Friday, March 20, 2020

Time flies

but my former classmate and lab coworker, Dr Loren Miller, looks the same as when we were in college.  How is that even remotely possible?

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The mask/no mask dilemma

During tree pollen season, I often wear a surgical mask outdoors to minimize allergies.  In February, I tried to restock ahead of the season. I also heard about a very bad flu virus that would make wearing a mask in crowded places prudent.  Too late, I realized that, not only were the stores near me sold out, they were not going to get any more in the foreseeable future.

I read intriguing posts on the internets about homemade masks, but wasn't sure if they were nothing more than dangerous placebos.

Please read Zeynep Tufekci's Why Telling People They Don’t Need Masks Backfired (NYT paywall)

First, she is right about the messaging.  Lying to the public, even for altruistic reasons, is still counterproductive.  I prefer to be treated like an adult and told that there are people who cannot stay home and need the masks more than I do.

Surgical masks, though not foolproof, offer meaningful protection for both the wearer and the people they are in contact with.

This doesn't help me now when stores don't have anything to buy and my doctor is saving masks for her own use and for her most critically ill patients (or caregivers.)  Professor Tufekci helpfully added a link to a paper about the effectiveness of different materials you can use to sew your own face masks.

I'm about to crank out some masks for my daily walks to protect me from pollen and stray human contact. I'm also making some for people I know who are essential workers and risking their lives to keep our society going.

This table is helpful, but takes a little interpretation. The first 2 columns are virus reductions over wearing no mask with surgical masks and home-made masks with a variety of materials. The third column is the pressure drop across the fabric.

That pressure drop is really important. If a mask is too hot, and you take it off, you are in danger again.  So you want to find that sweet spot of comfortable to wear for hours, and good filtration.  My normal go-to mask is the 3M micropore one.  I can wear it comfortably for long haul flights, taking it off only to eat and drink.

Two layers of a tea towel (a thicker fabric,) is as effective as a surgical mask, but it will be as comfortable as wearing a vacuum cleaner bag.

@pdxsquared showed pictures of her home-made ear loop masks.  She also shared per pattern.  One commentator said that she was irresponsible for posting it--2 layers of quilting cotton isn't real protection.  Well, the peer-reviewed lab-tested experiment showed that 2 layers of a pillowcase (percale, similar to quilting cotton) is 62% effective vs the 96% effectiveness of a real surgical mask, and has a similar comfort rating.  You should absolutely minimize contact with other people right now.  But, if you have to go out to work or get supplies or exercise, wearing DIY masks is definitely helpful.

I'm intrigued by the 75% effectiveness of "cotton mix" but can't figure out what that is.  I may try some cotton/nylon/spandex shirting I was saving for a special project someday.  That day is today.  I'm also going to use fun quilting and shirting fabrics.  Right now, I need more joy and fun.

BTW, I saw an old DIY emergency face mask pattern that suggested using 3 layers of cotton, laid at right angles.  This makes sense because fabrics typically have higher thread count (and smaller holes) in one direction.  Perhaps I should use cotton mix with a layer of silk scrap in the middle?

If you are in a good financial place, spread the wealth.

I told our housecleaner that, because my husband continues to get paid, so will she.  She cannot work from home so I'm just mailing the check to her house.  Her husband is heroically driving city buses to get essential workers to their jobs--and doing it without protective equipment.  I'm sending a bunch of masks to them along with the check.

We're paying students to weed our yard (while staying socially distant.)  I'm making masks for them, too.  I know it helps with pollen and mold.

Show me what you are making and how you are coping.  We're anxious, but know that we are luckier than most.  I'm in no danger of running out of fabric.  ;-)

Physician/sewing blogger Kaddidlehopper has some good tips and a free pattern:

ElleC left a link in the comments on how Dr Dr Chen Xiaoting improvises surgical masks with disposable tissues or TP encased in washable/reusable cotton.

Monday, March 09, 2020

Trustworthy Coronavirus News Sources

There is so much information and misinformation out there about, it's dispiriting.

My go-to source of reliable information is Pulitzer Prize winning science writer, Laurie Garrett, who has written extensively about pandemics and disease for decades.  Follow her on Twitter @Laurie_Garrett for the latest reliable news.

She uses the #COVID19 hashtag.  This time of year, I usually have a persistent scratchy throat from the tree pollen.   I don't follow that hashtag, because I don't want to obsess.  YMMV

I've been following the news of tests. I'm a physical scientist, but have worked in an analytical chemistry lab in college. I know that reliable testing for pathogens is very difficult, but don't understand the details. I found a couple of articles that helped me understand what is happening on the testing front.

How SARS-CoV-2 Tests Work and What’s Next in COVID-19 Diagnostics in New Scientist, by Bianca Nogrady

We Need a Cheap Way to Diagnose Coronavirus, in Harvard Business Review, by Devabhaktuni Srikrishna , Ranu S. Dhillon and David Beier.

Infectious disease docter, Dr. Krutika Kuppalli is also a good follow on Twitter, @KrutikaKuppalli.

The first article mentioned work on developing antibody tests.  Dr Kuppalli tweeted some preliminary antibody (IgG/IgM) test news out of China.

I live in the South Bay part of Los Angeles, which is bracketed by LAX international airport to the north and LA Harbor to the south.  So many airline employees live in my community, we are taking the prudent course and staying home as much as practical.  This will slow, but not prevent the spread.  That helps both you and your community weather the crisis.

Screen shot from Esther Kim's tweet

BTW, the "news" that Coronavirus does not spread in warm weather is totally false. It has spread plenty in warm places.

In times like these, I am livid that not all workers get paid sick leave and that we do not have universal and affordable access to health care.  Fight on, but maybe from home?  ;-)