Friday, March 27, 2020

Brandon Chafee Announces State Representative Bid

Submitted by Brandon Chafee.
------------
Brandon Chafee, a lifelong resident of Middletown, has announced that he is running for the State House of Representatives in the 33rd District.

Brandon, 34, has served as the Middletown Democratic Party Treasurer for the past two years, and as a union steward with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers since 2017.  He is a graduate of Central Connecticut State University where he obtained a degree in Civil Engineering. He is a registered professional engineer in the State of Connecticut and has spent his career as a field engineer with Eversource working to design a more reliable and efficient electrical distribution grid.  His wife Meghan is a nurse practitioner who works in family medicine with Middlesex Health.  He is hoping to win his party’s nomination for the seat being vacated by Joseph Serra.

“Joe Serra is a faithful public servant who fought for Middletown’s interests for decades,” Brandon said.  “His presence in the State House will be hard to replace, but I am confident that I possess the skills and background to serve Middletown well.”

Brandon became an engineer to help solve the big problems that face society. “In our rapidly changing world, our goal must be to build an economy and government that works for us all,” Brandon said. “This will require long-term vision and planning.  In the engineering world, decisions must be made in order to solve the problems of today, while withstanding the test of time.  If something I design is not still safe and functional in thirty years, that is a failure, and this is the mentality I will bring our state government.”

“As a civil servant and husband of someone who is fighting on the front lines of the current public health crisis, I know all too well what it takes to work through emergency situations. The ongoing threat caused by COVID-19 should be a wake-up call for our society.  We are seeing in real time that workers who were often overlooked, such as those working in our grocery stores and delivery companies, are essential parts of our society who deserve living wages and dignity.  We are seeing that public health truly depends on the health and welfare of everyone, not just a privileged few.   I have long advocated for changes in our economy and government to help deal with the very issues we are facing today.”

“If elected, I will be a strong voice for the working families of Middletown and will fight tirelessly to build a better future for us all.  To learn more about Brandon, visit his Facebook page at Brandon Chafee for Middletown.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Joe Serra Announces Retirement From State Legislature

Submitted by the office of Joe Serra.
---------------
After serving residents of the 33rd Assembly District for nearly 28 years, State Representative Joseph Serra (D – Middletown) has announced he will not run for re-election. He currently serves as House Chair of the Aging Committee, and as a member of both the Transportation Committee and the Public Safety and Security Committee.

“After careful reflection and discussion with family and friends, I have decided that I will not be seeking re-election this November. This will provide me with more time with my wife Marie, children, and seven grandchildren. It has been an honor and a privilege to represent Middletown for the past 28 years,” said Rep. Serra.

"Rep. Serra 's long tenure in the legislature is marked by an unwavering commitment to serving his beloved hometown of Middletown, and a dedication to helping all of his constituents anyway he could," said Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz (D- Berlin/Southington). "Though we will miss our colleague, Joe Serra set an example for all of us on what public service is all about."

"Representative Joe Serra and the entire Serra family are dedicated to the people and places of Middletown. Joe's commitment to his constituents is legendary.  He is truly part of the fabric of Middletown," said House Majority Leader Matt Ritter (D – Hartford).

During his state service, Rep. Serra has been a steady voice for his constituents and helped secure necessary state funding for the city. As House Chair of the Aging Committee, Rep. Serra has steered bill proposals aiding seniors through the legislative process.

During the 2019 session, Rep. Serra advocated for a budget that implemented tax exemptions for Social Security income and phased in a tax exemption on pension income to make Connecticut more affordable for seniors. He also supported legislation to establish a publically-accessible database of individuals who have committed crimes against the elderly or persons with disabilities.

Rep. Serra has also served as a member of the legislature’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee and the Judiciary Committee.

He is a lifelong resident of Middletown and has served on the city’s Democratic Town Committee since 1984, and had a long career in public service prior to running for the 33rd District seat in 1992.

Rep. Serra served the Middletown Department of Public Works for 37 years, starting in 1959. He was appointed Deputy Director of Public Works in 1979 and held that position until he retired in August 1996.

In addition to that role, Rep. Serra was an officer and member of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, was president and vice president of the Middletown Managers and Professionals Association, and is a former member of the City of Middletown Retirement Board.

