Covid 2/3/22: Loosening Bounds

In better discourse this week, I have a long reply to Scott Alexander’s Bounded Distrust. I also spun off another piece about a toolkit that’s advocating for schools to return to normal, The Urgency of Normal: An Exercise in Bounded Distrust.

As a result of all that, I ran out of time before I could get to everything this week, so this post does not include any coverage of The Convoy, which is getting pushed into either its own post or next week, depending on what I find when I dig into it more.

Executive Summary

  1. Cases declining quickly.
  2. My people are being let go in some places but not many yet, mostly slowly.
  3. Looks like we’ve got us a convoy up in Canada as a protest, will cover later.

Let’s run the numbers.

The Numbers

Predictions

Prediction from last week: 2.85mm cases (-30%) and 20,000 deaths (+25%).

Results: 2.48mm cases (-39%) and 17,669 deaths (+10%)

Prediction for next week: 1.49mm cases (-40%) and 18,000 deaths (+2%).

Basically the whole nation is in rapid decline in cases so no reason not to expect the trend to continue another week. At some point the decline will slow, but it should be a while before there’s enough adjustments for too much of that. Deaths were a pleasant surprise after an unpleasant one, which usually means things are evening out from some wonkiness. The death peak should be approaching soon given the curve of cases. On reflection I do expect one final increase, and we might see two or possibly a small third one, but that should be it and I doubt we ever hit 20,000 in a week.

Deaths

Worth noting that recent rise in UK deaths is due to a backlog, actual new deaths are falling.

Also figured I’d post this here.

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Cases

That’s an even bigger decline than I expected, and it is happening across 49 states and all four regions. You love to see it. Now that the trend is clear, no reason not to expect it to continue.

New York ER doctor who has given us several updates in the past reports no Covid patients his entire shift.

Vaccinations 

You know. For kids. Pfizer is officially applying to the FDA to allow them to vaccinate children as young as six months.

This is vitally needed, because everyone involved is responding to the inability to vaccinate those children by acting completely crazy given that these children are at essentially zero risk.

Let’s be honest. We are not going to be vaccinating one-year-olds against Covid-19. We are going to be vaccinating one-year-olds against Covid-19 prevention. With two (or perhaps three) shots that have an acceptable level of short term side effects, we protect such children against being unable to show their face or see the faces of others, of being unable to go to playgrounds and the houses of family friends, and allow them to be children again.

Does the vaccine prevent Covid-19 in children this young given the doses we’ll be giving them?Um, well, yeah, heard to say, quite possibly no? They cut the dose quite a lot, and the data looks a lot like it mostly doesn’t work for kids over the age of two. If it does, it likely requires a booster shot, at which point being immune will matter even less.

But also why should we much care?

Once this is done, we no longer have to hear about ‘and some of us have children who aren’t eligible for vaccination.’ If you want to be paranoid parent and take care of that, sure, great, you can go do that. Let my people go.

I have skin in this game. I have a four-year-old. If I could tell no one whether he’s vaccinated, would I get him vaccinated? Probably not, but both costs and benefits are tiny so it’s not clear.

But is it worth it if it lets everyone involved relax? If it means the preschool lets them take their masks off a lot faster and we don’t have to test constantly for no reason? Then yes, of course it is worth it.

Sure, there’s some minor problems with this approach.

But hey, no one said these trade-offs were easy.

The timing of this application is interesting. It’s almost as if applications are based on whether they’ll be approved.

That is, indeed, what I would do if I were Pfizer.

Also, Moderna got full approval, no one cared.

The CDC attempts to tout vaccines in children.

This is the classic pattern of making two statements together to imply to the reader that a connection should be drawn between them leading to a conclusion. Whereas the first statement is saying that only 2,200 kids were even hospitalized, total, in two years. Only a third of those needed the ICU or a ventilator. That doesn’t make me jump to vaccinate or boost my young child. It also groups all kids together in a highly misleading way, since younger children are at far lower risk than that, and most kids who did get sick also had other conditions.

The link goes to PoliMath’s outrage at how misleading the statement is as a summary of the linked study, but this is what good behavior from something like the CDC looks like. Within the rules of bounded distrust, this is far better than the baseline I expect. It’s a fully true statement. Does it give a fully nuanced impression that tells parents the exact statistics they need to know? No, but that’s a completely unrealistic request even if this wasn’t Twitter, to the extent that I don’t even think I’d want them holding themselves to that high a standard on the margin. Complexity costs would be too high.

CNN asks, in light of the coming Omicron boosters, whether one should wait for them, because that article needs to be reported in some form seemingly every week. Answer is still very obviously no, waiting makes no sense.

Another option is to pay nurses $220 to create a fake vaccination record and enter them into the state database, which earned those nurses profits of $1.5 million before they got arrested. I’d pass on that one.

Vaccine Mandates

I continue to be amazed at how very smart and successful people (who in this case even work in venture capital!) do not understand probabilities can be higher than other probabilities and why that might matter. As in: Sober people sometimes crash cars, so it isn’t logical to not let them drink? How are we still doing this?

Kid Rock’s new tour will avoid any venues with vaccine mandates. Given his clientele, I can’t say I blame him. Good business decision. I do like a few of his songs, but my attempt to listen to his new single (literally “We The People”) about the current situation made my life worse more than I thought was possible in that short a time. I mean, wow, I’m almost impressed. The things I do for my readers.

Italy and France consider infection to count as a booster shot for purposes of restrictions, which is an existence proof that the logistics work.

Bob Watcher asks if we should get a fourth shot.

So no, then? And definitely no on question one? Not so fast, it seems.

