Alongside one of the January 6 hearings, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, chaired by Representative James Clyburn, released a report, “The Atlas Dogma: The Trump Administration’s Embrace of a Dangerous and Discredited Herd Immunity Via Mass Infection Strategy.” It is based on interviews with Deborah Birx, Brett Giroir, and Robert Redfield, all of whom served in public health during the Donald Trump administration, and none of whom distinguished themselves as a public servant during that time. The report tells us that Scott Atlas, who was worse, began influencing the adminstration earlier than has been publicly known. He was brought in by Jared Kushner.
No surprise, but worth knowing one more disgusting action of the Trump administration. If not Atlas, Trump would have found some other charlatan to tell him that he could ignore the pandemic. But Atlas is the one he found, and Atlas bears responsibility for pushing the “herd immunity” strategy along with the Great Barrington crowd. Atlas estimated that a maximum of 10,000 would die in the pandemic. The total is over a million now, and probably a lot more.
We now know that even with vaccines, “herd immunity,” where having enough people who are immune to the virus prevents it from spreading, is probably impossible for SARS-CoV-2. We didn’t know that then, but the “herd immunity” strategy, if it had been possible, would have caused many more deaths.
Trump got the pandemic off to a bad start, with his assurances that it would go away soon and that it was nothing to worry about. He further polarized the nation’s public health by siding with the anti-vaccine and anti-mask factions. He made it easier for people to believe in quacks by pushing quack remedies like hydroxychloroquine and flat-out ignorance like his idea about bleach. Atlas helped by pushing for less testing, which he got.
By the time Biden was inaugurated, we had a vaccine. I suspect Biden thought that we could vaccinate quickly and thoroughly enough to bring the cases and deaths way down, but instead we got another couple of massive peaks. Part of that was the premature guidance to slack off precautions like masks last July (was that only a year ago???), but Biden had a lot of public pressure on him, both from the Covid-deniers that Trump had cultivated, and those whose judgment had been affected by the environment that Trump created.
So we have gits like David Leonhardt and others of the Substack boys (gender intended!) pressing for no more precautions because…well, I would say because denial of illness has always been a part of American masculinity. Looking forward to the Ph.D. theses.
Stat looks at the issue in terms of communication, but communication is only one part of it. They mention politics, but I’d like to see an analysis with more of a public health focus and how badly our public health apparatus and attitudes have broken down. And oh yes, Congress has been stingy with financial backing for the kind of public health response that has been necessary.
The top illustration is of the current status in New Mexico. Covid transmission is high, as it is in most of the country. The average number of deaths per day is 387, up 24% over the last two weeks. That’s not as bad as it’s been, but it’s not good either.
Anecdotally, I see more people wearing masks in the grocery store this week than last week. I think it’s unsafe to be in group indoor gatherings, even with a mask, and highly dangerous to fly, if you can manage to get on a plane. So I mostly hang out at home, with occasional forays to the store or to visit friends outdoors. I’m retired, so I can do that. It’s pretty similar to what Robert Wachter of the medical school at UC San Francisco is doing.
For whatever reason, things seem to be calming down a little. The hospitals are no longer overrun. It’s probably because large numbers of people are vaccinated, and when they are infected, their cases aren’t as bad. Probably we’ve killed off most of the vulnerable.
But there’s some evidence that multiple infections, which can happen even to the vaccinated, get worse. And the unknown chance of long covid – nobody knows who is susceptible or how to deal with it. Additionally, I wouldn’t be surprised if in 20-30 more years, people who seemed relatively unaffected by a Covid illness start showing early dementia or something similar.
As long as we keep the transmission up, we are all more endangered. The best way to slow it down would be with general masking, but apparently that’s not going to fly. We really do need more attention to improving ventilation in schools and other public places, and we need paid sick leave. (New Mexico’s law just went into effect!) But Congress and the Republican courts aren’t having it. They’re done with the pandemic.
Cross-posted to Nuclear Diner