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A Day of Firsts: Photographing an Acreage Near Prince Albert (From Above)

Yesterday was a pretty exciting day! Guy Fortier, a realtor based out of Saskatoon, hired Anikio to create a virtual tour and take photos for a sprawling, 3600 sqft acreage about 20 km west of Prince Albert. This was Anikio’s first out-of-town shoot. It was the first home above 2000 sqft that we’ve shot. And it was the first time we got to take some aerial photos!

Yes, Anikio has a drone. And a drone license, by the way. You may not have known this, but Dean is actually a private pilot, so navigating a drone is pretty straightforward. The real challenge in Saskatoon is the extremely conservative rules for use ‘around’ an airport. It is certainly possible to have some drone photos taken in city limits with planning and depending on the location, but it’s not a given that it can be done legally. On the other hand, an acreage 20 km from a town or airport? No problem at all! And this acreage really benefited from the aerial photos. There is just no way to capture the grounds and such a large home together otherwise.

One thing we didn’t account for is how much time this would take. The home faces south and is mostly glass, featuring some beautiful views of the pond outside as well as sunlit rooms. This makes for a lot of post-photography work to make sure that we capture those views well, especially in the virtual tour. On top of that, the size of the home required 45 (!) 360 degree photos for the virtual tour. That’s about double what a more typical 1600 sqft home would take. Photos? The same and more. Not to mention the drone photos, which we offered this time for free since Guy has been a great supporter of Anikio. All said and done, it was a learning experience in terms of time requirements for a home this size.

But we’re really happy with the results and it was a lovely day to spend in what felt like a quiet, remote lodge up north. Especially after being cooped up hiding from COVID for some time.

Take a Virtual Tour

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Should Saskatchewan Lift Restrictions?

Today, Premier Moe announced that he would be releasing a roadmap to re-opening the province little by little tomorrow. I believe that a cautious approach is warranted but that re-opening is worth consideration. However, I would personally waited one week more to see the results of both Orthodox Easter and especially of this recent warm snap. Some very low case growth numbers is also resulting in an excess of optimism. In fact, I was concerned in the speech from Premier Moe that the tone he struck was that we have won and not that we are winning. I believe the Premier knows very well that we have stopped the first wave but must be vigilant. And I understand balancing the need for positivity and optimism when many of us are getting more crazy than normal. But it’s important that it’s understood that we have won the first battle but there is still a war to fight. Singapore’s second wave should be a warning about how things can get out of control even where they have a lot more controls, analysis, and restrictions.

Yes, we have flattened the curve. There is no doubt about it. But we can’t lose sight that the objective was to ultimately buy time for our health care system to prepare. From what the SHA reports, they are. I’m not convinced though, that their plan really constitutes the best use of this bought time. For example, I’ve heard that additional ICU rooms that were planned to be added to some hospitals have been halted because case growth has slowed. This is backwards. Case growth slowed to give the SHA time to get those resources in place. We may not need them if we are lucky. But we didn’t go through the last 5 weeks to throw that effort away.

Today’s Motto: Proceed with Caution

With this and several other troubling stories in mind, I generated several graphs in early April. I have sat on them because I am very concerned that people may misinterpret them. They are not predictions. They are not expert models or simulations. They are extremely simplified graphs that show some very basic scenarios and what those scenarios would look like, graphically. Please don’t repost them without the rest of this article. Please don’t think they’re proof either that we’re doomed or out of the woods. The intent of these graphs is to understand how exponential growth, even at low levels, can be a hard thing to manage once the genie’s out of the bottle. Now if we could all apply this to our pre-COVID savings accounts! One other important note, the hospital capacity is the “with reduced services” number from SHA but doesn’t include excess COVID-19 beds in overflow facilities. Because, let’s just not get to that point. As I urge the province, I urge you, to: proceed with caution.

One other note of caution that needs to be really understood. We actually DON’T KNOW if recovering from Covid-19 means immunity to Covid-19. And if only a small percentage of recoveries have antibodies, as may be the case, well, all models about allowing more infections to build herd immunity are moot. And then we have to totally rethink how to keep the world running with an ongoing pandemic while we look for vaccines and ways to test entire populations at a time or at least a better understanding of risk, spread, and immunity. The following article reference pre-publication studies which have not been peer reviewed yet. Normally, this wouldn’t be worth looking at yet but due to the fact that we’re flying by the seat of our pants here, these pre-pub studies represent an educated guess.

Scenario 1: What if Saskatchewan Did Nothing To Flatten The Curve of COVID-19?

By the time I created this graph, we had already succeeded in flattening the initial curve. So why produce it still? Partly as a basis of comparison against other measures taken, and partly as a defence for the measures that we did take. Now, when I say “did nothing” I mean it. As in, absolutely zero. We continued on blissfully unaware and modified zero behaviours. In truth, some of us would be staying home as much as possible and limiting social interactions as much as possible, government order or no. It is incredibly unlikely that we would blindly sail upwards of 10,000 cases in the province and not even be a little more cautious. So think of this graph as “what does 22% growth (our initial trajectory) look like”. How long does it take us to get to 100,000 cases? Why 100,000? We are assuming at that point, there would be enough recoveries, deaths, and asymptomatic or unreported cases – especially if numbers grew that quickly – that growth would slow considerably. So the ridiculous becomes absurd.

OK, all that said, here we are. 22% growth we would be crossing 100,000 cases already by May 1. Hospitalization lags initial onset of a case but a week later the province’s worst case provisions (overflow in rinks, schools) would be overwhelmed. Not to mention that many of the health care workers we depend on would have fallen ill also, supplies would be utterly absent, etc. So thank you, Saskatchewan, for being prudent and cautious!

