How We Can Win: Understanding the Physics of Viral Contagions

Defeating Covid-19 and returning to a world we once again recognize may have less to do with biology and epidemiology and more with physics.  To be clear, viruses have unique and at times confounding characteristics that can be very difficult to assess, especially as they continually mutate, playing a biological game of hide and seek.  We must further acknowledge that our scientific and medical community is doing everything it can, motivated by both public policy supports and economic incentives, to introduce vaccines and therapeutic treatments to defeat Covid-19.  But, victory over this insidious disease will come sooner if we focus on what we can affect today—the physics of Covid-19—that include two principal factors: the density and flow of human beings.

Humans play two viral roles: hosts and vectors.  We host the virus as its vessel of life and we transmit the virus as its method of transportation.  Without access to our warm nurturing and mobile bodies, it dies.  There are, therefore, two and only two elements of physics we must interrupt to defeat Covid-19: the density and flow of humans.  And, as is often the case, the data tells the story.  Look at the data and the maps they illustrate and the big numbers and big red blobs confirm the hypothesis: places with both high density and rapid flows of humans are hit the hardest, like New York City.  Meanwhile, the Dakotas appear as if they are sitting this pandemic out.  Admittedly, some of this gap in viral incidents can still be blamed on a lack of testing, but that gap is shrinking as more testing occurs.  In my own county of Ouray, Colorado, our commissioners and public health officials continue to tout “no confirmed tests in the county!,” which amounts to little more than a head-in-the-sand proclamation due to a lack of testing.  It’s an easy claim when one’s eyes are shut that dangerously lulls the community into a false sense of immunity and careless behaviors.  As humans, we are hosts and vectors just as humans are in large cities.  But, what we have going for us is a lack of density and flow.

In an attempt to gain more materiel support for New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo asserted, watch out America, “We are your future.”  As welcome as Cuomo’s veracity and tenacity are when compared to our president, his assertion is false.  Few places in the United States have the density and flow of humans that the New York metropolitan area does.  The New York City metropolitan area has around 24 million people in 3,450 square miles, or 7,000 people per square mile.  By comparison, the State of Texas has around 28 million people occupying 268,597 square miles, or 104 people per square mile.  New York City then has 67 times higher population density than Texas and, understandably, has (currently) 32 times more confirmed Covid-19 cases.  To get a sense of flow, historically Texas has 255 million visitors while New York City has 65 million, or 4x more visitors in Texas.  This flow multiple in Texas is, however, spread over a vastly larger geographic area, which partially explains a less than 4x adjustment to expected viral infections in Texas.  Density and flow must be considered together, as a dynamic duo of physical impacts.  But, it does (along with levels of current testing and medical interventions—much higher in New York City than Texas) help explain why there are (only) 32x more cases than the 67x suggested by the density data alone.  I recognize this back-of-the-napkin analysis will be cringe-worthy to some epidemiologists who would argue for much deeper analysis, but they might also recognize that the availability and quality of data today does not yet exist to satisfy their desire for a broader and deeper plunge.  Regardless, we know what we need to know to guide public policy and personal behaviors: keep our distance and stay in place.

Colorado has done a fairly admirable job of affecting density and flow.  With less than a quarter the population of New York City or Texas, density is less of a problem in Colorado.  Looking at the state map of Covid-19, the axis of incidents follows density and flow, from Denver west along I-70 to several ski resorts, and north and south from Denver along I-25, a major commercial corridor and the unfortunate venue of a bridge tournament a few weeks ago in Colorado Springs that created a Covid-19 hotspot.  Colorado Governor Polis was absolutely right to shut down ski resorts on March 15th; in hindsight, he should have done it sooner.  Eagle County, home to Vail and Beaver Creek ski resorts, is second only to Denver in Covid-19 cases.  Flow (of snowbound tourists) matters too.  Moving forward, notwithstanding damaging economic effects, or the prospect of a scientific and/or medical breakthrough, we must do everything we can to reduce both the density and flow of humans.

I understand we all want to get back to social interactions and freely going wherever we desire.  Lately, our president is making noise that he wants our wealth and his poll numbers back where they were in February, and is suggesting we will be able to return to our active selves by Easter, but doing so prior to seeing data that confirms viral transmission and death rates have both ebbed and are in retreat is a foolish violation of the physical realities that confront us.  Economic activity, which (at least as of today) requires both the density and flow of humans will increase both the velocity of money and the virus.  Releasing our bonds of probity would sacrifice any flattening of the curve we have thus far sacrificed for, and put us back where we were, on a steep ascent to death and further economic destruction.  If we want to get out of this sooner than later—if we desire the summer of 2020 to be similar to 2019—we must have the discipline to take our medicine, as distasteful and disruptive as it is.  Discipline will end this crisis; social, economic, and political greed may produce years of peril rather than months.

It’s going to get tougher rather than easier for the foreseeable future, but we must honor the challenge we face with both fortitude and compassion.

By |2020-03-25T18:11:33+00:00March 25th, 2020|Current, Donald Trump, General|0 Comments

Will Staying Apart Bring Us Together?

The irony of “social distancing” is that we may finally reunite as a nation.

