Coming Out

I don’t pretend that this will be a particularly interesting post, but I just wanted to get these ideas down on paper somewhere. I’m sorry for boring you, but it’s what I’ve been thinking about. Please just skip if not your cup of tea.

The map I use to look at my COVID numbers is quite finely-grained. It splits the UK into about 7,000 zones. The zones vary in physical size, seem to be driven more by population. I estimate that London has about 1,000 of these zones, real examples include South Hampstead or Central Westminster. What we might think of as a “suburb” generally splits into 2 or 3 of these zones.

Out in the countryside, where I am, my zone covers this village and the next. A far bigger area than Westminster or Hampstead.

I’m obviously talking about the UK, but there’s nothing really stopping other countries applying this too. My friend in Australia says he knows COVID data to the postcode level, people in the US say they know at the county level. The point is, it’s quite finely-grained.

On my map, each of these areas has a number of cases, confirmed within the last week. They fuzz up the numbers when they are very low, just because there might be 1 or 2 residual cases, presumably because those few cases are not statistically significant. But 100 cases in that zone, we’d see it!

I don’t think that’s a bad start, but I would sooner see a count of the number of active cases. We can calculate rates just by looking at how these numbers vary over time. I think there is currently an issue that somebody who tested positive eight days ago, who might still be infectious, drops off the official numbers. And I wouldn’t fuzz-out any data, because the agency’s role should be collation and presentation, not interpretation.

And, how do we decide when a case is no longer infectious? On that, I’d take advice.

My idea starts with that kind of granularity. By all means, disseminate these numbers, but I would just use two headline colours to describe one of these zones – “Red” and “Green”.

I see a Green zone would be no COVID cases. Or, very few. There would probably need to be a time element in there, too, like “no cases for the last 4 weeks”. Again, I’d take advice on the exact length of time.

Also, to qualify as being Green, all of the zone’s immediate neighbours should also be Green. Just because it is inevitable that people will travel at least to the next zone.

Inside a Green Zone, shops and businesses open as usual. People can move about their green zone. Masks (and distancing) are optional – neither is necessary if the place is virus-free. If people want to travel, that is up to them, but if they travel into a Red Zone, they should mask up.

A Red Zone, on the other hand, is one where there are COVID cases. Or, has a Red neighbour. Again, because people will move about.

Inside a Red Zone, the advice is to discourage mixing. This might mean people staying home, and some shops and businesses closing their doors, if they cannot operate without mixing.

And, because the goal is to discourage mixing altogether, any rules like “no more than 6” or “no more than 10” go out of the window. Same household only. Quite a grim scene, something looking like March more than September. Travel outside of the zone should be minimised and any excursion to any destination, Red or Green, requires a mask.

It’s a pity, pitting people’s mental health against their physical health, but physical health wins out, because of the “infectious” aspect. If someone might have COVID, even though it might help their mental health if they can see other people, they cannot be allowed to spread it. Put in those terms, it becomes a no-brainer. With some things, we just have to say “tough”.

In terms of whether a zone is Red or Green, I’d see those values being calculated daily (numbers are already recorded daily in the UK), everywhere. It’s not as if we require a human to make a decision – it is simply applying a formula, can be recalculated in seconds. A zone is Green or Red because of…. some definite criteria, not somebody’s judgement. And, it is possible for a Green Zone to become Red, as well as the other way around. End dates? Are really for the virus to decide. Right now, a reasonable end date seems “forever”.

There are a million more details to iron out, but those are my top-level thoughts.

First among those details, we need to be sure that the numbers which drive these decisions are as accurate as possible. So, that means lots of testing. Test enough, and we could even scale this down to the Red/Green Household level.

Second, we’re again telling businesses that they must close, telling people to stay home from work, so there are financial implications. I don’t think that locking down automatically means dire financial consequences, as we are all in the same boat. If everybody loses a billion dollars, nobody really loses anything. The difference is that a nation’s approach will dictate the speed at which it comes out of this and gets its economy back on track. And that speed *will* make a difference.

