A Look Back at Lockdowns

As we continue to navigate a way back to normal, there’s still lots of debate and reflection happening around policy, lockdowns… and who was really following the science. While some states are quickly moving away from mandates / lockdowns (Texas, Iowa), others are clinging to them (California). Meanwhile, the debate about Australia’s borders rages on.

In other news:

  • Kaylee McGhee White goes over how Fauci and the CDC have been playing politics with their messaging—not following the science, in The Washington Examiner
  • Was Taiwan really successful because of strict COVID rules? A closer look by Micha Gartz at AIER
  • Sherelle Jacobs explores the psychological effects of lockdown and our acquiescence to it at The Telegraph
  • A look at how subjective morality steered COVID discussion over reason by Ethan Yang at AIER
  • In Pennsylvania, voters are done with lockdowns, a look at what happened by The Wallstreet Journal Editorial Board
  • Interestingly, many New Yorkers fled to Florida—as discussed by Brad Polumbo at FEE

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COVID News

It’s Time For America’s Fixation On Herd Immunity To End, Scientists Say

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/05/18/997461471/its-time-for-americas-fixation-with-herd-immunity-to-end-scientists-say

The end of this pandemic sometimes gets boiled down to two words: herd immunity. But now, as an academic debate swirls over when or even if America can get to a high enough percentage of people with immunity to reach that goal, some scientists say it’s time for the public to stop worrying about it.

“I think we’re focusing too much of our time, our effort, on quibbling over a number,” says Lauren Ancel Meyers, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and head of the university’s COVID-19 Modeling Consortium. Instead, Meyers and others say the public should follow one simple piece of advice: Get vaccinated.

“This pandemic ends when enough people are protected from severe illness, and selfishly you want to be protected from severe illness,” says Devi Sridhar, a professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Vaccination “helps you and it helps your community.”

Gov. Abbott bans mask mandates in Texas public schools, cities and counties

https://www.houstonchronicle.com/politics/texas/article/Gov-Abbott-bans-masks-mandates-in-Texas-public-16185845.php

Gov. Greg Abbott is forbidding local governments and public school districts from instituting their own mask mandates.

Abbott issued an executive order on Tuesday barring counties, cities, school districts, public health authorities and other government officials from requiring Texans to wear masks. The change will take effect on Friday, except in public schools, where mask rules can remain in place until June 4.

Local officials who attempt to issue mandates can be fined up to $1,000, the governor said.

“Texans, not government, should decide their best health practices, which is why masks will not be mandated by public school districts or government entities,” Abbott said in a release. “We can continue to mitigate COVID-19 while defending Texans’ liberty to choose whether or not they mask up.”

California will stay masked for another month

https://apnews.com/article/california-coronavirus-pandemic-government-and-politics-health-da661033232db5dcacfbf692221361b2

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California won’t lift its mask requirement until June 15 to give the public and businesses time to prepare and ensure coronavirus cases stay low, the state health director said Monday, a decision that runs counter to many other states including Oregon and Washington that quickly aligned with last week’s new federal guidelines.

“This four-week period will give Californians time to prepare for this change, while we continue the relentless focus on delivering vaccines particularly to underserved communities and those that were hard hit throughout this pandemic,” Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said.

The timing reflects California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s earlier announcement that if cases remain low, the state will drop nearly all COVID-19 restrictions on June 15.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention altered its mask guidelines last week, saying it’s safe for fully vaccinated people to skip face coverings and social distancing in virtually all situations. The CDC guidelines say all people should still wear masks in crowded indoor locations such as airplanes, buses, hospitals and prisons.

Governor and GOP lawmakers end mask mandates in Iowa schools

Republicans in the Iowa legislature have voted Wednesday evening to ban mask mandates in all Iowa schools, as well as in cities and counties. Governor Reynolds signed the bill shortly after midnight and it became law immediately.

That means as school begins on this Thursday, May 20, mask mandates still in effect in Iowa school districts are nullified. Mask mandates established by city and county officials for private businesses are now banned as well. House Speaker Pat Grassley delivered a copy of the bill to Reynolds in her statehouse office, as a cheering crowd surrounded the governor’s desk for the private event.

“The state of Iowa is putting parents back in control of their child’s education and taking greater steps to protect the rights of all Iowans to make their own health care decisions,” Reynolds said in a written statement.

