How was the mask compliance at July 4 gatherings?

My Facebook feed has been dominated for about two months by friends who have faith in the perfectibility of human beings. Americans are on the cusp of wearing masks consistently and correctly, but need a slight push in the form of additional education regarding (a) the seriousness of coronavirus, (b) the deadliness of Covid-19 to people of all ages, (c) the discomfort of being intubated (see meme below), (d) the efficacy of masks in stopping coronaplague in its tracks.

Image may contain: text that says 'If you hate wearing a mask, you're really not going to like the ventilator.'

The same people previously asserted that nearly half of Americans were dumb as bricks, gulled by a demagogue into voting against their own interests.

Implicitly, therefore, the idea is that stupid people, provided with a few Facebook updates regarding the merits of masks, will make a science-informed decision to mask up, wash hands after every time that they touch their homemade mask (a.k.a. “face rag”), and change masks or clean masks frequently.

Can we test this assumption by observing the behavior of people who are already reasonably well-informed regarding the oxymoron of “medical science”? Late last month, for example, I attended a birthday party for an MD/PhD. It was pitched via email as a “small and socially distanced” backyard event. Most of the guests were also MD/PhDs, age 50-65. Everyone showed up wearing a mask and settled in 6’ apart. The menu: potato chips, cupcakes, s’mores, scotch, and cigars. After 30 minutes, the gathering had grown and people were more like 3’ apart, nearly all unmasked on an uncharacteristically windless evening.

Readers: What have you observed in backyard BBQs and similar July 4-style events?

(Also, Happy Treason Day to friends and readers in the U.K.!)

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More Americans will die from all of the coronaguns than from actual coronaplague?

“Gun sales are off the charts” (Fortune):

U.S. consumers are rushing to buy guns as the Covid-19 pandemic and protests over police brutality combine with U.S. presidential politics to fuel unprecedented demand.

Firearm background checks compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a proxy for gun purchases, jumped to a record in June as street demonstrations spread around the U.S. That extended a surge that began in March as the coronavirus prompted lockdowns across the country.

James Hillin, owner of Full Armor Firearms in Texas, said the store’s gun sales have increased 75% since January, and that 95% of those were by new gun owners.“They’re scared,” Hillin said before cutting a brief interview short to attend to waiting customers. “They want to protect themselves.”

I wonder if, in the long run, more American life-years will be lost as a result of this increase in gun ownership sparked by coronapanic lockdowns and the subsequent riots by those who’d been locked down. (This is not to say that I am against Americans exercising their Second Amendment freedoms, which might be one of the few Constitutional rights that is left!) Keep in mind that the typical person who dies from a gunshot would is much younger than the typical person (80+) who dies from/with Covid-19.

From Back Bay (Boston) the other day…

(What does it mean to “attend” high school in a country where no teachers are willing to work?)

Older posts on the side-effect deaths from coronapanic:

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Get rid of exercise in the name of public health (Sweden did okay, though)

What’s the best strategy for dealing with a virus that attacks the obese and out of shape? Stay home for three months right next to the fridge.

“In Fight Against COVID-19, Physical Activity Falls Off a Cliff — Drastic change in worldwide daily step counts since March” (MedPage Today):

In the first 10 days after the World Health Organization’s March 11 declaration that COVID-19 was officially a global pandemic, smartphone users worldwide showed a 5.5% decrease in mean daily steps (287 fewer steps).

In the first 30 days, mean daily steps dropped 27.3% (1,432 fewer steps), reported the group led by Geoffrey Tison, MD, MPH, of the University of California San Francisco. Their paper was published online in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

For example, people in Italy had a 48.7% maximal decrease in daily steps, whereas those in Sweden showed only a 6.9% maximal reduction in steps. The difference may have stemmed from government responses, as Italy issued a lockdown on March 9, whereas Sweden has yet to implement such a measure.

(I like the last part. There is still hope among the righteous for saving Swedish souls by converting them to the Church of Shutdown.)

