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Coronalinks 5/18/20: When All You Have Is A Hammer, Everything Starts Looking Like A Dance

It is the sixty-first day of shelter-in-place. Anti-lockdown protesters have stormed your state capitol, chanting Nazi, Communist, ISIS, and pro-Jeffrey Epstein slogans to help you figure out they’re the bad guys. Inside, the Governor has just finished announcing his 37 step plan to reopen the state over the next ten years. You kind of feel like he should be a little more proactive, but the protesters outside have just unfurled a Khmer Rouge flag, so you hold your tongue.

Meanwhile, a band of renegade economists, tech billionaires, and MIT professors has just announced a bold disruptive Manhattan-Project-style moonshot: send a team of researchers to the swamps of Florida, where legends speak of a Fountain of Youth whose water can cure any malady. But disaster strikes when Florida’s governor announces that exploration is not an essential activity, and threatens to release the quarantine enforcement lions. The nation looks to the White House to solve the growing conflict, but President Trump is too busy evangelizing his latest coronavirus cure: eating those little packets of silica gel in food that say DO NOT EAT. As the Western States Pact and the Eastern Bloc inch closer to war, all that the rest of us can do is strive to stay as well-informed as possible, trying to make sense out of an increasingly nonsensical situation. So:

“Jail Isn’t Real”, I Assure Myself As I Close My Eyes And Drive To The Hair Salon

Here are some CDC graphs that use cell phone data to measure percent of people leaving home over time (source, h/t Kelsey):

On this measure, official government stay-at-home orders didn’t seem to affect the percent of people staying at home, even the tiniest bit.

Facebook is tracking something similar – see their terrible and hard-to-use website here. Here are the data from California:

Can you tell what day a statewide lockdown order was issued? (click here and check the date of the article for answer).

If comparing times doesn’t impress you, we can also compare places. Sweden has attracted international attention for its refusal to shut down business – restaurants and bars there are open as usual. And Nashville has attracted attention as a center of growing anti-lockdown protests by people who think its shelter-in-place order is too strict. But cell phone data finds that citizens of Stockholm and Nashville “have nearly the exact same adjustment in driving, walking, and transit use”.

What’s going on here? On the one hand, lockdowns are poorly enforced and we’ve all seen pictures of people going to the beach unmolested. On the other hand, surely fewer people are going to work, since the offices are all closed? Surely fewer people are going shopping, since the malls are all closed? What about all those pictures of empty freeways during rush hour?

The best answer I can come up with is that most people are risk-averse and started staying at home before the official lockdown. A few risk-tolerant people didn’t, but they are disobeying the lockdown as much as they can anyway. And the cases where risk-tolerant people can’t disobey the lockdown aren’t numerous enough to show up in aggregated cell phone data.

I find this answer pretty unsatisfying, so maybe I’m just misunderstanding what the cell phone tracking data are trying to show, or how much I should expect from them. This might also be a good time to review the ongoing debate about whether reality drives straight lines on graphs, or straight lines on graphs drive reality.

Heterogeneity

Our World In Data deserves some kind of prize. I think they already have won some prizes, but they deserve better ones. Possibly a Nobel, or a knighthood, or beatification. They give you any information you want, from any country you want, and display it however you want. If you’re trying to figure things out about the coronavirus and not using Our World In Data’s tools and graphs, you’re missing out.

Here’s coronavirus cases per capita across countries, by days after the number of cases per capita in that country passed one in a million. There’s some debate over what we gain/lose by adjusting/not-adjusting for per capita, but I think this is probably the best measure of how good a job different countries are doing at containing the infection:

And here’s coronavirus deaths, by the same measure:

And to save you the trouble of having to divide the first graph by the second graph, case fatality rates:

And since all of these numbers are confounded by testing rates, here’s tests per thousand people:

You’ll hear a lot of bad takes about where America ranks relative to other countries. Ignore them and look at these four graphs. America has one of the highest infection rates of any developed country, trailing only Spain. But it has one of the lowest mortality rates of any developed country, beaten only by Germany, Denmark, and a few other of the usual high performers. It’s right in the middle in terms of numbers of tests, beating eg Netherlands and Sweden, but trailing Germany and Denmark (though it may have an “advantage” on testing since so many people are infected).

Why is US mortality rate so low? The rate could be artificially low it we were unusually good at testing, but we aren’t. It might mean our health care system is unusually good, but that doesn’t seem like us either. I haven’t heard anyone claim that our standards for reporting a death as COVID-19 are stricter than anyone else’s, and our uncategorized excess mortality doesn’t seem much different from everyone else’s. I notice that all highest-mortality-rate countries are European, and that less-developed countries tend to be lower. Maybe it’s something about density? Maybe Europe got a different strain of the virus than everyone else? I only see a few people talking about this (Kevin Drum continues his 100% success rate of having gotten to interesting topics before I did, but see aso here and here), but nobody seems to have much in the way of a theory.

[edit: bpodgursky points out that European populations are, on average, much older than the US]

How effective has lockdown been at controlling the spread of the virus? Three countries have made the news for unusually weak/nonexistent lockdowns – Sweden, the Netherlands, and Japan. All have chosen to keep most of their economy open in the name of “herd immunity”, although they’ve banned very large gatherings like concerts and sports games. If we accept Denmark, Germany, and South Korea as “matched controls” that have made more aggressive efforts to contain the disease, it’s hard to see much of a difference. Sweden’s doing worse than Denmark, but not as much worse as we might have expected. Netherlands is marginally worse than Germany, and Japan marginally worse than South Korea – but it all seems within chance variation. If we’d chosen to use Belgium as a control for the Netherlands (I didn’t because it’s recording mortality statistics in an odd way), Belgium would have looked worse. Countries like Spain and the UK which responded pretty aggressively have more cases than a lot of countries that are barely doing anything at all.

This seems to match the conclusion from the last section: government policy isn’t mattering as much as we think. We thought South Korea and Taiwan were doing well because their governments were so brilliant and competent, but Japan’s government kept denying the problem existed in order to preserve their shot at holding the Olympics, and they seem to be doing equally well.

Switzerland is another weird case. It’s a loose confederation of linguistically French, Germany, and Italian regions. Remember that France and Italy have been devastated by the virus, and Germany has mostly gotten off unscathed. The same is true of Swiss regions; French- and Italian-speaking cantons have been devastated, while their German-speaking neighbors wonder what all the fuss is about. The Swiss government swears that this has nothing to do with policy. From the linked article:

Talking to Swiss media outlet Le Temps on Thursday, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) said the efforts to combat the virus were largely uniform across Switzerland – meaning other situational factors were at play.

The measures were decided at a federal level when the epidemic was already advanced in different ways in different regions,” a FOPH spokesperson said. “This has nothing to do with a difference in the extent to which different cantons have taken action.

This isn’t to say government policy doesn’t matter – just that it adds or subtracts a relatively small modifier on top of a much wider variation.

What’s going on? Various hypotheses – BCG vaccinations, smoking rates, genetics, different viral strains – have come and gone, mostly unconvincingly. Another hypothesis – time – does a little better. Countries with different levels of connection to Wuhan and different luck in terms of superspreader events had their epidemics start a month or two earlier or later. Later countries had the benefit of warmer weather and a more aware population who were already taking social distancing measures on their own regardless of what the government told them (national education level might play into this too). Then lockdown strength added a little more or less on top of this.

This explains a little. But it doesn’t explain NYC vs. the rest of the US, or Japan vs. the rest of the world. Something’s still missing here.

Voice-Activated

It’s becoming increasingly clear that a big (maybe the biggest) risk factor for coronavirus transmission is speaking. Singing is even worse. The louder you speak or sing, the worse it gets.

Some confirmed early superspreader events were choirs. A lot of others were churches, where everyone gets together and sings hymns full-blast. This person’s explanation for the surprisingly low rate of subway-mediated transmission in Japan is that nobody talks on a Japanese subway.

All this makes sense. Coronavirus has mostly droplet transmission. There are three ways to get droplets: coughing, sneezing, or talking/singing. You do one of those about a thousand times more often than either of the others.

I appreciate how much pressure there is on governors to open up churches, but they should be very careful about this, unless churchgoers can promise to stay uncharacteristically silent. I realize how bad it will look to say that golfing and rock concerts and orgies are allowed but churches aren’t. Still, governors should swallow their pride and stand firm.

(Or they could just troll people. I understand Muslims pray quietly facing the ground, so how about ordering that mosques are allowed to reopen but churches aren’t? Then sit back and watch the fireworks.)

An extremely crackpot theory – could the missing cultural vulnerability factor be how loud and spittle-filled people’s speech is? When I think of a country where people talk very loudly to each other without much personal space, Italy is on the top of my list. Then comes New York City, which muscles its way in even though it isn’t even a country. When I think of countries where everyone talks really quietly and far away from each other, I think of Japan, South Korea, and all those other Asian countries that have mysteriously escaped infection.

Are there counterexamples? I Googled “loudest cultures”, and got people talking about Australians, Africans, and Cantonese Chinese. All those places have done pretty well – though they’re all pretty warm right now, which is a confounding factor. Without being able to find some kind of official data about conversational volume, I’m not sure there’s much I can do with this hypothesis right now.

[EDIT: Commenters point to Georgians and Germans as people who speak loudly yet have avoided coronavirus epidemics]

Love In The Time Of Coronavirus

One of my housemates lives two blocks away from her boyfriend, and hasn’t hugged him in three months. A friend lives a town over from his parents, and hasn’t been able to visit them since March.

Meanwhile, government offices and the media are all talking about how to get hair salons to reopen as quickly as possible, and making detailed lists about what kind of golf courses are or aren’t okay. The governor of California has a four phase plan that discusses exactly what criteria need to be fulfilled before we can have fitness centers, swimming pools, and rock concerts – but not a word about when you can hug your loved ones.

Probably the government just assumes everyone is already breaking those rules and there’s no point in worrying about them. I think this assumption generally holds. My patients are mostly law-abiding upper-class liberals who think of the lockdown protesters in Michigan as basically death cultists – and almost all of them casually let slip that they’ve gone over to their parents’ for dinner, or visited their partner, or even had small gatherings with close friends. The cell phone tracking data is equally pessimistic about the lockdowns reaching too far into the private sphere.

But some people are genuinely law-abiding. Fewer all the time, now that they’ve spent months shut off from everyone they love, while watching everyone else go to the beach with their buddies and face zero repercussions. But the government should acknowledge that these people exist and try to support them. Give the slightest acknowledgment that in between declaring marijuana dispensaries an essential activity and saying that even though nobody else is allowed to work Elon Musk can reopen his Tesla factory because he’s famous, someone is also making a plan for when you can see a friend again. Even something like “once we reach Phase 2 of the reopening, you may visit one person outside your household per week” would ease a lot of people’s misery. Even if this isn’t the best idea from a epidemiological standpoint, they should do it anyway, because otherwise people will visit people outside their household and lose all respect for the law in general.

Information Wet Markets

At last, coronavirus prediction markets have arrived. Check out CoronaInformationMarkets.com and start investing, unless you live in the United States which is an authoritarian Nazi communist Luddite hellhole and bans you from contributing. Some highlights:

“What percent of the global population will be estimated to have contracted COVID-19 by the end of 2020?” – LESS THAN ONE PERCENT is at 11%, BETWEEN ONE AND THREE PERCENT at 18%, BETWEEN THREE AND FIVE at 39%, and GREATER THAN FIVE at 32%.

“Will hydroxychloroquine be approved as a treatment for COVID-19 by the FDA by October 1 2020?” – YES has 32%, NO has 68%.

And “Will a vaccine be approved before the end of 2020” – almost exactly split, 48% YES, 52% NO.

If you’re too chicken to bet real money, or you live in a fascist antiintellectual statist kakistocracy like the US, you can go to Metaculus, which continues their great work soliciting and aggregating predictions made with fake Internet points.

“When will a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate that has demonstrated an efficacy rate ≥75% in a n≥500 RCT be administered to 10M people?” – median guess, October 10, 2021

“When will the Dow Jones set a new all-time record high after the coronavirus crash of February 2020?” – median guess, December 24, 2021.

“When will Disneyland reopen?” – median guess, August 29, 2020

“Will it be reported that Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19 in 2020?” – median guess, 25%

There’s also a section on the total number of worldwide coronavirus cases in each quarter of 2020. Q1 (January 1 to April 1) saw about a million worldwide. Today we’re at 4.6 million. Metaculus thinks that by July 1, we’ll be at 7.5 million. By October 1, 9.8 million. By year’s end, 10.9 million. Except that I got those by adding results from different quarters together, and an alternative question that just asks that directly gets 16.2 million. Come on, people! Do some arbitrage! It’s almost like you’re not sufficiently devoted to winning fake Internet points!

Wash Your Hands!

Weird Sun Twitter does handwashing timing mnemonics:

When All You Have Is A Hammer, Everything Starts Looking Like A Dance

Everyone is hoping for a definitive solution to coronavirus. A vaccine, or a good antiviral, or a test + trace regimen so well-coordinated that it stops the virus in its tracks.

Suppose that after X years, we realize there is no definitive solution. We are faced with the choice of continuing restrictions forever, or lifting the restrictions, letting lots of people die, and getting herd immunity the hard way. What then?

If we lift the restrictions, the same number of people will die as if we had never instituted any restrictions at all, and also we will have wasted X years. We will have gone X years with millions of people poor and unemployed, millions of others locked in their houses and unable to have fun – and it won’t have saved a single life.

If there’s a 50% chance of a definitive solution in one year, is it worth staying locked down until then? What about a 25% chance in five years? 10% chance in ten years? If there is never a definitive solution, are we willing to stay locked down forever?

Also: if a lockdown lasts a long time, what’s the average R0 during that phase? One possibility is that it’s less than 1, in which case the virus will “die out” locally (although it probably won’t go extinct smallpox-style – too much opportunity for other countries to reinfect us). Another possibility is that it’s more than 1, in which case lockdown isn’t working and we get continued exponential growth ending in lots of deaths and eventual herd immunity.

Is there a possibility where R0 is exactly 1? Seems unlikely – one is a pretty specific number. On the other hand, it’s been weirdly close to one in the US, and worldwide, for the past month or two. You could imagine an unfortunate control system, where every time the case count goes down, people stop worrying and go out and have fun, and every time the case count goes up, people freak out and stay indoors, and overall the new case count always hovers at the same rate. I’ve never heard of this happening, but this is a novel situation.

If that were true, right now we’re on track to gain herd immunity in 30 years. This would be another worst-of-all-worlds scenario where we have all the negatives of a long lockdown, but everyone gets infected anyway.

Sing, O Muse, Of Arbit-Rage

There’s a morbid joke about the news, which goes something like:

10,000 Africans in a famine =
1,000 Chinese in an earthquake =
100 Europeans in a plane crash =
10 Americans in a terrorist attack =
1 pretty white girl getting kidnapped

(if you want to go a different direction, you can add “= 0.1 black people murdered by cops”)

Coronavirus has killed about 100,000 Americans so far. How bad is that compared to other things?

Well, on the one hand, it’s about 15% as many Americans as die from heart attacks each year. If 15% more people died from heart attacks in the US next year, that would suck, but most people wouldn’t care that much. If some scientist has a plan to make heart attacks 15% less deadly, then sure, fund the scientist, but you probably wouldn’t want to shut down the entire US economy to fund them. It would just be a marginally good thing.

On the other hand, it’s also about the same number of Americans who died in the Vietnam War plus the Korean War plus 9/11 plus every school shooting ever. How much effort would you exert to prevent the Vietnam War plus the Korean War plus 9/11 plus every school shooting ever? Probably quite a lot!

Maybe part of this is that heart attack victims are generally (though not always!) older than 9/11 victims, so the cost in DALYs is lower. But the bigger problem is that there’s no arbitrage in the market for lives. Some normal good, like Toyota Camrys, sells for about the same price everywhere. There might be minor variations based on how far you go from a Toyota factory or something, but overall you wouldn’t expect the same Camry to sell for ten times as much in one city as another. Someone would arbitrage – buy the Toyotas in the cheap city and sell them in the expensive one! But the same reasoning fails when it applies to lives. Life has no single value denominated in dollars, attention, or outrage. So when we search for metaphors to tell us how bad 100,000 deaths from coronavirus are, our conclusion depends entirely on what metaphor we use. “It’s like 15% of heart attacks” sounds not-so-bad, and “it starts with the Vietnam War and gets worse from there” sounds awful, even though they’re the same number. There’s no way to fix this without somehow making all our intuitions collide against each other and equalize, which sounds really hard.

Suppose you reopened the economy tomorrow. You tried as hard as you could to put profits above people, squeezed every extra dollar out of the world regardless of human cost. And then you put a 1% tax on all that economic activity, and donated it to effective charity. Would that save more people than a strict lockdown? If a lockdown costs $5 trillion, then the 1% tax would make $50 billion. That’s about how much the Gates Foundation has spent, and they’ve saved about ten million lives. Ten million is higher than anyone expects US coronavirus deaths to be, so as far as I can tell this is a good deal.

On the other hand, the US spent about $5 trillion on the Iraq and Afghan wars. Even optimistically assuming this helped prevent some terrorism, it’s a no-brainer to say we should have accepted the cost in terrorist attacks and spent it on stricter COVID lockdowns instead.

Is spending resources on the coronavirus lockdown a good idea? A good idea compared to what? Compared to using resources efficiently, goodness no, not at all. Compared to putting the resources in a giant pile and setting them on fire, yes, definitely. Compared to usual practice? Usual practice basically involves alternating betwen the two previous options inconsistently; the answer depends on how long we spend in each category. At this point, we are too incompetent for questions about our preferences to even make sense.

Shortlinks

The Marginal Revolution folks and the Mercatus Center are doing really amazing work to try to use economics to coordinate the pandemic response. Here’s a report by Caleb Watney and Alec Stapp about how the government should use purchase guarantees to boost production of essential medical equipment.

Patrick McKenzie of Kalzumeus, a Westerner in Japan, talks about his work trying to get them to realize the severity of the virus and take some response. Written on April 21, when Japan’s situation was at its worst and it seemed like he had presciently ferreted out an undercover epidemic. Since then, Japan has gone back to mysteriously defying gravity, so I’m not sure how to think about this now.

Mark Andreessen made waves with an article arguing that the coronavirus shows America needs to learn how to build things again. I also appreciated Ezra Klein’s response, which was that America already knows how to build things but is blocked by government dysfunction (I doubt Andreesen disagrees with this framing). Klein highlights the term “vetocracy” for all the features of modern society which give us a bias toward inaction. Clearly true and important, although a fuller treatment (which I hope to give!) would have to talk about the advantages vs. disadvantages of bias for action vs. inaction (the very end of this post can perhaps be interpreted as a paean to vetocracy). See also Mark Lutter: Build Institutions, Not Apps.

Related to the bat discussion from last post – a new paper finds that viral zoonotic risk is homogenous among taxonomic orders of mammalian and avian hosts – in other words, despite how it looks, bats don’t spread disproportionately more viruses to humans than any other animal – there are just a lot of bats. But see also this contradictory past study.

Earlier I asked whether some savvy early coronavirus investors had dealt a blow to the efficient market hypothesis. Now that the dust has cleared, I agree with this post saying the EMH still looks pretty good – although sometimes it moves in mysterious ways. Also in me-being-wrong news, evidence continues to come in about whether smoking is a risk factor for coronavirus, protective against it, or all the studies are biased and we have no idea. Something in this space will probably end up on my Mistakes page one day, but I’m going to wait until I can be absolutely sure I know what.

Everyone expected prisons and homeless shelters to be devastated by coronavirus, since they had lots of people together in close quarters and little ability to escape. Although these institutions have not had great times, they seem to have weathered the storm better than a lot of people would have predicted, mostly due to a high rate of asymptomatic infections. Why?

There was a lot of talk a few weeks about about Eastern European success at avoiding the coronavirus. Then Russia and Belarus’ case numbers exploded; both are now doing as bad as any Western European country. Poland, Romania, Czechia, and others continue to be oddly quiet. I suspect random variation – Russia and Belarus looked good until they weren’t – but I guess we’ll find out soon.

This article is kind of critical of Dominic Cummings, but the criticism is that he inappropriately pressured scientific bodies to order a UK lockdown ASAP, instead of letting the scientists take however long it took to evaluate the evidence in a proper scientific way. I like due process and checks-and-balances as much as the next liberal, but I also think you should be allowed to break the rules in an emergency and then let the people affected by your choice decide whether they want to show you mercy based on time proving you right, or punish you to the full extent of the law based on time proving you wrong. In this case he was right and deserves to be celebrated.

Some studies of remdesevir, not very encouraging. Hydroxychloroquine is basically dead in the water at this point, sorry Donald.

Some people are worried that coronavirus might be overblown and doctors are just classifying random other stuff as coronavirus deaths. The best antidote to this claim is this look at excess mortality over the average for this time of year worldwide.

You’ve probably already read this, but the story about how Trump’s premature praise for hydroxychloroquine caused some supporters to overdose on hydroxychloroquine-containing fishtank cleaner got a lot more complicated – they were actually both anti-Trump Democrats, and the woman is now under investigation for murdering her husband and inventing the hydroxychloroquine story to cover it up. This seems like one of those things which is probably a metaphor for life.

There’s been some worry about coronavirus reinfection – maybe people who have already gotten it aren’t immune and can get it again? A recent Korean study tried to put those fears to rest, showing that they were mostly testing errors. Professor Shane Crotty says he has studied the immunology of coronavirus and come to the same conclusion a- after infection, the immune system is able to create antibodies to it which prevent further infection for a while. Two data points don’t prove anything, but this is how things work with most viruses, so the burden of proof is on anyone who thinks COVID-19 is different.

Are coronavirus victims so old and sick they would just die from something else soon anyway? Two studies were recently reported as saying they would have lived at least ten more years, but read Scoop dissecting them in the comments section here.

A few weeks ago people were talking about the “iceberg hypothesis” – maybe detected coronavirus cases are “just the tip of the iceberg”, and there have been so many asymptomatic people that we’re nearing herd immunity already. Recent studies haven’t been kind to this proposal. Both France and Spain have about 5% seroprevalence, which means official counts are only off by a factor of ten, about what we already expected. It also means true mortality rate is still about 1%, also what we already expected (and high enough to result in tens of thousands of deaths before anyone gets herd immunity). No icebergs here. A Santa Clara study seemed to show 2% seroprevalence, which actually was much higher than expected and would be consistent with the iceberg theory, but Andrew Gelman is very much not impressed. Greg Cochran gives the hypothesis a postmortem here, and also is not impressed with claims that we might be able to naturally and easily achieve herd immunity before about ~70% of people are infected.

Elon Musk has reopened Tesla’s Bay Area factory. Although the rest of California is gradually reopening, the Bay Area is playing it extra careful and has asked everyone to stay home until at least June 1. Except, apparently, Elon Musk, who declared the factory was reopening regardless of what anyone said, and that “if anyone is arrested I ask only that it be me”. For some reason, the county did not arrest him, and now it seems to have retroactively legitimized Musk’s action. I like Elon Musk and I support the right to civil disobedience, but the government should absolutely have arrested him. They wouldn’t necessarily have to give him twenty years to life or anything, just arrest him enough to make it clear that there are laws and you get punished if you break them. [EDIT: see here for discussion of why he wasn’t arrested]

Nate Silver crunches the evidence and finds that (contra what I wrote last time) there is no evidence that voting by mail gives one party an advantage. So how come Democrats are so excited about it and Republicans so anxious to prevent it? Do they know something Silver doesn’t know? Or are they really and truly just concerned about their principles, with no ulterior motive?

The latest from EA on best ways to donate to the fight against coronavirus. Summary of the summary: Fast Grants and Development Media International. Fast Grants has a minimum donation of $10,000 (they are smart people and I assume there is a reason for this); some people were previously trying to pool their donations to reach this amount but I don’t know where the latest active pools are.

Coronavirus has killed 90,000 Americans so far. Donald Trump tried to put this in context by saying the seasonal flu sometimes kills 60,000 people a year. There are a lot of problems with this comparison, but one I didn’t realize is that coronavirus death toll only counts confirmed cases, whereas flu death toll counts estimated cases, ie a guess as to how many cases we would find if we had perfect detection. The number of confirmed flu deaths – a fair comparison to the 90,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths – is about 10,000 yearly (and remember the coronavirus hasn’t been around a whole year, or even a whole flu season). The article also is not convinced that the 60,000 flu death statistic is a fair attempt at estimating reality as opposed to a made up number that signals how much the CDC wants us to worry about the flu, and the author suggests the CDC officially lower the flu death toll in order to signal that we want people to worry less about it compared to coronavirus (how many simulacrum levels are you on? You are like a little baby, watch this…)

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920 Responses to Coronalinks 5/18/20: When All You Have Is A Hammer, Everything Starts Looking Like A Dance

  1. Evan Þ says:

    Churches must be allowed to open if other places of public gathering are opened. If loud group singing is a problem, then ban loud group singing. Let congregations gather in peace to worship in silence together or to talk softly. Some already do this; others can adjust with less stress to religious practice than the complete banning of gathering.

    Meanwhile, if loud talking is the problem, then we should definitely keep bars closed as well.

    Anything else represents unjust bigotry against religion. In addition, less-focused bans will (quite rightly) be increasingly ignored by congregations who correctly see such bigotry. As a Christian, when the governor of Illinois talks about keeping churches closed into 2021 even as other things reopen, I start mulling over everything I’ve heard about standing firm under persecution.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Fair – I’ve added in the phrase “unless worshippers can stay uncharacteristically silent”.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I am very late but a number of churches are responding to this.

        1) Those with large choirs are suspending or spreading them.

        2) Those with small choirs are asking the congregation not to sing; let the choir do it. The choir is helping by not telling parishioners what book/page they are singing from and doing obscure things so the congregation can’t just sing along.

        I have a scattering of google links and personal anecdotes.

    • ltowel says:

      I expect that churches will open earlier then the scientists would advise otherwise – primarily because of political reasons. I’d be concerned about them opening up – while I think it’s crucially important to make sure people have access to their communities my impression is that churchgoers are older than bar goers and more likely to view their attendance as an obligation.

      • SwampBuddha says:

        You portray tremendous bias and ignorance by claiming that churches open for “political reasons.” I am a scientist and faith-based person; you’re clueless on this point.

        • ltowel says:

          I’m claiming the politicians will allow them open earlier then scientists prefer for political reasons, not out of an abundance of moral courage on their part. You are certainly welcome to attribute this poorly worded cynicism on my part to whatever moral failing you’d prefer.

    • eric23 says:

      Does anything require religious services to be held inside? They would probably be a lot safer if held in the parking lot.

      • Brett says:

        Most of the US is too hot in the summer to comfortably hold church outside, unless you did it either in the early morning or late evening. But it’s a good idea if you do one of those two situations.

        Have it outside early Sunday morning, spread people out at least six feet from each other (families can congregate together).

          • albatross11 says:

            Our parish does Pentacost mass outside every year that the weather goes along. (It can be hot and humid and we’ll still do it, but not if it’s pouring rain.) I suspect we could do something like that.

            Given what we’re learning, I expect we could come up with sensible ways to have church services. Broadly, that would be (approximately) outdoors in the sun, everyone spaced 6 feet apart, everyone wearing masks, with no singing. Or drive-up services in the church parking lot, everyone using their cellphones to stream the mass or the mass being broadcast over some local radio station, and then communion is brought to the parishioners in their cars (no riskier than a drive-through restaurant). Or we keep doing remote services but then also schedule time for small groups to get together outside at 6 feet distance and do small masses and take communion, or pray and take communion from already-consecrated host.

            Since C19 is going to be around for awhile, we’d better work out how to make as many parts of our society as possible keep working. That includes churches.

          • 205guy says:

            They might consider this extreme in the US, but in France, mountaintop masses are not uncommon.

            July 2016, “over a hundred worshipers” hike 2 miles each way, climbing 800 feet, for a mountaintop mass:

            https://marthe-marie.paroisse.net/rubriques/haut/album_photo/messe-en-plein-air-au-pied-de-la-croix-du-nivolet/albumphoto_view

            Though to be honest, France is mostly non-practicing and it is viewed as a quaint tradition there as well. On any given Sunday morning, thousands of hikers are out climbing mountains but not to go to mass.

      • The Massachusetts guidelines are certainly encouraging outdoor services if possible.

      • caryatis says:

        The recent litigation concerned a drive-in church service that the government tried to ban, for some reason.

    • Deiseach says:

      I don’t know what American Catholic churches are like, but I absolutely cannot resist joking that if you’re worried about loud and hearty hymn-singing, then Irish churches should do just fine if re-opened 🙂

      Singing is generally confined to choirs, if your local church has one, and Mass attendance has dropped enough that there is plenty of space in the pews.

      • aristides says:

        I’m American Eastern Orthodox, and I had the same thought. My church put the service on YouTube live, and we had twice as many viewers as would normally attend any service that was not Christmas or Pascha, but even if they all attended there would have still had plenty empty pews. If it wasn’t for communion, I’d say the risk of infection is lower at an Orthodox or Catholic Church than a Supermarket.

      • justin1745 says:

        In my experience there are still plenty of American parishes which are well attended and have quite a few people singing.

        I think the Extraordinary Form (traditional latin for non Catholics) Low Mass is well suited to this particular time, but even a High Mass in the Extraordinary Form is likely to be far safer than the Ordinary.

        • edmundgennings says:

          I strongly prefer High (or better yet Solemn High), but this is really the time for the return of the Low Mass.
          This is also the perfect time to reintroduce Ad Orientem.

          • justin1745 says:

            Ad Orientem, no sign of peace, and perhaps a more medieval understanding of one’s worthiness to receive communion.

      • Gerry Quinn says:

        I was about to say the same – at Mass in typical Irish Catholic churches, people mostly just mumble the responses.

    • dark orchid says:

      Quaker church meetings are traditionally held in silence. This was a problem years ago when BBC radio did a programme where they wanted to broadcast parts of a service from a different faith or denomination each week.

      Nudging everyone to be a little bit more Quaker also wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

    • iprayiam says:

      Catholic mass, could without a doubt be done in nearly complete silence, I can’t speak for other denominations, but the group singing and talking in Catholicism, especially the Novus Ordo, is kind of a “me too” thing to be like other more participatory denominations.

      From a theological perspective, there would be nothing wrong or particularly diminished with the parishoners watching and listening quietly. In fact, this could serve to highlight aspects of the theology of the service that is currently lost or overlooked by the average attendee.

      My own church reopened with speakers playing the mass outdoors while it actually was celebrated inside by just a couple of folks. Everyone outside stayed in family unit, spread out. As a parent of young children, I had no problem with this. It was actually easier than indoor church.

      Now for Evangelical, low church type services, it is my understanding that the group singing together is makes up a large part of the purpose, and I don’t see how megachurches survive silent services.

    • caryatis says:

      I’m an atheist, but I feel pretty strongly that there should be no ban on religious services. Require social distancing/masks/something else, sure, but it’s simply not Constitutional to ban church services, and it’s a terrible idea for any politician who wants religious voter support.

      • 205guy says:

        Exactly. They should regulate behaviors to minimize risk, but not try to stop services. Distancing, masks if possible, no singing, and precautions for communion. And if that really interferes with how services are performed (I’m thinking about the exuberant singing in black churches, but I’m sure there are others), have a dialog with the church leaders to see if they can’t come to some temporary compromise (ie recorded music). I’m wondering if the no-singing consensus will become more mainstream: it seems totally like a low cost measure with significant potential to reduce risk, but I haven’t heard anyone else talk about it.

    • No One In Particular says:

      1. Christians have well-established history of calling “persecution” when there is no such thing.

      2. Given that the vast majority of politicians are Christian, the idea that they are motivated by anti-Christian bigotry is quite suspect.

      3. The vast majority of Christians don’t object to “in God we trust”, “one nation under God”, etc. If you can give examples of you doing so, that would go towards arguing against charges of hypocrisy, which otherwise it would be statistically justified to suspect you of.

