How Big Is The Risk of Contracting COVID-19 or Delivery Packages?

Apparently fairly low, according to an article in The Washington Post by Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure and assessment science at Harvard University.

First, disease transmission from inanimate surfaces is real, so I don’t want to minimize that. It’s something we have known for a long time; as early as the 1500s, infected surfaces were thought of as “seeds of disease,” able to transfer disease from one person to another.

In that new NEJM study, here’s the finding that is grabbing headlines: The coronavirus that causes covid-19 “was detectable . . . up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.”

. . .

Yes, the virus can be detected on some surfaces for up to a day, but the reality is that the levels drop off quickly. For example, the article shows that the virus’s half-life on stainless steel and plastic was 5.6 hours and 6.8 hours, respectively.

. . .

You can leave that cardboard package at your door for a few hours — or bring it inside and leave it right inside your door, then wash your hands again. If you’re still concerned there was any virus on the package, you could wipe down the exterior with a disinfectant, or open it outdoors and put the packaging in the recycling can. (Then wash your hands again.)

What about going to the grocery store? The same approach applies.

Shop when you need to (keeping six feet from other customers) and load items into your cart or basket. Keep your hands away from your face while shopping, and wash them as soon as you’re home. Put away your groceries, and then wash your hands again. If you wait even a few hours before using anything you just purchased, most of the virus that was on any package will be significantly reduced. If you need to use something immediately, and want to take extra precautions, wipe the package down with a disinfectant. Last, wash all fruits and vegetables as you normally would.

The Pandemic Playbook That the White House Ignored

Politico has a report about how, during the Obama administration, the National Security Council developed a 69-page Pandemic Playbook (10mb PDF) designed to guide high level decision making during a serious disease outbreak.

The goal of the Playbook For High-Consequence Emerging Infectious Disease Threats and Biological Incidents (Playbook) is to assist U.S. Government experts and leaders in coordinating a complex U.S. Government response to a high-consequence emerging disease threat anywhere in the world with the potential to cause an epidemic, pandemic, or other significant public health event, by providing a decision-making tool that: identifies: (1) questions to ask; (2) agency counterparts to consult for answers to each; and (3) key decisions which may require deliberation through the Presidential Policy Directive (PPD)-1 process or its successor National Security Council process. The Playbook also includes sample documents that can be used for interagency meetings that need to be called at each stage. While each emerging infectious disease threat will present itself in a unique way, a consistent, capabilities-based approach to addressing these threats will allow for faster decisions with more targeted expert subject matter input from Federal departments and agencies.

According to Politico,

The NSC devised the guide — officially called the Playbook for Early Response to High-Consequence Emerging Infectious Disease Threats and Biological Incidents, but known colloquially as “the pandemic playbook” — across 2016. The project was driven by career civil servants as well as political appointees, aware that global leaders had initially fumbled their response to the 2014-2015 spread of Ebola and wanting to be sure that the next response to an epidemic was better handled.

The Trump administration was briefed on the playbook’s existence in 2017, said four former officials, but two cautioned that it never went through a full, National Security Council-led interagency process to be approved as Trump administration strategy. Tom Bossert, who was then Trump’s homeland security adviser, expressed enthusiasm about its potential as part of the administration’s broader strategy to fight pandemics, two former officials said.

. . .

It is not clear if the administration’s failure to follow the NSC playbook was the result of an oversight or a deliberate decision to follow a different course.

The document rested with NSC officials who dealt with medical preparedness and biodefense in the global health security directorate, which the Trump administration disbanded in 2018, four former officials said. The document was originally overseen by Beth Cameron, a former civil servant who led the directorate before leaving the White House in March 2017. Cameron confirmed to POLITICO that the directorate created a playbook for NSC staff intended to help officials confront a range of potential biological threats.

But under the Trump administration, “it just sat as a document that people worked on that was thrown onto a shelf,” said one former U.S. official, who served in both the Obama and Trump administrations. “It’s hard to tell how much senior leaders at agencies were even aware that this existed” or thought it was just another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy.

Private Kit–Open Source, Privacy-First Contact Tracing

Private Kit is an open source, privacy-first contact tracing app for iOS and Android. The intent is to enable contact tracing, which is important for reducing the spread of diseases like COVID-19, while also assuring user privacy (which, over the long term, will likely engender more compliance and participation from the public).

The creators of the app have a whitepaper explaining the rationale behind Private Kit.

We’re building the next generation of secure location logging to preserve privacy and #flattenthecurve

Location logs provide time-stamped records of where users have been, allowing them to share information with health officials accurately and quickly. This helps support contact tracing efforts to slow the spread of the virus.

What’s truly special about Private Kit, though, is its privacy protection. Data never leaves users’ devices without their password entry and explicit consent. The location log generated by Private Kit cannot be accessed from outside the user’s device, meaning data transfer occurs only if the user chooses to share it with the researcher.