News roundup for Fri, Jan 21, 2022

Store shelves from coast to coast are increasingly bare. Biden says shelves being 11% empty is not much different than before the pandemic. It looks pretty different to me, folks:

Pay in the UK is not keeping up with inflation, and for most people this means, essentially, that they’re getting a pay cut. In the same vein, wages in the US have been stagnant for decades.

The plume from the Tonga volcanic eruption is impressive, and there’s some risk of acid rain:

The damage in Tonga is extensive. Environmental damage to marine life, fisheries, coastlines, and local coral reefs could last for years:

The US is going to let teens drive semis in a pilot program designed to address our trucker labor shortage.

Texas is going to go from hot to cold almost overnight—get ready for it. The chill could extend all the way to Maine.

The world has 342.6 million COVID cases. The world has gained 22.1 million cases in the last week. There have been nearly 5.6 million deaths in total. The US has had a cumulative 70.3 million cases—about 5.2 million cases were added in the last week. Over 883,000 Americans have died—about 15,000 in the last week. The US is still leading global daily case gain followed by India, Brazil, the UK, and France. The US added over 710,000 new cases Wednesday and over 509,000 by late afternoon Thursday. This case counts are lower than the previous week, but the holiday on Monday may be impacting count accuracy. The fact that we are losing 2,000 people per day in the US is not escaping me:

The decision tree for selecting COVID therapeutics is super complicated. Here’s a thread that links to a table of which therapeutics (and vaccines) are best for which variants:

In case you missed it, you can get free COVID tests shipped right to you. The ordering process is pretty fast. Shipping might take a while. If you live in a complex you might need to switch up your unit number to address line 1 versus address line 2 so the system doesn’t think you’re ordering multiple sets to the same location:

The White House will soon make available up to three, high-quality N95 masks to each adult for free. The masks will be available at pharmacies and community health centers:

Boosters DO help against Omicron:

The WHO says kids don’t need 3rd/booster doses. Hard to know what goes into WHO’s internal deliberations on these decisions. For what it’s worth, vaccines in kids also significantly reduce the risk of MIS-C:

Some good COVID news: the vast majority of vaccine side effects are produced by the nocebo effect. Also, a joint, seasonal flu-COVID vaccine might be coming next year. I’m excited for that because it will reduce the number of shots I have to get.

England is relaxing COVID mitigation measures while Omicron still rages around the globe; Europe is also considering capitulating to the virus:

Hamsters and some other small animals are being culled in Hong Kong because of COVID. Hamsters are susceptible to the common cold as well, so this is not too surprising. The animals being culled were infected by an employee prior to being sold. It’s not necessary to cull animals already in households:

Omicron is SUPER infectious. Will it lead (eventually) to endemicity? Is that why countries are capitulating and planning on endemicity now?


    • brownfox-ffContributor

      What you can do about it:

      (Note: Normally I only post links to this website itself; I hope that posting a link to the free test kit order page will be acceptable this once)

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      • Carlotta SusannaStaff brownfox-ff

        Brownfox, I really appreciate you listing all these actionable items after each roundup! It makes reading the news less daunting.

        Oh, and it’s always fine to link to other (reputable) sources if you ask me.

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      • brownfox-ffContributor Carlotta Susanna

        It is my pleasure. Thank you for the kind words. I am very glad if these are helpful.

        That is the goal: to create a sense of calm; and provide a base for positive, helpful action.
        It is only possible because of the quality articles that have been written on this site.
        But I find phrasing things in this way helps me to focus on things that I can control.
        That makes goals feel achievable, and the world seem less daunting.

        Good luck everyone.

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    • brownfox-ffContributor

      For those, like me, who were unfamiliar – The Nocebo effect

      It sounds like: if you think it won’t work; it’s less likely to work.
      The human mind is an amazing thing.

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      • Tony B brownfox-ff

        My quick read when I did a search online was that the nocebo effect for COVID vaccines was just supposedly about vaccine side effects.  

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      • Carlotta SusannaStaff Tony B

        You’re correct. I’ve updated the text to make that clearer.

