Pamela and Fraser discuss the implications of COVID-19 and it’s changes on the world, and what we all can do during this time.
Transcriptions provided by GMR Transcription Services
Fraser: Hey, everyone. Now’s your chance to say hello to me in the chat, and I will say hello back. And I wanna warn everybody; there is like a 50/50 chance that this won’t actually be an episode of Astronomy Cast and will instead just be chatting about the situation and what we’re doing, and what the science is saying, and all that.
Pamela: You know, I think that actually is a completely reasonable thing to do today.
Fraser: Yeah, yeah. I mean – you know, I mean, we’ve got the episode, and it’s – you know, and obviously, we will soon be at the point where we’re all gonna be so bored and we can’t wait to hear just the – just incredible details…
Pamela: You’re an actual extrovert, aren’t you? [Inaudible – crosstalk] [00:00:52]
Fraser: Yeah. Trapped at home. Yeah.
Pamela: Oh, god. So, so – I saw someone – I’ve actually now seen multiple someones tweet out something the lines of, “Extroverts: Next time you’re telling all the introverts that we just need to deal, remember how you feel right now.”
Fraser: I’m – I actually am – I perfectly straddle the line between extrovert and introvert at this point. When I was – when I was young, like when I was maybe 18 years old, 19, I… In fact, it’s funny. So, when I was a child—when I was, like, maybe 8 or 9—my stepfather gave me a chore every day, which was that I had to spend 30 minutes inside my bedroom. Because I was just so – just so difficult to – I just, like, I just was in everybody’s face all the time. “[Inaudible], what’cha doing, what’s going on, what’s happening, what are we doing?”
And so then I had this chore that I had to go and spend 30 minutes every day, once a day, into – in my bedroom. And I – and in the beginning, it was like I was being outcast socially from the tribe, right? It was the worst thing I could imagine. And within, you know, three days, I’m like, “This is great, actually!” And I was suddenly able to – I was sitting and I was reading books, and I was, you know, I was working on models. And obviously I would – playing Lego, and I would stay in my room for a lot longer than that. And so I was absolutely cured of that.
But still, into my – you know, 18, 19, 20s, I was social butterfly. Calling friends, hanging out, all the time, nonstop. And then as I’ve gotten older, I’ve definitely become a lot more… And I think it’s a – you know, I think this happens to all of us as we get older; we get a little more introspective, and we’re perfectly happy to tinker and putter. You know, my dad will go weeks and not interact with another human being.
But at the same time – and so – but I don’t feel exhausted in social situations, right? So I can be in a social situation with people all around me, and I am – I’m just – I’m having a great time, right? So, yeah, I think I do have that balance perfectly at this point.
You? You’re on the introvert side, right?
Pamela: Yeah. So, I am an introvert who knows how to extrovert because it’s my job. And I can do it better than a lot of introverts, but at the end I’m always still doing the, “Did I say too much, did I over share, was that okay, was I too awkward?” So I end up going through this entire “oh my god, was that okay” thing. And it just leaves me, like, “Okay, I’m done. Augh!” if I have to do it in settings that are outside of my tribes.
So, like, I can extrovert all weekend long at Dragon Con where it’s my people. I can extrovert all weekend long if I’m at a computer science conference, because it’s my people. Put me somewhere – I mean, this is gonna sound strange, but after physics conferences where there’s so many giant egos, and people talk to you in jargon just to try and put you in your place… that is exhausting, because I’m always, like, “Did I offend someone? Was that okay?”
And it’s also an age difference, because the bulk of the people are, like, parent-age, which adds this whole new dimension of not my tribe.
Fraser: Yeah. I’m just oblivious to that. Right? You know, like…
Pamela: Yeah, no. Extrovert.
Fraser: Yeah. So I – you know, if – not only do I – am I not trying to figure out if I’m – you know, if other people are judging me, you know, I just – I don’t even care. So, that is not a sort of emotional toll that I… And end up absolutely frustrating people around me, because I am unable to read the room, right?
Pamela: Well, and the other thing – I mean, we also have a gender difference going between us, where people will quite purposefully reduce me to tears for sport, because that’s the way astrophysics works. And… I need to turn of my space heater. There.
Fraser: I just turned up the heat in the house for the first time in this season. There’s no heat in the house right now. It’s a little chilly, but the weather’s so beautiful here.
Pamela: So, yesterday was kind of okay, but the thermal lag—because I’m in the basement—is such that today it’s nicer in the basement even though it’s grosser outside, and yesterday it was still gross in the basement even though it was nicer outside. So – lag.
Fraser: So, let’s talk about our emotional states. How are you doing emotionally right now?
Pamela: I oscillate. So, on one hand, I have a nice, large house—we live in a rambling old farmhouse. It’s just my husband and a graduate student, and we all have our own corners that we can go to. Our biggest concern is: Will we bring in contagion in the mail? And will the graduate student—who I’m just gonna say, “Dude, here is a plate of money; go buy everything you need for the next 10 weeks”—he – so far, because he’s week to week, goes out grocery shopping too much, and I’m going to put a stop to that this weekend.
So, on one hand, we’re fine. I actually got over stimulated the past two days because there was a ton of amazing volunteers who are all there, ready and able to help on CosmoQuest. And so I’ve been jumping from this conversation, that conversation. And all of that is just, like – I have survivor guilt because my income will probably go down a little, because we do rely on donations, but it’s okay. My husband has a job where he thinks he’s okay. So all those day-to-day things, I’m fine.
