#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries, Quebec similar to worst hit European countries

A number of us were discussing COVID-19 and the wide variances between different provinces in terms of infections and deaths. So we decided to see what the data looked like, comparing Canada and its provinces to other G7 countries and Australia, with New York and California.

The table below dramatizes just how. bad the situation is in Quebec, where Quebec has the second highest level of infections and the fourth highest level of deaths per million, comparable  to the worst hit European countries (data from the Globe’s daily tracker) Canada without Quebec is better than any other G7 country save Japan.

On the other hand, it highlights the West and Atlantic Canada with lower infection and death rates..

Per Million

2020-05-27

Population

Death

Infection

Death

Infection

New York 19.5 1,502.7 18,658.3 29,302 363,836
UK 66.5 558.3 4,009.1 37,130 266,602
Italy 60.4 545.6 3,817.1 32,955 230,555
Quebec 8.4 492.7 5,785.5 4,139 48,598
France 67.0 425.9 2,729.1 28,533 182,847
USA 326.7 302.8 5,146.7 98,929 1,681,418
Canada 37.8 175.6 2,292.2 6,639 86,647
Ontario 14.4 147.4 1,818.8 2,123 26,191
Germany 82.9 101.2 2,186.9 8,386 181,293
California 39.6 96.6 2,520.5 3,826 99,810
Canada less Quebec 29.3 84.6 1,288.7 2,500 38,049
Alberta 4.4 31.6 1,568.4 139 6,901
British Columbia 5.1 31.6 498.2 161 2,541
Atlantic Canada 2.4 25.8 612.9 62 1,471
Japan 126.5 6.7 131.4 846 16,623
Prairies (MB, SK) 2.6 5.8 356.2 15 926
Australia 25.2 4.1 283.3 103 7,139
Canadian population 2019, other countries 2018
Canada less Quebec 29.3

84.6

1,288.7

2,500

38,049

Suburban families. Young renters. Frail seniors. Data reveals who is most at risk financially and socially across Canada amidst the pandemic

Some impressive integration of diverse data sources that highlights the range of vulnerable groups from a variety of angles:

New data from Environics Analytics highlights communities made vulnerable by coronavirus lockdowns across the country and profiles people at risk — such as young suburban families — that might get overlooked.

The data suggests where governments, businesses and social agencies need to focus supports and services as the economy takes baby steps toward reopening, Environics says.

“Governments are going to have to get more focused and pinpoint who they need to help and how,” says Rupen Seoni, senior vice president at Environics Analytics. “We have to get the right help to the right people.”

The data, which Environics Analytics made available to the Star, scores Canada’s more than 850,000 postal code communities on how likely they are to be vulnerable financially, socially, and by how old and frail their residents might be. The data company also developed profiles of people most at risk in those categories.

The company used thousands of data points from a long list of sources, including its own demographic research, Statistics Canada, the Bank of Canada, Canada Post, aggregated credit scores, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the census and surveys.

Environics found that the most financially vulnerable census metropolitan area in the country is Cold Lake, Alta., largely because of its reliance on the oilsands industry, which has seen the price of its product plummet during the pandemic’s economic fallout.

The least financially vulnerable is Canmore, also in Alberta, and the Greater Toronto Area fares only slightly worse. But the affluence indicated at Toronto’s metropolitan census level masks dense vulnerable pockets of people at the neighbourhood level, Environics notes.

Environics defines financially vulnerable people as those who will struggle to meet financial obligations like mortgages or utility bills if coronavirus lockdowns caused a sudden drop in their income. It’s sadly no surprise that Indigenous people, after generations of colonialism and trauma, appear in this category as highly vulnerable.

More surprising, perhaps, is the high financial vulnerability of young suburban families.

According to Environics, the 700,000 households in this group are affluent when all is well. But they have relatively low savings — $57,000 on average — and a total debt that is double their household income of $105,000.

“They don’t have the liquid assets in savings to fall back on,” Seoni says. “They may be running into trouble in terms of having a sudden loss of income, based on their lifestyles.” Much depends on whether they’re able to continue working at home or in essential services during the lockdown.

Also highly vulnerable financially are “young urban renters,” Environics found.

“The younger renters in cities are not that highly indebted, they just don’t have that much income in the first place,” Seoni says. “When they lose their jobs, there’s just nothing left.”

Young single people in urban areas also face high levels of social vulnerability due to pandemic restrictions on movement.

Environics Analytics defines social vulnerability as people likely to experience isolation and mental health troubles, while having limited social networks and supports. It’s a challenge more prevalent in urban areas rather than rural ones.

Environics found that 36 per cent of young singles surveyed in cities reported feeling a weak sense of community belonging.

