Monday, July 6, 2020

Few logos have the instant familiarity of Coca-Cola. 

It's known the world over as the popular soft-drink whose taste ingredient formula is among the most guarded secrets. Over the years, there have been imitators, and probably not many people would be able to tell the difference if offered a sample of competing brands of cola. Despite this, the company is still a leader in its field--a tribute to its shrewd brand marketing. 

The idea that a constructed artificial flavor could come to have so universal quality is kind of astounding. Certain other drink flavors, such as root beer or orange soda, may seem as identifiable, but do not have the same branded strength. 

Often, when inventing cocktails, I'll stumble upon an unintended flavor, a combination which resembles a familiar taste. Coke has popped up along the flavor spectrum several times. This one, which I've named The Inspector, sidles up to Coke, and brushes it gently on the elbow, but obviously isn't a blood brother, just a distant taste-a-like. Still, it's close enough to remark, since so many people know what the sensation is.        

Coca-Cola isn't very good for you. In fact, it was probably responsible for the spate of nasty cavities I developed during my last year of high school, when I bought Coke for lunches at the little concession stand on the school grounds behind the main building. I soon gave it up, but the damage was done. No self-respecting kid in those days would have been caught dead brushing his or her teeth in the lavatory. I'm probably lucky I still have all mine, albeit with the collection of fillings and caps that constitute my set.  

The Inspector 

 1.5 Famous Grouse blended scotch
1/2 part sweet (Cynar) vermouth
1 tablespoon creme de cacao
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Demerara bitters

Served on the rocks.

The other outrider is a gin concoction that includes pear liqueur, an ingredient familiar to European drinkers, but not so much in America. Fruit flavors vary, and some have become synonymous with their brand-names. Slivovitz, a central European liqueur or spirit, comes to mind, as a mixer that approaches the pear flavor, though its typical starting base is plum. Often, characteristic tastes become associated in my mind with certain drinks, even though they may not actually be made from the fruit I associate with them. How close are plum and pear in taste? To my mind, pear has always been a sort of relative of apple, but it behaves differently in combination than apple does. In the drink below, the pear mates with the sweeter candy-like quality of Chartreuse, and the drying acidity of the lime, to produce a nice little pyramid of flavor.    


2 parts City of London gin
1 part pear liqueur
1/3 part yellow Chartreuse
1 part fresh lime juice

Shaken and served up. Garnish with lemon wedge.

During the current pandemic, most of the local liquor stores were closed, or were only open for pick-up at the entrance. This last week, BevMo finally allowed customers in for the first time in several weeks, which allowed me to stock up on some spirits I hadn't been able to find elsewhere, or which I preferred to buy at their lower price-settings. The warehouse space they have is also spacious enough to vacate any sense of jeopardy to transmission, though everyone of course wore masks. 

Here's to a healthier future, when we may toast those bad old days when the virus oppressed our daily lives in so many unpleasant ways! 

Thursday, July 2, 2020

The George Floyd Case

It's probably impossible to talk about the George Floyd case without offending someone at this point. It has become so over-hyped and exaggerated on several levels that it's unlikely ever to be rationally discussed, either in the media (television, radio, newsprint) or in public or private conversation. No matter what anyone may say about it, from whatever point of view, there is likely to be disagreement, even indignation. 

Whenever anyone's life and death are taken up so emphatically and purposefully as his, and made to serve such heavily symbolic or political ends, there's bound to be distortions, half-truths, and fantasies. Many people will believe what they want to believe, some will think what they're told to think, and many will feel constrained by the delicacy of the situation to express what they really feel personally, lest they be condemned and shamed.    

What do we know about the case? 

George Floyd was picked up in Minneapolis after he attempted to pass a $20 counterfeit bill. Small-time counterfeiting isn't a very big deal. Low denomination bills are made and distributed frequently in poor urban communities. We used to get them with some regularity in a small bookstore where I worked some years ago. I wondered then how any self-respecting crook could make much headway with bills of that denomination. The police didn't seen much interested in pursuing these cases. 

Floyd may have been resisting arrest, though to what degree has not been made clear. Floyd was a big man, strong, and seemed cantankerous in the brief flashes of video which have been released. It is not unusual for police officers to push a suspect down on the pavement and put on handcuffs. Though many police departments have outlawed choke-holds or knee-on-back/neck maneuvers, this has been a routine way that suspects of all denominations have been handled for decades in law enforcement. 

