May 20, 2022 / by 

 

Three Things: Bracing for Omicron’s Overrun

[NB: check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

Not going to lie or mince words: the White House fucked up its response to Omicron. They let businesses, pressure from the GOP’s COVIDiots, and public polling tell them what to do instead of gaming out an effective response. They focused on the economy and then-irrational fear of inflation instead of COVID, only to create the problem they wanted to address.

While the impending COVID explosion would likely have happened anyhow, the curve could have been flattened and the blow to health care systems softened had the White House not only emphasized getting testing out to the public but getting better quality masks to the people while asking any and all public facilities conducting business indoors to ensure better air quality immediately.

You know, advocate the things which have been proven to work in other countries like Japan — a densely-populated country with a population more than a third of the U.S.’s but less than 19,000 COVID deaths to date.

But more on that in a moment.

~ 3 ~

I’ve been furious since a friend told me last week they were blindsided by someone in their social circle who has fallen prey to disinfo about COVID.

In a nutshell, their acquaintance is:

1 – Peeved about the unvaccinated being blamed for the spread of COVID;

2 – Doesn’t think the lack of vaccinations in a sizable percentage of the population caused a new variant;

3 – Feels the virus will mutate and spread whether people are vaccinated or unvaccinated;

4 – Believes vaccines will reduce severity of cases and keep hospitalizations down, but the mutations and contagion will happen anyhow.

Jesus Christ, where to even start except tell them to quit Facebook. These half-truths about COVID are truly problematic with an American public weak on science education – well, weak education as a whole, when it comes to critical thinking.

Mr. Blindsider needs to understand:

1 – The ongoing threat is the willfully unvaccinated, not those who can’t be vaccinated because of legitimate health problems or those whose circumstances have prevented them from being vaccinated. Anyone willfully choosing not to be vaccinated isn’t merely putting themselves at risk but others like children for whom we do not yet have vaccinations, and those who want but can’t get vaccinated. Fuck the willfully selfish gits and piss on your peevedness.

2 – Yes, the lack of vaccinations DID cause a variant to rise. Unvaccinated humans are pools for new variant development. More unvaccinated people means a bigger resevoir in which new variants can develop.

3 – Take a fucking look around: do you see any new variants of polio (caused by poliovirus)? Measles (measles morbillivirus)? Chicken pox (varicella-zoster virus)? All of these are infectious diseases caused by viruses for which children have been routinely vaccinated as children over decades. Because vaccination rates are above 85% of all US children, the pool of unvaccinated is too small for the viruses to develop variants. This is what needs to happen with COVID.

4– As long as the pool of willfully unvaccinated remains as large as it is, SARS-CoV-2 will have adequate opportunity to mutate and new variants will emerge. The answer is two-fold: (1) everyone must be vaccinated who can safely tolerate a tested vaccine, and (2) a better vaccine is needed, one designed to protect against all coronaviruses.

But the answer is really four-fold:

– The U.S. public school system needs to do more and better biological science education because too many adults are quite stupid when it comes to basics like infection control let alone microbiology. That education should also include new content on airborne spread of disease like measles and COVID, the latter by aerosolized particles.

– The White House needs to fix CDC and FDA communications problems, because they’re frankly doing an abysmal job this deep into a pandemic. We should not still be arguing with our neighbors 23 months into this about simple infection control and its affects on individuals and society.

~ 2 ~

Mr. Peeved Blindsider will be part of the reason Omicron explodes; they’re incapable of systems thinking necessary to enact effective mitigation, too busy folding like a broken lawn chair under disinformation and minor frustrations all of us have had to deal with.

Too busy throwing a pity party for the poor maligned willfully unvaccinated to think about what is about to erupt across the country.

Read this Twitter thread:

There were school systems across the country which didn’t have enough bus drivers under the Beta and Delta waves. This is about to happen again even though more people are vaccinated and Omicron is not as severe as Delta, because Omicron still sickens people and still forces people into quarantine and isolation.

If all schools don’t close this week, children are going to bring Omicron into classrooms, spread it to each other because they got it over the holidays, because they weren’t given N95 masks, and their schools’ HVAC systems haven’t been upgraded to improve air quality and reduce exposure time to aerosolized virus.

They will infect school teachers and staff and bus drivers, who will infect their families.

Schools will be forced to go to remote learning again for the lack of teachers and bus drivers.

Students’ and teachers’ family members will take it to work, including places like grocery stores and fast food chains and manufacturing facilities and shipping companies.

The supply chain will be throttled down again and we’ll hear yet another round of bullshit about inflationary pressures about which the right-wing and neoliberals will lie and claim the GOP can fix in spite of its ongoing anti-vaccination campaign.

Omicron may burn itself out inside 3-4 weeks, but the effects will be much longer. We still do not have data about the long-term effects of Omicron on those infected; the data will be complicated by the spectrum of unvaccinated/unvaccinated-but-previously-infected/vaccinated-only/vaccinated-and-boosted.

We can plan ahead, though, for a worst case in which those infected with Omicron have some degree of neurological sequelae and increased fatigue along with increased risk of death because we’ve seen this with previous variants. Expect more people acting irrationally or sluggishly because of COVID brain fog.

Social distancing throughout the rest of the winter may be our best approach.

Gods help us all if we need health care services for anything urgent apart from COVID.

~ 1 ~

As I wrote when I started this post, the White House fucked up the response to this variant. The Omicron scenario was always a possibility and a plan for it should have been on the books, ready for roll out. (Has no one in Centers for Disease Control and Food and Drug Administration as well as the White House done any simulations and scenario planning at all for this pandemic??)

A shorter isolation period due to Omicron’s allegedly milder symptoms combined with more rapid testing isn’t a rational response without better mitigation to flatten the curve, not to mention the assumptions made about illness severity relying on early data which could have been flawed in analysis.

Though a key component of the White House’s answer to Omicron, rapid tests simply haven’t been available at the scale of numbers and breadth of distribution this country needed. We’ve seen far too many examples of people waiting in lines for hours to get tested throughout the holiday season.

Propublica’s reporting on the clown car that is America’s COVID rapid test approval process explains much of the problem, but this should have be addressed as an emergency skunkworks in November, with the White House fully engaged with the FDA as soon as Omicron was announced.

There have also been people claiming huge quantities of rapid tests could be available inside weeks. Read that Propublica report, and then think like a manufacturer for a moment – one which has had problems with obtaining raw materials, difficulty with reliable shipments (hello, fire Louis DeJoy), and labor shortages due to illness and insufficient child/eldercare for workers.

I know people being courted for jobs in testing production; the industry literally doesn’t have enough current employees to step up production for delivery inside weeks let alone days.

Given all the barriers to adequate numbers of reliable rapid tests, heightened infection control measures are an absolute necessity.

And yet the response to Omicron has been sadly lacking emphasis on infection control – even after the absurd theater of an airline CEO sickening with COVID testifying before the Senate that masks don’t do much.

Every single American should have been mailed (7) N95 masks – one per day to use on rotation through this Omicron surge. They’re cheap, easy to ship by mail (hello, fire Louis DeJoy), don’t need special testing and approval; we have multiple manufacturers in the U.S. ready to step up production.

Every single health care worker should have received at least twice that number already. Health care facilities should be able to hand them out to patients and their families.

Every single public facility should have been ordered to improve air quality with improved ventilation; CO2 tests should have been distributed to every school for every classroom as a measure of air quality and a proxy for risk of aerosolized virus exposure. Higher CO2 levels – roughly equating to increased aerosolized particles from occupants and low air flow – should result in windows and doors being opened, addition of Corsi-Rosenthal Cube filter systems, or dismissal of classes until CO2 levels fall to acceptable levels.

