38 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: The science behind the Coronavirus”

  1. While we are all shut ins, who can share a favorite recipe for transit rice. Include the inspiration and how you’d get there so we can patronize these establishments once our bondage is broken.

    1. Better analogy might be for us, learning as we go, to be what so many of us, especially the ones who desperately need buses, already are:

      Skilled owners and workers adjusting everything from recipes to food-prep to table-setting to dishwashing to carryouts and deliveries to kitchen-cleanup, rather than simply being shut-in customers awaiting home delivery.

      The view of Government and public life that all three hundred fifty million of us should carry with us in our lunchboxes out of kindergarten.

      Mark Dublin

    2. Grocery stores are hiring like crazy, and offering hazard pay. The cleaning protocol doesn’t just require more down time at night, but also cleanings and washroom breaks throughout the day.

      A lot of business from restaurants has shifted to grocery stores. And so, more time is required to re-stock the shelves. People are also stocking up more.

      Floor signs are now demarcating where people should stand in line for each counter (6 feet behind the person in front of them). So, they have to keep the queues shorter. Customers might clamor to keep this practice long after the pandemic is over, given the improved traffic flow (which, unfortunately, defeats the social distancing).

      To Bernie’s point, sushi might actually be fresher now, knowing it has been on the shelf less than 24 hours. I’ve found QFC’s to actually be better than PCC’s. But the number of vegan options on the sushi shelf seems calculated to be just enough for actual vegans, and so those are hard to find. They tend to also be the only vegetarian options.

      Anywhere inari rolls are served, be sure to ask. Some are full of fish broth. Sushi bars without labels also have hygiene issues when it comes to making vegetarian sushi. The last time I requested a special order for vegetarian rolls, I watched as the kid used the same bamboo roller he had just used to make meat sushi, without using hot water to sanitize it in between. I had to refuse it, and I’m not going back to that place. If a sushi bar doesn’t label their dishes, and doesn’t specifically label dishes as vegetarian or vegan, vegetarians should not eat there, if they value their health.

      Thanks for the question, Bernie.

    3. I was specifically interested in rice because that’s one of the staples that sold out instantly; almost as fast as TP. Pasta and canned prepared meals too but stocking up on spaghetti is different than 10# bags of rice. I get that you can live for a long time on 10# of rice. We only have the relatively small amount already on hand but even a pound or two of different types of rice goes a long way. I’d just like to hear how different ethnic cuisines do variations of the plain white/brown/black rice dishes and where they come from.

      1. Expand beyond rice… farro (emmer wheat), kamut, quinoa… are all great options that might be adult available (though usually in the now closed bulk food sections.)

        Farro and kamut are hardier, chewier, and pack more rough fiber, and quinoa (I prefer the white) can be quite fluffy.

        And don’t miss pastas like couscous as a rice alternative and riced cauliflower.

      2. That’s what I’m talking about! We’ve been big fans of couscous because it’s way easier/quicker to cook than rice (excluding minute rice which I think is something like artificial cheese). Ala (aka Bulgur wheat) is another easy to cook grain. But rice in all it’s wonderful forms is something my Irish potato cooking genes have not been able to master. And short of the wonderful fried rice you get as part of American Chinese fare I just don’t know what to do with it. The exception being Spanish Rice which I have to admit to buying the Rice-a-Roni version. I watch a lot of NHK and several shows have touted the health differences of the white rice most commonly used in Japan vs other fit for fattening cattle varieties. Of course they also push Sake which I think is best used as a hand sanitizer :=

    4. My recipes the past two weeks have been granola (first time),borsch, tom yum soup, parsnip-pear-cumin soup, chili, buscuits with gravy (first time), salads, sourdough hread, pickles, sauteed shallots, and tacos.

      I tried three stores last Sunday for rice and salt. None of them had rice so I got more potatoes instead. The last store had only a few bottles of salt left so I got one called Celtic Sea Salt, after looking at the ingredients to make sure it really was regular sea salt.

      The granola recipe was from Fairyland Cottage on YouTube, the sustainability woman I mentioned earlier. Her videos are an expression of hope and zero waste, and how to make homemade substitutes for household products.

      1. I tried three stores last Sunday for rice and salt. None of them had rice

        Exactly, I even stopped in at Cash & Carry where the “small” bag of rice is 10#. Normally you can buy all the 50# sacks you “need”. With restaurants largely closed and that being a majority of Cash & Carry business; what are people doing with all this rice? I wasn’t shopping for rice but it intrigues me as to how to use the few pounds we have around the house. I can only imagine how difficult it is to bring home a 50# bag of rice on the bus!

