Post #885: Catching up on recent events

Posted on November 10, 2020


For the first nine days of November, I took a break from posting.  This is my recap of highlights from that period.  In order:

  • Halloween went well
  • The Pfizer vaccine is going well.
  • The President is, well, going.  Maybe.
  • Pandemic is still going strong.
  • I will humidify my house well, and suggest you do the same.
  • College educations are still going on.

We had a very nice Halloween here in Vienna, VA, thank you very much.  We organized ourselves around a) candy in bags, and b) on a decorated table set away from the house.  In my neighborhood, a) the kids who were trick-or-treating seemed to be having a blast, and b) we had as many kids as we normally do.

Thus demonstrating that when it comes to kids, and having fun, a) few things will stop that, b) most predictions are wrong (see left),  and c) adults are almost completely irrelevant.


And it’s good that we now know what to do, for Halloween in the middle of a pandemic.  Except that with any fortune at all (next item), we won’t need to know that.  So instead, I’ll say, that’s the final followup on Post #874 , Post #831 and similar.  And may that knowledge forever rest in the dustbin of history.

The Pf-Pf-Pf-Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was announced as being 90% effective.  At doing something.  Exactly what isn’t crystal clear, but it’s close enough to “at preventing you from getting COVID-19”.   This is the vaccine that has to be kept so c-c-c-cold (-94F) that will require specialized refrigeration equipment for its distribution.

Anyone skeptical about Pfizer’s ability to declare success this early needs to consult the chart above left, and/or go back and read Post #798, Dr. Fauci and Statistical Power, posted on 9/2/2020.  The fact that the vaccine appears incredibly effective and they didn’t need much time to show it are two sides of the same coin.

Per the NY Times reporting cited above, Pfizer thought they only needed about 32 total cases of COVID-19 to be able to declare that the vaccine was effective.  The only reason it took them this long is that the FDA was conservative about the statistics.  My reading of that is that they had so few cases in the treatment group that they actually ran into the “small numbers” problem as outlined in the “extras for experts” section of Post #798.

If you want a review of the early clinical trial results from the Pfizer vaccine, take a look at Post #827.  Near as I could tell, both the Johnson and Johnson and Pfizer vaccines appear to provoke the right immune response in almost all test subjects.  To me, the similarity of the early results (and the competence of both companies) strongly suggest that Johnson and Johnson will soon come out with results as good as or better than the Pfizer results.  So we’ll soon be in the position of having two effective vaccines in the pipeline.  No thanks to the Federal government.

Anyway, if you run across some nay-sayer who thinks that the Pfizer vaccine is being released prematurely, refer them to those earlier posts.  If you understand the basic arithmetic, and the basic science, this is no surprise.  It’s easy enough to say that you saw this one coming.

Source:  US Centers for Disease Control.

That said, Pfizer will only have a few tens of millions of doses ready for distribution by the end of 2020.  So that’s not really material for the short term.  What is material here is that the claim of 90% real-world effectiveness.  That’s vastly better than (e.g.) the seasonal flu vaccine pictured left, and explained in Post #741.

My money is still on the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, for all the reasons I outlined in Post #827.

That post reminds me that, hilariously enough, the Trump administration claimed credit for the Pfizer vaccine (wrong), when in fact the one that it paid handsomely to have developed is the crony-capitalist Moderna vaccine (Post #800).  Which, per the discussion of Post #827, appears to be trailing well behind both the Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson vaccines in terms of effectiveness.  The one that we the taxpayers paid for is the last one you’d want.

So we’ll eventually have an effective protection against this disease, despite our Federal government.  To me, that pretty much sums up the entire US Federal response to coronavirus to date.

We have a new President-elect.  Sort of, we think. Depends on how much FUD the Republican party can throw at various state election officials.  Even Fox News doesn’t seem to be taking these various fraud charges seriously, which pretty much tells the story on their likely success at overturning the election.

The President celebrated by firing his Secretary of Defense.   His replacement will by Mr. Trump’s sixth Secretary of Defense in four years.  This is an all-time record in the Post-WWII period, by a wide margin.

But that’s of-a-piece with the chaotic approach of the current administration.  Recall that this President routinely informed the Joint Chiefs about major strategic military moves via Tweet, without consulting them first. In that environment, turnover at the top is to be expected, I guess.

And speaking of chaos, in this election, almost half of Americans saw the last four years of similar chaos in the administration and said, “Yeah, buddy, give me four more years of that”.   I truly do not understand the mindset behind that.

The pandemic continues to worsen, largely in the Midwest and Mountain states.  As you can see, case counts are rising in general.

A lot of what I would call “dry winter, low-mask-use” states are seeing explosive growth in new cases.  These are states with cold winter temperatures (and so, dry air) and low mask use.

Oddly, almost none of them are calling for a mask mandate.  My observation from this summer is that, in Republican-led states, that only occurs when they run out of hospital beds.  And then, like clockwork, all of the prior rhetoric about masks is abandoned, and, as a last resort, they do the right thing.  As they have begun to do in Utah.  Hence, Utah has a mask mandate, but (e.g.) the Dakotas do not (yet) have one.

I cannot over-emphasize the role that dry indoor air plays in spreading respiratory viruses.  Twenty years ago, you might reasonably say that you didn’t really understand why flu season occurred mid-winter in temperate climates.  Today, that just isn’t the case.  They know why there’s a flu season.  It’s not because people are indoors more — they aren’t.   (See posts cited below).  It’s not because it’s cold. It’s not just a random fluke of nature.

The presence of a flu season in temperate climates is almost surely due primarily to dry air, and the effect that dry air has on both airborne viruses and air-breathing humans.  Just Google flu season humidity and read a bit.  At this point, as I read it, it’s not even debatable.

Which is why I will refer you back to Post #879 and Post #880.  And illustrate with pictures of the humidifier I just bought from Twins Hardware.  Humid air is your friend in flu (and coronavirus) season — it says so right on the box.

On the bright side, the predicted crash-and-burn of our entire college educational system has failed to happen.  When I run the most recent numbers, even using low, historical rates of community-acquired cases of COVID-19, it’s now increasingly clear that my daughter may be safer at college than living in the community (per Post #878).

What do the successful colleges do, to achieve this result, despite communal living and working spaces?  They a) rigorously enforce mask rules, b) test people frequently, c) rigorously enforce quarantine, d) rigorously enforce rules against large non-socially-distanced, non-masked gatherings.  It’s not rocket science to understand why the observed rate of infections is low when all that is in place.

People talk about quarantining their returning college students, once they get home.  Depending on the college, that may be a good idea.  But in this case, it would be to protect our student from us.  Judging by the numbers, we community residents are far more of a risk to her than she is to us.