Longer term, legislation providing funding for improving air quality in all public facilities should be on Congress’s agenda, because this isn’t the last variant we’ll see before this pandemic is over. There will be other reasons for improving indoor air quality – increasing numbers of wildfires and dust storms as the climate emergency deepens will be adequate justification to continue HVAC improvements.

And as I already said, something needs to be done pronto about the communications out of CDC and FDA about COVID, including infection control measures.

~ 0 ~

All that said, double down on measures to protect yourself, friends, and loved ones through this Omicron wave. Use the measures Japan’s health ministry has advocated and apparently work when used widely.

Avoid the Three Cs:
— Closed spaces with poor ventilation or unmonitored air quality
— Crowded spaces occupied by many people
— Close-contact settings which don’t allow adequate social distance

Do the Three Ws:
— Wear a better mask (N95 preferred)
— Watch your social distance to reduce exposure to aerosols
— Wash your hands to prevent spread of any infectious agents

And if you haven’t yet gotten your booster, do whatever you can to get that on board.


Three Things: Omigod Omicron

[NB: Check the byline, thanks! Updates will follow at the bottom of initial posted content. /~Rayne]

Only a month after the World Health Organization declared it a variant of concern, Omicron is now dominant in the U.S. accounting for roughly 3/4 of the nearly 1.9 million new cases of COVID reported over the last week.

Because of its dramatically increased ease of transmission, new cases of COVID are expected to explode and exceed past waves of cases.

~ 3 ~

Joe Biden will be speaking to the nation today about the federal response to the new coronavirus variant Omicron.

The surge of cases is expected to swamp health care infrastructure which has already been pushed up to and beyond its limits by previous COVID waves and the continued resistance to vaccinations and boosters by roughly 30% of the population.

Lockdowns are not expected to be part of the federal response; rather, the government will send federal personnel to large hospitals across the country to help beleaguered staff as new cases roll in.

500 million instant tests for home use are also expected to be sent out. The hue and cry after White House press secretary Jen Psaki’s comments regarding testing and masks sent to homes may have spurred this effort in concert with the dramatic uptick in Omicron cases.

Will this federal response be enough? Likely not — but we would not be in this situation had there been a plan to mitigate COVID in place when Biden took office 11 months ago. Taking office just as another surge began placed the entire Biden response on its heels.

Likely more later on this as an update; three items are in progress and will follow shortly.

~ 2 ~

Speaking of the White House communications, Jeff Zients set off a shitstorm with a poorly worded or thought-through remark about the unvaccinated.

Disability activists were reasonably put out as many disabled can’t get vaccinated and boosted for health reasons.

But there’s another bigger problem in terms of the percentage of people affected: workers especially in low wage jobs aren’t getting vaccinated because their employers aren’t providing adequate support.

If you’ve gotten fast food recently, you’ve probably been in contact with someone who hasn’t been able to get vaccinated.

An effective federal outreach will reach the unvaccinated who want the shots and booster but whose circumstances haven’t allowed them to do so. Leaving this to the states — especially in red states — has left economically vulnerable exposed to COVID.

That said, fuck the unvaccinated who willfully refuse to be vaccinated, especially those who refuse all other mitigation measures. Welcome to the “winter of severe illness and death” you’ve asked for; may its toll be on you alone and not on any vulnerable children, immunocompromised, disabled, or precarious and marginalized persons.

~ 1 ~

One of the biggest flying periods of the year is nearly upon us as Americans fly to/from home for the holidays. Unfortunately this follows a hearing last week before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee in which an airline executive said something ridiculously absurd.

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly, when asked about mask use by travelers and staff on its airplanes, said,

I think the case is very strong that masks don’t add much if anything in the air cabin environment. It’s very safe and very high quality compared to any other indoor setting.

Never mind the studies of aerosol transmission which has examined mass transportation for dispersal of aerosolized particles, or case studies of specific outbreaks occurring among persons in enclosed spaces, all of which have shown sitting in close proximity to infected persons substantially increases the odds of transmission between infected and non-infected persons.

Former surgeon general Jerome Adams was rather blunt in response to Kelly’s remarks:

“I’ve got to tell you, there’s no other way I can put my feelings about that than, it was irresponsible. It was irresponsible. It was reckless.”

Kind of surprising for a guy who fluffed up the Trump administration’s policy about mask use.

Karma had her way with Kelly, though, who had been coughing during his appearance before the Transportation Committee — he was diagnosed with COVID the next day.

What an ignorant, arrogant douchebag. He probably infected others in his own workforce and possibly members of Congress and staffers. Why Southwest’s board of directors and shareholders haven’t suspended Kelly is beyond me; air travel requires a fairly high degree of trust in science and Kelly clearly doesn’t trust science.

Masks have been mandatory on public transportation including airplanes since last year. This requirement will likely continue throughout the Omicron wave and beyond.

If you must travel over the holidays, trust the science and wear a high-quality mask.

~ 0 ~

Oops, one more thing: Robert F. Kennedy III is a blight on his family’s legacy. His anti-vaxx bullshit is racist bordering on genocidal.

He needs to be kicked to the curb. I would love to know who/what is funding his sketchy work.


This Is My O Face: Welcome, Omicron [UPDATE-1]

[NB: check the byline, thanks. Scroll down for update and new content. /~Rayne]

Well, it had to happen sooner or later given this pandemic’s craptacular start and the inability of Trumpy right-wingers, nation-states with fewer resources, and Global Big Pharma to tackle COVID’s spread.

I’ve got what feels like a chest cold – gravelly upper chest, scratchy throat – and my spouse has the scratchy throat.

I’ve been around exactly five people in the last two weeks, one of which is my spouse; the others are my kids and two friends. All of them are fully vaccinated and boosted as are we two in my household.

Their status doesn’t rule out the possibility that one of them may carried the virus, if indeed we’re infected. Vaccinated folks can carry the virus.

No lost of smell or taste noted. No other symptoms so far. In my case this might not even be COVID; with the crazy windstorms we’ve had this week I’ve inhaled a bunch of dust every time I’ve had to go outside which may have triggered a flare of my autoimmune disorder.

But if Omicron results in milder symptoms especially in fully vaccinated persons, I may well have COVID.

Put me down as Status: Pending until I’m tested and receive my results.

There will be more to this post when I get back from the testing center, watch for an update.

~ ~ ~

UPDATE — Saturday 18-DEC-2021 -–

That’s not how I intended to start a post about the Omicron variant, but here we are: we go with the virus we have, not the one we wish we had.

What we know about Omicron so far is still rather loose and ill defined. Part of the challenge is that Omicron meets a different population than Alpha or Beta did last year – depending on the country there’s such a broad mix of people who are partially vaccinated, fully vaccinated, boosted, and with different mixtures of vaccinations as well as the stubbornly unvaccinated and the previously infected who occur in each category along with the immunocompromised.

When the first wave hit, everyone everywhere was unvaccinated. There was no need to sort the population except for those who may have been previously infected. By the Delta-dominant third wave analysis was slightly more complicated as more people were vaccinated or previously infected.

Now there’s so much more to sort through to identify trends. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are still surprises in case data as Omicron infections explode.

And explode they will, doubling every three days — if not more in less time.

I still can’t wrap my head around the number of cases this variant is expected to produce. I’d like to recommend you listen to this Twitter Spaces recording of a discussion with Financial Times’ statistics journalist John Burn Murdoch, pharma correspondents Hanna Kuchler, Jamie Smyth, and Donato Mancini, and senior editor Clive Cookson.

Link: https://twitter.com/FinancialTimes/status/1471134080175689731

A caveat before you dive in: the discussion has a UK+EU bias given the location of the participants and their employer. The UK’s handling of COVID has been absolutely abysmal to date and may shape their perspectives.

An even bigger caveat: Twitter Spaces self-delete in 30 days, so you only have 27 more days to listen to their discussion. Catch it before January 13, 2022.

