Category Archives: Health and Medicine

Covid Vaccines Confer Better Immunity Than Getting The Disease

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We know that Covid vaccines reduce the risk of future infection by over 200%, and also reduce the severity of infection, compared to getting the disease. The official current thinking by the CDC is that vaccines are better than natural infection for Covid-19, based on that research and other considerations. (Added: See also this [thanks Yana!])

Surely, getting Covid would, for most people, cause a certain degree of immunity. That is what the immune system is for, after all. A vaccine imitates that process. It is entirely conceivable that getting a disease would be better than vaccinating in some cases. Remember the 2009 influenza epidemic? One study showed that getting that strain of influenza conferred better immunity than the vaccine available at the time.

The logic behind infection being better than a vaccine is usually this: The body responds, possibly, to multiple, and different, molecular configurations on the infectious agent, and learns to recognize them. A vaccine is almost always targeted to a smaller set of molecular configurations, so naturally a vaccine would not prime the immune system in as many different ways as the infection would.

That is a nice logical argument, but the empirical data clearly indicates it is wrong. The available vaccinations work better than infection in creating immunity. So why is this true?

I don’t think we fully understand this yet, but I’ll offer two lines of thinking. First, the somewhat more obscure but possibly very important. Remember, despite the fact that reporters and even doctors (and Facebook and Twitter self styled experts) only know about one part of the multi-part immune system, the b cell mediated anti-body response to an infection. There are other pars as well, including the t cell response, which amounts to t cell mediated death of infected cells, and the memory system for both t and b cell systems. Both of these systems work in concert with other aspects of the immune system, that involve for example cells that find a pathogen and bring it to specific sites in the body where it is interrogated, and responded to.

There is research to suggest that for some diseases (not Covid specifically but other respiratory viruses) an infection may elicit a very rapid response by the t cell system, which does the infection in fast enough that the b cell system does not fully develop an “evolved” memory response to use later in the event of a second infection. However, over time, with repeated infections, all of the various parts of the adaptive immune system figure it out and fully respond, and now the individual has excellent immunity.

Personally I suspect that this explains the curious phenomenon that no children or young adults are zero percent likely to get a cold, but lots of people in their 70s or older claim that they never had a cold in their lives. They did, they forgot, and in the mean time, their immune system developed a strong response to common colds. This is an untested hypothesis, so don’t go around thinking it just yet.

The larger point is this. If that research is meaningful, it may be the case that the immune system is capable of tripping over itself, so a natural infection produces a less than idea result. Meanwhile, a vaccine is designed to not do that. Remember, if we have a few vaccines for a given infection, those vaccines represent a small subset of many potential vaccines that were tried out and either gave indications of ineffectiveness or bad side effects. Perhaps those earlier variants of the vaccine are analogous to less than effective immune responses to natural infection.

Which is a nice segue into the second idea. Imagine a target in a shooting range, one of those outlines of the body with a few areas designated (by bull’s eye symbols) as places to shoot. Imagine firing a gun semi-randomly at the target and maybe hitting it in a few places. If you do that a bunch of times, you may now and then accidentally hit the head, and have a clean kill. All the other shots are either totally ineffective, or only “wound” the target. That is natural immunity to a natural infection.

Alternatively, you shoot the target in the head once and it is dead. One bullet, one shot, but a perfect shot aimed at exactly where you have to shoot to have the best result. That is a carefully designed vaccine. It doesn’t matter how many other body parts (surface configurations of molecules on a virus) the natural immunity responds to, if there is one main configuration (in this case, part of the spike protein) that the vaccine focuses on. And no, the virus doesn’t easily mutate in such a way that the spike protein is different enough that it can’t be targeted. This is a part of the virus that is highly conserved. It cant change much, or the individual virus with the change can’t reproduce. A target can’t exist without a head. It will always have a head, and if you can always hit the head, then you always win, and all the other strategies are lesser.


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Covid Contaminants Harm Self

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Republican Contaminants are killing Americans at the rate of about one half million per year, because of their pro-Covid stance. But they are killing more of their own.
This is probably not a self correcting phenomenon. Not enough Contaminants are dying of Covid to change election outcomes. But a precinct by precinct study may reveal a small effect.

