Mainstream reporting is catching on to the fact that social restrictions were not all that they were hoped to be.
The New York Times recognized “Florida’s death rate is no worse than the national average, and better than that of some other states that imposed more restrictions, despite its large numbers of retirees, young partyers and tourists.”
The Associated Press also acknowledged, “Despite their differing approaches, California and Florida have experienced almost identical outcomes in COVID-19 case rates.”
A special investigation by The Mercury News found that COVID policies shifted the bulk of health & economic burden to poor minority communities in the Bay Area.
Daily COVID cases nationwide continue their downward spiral.
In other news:
The Wall Street Journal‘s Editorial Board looks back at a year of COVID hysteria and concludes “lockdowns made the pandemic suffering far worse than necessary.”
The WHO has wasted a year failing to investigate the origin of COVID properly, which has reduced the chances that we will ever know how this pandemic began and therefore increased the probability of another one, says science writer Matt Ridley.
In an analysis for AIER, Phil Magness and Jack Nicastro describe in detail how higher education failed its students during the pandemic.
There is no scientific evidence to support the disastrous two-metre rule. Poor quality research is being used to justify a policy with enormous consequences for us all, say epidemiologists Carl Heneghan and Tom Jefferson at Oxford University Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine.
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MIAMI — Other than New York, no big city in the United States has been struggling with more coronavirus cases in recent weeks than Miami. But you would hardly know that if you lived here.
Spring breakers flock to the beaches. Cars cram the highways. Weekend restaurant reservations have almost become necessary again. Banners on Miami Beach read “Vacation responsibly,” the subtext being, Of course you’re going to vacation.
Much of life seems normal, and not just because of the return of Florida’s winter tourism season, which was cut short last year a few weeks into the pandemic.
Florida reopened months before much of the rest of the nation, which only in recent days has begun to emerge from the better part of a year under lockdown. Live music returned this weekend to the bars of New Orleans. Crowds were pouring into restaurants in Atlanta and Kansas City, Mo. Movie theaters in California were poised to open their doors soon.
Texas reopened this past week from one side of the state to the other, with spring breakers reveling on South Padre Island. Playgrounds are packed in Chicago, and the Texas Rangers are preparing to fill their stadium to capacity next month for the debut of, by god, baseball season.
Virus tolls similar despite governors’ contrasting actions
Nearly a year after California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the nation’s first statewide shutdown because of the coronavirus, masks remain mandated, indoor dining and other activities are significantly limited, and Disneyland remains closed.
By contrast, Florida has no statewide restrictions. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has prohibited municipalities from fining people who refuse to wear masks. And Disney World has been open since July.
Despite their differing approaches, California and Florida have experienced almost identical outcomes in COVID-19 case rates.
How have two states that took such divergent tacks arrived at similar points?
“This is going to be an important question that we have to ask ourselves: What public health measures actually were the most impactful, and which ones had negligible effect or backfired by driving behavior underground?” said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
When COVID-19 came to the Perez family’s apartment, the Bay Area’s shutdown was powerless to stop it.
“Work from home” and “shelter in place” had little relevance in a small home in San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood where 10 people jostled for space, with Yanira Perez, her husband and two children consigned to a bunk bed and adjacent hammock. After a roommate who worked in construction brought the virus home in April, it was just a matter of time before they all were infected.
“Here in Canal, we said it’s the nest of the virus because almost everyone got it,” Perez recalled.
It is a reality mirrored across the Bay Area. Efforts to control the deadly disease have fallen tragically short in Latino communities, leaving the people most at risk with the least protection from the coronavirus’ spread. A four-month Bay Area News Group investigation — including more than 50 interviews and a first-of-its-kind analysis of case and testing data — helps explain why.
Variants, ‘scariants’: The media has overblown the alarm on new Covid-19 mutations, experts say
One year into the Covid-19 pandemic, a new variant seemingly mutates itself into existence every day. And the attention given to the worrying potential of the variants has grown in lockstep.
