Category Archives: All Articles

Fauci’s time with COVID and Paxlovid

This is a post about Tony Fauci’s time with COVID and the drug Paxlovid, which I have discussed in the past.

On June 15th, a story came out about Tony Fauci having contracted COVID, despite having been fully vaccinated and boosted. I didn’t cover this before since I’d already discussed the fact that the vaccines don’t prevent infection by Omicron variants.

However, something else very interesting happened. Dr. Fauci took Paxlovid, which I’ve discussed briefly before, and became COVID negative. But after his 5 day course, he became positive again with worse symptoms. This means that a standard 5 day course of Paxlovid will not necessarily reduce your viral load to zero, and patients may experience “Paxlovid rebound”. Fauci even claims that this kind of rebound with Paxlovid is starting to be seen as “typical” as more patients use it.

The CDC actually issued a warning about Paxlovid Rebound in May, but it was not widely reported.

With so many rebound cases, it’s likely that 5 days is not adequate to eliminate all viruses from the system, allowing rebound. However, Paxlovid does have side-effects, so don’t take it for more than 5 days without consulting your doctor! Hospitals are now only prescribing Paxlovid to high risk patients.

Whenever taking anti-viral or anti-bacterial medications, always take the full course of treatment. If any virus or bacteria survive treatment, they may give rise to a more resistant strain. Don’t just stop your treatment when you feel better. I take anti-biotics as a last report, but when I do, I take the full course. I even made a doctor give me the full 10 day course when she just wanted to give me a half course!

Just to repeat the point on the vaccines, I still hear ads on the radio encouraging vaccination. At this point, the vaccines are really not doing anything against the current COVID variants. There is really no benefit to getting a vaccine or a booster. If you haven’t had COVID yet, I would simply recommend preventative measures. Wear an N95, KN95, or KF94 mask when indoors in public. Cloth and surgical masks will not prevent infection.

Don’t fear, but be smart!
Erik

Kim Iversen’s more in-depth discussion of Dr. Fauci’s rebound.

Case Update, June 28th, 2022

This is a brief COVID update. Cases have been flat in the US, California, and San Diego County, neither rising or falling. This may be partially because of the introduction of 2 new variants, BA.4 and BA.5. These new variants are both of the Omicron vintage. The good news is that deaths have not risen for many weeks even after cases rose due to the BA.2 variants.

Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a logarithmic format to emphasize small numbers. Note that each number on the left is 10x higher than the one below it.
Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a logarithmic format to emphasize small numbers. Note that each number on the left is 10x higher than the one below it.
Endcoronavirus County Level Map, June 28th, 2022
Hospitalizations, from the CDC website.
Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a logarithmic format to emphasize small numbers. Note that each number on the left is 10x higher than the one below it.
Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a linear format.
Graph is by me, from data collected from San Diego County Public Health. Graph is presented in a logarithmic format to emphasize small numbers. San Diego County now only releases information Monday and Thursday each week. Data points shown are extrapolated using this information.
Graph is by me, from data collected from San Diego County Public Health. Graph is presented in a linear format. San Diego County now only releases information Monday and Thursday each week. Data points shown are extrapolated using this information.
Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a linear format.

My guess is that BA.4 and BA.5 will continue to drive new cases for a few more weeks before we start seeing cases come down. It appears that the fatality rate for these new variants is also very low when compared to other COVID variants.

The contribution BA.4 and BA.5 variants in the US is growing, as they new represent approximately 50% of the total SARS-2 viruses in the country.

From the CDC page on Variant Proportions. Updated on June 30th.

Don’t fear, but be smart,
Erik

COVID Update, June 14, 2022; BA.4 and BA.5 Emerge in the US.

This is a COVID update, and I’ll discuss the emergence of BA.4 and BA.5 in the US.

New daily cases have peaked in the US, California, and San Diego. We have yet to see a sustained increase in deaths due to the new BA.2 variant in any of these regions. While new cases have not really started to decrease, the numbers have definitely peaked.

Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a logarithmic format to emphasize small numbers. Note that each number on the left is 10x higher than the one below it.
Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a logarithmic format to emphasize small numbers. Note that each number on the left is 10x higher than the one below it.
Endcoronavirus County Level Map, June 14th, 2022
Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a logarithmic format to emphasize small numbers. Note that each number on the left is 10x higher than the one below it.
Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a linear format.
Graph is by me, from data collected from San Diego County Public Health. Graph is presented in a logarithmic format to emphasize small numbers. San Diego County now only releases information Monday and Thursday each week. Data points shown are extrapolated using this information.
Graph is by me, from data collected from San Diego County Public Health. Graph is presented in a linear format. San Diego County now only releases information Monday and Thursday each week. Data points shown are extrapolated using this information.
Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a linear format.

BA.4 and BA.5 in the US: I commented on May 24th about the new BA.4 and BA.5 variants. At that time, the CDC was not reporting these variants in the US. The new CDC bar graph of variants now shows that approximately 20% of the SARS-2 virus in the US now from BA.4 and BA.5.

From the CDC page on Variant Proportions. Note that when I posted on June 3rd, the CDC did not report BA.4 and BA.5 in the US.