Third, it seems clear to me that, whatever plans we have, we have very little enforcement, at least in the UK. The police were a prime target during austerity. It is far too late this time around, but we should be asking ourselves whether we want enforcement in the future. That might be a pandemic, or it might be something else. And if the answer is “yes”, shouldn’t we be doing something about it? Another pandemic? No way? Well, how many once-in-a-lifetime events have we seen in recent memory?


  1. This is such a complicated issue, and the way we deal with it on an individual level seems to vary according to our age and general health.
    I was thinking of a similar system, but with an amber colour added.
    Then again, part of me is thinking that maybe what we need is a proper strategy to protect the most vulnerable in our society. Let everyone else take individual responsibility for themselves and their actions rather than having government imposed restrictions. If you want to take a risk and mix socially, get on with it. We have three huge problems really.
    1. This thing won’t go away until we find a vaccine.
    2. The NHS has limited resources.
    3. The economy is buggered.

    Who’d be a world reader? I’ll just keep writing my poems.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It is not boring Pete. I see all of your arguments and they are valid. There is one particilar point that I disagree with e tirely, but not worth mentioning. The whole thing is so bloody complicated anyway. I worry about the masks thing as well though, because people think they protect them. But in fact masks can GIVE you deadly disease. A d they can be dangerous, depending on who you are and also there isbthe problem of how you treat them. They can be germ carriers with people touching their masks all the time, with possible Covid on them, then touching snother human being. Personslly I am scared of masks for that reason. But they do make many ppl feel more comfortable. But that wasn’t the one point I disabreed with. I do agree about the zones, and the travel bit. You should not be able to travel from a red zone into any other zone at all, in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, but we are human beings – we are capable of solving complicated problems.
      I note that for all the negatives you give about masks, we are still advised to wear them, pretty universally, over not wearing them.
      I thought specifically about travel and the reason I would permit some travel is exactly the same as they said at the start of Lockdown in the UK – so people could get to the supermarket etc. Do you remember that concept of “essential journeys”? A lot of the things done at the start of Lockdown, back in March, were, I think, right. The problem was that they took those restrictions away too quickly.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree with you. They should have gone on longer with the lockdown restrictions. I am not arguing about that one. It was working, I think. As regards the travel, yes, I meant travelling from a red zone to another one. I think that travel should be more restricted, but then you have the problem of delivery lorries to supermarkets etc. But Inguess that could be made a special case. As regards to masks, I will NOT wear one. I have done my research, and in actual fact I am exempt anyway, but still did try to wear one, to make other people feel more comfortable. I passed out. So now I don’t go anywhere where you have to wear one as I dont want to upset other ppl. I will stand by what I say about masks and even the experts disagree. So a no goer really.

        Liked by 1 person

          • Actually it is a bit mixed. And actually, the problem is that all the messages are mixed. People are finding it all confusing. But yes, there are also those who are blatantly going theur ownvway anyway. I guess that is the wat humans, or some of them, avtually are. I would actually hate to be the government at the moment.

            Liked by 1 person

      • At the end of the day we have to abide by what the government decides anyway, but we have to be human beings still. I think sometimes there HAVE to be exceptions to the rules, in order to save lives.

        Liked by 1 person

          • No I am not saying thatvat all. But the fact is that we have to follow their rules – well, I guess we dont have to if we can take being fined or even going to court. But then of course there are those who do things that are against the rules in secret anyway. We can talk about what WE think, and either agree or disagree with the government, but at the end of the day we don’t really have much say. Do you agree with that statement or not?

            Liked by 1 person

              • And just for the record, we can be in prison for DOING something, but we can still THINK what we like, dven in prison.


              • I think we are actually agreeing, but it isn’t coming out like that. You could never hope to find a free-er thinker than me, and I am not one to follow things blindly. But then I know that even if I disagree with something, if I do certain things as a result of disagreeing, I could be put into prison. But I am not stopped from thinking certain things, or even dyscussing them, as we are now


          • Lol you re taln o. Philosophr hre, so of clurse I am not saying we can’t have our own ideas. You yourself though, earlier, said, I THINK, that the government says we have to wear masks. That is if I read you right.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. I didn’t SAY we don’t have freedom of thought. I said that if we break the rules, we can expect to either be fined or go to court or whatever. But that does not mean we cannot THINK about things and discuss them. Wherever did I say that we cannot think and discuss? What are we doing now then, if we are not doing that? I feel you have misunderstood what I said. And I don’t actually know where I said that we do not have freedom of thought or speech. I merely said that we can be in some way punished for our actions, not our thoughts.


