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Room with a view: questions about COVID-19 without answers

This morning I reviewed the information about COVID-19 published online by the County of Orange. Here is a summary from the “Case Counts by City” section, with an added column labeled “%Cases per capita.” I extracted information for cities in our core and extended coverage areas. Then I tracked down statistics on Los Angeles County cities in order to include Long Beach:

Anaheim 359,339 529 0.147%
Buena Park 83,384 107 0.128%
Cypress 49,833 49 0.098%
Garden Grove 175,155 178 0.073%
Huntington Beach 203,761 269 0.132%
La Palma 15,820 15 0.094%
Long Beach* 467,354 948 0.202%
Los Alamitos 11,721 41 0.035%
Seal Beach 25,073 12 0.048%
Stanton 39,307 36 0.092%
Westminster 92,610 55 0.001%

* Los Angeles City is even harder hit: 0.381%.


  • News outlets have reported that nursing homes are COVID-19 “hot spots.” Is that true in Orange County?

    An article published by the Sacramento Bee includes a searchable database of nursing homes in California that partially answers this question. For instance, if you search for “Alamitos” you will find that a facility in Los Alamitos has reported 27 residents positive for COVID-19. That accounts for half of the number listed above — but keep in mind that the data may not mesh exactly.

    If you search for “Orange” (as in Orange County), five nursing facilities are listed. Only one of the facilities is reported with no employees testing positive. No employee deaths are reported at any of the faciilities. All of the facilities report multiple residents testing positive, but you can’t tell how many deaths because all of them say “10 or fewer” — so it could be none at all, or up to 50.

  • Large gatherings or groups of people from separate households are banned in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Can this restriction be eased?

    The CDC just published a video based on an earlier epidemiology report that illustrates how COVID-19 can be or is likely to spread from person to person in a community through personal interaction among people from separate households.

    The video is based on information about a cluster of infections that occurred early on in the pandemic — necessarily, in order for enough time to have passed for the authors of the original report to investigate and document the cluster, then for the production of the video.

    I am guessing that the CDC wants to discourage interaction among people from separate households, especially in “uncontrolled” settings like funerals and birthday parties. But if you pay attention to the description, you realize that nobody was practicing social distancing, nobody was wearing a mask or gloves, nobody was washing hands afterwards, nobody was swabbing down surfaces with disinfectant wipes.

    But everybody knows now that they should be following personal-hygiene guidance. Can the ban on non-household meetings be eased if guidance on social distancing, masks and gloves, handwashing, and surface disinfecting is followed?

  • How long can the coronavirus survive outside a body on different types of surfaces and under different sorts of ambient conditions?
  • Being able to confidently know that you are immune to COVID-19 would immensely aid in regaining confidence and rebuilding civil life. Are current antibody tests accurate enough? Does recovery from COVID-19 confer long-lasting immunity? Will the naturally-occuring mutation of the coronavirus lead to repeated infections?
  • Statistics gathered on confirmed cases of COVID-19 show that minorities in the United States become infected at a higher rate than their percentage in the general population. Why?
  • How can shared transportation — from buses and subways to airport vans and commuter vans to Lyft and Uber — be made safer for both passengers and drivers?

One question with an answer

Finally, just how are we doing overall in “flattening the curve” — that is, slowing the spread of COVID-19?

Remember that the reason lockdowns and quarantines were declared was to break the back of the spreading infection, not to prevent those already infected from dying or to keep everybody not yet infected from becoming infected. The rationale was to slow the critter down to give us time to devise preventative measures (social distancing, facial masks, washing hands, disinfecting surfaces), effective treatments beyond simply helping patients survive symptoms, and the gold standard flu-shot analog, a vaccination against COVID-19.

Well, according to the Johns Hopkins online monitor, we’ve done pretty well at flattening the curve nationally:

A portion of the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 monitoring site, showing the logarthmic trend in confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States from January 2020 through May 12, 2020. Graphic courtesy of Johns Hopkins.

The Rt website looks at the effective reproduction of the coronavirus, another way of looking at how we’re doing in controlling its spread. According to that website, “If Rt is above 1.0, the virus will spread quickly. When Rt is below 1.0, the virus will stop spreading.” As of May 12, California’s Rt is 0.84.

The COVID-19 infection rate for California on May 12, 2020, as displayed at Rt.live.