Video clips of police arrests have become common since the invention of cell phone cameras, and this has led to a number of disputed accounts over police practice and false reporting. The Floyd arrest and death would never have come to public attention without the private unauthorized video of the incident, which "went viral" on social media. Both public and private surveillance and recordation have opened law enforcement to a whole new sphere of exposure and revelation, which is bound to be used or misused by anyone seeking to make partisan points. 

Once the video was made public, we witnessed a widespread reaction across the nation, and even abroad, outcry and demonstration by those incensed and indignant about "police brutality" which they believe is a perfect example of racist law enforcement, of oppression by establishment power. It's been taken up as an example of unequal social justice, as proof of the "structural" racism inherent in our official laws and practices. George Floyd is being held up as the poster-child of a whole social movement whose demands include defunding of city police departments, increased funding for African American communities, reduced or commuted sentences for black prisoners, new guidelines for training law officers, etc. 

Just what sort of man was George Floyd, and why has his case become so volatile and crucial to the American body politic? His Wiki page reveals a distressingly familiar life-arc, a physically gifted big black boy growing up in the ghetto, good at sports, who gets an athletic scholarship in college, yet doesn't quite make it to the professional level, for whatever reason, who then falls back into reduced circumstances, finding pick-up unskilled work, who fancies himself a small-time Rap artist, fathers several children with different women, out of wedlock, and eventually moves on to a life of petty crime, and a prison sentence (for armed robbery). You could view his life as a tragic example of descent, from hope and effort to ultimate failure and death. Toward the end, he had made efforts to rehabilitate himself, though these efforts may not have amounted to much. Coroners reports indicate he had a virtual "cocktail" of illegal substances in his body, and had hypertension and hardening of the arteries. Watching officer Chauvin resting his knee on Floyd's neck, casually looking at this cell phone, I'm not convinced that there was either malicious intent, or any deliberate attempt to murder. Perhaps the only suprisng fact that's come out is that Chauvin and Floyd probably knew each other, having worked at the same night club as security guards in 2019.

Was George Floyd's life an inspiration? Was his death a great tragedy? In such a situation, these questions are not entirely secondary, though from the standpoint of justice and our democratic values, the taking of a life must always be regarded as a serious commission. As a matter of fact, criminals (of all races and backgrounds) are routinely treated to physical abuse and degradation, both in custody and on our streets. But does this happen to African Americans more than others? Apparently. Yet if we choose to measure these (racial) differences in enforcement, we must acknowledge the disparities in behavior as well. We may consider socio-economic factors in criminal causation, but we must also acknowledge the contexts within which such disparate events occur. If high percentages of crime in urban communities are committed by "people of color" then we should expect a consequent high percentage of such arrests and treatment to be reflected statistically. 

Perhaps the saddest thing about the George Floyd case is not its exceptional uniqueness or crucial significance, but its banal routine quality. There are tens of thousands of such cases across the land, of  poor young men, of any race or background, seduced into the remote possibility of wealth or fame by the mirage of professional sports or entertainment, who end up in dead-end lives, committing crime, abusing alcohol and drugs, leaving a trail of broken families and neglected children. At the time of his death, Floyd's life was on an all-too-common downward trajectory. 

Did George Floyd's life "matter"? Of course, to his relations and those who knew him. But to the general population, the man on the street, his life was part of the great anonymous mass of ordinary people whose lives we never know or care about. 

What exactly is "social justice"? Is it separate from actual justice, the justice we fix in law and regulation? Can what people feel, and how they behave toward one another, be legislated and enforced, the same way we legislate law and enforcement of our written laws? Can we tell people how they should regard others? Or is this "social" justice the old "eye for an eye" brand, the vigilante justice of the mob, of the vendetta? 

Was George Floyd the victim of legal injustice, or social injustice? Was his death the result of his being African American, a career petty criminal, a victim of class inequities, or some combination of these?  And if he was a victim, does his death tell us something important about racial "justice" in America? Without question, it does to a certain degree. But not to the extent that it's being made out to be. Floyds' death was unfortunate, but not heroic. Not tragic. Pathetic. Sad. Unnecessary. But not the occasion for national grief and upheaval. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Announcing our new edition of Larry Eigner's Short Poems

deliberate stillness / in winded birds   

(Short Poems) 

Larry Eigner

As readers of this blog know, Robert Grenier and I co-edited both the Collected Poems of Larry Eigner [Stanford University Press: 2010], as well as the Selected Poems of Larry Eigner [Tuscaloosa: 2018]. 

