Tag Archives: covid

If you want to keep track of the COVID-19 Wastewater Signal in Ontario, bookmark this

You can either bookmark this post or the actual URL that makes up the image above. The URL (or more accurately, URI) of the image stays the same, I think, but the data changes.

I’m glad it exists. I check the hospitalization and ICU numbers that come out every Thursday and they seem to align with the wastewater signal. That’s an indication for me at any given week how we are doing in terms of COVID-19, despite the dearth of other metrics like case loads or deaths.

While things in the first quarter of 2023 are better than the first quarter of 2022, there are still relatively high levels of COVID-19 in the wastewater. Manage your risk accordingly.

For more on wasterwater data, go here.

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My notes and tips on travel before the pandemic, during the pandemic and now in 2023


Travel has changed in the time before, during, and “after” the pandemic. I noticed many differences in 2021, 2022, and 2023. Here’s what I jotted down during my trips in the hopes you and I may find it useful in the future:

  • Masks: last year everyone wore masks during travel, save for when they ate. There were a few idiots who resisted, but mostly people stayed masked. Not now. In 2023, a few people wore masks, but not many. They are no longer mandatory anywhere going to Canada to the US. I think I would have been comfortable wearing a mask in 2023, but I did not.
  • Testing: in the middle of the pandemic you had to get tested before you departed and when you returned. You had to upload that information as well as your vaccine status into various travel apps if you were using them. So far this year you don’t have to do any of that.
  • Bags: baggage continues to be a problem. Expect to pay for all non carry on luggage. Once you could use the kiosk to get your luggage tag. Now some if not all airlines insist you go to a staffer who will weigh your bag and may charge you regardless of its weight. (Remember when lighter bags were free?) As a result people have these smaller roller bags that fit overhead. But now there are more of these bags than there are spaces for them, airlines are making some travellers check their bags (for free for now) at the gate. (This can be a problem if you have only a short time to get to your connecting flight.) Small carry on bags continue to be free for now but you want to insure they fit under the seat: you may get to your seat to find you cannot squeeze it in over you.
  • Boarding passes: you can print your boarding pass at home, but consider doing it at the airport. My printer wasn’t good enough to print the code on it: luckily you can download a QR code in some apps and use that. I did. (Consider taking a screen grab of that QR code: you can show that picture to get through, which is less trouble than displaying it via the app.)
  • Fees/services: Airlines continue to ever slice and dice their service and charge you for everything. (See my bag comment above. Also you can pay to change your seat, get a bigger seat, etc.) The levels of service are ridiculous also. Once you just had first class and economy. Then business class. Now there can be five or more classes. Very classy! 🙂  Pretty soon you might pay by the square footage you take up. As for food, I was surprised how little was available even on 2 hour flights. Consider bringing food onboard: you can’t be certain you’ll get much more than almonds and water.
  • Variability: on my recent trip I was on four different types of planes while travelling to the US. One flight had wide seats that had entertainment (TV, music, movies, games) on them (bring headphones and something to charge your phone). Others had tiny seats I could barely fit into and no entertainment. Other variations: the airline moved me from one seat to another. They kept me in an aisle, but I was surprised to see I moved in the time I had printed my boarding pass. So keep an eye out for that. Of course check for gate changes too.
  • Apps: one thing that is getting better are the airline apps. Get the airline app for the airline you will be travelling on. They will have lots of helpful info in it, including your boarding pass, where your plane is (is it at the gate or on the way), your seat and gate, etc.
  • Security: security seems better…maybe because there are more agents than the worst of the pandemic. Try and have empty pockets before you get to the bins to dump your stuff. Take out your computer and put it in a separate bin with your electronics. Take off all your coats and sweaters, even boots and belts and watches and anything with a hint of metal. I like to have no liquids on me whatsoever, and take an empty bottle to get water later.
  • Canadian customs: still not great but better. In 2022 it was very slow. In 2023 it was very fast. They got rid of the desks the staff sat at and had many of them prepared to deal with you quickly. Not sure that will continue, but it was good to experience this time.
  • Declarations: For people who haven’t travelled in awhile, you no longer have to fill out a declaration card in Toronto. Instead you go to this goofy machine in the custom area, insert your passport, wait for it to take a bad photo of you, and then gets you to declare, upon which it spits out a declaration sheet you give to Canadian customs. (If the machine isn’t automatically reading your passport just go to another one quickly. I’ve had a few bad machines.) As of now the amount you are allowed for under a week but more than a day or two is $800. I still remember the days it was $200.
  • US customs: if you go to the US regularly, get a Nexus card. It makes a huge difference. Otherwise after you get through security, you will need to go through the slow process of going through US customs. Before you get to an agent, know where you are going, why you are going there (business, vacation), the address of where you are staying and  how you know the people you are staying with. One women ahead of me did not know this and kept changing her answer and this got her into a lot of trouble. Be brief, polite and consistent.

