Saturday, April 25, 2020

How is the US doing with it's COVID-19 Response?

I've seen a lot of ways to compare the US to other countries when seeing how bad it is here compared to other countries.

Many of the comparisons just take the raw number of infections, or deaths which may be useful early on, but as the pandemic continues that becomes less useful.

There is limited availability of testing in many countries, so there are many people who have Covid-19 that haven't been tested.  At some point in the future there will be enough testing, but right now,  the number of infections a poor metric because it significantly under counts infections and due to different levels of testing in different countries, makes comparisons not very useful.  A better metric seems to be death rate.  That too is under reported since some people die without being tested and without going to the hospital, but I think it is more accurate than infections.

The population of the countries is important.  Is it useful to compare the the United States with a population of around 330 million to Sweden with a population of 10.2 million?  Sweden has roughly the population of North Carolina.  I think you have to take that into account and a good way is to do the comparison per million of population.

The pandemic started at different times in different countries, and initially is an exponential curve, so a country with was first infected in February will have a very different number of infections or deaths than one that was first infected in March.  This makes comparisons strictly by date less useful.  Many comparisons I see start at when a country has some number of infections (or deaths).  Very early on the rates of change jump around a lot (if you go from one death to two deaths you double the number of deaths, but you can't have partial deaths).  I've seen a lot of charts start at 100 examples and I think that makes a reasonable place to begin.

Given this, I think a good metric for comparison is the deaths per million by country since 100 deaths were reported.  I couldn't find this chart anywhere, but fortunately, Johns Hopkins University is releasing the raw data they use.  This lets me make my own charts and update them whenever I want.

Here is the chart I made on April 24th.  I didn't include every country, mostly ones that have been in the news.  You can see that South Korea has done very well, just like the news reports say.  They currently have 4.72 deaths per million. Hubei, China, where this started, has really leveled out.

The next group is the US (dark blue on the graph) and Germany (black),  For a while they were neck and neck, but in the past week Germany has done a good job at slowing the death rate while the US has been going up at the same rate for the past few weeks.

The rest of Europe seems to be all following a similar path, and all have a much higher death rate than the United States.  Spain (yellow) is the worst, but France (green) and Italy (orange) aren't far behind.

In the past few weeks Sweden has been held up as an example of a country that has not done stay-at-home orders but still has it under control.  This chart tells a different story.  Sweden (in light blue) is right there with the rest of Europe and deaths are growing faster than the US.  This isn't something I'd want us to emulate.  One oddity of the data you can see is every weekend the death rate flattens out, this has been happening for 3 weeks straight, so it seems like they don't report on weekends.  I'd expect a big jump on Mondays as they catch up then a slower rise for the rest of the week, but I'm not seeing that.

It looks like the US is doing pretty well compared to other countries.  Certainly there are a few other countries doing better, such as Germany and South Korea,
 but there are many more countries doing worse.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Another trip to the grocery store

Recently it seems like my biggest adventure has been going to the grocery store.  I never know what I'll find.  This week was no exception.  After reading a bunch of news articles and based on past weeks, I wasn't expecting much meat, however, they were fully stocked.  They had plenty of chicken, pork, and beef.

Other things that were plentiful were fresh vegetables, milk, yogurt and bread.

A bunch of things had limited variety but were readily available, such as frozen pizza, ice cream, pasta/sauce, baking mixes, and frozen fruit.  There was also sufficient rice, but I didn't see brown rice.

The stock of frozen vegetables has been slowly dwindling and remains available but maybe not the brands and varieties you want.

As time stretches on, new things are being added to the limited supply list.  Canned soup and boxed meals such as mac & cheese and pasta mixes are more limited than they were in past weeks.

This week I saw toilet paper for the first time in about a month.  There wasn't a whole lot of it, and it was at the front of the store, not in the normal aisle, but it was there.

There is some things that are totally unavailable.  I didn't see any antibacterial cleaners or paper towels.  There also wasn't any flour for baking (but there was sugar).  One out of stock item that surprised me was tofu, there wasn't any of that.