      • Given that the vast majority of politicians are Christian

        I expect that most politicians say they are Christians. I wonder if it’s still true if you limit “Christian” to people who are serious believers, willing to substantially alter their behavior if necessary to fit the commands of the religion.

        • No One In Particular says:

          If you do so, then Christians would make up a tiny, if nonexistent, percentage of the public. Not only would this be a meaning of “Christian” that is wildly divergent from how it’s used, but that would make the vast majority of the people supposedly being persecuted be non-Christians. Which leaves at about the same place as we began: the people supposedly being persecuted (people who claim to be Christians) and the people supposedly persecuting them are both members of the same group.

          • It’s relevant because someone who is nominally Christian but doesn’t actually believe in the religion, attended church for Easter and weddings and when it is politically useful to be seen there, might not be bothered by things that made matters harder for churches.

            Do you think Obama would be personally, as opposed to politically, bothered by rules that kept churches closed for a while?

          • No One In Particular says:

            @DavidFriedman

            This sounds an awful lot like your are positing a conspiracy among Fake Christians to persecute the Real True Christians ™.

            “Do you think Obama would be personally, as opposed to politically, bothered by rules that kept churches closed for a while?”

            I have a high certainty that he would express concern. Whether that concern would be genuine I can’t say, but I don’t so that that’s all that important. If a politician finds it politically expedient to go to church, they probably find it politically expedient to express outrage at churches being closed.

          • This sounds an awful lot like your are positing a conspiracy among Fake Christians to persecute the Real True Christians ™.

            I am not positing a conspiracy to prosecute, merely that the Fake Christians will be much less opposed to policies that happen to hurt churches than the Real Christians.

      • Skeptical Wolf says:

        Less of this, please.

        Even if the other points were valid, your third point suggests that members of a group that comprises about 75% of the US population should be assumed to be speaking in bad faith unless they have published opposition to a specific set of policies under their name. This is taking “isolated demand for rigor” to the point of absurdity.

        • No One In Particular says:

          Even if the other points were valid, your third point suggests that members of a group that comprises about 75% of the US population should be assumed to be speaking in bad faith unless they have published opposition to a specific set of policies under their name.

          If you take my post as merely suggesting it, then let me explicitly say it: I believe that given a Christian complaining about oppression, the probability that they are a hypocrite is greater than 50%. If they have evidence against that proposition, they are welcome to present it.

          You don’t give any explanation of how this is an “isolated demand for rigor”. The phrase seems to be to a great degree a fancy way of saying “hypocrisy”, which is exactly what Christians are guilty of. We have a poster commenting to express concern about a purely hypothetical possibility of oppression of Christians while actual oppression by Christians is going on. When you’re a member of a privileged group the engages in not only de facto, but official, government-sponsored de jure discrimination, and repeatedly cries “oppression” when they’re asked to act with common decency (for instance, colleges that tell Christian groups that they can get student activities funds or discriminate against non-Christians, they’re accused of being anti-Christian), it’s reasonable for people to be skeptical of your putative concern about possible oppression.

  2. bpodgursky says:

    > Why is US mortality rate so low

    The US is markedly younger than Europe — northern Italy is basically one big nursing home. Wouldn’t this along explain a lower death toll among infected individuals, and in the population as a whole?

    > I notice that all highest-mortality-rate countries are European, and that less-developed countries tend to be lower.

    Also compatible with this note — Europe overall is old, and less-developed countries are young. It seems like the fairer comparison would be “population mortality rate among people aged 70+”. Given that (almost, statistically) nobody under 70 dies of COVID-19, we should just be measuring the % of 70+ year olds that die. My guess would be that this rate will be much more similar across nations than all-age deaths.

    I did some math. Using Italy’s age pyramid here, and the US’s age pyramid here, I get 11.7% of Italy being over 75, vs 6% of the US (only caveat, it’s 2010 data, so the US will be slightly older by now).

    This is a 2x difference, which isn’t too far from the 3x mortality rate. Given that the median age of deaths in Italy is 80, this might even undersell the discrepancy, if the deaths are even more tail (old) weighted.

    • eric23 says:

      Good analysis. Also, Italy’s hospitals were overwhelmed, which raises the death rate further. The US’s hospitals weren’t (in NYC I hear they reached the limits of their capacity, but no further). Between these factors I think the gap is entirely explained.

    • Brett says:

      I’m not sure that works as an explanation within Italy, though. There were pretty major differences in outbreaks between regions of Italy – Lombardy hit the hardest, Veneto much less hit, southern Italy in general much less hit than northern Italy. But the average age in Lombardy and Veneto is essentially the same, and the average age in the youngest Italian region (43 in Campania) is only 6 years younger than Liguria (49.1).

      • A1987dM says:

        In Lombardy only people with symptoms are tested, where in Veneto they at least try to test close contacts of people who test positive, so in the latter the denominator will be a larger fraction of the actual total prevalence than in the former.

    • DarkTigger says:

      Not consitent with the fact, that Germany is about as old as Italy (a little older even).

      • bpodgursky says:

        Yeah, Germany is an outlier. That said, my understanding is that a lot of the initial cases were healthy, young vacationers returning from Italy. If they really got R < 1.0 quickly, it could be affecting disproportionately young circles even within an old country?

    • statsman says:

      If you compare USA to the EU is it at about 2/3 the death rate. Lower but not order-of-magnitude lower (like Taiwan).

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Not much mention of sub-Saharan Africa, either. They have done very well.

      In my opinion, in no particular order, the big factors likely are:

      1. Age. Median age is 20 in lots of countries.
      2. Weather combined with lots of things being outdoors anyways.
      3. Willingness to monitor inbound travelers for disease, something they learned about with recent epidemics
      4. Not as tight connections to the world/tourist economy, so not as many people coming in.

  3. fredtwilight says:

    Don’t normaly post and don’t have time for very much discussion, but I’d like to present New Zealand (my countries) data for Covid, in addition to these graphs. TLDR. We had a lockdown, contact tracing and it looks like we very well may have succeeded entirely at eradicating it here. (obviously however there are a lot of advantages to be an island nation with relatively low population density.

    I think it doesn’t get brought into discussions or conclusions enough. So I’ll just leave the graphs and information from our governments website here.

    https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/diseases-and-conditions/covid-19-novel-coronavirus/covid-19-current-situation/covid-19-current-cases

    • chumpai says:

      Yes NZ is rarely discussed.

      See various Australian states/territories: Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory seem to have little/no community transmission for several weeks. Also very few to no cases in Queensland and the ACT.

    • Brett says:

      New Zealand’s response deserves a ton of praise even with the “island nation” caveat.

      Pretty good about the quarantine and testing on foreign travelers, too. IIRC New Zealand is basically requiring all in-bound travelers to do mandatory testing and a two-week quarantine.

      • episcience says:

        Not just “basically require” — the Government pays for a hotel room that you are quarantined in for the two-week period, with hotel-provided meals. My sister went back in April and was complaining about the food. I don’t think she was tested though, since she didn’t show any symptoms.

      • Lambert says:

        The Kiwis have always been big on biosecurity, ever since they got fed up with introduced species wiping out the native wildlife.

        They really don’t want varroa or rabies getting in to the country, for example.

    • kupe says:

      We (NZ) been lucky to a) have an early and clear response and b) have a large community buy in. We started to see cases a little later than others so the reaction to Covid had moved from dismissive to growing fear. This gave our government license to make hard choices.

      Coming out of lockdown is going to be a bigger challenge; there are less foreign models to draw inspiration from, less time for our own research and it’s all happening in an election year. I’d be truly impressed if the government came up with something world leading and innovative.

      • Scoop says:

        If you’ve truly eradicated the disease, as Fred indicates, can’t you just resume normal life (with quarantines for people entering the country)?

        Maybe you’d wait an extra month to allow huge group events, just to make sure, but surely you could otherwise be pretty bold.

  4. phoenixy says:

    “Leaving home” on those graphs just means moving more than 500 feet from your “common nighttime location”. Even going for a walk would trigger it, which is surely happening in many cases. I also wonder how the “common nighttime location” was determined — anecdotally, quite a few people I know went to vacation homes or moved in with their parents as a result of SIP. If this is considered travel from common nighttime location, then they’d be seen as traveling even if they stayed inside. Others might have had their place of stay disrupted — homeless people, for example, have been relocated a few times during SIP as shelters have closed and new locations have been repurposed as shelters.

    • Ketil says:

      “Leaving home” on those graphs just means moving more than 500 feet from your “common nighttime location”.

      Yes. Even if people still occasionally go outside (to walk the dog or what have you), there could be huge decrease in activity hiding under those graphs.

      • Zubon says:

        “Leaving home” as a binary is not a useful measure. It needs some degree of activity, not “left home/did not.” My rate of not leaving home at all has not changed. My frequency of leaving, for how long, how far, etc. have all gone down. But I still go for walks even if I am telecommuting.

        At least, I think those measures have all gone down. We effectively have a three-building quarantine due to family medical care. The net effect on our exposure to others is similar to if we lived in a group house, but it certainly counts as “leaving home” movement because none of the buildings are within 500 feet of each other.

    • kenziegirl says:

      Agreed, it’s a really poor measurement. Besides walks I have done a fair amount of driving, just to get out of the house when the weather is bad, or to drive to a distant park that’s still open so I can walk in a new setting. These locations have been up to 30 miles away.

      • albatross11 says:

        Yeah, my wife and I went on a long drive yesterday, probably about 40-50 miles total. This probably looks on some chart like we’re disregarding C19 and spreading the virus with wild abandon, but we were never in a position to transmit the virus to anyone but ourselves.

      • Jeff R says:

        Yep, same here. You can only take so many walks around your neighborhood before it starts to seem silly, so I’ve been visiting state parks, just for a change of scenery.

    • iprayiam says:

      Wow, yikes. We spent several weeks pretty strictly locked down, but we still went on family walks every evening where we certainly went further than 500 feet from home.

      In that case, the data is absolute garbage, and I encourage Scott to update or retract, any commentary or insight drawn from it, since it is basically bunk. The data tells us absolutely nothing one way or the other about whether the lock downs affected people going out and its kind of disingenuous to suggest even a little bit that it does.

      • Act_II says:

        Strongly agree. Leaving home for essential reasons is allowed everywhere and many places also allow leaving home for non-essential reasons as long as social distancing measures are employed. That the simple question of “Did you leave your home today?” is answered the same way for most people is entirely expected because lockdown isn’t house arrest.

    • Statismagician says:

      Came here to say this. Anonymous mobile data are pretty useless for most things, but these are egregiously bad studies with egregiously bad reporting.

    • add_lhr says:

      I have been following the Citymapper Mobility Index for a few weeks, which seems to be a bit more nuanced than the binary data shown above – it measures “trips planned” using the app as a % of baseline. I have Citymapper on my phone and I used to use it for pretty much every trip I made to check bus / train status, not just to actually figure out how to get to new destinations, so if others are similar, then it should be a reasonable proxy for actual declines in activity.

    • keaswaran says:

      It seems like there should be an easy fix – instead of counting what fraction of people went more than 500 feet from their “usual nighttime location”, measure what’s the average number of hours per day people spent more than 500 feet from their “usual nighttime location”. Most of us are probably now spending about 30-90 minutes a day at a distance of more than 500 feet, rather than ~8-12 hours a day.

    • DinoNerd says:

      I wonder also to what extent older folks aren’t counted at all by this data. I don’t require a cellphone in my pocket to walk my dog, or even to go shopping. I certainly don’t require a smartphone app to navigate me to most places I’ve been before. Some of the people I observe, mostly younger than me (but then most are) seem as if they’d be more likely to go out of their houses without pants than without a cellphone.

      • Statismagician says:

        This is definitely true. I think also women are probably under-represented – my fiancee generally doesn’t bring her phone on walks because then she’d have to carry a purse, where I just slip mine into a pocket out of habit basically whenever I stand up.

    • gph says:

      Well given that information I think the most shocking part of the graph is that 20% of people weren’t going more than 500 feet from their usual nighttime location before the lockdowns. Would basically mean on any given day 1 out of 5 people don’t leave their home. I guess that’s normal?

      • keaswaran says:

        I was wondering about how that happened. Part of it is that there are certain populations that don’t venture out that often. Probably 30% of the adult population is retired people and stay-at-home parents. If those people leave home on 1/3 of days, then that’s already the whole thing. If the number is slightly lower, or if they leave the home slightly more, then it’s made up for by the fraction of work-from-home people that happen not to leave on a given day. (Probably for myself, about 1/10 of work-from-home days ended up without me leaving the house, at least before the pandemic.)

      • Statismagician says:

        Note that it’s 20% of phones that don’t leave the house – 20% of people is certainly an overestimate because some people have multiple phones, some don’t take their phones on walks or to the grocery store, etc. Probably not a massive one, but still.

  5. birdboy2000 says:

    “A lot of confirmed early superspreader events were choirs. A lot of others were churches, where everyone gets together and sings hymns full-blast.”

    I was aware of the Seattle choir, what were the others? Is there a decent write-up of this anywhere? And if so, how do we get this into the hands of policymakers?
    Massachusetts apparently just reopened churches, albeit with mask and occupancy guidelines which I very much want to be enough, but no regulations re: singing. And putting it in phase 1 scares the hell out of me.

  6. ltowel says:

    I wish those graphs were on the same axis. Interestingly, I think it misses what I think are key factors – when employers started telling people to WFH – in Washington Amazon and Microsoft were the first week of March, with Boeing waiting until immediately before the stay at home order, while in the Bay FB/Google/Twitter all closed offices the first or second week of march.

    My impression is getting people out of offices, factories, bars, concerts and choir practices matter a lot, the rest not so much.

    If there’s a 50% chance of a definitive solution in one year, is it worth staying locked down until then? What about a 25% chance in five years? 10% chance in ten years? If there is never a definitive solution, are we willing to stay locked down forever?

    If we count “continued lockdowns smother the virus to death” in the solution column, all of these are horrific scenarios, where I think we should literally end all restrictions immediately. I don’t think the current levels of lockdowns have the political support through a holiday season and travel will spread the disease to family units across the country and wildly overshoot herd immunity with massive slaughter. We should take action to “raise the curve” if we think there’s a serious chance infections will be commonplace during holiday travel.

  7. eric23 says:

    Sweden’s doing marginally worse than Denmark, Netherlands marginally worse than Germany, and Japan marginally worse than South Korea – but well within chance variation.

    This is a case of looking at a page with your glasses off, and saying nothing is written on it.

    Sweden is not doing “marginally” worse than Denmark. Sweden has more than 10 times as many “excess deaths” as Denmark, and about 7 times as many official coronavirus deaths.

    Germany is also a country that delayed centralized lockdown, like Netherlands.

    The vast majority of South Korea’s cases are attributable to one sick woman who broke her government-imposed quarantine to go to a megachurch where she spent hours singing with and hugging other congregants, and where the megachurch initially refused to cooperate with the government investigation. Take out this one case, and South Korea’s numbers look similar to Taiwan. Whereas Japan was lucky enough to not have an event like that, but had gradual spread for months until they instituted a lockdown, at which point cases promptly declined.

    And of course you are only looking on the axis of space, not the axis of time. A wide variety of countries including China, Korea, Italy, Austria saw their case numbers peak within 10-14 days of instituting lockdown. I’m pretty sure the correlation to beginning official lockdown is stronger than the correlation to the number of cases in the country (which could be expected to influence people’s personal choices).

    • Brett says:

      I was thinking that too. The South Koreans just got incredibly unlucky with that initial outbreak case – they’d caught the other potential cases, but that one slipped through. Contrast that with the recent nightclub situation, where 100-200 people got it but they seem to have bottled it back up again with aggressive testing and tracing (something like 60,000 people got tested over that).

      • Brassfjord says:

        Sweden was also unlucky, in that our spring break happened just before Italy closed their borders, so a lot of kids went skiing in the alps and brought back the virus. (My nephew spent almost three months, skiing in northern Italy, before he managed to drive back to Sweden, through closed borders in April.)

        • QW says:

          Despite Sweden being unlucky the effect of their policy seems clear if we compare them on Covidtrends to neighboring Denmark and Norway. The epidemic seems to indeed have started a bit later in Denmark than in Sweden but on the other hand, it seems to have started a bit earlier in Norway. Both of these countries have been able to get the number of new cases down (and Norway sooner than Denmark) but Sweden hasn’t. (A comparison to Finland might be a bit unfair because of a clearer delay in the onset of the epidemic.)

          https://aatishb.com/covidtrends/?location=Denmark&location=Norway&location=Sweden

        • AlesZiegler says:

          our spring break happened just before Italy closed their borders, so a lot of kids went skiing in the alps and brought back the virus.

          Same thing happened in Czechia.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Countries that are frequently under existential threat — Israel, Taiwan, South Korea — seem to have reacted quickly and smartly to get this stuff locked down.

        • keaswaran says:

          Counterpoint: Iran.

          • Ghillie Dhu says:

            Countries Democracies that are frequently under existential threat…?

          • No One In Particular says:

            How is Iran under existential threat?

          • eric23 says:

            They’re the only Shiite-majority country in the world except Azerbaijan (post-Soviet, secular), Bahrain (tiny, Sunni-ruled), and Iraq (failed state). A lot of countries, both Western and Sunni, would love to overthrow their government.

          • keaswaran says:

            I don’t think there’s been any span of more than 5-10 years during my lifetime that has not had some prominent US politician call for the overthrow of the government of Iran. And there have been persistent rumors that Israel has developed nuclear weapons primarily for the purposes of destroying the government of Iran (mainly because the Israelis keep claiming the reverse).

            The rivalry with Saudi Arabia is also very real, though not as much of an existential threat. And the immediately neighboring presence of Afghanistan and Pakistan (both of which are occasionally ruled by terrorist-sympathizing Sunni religious leadership) can’t help.

          • And there have been persistent rumors that Israel has developed nuclear weapons primarily for the purposes of destroying the government of Iran

            Judging by a quick google, Israeli nuclear weapons are supposed to go back to about 1967. I don’t think Iran was their main worry back then.

    • Kaitian says:

      Germany had a ton of “local” (city or state level) lockdowns before the nationwide one. I don’t think tiny countries (Netherlands, Denmark) or very centralized countries (France, Korea?) had as many of these. Not sure about the US.

      Anecdotally, most people seem to be willing to comply with the official lockdown laws but nothing more. Everything that has opened back up is being used by numerous people, including things like hairdressers and playgrounds. People hate lockdowns more than they hate a vague possibility of getting sick.

      • gbear605 says:

        The US has no federal (ie. country-wide) lockdown right now, but rather all the states have instituted lockdown policies. Many of those have ended or will soon be ending. Some cities have separately introduced their own policies, but it’s been mostly on the state level.

      • keaswaran says:

        > Anecdotally, most people seem to be willing to comply with the official lockdown laws but nothing more. Everything that has opened back up is being used by numerous people

        Are these services being used by more or less than half of the people that used to use them?

        • Kaitian says:

          I really can’t tell. There seem to be many people there, but authorities (business owners and the law) are still enforcing distancing, so even if more wanted to come it would not be allowed. They seem to be filling the allowed slots up, though.

    • nathanw022 says:

      Japan hasn’t/didn’t institute a lockdown. There was a state of emergency declared here in Tokyo, and many chains (Starbucks and gyms for example) closed or reduced their hours but most places, especially owner operated restaurants and bars have been open the whole time. There has definitely been less foot traffic – maybe a 40 or 50% decline – but there was never any actual lockdown imposed. The constitution strictly limits the governments ability to enforce a lockdown with penalties and all they’ve been able to do is ask nicely for people to stay home.

      • Gregg Tavares says:

        What? I live in Tokyo too, a 15 minute walk from Shibuya Station. The city has been in effective lockdown since early April. 95% of all restaurants and stores are closed. Bullet Train travel is down 98%. The famous Shibuya Hachiko Crossing has been comparatively empty for the last 6 weeks or so. They’ve allowed restaurants to stay open but the ones that are open have almost no customers. Some are open only for delivery. Bars are supposed to close by 8pm. Walk around I see few people out and about. Especially at night Shibuya is a ghost town.

        Just as one piece of info, here is the reduction in usage by train station from April 15th compared to a year before

        https://www.ryutsuu.biz/government/m041551.html

        Tokyo station down 84%, Shinjuku station down 86%, Shibuya station down %81. Shin-Osaka Station down 93%

        They just reopened Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe last week for some definition of re-opened but Tokyo, and it’s neighboring areas as well as Hokkaido are still in effectively lockdown.

    • No One In Particular says:

      Do you mean daily new cases? Total cases in Italy peaked more than a month after lockdown.

  8. panoptical says:

    Are there counterexamples? I Googled “loudest cultures”, and got people talking about Australians, Africans, and Cantonese Chinese.

    Georgia (the country) is a country of super loud, super close talkers, and has one of the best-managed outbreaks in the world, so I’d count it as a counterexample.

    [Edit to add: Source – I have lived in Georgia for ten years, and my basis for comparison is New York City, where I lived for thirty years. Georgians are noticeably louder than New Yorkers. Other expats have made comments to me along the same lines.]

    • salvorhardin says:

      Would you say Georgia is a data point in favor of the “Eastern European countries know how to do things strictly” hypothesis? Or why do you think it managed its outbreak well?

  9. Chris Phoenix says:

    Scott, overshoot means you’re probably wrong about a longer lockdown having no effect on the number of people dying.

    Crude form of math argument: Say R is 4 and 80% immune is enough for herd immunity to kill the virus. If we sneak up on that 80% then 80.01% will eventually get it. But if 20% of the population is actively infected when we cross the 80% mark, then maybe 90% of us will get it. That extra 10% (90-80) is unnecessary cases and deaths.

    So it’s better not to do a fast-burn approach to herd immunity.

    • gbear605 says:

      Also, while it hasn’t been a significant problem so far, the point about keeping the curve under the hospital capacity still stands. If we (somehow) infected 80% of the population of the world today, then the pandemic would be over in a month, but many more people would die than if that same 80% were infected over three months or six months. Of course, the actual rate of infection would be very different from either of those scenarios.

    • No One In Particular says:

      If 80% is needed for herd immunity, then we will have herd immunity when we reach 80%. If you want to posit that the percentage need for herd immunity will be different under different scenarios, that one thing, but I don’t think it’s legitimate to posit that the percentage at which we will have herd immunity will be different from the percentage needed.

      • yodelyak says:

        @No One In Particular
        I think you are mistaking what “herd immunity” means. That a population has herd immunity doesn’t mean the population will have no more new cases. The population has herd immunity when enough immune people are present that R0 drops below 1. In other words, it’s the point at which the number of immune people in the population results in the number of active cases decreasing. If we reach herd immunity very slowly, such as via hammer/dance and happen to have 100,000 cases when we get there, and each of those then plays forward at .8 every week (so 80,000 new cases the next week, and 64,000 new cases the week after that, tapering all the way down to zero) that’s a different outcome than if we have 500,000 cases when we get there, and then 400,000 new cases the next week, and 320,000 the week after that, and so on.

        A really great tool for getting a conceptual feel for these things, and how defined terms like ‘herd immunity’ fit within the standard epidemiological models, is at http://Ncase.me/covid-19/.

        • While your point is correct, doing the math properly would require you to take account of the fact that R0 is going down each week as the number of still vulnerable people decreases. It does down faster in the 500,000 person case than in the 100,000 case.

          Suppose total population is ten million. You have 400,000 cases the first week, which lowers the vulnerable populaton from 2,000,000 to 1,600,000, so R0 is now not .8 but .64, so you get 320,000 cases the next week, and …

          Obviously the effect is smaller the larger the total population assumed in the calculation. On the other hand, one should be starting the calculation with R0 at 1, not .8, which makes the effect larger.

          If we assume that we want to minimize both time spent under lockdown and total number infected via overshoot, the obvious thing to do is to try to taper the infection rate. Keep it at the highest level your medical system can handle without being overwhelmed until you get close to herd immunity, then reinstitute lockdowns, social distancing, or whatever, so that when you reach herd immunity only a small number are infected.

          Obviously, that assumes a very high level of both control and information.

        • A1987dM says:

          Nitpick: you mean R drops below 1 (where R is R0 times the fraction of people who are not immune).

        • No One In Particular says:

          “The population has herd immunity when enough immune people are present that R0 drops below 1.”

          No, R_0 is not affected by the percentage of people that are immune. It is a function of the level of social interaction, but not of immunity. And the Herd Immunity Threshold is a function of R_0.

          “If we reach herd immunity very slowly, such as via hammer/dance and happen to have 100,000 cases when we get there,”

          Then we’re changing R_0, and thus HIT. My point is that you aren’t decreasing the percentage infected by decreasing the amount by which we overshoot HIT, you’re decreasing it by decreasing the HIT. The idea that you have two scenarios in which you have a different mix of Infected/Immune/Susceptible, but the HIT is constant, is highly suspect.

          “that’s a different outcome than if we have 500,000 cases when we get there,”

          But how did we get to 500,000 cases? This must have been preceded by a period in which the number of cases was increasing. But if we were approaching the HIT, then the rate of increase should have been approaching 0.

          Suppose you take two balls, and drop one off a skyscraper, and throw the other one down at significant velocity. Will the second one “overshoot” terminal velocity?

  10. fortybot says:

    Why is it called “novel” coronavirus?

    • kuuskyt says:

      It’s “novel” as in “new”.

    • sharper13 says:

      Because it’s the new one in 2019, as opposed to all the old, already existing ones like SARS1 and the common cold variations. So in the dictionary sense of “new or unusual in an interesting way.”

    • Tarpitz says:

      Because it was the best of viruses, it was the worst of viruses, it was just the flu, it was a new Black Death, it was ushering in a new and better model for work and education, it was destroying the economy, it was inconsequential for the young, it was going to leave us all with permanent respiratory damage, it was imperative to trust the science, the data was all garbage and the models were worse, we would have a vaccine by the winter, we would never have a vaccine at all, we were all going direct to herd immunity, we were all going direct to the ICU – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

      Or alternatively because it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single virus in possession of a good spike protein, must be in want of an ACE-2 receptor.

    • No One In Particular says:

      Isn’t the real question why book-length stories are called “novel”, when this form has been in existence for centuries?

      • keaswaran says:

        It looks like the idea isn’t about the form being new, so much as about the content being a contemporary story:

        Walter Scott made a distinction between the novel, in which (as he saw it) “events are accommodated to the ordinary train of human events and the modern state of society” and the romance, which he defined as “a fictitious narrative in prose or verse; the interest of which turns upon marvellous and uncommon incidents”.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novel

        But we ended up generalizing it to all long works of fiction in prose, including historical fiction. Still, it’s true that the paradigm of a novel is literary fiction in a generic contemporary environment, while everything else is “genre” fiction.

        (I’ve definitely developed the sentiment though that if you can write a work of fiction set in any possible world and any time frame, choosing to set it in a world very much like our own and a time close to ours should be seen as just one special case. Lumping all of these myriad other possibilities under the single label of “science fiction” seems as misleading as lumping most of the vast diversity of animals as “invertebrates” or lumping most of the diversity of types of writing as “non-fiction”.)

  11. eric23 says:

    But right now I see no evidence that anyone understands the causes of the majority of coronavirus variation.

    I really don’t see the difficulty. With normal social activity, case numbers double every 5 days. If Milan happened to get a single infected visitor from Wuhan on January 15, while Berlin happened to get its first infected visitor on January 30, that’s an eightfold difference in case numbers right there. Do people really not understand basic exponential math?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      All the numbers on those graphs are adjusted for days after the epidemic reached a certain size. Also, warning for ban risk because of last sentence – you’re allowed to be snide or wrong, but not both.

      • eric23 says:

        All the numbers on those graphs are adjusted for days after the epidemic reached a certain size.

        “those graphs” mix together countries with lockdowns and countries without lockdowns indiscriminately. They also have a linear rather than logarithmic Y axis, which automatically makes most of the valuable data impossible to read. When you throw out most of the data and compare apples to oranges with what remains, of course your graphs are going to leave you with more questions than answers!

        For a more informative graph, see here. You’ll notice that pretty much every country climbs at same slope initially, before curving towards horizontal after lockdown was imposed. The only exceptions to this pattern are Sweden and Brazil – both of which have had significant social distancing but no national lockdown, so their curves are rising without stop, with a lower slope as one might expect. In short, everything is easily predictable based on reasonable delays in the date of virus introduction, and the degree of social distancing across time.

        • matkoniecz says:

          you’ll notice that pretty much every country climbs at same slope initially

          This is a logarithmic graph and differences in slope are massive.

          5 day mark is unreadable, but at 10 day mark it ranges from about 50 to about 900.

          Are you claiming that it is the same slope?

          • eric23 says:

            In this graph: US, UK, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, China, Russia have the same slope, until they entered lockdown and the line curved to horizontal.

            Denmark, Norway, Australia likely would have had the same pattern, but they entered lockdown at a low enough number of cases that this part of graph is not visible.

            Brazil and Sweden don’t fit, I explained why.

            South Korea never had spread for an extended period of time, they just had one sudden outbreak due to the megachurch (its deaths were spread over several weeks).

            I believe that accounts for all the countries in the graph.

          • matkoniecz says:

            In this graph: US, UK, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, China, Russia have the same slope, until they entered lockdown and the line curved to horizontal.

            When? On day 10 Russia has 100, and Spain has 1000.

            Maybe it is more informative graph, but it is clearly hard to read.

            And if you really think that order of magnitude difference (x10) fits your “climbs at same slope initially” then we have wildly different definitions of the same slope.

            Reminder: it is a logarithmic graph.

          • eric23 says:

            Russia and Spain entered lockdown on different days, with different case numbers. That is why they have different totals on “day 10”, despite the same slope at day 0.

            If I had time I would make a graph with “days before/after lockdown” on the X axis and “case numbers as a fraction of cases on the day lockdown began” on the Y axis – then it would be obvious that all the curves were right on top of each other…

        • LudwigNagasena says:

          What I see is a bunch of lines with wildly different curvatures.

      • KimmoKM says:

        The epidemic reaching a certain size in this context is determined by test-confirmed cases, which may be wrong by orders of magnitude. I once calculated, using the average reported span of time between infection and death, 130% of the reported infected in Italy would have had to have died to get the number of deaths seen around the time they instituted lockdowns. Which is obviously wrong: rather, only 1% of the actual cases were confirmed by tests. Other countries might have been much better on top of testing during the early stages of the epidemic, making it difficult to compare graphs for various countries even when the starting point is normalized.

      • No One In Particular says:

        I think this can be steelmanned to be an inquiry as to possible source of confusion, rather than snideness.

  12. Brett says:

    Maybe the social distancing is just way more effective than we thought at lowering R0. I was wondering also if maybe super-spreaders play a larger role than expected – just keeping them at home most of the time might collapse the R0 close to one.

    They wouldn’t necessarily have to give him twenty years to life or anything, just arrest him enough to make it clear that there are laws and you get punished if you break them.

    What they should have done was cut the power to the plant, and then sent the county sheriff out to put locks on the doors. Tell the staff they can go home and collect UI if they want to, and tell Musk he can go home as well. If he refuses, lock him in the building with a card to call for unlocking during the next day’s business hours – or whenever he gives up and quietly asks them to let him out.

    But they caved instead. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if this was Newsom at work putting a lot of pressure behind the scenes on the Alameda County government – remember how he initially shut down all venues except Disneyland? And nobody thinks Disney is going to pick up their Disneyland stakes and move it to Texas, whereas Musk at least had the credible threat to move the factory and Tesla HQ to Texas (since they’re setting up a new production line there anyways).

    Personally, I think it was pointless to cave. Tesla was probably already planning to move production to Texas once the Cyber-Truck production line was up and running, hence Musk teasing stuff about selling his houses even before all this. Lower labor costs, more friendly state government in terms of safety issues and union-busting.

    • Deiseach says:

      Rich and probably influential loudmouth gets his own way? Oh goodness me, how surprising and unprecedented!

