An Important Petition from Iris

Iris at Death to Squirrels has a post up regarding the cruel treatment and unjust imprisonment of a young bi-racial girl with mental health problems. It’s an ugly story about a family looking for help and finding horror instead. It’s not only an indictment of the American mental health system but another urgent example of why Black Lives Matter really does matter. The more I read, the angrier I became, and I encourage you all to go read the story and get angry, too. Then, go sign the petition. I did, but I’m not an American, and the petition needs American voices – lots of them. At the very least, it will let this family know that they are not alone, but maybe collectively, we can get this child the help she desperately needs and offer her a future. Thanks.

Is a Homemade Face Mask Better Than Nothing?

The best thing an amateur can do in times of crisis is to follow experts, specifically the expert consensus and not the hand-picked cherries who pander to one’s preconceived ideas. Not that the consensus is automatically true, but it probably is the best that human knowledge can offer at the moment. What we are seeing right now is a consensus shift regarding the wear of facemasks, as more and more countries recommend them or even make their wearing mandatory in some places.

This is accompanied by new research, and one such research in the Czech Republic focuses on comparing various materials. The findings are not published yet, but one such preliminary finding is mentioned in the Czech article – five layers of ordinary t-shirt fabric are effective at catching nearly all particles of the size that have droplets exhaled/coughed out. That is huge since it is nearly equivalent to a surgical mask. And since the main argument for widespread use of face masks is that they should slow the spread of disease from those who have it (especially those who might be asymptomatic), then yes, even such self-made masks are better than nothing, if everybody has them.

But the article mentions another thing, which is even more interesting. One layer of t-shirt fabric was able to stop 11% of the much smaller sizes, those that are expected for the dry incoming particles. And five layers would stop nearly 46% of such incoming particles at maximum breathing speed (i.e. during intensive exertion). Slow breathing increases their efficacy.

That might be significant. There is some evidence that the initial viral dose of SARS-CoV-2 might have an influence on the severity of the illness. That seems logical – the illness has several days incubation period during which the virus grows in the body exponentially. A smaller viral dose thus might give the immune system may be a whole day or even more to develop appropriate antibodies, as is the case with influenza. But I could not find any study looking at whether there is a correlation between the incubation period and the severity of the disease.

It is a work in progress, but to me, it seems the answer to the question in the title is “very probably yes, possibly even for your own protection”.


Before you submit any argument against wearing face masks, please consider whether said argument could be used with the same weight against the universal and non-controversial recommendation of washing your hands. For example, an argument that many people are wearing masks incorrectly is not an argument against wearing them, just like the fact that most people wash their hands incorrectly and insufficiently was never an argument against hygiene. It is only an argument for making an effort to educate the public.

Like this video, which educates about both.

How Czechia Flattened the Curve (Maybe, Hopefully)

Our current prime minister has been in the past often criticized as akin to Donald Trump re: conflict of interests and use of state resources to enrich himself and his family. And rightly so in my opinion, I cannot stand the man personally and politically.

However, when SARS-CoV-2 hit the Czech Republic, he, unlike Donald Trump, has done the right thing. In response to the pandemic, he has left decisions on the policy to actual epidemiology experts from the very beginning. Thus when CZ had mere 116 cases, 12 days after the first three on March 1., he declared a state of national emergency and just two days later virtually everything was put on hold except the absolute bare minimum (grocery stores, delivery services, apothecaries and some more). It was criticized by the opposition (our equivalent of US conservatives) as needless panic-making and fearmongering and the measures as needlessly draconian and a PR for himself and his party. Especially the order of mandatory face masks (home-made and improvised masks are allowed) was met with scorn.

On March 18. I have taken the data of confirmed cases so far, plotted them on a graph and calculated the best-fit exponential curve. It was at a daily increase of 39%, an effective doubling every two-three days, approsimately the same trajectory it has had all over Europe. This growth meant we should have over 140.000 cases today, but we, luckily, do not. We have less than 5.000. Howso?

Look at this graph:

The red curve is the actual cumulative cases as reported every day at midnight. The blue curve is the exponential best fit that I have calculated on March 18. And then there is the orange curve, which is also an exponential best-fit but only for the last week from March 28. to April 3. You can see that the two best-fit lines intersect on March 21.-22.

That is, in my opinion, the day when the enacted measures started to have a visible effect – eight to ten days after they were enacted. I do not know whether I am doing the right thing here mathematically – I have dabbled in statistics at work, but not in epidemiology – but it does seem right to me.