Now, then the problem is: I’m immunocompromised, I have damaged lungs. If I get this, I will be on a respirator.
Pamela: But there aren’t any.
Pamela: So I will probably die.
Fraser: So don’t get it.
Pamela: So I’m oscillating between the, “Oh, shit, I need to make sure that we have wills; I need to make sure that my husband knows all of the passwords to my computers; I need to make sure I actually have him listed as the beneficiary on all of the accounts that predate him.
So it’s this oscillation between survivor guilt because we’re fine—I panic-shopped February 28th, and so we probably have two months of food, and we have enough land to garden—and then the, “But if I get it, I die.”
Fraser: Right. Well – and, I mean – I’m in a similar situation, which is, of course, Universe Today is a completely virtual operation and has been since its inception. So my entire team has been working from home. And, so, when I’ve been saying, like, “I’m gonna need you to work from home from here on out,” they’re all laughing. Because this is what they do, right?
Pamela: Right, right.
Fraser: In some cases I’ve never met them in person. But there is this – just this drain on my brain. And I am one of the least anxious people that you may ever meet. And I –
Pamela: This is true.
Fraser: – and I’m in –
Pamela: Except where your children are concerned, where you will have freak-outs.
Fraser: Sure, sure. But I am definitely in this kind of anxiety cycle, right? Where I’m, like, I got – you know, I’m gonna get a little bit of work done. I’m just gonna see what’s happening on Twitter. Oh, this is the breaking news, that’s the breaking news. Right? And you wanna stay in tune.
And the reality is that I now know everything that I will need to know for probably the next six months, right? Which is: Don’t leave my house unless it’s absolutely necessary, wash my hands, entertain myself and my family. Right? That’s all we’ve – that’s all I need to know. Because I’m not – like you, we’ve been on top of this from a science-based point of view. And so we are – we’re well equipped to, sort of – for the knowledge.
Pamela: I do admit, I was – I wish, sometimes, I was less mathematically literate. I’ve been describing the statistics of epidemiology, population, and economics to people. I’ve talked about this a lot before. I actually –
Fraser: Your audio just clipped.
Pamela: [Inaudible] [00:10:19]
Fraser: No, you’re clipping back and forth.
Pamela: Okay. I have a bad cable that –
Fraser: Oh, there we go. Okay.
Pamela: Okay. I’ve talked about this before. I started university as an international relations major, and it was while studying economics that I realized, “Bloody hell, I don’t wanna understand economics” I was originally planning to go into international science law and be one of the people writing the policies that decide how we share the International Space Station and things like that.
And then I was like, “No, no. I don’t want to understand how the sausage is made. I don’t want to understand that it is more beneficial for a factory to kill for someone than maim them, because one is a flat payout, and the other is a payout monthly for the rest of the person’s life.” I did not want to understand this.
And looking around at our world and understanding the economics of what’s going on, as well as the epidemiology of what’s going on, it’s just, like, “Bloody hell, I wish I didn’t understand.”
Fraser: Yeah. It’s the – I mean, the exponential math is a thing that I – you know, I have a computer science/math background, and so I understand how exponential math works. And seven days ago, eight days ago, I was talking with someone, and I said, “You know, it’s 130 today; it will be 600 one week from today.” And she was, like, “What? 600?” I’m like… And it turns out it was closer to 800, right? In Canada. Sorry. Cases in Canada. And that is exponential math. And you see this ramping up across.
So from a – I mean, obviously checking the news is counterproductive, and yet I think you can’t not. You can’t not find out what’s going on. And so I’ve been really trying to limit myself to twice a day. Just check in, national news, check in on local news, and then just focus my energy on my family, on my friends, and just trying to help human beings. And, you know –
Pamela: And that’s the key element, is – it was Mr. Rogers’ mom who said, “Look for the helpers.” And the thing that’s coming out of this that I’m loving is hospitals have been putting out calls—they’re out of masks.
And—again, I hate understanding economics—one of the things that came out of the Clinton era was the switch over from having large warehouses to having just-in-time supply change, where things are produced at a variable rate that corresponds with the rate at which they are needed, and things are – warehouses are largely eliminated. Which means that hospitals receive the equipment they need because we have profit-driven medicine in the United States. We are end-stage capitalism in this country.
So because hospitals get supplies at the rate that they need them based on computer models of past behavior, if one year’s flu strain is worse than another year’s flu strain, they’re going to begin with less than they need and have to put out a call for the factories to ramp up. Except when that happens to the entire planet, we can’t keep up.
So one of the things that supply-side—oh, sorry, just-in-time economics—has serious problems, but 3D printers are an amazing answer. And so we’re seeing hospitals in Boston put the call out, “Can people with 3D printers print these medical things we need? Can people with sewing machines make masks for us, and we’ll sterilize them here?”
And so, we’re seeing the helpers, the makers, coming forward. And I think two years from now, a lot of things are gonna be utterly changed. Because people are gonna realize, “We don’t need to commute to do our jobs! And all of these managers who kept claiming that we can’t be trusted to work from home?”
Fraser: Totally. It’s deeper than that, right? I mean, I think you’re scratching the surface on how this is gonna change our society.
Pamela: Oh, yeah.
Fraser: That – I mean, on the horrible side, we are going to see deaths at a rate that we have never experienced since – humanity has never experienced since 1918.
