News roundup for Fri, Feb 26, 2021

When John Kerry starts waxing catastrophic about climate change, maybe some folks should listen… according to him global carbon emissions need to be cut 45% by 2030. We’d need a global space race of sorts to get there. I’m not terribly confident we can achieve this goal–some green-energy-minded countries are dumping nuclear and using coal as a crutch this very moment.

A global Food Price Index is reaching levels that have caused serious social unrest in the past (think Arab Spring). It’s wise to have a hedge against food price instability in the form of a well-stocked pantry:

Crumbling US infrastructure is a national security nightmare. It’s not just the climate crisis causing these problems (though it contributes greatly)—it’s also a culture of perpetually building new things (like dams) and then turning around and denying funds for needed maintenance as soon as they’re built. This has been the modus operandi for generations.

Texans get an extended IRS deadline after the deep freeze.

Pharmaceutical supply chains are still impacted by the pandemic, trade restrictions, and climate instability, and these destabilizing factors will continue. There is a strong argument here for bolstering domestic supply chains in the face of current and future supply chain uncertainties. Pharmacy forecasts predict disruptions to normal drug procurement through the next five years.

The push for a China-free technology supply chain is equally pressing.

Student loans are crippling Americans financially, and many millions aren’t eligible for the pandemic-related loan pause.

The world has over 113.5 million COVID cases.  The world has gained 2.9 million cases in a week. There have been over 2.5 million deaths in total. The US has over 29 million cases. Over 520,000 Americans have died. There have been 2,300 deaths in the last 24 hours in the US. The US gained 75,000 new cases yesterday—case growth is down from its most recent peak. The US, Brazil, and Mexico lead the world in daily deaths from COVID.

California’s got its own nCoV strain, and some are worried that if it’s more transmissible, we’ll see another surge. California hospitals were hit quite hard in January, and California has surpassed the death toll New York experienced during its COVID “big burn.”—50,000 and counting. It’s impossible to know how much of the last surge was caused by the CA strain, because we’re not doing mass gene sequencing. But new cases, hospital admissions, and deaths are currently diving. Perhaps with enough vaccinations (and the impacts of a little seasonality and social distancing) we’ll stem the tide and prevent another surge.

A meta-analysis of dozens of studies involving hundreds of thousands of participants shows that folks with asthma are not at greater risk of bad outcomes with COVID. This is good news.

Fauci says relaxed recommendations for fully-vaccinated people and their households are in the works.

Dogs are sniffing out COVID in airports. Although cool (or dystopian, depending on how you look at it), I also worry—because dogs are susceptible to COVID

It’s interesting to see how dramatically vaccination helps:

The FDA is reviewing the data on the J&J COVID vaccine. Emergency Use Authorization is likely to come soon.


    • mopdx

      As always, thank you for the excellent roundup of various events–grateful for the opportunity to stay informed!

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    • RS

      “A meta-analysis of dozens of studies involving hundreds of thousands of participants shows that folks with asthma are not at greater risk of bad outcomes with COVID. This is good news.”

      Here’s another meta-analysis along the same lines and with similar conclusions:

      Despite what seems like good news, these recent headlines sharing the findings of meta-analyses of folks with asthma are frustrating to me. These studies based on observations of prevalence don’t convince me that we have enough evidence about the *why*, and the why has very important practical implications for people with asthma and how they should manage risk during this pandemic.

      My main concern is that these meta-analyses don’t disentangle the physiological effects of COVID on someone with asthma from the behavioral effects of someone with asthma in a respiratory virus pandemic. (Terry, Heidel, and Dhand 2021 barely spare one sentence to this potential explanation for the differences, so I appreciate that Sunjaya et al , 2021 spend at least a few more sentences considering it.)

      Put another way, these studies are indeed saying “if you have asthma, your risk of poor outcomes isn’t notably greater than otherwise healthy people…”, but they can’t distinguish between:

      1) “…because it looks like COVID isn’t more likely to cause problems for the bodies of people with asthma, despite what we thought, so feel free to ease up on your protective behaviors” versus

      2) “…because it looks like people with asthma are winning the ‘Stay at home! Social distance! Stay vigilant and seek treatment early if you have symptoms!’ game, so keep up your protective behaviors, you’re doing a great job keeping yourself at lowered risk!”

      3) (I’m sure there are additional explanations, so I’m including this bullet point here to fight against implying a false dichotomy in the minds of readers)

      So while these studies make me more comfortable that asthma is probably not a high-risk condition for severe COVID illness and death, and while I’m very curious to see more studies on the mechanistic/biological explanations for how asthma could have protective effects, as a person with asthma, in absence of getting vaccinated, I’m not planning to relax my (relatively strict) social distancing precautions or feel better about having asthma during COVID because of these findings. I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes years for scientists to tease apart the “why” and greater compliance with protective behaviors (among people with asthma) turns out to have a significant impact on reducing risks of infection.

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      • Stephanie ArnoldContributor RS

        I have asthmatics in my household. We are still observing the strictest possible measures until said persons are fully vaccinated. I’m just thinking out loud here, but there’s also some physiological reasons asthma could be protective–namely, the roll of the immune cells in the lungs. Like you, I’m not convinced asthma is actually protective. It could be that anti-inflammatory asthma meds are making the difference. We don’t know for sure. 

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