“This is an interesting natural experiment that has health implications for global and regional populations, and especially those with underlying chronic health conditions who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19-related morbidity and mortality and who may depend on routine physical activity as a preventive measure,” according to Messiah.

i.e., it will be interesting for a “scientist” (named “Messiah”! As someone who evaluates coronaplague “science” from a comparative religion point of view, this is my dream fulfilled!) to watch fat people die.

From the Newport Jazz Festival, 2005 (canceled until a hardier breed of Americans can be produced?):

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Get rid of public restrooms in the name of public health?

One of the things that Western do-gooders scolded India for was its lack of public restrooms, a hazard to public health. What was the first thing that we did in response to coronaplague? Close our public restrooms!

At the Cape Cod National Seashore in May, for example, the beach was open but the restrooms were closed. From the web site:

DeCordova Art Museum and Sculpture Park: park open by reservation; restrooms closed.

Our town, soon to build the most expensive school building, per student, ever constructed in the United States:

(They have $110 million for a building for 440 town-resident students, but can’t figure out how to keep an outdoor pool’s restrooms clean/safe? Why are porta-potties better? Because only one person will go in at a time?)

Speaking of the pool… “Face coverings should NOT be worn in the water” and “Patrons should not bring water (or land) toys of any kind with them to the facility, as they increase the risk of contact transmission.” (but didn’t we decide that the “science was settled” and people were not getting coronaplague from surface contamination?)

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Why won’t the Europeans let in Americans who test negative for coronavirus?

“EU Sets New List Of Approved Travel Partners. The U.S. Isn’t On It” (NPR):

U.S. travelers won’t be among those allowed to visit the European Union when the bloc begins opening its external borders on July 1. EU ambassadors endorsed a list of 15 travel partners on Tuesday, including South Korea, Japan and, with a caveat, China. Those countries were hit early by the pandemic but have been able to bring the coronavirus under control.

The U.S. was seen as a long shot to make the travel list, which requires that only those countries with epidemiological situations — taking into account both the infection rate and current trends — that are equal to or better than the EU’s can send tourists and other nonessential visitors to the open-border region.

My dumb question for today: If tests work, why can’t airlines test Americans before allowing them to get on the plane to plague-free Europe? If tests don’t work, why do Americans want to pay for millions of tests every day?

Readers: After six months of coronaplague and the genius-level work of Kary Mullis at our disposal, why can’t we credibly promise the Europeans that we won’t send them the Covid-19-ridden?

(from last summer, children playing on a monster trampoline near Copenhagen, no grown-ups within 100 yards)

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Power of the Media to Shape Coronaplague Beliefs

On a recent WhatsApp video call, a friend in Ireland expressed concern over the disastrous wave of deaths washing over the United States. He’d scanned newspaper headlines and had processed that coronaplague infections were at an all-time high in the U.S. He inferred from this that Americans must be dying in larger numbers than back in April, for example.

I checked the front page of the New York Times while we were chatting. Sure enough, plague is worse than ever here:

Unlike my righteous neighbors in Maskachusetts, he does not pretend to care about all humanity. So he hadn’t clicked down and scrolled through five screens to get to the following chart:

I.e., if this chart were on the front page, we might think that the plague was on its way out! (and we would, I hope, attribute this to our faith in the Church of Shutdown and the Sacrament of Masks!)

[For reference, a similar curve for never-shut never-masked Sweden (from the prophets at IHME):

]

It was interesting to learn what kind of impression our media leaves in a reader’s mind when the reader is not carefully focused on drilling down into the details.

Separately, in today’s coronasteria, the front page of the New York Times screams “Global Coronavirus Death Toll Surpasses Half a Million”. Drilling down into the story, the reader will find no comparisons to what other causes of death might afflict the world’s 7.8 billion humans (none of whom are “illegal”!). He/she/ze/they will not learn that, for example, “Up to 650 000 people die of respiratory diseases linked to seasonal flu each year” (WHO).

