Déjà vu all over again

An electron microscope image of the SARS-CoV-2 virus/NIAID

Now almost two years into the Great Pandemic, humans are discovering they’re not nearly as smart as they’d like to believe, and clearly not above the nature they once thought they had conquered.

California residents who slid through the first waves of the crisis in better shape than the residents of many states met the latest wave by pulling on their face diapers, getting their vaccinations and smugly thinking all would be fine if they just went about life as if there were no SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The virus apparently had different ideas.

Infections rates for Covid-19, the disease the virus causes, are now rising steadily in California amid growing fears of a winter surge as people move indoors and began breathing greater volumes of each other’s air.

The unvaccinated are being blamed,  but vaccinations do not appear to be the be-all to end-all. Despite an adult vaccination rate near 85 percent, the Netherlands is seeing a surge in infections that has it considering another lockdown, Reuters reports.

Vaccinations have fortunately reduced death and hospitalization rates, which is a good thing. The Dutch report 70 percent of those now in intensive care units were either unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated.

But neither the vaccines nor newly reordered masking appear to be as effective as had been hoped in halting the spread of the disease. Thus the decision in the Netherlands to consider “cancellation of events, closing theatres and cinemas, and earlier closing times for cafes and restaurants,” according to Reuters.

Other European countries facing a similar blowup in infections are talking about new lockdowns.

“It seems like we’ve been here before,” Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s respected Center for Infection Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) observed in a Thursday podcast, noting it was being broadcast on the one-year anniversary of the Pfizer vaccine.

“There was a sense of euphoria” at Pfizer’s claimed success in blocking infections, he added. Some of the euphoria has now faded. The Pfizer and other vaccines have proven very good, but far from perfect.

There is today, Osterholm said, “a lot of uncertainty….We’re going to need a big dose of humility again.”

U.S. states like Vermont and Alaska which sailed through the first waves of the pandemic with enviably low death rates have been suffering through surges in both Covid-19 infections and deaths. 

Nature is reminding us once again that we’re not as smart as we like to think we are, but we have slowly but steadily been learning.

Bad air

SARS-CoV-2 circulation in indoor air has finally become a subject of serious discussion, though in the U.S. the administration of President Joe Biden seems to believe an effort to coerce all Americans into getting vaccinated will do more for public health than fixing building ventilation.

Scientists have a slightly different view.

“SARS-CoV-2 indoor air transmission is a threat that can be addressed with science,” the Environmental Health Matters Initiative (EHMI) of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) titled a research paper on the subject issued early this month.

“Airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 by aerosols implies that infection risks can be reduced by making changes to the built environment: increasing exchange of indoor with outdoor air, air filtration, and germicidal ultraviolet irradiation,” the group concluded. “Limiting the number of people within spaces and distancing them reduces the strength of the source – people – and the intensity of the exposure.”

Similar problems were faced with secondhand smoke more than a decade ago when a panel of experts convened by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists suggested that a new technology – displacement ventilation in buildings – held the potential to reduce by 90 percent the potential carcinogens airborne in secondhand smoke in restaurants, bars and casinos.

The idea was never pursued, however, because it was cheaper and easier for businesses to go smoke-free and kick the smokers outside to enjoy their addiction.

A decade later, a 2020 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited bars and restaurants as hotspots for Covid-10 infections.

Adults with confirmed Covid-19 (case-patients) were approximately twice as likely as were control-participants to have reported dining at a restaurant in the 14 days before becoming ill,” the non-peer-reviewed study said. “In addition to dining at a restaurant, case-patients were more likely to report going to a bar/coffee shop, but only when the analysis was restricted to participants without close contact with persons with known COVID-19 before illness onset. Reports of exposures in restaurants have been linked to air circulation. Direction, ventilation, and intensity of airflow might affect virus transmission, even if social distancing measures and mask use are implemented according to current guidance.”

This enclosed-space risk has not diminished since then even though some medical professionals advocating masking as a health-protective measure seem to have missed the point.

Anchorage Dr. Benjamin Westley believes he caught the disease in an Alaska restaurant, and for that reason has aggressively advocated for everyone wearing masks everywhere all the time. 

The incongruous logic there is at the heart of a continuing public battle over masking generally waged between the tribe on the right and the tribe on the left.