      I’ve seen the other comment that it is not a case of criminal but civil law and by the time all that was sorted out, the factory would be re-opening anyway, and that is probably correct, but I do also think that yes, it’s one law for the rich and another law for the poor. A lot easier to crack down on a small local shop or restaurant than a big plant that employs a lot of people and has a guy in charge who is willing to run his mouth off on Twitter about taking his ball and going home if you don’t agree to play by his rules.

      • Creutzer says:

        Tesla also sued Alameda County over this and I am not a lawyer, but their case does not on the face of it appear unreasonable at all.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Unfortunate. Why is solar power manufacturing counted as “essential” when so many other things aren’t? The California government appears to be picking favored industries here.

          • Matt M says:

            Every other form of “energy” was considered essential. Are you suggesting that energy isn’t actually essential, or that solar should be singled-out as a uniquely non-essential form of energy?

          • Randy M says:

            @Evan Þ
            Depends on how long the shut down is expected to last. We can probably neglect the repairing or expanding power grid for a couple weeks. As we stretch past a couple of months into an indeterminately longer period, a lot more industries are essential.

          • BenChaney says:

            @Matt Manufacturing power generating equipment is not the same as actually generating power. I would expect maintaining existing solar plants and other parts of the electrical grid to be essential. I would expect constructing new power plants and manufacturing new solar panel to be non essential.

          • John Schilling says:

            How do you maintain the existing power-generation infrastructure without manufacturing new equipment to maintain the old as it wears out? In the age of just-in-time, we don’t have a year’s supply of solar panels, turbines, transformers, etc, etc, sitting around in warehouses.

          • BenChaney says:

            The California order allowed all manufacturing of solar panels. Not just what is necessary to maintain the grid.

          • keaswaran says:

            Infrastructure construction projects are mostly continuing also (and even accelerating in some cases, now that it’s easier to tear up the streets to put in sewers or subways).

          • Creutzer says:

            A more positive take would be that the California state government is painting things with a broad brush because they don’t want endless arguments over what exact side of the demarcation line things fall on. They also probably don’t have a full understanding of all supply chains so could justifiably be worried about accidentally banning one part of an overall essential supply chain.

      • No One In Particular says:

        Can you give an example of a comparable poor person being shut down by Alameda County?

      • Yosarian2 says:

        It’s also worth mentioning that even much smaller and less influential buisness have managed to kick up a huge fuss and win. That hair salon in Texas had huge protests in support of her open defiance of the law, Sarah Palin showed up, and the local government caved.

    • Namron says:

      Maybe the social distancing is just way more effective than we thought at lowering R0. I was wondering also if maybe super-spreaders play a larger role than expected – just keeping them at home most of the time might collapse the R0 close to one.

      I agree, this is a good point.

  13. Kzickas says:

    One explanation of why the US is different could be that tests are more targeted at sick people. Here in Norway people who are almost certainly infected with Covid-19 will not be tested, since the test is not expected to provide any useful information. They will just be quarantined on the assumption that they have Corona virus. I’m not sure if that’s something you can do with the way that insurance and sick leave works in the United States. If the US uses tests more to confirm cases, rather than find them, then it would be expected to have a higher ratio of confirmed cases to actual cases even without a higher number of tests.

    • zoozoc says:

      I think that would only explain why there are more official cases in the US, not why the case fatality rate is lower than most other places. Basically what you are saying is the US is better at targeting people who actually have COVID-19? I mean their tests/capita is not that much higher. Or perhaps the tests/capita is misleading as it is lumping together places with hardly any cases along with places with Italy-levels of cases. And at least for now there are more places that aren’t hard-hit than are.

  14. Sean P. says:

    Is there any good data on who is actually getting infected in the US? This seems like the only way we can really know what policies are helping. For example, are infections particularly common in health care workers? Essential retail workers? Software engineers because they’re actually visiting speakeasy gyms instead of staying at home? The local news and county stats both support the notion that most cases in my state are now occurring in agricultural production facilities. If that’s true, the current government focus on golf courses and bottled cocktails is really failing the people most at risk right now.

    (This is Washington state. Cases in the Seattle metro area have been declining since late March while cases in the major agricultural counties are currently at or close to peak.)

    • Kaitian says:

      In multiple countries, including US and Germany, meat processing plants are responsible for a lot of the recent cases. It makes sense: you have a lot of working class people (more likely to be generally unhealthy and not have a super great education about hygiene), indoors at low temperature (so the virus stays infectious for longer outside the body) and in a loud environment (so if you want to talk to someone, you have to get close or yell).

      In the early weeks elder care was a major source of spread (to the elderly), I’m not sure if that’s still the case.

      • noyann says:

        In Germany there is also the highly problematic accomodation of the workers, and a maze of sub-sub-sub-contractors that diffuses responsibilities.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      New York Times regularly reports where the new surges in cases are, but for some reason each time I try to actually find it on their summary page[1] I cannot.

      As of two weeks ago, IIRC, ~49 out of 50 of the counties with the biggest growth had prisons or meat-packing plants.

      [1] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html

    • caryatis says:

      Nursing homes/long-term care facilities are big.

    • keaswaran says:

      It almost feels criminally negligent to me that information about where infections are happening isn’t the top of the front page every day, and first five minutes of the TV news hour every night. If I dig for my county health department’s website, I can find number of new cases every day, racial mix of cases over the past week, and percentage of cases over the past week that are part of a cluster, but no information about whether those clusters are homes, churches, grocery stores, the chicken factory, or the university.

      (Also, although they report daily new cases each day, none of their graphs is of daily new cases by day, which seems like the most relevant information to me! And their listing of cases by zip code fails to mention that the four zip codes with “no cases reported at this time” are zip codes for internal university mailing that have no residents!)

      http://www.brazoshealth.org/sites/default/files/inline-files/5.18.20.pdf

      • John Schilling says:

        It isn’t just that this data isn’t being published in the mass media; I don’t think it’s even being collected in any systematic manner. All we’ve got are random nerds on the internet, and the occasional academician with a bit of institutional support, scraping together what bits of information they can find.

        We’ve got state and federal governments announcing that they are going to be relaxing the lockdowns Real Soon Now, and as near as I can tell they’re all just guessing what ought to be kept closed and what can be safely reopened. Pure intuition, unsupported by science.

        It’s like the entire world has forgotten the entire concept of Operations Research.

        • keaswaran says:

          Texas already started the opening two weeks ago. (You can see it in the data for my county, it seems.) We’ll see how much further acceleration there is with the experiment of opening bars starting this weekend.

        • matthewravery says:

          The lack of good data collection and dissemination procedures is one of the criminal ways the Federal government has failed us in the US. The necessity of such things was obvious in mid-March if not February, and the best source of data currently is this random group of volunteers formed ad hoc after the outbreak started.

          • Matt M says:

            If only there were a lesson in that…

            Sorry, I’m not trying to be snarky at you specifically. But I am generally frustrated that during a scenario where random groups of private individuals working for free are significantly out-performing the government at things the government should theoretically be best positioned to do, lots of people somehow have the nerve to keep saying things like “there are no libertarians in a pandemic…”

          • Statismagician says:

            This seems unfair. The Atlantic team is just collating state health department figures; CDC has the same information plus quite a lot more readily available. Anybody claiming they have more up-to-date national data than CDC is lying, because CDC’s data lag is from death certificate processing times and by definition you don’t know what the cause of death was until that’s filled out.

            I get that it’s frustrating not to have up-to-the-minute data, but collecting and processing this much information takes time, and it’s better to get it right rather than rushing out known-to-be-wrong figures just so we all have something to do.

          • John Schilling says:

            I get that it’s frustrating not to have up-to-the-minute data, but collecting and processing this much information takes time,

            OK, so where’s the report from two months ago saying, “In the late pre-lockdown phase, we estimate that X% of infections occurred in primary and secondary schools, Y% in sit-down restaurants, Z% in open-plan offices…”? Because really, as we start lifting the lockdowns, it’s likely to be the data from the late pre-lockdown phase that is most useful. And I think there’s been time to process that.

            Or is this going to be like the vaccine itself, where making it absolutely perfect will take 12-18 months and it would be unconscionable to offer anything less than perfect to the public, and it’s unfair for us to criticize the CDC for their commitment to perfection. Or for that matter the test kits, where we couldn’t possibly be allowed to use anything but the CDC’s perfect, unavailable tests.

            We’re starting to lift the lockdowns, right now. We need the best data we’ve got, right now. Anybody in this line of business who hasn’t spent the past two months preparing to give us their best data right now, is part of the problem. And the “fairness” they’re going to get from me is, I’ll try to avoid wholly gratuitous obscenities when I tell them to get out of the way and let random nerds on the internet take over.

          • matthewravery says:

            @ Matt M – I get what you’re saying, but crowdsourcing is absolutely not the way to run a research program.

            @ Statismagician – I’ve been working on this for weeks, so perhaps the CDC has upped their game recently. But back when I was getting started, JHU and covidtracking.com were the two sources. Oh, and Wikipedia.

            Looking now, I couldn’t find downloadable data on testing, which is extremely important and obviously something that researchers want. Regardless, I think the link you included is broken.

            @ John Schilling- Yup.

          • No One In Particular says:

            @Matt M This can be viewed as showing the importance of private institutions to provide services that the government is not providing, but it can also be seen as showing the danger of having people in the need for the government to provide those services. It’s arguable libertarians addressing a problem caused by libertarians. (Although this is more an issue of small government that libertarianism, which are different things.)

          • John Schilling says:

            It’s arguable libertarians addressing a problem caused by libertarians.

            In what sense did libertarians cause this problem? I’m trying to make sense of that claim in a way that is charitable to both sides, and coming up short, so I think perhaps you ought to expand on it.

          • Statismagician says:

            @John Schilling
            I have never been and won’t start trying to defend the way this has been handled. I was talking specifically about data availability and how it compares between the Federal government and the Atlantic group.

            @matthewravery
            Link works for me, perhaps there’s an issue on your end? It’s one of the pages under ‘Accessing COVID-NET Data’ here. Downloadable and everything.

          • keaswaran says:

            John Schilling – the way the problem is said to be caused by libertarians is slightly indirect (depending on who you count as libertarians). But there have been many occasions in the past decades when political authorities with an inclination towards less government spending and less government control have decided that pandemic preparedness and broad medical surveillance are good things to cut to keep the budget lean.

            In any case, on the matter under discussion in this particular thread, I think the issue is not directly at the CDC or the federal level, but rather at the local level. Every county health department, and every hospital, should have contact tracers in their infectious disease department, and should have a plan for recruiting and training contact tracers. If local authorities aren’t tracing contacts, there’s no way for CDC data to magically gain information about contacts to include in their reports.

            Congress could have helped if their bills two months ago had included major grants for counties and hospitals to hire lots of contact tracers (which would have been especially affordable since many of the expenditures on salary and training costs for contact tracers would have just come out of reduced costs for the unemployment programs).

          • John Schilling says:

            John Schilling – the way the problem is said to be caused by libertarians is slightly indirect (depending on who you count as libertarians). But there have been many occasions in the past decades when political authorities with an inclination towards less government spending and less government control have decided that pandemic preparedness and broad medical surveillance are good things to cut to keep the budget lean.

            And have these things in fact been cut to “keep the budget lean”? The Federal budget is as fat as ever, and growing steadily. The CDC budget has been either flat or growing, and mostly growing, for at least half a century. No matter which party holds power, which ideology is in ascendance. If it’s your contention that there is some consensus that these budgets should be much higher than they currently are, that they would be much higher than they currently are except that the libertarians have somehow blocked everyone else in that regard, then I think you are vastly overestimating the political power of libertarians in the contemporary United States. And if the claim is that libertarians have been using their very limited political capital to drill down into the budget and hammer specifically the pandemic-readiness and medical-surveillance line items, I find that to be an extraordinary and dubious claim and would like to see some evidence.

            The same goes at the state and local level. Whatever has been stopping California from hiring the contact-tracers it needed two months ago and still doesn’t have, I can pretty much guarantee it isn’t California’s libertarians who are doing that.

            If it’s just a matter of “libertarians often say the government shouldn’t spend so much money, so they’re responsible for everything the government doesn’t do right because maybe the government could have done it right if they spent more money”, then that’s just nonsensical on several levels.

          • matthewravery says:

            @ Statismagician

            Let me try this: Where is their API or git repo that I can easily, consistently, at-will get data from in a consistent format? The links you indicated allow me to manually select a bunch of options and download a data set (one response variable at a time??) or download the data used to generate their plot. Neither of these are very useful for folks doing analyses that need to be regularly updated.

            Looking at their cases-by-age data (which I do think is something I haven’t seen widely available) is how inexplicable it is that the CDC published most of their initial work using age brackets that were incompatible with standard Census Bureau age brackets. They didn’t just lump some groups together, either. They used completely inconsistent start and end points! Yeesh.

          • Statismagician says:

            @matthewravery
            Ah, I see what you mean. We don’t do a lot with APIs or git in public health as a field since so much of the data we work with is covered by HIPAA or otherwise confidential/controlled (and also because change is slow in academics and government both, to be fair); every publicly-available health care dataset I know about works similarly to the one I linked.

          • matthewravery says:

            @ Statismagician-

            I clicked around further and, in the Data Catalog found some useful stuff. Thanks for encouraging me to look into available info in more depth!

            Random follow-up: Do you know of any data that breaks out case/death rates by occupation?

          • Statismagician says:

            Not off the top of my head, but let me look around. I’d be very interested to see those data.

        • DarkTigger says:

          There was a long twitter rant by a guy, who asked how it’s f****ing possible, that we talk about an tracing app, while the infection data we have is on average older than two weeks (incubation time + testing time + reporting lag), and no body can say with any certanty, if the 7 day amplitude we see in the data is an atrifact of the manual reporting, or if people also get infected more on workdays.

          Personaly I expect it’s a little of both, but there is no data to proof it.

      • Scoop says:

        If I dig for my county health department’s website, I can find number of new cases every day, racial mix of cases over the past week, and percentage of cases over the past week that are part of a cluster, but no information about whether those clusters are homes, churches, grocery stores, the chicken factory, or the university.

        I would assume you can thank HIPAA for that, and, if so, it is really hurting our ability to assess the risks of various activities, to loosen restrictions around relatively safe activities and to take steps to mitigate the dangers of high-risk activities.

        • Statismagician says:

          Correct. HIPAA (or surrounding caselaw, I forget which) specifies that even de-identified data can’t be published if it could be used to identify specific people with some degree of certainty; county*workplace probably could at least some of the time, so here we are.

  15. Sniffnoy says:

    “Protective against it” link is malformed due to a duplicated <A HREF=”.

  16. sharper13 says:

    There are really three types situations in the U.S.
    1. NYC and surrounding areas.
    2. Most of the rest of the country with a few cases.
    3. Some parts of the country with zero cases, or a handful of cases which were quickly isolated, thus no real risk ongoing of infection if you live there.

    The U.S. looks much better or worse on all the given measurements depending on which of those three you’re looking at. That’s in part due to the size and variety in the U.S., but it also implies that whatever the Federal Government is doing probably isn’t super-important compared to what are likely the real key factors, local decisions and risk factors.

    • Ragged Clown says:

      I’ve often wondered if comparisons between cities would be more meaningful than comparisons between countries. What if we were comparing London, NYC & Paris rather than UK, USA & France?

      Most of the outbreaks started in big, global cities, no?

      Does anyone know of somewhere that present data for cities rather than countries?

      • keaswaran says:

        This seems exactly right. I was hoping that the coronavirus would make people realize that cities and the world were the more natural units to report everything than national borders, but instead it seems to have reinforced every nation’s internal focus. Even in the EU they’ve started putting barriers at national borders, but no one has done more than the most token resistance to domestic travel, even from hotspots to cool zones.

        • A1987dM says:

          but no one has done more than the most token resistance to domestic travel

          Italy has and still does.

        • KimmoKM says:

          but no one has done more than the most token resistance to domestic travel

          Finland also restricted travel between the Uusimaa capital region and the rest of the country. These restrictions have since been lifted, but they may have contributed to the fact that the epidemic has all but disappeared outside Helsinki (although there, too, both the newly confirmed cases and the more robust measure of hospital beds in use have halved)… and border regions with Sweden.

          During May the ratio between test-confirmed cases per capita in Helsinki healthcare district and the rest of the country has been 13, prior to May it was 5. Clearly, something about the regional spread rates (or testing) has changed around the time travel restrictions were in place, but my hunch has it that the difference can almost entirely be attributed to the other measures (these temporary travel restrictions aside, more relaxed than almost anywhere else in Europe bar Sweden) biting into R_0 and bringing the number of infections to the point where every known infection can effectively be contact-traced. With that in mind, I don’t think the travel restrictions were cost-effective, especially considering the government isn’t now taking advantage of different situation across the country when lifting the restrictions still in place.

          Of course, the situation in Finland also serves to highlight the differences you may have within countries. In some healthcare districts there hasn’t been a single confirmed case of COVID-19 for a month, for many others it’s a singular case every week or so (while earlier there were several new cases daily). There’s some pretty good visualizations of the regional situation here.

      • Tenacious D says:

        This article is in French, but it has graphs that are pretty easy to follow regarding Montreal vs the rest of the province of Quebec. The rate of cases in Montreal is almost 1000 per 100k, compared to less than half that as the overall provincial average (which still weights Montreal heavily).

        https://www.lapresse.ca/covid-19/202005/10/01-5272977-le-quebec-en-septieme-place-au-monde-pour-les-morts-quotidiens.php

        • Scoop says:

          And Google translate French-to-English is reasonably good for non-francophones who want to read the text. (It’s nowhere near perfect, but if you haven’t tried it in a few years, it has gotten better.)

  17. Tuna-Fish says:

    Elon Musk has reopened Tesla’s Bay Area factory. Although the rest of California is gradually reopening, the Bay Area is playing it extra careful and has asked everyone to stay home until at least June 1. Except, apparently, Elon Musk, who declared the factory was reopening regardless of what anyone said, and that “if anyone is arrested I ask only that it be me”. For some reason, the county did not arrest him, and now it seems to have retroactively legitimized Musk’s action. I like Elon Musk and I support the right to civil disobedience, but the government should absolutely have arrested him. They wouldn’t necessarily have to give him twenty years to life or anything, just arrest him enough to make it clear that there are laws and you get punished if you break them.

    He wasn’t arrested because the entity that wanted the factory to remain closed, Alameda County, doesn’t actually have any authority to arrest him over the issue. Technically what Tesla did is a code violation, which is not a criminal matter but a civil one, so the best Alameda can do here is to file in civil court to get an injunction to block the reopening and levy a fine for it. However, by the time this would get done, the factory could probably re-open anyway, and the fine would probably be less than the cost of the action and have no meaningful impact on Tesla, so they chose to not bother.

    • Matt M says:

      I’m a little surprised that Scott actually expected Musk might get arrested. It never even dawned on me as a real possibility.

      It seems to me that, despite a few high profile crackdowns and the occasional viral video, most of these “orders” are really recommendations with some powerful bluffing. Many jurisdictions are quite literally releasing violent prisoners due to COVID concerns. Many local law enforcement agencies (mostly county sheriffs departments) have issued written guidance saying “We will not be enforcing these orders.” I have a pretty low opinion of government officials, but even I don’t think they actually want to be hauling hairdressers off to jail over this stuff.

      Musk called their bluff. Arresting him would have done nothing but aggravate him (thus increasing the odds he actually follows through with his threat to move all of his future tax payments out of California) and make him even more of a martyr/hero to the anti-lockdown cause.

      This isn’t really a case of Musk getting special treatment. It’s a case of Musk getting the same sort of treatment as everyone else. Most people who are violating the lockdown orders aren’t being arrested. Even the few who are “made examples of” seem to have been made whole pretty quickly (Shelly Luther in Dallas might be the most famous example, but I think she was in jail for less than 24 hours before the governor ordered her released).

      • matthewravery says:

        It seems to me that, despite a few high profile crackdowns and the occasional viral video, most of these “orders” are really recommendations with some powerful bluffing.

        I would call it “trying to create a Schelling point around cooperation to stop local spread”. “Bluffing” implies that these local governments are trying to get one over on folks, but that seems to imply that they gain some sort of advantage by doing so.

        • Scoop says:

          Not to put words in Matt M’s mouth but I assume he meant the county officials were bluffing by saying/implying they would arrest violators when they really had no intention of doing so.

          • Matt M says:

            Not even just that they have no intention of doing so, but that their orders don’t even actually require it.

            Like, I think they use the phrase “we’ve issued an order” under the expectation that the average person will just hear “government authorities order” and assume that means “I’ll get arrested if I don’t comply” even if the order doesn’t actually say that or provide the means for it to happen or is even valid.

          • Loriot says:

            Over here when the lockdown orders first came down, the messaging was pretty clear that they really didn’t want to actually cite anyone and were expecting voluntary compliance, so I wouldn’t call that much of a “bluff”.

          • Matt M says:

            Maybe it helps to distinguish among a few different approaches. Maybe we have different “forms” of government orders.

            Strong form: Can be enforced, will be enforced to the maximum extent capable of law enforcement.

            Semistrong form: Can be enforced, but will only be enforced in particularly egregious circumstances.

            Weak form: Cannot actually be enforced and is technically more of a “recommendation” than an “order.”

            It seems that a lot of jurisdictions (of which Alameda County seemingly is one) were passing a weak form, but were hoping the public would believe it was a strong form.

      • No One In Particular says:

        I get the impression you don’t understand what the phrase “made whole” means.

      • 205guy says:

        > most of these “orders” are really recommendations with some powerful bluffing

        This, this, this and so much this. Thank you for finally putting into words what all the arguments about constitutional rights are missing.

        There were two long discussions in the recent open threads, one by ana53294 about being so incensed by the curtailment of rights that she would switch to whichever candidate opposed it, and one by Scoop wondering why no legislatures were stepping in to replace emergency proclamations. Both are viewpoints are neutered when you see the lockdown as a soft-power meant to guide, not outright control. Also, Ana was reacting to Spain’s draconian lockdown–but they are literally the worst hit by the virus according to the graphs here–so it doesn’t seem unjustified. And for Scoop’s question, how could legislatures make laws that define the conditions for confinement and deconfinement when data about the situation is changing so fast? To me, that is exactly why you have an executive branch making quick executive decisions, even if they are actually somewhat toothless–the goal is to get 95% compliance to reduce R0, not actually to lock anybody up.

        And I wouldn’t call it bluffing so much as projecting authority and doing very limited enforcement. Of course, it totally varies by country and county, but really only in China were people physically restrained (those welded doors people used to talk about). Everywhere else, you could get out, do a bit of shopping, do some exercise, and fairly easily bend some rules to spend the day outdoors or visit a partner–and not even increase risk that much.

        Granted, small businesses that had to close were hardest hit, and I do understand their owners’ grievances, because those livelihoods were swept away. And being self-employed, they are used to making the decisions about their business–unlike an employee sent home and collecting unemployment insurance. I do wish there was more clear and universal financial support for these business owners–essentially the same as unemployment insurance–I think that would’ve been the solution, not fighting against the lockdowns.

        To defy the lockdown the way Musk did would take some personality, notoriety, financial reserve for lawyers, and then some extra goodwill to burn. Which is exactly how the rules were set up to work, because most businesses couldn’t and wouldn’t do what he did. Musk was also close enough to the end of lockdown that he could proceed A) safely, and B) without making the authorities lose face. If he had tried to do it earlier when the virus was less under control, he might’ve had more severe push-back from popular opinion and his own employees. But right now everyone is eyeing the end of the most stringent rules, and working around the worst effects on their lives already.

    • Aftagley says:

      This doesn’t make sense. If the enforcement authority lacks the ability to meaningfully enforce shutdowns, then why is anyone shutting down?

      Maybe, maybe, they just didn’t know they could blatantly get away with ignorning the orders in which case, why hasn’t everyone else realized they can just reopen now that Musk has proven you can do so with no consequence?

      There’s gotta be something else here.

      • Matt M says:

        Because the political authorities have been very careful about phrasing their statements in such a way as to very strongly imply they can meaningfully enforce, without actually saying so. And most people aren’t willing to risk taking the chance to test it and find out. And because the media is all too willing to provide them cover and support the ruse. And also because we live in a relatively high-trust and conscientious society where it doesn’t occur to the average person that the government and the media would be deceiving them like that.

      • Deiseach says:

        What our health service is doing is appealing to social cohesion/pressure: “be decent” in their radio/TV ad campaign “Hold Firm”:

        Stay safe, protect each other, hold firm
        We are experiencing a pandemic like nothing we’ve seen in our lifetime. For our health service and other essential services, every day brings a new challenge that has never been faced before.

        The people of Ireland have spent the last few months taking steps to flatten the curve, to protect our health service and frontline workers and save lives. These actions are reducing the impact of COVID-19 on the country and our health service.

        But we now know COVID-19 is going to be with us for a while. We need to motivate and inspire people to keep up the actions that help us to stay safe and protect each other. We need the people of Ireland to Hold Firm.

        New TV and Radio Campaign – Hold Firm
        The Hold Firm campaign takes inspiration from the words of President Michael D Higgins, written in his 1993 poem, Take Care.

        Staying away from the people we love and the things we enjoy is not easy. It’s not us. But, this is us – taking care of each other, supporting our colleagues on the frontline and in the back office, and the people most at risk in communities all across the country.

        Taking inspiration, apparently, from a 1993 poem by our current president (be glad that your nation is not using the poetry of President Trump? 😀

        “Take Care”

        In the journey to the light,
        the dark moments
        should not threaten.
        Belief
        requires
        that you hold steady.
        Bend, if you will,
        with the wind.
        The tree is your teacher,
        roots at once
        more firm
        from experience
        in the soil
        made fragile.
        Your gentle dew will come
        and a stirring
        of power
        to go on
        towards the space
        of sharing.
        In the misery of the I,
        in rage,
        it is easy to cry out
        against all others
        but to weaken
        is to die
        in the misery of knowing
        the journey abandoned
        towards the sharing
        of all human hope
        and cries
        is the loss
        of all we know
        of the divine
        reclaimed
        for our shared
        humanity.
        Hold firm.
        Take care.
        Come home
        together.

        I hope you are all feeling uplifted and inspired!

      • John Schilling says:

        This doesn’t make sense. If the enforcement authority lacks the ability to meaningfully enforce shutdowns, then why is anyone shutting down?

        Aside from the fact that some people actually do obey the law per se, you mean?

        There have definitely been cases in which e.g. restaurant owners have been arrested for opening in defiance of the lockdown, and many more in which the police showed up and said “we will arrest you if you don’t shut down right now, and then we’ll be back periodically to check that you stay shut down”.

        Pre-Musk, I had figured the strategy was to close all the public gathering places, arresting unsympathetic “greedy businessmen” as needed, so that there would be no place for anyone else to go aside from walking around the block and/or low-key visits to friends and family at private residences. No need to arrest anyone who isn’t a business owner, so long as you’re willing to tolerate whatever infections are occurring at the house parties.

        But letting Musk get away with very conspicuously reopening a factory in defiance of the lockdown, significantly weakens that strategy.

      • keaswaran says:

        > If the enforcement authority lacks the ability to meaningfully enforce shutdowns, then why is anyone shutting down?

        Because most people (70-90% in various polls) think that this is a relatively effective response mechanism and want to do something relatively effective, especially if authority figures are telling them they should.

        • Aftagley says:

          I don’t disagree – but still 70-90% implies that there’s 10-30% who don’t. Even if you don’t assume that people who own factories are going to be over-represented in that slice of the demographic, that should mean that post Musk’s actions, you’d expected between 10-30% of factories, at least, to be trying to reopen.

          We aren’t seeing this happen. Musk has proven there’s no cost associated with this kind of action (at least official. I think that between this and his “take the red pill” tweet public opinion on him is sinking pretty fast) so, why aren’t we seeing more copycats?

          • Matt M says:

            Well, just because Elon Musk, a billionaire celebrity, can get away with opening his factory, doesn’t mean that you could…

            Also, given that Tesla is such a glamorous/prestige company, I suspect most of its employees have “drunk the kool-aid” and would be willing to follow Elon right off a cliff, if necessary, than is the case at your average employer…

          • Simon_Jester says:

            For starters, I suspect a lot of business owners who happen to be in the 10-30% who don’t believe in coronavirus lockdowns know that if they DO reopen, 70-90% of their customers won’t show up. Because the customers DO believe in the lockdown, and don’t want to go to their store badly enough to risk coronavirus for it.

            Hard to run a business under those conditions, even if you’re willing to try.

            Some business owners in very very deep Red Tribe country may be able to make this work by making it a form of costly ‘Trumpista virtue signalling,’ but that’s not a very good strategy for running a business in California, plus those are the same places most likely to have weak or no lockdown procedures in place to begin with.

          • albatross11 says:

            +1

            Further, if the authorities provide guidance for opening back up, and it turns out the guidance was crap and there’s a huge spike in cases, they will lose the ability to open things back up effectively next time. Far fewer people will trust that “the state has told them how to safely reopen tongue-piercing parlors[1]” means anything the second time around.

            [1] Steve Sailer’s go-to example of unsafe businesses.

      • edmundgennings says:

        If one opens against unenforced order, one (maybe) aggravates employee moral and definitely become much more likely to be liable if an employee dies because he caught covid at your workplace.

        • Matt M says:

          We’ve been hearing this since February – but can anyone link me to an actual case/lawsuit involving someone catching or dying from COVID at a specific place?

          Like, it’s easy to imagine them and assume they would happen – but I honestly haven’t heard of one. Thinking about it a bit, it seems almost impossible to actually prove you caught COVID from a specific location, due to that specific location somehow being too negligent in regards to COVID prevention.

          • Matt M says:

            Thanks! I’ll be interested to see how it resolves (although I suspect the answer, unfortunately, will be “undisclosed settlement”)

          • No One In Particular says:

            Harder than proving that ou got cancer from X?

          • Matt M says:

            Harder than proving that ou got cancer from X?

            I mean yeah, probably. Sure there are lots of ways to get cancer. But the whole entire logic of the current lockdown regime is that you can potentially catch COVID from literally every person you come in contact with.

            To prove you caught COVID at work, you’d basically have to prove that you came in contact with literally nobody except for your coworkers.

          • Blueberry pie says:

            I don’t think it is that hard – public health agencies all over the world do contact tracing, part of which often is figuring out where/how the person got infected. And if there is a cluster of cases linked to a single workplace + documented lack of PPE for workers there you could IMHO build a pretty strong case (especially in legislatures like mine – Czechia – where the employer is responsible for providing protective equipment to workers).

          • No One In Particular says:

            @Matt M “I mean yeah, probably. Sure there are lots of ways to get cancer. But the whole entire logic of the current lockdown regime is that you can potentially catch COVID from literally every person you come in contact with.” Looking forward, one has the potential to get it from anyone, but looking backwards, one could have gotten it only from people who had it.

            “To prove you caught COVID at work, you’d basically have to prove that you came in contact with literally nobody except for your coworkers.”

            Lung cancer lawsuits don’t have to rule out every single cause of it other than cigarettes.

          • Tuna-Fish says:

            > To prove you caught COVID at work, you’d basically have to prove that you came in contact with literally nobody except for your coworkers.

            @Matt M

            The standard of evidence for civil cases is balance of proof. You don’t need to prove that you literally came into contact with nobody except your coworkers, you need to prove that it was at least 51% likely that you got your infection from a coworker. This is much, much easier.

      • A1987dM says:

        Because shutting down is much less bad for you if everybody else is also shutting down than if no-one else is, and the official lockdown provides a Schelling point to solve the coordination problem.

        • Matt M says:

          Note that inconsistent enforcement in this regard (particularly in regards to who gets classified as “essential”) is responsible for a large amount of lockdown opposition.