Pamela: US is on track to 1 in 50.
Fraser: Yeah. Right. And there are gonna be many countries – and even modern – like, modern societies with high economies stand a chance at—after they lock down their societies and they start to tamp out the fires—to get those death rates lower. But for growing economies around the world who are already having health crises, they are just absolutely unequipped to be able to deal with this.
So I think that what we’re going to see, as you said—you said one of them—which is that this is going to change the way work happens. That everybody’s learning how to work from home. You know, spoiler alert: it’s awesome.
Pamela: Yes. I’m gonna do – so, one of the things that I’m just gonna predict is 40 weeks from now there’s gonna be a mass of babies and a mass of divorces, because all these people being forced to stay in the house with their spaces who they may never have had to stay in the house with before? Oh my god, this is gonna wreck havoc on relationships.
Fraser: Oh, so that’s – but I think that we will absolutely – people will have learned and have gone through, and so there will be a revolution. And even things like – like, right now, going to the grocery store, I can order my groceries online. I can go when I can drive in. I can open up my trunk, and they can put the groceries in, and I can come home. I can leave my car in the garage for two days, and then unload the groceries. And it is a – essentially safe experience that –
Pamela: We had them left on our front patio, and our only concern was squirrels.
Fraser: Yeah. It was – the Amazon guy dropped off some packages yesterday, and I was like, “Okay, thanks!” you know, from the other side of my door. And he was like – you know, and he’s like – he was, like, reaching forward to, like, give me the packages. Just leave them there!
Fraser: Yeah! Just leave them there. Which is fine, I just leave them outside for a little while. So I think that’s the thing, is that we’re going to have to develop new ways of doing literally every single thing that we do to interact with other human beings. And we will come out the other side of this, keeping the stuff we love, and going back to the stuff that we missed.
But a lot of the stuff is gonna be stuck here forever. I’ll bet you grocery stores will be completely transformed the way this works. But then the –
Pamela: But this is how it started, though. I’m sorry, I’m gonna just keep cutting you off.
So, like, I remember growing up, reading the Little House on the Prairie books when I was super young. And the grocery stores back then, you’d go in with your list, and they’d deliver everything. And so there was always that kid that worked at the store that would deliver everything to your house.
Well, we’re now to the point where – Little House on the Prairie didn’t have telephones or the internet. Now we open up Instacart, and things get delivered to our house. And at this point, we’re seeing how far behind we are in the United States, because in China, they have robots doing it! So we’re going to move to an enhanced delivery system, going back to where it started.
And we’re also going to change how we consume things. I supported Public Goods, which is a reduce-waste, online go-buy-basic-necessities-only kind of place, where you buy a glass bottle of window cleaner, and then ever after they send you a little tiny thing of concentrate in what looks like a travel-size toothpaste container. You dump it in and fill it with water. And I see us going to—to reduce contact, to reduce shipping, to reduce all these things—doing – buy the concentrate, have glass containers that you can clean, reduce your waste. Because at some point, no one’s gonna come pick up our trash anymore.
Fraser: And they had – I mean you could – again, I’ve seen some great videos coming from China, at sort of the level of the way life is lived there today, which is that they are constantly checking each other’s temperatures, they are – you are crossing through checkpoints, you are – if you go in to eat at a restaurant, they certify when every single surface was cleaned last, you have to sit six feet away from another person—that every aspect of modern life has been redesigned with healthier – pandemics – you know, reducing the amount of the virus spreading in mind.
And obviously, China is one place. But to see another version of that in an economy that’s more similar to how we live, you look at what’s happening to places like Singapore and Taiwan and South Korea. And same thing, where there’s rampant testing, drive-through testing. Everything is transparent. And society itself is being redesigned, bit by pit, piece by piece, at light speed, to support a less transmissible situation.
And I think the other big thing, then, is literally all the mind power of our entire planet—all of the scientific effort—is being redirected at this one enemy. That you have thousands—tens of thousands—of scientific papers that are being generated on every single part about the way this virus works. Both how long it gets sustained for, how it gets transmitted, how we recover, which treatments are effective. And that –
Pamela: The mathematical modeling going into it from computer scientists, who previously used their skills in completely other ways, to model human networks and what kinds of interactions will or won’t lead to what kinds of spread—that computer math power is coming from physicists.
Fraser: Yeah. And that you could imagine this time—and it won’t be long; like, again, look at the power of our smartphones, right? Our smartphone has just incredible cameras on them, incredible speed and communication ability. And this is – and this has driven a revolution across all kinds of things. Across sensor technologies, across – you know, even astronomy telescopes use cell phone camera technology to take better pictures, right?
And so we’re going to see this just—it’s gonna be stunning, I think—that we’re gonna see just this growth in, like, gene sequencing at an almost individual level. I wouldn’t be surprised if over the course of the next, say, 18 months, we get to a point where we are able to test everybody. We are able to track every time the virus attempts to poke its head up and make it… And then we can chase it down and put people in quarantine and make that all get resolved.
So I think that what seems like a really frustrating – and even in Canada. Like, I think we’ve got it – we’ve got it slowed in Canada compared to other countries, like yours –
Pamela: We do not.
Fraser: You do not. No.
Pamela: We are – we are so… this is not a family friendly episode. We are so fucked.