Rep. Serra also served as Secretary-Treasurer of the Connecticut Association of Street and Highway Officials for at least 40 years, and was a member of the Middlesex Community College Foundation Board of Directors.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Weekly Middletown Coronavirus Information Meeting on Zoom Tuesday March 24, 6pm

Residents can tune in by going to this link on their computer or phone.

Participating will be the mayor, the superintendent of schools, local health leaders, business representatives and others.

The meeting runs from 6-7PM.

Thanks to the Community Health Center for technical assistance.


https://chc1.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_rdG5KV8uQKSiczplCC1Blg


Also available on Facebook at the CHC Facebook page here:




Italian officials sound off--Terms of endearment

Concern about being politically correct has set in. It was the farthest thing from our minds.

Our observations are terms of endearment--
How well these mayors know their constituents, their habits, their concerns--yes, their vanities. Their close personal relationships,
How like our mothers who probably love us the most and would defend us to the last, 
How passionate with the concern for others that comes before concern for being overly passionate, which is of course (sometimes) politically incorrect. 
And of course seeing our own reflection--aren't we all like this sometimes, when we care deeply?


Forwarding from a church friend:

Two twitter compilations of remarks of Italian Mayors losing it at people violating #Covid19 quarantine. Yes, subtitles are accurate.

1. https://twitter.com/protectheflames

2. https://twitter.com/protectheflames/status/1241696164782669824?te=1&nl=morning-briefing&emc=edit_NN_p_20200323§ion=whatElse&campaign_id=9&instance_id=16988&segment_id=22598&user_id=ccaa51d3e5fa62600a9eac01b124345e®i_id=91829734ion=whatElse

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Words of encouragement & hope


From the Christian Science Monitor: George Shultz at age 100. --As one of only two people in U.S. history who has served in four Cabinet posts, George Shultz has seen a lot of the workings – and nonworkings – of American policy up close. Now, as he nears 100, he gives his state of the world and outlines why trust is “the coin of the realm” for effective governing.

Why this centenarian statesman is hopeful – but cautious – about the future

  “We are now on a major hinge of history, comparable to but different from the hinge we were on at the end of World War II,” says Mr. Shultz, who was secretary of state to President Ronald Reagan and treasury secretary, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and labor secretary to President Richard Nixon.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Middletown Restaurants Provide Food For Free Weekend School Meals

Chu Ngo


In a team effort uniting Middletown Schools, Middletown restaurants, and local donors, grab-and-go meals will be provided over the weekend to 1300 students and families in need (see attached schedule).

“It’s a win, win, win,” said community organizer Patti Anne Vassia who helped coordinate the plan by securing funds from community organizations and individuals.  “The need was evident.  The schools were running out of food inventory after providing an average of 1300 grab-and-go meals a day to families.  The restaurants have inventory they can’t use after being ordered to shut dining rooms, and the modest income they’ll get for providing the meals is income they would not have had.”

Twenty-six restaurants agreed to provide 100 meals each.  The restaurants will be paid $5 for each meal delivered.  With 100 meals from each of the restaurants, the schools, which are already set-up to provide meals, will be able to distribute meals on both Saturday and Sunday.

“We’re providing the kitchen, janitorial and campus security staff,” said Marco Gaylord Middletown Schools Chief of Operations.  “That staff is going to be augmented by community volunteers who have signed up in great numbers.”

“I wanted to do something for the community, and my friends who own local restaurants,” said Chu Ngo, owner of Lan Chi’s Vietnamese restaurant on Main Street.   “In normal times we would provide food and service for free.  These are not normal times.  The whole idea is to help the students and families in the community we love, and to help the restaurants at the same time.”

Middletown has a school population of 4,564 in the public schools, 194 students in adult education and 287 in magnet schools.  Students who receive free and reduced lunches make up more than 40% of the total student population.  Middletown’s total population is approximately 48,000.

“We’re providing meals for all students who need it,” Gaylord said.  “In the first four days of operation we provided 5,389 meals, and our inventory is down, so providing weekend meals would have been difficult before our supplies are replenished for next week.”

Donors of the $13,000 in funds for the weekend meal project include the Community Foundation of Middlesex County, Middlesex United Way, Rotary Club of Middletown, Women's Initiative of Middlesex United Way, Kiwanis Club of Middletown, Michael DiPiro, City of Middletown, and the Middletown Board of Education.

“One of our focus areas is financial stability,” said Kevin Wilhelm, president and CEO of the Middlesex United Way.  “We will do whatever we can to help families endure, even in the midst of a pandemic. Keeping families afloat and healthy is one of our top priorities, so we are eager to step up to ensure that happens.”

