[Question] LessWrong Coronavirus Agenda

I’ve gone through a lot of in­tro­duc­tions to this post but maybe this is the most hon­est one:

I am scared. Quite scared, ac­tu­ally. My chances of catch­ing COVID-19 are ac­tu­ally quite low, and my chances of sur­viv­ing it if I do are quite high, and I’m still scared. What if I get into a car ac­ci­dent and have to go to the ER? Will they have a bed for me? Will I leave with coro­n­avirus? What are my preg­nant friends go­ing to do? What is any­one over 70 go­ing to do?

My goal, and the goal of ev­ery­one on the LW staff, and I as­sume most ev­ery­one who’s par­ti­ci­pated in all the coro­n­avirus threads, has been to figure out what is hap­pen­ing and what we can do about it. We’ve already done a lot. Posts like See­ing the Smoke got coro­n­avirus on peo­ple’s radar faster than it oth­er­wise would have been, aided by the nu­mer­ous mod­el­ing threads back­ing it up. The Quaran­tine Prepa­ra­tions thread gave peo­ple a start­ing place to act from. The Jus­tified Prac­ti­cal Ad­vice (sum­mary) thread let us share our ex­per­tise, in ways that led to con­crete be­hav­ioral changes. More re­cently we ex­am­ined asymp­tomatic trans­mis­sion. I’ve had a le­git, rea­son­ably high rank­ing gov­ern­ment offi­cial say they look at us to see where ev­ery­one else will be in weeks.

This is cur­rently the LessWrong team’s top pri­or­ity, and they’ve done a num­ber of things over the re­cent weeks to fa­cil­i­tate re­search and ac­tion on coro­n­avirus, in­clud­ing hiring me to be a point per­son on it. To fa­cil­i­tate as much progress as pos­si­ble over the com­ing weeks, habryka and I have com­piled a list of what we con­sider the most im­por­tant ques­tions in fight­ing COVID, and are ask­ing any­one with the skill to help us an­swer them.

That list is at the end of this post. But first, what is the over­all plan here?

Who are we try­ing to help?

We have three broad cat­e­gories of po­ten­tial benefi­cia­ries in mind:

  1. In­di­vi­d­u­als mak­ing choices for them­selves and their loved ones, who need ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion about the cur­rent threat level and how to lower it with ex­ist­ing tech.

  2. In­di­vi­d­u­als cre­at­ing the tools for the peo­ple above, mean­ing any­thing from notic­ing that cop­per tape is anti-viral to cre­at­ing plans for DIY non-in­va­sive ven­tila­tors, who need ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion about how COVID-19 op­er­ates and where the cur­rent gaps and bot­tle­necks are. We’d like to help peo­ple in this group get vol­un­teers and money when ap­pro­pri­ate.

  3. Or­ga­ni­za­tions and in­sti­tu­tions mak­ing de­ci­sions that af­fect many peo­ple, who need all the in­for­ma­tion the pre­vi­ous two groups do, plus more to know what the effect of their de­ci­sions will be.

How Are We Do­ing That?

I am man­ag­ing a Coron­avirus Agenda, com­posed of what my­self and habryka think are the most im­por­tant coro­n­avirus-re­lated ques­tions to an­swer (think we missed some? Please com­ment). But the full agenda is kind of over­whelming, and there are benefits to co­or­di­nat­ing mul­ti­ple peo­ple around the same ques­tion, so ev­ery so of­ten I’ll pull out Spotlight Ques­tions to gen­er­ate a crit­i­cal mass of at­ten­tion around the most crit­i­cal ques­tions. I want to say “ev­ery so of­ten” will be once a week, but I feel like those kinds of com­mit­ments are for situ­a­tions where I know within an or­der of mag­ni­tude how many peo­ple are go­ing to die in that week. I will spotlight as of­ten as seems mer­ited by the situ­a­tion at the time.

If your eye is caught by a ques­tion on the agenda that’s not cur­rently spotlighted, of course pur­sue your in­ter­est. That’s the point of shar­ing the whole agenda. And if you think the agenda is miss­ing some­thing im­por­tant, of course pur­sue that, and add a com­ment ex­plain­ing it if you have time so I can add it.

Without fur­ther adieu, the spotlight ques­tions...

Spotlight Questions

What is the im­pact of vary­ing ini­tial viral load of COVID-19?

The hy­poth­e­sis that lower ini­tial viral load leads to bet­ter out­comes, and might be worth pur­su­ing de­liber­ately, is a cen­tral as­sump­tion is Zvi’s post Tak­ing Ini­tial Viral Load Se­ri­ously. Is it true?

Eco­nomics Questions

The Full Agenda

Th­ese are the ques­tions about coro­n­avirus I and habryka (and in the fu­ture, com­menters on this post) most want an­swered. We’ll be nudg­ing LessWrong to pur­sue them over the com­ing weeks, but for clar­ity wanted to share the whole thing as a pack­age.

