Water Cooler Observations, May 27, 2020

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By Stephen W. Hiemstra

I am all zoomed out.

It is not that I dislike Zoom or interacting with people online, but fatigue has set in. Cabin fever grows more stressful seeing the beautiful spring weather and needing to soldier on indoors alone. I am starting to understand why many people have thrown all caution to the wind and begun to party hardy. Still, I have enough sense not to engage in such behavior.

In recent years, my custom during the Memorial Day weekend is to make a bi-annual pilgrimage to Leesburg’s Outlet Mall. Normally, I would drive up before the opening on Friday so as to find a good parking place and walk the length of the mall visiting all the shops carrying men’s clothing. Then, ladened with all my bargain deals I would drive home for lunch.

This week I visited a men’s store online and ordered a few shirts. I did not purchase nearly as much as usual, but I am not sure where I would show off my new clothes anyway.

Local Corona Virus Statistics

Here in Centreville, Virginia we describe the local area as Western Fairfax,  which means that we sit on the border with Prince William County. Normally, we go to Fairfax Hospital, which is 4.8 miles east, but we could just as easily go to Prince William Hospital, which is 5.3 miles west.

Viewed through the lens of corona virus, the risk levels in the two counties are substantially different. During May, the average mortality rate in Fairfax County was 3.4 percent, while in Prince William County it was 2.3 percent. Fairfax County has had substantially more corona virus cases, an average 235 cases daily, while Prince Williams has had only 122 cases on average daily. The quality of care is likely not the determining factoring these differences.

Looking at the daily numbers for Fairfax County, the peak number of cases and deaths was reached in early May. On May 3, 31 people died while yesterday (May 25) only 4 deaths were reported.

Re-Open for Business?

The re-opening of many businesses and activities has started, but the consequences in terms of cases and deaths may not be immediately obvious. The numbers have been going up and down in waves during the week. This makes separating changes from normal variance difficult until broader averages are compared.

The politicization of the question of how to re-open is unfortunate, but it is a product of the class divisions separating the country right now. These divisions used to be between white-collar and blue-collar workers. Now, the division is between those able to work at home and those who cannot.

For those able to work at home, this pandemic will end once an effective vaccine becomes available. In the meantime, the financial impact may be rather minimal as long as you continue to work.

For those unable to work from home, the pandemic will likely end sooner as people get sick and recover (or not). Sheltering in place delays the onset of the virus, but the economic cost is direct and obvious because of lost work.

Political Implications

Because the financial impact of staying home and closed is much greater for some than for others and the class divide grows the longer businesses are closed, people have gotten vocal about getting back to work. Ironically, the political implications of are not necessarily obvious.

On the one hand, the White House usually gets blamedfairly or unfairlyfor a weak economy. Others have piled on in this blame game.

On the other hand, the White House has supported financial assistance to those hurt and has advocated strongly for re-opening the economy. And those arguing for a smart re-open strategy have been only partially successful in getting people to complyeven among the minorities hardest hit by this pandemic.

Given what has happened, this pandemic has probably been a political wash. How people interpret events is more likely influenced by their default political settings than by the government response. Turnout rates will likely be the deciding factor in the election once again.

Water Cooler Observations, May 27, 2020

Also see:

Water Cooler Observations, May 20, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, May 13, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, May 6, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, April 29, 2020

Interview about the Corona Life in English and Spanish with Stephen W. Hiemstra, April 24, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, April 22, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, April 15, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, April 8, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, April 1, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, March 25, 2020

Corona Virus Versus the Flu

Black Plague

CDC Flu Statistics

Managing Change 

Believer’s Prayer

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Release_2020

Continue Reading

Water Cooler Observations, May 20, 2020

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By Stephen W. Hiemstra

As I write this morning (5/19/2020), the rate of increase in corona virus deaths in Fairfax County, Virginia and other places has begun to decline. Worldwide rates of increase in daily deaths that were at the end of April in 2 to 5 percent range are now in the 1 to 3 percent range. Calculus students will all remember that a maximum is reached when the rate of increase in change falls to zero. While this pandemic is clearly not over because we still do not have effective tests, treatments, and vaccines, these figures are encouraging.

What’s Changed?

In our family, 2020 is likely to be remembered as the year of the cook. Part of the pleasure of becoming reacquainted as a family has been a new found interesting in cooking shows, cookware, and much better meals. No gap between millennials and boomers has emerged in this trend. We are not only eating better, we are eating more healthy. Who would have thunk that a vegetarian dish could actually be tasty and filling?

Our relationship with technology has obviously changed. While I have participated in at least four Zoom conferences a week, my wife, Maryam, has learned to teach and interact with students online. Virtually every church now has an online service through Facebook, YouTube, or a streaming addition to their website. Many churches now also offer telephone worship for their seniors who are not tech savvy. Now that these skills and investments have been made and proven effective, it is likely that they will remain in service long after the pandemic is behind us.

As an author, I have noticed an increase in book sales. Because I write about Christian spirituality, this trend suggests that people are starting to pay greater attention to faith.

Phases of a Transition

A transition is a period of change consisting of three phases: beginning, middle, and end. In the beginning of a transition, one realizes that things are different but look backwards to the way things used to be. In the middle of a transition, no clear direction is apparent and uncertainty reaches a fever-pitch. In the end of a transition, the end of the tunnel is in sight and one begins to sprint towards it.

