Monday, March 23, 2020

UPDATED: What A Super Spread!

About 50 guests gathered on March 5 at a home in the stately suburb of Westport, Conn., to toast the hostess on her 40th birthday and greet old friends, including one visiting from South Africa. They shared reminiscences, a lavish buffet and, unknown to anyone, the coronavirus. 
Then they scattered. 
The Westport soirée — Party Zero in southwestern Connecticut and beyond — is a story of how, in the Gilded Age of money, social connectedness and air travel, a pandemic has spread at lightning speed. The partygoers — more than half of whom are now infected — left that evening for Johannesburg, New York City and other parts of Connecticut and the United States, all seeding infections on the way. 
Westport, a town of 28,000 on the Long Island Sound, did not have a single known case of the coronavirus on the day of the party. It had 85 on Monday, up more than 40-fold in 11 days.

I had a niece living there until last September or October. Got out just ahead of the bug. Lots more at the link.

UPDATE: Just heard from my niece:

Sadly I know a fellow mom my age [back in Westport, CT] with 3 kids who is very sick. In hospital on a ventilator. She’s the picture of healthy... nutritionist, incredible athlete/marathon runner.


  1. Not trying to be difficult, Mark, and I offer the following with enormous respect, but wouldn't you agree there is a world of difference in possible meanings of a characterization of 'very sick' given by a third party non-medical practitioner, even with the additional (but imprecise) information of 'on a ventilator'. The last time I had the flu I felt 'very sick' but my life was not threatened.

    I'm not sure anecdotal is terribly helpful...

    1. In my life experience young healthy people don't wind up on a ventilator from seasonal flu. The statistics support my life experience. The comment was offered by my niece in the context of the article about a serious outbreak of Covid-19 and my niece hearing about it and staying in touch with her friends there. You can take it FWIW.

    2. Totally agree that young healthy people don't wind up on a ventilator from seasonal flu. I'm just thinking that you have a megaphone here and a large readership some of whom are in varying degrees of fear and panic. Better to err on the side of caution. Said with great respect.

    3. They don’t put patients on ventilators unless they are having difficulty breathing. Not being able to breathe is very serious indeed. That is within my category of "very sick”. Your source for that anecdote is your niece. Not a “story" pulled out of thin air.

      People need to know what could happen. There has been complacency among the younger age groups because we were erroneously lead to believe that it was an old person's disease.

      You are using your megaphone to dispense very good information, Mark. Most of it very well sourced. And let’s remember that this is a “novel” virus - uncharted territory - and even the sources may pivot or change their opinions. I haven’t seen anything in your articles that would cause extreme panic. A lot more caution among the people would not be a bad idea.

    4. Tx, Bebe. Two additional points.

      While they call it 'novel,' it's not strictly like a bolt out of the blue. It's like SARS-2, following on SARS-Classic. There are differences, but there are also important similarities--and those similarities are exactly why public health officials and government officials have been so alarmed by the appearance of a SARS-like virus that has gone pandemic. As I keep repeating, in that circumstance Trump really had no option but to go with the social distancing, because that's the only thing that worked on SARS-Classic. Hopefully we'll find something that works better this time around.

      I just listened to the top public health official in our large city. She stressed that based on the investigation they were able to do early on, to catch this virus you generally need to be within 6 ft. of someone for 10 minutes. I'm sure if someone sneezes on you or coughs in your face that dynamic might change, but it's still somewhat reassuring. What this official described tracks well with the Italian experience (and likely some of the Asian experience) where you commonly have 2 or even 3 generations living under the same roof, or interacting closely on a very regular basis. An ideal setting for spreading. That's part of what I've had in mind when I've referred to the US 'human geography' being difference. Social network is a better term, of course.

  2. Thanks Mark for sharing this my times story, and your personal connection.

    It’s terrifying on how many got infected so easily.

    I’m feeling slightly positive on items not mentioned in the article. The medicines that may help, the huge increase in us testing, and how increasing temperatures reduce the spread.

    It does seem without treatment, there can be severe complications including damage to the lungs. I’m surprised at how severe this is.

    We will know more within a week on treatments

    1. Yes, specific treatment could be a real changemaker--medically and psychologically.

    2. Then we have the crazy story of the Diamond Princess where 3000+ people were on a ship and contacted the
      virus and only 17% of the people ended up getting the Kung Flu. Has the disease mutated to a new form?

      Rob S

    3. The DP offers a lot of data, but it's also a bit counterintuitive. Does sea air act as a preventative? Who knows?

      Here's a link to a blog that has some nice graphs. All I could take from them was that the who-gets-sick question must be complex:

  3. It remains a mystery why two ostensibly healthy people of nearly identical profiles can contract it from the same source and one gets past it in short order with very mild or no symptoms, while the other ends up in ICU or dead. Underlying health issue, possibly unknown to the unfortunate victim? Genetic immunity similar to the 10% of the world's population that can't contract HIV because their ancestors survived the Plague? Something else? I've no doubt that's being closely studied.

    1. One factor is they say people who have blood type A may be more susceptible to serious versions. Not uniquely, but more so.

      How does that work? I haven't seen anyone hazard even a guess. Just one factor among, presumably, many others they're looking at.

      However, the virulence when it does take hold is no surprise, given that this is closely related to SARS-classic. We didn't pay much attention to SARS in the US, but it was a big deal in China and HK. The Chinese government actually apologized for its handling of it. The recollection of SARS is part of what's behind the current Chinese reaction.

    2. "It remains a mystery why two ostensibly healthy people of nearly identical profiles can contract it from the same source and one gets past it in short order with very mild or no symptoms, while the other ends up in ICU or dead.

      Agreed. Those two same people could get a brown recluse spider bite and one would suffer fever and chills and the other might see his kidneys shut down.

      Are there genetic factors, environmental influences, past exposures, etc? All of the above?

    3. Isn't the 'not knowing what we don't know' what's largely driving responses to this, both organizationally and personally. We Americans, particularly, have elevated technology to near god-like status and, if only for a moment, it seems that technology is wholly inadequate to the moment we are largely without a moral/philosophical Plan B and so nature's Plan B, panic, gains a toehold.
      Momentary panic understandable and possibly unavoidable, but like a pendulum will keep swinging from one extreme to the other as long as there is tension in the 'spring'. The best advice is 'Keep calm and Carry On'.
      Focus on your family, neighbors, town, county and State. This could be a turnaround point in getting people to look local, rather than national for support/solutions. An opportunity to return to the American Democracy of Tocqueville rather than Trotsky.
      Tom S.

    4. "It remains a mystery why two ostensibly healthy people of nearly identical profiles can contract it from the same source and one gets past it in short order with very mild or no symptoms, while the other ends up in ICU or dead.”

      First, ostensibly is a fudge factor word. It means “maybe” “on the surface”…. It is meaningless because I would defy a doctor to determine that two persons were absolutely identical. Not even identical twins would necessarily fit that profile.

      Second, we have not seen an example of this. If a reader has seen one, I’d be interested in a link.