Image by Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAMS
Thoughts and Recommendations Surrounding COVID-19
It has been hard to think of anything but COVID-19 of late, not the least because a number of TidBITS contributors live in Seattle, which is particularly hard hit, and because Cornell University here in Ithaca, like some other universities, has just canceled all classes for the next three weeks, with everything taking place online after spring break. Cornell also canceled all events with over 100 people, which affected a major race that I help manage, though that would also have been hit by New York State’s subsequent ban on events with over 500 attendees. Conferences are canceling or postponing left and right, organizations are having employees work from home, and there are bare spots on grocery store shelves. Tomorrow will probably be mostly like today, but will that be true of next week? Next month?
This article stems from a need to say something, even if it’s mostly to acknowledge that we’re confronting the same level of uncertainty as everyone else. It’s a small contribution, but if you have ideas about other ways TidBITS can provide uniquely useful information, please tell us in the comments. For now, though, a few thoughts and links.
The first thing that comes to mind is terminology, since we at TidBITS are particular about how we use words, and usage is all over the map. For writers like me, it’s comforting to know exactly what to call this disease.
According to the World Health Organization, the official name of the disease is coronavirus disease, abbreviated to COVID-19. The virus that causes the disease has been named severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, abbreviated to SARS-CoV-2.
Apple and WWDC
A fair amount has been written about how COVID-19 is affecting Apple over the past few months. Until now, we haven’t covered those issues because they aren’t unique to Apple, they don’t affect most users, there’s nothing anyone can do about them, and some are just inside baseball.
For instance, Apple’s financials will be hurt in the short term due to slowdowns in manufacturing and lower sales in China. Apple closed, and then reopened, its stores and offices in China, and the company also closed some stores in Italy and restricted travel.
Other reports have noted that Apple is suffering a shortage of replacement iPhones and some parts. Apple is letting employees work from home, and the company is rejecting apps related to COVID-19 that aren’t from official health organizations or government to combat the spread of misinformation.
Most notably, Apple just announced that its Worldwide Developer Conference will take place entirely online (see “Apple Moves WWDC Entirely Online,” 13 March 2020). That’s better than most conferences, which have canceled entirely—we drafted our usual list of all Apple-related conferences, but we can’t see any utility to publishing it now.
There, you’re caught up (to when this article was written, at least), if you want to be. More COVID-19 news related to Apple will undoubtedly be coming down the pike.
Rely on Quality Informational Resources
As a professional writer and journalist, I think hard about the resources I turn to for information. When it comes to COVID-19, I’ve come up with a geographic hierarchy of sources.
- Start with the World Health Organization. The name says it all.
- Move on to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Again, the name is apt.
- Look for state (such as New York State for me) and local (Tompkins County) government information that’s more relevant to your everyday life. Other countries likely have similar regional and local hierarchies.
- If you have kids, be sure to check your local school district’s resources. (I’ve been impressed with the advice from our Ithaca City School District—the information has been clear, concise, and helpful.)
Although there have been many well-written and useful articles about COVID-19, make sure that anything you’re reading has been updated in the last day or two. Events are moving so fast that articles from a week or two ago may be interesting, but their authors may now have different advice or conclusions. I prefer analysis dashboards and frequently updated pages, most notably the following:
- Johns Hopkins Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases: This dashboard provides constantly updating numbers of confirmed cases, deaths, and recoveries, broken down by geographic area. The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security also publishes daily situation reports that provide a useful summary of what’s happening.
- Our World in Data Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) – Research and Statistics: Our World in Data is a collaboration of the University of Oxford and the Global Change Data Lab, and its page on COVID-19 offers quality information on numerous aspects of the pandemic.
- The Internet Book of Critical Care: COVID-19: This online book is the work of Josh Farkas, an attending intensivist at the University of Vermont with years of ICU experience. It’s aimed at medical professionals but could provide useful details about how doctors think about COVID-19.
I realize this stance falls into the category of spitting into the wind, but I strongly recommend against getting information via connections on Facebook and Twitter, or from random YouTube videos. The links might be fine, but there’s so much misinformation out there that you’ll have to do a lot more vetting of any particular resource than if you go directly to health organization experts. When evaluating anything you read that’s not directly from a health organization, ask yourself three questions:
- Who is the publisher? Major outlets like the New York Times, the Atlantic, and the Washington Post generally do quality reporting and have fact-checkers. If you haven’t heard of the site before, does it seem to be focused on health or science?
- What are the author’s credentials? There’s a compelling Medium post (where anyone can post) making the rounds that has a ton of graphs and seems to be saying sensible things, but the author is a marketing guy. His analysis might be right, but put your trust in healthcare professionals, scientists in appropriate fields, and other experts.
- Are there references to reputable publications? This is the Web—there is no reason not to link to original sources. If anything seems off (“would the New England Journal of Medicine really have suggested coronavirus infections are caused by 5G wireless?”), you can and should follow references to make sure they’re being used appropriately.
So stay safe out there, whether that means washing your hands regularly or cleansing your information diet of dangerous misinformation.
I put together a few links on “Remote Working.”
I think TidBits readers might want more like this.
The How, when, and tips for Remote Work.
Basically, listen to the scientists, not the hearsay you just heard on some unscientific source. (Most people on this place surely understand that regardless, I suspect, lol!)
There’s a reason why different areas are locked down at different times, and why some things should be done at a later stage in the viruses lifecycle, rather than immediately.
