Mt. Vernon Choir: NOT (Necessarily) Asymptomatic Spread

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

One of the most disturbing aspects of the Corona epidemic is the fact that some individuals can spread the virus despite a lack of symptoms. This is an important consideration for those hoping to avoid catching or spreading the illness, as well as for government officials considering what role they may have protecting individuals in the meantime. Viruses don't teleport, so it would clearly behoove us to understand how this occurs, how often it occurs, and how we can best reduce the chances of it occurring.

A big part of understanding the problem is reporting it correctly, neither refusing to acknowledge the problem nor blowing its severity out of proportion.

Unfortunately, a superspreading event on (or before -- See note on update at bottom.) March 10 at a church in Mt. Vernon, Washington was apparently misreported as an example of asymptomatic spread long enough ago that it seems to have become common "knowledge." This event, for which early reports put the number of infected at 45 and later ones at 52, is, unsurprisingly, frequently used to justify "lockdowns". (In addition to this being mislabeled as asymptomatic spread, many second-hand reports incorrectly credit the choir members with social distancing.)

Here's one example of this mischaracterization, which cites the earlier number and continues:

And if approximately 50% of individuals catch this virus from asymptomatic carriers, one must ask, how are these carriers spreading the virus? They are not coughing and sneezing. The answer is probably aerosolization, were the virus can float in the air and be picked up later by an unsuspecting passerby. [notes omitted]
And Here's another:
The church choir in Washington State. Even though people were aware of the virus and took steps to minimize transfer; e.g. they avoided the usual handshakes and hugs hello, people also brought their own music to avoid sharing, and socially distanced themselves during practice [sic  -- See below.]. A single asymptomatic carrier infected most of the people in attendance. The choir sang for 2 1/2 hours, inside an enclosed church which was roughly the size of a volleyball court.
Both articles reasonably postulate aerosolization as a mechanism, and to the best of my knowledge, this can occur, but is not known to be a major cause of transmission. Droplets are. And if this person had "cold-like" symptoms and spent lots of time in a crowded room, I'm not so sure we need that explanation for this event.

From the paper:
No choir member reported having had symptoms at the March 3 practice. One person at the March 10 practice had cold-like symptoms beginning March 7. This person, who had also attended the March 3 practice, had a positive laboratory result for SARS-CoV-2 by reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing. [bold added]
And now, with this event having been looked into in more detail, we learn the following:
Image by Colin Michael, via Unsplash, license.
So, 61 members of the Skagit Valley Chorale, half of the choir's singers, came to the evening practice at the Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church, according to the Los Angeles Times, which broke the story.

One of those singers had COVID-19. This person had cold-like symptoms starting on March 7, but didn't realize it was the new coronavirus until a test later confirmed the diagnosis, according to the CDC report, which was written by Skagit County Public Health (SCPH) professionals. People infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, are most infectious from 2 days before through 7 days after symptoms begin, SCPH said in the report, "which could have placed the patient within this infectious period during the March 10 practice."

The practice lasted 2.5 hours. Several members arrived early to place the chairs -- arranged in six rows of 20 and spaced 6-10 inches ... apart. Once seated, the singers practiced together for 40 minutes, split into smaller groups for a 50-minute practice block, took a 15-minute break that included shared snacks of cookies and oranges, and reconvened for a final 45-minute singing session. [bold added]
So much for this being an example of asymptomatic spread, or at least a clear-cut one. It remains a highly relevant cautionary tale, but not so much regarding the possibility of asymptomatic spread. Misreporting it as such can fuel two different kinds of inappropriate reactions: (1) panic, by feeding fear of the unknown, and (2) dismissal of the danger of this disease, in the vein of "them so-called experts got it wrong again."

We don't need to hunker down in our homes in fear, but we should stay home or mask up at least until tested, if we feel a cold coming on. And we do need to weigh the risk of prolonged indoor group activities. Perhaps the person with the cold didn't seem sick to the others.

I bring this up, because twice in the past few days, I have heard lay people I greatly respect mention this incident as a case of asymptomatic spread. It isn't, and we should all be clear on that going forward, in the name of eventually defeating or learning how best to cope with this virus as soon as possible.

-- CAV


: Very shortly after posting, I realized that we're not completely off the hook of pre-symptomatic spread: There was a March 3 practice. I edited a few sentences accordingly. That said, this is not a clear-cut example of asymptomatic spread.

We Need More of This

Monday, June 01, 2020

Even with a break from the news, it has been impossible not to hear about the death of George Floyd and the protests that criminals and left-wing thugs have seen fit to turn into riots.

