• Science newsletter, issue #1

    Science newsletter, issue #1

    Hi folks!
    I will be producing a newsletter off and on the next few weeks for information about the Corona virus, staying at home, and science school work people can be doing. Welcome, and I hope you enjoy the information. Click on the link above for more information.

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  • Why Washington State? Why USA?

    Posted by Clif Marr on 3/31/2020

    Why Washington State?

    If you remember, January was the first case of the coronavirus in Washington State, and in the United States.  

    Remember that this is the first detected case in the US.  At that time, a person who was sick would have to go to the doctor, and the doctor would have to been able to recognize the symptoms, and then send a sample to the CDC in Atlanta to confirm the case.  

    Meanwhile, that person has had at least five days of moving around and interacting with people before showing symptoms.  

    Once the US had the first confirmed case, people, especially in Washington State, started looking for the virus.  When history looks back on this pandemic, I’ll bet that New York, California, and Washington State had the first cases.  Washington State just tested for them, so reported numbers earlier.  

    So Washington State might not have been hit hard first, we just tested more.

    Why the large death rate in Washington State?

    Washington State did have a higher death rate.  This is due to, I think, bad luck.  So this is my opinion, but the early infection in a nursing home, where the mortality rate is above 10%, provided an ideal place for the virus to spread.

    Once again, when history looks back and investigates, I think that several 65 year and older deaths due to pneumonia will be attributed to the coronavirus.  People just weren’t looking for the virus until mid to late February.

    Why the large numbers in the US?

    This is a really complex question.

    For some background read this:
    The Guardian

    In every epidemic there are two stages.  (This is a huge oversimplification.)  First is when the first cases are detected.  Public health services spring into action, and trace all of the contacts that detected cases encountered, and test those people for disease.  If needed, people are placed in quarantine, the length of time is determined by the incubation time of the disease, and people in quarantine are tested again before being released.  

    The quarantine and test period ends when there are not enough resources to track contacts of people who are infected.  The goals of public health now become slowing the spread of the epidemic so that not everybody gets sick at once.  This is where we are with coronavirus.

    Testing is key, there must be an accurate way to detect the disease.  For coronavirus, people can be infectious for at least five days before showing symptoms, some people don’t show any symptoms.  These carriers need to be identified, and isolated, or the epidemic will grow.

    The US, until about the second week in March, had a capacity of testing 400 people a day.  Not good for a country that has 330 million people.

    So if testing was so important, why were tests so limited?

    Until March, a sample had to be sent to the CDC in Atlanta to be tested, which had a limited capacity for testing.

    Keep in mind, in Seattle alone, the University of Washington has the capacity for testing 4000 + samples a day, and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (where I used to work!) has the ability to test several thousand samples.  In February, both these sites would have been able to test more than 1000 samples a day.  

    Why were they not testing?

    There are rules for testing for diseases.  The FDA oversees those rules.  The FDA is, of course, a part of the executive branch of the federal government.  A test for a disease must be safe and effective.  Imagine a test for a disease that killed 100% of the people who had that disease.  Then imagine a treatment for the disease that killed 25% of the time.  Then imagine that the test for this disease gave false positives 10% of the time.  Out of 100 people, 10 people would test positive who didn’t have the disease, and be treated.  Out of those 10 people, between 2 or 3 people would die from the treatment.

    So, the FDA has an important job making sure things are safe.  It just waited too long to approve other coronavirus testing methods.

    Funding priorities at the state and federal level, lawmakers, and government administrators all play a role in the priorities and efficacy of all of our public health services, including the FDA, so do pay attention when you vote!  


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  • Questions? Ask away!

    Posted by Clif Marr on 3/28/2020

    Hi folks,


    Do you have questions about Corona Virus, or just general science questions?


    Ask away, I'll post and answer any questions I can.

    Comments (11)
  • Unexpected things

    Posted by Clif Marr on 3/27/2020

    Well, after a couple of weeks of social isolation, I am most surprised about how not thrilled I am.


    I am playing Civilization VI, that takes some time.  I have caught up on my rest, and I have really enjoyed

    delivering food to students.  I irritate the cat, she thinks I should be at work.  I cook, and read, but I gotta

    admit, I miss having students in a classroom.


    So, I was thinking about this epidemic.  And it dawned on me that the majority of people on Earth are experiencing

    the exact same thing I am experiencing.  Maybe there is a hopeful side of a pandemic, maybe this shared experience

    will help people understand how similar people, all over the world, really are.


     I did not expect how rewarding and thrilled I would be to just go to the grocery store, and see the cashier.  Or see

    a student at the door, collecting homework and sack breakfasts & lunches. 



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Last Modified on March 31, 2020