Archive for the Covid-19 Category

Covid-19 in Ireland – The Last Post

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19 with tags , , , on March 1, 2023 by telescoper

On February 29th 2020, Ireland identified its first case of the novel coronavirus, SARS CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a pandemic on March 11th. On March 12th 2020 Schools and Colleges in Ireland were closed.

Since then, I have posted regular updates of the number of cases of COVID-19, initially daily and more recently weekly as the frequency of official announcements on the data hub decreased. The plotting the latest figures actually became a sort of ritual for me over this time and I even found mildly therapeutic.

Now, however, three full years have passed- can it really be three full years? – have since the (official) arrival of the pandemic in Ireland and, with the situation looking stable, I think it’s time to stop posting these updates. I made the decision to stop at the end of February 2023 unless something drastic happened to change my mind. Ironically, I just heard this morning that one of my colleagues has a new case of Covid-19 but that hasn’t changed my mind.  I hope this makes it clear that I don’t think the pandemic is over: there are many people still suffering from new infections and the effects of “Long Covid”. I just don’t see the need to continue my updates here.

I will leave the data online here in case anyone is interested in the numbers, but I won’t be posting any further updates.

So here are the final graphs from me.  The present 7-day moving average of new cases is just 89.6 per week, down from 103.0 last week and 36 deaths were recorded in the same period.


On a linear scale the cases look like this

The numbers for deaths on a linear scale look like this

Post-Christmas Post

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Maynooth with tags , on December 29, 2022 by telescoper

Today is (apparently) 29th December and this morning I actually got some post. Most of it was sent in the first week of December but has taken about three weeks to get here. Among other things I got: the pension statement I was waiting for (dated 2nd December), a cheque for 40 quid for winning the Times Literary Supplement Crossword Prize (posted 8th December), and a royalty statement from OUP dated, somewhat surprisingly, December 23rd. I still haven’t received the Christmas edition of Private Eye though.

I took a walk this afternoon and was quite surprised on the way to see the Maynooth Airport Hopper bus. This has been suspended since the onset of the pandemic way back in 2020 but now I find it has recently resumed. That will make it much easier to get to and from Dublin Airport if I ever have to do that. I used this service very frequently when I had to commute between Cardiff and Maynooth and don’t know how I would have coped without it. It’s good to see things gradually returning.

The bug I picked up before Christmas is still present but more of an inconvenience than anything more serious. I’ve done no fewer than ten antigen tests and never got a positive result so I’m pretty confident it’s not Covid-19. I haven’t posted anything on this blog for a few days but interestingly I’ve still been getting over 500 reads a day over the Christmas period.

I usually update my Covid-19 figures every week but no data have been recently since 20th December. Testing numbers will be pretty much meaningless because of the Christmas holiday but I’d expect to see a rise in infection levels as we head into the New Year. There are signs that Covid-19 cases are rising steeply once more – there are currently over 700 people in hospital in Ireland with Covid-19 – but I doubt we’re going to see any further lockdown measures heading into the new term.

That reminds me that I foolishly offered to do a couple of revision lectures ahead of my 2nd year Vector Calculus examination (which takes place on January 7th). The first of these will be on 3rd January which doesn’t give me much time to think about what to do. In view of my continuing low-level lurgy I think to minimize the chances of infecting anyone I think I’ll just go in, do my lectures, and come home again.

Pre-Christmas Lurgy

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19 on December 17, 2022 by telescoper

Well, this is just great. No sooner does term end than I come down with some sort of bug. It started yesterday, but today I’ve been in bed nearly all day with a nasty cough, fever, fatigue, and my joints aching (more than usual, I mean).

I’ve done an antigen test, which was negative, but I’ve heard it can take several days for Covid-19 to manifest itself that way. I’ll do another tomorrow.

I hope whatever it is subsides by Christmas as I have some serious culinary self-indulgence planned. At the moment, I’ve got no appetite for food at all.

1000 Days of Pandemic

Posted in Covid-19 on November 30, 2022 by telescoper

I was updating my Covid-19 page just now when I realized that I have now accumulated 1000 days of data. Nowadays, figures aren’t announced daily but once a week so the ritual of updating the numbers is less frequent now than it was last year, and testing is done less intensively than earlier in the pandemic, but I’ve nevertheless continued plotting the graphs.

