Hit the brakes hard right now!

Yesterday, Minnesota had 4900 new COVID-19 cases and 56 deaths. Our governor has announced a tepid response.

Starting Friday, there will be a 10-person limit on indoor and outdoor private social gatherings that include a maximum of three households, Walz said. Receptions for events like funerals and weddings will be limited to 50 people as of November 27 and 25 as of December 11 and will be prohibited from occurring between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.

Bars and restaurants will now be limited to 50% capacity both indoors and outdoors, with a maximum of 150 people. Dine-in service will end at 10 p.m., although delivery after that time can continue.

Oooh. No more than 50 people congregating all at once in a confined space. Yeah, that’ll stop an infectious disease right in its tracks. Then 150 people in a bar? Drunk people are well known for their restraint and consideration of others.

The chancellor of my university has told all of us to stay home as much as possible through at least 30 June.

Consistent with many other large employers and the State of Minnesota, the University of Minnesota is now asking staff and faculty who can work from home to continue to do so through at least June 30, 2021. The University wants to empower you all to make plans that support your families while maintaining a smaller number of people on campus.

Can I work from home? Ha ha, no. I’m teaching a genetics course with a lab this spring, as I was last year. Last year we basically had to shut down the lab mid-semester as the infection numbers were climbing. This year we’re seeing an even greater surge, but this time we’re just going ahead with the lab. Jaded, we are. The quarantine facilities on campus are at 33% capacity now, are we to expect that number will go down after the students go off traveling for Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s, and come back after milling about in a viral stewpot for two months?

I’m planning for the spring as best I can. To maintain social distancing and reduce contact, my plan is to cut the length of the labs and triple the number of sections, informally, which means merely increasing my lab workload three-fold. No problem! I’ve been “empowered”!

I’ve also got a contingency plan for shutting the labs down cold, and having students use data from previous years to do the analysis part of the work, at least. I guess that plan only kicks in when we’ve got a dead faculty member or student. What we ought to do is freeze everything in the country right now to bring it under control, but I guess we’re going with a half-assed dribble along scheme, crossing our fingers and hoping it’s all over at the end of June, coupled to an increasingly cavalier attitude about sickness and death.

The worst case scenario so far: more than doubling the number of deaths by February.

The United States on Friday was approaching a record for the number of new daily coronavirus cases, as a new study warned that the pandemic is set to cause half a million American deaths by February.

Covid-19 is on course to ravage states across the nation throughout the coming winter and more than 511,000 lives could be lost by 28 February next year, modeling led by scientists from the University of Washington found.

Don’t you worry, though. I’ll still be pushing fruit flies while 300,000 people die in the next four months. Unless I’m one of them, that is.


  1. says

    The cases found by testing are doubling every 10 days in Minnesota at the moment. The deaths per day is already above the earlier peak in April/May. Since deaths lag infections (naturally) no matter what happens you’re going to see 100+ deaths per day in the next couple of weeks.

    The British Government hasn’t handled it well, but at least we’re mostly in lockdown at the moment, with no social gatherings permitted.

  2. sqlrob says

    more than 511,000 lives could be lost by 28 February next year

    That seems a ,I don’t know,, generous estimate. A naive calculation (number of days to Feb 28th * deaths yesterday) got me to 400K by then. Given all the mitigation efforts (HAH!) and the holidays, and hospitals currently saying “no more”, how is going to be anywhere near that low? They’re going to be well into the “more than”.

  3. sqlrob says

    @Paul Durrant

    The British Government hasn’t handled it well, but at least we’re mostly in lockdown at the moment, with no social gatherings permitted.

    At the moment being the key phrase. Looks like they want to trigger another wave after lockdown is over.

  4. birgerjohansson says

    Boris Johnson a k a Trump # 2 is cynically hoping the pandemic will hide much of the chaos that will erupt once the Brexit transition period is over, December 31st.
    The incompetent political crony that utterly failed managing a previous COVID19 effort has now been put in charge of the vaccine rollout. Big expensive contracts are händer out to companies that made donations to the tory party but lack any relevant experience.

  5. says

    I really do wish I wasn’t so old and I could go back and get a STEM degree (as opposed to the accounting/auditing degree I have). I would love to have you as a mentor and professor.

