Covid-19 Diary : Thursday 25 February, 2021

 

The mystery of the plunging rate of new Covid cases has taken an almost amusing new twist.  Until now, there have been two parts to the mystery.  The first part is “Why are case rates falling so sharply?”.  The second part has been “Why are the ‘experts’ coming up with such laughably erroneous explanations for the falling case rates?”

The thing about the “official” explanations (better mask wearing, more social distancing, herd immunity, vaccines starting to help) is that they all require continued drops in numbers to be correct, or else a discernable change to the issue that is causing the dropping numbers.  Herd immunity and vaccination numbers in particular would require a continued steady drop in numbers, all the way down to almost zero.

This week has now seen four days in a row (Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu) with rising new case numbers being reported in the US.  One or two days might just be a random “blip” in case counting, with some cases counted in the wrong day, but four days in a row is starting to become a significant switch from falling to rising again.

The rise is gentle, but it is still a sudden and drastic change from the steep fall that preceded it.

I find the rise less surprising than the fall for the five weeks previously, and wait with cynical amusement to see how the people who rushed out such ridiculous and now disproven “explanations” for the drop in numbers will now explain away their error and develop new theories for the new rise in numbers again.

And, as always, a question should be asked :  Which person who so egregiously showcased their lack of understanding of this matter will now be laughed at, ridiculed, and lose their job?

There’s a possibly related mystery.  Seasonal influenza cases are at unheard-of low levels this year.  Why?

You might think the answer is obvious – the same social distancing and mask wearing that we’re adopting for Covid will also reduce the spread of less-infectious other respiratory viruses such as ‘flu.

But that would be too obvious an explanation for “experts” who are trying to find some “cleverer” explanation.  They’ve come up with the concept that the coronavirus has “pushed aside” the ‘flu virus, although they’ve conceded they don’t understand how this could happen.

Why advocate an explanation that you can’t explain when there’s an obvious explanation that can be explained, staring you in the face?  The ‘flu has generally been thought to have an R0 rate of about 1.3, compared to about 2.5 for Covid.  So anything that reduces Covid even slightly is likely to also stop the ‘flu spread almost entirely.  This seems simple and obvious.

Our entire virus experience over the last year has been marked by unchanging levels of incompetence by people who are paid generously to be competent, and who still have their jobs a year later.  The latest examples include :

Struggling to come up with the second vaccinations for people – how can this be a surprise?  When a person is vaccinated for the first time, everyone knows when their promised second vaccination is due.  How can we end up struggling to give people the second doses they’ve been promised?

Not being allowed to tell people – or their doctors – if they have a new virus strain – no-one is allowed to tell anyone if they have been infected with a new variant of the virus or the “original” version, due to a confusion of federal rules about what data can be shared, and with whom, and also because the tests that are being used to determine what strain people are infected with haven’t been approved by the FDA.  (If the tests haven’t been approved, why are we using them?)

Yet another failed website – why is it that public officials seem incapable of arranging for functional websites to be developed and released on-time and on-budget?  This time, it is the Massachusetts Public Health Department website for scheduling vaccine shots, which is telling people they’ll have to wait up to 65,640 minutes before the website can process their request.  That’s a month and a half of waiting before the website might then advise when a vaccination shot can be scheduled.  A bunch of volunteer retirees with a large wall planner and old-fashioned phones for contact could do a better job, and probably for free.

The FDA continues to unfairly hate ivermectin.  Why?  It is now citing one suspect study as a reason not to enthusiastically endorse ivermectin.

Here’s the hypocrisy in this.  IVM-haters (and HCQ-haters too – usually the same people) demand the only studies that can be considered are random clinical trials, with double-blind subjects, and written up in a prestigious peer-reviewed publication.  If that’s the way they want to roll, no worries – there are plenty of those to choose from (something they conveniently overlook).

But now the FDA, in spreading some IVM-hate, is citing a non-peer reviewed retrospective study that was not a random clinical trial, about which little is known, which had differing end-points while it was being run, which has different demographics between control subjects and test subjects (test subjects tended to be older and male – more likely to suffer severe Covid cases), and which obscures or doesn’t even consider details of how people were chosen as test or control subjects or what doses they received.

It is an appalling example of a study and unconvincing in its conclusions.  The FDA would have laughed it away if the conclusions were positive, but because the conclusions are mildly negative, it is eagerly endorsing it.

Why did the FDA choose this one badly conducted study, while overlooking the 28 positive peer reviewed studies and 34 other non-peer reviewed positive studies?

How can we trust the FDA – about anything – when it is so obviously being unfair and wrongly biased in its approach to evaluating ivermectin now, and hydroxychloroquine previously?  What is the hidden item on the FDA agenda that is causing this inexplicable attitude?

