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Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021

Here’s something new–especially for those who like quizzes. A Nature Briefing update just popped into my mailbox telling about apps that estimate your risk of encountering COVID. It describes three apps which anyone can use to assess their risk of exposure to COVID and one app which tells your risk of dying from COVID. Who could resist that?

While there are quite a few COVID apps listed in my iPhone App Store these days, I didn’t see these. So I looked them up in my browser, which happens to be Google Chrome. Here’s what I found:

19 and Me: COVID-19 Risk Score Calculator (https://19andme.covid19.mathematica.org/ ): This app is designed to help the user make decisions about their exposure. It does not save information and you can find very detailed information about the method, research, and assumptions used under the Method and FAQ tabs. I completed the three short sections. In “About You” I filled in 92588 Zip code, 75 year old female. “Pre-existing Conditions:” None. “Your Behavior:” I said I live with one other person who comes in contact with 5 other people in a week (naturally all this varies especially during the holidays, but I’m trying for normal conditions here). My risk score was given as 50, which I found in the FAQ means that my chance is equal to the flu. In the fine print below I found that my chance of catching COVID-19 in a week is 0.043%. If I were to get it, then my risk of hospitalization is 11%, my risk of needing ICU care is 2.4%, and risk of death is 2.9%. Okay.

MyCOVIDRisk: (https://mycovidrisk.app/) This one starts with a Self-check, then your present location, and third with the question “Where are you going today?” I put outdoors. Activity: taking a walk. Duration: 1 hour. How many people will be there? 2. Wearing masks? No. Then I got the answer to: What’s My Risk? Answer: Very Low. The risks are calculated in terms of chance of exposure, with High Risk being 0.1-5% and Very High Risk being over 5%. The quiz is put out by the Brown Alpert Medical School at Brown University in Rhode Island https://medical.brown.edu/. The information sounds like common sense to me, except that it is specific for the risk of different activities and for your location.

COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool: (https://covid19risk.biosci.gatech.edu/) The app, from the Georgia Institute of Technology, estimates your risk of exposure to COVID based on event size and location. The risk is calculated from the positive test rate (seroprevalence) in the population at a given location. I’m not planning to attend any events, so I put in a modest one: church. Event size: 50. Moving my cursor over the map I find that the chances of one COVID-19 positive person being present at a gathering of 50 people in Orange County, CA, is 94 %. Los Angeles is 97%, Hawaii is 11%, and Fremont County, Wyoming is 52%. If I were to attend a performance at Old Globe Theater in San Diego, capacity 590, the chances of a COVID carrier being there would be greater than 99%, which explains why theaters are closed right now.

COVID-19 Mortality Risk Calculator: (https://covid19risktools.com:8443/riskcalculator) Here we encounter the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come brought to us by the Maryland Research Team at Johns Hopkins. A little more personal, asking for ethnicity, height, and weight along with zip code and age. Next page: Lifestyle. Have you ever smoked? No. Then check off pre-existing conditions. None. Result: It gives me a “moderately elevated” risk of dying from COVID, that is 1.8 times the average risk of my average fellow American. But there’s more. Based on mortality forecasts for this point in time (Jan. 2-Jan. 22, 2021) in California people with my risk profile will have a mortality rate of 3.0 per 10,000 individuals. This is based on CDC ensemble forecasts found at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/forecasting-us.html . “Ensemble” means that this is an aggregate national forecast, not specific for your state or county. You can drill down to the state forecasts from the CDC site, which also explains the sources and assumptions in detail.

Personally, I don’t think the Mortality Risk App tells me anything I can act on. The advantage of the other three over what you already know is that they calculate in the specific (and constantly changing) numbers for your location. I find the Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool from Georgia Tech the most useful because I could use it to look up places I might want to visit and see whether the infection rate is higher or lower than where I am now.

All in all, I think I have an excellent chance of getting through this unscathed as long as I stay out of large gatherings. Factors that could change the numbers for the worse include increase in the number of positive COVID cases in the community I live in, which is going up at present. Invasion of the new strain found in the UK could also increase the risk, just by pushing the number of cases up even faster.

Current strategy: lie low, maintain course and speed, and get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Today’s Notable Headlines

“Daily briefing: Apps predict your risk of catching COVID,” Nature Briefing, Jan. 5, 2021. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00012-3

“COVID Risk ‘Extraordinarily High’ if Lockdown Rules Ignored – Official,” U.S. News & World Report, Jan. 5, 2021. https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2021-01-05/covid-risk-extraordinarily-high-if-lockdown-rules-ignored-official

“New precautions urged for L.A. County residents because COVID-19 is ‘everywhere’ “, KTLA-5, Jan. 5, 2021. https://ktla.com/news/local-news/new-precautions-urged-for-l-a-county-residents-because-covid-19-is-everywhere/

“Orange County Breaks Records for COVID-19 Hospitalizations, Patients in ICUs,” NBC-4, Jan. 5, 2021. https://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/coronavirus/southern-california-coronavirus/orange-county-breaks-records-for-covid-19-hospitalizations-patients-in-icus/2499294/

“These three states have the worst Covid infection rates of anywhere in the world,” NBC News, Jan. 5, 2021. https://www.nbcnews.com/science/science-news/these-three-states-have-worst-covid-infection-rates-anywhere-world-n1252861

Why am I doing this?

The coronavirus pandemic will be indelibly written on our memories just as the Great Depression or the Battle of Britain left their mark on past generations. I intend to journal the pandemic experience from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, as a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an estraordinary world crisis.

You are on History’s Edge.

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