The Omicron and Weekly posts are now combined, so this includes the last day’s Omicron developments, which will be how it works going forward. Next week’s will include the probability updates section as well. When there is urgent news, I’ll supplement as appropriate.

This week was the peak. From here, it would be highly surprising if Omicron cases didn’t start declining. The other news is mostly more of the same, with several developments worth analyzing: The Supreme Court throws out one of Biden’s mandates but upholds the other, Djokovic gets deported a second time, a great proposal to expand Manhattan (which got its own post), and other neat stuff like that.

Executive Summary

  1. If you live in USA and haven’t done so yet, order your free Covid-19 tests.
  2. We are at or past the peak in Omicron infections in the United States and UK, but that doesn’t mean it’s over yet, next few weeks still rough.
  3. UK lifts all Covid-19 restrictions, midnight is perhaps temporary after all.

Let’s run the numbers.

The Numbers

Predictions

Prediction from last week: 5.6mm cases (+13%) and 15,000 deaths (+30%).

Results: 4.9mm cases (+0%) and 12,606 deaths (+7%).

Prediction for next week: 4.4mm cases (-10%) and 14,500 deaths (+15%).

The deaths number is confusingly low this week. Cases increased by a huge amount with the three week lag, yet the deaths number isn’t increasing much. There’s about to be a much bigger three-week-lagged increase in cases, but the pattern is clear so my estimated size increase needs to adjust. I am fully prepared to miss low reasonably often here, if I wasn’t the estimate would be wrong.

For cases, it seems clear that we are peaking, so we should expect things to begin to decline. The question is how fast, with some areas not yet peaked, and the Northeast already having a much smaller share of total cases. The decline could easily be much faster than this, but things could also stay mostly steady for one more week.

Deaths

Even with Omicron being milder, the lack of more deaths is very good news here. The next week is the time when deaths should by all rights go much higher, so if they stay under control this week, we’re fully in the clear.

Cases

The Northeast already peaked, as probably did a number of other large states like Illinois, Florida and California. The South might have one more week left in aggregate, it also might not.

Cases at Yale in similar freefall to rest of east coast.

Thread pointing out that cases are declining in many places.

Trevor Bedford thread on us having peaked nationally but often not locally, including good state-by-state graphs. Expects about a symmetrical march down to the path up.

Ashish Jha thinks we have peaked.

Vaccinations 

US announces (MR secondary source, StatNews article) that…

…if the Food and Drug Administration decides to update Covid-19 vaccines to take better aim at Omicron or other variants, it is unlikely to go it alone.

Instead, a senior FDA official told STAT, the agency expects to take part in an internationally coordinated program aimed at deciding if, when, and how to update Covid-19 vaccines. The approach would ensure decisions are not left solely to individual vaccine manufacturers.

“We can’t have our manufacturers going willy-nilly [saying], ‘Oh well, the EMA decided they wanted this composition, but FDA wanted that composition,’” the official said, referring to the European Medicines Agency. “So we are very much of the mind that we would like to be part of a more global process in helping to come to what vaccine composition there should be now.”

Tyler is kind:

Designed for flexbility and speedy response?  I guess we’ll see.  Here is the full StatNews article.  And obviously, the entire public health community is up in arms about this…

The entire public health community being up in arms about it is at least some good news, although I haven’t seen any other evidence of their arms being up in this, so perhaps arms are not so up as I would like to see. Any version of this that they weren’t up in arms about would almost be guaranteed to involve sufficient delays as to render any updates so slow as to be useless.

Then again, the system for determining flu vaccines that this is modeled on works reasonably well as far as I can tell, so perhaps it will be fine, and also the alternative was perhaps a true nightmare? If comparing to ‘the manufacturers do what they think is best and we agree to be OK with that’ this is obviously a painfully slow nightmare, but that does not seem to be the relevant counterfactual, except insofar as this is enshrining that we will never, ever do anything that sensible. To that extent, this is a loss. To the extent that we’d already accepted that we’ll never do anything sensible, this is probably an expected value win.

Vaccine Effectiveness

Vaccines do good work even shortly after being infected (paper).

Results Among Israeli residents identified PCR-positive for SARS-CoV-2, 11,690 were found positive on the day they received their first vaccine injection (BNT162b2) or on one of the 5 days thereafter. In patients over 65 years, 143 deaths occurred among 1413 recently injected (10.12%) compared to 280 deaths among the 1413 unvaccinated (19.82%), odd ratio (OR) 0.46 (95% confidence interval (CI), 0.36 to 0.57; P<0.001). The most significant reduction in the death toll was observed among the 55 to 64 age group, with 8 deaths occurring among the 1322 recently injected (0.61%) compared to 43 deaths among the 1322 unvaccinated control (3.25%), OR 0.18 (95% CI, 0.07 to 0.39; P<0.001).

It can still be too late to get vaccinated, of course, as the videos of intensive care patients can attest to, but it looks like the vaccine very much starts doing good work right away, and your risk of death is reduced even before the vaccine has time to do its work. This makes physical sense as does the effect size, so I’m inclined to believe it.

Vaccine Mandates

Mandates are popular, but this does change somewhat when the proposed details are completely insane. Somewhat.

So yes, there are some limits. Almost half of Democratic voters want to fine or imprison those who publicly question vaccines, but that means that the other half don’t. And forty percent of Democrats don’t want to place the unvaccinated under semi-permanent house arrest.

You say sixty-percent empty, I say forty-percent full.

I’ve seen objections to this poll on the grounds that Rasmussen Reports is a right-wing polling organization. It’s definitely that, so you should take the information with that in mind. My understanding is that they will have a partisan lean in their horserace polls and might replicate such a lean in whatever direction is convenient in other polls, and they certainly chose to ask these questions because they think the questions are to their benefit, but I don’t believe that they are making things up. These numbers are at least approximately correct – maybe 52% instead of 59% of Democrats want to place the unvaccinated under house arrest, that’s different, but it’s not fundamentally different.