In early March we began this pandemic transition practicing a low of panic and believing that this crisis would last only a couple weeks. From mid-March until early May, we found ourselves in the middle phase where uncertainty, denial, and anger were readily obvious. This last week we began what will be a lengthy end phase to this transition.

The end phase is distinguished by the widespread appreciation for the need for testing and the development of vaccines and treatments. It will be a long end phase because appreciation of what needs to be done is constrained by the technical details of actually producing the required tests, vaccines, and treatments.

Innovation

The biblical transition most often discussed is the Exodus of the nation of Israel out of Egypt which was followed by forty years in the desert and entry into the Promised Land. In spite of the drama of the Exodus and the entry, it was the forty years in the desert where the people of Israel discovered their faith in God. In the middle of the transition, with all its uncertainty, we innovate and discover whose we really are.

A persistent question over the past couple weeks has been: how much of the faith and serenity of my grandparents arose because they lived through things like the Spanish flu, two world wars, and the Great Depression? We live in a similar season of trials and temptationswill we learn similar lessons? If so, which ones?

Water Cooler Observations, May 20, 2020

Also see:

Water Cooler Observations, May 13, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, May 6, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, April 29, 2020

Interview about the Corona Life in English and Spanish with Stephen W. Hiemstra, April 24, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, April 22, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, April 15, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, April 8, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, April 1, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, March 25, 2020

Corona Virus Versus the Flu

Black Plague

CDC Flu Statistics

Managing Change 

Believer’s Prayer

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Release_2020

Continue Reading

Water Cooler Observations, May 13, 2020

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By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The first steps to re-open the economy have begun in many localities. We all recognize that the number of infections and deaths will rise, but the grim reality is that we have no choice. The cost of shutting down the economy fall too heavily on those unable to work from home.

Co-Pays Lower Risk

Christians are not fatalistic. We believe the God works through us and with us to determine our fate (Risk Takers for Christ). What we do with our lives has eternal significance because we are created in the image of a sovereign and powerful God.

A helpful parallel exists in the world of insurance. Being fatalistic implies that nothing we do matters; everything is determined by God. The Islamic expressionif God wills—captures this fatalistic concept. So during the annual Hajj to Mecca, it used to be that accidents, like tent fires, would occur during the Hajj because the tents employed did not include fire extinguishers. True fatalism allows no precautions, like insurance, to mitigate losses because they are the will of God should they occur.

The alternative to fatalism is to allow God’s influence to work through us. The insurance world employs this principle in the case of a co-pay. A co-pay reduces the cost of insurance by recognizing that the insured can affect the probability of a loss occurring by their behavior. The co-pay motivates the insured to take precautions and lower their risk. Fewer accidents occur, which lowers the overall cost of insurance.

The application of the principle of co-pays to the corona virus pandemic is to practice social distancing, use face masks and gloves, and stigmatize anyone that does not not take precautions. The government can help in this process by ticketing offenders and publicizing cases where people sue those that infect them, should the anti-social behavior be egregious. A further step might be to assign liability to those practicing anti-social behaviors.

No Risk-Free Life

There is no such thing as a risk-free life, but some are more prudent than others about their risk taking. An example can be made from the investing world.

A truly risk-adverse person often has trouble making money in investing. If you keep your money in cash or things like savings bonds, it is hard to earn a good rate of return. But how do you learn to invest if you are too risk-adverse? The short answer is that you need to read about investing, practice making investments, and make a few mistakes.

A prudent risk-taker takes small steps to learn about new investment ideas. My rule-of-thumb is to limit new investment ideasrisky ideas—to less than five percent of my portfolio. You will never become rich following my five-percent rule, but you will also never miss out on the opportunities that arise. What works in stock investing also works in career choices.

In a stock market today, fortunes will be made and lost on such principles. I have several friends who lost their retirement savings in the 1990s betting on tech stocks and ignoring my five-percent rule. In the Great Depression, an uncle of mine bet everything on purchasing a section of farmland (one square mile of land) in Northern Iowa and, as a consequence, was able to live comfortably the rest of his life. The bottomline in investing is that you have to take your chances and live with the consequences, both good and bad.

The question of how to re-open the economy is no different. Allowing governors to manage the response of states have shown that not all of them have the same risk-management skills and approaches. Some governors are taking baby steps to re-open while others are betting the farm on an all-or-nothing approach. Germany has taken the former approach while Sweden has taken the laterGermany currently has a 4.4 percent mortality rate while Sweden’s is 12.3 percent.

No one honestly reporting corona virus statistics has a mortality rate of zero.

Water Cooler Observations, May 13, 2020

Also see:

Water Cooler Observations, May 6, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, April 29, 2020

Interview about the Corona Life in English and Spanish with Stephen W. Hiemstra, April 24, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, April 22, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, April 15, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, April 8, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, April 1, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, March 25, 2020

Corona Virus Versus the Flu

Black Plague

CDC Flu Statistics

Managing Change 

Believer’s Prayer

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Release_2020

 

Continue Reading

Water Cooler Observations, May 6, 2020

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the quiet changes of recent weeks has been the rediscovery of private space. It is hard to get lost in the crowd when there is no longer a crowd to get lost in.

While some still try to drown out the drearies with alcohol or streaming videosales of both are up, sales of spiritual books are also up. Personal reflection and the still, small voice of God is being given more space.

One of my favorite woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) is the Knight, Death, and the Devil. The woodcut shows the knight on a stately horse in his armor followed by his dog and being tempted by the devil. Far from being tempted, the knight ignores the devil and continues on his journey. Meanwhile, the dismal landscape around them is littered with skulls, a symbol of death and destruction.