I also can’t wrap my head around the dramatically increased contagiousness of Omicron versus Delta. Delta was already much more contagious than the initial dominant variant; its electrostatic charge caused the aerosolized virus to be attracted to soft human tissues like magnets.

Omicron, though, is 70 times more infectious than Delta. Just fucking mind boggling, this jump from Delta, and what it means for this winter as we approach the holidays.

A preliminary study suggests the Omicron variant is better at transmission because it infects the upper airway, but bad at infecting the lower lungs explaining why it presents with milder symptoms than its predecessor, Delta. Attaching itself to tissues higher in the airway the virus can be more easily dispersed in aerosol, but lower in the lungs the virus is more difficult to blow out.

The increase in infectiousness means you MUST upgrade your masks, especially before holiday gatherings in enclosed spaces. Fabric alone will no longer do the job even if everyone in the same shared space is wearing them. This goes for health care workers, too, who’ve continued to wear surgical masks through the pandemic when they could get their hands on them. All of us need to be wearing N95 masks in shared public spaces to reduce transmission.

Testing will become more critical because Omicron may present for many like common cold symptoms, hence my scramble yesterday to get tested. A year ago I might have blown off the symptoms I had because I didn’t lose my sense of smell and/or taste, didn’t run a temperature, didn’t have breathing problems or feel like I was losing oxygen. But not now – I can’t do that.

Nor can we ignore the fearsome possibility of co-infection or super-infection as mentioned in Financial Times’ discussion, in which the infected has both Delta and Omicron at the same time. Imagine this kind of scenario creating conditions for development of a new variant which is everything bad about Delta and Omicron combined. There’s also the possibility of co-infection with influenza, which has already happened though infrequently so far.

If this is what lungs looked like with the earlier variants, what will they look like with a super-infection of Delta and Omicron combined? Will we see more patients in need of lung transplants even earlier? Will we simply see an increase in mortality?

Only time, observation, and data will tell, and we’d really rather not accrue any data.

One thing we have learned about Omicron: the Johnson & Johnson adenovirus-vector one-shot vaccine is not effective against it, based on a study (pre-print) by Vir Biotechnology Inc. employees published this past Wednesday.

The Center for Disease Control issued a statement of preference for mRNA vaccines as well given the risk of death from unusual clotting observed across the population vaccinated with J&J. This means if you are J&J vaccinated but unboosted, you should look into an mRNA booster as soon as possible. This is fluid and may be subject to change; I wouldn’t be surprised with Omicron’s explosion of cases to see revaccination with a full regimen of mRNA recommended for J&J recipients.

~ ~ ~

Besides this unexpected Chinese fire drill of chasing COVID tests and results, what’s really frustrating is the continued absurd nihilistic conservatism of many unvaccinated and their maskless counterparts.

Exhibit A: Matthew Walter, arch Catholic, editor of The Lamp, contributor to the American Conservative, and the author of “Where I Live, No One Cares About COVID,” unfortunately published by The Atlantic.

Let’s make a distinction here between the folks who are still struggling to get vaccinated because of vampiric capitalism and racism. Many unvaccinated people want to be protected but can’t take the time away from work to get their shots and deal with the possible symptoms which often follow the vaccine. We forget too many Americans living in precarity risk losing their jobs if they or their family members are sick because this country hasn’t ensured a reasonable amount of paid time off for illness let alone health maintenance. These same workers end up gambling on not getting COVID because they can’t afford to take a handful of days for the vaccinations and booster for themselves and their family. If COVID gets them, well, they know it’s all over.

Ditto the unvaccinated who have legitimate health conditions which preclude vaccination. For them the rest of us should be vaccinated.

But the deliberately unvaccinated and COVID indifferent who identify with Matthew Walther? Fuck them.

All those stupid assholes like Walther who’ve decided to pretend there’s no pandemic, choosing instead to party on Michigan’s Torch Lake’s sandbar back in July 2020, causing a superspreader event? Fuck them all, the selfish gits.

Fuck all the jerks fighting mask and vaccine mandates, who’d rather kids and their teachers got sick with COVID, causing more superspreader events.

Sure, I get it – Walther wrote his misbegotten spike-worthy piece for The Atlantic from his deep red rural St. Joseph County located on the Michigan border with red state Indiana. The Atlantic’s editors stupidly decided to both-sides the pandemic.

But The Atlantic failed to look at what side they were giving oxygen by platforming Walther. The town in which Walther’s journal The Lamp is published has a population of less than 8000.

And they’re white, white, white.

It’s a super homogenous location where nobody gives a shit about COVID because nearly 90% of them share the same everything from skin color to politics. They act as if the only people who get COVID, are disabled by it or die from it are those people in Metro Detroit area. That’s the hidden subtext in Walther’s essay.

The Ameri-centric xenophobia also rolls off Walther:

…Indeed, there is something small-minded and puritanical and distinctly American about the whole business of obsessing over whether vaccinated teachers remove their face covering during a long school day. …

Shall we ask Japan and South Korea about mask wearing and other COVID mitigation measures? Japan’s population is 38% of the U.S. and has had less than 19,000 COVID deaths to date, while South Korea at 15% of U.S. population has had less than 5,000 COVID deaths in the same time frame.

Apparently the world doesn’t exist outside predominantly white spaces like the U.S. and Europe for Walther. We look like morons not only because of the ongoing mass death event but because folks like Walther insist there’s nothing to see, move along.

But I, too, live in Michigan, in a limnal space between a suburb and rural Michigan. It’s not just those people  who are getting sick, hospitalized, disabled, or dying because of COVID. Here we all know quite a few white people who’ve died of COVID, the disease Walther doesn’t give a shit about any longer; the obituaries scrolling by on the local television stations are wall to wall with these white faces.

It’s not just these disposable people to whom Walther is indifferent who are casualties. COVID is chewing up our health care system capacity to the point the feds have sent in support personnel; it’s eating the spirit of our health care workers to the point where many are leaving health care permanently.

ER doctor Rob Davidson lives and works only four counties and a hundred miles north of Walther, in a community which is even smaller and whiter than Three Rivers:

If you follow Dr. Davidson on Twitter you know how frustrated he and health care workers are to care for so many who are deathly ill and too often die when the disease could have been mitigated or prevented with a readily available vaccine regimen. Many of the people lost are friends and neighbors who refused to get vaccinated.

As Davidson notes, “…they’ve been poisoned with this idea that A, COVID’s not a big deal from the beginning and B, these vaccines will somehow make them sick.”

That’s what Walther’s piece continues to validate and nurture because it was platformed by The Atlantic – the other Big Lie which Trump began and continues with propping up by right-wing wretches who treat others’ lives like so much toilet paper, supported by media complicity and click-bait cupidity.

When the pandemic began, Trump wanted to save his own ass at the polls so he repeatedly assured his weak-minded base that COVID wasn’t a big deal, it was a hoax, it would disappear.

Except it was American’s lives which disappeared – more than 800,000 so far, of which more than a third could have been saved by vaccines had Trump left a distribution plan in place instead of another Big Lie.

Nearly double that 800,000 have been lost if excess deaths are included due to COVID’s drain on our health infrastructure.

Which means we’ve lost roughly two million Americans because of Trump’s other Big Lie – a passive-aggressive democide by active neglect.

The capper on Walther’s nihilistic crap: while he claims nobody cares about COVID, a couple thousand people are slogging away in Portage, a mere 26 miles north of Walther’s digs.

They’re producing as much of Pfizer-BioNTech’s Comirnaty vaccine as fast as they can. There’s a Pfizer plant under construction to expand production of injectables which will bring 450 more new jobs. Other biotech companies and their workers in southeast Michigan support Pfizer’s production.

These Michigan residents and employers care one hell of a lot about COVID, and they’ve saved millions of lives.

