He Said Six Weeks

Photo by Thomas Chan https://unsplash.com/@c5m2h3

A couple of days ago (it’s September 17th 2020) Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of The Center for Disease Control, testified to Congress that universal mask wearing in the US would bring Covid-19 under control in the US in six weeks. He’s has said this before but this time he said it under oath to Congress. Once again, didn’t make a ripple.

Dr. Redfield isn’t your drunk uncle Bob—the CDC is the deep duck in the epidemiology puddle and Redfield is their top guy. They have a budget twice as large as the NIAID (Dr. Fauci’s organization) and collectively know more about controlling infectious diseases than any other organization in the world.

His testimony barely made the papers. Control in six weeks with just masks that you can get for a buck a pop. Not masks plus economy-crippling isolation. Not masks plus vaccine. Not even masks plus elaborate social distancing. Just masks. Anything else you do is gravy. Redfield has made the same statements on camera before and it seems to have had no impact whatsoever. I’m at a loss to explain the lack of reaction. It’s a giant get-out-of-jail-free card for the whole country and the economy. It could save 250,000 more lives in the US this Winter for pocket change and make hundreds of millions of people less poor, bored, and anxious. Yet nobody is interested.

It’s not some pipe dream. His calculation is based on definitive research from a recent study on the efficacy of masks and backed up by practical experience around the world. The calculation is trivial, immediately obvious if you read the research. Moreover, the research would have to be wildly wrong to substantially change Dr. Redfield’s conclusion. Any plausible error would mean only that it wouldn’t be six-weeks, but eight, or twelve. The principle would hold up.

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99% Disappointing

When I first heard there was an antibody (serum) test I thought wow, this is fantastic!  If you are certified to have already had it, then you know that it’s safe for you to be around others and others can be confident that they are safe around you. It could be like a license to go to work.virus_antibody_illustration

Then I thought about it.  Actually, the test is probably useless for you, personally. (It has other uses, like making policy, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.) The problem has nothing to do with not knowing whether Covid-19 guarantees future immunity. You don’t need to go there in order to show that it’s useless for the average person.

This isn’t an Internet crackpot thing—it’s real math you can verify yourself.  It’s a disappointment but the reasons are interesting and the principle applies to all tests that yield a positive/negative result. The smaller the proportion of people in the population that have the condition in question, the more this principle applies.

I’m just going to explain one small aspect of this. One of the main places this applies is in diagnosing illnesses and that water gets very deep. Still, it’s interesting to poke around in it and it might help you understand what your doctor is doing someday.

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You Might Be Thinking About It All Wrong

Geoffrey Chaucer, who lived through the black death, wrote the line “Ech man for himself, ther is non other” in The Knight’s Tale and it quickly entered English permanently as “Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost.”
plague

 

Every day I see despairing posts and re-posts of articles and blogs claiming that the pandemic in America is a lost cause. One post that is currently getting massive attention asserts that the epidemic in the USA is now in a runaway state that can no longer be brought under control. Another simply assumes that this is true, and concludes that Covid-19 will eventually infect everyone in America, killing 1% (3.25 million people) and crippling or otherwise disabling many tens of millions of us in gruesome ways.

None of it is true. The ubiquity of graphs like the one below make this feeling understandable on an emotional level but the despair it engenders is completely inconsistent with the facts. The appropriate emotions in response to the graph below are (a) fury and (b) hope.

By way of making the case for hope, I’d like to lay on you one of the most remarkable and under-publicized bits of research I’ve come across but first we need to look at some basics.

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