Risk Assessment Is Hard for People, Even Experts

CDC and FDA officials recommended pausing Johnson & Johnson vaccine shots after six people developed rare but serious blood clots after receiving the vaccine. As of today, all 50 states temporarily stopped administering the shots.

According to the CDC, 0.008% of the fully vaccinated population got infected by COVID (5,800 cases out of 66 million Americans who have completed a full course of vaccination).

More public health experts are acknowledging loneliness has gotten worse over last year and loneliness is connected to deleterious health outcomes.

Meanwhile, New Hampshire is the latest state to announce an end to its mask mandate. Overseas, Britain is emerging out from lockdown with thousands of gyms, salons, and retail stores opening their doors for the first time in months

In other news:

  • Writing the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Jay Bhattacharya decries the mindless masking of children and the Orwellian muzzling of dissenting scientific voices on COVID.
  • George Mason University economist Don Boudreaux warns against vaccine-passport peddlers: “Where I see an utterly unjustified and permanent expansion of government power to superintend and obstruct private behaviors in ways that a mere 14 months ago was unthinkable, other people see government responding humanely to society’s needs, and government’s willingness to abandon those powers when this pandemic is past.”
  • Science provides us with crucial information. But it does not tell us how to use it. Dr. Fauci seems not to understand this, says Charles Cooke for National Review.

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COVID News

Johnson & Johnson vaccine remains on pause as CDC panel requests more information

https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/johnson-johnson-vaccine-remains-pause-cdc-panel-requests-more-information-n1264076

An advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declined to make any new recommendations on the use of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, which will remain paused as the investigation into rare reports of severe blood clots continues.

Many of the experts on the committee said they did not have enough information at this time to make a decision, particularly while the other two Covid-19 vaccines authorized in the U.S. are widely available and have no such safety concerns.

It will be at least a week until the panel is scheduled to reconvene.

“We do need to better understand the risk, which we know is going to be very rare, very low, but we really don’t know exactly how low,” or how best to treat the cases, Dr. Beth Bell, a member of the advisory panel and a clinical professor in the department of global health at the University of Washington in Seattle, said during the meeting Wednesday.

Most experts agreed that the continued pause on Johnson & Johnson’s use should not be indefinite, and would like to reconvene within the coming weeks to make a decision.

New Hampshire governor says mask mandate will be lifted ‘wicked soon’

https://apnews.com/article/alabama-kay-ivey-coronavirus-pandemic-5be825405fd2c8bb2d1d09a8865609cf

New Hampshire’s mask mandate will be lifted “wicked soon,” the state’s governor said on Wednesday.

Gov. Chris Sununu said most of the state’s COVID-19 regulations will end before Memorial Day, and in justifying the decision, he mentioned New Hampshire’s success in quickly distributing the vaccine to vulnerable populations.

“The mask mandate will be ending very, very, very, very soon. We’re there. We’re really there,” the Republican said in a conversation with the Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouth, adding, “I can’t tell you exactly what date it’s going to be, but I think the term we use in New Hampshire is ‘wicked soon.'”

When asked what other COVID-19-related restrictions might be lifted soon, he responded that “virtually all of them” would be lifted “way before Memorial Day.”

CDC Identifies Small Group of Covid-19 Infections Among Fully Vaccinated Patients

https://www.wsj.com/articles/cdc-identifies-small-group-of-covid-19-infections-among-fully-vaccinated-patients-11618490232

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified a small cohort of approximately 5,800 cases of Covid-19 infection among more than 66 million Americans who have completed a full course of vaccination.

These so-called breakthrough cases, which are defined as positive Covid-19 test results received at least two weeks after patients receive their final vaccine dose, represent 0.008% of the fully vaccinated population.

Officials said such cases are in line with expectations because the approved vaccines in the U.S. are highly effective but not 100% foolproof. They are a reminder that even vaccinated people are at risk and should continue to take precautions such as masking and social distancing in many circumstances.

Loneliness is rampant. A simple call, or hug, may be a cure 

https://apnews.com/article/us-news-seniors-coronavirus-pandemic-chicago-6580da08c38bc4e050875fa3982acfe2

CHICAGO (AP) — The stranger’s call came when Dianne Green needed it most.