Which makes Walther’s op-ed look like what it is, an extension of Trump’s democidal lie and an insult to the conscientiousness and humanity of fellow Michigan residents.

A literal insult to neighbors who may be commuting from Walther’s town to make life-saving vaccines every day.

I hope some day Walther meets his Catholic god and is told what an offense it has been that he treated other human’s lives with so little respect and dignity.

~ ~ ~

Status update: Both my antigen and PCR tests came back negative. My coughing is subsiding, leaving just the occasional tickle. I hope this was just an extremely mild cold or an autoimmune flare. But I’m now back on heightened alert; if this was a cold, how did I get it? Could I have infected one or more of the few people I’ve been in contact with this week?

Stay safe, peeps. Don’t drop your guard just yet. Get your booster shot, and a flu shot, too.

____

Commenter “Doug Fir” took exception to the use of the word “transmissibility” and the substitution of the word “infectious.” Reporting across the media ecosphere has used transmission/contagion/infection and variants of these words interchangeably; this is a point needing further explication and explanation by researchers who are still studying Omicron’s differentiation from other variants. I’ll point to this excerpt from an article in StatNews also linked above as the most thorough reporting but still not definitive as it is based on preliminary data:

The new research comes from a Hong Kong University team led by public health professor Michael Chan Chi-wai and pathologist John Nicholls. Previously, the researchers pioneered a method for growing human tissues extracted from the lung and respiratory tract, which they used to study how SARS-CoV-2 invaded cells and replicated compared to other dangerous coronaviruses. Using this same system, they analyzed how live, replicating particles of Omicron infected the tissues. They found that over the first 24 hours, Omicron multiplied about 70 times faster inside respiratory-tract tissue than the Delta variant. When they ran the same experiments with the lung tissue, they found Omicron was actually worse at infecting those cells than either Delta or the original strain of the virus that originated in Wuhan.

That seemingly helps explain the variant’s infectiousness, and also why it may not be causing as severe sickness as previous variants of the coronavirus — as early data suggest.

“That basically tells us it’s inherently more transmissible,” said Müge Çevik, a clinical lecturer in infectious diseases and medical virology at the University of St. Andrews School of Medicine in Scotland. “The reason Omicron is spreading so fast is not just because of immune evasion” — its ability to elude antibodies from vaccines or infection with earlier variants — “but a combination of that with intrinsic enhanced infectiousness.”

It appears Omicron is not as effective as Delta in attaching to tissues deeper in the lungs; it attaches more effectively to the trachea and bronchi or upper airways where it can be more easily blown out as aerosol others can inhale especially if not well masked and in enclosed shared space with poor ventilation.


A Somewhat Charitable View Of Vaccine Refusers

Posts in this series

In my last three posts I examined David Brooks’s theory that vaccine refusal is is one result of the rejection of his version of the epistemic regime of the his version of the creative class, and with it the expertise and knowledge claimed by scientists, academics and other experts. He relies in part on Jonathan Rauch’s book The Construction Of Knowledge. Brooks is just wrong; here’s what Rauch actually says.

I don’t think people reject the scientific method or the epistemic regime under which it operates. I don’t see anyone saying physicists are wrong about quantum mechanics, or that antibiotics don’t work. People go to the doctor when they’re sick in the same numbers as always.

I think the actual problem with vaccine resisters is that they think that whether or not to take a Covid vaccine is a political issue or a social issue about which they are entitled to have an opinion, instead of public health problems firmly in the realm of professional expertise.

To explain this further, here are some of the factors that governed my decision to get the vaccine. I did my own research. I knew most vaccines are made from attenuated viruses or inactivated viruses. Covid vaccines use a different technique. Here’s the New York Times description of the mechanism. Here’s the Wikipedia entry for mRNA vaccines. Here’s a comprehensive description of the construction of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Here’s a comprehensive description of the manufacturing process for the mRNA vaccines.

This research raised questions I cannot answer. For example, are there proteins in a normal body shaped like the spike protein and is that a problem? I have to rely on experts on that question. But is the FDA so politicized it would approve a dangerous vaccine because Trump interfered?

I talked to a friend, a health care journalist, about the issue of politicization of the FDA. He seemed confident that the FDA was safely independent. One of my brothers has worked on getting FDA approval for drugs for serious diseases, and he explained their procedures. He was also confident about FDA independence.

In the Fall of 2020, my extended family got into an email discussion of the vaccines. One of my nieces is a virologist who is working on a monoclonal antibody treatment for Covid. She told us to take whatever vaccine we could get the day we could first get it.

I knew I wouldn’t be in the first wave of people getting vaccinated. That maeant there was an even bigger trial out there, all those people ahead of me.

In sum, I did my own research, but other factors were vastly more important than my understanding of the vaccine. I have no way to assess the accumulated stores of scientific knowledge that led to the vaccine, or any way to evaluate the clinical trials or the data they generated. All I can hope to do is come to a rough understanding, and perhaps come up with a question about the applicability to my personal situation.

This is true of all scientific matters. Mostly it doesn’t matter. My computer works. I don’t have to understand it. I just have to learn how to use it for my own ends. I use a several drugs to protect my eyes from further damage. I checked, and I can vaguely understand how the experts think they work, but really, I just take my doctor’s advice.

So far I’ve only looked at knowledge about the physical world. The problem is different in the social world. For example, I pay attention to politics, and I think I have a reasonable set of principles and priorities that govern my political views. I can evaluate political issues by comparing them to what I personally observe, what I see in the media, and my principles and priorities. But I’m fully aware that most of my thinking comes from reading the views of other people, and trying to incorporate them into a coherent picture with other things I think.

In my last post I quoted Rauch talking about the importance of family and tribe in making decisions. I agree with him that on a wide range of life issues the decisive factors are our family, our tribe, and the people and groups with which we generally agree. One of the very few exceptions is our specific efforts to increase human knowledge, where we stick closely to Rauch’s reality-based epistemic regime. We all depend on others in making decisions about everything, not just our layman’s understanding of scientific matters.

I assume other people operate about like I do. They listen to family, tribe, trusted people, and read stuff on the internet. Then they test that information against some internal standard, and either accept or reject it. Most people across all divides in our society think they are capable of doing this accurately. This idea has its roots in a view of human beings and in the ideology of individualism. It’s at the heart of neoliberalism, which says we can always figure out what we want and need. I don’t think so. I agree with C.S. Perice that all we really want to do is avoid the unpleasant feeling of doubt by coming to any firm belief.

So what we have with the vaccine refusers is a category error. If this were a straight issue of scientific knowledge, most people would realize they cannot evaluate it and are dependent on professionals.

The Trumpified Republicans and their media and armed wings amplified the idea that the pandemic and Covid are political issues. Because the government and politicians were out front in dealing with Covid, people were primed to think of Covid as a political issue. Too many people tried to evaluate vaccines and public health measures as political issues, which led them to listen to their usual political sources, right-wing media and politicians, and their friends and trusted groups.

Their confidence was buoyed by the availability of information from the internet. But they weren’t looking at the information in the links I put above. They were listening to intentional liars, Qrazies and anti-vaxxers. Social media algorithms probably amplified this disinformation.

People tried to construct a mental picture taking their new information into account without upsetting too much of their general world view. That didn’t work, because there was too intense a conflict between the reality of the pandemic and the views they were getting from their preferred sources. So we hear people denying that Covid is a real thing and constructing detailed theories about conspiracies between Doctors and Big Pharma to make tons of money. We get theories that vaccines and masks are government efforts to control our lives. For the larger number of people who don’t follow closely, this becomes confusing and vaguely scary. In the end, we as a nation are no where near the necessary number of vaccinations.

This explanation doesn’t justify anything or anyone. You have to be sunk in stupidity to think that a vaccine is a political or social issue. You have to be a piece of human garbage to encourage people to reject vaccines against a dangerous disease. But it’s hard to blame low-information people for being worried about this ginned-up controversy.