The new rate of growth is still exponential, but instead of 38% daily it is 8% daily. And although the difference between multiplying the cases daily by 1,08 instead of 1,39 does not intuitively look like much, it means the doubling of the cases is prolonged from mere 2-3 days to 10-11 days. Still not enough for an illness that can take up to 6 weeks to heal and kills 1% of infected people, but a very noticeable drop.

And AFAIK that drop is not due to insufficient testing. Testing has grown proportionally, although still not as much as it perhaps should have. But the ratio between positive/negative tests is getting lower, and that indicates that the drop in overall cases is real.

Now there is certainly much more to it than this oversimplified graph. For example, Germany took longer to enact strict active measures, relatively speaking. That is, CZ government enacted nation-wide strict measures when we had just several hundred people ill, whilst the German government did leave many decisions to individual states and instead of strict orders tried to control the situation with recommendations only at first. This has led to a bit of inconsistent reaction and different measures being enacted (and ignored by people) in different states. It worked, but not as much as was desired. Strong nation-wide measures started being implemented only when there were several thousand people ill already- at about the same time as in CZ. And at about the same weekend the curve began to break in Germany as well.

It was similar in Italy too, there the curve began to break at around March 15. (only estimated, I did not calculate the fit curves for Italy, I am doing this in OpenOffice and that is not the best program for this kind of work), about two weeks after the most-hit municipalities were put on lock-down.

Another quick analysis that can be done just by looking at the numbers – In Italy, it took 22 days for the cases to grow from about 100 to 20.000. In Germany, it took 24 days, in Spain 18 days, in UK and France 25 days and in the USA 20 days. The Czech Republic is now 24 days from its 100th case and we are nowhere near 20.000.

So even these amateurish and quick&dirty analyses show that quick reaction, regardless of what the nay-sayers say, is essential in avoiding the worst in case of an epidemic. The enacted measures work as intended. I only hope that our government and our people do not relax too soon.

Stay safe, stay at home whenever possible, and fingers crossed for you and your loved ones.

YouTube Video: I Was the Fastest Girl in America, Until I Joined Nike

I have a hate-hate relationship with all professional sports*, especially with zero-sum competitions. Apparently even that IMO shitty environment can be made even shittier for women by men who have no clue but wield a lot of power.

This video spoke to me for some reason.

*In short, they are unhealthy and they more often than not foster self-harm, tribalism, and abuse.

Teacher’s Corner: Homeschooling

Content note: Child abuse

Homeschooling is generally illegal in Germany and the longer Corona goes on, the clearer those reasons become.

A)For one thing, not all homes have the same resources. Right now you notice a stark difference in what schools can do with remote teaching. Some schools, mostly “Gymnasien” which are the elite schools in the horribly stratified German school system with a generally well off clientele are doing some fantastic things with Google Teams and all that shit. Us? Not so much. We made sure we contacted all families individually to make sure they can access learning material. In some cases that means that I print that shit out at home and send it off by mail. I’m currently telling myself that the cost is set off by not having to commute, but of course not all teachers will do that. And that’s just accessing learning material. Children still need support and an occasional explanation. I’m a teacher and kind of a “Jane of all trades” since in special ed you teach basically all subjects, though the focus is usually on Maths and German, neither of which are the subjects I actually studied. Not only do I learn easily and have years of training in teaching, but also in learning, so I know where to find resources if I’m stuck. Like yesterday when I had to do a quick recap in mechanics before working on it with #1.

Many of my students’ parents didn’t finish even the lowest school leaving cert themselves. For them school was not a good place and they are not able to do the schoolwork themselves, let alone explain it. Many don’t speak German (well) and at least one single mum is illiterate. Homeschooling massively increases injustices in education. Kids of well off, well educated parents keep learning. On the whole their situation is much less stressful right now. My kids have different rooms, there’s a garden I can send them to, for now I don’t have to worry about money or food and we have plenty of entertainment.