I also find that reaction interesting, because it implies that every agrees that this is a very bad take and it’s politically advantageous to Republicans if they can show that a lot of Democrats do in fact have this terrible take, so Democrats are accusing Republicans of making it up.

This implies that the people on the left applauding such tough measures are scoring in-group points but not helping their broader cause.

Also, mandates work.

That sounds pretty great to me. A big music concert is a highly optional experience that provides a lot of value. Vaccine mandates make make the concert more desirable for a lot of people, so having one provides more value to customers and hence more concerts and music. Also you convince almost fifty thousand people to get vaccinated in order to attend Lollapalooza alone.

So of course this was the comment that came attached.

On the other hand, her other example seems different, with Brookline taking dining mandates to the next level. There continues to be precious little middle ground where physical circumstances and other details actually matter to what people support.

She also shares some details about the protests going on in Boston, which I found fascinatingly local and quirky.

This thread by Andy Slavitt highlights the mindset. He refers to DeSantis and others as ‘paying people to not get vaccinated’ because they refuse to make exceptions and deny those people payments they would normally be entitled to, and consider vaccinating and boosting a personal choice. Letting those fired for not getting vaccinated get unemployment? Paying them. Hiring people from other states to come work in Florida and offering signing bonuses, because more officers are needed? Paying for not getting vaccinated. Asking Dr. Fauci questions that don’t genuflect? He has no idea what anyone could be asking of this ‘humble civil servant’ who keeps a portrait of himself in his office and may have been involved with gain of function research.

We see this a lot, including outside the context of Covid-19 or vaccination. Any refusal to cut ties and payments to those engaging in X is seen as paying for X, or as support for X, as opposed to thinking there is more to life than X.

Whereas here is a better take we can hopefully all agree upon: Using that amazing Telemundo enthusiasm to make clear that you think anti-vax people are morons, and letting the morons think to themselves ‘no, you’re a moron’ and then we all move on.

(An aside: For some reason, YouTubeTV decided that my Monday Night Football play-by-play for the wildcard game (but not the onscreen graphics or between-drives comments) were going to be handed over to the Spanish language announcers (but not the closed captions, which meant I couldn’t use this as a chance to learn some Spanish, although I did pick up a few words like ‘touchdown’ and ‘linebacker.’). I couldn’t understand most of what they were saying, but I am confident that if I could have understood them they would have made the game a lot more fun, because those people were so excited to be there and clearly loved their football the same way they love their futbol, you love to hear it.)

NPIs Including Mask and Testing Mandates 

Anarchy in the UK! Woo-hoo!

If you thought this would never happen and these restrictions were going to be permanent, you need to update.

It is delivery, but it’s no DiGiorno.

Domino’s is not pizza. It is a substance almost, but not quite, entirely unlike pizza. At a minimum, within the confines of New York City it is definitely not pizza. This is how to tell your pizzas, which are things Domino’s does not produce. Here are some places in New York City that do produce pizzas, high quality ones at that.

The thing is, here, that’s an advantage. Domino’s is in the non-pizza delivery business. That’s exactly what we need, to deliver non-pizzas as quickly and efficiently as possible. Capitalism solves this. Speed premium, ahoy.

The good news is it turns out we did solve this one, at least on the ordering side. By all reports, the ordering and delivery service is giving us four free masks, with sub-minute ordering times and no hassles whatsoever. It even went live a day early. We finally got one right. Let’s stop to ask how we got this one right, so we can get future ones right as well. Then let’s check to see if the deliveries show up on time.

There’s also another delivery coming soon, they’re sending us N95 masks. That’s also a very good idea. It comes from the Strategic National Stockpile, which hopefully we will rapidly replenish. It seems like we frequently draw from some huge National Stockpile in time of need, but we never hear about the announcement of the expansion or creation of a National Stockpile.

As government interventions go, creating lots more and bigger Strategic National Stockpiles of goods that are highly valuable in a pinch seems like an excellent plan, and a 1-out-2-in general rule might even be justified. If we’d had enough masks in reserve in March 2020, things would have turned out very differently. The pandemic would have been better contained and institutional credibility wouldn’t have been incinerated lying about masks.

If left to its own devices Capitalism Solves This because private actors would invest in stockpiles to sell at a profit, but we have a variety of official and unofficial price controls that prevent this. Everyone is terrified to raise prices lest they piss people off, and when higher prices are most needed to ensure incentives and proper allocations, we start arresting the people who charge them. So, same as it ever was, once we ban the market from solving the problem we need to solve it collectively. There’s no reason we can’t have a reserve of billions of masks.

The question was asked, if masks are for one-day use, what’s the point of sending each person one mask? The response was that masks save lives, that’s the important thing, we want to give people the tools they need to protect themselves and their families. Which is both the right answer – some supply is better than no supply – and also completely ignoring the actual question.

A better answer (in addition to ‘this is what we can do right now and it’s a start’) would be that people can use the N95s in the situations where they matter most, since risks follow power laws, so they still do a lot of good, and also they send a strong message to switch over to N95s in general. An even better message would be to admit that almost no one treats N95s as the disposable items they’re supposed to be, and instead reuses the same N95 for quite a while, and mostly This Is Fine, it’s still way better than cloth masks (that you also probably reuse for weeks or months on end).

It also sheds light on the initial mask shortage back in March 2020.

I’m Sorry, Sir, This is The Centers for Disease Control and/or a Wendy’s

It should be the job of the Centers for Disease Control to control disease.

Or at least, that’s one theory, sure.

It turns out that controlling disease means doing things when they might matter.

