Two Obvious Circumstances to Consider

By November 8, 2020Commentary

I am going to try in a very simplified manner that appeals to common sense to help people think about why our mitigation strategies may essentially be futile and certainly are imposing a level of health, economic, social and educational costs that are not justified by whatever minimal benefits those measures are providing, and they certainly appear pretty minimal right now.  I encourage you to just consider these two very relevant circumstances.

The first is that Minnesota has been living under the same set of restrictions for several months, no change whatsoever since at least July, and we actually got stricter in July when the Governor added the mask mandate.  Minnesotans’ behavior in regard to that set of restrictions has not changed by any objective set of measures in the last few weeks.  Mask wearing behavior has actually increased.  Mobility patterns have stayed the same into fall on a seasonally adjusted basis.  If you look at the regular Department of Health reports on sources of transmission, only 7% of all cases are traced to a community outbreak, for the whole epidemic.  Look at the chart over time, those community outbreaks have been declining very substantially as a percent of all cases.  Bars, restaurants, other gathering places are not the source of significant amounts of transmission or of the case growth.  People are not going to group settings and being irresponsible and causing lots of cases.  The data is right there in front of your face.  The Health Department officials have acknowledged this in the briefings.  This is why I react so strongly to the suggestion that Minnesotans are to blame for the increased transmission.

Notwithstanding that the set of restrictions hasn’t changed substantially for months, except for the mask mandate, and Minnesotans’ compliance behavior has if anything improved, cases have increased substantially.  How are we to attribute that change to sudden mass failure to follow the mitigation requirements?  We can’t.  And if it isn’t attributable to behavior changes, to what circumstances or factors is it due?  That answer is also obvious.  There is a very clear geographic pattern to spread.  Whatever the precise factors are has yet to teased out, but like most respiratory viruses, as the sunlit hours wane and the temperature and humidity drops, transmission increases.  I have repeatedly listed the potential direct causes, and I am heavily focused on any research papers that address these, but it must be a combination of more favorable environmental conditions for CV-19 to remain viable longer in the air and on surfaces, people being indoors more frequently and therefor more susceptible to exposure of an infectious dose and perhaps changing vitamin D levels or other biochemical changes that occur as colder weather develops and we receive less sunlight.  In the summer I said we would have to wait and see what the fall brought for the spread of the virus; it is now very apparent that it is following the pattern of other respiratory viruses and the seasonal coronaviruses in particular.  Our mitigation measures have obviously done nothing to stop that pattern from developing.

Now consider a second circumstance.  There is basically no influenza at a time when seasonally flu transmission and cases should be picking up.  We see in both Minnesota and national data that this is not occurring.  Why?  One explanation may be that CV-19 is more infectious in some aspect that allows it to out-compete influenza and infect people first and then somehow exclude influenza from establishing a co-infection.  There are some co-infections but they have been at a low level. Something is going on, and researchers are trying to disentangle that mystery as well.  But it is also possible that our mitigation of spread measures are somehow effective at limiting influenza transmission but not CV-19.  Why would that be?  CV-19 is a somewhat smaller particle, so perhaps it is better at evading masks.  It may have an enhanced ability to transmit in aerosol form or to survive on surfaces.  It appears to have a greater ability to down-regulate the immune system.  It may take a substantially lower dose of CV-19 to create infection than it does for influenza.  But something is clearly going on that implies that our mitigation tactics may be working against influenza but not CV-19.  If so, this is more evidence of the futility of at least the current set of mitigation of spread tactics against this virus.  As I said at the start, these two sets of circumstances are something that should give everyone pause–why is this happening and what does it tell us. And again, be incredibly grateful that this actually is not a very lethal pathogen, particularly for the vast majority of the population, since it does appear to be extremely hard to control.

I understand that a lot of people would like to believe that there is some tactic or set of tactics that would magically make the virus stop spreading.  Sometimes we just have to accept the limits of human control over the world.  Sometimes we may have to question whether the tactics we have deployed are actually making the epidemic worse.  And at all times we should be evaluating all the consequences of government actions and asking whether they are really providing the greatest benefit for all the people.  We have done incredible damage to the health of the general population, to the social and educational welfare of children and to the economic lives of millions.  There are alternatives, and a certain country I mention frequently is a shining example of one of those alternatives.

