On Monday the Knox County Health Department announced that they had learned from the county law office that the Knox County Board of Health was required to create policy.

In other words: the phased re-opening plans put out so far have no legal basis because they were put out by the health department instead of the Board of Health.

After nearly an hour and a half of discussion, the board of health unanimously voted to follow the Tennessee Pledge instead of writing local guidance. Knox County will continue on the current guidance for two weeks to give KCHD staff time to re-train on the state guidelines.

The board will continue to meet every two weeks to review the benchmarks KCHD has created and make recommendations as needed.

The Real Quick Take

You want our fastest take? It doesn’t matter. We wrote a post on May 20th that said:

This is a realpolitik — short of turning into a police state the governmental shutdowns rely primarily on voluntary compliance…

The public orders matter far less than what people choose to do, on their own, voluntarily. It also remains up to individual persons to wear masks, wash hands, physically distance while out, etc. It also remains up to them to choose to dine-in, or do curbside pickup, at their favorite restaurant…

JM Addington May 20th, 2020 Post

By Memorial Day Knox County was already moving faster than its own plans dictated, we believe, because that is simply what people were doing in real life.

A Quick Analysis

Dr. Buchanan was actually the one to introduce the idea into the meeting. Her primary concerns were, (1) many businesses operate both in Knox County under one set of guidelines and in another county under a separate set of guidelines (every adjacent county), (2) this frees up her staff to focus on their core activities, which do not include writing community guidance at this level, and (3) she believes that the state staff has better capacity to write out guidance for a variety of businesses.

Those are solid points.

In particular, as a business owner who works primarily with other businesses it can be crazy trying to stay in compliance with different levels of guidance. Our May 20th post also went over how the economics will naturally push everyone towards the lowest common denominator.

For now, Knox County voluntarily gives up the power to put in place our own local policies. However, the board can always overrule itself and put more or less restrictive policies in place in the future.

We highly suspect that this decision is driven by Knox County’s low caseload. It would be a more difficult decision to make if we had caseloads such as Davidson, Shelby or Hamilton counties. We also believe that a higher caseload would pressure the board to put more restrictive measures than what is in place statewide. At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis Knox County did just that and it may be a big reason cases stayed so low in East Tennessee.

Is this more or less restrictive?

Dr. Buchanan maintained that the state’s guidance was close enough to Knox County’s to make it relatively easy to switch. We are not familiar enough with the Tennessee Pledge to say one way or another for specific industries.

The biggest change is probably enforcement. The Knox County phased plan had “musts” in it. The Tennessee Pledge is filled with “shoulds” and “mays,” and Governor Lee was clear at his press conferences that he was going to rely on voluntary compliance over enforcement. The Knox County Board of Health did not discuss this, however, like the Governor, Dr. Buchanan has expressed more interest in voluntary compliance than enforcement.

The Final Take-Away

The guidance, the orders, everything is close enough as things currently stand that it’s hard to think that it will make a real difference in caseload, especially in the near term. The real test will most likely come with the fall, when COVID-19 is widely expected to flare up again. However, how we do then depends more on our planning today and over the summer than the minutia of guidance.

Let’s take a few minutes today to talk about cloth masks. This article is not a red/blue black/white article.

The central conclusion right up front: we don’t know. We don’t know if they help, we don’t know if they hurt, we hardly know a damn thing about cloth masks and SARS-Cov-2.

Alright, let’s dive in with a refresher that is really important.

Science Moves Fast; Sciences Moves Slow

From Hippocrates nearly 2,400 years ago until the late 1800’s there were nearly no advances made in clinical medicine. [1] Until the 1600’s there wasn’t even a scientific method used to figure out if our theories on how the world worked were even right!

In a nutshell, the scientific method is as follows:

  1. Define a question
  2. Gather information and resources (observe)
  3. Form an explanatory hypothesis
  4. Test the hypothesis by performing an experiment and collecting data in a reproducible manner
  5. Analyze the data
  6. Interpret the data and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for new hypothesis
  7. Publish results
  8. Retest (frequently done by other scientists)

Do not skip over #8. At the point where you can reproduce a study (steps 1-7) and get the same or similar results is that point at which your hypothesis (#3) becomes theory and part of accepted scientific knowledge. A single published study does not a scientific fact make.

We live in a world where due to increased communication, resources and technology we are able to make advances in science faster than ever before. At the same time, this typically happens over years (or decades) of running the questions through the scientific method. #8 rarely, if ever, happens in weeks. Which, compared to 2,400 years of Hippocratic stagnation isn’t bad.

The Discussion

Between #7 and #8 there is really a step #7b, where scientists basically rip apart each other’s work. Often, this is a sign of respect, your study was good enough to draw attention from other top scientists. This is the point where uncertainty is identified (not resolved) and typically more questions are thrown into the mix to be answered when the next person goes to try to reproduce the study. This discussion, while transparent in scientific journals, is typically done without the public realizing it happened at all.

This is normal. However, at present, this discussion is playing out with much more public visibility than we are used to.

