Free Friday: Deconstructing R, Whether to Wear a Mask & Restarting Football

Free Friday: Deconstructing R, Whether to Wear a Mask & Restarting Football
May 8, 2020 Daniel Rhodes
In Free, Free Friday


Best posts of the week, as chosen by Chris Rowland and Daniel Rhodes:

Here are some comments we’ve picked out this week, about football as well as coronavirus!:

1 – Tony Mckenna (macattack) responding to an article about player wages:

Some eye watering numbers in this article. But this stands out: since 1992-93, player wages have risen 2,811%, versus a 108% increase in general inflation. Jimmy Hill was very instrumental in lifting the cap on player wages all them years ago. And with possible good reason: players were denied a fair slice of the money pie baked into the game. All of this, however, may have to be turned on its head. Out of necessity.

2 – Stevenson1988 on what solution to the current PL season is least likely to “damage the integrity” of the league:

From the Times:

“The Premier League’s plans to restart the season at neutral grounds have come into question after Brighton & Hove Albion publicly opposed the move. Paul Barber, the chief executive of the club, said playing at neutral grounds would damage the integrity of the league because some clubs would have more of an advantage.”

Given that the alternatives to this proposal are to either scrap the league altogether for this season, or extrapolate the final positions from points already won; which of the 3 options does this idiot think is least likely to damage the “integrity” of the league.

3 – (Professor) MikeB on the R rate and mask-wearing:

With ‘R ‘ having entered popular vocabulary and with seemingly endless discussion of what we’ve done and what we might do to slow down and reverse the spread of the virus, I’ve been frustrated that much of it doesn’t seem ‘joined up’ in people’s minds, whereas of course it all links together. So I thought I’d try to write a joined-up explanation. Having done so and read it back, it all seems a bit obvious and unnecessary, but no harm, I guess, in sharing…

Deconstructing R

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a widespread understanding of the importance of the reproductive number of an infection, R, and that if is greater than 1 the infection will spread, while if is below 1, it will decline. But it is perhaps also helpful to understand where comes from, what determines its value, and what we can do to alter (hopefully reduce) that value. By deconstructing into its component parts, it is possible to see all of the responses to COVID-19, actual or proposed, in terms of the contribution they would make to the overarching aim of reducing R, hopefully bringing an increased coherence to what can sometimes seem a set of disjointed arguments.

Focusing mainly on person-to-person transmission, rather than indirect transmission via, for example, a doorknob or other contaminated object, depends on:
(i)           the average length of time over which an infected individual remains infectious (which we can call L) – the longer an individual remains infected, the more susceptible individuals he or she is likely to infect, and the larger will be;
(ii)          the number of susceptible individuals in the population (which we can call S) – since more susceptible individuals represent more targets for infection: and
(iii)        what is called the transmission coefficient.

We can see immediately that we can reduce by reducing any one of these quantities (and of course, ideally, all three), and we can look at them in turn. So, starting with L, the infectious period, it is apparent that when we seek treatments for patients with COVID-19 (for example, with remdesivir), apart from the benefits to the patient concerned, there is also an ‘R-benefit’ through the reduction in L.

Similarly, turning to the number of susceptibles, S, we see that if and when we find a vaccine, the vaccinated individual, apart from the benefit to themselves, will again be contributing to an R-benefit by being transferred from the susceptible class to the immune class and so reducing S. Indeed, when people talk about ‘herd immunity’, what they mostly mean is reducing the value of such that drops below 1. But any reduction in S, through vaccination, will lead to a corresponding reduction in R. And as was notoriously discussed in the early days of the UK epidemic, natural infection will also shift people from the susceptible into either the immune or the deceased class, and so contribute to a reduction in by providing an increased herd immunity – but of course at a high, and to most people unacceptable, cost.

When we come to the transmission coefficient, this in turn can be broken down into two components. The first is the rate of contact between infectious and susceptible hosts. The second is the probability that a contact that can transmit infection actually does so.