It’s really maddening.


TL;DNR = Too Late; Do Not Resuscitate

[NB: check the byline, thanks! / ~Rayne]

A friend sent me this tweet with an embedded TikTok clip late Friday night:

Yes, Idaho’s Department of Health and Welfare declared it was activating Crisis Standards of Care (CSC) effective September 6; the standard was reiterated on September 16. The “Universal DNR” referred to in the TikTok is on page 9 of the IDHW’s document, Patient Care Strategies for Scarce Resource Situations for use under CSC conditions.

Idaho has simply run out of ICU beds, ventilators, and personnel to support persons who either code in the hospital or arrive at the hospital in need of resuscitation.

Technically speaking, the guideline isn’t universal across all of Idaho; the IDHW noted in its September 16 statement,

… Although DHW has activated CSC, hospitals will implement as needed and according to their own CSC policies. However, not all hospitals will move to that standard of care. If they are managing under their current circumstances, they can continue to do so. …

But chances are good if the ICU beds are full in any Idaho hospital, patients are being transferred to other hospitals until their beds are full as well.

None of this had to happen.

In fact, this change in triage methodology could have been foreseen.

Last March we saw the first documented and publicly acknowledged “codice nero” conditions in northern Italy and then in Detroit, when hospitals were completely overwhelmed by the first surge of COVID-19 patients. While Italians may not have known about the implementation of code black, Detroit’s local news reported on the change in triage protocols after patients and their families were notified on admission that care would be allocated in order of patients’ likelihood of survival due to the limited resources available, from ICU beds to ventilators to qualified health care staff.

The swamping of hospitals in March 2020 could have been avoided had lock-downs and mask mandates been implemented by the end of February/first week of March, but there likely would have been a surge in hospitalizations simply because government and public alike still had not fully acknowledged the threat COVID-19 posed.

Idaho’s hospitals have been and are among the worst in the nation for crisis care preparedness. As of the third week of August, Idaho was number three behind Georgia and Texas among states that are least prepared for hospital capacity. At that time Idaho’s ICU beds were already 83% occupied.

The state had ample to adjust to a pandemic and prepare for the possibility of a surge in COVID-19 cases. They had plenty of examples of crisis level care across the country to shape their response.

But now, nineteen months after the first wave began, when multiple vaccines are freely available to the public? The ICU beds are beyond full if Idaho must declare the equivalent of a code black.

Unvaccinated Idahoans chose this. They willfully opted to court hospitalization, long-term disability, and death by COVID-19.

The worst part is what the unvaccinated are doing to those who chose otherwise — like those who arrive at the hospital with a gunshot wound or a heart attack or stroke, who may have been vaccinated but are likely to die because they will only receive palliative care instead of interventions to save their lives.

Trump’s death panels continue apace.

~ ~ ~

EDIT: 21-SEP-2021 — 1:50 AM —

To make it easier for folks who don’t want to open the IDHW’s document, Patient Care Strategies for Scarce Resource Situations for use under CSC conditions to read page 9, here’s a snapshot:

Note there is zero reference to COVID-19 on the entire page and the “Universal DNR Order” refers to all patients in cardiac arrest.


GOP Denounces Barry Goldwater, John Tower, and Richard Nixon?

John Tower and Barry Goldwater, ca. 1963.

The Republican governors are all clutching their pearls over Biden’s announcement to use the power of the federal government to require many businesses across the country to ensure their employees are either vaccinated against COVID-19 or are regularly tested. The New York Times did a round-up of some their comments, many taken from either Twitter or Sunday morning talk shows. Here’s a taste . . .

Now, they [various GOP governors] are arguing that Mr. Biden’s plan is a big-government attack on states’ rights, private business and personal choice, and promise swift legal action to challenge it, setting up a high-stakes constitutional showdown over the president’s powers to curb the pandemic.

“@JoeBiden see you in court,” Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota wrote on Twitter. Gov. Mark Gordon of Wyoming said the new rule “has no place in America,” and said he had asked the state’s attorney general to be ready to take legal action.

In Texas, Attorney General Ken Paxton questioned President Biden’s authority to require vaccinations or weekly testing at private businesses with more than 100 workers.

“I don’t believe he has the authority to just dictate again from the presidency that every worker in America that works for a large company or a small company has to get a vaccine,” Mr. Paxton said, speaking on a radio show hosted by Steve Bannon, who served as a strategist for Donald J. Trump during part of his presidency. “That is outside the role of the president to dictate.”

[snip]

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas called the actions an “assault on private businesses” in a statement on Twitter. He said he issued an executive order protecting Texans’ right to choose whether or not they would be vaccinated. “Texas is already working to halt this power grab,” he wrote.

Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona wrote on Twitter: “The Biden-Harris administration is hammering down on private businesses and individual freedoms in an unprecedented and dangerous way.” He questioned how many workers would be displaced, businesses fined, and children kept out of the classroom because of the mandates, and he vowed to push back.

*sigh*

Friends, let me introduce you to Public Law 91-596, initially signed into law on December 29, 1970 by Richard Nixon, and amended variously since then. Below are the first two sections of the law. Notice, please, the language I’ve highlighted with underlining (bold is from the original text):

An Act
To assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women; by authorizing enforcement of the standards developed under the Act; by assisting and encouraging the States in their efforts to assure safe and healthful working conditions; by providing for research, information, education, and training in the field of occupational safety and health; and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That this Act may be cited as the “Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.”

Footnote (1) See Historical notes at the end of this document for changes and amendments affecting the OSH Act since its passage in 1970 through January 1, 2004.

SEC. 2. Congressional Findings and Purpose
(a) The Congress finds that personal injuries and illnesses arising out of work situations impose a substantial burden upon, and are a hindrance to, interstate commerce in terms of lost production, wage loss, medical expenses, and disability compensation payments.

(b) The Congress declares it to be its purpose and policy, through the exercise of its powers to regulate commerce among the several States and with foreign nations and to provide for the general welfare, to assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions and to preserve our human resources

My, but the language of paragraph (a) sounds like Congress intended the US Department of Labor to regulate conditions that create or spread illnesses in the workplace, and paragraph (b) states pretty clearly where Congress claimed the authority for doing so is grounded in the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution.

Continuing on, the act spelled out some of the details of that “purpose and policy” with the following 13 sub-paragraphs (again, underlining is mine):

(1) by encouraging employers and employees in their efforts to reduce the number of occupational safety and health hazards at their places of employment, and to stimulate employers and employees to institute new and to perfect existing programs for providing safe and healthful working conditions;

(2) by providing that employers and employees have separate but dependent responsibilities and rights with respect to achieving safe and healthful working conditions;

(3) by authorizing the Secretary of Labor to set mandatory occupational safety and health standards applicable to businesses affecting interstate commerce, and by creating an Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission for carrying out adjudicatory functions under the Act;

(4) by building upon advances already made through employer and employee initiative for providing safe and healthful working conditions;

(5) by providing for research in the field of occupational safety and health, including the psychological factors involved, and by developing innovative methods, techniques, and approaches for dealing with occupational safety and health problems;

(6) by exploring ways to discover latent diseases, establishing causal connections between diseases and work in environmental conditions, and conducting other research relating to health problems, in recognition of the fact that occupational health standards present problems often different from those involved in occupational safety;

(7) by providing medical criteria which will assure insofar as practicable that no employee will suffer diminished health, functional capacity, or life expectancy as a result of his work experience;

(8) by providing for training programs to increase the number and competence of personnel engaged in the field of occupational safety and health; affecting the OSH Act since its passage in 1970 through January 1, 2004.