      2. You mean you have extra rice? I didn’t understand what you said, or what “transit rice” is.

        If you’re looking for rice recipes, rice pudding is good. You can add it to other soups, or add cooked rice to a salad. Rice and peas is good, or rice and green beans. Or you could be like Alice from the Brady Bunch who did a Minute Rice commercial in the 70s. She suggested “orange rice” (with orange juice), plain rice, and rice with peas and carrots. “Long-grain rice that’s ready in […opens hand…] five minutes!”

  2. Even when this virus and crisis is long gone, I don’t think transit will return to business as usual. Does anyone care to make any predictions what lasting changes the virus will have, especially in the world of transit? I’ll make a couple.

    1, It will hasten the demise of cash fares and paper transfers. They’ll be deemed unhygienic. 2, They’ll be a renewed push to instal plexiglass partitions separating the driver from the passengers. 3, For public transit riders, wearing a mask will become commonplace.

    Any other predictions? Or do you think once this is over, and perhaps there’s a vaccine, it will be forgotten, and nothing will change?

    1. I think that driver separation is something that (unfortunately) is long overdue. Beyond the health concerns the incidents of violence against drivers the last few years seems to mandate it.

      Masks may become as ubiquitous as in Asia; then again, maybe not… we’ll see.

      The car companies are all going to take big financial hits from the recession. Coming out will people be more inclined to own a car even if it’s just for occasional use? Seems like it could be an opportunity for a car sharing model along the lines of how shared/club sailboats are done. You get your X number of hours per week and the service takes care of providing maintenance and when needed storage. It differs from something like Smart Car in that you take on the cost of (partial) ownership and insurance so your disincentive for use is the incremental cost of fuel.

    2. I think the concept of urban density is going to be attacked by some of the right-wing noisemakers. The fact that NYC is suffering so dramatically will fuel plenty of misplaced opposition to urban density and funding for public transportation. We should be talking about our society’s failure to provide adequate health care resources and looking at how global warming may have contributed to the pandemic. But I’m sure plenty of attention will be focused on the urban environment and the liberals who like to congregate in the cities.

      1. I think the concept of urban density is going to be attacked by some of the right-wing noisemakers. The fact that NYC is suffering so dramatically will fuel plenty of misplaced opposition to urban density and funding for public transportation. We should be talking about our society’s failure to provide adequate health care resources and looking at how global warming may have contributed to the pandemic. But I’m sure plenty of attention will be focused on the urban environment and the liberals who like to congregate in the cities.

        Yes exactly. In fact I saw comments on Streettsblog to that effect. One example went something like this… since Phoenix has had few cases & NYC has had most of them, therefore density must be the primary reason why.

        However it was pointed out that New Rochelle NY & Teaneck NJ had the first clusters of cases. Also it was pointed out that Staten Island witch is almost all suburban has had 14 more cases per 100,000 residents than Manhattan has had.

        I should also note that the two suburban clusters noted above were in very tightly knit religious communities with large families.

    3. I’d be OK with all of the above, though #3 assumes you can even buy a mask. Hopefully supply will catch up with demand at some point.

      It always made me uncomfortable when passengers would distract the operator of a multi-ton vehicle carrying dozens of passengers with pointless conversation, though it never occurred to me that infectious diseases would become a concern as well.

    4. I do think transit will suffer some lingering effects:
      1) Those who bought cars during the pandemic to avoid public transit will keep on driving them.
      2) Some people who started working from home will keep up the habit, at least a couple times per week.
      3) Due to lagging economic effects and delays in sales tax collections, transit will face a funding shortfall right as people start heading back to work. If the agencies aren’t careful, this could lead to service cuts, which depress ridership, leading to more service cuts.

      I don’t think the plexiglass will happen because of the costs. Not do I think it’s a good idea because it would convey the subtle message that the bus is a place where violent criminals congregate, scaring honest riders away.

      Not do I expect people to continue using masks after the pandemic is over. They’re awkward and, absent a real pandemic, make you look paranoid.

      1. Just because every virus is out to get you doesn’t mean you’re paranoid. Masks will definitely be available once the current crush in demand by hospitals subsides. We also need to look seriously at how we use “disposable” masks. Where do these things go once they become bioharzardous waste? Disposal may exceed the cost of buying the mask. We don’t have the answers right now but I expect, everything old is new again with respect to properly cleaning and reusing things that up until now were considered disposable.