“Often, they are transplants into the big city, so their social networks tend to be weaker,” Seoni says. “A good number of them would be students … They’re alone in the city, almost.”

Newcomers to Canada also face high levels of social vulnerability, Environics found.

“What’s really driving it for these newcomers is a lack of social networks,” Seoni says. Something as simple as finding a trusted person to rely on for groceries, for example, can be a challenge, Seoni adds.

Older people, particularly those on low incomes, and people with poor health, make up a group that, according to Environics, is vulnerable due to a high level of “frailty.”

The coronavirus has made only too clear the vulnerability of people in nursing homes. But the people Environics highlights are those not living in nursing homes, but whose frailty makes daily activities difficult.

The District of Guysborough, anchored by a port town in Nova Scotia, has the highest frailty level of vulnerability in Canada, Environics found. Peel Region, west of Toronto, has one of the lowest, but Seoni again warns about the regionwide picture masking vulnerable pockets.

“In the big picture, you don’t have many frail citizens,” he says. “But they’re there and they need help.”

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2020/05/08/suburban-families-young-renters-frail-seniors-data-reveals-who-is-most-at-risk-financially-and-socially-across-canada-amidst-the-pandemic.html

Learn to Argue Productively Arguments don’t have to be heated, explosive moments. As long as everyone’s in good faith, everyone can learn from one another.

Sound advice, if hard to put into practice. I found the distinction regarding the type of argument–about facts, values or practicality–particularly useful:

Arguments and disagreements aren’t always bad. They can solve problems, show you sides of things you haven’t considered before, and even be fun. But unproductive arguments, or worse circular arguments that you keep having over and over again, are a time and emotional drain — which nobody needs right now.

Like most things, there’s a skill to having good arguments. You can get better at having them with practice — and not in the high school debate-winning way. Productive disagreements aren’t all out shouting matches with a victor and a loser; they’re deliberate attempts to explore differences and reach a common ground, whether that be about who should be President of the United States — or if pizza for dinner is acceptable three nights in a row.

“In order for someone to have better disagreement with you, there has to be this sense that you’re working with the same material,” Buster Benson, author of Why Are We Yelling: The Art of Productive Disagreement, said. If one of you thinks the argument is about facts and the other about moral philosophy, you’re never going to reach an agreement.

In his book, Mr. Benson identified three “realms” of arguments: the realm of the head, the realm of the heart, and the realm of the hands. Arguments in the realm of the head are about what is true. “There has to be factual evidence you can go and look up somewhere,” he said. It’s things like the size of Los Angeles or the equation to determine the volume of a sphere.

Arguments in the realm of the heart are about what is meaningful — they’re about matters of personal taste and moral value judgments. For example, disagreements over whether Tom Cruise is a great actor or if babies should be allowed to wield firearms without parental supervision.

Arguments in the realm of the hands are about what is useful and practical. Whether it’s better to exercise before or after work, for example. Or if bailing out the airlines will help the economy. They can only really be settled with some kind of test or waiting to see how things go.

When you’re having a disagreement with someone, Mr. Benson suggested asking yourself (and the person you’re arguing with), “Is this about what’s true, what’s meaningful, or what’s useful?” Many unproductive disagreements happen because one person thinks it’s an argument about facts (Mr. Cruise has never won an Academy Award) while the other thinks it’s about one’s opinion (“Top Gun,” “Jerry Maguire,” and “A Few Good Men” are all exceptional films carried entirely by Mr. Cruise).

By stepping back and asking whether the disagreement is about the facts at hand, a matter of opinion, or how something should be done, you can make sure everyone involved in the argument is participating in the same realm. It doesn’t matter that Mr. Cruise hasn’t won an Academy Award as that’s a very poor proxy for brilliance — what matters is how he makes me feel.

Anxiety is a tool that can help you understand what you value and why people argue with you, Mr. Benson said. The emotions you feel when someone disagrees or challenges you on something reveal where your personal expectations don’t line up with reality. He suggested paying close attention to what sparks it.

Cognitive Bias Codex

What Cancer Has Taught Me About Fear

During my cancer journey, Gubar was one of my regular reads and I still follow her columns. Her most recent column reflects as well my experience during these strange times and the increased vigilance, as well as finding ways to focus elsewhere (this blog and my various articles are one of the results of my “living with cancer”:

Sequestered during the pandemic, I find myself thinking that cancer patients’ expertise in fear can help others heed its warnings. We all need tactics not only to overcome the destructive capacity of fear but also to tap its protective potential.