The photograph above shows me playing in the snow around 1955 on my grandfather’s farm in Oskaloosa, Iowa. The farm today is overgrown with weeds and trees. The buildings have long since disappeared. The only reminder of the feedlot is a dry tap from the well. The farmhouse belongs to the neighbor and has been rented out to local kids that neglect it.

The proud private space that my grandfather’s farm represented has physically been lost, but it is not forgotten by those that once lived there. The space we now occupy is better heated and has conveniences that we might never have imaged in 1955. Yet, the temptations remain. The death and destruction seen once on battlefields of the past and represented by the cold, snows of winter also remain. The question is whether we still have the fortitude like the knight to give the devil a cold shoulder.

Water Cooler Observations, May 6, 2020

Also see:

Water Cooler Observations, April 29, 2020

Interview about the Corona Life in English and Spanish with Stephen W. Hiemstra, April 24, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, April 22, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, April 15, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, April 8, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, April 1, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, March 25, 2020

Corona Virus Versus the Flu

Black Plague

CDC Flu Statistics

Managing Change 

Believer’s Prayer

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Release_2020

 

Continue Reading

Water Cooler Observations, April 29, 2020

Hiemstra_FHFA_02052009

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven (Eccl 3:1 ESV).

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Thinking about the lesson of Ecclesiastes 3 is easy: the best time to take out the garbage is on garbage day! While this seems like a brilliant statement of the obvious, we often respond, not pragmatically, but with denial and, so to speak, try to put garbage out on the wrong days.

My own career as an economist is a case in point. In the 1980s, U.S. agriculture was in crisis and many agricultural banks failed. I had trained as a European analyst, learning French, Spanish, and German, and studying abroad twice during my graduate school years, expertise that was quickly becoming obsolete because of such things like the Internet. Seeing that recruiters wanted financial economists, not European analysts, I went into finance in spite of a lack of specific training and set aside my beloved work in European affairs. This career move was painful, but financially was the best career move that I ever made.

My point? Crises create both problems and opportunities. It’s garbage dayare you willing to take out the garbage?

What Season is It?

Whether or not the politicians open the local economy or not, the corona pandemic is likely to a multiyear event, ending either when we have an effective vaccine or “herd immunity.” Pronouncements to date about a vaccine suggest that a vaccine may be available as early as 2021. Herd immunity will be reached once most of the population gets the corona virus and develop immunity. To date, less than one percent of the U.S. population has been exposed to the virus suggesting a long, uphill battle with this pandemic.

So what do we do in the meantime?

With roughly 26 million Americans out of work, the economic crisis parallels the Great Depression of the 1930s, which lasted about a decade. Social programs (the New Deal) introduced during the 1930s include the minimum wage, social security, various work programs, and encouraging students to complete high school (to keep them out of the workforce). A lot of the monuments and government buildings in Washington DC were constructed during this period. Unfortunately, the government’s best efforts to deal with the crisis did not end the pain. It was World War II that put Americans back to work.

Because of the economic stresses that many people currently feel, I expect that once this pandemic is over many more people will be living in three-generation households. We are smarter and stronger together when we depend on each other. The same is true for our church families.

Now is a Good Time to:

Now is a good time to take stock of your life and career while you have time on your hands. If you are employed and can pay your bills, count your blessings.

Now is a good time to spend time with your friends and family. On Easter Sunday, I visited my parents for the first time in six weeks. We watched their church online, ordered pizza, and held a family Zoom conference. (Check out Zoom.com for a free account). My parents had previous done none of these things so it was fun for all of us. Later, I learned that my parent’s church offers a telephone worship service on Sunday mornings that allows one to call in and listen to the entire service without the need for a computer.

Now is a good time to start an exercise program. Corona virus sickens most people and kills those with pre-existing conditions. Obesity is a contributing factor in many of those pre-existing conditions and it is something that you can do something about. Watch what you eat and take walks with your spouse in the evening. It could reduce your chances of a severe case.

Now is a good time to learn new things. In 2003, when I was between jobs, I visited a seminary for the first time. Feeling God’s call on my life, I began studying Greek (the New Testament was originally written in Greek) and began playing hymns daily.

Now is a good time to begin a new spiritual discipline. Pray when you get up and when you go to bed. Start a journal. Start a bible study. Check out a new church online. Join a small group. People are often surprised when I tell them that I view exercise as a spiritual discipline, but I often pray when I am jogging or swimming laps—it is only time that I am truly alone.

May God bless you during this stressful time.

Water Cooler Observations, April 29, 2020

Also see:

Interview about the Corona Life in English and Spanish with Stephen W. Hiemstra, April 24, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, April 22, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, April 15, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, April 8, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, April 1, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, March 25, 2020

Corona Virus Versus the Flu

Black Plague

CDC Flu Statistics

Managing Change 

Believer’s Prayer

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Release_2020

Continue Reading

Water Cooler Observations, April 22, 2020

Hiemstra_FHFA_02052009The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Prov 1:7 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In small group discussions this week, we talked about the nature of wisdom.

One interpretation of wisdom arises through distinguishing different types of knowledge. In my book, Simple Faith (2019), I distinguish three types of knowledge: knowledge about what is (positivistic knowledge), knowledge about values (normative knowledge), and knowledge about what to do (prescriptive knowledge). Prescriptive knowledge is necessarily contextual and often referred to colloquially as wisdom.