Starting with the contact rate, this, too, has two components. The first is the rate of contact of susceptible individuals with all other individuals, whether infectious or not (which we can call C). Hence, we can reduce by isolating individuals from one another as far as possible, irrespective of infection status, which is precisely what lockdown has been aimed at doing.

The second component of the contact rate is the proportion of contacted individuals that are infectious (which we can call P). This reminds us that even within a strategy of reducing by reducing contacts overall, it makes sense for susceptible individuals to try especially to avoid places, or situations, where any contacts that they do make are more than averagely likely to be with an infectious individual – that is, where is high.

The final aspect of the transmission coefficient, the probability that a contact that can transmit infection actually does so, also has two components. The first is the infectiousness of infected hosts, which we can call I. In large part, this is a reflection of the biology of the coronavirus itself, tempered by the response of the infected individual, and the point in the progression of the infection that they’ve reached. But it also depends strongly on how responsible the behaviour is of infectious individuals in protecting others from their infection – whether they wash their hands frequently and thoroughly (thus minimising not only direct but also indirect, ‘doorknob’ transmission), but also whether they impede the passage of at least some infectious virus particles into the breathing space of susceptible, at-risk individuals, for example by wearing face masks or other coverings.

And then the very last component, which we can call B, reflects the behaviour of susceptible individuals, when, in spite of all other considerations, they do come into contact with someone who is infectious – perhaps without either of them knowing it. Clearly, can be reduced by maintaining a safe distance – the 2m rule  (contacting but not really contacting) – and in the important case of medical and other similar staff, by wearing effective PPE.

So, in summary, can be deconstructed into six components, or, more formally,

R = L.S.C.P.I.B

And moving forward, as we seek to move out of lockdown but nonetheless hold down, and certainly keep it below 1, we can see, first, that any sensible strategy should pay attention to each one of these. Second, in judging any actual or proposed policy for taking us though a relaxation of lockdown, we can ask which of the six components it is aimed at reducing, but also whether there is a risk of an unintended increase in any of the other components.

To take one example, widespread wearing of masks – and whether this may in fact become compulsory on, say, public transport – has been controversial. From the perspective of a deconstructed R, we can see that this should reduce I, but we can also see that there is a risk that it might increase B– by denying those that need it, access to PPE – and even increase and/or by generating unwarranted complacency and a breakdown in responsible behaviour. A judgment could then be made (by us, in deciding what to think – not by the experts who hopefully know all this), in very clear terms, of whether the decrease would be likely to outweigh the increases – or perhaps whether the imposition of a face masks policy would have to be accompanied by a redoubling of effort to avoid complacent backsliding.

At least, this hopefully provided a framework on which our various discussions can be hung.

4 – Red Mick references a piece by Steve Parish about restarting football:

Excellent piece in the Sunday Times (paywalled) by the Palace chairman Steve Parish. He says the season must continue and freely admits that money plays a big part, pointing out that the Premier League contributes more than £50m a year to the non-league game and the money it delivers to the Championship and EPL in general is greater than the revenue from their TV deals. You may think the EPL could do more (I do) but that doesn’t gainsay its financial importance. He also makes the point, one that is significantly underestimated in my view, of how the casual chat the morning after a game can add to the feeling of a returning normality, a new normality but a normality nevertheless and can give a lift to many people.

Of course he makes the point strongly about any resumption being safe, of not jeopardising the efforts of carers and NHS staff. He quotes a leading La Liga figure as saying why should football resuming be any different from returning to a production line or manning a trawler on the high seas. All good points and, for me anyway, the piece threw into perspective all these arguments about voiding, playing with no fans or playing at neutral venues. They are quibbles when put in the context of trying to come out of this horror. Nothing will go back to what it was but something to improve what we’ve got now must come out of the wreckage.

Data Viz extra by TTT Contributor Rob Radburn:

Articles published since last Friday, with excerpts:

Monday May 4th:

The Match That Meant Most To Me – No.6by Mark Cohen.

