Follow the Science? Or…

In the US, vaccinations are up and COVID cases are down but local governments are being slow to let go of restrictions and mandates. And it’s not just local governments—many individuals are having trouble letting go of masks and mandates, too. Looking forward, it’s likely that COVID will be endemic (circulating like other viruses)—what does this mean for countries who’ve kept COVID out so far? Australia is planning to remain closed until mid-2022.

In other news:

  • At the Critic, Tom Moran reminds us that lockdown was a choice, and the people who made it are responsible for the hardships it caused (both economically and in terms of missed medical care).
  • A look forward at COVID variants and how we should (or shouldn’t) respond by Amy Tucker at The Post.
  • Jeffrey Tucker eviscerates the WHO idea that lockdowns should go forever in RealClearMarkets.
  • Did the CDC follow science, or something else? Jacob Sullum at Reason breaks it down.
  • If you need help addressing COVID policies with your child’s summer camp, Rational Ground has a sample letter for you to use.

If you have a story about the COVID-19 pandemic to share, check out the newly launched https://covidstoriesarchive.org/

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COVID News

Target, CVS end mask requirements for fully vaccinated customers, joining Walmart, Starbucks and more

https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/shopping/2021/05/17/target-mask-policy-retailers-not-requiring-masks-fully-vaccinated-cdc/5111030001/

Target has dropped its mask requirement for fully vaccinated customers, joining with Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Starbucks, Costco and other businesses.

Target’s updated mask policy starts Monday for customers and employees, but the retailer still strongly recommends unvaccinated customers and employees wear masks. And customers who live in areas that have state or local mask requirements may still have to wear them – regardless of vaccination status. 

CVS also updated its policy Monday and said on its website that customers were “no longer required to wear face coverings inside of our stores, unless it is mandated by state or local regulations.”

Target said in a statement Monday that it “will no longer require fully vaccinated guests and team members to wear face coverings in our stores, except where it’s required by local ordinances.”

Whitmer touts vaccines progress to return to normal but regulatory agency could make COVID-19 rules permanent

https://www.thecentersquare.com/michigan/whitmer-touts-vaccines-progress-to-return-to-normal-but-regulatory-agency-could-make-covid-19/article_c0d7f26a-b337-11eb-b3bf-7313ffad8ef6.html

(The Center Square) – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday touted the state reaching its first vaccination milestone as 55% of Michiganders ages 16 and older received a first vaccination, meaning that on May 24, all business sectors statewide can return to in-person work.

Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said COVID-19 infection metrics were dropping across the board.

Only 11.8% of hospital beds are filled with COVID-19 patients. The number of COVID-19 cases has fallen 60% and hospitalizations 40% since Michigan’s case numbers evolved to the worst in the nation, despite strict restrictions.

When the state hits 60% plus two weeks, the following restrictions will be relaxed:

  • Increased indoor sports stadium capacity indoor to 25%;
  • Increased indoor capacity at conference centers/banquet halls/funeral homes to 25% (up from a 25-person capacity);
  • Increased capacity at exercise facilities and gyms to 50%, up from 30%;
  • 11 p.m. curfew on restaurants and bars

If the state reaches 65% of Michiganders (5.2 million), plus two weeks, the state says it will lift all indoor capacity limits. Social distancing will still be required between parties. Residential social gatherings will also be relaxed.

They’re Vaccinated and Keeping Their Masks On, Maybe Forever

Whenever Joe Glickman heads out for groceries, he places an N95 mask over his face and tugs a cloth mask on top of it. He then pulls on a pair of goggles.

He has used this safety protocol for the past 14 months. It did not change after he contracted the coronavirus last November. It didn’t budge when, earlier this month, he became fully vaccinated. And even though President Biden said on Thursday that fully vaccinated people do not have to wear a mask, Mr. Glickman said he planned to stay the course.

In fact, he said, he plans to do his grocery run double-masked and goggled for at least the next five years.

Even as a combination of evolving public health recommendations and pandemic fatigue lead more Americans to toss the masks they’ve worn for more than a year, Mr. Glickman is among those who say they plan to keep their faces covered in public indefinitely.