(I said “after” the pandemic because it feels like we are through the pandemic in February 2023, even though our problems from COVID-19 are not done.)

P.S. BlogTO recently did a piece on what it’s like to fly on the new planes from Porter Airlines, and the service described was similar to what I experienced for several of the planes, down to this:

Ok, some of the planes had more room than this (thank god), but airlines need to back off a bit. Anyway you can see why I try to get an aisle seat. 🙂

Some very good thoughts (especially at the end) and the usual ramblings on a new year (i.e. the January 2023 edition of my not-a-newsletter newsletter)

We finally closed the book on another pandemic year (2022), and have moved through the first month of 2023. Yay for us!  Is 2023 going to be a pandemic year as well? An endemic year perhaps? We don’t know. One thing for sure: compared to last January, this one has been much gentler.

I think in some ways 2023 may be a transition year. We continue to have transitions when it comes to COVID. We still have new variants like the Kraken (XBB.1.5) that has surged to 40.5% of all infections and rises in hospitalizations. But we take that as a matter of course now. Indeed, there is talk of having annual COVID and flu vaccines. COVID may be more serious than the flu in terms of illness and death, but we may end up approaching them in the same way. No one talks much of flu deaths, and perhaps other than places like Nova Scotia, no one will talk about COVID deaths either. For example, in my province of Ontario it is relatively easy to track hospitalizations related to COVID: it’s relatively hard to report on deaths.

I know because I still have been reporting on COVID hospitalizations every week on twitter for months. My last update was this one:

As I tweeted, the numbers have been dropping recently. Even the ICU numbers, which shot up due to the tripledemic, have declined as the tripledemic declined. Thank god: the pediatric ICUs in November were over 100% full for a time.

So we are transitioning in a positive direction. Good. And not just with COVID.  Everywhere you see spike graphs, like this one for unemployment:

To this one for inflation:

My expectation is that the annual inflation rate will continue to transition and decline in 2023, and interest rates will follow them. That is not to diminish the impact that inflation has had so far. Things have reached the point where people are stealing food and law firms are promising to defend them for free. That said, many, including the New York Times, expect inflation to cool this year. Perhaps it will drop back to where it used to be (i.e. below 3%). If you are skeptical, I recommend this piece in VOX.

Unlike COVID or inflation, not everything has the prospect of improving in 2023. Guns in the US  continue to be a major problem. There is no end in sight for the war in the Ukraine.  NATO is still supportive and continues to send weapons, although it seems like Zelenskyy had to clear the decks before that occurred. As for cryptocurrencies, it may not be a year of recovery for them as the trial of SBF and FTX unfolds. But who knows: maybe this rally will be a difference.

I suspect crypto will stay dormant for many reasons. One big reason is that tech is going to change its focus from Web3 to AI. Sorry Web3. (Sorry metaverse for that matter!) Microsoft alone is spending billions on it. AI will be all anyone will talk about this year. (No one knew what to do with crypto, save techies and rich people flogging NFTs. Everyone I know seems to be using ChatGPT and the like. That’s a key difference). I’ll be writing more about AI in standalone posts in 2023, there will be so much going on.

In 2023 I expect a continuation of the trend of people flooding back into cities after having left them, based on data like this: Annual demographic estimates census metropolitan areas and census. While residences have become scarce (and rents have become high) as a result, people have not been flooding back into offices. So much so that places like NYC are looking to convert office spaces to residential spaces. The problem with the pandemic is that the changes it has forced on society are more rapid than social systems can respond. But respond they will.

Then again, a new surge could reoccur in China. If that occurs, all bets are off. For now my bets are staying on the table.

Finally, thanks for reading this and anything else you read on this blog recently. I appreciate it. I am optimistic for 2023 in many ways. I hope you are too.

Keep wearing your masks when advisable. Get vaxxed to the max.  Try not to pay attention to Elon Musk or the fate of Twitter: that will all play out in due course. Don’t get too hung up about what AI is going to do: that will all play out as well. Continue to read newsletters. Watch streaming. Listen to podcasts. Most importantly: get out and about whenever you can.

There will always be bad people in the world, and bad acts occurring. Do what you can to prevent that from happening, but don’t rob yourself of your capacity for joy as a result. Be a happy warrior on the side of good. Joy is your armour.

Never forget: you have lived and possibly thrived through some of the most dramatically difficult times in history.  You deserve better times ahead.