The cut-by-half estimate seems way too high to me on priors, and as is shortly pointed out, by that time Paxlovid is likely available as well. He still solves for NNT (number needed to treat) and gets 1,163, which is both very high and depends on those involved getting infected. Then he gets into T-cell exhaustion, and there’s always the issue that the day after the shot is going to reliably suck.

So this seems to come down clearly on the side of the fourth shot not being worthwhile at this time, being 65 years old is nowhere near enough reason to endure that.

NPIs Including Mask and Testing Mandates 

If I’m reading this correctly, Biden Administration to continue restrictions indefinitely because not doing so would risk being further embarrassed if something changed and they have no physical model of the world.

As far as I can tell this is real? Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, the people in charge of safety, requires quarantine of its plans?

Standard government operating procedure on test kits, going from restricting supply to seizing supply for public purposes while denying they are doing it, disrupting existing distribution channels and making everything a giant mess. Not the USA this time.

A 538 discussion tries to have a physical model that includes uncertainty, and ends up mostly throwing up its hands because it can’t be sufficiently systematized to give sensible decisions on countermeasures once all the restrictions on how one can think are taken into account. It seems the lessons of uncertainty have in some places been overlearned. It also features the ‘case numbers are no longer a good measure’ line followed by worries about the costs of using lagging indicators. Cases, on the contrary, are still an excellent measure of the situation, if you adjust for circumstances. Thus, you reduce by a fixed factor for Omicron, and for vaccination and previous infection status, and so on. This isn’t easy, but it’s also not that hard.

Governor Newsome tries to weasel out of his last bout of rank hypocrisy, this time at the championship game taking a celebrity photo, continues to enforce the mandates. Morale remains low.

L.A. Mayor Garcetti’s turn to explain came shortly thereafter. What was his excuse?

New York extends its mask mandate, but only an additional nine days. The infinite series may yet have a finite sum.

Let My People Go

People are increasingly unhappy. Democrats are especially unhappy. Let my people go.

Matthew Yglesias is exactly right here. If we want to return to normal and live life we need to, for example, stop being afraid of physical contact and starving ourselves of human connection. My only real quibble with Matthew is his framing of the conflict over being allowed to live life as between health experts and political thinkers, rather than being between health experts and the people.

He’s also right in this Twitter thread about many interventions having high costs and low benefits going forward, even if they arguably made sense in the past.

Norway lets my people go.

Finland lets my people go. Marin strikes again. There’s something right in Scandinavian culture that’s allowing them to figure this one out quickly. I wonder what it is.

Sweden lets my people go. I saw this right after I wrote the above note.

Denmark lets my people go, for the same reason, to some people’s confusion when they can’t understand the shift away from pandemic logic. Also see the linked additional thread for more local info.

Swiss considering letting my people go, which is a weird thing to be news?

Canada’s Saskatchewan province lets my people go, to the extent they can do that.

Iowa Governor lets my people go, also to the extent they can do that.

San Francisco lets my people go to the gym or office without a mask if everyone is vaccinated and boosted. Better than nothing.

Let My People Go To Nightclubs.

It’s a bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see if it pays off for them. They’re right on the logic, but it’s not that hard to shut down nightclubs. The question is whether the authorities will blink. I would be curious to see a prediction market, especially if I was a nightclub owner considering doing this.

China very much not letting anyone go, and taking containment of the Olympics seriously, while still not approving the Pfizer vaccine. It’s quite the price to pay for pride.

Ministry of Truth

In the warm-up, Nature publishes demand that scientists be given more preferential treatment, and those who contradict or criticize them be censored more aggressively on Facebook and Twitter.

The main event, of course, is perennial target Joe Rogan.

Joe Rogan has been a target for a long time, originally for reasons unrelated to Covid and more the standard things that get people censored these days. Rogan is a person who is trying in good faith to construct the most accurate model of the physical world he can and who is willing to listen to people with rather out there beliefs. Also he likes to hang out with cool and funny people with no agenda and talk for a few hours, and lets us listen. A lot of people enjoy this, and he reached 5 million listeners. A lot of other people very much do not like this and think they should be allowed to force him to stop, or at least tell him what he can and can’t say.

When Rogan joined Spotify, a bunch of employees tried to get him aggressively censored, which mostly didn’t work although a few older episodes did get taken out of circulation.

There was the whole thing earlier where Rogan didn’t get vaccinated because he thinks healthy people shouldn’t have to (which likely stopped a lot of people from getting vaccinated), then Rogan got Covid-19, took a bunch of stuff including Ivermectin and recovered, and CNN and a lot of others were on the kick of calling it horse de-wormer constantly (which is classic Bounded Distrust behavior, technically true but very much intended to centrally mislead) as if that was going to convince people of things, and this made him angry and others angry at him, leading to the podcast with Gupta, where Gupta tried to convince Rogan to get vaccinated and Rogan tried to convince Gupta that CNN were acting like a bunch of assholes, and alas they could not figure out they were both right.

I had the chance slash obligation to cover Rogan’s podcast with Gupta a few months back. It was a clear illustration that Rogan is real person acting in good faith to try and construct the most accurate physical world model possible. It’s no surprise that many want to censor him for it. At first it was for social justice issues where he disagrees with left-wing Shibboleths. Now the beefs are mostly about Covid-19.

This round is mostly about the fact that Rogan recently had two doctors on his program. Those doctors have what look on paper like excellent credentials, and shall we say they Have Concerns about the Covid-19 vaccines. And those concerns are not what I would call accurate. One might plausibly call them ‘dangerous misinformation.’

