The pandemic is winding down as US deaths hit the lowest level in 10 months and mask mandates are getting rolled back. As the panic eases, people are also taking a closer look at the data, including in statements issued by the over-cautious CDC (who now says that fully vaccinated people can forego masks). In addition to looking back, people are looking forward: what should we do differently in the event of another pandemic?
In other news:
John Tamny goes over why the lockdowns were “cruel and pointless” over at Law & Liberty.
At AIER Ethan Yang tells us about the horrifying development of doctors being silenced for having opinions opposed to masks & lockdowns.
Emergencies create fragile periods in democracies and we should be opposed to vaccine passports, according to Abigail Devereaux at The Hill.
A look at how we’ve all been encouraged to panic from Richard W. Rahn at The Washington Times.
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COVID-19 deaths in the United States have tumbled to an average of around 600 per day — the lowest level in 10 months — with the number of lives lost dropping to single digits in well over half the states and, on some days, hitting zero.
Confirmed infections have fallen to about 38,000 per day on average, their lowest mark since mid-September. While that is still cause for concern, reported cases have plummeted 85% from a daily peak of more than a quarter-million in early January.
The last time U.S. deaths from the pandemic were this low was in early July of last year. The number of people with COVID-19 who died topped out in mid-January at an average of more than 3,400 a day, just a month into the biggest vaccination drive in the nation’s history.
The Boston Herald put a huge zero on its front page Wednesday under the headline “First time in nearly a year state has no new coronavirus deaths.” Indiana reported one COVID-19 fatality Tuesday. Kansas, which peaked at 63 reported deaths on Dec. 22, has been in the single digits since February and seen multiple days with just one virus-related death.
A Misleading C.D.C. Number
When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines last month for mask wearing, it announced that “less than 10 percent” of Covid-19 transmission was occurring outdoors. Media organizations repeated the statistic, and it quickly became a standard description of the frequency of outdoor transmission.
But the number is almost certainly misleading.
It appears to be based partly on a misclassification of some Covid transmission that actually took place in enclosed spaces (as I explain below). An even bigger issue is the extreme caution of C.D.C. officials, who picked a benchmark — 10 percent — so high that nobody could reasonably dispute it.
That benchmark “seems to be a huge exaggeration,” as Dr. Muge Cevik, a virologist at the University of St. Andrews, said. In truth, the share of transmission that has occurred outdoors seems to be below 1 percent and may be below 0.1 percent, multiple epidemiologists told me. The rare outdoor transmission that has happened almost all seems to have involved crowded places or close conversation.
California governor says mask mandate to end after June 15
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday the nation’s most populous state would stop requiring people to wear masks in almost all circumstances on June 15, describing a world he said will look “a lot like the world we entered into before the pandemic.”
“We’re not wearing face coverings. We’re not restricted in any way, shape or form from doing the old things that we used to do, save for huge, large-scale indoor convention events like that, where we use our common sense,” Newsom said in an interview with Fox 11′s Elex Michaelson.
California has required people to wear masks in public places since June 18. The guidance requires people to wear a mask when gathering indoors with people who are not vaccinated. Fully vaccinated people can meet indoors without wearing a mask. They can also not wear a mask outdoors, except when attending large gatherings such as sporting events, festivals and concerts.
The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board is considering changing its workplace mask rules later this month. The proposed rules would not require employees to wear masks indoors if all workers are fully vaccinated and no one has coronavirus symptoms, the Sacramento Bee reported.
Inquiry Into Early Covid-19 Response Finds WHO Delays but Spares China
The World Health Organization should be given the power to swiftly investigate threatening pathogens in any country, a review board established by the United Nations agency’s leadership said, saying the agency took too long to declare Covid-19 a public-health emergency in early 2020.
The report, which was conducted by a panel of politicians and experts established by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus with the aim of examining early efforts to halt the pandemic, provided little criticism of China’s government or its clampdown on Chinese whistleblowers who raised the alarm about the spread of Covid-19 cases in late 2019.
It didn’t discuss in detail the WHO’s advice in early 2020 that countries not close borders or mandate the wearing masks—measures that are now seen as key steps taken by countries that have successfully managed the disease. It mainly looked at the rules for disease reporting and epidemic response under which the WHO operates.
But the report did castigate other governments, without naming them, for having “devalued science” and said wealthy nations hadn’t done enough to provide vaccines for the developing world.
Fully Vaccinated People Can Stop Wearing Face Masks, Physical Distancing in Most Settings, CDC Says
Fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear a mask or physically distance during outdoor or indoor activities, large or small, federal health officials said, the fullest easing of pandemic recommendations so far.
