November 20, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


When states mandate masks, fewer people catch COVID-19 (pOPULAR sCIENCE, 11/20/20)

[R]esearch shows that mask mandates have great returns for public health. A paper published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine last month found within an eight-week period, that states that reopened without a mask policy had 10 times the number of excess COVID-19 cases than states that reopened with one. (Excess values were calculated by taking the observed number of cases among 100,000 residents in each state and subtracting it from the predicted number of cases both before and after reopening.) What's more, the 13 states with mandates tallied 50,000 fewer excess deaths in a six-week span. Another analysis, published in Health Affairs in June, estimates that mask rules in 15 states and Washington D.C. prevented more than 200,000 COVID-19 cases this spring.

The effect of mandates in curbing COVID-19 infections is especially apparent in Kansas, where Gov. Laura Kelly issued an executive order requiring masks in public in early July--but still gave counties the option to set their own laws. In the 81 counties that chose not to require masks, daily COVID-19 cases showed an increase of 100 percent by mid-August, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the 24 counties that did, daily cases dipped by 6 percent.

If the US enforces universal masking, the country could avert 65,000 deaths by March 1, 2021, as per a model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. The number of new daily infections would almost immediately begin to decline. But to see those benefits, 95 percent of the country's population would have to wear a mask at all times in public. The number is currently closer to 68 percent, IHME states.

"More is better when it comes to mask wearing, but some is better than none," Brewer says. "It's never too late, particularly when things are getting worse."

Posted by orrinj at 3:28 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


Europe averted a Covid-19 collapse -- here's what the US could learn (Ivana Kottasová, 11/19/20, CNN)

Despite the clear evidence from Europe, the White House is still opposing new restrictions. "President Trump wanted me to make it clear that our task force, this administration and our President, does not support another national lockdown. And we do not support closing schools," Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday, at the first White House coronavirus task force briefing since July.

"It's evident that in the US, cases are still rising, or at least they're not going down," said Mike Tildesley, an infectious disease modeling expert at the University Warwick and a UK government scientific adviser.

"They need to look at the European situation, and I mean, by no means what we have done in Europe is perfect, these governments are probably reacting a little bit slowly, but they are at least reacting, they are doing what they can to make sure that health services are not overwhelmed... and I think this is clearly what's needed in the US."

The Czech Republic is a good example. After a very mild spring epidemic, the country relaxed most of its coronavirus restrictions over the summer, ditching compulsory masks and fully reopening the economy.

When cases started rising again in September, the government resisted calls from scientists that tougher measures were needed. By mid-October, the central European country became the world's worst-affected nation, reporting more new Covid-19 cases per million people than any other major country. The government then said it had no other option than to impose a strict mask mandate and shut down, otherwise its hospitals would likely run out of beds.

Four weeks later, the country is seeing dramatically lower numbers of new infections. While the health care system has been stretched well beyond its limits -- the country was forced to deploy teenage nursing students in some hospitals -- there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel.

But according to official data, around 25% of ICU beds and 45% of ventilators remained available in the Czech Republic, even during the worst of the crisis. Compare that with US states like Oklahoma, where only 6% of ICU beds remain available. The number of cases in the state is rising exponentially -- yet it has put in very few measures to limit the spread of the disease.

Starting Thursday, bars and restaurants across the state must maintain a six-feet distance between tables, but can remain open for in-person services until 11 p.m. -- in much of Europe, indoor dining is completely off the menu.

Research from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked eating at restaurants to higher Covid-19 risk. But when Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer banned indoor dining in an attempt to curb the rising spread of the virus, White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Scott Atlas criticized the move and urged people to "rise up" against the new public health measures.

Posted by orrinj at 1:23 PM


Sununu issues statewide mask mandate in effort to slow spread of COVID-19 (Adam Sexton, 11/19/20, WMUR)

Gov. Chris Sununu is imposing a statewide mask mandate, starting Friday, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 in New Hampshire.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Science Has Learned So Much About COVID--and the Trump Administration Hasn't Learned Anything at AllWe've come a long way since March, yet our leaders are giving up. (Kiera Butler, 11/20/20, MoJo)

Back in March, we thought: that the virus was transmitted on surfaces like doorknobs, counters, and food packaging.

Now we know: that while the virus can survive on surfaces, it's mostly transmitted through respiratory droplets from breathing, talking, laughing, singing, coughing, and sneezing.

What that means: Most public health experts still emphasize the importance of hand-washing and regular surface cleaning, but they don't recommend wiping down your groceries.

Back in March, we thought: that masks weren't effective in preventing the spread of the virus.

Now we know: that cloth face coverings can protect both the wearer and those around them. One recent University of Washington study estimated that universal mask-wearing could save 130,000 lives by February. Masks may even act as a crude vaccine, exposing wearers to just enough virus to trigger an immune response.

What that means: You can feel pretty safe running to the grocery store, the doctor's office, or other public indoor spaces if you and others are wearing masks. You can minimize your risk of transmitting the virus during a holiday gathering if everyone wears masks and stays outside.

Back in March, we thought: that only people who showed symptoms could transmit the coronavirus.

Now we know: that asymptomatic people can and do spread the virus.

What that means: Health care professionals can now tell patients who have been exposed to someone with the virus to isolate right away, even if they don't feel sick, thereby preventing additional infections. 

Back in March, we thought: that we'd never be able to scale up testing enough to make a difference.

Now we know: that while we still have a long way to go, testing is free, quick, and readily available in many places. Just this week, there was more good news on the testing front: The FDA has authorized the first at-home rapid test for the virus.

