JoNova

A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).


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Who knew? Most people in lockdown like their own families

It turns out being locked up in our own homes with our own families is not the end of the world

Some said the lockdowns would cause skyrocking divorces:

More couples will SPLIT and divorce rates will skyrocket as strict social distancing rules force partners to spend more time together

Instead, people like spending time with their partners and kids:

Lockdown is making us love our families MORE: Britons are less likely to split up from partners, are eating and sleeping more…

Of all those in live-in relationships, 37 per cent say the experience has led to them wanting to spend more time with their partner, as opposed to the ten per cent who are keen to broaden their horizons again.

A total of 26 per cent say their relationship has improved, while 13 per cent say it has worsened.

Only nine per cent of people think they are now more likely to split up as a result of lockdown, compared to 27 per cent who think it is less likely.

Respondents have, on the whole, also enjoyed being cooped up with their children, with 45 per cent saying it had left [...]

Mysterious, amazingly low oxygen levels, a pulse oximeter may give the first warning of coronavirus

A pulse Oximeter     | Image Thinkpaul: Wikimedia

A cheap device might keep people off ventilators and be the first warning of trouble

In coronavirus blood oxygen levels can silently drop to unheard of levels. People may be unaware they even have coronavirus as oxygen levels fall to the point, medicos are rewriting the record books. This is a hypoxia crisis — it’s a defining feature of the disease. In the UK, the demand for oxygen at hospitals is so great that the NHS is running out, rationing it, and asking docs to lower their blood oxygen targets.

People are monitoring their “blood oxy sats” at home so they get an early warning that they need more serious medical help. Normal blood oxygen levels are 95-100% saturated. Doctors used to get uppity at levels below 92%, and hospital alarms often go off if children with asthma fall below 90%. At 88% doctors are putting people on continuous oxygen therapy. Levels below 80% are considered dangerous enough to start causing organ damage. But medical staff are finding conscious covid patients with levels so low they are unheard of — an unbelieveable 50 percent. I read somewhere an ambulance medic found someone [...]

Death tolls could be 60% higher than official numbers

Mortality rates show that this is a medical situation we have not seen since WWII

All statistics are suspect but some numbers still tell us something important. In the early fog of a global pandemic, a proper diagnoses is difficult if not impossible. People are dying of heart attacks because they are too scared to go to hospital, but equally, Covid is causing heart attacks and strokes that might never have happened. It’s fair to ask how many deaths are due to Coronavirus and how many are due to the lockdown, but it’s not realistic to expect that we can do an autopsy on every single patient. And as the Financial Times team points out, the excess deaths also occur in the regions of the UK with the highest infection rates — which suggests they are due to the virus, not just collateral damage. Though people will also be less willing to visit a hospital in a zone where there are more cases. On the other hand, in areas with lockdowns but no major outbreaks, the mortality rates are 10% below normal (see many US states). So these peaks could have been even higher but the lockdown saved some people [...]

New York “like mass casualty event”: coronavirus and other deaths up three-fold

Across the US all-cause mortality is down as as people avoid catching the flu, getting run over, and other risks. But in New York where coronavirus has hit hardest, all-cause mortality is at record highs.

This is nothing like the seasonal flu

For the whole month of March, deaths in New York were twice as high as normal. This includes not just extra coronavirus deaths but all other causes. Deaths were even higher than the number of known coronavirus deaths, leaving cardiologists worried that there may have been an increase in other conditions like heart attacks or strokes, because people were afraid to go to hospital or couldn’t get help in time.

This is an underestimate.  The authors expect this number to rise as more paperwork gets completed. It’s still only a small excess in a giant country, but it hints at the scale of the event were no quarantine measures put in place, no flights stopped, and the virus allowed to spread naturally. The current epidemic is stabilizing in New York, but if major action wasn’t taken, this would be the early weeks of a pandemic about to sweep across all fifty states. And this would not be the [...]

Urgent new medical theory on Coronavirus: hold the ventilators, stop blood clots instead

For doctors or nurses reading — there’s a call to share this widely

An information event on this online SUNDAY April 12 8pm US Eastern time. (Open, free to anyone who wants to listen). That’s 10am Monday morning EST Australia.

This is not the flu. Most of the time apparently it’s not ARDS either.  Coronavirus it turns out — is a vascular disease as much as lung disease. In fact in 70-80% of ICU patients putting them on a ventilator straight away may make the situation worse.

Currently patients in ICUs have about a 50:50 chance of making it out alive. The odds are terrible. Doctors have been reporting how people can degenerate suddenly into a life threatening crisis situation. Now, perhaps this explains it. This kind of hypothesis is one of the reasons we really want to crush the curve, now, because we are so underprepared and there is so much to learn. If this is right it will save many lives.

This could solve several mysteries at once

This virus causes heart damage, it raises clotting factors. People seem fine, then they relapse.

One recent paper found people with high levels of D-dimer, a clotting factor, [...]

Crushing the Curve in Australia — “unknown source” covid cases trending down

Australia remains the star Lucky Country compared to overseas. Infections are low, deaths are even lower. It’s all so much better than the desperate situation in Europe and the US. These are enviable, fantastically small numbers. Politicians are afraid to say so, lest the population relax, and party too much this Easter and the “unknowns” increase. (Which might well happen).

