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Of course everyone wants to discover a miracle cure, but we’re making the same research mistakes with coronavirus as we did with Ebola. A Pence expert explains why he didn’t wear a mask (But tell us your thoughts!) Sweden’s approach may offer a model of how we can better “live with” the coronavirus, because we seem incapable of eliminating it. Mark Hamill, a.k.a., Luke Skywalker, identifies the UFO!
We’re botching the hunt for COVID-19 medicines.
No disease has ever been studied so deeply and so quickly as COVID-19: Already scientists are conducting more than 1,200 trials of more than 250 different therapies – and that doesn’t even count the gargantuan amount of vaccine research.
But Insider’s Andrew Dunn has a sobering article suggesting that we could bungle the search for COVID-19 treatments by going too fast and too sloppily. “A swarm of research activity has so far led to almost no meaningful findings on a treatment,” Dunn writes.
Researchers rightly want to move faster than they ever would have in the Before Times, because every day without a therapy or vaccines adds to the pile of human suffering. But that understandable urge has them repeating mistakes that we made during previous epidemics – notably the Ebola plague.
Randomised controlled trials are the gold standard, and the only way to tell if a therapy works better than existing treatments, or than nothing at all.
During Ebola, scientists skipped placebos and double-blind trials, and as a result lost years deluding themselves that a particular “miracle serum” worked, when it didn’t.
Only 20% of the COVID-19 studies that have finished enrolling patients are randomised controlled trials, Dunn reports. Some are skipping placebos; some aren’t blind, which can trick researchers into seeing progress where there isn’t any.
Moreover, lower-quality studies are recruiting COVID test subjects in huge numbers, shrinking the pool of available subjects for the best studies. As a result, Dunn warns, we may end up quickly generating tons of data, but not knowing whether a therapy actually works. We will have moved fast, but not learned what we need to learn. – DP
Why didn’t Pence wear a mask?
When Vice President Mike Pence visited the Mayo Clinic yesterday, he refused to comply with both the clinic’s rule that everyone must wear a mask and the CDC’s guidelines that everyone should wear a mask in public.
Pence gave two explanations. First, he has tested negative for the coronavirus and therefore doesn’t need to wear a mask. Second, he wanted to be able to “look [the healthcare personnel] in the eye and say thank you.”
It’s possible to look people in the eye and speak to them while wearing a mask, so we can scratch that one. Also, it’s generally considered helpful and important for leaders to act as role models, so, regardless of how confident he is that he doesn’t have the coronavirus, Pence at best missed an opportunity to set a good example.
Pence obviously knows that.
So what’s the real reason he didn’t wear a mask?
Insider’s Tom LoBianco has written a book about Pence. He considers one obvious possibility – that, like his boss, President Trump, Pence is “defiant” and thinks rules are for other people. But Tom rejects this theory. Pence is not an “openly defiant type guy,” Tom writes. He’s a “by-the-book type guy.”
Pence is also not the type who would just obliviously not wear a mask without considering the ramifications. According to Tom, Pence “doesn’t do anything without thinking through all the angles first.”
So, then, why?
Tom spoke with a long-time Pence acquaintance who offered this explanation: “He is going to do whatever keeps him in good graces with two groups, Trump and his minions and the evangelicals – but more important than the pastors, the evangelical money people. That’s what allows him to keep on a path to the White House.”
So, that’s the inside theory: Pence’s decision was a calculated career move designed to impress the two groups who Pence regards as the key to his future – “Trump and his minions” and “the evangelical money people.” Neither of these groups, apparently, approve of masks.
Agree? Disagree? We’ve put together a simple poll to answer this critical national question. Share your thinking here!-HB
Sweden shows the US might be able to dial back restrictions without being much worse off
The coronavirus can be attacked and tightly controlled, as countries like South Korea and New Zealand have shown.
Alas, the US and most western European countries do not appear capable of doing that, at least under current leadership.
