Randomized control trial using masks.

Economists and perhaps others will benefit from seeing the results of this large-scale randomized controlled trial on wearing masks, in Bangledesh, which studied N=342,126 adults with three study arms: cluster randomized Villages and households with no intervention, with free cloth masks, and with free surgical masks. Participants also received information and local  reminders.

 

Here is the Yale research paper by economist Jason Abaluck et al describing the experiment.

The Impact of Community Masking on COVID-19: A Cluster Randomized Trial in Bangladesh. https://elischolar.library.yale.edu/cowles-discussion-paper-series/2642/

August, 2021

 

Here is a popular summary in the Atlantic from September 4, 2021

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/09/masks-were-working-all-along/619989/

 

The study shows the superiority of surgical masks over cloth masks, and the both sets of masks achieved a roughly ten percent reduction in symptomatic seroprevalence. This is less than perfect, but the study interventions were only able to increase the wearing of masks from 13% to 42% and raise social distancing from 24% to 29%. Recall that the study was done in Bangladesh.

Three sources on COVID-19

This BUHealth blog contains clips on practical advice about COVID-19 from a Harvard School of Public Health email, links to the The Vaccine Confidence Project, and an except from the CDC advisory on pregnancy and COVID-19

From: Harvard Executive Director Mark Dorgan <oer_info@hsph.harvard.edu>

While globally new cases are trending downward, the virus continues to spread. Half the world’s population still has not had a single shot, many people remain extremely vulnerable, and we continue to learn about the best ways to protect ourselves. For those who have access, medical masks far surpass cloth masks, mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) are proving most effective, and rapid tests can help make real-time decisions. In all cases, any protection is better than none.

Bill Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said in a recent interview, “You cannot tell where the virus is, or if somebody is infected with it, unless you test for it. Once testing becomes available, you suddenly turn on the lights and you see that there’s a huge problem. And by that stage, it’s a little bit too late to be able to control that problem.” Pardis Sabeti, professor of immunology and infectious diseases, added, “To do it right in the future, whenever a new viral threat emerges, we have to position…clinical labs to be able to set up testing right away.”

Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, advocates for at-home tests over PCR tests to help stem spread. “If you want to keep businesses running, or to be able to host a safe dinner at home, don’t ask people to get a PCR test two days before. Ask them to use a rapid test within two hours of coming over.” If it’s negative, he said, “It’s extremely unlikely that person is infectious and a risk to other people. It’s an extraordinarily effective way to keep dinner, concerts, workplaces, and schools safe. Will it keep them 100% safe? No, but it will likely be 100% effective in stopping super spreaders from entering gatherings.”

Regarding vaccines, Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, explained in a We’re Better Off podcast that mRNA vaccines were not rushed despite the quick rollout. “There were decades of work involved in mRNA vaccine platforms, and in fact, in testing different kinds of vaccines for different coronaviruses. When SARS-CoV-2 first appeared at the end of 2019, actually we had a huge foundational knowledge that accelerated that vaccine development.”

________________________________________________

RE: The main battles being fought in developed countries like the US is over the acceptance of science and acceptance of the key importance of the social determinant of health. I highly recommend the series of articles in The Vaccine Confidence Project from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Here is the direct link.

https://www.vaccineconfidence.org/

________________________________________________

This September 29, 2021 posting on the CDC website has the new recommendations for related to pregnancy, which is a big change.

CDC Statement on Pregnancy Health Advisory

https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2021/s0929-pregnancy-health-advisory.html

Here are the key paragraphs from this report.

“Today, CDC issued an urgent health advisory to increase COVID-19 vaccination among people who are pregnant, recently pregnant (including those who are lactating), who are trying to become pregnant now, or who might become pregnant in the future to prevent serious illness, deaths, and adverse pregnancy outcomes.”

“Through September 27th, there were more than 125,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in pregnant people including more than 22,000 hospitalized and 161 deaths; of which, 22 deaths occurred in the month of August alone. Cases of COVID-19 in symptomatic, pregnant people have a two-fold risk of admission into intensive care and a 70 percent increased risk of death. Pregnant people with COVID-19 are at increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes that could include preterm birth, stillbirth, and admission into the ICU of a newborn also infected with COVID-19.”

RE: If you trust your obstetrician’s advice to have your baby in a hospital, then you should also trust their advice to get a COVID-19 vaccine, regardless of what stage of pregnancy you are in: before, during, or after.

 

Hourly weather forecasts for US

I rely upon my cell phone for hourly forecasts of rain and weather, but have not known how to get hourly forecasts more than 24 hours into the future. Yesterday a friend sent me the following National Weather Service link that forecasts hourly weather up to six days ahead.  Of course, it loses precision, but still, sometimes you need to make decisions far into the future. All the usual radar maps and other information are on nearby clicks.  All free and thanks to NOAA. Enjoy.

https://forecast.weather.gov/MapClick.php?lat=42.36&lon=-71.06&unit=0&lg=english&FcstType=graphical

Alas, it only does forecasts for the US.

The unsurprising tragedies of the Afghanistan war

As we ponder the tragedies of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, it is important to also remember the costs of our continuing. An excerpt from the Boston Globe is pasted in below.

The bottom line is that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will have cost the US at least $4 trillion dollars (excluding interest costs) which is 4 million million dollars. Given that the US has only 132 million households, this spending averages to over $30,000 per household, all paid for by debt we will eventually have to pay off (unlike previous wars, taxes were not increased).

$4 trillion could have instead been invested in free public university tuition, free health care for all children, reducing climate change, or the $4 trillion infrastructure bill that President Biden is asking for.

I commend President Biden for actually doing what presidents Bush, Obama and Trump all said they wanted to do but did not.

Joy and I have been listening to the audiobook “The Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son and the Legacy of Vietnam” which covers the fall of Saigon in Vietnam and subsequent events. There should be no surprise that the events in Kabul are the consequence of war. Even the speedy fall of the government.

The Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son – Amazon.com

https://www.amazon.com › Father-All-Things-Vietnam-…

 

Below is from The Boston Globe on Tuesday 8/16/2021.

Costs of the Afghanistan war, in lives and dollars

By ELLEN KNICKMEYER The Associated Press, Updated August 16, 2021, 5:00 p.m.

 

https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/08/16/nation/costs-afghanistan-war-lives-dollars/

_________________________

The longest war:

Percentage of US population born since the 2001 attacks plotted by Al Qaeda leaders who were sheltering in Afghanistan: Roughly one out of every four.

The human cost:

American service members killed in Afghanistan through April: 2,448.

US contractors: 3,846.

Afghan national military and police: 66,000.

Other allied service members, including from other NATO member states: 1,144.

Afghan civilians: 47,245.

Taliban and other opposition fighters: 51,191.

Aid workers: 444.

Journalists: 72.

Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of US occupation:

Percentage drop in infant mortality rate since US, Afghan, and other allied forces overthrew the Taliban government, which had sought to restrict women and girls to the home: About 50. (RE note: Statistica still lists the IMR at 5% (“about 46.5 per 1000”) of all live births in 2019. This is still an abysmal rate: 1 in 20 infants are dying.)

Percentage of Afghan teenage girls able to read today: 37%. (RE note: World Bank data show it as roughly doubling since 2011. Still appalling.)

Oversight by congress:

Date Congress authorized US forces to go after culprits in Sept. 11, 2001, attacks: Sept. 18, 2001.

Number of times US lawmakers have voted to declare war in Afghanistan: 0.

Number of times lawmakers on Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee addressed costs of Vietnam War, during that conflict: 42

Number of times lawmakers in same subcommittee have mentioned costs of Afghanistan and Iraq wars, through mid-summer 2021: 5.

Number of times lawmakers on Senate Finance Committee have mentioned costs of Afghanistan and Iraq wars since Sept. 11, 2001, through mid-summer 2021: 1.

Paying for a war on credit, not in cash:

Amount that President Truman temporarily raised top tax rates to pay for Korean War: 92 percent.

Amount that President Johnson temporarily raised top tax rates to pay for Vietnam War: 77 percent.

Amount that President George W. Bush cut tax rates for the wealthiest, rather than raise them, at outset of Afghanistan and Iraq wars: At least 8 percent.

Estimated amount of direct Afghanistan and Iraq war costs that the United States has debt-financed as of 2020: $2 trillion.

Estimated interest costs by 2050: Up to $6.5 trillion.

The wars end. The costs don’t:

Amount Bilmes estimates the United States has committed to pay in health care, disability, burial and other costs for roughly 4 million Afghanistan and Iraq veterans: more than $2 trillion.

Period those costs will peak: after 2048.

Source of the above: Much of the data is from Linda Bilmes of Harvard University’s Kennedy School and from the Brown University Costs of War project. Because the United States between 2003 and 2011 fought the Afghanistan and Iraq wars simultaneously, and many American troops served tours in both wars, some figures as noted cover both post-9/11 US wars.

 

BUHealth: COVID-19 risks when fully vaccinated and singing outdoors

This blog started as a response to a colleague who was calculating using local community vaccination and positive infection rates, using a 90% effectiveness rate for vaccines, and asking about the risks of singing without a mask outside. He calculated the risk of infection to singers as perhaps 0.15% to 0.31%. Is that reasonable?

Risk of what?

One thing to highlight is that the early effectiveness calculations, and most assertions about the effectiveness of the vaccines being 70-95%, ask whether the vaccines prevented ANY new COVID-19 infections, with or without symptoms, of COVID-19. We now know that if we instead ask whether the vaccines prevent any SERIOUS symptoms (such as a hospitalization or death) of COVID-19 then all three (Pfizer, Moderna, J&J) are well over 99% effective. Here is one link using CDC numbers (red bold text highlights added).

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 87 million AmericansTrusted Source had received the COVID-19 vaccine as of April 20, 2021. Among vaccinated people, there were 7,157 breakthrough cases, with fewer than 500 hospitalizations and 88 deaths.

Do the math and you can see the cases are about 1/100th of 1 percent of those vaccinated.

“The effectiveness of any vaccine in preventing serious illness is high, and in the case of the COVID-19 vaccines, it’s very high,” Dr. S. Wesley Long, an infectious disease researcher and clinical microbiologist at Houston Methodist in Texas, told Healthline.

“All the data shows that if you’re vaccinated you probably won’t get any symptoms at all, but even if you do, you still probably won’t get full-blown COVID and end up in the hospital,” he said.“

https://www.healthline.com/health-news/covid-19-vaccines-are-more-than-90-effective-what-that-means

So 87,000,000/7157 = 1/12,000 => a 0.008 percent risk of any detected new COVID-19 infection (presumably found through patients seeking care symptoms or anyone receiving testing), and 87,000,000/588=1/147,000 => a 0.0007 percent or death or hospitalization. So that risk is equivalent to less than one person becoming seriously ill in the city of Newton, where I live. These risks are comparable to the extremely low rates of new infections and hospitalizations found in Israel, the first >1 million population country to achieve over 90% (i.e. universal) vaccination for COVID-19.

CDC?

Here is how the CDC website summarizes this research.

A small percentage of people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will still develop COVID-19 illness

COVID-19 vaccines are effective. However, a small percentage of people who are fully vaccinated will still get COVID-19 if they are exposed to the virus that causes it. These are called “vaccine breakthrough cases.” This means that while people who have been vaccinated are much less likely to get sick, it may still happen. Experts continue to study how common these cases are.”

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/effectiveness/why-measure-effectiveness/breakthrough-cases.html

I believe the CDC does not want to make a more precise statement such as “less than 0.1 percent risk”  instead of “a small percentage” because the CDC wants everyone to get vaccinated. Plus these low rates are in an environment where most people are still wearing masks and social distancing. The rate of breakthrough infections will go up if people stop wearing masks and gather in crowds. Still, the extremely low rates of SERIOUS illness among those who get infected will likely hold, even if by stopping mask-wearing we increase the number of people infected.

So the risk of something serious happening now for a normal healthy vaccinated person is truly minuscule, and when you also note that the prevalence of Influenza this year has been knocked down to close to zero, singing or exercising outside and not wearing a mask inside among vaccinated people seem like acceptable risks for most of us.

Overall risk versus risk from one activity

The above calculations are averages for very large populatinos over the entire period since they were vaccinated, a span of at least a month after full vaccination. We also do not know how much of the reduction is due to having fewer people infectious around you versus lower risk of getting any symptoms when exposed to some virus germs. One assumption is that it is symmetric, in which case the probability of both goes down equally, and the prob of symptoms if vaccinated when exposed to an infectious germ becomes (0.00008)^.5 = .009 and the probabilty of being infectious when vaccinated also become (0.00008)^.5 = .009. Note that .009*.p009=.00008, the overall risk conditional on being vaccinated and when around others who partially vaccinated. I will use this .009 rate below. The fact that this rate is not observed to be getting better suggests that the probability of symptoms when exposed is what is improving the most, but this only strengthens the calculations below.