Will we have another peak? Maybe. These variants may have arisen in South Africa, and the BA.4 and BA.5 peak has already come and gone there. The peak was much smaller than the original Omicron peak, and generated even fewer deaths. South Africa did not experience a BA.2 wave of Omicron cases.

From Worldometer. The wave starting in December 2021 is the B.1 Omicron wave, the wave starting in April 2022 is the BA.4/BA.5 wave.
From Worldometer. The wave starting in December 2021 is the B.1 Omicron wave, the wave starting in April 2022 is the BA.4/BA.5 wave.

These new variants appear to follow the tendency for new viruses to be more infectious and less pathogenic (disease causing) than earlier ones. So we may see a shoulder to our current peak, but we won’t likely see significantly more deaths. Obviously, I’m using “significantly” in a cold, statistical sense here.

A negative trait of the BA.4 and BA.5 are that they are even less responsive to vaccination than previous Omicron variants. So vaccination is not likely to help much against infection. Reinfection after previous infections with Delta and earlier versions appears to be more likely.

I haven’t seen much in our popular media about these new variants. The only commentator who has discussed these new variants significantly is John Campbell.

If SARS-2 continues to become more infectious and less pathogenic, it may become part of the background, like a cold. I still don’t think it will last forever. I think it will eventually burn itself out.

A note on BA.2: The BA.2 variant is significantly different from the BA.1 variants. Some scientists are now saying that the BA.2 variants should not have been considered an Omicron variant, and should have gotten their own Greek letter designation. The next letter is Pi. Maybe they would have skipped this one to avoid confusion at Marie Calendars!

“No, I would not like some Pi.”

Don’t fear, but be smart,
Erik

COVID Update: June 3rd, 2022

This is a COVID update. I’ve been posting only every 2 weeks for a while, but this has been an interesting week, so I’m posting a little early.

New case numbers for the US, California, and San Diego County show that the second Omicron wave, I’ll call it the BA.2 wave, has peaked, and numbers are now dropping sharply.

For some reason, my numbers are a little erratic for the last week for the US. This is likely because of irregular reporting by places that Johns Hopkins gets information from, so I’ll also show the US data from Worldometer.

Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a logarithmic format to emphasize small numbers. Note that each number on the left is 10x higher than the one below it.
Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a logarithmic format to emphasize small numbers. Note that each number on the left is 10x higher than the one below it.
From Worldometer, Daily New Cases, United States.
From Worldometer, Daily New Cases, United States.
Endcoronavirus County Level Map, June 2nd, 2022
Endcoronavirus State Level Map, June 3rd, 2022
Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a logarithmic format to emphasize small numbers. Note that each number on the left is 10x higher than the one below it.
Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a linear format.
Graph is by me, from data collected from San Diego County Public Health. Graph is presented in a logarithmic format to emphasize small numbers. San Diego County now only releases information Monday and Thursday each week. Data points shown are extrapolated using this information.
Graph is by me, from data collected from San Diego County Public Health. Graph is presented in a linear format. San Diego County now only releases information Monday and Thursday each week. Data points shown are extrapolated using this information.
Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a linear format.
From the CDC page on Variant Proportions.
Hospitalizations, from the CDC website.

Anyway, new case numbers for all three regions are coming down now, and deaths have still not started to come up, despite us being 6 weeks into the BA.2 peak. John Campbell has also pointed out that new deaths have not tracked with new cases, so the BA.2 Omicrons seems to be less pathogenic than previous versions.

And yes, since cases are less severe and over-the-counter testing is available, infections are likely much higher than official reporting suggests.

Still not quite over: Since I had Omicron in January, and current strains are still in the Omicron family, I am not concerned about getting COVID again right now. So the Pandemic is essentially over for me, but people are still getting COVID.

I was with a buddy this week who was very fatigued and miserable, just like I was, but he didn’t have any life threatening symptoms, just like me. So just a word of encouragement for those who have COVID now or will get it in the coming weeks. You can be really miserable and not be dying! You generally only need to go to the hospital if your blood oxygen is low. Different sources have a different definition of “low”, some say below 90 and some say below 95. Feel free to chime in on this if you’re a health care worker! Get yourself a high quality pulse oximeter so you can reassure yourself if your oxygen is normal! Some medical networks also have a messaging system where you can ask your doctor COVID questions without going in.

Also, if you haven’t had COVID recently, supplement with Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and Zinc. A physician friend of mine says he has had patients who’ve had both Delta and Omicron, so “recently” means since December.

Don’t fear, but be smart!
Erik

_________________________
June 5th, 2022
Post Script:
Mark Foreman sent me a paper he found describing 47 cases in Denmark in which people who had been infected with Omicron BA.1 were also infected with BA.2 just a few months later. The cases were all in young, unvaccinated people who had had mild symptoms from their BA.1 infections.

Since BA.1 and BA.2 are so similar, I find this a little baffling, but my being baffled doesn’t discount the data. The data must speak for itself. One possibility suggested by the mild symptoms is that the patients had a low dose exposure to BA.1, so had mild symptoms, and perhaps only mounted a medium immune response to BA.1, allowing infection by BA.2. This is just a guess of course.

In all cases, the BA.2 infections in this group produced mild symptoms.

A very interesting paper that will perhaps give more insight into how our immune systems interact with this disease!