Alone in the home where she’d raised four kids, grieving recently deceased relatives, too fearful of COVID-19 to see her grandkids and great-grandbabies, she had never felt lonelier.

Then, one day last spring, her cell phone lit up.

The cheerful voice on the line was Janine Blezien, a nurse from a Chicago hospital’s “friendly caller” program, created during the pandemic to help lonely seniors cope with isolation. Blezien, 57, lives with her rescue dogs, Gordy and Kasey, in a suburban brick bungalow, just six miles from Green’s two-flat apartment in the city.

“She wasn’t scripted. She seemed like she was genuinely caring,” said Green, 68, a retired dispatcher for the city’s water department. The two women started talking often and became friends without ever setting eyes on each other.

“I called her my angel.”

Rampant loneliness existed long before COVID-19, and experts believe it’s now worse. Evidence suggests it can damage health and shorten lives as much as obesity and smoking. In addition to psychological distress, some studies suggest loneliness may cause physical changes including inflammation and elevated stress hormones that may tighten blood vessels and increase blood pressure.

Commentary/Analysis

Masks for Children, Muzzles for Covid-19 News

https://www.wsj.com/articles/masks-for-children-muzzles-for-covid-19-news-11618329981

I attended a public-policy roundtable hosted by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last month. The point was to discuss the state’s Covid policies in the months ahead. That 600,000 Americans have died with Covid-19 is evidence that the lockdowns over the past year, including significant restrictions on the lives of children, haven’t worked. Florida reopened in May and declined to shut down again. Yet age-adjusted mortality is lower in Florida than in locked-down California, and Florida’s public schools are almost all open, while California’s aren’t.

My fellow panelists—Sunetra Gupta of Oxford, Martin Kulldorff of Harvard and Scott Atlas of Stanford—and I discussed a variety of topics. One was the wisdom of requiring children to wear masks. The press asked questions, and a video of the event was posted on YouTube by local media, including Tampa’s WTSP.

But last week YouTube removed a recording of this routine policy discussion from its website. The company claimed my fellow panel members and I were trafficking in misinformation. The company said it removed the video “because it included content that contradicts the consensus of local and global health authorities regarding the efficacy of masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

On Vaccine Passports and the Interpretation of Reality

https://www.wsj.com/articles/vaccine-passports-prolong-lockdowns-11617726629

Recently I found myself in a dust-up with some friends and acquaintances. The subject was vaccine passports. Although mild and civil throughout, this dust-up, conducted over email, nevertheless robbed me of sleep. More on my sleep loss in the conclusion.

The dust-up was sparked by my interpretation of the latest of Dr. Leana Wen’s Washington Post columns. In this column she continues to make the case for vaccine passports. Her effort here seems to be to whitewash these passports, and to this end she puts three different cans of wash to work.

First, she wants people to stop calling these documents “vaccine passports,” because, says she, “[t]he term is inflammatory and divisive.” Yet it’s unclear if Wen proposes another name. The closest she comes to doing so occurs in the final paragraph of her column where she writes that “we should define what it is that we need to move toward normalcy: a covid-19 health screen that enables people to associate with one another free from pandemic restrictions.” If her proposed alternative name is this 16-word mouthful, count me as skeptical that it’ll catch on. If, however, this mouthful isn’t her proposed name, then she proposes none.

No, Dr. Fauci, We Are Not ‘Ruled by the Science’

https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/no-dr-fauci-we-are-not-ruled-by-the-science/

Dr. Fauci says that the FDA’s decision to pause deployment of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the right one because “we are ruled by the science and not any other consideration”:

This is nonsense. Indeed, it’s almost self-parodic nonsense. The “science” tells us that, as far as we know, six people out of the seven million who have taken the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have developed blood clots. It does not tell us what to do about this. There is no “scientific” answer to that question. It’s a matter of judgment, of tradeoffs, of consideration. One might as well say that one has come to the correct scientific conclusion as to what the speed limit should be. There is no such thing.