Graph showing what Saskatchewan COVID-19 cases could look like if no restrictions were in place

Scenario 2: What if Saskatchewan Kept Current COVID-19 Restrictions In Place?

When I created this graph, it looked like cases in the province might be growing at around 3%. It has since flattened to 1% growth. That said, we are one super spreader away from being back at 3% or likely higher. One person visiting family in Calgary. What you see if that as growth in new cases dropped, growth in recoveries continued on at the previous trajectory (because recoveries lag onset of the virus). So the number of active cases drops down to basically zero before picking back up again at the new but lower growth rate of cases (3%). And then, assuming a constant trajectory, we reach the overwhelmed hospital stage around Halloween but still within the SHA plan using civic facilities for overflow. One assumes that as the number of cases and recoveries grow, the slower the rate of spread would be. So again, it’s possible that we’d be looking towards December for that threshold. The problem here is that it is too long for people to stay home, not working. Psychologically. It is also quite hard on the economy, which is obviously of secondary importance to human life, but up until fall or winter, we have a lot of excess capacity to have more cases in the public. At least, according to the SHA. And that will bring us nicely to scenario 3.

Graph showing how even our current, low growth rates do eventually add up

 

Scenario 3: What if Saskatchewan Slightly Lifts Restrictions Temporarily?

This was a theoretical scenario two weeks ago but it looks like we’re here. I put together a model where restrictions were very lightly lifted on April 21. Yesterday. Too soon but I know the government is under a lot of pressure to reopen ASAP, so I thought they’d jump on it one week after Easter. Turns out it was a week and two days. As above, you have the active cases and hospitalized lagging the initial growth trajectory so it drops and picks up to 2-3 cases (probably an error in my basic formulas), drops again and eventually starts picking up with the 6% growth rate that we assumed. Why 6%? Well, we expect that people will naturally be a bit more cautious, at least with strangers, and some of the current safeguards will remain in place. As well, we assumed a very limited relaxation of restrictions. 6% may be optimistic but I’m hoping that in light of the drop in case growth to 1% over the last week, it actually is pessimistic.

In either case, as long as there is a growth rate, we continue to march towards that point where we start running out of hospital rooms or people to infect. Growth hits levels where alarm bells are going off somewhere in June. At that point, we have around 260 hospitalized patients and almost 18,000 cases. Arguably the alarm bells should have gone off earlier, but here we are. No Canada Day gatherings. Instead, all the current restrictions are back in place. Growth slows to 3%. But not overnight. It takes time for the restrictions to have the desired effect and just in time, we curb the number of hospitalizations below the threshold in July and start seeing a decrease. But about a month later, because of the sheer volume of people, even at 3% we cross back over that threshold again and we start for the arenas. However, also around that point, we are around 100,000 cases. By a trick of exponential graphs, we actually have around 70,000 recovered cases and  58,000 active cases by August 20 but because exponential graphs.  Why does it look like there are so many more active cases? Because the space between smaller intervals is larger. If you look at the scale, there is as much space from 1-10 as from 10,000 – 100,000. So we also expect that growth would have slowed substantially by this point.

Graph showing what Saskatchewan COVID-19 cases could look like if we lift some restrictions temporarily

 

So… What Does This Mean?

Well, it means that unless there’s a vaccine or a global 4-week absolute lockdown, we can’t expect to fully stop the spread of COVID-19. But it also means that the actions we’ve taken were worth doing, if health authorities use the time wisely to obtain resources, ramp up testing, train, and prepare. It means that a temporary and partial lift of restrictions might be a good way to balance economic and social needs with protecting ourselves IF it is true that recovered cases are immune for a sufficient amount of time and if there is no way to vaccinate or treat the virus that can be tested and proven in the next two months. However, it also shows that exponential growth tends to ratchet up. When you have 10,000 active cases, even a drop to 3% still means 300 new cases in a single day. So as measures and restrictions are lifted, expect them to return sooner or later as the case count grows. Probably by summer. We should know that what happens with immunity and have a better idea of spread before we really do go ahead and let loose. We may just be accelerating our progress towards overload. But unless there is some other way of treating this virus, I’m not sure we have much choice at this point. We just have to proceed with caution. See? I told you the conclusion way back near the beginning!

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Maps Issue Resolved At Last!

Well, it’s probably past time I update you on something that isn’t related to COVID-19. We have been experiencing an issue with our use of Google Maps. More specifically, users without registered accounts were seeing “development mode” or “problem loading maps” issues when searching properties on the home page or looking at a specific property’s location on the homepage.

We have been working very hard on attempting to resolve this with Google, our developers, and our even our web host. In the end, the web hosting company came to the rescue with a backup from December this morning. So if you logged in today, you may briefly have seen some Christmas wishes. ’tis the season! We were able to painstakingly re-create every update, tweak and change to Anikio since December until finally we reproduced the issue. Or at least we thought that we had. Then we realized that the browser had just auto-logged us back in. Oops! However, after more searching, it appears the problem was related to the way the website loads. We attempted to make a speed improvement that affected the loading of the map, but only in cases where the user wasn’t logged in. Crazy!

The problem is solved! This is such a relief! It made it impossible for me to try to recruit new landlords and property managers. Which meant less properties available than usual for browsing. The worst part is that I don’t know how long this was going on. Because I’m always logged in, it wasn’t until a user reported a different issue last weekend that we first realized there was a problem at all. So please, if you see something that isn’t working right, let me know! And I’ll do my best to log out once in a while and look around, too! 🙂

Have a great Greek/Orthodox Easter whether you celebrate or not. I know that I will!