        It will be interesting to see how much work from home increases. Companies can save a lot of money if they can reduce the required amount of office space. And that’s doubly true if they can reduce the need for parking. That could take a slice out of the transit pie. Or, if people only have to commute a couple of times a week and buses run faster they may decide they can forego the expense of a car; or at the very least reduce the number of cars per household. Having one car gets a couple 90% of the value of having two cars for half the cost if you don’t have to use a car every day to commute.

        All of the grocery stores have put up plastic shields. Granted they are probably acrylic and not poly-carbonate (Plexiglass) but the issue is driver safety and it’s a tiny portion of the cost of an $800,000 bus.

      2. I work for a large employer in Seattle that made the call on Friday to permanently allow all employees to telecommute, post pandemic. Already some of my co workers have expressed an interest to leave the area and move to more suburban and rural communities. I expect more companies to make remote work permanent. Remember a vaccine is still a year away at best. This pandemic will have an impact on Seattle and downtown for years to come.

      3. some of my co workers have expressed an interest to leave the area and move to more suburban and rural communities.

        That would make housing in Seattle more affordable so isn’t that a win win? Consider most of those tech workers won’t be looking for a large lot 3 car garage home and commuting in their F-150. I can see a demand for small relatively self sufficient villages surrounded by walkable/bikeable “village greens” becoming the in demand model for the gen X-Y-Zers.

      4. In the 2008 crash a lot of people moved away. In the Summit area every other apartment building had a “For Rent” sign. Discount deals were everywhere (free month, 10% off, free microwave or TV). Rents remained stable until 2012.

        I’ve been wondering if this time would be similar. It depends on whether people move away. Last time people left because they’d lost their job and they moved back to wherever they came from. Now everything’s in suspended animation so people may wait here.

        One long term issue is that if construction is halted for a year or more and people don’t move away, the housing shortage will get even worse. That’s what happened 2008-2012. Housing construction was halted but people continued to be born or graduate from high school or college or get divorced. And on a national level, hedge funds began buying single-family houses en masse and renting them out at high rates. Those pressures are partly what made housing prices go into overdrive after the recovery.

      5. This is a very different situation than the housing bubble that created the 2008 crash. Back then banks were loaning money to people to buy houses they knew the couldn’t afford because they were selling the loans and minimizing, so they thought, their risk. When the bubble burst banks were left holding mortgages way in excess of the inflated values they had created with their “easy money” strategy.

        Bank regulations have for the most part been successful and that sector is not in danger of collapsing like in 2008/9. There’s been “honest” demand for housing in Seattle based on the hot job market. We’ll see how robust that market is in the coming months.

        I don’t see the “shortage” getting worse. In suspended animation nobody is going to be moving into a high priced market when nobody is even interviewing let alone hiring.

        I don’t think hedge funds had anything to do with housing prices. They aren’t interested in small deals. Some high end housing has been bought by foreign investors without the idea of even renting it but solely as a place to park money where it’s “guaranteed” to go up.

        For the most part the high cost of housing in Seattle is directly related to the high salaries payed by the tech companies. Prosperity isn’t all bad, unless you don’t have a seat at the table.

      6. Bernie,
        Consumer debt has increased considerably since the Great Recession. Credit card debt, auto loans and student loans have all gone way up. So much shopping is now done online with credit cards. What happens when people stop paying off that debt and default on their obligations? Without access to more credit, the online commerce world comes to a quick halt.

        The Great Recession may have cleaned out most of the dubious and risky mortgages that led to the last recession, but there’s lots of other debt out there that won’t get paid off over the next year. How will Amazon continue to grow if people don’t have credit available?

      7. While I agree people are buying with credit cards that’s part of the online economy. Student debt is indeed a huge issue. It’s a bit hard to understand from my perspective since I tried hard to avoid student loans (or debt of any kind) and paid mine off within 4 years of gradation. But I get that it’s been hyped much the same way mortgage debt was since the “lenders” were able sell off the loans to mostly the federal government. That’d all be fine if the debt was incurred to get a degree that would pay it off but in large part that isn’t the case.

    5. I lived through 9/11. Most of the same people that screwed up back then are still in charge, busy screwing up right now.

