Covid-19 Diary : Thursday 11 February, 2021

 

Some good news, first.  US daily new virus cases have declined 22% in the last week, continuing a steady and steep reduction now for an entire month since 11 January.

This is remarkably good news, and new case numbers are now at the same point they were back on 6 November.  Cases have been dropping at twice the rate they had been rising.  There continues to be no explanation for this; even more surprisingly, there’s been little commentary or apparent interest in trying to understand what magically started happening in early January to turn the tide.  While the “obvious” explanation is vaccination, there is no reason at all to suspect this to be so.  Vaccination might reduce death rates, but not so much reduces the new case rates.

Talking about obvious but wrong explanations, and exactly as we expected and predicted, the WHO mission is now busy whitewashing the origins of the coronavirus outbreak.  They say the concept of a lab leak is extremely unlikely – so unlikely they’re not even going to bother investigating it!

So where did the virus come from?  At least they’re not going to insult us with ridiculous stories of blood dripping from a dead bat onto something else at a Wuhan market just around the corner from where research was being done into making bat viruses more deadly and capable of infecting humans (which is, of course, purely a coincidence, we are now told).  Instead, they double down with an even more ridiculous theory – the virus didn’t originate in China at all.  It came into the country on some imported meat – an explanation much loved by the Chinese government, because it casts them in the role of entirely innocent victim.

The proof to support this unusual claim?  Details of what meat and from which country?  None, whatsoever.

Most of the rest of us prefer the detailed, fastidious, even-handed analysis and reasoning in this excellent, thorough, and lengthy article in New York Magazine.  Their conclusion?  99% for sure, it came from one of the several bio-labs in Wuhan.

I promised in a tweet earlier in the week I’d explain what herd immunity is and is not.  I’m seeing some people misunderstanding this concept, for example, this article.

What herd immunity means is that if a new case of the virus appears, it will not spread uncontrollably.  Instead of ten person infecting twenty who infect forty and so on, after herd immunity has been achieved, ten people might infect five, and they infect 2 1/2 more, dwindling down to zero after a very few more “generations” of infection transfer.  Herd immunity is primarily caused when so many people have become immune that the virus finds it too hard to find enough new victims, during its window of infectiousness in each infected person, to keep spreading.

The key point about herd immunity is that it doesn’t give any of us immunity.  It is a poor choice of term.  It simply means that new virus outbreaks tend to shrink and die out naturally, rather than grow and keep growing.  But if you are infected by the virus, and you haven’t been vaccinated or in some other way acquired immunity, you are absolutely just as much at risk of severe illness and death as you are today, no matter what the broader herd immunity status of the country is.

There’s another aspect to consider with herd immunity.  Typically, it occurs either when enough people have had the disease and acquired immunity that way, or when enough people have been vaccinated and acquired immunity that way, or through a combination of both scenarios.

But.  And it is a big but.  It is becoming abundantly apparent that having been infected once does not give us long lasting immunity and protection against being infected a second time.  There are two reasons for this.  First, because it seems the naturally created antibodies in our bodies die off – the body “forgets” the virus, more quickly than we’d hoped.  Second, because new strains of the virus are not as vulnerable to existing antibody protection we might have built up from a first infection.

And, more “but”.  There’s another issue, too.  Most of the vaccines don’t seem to do much to prevent us still becoming infected by the virus, nor do they do much to stop us passing the virus on to other people.  That is why countries like New Zealand say they’ll not allow people into their country, even if the visitors have been vaccinated.  They still could be bringing the virus with them.  The main benefit is the vaccine prevents us from becoming seriously unwell or dying.

We also point out that new virus strains are sometimes less affected by current vaccines, as well.  Even vaccination may not be long lasting.

For herd immunity to become effective, we need more than 65% of the population to have acquired some sort of immunity.  Some sources say more than 80% of people need to have acquired immunity somehow.  But if immunity after being infected is short-lasting (think 3 – 6 months), and if “immunity” from vaccination doesn’t stop you becoming infected or passing it on at all, and if perhaps 30% of the population will never be vaccinated, how are we going to get to that happy point where the virus does not spread, but instead shrinks?

