Florida Leading the Way

CNN acknowledges “Florida is not only back in business—it’s been in business for the better part of the past year. DeSantis’ gamble to take a laissez faire approach appears to be paying off.”

The most recent data shows Florida started in-person learning without turning schools into superspreaders and furthermore, schools in the state have maintained case rates lower than those in the wider community.

More public health officials are speaking out and say it’s time for the CDC to loosen its social distancing guidelines for classrooms.

Furthermore, a recent Gallup poll shows 79% of K-12 parents want a full return to in-person school. This overwhelming support cuts across political affiliations in every region of the country. 

Daily COVID cases nationwide continue their downward spiral.

In other news:

  • Florida Governor DeSantis brought together Drs. Sunetra Gupta, Scott Atlas, Jay Bhattacharya, and Martin Kulldorff to discuss the COVID pandemic and the impact on societies.
  • We continue our fight in order to keep some semblance of normalcy for our children, no matter the personal cost. There are many who do not know how to fight for themselves, and we must muster the strength to push for reason and sanity against all odds. It is the only worthy endeavor, says our Megan Mansell.
  • Pediatricians have documented a global rise in childhood mental health issues amid the pandemic.
  • A recent study reveals emergency room use and priorities for care seeking shifted during the COVID pandemic, underscoring mental health, substance use, and violence risk screening and prevention needs during public health crises.
  • As the WHO-led team finalizes its full report on the Wuhan mission, a Wall Street Journal investigation has uncovered fresh details about the team’s formation and constraints that reveal how little power it had to conduct a thorough, impartial examination—and call into question the clarity its findings appeared to provide.
  • The Biden administration’s restrictions on vaccinated Americans are ridiculous. Get your shot. Live your life, says Marc Thiessen at the Washington Post.

Want to support our work? Visit our Substack page and leave us a tip.

On Rational Ground for our premium members, our data analyses will always be available to you. Interested in becoming a COVID expert? Become a premium member.

COVID News

A year into the pandemic, Florida is booming and Republican Gov. DeSantis is taking credit

https://www.cnn.com/2021/03/17/politics/ron-desantis-covid-florida/index.html

St. Petersburg, Florida (CNN)After a year of criticism by health experts, mockery from comedians and blistering critiques from political rivals, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is standing unabashedly tall among the nation’s governors on the front lines of the coronavirus fight.

“Everyone told me I was wrong,” DeSantis, a Republican, said in a fundraising appeal on Tuesday, drawing attention to his defiance against the pandemic. “I faced continued pressure from radical Democrats and the liberal media, but I refused to back down. It’s clear: Florida got it right.”

As many parts of the country embark on an uneasy march toward normalcy, Florida is not only back in business — it’s been in business for the better part of the past year. DeSantis’ gamble to take a laissez faire approach appears to be paying off — at least politically, at least for now, as other governors capturing attention in the opening phase of the pandemic now face steeper challenges.

Despite far fewer rules and restrictions, Florida lands nearly in the middle of all states on a variety of coronavirus metrics. The state has had about 3% more Covid-19 cases per capita than the US overall, but about 8% fewer deaths per capita. More than 32,000 Floridians have died of Covid-19, and the state’s per capita death rate ranks 24th in the nation.

“Those lockdowns have not worked. They’ve done great damage to our country,” DeSantis said Tuesday at a news conference in Tallahassee. “We can never let something like this happen again. Florida took a different path. We’ve had more success as a result.”

Three Feet or Six? Distancing Guideline for Schools Stirs Debate

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is clear and consistent in its social distancing recommendation: To reduce the risk of contracting the coronavirus, people should remain at least six feet away from others who are not in their households. The guideline holds whether you are eating in a restaurant, lifting weights at a gym or learning long division in a fourth-grade classroom.

The guideline has been especially consequential for schools, many of which have not fully reopened because they do not have enough space to keep students six feet apart.

Now, spurred by a better understanding of how the virus spreads and a growing concern about the harms of keeping children out of school, some public health experts are calling on the agency to reduce the recommended distance in schools from six feet to three.

