May 6, 2020 303 PM
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick should be exalted and placed in the pantheon of existential philosophers such as Friederich Nietzsche, Simone de Beauvoir and Søren Kierkegaard, to name a few. His thinking takes us beyond the provenance of these aforementioned mere mortals to a higher level of existential thought that actually can no longer be referred to as “existential.” His quote, “There are more important things than living,” has, with one profound sweep of his concise thinking, provided us, his constituency, with a clean slate by which to move forward, uncluttered with the concept of empirical thought, science and, dare I say, thinking (by lesser minds of course). The amazing part of this is that the answer has been obvious all along.
Here on a local level, Presidio County commissioners, Marfa City Council members and health officials are tasked with the very real job of protecting the health of their constituency; that being this community. These individuals have, and continue to, work hard, making difficult choices under circumstances that no one could have anticipated. They have made the right choice for the health and wellbeing for everyone living here, only to have it rescinded by the governor’s office. I remain grateful to them for their prodigious efforts. In reading Commissioner Bentley’s recent email for example, I feel confident that she and her colleagues are doing their best in looking out for us, against a jurisdiction that apparently overrides theirs.
Not wanting to be accused of quoting Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick out of context, here is his quote in full, “There are more important things than living, and that’s saving this country for my children and my grandchildren and saving this country for all of us.” Unfortunately Lieutenant Governor Patrick’s empathy does not seem to extend beyond the parameters of his progeny, nor does the concept of reinstating social interaction in the midst of a pandemic that has so far claimed the lives of 67,000 people appear to him to be at variance with “saving this country for all of us.”
We’d like to thank Judge Cindy Guevara and Presidio County Commissioners for making the tough decision – early on – to shut Marfa down. They’ve shown true leadership and good sense and for that we’re grateful.
As we write this, there is debate about reopening hotels and short-term rentals. As hard as it is to see empty streets and our friends struggling to stay afloat, we believe that waiting a bit longer is the way to go. There are simply too many unknowns, and our Big Bend-wide sacrifices will have been for naught if we fling open the doors too soon.
Jack & Lisa Copeland
Now is the time to figure out a more intelligent way to react to the next virus wave, now that we have more information. Here is a pretty simple guide about using risk. Keep in mind there are generally two camps: those who believe zero-risk is achievable, and those who don’t.
Data is available from Johns Hopkins via Github that is very useful. This is released as daily cumulative numbers of confirmed cases. Once you get to the inflection point, you can make some pretty good gamma distributed estimates through least squares. You can also calculate daily differences; math people will recognize this as the first derivative.
The U.S. confirmed case data is dominated by New York City, which has a much higher incidence and represents about 14% of the total. To apply the U.S. data to the tri-county area, it then makes sense to subtract out NYC from the U.S. data, to make a better representation of our semi-isolated, rural life.
Numbers: Net U.S. (no NYC) tops out at about 1.1 million, cumulative gamma distribution. This is the sort of big number the media likes to use to send fear through your bones. But consider this: there are about 320 million in this group (330m – 10m), so 1.1/320 is 0.36%, or even better, 4 out of 1000. Through the Law of Large Numbers, this can be used as an estimate of your risk of getting the virus, based on actual data. If you think 4 out of 1000 is high, you’re probably of the zero-risk camp.
With the net U.S. distribution, you can also scale it to the tri-county area, with a population of about 16,000. This comes out to about 67 expected cases for this area (I am rounding numbers) for the last episode. That we so far have only one confirmed case supports the idea that the net U.S. distribution is more urban than rural, and should work as a conservative estimator of our local conditions.
If you take the differences (1st derivative) of the gamma distribution of net U.S., you can also scale that to the tri-county area. That is an upper bound, as explained in the previous paragraph. The peak of this curve is at 1.5, that is, we could expect at the peak 1.5 daily, new confirmed cases for this whole area, as an upper bound. The idea of the “flattened curve,” that was used so often as the justification for shutting everything down was to prevent hospitals from getting saturated with cases.
I can “unflatten” the curve by a timescale factor of 1.5 (this would be assuming not as many restrictions as was just done), and the peak increases to 2.5. Remember, the flattened and unflattened curves represent the same total, the same risk, one is just more compressed in time. As the minimum can be zero on any given day, and the expected maximum is 2.5, it’s reasonable to assume the 2.5 is an average, so the maximum of the maximum is 5. Since less than 20% of confirmed cases require hospitalization, a rolling sum of new cases plus old cases that last an average of 14 days can be multiplied by 20% to get an expected maximum load at the peak of this new curve. It comes out to six for the tri-county. As we’re using a distribution from a large population applied to a smaller population, the variability is higher, so it would be prudent to double that to 12 beds.
We should consider keeping CV-19 cases out of the hospital entirely, and treating them separately in county-run facilities, say in Alpine, Presidio, Marfa, and Ft. Davis, with no ventilators (unless someone can make a compelling case that ventilators save CV-19 lives, rather than just prolonging them a few days). If we throw everyone out of work again, and make the regional hospital bear the CV-19 load by itself, we very well could end up with no hospital, as it already has shaky financials.