      That said, I think we will see some big changes, due to the accelerating generational decline of the Baby Boomers. Boomers overlearned from the 70s (inflation is dangerous, cities are bad), and Millenials are now, I’m sure, overlearning now.

    6. I predict a increased interest in driverless and automated (aka “touchless”) high-capacity transit systems. Once the labor costs for one driver per train (or per bus) are removed from the operating cost equation, it becomes feasible to operate vehicles at a much higher frequency.

      Unfortunately, I don’t expect traditional transit ridership to fully recover for many years, especially since the shift to online learning and online employment has been made much more implementable. I can’t envision a scenario where it would even make it back to 2019 levels without substantial overall population growth — and in 2019 the natural population growth has fallen to less than 1,000,000 people a year nationally (https://census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/visualizations/2019/comm/slower-growth-nations-pop.pdf) making that extremely unlikely.

      I expect that cleanliness will become a more valued commodity, and transit operators will permanently have to increase cleaning practices.

      There has been a national obsession with urbanizing major cities for the past 20 years, and it’s been really accelerated these past 10. Small-town America isn’t growing in most places. I expect the tide will shift a bit towards small-town America as online jobs become more viable and technology reduces social isolation. I’m not speculating that big cities will stop growing, but I am thinking that they probably won’t grow as fast.

      I expect alternatives to air travel will grow. Air travel lately has been a increasingly horrid experience from the pick-up and drop-off congestion to the ticketing to the security to the packed terminal gates to the sardine-packed airplanes. This probably will result in more interest in modes that allow someone the ability to create a “social distance” like an over-the-road coach or train where one can have sanitized private compartments. Companies that operate these modes will be able to charge more for their trips to compensate for more thorough cleaning, maybe even reaching a point where they can charge more than an airline ticket.

      Of course, it’s just my thoughts at this point. Lots depends on how long this current crisis lasts. If it blows over in three months, the impact will be small. If it lasts for three years, it will fundamentally change life as we know it.

  3. Problem with plastic shields, at least the ones available now: In crashes and some other unpleasantness not least fire, driver needs to get loose a lot faster than they need to avoid an attack.

    Seem to remember, maybe overseas, that driver’s compartments of some buses used to be fitted with same type door as a truck-cab. With modern coach-assembly and materials, it’s probably past-time for some major re-design of transit vehicle bodies.

    But another protective measure that I think bears another look. If accounting and not ideology declares that fares are still necessary revenue, conductors trained also to information and maintenance of order paid their way for quite a while.

    Vehicle operation? Driverless only if buses have exact same lane, signal, and absolutely intrusion-free right of way exclusivity as a very fast train. Better yet, a skyscraper elevator.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I know on school buses the front windshield can be pushed out as an emergency exit. I’m assuming that’s true of Metro buses? The challenge with a left hand door is that most coaches have a large number of the controls on a left side console. Not to say that can’t be changed but it seems like simply making the driver protective barrier open from the inside is the easy solution.

      I’m not buying into the argument that public perception is more important the the drivers actual well being.

      1. Retrofitting plexiglass on existing buses costs more than adding it to new buses. Plus, you’d have to replace all the fareboxes with versions that knowhow to dispense paper transfers (or, do away with papesfers altogether).

        Still though, if transit is so dangerous that the bus driver needs a shield, then passengers need a shield also. In which which case, you may a well just give up on transit altogether and tell everyone to go buy a car.

        One good thing a driver shield would do, though. It would stop people standing at the front of the bus, chatting with the driver the entire ride, while the distracted bus driver plods along at 20mph, hoping to not hit anybody.

      2. Fair enough, retro fitting like a home remodel always costs a little more. But compared to the cost of bus and given the most valuable part of the whole process is the driver cost really isn’t even a consideration.

        As for shutting down the market on paper transfers… yes please.

        I know sometimes passengers tend to treat the bus driver as their therapist, or bar tender. Particularly annoying are the ones that board the bus, spend 2-3 minutes asking directions on what bus to take to every conceivable destination and then leave.

        OTOH, I have a CDL and know when a driver needs full concentration and when a conversation is something a driver might enjoy; especially on lonely eastside routes like the 249. It’s really great when you can get their perspective on things and if they’re doing more of the talking and I’m doing more of the listening then that’s good. That’s why I said it’s unfortunate that driver shields, at least on certain routes have become necessary for the operator’s safety.

      3. Not so much public persuasion as workplace necessity. When conductors were ruled superfuous, their duties of passenger information, fare collection, and order-maintenance were all added to the driver’s already-full plate.

