Thursday 16 April 2020

Transport pandemics

Rather a while before lockdown, I stopped using Wellington's public transport. There were just too many people who'd board busses while coughing or sneezing; I think I got off the bus a mile before our house on my last ride while saying "Nope, not 'till this mess is done."

MIT's Jeff Harris has put up some interesting correlations between New York's most-affected neighbourhoods and public transport.

He also offers this caution:
A Bunch of Garbage 

While we’ve got a few more maps up our sleeve, we’re already at a juncture where some readers may react with extreme skepticism. We’ve already admitted we don’t have a cleanly designed natural experiment. None of Dr. Snow’s successors– He died of a stroke at age 45, four years after the handle came off the Broad Street pump. – managed to get the Flushing Local and the rest of the MTA abruptly shut down at the end of February. Without such evidence, the naysayers will assert that any diffuse, multitentacled network that traverses most of the city could be correlated spatially with the spread of coronavirus infection documented above. To be sure, serious critics won’t point to the electromagnetic signals from power lines, but they could argue that the path traced in Figure 6 could just as well represent the stops of sanitation trucks. Put bluntly, the critique goes, the evidence presented thus far would be consistent with contaminated garbage as the vehicle for the massive spread of deadly COVID-19.

Except for one thing – namely, we know that the garbage hypothesis is entirely implausible. We know that close contact in subways is fully consistent with the spread of coronavirus, either by inhalable droplets or residual fomites left on railings, pivoted grab handles, and those smooth, metallic, vertical poles that everyone shares. We know that the flattening of the epidemic curve in Manhattan two weeks after that borough had cut its subway ridership by 65 percent adds tellingly to the circumstantial evidence. We know that we can’t dismiss out of hand our finding of reciprocal seeding from the periphery of the Flushing local line to Manhattan’s only hotspot in Midtown West, and from that central hub back to the periphery.
As lockdown eases here, I won't be considering public transport unless masks are required.

I've really not had time to blog much lately. The past month has been a blur. I've been active on the Twitter feed, and we've put out a pile of reports, notes and columns on the pandemic response. Hopefully I'll be able to get back to blogging those bits as they come out.

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