Covid 10/28: An Unexpected Victory

by ZviDon't Worry About the Vase12 min read28th Oct 202137 comments

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Covid-19
Frontpage

The story of this week is what went down at the port of Los Angeles. The port had been brought to a standstill, because there was nowhere to put empty containers and trucks were sitting around with empty containers on them instead of moving freight, and the problem kept getting worse and worse. By taking a carefully planned boat ride, creating a finely crafted Tweetstorm designed to persuade, and getting the right people to assist, Ryan Peterson was able within one day to get the container stacking rule at the port changed from a limit of two to a limit of five, and get cargo moving again. It’s hard to tell exactly how much of a difference this will make, but from everything I’ve seen it will be a big difference. This is not only a huge story for its object level implications, it’s a story of how someone can make a difference, and how we were able to actually do something. 

Yet mainstream media is ignoring the story. Shout it from the rooftops! I’ve split that story off into its own post. If you have to choose between reading that one and reading this one, read that one, it’s far more important.

Meanwhile in the land of Covid-19, things continue as you might expect.  

Executive Summary

  1. Ryan Peterson managed to get them to change the container stacking rules at the port of Los Angeles, which had otherwise reached a standstill, potentially saving Christmas and/or the economy. This got its own post.
  2. Covid-19 conditions continue to slowly improve.
  3. Child vaccinations for age 5-11 on track for November.

Let’s run the numbers.

The Numbers

Predictions

Prediction from last week: 410k cases (-13%) and 9,600 deaths (-10%).

Results: 431k cases (-9%) and 9,506 deaths (-11%).

Prediction for next week: 400k cases (-9%) and 8,600 deaths (-10%).

Slightly disappointing case counts, very slightly good news on deaths. Trends continue and I see no reason for that to change in the next few weeks. Children getting vaccinated soon should help somewhat as well, although that will take a while.

Deaths

Nothing here should be surprising, given what we saw in cases several weeks ago, and it lined up with the predicted outcome.

Cases

We see clear improvement continuing in all regions, with an especially good number coming out of the Northeast. It’s a disappointing number since we had reason to expect better, but there’s nothing here that causes me to worry.

Polimath is back with another state by state analysis of cases and deaths. If you want more detailed graphs that look into different states, it’s a great place to look. 

Vaccinations 

The FDA committee has now approved Pfizer for 5-11 year-olds, so we are on pace to start those vaccinations soon. 

It no longer seems necessary to track this every week, so I’ll probably start spacing out how often I pay attention to it. 

Vaccine Effectiveness

The core problem with booster shots continues to be that the following facts are true:

  1. The vaccines are safe and effective.
  2. Booster shots make them more effective.
  3. Authorities think they need to tell people considering getting vaccinated that it will be sufficient protection.
  4. (Authorities then tell those same people to keep taking all their other precautions, and hope people don’t notice the contradiction until too late.)
  5. If you tell people #2 Proper Authorities assume they are going to question #3, because, I mean, well, um.
  6. So what to do?

Perhaps what they should say is, the truth? There’s no actual contradiction here, unless you are presenting the world in a black and white ‘protected’ versus ‘unprotected,’ immune versus not immune (see: Gupta on Rogan) because you assume people can’t handle anything else.  

This pattern has been a problem for a while. Authority needs us to to continuously believe:

  1. We are in terrible danger. Unsafe!
  2. The thing they say to do will make us safe.
  3. But not safe enough that we are not in terrible danger anyway.
  4. So there can be a next thing.
  5. And so no one stops doing the other things.

This is a fundamentally nonsensical story. If you think in terms of quantified risks and probabilities, it’s totally fine to say (reasonable guesses but not strongly endorsed numbers) ‘the vaccine works about 85% after a while, also boosters work better and make that 99%, also masks help up to 75% depending on fit, and social distancing helps proportional to how much you do it, opening windows and going outdoors help proportionally, staying at a healthy weight cuts your risk in half or better, and so on. But if all you can do is say ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ then there’s a necessary superposition of quantum unsafeness that shifts depending on what you’re talking about at the moment and what authority wants you to do.

