COVID-19 DAY 81: The Scariest Thing Last Halloween May Have Been COVID.

People have been alarmed by the “new strains” of COVID-19 being discovered around the world. Part of this confusion is due to the somewhat subjective use of the term “strain” which applies to any genetic variation or subtype of a virus. These variations can cause a change in a virus’ lethality or infectiousness or as is more often the case, no discernible change at all. In fact, because genetic mutations occur constantly as a virus replicates in the human body, a single individual could theoretically develop different strains of a virus within their own course of an infection.

There were some early theories circulated that the reason why some people experience only mild symptoms vs life-threatening symptoms could be due to differences in strains. The strain found in NYC was traced to Italy and both regions had the highest number of deaths in the world. Unfortunately, this theory falls apart because the Italian strain was the same strain that infected Germany and Noway which had very few deaths.

There is only one virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2. There are 2-8 easily detectable strains of SARS2 which has helped researchers trace the geographic path of the pandemic, starting in Wuhan China and spreading to Europe, South East Asia, and North America and from there to other parts of the world. From each of these 8 regional strains, hundreds of different variations have been identified by more detailed genetic sampling.

Mutations happen naturally in the process of viral replication and geneticists have learned that this randomness happens at a regular rate over time. By determining how often mutations occur, a ‘molecular clock’ can be calibrated for any organism. Running back the molecular clock from the various SARS2 samples from around the world, they were able to estimate that the original strain of SARS2 could have appeared as early as October 2019. So yes, it’s possible that the flu you had back in December could have been COVID-19. It didn’t even have to be a bad case of flu, as some COVID-19 systems are as mild as a cold or allergy. Only a serum antibody test can determine for sure.

Molecular clocks can help us turn back time to the start of the pandemic. What they can’t do is tell us how the pandemic started. And unfortunately we can’t turn back time to stop it.


COVID-19 Day 80: Sunday Meme

COVID-19 Day 79: False Flags and Mistaken Identities in Minneapolis Riots

At the start of the George Floyd Minneapolis riots, a white man dressed, unlike other protesters, in an all-black ANTIFA-like outfit, professional gas mask, and umbrella, broke the windows of AutoZone car parts store which was later looted and burned. This incident was caught on video as other protesters attempted to stop him, and he eventually fled on foot. What followed was a rumor storm that claimed the Umbrella-Man was a St. Paul Police officer conducting a false-flag tactic to provoke the protestors to violence. 

My cursory investigation into this shocking allegation casts doubt on its voracity and accuracy. The incident was captured on livestream video of one of the protesters during the Minneaplolis riots on May 28. A group of protesters were gathered around a shopping center next to an AutoZone store. 

A tweet of the video shared by small-time Twitch streamer SeanXSolo (@Seanxsolo) shows a white man dressed all in black ANTIFA-style casual tactical wear, carrying an umbrella and wearing a +$250 professional (not military) grade North 7600 gas mask. This individual proceeds to break the windows of an AutoZone store near protesters. He walks away after being challenged by some protesters for breaking the windows (some of whom he threatens for following him). He doesn’t have friends or family among the protesters and walks off alone. The AutoZone would later be looted and burned down.   

The Twitter account of Toronto based dancer Dimensional Creature (@jcpearce18) responded to SeanXSolo by retweeted the video with additional footage with the comment, “That’s a Cop!!!” from a Serbian Twitter user Luka Duvnjak (@Luka_Duvnjak)

Twitter user Dylan Park (@dyllyp) a New York based film and commercial director, tweeted that his ‘close friend’ Megan sent him phone screen grabs of a TXT conversation she was having with a friend she identifies as “Jake’s Ex-Wife”. He would later identify the man as Officer Jacob Pederson of the St. Paul Police Department. 

Strangely I have not been able to confirm that there is any police officer in the St. Paul Police Department named Jacob Peterson. Nor that the police officer in the photo is he. It should be noted that the identity of this woman claiming to be his Ex-wife has not been confirmed, nor that Officer Pederson has an ex-wife. The St. Paul Police Department flatly denies that the gas-masked man in the video is one of their officers.

Post for @dyllyp identifying the gas-masked man

The TXT conversation between Megan and The Ex brings up some questions. How is this woman able to identify her gloves from a low-res photo that looks like any black gloves? Why would her Ex-husband use her gloves and not his own, assuming they have the same size hands? Why does she own a +$250 gas mask? Why would her Ex be in possession of her gloves and gas mask? Why would a police officer buy or use a gas mask that was incompatible with his police issued gas mask? Why would she mention ‘tactical boots’ as identifying him, when so many people wear tactical boots?