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Let’s Not Open the Floodgates

Recently, an article from a US right-wing rag called The College Fix has been making the rounds. In it, an epidemiologist (I haven’t verified his credentials but they do sound good) named Knut Wittkowski, a former department head at Rockefeller University in New York, makes some claims that are questionable at best.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for healthy debate and questioning assumed beliefs. We ARE going to have to have a discussion about when to start lifting restrictions and weighing the risks of continued isolation with economic and social disaster. On April 10 here in Saskatchewan, growth in total cases has dropped to 3% (and active cases will decline significantly if this continues). Right now we are buying time for hospitals to get the equipment, resources, and setup they need to allow us to lift at least some restrictions. But the College Fix article and the interview of Knut Wittkowski on which the article is based is not that discussion. It’s not balanced, reasoned, and at times defies logic.

I don’t want to link to the article or interview because garbage should be removed, not shared so they can rake in advertising dollars. But I will quote directly from it and have saved an archive PDF of the interview since these sorts of things seem to disappear or change to suit the day. I like to think that Wittkowski, who I will just call by his first name (Knut) really does believe that what he’s proposing is right. There is part of me that wonders though, if, given the alignment with Trump rhetoric and just how shallow the argument is, he isn’t aiming for a cushy appointment with the white house. Nonetheless, some selected talking points I wish to evaluate are below.

Why Flatten The Curve?

“Well, what people are trying to do is flatten the curve. I don’t really know why. But, what happens is if you flatten the curve, you also prolong, to widen it, and it takes more time. And I don’t see a good reason for a respiratory disease to stay in the population longer than necessary.”

OK. The guy’s an epidemiologist and he doesn’t know why? Even if he is ardently against flattening the curve, for whatever reason, he can’t “see a good reason” to slow the spread and reduce the overburdening on health care resources, he doesn’t deserve an interview.

For those of us that aren’t claiming to be epidemiologists, here’s a good simulation of how social distancing works and an article on why it’s needed. In essence, yes, the idea is to spread the disease infection time out to ensure that we don’t exceed our capability to treat not only coronavirus patients but also the rest of the diseases, illnesses, injuries, and transplants that go on daily. If all the ventilators are in use, you can’t have surgery to remove an early stage tumour.

Those familiar with our hospitals know that there were beds in the hallways BEFORE Covid-19 hit. We are trying to save as many lives as possible and avoid being in a place where these decisions need to get made about who gets saved and who dies.

Once we have sufficient health care capacity, yes, the approach of allowing more spread makes sense. The virus isn’t going to disappear and short of a vaccine which may be a year or more away, most of us will catch it.

At that point, we will need to pivot to protecting the at risk exclusively so that enough people have the virus that the spread grinds to a halt and it is safe for them to be in society again. These are future states, not present ones, at least not in Saskatchewan or the US. Just letting the disease run rampant should not have been the only action or more accurately inaction that our governments took.

Hide The Elderly Somewhere

“With all respiratory diseases, the only thing that stops the disease is herd immunity. About 80% of the people need to have had contact with the virus, and the majority of them won’t even have recognized that they were infected, or they had very, very mild symptoms, especially if they are children. So, it’s very important to keep the schools open and kids mingling to spread the virus to get herd immunity as fast as possible, and then the elderly people, who should be separated, and the nursing homes should be closed during that time, can come back and meet their children and grandchildren after about 4 weeks when the virus has been exterminated.”

Very, very mild symptoms. Does this sound like anyone you know (rhymes with dump) that’s always trying to minimize (or maximize) things? Some – we don’t know how many, but it may be as many as 10x the number of known cases- have no symptoms at all or mild symptoms. Maybe even “very, very” mild symptoms. It’s not that what he’s saying is wrong, it’s that he’s choosing words to paint a specific type of picture in your mind that this is some trivial little thing.

If we’re going to balance minimizing, it’s worth reading some first hand reports of people that have had coronavirus. Moving on to the next sentence, his argument is to close the nursing homes but life goes on as normal, let the kids get and spread it. Where do the elderly go? Not to family, then, obviously. One presumes some facility where all the old people are rounded up and live together for a while. What do they call those places? It’s a nursing home. But not a nursing home. That’s dangerous!

I’m not meaning to diminish the risk to the elderly in nursing homes. If I had a relative in one, I’d take them out. Even Knut implies that nursing homes are not a safe place to be right now. But many elderly still need care, and all still need food, supplies, etc. Where is this magical place we whisk them all away to that has no chance of infection from the workers that are caring for them? What does this system look like and how is it different than nursing homes now?

In Knut’s world of no restrictions, Covid-19 is spreading like wildfire outside the community, increasing the chance of infection to the isolated elderly from the people caring for them. I’m sure we could find a way to stock up a place and then also ask support workers to be quarantined with the elderly at their work for a month, so it’s not impossible, but it’s again minimizing the risk.

The Pandemic Is Over. Long Live The Pandemic

Later, the interviewer asks a telling question.

Interviewer: “You were speaking to my producer the other day on the phone, and you said, ‘The pandemic is over.’ What do you mean by that?”

Knut: “There are no more new cases in China and in South Korea. The number of new cases in Europe is already beginning to decline. The virus came later to the US, so here we see a bit of an incline, maybe, and leveling off within the next couple of days. And if we see that the cases are not increasing dramatically, that means that the number of new infections has already declined substantially and peaked about a week ago.”

Keep in mind that this interview is dated April 1 & 2. On those dates respectively, China had 35 and 31 new cases respectively, according to Worldometers. But certainly less than weeks ago to the point that it’s much closer to zero than 1000. As I’m writing this on April 10, new cases in the US are in the 25000-35000 cases per day range and appear to have peaked or plateaued these past few days.

What Knut doesn’t say is that most states have also severely limited social gatherings and are in various states of lockdown. Where would those numbers be if everyone was out infecting each other still? Obviously not flat but that is his argument. This table shows that most states declared a state of emergency about two weeks before April 1 (mid March) and some have gone further in issuing stay-at-home orders near the end of March. Both of those actions would help in flattening the curve and have nothing to do with the pandemic being over or near over.

