A Head Full of Coronavirus Research, Part 91

By January 15, 2021Commentary

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.

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Joseph Lampe says:

    “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts,” said the physicist Richard Feynman in a 1966 talk to high-school science teachers. I think he meant science is the belief in the fallibility of experts. Do your own analysis rather than trusting fallible “experts.” Read widely and distrust much of what you see or hear in mainstream media. Kevin has said that today’s “journalists” often do not understand the subjects they write about.

  • TedL says:

    “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. “

    Is a vaccine necessary?

    You don’t need a vaccine to protect yourself against Covid19. There are two kinds of immunity – acquired and innate. Acquired immunity is what the vaccine produces – antibodies to a specific pathogen. In contrast, innate immunity works all the time without the need for the body to develop antibodies. However, innate immunity depends on a key nutrient – Vitamin D3 – to work properly. Nearly all the Vitamin D3 used by the body is produced in the skin by the action of sun light. The more sun you get, the more Vitamin D3 is produced in the skin, and the more robust your innate immunity.

    This article – The Epidemiology of Influenza – https://virologyj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1743-422X-5-29 – discusses in detail the relationship between sun exposure, Vitamin D3, innate immunity and the incidence and severity of influenza, which provides a medical paradigm to understand the incidence and severity of Covid19.

    Do we have scientific evidence that Vitamin D has an impact on the severity of the coronavirus? Yes. This article provides summaries with informative graphs of several important studies. https://www.grassrootshealth.net/blog/review-vitamin-d-immune-health/

    One observational study used data from Quest Diagnostics, a commercial medical laboratory service that tests samples for millions of patients. Researchers found 190,000 patients who had Vitamin D tests in 2019 and a Covid test in 2020. People with the highest Vitamin D levels had the lowest levels of Covid positivity. https://www.grassrootshealth.net/blog/new-study-shows-53-lower-covid-19-positivity-rate-among-higher-vitamin-d-levels/

    Another study showed that administration of sufficient Vitamin D when patients were admitted to the hospital greatly reduced the severity of the illness. https://www.grassrootshealth.net/blog/vitamin-d-treatment-covid-19-patients-nearly-erased-need-icu-admission/

    These studies tell us that Vitamin D reduces your susceptibility to Covid19, and diminishes its severity if you get sick. Like influenza, the ebb and flow of Covid19 is governed by sun exposure, Vitamin D and people’s innate immunities.

    The Covid19 pandemic started in the Northern Hemisphere in mid-winter. People had been deprived of sun exposure for months, Vitamin D levels were low and innate immunities were weakened. It explains why the outbreaks were so severe in Europe and North American but so inconsequential in Australia and New Zealand, where it was mid-summer when the virus arrived. For example, go to https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries and compare the charts of deaths for the UK and Australia.

    Here in Minnesota, hospitalizations and deaths declined as we transitioned to a warm and sunny summer when we spent more time outdoors wearing fewer clothes. But as winter approaches, the sun is lower in the sky, the days get colder and we get less sun exposure. The “half-life” of Vitamin D in the body is 2 to 3 weeks, so with diminished sun exposure starting in September, Vitamin D levels were significantly reduced in October, with consequent weakening of the innate immune system and increase in illness.

    By now it should be obvious what you can do to protect yourself from the coronavirus. Take a daily dose of Vitamin D3 and to keep it up until next summer and then get daily sun exposure. Vitamin D3 is available over-the-counter at drug and grocery stores. How much Vitamin D3 should people take? This paper provides a recommendation (and a lot of information). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32252338/.

    Vitamin D supplements may not absolutely prevent the illness, but people who are Vitamin-D-sufficient are likely to experience much less severe symptoms. If everybody in the state took daily Vitamin D, Covid19 would be a nuisance, not a menace.

    Finally, is the pandemic coming to an end? Several measures of coronavirus incidence – cases, hospitalizations and deaths – have recently turned downward. https://healthy-skeptic.com/2021/01/06/a-chart-view-of-epidemic/

    Yet we are heading into the darkest, coldest part of the winter, where the innate immunity/Vitamin D model of incidence and severity says that cases and deaths should be trending up. Why are they not?

    The answer may be that most people are already immune.

    Early in the pandemic there were two shipboard outbreaks, one on the Diamond Princess cruise ship (January), and one on the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (March). This was before anybody took any precautions, so one could argue that shipboard life was an ideal place for the rapid spread of the virus. On both ships, everybody was tested, and on both ships, about 82 percent of the people tested negative. The simplest explanation is that they were already immune, perhaps due to cross-immunity from other coronaviruses. One would expect similar levels of immunity in the general population. Here are data for both ships. https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/26/11/20-1165_article and https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33001200/

  • SteveD says:

    The only reason I could see which might make the coming weeks bad is that we are heading into deep winter. The good news is that with spring, the virus will recede again, more so than last spring since we are closer to population immunity. Seasonality is not the only factor, but Brazil and Argentina had a much smaller November/December relative the March/April peak we had in the Northern Hemisphere.

    ‘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.’

    Fortunately, viruses tend to evolve to become more infectious but less lethal; both strategies to increase their numbers.

  • Colonel Travis says:

    Thank you, Kevin. This site is an oasis of rationality in a desert of morons.

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