There’s no question in my mind that Rogan is importantly wrong about vaccines and other aspects of Covid-19, and also that he’s entertained guests who expressed views that are rather more wrong than Rogan’s, and that these mistakes can have serious real-world consequences when five million people are listening.

Of course, I don’t think that we should be in the habit of censoring ‘dangerous misinformation’ and that goes double when it’s truth seeking in good faith.

Many others, especially on the left these days, strongly disagree with that, and in addition to their usual toothless attacks on Substack are trying to target Spotify. They don’t even care that Rogan would have an even bigger audience after being kicked off Spotify because he would no longer be exclusive. All you’d be doing is sending the message that you censor aggressively, which of course is exactly what such folks want to do, despite it causing those who like Rogan to distrust you that much more.

In this chapter, there were demands that Rogan be removed from Spotify entirely. Neil Young made it clear it was either him or Rogan, and pulled his catalogue. Joni Mitchell followed suit, followed by a few others, and it became trendy to say you were uninstalling the app. Mike Solana offered exactly the take you would expect. The usual.

Spotify decided to slap warnings on the two episodes in question. I don’t love the slipperiness of the slope and don’t have any urge to compromise on free speech. It’s only mildly annoying as such, but it acknowledges the jurisdiction of the court, that you have an obligation to Do Something about this. Never do that.

Rogan felt the pressure enough to come out with a nine-minute video, of which this is a clip. In general, apologizing or giving ground in such situations is a strategic error and only makes the wolves smell blood. Never acknowledge the jurisdiction of the court. Thus, I would not have promised to ‘make up ground’ in the future or anything, and would have stuck to the ‘this is why my decisions made sense’ part. Either way, he’s not making the mistake where he acknowledges how terrible he is, so he should mostly be fine there.

I was debating whether this all rose to the level of being worth mentioning at all, but then the White House Press Secretary said that Spotify needed to Do More. As usual, do more what exactly? That’s the thing, we’re not going to say, you figure it out. Her statement is really weird when I actually listened to it, because she claims the goal is that the platforms should work to ‘ensure everyone has access to accurate information.’

Which seems good? Yes, it’s good to spread and make available true information. Somehow that then becomes ‘censor bad information’ instead. We are not the same.

I’m still not going to listen to those two episodes, on the ever-popular grounds of ‘I don’t have to and you can’t make me.’ I have no reason to expect there’s things there worth my time debunking, or that would cause me to update.

Permanent Midnight

Elon Musk is on the case.

A meta-analysis concludes lockdowns did not even save lives, let alone do so cost-effectively. I decided not to do a dive here.

Normalization DARVO at work – we should ‘normalize’ people being ‘ok’ with masks on public transport because flu. This is the future these people have always wanted. Everyone’s ok with masks on public transport, what we’re not ok with is them being mandatory. Although the call for extra HEPA air filters everywhere seems sensible and I can get behind that as a ‘this makes sense permanently’ strategy. We’ve almost certainly been underinvesting in air filtering since at least the invention of air filters.

Then there are those who are flat out insane, regardless of when and why that got started.

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It seems we need to be better at telling crazy people that they’re being crazy and maybe they should Stop It.

Not Forever Masking is racist?

So what was this racist tweet?

Ah, yes. Sounds right.

You can be in pandemic logic mode or you can be in endemic logic mode. When we move from pandemic logic to endemic logic, we go from one new case now meaning many new cases over time to one new case now plausibly implying fewer future cases over time due to immunity.

The argument for periodic but not permanent midnight, we can treat precautions against infection like precautions against weather and ramp them up and down appropriately. Yet people somehow use this to suggest we sometimes mandate those precautions, as opposed to pointing out people will do this on their own. You don’t have to mandate umbrellas to get people to use them when they’re raining. Also it helps that this is one of the few places they effectively allow price gouging.

This means that you need a different order of magnitude of prevention benefit to justify paying a given cost.

In the extreme, prevention becomes futile and worthless.

That extreme was essentially here with BA.1, without considering BA.2.

Scott Gottlieb points out (2 minute video) that even if we think the 10 cases per 100k per day threshold for demasking made sense under Delta it doesn’t make sense under Omicron. At a minimum we’d want to double that to 20. If we adjust for the move to endemic logic, the threshold should be much higher or not exist at all. If we were permanently in a 100 cases per 100k situation, that obviously does not justify permanent midnight.

Think of the Children

A fine question.

Report from the relatively sane (but not as good as usual at football) Clemson is not substantially different than reports from other campuses, and indicates that the pandemic has already mostly run its course there since 28% is doubtless a large understatement of the true case count.

And these are all young students so it’s all fine anyway. The response? To demand they Do More, of course.

Dartmouth, despite Doing More has had 23% of the student body test positive in the past month. So, presumably, we must Do More once again.

You know who is doing more? Yale. They’re doing a lot more, like having students report one another anonymously for not wearing masks when alone in a room, locking them within their rooms during the ‘investigation’ and then threatening them with expulsion from campus should it happen again. This is to ensure that they are guarding them against the dangers of such activities as outdoor dining. Remember.

Or you could be a Los Angeles high school that has unvaccinated students try to attend class and end up calling the cops to ‘detain’ them and then threatening them with ‘suspension’ until the girls agree to leave campus. I don’t know what else you can do, either you have a rule or you don’t have a rule and if someone is physically refusing to leave then at some point one needs to use some form of physical force. I do find it funny that students are told they’re not welcome on campus and have to leave, and what gets them to leave is when they are threatened with suspension. What do you call it when you’re not allowed at school, then?

Mother offer to make free crepes for neighborhood children, is told to serve them outdoors in the freezing cold because of fear of Covid prevention.