“John Nolte argued that the partisan gap in vaccination rates was part of a liberal plot. Liberals like Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Anthony Fauci and Howard Stern have tried so hard to persuade people to get vaccinated, because they know that Republican voters will do the opposite of whatever they say, Nolte wrote.”

This would be funny if it wasn’t so …. no wait, this is actually just really funny.

Source: New York Times “The Mornting” September 27, 2021, byline: David Leonhardt


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This ain’t the Washita River, General

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A growing number of Contaminants (aka Republicans aka Magatrumpers) believe that Liberals and Democrats are pushing vaccines in order to make conservatives and yahoos dislike and therefore avoid vaccines, so that on election day, more Republicans are dead of Covid than Democrats.

Maybe we are doing that, maybe we are not. Not my job to tell you. I am not the mule skinner.


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Everyone in the US will be vaccinated by early August.

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Everyone eligible and who wants to, that is.

Have a look at this line. I call it “line going up.” Feel free to download it and use it for your own purposes.

This line. It is going up.

I ask you to consider the following questions. Assume the vertical scale on the y-axis is 10:

1) What is the average value of this line?

2) What is the average value of the last 20% of the line, over to the left?

3) Assume the “line going up” is in fact upward-going indefinitely. This is the first ten units of time. What will be the average value of the second ten units of time?

4) Given the same assumption, what is the average value of all 20 units of time?

5) If you were asked to predict the total magnitude (all the areas under the curve) for all of the curve, for the next 10 units of time only, what would it be?

Answers:
1: about 5.
2: About 8
3: About 15
4: About 10
5: A lot, but it runs from about 10 to about 20, so if it is that many units per day, about 150 (the average of 10 and 20 times 10).

I know you got all those questions right. So, now that we can do baby analytical geometry and statistics, have a look at this:

This graph shows an upward trend. We know the trend is somewhat open-ended up to about 7 million a day, with new vaccines coming on line. The drop before the recent mode, which casues an average that would have been about 2.0 million per day, was caused by a preternatural natural disaster (Texas). So, the best estimate of curent production is much closer to 2.5, not 1.7, and that rate will continue to go up so in about four weeks it will be closer to 4 million a day. This is not just based on me looking at the graph and sucking my thumb. This is what the experts are saying. April through July would be 600 million doses, many of which would be one shot doses of the newest vaccines. In other words, every eligible person in the US will be vaccinated by the end of July, comfortably.

That is a very conservative estimate.

Why to people take perfectly good data combined with clear projections from the health experts and turn them into bald face lies? Oh, it is not a lie you say, just a mistake. No, I reply, it is impossible to make a mistake like this and publish it in bloomberg. This is a lie, designed to get a rise out of the readership, and that lie regardless of its intent will contribute to the gloom and doom and that has consequences.


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The Complex Problem of Microplastic Particle Pollution

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The importance of microplastic particles in the ecosystem, both as they might effect ecological systems and human health, is the subject of great deal of new research, and is one of more rapidly developing areas of of knowledge related to environmental concern. Once thought of as mainly a problem in the oceans (related to the now famous “Pacific Garbage Patch“) it is now understood that microplastic particles are also common in the terrestrial ecosystem and the part of the food chain we eat.

Microplastic fluxes and associated ecosystem feedbacks: Deposition and accumulation of microplastics can affect soil properties, with consequences for process rates and net primary production (NPP), causing feedbacks to the atmosphere, including greenhouse gases (GHGs). So far, nanoplastic has unknown consequences for this system. Fig 1 from “Microplastics in Terrestrial Ecosystems” Rillig and Lehmann 2020. Science. GRAPHIC: A. KITTERMAN/SCIENCE FROM M. C. RILLIG AND A. LEHMANN

Sources of microplastic particles include wearing down of tires, the use of synthetic textiles, road paint, the coatings and pain used on boats, and personal care products (roughly in that order) as well as “city dust,” a ‘generic name given to a group of nine sources” including the soles of footwear, synthetic cooking utensils, building paint, cleaning supplies, etc, all with small individual contributions but collectively about 24% of the microplastic particle pollution observed in the ocean. (See this.)

