The rise and (hopefully) fall of the Delta variant in the U.S.

NOTE: This post uses several maps from covidestim.org. Here are the keys for each type of map:

Using the excellent data visualizations on the covidestim.org site, I noticed an interesting “wave” effect as the Delta variant started to take hold in the United States in late spring. The first reports of significant spread of the highly contagious variant were in Missouri and Arkansas in mid-June.

Infections per 100K people as of 20 Jun 2021 (Source: covidestim.org)

The signs were already there in the data, however. The effective reproduction number (Rt), which we’ve discussed before, is “the average number of people who will become infected by a person infected at time t. If it’s above 1.0, COVID-19 cases will increase in the near future. If it’s below 1.0, COVID-19 cases will decrease in the near future.” By May 23, both Missouri and Arkansas were seeing Rt numbers above 1.2 (orange and red on the map).

Effective reproduction number (Rt) as of 23 May 2021 ource: covidestim.org)

By July 4, ironically at the same time as President Biden was suggesting that the nation was declaring independence from COVID (which this New York Times article by Sheryl Gay Stolberg correctly questioned as being too soon), the Rt numbers throughout the southeastern U.S. were very high and most of the rest of the country was following.

Effective reproduction number (Rt) as of 4 July 2021 ource: covidestim.org)

Per capita infections were still low on Independence Day, but as predicted by the high Rt numbers, within three weeks that had changed for the worse.

Infections per 100K people as of 25 July 2021 (source: covidestim.org)

The spread from the southeastern states, where vaccination rates have been the lowest and several Republican governors have deliberately worked to thwart public health measures including mandating (or even promoting) vaccinations and wearing of protective masks, through the southwestern and midwestern states, the Pacific Northwest, and even Alaska, happened next. Here’s the map on August 29 with Delta at what appears to be its widest extent.

Infections per 100K people as of 29 August 2021 (source: covidestim.org)

Notice that at this point 18 days ago, Michigan was still experiencing lower rates of COVID infection (as was most of the rest of the upper midwest and New England). The state is still lagging in the percentage of residents who are fully vaccinated, unlike New England which has some of the highest vaccination rates.

At this same time (August 29), Rt numbers had begun to decline significantly in states that were still bright yellow and white on the infection per capita map.

Effective reproduction number (Rt) as of 29 August 2021 (source: covidestim.org)

Perhaps some of this was the increase in vaccinations that followed the Delta outbreak in the southeastern states, or perhaps it’s a result of there being fewer people left to infect. In any case, with Rt numbers declining back under 1.0 in those states, a predictable decrease in infections per capita should happen… which it has, according to the most recent map from September 14.

Infections per 100K people as of 14 September 2021 (source: covidestim.org)

Here are two animated GIFs of both sets of data covering the period from May 2 to September 14:

Effective reproduction number (Rt) from 2 May 2021 to 14 September 2021 (source: covidestim.org | animation: Tom Kephart)
Infections per 100K people from 2 May 2021 to 14 September 2021 (source: covidestim.org | animation: Tom Kephart)

There’s always the possibility that another variant could emerge and the whole pattern starts over again. However, the combination of vaccine mandates – which have started to have a positive effect as they expand to more businesses and organizations – and so-called “vaccine passports,” already established in Québec, coming to Ontario, and being considered in several U.S. states, which restrict access to non-essential activities such as bars, restaurants, sporting and music events, and more. Ultimately, it will be the level of vaccination that will move COVID-19 from a pandemic to an endemic virus that will likely require periodic boosters, similar to an annual vaccination for influenza, pneumonia, or other already-available prevention techniques.

Watching the Rt numbers, though, is an important way to cut through the media hype and misinformation (both intentional and well-intentioned) that continues to dominate our discussion about what the future holds for the COVID-19 pandemic.

My extra-innings proposal

Major League Baseball recently reached out to me to put together a proposal to fix the controversy caused by the rule, which started in 2020, that adds a runner on second to start each extra inning (the “Manfred Man,” as named by Craig Calcaterra). (EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a lie. MLB could care less what Tom thinks, and generally speaking, doesn’t care very much what any fan thinks.) (TOM’S NOTE: The preceding note is also a lie; I don’t have an editor.)