Case Update, May 24th, 2022; Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5, Monkeypox, and Hepatitis in Children of Unknown Cause

This is a case update.  I’ll also talk briefly about new Omicron variants, BA.4 and BA.5, and also the new Monkeypox virus, and several cases of hepatitis in children.

New confirmed cases are still increasing due to the new Omicron BA.2 and BA.2.12.1 variants, which are now nearly 100% of cases in the US.  Hospitalizations are also up in the US.  However, new daily deaths are still not rising in the US or California, with only a temporary blip in San Diego County.  I have often cautioned that deaths trail cases by 2-5 weeks, but for the first Omicron wave in December and January, deaths trailed cases by just 1 week. Since we still aren’t seeing an increase in deaths after 6 weeks, this suggests that the BA.2 variants are not as deadly as even the BA.1 Omicron variants.

Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a logarithmic format to emphasize small numbers. Note that each number on the left is 10x higher than the one below it.
Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a logarithmic format to emphasize small numbers. Note that each number on the left is 10x higher than the one below it.
Hospitalizations, from the CDC website.
Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a logarithmic format to emphasize small numbers. Note that each number on the left is 10x higher than the one below it.
Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a linear format.
Graph is by me, from data collected from San Diego County Public Health. Graph is presented in a logarithmic format to emphasize small numbers. San Diego County now only releases information Monday and Thursday each week. Data points shown are extrapolated using this information.
Graph is by me, from data collected from San Diego County Public Health. Graph is presented in a linear format. San Diego County now only releases information Monday and Thursday each week. Data points shown are extrapolated using this information.
Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a linear format.

I’ll also point out that I continue to have friends who are getting COVID right now, meaning they are getting one of the BA.2 variants.  While some feel bad, none are going to the hospital, and none are becoming a “confirmed case” by getting tested in a medical setting.  If this is true on large scale, then we have lots of infections, maybe even most of them, that are not showing up in the “confirmed case” data.

BA.4 and BA.5:  I’ve heard some news about some more new Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5.  So far, these variants have not come to the US and have not had a large impact on the pandemic.

Monkeypox virus:  There have been several clusters of Monkeypox cases in Europe, and just a few cases in Canada and the US, about 120 cases in total.  Monkeypox is a pox virus similar to Smallpox.  It is much less much deadly than Smallpox, but can cause death.  It is endemic (widespread and likely permanent) in Africa but does not usually cause serious outbreaks in non-African countries.  It is only moderately infectious, spread by contact and also by respiratory droplets.  It is not spread in aerosol form. Asymptomatic people do not generally transmit the disease.

Those vaccinated against smallpox will still have some immunity against monkeypox.  Pox viruses do not mutate quickly.

All this to say, most infectious disease experts do NOT think that Monkeypox poses a serious health risk to most people, and that it does NOT pose a potential pandemic risk.  Why am I covering this then? Because it’s in the news, and I wanted to clear up any anxiety about the virus.  It will mostly likely not become a big issue in the US.

As a side note, I do NOT intend to cover new infectious diseases forever when the pandemic is over, but may occasionally cover items of special concern.

Mystery hepatitis in children: The suffix “-itis” refers to swelling or inflammation in the body.  The term “hepatitis” refers to swelling or inflammation of the liver.  There are several Hepatitis viruses, (A, B, C, D, and E) but these viruses are not related to each other, and having hepatitis does not necessarily mean that you have one of these viruses.  It can be caused by other things.

A few weeks ago, hundreds of children in countries all over the world had sudden onset hepatitis.  So far, 11 children have died and medical care was necessary for many, including liver transplants.  None of the children had an infection of a Hepatitis virus.

Testing showed that many but not all patients were infected with an Adenovirus upon examination.  Adenovirus infections are very common, and usually have no symptoms, so are often not addressed medically.  Some adenoviruses can cause common cold like symptoms.

So far, 20 individuals tested have had a history of COVID infection, and most individuals were NOT vaccinated against COVID, so at this point, a connection to COVID or a COVID vaccine seems unlikely.

All this to say, the cause of these cases is still unknown, but many in the medical community are currently speculating that they are related to Adenovirus type 41.  At this point, there is no reason for general concern about hepatitis in children, but I will certainly let you know if this changes.

If you or your child experience any of the following, especially in combination, seek medical attention immediately, at least a phone call to your doctor:

Nausea
Abdominal pain
Vomiting
Diarrhea
Jaundice (yellowing of the skin)

Don’t fear, but be smart,
Erik

The Next Pandemic

In yesterday’s post, I outlined some of the factors that resulted in the very high COVID case rate in the US. Today I will discuss how we can prepare for the next pandemic.

I have a PhD in molecular biology, and I specialize in infectious disease testing. I am not a physician or epidemiologist. I have an informed but not expert opinion.

Identifying the threat:

First, most new infectious diseases do not pose a global threat.  SARS-2 was so dangerous because of its high infectivity, long incubation time, and asymptomatic spread. Most diseases do not have these parameters.  Whenever a new disease comes around, and they will, we should soberly and cautiously assess the real threat.  Coming to the wrong conclusions about the threat will lead to the wrong conclusions about combating it.