For people like Mr. Glickman, a combination of anxiety, murky information about new virus variants and the emergence of an obdurate and sizable faction of vaccine holdouts means mask-free life is on hold — possibly forever.

For ‘COVID Zero’ success stories, opening up is hard to do

https://fortune.com/2021/05/14/covid-zero-reopen-hong-kong-singapore/

A smattering of places, mainly across the Asia Pacific region, have seen breathtaking victories in the battle against COVID-19 by effectively wiping it out within their borders. Now they face a fresh test: rejoining the rest of the world, which is still awash in the pathogen.

In some ways, the success of “COVID Zero” locations is becoming a straitjacket. As cities like New York and London return to in-person dealmaking and business as usual—tolerating hundreds of daily cases as vaccination gathers pace—financial hubs like Singapore and Hong Kong risk being left behind as they maintain stringent border curbs and try to stamp out single-digit flareups.

After a brutal 18 months that claimed 3.3 million lives worldwide, nations like China, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand have suffered fewer deaths during the entire pandemic than many countries, even highly vaccinated ones, continue to log in a matter of days.

DC bride-to-be sues Mayor Muriel Bowser over ban on dancing at weddings

https://www.fox5dc.com/news/dc-bride-to-be-sues-mayor-muriel-bowser-over-ban-on-dancing-at-weddings

WASHINGTON – A bride-to-be in D.C. is putting her foot down on Mayor Muriel Bowser’s dancing ban at weddings, calling it a “disappointment” Wednesday on FOX News.

Margaret Appleby said she’s filing a lawsuit against Mayor Bowser for her latest coronavirus restrictions, as standing and dancing are forbidden during wedding season.

Despite the wedding industry reportedly booming again after experiencing a downfall during the coronavirus pandemic, Appleby said it’s been a “long road with COVID,” as she and her fiancée are faced with more obstacles.  

“We originally started with a guest list of about 175 people, that quickly changed,” Appleby told “Fox & Friends” Wednesday. “We had to cut our guest list to about 70 people. There have been numerous iterations of three dance floors, one dance floor…enforcing distancing. It’s been quite a journey that I hope ends soon.”

Furthermore, Appleby’s lawyer compared the situation to the classic musical drama “Footloose,” where actor Kevin Bacon attempted to reverse a minister’s dancing policy in his town.

Commentary/Analysis

Lockdown was a choice

https://thecritic.co.uk/lockdown-was-a-choice/

Chemotherapy is not always the most appropriate course of action for cancer patients. Put simply, the side effects of chemotherapy, which can have an extremely detrimental effect on the patient’s quality of life, must be taken into account in the context of the Hippocratic oath (first do no harm) before any treatments are prescribed. Where a good chance of recovery is not present, subjecting the patient to possible months of nausea, loss-of-appetite, fatigue, insomnia, hair loss, compromised immunity, anaemia or other debilitating conditions, may not be proportional to the benefit. This is why, in every individual case, decisions are made by clinicians in consultation with the patient and their family to decide whether chemotherapy is the best course of action.

Sensible decisions can only be made when the harms caused by cancer and the negative side-effects of chemotherapy are seen as mutually exclusive. Were doctors to conflate the two, a cost-benefit analysis would be rendered impossible. No oncologist would ever tell their patient that the hair loss they were experiencing was “because of the cancer”, knowing full well that it was a side-effect of the treatment. Chemotherapy is undoubtedly a highly-effective and life-saving treatment with years of efficacy data to support its implementation — but even in cases where the benefits clearly outweigh the harms, the treatment is always regarded as a choice with repercussions.

Imagine if, from its inception, chemotherapy had become an ideology. Imagine that respect for this miracle of science had transcended into zealotry, whereby no side-effects were ever considered and all debilitating symptoms were ascribed to the cancer itself. Many patients would have undergone this treatment unnecessarily, suffering a huge blow to the quality of their remaining life without any real benefit. The ability to weigh up risk and reward is a prerequisite for any healthcare practitioner or policymaker.

