Let me begin by thanking those of you who follow my blog. I started it nine years ago with my late wife, Susan. Back then our focus was birds, particularly those whose populations are in decline. The idea was, and still is, to present attractive photos of the natural environment to remind people of what we are losing. More recently, I’ve expanded my focus with human-made structures so viewers can consider how these might impact our environment.
You will also see a new layout for my blog. Do send me comments about your likes and dislikes so I can consider any changes.
Read my, The End of the Mass-produced, Industrial Era? about the interrelationship between the coronavirus pandemic and climate change, first, and then click the link, above. I hope you will forward this link to others. Then view the just released documentary, Endgame 2050, available on Amazon Prime. You can also view it on YouTube. There, everything I and others have discussed about climate change and the time remaining to address this crisis (about 10 years, maybe less) are nicely illustrated. One caution, the film is very disturbing.
It will come as a surprise to many that if we all ate vegan it would not only be good for limiting cruelty to animals, keeping our arteries clear, and reducing our cancer risk; it would also be good for the biosphere. You can find an article discussing the health risks of meat production in the New York Times Magazine.
Like everyone, lock-down is beginning to wear on me. And even though the corona virus is more likely to result in complications and death for those 60+ and the infirm, media reports have shown that these can also strike the young and healthy. So, deciding to go back to our work and social settings is a bit like playing Russian Roulette, isn’t it? The whole experience is quite surreal. The world around us appears as it was, but it’s not.
Despite a still growing number of Covid-19 cases in Maine, the governor is starting to open things up, slowly. Recently, I’ve been out with the camera looking for some good places to photograph, though trips to the mountains and back country will have to wait. The object is to find out what hangs out where, then return later (typically at twilight periods) and take up a hidden position and wait.
Like many of you, I’m wondering how long I have to live like Matt Damon’s character in the 2015 film, The Martian.
Those of you who have read this page are familiar with my concept of Micro-industrialization. The social science literature describes several predominant modes of subsistence: hunter-gather, horticultural, agricultural, industrial, and post-industrial, all of which overlap to varying degrees. Post-industrialism currently predominates in the developed countries where there are a much greater proportion of services than manufacturing. Micro-industrialization would predominate when industrial economies no longer have the energy required to mass produce services and goods either because accessible, affordable fossil fuels run out or because humans elect to eliminate them to mitigate climate change. Either way, the focus of production would likely focus on food, clothing, shelter, primary health care and public health initiatives, basic transportation, and communication. This is because renewable energies would not be able to fully replace the loss of fossil fuel energy in the foreseeable future.
The COVID-19 pandemic could be an unanticipated driver of micro-industrialization. If we look at some of the major past pandemics we would see that they have played out over years. The Antonine Plague (165-180), Plague of Justinian (541-542, with recurrences to 750), the Black Death (1347-1351, with recurrences over the next 200 years), and the 1918 Flu (January 1918 to Dec 1920) are all good examples.
These would suggest that once COVID-19 peaks and the number of outbreaks then begins to decrease, we will still not be “out of the woods” for a long time. There will continue to be the likelihood of outbreaks if public health preventions are removed, at least until there is a vaccine. But this could take up to a year-and-a-half. Even then, the virus could mutate and return (though not necessarily as virulent) much like the flu. Of course, given our scientific knowledge of microbes, epidemiology, and public health, we could shorten the duration of pandemics. This would naturally depend on our leaders relying on science to make health care policy decisions. Very unfortunately, some do not, such as Trump, Jair Bolsonaro (Brazil), Boris Johnson (U.K., though he since converted), and Recep Erdoğan (Turkey), to name a few. The HIV/AIDS pandemic (1959-current) is a good example of how religious and cultural beliefs undermined the widespread implementation of public health initiatives to stem this disease before the development of effective drugs.
This begs the questions of how long can we psychologically and physically stand staying sheltered, and to what extent can the economy bounce back to its former status given the heightened risks of future pandemics and climate change. There are no clear answers right now, but it behooves us and our leaders to give these a lot of thought in terms of what the science tells us about this disease.
We are all anxious to return to Earth.
 As I stated on my COVID-19: Drivers & Implications page on this blog, “Epidemics are unpredictable–they can erupt anywhere. However, we know that they are fostered by population density (7.3B people worldwide concentrated in urban areas), proximity to and the eating of domesticated or wild animals (factory farming and people encroaching into wilderness areas risk infection), and a warming climate (tick and mosquito borne illnesses)–all greater factors now than in the past.”
Update: It turns out that Maine’s CDC has received only 5 percent of the tests it expected from Abbot laboratories. An indeterminate number of additional tests should be delivered later this month, according to Abbot Labs. This is a serious setback, since only with widespread testing can we understand how to accurately start rolling back social distancing and other preventive measures.