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  • Politifact rates Donald Trump’s tweet “As of June 23, the COVID-19 death rate is ‘way down.'” “mostly true” (i.e., it is “partly false” to say that a downward trend is “down”)
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Looking at Covid-19 death rate is like the old saying “An economist is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”?

A couple of mathematically sophisticated friends were debating Sweden’s policy with respect to Covid-19. One argued from the assumption that the death rate in Sweden was higher than in some nearby European countries (also true for Massachusetts and nearby states such as Vermont (photo below), New Hampshire, and Maine, despite similar policies).

Me:

How do you know how many people died in these respective countries? What if the shutdown in Finland and Norway, for example, made people depressed, fatter, out of shape (gyms closed), etc. and they’ll be more likely to die in the next few years from these ailments? A huge number of people in the U.S. will die from the shutdown of regular health care. Because we are obsessively focused on a single number (Covid-19 death rate) as a measure of the success of a society, we will probably never bother to add these up. (see NEJM)

You aren’t asking how many lives are lost when children can’t go to school and don’t get the education to which they were formerly entitled. People with less education tend not to live as long. Swedish children continued their education. Children in most European countries had a couple of months denied to them. Children in the U.S. are shut out of school for 6 months minimum!

Looking at this one number for a society is a lot like the way the American medical system evaluates itself. A patient who is on a ventilator for three years and is in a coma is considered a success. “We saved him,” the doctors will say. They look at one number: the heartbeat. They don’t look at the bigger picture of human health.

Math Expert:

Show me the math.

Me:

There is no “math” because nobody knows what will happen for the next few years. The countries that locked down created the ideal population for a coronaplague! If you make everyone in a society 5-10 lbs. fatter and in worse cardiovascular health because of 3 months of forced inactivity, you set them up for a massive wave of death from whatever virus comes along next (maybe just Wave #2 of coronaplague). My cardiologist friends mostly stopped working for months. Unless you think that cardiology is not important, you should expect plenty of extra deaths from heart disease over the next few years.

My friend’s 8th graders didn’t leave their suburban house for 3 months. That is not a normal life for a child. They are the subjects of an experiment that has never previously been tried. Maybe they will survive pretty well because my friends are well educated, the house is big/comfortable, and there is no domestic violence within their household. If you were to head into Newark and go to a public housing complex to find some 8th graders locked into a 2BR apartment the story might be different.

(The majority of my med school professor and physician friends, incidentally, believe that the shutdown was a mistake in terms of “saving lives”. They think that far more Americans will be killed from the shutdown of health care, from shutdown-induced obesity, and from shutdown-induced social ills than could have been saved by a shutdown (even if a shutdown had cut the number of Covid deaths to 0))

You are entitled to your opinion that the Swedes did the wrong thing in giving priority to children being able to go school, adults being able to socialize, work, and go to the gym. But you can’t prove that you’re right with “math”, any more than my med school professor and physician friends can prove that they’re right about Sweden having done the right thing.

Math expert:

It seems likely to me that the shutdowns bought enough time to save hundreds of thousands of lives, and if you can show me a real economic argument that indicates that the toll from the economic damage was comparable to that, go right ahead.

Me:

Maybe the effective Chinese shutdowns prevented a lot of Covid-19 deaths, at least until Wave #2 hits. But I don’t see how you can say that the U.S. shutdowns prevented a significant number of Covid-19 deaths given that the death rate from Covid-19 is pretty close to never-shut Sweden’s (maybe about the same if you adjust for urbanization; Sweden overall is more urbanized than the U.S.). The U.S. has experienced a death rate so far that is about 30% lower than Sweden’s [update: now forecast to be the same]. Is that worth all of the lives destroyed by shutdown, all of the education lost by children, and all of the cities destroyed by riots? Those aren’t questions that can be answered by a mathematician (even if we want to count up life-years lost we don’t have the data on how many we killed via our shutdown, as noted above).

