The Editors in
Even with vaccines widely available and better data available about COVID-19, there are still some...
The “new normal” performs quite terribly in public polling. People don’t enjoy wearing masks, prefer to hug friends and family outside their household, and like those pesky things called civil liberties. In almost every continent, anti-lockdown protests have occurred in response to government overreach and COVID lockdowns. The resistance continues to grow. Even pro-lockdown institutions like UNICEF, the UN, and the WHO finally admit that lockdowns were bad policy due to the high negative impact on civilization and society. The main argument defending lockdowns is that it was necessary at the time because of COVID’s “novelty”. Now that the costs of the lockdown are widely known, finding a true and open believer in lockdowns is a bit of a rare act.
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It is unlikely we will suffer from another March high CFR outbreak.
Two new peer-reviewed studies are showing a sharp drop in mortality among hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The drop is seen in all groups, including older patients and those with underlying conditions, suggesting that physicians are getting better at helping patients survive their illness. “We find that the death rate has gone down substantially,” says Leora Horwitz, a doctor who studies population health at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine and an author on one of the studies, which looked at thousands of patients from March to August. The study, which was of a single health system, finds that mortality has dropped among hospitalized patients by 18 percentage points since the pandemic began. Patients in the study had a 25.6% chance of dying at the start of the pandemic; they now have a 7.6% chance. That’s a big improvement, but 7.6% is still a high risk compared with other diseases, and Horwitz and other researchers caution that COVID-19 remains dangerous. The death rate “is still higher than many infectious diseases, including the flu,” Horwitz says. And those who recover can suffer complications for months or even longer. “It still has the potential to be very harmful in terms of long-term consequences for many people.” Studying changes in death rate is tricky because although the overall U.S. death rate for COVID-19 seems to be dropping, the drop coincides with a change in whom the disease is sickening. “The people who are getting hospitalized now tend to be much younger, tend to have fewer other diseases and tend to be less frail than people who were hospitalized in the early days of the epidemic,” Horwitz says. So have death rates dropped because of improvements in treatments? Or is it because of the change in who’s getting sick? To find out, Horwitz and her colleagues looked at more than 5,000 hospitalizations in the NYU Langone Health system between March and August. They adjusted for factors including age and other diseases, such as diabetes, to rule out the possibility that the numbers had dropped only because younger, healthier people were getting diagnosed. They found that death rates dropped for all groups, even older patients by 18 percentage points on average.
MSM learns what lockdown skeptics have been saying for months.
For months, as New York City struggled to start part-time, in-person classes, fear grew that its 1,800 public schools would become vectors of coronavirus infection, a citywide archipelago of super-spreader sites. But nearly three weeks into the in-person school year, early data from the city’s first effort at targeted testing has shown the opposite: a surprisingly small number of positive cases. Out of 16,348 staff members and students tested randomly by the school system in the first week of its testing regimen, the city has gotten back results for 16,298. There were only 28 positives: 20 staff members and eight students. And when officials put mobile testing units at schools near Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods that have had new outbreaks, only four positive cases turned up — out of more than 3,300 tests conducted since the last week of September. New York City is facing fears of a second wave of the virus brought on by localized spikes in Brooklyn and Queens, which have required new shutdown restrictions that included the closure of more than 120 public schools as a precaution, even though few people in them have tested positive. But for now, at least, the sprawling system of public schools, the nation’s largest, is an unexpected bright spot as the city tries to recover from a pandemic that has killed more than 20,000 people and severely weakened its economy. If students can continue to return to class, and parents have more confidence that they can go back to work, that could provide a boost to New York City’s halting recovery. The absence of early outbreaks, if it holds, suggests that the city’s efforts for its 1.1 million public school students could serve as an influential model for school districts across the nation. In September, New York became the first big urban district to reopen schools for in-person learning.
To some lockdown zealots, the new normal will be permanent.
