This Week: Rational Pleas to End Mask Mandates

As vaccines roll out, there’s a push to get younger people vaccinated. An increasing number of colleges are making COVID vaccinations mandatory. Then, this week, steps are being taken to get emergency approval of Pfizer’s vaccine for kids 12-15 (those 16 & up are already eligible). If we want more people vaccinated, according to Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, we should be lifting mask mandates. Some areas, including England, are starting to report days with zero COVID deaths. Meanwhile, due to missed medical screenings there’s an anticipated cancer boom coming. In international news, China is planning to put a border on top of Mt. Everest in order to prevent the spread of COVID.

In other news:

  • Michael Brendan Dougherty writes about why widespread vaccination hasn’t triggered an end to the Pandemic in Yahoo News.
  • The last push for vaccinations should come from (and with) the freedom to no longer wear masks, writes Marc Siegel in the Wall Street Journal.
  • The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board points out that we may have been safer if we’d just stayed at work, rather than in our homes.
  • Why did the CDC mess up the importance of aerosol transmission? Zeynep Tufekci explores how things could have been different in a New York Times opinion piece.
  • At Rational Ground, Emily Burns combs through the research to give us a pathway to unmasking school children.

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COVID News

More colleges make Covid vaccines mandatory for students

https://www.cnbc.com/2021/04/12/covid-vaccines-increasingly-mandatory-at-colleges-this-fall.html

The number of colleges and universities that will require students be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 is suddenly escalating.

In just the last few days, Duke University, Brown, Northeastern University, the University of Notre Dame, Syracuse University and Ithaca College all announced that students returning to campus in the fall must be fully vaccinated before the first day of class.

Cornell University, Rutgers University, Nova Southeastern University, Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island, Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, and St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, have also said vaccinations will be mandatory for the fall of 2021.

Even more institutions are likely to follow, according to Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

FDA authorizes Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for adolescents 12 to 15 years old

https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/05/10/coronavirus-vaccine-for-kids/

The Food and Drug Administration cleared the first coronavirus vaccine for emergency use in children as young as 12 on Monday, expanding access to the Pfizer-BioNTech shot to adolescents ahead of the next school year and marking another milestone in the nation’s battle with the virus.

The decision that the two-shot regimen is safe and effective for younger adolescents had been highly anticipated by many parents and pediatricians, particularly with the growing gap between what vaccinated and unvaccinated people may do safely. Evidence suggests that schools can function at low risk with prevention measures, such as masks and social distancing. But vaccines are poised to increase confidence in resuming in-person activities and are regarded as pivotal to returning to normalcy.

“Adolescents, especially, have suffered tremendously from the covid pandemic. Even though they’re less likely than adults to be hospitalized or have severe illness, their lives really have been curtailed in many parts of the country,” said Kawsar R. Talaat, an assistant professor of international health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “A vaccine gives them an extra layer of protection and allows them to go back to being kids.”

Expert advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are scheduled to meet Wednesday to recommend how the vaccine should be used in that age group, and the vaccine can be administered as soon as the CDC director signs off on the recommendation.

Stanford’s Jay Bhattacharya Says There’s ‘No Reason’ for Fully Vaccinated Americans to Wear Masks

https://www.newsweek.com/stanfords-jay-bhattacharya-says-theres-no-reason-fully-vaccinated-americans-wear-masks-1589658

Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a professor at Stanford University Medical School, recommended U.S. health officials lift mask restrictions for those who have been fully inoculated against the coronavirus.

“I would recommend the CDC tell vaccinated people, ‘Live your life free,'” Bhattacharya told Newsweek on Friday. “I mean there’s no reason for vaccinated people—either for themselves or for others—to wear a mask, not really.”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a new guidance on April 27 for face coverings, stating that those who have been vaccinated can shed their masks outdoors while walking, running, hiking or biking alone, and when in small gatherings.

But the health protection agency stopped short of telling fully inoculated Americans that they could ditch face masks outdoors altogether. Masks are still recommended for large gatherings, such as sporting events or live performance, and in settings where there is a decreased ability to maintain social distancing.

England Reports Zero Covid Deaths for First Time in 14 Months

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-05-11/england-reports-zero-covid-deaths-for-first-time-in-14-months

England reported no deaths from Covid-19 in its latest daily update, a milestone that highlights the effectiveness of the U.K.’s vaccine program in stopping the spread of the disease.

Sunday was the first day without any recorded deaths in England since the pandemic took hold in March of last year. More than 112,000 people have died since then, with the first wave in Spring 2020 followed later in the year by the emergence of a highly transmissible U.K. variant of the coronavirus.

Vaccination is now allowing England to reopen its economy, with a further easing of lockdown restrictions starting next week allowing people to meet indoors at pubs, restaurants and cinemas. The Bank of England sees the U.K.’s economic output recouping pandemic losses by the end of this year as consumers look to spend some of the savings they accumulated during the restrictions.