Estimated contribution of various sources to the microplastic particle pollution observed in the oceans. Source: Primary microplastics in the oceans, IUCN (see link in text).

The effects of microplastic particles may be more related to size and shape of the particles, rather than toxicity. (But all these factors matter.) Microplastic particles are mostly made of carbon. Normally carbon gets spread around the environment as part of the photosynthetic segment of the carbon cycle. Microplastic particles now exist in what has become known of as the “plastic cycle.” (See this and this.) Since the nature of microplastic routed carbon is different than “natural” carbon, direct and indirect effects on ecology can occur. Soil structure can be affected (including the spaces where air or water may be trapped in soil). Microplastics in soil can benefit plants, because soil density is lowered, so root growth is easier. However, where microplastics make up a large proporation of fill, plant growth is reduced (see this).

Note that the carbon in microplastic particles is fossil carbon, which prior to the manufacture of the plastic was mostly trapped in petroleum or coal, which in turn is mostly out of the short and medium term carbon cycle. Moving carbon from the long term cycle (which involves processes like continents being subjected into the mantle of the Earth, to be belched out later from volcanoes or added to spreading sea floors) into the short and medium term cycle (such as the cycle affected by human activity to cause global warming) may be important.

Microplastic particle contamination has been associated with changes in the immune system, the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria (in part because bacterial microfilms that cover microplastic particles may favor, or at least contain, resistant forms), and microplastic particles have been found all over the place. Microplastic particles can be a vector moving chemicals between parts of the ecosystem.

Conceptual model of the plastic pollution cycle and the interactions between biogeochemistry, trophic transfer, and human health and exposure. Note that arrows and artwork are not to scale and are for descriptive purposes only. Expanded, adapted, and redrawn, in part, from Rochman et al. (2019) with permission. Fig 1 in Environ. Sci. Technol. 2019, 53, 13, 7177-7179

See “Microplastic in terrestrial ecosystems” for a fuller review of the effects of microplastic particles in soils and other parts of the ecosystem. It is pretty complex.

We may tend to think of microplastic particles as being a problem because we use plastic containers, which can break down into micro particles. That is true. For example, using polypropylene bottles in the preparation of infant formula releases microplastic particles into the formula itself. But a lot of microplastic particles are introduced directly into the environment because we make and use those small sized particles in a range of applications including agriculture and cosmetics. As a rule where the material being used is less solid, the degree to which it is soluble and thus the ease with which it enters the environment increases. This could allow regulations to be focuses more stridently and more quickly on areas of plastic use and production that have the most effect.

The universe of polymer species from primary microplastics to functional polymers, where solidity decreases, and solubility increases from polymer pellets to dispersion aids. Fig one in “Microplastic regulation should be more precise to incentivize both innovation and environmental safety” Nature October 21 2020.

Microplastic particles can be taken in to cells by a process called “internalization” or “endocytosis” (synonyms) (see abstract below). There is evidence that “fresh” microplastic particles are not easily taken in but once exposed to the environment for a while, the surface of the microplastic particles changes, allowing internalization to happen more easily. The effects of the microplastic on the inside of the cell is understudied, but could in some cases be a problem. Microplastics may decrease cellular activity and increase reactive oxygen species, which in turn has potentially serious health effects.

Is this hopeless? Possibly. Can we stop using plastics? Maybe. Can the environment sequester microplastic particles (and thus carbon) naturally? Sometimes and maybe. Developing nations contribute hugely to plastic pollution due to a lack of solid waste infrastructure. Developed nations like the US have a great plastic waste infrastructure, but use so many plastics that the contribution from these countries is still huge (see this). We shed microplastic particles through many activities from feeding one’s baby to driving to the store to buy more forumla.