After years of meticulouly editing all of Eigner's poems, to be presented in Courier (typewriter face) type, based on his accurate typescripts, I decided that I'd like to design and edit a selection of his shorter poems, both as an expression of my taste, as well as an exercise in fine press typography and binding. deliberate stillness / in winded birds is that book. 

The title is a line from a poem that is not included in the collection. I see it as an exquisitely crafted poem in itself, rather haiku-like. Though the selection is not technically "minimalist" it does emphasize poems of just a couple or three lines in length. 

There's always a danger with very short poems, that they will descend into punchlines or jokes. Certainly there are a couple like that in this selection, but only for comic relief. Eigner's poems are meditations on perception, and phenomena. Sometimes they are instantaneous, rather than ruminative. The book is unpaginated. There are 70 poems, one to a page; followed by my brief editorial post-face. Limited, as the colophon states, to 75 numbered copies. Oblong format. A few will be gifted to friends of the publisher, the rest will be for sale at $200 per. 

Eigner was prolific. This small selection may serve as an introduction to his work, if any were needed, a juicy tidbit of the whole. If you enjoy this kind of craft, there are few things more enjoyable than making a book, from beginning to end. Guiding it out toward the middle of the pond. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The City Desk - Three New Concoctions

Who drinks cocktails anymore?

It must be a dying art.

Only the straggling ragtag crew of septuagenarians, of which I'm an honorable member, perhaps.

Each day affords another opportunity to expand the endless string of new combinations, in the ever-mutating mélange of taste.

In these strange times, each of us must make do with what is available, now that the pandemic has shortened everyone's leash, and just going to the corner store has become an adventure. 

As my liquor cabinet shrinks I recall fondly the times when I could wander freely through the aisles of Bev-Mo, 

or scan the thousand labels at Ledger's Liquors on University Avenue. 

Though drinking is often posed as a social phenomenon, being confined in this era of "sheltering in" could be another excuse to celebrate the happy hour at home. It's also cheaper. The going rate for custom cocktails these days usually runs north of $12. If you can afford your own liquor cabinet, you can mix one for less than $3 apiece! I'd expect to pay at least $15 for a good recipe in any high end cocktail bar today, and sometimes as much as $20.  

Lately I've been meditating on the difference between serving drinks "up" or over the rocks. What, exactly, is this variation in service supposed to accomplish? Drinks served over the rocks tend to keep their chill longer, though they usually become somewhat dilute as you drink them as the ice melts. Drink menus for on the rocks usually tell you to stir the ingredients, or simply to pour them into the ice glass. Shaking ingredients in a mixer imparts an effervescence to the mix which may or may not be regarded as appropriate to the case. I don't think the flavor of a drink is influenced in any specific way by serving it differently. You can't change the flavor, though you may dilute it by serving it in the ice. 

Here are three new combinations from the stainless steel counter. Hot off the press! Journalists used to be thought of as lushes. After spiking their stories, they'd repair to the local watering hole to quench their sorrows in a couple of stiff drinks. Hereabouts, I remember that Herb Caen and Charles McCabe were notorious, each having an assigned seat in their respective corner tavern(s). 

These blog entries bear a certain vague resemblance to journalism, so I guess I can fantasize that I share that habit with the trade, though of course newspaper writers no longer "go to work"--doing their stories on computers in the privacy of their own digs. Big "city desk" daily offices don't exist any more, having been obsoleted by the digital age.    

3 1/2 bourbon
1 1/2 part triple sec
1 part pisco
1/2 part lemon
peychaud bitters

Shaken and served up.

2 part dark rum
2 parts sweet vermouth
1 part orange liqueur
1 part sweet lime
2 parts "flat" ginger soda

Stirred and served over ice.

2 parts rye
2 parts sweet vermouth
1 part bitter orange liqueur
1 teaspoon allspice liqueur
1/2 part fresh lemon juice

Shaken and served up with a slice of lemon peel. 