    I just want to say make sure to take care of yourself, but it means a lot (and the students won’t even realize it) that you are tripling your workload to make it safer for them. Also thank you for renewing my belief in at least part of the skeptic community :)

  6. raven says

    AFAICT, there isn’t a single state right now that has a workable plan for stopping the increase in cases.

    The federal government doesn’t even have a plan much less a workable plan.
    They decided in June that the Covid-19 virus pandemic was boring and stopped even pretending to care about it.
    The Trump maladministration occasionally mentions “herd immunity” which is another way of saying, do nothing and let 3 million or so people die and many more end up permanently disabled.

  7. kome says

    How soon will the Republicans start blaming every COVID death on Joe Biden? Do you think they’ll wait until after inauguration, or do you think they’ll start blaming him sooner because of some twisted logic like “Trump is throwing temper tantrums right now because of the election when he could be focusing on fighting the pandemic.”

  8. says

    I feel you. While our cases must look tiny compared to you (taking the number of residents into account, you have as many cases a day as we have a week), the situation is dire, especially in schools, where magically no transmission happens despite kids sitting close to each other for a long time. And where magically also all 10 years olds behave perfectly. That’s why a colleague’s daughter just tested positive after sitting next to a kid who tested positive a few days before. I’m sure that’s a coincidence. The place where lice and Norovirus and the common cold usually celebrate parties magically does not spread a disease that is passed via breathing. Her husband is high risk with a good chance of dying if he catches Covid.
    Another colleague is waiting for the results for her two kids… Mine haven’t had to quarantine so far, but i narrowly escaped it two weeks ago be deciding to break out the N95 the right day…

  9. garnetstar says

    I am not sanguine about the number of cases and deaths not exceeding current projections. I think that they will.

    I’m teaching a lab in the spring too: 40 students. Luckily, in advanced chem labs we have advantages that I never realized before: the chemicals are dangerous, so we always wear lab coats, permanent rubber gloves (not disposable), and lab glasses. This year we’re all adding cloth faces masks and face shields. Chem labs always have a lot of face shields lying around, so that glackity students don’t burn their faces off with careless handling of chemicals, so those are available. I won’t be able to recognize a single person, so will make them all wear name tags. Also, they’ve never been allowed to hang around and talk, they have to just work and then leave as soon as they’re done, since if someone else has an explosion, as few people as possible should be in the line of fire.

    Then, all the reactions are dangerous, so they work the whole time in the fume hoods, which, of course, vigorously suck air out of the room, which is then replaced with air from outside the building. And I realized that the lab has 46 hoods in it, running 24/7: talk about good ventilation!

    Never have the advantages, that we used to complain about, of having to protect oneself from dangerous chemicals, suddenly become so apparent.

    They’re also seniors, so I will threaten them that if they’re irresponsible outside of class and so get the virus then and I get sick, the class is over (there’s no one to substitute for me), and since it is a required course, they won’t graduate. Telling them that their graduation is on the line might (only might) make them more careful outside of class.

  10. numerobis says

    kome: Republicans started blaming COVID deaths on Democrats in late March or early April already.

  11. PaulBC says

    If COVID-19 could be rebranded “Trump cooties” would people work harder to avoid it? At least in “blue states”? Clearly, it has not been enough to point out it’s a deadly virus we still have little experience with and no cure. In fact, that seems to elicit the reaction “Bring it on! I’m no mask-wearing girly man!”

    When I read that that Ben Carson had it, I concluded that it’s a kind of Trumpist baptism now. Though my opinion of Carson has dropped precipitously since I first heard of him as Johns Hopkins’ renowned pediatric brain surgeon, this is still a guy who must know how to sanitize his hands and wear a mask. If he got it, I have to assume Trump was coughing on people as a loyalty test.

    Trump cooties, Trump cooties. I don’t want Trump cooties. (It works for me!)

  12. PaulBC says

    Nobody cares unless it affects them personally. The ones directly affected are dead or too ill to change public opinion. Their family members? I don’t know… I fear that a sense of fatalism is settling in, and that’s no accident. It has been Trump administration policy.

    What may happen though, is that as it starts crowding out other medical services in hospitals, a lot of people will find themselves personally affected. So in short, until the entire midwest is as bad as New York was last spring, we can expect people to keep acting like idiots.