B) Parents are not teachers. Not even the parents who actually are teachers. Parents and teachers have different roles and relationships with a child and each of these relationships has a different conflicts. For one thing, while I am very involved in my students’ wellbeing and care for them a lot, they cannot hurt me emotionally in a profound way. While they can annoy me and even make me angry at times, I generally don’t take it personally (they often do, but they’re teenagers so they take the weather personally as well). There’s the kid who has called me all kinds of names and I frankly care more about him getting his anger under control because once he leaves school he’ll be in a hell lot of trouble for calling his boss a b*tch. With my kids things are very different. They can hurt me. they can make me worry on a whole different level. And vice versa. If I teach them at home and there’s some problem and some fight over schoolwork, they cannot go home to a safe place afterwards and complain about fucking Ms Giliell. And right now, having a safe place is much more important than ever. This would always be a problem with homeschooling, but in the current crisis, the relationship between parents and their children is so crucial, it cannot be sacrificed to algebra. When I talk to parents on the phone I tell them that this is the most important thing. School will still be there after Corona. Maths will still be there. But their relationship might not be.

C) Some teachers just don’t get it. While across the country teachers are (rightfully) snickering at parents who are currently finding out that maybe the teacher isn’t the problem, there are also teachers who show no understanding for the problems I talked about in 1 and 2. There’s a video I’ve been sent where a teen dressed up as a teacher is going “oh, homework will help them so here’s my Corona remote teaching: Do every single task and exercise from page 1 to 349! This will be graded”. My social media is full with parents being desperate about not meeting deadlines and kids crying about schoolwork.

Yesterday I was like “are they fucking kidding me” when I printed out #1’s science lessons. Not only does the teacher expect people to have a colour printer, they also expect to learn all of mechanics all by themselves. These kids have never had even the most basic lesson about power, force, mass etc. and all those other important concepts you need to understand shit like levers and stuff. Nobody is telling me that they would have been able to cover all of that in 7 lessons at school. And honestly, I needed 30 minutes of preparation before I was safe enough in using the correct terms. I also bribed her, saying that her Easter gift would come as soon as we finished this because I know that this is the thing she likes the least and she’s struggling anyway, not because she’s having trouble grasping those ideas, but because she’s on the spectrum and needs her clear structure.

Apart from that it’s difficult for teachers to asses if their worksheets are working. In class I can read the room. I can see on the faces whether something makes “click” or not, I know where to look (Is little Jeanie still paying attention and what do I need to do to get her attention). With remote learning there’s little chance of that. Many kids will ask in class, but not write an email. And yeah, even veteran teachers occasionally produce bad material. To be honest, with #1’s physics worksheets I was occasionally wondering what they want me to do. And next on the list is calculating “work”. The formula remains obscure. It has not appeared in the book pages she’s supposed to read or the worksheets up to date. She will learn about it at some later time. I’m not sure if spoilers should be a thing in physics.

And this is the most damning point: child abuse:

D) In schools, daycare, all those institutions, people see kids every day. We notice if kids don’t have food. We notice if they have bruises. I remember a mother who accused us of not having noticed sooner that her daughter was cutting herself (after we informed her, the mother, who shares a household with her daughter). We notice if they don’t have clothes or don’t come to school at all because they need to “take care” of their parents who struggle and don’t manage to give their kids the care they need. Occasionally we just plain feed them. I sometimes complain about the days when I spend more time with adults on the phone than with kids in the classroom, talking to CPS, social workers, therapists. I write “notifications of child endangerment”. None of this is happening right now. CPS is mostly shut down right now. They cannot visit families at home. If they have concrete evidence, they can send the police who are absolutely not trained in those matters (and ironically kids in good middle class homes are most at danger here because if police come to a nice home with well fed kids they won’t do shit.) All of this is happening while people are packed in bad living conditions, struggling financially. Many charities have stopped working while some still try do give at least some support. Children are no longer getting meals at school. Welfare money is already not enough and now those families lose that safe 1 buck hot meal that their children got so far. In some schools it’s even more as for example the special eds centre I belong to (but don’t work at) offers free breakfast as well. We know that while there#s never an excuse for beating your kids, such situations lead to an increase in violence. We have already seen this in China, and children are the most vulnerable. As one CPS worker who still staffs the crisis hotline said: “a four years old can’t dial my number.”

“It is just a flu” Should Never be Comforting Phrase in the First Place

I do not know whether this applies to the anglophone world, but in Germany, and to the same extent in CZ, “flu” and “cold” are treated as more or less synonymous. And because the common cold is, well, common, most people when they say they came down with flu, what they really want to say is they had/have a bad case of the common cold.