Fraser: You’re messed. Yeah. We have things under some level of control, but we need to – this is a holding action to save as many lives as we can so that technology can get ramped up to provide the vaccine, to provide the treatment options, and to develop the technology to trace and sequester and quarantine what happens.
Pamela: And one of the things that is becoming visible that had previously been invisible is how many people have just been thrown out in this country. Because instead of simply being viewed as a nuisance on the sidewalk, the homeless are now being seen as human beings who are also disease vectors. And so I’m hearing reports where, in California, they’re looking to fill hotel rooms with homeless people so that they have someplace to live and be okay. Where they’re allowing people into the abandoned houses, the empty apartments. And they’re looking at a basic income.
Now, we still see so many leaders… Yesterday there was a proposal put forward that poor people should only get $600 a month and the wealthy should get $1,200. And there is a sudden, massive backlash of, “No.” And now what they’re saying is, “Well, let’s give $1,000 to everyone who earns less than $75,000 a year and has a job.” Or – sorry – give it to the people who don’t have jobs, and don’t give it to people who have a job and earn more than $75,000 a year.
And they also looked at household income. So a household like mine, where I make well under that but my husband does not, we wouldn’t get the assistance. And right now I’m okay with that, if it means that these people who are trying to make do in the gig economy and aren’t going to unless they happen to work for Instacart…
I think that we’re going to finally recognize we need single payer healthcare in this country. That people should never have to choose between going to the doctor and not, because they’re afraid of the bill.
Fraser: Yeah. And I – I mean, it looks like – I mean, here in Canada, I mean, and really every other developed nation, we have universal healthcare. And I know that the lack of that is one gigantic unknown in the minds of Americans right now, which is if you – will you have to pay to go get your test done? I mean, the government has said that you won’t, so let’s hope that’s true. Will you have to pay for treatment, if you have to go on a ventilator for weeks at a time in a hospital? My guess is they won’t. That that will be – that that will be settled, because it’s… it would be outrageous.
Pamela: And the problem is the people right now are still having to pay because the Congress is still arguing.
Fraser: Right, yeah.
Pamela: And there’s this horrible thing that came out yesterday, where the University of Washington – there was a research there – researcher there – who I hope never has to pay for a beer again in her life. She was running a national flu study, trying to understand how flu moves through communities. And so they were doing swabs of everyone who came in with a respiratory problem to track the genetics of the strands as they passed from person to person in the Seattle area.
And they had everything necessary to check for COVID, and they asked the CDC for permission, and were told, “Hell, no.” And they initially listened. And then she was like, “Okay, I’m gonna risk all my funding. I’m going to risk my lab’s certification. And we’re gonna do what’s right.”
And they began testing, and they began finding cases. And this is the reason we know that Seattle had a hotspot. And they turned up the capabilities of the University of Washington, and they are offering free testing to any doctor in the United States. And they have the capacity to do high-speed throughput in their labs, checking hundreds of – this is a research lab, but they can check hundreds of swabs a day, which – most state facilities are looking at 40 a day.
Fraser: Yeah. And, like, here in Canada, we’re at, I think, 58,000 tests. Like, we’re –
Pamela: We’re not.
Fraser: No. And so our – and so you can definitely feel that Canada has been taking it seriously from the beginning. And yet, it is starting to overwhelm the system. The community spread is getting away from the – just the traveler spread. And so we’re – we haven’t gone to full lockdown, but some people were asking in the chat – yeah, they’ve closed down the schools on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Across the entire country, they’ve closed all large events. But they haven’t gone to that level of stay in place the way they have in other countries. And that is inevitable. It is inevitable. Wherever you are…
Pamela: It depends on who your leader is. This is one of the things that super frustrates me, is here in the United States, in Kentucky and Missouri, we have government officials who are like, “No, that will hurt our economy too much. We will not lock down.” So if I just –
Fraser: We’ll talk to them in a week…
Pamela: I just –
Fraser: Like, everything changes. Again, exponential growth. In a week –
Pamela: This – this is –
Fraser: – it’ll happen.
Pamela: – this is what I’m hoping –
Fraser: Oh, yeah.
Pamela: – but it’s really hard to have hope. So, the other side of the thing I was talking about with the University of Washington is – so, they’re willing to provide tests for any doctor in the United States. Well, the Trump administration has been pushing the commercial suppliers. The reason that we’ve had a delay in tests is the commercial suppliers, as so often happens, couldn’t actually wind up their factories as fast as they could. They couldn’t begin pushing things out of their individual locations.
And they’re now beginning to offer—for $30 shipping and I think it was under $200 per test—tests to anyone in America, but they’re charging the doctors. So, the consumer may get it for free, but the doctor still has to pay to get the physical test from the commercial suppliers. And so, well, if the doctor still has to pay for it, somebody’s still paying for this. Whereas academic facilities, they’re receiving the money directly from the government. They could say, “Just take it.”
Fraser: Yeah. And I mean, I think that each one of these delays that you’re experiencing—and that we’re all – all of these mess-ups that we’re experiencing in each one of our countries, in each one of our – in our various communities—is unfortunate, and is going to cost lives. Right? That people are gonna die because people couldn’t get their act straight. You know? And it’s not just, like, “Oh, it’s gonna be numbers.” I mean it is people’s grandfathers, and grandmothers, and brothers, and sisters, and children. And they’re gonna die.