An iconic portrait of one petrified creature, Edvard Munch’s painting “The Screamcaptures the fright gripping many people today — of an invisible threat that has caused an exponential explosion of infections, a shocking influx of patients into hospitals, mounting deaths and the ghastly appearance of refrigerated trucksparked next to hospitals as mobile morgues. Munch’s figure holds his helpless hands up, even though they cannot muffle his involuntary response to what his wide-open eyes cannot bear seeing. His silent shriek echoes outward only to further imprison him. In a public place, he is immobilized beneath a bloody sky.

Munch’s original title, “The Scream of Nature,” indicates how well he understood fear to be ontological, not psychological: a force of nature, not just human nature. Nature has turned our world into a sinister dystopia.

Cancer patients understand this phenomenon, for we deal daily with dread stirred by organisms produced by the body they attack. The masks worn by those touched by cancer and the coronavirus manifest identical, overwhelming and rational anxieties — about contagion, isolation, degeneration, impending death — that escalate when people with cancer struggle to subsist during a plague year.

Regardless of age, cancer patients and survivors need to be more fearful these days than healthy children, young adults and people in their prime. With immune systems compromised by various treatments, we are highly susceptible to the coronavirus. We must take every precaution — of repeated hand-washing, of social distancing and sometimes of self-quarantining — even though such measures will damage the support systems we badly need.

Worse, many of us depend upon periodic medical interventions that may be compromised by the stress put on institutions dealing with the virus. We get regular blood draws, scans, infusions, pills and surgical procedures in hospitals. But are they safe places to enter in a pandemic? Nurses have been concerned that cancer patients will get infected in some facilities. Yet despite the best of intentions, the virtual consultations set up for me at my hospital have been a travesty because of glitches in technology. Will oncology services collapse under the strain of massive viral care? Biopsies are being delayed, clinical trials are being shut down, and research is grinding to a halt. Will people hospitalized with the virus be denied ventilators, if they have cancer and if a scarcity of medical equipment means that doctors must choose?

And yet, having survived months or years of living intimately with the mortal threat of cancer, the members of my cancer support group — who now connect via email — manage to carry on while keeping as calm as possible during the current health crisis. Not fully resistant to bouts of contagious terror, we nevertheless find coping mechanisms.

We know that fear can be debilitating, but it can also be self-preserving. The chronic patients in my support group cultivate vigilant fear: They use their trepidation to do everything they can to extend their survival without being capsized into despair, hysteria or paralysis. One of us picks up her shopping wearing Nitrile gloves, just as she did when in chemotherapy. Upon returning home, she swabs what she has bought with a disinfecting wipe.

Beyond this sort of physical caution — which remains crucial for keeping the death toll as low as possible — how do we maintain mental health? For only when we are free from the vise of terror can we take protective measures, most of which these days involve staying at home without going stir-crazy.

Cancer patients who steer between the Scylla of alarmism and the Charybdis of defeatism have devised oblique stratagems to navigate the difficult passageway of fearful vigilance. Within its straits, we seek not to banish fear — an impossibility — but to filter, buffer, intercept, sidetrack or dilute it so it can serve as a safeguard without obliterating us.

Concentrating on something besides the fright — on breathing or stretching, on an intriguing task to accomplish — distracts us but also gives us a routine or objective over which we can exert some control. Just as happiness cannot be attained by making it a goal — John Stuart Mill believed one must aim at “something else” to stumble upon happiness as a sort of byproduct — fear cannot be defanged except through indirect methods.

Especially within the narrowed circumstances imposed by the coronavirus, it requires ingenuity to discover quotidian undertakings that can convert fear from a virulent to a vigilant emotion. While we strive to remain conscious of our interdependence — our vulnerability to people who may be contagious, our responsibility not to endanger others — we need to engage in small but innovative enterprises.

On a practical level, consider what activities you enjoy in normal times. Begin to bake bread, one member of my support group advises; go on nature walks, another says. Organize digital pictures into a photo album, practice the guitar, check out a remote learning class, put together a film festival or a playlist, take a virtual tour of a museum, cultivate a garden, set up regular FaceTime or Skype sessions with family, try woodworking, use apps to play games with distant friends, devise home schooling lessons, sing on your balcony as many Italians did or for Yo-Yo Ma’s #SongsofComfort project, contribute to a food bank, or do as I am doing: Learn how to knit socks.

Munch’s screamer clearly cannot heed instructions not to touch his face or to take shelter at home, but we are trying to do so and trying to use vigilant fear as a bulwark against incapacitating terror.

In the cruelest month of April, here’s what many of us hope: That we will be able to look back on this alarming period in years to come and say that the power of vigilant fear — for ourselves and for each other — has seen more of us through than we had ever thought possible.