Oh, and by the way, South Korea had 101 and 89 cases respectively on April 1 & 2. And slightly off topic, but South Korea reported today that around 100 Covid-19 patients thought to have recovered appear to have had the virus reactivate. But sure, it’s over, although he is about to say “it would have been over” except for government meddling.

What Knut’s Really About

“Well, I’m not paid by the government, so I’m entitled to actually do science. If the government, if there had been no intervention, the epidemic would have been over, like every other respiratory disease epidemic. […] I think people in the United States and maybe other countries as well are more docile than they should be. People should talk with their politicians, question them, ask them to explain, because if people don’t stand up to their rights, their rights will be forgotten.”

We get to the crux of his position here. You can’t trust government. But trust me. I’m just going to shoot from the hip and make wild statements with no basis in fact because… I get my money from elsewhere. I’m entitled to actually do science but I’m not going to use it in any of my statements here which, again, are not going to be scientific commentary, but policy commentary despite not being in politics. This is, after all, an interview all about policy and flattening the curve vs. just letting a bunch of people die unnecessarily.

People may be docile, and perhaps nowhere moreso than here in Canada, but going along with a good plan is different than throwing reason to the wolves in the name of resistance. Question, sure. Question everything. Even interviews with epidemiologists and blog posts criticizing them. Don’t give people a pass because they conform to your anti-government or anti-whatever bias.

More Trouble With Numbers

Asked how many would die in his estimation (editorial comments in square brackets):

Okay. We have, right now, let’s take realistic numbers in the United States: we have about 25,000 cases every day, that is probably the upper limit—make it 30,000—who knows?”

So far, the peak has been about 35,000 new cases in the US in a single day. With countermeasures in place, that probably (hopefully) is going to remain the peak for the US. Not being critical here, estimation is hard, but now that we have progressed, facts are easy.

“But let’s talk about 25,000. 2% of them will actually have symptoms—that is 500 cases a day. Maybe a third or a fifth—let’s say half of them—will need to be hospitalized. That’s 250 patients a day. If they have been hospitalized for about 10 days, that means that we will have—our hospital system will have to deal with 2,500 patients every day for a certain period of time—that could be 3 or 4 weeks, and then the number will dramatically decrease again and the whole epidemic will be over.”

“2% of all symptomatic cases will die. That is 2% of the [25,000] a day. So that is 500 people a day, and that will happen over 4 weeks. So, that could be as high as 10,000 people.”

So far in the US, WITH social distancing and lockdowns in various states, there have been 18,000 deaths. By April 2, there had been 6,000 deaths. So 8 days after his maximum prediction, and again, WITH countermeasures in place, he is wrong by a huge degree. This is the guy you want to trust with informing policy to roll the dice and let the virus run through most of society unchecked??

Even from one sentence to the next, his definitions change. First 2% of the new cases will “actually have symptoms” then later that same 2% die. And then there’s a whole string of math based on this out-of-nowhere 2% number. If they are a known case, they probably have symptoms severe enough to get a test in the US where tests are still hard to come by or are celebrities.

CDC guidelines prioritize testing of symptomatic cases. I don’t have a number for how many of the known cases in the US are symptomatic and I’m not in the habit of making up numbers but I’m pretty confident that the number is much closer to 90% or even 100% than 2%.

Coronavirus Is NOT a Flu, Foo!

So, rerunning Knut’s numbers. Last 10 days, an average of 29,563 new cases per day. Knut says maybe 1/3 or 1/5 or maybe 1/2 need to be hospitalized and actually here we think the number is lower. But we’ll use Knut’s first guess of 1/3. Roughly 10,000 people per day. Assuming most hospital stays are 10 days (in Saskatchewan, we’re closer to a 12-day average), that’s 100,000 Covid patients added to the health care system. Not 2,500. Just a minor error.

My point isn’t to nitpick numbers. It’s that this guy is all over the place, has an obvious agenda, has already been proven to be inaccurate, doesn’t grasp why we should flatten the curve, and is speaking more from the world of myth and conspiracy than fact. He thinks this is the flu. Here’s one final bit from the interview to ponder.

Knut: “Social distancing definitely is good. It prevented the sky from falling down.”

Interviewer: “Are you being ironic?”

Knut: “Of course! I don’t know where these numbers [showing a reduction in potential deaths from social distancing] are coming from – they’re totally unrealistic. There are no indications that this flu is fundamentally different from every other flu.”

Quick interjection, an epidemiologist, scientist, or someone that cares about presenting fact would know that a coronavirus is not a flu the same way that a cold is not a flu. And if you’re thinking, “Oh, he just slipped up” he reinforces the “it’s a flu” myth 2 more times by the end of the quote. Scientists are not cavalier in their language and don’t throw words around like they don’t have meaning. He goes on to compare COVID-19 to a ‘regular’ flu and double down comparing to “other” flus.

The Virus That Hates Camping

Interviewer: “So, now we’re spending more time indoors. We’ve been told to go indoors. Isn’t that – doesn’t that help keep the virus going?”

Knut: “It keeps the virus healthy, yeah.”

Um, what?? The virus is just as happy living in your body alone on a deserted island as it is frolicking in your lungs near the TV. One might presume that he is saying that close contact from being indoors helps the virus spread, except that he has spent all the rest of this time saying that social distancing is for the chicken littles worried about the sky falling.

Interviewer: “So we should be told to go outdoors?”

Knut: “Yeah. Going outdoors is what stops every respiratory disease.”

