Thursday, July 16, 2020

African/African-American and Non-Finnish European populations more susceptible to COVID-19

According to New insights into genetic susceptibility of COVID-19: an ACE2 and TMPRSS2 polymorphism analysis published on 15 July 2020 in BMC Medicine by Cleveland Clinic researchers,

"the distribution of deleterious variants in ACE2 differs among 9 populations in gnomAD (v3). Specifically, 39% (24/61) and 54% (33/61) of deleterious variants in ACE2 occur in African/African-American (AFR) and Non-Finnish European (EUR) populations, respectively (Fig. 1b). Prevalence of deleterious variants among Latino/Admixed American (AMR), East Asian (EAS), Finnish (FIN), and South Asian (SAS) populations is 2–10%, while Amish (AMI) and Ashkenazi Jewish (ASJ) populations do not appear to carry such variants in ACE2 coding regions"

If needed, Figure 1b can be viewed here. This research of course mean Latinos or Asians can take it easy when it comes to prevention. In fact, the outbreaks in Brazil and India appear to contradict this research. But this research is about genetic susceptibility, not considering the social factors that may play a greater role, such as whether people wear face masks and keep social distancing.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Advice against COVID-19, "wash hands" vs. "wear masks", in the past months

If you recall the advice from CDC and WHO since early 2020, you may notice that they strongly advised washing hands in the first few months, and did not emphasize wearing face masks as much, let alone social distancing. This is unfortunate misguidance to the public in view of the fact that the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is air-borne and transmits more through people's breath and less through touching.[note1] I wish the experts at these organizations had emphasized wearing face masks and keeping social distance more than or at least as much as washing hands early on.

Anyway, to confirm my impression that the ratio of advice on wearing masks to hand washing increased in the past few months, I took advantage of Microsoft search engine Bing's historical searches.[note2] First I search on for "wash hands" (no quotation marks used) while limiting the time range to 1/1/2020 - 1/31/2020, 2/1/2020 - 2/29/2020, ..., 6/1/2020 - 6/30/2020. I record the approximate search result counts given by Bing. Then I search for "wear masks" and record the same counts. The result is in the following.

  wash hands  wear masks
1    524,000     362,000
2    643,000     557,000
3  2,220,000   1,640,000
4  2,090,000   3,620,000
5  2,490,000   5,350,000
6  2,270,000   4,860,000

The left column is the month, January (1) through June (6). The right column is the search result count for the month. We can tell that "wash hands" was found on much more webpages in March than February as if Americans woke up to the grim reality in March. So was "wear masks". But "wash hands" more or less reached a plateau, while "wear masks" overtook "wash hands" in April and stays in the lead ever since.

This comparison by no means is a direct proof of CDC or WHO's failure to advise the more efficient preventive measure, because the Bing-indexed webpages are authored by all sorts of people. But the public listens to these health authorities. If they say more about "wash hands" and less about "wear masks" and "social distancing", people do it, too.

By the way, the latest Economist magazine has an article Face-off over face-masks: Europe’s latest north-south split, which shows that more and more people in 14 countries started to wear face masks over time. It's interesting to see that Asian countries generally have a sharper rise of the curve than those in Americas and Europe, apparently reflecting the Asian tradition of collective compliance. (The reason China appears to be high all the time is that the data didn't start till February, when COVID-19 was already spread in China.)

[note1] Not that touching contaminated surfaces is less risky. But the probability of touching such surfaces and bringing the viruses into the body is lower than directly receiving air-borne viruses in an environment where at least one person is virus carrier or spreader.
[note2] Google also provides historical search results. But in these searches, the estimated result counts are not given.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Racial distribution of COVID-19 cases in New York

According to New York City data, age-adjusted rates of COVID-19 cases per 1000000 people as of April 16,2020 are

Race EthnicityNon-hospitalizedNon-fatal hospitalizedKnown to have died
Black/African American335.5271.792.3
combined with NYC demographics
White: 63.79%
Black or African American: 15.64%
Other race: 8.76%
Asian: 8.31%
Two or more races: 3.05%
Native American: 0.41%
Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander: 0.04%