In the context of the current corona virus pandemic, we face large and uncertain threats, but also large uncertainty about all three of these types of knowledge. High levels of uncertainty have pushed decisions up the chain of the command in cities, states, and countries, which is the natural response when the delegated authorities of other leaders have been exceeded.

This is clearly a Gethsemane moment, when we have the choice between turning into our pain or turning to God. But, what does turning to God look like? In a similar crisis—the U.S. Civil War—President Lincoln declared a national day of prayer—Thanksgiving. This is an important precedent for the current crisis because in turning to God we admit our inadequacy and turn away from various traps, like political division. Being open to God’s will for our lives is an obvious plea for wisdom, which we sorely lack.

In the secular realm, our current dilemma appears like the classic venture capital problem. Venture capitalists normally operate in an investment context of high uncertainty and, potentially, high rates of return. How does a venture capitalist respond? Set goals and work on figure out what you need to know to achieve them, much like the moon landing in the 1960s using techniques like decision trees and project management approaches.

When President Kennedy announced the objective of putting a man on the moon and returning him safely home again, no one knew how to do it because it had never been done before. I suspect that white boards were brought out, a list of things unknown was identified, and project managers were assigned the task of exploring the unknowns with deadlines for completion.

The Swedish Experiment

In the midst of the corona virus pandemic, the Swedish have apparently decided to continue with business as usual rather than having people shelter in place. This decision was not made out of ignorance, but out of recognition that we do not know the costs involved in alternative strategies.

Social distancing is a policy that evolved out of experience of the Spanish flu in 1918. U.S. cities that practiced social distancing had lower mortality rates than those that did not. In the current crisis, the argument is that by slowing down the transmission of the corona virus, hospitals will be able to treat the victims more adequately because resource constraints on staff and things like ventilators will not be exceeded. Hence, fewer people will die for lack of medical attention.

The Swedish response is to ask whether hospitals are actually able to save more patients than simply having them remain at home.If hospital care does not change actual mortality experience or changes mortality rates only modestly (about two-thirds of patients on ventilators have been reported to die anyway), then the social cost of shutting down the economy may seem to be a drastic measure.

In any case, we really do not know the actual cost of these trade-offs. Is the effect of hospital care simply an example of the placebo effect, where doing anything seems offer improvement that is, in fact, illusionary? We hope that hospital care is a real benefit because in shutting down the U.S. economy we have bet a significant sum to gain this benefit.

Measurement Problem

We really do not know what the mortality rates are from corona virus. Mortality rates currently mask actual mortality rates because deaths are divided into the more difficult cases where tests are administrated. If we tested everyone, we might learn that the mortality rates are actually much lower than reported.

The variance in reported cases suggests extreme uncertainty about mortality rates. In Europe where everyone has social medicine, mortality rates average 10.5 percent. Sweden has a rate of 10.7 percent; in France it is 17.5 percent. In the United States, the mortality rate 5.3 percent on April 18, 2020, exceeding the mortality rate for U.S. Marines (5.2 percent) during World War 2.

The Trade-offs

A meaningful strategy for dealing with the corona virus requires knowledge about three public policy strategies and their cost:

1. Develop herd immunity (the Swedish alternative) without sheltering in place (likely costs the most lives; likely least expensive).

2. Shelter in place until a vaccine becomes available (saves most lives; likely the most expensive).

3. Shelter in place until antibody tests give a green light to come out (unclear how effective in saving lives).

These strategies can be used together. We could, for example, shelter the most vulnerable people while opening the economy, but unfortunately we do not know whether sheltering some is even possible as a practical matter.

The hand-wringing and finger pointing that surrounds conversation about these strategies arises because the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) signed on March 27, 2020 and related announcements by the Federal Reserve implicitly assume the corona crisis will end in weeks not months or years. Because a vaccine is likely not going to be available until 2021, and the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918 went on for roughly four years, these alternatives meed to be seriously researched and discussed. Additional public bailouts are simply not financially possible.

The question is: Which strategy is most cost effective in terms of lives and financial resources spared?

Life at Sea

The infection of people on cruise ships and naval vessels gives us a peek at actual mortality rates when everyone is infected.

Aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the U.S. Navy tested 94 percent of the crew, finding 600 sailors (out of 4,800 sailors) infected. Accordingly to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, 350 of those 600 infected were asymptomatic. As of this writing, the Washington Post reports that only one sailor has died. That yields a mortality rate of less than one percent (0.166 percent = 1/600). Sailors tend to be young and healthy, not a high risk group.

One of the early examples of cruise ship outbreaks in February 2020 resulted in 1,500 infections and 39 deaths (mortality rate of 2.6 percent) in one cruise line, more than any nation other than China at the time. More than two-thirds of the passengers on one such cruise ship were over the age of 65, a healthy strata of high risk group. This compares with media reports of up to half of the corona virus death in the United States being among nursing home residents, a high risk group with pre-existing conditions where mortality rates of around 20 percent have been reported. Still, most corona virus deaths have been of patients who were otherwise living without extraordinary medical intervention.

Summing Up

We all will die. The mortality rate of human beings taken over 120 years is one hundred percent. The question is whether we can live a faithful life between now and then, pointing those around us to God and his salvation in Jesus Christ.

I published my new book, Living in Christ, this week in Kindle on Amazon.com. Once a paperback edition is released within the next couple weeks, I will begin advertising more actively.