The fact that microplastic particles are something we ingest, breath in, our that our cells engulf is not itself a novelty. The gas and liquids we exist among are normally full of particles. Many of these particles are polymers, like plastic, but natural (pollen, skin cells, etc.). The problem with microplastic particles isn’t so much that they exist, but that they exist and are subtly, or sometimes dramatically, different than what is normally there, and what we thus normally adapt to. Also, microplastic particles may create a different distribution than what would normally occur (like the frequency in baby formula?). The challenge is to figure out where microplastic particles matter most, and then figure out ways of addressing those problems first and fast. This will also involve figuring out if the best solutions (which is a function of how well the solution works and how likely it is to get it to happen) is a change in specific policies or regulations, or changes in individual behavior. And, of course, we must be cognizant that changes to avoid or reduce microplastic particles do not result in some other negative effect.

This is just a rough, preliminary look at microplastic particles. I tried to include a wide selection of links to recent works, but I’m afraid many may be behind paywalls. But, you should be able to find a lot more by CLICKING HERE.

Additional Info and Resources:
Machado, Et Al. 2018. Impacts of microplastics on the soil biophysical environment. Environ. Sci Technol 52(17)

Abstract: oils are essential components of terrestrial ecosystems that experience strong pollution pressure. Microplastic contamination of soils is being increasingly documented, with potential consequences for soil biodiversity and function. Notwithstanding, data on effects of such contaminants on fundamental properties potentially impacting soil biota are lacking. The present study explores the potential of microplastics to disturb vital relationships between soil and water, as well as its consequences for soil structure and microbial function. During a 5-weeks garden experiment we exposed a loamy sand soil to environmentally relevant nominal concentrations (up to 2%) of four common microplastic types (polyacrylic fibers, polyamide beads, polyester fibers, and polyethylene fragments). Then, we measured bulk density, water holding capacity, hydraulic conductivity, soil aggregation, and microbial activity. Microplastics affected the bulk density, water holding capacity, and the functional relationship between the microbial activity and water stable aggregates. The effects are underestimated if idiosyncrasies of particle type and concentrations are neglected, suggesting that purely qualitative environmental microplastic data might be of limited value for the assessment of effects in soil. If extended to other soils and plastic types, the processes unravelled here suggest that microplastics are relevant long-term anthropogenic stressors and drivers of global change in terrestrial ecosystems.

Ramsperger et al. 2020 “Environmental exposure enhances the internalization of microplastic particles into cells” Science Advances 6(50)
Abstract: Microplastic particles ubiquitously found in the environment are ingested by a huge variety of organisms. Subsequently, microplastic particles can translocate from the gastrointestinal tract into the tissues likely by cellular internalization. The reason for cellular internalization is unknown, since this has only been shown for specifically surface-functionalized particles. We show that environmentally exposed microplastic particles were internalized significantly more often than pristine microplastic particles into macrophages. We identified biomolecules forming an eco-corona on the surface of microplastic particles, suggesting that environmental exposure promotes the cellular internalization of microplastics. Our findings further indicate that cellular internalization is a key route by which microplastic particles translocate into tissues, where they may cause toxicological effects that have implications for the environment and human health.

Rilling and Lehman. 2020. Microplastic in terrestrial ecosystem. Science.


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Everything is as expected, even the Covid-19 pandemic

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When I was in graduate school, four things happened at almost the same time (probably within a three year time frame, but who’s counting?) 1) The publication of The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance by Laurie Garrett (well, and my reading of the book); 2) the cultural phenomenon of “hot zone” movies and books, of which the most memorable is probably Outbreak starting Dustin Hoffman; and 3) the realization that a good part of the archaeology I was doing in the Congo was of villages that had been abandoned because a plague of some kind came along and killed enough people that everyone moved elsewhere, which is apparently a tradition in that area; and 4) the Zaire Ebola outbreak in Kikwit. Since I had been working in the area, I got involved, in a minor way, with some of the Ebola research, and I produced evidence for a model for the virus jumping from fuit bats to humans that turned out to be exactly what had happened about ten years later when the West African Ebola epidemic occurred. Continue reading Everything is as expected, even the Covid-19 pandemic


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Covidpocalypse Now: an update

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Most of the Covid news is about vaccines.

A second vaccine has passed the final non-red tape hurdle in the US, and will likely be authorized by the end of the week. Six million doses will be distributed, probably over the weekend or early in the week, to over 3,000 locations.

