Aside from worries over the new strains, I would be saying this was an exceptionally good week.
Both deaths and positive test percentages took a dramatic turn downwards, and likely will continue that trend for at least several weeks. Things are still quite short-term bad in many places, but things are starting to improve. Even hospitalizations are slightly down.
It is noticeably safer out there than it was a few weeks ago, and a few weeks from now will be noticeably safer than it is today.
Studies came out that confirmed that being previously infected conveys strong immunity for as long as we have been able to measure it. As usual, the findings were misrepresented, but the news is good. I put my analysis here in a distinct post, so it can be linked to on its own.
We had a peaceful transition of power, which is always a historic miracle to be celebrated.
Vaccination rollout is still a disaster compared to what we would prefer, with new disasters on the horizon (with several sections devoted to all that), but we are getting increasing numbers of shots into increasing numbers of arms, and that is what matters most. In many places we have made the pivot from ‘plenty of vaccine and not enough arms to put shots into’ to the better problem of ‘plenty of arms to put vaccine into, but not enough shots.’ Then all we have to do is minimize how many shots go in the trash, including the extra shots at the bottom of the vial, and do everything we can to ramp up manufacturing capacity. Which it seems can still be meaningfully done.
The problem is that the new strains are coming.
Over and over and over again, I’ve been told we should expect immunity from infection to fade Real Soon Now, or that immunity isn’t that strong.
With several recent papers and the inevitable media misinterpretations of them, it’s time to take a close look at the findings.
This was originally part of the 1/21 update, but I’ve split it off so that it can be linked back to as needed, and to avoid cluttering up the weekly update.
Note that this post is not looking at any new strains that might provide immune escape. It’s studying infections during a period when such strains were not a substantial issue. This is distinct from concerns about strains with immune escape characteristics.
Pardon me while I make my way to the rooftops.
So I’m sure it’s not that simple especially because of regulatory issues, but… did you hear the one where humanity could have produced enough mRNA vaccine for the entire world by early this year, and could still decide to do it by the end of this year, but decided we would rather save between four and twelve billion dollars?
If not, there’s a section on that.
Meanwhile, we also can’t figure out how to put the vaccine doses we already have into people’s arms in any reasonable fashion. New policies are helping with that, and we are seeing signs that things are accelerating, but wow is this a huge disaster.
Epistemic Status: Highly speculative. I threw this together quickly, and wrote this to document how I went about it. This is an attempt to create a first toy model, so others can error correct and improve, and upon which less-toy models can hopefully be built. You can see the spreadsheet with my work here. Please take this and run with it, and please don’t take this as more than trying stuff to see what’s wrong with it.
No one seems to be creating models of various scenarios in a way that feels remotely realistic, or even in a way that feels super simplified but that can be used as intuition pumps or baselines.
This post aims to fix that, or at least provide a first step.
Same as the old year.
It’s deja vu all over again. It’s not good.
We’re focused on political fights over priority and concerns someone might jump the line, and took off for Christmas. Doctors get forty-six dollars for administering two vaccine shots, and aren’t allowed to bill for anything involved, including either office visit. The vaccine rollout is sufficiently botched that we now have to be worried about millions of doses spoiling and going unused.
It’s that bad.
Meanwhile, here we go again. The evidence from this week points to the baseline scenario laid out last week being correct. The new strain is here. It is almost certainly more infectious, probably as much more infectious as feared, and has been identified in multiple states. This is going to happen and there is nothing left capable of stopping it.
Eventually, some day, hopefully even some time in 2021, one way or another, this all will end.
Alas, it will not be tonight at midnight.
Let’s run the numbers.
A year ago, there were reports coming out of China about a new coronavirus. Various people were saying things about exponential growth and the inevitability of a new pandemic, and urging action be taken. The media told us it was nothing to worry about, right up until hospitals got overwhelmed and enough people started dying.
This past week, it likely happened again.
A new strain of Covid-19 has emerged from southern England, along with a similar one in South Africa. The new strain has rapidly taken over the region, and all signs point to it being about 65% more infectious than the old one, albeit with large uncertainty and error bars around that.
I give it a 70% chance that these reports are largely correct.
There is no plausible way that a Western country can sustain restrictions that can overcome that via anything other than widespread immunity. This would be the level required to previously cut new infections in half every week. And all that would do is stabilize the rate of new infections.
Response Post to (Overcoming Bias): Social Proof, But of What?
Epistemic Status: It seemed worth writing a long post but not a short one, so I saved time and wrote a long one. Feel free to skip this if it does not seem interesting to you.
It seems worthwhile to closely examine the first two paragraphs of Robin Hanson’s recent post, except I will replace his A and B with X and Y because this is a classic Robin “X is not about Y” claim (“Talk isn’t about info”):
People tend to (say they) believe what they expect that others around them will soon (say they) believe. Why? Two obvious theories:
X) What others say they believe embodies info about reality,
Y) Key audiences respect us more when we agree with them.
The Pfizer vaccine is being deployed to health care workers and long-term care facility residents. The Moderna vaccine is close behind, with the full FDA report already out. There were some small extra delays thrown in for good measure, on the order of a few days, that doubtless killed a few people but shouldn’t delay the overall path of events. We are now in the vaccination stage of the pandemic. If the trial results are to be believed in detail, by the end of next week those getting the first dose will largely already be immune, and the population immunity effects can begin to compound and help turn the tide. They will start out small, but soon start growing faster, and every little bit helps.
Central theme in: Immoral Mazes Sequence, but this generalizes.
When looking to succeed, pain is not the unit of effort, and money is a, if not the, unit of caring.
One is not always looking to succeed.