But at the same time, I think that you can look around and see the trends that have happened in every other country—you saw what happened in China, you saw what happened in Singapore, you saw what happened in South Korea—they got it under control. You saw what happened in Italy –
Pamela: And Italy did not –
Fraser: – they didn’t –
Pamela: – and Iran did not.
Fraser: I know, I know. And yet they – but now they did, right? Italy has been in full lockdown now for several weeks.
Pamela: Yeah. Iran still hasn’t gotten control it.
Fraser: Iran has not, right? And so Italy – we’re gonna see Italy start to flatten out again, because they put in those measures. Every single community on earth will be putting in those measures at – earlier or later on this growth trajectory, when they get – when they realize and when they finally accept the science. And –
Pamela: But –
Fraser: – and so we here in Canada, I hope, will push that button early. I would much rather we save lives than – and the price we pay is we will slow down our economy.
Pamela: And it’s important for us to be the voices for those who can’t advocate for themselves. I have a friend who was stupid and is now in prison. And I talk to him several times a week. And they have now removed all visitation. But the men in the facility that he’s in are all still two to a room, room beside room, with free air back and forth. And the guards are still going back and forth in their days –
Fraser: Yeah. That’s a cruise ship.
Pamela: It’s a cruise ship. And it’s worse than a cruise ship because the same people who work in the kitchen go back and live in the dorms. And so far, their prevention measures are – they no longer have catch-up. And they’ve had days where they run out of food, and everyone’s essentially given a brown paper bag with a ham sandwich in it.
And so, we need to worry about the people that do live in these confined, close-knit places. We need to worry about the state housing. We need to worry about the prisons. We need to worry about low-cost senior citizen homes where – well, everyone essentially is in a bed off the hallway.
Fraser: Yeah, yeah. And, I mean, again – it’s like, what we know – what each one of us need to know right now is that – is that this is continuing to accelerate, that it is going to be shut down in your area, it is just… Like, whether – if you live in a place that accepts science, then it’s gonna happen two days earlier.
Fraser: And if you live in a place –
Fraser: – that denies science, then it’s gonna happen two days later. But science, nature –
Pamela: And this will flatten the curve –
Pamela: – and make it more potential for you to… Well, maybe you’re fine. Most people who get this are completely fine. It will make it easier for people like me to live. Every time you wash your hands, you’re helping me stay alive.
Fraser: No, no. I have conditions. Carla has asthma. Logan had bronchitis when he was young and has weakened lung system. So, no, no. I mean, everyone in this house is at greater risk, as well as – just because of our age. So – and so that’s all that I’m really imploring is that, you know… My rule for this house right now is the only person who gets to come into our house is someone who’s coming to test us for Coronavirus. That’s it. And they – you know, and that’s because they’ve – for some reason I’ve been in contact, at some point in the past, to – and they need to find out if we’re infected, right?
Pamela: Or they simply decide to test the whole island, and this is something –
Fraser: Or they – well, yeah, that would be great. Sure. I’d be on board with that.
Pamela: So they did that in a village in Italy –
Fraser: Yeah, I saw that.
Pamela: – where they sequentially tested everyone multiple times until they squashed it to zero. This is essentially the same as the fever clinics that they use in China. And this is so far the only known way –
Fraser: Only way.
Pamela: – to get ahold of this virus.
Fraser: Yeah. And you can absolutely anticipate – and back to that sort of idea of this accelerating growth of the response… Our response will be exponential. And so we will see, right now, painfully behind the scenes testing speeds, to accelerating, accelerating, accelerating to levels that we could not even have imagined. Again, where we get to a point where we are constantly testing all the time. Right? Like, it will be two – it will feel like it’s getting invasive, the amount of times that we’re being tested, so that this can be completely eradicated, in a race with the vaccine.
But the – and so I was just saying, the only person’s who’s allowed inside the house is someone from the Health Department to test us. The only reason we’re allowed to leave the house is to go get groceries—and like I said, we order them online, we go pick them up—or if we go to the hospital, or go to the doctor to – or go to the pharmacy, or to go outside into the sunshine and go for a nice walk. Right? Because we can still do that. And…
Pamela: And this is where this gives us a chance to say, how can we be the helpers? Well, the first way we can be the helpers is to just wash our hands. And quarantine ourselves.
Fraser: Don’t get sick is the way you help.
Pamela: Right. But beyond that, there’s a whole lot of people that are gonna start going slightly stir crazy. Look around your house. Figure out: do you have that old computer that’s in a closet that you’re not using? This is when you give it away to somebody. Look around and see, okay, so, my company has shut down and I have extra time… I am so grateful for the programmers. DPI209, you two – KO – oh, I’m forgetting usernames. I’m a terrible human being. Elod, Avron – all of these people who are helping me out over on CosmoQuest, who are taking this opportunity to say, “I’m gonna make the world a little bit better.”
This is where – let’s distract people. So over on CosmoQuest, we’re Twitch-streaming our little butts off to try and give place – give people a place. And you’re producing content left and right. We have the ability. Right now there’s a whole lot of conferences getting cancelled, which means that young scientists can’t get their science out, which is really gonna harm the progression of their degree. We, as helpers, can say, “Dear young scientist, your stuff is amazing! Come give your talk on the internet.”
Fraser: The hilarious thing – the one irony of this is that everybody is now trained on using Zoom –
Pamela: I know. It’s awesome.
Fraser: – everybody is working from home, right? Everybody is –
Pamela: They’re getting green screens!