The focus on Covid variants is becoming an obsession.

https://unherd.com/thepost/the-focus-on-covid-variants-is-becoming-an-obsession/

It is tempting to feel sorry for SAGE, given the criticism they receive from all sides. This week, the fuss is over a meeting they called regarding the B.1.617.2 variant of the coronavirus (among other matters).

Normally such a meeting would be unremarkable. After all, SAGE exists to advise the Government on unfolding developments. It is entirely routine and proper for them to meet when a new variant arises. But against the backdrop of loosening restrictions and plans to drop compulsory face coverings in schools from the 17th May, the meeting was taken by some as a sign that this progress might be halted or reversed.

Doubtless, had SAGE not met, they’d have been accused of ignoring the situation. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

But the interest came from the latest obsession in the Covid story: variants. The fact is that variants are inevitable. For as long as SARS-CoV-2 exists, there will always be mutations, and as long as there are mutations, there will be new variants. Short of eradicating Covid from the globe — the likelihood of which Chris Whitty has described as “close to zero” — there is the potential for some of these variants to spread.

The question then, is how do we respond? Like Kent variant (B.1.1.7), the emergence of its cousin, B.1.617.2, is subject of dramatic headlines. There are comment pieces and vox pops declaring that their existence justifies ongoing restrictions and indefinite border closures. When will this end? As I say, there will always be a new variant around the corner.

The World Health Organization Endorses Lockdowns Forever

https://www.realclearmarkets.com/articles/2021/05/14/the_world_health_organization_endorses_lockdowns_forever_777027.html

The last 14 months elevated a global group of intellectuals and bureaucrats about which most people had previously cared very little. Among them, the ones who believe least in freedom entrenched their power, thanks to a big push by the lavishly funded but largely discredited World Health Organization. 

The WHO tapped an “independent panel” (the fix was already in: the panel’s head is former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark) to figure out what the world did right and did wrong in response to Covid-19. The final report has all the expected verbiage about the needs for more global coordination and largesse going to public health. 

The key conclusion follows: 

“Every country should apply non-pharmaceutical measures systematically and rigorously at the scale the epidemiological situation requires, with an explicit evidence-based strategy agreed at the highest level of government…”

In case you do not know by now, this is a euphemism for lockdown. The panel wants rigorous lockdowns, in every country, whenever government science advisors demand them. Forever. 

That’s right: the thing that did not work, that spread poverty and disease the world over, bankrupted small businesses, the very practice that demoralized multitudes into substance abuse, locking them in their homes and crushing markets and enterprise, and ended in bankrupting governments themselves, just got a huge thumbs up from the World Health Organization. 

The CDC’s Ever-Shifting COVID-19 Advice Shows the Agency Is Ill-Suited To Decide Which Risks Are Acceptable

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which initially said there was no need for most Americans to wear face masks as a safeguard against COVID-19, reversed that position a little more than a year ago. Beginning in April 2020, the CDC said face masks were an essential disease control tool, even for people who have been vaccinated. Yesterday the CDC modified its advice again, saying fully vaccinated Americans generally do not need to wear masks outdoors or indoors, except when required to do so by businesses or the government.

At each turn, the CDC has said its recommendations were informed by the latest scientific evidence. While there is some truth to that claim, it is clear that other, nonscientific factors have played a role in the CDC’s shifting attitude toward face coverings as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The history of that evolution provides ample reason to be skeptical of both the CDC’s specific recommendations and the expectation that all Americans should conform to its notion of safety.

‘YOU DO NOT NEED TO WEAR A FACEMASK’

As late as April 3, 2020—more than two months after the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the United States, when the country was recording more than 26,000 new infections and nearly 1,000 deaths a day—the CDC was telling Americans to “wear a facemask if you are sick.” But “if you are NOT sick,” it said, “you do not need to wear a facemask unless you are caring for someone who is sick (and they are not able to wear a facemask).” It added that “facemasks may be in short supply and they should be saved for caregivers.”