“I think it’s a great effort,” Mayor Ben Florsheim said.  “The fact that the schools, restaurants and community organizations were able to create this partnership for students speaks volumes about how Middletown people want to help one another.”

“We began this effort just two days ago,” Vassia said. “I’ve never felt so high about doing such great work so quickly. Ours is an amazing community with top governmental, nonprofit, educational and business folks working together to meet needs and support our kids.  We must continue to this good work going forward, especially in these difficult times.”

Thursday, March 19, 2020

350-Year Old First Church Faces the Challenge of COVID-19 and Provides Online Spiritual Nourishment

In this time of social distancing, First Church of Christ in Middletown began the hard work of determining how to provide spiritual nourishment for their members. After a difficult decision to close its doors, church leaders and volunteers at First Church came up with a format for online access and interaction, debuting Its first online church service Sunday.

Sunday's service maintained many elements of a regular Sunday church service, including an interactive bulletin, Pastor Julia Burkey’s recorded welcome, and a musical prayer by Music Minister Shari Lucas. Rev. Burkey's welcome affirmed our uncertainties in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, counseled patience, and offered reassurance. “It's all new territory,” she says, “noting that even for clergy, there are no classes on “how to pastor during a pandemic.  All of us are rapidly learning and growing together with patience and love for each other.”  To close, more than 30 members joined together with live, interactive prayers & concerns through Zoom, a virtual meeting platform.

Responses to online church are heartening. Elise Kennedy, a youth-apprentice at the church noted, “The virtual service felt much more personal and ...  everyone could do it on their own. We could take time to think about it.” A First Church Fellowship page on Facebook offers other ways to share chats, thoughts, and pictures online.  Participants say they find strength in seeing each other in virtual space and they're open to other new ways of experiencing church online.  Rev. Julia will host tea time chats on Wednesday mornings, where people can drop in and share how they're coping.

For some years, First Church in Middletown has envisioned creating a spiritual home beyond its walls— a way to do church differently, and to broaden the idea of church and meet the spiritual needs of our diverse community.  That vision is now becoming real as a virtual spiritual network—church beyond walls. Reverend Burkey suggests, “We can turn our hearts toward the source of Love that we call God wherever we are.  It can even happen in our living rooms.”  No matter where you are on life's journey, First Church encourages all of you to join us online on Sundays for a virtual faith experience.

For more details, updates, and information on how to connect with a First Church virtual event, visit First Church at http://www.firstchurchmiddletown.org/ or call 860-346-6657.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Eat Healthy, Support Local Farms


Despite the challenging times we are currently facing, our local farmers have either been growing food throughout the winter in greenhouses and high tunnels or are beginning to plant for the upcoming months. Healthy PlanEat is a new sustainable food startup that exists to connect organic farms to local customers. 

It's founder, Rosemary Ostfeld, built a website where people can find farms near them and place an order to pick up at the farm. Healthy PlanEat is currently accepting orders for pick up at Star Light Gardens located at 54 Fowler Avenue in Durham. Star Light Gardens is currently offering a variety of organic greens which can help supplement your trips to the grocery store. 

Orders can be placed on the Healthy PlanEat website Saturdays through Thursday by 9 pm for pick up on Fridays after 2 pm or Saturdays after 10 am at Star Light Gardens, 54 Fowler Avenue, Durham, CT, 06422. Orders can be placed here: https://www.healthyplaneat.com/star-light-gardens Healthy PlanEat is also crowdfunding to build a new website so more farms can be included. 

Donations to the crowdfunding campaign can be made here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/healthy-planeat


Monday, March 16, 2020

Godfrey Memorial Library Is Closed

Due to corona virus concerns, we have decided to close the library to walk-in visits effective immediately, until further notice. 

However, that doesn't mean your research has to come to a halt. We will continue to conduct research and answer your requests submitted by email, snail mail, and telephone. Rest assured we will also remain busy working on digitization and organization projects in our continuing efforts to make your research experience with us even better. 

Take care of yourselves and each other – and don't forget to visit our website at www.godfrey.org!

Buttonwod Closed for 2 Weeks

With the safety of all in mind, the Board of Directors has decided to close The Buttonwood Tree for two weeks. We will update as soon as we can. We appreciate all the support our community has shown over the past 30 years .... we will continue to be here for you after this health event has passed.