I concede that the diminished pitch counts for modern pitchers can make it difficult when a game goes into extended extra innings. Teams don’t want to burn up their entire bullpen, or even have a position player end up having to finish a game that actually matters, so it’s reasonable to think that some sort of rule that might bring a lengthy game to an earlier conclusion is needed. But altering the rules immediately following the regulation number of innings (whether that’s the normal nine or the shortened seven used in doubleheaders these days) is too soon. Both soccer and hockey play at least a short overtime before using a shootout to settle things, although hockey does gimmick things up a bit by playing with three skaters instead of five to open up the ice.

Anyway, here’s my proposal:

  • In the 10th and 11th innings, play normal baseball.
  • The 12th and 13th innings, add the runner on second at the start of each half-inning.
  • Each inning after the 13th, start a runner on second – and ban infield shifts. Two infielders on each side of second base, and they may not be positioned in the outfield.

Additionally, if the half-inning starts with a runner on second, the team in the field may not intentionally walk a batter until the runner on second moves up at least to third (or is retired). They can pitch around batters, of course, issuing the old “unintentional intentional walk,” but can’t ask for the automatic pass.

This would give us one or two traditional extra innings, then add elements to bring the game to a conclusion. For all of the flaws in the Manfred Man rule, at least they’re playing baseball and not deciding who wins with what amounts to a skills contest, which is what a shootout is.

Because I like hockey’s 3-on-3 overtime during the regular season, an alternative idea would be to reduce the number of fielders in extra innings: 8 in the 10th and 11th; 7 in the 12th and 13th; and so on.

Also, seven inning games in doubleheaders are horseshit.

You’re welcome.

Elida Yakeley, higher education pioneer

My day job is Director of Admissions for a community college in Michigan. In that role, I’ve been a member of the Michigan Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (MACRAO) for several years, and am serving as the group’s president for 2021, our 100th anniversary year. Last week, I wrote the following item for our website, celebrating the career of the association’s first president. Because she was such a pioneer for women in higher education, I thought I’d share it here as well.

Elida Yakeley

MACRAO was born in 1921 on the campus of the Michigan State Normal College in Ypsilanti. America’s colleges and universities were experiencing rapid change, and the college registrars were responding by expanding and modernizing their work. These challenges motivated registrars from of four of the state’s colleges to meet in person to share ideas and work on standardizing processes between institutions. Besides the hosts from Michigan State Normal (later to become Eastern Michigan University), registrars from Michigan Agricultural College (later Michigan State University), the Detroit Teachers College (which later merged with other Detroit colleges to create Wayne University, then later Wayne State University), and Kalamazoo College attended.

After discussing their shared interests, the group decided to create a formal organization. About a decade earlier, Michigan had also been the first meeting place of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars (AACR), and since that group had grown to national prominence, it seemed like a good idea to have a similar group that would deal with the specific issues of colleges in Michigan. So the Michigan Association of Collegiate Registrars (MACR) was born.

Of course, every good organization needs leadership, and the newly minted MACR membership turned to one of the state’s pioneers in the profession: Elida Yakeley from M.A.C.

Elida Yakeley was born on April 4, 1876, in Trenton, Michigan, but grew up in Montana. After graduating from high school in Big Sky Country, she returned to her home state to attend college at Ferris Institute in Big Rapids, where she studied business. After graduation she worked in a series of short-term positions until she was hired in 1903 as the secretary to Jonathan L. Snyder, the president of what was then known as the State Agricultural College in East Lansing.

The 1923 MACR meeting was held in East Lansing

Yakeley was a diminutive woman, so sitting behind the huge desk in the anteroom of Snyder’s office meant she had to stand to greet everyone who came in. This made her the face of the college, which in those days had only about 500 students, and she quickly came to know each of them personally and was a great resource for them. As she pointed out later in life, registering students wasn’t terribly difficult in those days, since there were so few students and only three choices for programs to follow: agriculture, engineering, and the “women’s course.”