At the outset of the pandemic, one of the most troubling scenarios discussed by some epidemiologists was the ability for COVID-19 to become endemic, or in other words, a recurring virus that circulates in humans. There are currently four known coronaviruses that regularly infect people, mostly causing common-cold type symptoms but on rare occasions, pneumonia, and even death. The question was whether this latest new virus would mark the fifth endemic coronavirus, a development that would influence how policymakers wage their battle against COVID-19. Now, two scientists at Columbia University are renewing the debate just as a second wave threatens to take hold across Europe and in the Northeast United States. In an ominous sign, infection rates in New Jersey and Connecticut recently became high enough for them to qualify for New York’s 14-day quarantine criteria for out-of-state travelers. In a new article published last week in the journal Science, public health researchers Jeffrey Shaman and Marta Galanti detail the precise circumstances in which coronavirus becomes an enduring public health problem. The paper is not predictive. Instead, Shaman and Galanti identify the key factors in determining the trajectory of COVID-19, namely, the likelihood of reinfection, the effectiveness of a vaccine, the seasonality of the virus, and whether significant numbers of people will contract COVID-19 along with another virus like influenza. “Should reinfection prove commonplace, and barring a highly effective vaccine delivered to most of the world’s population, SARS-CoV-2 will likely become endemic,” the authors conclude. Although top U.S. health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have expressed confidence that a vaccine will be approved by the end of the year, some experts have warned that the first round of vaccines may only provide moderate protection at best, short of what is known as “sterilizing immunity,” which fully stops the pathogen from infecting a host, and making masks necessary through 2021. In one seemingly doomsday scenario, the first round of vaccines will be mediocre, and antibodies from initial infections will prove insufficient in warding off reinfections. On top of that, those reinfections will induce illnesses as severe as the first infections did. How likely is all this to happen? “The answer is we don’t know,” Shaman told Gothamist. “This is not to fear monger. We can’t dismiss that possibility.”
We are all not in this together.
The density and international connections of cities foster human interaction and economic activity. These same associations, however, have historically made urban areas uniquely vulnerable to contagious disease. The role of urban proximity in pandemics has seen renewed attention in the context of novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). However, the channels through which communities employ resources to mitigate their own risk, and the spillovers of these actions on broader community transmission, remain unclear. This paper quantifies the extent of urban flight in response to COVID-19 in its initial phase in the United States, and documents how this migratory behavior seeded the pandemic in the rest of the country. We take advantage of mobile phone geolocation data which allows for much higher frequency analysis than has been possible in prior studies of migratory behavior. We find that as much as 15–20% of the population of some high-income urban regions, such as Manhattan, fled in response to COVID-19. Regions that saw greater flight were generally richer, whiter. and younger than other areas, pointing to important disparities in the availability of migration as a risk-mitigating technique during the pandemic. We use Facebook friendship data to establish that migration was especially high between socially connected regions, consistent with the idea that urban flight led to sheltering with friends and family, or in second homes. We then document the impact of this urban flight on increases in COVID-19 cases in the destination counties. Our instrumental variable strategy leverages the social connections between countries to causally identify the relationship between migratory flows and increased cases. We find that a one standard deviation increase in SCI-instrumented inflow is associated with a 0.5 standard deviation increase in case growth. Alternatively, an increase in inflows by an additional 100 residents raises local cases by about 20. The median county sees an average instrumented inflow of 120 residents, and over 10% of all counties see instrumented inflows of over 200 residents during our sample period. Our estimates are substantial and point to urban migration as an important vector of COVID19 spread across the United States.
A progress report and summary of all things COVID in Nature.
The race is on to develop a vaccine to protect people against the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. Less than a year after the virus was identified, almost 200 vaccines are in development and more than 40 are in clinical trials — thanks, in part, to an unprecedented collaborative effort by researchers around the world. The vaccine quest makes it necessary for researchers to answer questions about how the body’s immune system responds to the virus, and why some people experience severe symptoms, whereas others recover quickly. As we explain in this second instalment of Nature’s series of coronavirus progress reports, a safe and effective vaccine represents the most powerful weapon against the virus, at both the individual and the population level — but it will not be the only one. Mask-wearing, hand-washing and social distancing will need to continue for some time. At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, researchers lacked an understanding of how natural immunity to SARS-CoV-2 might develop. But that quickly changed. Within months, studies had shown that infected people can make antibodies that neutralize the virus, as well as T cells that can recognize and kill SARS-CoV-2-infected cells. Further research has revealed that even people who have not been infected with the virus can have antibodies and T cells that recognize SARS-CoV-2. This might be the result of people having previously been infected with related coronaviruses that cause the common cold. However, it isn’t yet known whether these pre-existing responses provide any protection against infection with SARS-CoV-2. The presence of these antibodies and T-cell responses was promising news for vaccine development; if natural infection can elicit these sorts of responses, then vaccination might be able to elicit similar or more potent protective responses.
Once the pro-lockdown and mask COVID darling Czech Republic is experiencing a massive outbreak.
And no, the situation in the Czech Republic is not just a “case-demic”.
Protests against COVID authoritarianism all around the world.
Czechs don’t want another lockdown; no one does.