Some of these some­one has already an­swered, or at­tempted to an­swer, in which case I’ve linked to the (at­tempted) an­swers. I’ll con­tinue to up­date as more an­swers come in:

  • How many peo­ple are in­fected?

    • Worldwide

    • In a lo­ca­tion of your choosing

    • No one sug­gested a dash­board that met all of my or habryka’s goals. PlaguePlus.com is the place­holder win­ner for at least at­tempt­ing to do es­ti­mates of the true count in­stead of just re­port­ing test re­sults, and for show­ing any his­tory in­stead of just cu­mu­la­tive cases, but I’d sure love for it to be re­placed by some­thing that can show his­tory bro­ken down by re­gion.

  • What pro­jects need vol­un­teers or dona­tions?

    • We col­lected a num­ber of sug­ges­tions and ag­gre­ga­tions in the LessWrong Coron­avirus Links DB (see Work & Donate tab), but ul­ti­mately didn’t find any that were both widely ap­pli­ca­ble and ex­cit­ing to us.

  • What should I do if I get sick or am car­ing for some­one sick?

  • What is my prog­no­sis if I get COVID-19?

  • What will the eco­nomic effects of covid be?

  • What is the ba­sic sci­ence of coro­n­avirus?

    • My fa­vorite was this talk by a vi­rol­ogy pro­fes­sor, it an­swered ba­si­cally all of my ques­tions, but re­quires too much back­ground biol­ogy knowl­edge to be a perfect in­tro for ev­ery­one.

  • What is the im­pact of vary­ing ini­tial viral load of COVID-19?Q

  • What are the most pre­dictable sec­ond or­der dis­asters?

  • What prob­lems are peo­ple run­ning into when try­ing to work on all of this? Are there more things like the link database that we need?

  • What skills should I be rapidly ac­quiring to be most use­ful to this whole situ­a­tion?

  • What men­tal health prob­lems can we ex­pect to spike hard in the next 1-6 months given peo­ple feel­ing shut in and hel­pless?

  • What are the ba­sic epi­demiolog­i­cal pa­ram­e­ters of C19, such as in­cu­ba­tion rate, dou­bling times, prob­a­bil­ity of symp­tomatic in­fec­tions, de­lay from dis­ease on­set to death, prob­a­bil­ity of death among symp­tomat­ics, etc?

  • How much food do I need to have stored?

    • I’ve seen any­where from 2 weeks to 9 months and given that nei­ther the money nor the space is triv­ial to ev­ery­one, I’d re­ally like to see model-backed es­ti­mates.

  • What is ac­tual hos­pi­tal elas­tic­ity? Is there an ex­ist­ing gath­er­ing of data on this from pre­vi­ous dis­asters?

  • How long should I be in iso­la­tion given the me­dian as­sump­tions about the world and the speci­fics of my area?

  • Which phys­i­cal ob­jects have longer sup­ply chains and thus can be ex­pected to be less ro­bust to dis­rup­tion?

  • What can we do to raise the stan­dard of home care?

  • Is there an asymp­tomatic in­fec­tious phase?

    • Prob­a­bly. Mean in­cu­ba­tion pe­riod is 4-9 days, but the mean se­rial in­ter­val (pe­riod from when per­son A is in­fected to when they in­fect per­son B) is 4-6 (and es­ti­mates are closer to 4, al­though av­er­ag­ing differ­ent stud­ies is not re­ally ap­pro­pri­ate)

  • What are the risks of…

    • Ac­cept­ing de­liv­ery food

    • Ac­cept­ing packages

    • Us­ing pub­lic transit

    • Go­ing to work

      • For a va­ri­ety of work­place types

    • Host­ing a large gathering

    • Host­ing a small gathering

    • Shak­ing hands with with an in­fected individual

    • Walk­ing past an in­fected in­di­vi­d­ual in a hallway

    • Stand­ing or sit­ting 4 feet from an in­fected in­di­vi­d­ual and hav­ing 5 min­utes of conversation

    • Open­ing a piece of mail handed to you by an in­fected person

    • Open­ing a piece of mail left in your mailbox by an in­fected per­son 1 hour ago

    • Hold­ing a gro­cery bag handed to you by an in­fected person

    • Pick­ing up an item in the gro­cery store that was placed on the shelf by that per­son 1 hour ago

  • How do I con­vince oth­ers to act?

  • What is the value of hand­wash­ing, when you are cur­rently healthy? How much bet­ter is WHO-ap­proved hand­wash­ing than what we do by de­fault?

  • What is the value of cop­per tap­ing high-touch sur­faces?

  • What is the value of masks, when you are cur­rently healthy?

  • What is the value of gog­gles, when you are cur­rently healthy?

  • What is the value of con­tact trac­ing? How do you do it?

  • What are the chances of vac­cine de­vel­op­ment?

  • What are the chances of treat­ment de­vel­op­ment?

  • Do we ac­tu­ally have any chance of an ap­proach that is not herd-im­mu­nity based? Is there still any chance at con­tain­ment?