Florida Schools Reopened Without Becoming Covid-19 Superspreaders

https://www.wsj.com/articles/florida-schools-reopened-without-becoming-covid-19-superspreaders-11615973402

MIAMI—As school districts around the U.S. continue to grapple with whether to reopen classrooms amid the coronavirus pandemic, data shows Florida started in-person learning without turning schools into superspreaders.

The state was one of the earliest to resume in-person instruction in August, following an executive order by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran that directed districts to provide families the option of classroom learning five days a week or risk losing funding. The mandate triggered outcry among some teachers and parents who considered it risky, and drew unsuccessful lawsuits aimed at blocking it.

In the seven months since, Florida schools have avoided major outbreaks of Covid-19 and maintained case rates lower than those in the wider community. Mr. Corcoran said 80% of students in Florida are now attending schools in-person full- or part-time.

But the process at times has been messy, disruptive and divisive.

“It felt rushed and certainly had some glitches,” said Barbara Jenkins, superintendent of Orange County Public Schools, which includes Orlando. But, she added, “I would say overall it has been successful.”

Public-health specialists point to a few possible explanations for the success. Many schools adhered as best they could to guidance on mask-wearing, social distancing, contact tracing and quarantining. Given that adherence has been uneven, though, another likely reason is that young children don’t transmit the virus efficiently, said Eric Toner, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Amid Pandemic, 79% of K-12 Parents Support In-Person School

https://news.gallup.com/poll/336173/amid-pandemic-parents-support-person-school.aspx

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Nearly one year into the pandemic, an estimated one in three K-12 students in the U.S. do not currently have any options for in-person schooling. Many frustrated parents have been vocally pushing for a return to the classroom, citing concerns about the damage to their children’s academic progress, psychological health and social development, and Gallup’s latest data find 79% of parents of K-12 students in the U.S. favor in-person learning in their communities right now.

Although majorities of parents across major demographic subgroups are supportive of in-school learning for elementary and secondary school students, some are particularly so. Among them are working parents (82%), those living in the Northeast region of the U.S. (90%) and those who identify as Republicans (94%).

Commentary/Analysis

Singing as the Ship Goes Down

Pause button lockdowns are recurring around the globe at the whim of dictators without mercy. Joy and liberty are just memories wafting in the breeze. We are a clump of states existing as the Untied State of America, a state of chaos in a world gone mad. 

The ever-changing and restrictive measures implemented without citizen input are not confined to the U.S. My friend’s family was recently locked in their 2-bedroom apartment for 46 days in Spain, with two young children. She and her husband had no respite and no outside contact, and they are still waiting for the end of a fortnight that never started but is somehow yet unending. She got a whopping 750€ fine for walking her dog. Her children got mentioned in passing, as children do, but it is the young ones among us that are the catalysts to keep fighting, for it is their virtue that we signal in pursuit of truth and reason. Barefaced, if we like it or need it to be so.

I am no homebody. My children thrive on novelty and adventure, as this is our preferred pursuit of happiness. When fear set in and indoor commingling with mixed populations began to be discouraged in early 2020, we sought outdoor recreation until the playgrounds, parks, and beaches were all closed as well. Our local positivity rates were low. Our local hospitals had a combined 4 COVID-19 cases, but all of our mental institutions were without a single bed. The measures taken against our movement and liberty kept getting more restrictive.

DeSantis, Atlas, Gupta, Bhattacharya, and Kulldorff, All on One Stage

On March 18, 2021, Governor DeSantis brought together a host of heavy hitters – deeply knowledgable in their fields – to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact on societies.

Governor Ron DeSantis

Sunetra Gupta, epidemiologist and professor of theoretical epidemiology, Oxford University (via Zoom)

Scott W. Atlas, MD, Robert Wesson Senior Fellow in health care policy at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University

Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, professor of medicine at Stanford University and research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research

Martin Kulldorff, PhD, biostatistician, epidemiologist and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School

They discussed a number of topics. Excerpts from the roundtable are below but you can find the archive of the event here soon. Many thanks to Jennifer Cabrera for her rundown of the event.