The latest summary graphs are here.

On a linear scale the cases look like this:

The numbers for deaths on a linear scale look like this:

The current 7-day average number of new cases per day is 246.1, which is reasonably high despite the relatively low levels of PCR testing being done, but the thing I feared most at the start of this Semester – a big surge in cases – just hasn’t happened. Cases have been roughly stable and even slightly declining since September. More importantly the number of Covid-19 related deaths has remained low.

I think I’ll keep updating my page until the end of the year but if nothing dramatic happens over Christmas I’ll stop. Covid-19 hasn’t gone anyway, but it seems to have entered a phase in which it is no longer a large-scale public health emergency.

The Final Third

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Maynooth on November 20, 2022 by telescoper

There are now precisely four weeks to go until the end of teaching term at Maynooth University. Since the FIFA World Cup starts today it seems apt to borrow a sporting cliché and describe this as the final third. Miraculously, given that I’m having to fit 12 weeks of teaching into 11 week term for the first years, I’m almost on schedule with both my modules but I have this weekend come down with something which may affect the rest of term. I don’t think it’s Covid-19 – at least the antigen test I did yesterday was negative – but whatever it is I hope it doesn’t get worse. All the teaching staff in the Department of Theoretical Physics already have very heavy teaching loads already so we simply don’t have any spare staff to cover my lectures if I can’t deliver them. I don’t know what I’ll do in that case. I suppose I could recycle some of last year’s videos, or record some new ones from my sick bed. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. It may be just a cold.

Anyway, what was until last week an unusually mild autumn has turned into something much more wintry. The sudden cold snap has set off my arthritis, which is an additional complication on top of whatever bug I’ve got.

Evidence of the Berry Phase

Outside temperatures have plummeted so I have mobilized my bird feeders to take care of the feathered friends in the garden. Fortunately there is ready-made food at this time of the year in the form of berries on the Cotoneaster bushes. I watched a song thrush for about ten minutes tucking in yesterday. Pigeons like them too. The birds usually don’t strip all the berries so there’ll be food of that form for a while but some of the smaller birds can’t eat them so I’ve put out seed and peanuts too.

UPDATE: Monday 21st November. It appears it was just a cold, or something else very mild, as I felt much better this morning and went to work as normal.

Study Break Time

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Education, Irish Language, Maynooth with tags , , , , on October 29, 2022 by telescoper

Yesterday my Vector Calculus students gave me the above Hallowe’en gift, which was nice of them, although I did chastise them for missing the apostrophe. Of course Hallowe’en itself is not until Monday, but that is a Bank Holiday in Ireland and the rest of next week is Study Week so there are no lectures or tutorials.

Hallowe’en is, in pagan terminology, Samhain. This, a cross-quarter day – roughly halfway between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice, represents the start of winter (“the dark half of the year“) in the Celtic calendar. Samhain is actually November 1st but in Celtic tradition the day begins and ends at sunset, so the celebrations begin on the evening of 31st.

Incidentally, Samhain is pronounced something like “sawin”. The h after the m denotes lenition of the consonant (which in older forms of Irish would have been denoted by a dot on top of the m) so when followed by a broad vowel the m is pronounced like the English “w”; when followed by a slender vowel or none “mh” is pronounced “v” or in other words like the German “w” (which makes it easier to remember). I only mention this because I will be resuming my Irish language education after the break with classes every week for the rest of the academic year. Hopefully I’ll make some progress.

This term has been very tiring so far. I have to teach a very big first-year class this year which meant adding another tutorial group. Although I stepped down as Head of Department at the end of August the powers that be delayed appointing a replacement until well into term which caused a lot of unnecessary stress for everyone. Once we got under way, though, everything has settled down reasonably well.

One thing I was a bit worried about this term was that the resumption of in-person teaching would lead to a surge in Covid-19 cases, not only in Maynooth but across the country. However there isn’t any evidence of significant increases in the latest figures (updated weekly nowadays, on Wednesdays):

Some students have come down with Covid-19 of course but not in the numbers I had feared. Also despite accommodation shortages and other difficulties, attendance at lectures and tutorials has so far held up well.

