The New York Times' Bone-Headed Guidelines on COVID 'Mitigation'
I get the New York Times' daily free newsletter in my email. You can save your rotten tomatoes. I refuse to pay for anything they print. But sometimes it's useful to stay in contact with the other side.
The NYT May 27 letter discusses the history of the COVID lab leak theory and declares that "the best mitigation strategies — travel restrictions, testing, contact tracing, social distancing, ventilation, and masking — are still the best mitigation strategies." My parsimony has once again been proven well founded. Let's break it down.
Mitigation is "the process or result of making something less severe, dangerous, painful, harsh, or damaging." That means that anything that makes getting COVID less likely is a form of mitigation. Ditto for making the bug not so nasty if you should happen to get it. All of the NYT measures fall into the first group. And, as they like to trumpet, we should "Follow the Science!"
These have a level of plausibility, but once the bug is in-country, limiting travel between the U.S. and U.K. becomes meaningless. The old saw about closing the barn door after the horse is gone comes to mind. After the Allies created a foothold in Normandy, Germany didn't have a choice. The fight was now in the hedgerows, not on the beaches. Closing our borders made intuitive sense early on. But once it was clear that the virus was "in the wild," all travel restrictions lost their meaning.
"In the wild" is a crucial term. It means that, for practical purposes, the virus is everywhere. There will be more of it near a sick person, but not having anyone spreading it in your house doesn't mean that it isn't being spread at your workplace, grocery store, or gas station. And you will have no way to avoid it, because you have no idea who is infectious.
By March of 2020, I noted that the Wuhan Flu was already in the wild. The five million people allowed to travel worldwide from Wuhan during their outbreak made that a certainty. And pop-up hot spots closed the case. People with no apparent connection to known carriers were getting sick. This meant that any sort of mass "quarantine" was doomed to fail. It was like trying to stop mosquitoes with a chain link fence. Yet our "betters" insisted.
Many people have written about the problems with the PCR test for COVID. In short, it was never designed to diagnose a disease and has no standards about how many multiplication cycles should be used. With enough cycles, everyone will test positive. In short, it's unreliable. But the CDC pushed it, changing its definition of a "case" to mean "a positive test, by whatever means."
Prior to the passage of the CARES Act, a case meant that someone was ill with characteristic signs and symptoms. A test might be done to confirm a diagnosis by distinguishing among multiple possible causes of those signs and symptoms. After COVID bonuses to hospitals became law, this proper definition of a case was discarded in order to get as much money from Uncle Sugar as possible.
Put bluntly, testing has been worthless, paying $13,000 extra for the appendicitis patient who happened to have been near a COVID patient somewhere in recorded history. It has inflated the power of petty tyrants, such as New York's Governor Cuomo, who was living large in the limelight of frequent "COVID Emergency" press conferences. My local county mayor demonstrated his love of power by complaining when Florida governor Ron DeSantis ended his regular TV face time by canceling the "emergency."
Testing is also largely worthless when a virus is in the wild. Positive tests all over become meaningless noise. Did I mention that COVID has been in the wild for over a year?
This is a piece of standard epidemiology. If you have a localized outbreak of a disease, you can track all the contacts of the index patient, possibly identifying the source and limiting its spread. But when the virus is in the wild, contact tracing is simply wasted effort. You aren't likely to find the source, and you won't stop the spread, because the bug is everywhere. But we've known that that is the case for over a year.
The CDC recently changed its six-foot distancing rule to three feet. But it's based on — drum roll, please — zero data. That's right. If you talk, you release droplets, which are heavy enough to fall to the floor in a few feet. Six feet was related to droplets, which don't spread the virus. It's spread by aerosols, which stay suspended for hours. You breathe them in, the virus makes contact with the cells in your airways, and infection takes hold.
Aerosols are borderline impossible to stop. Just stand on one side of one of those Plexiglas dividers at the checkout line. If someone on the other side is smoking, you'll know it, because the smoke — an aerosol — goes right around it. The Guangzhou restaurant and Skagit Valley Chorale cases clearly show that social distancing has no effect. Most people who got infected were far more than six feet from the index patient.
This is actually true! If you open windows or doors, allowing fresh air into a room, any aerosols will be diluted. Enough ventilation will prevent almost all infections. The same thing can be done by using a fresh air inlet for the air-conditioning system. I guess the NYT can't get everything wrong.
I have written on this extensively and demonstrated that masks are useless. Aerosol scientists have tackled the question, showing basically that you can have a mask that's easy to breathe through but doesn't filter worth a crap, or you can have one that filters well but is difficult to breathe through. That means that you breathe around it. And if the total area of that leak around the mask adds up to the size of a quarter, you've lost two thirds of the filtration.
Of course, all the science in the world is meaningless if you don't measure the ultimate effect on disease transmission. And the verdict is in. Masks have had zero effect on the rates of COVID. It's not even certain that the vaunted N95s are much help in keeping health care workers safe. The reasons there are complex, but negative pressure rooms (ventilation) and U.V. sterilization (artificial sunlight) seem to be the most effective methods.
So what should we do with anything the NYT says about COVID? Get informed about the facts from reliable scientific sources, not echo chamber pundits. And as Jimmy Buffett sings, I'm looking for my lost shaker of salt.
Ted Noel, M.D. posts on social media as DoctorTed and @VidZette.
Image via Pxfuel.
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