Lastly in the opening remarks, we have a strange duality of willingness to accept risk.  During the last week, a 777 suffered an engine failure shortly after takeoff.  It landed safely with neither loss of life nor injuries, half an hour later, but as a result, all similar planes with similar engines have been grounded for inspections, “just in case”.  During that same week, 15,000 or more people have died from the virus in the US alone – the same number of people as in perhaps 100 planes.

Why are we calmly accepting 15,000 actual deaths a week, and over half a million during the course of the last not-quite 12 months, but panicking after an engine failure on an airplane with zero casualties?

While pondering that question, here’s a good article that tries to put the concept of half a million deaths into perspective.

Current Numbers

In the US, Iowa has surged ahead of Tennessee in the case rates, and Rhode Island has pulled ahead of Massachusetts in the death table.

Aruba and Lithuania swapped places in the minor country case list, and in the death list, the Czech Rep displaced the UK and is now in second place, and shows the potential to move all the way to first place within the next week.

US Best and Worst States

Rank Cases/Million Deaths/Million
A week ago Now A week ago Now
1 Best HI (19,070) HI (19,322) HI (302) HI (307)
2 VT (22,675) VT (23,782) VT (309) VT (325)
3 ME ME AK AK
4 OR OR ME ME (521)
5 WA (44,027) WA (44,775) OR (510) OR (523)
47 TN (111,478) IA (114,720) MS (2,194) MS (2,222)
48 UT (113,663) UT (115,233) RI (2,234) MA (2,318)
49 RI RI MA (2,276) RI (2,356)
50 SD (125,326) SD (126,562) NY (2,399) NY (2,442)
51 Worst ND (129,955) ND (130,726) NJ (2,558) NJ (2,606)

 

Top Case Rates Minor Countries (cases per million)

Rank One Week Ago Today
1 Andorra (137,179) Andorra (139,619)
2 Gibraltar (125,486) Gibraltar (125,727)
3 Montenegro Montenegro
4 San Marino San Marino
5 Slovenia Slovenia
6 Luxembourg Luxembourg
7 Israel Israel
8 Panama Panama
9 Lithuania (71,237) Aruba (72,892)
10 Aruba (70,553) Lithuania (72,685)

 

Top Case Rates Major Countries (cases per million)

Rank One Week Ago Today
1 Czech Republic (104,765) Czech Republic (111,748)
2 USA (85,853) USA (87,435)
3 Portugal (77,898) Portugal (78,779)
4 Spain Spain
5 Belgium Belgium
6 Sweden Sweden
7 Netherlands Netherlands
8 UK (59,948) UK (60,989)
9 France France
10 Brazil Brazil
11 Italy (45,781) Italy (47,488)
12 Argentina (45,025) Argentina (46,048)

 

Top Death Rate Major Countries (deaths per million)

Rank One Week Ago Today
1 Belgium (1,875) Belgium (1,892)
2 UK (1,753) Czech Rep (1,850)
3 Czech Rep (1,748) UK (1,792)
4 Italy (1,571) Italy (1,605)
5 Portugal (1,548) Portugal (1,590)
6 USA (1,521) USA (1,567)
7 Spain (1,426) Spain (1,471)
8 Mexico (1,364) Mexico (1,408)
9 Peru (1,338) Peru (1,380)
10 France (1,276) France (1,309)

I Am Not a Doctor, But….

One of the other “major mysteries” of the pandemic is the uneven way in which some countries are affected very badly while others get away with very light case rates.  Here’s yet another article that poses the question of why is this happening, but fails to come up with any explanation.  By all means read the lengthy article, but the short answer is “we don’t know why”.

I’ve written several times recently about the pivotal role that fast affordable testing can play in controlling the virus outbreak.  So it is nice to see new types of testing still being developed.  This idea – a breath detector – is novel, but seems like it will be too slow to generate a result, because it will still need samples to be shipped to a central laboratory for processing.  That probably also will make it more costly than some of the other new types of rapid tests already developed.

Here’s another type of testing being developed, but the article tells us too little.  How much will it cost, and will it too need a central lab to process the samples?

The flipside of the testing concept is the related tracing concept – once you’ve found an infected person, it is important to urgently approach everyone they have recently been in contact with, both to find out who they caught the virus from, and also to warn people they too might now be infected.  This tracing is essential to break the chain of transferring the virus from person to person to person.

At last, the airlines are “voluntarily agreeing” to a contact-tracing program that they’ve been objecting to and stonewalling for a year.  This will be helpful.

