Saturday, March 14, 2020

Coronavirus? I have nothing to add.

I keep getting requests from people that I comment on the coronavirus pandemic, disease models, or measures taken to contain and mitigate the outbreak. While I appreciate the faith you put into me, it also leaves me somewhat perplexed. I am not an epidemiologist; I’m a physicist. I have nothing original to say about coronavirus. Sure, I could tell you what I have taken away from other people’s writings – a social media strain of Chinese Whispers, if you wish – but I don’t think this aids information flow, it merely introduces mistakes.

I will therefore keep my mouth shut and just encourage you to get your information from more reliable sources. When it comes to public health, I personally prefer institutional and governmental websites over the mass media, largely because the media has an incentive to make the situation sound more dramatic than it really is. In Germany, I would suggest the Federal Ministry of Health (in English) and the Robert Koch Institute (in German). And regardless of where you live, the websites of the WHO are worth checking out.

I have not come across a prediction for the spread of the disease that looked remotely reliable, but Our World in Data has some neat visualization tools for the case numbers from the WHO (example below).

Having said that, what I can do is offer you a forum to commiserate. I got caught in the midst of organizing a workshop that was supposed to take place in May in the UK. We monitored the situation in Europe for the past weeks, but eventually had to conclude there’s no way around postponing the workshop.

Almost everyone from overseas had to cancel their participation because they weren’t allowed to travel, or, if they had, their health insurance wouldn’t have covered had they contracted the virus. At present only Italy is considered a high risk country in Europe. But it’s likely that in the coming weeks several other European countries will be in a similar situation, which will probably bring more travel restrictions. Finally, most universities here in Germany and in the UK have for now issued a policy to cancel all kinds of meetings on their premises so that we might have ended up without a room for the event.

We presently don’t know when the workshop will take place, but hopefully some time in the fall.

I was supposed to be on a panel discussion in Zurich next week, but that was also cancelled. I am scheduled to give a public lecture in two weeks which has not been cancelled. This comes to me as some surprise because it’s in the German state that, so far, has been hit the worst by coronavirus. I kind of expect this to also be cancelled.

Where we live, most employers have asked employees to work from home if anyhow possible. Schools will be closed next week until after the Easter break – for now. All large events have been cancelled. This puts us in a situation that many people are facing right now: We’ll be stuck at home with bored children. I am actually on vacation for the next two weeks, but looks like it won’t be much of a vacation.

I’m not keen on contracting an infectious disease but believe sooner or later we’ll get it anyway. Even if there’s a vaccine, this may not work for variants of the original strain. We are lucky in that no one in our close family has a pre-existing condition that would put them at an elevated risk, though we worry of course about the grandparents. Shopping panic here has been moderate; the demand on disinfectants, soap and, yes, toilet paper, seems to be abnormally high, but that’s about it. By and large I think the German government has been handling the situation well and Trump’s travel ban is doing Europe a great favor because shit’s about to hit the fan over there.

In any case, I feel like there isn’t much we can do right now other than washing our hands and not coughing other people in the face. I have two papers to finish which will keep me busy for the next weeks. Wherever you are, I hope you stay safe and healthy.

Update: As anticipated, I just got an email saying that the public lecture in April has also been cancelled.


  1. Good lecture if wanting to understand how COVID-19 works:

  2. Heartfully wishing Germany and the rest of the world a quick zero +ve cases.

  3. Thanks, Pascal, sending well-wishes in return,


  4. Don't purchase any "Cures" from the TV or off of the internet.

    1. Hi Greg,

      You wouldn't happen to be talking about this kook:

      Here's the follow-up story from NPR:

      Just to inject some levity!

  5. Dear DR., my misery loves company too: daughter's university cancelled for... the rest of the year, apparently; only online classes.

    I get a feeling that public hysteria is getting out of hand.

  6. How to greet: either with the Vicory/Peace-Sign with only two fingers spread, or - if you can... - with Spock's Live-long-and-prosper greeting with five up and a gap inbetween. Both postive and hopeful gestures! STAY HEALTHY!

  7. Americans aren't capable of responding rationally to a problem "out there", we wait until it's here on our streets; only then does it become real. As a result some big coastal cities are now facing big trouble. Here in Minneapolis we have a handful of cases but have been able to respond somewhat sooner in terms of cancelling public events, shutting businesses and staying home. Maybe we'll have a much flatter curve.