And I will leave you to ponder that. One final note, though. The underlying assumption is that if you have COVID-19, you are immune from getting it again. That has not been proven. If immunity does occur, it’s also unknown how long that immunity would last. There are recent developments of cases in China and South Korea, thought recovered, either reactivating or catching the virus again.

Flu Part Two

Finally, to the point of “it’s like the flu.” All of us have some immunity to one type of flu variant or another. It’s a known quantity that our immune systems have dealt with in some variant or another. And there are immunizations every year for the flu variant that experts expect to hit hardest. As Knut has shown, they’re not always right. But when it comes to COVID-19, there is no immunity, and there (was) no previous variant that any of us had been exposed to.

What there is is an exponential spread through the population. Today’s 104,938 deaths are next week’s 200,000 deaths. If you are in contact, you’re likely to carry it whether you get sick or not. Flu deaths are not growing exponentially. 10,000 deaths today doesn’t become 20,000 in a week or so.

Finally, the season flu has a total mortality rate (young and old) in the US of around 0.1%. 1 person dies in every 1000. Actually shockingly high! 8 in 1000 symptomatic cases for 65+, 0.05  in 1000 (or 57 in 1 million) for under 18s.

People seem to get stuck because we don’t have a good handle on how many cases are asymptomatic. There are a lot of reasons that this is important to know. But for now, it is valid enough to use the symptomatic (known) cases causing death at least for estimating outcomes based on the number of known cases. Certainly asymptomatic cases are hard to measure regardless of the virus. So don’t get hung up that the actual rate may be lower than what is reported. It will. Of course. But that’s irrelevant right now to the people that know they have it in estimating their chances.

Even among known cases, Covid-19 mortality rates are all over the map. We are told that respiratory issues, smoking, vaping, diabetes, obesity and of course age are all factors that dramatically increase your risk of death regardless of age group. We also aren’t counting preventable deaths caused by overburden from COVID-19 as part of this mortality rate. Regardless, it seems that most think it’s at least 1% overall.

So if you’re comparing this to a flu, please reconsider. Reconsider what a moderate to bad case is like compared to a moderate to bad flu. Consider the exponential growth in cases. Consider that the world hasn’t shut down for a flu like this in over 100 years. Read some of the reports from young, otherwise healthy people that survived but suffered. Because you’re not guaranteed a pass if you’re young. You just have a much better CHANCE of surviving than your grandparents.

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Positive Coronavirus News: More Negatives!

We’ve been watching the COVID-19 case and test numbers in Saskatchewan these past few days with fingers crossed. Today marks the third day of sustained lower growth rates and while it’s early to declare a new growth rate, it is likely that we have slowed the overall growth in the province.

Have a look at the graph below. We had a 22% growth rate (doubling the infected every 4.5 days) right up until March 30. On March 31, there was a noticeable drop off in the growth rate and it has so far continued. Two weeks back from March 30 is March 16, which happens to be the day that the province announced it was going to close schools.

Graph of COVID-19 Coronavirus Cases Over Time in Saskatchewan

Our overall average growth rate, starting from the first day with 30 cases, is now 18% (5.5 days). Averaging over that time period doesn’t really do justice to our efforts to flatten the curve, though. Over the last few days, growth has slowed to an average of 6-7% (15 days). Again, it’s early to call victory, but the point of these graphs is to try to predict where we are going to see if action is needed. We’ll be updating the graph for future use to re-project the curve starting tomorrow. But we’ve already updated the graph below for Saskatoon, adding a new 13-day trend line to reflect the slowed growth here. We are basing that line off of Mar 31, which marks 90 cases and the beginning of the lower growth trend.

Saskatoon cases shown against various doubling rates

Finally, the graph that is most intended to indicate the spread of infection in the province. How does it look? We’re also seeing a decrease here (or at least a flattening) in the percentage of tests returning positive. So all signs are looking good. We’ll need at least a few more days to verify that this trajectory is real, but it certainly is encouraging. It seems likely that the spread has slowed.

Number of tests resulting in a positive case

As always, you can find updated charts daily on our COVID-19 page. Be sure to support local businesses – restaurants that are offering pickup/delivery are some of the hardest hit thanks to low margins. Get bread from a bakery. Our medical workers are out there saving lives everyday. We can do our part and help save livelihoods, and without social contact at all. Finally, I’ll leave you with this thought. Coronavirus is showing us all what a world looks like without 1 vaccine. I don’t want to imagine a world with no vaccines.

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Chat with a U of S Epidemiologist

March 27, 2020

Those who have been following our COVID-19 Crusade to have better data available for Saskatchewan residents know we’ve been looking for ways to predict spread instead of report after the fact. We called that a search for a leading indicator instead of a lagging indicator. At the risk of repetition, the idea is akin to tracking calories and exercise to see if we will be gaining weight instead of stepping on the scale after the fact to see if we gained weight. If we know we’ve consumed more calories and can correct immediately with some jumping jacks, we can prevent the weight from being gained in the first place. And anyone that’s ever started an exercise regimen will know that weight takes some time to start dropping. Similarly, this coronavirus takes some time to display symptoms and social distancing takes some time to start to show results.

Yesterday afternoon, I received a call from Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine, a professor of Epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan. I was initially worried that I had gotten something horribly wrong but he actually called to thank me for my work and offer his assistance! We had a great discussion about where we’re at in Saskatchewan.

Leading Indicator

The best part of our conversation was that, from a graphing standpoint, Dr. Muhajarine had some insights into leading indicators that will be familiar to anyone with clinical testing background. I’d already pondered looking at the number of tests and percentage of positive tests as a potential indicator that there is a growing population of untested positives in the community. But I’d left it alone because I’d convinced myself there were too many unknowns. Doctor Muhajarine informed me:

“In clinical trials, they look at how many patients it takes for a successful treatment outcome. This is similar to evaluating the number of tests it takes to yield a case. There are two possible causes that increases the yield; one is that there are more cases available from the population. The second is that we are doing a better job in case finding – that is, targeting potential positives. We already know that the criteria for getting tested has not changed, that is, we are targeting our tests. But we need to do more testing to find the cases that are not in the targeted groups. There are many more cases out there without showing symptoms.”