We wish everyone peace, good health and hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Buttonwood.org

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Cat Tales ~ Adoptable Sister Pair ~ Meet Lily & Rosie!


Gender:Females (Sisters)
Breed:Domestic Med & Long Hair
Color:Black
Age:2 years old

Lily and Rosie are beautiful, medium and long haired, bonded sisters looking to be adopted together. Rosie is the shy one and Lilly is a bit more outgoing but both love to be brushed and will nuzzle and purr when someone spends time grooming their gorgeous gray fur. Lily loves little toys and is talkative! Rosie has a unique little bend in her tail. While Rosie is FIV+, with proper care she can live as long as any other cat. They are looking for a quiet, loving home and most importantly, to be together. Come to meet them to see if they are a match for you!

(FIV) (No Children) (No Dogs)

Email:  info@CatTalesCT.org 

Phone:  860-344-9043    
See our Cats in the Castle Promo: https://youtu.be/jFzM4UjohGw  

Wrapping Your Head Around the Coronavirus Epidemic

I wrote this because I needed a compendium of information I could share quickly with everyone I know, and I realized that it might be of wider use.  Please share it with those you think are not taking the coronavirus epidemic seriously or who may still not understand the importance of social distancing.  If you find errors in this article, or if important information is missing, please alert me and I will make corrections.

Update on 03/17/20: I have made a few corrections, brought some information up to date, and noted a few new developments.  Thanks go to Professor William Johnston of Wesleyan University and Professor Lyle Ungar of The University of Pennsylvania for their helpful comments.  Remaining errors of fact or emphasis are my own.


Introduction

The barrage of information surrounding the coronavirus outbreak is bewildering, and as the number of infected individuals increases, so will the information assault.  What is it truly important to understand?  The goal of this post is to walk you through some vital information; feel free to browse.  If you find the information consolidated here useful, please share it with others.  The future course of the disease depends on actions taken right now.

Much of the information in this article comes from a superb blog post by Tomas Pueyo entitled "Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now".  That article goes into greater depth than this one, and it has been updated repeatedly.   I strongly encourage you to read it.  In fact, if you consider yourself already well informed, skip the present article and click on the link right away.  It has already had tens of millions of views.

Most of us have no experience weathering an epidemic.  When so little is happening, it is hard to take drastic action.  But it is action taken now, when the need to do so is not obvious, that will make the greatest difference once the need becomes clear.

This article is written so that it may be skimmed or browsed.  Skip ahead to the recommendations if you wish and start there.


What is the coronavirus?

Most are aware that the coronavirus - officially named SARS-CoV-2 - emerged in China in December, in Hubei province.  SARS-Cov-2 belongs to a group of viruses named after their crown-like shape; some cause minor infections such as colds.  Others have been responsible for very bad illnesses, such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, also know as SARS-CoV) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, MERS-CoV), which were contained through prompt, concerted action.  The novel coronavirus causes a disease, named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization (WHO), that has caused outbreaks worldwide, first in China and then all over the world, most virulently in South Korea, Italy and Iran.  Last week, the WHO declared that the worldwide outbreaks constituted a pandemic.  That means that it's pretty much everywhere now.

If it's everywhere, why don't we see it?

As the graphic below makes clear, the virus circulated for weeks in Hubei province before action was taken.  During that time, infected individuals - many of whom had no symptoms - spread the virus widely (grey-green bars).  By the time a few cases have been identified (yellow bars) in a given jurisdiction, there are many undiagnosed cases, each of them communicating the disease to others.
detail from infographic in "Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now", by Tomas Pueyo
We are in the early stages of the explosive stage of the epidemic in the U.S. right now.  If the experience of Hubei province is a guide, there are probably tens of thousands of domestic infections that have yet to be diagnosed.  In Connecticut, there are likely hundreds of cases.

There is a hopeful message in the graphic above: as soon as drastic action was taken, the number of new infections ceased to climb.  The number of reported cases continued to increase, but it too peaked after two weeks.  The impact of the drastic actions being taken now should become apparent by the end of next week.

What does it do?