Friday, May 22, 2020

Academic Standards and Social Engineering

San Francisco Chronicle for Thursday, May 21, 2020: University of California system will no longer require SAT, ACT for admissions. During a teleconference meeting Thursday, the board approved UC president Janet Napolitano's plan to make submitting standardized test scores optional for students applying for admission in the fall of 2021 or 2022. Students can still submit scores that will be considered in the admissions process, but those who choose not to submit scores will not be penalized. In 2023 and 2024, the system will become "test blind" and students will only submit scores for scholarship or course-placement purposes. In 2025, the system will either create a new UC-specific standardized test “that better aligns with the content UC expects applicants to have learned and with UC’s values” or eliminate testing requirements altogether. The UC system already dropped the standardized test requirement for students applying for admission in the fall of 2021 due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Critics of standardized testing allege the requirements disadvantage students of underprivileged socioeconomic backgrounds, and the UC policy change could be the first of many at colleges — both public and private — nationwide.

Advocates of social justice and quotas in student admissions have been trying for years to find ways around the academic criteria for admission of applicants, in order to admit minority students whose credentials are inferior. The debate over whether intelligence and aptitude tests actually measure raw intelligence has been going on for just as long. Evaluating reading and mathematics and abstract reasoning skills is generally the only way to test these abilities, but it's obvious enough that if you've never read much, or taken mathematics courses, you're not likely to test well in these areas. So how DOES one measure the likely aptitude of those applying for admission to college degree programs? 

But the simple fact is that students who want to study at a college or university need to have the necessary background in these spheres of knowledge in order to be successful at the college level. It's all very well to claim--honestly or not--that minority students have been "disadvantaged" by their upbringing and social background. But college and university educational systems are not in the business of choosing people for their raw intelligence and possible "potential" over time. And it certainly isn't their business to be rectifying society's ills by de-naturing academic criteria in order to admit applicants who are not qualified academically. The notion that claims of "entitlement" (based on race and ethnic background) should be overweighted in the selection process is social engineering at its very worst. 

How insulting is it to minority applicants to be told that they can't be expected to compete in the same arena as others? That they are incapable of meeting the same challenges and requirements? That there is something in their culture, their racial background, that prevents them from aspiring to the same success in life as others?

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Expert Advice on Pandemic Life

It seems that only yesterday, people were living their lives in a familiar way, getting and spending, walking and driving and congregating and traveling and hugging and kissing and generally acting normally in a world they understood, and moved about in naturally. Suddenly, a strange new virus turned up, almost from nowhere, and quickly revealed how fragile our world is, and how easily it can be fragmented, its fabric ripped and shredded apart. 

Indeed, life itself is quite fragile--something we've always known, if we were paying attention. In geologic time, life on earth is merely a blip on the spectrum, and we know that "extinctions" have happened before, and certainly will again. In the meantime, we are experiencing a predictable event in the history of opportunistic contagion, a mathematical certainty given the nature of microscopic contagion--the mutation of a human (or mammalian) viral parasite we've been hosting over the millennia--with whom our immune systems have been doing periodic battle. 

Immunology and epidemiology and risk assessment are complex bodies of knowledge and theory. Since they aren't fields we ordinarily pay much attention to, much of what they have to tell us is unfamiliar--something the ordinary person doesn't have the occasion or need to know. A lot of speculation and casual opinion has been spun out since the advent of the Corona Virus (or Covid 19) pandemic, much of it only partly true, and some of it simply wrong. 

The following summary of the risks of contagion was recently posted on the internet, and I can't think of a better use of a blog--any blog--than disseminating it, since it makes several pertinent points about what kinds of behaviors are dangerous, and which aren't--crucial information which we desperately need right now. Here is the link, from which I have appropriated mostly verbatim:

Some of what it tells us seems surprising--i.e., the considerable dispersal of exhaled breath into space, and the persistent presence of such aerosol colloid in the air we breathe in confined spaces. I for one had no idea about that. Water vapor, mostly invisible to the naked eye, surrounds us in space all the time, and serves as a passive transmitter of microbes, virtually all the time. Our awareness of this threat now takes on a new urgency, given the highly infectious nature of this new pathogen, which moves invisibly through our environment, a spooky enemy we are just beginning now to understand.  