(9) by providing for the development and promulgation of occupational safety and health standards;

(10) by providing an effective enforcement program which shall include a prohibition against giving advance notice of any inspection and sanctions for any individual violating this prohibition;

(11) by encouraging the States to assume the fullest responsibility for the administration and enforcement of their occupational safety and health laws by providing grants to the States to assist in identifying their needs and responsibilities in the area of occupational safety and health, to develop plans in accordance with the provisions of this Act, to improve the administration and enforcement of State occupational safety and health laws, and to conduct experimental and demonstration projects in connection therewith;

(12) by providing for appropriate reporting procedures with respect to occupational safety and health which procedures will help achieve the objectives of this Act and accurately describe the nature of the occupational safety and health problem;

(13) by encouraging joint labor-management efforts to reduce injuries and disease arising out of employment.

And what kind of liberal cabal forced this clearly authoritarian legislation through Congress? I’m glad you asked.

The Senate vote was 83-3, with 14 not voting. Among the 83 were Barry Goldwater and John Tower — not exactly a liberal pair of folks. The only three senators to vote against this were James Eastland, Sam Ervin, and Strom Thurmond. Over in the House, the final vote was 310-58, with 65 not voting. Looking at the voting patterns of some of the state delegations, it’s plain to see that this was both bipartisan and widely accepted on their side of the building, too.

  • Kentucky (4D/3R) voted 7-0-0;
  • Wisconsin (5D/5R) voted 9-0-1;
  • Oklahoma (4D/2R) voted 5-0-1;
  • Florida (9D/3R) voted 6-4-2, with the 4 nays all Democrats and 2 who abstained both GOP;
  • Tennessee (5D/4R) voted 5-1-3 (the 3 included 2 Dems and 1 Republican);
  • Arkansas (4D/1R) voted 4-0-1 (the 1 was a D);
  • South Dakota’s (2R) voted 1-0-1;
  • Montana (2D) voted 2-0-0;
  • Wyoming’s sole GOP representative voted aye.

In other words, there were staunch conservatives who voted for this, along with plenty of non-conservatives. The bill that became Public Law 91-596 was seen by a wide majority of both the members of the House and Senate to be a good thing, and well within the powers of the Federal Government to undertake.

Go back to the text of the law above, and look at items 6 and 7. These both make clear that OSHA’s mission includes dealing with disease transmission in the workplace. Then skip down to 11, which says the Federal government should work with states, including providing grants for this work. You know, like providing a free vaccine to deal with disease transmission in the workplace.

OSHA has been around for more than 50 years, and no one has succeeded in challenging their the authority to regulate health conditions in the workplace under this act. There have been successful arguments overturning specific regulations, but the authority to regulate has not been overturned.

I’m not a governor or an attorney general, but I can read the plain text of the law. I can see the wide political range of legislators who voted to create OSHA, and given that OSHA is still here and going strong after 50 years, it’s clear that the ability of the federal government to regulate the workplace for safety and health has not been overturned or declared unconstitutional.

So if anyone reading happens to be in conversation with one of these pearl-clutching Republican leaders when they start in on their “This is unprecedented and un-American!” nonsense, ask them for a link.

Better yet, ask Governor Ducey why Goldwater voted for OSHA. Ask Governor Abbott and AG Paxton why John Tower voted for OSHA. Ask any of today’s so-called conservatives why a bunch of other conservatives voted with Goldwater and Tower to approve OSHA, and why a conservative like Richard Nixon signed it.


The Danger Of Stupidity

Posts in this series

In the first post in this series, I quoted Charles Sanders Peirce for the proposition that the only reason we think is to relieve doubt by coming to a belief. We don’t necessarily seek the best belief, or some objectively correct belief (if there is one), though we might, and it might be best if we did. All we really want to do is to relieve doubt.

But that leaves out people who don’t ever doubt anything. It also points to people who claim to think but who aren’t interested in the solution with the best chance of meeting their most important needs; just something that relieves them of doubt. The pandemic has produced excellent examples. Media coverage and life experience have caused many people doubt. They look for relief from the doubt. They don’t need the best answer, or a sane answer, they just need to settle whatever their doubt might be.

David Byrd

In June 2020, Tennessee State Representative David Byrd of Waynesboro, TN voted for a resolution stating that the mainstream media has sensationalized the coverage of Covid-19, and that the General Assembly

… congratulate[s] the people of Tennessee for clearly seeing that the mainstream media has sensationalized the reporting on COVID-19 in the service of political agendas.

Byrd was diagnosed with Covid November 25, went into the hospital December 5, was on a ventilator for 55 days, lost his liver and required a transplant, and came out of it urging people to get vaccinated. He got sick before the vaccine was available, and he claims never to have been anti-vax. He now thinks Covid is dangerous and urges people to get vaccinated.

It’s hard to say what goes on in people’s minds, but the statement about sensationalizing the pandemic is an important clue. Assuming that he actually believes this, what exactly was he talking about? Media coverage wasn’t bloody. I think it didn’t go far enough in showing the frightening situation of sick and dying people. TV reporters did not show actual patients, or corpses. If Byrd had seen video of people breathing by ventilator, he might not have been so blasé about his own risk. If he had listened to Covid patients trying to breathe on their own, he might have thought twice about hanging around with potential vectors, including his equally ill-informed colleagues. Did he think it was political and thus damaging to Trump? Would political fault matter to sick and dying people, or people who didn’t understand the danger? Did he feel the same way about the absurd emails and Benghazi frenzies?

No, I think we can safely analyze this in Charles Sanders Peirce’s terms as expressed in The Fixation of Belief (1877):

The irritation of doubt is the only immediate motive for the struggle to attain belief. It is certainly best for us that our beliefs should be such as may truly guide our actions so as to satisfy our desires; and this reflection will make us reject every belief which does not seem to have been so formed as to insure this result. … [T]he sole object of inquiry is the settlement of opinion. We may fancy that this is not enough for us, and that we seek, not merely an opinion, but a true opinion. But put this fancy to the test, and it proves groundless; for as soon as a firm belief is reached we are entirely satisfied, whether the belief be true or false.

Byrd had a doubt about Covid that he wanted to relieve by finding a belief that would satisfy his desires. His only desire was political, not his personal safety. So he fixed on a political belief. Sadly that was a bad guess about the best thing for him.

Phil Valentine

Phil Valentine is a conservative talk radio host on WWTN-FM in Nashville. Here’s his blog post on the vaccine dated December 17, 2020. After ranting about Hillary Clinton and the dearth of credit to Trump for getting the vaccine out there, he says:

I’m not an anti-vaxxer. I’m just using common sense. What are my odds of getting COVID? They’re pretty low. What are my odds of dying from COVID if I do get it? Probably way less than one percent. I’m doing what everyone should do and that’s my own personal health risk assessment. If you have underlying health issues you probably need to get the vaccine. If you’re not at high risk of dying from COVID then you’re probably safer not getting it. That evokes shrieks of horror from many, but it’s true. I’m weighing the known versus the unknown.

I suppose we might ask what these “unknowns” are, or whether he plans on getting the pneumonia and shingles vaccines, but that’s too picky. Maybe he’s just not very smart. Here’s his take on climate change, echoing the idiot Senator Imhofe with his dumb snowball. Valentine does his own reasoning and research on the pandemic. It might have been better to start with a question like this: scientists, including epidemiologists, virologists, and public health experts say Covid is dangerous, and that the vaccines are safe and work, so everyone should get a jab. Now how am I different from everyone else? Why isn’t that the best advice for me?

Instead, I’ll guess he read some stuff about Covid, and decided he knew best about his own body and its ability to shut down the virus. He thinks we should all make our own decisions about our health, apparently without reference to expertise. He thinks we marvelous Americans can handle the complexity of the pandemic in the same way we decide between tacos and huevos rancheros. He places no value on scientific information or conclusions, doesn’t know any statistics, doesn’t grasp the principles of epidemiology or virology, doesn’t understand and probably doesn’t believe in the principles that underlie the vaccines, and doesn’t think any of that is important. I’ll bet he can’t do his own taxes, though.