To be blunt, it just isn’t going to happen, not unless our vaccines are improved to the point of preventing infections and people becoming infectious, and lasting for longer periods between booster shots.

One more point about the limitations of vaccines.  The CDC released an utterly and completely insane statement on Wednesday which raises two huge questions.  The CDC said that if you’ve been vaccinated, and if you’re exposed to the virus, as long as you are asymptomatic, had both vaccine shots, and were vaccinated within the last three months, you don’t need to quarantine.

Astonishingly, it seems the biggest justification in their reasoning is to save people inconvenience.

Question 1 :  What testing has been done to show that asymptomatic infected vaccinated people are not infectious?

Question 2 :  Why is this limited to three months?  Do the vaccines only work for three months?

The CDC has been busy talking itself into corners this week.  It has also now formally stated that two masks are better than one.  They may well be right about this, even though their study was extremely superficial and limited, but that’s not the point.  This time, three questions.

Question 1 :  Why, less than a year ago, was the CDC and Saint Fauci saying we didn’t need any mask at all, if now they are recommending two masks?

Question 2 :  If two masks are better than one, why has it taken so long for this very simple easy and inexpensive study to be conducted?  Why hasn’t it been tested more rigorously?  How many lives were lost during the previous periods of (quoting the CDC director) “Seriously please, stop buying masks” and then, more recently, “any old mask will do”?

Question 3 :  If there’s no need to isolate, even after exposure, why is President Biden still wearing a mask and urging everyone else to do so too?  Is he at risk of being infected or not?  Are other people around him at risk of being infected by him or not?

So far this week, I’ve pointed to highly contentious statements from some of the world’s supreme arbiters of medical truth – WHO and CDC.  In all cases, there were and are credible and cogent reasons for laughing at these statements and preferring other approaches and opinions.

That may or may not be the fault of the two organizations – our knowledge of the virus is still imperfect and incomplete, and understandings and best-practices continue to evolve.  Today’s “false statement” may well become tomorrow’s truth.

So, recognizing that, is it really appropriate for people who know little or nothing about the topic, but have a delete key under their fingertips, to censor dissenting opinions?  To delete YouTube videos, Facebook posts and groups, Instagram articles and Twitter tweets?  We’ve tolerated misunderstandings from anti-vaxxers for decades, but now it seems anyone who deviates from “conventional wisdom” is at risk of complete censorship and being “de-platformed”.

The latest example of someone being banned from social media is Robert F Kennedy Jr.  He may be wrong in what he says, but if he publicly says wrong things, he can be publicly rebutted and corrected.  If he is forced to go “underground” and share erroneous concepts with people, without any exposure or potential rebuttal, isn’t that actually more harmful than allowing him to use social media in the open?  Lies, misunderstandings and conspiracy theories flourish in the dark, and being censored adds to their credibility.

Should we have blanket banned mask advocates when the CDC said there was no need for a mask?  People who, months ago, advocated two masks when the CDC said one was enough?  How about the scientific studies proving aerosol spread was probably the greatest risk in terms of getting infected?  Should they have been banned while the CDC and WHO said there was no risk of aerosolized infection?

As you’ll see below, a trial new drug that was advocated some months ago earned its supporters public ire and ridicule; now a University of Oxford study shows it to be surprisingly effective, exactly as had earlier been claimed and laughed away.  How about the ivermectin advocates, without whom, the authorities would still be ignoring the drug, but as a result of their public advocacy, we’re now seeing the authorities slowly waking up and hinting that maybe it might be a good thing after all?

Should it be made illegal and forbidden to suggest the Wuhan/Chinese virus actually originated in Wuhan, now that a WHO group has told us otherwise?

We need full open debate on these topics, because there is an ample abundance of examples where the official narrative has been totally wrong and subsequently completely reversed.  Without public pressure and advocacy, we’d be way behind where we now are in our responses and understanding of the virus.

Current Numbers

Hawaii and Vermont swapped places in the death list, no other US changes.

