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:
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.
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.
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...
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?
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?
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?
My answer. This is 80/20ed, not completed.
What is my prognosis if I get COVID-19?
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 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
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?