The probabilities for a given activity, such as singing outdoors or eating inside a restaurant once a week is different since these risks are included in the overall risk calculations. It is hard to attach a probability to any one of these activities. Before precautions, health care workers in China working many hours on patients with covid had very high rates of infection, 70% or more. Similarly spouses of infected people can also have high rates, 70%. And certain wedding, banquet dinner, and Biogen conference attendees also  had very high rates of infections 30-50% from single events, conditional on at least one person being highly infectious. So the right calculation is how many people at a given event (e.g., a group of singers singing outdoors)  will be highly infectious and how many will  they infect, even if we assume exposure would be say 50%. Almost no one who is vaccinated at such an event should be highly infectious. Lets use the conservative assumption  that someone in the choir has a breaktrhough infection with certainty, and that they have a 50% chance of infecting a given person. There is still the good news that for a vacinated other singer, the relative risk of a breakaway infection for a healthy person (see above) remains only 0.009.  If we again conservatively assume that 100 percent of the risk from exposure is from this one risky activity, then this 0.009 risk can be assigned to this one risky activity. But we still should assume that there is only a 0.5 probability of infection even if the one assumed person is infectious. So my back of the envelope calculation is that a plausible upper bound on the probability of a vacciated person becoming infected from a moderate risk activity when around a known person in the group who is infectious becomes (.009)*(0.5) = .0045. If instead of being around a person with a known infectious rate of 1, we are around a random person, and the average infection rate is 1.5%, then the risk to a fully vaccinated person would be (average infection rate) * (upper bound on risk from one risky activity) = 0.015*0.0045  = 0.00007 => 1/14,000 an upper bound on risk to a vaccinated person of doing a risky activity around random people. Note that this upper bound calculation is assigning 100% of the risk of infection to time spent singing outdoors in a choiror eating indoors at restaurants, which is likely way above (100times?) the true risk. And the risk will be much lower to the extent that the people participating in the activity have more than the average population level of vaccination. 

A useful test of these calculations is to look at rates of infection of vaccinated medical staff who are treating COVID-19 patients, or of spouses with an infected partner. For them, the risk using this calculation would be on the order of 0.009, almost one percent, which is high. There will be a literature on these topics. I just have not explored it. Please send me the link if you find them.

Caveats

Unstated in these calculations is that most of the breakthroughs are occurring in people with compromised immune systems. Conditional on getting a detected breakthrough infection, the probability of getting seriously ill is 588/7157=8.2%, and of dying 88/7157=1.1%. These rates are comparable to early rates for random populations before any social distancing or vaccines. This key group remains at high risk even with the COVID-19 vaccine and is worthy of some extra precautions by all of us.

Another important caveat is that these calculations of risk ignore key correlations. The people not getting vaccinated also tend to be people who are reluctant to wear masks, and also more likely to go to bars and large group gatherings where they are at a much higher risk. Predictions using averages will tend to underestimate the true infection rates since these factors compound the risk. And they tell us to avoid these kind of people.

So enjoy Mother’s Day this weekend. If you are fully vaccinated, your risk of infection is very low from normal activities, but your possible exposure to others when not wearing a mask could still endanger them, especially if they are immune compromised. Wear a mask to be sure when around strangers, especially indoors.

Back to research.

Randy

BUHealth: Wonderful news about vaccines and alternative strains

This JAMA research letter came out on March 19, 2021, but it is trending #1 on JAMA, and seems worth highlighting since it gives such hopeful news.

The study compared measures capturing rates of antibodies in three sets of patients: 20 people actively infected with COVID-19, 20 people who had recovered from COVID-19 for 32-94 days, and 14 people who had just finished their second vaccine of Moderna dose 14 days earlier (hence arguably at their maximal responsiveness to the vaccine). Note that these antibody tests are measuring antibodies, related to how well the body is prepared to fight off COVID, not for the virus itself. A higher number is better.

Importantly, the study examined not only the original Wuhan strain that was used to test and approve Moderna and other vaccines, but also three variants that reflect recent concerns, including B.1.1.7. The results are wonderfully summarized in the (Figure) shown below.

The figure makes comparisons across the three types of patients and four strains. Focus on the means and confidence intervals.

Across patient samples:

Not all actively infected are yet protected with antibodies, as expected.

Eventually, convalescent people (recovered infectees) show high rates of antibodies with only one sample showing no signs of being protected, as defined by the low gray line.

All of the Moderna vaccinated sample shows high rates of antibody protection. Scientists are tracking changes in these rates over time, but so far they are encouragingly gradual declines.

Across variants:

More encouraging, across the four COVID-19 strains, there were no statistically significant differences in rates of antibody effects among the two naturally infected groups. ( people infected with A1 appear likely to be almost equally protected against the newer variants. There is a small difference in the strength of antibodies within the vaccinated sample, but the difference is still very small relative to the natural rate of antibody protection observed in the convalescent sample. In short, the Moderna vaccine appears remarkably successful against all four strains considered, even if not exactly as effective against the more recent strains.

This is great news!

My own comment is: The similarity of the effectiveness of the various vaccines suggests similar results are likely with the other vaccines.This is not in the article.

As the article concludes,

“Limitations include the small sample size, possible selection bias, lack of clinical outcomes, and how neutralization titers correlate with protection.”

 

Research Letter

March 19, 2021

Neutralizing Antibodies Against SARS-CoV-2 Variants After Infection and Vaccination

Venkata Viswanadh Edara, PhD1; William H. Hudson, PhD2; Xuping Xie, PhD3; et al Rafi Ahmed, PhD2; Mehul S. Suthar, PhD1

Author Affiliations Article Information

  • 1Emory University Department of Pediatrics, Atlanta, Georgia
  • 2Emory Vaccine Center, Atlanta, Georgia
  • 3University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston

TRENDING NOW ON JAMA

Neutralizing Antibodies Against SARS-CoV-2 Variants After Infection and Vaccination

 

 

 

 

Re: BUHealth: I am vaccinated!

Two serious ones, now one on humor.

This Frozen musical take-off on getting a vaccine is well done if you like over-the- top musical singers.

You may not enjoy this one if you are not likely to get a vaccine soon. 9/10

 

https://youtu.be/U74wUO54Sdg  5:49 minutes

 

This medley by the same singer from last spring by the same performer. Has a lot of Disney favorites on COVID-19. 8/10

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eI47Q_pfqsQ      4:22 minutes
Done for the day. Have a great weekend. Weather is looking  up here in Boston.

 

Randy

BUHealth: Consider donating blood

If you are curious about whether you have already had COVID-19 and would like to find out whether you already have antibodies, it is worth knowing that if you give blood, then the American Red Cross automatically tests donor blood and will tell you if you have COVID-19 antibodies.

20% of American donating blood test positive for COVID-19 antibodies.

CDC estimates that 25% of adults test positive in a random sample.

https://www.cnn.com/2021/03/15/health/red-cross-blood-donations-covid-antibodies/index.html

Covid-19 antibodies present in about 1 in 5 blood donations from unvaccinated people, according to data from the American Red Cross

By John Bonifield and Deidre McPhillips, CNN

Updated 12:01 AM ET, Tue March 16, 2021

https://www.cnn.com/2021/03/15/health/red-cross-blood-donations-covid-antibodies/index.html

 

Do something good for others while you find out information about yourself.

 

I searched the American Red Cross website for any mention about COVID-19 and found none. The following is from the Washington Post article two days ago.

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2021/03/17/covid-vaccine-blood-donation/

“If I’ve had covid-19 or taken a coronavirus vaccine, can I still donate blood?

“Of course — but with stipulations.”

“Although certain blood donation centers may have their own rules, at the Red Cross, donors who have been diagnosed with covid-19, the disease the virus causes; tested positive for the virus; or experienced any recent symptoms can still donate blood, but they must wait at least 14 days. Because some centers require longer deferrals, check with local blood banks.”

 

BUHealth: Vaccine effectiveness strong against variants and allergic reactions are trivial.

These two accessible, free JAMA Network articles have excellent answers to some common questions. Below are a few selected quotes with key parts in RED.

My notes are in italics, red italics if important. 2 minutes if you just read the red.

Figuring Out Whether COVID-19 Vaccines Protect Against Variants

“How well do the COVID-19 vaccines developed so far protect against these novel coronavirus spinoffs?”

“In Scotland, researchers estimated that Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine was up to 85% effective and Oxford-AstraZeneca’s vaccine up to 94% effective in preventing COVID-19–related hospitalizations 28 to 34 days after a single dose—the UK policy is to provide the second dose 12 weeks later.”

“The study, posted February 22 but not peer reviewed, found a 70% reduction in both types of infection [UK and SA] 21 days after participants received their first dose and an 85% reduction a week after receiving their second dose. “Overall, we’re seeing a really strong effect to reducing any infection—asymptomatic and symptomatic,” coauthor Susan Hopkins, MD, PHE strategic response director, said at a press conference. In March, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that non–peer-reviewed data from Israel showed their vaccine was 94% effective against asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection.”

“Fortunately, as the article notes, nearly all vaccines used in humans prevent asymptomatic infection and spread.”

This means that it is most likely that we will not need to keep wearing masks once vaccinated, once the data are in.

“In general, vaccines that are effective in reducing infections do have major impacts on reducing transmission,” said Goodman, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Medical Product Access, Safety and Stewardship. “It is probable that these vaccines will reduce transmission.”

Mounting evidence supports that notion. In a study of UK health care workers immunized with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, participants underwent biweekly polymerase chain reaction testing and twice weekly rapid antigen testing to help investigators determine rates of asymptomatic and symptomatic infections.

Source: JAMA Network Medical News & Perspectives

March 17, 2021

COVID-19 Vaccines vs Variants—Determining How Much Immunity Is Enough

Figuring Out Whether COVID-19 Vaccines Protect Against Variants

There is continuing concern by some people about getting an allergic reaction to receiving a vaccine. This JAMA article addresses this for Pfizer and Moderna.

 

JAMA Insights

February 12, 2021

Reports of Anaphylaxis After Receipt of mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines in the US—December 14, 2020-January 18, 2021

Tom T. Shimabukuro, MD, MPH, MBA1; Matthew Cole, MPH2; John R. Su, MD, PhD, MPH1

 

 

Here is the key result from their study

 

“During December 14, 2020 through January 18, 2021, a total of 9 943 247 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 7 581 429 doses of the Moderna vaccine were reported administered in the US”

 

No deaths from anaphylaxis after vaccination with either product were reported.

 

“…mRNA COVID-19 vaccines in the US has confirmed that anaphylaxis [allergic reactions]  following vaccination is a rare event, with rates of 4.7 cases/million Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses administered and 2.5 cases/million Moderna vaccine doses administered, based on information through January 18, 2021.

 

Of those with an allergic reaction, 77% of those using Pfizer and 84% of those taking Moderna had a prior reported history of allergies or allergic reactions.

 

When considered in the context of morbidity and mortality from COVID-19,9 the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risk of anaphylaxis, which is treatable. Because of the acute, life-threatening nature of anaphylaxis, immediate epinephrine administration is indicated for all cases. CDC guidance on use of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines8 and management of anaphylaxis is available.10 All facilities administering COVID-19 vaccines should have the necessary supplies and trained medical personnel available to manage anaphylaxis.

 

To put this in perspective the annual chance of getting hit by lighting is about 4  per million in Montana and 0.25 per million in California, and averages 1 per million per year nationwide.

 

About 1 in ten people if hit by lightning die, versus so far 0 in ten million from getting vaccines.

 

Get a vaccine if it is offered to you.

BUHealth humor: final entries in the masked dog photo caption contest

Final entries in the masked dog photo caption contest

Masked Sadie 20210314Waiting for the dog vaccine rollout.”

“Wearing a mask is so easy even my dog can do it!”

“Sadie says: Even I wear a mask when not eating!”

“I hate it when I can’t lick and my hair gets all frizzy!”

“How do you like my matching blue accessories?”

“It takes a smart dog to wear a mask!  How smart does that make you?”

”Don’t worry. I’m all bark and no cough.”

“I miss Uncle Phil!!!!“

“I’ve had enough of being walked by the neighbors during lockdowns … now I deserve this seat!”

“If I should meet thee
After long quarantine
How should I greet thee?
With silence,
With mask.“

“Stop barking about your rights being violated! It’s a mask, not a muzzle!”

“Stinks in here…”

“I really wasn’t barking all that much.  I wish I lived in Texas!”

“I hate it when I can’t lick my butt!”

Thanks for all your great entries! Excellent new entries could be added to this posting.

BUHealth: Being less racist makes some of us less comfortable

The New York Times had a very interesting article on March 5 which documented differences in rates of vaccination by race across the 50 US states. Whereas some states (Florida, Iowa, Wisconsin and Connecticut (?!?) have vaccination rates for blacks that are less than half of the state average, in Massachusetts the rate for blacks is about 85% of the state average, reflecting the states recommitment to serving needier minorities in the state.

box

 

 

Screenshot 2021-03-08 105954

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This weekend when I was vaccinated, it was not at my convenient Vanguard primary care provider’s office or at Boston University, which would have mostly served people of privilege, but it was instead provided by a neighborhood community health group in the preschool of a housing project in Brighton MA. Less convenient for me, but much better for the nearby residents.

I am proud of MA for its better-than-average performance on racial equity of COVID-19 vaccinations, even though I know it underlies the enormous dissatisfaction of some of my neighbors and friends of privilege who feel they should have been placed at a higher priority. Being less racist makes some of us uncomfortable, and hopefully also puts more pressure on our government to be sure that everyone who wishes to can get a vaccination. All too often, market systems start by satisfying the needs of the wealthy and privileged (think education, health insurance, zoning, public streets over public transport, etc) and then decide it is not worth doing more for the poor and less privileged. In this case, by vaccinating more minorities, we may also be reducing the overall rates of infection, since infection rates have been much higher in minority groups.