          Mainly, smaller businesses are more likely to be specialized and therefore fall under “purely non-essential” and ordered to shut down than larger corporations. If the governor says “sporting goods are non-essential” that means all the small specialty stores that sell sporting goods exclusively have to close. But if someone wants to buy a basketball, they can still get one at Wal-Mart. Because Wal-Mart is essential, because it also sells milk.

          • Randy M says:

            There was some talk about shutting down portions of superstores like Wal-Mart and Target that don’t sell groceries. I’m not sure if that was done anywhere, though.

          • Matt M says:

            It was done briefly, in Michigan, until outrage about “If I’m already in Wal-Mart, why can’t I buy seeds for my garden” won the day and the governor took it back.

            That’s the only case I’m specifically aware of though.

          • A1987dM says:

            In Italy, supermarkets were forbidden to sell certain items such as clothes (including socks/underwear) and books (but not phones).

          • Rebecca Friedman says:

            Someone local to me, I think Santa Clara County but it could have been California, issued orders to that effect – that any portion of a store selling non-essential items had to be shut down. Part of the “we’re lengthening the lockdown and also strengthening it” message. I don’t know whether that was either obeyed or enforced; I haven’t been in any stores.

          • nkurz says:

            @Randy M and @Matt M:
            > I’m not sure if that was done anywhere, though.
            > That’s the only case I’m specifically aware of though.

            Vermont stopped big box stores from selling non-essential items at the beginning of April, and so far as I know this is still in force: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-04-01/walmart-told-to-halt-in-store-sales-of-non-essentials-in-vermont.

            The Walmart I frequent in Bennington had about 2/3 the store closed off with caution tape a couple weeks ago, and while I haven’t been back since, I think this remains the case. Home Depot, by contrast, had only a few items cordoned off and was freely offering the lawn tool items I was looking for that were prohibited at Walmart.

          • 205guy says:

            I hadn’t heard that US stores were being partitioned.

            Amazon warehouses in France were prohibited from shipping non-essential items, the reason being to lessen the exposure of workers (in both number and time at the workplace). In response, Amazon shut its French warehouses totally saying they couldn’t limit orders in that way, and then fulfills them from other European warehouses.

            https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-amazon-france-idUSKCN2261YQ

            I think the nuances of how each jurisdiction responds to the virus is fascinating.

      • MisterA says:

        It matters a lot who’s issuing the order.

        Alameda County may not have the power to arrest people if they break a shutdown order, but state governments definitely can, and I know in my state (Maryland) the governor ordered cops to arrest the owners of businesses that did not obey the shutdown order.

      • albatross11 says:

        There’s also:

        a. A ready-made excuse for why, even though you’d *love* to come to work, or take your kid to practice for the school play, or go visit your mother in law, that doggone stay-at-home order is keeping you from it.

        b. Whatever the opposite of a safe harbor is. If there’s a big outbreak at the Tesla plant and the widows of the deceased sue, they’ll have a much stronger case because they can point out that the county was under a lockdown order, and Musk ordered his employees to work anyway.

        c. A Schelling point–everyone who isn’t sure whether to take the risk of transmission seriously enough to bail out on, say, going shopping for a new sofa can coordinate on “yep, I guess nobody’s going to be doing that so I won’t go/we won’t keep our store open.”

        • No One In Particular says:

          I don’t think Musk is “ordering” his employees to work.

          • keaswaran says:

            Don’t most people consider it an “order” to work when your employer says the factory is open and it’s your shift? Or is he specifically allowing workers indefinite paid leave if they choose to remain home during the pandemic?

          • I wouldn’t call it an order to work if he allows them unpaid leave.

            Or do you want to consider every employment offer to someone currently not employed an order?

          • albatross11 says:

            This is a stupid word game.

            My boss can order me to come into work. She can’t send men with guns to arrest me if I refuse, but I’ll probably have to start looking for another job if I refuse, modulo getting the HR department to go along.

            In exactly the same sense, Elon Musk can order his employees back to work, and the manager at the local McDonald’s can order one of his employees to take out the trash.

            Nobody in this discussion was in any danger of misunderstanding the situation as “Elon Musk has the legal authority to order his employees back to work,” so nitpicking the word choice seems kinda pointless. Or were you somehow thinking I’d mistaken Musk for someone with political or legal authority, or perhaps for the officer in charge of some military unit?

          • No One In Particular says:

            @albatross11

            I think that “stupid word game” is rather uncivil. What meaning exactly do you think the term “order” adds to your post?

            “My boss can order me to come into work.”

            If A says that B ordered them into work, it would be commonly understood that there was some standing offer of work from B to A, and B made that offer contingent on A coming to work. For instance, perhaps A works Monday through Friday, and B told A that if they don’t also come in on Saturday, the Monday through Friday employment would be terminated. Does a similar case apply to Musk? If not, what meaning did you intend?

            “I’ll probably have to start looking for another job if I refuse”

            In this case, we have that someone who refuse this job offer will have to find another job offer, which seems like a rather vacuous statement. Of course if someone refuses a job offer, they will not get that job.

            “Nobody in this discussion was in any danger of misunderstanding the situation as “Elon Musk has the legal authority to order his employees back to work,” so nitpicking the word choice seems kinda pointless.”

            Here’s this one argument against my comment that I just made up and quickly dismissed, so there can’t be any valid arguments against my comment.

            The term “order” implies coercion, and it is quite legitimate to question how that is valid. Does anyone refusing to come into work face any consequences other than not having that work? Questioning the emotional valence of word choice is not a “nitpick”, and this is also verging on incivility.

          • albatross11 says:

            I honestly do not see what this nitpick about the word “order” adds to the discussion. It’s hard for me to imagine that there was a single reader of my comment who had a clearer understanding of the situation or of my intent in writing what I wrote after having a couple people nitpick the word than there was before.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Re: coercion

            But Naro said she had reason to think that wasn’t the case. Naro said her supervisor told her over the phone that if she chose not to come back as directed, she could be terminated. However, she said, she got a different message over email, which didn’t include any mention of termination.

            Carlos Gabriel, 36, a production associate at the Fremont plant, said he was assured by the human resources department that he wouldn’t lose his job or face a penalty for not returning. But he said being taken off furlough status if he chooses not to return and not being paid “is a penalty.”

            “The problem for the workers is that it’s one thing to have a viable claim for an unlawful firing, and it’s another thing to have a job,” Fisk said. “Having a possible lawsuit does not pay the rent or put food on the table. And Tesla knows that. So the threat is very likely to intimidate some workers to force them to work.”

            https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/some-tesla-factory-employees-say-they-re-being-pressured-return-n1205866

          • No One In Particular says:

            @albatross11
            As I said, I find the term “nitpick” to be uncivil. And I think that I’ve already made it quite clear what the point is: the term asserts something that I think deserves to be questioned. Simply ignoring that and asking again what the point is is yet another example of incivility.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            the term asserts something that I think deserves to be questioned

            Fine. If I google “order” and look at the definition provided in the top hit, I see the first definition for the verb is:

            1. give an authoritative direction or instruction to do something.
            “she ordered me to leave”

            This is in accordance with common usage. “Coercion” is far from a necessary ingredient. It would be fair to say that “consequences” is necessary, but that’s a lot broader consideration.

            Far from “ignoring” your point, albatross11 is showing how the term “order” does not assert anything like what you claim it asserts.

            I’m usually a big believer in noticing the distinction between what a government is permitted do (by coercion) and what another entity is permitted do (without coercion). And I might have been on your side if you had started out by pointing out that there is an important difference between the risk of going to jail and the risk of losing your job. But you said just “I don’t think Musk is ‘ordering’ his employees to work.” That’s just wrong, and any English-speaker ought to agree.

      • zzzzort says:

        Can they not shut off the power and water? That’s what LA is threatening (can’t tell if they’ve followed through in any case).

        I agree any fine is likely to be pretty minor. The big threat as I understand it would be pulling their business license, which 1) they could probably lawyer their way out of, and 2) would also significantly hurt the county. Neither 1 nor 2 apply to most small businesses though.

    • educationrealist says:

      One thing I haven’t seen observed about the Tesla reopening that undoubtedly played a part in Alameda’s decision to concede: the parking lot for 10,000 employees was damn near full.

      They were probably hoping that Musk would declare the factory open and have a bunch of noshows. When exactly the opposite happened, they folded.

      Given that the whole shutdown is bullshit, good for Musk. We need more people crying bullshit.

  18. ddxxdd says:

    Also in me-being-wrong news, evidence continues to come in about whether smoking is a risk factor for coronavirus, protective against it, or all the studies are biased and we have no idea.

    The “protective against it” link is broken; please fix it ASAP so I can confirm my biases.

  19. Even if this isn’t the best idea from a epidemiological standpoint, they should do it anyway, because otherwise people will visit people outside their household and lose all respect for the law in general.

    Does anyone still have respect for the law at this point?

    Scott, maybe you can convince your overly-conscientious friends that laws are created by legislative bodies and that executive orders are not laws.

    People like your housemate should able to hug their significant others. This is especially true for young couples who are at extremely low risk of dying from the virus.

    • North49 says:

      As an anarchist, I think this was overly optimistic. No matter how dumb the laws, people never get to ‘I guess laws are just dumb”. They always seem to find their way to “but just wait until our guy is in charge!”

      • Matt M says:

        Eh, I think it’s less that, and more just a form of “the laws are good and just but I have good reason to violate them myself” cognitive dissonance.

        Like, I get a kick out of the people who are in favor of lockdowns, but willing to violate them to… go to the anti-lockdown protest and take pictures of the protestors and criticize them for not staying home. Well, if you think staying home is so great, why aren’t you doing it? If you ask them, they definitely have something they believe is a good reason why they can be excepted from the general rule, in this specific instance.

        Or the people who have booked plane travel and then take a picture of the crowded plane as if Delta Airlines should be ashamed for allowing people to travel. Well, of course I have to travel – I have a good reason. But all these other potential superspreaders on the plane should have been made to stay home!

        • keaswaran says:

          > Well, if you think staying home is so great, why aren’t you doing it?

          Because the rule isn’t about staying home – it’s about not congregating. Going to take photos from a distance is very much not congregating.

        • No One In Particular says:

          “as if Delta Airlines should be ashamed for allowing people to travel.” I think you are being quite uncharitable. I don’t think that is the implication. The implication is that the should be having more flights (which, presumably, they have plenty of capacity to do), so that the number of people per flight is lower.

          “Like, I get a kick out of the people who are in favor of lockdowns, but willing to violate them to… go to the anti-lockdown protest and take pictures of the protestors and criticize them for not staying home.”
          If they are maintaining distance and wearing a mask, are they violating the lockdown? The anti-lockdown protesters are generally not doing either.

          • The implication is that the should be having more flights (which, presumably, they have plenty of capacity to do), so that the number of people per flight is lower.

            Is the implication that they should be running half empty flights and raising the ticket price accordingly? If they believed that passengers would pay for that, it would presumably be in their interest to offer it.

            If not, then they are being asked to run at a loss.

          • Matt M says:

            Some protests have made it a big point to officially encourage social distancing, others haven’t.

            And in any case, the general mainstream position is not “go out as much as you want so long as you wear a mask and social distance.” It’s “stay home, save lives, only go out if essential.”

            Mocking protesters is not an essential activity. And most of the mockery is about the protest itself, not that the protest is not adequately social distancing.

    • No One In Particular says:

      Just because someone is at low risk of dying doesn’t mean they can’t spread it to people who have higher risk. Given Scott’s social mileau, (and the fact that she has a male roommate other than her boyfriend), his roommate is likely polyamorous, and letting polyamorous people expose their entire polycule to the virus is quite worrying.

  20. evlutte says:

    I can’t tell easily from the sources. For graphs of whether people are staying at home, are those numbers binary (left home at all vs stayed entirely at home), or are they somehow time/frequency weighted? For instance, I’ve been following the Bay Area orders. Working from home, avoiding restaurants/gatherings, not meeting with people outside my household etc. However, I go for a socially-distant walk/run most days and visit the grocery store once or twice a week. Thus I am leaving home and my cell-phone would report me as such.

    Most people I know seem to be pretty similar (I know, I know, strong selection bias), but if those graphs are binary then there may be much larger change in habits than they can show. If they’re weighted then there is indeed a much smaller change than I would have expected based on my own observations.

  21. sohois says:

    And “Will a vaccine be approved before the end of 20202” – almost exactly split, 48% YES, 52% NO.

    The NOs seem a bit pessimistic given the date

    • jonmarcus says:

      I dunno. Maybe the NOs figure humans will be wiped out before we find a vaccine and before 20202. I’d put at least some money on the latter bet.

  22. ana53294 says:

    60% of deaths in Spain happened in care homes. While Spain hasn’t been as bad as New York when it comes to care homes, I think there is only so much we can do to avoid coronavirus deaths in care homes.

    Are there statistics that count the deaths outside care homes?

    • DinoNerd says:

      Two interesting anecdotes:

      According to my sister, British Columbia, but no other Candian province, banned people from working in more than one care home. Apparantly the normal thing in Canadian cities is for the same worker to have a few hours at several different homes, rather than the same number of hours all in the same place. That provincial government told care home chains to rearrange their staffing, so instead of 4 people each working at four different places, they had one of them working at each. The result was visible in the per-province statistics as fewer care home infections and deaths.

      I haven’t checked her facts, or whether the results were true at the time, but changed later (i.e. as a hypothetical, perhaps there was only a delay).

      Also from Canada, via a relative living there, and unchecked: one major city broke down their care home statistics by type of care home: for profit, non-profit, and government-run. The for-profit homes had the most covid deaths (presumably proportionately) and the government (=? city) run homes had the fewest. Or perhaps the statistic was cases – I don’t recall. At any rate, I didn’t check this, and it conforms to my biases, as well as those of the relative who relayed this story, so add plenty of salt.

      But both suggest that, in Canada at least, neither care homes nor care home regulations were created equal, and thus there were things that could have been done, given sufficient warning.

      • SamChevre says:

        In an interesting contrast, here in western Massachusetts, a disproportionate share of the deaths were at a state-run nursing home (Holyoke Soldiers Home).

    • No One In Particular says:

      It seems to me that it some ways, ALFs and prisons should be *easier* to keep COVID-free. You already have the residents locked down, and you have the economies of scale to have supplies delivered to you. If governments would just order the staff to shelter in the facility, ban visitors, and quarantine new arrivals, how would there be any infections? But I guess the freedom of care workers and prison guards takes precedence over the lives of ALF residents and prisoners.

      • ana53294 says:

        There are three shifts of workers in care facilities (I think there might be a weekend shift, also).

        In order to lock down the workers properly, you need to provide a room for each, because otherwise they’ll give each other whatever they’ve got. That’s a lot of empty rooms care homes don’t have.

        And yes, prison guards and care workers have rights, too.

        • In order to lock down the workers properly, you need to provide a room for each, because otherwise they’ll give each other whatever they’ve got.

          Presumably the point is to keep the care facility infection free, in which case the care workers don’t have anything to give each other. That’s why you are keeping them as well as the occupants in quarantine.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            There are different threat models and risk models.

            In general you want to isolate each person into as small a bubble as possible, but at certain points it stops being useful. If two people work side-by-side all day giving them separate rooms may not pay off. (Although it may make being cooped up more tolerable if they have privacy from each other at “home.”)

            For elder care, you want to break people into teams where only one set of workers interacts with a given set of patients. So if a bubble gets breached, it doesn’t take down your whole system.

            You also need a rapid-response when there you have an exposure event. The entire shift gets put into individual rooms until you figure out what’s going on, and you bring in a whole new different shift.

  23. DarkTigger says:

    I’m not completly done with reading the article, but about your crackpot theory about speaking loudly.

    If you ask a Swiss about a people always speaking loud, they will point at Germans. So no that does not seems to be it. 😉

    • Kaitian says:

      One notable difference is that French and Italians will often kiss on the cheek as a greeting, but Germans generally won’t. Maybe this is part of how covid spreads — Iranians love cheek kissing too.

    • Johnny4 says:

      I interpreted the original comment to be about speaking loudly and in people’s faces. Germans give much more personal space to people than Italians, at least in my experience. And maybe the Germans are louder than the Swiss, but c’mon, they’re not nearly as loud as Italians. (Obviously there is regional variation within the countries, but I think that general claim holds true.)

    • Joseftstadter says:

      One thing you notice immediately living in Austria is how quiet German speakers are relative to English speakers (or Turkish or Russian speakers). At least in public places like restaurants or public transportation. It is very difficult, I have noticed how hard it is to eavesdrop on conversations of German speakers – they are trained at a young age not to speak loudly in public. You can hear an American from 4 tables away, and Russians are often not much better.

      • glorkvorn says:

        Maybe, but bear in mind that most English speakers at restaurants in Austria are probably tourists. They’re there on vacation, they’re in high spirits, possibly a bit drunk, and they might feel like “nobody can understand what we’re saying”. I don’t think Americans at restaurants here are usually that loud.

        • Loriot says:

          Useless anecdote: One of my last pre-lockdown memories is going to a restaurant to pick up my takeout order and passing a table of people speaking in German about the outbreak. So that group at least was talking loud enough to overhear. (I don’t think they were tourists though. There’s a surprising number of German speaking residents in the bay area.)

          Of course, the real confounder is that eavesdropping ability depends not just on volume and clarity, but also your skill at the language in question. I could much more easily understand an overheard conversation in English than other languages, all else being equal.

        • Joseftstadter says:

          Probably a lot of the Americans (and Russians) are tourists, but I tend to think people are just taking their natural habits with them. Americans are quite loud, relative to Austrians, in the US as well. Some of that is probably simply due to the American practice of playing background music in restaurants, forcing everyone to talk over that.

  24. A1987dM says:

    maybe detected coronavirus cases are “just the tip of the iceberg” … official counts are only off by a factor of ten … No icebergs here.

    You realize that about 10% of a literal iceberg is above the water surface?

    • matthewravery says:

      Cute. But then the people making the original analogy are the silly ones, since they were hoping that only ~1-2% of cases were in the official statistics.

      • A1987dM says:

        Still, (regardless of choice of metaphor) ~10 undetected cases for each confirmed one is nothing to sneeze at, especially when you hear people saying stuff like “there likely are as many as 3x as many undetected cases as confirmed ones” making it sound like that’s a shockingly high figure, and people who do statistical analyses on the number of confirmed cases without even attempting to guesstimate that of undetected ones.

  25. demost says:

    But cell phone data finds that citizens of Stockholm and Nashville “have nearly the exact same adjustment in driving, walking, and transit use”.

    This may just be a bad pair for comparison. There is excellent data from google about mobility, and it shows that the country-specific policies in Europe have massive effect on mobility. Just a few examples:

    Italy and Spain have (or had until recently) curfew. The changes in the four categories “Retail & Recreation”, “Grocery & Pharmacy”, “Parks” and “Workplaces” compared to baseline mobility are:
    Italy: -63%, -28%, -31%, -39%
    Spain: -84%, -38%, -49%, -47%

    Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands have closed restaurants, schools, sport clubs, etc., and have encouraged work-at-home, but they don’t have curfew. (Though coming closer than 1 or 2 meters is/was forbidden.) Their data:
    Switzerland: -56%, -2%, +67%, -21%
    Germany: -40%, -1%, +61%, -8%
    Netherlands: -35%, +2%, +92%, -8%

    As a control, Sweden, which has taken rather light measures (not closing restaurants and public life, but encouraging the population to use them sparely and take precautions at all times):
    Sweden: -16%, -1%, +146%, -5%

    So within Europe, government measures have a huge impact on the actual behaviour of the people. I don’t know enough about the US to know where they are standing, but I would think that they are not directly comparable to Europe because of cultural background (trust in government tends to be much higher in Europe than in the US), and because they were hit much later.

    • noyann says:

      Conclusion: parks are effective prevention.

    • matthewravery says:

      I’ve been working with this data for ~ a month, and I think you’re over-stating the case when you assert causality. (Also, there are six categories, not four. You dropped transportation and residential.)

      There are some interventions that are clearly linked with changes in these data, but everything (interventions with each other, mobility measures with each other, mobility measures with interventions) is highly correlated. School closings, restrictions on public gatherings, and restrictions on international travel tended to precede behavioral changes, while stop movement orders and the closing of public transit tended to lag the largest shifts in behavior.

      You also notice differences across countries. For example, policy changes in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden tended to occur before changes in behavior by a few days (or weeks in the case of Sweden), whereas in the rest of Europe (or at least the rest of the 25 countries I’m looking at) policy changes came a after the largest shifts in behavior by a day or two.

      Point is, it’s kind of a muddle. You add in the fact that many of these policies were implemented around the same time that Lombardy was exploding and football leagues were shuttering and I think it’s fair to wonder how much people would’ve modified their behavior regardless of what their government did.

      • demost says:

        I agree that especially the timing between government measures and behaviour changes does not give a clear picture. E.g., it might be that the Danish government and Danish population were shocked by the same reports from Italy, and acted more or less independently.

        But I still claim that the size of reduction is clearly influenced by the government policy. In both directions, actually: Denmark opened up things a few weeks ago, and mobility increased again to a similar level as Sweden. (There are some rebound effects in all countries, but it’s much stronger in Denmark.) Before that, Denmark was much (!) less mobile than Sweden, and the only difference I can see between those countries is the government policy.

        You might call it trivial: If work is closed, people don’t go to work. But Scott doubted exactly this connection in his post.

  26. j4son says:

    95% confidence that there will be <2 million US cases on June 1st? I feel like there's some money to be made here…

  27. Deiseach says:

    There is something which I’m curious about – if Trump says X, does that automatically trigger everyone else saying Y?

    I’m asking because in my daily news feed, one of the tabloid rags has a piece from some TV doctor in the UK as below:

    Dr Hilary Jones hit out at the use of hydroxychloroquine after President Trump confessed that he was taking the unproven anti-malaria drug.

    The doctor, 66, warned that there were a number of troubling consequences of using the drug, including heart failure.

    He also said that there were no benefits found in the clinical trials and that Trump was “three weeks behind on the rumour mill”.

    Dr Hilary went further to suggest that Trump “sounded like a drug pusher” by telling US citizens that they “might like” the drugs.

    Yes, It’s That Fishtank Drug Again. Now, I have no idea if it is good, bad or indifferent. What I do know is that (a) well before ever Trump talked about it, I was seeing people – of the kind who often post on here about new drug trials, nootropics, and “I’ve read the relevant research papers and I think we should all be taking metformin to extend our life span” – mentioning that they had read the relevant research papers and thought hydroxychloroquine was the way to go (b) it would seem that Trump got the idea from some bunch calling themselves the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons who sent him an open letter about various things and included it. I have no idea if the AAPS is any cop, they could be three guys with a post office box in Kalamazoo, or they could be as reputable as the rest of the APA associations. But I don’t think Trump just pulled the idea out of his backside. If you’re going to condemn anyone as a “drug pusher”, shouldn’t it be the guys with a website and “Trust me, I’m a doctor”?

    So what I am wondering is this – apart from whether X is effective or not, is there some kind of kneejerk reaction kicking in where if Trump is for it, Right Thinking People have to be agin’ it? If Trump had said nothing, would we be seeing the same TV doctors giving interviews about how he was deliberately neglecting this wonder drug cure?

    • Anteros says:

      I pretty much agree with you, and although I’m no big fan of Donald T, it annoys the hell out of me when the BBC adds it’s daily article ‘fact-checking the American presidents latest tweet’ or A doctor criticizes Trump for something he said 27 days ago’.

      Having said that, I thought Scott’s silica gel comment was absolutely priceless..

      • Deiseach says:

        Having said that, I thought Scott’s silica gel comment was absolutely priceless..

        You just wait, the way Trump is cursed with luck, it will turn out that silica gel is an important element of the vaccine or something 🙂

    • Chalid says:

      Believing in hydroxychloroquine was not unreasonable early in the epidemic. Then a bunch of studies came out that had no effect (though you’ll get people saying those were done wrong for various reasons). So putting a lot of faith in it *now*, let alone actually taking it, is pretty unreasonable.

      • Deiseach says:

        So putting a lot of faith in it *now*, let alone actually taking it, is pretty unreasonable.

        Which is fair enough, but I’m not seeing anyone going after the American Whosis website for disseminating false information, and if I’m online looking for a cure, a website run by Real Doctors is going to be a heck of a lot more convincing to me even than “the President says”.

        If I was seeing similar outrage about these kinds of sites, I’d be less “hmm wonder if this is partisan”.

        But golly gee, I can’t wait for the True Crime Movie of the Week in ten years time or so about The Fishtank Murders; you couldn’t make it up! 😀

        • Chalid says:

          There are always going to be crazy people with crazy opinions, and most of the time the right thing to do is ignore them unless they actually manage to gain some power or influence.

          Spending all your time pointing and laughing at unimportant nutcases is not healthy.

        • Ant says:

          I saw plenty of doctor on twitter claiming that Chloroquine sucks as a treatment for Covid19 before Trump gave wrong medical advice for the third time, so I don’t think it’s just polarization in action. That being said, pointing out that Trump’s record on the subject is abysmal is fair game (first chloroquine, then detergent, then choloroquine again) and the dupe profile is :
          _ Unusually determined and aggressive on the subject
          _ Often far right or far left.

          • albatross11 says:

            General rule: Don’t take medical advice from politicians or celebrities or media figures unless they’re actually medical experts. And especially not from Donald Trump.

            Trump did recommend (hydro?)chloroquine. He didn’t recommend detergent or bleach shots or whatever else, though he was doing the usual incoherent word-salad thing he does sometimes when speaking in public, and it was pretty confusing. I assume he’s following the advice of his personal physician, who thinks maybe chloroquine is a good bet despite the unpromising results so far and the side effects–but who knows?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            We have no idea if Trump is taking hydroxy chloroquine.

          • No One In Particular says:

            @Edward Scizorhands Did you miss the story of Trump saying that he’s taking it? Or are you just skeptical of everything he says?

          • noyann says:

            We know Trump takes HC, after his doc weighted pros and cons. It was in the news here.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            His doctor’s statement, which was supposed to show he’s taking it, doesn’t say he’s taking it.

          • noyann says:

            I had it from here, the Tagesschau is usually reliable, but there can always be a glitch…

        • No One In Particular says:

          “Which is fair enough, but I’m not seeing anyone going after the American Whosis website for disseminating false information”

          There are plenty of people who have said more racist things the Trump, but his “Mexicans are sending rapists” got attention because he was a celebrity. Of course people are going after Trump for pushing bad medicine on the general public while creating a shortage for people who actually need it.

          “and if I’m online looking for a cure, a website run by Real Doctors is going to be a heck of a lot more convincing to me even than “the President says”.”

          The very fact that some random website claiming to be run by doctors has more credence than the president of the United States shows how screwed up the country is.

          • Deiseach says:

            The very fact that some random website claiming to be run by doctors has more credence than the president of the United States shows how screwed up the country is.

            May I ask what your point is here? A website claiming to be run by doctors will have more credence when it’s a case of a medical question. The President is not a doctor (our Taoiseach is, so his advice would be considered more informed) so if I’m Random Person looking up online about this fishtank drug, and I see a medical website that for all I know to the contrary is just as good as WebMD recommending it, of course I will be inclined to go “Well, if Real Doctors say it works, I trust that opinion!”

            This has nothing to do with Trump, whether it was Clinton (Bill or Hillary), Obama, Reagan, Bush or George Washington himself, if it came to a medical question most people would put more credence in “Real Doctors say” than “The president says”.

          • In addition to Deiseach’s point about expertise …

            I expect that a presidential statement is typically considered reliable information by less than half the population. About half didn’t support him, and many of those who did have enough sense to realize that politicians frequently find it in their interest to mislead people, for good or bad reasons.

          • No One In Particular says:

            @Deiseach

            My point in saying “The very fact that some random website claiming to be run by doctors has more credence than the president of the United States shows how screwed up the country is.” is to say that the very fact that some random website claiming to be run by doctors has more credence than the president of the United States shows how screwed up the country is. Asking me what my point is suggests bad faith. In a well-functioning country, the president should have more credence than a random person claiming to be a doctor on the internet. For one thing, you don’t whether they are a doctor, for another, there are a lot of whackos who managed to get an MD: Ben Carson, Mehmet Oz, etc. And it’s not like “What are effective treatments for coronavirus” is a matter that’s studied in depth in medical school. 99.99% of doctors who have an opinion on hydroxychloroquine are basing it (if on anything at all) on researching what trials other doctors have done. While doctors have some more skill in that area than others, it’s not a skill unique to them. A president can is full capable of contacting experts and ask them what evidence there is, and a non-doctor president who does so with a serious respect for accuracy is more reliable than a random doctor who may be speaking out of their ass.

          • and a non-doctor president who does so with a serious respect for accuracy is more reliable than a random doctor who may be speaking out of their ass.

            Why would you expect a president to have a serious respect for accuracy. He got to be president because he is good at persuading people to vote for him, and being unwilling to say things that he doesn’t have good reason to believe are true would be handicap in that endeavor.

      • No One In Particular says:

        Entertaining the possibility that it would help wasn’t unreasonable. *Believing* that it would help was always unreasonable.

      • Glen Raphael says:

        @Chalid:

        Believing in hydroxychloroquine was not unreasonable early in the epidemic.
        […]
        So putting a lot of faith in it *now*, let alone actually taking it, is pretty unreasonable.

        Really?

        Near as I can tell, the primary claim still in play seems to be that hydroxychloroquine taken along with Z-Pack and zinc might help, especially when used early. The original thinking was that the HCQ makes the zinc more effective, but you need both parts. The “bunch of studies” to which you refer mostly don’t consider zinc at all and primarily suggest that (a) HCQ all by itself (with no zinc) doesn’t seem to help, and (b) it especially doesn’t help when the patients are already critically ill.

        There aren’t any completed placebo-controlled clinical trials
        but there are some studies in preprint based on retrospective analyses and at least one of these – a very recent one at NYU – does consider the role of zinc. So what does it find?

        The May 12th press release story Drug Combo with Hydroxychloroquine Promising: NYU Study says:

        “Researchers at NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine found patients given the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine along with zinc sulphate and the antibiotic azithromycin were 44 percent less likely to die from the coronavirus. “

        …and Hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin plus zinc vs hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin alone: outcomes in hospitalized COVID-19 patients appears to be a relevant preprint; it concludes:

        “This study provides the first in vivo evidence that zinc sulfate in combination with hydroxychloroquine may play a role in therapeutic management for COVID-19.”

        • Ant says:

          Really. There has been a lot of bogus preprint (the last one manage to put the dead/hospitalized of the treatment group into the control group), and the doctors I heard on this subject are not happy with the situation.

          I don’t know if your preprint is one of the many they analysed, but to be honest at this point, I will let them dictate my judgement on this issue.

    • Baeraad says:

      Yes. Trump drives all decent people crazy. The idea of him being right about anything, even the tiniest thing, is insufferable to any civilised individual.

      I agree that this is unfortunate, because occasionally, if only by accident, he has to be right about something. And even when he isn’t, there’s no reason to believe that he manages to nail the bullseye of the exact opposite of the truth. Just screaming “up!” whenever he says “blur hur hur, doooown!” doesn’t lead to good results.

      But I also make no apologies for it. I’m with Bill Maher – if Trump doesn’t drive you insane, then you’re already crazy. Trump makes everyone stupid, either because they agree with the nonsense he says or because they refuse to consider that there might be one or two things right in amidst the nonsense. For this reason, we should all hope that he shuts up and goes away as quickly as possible.

      Seriously. Sanity will be restored when and only when the most worthless human being alive ceases to also be the most powerful and prominent human being alive. Let us all, regardless of our personal beliefs, join together and look forward to that day, because as long as we have to put up with Trump driving us crazy, you have to put up with us being crazy.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I’m with Bill Maher – if Trump doesn’t drive you insane, then you’re already crazy

        Trump doesn’t drive me crazy at all. I see almost no difference between a person who says ridiculous things in ridiculous ways and former presidents who very carefully crafted their messages and used more subtle forms of manipulation and deception in terms of effects on the truth or my sanity.

