Coronavirus information; and practical advice on “social distancing”

March 17, 2020 • 12:53 pm

by Greg Mayer

A group at Oxford produces a website called “Our World in Data“, and they have excellent coronavirus coverage, including not just data compilations but also information of practical use. They have good to great visualizations, with very good explainers.

The data are updated daily based on WHO figures. It has a single set of authors and vetted data source. Their “Growth of cases” (third set of charts in) I find particularly useful, as it is able to show changes in the dynamics– the fact that in China and South Korea they have passed the peak. (This, of course, does not rule out a second wave of exponential growth later, as has happened with flu pandemics.)

Screen shot of growth of confirmed cases from Our World in Data, 2020 03 17 1146 GMT -5. (The “+0 new” for the United States is probably due to a missing or late submission to WHO, not an actual absence of new cases.)

This is a 2-week moving window, and the number of confirmed cases reflects testing dynamics, as well as disease dynamics. The charts on the site are interactive, so you really must go to the site to see the full amount of data available. The site emphasizes deaths and confirmed cases, as these are more readily defined than “cases”.

They provide data on testing, the following graph showing, for example, the relatively few tests done so far in the United States. (With the Federal government now endorsing a “do anything you want to do” strategy toward testing, this may, in the future, underestimate tests done in the US.)

Total COVID-19 tests performed by country, from Our World in Data, 2020 03 17.

The data on symptom frequency are of practical utility in evaluating whether a person needs to be seen medically (e.g., don’t run to the ER if you have the sniffles).

Coronavirus symptoms, from Our World in Data, 2020 03 17.

The WHO dashboard is embedded in the Our World site, and they provide links to the Johns Hopkins dashboard (another good coronavirus site), and to the WHO situation reports.

To answer your very practical questions about how to practice informed “social distancing”, I’ve found this article in The Atlantic, “The Dos and Don’ts of ‘Social Distancing’: Experts weigh in on whether you should cancel your dates, dinner parties, and gym sessions“, which tries to flesh out some of the CDC’s social distancing guidelines, quite useful. It is based on interviews with public health authorities, was last updated yesterday, and is free to all, as part of The Atlantic‘s free coronavirus coverage. Some highlights:

“I think it’s a hard time because many of the recommendations we’re making are about increasing the distance between people, but of course, being close to people is what makes life a pleasure,” Carolyn Cannuscio, the director of research at the Center for Public Health Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania said in a phone call. “So this is going to be a very difficult time. No question.”

Here’s an example of the kinds of questions, and the answers given. Note that the experts don’t necessarily precisely agree.

Cannuscio: People should avoid gathering in public places. People should be at home as much as possible. The measures that have worked to get transmission under control or at least to bend the curve, in China and South Korea, have been extreme measures to increase social distancing.

Albert Ko, the chair of the epidemiology department at the Yale School of Public Health: The CDC recommendations are to keep six to 10 feet away from other people. Bottom line, there’s no absolute indication not to go to bars and restaurants, but in practicing good public health—which is kind of a responsibility for everybody in the country—really think about how we can decrease those close contacts.

Author Kaitlyn Tiffany advises:

This guide is aimed toward those who are symptom-free and not part of an at-risk group, with an addendum at the end for those in quarantine. If you are symptom-free but are over 60 years old; have asthma, heart disease, or diabetes; or are otherwise at risk, experts recommend defaulting to the most conservative response to each of these questions.

Roser, M., H. Ritchie and E. Ortiz-Ospina. 2020. Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) – Statistics and Research. Published online at Retrieved from: ‘’.

18 thoughts on “Coronavirus information; and practical advice on “social distancing”

  1. Speaking of social distancing, I just got back from the pharmacy & people wouldn’t stay away from me. They kept getting too close trying squish by. Every time someone got near me I took off.

    1. Went to the veterinarian’s office to schedule an appointment for our canine. Call me old fashioned; it’s one less phone call they have to take. But we schedulled the appt. outside the building at a distance from one another. They will come out to get her while I wait in the car. So when that happens, I will have a newspaper, a book, my guitar, and a drink of likker – er, uh, Ah mean coffee! – at arm’s length to keep me warm. (But it occurs to me I better not drink much coffee, or else have a gallon jug handy. As they board critters there, maybe I can use the exercise area, like the doggies.)

