities all the while ensuring proper social distancing while clientele are onsite. They may need to cordon off some chairs and reduce the total hours worked by staff but at least they are not completely eliminating the ability for a business to generate revenue. In the case of grocery stores physical changes to stores will be necessary in addition to some measures being taken. However, asking folks to wait in long lines in front, especially the elderly or handicapped, is not sustainable during most times of the year and certainly not during rainstorms in the winter or the blistering heat waves of summer.

People keep their distance from each other while waiting in line to enter a Trader Joe’s grocery store in San Francisco, Saturday, March 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

One way shopping lanes as some stores are starting to implement, wider aisles, spacing for checkout lines on the floor, regular sanitization of shopping carts, etc, could all help to lessen the likelihood that grocery stores will serve as transmission hubs for the virus and similar practices could be employed for less critical businesses. I am sure a lot of folks are going to be thinking about how exactly to build resiliency into each and every aspect of our everyday life. For my part, I hope they do so that we can start living with pandemics as we have begun to get used to living with our seasonal fires.

Odds are our next pandemic is a ways off. We will most likely experience resurgences throughout the year but hopefully not like anything we have seen to date. What we can do you is plan ahead for our next local emergency, the seasonal fires and the coming PSPS, which is just around and make sure we can ‘phase in’ and ensure that critical businesses continue to support our communities.

BTW, I love the fact that scientists are trying to figure out why have been so successful here in California:

Why it wasn’t worse: Scientists are scrambling to understand why mitigation efforts were so successful at flattening the curve in California. Some factors they cite:

  • Early social distancing. Even before the stay-at-home orders, Californians were beginning to keep clear of one another, while New Yorkers were still packing bars and restaurants.
  • A work-from-home culture. The practice was already commonplace in the state, spurred by the tech industry.
  • Experience with wildfires and earthquakes. The state government has built up extensive disaster-response machinery, and people are accustomed to heeding official orders in a crisis.
  • Lower-density life. The state’s solitary car culture and suburban sprawl are usually seen as liabilities. But in this case, “the more space you have, the less probability there is for transmission,” Moritz Kraemer of Oxford University said.


Pandemics and PSPS – The New Normal

by Jon Thompson on April 14, 2020

Courtesy: The San Francisco Chronicle

Once this pandemic passes, sometime in the early summer, we’ll need to start thinking about the summer fires and the potential for another Public Power Safety Shutoff (PSPS). I spent two days without power last summer and while this pandemic is miserable due to the total lack of human contact outside of our immediate family, it is not as inconvenient as last years PSPS. At least now we have Netflix, PS4 and the Internet. Last year I spent my time monitoring the ice in the cooler and looking out across the bay during night drives and wondering what the rest of the world was doing with all their electricity and lights.

Courtesy: The Union

At the end of the two days I found myself sitting on the curb outside our home as our neighbors drove by, cursing our local utility, PG&E, and swearing they were going to buy a Tesla Powerwall so they never had to go through this again. While we can make ourselves as self-sufficient as possible, the real inconvenience came from the fact that our local grocery was closed, the one store that was open had massive lines, coffee shops were closed, pharmacies were closed, and all the schools were closed. Had those locations been able to stay open, either due to having a generator or storage system onsite, it would have made a tremendous difference in our lives.

I just spent the last two years working on energy systems and I know this is very doable. Our local Target had power and people massed in the entry to charge their phones, the nearby grocery store that was still open faced the freeway and I recall seeing evacuees from the fires up north parked in the front lot as one parent went inside to buy breakfast for their kids while the other tried to find a way out of our powerless county. My friends from other parts of our area have a hard time sympathizing but I’ll have to say that if you didn’t live it it is hard to understand it. It is especially hard for me to understand why such a thing would be necessary in this day and age and how it is possible for one company to have the power to shut off your life whenever they see fit. There’s got to be a better way.

Courtesy: Newsweek

Until there is a better way, a happy middle ground may be the passing of some kind of local ordinance stating that any ‘critical business’, like those we saw surface during this pandemic, are required to have back up power generation. These costs should perhaps be offset by PG&E and so as to lessen the impact of their actions. Several well placed commercial energy storage systems, such as the Tesla Powerpack or a Generac Commercial Generator would have had a huge impact on how my community functioned. Just being able to keep the schools open, so we could then travel to our places of work, would have made a huge difference in our lives.

Courtesy: Tesla

We know another PSPS is most likely going to happen this summer. We’ve gotten used to the fires and odds are we’re going to have to get used to pandemics. While pandemics are not welcome they are not necessarily a surprise. Folks in the epidemiological space knew this was going to happen for years. We also now know that the fires will most likely come every October. The trick is to now figure out how to live with these new events and not let them totally disrupt our lives every time they happen. We can plan ahead and we should. Some well placed legislation might just help us to live a bit more comfortably at least with the fires. We’ll have to see what comes of the pandemics once this one subsides. I really hope this is not the new normal but rather fear that it is.


COVID-19 – Tesla Ventilator

by Jon Thompson on April 12, 2020

“This system is powered by the Model 3 Infotainment system.” Amazing. I love how they prototype with the parts they have on hand. Way to be resourceful. They can move fast and iterate quickly. They’d do well in the field.


COVID-19 Projections from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation is my daily go to for assessing how well we’re flattening the curve.

The dashboard from JHU’s CSSE department was there from the start and gives an excellent global overview.

STAT has a beautiful graph that enables you to drill down to your country, state and county.

An interesting addition to the tracking group is the US Health Weather Map posted by Kinsa, Inc. It is populated with data from their Internet connected thermometers that are currently sold out on Amazon.

BBC’s Visual and Data Journalism team has a wonderful page that shows numerous graphs as well as an animated timeline view showing the progression of the disease from day one.

I will continue to post more. Please be sure to leave a comment with your favorites.


I’m Back

by Jon Thompson on April 9, 2020

After a 5yr hiatus…I’m back. I am not sure for how long or what the future holds but I am one of the at least 16,780,000 who are now unemployed. While I was at a larger, established company the startups around here are getting equally hammered. You can track the rout in real time here.

I have a little time to think so I thought I’d dust off my old blog and post a bit about these COVID cuts, pandemic response, energy security and whatever else comes to mind. After haven’t spent so many years in the field, with NEHK’s at the ready where we could treat 10,000 people for 3 months, it is stunning to see that some hospitals don’t have enough resources to help a fraction of that number for 3 weeks. Someone didn’t plan properly.

It strikes me that we are going to come out of this pandemic in time to roll right into summer fires and perhaps another Public Safety Power Shutoff. Luckily, Tesla is maintaining some “energy services operations” which I hope means they will have please of storage systems available in the late summer and fall.

I am interested in what comes next with pandemic both in terms of what technologies are born out of it or those that stand ready to help such as Kinsa, Oura and Airinum. How prepared will we be for the next pandemic? We certainly can’t afford to hunker down for weeks at a time every time a new novel virus circulates.

We definitely have the monitoring locked down it seems. From JHU’s CSSE dashboard, to the University of Washington’s COVID projection dashboard, STAT’s tracker and the BBC’s visual data page, I feel like I know when this might be over and we might be able to once again dine out, get haircuts and hug our family members.

We knew this was going to happen. If you don’t believe me please be sure to watch Pandemic on Netflix. It was co-produced by a former colleague, Dr. Sheri Fink.

Stay safe, stay healthy and stay tuned. Many thanks.



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