The Risks - Know Them - Avoid Them

It seems many people are breathing some relief, and I’m not sure why. An epidemic curve has a relatively predictable upslope and once the peak is reached, the back slope can also be predicted. We have robust data from the outbreaks in China and Italy, that shows the backside of the mortality curve declines slowly, with deaths persisting for months. Assuming we have just crested in deaths at 70k, it is possible that we lose another 70,000 people over the next 6 weeks as we come off that peak. That's what's going to happen with a lockdown.

As states reopen, and we give the virus more fuel, all bets are off. I understand the reasons for reopening the economy, but I've said before, if you don't solve the biology, the economy won't recover.

There are very few states that have demonstrated a sustained decline in numbers of new infections. Indeed, the majority are still increasing and reopening. As a simple example of the USA trend, when you take out the data from New York and just look at the rest of the USA, daily case numbers are increasing. Bottom line: the only reason the total USA new case numbers look flat right now is because the New York City epidemic was so large and now it is being contained.

So throughout most of the country we are going to add fuel to the viral fire by reopening. It's going to happen if I like it or not, so my goal here is to try to guide you away from situations of high risk.

Where are people getting sick?

We know most people get infected in their own home. A household member contracts the virus in the community and brings it into the house where sustained contact between household members leads to infection.

But where are people contracting the infection in the community? I regularly hear people worrying about grocery stores, bike rides, inconsiderate runners who are not wearing masks.... are these places of concern? Well, not really. Let me explain.

In order to get infected you need to get exposed to an infectious dose of the virus; based on infectious dose studies with MERS and SARS, it is estimated that as few as 1000 SARS-CoV2 viral particles are needed for an infection to take hold. Please note, this still needs to be determined experimentally, but we can use that number to demonstrate how infection can occur. Infection could occur, through 1000 viral particles you receive in one breath or from one eye-rub, or 100 viral particles inhaled with each breath over 10 breaths, or 10 viral particles with 100 breaths. Each of these situations can lead to an infection.

How much Virus is released into the environment?

Bathrooms have a lot of high touch surfaces, door handles, faucets, stall doors. So fomite transfer risk in this environment can be high. We still do not know whether a person releases infectious material in feces or just fragmented virus, but we do know that toilet flushing does aerosolize many droplets. Treat public bathrooms with extra caution (surface and air), until we know more about the risk.

A single cough releases about 3,000 droplets and droplets travels at 50 miles per hour. Most droplets are large, and fall quickly (gravity), but many do stay in the air and can travel across a room in a few seconds.

A single sneeze releases about 30,000 droplets, with droplets traveling at up to 200 miles per hour. Most droplets are small and travel great distances (easily across a room).

If a person is infected, the droplets in a single cough or sneeze may contain as many as 200,000,000 (two hundred million) virus particles which can all be dispersed into the environment around them.

A single breath releases 50 - 5000 droplets. Most of these droplets are low velocity and fall to the ground quickly. There are even fewer droplets released through nose-breathing. Importantly, due to the lack of exhalation force with a breath, viral particles from the lower respiratory areas are not expelled.

Unlike sneezing and coughing which release huge amounts of viral material, the respiratory droplets released from breathing only contain low levels of virus. We don't have a number for SARS-CoV2 yet, but we can use influenza as a guide. We know that a person infected with influenza releases about 3 - 20 virus RNA copies per minute of breathing.

Remember the formulae: Successful Infection = Exposure to Virus x Time

If a person coughs or sneezes, those 200,000,000 viral particles go everywhere. Some virus hangs in the air, some falls into surfaces, most falls to the ground. So if you are face-to-face with a person, having a conversation, and that person sneezes or coughs straight at you, it's pretty easy to see how it is possible to inhale 1,000 virus particles and become infected.

But even if that cough or sneeze was not directed at you, some infected droplets--the smallest of small--can hang in the air for a few minutes, filling every corner of a modest sized room with infectious viral particles. All you have to do is enter that room within a few minutes of the cough/sneeze and take a few breaths and you have potentially received enough virus to establish an infection.

But with general breathing, 20 copies per minute into the environment, even if every virus ended up in your lungs, you would need 1000 copies divided by 20 copies per minute = 50 minutes.

Speaking increases the release of respiratory droplets about 10 fold; ~200 copies of virus per minute. Again, assuming every virus is inhaled, it would take ~5 minutes of speaking face-to-face to receive the required dose.

