Covid 2/10/22: Happy Birthday

Happy birthday. This week CNN’s home page literally led with a story about a boy trapped down a well, then pivoted to Olympic coverage with a side of continued complaining about Donald Trump. Two years into the pandemic, we have normality.

Well, almost. There’s still a bunch of unnecessary restrictions in place and various arguments about them. That is going to go on for a while. The BA.2 variant is going to take over, although I doubt it will cause major issues as it does. There’s also that whole convoy situation.

Still. With notably rare possible exceptions, there’s nothing we can’t cope with. For those worried about Long Covid, I wrote The Long Long Covid Post.

Thus, I’m going to take this week’s title to actually say: Happy birthday, dad.

Executive Summary

  1. BA.2 will take over as dominant subvariant but likely changes little.
  2. Deaths finally in decline.
  3. Cases declining rapidly.

Let’s run the numbers.

The Numbers


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

Results: 1.40mm cases (-43%) and 17,028 deaths (-3%).

Prediction for next week: 900k cases (-36%) and 14,700 deaths (-13%).

I see a few signs the decline in cases will slow as people adjust, including that the places in most rapid decline now have a much smaller share of remaining cases, and also there’s no reason to expect substantial speeding up from here so on average things will slow.

On deaths, we saw a slightly premature decline due to the Midwest peaking early. We’re looking at about a 20% decline in three-week-old cases, so we should see a modest decline here but the meteoric drops shouldn’t start until the week after next. Then again, we don’t know much about Omicron’s timing, so I am ready to be surprised.


The Midwest dropping now seems early, which is likely why the number came in slightly low. The descent starts now. Once it does, the calls for lifting what restrictions remain should rapidly get louder.


In true case numbers news, here’s a study of unvaccinated measures how often they previously had Covid:

Of 1580 individuals invited to undergo serologic testing, 816 (52%) did so between September 24, 2021, and November 5, 2021. Participants had a mean age of 48.0 years, 421 (52%) were women, and 669 (82%) were White (Table). Fourteen percent reported routine mask use in public. Anti-RBD and anti-N antibody presence/absence were correlated (95%; Cohen κ=0.908).

Among 295 reported COVID-confirmed participants, 293 (99%) tested positive for anti-RBD antibodies (≥250 U/mL, 44%; ≥500 U/mL, 27%; ≥1000 U/mL, 15%). A median of 8.7 (IQR, 1.9-12.9; range, 0-20) months passed since reported COVID-19 diagnosis. The median anti-RBD level among those who tested positive was 205 (IQR, 61-535) U/mL. There was no evidence of association between time after infection and antibody titer (0.8% increase [95% CI, –2.4% to 4.2%] per month, P = .62) (Figure).

Among 275 reported COVID-unconfirmed participants, 152 (55%) tested positive for anti-RBD antibodies (≥250 U/mL, 18%; ≥500 U/mL, 12%; ≥1000 U/mL, 6%). The median level among those who tested positive was 131 (IQR, 35-402) U/mL.

Among 246 reported no-COVID participants, 11% tested positive for anti-RBD antibodies (≥250 U/mL, 2%; ≥500 U/mL, 2%; ≥1000 U/mL, 2%). The median level among those who tested positive was 82 (IQR, 19-172) U/mL.

So that’s:

  1. 11% of those who reported no Covid.
  2. 55% of those who reported unconfirmed Covid.
  3. 99% of those who reported confirmed Covid.

Sample collection here was beyond uncontrolled so we can’t say anything about sizes of the populations or that the samples are representative of the populations involved, so large error bars, but the headline measures seem right. Almost no false positives among confirmed tests, about half of people who suspect it without a test are right, one in ten of the rest had it and didn’t know.

Vaccine Effectiveness

Moderna booster tailored to Omicron did not appear to be more effective than the original. Disappointing, but perhaps will spare us from requests for an additional unnecessary shot. It’s remarkable that we’re at the point where that’s where my mind went first. Another take on this is that it means the original shots are working fine.


Here we go again?


If the share of BA.2 is tripling every week, then that implies it will soon take over from BA.1, and that it has a huge transmission advantage sufficient to make cases start rising again instead of falling until we hit the equilibrium again. Is this the next wave?

It’s not impossible, but I do not expect this. If BA.2 had been tripling its relative share every week since we first learned about it, it would have been doing that for at least eight weeks (I forget exactly when it was first identified but it was at least that long ago). That’s 3^8 or a factor of six thousand relative to BA.1, and it would already be fully dominant. Also we know the nowcast has a lot of noise in it, geography can have weird effects, and early growth has a large transmission advantage. I would not be that surprised by this having a non-zero impact, but would be very surprised if this made ‘pandemic over’ the wrong reaction to the situation. We’re almost certainly not going back to December and January, too many people already got BA.1 and as far as I can tell we expect BA.1 and BA.2 to protect from each other.

I also have not heard any reports that BA.2 otherwise differs from BA.1. The biggest concern is that BA.2 might be more severe than BA.1 as I haven’t heard anything about that either way. That would be unfortunate. Not enough to justify reversing course, but might be used by some to attempt to thwart the emerging consensus that it’s time to be done with it all.

As a data point, BA.2 has now taken over South Africa, but cases continue to decline.

I’d definitely prefer this not be hanging over our heads, but we are in a relatively good spot and I am not all that worried about this.

Challenge Trial

They did one, and it was glorious. Almost no costs, amazingly great information. We should do this again sometime.

The findings: The 36 volunteers, all aged 18 to 30, were exposed to a low dose of the original SARS-CoV-2 virus in the nose, the equivalent of the amount found in just a single drop of nasal fluid. Half the participants developed covid symptoms; they became infectious within just two days, with levels of infectious virus peaking at five days. It has previously been estimated that the time from exposure to first symptoms was about five days. Participants in the study remained infectious for an average of nine days and still had detectable levels of virus in their nose 12 days after initial exposure.

Almost all the volunteers lost their sense of smell and experienced cold-like symptoms such as a runny nose and sore throat. None reported serious symptoms.  Some of the patients were also given the antiviral drug remdesivir before they were infected, but the trial didn’t pick up any noticeable difference in the severity of the symptoms.

They also confirmed the utility of lateral flow tests.