I like having the study break. I’ve never previously worked at an institution that has such a thing, but I think 12 weeks of non-stop teaching would be extremely exhausting. Anyway, after the break we have a further six weeks of teaching until December 16th, which is the official end of term, but for now I have Monday off completely and the rest of the week without teaching duties. That’s not to say I’ll be on holiday though. I have a number of tasks to catch up on, including setting examination papers for January…

Second Booster

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19 with tags , , , , on September 22, 2022 by telescoper

Today I took a trip out to Punchestown Racecourse for my second Covid-19 booster jab. The possibility of booking one of these opened up for my age group (55+) a few weeks ago and I booked one straightaway, but I was advised to postpone it because of a mystery ailment. That now having cleared up I decided to have it done today, ahead of the full start of teaching next week. In the meantime the booster process has been opened up to mere youngsters (50+) but it was easy to get an appointment.

As far as I know I have ever caught Covid-19, but I thought it wise not to take any chances with the new influx of students and the possibility of increased infection levels. My first booster was on 15th December 2021, so protection is likely to have waned considerably since then. As you can see, new cases have been falling recently in Ireland but the level of new infections (7-day average around 230 per day) is still quite high:

My previous jabs were at City West so I was a little surprised when I registered for my second booster that I was directed to Punchestown. It’s about the same distance from Maynooth to either venue, though, and when I got to the racecourse it was very quiet and I was in and out within half an hour (half of which was the 15 minute “recovery” period). The racecourse – used for steeplechases – is heaving at the time of the annual Punchestown Festival, but fortunately I didn’t have to dodge either crowds or horses, though it was raining heavily.

This time I had the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (“Comirnaty”), same as my two original shots; my first booster was of the Moderna (“SpikeVax”) variety.

I’ll be working from home this afternoon in case of problems (though I didn’t experience any serious issues with previous jabs). My next lecture is at 11am tomorrow (Friday) so I should be fine by then even if I experience any side-effects this afternoon.

In Defence of Blackboards

Posted in Covid-19, Education, Maynooth with tags , on August 21, 2022 by telescoper
Lecturing from Home

I wasn’t very surprised to find that the large lecture theatres in the swanky new building at Maynooth University are not equipped with chalkboards, as I had been told that the powers-that-be were finding it difficult to “source” boards of the appropriate size. I was more surprised and disappointed to find that none of the smaller teaching rooms have blackboards either; the best they have is very small whiteboards which are useless for teaching mathematical subjects.

I know people think I am very old fashioned in persistently using a chalkboard (a better word than “blackboard” as many chalkboards are actually dark green). They also find it quite amusing that I bought one especially so I could do lectures during the pandemic from home using it. One reason for that is that it’s far easier to get a decent contrast on camera than using a whiteboard. I also find that standing up and walking around allows me to communicate more effectively, at a decent pace and with a reasonable amount of energy which made the lectures from home a little less unbearable to give and, hopefully, to watch. Here’s the green blackboard in my office that I used to give some lectures during lockdown:

The very chalky chalkboard in my office on campus

It was never the intention of course that the board in my office would be used for lecturing. We have such things to facilitate the communication of ideas during a discussion by scribbling mathematical expressions or diagrams.

I found some time ago an article about why Mathematics professors at Stanford University still use chalkboards. I agree with everything in it. The renowned Perimeter Institute in Canada and the Isaac Newton Institute in Cambridge also have blackboards, not only in teaching rooms but also in corridors and offices to encourage scientific discussions.

For teaching I think the most important thing for the students in a lecture on a subject like theoretical physics to see a calculation as a process unfolding step-by-step as you explain the reasoning, rather than being presented in complete form which suggests that it should be memorized rather than understood. Far too many students come to university with the impression that their brain is just a memory device. I fill it’s our job as lecturers to encourage students develop genuine problem-solving skills. The example in the first picture above – Gaussian Elimination – is a good illustration of this. Most of my colleagues in Theoretical Physics and in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics seem to prefer chalkboards too, no doubt for similar reasons.

