New Administration. Same Failed Policies

In one of his first acts as President, Joe Biden signed an executive order, requiring masks on federal property. He’s also challenging all Americans to wear one for the next 100 days.

Despite pledges to “follow the science,” the scientific grounding for a national mask mandate is lacking as explained by Phillip Magness. 

In other news:

  • Dr. Vinay Prasad says it’s ok to relax social restrictions after being fully vaccinated.
  • A new National Bureau for Economic Research paper projects 890,000 additional deaths may result over the next 15 years as a result of actions taken to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
  • New York teacher J. Bryan McGeever makes an eloquent case to re-open all schools.
  • A team of WHO researchers has arrived in China. But it won’t investigate the possibility that the coronavirus originated in a lab.

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Additionally, we just released an update on how COVID-19 is playing out on university campuses.

COVID News

Biden signs executive orders on Covid vaccinations, pandemic response

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/biden-sign-executive-orders-covid-vaccinations-pandemic-response-2nd-day-n1255105

WASHINGTON — On his second day in office, President Joe Biden signed 10 executive orders to ramp up Covid-19 vaccinations, expand testing and reopen schools as he outlined a detailed plan to tackle the pandemic.

Biden’s team began warning weeks ago that they saw the outgoing administration’s covid-19 vaccine plan as subpar, and since he took office on Wednesday, the new president has moved quickly to implement a new framework for getting vaccines into arms.

As part of the plan, the new administration will increase the number of vaccination sites by creating federal community vaccination centers in stadiums, gymnasiums and conference centers staffed with thousands of additional workers, some of them from federal agencies and the military, as well as first responders. Biden said there should be 100 of those centers next month.

Unemployment During the Pandemic Expected to Cause 900,000 US Deaths, New Economic Study Finds

https://fee.org/articles/unemployment-during-the-pandemic-expected-to-cause-900-000-us-deaths-new-economic-study-finds/

The toll of the coronavirus has been severe. But a new study has found that the collective response to the virus may ultimately claim more lives than the virus itself.

In a new National Bureau for Economic Research paper, researchers from Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, and Duke University concluded that a staggering 890,000 additional deaths may result over the next 15 years stemming from actions taken to mitigate the spread of the virus.

“Our results suggest that the toll of lives claimed by the SARS-CoV-2 virus far exceeds those immediately related to the acute COVID-19 critical illness and that the recession caused by the pandemic can jeopardize population health for the next two decades,” the researchers said.

Commentary/Analysis

The Empirical Case for a Mask Mandate Lacks Scientific Grounding

Last fall, the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics Evaluation (IHME) published a headline-grabbing study with a politically appealing claim: if Americans would simply mask up when they ventured out into public, over 120,000 lives could be saved by the beginning of next year. As Joe Biden takes office later this week, he is widely expected to use executive orders to enact a 100-day long national mask mandate.

Biden’s action is directly premised on the claims of the IHME study, which he has repeatedly alluded to in his public commentary. But is the science behind this claim sound?

As I documented last fall, the IHME’s projections rested upon a simple data error. The IHME model begins from the assumption that only 49% of Americans were currently wearing masks in public. Increase the mask adoption rate to between 85% and 95%, it stands to reason, and you’ll save over a hundred thousand lives by reducing the spread of Covid-19. A national mask mandate, the authors implied, would do the trick.

Op-Ed: Throw Away Your Mask After COVID Vaccination?

https://www.medpagetoday.com/blogs/vinay-prasad/90764

Recently, a spirited discussion was sparked on social media: is it acceptable to relax masking 14 days after the second COVID-19 vaccine dose? Having spent some time thinking about the topic, and discussing with colleagues, I have reached two conclusions. First, it is a tradeoff with residual uncertainties, and reasonable people can disagree. But also, I favor the view that generally, 14 days after vaccination, we can relax some restrictions.

The caveats

It is important to be upfront with the caveats. Everything I say applies to average people in the community — I am not speaking about enhanced precautions in high-risk settings like nursing homes or medical centers. My argument is contingent on there being no “vaccine escape,” that is, no mutation in the coronavirus that markedly reduces vaccine efficacy. If that happens, may God help us. I am not sure we will make it.

This proud United Federation of Teachers member says it’s time to reopen all schools full-time

https://nypost.com/2021/01/19/this-proud-united-federation-of-teachers-member-says-its-time-to-reopen-all-schools-full-time/

At first, it looked to be an interesting footnote to a ­long career as a New York City public-school teacher. Due to a shortage of teachers created by health accommodations, I was “redeployed” from my regular school to provide support at another.