Join the discussion 17 Comments

  • dirtyjobsguy says:

    Perhaps influenza doesn’t have a significant asymptomatic transmission mode? People are not allowed (allow themselves?) to sneeze or cough in groups, thus no influenza transmission? Despite the lockdown crew’s emphasis on bars and restaurants, it seems the current spikes are from asymptomatic infection then household infection. Indoors environment helps

  • SteveD says:

    Perhaps influenza doesn’t have a significant asymptomatic transmission mode?

    I don’t have a link to actual data but I distinctly remember reading that influenza does transmit asymptomatically at levels comparable if not greater than Covid19.

    ‘CV-19 to remain viable longer in the air and on surfaces, people being indoors more frequently and therefor more susceptible to exposure of an infectious dose and perhaps changing vitamin D levels’

    I agree with all of this except the point about surfaces since it is pretty well established that COVID19 doesn’t spread over surfaces unless you can argue that the change in environment allows a previously non-surface-spreadable virus to become surface-spreadable. That should be apparent by comparison of north vs. south hemispheric data.

  • Chas says:

    People with influenza are generally most infectious from onset of symptoms to anywhere from 3-7 days afterwards (though some can make a person infectious 1 day before symptom onset). Since most flu starts with a fever and fatigue, people who have the luxury to do so generally stay home, meaning they are generally out of the community when they are most infectious.

    You can be infectious with COVID-19, however, for up to 10 days while being asymptomatic. So for 10 days while you feel healthy, you are infectious enough to spread the virus to in other people in your community. This is why regular hand-washing, distancing, and mask wearing in public indoor spaces are important – the combination of actions minimize your chances of infecting other people accidentally by exposing them repeatedly to your infection over time.

    Despite your assertion that Minnesotans are highly compliant with masking and distancing, those have not been my observations. I can only guess that your neighborhood is more diligent about these things than others in the Twin Cities. I’ve seen many people not wearing masks, or wearing them incorrectly (i.e. – under the nose or chin). I also have friends who are front-line healthcare workers, and they are noting that more people are letting their guards down and not masking around family, leading to spreading events at indoor gatherings and group infections in families.

    So essentially, the fact that SARS-CoV-2 causes extended asymptomatic infectious spread makes it more contagious than your seasonal influenza virus, which is usually infectious only upon symptom onset. Then there’s also been a push for people to get flu vaccines this year – I think just about everyone I know has gotten their flu shot this year. That would help limit the spread of flu as well, if more people are protected, even if the flu vaccine isn’t a 100% fit.

  • Joseph Lampe says:

    Chas,
    You would find it educational to read 150 or so prior postings by Kevin. A multi-nation scatter plot of masking prevalence versus Covid spread and deaths reveals no correlation. Check out Sweden, where no one wears a mask. Similar health results as Minnesota, without huge collateral damage to the health system, economy and social order. Masks do not fit, they massively leak, are worn incorrectly, are typically made of the wrong materials, are rarely discarded or sterilized, etc, etc. The bulk boxes they come in state “Not for medical use” or “Does not prevent spread of viruses.” Covid size is about 0.125 micron, even good masks filter only 10 micron and larger particles. Check out Farr’s Law and Gompertz Curves for insight on how epidemics resolve. 3/4 of all deaths in MN are in long-term care situations, average age of 83 with multiple underlying health co-morbidities. Almost everyone else has trivial risk.

  • Rob says:

    I’m going to change the subject here to illustrate a point.

    About 20 years ago my father was diagnosed with a form of leukemia. He also had low blood pressure. He died three years later. A few weeks before he died he complained of a large sore on his foot. His doctor recommended a specialist at a teaching hospital. He goes there a couple days later and the specialist diagnosed it as a bite from a brown recluse spider. They recommended surgery; he was scheduled for about a week later. His condition worsened but he was well enough to be admitted to hospital for the scheduled surgery which went well as far as the skin lesion was concerned but my father did not get better. The surgery was healing as expected but a week later my dad died.