        • North49 says:

          This exactly. I’m no trump fan, in fact I’m an anarchist. But really what is different besides the knee-jerk reactionarification of the media? If trump can finish out the year without starting a new forever war, he’ll be far and away the best president of the 21st century in my book.

        • mtl1882 says:

          I see almost no difference between a person who says ridiculous things in ridiculous ways and former presidents who very carefully crafted their messages and used more subtle forms of manipulation and deception in terms of effects on the truth or my sanity.

          I actually find the former much more tolerable. I talked to someone recently who knew I had anticipated Trump’s election, and he said, “I mean, his tweets, with your particularity about language, and your education level, it must really grate…” My response was something along the lines of, “No, they never did. I have always read his tweets in a taunting or playful tone. I was familiar with his style from watching a bit of Celebrity Apprentice and because I read his books in 2015. I never thought he was trying to be eloquent or serious.” Yeah, sometimes I think his tweets are stupid (they aren’t intended to be intellectual masterpieces) and juvenile and all the other obvious adjectives. I don’t follow his Twitter feed very closely. But they don’t grate.

          For me, things grate when they are contrived or insincere or hackneyed or disingenuous. When they try to sound articulate or intelligent without saying anything. When I pick up on the inconsistency and have to do the mental work to reconcile the framing with the real meaning. I was so burned out on that by the time Trump came along, so sick of things trying to get the same programmed reaction out of me–it seems to have provoked for me what Trump does in others. While I don’t care for his tweets, which aren’t aimed at me anyway, I enjoy listening to Trump speak–something most of my friends definitely don’t experience. I like the energy and unpredictability. He’s no master of oratory, but we don’t have any of those to begin with. Our best speakers have nothing to say–all talking points. I also enjoy his books, which are expanded versions of the Twitter style and references. The absurdity of that style is the point. Of course, you can say absurdity is an inappropriate register for the president to inhabit regularly. I just don’t see how the filler language on offer from everyone else is more tolerable. If we have no decent options, I’ll take the entertaining one.

      • aristides says:

        Another suggestion, don’t listen to a word out of the President’s mouth, and just read the official White House statements. They have all been carefully written, and even if I have disagreements on aspects, they all seem reasonable. I have been so much happier and calmer since I have adopted this strategy, and will likely continue it if Biden wins the election this year. I do not expect his speeches to be any more coherent though maybe they will inspire less vitriol.

      • Friendly AI With Benefits says:

        Can we avoid unnecessarily CW spew? Trump is obviously not the most worthless human being alive, and plenty of totally not crazy people aren’t bothered by him.
        You’re not adding anything to the discussion you’re just lowering the discourse water line.

      • Ouroborobot says:

        This is exactly the kind of comment that shouldn’t have a place here. Please save it for your blog.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      AAPS is an interesting group. They love taking extreme positions on controversial things that cause mainstream doctors angst, like HIV not causing AIDS or vaccines causing autism. It was practically guaranteed they would recommend hydroxycholoroquine.

      (My first guess was that hydroxy would have a very small positive effect that mostly gets swamped by side effects.)

    • keaswaran says:

      I went to look up the AAPS on Wikipedia, and realized that the first AAPS I clicked on was not the one mentioned here (they both have a “not to be confused with” linking to the other). This one appears to be a conservative front group that intentionally chose a name to cause confusion with the other one.

  28. Xammer says:

    “If we lift the restrictions, the same number of people will die as if we had never instituted any restrictions at all, and also we will have wasted X years.”

    Wasn’t the point of ‘flatten the curve’ that if you spread the infections over many years, fewer people would die because the hospitals won’t get overcrowded?

    • caryatis says:

      The original “flatten the curve” argument was about a lockdown for 15-30 days, not for years. Many people were okay with a limited-time sacrifice who would not be okay with a lengthy, indefinite one.

      • Matt M says:

        Yeah. The White House announced a program called “15 days to stop the spread”… over 60 days ago. To say that the goalposts have shifted is putting it mildly…

        • DarkTigger says:

          In this case I agree with you. I don’t know if he ever actually said that, but Trump did make it sound like this measures would be taken for a couple of weeks tops.
          I remember conversations were people said “He is crazy or stupid, if he believes that.

          • Matt M says:

            I think the well informed/rationalist adjacent people were saying that.

            Most of the “normies” I know were saying “it’s just 15 days, no big deal, we can re-open everything after that, why are you so opposed to this?”

      • Elena Yudovina says:

        That seems to be answering a different question though. Yes, flattening the curve for 30 years is a huge cost and presumably not worth it, but it should still prevent deaths. Unless all that’s going on is that we’re keeping the health system overwhelmed for 30 years because the curve isn’t being flattened enough anyway?

        • Glen Raphael says:

          @Elena Yudovina:

          Yes, flattening the curve for 30 years is a huge cost and presumably not worth it, but it should still prevent deaths.

          Are you considering the age effects? Somebody who is 20 today would have virtually no risk of death if they went out and got the virus. So obviously as a matter of strategy they SHOULD go out and get it. If instead we flatten things such that they don’t get it for 30 years, by that time they’ll be 50 and have an actually-significant chance of dying from it which we could have avoided by being less locked down.

          The age profile of this thing seems to argue for reopening schools asap.

          • Statismagician says:

            Related: chicken pox.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Factors that make purposefully getting chicken pox as a kid a good idea:

            1. No vaccine.
            2. Lifelong immunity.
            3. Much much safer get it as a kid than an adult.
            4. Trying not to catch it unlikely to work.
            5. Adults were universally infected as kids so unlikely to be harmed by infected kids.

            #1 isn’t true any more. But it wasn’t a generation+ ago.

            We don’t know that #2 is true for coronavirus. I think it’s pretty likely, and the science points towards that, but we aren’t sure of it like we are of chickenpox.

            #3 is obviously true for both chickenpox and corona virus.

            I don’t know about #4.

            If we discovered chicken pox today, #5 would not be true. It is also an issue with coronavirus today. Getting a bunch of kids infected is possibly a good idea, except that those kids are going to be interacting with a bunch of exposed adults. How do we keep the kids isolated from vulnerable adults? Boarding schools? Stay-away camps?

          • Deiseach says:

            The age profile of this thing seems to argue for reopening schools asap.

            Maybe universities, if we assume all 20 year olds are basically healthy with no underlying or pre-existing conditions so lower risk, but not schools – there are cases popping up of kids getting something similar to Kawasaki syndrome when exposed to/infected with Covid-19.

            This may be like “usually kids get measles and get over it, but when they are affected badly, it’s really badly – so vaccinate!” Better not to take the risk of your child getting measles/Covid-19 in the wild, just in case.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            there are cases popping up of kids getting something similar to Kawasaki syndrome when exposed to/infected with Covid-19.

            FYI, that link does not tell the best story because it actually says nothing about how common this is. This link is better:

            The condition, called pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, has been reported in more than a dozen states across the U.S., including Louisiana, Mississippi, California and New York. Over 100 children have been affected in New York alone, three of whom died, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo.

            the disorder is exceedingly rare, diagnosed in no more than one in 1,000 children exposed to the virus. Only a small fraction require intensive care, and even fewer die.

            I don’t want to be That Guy, but I’m not entirely sure that’s enough to affect policy.

      • keaswaran says:

        None of the original things I saw ever said 15-30 days – they said until the peak had crested and started coming down. People criticized the graphics for making the line representing healthcare capacity too high and the curve representing unchecked spread too low, because the real graph would be too disheartening. But only politicians stated a specific number of weeks early on.

        • caryatis says:

          You didn’t see this, the thing that was mailed to every American?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I just checked my copy of the postcard and it doesn’t say “30 days to slow the spread,” just “slow the spread.” Dated March 16.

            But I agree with you that a lot of messaging about “15 days” or “only 30 days” came from the White House. That is why people who aren’t in Trump circles simply don’t believe it when we get told that Trump supports the shutdowns. The whole messaging of “end it by Easter” and “only 15 days” and “LIBERATE MICHIGAN”.

            It’s like Andrew Cuomo who insisted he wasn’t forcing sick patients onto nursing homes. “Hey, if they can’t do their job, they can just say so.” See? He’s clearly not forcing them! Even though he is.

          • gph says:

            Hmm, I never got one of those postcards, and it’s the first time I’m hearing about them. I feel left out… am I not American?!?

          • keaswaran says:

            I had totally forgotten about that. But in any case, I didn’t count it because there was never any official federal rule related to it – just city, county, and state responses, most of which had specific dates, but seemed intended to leave things open-ended because policy responses need specific dates even as medical authorities were stating everything in an open-ended way. (Not to mention, I only received that postcard after Trump had already started saying we needed to start opening up.)

  29. Tarpitz says:

    I think the international comparisons are still crippled by shitty data. Western death counts aren’t too bad, but are still significantly affected by different reporting practices in different jurisdictions. Western case counts and consequently CFRs are massively affected not just by testing volume but by mechanisms for deciding who gets tested, and hence close to useless without some very clever adjustments to account for that. Data from developed authoritarian states is whatever their governments want it to be, and data from less developed countries is outright garbage.

  30. Rachael says:

    In the noughties, terrorism was in the news a lot. Conservatives were in favour of restrictions on civil liberties to combat the terrorist threat (ID cards and associated government database, surveillance of internet activity, stop and search, airport restrictions, etc.) Liberals were against them, and quoted slogans like “those who would exchange liberty for safety deserve neither”, and worried that the authorities were using terrorism as an excuse to implement a police state and that the restrictions would outlast the danger.
    Now the coronavirus is the big threat, the roles have reversed. Liberals are in favour of more and bigger lockdowns. Conservatives are chanting slogans about freedom and worrying about authoritarian overreach.
    I’m not trying to point fingers at either side, but I’m curious about the sociology. I wonder if there’s something going on (similar to the survive/thrive model, or to Haidt’s five moral dimensions) whereby conservatives are relatively more afraid of human enemies and liberals are relatively more afraid of inanimate ones?

    • helaku says:

      I doubt this is the strict dichotomy. I know (this is biased data, surely; and I’m not an american) plenty of left-wing people who are against current measures (forced lockdowns, data tracking etc.). And at the same time most of them are quite cautious (they are wearing masks, not socializing actively etc.). Though there are also people in this crowd who definitely switched in the manner you described.

    • Oldio says:

      I mean, that definitely fits the pattern for things like healthcare reform or tobacco regulation or crime. School shootings is where it breaks down, but there are a lot of reasons we could expect gun-related issues to be an exception to a general trend.
      I’m going to leave out the war on drugs, because it’s not usually as cleanly partisan in opinions.

    • mitv150 says:

      I think the dichotomy might not be liberals/conservatives strictly (although it is likely a factor as well), but more geographically/industry based.

      Members of industries in areas where there are significant numbers of cases and industries where working from home isn’t as big a disruption seem to be in favor of lockdowns.

      This includes, for example, a majority of journalists, a lot of whom are based in LA, NYC, DC, etc. (relatively worse cities) and can work from home. It so happens that a majority of journalists are also liberals, so these factors dovetail.

      When you factor in that the journalists have an outsized influence on the national narrative, this seems to be a big driver in what appears to be strictly a conservative/liberal dichotomy.

      • zzzzort says:

        But terrorism (and the threat of terrorism) overwhelming affects people in large urban areas.

        • keaswaran says:

          I don’t think it does. I think it overwhelmingly doesn’t affect anyone in developed countries other than Israel, even though it’s true that rural areas tend to be even less affected than urban areas.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Neither coronavirus nor terrorism is comparable to deaths by chairs.

      Deliberate deaths caused by someone with agency are always considered worse than deaths from random chance, weather, or accidents. If you do not strongly discourage them you risk getting a lot more and you cannot necessarily wait for things to get worse before switching to a policy that mitigates it. You want it to be Common Knowledge that the authorities will respond with overwhelming force to any attack, and that the guy at your mosque trying to recruit people to mess shit up is probably an FBI plant. If you ever lose Common Knowledge it is extremely difficult to restore. You may consider 1X deaths from terrorism to be an acceptable final outcome while 10X is not, but this doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry as long as you have 1X deaths.

      Similarly, disease has the potential to grow exponentially. If 1X deaths from coronavirus are an acceptable final outcome but 10X is not, you cannot say “nothing to worry about yet” if you are at 1X deaths.

      For things like traffic accidents, we have dials we can turn to spend more/less resources to affect how many people die of them, and they take effect pretty quickly.

      • No One In Particular says:

        There is the hypothesis that this Common Knowledge was eactly what motivated bin Laden: provoke the US into attacking Muslims, radicalizing the Muslim world even further.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      What is going on in the US is Trump.

      Here in Europe, a pattern where social/cultural liberals are more pro-lockdown than social/cultural conservatives does not exist. People with more “statist” leanings overall tend to be more pro-lockdown than those with more “libertarian” leanings even here, but that is consistent with their stated precorona preferences.

      • Matt M says:

        This doesn’t really make sense though, as Trump has generally been pro-lockdown.

        It’s true that he hasn’t been as pro-lockdown as many prominent Democrats, but I think this falls roughly in the bucket of “people with more statist leanings”… as you ascribe to Europe.

        • keaswaran says:

          I’m not sure it’s accurate to describe Trump as “pro-lockdown”. He has basically been unique among nationally prominent political figures in terms of ever criticizing lockdowns. (A few Republican governors and random local politicians have been more critical, to be sure, but if you compare Trump to basically every Senator or Cabinet Member, he’s definitely farthest away from pro-lockdown of all of them.)

          • Matt M says:

            Uh, that’s pretty much exactly what I said. Trump has generally supported lockdowns. He has criticized them somewhat, but every agency he is in charge of still continues to recommend them. He has threatened to intervene and try and stop them, but has not actually taken any concrete steps to do so.

            Just because everyone else on Earth favors stricter lockdowns than he does, and/or is less prone to question whether lockdowns are as perfect as everyone thinks, does not make Trump “anti-lockdown” in any meaningful sense.

          • keaswaran says:

            It also doesn’t make him “pro-lockdown” in any meaningful sense. He occupies the farthest from the pro-lockdown pole of the political spectrum (even if it’s not exactly “anti-lockdown”).

          • Matt M says:

            It also doesn’t make him “pro-lockdown” in any meaningful sense. He occupies the farthest from the pro-lockdown pole of the political spectrum

            That’s just not true. Just because he is more skeptical of lockdowns than other nationally known politicians does not mean he operates “the farthest from the pro-lockdown pole of the political spectrum.”

            Go look up your local “Reopen X” group on Facebook and prepare to meet tens of thousands of people who are way more anti-lockdown than Trump is.

            And if we looked hard enough, we could probably find some people who seemingly oppose lockdowns more than Trump. The governors of South Dakota, Georgia, and Florida maybe. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz maybe. Elon Musk isn’t a politician but he is a nationally prominent figure…

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            It also doesn’t make him “pro-lockdown” in any meaningful sense. He occupies the farthest from the pro-lockdown pole of the political spectrum (even if it’s not exactly “anti-lockdown”).

            That doesn’t make any sense. If I want two cheeseburgers and you want one cheeseburger, are you “anti-cheeseburger?” No, you’re just not as pro-cheeseburger as I am.

            I’m a Trump supporter, but I’m against the lockdowns and he’s definitely for them, and I disagree with him about that. His only complaints are about some places going far, like Michigan. Those places are at “two lockdown” and he’s at “one lockdown.”

          • Matt M says:

            I’m kicking myself for not having thought of this earlier, but does this mean that the position of say, Gretchen Whitmer is “50 lockdowns!”

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            There was someone complaining upthread that Trump had led them to believe it would be over in 15 days. That’s an example of not being pro-lockdown.

            If my wife is dieting and I am supporting her, it’s not enough for me to merely say that I support her. I don’t nag her every day “oh, you are still dieting? I thought we were past that by now.” I don’t say “oh my god that food smells awful” when she prepares something new. I don’t eat a bacon cheeseburger in front of her. I don’t remind her every day how much extra we are paying for good food instead of whatever crap we normally eat. I don’t keep on suggesting quack lost-weight-quick pills instead of doing the hard work.

            I guess I could compare myself to some truly evil person trying to cram brownies in her mouth or injecting sugar into her carrots. But that would be silly.

          • Randy M says:

            There was someone complaining upthread that Trump had led them to believe it would be over in 15 days. That’s an example of not being pro-lockdown.

            It’s at least an example of being naive or optimistic or lying to people to get their immediate compliance. But if he is not now saying “The 15 day lock down should have ended 35 days ago!” then he’s still pro-lock-down, at least publicly.
            Unless he knew for sure it would take >15 days, and was lying to people in order to undermine their support for the lock down after it continued past that time. That’s a tad cynical for me to find credible.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Randy M:

            The punchline was that the person upthread saying “Trump told us 15 days” is the same person I’m replying to now saying Trump supported the lockdowns. He is (1) using Trump’s words to attack the lockdowns (2) insisting Trump is supportive of them.

            Putting arbitrary deadlines on plans is not supporting them. If I support my wife’s diet, I don’t say “sure, we can do this for 15 days” and give cover to my son to whine “ugh, salad again, this was only supposed to be 15 days!” That’s just me being a dick.

          • Matt M says:

            At the start of this, even the most pro-lockdown governors and local officials signed orders that were limited in duration. Nobody was saying, two months ago, “these lockdowns may last until late summer, or possibly longer.”

          • keaswaran says:

            > even the most pro-lockdown governors and local officials signed orders that were limited in duration.

            True.

            > Nobody was saying, two months ago, “these lockdowns may last until late summer, or possibly longer.”

            Not true.

            Everyone was clear that the dates initially announced were trial runs. I’m fairly sure that not one of the announcements made a promise that the order would not be extended or renewed.

          • Randy M says:

            Putting arbitrary deadlines on plans is not supporting them.

            Arbitrary is the stickler there. That’s somewhat tautological, in that being irrational doesn’t help anything much. But sure, it’s fair to say that Trump does not support open-ended lock-downs. It’s also fair to say (based on that flyer) that Trump encouraged a lock-down.

            I think it’s pretty crazy to support an indefinite lock down, though, and an arbitrary end date is better than a lock-down with no clear end criteria.

          • Matt M says:

            I’m fairly sure that not one of the announcements made a promise that the order would not be extended or renewed.

            They didn’t say that they would be, either.

            If as a parent, you tell your children they’re “grounded for a week” you are definitely implying that at the end of one week, they won’t be grounded anymore. If, after six days, you then tell them “actually, I just extended your grounding for another 30 days” they’re going to be pretty pissed, even though technically you never promised them that wouldn’t happen.

            But it would be super weird if someone claimed you were “anti-grounding” if you allowed the grounding to expire after one week, as originally implied.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Yeah. In the stuff that was floating around in early March, which made me lock down even before the county mandated it, the implication was pretty clear. If we do nothing, hospitals will be overwhelmed and people who would survive Covid or other emergencies with proper care will instead die. If we slow things down, even if the hospitals are still overwhelmed, the situation will be improved enough that a lot of those deaths will not happen.

            As was observed here, none of those “flatten the curve” graphs had units on either axis. But the whole argument from exponential growth certainly suggested that we were in for a deluge either way and we might hit the horrible peak in a couple of weeks or the improved peak in three or four.

            It remains unknown whether locking down was just too effective and instead of pushing the peak out a couple of weeks it pushes it out a couple of years, or instead the models were just wrong and exponential growth is not nearly as important as the fact that a few people have a lot of contacts and a great susceptibility and most people not so many or not so great.

      • Friendly AI With Benefits says:

        This is a really really uninformed position.
        1. Trump was pro lockdown. You can easily argue he did a worse job than a lot of Europe did in instituting them, but by no means is he anti lockdown.
        2. The conservative group who tend to favor more aggressive reopening would exist without him. Contrary to what Europeans might think the entire conservative movement isn’t defined by Trump. (Important disclaimer: I’m a left libertarian and against Trump, but I live near rural NC and interact on a regular basis with trumpers and non Trump conservatives.)
        3. Sweden never had a lockdown?

        • Matt M says:

          2. The conservative group who tend to favor more aggressive reopening would exist without him.

          Indeed. I know plenty of die-hard pro-Trump Republicans who are absolutely furious with him (and with various Republican governors) for not doing more to stop/oppose the lockdowns.

          To be clear, this isn’t a majority position among red tribe, but it’s definitely sizeable. If I had to estimate, maybe somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3?

        • keaswaran says:

          Trump has surely made some statements in favor of some lockdowns. But what prominent national figure has been less pro-lockdown than him?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Maybe the governors of the states that didn’t do any lockdowns at all? Like Asa Hutchinson?

        • No One In Particular says:

          Trump has vacillating between pro- and anti-. He’s tweeted “Free Michigan”, accused the lockdowns of being a conspiracy against him, and tried to tie them to liberals trying to take away guns. He also has been downplaying the pandemic, calling it a “hoax”, which surely gives support to the idea that lockdowns are not necessary. trump has made not taking the pandemic seriously a right wing position.

    • Zephalinda says:

      At this point, I assume that polarization is a self-actuating force in its own right, and that which side occupies which object-level position is essentially random, like being the blue team vs. the green team in football.

      • Reasoner says:

        Yeah, I agree unfortunately. It’s weird how people will try to ascribe deep intellectual causes to the preferences of a tribe, when individual tribe members aren’t all that intellectual and the tribe as a whole is even less so. Also, I feel like it’s fairly easy to identify contradictions in the beliefs that are commonly held among a particular tribe, but this doesn’t usually seem to hold up the tribalism much.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Internal threat vs. external threat?

      Conservatives: “Yes, spy on and exclude dangerous foreigners/foreign religions that threaten us, but don’t tell me what to do.”

      Liberals: “Sure, you can tell me and my neighbors what to do, we’re responsible people, but don’t go doing anything that looks like racism to foreigners.”

      Maybe a liberal can rephrase the second one more appropriately. I’m having trouble figuring out the liberal position, but I’m a conservative.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Do anything you want to me, I can take it but you leave those innocents alone?

      • matthewravery says:

        How about:

        Liberals: “Why on Earth are you trying draw a parallel between the war on terror, an indefinite, voluntary expansion of Government power with no clear aim in mind, and the largest global health emergency in a century? They’re not even remotely similar, either in substance in or the way the Government’s responded to them.”

    • No One In Particular says:

      Some pertinent facts:

      COVID has the potential to kill millions of Americans, while terrorism has killed 3k.

      There’s strong evidence that lockdowns have helped slow the spread of COVID. It’s hard to argue that limiting people to 3 oz of liquid is a meaningful impediment to terrorism.

      The measures put in place to “fight terrorism” are things that are useful to fascist governments. Much of them involve the government doing things i secret. While lockdowns have some use to fascist governments, in the days of the internet they do little to stop anti-government organizing. In fact, they leave many people with lots of free time they can use organizing.

      • Theodoric says:

        While lockdowns have some use to fascist governments, in the days of the internet they do little to stop anti-government organizing. In fact, they leave many people with lots of free time they can use organizing.

        They can complain on the Internet, but can they really do anything under a lockdown that, for example, bans peaceful protesting as “non-essential”?

        • keaswaran says:

          Peaceful protesting isn’t a way to *do* anything. And in any case, I’m fairly sure that every order ever present in the United States has allowed peaceful protesting as long as people stay 6 feet apart and perhaps wear masks.

          • Theodoric says:

            The mayor of NYC has said that peaceful protests are banned under the lockdown order.link text. This would seem to accord with the text of the order: total ban on non-essential gatherings, no exceptions for staying 6 feet apart or wearing masks. I am aware that there have been protests in New York, but the order as written allows them to be dispersed.

  31. echidna says:

    One reason Europe’s measured CFR is high is the lag between infection and death. It would be better to divide deaths by reported cases a month earlier. The bias can be substantial when comparing a country with a rapidly rising case count (e.g. Brazil) with a country in which the case count is well past its peak (e.g. Italy).

  32. Harry says:

    “This article is kind of critical of Dominic Cummings, but the criticism is that he inappropriately pressured scientific bodies to order a UK lockdown ASAP […] In this case he was right and deserves to be celebrated.”

    As someone in the UK who followed this story, I must say that I don’t trust this article (or others like it) at all. Boris Johnson, who leans on Cummings as his closest advisor, was an early opponent to the lockdown (he famously espoused the “herd immunity” strategy). At the time that these meetings were taking place, leaks indicated that Cummings thought a lockdown would be “unthinkable” and that the government should pursue herd immunity. Source can be found here.

    Once the true toll of Covid became clear (and the British public were shown to be more than 80% in approval for lockdown measures), the government’s slow response became a matter of controversy. Fingers were pointed at Cummings as the one to blame, thanks to his participation in the Sage meetings. It’s only at this point that the new leaks emerged claiming that he actually pushed for the lockdown rather than against it. These leaks are (1) unverifiable, (2) convenient for him, politically speaking, and (3) strange, considering that Boris chose this crucial moment to ignore his advice.

    Might be my biases at work, of course. But to me it looks like the second wave of leaks are a bit of well-calculated PR.

    • sohois says:

      Accepting that the first set of leaks are true and revising your opinion of Cummings downwards, while believing that the second set of leaks are false and not revising your opinion of Cummings at all seems like a mistake of the form described by Conservation of Expected Evidence.

      I don’t think you can pick and choose which leaks to believe so easily. While it is not impossible that the second set of leaks were deliberately massaged, the same is true of the first set. You should be consistent on how much you trust newspaper leaks and adjust your beliefs in concordance with that.

      • Harry says:

        Oh, I agree. I’m very much basing my assessment on my prior opinion of Cummings, as well as the context of the surrounding decisions of the Boris Johnson government. Someone else might quite reasonably come to a different conclusion on the same evidence. I’m also not revising my opinion on Cummings downwards, admittedly because my opinion of him is already low.

        My point is only that these are muddy waters, and it’s not quite as simple as just saying that “[Cummings] was right and deserves to be celebrated.”

    • Garrett says:

      Funny thought: it’s possible that the population is both in favor of lockdowns and opposed to following them. So someone might think that lockdowns are unthinkable because they believe that people won’t actually follow them (or won’t tolerate the enforcement mechanisms which would be required), while failing to account for the public demand for the actions to be taken.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      these meetings

      You say it, but you don’t seem to register that there was more than one Sage meeting.

      Your source says exactly the same thing as this source. It says that until the 3-12 meeting Cummings was in favor of herd immunity. Your source says that by 3-13 he was the person most in favor of lockdown. Presumably compared to the government, but that is quite compatible with the new article’s claim that at the 3-18 meeting he was more in favor of lockdown than the scientists.

      Maybe the new article is trying to trick people by not mentioning the earlier meeting, but that’s another matter.

  33. desipis says:

    Suppose that after X years, we realize there is no definitive solution. We are faced with the choice of continuing restrictions forever, or lifting the restrictions, letting lots of people die, and getting herd immunity the hard way. What then?

    If you want to consider the downside risks in one direction you ought to do it for the other direction too.

    What happens if immunity only last a limited amount of time, say 12 months?

    What happens if each time you get it there is permanent damage to lungs caused?

    What happens if this damage accumulates over time and that most people die after they’ve caught the disease 9 or 10 times?

    What happens if the impact of this is to reduce average life expectancy to 40 or 50 years?

    Will we look back and wonder why we didn’t take a bit more economic hardship to eradicate the disease instead of placing such a harsh burden on the humanity of the future?

    • meridian says:

      What happens if peak load overwhelms the health care system?

    • Nikitis says:

      Yes, I agree completely. If you’re examining hypotheticals, you ought to examine all of them. And if that is, indeed, what happens, I think the people’s response will be far less measured than merely “looking back and wondering”.

    • baconbits9 says:

      This is just Pascal’s mugging- what if the virus mutates and kills 100% of the population… well at least we won’t have to look back and wonder why we didn’t eradicate it!

      Scott isn’t playing a childish what-if game, he’s asking about cost benefit analysis which requires you estimate how likely your solution is to work, not throw out impossible to estimate scenarios as if they somehow counterbalance things.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        It’s not Pascal’s mugging to consider very reasonable failure modes.

        So “We will never invent a vaccine” is a reasonable possibility since we’ve had other viruses for which we never had vaccines. One that looks less likely by the day for this one, but still one to keep in mind.

        And “Infection doesn’t give you long-term immunity” or “each infection makes the next one worse” is also a reasonable possibility, since we’ve seen it before with other diseases.

        • baconbits9 says:

          What happens if the impact of this is to reduce average life expectancy to 40 or 50 years?

          Ah yes, reasonable that this would drop 30-40 years of life expectancy for an illness that mostly kills people with 5-10 years of life expectancy left. To get that level of a disaster Covid would have to kill a huge amount more people and start killing much, much younger people at a much, much higher rate AND people would have to not change their behavior at all in the face of such an epidemic.

          “Infection doesn’t give you long-term immunity”

          Infection doesn’t give you long term immunity translates into- vaccines are unlikely to give you long term immunity which means the lock downs are doing nothing at great cost.

          since we’ve seen it before with other diseases.

          This doesn’t imply that the scenario of every possible bad thing happening together is a reasonable option. The option of ‘we won’t ever get a vaccine’ is a one conditional event, your approach is to take 3, 4, or 5 conditional events and act as if those are equivalent to a 1 conditional event.

          EDIT: Sorry, I confused the OP and the respondent thinking they were 1 person which makes some of this clunky but not incorrect.

          • desipis says:

            This doesn’t imply that the scenario of every possible bad thing happening together is a reasonable option.

            It’s a quite unlikely outcome, but it still is a plausible outcome that is based on legitimate uncertainties about the pathogenesis of COVID-19. It’s important to note that how unlikely an outcome is should be balanced against the significance of it’s outcome. Even highly unlikely outcomes should be considered if their impact is significant enough.

            That said, I might have overcooked things with the outcome of a life expectancy of 40-50 years. A global reduction in life expectancy of 10 years would a more plausible outcome given the current evidence and uncertainties, yet still be significant enough to justify serious consideration of the potentially immense costs of letting the virus run free.

        • ltowel says:

          And “Infection doesn’t give you long-term immunity” or “each infection makes the next one worse” is also a reasonable possibility, since we’ve seen it before with other diseases.

          With which diseases? Unfortunately my attempts at googling are overwhelmed with Covid stuff.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I think TB works this way to a limited extent, if your first case doesn’t give you immunity your second has a much increased chance of mortality, but that is IIRC and not to be taken as truth.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Dengue, too.

            To be clear, I think the chances of either “vaccine won’t work” or “you won’t even get at least a year of immunity after recovery” are both low-probability events. But still around a few percentage points, and extremely bad if true, so it’s not irrational to worry about them.

          • albatross11 says:

            Cold-causing coronaviruses seem to provide you with medium-term immunity (maybe a year or two), but then you can catch them again, just with fewer symptoms.

        • No One In Particular says:

          “So “We will never invent a vaccine” is a reasonable possibility since we’ve had other viruses for which we never had vaccines.”

          If you’re talking about something like AIDS, I am not aware of people getting AIDS and then “getting over it”. The fact that it is possible for people to have an immune response triggered by the virus that destroys the virus is strong evidence (albeit not absolute proof) that is possible to trigger an immune response capable of destroying the other than infection by the virus.

      • Nikitis says:

        How is your objection NOT an Isolated Demand for Rigor?

        We have two options here.

        Option A is quarantine, and it fails if, as Scott hypothesizes, no vaccine is forthcoming.

        Option B is herd immunity, and it fails if there is not, in fact, long-term immunity among people who get sick from the virus.

        We can argue about which is more likely, and the failure modes and costs of each option. But you can’t dismiss the possibility out of hand just because you don’t like what it predicts.

        (And there is a third, far more terrifying possibility: What if neither a vaccine nor herd immunity are possible?)

        • albatross11 says:

          They you’d better get used to wearing a face mask and having all your meetings on Zoom….

        • baconbits9 says:

          Option A is quarantine, and it fails if, as Scott hypothesizes, no vaccine is forthcoming.

