Community

Red Cross Blood Shortage

The Red Cross has declared a blood shortage– the number of people donating has dropped 10% since covid began. The majority of blood drives are college campus associated, so covid has led to a decrease there as well, especially with recent cancellations due to an increase in the omicron variant. This combines with a typical seasonal decline as travel becomes more difficult during the winter months.

The Red Cross is responsible for 40% of the blood supply, and with the shortage, hasn’t been able to meet the needs of hospitals requesting blood.

Blood, like the majority of human tissues, can’t be fabricated in the laboratory. The only source of blood for people that need transfusions is blood from donors. While researchers are looking into ways to grow organs, and artificial skin has been approved by the FDA, the vast majority of human tissue comes from donors. Either organ donors, or grafts from elsewhere in the patient’s body.

The Red Cross is requesting both donations (blood and platelets) and volunteers to help with organizing and operating blood drives. They are currently automatically entering anyone who donates into a drawing for $500 gift card.

All blood types are needed, especially types O- and O+. People are still eligible to donate if they have had the covid vaccine, though they’ll need to know which vaccine they received. More about eligibility requirements can be found here.

Community

In Case You Missed It

This time last year, we were writing about the Health Hazards of Loneliness (many!), Irish Democracy (not exclusively Irish), trying recipes: Frybread (good) & Dried Corn Soup (we’re doubtful), and learning about the insects we see at this time of year, both indoors and outdoors (Crane Flies).

How unhealthy is loneliness?

Are isolation and loneliness actually bad for our health? Do they increase the risk of dying?

Irish Democracy

I started looking for a definition of “Irish Democracy.”  Found all sorts of descriptions of government in the Republic of Ireland – but nothing that described the unorganized ignoring of laws that lack popular support.  The term “Irish democracy” refers to uncoordinated, wide-spread civil disobedience.  An example is a sign in the window requiring face masks by order of Governor Bullock – and once you’re inside, you’re the only one masked. I started into a store, pulling my mask on.  The guy in a Stetson alongside me was humming “Desperados waiting for a train.”  I haven’t… Continue reading Irish Democracy

Fry Bread

South Dakota’s official state bread is Fry Bread – Probably the best I ever tasted was with wojapi when I visited the Lower Brule Reservation.  I was fortunate to meet, and get to know, Mike Jandreau, who was Tribal President.  His first question was, “What do you know about tribal sovereignty.”  I could answer competently because I had traveled with Joel Clarenbeau as he studied the topic.  The Lower Brule Reservation was settled under the leadership of Chief Solomon Iron Nation (1815-1894), a man who accomplished a great deal for his people.  I don’t have the… Continue reading Fry Bread

Dried Corn Soup

Once, when I visited the Lower Brule, I was served soup made from dry field corn.  There was no large explanation, just the opportunity for the wasichu to recognize how tough the times were in the first days of the reservations and the last days of the buffalo.  While it’s not five-star cuisine, the recipe probably has a place with anyone who stashes a couple bushels of dried corn in the emergency rations stash. 1 lb. lean boned beef, cut in cubes1 tbsp. bacon drippings4 c. water1 c. dried corn1/2 tsp. salt Brown meat.  Add water;… Continue reading Dried Corn Soup

Winter Crane Flies: widespread and little-known

As I was walking over to my in-law’s place one chill and sunny afternoon, I happened to spot a fly. A gangly, long-legged fly, seeming to bounce up and down in the brisk winter air. Unlike the cluster flies lining the edges of our ceilings, this one was fairly active, despite the temperature.

Community

Trego School Went to Distance Learning Last Week- Back in Person

Last week, Trego School went to distance-learning in response to a covid exposure in the school, in accordance with the school’s Health and Safety plan. School resumed in-person this week.

A bit before this time last year, Trego School was also doing distance learning. That August (2020), the school had installed shields around the desks, HEPA filters, as well as filters in the school’s heaters. Since we hadn’t had all that much in the way of local cases, the filters proved of far more utility for filtering the smoke out of the air that September.

Filters come to Trego School

Trego School’s Health and Safety Plan includes HEPA filters installed in air purifiers and in the heaters. While the filters for the heaters have not yet arrived (and are not expected to be needed soon, given current temperatures), the others are here. HEPA filters specialize in filtering out the really small, things measured in microns… Continue reading Filters come to Trego School

Community

School Started on the First

It’s that time of the year again. Classes at Trego School started on Wednesday, September 1st. The Back to School BBQ will be held on Friday, September 10th.