After this discussion burned itself out (like the virus in NYC?), I realized that what I was trying to say was neatly summarized by the old expression: “An economist is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” The Europeans who reopened their schools after a couple of months seem to understand this better than Americans do. A Covid-19 epidemiologist can tell you how many Covid-19 deaths your society has suffered and, perhaps, some things that you can do to reduce Covid-19 deaths going forward. But the Covid-19 epidemiologist can’t tell you whether Intervention A against Covid-19 is actually worth implementing because (a) the Covid-19 epidemiologist is ignoring deaths from all other causes, and (b) epidemiologists in general can’t tell us what human activities are worth accepting some risk of death. How many lives are we willing to sacrifice in order that our children can go to school? Obviously we are willing to sacrifice some, because all of the driving of children, teachers, and administrators to and from school causes some deaths. But the threshold number at which schools should be shut down is not something that any epidemiologist can give us.

Consider some 85-year-olds in a retirement home. Their life expectancy is 6 years (SSA). Suppose that they have a 3 percent risk of dying from Covid-19 if infected. Is it better for them to stay locked down for two years, until an effective vaccine is developed (we hope!), or resume their ordinary lives, which will carry a higher risk of coronavirus infection? The lockdown will take away more than half of the things that they enjoy in life, thus surely robbing them of 16-33 percent of their remaining life. Covid-19 could rob them of all of their remaining life (by killing them), but the probability of that even is fairly low. Can an expert decide for these 85-year-olds which option is actually better? No! The answer depends on whether the 85-year-old mostly enjoys Internet and TV, in which case maybe the lockdown is preferable, or mostly enjoys socializing with other humans, in which case running the risk of Covid-19 is preferable.

Readers: Is asking an epidemiologist whether to keep schools and playgrounds open like asking your accountant whether you should buy a dog? Yes, the expert can give you a bit of insight (“my other clients with dogs spend $4,000 per year on vet, food, and grooming”), but not a life-optimizing answer.

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Wicked Swedes and Righteous-but-imperfect Americans forecast to have same coronaplague death rate

The wicked Swedes who refused to lock themselves down, refused to pull their children from schools, refused to follow WHO advice (the latest advice, that is, not the June 4 advice) to wear masks, and refused to stop going to work will suffer 5,754 deaths from/with Covid-19 through October 1, 2020, according to the prophets at IHME:

The infidels who refused to accept the true Church of Shutdown will lose 0.056 percent of their 2019 population of 10.23 million.

The latest (June 24) IMHE prophecy for the U.S. is that 179,106 residents will die from/with Covid-19 through October 1, 2020:

Compared to the 2019 U.S. population of 328.2 million, that’s a rate of 0.055 percent.

In other words, the U.S. and Sweden will have almost exactly the same death rate from coronaplague.

Yet for Americans believers in the Religion of Shutdown, Sweden remains the touchstone example of disastrous “experiment” and folly. (It is not an “experiment” to lock people into their apartments for three months in hopes of stopping a viral plague, nor to shut down K-12 schools nationwide for the first time in U.S. history. These are examples of wisdom and being “conservative”.)

An example from yesterday, by a Harvard Law School professor, “Is Digital Contact Tracing Over Before It Began?” (Medium, June 25):

The first scenario is roughly the same as Sweden’s approach: re-open all but the most high-spreading services and events; ask people to exercise social distancing where they can; have people wear cloth masks to minimize the spread of the moisture in their breath to others; and try to make available testing so that people who wish to know if they’re infected can find out and then self-isolate if they test positive or show worrisome symptoms. We might call this the YOLO scenario.

This approach risks lots of preventable misery, and death, should hospital capacity be exceeded, or the disease affect far more people than it would if we were able to mitigate spread before a vaccine or treatment is available. (The architect of Sweden’s YOLO plan has expressed some regrets over it, though the numbers appear to be attenuating at the moment.)