Commentary/Analysis

Fauci admits Rand Paul was right about him

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/fauci-admits-rand-paul-was-right-about-him

Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been making up the rules as they go, with no regard for the scientific data they claim to respect.

We have known for months that the COVID-19 vaccines not only prevent infection but also significantly reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and its variants. This means that fully vaccinated adults should not need to follow long-standing restrictions aimed at reducing the virus’s spread. Fauci admitted this week that he, just like every other health expert in the country, knew that this was true but continued to push coronavirus restrictions for vaccinated adults anyway.

“I didn’t want to look like I was giving mixed signals,” Fauci said when asked why he has still been wearing masks in public settings despite being fully inoculated against COVID-19. “But being a fully vaccinated person, the chances of my getting infected in an indoor setting is extremely low.”

Fauci’s desire to wait for the CDC’s new guidance and roll it out at the right time might have been understandable if he hadn’t spent the past year lecturing people who don’t “follow the science.” But clearly, the science hasn’t been driving Fauci’s messaging. Otherwise, he would have started encouraging vaccinated adults to live their lives again restriction-free as soon as their two-week inoculation period was up. Instead, he did the opposite, spreading doubt about the vaccines’ effectiveness along the way.

Now that vaccine hesitancy is evidently threatening to derail the federal government’s vaccination efforts, Fauci has changed his tune, and the CDC has changed its guidance. Their argument is that the science “evolved” in the past few weeks, prompting a guidance reversal. But that is a lie. The science has always been the same: Studies published back in March and April proved COVID-19 vaccines protected recipients from variants and prevented transmission. The only thing that has evolved is the public and its unwillingness to put up with these restrictions any longer.

Lockdowns in Taiwan: Myths Versus Reality

As we observe the number of Covid cases and deaths dwindle throughout many parts of the world, we can reflect on the past year to make sense of the pandemic. By comparing different countries’ strategies and outcomes, we can decipher which mitigation policies worked and which ones did not. 

Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking, for instance, attempts to evaluate mitigation policies and compares countries by listing them from best to worst in terms of controlling the virus. Singapore, New Zealand, and Australia score the first three spots with Taiwan placing fifth. Taiwan, the island country off the coast of China, frequently arises when media outlets evaluate which countries fared better during the pandemic.

Compared to other countries throughout the world, this country of 23 million people saw considerably low case and death numbers: between the first Covid case in January 2020 and early May 2021, the country reported a mere 1,210 cases and 12 deaths. To put these shocking outcomes in perspective, Peru – a country of 33 million people – experienced approximately 1.8 million cases and 65,000 deaths.

Some attribute Taiwan’s success to the numerous countermeasures rapidly employed by its government. Countless news outlets cite the Journal of the American Medical Association Network (JAMA) article published last year, which claimed that Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) implemented 124 “action items” to control the virus. The problem with this list is that it’s not actually 124 countermeasures. 

Variant caution risks becoming an excuse never to return to normality

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2021/05/17/variant-caution-risks-becoming-excuse-never-return-normality/

There are few better windows into the state of the nation’s psyche than what the public is watching on online streaming sites. And as lockdown lifts, and people return to pubs, restaurants and the theatre, currently trending on Amazon Prime is a 2015 docudrama about the notorious Stanford Prison experiment. In 1971, professor Philip Zimbardo recruited a group of university graduates to participate in a mock prison. While pretend guards subjected their “prisoners” to psychological torture, submissive inmates harassed fellow comrades into following the rules.

The experiment went down as a lesson in how easily people can slip into authoritarianism. But there was another revelation that Zimbardo and his contemporaries didn’t know quite what to make of – how effortlessly the participants lost all sense of reality. The most sadistic guard became absorbed in the persona of the captain in Cool Hand Luke. Prisoners soon referred to themselves by their prison numbers rather than their names. Zimbardo himself described a Kafka-eaque feeling of unease about “where our roles ended and our personalities began”.