Being less racist makes some of us less comfortable, but in the long run, it may make all of us better off.

BUHealth: I am vaccinated!

A wise friend who read my previous BUHealth post comparing different vaccines warned me that it could be interpreted as saying “Wait to get a vaccine until you get the one you like the most.” I do not recommend that. I care too much about my friends. Instead, you should get a vaccine the first time it is offered to you, whatever one it is.  For me, the first offer was yesterday, when a friend alerted me about a small surplus at one community health center. It was Moderna. I had found it hard to sign up via the weblinks. (I am over age 65, which has blanket permission to get a “jab” in the US now.) Look at how happy it made me.

IAmVaccinated!3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You too could look like this when you get vaccinated.

I did have a little pain in the arm and a low-grade temperature 99.2o F compared to my norm of 97.7 for the first 24 hours. But it ended. And now I can party continue wearing a mask carefully out of solidarity and because of the nasty new strains that are still popping up.

 

BUHealth: latest research in JAMA on COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness

One JAMA Network article this week and an accompanying editorial about COVID-19 are the first I have seen to carefully present the research about recent SARS-CoV-2 strains/variants, different types of vaccines, effects of one versus two doses, advice for people who were previously infected by SARS-CoV-2, what we know so far about their effectiveness against different strains, and what seems likely in the future. I put links in at the bottom after my summary.

The editorial by Drs. Mascola, Graham, and Fauci provides an accessible overview to brush up on your high-school level biology. It starts with a discussion of the distinction between lineage, variants, and strains: new genetic virus variants are organized into lineages when one variant builds upon another, and when the variants become sufficiently different in behavior from the original SARS-2 virus strain – such as by being more resistant to antibodies, or to vaccines, or more infective or fatal – then they are called a strain. There are dozens of new variants of SARS-2 virus, suggesting it is mutating rapidly.  The UK, South Africa (SA) and Brazil strains are getting a lot of media attention, as they should. There is also a new variant found in southern California which they are trying to figure out its lineage, but it now represents 44 percent of the cases sequenced. Merely by its rapid appearance as the dominant strain in CA, we know it is a virulent strain.

 The article by John Moore (PhD) of Dartmouth was the most relevant to me.

Here are a few quotes from Moore with interpretation in italics.

“Two categories of variants have different implications for vaccine efficacy. …The first category involves variants “…[that]… “spread more rapidly in a population.”

“The second category involves variants that are more concerning, represented by the B.1.351 and P.1 lineages that emerged in South Africa and Brazil, respectively….[that help the viruses resist antibodies created by vaccines or previous infections].

“The combination of a high virus replication rate within an individual (a high viral load) and a suboptimal level of neutralizing antibodies is the exact environment in which resistant viruses are considered likely to emerge and spread.3,4

In other words, people who have had only one dose of a vaccine are more likely to promote new variants since they do not have enough neutralizing antibodies. This motivates the emphasis in the US for two vaccine doses, close together.

“At present, most scientists active in this area are reasonably optimistic that the efficacy of the mRNA vaccines [Moderna and Pfizer] will not be substantially compromised by the B.1.351 and P.1 [SA and Brazil] variants, …”

This is great news if true, but there is little clinical evidence so far..

In order to reduce the creation of new variants, Moore recommends Pfizer, Moderna, and (when approved) Novavax 2 dose vaccines if available, since they give strong antibody protection.

“The Johnson & Johnson 1-dose adenovirus vector vaccine … is less effective than the Moderna, Pfizer, and Novavax 2-dose designs.”

Moore recommends use of Johnson and Johnson one-dose on younger people (aged <40 years) who tend to have naturally lower “viral replication rates” and hence will not give the SARS-COV-2 as much chance to mutate then they get infected.

“All leading vaccine companies are now redesigning their S-protein components to counter new variants, particularly B.1.351 [SA].”

“Another issue with significant implications involves what happens when a mRNA vaccine [Pfizer or Moderna] is given to a person who has recovered from COVID-19. Small-scale studies have shown that a single mRNA vaccine dose rapidly boosts neutralizing antibody titers to very high levels, perhaps rendering the second dose redundant in this special circumstance.10 … A related issue is that the mRNA vaccines appear to trigger strong (although short-lived) adverse effects (such as headaches and mild fever) in people who have previously been infected with COVID-19.”

In light of this, I am planning to get the Pfizer and Moderna rather than J&J, and await further research for the second dose.

Novovax is a huge potential entrant into this vaccine race with its recombinant protein nanoparticle COVID-19 vaccine. It is not yet approved for use in the US, but is hoping for May. It is gearing  up for production at the rate of 2 billion doses per year to be produced in India and Japan. Early clinical results from tests I SA and Brazil are encouraging.

I foresee a long future for vaccines in the world.  

JAMA Viewpoint

March 4, 2021

Approaches for Optimal Use of Different COVID-19 Vaccines: Issues of Viral Variants and Vaccine Efficacy

John PMoore, PhD

Abstract Full Text

free access is active quiz has multimedia online first

JAMA. 2021; doi: 10.1001/jama.2021.3465

This Viewpoint proposes ways to maximize vaccine efficacy and allocation given the rise of coronavirus variants and authorization of a Johnson & Johnson vaccine, including reserving the latter for younger healthier populations, boosting it with a single-dose messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccination, and single mRNA immunization of people with prior documented SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Editorial

February 11, 2021

SARS-CoV-2 Viral Variants—Tackling a Moving Target

John R. Mascola, MD1; Barney S. Graham, MD, PhD1; Anthony S. Fauci, MD2

Author Affiliations Article Information

JAMA. Published online February 11, 2021. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.2088

 

Novavax press release Jan 28, 2021 at 4:05 PM EST

Company web site.

Novavax COVID-19 Vaccine Demonstrates 89.3% Efficacy in UK Phase 3 Trial

 

Yes, even rich white people in the US get bad health care

Despite the abundant evidence2 showing that health care outcomes in the US are much worse than in every other OECD country, I still hear arguments that this is because uninsured, Medicaid, minorities, or low-income people in the US bring down our health outcomes. This myth is repeated35, and believed by a majority of Americans. 6 This JAMA study shows that this is not true. Even high-income white people get worse health outcomes than the average result in OECD countries. Time to change to a better health care system!

 

Key Points

Question  Are the health outcomes of White US citizens living in the 1% and 5% richest counties better than the health outcomes of average residents in other developed countries?

Findings  In this comparative effectiveness study of 6 health outcomes, White US citizens in the 1% and 5% highest-income counties obtained better health outcomes than average US citizens but had worse outcomes for infant and maternal mortality, colon cancer, childhood acute lymphocytic leukemia, and acute myocardial infarction compared with average citizens of other developed countries.

Meaning  For 6 health outcomes, the health outcomes of White US citizens living in the 1% and 5% richest counties are better than those of average US citizens but are not consistently better than those of average residents in many other developed countries, suggesting that in the US, even if everyone achieved the health outcomes of White US citizens living in the 1% and 5% richest counties, health indicators would still lag behind those in many other countries.

JAMA Intern Med. 2021;181(3):339-344. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.7484

Comparing Health Outcomes of Privileged US Citizens With Those of Average Residents of Other Developed Countries

Ezekiel J. Emanuel, MD, PhD; Emily Gudbranson, BA; Jessica Van Parys, PhD; et al.

December 28, 2020

BUHealth: UK/South African COVID strains are at BU; BU testing looks great; BU plans in-person commencement!

I greatly enjoyed reading about how BU is using its extensive research laboratory resources to test for the presence of the UK and South African variants at BU. This report includes the 70 cases of COVID-19 detected in members of the BU faculty, staff and students during the week of Feb 17-23. Below are a few selected quotes.

Boston University Weekly COVID-19 Report: February 17 to 23

BU has begun sequencing COVID samples for variants; two variants that first emerged in South Africa, UK already detected at BU

Of the positive tests sent to the NEIDL for sequencing since January 25, more than 130 samples have contained enough viral material to allow them to be sequenced.

… thus far, we have detected eight samples containing a COVID variant of concern. Specifically, we have detected two variants of concern: one case of the B.1.351, first detected in South Africa, and seven cases of the B.1.1.7, first detected in the UK. We were not surprised by these results—they confirm what we already suspected, that those two variants have reached our community. “

 

It was informative to me to learn that BU is not able or allowed to tell people which variant they have if infected.

“For regulatory reasons, BU is not permitted to tell individuals if they have a variant form of COVID-19. The scientists who are doing this study are not even aware of which person the samples they are sequencing came from; they just know the virus sample was collected from someone at BU. “

even if we could tell individuals that they had been infected with a COVID-19 variant, that knowledge wouldn’t change our clinical management of that person’s illness.”

 I am fortunate to be part of BU’s comprehensive testing. It is available daily on the COVID-19 dashboard, with testing results as of two days ago.

I only wish that more people had such excellent testing available. I have not seen any recent estimates of the cost to BU of doing these COVID tests, but an early guess was $12 per test. I think a lot of people would be willing to pay $12 (weekly) or $25 (biweekly) for careful testing, which is the cost per faculty member or undergraduate of BU’s testing program. BU is continuing its hybrid teaching, with students in many classes allowed to choose between in-class and remote zooming.

 Based on these low current testing and vaccination efforts at BU, BU announced this week that it will be holding in-person graduation ceremonies on May 16 (graduates only) as long as the city and state allow it. Link is here and below. Go BU!

In-Person Commencement for BU Class of 2021 Planned for May 16, unless City Requires Virtual Ceremony

Class of 2020 will gather October 2 for virus-delayed ceremony: both will be for graduates only

 

JAMA Network articles on P4P, Policy Equipoise and Nocebo effects

In these days when pay-for-performance and value-based payment reform have become the centerpiece of US Medicare payment reform, this short and accessible article in JAMA Health Forum (5 minutes) argues that we implement and evaluate reforms using “policy equipoise” rather than the usual foundational belief – that too many economists adhere to – that these policies must work because the models economists use predict they should because of the incentives they create. The paper provides links highlighting that in many cases these reforms have very mixed or no success. Policy equipoise – the acceptance of true uncertainty about whether one policy is better than another in a given situation – should guide randomized designs to generate more convincing evidence about what works. Check out its links for a systematic review of (y)our favorite US payment reform: VPB, P4P, ACO, bundled payments.

It’s Time to Advance Payment Reform Using the Principle of Policy Equipoise

Jonathan A. Staloff, MD, MSc1,2; Amol S. Navathe, MD, PhD3,4; Joshua M. Liao, MD, MSc1,2

 

I happened upon the above article after reading this one, which is also interesting  (3 minutes).

“Important Conversations” Are Needed to Explain the Nocebo Effect

Anita Slomski, MA

A Momentous Day for Democracy!

Today is a momentous day for the US and for democracy, so I thought I would comment on it. I did not expect to be so happy today.

The Associated Press has not yet called the second of the two Georgia senate elections but I trust the NY Times report (see article below) that Georgia voters will ultimately elect two democratic senators, which will give the democrats the leadership in our Senate to combine with our democratic majority in the House and allow the Biden administration to negotiate key legislation in coming months.

Also momentous will be when our senate and house today vote to affirm the results of our electoral college, and bring to an end the legislative attempted coup still in play that our current president and a disturbing number of anti-democratic Republicans are still pursuing today.

Today has to be viewed as a success for all who believe in popular democracy in which elections are decided by voters and not just by money and voter suppression, for minorities and other lower caste members* whose voice is too often suppressed and ignored, for citizens who want a congress that debates and enacts legislation rather than simply issuing executive orders that undoes legislation, and for those who want to see government leadership on the environment, COVID-19, immigration, trade, education, racial equality, infrastructure, science-based decision-making, and so much more.

It will not be an easy path forward, but at least it looks like we can move off of the backwards path of the past four years. We will see if our new leadership is up to the challenge, and whether there are spillover effects on the rest of the world.

Happy New Year! Stay healthy! Stay active.

*Read or listen to Isabel Wilkerson’s book “CASTE: The Origins of Our Discontent” to better understand why so many Americans continue to support Trumpism.

Revised new mantra:

Mask, distance, vaccinate, go outside, wash, be patient, be upbeat, be skeptical, pray, believe.

 

https://messaging-custom-newsletters.nytimes.com/template/oakv2?abVariantId=1&campaign_id=9&emc=edit_nn_20210106&instance_id=25689&nl=the-morning&productCode=NN&regi_id=70443472&segment_id=48472&te=1&uri=nyt%3A%2F%2Fnewsletter%2Fce92a687-4340-546c-b15f-fdf3630c9082&user_id=a11a0fb3219327339070986d47ec0036

BU interviews, blogs, and news releases.

This blog documents various public interviews and news reports and is mostly a place to keep track of them for my BU Annual Report

Conversations with Economists.  Zoom discussion by Randall P Ellis and Laurence Kotlikoff on  COVID-19 and the US economy with follow up questions from attendees. Passcode: $iH^XM50   October 27, 2020 (time 1:29:12)

Achieving universal insurance Prepared talk for MA League of Women Voters, October 29, 2020 (Time: 8:46)

BU Alumni Magazine CAS Arts and Sciences.

https://www.bu.edu/cas/arts-sciences/fall-2020/a-better-future/

Randy’s favorite articles on COVID-19

July 20. 2020 Important update on superspreading events.