Infectious within two days, peak infectiousness in five, average infectiousness for nine days to a maximum of about twelve for mild cases. Billions of people guessing in the dark, likely hundreds of millions stressing over the question, and we got the answer from 36 volunteers none of whom got seriously ill. That’s all it took.

I’d prefer to use 360 volunteers, let one person get seriously ill and have tighter bounds, ideally even experiment with other groups as well, but you can’t always get what you want.

We have not repeated the experiment with Omicron, but given what we know it seems safe to assume that you become infectious faster, so one day instead of two.

There is also the potentially buried lead. How many of the ones who didn’t show symptoms got Covid? If we kept exposing them, how many would never get Covid? I’d very much like the answer to those questions.

A lot of what we have observed makes so much more sense if there is immunological ‘dark matter’ running around and some portion of the population started out immune or only barely susceptible to Covid. It helps explain why waves peak the way they do, and why seemingly insufficient numbers of infections (even counting hidden ones) seem to get us back to equilibrium. It would be great to actually test the hypothesis.

NPIs Including Mask and Testing Mandates 


I fully endorse this simple heuristic from Alex Tabarrok. If you don’t want to keep a Covid restriction on the books permanently, lift it now.

New Jersey surprises, announces lifting of mask mandates for schools and businesses.

Claim that Oregon will lift its mask mandate by March 31, I have not seen official verification.

Illinois lets its adults go, but its teachers union has sued in court to stop this from applying to children. Remember.

Threads on state of Chicago and New York City, lots of missing activity. My New York City is mostly back to normal, when we went to the American Museum of Natural History last week it was crowded and everything even if Times Square isn’t. But to me that’s fine modulo the economic impact. I never cared for the crowds.

The CDC claimed this week that cloth masks were once again proven effective by The Science, because there was a study. The CDC seems to increasingly be not only The Man of One Study, but The Person Of a Rather Terrible Study That Came Out This Week.

Barro has his own thread here.

I mean, this study is not merely not an RCT. It is really, really terrible. Here’s some of their section on limitations.

The findings in this report are subject to at least eight limitations.

First, this study did not account for other preventive behaviors that could influence risk for acquiring infection, including adherence to physical distancing recommendations.

Second, this analysis relied on an aggregate estimate of self-reported face mask or respirator use across, for some participants, multiple indoor public locations.

Fifth, data collection occurred before the expansion of the SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.529 (Omicron) variant, which is more transmissible than earlier variants.

Sixth, face mask or respirator use was self-reported, which could introduce social desirability bias.

Seventh, small strata limited the ability to account for reasons for testing in the adjusted analysis, which may be correlated with face mask or respirator use.

Finally, this analysis does not account for potential differences in the intensity of exposures, which could vary by duration, ventilation system, and activity in each of the various indoor public settings visited.

So among other things this study wasn’t on Omicron, relies on self-reports, doesn’t differentiate between amounts of exposure in various groups or reasons they seek testing or other prevention measures. The controls are complete garbage and obviously there’s a direct correlation between quality of mask and other prevention measures. The whole thing is an extreme upper bound, nothing more. Oh, and also did you see those error bars?

Always using a face mask or respirator in indoor public settings was associated with lower adjusted odds of a positive test result compared with never wearing a face mask or respirator in these settings (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] = 0.44; 95% CI = 0.24–0.82). Among 534 participants who specified the type of face covering they typically used, wearing N95/KN95 respirators (aOR = 0.17; 95% CI = 0.05–0.64) or surgical masks (aOR = 0.34; 95% CI = 0.13–0.90) was associated with significantly lower adjusted odds of a positive test result compared with not wearing any face mask or respirator.

That doesn’t even get into the part where this is based on calling people after their test and only 9% of people answered the phone, or that different groups clearly did get tested for different reasons, that they tried this once before and didn’t get the right answer so they ignored it, and so on.

The CDC is now a strange combination of ‘everything we do mired in infinite levels of bureaucratic nonsense’ and ‘we will tell everyone to change everything based on this thing that used the Proper Scientific Font.’


Benjy Renton brings the maps and graphs on our situation as of February 6. News is good, as expected.

No doubt some local issues continue and none of this is fun, but we are clearly past the acute danger and the situation will continue to improve over time.

Once again, the default to associate everything with vaccinations and boosts continues:

When I look at this graph I don’t think vaccination rates, I think geography and weather and the order in which places got Omicron. Vaccinations help a lot, but the differences in vaccination rates are not the primary driver in state-versus-state differences at this point.

That’s still a lot of staffing shortages, but notice it is less shortages than have existed elsewhere on the graph. We are better off on this metric than at any time since at least mid-2020, and that’s excellent news.

UK hospitals are starting to dig out from their giant backlog of non-Covid patients in need of care. Thread goes into detail about some of the issues involved in prioritization. If anything I think the thread downplays the need for appearance of fairness. We want to prioritize more critical care over non-critical care, but also those who have been waiting a very long time need to not get pushed off indefinitely. There are no price signals in the system, forcing these kinds of choices to be solved in other ways.

A question from Twitter.

This was doubtless rhetorical but my attempt at the actual answer:

  1. Because the alternative is not having enough health care workers to staff the NICU and babies could get inadequate care, and if they infect each other, they each only get it once and that was probably going to happen anyway. Whereas the parent waiting ten days only causes them to not see their parents, and our society cares not.
  2. Because health care workers are assumed to know how to take precautions.
  3. Because one thing is legally protected and the other isn’t.
  4. Also the rules aren’t supposed to make sense, that’s a category error.

Think of the Children

Example of a school with maximally terrible ventilation, with CO2 at over 2k PPM, because the new ventilation system was on the wrong settings. If your child is going to a traditional school with lots of kids in it, it might (even now) be worth buying a CO2 monitor to see if this is happening to them.

So how about those masks, Stacy Abrams?

Lot of different response threads to choose from, I’ll go with this one.

I understand why some parents and others want children to be tortured and remain in permanent midnight. I understand why someone wouldn’t themselves want to wear a mask.

I do not understand how, at this point in the pandemic, someone as good at politics as Stacy Abrams does not understand that there are a lot of parents and kids who disagree and are pretty mad about it, and how hypocritical-looking and enraging this type of photograph will be. It’s one thing to be ‘caught’ at the French Laundry. That’s a risk-reward calculation. It’s another thing to take this kind of photo-op on purpose.