It has also been impossible not to be disappointed with the responses to same from our elected officials. Most Democrats have predictably failed to stand up against the rioters when they haven't been encouraging them in one way or another. And then, just as predictably, we have had Donald Trump making intemperate and counterproductive comments such as, I believe, a call to shoot the looters. This is all against the usual tone-deafness of most Republicans to racial matters, which often loses ears before anything constructive they can say.

And speaking of lost messages, Scott Adams correctly notes that Antifa and other violent actors are making many Americans much less likely to be sympathetic to legitimate concerns about police brutality that this death had brought into sharp focus. Likewise, Yaron Brook correctly notes that Republicans have themselves to blame for the fact that they do so poorly among minorities in most parts of the country. It was interesting hearing this as I drove right after Adams made a case for BLM (by which I take him to mean the cause of racial equality) being much more at home in the GOP (which he seems to take as an individualist political party).

(Pro-tip for the odd Republican passer-by: This need not and should not be a pandering contest. There are votes of thinking people to be had for the taking. Now that I think of it, quit pandering to your current constituencies, too. Democrats are popular by default. Educating the public on a superior alternative could do wonders.)

The short version of all this is that, until this morning, I hadn't seen or heard of an even remotely appropriate response by a politician. And then, via Hot Air, I saw a five minute speech by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta. I'm not religious and I would probably disagree with her on many political issues, but let me thank her right now for naming so much of what is wrong with the rioting and, especially for condemning it.

Her remarks are in the video embedded below. (Note: In case of trouble playing the video below, it may help to use the Google Chrome browser or view at Hot Air.)

I was further surprised to learn from the same post that Bottoms is being considered for Joe Biden's running mate. She is so far the only one who doesn't scare the bejeezus out of me and, after this, the only one who could get me to consider voting for Biden. (As bad as Trump is, this is saying something.) She may be inexperienced, but if Democrats want any chance of attracting non-leftist voters, or at least not scaring them off, I think she is the one to pick.

-- CAV


Today: Added note on playing video of embedded tweet. 

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, May 22, 2020

Four Things

Editor's Note: The Van Horns will be taking a much-needed and long-overdue break over the next week. Posting here will resume on June 1 or June 2. I will be intermittently reachable by email and may post on Twitter.

1. During the period social distancing, my son and daughter put their bunk beds to creative use by hosting each other for sleepovers, guest in the bottom bunk, of course. For a while there, I would occasionally hear them making elaborate swap deals with each other.

Here is a picture of our garden. We are already close to usable tomatoes -- fried green, of course. (Own photo. Reproduction and use without attribution is permitted.)
It has been a boon (and a great relief!) that they get along so well together.

2. One of said swap deals involved a timed period, of my son borrowing a cane my daughter uses for dress-up. As you might guess, a neutral third party by the name of Alexa was to keep track.

I discovered this one day by overhearing part of a dispute: It was my daughter, mentioning that she had told Alexa to set a timer for whatever period it was. Sadly, I do not remember the exact wording, because the next thing we all heard was Alexa saying something like, "There are no timers set."

After a moment, we all burst out laughing.

3. Some time ago, I believe I mentioned that I had been planning on planting a small vegetable garden with the kids. We did, a few weeks ago, and the whole time, the kids bickered over whose turn it was to help Daddy, whose spade was whose, what to name the plants, and so on.

I almost regretted the whole thing, and doubted anyone had any fun.

And so it came as an unexpected small delight when my daughter, during a video conference with her teacher, enthusiastically volunteered that her favorite thing for the past week was "planting crops with Daddy."

4. As I have mentioned before, my son has both a strong sense of order and a high degree of respect for checklists.

This came in handy yesterday when he balked at me reminding him to put spaces between his words for a writing assignment. Earlier, I had been mildly surprised to see a checklist attached to the assignment, populated with things I figured my son already knew. Conveniently, one of those things was "finger spaces." Even more conveniently, it dawned on me to use the list itself to my advantage.

As soon as I pointed to that on the checklist, he stopped bickering and simply did it.

And, yes, I felt a little bit like I got one over on him: That bedtime list has not been the only time he has suggested I use a list!

-- CAV

P.S. I was able to write about three quarters of this post using the end-product of a "sanity project" I took up during this egalitarian mockery of the whole idea of quarantine -- a Linux virtual machine hosted on a pen drive. I ran it on a Dell netbook equivalent running Windows.

I am pretty sure the difficulty I eventually encountered came from the virtualization layer, and that I could work around the problem if I had to. I fired the VM up again on my main computer -- where it runs much faster and without such hiccups -- to finish things up.


Today: Corrected a typo. 

Whitmer: Getting Away With Murder?

Thursday, May 21, 2020

I am having trouble processing the following news about Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who is being considered as a possible running mate for Joe Biden:

Yeah, but did you think, first? (Image by Element5 Digital, via Unsplash, license.)
In mid-April Whitmer issued an executive order that ultimately instructed many of the state's nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients. That put other residents in jeopardy, and may well have contributed to the high death rate in Michigan nursing homes.