Also of note: More people are following the directional arrows on the aisle.  They are hard to get used to and once I went down an aisle the wrong way.  I got about 15 feet down when an employee stopped me and asked me to go around the other direction.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

This weeks view of the grocery stores

The big change this week is that Giant has made all its aisles one way.  They have put big red arrows on the floor pointing the direction you should go in.  Compliance with the arrows was mixed.  Most but not all people obeyed them but it is a bit of an adjustment, I accidentally went the wrong way once and a couple of times had to go down an aisle I didn't need anything from to get to one that I did need something from.  I do think it makes it a little easier to maintain social distance so I think it is worth it. They also have stickers on the floor in some places indicating a six foot distance.

There is also now a maximum number of customers allowed in the store.  When I was there there wasn't anyone enforcing this, but there were also fewer than the limit so it didn't matter.  During busier times this may be an issue.

Stocking continues to get better with fewer things in limited supply.  There were only two pineapples when I got there, but the rest of the fruits and vegetables are in sufficient quantity.  One thing I did notice is that they have started to run out of less popular items.  I don't know if it is an actual shortage or if they are just prioritizing stocking the basics.  Pastas and sauces had lots of variety available with only a few items out of stock.

A bit change in the rice and beans aisle, especially in the rice.  You can see there is one spot on the shelf that is empty, but plenty of rice.  That doesn't even tell the whole story though, I saw several stacks of cases of rice in other areas of the store and one of the aisle end caps was devoted to rice.  Dried beans are back in stock (except split peas, which this store has had trouble with all winter) and canned beans were also well stocked.  There were two stacks of cases of chick peas on the other side of the aisle, so no shortage there.  In the distance you see some empty shelves where the canned vegetables are, but that is only some brands and varieties, overall there were plenty.

Cake mixes are slowly coming back in stock.  Much better than the past two weeks but nowhere near normal.  There was also a limited supply and selection of flour and sugar. I also couldn't find baking soda which I was shopping for.

Some things are noticeably missing or limited.  First off toilet paper.  I didn't see any of it.  I understand why there was a run on it early on, but I'm surprised that it is still unavailable.  (I also went to Costco a week ago and they were out too).  I did find paper towels at the front of the store with a limit of one, so be sure to check there.  Lysol and Clorox cleaner shelves were empty but a sign said to ask at the register and there was a limit of 1.  I didn't need any so didn't check to see if they were actually available.  Paper plates and cutlery were well stocked, which is an improvement from last week.

Frozen vegetables were pretty picked over, still some but might not be what you want.  Frozen ice cream treats were better than the last couple of weeks but the freezers were out of at least three quarters of the varieties.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Some flowers to brighten your day

 Over the weekend I went for a walk on the C&O Canal. Spring is in full bloom and I saw many beautiful flowers growing along the tow path.  here are a few of them.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Outdoors and excercising with distance

For the past three weeks I've been working from home and exercising by walking around the neighborhood.  This past weekend I really wanted to go for a long walk and have a change of scenery.  Mid March I went to Great Falls (which was great, btw) but the towpath between Great Falls Tavern and the Billy Goat Trail was pretty crowded and I wanted to go somewhere it was easier to maintain my social distance.

I went further north up the canal to get away from the crowds.  I skipped Swain's Lock because it is close enough to Great Falls it gets some of that traffic and it has a small parking area.  There are several other spots that are just a short distance further, the one I chose was Rileys Lock which is conveniently on Rileys Lock Road.  This is where Seneca Creek joins the Potomac River.

There were other people there, walking, running, and hiking but they were easy enough to keep a distance from.  You can see from these first two pictures that much of the time there was no one in sight.

If you choose to bike there, be warned, the tow path isn't as smooth after Riley's lock as it is before and there are muddy areas.  Since it hasn't rained hard in a while they were generally easy to avoid, but in past years when I've gone it has occasionally been treacherous.

Here's a father that will let nothing get in a way.  He was riding on a bicycle built for two with his pre-teen child helping pedal.  Behind that were two more kids in a double trailer (one behind the other) and behind that was another trailer with 3 bikes in it.  I can only imagine the amount of energy pedaling that took.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Explosives permit for WMAL tower demoliton expires

At the end of the driveway at the WMAL transmitter field (7115 Greentree Rd) there is a wooden pole with a number of permits attached to it.  Most of them expire in December, but one of them expired on March 27th.  The one that expired is the one that allows them to "manufacture, dispose, purchase, store, use, possess, or transport explosives within the jurisdiction".  Or, to put it bluntly, they can't blow up the towers anymore.  This isn't a deal breaker, I am sure they can apply for a new one, but it does show you that the demolition of the towers is no longer imminent.