And, guess what: nearly dying has converted him to a vaccine believer.

Valentine at least recognized that the right question is his personal safety; but he doesn’t know how to think about that problem, and just happens to come out in the same place as David Byrd.

The disinterested, the ignorant, and the prejudiced

There is a large group who just ignore the problem, or believe nonsense. I won’t use names, but they’re all over: people who just couldn’t quite get around to getting vaccinated, or who are convinced that it’s a trap or a hoax. Here are some examples.

These are people who aren’t paying attention. I am grateful for the people reaching out to them. They are doing what needs to be done.

Conclusion

In the first post in this series, I hinted at my view that bad thinking is central to the success of the Oligarchy in spreading their self-aggrandizing lies. I hope this discussion helps us see how well that works.

In an earlier series I argued that democracy only works if there is a sense of community among the members. As we face the pandemic and the desperately dangerous climate disaster, we need to operate as a community. We have to operate on the principle that no one is safe unless we are all safe. We have to settle our doubts in the way that will enable us to flourish, not in ways that fit our prejudices.

[Image Source: “I Did My Own Research” by @GQPMonitor]


This Is Your D*ck on COVID-19: Reaching Stubbornly Unvaxxed Men

[NB: Note the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

New Yorker’s contributor Jelani Cobb tweeted this weekend about improving vaccination rates:

Color me highly skeptical.

Anti-vaxx/COVID-hoax/Anti-Mask men have studiously ignored science throughout the pandemic, including 15 months of published research about the risk COVID poses to their ‘nads.

I wrote last September about the risks to men’s reproductive organs:

Autopsies of COVID-19 victims showed damage to testicles:

Yang M, et al. Pathological Findings in the Testes of COVID-19 Patients: Clinical Implications. Eur
Urol Focus (2020), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.euf.2020.05.009
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2405456920301449

Based on findings, not only should kidney function and hormone levels be monitored but younger men should receive fertility counseling for family planning:

Wang, S., Zhou, X., Zhang, T. et al. The need for urogenital tract monitoring in COVID-19. Nat Rev Urol 17, 314–315 (2020). Published 20 April 2020 Issue Date June 2020
https://doi.org/10.1038/s41585-020-0319-7
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41585-020-0319-7

There have been many anecdotes of patients with sequelae lasting months after their initial illness. A large enough number exist for them to form groups in social media to compare notes about their experience. As the underlying SARS-CoV-2 virus is novel, we don’t have years of experience to look back upon for trends. We can’t yet predict whether there will be lifelong disability though many patients have reported development of diabetes, kidney dysfunction, heart disease, neurological impairment which have lasted months after they were technically deemed recovered. Studies on COVID-19’s long term effects have only recently begun and may last months to years.

Last fall we didn’t have anywhere near the amount of data we have now on COVID-19. The evidence accrued since the first published study from last April only confirmed many men infected by SARS-CoV-2 have suffered vascular damage to penile and testicular tissue. Though at least one study indicates semen may be an unlikely vector of infection carrying little active viral material, biopsies of living and deceased patients show damage to testicles which may result in lower sperm counts.

In other words, not only may men who’ve had COVID not be able to get it up, they may have difficulty impregnating their partner.

And we don’t yet know with certainty what percentage of men will have permanent damage versus long- or short-term damage.

If COVID damages blood vessels in men’s reproductive organs the same way it does in other organs and limbs, erectile dysfunction medications like Viagara and Cialis may not work as well (or at all) because functioning blood vessels are needed to distribute the medication throughout tissues, so to say.

Are women also experiencing damage to their reproductive organs? At least one study from last summer suggested SARS-C0V-2 could affect the endometrial cells in women’s uteruses posing a risk to pregnancies.

But here’s a key difference in the amount of COVID damage risk between women and men: men have more ACE2 receptors because of their testosterone. The study on women’s uteruses suggests ACE2 levels will vary with progesterone levels during a woman’s cycle and phase of pregnancy — they won’t have the same level of risk all the time.

There have been more studies examining the risk to men’s reproductive organs since last September:

Achua, Justin K et al. “Histopathology and Ultrastructural Findings of Fatal COVID-19 Infections on Testis.” The world journal of men’s health vol. 39,1 (2021): 65-74. doi:10.5534/wjmh.200170
[Published online 2020 Nov 3]
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7752514/

Abdel-Moneim, Adel. “COVID-19 Pandemic and Male Fertility: Clinical Manifestations and Pathogenic Mechanisms.” Biochemistry. Biokhimiia vol. 86,4 (2021): 389-396. doi:10.1134/S0006297921040015
[Published 2021 Mar 19]
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7978437/

Kresch, Eliyahu et al. “COVID-19 Endothelial Dysfunction Can Cause Erectile Dysfunction: Histopathological, Immunohistochemical, and Ultrastructural Study of the Human Penis.” The world journal of men’s health vol. 39,3 (2021): 466-469. doi:10.5534/wjmh.210055
[Published online 2021 May 7]
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8255400/

Moghimi, Negin et al. “COVID-19 disrupts spermatogenesis through the oxidative stress pathway following induction of apoptosis.” Apoptosis : an international journal on programmed cell death, 1–16. 2 Jun. 2021, doi:10.1007/s10495-021-01680-2
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8170653/

There are more studies out there, and there have been articles in media outlets about these studies along with a corresponding uptick in social media after each article.

But men don’t seem to be paying attention to these studies or reports, let alone personal anecdotes which surely must be emerging in their social circles.

Nor have men paid close attention to COVID’S gender disparity:

COVID-19 doesn’t strike the sexes equally. Globally, for every 10 COVID-19 intensive care unit admissions among women, there are 18 for men; for every 10 women who die of COVID-19, 15 men die. …

What the heck is it going to take to get men vaccinated if they don’t care about their reproductive health and sexual wellbeing, or even their greater risk of death and disability from COVID?

Perhaps if COVID looked more like a gun, men would be more willing to go out and arm themselves against it.


This Is Bullshit: Silver Takes the Gold for COVID Guff [UPDATE-1]

[NB: Check the byline, thanks. Update at bottom of post. /~Rayne]

I’m sure my neighbors wondered what the hell was going on here Friday. The weather was nice enough that my windows were wide open exposing those within hearing to my vented spleen. There was so much crap in my social media I couldn’t help yell, “Bullshit, bullshit, absolute bullshit!” I can only hope they thought I was yelling about the Olympics.

What really set me off was dangerous twaddle from someone who should long ago have learned not to opine without data.

Because he refuses to stick to his lane using data to support his case, Nate Silver has become anathema, all of his own doing. His bullshit tweet Friday about COVID can get people killed if they pay him any heed at all.

No data offered here to support this swag – it’s pure opinion.

For the last couple of months we’ve known we haven’t been dealing with the same virus variant which began the pandemic; we’re now up against a far more transmissible version the features of which researchers are still analyzing.

In its pandemic coverage, the Washington Post reported the Centers for Disease Control acknowledged in an internal memo “the war [against COVID] has changed”:

… The document strikes an urgent note, revealing the agency knows it must revamp its public messaging to emphasize vaccination as the best defense against a variant so contagious that it acts almost like a different novel virus, leaping from target to target more swiftly than Ebola or the common cold.

It cites a combination of recently obtained, still-unpublished data from outbreak investigations and outside studies showing that vaccinated individuals infected with delta may be able to transmit the virus as easily as those who are unvaccinated. Vaccinated people infected with delta have measurable viral loads similar to those who are unvaccinated and infected with the variant. …

In other words our past assumptions about SARS-C0V-2 no longer work; this isn’t a virus with a replication factor of R2 (in which one infected person infects two more on average) but an R-naught much higher.