“Bay Area has its own scary new virus variant: Why experts are so concerned,” the San Francisco Chronicle wrote on Jan. 18. “Variant virus vs. vaccine: Why the scary new strain means we must move faster,” The Mercury News urged on the same day.
“I call them ‘scariants,’” said Dr. Paul Offit, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the FDA’s vaccine advisory panel. “I think we scare the hell out of ourselves when we watch national television.”
Added UCSF’s Dr. Monica Gandhi, “It’s an overblown concern that the virus has somehow mutated to a variant that is so transmissible that it is overtaking the population. That is simply not occurring.”
In fact, experts say mounting evidence indicates that the threat posed by variants has been overhyped. While the current slate of variants includes some that are more transmissible or agile in evading the body’s immune response, vaccines are still able to beat them back or prevent hospitalization.
Debate ramps up at Texas Legislature over governor’s emergency powers during pandemic
For roughly the past year, Republicans and Democrats have picked apart the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic — and particularly how Gov. Greg Abbott has wielded his power along the way.
Now, with less than 90 days left in the 2021 regular legislative session and as Abbott has moved to lift most of the restrictions he imposed, the Texas Legislature is setting its sights on addressing the governor’s emergency powers during a pandemic. And while many differences remain on the approach, members of both parties and both chambers of the Legislature appear intent on doing something.
In the House, a top lieutenant of GOP Speaker Dade Phelan has filed a wide-ranging bill that would affirm the governor’s ability to suspend state laws and require local jurisdictions to get approval from the secretary of state before altering voting procedures during a pandemic, among other things. The measure has been designated House Bill 3, indicating it’s a top priority for the new speaker, behind the lower chamber’s proposed state and supplemental budgets in House Bills 1 and 2, respectively.
The author of House Bill 3, Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, has said the proposal can serve as a starting point for lawmakers to begin to map out what the state’s response should look like in the event of another pandemic.
When a SARS-like virus was reported spreading in Wuhan in late 2019, most Americans never imagined their own government would soon close schools, churches and businesses, order people to stay home, and spend more than $5 trillion to offset the damage. Yet a year later, here we are.
The anniversary is a moment to consider what the pandemic has wrought and how well the U.S. has responded. Healthcare workers have been courageous, drug companies ingenious, and average Americans resilient. The political class and health experts? Not so much.
Start with China and the World Health Organization, which is supposed to patrol for global health threats. China lied and the WHO played along. After censoring doctors, Beijing denied there was evidence of human-to-human transmission until shortly before it locked down Hubei province with 60 million people. Many Chinese had already left the country for Lunar New Year.
The delay cost the world vital weeks in preparing for the virus, yet the WHO praised China for its transparency. We now know the virus by late January was spreading undetected in the U.S. and Europe. China’s ability to manipulate the WHO shows how the free world has put too much faith in multilateral institutions with authoritarian governments as members.
The World Health Organisation’s appeasement of China has made another pandemic more likely
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 Brutalization of College Students During Lockdowns
n March 10, 2020 at 7:16 p.m. the University of Dayton tweeted that all dormitories on campus would be closed less than 24 hours later in order to protect “the health and safety of our campus community.” It was one of hundreds of colleges and universities that rushed to clear out its campus in mid-March over fears of an impending coronavirus outbreak.
Most of these decisions were announced at a moment’s notice, leaving only a matter of days or hours for students to comply and make last-minute travel and housing arrangements in the face of impending eviction.
Dayton’s order proved particularly egregious. The college displayed little concern for the health and safety of its community members who had no mode of transportation or financial means to leave the campus with virtually zero notice. Its 11,271 student population had to vacate immediately. When a group of students took to the streets around campus to protest the hasty and chaotic decision, they found themselves accosted with pepper spray pellets by police officers who broke up the protest at 2:15AM.