Cotler: The Chinese Communist Party’s culture of corruption and repression has cost lives around the world

Former Justice minister Irwin Cotler  and Judith Abitan on the Chinese government’s responsibility for the spread of COVID-19 and associated repression:

There is authoritative and compelling evidence that if President Xi Jinping’s Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had intervened and reported on its coronavirus outbreak three weeks earlier, transmission of COVID-19 could have been reduced significantly around the world. One study, from the University of Southampton, even suggested transmission could have been reduced by 95 per cent.

For 40 days, Mr. Xi’s CCP concealed, destroyed, falsified and fabricated information about the rampant spread of COVID-19 through its massive state-sanctioned surveillance and suppression of data; misrepresentation of information; silencing and criminalizing of dissent; and the disappearance of whistleblowers – all of which reflect the breadth of criminality and corruption in the party.

In late December 2019, Dr. Ai Fen, director of the emergency department at the Central Hospital of Wuhan, shared the lab results of a patient suffering from “SARS coronavirus” with relevant departments in her hospital and with a former medical school classmate; her information was then disseminated in medical circles. For this, she suffered an “unprecedented and severe rebuke” two days later.

Dr. Ai also detailed efforts to silence her in a story titled, “The one who supplied the whistle,” published in China’s People (Renwu) magazine in March. The article has since been removed – and Dr. Ai has herself recently disappeared.

After Dr. Ai initially shared the information, eight doctors were arrested, including Dr. Li Wenliang, now regarded by many in China as a “hero” and “the awakener.” They were reprimanded for spreading rumours and summoned to sign statements admitting to making false statements that disturbed the public order. Dr. Li died of COVID-19 on Feb. 7, prompting national outrage. The fate of the other seven people remains unknown.

On Jan. 4, Dr. Ho Pak Leung, the president of the University of Hong Kong’s Centre for Infection, indicated that it was highly probable that COVID-19 spread from human to human and urged the implementation of a strict monitoring system. But for weeks, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission continued to declare that preliminary investigations did not show any clear evidence of human-to-human transmission. On Jan. 14, the WHO reaffirmed China’s statement.

On Jan. 22, the WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, even praised the CCP’s handling of the outbreak, commending Mr. Xi and Premier Li Keqiang for their “invaluable” leadership.

On Jan. 23, Chinese authorities announced their first steps to quarantine Wuhan, but by then it was too late. Millions of people had already visited Wuhan and left during the Chinese New Year, and a significant number of Chinese citizens had traveled overseas as asymptomatic carriers.

Yet the CCP continued its crackdown on dissent. On Feb. 23, Ren Zhiqiang, a real-estate tycoon and long-time critic of the CCP, wrote in an essay that he “saw not an emperor standing there exhibiting his ‘new clothes,’ but a clown stripped naked who insisted he continue being emperor.” He spoke of a “crisis of governance” and criticized the strict limits on free speech, which he felt had magnified the COVID-19 epidemic. Mr. Ren has also gone missing, and it was reported only recently that the CCP has opened an investigation against him.

The world would have been more prepared and able to combat COVID-19 were it not for Mr. Xi’s authoritarian regime’s widespread and systematic pattern of sanitizing the massive domestic repression of its people.

The CCP’s 40 days of silence and suppression resulted in Italy – the epicentre of Europe’s COVID-19 pandemic – having a death toll of 12 per cent, more than double that of China’s, followed by Spain with a mortality rate of 10 per cent. At time of writing, the United States – where presidential leadership has been wanting – has become the pandemic’s new epicentre, and there is heightened concern about what could become of dense, developing countries such as India, and countries with large immunosuppressed populations, such as South Africa.

Indeed, as a New York Times editorial reported yesterday, “the global coronavirus crisis is poised to get much much worse… (spreading) through countries ravaged by conflict, through packed refugee camps and detention centers in places like Syria or Bangladesh…,” or deeply packed urban centers in fragile states without health systems.

In South Korea, health workers pioneered using COVID-19 testing centres to collect swabs from more than 15,000 people a day before quarantining the infected immediately thereafter – one of the only precedents and case studies to date for a situation in which the number of infections and deaths have significantly fallen. That had also seemed to be occurring in China in recent weeks, but various intelligence agencies and reports have suggested that Beijing failed to accurately report its data. There have now been reports of a second wave, but also reports of the CCP censoring scientific findings and related publications.

Attention should also be drawn to the CCP’s massive surveillance and suppression of data juxtaposed with its misrepresentation of information. China’s enormous data-collection efforts, through approximately 200 million CCTV cameras, not only precipitated the highest-tech epidemic control ever attempted by the CCP, but also underpinned the seriousness of its repression.

The CCP’s infodemic – in addition to its intense spinning of solidarity on social media and its framing of a “people’s war against the virus” – gave the farcical illusion of a coming-together in China. The extent of the CCP’s self-promotion and its portrayal of Mr. Xi as a hero ready to save the world, all while making Western democracies look grossly incompetent if not responsible for the virus, is as shameful as it is duplicitous.