…oh and panic buying; don’t waste your energy doing such things that causes further issues, rather than reducing them.
Thank you! Earlier today, I ranted about use, misuse, and abuse of the terminology related to this current situation. Anyone who cannot get it right doesn’t make it through the first screen for trustworthiness.
Thank you for that chuckle.
What you posted cannot be repeated often enough.
I always appreciate that TidBITS takes use of words and terminology seriously. Some folks might consider that nitpicky or obsessive, but IHMO it’s that kind of care to detail that I expect from writers who take their readers seriously. Thank you, Adam and team. Truly appreciate your effort.
… and note that major media outlets get their information from many sources, not all of which are reliable. If something sounds fishy or unusual, wait until you hear it from multiple independent sources before repeating it.
The real facts will be reported by everybody (eventually), while the baseless rumors will fall by the wayside in a day or two.
Well, we’re all being pushed into a new set of realities.
Thanks for putting this together. It is very helpful.
As someone who is older (70) and fighting cancer I appreciate trusted sources. I also appreciate the contact as I’ve been told to stay home and avoid people.
One nice thing that a couple of people who are working from home have done on my local Nextdoor. They’ve put word out that they are available to do shopping for people who need it. For those who are wfh might want to offer something similar, or even check in with any elderly neighbors.
As a hermit with no kids who works from home, nothing has changed for me.
I am helping elderly neighbors who need it, though.
KidsAndCars.org has pointed out that hygiene in cars is often neglected but is more important than ever. They have some reasonable tips here
Regarding Tidbits role, I agree that assisting people with working from home would be useful. However perhaps the biggest impact will be casual workers who are laid off. I am not sure how IT can help them - there will be way too many looking for any work so job-searching services will likely only help a small proportion.
Often I get the impression that major networks will include a quote from what I consider to be an unreliable source or fringe viewpoint to present a “balanced” report. I recognize that my world view might affect which viewpoint I consider to be unreliable or fringe, but some included quotes are just wacko.
There’s something sadly wrong with the world when that sort of well written, well considered, factually accurate report appears in an online journal about computing instead of what are regarded as mainstream media.
Props to you Adam. I have saved the links to the Johns Hopkins Center and Our World in Data in my browser ‘favourites’ bar for easy access—specifically to forward to friends in need of a dose of reality.
I am on the planning commission in a tiny town in Utah. I’ve been tasked with finding suitable web meeting software so we can continue to hold meetings. I’m familiar with this from the client end, but have never hosted meetings before. So an article about that may be good for people in a similar situation. Free or low cost a bonus, as we have no budget for this.
A good suggestion, and we’ll work on that! My quick response is that Zoom seems to be getting the most press. You can try it for free, and as an added bonus, free meetings can be only 40 minutes. That’s almost a selling point.
My employer uses Microsoft Teams. If you use Office 365, then you might already have it installed.
Usage is very simple. Teams installs a button on the Outlook Ribbon for creating Teams meetings. Use it to schedule meetings and invite others. It will automatically generate the appropriate objects and links in Teams. You can use the link in the invitation or Teams’ own calendar page to join the meeting. Voice, video, screen sharing and whiteboard capabilities are available.
Has anybody checked your town charter and state laws to see if remote meetings are legal for deliberative bodies there? If your meetings are run by Roberts Rules, I believe they call for an explicit authorization in your bylaws or charter for telecommunications-based meetings if you would be taking any binding votes.
Apparently there are scammers taking advantage of the COVID-19 situation. I forget the details of how they operate so be on your guard.
That is important. For New York State non-profit boards, there are no issues with voting via teleconference. However, if a vote is taken via email, it must be unanimous, in that everyone on the board must vote, and everyone must vote the same way. If there’s anyone missing, or any dissent, the vote fails automatically.
(I’m now president of the local Finger Lakes Runners Club, so I’ve been dealing with both remote board issues and the whole COVID-19 situation daily for several weeks now. We’ve had to cancel two races and all group workouts so far, and I expect several more races to be canceled soon, since they’re 8 and 10 weeks out. On the plus side, I’ve been moving the club from a decades-old mailing list to Discourse, which is being a big win overall, even if it has required some people to learn something new.)
There was notice posted to my town page that people were going door to door saying they were from the CDC.
My organisation has settled on Zoom, which seems to work well both for meetings between groups in different offices, for virtual meetings for those of us working at home, and a combination of the two.
We can do telecommunication meeting so as long as at least one person is physically present at the town hall, and it must be a public meeting (although the public does not necessarily need to be allowed to speak).
It’s just the technology we are lacking.
Zoom is excellent. They’ve dropped the free tier restrictions for education establishments and we are using it to teach remotely.
Adobe look to be releasing 2 months free access to Creative Cloud apps for educators and students too.
Thanks for the article (and the comments). Very helpful, in a number of ways. For some reason, the JHU Global Cases map will not load in Safari for me. It loads just fine in Firefox. The side bars w/data load fine in both. Anyone else having this issue?
Odd! No, the JHU dashboard and map work fine for me in both Safari and Brave.
Ric Ford of Macintouch has put together a nice page collecting highly curated coronavirus resources:
Hi friends from TidBITS,
In these trying times I’d like to wish everyone in this wonderful list good health.
And to you, Enrico, as well as everyone else on this list. It’s great to have an online forum of Mac and technology advice and opinions while the most of the world has to shelter in place.
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