There is argument and discussion going on as to the lower age limit on the vaccines. So far everything seems authorized for 18 year olds and older. It will probably be a serious mistake if that isn’t adjusted very soon. Now, the kids who transmit the disease that kill grandma are anonymous. Once they are the main carriers, they will not be, and a spotty subgroup of an entire generation will be scarred. At least, we’ll be given by fate the name for that generation. The Marys (for Typhoid Mary).

Let’s talk about Pregnant and lactating women for a minute. There have been no systematic trials pertaining to pregnant women, so the FDA advice is vague. They say, “you decide.” The following are supportable facts:

1) There is evidence, subject to revision because it is not the focus of any systematic experimental study, that pregnant women are somewhat protected from getting Covid-19, but not to anywhere near the degree that they can flout caution.

2) There is evidence, again subject to revision, that when pregnant women do get Covid-19, they have a number of worse outcomes than other people of similar age. They may get sicker, and there is a possible risk of preterm birth.

3) Non-live vaccines are generally considered safe for pregnant women.

To manufacturers and health care providers, this may be more a mater of blame and liability than anything else. Of all the people who get the vaccine, some are going to get sick or die randomly even if the vaccine never causes an actual problem, and someone is going to sue somebody over something. The chance of such a suit winning probably goes up if the plaintiff is a pregnant woman or her survivors, or if a baby is born with a problem etc. etc. So, by saying “you decide” we just get on with it, is probably the thinking.

VERY IMPORTANT: We humans have a lot of misconceptions about immunity and pregnancy. A common falsehood is that immunity of the mother is passed on to the offspring. This is not true. Also, an in utero fetus does not get vaccinated when the mother gets vaccinated. A lot of people believe these things happen but they do not.

What does happen is that the mother’s immune products, if she’s got them, circulate in the fetus, and may even be found in the newborn for a while. But an infant does not have much of a functioning adaptive immune system, so there can be no development of long term immunity, and the magical immunity stuff we have spent so much time talking about can’t be passed on.

During lactation, some of this humeral immunity of the mother will be shared with the offspring via breast feeding. This, of course, is also temporary.

It has been a while since I’ve done a literature search on this, but last time I looked there were no studies that really examined how effective any of this passive immunity is. Our cultural love of breastfeeding, and rhetoric from pro-breast feeding organizations, have led many people to believe that mother to infant immunity (i.e. through breastfeeding and esp the passing on of colostrum) is powerful and highly effective. We don’t really know this.

Doses:

In the US right now 2.9 million Pfizer doses (with second doses already accounted for) have been shipped. Moderna will ship over 5 million doses right away. According to Health and Human Services (a Trump Crime Family Joint) there will be enough doses to vaccinate everybody in the US by the end of June 2021. We await the replacement of the Deplorables with Biden appointees to confirm (or deny) that.

Can you pass Covid-19 on if you are vaccinated?

Nobody knows yet, but there is not really a useful “yes” or “no” answer to this. Here’s the story: What matters is the R0 value of the disease, right? How many people will get infected down the road if a particular individual is infected. More realistically, sort of, imagine a population of 1 million people, and 1,000 people freshly infected show up and there are no precautions taken. If that disease is Covid and the 1 million are not vaccinated, the next “generation” of infection will see more than 1,000 people infected, and the next generation, more than that, etc. as a wave of the disease spreads across the populations. SO, maybe, 1,000 gets you 1800, and that gets you 2500, and that gets you 4,800, and so on.

If most everybody is vaccinated, the whole point is that the chance of the virus being able to reproduce in you at all is lower, the time frame and intensity of that reproduction is shorted or lowered. Maybe to zero, but even if not, the R0 value is significantly lowered.

So, in the above scenario, with the population mainly vaccinated, 1,000 infected people gets you maybe 100 (max, that would b a lot) which gets you 10, which gets you zero, and Bob’s your uncle.


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Covid-19 Update: Vaccines, Airborne, Seasonality, Irony

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A tale of two vaccines

Two vaccines are racing to the finish line. We can’t say which one will arrive first, because they each have a different finish line.