Israel and Panama swapped places in the minor country list.  Sweden and the Netherlands swapped places in the major country list, as did also Italy and Argentina.

On the death list, Peru and Mexico swapped places, and it seems likely that Portugal will soon displace the US and move it down a place.

US Best and Worst States

RankCases/MillionDeaths/Million
A week agoNowA week agoNow
1 BestHI (18,495)HI (18,840)VT (290)HI (299)
2VT (20,037)VT (21,233)HI (294)VT (301)
3MEMEAKAK
4ORORMEME
5WA (42,205)WA (43,211)OR (474)OR (487)
47TN (107,827)TN (110,121)MS (2,077)MS (2,147)
48UT (109,569)UT (111,848)RI (2,085)RI (2,147)
49RI (110,719)RIMA (2,145)MA (2,215)
50SD (123,000)SD (124,182)NY (2,284)NY (2,346)
51 WorstND (128,643)ND (129,062)NJ (2,454)NJ (2,514)

 

Top Case Rates Minor Countries (cases per million)

RankOne Week AgoToday
1Andorra (131,072)Andorra (134,353)
2Gibraltar (123,586)Gibraltar (124,774)
3MontenegroMontenegro
4San MarinoSan Marino
5SloveniaSlovenia
6LuxembourgLuxembourg
7PanamaIsrael (77,717)
8Israel (73,456)Panama (75,768)
9Lithuania (68,515)Lithuania (70,056)
10Aruba (66,650)Aruba (68,550)

 

Top Case Rates Major Countries (cases per million)

RankOne Week AgoToday
1Czech Republic (94,521)Czech Republic (99,331)
2USA (82,110)USA (84,294)
3Portugal (73,570)Portugal (76,473)
4Spain (62,938)Spain (65,036)
5Belgium (61,653)Belgium (62,901)
6NetherlandsSweden (59,634)
7Sweden (57,678)Netherlands
8UK (57,159)UK (58,712)
9FranceFrance
10BrazilBrazil
11Argentina (43,167)Italy (44,422)
12Italy (42,998)Argentina (44,187)

 

Top Death Rate Major Countries (deaths per million)

RankOne Week AgoToday
1Belgium (1,826)Belgium (1,851)
2UK (1,619)UK (1,696)
3Czech Rep (1,569)Czech Rep (1,658)
4Italy (1,494)Italy (1,535)
5USA (1,406)USA (1,466)
6Portugal (1,325)Portugal (1,462)
7Spain (1,300)Spain (1,373)
8Peru (1,256)Mexico (1,308)
9Mexico (1,243)Peru (1,294)
10France (1,193)France (1,236)

I Am Not a Doctor, But….

We’re seeing a steady and without doubt orchestrated series of articles indicating the government may be on the verge of requiring Covid-negative tests prior to allowing people to fly on domestic flights.  See, for example, this article and this article.

We’re not sure if the concept is to make air travel safer or to stop the spread of the virus.  The concept of requiring a negative Covid test prior to travel is a very weak and imperfect way of achieving either, because a negative Covid test, probably taken up to three days prior to travel, is about as useful and relevant as a busy prostitute’s negative test three days before she enthusiastically greets you.

We’d also like to understand why it is necessary to have a test prior to flying somewhere, but not prior to driving somewhere.  Does the virus magically get left behind when we get into a car, but stay with us on a plane?

You’re familiar with the expression “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link”.  What is the point of selectively trying to tighten up on some things while leaving others untouched and uncontrolled?  You might say that something, anything, is better than nothing.  Maybe that is true.  But surely, coordinated consistent measures are best of all, and aren’t entirely beyond our capabilities?  Shouldn’t our objective be to do it better, rather than just to do it less badly?  Let’s strengthen all the links in the chain, not just one or two.

We see Boeing acting as a loyal proxy for the airlines in their efforts to speak against this measure.  Certainly this measure seems certain to harm the airlines and reduce their passenger numbers – perhaps that would be acceptable if it was guaranteed to achieve a positive outcome, but currently, it is a poorly designed policy created by people eager to be seen to be doing something but less concerned with the actual achievements than the perception of doing things.

