We are in the midst of a Covid crisis in Harris County. There’s no other way to describe the situation that has followed the Floyd riots and funeral. Rather than put politics aside a furor over masks has erupted. We look silly. Here’s a glimpse of how silly we look:
Data is data, and if we are going to be responsible we have to go where the data leads us. As a general proposition, that means being willing to look at the data for information, and when patterns emerge be willing to act in the way the data leads us. Right now we are in Covid crisis, and all the bickering over masks is wasted energy and not addressing the overall solution we need. All life matters, and that’s a balancing act between sparing the hospitals and preventing indirect deaths. Sometimes that’s open it up, but right now the data says three things: Shut. It. Down.
We were doing okay until the Floyd Riots and Funeral
The Texas Medical Center has been posting daily data about ICU occupancy. The diamonds show when we had reopening phases. Phase 1 was okay. Phase 2 was concerning, but the rise in occupancy initially, but then it stabilized. Then the Floyd riots and funeral occurred and now we are in a significant increase. The data is actually more sinister than it appears. The Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Counsel is also releasing data that can be reduced by County. That shows much more interesting results, and shows that the Floyd riots have pushed us into a crisis and we have to shut down to blunt the crisis and then we can return to our previous balancing act.
Here’s the data for Harris County from Phase II reopening with the 7 day moving average. The deviation above the moving average is far greater than the moving average showing that we are in a dire and escalating situation in Harris County. However, looking deeper than the curve shows even more interesting data. If we look at the incubation period and then plot the hospitalization and ICU utilization it shows a far scarier picture.
Plotting general bed and ICU bed occupancy starting 10 days after Phase II, the Floyd Riots, and Floyd Funeral shows a troubling pattern. The prior event had stabilized and then 11-13 days after the event occurs the occupancy rate increases sharply. It’s mildly apparent for Phase II reopening. However, with the Floyd events the pattern is obvious. Look at the small tail on the left of the Floyd lines followed by an increasing rate of utilization. Worse, each event shows the slope increases showing that the effect is amplifying. Now, we are in a situation where the hospitals have reached capacity more or less, and many more asymptomatic people milling about in society. Which brings us to the silly fighting about masks.
Masks are not worth the fighting
Academic research suggests that masks slow the spread. This may even have some truth to it. But if it is ineffective why are we fighting over these silly masks? The data for Harris County suggests that social distancing is more important than masks. In fact, not only does the data show social distancing is controlling it may be so controlling that we can’t test for mask effectiveness in the real work.
However, the do they work or not work argument is also harmful. This is an issue where people have drawn a line in the sand and many are refusing to comply. In a situation where a significant amount of the population refuses to comply two options are available – persuasion or brute force. The options available are either we engage in political persuasion for the ones who don’t want to wear the masks, or there’s a China like crackdown on violators. I keep saying we need to keep the high road. Why? Taking the high road builds goodwill, and the goodwill is what allows for civil debate.
Now, we’re too far down that road to have persuasion be effective. By going low road the goodwill necessary to persuade those who don’t want to wear masks is absent. At this point we not only don’t know, but can’t know if masks will work because of lack of willingness to cooperate. The only method we have left to pursue in this crisis is to shut the economy down until the hospitals are in better position to address the situation.
Abbott and Hidalgo need to act like Adults
The two elected leaders are more concerned about political positions and not the good of their governed. Each disease bubble needs to be addressed individually, and the Governor needs to stand up and say Harris County has to be shut down. Hidalgo needs to exercise her power to make staying at home easier. She appears to be unwilling to restrain homeowner associations that are enforcing no work from home provisions in their governing documents.
The panhandlers are still out in force. The contact tracers could never trace infections back to the panhandlers. The ranks of curbside pickup or Favor/Doordash/type of services are not keeping up with demand. Rather than simply saying here’s free money for rent the recipients should be hired to bring the orders to homes so people don’t have to venture out for food. Thinking outside the box and making it easy to stay at home will keep people more likely to be home.
We have to shut down, and shut down now. It’s too close to the brink, and may already be too late. We also know that Phase I and Phase II are okay – even the phase two increase leveled out. When the immediate crisis is over open back up. Stop arguing about masks. Even my cow head above meets the mask requirements. Let’s get away from the mask war and try to get back to thinking how we can improve going forward.