Saturday, January 16, 2021

Weekend Reading: The Trying Not to Whine Edition

At the start of the year, I thought I might set myself a goal of spending less time scrolling Twitter and more time doing more useful and/or restorative things with my downtime. 

And then January 6th happened, and I got sucked right back in.

I still think it is a good goal for me this year. My approach to social media is that if it isn't adding something good to my life, I shouldn't use it. This is why I am almost never on Facebook. I am on Instagram, originally to figure things out since Pumpkin was getting an account, and now because Petunia likes to scroll it during morning cuddles. We follow mostly zoos and nature accounts (plus some friends and a smattering of other accounts), and we post mostly photos of her pet hamster (plus the occasional sunset, flower from a walk, or other innocuous thing). 

I have long said that I like Twitter because it keeps me informed. And it has. My Twitter feed is why I was ahead of the curve on masks, and it is how I am gathering information about the B.1.1.7 variant and other coronavirus-related information that truly does help me keep my family safe. My Twitter feed has also broadened my horizons in innumerable ways and I think it has given me insights into a lot of different issues that I would not have found otherwise. And it can be fun and beautiful - the Sea Shanty thing is happening on TikTok but I know about it because of Twitter. I love the bird pictures that various accounts I follow post, and of course there's The Rabbit of the Day and The Hamster of the Day to make me smile.

But during a time like this, Twitter is also an anxiety amplifier and it is one that is hard to look away from, because there is a constant stream of new information. But it is not information that I need to use to make decisions, and so it is better for me if I find a way to look away.

At the start of the year, I thought I'd spend more time writing. I have some cool ideas in mind for Adjusted Latitudes, and a backlog of things I want to write about over on Beyond Managing as well as some things I'd like to write about here. But all of that feels a but trivial and weird to post about right now, so I haven't been doing it.

I started this post on Thursday night, but never finished it because from here, it turned a bit whiny (I just deleted all of that...) and I couldn't come up with an ending that wasn't whiny. Maybe this is because I was legitimately feeling whiny. I had a tough week on many fronts.

But it is the weekend, and the weather is glorious here. I am determined to have a good weekend.

First, though, let's get to the links.

After I gave up on my blog post on Thursday night, I finally sat down and read through the evidence I could find about the B.1.1.7 variant, masks, and other infection avoidance measures. I think I have already posted a link to the mask study Monica Gandhi and Linsey Marr did, but it turned out to be one of the most useful things I read, so here it is again.

I spent a lot of time trying to find out if the double mask method described in that study (a surgical mask under a well-fitting cloth mask) is better than a cloth mask with a p2.5 filter. The Gandhi and Marr study also recommends a cloth mask with a vacuum bag type filter, but that is different from a p2.5 filter. I did a lot of searching and didn't really find anything comparing the efficacy of the p2.5 filters. In the end, I decided that the double mask method would be better because it might help minimize gaps around the edges of the cloth mask. If anyone comes across some actual evidence on the effectiveness of a p2.5 filter in minimizing virus transmission, I'd love to see it. I'll hold on to my p2.5 filters, though, because they were handy during fire season.

My searching for info on the best filter options did turn up this useful write-up of different filter/mask options, which might be helpful if you prefer a single mask with a filter.

I also spent some time trying to understand the difference between a surgical and a procedure mask. I think most of the masks that people call "surgical masks" are actually procedure masks, because according to this source, surgical masks have ties and are designed to be worn with a surgical cap (so they won't slip) whereas procedure masks have earloops. There is some evidence that the tie masks fit better (see this article for that and also a summary of the double masking advice aimed at a general audience). If I needed to be indoors a lot, I would probably try to get surgical masks (or N95s...) but for my purposes I think the important thing about the non-cloth mask or filter is that it be made from non-woven material. I have some procedure masks that fit the bill (which I bought to keep in our cars in case we forgot a mask) and so we'll use those, and when they are almost gone I will go back down the rabbit hole trying to figure out what the best mask to buy will be. And I will try very hard not to dwell on the fact that it is ridiculous that I, an individual consumer, am left to figure out what mask to use on my own and that we still have such a shortage of N95 masks that the advice can't just be "buy some N95s and here's how to make sure they fit." 

But that is getting dangerously close to whining again, so moving on....

Next, I turned my attention to what we know about whether the B.1.1.7 variant increases the risk of transmission outdoors compared to the "regular" variant. We don't have a lot of data on this, but I found this thread from an infectious disease expert in Scotland useful:

The bottom line is that she thinks the risk outdoors is still low, particularly when combined with other mitigation factors (e.g., masks and/or distance).

The evidence that the B.1.1.7 variant is more transmissible is getting stronger, though, and pretty much all of the experts I read take the higher transmissibility as a given. Julia Belluz had a nice write-up in Vox of what this means in practice. Basically, now is the time to redouble your efforts not to share air with anyone not in your household. So, minimize trips to stores and avoid non-essential indoor activities. And improve your masks, if you can. 

So, after all of my reading, the primary change to my earlier rules is that I'll be double masking when I go into stores, and I'll minimize trips to stores even more. I would still be OK with seeing friends occasionally as long as we do it outdoors and keep distance/wear masks... but that is currently against "the rules" in San Diego, and Petunia is convinced that if we break that rule we are contributing to her not being able to go back to in-person school, which is the thing she wants most right now. Any discussion of how we might see someone outside our household leads to tears, so for right now our little family is not seeing anyone. This is not sustainable for the length of time it is likely to take for us to get vaccines, so hopefully our local numbers start to come down soon and maybe then I can convince Petunia that we can see people safely.

In non-COVID links:

I thought this was a good open letter to the insurrectionists many of whom, if news accounts are to believed, are genuinely surprised that they are in so much trouble.

Dahlia Lithwick wrote a really good piece on the absurdity of Republicans whining about "cancel culture" and being censored in speeches on the House floor.

This group of scientists and moms who want to mobilize moms to fight climate change for the sake of our kids looks interesting. 

Some things that made me smile this week:

Paper bunnies!

This cat:

And yikes, that's all I have. I must look for some more happy things for next week!

And here's your weekly bunny:

Have a good weekend!


  1. Have you looked at the KF94 masks? They're the Korean standard where the requirements included both filtering efficacy AND fit (which is the big complaint against the KN95's). Filtering effiiciency is slightly lower than KN95s/N95s but close: (found some on Amazon)

  2. Socal dendrite2:20 PM

    Personally, the tie masks *definitely* fit me better than the earloop ones (I have a small head and have to buy hats in children's sizes) but are less convenient to use. I have been using them when I go to the grocery store and know 100% I won't be taking it off until I am done. However, I am currently avoiding the store for at least a few weeks (preferably as long as I can), and I have ordered some KN95s with ties for when I will need to go again. The numbers in LA County are scary right now :(

  3. Thanks for continuing to share! I'm going to be looking for some N95s for our family to use when we absolutely have to run any errands.

    Poor Petunia, it's got to be tough to feel like everything is verboten if you want to get back to school, especially when you can't control what anyone else does. I feel for her, I honestly feel the same way myself about the world at large. It's so frustrating when I think about any of the things we miss doing and knowing it didn't have to be this way. But we're setting our expectations to living something like this for another year. And even then I wonder what 2022 will look like.

  4. I have to wear procedure masks at work, and since my face is really long & narrow they don't fit me well. Then a colleague introduced me to this technique and it really works for my face. Once I've got it adjusted, I actually put a staple in each side to hold it just right.

  5. thanks for wading through twitter and blogging here so I don't have to! I saw a similar blog post today linking to which....might be some help in the confusing world of kn95s?)


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