  8. - Probably COVID-19 is heavier then the Higgs but it doesn't seem to decay that fast! ... :-)

  9. As Doug Adams put it in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, "Don't Panic." I also have to remind people this is not the Bubonic Plague that killed off nearly half the old world population in the 14th century. This is a problem and it will hurt, but it is no end of the world.

    Its morbidity is largely in the most elderly, and my mother turned 90 and I have some concerns. It would be far more tragic if it killed off children.

    The point of lock downs is to flatten the epidemic curve so as not to overload the health systems of any nation or region. It might also have the effect of getting this virus to adapt more to us humans. In most cases this leads to less virulent strains. This could of course come and really hit us next autumn, where after it may receded with summer it could again return. It appears that droplets of water in warm air fall to the ground much faster and further people tend to be more indoors in winter.

    This Corona is an RNA ds virus. The common cold is a CoV as well and SARS is CoV-2. This infection might be considered a "supercold," and I would recommend getting the cold/flu analgesics stocked up. An inhaler, even maybe a nasal inhaler, with a corticosteroid I have read might ameliorate this if it becomes pneumonia-like.

    Most of us will make it through. A statistic I saw about Italy gives a 6% mortality, which is alarming. However, I am pretty sure there are several times as many cases than this unreported. So the morbidity is maybe really 1%. This means most of us will know someone who dies from this. Largely they will be 70 years of age and older and people with serious health issues. The average dying from this are 81 years of age. So hang in there, do not panic. We will all get this damned thing and with that will come relief.

    1. Sabine is wise to stay out of epidemiology since she is a physicist. I would advise you to do the same, rather than spreading inaccurate information. (Examples: the coronavirus is ss RNA. Some common colds are coronas, but by no means all.) (And a nasal inhaler will not help pneumonia). - Robert Curtis, MD PS I will continue to avoid pretending I know anything about physics.

  10. Dear Sabine,

    some questions that don't require expertise is, how has life in germany been changed as a result of covid19 where you live?

    has elementary school been cancelled? is there a lockdown? are you stocking up on food?

    and do you think this is an over reaction to what is basically a flu, unless it turns out to cause cancer

    1. neo,

      As I wrote in my blogpost, schools will be closed starting next week until the Easter break, large events have been cancelled, people are asked to work from home if possible, shopping panic here has been moderate (and our friends from other parts of Germany report pretty much the same).

      No, we're not stocking up on food. I can think of no reason why we should have trouble buying food in the near future. By my estimate, we are more likely to die from a meteorite impact than from starvation. I also suspect that next week people will notice there's no need to buy excess amounts of supplies like toilet paper or soap, so the situation will normalize.

      As I said, I think the German government has been handling the situation well. Right now it's somewhat disorienting to a lot of people, hence the shopping weirdness, but I think we will get used to it quickly.

      No, I don't think it's an overreaction. The German population, as that of most Western nations, has a significant fraction of elderly people. I don't want people to die needlessly. If we can prevent those who are at high risk from being infected until there is a vaccine, that makes sense to me.

    2. Not just a flu. This is the utilitarian frontline in Italy:

    3. thanks. i see the coronavirus as a bad flu, though i know in italy lots of elderly have died.

      do you think germany should implement an italy style lock down where you live?

  11. (No-Comment Department:

    Wife happened to walk by a mostly empty toilet paper shelf at the pharmacy; a worker was stocking single rolls of it in a tiny corner; all the rest of the shelf had signs that said "One Per Customer".)

  12. Here in this part of New England things seem generally quite normal. A couple weeks ago a woman was leaving a local supermarket with a mask on, but other than that I haven't seen another person with a gauze mask. I just wish our weather pattern would swing on the warm side, as it's not as much fun to be pedaling in the mid-40's F. with strong winds, requiring layers of clothing. We did have a one-day break last Monday when the temperature hit a glorious 70, and people had shorts and short-sleeve shirts on. That day my arms and legs got a slight sunburn while pedaling, probably nuking many viruses on the exposed skin.

    My twin brother and his wife, who both teach school down in Massachusetts, are out of work for several weeks until April due to concerns about the COVID-19 virus. My brother and I also cancelled an overnight stay at a local casino as a precaution, but the casinos we frequent remain open, though they have cancelled various events on their premises.

    Well, I hope the world gets through this, and the vast majority of people who do catch it develop immunity to it, and it ends up being no worse than the normal flu.