That’s not to say that there is no useful meticulous science to be done, very slowly and carefully, around controlling disease. That, too, has its time and place. But if we hope to control disease in a crisis when it matters most, your OODA loop has to be measured in days or hours rather than months or years. I’ve still got further discussion of that thread on CDC publications on my stack, but I want to do it justice and it no longer seems time-sensitive.

Thinking probabilistically and making decisions quickly under uncertainty is their job. Even more than it is the job of most other people as well.

Thus, I was thrilled to see America’s Finest News Source report that they’re finally taking correct and bold action of exactly the right type.

ATLANTA—Stressing that the effort represented the best chance of ensuring American make responsible choices around the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday that it planned to send every U.S. household a pamphlet on probabilistic thinking and decision-making. “What we’re hoping to do is give every American a quick refresher on how to use statistical analysis to assess their priors and make Bayesian inferences, thereby ensuring they overcome their innate psychological biases—simple stuff, but important nonetheless,” said CDC director Rochelle Walensky, estimating that the pamphlets’ lessons on the baseline fallacy alone would save far more lives than mask-wearing, handwashing, and the Covid-19 vaccine combined. “Obviously, most everyone in the nation has already at least skimmed the seminal studies of psychologist Danny Kahneman on the fallibility of human thinking. So the pamphlet will skip over some of the basic stuff like the availability heuristic and head straight to prospect theory. Hopefully none of this feels too patronizing.” Walensky added that if Americans took away one easy lesson from the pamphlet, she hoped it would be P(H|E) = (P(E|H) *P(H))/P(E).

Definitely that, completely unironically.

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court upheld the federal vaccine mandate on health care workers, but rejected Biden’s attempt to use OHSA to impose a similar mandate on all large employers.

The mandate for federal workers was being imposed without the proper authority to do so, and while I am not a lawyer, I’m weird in that I still believe that should matter when things go before a court of law. The mandate on health care workers had explicit authorization in the statute, so it was justifiably upheld.

Scott Gottlieb pointed out that the administration was doing little to enforce the rule, thus the rule was symbolic and more about giving employers cover to impose mandates they wanted to impose anyway, and so the change makes little difference.

Left-wing voices generally seemed to be of the opinion that the Supreme Court has no business deciding what is and is not allowed under the law, and instead their Very Serious People should decide via Expert Opinion. Or on a more basic level, they cared about the practical effect of the restrictions the President wanted to impose, but didn’t seem to care at all about the rule of law or whether the President had the legal right to impose the restrictions in question.

This is the reasonable version, understanding there is a law but not caring for it.

Here’s the pure version, what is the law?

And here’s the opinion piece version (WaPo).

And in a development that was in some ways even more alarming, the court upheld a vaccine mandate that applied only to health-care workers in facilities that receive federal funds — but four of the justices voted against it.

But four justices — Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett — said just that. Legislative language that authorizes the Department of Health and Human Services to regulate the “health and safety” of medical facilities, they said, isn’t enough, since there is no specific language authorizing precisely this kind of mandate.

“If Congress had wanted to grant [the government] authority to impose a nationwide vaccine mandate, and consequently alter the state-federal balance, it would have said so clearly,” Thomas wrote for the others. “It did not.”

The alarming philosophy in question, that a minority of justices endorsed here, is that if the Federal Government wants to impose a law, it must first pass one. Scary, I know.

I happen to disagree on the merits here, because I do think that Congress authorized this when it said it could require things that guard the health of Medicare and Medicaid recipients, so if you want to object you’d have to object to the whole broader structure, and they’re not doing that here.

There is one other note I am very sympathetic to here, which is that this rule of law kick only seems to properly and fully apply when a Democrat is occupying the White House. That does seem to be a thing, but the error should be fixed where there is an error.

The note I am mostly not sympathetic to is that laws shouldn’t have to be passed because the other side is refusing to pass any laws. If that’s so terrible, as one could reasonably argue, shouldn’t you go and win elections by pointing this out? It’s not like this no-laws policy is new or surprising.

The liberal justices did not appear to be in as good standing as members of the reality-based community as one might have hoped. They said some things that are not.

For example, this very much is not.

Sotomayor, who did not join her eight colleagues on the bench for the arguments, but opted to take part remotely, was the worst offender. At one point, the Bronx-born jurist claimed that implementing the requirement for businesses was necessary because “Omicron is as deadly as Delta … we have hospitals that are almost at full capacity with people severely ill on ventilators.”

“We have over 100,000 children, which we’ve never had before, in serious condition,” Sotomayor added, “and many on ventilators.”

Not only did Sotomayor’s statement contradict experts who say Omicron is less severe than Delta, but it defied data from the Department of Health and Human Services showing a total of 3,342 confirmed pediatric hospitalizations with COVID-19 across the US as of Friday — making the justice’s math off by a factor of nearly 30.

Here’s Breyer, also saying that which is not.

When Breyer waded into the fray, he suggested the OSHA rule was needed because “hospitals are full almost to the point of maximum” and that “750 million new cases” had been reported in the US yesterday — despite the fact that the population of America is around 330 million.

More disturbingly, no, seriously, what is the law?

Perhaps more disturbingly, Sotomayor said at another point in the argument that “I’m not sure I understand the distinction why the states would have the power” to institute a rule like the one being pursued by the Biden administration, “but the federal government wouldn’t.”

And there’s this Zen koan, how is a human not like a workplace machine, to be modified to the specifications required for safe operation in the factory? And what does blood have to do with this given that Covid isn’t even blood-borne? Why does everything have to be so creepy?

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: So what’s the difference between this and telling employers, where sparks are flying in the workplace, your workers have to be — wear a mask?