The good vaccine, the one likely to be safe (though not necessarily without some side effects) and effective (though you may need two doses, which is normal for vaccines so don’t panic about that) had this deadline: When it is ready, as in, finished with Phase 3 trials. My money is still on the Oxford Jenner vaccine. If that is the first one ready, don’t expect to see it in the US because a) Jared Kushner does not have any ownership in it and b) Jared’s F-I-L is the corrupt leader of the formerly Democratic Republic of the United States. We’ll get it after Joe and Kamala, if they are not killed by Putin, are in the White House.

What? You think we are going to let you have a vaccine that I don’t make money off of? Nope, not going to happen as long as the Trump Crime Family is in charge!
The bad vaccine is whatever vaccine the Trump Crime Family has decided they can sell us. The deadline for that is November 3rd, but really, earlier, because of early voting. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, a member of the Trump Crime Family has started to say, “Oh, no, if we approve a vaccine early, and that is possible, then it will be a great vaccine, a really great vaccine, don’t worry, we are not going to play political games here. Nope. No October Surprise from the FDA, no sir.” Meanwhile all of the senior actual scientists in the government that have anything to do with this have warned Hahn, uselessly, that he should not do this, because they expect him to do this.

I’m fine with this. The fake vaccine might actually work. It will be distributed among Republicans first, and they will blindly take it because they are morons and the head of the Trump Crime Family will order them to do it. If the vaccine turns out to be dangerous, it will be they that suffer, deservedly for the adults (sorry, kids, your parents are dangerous assholes) and it will be they that later sue (if they live) Hahn and Trump over the damage done. If, on the other hand, the fake vaccine is actually a good vaccine, an emergency use authorization by Hahn will certainly speed up data collection, owing to the additional rats, er, lab rats.

See “Here’s how the U.S. could release a COVID-19 vaccine before the election—and why that scares some

The Second Coming

Never mind what you may have heard about Covid-19’s virus not being seasonal. The assertions that it is not were falsehoods, mostly generated by the press misunderstanding what this all means, spread by people who, amazingly, are not actual epidemiologists, on Facebook. OK, admittedly, I am not actually an epidemiologist either, though back in Grad school when I discovered it exists, I almost jumped ship. And, I do play one in the classroom in the class I co-teach on immunology and epidemiology. Point is, I know a little better than the average person when I’m about to say something stupid. Usually, I then shut up. But not always, so beware.

Anyway, for all the various scientific reasons, it might be seasonal. Consider group of immunologists and epidemiologist siting around having a beer, and someone asks the question, “Is Covid-19 seasonal?” you’d get a lot of hemming and hawing. Then, the inquisitor says, “OK, fine. Each of you take this slip of paper and pencil, and write down “yes” if you think it will turn out to be seasonal, and “no” if you don’t think so. Don’t share your work. If you all turn out to say the same answer, then the beer is free for the rest of the night.”

I strongly suspect they would all write down a non-committal but educated “yes.”

The thing is, an outbreak has its own momentum. Some of the worse influenza outbreaks violated the seasonal pattern we know influenza has. All the Covid-19 outbreaks we have been having have masked any possible obvious seasonality for Covid, though one study that looked at underlying factors linked to seasonality concluded that there is a pretty good chance Covid-19 is seasonal.

On top of that, we have another (not unrelated) set of seasonal factors. No matter what you do to mitigate against spread of the disease in a school, going back to school, even in some sort of limited “hybrid” pattern, WILL result in increased spread. This is not an uncertainty. And, we are starting that now, and as you probably know, it is happening. Between back to school and climate related seasonal effects, we are looking at a long hard winter.

Related: COVID-19 rising in 26 states as US hits 6 million cases

Covid-19 is probably not mainly airborne.

But it is totally airborne as well.

I think it is funny (as in “funny, holy crap, how stupid can people be????”) that once news came out that Covid-19 is very likely airbonre, that many people actually then asserted that it was NOT spread hand to object to hand. It still is folks! KEEP WASHING YOUR DAMN HANDS PEOPLE. Jeesh.

But anyway, the evidence of airborne transmission builds and our understanding of that phenomenon deepens.