Water Cooler Observations, April 22, 2020

Also see:

Water Cooler Observations, April 15, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, April 8, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, April 1, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, March 25, 2020

Corona Virus Versus the Flu

Black Plague

CDC Flu Statistics

Managing Change 

Believer’s Prayer

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Meet_2020

Continue Reading

Water Cooler Observations, April 15, 2020

Tot_Lot_20200414by Stephen W. Hiemstra

On Easter Sunday I broke quarantine for the first time in six weeks to spend time with my parents. For the first time, we participated in online church, ordered pizza, and hosted a family Zoom conference. Because my parents are both eighty-nine, this was a memorable Easter for them and for me.

If you have never hosted a Zoom conference, go to Zoom.com, register, and get started. A free account will allow you to conference with any number of people for up to forty minutes.

Corona Virus Hot Spots

The United States now has the most corona virus cases and deaths. The mortality rate is currently 4.1 percent, lower than most other hot spots.

Corona Virus Hot Spots:  Cases, Deaths, and Mortality Rates by Countries, April 14, 2020
Countries Region Cases Deaths Mortality rate Share of Cases
United_States_of_America 9 582,594 23,649 4.1% 31.1%
Spain 1 169,496 17,489 10.3% 9.0%
Italy 1 159,516 20,465 12.8% 8.5%
Germany 1 125,098 2,969 2.4% 6.7%
France 1 98,076 14,967 15.3% 5.2%
United_Kingdom 1 88,621 11,329 12.8% 4.7%
China 5 83,303 3,345 4.0% 4.4%
Iran 4 73,303 4,585 6.3% 3.9%
Turkey 4 61,049 1,296 2.1% 3.3%
Belgium 1 30,589 3,903 12.8% 1.6%
Sub-total 1,471,645 103,997 7.1% 78.6%
World 1,873,265 118,854 6.3% 100.0%
Source: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

Cabin Fever

Although I continue taking walks with my wife, Maryam, in the evening, my experience of cabin fever has been especially intense this week. Cabin fever is named for the problem pioneers faced being stuck indoors during long winters with little or nothing to do except get sick, suffer freezing weather, and watch the food supply evaporate.

The plot of a 2014 film with Tommy Lee Jones and Hillary Swank, The Homesman, revolved around returning three pioneer wives that went insane during the winter to their families on account of cabin fever in the 1850s. Mary Bee Cuddy, a spinster played by Hillary Swank, was not one of the three, but she ended up so despondent during the journey that she hung herself along the way.

What do you do to cope with cabin fever?

Gethsemane Moment

Where do you turn when you experience pain?

Reading media accounts of responses to corona virus suggests that many Americans do not turn to God in their time of distress. Alcohol sales are skyrocketing, pet adoptions are up, and many people are having meltdowns.

This is a good time to take an afternoon walk in the sunshine and ask God to draw you closer:

Ever-present father,

I praise you for another day and the many people in my life.

Forgive my aloofness and self-absorption.

Thank you for your hedge of protection in the midst of chaos.

Draw me to yourself. Open my heart; enlighten my mind; strengthen my hands in your service that I might rest with you today and everyday.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Also see:

Water Cooler Observations, April 8, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, April 1, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, March 25, 2020

Corona Virus Versus the Flu

Black Plague

CDC Flu Statistics

Managing Change 

Believer’s Prayer

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Meet_2020

 

 

 

Continue Reading

Water Cooler Observations, April 8, 2020

Hiemstra_FHFA_02052009By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Midwesterners have a reputation for being friendly people. As a kid, I spent a lot of time on my grandparent’s farm where the reason for the positive attitudes was very simple. Out on the farm, you did not see a lot of people and, when you did, you were happy to see them.

Walking around the neighborhood these past several weeks, I have seen more smiling faces than all last year. As I enter my fifth week sheltering in place, I too am happy to see my neighbors.

Secondary Trauma

The relentless discussion of corona virus on television is triggering a form of secondary trauma that manifests itself as unexplained anxiety. Secondary trauma normally refers to the trauma induced in caregivers during horrible disasters, like plane crashes and earthquakes. Seeing large numbers of suffering people can overwhelm the caregivers, triggering anxiety and depression.

If you suffer from secondary trauma, limit your television time watching news reports and try getting outside. Sunshine and exercise are natural anti-depressants that you can use to keep a healthy balance.

Bright Spots

Optimism today centered around decreasing hospital admissions in NYC (probably due to social distancing) and the discovery of an antibody treatment (link) that may soon be available to first responders.

Antibody treatment is really good news, but it is not a vaccine. How quickly it can be rolled out, remains to be seen.

Social distancing works to reduce hospital admissions by spreading out the caseload over time. This allows hospitals to treat the critically ill patients without exceeding capacity limitations on staff and equipment, like ventilators. This way lives are saved that might otherwise have been lost.

Corona Statistics

For me, reviewing statistics on the corona virus is an anxiety-inducing event. The mortality rate in the U.S. rose today to 3.0 percent with the cases and deaths both rising about ten percent daily.

