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Drowning in Coronavirus Research, Part 24

By June 18, 2020Commentary

First, a reader asked a very astute question about the mask study I reported on yesterday.  I try, I am sure not always successfully, to be pretty even-handed in reporting on all relevant research.  I no longer spend much time on modeling studies, and there are a ton of them, because they just are generally worthless.  The mask study is poor quality and as this reader noted has one amazing flaw.  The authors gave the results in percentage points.  Nowhere, including in the online appendix materials did they actually give the growth rates that those percentage points related to.  As you can imagine, 1 or 2 percentage points off of a 60% growth rate is very different than off of a 15% growth rate.  It is very misleading to use percentage point results with giving the actual percents.  The fact that this isn’t shown anywhere suggests to me that the authors were just looking to make a political statement and that the actual reduction is very, very small.  This is why I view a lot of politicians’ talk about the science and data as bullshit.  The science and data have to be very carefully analyzed in all of this research, and good methodology and experimental design are critical.

I feel strongly that schools should never have been closed and so do others.  Here is a position paper from a leading children’s hospital in Canada on reopening schools in that country.  (Can. Paper)   The paper re-iterates what is already clear–children have very low risk of serious disease, children are not significant transmitters and staying out of school is bad for children educationally and socially.  Canada has zero deaths in children.  Some of the health risks to children from the extreme lockdowns include decreased vaccination, delayed diagnosis and care for other health conditions, increased risk of depression and suicide and increased likelihood of abuse.  The paper recommends screening to find infected children and staff and quarantine them to avoid transmission.  It recommends good hand-washing practices but not use of masks.  Distancing should be used cautiously.  Sensible recommendations that recognize that the priority should be the child’s educational and social experience.

This column reports on scientists in Britain who find no evidence to support the two meter (the US equivalent is 6 feet) rule for social distancing. (ZH Column)  As with a lot of stuff, people just make it up.  The scientists looked at a recent review, which we reported on, and found that few of the studies included in the review dealt with coronavirus specifically and that none had any actual experimental evidence to support any specific distance requirement.

And here is another column, on Sweden and population immunity.  (ZH Column)  The country’s lead epidemiologist expressed surprise that ongoing antibody surveys are finding lower levels of infection than expected, around 14% of the population.  The country has recently seen cases appear to increase, which likely has to do with more testing, while deaths are on a gentle slope of decline.  I think the reason is pretty obvious.  A large percent of the population is getting exposed but not infected, with some cross-reactive or general immune defense the most likely reason.  On the other hand surveys in localized areas of Italy have found higher antibody prevalence rates, suggesting more people are susceptible, although the Italian cases were very often asymptomatic.

On the other hand, Australia and New Zealand are grappling with exactly what I thought would happen when a country uses too strict a lockdown approach.  New Zealand thought all the cases were gone and then a few more pop-up.  They can’t open the country.  Australia said they probably  wouldn’t open borders til 2021.  That is economically insane for both countries.  If a vaccine doesn’t work, they are way behind other countries that had larger spreads.

This article discusses the relative experience of children infected with coronavirus.  (Scientist Article)   The article largely relates to a study from China about the severity of coronavirus disease in children.  But it also notes that while there are documented cases of adults transmitting to children in a household, there is not such evidence going the other way.

And the Wall Street Journal weighs in on screwed up models and overhyped fears about growth in cases in some re-opened states.  (WSJ Editorial)   It is very clear that this is becoming increasingly political, as certain Governors and their facilitator/apologists are engaged in cover-my-ass tactics to avoid criticism over stupid policies.

And yet another article on children’s risk and role in transmission is found in a Nature magazine article.  (Nature Article)  The article summarizes evidence on the lower risk of children becoming infected and around the lower likelihood of transmission by children.

And finally, for now, a very interesting article in Science speculating on whether other live vaccines may protect against coronavirus infections.  (Science Article)  The authors build on the notion that being vaccinated by a live attenuated vaccine, for example, the polio vaccine, is associated with a general better general immune defense against infectious disease.  The polio vaccine has been shown in other research to be associated with lower levels of infection with influenza and genital herpes viruses, for example.  Other vaccines for specific agents have also been shown to have broader immunological effects.   This could explain why the disease is so rampant and devastating to 80 plus year olds, many of whom may not have been vaccinated for polio.

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