What I really don’t understand is not getting it after it happens, and doubling down.

This screams: This Is Fine, and I will call essentially call you racist if you disagree.

This is not fine. The kids are not alright, and you seem to not care.

Meanwhile, the courts are periodically called upon to either mandate mandates or to mandate a lack of mandates, depending on the circumstances. One judge mandates no mandates, the next judge puts the mandate back over the governor’s objection. The governor of another state orders that parents can opt out of mandates, and the schools simply ignore the governor.

“We remain committed to defending Gov. Pritzker’s actions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and will appeal this decision in the Illinois Appellate Court for the 4th District in Springfield,” Raoul wrote in a statement Friday. “This decision sends the message that all students do not have the same right to safely access schools and classrooms in Illinois, particularly if they have disabilities or other health concerns.”

This is the way of such things. We must take away people’s rights to ensure people’s rights. To safety. Paging Benjamin Franklin.

I am unsure if PoliMath’s model is accurate here, but it does seem like it is a lot easier to threaten or punish people into enforcing mandates than it is to do so in order to get them to allow kids without masks to attend school. So it does seem like an intolerant minority can force their will on the majority and make them wear masks for no good physical reason.

New York latest place to use the ‘not enough vaccinations among the kids’ excuse to torture children that aren’t at risk rather than adults, because who cares about basic probability:

Boston’s ‘most engaged students’ show hands to support keeping masks on into March, which tells you everything you need to know about how we select and teach our ‘most engaged’ students. They get there by parroting everything they’re told.

What are they told? Things like this.

The reports continue to poor in that kids in need of speech therapy are in deep, deep trouble due to masks and it’s completely insane that we haven’t made an exception for speech therapy. It is child abuse, full stop. This is the flip side of the immuno-compromised and although I mostly hate lawsuits on par with ‘violence is never the answer’ I really hope lawsuits follow in the wake of this. This is one mechanism that could not be clearer, and yet even for the explicit educational purpose of watching someone’s mouth the masks can’t come off. Remember.

On the bright side, a man bites dog story as there exists a reasonable school policy.

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.


I did a supplemental post last week on the Convoy, which I then spent much of the next day editing as comments flew in from all sides with conflicting reports. The final version of last Friday’s post does a lot of hedging because it’s an adversarial situation where it is extremely difficult to know what the truth is like on the ground. It is clear that the overall Narrative story does not add up, but what parts of it are and aren’t accurate, and exactly how much bad faith and outright lying is involved in what places, is less clear.

There’s a lot of discussion in the comments, especially on the WordPress version, overall I felt the discussion there was quite good. If you want to continue that type of discussion, please do it there. I affirm my continued pledge not to discuss the Convoy in the comments, and that I will update related sections only to correct a serious factual error.

This first-hand report seems credible to me in terms of what it felt like to be at a protest. Mostly friendly with free food, a small number of what he calls ‘hard men’ (presumably created by hard times) who will stare you down and are willing to engage in violence if there is something they do not take kindly to, the standard mentally ill who show up whenever something like this happens, lots of full-on anti-vaccine rhetoric and obscene anti-Trudeau slogans mixed with all the usual protest slogans. Some very loud honking that due to the local geography gets into residential areas. Mostly harmless beyond the blockading and honking, but a forcible removal likely would cause some violence, and if you are looking for something scary you can find it.

So does this report from February 5 (via MR) that Ottawa lost control of itself and officials have no idea what to do. If you think you can’t handle it, then you definitely can’t handle it, because you won’t.

Even after seeing the response to my previous post, I did not expect the convoy to be that big a deal, and for things to take the course they would have taken anyway. Thanks to the multi-dimensional botching of the response (which was definitely botched, no matter your view on the convoy itself) it seems like it is rapidly becoming a big deal indeed. Tyler Cowen calls it potentially the most important story of the year. This is on pace to become part of the remembered story of the pandemic and the story people on various sides tell about how Narrative and power work today, to be looked at by all alongside the protests and other outdoor events of 2020, in particular the way Narrative was created around both events. The Narrative shapes the story, but in the long run the Narrative and how it operates is itself the story.

It does things like getting The Guardian to note that the leader is an ‘admitted Conspiracy Theorist.’ He admits it. Presumably that is even worse.

Many people will remember it like this, long after the restrictions are lifted.

So first off, if anyone is considering protesting anything for any reason, I’m going to extend Ted Cruz’s ‘Nazis always bad’ rule and say that no matter why you’re thinking of using a Swastika or Confederate flag, don’t. No one cares why you’re doing it, any more than they care about why you used certain particular words. To them it’s game over right there, end of story.

A bunch of people have made claims that the Swastikas were mostly or entirely about calling Trudeau a Nazi, which explains the otherwise quite odd observation in the above video of ‘a protest including both yellow stars and Swastikas.’ That’s a stupid mistake. Don’t do that. For example:

ALL of the swastikas I saw were calling Trudeau or the government fascists, I should be clear.

They’ve clamped down on the swastikas a lot compared to day 1. On day 1 I saw dozens. I think that they understand that it makes it easy for the media to demonize them.

There’s also been a bunch of talk about the GoFundMe campaign. My understanding is that they raised millions of dollars, then GoFundMe got pressured (I believe the police are taking credit for this but don’t have a link handy) into seizing the money for direction to the charity of the organizers’ choice and only allowed refunds if they were explicitly requested, then relented under broad pressure and agreed to give everyone refunds. Then a rival site stepped in and also there were some cryptocurrency transactions. This is far from the first time GoFundMe has shut down a campaign under pressure, so if you anticipate such pressure it seems wise to take one’s business elsewhere in the future.

The legacy may live on for a long time, but how will it physically end? If the truckers are determined not to go away on their own, and that seems to be the case, then the trucks and protesters are going to have to be removed. No matter where one’s sympathies may lie or what the detailed facts are, at some point it stops being about who and why and starts being about what, and that what is that streets are blocked for weeks and the honking won’t stop and if this is allowed to go on the government will rightfully get the blame.