About a third of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have been at nursing homes, and the same is true in Michigan, according to some estimates -- although the state Department of Health and Human Services hasn't been able to offer concrete numbers.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had put in place a similar policy, but recently backtracked when it became evident the harm that was being done to the population most vulnerable to the virus -- the ill and elderly.

Whitmer, by contrast, renewed her initial order when it expired last week, extending it with an identical mandate -- disregarding the concerns and advice of nursing home advocates and legislators.
Yes. After it became clear that her order was almost certainly spreading the coronavirus through the most vulnerable demographic, she extended it for a week. She amended this directive afterwards, but I agree with the Detroit News that she should have ended it at once.

The only thing more frightening than the prospect of this person being one of Joe Biden's heartbeats away from the Presidency is the fact that, as of today, Michiganders approve of her handling of the epidemic by a wide margin.

What difference does it make if Whitmer is monumentally incompetent or malicious when so many voters more than match her in their degree of indifference or willful ignorance?

-- CAV

The Nation That the Left Forgot

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

(And Other Heretical Realms)

Do you remember, back in the good old days, that whenever the subjects of socialized medicine or socialism came up, you could practically bet the farm on Sweden being held up -- incorrectly -- as an example of those ideas working? I do, too. And -- if life and liberty weren't at stake -- I'd find it quite amusing that now, whenever the subject of Sweden comes up at all, it is framed in such a way as to frighten us from following its once-unimpeachable example.

This is, of course, because that nation stands almost alone among civilized, developed countries, as having chosen not to "lock down" in order to control the course of the coronavirus epidemic within its borders.

Writing about Sweden's sane response to the pandemic, Michael Fumento raises a couple more issues pertinent to the discussion.

One of these issues, which I believe I heard during a podcast I can no longer find (and featuring Yaron Brook, Alex Epstein, or both), is that Sweden's policy decisions were not based on the pursuit of herd immunity.

While we're on the subject of Iceland, finding an image for this post was a real treat. Go here and start scrolling to see what I mean. (Image by Tim Trad, via Unsplash, license.)
This is not invoking the ... issue of "herd immunity," which many advocates of the "Swedish model" (including Sweden's own ambassador to the U.S.) have proffered, but is one that Tegnell has explicitly rejected for Sweden or any other country. [Chief Epidemiologist Anders] Tegnell speaks, instead, of "some immunity," meaning perhaps 20-25%. Herd immunity requires extremely high proportions of a population protected by vaccination, for example 85 -- 90% to prevent transmission of mumps. [original links omitted, one link added]
So, no, Sweden hasn't been acting as if the virus doesn't exist, let alone aiding its spread, as the incorrect framing of its program of voluntary social distancing and minimal government intervention would imply.

Second, Fumento draws several comparisons between Sweden and some other countries, incidentally mentioning a few other nations which have also not locked down -- and have not seen their medical facilities overwhelmed with Corona patients.
Sweden isn't the only European country that didn't lock down. Iceland didn't either, and can point to a minuscule death rate/per 100,000 population of 2.83. "We have taken a middle of the road approach, rather than lockdown," reports Kari Stefansson, founder and CEO of deCODE, an Icelandic subsidiary of U.S. biotech company Amgen. "Elementary schools, childcare and stores are still open, for example, but we have banned gatherings of more than 20 people and closed theatres and concert halls."


(Don't be deceived: There's no inherent advantage to having a small population in a tiny geographic area. The European microstates of Andorra and San Marino locked down and yet have extremely high per-capita death rates. As for any island effect, Ireland's death rate is ten times that of Iceland's.) [links omitted, bold added]]
I might add that neither Sweden nor Iceland are warm, a factor I've heard some use to dismiss the apparent success Florida and Texas have had controlling their epidemics with less severe or lasting lockdowns. But back to the roll-call of international honor: Fumento also lists Taiwan, South Korea, and Hong Kong as polities that have escaped Armageddon without locking down.

This is not to say that the propriety of mass indefinite home detention is purely a scientific matter: It is not. But it should give everyone pause to consider the fact that so many proponents of this policy claim disease control as their motive, while pretending that there is no need to admit of any evidence to the contrary, let alone consider it.

-- CAV

Pacific Legal Writes to Gov. Newsom

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

I was happy to learn yesterday that the Pacific Legal Foundation has written a letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom and other officials on behalf of art gallery owners Quent and Linda Cordair, who have defied a statewide lockdown by reopening their doors.

The letter is just over six pages long, but I highly recommend reading it for the many very good philosophical, legal, and historical issues it raises in regard to the irrational policies so many officials have pursued since the epidemic gained steam.