Simply put, Mr. Xi’s government exacerbated the world’s COVID-19 health and systemic crises, which has paved the way for one of the greatest humanitarian crises in history.

The world is now watching. People in China no longer stand alone. Many are no longer fearful. They have already started publishing first-hand accounts of the CCP’s orchestrated cover-ups and monumental failures, revealing its rotten core.

In defending the struggle for democracy and human rights in China, the international community must stand in solidarity with the people of China in seeking to unmask the CCP’s criminality, corruption and impunity.

The Community of Democracies must undertake the necessary legal initiatives – be it through international tort actions as authorized by Treaty Law, or the utilization of international bodies such as the International Court of Justice – to underpin the courage and commitment of China’s human-rights defenders. This is what justice and accountability is all about.

Source: The Chinese Communist Party’s culture of corruption and repression has cost lives around the world: Irwin Cotler and Judith Abitan

Beware of COVID-19 projections based on flawed global comparisons

Continuing on the data question, found this to be a good explainer given the variances in how data is collected across jurisdictions:

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, every day we are bombarded with numbers. Never before has the public been exposed to so much statistical information. You have been told that “shelter in place” measures are needed to flatten the curve of infections so that local healthcare systems have the capacity to deal with them. On the other hand, you hear that available statistics will not show if and when the curve of infections is flattening, and that existing projections are unreliable because input data are unsuitable for forecasting. Meanwhile, the issue of data and the pandemic fuels a debate in Canada over the release of federal and provincial forecasts of a COVID-19 death toll.

Should we then lose faith in the numbers altogether? The answer is no, but it is important to understand what statistics are available, what they measure, and which ones we should be looking at as the virus continues to spread around the world. One of the key areas where we need to exercise caution is especially when we compare ourselves with the situation in other countries.

As overwhelming as the flow of daily pandemic statistics might seem, data on COVID-19 around the world come from one source: health facilities’ administrative reporting about the number of positive cases, hospitalizations, intensive therapies, deaths, and recoveries. Most countries including Canada follow the guidelines of the World Health Organization and only test individuals with fever, cough, and/or difficulty breathing. Reported data on COVID-19 thus generally refer to symptomatic individuals who have presented themselves at health facilities and have met the established testing criteria.

One of the main indicators derived from these data is the overall case-fatality rate (CFR), which is the ratio between the total number of COVID-19-related deaths and the total number of confirmed positive cases. The CFR is an important indicator in an emerging pandemic because it measures the severity of the disease (how many infected people die from it). As of March 24, the CFR varied substantially across countries, ranging from 0.4 percent in Germany to 7.7 percent in Italy. In Canada and Quebec, it stands at 1.3 percent and 0.7 percent respectively.

It is well understood that different testing strategies for COVID-19 are responsible for a good part of the observed differences in the overall case-fatality rate across countries. For instance, South Korea, Germanyand Iceland adopted a large-scale testing strategy since the beginning of the outbreak, focusing on individuals in the wider population regardless of whether they were high risk or showing symptoms of COVID-19. Most other countries including Canada are following the recommendations of the World Health Organization to test only for COVID-19 symptomatic individuals.

These different testing strategies have a direct impact on the overall CFR because its value is smaller if asymptomatic individuals are included in the calculation, since the total number of positive cases (the denominator) increases. This is the first reason why the CFR is not immediately comparable across countries and should not be used as a measure of whether certain healthcare systems are dealing better with COVID-19 than others.

The second reason is that different testing strategies across countries also matter for the demographics of confirmed positive cases. As it can be seen in the figure below, because of widespread testing in Iceland, the age distribution of COVID-19 positive cases is much younger than in the Netherlands. This does not mean that younger people in Iceland are not respecting social distancing measures, or that the Netherlands has been more effective than Iceland in identifying infections among vulnerable elderly people. On the contrary, countries like Iceland that have effectively tested for COVID-19 early on have been able to identify and isolate clusters of potential infections before they spread to the more vulnerable segments of the population. By doing so, they have limited the number of COVID-19-related deaths and thus reduced the numerator in the calculation of the overall CFR. This is why the demographics of positive cases needs to be considered in the calculation of the overall case-fatality rate to make appropriate comparisons across countries.

The different demographics of COVID-19 positive cases underscore the importance of comparable data that are disaggregated by the patients’ most basic characteristics, notably age and sex. However, these data are only available for a handful of countries, because national health agencies release mainly aggregate figures on the total number of cases, hospitalizations, deaths and recoveries.