Corona Virus Cases, Deaths, and Mortality Rates by Region, April 7, 2020
Countries Cases Deaths Mortality Rates
Count Change 1/ Count Change 1/
Western Europe 611,964 4.4% 51,223 6.5% 8.4%
Eastern Europe 26,329 6.7% 674 14.0% 2.6%
Africa 9,758 6.7% 473 8.7% 4.8%
Middle East 110,502 6.7% 4,611 5.2% 4.2%
Asia 119,236 2.2% 3,891 0.6% 3.3%
Australia and New Zealand 6,787 2.0% 43 16.2% 0.6%
Pacific 11,290 7.8% 472 6.5% 4.2%
Atlantic 87 11.5% 9 28.6% 10.3%
North America 385,404 9.0% 11,334 13.9% 2.9%
Central America 5,469 8.8% 212 18.4% 3.9%
Caribbean 2,669 5.1% 116 7.4% 4.3%
Latin America 27,493 7.2% 1,008 12.5% 3.7%
World 1,316,988 5.8% 74,066 7.4% 5.6%
1/ Percentage change from prior day reported
Source: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

Corona virus hot spots around the world are much worse than the U.S. Europe remains the worst hit area of the world with Italy and France reporting mortality rates above 12 percent, likely because of a large elderly population. The Europe situation is particularly worrisome because European have socialized medicine not available in the U.S.

In the U.S. we have many undocumented workers and others not covered by health insurance. Think of all the people laid off in recent weeks. If these people are slow to ask for medical treatment when they need it, then they may infect others and  the U.S. mortality rates will rise to compete with European rates.

Corona Virus Hot Spots by Country, April 7, 2020
Countries Region Cases Deaths Mortality rates
Italy 1 132,547 16,525 12.5%
France 1 74,390 8,911 12.0%
United_Kingdom 1 51,608 5,373 10.4%
Netherlands 1 18,803 1,867 9.9%
Spain 1 135,032 13,055 9.7%
Indonesia 7 2,491 209 8.4%
Belgium 1 20,814 1,632 7.8%
Sweden 1 7,206 477 6.6%
Iran 4 60,500 3,739 6.2%
Mexico 10 2,439 125 5.1%
Note: Counties with at least 2,000 cases.
Source: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

Pre-Existing Conditions

What counts as a pre-existing condition to raise mortality rates for corona virus patients?

Your probability of death about doubles for age groups over sixty, being male, and having certain medical conditions. Heart disease, chronic respiratory ailments, diabetes, hyper-tension, and cancer are all factors more than doubling your risk. Deaths in minority communities are especially high because of these pre-existing conditions.

These statistics come from China where treatment options may be more limited. For details, see (link).

Economy

After 9-11, economists at the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates national banks, were busy doing regional and industrial studies to determine the distribution of losses in the economy and how they would affect banks.

The process of determining these economic effects was to examine the industries that would have obvious problems, like hospitality, airlines, and travel business, and look to the Census data to see where these industries were concentrated. Banks serving those areas were then assumed to have been disproportionally affected.

This week I wondered about how laid off workers would pay their mortgages in the coming months. What happens to their lenders?

Also, corona virus deaths may reach levels not previously seen–what happens to the insurance companies standing behind hospitals and individuals that pass away that have insufficient reserves? Companies like hospitals, pharmacies, and grocery stories are likely to have corona related deaths where infection obviously took place on the job.

Response of Churches

Just about every church now offers some form of online worship on Sundays. Many have added midweek Zoom get togethers, Facebook parties, and video devotions. Many are quite good. Check your favorite church website for details.

Turning to God in Distress: A Gethsemane Moment

When you are in pain or afraid, where do you turn?

When Jesus was facing death in the Garden of Gethsemane, he turned to God instead of his pain and fear.

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt 26:36-39 ESV)

We face a Gethsemane Moment today worldwide. Where will you turn?

Spiritual Disciplines

Turn to God in your pain.

Consider reading Psalm 8 as a prayer, if you can not find the words to pray. I did this myself for about ten years.

Consider practicing continuous prayer–talking to God while you go about your day. I find prayer comes more easily when I am jogging or swimming laps. One of my own prayers is. Prayer for Shelter.

Consider daily journaling. I start my days in the morning with a daily examine–looking for God’s work in your life over the previous day.

Consider daily bible reading or study. I try to read a Psalm daily after I journal. Once I finish reading them all, I start over.

Consider joining a small group. It is a great comfort seeing people and talking with them about what you are going through. If you don’t have a group, check your favorite church website or call the church.

Whatever you do, turn to God.

Water Cooler Observations, April 8, 2020

Also see:

Water Cooler Observations, April 1, 2020

Water Cooler Observations, March 25, 2020

Corona Virus Versus the Flu

Black Plague

CDC Flu Statistics

Managing Change 

Believer’s Prayer

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Meet_2020

 

 

 

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Water Cooler Observations, April 1, 2020

Hiemstra_FHFA_02052009By Stephen W. Hiemstra

During the spring  of 1973 I returned home from college to a new neighborhood in McLean, Virginia where the homes had garages rather than carports. Every day our new neighbors went to and returned from work without leaving their air conditioned houses. An electrical storm the following summer knocked out the power and, with it, the air conditioning. One after the other neighbor came outside to sit on their porch and escape the heat. That was when we finally got to meet them.

Walking in the neighborhood evenings with my wife, Maryam, the past couple weeks, I have seen more kids and adults outside than at any point since my childhood.

Year of the TV Preacher

Over the past two Sundays just about every church that I am associated with (6-8) has started holding services and meditations online. Some have even added midweek online sessions to match Sunday services. TV preacher Joel Olsteen recently reported having broken online attendance recordsabout five million viewers (link).

Local churches have typically not had a sophisticated online presence and the move online has been challenging. At one church that I know, giving is down about fifty percent in recent weeks.

How are local churches to compete in this new online-only environment?

Two observations come to mind.

First, recognize that local churches are unlikely to compete with Joel Olsteen for media sophistication. Don’t play a game that you are not likely to win.