MR. KELLER: When sparks are flying in the workplace, that’s presumably because there’s a machine that’s unique to that workplace. That is the —

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Why is the human being not like a machine if it’s spewing a virus, blood-borne viruses?

And of course there was the whole ‘well more people might quit if we don’t force them to get vaccinated so coercion is fine’ argument, from Breyer.

And they said, in our view, hmm, yeah, that’s right, some people may quit, maybe 3 percent. But more may quit when they discover they have to work together with unvaccinated others because that means they may get the disease.

Here is the actual decision.

The Secretary of Labor, acting through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, recently enacted a vaccine mandate for much of the Nation’s work force. The mandate, which employers must enforce, applies to roughly 84 million workers, covering virtually all employers with at least 100 employees. It requires that covered workers receive a COVID–19 vaccine, and it pre-empts contrary state laws. The only exception is for workers who obtain a medical test each week at their own expense and on their own time, and also wear a mask each workday. OSHA has never before imposed such a mandate. Nor has Congress. Indeed, although Congress has enacted significant legislation addressing the COVID–19 pandemic, it has declined to enact any measure similar to what OSHA has promulgated here. Many States, businesses, and nonprofit organizations challenged OSHA’s rule in Courts of Appeals across the country. The Fifth Circuit initially entered a stay. But when the cases were consolidated before the Sixth Circuit, that court lifted the stay and allowed OSHA’s rule to take effect. Applicants now seek emergency relief from this Court, arguing that OSHA’s mandate exceeds its statutory authority and is otherwise unlawful. Agreeing that applicants are likely to prevail, we grant their applications and stay the rule.

The counterargument seems to be that OSHA is tasked with safety, this is safety, therefore OSHA is tasked with it:

In a dissent, Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan argued that OSHA was acting within its broadly defined limits. “The administrative agency charged with ensuring health and safety in workplaces did what Congress commanded it to: It took action to address COVID–19’s continuing threat in those spaces.”

There was no specific command from Congress for OHSA to address Covid-19, so the implication is that anything that impacts health is fair game in the workplace and can be regulated without further authority from Congress. I am not a lawyer, but as I read this, since almost everything impacts safety, this effectively means we would no longer have law with respect to large businesses, only regulations that the President can change at will.

Here is a legal argument that the OSHA rules do in fact apply to any ‘grave danger’ and that the court was wrong to draw a distinction between workplace and non-workplace harms, but that the decision was still correct because Covid-19 does not impose a ‘grave danger.’ Without one, Congress needed to delegate the necessary authority to do this because it is a major question, and they did not do so. Post agrees with my instinct that a decision the other way would have given OSHA control over essentially all workplace conditions.

The interesting question is, how different would physical conditions need to be, in order to change the answer under the law and justify such rules? What if Covid-19 was a lot deadlier, and vaccines protected against transmitting to others but didn’t protect you yourself? I’d certainly then want to impose the mandate, and I’d hope Congress would be willing to pass a law to do that, but if they refused then ‘do it anyway’ isn’t obviously how the law works.

The concrete issue is moot at this point in any case. The corporations that want to impose a mandate already did. The ones that don’t want to aren’t going to start now either way. It’s done. What matters is potential future regulatory overreach, on which the difference has been split.

There was also a to-do about whether justices asked each other to wear masks. There was a report they were in conflict over this, then it turned out they weren’t. No idea what happened beyond a clear underlying demand to find a controversy that wasn’t there.

Hospitals

The ‘circuit breaker’ dashboard continues.

Here we are in micro.

As a reminder, here’s a translation guide:

  1. ‘Has capacity’ means there’s no doubt everything is fine and will stay fine.
  2. ‘Continued risk’ means there is some way to doubt everything will stay fine.
  3. ‘Unsustainable’ means things are getting worse so might not stay fine.
  4. ‘Forecasted to exceed capacity’ means there’s actual math saying things are going to not be fine.
  5. ‘At or over capacity’ means things are, to some extent, not fine.

We are overall at the peak, but that doesn’t mean any given area is at the peak, so things that are currently fine could easily end up not fine, but I’d mostly treat anything in categories 1 and 2 as fully fine, and anything in category 3 as likely to be sustained and highly unlikely to be serious levels of not fine. The counterargument to that is that they’re continuing to move things from category 3 to category 4, but I still think that the marginal moves are likely to only go marginally over capacity at this point.

That does still leave a bunch of scary areas, although their combined populations aren’t as high as they look due to the rural-urban divide.

Here’s the update by state.

Notice that Ohio, despite being mostly red in the first picture, is only in yellow here, which illustrates the population densities, and also that local conditions look worse than average conditions and there’s some amount of transfer capacity. Where things are over capacity, they’re not wildly over, and our worst fears are not going to come to pass.

I don’t say this to make light of the situation. As per reports like this, conditions in many hospitals are terrible and overwhelming. There’s still a world of difference between this and the types of conditions that were feared as recently as a few weeks ago.

Some Kind of Djokovic

The saga of Djokovic at the Australian Open, which will presumably be the first episode of Netflix’s new tennis documentary, yes I can tell you they definitely got that, did not exactly increase the extent to which people’s outer coverings contained glory.

First, there’s Djokovic himself. As I understand it, he did the following.

  1. Was already a player nobody liked.
  2. Got Covid-19 early in the pandemic.
  3. Refused to get vaccinated on grounds he’d already had Covid-19.
  4. Refused to get vaccinated even though this was clearly going to cause endless trouble due to his need for constant international travel.
  5. Took a generally strong anti-vaccine stance.
  6. Reported he’d tested positive for Covid-19 again at exactly the time necessary to allow him to compete in both the Australian Open and the French Open, uh huh, yeah.
  7. Was seen maskless shortly after the test among fans.
  8. Made a mistake on his visa application and failed to coordinate the paperwork properly.
  9. Got refused entry to Australia.
  10. Had his family issue threats of at least symbolic physical violence.
  11. Won a court case letting him enter Australia.
  12. Also, oh yeah, he lied about his travels on his visa application.
  13. Got deported from Australia.
  14. Missed the Australian Open and his chance to set historical records.