We all want to know how the COVID-19 pandemic will evolve. Considering the deep economic implications of the current worldwide standstill, there is a strong pressure to produce projections of the course of the pandemic and its human toll. Yet our efforts will continue to be misguided if we do not coordinate efforts to improve our understanding of where it is across countries through comparable statistics. This could be easily achieved by tracing the evolution not just of the total number of infections and the overall CFR, but also across age groups and for men and women separately.

National health agencies have been disseminating data and indicators about COVID-19 as they see fit because there is no global coordination about how to do so. The World Health Organization has not fulfilled its mandate to facilitate this coordination. Canada, thanks to its longstanding tradition of excellence in statistical reporting, is ideally placed to fill this gap and lead countries around the world to coordinate their monitoring efforts of the pandemic through comparable statistics. This may be one of the crucial steps to win the war against COVID-19.

Source: Beware of COVID-19 projections based on flawed global comparisons

Fox’s Fake News Contagion The network spent too long spraying its viewers with false information about the coronavirus pandemic.

Good commentary by Kara Swisher. Applies more broadly than COVID-19 but particularly dangerous during a pandemic:

You can relax, Sean Hannity, I’m not going to sue you.

Some people are suggesting that there might be grounds for legal action against the cable network that you pretty much rule — Fox News — because you and your colleagues dished out dangerous misinformation about the virus in the early days of the crisis in the United States. Some might allege that they have lost loved ones because of what was broadcast by your news organization.

But lawsuits are a bad idea. Here’s why: I believe in Fox News’s First Amendment right as a press organization, even if some of its on-air talent did not mind being egregiously bad at their jobs when it came to giving out accurate health data.

And, more to the point, when all is said and done, my Mom will listen to her children over Fox News. One of us — my brother — is an actual doctor and knows what he is talking about. And the other is a persistent annoyance — that would be me.

I’m a huge pest, in fact. “I’m going to block your number, if you don’t stop,” my mother said to me over the phone several weeks ago from Florida, after I had texted her the umpteenth chart about the spread of coronavirus across the country. All of these graphs had scary lines that went up and to the right. And all of them flashed big honking red lights: Go home and stay there until all clear.

She ignored my texts, so I had switched to calling her to make sure she had accurate information in those critical weeks at the end of February and the beginning of March. She is in the over-80 group that is most at risk of dying from infection. I worry a lot.

But she was not concerned — and it was clear why. Her primary source of news is Fox. In those days she was telling me that the Covid-19 threat was overblown by the mainstream news media (note, her daughter is in the media). She told me that it wasn’t going to be that big a deal. She told me that it was just like the flu.

And, she added, it was more likely that the Democrats were using the virus to score political points. And, did I know, by the way, that Joe Biden was addled?

Thankfully, Mom had not gone as far as claiming the coronavirus is a plot to hurt President Trump — a theory pushed by some at Fox News heavily at first. While she has been alternately appalled and amused by the president, and often takes his side, she is not enough of a superfan to think that he is any kind of victim here.

So, she kept going out with friends to restaurants and shopping and generally living her life as it always had been. “What’s the big deal, Kara? Stop bothering me,” she said over the phone. “You’re the one who is going to get sick, if you don’t stop working so much.”

Facebook, YouTube Warn Of More Mistakes As Machines Replace Moderators

Whether by humans or AI, not an easy thing to do consistently and appropriately:

Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are relying more heavily on automated systems to flag content that violate their rules, as tech workers were sent home to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

But that shift could mean more mistakes — some posts or videos that should be taken down might stay up, and others might be incorrectly removed. It comes at a time when the volume of content the platforms have to review is skyrocketing, as they clamp down on misinformation about the pandemic.

Tech companies have been saying for years that they want computers to take on more of the work of keeping misinformation, violence and other objectionable content off their platforms. Now the coronavirus outbreak is accelerating their use of algorithms rather than human reviewers.

“We’re seeing that play out in real time at a scale that I think a lot of the companies probably didn’t expect at all,” said Graham Brookie, director and managing editor of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told reporters that automated review of some content means “we may be a little less effective in the near term while we’re adjusting to this.”

Twitter and YouTube are also sounding caution about the shift to automated moderation.

“While we work to ensure our systems are consistent, they can sometimes lack the context that our teams bring, and this may result in us making mistakes,” Twitter said in a blog post. It added that no accounts will be permanently suspended based only on the actions of the automated systems.

YouTube said its automated systems “are not always as accurate or granular in their analysis of content as human reviewers.” It warned that more content may be removed, “including some videos that may not violate policies.” And, it added, it will take longer to review appeals of removed videos.

Facebook, YouTube and Twitter rely on tens of thousands of content moderators to monitor their sites and apps for material that breaks their rules, from spam and nudity to hate speech and violence. Many moderators are not full-time employees of the companies, but contractors who work for staffing firms.