In about 80% of cases, symptoms are mild to moderate.  Mild cases include flu-like symptoms: fever, respiratory symptoms, aches and pains, and a dry cough.  Most of these cases resolve with rest and do not require medical intervention.  Moderate cases involve fever above 100.4 F, chills, and lack of energy -- like a bad case of the flu.  They also involve shortness of breath.  Some mild-to-moderate cases will result in mild pneumonia, which can still clear up without medical intervention.  But in older individuals and those with underlying conditions, this needs supportive treatment.  Dehydration is also a risk, again requiring supportive treatment in severe cases.  Cases that are mild to moderate in severity clear up in approximately two weeks.  There are apparently cases in which the patient, though able to communicate the disease to others, does not have strong enough symptoms to feel sick at all.

About 14% of cases are severe, requiring medical intervention to support breathing, typically in the form of supplemental oxygen.

Some 6% of cases become critical.  Organ failure is possible, or a form of pneumonia that results in lung damage, either by the virus itself or by a massive immune response to the infection ("cytokine storm").  It is these cases that most commonly lead to death, and survival for most will depend upon access to advanced health care.

The actual death rate is lower than 6%, largely due to medical interventions that prevent systemic collapse while the individual fights the illness.  It has varied from about 0.5% in well-prepared jurisdictions in which everyone who needs it can get treatment, to about 4% where the health care system is unable to meet the demand for treatment.

So about 20% of cases require medical attention.  It is important to recognize that in a massive outbreak, 20% of a large number is a large number.  It is in this way that the health care system in Hubei province, and now in Lombardy, Italy, became overwhelmed.


Whom does it target?

Everyone can catch the disease.  The death rate among children is low, though no age group is truly safe from serious illness.  The death rate is high among seniors, however.  The graph below from Business Insider compares the mortality rates within different age groups to the seasonal influenza.

from businessinsider.com; data from CDC and Korean CDC.
Takeaways include:
  • The mortality rate rises with age; it is 8% for those aged 70 and older and 15% for those 80 and older.
  • COVID-19 is far more dangerous than the seasonal flu, about twenty times more dangerous.  This is why it must be taken seriously.  And bear in mind that the mortality rates shown above are for South Korea, a nation that has dealt with the epidemic effectively.

Is this epidemic unprecedented?

No.  One hundred years ago, the "Spanish Flu" infected more than a quarter of the world's population, with a mortality rate estimated between 1% and 5%, leaving between 17 million and 100 million dead worldwide.  Fatalities included the President of Brazil.  It was called "Spanish Flu" only because the media in other countries suppressed news of the disease, making Spain look particularly hard hit.  Robust young GIs on their way home from World War I were decimated.

emergency hospital at Camp Funston at Fort Riley, KS (from wikipedia.com)

We can learn something important from the 1918 influenza pandemic.  Two cities treated the outbreak differently.  Philadelphia experienced its first victims on 17 September, but did not initiate efforts to suppress the disease until 3 October.  By that time, a parade honoring the end of the war had occurred, resulting in the infection of many.  The death rate in Philadelphia spiked in mid-October.

By contrast, St. Louis experienced its first case on 5 October and took steps on 7 October.  As the graph below shows, there was no sharp spike in mortality the way there was in Philadelphia.

From The Microbial Menagerie, microbialmenagerie.com

It must be said that Philadelphia's outbreak commenced earlier, and so St. Louis had a few more days to observe and learn from the situation.  That said, we have numerous "Philadelphias" to inform us about the current disease outbreak.  There is no excuse for not being a "St. Louis" at the present time.


How bad will it be here?

It is unknown how hard Middletown, the state of Connecticut, and the United States in general will be hit.  Working against us is the criminally negligent posture adopted initially by the federal government, wasting precious time to help citizens and states prepare.  Working for us could be the viral spread of information about how to take sensible steps to protect ourselves and others; that is why Pueyo and I wrote these articles.  Here is what will determine how bad things will be.

Each infected person can infect others.  If the average number of others is less than one, the disease outbreak declines exponentially.  If the number of others is greater than one, the outbreak grows exponentially.  Individuals infected with SARS-CoV-2 appear to infect an additional 2.2 victims on average, resulting in explosive exponential growth.

Few understand the extraordinary power of the exponential function and its "gradually and then all at once" nature.  For the present purposes, note that if everyone infects two others, the infection progression starting with "patient zero" is 1-2 4-8-16-32-64-128-256-512-1024...  This is the way videos go viral, and there is a good reason this name was chosen.  It is the mathematics behind pyramid scams, compound interest, chain reactions, population explosions and other explosions, and a host of other processes.

By taking steps that lower the rate of infection, the exponential rise in the number of infections can be "flattened", as shown below.  For this reason, effective public health measures are said to "flatten the curve".