“California’s COVID rate is now twice that of Florida’s despite mask mandates,” Fox News headlined Tuesday. “California has mask requirements and a higher vaccination rate than Florida.”

Ali H. Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington, told the California Mercury News newspaper that the state may be “paying for your success, which is weird. You succeed in controlling the virus, and now you’re having infections.”

The debate continues

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington has been modeling the spread of SARS-CoV-2 since the beginning of the pandemic. In July of last year, it estimated that universal masking could reduce infections by 67 percent.

The number has gone up and down since. IHME as of today was projecting a 30 percent increase in infections by the end of the year, but charting a course that had universal masking reducing that by more than 80 percent. 

The IHME’s projections have, however, regularly been wrong and have been questioned by various interests, particularly when they were low and embraced by President Donald Trump in 2020.

A study out of Bangladesh indicated a 9.3 percent reduction in infections due to masking. A University of Vermont study concluded that any possible reductions could, however,  be wiped out by masking encouraging more close contacts between the infected and the uninfected.

Rather amazingly, throughout the pandemic, at least in the U.S., there has been no little attention given to spreading the message that if people feel sick they should stay home and stay away from others to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

After a Kenai reporter was diagnosed with the disease, she put on a mask and then posted a photo of herself out and about. Hopefully, it was only to drive to the pharmacy, and hopefully she stayed in the car.

But the mask did raise questions.  There is no reason to wear a mask in your car if you are alone. The only reason to wear a mask in your car would be in hopes of reducing the chance of spreading SARS-CoV-2 to others in the car.

Unfortunately, there seems a continuing and widespread misunderstanding of how infectious airborne diseases are transmitted. That can only help fuel the next surge many health experts fear is coming.

IHME Director Dr. Christopher Murray blames it on “three things coming together in the Northern Hemisphere: winter seasonality, waning immunity for those who got vaccinated – as we now understand much better as we have more evidence that vaccine-derived immunity for protection against infection does wane quite considerably by six months. So we have many people who were vaccinated early in the Northern Hemisphere who are now likely susceptible.

“The third factor that’s fueling these winter increases is the fact that people are much less cautious than last winter, as mask use is much lower. Currently, it is below 40 per in the US – slightly higher than that in Europe, but much lower than a year ago. People’s mobility levels are just below the pre-COVID baseline as opposed to 20 percent to 30 percent below the pre-COVID baseline. Putting those together, we expect that despite progress on vaccination, we will see a winter surge. The question really comes down to how big will that Northern Hemisphere winter surge be.”

Murray’s conclusions on masks and individual behavior, it is worth noting, are out of line with the Vermont study that found that any benefit for masks disappeared as mobility levels went up and close contacts increased.

“A higher number of daily contacts with adults and older adults increases the probability of becoming infected,” concluded the peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Public Health and Surveillance. “Occupation, living in an apartment versus a house, and wearing a face mask outside work increased the number of daily contacts.”

The increase in infections while masked appears related to risk compensation either directly or subtly. The Vermont study citing “occupation” found people who went to work in places where they thought they were protected by masks increased their risk of getting infected.

“Wearing a face mask outside of work,” on the other hand, appears to have increased close contacts between friends, acquaintances, families and the like, leading to more infections.

Risk compensation

“Remember March of 2020, before masks? Back then, as we became aware that the coronavirus was circulating around the country at an alarming clip, packed up our offices, and pulled our kids out of in-person school, the nation’s top experts urged us not to bother covering our nose and mouths,” Tim Reqaurth wrote at Slate this week. 

“Among the complex reasons for the hesitation was a simple one: distrust of the public. “I worry that if people put on masks, then they’ll think, OK, I’m protected, and they won’t wash their hands as vigorously or be careful not to touch their faces,” one expert told Slate’s What Next very early in the pandemic. The White House Coronavirus Task Force, the U.K. scientific council SAGE, and the World Health Organization cited similar concerns at the time, too. Masks would only provide a false sense of reassurance, reversing any public health gains they might offer.”

Those scientists appear now to have been right, but Requarth went on to pooh-pooh their conclusions, arguing that people put on masks and continued to wash their hands and practice social distancing with no offer of evidence for that conclusion.