Enjoy yourself. Live your life robustly. Whenever you feel lethargic, think back to those times of being locked down and unable to even go to a park and sit down.  Let’s go and get it. Here’s to a better year ahead. We are counting on you, 2023.

2022 is done. Thoughts and rambling on the last 365 days (i.e. the December 2022 edition)

Another year over. A semi-pandemic year, in a sense. Covid is still with us, but we did not (so far) get slammed with a bad new variant like we did last year with Omicron. Instead the pandemic is lesser than it was, but greater than the flu in terms of the sickness and death it brings. We still get vaccinated, though less than before. Schools are attended (though  affected),  restaurants are dined in, parties and special events are attended.

You could say things look….normal. But then you can look towards China: they seem to be struggling to deal with COVID lately. Who knows what 2023 will bring? More normal or more like China?

But that’s for 2023. As for last year and what was trending, we can look to  Google which has all its data. One place that was trending alot in 2022: China. China is struggling with both Covid and Xi’s approach to it, as this shows. As for the Chinese leader himself, it was a bad year for Xi, as well as Putin and other global bad guys, sez VOX. And it’s not just the Chinese residents that are having to deal with Xi and his government: Canada has been investigating chinese police stations in Canada. More on that here. I expect China will also trend in 2023. Let’s hope for better reasons.

Other trending events in 2022? Crypto. There was lots of talk about it and people like Sam Bankman-Fried after the collapse of his crypto currency exchange and subsequent arrest. We had stories like this: How I turned $15 000 into $1.2m during the pandemic and then lost it all. Tragic. The overall collapse of the industry has lead to things like bans on crypto mining. That’s good. It has lead to questions around the fundamentals, like: Blockchains What Are They Good For? Last, to keep track of all the shenanigans, I recommend this site: Web3 is Going Just Great. I expect crypto to remain a shambles next year. Time and money will tell.

Elon Musk also managed to trend quite often due to his take over of Twitter and more. He still has fans, but many are disillusioned. After all, his campaign to win back Twitter Advertisers isn’t going well. He was outright booed on stage with Dave Chapelle. (No doubt being a jerk contributed to this.) Tesla stock is tanking. Even his  Starlink is losing money. What a year of failure. I can’t see his 2023 improving either. Hard to believe he was Time’s Man of the Year in 2021!

Because of Musk, people are looking to join other networks, like Mastodon. (BTW, here’s some help on How to Make a Mastodon Account and Join the Fediverse). Some are looking to old networks, like this: the case for returning to tumblr. Some are looking at new ways to socialize online, like this.

Musk was not alone in trending this year due to being a bad guy. Let’s not forget that Kanye West trended as well due to his freakish behavior and antisemitism.

AI was another big trend this year, with things like ChatGPT and stable diffusion (here’s how you can set it up on AWS). We also had stories like this: Madison Square Garden Uses Facial Recognition to Ban Its Owner’s Enemies. Not good. What’s next for AI?  This takes a look. I think we may get an AI winter, but we have 12 months to see if that holds true.

For what it’s worth, Newsletters like Matt Yglesias’s are still going strong, though levelling off I think.

Trends and development aside, here’s some other topics I found interesting and worth being up to close the year:

Assisted death was a grim topic in 2022 in Canada. I remain glued to stories like this: We’re all implicated in Michael Fraser;s decision to die, and  this and this. It all seems like a failure, although this argues that assisted dying is working.

Here’s two good pieces on homelessness Did Billions in Spending Make a Dent in Homelessness? And ‘It’s a sin that we all had to leave’: Moving out of Meagher Park.

Need some advice for the new year? Try this: How Much and Where Are You Really Supposed to Tip? Consider this a good approach to  reading. Here’s a good approach to  slowing down, while here’s a good discussion on  Boundaries. Things to avoid:  the biggest wastes of time we regret when we get older.

Things I found interesting in sports this year:

Things I found interesting in general this year:

Finally, here’s some good advice to close out the year: Don’t Treat Your Life as a Project.

Thanks for reading this and anything else you read on this blog in 2022. I appreciate it. I managed to blog about roughly 3000 things on the internet this year. I hope you found some of them useful.

Happy New Year!

Ian Brown catches COVID again and why that’s good

It’s good not because I want him to be ill! Not at all. Rather, it’s good because what came out of that is this fine essay: I caught COVID, again – this time, nobody cares (The Globe and Mail). It nicely catches where we are in this ongoing pandemic. Not just by writing about the disease and what we are doing or not doing about it, but also what else is competing for our attention. I highly recommend it.