COVID-19 patients in earlier stages exhaled millions of SARS-CoV-2 per hour

Exhaled breath samples had the highest positive rate (26.9%, n=52), followed by surface swabs (5.4%, n=242), and air samples (3.8%, n=26). COVID-19 patients recruited in Beijing exhaled millions of SARS-CoV-2 RNA copies into the air per hour. Exhaled breath emission may play an important role in the COVID-19 transmission.

For refernece, this is the very rough not yet accepted article that started this whole thing: Outbreak of COVID-19 in a nursing home associated with aerosol transmission as a result of inadequate ventilation

See this for a very current summary on the airborne situation.

Or, maybe you are just on your own

The latest plan from the Trump administration, other than faking a new vaccine to make money somehow, is the do nothing and wait for herd immunity to “kick in.”

New Trump pandemic adviser pushes controversial ‘herd immunity’ strategy, worrying public health officials

One of President Trump’s top medical advisers is urging the White House to embrace a controversial “herd immunity” strategy to combat the pandemic, which would entail allowing the coronavirus to spread through most of the population to quickly build resistance to the virus, while taking steps to protect those in nursing homes and other vulnerable populations, according to five people familiar with the discussions.

The administration has already begun to implement some policies along these lines, according to current and former officials as well as experts, particularly with regard to testing.

The approach’s chief proponent is Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist and fellow at Stanford’s conservative Hoover Institution, who joined the White House in August as a pandemic adviser. …

Irony

Yes, I am aware that the picture at the top of the post is an example of irony. That is why it is there.


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Teachers: This one neat trick could save your life

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This is for all teachers, but only some of you will be able to do this. Depends on your topic. This may pertain mostly to biology teachers, maybe stats or math, but by extension, any science or empirical topic including history.

Never mind that the first thing bio students to know is about Hydrogen bonds, or that the first thing stats students need to know is basic probability theory. You already probably do some sort of introduction thing that gets the students oriented to your subject, with a “get to know you” component, etc.

Replace that with this. The first thing the students should encounter in your classroom is some sort of topic appropriate, level and age appropriate, encounter with pandemic reality. Many of your students are not taking this pandemic seriously. They’ve been hanging round mask-less and in close quarters with their friends all summer, maybe practicing on a team, whatever. They are not going to properly manage their own viral shed or the possibility of someone else’s pathogenic effluence. They are going to be gobbing all over each other, their desks, and you.

Now is the time to use your mad teaching skills to push at least some of your students in the direction of being more careful, and possibly, slowing the spread of the Covid-19 causing disease.

I know, I know, you are saying “we are doing distance learning, this does not matter.” But it does matter. The back to school outbreak is going to happen whether or not you, or your school, is doing distance learning, and your small part of the learning community overlaps with the rest of it. And, you never know when your college, HS administration, or school district is going to send the students back into your room. This is your chance. Take it.

Can’t think of an example of a lesson that would smart up your students, to enhance the behavioral part of their innate immune system? Don’t give me that! Of course you can, you are a great teacher! In face, once you’ve thought about it, I want to hear your ideas. Let’s get moving on this!


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Before the Covid-19 Vaccine, This.

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Antibodies may precede vaccines in fighting Covid-19. Antibody treatments involve producing antibodies against a disease, either by harvesting them from previously infected individuals or, better, making them using some sort of scientific magic (aka technology that is hard to explain). An antibody treatment can fight an existing virus, and avoid infection short term. Eventually the antibodies go away, so this does not confer immediate immunity.

This is not an uncommon situations. Lots of diseases appeared out of nowhere, and were initially treated this way until other longer term solutions could be developed. But many of those diseases were rare to begin with and remained rare, so the antibody treatment was not scaled up. Just read all those books and stories about “emerging diseases” from back in the “Hot Zone” literature days and you’ll see these stories played out.