Too many have, like Newsom, continued these policies well past the point that a reasonable person could see them as wrong, but at least motivated by panic or genuine concern.

Here is just one passage:

Image by Tingey Injury Law Firm, via Unsplash, license.
The State must act in accordance with due process

While the government may adopt laws to protect public health, its power is not unlimited. Even during a pandemic, the State and County must abide by constitutional limits. As one federal court has ruled, the government may legislate to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, but "it does not at all follow that every statute enacted ostensibly for the promotion of these ends is to be accepted as a legitimate exertion of the police powers of the state." And the United States Supreme Court has held that a community's power to "protect itself against an epidemic" might be exercised "in such an arbitrary, unreasonable manner, or might go so far beyond what was reasonably required for the safety of the public, as to authorize or compel the courts to interfere for the protection of such persons."

Together, principles of due process and equal protection ensure that laws are a rational means for achieving legitimate ends rather than arbitrary restrictions on personal liberties. Due process requires laws to have a means-ends fit, while equal protection ensures that similarly situated people are not treated differently without a legitimate reason. In the context of public health, these principles "guard against the risk that governmental action may be grounded in popular myths, irrational fears, or noxious fallacies rather than well-founded science." In other words, due process and equal protection ensure that the government's actions are designed to protect people and not merely to control them. [notes omitted, bold after subtitle added]
Knowing that good people at the Pacific Legal Foundation are on the case is cause for relief and optimism, and not just on behalf of the Cordairs. State and local governments almost everywhere have displayed a disgraceful and disconcerting appetite for improper and intrusive power over the last few months.

We are all Cordairs, now.

-- CAV

A Reality Check on That Remote-Only Siren

Monday, May 18, 2020

One of my favorite business writers, "Evil HR Lady" Suzanne Lucas, has long been one of my go-tos for advice on working from home. She has been doing so herself for years, and yet has the business knowledge that her pen name implies. This combination of experience and perspective practically makes her required reading on that subject, and that goes double now.

This is because she sees this situation from the eyes of both workers and managers at once. If many businessmen now at least better tolerate the idea of people working from home, some see dollar signs and have become a little too eager to go all in. This is where Lucas comes in, as we can see from two of her recent columns on the subject. As usual, she has things to say for employer and employee, but I think employers are more in need of advice by this time.

For example, in a piece at AIHR, Lucas notes that "It's okay to hate working from home," and reminds bosses that, "Not everyone lives in four bedroom houses." Working from home has gotten pretty old pretty fast for lots of people, and even for those of us who liked it before the pandemic, it's not so great now:

The in-home commute has its hazards, too. (Image by Markus Spiske, via Unsplash, license.)
All of this doesn't mean I'm not a champion for working at home. I am! I love it. Or at least, I did love it, and I'll love it again when my children go back to school, and my favorite cafés re-open. But, if you have found that you hate working from home, there's not something wrong with you.

If you're a business owner that is tempted to go to a 100 percent remote model, think about how that move will impact your business and your employees. It may be fantastic. It may not be. Talk with people before you make final decisions. [bold added]
All I can add to that might be to do a thought experiment about what remote working would be like after we reach herd immunity. The upside of this being a way to avoid illness would obviously go. On top of that, while some would be able to thrive again, others might find that they lack the discipline to work away from an office.

Lucas underscores this point in another piece at Inc., where she helps bosses realize that every apparent new advantage of this situation comes with tradeoffs they may not be aware of:
I had a boss once for whom everything was an emergency. She would often call me at 4:30 and say, "[Super important executive] needs this report tonight!" At first, I stayed late and did the reports, and noticed that the emailed reports remained unopened for days. Then I got smart. She would tell me it was an emergency, and I would then call the executive's admin and say, "I understand Jane needs XYJ report. When does she need that?" The response was never tonight. Frequently, it was many days or even a week away.

I would then pack up my things and go home, and do it the next day.

But I had the advantage of a long tenure and a good relationship with tons of people within the company. Your employees may not have that. Don't use the word emergency unless it truly is one. And keep in mind what a real emergency is. That varies from business to business, but not everybody who says they want something immediately actually needs it immediately. A little pushback can be a good thing for maintaining healthy boundaries.
I like how Lucas reminds bosses about boundaries, while also giving employees of clueless or indifferent bosses an idea for how to work around them. (Elsewhere, she offers the following admonition: "Don't reward people who are constantly working -- they are going to burn out. Instead, tell them to take a break.")

If statewide closures were a blunt response to the pandemic, permanently making every office worker remote would be equally ham-handed. If there is anything the pandemic should have taught us by now, it's that one-size-fits-all, top-down initiatives are problems disguised as solutions.

-- CAV