COVID Convos #35

This week: zeros, equity, a letter to Texas, and the last day of the pandemic

But first: freedom of speech.

My Neighbor is Wrong

Everyone has the right to free speech, but I believe that rule should only apply to speech that is factually correct.

While my neighbor does have the right to share their opinions, their purported facts are wrong. The correct statement is that masks are required outdoors when 6 feet of distance cannot be maintained. Here’s the Oregon FAQ with the rule. Oregon’s mask mandate applies to all public indoor spaces, but only congested outdoor public places.

If you know this homeowner, please invite them to join COVID Convos? I’m worried about them living in such strict fearfulness. Maybe a weekly newsletter will help them stop, relax, and breath in the fresh (and virus-free) spring air?

Schools, COVID, and Equity

A reader question: My friend argues that opening schools shouldn’t happen yet because of equity disparity, specifically that communities of color are still at greater risk of COVID. What are your thoughts?

COVID has been disproportionately sickening households of color. And even today, minority communities that need the most access to vaccines are statistically lagging behind. This is not fair.

However, the loss of access to education that some members of these communities are experiencing during distance learning is also not fair. Rich white families — who more frequently can work remotely — have less trouble figuring out a way to get their kids educated, but some minority families don’t have this option. I get it, black families are concerned about the safety of sending their kids back to school. But meanwhile, minority students have been disproportionately missing out on education for this entire year.

Minority students in Portland are falling behind white students, while ALL of our Portland students are falling behind kids in open-school states like Florida. How much time will it take to recover? Is it something students even can recover from? The AAP position supports going back to school ASAP, and I believe we should have had our schools open a while ago.

But isn’t opening schools risky? Florida’s open school decision remains controversial. Florida, where more than 20% of the population is older than 65 seems like a place where COVID would spread like wildfire if you opened schools. Except….Florida’s per capita COVID rate is less than Portland’s right now! Their schools are open, and people are NOT getting sick more frequently.

We must re-open schools to reduce the equity disparity. Your friend’s heart is in the right place, but by holding out for perfect safety we are missing out on the opportunity to do real educational good right now.

And finally, a note on community prevalence. Our Oregon case numbers are super low right now, regardless of skin color or socioeconomic situation. If cases spike up again, I’ll change my tune, but right now is a very safe time for kids to be in school.


This is such a good essay in New York Magazine. If there is one link you click in this newsletter, click this one. Trump’s Denialism has as its polar opposite Zeroism, which “refuses to grapple with trade-offs in practical terms.” Read the article and then take a moment to consider where you fall on the spectrum.

Why was this article such a good read for me? Over the many months I’ve been writing COVID Convos, I have had the stated goal of taking cutting-edge science and research, and digesting it into conversational and accessible information. But I also realize that subconsciously I have also had an agenda to help you question where you fit on this Denialism←>Zeroism spectrum. Denialism is ineffective. Zeroism is unrealistic. It is my belief that we should all try to meet somewhere in the middle.

Oregon’s Pandemic Will Be Over By Memorial Day!!

This isn’t wishful thinking, it’s a reasoned prediction based on facts and models:

1-We may be behind on vaccinations today, but we will catch up in April and May. (bonus fact: Alaska has the highest per capita vaccination rate and is now dosing any Alaskan over age 16!)

2-All Oregon COVID data trends are downward. On March 7th we had zero deaths in the state. On March 8th, there were only 20-some new cases in our most populous county. On average, the ratio of daily vaccine doses to daily new cases is 40:1. There are only 9 patients in the entire state on ventilators.

3-Restrictions are easing. On March 12th, many Oregon counties, including Multnomah, will ease their COVID restrictions. Reopening will start slowly but then proceed quickly as we see continued low case numbers.

4-Better weather is coming soon. Meteorological spring is here, and more people will be outside. As discussed in COVID Convos a number of times before (contrary to the opinion of my neighbor with the sign) COVID does not spread out of doors. Excluding statistics that included jam-packed outdoor concerts and sporting events, the likelihood of catching COVID outdoors is too low to even be calculated. Fortunately, the Mayo Clinic has a nice list of outdoor activities that are safe. Included are the local favorites: hiking, biking, and picnicking!

We won’t be back in 2019 by Memorial Day, but we will be able to enjoy a more relaxed version of the new normal.

Thank You Notes To Texas and Florida

Dear Florida Governor DeSantis,Thank you for having your schools open this year.  I was afraid to send my kids to school without data to say that it is safe.  Fortunately, you offered to take that risk and potentially sacrifice all the young people in Florida to test whether schools are safe.  I would have felt bad if all the kids got sick and then infected and killed all the senior citizens but luckily that didn’t happen. Well played sir--I concede that your kids did indeed survive and are now a year ahead of my kids.Sincerely,An Oregon ParentDear Texas Governor Abbott,Thank you for lifting your state’s mask mandate and opening businesses 100%.  This is a brave (dangerous?) move that may put all of your people at risk.  I guess everything really is bigger in Texas, even the risks you take with your citizens.But then again maybe it will turn out fine, I honestly don’t know.  What I do know is that I’m glad I don’t live in Texas.  Thank you for gambling with your citizens’ lives--this will be an interesting experiment to watch!Sincerely,A Cautious Oregonian

In 5 years we’ll look back at this pandemic and we will know everything there is to know about transmission, herd immunity, masks, schools, etc. But right now in 2021, we’re just taking our best guesses and most states are wisely erring on the side of safety. No sane researcher wants to do the A/B test of opening some schools or unmasking some people, so if state governors with questionable sanity are willing to roll those dice, we might as well see what data we can glean from them. It worked out Ok in Florida with schools, and maybe masklessness will be fine in Texas too.

More Math, ftw!

New data supports my previous statements that vaccinated individuals are unlikely to spread coronavirus. It feels good to know I’m unlikely to be a vector of transmission!

Since COVID is currently very rare in the population AND more and more people are getting protection through vaccines AND my vaccination reduces my chance of spreading COVID by nearly 90% AND I’m going to spend much of my next month outside in the sunshine biking, skiing, and gardening THEN my chance of catching and/or spreading C19 is very very very low. And that is why, if you come visit me in our backyard, we won’t need to be wearing masks.

The New CDC Guidelines

By now you have heard about the new guidelines that give more freedom to those who are vaccinated (Grandparent visits! No mask in the backyard!) so I won’t rehash that news here.

Instead, just a reminder that if you are eligible for a vaccine, you should get it. If you’re not yet eligible, you should still sign up now with your state’s tool.

And for the nerds that want more details about the new CDC guidelines, here is a link to the CDC’s science. Fun fact: 10% of our country has received the full 2-shot vaccine series. Do you know how many of those vaxxed millions have died of COVID? Zero. NONE. Not a single fully vaccinated person has died of COVID.

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