The World Health Organisation’s appeasement of China has made another pandemic more likely

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2021/03/15/world-health-organisations-appeasement-china-has-made-another/

It is a year ago last week since the World Health Organisation conceded, belatedly, that a pandemic was under way. The organisation’s decisions in early 2020 were undoubtedly influenced by the Chinese government. On 14 January, to widespread surprise, the WHO was still echoing China’s assurance that there was no evidence of person-to-person spread: “it is very clear right now that we have no sustained human-to-human transmission,” said an official that day. Within days even China conceded this was wrong.

Later that month the WHO director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said his admiration for China’s speed in detecting the virus and sharing information was “beyond words”, adding “so is China’s commitment to transparency and to supporting other countries”. At the time China’s government was punishing whistleblowers, taking down databases, censoring scientists and ordering samples destroyed.

China is a big funder of the WHO and its favoured candidate for director general in 2017 was Dr Tedros, an Ethiopian politician with Marxist roots and long-standing ties to China. In 2019, the WHO endorsed Traditional Chinese Medicine, the belief that (among other things) eating powdered pangolin scales – made of the same material as fingernails – is a miraculous cure for cancer and impotence. Such claims are leading to the trafficking and near extinction of several pangolin species.

As an instance of Chinese influence, consider that on 28 March last year, a WHO executive, Bruce Aylward, thrice failed to answer a journalist’s question about Taiwan’s efficient response to the virus: first claiming not to have heard the question, then apparently cutting off the connection, and then, when it was restored, responding “Well, we’ve already talked about China.” Taiwan is excluded from the WHO on Chinese insistence.

The World Health Organisation’s defenders point out that it is powerless to act without the agreement of member countries, but such appeasement is not inevitable. In 2003, under the leadership of Gro Harlem Brundtland, rather than praising China, the WHO lambasted it for failing to alert the world promptly to Sars. In 2014 the WHO commissioned a critical report about its own manifest failings at the start of the ebola epidemic in west Africa, when, in order not to offend host countries, it insisted all was well long after medical charities were raising the alarm. The report identified a “failure to see that conditions for explosive spread were present right at the start” of the outbreak.

The Biden administration’s restrictions on vaccinated Americans are ridiculous. Get your shot. Live your life.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/03/16/biden-administrations-restrictions-vaccinated-americans-are-ridiculous-get-your-shot-live-your-life/

With more than 2 million Americans getting covid-19 vaccination shots each day, many are asking a simple question: When can we resume normal life? The answer should be pretty simple as well — as soon as your immunity kicks in.

But the Biden administration is telling the covid-weary country: Not so fast. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released complex guidelines, full of conditions and stipulations, listing what vaccinated people can and cannot do. You can “visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing” and “visit with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk.” But “all people, regardless of vaccination status, should adhere to current guidance to avoid medium- and large-sized in-person gatherings.” So, no church services, sporting events, concerts or long-delayed weddings. Even more absurdly, the CDC advises after getting the vaccine, you should continue to “delay travel and stay home.”

How long will these restrictions persist? In his address to the nation last week, President Biden said if we are on our best behavior for the next four months, then by the Fourth of July “small groups will be able to get together” for backyard cookouts, but “that doesn’t mean large events with lots of people together.”

Research

Trends in US Emergency Department Visits for Mental Health, Overdose, and Violence Outcomes Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/2775991

Abstract

Importance  The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, associated mitigation measures, and social and economic impacts may affect mental health, suicidal behavior, substance use, and violence.

Objective:  To examine changes in US emergency department (ED) visits for mental health conditions (MHCs), suicide attempts (SAs), overdose (OD), and violence outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Design, Setting, and Participants:  This cross-sectional study used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Syndromic Surveillance Program to examine national changes in ED visits for MHCs, SAs, ODs, and violence from December 30, 2018, to October 10, 2020 (before and during the COVID-19 pandemic). The National Syndromic Surveillance Program captures approximately 70% of US ED visits from more than 3500 EDs that cover 48 states and Washington, DC.

Main Outcomes and Measures:  Outcome measures were MHCs, SAs, all drug ODs, opioid ODs, intimate partner violence (IPV), and suspected child abuse and neglect (SCAN) ED visit counts and rates. Weekly ED visit counts and rates were computed overall and stratified by sex.