This is also true in other areas, and has nothing to do with whether the things one is told to do are worth doing. If one is told to wear a seatbelt, that needs to make one ‘safe’ while thinking about whether to wear a seatbelt, but not when thinking about whether to buy an airbag, or whether to obey the speed limit, or to avoid tailgating, or not drink and drive, or anything else. And of course, the fact that cars are still inherently unsafe at the end of all that (although nothing like how unsafe they used to be) isn’t mentioned, because authority doesn’t want you to stop driving. Now think about the messaging around sexual activity. Same thing.

This means (along with other similar problems) that authority is prevented from offering a coherent world model that lasts longer than a few sentences. A simple metaphorical concept handle they can do, more than that would expose incoherence. When someone like Rogan last week points it out, the response is remarkably close to a robotic “file not found.”

I probably should post a clean version of this as a stand-alone post, and link to it in the future.

Vaccine Mandates

EDIT: Removing this section, as it was pointed out it was fishy and looking further into the thread it was likely that the source was making it up. Should have investigated further, my apologies. 

NPIs Including Mask and Testing Mandates 

We are finally doing at least some prioritization of rapid testing, my guess is this is because of how schools are forcing massive testing on us. Better late than never.

For example, did you know that soon, you may be able to buy one test instead of being forced by rule to buy a pack of two? Progress!

 Meanwhile, in Permanent Midnight watch, the New York Times has an advocate for permanent masking who strongly disagrees with Robin here.

Think of the Children

Mandating children get vaccinated, the same way we mandate other childhood vaccinations? Well, there’s a little problem

The adult side of things doesn’t make much sense but ignore that for now and focus on the children. They’re going to mandate vaccination, and then force them to wear masks all day anyway. So they’ll be 5-11 years old, fully vaccinated, safe as houses from a Covid-19 perspective, and then forced to come to a building where they’re forced to wear a mask, all day, five days a week. 

There is zero basis in physical reality for such a requirement. This is permanent midnight, a request that children live in a world without faces or ease of breathing, forever. And there’s a chance it will work. Even a LessWrong commenter of mine explicitly endorsed the idea that asks were worth having in school to prevent other diseases, and not letting kids breathe fully normally or see or show faces should be normalized permanently. 

Any organization, such as the CDC, that would make such a recommendation has declared which side they are on, and it isn’t ours. There is a war.

About this next thing: It’s real. I’m going to quote in full so no one needs to click:

My daughter, 11, has been wonderful throughout the pandemic. She social distances at all times, we never have to remind her to put her masks on, and we found a fully virtual scholastic program so she can avoid the significant risks of large crowds in the public schools.

A few weeks ago, however, her other parent and I had an obligation that we both had to be present for (we are both vaccinated, it was socially distanced, and we were wearing masks). Usually one of us would stay home with her, but because of her maturity level and the short time we would be gone, we assumed we could trust her on her own.

When we arrived home, we found her with a friend of hers who lives about a block away. She has visited on occasion throughout the pandemic but they know the rules. They are to stay outside and on opposite ends of the driveway or patio. The patio only offers about 5 feet of distance, but we decided that should be enough as long as they stay outside and keep their masks on.

Anyway, when we arrived home on this particular day, both her and her friend were in the living room, sitting on the same couch, not wearing masks, not socially distanced, and each putting their hands into the same bowl of chips. Why she would take this kind of risk, I still don’t understand.

I immediately told her friend that she had to go home and to please inform her mother to call me at her earliest convenience. I then expressed my disappointment with my daughter and informed her how dangerous what she did was. I reminded her about the delta variant and how it’s caused so many children her age to end up in the ICU. I told her that she only has to wait a few more months until she’s eligible for the vaccine, and this isn’t the time to become complacent.

We took all the necessary steps to remain safe. She immediately quarantined in her bedroom for the suggested two weeks. I cleaned the house thoroughly and opened multiple windows to circulate the air. Luckily, we all came out of this debacle safely.

I still don’t feel I can trust her, though. I understand it’s normal for her to make mistakes, but this wasn’t forgetting to turn a light off or close the refrigerator. She put her life at risk. How do we start building the trust back?