There have been several important new infectious disease outbreaks in the last few years, including Hantavirus (1993), SARS (2003), Avian Influenza (2004), H1N1 Swine Flu (2009), Ebola (2013), Zika (2015), and of course HIV in the 80s.  They all have different disease parameters which make them behave very differently.  Most of these diseases did not have global impact.  The first SARS for example was much less infectious than SARS-2, but much deadlier, so it was contained quickly and didn’t spread much beyond Asia.  HIV can be spread by asymptomatic victims for a full 8-10 years, avoids the immune system, and evades vaccination efforts, so it has become endemic in much of the world.

The following parameters determine how a new disease will behave:

  • Mechanism of spread
  • Infectivity
  • Asymptomatic/ambulatory spread – can the victim walk around and spread disease?
  • Incubation period
  • Fatality rate
  • Vector – what carries the virus to a new host
  • Non-human reservoir – diseases that come from non-humans are harder to control and cannot be eradicated.

Obviously, we cannot respond to different diseases in the same way. Part of the reason we failed to contain the virus was that we used measures that were designed for viruses that spread by droplet transmission against a virus that spreads through aerosol transmission.  Using the wrong measures was less effective.

Much of my concern with the SARS-2 virus was the Antibody Dependent Enhancement issue, which is very uncommon among viruses, so is not usually a concern.

Be cautious.
Whenever a new threat arises, it is wise to be extra cautious until information can be gathered.  Although many of our precautions turned out to be unnecessary, I still support taking extra precautions early on.  Remember that early estimates were that the fatality rate for COVID was 3.68%.  With the 82 million confirmed cases in the US, this would have been over 3 million deaths if the fatality rate had really been this high.  As it stands, we have had almost 1 million COVID related deaths, a death rate of approximately 1.2%.  Yes, I know we can debate how many of these are deaths really resulted from COVID and how many infections there really were.  But we cannot discount that COVID had an enormous impact.

What if COVID were deadlier? Or what if it had selectively killed children, or caused more long-term symptoms like polio did? Things would have been much different.

All this to say, I think caution was warranted in the beginning of COVID, and we should continue to be cautious in future pandemics. On the other hand, we should also learn to abandon precautions that are not effective.  Maintaining ineffective precautions wastes resources, causes extra economic and social suffering, and causes people to lose confidence in government agencies.  It started to become clear to me by May of 2020 that lockdowns were ineffective, and that transmission was happening mostly indoors, but I still see people wearing masks outside to this very day.

Persuasion, not coercion:
From the beginning of the pandemic, public communication was terrible.  Official guidelines were confusing and often contradictory.  Far worse, explanation or evidence was rarely given for policies.  Instead, disagreement was met with accusations of being anti-science, rather than persuasion.  This approach contributed to the loss in confidence in official channels. 

Going forward, officials need far better communication skills when dealing with emergencies.  Give evidence rather name-calling, and respect the population enough to tell the whole truth.

Then came the vaccine mandates.  Many people I know were coerced into getting vaccinated against their will, and many others were fired.  All at a time when information about the vaccines was being hidden from the public.  This is unacceptable, and no way to run an emergency.

Here is a link to my post on science communication:

Restoring Trust:
Both the CDC and FDA hid information from the public.  In order to restore confidence, senior leadership needs to be replaced and new leadership should explain how things will be better in the future.  Is likely to happen?  No, it is not.

Government agencies need to be far more transparent.  Lack of transparency forces people to wonder what is going on, and create their own theories.  Government agencies often decry conspiracy theories, but they had a big role in creating them.

Misinformation:
Freedom of speech, censorship, and misinformation had a major role in the public discussion over the pandemic.  Doctors and scientists were frequently censored, shunned, or fired for sharing ideas that went against WHO or CDC guidelines. This includes ideas like the lab leak hypothesis that later turned out to be likely.

Freedom of speech is a foundational principle of American life.  It’s in our DNA, as some would say.  We are not America without it.  Some will say that too much freedom of speech leads to misinformation and conspiracy theories.  While it’s true that this freedom allows the spread of falsehoods, it also allows all ideas to be debated, true ideas to be raised up, and false ideas to be discredited. Freedom of speech is the solution to misinformation, not the cause.  Most of the leaders in world history that wanted to control freedom of speech had something to hide. It is essential that we maintain this basic right.

State emergency powers:
As discussed in yesterday’s post, the US federal government has surprisingly little power to deal with a public health crisis.  The CDC can develop guidelines, but most of the real work is done at the state and local level.  State officials need to step up and realize it’s their responsibility to respond well.  Citizens need to hold state and local officials accountable.

Manufacturing:
The US needs to maintain manufacturing capacity for certain essential items like personal protective equipment, testing kits and equipment, and medications.  Tax incentives need to exist to encourage companies not to send these functions overseas.

In addition, we should have national and state stockpiles of certain equipment.  I know many hospitals and labs are now creating stockpiles of their own.

Testing:
Most countries that did well produced lots of COVID testing early.  In the US, the CDC tried to manage all the testing themselves, and quickly became overwhelmed.  By the time private labs were allowed to develop their own tests, it was way too late.  Testing capacity didn’t become nearly adequate until at least July of 2020. Next time, the CDC needs to allow testing by private labs right away.  Ideally, anyone who wants a test and anyone potentially exposed to an agent should be tested.