School enrollment at the start of the school year is nearing 30 students. With a fourth classroom teacher hired, class size averages about 7 students per class (7.25 to be more precise).

The district was able to use part of the district’s ESSR (covid relief funds) to fund the hiring of that fourth teacher, a decision made to help keep class sizes small. While classrooms are still multi-grade, most classrooms hold only two grades.

The official count for this year’s enrollment isn’t actually in- for funding purposes, the count happens only twice a year. The first is in October. If enrollment reaches thirty, the amount of funding the school receives will increase.

Looking at the broader trend, we last discussed Trego School enrollment back in January.

Data as of January 2021

This year’s start of 29 is a bit lower than January’s 31. Not a steep decline, but the trend merits watching.

Community

You Need to Check the Experts’ Math

This offers a perspective on covid survival rates, but screws up some simple statistics:

0-1920-4950-6970+
100.000%100.000%100.000%100.000%
-99.997%-99.98%-99.5%-94.6%
0.003%0.02%0.5%5.4%
100% – Survival Rate= Infection Fatality Rate.

It’s official data.  It purports to be from CDC.  The author implies possession of a MD.

The math is screwed up.  By a factor of 100.  I learned the difference between decimals and percentages in the fifth or sixth grade – this isn’t a mistake at a graduate stats level, or even freshman stats. It appears someone releasing official data screwed up.  We need to check the math even on official data.

This site https://lincolnmtcovid.com/ has local numbers – and you can contrast them against the CDC statistics:

The local numbers show some anomalies when we compare and contrast them with CDC statistics.  The Libby area shows a cumulative 1,190 cases (in a population of 9,772  that’s 12.2%).  North County shows 467 cases (in a population of 6,470 that’s 7.2%) and Troy shows 258 cases (in a population of 3,435 that’s 7.5%). 

Lincoln County death rates can’t be contrasted with the CDC percentages – the tyranny of small numbers makes it impossible.  That said, in the 70+ age range that the CDC figures identify as a (corrected) 5.4% infection fatality rate, Lincoln County’s charts show 24 deaths in 311 cases – 7.8% – 44% more fatalities than national statistics.  The 3 deaths in the 50-69 age range, with 557 total cases work out amazingly close to the national 0.5% infection fatality rate.

There’s not enough data for me to infer causality.  It is good to have local data available – and I do wonder why the infection rate is higher in Libby.  Checking the math when you can is a good idea.

A Science for Everyone, Community

Other Vaccine Effectiveness

I got the Covid vaccine as soon as I could.  I think I might have been vaccinated earlier but for the manner in which the local government picked folks to vaccinate – I wasn’t sitting by the phone when the call came in, and that healthy, outdoors behavior put me a couple weeks later than I wanted.

I’m one of the people who was in line for the polio vaccine – and it wasn’t far out of the experimental stage.  A classmate who is with you in kindergarten one day, then gone, and the dread word polio makes for a willingness to step up for vaccination.  As a kid, I didn’t know that the Salk vaccine was only 65% effective against one strain, and about 90% effective against the others.  Multiplication and division were still challenges back then – but I got the vaccine.

I don’t need a perfect vaccine – the vaccine is to improve my odds.  I get flu vaccinations, and the table from CDC https://www.cdc.gov/flu/vaccines-work/past-seasons-estimates.html shows how that works.   The important part is “Adjusted Overall VE (%)

Table. Adjusted vaccine effectiveness estimates for influenza seasons from 2004-2018