I normally teach high-school English, but the city Department of Education placed me with an elementary school to teach Pre-K, about as far as can be from what I was trained and certified to do.

To this day, the reasoning behind the decision remains a mystery to me. You would think that with an event as massive and unprecedented as the pandemic, careful consideration would be given to making sure that each teacher is assigned to the right school, but it seems I was just randomly assigned somewhere.

Research

THE LONG-TERM IMPACT OF THE COVID-19 UNEMPLOYMENT SHOCK ONLIFE EXPECTANCY AND MORTALITY RATES

https://www.nber.org/system/files/working_papers/w28304/w28304.pdf

Abstract: We adopt a time series approach to investigate the historical relation between unemployment, life expectancy, and mortality rates. We fit a Vector-autoregression (VAR) for the overall US population and for groups identified  based on gender and race. We find that shocks to unemployment are followed by statistically significant increases in mortality rates and declines in life  expectancy.  We use our results to assess the long-run effects of the COVID-19  economic recession  on  mortality and life expectancy. We estimate the size of the COVID-19-related unemployment to be between 2 and 5 times larger than the typical unemployment shock, depending on race/gender, resulting in a 3.0% increase in mortality rate and a 0.5% drop in life expectancy over the next 15 years for the overall American population. We also predict that the shock will disproportionately affect African-Americans and women, over a  short  horizon, while white men might suffer large consequences over longer horizons. These figures translate in a staggering 0.89 million additional deaths over the next 15 years.

Incidence and Secondary Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 Infections in Schools

https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2021/01/06/peds.2020-048090.full.pdf

ABSTRACT

BACKGROUND: In an effort to mitigate the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), North Carolina (NC) closed its K–12 public schools to in-person instruction on 03/14/2020. On 07/15/2020, NC’s governor announced schools could open via remote learning or a “hybrid” model that combined in-person and remote instruction. In August 2020, 56 of 115 NC school districts joined the ABC Science Collaborative (ABCs) to implement public health measures to prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission and share lessons learned. We describe secondary transmission of SARS-CoV-2 within participating NC school districts during the first 9 weeks of in-person instruction in the 2020–2021 academic school year.

METHODS: From 08/15/2020–10/23/2020, 11 of 56 school districts participating in ABCs were open for in-person instruction for all 9 weeks of the first quarter and agreed to track incidence and secondary transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Local health department staff adjudicated secondary transmission. Superintendents met weekly with ABCs faculty to share lessons learned and develop prevention methods.  

RESULTS: Over 9 weeks, 11 participating school districts had more than 90,000 students and staff attend school in-person; of these, there were 773 community-acquired SARS-CoV-2 infections documented by molecular testing. Through contact tracing, NC health department staff determined an additional 32 infections were acquired within schools. No instances of child-to-adult transmission of SARS-CoV-2 were reported within schools. 

CONCLUSIONS: In the first 9 weeks of in-person instruction in NC schools, we found extremely limited within-school secondary transmission of SARS-CoV-2, as determined by contact tracing.

Charts and Graphics

Americans Are Fleeing Lockdowns, When They Can Afford It

What the lockdowners’ #ZoomPrivilege looks like, in one chart

International News

The World Needs a Real Investigation Into the Origins of Covid-19

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-world-needs-a-real-investigation-into-the-origins-of-covid-19-11610728316

In the first week of January, scientists representing the World Health Organization (WHO) were due to arrive in China to trace the origins of Covid-19. The team membership and terms of reference were preapproved by the Chinese government, yet at the last minute Beijing denied entry to the investigators. This prompted WHO to take the rare step of criticizing China, which relented and allowed the group to enter the country this week.

The brief standoff highlights a more serious problem: the inadequacy of WHO’s current investigative framework for exploring all plausible origins of Covid-19. The world needs an inquiry that considers not just natural origins but the possibility that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, escaped from a laboratory. The WHO team, however, plans to build on reports by Chinese scientists rather than mount an independent investigation. Given that Chinese authorities have been slow to release information, penalized scientists and doctors who shared clinical and genomic details of the novel coronavirus, and have since demonstrated a keen interest in controlling the narrative of how the virus emerged, this is not a promising foundation for WHO’s investigation.

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