Results:  From December 30, 2018, to October 10, 2020, a total of 187 508 065 total ED visits (53.6% female and 46.1% male) were captured; 6 018 318 included at least 1 study outcome (visits not mutually exclusive). Total ED visit volume decreased after COVID-19 mitigation measures were implemented in the US beginning on March 16, 2020. Weekly ED visit counts for all 6 outcomes decreased between March 8 and 28, 2020 (March 8: MHCs = 42 903, SAs = 5212, all ODs = 14 543, opioid ODs = 4752, IPV = 444, and SCAN = 1090; March 28: MHCs = 17 574, SAs = 4241, all ODs = 12 399, opioid ODs = 4306, IPV = 347, and SCAN = 487). Conversely, ED visit rates increased beginning the week of March 22 to 28, 2020. When the median ED visit counts between March 15 and October 10, 2020, were compared with the same period in 2019, the 2020 counts were significantly higher for SAs (n = 4940 vs 4656, P = .02), all ODs (n = 15 604 vs 13 371, P < .001), and opioid ODs (n = 5502 vs 4168, P < .001); counts were significantly lower for IPV ED visits (n = 442 vs 484, P < .001) and SCAN ED visits (n = 884 vs 1038, P < .001). Median rates during the same period were significantly higher in 2020 compared with 2019 for all outcomes except IPV.

Conclusions and Relevance:  These findings suggest that ED care seeking shifts during a pandemic, underscoring the need to integrate mental health, substance use, and violence screening and prevention services into response activities during public health crises.

Seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 Antibodies in the US Adult Asymptomatic Population as of September 30, 2020

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2777502

Introduction

Because severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection may be asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic, counts of officially reported cases may substantially underestimate the overall burden of infection in the United States. Viral serologic testing may provide a more accurate estimate of cumulative disease prevalence. This cross-sectional study assesses the seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 in a nationwide, self-reported well population.

Charts and Graphics

Daily New Confirmed COVID Cases

Parents’ Support for K-12 In-Person Schooling, by Demographic Subgroups

Many Californians Have Some Virus Immunity

International News

How the WHO’s Hunt for Covid’s Origins Stumbled in China

https://www.wsj.com/articles/who-china-hunt-covid-origins-11616004512

WUHAN, China—More than a dozen foreign scientists led by the World Health Organization gathered with Chinese counterparts last month to vote on the question: How did the Covid-19 pandemic start?

The show of hands came after a four-week joint study in the city where the first cases were identified, a mission many hoped would provide some clarity to a world craving answers.

For a while, it appeared to. The vote’s results captured headlines: The virus probably jumped to humans from an animal; further research was needed on whether it spread on frozen food; a lab leak was “extremely unlikely.”

A month on, however, as the WHO-led team finalizes its full report on the Wuhan mission, a Wall Street Journal investigation has uncovered fresh details about the team’s formation and constraints that reveal how little power it had to conduct a thorough, impartial examination—and call into question the clarity its findings appeared to provide.

China resisted international pressure for an investigation it saw as an attempt to assign blame, delayed the probe for months, secured veto rights over participants and insisted its scope encompass other countries as well, the Journal found.

Global rise in childhood mental health issues amid pandemic

https://apnews.com/article/global-rise-childhood-mental-health-pandemic-8392ceff77ac8e1e0f90a32214e7def1

PARIS (AP) — By the time his parents rushed him to the hospital, 11-year-old Pablo was barely eating and had stopped drinking entirely. Weakened by months of self-privation, his heart had slowed to a crawl and his kidneys were faltering. Medics injected him with fluids and fed him through a tube — first steps toward stitching together yet another child coming apart amid the tumult of the coronavirus crisis.

For doctors who treat them, the pandemic’s impact on the mental health of children is increasingly alarming. The Paris pediatric hospital caring for Pablo has seen a doubling in the number of children and young teenagers requiring treatment after attempted suicides since September.

Doctors elsewhere report similar surges, with children — some as young as 8 — deliberately running into traffic, overdosing on pills and otherwise self-harming. In Japan, child and adolescent suicides hit record levels in 2020, according to the Education Ministry.

Pediatric psychiatrists say they’re also seeing children with coronavirus-related phobias, tics and eating disorders, obsessing about infection, scrubbing their hands raw, covering their bodies with disinfectant gel and terrified of getting sick from food.