This article from the Washington Post provides a useful update about how superspreading events account for the vast majority of infection and are driving the pandemic. 3-5 minute read.

Washington Post Ariana Eunjung Cha July 18, 2020 at 1:58 p.m. EDT

‘Superspreading’ events, triggered by people who may not even know they are infected, propel coronavirus pandemic
https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/07/18/coronavirus-superspreading-events-drive-pandemic/

I also enjoyed the very accessible video link on the science of COVID-19 which is linked on the first page of this article.  (4 minutes.) I could not copy just its link…

The novel coronavirus is a master of disguise: Here’s how it works

All is well in my household. Wishing you the same. Randy

July 5, 2020 Hopeful news on speedy SARS-COV-2 testing!

The US federal government is doing a terrible job at tracking cases compared to many other countries. But if some of the fast, low cost technologies for individual testing mentioned in this NY Times Opinion piece actually work, it will make it a lot easier for individuals, schools, firms and motivated local governments to do so. The lead author is BU professor of economist. (5 minute read)

A Cheap, Simple Way to Control the Coronavirus

With easy-to-use tests, everyone can check themselves every day.

By Laurence J. Kotlikoff (BU) and Michael Mina (HSPH), July 3, 2020

June 20, 2020 COVID-19 recovery

Yale Medicine physicians describe the recovery path they’ve seen for patients experiencing ‘mild to moderate’ forms of the disease.

RE: I would have liked more details about the recovery of people who have more serious forms of COVID-19. This report from Kaiser Health News provides one such glimpse.

ICUs become a ‘delirium factory’ for Covid-19 patients

June 17, 2020 Honor roll of favorite COVID-19 web sites

I often blog about the most recent studies and news reports of interest, but usually it is worth focusing on the best ones. Below is my honor roll of favorite links on COVID-19, all from below.

Sources we’re following. Updated weekly blog by Vivian Ho and staff at the Baker Institute of Public Policy at Rice University

COVID-19: An illustrated scientific summary 8 minute video by a Yale graduate student gives an excellent overview.

The Risks – Know Them – Avoid Them, by Erin S. Bromage, Ph.D.

Tomas Pueyo’s March 19 article in the Medium: Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance. Dance sequel articles, full of figures are linked here (warning: long, meaty reads).

The best up-to-date statistics on COVID-19 is WorldoMeter.info/coronavirus.with daily updates and documented sources.

New York Times interactive figures are updated regularly for the countries of the world and individual US states and are still the best to me, using log scales.

Covidtracking.com summarizes  raw data on COVID-19 for the US, and now includes a new tracking of cases and deaths by race.

July 17, 2020 Western Europe versus US

Just out from the New York Times.

NYTimes US Versus Europe COVID deaths, June 17 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 17, 2020 Current trends in cases around the world.

 

Below are charts from 6/16 from WorldoMeter.com/coronavirus for a set of countries I am tracking. Each figure has a story. You can decide for yourself which ones you like.

(Yes, I prefer tracking deaths, but there is also a bias to deaths as well, plus deaths lag reported cases by about two weeks (~12 days), and the last two weeks are informative in many countries, including the US and elsewhere. Rates of testing tend to change only slowly.)

ussweden

germany italy

Note that unlike the above, the Taiwan cases is not in hundreds or thousands. (Population 23 million)

taiwan

 

 

 

 

 

It is the start of winter in most of Brazil and Chile. Not a good omen for this fall in the North.

brazilr

chile

 

 

 

 

 

June 17, 2020 World War I and II comparisons

 Today’s Boston Globe features the news that COVID-19 deaths in the US  – currently 119,000  –  now exceed those in World War I. Of course the US population was much lower then. During World War II there were 407,316 service men who died (0.29 percent of the US population). Think of all those flags for WWII veterans you saw on Memorial Day recently.  It will take real determination and action to keep US deaths from COVID-19 – currently about 800 per day, or 24,000 per month – below the tragic WWII levels.

June 17, 2020 Be selfish and wear a mask!

Yesterday I ate dinner outside on the main thoroughfare (Moody Street) in Waltham which has been converted into a massive pedestrian way to allow people to eat outside while more than 3 meters apart. I was sad to see dozens of people on the streets not properly wearing masks. I thought of a good selfish reason why everyone should want to do so. Just as high altitude dwellers develop stronger and larger lungs in order to get enough oxygen, securely wearing a high quality mask that cuts off the air flow a bit and results in slightly less oxygen reaching your lungs enables low altitude people to develop stronger and larger lung capacity. The extra effort it takes to breath is no different from lifting more weights or running a bit faster, and builds up your lungs at a time when you may really need them to fend of COVID-19 respiratory failure. I don’t hear weightlifters or joggers complaining about their difficulties: they want the challenge. Wear a high quality mask for your own future health!

June 11, 2020 Words from Michael Osterholm, epidemiologist

I am sharing this informative interview with a very knowledgeable person, even though I disagree with his assessment on several important points.

I have added my comments at the bottom of this summary from the article, while striking out three statements asserted there.

COVID-19: Straight Answers from Top Epidemiologist Who Predicted the Pandemic

https://www.bluezones.com/2020/06/covid-19-straight-answers-from-top-epidemiologist-who-predicted-the-pandemic/

By Dan Buettner, Blue Zones Founder [Interview conducted on May 29, 2020. Published on June 6, 2020]

Below is the summary from within that article.

In short, Dr. Osterholm is arguably one of the most dependable, non-political sources for straight answers on what COVID-19 means to us and our world in the immediate future. In his 2017 book, Deadliest Enemy, he correctly foretells a global pandemic and offers the best strategy for fighting it now and avoiding it in the future.

Here are the highlights of our conversation. But if you really want to understand this disease, read the whole interview.  This disease may be the biggest event of our lifetimes.

  • 3 months ago, COVID-19 was not even in the top 75 causes of death in this country. Much of the last month, it was the #1 cause of death in this country. This is more remarkable than the 1918 Flu pandemic.
  • There is no scientific indication Covid-19 will disappear of its own accord.
  • If you’re under age 55, obesity is the #1 risk factor. So, eating the right diet, getting physical activity, and managing stress are some of the most important things you can do to protect yourself from the disease.
  • One of the best things we can do for our aging parents is to get them out into the fresh air, while maintaining physical (not social) distancing.
  • Wearing a cloth mask does not protect you much if you’re in close contact with someone who is COVID-19 contagious. It may give you 10 minutes, instead of five, to avoid contracting the disease.
  • We can expect COVID-19 to infect 60% – 70% of Americans. That’s around 200 million Americans.
  • We can expect between 800,000 and 1.6 million Americans to die in the next 18 months if we don’t have a successful vaccine.
  • There is no guarantee of an effective vaccination and even if we find one, it may only give short term protection.
  • Speeding a vaccination into production carries its own risks.
  • The darkest days are still ahead of us. We need moral leadership, the command leadership that doesn’t minimize what’s before us but allows everyone to see that we’re going to get through it.

I strongly disagree with his statement that wearing a cloth mask does not protect you much. It is true that if I were tending a COVID-19 infected patient, it would be highly inadequate, because of the duration of the exposure. But for ordinary activities, even briefly near someone who is infected, then universal mask wearing by both the infected and the rest of the population can bring down the rate of new infections below 1.0, and largely eliminate or drastically slow down exposure in a population. This is why New Zealand has had zero deaths over an extended period, and why rates are also extremely low in Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea and certain other Asian countries. All of these countries have had nearly universal mask wearing, as well as excellent case identification and quarantining.

The research on masks shows that a simple, homemade cotton mask filters out about 70% effective at suppressing germ aerosols, particularly larger particles that can projectile the farthest from a sneeze, cough or singing. Masks also reduce touching your mouth, nose and eyes, even if they don’t eliminate any aerosol contamination. Better “surgical quality” masks can achieve over 95% protection with 99% claimed by N95 masks. (To some degree, the greater risk may be putting on and taking off high quality masks frequently to maintain their effectiveness…) There is no reason we could not all be wearing surgical quality masks when shopping or around others. This would greatly slow down transmission.

If a random COVID-19 contagious person without any PPE protection infects 3 people,  then even a 70% effective mask reduces the average number of people infected to .3*3 = .9 newly infected for each person contagious. That is less than 1! So the disease would gradually die out. With a 90% effective PPE, new infection rate would be cut to less than a third, and infections would die out even faster.

PPE is why in Japan millions of people are now commuting daily by public transport on crowded subways and buses with minor numbers of new cases: masks do work. We could do that if we all wore masks, testing was widespread, and we were willing to track cases and enforce quarantines.

I also disagree with the papers blind prediction that COVID-19 will necessarily infect 60-70 percent of the worlds population. The same experience from other countries show that careful testing quarantining, and mask wearing could keep rates below 60% of the population, particularly the at-risk population, for over a year, when hopefully a vaccine will be available for at least high risk people. Recall that until a few years ago flu vaccines were reserved only for older and higher risk segments of the population. This is what will be needed this time as well, when a COVID-19 vaccine is created, since we cannot immediately create 8 billion vaccines for the whole world.

The article starts with a really crazy statement:

“One of the things we have to understand is that this virus is operating under the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. It doesn’t in any way, shape, or form bend itself to public policy.”

If it were true that science drives everything and public policies do not matter, then why do we even need doctors and hospitals? Or why does physical distancing matter? Clearly public policy AND PRIVATE DECISIONS matter a lot, as the article goes on to highlight.

I agree that each country needs a leader like Franklin Delano Roosevelt who is unselfish and totally committed to leading the public sentiment in a positive direction. A few countries have been blessed with this, and we should be learning from their successes.

My own wish is that more attention would focus on the following facts.

  • The death rate is not some constant for each health care system, but rather it will go up if a health care system gets overcrowded and cannot keep up. It could be that with optimal treatment in a well-endowed health care system, the death rate is only 0.5% of those infected (across the whole population). But if there are not enough hospital beds, trained doctors, staff, ICUs and ventilators, then the death rate could be 5%. This is the great value of policies to slow down rates of infection.
  • A significant part of the burden of high rates of COVID-19 is the consequences of all the avoided preventive and curative treatment of OTHER diseases. Heart conditions, cancer, vaccine preventable infections.  This is another reason to want to keep the flow rate of new infections manageable.
  • While everyone is focusing on when there will be a vaccine, of greater likelihood is that we will develop treatment strategies that can further reduce mortality and serious illness. This is what is more likely in the near term.
  • I think it is too early  to tell whether death rates by the rest of the world are much better than in Sweden, which has encouraged private actions but not shut down and mandated self-quarantines. We have so far DELAYED infections and deaths meaningfully in the US and many other countries, but whether we have prevented them over say the next year will depend on what happens this fall and winter.
  • There is far too little effort and research discussing how to better target social distancing and public polices to people at greatest risk. Shutting down all businesses is a very blunt tool for doing this.
  • The findings that high altitudes have lower rates of infection is likely not the result of the virus not finding conditions less hospitable at low air density or humidity, but rather that at high altitude people develop larger lungs and stronger lung muscles that make them better able to fight off the virus. Working out hard can do much the same thing for many of us.
  • Obesity affects heart and circulatory diseases in part because the fat clogs up arteries and veins.  For COVID, a different mechanism may be that obesity increases the weight that the lung muscles have to raise and lower with each breath, which leads to faster respiratory failure and requires the really nasty ventilators that replace muscles and cause all kinds of problems of their own. We all know that repeatedly raising your arms while holding even a one pound weight soon wears your arms out. The same must be true for breathing with extra pounds of weight on your chest and stomach. The shrotness of breath symptom of COVID-19 can force you to breath hard for hours or days at a time.
  • There is evidence in JAMA just out from China that shoes spread around germs all over the floor when people walk in areas around infected people, even if those people are not showing any symptoms. Most of us don’t touch the floors much, but infants do. While symptoms are concentrated among the old populations, US studies show that infection rates are pretty uniform across all ages. Parents should not let very young children crawl on floors in public places.
  • Teens and college age students are especially prone to large gatherings  (sports, concerts, bars,…) in which people mingle with strangers, and many infected do not display symptoms. While serious cases are rare, they are also likely to be a very strong source of new infections.

Randy Ellis

June 8, 2020 More on Race and likely futures

Covidtracking.com is an new source of raw data on COVID-19 statistics for the US, and now includes a new tracking of cases and deaths by race.

This source is the new standard being quoted by the media, including by the White House and CDC. I have not compared it to the NY Times and WorldOMeters.com sources that I have previously linked.

I am not sure I agree with the consensus, but this survey out just today of epidemiologists by the NY Times gives a very sobering overview of when we might expect to return to a wide range of normal activities.

When 511 Epidemiologists Expect to Fly, Hug and Do 18 Other Everyday Activities Again

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/06/08/upshot/when-epidemiologists-will-do-everyday-things-coronavirus.html

June 5, 2020 Repost of Austin Frakt’s “An open letter to White people.”

An open letter to white people

May 28, 2020

What’s the Risk of Catching Coronavirus From a Surface?

NY Times 5/28/2020

RE: This is a reassuring article to me. We should not become paranoid over the very low risk of contamination from touching surfaces, which is dealt with effectively by frequent hand washing. (Three minute read.)

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/28/well/live/whats-the-risk-of-catching-coronavirus-from-a-surface.html

May 21, 2020 more from the U Mass Dartmouth biology professor.