‘Please serve the crepes outdoors,’ the parents repeated. The parents elaborated: ‘We aren’t so much afraid of our kids catching Covid from you, or from each other, and suffering illness from it. But we want to reduce the chances of our kids becoming infected with Covid. Any student who tests positive for Covid must then stay home – that is, away from school and out of physical classrooms – for ten days. And we don’t want our kids missing any more school.’

She did not serve the crepes outdoors.

In Other News

Excellent news, Vitalik is going to be directing $100 million in research and relief efforts, largely related to Covid. Very much worthwhile even at this late hour.

I apologize for earlier reports that Sarah Palin was outdoor dining after testing positive for Covid-19. It turns out she was also once again indoor dining.

Come to CNBC for the headline, don’t stay for the article it is quite bad: “Why do some people get Covid when others don’t? Here’s what we know so far.”

Worry that Omicron infection might not give all that great a level of protection against Omicron reinfection. Would be bad news if this holds up, but ultimately if the resulting reinfections are super mild there’s not much to be done about it that’s worth doing. In theory could even be good news if it meant that there’s less reason to worry about further mutations, since Omicron is relatively mild.

Freddie DeBoer offers the apt metaphor of Covid-19 as the liberal 9/11. The piece writes itself so even though it’s quite good there’s no need to read it. His comment afterwards does seem worth including.

What should we be doing? More. More what? That’s the thing. No one knows.

New York City offers same day home delivery of Paxlovid, which is great. Date of symptom onset must be on the prescription, which seems good. Race/ethnicity must also be on the prescription, which I notice fails to give me the warm or the fuzzies.

New Zealand to gradually reopen its borders with a full reopening by October. I am genuinely curious what they think doing this gradually is going to accomplish.

New Zealand meanwhile refuses re-entry to pregnant reporter who is a citizen, who is instead welcomed by the Taliban despite being unmarried. Details aren’t better.

WHO continues being unhelpful.

Covid-19 found to be safe in young adults via challenge trial.

Which way does this news update you about the value of peer review?

That’s still 7% chance the conclusions changed, or 17% Covid-19 papers. Curious to think that represents no value add. But how much of that comes from the review? How substantial are most of the changed conclusions? What about changes that don’t change the stated conclusion? Usually when I read a paper I draw my own conclusions.

Prediction Updates

China keeps daily cases under 50 per million through 2022: 40% → 45%.

I’m impressed by their protocols for the Olympics and time matters, as does India playing itself out like this. I’m starting to think they can do this.

Will There Be a Federal Mask Requirement on Domestic Flights as of November 8, 2022? 35% → 38%.

I’m nudging this higher because the Biden Administration is showing signs of being more reluctant, and also I expected someone to often adjust the market based on my adjustment and it didn’t happen, which makes me respect the market price more.

Chance that Omicron is vastly (75%+ in the same person) less virulent than Delta: 35% → 40%

Deaths back down below expectation, so this moves back.

Chance we will be getting boosters modified for Omicron within 6 months of our previous booster shot: 20% → 22%

I can feel the winds move a little, but only a little.

Not going to do a Polymarket feature this week because I’m out of time.

Not Covid

Some further discussions on bounded distrust, in addition to my long reaction piece. The public epistemic commons do seem pillaged, but far from completely. Julia points out that a petition saying ‘no evidence’ is exactly the kind of thing that can’t be trusted, and I’d go so far as to go in the opposite direction. If I saw a hundred scientists signing a petition saying there was no evidence for astrology I’d be tempted to investigate further.

In addition to last week’s Bounded Distrust, Scott Alexander wrote several other pieces this week, including a fun and rather epic takedown on a study that got taken down pretty much right away by pretty much everyone. He also asks why he sucks and comes up with a number of hypotheses, I might have more to say on that one later. And I still haven’t checked out his post on motivated reasoning.

A would-be op-ed from Robin Hanson pointing out that when people have better access to medical care it has been shown over and over to have very little effect on whether they die. Yet in 2020 we spent 19.7% of GDP.

New York Times has purchased Wordle. I’m glad the guy got to cash out. I don’t know if this makes me dislike NYT more for now containing Wordle, or dislike them less because they rewarded a creator and gave everyone an excuse to stop posting their Wordle scores all the time on Twitter, which honestly is getting pretty old and busted. Actually playing is fine, game sounds like fun, but I get nothing out of rows of boxes.

In the wake of the study that says pre-k doesn’t help kids and is functionally daycare, yet another major blogger, in this case Noah Smith, affirms that pre-k is daycare but says we should offer it for free anyway. But offer it as a choice, you see, because somehow ‘should we force the children into daycare at gunpoint?’ was a question that needed to be asked:

And staying home tutoring a kid all day is a lot of work. It’s free labor that isn’t counted in GDP statistics, and it prevents parents from going out and working in the market. Thus, even if it isn’t quite as good as intensive parenting, government-funded free pre-K frees parents to go work in the market and earn money for their families.

In other words, universal pre-K is probably just universal day care. So the best option, policy-wise, is probably to make day care free but not compulsory. That will give parents the choice of whether to put in the time tutoring the kids at home, or accept a potentially slightly worse education in exchange for a second income for the family.

Once again, can someone please explain to me why the solution to this problem is not to give parents money? Why should we impose this severe financial penalty on the parents who want to actually teach their children, which we’re acknowledging here is actively better for them? This is the opposite of acknowledging the free labor being asked of parents, it’s making them suffer financially even more.

Nate Silver predicts an NFL draft lottery in light of recent accusation that Dolphins offered their coach $100k per loss as part of a tanking effort. I would like to see a prediction market on that one.