Meanwhile, one airline – Cathay Pacific – is actually liberalizing its mask policy.  Astonishingly, we find ourselves almost cautiously agreeing with them.  Business and first class passengers, in their cubicles while lying down on the flat beds, are now allowed to remove their masks.  There’s good airflow and moderate distancing and also barriers blocking direct transmission.  Good on Cathay for “thinking outside the box”.

We were stunned to read this article and learn that half of all people hospitalized for Covid are given an expensive course of remdesivir treatment.  Gilead sells it for $3120 for a course, goodness only knows what hospitals sell it for, plus all the associated requirements for IV infusions.

Keep in mind that remdesivir has failed to show any statistically significant impact on Covid sufferers at all.  Even WHO is now recommending against its use.

But ivermectin, at $3 or less for a course of treatment, and which can be bought in pills from a pharmacist, and which shows up to 90% effectiveness (here’s the latest write-up), is still not being used.  It would save more lives, and keep people out of the hospital in the first place, while costing a thousand times less.

And here’s another positive ivermectin trial, although in this case we’re a bit more cautious of its treatment methodology.

Memo to the FDA and all the other many-letter agencies :  Just because something is new and expensive does not mean it is any better than something old and inexpensive.

Some time ago a doctor in Texas was ridiculed for suggesting an inexpensive asthma inhaler could help prevent the virus.  Certainly, the doctor in question was easy to make fun of.

But don’t you ever wonder why people rush to denigrate possible Covid treatments, rather than eagerly embrace them and analyze them further?  Fortunately, the University of Oxford in England took the time to look more carefully at this concept, using budesonide, and after a rigorous evaluation, have concluded that it provides excitingly positive outcomes for Covid sufferers.

One final comment in this section.  Have you put off visiting the dentist during these viral times?  Perhaps that’s not so clever an idea….

Vaccine News

Spain is joining a significant number of other countries in limiting the deployment of the AstraZeneca vaccine.  In Spain’s case, it is only allowing people under 55 to be vaccinated with it.

In more evidence of the disappointing nature of the vaccine, the AstraZeneca developers are saying it could take more than six months to adapt their vaccine to the new strains.  The real problem with that can be seen when you look at this article where the Johnson & Johnson CEO says there may need to be annual vaccine shots for the next several years, and other people have been suggesting possibly as frequently as every 3 – 6 months.  Meanwhile, South Africa is left in the lurch, with the AstraZeneca vaccine no longer sufficiently effective against the local South African variant, and no alternative vaccine supplies arranged.

I’m so pleased the AstraZeneca vaccine hasn’t (yet!) been approved in the US.

Timings And Numbers

Joe Biden repeated his assertion on Thursday that the Trump administration left an appalling mess behind when they vacated their offices, with no plan in place for vaccinating people.  He said it will take a while for his administration to fix things.

This chart above, reporting vaccination numbers, shows what a vaccine program, in much worse shape than imagined, and not yet fixed, looks like.

Closings and Openings

Surprisingly, while virus new case numbers are dropping, there are more closures than openings to announce.  Perhaps countries are getting encouraged and motivated to now beat the virus, rather than continuing to fatalistically accept it.

Spring travel is being cancelled everywhere around the world.

The UK is warning that it could be trapped in a series of lockdown cycles for several years to come.  That seems very pessimistic.

Whether it is several years of problems, or just some more months, clearly, as this extra article shows, it would be unwise, not only for British residents to plan leisure travel this year, but also for international visitors to think about visiting Britain.

Logic?  What Logic?

This article tells a familiar tale, repeated many thousands of times across the country (and in many similar articles too).  But it is still worth sharing with skeptics.

Finally this week, the ultimate irony of censorship is that while sensible serious people are unable to advance rational debate over unproven aspects of the virus, some people can promote way-more-“out there” concepts without any fear of censorship at all.

Like, for example, this foreign gentleman and his belief that the vaccine turns people gay.

Please stay happy and healthy; all going well, I’ll be back again on Sunday.

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