The exposure to virus x time formulae is the basis of contact tracing. Anyone you spend greater than 10 minutes with in a face-to-face situation is potentially infected. Anyone who shares a space with you (say an office) for an extended period is potentially infected. This is also why it is critical for people who are symptomatic to stay home. Your sneezes and your coughs expel so much virus that you can infect a whole room of people.

What is the role of asymptomatic people in spreading the virus?

Symptomatic people are not the only way the virus is shed. We know that at least 44% of all infections--and the majority of community-acquired transmissions--occur from people without any symptoms (asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic people). You can be shedding the virus into the environment for up to 5 days before symptoms begin.

Infectious people come in all ages, and they all shed different amounts of virus. The figure below shows that no matter your age (x-axis), you can have a little bit of virus or a lot of virus (y-axis).

The amount of virus released from an infected person changes over the course of infection and it is also different from person-to-person. Viral load generally builds up to the point where the person becomes symptomatic. So just prior to symptoms showing, you are releasing the most virus into the environment. Interestingly, the data shows that just 20% of infected people are responsible for 99% of viral load that could potentially be released into the environment

So now let’s get to the crux of it. Where are the personal dangers from reopening?

When you think of outbreak clusters, what are the big ones that come to mind? Most people would go to the cruise ships. But you would be wrong. Ship outbreaks don’t even land in the top 50 outbreaks to date.

Ignoring the terrible outbreaks in nursing homes, we find that the biggest outbreaks are in prisons, religious ceremonies, and workplaces, such a meat packing facilities and call centers. Any environment that is enclosed, with poor air circulation and high density of people, spells trouble.

Some of the biggest super-spreading events are:

Meat packing: In meat processing plants, densely packed workers must communicate to one another amidst the deafening drum of industrial machinery and a cold-room virus-preserving environment. There are now outbreaks in 115 facilities across 23 states, 5000+ workers infected, with 20 dead.

Weddings, funerals, birthdays: 10% of early spreading events

Business networking: Face-to-face business networking like the Biogen Conference in Boston in March.
As we move back to work, or go to a restaurant, let’s look at what can happen in those environments.

Restaurants: Some really great shoe-leather epidemiology demonstrated clearly the effect of a single asymptomatic carrier in a restaurant environment (see below). The infected person (A1) sat at a table and had dinner with 9 friends. Dinner took about 1 to 1.5 hours. During this meal, the asymptomatic carrier released low-levels of virus into the air from their breathing. Airflow (from the restaurant's various airflow vents) was from right to left. Approximately 50% of the people at the infected person's table became sick over the next 7 days. 75% of the people on the adjacent downwind table became infected. And even 2 of the 7 people on the upwind table were infected (believed to happen by turbulent airflow). No one at tables E or F became infected, they were out of the main airflow from the air conditioner on the right to the exhaust fan on the left of the room.

Workplaces: Another great example is the outbreak in a call center (see below). A single infected employee came to work on the 11th floor of a building. That floor had 216 employees. Over the period of a week, 94 of those people become infected (43.5%: the blue chairs). 92 of those 94 people became sick (only 2 remained asymptomatic). Notice how one side of the office is primarily infected, while there are very few people infected on the other side. While exact number of people infected by respiratory droplets / respiratory exposure verse fomite transmission (door handles, shared water coolers, elevator buttons etc) is unknown. It serves to highlight that being in an enclosed space, sharing the same air for a prolonged period increases your chances of exposure and infection. Another 3 people on other floors of the building were infected, but the authors were not able to trace the infection to the primary cluster on the 11th floor. Interestingly, even though there were considerable interaction between workers on different floors of the building in elevators and the lobby, the outbreak was mostly limited to a single floor. This highlights the importance of exposure and time in the spreading of SARS-CoV2.

Choir: The church choir in Washington State. Even though people were aware of the virus and took steps to minimize transfer; e.g. they avoided the usual handshakes and hugs hello, people also brought their own music to avoid sharing, and socially distanced themselves during practice. A single asymptomatic carrier infected most of the people in attendance. The choir sang for 2 1/2 hours, inside an enclosed church which was roughly the size of a volleyball court.