There’s an $11.7 million dollar gold cube in Central Park as art complete with armed guards. I’m in favor of this if and only if anyone who successfully steals it without seriously injuring any of the guards gets to keep it.

The new and improved anti-inductive anxiety scale.

One case of reduced anxiety: Facebook use is down, nature is healing.

Even more good news, after twenty years of work and to much fanfare, San Francisco opens a public restroom. BART itself responded that this was very unfair, they had simply closed for 20 years after 9/11. Which is kind of even worse, because it means it took them twenty years to not build a bathroom. Instead, it took them 20 years to allow access to a bathroom that already existed, because… 9/11? I don’t know whether I’m pretending to be boggled or if I’m boggled for real. Also, I would be curious exactly how much no sane person would set foot into this bathroom when we check how it looks a week from now.

I can’t be outraged at the storming out here. They were forced to listen to Giuliani sing. No one deserves that.

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55 Responses to Covid 2/3/22: Loosening Bounds

  1. Yellowface Anon says:

    How high is the odd of vaccine passports being reimposed the next winter or later on in case a new variant causes an Omicron or Delta-like spike? Won’t that lead to too many people who’ve previously vaccinated being caught “empty-handed” since their vaccine passports should have expired by then by not getting boosters regularly? (assuming that vaccine passports/proof-of-vaccination regulations have been lifted in the meanwhile, which is far from certain if policy-makers keep on confusing endemic with pandemic scenarios like in Zero COVID).

    Israel is also on the brink of Letting Their People Go after lot of ministers are reconsidering the Green Pass again (Lieberman being the most vocal critic). Somewhere in the middle are those places waiting-and-seeing (e.g. Germany & most of the US), and the worst are the places where the state doubles down by treating the Omicron wave like any other COVID wave (East Asia with China, Japan & HK being the biggest offenders, maybe Latin Europe).

    • moose says:

      Maybe I’m misunderstanding something, but I’m not sure why Japan is being lumped in with “the biggest offenders” — other than the onerous (and extremely popular) border restrictions there are virtually no restrictions on daily life here. I saw a lot of people outside Japan expressing concern over the state of emergencies last year, but just to be clear: “State of Emergency” in Japan translates to “the government pays restaurants to close at 8 and movie theaters space people out a little more to look like they’re doing something.” People wear masks out of baked-in cultural pressures, not mandates.

      • Yellowface Anon says:

        Sorry, it’s my bad impressions. But in terms of panic, they count (while staying far better than China & HK in physical damage).

        China runs on the logic of “active Zero COVID” (no transmission that hasn’t been isolated) and therefore will lock down places with even a case of COVID infected out in the wild. They’re tying HK onto their policy to nowhere and HK is imposing vaccine passports by itself late February and gradually ramping it up to something resembling Israel or Scotland, that is time-limited vaccine passports until you boost. Despite this, they are keeping all the interesting entertainment venues that should be covered closed, and they’re adding even public spaces and public transport into the premises covered by the system, by doing so practically home-confining a large portion of the population who aren’t boosted or willing to use it for its surveillance implications. I guess China sees it as a matter of National Biosecurity and totally unamenable to endemic logic, and HK is tracing Macron’s path for very obvious security reasons. Kinda expect French-level disruptions too once the sizable antivaxx and anti-mandate resistance coordinate boycotts, Galt-style.

        Needless to say, I live in the middle of this and I’m really traumatized by all the needless cruelty. Decided to vaccinate after knowing that my new job requires it, got my 2nd shot exactly 2 weeks ago, and right now very anxious about me being prematurely locked out of everywhere and fired in case the booster mandate comes before I’m eligible for it and nothing in the design of vaccine passports covers the recently vaccinated like me.

        • TheZvi says:

          I will be very surprised if anyone who has had their second shot but is not yet eligible for a booster gets actively punished for that in terms of access, so long as you get your booster promptly once you are allowed.

        • Yellowface Anon says:

          You know I fall into that group now, Zvi. Heard that all the businesses are preparing to liquidate themselves by the very thought of this, the way they interpret Lam’s (the regional leader) words. Or maybe they don’t expect that many people to be eventually boosted even if that is coerced by the vaccine passport.

  2. Eigengrau says:

    Your “do more” people seem like strawmen to me, as all the covid ultra-risk averse people I’ve ever encountered will breathlessly list the specific policies they want to see. In order of frequency, something like improved ventilation/filtration, universal N95 masks, broad vaccine mandates, free universal access to testing, financial support for individuals to quarantine when needed.

    Personally, I’m a set-it-and-forget-it Every Eligible Person Must Get Vaccinated Or Else and then do away with all other restrictions. Clean indoor air sounds pretty sweet though.

    Also Saskatchewan has not yet Let Their People Go, nor have they mentioned a specific date for when they might. They’ve just said “soon”. Meanwhile Ontario has already began lifting restrictions, with specific dates mapped out.

    New Zealand continues to be pretty amazing and your criticisms of them here comes off as nit-picking. It is near miraculous that they have managed to keep Omicron at bay for this long with little more than border controls. They’ve bought themselves enough time to boost like two thirds of the population and may very well avoid disaster in the hospitals altogether. Far more concerning than the testing snafu is the fact that they still haven’t approved Paxlovid.

    Joe Rogan’s guest list is mostly “edgy” comedians, right-wing hacks (and, very occasionally, left-wing hacks), people in the MMA community, quack/fringe doctors, and miscellaneous celebrities. It is difficult to conceptualize him as just a decent guy trying in good faith to understand the world. I characterize him as a pretty dumb, arrogant guy who mistakes contrarianism for profundity while palling around with known frauds and selling something called Alpha Brain Pills.

