For some Americans, this Thanksgiving was the first holiday that felt normal in a long time. Being re-united, without Covid restrictions, is something to celebrate.
On the other hand, a new coronavirus variant was just discovered in South Africa. It’s scary enough that travel bans might be imposed. We have all (just about) learned to live with the original strain from Wuhan, but scientists want time to figure out how dangerous and infectious this new strain is. Maybe at this point people are tired of being lectured about risks. No matter how much or little a person sacrificed for Covid-19, they might feel like that storyline has become too boring to deserve any more of our attention. We cannot stop looking out for new variants that might force us to put cherished traditions on hold again. Coronaviruses kill. My advice is to keep following news from Tyler Cowen, Alex Tabarrok, and Emily Oster.
Oster has been consistently reasonable about family and health risks. She argued to open schools and essentially said that you can see grandparents if the risk is small enough (even though the risks are never zero). As I said before, another trustworthy source of information throughout the pandemic has been Tyler and Alex, who put up almost all of their material in real time at Marginal Revolution.
I’ll share something a friend wrote to me today:
Although [his wife’s name]’s chemo treatment continues to show good long-term signs, this morning we discovered that [she] tested positive for COVID. That’s bad news, the good news is that [she] is already getting the antibody treatment and some extra fluids at the hospital as I write this.
“The antibody treatment” did not exist when the first Covid-19 waves swept through New York with such devastating consequences.
If the newest strain turns out to be a serious development, then in many ways we are better prepared to deal with it than we were before. We probably will blow through the red tape on at-home rapid tests faster the next time around (I’m such an optimist!). We already have contact tracing apps that protect privacy. Vaccine scheduling software is already in place. Everyone has masks at home.
The biggest difficulty I foresee is not coming up with scientific solutions but agreeing as a society about which tools to use. Some people might (will) not even believe the new strain is real.
EWED was started right at the moment when Marginal Revolution commentary on Covid seemed the most crucial. So, sometimes I will do little more here than keep up the echo. Do tweets, phone calls, letters, blogs, or talk about Covid around the Thanksgiving table. Don’t give up.
It’s now clear, whether or not the news out of South Africa turns out to be serious, that we are living with a new problem that will last a long time. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
If you ever read much of the New Testament, you’ll see a theme in the letters of Paul to cities he has visited. The brand-new churches were doing well, while he was with them in person. Then time goes by and the community or doctrine starts to fray.
Paul wrote these words to the church in Galatia, more than a year after he had visited them:
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.Galatians 6:9
Whether or not you buy specifically what the Apostle Paul is selling, we can all relate to the “righteous” behavior of initial Covid believers. After a while, some people get tired of it all, and they start listening to someone else whose message suits them better.
I’m writing this to psyche myself up to keep learning and be willing to adopt new safety measures if the benefits outweigh the costs.
Here are a few notes from the WSJ on Nov 26:
Experts say that high levels of transmission give the virus the chance to develop mutations that render it more dangerous, including through persistent infection in patients with a suppressed immune system.
People with poor immune systems can harbor the live virus for a long time. I remember thinking during the long lockdowns of Spring 2020 that we might just eradicate the common cold with all this distancing. But someone pointed out to me that 3 weeks is not long enough because the virus can persist in just a few individuals who cannot “fight it off”. Those individuals are infectious when lockdowns are over.
If needed, a BioNTech spokeswoman said, the companies could produce a new vaccine adjusted to any variant within six weeks and ship initial batches within 100 days.
Excess deaths, which experts say provide a better picture of the virus’s toll on the country than the official number of Covid-19 deaths because of low testing rates, have topped 272,000 since the start of the pandemic, one of the highest per-capita counts in the world. South Africa’s economy, the most developed on the continent, shrank 6.4% last year and the official unemployment rate tops 34%.