Coronavirus Questions

Today circulated a Facebook, Reddit, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, and YouTube statement on misinformation related to COVID-19, or Coronavirus. The statement is laudable and timely; its goals are sound. But it also sidesteps the wide gulf between facts and uncertainties in a messy and complexly unfolding public health crisis. Turn to social media with wonder, fine. Express curiosities, unknowns, and so on, yes. Speculate and even sense-make together. This is slow-built knowledge, and it’s especially messy when it intermixes non-experts, heightened anxieties, and unverifiable contagion. I have questions, too, and I’m no expert on viruses, much less the Coronavirus.

  1. How did it begin? From a March 12 Vox article, “The genetic evidence and epidemiological information, according to three esteemed infectious disease researchers writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, ‘implicates a bat-origin virus infecting unidentified animal species sold in China’s live-animal markets.'” There are numerous other conspiracy theories. Those aside, to the point of this “bat sniffles and some other succession of animals” theory, what does this mean for continued contagion that moves between humans and animals? I’ve read of swine flu and bird flu resulting in the slaughter of carrier-animals. In the case of COVID-19, is it clear yet that animal cross-contagion is not an issue?
  2. If there aren’t enough tests (yet), or if the tests are sparingly issued such that everyday people calling their general practitioners to disclose symptoms are being told, you don’t meet the CDC criteria for testing, how are the rate of spread analytics considered reliable? Word of mouth indicates that some people with symptoms have been told they do not qualify for testing. They wait. But this alone would indicate serious limitations on what is knowable insofar as rates of spread.
  3. How lightly experienced are the most lightly experienced cases? That is, can someone have Coronavirus, experience negligible or mild symptoms for only a short period of time, and thereafter carry on (after two weeks) without putting others at risk? Without further risk, themselves? Does the lightest possible case of Coronavirus generate in a system the antibodies that will mitigate future risk of susceptibility or contagion?
  4. What is the relationship between viral load and severity of symptoms? If someone is exposed to a high viral load, is that person more likely to contract a serious case? Is the gravity of the illness linked to the viral load exposure? Does viral load in a patient fluctuate throughout the arc of affliction (the duration of the illness)?
  5. What is the relationship between the number of tests given and the number of people tested? Does one test mean one person has been tested? Two tests mean two people? Are most people who are tested tested twice? Is anyone tested more than twice? Are tests yielding inconsistent results counted as tests given?
  6. Has anyone answered directly/concretely how the Utah Jazz and other NBA teams were so swiftly able to get their player personnel tested? Or how an asymptomatic Idris Elba was tested? Are these simply matters of income or celebrity capitalizing on improved medical treatment?
  7. Is there any credence to homeopathic interventions, whether tinctures, infusions (vinegars), kombuchas or other fermented drinks, probiotics, or atmospherics (smudging)? That is, are there any dietary or physiological aids in anticipation of continued spread that chance mitigating the grip and spread of infection? Health advice circulating seems status quo generic–“take good care of yourself, eat right, get exercise, and so on.” Is there anything else likely to reduce or disrupt vulnerability? Like gargling salt water, taking extra vitamin C, use of a humidifier, and so on?
  8. Is there anything at all to be said for sequestered acceleration clusters (e.g., teams of ten who intentionally contract but who do so in isolation), particularly for intentionally getting some responders ahead of the curve? This is perhaps outlandish, and yet it chances being a reasonable tactic, if after contracting it and recovering, one’s system is emboldened so as to be better positioned for aiding others.

I realize the questions here cover quite a bit of range–from speculative scenarios to highly pragmatic decision points. They’re not meant to inspire misinformation but instead to put a finer point on concrete details that, to be fair, perhaps just are not known or knowable at this time. I’m wholly on board with curtailing the circulation of misinformation, but I hope can do better to express uncertainties as questions that might find their way to those who can–sooner or later–answer them well.

Bus Turns

From Flowing Data, a terrific public transportation mash-up, Mapnificent, which reports estimated travel times along multiple radiating routes relative to an adjustable map marker. AATA estimates for The Ride are included in the data-set, although I assume the site would be prove more useful in complex urban zones with more routes than we have running in Washtenaw County.


Mapnificent is elegant enough that it doesn’t require much more explanation. I’m saving it as a nice example of maps concerned with time, thinking about its resemblance to river turns and big box turns (not all that far removed from the CCC word turns I showed at C&W a couple of weeks ago).

Also calls to mind a question about whether there is some sort of time-scape parallel to trap streets. Trap streets are geographic fictions embedded into proprietary maps meant to shield them from theft. If a copy of a map turned up showing the trap street, it made for easy sleuthing. What, then, is the temporal equivalent of a trap street? I suppose it could be an altered time-to-destination whose falsehood would establish duplication (e.g., Carpenter Road Meijer to AA Public Library in 8 minutes). And I’m not so inclined to think of these traps out of an interest in security (or copyright or plagiarism), but rather as a variety of imagined geography (much like the character in Mieville’s Kraken who sets out to ground-truth London’s trap streets as if they might, by the cartographer’s articulation, conjure up a potential space).

Public Displays of Attendance

For the past year or so I have taken attendance in the face-to-face classes I teach by LED-projecting a Google Docs Spreadsheet into which I enter ‘x’ for present and ‘1’ for absent. The absences tabulate (i.e., it is a spreadsheet with wizardly formulas coursing through it: equations, maths of consequence, etc.), and everybody in the room can observe this act of record-keeping. Within the class, it is public: the record of who is present and who is absent is transparently kept, obvious. It’s rather like attendance crowd-sourcing in that the crowd is the source of the record; being in the room creates the account.

When we (me+ENGL328ers) were observed a week or so ago, the question came up again: What if somebody doesn’t want the record put on display? And the only answer I know relates to the option I offer on the first day of class. You can opt out. A student must let me know their wishes, and I will keep their attendance stealthily and in a secret ledger.

Among the positives, this practice helps me learn everyone’s names by the end of the third week of classes. It also reduces the number of conversations that start “but I was present that day”–conversations that leverage a teacher’s likely forgetting and that all the more likely when record keeping is hazy or erratic. With the projection method, students know attendance is logged during the first minute of class, so they show up on time, or, when they are late, they know they must check in with me at the end of the class session to make sure I have an ‘x’ rather than a ‘1’ next to their name.

The observation I took two weeks ago was exceedingly positive, so I don’t want to make this too much of a direct response to the question that arose in its follow-up conversation. It has come up in other moments: To what extent does this practice tread on student privacy? And are absences even private, really? Anyone in the class, after all, could keep track of who is there, who isn’t, and who arrives late, provided they knew names.

I suppose it is clear by my continuation of this practice that I understand attendance to be class-public. I wouldn’t put the record on display outside of the classroom (e.g., posting it as a web site or a public Google Doc), but I find the opt-out option to be a reasonable solution and a passable justification for continuing the practice. Without sounding too much like ProfHacker, I suppose I’m blogging all of this toward the invitation for input: What am I forgetting? Overlooking? And, How do you keep everyone up on a running attendance record?