The fully vaccinated should continue to wear a mask while traveling by plane, bus or train, and the guidance doesn’t apply in certain places like hospitals, nursing homes and prisons, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.
The agency said it was making the revisions based on the latest science indicating that being fully vaccinated cuts the risk of getting infected and spreading the virus to others, in addition to preventing severe disease and death.
The agency’s update further relaxes guidelines for vaccinated people as Covid-19 cases in the U.S. continue to drop. It comes as the CDC faces criticism from some public-health experts as being too cautious in easing pandemic precautions.
Restricting Freedom Didn’t Defeat Covid
Let’s travel back in time to March of 2020, when predictions of mass death related to the new coronavirus started to gain currency. One study, conducted by Imperial College’s Neil Ferguson, indicated that U.S. deaths alone would exceed 2 million.
The above number is often used, even by conservatives and libertarians, as justification for the initial lockdowns. “We knew so little” is the excuse, and with so many deaths expected, can anyone blame local, state, and national politicians for panicking? The answer is a resounding yes.
To see why, imagine if Ferguson had predicted 30 million American deaths. Imagine the fear among the American people then—which is precisely the point: The more threatening a virus is presumed to be, the more superfluous government force is. Really, who needs to be told to be careful if a failure to take precautions could reasonably result in death?
Death predictions aside, the other justification bruited in March of 2020 was that brief lockdowns (two weeks was the number often thrown around) would flatten the hospitalization curve. In this case, the taking of freedom allegedly made sense as a way of protecting hospitals from a massive inflow of sick patients that they wouldn’t have been able to handle, and that would have resulted in a public health catastrophe.
Canadian Doctors Are Being Censored
On April 30th, 2021 the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario put out a highly controversial statement regarding what it considers to be Covid misinformation. The CPSO is a regional regulatory body empowered by statutory law to exercise licensing and disciplinary authority over the practice of medicine in Ontario. Think of it as the equivalent of a State Bar Association for American lawyers except for Canadian doctors. The statement from the CPSO goes as follows,
The College is aware and concerned about the increase of misinformation circulating on social media and other platforms regarding physicians who are publicly contradicting public health orders and recommendations. Physicians hold a unique position of trust with the public and have a professional responsibility to not communicate anti-vaccine, anti-masking, anti-distancing and anti-lockdown statements and/or promoting unsupported, unproven treatments for COVID-19. Physicians must not make comments or provide advice that encourages the public to act contrary to public health orders and recommendations. Physicians who put the public at risk may face an investigation by the CPSO and disciplinary action, when warranted. When offering opinions, physicians must be guided by the law, regulatory standards, and the code of ethics and professional conduct. The information shared must not be misleading or deceptive and must be supported by available evidence and science.
The CPSO justifies its statement with the following rationale,
“There have been isolated incidents of physicians using social media to spread blatant misinformation and undermine public health measures meant to protect all of us.”
This development is nothing short of horrifying. Although there are certainly concerns about the spread of falsehoods and conspiracy theories in the age of Covid-19, this sort of broad censorship of speech from practicing medical professionals is not only an ethical sham but anti-science. The practice of science is premised on the rigorous application of the scientific method which among other things requires falsifiability and debate. The move to silence doctors also flies in the face of liberal democracy – something that has been deteriorating around the world as both the public and private sector move to silence dissent.
Restricting the unvaccinated sets a dangerous precedent
Business activities and travel remain highly restricted in many places after a harrowing year. People, businesses and social organizations are eager to get back to normal, so it’s no surprise that vaccine passports, sold as tickets to normality, are making news.
COVID-19 vaccine passports would be novel health credentials that people carry and present — in the form of a QR code, perhaps — to access certain social activities. The least restrictive vaccine passports are intended for travel to countries in lieu of tests and quarantines, like the EU’s digital passport. More restrictive vaccine passports serve as tickets to any social activities authorities deem “nonessential,” like Denmark’s Coronapas or Israel’s Green Pass.
In the United States no federal vaccine passport exists, but certain states are rolling them out. New York’s Excelsior Pass restricts social activities like large sporting events and performances to those on the state’s vaccine registry. Hawaii’s vaccine passport allows locally vaccinated travelers to skip testing and quarantine but doesn’t yet have a way to verify out-of-state vaccinations.
Should we be concerned about vaccine passports? Aren’t they simply a way for vaccinated people to go out again, for restaurants to open confidently, and for those who are concerned about the slightly-less-than 100 percent efficacy of vaccines to get back to normal life?
Mainstream media misinformation and the high cost of COVID-19 ignorance
Bad perceptions can lead to very poor public policy. As reported by Health Care News, a recent poll found that young adults “overstated their risk of dying from COVID-19 by as much as 10 times.