What that means: We now have the ability to catch cases early, before the infected person has a chance to spread the virus to many others. The key now is convincing people to be tested and investing in systems to warn people who have been in close contact with those who test positive.  

Back in March, we thought: that air filtration systems might not help limit the spread of the virus.

Now we know: that while they're not enough on their own to protect us, when used correctly and in combination with masks, HEPA filters can help.

What that means: Installing filters can offer an additional layer of protection for essential spaces like hospitals and classrooms.  

Back in March, we thought: that schools would be the main way that the coronavirus spreads.

Now we know: that while school outbreaks do occur, indoor spaces where adults congregate are much more likely to lead to outbreaks. A recent study in the journal Nature found that in urban areas, restaurants, gyms, hotels, cafes, and houses of worship were the source of most superspreader events. Schools, meanwhile, have not seen as many outbreaks as experts initially feared, especially at the elementary level.

What that means: We can prioritize reopening schools with appropriate safety measures--and putting more restrictions on restaurants, bars, gyms, and other adult-centered businesses.  

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Weirdest People in the World review - a theory-of-everything study (Nicholas Guyatt, 20 Nov 2020, The Guardian)

Harvard professor Joseph Henrich is a fan of Diamond but his new book takes a different approach. Henrich was trained as an anthropologist but now describes himself as a "cultural evolutionist". In the same way that Darwin's theory explains how life follows pathways of adaptation via natural selection, cultural evolution proposes that human cultures develop and transmit deep understandings and values across generations. There are many pathways of cultural evolution, Henrich contends, and no single human culture. To better understand the world and Europe's influence on it, we need to recognise that European culture is, in Henrich's key acronym, "weird": western, educated, industrialised, rich, democratic.

Henrich insists that "weird" values are culturally determined and specific rather than universal or natural. Specific doesn't mean bad. As the book's subtitle suggests, he credits the "firmware" of "weird" cultural evolution for many of the modern world's core values: meritocracy, representative government, trust, innovation, even patience and restraint. These were the products not simply of Europe's distinctive and highly unusual milieu, but of a narrow force many of us have forgotten: the prescriptions and hangups of the Christian church.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Saudi alliance with Yemen's Islah on the brink over Muslim Brotherhood tensions (Middle East Allies, 20 November 2020)

The unlikely alliance between Saudi Arabia and Yemen's Islah party has come under strain like never before, as fresh moves by Riyadh targeting the Muslim Brotherhood have left its Yemeni affiliate fearful of its status.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have long opposed the Brotherhood, labelling the Islamist group a terrorist organisation in 2014.

Yet the Saudis have for decades found a partner in Islah, whose status as a client of Riyadh only grew following the 2015 Saudi-led intervention into Yemen's war.

As Saudi Arabia provided weapons to Islah fighters battling the Iran-aligned Houthi movement, and even deployed its troops alongside Islahis, Riyadh refrained from hostile speech and moves against the Brotherhood.

That changed last week, when Saudi Arabia's Council of Senior Scholars issued a statement calling the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation, which sent Islah officials in the kingdom scrambling. [...]

In response to the Saudi statement, Islah leaders like Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tawakkol Karman criticised the kingdom, accusing it and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of suppressing freedoms.

Karman tweeted on 10 November: "To the council of senior hypocrites for bin Salman and his shoe polishers: The Muslim Brotherhood members in Saudi Arabia are struggling for the sake of freedom and bin Salman's regime suppresses freedoms of all sides, either Muslim Brotherhood or others.

"Bin Salman's prisons are full of those who say 'No' and those who are expected to say 'No'," she added. "Saudi Arabia is the mother and father of terrorism."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'The Dumbest Coup' (KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON, November 19, 2020, National Review)

Donald Trump has always been a conspiracy kook -- vaccines, 9/11, Obama's birth certificate, etc. -- and he came into the presidency retailing a conspiracy theory: Let's not forget that he also claimed that the 2016 election was illegitimate, that he'd actually won the popular vote but that electoral fraud had made it appear otherwise. Trump is a conspiracy kook who surrounded himself with other conspiracy kooks and cultivated kooky impulses in his aides, meaning that he is a kook in himself and the cause of kookery in others. The new Dominion-based conspiracy theory is only a variation on a longstanding theme.

And what we are seeing now, in the twilight of Trump's kookery, is the merger of QAnon, the Republican Party, and the large part of the conservative movement that earns its bread by peddling miracle veggie pills to gullible elderly people on the radio. When I first starting writing about QAnon, some conservatives scoffed that it wasn't a significant phenomenon, that it had no real influence on the Republican Party or conservative politics. That is obviously untrue. Rather than ask whether conspiracy kookery is relevant to Republican politics at this moment, it would be better to ask if there is anything else to Republican politics at this moment. And maybe there is, but not much.

For the past 30-40 years the party most closely aligned with Third Way politics has won the vote throughout the Anglosphere.  The next Republican candidate to outpoll the Democratic nominee will be a George W. clone running against someone who is seen as too Second Way. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Shift to electric vehicles in emerging markets will 'end oil era' (Carbon Tracker, 20 November 2020)

China is leading a switch to electric vehicles (EV) in emerging markets which will save governments $250 billion a year in oil imports and cut expected growth in global oil demand by 70%, finds a new report from the financial think tank Carbon Tracker published on Friday.

It's thought to be the first study to reveal that transport in emerging markets accounts for more than 80% of all expected growth in oil demand up to 2030, based on an analysis of the International Energy Agency's business as usual scenario. Half of the growth is forecast to come from China and India.

But the report notes that these countries are already reducing their dependence on oil and actively supporting EVs as prices fall close to those of petrol and diesel vehicles. China leads the world in the deployment of EV and India is following the same path.