Let’s revisit what was known at the end of June this year about the Delta variant in this explainer I’ve shared before:

It’s the change in charge and in the amino acid described in Rob Swanda’s video above which may be responsible for both the high level of virus load found in both unvaccinated and vaccinated individuals. Think of the electrostatic charge as acting like a magnet, attracting more virus to receptors, combined with a change to the spike protein which may allow the virus to attack host cells more quickly and not be recognized quite as rapidly by vaccinated persons’ immune systems. You’ll grasp why vaccinated persons are infectious and spreading the virus along with unvaccinated carriers.

For another overview which offers a fairly basic explanation of the process by which viruses mutate and then disperse as well as an overview of the Delta variant, see this MedCram video from July 20:

If you watch this video, do pay special note to dates on materials cited. There’s one graph in particular addressing the spread of Delta in the UK based on data from June; the spread of Delta is so aggressive that data wasn’t accurate by the time of this video a month later.

This article in BBC provides a graph showing the trend from mid/late June in the UK; Delta’s spread continued along that rapid uptick, resulting in more hospitalizations though vaccinations kept the rate from matching the last COVID surge. The MedCram video (at 5:17) does attribute the increase to the Delta variant.

Note also the differences in population testing positive for Delta – now much younger – and the admissions. While vaccinated individuals are still unlikely to need hospitalization as documented outbreaks like that in Provincetown MA show, they can still get the virus. We still don’t yet know what the long-term repercussions are among vaccinated individuals who have asymptomatic or mild cases of COVID. We do know that previous variants have caused damage among infected individuals even though they had asymptomatic or mild cases, and younger people including children were among those who were injured.

But now that we know vaccinated persons can both be infected with Delta and spread it, vaccinated persons can’t simply “choose to live [their] life ~however [they] want under COVID” because they pose a danger to individuals who can’t be vaccinated or are immune compromised.

That’s someone like Montel Williams, living with a compromised immune system, fully vaccinated, did everything right to protect himself, and yet someone infected him through thoughtless carelessness:

Don’t listen to bullshit from unqualified hacks who don’t have skin in the game. Pay attention to credentialed virologists, epidemiologists, public health professionals who are on top of the data related to COVID and the peer-reviewed research about its variants.

Above all continue to wear masks and maintain some level of social distancing even if you’re vaccinated, not just because you may become mildly ill but because you may infect others who may not be able to be vaccinated — particularly children — or who may be immune compromised.

This tweet shows the difference between an infected young teen’s lungs and health lungs; imagine this happening to younger children, unable to be vaccinated while vaccines have yet to be approved for use among those under age 12:

Prevent this from happening to more children by encouraging vaccination. The sooner we reach 70% or more vaccinated, the faster we can halt the emergence of the next highly-transmissible and damaging SARS-CoV-2 variant.

UPDATE-1 — 2:40 PM ET 31-JUL-2021 —

When some denialist throws a 99% survival rate statistic in your face, sit them down and share this.

Oh, was I suppose to provide a trigger warning? COVID doesn’t provide them, oops.

The video above only addresses patients who’ve been hospitalized. At least one recent study suggests an average 13-14% of persons who recover from COVID have symptoms lasting weeks and months, some of which are debilitating and reflect permanent damage COVID does to the body.

Freedom. Woo. Choose to live your life however you want. Good luck getting out of bed freely after hospitalization, or keeping your job while suffering from brain fog and other cognitive impairment found in long COVID.


Three Things: Mary Had a Little Lambda [UPDATE-1]

[NB: Note the byline, thanks. Update at bottom of post. /Rayne]

It feels odd after nearly 18 months to spend so much less time reading and writing about COVID. I guess that’s what successful vaccine will do to a pandemic.

But the pandemic isn’t over, not by a long chalk. There are far too many vaccine-resistant individuals in the U.S. let alone the rest of the world for us to think we’re aren’t at continued risk, even those of us who are vaccinated. Every unvaccinated person at this point is an incubator for another variant which may succeed in evading our current vaccines.

Just get your damned shot or shots.

~ 3 ~

It absolutely amazes me how stupid the right-wing has become in this country. They cannot see Trump’s propaganda amplified by Qultists and the foreign-influenced anti-vaxx movement is literally sickening and killing them.

I wonder if this is unintended blowback, though. During the Trump regime we could expect the executive branch to act in a way which hurt minority groups the most when they intersected with Democratic voting and/or Trump’s personal pet peeves (ex. Puerto Rico where thousands died after Hurricane Maria – the same territory where a Trump-managed golf course failed).

Trump as well as Trump minions and supporters may have perceived the disease as one of blue states due to the early, deep impact on locations like New York City and Detroit. Trump’s familial henchman Jared Kushner didn’t want COVID aid to go to blue states because it was against Trump’s political interests (read: helping states with more minority voters).

But what if the right-wing has onboarded the flawed belief that COVID disproportionately affects blue states and minorities to the point that the right-wing feels they don’t need no stinking masks or vaccines? They’re white cis-het GOP voters, they are superior, they are unassailable.

Of course they aren’t and now they are dying from the Delta variant wave, in direct opposition to what a hostile foreign entity’s destabilization program might intend.

~ 2 ~

We’ve worked our way through a handful of SARS-CoV-2 variants, with Delta currently spreading like crazy across the country. This won’t be the last variant virus wave so long as less than 70-80% of the U.S. population is vaccinated.

There’s already another virus virologists, epidemiologists, and public health officials are watching closely to see if it is as transmissible as Delta or worse. Say howdy to Lambda, described here by scientist Rob Swanda.

It wouldn’t hurt to have an overview of Delta for that matter, with regard to its greatly increased transmissibility over previous variants’ mutations. Here’s Swanda’s Delta overview.

~ 1 ~

Media-disseminated disinformation and misinformation related to COVID is killing people, much of it focused on attacking the vaccines which prevent both its spread and severe infection. Joe Biden was too candid for Facebook’s taste when he said it’s killing people.

In this Twitter thread, Renee DiResta, an expert on disinformation and propaganda dispersion, looks at COVID anti-vaxx propaganda’s emergence from the earlier anti-vaxx movement which she has studied for years, and Facebook’s role in dissemination and force amplification.

Though DiResta says Facebook has improved while other media and key political figures continue disperse anti-vaxx nonsense, Facebook remains a distributor of anti-vaxx content. There’s no getting around this and Facebook only responds to accusations with defensiveness rather than offering measures to reduce anti-vaxx material in its platform.

There’s also no getting around Facebook’s resistance to criticism even from our representatives in Congress.

If any other consumer product played a role in the hospitalization of tens of thousands of Americans, hundreds if not thousands of deaths, and thousands of cases long-term disability, would the American people tolerate that product not being regulated?

Apart from guns, of course.

~ 0 ~

Continue to press your unvaccinated friends, family, associates, neighbors to get vaccinated. There’s no good reason to subject our health care professionals to this kind of trauma when this disease is preventable.

And continue to wear a mask in public settings even if you’re vaccinated. You’re not likely to spread the virus, but you may still get infected given the current prevalence of Delta and its much greater transmissibility. If you’re vaccinated your chances of needing hospitalization are extremely low, which is the entire point of being vaccinated. But since we don’t yet know what the long-term effects are of cryptic/asymptomatic/mild cases of COVID in vaccinated persons, it’s not worth taking the risk of future long-term disability.

UPDATE-1 — 10:30 PM ET —

The doctor who couldn’t offer vaccines to COVID patients before intubation has been harassed.


Our health care workers don’t deserve this kind of treatment when they are both doing everything they can and telling the public the truth about COVID.

And while Delta remains the prevailing variant responsible for new cases across the country, Houston Methodist Hospital reported a case of Lambda today. Still no more data as to whether Lambda poses a greater threat than Delta.

Copyright © 2022 emptywheel. All rights reserved.
Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/covid-19/