Are there parallels with our own experiment in lockdown? Those who hold the keys to our freedom have embraced their powerful new roles with vigour. Sage – today’s answer to the Zimbardo experiment’s parole board of clinical experts – seems both academically and venally opposed to restoring our liberties, however successful the vaccines are proved to be. Not only is its influence dependent on the existence of a Covid crisis. It remains seemingly over-influenced by a group of Left-leaning scientists who have been quietly advocating a Zero Covid approach, with little regard for the consequences. A lucrative Covid catastrophism industry, ranging from entrepreneurial modelling pundits to vast behavioural theory corporations, both feeds off and fuels its power.

The Moralization of Covid-19

In January of 2021, AIER Authors Corner host Ethan Yang interviewed Dr. Maja Graso, a senior lecturer at the University of Otago, one of New Zealand’s top universities. Dr. Graso was the lead researcher on a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Physiology. The study was titled, “Moralization of Covid-19 health response: Asymmetry in tolerance for human costs” which outlined how people’s perceptions of Covid-19 could alter their ability to make an objective cost-benefit analysis. A summary published by AIER can be found here. The study demonstrated that Covid-19 has been turned into a moral issue rather than a policy issue, which brings a level of vitriol and passion that is atypical for most issues in society that have not been moralized. 

In the interview, Ethan and Dr. Graso discuss why the topic of moralization is worth studying, examples of moralized behavior regarding Covid-19, the results of the study, what it means to have asymmetric tolerances for human cost, and viewing moralization in the context of history.  

For example, when discussing transportation policy, something that is not usually viewed through a moral lens, people would be concerned about the most cost-effective and efficient way of getting everyone from point A to point B. All proposals would likely be weighed with a steady hand and an open mind. 

Voters Say No to Endless Emergency

https://www.wsj.com/articles/voters-say-no-to-endless-emergency-11621464090

Americans nationwide are tired of endless pandemic diktats, and in Pennsylvania on Tuesday they showed it with a resounding electoral rebuke of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s emergency powers.

Mr. Wolf has rivaled New York’s Andrew Cuomo in proving again that absolute power corrupts even elected officials absolutely. The Keystone State Governor declared his initial 90-day virus emergency in March 2020. It’s still in effect, and the latest extension takes it through Thursday.

Mr. Wolf regulated private gatherings and shut down any business he didn’t deem “life-sustaining.” In September a federal court said Pennsylvania’s rules violated the U.S. Constitution. The judge found that the state “never had a set definition in writing for what constituted a ‘life-sustaining’ business,” and it stopped giving out waivers “largely because of an overwhelming number of requests.”

The Republican Legislature tried to tweak the rules, passing a bill to let business open under Covid mitigation measures. Mr. Wolf vetoed it. Then the Legislature passed a resolution to terminate the emergency. Lawmakers argued they could act unilaterally and bypass a veto, but Mr. Wolf disagreed, and the state Supreme Court took his side. The emergency stayed.

Voters finally rode to the rescue Tuesday with a pair of state constitutional amendments that will restore a healthier separation of powers. One limits the Governor’s emergency declarations to 21 days, unless the Legislature extends them. That passed 53% to 47%, according to the latest tally.

Lockdown-Weary New Yorkers Fled to One Free State in Droves, New Figures Show

https://fee.org/articles/lockdown-weary-new-yorkers-fled-to-one-key-free-state-in-droves-new-figures-show/

When the COVID-19 crisis came to our shores, some states chose to embrace harsh lockdowns and heavy-handed government restrictions while others prioritized personal freedom and economic vitality. Thanks to this natural experiment, Americans got to vote with their feet on what worked best—and new data show that lockdown-weary New Yorkers fled to one key free state in droves: Florida.

“Florida might as well be known as the sixth borough,” the New York Post reports. 

Under Governor Ron DeSantis’s much-criticized leadership, Florida reopened schools and businesses and rejected lockdowns far earlier than most other states. It’s experiencing a population boom, with a particular influx from New York.  

“New data from the Sunshine State’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles offers the latest glimpse of just how many New Yorkers fled south during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Post report continues.

Research

A novel strategy for SARS-CoV-2 mass screening with quantitative antigen testing of saliva: a diagnostic accuracy study

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanmic/article/PIIS2666-5247(21)00092-6/fulltext

Summary

Background

Quantitative RT-PCR (RT-qPCR) of nasopharyngeal swab (NPS) samples for SARS-CoV-2 detection requires medical personnel and is time consuming, and thus is poorly suited to mass screening. In June, 2020, a chemiluminescent enzyme immunoassay (CLEIA; Lumipulse G SARS-CoV-2 Ag kit, Fujirebio, Tokyo, Japan) was developed that can detect SARS-CoV-2 nucleoproteins in NPS or saliva samples within 35 min. In this study, we assessed the utility of CLEIA in mass SARS-CoV-2 screening.

