Insomnia, Worry, and Fear: Waiting for the Storm to Hit

Insomnia deepdream part 1 (by Lubomir Panak; CC BY-NC 2.0)

It’s 2:30 a.m. and I’ve been up for over an hour now. I can’t sleep, and in five hours I need to get ready to head back to my job at the university after a much-needed, four-week vacation.

I’m worried about the coronavirus epidemic, which seems to have already tipped over into a global pandemic. I went through my adjustment reaction early, and I’ve done all the preparing I can, but on a night like tonight, it all just feels so hopeless, building a tiny boat made out of paper to ride out a tsunami (or “flunami”, as one witty person put it).

I have, in my usual obsessive librarian fashion, pored through all the newsfeeds and discussion groups, to compile lists of credible, authoritative resources to share with friends, family, colleagues, and you, my blog readers (the most up-to-date list is at the end of this particular blogpost).

The major scientific research paper which estimates the overall case fatality rate of SARS-CoV-2 at 2.3% (which has been widely reported by the mainstream news media) was published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) on Feb. 24th, 2020 and is available here: The title of the paper is: “Characteristics of and Important Lessons From the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Outbreak in China: Summary of a Report of 72,314 Cases From the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention”.

Some sobering statistics from that study of 72,314 cases, the largest conducted to date, are:

  • 81% of cases are mild, 14% are severe, and 5% are critical (the case fatality rate for critical cases was 49.0%; in other words, half of the critical patients died)
  • the case fatality rates were 8.0% in patients aged 70-79 years and 14.8% in patients aged ≥80 years (I worry for my parents)
  • the case fatality rates were 10.5% for people with cardiovascular disease, 7.3% for diabetes, 6.3% for chronic respiratory disease, 6.0% for hypertension, and 5.6% for cancer

As someone who is older, significantly overweight, and has several underlying health conditions (hypertension, asthma, type II diabetes), I know that I run a significantly higher risk of a severe reaction if I should become infected with SARS-CoV-2 and get COVID-19. So I’m afraid.

As of Feb. 29th, 2020, the World Health Organization is now recommending that people that fall into these categories limit their exposure to crowded areas and to people who are already sick:
“If you are 60+, or have an underlying condition like cardiovascular disease, a respiratory condition or diabetes, you have a higher risk of developing severe COVID-19. Try to avoid crowded areas, or places where you might interact with people who are sick.” Source: (scroll down to the 5th tweet in the series where this quote is taken from).

I’ve already got my bag packed and hanging from the doorknob: Lysol disinfectant wipes, Purell hand sanitizer, some surgical gloves, a couple of 3M respirator masks, some eye protection to fit over my glasses (even though I doubt I will be using the last three items, they are coming with me regardless).

I’ll be packing my own lunch (something I never do) and lugging a large thermal travel mug of black coffee, instead of standing in line at Starbucks. I’ve got this all planned out, exactly how to limit my exposure to other people. And all this elaborate over-preparation is happening in a city (Winnipeg, Manitoba) which is still very far away from any of the SARS-CoV-2 cases currently popping up in North America.

Now it’s a quarter after three. I was kind of hoping that writing all this down, getting it out of my system, would make me tired so I could go to bed and finally get some sleep. But it’s not working.

I’m worried and afraid and I am wide awake, waiting for the storm to hit.

UPDATE 8:25 a.m.: Well, I never did get back to sleep, so I will probably be dragging my ass come quitting time today. But I am feeling a bit better and a bit less anxious than I was last night, which is good.

And yes, I do well realize that my coronavirus coverage has taken this blog on an unexpected tangent, and probably one that is more confusing to my regular readers than any previous tangent I have taken. Please understand that my blogging about it just my way of venting (as this blogpost is).

And I will endeavour to continue writing about social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse on a very regular basis, I promise!

And, to address my anxiety, I recently signed up for a two-year subscription to Calm Radio, which I am listening to right now…they’ve got a 30%-off sale on at the moment, but you can also listen for free if you don’t mind the occasional advertisement about their streaming music service. I can recommend them highly! (Even the ads are soothing!)

UPDATED! Editorial: Why Facebook Horizon Will Be Delayed

Facebook was originally planning to launch their social VR platform, called Facebook Horizon, in a closed beta test early this year. Many people were expecting an announcement at their annual Facebook F8 Developer Conference, or perhaps at the Game Developers Conference.

Well, on February 27th, TechCrunch reported that Facebook was cancelling its F8 conference, citing coronavirus concerns:

Facebook  has confirmed that it has canceled its annual F8 developers conference over growing concerns about the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

More specifically, the company says it’s canceling the “in-person component,” which would have been held in San Jose, Calif. There may still be video presentations, along with live-streamed and local events, under the F8 umbrella.