At the moment, the trend that matters most is the daily new cases of unknown transmission and it is trending down. There is community spread, but social isolation is shrinking it. This is what “Crushing the Curve” looks like. Right now there are still asymptomatic spreaders out there, but they are infecting less than one other person each (Ro < 1), so the infection is on its way to extinguishing itself — assuming we keep up the distancing.

But these great figures are not a reason to let up on social isolation, they’re a reason to go harder. We want to achieve the Golden Holy Grail — no new infections, and business as usual with no lockdowns, no curfews and a zone of freedom.

Australia is the Lucky Country, and doing the right thing

Why is the situation so good here:

[...]

No doubt about it: 12 days after lockdowns, quarantines and isolation, Coronavirus slows

Ancient technology wins: Not only are quarantine and isolation measures useful, they’re the best tools we have.

Some people don’t seem to realize that the only reason the daily growth of infections is slowing anywhere, is thanks to drastic quarantine measures or changes in human behaviour. We can see this in graphs from Italy, Spain, Norway, South Korea, Switzerland, Germany, and China, but not in Sweden or Brazil where there’s not much quarantine and not much slowing of growth curves either. In all of the former, the big meaningful actions were followed around 12 days later by an obvious slow down.

Willis Eschenbach, for example, wondered If Lockdowns Worked, but counted subdivisions of any quarantine type action as a measure of the severity when it’s more a measure of the wordsmithiness or indecision of leaders.

To see if major action matters, it’s better to look at the dates that borders, schools and shops were closed. The graphs of daily new cases below show that around 12 days later in so many countries, the growth in cases slows too. The delay is due to both the incubation period of Covid-19 and testing. By the time a lockdown is declared (or [...]

Coronavirus treatment — antibodies that work in 20 minutes could give protection for 8 weeks

NEWS: A group say they have developed five antibodies from the old SARS antibody stocks that with tweaking can now bind well to the SARS-2 novel coronavirus.

An antibody is a long string of molecules that binds only to the exact target (we hope). Wikimedia Bioconjugator

If they get through all the testing phases and ramp up production, in theory, these could be ready for mass use in September (but everything would need to go right). They could be injected into patients and within 20 minutes these antibodies would bind to the virus and stop it entering cells. The protection might last 8 – 10 weeks before someone would need another dose.

This could be a gamechanger, but beware before anyone gets too excited, this is very early days — “protoplasm” days. There are a lot of steps to rush through.This group have searched and evolved the protein with their supercomputer which has a huge library of antibodies. They claim to be certain it binds to the virus — and to  exactly the right part of the virus, but they haven’t actually done that yet — they’ll send the antibody to a military secure lab to do that. Then [...]

Sweden — going for herd immunity and using the 1918 Flu plan

It’s a big natural experiment

Swedish people are still going to schools, restaurants and gyms. Even the cinemas are running.  Apparently Sweden is taking the punt that there are many asymptomatic infections out there, despite having no data, and not doing any structured screening to get some either.  They are also betting that immunity to this form of coronavirus will last a lot longer than the coronavirus colds where herd immunity is irrelevant one year later.

All recommendations are made by the Public Health Agency.  Apparently they are learning from the 1918 influenza spread, and thus successfully “fighting the last war”. Swedish doctors are reportedly not happy about it. Probably because their idea of being doctors is not where you choose which 60 year old mother lives and which one dies, or where the doctors work round the clock and many of them get sick themselves, and some die. Gruelling is not the word.

Gatherings of 50+ people are banned, and the 70+ age group have been told to avoid social contact.

I predict that as the ICU units overflow, or even before, they will move to serious measures like the rest of the world as the inhumanity of the inadequate [...]

How about 27 feet of social distancing

How big should that gap be?

The WHO recommends “3 feet”, the CDC recommends 6 feet, but new research shows they got the model wrong and we might need to be 30 feet apart. Not to mention that the cloud of aerosols can wander suspended for hours. So we may need to be 30 feet and three hours apart.

No wonder churches and places where people sing are such high risk events, and why an astonishing 12,000 health workers are infected  with coronavirus in Spain.

They aren’t sure if their new findings  have clinical implications, which says a lot about how much we don’t know. The 27 ft distance applies to sneezes, so if the other party isn’t sneezing you might not have to be so far. Lucky sneezing isn’t that common, though the dry cough is. Personal trainers at 27 feet is going to be tricky.

UPDATE: Some readers ask whether one new study is even worth reporting, accusing me of “scare tactics”. I’ve been reading medical papers now for over 20 years, so forgive me if I found the results here so banal that I didn’t mention that this result is barely new, and very well [...]

Strap Yourself in: just three weeks from 3 patients to a hospital system on brink of collapse. 12% need intensive care.

Get out of the way of this virus.

Could Italy be suffering from a different and nastier strain?