So, yeah, whatever else is going on, let’s be clear, f*** that guy. He played with fire while also pissing off the fire department, and then his house burned down.

That doesn’t mean that it’s fine for the government to go burn down his house. If it does head over with a casket of lighter fluid and burn the place down, we can notice that this is not an acceptable process, while still acknowledging that the fire-playing also was not cool and we’re not that unhappy about the particular result.

How much will this matter? That depends how this happened, but more than that it depends on how people think that it happened. Which narrative will take hold?

My good friend Seth Burn thinks this is simple enough (and yes, it stands).

There certainly exist worlds where it is that simple, in which case banning him seems totally fine. But do we live in such a world (WaPo)? It’s complicated.

After a weekend of hurried court hearings, a panel of three Australian federal justices unanimously upheld the immigration minister’s decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa on the grounds that his presence in the country might incite anti-vaccine sentiment and “civil unrest.” The decision cleared the way for the government to deport him, ending his hope of competing in the Australian Open.

Although it would have been possible for Djokovic to appeal the ruling to Australia’s High Court, the timing of Sunday’s decision — roughly 24 hours before Djokovic was due to take to the tennis court — made another challenge unfeasible.

The timing is suggestive, but the correct focus here is on the grounds used: That his presence in the country might ‘incite anti-vaccine sentiment and “civil unrest.”’

That is very different from saying that Djokovic lied on his application, or that he might get infected and spread the virus. The danger they’re pointing to is his symbolic meaning.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison praised the decision. “Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic,” he said in a statement, “and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected.”

As usual, politicians praise courts when they get the results they like, and don’t care about the rule of law or the principles involved. Ignoring the sunk cost fallacy issue, in what way is Djokovic’s exile ‘protecting those sacrifices?’

First off, I’m going to leave this graph here for no particular reason.

Whatever they were protecting, it wasn’t the Australian people being protected from Covid infections. All that hard work over two years didn’t fully go to waste, but Omicron is very much out of the box.

What they are protecting Australians from is something else.

Adding to the drama was Hawke’s decision to put the unvaccinated player’spersonal beliefs on trial, arguing that his past anti-vaccine statements, behavior and huge platform as one of the world’s biggest sports stars meant his continued presence in the country could incite anti-vaccine sentiment and “civil unrest.”

That claim immediately came under criticism from Djokovic’s attorneys on Sunday, who said the minister had unreasonably failed to consider what deporting the tennis star would do for civil unrest.

“It was just quite obvious that that in itself might be apt to generate anti-vax sentiment,” Nick Wood said.

So at this point, the government is arguing that letting the world’s best tennis player into the country to play tennis would incite anti-vaccine sentiment because they wouldn’t punishing everyone equally for their failure to comply. The response that seemed best to Djokovic’s lawyer was not to point out that this was absurd or a violation or rights, but rather to question which decision would have the better symbolic meaning.

Meanwhile, what is Djokovic doing that is so provocative or likely to incite sentiment? Seems mostly like it’s ‘not getting vaccinated.’

Wood also argued that the government had relied on old and selectively used quotes from Djokovic to describe his position on vaccines. Djokovic had been playing tennis around the world — including in Australia — for the past year of the pandemic without inciting unrest, he said. And the only evidence of a connection between Djokovic and anti-vaccine protests was the reaction to the government’s own decision to deport him.

Stephen Lloyd, arguing for the immigration minister, said that Djokovic had done nothing to retract or change his stance, including in an Instagram statement last week, and that the fact he remained unvaccinated spoke volumes.

Indeed, it seems like there is very strong evidence that ‘letting tennis player play some tennis’ doesn’t have the impact they are claiming, at least not of much magnitude, unless you decide to make a big deal out of it.

The judges clearly showed what matters in this Australian court, and it wasn’t the rights of individuals or the rule of law.

Two of the three justices appeared concerned with whether the minister had fully weighed the potential outcome.

“One could see a situation where it was plain to anyone with common sense that canceling the visa would cause overwhelming public discord and risks of transmission through very large public gatherings,” Allsop said.

Then there’s this obvious nonsense.

“Given Mr. Djokovic’s high profile status and position as a role model in the sporting or broader community, his ongoing presence in Australia may foster similar disregard for the precautionary requirements following receipt of a positive covid-19 test,” he wrote.

So basically, failures to obey authority are likely to lead to arbitrary other failures to obey authority, so authority must always be obeyed no matter whether the rules in question make any sense, since some of the rules make sense.

Australia could have made a principled decision that Djokovic lied on his visa application, and those who lie on their application get deported. They could have made a principled decision that there is no exemption for recently having Covid-19, or that they didn’t believe his claim that he’d had it. Or they could claim that they admit people into the country as inherently political decisions at their sole discretion, and been straight about it.

They didn’t do those things. Instead, they made absurd consequentialist claims that entail the right to enforce arbitrary punishments for failures to kowtow to authority, as the guiding principle of the state, as a matter of principle. They want this to be common knowledge.

What we do about it is up to us.

On the bright side, there’s at least two things we can all agree on.

And this bit of trivia.

Think of the Children

So, I can confirm that this happened this week.