The New York Times published an interactive tool in an article entitled "How Much Worse the Coronavirus Could Get, in Charts".   You can use it to experiment with different scenarios to see how important early intervention is.  The model they use is crude, but it gets the point across: early dramatic intervention saves many lives.  Those complaining about the disappointment of athletic competition being canceled should be helped to understand that it is during the nearly invisible stage of the disease that we will make the biggest gains in terms of human life.  It is all about compounding, in the same way that early deposits in one's retirement account have a much greater impact at retirement time than later deposits.

Schools can serve as incubators of infection, and children, who are not strongly at risk, can nevertheless serve as vectors, bringing home the disease and sharing it with more vulnerable groups such as parents and grandparents.  It is for this reason that the City of Middletown was wise to close its schools.  The disruption to education is potentially severe.  And there are children whose lives are organized by school -- indeed, whose prospect for a nutritious meal depends upon school.  Our municipal leaders need to give thought to how these unwanted effects can be mitigated.  But we owe them our thanks for acting when they did.

According to a presentation at Stanford Medical School by Michal Tal, we can expect the number of cases to double every 7-10 days in the U.S., ultimately resulting in 96 million cases of COVID-19 and 480,000 deaths.  This would make it more than ten times more deadly than a bad flu season (such as the current one, which has resulted in 22,000-55,000 deaths nationwide so far, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).  In fact, the number of cases has recently been doubling every 3-4 days.

There are now nearly 5000 cases diagnosed in the United States (as of 17 March).  With a doubling time of a several days, we can expect a million cases before May.  This is a recipe for overwhelmed hospitals and inadequate care, as the recent experiences of China and Italy demonstrate.  See "The Extraordinary Decisions Facing Italian Doctors" for the grim details, if you need persuading.
triage section of a hospital in Lombardy, Italy (from an article in Atlantic)
And the number of actual infections (as opposed to diagnosed cases) is much larger, as I have pointed out already.  Pueyo's article walks the reader through an estimate of the infection-to-deaths ratio during the early stages of the disease.  It is about 800:1.  With close to 100 deaths nationwide so far (as of 17 March), this translates to 80,000 active infections at the present time, most of them undiagnosed.

Unfortunately, there are fewer than three hospital beds per 1000 individuals in the United States, fewer than in Italy, and four times fewer than in Japan or South Korea.  And about two thirds of those are already occupied at any given time.  This makes a strong case for slowing the infection rate to make it more manageable.

What can be done?

Reducing the transmission rate through all available means is what societies must try to do, the pronouncements of some ill-informed national leaders notwithstanding.  Containment is the first line of defense: identify, trace, and isolate every case in an effort to prevent the spread of the disease.  The era of containment has come to an end in the U.S., and mitigation is now the order of the day: slow the transmission rate to the extent possible.  This consists of travel bans, containment zones, quarantines, and changes in personal behavior.  Precious time has been lost in the U.S., and some options are no longer on the table.  Travel bans are useful when the arrival of even a few diseased individuals means a significant increase in disease transmission.  Now that the virus is being transmitted between individuals within the U.S., the value of international travel bans is lower, as shown in detail in the article linked at the beginning of this post.

Internal restrictions are the next line of defense.  Once the city of Wuhan halted travel, the cycle of infection was dramatically reduced.  New cases developed, making it hard to be sure, but within a couple weeks the situation began to improve.  Containment zones are a burden on the citizenry; just ask someone within the New Rochelle containment zone.  But they are an essential component to slow the spread of the virus once it has taken hold.  New Jersey has instituted a "soft curfew", and similar actions are beginning to snowball in other jurisdictions.

These actions are examples of social distancing - minimizing infection by minimizing interpersonal contact.  No one knows who carries the virus and who doesn't, so the only sure-fire way to prevent infection is isolation.  Every individual can also practice social distancing to reduce their personal risk and contribute to lowering the risk of everyone else.