    2. Some commentators on Nickolas Christakis’ twitter, and elsewhere, have pointed out that the success of some East Asian countires in containing coronavirus may have much to do with those societies being community-focussed, rather than individualist, as in the West (as well as those societies being more authoritarian).

      They may have a point. There are pics of lines with people dutfully standing 6 ft apart.

      And, aren’t you in Canada? Didn’t Trudeau just ban foreigners? What do you think of that? I ask because here and elsewhere there has been criticism of Trump’s similar ban in the US.

  2. Objective sources of data are to be greatly welcomed. And this site has drawn my attention to many. Thanks!

    However, another concern is the MSM, where many, left and right, are looking to gain political capital. This doesn’t help.

    Just the other day The Guardian (I’m in the UK) trumpeted that the Govt was planning for 7.9 hospital admissions*. Which pretty clearly the NHS couldn’t cope with. Panic!? The Govt later pointed out this was a document looking (rightly, in my view) at worst-case scenarios.

    The Mail, for it’s part suggested prisons might be particularly at risk. Noting that hand sanitisers were banned because they contain alcohol and the imates simply drink them. (There are kernals of truth in both parts of this story. There was a case in 2009 of hand sanitiser being drunk in a prison, and more than a kernal in that in prisons ‘social distance’ is hardly available).

    And so on.

    I get the sense in The Guardian, for example, that many commentators want, for politcal reasons, the Govt response to fail. Which it will, of course, in the sense that no one yet knows what the optimal response should be, and that in the real world even the optimal response will have pockets of failure. And whatever happens fingers will be pointed.

    * In the US that’s in the 40-50 million range.

  3. Dear Prof
    Stay safe too.

    And thanks for all the linkys
    and for the commenters’ contributions too.

    My very first site to open every morning.

    Kind regards from Australia
    where my daughter has put me,
    her olde dad, in protective isolation!

  4. I know someone with a young teenage girl. Two days ago was the birthday for one of her friends, so what did her friend’s parents decide to do? Throw a party! 40 kids came! That’s not just 40 stupid young teenagers (they don’t know any better and/or are impulsive), but 82 idiotic parents. All I and my friends could think were that these are the types of idiots allowing the virus to spread. My friends, of course, did not let their sulking teen attend.

  5. What worries me about this model is that economic suffering is going to rack up so quickly. Unfortunately it seems to be a zero sum tension between economic suffering and the actual death of the vulnerable, so this is the best option, but it’s still a pretty scary option when you think about it. Some huge percentage of people are going without a salary during formal or informal quarantines. In addition, for every day of quarantine, the likelihood that they will be able to recoup their losses shrinks (as everyone is out of a job at the same time, I assume consumer spending will shrink exponentially, therefore many businesspeople who offer nonessential services will have no job to go back to due to decreased demand, thus reducing spending even more, and so on).

    In addition, the exponential growth rate of coronavirus will continue, meaning that unless cases were down to absolute zero (which they won’t be,) any attempt to loosen restrictions and let people go back to work is only going to ramp up cases again, either until we reach herd immunity or, if the virus mutates too fast for that, indefinitely. We may be fighting back a health pandemic only to spark an economic catastrophe.

      1. I feel that at this point, most people are still sort of brushing aside (or just giving lip service to) the economic catastrophe in the way they were with the actual virus a couple of weeks ago. In comments sections, people decry the selfish behaviors of those who would want to ‘make money’ at a time like this, people still say we’ll bounce back after a couple of months, etc. I don’t think people are fully digesting the impact of what it means for some huge percentage of the country to be instantly unemployed with no timeline as to when they will work again. The first wave will be those who are directly laid off or unable to work, and there will be many more as spending dries up and other businesses crumble as a result. I don’t think people are really envisioning the homelessness, civil unrest, and instability this would cause if we actually stay on lock down for the amount of time that is needed (which could be a couple of years.)

        I am still holding out hope over the fact that we have not had an antibody test for coronavirus so far. It is still possible that a) The fatality rate is much lower than assumed and b) It runs through most of the population in about two months. If that were the case, given the relatively lower average age in the US (especially for men, who seem to be more vulnerable,) better air quality, and relatively low percentage of smokers here, it might be a horrific but weather-able storm. Otherwise, I don’t know how officials are going to make the choice between potentially sparking off a decades long depression and protecting people from disease. We’ll either end up with extreme restructuring, like the government downright taking over food and housing, or end up with massive societal breakdown, I think.

Leave a Reply