1. Government (all levels, all nations) did even worse than I expected. I remain stunned that official shutdowns went on for more than a couple of weeks. And by my calculations, it would have been far better to do nothing. Overall, I put government at the 10th percentile of my already low expectations.
2. Regular people did vastly worse than I expected. The initial level of paranoia was no surprise, but its sheer durability continues to shock me. One of the main lessons of happiness research is that pleasant interaction with other humans is our most important source of happiness. And one of the main lessons of COVID is that a mild risk wrapped in official nagging is enough to get roughly half of all people to throw their most important source of happiness in the garbage.
When we try to reduce the risk of something to absolute zero, we aren’t benefitting anyone – the children, least of all.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been largely missing in action when it comes to effectively responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency’s chaotic responses during the Trump administration have now given way to absurdly cautious approaches under the Biden administration.
That benchmark “seems to be a huge exaggeration,” as Dr. Muge Cevik, a virologist at the University of St. Andrews, said. In truth, the share of transmission that has occurred outdoors seems to be below 1 percent and may be below 0.1 percent, multiple epidemiologists told me. The rare outdoor transmission that has happened almost all seems to have involved crowded places or close conversation.
Saying that less than 10 percent of Covid transmission occurs outdoors is akin to saying that sharks attack fewer than 20,000 swimmers a year. (The actual worldwide number is around 150.) It’s both true and deceiving.
This isn’t just a gotcha math issue. It is an example of how the C.D.C. is struggling to communicate effectively, and leaving many people confused about what’s truly risky. C.D.C. officials have placed such a high priority on caution that many Americans are bewildered by the agency’s long list of recommendations. Zeynep Tufekci of the University of North Carolina, writing in The Atlantic, called those recommendations “simultaneously too timid and too complicated.”
They continue to treat outdoor transmission as a major risk. The C.D.C. says that unvaccinated people should wear masks in most outdoor settings and vaccinated people should wear them at “large public venues”; summer camps should require children to wear masks virtually “at all times.”
These recommendations would be more grounded in science if anywhere close to 10 percent of Covid transmission were occurring outdoors. But it is not. There is not a single documented Covid infection anywhere in the world from casual outdoor interactions, such as walking past someone on a street or eating at a nearby table.
The three modelling groups are still using efficacy assumptions that are way out of line with the trial and real world data. Imperial, for example, uses a central assumption that the AstraZeneca vaccine reduces symptomatic illness by 63 per cent after two doses, and a pessimistic assumption that it reduces symptomatic disease by just 50 per cent. By contrast, the Phase 3 trials found two doses of AstraZeneca to reduce symptomatic illness by 70 per cent. Subsequent US trials have upped this to 76 per cent. Moreover, Imperial assumes no additional efficacy from a second dose of AstraZeneca. Is Imperial trying to say that the second dose — a cornerstone of the government’s vaccination strategy — is a complete waste of time, and if so, on what evidence is it basing that conclusion?
Similarly, while the team views its work as “libertarian paternalism” – as if it were kindly old Santa Claus himself, chiding us to be good boys and girls with lumps of coal – the reality seems to be the inverse: authoritarian maternalism, which has hitherto been known as the Nanny State and recently reinvented as a sort of Hugbox Bolshevism. This is the ideology that tells you to be #bekind and #staysafe – or else! It is the ideology that will put an entire nation under crippling house arrest for its own good; it has turned the world into a safe space, by threat of force.
Scientists from SAGE have also appeared in the media to warn that, while hugging will be allowed, we need a new Covid-secure way to hug. Professor Catherine Noakes told the BBC her top tips for ‘hugging safely’ from next week: ‘Don’t hug too frequently, keep it short, try to avoid being face to face… and even wearing a mask could help.’
Some believe that allowing the public to hug at all is a terrible mistake. Good Morning Britain’s resident lockdown scold, Dr Hilary Jones, has decried the recklessness of hugging. ‘We’ve still got 2,000 cases that we know about every day’, he warned this morning. Zero Covid advocate Dr Deepti Gurdasani says there should be no return to normal – and no hugging – until the government has got ‘on top of the pandemic’ and brought transmission down.
(DBx: Who can read about government officials opining on hugging – and some advocating government-enforced prohibitions on hugging – and not recognize the reality of Covid Derangement Syndrome?)
Even more preposterously the city has also enacted a ban on dancing at weddings (nor are guests allowed to stand during cocktail hour).
What exactly is going on here? It seems the thought of returning to some semblance of normalcy is too much for city officials to even contemplate. In DC the civic religion reigns supreme — even of course if that means not, in this particular case, following the science.
It is emblematic of the hyper-cautious attitude of liberals to the pandemic. Born out of a dismay at the former president’s cavalier attitude towards the virus, liberals in blue states like mine have taken their reverence for Dr Fauci to new extremes.
Everywhere you look in the tonier precincts of our fair capital one sees the posters and placards and pictures: ‘Thank you Dr. Fauci!’ A house I passed by in Georgetown even had its front door covered in pictures of the good Doctor.
There is something peculiar about the way in which this new cult of personality has arisen. How have we gotten to the point where the media and many ordinary citizens have taken to treating Dr. Fauci as a kind of divine figure, as an object of veneration and awe? After all, this is a man who said that he wouldn’t travel or eat at restaurants even though he’s fully vaccinated (CDC guidance says that these activities are safe for vaccinated people who take precautions).
Amber Athey hits one out of park. Two slices:
I recently attended my first game in almost two years at Nationals Park in Washington DC. (Before angry readers tell me I should be boycotting the MLB because of their decision to move the All-Star Game from Atlanta over Georgia’s new election security laws, I’ll have you know that I did not purchase the tickets). It was far from a celebration of the (far too slow) reopening of America. Instead, the experience was a soul-crushing reminder that too many parts of the country are still relying on the inane anti-science policies that have prolonged the pandemic and destroyed trust in public health.
Baseball is supposed to be a leisurely sport to spectate. You drink a few beers and have a few hours to forget about the rest of the world. With all of the restrictions on our experience, though, it felt more like work. This is not good news for a sport with an already declining viewership.
It’s also bad news for getting over the COVID pandemic. Baseball hardly boasts the most in-shape players in professional sports, but when obesity is one of the main drivers of coronavirus deaths, we should be encouraging any and all physical activity. But our public health officials have repeatedly canceled or limited sport seasons, closed gyms and parks and otherwise made it more difficult than ever to workout. Just over the northern border, Ontario has shut down golf courses, some of the most socially-distant areas in all of sports!
If we are truly encouraging people to be healthy, we ought to normalize being outside and playing sports. The COVID restrictions at places like Nats Park and Camden Yards, however, punish fans and players for doing exactly that. It’s time for a changeup.