Physically removing the trucks is a logistical nightmare. Best case it would take several days even for a particular street, and that is if the towing companies are willing to cooperate in the face of various forms of potential retaliation and also their own preferences. Even if the trucks did get removed, there are a lot more trucks where these came from that could return, if the people involved want to return. What to do?

I am not an expert on the logistics or dangers involved, or the politics of various options. I do know that I would have started by issuing a hell of a lot more traffic tickets. Every number I’ve seen is several orders of magnitude below ‘every day each truck that’s violating traffic laws gets another ticket’ and I don’t know why. Beyond that, I also know that I don’t care how much people say ‘logistical nightmare’ when you have days to prepare you can recruit towers from all over the continent or even world – you can fly someone in from France in a day if necessary along with their truck. So I notice I am confused that everyone is crying impossibility.

Or this from Marc Anderson’s all-day-meme operation.

Except, you know, learn to get others to code or tow by paying the necessary in-context market-clearing wage because even at the new higher price both of them are giving you an order of magnitude more benefit than they cost.

There’s a clear sign that things are moving in the direction of ‘all right, that’s enough, just arrest everyone and be done with it.’


That last note is interesting. They’re saying that if things come to a head, those involved may permanently be unable to cross the USA border, which would be crippling to their ability to work as truckers, even if the mandates were later lifted and/or they gave up and got vaccinated. Seems like a very credible threat to me.

Yet the note only says what could happen rather than promising something that will happen. My understanding of these things is that you want to leave no such room for doubt.

The Ambassador Bridge blockade is also ongoing and is far more clear-cut. This is a vital link in the supply chain. Allowing it to be continuously blocked is completely unacceptable, this is not an acceptable method of protest and it needs to be cleared out by force. If I had no other options I totally would send in the military there. If the government can’t or won’t keep economically vital highways clear for extended periods, the government deserves to fall.

In Other News

While the rest of the world is opening up, Hong Kong is locking down. Private gatherings are being restricted, penalties for unvaccinated stiffened. Then things tightened further after 600 cases, causing panic buying in the shops. All options from here seem super painful.

China also locks down Baise, population four million, after Omicron outbreak.

China also locked the Olympics down super hard. It has a highly dystopian vibe, and I wonder to what extent the de facto optimization target was ‘dystopian vibe’ rather than anything else but mostly it seems like they’re taking the problem seriously. Full-body suits actually work.

Reminder from Tyler Cowen that public health information has always been a disaster area. Doesn’t even talk about nutrition.

Joke site, but yes: Media Spreads Misinformation On Joe Rogan To Prevent Him From Spreading Misinformation, and Joe Rogan agrees to only spread CDC-approved misinformation.

Patrick McKenzie surprisingly notes that the HER-SYS records platform does some amount of useful tracking of records.

Nature paper from 25 January confirms that Omicron infection does protect against future Omicron infection. We knew this already but always good to have more sources.

Australia will open its borders on 21 February. Better late than never and all that.

The Atlantic has a post that spends many words warning that endemic could mean basically anything. Fair enough, I guess. Telling you that something tells you nothing is indeed telling you a useful something, if you needed to hear it. Bob Wachter predicts a mid-year nasty wave even without a new variant, it’s possible the South will see a summer wave but I’d expect the consequences to be tolerable and everyone to go about their lives as normal. I think Nate Silver is on point here.

Andy Slavitt has a long thread where he explains why we can’t simply be done with things the way Denmark is done with them, all of which boil down to ‘being done’ being something you earn via good behaviors like vaccination (and universal health coverage, and ‘getting kids 0-5 out of limbo’ even though they were never at any risk, and having been ‘responsible’ and so on) that earn you the necessary grace. There’s no causal model of why things here should be different that holds up to trivial scrutiny. Yet he acknowledges that we are moving from collective responsibility to individual responsibility, and letting people make their own choices. That’s what matters, and if people need to tell stories about how awful various aspects are while it happens, that seems fine. Moralizers gonna moralize.

Ignoring completely the context of the law in question where the implication is illustrative of what might charitably be called some flaws in the law’s design. My question is literally about what it is literally about and nothing else. I do think this is an interesting question on its merits. Should a public school, that children are effectively forced to attend, have to consult the parents if a child asks to change their diet while the parent isn’t allowed to be there?

Parents need to watch what their children eat, and that includes what their children want to eat that you do not think they should eat. Letting kids eat what they want can cause quite a lot of trouble, even if allergies (that a child may not fully understand) are not in play. We have coded vegetarian as ‘good’ so it seems crazy to require a consultation, but what if they requested the pork and you’re Jewish? Or you’re Discordian and they asked for a hot dog bun?

Thread on new preprint analyzing 2019 samples that could shed light on origins of Covid, and on potential withholding of info by China.

Long Covid study comes out among children with ludicrous selection bias, as explained in the thread and replies. Sufficiently useless I’m not including it in The Long Long Covid Post.

Other Prediction Updates

Scott Alexander wrote The Passage of Polymarket. MR described this as “RIP Polymarket” but that is clearly not the case. Americans can’t directly participate, but the show must go on.

The Long Long Covid Post ate my whole week, so I didn’t get a chance to revisit the prediction markets. If I get a chance and there’s enough there, I’ll do a distinct post. I don’t have another grand offering on the schedule soon, but I do like being on a roll so anything is possible.

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

The Hong Kong situation is looking dire and they had to impose an additional lockdown. Olympics will probably be contained but we won’t know for another few weeks. If they prove willing to fully cut off Hong Kong, and they survive the few weeks after the Olympics with the plan intact, the number jumps substantially higher.

Will There Be a Federal Mask Requirement on Domestic Flights as of November 8, 2022? 38% → 33%

Market has drifted downwards, and we’re seeing a good pace of restrictions being lifted including in blue states. I am moderately more optimistic.

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

No real new information. I’ve been using 50% as a safe lower bound here, but I’m increasingly accepting that we will never know the answer with much precision. There are too many confounding factors and no one is willing to run experiments or gather data for real.

Chance we will be getting boosters modified for Omicron within 6 months of our previous booster shot: 22% → 15%

The news that the new boosters were not additionally effective has to be a big hit here, but I’ve seen stupider decisions.

