what we don’t know

Day three of Red Alert. The Guardian liveblog is updating every 10-15 minutes with news from around the world. SAS has cancelled flights from 16 March. Germany is closing borders. The Dutch are closing “coffee shops.” We still don’t know:

1  What are the UK government’s plans? Their standard operating procedure of leaks and trial balloons is just fueling rumors: lockdowns, cancellation of gatherings over 1000 / 500 / 150 / all, rationing.

2  What do supply chains look like? Where have people overhoarded and where should things be rationed? Where are we coming to the end of stocks and need to implement crowdsharing? Which goods on the shelves are entirely locally made, which come from further away, which depend on China?

(My local Boots is holding back thermometers to keep them for situations of real need. Waitrose posted a sign on the empty toilet paper shelf asking people to take only what they need and assuring them there would be enough. Pasta and paracetamol displays are mostly denuded.)

3  What is the stable, tested ratio of exposure to full-blown cases to deaths? How long is the failsafe quarantine if you test positive? Can you get a mild case of it and is it worth testing mild cases – do we go for certainty in numbers, or do we save scarce tests for vulnerable cases – if they are willing to self isolate for a period? (This is also important for people without health coverage if they have other needs – uninsured Americans are already being hit with outrageous bills.) How long should that period be?

4  What is the age vs. deaths profile of the virus with complete testing and normalization for age distribution? Early data said healthy under-50s were very unlikely to die of it and latest graphs have undercut that.

5  Can you get it more than once? Have some people already had it and thought it was something different? How fast is it mutating?

These are just the known unknowns.

I got an e-mail today alerting me that someone in a workshop on e-teaching that I signed up to go to last week was ill and self isolating, though it isn’t clear whether they have the virus and they have not been tested. Luckily I never made it to the workshop because I couldn’t find a way into the building. (This is not the first time – some QMUL buildings are complete puzzles unless you work there.)

MIT has gone to pass/no record for the spring semester. That’s the first thing they’ve done in a while that I am really enthusiastic about. The centrally organized, cross-validated, top-down UK education-industrial (-social hierarchical) complex is always loath to abandon its marking scales, even though many of us who teach there have personally had great learning and teaching experiences in more relaxed and flexible systems. I have no voice in this but I agree 100% with Jesse Stommel on this (click image for more from him):

Posted on by Diana ben-Aaron
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