  1. 75% of the staff of a school calls in sick due to Covid-19 (including quarantines).
  2. This happens in the morning, so the school says it is technically open since some kids have already left and have nowhere to go, but there’s no actual school happening, tells everyone to please stay home.
  3. 15% of parents actively ask in the morning about whether, if their kid doesn’t show up, they will be marked as absent.
  4. Because, you see, absences might go on your permanent record, and also make it more difficult to get reimbursed when the time comes to sue the city to reclaim the massive tuition bill you spent on the assumption you’d mostly be able to recover it, but which the city forces you to sue over in the hopes they might not have to pay or you’ll give up and send your kid to a normal public school instead.
  5. This raises the question of whether they would send their kids to this non-school in order to avoid being marked as absent, if it came to that.

As a reminder, this is a big deal, if you don’t have an official ‘remote option’ or other way to avoid these ‘unexcused absences’ then the system is effectively threatening to derail a student’s life if they don’t show up for class, in addition to any financial issues. Report to serve your time, at the time we say, or else, Covid exposures be damned.

The good news is that Tuesday was the first week that those ‘learning from home’ could be marked as attending without a positive Covid test in the NYC school system. Which led to a recent high of almost 82% attendance thanks to the changing definition. That still seems quite low.

What is school about, again?

Freddie deBoer tells it like it is, while explaining one of the core problems with closing schools.

Here’s a basic point I’ve been making for at least a dozen years, including in my book, and will now do again: the educational function of public schools, while certainly of prime importance, is the secondary function of public schools. The first function is giving children warm, safe places where they can be stimulated and looked after, and where they can access cheap or free meals if they need them. The humanitarian good of this function dwarfs that of the education function.

I would also challenge exactly what the ‘educational function’ is teaching children, but either way it is good to remember what is going on here, and that this is a place we require children to be or else at some times, then closed down at others.

And I’d challenge the ‘fine, then keep your kids home, then, if you want’ attitude because the school system very much does not generally offer any kind of flexibility to children. You show up, where you are told to show up, and you are here delivering all the proper passwords to the proper authorities, or else. Even when the ‘or else’ is a subtle one, it’s very much there, and carries many days.

No, professor, your students are not primarily there to be ‘vectors of disease,’ (WaPo). Hell of a story.

Nor is it about obsessing over Covid-19 case rates in the places most protected against Covid, but those places don’t seem to agree, yet they often don’t share their case data, which is probably good since the value of information is strongly negative.

In other news, we learned via MR that children as young as nine are launching DDoS attacks on their schools, with rates doubling from 2019 to 2020. They blame games where ‘disrupting opponents is viewed as just another way to win’ and worry about this leading to a life of crime. I would instead be happy the kids are practicing useful skills, and notice that if they’re turning their attention to messing up the school’s internet connection more often, maybe there are a large number of obvious reasons why they might want to do that.

Permanent Midnight

A theory of permanent masking.

One can interpret this in a number of ways. In the sensible metaphor, you keep masks in your house and take them out when you are sick or when there is another pandemic. That makes perfect sense, and I support this idea, so we won’t have a mask shortage if and when this happens again. I do think from the details here that this is the intention.

One can also interpret this type of thing as a request to always carry a face mask, forever, and use them in some places like transport, forever. That makes a lot less sense.

It’s interesting how well metaphors like this reveal thinking. Does being outside without an umbrella as rain clouds gather reflect poorly on you? Absolutely not, and unless it’s going to be major storm, anyone going only a short distance is probably making the right decision.

I’d also note that has anyone tried carrying around an umbrella all the time? Or actually thought about the decision on whether to carry one on a given day? It’s highly annoying. Unless you’re already using a backpack or other convenient carrying device and have one that folds up nicely, it means one of your hands is busy and you have another thing to remember all the time. It’s a non-trivial cost, which is why people often get caught without an umbrella. A universal mandatory-umbrella-carrying social norm would be rather expensive and stupid.

Also, as my father often said, do you know what happens when you get wet? You dry off.

And that’s why we mostly don’t mock people who get caught without an umbrella. And why those who do mock such people are what we like to call assholes.

Long Covid

Some of these deserve more detailed treatment, I intend to address that in another post when I have time. Hopefully next week.

A request for anyone who had Long Covid then got monoclonal antibodies, your experiences could help justify a new clinical trial. If this is you, please do help.

A new paper explores potential mechanisms for neurological Long Covid symptoms.

Long Covid patients lack native T and B cells according to a new study, suggesting a mechanism.

Report from Israel that breakthrough cases of Covid-19 after double vaccinations are not more likely to lead to Long Covid symptoms than not having been infected at all. So weird to say ‘we know it can happen after mild infection’ when there’s a ‘baseline rate’ of it happening without an infection at all, even in the worlds where it is mostly the result of Covid-19.

Katja Grace, whose thinking I generally respect, has a post making the case for taking Long Covid more seriously. You have to consider the post’s arguments in light of it being a steelman case for taking Long Covid seriously, from a reference class of thinkers I’ve observed to be likely to be inclined to take such things seriously. One does still have to also update on her decision to write the post.

In Other News

Scott Gottlieb suggests an obvious improvement, to combine the FDA and CDC advisory panels. There’s no reason to have two such veto points. At most we want one.

He also reports that people are getting rid of their pet hamsters after Hong Kong ordered its hamsters killed. Please don’t do this, especially if you have kids. The Covid-19 risk here is at most minimal.

And he is doubtful that China suspending almost all international travel can be sustained for that long. I’m in the ‘they can sustain this for a while’ camp for this particular intervention, to me the question is whether it will be enough, and also whether they’re willing to make that permanent.

Various views of DeStantis’s Covid-19 record in Florida, it’s not clear who is trying to claim they did what and why but it’s going to be fun watching them claim all of it.

Via MR, an archived (now deleted) Twitter thread with claims about the combination of remote work, complete lack of social connections outside of work, over the top pandemic fear and a highly pro-woke corporate culture resulting in deeply dysfunctional and unhappy employees at a major tech company. Source has obvious agenda but no reason I can see to be faking the reports of general Covid-19 paranoia and resulting deep unhappiness.