The US and most European countries have therefore used the bluntest tool imaginable to try to “flatten the curve” and stop the coronavirus from overwhelming them: “Shelter in place” lockdowns. Happily, this approach is working, and the spread has slowed.
But in the four to six weeks that we’ve been locked down, we’ve crippled our economies and upended our lives without putting ourselves on a path to eliminating the virus. So until we develop an effective vaccine or treatment, we’re going to have to learn to live with it.
Happily, in the past couple of months, we’ve also learned more about how the virus spreads and how various lockdown approaches work.
The key point on the latter is this:
Lockdowns aren’t binary – “open” or “closed.” They’re various levels of severity.
Having flattened the curve, it may be that, in many areas, we can safely relax the severity of our own lockdowns without losing control of the virus again.
For example, it has become clear that the virus primarily spreads indoors. Outdoor activity appears to be pretty safe – especially with distancing and masks. So we can probably safely open parks, beaches, and other outdoor spaces as long as responsible measures are followed.
Based on Sweden’s experience, we may also be able to relax other restrictions.
To be clear: Life in Sweden is not “life as usual.” Professional sports are cancelled. Large gatherings are banned. Small businesses must encourage distancing.
But Sweden’s restrictions are not as severe as some other countries’, including the US’s and UK’s. Primary and grade schools are open, for example. As are most businesses.
This looser approach has costs. As the charts below show, Sweden is seeing a lot more coronavirus deaths than neighbouring Scandinavian countries like Norway. And Sweden’s economy has still taken a major hit. But Sweden’s “curves” on cases and deaths are similar to those of the US and UK despite its looser lockdowns.
Norway daily deaths (impressively low and trending down):
Sweden daily deaths (about 10 times worse than Norway, but flat to down):
US daily deaths (Not as “down” as Sweden):
Critics of Sweden’s approach often note that it’s important to compare “deaths per capita.” So here’s a chart of that, too, for many countries. Obviously, we would all like to do as well as Norway or South Korea. But the US already blew its chance at that. And now, despite different restrictive measures, the US, UK, Italy, and Sweden are all in the same range.
Deaths per million inhabitants, 7-day rolling average (from Our World in Data):
Again, if we could get a strong handle on the virus, as more competent countries appear to be doing, this would be the best approach. But based on the last two months-and on the ongoing lack of a coherent “virus elimination” plan from our federal leadership-we don’t seem capable of doing that.
So in lieu of that, we need to explore ways to live with the virus without completely losing control. And Sweden’s approach – open schools and businesses with significant precautions – may provide a helpful model. – HB
Yes, Justin Amash will hurt another presidential candidate, but no one knows which. So, chillax.
Rep. Justin Amash, the Michigan Republican-turned-Independent, is seeking the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination, an announcement that has unleashed waves of blue and red anxiety attacks.
Democrats fear Amash will give anti-Trump conservatives cover to not vote for Biden, in the way Green Party Ralph Nader siphoned progressives from Gore in 2000. Republicans, meanwhile, fear that Amash will attract votes from libertarian conservatives who would have otherwise reluctantly voted for Trump.
Both theories have merit! But guess what? No one knows yet which is more true. Even Nate Silver is shrugging.
It’s not that Amash’s candidacy won’t matter. It’s that it’s way too early to know how it will matter. So you probably shouldn’t spend time worrying about it. – DP
The most inspiring book to read during the pandemic
This Is Chance! recounts how, after the worst earthquake in American history, the people of Anchorage, Alaska survived, organised themselves out of chaos, and rebuilt their ruined city. It’s full of deep, mostly happy, lessons for us about how to endure. Author Jon Mooallem talks on a New York Times podcast here. – DP
It was shaped like a Tic-Tac!
Did the Pentagon release videos of unidentified flying objects this week to bury the story, figuring we’d be too preoccupied to pay attention? To sidetrack conspiracy theorists from pandemic conspiracies? Or maybe just to distract us-and bring us joy?
Actor Mark Hamill, meanwhile – a.k.a., Luke Skywalker – has solved the mystery and identified the object. He says it’s a tie fighter. – DP
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