CDC calculates vaccine effectiveness estimates through the U.S. VE Network

Influenza SeasonReferenceStudy Site(s)No. of PatientsAdjusted Overall VE (%)95% CI
2018-19Flannery 2020 WI, MI, PA, TX, WA3,2542921, 35
2017-18Rolfes 2019 WI, MI, PA, TX, WA8,4363831, 43
2016-17Flannery 2019 WI, MI, PA, TX, WA74104032, 46
2015-16Jackson 2017 WI, MI, PA, TX, WA68794841, 55
2014-15Zimmerman 2016 WI, MI, PA, TX, WA93111910, 27
2013-14Gaglani 2016 WI, MI, PA, TX, WA59995244, 59
2012-13McLean 2014 WI, MI, PA, TX, WA64524943, 55
2011-12Ohmit 2014 WI, MI, PA, TX, WA47714736, 56
2010-11Treanor 2011 WI, MI, NY, TN47576053, 66
2009-10Griffin 2011 WI, MI, NY, TN67575623, 75
2008-09UnpublishedWI, MI, NY, TN67134130, 50
2007-08Belongia 2011 WI19143722, 49
2006-07Belongia 2009 WI8715222, 70
2005-06Belongia 2009 WI34621-52, 59
2004-05Belongia 2009 WI76210-36, 40

The important thing is that, in 15 years of data, the best record the vaccine had was 60% effectiveness.  The worst was down to 10% effectiveness.  If I’m playing blackjack, and I can get a 10% edge, that’s good.  If I can get a 60% edge, that’s great.  I don’t expect a vaccine -particularly one that had a rushed development-  to be 100%.

Smallpox was ended with a vaccine that was about 95% effective – “Effective smallpox vaccines have a vaccinia titer of approximately 108 pock-forming units per mL, and more than 95% of individuals develop a ‘take’ with neutralizing antibodies after primary vaccination. “ It’s worth remembering that it took several centuries to develop that vaccine.

Vaccines are more a statisticians game, or a gambler’s science.  Today’s polio vaccine is about as close to 100% effective as you can get.  The vaccines aren’t magic bullets – but they are better bullets.  It may take a while – but I’m betting the Coronavirus vaccines will become increasingly effective.  The problem is that the scientists are working on better vaccines, and politicians and administrators are working on press releases.

Demography

The Excess Death Data is Available from the CDC

The Center for Disease Control has compiled and released the excess death data for 2020 that gives us a better handle on Covid.  The first charts give a bit of a handle on what was happening:

There are a couple of interesting conclusions – first is that about a third of the excess deaths are not due to covid.  The second is that either the virus treats hispanic and black people different than whites, or that there are intervening variables or spurious correlations.  First, let’s look at the charts by age cohorts

They confirm that Covid was a greater threat to older folks than younger – just like the statistics have been showing us. Next, let’s look at the charts by race and hispanic ethnicity:

I’m not real sure about the relationship based on hispanic ethnicity – one of my colleagues qualifies as hispanic, but mostly Apache ancestry.  Gina is hispanic, but both parents were born in Spain.  Heck, genetically I have some Spanish or Portuguese ancestry, and my people otherwise come from Scotland and points north of there.  On the other hand, I’m waiting for the research that explains the extreme deaths in the category.

The lower left chart shows that the disease did not hit the white population so hard – which intrigues me because that is the oldest of the groups.  I’ll be waiting for more data before I make any inferences.

So click the link, read the CDC article, and start wondering – what hit us half as hard as covid at the same time?

Demography

Where Covid Fits in the Demographic Transition Model

The first stage of the demographic transition model includes high birth rates and high death rates – and infectious diseases dominate – for example, the black death was a highly infectious disease that killed millions in Europe – if memory serves, 60% of Venice died, and about a third of Italy’s population.  The 90% fatalities in Constantinople suggests that it was worse in cities.  A time of a life expectancy of around 30 years, because so many died young.  I’m not certain how effective the masks of the time were in combating the disease transmission.

The second stage includes infectious diseases – such as cholera – that could be controlled by sanitation.  Models don’t always fit as well as we would like – at the same time that public health and improved sanitation was getting a handle on cholera, smallpox vaccination was becoming a norm.   It was 1832 when Congress passed the Indian Vaccination Act, ordering the army to vaccinate the Indians.  Typhoid Mary remains in our vocabulary, a woman who showed no outward sign of infection, but spread typhoid wherever she cooked.  In her case, she was basically incarcerated because of her infection (and she kept escaping).  Stage 2 of the demographic transition is characterized by fewer pandemics, and life expectancy may rise as high as 50 years.  Our masking, quarantines and isolation are public health techniques developed in the second stage of demographic transition.  John Snow’s removal of the Broad Street pump handle was very effective at reducing the waterborne cholera transmission.