          Option B is herd immunity, and it fails if there is not, in fact, long-term immunity among people who get sick from the virus.

          We can argue about which is more likely, and the failure modes and costs of each option. But you can’t dismiss the possibility out of hand just because you don’t like what it predicts.

          This is not how it was presented, and is not the question. First the presentation was an escalating list of risks including life expectancy dropping by 30-40 years which is highly asymmetric to Scott’s question. If Scott had said ‘what if we crash the economy and that ruins our healthcare system and then there is another pandemic worse than this one’ then you are roughly on par with the extremeness of the statements.

          To the actual question is not your A vs B scenario, it is ‘If there is no vaccine forthcoming then how do we act with this virus.’ That answer automatically opens up a comparison between our current actions and what other avenues you can take. Then you can use your answer for how we live without a vaccine in the future to think about how we should live without a vaccine now, which is a different type of question from ‘what if what we think about this virus now isn’t true and its happens to be worse’. The latter can be rephrased as ‘what if this virus ends up so bad that it is worth literally any cost to deal with it’ which is a form of Pascal’s mugging whose analog in the other direction is ‘what if the economic costs are always worse than the disease’, and not the question that Scott asked.

          *I’m sure a very small number of people think the environmental benefits are worth the economic costs, functionally no one in this discussion seems to hold this position.

          • Nikitis says:

            You are twisting words, rephrasing the statements of the people you disagree with so they fit your preconceptions better, and ignoring their more reasonable arguments in favor of attacking the most extreme one. You are then acting as if your takedown of these rephrased and extreme statements is somehow applicable to all arguments made by “the other side” and that it is enough to prove they used the supposed fallacy you called out. And all so you can shut off discussion of a possibility that is not, on its face, that much more improbable than the one Scott discussed. IF it is more improbable at all.

            I find your behaviour rather contrary to the professed virtues of a community espousing the value of Steelmanning.

          • baconbits9 says:

            You are twisting words, rephrasing the statements of the people you disagree with so they fit your preconceptions better, and ignoring their more reasonable arguments in favor of attacking the most extreme one

            You accuse me of twisting words when you have clearly not read the OP. The actual OP is a series of what if X, and then Y (conditional of X) and then Z (conditional of Y). I am not attacking one part of the argument, I am attacking the sum of the arguments and the hypothetical outcome.

        • baconbits9 says:

          (And there is a third, far more terrifying possibility: What if neither a vaccine nor herd immunity are possible?)

          My understanding is that these two are likely to be correlated, diseases which have short term immunities are harder to create vaccines for.

      • JPNunez says:

        I don’t think those scenarios are unreasonable; reinfection for coronaviruses in general is not impossible, and we know some recovered patients are left with lung damage and even damages to other organs. Add to that the possibility of different strains of the virus and a lot of those possibilities don’t look so improbable.

        Scott may not have been pessimistic enough.

        • baconbits9 says:

          What happens if the impact of this is to reduce average life expectancy to 40 or 50 years?

          How many 75 year olds would you have to kill in the US to get life expectancy down to 50? What % of over 65 year olds? Back of the envelope calculation you would have to kill 100% of the 60+ population to get life expectancy down to 50, its in that range.

          What is implausible here is the chain of things that has to happen for life expectancy to drop that low, and he completely leaves out a ton of steps.

          What if there is no immunity after 12 months, and it leaves lasting damage that eventually kills AND locking down in a future year for some reason doesn’t work but locking down this year does, AND there is no other reasonable course of action that can be taken to mitigate the spread in the future.

          This is the mugging, the statements taken as a whole boil down to ‘what if exactly the worst combinations of things happen and mitigation is impossible BUT mitigation now is somehow possible and effective’.

          The other thing that is unreasonable is that Scott took 1 objection, and the most important objection that ought to be a standard part of all support for lockdowns and the reply was a laundry list of possibilities. Each one of them maybe plausible*, but the response was disproportionate and takes away from Scott’s response.

          *some of them weren’t.

        • JPNunez says:

          Those are reasonable points but 1/4 of common colds are caused by coronavirus. Imagine how many times you’ve gotten the common cold. No vaccine yet. Imagine each time you got a cold you suffer significant damage to the lungs. That may plausibly bring down life expectancy a lot.

          IIRC in my high school / college days I got colds a lot. So even if it’s very rare right now that Covid19 kills a young person, they could start accumulating lung damage very early on.

          So yeah, you’d have to kill a lot of 70y/o to bring down life expectancy, but we are talking about relatively young people catching COVID19 between 4 times to 10 or more times before their 50s. Some of those later reinfections could be lethal.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Really simple question: Do you think it is impossible to reduce the number of colds you got at that stage in your life through behavioral changes?

      • Reasoner says:

        My pet peeve: People who cry “Pascal’s mugging” regarding risks that are totally within the realm of possibility. “Permanent damage from COVID is about as likely as superpowerful beings from another dimension trying to extort money from me!”

        • John Schilling says:

          The OP didn’t just posit permanent lung damage from COVID-19, but a daisy-chained set of worst-case assumptions far more dubious than just the existence of permanent lung damage.

          Rolling the dice and having them come up snake-eyes is within the realm of possibility. By the time you get to snake-eyes four times in a row, you’re already at a million-to-one long shot and probably ought not be weighing this theoretical possibility too heavily in your planning.

          • Dan L says:

            Reminder that the original Pascal’s Mugging invoked the effective deaths of 3^^^^3 people. Serial risk factors and million-to-one “long” shots are difficult to weigh, but utterly incommensurate with the sort of out-of-context problem the thought experiment was meant to highlight.

          • And if, on your final roll, you roll thirteen against your opponent’s twelve — because one of your dice broke and came up six and one — they make you a saint.

          • Reasoner says:

            Sure, but it’s still not a reason to throw out expected value theory.

    • David Speyer says:

      I don’t see how you can possibly get to a life expectancy of under 50 years by any reasonable version of this scenario. From the CDC, general mortality for 45-55 year olds is 0.4%/year, for 55-65 is 0.9%/year and 65-75 is 2%/year. Even if we assume everyone gets COVID-19, and even if we assume that we assume that all COVID infections are being found by testing (both of which are clearly wrong), our world in data gives rates of 0.4% for 40-50, 1% for 50-60, 2-3% for 60-70% and 5-12% for 70-80%. It’s too bad the age brackets in these sources don’t match, but roughly, we’re talking about increasing total mortality to 1% for 40-50, 2% for 50-60 and 5% for 60-70.

      This means that, starting with a population of 40 year olds, 90% of them make it to 50, 74% make it to 60 and 45% to 70. In your world, it is unusual for someone to know all four of their grandparents, but also unusual for them to not know any of them, and the biblical three score and ten becomes a distinguished old age, but not a miracle. This scenario is very bad! Worth spending billions to prevent. But not as bad as you suggest.

      I didn’t include the cumulative lung damage scenario, because I had no way to assign a number to it, but it is also absurd to think that everyone would be infected every year, or that the data on the World in Data page is the true fatality rate.

  34. cpcallen says:

    If we lift the restrictions, the same number of people will die as if we had never instituted any restrictions at all…

    Unless you are claiming that the whole “flatten the curve” meme was a hoax, this is obviously wrong. Yes, the number of people who eventually catch the disease will be (approximately) the same as, but not so many of them will die because they won’t all be ill at the same time.

    Now, there is a useful analysis to be done about exactly how long and how strict restrictions need to be in order to keep the the infection rate as high as possible without overloading the healthcare system. Only if the answer is “much longer than we are willing to contemplate” does healthcare system capacity cease to matter.

    • helaku says:

      Is the flatte-the-curve meme a hoax? Well, even the WHO does not know exactly: evidence is inconclusive.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Its not obviously wrong, the flatten the curve meme only looked at a very limited set of variables and could be ‘correct’ without being right.

    • mitv150 says:

      “Flatten the curve” has dividends not just in healthcare system capacity in terms of beds, but health care system capability in terms of treatment.

      Our ability to treat the virus, even without an explicit “cure,” has improved significantly and it seems reasonable to believe that CFRs will trend downwards and continue to trend downwards.

    • John Schilling says:

      Unless you are claiming that the whole “flatten the curve” meme was a hoax

      The “flatten the curve” meme is too incoherent to be either truth or hoax. But the common early belief that a tolerably brief lockdown of a few weeks to months would flip us from the hospitals-overwhelmed state to the hospitals-can-cope state, was always mathematically implausible. That’s been covered here from the start, though I can’t recall whether Scott himself has stated it explicitly.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Sweden has shown that it’s possible to burn through the virus at a rate where a lot of your population gets it but your hospitals are never overwhelmed.

        It’s unknown whether it’s actually a good strategy.

        • RG says:

          Sweden isn’t admitting anyone over 65 to the hospital with Covid 19 symptoms. Most countries won’t be that heartless.

        • KimmoKM says:

          Burning through at just the right rate so as not to overwhelm the healthcare capacity is in actuality pretty easy to do if you think about it. First, you allow the disease to spread to a level where you can just manage it, and then (a few weeks in advance, rather, since need for care lags the infections) you take measures to bring R_0 to exactly 1. Sweden appears to have done this (here’s a graph showing the number of ICU beds in use which, while a bit old, shows the number plateauing at sustainable level slightly above level predating the crisis but below the current increased capacity).

          Of course, this requires these measures to continue, lest you go back to exponential growth. Contrary to the image sometimes seen in media, it’s not business as usual in Sweden. Wikipedia has the following summary on Swedish social distancing:

          In April, many of the organisations running the public transport systems for the Swedish counties had reported a 50% drop in public transport usage, including Kalmar Länstrafik in Kalmar County, Skånetrafiken in Skåne County, Stockholm Public Transport in Stockholm County, and Västtrafik in Västra Götaland County.[80][81][75][82] In Stockholm, the streets grew increasingly emptier, with a 30% drop in the number of cars,[83] and 70% fewer pedestrians.

          In addition, despite lack of enforced restrictions, many restaurants and bars have closed down, and Sweden actually suffers a greater increase in unemployment than the neighboring Finland. Actually, restrictions in Sweden are near-identical to what you have in Finland: In addition to ban on large gatherings and requests for voluntary social distancing that Sweden employs, Finland closed schools and libraries (they’ve since been reopened) and restaurants are only open for takeaway. All businesses, public transport, gyms, etc, have been allowed to remain open, although they are less active and patrons are requested to abide social distancing measures (largely the same as Sweden). Consequently, instead of Swedish R_0 of ~1, in Finland the country-wide average has been reported to be .8, which is pretty much what you’d expect: the differences like restaurants open for takeaway vs restaurants open with restrictions can’t be that enormous.

          To get back to the original point, as Sweden shows, it’s definitely possible to let the disease spread at level that doesn’t overwhelm the healthcare system. On the other hand, even if you do this as quickly as possible, it takes a while: unless herd immunity within superspreaders (who, due to exposing themselves to situations where they are likely to spread the disease, are also likely to themselves contract it and thus become immune) reduces the immunity levels required for herd immunity in the population significantly – a very realistic possibility – Sweden by large is still long ways off (although Stockholm and Göteborg probably are getting closer). Moreover, if you can keep R_0 down at 1 when there are several thousand true cases of infection every day, wouldn’t it be preferable if you enacted those restrictions when there’s fewer daily infections and maintained that low level indefinitely? Sweden is one possible example of the “new normal” until we have a vaccine or truly successful testing and contact tracing regime, but this does not need to involve lots of people getting stick.

          • keaswaran says:

            > you take measures to bring R_0 to exactly 1

            This sounds like it should be extremely difficult. We don’t know very much about the spread of the virus (are surfaces an important vector? how much does ventilation matter? etc.) We already know people are very bad at estimating which actions they can take do more or less to reduce the risk of car crashes or mugging or other familiar risks – how should we expect people to moderate their behavior in just the right ways to keep R_0 at exactly 1?

            What’s really weird is how many countries are showing data that appear to support the idea that R_0 is very close to 1. This is a major mystery to me. Is this coming through carefully calibrated government action? (Unlikely.) But if it’s coming through public response to public information about infections, then why hasn’t every country reached this balance?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            “We need exactly 1” is overstating the case, a bit.

            Cuomo’s plan for opening regions of New York called for hospitals to be at no more than 70% capacity, and as they unlock they keep R_whatever at less than 1.2. They monitor case load to predict hospital load, so they have some Slack in case there is a surge that gets out-of-hand.

        • John Schilling says:

          Burning through at just the right rate so as not to overwhelm the healthcare capacity is in actuality pretty easy to do if you think about it. First, you allow the disease to spread to a level where you can just manage it, and then (a few weeks in advance, rather, since need for care lags the infections) you take measures to bring R_0 to exactly 1.

          So, we just need to predict the future, and then solve for 1.0 an equation where we don’t know the values of any of the terms to better than a factor of two. Easy-peasy.

          Coming next, my easy recipe for making a fortune by trading financial derivatives.

          • So, we just need to predict the future, and then solve for 1.0 an equation where we don’t know the values of any of the terms to better than a factor of two. Easy-peasy.

            Driving a car through traffic involves at least as difficult a mathematical problem. We don’t do it by a closed form solution but by making use of negative feedback.

            As long as you have control variables with effects of known sign and substantial, if unknown, magnitude, you use them to decrease R0 when you observe the number of cases increasing, increase it when you observe the number decreasing. You need to allow a substantial error margin because of time lags and information uncertainty — but that’s true for driving as well.

          • A1987dM says:

            @DavidFriedman: But your car doesn’t take a week to respond after you turn your steering wheel.

          • @A1987dM:

            I take a noticeable fraction of a second to respond after seeing a reason to turn my steering wheel or step on the brake, during which my car travels fifty feet or so. That’s a good reason not to tailgate at sixty miles an hour.

            Similarly, the delay of a week or so between an increase in the infection rate and it becoming known, or between announcing a change in recommended social distancing and people changing their behavior, is a reason not to try to keep your emergency rooms 99% full.

    • JPNunez says:

      Particularly as this goes on for longer and longer, we will get better at treating it and will dedicate more and more of the economy to treating covid19. At that point we’d not be flattening the curve but raising the bar to meet the curve.

      The endgame is that the free market creates domestic automatic ventilators robots, and people spend on average a couple of weeks per year at home in induced coma by this small robot, tho I’d say this could be around year 20 of the post-covid19 world.

    • DarkTigger says:

      I invite everyone who things the Flaten-The-Curve meme (understood as “if we prevent everyone to get sick at the same time, we give the health industry time to care for those who are sick, preventing triage, and give them time to develop better treatments”) is a hoax, to explain the sudden drop in the EuroMOMO excess death data to me.

    • Scoop says:

      Yes, the number of people who eventually catch the disease will be (approximately) the same as, but not so many of them will die because they won’t all be ill at the same time.

      I’m not sure it’s fair to argue that zero restrictions would lead to an overwhelmed healthcare system.

      Zero restrictions plus zero change in behavior would have overwhelmed the system, but people have changed their behavior significantly in places that have not imposed formal restrictions on anything other than mass gatherings.

      So far as I’m aware, none of the healthcare systems in places with minimal restrictions have been overwhelmed.

      I think it’s fair to guess that total US cases and deaths would be higher right now sans restrictions (just as cases and deaths are higher in Sweden than Germany) but I don’t think there’s much evidence ICUs would have overflowed and the IFR would have been several times higher, except maybe in NYC.

  35. demost says:

    But right now I see no evidence that anyone understands the causes of the majority of coronavirus variation. Various hypotheses – BCG vaccinations, smoking rates, genetics, different viral strains – have come and gone, mostly unconvincingly, leaving us as confused as ever.

    Perhaps I am overlooking something blatantly obvious, but I think there is a very simple explanation for most of the variance in Europe. The virus has spread geographically, roughly from southwest Europe to north east Europe, so a country is generally doing good the more north and east it is. (More precisely, it spread from Lombardy and Madrid/Valencia region, so south of Italy is better than north of Italy.) This is strongly(!!) modulated by how severe the measures are. Reactions in Europe were not synchronous, but the measures were “spreading” faster from south to north than the virus could spread. So in general terms, north/east European countries took measures at an earlier stage of their respective infection curves.

    The fatality rate is linked to the total number of cases per capita; the more stressed your health care system is, the less effective it is. This effect is strong on the bad end of the curve (your health system breaks down), and mild on the other end. Also, the case fatality ratio generally increases over the course of the epidemic, because people continue dying for quite some time after you have cut down the number of new infections. This can easily make a factor of 2. So if you look at the case fatality rate at the peak infection time, you might be underestimating it by a factor of 2. Finally, the earlier a country is hit, the higher the mortality rate, because people do get better at preparing their health system and treating the disease.

    Examples in Europe: Italy, Spain, parts of France are devastated. They were hit early, unnoticed, when public soccer games were still taking place. Their hospitals were overrun. This caused the very high mortality rates. The sick simply could not be treated, and they died. The same holds for the southern part of Switzerland (Ticino), and to a lower extend to the southwestern part (Genf, Valais, Vaudt) of Switzerland, with the difference that these parts could barely hold their health system from collapsing.

    Going a bit higher to Germany, Netherlands, they were hit later, when the measures were already partly in place. Germany had a slightly faster reaction, so it was hit less severe. Northern countries like Denmark, Norway, and generally Eastern European countries were hardly hit because measures were already well in place when the epidemic stroke.

    Notably, countries had their fate in their own hand. Greece had an early response that deserves praise almost as South Korea, Taiwan, and Australia/New Zealand, and they could basically completely avert the disease. On the other hand, UK had an unusually late response, so they were hit pretty hard despite being north. And Sweden had a soft response, so they have more than 3 times as many deaths than Denmark, Norway and Finland taken together (with less population than those combined). They could afford that because they were geographically lucky. If Italy or Spain had tried that, the result would have been quite apocalyptic.

    I don’t think there are many outliers from this rule. Belgium is one. They have a quite different definition of “corona deaths” than other countries (e.g., you don’t need to be tested to count as corona death, being dead and having had symptoms is sufficient). But I don’t think this explains all of Belgian Weirdness. Still, I don’t see many other outliers.

    I don’t know too much about the development in the US, but I think that the rule generally applies to most of the world. (Except for Japan. I don’t have a good explanation for the Japan Miracle.) If you are hit early, you have to be extremely good to avert disaster. China, South Korea, Taiwan were extremely good, and they could compensate for their unlucky position. Iran could not. If you are hit at a medium stage, you could manage well with average to good responses, like the US west coast, Thailand, or Malaysia. Or you could do a really good job like Australia, or a really bad job like Russia. If you are hit late, you generally have an easier job because there are enough tests available, you know better how to treat patients, and so on. But if you don’t have a good health care system and no strong government, like many third world countries (or you don’t care, like Brazil), you will still face disaster.

    So summarizing, right now the hypothesis: “hit earlier = hit harder, and government response can change that in either direction” seems to explain really, really much.

    • keaswaran says:

      In the US it’s a bit harder to say. So far the hardest hit place by far is New York, with secondary hits in Louisiana, southern Georgia, and Michigan. Those places were in some ways also early hits, but Seattle and San Francisco looked like they were infected even a few days earlier than New York or New Orleans, and seem to have done much, much better.

  36. Blueberry pie says:

    Personal experience from Czechia (where we seem to have contained coronavirus reasonably well):

    The biggest factor is probably luck – we got hit later and thus were forewarned. People started to take stuff seriously once the numbers from Italy started coming in. We prepared Covid wards in hospitals that ended up being half empty. This gave us time to sort out the operational issues under low-stress conditions (and hopefully would translate to a better response to a potential second wave)

    As for the response:
    For quite some time, people have been reasonably adherent to both official and non-official calls to social distance, wear masks etc. Some of the government actions (e.g. mandatory masks) were even likely triggered by hugely successful social media campaigns (people showing how to make DIY masks have gotten pop-singer levels of views on YouTube). And many grassroots initiatives have sprung to actively combat the virus or its effects (like a nano-fibre research facility being converted in a week to spit out mask material or schemes to help neighbourhs), it really was a pleasure to watch. We didn’t really have any people openly defying any of the measures.

    This is all despite the government did mess up many things (e.g., misguided attempts to control the PPE market which made availability worse) and has not been very consistent in neither messaging nor specific actions. Part of this is IMHO that the government has not done any crazy strong enforcement of some of the more contentious regulations, so people didn’t become annoyed. For example, of the few interactions of policemen with people without masks I’ve seen, the police was very professional, polite and ended persuading the person to use an improvised face cover without using force/fines/….

    Note sure what this means, just sharing. As the restrictions lift, people are being less careful so we’ll se what happens next.

    Note: This is true of the bigger cities, not sure how much it applies to smaller centers, but the cities are likely the most problematic parts anyway.

    • Blueberry pie says:

      Also at one point I met a friend to barter paracetamol for hand-made face masks, which is definitely peak Fallout moment of my life so far.

      • Corwex says:

        Can confirm what Blueberry says. Also, I hate to be that guy, but one can’t really compare Belarus or Russia to Czechia in any meaningful way: on the one hand, Czechia is a richer Schengen country in close proximity to northern Italy, which probably means different initial case load and source country. On the other hand, it is a fairly stable democracy, not (yet) run by a dictator clown. I wonder, though, what constitution experts will have to say about some of the steps being made; it’s also fairly interesting to watch the upheaval in more authoritarian-leaning states in the neighborhood. In Poland, for example, no-one really knew until the last moment whether presidential elections will take place on May 10 as scheduled (they didn’t; see this helpful infographic of possibilities made several days befor the intended term); in Hungary, the prime minister has instituted military control over “strategic” companies and declared state of emergency with no set end.

        This probably smacks of Czech exceptionalism – to provide some balance, let me add that there seems to be a completely blockeaded plan to create our own vaccine from scratch.

        • Joseftstadter says:

          I hate to be that guy, but one can’t really compare Belarus or Russia to Czechia in any meaningful way

          Of course not. Czechia ended up under Soviet domination due to historical misfortune, but it is culturally still much closer to the German/Austrian Holy Roman Empire world than it is to the Eastern Slavs or the Balkans (and so is Slovenia for that matter).

  37. AlphaGamma says:

    Three countries have made the news for unusually weak/nonexistent lockdowns – Sweden, the Netherlands, and Japan. All have chosen to keep most of their economy open in the name of “herd immunity”, although they’ve banned very large gatherings like concerts and sports games.

    I’m not sure how true this is for the Netherlands specifically. There was some confusion initially, but since March the government has denied that it is seeking herd immunity.

    All restaurants and bars were closed (they are reopening on June 1 with various restrictions), as were cinemas, theatres, ”contact professions” such as hairdressers, gyms and schools. Sports clubs were closed (for their adult members, children were allowed to return earlier) until last week- they are still required to keep their changing rooms closed, and sports are only allowed if they can be practised outside while keeping 1.5m apart.

    In general, I don’t think the Dutch lockdown was significantly less strict in practice than the German one (though the latter varied by state). The main differences from what I can see are that the Germans ordered shops to close while a lot of Dutch shops closed voluntarily, and that the German football league is resuming behind closed doors while the rest of the Dutch season has been cancelled.

    Note that Germany did not close its border with the Netherlands (though people were told to avoid non-essential travel across it), while most of its other land borders were closed.

    • matthewravery says:

      The Netherlands peaked at around 84 on Oxford’s Stringency Index (an aggregate of a variety of governmental policy interventions*). This puts it in the “more stringent” half of the distribution.

      They’re certainly not an outlier.

      *Context: Germany peaked at 82, Italy at 96, and Sweden at 47.

  38. matkoniecz says:

    I find this answer pretty unsatisfying, so maybe I’m just misunderstanding what the cell phone tracking data are trying to show, or how much I should expect from them

    How this data would deal with people leaving home at lower frequency?

    before: leaves home for 16 hours a day, hugs people, sings in a choir etc

    after: walks dog once a day for 20 minutes while keeping 20m+ distance from people

    I suspect that both before and after would show as “leaves home daily”.

  39. Anteros says:

    I was struck by how this post was feisty, fearless and funny. Even more than an average SSC post.

    The only quibble I have is that after acknowledging how Countries have different testing rates and different judgements on whether people died from or with the virus, the post still went down the route of ‘let’s compare countries anyway’.

    Early in the European outbreak there were many discussions about how Italy had a 500% greater mortality rate than Germany. To a first approximation all of that can be explained by testing differences and Italy recording mortality differently to Germany. Italy effectively made people immortal from cancer, diabetes, emphysema (etc etc) – you simply contracted Covid-19 and you couldn’t then die from anything else. The reverse was true in Germany – if you had any vaguely serious condition, it meant the virus couldn’t kill you. Bingo – 500% difference in mortality explained.

    Italy and Germany stand out because the difference between them was extreme, but it seems to me that we’re no better off comparing rates of infection or mortality between countries with more similar rates of whatever, because it is still likely that significant differences are the result of how each country tests, measures, records and estimates.

    I appreciate the temptation to look at how Sweden, say, is doing compared to Norway, or Belgium. But the obvious confounders haven’t gone away just because at one point earlier in our analysis we mentioned that ‘of course we must recognize that testing and measuring varies a great deal between countries’

    I say this because I keep finding myself looking at, for instance, the case numbers for various countries (which are always a whole, specific integer, like 27,568) and thinking that it is a reliable datum. And doing so ten seconds after reminding myself that you could multiply it by any number between two and ten, and have a more accurate datum.

    ETA I’ve read through the post again and on second reading Scott seems much more cautious about inter-country comparisons than I thought. So, that mostly negates even my minor quibble.

    • spacecommie says:

      “And doing so ten seconds after reminding myself that you could multiply it by any number between two and ten, and have a more accurate datum.”

      Is this true? Imagine the tested incidence is 10 per 1000 and I multiply by ten to reach 100 per 1000, but in reality testing is good enough that 50% of cases test positive, so the real number is 20 per 1000. Seems like the original datum would be closer than the fudged number to account for missing cases.

      • Anteros says:

        Having 50% of your tests coming out positive tells you nothing about the incidence in the population – if you only test obviously symptomatic people, you could get a 90+% positive rate, and still have no idea what the prevalence of the virus is.

        It’s fair to say that as testing becomes more prevalent, the discrepancy between the tested case rate and the true incidence should diminish, but globally (which is what I meant, if it wasn’t clear) I would imagine that the difference is still at least 5 times, so multiplying by between two and ten times will still get you a more accurate result. If it sounds a bit hyperbolic, I apologize – my point was really that as we have very little idea of the true incidence in different countries it’s very difficult to make comparisons between them.

  40. matkoniecz says:

    There was a lot of talk a few weeks about about Eastern European success at avoiding the coronavirus. Then Russia and Belarus’ case numbers exploded; both are now doing as bad as any Western European country. Poland, Romania, Czechia, and others continue to be oddly quiet. I suspect random variation – Russia and Belarus looked good until they weren’t – but I guess we’ll find out soon.

    Poland made some steps quite early (closing schools, closing borders, lockdown, even forbidding to enter parks at some point, face masks).

    No idea whatever it had any real effect. Except killing the economy and some hilarious reaction, like the same person German TV slamming Poland for terrible act of closing borders. And days later praising Germany for a great act of closing borders.

    I suspected that low case rate were caused by poor testing, but now testing ramps up and there is no explosion of cases.

    We are reopening now, so I am curious whatever it will change anything.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      like the same person German TV slamming Poland for terrible act of closing borders

      You could have stopped right there.

    • DarkTigger says:

      Which person was that supposed to be.

      Also might part of the problem why this person “slammed” Poland was, that this literally left an traffic jam until behind Berlin, of Polish citizens stranded in Germany?

    • Hoopdawg says:

      I’m convinced that the early lockdown pretty much saved us. There’s plenty of horror stories about doctors returning from holidays in Italy straight to work, hospitals becoming the hotspots for the epidemic by ignoring symptoms in patients until they infected everyone around, permanent shortages of testing equipment, people not even getting informed they’re supposed to be under strict quarantine, politicians ignoring rules they themselves enacted. Even now, the virus continues to spread among coal miners forced to work in their regular unsanitary conditions, despite people having shouted about this being a problem for months. Without the lockdown, and the resulting enforcement of restrictions on various businesses, that could have been the entire country right now. We’d also be screwed if we tried to rely on institutional response and proper procedures, or targeted interventions like test-and-trace, as our institutions seem to be comically unprepared to perform them.

      Instead, we’ve had the government quickly sending a reliable signal that the pandemic is a serious matter, and people at large listened and complied. But perhaps “complied” is the wrong word considering the derisive, antagonistic reaction to a ban on entering parks and forests. Or the fact that when our governing party subsequently tried to force an election in the middle of the pandemic, it essentially got stopped by the general non-compliance of the electoral commission, municipal governments and the public at large (including own supporters). We, the people, do not trust our government, but we are taking the situation seriously, and it works.

  41. noyann says:

    > …we’ve all seen pictures of people going to the beach unmolested. [ … ] What about all those pictures of empty freeways during rush hour?

    Pictures can be tricky and manipulative. Here is a comparison of scenes taken from different angles and swapping wide angle for teleobjective. (Kids: take one of the paired pictures and find out from what direction in it the other one was shot.)

  42. Tatterdemalion says:

    Obvious hypothesis on voting by mail: there are and have been a bunch of other issues around obstacles to voting where making it easier/harder to vote does help the Democrats/Republicans, especially if your translation back to the Jim Crow era is “helped the spiritual ancestors of modern Republicans/Democrats” rather than “helped the people who were Republicans/Democrats then”.

    I think that’s given the two parties strong instincts to support making voting easier/harder (I’m not sure the distinction between classing those instincts as expedient or principled is meaningful, because people’s brains don’t usually work the way their owners think they’re working).

    And those instincts are applying now, even if it’s not clear that the reasons they developed apply here.

    • keaswaran says:

      Also, I think a lot of people are aware of the political effect whereby people take measures that are politically good for their party and then rationalize an explanation for how it fits their party’s stated principles; but I suspect the other effect is likely nearly as strong. Expansion of the franchise and prevention of fraud are two central principles of the Democrats and Republicans respectively, and the parties have each rationalized an explanation for why their principled view is also good for them politically, even in the absence of any such data.

  43. noyann says:

    > if that were true, right now we’re on track to gain herd immunity in 30 years. This would be another worst-of-all-worlds scenario where we have all the negatives of a long lockdown, but everyone gets infected anyway.

    Is gaining time for better treatments, or early vaccines that are at least less risky than the disease not a rational option? (And what became of the optimistic Californian ideology “technology is the solution”?)

    The delayed economic costs of too gentle or too early released restrictions (R too high) — have they been modeled for the US?

    An example is a simulation for Germany (no English available) that combines epidemiology and economy. It showed that there is an economically optimal R between .5 and 1 (diagram 4 in the linked pdf) (assuming only one optimum).

    CONCLUSIONS [via Google translate, I tried to catch the worst errors, fwliw; emphasis mine]
    Based on the status quo of the measures in effect before April 20, 2020, our epidemiological and economic simulations show that a slight, gradual relaxation of the shutdown measures is suitable to reduce the economic costs without the medical costs endanger goals. Furthermore, we cannot see any conflict between economic and health costs in terms of a strong easing – the costs would be higher in both dimensions. Too much loosening is therefore not preferable. Such a policy would allow more economic output in the short term, but according to our simulation analyzes, the phase of slight restrictions would be extended so much that the overall costs will increase overall in 2020 and 2021. These factors suggest to continue a gradual opening process. However, politicians are required to push ahead with measures such as significantly increased testing that limit the increase in new infections with increased loosening. These measures are essential to limit the health consequences and economic costs of the pandemic. When interpreting the results of this study, the premises and limits of the simulation models used must be taken into account. In particular, there is an uncertainty in the parametrization of the models, which we have mapped by varying the parameters. A direct and narrow quantitative interpretation of these results is not recommended. However, we consider the qualitative statement that a slight and gradual loosening of the restrictions is preferable to a quick lifting both economically and health-politically, as robust.

    I can’t judge the quality of that paper, so, if someone wants to bust it, go ahead.