    My sister works at an Ivy League hospital system and mentioned to several of the docs there that she was going to take some funeral leave. Most said “yeah I heard those spider bites can be deadly.” But one doc she spoke to said “I just read an article about an etymologist who is trying to get the word out that brown recluse spider bites are being diagnosed in geographic areas where no brown recluse spiders have ever been found. And the spider bite wound looks similar to some leukemia sores.”

    My sister later contacted the etymologist and he said (paraphrasing) “I’ve gotten a few nasty emails about that article. It’s true I am not a physician. I wouldn’t question a physician if they were general about insect bites; there are other common biting insects in your fathers area and it wouldn’t surprise me that an insect bite would cause fatal complications for someone with leukemia. But when they specifically say brown recluse spider bite that goes against my etymologist expertise. Either get me a spider sample from the area or ship me the patient blood sample so I can compare it to my known brown recluse venom. But they never do. I thought it was just an innocuous article that might be helpful but likely forgotten- I never expected threats and insults. I never intended to strike a nerve but I guess I have and now I want to know why.”

  • Kevin Roche says:

    thank you for the reasoned and rational comment and additional information.

  • Ricard says:

    Chas – You state “Despite your assertion that Minnesotans are highly compliant with masking and distancing” . . . The only instance of the word “highly” to this point on your page is your own. Kevin only uses the word “increased.” Dishonestly altering the author’s post to support your narrative negates the remainder of your input

  • Christopher Foley ME. ABIM says:

    Chas is not correct insofar as asymptomatic people are NOT infectious at all, and infected cases are contagious for only 24 hours prior to symptoms. Secondly, flu shots are 40 % (in a good year) or less effective. So that does not account for the low flu cases.

    Finally — AGAIN — the smart money is on herd immunity and efforts to COMPRESS MORBIDITY with resilience factors. D, A, C, Se , Zn, and melatonin if over 45. The science is worked out to the mg and IN per lb per day. It is cheap and effective. Physicians are poorly trained in this functional medicine, and it has to change. We are running around with meaningless masks and killing the economy based on utterly outdated and scandalous hubris.

  • Alex says:

    Interesting take on measures working against influenza. And somewhat troubling because if they figure that out, we may be masked up forever.

    As for Chas, I’m at the point I don’t even bother with people anymore. I just go straight to masks don’t work and leave me alone. Just take the time to go and read the endless studies pointing to their ineffectiveness. Not just the ones being propped up by propaganda in order to keep you in fear.

  • Douglas Kraus says:

    Why is our state continuing to assume that the Governors commands work, despite all evidence showing them ineffective. Doesn’t science demand that we compare before and after, to validate or invalidate the mitigation. Everywhere I look I see states compared to other states, never the individual state compared to itself. We would gain more valuable insights analyzing data through an input versus result model than we do with Idaho verses Kentucky (or you pick the states) system we seem to be using. The state media are insisting we compare politics not data.

  • Adam Lehto says:

    Thanks for all your great work, Kevin. I can’t agree more that the almost complete disappearance of flu cases since about early May (in both hemispheres, according to WHO data) *should* be a great big red flag for anyone with an open mind. A brief discussion (if a little off the beaten path) may be found here: https://geopolitic.org/2020/10/28/flu-away-scientists-baffled-at-disappearance-of-influenza-but-is-it-really-gone-or-just-masked-by-covid-19/. It’s odd how little discussion there is out there on this issue when one attempts to look for it. The title of Peter Andrews’ brief article points to an option you didn’t mention, yet one that seems worthy of consideration: that flu cases are being classified as covid cases and thus disappear from the record.

  • Bob Hertz says:

    I just found this blog and I am glad that I did!

    For now, just a quick comment to Rob whose father died….

    I developed a sore on my foot about 5 years ago, no other health issues at the time.

    I went to the excellent ER at United Hospital in St Paul.

    No one talked about spider bites at all. After one night in crisis due to septic shock, they called in an oncologist.

    Turns out I have Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. My cell counts were crazy, thus the sore.

    I have been lucky enough to control it with medications ever since.

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