Singing, to a greater degree than talking, aerosolizes respiratory droplets extraordinarily well. Deep-breathing while singing facilitated those respiratory droplets getting deep into the lungs. Two and half hours of exposure ensured that people were exposed to enough virus over a long enough period of time for infection to take place. Over a period of 4 days, 45 of the 60 choir members developed symptoms, 2 died. The youngest infected was 31, but they averaged 67 years old.

Indoor sports: While this may be uniquely Canadian, a super spreading event occurred during a curling event in Canada. A curling event with 72 attendees became another hotspot for transmission. Curling brings contestants and teammates in close contact in a cool indoor environment, with heavy breathing for an extended period. This tournament resulted in 24 of the 72 people becoming infected.

Birthday parties / funerals: Just to see how simple infection-chains can be, this is a real story from Chicago. The name is fake. Bob was infected but didn't know. Bob shared a takeout meal, served from common serving dishes, with 2 family members. The dinner lasted 3 hours. The next day, Bob attended a funeral, hugging family members and others in attendance to express condolences. Within 4 days, both family members who shared the meal are sick. A third family member, who hugged Bob at the funeral became sick. But Bob wasn't done. Bob attended a birthday party with 9 other people. They hugged and shared food at the 3 hour party. Seven of those people became ill. Over the next few days Bob became sick, he was hospitalized, ventilated, and died.

But Bob's legacy lived on. Three of the people Bob infected at the birthday went to church, where they sang, passed the tithing dish etc. Members of that church became sick. In all, Bob was directly responsible for infecting 16 people between the ages of 5 and 86. Three of those 16 died.

The spread of the virus within the household and back out into the community through funerals, birthdays, and church gatherings is believed to be responsible for the broader transmission of COVID-19 in Chicago.
Sobering right?

Commonality of outbreaks
The reason to highlight these different outbreaks is to show you the commonality of outbreaks of COVID-19. All these infection events were indoors, with people closely-spaced, with lots of talking, singing, or yelling. The main sources for infection are home, workplace, public transport, social gatherings, and restaurants. This accounts for 90% of all transmission events. In contrast, outbreaks spread from shopping appear to be responsible for a small percentage of traced infections.

Importantly, of the countries performing contact tracing properly, only a single outbreak has been reported from an outdoor environment (less than 0.3% of traced infections).

So back to the original thought of my post.

Indoor spaces, with limited air exchange or recycled air and lots of people, are concerning from a transmission standpoint. We know that 60 people in a volleyball court-sized room (choir) results in massive infections. Same situation with the restaurant and the call center. Social distancing guidelines don't hold in indoor spaces where you spend a lot of time, as people on the opposite side of the room were infected.

The principle is viral exposure over an extended period of time. In all these cases, people were exposed to the virus in the air for a prolonged period (hours). Even if they were 50 feet away (choir or call center), even a low dose of the virus in the air reaching them, over a sustained period, was enough to cause infection and in some cases, death.

Social distancing rules are really to protect you with brief exposures or outdoor exposures. In these situations there is not enough time to achieve the infectious viral load when you are standing 6 feet apart or where wind and the infinite outdoor space for viral dilution reduces viral load. The effects of sunlight, heat, and humidity on viral survival, all serve to minimize the risk to everyone when outside.

When assessing the risk of infection (via respiration) at the grocery store or mall, you need to consider the volume of the air space (very large), the number of people (restricted), how long people are spending in the store (workers - all day; customers - an hour). Taken together, for a person shopping: the low density, high air volume of the store, along with the restricted time you spend in the store, means that the opportunity to receive an infectious dose is low. But, for the store worker, the extended time they spend in the store provides a greater opportunity to receive the infectious dose and therefore the job becomes more risky.

Basically, as the work closures are loosened, and we start to venture out more, possibly even resuming in-office activities, you need to look at your environment and make judgments. How many people are here, how much airflow is there around me, and how long will I be in this environment. If you are in an open floorplan office, you really need critically assess the risk (volume, people, and airflow). If you are in a job that requires face-to-face talking or even worse, yelling, you need to assess the risk.

If you are sitting in a well ventilated space, with few people, the risk is low.

If I am outside, and I walk past someone, remember it is “dose and time” needed for infection. You would have to be in their airstream for 5+ minutes for a chance of infection. While joggers may be releasing more virus due to deep breathing, remember the exposure time is also less due to their speed.

