Let’s look COVID-19 dead in the eye
This is an overview and guide for crypto community team leaders making decisions in a world in which COVID-19 is a factor.
I wrote this because we travel widely to attend numerous conferences throughout the year, yet we are observably not following COVID-19 preventative practices.
And please take note: I am a software developer and Ethereum community organizer, with some interest in the history of epidemics. I am not an expert.
There are several kinds of negative attitudes I currently see about the simmering COVID-19 pandemic:
- Overwhelmed, ignoring it
- Save me, let the government do whatever
- This isn’t a big deal, everyone is overreacting
- Obsessed with it, reading everything, even conspiracies
- Racism, nationalism, etc.
These attitudes are not universal, thankfully. They are essentially avoidant and not helpful to us. We need to face the crisis head-on, make decisions and take action while incorporating the needs of our teams and the wider community.
A helpful attitude to have:
- Understanding COVID-19 sufficiently in order to make the best decisions possible
The motives to be pro-active about COVID-19 are simple.
- we want to protect our teams, friends, and families
- we want to protect the wider community
- we want to protect the healthcare and social systems we rely on
Not acting and overreacting
There may be a tendency to wait and let systems or authorities take care of things for us. I think that this may be risky because the disease can get out of control if communities wait to mitigate COVID-19’s spread. Deferring to authority while neglecting the problem can lead to overbearing state interventions, social disruptions from regional containment, and more infections.
There may also be a tendency to overreact, for example to shut down all in-person activities. This may also be risky as people and community groups can easily organize and proceed with some activity anyway, perhaps without taking necessary precautions.
As leaders, we know our communities, what folks around us are likely to do, and what will work for them. We can take preventative actions and greatly help in the global fight against this disease.
The relevant facts
Understanding COVID-19 helps us take appropriate, pragmatic action. It is not possible to do so without knowing the basic facts about transmission, disease, prevention, and epidemiology.
I am not a scientist or disease expert, but I have worked to understand the larger situation at hand, filter out the noise, and distill the relevant facts. From several hours of research per week since the crisis began, the following bullet points summarize what I know about COVID-19.
- highly transmissible, but transmission is mitigated by good practices (e.g. washing hands often)
- transmissible by exposure to saliva droplets (e.g. COVID-19 positive person sneezes next to you), or by touching surfaces that are contaminated by saliva droplets
- some evidence that a carrier can transmit the disease while not showing symptoms
- there is credible evidence of transmission via fecal exposure (e.g. an unsanitary plumbing setup)
- COVID-19 is a coronavirus, in the same family as SARS and MERS, and some common colds too
- some people exhibit lightweight symptoms of the disease, especially young people, and easily mistaken for a common cold
- “worst flu ever” is a common experience, but this condition can degrade and become deadly for elderly people, smokers, people with heart conditions and diabetes, or with a diminished immune system
- two weeks into the disease, there is a point where the ill person’s condition degrades, they may suffer from inflammation of the lungs, have extreme difficulty breathing, require hospitalization, etc.
- there is evidence that some who have recovered from illness (e.g. released from the hospital) can test again as COVID-19 positive
Prevention and testing:
- preventative practices include: washing hands often, not touching face, coughing properly, disinfecting surfaces, wear mask and/or stay at home when sick
- testing for COVID-19 is crucial where there are symptoms, or suspicion that the subject has been exposed to others who are COVID-19 positive
- this disease has significant capacity to spread widely, can overwhelm medical systems
- infection in a community is established in rapidly-growing clusters, starting with a single infected carrier
- clusters are associated with social groups (family, church, business associates), enclosed spaces (apartment building, hospital. or ship), or larger, shared spaces (marketplace or conference)
- the important factors in the spread of COVID-19 are: travel, situations facilitating contact and transmission, and individuals not following preventative procedures
Applying what we know
What should you do if deciding how to proceed with an in-person team meeting or planned local Meetup? Or how to proceed with a conference?
I would advocate for a pragmatic approach. State your principles, weigh the relevant facts, know the risks, and openly brainstorm for solutions. Above all, avoid black and white thinking, e.g. look at the situation in a probabilistic manner. Even look at the facts this way, because some facts are more established than others.
Functioning in a dangerous environment is all about pragmatic risk mitigation, not perfect understanding or absolute prevention (both of which are impossible).
Applying what we don’t know
We should recognize our limitations and not be afraid to get second and third opinions. Reach out to other leaders for advice about what to do. Reach out to risk assessment specialists.
Some quick ideas for conferences
- portable hand washing stations
- hand gel stations (less effective than hand washing)
- signage about preventative practices e.g. maintain social distance
- make “wearing masks while sick” more socially acceptable (we are cyberpunks after all)
- surface disinfecting procedures
Official sources of information often simplify the relevant facts down to points that can be easily remembered and applied. This is still useful, especially for those who don’t have the time to absorb the fuller picture.
Comprehensive articles are also useful. They are highly detailed but can provide a lot of nuance for any given fact.
Twitter discussions are also useful, provided the sources are credible:
Twitter list of epidemiologists, virologists, statisticians, and science reporters: