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Open Letter to the ACBL on Covid-19

An Open Letter to the ACBL,

I did not want to have to write this, since I have been suffering from arthritis, and its very painful to use the computer but…

I find the decision to continue with the Columbus nationals in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic to be unconscionable. What we have is players coming in from around the world, playing in close contact, where viruses can be easily transmitted and then returning to where they are from. This risks not just the people who choose to go to the tournament, many of which are elderly and are quite vulnerable to Covid-19, but also innocent people back where they are from. It also risk accelerating the spread of the virus, and potentially overwhelming the capacity of the health system. I question the morality of this decision. Like the decision to vaccinate, your decisions effect not only your self but everyone else as well. Currently we are seeing many school systems and colleges shutting down school, not because of risk to the students, most of whom are young and have good immune systems, but because the students can easily be a vector to intensify the spread of the disease.

As to the science here, there is a great bit unknown about the virus. We do not know the exact transmission mechanisms, nor why young people are barely affected by it, while its so serious for older adults. The estimates for the death rate for the virus are very uncertain because we have not identified all of the mild cases, and some of the serious cases have not died yet. There are 3 clues as to the correct answer. In china, in Hubei the mortality rate appears to be more than 4%, while in the rest of China the mortality rate was about 0.6-0.7%. In Korea (and I think Singapore as well), where testing has been extensive, we see a similar 0.6-0.7%. And on the diamond princess, where everyone was testing the mortality rate was 1%, but the population on the ship was older than average. The 4% number we see in Hubei (where Wuhan is located) is probably due to the fact that the health system was overwhelmed. A critical part of responding to this is to prevent the health system to be overwhelmed. Even if everyone ends up getting infected, it makes a big difference whether it all happens within 1 month, or over 1 year. This gets to the other critical parameter, what is called R0 the reproduction rate of the virus. Most estimates place this in the 2.5-3 range, which means on average 1 person infects 2.5 to 3 people. When this number is larger than 1, you get exponential growth of the virus. The goal is to lower this number to less than 1, and hopefully significantly less than 1, so the virus dies out. Basic sanitary behavior, such as washing your hands, and not touching your face (which is very hard to do), will decrease this, but no one is sure exactly how much, since again the exact transmission mechanism is unknown. For flu, I heard that these precautions might decrease R0 by around 40% so if that number holds, we are talking about reducing R0 to the 1.5 to 2 range, but no one is really sure. To get R0 below 1, you still need social distancing, which means on average we need people to have contact with ½ as many people at a minimum.

Now in terms of social distancing, not all interactions are equal. If I am in contact with my 20 neighbors, and my neighbors have for the most part the exact same neighbors, then we have a mostly closed set. If an outbreak in a closed set occurs, it remains in the closed set. The critical transmission vector for viruses (or ideas, or anything else transmitted in society), are the connections that connect mostly closed groups to each other. This is why preventing large gatherings of people, who do not live near each other, and who each have their own neighbors, friends, families etc is critical. These gatherings are the social network version of the domino that triggers the whole network to fall down, because its connected to everything.

I pray the ACBL reconsiders.

Josh Sher

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