Over the next several years, however, the school added new programs and its enrollment started to grow significantly. Soon the registration process was becoming more difficult, and Yakeley took it upon herself to come up with a way to automate the system – at least as much as it could be in an age well before computers. Recognizing her genius in setting up one of the first modern registration systems of its kind in the country, Snyder appointed her the first registrar in the college’s history in 1908, just before the institution became Michigan Agricultural College the following year. This not only made her one of the first female college administrators in Michigan, but also in the United States.

In charge of all student records, she continued to make it a point to talk to nearly every student at the school throughout her 30 years at M.A.C. She also kept in touch with alumni, taking an interest in their success after they’d left East Lansing. Students were very fond of her and thought of her as a “thoroughly just, broad-hearted friend.”

She took a 27,000-mile journey around the world in the fall of 1923 with M.A.C. history and political science professor E.H. Ryder, his wife, and home economics associate professor Anna Bayha. During the trip, they were feared to have been lost during the Great Kantō Earthquake but had left Japan just five days before the disaster. They toured Japan, Korea, the Philippines, India, Egypt, Palestine, France, Italy, Switerland, and England. The travelers returned safely to East Lansing in January 1924.

Yakeley was elected Vice President of AACR at their annual meeting in Seattle in April 1929. Later that year in November, she was seriously injured while attending the AACR meeting in Buffalo. According to newspaper accounts of the time, she was struck by a car and thrown into the path of another vehicle and suffered head and chest injuries. Clemens P. Steimle, another early president of MACR, reported that she was barely conscious and was unable to speak. She did recover, though, and returned to her work at the newly renamed Michigan State College of Agriculture and Science (M.S.C.).

As registrar at M.A.C./M.S.C. she was also instrumental in maintaining the early history of the college. After turning over the registrar’s duties in 1939, she continued as a historical research associate at the college until she retired in 1941 due to ill health and moved to southern California.

Elida Yakeley in 1951

In 1949, M.S.C. named a new women’s dormitory after its first registrar. Yakeley Hall is in the North Neighborhood, which at the time was all housing for female students; Yakeley is today the only remaining all-female residence hall on the MSU campus. Although the college named the building after her, they neglected to let her know about the honor! She found out during a visit to Lansing shortly after the building opened to students, reading about it in the State Journal while staying with friends.

Elida Yakeley died on April 18, 1970, in Chula Vista, California. She was 94 years old.

MTV hits the big 4-0

Where were you 40 years ago? Were you anxiously awaiting the launch – at midnight on August 1, 1981 – of Music Television, better known as MTV?

Were you born? If you did exist on Earth back then, were you old enough to remember this august (pun intended) moment in American cultural history?

I am old enough to remember the start of the MTV phenomenon, though I did not witness the launch personally. The availability of cable television wasn’t widespread in 1981, especially in urban areas. So in Pontiac, Michigan, where I grew up, our TV choices were still limited to over-the-air broadcasts from stations mostly in Detroit:

2WJBKCBSDetroit
4WDIVNBCDetroit
7WXYZABCDetroit
9CBETCBCWindsor, Ontario
20WXONIndependentDetroit
50WKBDIndependentDetroit
56WTVSPBSDetroit
62WGPRIndependentDetroit

Here’s how the Detroit Free Press noted the upcoming launch of MTV two days before it started:

Detroit Free Press, Thursday, July 29, 1981, page 12B

An interesting note about cable TV availability: I was listening to the original MTV video jocks (Mark Goodman, Nina Blackwood, Martha Quinn, and Alan Hunter – the fifth original VJ, J.J. Jackson, died in 2004) chat about MTV’s start on SiriusXM’s “80s on 8” yesterday, and they recalled that they had to travel to Fort Lee, New Jersey during the evening on July 31, where they went to a restaurant that had cable since it wasn’t yet available in Manhattan. They’d been taping their segments that would appear between the videos, but really weren’t sure what MTV was going to look like until the channel started at 12:01 a.m.