  13. Happy Pi Day. a fun day especially for kids. My step granddaughter won her 5th grade Pi Day competition in 5th grade (memorized pi to 120 digits). My family continues to be science oriented (physics, mathematics, geology, economics). I contribute my expertise here in the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Protocol for immune system enhancement (immune modulators):
    1. Zinc (50 mg/day of any zinc salt, can be considered an antiviral in preventing and treating the common cold (rhinoviruses, coronaviruses).
    2. Vitamin D supplement to increase the blood level to 40-60 ng/ml; sunshine does not work for some people (metabolic block) and the elderly are less responsive to it.
    3. Probiotic (10-30 billion count/day of lactobacilli and bifidobacter species. Yogurts, especially the flavored ones, are unreliable, while other fermented products may be OK.
    4. Soluble fiber, especially root vegetables (carrots, jicama, sliced sweet potato sticks, radishes, Jerusalem artichoke [sunchokes], parsnips, turnips, celery root). Also includes prebiotics (lower molecular weight soluble fiber), the best source of the short-chain fatty acids that are the metabolic fuel that the probiotics produce (the best prebiotic is mother’s milk, why breastfeeding is mandatory for at least 6 months for a healthy baby).
    5. Daily exercise is also an immune system enhancer (fast walking x 30 minutes/day the easiest, best in the morning) and offers endorphins, dopamine and serotonin without the heartburn from coffee.

    Jerome Helman, M.D.
    Gastroenterologist specializing in nutrition and prevention
    Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Providence John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, CA

  14. The virus is good for theoretical physics, it will allow people to finally do the hard work on their projects that requires hard work for many hours involving lots of thinking and trying out computations to see if it works, without being interrupted by meetings, teaching, homework/exam grading, attending conferences, preparing conference talks etc. etc. etc.

  15. Much "homework" in present day instruction is submitted online and graded by software (one example: UF uses Canvas). Thus, homework cannot accurately be construed as an interruption to research. Secondly, conference talks are often submitted through venues that do not involve person-to-person interaction and are presently less time-consuming than previously (you do not "travel" anywhere to "present" a talk to your audience. UF uses Zoom or GoogleMeet). Also, American Physical Society has a link to "virtual meeting" for their March 2020 Conference. Thirdly, if you consider teaching an impediment to "thinking" then you are unaware of the virtues of teaching as a tool for clarity of thought for an instructor. Many years ago teaching and research were unified and inseparable (read: Masters of Theory, Warwick). Concluding: I am disheartened to find that such a post as the above (Count lblis) was allowed to be published on this blog in this time of health crisis. A deadly virus is not "good" for anything or anybody.

    1. It was good for physics in the year 1665:

      "During a pandemic, Isaac Newton had to work from home, too. He used the time wisely.

      Isaac Newton was in his early 20s when the Great Plague of London hit. He wasn’t a “Sir” yet, didn’t have that big formal wig. He was just another college student at Trinity College, Cambridge.

      It would be another 200 years before scientists discovered the bacteria that causes plague, but even without knowing exactly why, folks back then still practiced some of the same things we do to avoid illness.

      In 1665, it was a version of “social distancing” — a public health tool making a comeback this week as governments, schools and many businesses, including The Washington Post, send people home to try to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

      Cambridge sent students home to continue their studies. For Newton, that meant Woolsthorpe Manor, the family estate about 60 miles northwest of Cambridge.

      Without his professors to guide him, Newton apparently thrived. The year-plus he spent away was later referred to as his annus mirabilus, the “year of wonders.”

      First, he continued to work on mathematical problems he had begun at Cambridge; the papers he wrote on this became early calculus.

      Next, he acquired a few prisms and experimented with them in his bedroom, even going so far as to bore a hole in his shutters so only a small beam could come through. From this sprung his theories on optics.

      And right outside his window at Woolsthorpe, there was an apple tree. That apple tree.

      The story of how Newton sat under the tree, was bonked on the head by an apple and suddenly understood theories of gravity and motion, is largely apocryphal. But according to his assistant, John Conduitt, there’s an element of truth. Here’s how Conduitt later explained it:

      “ . . . Whilst he was musing in a garden it came into his thought that the same power of gravity (which made an apple fall from the tree to the ground) was not limited to a certain distance from the earth but must extend much farther than was usually thought. ‘Why not as high as the Moon?’ said he to himself..”