Letter to my summer camp

Dear Camp Director,

We have read through your policies for this summer’s camp session, and the answers to the questions in this letter will help us decide whether [Camp Name] will be a good fit for our children this year. It would be our oldest child’s third summer and our younger child’s second. They’ve very much been looking forward to a normal camp experience after many months of living in a city myopically focused on COVID-19.

We can appreciate that various competing interests and concerns have put you in a tough position. We also understand that your COVID-related policies are the result of careful conversations and ever-shifting “guidance” from state and federal agencies. The changes in guidance this week alone have been head-spinning.

This year’s policies appear to be more restrictive than they were last year, which is both puzzling and disappointing, given the following realities:

  • There is a range of effective treatments for those afflicted with COVID-19, and there are several effective vaccines for those over the age of 11 who choose to be vaccinated. 

Research

Convalescent plasma in patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19 (RECOVERY): a randomised controlled, open-label, platform trial

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)00897-7/fulltext

Summary

Background

Many patients with COVID-19 have been treated with plasma containing anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. We aimed to evaluate the safety and efficacy of convalescent plasma therapy in patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19.

Methods

This randomised, controlled, open-label, platform trial (Randomised Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy [RECOVERY]) is assessing several possible treatments in patients hospitalised with COVID-19 in the UK. The trial is underway at 177 NHS hospitals from across the UK. Eligible and consenting patients were randomly assigned (1:1) to receive either usual care alone (usual care group) or usual care plus high-titre convalescent plasma (convalescent plasma group). The primary outcome was 28-day mortality, analysed on an intention-to-treat basis. The trial is registered with ISRCTN, 50189673, and ClinicalTrials.gov, NCT04381936.

Findings

Between May 28, 2020, and Jan 15, 2021, 11558 (71%) of 16287 patients enrolled in RECOVERY were eligible to receive convalescent plasma and were assigned to either the convalescent plasma group or the usual care group. There was no significant difference in 28-day mortality between the two groups: 1399 (24%) of 5795 patients in the convalescent plasma group and 1408 (24%) of 5763 patients in the usual care group died within 28 days (rate ratio 1·00, 95% CI 0·93–1·07; p=0·95). The 28-day mortality rate ratio was similar in all prespecified subgroups of patients, including in those patients without detectable SARS-CoV-2 antibodies at randomisation. Allocation to convalescent plasma had no significant effect on the proportion of patients discharged from hospital within 28 days (3832 [66%] patients in the convalescent plasma group vs 3822 [66%] patients in the usual care group; rate ratio 0·99, 95% CI 0·94–1·03; p=0·57). Among those not on invasive mechanical ventilation at randomisation, there was no significant difference in the proportion of patients meeting the composite endpoint of progression to invasive mechanical ventilation or death (1568 [29%] of 5493 patients in the convalescent plasma group vs 1568 [29%] of 5448 patients in the usual care group; rate ratio 0·99, 95% CI 0·93–1·05; p=0·79).

Interpretation

In patients hospitalised with COVID-19, high-titre convalescent plasma did not improve survival or other prespecified clinical outcomes.

Funding

UK Research and Innovation (Medical Research Council) and National Institute of Health Research.

Charts and Graphics

International News

Australia sticks by plan to re-open border in mid-2022

https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/australia-sticks-by-plan-re-open-border-mid-2022-2021-05-16/

Australia is sticking to plans to start re-opening to the rest of the world only from the middle of next year, officials said on Sunday, resisting mounting pressure to end the closure of international borders.

In March 2020, Australia closed its borders to non-nationals and non-residents and has since been allowing only limited international arrivals, mainly citizens returning from abroad.

“All the way through we will be guided by the medical advice,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at a televised briefing. “We will be guided by the economic advice.”

Earlier in the day, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) that the medical advice to keep the borders closed had ‘served us very well through this crisis’.

Australia’s border closure, combined with snap lockdowns, swift contact tracing and public health compliance has ranked its control measures among the world’s most effective. Infections total about 29,700, with 910 deaths.

But border reopening plans unveiled this week have sparked criticism from businesses and industries, as well as politicians in Morrison’s Liberal Party.

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