Methods

We did a diagnostic accuracy study to develop a mass-screening strategy for salivary detection of SARS-CoV-2 by CLEIA, enrolling hospitalised patients with clinically confirmed COVID-19, close contacts identified at community health centres, and asymptomatic international arrivals at two airports, all based in Japan. All test participants were enrolled consecutively. We assessed the diagnostic accuracy of CLEIA compared with RT-qPCR, estimated according to concordance (Kendall’s coefficient of concordance, W), and sensitivity (probability of CLEIA positivity given RT-qPCR positivity) and specificity (probability of CLEIA negativity given RT-qPCR negativity) for different antigen concentration cutoffs (0·19 pg/mL, 0·67 pg/mL, and 4·00 pg/mL; with samples considered positive if the antigen concentration was equal to or more than the cutoff and negative if it was less than the cutoff). We also assessed a two-step testing strategy post hoc with CLEIA as an initial test, using separate antigen cutoff values for test negativity and positivity from the predefined cutoff values. The proportion of intermediate results requiring secondary RT-qPCR was then quantified assuming prevalence values of RT-qPCR positivity in the overall tested population of 10%, 30%, and 50%.

Findings

Self-collected saliva was obtained from 2056 participants between June 12 and Aug 6, 2020. Results of CLEIA and RT-qPCR were concordant in 2020 (98·2%) samples (Kendall’s W=0·99). Test sensitivity was 85·4% (76 of 89 positive samples; 90% credible interval [CrI] 78·0–90·3) at the cutoff of 0·19 pg/mL; 76·4% (68 of 89; 68·2–82·8) at the cutoff of 0·67 pg/mL; and 52·8% (47 of 89; 44·1–61·3) at the cutoff of 4·0 pg/mL. Test specificity was 91·3% (1796 of 1967 negative samples; 90% CrI 90·2–92·3) at the cutoff of 0·19 pg/mL, 99·2% (1952 of 1967; 98·8–99·5) at the cutoff of 0·67 pg/mL, and 100·0% (1967 of 1967; 99·8–100·0) at the cutoff of 4·00 pg/mL. Using a two-step testing strategy with a CLEIA negativity cutoff of 0·19 pg/mL (to maximise sensitivity) and a CLEIA positivity cutoff of 4·00 pg/mL (to maximise specificity), the proportions of indeterminate results (ie, samples requiring secondary RT-qPCR) would be approximately 11% assuming a prevalence of RT-qPCR positivity of 10%, 16% assuming a prevalence of RT-qPCR positivity of 30%, and 21% assuming a prevalence of RT-qPCR positivity of 50%.

Interpretation

CLEIA testing of self-collected saliva is simple and provides results quickly, and is thus suitable for mass testing. To improve accuracy, we propose a two-step screening strategy with an initial CLEIA test followed by confirmatory RT-qPCR for intermediate concentrations, varying positive and negative thresholds depending on local prevalence. Implementation of this strategy has expedited sample processing at Japanese airports since July, 2020, and might apply to other large-scale mass screening initiatives.

Funding

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, Japan.

Charts and Graphics

International News

Experts warn shuttered Australia is becoming a ‘hermit nation’

https://news.yahoo.com/experts-warn-shuttered-australia-becoming-084530075.html

Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended his “Fortress Australia” Covid-19 restrictions Tuesday, as experts warned that plans to keep the borders closed for another year will create a “hermit nation”.

“Everyone is keen to get back to a time that we once knew,” the conservative leader said in the face of growing calls for international borders to reopen.

“The reality is we’re living this year in a pandemic that’s worse than last year.”

Last March, Australia took the unprecedented step of closing its borders to foreign visitors and banning its globetrotting citizens from leaving.

That prompted the first population decline since World War I, stranded tens of thousands of Australian citizens overseas and separated hundreds of thousands of residents from family members.

But the country now has almost no community transmission and life for most is relatively normal.

And the government’s recent suggestion that borders could remain closed for another year has sparked fierce debate.

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