The third Stage is the stage of degenerative and man-made diseases – picture how cigarettes fit in with lung cancer and heart disease.  Just living longer increases your chances of dying from a degenerative disease.  Infant mortality drops, and life expectancy is pretty much in the mid-fifties.  The public health approach here is to change unhealthy behaviors like smoking while relying on medical research to counteract degenerative diseases.   The term “safe sex” comes from a public health program to reduce AIDS (HIV).  When it works, and it has, we move into the fourth stage of demographic transition.

Stage 4 – where we are in the US today – shows an increase in degenerative diseases, better medical care, and a life expectancy that exceeds 70 years. 

It is no wonder that Covid took everyone by surprise – in Stage 4, we’re used to having pandemics under some form of control – our top 3 causes of death are heart disease, cancer and accidents.  The Corona virus came in with an approach that complemented our stage in the demographic transition model – a pandemic that killed in a relationship to the age of the infected.  Probably the first clue was the word “comorbidity” becoming so much of the vocabulary.  This time we hit a pandemic that worked in combination with the degenerative diseases.  A disease that matches an aging population.  A disease that needed a stage 4 response.  Lacking that stage 4 response, we’ve spent the year responding as we did to diseases during the second stage of demographic transition.

Another Stage 4 pandemic will develop – after all, we have a stage 4 population as an incubator.  We may even develop new strategies for dealing with it.

Community, Demography

The Useable data on Covid

Figuring out the data to use is important.  On May 9, 1864, Union General John Sedgwick said “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance” three separate times.  After the third statement, he became the highest ranking Union officer to die in battle.  He was missing a couple relevant pieces of information – first, the Confederates had snipers with Whitworth rifles, and second, at 800 yards, the Whitworths were making 12 inch groups – far smaller than an elephant.

It’s similar with Covid – each of us is like General Sedgwick, not knowing which piece of data is relevant, or even exists.  Some data ties in blood types.  I’m not certain it is data we can use.  Death and age combine to give us the most solid data that we have – and it may be of some use.  Statista provides this information, as of January 9. 2021, for the US.

AgeNumber of Deaths
Under 134
1-421
5-1455
15-24510
25-342,196
35-445,742
45-5415,558
55-6438,830
65-7470,230
75-8490,744
85+105,673

As you look at these numbers, it’s probably worth remembering that over 50 million Americans are over 65 years old – where most of the casualties are.  Soon we’ll have the 2020 census, but until then the 2010 census data is usable – a bit low, but usable.  The tragic loss of 55 kids under 4 comes from over 20 million population in the 0 – 4 age cohort.  The 105,673 deaths of people 85 and over comes from a cohort of 5½ million.

If you want to calculate the years of life lost to covid, the social security life tables are available at: https://www.ssa.gov/oact/STATS/table4c6.html  Still, we’re dealing with big data – and, as I realized when I was being treated for colon cancer, the most important thing about your life expectancy isn’t the number for your age, it’s which side of the median you’re on. 

The data shows that Covid’s deadliness increases with the age of the person it infects.  The data isn’t adequate to show either the probability of being infected or missing the virus.  It’s easy to describe the statistics of the Spanish Flu – but most of the data was compiled and available by 1920.  This article describes how Gunnison, Colorado isolated their way out of the Spanish Flu: Isolation worked well for Gunnison. 

The folks at APM Research Lab have calculated out death rates by race – and their study is worth a look, despite the problem that race is more a social construct than genetically identifiable.  Here’s some of their data (as of January 5).

“These are the documented, nationwide actual mortality impacts from COVID-19 data (aggregated from all available U.S. states and the District of Columbia) for all race groups since the start of the pandemic.

  • 1 in 595 Indigenous Americans has died (or 168.4 deaths per 100,000)
  • 1 in 735 Black Americans has died (or 136.5 deaths per 100,000)
  • 1 in 895 Pacific Islander Americans has died (or 112.0 deaths per 100,000)
  • 1 in 1,000 Latino Americans has died (or 99.7 deaths per 100,000)
  • 1 in 1,030 White Americans has died (or 97.2 deaths per 100,000)
  • 1 in 1,670 Asian Americans has died (or 59.9 deaths per 100,000)
  • Indigenous Americans have the highest actual COVID-19 mortality rates nationwide—about 2.8 times as high as the rate for Asians, who have the lowest actual rates.

Data is data.  There’s not a lot of difference between Latino and White rates.