    On the subject of free speech, you need to consider freedom of association, which is what Neil Young, Joni Mitchell etc. are practicing when they pull their music from Spotify, and when users cancel their membership. It’s not that Rogan is just a guy using their platform like everyone else; Spotify paid $100 million dollars for exclusive access to him. Part of free speech is getting to choose who you do business with, and Spotify’s decision to pay huge bucks to host a show that so frequently spreads dangerous misinfo crosses a line for lots of people. It’s not “cancel culture”. As you said, Rogan could easily move his listeners to a different platform. People just don’t want to do business with the company supporting him.

    On the other hand, I agree that it was stupid for the White House to weigh in on Rogan.

    • TheZvi says:

      NOTE: When commenting on 3+ things, good to number them.

      When I talk to people I know, they are a selected group and have an actual model of what they want to happen. Online, I see a constant stream of calls to Do More without specifics let alone cost/benefit analysis. I think this is one of those ‘straw men but real’ situations, in that if you asked them they might mumble about masks or mandates or something but without much presence of mind. Ventilation being #1 on your list is a tell here – notice that there’s basically no actual discussion of or progress on that.

      Whereas I’d be totally behind a push there. And a ‘ventilation and vaccination only’ approach plus private decisions seems great to me too, although at this point I don’t think we should bother mandating anything at all.

      Good note on Saskatchewan. The attitude seemed clear to me and I didn’t take the time to look closely. Great news on Ontario.

      NZ I go after largely because I’ve followed Offsetting Behavior for years and thus have a particular source for NZ-related snafus. It’s not meant to indicate they are unusually bad in that sense. I do think the reporter thing was… not great, and would have made it into the post regardless of where it was.

      Rogan’s guest list is indeed one kind of evidence one can look at. There’s infinite podcasts, so if it’s not your thing, don’t sweat it. If you want to opine for real beyond that, one can listen for a bit. The artists who pulled their music I mean yeah they have their right to do that, but yes it’s totally cancel culture, they’re literally demanding cancellation and calling for more people to demand it on pain of refusal to associate. It’s fair to say ‘occasionally someone needs cancelling’ or ‘cancel culture isn’t purely good and isn’t purely bad’ and definitely fine to say ‘cancel culture is legal’ but I am confused by the ‘this orange is blue’ style arguments. As I said, until the WH stepped in I wasn’t sure I was even going to mention it.

    • Kenny says:

      I think Rogan has done pretty well all things considered. He did an episode with Michael Osterholm on March 10th, 2020 – that was pretty far ahead of the curve IIRC. (And, also IIRC, it was a pretty sane/reasonable episode too – they even discussed the costs/benefits of closing schools.)

      I’m not a regular listener, but I think he’s done extremely well at being sane/reasonable given his background. I think he’s had an impressive number of physicists as guests!

      Your description of his ‘guest list’ seems somewhat reasonable – but I’m not judging his podcast as a ‘science podcast’. I think his comedian guests are mostly his friends. I’m uncertain that anyone you’d consider not to be a partisan hack has been willing to be a guest. And I think he does a pretty good job of being reasonable skeptical with a lot of the “quack/fringe doctors” – at least in the episodes or clips I’ve seen. I’m also probably much more willing to give him somewhat of ‘a pass’ on “contrarianism” – it sure seems like he’s been somewhat ‘officially’ vindicated about psychedelics for one.

      I also don’t think you’re going to persuade anyone by shaming them, e.g. describing them “a pretty dumb, arrogant guy who mistakes contrarianism for profundity while palling around with known frauds and selling something called Alpha Brain Pills”. I think I’m in a better epistemic position than he is, and I don’t trust him as a general source of info, but I think it’s admirable that he ‘thinks out loud’ and I think his reasoning is pretty good. In my experience, most people with the ‘right beliefs’ are just parroting trusted authorities and don’t have any kind of ‘physical model’ of almost anything.

      He was a moon-landing-denier! But he _reasoned_ his way out of that belief, despite (apparently) discovering that some of the official info is/was bullshit. I wish everyone was capable of doing that, and that more people tried to help each other do that too.

  3. Dave says:

    I think you’re misunderstanding the Lemoine/Silver exchange (Lemoine is being quite oblique, so that’s not your fault).

    Lemoine has argued that the standard methods for estimating the transmissibility advantage of a new variant over the previous one tend to highly overestimate the new variant’s transmissibility: https://cspicenter.org/blog/waronscience/is-the-delta-variant-really-more-than-twice-as-transmissible-as-the-original-strain-of-the-virus/

    His argument has always looked pretty good to me, but YMMV

    • TheZvi says:

      I remember looking at it and thinking it was interesting but I more didn’t buy it than I bought it – but that it wasn’t obvious nonsense or anything. I don’t think I was misinterpreting Silver’s reaction, but it’s plausible Lemoine was misunderstood by Silver and I followed suit here. Not going to sweat it.

      • Dave says:

        Yeah I’m not sure Silver was picking up on the implicature either.

      • Dave says:

        On the question of whether he’s right, one thing he says is that epi folks always assume equal serial intervals for the new variant when calculating R0. I believe they are still doing that for omicron, even though it’s pretty obvious that the serial interval is shorter than delta’s.

  4. Dave says:

    Also, here is a datum of note, relevant to some stuff that Triskele and I were wondering about last week. No clear visible improvement in death rate of boosted folks for those under 50 (information from prior to the omicron wave).

    https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/united-states-rates-of-covid-19-deaths-by-vaccination-status?yScale=log&country=~18-49

    The 50-65 graph is more iffy, over-65 shows a large and very clear improvement from boosters.