While I have focused on respiratory exposure here, please don't forget surfaces. Those infected respiratory droplets land somewhere. Wash your hands often and stop touching your face!

As we are allowed to move around our communities more freely and be in contact with more people in more places more regularly, the risks to ourselves and our family are significant. Even if you are gung-ho for reopening and resuming business as usual, do your part and wear a mask to reduce what you release into the environment. It will help everyone, including your own business. This article was inspired by a piece written by Jonathan Kay in Quillete.

Erin S. Bromage, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Dr. Bromage graduated from the School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences James Cook University, Australia where his research focused on the epidemiology of, and immunity to, infectious disease in animals. His Post-Doctoral training was at the College of William and Mary, Virginia Institute of Marine Science in the Comparative Immunology Laboratory of late Dr. Stephen Kaattari. Dr. Bromage’s research focuses on the evolution of the immune system, the immunological mechanisms responsible for protection from infectious disease, and the design and use of vaccines to control infectious disease in animals. He also focuses on designing diagnostic tools to detect biological and chemical threats in the environment in real-time.Dr. Bromage joined the Faculty of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth in 2007 where he teaches course in Immunology and Infectious Disease, including a course this semester on the Ecology of Infectious Disease which focused on the emerging SARS-CoV2 outbreak in China.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

From the Gallery of Heroes - Goodwin Sammel [1925-2020]

I just discovered that an old friend of many years passed away in January. The Berkeleyside obituary is here

I first met Goodwin in about 1963 or 4. I was just a high school junior then, visiting Berkeley friends for a weekend. My immediate family associate was managing a little coffee bar called The Florentine, on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley. Laurette Goldberg was performing on the harpsichord there, and anyone who loved the harpsichord specifically, or keyboard performance generally, would come to hear her play. Goodwin was among them. 

By the time I met him, he had already become a well-known performer and teacher of the piano, but Goodwin was the least pretentious of men. A gentler, sweeter, more intelligent man would be difficult to find. I was just then becoming interested in classical music, and had begun to take serious lessons from another teacher in Napa, where I grew up. 

Much later, after I had returned to the Bay Area from graduate school in the Midwest, I ended up managing a pair of apartment houses right next to Goodwin's place on Francisco Street. I had a baby grand, and Goodwin could hear me playing as he walked by to his house. We rediscovered each other then, and remained in regular touch for the rest of his life. Though we moved away to Kensington in 1976, we saw him frequently in Berkeley. 

Goodwin didn't own a car, and walked everywhere. He also didn't have hot running water in his house. He had other eccentricities and habits. He always lived alone, and seemed not ever to have had a long-term relationship with anyone of either sex. He told me once that he had been a programmer in the early years with IBM, and they had offered him lots of money if he would stay on for advancement, but Goodwin had music in his soul, and he threw that career over to become a self-employed piano instructor.    

It was clear that Goodwin had honed his needs down to essentials, and he lived quite comfortably on an income that was probably much less than most people might have guessed. He dressed well, had impeccable manners, was typically deferential, but always delightfully sunny and alert. 

Well into his 80's, we would see him walking on Telegraph or Shattuck, usually with one of his wool hats, to keep the sun off. He usually didn't have a lot to say, but if you pumped him a little, he would engage with you freely on a host of subjects.   

Though I never took lessons from him, he gave me a few pieces of great advice on how to improve my playing. One I took to heart was--unlike what I had been told by other teachers--one should relax one's fingers when playing, instead of curling them rigidly and trying to maintain a fixed position over the keys. He would hold his hands, hanging from the wrist, to demonstrate this. It worked, and though I never played for him, I always appreciated the tip. 

I only heard him play once, in public, and that as an accompanist. Could he have had a successful career as a classical performer? I'm not sure. It may be that he lacked the intense drive required to compete and bear the stress of it. Perhaps it just didn't interest him. There seems little doubt that he had the facility. The life he did lead brought joy and pleasure to many people, and there are generations of students of the keyboard whom he influenced or husbanded into prominence. 

The last time I saw him--just a few weeks before he died--he was being helped out of a car in front of his house. Despite the inconvenience and embarrassment, he smiled and tilted his head ruefully, promising that he would be happy to entertain a visit when he was feeling better. 

Goodwin was a character, the sort of person you don't meet often. A very special man. I miss him.