I hope by the time you read this Ian is well and none the worse for having suffered through another bout of COVID.

 

On retiring my COVID-19 reporting (for now)


Recently I was reporting COVID-19 data daily. I wrote a program called covid.py that scraped the Ontario.ca Covid web site and and pulled out data for hospitalization and cases. It was a rough but useful gauge to see how COVID was going in Ontario, and I was able to get the information in a snap.

Unfortunately the information is no longer posted on the page I was visiting with my code. The data is out there somewhere in the datasets, but I think I will reconsider things before modifying my code. It is a shame that the data is harder to get though.

All these actions by government organizations to make it harder to get data is a bit frustrating. I read people say: you should track the pandemic and make good decisions. It’s hard to do that though when the information is hard to get.

For more information and data:  Government of Ontario data sets on COVID-19 are here. Government of Canada COVID-19 information is here. More on my code, here.

 

What I learned writing web scrapers last week


I started writing web scrapers last week. If you don’t know, web scraper code can read web pages on the Internet and pull information from them.

I have to thank the Ontario Minister of Health for prompting me to do this. The Minister used to share COVID-19 information on twitter, but then chose recently to no longer do that. You can come to your own conclusions as to why she stopped. As for me, I was irritated by the move. Enough so that I decided to get the information and publish it myself.

Fortunately I had two things to start with. One, this great book: Automate the Boring Stuff with Python. There is a chapter in there on how to scrape web pages using Python and something called Beautiful Soup. Two, I had the minister’s own web site: https://covid-19.ontario.ca/. It had the data I wanted right there! I wrote a little program called covid.py to scrape the data from the page and put it all on one line of output which I share on twitter every day.

Emboldened by my success, I decided to write more code like this. The challenge is finding a web page where the data is clearly marked by some standard HTML. For example, the COVID data I wanted is associated with paragraph HTML tag and it has a class label of  covid-data-block__title and covid-data-block__data. Easy.

My next bit of code was obit.py: this program scrapes the SaltWire web site (Cape Breton Post) for obituaries listed there, and writes it out into HTML. Hey, it’s weird, but again the web pages are easy to scrape. And  it’s an easy way to read my hometown’s obits to see if any of my family or friends have died. Like the Covid data, the obit’s were associated with some html, this time it was a div statement of class sw-obit-list__item. Bingo, I had my ID to get the data.

My last bit of code was somewhat different. The web page I was scraping was on the web but instead of HTML it was a CSV file. In this case I wrote a program called icu.sh to get the latest ICU information on the province of Ontario. (I am concerned Covid is going to come roaring back and the ICUs will fill up again.) ICU.sh runs a curl command and in conjunction with the tail command gets the latest ICU data from an online CSV file. ICU.sh then calls a python program to parse that CSV data and get the ICU information I want.

I learned several lessons from writing this code. First, when it comes to scraping HTML, it’s necessary that the page is well formed and consistent. In the past I tried scraping complex web pages that were not and I failed. With the COVID data and the obituary data,  those pages were that way and I succeeded. Second, not all scraping is going to be from HTML pages: sometimes there will be CSV or other files. Be prepared to deal with the format you are given. Third, once you have the data, decide how you want to publish / present it. For the COVID and ICU data, I present them in a simple manner on twitter. Just the facts, but facts I want to share. For the obit data, that is just fun and for myself. For that, I spit it into a temporary HTML file and open it in a browser to review.

If you want to see the code I wrote, you can go to my repo in Github. Feel free to fork the code and make something of your own. If you want to see some data you might want to play with, Toronto has an open data site, here. Good luck!

 

Why some people in the hospital with COVID despite being vaccinated …

…is explained by this tweet from Dr Jennifer Kwan:

Yes, vaccines great reduce your chances from landing in the hospital from COVID. But it can still happen. Get vaccinated and stay well.

(Image from her tweet)

Notes from having COVID last week

Last Monday (Jan 3) my daughter had a sore throat. She got tested later that evening and was positive for COVID. No one in my house/bubble had symptoms before that, but by Wednesday morning, all but one of us had them.

Our experience with the disease was similar to Liz Renzetti and her family, described here: Opinion: Lessons from the COVID not-so-sick bed – The Globe and Mail.

All of us felt tired and exhibited symptoms associated with COVID. I had a incessant cough, runny nose, stuffy head, and at one point fever then chills. I also slept a lot. Normally I am restless so if I am sleeping that much then I am sick.

We all isolated from each other as much as we could. We had a hepa filter going, and we were all vaccinated (and in some cases boosted). We did what we could to minimize the impact. As it was, the course of the disease took under a week (at least in terms of present symptoms).