Now those workers are being sent home. But some content moderation cannot be done outside the office, for privacy and security reasons.

For the most sensitive categories, including suicide, self-injury, child exploitation and terrorism, Facebook says it’s shifting work from contractors to full-time employees — and is ramping up the number of people working on those areas.

There are also increased demands for moderation as a result of the pandemic. Facebook says use of its apps, including WhatsApp and Instagram, is surging. The platforms are under pressure to keep false information, including dangerous fake health claims, from spreading.

The World Health Organization calls the situation an infodemic, where too much information, both true and false, makes it hard to find trustworthy information.

The tech companies “are dealing with more information with less staff,” Brookie said. “Which is why you’ve seen these decisions to move to more automated systems. Because frankly, there’s not enough people to look at the amount of information that’s ongoing.”

That makes the platforms’ decisions right now even more important, he said. “I think that we should all rely on more moderation rather than less moderation, in order to make sure that the vast majority of people are connecting with objective, science-based facts.”

Some Facebook users raised alarm that automated review was already causing problems.

When they tried to post links to mainstream news sources like The Atlantic and BuzzFeed, they got notifications that Facebook thought the posts were spam.

Facebook said the posts were erroneously flagged as spam due to a glitch in its automated spam filter.

Zuckerberg denied the problem was related to shifting content moderation from humans to computers.

“This is a completely separate system on spam,” he said. “This is not about any kind of near-term change, this was just a technical error.”

Source: Facebook, YouTube Warn Of More Mistakes As Machines Replace Moderators

‘White-Collar Quarantine’ Over Virus Spotlights Class Divide

Not unique to the USA but gaps wider:

For about $80,000, an individual can purchase a six-month plan with Private Health Management, which helps people with serious medical issues navigate the health care system.

Such a plan proved to be a literal lifesaver as the coronavirus pandemic descended. The firm has helped clients arrange tests in Los Angeles for the coronavirus and obtained oxygen concentrators for high-risk patients.

“We know the top lab people and the doctors and nurses and can make the process efficient,” said Leslie Michelson, the firm’s executive chairman.

In some respects, the pandemic is an equalizer: It can afflict princes and paupers alike, and no one who hopes to stay healthy is exempt from the strictures of social distancing. But the American response to the virus is laying bare class divides that are often camouflaged — in access to health care, child care, education, living space, even internet bandwidth.

In New York, well-off city dwellers have abandoned cramped apartments for spacious second homes. In Texas, the rich are shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars to build safe rooms and bunkers.

And across the country, there is a creeping consciousness that despite talk of national unity, not everyone is equal in times of emergency.

“This is a white-collar quarantine,” said Howard Barbanel, a Miami-based entrepreneur who owns a wine company. “Average working people are bagging and delivering goods, driving trucks, working for local government.”

Some of those catering to the well-off stress that they are trying to be good citizens. Mr. Michelson emphasized that he had obtained coronavirus tests only for patients who met guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rather than the so-called worried well.

Still, a kind of pandemic caste system is rapidly developing: the rich holed up in vacation properties; the middle class marooned at home with restless children; the working class on the front lines of the economy, stretched to the limit by the demands of work and parenting, if there is even work to be had.

“I do get that there are haves and have-nots,” said Carolyn Richmond, a Manhattan employment lawyer who is advising restaurant industry clients from her second home, on Long Island, as they engineer layoffs. “Do I feel guilty? No. But I do know that I am very lucky. I understand there’s a big difference between me and the people I work with every day.”

Long before the new coronavirus, another kind of equalizer was being promoted: the internet. For decades, tech evangelists cited the democratizing power of the World Wide Web, which they said would bring high-quality services to strata of society that had previously gone without them.

Some of those predictions have come to pass. In recent days, time spent on the site of the Khan Academy, a well-regarded online curriculum that is free, is up about two and a half times from this time last year.

In March, the federal government broadened its coverage of so-called telemedicine services through Medicare, giving many more people access to a doctor over the web.

Still, the technology that makes these services accessible remains out of reach for many Americans. While data on internet access is inexact, the most recent Federal Communications Commission figures, from 2017, showed that 30 percent of households did not have even a slow broadband connection.

Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic member of the commission, said millions of Americans had only phones, often with strict caps on data usage. “Imagine using a mobile device to look up your class work, type out a paper,” she said. “No parent would choose that as the primary tool for their child’s learning.”

Like many districts around the country, the Brownsville Independent School District in Texas sought to transfer much of its curriculum online when it closed its doors this week. Schools encouraged students to use digital platforms like Google Classroom, Apple Teacher and Seesaw to keep up with their studies.