Here was the response:

Dear Trust Issues,

You can’t expect adult maturity from a child. If your daughter has been cautious and otherwise “wonderful” over the past 18 months, and this is her first time violating your household rules around COVID protocol, I’d encourage you to extend her a bit of grace. A year and a half is a long time for an 11-year-old to go without hanging out with friends. It’s also a long time to expect them to remain vigilant around a threat that seems to be lessening for the adults around them (as vaccination rates continue to rise and the world reopens). Her age group is among the last for whom vaccination isn’t an option, and it’s challenging for kids to watch the trusted authorities in their lives relax their own protocols around socializing, while they’re still being kept away from the people and things they care about.

Your daughter had a temporary lapse in judgment, which is to be expected for a child who hasn’t even reached adolescence yet. It sounds like you’ve sufficiently reprimanded her for inviting an unmasked friend into the house when you weren’t home. Aside from thinking twice before leaving her unsupervised again anytime soon, there shouldn’t be many additional measures you need to take to reestablish trust.

The good news is that this is ‘to be expected’ based on her young age, so further ‘punishment’ for this is not recommended, but it’s worth noticing that this entire situation is completely crazy. And look at what it is costing us. Permanent damage to this family seems likely here based on how the mother is reacting, and for what? For the crime of wanting to hang out with a friend and act like a human being. This has been going on for almost two years.

There’s the note that ‘with the vaccine close now is not the time to become complacent’ but what about after the vaccine? Will that be the time to become complacent? Or will such folks change essentially nothing, and continue to destroy childhood?

Well, did you hear about the horrible latest trend among our kids (WaPo)? That they’re playing (moderate spoiler alert: Squid Game on Netflix, which I highly recommend) actual traditional childhood games?

But some young Hwang Dong-hyuk fans seem to have missed the memo that “Squid Game” is not for them. The games on the show — all based on classic playground games from South Korea, like tug of war and red light, green light — are popping up on real-life playgrounds, distressing parents, educators and development experts, many of whom are wondering how the heck these kids heard about the show in the first place.

Red Light, Green Light. How the hell did our kids find out about this horrible new game called Red Light, Green Light? That deadly, dangerous game where you have to alternate running and standing still? Oh no. I played it in gym class as a child, do I need therapy? I also think I may have played Tug of War. I’m sure this is all greatly distressing to parents, educators and development experts. Talk to your kids before they start playing children’s games with each other, and maybe scrape a knee or have someone win while someone else loses or develop skills, or even worse have fun or learn something or bond with other children.

Then the author goes on to express horror that children might play a number of other games.

Yes, I do realize that the titular Squid Game itself is more violent and less ‘friendly’ than those other games, on par with rugby or football maybe, and that in some cases children are punching the loser afterwards so there will be stakes, perhaps because we’ve trained them that the agony of defeat is not a thing and it is therefore insufficient, requiring the agony of being punched. 

If you’re wondering if childhood and life itself are the enemy these people want to destroy, you have your answer.

In Other News

This FiveThirtyEight list of basic information about Covid-19 seems correct as far as that goes, but also seems designed not to be that useful in terms of what to actually do with one’s life. 

It’s not only health. Have you tried… drawing fair congressional districts?

Americans not trusting the maps to be drawn fairly is good. It is a feature. Because they’re not fair, at all, they’re completely partisan. It would be good if they were not partisan, but the goal there isn’t to restore faith that the process is fair,, it’s to have a fair process. Everything is like this.

I’m not saying telling it straight is flawless. It’s true that Americans might be, shall we say, bad at data analysis

I still don’t see any alternative.

At the movies: I saw Dune, with minimal prior knowledge. People like it a lot. I do not understand. 

At home: I saw Squid Game. As noted above, it is highly recommended. Give it one full episode, then make your decision. There may be a Squid Game Sequence in the works, if I can find the time. 

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37 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 9:22 AM
New Comment

"I reminded her about the delta variant and how it’s caused so many children her age to end up in the ICU. I told her that she only has to wait a few more months until she’s eligible for the vaccine, and this isn’t the time to become complacent."