My guess is they really didn’t want to do anything that might acknowledge or concede or record the reality of people catching the virus on a flight.  Would they prefer people “silently” catch the virus on a flight and pass it on, instead of helping identify such people and stop the spread?

Perhaps the airlines are now, a year later, starting to realize that their passenger numbers won’t return to normal until and if/unless the virus numbers drop drastically further.  It is in the airlines’ best interest to be very supportive of this and all related measures.

Another way of tracking the virus spread, not so much person by person, but identifying at-risk communities, is, ahem, via sewage analysis.  Not a very glamorous job, but someone’s got to do it, because the data it reveals can be very helpful.

Here’s another promising new treatment.  And good news for people who wear glasses – they are three times less likely to catch the virus – a finding apparently due to the glasses reducing the number of times people touch their eyes.  It is interesting because of the apparent importance of being able to get infected through our eyes.

Here’s an article that starts off reporting that Pfizer is wondering if people should receive three rather than two doses of their vaccine, and then moves on to the need for annual boosters, which the article quotes experts as comparing to annual ‘flu shots.

I’m not arguing against more Covid shots or whatever the frequency of such shots should be, but there is no comparison whatsoever between annual shots for a clearly seasonal influenza outbreak that has a different virus each year, and the Covid pandemic that currently does not seem to be showing clear seasonal patterns, and which is having mutations occurring on a non-annual basis, too.

If there’s a dangerous new mutation that appears, we need new vaccination protection urgently quickly, not on an annual schedule.  On the other hand, if there are no new mutations appearing, will we need annual booster shots?  Why not every two years or three years or five or ten years?

We’ve heard a lot about the bad new virus strains from Britain, South Africa, and elsewhere.  Now it seems, we have a bad new strain all of our very own – the “Californian strain“.  It is more infectious, is little affected by vaccines or prior infections, and more lethal.

Another example of relying on China for any type of “mission critical” product/supply – there’s a shortage of monkeys as test subjects for new vaccines.  Believe it or not, we even source lab monkeys from China these days.

We’ve warned, before, that even “mild” and “moderate” Covid cases are nasty. This article points to how as many as 50% of people with initially mild/moderate symptoms are still feeling unwell six months later.  All the more reason to be careful and to avoid coming down with the virus in the first place.

Vaccine News

The US is about to approve a third vaccine, this one being a single-shot dose from Johnson & Johnson.  It doesn’t seem to offer quite as high a protection level, but it is getting very confusing these days, with all the different virus variants out there, and differing stories about how effective each vaccine is against each virus variant.

There is an interesting story about the J&J vaccine that shows how little information is being shared or disclosed with these vaccine trials.  The J&J trial was briefly paused in October after a participant reported “a serious medical event”.  The trial resumed 11 days later after the company said there were “many possible factors” and “no clear cause” had been identified.  It was also unclear whether the recipient had received a placebo or the actual vaccine.  “Based on the information gathered to date and the input of independent experts, the Company has found no evidence that the vaccine candidate caused the event,” Johnson & Johnson reported in a statement.

Finding no evidence that the vaccine caused the problem isn’t the same as finding evidence the vaccine did not cause the problem.

Do you think the same ultra-low standard of care applies to airplane safety design?

Timings And Numbers

It is interesting to see how few countries manage to sustain a steady pace, let alone steady growth, in daily vaccinations.  This continues to be an area in which we are doing extremely well compared to many other countries.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has outlined a multistep plan from now through June and beyond for allowing Britain to relax its controls and reopen.  It is probably good to have a plan, but can anyone have any confidence at all that the virus will cooperate and allow the plan to proceed as currently planned?  Every other plan has failed to result in reality as projected.

As a contrast, while Britain is planning on being back to normal for the summer, we are being told in the US to expect a need to keep wearing masks through into 2022.

We wonder which vision of the future is more correct.

Closings and Openings

It seems that “vaccine passports” are an almost unstoppable future development.  Maybe they are even a good idea.

It will be interesting to see how they are implemented.  At what point is it fair to restrict travel only to people who have been vaccinated?

Logic?  What Logic?

We have extended the closing of our northern and southern borders again.  This means you can fly to and from Mexico (as witness, ahem, the demonstration provided by Senator Cruz….), but you can’t drive across the land border.  Which makes sense exactly how?

If you are truly desperate to be vaccinated, but can’t get one locally, Lufthansa have come up with a novel solution.  They’ve created a vaccination site, at an airport, in Moscow.  Take their flight to Domodedovo Airport in Moscow, where you can then be vaccinated without ever entering Russia, and then fly back out of Russia again immediately thereafter.  Details here.

 

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

 

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