Figures from South Korea and the Diamond Princess may not be a good guide to what’s happening in Italy and Iran. There something seriously different going on there. Death rates are much higher than expected. Three weeks ago, Italy officially had three cases, now a thousand people are dead and 12,000 have the virus. The hospital system is already at the point of being overwhelmed. Reports say that even stroke patients are now missing out on help, the ICU wards are overflowing, and the staff are prioritizing younger people because they have a better chance of survival.

Perhaps Italians hug more and spread more, perhaps it’s worse because they have an older demographic. But perhaps this is a deadlier strain than the one Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea appear to be containing. The Italian strain, whatever it is, is from the Iranian strain. Every country that has imported infected passengers from Iran will likely also have the Iranian strain.

Do we really want to follow Iran and Italy?

It’s not impossible — Just stop feeding the virus fresh bodies [...]

Doc explains how Coronavirus kills. Jo points out obvious: Stop the Flights or Close the schools, lockdown everyone

Fun subject of the day: How Coronavirus kills

No seriously, this is matter-of-fact, youtube-at-its-best, concise, cartoony, and smart.

Think of doctors as Body-Engineers. The problem to solve today Engineer-readers — is how to keep blood supply oxygenated when lungs are highly inflamed, filling with fluid, and the delicate thin membranes of lung tissue can’t cope with the sheer forces of rapid collapse and expansion. As well, if oxygen levels drop, even unconscious patients will breathe involuntarily — out of synch with artificial ventilation machines. The sensation of suffocation creates the urge to breath faster and harder. . The great news is ICU staff are getting much better at keeping people alive when they get ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome) which can happen with other diseases (like Influenza). Seems, the ICUs can keep 84% alive while they wait for the inflammation to subside and the damage to heal. Though the DIY version at home probably won’t be so effective.

Not enough beds

Obviously, this explains my obsessive interest in the percentage needing ICU care and also the Ro (rate of reproduction or spread). With a shortage of ICU beds, slowing the spread makes a life-and-death difference to state the bleeding obvious. [...]

Coronavirus: Australia, the island that could keep the virus out, is slowing the virus by flying it in?

Something does not add up

So the virus is on its way. Even though Australia has no known community transmission we are choosing to slow down the spread by actively importing it even though we are surrounded by a moat, and are pretty much self-sustaining. We have thousands of high risk people and the disease that’s coming is largely unknown — today there are reports a Japanese case of a woman medical experts had thought had recovered who tests positive again. Is this a biphasic disease like anthrax? That’ll be fun.

Winter is twelve weeks away for Australians, and we know the coronavirus potentially threatens to overwhelm our medical systems and could be a GDP-type hit on national economies. It’s highly infectious, and between 5 – 17% of current cases outside China require hospitalization, and probably 1 -3% will need intensive care. Inviting the virus to start spreading now will mean it will peak during winter — the worst possible time in Australia.

Australia is one of the easiest countries to protect from this scourge, yet we are obediently following policies of northern hemisphere nations in a different situation. Hmm?

As I keep saying, it’s easier to import a deadly [...]

Coronavirus: And so it spreads, lock downs in Italy, South Korea, riot in Ukraine

Coronavirus, Covid-19, cases outside China.   Source JoDiGraphics

The short not-good news: It’s looking like early exponential growth outside China

The cases outside China have reached 1,500. South Korean cases leap to 156, 204, 340, mostly centred on one church and one hospital.  In China, prisoners were discovered to be infected and a 29 year old doctor has died. The first death in Italy is confirmed, cases jump from 4 to 17, and the health minister there has cancelled or closed schools, events and shops in ten towns. The Iranian death toll has risen to 4, and Iraq has closed flights to Iran. Improbably Canada’s ninth case turns out to be a woman who flew from Iran, raising the worrying possibility that the virus is spreading undetected. Lastly, panic is spreading too. There were attacks in Ukraine to stop a bus of evacuees from China for their 14 day quarantine. It was triggered supposed by an email hoax.

Wise people might like to stock up the pantry just in case. As the people in some Italian towns just found out, there may not be a lot of warning.

The extraordinary rise in South Korea:

Four days ago South Korea had [...]

Outside China 5% of cases are severe; Singapore may be three months away from running out of hospital beds

In short:

Outside China, 2% of cases have progressed to “severe”. But if the lag is eight days then progression to severe is more like 5%. In China about 1/5th of severe cases are “Critical” If that rate occurs in the West, hospitals will be overwhelmed if just 1% of the population gets infected. In Singapore, the doubling period for confirmed cases is about nine days. Currently the spread is not exponential outside China (most days)

News today: First victim in Europe — an 80 year old Chinese tourist.

Stats:           Total cases outside China: 787            Deaths: 4           Severe cases: 18 (2%)

Early days of “outside China” data

The 2% rate of severe cases is an underestimate above. There is an eight day lag from diagnosis to “severe,” and then a longer lag to death. Total cases outside China on Feb 8th was 354. So a more realistic estimate is that about 5% of confirmed cases outside China have now progressed to “severe” (i.e. 18/354).

What does severe mean? It appears “severe” means hospitalized but not necessarily in ICU. In China, the rates issued in a Feb 7 press release were 82% mild, 15% severe, and 3% critical. From [...]