      In London, a quarter of the population would die of plague from 1665 to 1666. It was one of the last major outbreaks in the 400 years that the Black Death ravaged Europe.

      Newton returned to Cambridge in 1667, theories in hand. Within six months, he was made a fellow; two years later, a professor.

      So if you’re working or studying from home over the next few weeks, perhaps remember the example Newton set. Having time to muse and experiment in unstructured comfort proved life-changing for him — and no one remembers whether he made it out of his pajamas before noon."

    2. Richard Westfall writes (in his authoritative biography of Isaac Newton, Never At Rest): "In any event, exclusive attention to the plague years...disregards the continuity of his development. Intellectually, he departed from Cambridge more than a year before the plague drove him away physically. If we focus attention on the record of his studies, the plague...fades in importance in comparison to the continuity of his growth. 1666 was no more mirabilis than 1665 and 1664. The miracle lay in the incredible program of study undertaken in private and prosecuted alone by a young man who thereby assimilated the achievement of a century and place himself at the forefront" (page 144). Unless you happen to be an "Isaac Newton" of today, there is no reason to believe that this particular moment in time will prove efficacious for personal research. Not only are such geniuses few and far between, they will probably be more concerned with financial and health issues than "having time to muse in unstructured comfort." (Newton endured no financial hardship during this period, Westfall, page 142).

  16. Dr. Hossenfelder,

    First for Marten.... now that is some funny stuff right there.

    My perspective on this whole mess, I think that as a scientist, (and an investigator) it is harder for me to understand this whole mess. Why? I understand the numbers and when I see 9 confirmed cases in Northern Nevada (my home area) all of the actions and reactions just do not make any sense to me. And, a little research shows that all of the cases are associated with travel to a bad area or people who were with another person who had COVID-19. And none of the people are hospitalized they are all isolating at home.

    I am willing to bet that right now Northern Nevada has more and worse Flu cases than COVID-19

    I am thinking that the biggest problem that we have for this matter is the media, secondly is the lack of real education and information for the public, which is also related to the media. I do understand the potential seriousness of this virus, but protecting yourself is not that difficult to do.

    Anyway, for my mid-sixties wife and I, it is life as usual just a greater situational awareness of the people around us.

    The silver lining for my friends and I, everybody is staying home and inside so the local micro-breweries are pretty empty. Very easy to go and get a good beer without any lines.... heading for one shortly...

  17. Think exponential growth. This virus is highly contagious and nobody has immunity to it, and in the U.S. the number of cases is doubling every 3 or 4 days. Then consider that about 20% of the cases are serious enough to require hospitalization. That's a recipe for an overwhelmed medical system -- and that's exactly what happened in Italy, where doctors are having to decide which of their seriously ill patients to save, and which ones they're just going to let die.

  18. I spoke too soon regarding the impact of the corona virus on the Monadnock region of SW New Hampshire upthread. Yesterday stopping at a full-size grocery store, and needing bottled water, I was surprised to see the entire section for 1 and 2 gallon water containers empty. Going to a smaller grocery store I found the shelves at the normal stocking level. But at that store customers were limited to a single roll of toilet paper, as there’s been a run on that commodity as well.

    One good thing to come out of this pandemic, for my brother and I, is that we have no plans to visit our favorite casino in Connecticut for the foreseeable future, so we’re saving money. The last visit was on the 23rd of February. On the last few visits, finally aware of the virus problem, we stayed clear of people coughing or sneezing, though I recall there was only a few such people encountered. In January I caught what I assumed was the common cold, or maybe the flu. For two days I was steadily blowing my nose, following a day of feeling yucky with sore throat and coughing. But after going through 2 rolls of toilet paper I felt fine.

  19. Sabine,

    do you think coronavirus sweeping europe will result in the funding for a 100 TEV scale collider being cancelled?

    spending billions in euro on a 100km ring and 100TEV scale collider seems a bit misplaced due to coronavirus effect on economy and people's lives

    1. I don't see the connection but it seems likely that the strategy meetings will all take place later than planned.

    2. "I don't see the connection"

      it'd seem pretty absurd for Italy, spain and france to fund this next collider given how coronavirus has impacted the economy

  20. Could you please provide a link to the workshop which you were involved in organizing and which is indefinitely postponed?

    1. Hi Armin,

      The workshop website is here, but it doesn't presently contain much useful information. We're still in the midst of trying to figure out what to do.