The Tests & Data (#4 & #5)

Outside of medicine and other sociological fields this is pretty straightforward. You need to gather data and test a hypothesis on mice? Not hard to come by mice or do your test. Medicine constantly raises thorny ethical issues and sometimes you just don’t have data available even if the ethics are laid aside. Sometimes, you need to wait for an opportunity to appear to test appropriately.

Cloth Masks & SARS-Cov-2

Which brings us to cloth masks. You know what we have in western countries? We have N95 respirators and surgical masks in great supply…. up until January 2020. You get easily get an N95 mask at The Home Depot for your own home improvement project up until a couple months ago. They were cheap and plentiful.

Given that high quality masks were cheap and in great supply (and well tested) you know what we didn’t look at? We didn’t even think to the 100 different ways laypeople could create, wear and implement cloth masks. Just wasn’t an issue.

The first paper we at JM Addington even saw on it was titled, “Rapid Expert Consultation on the Effectiveness of Fabric Masks for the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Rapid means, “we did this as fast as we could,” “Expert consultation means,” we didn’t actually do a study — we looked at some other stuff.

This paper had, in our view, two primarily conclusions. Conclusion #1:

Therefore, we have only limited, indirect evidence regarding the effectiveness of such masks for protecting others, when made and worn by the general public on a regular basis. That evidence comes primarily from laboratory studies testing the effectiveness of different materials at capturing particles of different sizes.

I.e., we don’t know much, and what we do know is not from real world scenarios.

Conclusion #2:

The evidence from these laboratory filtration studies suggests that such fabric masks may reduce the transmission of larger respiratory droplets.

In short, “cloth masks maybe help based on looking at some fast non-real world studies but we really aren’t sure.

And we’re not even diving into into the issues of:

  • Small samples sizes
  • Wearing masks right/wrong
  • Whether blocking large droplets is effective in reducing transmissions [2]
  • No reproduction of results (step #8)

Are Cloth Masks Bunk?

A well-trained scientist would probably say that wearing a cloth mask or not wearing one is not even wrong yet. To say, “we don’t have evidence,” means that we don’t have well-designed controlled studies that have been re-produced to show that we know we are right. Scientists don’t like to say that they know until they know that they know that they know.

So: cloth masks: the jury is still out.

What about Particle Sizes?

We’ve seen a number of posts proclaiming that cloth masks can’t work based on the size of the gaps in the mask versus the size of Sars-Cov-2 particles. First, this argument completely bypasses the scientific method where we test ideas. Second, it still isn’t sufficient to render masks useless. To steal an analogy, imagine an NFL team trying to run onto the field through a bedroom-sized door: while they can each fit through they can’t all run out together at the same speed. Masks don’t need to be 100% effective in blocking virus particles to still prevent enough from getting through to reach the level needed to infect another person.

Why Are We Being Asked to Wear Cloth Masks?

Cloth masks are wholesale thinking, not retail. The goal isn’t to protect any one person: it is to drive down the effective reproductive number, aka Rt. Rt measures what the current transmission rate of the virus is across a population. (It is not the same thing as R0.) In the early stages of an epidemic, the goal is typically to contain the epidemic before it gets bigger and becomes a pandemic. For examples, SARS, MERS and Ebola have all been effectively contained epidemics.

At this point, public health strategy has turned to mitigation, trying to slow the virus’ growth. Stopping it outright has become effectively impossible.

No one mitigation method will be or needs to be a silver bullet, the strategy is that if enough of the population practices enough of the measure you can drive the Rt number low enough that the epidemic locally either stays stable or actually decreases. Mask wearing is one of these measures. It doesn’t need to be anywhere near 100% effective by itself in order to drive the Rt number low enough in combination with other measures to make a real difference.

Should I Wear a Cloth Mask?

If we got into the amount of uncertainty that exists around social distancing, what the Sars-COV-2 is going to do on its on you’d feel really crazy by the end. We don’t pretend to have an answer.

Your author will give his personal view. It doesn’t hurt me to wear a mask, and I believe that I have one of the better ones that could reduce transmission at any rate. The purpose of all the things we are doing, social distancing, masks, limited retail/restaurant/church capacity is meant to slow SARS-Cov-2 so that the overall pandemic stays flat or goes down. No one thing other than God himself eliminates it.

If wearing a mask inside Target, Kroger, my church, at my clients’ places of businesses, helps to keep the virus manageable so that we can continue to live normal-ish lives I’m all for that. I own a business that makes more money in a normal economy, I have eight kids, I don’t like being sick, I like eating out at restaurants. For all these reasons if keeping the virus in check is important to me. Physically and financially.

If you look at the data and think it doesn’t make enough of a difference to wear one I also don’t begrudge you. You are right, the jury is still out.

At the end of the day, it is our collective responsibility to remember that it is humanity against the virus: not dems vs reps, red vs blue, or mask vs no-mask. It is up to all of us to do our part to fight this damned thing from hell however we see fit and condemn the virus and love our brothers and sisters.

[1] The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

[2] I haven’t seen anyone who thinks a cloth mask significantly reduces aerosol transmissions, but it isn’t clear what role these smaller droplets play in transmission.