Anyway, here is what some experts say quoted in a recent Science coverage by Jon Cohen:

“If you were going to put your money down, you would bet that you get the answer with the monoclonal before you get the answer with a vaccine,” says Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

and

“Antibodies have the potential to be an important bridge until the vaccine is available,” says Ajay Nirula, a vice president at Eli Lilly, one of several large companies investing in them. Likely to be more effective than remdesivir and dexamethasone, the repurposed drugs shown to help against COVID-19, antibodies could protect the highest risk health care workers from becoming infected while also lessening the severity of the disease in hospitalized patients. But producing monoclonals involves using bioreactors to grow lines of B cells that make the proteins, raising concerns they could be scarce and expensive. On 15 July, Lilly, AbCellera, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Genentech, and Amgen jointly asked the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) whether they could share information about manufacturing their monoclonals without violating antitrust laws “to expand and expedite production.”

Antibody expert Amy Jenkins (Pandemic Prevention Platform (P3) program at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) suggests a N ovember-December time line for seeing this technology in the field is not unrealistic.


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Your Normal Fourth

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I read the news today, oh boy. To coin a phrase.

Here is what my local paper’s headline said: “Socializing is a must for many on the 4th.”

Digging in we find that “For some, it was a time to throw caution to the wind and reclaim normalcy as they headed to a lake cabins, parks and backyard barbecues…Across the state, Minnesotans are making their own decisions while health care and government officials hold their breath…”

The quest for normalcy is powerful enough to make people dishonest with themselves, so you get sentences of this form: “I heard the Virus did/didn’t really do this/that/other thing, so I guess it is OK if I whatever-whevever [fill in idiotic decision here].”

Let me tell you what normal is. You go a week without a funeral. Several weeks. Maybe months, or a year. Normal is not when one of your relatives, friends, work associates, one of the kids in your child’s class, or the parent of one of the kids, or the old person that lives two doors down but you never talk to much but they just took her away in the ambulance, or a checkout person who’s name you never knew, or two of the nurses at the hospital your kid was born in, etc. etc. … normal is not when one of those people dies on average about every 14 day or so (but sometimes with longer gaps, sometimes in clusters) at the peak of Your Local Epidemic.

If you want to achieve normalcy during the 365 days between moments of must, when you must do the thing that is least recommended by people who must be much smarter than you are, then you must not. This applies to gatherings on the fourth, it will apply to all the holidays throughout much of the year. Next winter holidays, like Christmas and New years, or before that, Halloween which seems to have become the local Spring Break party holiday among America’s 20-somethings, or the most traveled day of the year, Thanksgiving, if you must seek normalcy the grim reaper must seek your family and fiends.

And eventually, not your parents, cousins, children, or neighbors. But you. Ask not for whom the germ theory tolls.


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Trump, Tulsa, COVID-19’s Wet Dream, Just Desserts

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The 19th of June is Juneteenth.

It celebrates one date in a series of dates at the end of the Civil War when African Americans who were slaves gained their freedom in either legal or pragmatic terms.

That freedom did not, of course, end racial violence. One example of racial violence was the Tulsa Massacre, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. You can go read about it. Nobody really knows how bad it was. Thousands of African American people were burned out of their homes, interned, wounded or killed. Whites died as well. That happened at the end of May, 1921.

We are having a pandemic and there are concerns that large indoor gatherings would spread the infection.

We are having a revolution in which Americans are being forced to come to terms with deeply ingraned, systemic, and systematic racism that involves the widespread incarceration and murder of African Americans, many men. The number of African Americans incarcerated and killed each year in America exceeds that which occurred at the Tulsa Massacre, or approximately so, by my estimation.

So, naturally, Donald Trump is planning a huge indoor rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Juneteenth.

The White House has issued a statement that Trump’s choice of Juneteenth for this rally is entirely a coincidence. They also issued a statement that Trump chose Juneteenth because African Americans are very “near and dear” to his heart.

Three thoughts come to mind.

1) People who reject science, and are willing to embrace Trump’s anti-science yammering, are walking into a death trap. Have a nice death trap. Shame on you for the people you will secondarily infect. Do not come near me or my family after this rally.

2) With enough people in a large venue inside, breathing, Trump will have maximal chance of being infected with the virus and getting COVID-19. This rally could kill him. It would be the end of a long national nightmare. We can only hope this is a suicide rally for Trump, because he is killing us and that has to top.

3) It would be funny if very few people showed up at the rally. It is possible. Such things have happened before.


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