  5. Dave says:

    Oh yeah, and on the Hanson link from the not covid section…

    As always, Hanson completely ignores the value of the *information* we get from health care. Diagnosis and prognosis is a huge part of what we’re buying with that money, and I think it’s extremely worthwhile. Compared with our ancestors, we know a huge amount about what’s going on with our bodies, how long we are likely to live, what ailments we’re likely to face in the future. Whether a problem is going to get better or become chronic. I think it’s a huge benefit to our peace of mind and our ability to plan our lives.

    • TheZvi says:

      Yes, there is VoI, as well as negative VoI because we go around constantly worried about things and making ourselves terrified and miserable. There are many cases where knowing is very good if treatment works, but very bad if it doesn’t because one will ruin one’s life to build it around the treatment, including emotionally. I do agree it nets out to positive, but when compared to e.g. 19.7% of GDP, it’s neither a large share of those costs (except for CYA tests that cost tons of money, but even then) or a large share of the necessary benefits, I would think.

      Also, our ability to predict whether something will go away over time is… not great? Although better than it used to be.

      • Dave says:

        Treatments that don’t work have often proved to be necessary precursors to treatments that work. Another complication that Hanson simply ignores. The point is that the question is much harder than his freshman-level reasoning would indicate.

        To be fair, he does serve the purpose of a useful gadfly.

  6. Henry says:

    >New Zealand to gradually reopen its borders with a full reopening by October. I am genuinely curious what they think doing this gradually is going to accomplish.

    From New Zealand: I agree that it makes little health sense. I think it’s a political move to appear “gradual” and “cautious”, and contrast with the main Opposition parties, who have long called for a quicker reopening. Additionally, the border quarantine has been successful at keeping out/delaying the arrival of Covid, so the government feels vindicated by that.

    More cynically, I think a lot of people have a subtle “keep the plague rats out!” xenophobia which is slow to update (e.g. failing to consider that your neighbours may soon be the likelier “plague rat”).

  7. The Mask Slips says:

    mid-Jan message from our preschool principal: that there’s been no in-class transmission shows that masks work

    early-Feb message from our preschool principal: the recent in-class transmissions validate our extra cautious masking policy

  8. Alan says:

    Hi Zvi,
    I appreciate the use of screenshots of Tweets instead of imbedding. Twitter doesn’t Clip well (using OneNote Chrome extension) and that’s my method of consuming content.

  9. William says:

    > Once this is done, we no longer have to hear about ‘and some of us have children who aren’t eligible for vaccination.’ If you want to be paranoid parent and take care of that, sure, great, you can go do that. Let my people go.

    I honestly hate to jump in with this level of cynicism because we agree on so much, but this is charmingly naive. You’ve been paying attention for the last year, right? There will *always* be a parent with an immunocompromised child who responds to every proposal to remove restrictions with “So you are saying that because masks make you feel uncomfortable, my immunocompromised child should die?”

    That said, I do hope, even though I don’t believe, that somehow, some breakthrough can get us out of this trap.

  10. FXBDM says:

    What’s happening with Israel’s death toll? They were early on the Vaccine rollout and boosters, and they have a younger population, but the rate per 100k is skyrocketing.

  11. Dave says:

    Here’s a question for the Zvi-verse hivemind:

    My brother recently took a rapid test (swabbing both throat and nose) and got a faint but definitely visible line. We took this to count as a positive. The same day he took a nasal swab PCR test. That test came back “inconclusive.” A couple days later, he still has no symptoms.

    Clearly he has some kind of asymptomatic infection going on. Is he going to end up with omicron antibodies?

  12. Since you’re fond of predicting case rates and death rates, I built some (fairly simple-minded) predictive models using the Boston wastewater RNA levels as predictors, and training them on the county-level case rates and death rates maintained by the NYT.

    The bottom line seems to be that in metro Boston, each of the waves is reasonably predictable in terms of case rates, but the death rates for each wave were more sui generis. That (sort of) makes sense, given that across the waves the virus had new variants, the population vaccination level went up, and medical treatment of COVID-19 got better, all of which change the death rate.

    Details here.

  13. Seb says:

    On craziness with kids, I’m sort of impressed with the new process where I live (just outside of Toronto in a HEAVILY vaccinated suburban city).

    This week I got an email from the elementary school telling me that there were positive cases in 2 of my 3 kids’ classes. It then went on to say, basically “what you do now is up to you, but if your kids show symptoms then make sure you keep them home.” At first I had this moment of anger because the guidance was so vague, but when I thought about it more I decided it was great. Leaving it up to parents, with no real mandate except the very reasonable “don’t send sick kids to class” is pretty fantastic.

  14. Matty Wacksen says:

    >Covid-19 found to be safe in young adults via challenge trial.

    This is potentially a bigger deal than suggested by your summary. From the link:

    >The scientists will now study other elements from the trial, including investigating why the 16 of the 34 participants in the final analysis did not get infected despite exposure. Some had detectable virus in their nose but did not go on to test positive twice on PCR tests, the threshold the team used for confirmed infection.

    Do we have any theory for why 16/34 did not get infected? I mean sure, “low dose”, but at least the ones with virus in their nose must have had virus replicating in them. Did any of the 16/34 have a stronger immune response to covid after being “exposed to covid”?. Imagine 50% of people exposed to covid built up some small amount of immunity. It would explain so much about covid dynamics (omicron less dangerous than previous strains, waves flattening much earlier than suggested by SIR) that I’m surprised I rarely see this theory mentioned.

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  16. Jon S says:

    “He still solves for NNT (number needed to treat) and gets 1,163… So this seems to come down clearly on the side of the fourth shot not being worthwhile at this time, being 65 years old is nowhere near enough reason to endure that.”