Those 24 and under believed they had a 7.7 to 8.7 chance from dying form COVID-19 while the real risk is 0.1 percent.” Much of the ignorance about critical health matters, and notably COVID-19, can be traced back to mainstream media, which far too often misinforms and makes everything political. Scaring people sells newspapers and focuses eyeballs on the news channels.
Unfortunately, government officials, like the notorious Dr. Fauci, also have an interest in keeping a high level of panic. This previously unknown government bureaucrat was given considerable power over his fellow citizens and the American economy. He clearly has enjoyed the power, as demonstrated by his almost non-stop TV appearances, his ability to glide past never-ending policy contradictions, and his willingness to comment on topics for which he has no expertise and little apparent knowledge.
Post-acute effects of SARS-CoV-2 infection in individuals not requiring hospital admission: a Danish population-based cohort study
Individuals admitted to hospital for COVID-19 might have persisting symptoms (so-called long COVID) and delayed complications after discharge. However, little is known regarding the risk for those not admitted to hospital. We therefore examined prescription drug and health-care use after SARS-CoV-2 infection not requiring hospital admission.
This was a population-based cohort study using the Danish prescription, patient, and health insurance registries. All individuals with a positive or negative RT-PCR test for SARS-CoV-2 in Denmark between Feb 27 and May 31, 2020, were eligible for inclusion. Outcomes of interest were delayed acute complications, chronic disease, hospital visits due to persisting symptoms, and prescription drug use. We used data from non-hospitalised SARS-CoV-2-positive and matched SARS-CoV-2-negative individuals from 2 weeks to 6 months after a SARS-CoV-2 test to obtain propensity score-weighted risk differences (RDs) and risk ratios (RRs) for initiation of 14 drug groups and 27 hospital diagnoses indicative of potential post-acute effects. We also calculated prior event rate ratio-adjusted rate ratios of overall health-care use. This study is registered in the EU Electronic Register of Post-Authorisation Studies (EUPAS37658).
10 498 eligible individuals tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in Denmark from Feb 27 to May 31, 2020, of whom 8983 (85·6%) were alive and not admitted to hospital 2 weeks after their positive test. The matched SARS-CoV-2-negative reference population not admitted to hospital consisted of 80 894 individuals. Compared with SARS-CoV-2-negative individuals, SARS-CoV-2-positive individuals were not at an increased risk of initiating new drugs (RD <0·1%) except bronchodilating agents, specifically short-acting β2-agonists (117 [1·7%] of 6935 positive individuals vs 743 [1·3%] of 57 206 negative individuals; RD +0·4% [95% CI 0·1–0·7]; RR 1·32 [1·09–1·60]) and triptans (33 [0·4%] of 8292 vs 198 [0·3%] of 72 828; RD +0·1% [0·0–0·3]; RR 1·55 [1·07–2·25]). There was an increased risk of receiving hospital diagnoses of dyspnoea (103 [1·2%] of 8676 vs 499 [0·7%] of 76 728; RD +0·6% [0·4–0·8]; RR 2·00 [1·62–2·48]) and venous thromboembolism (20 [0·2%] of 8785 vs 110 [0·1%] of 78 872; RD +0·1% [0·0–0·2]; RR 1·77 [1·09–2·86]) for SARS-CoV-2-positive individuals compared with negative individuals, but no increased risk of other diagnoses. Prior event rate ratio-adjusted rate ratios of overall general practitioner visits (1·18 [95% CI 1·15–1·22]) and outpatient hospital visits (1·10 [1·05–1·16]), but not hospital admission, showed increases among SARS-CoV-2-positive individuals compared with SARS-CoV-2-negative individuals.
The absolute risk of severe post-acute complications after SARS-CoV-2 infection not requiring hospital admission is low. However, increases in visits to general practitioners and outpatient hospital visits could indicate COVID-19 sequelae.
Charts and Graphics
New Outbreaks Prompt Return to Restrictions in Taiwan, Singapore
(Bloomberg) — Taiwan announced limits on crowds, following Singapore’s move to restrict foreign workers, in a wave of new restrictions in Asian countries trying to stamp out small outbreaks after months of keeping Covid-19 contained.
The new curbs prompted fears that economic growth could stall out, leading to stock sell-offs in both countries this week. Low vaccination rates in both countries are contributing to concerns that their populations could be vulnerable if faster-spreading variants take hold.
In Taiwan, indoor gatherings will be limited to fewer than 100 people and outdoor events capped at 500 for the next four weeks, Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control said in a statement Tuesday. It’s the first time the island has tightened anti-Covid measures since it began easing curbs mid-last year, and comes after the government reported seven new cases in the community and four in travelers from overseas.