One of my former colleagues thus thought that flu is something trivial and she always disparaged me when I said that flu is a serious illness and not something to be flippant about. I do not know how she managed to live for over thirty years and get herself a kid without encountering real flu, but she was among the lucky ones in this regard I guess. A healthy, strong woman in her thirties.

But in 2008 her luck ran out. In the morning she came to work as normal, but just mere two hours later she began to have fever and chills and got a splitting headache. She excused herself from work at noon and went home and did not return for two weeks.

When she came back, a rare thing happened – she acknowledged that she was wrong and I was right in our previous discussions about this. She just had a case of real flu and for a few days during that time, she actually feared for her life, because there were times when the fever made her see double and she was barely able to go the loo.

It is a sad reality that some people – I dare say many people – actually, really need to experience some hardship first hand to be able to believe it is real. Be it flu, or poverty, or discrimination.

When some people were saying that Covid-19 is just another flu in a derogatory and dismissive way, I rolled my eyes so hard I nearly strained them. Even if Covid-19 were just a new strain of flu, a new strain of flu would be terrifying. Even old and established strains of flu can be terrifying when they encounter an unvaccinated person who never got flu before.

“It’s just another flu” should have been a call to arms, not a placating head pat, even if it were true.

Corona Crisis Crafting IV: Face Masks

Around the world hospitals are asking for volunteers to sew masks and I started already for my sister and her colleagues, as well as the relatives who care for her elderly patients.

I’m using this pattern and it’s super easy. Time needed is probably 15-20 Minutes per mask, so grab your fabric stashes and start sewing (finally you have the justification for keeping all those letter sized fabric pieces).

BTW, I guess that some protection nobody could measure in their experiments is that wearing them really keeps you from touching your face.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

I’ll also hand out instructions with them that read as follows:

Hello,

I’m a washable cloth mask. I am not a medical product and should not be mistaken for one. I am especially no substitute for other measures like washing hands and staying at home. Please wash me before you first use me and after each use. I’m 100% cotton and can be washed at 60°. Caressing me with a hot iron is a good idea as well. I’m free. If you want to say thanks please stick to the guidelines put forward by the authorities. But if maybe you have some elastic lying around, that would be nice, so many more masks can be distributed.

Best wishes and take care

 

Youtube Video: Is China’s Coronavirus the Next Pandemic?

My personal view of the coronavirus is that outside of China, the mortality rate might significantly rise above what it has now (which is already several times higher than influenza), just as it did with the swine flu pandemic in 2009 (which my sister barely survived, but luckily nobody else in the family got). My reasoning for this is – people in China were probably at least somewhat exposed to the said virus in its non-human-infectious form, or some of its less dangerous relatives, which would give them at least partial immunity. Once the virus spreads to populations that have no immunity to its or to viruses similar to it, it will become much worse.

Since it is a pulmonary disease, our whole family is especially susceptible and in danger, since all of us have asthma, my parents are elderly, my sister has already damaged lungs and my brother is a heavy smoker. I certainly hope not to encounter it, I already had viral bronchitis this year for two weeks and I did not enjoy it in the least.

Recovery: The Condition(ing) of Being a Woman

I’m making slow but real progress, but everybody and their dog keeps telling me to take it slow and I’m really trying to. But I also know that I’m far from “functioning normally”, not to mention that my current level of mobility is also due to generous amounts of anti-inflammatory drugs and painkiller. Anyway, one good aspect of German health insurance is that I’m entitled to a household aid  for as long as I’m recovering. And my most wonderful sister organised everything with her care service and this morning the wonderful S. showed up.

Everything about my working class woman upbringing was uncomfortable. First of all letting a stranger in when my house is a complete mess. I know, I know, the woman came because there’s a mess and I can’t clean, but try to tell that to your subconscious. The other one is to have somebody clean your shit while you’re mostly watching. (I did help as much as I could). I know that many working class men have absolutely no problem with watching women clean while they’re lying on the couch, but for a woman? I’ve been both raised with some traditional crap about cleaning and quite some deep seated hatred against people who watch women clean, since I’m just two generations removed from women who had to go out and work as maids, being abused by master and mistress alike.

Still, I’ll need a household help after recovery as well because I think my body just told me that it is done with playing nice and putting up with my psychological issues of having to do all my cleaning myself.

Hospi-tales: Stink

You’ve all been waiting for this topic, right?