You had me at “clinical trials,” Doctor. So starting today (and thanks to a timely release of tests per day from the SHA) we will have a new graph starring at the top of our blog: percentage of positive tests. I had already been casually tracking it and can tell you that it has more than doubled in the last week or so. A good indicator that we’re still spreading the virus and that more tests will continue coming back positive.

A Small Diatribe (Rant)

I have also made the case that we simply need to be doing more testing. Some have argued that with so many negative test results, we’re probably doing too much testing. Our own Chief Medical Health Officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab has argued against broader testing, but finally relented to expand testing beyond those that have recently traveled. As is becoming the norm in this crisis, our provincial government takes a “wait and see, we’re doing enough” stance, argues against doing more, and then, too late, relents.

Dr. Shahab makes comments like “I wouldn’t go into an elevator with 5 people” but then the province gets into a pissing match with Regina for trying to set that as a group limit in that city. I sympathize with the argument for clarity, but it would be wiser to have the province set a minimum threshold and allow municipalities to set the rules to match or be more strict (but not less). Is it not possible that there may be cause for different rules in Yorkton than North Battleford or Regina? Maybe the residents in one city are very compliant and in another disobedient? If the province was proving its competence, I guess I’d have less to complain about.

But I digress. I am furious that we weren’t on top of ordering PPE and ventilators back in January. I am just an average idiot citizen. But I still went to Costco mid February to make sure we would have essentials if the virus came to our door. Yes, including one of those Costco packs of TP. Yet our health experts waited until the virus was here to order “a few more” ventilators and didn’t order some extra damned masks? What’s the worst that could happen? They’d order too many and … what? Were they going to go bad sitting on the shelf?!? OK, I’m going to change the title to this section!

I will say, I can empathize with the province trying to balance the economic reality with the health outcomes. But I have no excuse for the SHA leadership, if it is indeed their decision. With politics involved, who really knows?

Sigh. Back on topic…

Testing and A Different Kind of Cluster

Dr. Muhajarine (the epidemiologist) agrees that we need to be doing more testing and smarter testing. “If social distancing isn’t complemented by testing, we won’t get ahead of this.” I sense a bit of frustration from him as well. “Dr. Shahab talks about only testing people at high risk of having the virus,” he says, referring to returning travelers with symptoms, “but asymptomatic cases are the highest risk of community transmission.”

So do we test everyone? There are limited tests, and from some reports, even more limited people to conduct those tests. “In Italy, when two or more cases are in a cluster,” such as on a flight, in the same building, event, etc, “they do contact tracing and target that cluster. Test and isolate. Social distancing is a blunt instrument.” Authorities may be on the right track with news that all 110 attendees of a Christopher Lake snowmobile rally dinner are required isolate.

He has other ideas for cluster targeting. Geography, for example. Yesterday I showed an example of the detail in Alberta’s data. They have an interactive map where you can see what areas of Calgary are hit hardest. That sort of data could help inform decisions on where to direct testing resources. Sharpen the testing to more at risk people including health-care workers, elderly, or by age. “At risk” should include people likely to spread as well as likely to have negative health outcomes. Publicize if someone that tested positive was at Costco on Wednesday afternoon, isolate, and test them. Let the asymptomatic carriers be caught within a cluster instead of waiting for symptoms. Symptoms can take a week to appear if they appear at all, and each of those people can potentially spread the virus.

We can’t do this as individuals or as a province if this data isn’t being found. The province will need to make an attempt at cooperating with other levels of government for a change.

At the end of our conversation, Dr. Muhajarine and I agree on two final thoughts. We can do better. We have to.

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Renting & COVID FAQ, Alberta Data

Heat Map of Alberta COVID Cases, March 26, 2020

March 26, 2020

Heat Map of Alberta COVID Cases, March 26, 2020

I’m pleased to see that the updates from the Saskatchewan government have started including graphs similar to our first one, with the added feature of including new cases per day. Since their data on new cases for the date of the test will be different from when it is publicly announced, we won’t update our work to reflect slight changes but remain a record of when they are reported.

One other difference is that we are still showing the breakdown by region. I hope the government will continue refining data down to more specific regions and even taking a page from Alberta and publishing a heatmap of the province down almost to neighbourhood level for Calgary. More on this soon after I had a great discussion with a local epidemiologist from the U of S. There is new data being shared on testing as well, and I believe I have what I need for a new graph that will serve as a leading indicator. This is, again, thanks to the government now sharing test data.

I’ve also added an FAQ for Renting and Coronavirus today. Take care out there!

 

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COVID-19 Coronavirus Cases in Saskatchewan Over Time

NOTE: We have moved this post to a dedicated COVID-19 Landing Page. Please see that page for the latest up-to-date information!

With the talk of flattening the curve, we wanted to keep track of how we’re doing in Saskatchewan. We’ll be updating this graph every few days.

Today (Mar 23) there are 14 new cases in the province and wide reports of younger people continuing on as though there is nothing going on; 2 of these new cases are in the age group of 5-19. It doesn’t matter what your age is, we all have to do our part. Shops are closed, people have lost their jobs and many have lost or sacrificed a lot in the name of trying to prevent needless deaths as this virus spreads. This is NOT what “nothing to worry about” looks like. Labatt’s doesn’t stop producing alcohol to make sanitizer for fun. These are measures of war, and we are at war against this virus.

