Monthly Archive: May 2020

Dallas County – Covid cases rate of increase graph – 13th May 2020

This is the rate of increase graph for Covid-19 cases for Dallas County. As you can see, the rate of increase has plateaued in the last 4 days at around 250 new cases a day.

I expect this rate to jump at the end of this week or the beginning of next week as the effect of the loosening of lockdown and stay-at-home works its way through into infection rates. The only way that we will not have a steep increase will be if a significant percentage of the population is already infected with Covid-19. This is possible, but since testing is confined to people suspected of having the virus, and no generalized testing of the population is being conducted, no information exists to determine the current general level of infection.

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Thoughts about The New Normal

Here, in no particular order, are some thoughts about what will happen in the wider world.

Inflation

Any business model that relies on packing people into a confined space will either adapt to packing in fewer people, or the business will not survive. This means that any and all businesses relying on human contact for sales will, in order to survive, have to raise prices significantly. This will ripple through the economy in nearly all countries. Food supplies, eating out and other social interaction events, travel and vacations will all substantially increase in price.

Doomed Business Sectors

1. Commercial real estate

Apart from when I am on the road doing consulting with clients, I work from home, and I have done so since 2007. My wife’s employer has moved all of their employees to home working in Dallas since Covid-19 showed up. That is 500 people no longer commuting to work in Farmers Branch, most of whom will not need office space in the future. This is happening all over the business world. Many service industries that do not require human contact for the delivery of services do not need to have everybody working in the same physical space. The idea of co-locating people is a historical relic from before telecommunications. 

I expect massive drops in the value of commercial real estate over the next 2-5 years, with associated bankruptcies and the calling in of bulldozers to eliminate old buildings. Many business districts will shrink in size.

 2. Large commercial jet manufacturers

Boeing and Airbus, in their current form, are doomed. They will need to adapt current and future designs to include better air quality management (including micro-particle scrubbing) and re-configure seating to allow for physical separation. Right now, any pending orders for new jets are highly likely to be cancelled. There are no airlines with the money to buy new planes. It would not surprise me if they are already looking at Ultra-Wide-Body design changes. The move in recent decades has been away from wide-bodies (747, A380) back to narrower-body planes. Airlines (those that survive) may want wider planes so that they can impose wider separation between passengers. It would not surprise me, for example, to see a radically reconfigured A380 with only 200-250 seats total.

3. Cruise Line companies (except the eco-nichers)

Despite the trumpeting of cruise lines about late Summer bookings, their business model has just been holed below the waterline. A lot of smarter people are going to regard the idea of sharing a virus incubator with 3500 other people as…not smart. Your $10k cruise to the Galapagos Islands on a 50-cabin luxury liner will still be available, but the $599 dash down to Cancun for a week on Leviathan Of The Seas? Not likely to be available any more. 

I expect many current cruise ships to be laid up by the beginning of 2021, and scrapped by 2025. The cruise lines, like the airlines, will need to retrofit their vessels to implement the concept of social distancing. That will, at the very least, reduce the number of passengers, and will increase cruise costs substantially.

4. Sports bars

Many city restaurants and conventional bars have been transformed into sports bars, because people tend to drink more standing up, and alcohol sales are more profitable compared to food sales. Those venues are going to rapidly disappear. They can clearly be seen as proximity incubators.

5. Major sports and entertainment stadiums (especially NFL)

Any large-capacity venue of this type has a major challenge. The worst impacted will be the NFL, where the economic case for a permanent stadium for a team guaranteed less than 10 home games a year has always been tenuous. The leap-frogging of stadiums (bigger and better) has always been driven by owner vanity rather than proven practical need. Baseball ballparks do at least have a significant number of home games a season. The NFL…nope. Most of the venues have other facilities to try and make them economic. Those other facilities such as conferencing and concerts are going to be doomed (see 1 above).

Concert venues are most likely doomed. Those arena rock stars are going to have to find other sources of income in the next 1-2 years. Major venue owners have to pray that the pandemic fizzles out before they have to close, unless they can figure out how to go drive-through (see below). 