With the advent of the new ID Now COVID-19 test that’s going into production by Abbot laboratories here in Maine I’m thinking now might be a good time to discuss a statistical view of our natural environment. Statistical, you say? Yes, we want a high confidence map showing estimates of the infected population and their boundaries.
But first, we need to know more about the test, that I have not seen reported. In other words, how accurate is it? Medical tests are assessed on the basis of their specificity (false positives) and sensitivity (false negatives). The former identifies most of the people who do not have the disease, and maybe a few who do. The latter identifies most of the people who have the disease, and maybe a few who do not. These can be illustrated with the following table :
With this information we can use ratios to calculate the various likelihoods of each cell. A sensitive test is good at screening because it identifies most of the people who have the disease. In contrast, a specific test is good at diagnosing because it identifies most of the people who do not have the disease. How high the percentages for each of these test aspects are depends on several factors that impact the consequences for being wrong.
Since the FDA has fast-tracked approval for this test we’ll assume it’s up to the job. The next question is, what do we want to know? According to Dr. Fauci and other epidemiologists, we want a good estimate of the proportion of the infected population and where the disease is. To learn this we now have to sample the population, in this case Maine. I’ll summarize what I think would be one way to do it.
Here are two possible methods for tracking COVID-19; both methods would require a large supply of tests that could be turned around within 24-48 hours. The first would involve collecting a sample using the list of Maine’s Census tracts. With this we could conduct a cluster sampling to randomly select some of these Census tracts. We would then randomly select within these tracts (possibly in multi-stages) to the point at which we have a list of randomly selected households. During this process we would publicize this sampling campaign to alert people to the possibility of their being contacted to take a COVID-19 test. How these contacts would be made would depend on the information Maine has in its data. People would be screened out if they had a previous positive COVID-19 test (however, prior tests should be merged with the sampling data to provide a more comprehensive picture). Subsequent testing could be conducted with this sample to determine disease spread over time.
Alternatively, no survey would be conducted; instead, it would be well-publicized that anyone with COVID-19-like symptoms should get tested. This is the preferred method in most areas should all the necessary test kits become available.
Contact tracing (locating all the positive person’s contacts during the past two weeks and warn them to shelter in place) would be conducted with either method at the beginning and end of the outbreaks when there are relatively few positive cases. Tracing would also be conducted in sparsely populated areas. This would serve to limit the spread of disease; however, contact tracing is not feasible once the numbers of new cases begins to explode because there would not be enough personnel and monies to carry it out.
The sampling method would be more expensive but would have the advantage of providing information from people who do not go to a doctor or get tested because they either have mild symptoms or none at all. Without conducting a sample, these cases would remain unknown. Testing only those with COVID-19-like symptoms would be cheaper but would not show the full spread of the mild disease cases. This is important information since people with the disease who exhibit no or mild symptoms can spread the disease to people who are at greater risk for complications.
 The full methodology would likely take several pages, but since I don’t have all the information necessary from Maine and you probably aren’t interested I present only the ”broad brush strokes.”
 This method won’t work as well if the COVID-19 tests aren’t sensitive enough to detect pre-symptomatic cases within perhaps five days of infection. In that case we would just test the entire population presenting symptoms possibly related to COVID-19.
You can see in the following chart that infections are accelerating at an exponential rate while recoveries lag behind at this time. The logarithmic chart normalizes (smooths the curves) the data so they can meet this assumption for statistical modeling. Infections are now about doubling daily.
I’m thinking that during this unprecedented and difficult time many of us might be thinking the worst. A lot of “What ifs . . . .”
So, maybe a quick diversion. Since this blog is mostly related to our natural environment, very few of my photos are posted here. However, I’m in the process of rebuilding my photo collection at my online gallery where you will find photos of my work in other areas.
Earlier this week I took the ferry out to Peaks Island to get the last of my stuff from my rental. While waiting for the ferry I walked over to Commercial Street and took the photo, above. This is the main artery running along the waterfront. As you can see, there are few cars. Schools, the Department of Motor Vehicles, the courts, along with many other establishments were closed. At 6 PM all bars and restaurants were limited to take-out only.
It’s ironical that just now as I’m getting resettled and ready to resume my photography (that has been mostly dormant for the past six months) that I (along with the rest of the world) must shelter in place both for my benefit and that of my community.
Unlike past pandemics, COVID-19 has spread to all continents, except Antarctica, in a “flash of an instant” while we follow its developments and consequences in real time. Much as in the aftermath of the two World Wars, humanity will likely be changed for decades. Governments will likely allocate far more monies for disease surveillance and first responder infrastructures, if for no other reasons than the financial costs of shutting down the economy.