Quarantine, not Lockdown:
Countries that did well did not quarantine healthy individuals, although some of these countries had more restrictions during the big Winter waves.  Instead, only COVID positive people should be quarantined.  This is only effective when tests are readily available.

Later in the pandemic, some outlets acknowledged that most infections were happening in private settings.  Basically, people would get infected outside, then bring COVID home to infect everyone in the household.

Here is a very interesting video using computer models to show why our model of lockdown was not effective.  Computer models are only as good as they are programmed to be, so this is only for demonstration purposes, and is not data.

Contact tracing:
Contact tracing was very successful in some countries, but the long incubation time of COVID made this difficult.  Successful programs involved tracking of individuals by cell phone and credit card data, practices that would probably not be tolerated in the US. Such programs would need to be voluntary to not trigger the creepiness factor and violate constitutional rights.

Masking:
I was a big proponent of wearing a medical grade respirator (N95, KN95, or KN94) indoors during the pandemic.  Because COVID spread as an aerosol as well as droplet form, cloth and blue surgical masks were ineffective.  Simpler masks can be effective against colds and flu, however.  So the choice of mask depends on the agent in question.  CDC guidelines need to reflect the method of spread of the agent in question. 

So what should Dr. Fauci have said early on?  Something like this:

N95 masks offer the best protection against infection by the SARS-2 virus. However, our current supply is very low, and we desperately need to save these masks for our medical professionals.  Please do not purchase N95 masks at this time.  In the mean time, there are some options that will help reduce the risk…

In actuality, of course, I didn’t see an N95 in a store from March 2020 until at least February of 2021, so I couldn’t have bought one if I’d wanted to!

Treatment:
Most medical facilities in the US didn’t treat COVID until a patient was experiencing respiratory distress.  By then, treatment options were limited.  To their credit, intubation was largely abandoned by the medical community when it was learned that this treatment was largely ineffective.

However, controversy swirled over potential treatments that became disfavored by the medical community.  Doctors are usually granted the right to prescribe “off label” medications, meaning they can use medications for treatments outside the guidelines of the manufacturer.  But drugs like Hydroxychloroquine, Ivermectin, and others quickly become forbidden, and some doctors even got fired for prescribing them.  Research on these drugs were minimal.

I am not arguing here that these drugs are effective against COVID.  I’m simply saying that forbidding doctors from working with or publishing papers about these drugs was a big mistake.  While it is of course wise for a doctor to consider guidelines, treating a novel virus may require some “outside the box” thinking.

Let me know in the comments if I missed something important!

Don’t fear, but be smart!
Erik

What Went Wrong?

Today I’ll discuss the approach to the pandemic in the United States, and all the factors which contributed to our very high case load during the pandemic.  This article ended up being longer than I thought, so I’ll have a separate post later in the week about how we can prepare for the next pandemic. I have a PhD in molecular biology, and I specialize in infectious disease testing. I am not a physician or epidemiologist. I have an informed but not expert opinion.

The COVID-19 pandemic finally seems to be drawing to a close.  For most of the pandemic, the US had the highest number of daily cases, and has had the most cases over all.  As I write this on May 17th, 2022, the US has 82,629,736 total confirmed cases, approximately 25% of the population, and an unknown but likely very large number of unconfirmed infections.

Meanwhile, the US has the most technologically advanced and well funded medical system in the world.  So what happened? This is a very important question because answering it correctly will help us respond to the next pandemic.

First, we can ask what policies the US had in place, and contrast them with policies that were successful.

Countries that initially did well were Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea.  These countries are right next to China, which is the natural source for the seasonal flu.  This is because flu viruses exist natively in aquatic birds from southern China, and there is no practical way to eradicate the flu. We can expect dangerous respiratory viruses to arise from China from time to time.  Neighboring countries know this and are naturally vigilant.  The citizens of Asian countries are used to wearing a mask whenever they have the sniffles, and they are prepared for local epidemics. 

South Korea had the following strategy:

  • Early free testing for anyone who wanted a test.
  • Contact tracing of people exposed to infected individuals. Cell phone and credit card data was used to track residents and produce contact information for infected people.
  • Quarantine COVID positive patients at home, fines imposed for breaking quarantine.
  • Nearly all citizens wore masks in public.
  • Treatment of patients with moderate symptoms.
  • No “Lockdowns”, that is quarantining COVID negative individuals, but schools, cinemas, and gyms were closed. Most stores were open.  Vaccine passports allowed access to high risk areas during the Fall and Winter of 2021/22.

By contrast, the US, and most of the Western world, had the following policies:

  • Testing only for symptomatic people.
  • Treatment only for severe cases.
  • Early “Lockdowns” of all but essential workers.
  • Contact tracing applied too late to be effective.
  • Early communication on masks was incorrect and even deceptive to avoid a run on N95s which happened anyway.  Mask wearing remained controversial and unevenly applied, medical grade respirators unavailable or rarely used for most of the pandemic.

I will point out that most countries, even Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, had major outbreaks during the Omicron wave.  These countries did have some COVID related restrictions during the Winter of 2020/21 and during the Omicron wave.  I leave China out of the analysis because I don’t trust their data.