If this woman really is the Ex-Wife of an Officer Pederson, who calls him ‘a psycho’, then there is a strong possibility she would be inclined to want to embarrass him. She is as yet unwilling to positively identify herself to the public so there is no way to confirm if she has any alterer motives. Or if @dyllyp or any of the twitter users are doing anything more than publicly speculating. 

But to bolster his claims @dyllyp posted some photoshopped images of this police officer’s face and superimposing it into the masked suspects gas mask. While some consider this proof of his identity, I call this into question with my own photoshop images of various white guys in this virtual lineup. 

Virtual lineup of the AutoZone Umbrella-Man

A recent study found that 45%-60% of Twitter Accounts discussing and encouraging ‘Reopen America’ protests are bots. It’s not unreasonable to assume that these same bots are also retweeting and amplifying divisive tweets and rumors about the George Floyd killing and encouraging violent protests and rioting. And it’s also possible these bots or fake accounts are amplifying or encouraging these rumors about Officer Pederson being the Umbrella-Man are attempts to fan the flames of outrage and sow distrust of both the protestors and the government’s motives.

In a strange coincidence, when you Google ‘Jacob Pederson’ a number of white guys came up who bear a passing similarity to each other. If the Ex-Wife of a Jake Pederson is real, could she not be mistaking her ex-husband for any of these other Pederson’s? My little retouching exercise shows how easily we can be fooled when so little of a face is visible. We see what we want to see. But maybe I’m just being racist and thinking all white guys look alike. 

All Pederson’s look like white guys in gas masks.


Honeywell North 7600 Gas Mask

COVID-19 Day 78: SF’s New Mask Rules

San Francisco and other Bay Area counties have released revised rules on mask-wearing due to COVID-19. And some are not just onerous but nonsensical.

For example, it says that you have to wear a mask outdoors if you’re within 30ft of another person?! But you don’t have to wear a mask if you’re outdoors exercising. So I guess that means as long as you’re wearing a sweatband and looking like you’re speed-walking, you never have to wear a mask.


You must wear a face covering when you are:

  • Waiting in line to go inside a store
  • Shopping at a store
  • On public transportation (or waiting for it)
  • In a taxi or rideshare vehicle
  • Seeking healthcare
  • Going into facilities allowed to stay open, like government buildings
  • Working a job that interacts with others
  • Walking outside and you see someone within 30 feet (about the length of a MUNI bus)

You will not be allowed to go into a business or public transportation if you are not wearing a face covering.

You do not need to wear a face covering if you’re driving yourself or others in your family.

Staying home is still the best protection

Covering your face does not change the shelter in place order, which requires people to stay home as much as possible and maintain physical distancing by staying 6 feet from others.

Cloth face coverings, when combined with physical distancing and hand washing, may prevent transmission of coronavirus by reducing respiratory droplets.

Why this is a requirement: face coverings protect others

As COVID-19 can be spread by people who are not showing symptoms, cloth face coverings, when combined with physical distancing and hand washing, may prevent the spread of the virus to others when going outside for essential activities. Cloth face coverings must cover your nose and mouth.

Covering your face is about helping others. By covering your face when you go out for essential reasons, you are being a good neighbor and community member.

When a face covering is not needed

Face coverings are not required to be worn when:

  • At home (if you are not around someone at higher risk from COVID-19)
  • In your car alone or if you’re only with members of your household
  • Sitting or standing with people you live with (such as picnicking outside) and you are more than 6 feet from other groups
  • Exercising outdoors alone or with people who live with you (walking, hiking, bicycling, or running)

You should still have a face covering with you. It should be readily accessible when exercising, like hanging around your neck. There might be times where you cannot avoid being around other people.

You should put on your face covering if you see someone within 30 feet of you (about the length of a MUNI bus).

If a mask is too tight, try a looser fitting option like a gaiter or bandana.

Certain groups are not required to wear a face covering


Children under 2 years old must not wear a face covering. They may suffocate.

Children 3 to 12 years old are not required to wear a face covering. If they do, they should be supervised by an adult. Supervision may look different based on the age and maturity of the child. For some children, having a discussion may be enough.  For younger children, parents and caretakers should be present during use by the child. Parents and caregivers should use their judgement.

Health and safety reasons

If you will create a safety hazard at work (under established health and safety guidelines) by wearing a face covering, you do not have to wear one. 

If you have a physical, intellectual, or developmental disability that prevents you from wearing a face covering, you do not have to wear one.

If you are Deaf and use facial and mouth movements as part of communication, you can remove your mask while communicating.

Anyone who has trouble breathing, or is not able to take off a face covering without help, should not wear one. If you have a chronic respiratory condition, you should get documentation from a medical professional.

If you have documentation showing a medical professional has told you not to wear a face covering, you do not have to wear one.