  21. Welcome to your role as all round scientific sage - I wish you all the best at it!

    I can't say there has been much change round where I live, though I have seen some people wearing face-masks and shops being busier than usual but the tv pictures of the centre of London during the early morning rush hour was remarkable - there was just one car trundling slowly across a bridge over the Thames!

    Actually, what has taken me aback, is the extent and speed of action taken by governments - which is a good thing. It really shows that all the years and work of planning that goes into preventing global pandemics has been worth it and we really ought to congratulate all those health professionals that have worked towards that.

    But given that quite a few prominent voices have said that similar action should be taken in view of climate change, and have been pushed back by those who decide policy on this in saying such proposed action is 'extreme' (for example, I've seen articles which say that one fossil fuel power plant should be replaced each day), it rather shows just what the horizons of the possible is when governments are decisive and take action commensurate to the crisis.

    Of course a pandemic has to be dealt with immediately whereas climate change is something that will need to be dealt with over a longer time frame; nevertheless, I think the same kind of thinking holds.

    Good luck with your public lecture.

  22. There's an article by Richard Hobday, over at Medium, titled "Coronavirus and the Sun: A Lesson from the 1918 Influenza Pandemic", where the strategy of keeping patients either outdoors on sunny days, or indoors using natural ventilation with open windows, considerably improved the cure rate. It turns out that outdoor air is a natural disinfectant, and sunlight kills viruses. This is rather encouraging for when the warm weather arrives in the northern hemisphere. Looking at the long range forecast for our Monadnock region of New Hampshire we will be firmly out of 40's Fahrenheit (above 9.44 C) by April 9th. As an avid cyclist I'll be glad not to be chilled to the bone as I was on the last few rides.

  23. Sabine

    in your opinion should Germany undergo an Italy, Spain, France lockdown?

    how will your children be educated?

    1. neo,

      I don't know how my opinion matters. Depends on how the situation evolves. For now we have country-wide closures and mass cancellations and I think they're now waiting to see whether this will be sufficient. I can't tell the future any better than anyone else.

      The kids are spending some hours every day doing homework exercises they've been assigned. This will work for a few weeks. Then we have Easter holidays anyway. Then we'll see. I guess we're lucky in that our daughters are uncomplicated school-wise, they like learning. And a lot of websites have popped up with free material for children, which makes things easier.

    2. "I don't know how my opinion matters."

      you live in germany right now right? here in the us, libraries, movie theaters, restaurants, department stores, bars, clubs, even park restrooms have closed.

      is this true in germany?

      personalty i think these measure are a bit extreme, BUT, i wouldn't want the coronavirus in my lungs.

  24. Yet another new study indicating high temps and high humidity "significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19", on the sidebar at Accuweather. Our humidity is high here in southwest New Hampshire this morning, but it's in the form of heavily falling snow. Glad I filled the birdfeeder yesterday, so no need to tramp through the snow covered ground. But that makes me wonder if birds could spread this new virus.

  25. I am very sorry you don't have anything to add on the corona virus. You of all people should know that it used to be priests that said they were the only ones with knowledge. Now you are giving in to say it is scientists are the only ones with knowledge in their specialty. Life is too complicated for anyone group to have a hold on anyone area of science. Almost everything is unpredictable beyond a very short time or distance. So people closest to the situation they are in, in time or distance, should be making comments and decisions on their own situations.

  26. Sabine,

    does the Coronavirus behave like classical physics or quantum physics?

    specifically,when a Coronavirus attaches the lung cells then enter the cell, reproduces and produces more virus particles,

    is this all classical physics or quantum physics?

    1. Everything is quantum physics, as I've said before. Do the quantum-typical effects play a role for that kind of interaction. No. Why? Because the decoherence time in the human lung is so ridiculously tiny you don't have to bother even estimating it. (Unless, possibly, you cool it down to near absolute zero, in which case, alas, both the human and the virus will be quite unhappy.)

    2. i understand those laws are a special case of quantum electrodynamics.

      more specifically, could everything that a virus does, from attaching to a cell, entering the cell, uncoating, getting its dna or rna replicated and proteins transcribed and then assembly and leaving the cell with copies,

      be described solely in terms of maxwell's laws of electromagnetism?

      is there any aspect of coronavirus lung cell interaction that requires quantum mechanics to explain?