Most respiratory viruses like cold and flu are spread by droplet or contact transmission.  However, SARS-2 is spread by aerosol transmission.  Droplets and aerosols are similar, but an aerosolized droplet is much smaller and can linger in the air for much longer than a droplet, more like a cloud than a spray.

Several precautions than became common and even required are designed to prevent droplet transmission rather than aerosol transmission.  These precautions include 6 foot distancing, cloth and blue surgical masks, and those plastic shields at the store.  These measures are mostly ineffective at preventing the spread of aerosols because they do not prevent the movement of small particles.  As you know, I was a strong advocate of masks indoors during the pandemic, but only the medical grade respirators like N95s, KN95s and KF94s.

Peculiarities of the US:
In addition to prevention policies, the US has several cultural and demographic factors which contribute to our high infection numbers. 

Population: Americans know that the 2 most populace countries in the world are China and India, with about 1 billion people each.  These populations appear to dwarf our own estimated population of 330 million.  But we forget that the US is the 3rd most populace country in the world, with number 4 being Indonesia at 272 million. Japan has 125 million, and the most populace European country, aside from Russia is Germany at only 82 million.

Mobility: The US is an enormous country, and Americans are used to traveling much more than other peoples.  We may not fly to other continents as much as the Germans do, but we don’t hesitate to drive several hours for the weekend, or fly across the continent. I was having lunch with an Englishman once who said they might plan for weeks to take a trip that would involve a 3 hour drive.  Many Americans may only plan for a few hours for such a trip. Our high mobility certainly contributed to our high COVID numbers.

Independence:  Our independent nature has been an enormously useful quality, contributing to our high innovation, personal freedom, and economic prosperity.  So I’m certainly not arguing against American individualism.  But I have to acknowledge that our fierce sense of independence did contribute to non-compliance with government recommendations.  And yes, I totally understand that many official recommendations were ineffective or unlawful. But this factor is part of the equation that we will need to consider in order to deal with future pandemics.

Federalism: The US Government has a lot less power than most people think.  The 10th amendment states:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

This means that the only powers the federal government has are those expressly given to it in the Constitution. Much of what the US government does now goes beyond the powers given by the Constitution, and is only done because no one has stopped them.  New federal powers are often popular, so they go forward unchecked. 

The pandemic has caused many to lose trust in several previously trusted federal agencies, and States have started to pull back power from the US.  Many were surprised to discover how limited the President’s power was during the pandemic, limited to suggesting guidelines and creating regulation for federal property and interstate travel.  The vaccine mandate attempted to use private companies to enforce vaccination, but even this was struck down by the Supreme Court. 

Emergency powers outlined in the Constitution only apply in the case of an insurrection or invasion. Unless a Constitutional amendment is passed, the Federal Government can only impose martial law if an emergency forces the courts to close (Duncan v. Kahanamoku, 1946).

States have much broader powers.  In California, the Emergency Services Act allows the Governor to declare a state of emergency at any time, a state which grants him broad powers, including the power to suspend certain laws.  Some have said that this state can only last 90 days without approval from the Assembly, but the ESA allows the Governor to end the state of emergency whenever he deems it necessary, “at the earliest possible date that conditions warrant.” (§8629).

All this to say, the states have much more power to address a pandemic than does the federal government.  Whether you find this good or bad news depends on your own political leanings, and the state you live in!

Manufacturing:
The national shortage of N95 masks early on in the pandemic painfully revealed that our domestic capacity for manufacturing certain necessary items fell woefully short. Other items in short supply were hospital gowns, gloves, disinfectant, certain medications, and yes, even toilet paper. 

This shortage meant that almost no-one had effective masks early on.  In addition, confused messaging from Dr. Fauci and the CDC later produced a condition in which ineffective masks were common in public areas.  This certainly had a big negative impact on our case load.

Misinformation and freedom of speech:
I have written on this before, so I won’t repeat this now.  Suffice it to say that many Americans lost confidence in government agencies, including the CDC and FDA during the pandemic.  Lost trust is hard to regain and it can take a long time to get back.  I’ll discuss this more in my next post.

Political polarization:
Similar to the erosion of trust in government agencies, the response to the pandemic quickly became a “team sport” with some responses being typical of the “blue team” and others typical of the “red team”.  Unfortunately, both sides often opposed reasonable ideas simply because they came from the other side.  Also, some terrible ideas had a longer life span than they should have because they were favored by certain political groups.  As I’ve said many times before, science and politics are a terrible combination.  When politics gets involved in science, the results are usually terrible. 

Frankly, things have become so polarized that I am pessimistic about the future.  Republicans and Democrats seem to disagree strongly about nearly everything these days, having fundamental worldview differences, not just differences in approach. I know lots of people who lost contact with friends and even family during the pandemic, as have I myself.

Let me know in the comments what factors you think contributed to our response. Later this week, I’ll post on the next pandemic, and how we can prepare.

Don’t fear, but be smart,
Erik

Misinformation and Censorship

Originally part of a post on August 26, 2021, Video: “Top 3 vaccine Myths” and Tech Censorship.

A word on tech censorship: The WHO said 2 false things early on:

SARS-2 is not human to human transmissible
SARS-2 is not transmissible as an aerosol.