Impacted Business Sectors

  1. Restaurants 

Any venue relying for its business model on packing people in close proximity for lenghty periods of time either adapts or will not survive. A lot of smaller restaurants are going to disappear. The economics of restaurants in most countries have always been marginal. 

2. Tourism

The move to a two-tier travel world (see below) is going to reduce the size of the tourist sector in many countries. 

Boomed Business Sectors

  1. Aircraft scrapping and recycling

Many airlines are going out of business, and we can expect major reductions in routes, especially internationally. Companies that recycle old airliners are going to enjoy a boom. 

2.  Drive-in cinemas

Suddenly, the idea of driving into a location in your car and watching a movie sealed in your car or, at the very least, physically distanced from others, looks rather smart. 

3. Home delivery services

For people who can afford it, having items delivered instead of engaging in superfluous human contact will look very attractive.

4. Immunization registries

Any IT corporation selling an Immunization registry product is going to…become very busy. I expect immunization records to become an essential document in the pandemic era. We will all need an immunization record, and if we do not have one, our movements will be restricted. This may apply inside and outside of the USA.

Two tier global travel

There is evidence that countries who regard themselves as having successfully managed Covid-19 contagion are already forming alliances with other countries. This is rapidly going to create a two-tier travel world. The Tier 1 countries will allow residents from other Tier 1 countries to enter with normal travel documents. Any traveler from a Tier 2 country who arrives will either be rejected and told to go elsewhere, or will be admitted only under strict quarantine rules (usually a 14 day lockdown).  The same conditions will apply in reverse. Travelers from Tier 1 to Tier 2 countries will be admitted, but when they return to their country of origin, they will probably be forced into quarantine, which means that unless they work from home, foreign travel will become logistically impossible for many.

(NOTE: This will eliminate a lot of tourism). 

Right now, the USA and the UK would be Tier 2 countries. The majority of European countries, with the exception of Sweden, are likely to be Tier 1. Most Eastern countries are comfortably Tier 1. 

Note that the Tier classifications of countries could change. Countries that relax lockdown too soon and too much may suddenly find themselves hit by a second wave of virus contagion, and if the virus mutates sufficiently to eliminate all prior human immunity, the entire contagion cycle could begin all over again. 

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The Strange and tragic story of Karen Sehlke

Karen Sehlke was a married woman living in Harris County, Texas, most of which is part of the Greater Houston city area.

She entered the news in early April 2020. A Facebook post supposedly posted by her, where she ranted against the stay-at-home rules, and made comments dismissive of Covid, was posted on the wider internet by people essentially saying “Gee, look at this wackadoodle”. The posting soon became a bit of an internet pile-on, as numerous internet news outlets re-posted all or part of the story, with sometimes blunt commentary.

The reason was obvious. In the last week of March, friends of Sehlke had posted that she was sick and had been admitted to hospital. Further postings and commentary seemed to suggest that she had been diagnosed with Covid-19.

On April 2nd, announcements appeared on Facebook that Karen Sehlke had passed away. Initial announcements seemed to suggest that she had died of complications caused by Covid-19.

A GoFundMe appeal was launched by one of her friends, ostensibly to pay expenses associated with her death and to help her family. The fund swiftly collected nearly $36,000 dollars in donations, at which point it was closed.

Needless to say, the news that a person who had ranted dismissively about Covid-19 had apparently died of the virus ignited a firestorm of commentary, ranging across the spectrum from sadness, through schadenfreude, to smugness, and into the spectrum of crowing “the sniveling hypocrite deserved it”. In other words, a lot of people came out to comment.

However, the question soon began to be asked; was the original posting by Karen Sehlke actually a real artifact on the internet, or had it been invented by mischief-makers? In other words, was there a post hoc effort under way to create a nice story about a hypocritical person being horrifically terminated by the very virus that they had sarcistically minimized? A modern morality tale that could be used for months as a “Har Har Har, that’s what happens to stupid people” teaching aid?