COLLATERAL DAMAGE Cancer ‘ticking timebomb’ set to explode as 350,000 cases missed in Covid lockdown

https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/14624180/cancer-ticking-timebomb-350000-cases-missed-covid-lockdown/

A CANCER “ticking timebomb” is set to explode after hundreds of thousands of cases were missed during lockdown.

The repercussions are likely to see survival rates for cancer plummet as more people are diagnosed in the later stage of disease.

Analysis of NHS England figures by The Times revealed 350,000 fewer people have been referred by a GP to hospital.

Around 1.85 million urgent cancer referrals were made by GPs between March 2020 and January 2021 – a 16 per cent drop on the 2.2 million in the same period the year before.

Around 20,300 fewer lung cancer referrals were made, and 34,400 breast cancers.

Some 2,000 cases of child cancer are suspected to have been missed in the year of Covid lockdowns.

Commentary/Analysis

COVID-19 Rewired Our Brains

https://news.yahoo.com/covid-19-rewired-brains-103017068.html

You probably know someone who never got COVID but whose whole life was transformed by the pandemic; it now has a meaning. They were the most cautious, the most locked down, the most disgusted by “deniers” in the White House or in their extended family. They didn’t see their adult parents for over a year. They refused in-person-learning options for their kids. The pandemic warped their relationship to their neighbors, whom they now treated as vectors of disease, and even as moral cretins because they did yard work without a mask. They posted their second “Fauci ouchie” on Instagram a month ago. But they are still double-masking or even putting goggles on their children, even infants, because they read something about COVID spreading through their eyes.

At some point, the pandemic — the provisional and practical judgments in favor of caution that can justify restrictive behaviors — became an unshakeable moral purpose. Actual weighing of risks went out the window: There’s a deadly disease out there; my actions can contribute to the end of the disease or to its spreading in perpetuity.

It’s as if a circuit has been fused. While caution and restrictive behavior can be justified by a conscience informed by the risks, the human mind can also make calculations based on superstition. And one frighteningly common one is the equation of science with truth, fear with realism, and caution with virtue.

End Mask Mandates to Spur Vaccination

https://www.wsj.com/articles/end-mask-mandates-to-spur-vaccination-11620340525

President Biden wants 70% of American adults vaccinated against Covid-19 by July 4. It’s an achievable goal but suddenly looks more daunting, even though plenty of doses are available. Demand is slackening now that those most eager for vaccinations have already gotten them.

If Mr. Biden wants to encourage Americans to get the shots, he should change his attitude toward masks. Last week he said wearing masks in public is a “patriotic duty.” He continues to do so, even outdoors, even though he is vaccinated and therefore at almost no risk of either contracting the coronavirus or transmitting it to others. Federal mandates remain in place requiring masks in airports, national parks and public transit, among other places.

Think about the messages that sends: If you get vaccinated, you’ll be afforded virtually no relief from the pandemic’s most persistent burden—the social and legal pressure to cover your face in public—which has lingered for more than a year. If you don’t get vaccinated, society will keep trying to protect you from infection by imposing discomfort on everyone. And the authorities, at least at the federal level, seem to be in no hurry for the pandemic to end.

Meanwhile, it is in the process of ending. Case rates, hospitalizations and deaths are down all across the country. In California, the case rate is 4 per 100,000 with a 1% positive test rate. New York’s numbers are almost as good. A combination of natural and vaccinated immunity—60% of the adult population will have received at least one shot by the end of this week—is bringing this virus to its knees.

Lockdowns Didn’t Stop Covid

https://www.wsj.com/articles/lockdowns-didnt-stop-covid-11620596906

Covid-19 lockdowns shaved 3.5% off U.S. GDP in 2020 even as the federal government spent more than $2.6 trillion in relief measures. Millions of children fell behind in learning and nearly 100,000 businesses closed for good.

Conventional wisdom holds this was worth it because lives were saved by shutting workplaces and schools and telling people to stay home. But a new study by University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan shows the opposite. After the first month of the pandemic, organizations that adopted prevention protocols became safer places than the wider community. Officials who didn’t see that coming forgot that organizations are rational and look for cooperative solutions that improve the welfare of the group, such as reducing the risks of communicable disease.

In “The Backward Art of Slowing the Spread? Congregation Efficiencies during COVID-19,” Mr. Mulligan uses empirical data to test the presumption that the workplace was less safe than the home. He recognizes that “absent costly prevention activities, larger groups naturally have more infections per member.”

Yet as he notes, people join firms “in part because they value the group’s management of local externalities and public goods.” That’s an economist’s way of saying that the human capital of a company is tied to its capacity to protect employees and serve customers.

Why Did It Take So Long to Accept the Facts About Covid?

A few sentences have shaken a century of science.

