Note: I’m not a qualified (or unqualified) expert. Also, I’m optimizing to get a clear document out early so I did not do normal pre-publication things (eg, I did not ask other organizers or co-organizers to review this before publication). Finally, this was written quickly so it’s less published and likely to contain mistakes. All mistakes are my own.
All SF Bay Area EA organizers have decided to cancel/postpone medium and large-sized in-person meetups until further notice, primarily due to risk of COVID-19.
This decision was made independently of CEA’s decision to not hold EA Global SF this month, though that helped in making our decision overdetermined.
Why am I posting about this (local) decision on the EA Forum?
- I want to reduce duplicate work from other EA organizers. Some of the considerations we thought about may be applicable to you as well.
- By creating common knowledge around our decision, I hope to create a fire alarm for other EA local group organizers to make their own informed decisions on this issue.
- To get people to check my work/thinking processes and help clear up my own confusions.
- So Bay Area folks who aren’t on social media can be aware of this decision sooner rather than later.
How did we decide to cancel events?
I cannot speak for other organizers, however here’s my reasoning:
1. I did a toy mathematical model of when to cancel medium-sized EA events due to COVID-19. The tipping point (with high uncertainty) is at approximately several thousand infected in the Bay.
2. It’s not obvious that we’re currently at this point, but it’s not obvious that we’re *not* at this point either. Given current information, the tipping point might realistically be 4 doublings away, or it could already have happened a week ago.
3. Out of a preponderance of caution, it’s better to bias towards a “cancel events and wait and see” attitude over a “business as usual plus wait and see” attitude, since cancelling things two weeks earlier doesn’t seem unduly costly.
4. This view is shared by other organizers; all organizers were either pro-cancellation or neutral. (I freely admit that there might have been some groupthink in this decision)
5. While social media has some experts (epidemiologists, public health people and the like) downplaying the role of this virus, all the experts I *personally* know are unanimous in saying that it’s right to be highly concerned about this disease.
6. Social proof of other relevant decision-makers: 1) EA Global was cancelled. 2) When Japan had half as many confirmed per capita cases we currently do (<300 cases in a population of ~140 million, whereas the Bay Area has 30 confirmed cases in a population of 7 million), they *cancelled all public schools*. 3) Microsoft, Indeed, Twitter have told all Bay Area employees to work from home. 4) Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency.
7. I find it confusing that other relevant decision-makers (eg, CDC, local school districts) are/were not more faster-moving. This is a genuine point of uncertainty for me, but my all-things-considered view is that it’s correct to be concerned, and it’s correct that at the current (or near future) level to be sufficiently concerned to want to cancel all large public gatherings.
What does this mean for your local group?
- In this era of heightened risk, you should probably consider best practices for reducing infection risk to members (for example, my EA forum post here, or this document from CEA’s Community Health team).
- It’s relevant that the Bay Area has it worse than every other American region except Washington state, and also worse than most other developed areas of the world.
- Whether you should postpone or cancel your own events depends a lot on local knowledge of both the benefits of your events and the costs (specifically background rates/levels of infection).
- You may wish to build off of my toy mathematical model to make an informed decision about when/if your local group should postpone or cancel events.
- If you’re interested in making informed decisions for your local group with regard to COVID-19, please feel free to message me here, either asking questions directly or to set up a call. I’ve spent several dozen hours on this already, and am happy to share my thoughts to save you time/reduce duplicate work.
More details on our local scene:
Effective Altruism: San Francisco will not be having physical events until further notice. We’re experimenting with online events.
South Bay Effective Altruism will no longer have large in-person meetups and may wish to experiment with much smaller events.
Stanford EA will no longer have large in-person events, and may wish to experiment with much smaller events.
REACH is closed until further notice. Only exception will be if people want to use it as a physical coordination point for distributing/collecting supplies.
SF LessWrong is likely cancelling until further notice.
We are still agnostic about what this means for smaller meetups, 1:1s, etc, as well as how to continue and expand having valuable EA conversations in the absence of physical meetups (one option I’m piloting is testing videocall based meetups). We’ll experiment more with different options in the coming weeks and months, and/or return to normalcy if this turned out to be a false alarm after all.
I understand that this might be a personally stressful time for many people reading this. If you’re personally worried, people in Bay Area group houses have made this document on pandemic preparedness. If you’re concerned about your family or community, the 2019 Emerging Leader in Biosecurity Fellow has a document on communicating to at-risk friends and family. And if you’re concerned about the world, I have a question on the EA forum asking for good EA projects for helping with Covid-19 that I’d be excited to see your input on.