    • mtl1882 says:

      Is gaining time for better treatments, or early vaccines that are at least less risky than the disease not a rational option?

      It’s a worst case scenario, of course. The problem is how “patchy” all of these things are, and how that interacts. Meanwhile, we’ve got all these second order effects piling up–if we had some specific treatment or timeline firmly in sight, we could at least sort of rationally plan around it and have some common goal. Without that, it’s not psychologically doable–because we’ll fight all the time about whether we should extend the lockdown instead of trying to figure out how to make more practical accommodations. It’s a recipe for dysfunction and costs on a lot of levels, especially with the polarization and class/geographic divides.

      We can wait around a bit longer, but there’s no guarantee anything that makes a big difference shows up soon. It’s not clear what mechanism we’d target to treat, or how many people that would work for. There’s no clear target to work for. I’m sure we’ll find some things that help, but will they help the most seriously ill? Will they just make the illness a bit milder or actually save lives? Will they have side effects? If they take several years, many of the most vulnerable (for example, nursing home patients) may have passed away. More will have taken their place, but their quality of life will also have been sadly diminished by total lack of visitors. I’m not religious, but many people would rather go to services than hold out for a year hoping for the best. Very few people are pure lifespan maximalists, and unfortunately a lot of the things people get the most quality of life out of are directly implicated here, which is why trying to “balance” it via a model like the one you quote strikes me as less sensible than it sounds. Then you get into the whole issue, if there are structural and economic displacements and failures of various kinds, will most people be able to get access to the treatment? It may turn out that precautions for the most vulnerable will be about as helpful as any treatment benefit we’d get in a reasonable period of time.

      Then, with vaccines, assuming we get somewhat lucky, there’s still the issue that apparently coronavirus vaccines often have problems in later trials because of the autoimmune response thing causing bad side effects. I’d be afraid of rushing that kind of vaccine for what is a mild illness in most people–I know there can be scary longterm side effects, but that could also be true of a rushed vaccine. It may make sense to give it to some vulnerable groups, and it may come to be something that has some overall impact with time and building off existing immunity. But aren’t some vulnerable groups unable to receive vaccines due to their conditions? That’s why we rely on herd immunity, but it doesn’t seem likely to be as reliable as for other illnesses, due to ease of asymptomatic spread and possibly limited immunity. But imagine the scale of vaccine production and distribution it would take to make people feel there was reasonable protection such that it is worth reasonably severe mandatory measures until then. The whole world would need it and it would take a whole lot of time, plus the logistics are tough–if they go to a center to get the vaccine, they risk infection, if it doesn’t kick in in time. Some people would refuse the vaccine (this may not matter much, it would depend on circumstances). A lot would probably neglect a booster dose if needed. The lockdown procedures can really only be maintained when the goal is defined as something more than finding something with the possibility of lowering risk somewhat. As long as we insist that any possibility of being infected and inadvertently spreading it to another is unacceptable, and therefore any “unnecessary” risk of contracting it is immoral, which is what mandatory strict measures basically need for justification, we have to go for virtual eradication before bringing back global travel or concerts.

      There’s just a *lot* going on here that might provide some sort of partial solution on some timeframe, but it’s hard to say what benefit it would provide. When you weigh that against known issues of lockdown and alternative mitigation measures, and the risk of worst case scenario, it’s just hard for me to see it being a workable approach. It sounds like a sensible idea, but in practice it is harder to tell.

  44. steve3920 says:

    Since talking & singing are so important, why are digital contact tracing apps not planning to use the microphone to detect that, and account for it in their probabilistic assessments of transmission risk? Well, I’ve been on a lonely quest to try to make that happen for the past month or so. Everyone I talk to says it’s a good idea, but no one seems to view it as a high priority. If anyone reading this has time and programming experience, it would be a great help to actually have the appropriate audio processing software ready to go (more details here, although I’ve made slight progress since I posted that). Or if anyone knows anyone working on the upcoming Google-Apple contact-tracing OS update, or if anyone knows any epidemiologists who might be able to simulate the effects and put out a paper and press release, or anything else, please reply here or steven.byrnes@gmail.com Thanks in advance!!

    • Lambert says:

      Contract tracing apps don’t make probabilistic assessments of trransmission risk. They just ping a bunch of bluetooth messages at each other every now and then.

      And the audio processing is probably computationally intensive enough to drain your phone battery in short order.

      • steve3920 says:

        Contract tracing apps don’t make probabilistic assessments of trransmission risk.

        The current plan is to try to declare “contact” when distance is closer than some threshold and duration is longer than some threshold. The distance is guessed based on Bluetooth signal strength, possibly adjusted by a guess of whether the phone is in a pocket or not (from accelerometer etc.). The duration threshold most people talk about is 15 minutes. Of course this is a probabilistic assessment: transmission is more likely if the phone declares “contact” and less likely if it doesn’t. It’s certainly better than chance!! I suppose you’re probably trying to say that it’s a very noisy assessment, with lots of false positives and false negatives. I agree 100%. I have seen the Bluetooth RSSI data, the spread is huge, it’s entirely possible for two people hugging to have lower RSSI than a different pair of people 3 meters apart. The reason I’m working on this is to make the probabilistic assessment less noisy, with fewer false positives and false negatives.

        And the audio processing is probably computationally intensive enough to drain your phone battery in short order.

        You say “probably”; what is that based on? The “Hey Siri” functionality is running 24/7 on many phones and is not a noticeable battery drain (I believe, although this isn’t a perfect comparison anyway because I recall that Apple has specialized hardware for that). It’s also entirely reasonable to process a 1-second sample of audio every 30 seconds (for example). That would reduce battery drain and still be a lot better than nothing. I talked to a guy who writes audio processing software and he gave me the impression that it was not at all computationally difficult, e.g. he runs these analyses in web-browsers no problem. I’m not an expert; if you have real information I’m interested to hear it.

    • caryatis says:

      All the privacy concerns with these apps would be multiplied if they were constantly listening to all your conversations.

      • steve3920 says:

        All the privacy concerns with these apps would be multiplied if they were constantly listening to all your conversations.

        As best as I can tell, it doesn’t undercut privacy at all. The main reason is: the microphone-derived data would be stored locally on the phone and never broadcast to anyone ever.

        The privacy concerns with these systems are not about what information is stored within the phone app, but rather what is information broadcast to the government or others. The most important and most clear-cut case will be the contact-tracing OS update written by Apple and Google themselves. If you have a privacy concern regarding how much information is accessible to OS software written by Apple and Google, then of course you better throw your phone in the garbage: The phone OS has access to absolutely everything, and we have always been trusting Apple and Google to be good stewards of that.

        That said, perceptions of privacy are not exactly the same as actual privacy, and I acknowledge that it’s possible that people might make dumb wrong arguments to this effect which might motivate some people to not opt in. I don’t currently think that this a good reason not to proceed and make the app work better; after all, people might make dumb wrong arguments about any aspect of the system, and it seems silly to design around that.

        • John Schilling says:

          As best as I can tell, it doesn’t undercut privacy at all. The main reason is: the microphone-derived data would be stored locally on the phone and never broadcast to anyone ever.

          In a system designed with all the attention to security and reliability we’ve come to expect from Silicon Valley, but with an extra dose of haste and the firm conviction that they are doing God’s Work? I’m skeptical.

          • caryatis says:

            Yeah, I would never, ever, opt in to this. And it’s not correct to say the only privacy concern is about data that is broadcast–data stored only on my phone can also be accessed or searched by the government, sometimes without a warrant.

          • John Schilling says:

            data stored only on my phone can also be accessed or searched by the government, sometimes without a warrant.

            That’s an understatement – Moscow and Beijing never apply for warrants.

          • steve3920 says:

            The status quo plan is that each phone store a list of data like “I was in contact with a phone that emitted the message 2955893986, with Bluetooth signal strength 7, for 20 minutes.” The modification I’m advocating is to store a list of data like “I was in contact with a phone that emitted the message 2955893986, with Bluetooth signal strength 7, for 20 minutes, while the estimated respiratory droplet level was 2 (out of 10).” I don’t see any scenario where this is meaningfully worse for privacy, even in the unlikely case that the government seizes your phone and accesses these logs. Especially when other phone data logs contain much more sensitive information.

            I mean, you can say “Everything Google and Apple do is terrible and buggy and therefore, even though the privacy protocols are great on paper, they will be implemented wrong and leak information.” But even then, I would think the main concerns would be leaking your identity, your location, and your medical information (i.e. that you do or don’t have COVID-19). Compared to those, leaking the fact that the microphone did or didn’t hear someone talking within earshot at 2:38 seems relatively innocuous to me.

            And again, the context is, a large majority of adults are already trusting Apple or Google to write their smartphones OS. That is a massive level of trust. I don’t understand where you’re coming from if you don’t trust Google/Apple to not leak your location and identity in the contact-tracing OS update, but you do trust Google/Apple to not leak your location and identity in every other OS update and line of code.

            You can also argue that a skeptical public won’t opt into these systems and therefore there’s no point in trying to make the systems work better. I mean, that’s entirely possible. But I happen to think that it will probably get to high participation rates in at least some places, whether by public mandate or otherwise, or at least that this is sufficiently likely that it’s totally worth putting heroic effort to make the systems as effective as possible. Incidentally, 90% of Americans have favorable impressions of Google and 81% have favorable impressions of Apple, so even if you personally think it’s a no-brainer to not opt in, it’s still possible that you’re in the minority.

          • mitv150 says:

            I don’t see any scenario where this is meaningfully worse for privacy, even in the unlikely case that the government seizes your phone and accesses these logs.

            Given the fact that most people’s entire cell phone location history is available, its hard to disagree.

            You can sort of opt out of location tracking but not without crippling many useful features.

            This ship has sailed – we traded privacy for useful software features a long time ago.

          • caryatis says:

            @steve3920 There’s survey data on this, actually. 82% of Americans have a smartphone, and about half of those who do would not use such an app. So only about 41% are willing and able to use such an app—it’s not just me. Admittedly, people’s opinions can change with time, but there is not a whole lot of trust in Big Tech out there.

          • steve3920 says:

            @caryatis Interesting, thanks!! The number could go up or down depending on popular narratives.

            Some people have talked about contact-tracing dongles / wearables. A school could buy one for each student, or a company could buy one for each employee, etc. Then the school / company / etc. could make them wear it when they’re on the premises. This seems like an awesome idea to me. The economics work, the systems could actually be more accurate, you don’t need people to have smartphones, and when you’re at work/school there’s already generally a culture of wearing badges and following rules and not expecting privacy. Those things obviously only catch the contacts between employees/students on the premises, but that’s still something. I don’t understand why this hasn’t already taken off.

    • faoiseam says:

      I like the idea, but I can’t think of any way to filter out recorded sound. People listen to music, and watch television that has crowd scenes all the time (well, a few hours a day). Watching sports on the television or online is hard to distinguish from being near people singing and shouting. Content ID could filter out most recorded music, and a fair proportion of video, but it really can’t be done on a phone. Short of uploading the data to the cloud where audio matching could be done, I can’t see how to distinguish the two.

      Consider, a hard case, where fifty teens are having a party with loud music in the background. This might seem like recorded music, but if the teens are dancing and singing along it is perhaps as bad as any spreading event. Similarly, fitness classes have been the sites of super-spreading, and they also have loud music.

      • steve3920 says:

        I like the idea, but I can’t think of any way to filter out recorded sound.

        Correct. We’re not going for perfection, we’re just trying to make it less bad. When there’s talking, you don’t know whether it’s the TV or a person. But if there isn’t talking, and the environment is quiet enough that you would be able to hear talking, then you know that nobody is talking. So if you raise the threshold on those interactions—say, 30 minutes instead of 15 minutes, then you reduce false alarms without excessively increasing misses.

        You might be thinking, “So what, who cares about false alarms. Misses are far more damaging!” But the thing is, too many false alarms are a big problem, because people will stop complying with the endless quarantine requests that don’t end in them getting sick. Either they’ll figure that they must have already caught it and now they’re immune, or they’ll lose faith in the systems, or they may even simply run out of ability to find substitutes for their jobs and other obligations etc.

        And that’s why the systems have a threshold of 15 minutes, not 10 minutes or 5 minutes. Of course it’s possible to catch it in 5 minutes! But the designers know how important it is to reduce false alarms, and are already planning to do so even in exchange for missing some transmissions.

        Anyway, if you don’t care about false alarms, you can do a trade: The quiet-and-no-talking interactions have their threshold go up from 15 minutes to 30, and the loud interactions (including people talking, but also TV or music) have their threshold go down from 15 minutes to 10 (or whatever). Now we are holding the total number of false alarms fixed, but reducing misses on net.

    • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

      This doesn’t seem like a bad idea. Some places you can post to if you haven’t already: r/machinelearning, the fb group Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning, or AskHN (on news.ycombinator.com). Before you do, I would recommend you to setup a github repository, which AFAIK does not require coding skills, with a FAQ where you answer some of the questions people asked here.

      My worry is that contact tracing apps are basically dead in the water, since those countries that have them already have very low participation rates. For Singapore it is around 20 percent, and for Austria it’s probably much lower than 10 percent.

  45. Nikitis says:

    I find this answer pretty unsatisfying, so maybe I’m just misunderstanding what the cell phone tracking data are trying to show, or how much I should expect from them

    Why? It’s exactly the behaviour you’d expect from rational actors. Shouldn’t your response be satisfaction at some evidence that people really do behave rationally to a large extent?

  46. denis says:

    I’m telling you, guys: the relevant authority to understand epidemics is not the medical wing of a university, but the dusty sections of the library, with books from the 1970s from Seth.

    Just around the time the Covid-19 epidemic began in earnest, I started reading The Individual and the Nature of Mass Events. So far, his take has been spot-on. Excerpt (with my emphasis):

    —–

    The epidemics then serve many purposes — warning that certain conditions will not be tolerated. There is a biological outrage that will be continually expressed until the conditions are changed.

    (Long pause at 10:31.) Give us a moment … Even in the days of the great plagues in England there were those smitten who did not die, and there were those untouched by the disease who dealt with the sick and dying. Those survivors, who were actively involved, saw themselves in a completely different light than those who succumbed, however: They were those, untouched by despair, who saw themselves as effective rather than ineffective. Often they roused themselves from lives of previously unheroic situations, and then performed with great bravery. The horror of the conditions overwhelmed them where earlier they were not involved.

    The sight of the dying gave them visions of the meaning of life, and stirred new [ideas] of sociological, political, and spiritual natures, so that in your terms the dead did not die in vain. Epidemics by their public nature speak of public problems — problems that sociologically threaten to sweep the individual to psychic disaster as the physical materialization does biologically.

    (Pause.) These are the reasons also for the range or the limits of various epidemics — why they sweep through one area and leave another clear. Why one in the family will die and another survive — for in this mass venture, the individual still forms his or her private reality.

  47. statsman says:

    Is here any more information around about why the paper saying that, if there is a high coefficient of variation in people’s ability to both get and spread the infection i.e. correlated super-spreader/getters, then herd immunity is possible at 10-20%?

    I verified with my own simulation that this is true, given the assumptions. But are the assumptions correct (i.e. that propensity to get infected and to infect others are highly correlated and are also highly variable with CV=stddev/mean ~3.5-4.0).

    In the linked to article the arguments are a) it is bullshit, and b) the S[A]IR model [which assumes this is not true] usually works well.

    But I personally find (a) unconvincing. Perhaps this reflects some cognitive bias that I have.

    As for (b) there seem to be too many mysteries in this area to think the S[A]IR model is very good. I keep reading, for example, that viral outbreaks tend to disappear for reasons that are mysterious.

    I am not particularly attached to this theory but at present I am uncertain how much credence to give it.

    • keaswaran says:

      “The S[A]IR model” is ambiguous. I’ve seen some such models that assume uniform mixing (which is probably what you’re talking about) but also some such models that assume a non-uniform network structure.

      I think the important question is whether assuming a stable network, with high degree nodes as super-spreaders/getters, is a better assumption than assuming that people’s roles in the network change based on what day they go to church or the bar vs what day they stay home.

    • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

      Two thoughts: 1) Correlation of likelihood of getting and spreading an infection is extremely plausible. Just by the virtue of their occupation, doctors, police officers, and waiters have an order of magnitude more close contacts in a given week than most office workers.
      2) The 2009 swine flu was left to spread essentially unchecked, and petered out at a lower infection rate (1/6 of the world) then R0 (1.4-1.6) would suggest.

      • Statismagician says:

        R0 is descriptive, not prescriptive. What happened was that contact tracing and informal precautions were sufficient to contain the virus, so by definition its replication number dropped below 1.

        EDIT: grammar. Apparently I need another cup of coffee.

        • keaswaran says:

          I don’t think contact tracing was ever enough to keep up with 1/6 of the world population having it. At least, I never had a friend tell me about having been contacted by a contact tracer, and I know a bunch of people who are sure they had swine flu, and probably many more that had mild cases.

          And I don’t think the world took very much “informal precautions” either. At least, nothing anywhere near what people have been doing for covid, even in places like Sweden and South Dakota.

          • Statismagician says:

            So, there’s a few pieces to this.

            One, what everybody is calling ‘R0’ is actually R_effective, the difference being that R_effective is cases expected to derive from each case and R0 is that in a fully susceptible population. Usually this is academic, but R_e can vary significantly from R0 paricularly if you have localized outbreaks and not a lot of crossover between locales, since the local population has already gotten the disease and is no longer susceptible.

            Two, the epidemiological characteristics of SARS were quite different from the coronavirus even though I understand the virii are similar, in ways that made it more likely to burn itself out – IIRC, it had a much shorter incubation period and fewer asymptomatic carriers, etc.

            Three, ‘informal measures’ includes things like the general population being better about washing their hands, staying home when sick, and not sneezing on people, the importance of which I don’t think can be overstated. I definitely remember a lot of messaging around this, and that on its own would have helped a lot.

          • Filippo Riccio says:

            I have had a friend tell me about having been contacted by a contact tracer a few years ago, when his daughter caught meningitis. Contact tracing was being done already, and it is effective. We were just being overrun by Covid-19.

            Since the outbreak in Milan, Italy, people are being quarantined just because of they being a close contact with a positive (usually in the family).

  48. rossry says:

    some people were previously trying to pool their donations to reach this amount but I don’t know where the latest active pools are.

    I’m donating >$10k to Fast Grants, hopefully in the next week. I’m glad to help other people contribute via donation matching. If you email me with a firm amount by 2020-05-23 11:59pm (anywhere in the world), I’ll get your contribution in and assign you a donation once I’m done getting money out the door.

    Email address is ross at r-y dot io.

  49. Ninety-Three says:

    Typo patrol:

    Klein highlights the term “vetocracy” for all the features of modern society which give us a bias against inaction

    I think you mean “bias towards inaction”.

  50. MH says:

    The fact that the stay at home orders had a moderate to small effect on behavior seems like about what you’d expect, and has relatively little to do with government impotence.

    It’s pretty reasonable to expect “very clear evidence that a dangerous highly infectious disease is killing many people in your area” to affect people’s behavior in about that way. (This is also why the economic-impact comparison is a complete non-starter. If you have to stipulate that people will not change their behavior in that situation in order to get the comparison you’re doing the kind of useless propaganda stuff that makes people suspect economists.)

    A government order for people to stay away from the virus would have effects on the edges mainly on:
    (1) the kind of people who are angry about the idea of following obviously good advice out of contrarianism, right wing conspiracy theory, or just plain assuming they’re invulnerable and being totally unconcerned about other people, and
    (2) the people, and I think this is the important one, who would otherwise be forced to act in unsafe ways by employers or other private actors with power over them.
    What we’re seeing makes sense if the major effect of government intervention is your boss can’t tell you to come in any work without a mask anymore, even if that’s what they would do otherwise. A lot of them wouldn’t anyway, the stay at home orders often exempt the people most likely to be subject to that, and we’re seeing a lot of the new infections in those places as it is.

    Also the herd immunity thing is really seriously affected by how long immunity lasts. Relatively few diseases give you lifelong immunity, and if the virus doesn’t make it through the entire population in a couple of months (which it almost certainly wouldn’t) it could just circle back around. You’d end up with something similar to a lot of the viruses that cause colds – one that wanders through the population once or twice a year, basically indefinitely. So the comparison can’t be x% of people die, it has to be x% of people die each year, which is a really big difference if there’s more than one year involved in the analysis.

  51. Murphy says:

    Did anyone else quickly check Trumps twitter feed to see if the silica “Do Not Eat” packets thing was definitely a joke?

    Poes law is hard sometimes.

    So… apparently a weekly neighbourhood scream has become a thing in some places:

    https://i.imgur.com/5s0UvtH.jpg

    More and more I’m convinced we’re in the weird timeline, one of the ones where the time traveller realises they’ve messed something up and jumps back in the time machine.

    [gets out of time machine]

    “Hey guys, so I just got back from the past and was wondering what 2020 was like”

    [As people look at the time traveler an alarm beeps for 5pm. Blood curdling screams echo from outside and everyone opens their mouths and starts screaming too with eyes locked on the time traveler. ]

    “Ok… I’m gonna… I’m gonna go.”

    • keaswaran says:

      I remember in the first week of Italian lockdown hearing about events every evening where everyone would lean out the window and applaud for healthcare professionals, or sing opera songs, or whatever it is Italian people do socially. Last week I heard about a 7 pm applause for healthcare professionals in New York, which apparently has been going on for all these months. It only gets occasionally mentioned in passing in media reports, because I guess to people living in New York it’s too obvious to mention, and to people outside New York it’s something we’ve never even noticed. It makes me realize just how different this period is in different places, with very different social customs emerging.

      And then I realize, the world already had this much difference in social customs everywhere in the days before, but because I was traveling a lot, I was relatively familiar with some of the variance (at least, among major cities in North America and Europe) while in the present period, the cultural variation has been reset, and most of us will only ever directly experience one place in this special time.

    • zzzzort says:

      In Long Beach there’s an 8pm cheer for healthcare workers, but I’ve long suspected it was more popular as something akin to a neighborhood scream.

  52. Deej says:

    Most people are still going out to the shops and to exercise, key workers are still going to work.

    Does the mobile phone data have a way of differentiating between this and breaking lockdown? (Noting Scott sees it as evidence of people not following lock down)

    • Kaitian says:

      Theoretically your phone knows where you work (if it’s the same location every time). So they could filter it out. And shopping trips and exercise would also happen before the lockdown, so we’d expect trips to decrease as extra trips are cancelled with the lockdown.

      Whether the graphs already filtered for this is not something I know.

  53. demost says:

    Greg Cochran (…) is not impressed with claims that we might be able to naturally and easily achieve herd immunity before about ~70% of people are infected.

    I am absolutely no proponent of trying to achieve herd immunity, but I think he is wrong about needing 70%. (He doesn’t give actual arguments other than his gut feeling.) The basic calculation for the 70% is: Each person infects on average 3 more people (R=3). If 2/3 of the population are immune, so only 1/3 is still susceptible, then she will only infect the 3 * 1/3 = 1 other people (R <= 1).

    However, there is a fundamentally wrong assumption in that: that the infected people are a random sample from the population. But not all people are equally likely to spread the virus further. Assume that the population consists of 50% eremites that never ever meet other people, and 50% party-goers who infect a whopping 6 further people if they catch it. Then on average we have R=3. However, none of the digital eremites will ever catch the virus, so the epidemics will die down when 5/6 of the party-goers are infected. That is roughly 40% of the total population, not 66%, as the R would suggest.

    How strong is the effect? I can't quantify it, but I suspect that it is strong for several reasons. First, in my above example, I omnisciently knew that R=3 for the whole population. However, how would a scientist estimate R? She would look at the infected people, and check out how many other people they infect. Since only party-goers are infected, she would only be able to collect data from them. So with best scientific standards she would estimate R=6, and then conclude that herd immunity is reached with 5/6 = 85% infected, instead of the true value of 40%.

    Second, how is the real distribution? My example with 50% with 0 contagions and 50% with 6 contagions was completely made up, after all. But the number of social contacts (as most social distributions) has a heavy tail. So the important question is: Which proportion of the population causes 2/3 of all social contacts? Unfortunately, I don’t know the number, but as with all heavy tail distributions, if we take the group with most social contacts, then we would need much less than 2/3. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was more like 20%-25%.

    Of course, we cannot just assume that these 25% most social people are the immune ones and declare that 25% infections give herd immunity. It might even be hard to identify the 25% who have the most social contacts. Actually, how could we identify them? Here is a fun experiment to find them (thought experiment, of course): Just release a virus and see who gets infected. This will not literally give 25% of the population which have most social contacts, but it probably comes close.

    So several effects work into the same direction: our estimate for R=3 comes from epidemiologically early data, so it probably comes from people who have exceptionally many social contacts. Naturally, during an epidemics the ones that are infected have particularly many social contacts, and due to heavy tails you need only relatively few of them to account for 2/3 of all social contacts.

    Again, I do not think that going for herd immunity pays off for the current pandemic! I would think that Stockholm region might be at least half-way there at 20% (without the authorities aiming for that — they emphasize strongly that herd immunity was never their goal). But I think Stockholm was extremely lucky and just a tiny bit worse parameters would have had their health system collapse. (Like, three more days of exponential growth! There weren’t much hospital capacities left.) Cities like Bergamo and New York might also be half-way there, but they are really unhappy about what it took them to get there.

    • keaswaran says:

      This non-homogeneity is really important.

      But it’s also important to remember that there’s non-homogeneity in time as well. Maybe on March 1, people had behavior patterns that made half of them cause 0 spreads and half cause 6. But by now, everyone’s habits have changed – maybe the 6 people are now down to 3. So we only need a two thirds of those people to be immune to reach herd immunity. But if behavior patterns change again, then the number needed for herd immunity will change again.

      Both R0 and herd immunity threshold are relational properties of a virus to a community and not intrinsic to the virus itself.

    • Swami says:

      Great comment, Demost

      Just using the good old fashioned 80/20 rule, I would expect those getting the virus earliest to be both the most likely receivers and spreaders. They are the critical nodes. Once those nodes get immunity (or die), the R is going to plummet.

    • This seems to be a point that one person after another is discovering, being struck by, and posting here. I posted it some days back and was told then that someone else already had.

    • Namron says:

      Superspreaders are a caveat to this though. Even if 5/6 of the party-goers catch it, one superspreader event can cause a fresh major outbreak. And additional superspreader events can sustain this outbreak. Fat tails cut both ways. Maybe the estimate of R=6 is wrong for partygoers, it should really be R=20 due to superspreaders, but superspreaders are so rare that none have been sampled in putting together the estimate.

      • LesHapablap says:

        The estimate of R should include lots of superspreaders if there are more than a few thousand cases, since they should be very heavily over-represented in any sample. So if you have 10,000 infections you probably have 100-1000 top .1% super-spreaders.

        I don’t know how this jives with Scott’s saying that previous outbreaks followed the simple model for herd immunity. Anyone have a link to some evidence for that?

        • Namron says:

          Could you go into more detail as to why you would expect so many superspreaders? Couldn’t you have just a few superspreaders spreading to a lot of ordinary people?

          • demost says:

            Social networks (and many others) tend to be so-called scale-free networks. That means that the number of people with x contacts decays polynomially in x with an exponent between 2 and 3. In such networks, there are nodes/people with a very high number of contacts, sometimes called “hubs” or “superspreaders”. For example, if the exponent is 3, then in a network of n people, there is one (or a few) individuals with n^{1/3} contacts. That’s really a lot.

            However, most people have only a small number of contacts.

            For almost all social networks (including the ones relevant for infections), the exponent is between 2 and 3. This has a few consequences:

            1) There are enough high-degree nodes that the network is a “small-world network”, i.e., you can get from any node to any other in a very few hops. Experiments by Stanley Milgram in the 70ies estimated six hops on average. This was dubbed as “six degrees of spearation”. In Facebook it’s more like 3-4 hops.
            This is a bit related to the Friendship Paradox that LesHapablap has mentioned below, but it’s not the same. The paradox does appear in all scale-free networks, but is really something even more general: it basically appears in any kind of inhomogeneous network.

            2) In scale-free networks, most connections (or infections, for an epidemic) are between “ordinary” nodes, not involving super-spreaders.

            3) If you want to estimate values like R, the average number of contacts, then this is possible by sampling. That means, if you want to know how many people a person infects in expectation, then it is fine just to sample a few people, and take the average.
            That sounds obvious, but it is not always true for such heavy-tail distributions. For exponents smaller than 2 your sample would not hit enough super-spreaders, and you would always systematically underestimate the expectation.
            To understand the growth of an infection, we are in a somewhat lucky situation: We only need to know the expectation of R, so how many people an infected person infects on average. It does not really matter how big the variance is. (Unless you are in a regime where you can count the number of infected people by hand, but that’s a different story.)

            So that means for the R-value: we only need the expectation, and we can get it by looking at some cases and taking the average. We don’t need supermany cases. We will always catch a few moderately heavy spreaders in the sample. We might miss super-spreaders altogether, but that’s ok — they are spectacular, but they don’t dominate the expectation, and they don’t dominate the spread of the infection.

          • albatross11 says:

            This article claims that different diseases have different levels of dispersion, and thus different levels of how important superspreaders are.

          • demost says:

            This article claims that different diseases have different levels of dispersion, and thus different levels of how important superspreaders are.

            This is really interesting. It suggests that the corona-diseases (Covid-19, SARS, and MERS) are quite strong outliers in that aspect, compared to other respiratory diseases like influenca. I.e., that superspreading events are much more important in corona-diseases.

        • LesHapablap says:

          I’m no expert I’m just running off intuition. But I believe it is related to the Friendship Paradox:
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friendship_paradox

          That is, your friends, on average, have more friends than you.

          The wiki article doesn’t really explain how this relates to superspreaders, but it does mention this:

          The analysis of the friendship paradox implies that the friends of randomly selected individuals are likely to have higher than average centrality. This observation has been used as a way to forecast and slow the course of epidemics, by using this random selection process to choose individuals to immunize or monitor for infection while avoiding the need for a complex computation of the centrality of all nodes in the network.[10][11][12]

          A study in 2010 by Christakis and Fowler showed that flu outbreaks can be detected almost 2 weeks before traditional surveillance measures can by using the friendship paradox in monitoring the infection in a social network.[13] They found that using the friendship paradox to analyze the health of central friends is “an ideal way to predict outbreaks, but detailed information doesn’t exist for most groups, and to produce it would be time-consuming and costly.”[14]

          In addition to that, activities that make you a superspreader put you in contact with other superspreaders. For example:

          Let’s say you’re in a society where 1/8 of the populace go out to night clubs or bars or parties every night (superspreaders). 1/8 go out to bars and parties and nightclubs twice a week(medium spreaders), and 3/4 don’t go out at all. If all the spreading happens when people go out and mingle, then after a few nights the majority of your infected population is superspreaders, some are medium spreaders, so they are way over-represented. That is, the same thing that makes them super-spreaders makes them more likely to get infected too.

          So in real life, your ‘parties’ from the example above are prisons, churches, meat packing plants, rest homes, bars, maybe airplanes and subways.

          This isn’t necessarily true though: say your guy was a superspreader because he worked in a mask factory and if infected would cough all over the masks. Now the infections can only go one way, so although he’s a superspreader he isn’t more likely to get infected.

          Most superspreaders though, they are also much more likely to catch as well as spread.

          • albatross11 says:

            I suspect one aspect of being a superspreader is your social network, but that there’s a bunch of other stuff involved.

            One plausible (at least to me) model for this is that you need to end up with a bunch of things aligning at the same time to get a superspreader event: You have to be at high contagiousness (probably within a day or two in either direction from the onset of symptoms), you maybe need to be someone who just naturally makes a lot of respiratory droplets, you have to be in an environment that optimizes for spread of those respiratory droplets, and you need to have lots of people around you who are susceptible. Cut any of those out, and you infect one or two people, not a roomful.