You can make your own face covering

There are several options for face coverings, as long as they cover the nose and mouth. Face coverings can be made of a variety of cloth materials, such as bandanas, scarves, t-shirts, sweatshirts, or towels.

The CDC has simple instructions on how to make your own face covering without having to sew. All you need is an old T-shirt, or a bandana with 2 rubber bands or hair ties.

What not to use

A face covering can be made of cloth, fabric, or other soft or permeable material, but it should not have holes. 

The following do not qualify as a face covering, and do not comply with the order:

  • Halloween or plastic masks
  • Ski masks with holes for the nose or mouth
  • Masks that have a one-way valve designed for easier breathing (the valves are often a raised plastic disk about the size of a quarter, on the front or side of the mask)

Holes or one-way valves allow droplets out of the mask, putting others nearby at risk.  

Keep it clean

If you’re outside your home and your face covering gets wet, keep wearing it. It will still protect others.

Face coverings should be washed frequently. Ideally, wash them after each use and have a dedicated laundry bag or bin. 

Always wash your hands, or use hand sanitizer, before and after touching your face or face coverings.

The CDC has instructions on how to wear and clean your face covering

Save masks for the healthcare workers on the front lines

N-95 and surgical masks are in short supply, and need to be conserved for health workers on the frontlines.

We are managing our supply levels closely and providing health workers and first responders with medical-grade PPE that is aligned with the latest evidence-based science, and appropriate for their work duties.

If you are currently using a medical mask, keep using it as long as possible – until it becomes dirty or damaged – due to the limited supply.

Donating face coverings and masks

Donate face coverings and medical supplies at Give2SF. You can also make a tax-deductible contribution towards the City’s coronavirus response. 

We can also accept medical supplies for health care workers and first responders. Note that we are currently only accepting donations in specific quantities and criteria.

At home

You are not required to use a face covering at home.  But if you or someone at home is sick, you can use a face covering to reduce exposure. If you live with someone at higher risk from COVID-19, everyone at home should wear a face covering when around others, if possible.

You should contact your healthcare provider if you or someone in your home is sick.

For transit

You must wear a face covering when you are riding on public transit, or in a taxi, rideshare vehicle or private town car. 

If you operate a taxi, rideshare vehicle, or private town car, you must always wear a face covering even if no one else is in the vehicle with you. This will avoid breathing droplets that could contaminate areas where customers will sit and touch.


Business must require face coverings for employees and customers. See details about operating an essential or outdoor business.

Businesses must also provide their staff with face coverings. See shops that are selling PPE.


We do not recommend wearing gloves as a prevention measure. Washing your hands often throughout the day and regularly cleaning surfaces you touch often, like doorknobs and countertops, is a better way to prevent infection.

See official health orders

Order of the Health Officer No. C19-12b (May 28, 2020), requiring face coverings when you leave your home.

Order of the Health Officer No. C19-12 (April 17, 2020), requiring face coverings when shopping, getting healthcare, or taking transit.Last updated May 28, 2020

COVID-19 Day 77: The Swedish Model of COVID Yields Surprising Results.

Google “Swedish Model” and you’ll get more than COVID-19 research

If you want to learn more about Swedish policies concerning COVID-19 try Googling “Swedish Model” and select ‘IMAGES’ The results are vastly different than epidemiological data charts I’ve seen for other countries but it looks promising (above).

Much talk has been made about Sweden’s COVID-19 response. Oddly, depending on your political position you get either, Sweden made a reckless decision that cost lives (more than the rest of Scandinavia) or you get the position that Sweden’s strategy worked because they kept deaths relatively low without putting people out of work and going into trillions of dollars in debt. Both are true.

Much of the criticism leveled at Sweden is in comparison to neighboring Nordic countries: Norway, Denmark, and Finland. Unlike its neighbors or most of Europe, Sweden didn’t close ‘non-essential’ business or impose stay-at-home orders. The result, critics charge, was Swedens COVID-19 case rates are 3x higher and death rates 10x higher than its Nordic neighbors.

The deaths weren’t due to an overwhelmed healthcare system, as happened in Lombardy, Italy. Most of Swedens deaths occurred at senior nursing homes, whose residents continued to interact with the general population. Even the architect of Swedens COVID strategy, epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, regrets they did not do more to isolate their seniors.

In the broader context of other EU countries, Sweden and Switzerland (the only other EU country that didn’t lock down their economy) fall smack in the middle between France and Portugal in terms of per capita cases and deaths. This calls into question the assumption that stay-at-home orders and business shutdowns were effective, unless France, Italy, and the UK’s governments were less effective at enforcing those laws or their population was far laxer in following them?