I would also suggest that anybody who thinks the likes of Mane, Sane, Giggs, Bale are without peer should go and watch as many videos of John Barnes as they can find. A real stallion of a footballer. Powerful, quick, two footed, incredible pace, balance and technique. Klopp would have loved him. Ditto Peter Beardsley, a simply irresistible footballer, almost unplayable.

You could write entire books about most of the players on this team sheet and still have room for more, so good were they, but suffice to say, the Elland Road faithful arrived that day with a mix of excitement and fear at what they’d be facing.

Wednesday May 6th:

Who Is Liverpool’s Heyókȟa?by Nishal Sodha.

Heyókȟa – also spelled “haokah,” “heyokha” or “heyoka” – is a kind of sacred clown in the culture of the Lakota people of the Great Plains of North America.  The heyoka is a contrarian, jester, and satirist, who speaks, moves and reacts in an opposite fashion to the people around them.  (Wikipedia)

I cannot help but look at parallels across the three different teams:

After the humiliation in Australia in 1975, Sir Clive Lloyd scoured the Caribbean islands to build a ferocious bowling attack by bringing onboard Hit Man (aka The Jawbreaker – Ed) Andy Roberts, Whispering Death Michael Holding and Black Diamond Wayne Daniel before adding Smiling Assassin Colin Croft, completing the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. (Joel ‘Big Bird’ Garner soon crashed his way in – Ed). Roberts was the leader of this pack: their Heyókȟa.

For the second 3-peat, the Chicago Bulls needed a Power Forward in the shape of Dennis Rodman.  Rodman had been part of the Bulls’ nemesis team, the Detroit Pistons, who had terrorised the Bulls during the ’89 and ’90 seasons. Rodman was the misfit:  their Heyókȟa.

So which player is Liverpool’s Heyókȟa?

Thursday May 7th:

Mental Health, Social Distancing, Online Connection and Why We Are Like Plants by David Fitzgerald

Why we are nothing without events

Shhhhhhhh! …. don’t tell anyone, (especially on TTT!), but lately I’ve been thinking the unthinkable – if someone said they would kill my cat unless I chose between: 1. LFC get to win the league but there’s no football for six months, OR 2. A return to half-baked weekly matches behind closed doors starting next Friday – I might well choose no. 2.

For my mental health, the hammer blow of lock down is that those events that mapped out the next week or so have been washed away. The last significant event I can remember was Beez winning Only Connect and I’ve just found out even that actually happened a year ago! My emotional being keeps reaching out for those mini-adrenaline rushes which used to be signaled by the publishing of the MATCH THREAD here on TTT. It all used to unfurl from there.

Other than a virtual work cycle (if you’re lucky!), there is suddenly little to distinguish the weekend or the midweek. Even the slight thrill of the latest episode of Line of Duty (fill in cops and robbers show of choice) has been dislocated from its weekly curtain call into an endless flow of clickable box sets that can keep you up until the wee hours. The very fabric of time has changed. There are no longer any collective events that keep everyone synchronised apart from news bulletins and briefings and I defy anyone to look forward to those! And yet I continue, compelled by negative emotions like fear and worry, to check in on the stream of tweets and before you know it, am overwhelmed by the river of time.

Here on TTT the days used to be defined by events; namely, football matches. They were almost never ending and you could also sometimes be swept away by the powerful current, but generally the effect was grounding, like trees along the river bank. The events were defined by their emotional envelope: anticipation, speculation, announcement of line ups, the time-warping intensity of the action itself, then visceral response followed by the sharing of perspectives, post-match analysis, and eventually calm reflection with lashings of wisdom and in recent times at least, a cigar with Tomkins!

It’s all gone.

Friday May 8th:

TTT Podcast: 106 Points, Project Mixed Agendas & The Transfer Bubble Bursting

Topics Include:

  • Bob’s Beez conspiracy theory
  • The Premier League statement about finishing the league behind closed doors
  • Some footballers not keen to back to work
  • The entire Premier League 20/21 without fans
  • The importance of home field advantage
  • Financial Times report that £10bn could be wiped off the transfer market