And the Vermont study would tend to indicate he’s badly wrong in his assumption.

Meanwhile, anyone who watches the behavior of Americans today would question whether any self-protective measures are employed by the masked.

Masking has become so pro forma – done where it is ordered by government edict – that it is not unreasonable to wonder if there are not by now cases of people infected with SARS-CoV-2 stuck to the mask they borrowed from a friend or acquaintance because they needed a mask to put over their face to comply with a mandate.

Slate being a left-leaning publication, Requarth tried to dismiss risk compensation because of “a deep connection between the anti-regulatory rhetoric of conservatives and the moral tsk-tsking of prominent voices in the medical establishment over time, from the CDC to the surgeon general.”

“For some in the medical community, if the social goal is a healthier population, then we should just educate people to make better choices,” he writes. “It’s easy to see the appeal of this position for the medical establishment: It shifts the onus of health from practitioners to patients.”

Trying to blame the medical community for shifting “the onus of health from practitioners to patients” seems badly out of sync with the biggest reality of the pandemic.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus isn’t killing many people fit people of healthy weight. It’s killing obese people and people in poor health, many of them suffering from problems largely or in part of their own making.

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rogers isn’t dying because he has Covid-19. He isn’t even in the hospital. He hasn’t even been missing team meetings since testing positive last week; he’s simply been restricted to virtual attendance.

Much the same has been true of other professional athletes.

Cyclist Peter “Sagan had his own brush with Covid-19 this year, coming down with the virus in early February,” VeloNews reports. “The bout with the virus put paid to much of his classics season, though he picked up a win in March at the Volta a Catalunya and again the following month at the Tour de Romandie.”

Cycling is one of the most demanding of aerobic sports. Nobody competes, let alone wins, with lungs working at less than 100 percent efficiency. Sagan recovered from Covid-19 pretty quickly, as Rogers appears to be doing, because both were in tiptop health before infection.

This has largely been the case for the fit everywhere.

The CDC has reported that only 6 percent of the deaths in the U.S. were caused by Covid-19 alone. Ninety-four percent of the dead were reported to have been suffering from another potentially deadly ailment, and on average, the dead were suffering from 2.9 such medical conditions.

Many of those people were old and poor candidates for improvements in health driven by weight loss and exercise programs, but some dying today would certainly have benefitted from a weight and fitness approach to the pandemic from the beginning.

Sadly, just the opposite happened.

“Many Americans knew they’d put on weight with all the stress-baking and stay-at-home shift in routines,” UCLA Health reported in April. “But two recent studies show pandemic weight gain has been significant – up to two pounds a month according to a March 2021 JAMA Network study, and more than 30 pounds over 12 months for some people, a recent survey by the American Psychological Association found.”

Obesity more than triples the odds of severe Covid-19 (odds ratio 3.13), a peer-reviewed meta-analysis concluded in December, along with greatly increasing the odds for heart disease, diabetes, a variety of cancers and more.

Wearing a mask, according to a popular meta-analysis published about the same time that concluded there is a benefit to masks,  lowers the risk of contracting Covid-19 by about a third (odds ratio 0.38).

Think about those odds ratios. If you’re obese, losing the weight has a more than eight times greater influence on your contracting severe Covid-19 than putting on a mask.

But losing weight is hard. Putting on a mask is easy. And American politicians have a long history of playing to what is easy.

Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be an easy fix to the Great Pandemic. But individuals can protect themselves. It’s not rocket science.

If you want to avoid the SARS-CoV-2 virus, keep your distance from other people and stay out of places where their breath accumulates. And if you can’t stay out of those places, minimize the time you spend in them as much as possible.
















Categories: Commentary, News

21 replies »

  1. Truth is the vaccines are making people sick.
    We see this clearly on CDC VAERS data site.
    If you include all the “break through cases” , and adverse vaccine reactions….along with anyone in the hospital within two weeks of their last jab, you will clearly see the mRNA spike proteins are not helping at all.
    Natural immunity was always the way to health.
    Exercise daily, maintain a healthy weight and eat plenty of fruits and veggies with added vitamin D supplement in AK.
    Fauci should go to jail for what his lies and chinese sponsored bioweapon has done to the world.
    This was always about control but luckily enough are fighting the mandates in court to stop this charade.