A week ago, more than a year after the World Health Organization declared that we face a pandemic, a page on its website titled “Coronavirus Disease (Covid-19): How Is It Transmitted?” got a seemingly small update.

The agency’s response to that question had been that “current evidence suggests that the main way the virus spreads is by respiratory droplets” — which are expelled from the mouth and quickly fall to the ground — “among people who are in close contact with each other.”

The revised response still emphasizes transmission in close contact but now says it may be via aerosols — smaller respiratory particles that can float — as well as droplets. It also adds a reason the virus can also be transmitted “in poorly ventilated and/or crowded indoor settings,” saying this is because “aerosols remain suspended in the air or travel farther than 1 meter.”

The change didn’t get a lot of attention. There was no news conference, no big announcement.

Un-masking Children: Part 1 of 4. The Role of Children in COVID-19 Transmission in Schools

Back in summer, many school districts made a “deal” with parents and children. If you put masks on your kids and allow us to severely restrict their ability to interact with other children as human beings, they can go to school. Parents were desperate, having watched the learning loss and depression of the spring, so they acquiesced.

The science on masks was, and is not, settled (in fact, prior to March 2020, it was settled in the opposite direction), and much of the health policy in this regard relies on specious research and conclusions. Children do not appear to be major drivers of transmission. Thus, regardless of whether or not masks “work,” we would expect limited transmission within schools. Indeed, many have misused this as an argument for why masks work elsewhere.

Because many within communities, and particularly schools, believe that it is the masks and social distancing that are keeping them safe, they are afraid to give them up, no matter how great the long-term harm to children. Thus we must provide a plan to allow children, and those adults who want to, to return to normal. Ultimately, relying on unsound science has negative consequences. Universal masking is not an effective tool for control of a respiratory virus, but it does create a universal false sense of security.

Research

Mental health responses to the COVID-19 pandemic: a latent class trajectory analysis using longitudinal UK data

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(21)00151-6/fulltext

Summary

Background

The mental health of the UK population declined at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Convenience sample surveys indicate that recovery began soon after. Using a probability sample, we tracked mental health during the pandemic to characterise mental health trajectories and identify predictors of deterioration.

Methods

This study was a secondary analysis of five waves of the UK Household Longitudinal Study (a large, national, probability-based survey that has been collecting data continuously since January, 2009) from late April to early October, 2020 and pre-pandemic data taken from 2018–19. Mental health was assessed using the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12). We used latent class mixed models to identify discrete mental health trajectories and fixed-effects regression to identify predictors of change in mental health.

Findings

Mental health was assessed in 19 763 adults (≥16 years; 11 477 [58·1%] women and 8287 [41·9%] men; 3453 [17·5%] participants from minority ethnic groups). Mean population mental health deteriorated with the onset of the pandemic and did not begin improving until July, 2020. Latent class analysis identified five distinct mental health trajectories up to October 2020. Most individuals in the population had either consistently good (7437 [39·3%] participants) or consistently very good (7623 [37·5%] participants) mental health across the first 6 months of the pandemic. A recovering group (1727 [12·0%] participants) showed worsened mental health during the initial shock of the pandemic and then returned to around pre-pandemic levels of mental health by October, 2020. The two remaining groups were characterised by poor mental health throughout the observation period; for one group, (523 [4·1%] participants) there was an initial worsening in mental health that was sustained with highly elevated scores. The other group (1011 [7·0%] participants) had little initial acute deterioration in their mental health, but reported a steady and sustained decline in mental health over time. These last two groups were more likely to have pre-existing mental or physical ill-health, to live in deprived neighbourhoods, and be of Asian, Black or mixed ethnicity. Infection with SARS-CoV-2, local lockdown, and financial difficulties all predicted a subsequent deterioration in mental health.

Interpretation

Between April and October 2020, the mental health of most UK adults remained resilient or returned to pre-pandemic levels. Around one in nine individuals had deteriorating or consistently poor mental health. People living in areas affected by lockdown, struggling financially, with pre-existing conditions, or infection with SARS-CoV-2 might benefit most from early intervention.

Funding

None.

Charts and Graphics

International News

China to draw ‘separation line’ on peak of Mount Everest

https://apnews.com/article/china-lifestyle-health-coronavirus-pandemic-sports-3d144b91792bdfaa43acff3de8036571

BEIJING (AP) — China will draw a “separation line” atop Mount Everest to prevent the coronavirus from being spread by climbers ascending Nepal’s side of the mountain, Chinese state media reported Monday.

A team of Tibetan mountaineering guides will set up the separation line at the peak before climbers attempt to reach the summit from the Chinese side, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

It was not clear what the separation line would be made of. The climbers ascending the north side of the mountain from China will be prohibited from crossing the line or coming into contact with anyone or any objects on the south, or Nepalese, side, it said.

Nepal’s government and mountaineering officials did not immediately comment on the separation line.

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