I know that many in Senior Management think of us as dinosaurs for clinging to “old technology” but the fact is that new technology isn’t always better technology. Whiteboards are just awful. As well as being impossible to read in a large room or to record from, the marker pens are expensive, filled with nasty solvent, and impossible to recycle when empty. Unfortunately the purveyors of these items seem to have cornered the market I hate whiteboards so much I call them shiteboards.

Anyway, with the new academic year due to start in a month, and there being no likely resolution of the accommodation crisis, it looks like many students will be unable to attend lectures in person. It doesn’t matter whether rooms have blackboards or whiteboards or enhanced multimedia digital display screens if the students can’t get to the campus…

Meanwhile, back at Covid…

Posted in Covid-19, Maynooth, Politics with tags , on July 6, 2022 by telescoper

While the Tory Government on the other side of the Irish Sea appears to be collapsing I’ve trying not to laugh too loud so have distracted myself by updating my Covid-19 page with the latest data for Ireland. The summary figure is this:

You can see that cases (blue curve) are still rising (up 5.8% on last week) but the increase may just be slowing. I only show PCR-confirmed tests so interpretation of these is complicated by the lack of general PCR testing. The testing positivity rate is 38.5% and there are many more positive antigen tests not confirmed by PCR. There are now over 900 people in hospital with Covid-19 and 37 in intensive care. The mortality rate (orange curve) however remains steady.

I’m a bit concerned that case numbers are so high, especially as there are so few people taking precautions. I know this is purely anecdotal but I do know several people in Maynooth who have come down with fairly nasty doses of Covid-19 in recent weeks. I also know of many people who have travelled to conferences for the first time in a couple of years only to come down with Covid-19 in the process. The high incidence of Covid-19 is causing staff absences elsewhere that are disrupting many organizations and businesses. I do hope we’re not in for another surge before the start of term in September!

Despite all this (and the fact that I have been fairly lax about wearing a face covering myself) I still have not experienced Covid-19. I’ve never had symptoms and never tested positive. Have I just been lucky, or is there more to it than that?

Concerning Covid Immunity

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Maynooth with tags , , , on June 10, 2022 by telescoper

Over the past few weeks I’ve attended a number of events at which most people were not wearing face coverings, including a recent Open Day at which I took my mask off in order to be heard in a very crowded space. Although I still wear a mask on public transport and in shops, most people now do not.

The first thing I’d note is that that there has been a clear upturn in reported Covid-19 cases, with figures now running at about 700 per day:

(Official figures for Ireland are only issued weekly these days…)

It’s not an alarming increase but hospitalizations and testing positivity are also increasing, though the mortality rate remains low because of the protection afforded by vaccines. Incidentally, it was a year ago on Wednesday (8th June) that I received my second Pfizer dose. One wonders how long vaccine protection will last, though, until further boosters are needed. If cases continue to rise I wonder if any measures will be put in place before the start of next academic year?

A number of my colleagues at home and abroad have attended scientific conferences recently, a number of which have led to mini-outbreaks and some instances of quite serious illness. Although most people seem to think Covid has gone away, it clearly hasn’t. A resurgence is all we need right now.

Anyway, one of my colleagues at work expressed surprise that I didn’t catch Covid during the largely unmasked Open Day at the end of April. Of course I might have done but I certainly didn’t display any symptoms. I’ve actually been quite surprised that I have never shown any sign of SARS-Cov2 at all during the entire period of the pandemic, while many of my colleagues and students in the Department have come down with it.

Coincidentally, a comment appeared yesterday on a blog post I wrote a while ago in which I revealed that I have the  CCR5-Δ32 genetic mutation which confers protection against HIV infection. As a matter of fact I have it twice (i.e. homozygotic). For one thing the commenter pointed out that this mutation may have protected against smallpox, which means some evolutionary selection may have been involved in its propagation. The commenter also drew attention to the evidence – by no means conclusive at this stage – that this mutation may also protect against Covid-19. If you’re interested here are links to some papers:

The last of these is a preprint but the other two are peer-reviewed publications.

Could it be that I’ve yet again been a jammy bastard and inherited immunity to Covid-19 too?