  4. The biggest issue with respect to the reporting of statistics is the reliability of the source of the data. In the U.S. there are 50 states and each has its own mechanism for collecting and reporting data. And I have no trust whatsoever in the accuracy of the data that comes out of any agency within the Trump Administration, given how it tends to massage the data in a way that always attempts to cast Trump in the most positive way.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, that’s really a cornerstone to my plan, otherwise you have no idea whether Red or Green. It seems madness, frankly, that politicians are allowed near any of those numbers. They use them, sure, but they should not be a part of the manufacture.
      I guess even without politics, it must be difficult there because it’s so fragmented. It seems a valid question to ask at the endof all this – should it be like that? Should there be greater federal oversight?

      Liked by 2 people

  5. We’ll know, soon enough, Pete, what they’re gling to do with us all next. Snd whether we agree with it or not we’re stuck with it! Doesn’t stop us thinking ohr own thoughts though, and stating them. Just waiting to see which zone our area is in. Don’t think we will be in the zone that has a lot of added restrictions. But that can change. 😀


  6. There was a very interesting point made by a guy on TV. Apparently, the financial support being offered to people is 2/3 of their regular wage. If these people are already earning minimum wage, which we define as the smallest wage that people can live on, shouldn’t they qualify for all of their wages?


  7. Interesting article, Pete.

    I am in favour of any restrictions that are advised by PHE. Restrictions are there to save us from ourselves, but they will only be successful if people abide by them.

    People themselves have proved that as individuals they cannot be trusted to do the right thing. If they could, we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place. We live in a society where most people put their own needs before the collective.

    Mask wearing should never again become a choice to suit the individual, masks must be worn to protect others from us, if not then those happy little green patches on your map will very soon turn to an angry red.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Sue.
      The thing that swung it for me on masks was that they might help, and they don’t harm. In those terms, the issue became a no-brainer for me. But one of the other comment threads on this post is by somebody who is anti-mask, who sees them as harmful. Personally, I am happy to listen to people like PHE on that one. But you might find that thread an intereting read.
      I do think that mask material is an issue, I remember finding a paper on this back in May or June – I guess it is still valid (I will dig it out if you’re interested.). I’m lucky in that mine are medical-grade. Iirc, all materials they tested started at ~50% effective in stopping covid-sized particles, but as you’d expect, medical masks were more effective than linen, were more effective than cotton etc.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I purchased 200 medical-grade masks before lockdown and before we were aware of any shortages of PPE and before the prices shot up. I shared them with my kids. My son rotates his so that after a few days he can use one again. One day he put one in the washing machine to see what would happen to it. Surprisingly it came out in perfect condition.

        Since Covid I don’t go out very much so don’t need to wear a mask very often. From the initial feeling of not being able to breathe, I soon got over it.

        I think many times where are no medical issues the panic ofa shortage of breath is in someone’s head, though I don’t doubt it feels very real.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I think by the very nature of the pandemic, there are certain things where you just have to say “tougfh”.
          As I talk about, physical health versus mental, tough.
          Kids who lost school time, tough.
          People who don’t like wearing masks, tough.
          Bottom line, it is about protecting the herd, not the individual.

          Incidentally, if anybody else reads this thread, my post was here. I’m basically puzzling through the issue of whether (coarse-weave) masks can be effective against what is a pretty small particle, And the medical paper I cite is here. Now, let’s hope my markup works!

          Liked by 1 person

            • Actually I think that the pandemic has made it clear that we need to think about these kind of things for ourselves.
              Another example from very early on – the advice was to wash our hands, but why? In fact it is because the soad breaks down the lipids protecting the RNA of the virus.

              Liked by 1 person

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