            Fans and air conditioning seem to be a big help in spreading the disease. Basically air conditioning or refrigeration helps the virus survive longer in the air/on surfaces, and the fan ups your range. Singing or talking loudly or breathing heavily basically increase your range and your output of droplets. Crowding in a small (ideally closed-in) space means you maximize your number of targets.

  54. Aapje says:

    I object to the comparison of The Netherlands with Sweden. The Netherlands was considerably more strict. Far less so than Italy or Spain, but much more than Sweden.

    I think that my country was hit relatively hard given the measures due to two reasons:
    – lots of people having a winter holiday in Italy.
    – carnival, which involves exactly the kind of behavior that spreads COVID (packed bars with loud music, so people have to shout at close distance to hear each other). Note that the heaviest hit are exactly the Catholic regions where carnival is celebrated (most). The north of the Netherlands has very few cases.

    We should have quarantined incoming travelers sooner, but no one else did at that time, so that’s not a difference in measures.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      The harder-hit regions are also places where the February school vacation was later (Dutch school vacations are staggered). So people from those areas who went skiing in Italy were more likely to get infected while there, as the virus was more widespread.

      Though I’m not saying carnival had nothing to do with it- a lot of the early infections were linked to the carnival in Tilburg.

    • matthewravery says:

      I object to the comparison of The Netherlands with Sweden. The Netherlands was considerably more strict. Far less so than Italy or Spain, but much more than Sweden.

      Completely true. I’ll also add that the Netherlands had stricter interventions than the US.

  55. codesections says:

    A couple of corrections:

    Nate Silver crunches the evidence and finds that (contra what I wrote last time) there is no evidence that voting by mail gives one party an advantage.

    The linked article is by Lee Drutman (who has written several articles for FiveThirtyEight but is not listed on their masthead) not by Nate Silver (FiveThirtyEight’s Editor in Chief)

    If a lockdown costs $5 trillion, then the 1% tax would make $50 billion.

    The linked article estimates the cost of a lockdown as ~$2.86 trillion, not $5 trillion.

    (It doesn’t list the cost of a lockdown directly, but says that lockdown + coronavirus reduces economic activity by “22%—a cost of $4.2 trillion” and that coronavirus without lockdown would reduce economic activity by 7% (~$1.34 trillion). Subtraction shows that lockdown adds ~$2.86 trillion, not %5 trillion.)

    • matthewravery says:

      coronavirus without lockdown would reduce economic activity by 7% (~$1.34 trillion)

      Thank you for posting this! I find it baffling when folks conduct analysis of the cost of the lockdowns while ignoring the cost of the virus itself. It’s not like people would just go about their lives in the middle of the worth pandemic in a century if their governments just twiddled their thumbs.

      Frankly, I’d guess that the 7% is a conservative guess at the outbreaks effects on our society.

  56. North49 says:

    If we lift the restrictions, the same number of people will die as if we had never instituted any restrictions at all, and also we will have wasted X years.

    This assumes a lot. In particular that a generalized lockdown is the only policy lever at our disposal, and it’s boolean.

    If deaths were a random subset of infections, then this would be maybe reasonable, but the risk factors are stark. Hospitalizations are highly age stratified. Furthermore, lockdown has been effective at reducing hospitalisation in the 65+ set, but had almost no effect on the under 40 crowd (modest effect on the 40-65 group).

    https://gis.cdc.gov/grasp/COVIDNet/COVID19_3.html

    Within the hospitalized population, ~90% have at least one identified underlying medical condition.

    https://gis.cdc.gov/grasp/COVIDNet/COVID19_5.html

    I just read a report yesterday that 80% of all covid deaths in Canada are attributable to infection spread in retirement homes. Meanwhile, NYC is sending known covid positive patients TO retirement communities.

    Why are we doing such an especially bad job of protecting the most vulnerable populations, while expending a lot of money and bankrupting a lot of businesses making sure healthy college kids can’t get haircuts? There has to be a middle ground where we encase the old and vulnerable in bubble wrap, and let everyone else build herd immunity around them.

    Also, while covid ranting, I’m not Anti-vaccine in general, and get a flu shot every year, but spending hundreds of billions of dollars researching a covid vaccine seems like a really bad ROI. It’s probably only effective for 1 season. Let’s spend hundreds of billions of dollars researching better treatments for pneumonia instead. It’s how covid actually kills people, and by the way, a boatload of other respiratory diseases lile sars and mers, and the seasonal flu…. and very likely the next pandemic. Plus, it would be highly mutation agnostic so we wouldn’t need to reinvent it every year. Plus, rather than having to administer it to everyone, in advance, it only is given to people who need it at the moment they need it, so scaling the production pipeline is far more manageable. It just seems like a way better strategy all around and haven’t heard any serious discussion about it.

    • A1987dM says:

      Within the hospitalized population, ~90% have at least one identified underlying medical condition.

      counting such “medical conditions” as obesity or hypertension. How much of the general population doesn’t have at least one of those?

      • North49 says:

        Yes. I don’t think this argument is running the direction you think it is though. The fact that the hospitalisation rate is so low for most age groups despite the high prevalence of the highest risk conditions like obesity and hypertension, would seems to point to the vulnerable group not being ‘old OR has a medical condition’ but rather ‘old AND has a medical condition’. Though admittedly from the CDC website I couldn’t find a way to get the condition per age group data to validate that interpretation.

        • Matt M says:

          From what I’ve seen, it’s sort of both. Being old is a significant risk (regardless of other conditions) and having other conditions is a risk, albeit a lesser one (regardless of age).

          Think of it like a 2×2. “Old and other conditions” = high risk. “Young and no other conditions” = virtually no risk. “Old but otherwise totally healthy” = moderate risk. “Young but some conditions” = low/moderate risk.

    • RG says:

      Pneumonia in Covid 19 cases isn’t anything like pneumonia caused by the seasonal flu. Pneumonia from the flu is usually a secondary bacterial infection. Pneumonia from Covid 19 is an immune system overreaction caused by the damage inflicted by the virus itself. I do agree that treatments to stop the immune system overreaction and to halt viral replication would be better bets.

  57. Matt M says:

    “It’s like 15% of heart attacks” sounds not-so-bad, and “it starts with the Vietnam War and gets worse from there” sounds awful, even though they’re the same number. There’s no way to fix this without somehow making all our intuitions collide against each other and equalize, which sounds really hard.

    I think this is mainly a psychological problem, primarily created by the media (but in their defense, basically giving the public what it wants). You see it come up on other politically-charged debates such as terrorism, and maybe even moreso “murders committed by illegal immigrants.”

    People react very differently towards deaths that they see as natural/unavoidable and deaths that they see as caused by human error, or even worse, political policy (or even worse than that, political policy they already opposed anyway).

    Like, the primary reason that conservative red-tribe man views “pretty white girl kidnapped by illegal immigrant” as worse than “grandma dies of heart disease” has nothing to do with how old grandma is or how much quality of life she has left or the estimated economic lifetime productivity of the teenage girl or anything else. It’s because he views grandma’s heart disease as “something we can’t do anything about” and immigrant-related crime as “something we could easily prevent if we wanted to” and “something we should probably do anyway even if it wasn’t saving lives” (because it would let Americans keep their jobs or whatever).

    So what’s going on with COVID today? It seems to me that the issue is that we’ve reached some sort of state of… I don’t know if I want to go as far as to call it “civilizational hubris” but that’s what’s coming to mind. We believe that we (or more specifically, the state, or perhaps “the experts” have achieved something close to the status of Gods). We believe that all deaths are preventable, and that, therefore, any deaths that happen, happen due to a lack of political action. And there’s a non-trivial portion of the population that thinks “consolidate state power, print tons of money, institute something roughly approximating a poorly-designed UBI program, shut down the churches, make people beg permission to host parties, etc.” are good political actions that we definitely should have already done anyway (even if it didn’t save COVID lives).

    But I don’t think our scientism/hubris/whatever you want to call it has started looking back yet. We see COVID as preventable because it’s new, and it confirms our priors about human mastery over nature and state power. But we haven’t gone back to correct our priors about heart disease, or cancer, or anything else (not even seasonal flu for that matter). So COVID is still getting placed in the “things we could prevent through political action” bucket with the Vietnam war, 9/11, and immigrant-crime; while heart disease, cancer, drug overdoses, and car accidents are still seen as “natural things that just sort of happen and it sucks but what can you do?”

    • salvorhardin says:

      I don’t think you need scientism to explain it, just hedonic adaptation; and nor do you need a belief that all deaths are preventable, just infectious-disease ones in particular. People before 1950 or so took significant risks of death and morbidity from a multitude of infectious diseases as just part of life, and went out and mass-gathered anyway. Then vaccines came along courtesy of Salk, Hillerman etc and our baseline risk of that type of mortality dropped precipitously. Now we’re used to not having that category of risk in our lives, so reintroducing it seems terrifying even if it’s no worse than what our great-grandparents shrugged at.

      • Matt M says:

        I don’t think that’s so far off from what I’m saying here.

        Our modern medical advances, to include vaccines and the like, have caused us to believe that we have conquered infectious disease, such that any further deaths from it are intolerable and must be viewed as political choices rather than unavoidable tragedy.

        But this is not actually true. We have overestimated our capability in this regard. And this overestimation is causing us to make very poor decisions in terms of overall cost/benefit. On both ends, actually. Because we’re also over-estimating our ability to manually intervene in the economy without causing long-term negative and unforeseen consequences.

        • mtl1882 says:

          But this is not actually true. We have overestimated our capability in this regard. And this overestimation is causing us to make very poor decisions in terms of overall cost/benefit. On both ends, actually. Because we’re also over-estimating our ability to manually intervene in the economy without causing long-term negative and unforeseen consequences.

          Yes, exactly this. In many ways, what’s going on is straightforward and easy to understand, but it is also a gigantic mistake in reasoning. Infectious disease risk was never something our medical and social advances put to rest—it just looked that way because we had so much success with the common ones for a while. And we’re categorizing things incorrectly, as you explained, due to psychology + media/political environment. We’re very confused about what’s actually in our control, on both ends, and that is dangerous.

    • caryatis says:

      I think this is a great point. The fact that people are dying is taken as evidence that our leaders have failed, or not tried hard enough. Because if we truly wanted to stop people dying, and truly tried hard, we would succeed, right?

      I find myself thinking of Epictetus often lately: know what you can control, and what you cannot control.

    • matthewravery says:

      I think this is mainly a psychological problem, primarily created by the media (but in their defense, basically giving the public what it wants).

      A quibble. I think this is baked into our psychology. The media ain’t got nothin to do with it. I think you’re right that the media is giving the people what they want, but I don’t think it’s a media creation.

      • Matt M says:

        Right. Sorry if I was unclear, but this is what I was trying to say. The media is perpetuating the meme, but the only reason they’re doing so is because we want them to. The media screaming that Trump is personally responsible for every COVID death only works because society in general believes that sort of logic is valid and makes sense (even if for partisan reasons, they shout back “actually it’s CUOMO, not Trump… or Xi, not Trump” who is responsible!

        But the general theme of “these deaths could have been prevented through sufficient political action (unlike your normal routine deaths from cancer, heart disease, suicide, etc.)” is accepted by like 95% of the population.

        • J.R. says:

          @ Matt M

          I agree with everything you said in your OP.

          Still, what makes Covid different from any of those things was that, at one point, maybe in early-mid January, Covid may have been containable using political action alone (and maybe Chinese political action alone at that). Problem is, it’s four months later and we have a global pandemic on our hands. It has exposed how much of the epidemiological playbook is based off of early detection and containment — and that once the horse is out of the proverbial barn it is nigh-impossible to reel back in.

          • Loriot says:

            The degree to which the horse can be put back in the barn depends on the rate of spread, incubation period, prevalence of asymptomatic carriers, etc. Covid is unusually bad in ways that make it much harder to contain (compare to SARS and MERS).

            At least we aren’t dealing with Super Measles, I guess.

          • Matt M says:

            It has exposed how much of the epidemiological playbook is based off of early detection and containment — and that once the horse is out of the proverbial barn it is nigh-impossible to reel back in.

            But I don’t think the average person understands/believes this. At all.

            If they did, common opinion would be “It sucks that we didn’t take the action when it might have helped, but since it won’t help now, we shouldn’t have lockdowns.” Instead, public opinion is “We need to have the lockdowns so people won’t die.” Public opinion (reflective of what the media is reporting) is that, even today, we can control and defeat the virus through political action, and that doing so will, in fact, be worth the economic cost.

  58. tgb says:

    Can any doctor comment on the flu deaths statistic from the last paragraph? My concern is that confirmed flu deaths might be a bad comparison to confirmed COVID-19 deaths since we might not bother confirming a flu infection. If you get a patient in the ICU with, say, pneumonia, do you bother running a flu test? Do they test after death for flu in case someone dies outside the hospital? I’m not sure I’m even asking the right questions here, but generally how aggressively does one confirm/disconfirm flu in the kinds of patients that could end up dead?

    • keaswaran says:

      My guess is that neither confirmed flu deaths to confirmed covid deaths nor suspected flu deaths to suspected covid deaths is a totally clean comparison, for all the reasons mentioned throughout. But they give some sort of bounds on your estimates. And importantly, we can compare the flu numbers for last year to the flu numbers for this year, to see how much the measures taken in the last few months have affected flu deaths, and try to extrapolate how they might have affected covid deaths.

  59. AlesZiegler says:

    Mobility data of the sort of “how many people are leaving their house”, and on driving or walking, are pretty poor proxy for a level social distancing. Only public transit usage appear to be dangerous activity among aforementioned mobility indicators.

    E.g. I personally have a step counter on my smartphone, so I have a good idea on how much I walked during a lockdown, if not for other forms of mobility, and after five weeks I´ve returned to normal prelockdown level of steps being taken, so on that measure it would appear like I am not socially distancing at all. But that is not the case.

    In fact I merely stopped being so paranoid about surface contamination outdoors since it became apparent that it is not a major risk factor and I´ve taken conscious effort to take 10 000 steps a day in order to stay in mental and physical shape. I am still very much avoiding close personal interaction and crowded public transit.

    • demost says:

      The data is actually much better than just “people leaving their house”. For example, Google provides data for each country on how much time people spend at public transit stations.

      • AlesZiegler says:

        I am reacting on what is written on curves of those graphs Scott posted above. If they are based on some measurement more sophisticated than their labeling suggests, I take my comment back. Do not have time to investigate it myself.

  60. Aftagley says:

    I find this answer pretty unsatisfying, so maybe I’m just misunderstanding what the cell phone tracking data are trying to show, or how much I should expect from them.

    I don’t think this data says what you think it says. From my read of that report, it’s tracking the number of people who do not leave home at all. Anyone who goes 150 meters away from where the cellphone spends the night is going to trigger this data point. This means that going on one 30 minute walk a day, or one quick trip to the store would count as much as going to work at the doorknob licking factory for the purposes of this graph.

    Frankly, with this consideration, I think it’s shocking that the numbers have decreased at all.

    • keaswaran says:

      I’m not so shocked that the numbers have decreased some. Anecdotally, I have a friend who says she hasn’t left her apartment in the Upper West Side for 60 days (I guess she gets groceries delivered? And she’s a professor, in her 60s, whose wife manages a choir, so they are both seriously trying to avoid risks.) And while there have been some days in the past couple years where I didn’t leave the house, it’s certainly much more common these days that I get busy with work/computer game and forget to go for a walk than it was even on the work-from-home days in the past.

      But these graphs seem to suggest that even at the beginning, on any given day, something like 20% of phones never left the home! Are these all retired people and homemakers? (I sometimes struggle to remember that only 60% of people are employed usually.)

      • Kaitian says:

        Some of these might be people who use a different phone at work. But staying home one in five days doesn’t seem that outrageous to me. Many people who work outside the home enjoy relaxing at home on the weekend, and some people are unemployed, disabled or simply work from home and only go out for social reasons.

  61. viVI_IViv says:

    Switzerland is another weird case. It’s a loose confederation of linguistically French, Germany, and Italian regions. Remember that France and Italy have been devastated by the virus, and Germany has mostly gotten off unscathed.

    What are the genetics of Switzerland? I can’t find data about haplogroups online. If the genetics of the Swiss groups resemble those of their linguistic home countries then the differences in infection and death rates might be due to genetics.
    Specifically, I’m thinking of a vulnerability of people of Celtic ancestry: this is the common denominator between Northen Italy, France, most of Spain, the UK and Northeastern US. It would explain why Central and Southern Italy have remained relatively unscathed despite geographical and political contiguity with Northen Italy, as Central and Southern Italy are non-Celtic. However it doesn’t explain Ireland (Celtic, not strongly affected) or Catalunia and the Basque country (supposedly non-Celtic, strongly affected).

    • demost says:

      As someone living in Switzerland, I can say that there is no mystery at all if you live in Switzerland. The lockdown happened simultaneously throughout the country. At this time the Italian-speaking region Ticino was already heavily affected because it is close to the Italian hotspot Lombardy (close in terms of distance and in terms of the number of travellers), and the French speaking part (especially Basel) was stronger affected because it was close to French hotspot Alsace.

  62. caryatis says:

    >The best answer I can come up with is that most people are risk-averse and started staying at home before the official lockdown. A few risk-tolerant people didn’t, but they are disobeying the lockdown as much as they can anyway.

    I think SSC readers are unusually independent-minded and might underestimate the number of people who defer to government recommendations regardless of their personal degree of risk-aversion. In an environment of uncertainty, lockdown orders are a powerful guide to what the right thing to do is, and I personally follow them and plan to go out only after they are lifted—even though I think there is a very good chance those orders are overly cautious and a very low chance that I would get arrested if I disobeyed them.

    • Matt M says:

      I would slightly disagree – and suggest that SSC readers are “more internally consistent” than the general public. Which is to say that SSC will include both more people who “say lockdowns are good and don’t violate them” and people who “say lockdowns are bad and violate them.” Whereas, the general public will include a very large amount of people who say lockdowns are good, but find plenty of reasons/excuses why they, themselves, should be allowed to violate them on occasion.

      Like, I’d guess that the average American says “lockdowns are necessary and should not be lifted and violators should be punished” but has themselves already violated at least twice.

      • What struck me a very long time ago was that many people claim to believe that one is morally obliged to obey laws, but most of them feel free to drive somewhat over the speed limit.

      • brmic says:

        but has themselves already violated at least twice.

        I think this lacks nuance. There’s all sorts of people, from e.g. people with extended families living closely together or requiring care that effectively have social circle of 20+ people without violating the rules, to couples in committed relationships that still live apart and break the rules by seeing each other, regardless of how much they limit their outside contacts. You have people living in group homes, which is ok, yet if the same people lived in single apartments, they’d violate the rules even if the designated a single mutual outside contact to meet in person. You have families allowing their children to violate the rules on occasion to stay sane (again, if you have a bunch of kids, they have playmates even under rigorous lockdown, if you have a single child it has make do without other children around.)
        And, of course there are those who think the rules don’t apply to them or they’re invulnerable.
        But from what I’ve seen they’re the exception and most other rule violations are an attempt to tailor the official rules to one’s specific circumstances. The alternative would be a 100+ page booklet that informs you on page under section 3.4.2.1 that you may see your unmarried partner if you’ve been together for over six months, pool your exposure while shopping and have no other outside contacts, with a fine of X for each month you’re short of the 6 and another fine for shopping independently, which is however waived if you both shop at the same store (as that would be allowed if you lived under one roof).

        • Matt M says:

          Of course it lacks nuance. My point is that people are perfectly capable of seeing the nuances in their own circumstances (and occasionally the circumstances of their close friends and family), but not of random strangers.

          So if you see a guy on the street not wearing a mask, your first thought is “What an asshole! Doesn’t he know he’s putting my life at risk!” But if you’re ever on the street without a mask, you know it’s because you’re only traveling two blocks and you have asthma which makes breathing difficult for you while wearing a mask.

          My point is that if you’re going to uncharitably assume everyone you can see who is technically violating the rules is a bad actor who is defecting and risking the lives of millions for their own personal pleasure, well you damn well better be absolutely never technically violating the rules yourself. You cannot demand perfect compliance from others unless you are willing to exercise it yourself.

    • gleamingecho says:

      the number of people who defer to government recommendations regardless of their personal degree of risk-aversion.

      I would suggest that the number of people who act regardless of their personal degree of risk-aversion is very, very low. There’s no activity for which you turn your risk-aversion meter off; rather, for that particular activity, your risk-aversion level is 100%.

  63. baconbits9 says:

    to what the right thing to do is

    So your default is that a government order is correct?

    Opps, meant to be a reply to Caryatis above.

  64. mtl1882 says:

    If we lift the restrictions, the same number of people will die as if we had never instituted any restrictions at all, and also we will have wasted X years. We will have gone X years with millions of people poor and unemployed, millions of others locked in their houses and unable to have fun – and it won’t have saved a single life.

    I’m very afraid of this, because I think it is very likely. Even if we let up on legal restrictions, the authorities seem resistant to doing anything to puncture the fantasies that this will all clear up relatively soon. So a lot of people will still behave as though this is the case, and end up even worse off. Even things like professional sports–people won’t go if they think it will come back next year, and there will be social pressure not to allow such frivolous mass events because of fantasies of containment. A bunch of people lose one of their favorite things or their jobs as a result of that industry collapsing. If people realize this is just the way it is going to be, to some will still stay away, but many more will shift their expectations about risk because they have no choice. I’m not claiming there would not still be serious risks and fears, but if we’re just delaying the inevitable, it doesn’t really matter. There are situations most people would never voluntarily choose, but if all other situations are basically impossible, that will be the one they’re stuck with. It doesn’t matter whether we find it acceptable. But as long as there is the illusion of a miraculous escape, the needed adjustments, whatever they may be for each person, won’t be made, and the same goes for larger social and economic reorganizations. In the meantime, the wasted adjustment/practical long-term mitigation time and energy is massive. If people think global tourism has a good chance at a comeback next year, the people who work for that industry won’t look for new jobs, nor will the government come up with a plan to assist them. We’ll spend tons of time and resources propping up things that are simply untenable.

    The leaders of South Korea, Singapore, and New Zealand are telling their people there will be no quick return to the status quo, and that the economies are taking a huge hit and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, largely due to the restrictions on air travel. Lots of Americans are under the impression that those countries have mostly fixed the issue and we just need to do a better job copying them so we get back to the status quo. It’s really messed up to laud the leadership of these people while misrepresenting them in service of a false ideal. I know people want to think there’s an easy fix, but we need to prepare for reality just like the citizens of those countries. Psychological preparation is important.

    I feel like we’re disastrously trying to create the illusion of control and making things worse, when we could be intelligently dealing with what is actually in our control. While of course I’d love for a miracle to happen, I expect that it will spread until we (hopefully) achieve herd immunity, and that it will never totally evaporate. I’ve never been able to see anything else as realistic. But the few who agree with me on that tend to add, “exactly, it’s no big deal, in a year it’ll be back to normal.” That is also wrong.

    The silica gel packet line gave me a much-needed laugh. Some great lines and information in this post.

    • Matt M says:

      Indeed. This has been my primary reason for opposing lockdowns from the start. Because I fear the worst case scenario. And contrary to what the media is saying, I do not view “We sacrifice millions to die of COVID in order to save the economy” as the worst case scenario. On the contrary, the true worst-case scenario is “we intentionally agree to large-scale economic devastation and significant decreases in quality of life for everyone in the world… and millions die of COVID anyway.”

      • gleamingecho says:

        Preach it, Matt.

        • albatross11 says:

          This is the worst-case potential downside of the lockdowns–we all get C19, just a few months later when we’re all poorer and sadder and paler from the lockdown.

          Being aware of this as a possibility really ought to make those of us who support lockdowns and other measures be thinking in terms of how to minimize the damage done by whatever anti-C19-spreading measures we enact. That kind of thinking plays poorly with the moral-panic mode of thought, however….

        • LesHapablap says:

          Worst-case scenario is a lot worse than that. What was the worst case scenario of the Treaty of Versailles destroying Germany’s economy?

          edit: I think we are on a clear path toward world war three with China. All over the world people are angry at China and when the real economic pain drags on for a year plus, that anger will turn to rage.

          In addition to that, the lockdowns have given carte blanche for repressive governments around the world to get way more repressive, so we could see some human misery and death on that end as well.

          And in addition, spending all our warchest on COVID may mean that we are genuinely screwed if another natural disaster hits in the next couple years, and states start to collapse.

      • A1987dM says:

        What about “we try to continue business as usual as much as possible but 10% of the population gets sick at the same time and the economy goes to hell anyway”?

        • baconbits9 says:

          Why would the economy go to hell with 10% of the population getting sick?

        • Christophe Biocca says:

          “10% of the population gets sick at the same time” isn’t that crazy of an outcome. New York City’s ~25% percent infected over a couple months means they got within a factor of 2-3 of that, while under lockdowns.

          Also it’s pretty clear getting 10% of the population to not be able to work isn’t apocalyptic, as that’s basically the increase in the number of unemployed people we ended up getting. At least with 10% sick most of them would be back to work after a couple of weeks.

        • mtl1882 says:

          I’m not sure that’s how it would play out, but as it is speculation I won’t argue the point. One of my main points is this:

          The way in which it goes to hell under such circumstances is different than the way it subtly goes to hell while we preserve the fantasy of a quick return to the status quo. It would be a more “natural” or “intuitive” collapse, in that we’d be able to see what was going on and react accordingly, and also that we’d now be in agreement as to the seriousness and able to move in a more coordinated yet flexible manner and make more realistic choices and adjustments. It would also be over more quickly, allowing a faster acceptance and rebuild process and perhaps some level of herd immunity. (I realize that hospital overload would be an issue here, but I’m not convinced the numbers would be higher in the end.) Emotionally, I actually think many people have a harder time with the chronic worry and uncertainty and dragged out process of intentionally spread out deaths than they do with a mass casualty event. While I am in no way trying to argue that either of these situations is easy or “preferable” in a meaningful sense, I think it is a mistake to assume people react proportionally to the amount of death at a given time. Circumstances and expectations matter a lot more. This can’t be managed from the top down through purely logical calculations–societal and economic systems are too complex.

          It’s not even just the worst case being a ruined economy/social structure and the deaths—-there are degrees and forms of ruination that get worse with time and denial. The lockdown itself tends to have the practical effect of enabling the denial to continue, preventing necessary adjustments, which is one of my biggest concerns.

        • matthewravery says:

          If it was going to be 10%, we’d probably be fine. The concern is that it’s 90% if we ignore it and everyone gets it at once, resulting in a CFR of 3-5% for lack of available care.

          • mtl1882 says:

            It probably wouldn’t be that bad, but yeah, that is a concern. I think hospital overloads will probably be a thing, but people will become cautious if that starts happening, and at least put the breaks on a little. I know it will have a delayed effect, but I don’t think it is likely to spread to literally everyone at once. Some people are immune. Some will practice pretty good social distancing and wear masks, some will stay quite isolated, many of them being the highest risk who would overwhelm the hospitals. Some will die at home or have DNRs. Most won’t be hospitalized. It won’t be geographically uniform. So depending on the demographics, things could just play out a lot differently. I wouldn’t advise letting it run totally wild, but I think it can be mitigated. No, not perfectly, but nothing about this can be done perfectly. I’d be most worried about running out of palliative care drugs (which overlap with ventilator sedation drugs), but I’m also a little worried about the supply lines holding up over time with the lockdowns. I know some have raised the issue and I hope someone is on it but it seems like people are (understandably) so absorbed with other things that this was going overlooked for a while.

            Also, I wouldn’t have been opposed to some staggering lockdowns for a few months–maybe that is the best thing. But the hospitals were not overloaded and the politicians couldn’t bring themselves to permit, let alone condone, greater spread even among the low risk knowing we could handle more cases. I get that it is a weird position to be in, but don’t seem to be able to strike a balance.

          • A1987dM says:

            90% *too sick to work* *at the same time* sounds pretty much impossible no matter what we did.

        • LesHapablap says:

          The Hong Kong Flu (from wikipedia):

          In Berlin, the excessive number of deaths led to corpses being stored in subway tunnels, and in West Germany, garbage collectors had to bury the dead due to insufficient undertakers. In total, East and West Germany registered 60,000 estimated deaths. In some areas of France, half the workforce was bedridden, and manufacturing suffered large disruptions due to absenteeism. The British postal and train services were also severely disrupted.[9]

          France’s GDP growth per year: https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/FRA/france/gdp-growth-rate

          GDP growth from 1968-1970 stayed higher than +4%, and it sounds like COVID has a lot more asymptomatic infections than Hong Kong Flu.

    • LesHapablap says:

      Here in NZ, our prime minister Jacinda Ardern has done a fantastic job during the crisis, particularly with communications. My worry here though is that the Labour government has proposed a massive New Deal style economic recovery package which I think will subsidize a lot of non-productive behavior. They have are also fully entrenched on an eradication strategy so if it becomes a better move to go for herd immunity, it won’t happen without a change in government.

      One thing they are doing is free training and subsidized apprenticeships to get people into the trades. I can’t see the democrats in the US supporting the trades over just offering free university, so chalk one up for NZ not being so culturally polarized.

      Other things involve ‘environmental’ work, building houses, fixing insulation in houses.

      They are forecasting 9.6% unemployment at the worst, and debt ballooning to 53% of GDP (170 billion). I think that our unemployment is going to be much worse than that, and if it isn’t, will only be because people are being paid to do unproductive work. Which means the tax base will shrink and debt could end up a lot higher.

      I’m not even close to an economist (so feel free to correct me please) but it seems to me that in the great depression, at least government spending on core functions was a lot lower. But if the government today soaks up a lot more resources, and is a lot harder to shrink, then what happens when the tax base shrinks too fast and unemployment/zombie employment is stuck at a high level?

  65. Chaostician says:

    I’m surprised you didn’t show FiveThirtyEight’s data showing that people started staying home at the same time throughout the US, regardless of when their governor issued a stay-at-home order:
    https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/americans-didnt-wait-for-their-governors-to-tell-them-to-stay-home-because-of-covid-19

    There are people who are estimating Rt directly:
    https://rt.live/
    Although the error bars are large, most of the country appears to be under 1 [glares at Minnesota and Maine] and reopening hasn’t led to an increase in Rt.

    One possible explanation for why R seems to be so close to 1 currently is that the number of cases is falling, but the testing rate is increasing, so we’re confirming a larger fraction of the cases. This data seems to support this:
    https://covid19.healthdata.org/united-states-of-america

    • keaswaran says:

      On the first point – I thought the graphs very clearly showed a decrease in leaving the home around March 15 in every geography!

      I’m surprised to see an estimate of Rt that is below 1 for Texas. Just looking at the cases in my own county, there’s been a very notable increase in the rate of infection during the month of May. Starting about a week after the shutdown order on March 24, cases slowed down to just about 1-5 per day, but in the 15 days since May 3 we’ve had another 120 cases.

      http://www.brazoshealth.org/sites/default/files/inline-files/5.18.20.pdf

      But if Houston and Dallas have kept their rates down, then all the smaller counties increasing isn’t going to show up right on this statewide chart.

      • Chaostician says:

        I don’t know how they’re calculating Rt. They do have a link to their code at the bottom, but I haven’t parsed it.

        Rt is related to the second derivative of the number of active cases (or the first derivative of the number of new cases). Eyeballing your county’s data, I would say Rt > 1 before 3/31, then Rt 1 until 5/8, then Rt < 1 (barely) since.

        The website does have the option to overlay the number of new cases. Texas's new cases are increasing pretty consistently throughout the time frame, so I'm not sure how they've gotten Rt < 1.

        I don't know how they're dealing with the time delay between infection and detection, or if they're estimating the difference between actual cases and confirmed cases.

      • Chaostician says:

        I’ve become significantly less convinced of their numbers for Rt. As new data comes in, they revise their past estimates. These revisions are sometimes noticeably larger than the error bars shown.

        Their estimate for Texas now has a Rt > 1 through the beginning of May.