The Three other permits I saw are:

  • Sediment Control Permit, expires late November. Gives permission to "Disturb 18,000 square feet" for the purpose of a "small land disturbing activity" (yeah, that's really what it says)
  • Right-of-way Construction Permit, expires mid December.  Gives permission to "restore and / or repair driveway"
  • Demolition / Move Permit, expires early December.  Gives permission to "Demolish Commercial Miscellaneous struc", that is the "Demolition of radio transmission towers"

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Overturned tractor trailer inner loop after 270 spur

There is an overturned tractor trailer on the inner loop of I-495 after the exit to the I-270 spur (exit 38) and before Old Georgetown Road.  It closes two of the three lanes, keep to the right to get by.

Given how light traffic is on the outer loop, I don't know how much of a backup this is causing, but there are a steady stream of cars making their way past.  A crane is on the scene now preparing to pull the trailer back upright.

This week's grocery update

Overall, the situation at the grocery store continues to improve.  I only took pictures of aisle that were having out of stock situations, so just looking at these photos will make it seem worse than it really is.

Perishable food that is in stock: fresh fruit and vegetables, beef, chicken (they were stocking that while I was there), eggs, milk, bread.  Basically all the perishable food was well stocked though there were the occasional places where some brands or flavors were unavailable, I noticed a limited selection of almond milk.

Also in stock but possibly limited variety: Pasta (mostly just spaghetti available) but plenty of pasta sauce, soup, flour, mac & cheese, tuna, chicken nuggets, frozen meals, frozen pizza.  Cleaning supplies were better stocked than last week but still a bit picked over.  Canned and dried beans as well as canned vegetables are also available in limited quantities and varieties, but more than last week.

This brings us to stuff that was sold out (or mostly sold out)  The top picture on the left is the candy aisle.  The were almost entirely out of candy.  The horror.  I don't know if it is that they are really short on it, or if they just have prioritized stocking essentials.  There was some Easter candy scattered around the store, so if you really need your sugar fix you can get it.  On the right side the empty shelves usually contain boxes of cake and muffin mix.  There were just a couple of options, you can really tell what people don't find appetizing.

Here's the other surprise.  This is the ice cream novelties (ice cream bars and such)  It is almost entirely empty.  On the right side of the pictures is the fake ice cream (halo top, and other non-dairy frozen stuff) There was plenty of that.  Outside of the picture is the actual ice cream.  There was very limited supply of that.

I'm a little surprised that toilet paper (on the right) is still out of stock.  I figured that by now anyone who was going to buy 20 packages already had.  Other paper products like plates and plastic cutlery (on the left) are also out of stock.  I bet they weren't planning on selling so many this early in the year.

Also of note: There were a lot more people wearing masks this week than last week.  It is getting to be fashionable.

Friday, March 27, 2020

How is rush hour?

Yesterday I went in to work during rush hour for the first time since the CoViD-19 restrictions started.  As you would expect, traffic was lighter than a normal rush hour, but how much lighter?  I took these pictures at about 8:50 am, normally the peak of rush hour.
End of MD355 merge lanes: This is usually one of the larger bottlenecks on the inner loop of the beltway, it is where the merge lane from Maryland 355 (Rockville Pike) ends.  People stay in the merge lane (on the left of the picture) up until the very end and it slows the left lane down significantly as they merge in.

Inner Loop near the Mormon Temple: This is between Connecticut Avenue and George Avenue, you can see the Mormon temple in the distance to the left. You can see the outer loop traffic is also much lighter than usual.

George Avenue exit: Another common slowdown, this is approaching the exit for Georgia Avenu (MD 97) in Silver Spring.  Not very crowded today.

Monday, March 23, 2020

How are the grocery stores holding up?

In an effort to have less close contact with people, I haven't been to the grocery store in a week.  Last time I went they were out of stock on a ton of stuff, so I was curious about how well stocked they would be today.  I went early this morning, around 7:30am. First stop was the produce section, as you can see it was well stocked, I didn't see that they were out of anything.