Source: NY Times

Hypocritically, some of those who criticize Sweden by comparing it to its neighbors, also say you can not compare Sweden to other EU countries because no two countries are the same (eg. different cultures, population densities, etc.). The reality is in the latter is truer than the former. We can’t compare apples to apples with COVID-19 as it doesn’t affect countries the same, cities the same and rural towns, old the same as young, or even those with different blood types.

The most reasonable direction is to take the best practices from different countries and employ them where practicable in other cities and regions. The fact remains that as the US and other countries emerge from their self-imposed COVID-19 lockdowns, their policies look more and more like Sweden than not. Whether we adopt Sweden’s personal-responsibility driven health policies or South Korea’s technology-driven population monitoring, it is preferable than China’s strategy of welding doors shut, shooting people who leave their homes, and snitching on your neighbors.


COVID-19 Day 76: What Zardoz taught me about Coronavirus.

It was 1974, I was 3 yrs old when my mother took me with her to see her favorite actor, Sean Connery in a new movie. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a James Bond film, it was Zardoz. I was much too young to understand its plot and themes but it had a profound impact on me as a child.

The flying stone head that appeared at the beginning of the film, terrified me. I vividly remember being hiding behind the seat in front of me, whimpering with fear, while peering up at the screen between my fingers. This giant stone head featured in my nightmares for years to come, despite not even remembering the movie’s name. 

I won’t go into much detail about the plot in case you want to see it yourself (link below). Zardoz was an artsy film about a dystopian future; a popular genre in the late ’60s and early ’70s in the milieu of ‘The Prisoner’, ‘Planet of the Apes’, and ‘Logan’s Run’. In the film, the protagonist ultimately destroys paradise because perfection creates apathy and stagnation; suggesting that humanity is on a constant cycle of barbarism, to civilization, to collapse, rinse and repeat.  

It wouldn’t be until I saw Zardoz again, on cable TV in my teens, that I was able to understand the origin of this visage that haunted me. In understanding the story and context, my fear vanished, replaced by chagrin at the movie’s pretensions and plot tropes. Never again has this head appeared in my nightmares.

This is perhaps a good analogy for how we should address everything that scares us, whether that be a giant head or a virus. Instead of letting the unknown paralyze and terrorize, we should learn about it, discover its motivations, its origins, its deeper meaning. In so doing, we replace fear with understanding and gain the agency to banish its authority over our lives. 

Of course I can never unsee this.

Sean Connery will never live down this costume.


COVID-19 Day 75: Checking Back on Singapore’s Pandemic Predictions

At least they fixed this for the Sonic movie. The Imperial College and SUTD, not so much.

I discovered that The Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) had hidden their SIR model, which showed their predictions for when each country’s COVID-19 pandemic would end. In their words, “Over-optimism based on some predictions is dangerous because it may loosen our disciplines and controls and cause the turnaround of the virus and infection, and must be avoided. Earlier predictions are no longer valid because the real-world scenarios have changed rapidly.”

I recently rediscovered the old SUTD predictive models, in of all places, my computer. I had forgotten that I downloaded their paper (which was available for download on their page) weeks ago. In the archive folder were their charts as of April 26, 2020. Now, a month later, I thought it would be worthwhile to see how well their predictions turned out for the UK, Sweden, Switzerland, and the USA.


© SUTD SIR model

Johns Hopkin’s COVID Tracker


© SUTD SIR model
Johns Hopkin’s COVID Tracker


© SUTD SIR model
Johns Hopkin’s COVID Tracker


© SUTD SIR model
Johns Hopkin’s COVID Tracker

As we can see with 20/20 hindsight, the SUTD model was only close for Switzerland predicting a 99% probability that their outbreak would end by May 8. Today Switzerland has brought their daily new cases down to just 30, not quite an end but very close. It appears their COVID-19 mitigations efforts are as efficient and predictable as their trains.

The SUTD model predicted the end of COVID in the US would occur around May 32 but that day came and went with still around 20,000 new cases per day as of this writing. The US needs to get its daily new cases down by a factor of 12 or more to approach Switzerland’s level of control. The overall trend is downward but looking less and less like the SUTD’s bell curve and more like the slow decline of a bacterial growth curve.

Unfortunately for the US, UK, and Sweden, their cases have been declining but not nearly at the rate predicted by the SUTD model. Sweden in particular, has flattened their daily cases to around 500, perhaps truly trying for herd-immunity? Only time will tell if the summer’s sun and warm weather will aid in reducing numbers. Or if COVID-fatigue will set and people relax their safety measures bringing about a spike in new cases for the rest of Europe and North America.

As with the infamous Imperial College paper, predictive models aren’t predictions of the future, but tools to determine probable outcomes based on the data and assumptions put into them. But the data and the ground-truth can change, such as more testing uncovering more cases, weather, political action, or reopening of public businesses. When the variables change, all bets are off.