Erin Bromade PhD. has an excellent 4 minute CNN interview on outdoor barbecues, shared bathrooms for dinner guests, and swimming pools. With his Australian accent, it is a fun listen. Very specific. Watch it here.

May 21, 2020 Steps hospitals use to minimize COVID-19 and more

Excellent article by Atul Gawande in the NYTimes magazine. Probably a 20 minute read.

Health-care workers have been on the job throughout the pandemic. What can they teach us about the safest way to lift a lockdown?

Key takeaways for me:

“Is there any place that has figured out a way to open and have employees work safely, with one another and with their customers?” Yes.  Mass General Brigham,  … seventy-five thousand employees—more people than in seventy-five per cent of U.S. counties. In April, two-thirds of us were working on site. Yet we’ve had few workplace transmissions. Not zero: we’ve been on a learning curve, to be sure, and we have no way to stop our health-care workers from getting infected in the community.”

“Its elements are all familiar: hygiene measures, screening, distancing, and masks.”

“The SARS-CoV-2 virus does not last long on cloth; viral counts drop ninety-nine per cent in three hours.”

“Toughing it out is now a shameful act of disloyalty.”

“Surgical masks are made of a melt-blown polypropylene fibre fabric, which, under magnification, looks like cotton candy. Most of the filtration this material provides isn’t from direct blockage but from an electrostatic charge applied to the fibre using a machine called, aptly enough, a corona charger. The static electricity captures viral particles the same way that a blanket in the dryer catches socks. This allows the material to breathe more freely. Cloth masks feel warm and smothering by comparison, and people tend to loosen them, wear them below their noses, or take them off more frequently. The fit of improvised masks is also more variable and typically much worse. A comparison study found that surgical masks did three times better than homemade masks at blocking outward transmission of respiratory viruses.”

I also enjoyed the following link on the value of face masks. The comments on this are indicative of how a strong, well organized contingent in the US is arguing against masks.

As before, Vivian Ho’s weekly  blog is full of many great links. Including recent work by Erin Bromage.

May 21, 2020  Sad humor: some governments are distorting with statistics.

See this post on Andrew Gelman’s blog. Ten minutes. See if you can see what is wrong.

https://statmodeling.stat.columbia.edu/2020/05/18/hey-i-think-somethings-wrong-with-this-graph/

https://statmodeling.stat.columbia.edu/2020/05/16/what-a-difference-a-month-makes-polynomial-extrapolation-edition/

May 16, 2020 New Favorite overview of the Dance challenges

Way back on March 29 I recommended Tomas Puyea EXCELLENT, clairvoyant article

Coronavirus: The Hammer and The Dance (29 minutes).

That article is foundational and is still be essential reading for everyone.

I have been remiss in not revisiting and following Puyea’s subsequent work, which contains an excellent Learning How to Dance series. He has just released Part 5. I recommend all of them, although there is some overlap, as there should be in any “Learning how to…” series.

Part 1: Coronavirus: Learning How to Dance (19 minutes)

Part 2: Coronavirus: The Basic Dance Steps Everybody Can Follow (18 minutes)

Part 3: Coronavirus: How to Do Testing and Contact Tracing (39 minutes)

Part 4: (not yet published)

Part 5: Coronavirus: Prevent Seeding and Spreading (31 minutes)

Key insights from all of this:

We should particularly avoid allowing very large gatherings such as sporting events, conconcerts, crowded churches, restaurants with no spacing, because these  are the worst hazards to the Dance.

Several countries have successfully quashed the infections, but will have to continue to restrict outside visitors and even regional travel.

Some countries and some US states have taken few precautions and will end up needing to get to herd immunity to stop the spread. This will take about two thirds of the population getting ill before infections quiet down, at a fatality rate of .5 to 1.5 this would kill 1 to 3 million Americans. there are many excellent figures and simulations that highlight all that can be done without totally closing down the economy

28 percent of infected people infect their spouses, 14% infect other people they live with, and 4% infect their children. Social distancing within the household is very challenging.

Opening schools while managing interactions to be only among smaller groups and having monitoring is proving successful in many countries.

South Korea never really shut down, but has extraordinary public effort, public information and intrusive quarantining.

International and even regional travel will likely have to be restricted for a very long time, such as until an effective vaccine.

There is still no guarantee that a vaccine or immunity will be effective for more than two years.

My own thoughts to add: There is very little in Puyeas work about the role of weather. Colder, drier areas do seem to have greater exposure.

I see a great need to highlight that even vacation travelers can stay in hotels and summer rental housing if they are willing to leave an interval of 3-4 days between guests.  Similarly mail, store purchases, and food, that has not been touched for a few days is inherently safe. Things stored outside in UV light including picnic tables and benches and rocks and trees are also extremely low risk because of this natural healing.

The findings discussed in Erin Bromage (see May 11 blog summary below) that only 0.3 percent of all infections have been traced back to someone getting infected outdoors speaks volumes to me.

We will have to give up not only handshaking, but also hugs, social kisses, and close encounters among family and friends. Italian and Spanish traditions, young people in clubs and others who believe in extensive close social contacting will need to change.

The latest antibody test in the city of Boston found that about ten percent of the population has been infected so far. So Boston is about 1/7th of the way to herd immunity.

COVID-19 antibody test results from Santa Clara (1.5% of population testing positive), and from Denmark (1.8%) taking antibody tests of random samples find that overall infections are approximately uniform by age. Children are just as likely be become infected as adults, but they are much less likely to show symptoms or become highly contagious.

Future costs of all the medical complications of people who recover from COVID could be very serious.

I can’t resist including an extended quote describing Taiwan’s response to COVID in March. This is taken from Part 1. All highlights were in the original article.  They have only had ~500 cases and 46 deaths so far. Population is 24 million, more than New York State (19 million). Enjoy.

“Taiwan’s level of preparedness is jaw-dropping. This is a list of over 100 measures they took before March. Here are some examples, from the list and other sources:

  • Early and strict travel bans, updated every day.
  • They centralized the management of mask production, starting at 2.4 million per day (twice their need of 1.3 million at the time).
  • They set the price to avoid profiteering, initially at USD $0.50 per mask.
  • The penalty for price gouging for masks and other key items became 1–7 years in jail and a fine up to USD $167,000.
  • The spread of fake news could be fined with USD $100,000.
  • Proactive detection of cases: They tested all people who had previously had flu symptoms but tested negative for flu, finding some coronavirus patients.

All of the above happened BEFORE Wuhan even shut down! Then, they continued:

  • Soldiers were mobilized to produce masks.
  • The official price of masks was eventually down to ~$0.20 by the end of February.
  • Eventually, they ramped up production to 10 million masks per day (for a population of 23 million) before the end of March. Masks were rationed and their export banned.
  • Travel and healthcare databases were connected, so healthcare professionals could know who was at a higher risk of being infected. The Taiwanese CDC could track what was happening on the field in real time.
  • It triaged travelers based on their risk, from free to enter the country with self-monitoring to mandated quarantines.
  • Quarantine support with food and encouragement.
  • Enforcement of the quarantine through people’s existing phone signals. If they don’t have a phone, the government provides them with one. An alert is sent to the authorities if the handset is turned off for more than 15 minutes.
  • Persons who were not compliant with home quarantine orders were turned over to law enforcement and tracked by police officers. A couple was fined USD $10,000 for breaking the 14-day home quarantine rule.

If the world was a class and each country was a student passing a coronavirus exam, Taiwan is acing the test. And it’s offering to help. If I were another student, I would take that offer.

That it for now.

 

May 13, 2020  Hopeful article about the search for effective drugs

By Published May 13, 2020

The article highlights the extraordinary level of cooperation internationally, as well as the dangers of the US claims that China is stealing US secrets. This is not a time for the US to interfere with science because of worries about who makes the billions of dollars a new drug will be worth.

May 13, 2020 A not so welcome reminder

The Last Coronavirus Taboo

New York Times Interpreter by Max Fisher and Amanda Taub

It reminds us that the successes of South Korea and China were “test, trace, and mandatory quarantine with fines” and not just “test and trace.”

May 11, 2020 Hot off the presses from U.Conn., MIT-Sloan Harvard, and collaborators

Weather Conditions and COVID-19 Transmission: Estimates and Projections

Ran Xu, Hazhir Rahmandad, Marichi Gupta, Catherine DiGennaro, Navid Ghaffarzadegan, Mohammad Jalali

The attached paper was just posted today on SSRN with coauthors from UConn, MIT-Sloan and Harvard. It has over-the-top modeling of daily data from every county in the US, plus cities, states or countries worldwide rates of COVID-19 infection based on weather, humidity, air pressure, geography, wind, sunlight, and even the phases of the moon! (This last one has to be considered the werewolf effect, which they omitted from their final model even though statistically significant.) I saw the write up about it in the Boston Globe yesterday but the actual paper was only posted on May 11.

https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3593879

They do not forecast rates of disease but only relative rates of infectiousness and how they are affected by weather. They have only a few months of data from a wide range of worldwide cities.

They have a really cool graphics generated here, including the ability to generate weekly forecasts of relative rates of infectiiousness by city, county state and country worldwide. You can play with it to look at patterns by state, simulated by week across the year.

https://projects.iq.harvard.edu/covid19/us-counties

They get that favorable weather can reduce rates of infection by about 40 percent, or worsen it by about the same. Given that the rate is about 2 overall, then this means it will slow down in many parts of the US this summer, but then come back strong next fall or winter. It is worse in cold, dry areas.

 

May 11, 2020 Best overview of COVID infectiousness

I have read a lot of articles about COVID, but this paper, by a professor of biology of U Mass Dartmouth, is  the best so far at signalling how different activities and situations vary in their riskiness. I recommend it highly to everyone.

The Risks – Know Them – Avoid Them, by Erin S. Bromage, Ph.D.,

The paper emphasizes

Successful Infection = Exposure to Virus x Time.

Shopping in an uncrowded large store for a short time is relatively safe, as is jogging and brief contact while social distancing. In contrast indoor in-person meetings, especially in small areas, parties, church gatherings, concerts or other large gatherings, or other events that last for an hour or more and include talking, singing, eating, exercising, or touching shared items are the most risky.

Here is the direct link. It is a 12 minute read. Do it now!

I especially like that this article is by an ordinary professor, who has just done an extraordinary synthesis of German case studies, epidemiology and other diverse scientific sources. It highlights that all of us can play a role in fighting this virus.

Also, I also recommend this article by the same author, which covers events in China, the origins of the virus, and descriptions of various tests and vaccines.

Where We Are Now

https://www.erinbromage.com/post/where-we-are-now

About the author:

Erin S. Bromage, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Dr. Bromage graduated from the School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences James Cook University, Australia where his research focused on the epidemiology of, and immunity to, infectious disease in animals.

May 9, 2020 Good signs.

Today (Saturday) I ventured out out to a local hardware store to get a few gardening items and to CVS to pick up a few health items. Among the many encouraging signs were:

  • Everyone I saw in either place was wearing a mask,
  • Social distancing was marked on the floor and adhered to.
  • CVS was actually selling nursing quality masks (not N95, but at least with metal strips around the nose) for $2 apiece, limit of 4
  • The hardware store was selling hand sanitizer and bulk packages of 100 gloves at a normal price.
  • Everyone was friendly and happy.

There is hope for a more pleasant existence in our future together, even if things will remain different for a while now. Keep your hopes up!

May 8, 2020 Careful statistical model of COVID-19 fatality rates

Anirban Basu, an exceptional econometrician (with 9252 Google Scholar citations) at the University of Washington who is personally known to me, published an article that just appeared in Health Affairs yesterday.

Estimating The Infection Fatality Rate Among Symptomatic COVID-19 Cases In The United States

Using daily county-level data on deaths and new cases from the US up through April 20, 2020, he estimates Bayesian models of the infection fatality rate among symptomatic cases (IFR-S) which give a point estimate of 1.3% of all people with COVID-19 symptoms dying.

The Health Affairs article is heavy reading for a non-statistician. To give you a flavor, here is the key sentence about methodology: “The mean of this Binomial model, p_jt, represents the probability of death, and is expressed as a Bayesian random-coefficients exponential decay model within a logit link framework so that the predicted rates remain within 0 and 1.”

Here are the first few sentences from the abstract.

“ABSTRACT: Knowing the infection fatality rate (IFR) of SARS-CoV andSARS-CoV-2 infections is essential for the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Using data through April 20, 2020, we fit a statistical model to COVID-19 case fatality rates over time at the US county level to estimate the COVID-19 IFR among symptomatic cases (IFR-S) as time goes to infinity. The IFR-S in the US was estimated to be 1.3% (95% central credible interval: 0.6% to 2.1%). County-specific rates varied from 0.5% to3.6%. The overall IFR for COVID-19 should be lower when we account for cases that remain and recover without symptoms.”

This segment was also highly informative to me.

“Results from sero-testing from the Diamond Princess outbreak suggests that about 17.9% of infected persons never developed symptoms.10 Consequently, a reasonable estimate of the overall IFR would be about 20% lower than our estimated IFR-S.”