You may feel invincible thanks to good health or age, but house parties and get-togethers have got to stop now. We are a small province with extremely limited resources. Even one sick 25 year old requiring hospitalization can result in a 60-year old that can’t be put on a ventilator and may just die. Is a house party worth that cost? Is the total economic carnage worth that cost? If we are at war against this virus, those disobeying public health advice might as well be planting bombs for the enemy. Ignorance is not a defence.

I do not wish to live in a lock down but if people continue acting without care or regard for the well being of our province then it will be inevitable. Be responsible now. If you are NOT in quarantine or social isolation you still MUST practice social distancing. Go outside, but walk on your own or only with 1-2 people from your own households. Stay away from others, and if you see someone you know, stay at least 2 m apart. Wash your hands lots. We’re in this together.

If you haven’t yet, you may want to check out our guidelines on reducing the risk of spreading or catching coronavirus for renters and landlords/property managers. The key take away for both groups: minimize your exposure by pre-screening as much as possible. Use virtual tours or video tours (we can help), conduct FaceTime interviews and meetings, and really read the listing thoroughly before arranging in-person viewings (if at all).

Take care out there (and better yet, don’t be out there at all)!

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Reducing Corona Virus Spread in the Housing Rental Community

From Wuhan to Saskatchewan, the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic is spreading across the globe. No matter where you live, the fact is that everyone needs somewhere to live. Renting can’t come to a stop, pandemic or no. So I’ve created this post to start the conversation about ways that we can all work together, property managers, landlords and tenants, to reduce the spread and stay healthy and safe. The content below is the opinion of the author and should be considered supplemental and secondary to any and all official guidelines from Health Canada and similar governmental agencies. Where possible, we’ve done our best to seek out guidelines and expertise already in place from official sources.

Disclaimer noted, we’ve developed some guidelines and points for consideration:

  1. Tenants
  2. Landlords and Property Managers

Before you branch off, though, here are some great resources and reading to help you understand the state of COVID-19 in Canada, the world, and the importance of precautions:

NOTE: The ORT (Office of Residential Tenancies or the Rentalsman) will be conducting hearings by telephone only, effective March 16, 2020 in Saskatoon and Regina. 

 

Guide to Reducing Corona Virus Spread for Landlords and Property Managers

The Institute of Real Estate Managers has released a Pandemic Guide which has some valuable information, particularly for multiplex managers.

Keeping Common Areas Clean

If you manage a multi-family dwelling, ensure that common areas are sanitized – particularly high touch points like door handles and bannisters – as much as possible and at least once daily. Encourage your tenants to avoid congregating in common areas at the same time and consider sending a notification of what you are doing and best practices for them to employ. If the common areas are not strictly necessary (party rooms, gyms, etc), consider closing them until the risk level has subsided. Consider a plan for if maintenance or cleaning staff are required to isolate themselves. If buildings include a concierge or anyone regularly in contact with tenants, consider ways that the risk to them is minimized.  

Viewings and Finding Renters

Best Practices for Viewings

The safest practice is to simply put off all tenant searching until the pandemic has broken and things have returned to normal. However, this is probably not practical for most so long as the bills keep coming in. It also could result in stranding a portion of the population that has given notice elsewhere but not yet found a place to rent, which would be disastrous. Be sure to maximize your distance and even conduct as much of the conversation outdoors as weather permits; avoid handshakes and contact. And this goes without saying: if you have a sore throat, fever, shortness of breath, or any other symptoms of coronavirus and have been in contact with anyone that has the corona virus in the past two weeks, stay home and isolate yourself.

So while we accept that in-person viewings are likely to continue, we strongly recommend against conducting viewings of occupied suites while the corona virus is spreading. It only takes one infected stranger in a home to contaminate and potentially infect multiple people – not to mention that those current tenants also need to leave and find somewhere safe to go during that time when we’re all being asked to remain home as much as possible. We recognize that this is not ideal and will likely result in at least one month of vacancy, but it is the right thing to do at this time. Consider it time to make some touch-ups, updates, and repairs.  If you simply will not or cannot halt viewings, consider a virtual tour to limit the number of times your tenants must have potentially infectious persons in their home.

If you must continue with viewings and your tenant search, we recommend that you do not conduct in-person viewings until as much pre-screening as possible has been completed.

Pre-Screening to Minimize Contact

If you are actively searching for a renter, then you are going to come into contact with people. You may meet multiple potential tenants, some of whom may become applicants and one of whom may become your new tenant. You may also be into a currently occupied suite and meet with your outbound tenants multiple times during this search. The best practice, aside from a complete stoppage in viewings, is to make the number of in-person interactions as close as possible to zero. Ideally, you would only meet the to-be-accepted applicant and the rest would be pre-screened before ever stepping foot on the property. How can we accomplish that?

  1. Have a complete listing with all necessary information available (allow tenants to pre-screen);
  2. Have clear, large photos that clearly show the suite, layout, and condition;
  3. Offer a virtual, online viewing: consider a virtual tour or film your own video tour with your cell phone and post on YouTube;
  4. Conduct an initial FaceTime, Skype, or other Video Chat meet-and-greet (you could even arrange this to be at the rental to show it);
  5. Share your application form online (Anikio allows you to save it to your listing) or use an online screening service;
  6. If the application is valid and the tenant is still interested, THEN organize an in-person meeting and viewing to make the application official.

We want to do our part and are offering free consultation on rental ads posted to Anikio during this pandemic. Simply contact us to get help making your listing as complete as possible. We are also happy to help those creating their own video tours or taking their own photos in any way we can, again at no charge. Finally, we also continue to offer professional-grade rental photography and virtual tour creation to maximize your pre-screening efforts.