Both of these things were demonstrably false, and perhaps politically motivated, even at time the WHO stated them. In in spite of this, the social media platforms came to hold the WHO as the gold standard for the truth on COVID matters. To this day, F@¢3b00k may place a tag on the end of this post claiming the WHO as the authority on COVID matters. Most platforms would delete or restrict anything that ran against the WHO. Yes, computer programmers in Silicon Valley are still pulling down information posted by medical doctors and scientists. Even Dr. Damania has had videos censored!

One of the worst results of the pandemic in the US is censorship of divergent opinions. Freedom of speech allows 3 things:

All opinions to be held up to public scrutiny.
True things to rise to the surface.
False things to be discredited.

When freedom of speech is restricted, none of these can happen. If a wrong thing becomes the “orthodox” view, and no other views are permitted, then the orthodox view will always be wrong, and we will end up solving all of the wrong problems. If there is a hole in your gas tank, it doesn’t matter how many times you put gas in it. It will always be empty. Fix the real problem first.

This is why all the claims of misinformation, from all sides, are so insidious. When you claim misinformation, you are claiming to have the whole truth on an issue. Sure, we can and should argue against views we think are false. But we must also protect the right to air all views! Or we are doomed only to have the first view that becomes dominant, and we are less likely to find the truth!

I also found an article on why some are still vaccine hesitant. For those of you who are wondering, you should read it.
______________________________________________

Originally part of a post on August 30, 2021, Possible low efficacy of current vaccines against Delta, possible Delta enhancement in the future.

Another note on misinformation: My post from last Thursday generated a lot of discussion regarding censorship and misinformation. I argued strongly that the dangers of misinformation do not outweigh the benefits of free speech. Many of you are pro-vaccine and others are suspicious of the vaccine. I would simply urge this:

1) If you use the words “misinformation” and “disinformation” in a post or in a discussion, please come ready with evidence to support whatever claim your making! Don’t just throw out this word, support it!

I recently saw a video with a pro-vaccine medical person saying “we just need to keep pounding this information into people”. That is the wrong approach. With someone who is not yet convinced to get a vaccine, “pounding” away on them is just going to raise their defenses and exasperate you. Instead, gently show them your reasons for believing what you do! Explain to them what the data means. You may not convince them, but you may move them toward being more open to your view.

2) If someone makes a claim that sounds unfounded or that you don’t trust, don’t just tell them they’re wrong or make a counter claim, ask them to provide evidence, or where they got their information. You don’t have to do their homework for them! If they can’t produce any evidence, you are under no obligation to counter it. I’ve saved myself A LOT of work with this approach. It’s OK that they just heard it somewhere IF their source is reliable and has evidence themselves. You can still ask them to provide you with a link or something to that person’s statement. However, “I just heard it somewhere” is not evidence.

Part of the reason I’m not so worried about “misinformation” for myself is because of my regular use of suggestion #2.

Don’t fear, but be smart!
Erik

Case Update, May 6th, 2022; Yet Another Omicron Sub-Variant, New Drug Paxlovid.

This is a case update.  I’ll also give an update on new Omicron variants and briefly discuss a new anti-Coronavirus drug, Paxlovid.

In the US, cases continue to increase modestly, and may have peaked.  This increase in cases are likely due to Omicron sub-variants BA.2 and BA.2.12.1 (more on these later). However, new deaths are still decreasing.  I will caution that a rise in new deaths often trails new cases by 2-5 weeks. For the first Omicron wave, deaths followed cases by 2 weeks, and we are currently 4 weeks in to the BA.2 wave.

Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a logarithmic format to emphasize small numbers. Note that each number on the left is 10x higher than the one below it.
Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a linear format.
Endcoronavirus County Level Map, May 6th, 2022
Endcoronavirus State Level Map, May 6th, 2022

In California and San Diego County, cases are up modestly.  Again, new deaths have not yet begun to rise.

Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a logarithmic format to emphasize small numbers. Note that each number on the left is 10x higher than the one below it.
Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a linear format.
Graph is by me, from data collected from San Diego County Public Health. Graph is presented in a logarithmic format to emphasize small numbers. Starting on May 2nd, 2022, San Diego County only releases information Monday and Thursday each week. Data points shown are extrapolated using this information.
Graph is by me, from data collected from San Diego County Public Health. Graph is presented in a linear format. Starting on May 2nd, 2022, San Diego County only releases information Monday and Thursday each week. Data points shown are extrapolated using this information.
Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a linear format.

New Omicron sub-variants, BA.2 and BA.2.12.1: BA.2 has been well known for a few weeks.  I’ve stated before that BA.2 is very similar to the first Omicron variants, and predicted that it will not have a large impact.  A new variant BA.2.12.1 likely falls into the same category.  These variants now dominate the current cases with 98% of new cases being due to one of these variants. 

From the CDC page on Variant Proportions. Accessed May 6th, 2022.

These variants are more infectious than the first Omicron sub-variants, but it is still unknown if they are more or less pathogenic.  Viruses tend to become more infectious and less pathogenic over time.

Some Eastern states like New York were the first to see modest new waves due to BA.2.  New York has yet to see a significant increase in deaths.

From Worldometer, Daily New Cases, New York State.
From Worldometer, Daily New Deaths, New York State.