In the conclusion:

“If we carry out a thought experiment where 35.5 million individuals would contract COVID-19 illness this year in the US (i.e., the same number as flu last year)19 then, in the absence of any mitigation strategies or social distancing behaviors and the supply of health care services under typical conditions, our IFR-S estimate predicts that there would have been nearly 500,000 COVID-19 deaths this year. To the extent that COVID-19 is more infectious than flu and does not have any protection from a vaccine or treatment, the number of infections, and hence the number of deaths, would be higher. Certainly, with mitigation strategies, the death toll will be lower.”

My interpretation: The paper is very open about biases upward and downward. One bias not discussed is the number of deaths unreported in the data, which now appears to be significant. Death rates in the US are likely to be higher than in other countries, for many of the reasons discussed in the Boston Globe article linked here. Still, these are very sobering numbers for the US.

May 7, 2020 – EXCELLENT Boston Globe article on diet and its link to COVID-19.

The link between coronavirus deaths and those french fries

Many COVID-19 hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and deaths could be prevented if Americans had a better diet and better metabolic health.
By Mark Hyman and Dariush Mozaffarian Updated May 7, 2020

Here are a few key sentences (with cites) from the article that resonate with me.

Ninety four percent of deaths from COVID-19 are in those with an underlying age-related chronic disease, mostly caused by excess body fat.

“Only about 12 percent of Americans are metabolically healthy, without a large waist, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, or high cholesterol.”

“The sad reality is that 75 percent of Americans are overweight, and more than 42 percent are obese. Chronic disease affects 6 out of 10 Americans. Also 20 percent of normal-weight people have prediabetes. These shocking rates of poor metabolic health — with nearly 9 out of 10 American adults unhealthy — is a major reason the COVID-19 crisis is so much greater than it needs to be.”

My interpretation: Just like a marathon race, winning against the coronavirus requires a strong immunity system, strong lungs, and a healthy heart. Americans, and particularly poor Americans, are compromised in all three with their diet, lifestyle and environment more than the rest of the world. I invite you to read the article.

Fortunately, for many of us with increased free time, the inconvenience of buying large quantities of food, and greater motivation, now is a good time to do something about it.

May 1, 2020   NY Times links below are useful for data updates.

As May begins, stay-at-home orders end

Governors of coastal states including California and Florida have faced particular pressure as they try to balance health concerns with growing demands for beach access as the weather heats up. Here’s a map of the varying restrictions across the U.S.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan reinstated a state of emergency on Thursday, even as protesters, some of them legally armed, gathered at the State Capitol.

Here are the latest updates from the U.S. and around the world, as well as maps of the pandemic.

For a detailed picture of the outbreak in the U.S., we’ve also compiled data from hundreds of metro areas.

May 1, 2020. Pessimistic forecast from Yahoo Finance, and my own thoughts.

Here is an insightful interview with El Erian on the monetary and fiscal responses to COVID-19:
https://finance.yahoo.com/video/el-erian-worst-recession-since-154048623.html

His statements accord with my view. Pretty grim.

The most telling thing to me is the lack of confidence and incredibly negative consumer expectations. People are only buying necessities, and that will not fuel the economy. Even food production (meat, fresh vegetables) is now uncertain. On April 10, a poll of sports fans found that 72% would not plan to go to a sporting event even if they resume in September. (What about children in schools or universities or any public entertainment, or restaurants?) Even the workers getting government aid want to save it since they realistically fear that the worst is yet to come. The ridiculous epidemiological model from U. Washington predicting a nice bell-shaped declines in rates of infection with the shutdown are not even close to the persisting rates of new cases, and the very gradual, flat persistence. Deaths are being grossly undercounted, and we are still less than 10% of the way toward herd immunity. Reopening the economy fully will I believe likely cause many areas to overload their hospital capacity in about three weeks: the average time from new infections to death (two to three weeks) plus a week for a renewed doubling in cases because we still have high fundamental infection rates to start from.

I am not a macro economist, but we now have a shock where earned income has dropped about 40% (Ellis and Marcolongo, April 17, 2020, with a new draft out next week), and more in the most vulnerable occupations. Current PPP loans are not reaching the neediest, and $1200 per person will not last long. Cities and states will soon be going bankrupt and start having to lay off public workers unless the federal government acts very quickly, which they can’t. Even people who have income, like me, are perhaps spending less than half of what they would usually spend, hording food, but not spending anything on travel, transportation, other consumables or durable goods. We are just spending more on personal delivery services and internet services. Health care spending will be strong, however, given the resources spent on COVID, but offset by canceling most elective and preventive care. I can easily see a more than 50% decline in consumption spending in the economy. Something similar is happening in the rest of the world, plus trade is also collapsing. I don’t see why the stock market is still acting like we will come out of this quickly. (Remember, the Dow Jones lost 75% of its value in the Great Depression. We are a long way from that now.) The economy is so dreary that I have pretty much stopped blogging about my predictions in the last week.

I am enjoying bird photography, vegetable gardening, and baking bread. I recommend these activities highly to you. It is nice to fall asleep thinking about gardening or how to zoom about birds instead of about COVID-19.

The state of Maine started reopening as of today. Lets see what happens.

Have a good weekend!

Randy

 

April 23, 2020 Science article about COVID-19 effects

This Science article has an excellent overview about the complex medical challenges from COVID-19.

I recommend it to anyone interested in clinical manifestations, rather than economics or epidemiology.

How does coronavirus kill? Clinicians trace a ferocious rampage through the body, from brain to toes

April 22, 2020

The New York Times just updated their web site showing rates of reported COVID-19 cases and deaths by country, state, and city (MSA) which is updated daily. This is my go-to location for up to date rates. They are now using the most recent week of data (versus five days, previously) and recentered all their plots to start when a country or state had 200 cases (or 100 deaths) instead of ten.

There is an excellent overview of sources by Vivian Ho, Kirstin R.W. Matthews,  and Heidi Russell, from the Rice Baker Institute. I first learned about this from The Incidental Economist blog by Austin Frakt. I recommend you choose which sources you want to review for your update.

One anecdote reflecting my own experience is revealing:

Yesterday I spoke for 20 minutes with someone working closely with an estate attorney.  Several things surprised me. This person (“Jane”) said that the lawyer in the Boston area was swamped by demands for living wills and do not resuscitate (DNR) orders (covering what to do when faced with the choice of being on a ventilator, for instance), updated wills, trust tax forms (no extension granted for these) and particularly assistance to households trying to get death certificates from the state.

Jane revealed two nursing homes in the area that have not yet gone public with the surge of deaths they have experienced because of fears over negative publicity.

Jane spoke of  several people who died in nursing homes who were not yet reported to the state because when a death occurs at home or in a minimal care nursing home a death certificate requires verification by a coroner, and coroners are overwhelmed just now. The coroner must decide whether an autopsy is needed, and what samples should be taken before determining the cause of death. This is causing a serious delay.  This leads me to believe that deaths in total and deaths attributed to COVID are being understate in some places in the US, and that more reliable estimates will want to look at deaths by age this year versus over past years.

These unreported deaths are consistent with recent reports in the media about new tests of samples from deceased bodies are turning up new cases of SARS-COV-2 not previously recorded.

April 22, 2020 Nursing home rates skyrocket.

Yesterday, April 21, the Boston Globe published a site for Massachusetts nursing homes that reporting confirmed cases by named. Unfort6unately they only have three tiers: <10, 10-30, and 30 or more. The results are stunning. A total of 228 Nursing homes are reporting cases of COVID, out of 338 in the state (56%). The data is to granular to calculate

My own calculations using the Massachusetts nursing home data as of April 22, 2020 posted on the Boston Globe web site suggests that among those reporting at least one confirmed COVID case, the average rate of confirmed cases is 15% or more of all residents, much higher than the population averages reported for older age groups.

I commend the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for publicly posting its rates of testing, new cases, rate of hospitalization, and deaths each day. Rates by race and  place of death are reported. Also interesting is the detailed PPE supplied by region. Rates of N95/KN95 and other masks still seem distressingly low in the state.

I will mention that the number of COVID tests done per day has remained constant at approximately  5,000 since March 24, and that the very high positive test rate  – average of 26% over the past five days – suggests that there remains a very large number of infectious cases not being identified at existing test levels.

April 22, 2020 Humor and misinformation

I was trying to track down a legitimate post mentioned on Facebook and had reason to view a variety of Facebook sites ridiculous postings. Some of the claims so outrageous as being hilarious. Here is one of my favorites:

It will be extremely important for the truth about the events of September 11th, 2001 in New York to come out one day, including the truth about the use of a Directed Energy Weapon to “Dustify” the buildings. I hope and pray.”

I was originally going to post several more ridiculous claims. but they were gone!

When I went back to Facebook to copy them, they had been removed. Plus, in two cases, I saw notices from Facebook that they had fact checked some consumer posts, and inserted a link to discuss why certain key statements were false. Hallelujah! Great to have Facebook start actually policing postings and repostings for accuracy.

April 21, 2o20

I was forwarded an interesting article about hypoxia in the NY Times that is worth a read.

The Infection That’s Silently Killing Coronavirus Patients: This is what I learned during 10 days of treating Covid pneumonia at Bellevue Hospital. By April 20, 2020

It describes how COVID19 induces hypoxia and recommends the use of a pulse oximeter as a low-cost route to early identification of COVID pneumonia. One of the striking findings in the article is that the normal signal of breathing problems (a build-up of CO2) doesn’t happen with COVID-19, so that hypoxia can progress quite far, without the person realizing that anything is wrong – hence the value of proactive monitoring of blood oxygen levels.

Widespread pulse oximeter testing could be very significant for our ability to manage COVID-19 during the ‘dance’ phase, by changing the ratios at several important points:

  • Reduced R: Earlier detection of COVID19 cases through early identification of hypoxia, even before other symptoms have developed  has the potential to increase the ability to isolate earlier and reduce the infection rate.
  • Reduced % of cases needing ICU beds or ventilators. Earlier detection of hypoxia would allow more routine treatment and less need for oxygen or intensive care, reducing the pressure on ICU beds and on ventilators.  The NYT article suggests that better treatments alone – e.g., better positioning of the patient for better breathing could reduce ventilator need  in the first 24 hours by 75%.
  • Reduced mortality rate.  The NYT article doesn’t speak to this directly, but it is suggestive that a major reason for the high mortality rates for individuals without other underlying conditions is that the hypoxia has progressed to dangerous levels before seeking treatment.  If so, avoiding dangerous levels of hypoxia might dramatically reduce mortality rates for otherwise healthy individuals without underlying conditions.

 

April 20, 2020 UK report on exit strategy

Interesting UK report from Ian Mulheirn, Executive Director and Chief Economist, Institute for Global Change.

PPT: Suppression Exit Strategies: Options for Lifting Lockdown Measures in the UK

Tradeoffs presented, but no mechanism for choosing. No discussion of ameliorating drugs (preventive, symptom control, treatment) prior to a vaccine.

April 20, 2020 Humor/Art

Covid video from an art historian

April 20, 2020 Masks

The US continues to be woefully unprepared for the volume of personal protective equipment (PPE) needed and is still totally failing to keep up with the urgent need. Here is one telling quote from Dr Steve Corwin President and CEO of New York Presbyterian Hospital speaking to CNN on April 6, 2020:

“We can’t make that mistake again. I know the next crisis will be different than this one. But let me just give you a statistic, pre- crisis, we were using 4,000 masks a day of all sorts. Now we’re using 90,000 masks a day.

Given that there are 2650, staffed beds at NY Presbyterian, that implies 34 masks per bed per day. Official guidelines are for hospital workers to put on a new mask each time you enter a patient’s room, which is a lot of masks for each health care worker and each patient. Fortunately some areas have figured out how to sanitize and reuse some N95 masks, but the costs of doing this may exceed the costs of making a new mask, which with bulk production are fundamentally very inexpensive. The magnitude of the need is still unprecedented.

This following table calculates the magnitude of the mask problem for  New York state, Massachusetts, and the nation assuming the same rate of need as NY Presbyterian Hospital in early April, before the peak need in NYC.

NY Presbyterian hospital All New York state hospitals All Massachusetts hospitals  All US Hospitals
total staffed beds             2,650             53,000               15,193                924,107
masks per bed                  34                     34                      34                        34
masks per day         90,000      1,800,000            515,989         31,384,766
days per month                 30                  30                 30                       30
masks per month   2,700,000     54,000,000       15,479,660      941,542,981

Governor Cuomo has asked new York hospitals to add another 20,000 emergency beds, which increases the demand even more. These calculation suggest a need for more than a billion masks per month to meet the US hospital demand for masks.

Notice I am not talking about N95 masks, but “all sorts of mask”, just like Dr. Corwin. This calculation ignores the additional masks needed for dozens of other occupations (police, firefighters, public health, pubic transport, food workers, pharmacy workers, and other essential workers). Given their numbers, this easily adds another billion masks per month. Then there are ordinary citizens: if each citizen wanted to use new three masks per month, that would add another billion face masks.  These uses quickly triple the number demanded nationally: 3 billion masks per month, or 100 million masks per day.

These levels of demand would require a thousand plants each producing 3 million masks a month, just for serving the US. While a charity event like the Boston Patriots owner flying home 1 million masks from China that were shared between hospitals in NYC, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, was helpful, achieving a day’s supply at best for the three regions, a much bigger concerted effort is needed. Masks are not expensive, this could be done for perhaps a billion dollars per month once scaled up. That is only $3 per American per month. We can do that.