The spite and abject selfishness of those who have worked so hard to divide us has proven toxic in our time of pandemic crisis.  The institutions and social safety nets that were built during and following our last crisis—the Great Depression and World War II—have been systematically dismantled since the end of the Cold War, first by the Tea Party and now by Trump and the Trumplicans.  Trump’s “very stable genius” appears to be as phony as his spray-on Orangu-tan.  I cannot decide between “appalling” and “despicable” as the best adjectives to describe his performance in the Covid-19 pandemic, but the results are certainly catastrophic.  His self-awarded grade of “10” is both laughable and extremely dangerous.  Delusion reigns in the White House while people are losing their livelihoods and lives.  If there is a hell, Trump needs to take his throne there, sooner rather than later.

When presidential historians finally unearth all the documents related to the Trump administration’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, I suspect they will find there was a concerted effort to delay testing for Covid-19 in the United States because, as Trump himself put it, he did not want to see “rising numbers” that might hurt his reelection campaign.  Forget the fact that early testing would have provided critical intelligence to thwart what we now have, a pandemic, Trump opted to preserve his poll numbers rather than preserve our lives.  Further, we need to be aware that he will undoubtedly instruct his Diabolical Department, headed by the reptilian Stephen Miller, to look for every way possible to use the pandemic to manipulate the election process—including attempting to delay or cancel the presidential election in November—to keep him in power.  Trump clearly cares more about being a full two-term president than he does preventing the deaths of thousands—perhaps even millions—of Americans.

As we keep our distance from each other, we must find a virtual way to come together.  Earlier in Trump’s presidency, efforts at unification were aimed at preserving our democracy and the American Dream.  In the last few weeks, the stakes have become much higher.  We now face a president who is literally trading our lives for his ego.  All of us, regardless of party affiliation, must summon our strength, wisdom, and compassion and come together (virtually for now) to defeat both the virus and Trump.  In November 2016, we traded the audacity of hope for mendacity and hate.  In a “letter to my children,” published on November 9, 2016 at www.ameritecture.com, I wrote,

So, what to do? First, focus on your own physical, psychological, economic, and intellectual strength. Protect and strengthen those four cornerposts. Second, focus on the well-being of your family and friends. Their welfare is your direct responsibility. Finally, get politically active and organized. Your generation has more voters today than mine. The reality, however, is that we vote and too many of your peers ignore this solemn duty. Do not allow my generation to continue to damage America. You have the power. Do not squander it through apathy or neglect. In the end, we all—individually and collectively—are responsible for Trump and what happens next.

Inject the above call to action with steroids and jet fuel today and we may have a fighting chance at ending this nightmare.  But, we can only succeed together.  Yes, we must keep our distance to flatten the curve of the Covid-19 outbreak, while coming closer together than this nation has been since it faced the fascists of Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito.  It is not just about our way of life anymore; it is a battle for our very existence.  We must stick together and look out for each other today, or face the collapse of both America and world order.  This is the challenge.  We must prevail.

By |2020-03-25T18:11:51+00:00March 18th, 2020|Donald Trump|0 Comments

Out of Crisis, Salvation

Nothing focuses the mind like the prospect of imminent death.  Throw in a global economic collapse and we might just achieve the kind of clarity and inspiration to, in Thomas Paine’s words, “make the world over again.”  As one who fits the definition of “at high risk due to underlying health conditions,” I do not take the COVID-19 global pandemic and associated economic effects lightly.  Yet, as an historian I know the rhythm of history and expect this collective calamity—an unforeseen development—may be just what we need to wake-the-fuck up and realize that we are all culpable for the path we have taken and the leaders we have chosen.  The unforeseen has always driven world events more than the foreseen.  As Michelle Obama suggested, power does not change people, it reveals who they really are.  And, times of crisis quickly reveal who among our leaders are authentic and capable and who are incompetent frauds.  Unfortunately, for this moment in history, we do not have a Washington, or Lincoln, or Roosevelt, who led America out of the peril of our three prior American crises; rather, we have a president whose sole concern—even with crisis raging—is, as it always has been, himself.  How I wish Michelle was wrong.

Most (but not all) of us will get through this.  Markets will recover once supply chains and demand are restored; washing hands and “social distancing” are welcome improvements on past practices.  However, we should and must take this opportunity, afforded by crisis, to change our leadership and restore America’s Probity Values that have been squandered since the end of the Cold War.  Responsible individualism must displace the narcissism that denominates too many of our behaviors.  Exemplar exceptionalism—setting the example for others to follow—must subvert the arrogant imperial impulse that seeks to remake the world in the image of America.  Perfectibility—leaving things better than we found them—must, once again, prevail over our sense of entitlement.  Moreover, we must realize we are stronger together—united in common purpose—than we are pursuing power and wealth at the expense of our neighbors.  We are capable of better behavior.  Crises make transformations easier; in the chaos of creative destruction we must seize the moment.

The time is now to set a new course.  Our differences and disagreements—stoked by those who benefit from divisiveness—must be set aside in favor of building stronghold communities.  A stronghold community is a shared place that is largely self-sustaining and foundationally resilient; which looks no further than its common interests to guide its application of power and resources; and which seeks to achieve a sense of virtuous humanity where every member holds both the responsibility and opportunity of participation in advancing the objectives of the community.  Our communities may be small, but we are strong.  We must quit staring at the clown show that is our federal government and demand the return of both authority and tax dollars to our state and local communities.  If we believe in ourselves and each other, we can create a better community, country, and world.  The work begins now.

By |2020-03-18T22:07:55+00:00March 11th, 2020|Donald Trump, Leadership|0 Comments