Iran is targeting industrial control systems, according to Microsoft security researchers and reported by Ars Technica. The scale of the attempted hacking is incredible, with the Iranian group targeting about 2000 organizations per month.

Motivations behind the attacks are not yet clear. While the US government was concerned that Iran may retaliate in the cybersecurity space. In response, the late December drone strike on their general, this appears to have begun before that. It’s possible that this is laying the groundwork for a larger attack later on.

Given the number of organizations that directly and indirectly support Y12 and Oak Ridge National Laboratory it seems prudent to assume that some of these organizations that are targeted include those in East Tennessee.

It’s a great example of why we block Internet traffic for our managed customers from countries such as Iran. While not a panacea, it goes a long way toward securing the network.

If you’re interested in having a conversation with us about how to better secure your network. Give us a call at 865-240-2716.

Now that we’ve gotten our obligatory “Black Friday sales aren’t for businesses,” post out of the way we’re happy to bring you a deal from Costco that is worth every penny.

From now into December Costco is selling the latest Micorosft Surface 7 with 8GB RAM and i5 processor with the keyboard and pen for $999. This typically retails for close to $1,500.

The caveat: You won’t get Microsoft’s extended warranty, which we highly recommend on these and it includes Windows 7 Home instead of Windows 7 Pro. This is great the power-user at home, your IT department is going to frown on it if you bring it to work with you.

It’s our annual write of passage to remind the other small businesses out there: Black Friday deals on business-grade electronics are few and far between, you always get what you pay for.

Honestly, nearly all the deals are to drive consumer foot traffic online and in the door. The computers/monitors/other electronics are almost never rated for use in businesses, and typically come with a “Gotcha,” or lowered specs, shorter, warranty, etc. Save yourself a headache and either forgo the sale for your business, or ask us if it’s really a “deal.”

However, if you are looking for a new phone for the teenager, a bigger TV for home or that running wtach you’ve been eyeing for months then Friday is a great time to buy!

Every year massive fraud is committed around taxes. A lot of the fraud involves stealing your identity, filing a fake return on your behalf that shows a refund and then collecting that refund on your behalf.

This year Ars Technica is reporting that other phishing emails are on the rise right now.

  1. Remember that IRS uses snail mail, not email to get ahold of you
  2. Educate your employees on phishing, all the time
  3. You can protect your business from these types of scams using artificial intelligence phishing filters that are capable of catching these emails.

You can expect that these types of attacks will grow more common and more sophisticated as criminals continue to learn how to make more money off of… sending emails.

This week one of our employees had to call out because they had a sick kid at home. “Call out,” just meant, “join the conference call.”

From one end of our business to the other we have our tools and resources in reach — and secured — so that our employees can work from anywhere, from everywhere.

This winter, will snow and flu hold your workforce back?

One of the world’s biggest security vendors had hidden backdoors in their products that would allow virtually anyone to take over the firewall.

Your firewall is the security appliance that is supposed to separate your internal, secure, network from the outside world. This bug/backdoor essentially lets anybody into your network that would like to be there.

This hits East Tennessee hard for 3 major reasons

  • One of the biggest IT firms in the area standardized on this vendor’s firewalls years ago, smaller IT shops followed
  • The security required by firms that do business with DOE and ORNL mean a lot of these firewalls are in place in and around Oak Ridge and Knoxville
  • One of the areas biggest retailers also standardized on these, with 100s believed to be in production

What you need to do — today!

If you’ve seen the images below in your office, server room or computer call your IT firm — TODAY — and ask them if they’ve updated it to a version that no longer contains these bugs. Most IT firms are notorious for patching firewalls slowly, so things don’t break. But being behind on these patches means you are already broken.

This is a really big deal

It allows anyone, anywhere to reset any user’s password on the firewall.

60 seconds after midnight US tariffs on thousands of Chinese products more than doubled. How is this going to affect your business?

Costs are going to go up across the board. The supply chains of virtually every industry cross through China at some point. It’s impossible to get away from it. Even if you are a low-tech company, China played a role in producing the goods and services you use or that your suppliers use.

Two simple non-tech examples: if you have employees you reimburse for mileage you are likely to see the reimbursement rise due to increased repair costs, due to increased part prices sourced from China. (Crude oil has also had upward pressure put on it from tariffs). Second, the tariffs hit on materials such as aluminum and copper increase costs for any industry that depends on them as a core component. That includes oil, manufacturing and construction for starters. The result will be increased expenses for anyone with an office building.

Finally, the tech sector depends heavily on China. From computer chips to memory, to the raw materials used to create these, mass amounts of tech manufacturing happens in China. Even low-tech companies will feel the pinch as the underlying costs for vendors they depend on (phones, email) see their costs go up and adjust prices accordingly. For organizations with larger tech initiatives, such as replacing aging Windows 7 machines, the cost will increase.

At JM Addington Technology Solutions we don’t expect to see price increases immediately but rather ramping up over the rest of the year. The threat of tariffs are not new so a lot of companies have had time to either adjust prices or deal with increased costs already. However, there has been and is broad market expectations that a deal will get reached. The longer that takes to happen, the more you will see your costs increase,