The author simply neglects to mention that the death rates in the U.S. and Sweden are on track to be within 3 percent of each other. For the American readers, this isn’t necessary because, to the extent that Americans die it will be because we are imperfect creatures. We try to follow the God of Shutdown, but sometimes we slip and need to ask forgiveness of Him/Her/Zir/Them.

(The article also shows the American faith that the God of Shutdown will protect the righteous and punish the wicked among us:

With the President resuming his campaign rallies, the line between partial re-opening and full re-opening may become quite blurred.

I.e., a Trump rally will spread coronaplague among the stupid/racist/sexist Deplorables, but the virtuous BLM protesters who gather in similar numbers will be protected by their faith.)

From across the river, a former Harvard Med School/School of Public Health professor writes “A Warning From Sweden’s Coronavirus Response” (Forbes, June 4):

Sweden now has among the highest per capita death rates from Covid-19 in the world. Why?

The answer is simple. Sweden was lax in its implementation of protective measures in the face of the outbreak, refusing to implement broad stay at home orders for residents, or to enforce recommendations to wear masks or social distancing measures.

Sweden’s story is a lesson for all of us around what happens when we pull back on social distancing and prudent epidemic control measures.

… one can’t help but wonder if perhaps the plan is to pin all hopes on a vaccine rather than use the public health tools we know can work to control the pandemic. If that is the case, we should be aware that our hope in a vaccine is far brighter than preliminary public data suggests it should be. The current generation of vaccines are likely to offer only partial protection, and likely only to some of us not all. With the new vaccines will come new risks, and unknown safety profiles.

The guy who looked at numbers for two decades at the School of Public Health can’t be bothered to compare the forecast death rates from Covid-19 for Sweden and the U.S., plus add to the U.S. numbers all of the deaths going forward from weight gain during lockdown, lack of exercise during lockdown, alcoholism and drug addiction acquired during lockdown, lack of education during lockdown, rioting as we emerged from lockdown, etc.

(He also sounds like an anti-vaxxer! “New risks” and “unknown safety profiles” from the rushed-to-market vaccines?!? So… if we aren’t going to have an effective or safe vaccine, doesn’t that make the Swedes ever smarter? Are we capable of staying shut down for 10 years?)

I still think that, 10 or 20 years from now when the U.S. has finally figured out how to deal with coronavirus (maybe just a psychological adjustment, as we’ve had to make for influenza, the common cold, and most other viruses), the most interesting writings on this period will be from scholars of comparative religion.

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Norwegian TV series for the Age of Corona: Occupied

A (tenured professor) friend recommended Occupied, a 2015 Norwegian TV show on Netflix that is surprisingly timely. In the first episode, the prime minister has to decide whether it is better to die on one’s feet or live on one’s knees. Citing the priceless nature of even a single human life, he decides that Norwegians must accept subjugation by the EU and Russia.

(The initial plot premise doesn’t make obvious sense. Norway shuts down its oil and gas production in a noble effort to save Spaceship Earth from climate destruction. The EU wants Norwegian oil and gas and brings in the Russians to force Norway to turn it all back on. But since the Russians compete with Norway in oil and gas production, why would the Russians want to pressure Norway? Wouldn’t the Russians be better off just selling EU its own production at a higher price? This is never explained, but if you can suspend your disbelief on this one point, the rest of the series makes sense.)

As the episodes unfold, Norwegians gradually surrender what had been their rights. Just like Americans facing the threat of coronaplague, about half of the people simply assert that their rights have not been eliminated, just slightly adjusted (e.g., children who get a weekly email from a teacher and two hours/week of Google Classroom hangout are still receiving their right to an education) while a clandestine resistance emerges of people who want their former constitutional rights as they were previously understood.

I’ll be interested to hear what readers think about whether this movie captures the mindset of government leaders around the world today when it comes to dealing with the threat of coronaplague!

(My Dutch friend: “All of the rights that Americans fought and died in multiple wars to defend, they gave up in one governor’s press conference.” The screenwriters thought it would take a war for people in a Democracy to lose their rights, but a respiratory virus turned out to be sufficient to erase liberty!)

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