    3. As a rule, quantum mechanics comes into play for with some principal energy value E, and with quantum energy steps ΔE with E ≥ ΔE, where 1 ≥ ΔE/E >> 0. Hence the quantum energy steps are comparable to the energy of the system. A great example are phonons, which are quantized lattice vibrations in a solid. For a cool or cold solid the spectrum of these vibrations has energy that is at most a couple of orders magnitude larger than the quantized energy of phonons with k_n = π/nL = 2/nλ_0 and L the lattice spacing. If the lattice is heated up then atomic or molecular motion exceeds this bound, which is a phase transition such as a melt or vaporization, and this quantum assumption may not apply.

      This can be used to address questions of where quantum mechanics enters into biology. The activities of biomolecules can be modeled as chains with phonons. Some interesting physics can come from this and there are people who do this sort of work. Photosynthesis involves the biophysics of an exciton generated in a molecular pathway. The role of luciferase that generates photons in bioluminescence has physics similar to how diodes work on a quantum level. Finally what also comes to mind is the hydrogen bond between homologous RNA and DNA strands.

      What does not happen though is for biological systems to act as a coherent quantum system in its entirety. The mass of a cell, m ≈ 10^{-9} kg is far too large with a net thermal energy, E = mcT, much larger than the energy steps of any specific small system. This is why there are no “quantum organisms.”

      One might then object that quantum gravitation involves the Planck mass m_p = 2.176×10^{−8} kg. This is of course the value of the energy gap ΔE = m_pc^2. So, a black hole with 10^3 Planck units of mass will exhibit quantum gravitation physics. This is because the energy gap between two states is huge. Even if a black hole of 10^2 Planck units of mass is comparable to the mass of a cell.

    4. what aspects of a virus lifecycle is classical physics and which parts quantum, i.e is coronavirus attaching to lung cell quantum or classical?

  27. Here is a fascinating article by a virologist on why ordinary soap is very effective in deactivating viruses, in fact actually disassembling them. Turns out the active ingredients in antibacterial products has little effect on viruses compared to just plain soap. For as long as I can remember I avoided the antibacterial cleaners just to minimize the chances of superbugs being bred, a concern Sabine pointed out in a Twitter post.

  28. Sabine,

    what do you think of this?

    "Germany’s Merkel bans meetings of more than 2 people to slow coronavirus

    The chancellor warns of consequences for violators of new measures"

    2? sounds a bit extreme.

    and how do you police that?

    FYI where i live in the states, we have a stay in house order and many businesses have been closed :(

    1. neo,

      Yes, the question is how you police that. In-house orders may make sense in large cities, but make no sense - and are practically not enforcable - in small cities. Frankly, I'd pay more attention to people living in large apartment buildings than people gathering outdoors.

      Also, I wish that politicians would think more about the rather foreseeable backlash of forcing most of the population to stay at home. You can push people only so far. If sufficiently many get organized to demonstrate against what they (correctly or incorrectly) think is an unjustified restriction on their freedom, there is nothing the government can do about that. This isn't a police state. You can't just shoot people. Even if you tried to break up gatherings, you would quite plausibly only make it worse because now you have the police in the supposed virus pool too.

      I'm afraid that's going to happen, sooner or later, here or elsewhere. I'd rather it was elsewhere. But Germany, believe that or not, has a substantial share of anti-vax nutcases who are all into "natural" immunization and I can just imagine how these people are rolling their eyes now.

      Yes, most businesses have closed here too. To say the obvious, this is not a sustainable solution. If this continues for more than a few weeks, half of the country won't be able to pay rent and then what?

    2. Sabine wrote:
      >In-house orders may make sense in large cities, but make no sense - and are practically not enforcable - in small cities. Frankly, I'd pay more attention to people living in large apartment buildings than people gathering outdoors.

      So, do you, your husband, and your two daughters -- four people altogether -- count as violating the only-two-people rule?

      Incidentally, the "stay at home" rules here in some of the States (we're in California) are not quite as crazy as they may sound. People are free to go on a walk or go hiking or jogging outdoors: they just want people to keep a six-foot distance from each other.

      Nonetheless, there has been some craziness in the announced policies: at least until recently, you could go to a restaurant to get takeout, but were not free to go to a library even to return books (they are suspending overdue fines, of course), much less pick up a book from, say, inter-library loan. Since one of the obvious things for people to do during the lockdown is read books, this is annoying (not to mention parents trying to homeschool their kids till the schools open again).