“Celebrating our global developer community at F8 each year is incredibly important to us at Facebook, but we won’t sacrifice the health and safety of our community to do so,” said Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, Facebook’s director of developer platforms and programs, in a statement. “Out of concerns around COVID-19, we’re cancelling the in-person component of F8, but we look forward to connecting with our developer partners through local events, video and live streamed content.”

And more recently, it was announced that the Game Developers Conference, which was supposed to take place this month, would be postponed until later this summer. UploadVR reports:

The organizers of the Game Developers Conference postponed the event after sponsors, attendees, journalists, and developers decided not to come due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

In recent days some of the event’s biggest supporters including Epic, Unity, Facebook, Sony, Amazon, and many more, along with a large number of journalists and developers, pulled out of attendance at the event. Many companies encouraged their employees not to travel to the March event in San Francisco.

Here’s the statement from organizers:

After close consultation with our partners in the game development industry and community around the world, we’ve made the difficult decision to postpone the Game Developers Conference this March.

Having spent the past year preparing for the show with our advisory boards, speakers, exhibitors, and event partners, we’re genuinely upset and disappointed not to be able to host you at this time .

We want to thank all our customers and partners for their support, open discussions and encouragement. As everyone has been reminding us, great things happen when the community comes together and connects at GDC. For this reason, we fully intend to host a GDC event later in the summer. We will be working with our partners to finalize the details and will share more information about our plans in the coming weeks.

The SARS-CoV-2 outbreak and resulting travel restrictions has led to dozens of conferences around the world being cancelled or postponed. Many major corporations such as Amazon, Facebook and Google are also restricting or outright cancelling employee travel.

I think all this means that Facebook will likely postpone the launch of Facebook Horizon, since they won’t have any suitable venue at which to make a splashy announcement. And let’s face it, with the world being so preoccupied with this expanding global public health emergency, any platform launch would likely be muted, sidelined, and overlooked. People have other, much more pressing, priorities at the moment, like trying to find supplies of Purell hand sanitizer and 3M face masks.

Another complicating factor, as I have reported before, is that supplies of both Oculus Quest and Oculus Rift S VR headsets are simply unavailable in most markets, due to the coronavirus shutting down many Chinese factories. Apparently, production of the Valve Index VR headset is also being negatively impacted. The HTC Vive headset is manufactured in Taiwan, and so far does not appear to have been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. (Here’s a February 28th article from IGN on how SARS-CoV-2 is impacting the manufacture and sales of VR headsets.)

Of course, Facebook may just decide to launch Facebook Horizon in closed beta anyway, using livestreamed video and other not-in-person means, but I think they will choose to hold back. A company that makes billions of dollars in profit from advertising knows full well the benefit of a well-timed product launch, with an all-out advertising push. The timing is just plain wrong.

P.S. I am curious though; has anybody been invited yet to take part in the closed beta test for Facebook Horizon? I haven’t (but then, given how critical I have been of Facebook on this blog, I wasn’t expecting to be invited). Any anonymous tipsters want to whisper in my ear? 😉

UPDATE March 3rd: I’ve heard through the grapevine that Facebook will be launching a closed (invitation-only) alpha of Facebook Horizon this spring.

Governments Around the World—Including the Donald Trump Administration—Are Making the Same Mistakes that Led to the Deaths of Millions of People in the 1918/1919 Spanish Flu Pandemic

True confession time: I no longer watch any broadcast television newscasts because every time I see Donald Trump on my TV screen, my blood pressure goes up and I have to physically restrain myself from throwing a slipper (or something heavier) at my TV set.

In my opinion, he is most definitely not the kind of President that Americans need in a time of crisis. All of his tactics for dealing with bad news/”fake news” definitely won’t help him in a potential SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.

Today, the Washington Post newspaper (original version, archived copy) published an interview with John M. Barry, author of The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, which is a history of the 1918/1919 Spanish flu pandemic I have read and can recommend highly:

Now, as fears about the coronavirus spread, at least one historian is worried the Trump administration is failing to heed the lesson of one of the world’s worst pandemics: Don’t hide the truth.

“They [the Trump administration] are clearly trying to put the best possible gloss on things, and are trying to control information,” said John M. Barry, author of “The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History,” in a phone interview with The Washington Post.

When the second wave of Spanish flu hit globally, “there was outright censorship” in Europe, Barry said. “In the United States, they didn’t quite do that, but there was intense pressure not to say anything negative.”

For the most part, the media followed the government’s lead and self-censored dire news. That made everything worse, Barry said.For example, in Philadelphia, local officials were planning the largest parade in the city’s history. Just before the scheduled event, about 300 returning soldiers started spreading the virus in the city.

“And basically every doctor, they were telling reporters the parade shouldn’t happen. The reporters were writing the stories; editors were killing them,” he said. “The Philadelphia papers wouldn’t print anything about it.

”The parade was held and, 48 hours later, Spanish flu slammed the city. Even once schools were closed and public gatherings were banned, city officials claimed it wasn’t a public health measure and there was no cause for alarm, Barry said.