Toilet paper and cleaning supplies were another issue entirely.  I saw no toilet paper or paper towels (although as I was going in, I saw someone leaving with a few roles of paper towels) and there was only a limited supply of Kleenex and paper plates and cups. There were probably only a dozen bottles of sanitizing cleaning sprays. This seems a bit more than they can't put things on the shelf fast enough since I'd expect this to be a priority.

The meat section looked like it might be more of a stocking situation than a shortage.  There was plenty of beef and ham, but no chicken or pork. (also plenty of fish and shrimp).

Pasta's and soups had limited selection, but if you weren't picky about which type of pasta there was plenty, including of the kind that is on sale this week.

Canned vegetables, rice, and beans also seems more like them not being able to stock fast enough, some types and brands there were plenty of (like black beans) Others were out of stock or very low (there were 4 cans of chick peas, I took two).

A few of the other staples I didn't take pictures of, but, there was no flour, plenty of sugar, no eggs, and plenty of bread and milk.  All in all, it looks like things are holding up very well given the circumstances.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Free parking at the Del Rey/Auburn Avenue garage

As part of the county's response to CoViD-19, parking is temporarily free at the parking garage that opens to Del Rey Avenue and Auburn Avenue.  They also have created some free curbside pickup zones to help with picking up food from restaurants.  No word on how long this will last.
One question I have though is: How do you violate free parking?  If you try and pay will they ticket you?  I suppose the county has more important things to do than clear up this conundrum.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

So I went to the grocery store this morning....

I went food shopping early this morning and I would say there is no reason to panic about empty shelves.  Yes, there were a lot of products that were out, but it seemed to be more about them being able to restock fast enough.  Take the above picture, it looks like there is no bread right?  But it it because there is a shortage or just because the daily bread delivery hasn't arrived?  I believe it is the latter, because if you look closely you see there is bread at the far end of the shelf.  That is the full stocking of Martin's potato bread products (sliced bread and various types of rolls).

While I was there I saw about 8 people stocking shelves.  The two cards on the left of the above picture is full of pasta sauce and pasta noodles, straight ahead is a pallet of flour and sugar.  I also saw a pallet of various types of tomatoes at the front of the store and two employees were getting ready to restock the prepared lettuces and salads.
At the time I was there they only had matchstick cut carrots which was disappointing.

I also found it interesting that there was no organic milk but plenty of non-organic milk.  I don't know if that is a commentary on the people who live in Bethesda or if they had just re-stocked one type of milk and hadn't yet got to the other.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

RIP Whittier Woods ES

 The demolition has started on the old site of Whittier Woods Elementary school located on Whittier Blvd in Bethesda, MD.

The building is being torn down to make way for the expansion of Walt Whitman High School next door.  When completed the addition will house a dance studio, five science labs and 18 classrooms and will also have a courtyard area.

This site most recently held Petals Child Development Center, and before that whittier Woods Center / Kenwood Park Children's Center.

The front part of the building is completely torn down, but a significant part of the back of the building remains.

This Saturday the demolition was still proceeding, moving debris and sorting the metal from the rest.

By the end of the day all was quiet and there were piles of neatly sorted rubble.  Bricks in one spot, metal in another, and a big pile of wood and miscellaneous construction bits.  There is still part of the building standing so they are not done.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Construction starting at the WMAL field

For the past 5 years Toll Brothers has been planning on redeveloping the WMAL transmitter field located at 7115 Greentree Rd in Bethesda, MD.  They have developed the plans and gotten the approvals, but there hasn't been much in the line of changes on the ground.

This week there have been changes.  They have fenced off most of the field and were actively working around one of the radio towers when I was there.

The field has long had a path running long the edge making a large 1.25 mile circuit that is popular with runners and dog walkers.  The fence impacts this path in a number of places.  From Greentree Road around to Derbyshire lane there are on or two short stretches where you have a narrow spot between the fence and the brush, but these are easily navigated.

From Derbyshre to Renita Lane the fence is far from the path and doesn't cause any problems.

 However, getting from Greentree road to Renita Lane along the I-495 side of the field requires being a bit more adventurous.  The fence is very close to the brush for the whole length.

  While I was there I did see a local resident trimming back some tree branches, so this route may get easier over the next week or two.

What's next?  Before construction starts in earnest, those radio towers need to come down.  They stopped being used on May 1, 2018 so that is not an impediment.  It looks like that is what they are working on and they could come down very soon.