    I am confused. I’d have guessed that an acceptable NNT would be around 35k for a 65 year old (more for young people with more QALY’s left). If the downside to a booster is losing a day and the upside is a 1/1163 chance of preventing death, isn’t that a screaming do? I gather that I’m interpreting the 1163 incorrectly, so what does this mean?

  17. itaibn says:

    What do you think about whether infection with Omicron provides an immunity to Delta? I recall hearing some noises on Twitter about that possibly not happening, and when I looked at it it was based on some proxy measures that I wasn’t sure how to interpret, and I don’t recall seeing you have a take on it. That’s my last remaining source of doubt about stopping COVID restrictions, the fear that the receding Omicron wave may not provide enough immunity to prevent or lessen the harm of an incoming Delta wave.

  18. Jam says:

    Is healthcare only about preventing death? Why wouldn’t you measure quality of life somehow instead?

    I’m someone with a chronic, mostly idiopathic illness. I often need healthcare to treat distressing symptoms. I won’t die without it, but I’d certainly be less functional.

    And I can’t help but think if I had access to better healthcare I might actually have a diagnosis instead of just “we ruled out the common stuff and some less common stuff, but you can’t afford for us to rule out the truly rare and unusual stuff, so go home and get some therapy or something idk.”

    It’s well and fine to say a majority of people don’t need something, but taking it off the table sucks a lot when you’re in the minority who needs it.

    • Jam says:

      Also, at the link he says ” That is, they saw no net effects; people who got more medicine were not on average healthier.”

      Wouldn’t this be hopelessly confounded by the fact that chronically ill people will use the most healthcare?

      • TheZvi says:

        No, because design was to give some people better access to healthcare and measure outcomes. There’s no issue there.

        And it seems like you’re assuming the answer that the medicine is keeping people healthier, which it might, but the studies are saying that mostly on the margin (and well off the margin) it isn’t.

        • Jam says:

          No, what I mean is I think that it gives quality of life improvements that aren’t related to death or health measures.

          For example: someone with chronic migraines won’t die of them, but they’ll be disabled and unhappy. Access to a good medicine or good diagnostic process that identifies and eliminates triggers will improve their life and functionality, but won’t be reflected in death stats, or other stats measuring things like blood pressure or heart disease.

          Likewise with things like ADHD medications.

  19. Yellowface Anon says:

    OOT but from my on-the-ground Hong Kong experience: From what I can sense from the local livestreams, the tide is shifting to something like anti-3rd-shot and anti-vaccine passport backed up by the (unlikely) antivaxx claim of “mRNA vaccines alter your DNA permanently” and the usual fear over vaccine passport as a potential tool of surveillance & State Intervention Making Everything Worse. Some self-proclaimed reporters on smartphones are already talking about massive loss of public transport capacity, because the state is going the Italian way and mandate it on public transport.

    My mum just told me that the vaccine passports and mandates are doing what couldn’t be done in 2019 – the general strike. The riotous opposition (that makes up too much of my family’s social circle) aligns itself ideologically with Trumpists and pass Epoch Times newsflashes as facts.

    I thought HK is a relatively good place to be to sit out COVID, no hard lockdowns or such. F*ck.

    (For myself I’m going the other way and planning for my booster in 6 months, and made a point to get the Pfizer mRNA vaccine as a bet. Might be too late given how the Omicron wave will recede by then, but still fine. It’s a heel-face-turn from my kayfabe on that other Alt-Right news/forum site I still use to troll people and test my bullshit radar on)

    • Yellowface Anon says:

      They are actually digging in and brandishing the infohazard that “we should not vaccinate or boost because they are keeping strict restrictions in place or even escalating it, and you can’t live normally either way” at a time where many places are gradually Letting Their People Go. This is basically how most of Red Tribe antivaxx talking points and posturing works, as political and vaguely anti-authoritarian struggles over underlying “power plays” and “control” (not that those elements are absent, but at least we can debate if they have been used for the public good), that aims to ultimately undermine their Dem/Commie Great Satan who are “weaponizing vaccines to enslave us”. Smart strategy with a grain of truth, but alas, I’m moving out of this kind of thinking and learn to love the Vaxx/Booster, while everyone else in HK is moving into that place.

  20. Nate says:

    On week 2 of “Covid policies.” Child 1 had asymptomatic COVID (surveillance testing) and was out last week. As soon as she was cleared to return, Child 2 got a mild case (bad enough to test, but a mild enough sniffle she would be in school absent COVID), and we are losing another week, this time with the child crying that she’s not sick so why can’t she go to school. Good times.

  21. Ninety-Three says:

    Re: Peer review, there is also the case that submitters are good at modeling what reviewers will ask and insert that into their papers in advance, producing a situation where the mere existence of peer review changes papers even if they don’t change while “in” peer review. Consider: “Health Inspectors never find any rats, therefore they produce no value and restaurants would remain rat-free if they were abolished.”

  22. Yellowface Anon says:

    Israel is starting to Let Their People Go thanks to Lieberman, who has been lobbying for lifting restrictions:

    https://www.timesofisrael.com/green-pass-covid-restrictions-rolled-back-amid-drop-in-case-count/

    (HK’s experts have used Israel as the success case of vaccine passports)

    • Yellowface Anon says:

      Their Green Pass will still expire if a booster dose hasn’t been received after 4 months, but it is valid indefinitely after the 3rd or 4th doses. Nothing to obligate those who have boosted to boost again.

      … maybe until Omicron boosters come, but by then they can be treated like seasonal Flu vaccines.

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