This madness must end. Life must resume, and soon. As much as I’m sympathetic to ‘this is not the week to do that’ one must reply with some version of ‘if not now, when?’ and have a concrete answer. Next week or two weeks from now is totally acceptable as an answer to when, if you mean it. Under a hundred thousand cases a day is too conservative but understandable. Real Soon Now is not.

We also need to stop the madness of not letting people see their dying loved ones. I do not know how common this is, but it is mind-boggling that even now this is not a decision you are allowed to make for yourself. Damn right I’d demand to see my parents if they were dying of Covid-19. If I get it, I get it.

Report from a nursing home where testing was reportedly actively sabotaged to prevent positives and keep staff coming in. If true, someone please nail these bastards.

BBC overview of what happened with Ivermectin.

A hospital reported to have used a rather more aggressive approach to race-based care allocation than the current system where you need any excuse at all and the right racial identification counts but so do lots of other things. In this case, you needed a total of 20 points, which was a real bar to clear, and racial identification could net you 7, whereas most conditions max out at 6. They caved under legal pressure.

Thread on ethics of sharing anecdata. Doctor who has concerns contrary to party line (and contrary to my math calculations) points out that sharing anecdotal information that supports party line (‘Omicron isn’t mild’) is widely praised, whereas information opposed to party line (‘boosters can have rare side effects’) is widely condemned.

This is because what people care about is the Simulacra-Level-2 results of information sharing combined with the associated Level-3 affiliations. If you are shown Scary Medial Picture, that’s presumably because You Should Be Scared Of This Thing, and that’s the message a lot of people get, full stop. There’s also a Level-1 concern about people’s resulting models becoming inaccurate. Sharing rare things can effectively be misleading to humans who use the availability heuristic and can’t handle base rates, whereas sharing examples of common things is helpful.

These are all valid things to be concerned about. We also need to be concerned about using such concerns to entirely suppress information that goes against the desired narrative, especially if rare concerns are impactful enough that they may dominate the calculus. By default these concerns get weaponized in exactly this way, forcing all information sharing to serve authority.

In this particular case, I basically classify frequently sharing and harping on the particular information in question as Not Helping. I understand the source ‘means well’ but source is doing what I can only call harping on concerns where the math very much does not justify the observed level of harp, either in general or especially by this source. I sympathize with the condemnations. I view the effort as persuasion via ‘getting around’ the math rather than providing information that lets us do math better. Of course, my preferred intervention, should this get sufficiently out of hand, is fully covered by the unfollow button.

Not Covid

Bryan Caplan does not place enough bets, and bets too small.

New paper shows that EBV (the virus that causes “mono”) is the leading cause of multiple sclerosis (paper, gated). I haven’t read the paper but everyone seems to think it is the real deal, and the basic case seems ironclad. This is huge. A million Americans have MS, and this suggests such mechanisms are common elsewhere too. We should update our priors about how bad it is to catch viruses in general, and of course EBV in particular, and also have new hope we may be able to prevent or cure MS down the line. If nothing else, a vaccine for EBV would also prevent MS, and hey look, we have this new nifty mRNA tool for making vaccines.

The latest Very Serious Person message in its correct form.

FedEx asks permission to add anti-missile lasers to their planes. Our cyberpunk future is that much closer, but if it were here FedEx wouldn’t ask for permission.

Music consumption is focusing more on older music. This is good in the sense that music that is older tends to be better because age filters the good from the bad, and also because the exhaustion of the search space combined with various forms of over-optimization and over-commercialization means that new music tends to start out worse as well. It is bad to the extent that it means we are under-investing in new music. Since artists gather only a small portion of gains from new music, we should be suspicious we are under-investing, but also artists vastly over-invest in new music creation compared to their potential profits due to intrinsic motivations, social payoffs and delusional aspirations, so this could go either way. Mostly, it seems like the amount of new music isn’t down much whereas older music consumption is up a lot, and in the long run the potential for long-run profits should provide more incentive to create new music, so it all seems fine. My bigger concern is that it seems as if the range of old music is narrowing, but perhaps this is indeed welfare-maximizing.

Eye emoji.

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I wonder when those of us who are lucky enough never to have gotten Covid (as far as we know) are going to be in such a vanishingly small minority once it's endemic...that any collective political will to keep us from getting it is going to shrivel away? ("The rest of us got it, we lived, and we don't care if you get it because we all have hybrid immunity, suck it up")

Is that the reality we're headed for?

That seems not only likely, but also correct. This is basically the attitude we have towards every other endemic disease, after all.

Yeah. I'm trying to wrap my head around it. A lot of us are going to get it long after the infrastructure for keeping track of it, preventing it from being transmitted, or knowing whether we had it, has ceased to exist. We won't ever have the closure of knowing exactly when we had it, and that's fine.

And at some point our boosters are just going to be more or less continuous exposure to several variants that take turns as the dominant ones in a given season.

Look on the bright side. If the next variant is even less virulent than Omicron, you will stop caring about covid too.

I mean, I'm almost there? It's really just about mental health and survivors guilt at this point.

Regarding the umbrella/mask analogy - maybe it would be helpful to have a concept of "raining" that would give people the tools to make decisions about the quality of PPE to wear on any given day. For instance, continuing the umbrella metaphor, there are also galoshes, disposable ponchos, heavy duty umbrellas with varying degrees of wind-proofing, etc. Ephemeral conditions that might help people decide what kind of PPE (if any) to use might be CO2 levels in indoor spaces, case counts, etc. As much as we'd all like to be 100% safe every day, there are significant ecological costs to using PPE that's only supposed to be reused at most five times.

The Israeli study only distinguishes between 'not vaccinated' and 'vaccinated 0-5 days before positive test'. This was pre-Omicron, but even so, the latter group could include a significant number of people who were exposed after their vaccination.