Fraser: They’re all available. And I have found it so easy to set up guests and be able to actually interview them. They’re all ready to go. And that’s been wonderful. And so we’ve been producing – you know, I have not been producing content left and right; the last week I went down the anxiety rabbit hole, and have just spent my week…. But also, like –
Pamela: I did that the week before.
Fraser: – managing – yeah, managing my son. You know, my son has come back from school—school’s out forever. And so we – and so we’ve been working – I’ve been working on helping build him a schedule to try and keep him sane, and we’ve been doing a lot of projects and stuff together. So I apologize, I’ve, you know, I haven’t been educating everybody, I’ve been educating my kid.
And my daughter is working on the front lines. She’s at the grocery store every day, dealing with being this essential service to supply people who need, what they need. This is a – this is such an amazing event for her.
But I would love to know—and I’m sure as you’re having these conversations with the people that are watching you guys on Twitch—which is just, like, how can we – like, once we get our minds under control, and once the terror settles down, which is where we’re at right now, I would love to know how we can help? What can we do to make your – this time spent as productive as possible with what we – with the skills that we have on board? You know, I’m probably gonna put in some time back with HeroX, which was, of course –
Fraser: – the company that I was working with, that was part of the X Prize. We’re trying to ramp up a bunch of prizes that relate to some of the challenges that humanity is facing. But also, can I do more interviews? Should I make more structured content? Should we create curricula on Universe Today so that you can teach your children?
I’m really happy to look at everything I do with a – and just go, blank slate, right? Like, what if I just throw everything on – out, on what I used to do, and spend the next year just in service to – in any way that I can. And whatever that looks like. And part of it is just for me to figure it out. And if what it is is just keep on keeping on, if what you wanna hear is me and Pamela talking about space every week, you got it. That’s easy. Right? We can do that. But if there’s more—if there’s something else that we can do that makes your lives better, that helps you educate yourself, and the children that are all around you and could eventually be driving you crazy—what can we do?
Pamela: So I – you and I panicked out of sync on this one. I flagged in on this while I was still in Hawaii for AAS. And on the way home I was like, “Holy shit, we’re getting home just before it strikes.” And so I had my personal meltdown at the beginning of February, where I kept telling Kyle, “Okay, so if you want to get Sonic tonight, that’s cool, because next week we may not be able to.” So there was a whole lot of junk food, and about 10 pounds gained, in February. Maybe more than 10. And February 28th was when I had my personal coming-to-Jesus moment when I realized, this country –
Fraser: – is gonna be in trouble.
Pamela: – does not have its act together. And I have to give kudos to Schnucks, our local grocery chain, because that day, before Trump gave his first “This is no big deal!” national address, I went in with our graduate student, and they had all their staples 10 for $10 or 5 for $1. Everything. I went in to buy a big old thing of potatoes and the biggest rice they had, and to get a thing of cider. And I came away with what would have normally been $400 in groceries for $150. And kudos to Schnucks. So I haven’t left the house since February 28th. And that was the day that I flipped. I flipped from the despair, the “this is horrible,” to the, “eff it, I’m fighting back.”
And so, what we’ve been doing is multifold. So, first of all, I’m going online every night and reading stories on my starstryder channel so that we have something to laugh and enjoy that can be either the beginning of the day for the people in the South Pacific, or the end of the day for the people here in the Americas.
We are starting, this week—as we’re realizing so many people don’t know how to work at home—Annie and I are streaming more mornings than not, just how we start our day, how we go through and we triage the news and build our shows and put together CosmoQuest.
We are working to – I burnt out yesterday, I’m not gonna lie. I have worked too many hours this week working to update CosmoQuest so that it’s easier for people to find and get at content. And we should have the Citizen Science going. I’m – I was hoping to have it done by Wednesday; I think now I’m confident that we’ll have Citizen Science projects up and running again—without any funding—by the end of Sunday, because we have these people.
And what I’m seeing over and over is people want things to do that make them feel like they’re contributing to the world. They want community, which we know how to provide. I see you, people of Twitch! I see you, people of the Weekly Space Hangout! I do not also have YouTube chat open, because that would destroy my computer.
And what I’m seeing on our Discord channel is people constantly in the voice chats. The coders are constantly sharing screens with each other. The gamers are constantly pulling up Ticket to Ride, because that’s what we do at CosmoQuest; we play Ticket to Ride! And it’s this providing a community where people can share, they can laugh, they can work, and they can find meaning. And we can do this.
Fraser: Yeah. I – and I think that we’re going to experience a month of – we’re about to experience –
Pamela: You’re so optimistic.
Fraser: No, no, no, no. No, no. We’re about to experience the worst month that we’ve ever experienced. And then we’re gonna experience a less bad, but still terrible, 18 months.
Pamela: Eighteen months. Yeah. And the reason we’re saying 18 is that’s the development timeline for a vaccine. Even the ones that they’ve already developed, they will wait 18 months to make sure that the vaccine doesn’t kill the people or turn them into Zombies.
Fraser: Yes. Yeah. And I –
Pamela: So, I have a lighthearted question for you.
Pamela: I know you, too, like fantasy fiction, although you read a lot more nonfiction than I do. Is part of you going, “Okay, are all the people who survived now going to go into zombies in 20 days?”
Fraser: No! No, no, no. This is – this is plenty horror-movie enough for me. Yeah, I don’t…
Pamela: I keep waiting for phase two. Are the children gonna be born zombies? I don’t know.
