• Are We Getting Better at Treating COVID-19?

    I received this email earlier today from reader BL:

    Just read your article about what’s going on with deaths vs. case rates. My wife, a nurse of 35 years, adds that there are a couple other contributing factors causing deaths to drop while cases increase.

    First is, healthcare doctors and nurses are much better at treating Covid patients. In the beginning, it was shooting from the hip. Now, they’ve developed and shared strategies to help patients live through this and even recover much faster, including med combos, turning patients on the stomachs and other such things. Secondly, the public is much more aware so we recognize a potential symptom, get tested and treated much faster than we did a few months ago.

    There’s been info floating around also from doctors around the world that the virus is weakening. Although not confirmed medically yet, doctors in Italy and, I think, India are swearing that it’s not as potent. Viruses can and do often mutate into something else, and if it makes itself weaker, it can’t “fix” itself, so it’s stuck being less deadly. Again, not proven, but there are doctors convinced of it.

    Better treatment probably doesn’t explain 100 percent of the divergence between cases rising and deaths falling, but it might explain a lot (and the younger age profile of recent cases might explain the rest). This is anecdotal, of course, but I thought it was an interesting observation, and one that was worth passing along since I haven’t seen it widely reported. I would be interested to hear more about this.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    This is a picture of a raven flying over Lake Elsinore, taken from an overlook on Ortega Highway. If you look closely, you’ll see that the blue background is not the sky, it’s Lake Elsinore. The ripples are from the water, not some artifact of the lens.

    March 18, 2019 — Cleveland National Forest, California
  • Lead Poisoning and Domestic Violence

    Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal/ZUMA

    Alex Tabarrok reviews Franklin Zimring’s When Police Kill and notes the following:

    A surprising finding:

    Crime is a young man’s game in the United States but being killed by a police officer is not.

    The main reason for this appears to be that a disproportionate share of police killings come from disturbance calls, domestic and non-domestic about equally represented. A majority of the killings arising from disturbance calls are of people aged forty or more.

    I can’t fool you guys. You know what I’m going to say, don’t you? A likely explanation for this is that in 2015, when this data was collected, 20-year-olds were born around 1995 and grew up lead free. This means they were far less likely to act out violently than in the past. Conversely, 40-year-olds were born around 1975, right near the peak of the lead poisoning epidemic. They are part of the most violent, explosive generation in US history.

    This is the saddest part of lead poisoning: it scars your brain development as a child and there’s no cure. If you’re affected by it and are more aggressive and violent as a result, you will be that way for the rest of your life.

  • Why Are We Playing Football in the Middle of a Pandemic?

    What do you do if you’re a star high school quarterback in Southern California but you’re afraid the upcoming season might be canceled? By God, you find some state that’s going to play football no matter what:

    Newhall Hart quarterback Titus Tucker has decided to move to Alabama to play his senior season over concerns the 2020 football season in California will be delayed or canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    ….The family apparently believes he needs to play this fall to help attract interest from colleges. “He’s worried he’s not going to get any film for colleges, so he wants to play in the fall,” [coach Rick Herrington] said. “They have family friends in Alabama. I’m sure it’s going to happen in other places if [players] find places are playing.”

    I get it. But getting it doesn’t change the fact that this is insane. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic. It’s killing hundreds of thousands of people and there’s probably no sport more likely to spread the virus than football. So just stop playing. Everywhere. The country will survive without high school football for one season.

  • Another Look at Reopening Schools

    It's empty now, but it should it stay empty next year?Cindy Yamanaka/SCNG/ZUMA

    A friend emails about my post this morning calling for schools to reopen next year:

    You have been consistent in calling for opening at least elementary schools this fall, taking the position that it would be safe to do so. But there’s one thing that seems so obviously wrong with this calculation that I simply don’t understand how you arrive at this conclusion.

    Won’t ANY teacher that becomes infected pass it on to the entire class? And won’t ANY child that becomes infected take it home and infect parents, grandparents and siblings? It seems like a terrible idea to me….I can’t see how we can possibly open schools this fall without disastrous outcomes. What am I missing?

    Many people on Twitter had essentially the same question, phrased rather less politely. And it’s totally logical. You’ve got a large-ish gathering, it’s indoors, and kids aren’t especially reliable about the whole social distancing thing. Isn’t that the perfect petri dish for spreading the virus?

    You’d think so, wouldn’t you? However, we have substantial evidence that closing schools has very little effect on the spread of COVID-19. First, there are studies that look at the effect of various countermeasures, such as this one:

    There have been several other similar empirical studies, and they all conclude that school closures have little effect. (In fact, the study above suggests that closing schools might increase the spread of the virus.)

    Second, there’s the experience of other countries. In Germany, which is the gold standard for responding to COVID-19, schools were reopened last May with appropriate precautions and it hasn’t been a problem. Ditto for Denmark and a few others.

    I understand how frustrating this is. Logic suggests that reopening schools should be a disaster for both kids and teachers, but both empirical research and experience in other countries says it’s not. The problem is that, as near as I can tell, nobody can explain why it’s not a disaster. It just isn’t.

  • Goldman Sachs: Mask Mandate Could Be Worth $1 Trillion

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, lowers his face mask as he prepares to testify before the Senate.Kevin Dietsch/CNP/ZUMA

    Forbes reports on a new analysis from Goldman Sachs:

    Goldman’s analysts found that wearing face coverings has a significant impact on coronavirus outcomes, and they suggest that a federal mask mandate would “meaningfully” increase mask usage across the country, especially in states like Florida and Texas, where masks are not currently required. The researchers estimate that a national mandate would increase the portion of people who wearing masks by 15%, and cut the daily growth of new cases by between 0.6% and 1%.

    Reducing the spread of the virus through mask-wearing, the analysts found, could be a substitute for strict lockdown measures that would otherwise shave 5%—or $1 trillion—off the U.S. GDP.

    In short, a federal mask mandate would likely make a difference of $1 trillion in GDP. And it would be more convenient too! Which would you rather have, another business lockdown or a mask mandate?

    This is yet another indication that if we want to save the economy, we have to crush the virus. It’s not enough to reopen and declare Mission Accomplished. People simply won’t go back to their normal habits until it’s safe, and mask usage is a key component of that.

    The hell of it is that this is the one thing that Donald Trump will never, ever agree to. Trump is literally incapable of admitting error, even implicitly, which means he will never go on TV and declare that everyone should wear a mask. Quite the contrary: he’s more likely to double down and declare that mask wearing is ridiculous and useless. He’s probably the only person in America who could effectively deliver the mask message to the people who really need it, but he refuses to do so. Never in a million years would I have guessed that a president of the United States would ever act like this.