Obviously a great deal of other PPE equipment is also needed. I need not make the calculations here.

We need the federal government to immediately use its emergency wartime powers to ensure that US industry is turned to producing these supplies at prodigious rates, not just rely in imports and voluntary private businesses to supply the need. After resisting the need for widespread mask wearing, it is time for the US to take this step before we consider partially reopening the economy.

 

April 19, 2020 COVID

It is clear that the US is not yet testing enough people for COVID-19 virus or antibodies. Here are two good links on the subject.

April 17, 2020 COVID

New BU working paper draft is posted here.

THE EARLY TOLL OF COVID-19 ON JOB AND INCOME LOSSES: VULNERABILITY BY OCCUPATION

Randall P. Ellis and Giovanna Marcolongo

Boston University, Department of Economics

April 17, 2020

Key message: Early PPP funding does not target the occupations most affected by the COVID-19 shutdown

Figure 2 summarizes the key findings of a new poll of 13 labor and health economists from April 3 to April 10 conducted by the authors about rates of job and income loss of employees by occupation (including seasonal and less than full time workers).

Capture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overall, we calculate that the two-month income losses from the pandemic are $485 billion and argue that the most impacted occupations may be least able to benefit from the PPP loan program.

See the short paper linked here for more.

 

_____________________________________________________________________

 

 

I have shared a lot of articles and blogs on COVID-19. This BUHealth post puts them all in one place, with updating at the top.

Favorite links if you have not already viewed them.

Tomas Pueyo’s March 19 article in the Medium: Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance.

The best source of up-to-date statistics I have found is on COVID19 is WorldoMeter.info/coronavirus. which gives daily updates and documents its sources.

COVID-19: An illustrated scientific summary 8 minute video

New York Times interactive figures are updated daily for the world and individual US states.

April 14, 2020 Herd immunity

Jeff Howe from the Boston Globe on April 11, 2020 summarized Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch modeling in a very direct, if unpleasant way. It is worth a read if you want to know what a top epidemiologist thinks.

The only way this ends: herd immunity

“This is the simple, scary math that Harvard epidemiologists Marc Lipsitch and his colleague Yonatan Grad have tried to convey in a series of recently published papers: If each person infected with COVID-19 disease in turn infects three more, as we now think, then in order to bring the disease to heel, Grad says, two of those people must already be immune.”

Currently we are hunkering down with less than 3% of people ever infected everywhere.

The figures in the Boston Globe article are easier to interpret than the three linked academic papers. Worth a sobering read if you care to.

This opinion piece by Marc Lipsitch in the NYTimes on 4/13/2020 is on a similar vein, and also presents evidence on how well people acquire immunity from exposure. Immunity appears not to be complete but only 80 – 90%.

My own belief is that the epidemiologists are perhaps too pessimistic about the assumption and implications. My reading is that good masks (see earlier posts below on Stanford study) reduce infection rates by 70 to 95%, so if everyone wore masks routinely, and also washed hands regularly, the infection rate need not multiply as rapidly as modeled for much of the population, which they max out at a 60% reduction. This points to the importance of high quality, comfortable and hence widely worn, personal protective equipment (PPE).

The biggest short run hope is not vaccination, but PPE, physical distancing, crowd avoidance, and above all effective palliative and treatment drugs so that the infectiousness and death rates can be brought way down. As an analogy, we have never found a fully effective vaccine for malaria, and malaria is still a potential risk even in the US (and Spain and Italy), but we now have very effective prevention methods and treatments for it, so that rates of reinfection are low here and deaths and serious cases rare. The Jeff Howe 4/11 Boston Globe article mentions that 40 different drugs have been approved for clinical trials in the US. These are treatment drugs, not vaccines. If at least one of them is highly effective, then we would free up a lot of ICU beds, reduce pain and deaths, a make us all a lot less fearful of the disease.  By focusing on already existing drugs, we have a much better chance of one becoming available sooner. This give me hope, because the infection simulations and impacts on the economy do not look good without this.

Also giving me hope is that several health economists are coming out with behavioral models that may do a better job at building in feedback loops than the existing epidemiological models that I have seen.

Hope for a COVID-19 vaccine — a conversation with David Spiegel

April 11, 2020 Birdwatching in Newton

Today my wife and I took our dog for a walk at Brayburn Country club and saw eighteen species of birds. Most notable were a pair of bluebirds, a pair of green-winged teal, and two magnificent male wood ducks.  Also seen today were turkey vulture, red-tailed hawk, mallard ducks, Canadian geese, chipping sparrow, house sparrow, grackle, starling, mourning dove, chickadee, robin, goldfinch, white-breasted nuthatch, red-bellied woodpecker, chestnut-sided warbler, and at our feeder pine warbler, two turkeys, (including a Tom on full display), cardinal, junco, blue jay, house finch, gray squirrel, and chipmunk.   Fun to see 20+ species on a casual day near home. Our winter viewings since COVID-19 quarantine is now 36 species.

April 10, 2020 Happy Holidays to all!

700 inspiring children’s voices from Italy: https://youtu.be/MZWmikiJVIQ

I pass along the holiday greetings of my friend Shuli Brammli of Israel

Dear Friends,

This week we are entering a period when the three religions are celebrating their spring holidays. One by one we celebrate Passover, followed by Easter and then by Ramadan Kareem of our brothers the Muslims. We don’t know much yet about the consequence of this Epidemic that we all experience. But one fact is undeniable. We all live in one small world and there is no other world for us. It is too small to be ignored. I hope that we will be smart enough to learn the lesson from this, and that we will be kinder to each other and compassionate, promote social support and mutual guarantee within our society as well as between our countries. I wish you all the best for you and your beloved ones.

Happy holidays

Shuli

April 10, 2020 BU to Open Fenway Campus to Pine Street Inn homeless shelter employees

I was proud to see BU offering their empty dorms to the homeless shelter staff, some of whom are themselves homeless.

Now is a good time to give to Pine Street Inn (homeless shelter) and the Greater Boston Food Bank  (wholesale food pantry) donations or your own local shelters and pantries.

April 10, 2020 More on job impacts of COVID pandemic

There is an important article by Noam Levy at the LA Times that is worth a careful read.

Coronavirus already changing medical care in the U.S.

Here are a few sentences.

“Primary care doctors have seen a big uptick in telehealth visits — a move widely hailed by public health experts. However, the fees for these services are often lower than for office visits. Many physician practices have seen in-person patient visits drop 50% or even 75%. That has left physicians struggling to stay afloat and forced growing numbers to consider laying off staff or even closing their doors. Nearly 8 in 10 primary care clinicians in one recent survey reported their practice is under “severe” or “close to severe” strain due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Stunning survey results from a Seton Hall Sports Poll conducted on Thursday.

Vast majority of Americans would not attend games without coronavirus vaccine, poll says

Seventy-two percent of Americans said they would stay away from a sports event if it were held before a vaccine is developed. Even if the seating arrangements allowed for social distancing, just 12 percent would be comfortable with that setup.

Also revealing was yesterday’s Boston Globe report on tech industries in Massachusetts.

More job cuts hit Boston’s tech sector as coronavirus effects spread

A few selected quotes.

“Toast, the maker of popular software and systems used by the restaurant industry, said late Tuesday that it was laying off over 1,000 employees, reducing its workforce by about half through layoffs and furloughs. The company said that restaurant revenues have declined by 80 percent since state and local officials began shutting down businesses nationwide, and “our success is tightly coupled with the success of the restaurant industry.”

Lola.com, Zipcar, Hopper, and Wanderu have all cut back workers as travel restrictions have decimated the industry. At Logan Airport, the number of passengers fell by 93 percent between March 23 and 29, compared to the same period last year, according to the latest Massport data.”

This NY Times article on inequality also speaks to the huge inequality of burdens.

April 8, 2020 JAMA Network Open paper published!

Although tangential to this COVID blog, the big news for me on April 8 was the appearance of my first first-authored paper in JAMA. It is worth a click if you understand the importance of disease tracking over time.

JAMA Network Open  (Open means it is free to all viewers)

Original Investigation Health Policy April 8, 2020

Diagnostic Category Prevalence in 3 Classification Systems Across the Transition to the International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision, Clinical Modification

Randall P. Ellis, PhD; Heather E. Hsu, MD, MPH; Chenlu Song, MA; Tzu-Chun Kuo, PhD; Bruno Martins, PhD; Jeffrey J. Siracuse, MD, MBA; Ying Liu, MA; Arlene S. Ash, PhD

Question  Was the US transition from ICD-9-CM to ICD-10-CM in October 2015 associated with dramatic changes in diagnostic category prevalence in various classification systems?

Answer: YES. See the paper’s figures to see how much.

It has been a long time coming, but here it is! We didn’t like the title either, but JAMA insisted. This is the first publication from our ICD10 project. We use 1.2 billion data points for the figures, which are the best thing to look at.

April 8, 2020 Humor #2

Introverts and Extroverts

Humor #2 in figures.

Words of wisdom from Richard G Ellis:

Stay inside + Stay healthy = Stay Stealthy!

Interminable meetings.

April 7, 2020 Economic effects.

The Economist, March 25, 2020:
https://www.economist.com/finance-and-economics/2020/03/25/how-to-pay-for-the-pandemic

Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI), April 4, 2020:
https://www.businesscycle.com/ecri-news-events/news-details/business-cycle-economic-cycle-research-ecri-recession-recovery-lakshman-achuthan-anirvan-banerji-a-nasty-short-bitter-recession

McKinsey Insights: https://apple.news/A8W8neEEvNTGaecv19reqUA

April 6, 2020 pets can get infected

There is now significant evidence that pets, such as dogs and cats can become infected with SARS-CoV-2, however no evidence yet over whether they can infect humans through the air. But it seems likely. Here is the evidence from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). I personally will not stop petting our dog, and will consider her part of the family who is at risk of exposure if any of us become ill. We no longer let her get close to any other dogs or people, so she is like other members of our family.

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April 6, 2020 Effectiveness of different types of homemade mask materials.

Stanford medical school site. Key figure.

Stanford Mask Effectiveness 2020

Adapted from Davies et al 2013

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April 6, 2020. How to sanitize masks against viruses.

The link on the previous posting from Stanford includes advice for achieving medical quality sterilizatoin of N95 masks. Here is the key table.

Their key finding is don’t use bleach or alcohol to sterilize masks since it can change how well they filter or the difficulty breathing. heating anything in an oven to 160 for 30 minutes will kill the virus.

My reading is that for cloth masks, where you want adequate but not surgical safety, any of the following should work

Running them through a load of wash, where the soap will remove the germs to practical levels.

Put them in a dryer at high temperature for ten minutes.

Put in hot or boiling (not recommended for many rubber or stretchy attachments, however).

Leaving things out in the direct sun for a half hour works because of UV light.

Or leaving them unused for a five days will also kill COVID germs (but not necessarily other germs).

The other key advice is not to reuse or handle used masks. Treat them as if they are used tissues. If you have been around anyone who is infectious, and your mask has done its job and filtered/caught any bad germs, then you don’t want to be touching the germs or reattaching them to your face. best is to have several and just routinely use a different one once you have been out with one.

April 6, 2020 Sewing your own fabric mask from the NY Times

This requires having a sewing machine to make several well.You probably have a friend or neighbor happy to give or sell you one for a donation to a good cause.

In a pinch, the following simple technique could also be  effective if bulkier in areas where it is not too hot.

Find a 100% cotton T-shirt and a black binder clip. Put the whole T-shirt over your head and use the binder clip (or a safety pin) to shrink the size of the head hole to be snug around your nose and mouth, leaving the rest of the shirt just hanging around your neck. When done visiting the store, throw shirt in a plastic bag, wash your hands, and be sure to launder the t shirt before the next use.  Keep several T-shirts handy.

Any face mask will only work if you actually wear it… Half (?) of its effectiveness is probably from the reduced ability to touch your mouth and nose. Wear glasses or goggles to also reduce eye touching.

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April 4, 2020

The media is full of predictions of the date on which rates of hospitalizations, and deaths will peak. Many of them are informed by the model from IHME, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which is led by Christopher Murray, a well regarded health economist and MD, now an adjunct professor at the University of Washington. He is best known for his work calculating the burdens of disease for WHO and the World Bank. IHME are updating their predictions for COVID-19 every few days.

COVID-19 projections assuming full social distancing through May 2020

There is a research paper in draft form linked here.

I think this comment below on that paper sums up well the weaknesses of this method. Murray uses a simple parametric model, and assumes that the rate of new infections will be a symmetric Gaussian sigmoid function. There is no evidence that the decline will be symmetric with the rise, and indeed the evidence from South Korea is that it does not return to a zero rate, but rather to a low, but still growing rate of growth. So I do not place a lot of faith in the predictions other than that in the short term we are in for some very difficult times. States that started lock down earlier will face less exposure. Those that have yet to start, could be in for a much higher mortality. For reasons discussed below, I do not believe the China rates of extremely low deaths recently are entirely reliable. There is reason to believe that they have been concealing deaths.

 

 

While it is easy to be critical, no one really knows what the right hand tail will look like, and I do not know any other model that is worried about short term forecasts as much as this one.