People are still dying from COVID. Schools are still closed because of COVID. Civil society is still restricted because of COVID. What level of risk is acceptable from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and how does it compare to the risks that will flow from pausing its deployment or to the risk to public confidence that such a pause would guarantee? In examining this question, different people will come to different conclusions. But one thing is for sure: Dr. Anthony Fauci does not have the only answer, and he does not have a “scientific” answer, either. The scientific part of this equation lies in the data under consideration. What we do with it? That’s something else.

The mistake Fauci is making here is one that is endemic within American progressivism, whose most vehement adherents seem genuinely to believe that we are divided politically because we are looking at different facts rather than drawing different conclusions from those facts. This isn’t true — at least, it’s not the primary cause of our divisions. Those result from the differing moral judgments that free people naturally draw — and will continue to, however many times they are told in frustration that the answers are already known.

Research

Lifestyle and mental health disruptions during COVID-19

https://www.pnas.org/content/118/9/e2016632118

Abstract

Using a longitudinal dataset linking biometric and survey data from several cohorts of young adults before and during the COVID-19 pandemic (N=682), we document large disruptions to physical activity, sleep, time use, and mental health. At the onset of the pandemic, average steps decline from 10,000 to 4,600 steps per day, sleep increases by 25 to 30 min per night, time spent socializing declines by over half to less than 30 min, and screen time more than doubles to over 5 h per day. Over the course of the pandemic from March to July 2020 the proportion of participants at risk for clinical depression ranges from 46% to 61%, up to a 90% increase in depression rates compared to the same population just prior to the pandemic. Our analyses suggest that disruption to physical activity is a leading risk factor for depression during the pandemic. However, restoration of those habits through a short-term intervention does not meaningfully improve mental well-being.

Infectivity of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 in children compared with adults

https://www.cmaj.ca/content/early/2021/04/09/cmaj.210263

Abstract

Background: The role of children in the transmission and community spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is unclear. We aimed to quantify the infectivity of SARS-CoV-2 in nasopharyngeal samples from children compared with adults.

Methods: We obtained nasopharyngeal swabs from adult and pediatric cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and from their contacts who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in Manitoba between March and December 2020. We compared viral growth in cell culture, cycle threshold values from the reverse tran-scription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) of the SARS-CoV-2 envelope (E) gene and the 50% tissue culture infective dose (TCID50/mL) between adults and children.

Results: Among 305 samples positive for SARS-CoV-2 by RT-PCR, 97 samples were from children aged 10 years or younger, 78 were from children aged 11–17 years and 130 were from adults (≥ 18 yr). Viral growth in culture was present in 31% of samples, including 18 (19%) samples from children 10 years or younger, 18 (23%) from children aged 11–17 years and 57 (44%) from adults (children v. adults, odds ratio 0.45, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.28–0.72). The cycle threshold was 25.1 (95% CI 17.7– 31.3) in children 10 years or younger, 22.2 (95% CI 18.3–29.0) in children aged 11–17 years and 18.7 (95% CI 17.9–30.4) in adults (p < 0.001). The median TCID50/mL was significantly lower in children aged 11–17 years (316, interquartile range [IQR] 178–2125) than adults (5620, IQR 1171 to 17 800, p < 0.001). Cycle threshold was an accurate predictor of posi-tive culture in both children and adults (area under the receiver-operator curve, 0.87, 95% CI 0.81–0.93 v. 0.89, 95% CI 0.83–0.96, p = 0.6).

Interpretation: Compared with adults, children with nasopharyngeal swabs that tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 were less likely to grow virus in culture, and had higher cycle thresholds and lower viral concentrations, suggesting that children are not the main drivers of SARS-CoV-2 transmission.

Charts and Graphics

International News

As Britain Unlocks, Outdoor Pints Are Pure Joy

https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/04/12/world/britain-lockdown-reopening-virus

The country has lived under the most strenuous level of government restrictions for the longest period of time in the world. On Monday, people in England celebrated their newfound freedom by rushing to hairdressers, pubs and stores.

The beginning of the end of Britain’s lockdown — one of the longest and most stringent in the world — came with a pint at a pub.

Just past the stroke of midnight on Monday, a few select establishments in England served their first drinks since being forced to close in January, and more than a year after the first of three national lockdowns was imposed to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Later in the morning, thousands of gyms, salons and retail stores opened their doors for the first time in months, bringing a frisson of life to streets long frozen in a state of suspended animation.

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