Not Covid

Futurama coming back one more time, woo-hoo! John DiMaggio (Bender) not yet formally attached but I’d open the prediction market at around 90% given his tweet and how these things generally play out. These, alas, are not on their way, but should be.

At the movies, I finally found the time, ignored Saturday Night Live’s warning and saw Spider-Man: No Way Home. It fell short of my expectations, but only because expectations had been set extremely high, and it was still excellent. This is the kind of movie you only get to make by putting in the work over the course of decades, and it pays off.

It is also a meditation on scope sensitivity and existential risk, what solutions are and are not thinkable, on criminal rehabilitation, medical consent and preference falsification, on the Copenhagen Interpretation of Ethics and fixing one’s mistakes, the decline of civilizational capacity and cultural legacies, the need to pay respect to our fathers and forefathers, true maturity and how to earn respect, what it takes to be worthy of great power and responsibility, the signaling theory of education, and the negative externalities of funding constraints. Among other things. The Straussian reading is wise indeed.

Bounded distrust example, how fact checking works in 2022.

For an apolitical example, bounded distrust as an art form.

I have a dream that one day we attempt to cancel people such as Dave Chapelle not for when they speak ill of the wrong group but when they oppose construction in their neighborhoods.

You probably don’t need it, but in case you do, Matt Yglesias gives perspective on climate change for those who lack it.

This video of Bryan Caplan and Agnes Callard discussing The Case Against Education was fun, although if you already know the thesis it won’t tell you much that is new. Best part is at the beginning when Agnes sums up Bryan’s beliefs with exactly the correct level of incredulousness, and the hits keep coming.

I am happy to have moved from a mayor of New York City I hate with a fiery passion to one that makes us ponder the big questions. He says while pitching veganism (and occasionally being caught eating fish, which is becoming a running gag):

You take someone hooked on heroin, put them in one room, and someone hooked on cheese, put them in another room, and you take it away, I challenge you to tell me the person that’s hooked on heroin and who’s hooked on cheese.

My plan is to tell the difference before we put them in the two rooms, but failing that how fast does this man think a cheese addiction gets to the critical stage and what does he think are the withdrawal effects?

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54 Responses to Covid 2/10/22: Happy Birthday

  1. Yellowface Anon says:

    Reverse quarantine in HK?:

    ‘Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, another pandemic adviser in Hong Kong, urged the government to prepare logistically and psychologically to keep mild cases at home when all facilities were overwhelmed. Public hospitals should be reserved for those with severe symptoms or underlying risk factors, and quarantine facilities for reverse, or protective, isolation to stop the vulnerable from catching the virus.
    “[Patients at home] should be given guidelines and test kits. Relatives can help with daily necessities as long as they are fully vaccinated,” he said.
    “Free all quarantine hotels and camps for unvaccinated family members with risk factors, such as being elderly and those with chronic illness, for their reverse isolation for protection.”’

    A lot of compulsive Shielding the Vulnerable has been done everywhere more or less, but I’ve only seen this term being used in parts of India.

    Quarantine Camps? The unvaccinated with risk factors? What kind of risks are there (a lot of them can be better defined than this!), and why the emphasis on shielding the unvaccinated? In HK of all places? And most importantly, how long are they going to be quarantined? He has lots of points to clarify, or else he will be revealing one of the endgames for Permanent Midnight. I’m really fearing for my antivaxx parent.

    • DW says:

      Taking hundreds/thousands of the most vulnerable people in Hong Kong, all of whom are contacts of COVID cases, and putting them in the same place? What could go wrong?

      • Rotten Bananas says:

        Look at what TheZvi said about the Winter Olympics.

        It goes on:

        ‘Lawmaker, Reverend Peter Koon, said on Wednesday that Covid patients in Hong Kong should be given the option to be sent to the mainland for medical treatment.

        “I would suggest we send Covid patients with mild symptoms to designated places in mainland China on a voluntary basis. The mobile cabin hospitals can be built quickly in Shenzhen or other parts of Guangdong, so that can release the quarantine pressure in Hong Kong,” Koon said.’

        • Rotten Bananas says:

          Maybe I forgot to add the kicker: HK had one of the most organized and violent riots in 2019 and this radicalized a large part of the population against the state, which explains the prevalence of conspiratorial thinking here. Those suggestions won’t be taken nicely by those on their side.

  2. Yellowface Anon says:

    We’ll see in March and April whether BA.2 pads the case count enough to justify reimposing some restrictions, especially in places where the authorities have mostly Let Their People Go, which will be a fatal breach of public trust. It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.

  3. Ninety-Three says:

    “My understanding is that they raised millions of dollars, then GoFundMe got pressured (I believe the police are taking credit for this but don’t have a link handy)”
    Here is the timestamp for the police press release where they take that credit:

    As I noted in the Convoy thread, the cops clearly *want* to take credit and Gofundme’s history establishes them as the kind of operation that might have done this entirely on their own initiative. Still, it says something that the cops want that credit.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      Update: Gofundme might not have done it of their own volition. GiveSendGo, the replacement site the truckers are using, has received a court order to stop funding the truckers.

      Unexpectedly, the new site has stated their intent to defy this order, so it should turn into some real drama.

  4. j says:

    typo: poor in > pour in

  5. Matty Wacksen says:

    Re: challenge trials

    >They did one, and it was glorious. Almost no costs, amazingly great information. We should do this again sometime.

    I fully agree. Note also that these were unvaccinated people who were exposed/infected.

  6. The K says:

    What do you think of this: Chance the US will approve or recommend fourth shots of a vaccine (whether tailored to omicron, or same old same old) for at least wider groups (e.g. perhaps first to those who work in jobs like elder care and teachers) before the end of March?

    • TheZvi says:

      That’s very close to the Omicron booster question. That fast I find very unlikely.

      • The K says:

        Thanks! I was thinking that the O-specific test results would just make a fourth shot of the same old same old more likely. But maybe not that quickly. Still, in the past things have seemed to progress pretty fast from recommended-for-immunocompromised to broader availability. And we are already at the former stage for a fourth does of old formulation mRNA’s. About the fourth for wider population, I have lost track of the most up to date sense of the Israeli position on this based on all the data they have. They seemed to go back and forth.