Fraser: Yeah. No, no. This is – this is alrea – and you know what’s interesting as well, I mean, as horrible as this is, this is still a wakeup call for what is possible. That when you look at each piece of the puzzle of what this pandemic is…The level of transmissibility? You know, we’re seeing an R0 value of 2.2?
Pamela: They – so, the R0 value is still not nailed down, because – so, R0 value is how communicable is a disease? And the complexity in figuring it out is – the places that we’re basing our numbers on are places that have fever clinics. So, China, Singapore, South Korea. And if you are constantly being monitored to see if you are sick, you will not have the opportunity to spread the disease through regular, everyday interactions the way we all spread the cold year after year.
Whereas, in the United States, where we have a negligible amount of testing, we are going to find out what the actual R0 value is. And it seems to be significantly higher. So there was a New Jersey family, recently, that had, of the—I wanna say it was 10 family members—10 received the virus through the matriarch of the family. So it’s in the seeing what happens when you allow unchecked spread that we’ll be able to get the actual R0 value, and it’s looking to be closer to 4.
Fraser: But you could have something like measles, which was, like, 15.
Fraser: 13. Yeah. Where you could walk into a room hours after a person with measles was in there, and you could get it. And so there –
Pamela: Because it was aerosolized in the air, versus requiring touching a surface.
Fraser: Yeah. And – or in droplets from sneezes and stuff. And so there are much more transmissible diseases. And there are far more lethal disease. I mean, we are seeing –
Fraser: – we are seeing death cases – death rates everywhere as low as 0.5%—in where very advanced medical systems are able to provide care all the way up to – I think they oxygenate your blood with a separate machine—to as high as, like, 8% in places like Italy. But we need to know what the – you know, what percentage of Italians are actually able to actually report that they have the disease, and so on. And so we’re probably gonna be a couple of years before we know the final mortality rate.
But there – as you said, there’s SARS, there’s MERS, there’s Ebola. There are diseases that are much higher. And there are – and it looks like it does go away. Like, you get the disease, you run through the course of it, and now it looks like you’re immune on the other side. Maybe you might be able to catch it again? But that – it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of evidence. And so there’s a lot of good news.
Pamela: So there’s mixed ev –
Pamela: – there’s mixed evidence, where what it appears to be happening is there is a double-peak in the illness, where you run the course of having a fever, and at the point where you no longer having a fever—we’re used to that being when you start to get better. But it looks like, in some cases, with this virus, no longer having a fever is where your body’s like, “And, I’m done.” And then you get extraordinarily sick. So they’ve seen a number of people who’ve been released from hospitals and then died at home, because they suddenly got extraordinarily sick and were on their own.
Now, one of the big things that is making it hard to understand the death rate is comorbidities in combination with, is there enough medical care? One of the comorbidities that is starting to arise is, do you have high blood sugar rates? And our blood sugar rates naturally increase as we get older. This is part of why you start to see increased rates of type 2 diabetes with age.
Now, since it is everybody—no matter who you are, your blood sugar is going to go up with age—we will see in every culture of the world the – more old people than young people die. Well, we’re already starting to see, here in the United States, that more young people are dying than we’ve seen in other countries. And this is because we are fat. We are fat. And we have terrible blood sugar levels, even at younger ages.
And so we’re going to see the societal differences of how do the comorbidities play in? Whereas in places like China, you see another comorbidity is the condition of your lungs. So people who’ve been exposed to high pollution, people who’ve been exposed to significant smoking—because “don’t smoke,” but they did—this increases the likelihood that you’re going to die. So in China they saw far more men than women.
Fraser: Right. Because everybody smokes there.
Pamela: And so – yeah. And so each society is going to have its built in, cultural differences that lead to different intrinsic – because there’s a higher diabetes rate, because there’s a higher smoking rate. So there’s intrinsic differences from place to place on death rates.
But you also have the extrinsic of – in China they can switch over a factory and suddenly produce two 10,000-bed hospitals in ten days. Whereas we, like, have no respirators. Or masks, or…
Fraser: And again, I think we are seeing a lot of that stuff come online very quickly. So there will be –
Pamela: You are.
Fraser: I mean, I’m – no, no, no, you are too! I’m seeing videos of hospitals being built instantly in the United States as well.
Fraser: So I’m – you know, you’re hearing about various organizations ramping up production of – like, I think there is no greater capacity in the world than the United States of America’s ability to respond to a crisis. I don’t think – and I think that as frustrating as it is for the people who are living there, when this tiger gets unleashed, it will be stunning. And you will see the collective energy and the – and that free market of the United States be just – just go at this problem at a scale that no other country can really do. So… that’s gonna come.
Pamela: And I hope you’re right.
Fraser: It is. Don’t worry.
Pamela: So the reason that I have pause is, I – beginning in the 1990s we began to offshore our factories. So we have, across the middle of the United States, what’s called the Rust Belt because there’s literally a belt of massive factories that are rusting away. And the number of factories we now have in our country is much diminished. And so I’m not sure we have the facilities to switch over anymore. And that’s going to become the – do we have enough remaining capacity? And how quickly can we swap out our government? Because that – that is really the major issue.
Fraser: Well, that’s a –
Pamela: China offered us 500,000 tests, and the United States said, “Hell, no!” The Air Force just disobeyed the White House and purchased tests in vast numbers that I don’t remember from Italy, because the Air Force needed to be able to test its people.