Second, media sophistication is not what most people want today. People are hurting, lonely, and in need of reassurancethey desperately want to see familiar faces. This is where the local church can shine.

My advice to pastors is to check out what other churches are doing and find a format online that fits your style and audience. Personally, I think that the pastors offering online services from their living room couch with the spouse at their side provide the best fit for the current environment—the visual says from my family to yours. This reassures that pastor and parishioner are in this together.

Stat Wars

The daily news is grim. As a former chaplain, my heart goes out to all those patients and hospital staff contending daily with the grim reaper without family support. As field hospitals are built and American companies have diverted their facilities into producing medical supplies, we are writing the book on pandemic response.

Meanwhile, I feel like a contestant in a macabre game show as I spend my days reverse engineering the statistics that Dr. Fauci reports on the daily news. He has earned my respect repeatedly as he focuses on keeping the media and the administration focused on a reasoned response to the crisis. Science has become a contact sport. Perhaps, it always was.

Corona Virus Cases, Deaths, and Mortality Rates by Region, March 31, 2020
Countries Region Cases Deaths Mortality Rates
Count Change Count Change
Western Europe 391,444 7.6% 26,292 11.3% 6.7%
Eastern Europe 13,585 7.0% 196 16.0% 1.4%
Africa 5,043 10.7% 160 15.1% 3.2%
Middle East 62,919 11.2% 3,032 5.9% 4.8%
Asia 104,090 1.1% 3,603 0.6% 3.5%
Australia and New Zealand 5,204 12.0% 20 17.6% 0.4%
Pacific 6,608 15.6% 280 10.7% 4.2%
Atlantic 51 8.5% 1 0.0% 2.0%
North America 172,248 15.3% 3,265 26.8% 1.9%
Central America 2,712 8.3% 66 29.4% 2.4%
Caribbean 1,375 7.2% 52 8.3% 3.8%
Latin America 12,519 9.6% 305 18.2% 2.4%
World 777,798 8.7% 37,272 11.0% 4.8%
Source: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

A key estimate by Dr. Fauci this week was that this pandemic would cost two hundred thousand American lives. Two hundred thousand is two percent of ten million corona virus cases.

Two percent has been the estimated mortality rate for the United States reported since this pandemic began and probably comes from the 1918 experience with the Spanish flu. Today’s rate for the U.S. is 1.9 percent, while the world average is now 4.8 percent (see the table). Italy has a mortality rate today that is 11.4 percent.

Ten million is an estimate of the eventual total case load of corona virus cases for the U.S. Meanwhile, the U.S. population is around three hundred million, suggesting a much larger number of cases.

If I had to guess, Dr. Fauci’s estimate is the result of a government oversight committee negotiation, focused on managing the optics. While this sounds political, managing fear is on every leader’s mind because fear compounds the underlying problem. Whether you consider the mortality rate or the caseload assumed in this calculation, the estimate is the most optimistic figure that could be reported with a straight face.

The two million death figure, which entered the briefing styled as a worst case scenario, arises from considering the population, not caseloads, and reflects a more reasonable set of assumptions. It may still be optimistic. Two percent of three hundred million is about six million, not two and, if the U.S. eventually sees worldwide mortality rates (4.8 percent today), then you have to more than double that figure.

Endgame

The statistics on mortality depend critically on how one expects this pandemic to end.

Social distancing works to reduce mortality rates by keeping the number of critically ill patients under the carrying capacity of the hospital system, thereby minimizing deaths.

For example, if the Washington metro area has thousand beds with ventilators and support staff, and the caseload remains under a thousand, then deaths are minimized (1.9 percent). As the caseload increases over a thousand, the mortality rate rises (4.8 to 11.4 percent). The mortality rate cannot remain at zero because even well-staffed and supplied hospitals will lose patients with pre-existing conditions.

This pandemic ends when one of two things happens. Either we develop an effective vaccine or so many people get the virus that it can no longer spread (herd immunity). Best estimates that a vaccine is 12-18 months away so the most likely case is that the virus burns itself out like a forest fire that stops spreading because it runs out of forest. This is why Dr. Fauci’s estimate is optimisticten million cases is not the forest.

Caveats

Three caveats are worth mentioning.

First, researchers have been working to develop a therapy involving a direct transfer of antibodies from patients already infected to those in dire straits. This is a novel approach, but it is untested. Other existing therapies are also being tested that relieve the stress that patients experience, improving their chances of survival.

Second, researchers will soon have a quick-turnaround test for corona virus antibodies. While this may not yield a new therapy, it may allow those who have recovered to return safely to work—a critical need in standing up our troubled economy. For many people, getting back to work not only means that they can pay their bills, it improves their access to medical services.

Third, existing conditions kill by offering a one-two punch combined with the corona virus. Continuing to work out and keep a positive attitude improve your chances of survival because a positive attitude strengthens your immune system.

Flu Versus Corona Virus

The story about the flu is helpful in understanding our current dilemma with the corona virus. Influenza is a human pathogen, which implies that the human race has a long history of developing immunity to flu. Johns Hopkins University research recently reported  annual deaths ranging from 12,000 to 61,000 deaths in the U.S. per year. These statistics are well-known, which is why I get a flu shot every year.

While the annual death toll from the flu currently seems high relative to this epidemic, the above statistics are annual numbers while the current death toll from corona virus covers only a couple of weeks. Annualizing (take a weekly death figure and multiply by 52) the current number of deaths from corona virus (3,170 today) yields a number from 80-100 thousand, still a low number compared to estimates above that may suggest an alternative way to understand the Fauci estimate.