        • Yellowface Anon says:

          As I said in one of the comments last week, some of the vaxxed and relaxed here in HK are making a point of not getting boosters at all, because they hate the ramp-up in restrictions and agrees to some libertarian logic about conformity and assent. Might see that too if further boosters become available and indeed enforced by the vaccine passports.

  7. myst_05 says:

    > A lot of what we have observed makes so much more sense if there is immunological ‘dark matter’ running around and some portion of the population started out immune or only barely susceptible to Covid

    I’m starting to think I might be one of those people. I’ve taken no precaution during Omicron (restaurants, movies, events, seeing friends, going to the office) and I’m now one of the last people in my friend group to have never had COVID, or at least never had any symptoms. Might be simple luck but at some point your luck is supposed to run out.

    • Anonymous-backtick says:

      Asymptomatic cases are something like 40% according to a quick search, so it’s odd to be surprised by this.

  8. Seb says:

    Zvi, I have a quick comment and a longer one.

    First, I’m glad you liked the “do what you want but don’t send your kids to school sick” policy at my kids’ school as much as I do. Overall they’ve been quite reasonable, and I have no reason to believe they won’t continue to do so.

    Longer comment is on the pandemic dark matter. In summer of 2020 I was speaking to an ER doctor from Toronto who, along with colleagues in Montreal and New York, was trying to understand why Toronto didn’t have the massive first wave that the other two cities had. Collectively they came to a “dark matter” style conclusion, since none of them could come up with any explanation that would stick.

    They did, however, come up with what I’ve been calling the “crazy SARS1 theory”. Basically, they suggested, only half jokingly, that maybe the 2003 SARS1 outbreak in Toronto was the difference maker, and that maybe there was some existing sarbecovirus exposure here that Montreal and New York were lacking.

    Nobody, not even the ER doctors who came up with it, takes this notion seriously, but I like it as a sort of rational yet out of the box style of explanation for the substantial amount of epidemiological dark matter that we’ve encountered.

    • greg kai says:

      IIRC SARS(I) was a much more serious disease that even the initial Wuhan strain, killing a 2 figures percentage of people who got it…..
      So except if there was a low virulence variant very quickly in the outbreak, that mostly keep contaminating under the radar, without much symptoms, it’s unlikely it hit enough people to make a difference, else the Toronto 2003 outbreak would have been a huge scary news.

      I also think there were cases quite a few month before the “official” start of the epidemy in 2020, even outside China…But again, it would be strange to infect enough people to be seen in the first “official” wave: if it did, it would have been more obvious there was something wrong in Toronto end of 2019. Death statistics of 70+ should have shown that something happened.

      • IIRC SARS(I) was a much more serious disease that even the initial Wuhan strain, killing a 2 figures percentage of people who got it…..

        Last time I looked up the numbers for SARS1, SARS2, and MERS (all coronavirus infections):

        (1) SARS-CoV1 emerged in China in 2002, infecting 8000 and kiling 800 before subsiding (~ 10% lethality rate).

        (2) MERS-CoV emerged in 2006 in the Middle East, infecting 2400 and killing over 850 before subsiding (~ 35% lethality rate!).

        (3) SARS-CoV2 emerged in 2019 in China, triggering the pandemic in which we find ourselves: as of 2021-Jan-06 there have been 298,549,912 cases and 5,484,607 deaths worldwide (~ 1.8% lethality rate, very fortunately).

        It’s hard to draw conclusions about the severity of each virus just from that. Medical care improves drastically as doctors get more experience treating each new infection. Hospitalizations and mortality were much higher in the first wave in Boston than in subsequent waves, for example. Also people’s behavior changes (masking, social distancing), and the specific viral variant changes (classic vs Delta vs Omicron).

        But I like your theory that SARS1 exposure might have something to do with it! I wonder if we can bootstrap an assay really quick for SARS1 antibodies, and if they’re distinguishable from SARS2 abs?

        • Seb says:

          Keep in mind the theory was mostly a joke.

          Then again, the doctors in question did note that SARS1 was undergoing rapid mutation that seemed to be attenuating they virus right before it vanished, and that multiple ER doctors tend to believe (entirely anecdotally) that they see more “serious colds” in patients here in Toronto than they did in other cities.

          They actually called this “a dark horse but not that serious” idea. It’s fun to use it as a thought experiment though.

        • I’ve seen weirder stuff turn out to be true. (Like when, contrary to everybody, it was shown that many ulcers are caused by an infection of H Pylori.)

          And it might be experimentally testable, if we can test for SARS1 abs distinct from SARS2 abs and related presence of SARS1 abs to reduced severity of SARS2. (Maybe they’re enough alike that we can’t tell by looking at abs, which would be too bad.)

  9. bakkot says:

    “there exists a reasonable school policy” link is broken (here and on substack).

  10. greg kai says:

    “Liberty Convoy” getting to Europe, so we may have a second round here. Most capitals saw Ottawa and issued preventive interdictions….but it remains to see if they will be enforcable, I guess it depends how many vehicles come in the convoy….
    It’s scheduled for this Monday 14th in Brussels (closest to my home, and maybe the capital that will be the main target, because of it’s european status, and probably also because Belgium is a softer target that France or Germany).

    Things will probably be interesting, I will already see if anything seems unusual in Brussels the 13th, I need to go there anyway :-)

    • Greg kai says:

      They tried in Paris, quite strong crowd but were not enough to dig in. Apparenrly French police were in really high numbers, and reacted quite strongly… Not unusual for France, which for all it’s reputation of strike country is in fact police heavy…with macron authoritarian tendencies, it is worrying…

      i will check in Brussel this evening and we will see tomorrow, belgian authorities will try the french approach but our police is less numerous, less used to this and have less anti crowd material (but necessarily much nicer, especially in brussels : they already shown their dark side during the covid)
      Still good chance police win…
      I think no Canada here : either authorities are better prepared, or we are deeper in the dystopia.
      I guess a possible matin factor is that the trucker are not at all the same. Are they independent and owner of their truck in Canada? Here they are often employee and exploited ones at that (often coming from low salary European countries, Eastern Europe usually)

      • Greg kai says:

        Nothing to see in Brussels this evening, no trace of strange vehicle gatherings nor more police activity than usual.
        A few signs ask people not to come by car in the city this Monday, but it is lower key than typical nato or eu meetings…
        I guess not much will happen, less than in Paris probably…

  11. JohnD says:

    Another excellent post! One point, it’s John DiMaggio that voices Bender not Joe DiMaggio : )

  12. Moderna booster tailored to Omicron did not appear to be more effective than the original. Disappointing, but perhaps will spare us from requests for an additional unnecessary shot. It’s remarkable that we’re at the point where that’s where my mind went first. Another take on this is that it means the original shots are working fine.