I genuinely do not understand how it's possible to so fundamentally not comprehend risk. To be clear, from the best of our calculations, the probability of COVID hospitalizations in eleven-year-olds is substantially less than the probability of flu hospitalization. In fact, even contingent on an eleven-year-old getting the virus from one hangout with another eleven-year-old, the probability of them being hospitalized is 0.1-2%, and the probability of death is a rounding error to zero. 

Parents who are destroying their kids' lives for years and causing permanent mental health damages because of significant overreactions to COVID are not being "cautious," they're being destructive and borderline abusive (in fact, I'd say that this specific situation teeters on child abuse. Quarantining a child in their bedroom for two weeks? To avoid what, spreading it to.... fully vaccinated parents with no pre-existing conditions? Jesus.)

I might be preaching to the choir here; I'm just sick and tired of the complete lack of basic risk calculations being made. No, kids should not mask in schools indefinitely, and in fact having more oppressive restrictions on kids than adults is absolutely ridiculous. I really hope we can finally get legislators to come to their senses about this, because right now this situation is patently ridiculous.

You're not preaching, you're noticing you are confused. Which is good. 

I am not confused here, because the media is running stories about kids ending up in the ICU and most people don't think about base rates, so it's unsurprising that many parents think like this. Also see satanic child abuse cults, or stranger danger, or poisoned Halloween candy, etc etc. 

You're right. I think this is shocking me because it affects so many people I know and generally expect to be more calibrated in their beliefs, and the all-too-common handwaving of "we don't know enough about COVID" is not a free pass to be overcautious. That is, people I expect better from are overestimating the risk of the virus to a similar degree that anti-vaxxers are underestimating the risk of the virus/overestimating the risks of the vaccine, which is genuinely dangerous. Mixed messaging from the CDC and news establishments isn't helping either.

There are two types of antivaxxers. Those who had covid and recovered and those who did not.

The ones that had covid and recovered do not underestimate the risk of the virus to themselves.

Something doesn’t add up with the Private Sector Vaccine Mandate section.

The claim is:
“US companies firing fully vaccinated people who don’t have the *right* US vaccines. Or people who even if unvaccinated have no way to get a US-approved vaccine in their own country.”

…I don’t buy it. I simply do not believe American firms are firing ALL THEIR WORKERS in countries that do not have access to Pfizer, Moderna, or J&J. We would know about that. I don’t even believe that companies are firing significant fractions of their workforce in countries like the UK, who DO have theoretical access to the American vaccines, but mostly used others. The person you cite provides no evidence for that extraordinary claim, despite several people asking.

So what’s the real story? Is there a kernel of truth buried somewhere in there, like multinational corporations are requiring their staff IN THE US who were vaccinated overseas to get re-vaccinated with an American vaccine? I can easily believe that, but it’s a much less explosive claim. The specific claim is almost certainly not true.

Is anyone else confused about this?

Removed (btw: If you're giving me a comment like this, best place is at DWATV, no need to post it twice). 

What does DWATV stand for?

Don't worry about the vase, my blog's name.

Lol, at first I wondered why you were telling me not to worry about the vase

Yeah, that also triggered my "probably false or very misleading" alarm. People are making all sorts of wild claims about covid online for political points, and I don't even know who the random person on twitter making that claim was.

Just as a note, I think there is a history of outlandish/trolling advice letters being submitted to Slate, especially about culture war issues. I have no idea if the linked article here is sincere or not though. Something something Poe's law.

About this next thing: It’s real.
 

Is it? I have no doubt that there are parents who aren't letting their kids have normal playdates, but this letter sure reads like a parody of overly-protective parents. 

>Even a LessWrong commenter of mine explicitly endorsed the idea that asks were worth having in school to prevent other diseases, and not letting kids breathe or see faces should be normalized permanently. 