My first exposure to MTV was about a month later when I went off to Central Michigan University for my freshman year. As noted in Bettelou Peterson’s Free Press item above, Mt. Pleasant was one of the Michigan cities that had cable and was going to have MTV on their lineup. So when I got to my dorm (the late, great Tate Hall), some of my new dorm mates were aware of the channel already. The dorm had only one cable connection, located in the basement hangout room, where it was attached to a then-quite-large 24” diagonal color television.

I spent a bit of time down there watching, but frankly, I was more into radio and didn’t see the attraction of watching music instead of just listening to it. But some of our classmates spent way too much time down there, and it was apparent that the concept definitely had appeal.

During “Welcome Week,” in fact, the university’s Program Board, which organized music and other cultural events on campus, held a “video watch” event in the Kiva space in Moore Hall. Music videos were projected onto a screen. About 100 people showed up and a good time was had by all.

By the time my radio career got started in 1982, first at campus station WCHP and then at WCFX-FM in Clare, MTV was already affecting how music was being marketed and consumed by fans. MTV’s popularity profoundly influenced what it took to be a successful popular music artist. While it never hurt to be physically attractive before, visual image became even more important in an era when your song absolutely had to have a video to have any chance of getting played, not just on MTV but on the radio as well.

Change is often gradual, and it’s hard to point out exactly when our culture started moving in a different direction. But August 1, 1981, was a pivotal moment in American society when the rocket took off and MTV started burrowing into our collective consciousness.

Our exit strategy is death

Craig Newmark founded Craigslist in 1995. A dozen years later – at which point Craigslist was a senior citizen by venture-capital-fueled Internet standards – Newmark was asked for the umpteenth time, “When are you going to sell your company and cash out?” In other words, what was his “exit strategy?”

His response was (more or less) “My exit strategy is death.” He’s repeated that sentiment many times since. He retired from day-to-day operations at Craigslist in 2016 to focus on his philanthropic efforts (Forbes estimated in 2017 that the company was worth $3 billion, making Newmark – who’s assumed to own at least 40% of the company – worth around $1.3 billion or so.) He has no plans to sell Craigslist to any of the many suitors who’ve come calling over the years, nor is he interested in further monetizing the site, which remains pleasantly archaic in appearance and functionality in 2021, yet likely brings in several hundred million dollars per year.

Newmark’s approach continues to be refreshingly offbeat in a world where the quick buck is treasured. But his plan was based on real information, which we used to call “facts,” and led him to make the decisions that turned Craigslist from a San Francisco-based mailing list helping locals find Bay Area arts and entertainment events to a global company that was truly one of the Internet’s first “social networks.” (Fortunately, his stewardship of Craigslist meant it didn’t turn into a platform with the power to destroy American democracy itself, *cough* “Facebook” *cough*.)

On the other hand, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the endless misinformation campaign, led by right-wing media such as Fox News, OANN, and Newsmax, as well as *cough* “Facebook” *cough*, against the COVID-19 vaccines has been wildly successful in convincing nearly half of Americans that the vaccines are part of a widespread government plot to steal their guns, make pedophilia legal, and turn the U.S. into a freedom-hating socialist state. COVID cases are rising nearly everywhere as we’ve seen vaccination rates taper off and everyone, including the non-vaccinated who should still be wearing masks, tossed those masks away and started hanging out in crowded restaurants and bars again. Only this time, nearly everyone who is being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19 is unvaccinated:

Appeals to reason and common sense haven’t worked. Most of those who say they still won’t get vaccinated overlap very neatly with those who think the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. Despite all the evidence that the vaccines are safe and effective (and that there was no “steal” to be stopped when it comes to the presidential election), these folks are sure that’s all “fake news.” Until it isn’t:

Maybe if enough unvaccinated people start becoming seriously, even permanently, ill – or perhaps even dying from COVID-19 – it will start to convince the doubters that the only way we can escape endless waves of COVID-19 infections is by getting shots in the arms of everyone who can be vaccinated. Nothing else seems to be working to change minds.

It’s a morbid thought, but perhaps our best shot at an exit strategy from COVID is death.