    Somebody asked me about this, and I had another take:

    (1) This monkey study was not designed to test vaccine efficacy, let alone differential efficacy vs Omicron. Indeed, with only 4 treatment + 4 control animals, it is statistically impossible for it to have done so. (Math worked out in the linked post.) In any case, this was not a challenge study, since the animals were not deliberately (or for that matter even accidentally) exposed to Omicron or any other SARS-CoV2 variant.

    (2) When the study says the Omicron booster was as effective as existing vaccines, it means measurements of various aspects of T cells, memory B cells, and other meaures of immune stimulation were comparable, i.e., good enough. The 2 groups of macaques got either 2 Moderna + 1 Moderna Omicron booster, or 2 Moderna + 1 ordinary Moderna booster. Both groups showed no safety concerns and both showed strong immune stimulation. Remember that this level of immune stimulation was “gold medal” level that led to a fantastically efficacious vaccine against the original strain.

    (3) The study did not test whether one arm would have been differentially protected against Omicron compared to the other arm. It’s basically a [pharmacodynamics]( result (“did the drug get into the right compartment and mess with the systems it was supposed to”), not an [efficacy]( result (“how many got sick in each arm”). It just says that both arms were safe and looked pretty much the way we want a vaccine to look. So maybe going forward with human trials makes sense, to measure protection against infection or serious disease in an environment of Omicron exposures.

    Much of the reporting, particularly in the semi-popular press, has confused the animal study (show safety, dose-finding, and PK/PD) with a human trial (show safety, efficacy).

    I mean, sure, it would have been great if the booster arm showed even more stirring up of B cells. (Or maybe a much higher level would have led to an inflammation problem? I dunno.) But it showed good safety and enough immune stimulation. So the next question is whether there’s differential protection against Omicron compared to the existing vaccine when you let human subjects maybe get infected. That question, as far as I can tell from reading the paper, was not answered by this study and was not even asked.

  13. A1987dM says:

    > I fully endorse this simple heuristic from Alex Tabarrok. If you don’t want to keep a Covid restriction on the books permanently, lift it now.

    I dunno, I’d think that for certain things “when this map is no longer 100% solid brown” (assuming the situation in North America is not radically different from Europe) would make more sense than either “this very second” or “when hell freezes over”.

    • A1987dM says:

      (hadn’t noticed that Mayotte was already merely red rather than brown, but still)

    • TheZvi says:

      If you had reason to believe things would be much better in a few weeks and could credibly commit to lifting things then? Maybe. But I also wouldn’t believe those with power on this, at this point.

      Also, at least Italy and Spain will change colors within a few days.

  14. Re the Pfizer vaccine expansion for kids ages 6 mos – 4 yr:

    This morning the FDA put up the meeting materials web page for a VRBPAC meeting to be held on Monday to discuss the vaccine for little kiddles. (Weirdly, because the data for the 3rd shot in the 2 yr – 4yr olds is not in hand yet. To an excellent approximation, that “never happens.”) Normally I’d expect slide decks to start appearing there today, for the VRBPAC members to ruin their weekends. I was looking forward to chewing through them to see what’s going on.

    But the whisper network told me tonight that “Pfizer withdrew their application”. Well, the whisper network is never quite completely accurate: it turns out that Pfizer asked for a postponement. They said they have new data in hand, and everybody ought to have a think about it before any meetings. (First sensible thing about this whole affair, if you ask me.)

    Details and pointers into the FDA web site here.

    This is deeply weird.

  15. Yellowface Anon says:

    Very confused messaging on boosters, but the official line is a recurring boosters program, and that implies vaccine passports staying permanently even for optional use or international travel, which is part of the Red Tribe definition of Permanent Midnight. (Mileage may vary and things can be at Northern Europe level of normalcy in many places)

    I’ll make a comment on what I see as the pessimistic endgame for parts of the world next week.

    • Greg kai says:

      Yes it’s something that could happen : permanent vaccine pass only for international travel… But i have doubt, because it will affect only the rich and powerful, that will have to take the vaccine every y or more.
      Note that i am not joyfully hesitant to getting behind for travel, in fact i got most of those available and all recomended, i used to air travel to tropics quite a lot and never questioned the utility and safety of those shots.
      Covid has this other bad side-effect that i now have questions, but not too much, cause the mandatory vaccines are usually for more severe stuff, valid for 10+y, and stabilized (nether the vaccine nor the virus is changing).
      For exemple, i was never convinced by the flu vaccine because it is a kind of bet done every year (and i never had serious flu in my whole adult life anyway, when I have it it looks exactly like vaccine side effect), and covid booster seems very similar to those flu shots, on worse because it’s constantly injecting exactly the same stuff which feels like a possibly bad idea for triggering immune or allergic problems.
      Still, my prior on the medical authorities had changed for the worse. I did not expected them to make no mistake, but at least to use personal risk / benefit as sole indicator (and corruption being irrelevant for vaccines that should not be cashcows anyway – except possibly the flu, again).
      Covid vaccines are very different beasts and the official advices (or obligations !) changed my prior to much worse possibilities (political goals, non trivial corruption, herd medecine where the risk/benefit is not evaluated at the individual level and you get nocive treatments that help society).
      Not immediately, got my 2 shots before omicron because in my late 40, ignoring media but gathering direct sources, individual benefit seemed clear.
      But under the new situation, (recuring) boosters are not convincing for me…

      • Yellowface Anon says:

        There’s the case of England where the difference of having vaccine passports or not being some testing. No quarantine either way, which means everyone can make plans for vacationing in England (lolwut). A lot of countries can end up like this, asking the unvaccinated to quarantine, or even deny entry to the unvaccinated, but not at all sure if this will be done indefinitely. There is a tendency to do so but we’ll see in due time.