Rent and Notice Considerations

Reach out to your tenants to let them know what steps is any you are taking to ensure their rental remains safe, and ask them to reach out to you should anything come up that could compromise their ability to fulfill their obligations as tenants. Everyone should have a contact in the city to help them should they need assistance during this time, if it is in your power to be a contact for your tenant then consider doing so. Regardless, keep the line of communications open and consider that a two-week absence from their work may be enough to severely limit their well-being and ability to pay rent. Consider extensions and partial payments but always be sure to have any arrangement in writing.

If a tenant has given notice, reach out to ask if they have found a place or would like to consider extending their tenancy until the corona virus threat has subsided. Be sure, again and always, to have any agreement in writing and consider putting a finite time (one month or two months) on the extension. As mentioned above, we strongly urge against conducting viewings of occupied suites while the corona virus is spreading.

Prime Minister Trudeau has stated that there will be relief measures to reduce the financial burden but hasn’t defined them at this point. Italy, for example, has instructed banks to not collect mortgage payments during their shut down and landlords not to collect rent. This can be more complex an issue when rent includes utilities but certainly can relieve some of the strain on individuals during a difficult time should it come into place. More likely in Canada, those that have tested positive for the virus or have been temporarily laid off will have access to emergency funding through the EI program but that remains to be seen.

Tenant’s Guide to Reducing Corona Virus Spread

Covid-19 Infographic

Stay in Contact with Your Landlord

No matter what, you should have a ‘buddy’ in the city that can assist should you be unable to leave your home (and vice versa). It’s also a good idea to keep in contact with your landlord or property manager. You’re under no obligation to notify your landlord or property manager if you have the corona virus but you definitely should. In addition to self isolation, it’s the responsible thing to do for you and any others in the same building. Maintaining an open line of communication can also help should a complication arise that leaves you, for example, unable to pay rent on time. A landlord informed in advance should be much more forgiving and willing to work with you than one that has to contact you to find out what happened to the rent. Moreover, being as straightforward with your landlord, even if you don’t expect them to be understanding, will be to your benefit should you end up at the rentalsman.

Roommates

Living with roommates, any one of you becoming sick is cause enough for all of you to self isolate. If you are the one to develop symptoms, self-assess (check the province’s COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool to determine if your symptoms could be coronavirus and to organize a test. The province notes that if you have not been exposed to someone known to have COVID-19 or that has returned from an international travel, you currently do not need to test but expect this to change within the next week or two as more community cases are likely to arrive. If you are in a position where a test is merited, everyone in that house should isolate themselves until a negative test result is received (i.e. you do not have the virus). Your roommates will need to be notified immediately. Should you have the virus, everyone in the house should remain isolated for two weeks even if they do not have symptoms; it is possible for COVID-19 to spread even among asymptomatic people that have been exposed. In the meantime, all common areas must be sanitized regularly and any symptomatic roommates must isolate from healthy but at-risk roommates to avoid spreading. Consider scheduling use of common areas like kitchens to minimize contact. Sanitize shared surfaces and items thoroughly.

Apartment Dwellings

Even if your property manager hasn’t closed off common areas like gyms, stay away. Be cautious of door handles, keypads, bannisters, and any other frequent touch point and do your best to avoid or immediately wash or sanitize your hands if you must touch those surfaces. Do not touch your face until after you have cleaned your hands.

Searching for a Rental

The safest practice is to simply put off all rental searching until the pandemic has broken and things have returned to normal. If you’ve already given your landlord notice, consider contacting them to see about extending your tenancy until the outbreak has passed. As always, get anything relating to your tenancy in writing.

If you must move, do yourself a favour and screen meticulously before going to a viewing. Read the listings carefully, look at all photos, take the virtual tour or video walkthrough if available (ask for one if it’s not), and then contact the landlord or property manager to ask any questions you have if you’re still interested. Ask to see a copy of their application form in advance of meeting and consider having a video chat (FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, Skype, WhatsApp, and so on) to have an initial face-to-face chat and ask any questions you still have. The point is to minimize your viewings and in-person contact with others. 

When you meet in person, don’t shake hands and maintain a bit of space to minimize contact. Bring your own pen to sign anything you may need to.

Viewings of Your Current Tenancy

If you’ve given notice and are determined to move, ask your landlord if they’d consider not having showings of your place during the outbreak. They are under no obligation to do so but it is best practice to minimize potential contamination of your home while you’re living there.

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New Photo Portfolio

Anikio Real Estate Photography Portfolio

When people are looking for photographers, what’s one thing they want to see? Examples of their work! Our photography work is all over the site, but mixed in with others’ photos (look for the Anikio watermark). Worse, it comes and goes as property is rented and new properties get listed or re-listed. And some of the work we do for real estate agents never sees Anikio.com. The solution was simple… we needed to have a portfolio!

Over the past few days, I’ve been combing through the almost 2000 photos that we’ve taken in the past year. My goal was to narrow it down to 6 photos (because we can fit three nicely sized photos side-by-side on a computer monitor) for each type of room. I also wanted to show some examples of digital staging and some of my hobby photography, too. If you’re going to hire a photographer, they should have some interest in photography outside of work!

Mission accomplished. Our portfolio went live yesterday. Have a look! What I noticed when I was short listing is that I found the majority of the photos I had chosen were from properties with some furniture in them. That isn’t a surprise, we’ve long known the value of staging but it was interesting to see it, unintended, in the results of my own searching! I tried to also include at least one empty room in each just to show that yes, we can do that, too.

I hope this will help convert a few more visitors looking specifically for real estate or rental photography into customers. Ultimately, that should mean more rental listings. Options are getting a little sparse again! Our collective vacancy rate is approximately 4%, so at least we’ve below the 5.7% average in Saskatoon.