Czech police used tear gas and water cannons after protests turned violent on Sunday in Prague, including thousands rallying against government Covid-19 restrictions and “radical” football fans. The rally was organised by a civic association, although sports fans eventually made up a significant portion of the crowd. Czech police said they used tear gas and water cannons at a violent rally held Sunday in Prague against government measures introduced to stem the coronavirus spread. Thousands of protesters, including “radical” football fans according to police, gathered in the capital’s historic Old Town Square to demand the resignation of Health Minister Roman Prymula, the mastermind behind the restrictions. The rally turned fierce as protesters and police scuffled after authorities began dispersing the crowd, saying attendance far exceeded the current limit. “Participants attacked the police without any reason,” Prague police chief Tomas Lerch told reporters, while another officer described them as “radical fans”. “We used a water cannon, tear gas and petards,” Lerch said, adding that nearly 20 officers were injured. Prague’s emergency service tweeted it had treated nine people and taken four to hospital “mainly with head injuries, cuts, inebriation and breathing problems following tear gas intoxication.” Police said they detained around 50 people before the rally and seized fireworks, brass knuckles, telescopic batons and firearms. The Czech Republic is the worst-off in the EU’s rankings of new coronavirus cases and deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. On Friday, the EU member of 10.7 million people set a new record in daily infections with 11,105 cases. As of Sunday, it has registered more than 170,000 confirmed cases and over 1,400 deaths.
And the consequences of COVIDsometimes play out in biblical ways.
Mother-of-ten Marima Wadisha screamed, threw rocks and in her desperation even fired bullets at the locusts that descended on her sorghum fields in northeast Ethiopia.But the insect swarms were so relentless that her entire crop – her family’s only source of income – was destroyed. “They never left for a week. We are left with an empty harvest, we tie our waist and cry day and night. How can (I) feed … my children like this,” the widow said, surrounded by five of them as she held a bundle of damaged sorghum. The locust invasion is Ethiopia’s worst in 25 years, United Nations food agency FAO says. It has damaged an estimated 200,000 hectares of land there since January, threatening food supplies – a single square kilometre swarm can eat as much food in a day as 35,000 people – and the livelihoods of millions. It is part of a once-in-a-lifetime succession of swarms that have plagued East Africa and the Red Sea region since late 2019, with the coronavirus pandemic exacerbating the crisis this year by disrupting the FAO’s supply chain of pesticides and other equipment to fight them off. “The biggest challenge now in the region is here, in Ethiopia and we are working on that together with our partners like the FAO,” said the Desert Locust Control Organization’s Eastern Africa Director for Eastern Africa Stephen Njoka. Conflict and chaos in Yemen, where some of the swarms originated, have made spraying pesticide by airplane at source impossible. That combined with unusually heavy rains have swelled the swarms spreading across Ethiopia. The World Bank has said the insects could cost East Africa and Yemen $8.5 billion this year, and the FAO’s Ethiopia representative Fatouma Seid fears the pattern of destruction will be repeated next year. “Infestation will continue into 2021. We are being re-invaded and the swarms will then go to Kenya,” she said.
Meanwhile the Polish get creative…
A gym in Krakow, Poland, is trying to rebrand itself as a “Church of the Healthy Body” in order to stay open during new coronavirus lockdown restrictions. The manager of Atlantic Sports Fitness, Marta Jamróz, wrote in a Saturday Facebook post: “Since fitness classes cannot function … a religious congregation of members are starting today at our club the ‘Church of the Healthy Body.'” Jamróz also referred to the gym’s trainers as “the elder council.” The move came after Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced on Thursday new national restrictions in a tiered “traffic light” system asking people to stay home, according to Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza. In the “red zone” — which includes Krakow — gyms and swimming pools must close, the paper reported. The new rules came in response to a record leap in coronavirus cases in the country. New cases ballooned in Poland this fall, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tracker, rising to just under 10,000 a day on Sunday. During the summer, daily new cases had never risen above 1,000. But the new rules allow church gatherings in the red zone, as long as there is one person per 75 square feet, according to Gazeta Wyborcza. The situation apparently prompted Atlantic Sports Fitness to rebrand. “Everything according to the law,” Jamróz wrote. She did not describe the nature of the events, or how distanced customers would be. She said that “none of us wanted to believe it” when the new restrictions were announced, expressing gym employees’ concern for people’s health and their own jobs if it closed. Jamróz said the gym follows “all sanitary rules.” “If someone doesn’t want to come to the club, they don’t have to!” she wrote. “So why do you close places where people care about the health and condition and follow all sanitary rules?! We are not only fighting for health! We are now fighting for survival! About our jobs!”