Fraser: And again, I think you’re – but I think that this is the United States’ asset, right? Which is that it has the ability of individual people on the ground to make decisions and to take action.
Fraser: And you are going to see that – that American individuality rise very strongly. So I think it is – someone in the chat is noting, “Funny, Fraser the Canadian capitalist arguing with Pamela the American socialist.”
Pamela: Well, yes, it’s true.
Fraser: Yeah, yeah. So –
Pamela: I am totally a socialist.
Fraser: Yeah, it’s funny, and I am absolutely a capitalist. And yet, you know, here I am enjoying my universal Medicare.
So one thing – before we run out of time, here, I just want to really encourage people to – what I’m seeing on Twitter and places like that is a certain level of grasping for miracle cures. Which is really unhelpful. I’m seeing people really enthusiastic about the potential of antimalarial drugs in being able to treat this. And this is a phase that we see again and again with certain situations. And this is wishful thinking.
Maybe some of these drugs will have an effect, and they will be able to decrease mortality rates by certain percentages. But it is really our job with – you know, all the listeners who are listening to this right now that – if you have a sign – you know, we, I hope, have spent enough time developing a scientific and skeptical mindset, and be really careful about the information that you share to make sure that you can find references that you can back up what you’re saying. Because we really need to – you know, we were hearing people talking about drinking bleach.
Pamela: Oh, god! Don’t, don’t, don’t…
Fraser: Ugh! Don’t do it!
Pamela: So, the best things you – the miracle cures are: no one gets near anyone, even your spouse—sleep in different rooms—for the next 20 to 40 days. It looks like the actual contagion period goes all the way out to 37. So go near no one, touch no one, for the next 20 days at least.
Fraser: No one comes into your house. Don’t leave your house unless you absolutely have to. Order everything you can online. Take extra precautions. Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Obviously, you’re gonna touch your face. Try not to touch your face. I can’t stop touching my face.
Pamela: Yeah, I simply have cleaned everything, and I’m the only one that comes in this room of the house. So in this room of the house, I can touch my face.
Fraser: We are going to take all of these precautions here and be as safe as humanly possible. I am checking in with my team on Universe Today every day, talking to everybody and making sure that they have everything that we – that they need. I am – you know, Universe Today has absolutely taken a hit, financially, from this. Our traffic is down about half –
Pamela: Oh, god.
Fraser: – what it normally is. So our revenues are down half. But I anticipate this will return once people –
Pamela: – stop panicking and start devouring content?
Fraser: – stop panicking and checking Twitter every…! Like, you know, I get it. All we wanna do is look at CNN and BBC and Twitter, and then CBC. And just, you know, make that circuit again and again.
Pamela: So you need to all, for your own sanity, ration yourselves. So here’s my personal rationing, because I can be that person, even without a global disaster. I listen to the NPR news in the morning, and New York Times “The Daily.” I then listen to the five-minute NPR world news thing when I get lunch, and occasionally I will listen to—and regret listening to—press conferences coming out of the White House. I then listen to NPR in the evening, and Rachel Maddow, and that’s it. That is my allowance.
Fraser: Yeah. That sounds great. Good luck. I’m – I am just gonna just keep grazing until I curl up into a ball and rock back and forth. But, you know, do – you do you.
No, that sounds wonderful and aspirational, and I will definitely get there soon, once the existential dread fades away. But until then, because it is an unfolding crisis, it’s totally natural for us to feel – for us to just feel freaked out. And I think that as long as you can eat healthy food, try to get some exercise, connect with the people that you love, serve the people around you as best you can, and get out of the way of the people who are trying to save us…
Pamela: And there’s things – there’s also things you can do to channel your restless energy. If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, can everything that you can. Keep that fresh food for later. If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, start seedlings. You can have even just a window garden. And if your window doesn’t get a whole lot of sunlight, hang string from your curtain rod and grow peas. Peas don’t require a lot of sunlight.
Fraser: And again, however we can help, whatever we can do in this time of crisis –
Pamela: We’re here for you.
Fraser: – to help you get through it, we’re here for you, and we are – we just want you to be as safe and as healthy and as many of you to be able to come back and be with us, week after week, through this.
Pamela: And we will be doing science week after week that isn’t biological in nature. White holes merging– not white holes. What the hell am I saying?
Fraser: White dwarfs merge.
Pamela: White dwarfs. You are all now learning my native language is “curse like a sailor.”
Fraser: Yeah, it is.
Pamela: So, we will do merging white dwarfs, and why the universe might not be expanding as we think, next weekend.
Fraser: All right. And stay safe, everybody. Pamela, you too. I demand that we have long careers working together, week after week.
Pamela: Yes. Yes, let’s live to our family’s regular age, and then possible robot bodies.
Fraser: That sounds great. All right. We’ll see you all next week.
Pamela: See you later, everyone. Buh-bye.
Female Speaker: Thank you for listening to Astronomy Cast, a nonprofit resource provided by the Planetary Science Institute, Fraser Cane, and Dr. Pamela Gay. You can find show notes and transcripts for every episode at Astronomy Cast. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tweet us @astronomycast, like us on Facebook, and watch us on YouTube. We record our show live on YouTube every Friday at 3 p.m. Eastern, 12 p.m. Pacific, or 19:00 UTC. Our intro music was provided by David Joseph Wesley, the outro music is by Travis Sorel, and the show was edited by Susie Murph.