That was, I think, me.  It wasn't what I meant but in rereading my comment I can understand your interpretation.  I wrote, where the first quote is from you:   "''This is an explicit call for vaccinated children to be forced to mask permanently. This is utterly insane.' Yes this is insane if your only concern is COVID.  But what's the positive impact on other diseases if we permanently mask kids while at school?  What is the lifelong fitness and intelligence loss caused by pathogens that infect us when we are children?  How much protection would masking kids give us against potential future bioterrorist attacks?"

I did not mean all the questions to be rhetorical, but I can understand why you thought they were.  I meant that we should gather more information on the value of masks in terms of fighting other diseases and reducing the expected harm of bioterrorism and I believe that there would be a reasonable chance that this additional information would cause rational observers to conclude that yes kids should be masked at school, but of course it could also go the other way.  I was objecting to your claim that masking kids at school is "insane" because there is a lot we don't know about the benefits of masks and harm pathogens inflict on children.  Anyway, this is a small point and overall I think your COVID posts are fantastic.

This sounds exactly like you're continuing to say that we should consider permanently forcing children to mask, so I'm confused why it's not a good example.

I think we are talking past each other.  Consider: (1) we should do X.  (2) we should gather more information to decide if we should do X.  I'm claiming (2).  

I interpreted your writing  "Even a LessWrong commenter of mine explicitly endorsed the idea that asks were worth having in school to prevent other diseases, and not letting kids breathe or see faces should be normalized permanently. " as saying I support (1).  If I support (1) than I need to have a lot of information about the costs and benefits of X which I don't have so my supporting (1) would imply that I'm foolish.  You are right that I think we should "consider" permanently forcing children to mask, as this is consistent with (2).

I acknowledge you are 'simply asking questions' and want to do the math calculation. What I'm saying is that a live example of seriously claiming (2) is sufficient to show that we have to worry about an attempt to actually implement it. If Public Health people start considering the 'costs and benefits' of an intervention - especially one that could be framed as a default right now - that makes lives worse in exchange for less disease, you've already lost, and the idea that costs of mask wearing are sufficiently low that we need to be doing math is the road to that conclusion. 

Whereas if you'd asked this question in 2019 and treated it as a serious possibility that the math could come out either way, I'd have been pretty baffled.

I am extremely sympathetic to the thing you're saying in this comment. (I'm not sure I straight-up believe it, but then I basically don't hang out with kids and don't remember what it was like to be one.)

But...

What I’m saying is that a live example of seriously claiming (2) is sufficient to show that we have to worry about an attempt to actually implement it.

I kind of want to note here that this is not what you've been saying so far, at least not in this part of the conversation. It might be what you've been meaning. But what you said, from my read of the conversation, was...

In the post, that James (or at least someone) said (1).

Then in your reply to James, that James was continuing to say (2). And that you were confused why James saying "I said (2), not (1)" made James a bad example (of unspecified; by inference, of him saying (1)).

If Public Health people start considering the ‘costs and benefits’ of an intervention—especially one that could be framed as a default right now—that makes lives worse in exchange for less disease,

To be fair, he didn't ask for Public Health people to consider it.

Why masks though? Are they that good at stopping pathogens? 

Consider a burka. Wouldn't it be more convenient while offering equivalent or better protective value?

Maybe more info would also be good to get on ventilation* (in schools), for all the same reasons.

*Or outdoors.

I'm confused why you're reiterating the point here without making note of the numerous counterarguments you got last week.

Polymarket is prediction a 65% chance of a cases trend reversal starting on November 10: 

https://polymarket.com/market/will-the-7-day-average-of-covid-cases-on-november-17th-be-higher-than-the-7-day-average-of-covid-cases-on-november-10th

That is, a growth in case rate.(79% now)

I was walking along 42nd St today and saw someone wearing a shirt that said "456." I assume that's a squid game reference.

At the movies: I saw Dune, with minimal prior knowledge. People like it a lot. I do not understand. 

It was okay? Maybe people want to see action on big screens. Or a surprising number of people read it in advance? Perhaps movies in multiple parts is something people want more of. Perhaps there is demand, if not supply for epic TV Shows on big screens.

None of those possibilities were things I hadn't considered, nor do they explain the data. I continue to not understand.

