Sunday, January 31, 2021

"El Rastreador del Coronavirus": Avi Schiffmann tells his story at 7000 feet at a conference in Mexico, after recovering from COVID19 himself

Mexico Popocatepetl

 

For today’s “movie”, I’ll present Avi Schiiffmann’s lecture “El Rastreador del Coronavirus”.  The vocabulary word is the same in Spanish and Portuguese, and means "tracker".  

Avi is the founder (“El fundador”) of one of the world’s major coronavirus trackers, ncov2019.live  Try it on a mobile device

Avi gives a presentation at a conference in Puebla, Mexico, near Mexico City, at about 7000 feet elevation. The 16000-foot Popocapetl Volcano, which a good high school friend climbed in 1962 and almost fell to his death from except for grabbing a ledge, is nearby.   Avi had recovered from COVID19 himself quarantined with his mother at a family cabin in the Cascades (Geekwire story by Kurt Schlosser), so being able to function well and speak publicly at high altitude is a good test of recovery.   His mother is a physician and father a biochemist, so I guess dad brought food to them.  During his recovery, he made some impressive drone footage of the  snow-covered forests in the nearby Cascades.  I once had a personal epiphany in 1978 having lunch at the Snolqualmie Pass on I90, something that foreshadowed what would happen a few years later.  I have urged him to make a video on what a recovery is like.  It is not always easy, even for young adults.  There is also a legitimate medical question now as to whether young adults who have recovered completely from COVID_19  need and should take the vaccine, until all others have had it.

Avi says he got a text from a friend in China right as January 2020 started about the virus, when there were only a few cases reported publicly.  He looked into this quickly (not knowing Mandarin Chinese when looking at news articles -- although Mark Zuckerberg could have helped him read them!) and decided to code the tracker, and he says he taught himself the technology, even at the cost of sacrificing time for schoolwork.  (Now he is applying to top colleges as he is now a senior, having turned 18 in late October, and went skydiving for his birthday, according to his Instagram).  

No doubt, having both parents in medicine could have made a difference, as the entire family might have “put 2 + 2 together” and realized this threat to western countries, to fill up hospitals, would soon come.  No one else in the public media really understood this until the end of January. 

The Times of Israel says he started working on this in December, and an article in the New Yorker by Brent Crane says he launched it for the first time on Sunday, December 29, 2019.   The Seattle Times reports him as saying he was working on it in late December.  That means this text probably actually came in early December, and tech savvy teenagers in China knew something was “wrong” many weeks before the date it was reported to the WHO (Dec 31).  I’ve heard of others who say they had heard chatter online about the problem in the late fall of 2019. 

All of that, by the way, points to the need for WHO, in the investigation, to look at every sample collected anywhere in the world in 2019 (as early as March 2019 from wastewater in Barcelona, and a few times in Italy), and track the progress of the viral condons to figure out what had happened in Wuhan (and maybe other cities and countries) before Dec. 31, 2019. Laurie Garrett should really jump on all this with another Foreign Policy or Atlantic article (or maybe a book).  Frankly, from all the circumstantial evidence, China (and maybe the CCP) has a lot of explaining to do. 

Schiffmann mentioned a quote in a NYTimes article (by Eric Lipton, et al) where CDC staff members were “mortified” that a teenager had a major tracking website working before the CDC had its own bureaucratic act together (floundering on the test, and joining the WHO in getting the facts on masks wrong at first).  The audience in Mexico claps.

Schiffmann also notes he was able to get help from Cloudflare on the hosting and security free.  Matthew Prince, CEO, recall, had his own crisis of conscience over Charlottesville in 2017.  This time, he probably realized that the virus was being overlooked by Trump intentionally and jumping in and helping this project work was definitely good self-interest.

Toward the end of his presentation, he talks about “learning to code” and how to teach oneself everything.

The logical successor to this lecture would be a documentary for PBS, maybe even for one of the big film festivals like Sundance, SXSW, etc.  

Picture: Mt Popo in Mexico, embed from Wikipedia, click for attribution.  If you want to prove you have recovered from corona, climb this peak (socially distanced outdoors, without oxygen -- I think my schoolmate in 1962 did that). 

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