Philadelphia became one of the hardest hit areas of the country. The dead lay in their beds and on the streets for days; eventually, they were buried in mass graves. More than 12,500 residents died, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Now, it is not just the Donald Trump administration in the U.S. who is muzzling public health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has been forbidden to speak freely to the public since Wednesday’s press conference. For example, there have been numerous news media reports that the Iranian authorities have also clamped down on any news of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak that would make their government look bad. Some news reports have criticized China for the same reason.

Right now, people around the globe are relying on their governments and their news media to inform and guide them during a potential pandemic. It’s essential to be clear, honest, and up-front about risk communication to the general public. If governments are less than honest with the truth, history shows us that it will likely backfire, and lead to less prepared citizens, who may make ultimately fatal decisions for themselves and their families.

A virus doesn’t pay attention to a President’s tweets and speeches.

Good Sources of Information on SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19

Here is my newly-updated list of good, credible, authoritative resources to learn more about the Wuhan coronoavirus (formerly called 2019-nCoV and now officially called SARS-CoV-2; the disease the virus causes is now called COVID-19):

If you need lists of how to prepare and what to buy in order to get your household ready for a potential pandemic, here are five suggestions:

If you want a quick, up-to-date overview of the current situation, here are three good places to check:

Stay informed, get prepared, and stay healthy!

UPDATED! Coronavirus Versus Influenza: Why SARS-CoV-2 is Not Just “the Flu” (With Sources)

Many people are saying that we should be paying attention to the regular seasonal influenza, which kills so many more people than the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has. U.S. Presdient Donald Trump, in his most recent news conference, kept saying “It’s the flu”.

However, as this poster from the Coronavirus subReddit explains in detail (complete with sources), SARS-CoV-2 is not just “the flu”:

  1. The virulence (R0) of SARS-CoV-2 is estimated between 1.4-6.49, with a mean estimate of 3.28 (source) . This mean estimate is much higher than the seasonal flu, which has an R0 of 1.3 (source) . What this means is that SARS-CoV-2 spreads significantly faster than the seasonal flu.
  2. The Case Fatality Rate (CFR) of SARS-CoV-2 is at least 2-3% (source) . This is 20-30 times higher than the CFR of the season flu, which is around .1% (source).
  3. SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted without the infected showing any symptoms (source) . This makes it much more difficult to control.
  4. Roughly 20% of SARS-CoV-2 infections result in serious symptoms that require medical intervention (source) . This is more than 10 times the hospitalization rate of the seasonal flu (source).
  5. Symptoms from SARS-CoV-2 can persist over a month (source) compared to the seasonal flu where symptoms typically tend to clear after five days (source) .
  6. There is no vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 (source), whereas people regularly get annual flu shots.
  7. There is no herd immunity for SARS-CoV-2 which means that it can theoretically infect the entire population. See, for example, a Korean psychiatric department where the virus infected 99/102 people.

Now, consider the multiplicative effect that all of these attributes have for the virus. Compared to the seasonal flu, SARS-CoV-2 (1) spreads faster; (2) kills far more; (3) is harder to control; (4) requires use of far more medical resources; (5) for far longer a period of time; (6) has no effective treatment; and (7) can infect entire populations at the same time.

These factors mean that SARS-CoV-2, if left unchecked, is far more likely to overwhelm a country’s medical infrastructure. Additionally, when medical infrastructure is overwhelmed, the CFR will skyrocket because we know that 20% of cases require medical intervention.

To summarize, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is potentially devastating if containment measures fail. This is far worse than the seasonal flu. This is why governments around the world are pulling out all the stops in order to try and contain outbreaks of COVID-19 disease caused by this coronavirus.

So the next time somebody who is ill-informed tries to argue with you that this is “just the flu”, please share this information with them.

Thank you to the person who originally compiled this information, u/Hafomeng, and posted it to the r/Coronavirus community on Reddit!

Coronavirus Versus Influenza (infographic from the Boston Herald)

UPDATE 2:25 p.m.: The Guardian newspaper reports today:

Many individuals who get coronavirus will experience nothing worse than seasonal flu symptoms, but the overall profile of the disease, including its mortality rate, looks more serious. At the start of an outbreak the apparent mortality rate can be an overestimate if a lot of mild cases are being missed. But this week, a WHO expert suggested that this has not been the case with COVID-19. Bruce Aylward, who led an international mission to China to learn about the virus and the country’s response, said the evidence did not suggest that we were only seeing the tip of the iceberg. If borne out by further testing, this could mean that current estimates of a roughly 1% fatality rate are accurate. This would make COVID-19 about 10 times more deadly than seasonal flu, which is estimated to kill between 290,000 and 650,000 people a year globally.

UPDATE 4:16 p.m.: The credible, authoritative Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has just published an up-to-date summary of everything we know so far about SARS-CoV-2: COVID-19—New Insights on a Rapidly Changing Epidemic.