Now imagine if an apartment owner or rental house landlord behaved similarly toward paying residents. They would be denounced as slumlords for throwing people out into the street without recourse. They might also run afoul of Ohio eviction law, which states that a landlord must issue a minimum three-day notice prior to evicting tenants. Similar laws exist in almost every single state. Yet when American higher ed cleared out its campus residences last spring, it did so under the moralizing language of “acting responsibly” to contain the virus.
COVID-19 Evidence is lacking for 2 meter distancing
In a transmission review for which our group is extracting data, we included some studies also included in the review recently published in The Lancet:
Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet. 2020 Jun 1:S0140-6736(20)31142-9.
In assessing the distance measures reported in Figure 2 of this review we analysed the SARs and COVID-19 studies and found we could not replicate the results reported in the review for 13 out of the 15 papers.
We reported some of these issues in the Telegraph. There is no scientific evidence to support the disastrous two-metre rule. Poor quality research is being used to justify a policy with enormous consequences for us all (Access here)
Effectiveness of three versus six feet of physical distancing for controlling spread of COVID-19 among primary and secondary students and staff: A retrospective, state-wide cohort study
National and international guidelines differ about the optimal physical distancing between students for prevention of SARS-CoV-2 transmission; studies directly comparing the impact of ≥3 versus ≥6 feet of physical distancing policies in school settings are lacking. Thus, our objective was to compare incident cases of SARS-CoV-2 in students and staff in Massachusetts public schools among districts with different physical distancing requirements. State guidance mandates masking for all school staff and for students in grades 2 and higher; the majority of districts required universal masking.
Community incidence rates of SARS-CoV-2, SARS-CoV-2 cases among students in grades K-12 and staff participating in-person learning, and district infection control plans were linked. Incidence rate ratios (IRR) for students and staff members in districts with ≥3 versus ≥6 feet of physical distancing were estimated using log-binomial regression; models adjusted for community incidence are also reported.
Among 251 eligible school districts, 537,336 students and 99,390 staff attended in-person instruction during the 16-week study period, representing 6,400,175 student learning weeks and 1,342,574 staff learning weeks. Student case rates were similar in the 242 districts with ≥3 feet versus ≥6 feet of physical distancing between students (IRR, 0.891, 95% CI, 0.594-1.335); results were similar after adjusting for community incidence (adjusted IRR, 0.904, 95% CI, 0.616-1.325). Cases among school staff in districts with ≥3 feet versus ≥6 feet of physical distancing were also similar (IRR, 1.015, 95% CI, 0.754-1.365).
Lower physical distancing policies can be adopted in school settings with masking mandates without negatively impacting student or staff safety.
Charts and Graphics
Actual Risk of Transmission Outdoors vs. Attention Paid to It
Italy prepares for an Easter lockdown as Covid-19 cases grow exponentially
Rome (CNN)Italy is facing another lockdown, as the government attempts to contain a recent surge of coronavirus cases, marred by the presence of new variants.
Half of Italy’s 20 regions, which include the cities Rome, Milan and Venice, will be entering new coronavirus restrictions from Monday, March 15. The measures will be effective through April 6, according to a decree passed by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s cabinet on Friday.
In regions demarcated as “red zones” people will be unable to leave their houses except for work or health reasons, with all non-essential shops closed. In “orange zones,” people will also be banned from leaving their town and their region — except for work or health reasons — and bars and restaurants will only be able to do delivery and take-away service.
Affected regions will be labelled red or orange, depending on the level of contagion. Regions that report weekly Covid-19 cases of more than 250 per 100,000 residents will also automatically go into lockdown, meaning that other regions could also be affected during this time period.
The health ministry said that the aim of the measures is to get the R rate — the number of people that one infected person will pass the virus onto — down to 1.
Additionally, over Easter weekend, the entire country will be considered a “red zone,” and will be subject to a national lockdown from April 3 to 5.