All this to say, for now, the BA.2 and BA.2.12.1 wave still appears to be somewhat insignificant.

If you had COVID from mid-December to now, you probably had Omicron.  Because BA.2 and BA.2.12.1 are very similar to Omicron, you should not be concerned about reinfection until a significantly new variant arises.  Some people who had Delta have also been infected with Omicron.

Omicron sub-variants get a lot of press, much more than previous sub-variants.  I’ll let you guess why that is. For now, don’t be alarmed about a new Omicron sub-variant.  They will probably all fall into the “don’t stress about it” category.

The pandemic isn’t quite over. If you don’t have immunity, you may want to continue to take precautions by wearing an N95, KN95, or KF94 when indoors in public. Cloth masks or blue surgical masks will not protect you from Omicron variant SARS-2 viruses.

Paxlovid:  2 friends of mine got COVID just this week.  They were both prescribed Paxlovid, a new anti-SARS medication.  The drug is a protease inhibitor, which prevents viruses from maturing as they are formed inside a human cell.  Protease inhibitors do not prevent infection, but they can significantly reduce viral load and improve symptoms.  Both of my friends are doing well now, one feeling significantly better within just 24 hours.  2 people is a very small sample size so this should not be taken as an endorsement. I’m just pointing out that there is a new therapeutic available.

I will point out that Paxlovid is a Pfizer product.  For some, this will cause concern because Pfizer has lost significant trust due to the vaccine mandates and the attending creepiness.

Don’t fear, but be smart,
Erik

Case Update, April 20th, 2022; Mask Mandates End on Airplanes

This is a case update.  I’ll also have a comment about the recent end of the mask mandate on airplanes.

The BA.2 variant is now causing a very modest uptick in cases in the US.  93.4% of cases in the US are now caused by BA.2, some caused by a new subvariant called BA.12.1.  Most of the uptick in cases in the US is driven by a rise in cases in Northeast states like New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Vermont.  Cases remain flat in the rest of the country. 

Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a logarithmic format to emphasize small numbers. Note that each number on the left is 10x higher than the one below it.
Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a linear format.
Endcoronavirus County Level Map, April 20th, 2022
Endcoronavirus State Level Map, April 20th, 2022
Endcoronavirus State Level Map, April 20th, 2022
Endcoronavirus State Level Map, April 20th, 2022
From the CDC page on Variant Proportions. Accessed April 20th, 2022.
Hospitalizations, from the CDC website.

In California, we may be seeing a rise in cases, but reporting has become sporadic, so it’s hard to say for sure. Some days show zero new cases. 

Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a logarithmic format to emphasize small numbers. Note that each number on the left is 10x higher than the one below it.
Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a linear format.

Cases are dropping in San Diego County, and are lower than they were between the Delta and Omicron waves.

Graph is by me, from data collected from San Diego County Public Health. See also regularly updated slides from SD County. Graph is presented in a logarithmic format to emphasize small numbers. Note that each number on the left is 10x higher than the one below it.
Graph is by me, from data collected from San Diego County Public Health. See also regularly updated slides from SD County. Graph is presented in a linear format.

World wide, cases are dropping quickly, reflecting the drop in Omicron cases in many countries.

Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. Graph is presented in a linear format.

A friend of mine pointed out to me today that more COVID is being detected in waste water, suggesting another upcoming wave.  The only authoritative looking story I’ve seen on this is out of date, from mid-March, so I don’t know how much of an impact this will have.

Mask mandate ends on planes: On Monday, a federal judge struck down the mask mandate for airplanes and other transportation.  The judge ruled that the mandate exceeded the CDC’s authority under the Public Health Services Act. Within hours, the news was announced to cheers on aircraft across the country. I’m sure flight attendants are happy to have fewer arguments with passengers!

I was actually all for the mask mandate for most of the pandemic because I traveled a lot and it was kind of alarming to be on a full plane during COVID.  I did find it troubling, however, that the mandates allowed nearly useless masks like the blue surgical masks, and did not require the much more effective N95s, KN95s, and KF94s. Why require masks if you aren’t going to require useful masks?

In my last several trips, just in the last few weeks, I went into restaurants, hotel lobbies, stores, gas stations, and everywhere else.  The only places still requiring masks were airports, airplanes, and some laboratories.  This is especially ironic since the air on an airplane is HEPA filtered and is some of the safest air you will encounter in your life.

Omicron is the last gasp of the pandemic, and cases are now very low.  Some estimate that 90% of the American population now has vaccine mediated or natural immunity.  I am now in favor of ending the mask mandate on airplanes.  If you need to travel by air, haven’t had COVID yet, and are concerned about getting COVID on the plane, I strongly encourage you to wear an N95, KN95, or KF94 while you travel.  Don’t bother with a cloth mask or blue surgical mask.

Also, as I’ve stated before, studies now show that vaccine effectiveness drops after 3 months. Also, those with multiple vaccinations, more than a few months old, are now 3x more likely to get an Omicron infection than those who haven’t been vaccinated. For details, see my March 25th post. This is because of Antibody Dependent Enhancement. So if you’re in a high risk category and were vaccinated more than 3 months ago, consider getting a booster. Consult your doctor when making medical decisions.

Don’t fear, but be smart,
Erik