        Absolute NO to any idea that drivers should become conductors and the bus should drive itself.
        Except under one set of conditions: Buses get same degree of seclusion and right-of-way preemption as Vancouver’s Skytrain. Or elevators in the world’s tallest building. Same for over-the-road trucks.

        Would like to see a thorough, objective investigation as to whether onboard fare collection in any form does or doesn’t lose more in operating funds than it brings in.

        Of course ORCA -loaded passes should’ve settled the picture in big literal flash. But after 17 years, ST’s own findings prove that the program’s self-inflicted complexity constitutes its own chief cause of violation. Demanding the order of generational change, policy and personnel, that I think could be COVID-19’s compensatory legacy.

        Mark Dublin

  4. Could someone please read this article and tell me if the homeowners have been paying property taxes on the land the County says is theirs? I’m unclear on that part of the story. To me, that makes all the difference on whose land it is. Of course, the trail should be the public’s. But a 200 foot wide swath? I hope someone can clear this up for me.

    ‘They’re telling us we’re trespassers’: King County vs. longtime Lake Sammamish waterfront homeowners


    1. Easy, the owners felt they were able to squat on the RR ROW and then when the line was “abandon” they’d own it This is OLD OLD “news”. It was never theirs and Buyer Beware when “your” waterfront is actually owned by the railroad. The county stood up for their rights and the well bankrolled owners lost. This is in contrast to the Seattle well heeled land owners that took public ROW along Lake Washington that extended all the way down to the lake and made it their exclusive domain.

      As far as paying taxes, they paid assessed market value on what they owned. They did not pay taxes on the RR ROW although the perception that it might someday be acquired for free probably did escalated the assessed value. The real scandal regarding property tax assessments is how commercial property in King County is WAY under assessed vs true market value vs residential property.

  5. Off topic from transit, but in topic per the post –

    I got a lot out of the science of the video, but it contained the worst demonstration of hand washing I’ve ever seen. If the point was that soap is right now the single best killer of the virus, why no lather?

  6. What the hell has happened to Sound Transit’s ridership reporting? First the monthly ridership reports disappear and now we are waiting months for the quarterly performance reports. There is still no published quarterly report for 2019 Q4 as of this writing. This is all information that should’ve been made available back in January, i.e., long before the impacts of our current public health crisis were being felt by the agency.

    Rogoff likes to talk a big game about his agency’s transparency and public accountability but they’re just empty talking points.

  7. I was reading about bogie exchanges between standard-gauge and nonstandard-gauge tracks, as in the West/East European border and other places. It says the cars are either lifted up and a new bogie placed underneath, or they’re lowered onto a “trolley” in a pit and then the trolley takes away the bogie and brings another one.

    What’s the passenger experience during this? Are the cars lifted with a crane like shipping containers? Do people have to stay in their seats? For how long? Is the movement like a bus starting or like an elevator?

    With the second method, what does it mean by trolley? British English uses the word trolley for all sorts of carts. And when the trolley is moved away, why don’t the cars fall down into the gap?

    1. There are videos on YouTube of the process of switching out the bogies. I watched a few in response to your post above and it does appear in a couple of them that the passengers just stayed in the carriage. Apparently the cars are lifted up by these giant jacks that are positioned along both sides of the change-out platform.

    2. Between Spain/France, at least (and within Spain if trains need to move between Iberian gauge and standard) – not sure if they do the same in Eastern Europe although I assume they do – the train rolls through a “gauge-changer” without needing to stop. Passengers stay on board. Bogies are designed to be able to spread or contract as they pass through. As for locomotives, due to the drive requirements they do need to be lifted and bogies replaced, so this is rarely done.

      My recollection is that a loco on the originating gauge pushes the train through the gauge-changer, where a loco of the second gauge hooks on and pulls the train all the way through.

      The Spanish high-speed AVE system was built at standard grade, so through trains aren’t a problem for high-speed trains from France. Other through-trains do need to go through the changer. Interestingly, at Hendaye station on the French-Spanish border, there are actually three gauges – standard, Iberian, and meter-gauge. The meter-gauge line is completely separate and so gauge changes are not made.

      If you’re really interested, there is an immense disused train station in a tiny border town in the Pyrenees called Canfranc. It was designed to handle passengers and freight needing to change trains in the days before gauge-changers. It’s really quite an astounding sight to see in a pretty little mountain village.

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