The bottom line of their model, as of today 3/4/2020 at 12:49 pm EST is that they forecast that the US hospital bed demand will peak on April 15, 2020

Resources needed for COVID-19 patients on peak date

All beds needed: 262,092beds  implying a Bed shortage of 87,674 beds

ICU beds needed: 39,727beds implying an ICU bed shortage of 19,863beds

Invasive ventilators needed: 31,782 ventilators

He forecasts that the number of deaths will peak one day later at 2,644 per day. With eventual deaths by August 4 of 93,531.

At his last update three days ago, he raised his estimated beds needed and deaths. the web site says that it will be updating its model and predictions today, April 4.

 

April 4, 2020

It is only a newspaper report, but the 3/4/2020 Boston Globe had an interesting article about funerals in China, which has been receiving some attention. China is making it hard to attend an count deaths through this normal means. So people have been using other methods.

 

https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/world/2020/04/03/china-curtails-memorials-during-tomb-sweeping-festival/QUBuvZg0jVntNTk9SqcQGO/story.html

 

Below is the relevant text to me. Two different estimation techniques both give much higher estimates of death. Note that the current death count in China is still only 3,326. Only slightly more than Iran, another country that people question: how could they be so successful?

“Long lines have been forming at funeral homes in Wuhan over the past two weeks, as family members have been informed they may collect their loved ones’ remains ahead of Tomb-Sweeping Day. Some waited six hours to collect an urn, then the ashes.

The Hankou Funeral Parlor’s crematorium was operating 19 hours a day, with male staff enlisted to help carry bodies. In just two days, the home received 5,000 urns, the magazine Caixin reported.

Using photos posted online, social media sleuths have estimated that Wuhan funeral homes had returned 3,500 urns a day since March 23. That would imply a death toll in Wuhan of about 42,000 — or 16 times the official number. Another widely shared calculation, based on Wuhan’s 84 furnaces running nonstop and each cremation taking an hour, put the death toll at 46,800.

Wuhan residents say the activities belie the official statistics. ‘‘It can’t be right . . . because the incinerators have been working round the clock, so how can so few people have died?’’ a man, identified only by his surname of Zhang, told Radio Free Asia.

US intelligence agencies have reportedly concluded that China’s numbers are much lower than they are in reality.”

Let me note that these reports on urns and cremations might also be biased, reflecting misinformation. I won’t speculate on how or why.

I myself look at South Korea as the country most likely to have a reasonable trend. They are showing a reduction to less than new 100 cases a day, with deaths hovering around 10 per day. Even scaled up for the US, that is a level that buys us time until we get a virus. That seems credible to me.

April 3, 2020

This 8 minute video produced gives the best scientific overview of COVID19, and I am sending it out to my full set of BUHealth recipients. It is accessible and would be understood even by an intelligent child, although complex topic.

As before, I am posting my other updates on a single blog site to not overwhelm people

COVID-19: An illustrated scientific summary

COVID-19: An illustrated scientific summary

A Yale grad student explains the basic biology of COVID-19 infection and transmission — and why social distancing measures can flatten the curve.

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April 3+, 2020 Humor

Links that will make you smile.

Two more fun links.

Horse with no name (30 seconds)

Testicles (30 seconds)

Two Facebook links:

Cute puppy. (2 minutes)

Italian pianist. (3 minutes)

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April 3, 2020

Yesterday was a day of much bad news. First an Italian colleague and health economist stated and provided further support today, that there is evidence from Italy that health care workers who are believed to have had COVID and recovered, have become reinfected and showing new symptoms. This was also supported by news in the NY Times (source not provided) of reports coming in from Wuhan that an estimated 5-10 percent of people are becoming reinfected with the virus, after seemingly recovering.

The other bad news is that the articles in today’s papers that the current COVID test used for current infections appears to have a 30% false negative rate. This is really bad because it means that after testing and sending people home, 30% may still have COVID.

More bad news is that two people I spoke with in our summer town in Maine thought that the presidents financial stimulus would not be of any value to them, for different reasons. So as I have worried, the very lowest income citizens may not be helped meaningfully by the measures taken to date.

My own “back of the envelope” calculations using my own guesses about rates of job loss and lost income suggest that US income during the shutdown may have fallen by 40%, with an even larger drop in spending. This is unheard of in previous recessions.

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April 1, 2920

This posting from “TheLawyerBubble”, which I do not know, focuses on cited quotes by Donald Trump over time which clearly show that Trump repeatedly lied to the US public and caused delay which is very costly to the US. It will mostly interest Americans, but highlights the importance of good leadership.

How many will die from Donald Trumps Lies?

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March 31, 2020

John Burn-Murdock has been generating a series of excellent figures on COVID trends by country. There is a rich set in this series of Twitter feeds today. I recommend them to you.

This confirms what others have said, that there is no relation of infection rates to size of population across countries, at least for the low rates now. Ultimately population size will matter, but recall that even in the three countries with the highest rate of infections (Italy, Spain and Switzerland), the rate is only just over 150 per 100,000 which is .15%. So the saturation that slows down the rates of growth is not yet in effect. The US rate is only 39 per 100,000, which is .039%.

It is not the absolute levels that should make us scared but rather their rates of growth. If they double every 3 days, then in 30 days they will have doubled ten times and 2^10=1024. Multiply the above percentages by 1000 twice and you have everyone infected. Burn-Murdochs figures show no slowing down by population size, only by actions taken in some countries.

March 30, 2020

In case any readers are interested in doing your own empirical analysis of county rates of infectoin with COVID, the NYT might pick up if well done, they have just posted their entire dataset of county level cases and deaths from January 21 to at least March 29, 2020. Look here.

An article describing what has been posted is linked here.

Others have documented states and cities who have implemented guidelines and lockdowns. There are dozens of papers eventually to be written about all of this information.

RE

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March 30, 2020

These New York Times interactive figures and interpretation from today’s Upshot are excellent.

It is clear that Korea and China have done something critical by slowing the doubling rate to once per month or less.

The US is now the laggard. But the disease always spreads faster when entering a new area and rates are low. So what will matter is how they look in areas where there has been time to respond. In a few states there is encouraging news in that the rate of doubling has slowed down to about once every month instead of every two days in the worst cases.

RE

March 30, 2020 RE

I want to retract some of my enthusiasm in light of a link from a BU colleague.

https://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2020/03/29/more-on-cloroquine-azithromycin-and-on-dr-raoult

While the news is on a larger sample of N-80, an article in today’s Science Magazine questions the reliability of the finding. It is still not a randomized controlled trial, and was done on a sample with a median age of 54, where a lower complication rate would be expected anyway.

My previous post is below.

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March 30, 2020

Fabulous news just in from France. If validated, this could be a game changer for this COVID battle. N=80.

France Officially Sanctions Drug After 78 Of 80 Patients Recover From COVID-19 Within Five Days | The Daily Wire

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March 30, 2020

There is also a key literature on the effects of hospital strikes on mortality. Cancelling all elective procedures and non-urgent care for COVID is a similar impact to a MD strike. This study from 2008 did a meta analysis of 156 studies of strikes from around the world, of which only 7 studies were considered high quality. These seven suggest that in every case an MD strike in the short run resulted in the same or lower overall mortality. They acknowledge that this is only the short run effect. But the cancellation of elective surgeries in the developed world tends to reduce other causes of death in the short run. Hard to build into models, but very real. Assuming zero or small negative change in the short run seems credible. More than a few weeks, who knows.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/23311966_Doctors’_strikes_and_mortality_A_review

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March 30, 2020

Growing evidence that masks are key to containment. thank you BU alum Jing Guo for these links and text.

Wearing mask also helps us to dance well in the long run before we all can get effective vaccine. I’m glad to see more articles about wearing masks these days:

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/03/would-everyone-wearing-face-masks-help-us-slow-pandemic

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/27/health/us-coronavirus-face-masks.html?smid=em-share

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March 29, 2020

Everyone should be wearing masks when out of the home or around people at home who might be infected. Most of the west has been in error about not advocating their use.  Here is a good video.

https://youtu.be/HhNo_IOPOtU

BEST OVERVIEW.

Tomas Pueyo’s COVID:Hammer and the Dance is the best overview of the issue from early this week.

https://medium.com/@tomaspueyo/coronavirus-the-hammer-and-the-dance-be9337092b56

The following University of Chicago article is also interesting and has much higher costs of the pandemic than some others. It does a cost effectiveness using the value of a statistical life.

https://bfi.uchicago.edu/working-paper/2020-26/

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3/27/2020

The best source of up to date statistics I have found on COVID19 is WorldoMeter.info/coronavirus.

I visit it daily.

In WorldoMeter, I especially recommend the figures using the log scale on the vertical axis, so that you can quickly calculate the days before doubling or sadly the days before a ten fold increase.

As of March 27, the World is doubling every six days in terms of cases and deaths, while the US is doubling every 3.5 days. If this pattern continued for two months (60 days), then the cases and deaths from  COVID19 in the US would exceed the US’s population. If we slow down to the world rate of increase the US rate would still increase by the multiple 2^10 = 1024. If the US continued at this rate, every American would be infected in 60 days (A 32,000 multiple). If we assume the US only slows down to the current world rate then the following numbers emerge. This is not a prediction, only a calculation.

 

World USA
Doubling time (T) in last week 6 days 3.5 days
Times doubled in 60 days (50/T) 10
Multiple after 60 days (2^(60/T))                                  1,024
today 60 days Today 60 Days
cumulative cases   596,366   610,678,784        104,126      106,625,024
cumulative deaths     27,345     28,001,280             1,696           1,736,704
Calculations based on extrapolating most recent growth paths for 60 days
Source: Worldometer

In all of World War II, there were only 405,000 American deaths.

For President Trump to assert that the worst is over and that we should reopen everything on Easter would be equivalent to announcing that WW II was over two months after the US entered the war.

3/27/2020

Best humor.

On Mar 27, 2020, at 7:02 PM, Randy Ellis <ellisrp@gmail.com> wrote:

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I am impressed with how the Atlantic is publishing great overviews of this pandemic.

The four possible timelines for life returning to normal
The coronavirus outbreak may last for a year or two, but some elements of pre-pandemic life will likely be won back in the meantime. Read in The Atlantic: https://apple.news/AxwhNr30XQiWDDkWSUTvJFw

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There has been a lot of misinformation about how seasonal COVID19 is likely to be. We have no prior information, so many are looking to the seasonality of Influenza (the flu). But more informative may be that of pneumonia, since COVID mostly causes lower respiratory infections (pneumonia), not upper respiratory ones, like the flu. Some work I am doing with a team has looked at monthly diseases rates per 10,000 people on 1.2 billion US monthly observations. These four pictures tell an important story.

flu1

flu2

If it were in our data, COVID would likely be classified into this CCS disease category and are likely to have similar seasonality.

flu3

flu4

Age patterns of prior high cost pneumonia cases also display a pattern similar to COVID, and seasonality by age would be possible with our very large datasets. The following figure is based on old data, and shows rates per 100,000 people. Something similar could be done with our newer data. It would be even more interesting with All Payer Claims data, which we hope to have available for a sample of states already. Notice that older Americans have much higher rates of treated infection, and this is much more likely to be high cost when they are infected.

age1age2 age3

Boston Bird Bingo

I took time to make the following game board because I greatly love bird-watching and also love games. I invite you to view it. School teachers or parents might enjoy it as well.

Boston Bird Bingo

I admit that our bird-watching is much better through having a bird-feeder in the back yard, which accounts for probably half of the species we have seen.

 

Each picture is of a bird or animal seen, heard or smelled in Newton  Massachusetts in March 2020.

 

Options:

  • Study it to learn the local birds and common mammals.
  • Print it out and see if you can see five in a row, column or diagonal.
  • See how many species you can see, hear or smell.
  • Click on the links to listen to the sounds, and then listen for them outside.
  • Print out the second page and see how many names you can remember.
  • Have someone tell you a name, and see if you can find it on the second page.
  • Try taking your own pictures or make your own recordings.
  • Learn the differences between male and female books. Look at the Cardinals! How different is the male and female house sparrow? Which one is shown here?
  • Use the embedded sounds to listen and learn, and then have someone else play them to see if you can identify them. How many can you guess correctly?
  • If you play all of the sounds quickly in sequence and on a recurring loop, you can turn your room into a bird sanctuary with all the sounds going at once. See if you can recognize them as they a sung.
  • These are mostly winter and year round birds just now. Soon arriving will be many migrants, including the red-wing blackbirds, kinglets, flycatchers, warblers, owls, hawks, ducks and geese. Then come the summer resident birds. See how many you can find on your own!
  • I have personally seen 15 wild mammals in Newton MA. Can you think of what they might have been?
  • Start your own life lists!

This blog is posted here.

Feel free to share with your friends. Some teachers might even want to use this.

Boston Bird Bingo

My new COVID19 mantra of March 28, 2020:

Stay at home.

If needed, send out one person every three days to buy food. Wear a mask if you go out. It need not be perfect, but any mask or scarf is better than nothing when around other people.

Maintain 2 meter distance if you do go outside. Jogging is fine.

Wash hands and things you touch compulsively. Wear gloves of any kind when you go out to stores.

Stay connected online to stay socially connected. Don’t watch too many news broadcasts.

This at home quarantine may only have to last for two months if we continue the dance well.

Low cost antibody testing kits are rapidly becoming available and will greatly help the dance.

 

Randall P. Ellis, Ph.D.

Professor, Department of Economics, Boston University

ellisrp@bu.edu     http://blogs.bu.edu/ellisrp/