  2. Maybe if the Democrats and the media spent less time lying and more time learning from De Santis (FL) and Abbott (TX) we would be over the Covid hysteria. Instead we are going to play Democrat games well into the 2022/2024 election cycle.. Cant let the greatest “crisis” of all time to go to waste.

  3. As another reminder that the fed response is entirely political (how can it be anything but?), comes news that the FDA is delaying their meeting to consider the two COVID pills until after Thanksgiving.

    Unstated rationale: If we have a pill that is 50 – 95% effective, we don’t need the vax. And if we have the vax, we don’t need the pill. Think of it as cognitive dissonance and you won’t be wrong. OTOH, if your actual goal is to minimize deaths and infections, ALL approaches are appropriate. The public will gravitate to those which are best over time. Freedom to choose. Milton Friedman would be proud. Cheers –

  4. “Rather amazingly, throughout the pandemic, at least in the U.S., there has been no little attention given to spreading the message that if people feel sick they should stay home and stay away from others to reduce the spread of Covid-19.”

    I could be reading into it wrong, but I given the tenor of the article it seems like “there has been no little attention” doesn’t mean a lot of attention, but should read little or no attention. If that’s the case, then I’m not sure that’s true. There have been TV, radio, and internet advertisements that have made this point repeatedly. Some of us just think we know better since you know AMERICA and LIBERTY, and our CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS that we cannot explain in any way. I honestly don’t know why the point would need to be made since any idiot should know if they are sick they should stay home to begin with. Of course any idiot should also already know that staying away from the ill helps keep disease at bay. Of course any idiot should also already know that basic hygiene helps keep disease at bay. Of course any idiot should also know that eating a healthy diet helps keep disease at bay. Of course any idiot should also know that physical exercise helps keep disease at bay. Of course any idiot needs someone to tell them all of these things because they are an idiot to begin with.

    • Steve o , that may be the most impressive rant/string of opinion based personal attacks on unamed people ive ever seen .
      Are you having a bad day ?
      Two things of note . – some people have jobs that don’t pay enough to miss a day of work and dont have much leeway regarding absence. Cashiers and checkout people. Does that make them idiots when they choose a paycheck that covers the rent and groceries versus loosing their job ? Claiming illness and having someone take their position? Thats a harsh decision. To feed yourself or go without. I know you personally would probably always call in sick but some don’t have that luxury.
      Second- ive seen a lot of out of shape intelligent/ intellectuals who don’t exercise and eat trashy foods .
      Its hard to call them idiots. ( elon musk is no paramount of fitness) ( George soros and warren buffet don’t appear so either) tough to call that group idiots.
      I see a lot of people who work long hours and dont put the importance on health that’s recommended. Are they idiots?
      Maybe they just need a reminder. It’s cheaper and more cost effective to exercise than to go to the doctor but people don’t respect that fact ? Are they idiots? People pay big money for health advice yet it’s unreasonable to call them idiots.
      I think i get your drift though dramatic as your statement is .

      • DPR,
        Thanks, although I’m not sure how it could be a personal attack if it’s…you know…not personal.

        Anyways, the last few years have taught us a lot about how the old way of doing things no longer holds true. The example of a cashier or checker is a prime example. Life is full of choices, don’t like your job as a cashier or checker, get a new one! They are already calling this period in the job market the Great Resignation because so many people are quitting their jobs. Literally millions and millions EVERY MONTH are quitting their jobs!

        We all know eating healthy, exercising, and staying away from ill people is a good way to stay healthy. If we think we need government to tell us that we’ve already lost…oh, right that ship sailed years ago.

        We are all idiots in one regard or another, most probably in most regards. Personally I’m an idiot in all regards and there is no reason to take anything I say as anything more than the ramblings of an idiot. I wholeheartedly believe that the movie Idiocracy isn’t just a cult film and the foreshadowing of what is to come, but what is an honest portrayal of what is already upon us.

      • It becomes personal when the words “they” “any” “some” are used to associate people with the term idiot and behavior you consider unacceptable .
        You created a hypothetical situation where the behavior named the individual.
        His or her specific name wasn’t required. The action identified them. ( their personal behaviors now identified them as idiots)
        It could also have been considered a personal attack on a group of individuals. You grouped people by their behavior and proclaimed them idiot without attacking the specific behavior itself and the reason why .