The metaphor discussion reminded me of Cat Coupling[1], "where it’s unclear whether an attribute is meant as justifiably picking out a subset, or unjustifiably describing the whole, and as a result strengthening the connection between the concept and the attribute." E.g. "the only ones that will lose out are rich bosses": are all bosses rich, or will the non-rich bosses excluded? Nerst argues that such a phrase leverages the ambiguity to be more powerful.

Another way the metaphor struggles is that usually we don't disagree if it's raining. In November, was a supermarket a high risk setting?

I would say mocking the wet people isn't the problem. The externality of infection, mean that the pro-umbrella crowd believe they are being made wet by the non-umbrella crowd.

So the two problems with the metaphor:

  1. The degree of rain coming down is agreed upon, community risk is not.
  2. Pro-maskers view your choice not use an umbrella as getting them wet. (And as Zvi says, in some times and places, they are not wrong.)

[1] https://everythingstudies.com/2019/10/30/cat-couplings/

Vaccines do good work even shortly after being infected (paper).

Could this same effect also apply to boosters? If you test positive but are yet to be symptomatic, but you are in a high risk group and expect to be, then could getting an immediate booster be beneficial? What's the intuition here for how this works? Maybe something like, it would normally take a few days for your immune system to kick into high gear, but the vaccine gets it going within 24 hours?

even before the vaccine has time to do [all] its work

Anarchy in the UK! Woo-hoo!

That's not what anarchy means. To start, it means no monarchy.


Unless you’re already using a backpack or other convenient carrying device and have one that folds up nicely, it means one of your hands is busy and you have another thing to remember all the time. It’s a non-trivial cost, which is why people often get caught without an umbrella. A universal mandatory-umbrella-carrying social norm would be rather expensive and stupid.

You explain how it wouldn't be costly (to people who can afford backpacks), then insist it would be costly.


He also reports that people are getting rid of their pet hamsters after Hong Kong ordered its hamsters killed. Please don’t do this, especially if you have kids. The Covid-19 risk here is at most minimal.

How does quarantine and treatment work for hamsters?

You explain how it wouldn't be costly (to people who can afford backpacks), then insist it would be costly.

when i was a kid, i’d bring an umbrella with me to the bus stop on rainy days. when i boarded the bus, i’d set it down next to me to give it time to dry off (didn’t want to get the books inside my pack wet). i can’t tell you how many trips i had to make to the lost and found after forgetting that umbrella on the bus, in the lunchroom, or anywhere else.

in the end, i ditched the umbrella and waited for the bus under the overhang of my neighbor’s porch. umbrellas just aren’t worth the hassle for all but the worst of storms in the PNW — backpack or no. well, unless the rain really bothers you or you’re exceptionally unforgetful.

How does quarantine and treatment work for hamsters?

What happened with those minks in Denmark?

They were put down, put underground and contaminated ground waters. There were 55 million of them

<sarcasm>

And obviously, the entire public health community is up in arms about this…

</sarcasm>

[Narrator: They were not, in fact, up in arms.]

Some googling did not yield a source for "Had his family issue threats of at least symbolic physical violence". Can you provide a link?

The closest I got was this:

"I have no idea what's going on, they're holding my son captive for five hours," Srdan told local Serbian radio station B92. "This is a fight for the libertarian world, this is not just a fight for Novak, but a fight for the whole world! "If they don't let him go in half an hour, we will gather on the street, this is a fight for everyone."

https://www.sportbible.com/australia/tennis-novak-djokovics-dad-issues-threat-to-australia-20220105

If that is all there is, I don't think it is accurately described as "Had his family issue threats of at least symbolic physical violence."

And if someone is feeling in the mood, is there a link for 6 as well? 5 minutes of googling yielded irresponsible behavior around his claimed positive test, but nothing about the french open.

The EBV paper does not appear to be gated!

Ctrl+F "CFR" & "IFR" = 0 results. Apologies if you used different terminology here but I feel it is worth pointing out that CFR has cratered in many nations, even those with high case counts and high testing rates. The old assumption of ~.5-1% IFR seems to be thoroughly passed its use-by date. For highly vaxed populations current IFR is probably sub 0.1% overall, with the same qualifiers about age/morbidity profile etc.

Particularly of interest is Australia, which could be said to have had a lot of 'dry tinder' given the lack of pre-omicron deaths overall, and experienced a fairly high case peak recently - but Australia's rolling CFR is .06% as of today.

New variants notwithstanding, surely it is fair to say 'it's over' (actually for real this time).

Coincidentally, Serbia just revoked the exploration licenses of Australian mining company Rio Tinto in Serbia.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-60081853

Is that retaliation for the way Australia treated their best tennis player? 

Apparently the issue was subject to a quite a bit of activist opposition anyway - but the timing is suspicious, especially since the Serbian PM was personally involving herself in the issue.

I’d also note that has anyone tried carrying around an umbrella all the time?

 

I have! This probably doesn't have any useful metaphorical properties, but my outdoor nonraincoat has deep enough pockets that my umbrella only barely pokes out the top, so I just leave it in that pocket 24/7.

It's nice to just not worry about whether or not it will rain, and it counterbalances the weight from my battery pack in my other coat pocket.

 

(I don't know if I'd recommend it - I have an unreasonably light coat for how warm it is so I can spare the weight budget, and I derive a small amount of joy from being Slightly-More-Prepared-Than-Is-Reasonable; it's a tradition with my parents to try and see a pantomine each year in support of a local theatre and when I watched the cast pull out actual nerf super soakers for the deploy-water-at-the-audience-bit I managed to draw my umbrella fast enough to keep myself mostly dry, a fate which my adjacent family members did not share.)