It is likely that social distancing will not dramatically reduce the proportion of Americans ultimately infected.  What it can do is two things:
  • "flatten the curve": slow the rate at which infection occurs so that the number of very ill individuals at any one time is no greater than our hospitals can accommodate;
  • by delaying infection, buy time for the development of a vaccine, which could confer protection on those who have not yet been infected.  Vaccines ordinarily take years to develop.  The timeline of a year to eighteen months being discussed in the media is optimistic and will require an unprecedented approach.
The animation below shows the result of social distancing: the "curve" of infection is "flattened", resulting in fewer infections at the same time and (ideally) keeping the total number of serious cases to within what the hospitals can handle.

infographic by Alexander Radtke, flowingdata.com

Nations that have "flattened the curve" include Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan.  Each of them is small and can protect itself more easily; moreover, each of them experienced the SARS epidemic in 2003 and learned from it.  Individual provinces in China outside the main outbreak zones have also flattened the curve.  As China returns to work, the infection rate will likely rise again.

Everyone should read the article "Why outbreaks like coronavirus spread exponentially, and how to 'flatten the curve'" in the 15 March Washington Post.  The simulations it contains illustrate the value of extensive social distancing and show how dramatically it can slow the spread of disease.

The urgency of action is illustrated by the similarity between the disease trajectory in the United States and that in jurisdictions such as China and Italy:
Cumulative COVID-19 cases in a number of nations (from The Financial Times)
In an article released on 16 March by the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team, the U.S. epidemic is predicted to peak in late June and result in 2.2 million deaths - far more than the Michal Tal prediction, and enough to get the attention of U.S. leadership.

It is simply a reality that many will die.  It is also true that a sufficiently draconian remedy to prevent any transmission -- quarantining everyone for weeks -- is out of the question; many would die in this scenario as well.  Public health officials are attempting to balance these realities to minimize mortality.  Significant, perhaps crippling economic impacts are inevitable.  The pandemic will be a particular challenge in nations that have attempted to dismantle critical parts of their bureaucratic infrastructure, perhaps in the belief that private action always outperforms concerted government action.

What should we do?

We as individuals have a number of things we can and must do:

  • WASH YOUR HANDS.  Clean hands protect you and those around you -- a win-win.
  • Stop touching your face.  This is harder than washing your hands, but it is a part of the hygiene that can reduce the rate of transmission.  My graduate student Jake has invented "scorpion pepper hand sanitizer", with the idea that once your touch your eye after using this product, you will stop doing it forever.  I don't think the product will become available in time to do us any good, so you'll have to try another method.  If you have a catcher's or goalie's mask, try wearing it.  (I am joking here, but if it works for you, it is worth considering.)
  • Practice social distancing to the extent you possibly can.  This involves avoiding public events of all sorts, and in fact minimizing human contact.  At its logical extreme, it becomes solitary confinement, which is a recipe for insanity.  So each of us will have to ride the line that preserves our sanity while minimizing our chance of spreading the disease or having it communicated to us.
  • Stay home if you feel unwell.  Now is not the time to be a hero by showing up even though you feel like death warmed over.  Now is the time to be a hero by not showing up, even though your fever is mild and you could probably soldier on.  See this Washington Post editorial, "You are the hero we are waiting for".
  • Share information on what must be done and why.  Just as a few anti-vaxxers can hitch a free ride on the "herd immunity" of a mostly-vaccinated group, a few careless individuals will not lead to greater disease spread if the rest of us are using safe practices.  But the number that can be supported is small.  That means that we need to get as many as possible to practice extensive social distancing, right now.
  • Understand that the closings of schools, libraries, and other public meeting places are an important step in flattening the curve.  Support the efforts of your beleaguered (and soon-to-be-overwhelmed) public officials and encourage stronger, not weaker, action.  Don't expect Middletown's schools to reopen in two weeks.
  • Tend to the emotional needs of yourself and those you live with.  This will last months.  We cannot afford to exhaust our stores of resilience in the early stages of the epidemic.
These measures are optional, when viewed from a personal point of view: protecting oneself is always an individual choice.  But when viewed from the point of view of society, these measures don't seem so optional.  Who am I to put others at risk, especially those for whom a negative outcome is more likely than it is for me?

Social distancing is what we as individuals can do.  Flattening the curve is why we do it - to keep the disease from spiking in such as way as to overwhelm the health care system.  We do it to save lives.  Government forces us to do some social distancing by closing schools, canceling public meetings, and regulating what remains.  The rest is up to us.  Remember that if the number of people infected on average by each individual is less than one, the epidemic dies away.  And remember that we are doing this for ourselves, yes, but even more so for those at greater risk than ourselves.  As Tomas Pueyo put it, "This is probably the one time in the last decade the sharing an article might save lives.  They need to understand this to avert a catastrophe.  The moment to act is now."
Handwashing explained (from an article at cnn.com)