      Sabine also wrote:
      >Also, I wish that politicians would think more about the rather foreseeable backlash of forcing most of the population to stay at home. You can push people only so far. If sufficiently many get organized to demonstrate against what they (correctly or incorrectly) think is an unjustified restriction on their freedom, there is nothing the government can do about that. This isn't a police state. You can't just shoot people.

      Fortunately, Americans have a tradition of ignoring the law (fairly) peacefully, so I doubt it will come to violence. But, yes, people will put up with this for a couple weeks, but not for months on end.

      Sabine also wrote:
      >Yes, most businesses have closed here too. To say the obvious, this is not a sustainable solution. If this continues for more than a few weeks, half of the country won't be able to pay rent and then what?

      Modern economies are built on very complicated webs of inter-related debt: unravel the web here and there and pretty soon the whole thing collapses -- that is more or less what started to happen in 2008.

      Yes, there is a growing sense here in the US that, of course, something had to be done to deal with the virus, but the political class may not be thinking this through carefully.

      Let's just hope that hydroxychloroquine proves to be a miracle drug!

      Everyone: stay healthy!


    3. Hi Dave,

      The 2-people rule is not for families. I guess that means more generally people who live together anyway. Also, fwiw, I was told yesterday that here it's 3 people. There are a lot of districts who have gone and made their own rules. It's all highly confusing because I (as I guess many people) only rarely read the local news. So if I mom hadn't told me, I wouldn't even have known.

      "people will put up with this for a couple weeks, but not for months on end"


    4. I urge perusal of the article by Richard Westfall entitled "Newton's Marvelous Years of Discovery and Their Aftermath: Myth Versus Manuscript" (March 1980, Isis, Volume 71, Number 1). That article can be read free online (Jstor).

  29. There is a panic over a shortage of medical masks and other materials. Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are being required to reuse them. This has certain sanitation or epidemiological issues. It occurred to me that irradiation of medical material might be a way to reuse or recycle these materials. It might under ordinary circumstances reduce the waste stream. If we are uncertain about radiological sources from radionuclides then synchrotron radiation sources with electron acceleration could be used.

  30. Hi Sabine,
    Thinking of you all in Europe, a message from New Zealand as we start our lock-down.

  31. It's encouraging to hear that China is lifting its lockdowns. Even the city of Wuhan, at the epicenter of the crisis will have its lockdown lifted on April 8, according to this livescience report of two days ago.

  32. Several new studies support the belief that warmer weather and sunshine greatly reduce the spread of coronavirus. In the one linked below researchers contrasted the cold, cloudy climate of Iceland which has had an infection rate 22 times higher than Australia, where it’s warm and sunny. This certainly is hopeful for us in the northern hemisphere as temperatures and sunshine climb day by day.

  33. For a stretch now, I’ve more or less been of the conviction that COVID-19 is perhaps only slightly worse than the seasonal flu. Not to belittle this latest viral nightmare, but I was browsing Rush Limbaugh’s, (conservative radio talk show host), older transcribed shows, and earlier in March he pointed out that the 2009-2010 Swine Flu epidemic infected 60 million Americans, hospitalized 300,000, and killed 18,000. He contrasts this with 40 deaths up to March 12.

    Now the number of fatalities from this virus, in the US, stands at 1704 according to Hmm…, having just looked this latest number up it does sound rather alarming, as that is quite a dramatic increase in just 16 days, and presumably exponential. But hopefully this curve is no different than the early behavior of the seasonal flu, and social distancing implemented nationwide, plus warmer and sunnier weather, will nip this thing in the bud, and it will end up being not much worse than the seasonal flu.

  34. Here in New England our weather pattern has been cloudy and cool, the sun being a rare sight. Driving around Keene, New Hampshire in mid-afternoon yesterday, people had their dimmers on, it was so overcast. Today will be mild and sunny, but the morning low was 28 F. (-2.2 C). Looking at the long range forecast for April, there are only 8 predominantly sunny days, the rest being mostly cloudy, with 24 days being below average temperature for the month. This is unfortunate as the UV rays of the sun deactivate viruses, and would help mitigate this viral crisis regionally.

  35. Now I'm really completely shocked: do you really think that the given diagram shows the spread of the disease, as you wrote? Don't you know that this numbers are meaningless if you not put into account the rate of the "spread" of the tests?


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