The majority of this week’s post is various people doing their Obligatory Thread on Latest Variant, in this case XBB. All reach broadly compatible conclusions: XBB is the next variant and rapidly taking over, and this is normal. XBB is not more deadly.
Re Caplan, libertarians, and Permanent Midnight: I mostly agree. But re this:
> I also don’t expect a Permanent Midnight scenario to take hold so easily. There is a reason China eventually gave up. The cost of maintaining these kinds of restrictions rises with time, and anyone calling for them to be sustained will get voted out, and I expect people patience to if anything be lower next time.
What gives me pause is other scenarios where it has taken hold: TSA post-9/11, for example. Or the thing where you can only get Sudafed at a pharmacy (in some states, only *with a prescription*).
> As I’ve noted, wastewater and hospitalizations are useful while having their own problems.
Have you talked about this in more detail anywhere? Interested in your thoughts on wastewater monitoring in particular. Seems it could (if calibrated against historical case counts) give a good signal for short-term regional-level risk if it can be calibrated consistently, in a way that test positivity is less and less capable of doing. (Eventually the number of tests will be extremely low; when does it break entirely? Doe we expect hospitals to forever test for Covid and therefore have some stable base of comparison?)
Another benefit of rapid tests: they enabled telemedicine providers to prescribe Paxlovid. I think technically doctors could still prescribe based on an assessment of symptoms. But requiring a photo of a positive test, which may not even belong to the patient, probably gave them more confidence that the authorities wouldn’t come after them for enabling line skippers.
I took advantage of this when my mother-in-law was sick. Local doctors wanted patients to come in for a PCR. Not only was this a bad idea to disrupt her bed rest, it could have spread the disease further.
re: "It is also all but certain that you and the agency you head, sir, are the reason we don’t have a more effective updated booster on the way sooner. It is on you that by the time we get a booster that works it will be too late to do much good."
What do we think is the best way to get the question "if we can target new vaccines within a matter of days, so why don't we have one for [insert latest variant here] now?" asked by major media outlets?
If genetics isn't the biggest factor in obesity (at least in the modern, US environment), how do you explain that huge gap in correlation of obesity between monozygotic vs. dizygotic twins? The correlation jumps from 0.4 for dizygotic to over 0.8 in monozygotic. I was skeptical of the claim that obesity = mostly genetics, but that stat is pretty damning for any other conclusion.
I don't have the expertise and haven't put in the time to try to reconcile that particular stat with the argument of Venk Murthy, but I'd be happy to read any synthesis of that information.
Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41539-017-0005-6, figure 1 (which I saw at https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/04/25/book-review-the-hungry-brain/).
Any thoughts on Nitric Oxide Nasal Spray such as Enovid/SaNOtize? It seems to help a little for people who are mildly symptomatic (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9239922/), and I would imagine it would help if taken prophylactically after a potential exposure but I couldn't find any data that directly addresses that.
I notice a bit of a disconnect between:
> It seems plausible, for example, based on the details we know, that a given Omicron case could generate a larger wastewater signature than a pre-Omicron case. I’ve seen no attempts to measure this and find out. I haven’t talked about that concern.
> I agree that there is danger when comparing case numbers now to case numbers a year ago. I still think that comparing to last week is highly useful, as the reporting regime will have changed little. Thus, I still see them as useful, as long as they are combined with a metric that does not have this problem, such as deaths.
You correctly point out that week-over-week we should expect little change in testing prevalence, so it's a useful metric. But you don't apply the same heuristic to wastewater prevalence, even though week-over-week data should be useful there as well, even if different variants produce different amounts of virus in people's waste.
Re: "He cites this paper as important, emphasizing the roll of county-level political affiliation and its correlation to excess deaths, and that state governments that enforced their restrictions narrowed these gaps."
I am skeptical of this for a couple of reasons. First, none of the authors appear to be actuaries. Doing this kind of analysis on the data without an actuary is like doing an audit without a CPA. Second, past studies of this kind of data don't account for factors that actuaries have known about for years - income and urban/rural are very, very highly correlated with poor health outcomes.
A friend has a substack where she does deep dives into the US death certificate data from the CDC and discusses the results. She is a very respected actuary and her professional work is used to make very significant financial decisions by her employer. She has looked at similar studies done in the past and disputed their conclusions.
Informative as always -- thanks. One thing I didn't see covered: Iwasaki is concerned that Long COVID could be worse with XBB.1.5 because of increased tropism in long-lived cells, citing Cao's research showing much higher hACE2 binding affinity. Haven't seen much additional discussion on this point. https://twitter.com/VirusesImmunity/status/1610032727406874627
With regards to MAID, I feel like the eligibility is so broad basically anyone can apply for and receive it, and that the government has an incentive to do so because it's cheaper to just have someone die than to actually provide healthcare to them (especially in a public healthcare system like Canada has).
The problem, of course, is that as a general rule, society has a social norm against encouraging suicide, and the social norm that this is a good social norm to have no matter how much you might want to argue against it and make e.g. the "yay personal liberty" argument. There's a reason it's frowned upon to yell "kill yourself" at others on the internet, even and especially if the other person might be willing to do so. However, MAID seems to have worked around this norm through a backdoor where they slowly expanded the amount of people eligible for the program, from people who were doomed to die anyway that "suicide" is meaningless to apply to them, to people who are not in any way doomed to die but have severe mental health problems that make them routinely consider suicide.
Regardless of whether one may agree or disagree about the general social norm against encouraging suicide, it's a clear problem that MAID has simply ignored it without so much as a conversation about the implications of doing so.
Missed opportunity to title this "Variant XBB Takes". Appreciated update though. Even at a low worry threshold, it's still a relief to see this will very likely not, in fact, be remotely like last winter. (Although extra flu/RSV/colds replicate many of the same annoyances - I'd rather coworkers have those than covid, but sick calls are sick calls either way, and they're pervasive once again.)
Every time noises start getting made again about potential mask mandates, I get fearful flashbacks to when those last existed locally; that was a deeply miserable time as a masks-are-nontrivial-for-me individual. So it's good to know surgical masks are a little less useless than previously thought - this updates towards potential mandates being like last time, e.g. not requiring N95 or KN94 or whatever. And that's good - the possibility of complying via worse masks makes the difference for me between "will reluctantly leave house" and "not show up to most things at all, live off savings for awhile". Which I guess is Feature Not Bug anyway, that's certainly one way to suppress spread...but the profit/pain ratio is so much worse.