The question was being asked by fact-checking websites on the internet. It was also asked of me by a commenter at NextDoor when I posted the story from a social media platform. He was an ex-journalist, and pointed out that not everything on the internet is correct, factual or well-researched. He seemed somewhat skeptical of the veracity of the story.

So, in the interests, not of defending my posting, but ensuring its veracity, I set to work to try to find out.

My efforts led me down a couple of blind alleys, and down the path of researching a more cynical hypothesis.

Looking at the possibilities, it seemed there were quite a few. In the interests of not converting this into a novel, here are the main ones:

  1. Karen Sehlke did post the comments attributed to her, and she contracted Covid-19 and died of the virus in the first week of April 2020.
  2. Karen Sehlke never posted the comments attributed to her, but she did die of Covid-19 in the first week of April 2020.
  3. Karen Sehlke died in the first week of April 2020, but died from another disease or problem, not Covid-19.
  4. Karen Sehlke did not die, was still alive, and the entire story was a heist to gain money by faking a death and running a GoFundMe campaign on the back of it.
  5. Karen Sehlke was not a real person, and the rest of (4).

Yes, I know. (4) seems overtly cynical. But there are plenty of instances of GoFundMe campaigns that ranged from misleading to deceitful. So I thought I owed it to myself to look at whether that was a possibility.

As for (5), well, when cats run Facebook and Twitter and Instagram accounts, and people routinely operate under false IDs all over the internet, it has to be considered.

So, I began looking into the possible scenarios. Let’s go in reverse.

Q5. Is/was Karen Sehlke a real person?

The answer appears to be Yes. Apart from her Facebook page, which was a fairly typical “Texas married suburban woman with children” page, she also has a LinkedIn profile here. The picture on the profile is a match for images from her Facebook page, and the rest of the profile information appears to match her name, age, location and occupation.

Q4. Did a Karen Sehlke die in early April in the Houston area?

This is the question to which I was unsure of the answer for a lengthy period of time. There can be a lag of up to a week or more before a death notice appears in the local media in Texas. Most commonly, a funeral home posts an obituary online on their website. If the person is a well-known community figure, local media may precede that with the news of the person’s death and a written obituary.

I monitored the local funeral home websites in and around Houston to see if a death notice appeared. It took nearly 2 weeks, but finally this death notice appeared. Yes, it looks like a match for Karen Sehlke.

So hypotheses 5 and 4 can be disposed of.

So now we get to the most interesting questions: did Karen Sehlke die of Covid-19 complications, and did she really post the rant attributed to her on Facebook?

Here is part 1 of the rant, snapshotted into a Twitter posting:

And here is part 2:

A couple of fact-check websites have taken a run at trying to determine whether Karen Sehlke actually created and published this rant attributed to her on Facebook.

Snopes took a run at it. Now, normally I have a lot of time for Snopes. They do investigate questions in some depth. So I was eager to read their analysis.

The article states that Karen Sehlke did die (seemingly) from Covid, and that a message stating that she had been diagnosed with Covid had been posted on Facebook by a family friend.

Snopes dug into the question of the authenticity of her supposed Facebook rant, and found that it appeared to date from March 13th, but…it had been written by somebody else.

Which leads to the obvious question: If the text actually appeared on Karen Sehlke’s Facebook page or wall, HOW did it appear? Did Sehlke herself re-post it, either with or without comment? Did somebody post it(or a link to it) on a comment thread on her Facebook page?

Snopes provides no insight on this topic, and it seems that nobody else has tried to analyze the posting in that way and context either. Since the posting has now disappeared, further analysis may be impossible.

The bottom line question: Was I, like a lot of other people, fooled by the easy-to-like Karen Sehlke tragi-comedy story?

The short answer: I still do not know. Most of the story appears to be well-established. That Karen Sehlke was a real person who tragically contracted Covid-19, and died from complications, seems to be a fact. She was not the author of the posting generally attributed to her, but whether she re-posted it (almost word for word) because she agreed with it, or whether a friend posted it and she left it on her page because she agreed with it, is not clear. It is not possible to establish with certainty whether she posted it herself in mid-March 2020, effectively agreeing with its contents.

Which leaves me frustrated.

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