        The way the COVID vaccine rollout is done, they’re saying the rollout itself, all those billions who got vaxxed and not dying is proof of the vaccines’ safety. You know, like emergency or revolutionary measures instead of any other vaccine program. Get what you will out of this.

        Makes good sense to treat COVID vaccines like the seasonal flu one at this point, a recommended and totally voluntary effort, especially with all the divisiveness its rollout has created. Anything will cause the impression of Permanent Midnight and impressions are all that matters at this point. (I’m going to comply anyway, COVID and seasonal flu, even if they charge me, until the sectors they gatekeep for provaxx no longer have the real money)

  16. Catweazle says:

    Did the Challenge Trial get any decent data on asymptomatic infection/transmission? After all, the whole masks / social distancing paranoia for healthy people flows from these ideas.

  17. Aqua says:

    Hey Zvi, any thoughts on the paper linked in the video description and the comment section? I know the latter is likely subject to the heavy selection bias, and I’m still in favor of vaccines for almost all groups, but I’m concerned about the spike protein (both from the shots and the infection) causing various undetected/suppressed health complications and elevated long-term health risks…

    • TheZvi says:

      At this point I simply say this line: The risks of this type of thing from Covid vastly exceed the risks from the Covid vaccine, as do the Unknown Unknowns.

      Beyond that, honestly, I’m just tired, the numbers involved are always tiny, and videos are annoying. At this point I think looking further into Myocarditis falls under the ‘if someone pays my hourly’ department (and I don’t recommend doing that).

  18. Eric2 says:

    How long passes from being infected by omicron to 1) the beginning of symptoms 2) the start of significant transmissibility 3) the first positive test results – antigen or PCR? In what order do these events occur?

    • TheZvi says:

      My current understanding is ~2 days for symptoms (but can vary), transmissibility at 1 day but much more at 2-3 days, and PCR should start showing up positive something like day 3? But lot of variance. Rapid tests using nose are days behind PCR, throat swabs are similar to PCR.

      Again, we still have low confidence in all this.

  19. Yellowface Anon says:

    How concerned should we be from “Deltacron” assuming it really combines the lethality of Delta with the transmissibility of Omicron? That will actually justify Permanent Midnight.

    How likely will places that have Let Their People Go, no strings attached (e.g. England & Scandinavia) backtrack to some restrictions e.g. vaccine passports? That will be a the last straw on the of trust in public health authorities.

    • TheZvi says:

      That would depend on its characteristics. For now all we have is a sci-fi name for something that was detected weeks ago, and I’m not seeing signs of alarm or any details.

      If in theory there was a new variant that spreads like Omicron, reset immunity once again and was as deadly as Delta, that’s a tricky situation and I’d expect backtracking. But if it’s only Omicron-compatible (so it won’t get out of hand) I don’t expect backtracking on that alone.

      • Yellowface Anon says:

        I don’t expect immunity to be reset if it’s just recombining Delta & Omicron, if you are immune to either you might likely be immune to this variant. We need a wholly new mutant variant to evade existing immunity as much as Omicron, as Omicron itself shows.

        But it takes much less than 1) to backtrack and every new variant can be hyped up for Permanent Midnight, as far as pandemic logic is still being brandished about, or you can skip endemic logic entirely by aiming for elimination, like China & HK. Will see in the next 6 months.

  20. Rotten Bananas says:

    Large Convoy in Canberra, organizer estimates ~1.5M attendance. Looks like hundreds of thousands to me from the aerial view. (I get most of my updates on Convoys from the dedicated FB page HONK, which Zvi stays away along with the rest of FB)

    While we should eventually go back to the Old Normal and treating COVID like seasonal flu, and I broadly sympathize with their immediate goals as much and as soon as possible, it has been largely co-opted by Trumpist-adjaccents who are planning to overturn far more than burdensome COVID restrictions. I’ll write a long comment in their tendencies in this week’s post, if Zvi allows.
    (also changed my username to dissociate with my rightoid LARPing)

  21. Rotten Bananas says:
    “HK’s top priority is to rein in Covid: Xi Jinping”
    ‘Beijing officials and state media have been urging Hong Kong to stick with the “dynamic zero-Covid” strategy, warning that any shift towards “living with the virus” will result in disaster for the city […]
    “The so-called ‘living with the virus’ strategy has not been scientifically proven. Implementing it will bring enormous pressure on the medical system, not to mention resumption of quarantine-free travel with the mainland,” People’s Daily said in a commentary.’
    ‘[A vice-president of Beijing’s top think tank on Hong Kong said] “If the Covid situation gets out of hand and people’s dissatisfaction accumulates, leading to all sorts of anti-government behaviour… that would not be what the central government wants to see,” he told RTHK.
    “From President Xi’s point of view, various measures taken by the central government have righted the wrongs. The prosperity and stability Hong Kong enjoys now are hard-earned, and shouldn’t be ruined by the uncontrollable Covid situation.”’

    Again, what TheZvi said about the Winter Olympics fully apply.

    The frustration (like Anglo countries with Convoys) is on the side of COVID restrictions being too stringent, with increasingly unpalatable implications.

    Click to access PORI_PC_20220211_vhkr_ggpi_eng.pdf

  22. Pingback: Convoy Continued | Don't Worry About the Vase

  23. Seb says:

    Zvi, I have an update on my “reasonable school policy” from a few weeks ago. I have discovered that parents are being punished for sending kids to school when they are displaying multiple Covid symptoms.

    I mentioned before that “don’t send your kids to school while sick” was the only mandate. I have since discovered that it has teeth. My oldest boy was coughing in class and complained of a sore throat, headache, and difficulty breathing. He was sent home and banned from school premises for at least 24 hours. I was not forced to present a negative test in order to send him back, but was forced to keep him home for 1.5 school days, along with signing a form when he returned saying that he didn’t have symptoms.

    All in all, I am happy with this. “Don’t send your kids to school sick, and if you do we will send them home” still seems like a great policy.

  24. Rotten Bananas says:

    Even Germany and Austria, where vaccine mandates are still being implemented, are starting to Let Their People Go.

  25. Pingback: Coasting Downwards | Don't Worry About the Vase

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