We can see that African Americans are disproportionately represented as many media outlets or government organizations acknowledged. But less known is that the Asian population is significantly represented as well, if we factor in the proportion of the Asians in the whole population in the city. Note that White is 63.79% in the population compared to Asian 8.31%. This is 7.67 times as much. But the non-hospitalized cases are 190.4 and 95.1, for White and Asians respectively. Note 190.4/95.1=2.00. This means in NYC, Asians are 7.67/2.00=3.83 times as likely to contract the virus (but not hospitalized) as the white. Similar calculations can be done to non-fatal hospitalized cases and deaths.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Optimize bed positions in an area of limited space

The Spanish magazine El PaĆ­s article shows hundreds of beds in a big data warehouse structure.

All the beds are arranged as if they are on the points of a perfect square grid or mesh, each bed about 5 meters (16.4 feet) away from the two on the same row or the two in the same column, roughly as in this pattern


But this is not the most efficient use of space in terms of keeping distance while maximizing the number of beds in this limited space. If we shift every other column of beds down (or up) by half a row, schematically like this


although the distance between two beds in the same column remains the same, the distance to the left and right beds has increased from 5 meters to sqrt(5^2+(5/2)^2) = 5.59 meters. This 59 cm or about 2 feet of increase in distance may not sound significant, but it's better to not waste any precious space in this situation. In this new arrangement, of course the position of a bed really has to be the position of the head of the patient in bed, since that's where the contagious cough comes out.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

First country of a pandemic: guilty or not guilty

As of this writing, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus infection is almost a quarter million in the world, and there are almost 10,000 deaths. While WHO has long established the convention to not name an epidemic or pandemic after the name of the country where the outbreak started, there's no cease of debate about whether that country is guilty if it had initial cover-up, denial, or do-nothing complacency. A simple answer to the titled question is definitely positive, for the reason that if the country promptly acted to notify the public, prohibit group gathering, and isolate the first few infected, there wouldn't be an outbreak beyond the limited area at all. In terms of deaths that could have been avoided, and the simple fact that death cannot be converted to life, the guilt is inexcusable.

However, there is another side to the argument. If a regular human ordinarily acts in a way that unintentionally leads to damage, the fault becomes excusable and the act is not considered guilt. If it had not been China where the coronavirus was first found and spread, if it had been Italy or Iran or the US, judging by the actions these governments took in the last two months, we may safely conclude that these countries would have made the same mistake as China, i.e. initial denial if not outright cover-up, and lack of preparedness for the spread of the virus (in spite of the extremely applaudable effort in the later stage of virus control). The ethical argument is that if every country or government, regardless its political classification, behaves the same in the initial wrongdoing, this wrongdoing can be attributed to human nature or the nature of a governing body. Even if this is a fault, it's a fault inherent in universal human nature. Just as to err is human, so to err is of the nature of a group made up of humans.

Is the country where a pandemic originates guilty if the country fails to control its spread due to negligence or misfeasance at the early stage? I say it is guilty, but does not warrant blame, because as of year 2020, human civilization has not progressed to the point where initial denial of a virus outbreak is a rare and universally condemned behavior, except when viewed in hindsight. That day will come, and a new epic in human history will begin, hopefully soon, at the end of this coronavirus pandemic. To err is, in general, human and of the nature of a congregation of humans. But to err on a specific type of event is not always so. In the case of initial denial before an epidemic outbreak, now is the time to change this error from being human to being inhuman.


A reader: Naming a disease after a region is not inherently racist or stigmatizing. The idea that a country should be considered guilty for an outbreak resulting from negligence is completely unjustified. Authorities responsible for harmful cover-ups should be condemned.#2cents# ? I say, no.
Me: You have a good point. If I understand you correctly, we should treat the country and its authorities or government separately. The former is not guilty but the latter is. Correct?
The reader: I'm not going to blame a five-year-old Chinese kid because a fifty-year-old Chinese official lied. The debate is interesting, though. Hitler rose to power in a democracy (the Weimar Republic). Does this fact make the "Germans" collectively culpable? I say, no.