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      • Eric Carlotta Susanna

        Nocebo means that if you think a treatment will hurt you, then it will.

        So all the anti-vaxers who think a vaccine would kill them… are right? 

        I had quite a lot of arm soreness after my first and second shots. Not just the injection site, but the entire arm. Started about an hour after my evening injection and continued for around 12 hours (so still hurt when I woke up next morning). All in my head? I have a hard time believing that, but can’t really know for sure. Regardless, the side effects aren’t that bad compared to the expected benefit.

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      • Hardened Eric

        Having experienced the nocebo effect quite severely years ago I can explain this.  It’s complementary to the placebo effect, which is quite significant and well-documented.

        Some symptoms in the body originate with physical causes, e.g., soreness in your arm due to swelling from a shot.  Other symptoms originate with activation of the nervous system, e.g., any time it wants to your sympathetic can constrict muscles to reduce blood flow to local tissues, depriving nerve endings of oxygen and causing a sensation of pain.  It’s not in your head, it’s in your body, and it feels the same as any other kind of pain, but it’s all under the control of the sympathetic nervous system and it can take away the pain just as quickly as it created it.

        Any time we experience a physical trauma, such as an injury, we often experience both kinds of symptoms.  Sometimes people experience only the nervous-system originated symptoms (this is common in overworked people).

        If someone in a perceived position of authority tells an anti-vaxer that a vaccine will harm them, and that person gets a vaccine shot, then two things may happen simultaneously: that person will experience the same kind of physical side effects that we do (soreness in the arm, flu symptoms, etc.) and also nocebo side effects like pain, nausea, irritable bowel syndrome, etc.  It’s a double whammy for them and the experience is frightening.

        It is possible for someone to die from the nocebo effect but it’s quite rare and probably not happening with vaccines.  See

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    • Eric

      A little good news on the COVID front: Looks like vaccines provide strong protection against long COVID.

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      • RandomPNW Eric

        Meta-analysis needed for these studies, see the comments on that twitter post for some issues e.g. how fatigue is asked, etc.

        The studies range from no benefit to 50% to this one, at least none are finding it is worse!

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      • Eric RandomPNW

        Links to specific studies and/or tweets? I don’t see the comments you’re talking about, and suspect that Twitter doesn’t show the same responses to everyone.

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      • RandomPNW Eric for zoe study

        ehr study is footnote 2 here

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    • EzlyAmuzzed

      Reading 36-46% population will be infected with Omicron made my eyes go very big. I’ve been hearing of so many around me getting it but didn’t know it will be nearly half the population!

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      • Hardened EzlyAmuzzed

        Yep, virtually everyone in my life is getting it.  I’m calling it the Zombie Apocalypse.  Only the prepared (knock on wood) will be left unscathed.

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      • EzlyAmuzzed Hardened

        None of my immediate family has contacted it, that we know. However I think that’s only because my parents cruise got cancelled.

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      • Hardened EzlyAmuzzed

        They were saved from themselves!

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      • Eric EzlyAmuzzed

        Over 1/3 of the population catching COVID this month? Sounds about right. I’ve never seen more signs of sickness in the community than I have this last week. 10-20% of shoppers coughing. Restaurants at half staff because so many out sick. Of course I don’t see the most severe cases, because they stay home or go to the hospital.

        My immediate family has upped all our COVID precautions to get through the next month. Will reevaluate when the smoke clears.

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      • Michelle_B Eric

        I agree; my daughter’s elementary school in California is small, and in an area with a very high percentage of vaccinated parents and kids, but they have over 30 cases of kids and staff out with Covid right now. We were told earlier this week that my daughter had a close contact, so we have to have her tested on Sunday.  So many of her friends and their families, who I know have been really cautious about Covid, are infected or have been very recently.

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    • brownfox-ffContributor

      On the topic of grocery shortages and tight budgets:

      There is a free PDF cook book named “Good and Cheap”- (también en español)

      The author is from New York and has a Masters in Food Studies. She wrote the book with a specific goal: recipes that let you eat good food on a budget of $4 per day – the budget that was given for the US SNAP / Food Stamps program.