        Hillary Clinton’s-( a basket of deplorables)- to feel attacked on a personal level. Or -(Guns bibles) what have you – named the group without specific names making them feel personally attacked

        Attacked personally without specifically providing individual names.

        Now if they technically fit the definition of idiots perhaps it wouldn’t be considered an attack. Unless it was intended as attack.

        I do get what you meant though. It seemed self evident that those behaviors were idiotic. That concept is unaccurate because people have case by case needs.
        Perhaps your intent was honorable.

    • Marlin,
      Interesting web sight you listed.Usually theres an “about” link, that will describe the web sights purpose for being, and perhaps intent.Could even link to employees departments.
      Absolutely nothing here except at the bottom:” All content posted on this site is commentary or opinion and is protected under Free Speech.”In other words just a rented server .com I suspect.
      Seems like an easy way to keep libel and/or plagiarism risks to a minimum.
      I guess my standards are just a bit higher, speaking for myself.

      • Mike Adams hosts brighteon. He is a health fanatic.
        Always doing articles about health related methods or plants ect . He brings to light what most people don’t see or think about. Hes got a functional science lab .
        Anti gmo . Anti pharma .
        Is he right about athletes collapsing from the jab ? Evidence says there is occurrences. Or maybe there is a different explanation.
        Is he trustworthy? For the most part . Much more so than your average news source. ( cnn – fox ect )
        Hes a bit radical about health and freedom and sometimes that colors his statements. ( usually cutting edge)
        Hes an honorable sincere source that occasionally makes mistakes like anyone but is ethically and rational based unlike most news organizations.
        I suspect sometimes he uses sources that are not particularly well vetted. ( what current media company doesn’t?) Medred is one of the few that base off careful as possible studies.
        In short Brighteon is health based and hedges towards safe health decisions. He leans towards dramatic.
        Dave does that answer your question? What is brighteon about?

      • DPR,thanks for the Cliff notes.
        A quick perusal of the interwebs (a series of tube and wires),shows that he appears to hang with the Conspiracy de Jour crowd.If Art Bell were still alive, he’d no doubt be teeing up for the 2am midweek AM radio slot.
        I must be too busy working and such,didnt realize there were so many conspiracies going on.Guess I need to get out more (in a virtual sense).
        My first impression stands pat.
        Conspiracy media seems to becoming its own industry(maybe it was always there, apart of the humanoid psyche, just sling shot forward by the interwebs).To bad the majority of those good folks dont get a Class A CDL,the nations short some 80k,and its expected to almost double by 2030.
        While no doubt a great sacrifice, especially for long haul trucking, thats far more patriotic than civilians shooting other civilians during riots and such.Or even storming the Capital.

      • Dave Mc ,
        Could be as you say . I do agree about the hard working truckers . Lots of sacrifice and they keep our system rolling 😉

      • Dave Mc, nothing more patriotic than a kid cleaning graffiti off walls, answering the call for help from small businesses, and defending himself with the 2nd Amendment against Democrat domestic terrorists funded by the Kamal Harris bail fund..
        As for January 6th, hmm, putting their feet up on Pelosi’s desk while taking pictures compares to the Democrats Summer of Riots and domestic terrorism how? Billions in damages, thousands injured and scores killed..

  5. Great analysis in this article. Fitness is key . Masks and the jab are tools , marginal at best . Part of the problem at worst .
    Was this predicted ?

      • that is like saying the only reason chimney companies say you should have your chimney cleaned is to make money.

        We know life expectancy has gone up year by year with medical advancements and what do you know they medical advancements, like getting your chimney swept cost money.

        edit-I sweep my own chimney, but I’ll gladly sweep yours for the appropriate coin.

    • Pretty horrible what’s occurring in Australia.
      To bad illegitimate leader Brandon is such an uncaring tyrant.
      He should talk to Australia leaders and get them to stop abusing their citizens.
      America has a second amendment. Protect it with your life because it protects you .
      Australia doesn’t have this .
      Now they are being mistreated by a horrible government.
      May they wake up and vote the bums out.

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