People were great in offering us well wishes and close friends offering to bring us food. We were lucky to be able to have food delivered and appreciative of the people who did so.

We only had one rapid antigen test between us. (Good luck getting one of those anywhere.) We were all pretty sick, but we used it and the results were negative. My doctor friend tells me the false negative percentage is 30% (vs 1% false positive).  We acted all we all had COVID anyway and we likely did.

I don’t have any great insights into the disease. Get as vaccinated as you can as soon as you can. Follow local public health guidelines. Take care of yourself and others. Hang in there.

(Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash )

 

A great introduction to Bayes’ Theorem and how it relates to COVID-19

You may have heard references to Bayes’ Theorem in light of the pandemic and wondered how it is relevant. Well I am here to help. First off, here’s a great guide to Bayes’ Theorem from the website MathIsFun.com. Even if you are math phobic, I think you will be able to read that piece and understand it. Secondly, check out the site Varsity and how it explains how Bayes’ Theorem and COVID-19 testing are related. Both are well worth a read.

Learn Bayes’ Theorem. It’s good to help you understand many things in life, including what is happening during the pandemic.

P.S. This related piece at FT.com  explains why you should expect to see vaccinated people in the hospital with covid despite high vaccination rates.

How to go skating in Toronto in the pandemic

Liisa Ladouceur (shown above) has written a thorough guide for anyone who wants to go skating in Toronto during the pandemic. No, you cannot just show up with your blades and start skating. You need to do more. And you should do more, because skating is a great way to enjoy winter in the pandemic era. So read this: Where to go skating in Toronto in 2020 by Liisa Wanders. Then get out there! Maybe I will see you at a socially safe distance with a fun mask on too.

Anti COVID Posters!

This is a smart reuse of old VD posters to warn against the dangers of a new biological thread: COVID. Via The Daily Heller:

Adrian Wilson, provocateur par excellence, recently revisited a vintage poster prevention campaign against VD used during World War II, and remixed the various messages into a current cautionary attack on CoViD-19. This genre of repurposing images and words is not new or novel, but when accomplished satirically and wittily, as Wilson has done below, it can be an effective public messaging tool.

 

For more of Wilson’s work, click on the link above. It’s great.

You need Vitamin D. Here’s why.

From information is beautiful.

On the COVID fee and the airlinerization of your bill


If you are concerned about the cost of things, then you should know about this: The COVID fee, or why many services could cost you more as Toronto reopens for business | CBC News.

I get the COVID fee. It makes sense for businesses dealing with the cost of the pandemic. But it got me thinking about how we might start seeing the airlinerization of bills.

I thought of that concept when I started to get food from Uber Eats. On top of the cost of the meals is 3 or 4 fees, not including tips. Now with the COVID fee we may start seeing other service companies stacking additional costs onto the initial cost.

This reminds me of the airline industry. To compete, the fares for flights are stripped of costs. Then after you are about to pay, you find out the true cost of things. Again, I get it. It makes sense. It makes me wary of using a service that does this.

It may seem good for businesses to charge several additional fees. The listed cost seems low and attracts customers. It’s only when you get the bill do you see what you are truly paying. In my case yesterday I didn’t even see the COVID fee until I got home. The tip is added as a percentage on top of all the fees as well. My expected costs and my actual costs were wildly out of sync. This did not leave me with a good feeling for the place I just visited. I feel they need to be more transparent with this. (It is not listed on their website or on the Square terminal when I paid).

If the cost is not a concern for you, then feel free to ignore it. But for many people buying goods and services in the pandemic, caveat emptor.

(Photo by CardMapr on Unsplash)

I hope Americans still on the fence about travelling for Thanksgiving read this


I understand the importance of Thanksgiving in the US. It’s a big deal, and a big part of that is coming together. But coming together might mean spreading COVID-19, not just with the people you visit, but others after the visit.

Because of that, I hope you will stay in your respective dwellings and take advantage of this offer from Zoom: Thanksgiving on Zoom: Your family get-together can surpass 40 minutes.

Normally if you have a free Zoom account, you are limited to how long your online session can last. Happily, Zoom is waiving that for this year. It’s a great offer: you should jump on it.

I hope people will meet up virtually in the US this Thanksgiving. It will make a world of difference.

Is the weekend dead?

You might think so if you read this piece in the New York Times.

It has definitely changed, just like so much has changed during the pandemic. I predict the weekend will come back in time. Meanwhile, consider ways to make you day / days different enough so that it doesn’t just feel like one big endless day. It will take some creativity, but it’s worth it.

Your weekend is coming up: find ways to make those days stand out from the others.