      The PDF is completely free to download and use, under a Creative Commons license.
      You can also purchase physical copies.

      The book includes pages on how to shop smartly and how to use a pantry; what staples to stock and how to use them.
      I find it quite useful.

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      • Captain Peanut brownfox-ff

        Some of those recipes in that pdf look amazing and very cheap. I’ll be reading over that this week and trying a few out. 

        The less I spend on eating day to day will lead to more money I can spend on building up my food storage. And with the rate at which food prices are going up, I can use all the cost savings I can get.

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    • JustMe

      Simply capitulating seems like madness to me, considering new hospitalization records are being set. Milder? Great! But it’s infecting a ton more people, which means it still puts a huge strain on healthcare. 

      It feels like everyone is simply tired and giving up. 

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      • Hardened JustMe

        Most governments have been lackadaisical about this thing from the beginning.  We’re getting a few free tests and N95s now, two years later?!  WTF?  Imagine if we had responded to WWII like this?  9/11 caused 3,000 American deaths and we responded with immediate and far reaching transformations to our society.  Covid has killed over 1 million already (excess mortality) with no end in sight and just now the wealthiest government on the planet is getting around to handing out a few tests and masks.  We responded more assertively to the Ebola outbreak in Africa (we sent soldiers to do contact tracing there) than we have to this outbreak at home.

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      • Stephanie ArnoldContributor Hardened

        That’s how I feel, too. How is it that we’re only getting around to the tests and the masks being sent out NOW?

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      • Nick Hardened

        Agreed.  I’ve felt for a long time now that this was nature’s way of giving us sort of a “practice pandemic”, and we’ve failed miserably as a society.  Covid has always been one bad mutation away from being the kind of thing that societies have to rebuild from.  Two years after the starting gun and we’re actually worse at it than we were at the beginning.  

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    • Hardened

      Spend some time in the trucking subreddit and you’ll learn that the trucking industry is already quite good at hiring drivers, that’s not the problem, it’s that they’re not retaining drivers because the industry treats them like dirt.  I don’t see how hiring teenagers is going to improve anything.

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    • Hardened

      “Death by antiscience”

      Is this what the 20’s will be remembered for?  I was hoping for a repeat of the Roaring 20’s by now.

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    • Karl Winterling

      My guess is that they’re capitulating based on the South African data, vaccine data on Long COVID, and having a surge right after many people got boosters vs. having a surge later. It’s still a gamble and a decision policymakers made quickly without knowing exactly what the consequences will be.

      And (ugh) I went to Trader Joe’s yesterday and saw Mr. Rasputin-Beard wearing an N95 mask. You’d think the government could do a better job explaining how respirators work after two years, especially with clean-shaven coming back into style somewhat. Overly-expensive-razor-company shareholders must be furious.

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      • Stephanie ArnoldContributor Karl Winterling

        I wish we had gotten more shots in arms, globally, before capitulating. 

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      • With many diseases, cloth masks provide *some* protection and correctly-used respirators provide far more protection. But protection provided by vaccination is far better with almost every disease (at least in terms of reducing bad outcomes) and some messaging is a complete no-no, like denigrating the value of vaccination to try to get more people to wear masks. I’ve seen messaging that denigrates vaccination to encourage mask use even after vaccines were widely available.

        The government doesn’t have the resources to enforce requirements by itself and has to rely on businesses to enforce regulations. People are more likely to comply if they’re not stressed (which is a bit of a dice roll) and messaging on something like masks is consistent.

        I think officials panicked because they didn’t want people to hoard respirators. Then, mask messaging was too inconsistent and focused on individual behavior instead of reciprocation. Reciprocation as in “you should wear a mask because you can expect other people to wear one to reduce *your* risk.”

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      • Public health authorities tried to cull dogs owned by people in mainland China who had to self-isolate. This led to massive outrage on Chinese social media and the government stopped the practice. Now, your dog or cat just has to isolate with you.

        I really love my cats and the hamster story is upsetting.

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