But unlike wealthier areas, Brownsville has notoriously spotty internet access. Nearly half of households there lacked broadband in 2018, putting it at the top of a list of worst-connected citiescompiled by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, an advocacy group. “We’re limited when it comes to online services in our community,” said the district’s superintendent, René Gutiérrez. “It’s not where it needs to be.”

The situation has sent many families scrambling. Anahi Rubio, 11, and her mother just moved into an apartment that lacks an internet connection. Anahi has struggled with balky access while using a laptop at her aunt’s house, where she couldn’t get the videoconferencing app Zoom to work.

“They’re always telling you to use YouTube to learn multiplication, or to look something up on Google,” said her mother, Betsy Rubio. “Online, everybody gets to be on the same page. But if not everyone has good internet, like my daughter, you don’t. I’m concerned about her falling behind.”

And internet access is far from the only challenge confronting the less affluent. Marc Perrone, the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents over one million workers in industries like groceries and meatpacking, said child care was a top concern when the union held a telephone town hall this week with about 5,000 supermarket workers in New York State.

“In some cases, if they’re old enough, they’re latching them — becoming latchkey kids,” Mr. Perrone said, alluding to the option of leaving a child home alone.

Until a few weeks ago, Darlyne Dagrin would drop her 22-month-old son off at a day care facility on her way to work at a nursing home in Cedar Grove, N.J. But the center has closed temporarily amid the pandemic, leaving her with no choice but to skip work when she can’t find a friend or relative to care for him.

“This week I called out twice,” Ms. Dagrin said Wednesday. “They called me and said: ‘We won’t accept no more callouts. If you call out again you’re out of a job.’” She said she didn’t know what she was going to do for the rest of the week.

Unlike Ms. Dagrin, Maggie Russell-Ciardi doesn’t have to choose between going to work and providing child care for her young child. A nonprofit consultant in New York City and part-time yoga teacher, Ms. Russell-Ciardi can slot work around her 3-year-old son’s sleep and play schedule — even if it sometimes requires waking up in the wee hours — and simply makes do when he’s awake and active.

“It’s better for me to do my own practice when he’s sleeping,” she said of the yoga classes she now teaches online. “But it’s nice to have him growing up feeling like he’s part of the yoga community even if it’s now a virtual one. It’s an important teaching for him.”

The ability of the middle class to quickly shift life online has been striking. The Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, where roughly 100 faculty members on site teach several hundred students each week, has shifted its entire music instruction to videoconferencing. Over 95 percent of the students enrolled in private lessons have resumed their classes since the school reopened online last Friday.

By contrast, said Dorothy Savitch, an administrator, the school operates a music education program in 25 local public schools, with large numbers of children below the poverty level. Ms. Savitch said about one-third of those children might take part when the program resumes online next week, though she hopes to reach 60 percent of them eventually.

But the middle class is not free of anxiety in this pandemic moment. Otherwise-privileged people have become acutely aware of the options they lack. “For the first time in my life, I feel the difference between myself and my more affluent friends,” said Deb Huberman, a freelance television producer living on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. “I desperately want to get out of the city but I can’t afford to rent something.”

Ms. Huberman estimates that half the neighbors in her building have fled to second homes. Many have joined other wealthy New Yorkers in the less densely populated East End of Long Island.

“I feel guilty about friends and colleagues who don’t have the ability to leave,” said Joe Bilman, who moved with his family from Park Slope in Brooklyn to his vacation house in East Hampton. “We knew it would be easier for us to isolate and be part of the quarantine. We have a backyard and the kids can go for bike rides.”

Hamptonites have often managed to recreate the amenities of home, except with more space and beachfront views. Many children enrolled in Manhattan prep schools continue to be taught by teachers in conventional classroom formats, albeit over the internet, while public schools have frequently substituted individual study with materials supplied online.

MyTennisLessons.com advertises that “coaches are continuing to give 1-on-1 lessons” and lists a few pros available in Hamptons ZIP codes. Zabar’s, the Upper West Side food emporium, will deliver an assortment of noshes for a $300 to $400, depending on the distance.

“I don’t even take a markup — it’s whatever the messenger service charges me,” said Scott Goldshine, the general manager. “Obviously, for most of the people out there getting these types of delivery, money is not an issue.”

At some summer retreats, like Martha’s Vineyard and the Jersey Shore, local officials have taken to discouraging second-home owners and renters for fear of overtaxing local infrastructure.

In other cases, the rich aren’t going east or west, but down. Gary Lynch, general manager of Rising S, a Texas maker of safe rooms and bunkers that range in price from $40,000 to several million dollars, said he had added a second shift of 15 workers to handle the flood of new orders, mostly for underground bunkers.

“I’ve never seen interest like there is now,” said Mr. Lynch, who has taken to turning his phone off at night so he can get some sleep. “It has not let up.”