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Keep in mind that annualizing losses is wildly sensitive to your technique for coming up with a weekly rate from a number increasing exponentially over time. Averages (a linear estimator) are not representative of nonlinear processes (like exponentially growing numbers), which to the non-mathematically inclined means that this is a very weak method for forecasting mortality rates.

****************************************************************************

Corona virus is not a human pathogen, but a virus that has jumped species from bats to pangolins to humans (link). This is why the virus is so lethal and why we do not have a natural immunity. Apparently, the Black Plague was a pathogen with a similar genesis.

Gethsemane Moment

When you are in pain or afraid, where do you turn?

When Jesus was facing death in the Garden of Gethsemane, he turned to God instead of his pain and fear.

 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt 26:36-39 ESV)

We face a Gethsemane Moment today worldwide. Where will you turn?

Water Cooler Observations, April 1, 2020

Also see:

Water Cooler Observations, March 25, 2020

Corona Virus Versus the Flu

Black Plague

CDC Flu Statistics

Managing Change 

Believer’s Prayer

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Meet_2020

 

 

 

 

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Water Cooler Observations, March 25, 2020

Hiemstra_FHFA_02052009By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Those of you who know me know that in my first career, I was a financial engineer and economist with various federal agencies, as the photo to the right shows.

Starting Wednesday, March 25, 2020, I am going to lean into my background as a recovering economist to offer observations on our distracting world here on T2Pneuma.net. Let me know your questions if this piques your interest.

Corona Virus

During the past week, I was asked by a pastor friend to report on international corona virus statistics. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control,An agency of the European Union, reports daily case and deaths statistics for 166 nations around the world.

These statistics show that mortality rates different significantly by country and region. These differences reflected differing levels of testing, differences in the local spread of the virus, and differing intervention capabilities.

Corona Virus Cases, Deaths, and Mortality Rates by Region, March 24, 2020
Countries Region Cases Deaths Mortality Rates
Count Change Count Change
Western Europe 186,347 13.9% 10,108 16.5% 5.4%
Eastern Europe 5,374 14.9% 40 25.0% 0.7%
Africa 1,689 31.0% 52 23.8% 3.1%
Middle East 28,696 8.6% 1,881 7.9% 6.6%
Asia 96,397 0.8% 3,443 0.7% 3.6%
Australia and New Zealand 1,965 8.5% 7 0.0% 0.4%
Pacific 3,143 41.7% 134 14.5% 4.3%
Atlantic 13 0.0% 0 #DIV/0! 0.0%
North America 48,105 31.3% 614 25.6% 1.3%
Central America 927 13.9% 13 62.5% 1.4%
Caribbean 405 16.4% 5 0.0% 1.2%
Latin America 4,980 18.6% 68 28.3% 1.4%
World 378,041 11.7% 16,365 12.1% 4.3%
Source: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

Mortality rate hot spots include Italy (9.5 %), Indonesia (8.5 %), Iran (7.9 %),  Spain (6.6 %), UK (5.0 %), Netherlands (4.5 %), France (4.3 %), and China (4 %). This list changes daily. By contrast, the U.S. rate is 1.3 percent. Other countries with high rates do not report enough cases to have confidence in the figures.

This crisis will not end until the daily changes in the number of cases begins to decline and mortality rates begin to fall. Currently, worldwide the number of cases increased over yesterday by 11.7 percent and the average mortality rates for reported cases  was 4.3 percent.

Testing Implications

While most testing today is on patients with obvious symptoms, I look forward to a wider field of testing. South Korean data that I saw earlier in the week showed a significant number of young people testing positive who perhaps were asymptomatic.

Several aspects of this asymptomatic phenomena are important. While most commentators have focused on the potential for these people to spread the virus, we need to know who has effectively been inoculated. Before anyone talked about the corona virus in January, my wife was horribly sick with similar symptoms–she never previously took any sick leave. Afterwards, I had a head cold have self-quarantined the past two weeks. If either or both of us are now immune from getting corona virus, then we both need to be out helping others.

The punchline in this discussion is the question: when and how do we stand down safely as a nation from the quarantines? Politicians have begun to talk about this issue. Those who have recovered from the virus presumably have immunity and can safely return to work after some point, but we need to know from physicians when it is safe to do so.

Financial Implications

As a former financial regulator, I worry about the financial system with so many people out of work. Bank regulators normally are required by law and regulation to write off non-performing loans from capital after 90 days. By June, many institutions will be hitting that trigger. While regulators can waive these requirements temporarily, the longer this crisis lingers the more pressing the concern will be.

Insolvent banks are unlikely to make new loans and foreclosures will hit young workers and minorities harder than other groups whose employment is more secure. For those already strapped with student debt, the bind will grow even faster. This outcome could change election outcomes and permanently change people’s attitudes about credit and investing. My grandfather nearly lost the farm in the Great Depression of the 1930s and the experience forever changed his attitude about banking.

Regulators worry about insolvent banks because they have the perverse incentive to take risky bets. If you are going to fail anyway, why not bet the farm, so to speak? Changing accounting rules does not completely negate this effect because then bankers are investing someone else’s money, not their own.

Gethsemane Moment

When you are in pain or afraid, where do you turn? When Jesus was facing death in the Garden of Gethsemane, he turned to God instead of his pain and fear.

 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt. 26:36-39 ESV)

We face a Gethsemane Moment today worldwide. Where will you turn?

Water Cooler Observations, March 25, 2020

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Meet_2020

 

 

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