I arrived in Florida today, the Panhandle initially. Just went into a gas station, not a single person, customer or staff, wearing a mask. A little disconcerting after being in Minnesota. And of course, that failure to mask up has resulted in so much higher per capita case and death rates in Florida, or has it? I generally avoid specific political comments. I don’t care much for the behavior of our outgoing President; that behavior ultimately overwhelmed the extremely good policies, domestic and foreign, that he generally pursued. Our incoming President, however, is a senile, corrupt, nasty, boob, with zero experience in anything other than being a lifelong political hack. He will be a great President. He believes in masks, even though he wouldn’t know how to read a research study or understand data if his life depended on it. I would like someone to show him a large mural size chart of California and Florida and have him explain how one state with far less masking could be doing the same, even better, than the one the requires masks even after you are dead.
Sweden dumped a bunch of retroactive deaths and is back in the hunt with Minnesota in the per capita death rate competition. Minnesota is gaining on Florida, which is unlikely to see a lot more deaths since it has vaccinated a high percentage of its elderly citizens, unlike Minnesota. Active cases in Minnesota are at a very low level and given what we know about the lack of accuracy of antigen testing, and even PCR testing in low-prevalence populations, probably far lower than reported.
We have seen a couple of reports of supposed positive CV-19 tests after the second dose of the vaccine. Now it is possible that the immune system just hadn’t gotten primed enough yet, but it is far more likely that this reflects the worthlessness of the testing we are doing. The test is either wrong, or is picking up stray fragments of virus that happened to be in someone’s nose or mouth.
Andy Slavitt, a charter member of the Axis of Evil, is being added to Biden’s CV-19 task force, were he will serve with fellow AoE luminary Dr. Osterheimlich Maneuver. Both are woefully out of touch with the science or data and have been failed doomsayers. Since the new Administration seems determined to pretend that everything actually is fine now, we can open up the economy and send children back to school, not sure how these two knuckleheads fit in. Osterholm today on the radio predicted that the next 8 to 10 weeks will the worst yet. Not sure what evidence he has for this; maybe he will be right, but I seriously doubt it, partly because we have pretty high infection rates everywhere now. He bases this to some extent on the new variant, but I don’t believe there is any evidence that it causes reinfection. The state was asked about his projection at a briefing yesterday and just waffled around. Being constantly wrong clearly hasn’t deterred him from further ludicrous forecasts. I sincerely hope the epidemic completely shakes the public’s faith in so-called experts.
And speaking of new CV-19 variants, I don’t know why people are surprised that new, more infectious strains are quickly becoming dominant. I have warned since the start of the epidemic that a risk from overly aggressive suppression efforts was encouraging the evolution of worse strains. Here is how this works. The virus multiples by replicating. The replication machinery is hijacked inside a human cell. The virus has components that take that machinery and tell it to “read” the viral sequence and take molecules in the cell and put them together into a new virus. It can do this with amazing speed and create many, many copies very quickly, which are then expelled from the cell and can go on to infect other cells or be emitted from the body and be a source of infection of another person, or animal. That reading machinery isn’t perfect, it doesn’t always follow the genetic sequence exactly. So slight variations are constantly created. Hundreds of millions of virus copies are probably being made every day. Lots of mutation opportunities.
Almost all of these mutations are meaningless and harmless. But some may confer some advantage on the virus. Let us imagine for example, that the standard strain of CV-19 needs an average of 100 virions to likely cause an infection in a human. A mutation arises that makes it easier for the virus to gain access to a human cell; it has a stronger receptor binding affinity. Now let us say it only takes 75 virions on average to cause an infection. So let us assume that masks somehow managed to be 90% effective. Or that social distancing was that effective. Or any mitigation measure was. You can see that those efforts then confer an enormous advantage on a strain that is more infectious, it can more easily evade these suppression efforts than the current dominant strain. So that mutation gets favorable “selection”– it is more likely to cause an infection, be able to replicate, and be able to get the cycle of infections going than the previous dominant strain. In the absence of that suppression effort, the advantage would be far lower.
What we should really worry about is that we will encourage strains to arise that have much stronger lipid envelopes or that have greater abilities to evade the immune system. Our public experts are idiots, literally, for not thinking through the consequences of what they are doing. This is totally predictable, nature has designed the genetic machinery specifically to do this misreading and periodically cause mutations to see if it can make changes that are advantageous. The things that make humans such a marvelous and dangerous species arose in just this way–our intelligence, our hands, our cruelty, our empathy. We would have been better off to use that intelligence to decide to let the virus largely run while doing our utmost to protect those we knew to be most vulnerable.
Here is a hilarious story from Bloomberg praising Minnesota’s testing program. (Bloomberg Story) The authors obviously spent no time digging for real facts. They must not be aware of how Minnesota’s stupid testing strategy overwhelmed the contact tracing program with false and low positives.
The news out of Norway about a number of frail elderly who died after getting the Pfizer vaccine is concerning if it is replicated elsewhere and if it appears that even mild vaccine effects are too much for them to handle. What it definitely shows is that a lot of this group whose deaths are attributed to CV-19 are like old trees so weak that the slightest puff of wind blows them down.
Another attempt to identify population factors in the shape of the epidemic is found in this study. (Nat. Med. Article) The authors noted the “spatial heterogeneity” of the epidemic, i.e., it seems to have different case rates in different places and looked for an explanation. In the abstract it seems quite logical to me that places with higher population densities, big cities for example, have more contact opportunities and therefore would have higher case rates, all other relevant factors being equal. They also explore factors on the “peakedness” of an epidemic, that is, how quickly in time it goes up and down and how high it reaches in a measure like per capita cases. Unfortunately the authors used city or province data from China as one data source, the other being Italy. I simply don’t see a reason to trust the comprehensiveness or accuracy of data from China. Population density, mobility and climate data were examined for case associations. Interestingly, they found that areas with less “peaked” epidemics have larger total attack, or case, rates. This could apply to “flattening the curve” efforts as well, it would seem. Try to suppress and you end up with more cases in total. Other findings were that less mobility was obviously negatively associated with cases, and that greater population density was positively associated, although more dense areas may have less sharply peaked epidemics. This suggests that high density leads to a more prolonged incidence of cases. There was, however, wide variation across areas, suggesting factors other than these at work in determining case level.
The CDC continues its string of reports that just aren’t well done. I am not going to say much about this one but it claims to find that European countries that imposed stringent lockdowns early had less serious epidemic waves than those that didn’t. (CDC Study) The recent Stanford study was far better methodologically and has a more compelling finding that stricter lockdowns made no difference. The CDC study again cherrypicks a time period and ignores the very obvious fact that countries with worse cases earlier, tend to take stricter measures earlier, confounding any supposed relationship to what happens next.