For somebody working with teenagers, I still got a very sensitive nose, especially when the body concerned is mine and it’s also “amazing” what your mind can fixate on. Here’s the truth: being sick stinks. First of all, while my brain knew what happened, my body was still trying to run away from a sabertooth tiger that had just pierced my leg or something. In other words, it was ramming up the response, trying to mobilise as much energy as possible, resulting in me sweating like an ox. The second, and more lasting thing is medical stink. All the medication needs to get out of your system again and part of it just goes out via your skin. And it’ll keep doing that for a while, so I#m off to take a shower first and use some very sweet smelling body butter afterwards.

You’ll excuse me.

Hospi-tales: Pain

Or: getting older just means more opportunities to expand your horizon on “the worst thing that ever happened to me.

As mentioned before, I’m not very loud about pain. As a kid I hurt myself regularly in the way kids do, and the more serious it was, the more quiet I got. I once seriously cut my finger making potato stamps and my mum only noticed when my sis asked why I got red paint and she didn’t. During my first Judo tournament I promptly broke my clavicle in my first fight. I told the people from the sports club that it hurt. Judging from my lack of crying, they told me it would be better in a few minutes and I went to fight another fight. Afterwards I really insisted that this hurt and was taken to the hospital. I said I was in pain, I expected people to believe me. For some reason I still do, despite all evidence.

Anyway, back when Caine posted about her back problems and the work with the pain clinic, I believed her, I understood, I felt empathy, but I didn’t really understand. Of course I’d been in pain before. You can’t break a couple of bones and have children without knowing pain, but I didn’t know Pain. Well, another acquaintance I didn’t particularly enjoy. The hospital was (mostly*) good with painkillers, it was a shame that I was in such a peak that even the morphine didn’t do much anymore. The amount of pain I was in would have been an indicator to transfer me to another hospital for surgery if the treatment of cortisol injections directly into the spine didn’t work. Which leads me from Pain to PAIN. The worst thing in the first days was sitting, as it put weight on my poor inflamed nerve, but in order for them to inject me into the spine I needed to sit and round my back. I simply jumped from the table twice. When we finally got down to it I was crying, whimpering and at the end more or less passing out. If PAIN has a bigger sibling, I never want to meet them.

 

*Sometimes there are nurses who take it upon themselves to decide that you are really not in that much pain and shouldn’t have painkiller. No, not even fucking metamizol, which is usually effective and has lower (but not no risks) than the alternatives.

Hospi-tales: Of being stupid and emergency care

Well, as you all know I used the last week to to enjoy the benefits of socialised healthcare. This first post will mostly explain about some good things about our system and some bad things about being tough.

I’ve been having some back troubles since summer. They usually flared up, subsided, no problem, right? So when my left thigh started hurting whenever I got out of the car or sat for too long, I didn’t heed it but thought “it will pass”. Please, don’t be me. I don’t know if the worst could have been avoided if I’d gone to the doc then, but I’d be kicking my own ass if I could reach it anyway.

Well, on Friday last week the pain increased to the level that I called my GP. I got an appointment for Friday this week… Saturday morning I decided it could not wait and made Mr drive me to the on duty GP. This is one level of German healthcare meant to prevent people with colds clogging the ER. Problem is that sometimes the person is not a GP but a specialised doctor,though I think they changed the rules and exempted specialists who are not able to diagnose an actual emergency like psychiatrists or eye doctors. The post is located in the hospital so they can react quickly in case of an emergency. The nice doc examined me, determined I had no neurological failure and sent me home with more pain medication. After lunch I had to admit that it wasn’t working and had Mr drive me to the ER.

Well, the system to keep the ER unclogged only works to a certain degree. I saw them send people next door, telling them that yes, their cold was bad but a case for the GP, but there were others who insisted to be an emergency. There was a guy who insisted he’d been waiting for hours (it was 45 minutes, as the friendly receptionist told him) and who demanded to be seen immediately. When he got told he had to wait he told them “well, just tear it up, I’m going home!” And of course actual emergencies and I do understand that an old lady with chest pain is probably more serious than me. But I was never good at making my pain heard, so I got pushed to the back of the line until I told them after two hours that I was about to puke on the floor from pain. That got their attention. I got sent for x-rays (nothing to see, thankfully) and hooked up to IV painkiller. I was offered to stay and first declined (I am not the smartest cookie), but when the painkiller didn’t show any effect I decided to stay.

The morale, dear children: go see your doctor if you can. Don’t wait until you become a Saturday afternoon emergency.