I don’t know about your family history, but my guess is Dune speaks more to people who didn’t have good male role models/mentoring/parenting (e.g., involved fathers) for large parts of their life. Paul learns a bit from his father before he dies, but more from Gurney, Stilgar, Liet-Kynes, etc.

Paul is 15 when his father dies, which makes him a half-orphan/paternal-orphan. Orphans have interesting and complex roles in fiction: https://youtu.be/mnbeC6g3Ugo

Dune feels more genuine than other orphan stories. Paul’s arc is meaningful to me because he succeeds in filling in the gaps and then excelling beyond what would be expected.

Even a LessWrong commenter of mine explicitly endorsed the idea that [m]asks were worth having in school to prevent other diseases, and not letting kids breathe or see faces should be normalized permanently. 

This is why 'no true Scotsman' is a thing. One solution I've heard of is name names.


If you’re wondering if childhood and life itself are the enemy these people want to destroy, you have your answer.

The stakes are high, after all.

It’s a bit strange that deaths have leveled out (outside of the South) and aren’t decreasing yet (even though cases seem to be).

Great reminder to focus on complex truth, instead of a simple safe/unsafe options. 

Very interesting story about the normalization of 'child isolation'. 

But how dare you dislike Dune! 

Dune Part 1 is fine if you've read the book. Even the previous movies struggle on this account. There's a lot of world building that translates to pretty CGI but not television as a story telling format. This rendition cut more exposition than most and it shows.

If you view the Lord of the Rings through a critical lens, you get the mostly same result mostly for the same reason.

My presumption is that the reasons people liked Dune Part 1 require things that I have not experienced. So I hope to retroactively change my opinion after Part 2. But for now, that's my reaction, I'm confused why this is a thing.

Do you know a lot of people who read it in quarantine, or because of the movie?

(I also made another comment on this, but whether or not that has an effect, and makes up a large amount of the audience seems like the biggest factor. Unless it was people watching it in theaters and just super excited about that, especially for social reasons, what with Covid.)

I don't know anyone who did either of those things to my knowledge, no. 

I am slightly leaning toward the belief that the story about the 11-year-old was a false flag meant to troll the media. It hits a suspicious number of talking points all in a row. But only slightly.

So in Squid Game, an imaginary hyperbolic dystopia where society's rejects face the deliberate disintegration of their humanity, they're allowed to play more childhood games than regular people in Australia in 2021...

allowed to play more childhood games than regular people in Australia in 2021...

I live in Canberra, Australia, and this is ridiculous.

  • between May 2020 and August 2021, we had zero COVID cases. None whatsoever! No masks, restrictions only on concerts and other potential superspreader events, etc. Childhood games were obviously permitted, along with nightclubs and restaurants and whatever else you want to do.
  • with more than 90% of people 12+ fully vaccinated, restrictions are almost gone again too
  • even under our tightest lockdown rules, you can go outside for exercise including meeting up with a few other people, and that was a short lived restriction.
  • there have absolutely been stupid local policies, and the federal government has continually stuffed up quarantine and vaccine supply in ways I wouldn't have believed were possible. That said I think our policies (aside from vaccine supply!) have been consistently better than either the US or UK.
  • school kids have it a lot easier here than in the USA. Banning eating indoors, or permanent masks mandates, would get everyone involved fired.

And finally, there are a lot of cherry picked stories about Australia being printed elsewhere for local political point-scoring, for which representativeness or even accuracy appears to be entirely unnecessary. Somehow they never acknowledge the difference in death rate or economic damage either!

I've noticed that Australians always start their defense by talking about how low their case counts have been, as if that's the only important metric in all of this. We'd optimize for different things, to say the least.

I think our policies (aside from vaccine supply!) have been consistently better than either the US or UK.

Well, that's why you're happy there and I'm happy here, I guess. Also, I think you "asided" the single most important policy out of them all.

Also, my comment was pretty clearly tongue in cheek. No, I don't actually think the fictional contestants of Squid Game have a better life than you. You took it seriously and wrote a lot in response. You can draw your own conclusions from that.