    And I’m pretty damned tired of being in “lockdown” too, though I can keep it up as long as I have to, just try me. I am lucky I can work from home, lucky my kids have a school district that is committed to the highest quality remote learning they can deliver.

    I am entirely over indoor restaurant dining. Sorry guys, just find another business model. I respect all honest labor, and I don’t mean to harm kitchen workers, servers, and local owners, but the thrill is gone. I may not be back for a long time.

    Still, where’s the damn vaccine? I have been doing my best, but it is hard. I know that vaccines are not easy to develop, just venting.

  13. raven says

    …I concluded that it’s a kind of Trumpist baptism now.

    In the latest White House outbreak, 12 people have come down with Covid-19.
    This is the second cluster associated with the White House.

    They really aren’t very careful and don’t worry much about who gets the virus.

  14. says

    @agirlushouldknow 5
    Back in graduate school I spent some time as a neurobiology teaching assistant and one of my students was in her 60’s and sharper than me when it came to absorbing the material (cell biology and molecular biology doesn’t mean you will be ready, I had to learn some things on the job too).

    I’ve read papers studying the increases in brain structure volume in people in their 80’s associated with learning a new skill. I’m not saying you don’t have places where you will have unique challenges but there is reason to think about things you want to learn no matter how advanced.

  15. PaulBC says

    @5,@15 I recently completed a 3-part online course in immunology and I’m 55 years old. It was the same material taught to premeds, though the pressure was a lot less I’m sure with exams, and I had to fudge my understanding of the biochemistry a bit. I think it’s very valuable to keep learning, and I don’t really find myself diminished cognitively, though it’s a different experience. I rely on more shortcuts, probably lack the tenacity I had as a computer science grad student to tackle a research problem, and don’t have quite the same agility in terms of juggling really hard concepts. I am not sure how I’m doing with memory. Often I’ll forget the name of a celebrity or a movie I liked and wonder if Alzheimer’s is swiftly approaching. But I’m not sure how much trivia I am suppose to pack into my mind. I do find that missing memories pop back later, and this isn’t much different from when I was younger.

  16. wzrd1 says

    Wait didn’t the Emperor say that we’d hear nothing more about COVID-19 after the election?
    I guess that that was in reference to the White House, as he and Pence remain silent.
    .Why do I expect to hear violin music coming out of the oval office…

  17. unclefrogy says

    I used to worry about remembering things as well but I had a realization. With most of the things I have the hardest time remembering the fact that I was not paying that much attention at the time plays a large part in remembering. It is like when something or other I did something or saw something or something happened, I most likely did not even know or care what the date was or what day it was. I only pay attention to generally when , it is just something that has not been very important in my life. also the names of things are hard to remember the things including people are easier but without their names. that kind of thing makes some kinds of subjects difficult.
    learning things all kinds of things is one of the things that makes the internet so fun.
    uncle frogy

  18. Ridana says

    It would really help a lot if the Republican asshats that keep coming down with it, like the President-reject, Miller & wife, Mcaninny, Hicks, Gohmert, Paul, Lee, Johnson, Tillis, et al, ad nauseam, actually got deathly ill if not dead. They all seem to be fine, except the Black ones like Cain and Carson, who R’s don’t care about. It seems like being as evil as humanly possible confers immunity or something. Until that changes, I don’t see the rank and file ever waking up to reality.

  19. PaulBC says

    Ridana@20 I haven’t read that Carson’s symptoms are severe. Are you sure? It is kind of incredible, though it’s only a matter of numbers. And they’re out there spreading it whether they’re getting sick or not.

  20. Ridana says

    No, I haven’t heard anything more about Carson. Or Gohmert, for that matter. I just know if he died it wouldn’t bother any of his party.
    But that’s the problem. If they’re getting it but not suffering any serious ill effects, it just convinces them all more that it’s no big deal, leaving them free to keep spreading it. If people could see these high-profile asses paying a price for their cavalier anti-science attitudes, then maybe they’d start thinking twice about their own vulnerability.

  21. PaulBC says

    Ridana@22 I’m starting to think they’re having deliberate “chickenpox parties” for just that reason. There’s a small if non-negligible risk of severe consequences, but it’s a loyalty thing, being baptized into Trump’s inner circle.