Covid-19: My Current Model

Link post

The post will be a sum­mary of my cur­rent key views on var­i­ous as­pects what is go­ing on, es­pe­cially in places where I see many or most re­spon­si­ble-look­ing peo­ple get­ting it im­por­tantly wrong.

This post is not mak­ing strong ev­i­dence-based ar­gu­ments for these views. This is not that post. This is me get­ting all this out there, on the record, in a place one can refer­ence.

Risks Fol­low Power Laws

It is im­pos­si­ble to ac­tu­ally un­der­stand Covid-19 if you think of some things as ‘risky’ and other things as ‘safe’ and group to­gether all the things in each cat­e­gory. And yet, that’s ex­actly how most of our think­ing is di­rected.

In­stead, think of risks as fol­low­ing power laws.

The riskiest ac­tivi­ties are in­doors, in­volve close phys­i­cal prox­im­ity with oth­ers, while those for ex­tended pe­ri­ods of time oth­ers cough, sing, puff or oth­er­wise pow­er­fully ex­hale, or talk di­rectly at us, or we are in ac­tual phys­i­cal con­tact that then reaches one’s eyes, nose or mouth.

Ac­tivi­ties miss­ing any of those com­po­nents are much, much safer than ac­tivi­ties that share all those com­po­nents.

Then other ac­tions, such as masks and hand wash­ing and not-face-touch­ing, can re­duce that risk by fur­ther large per­centages.

Slight re­duc­tions in the fre­quency and sever­ity of your very risky ac­tions is much more im­por­tant than re­duc­ing the fre­quency of nom­i­nally risky ac­tions.

The few times you end up talk­ing di­rectly with some­one in the course of busi­ness, the one so­cial gath­er­ing you at­tend, the one overly crowded store you had to walk through, will dom­i­nate your risk pro­file. Be para­noid about that, and think how to make it less risky, or ideally avoid it. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

And think about the phys­i­cal world and what’s ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing around you!

Sacri­fices To The Gods Are De­manded Everywhere

A sac­ri­fice to the Gods (post of this topic to be linked in when fi­nally writ­ten) is an ac­tion with phys­i­cal costs but with no in­ter­est in any mean­ingful phys­i­cal benefits, taken in the hope that it will make one less blame­wor­thy. Things are bad be­cause we have sinned. The Gods de­mand sac­ri­fice. If we do not act ap­pro­pri­ately re­pen­tant and con­cerned, things will surely get worse.

Once we act ap­pro­pri­ately, we are vir­tu­ous and will doubtless be saved. We can stop. There is no need to pro­ceed in a way that would ac­tu­ally work, once the Gods have been pla­cated. Every­thing will work out.

If you don’t make the proper sac­ri­fices, then any­thing that goes wrong means it’s your fault. Or at least, you’ll always worry it is your fault. As will oth­ers. If you do make the proper sac­ri­fices, noth­ing is your fault. Much bet­ter.

If the ac­tion is effi­cient and ac­tu­ally were to solve the prob­lem in a mean­ingful way, that would in­val­i­date the whole op­er­a­tion. You can ei­ther show you are righ­teous and trust in the Gods, or you go about ac­tu­ally solv­ing the prob­lem. For ob­vi­ous rea­sons, you can’t do both.

A steel­man of this is that Com­plex­ity is Bad and nu­ance im­pos­si­ble. If we start do­ing things based on whether they make sense that sets a ter­rible ex­am­ple and most peo­ple will be hope­lessly lost.

Thus, we san­i­tize pack­ages. We stay ex­actly six feet apart. We wait ex­actly two weeks. We close all ‘non-es­sen­tial’ busi­nesses, but not ‘es­sen­tial’ ones. We is­sue stay at home or­ders and give huge checks to the un­em­ployed. Then we turn around and ‘re­open’ at which point that un­em­ploy­ment is vol­un­tary, the state doesn’t have to pay, and so peo­ple are forced to go back to work. We lie to ban masks, then we try to man­date them, and won­der why peo­ple don’t trust the au­thor­i­ties. We hail our health care work­ers as heroes but don’t let them run ex­per­i­ments or gather much data. And of course, we en­force reg­u­la­tions en­force reg­u­la­tions en­force reg­u­la­tions, while shout­ing about how great and flex­ible we are that we waived a tiny num­ber of them.

We must choose one in­di­vi­d­ual in­ter­ven­tion that solves our prob­lems, rather than com­bin­ing their effec­tive­ness, be­cause math is not a thing. And herd im­mu­nity is 75% in­fected, be­cause math is ex­actly that much of a thing, but no more of a thing than that.

We also com­mit rit­ual suicide in the form of re­fus­ing to per­mit mar­ket forces, or to ap­pro­pri­ately com­pen­sate those who would pro­duce things for the things we need pro­duced. But that’s more about gen­eral in­sane sa­cred val­ues than it is about a true sac­ri­fice to the Gods.

Yeah, I’m not thrilled with our com­pletely dys­func­tional civ­i­liza­tion. Thanks for notic­ing.

A lot of what fol­lows is spel­ling out ex­actly what these de­mands are, and why they fall into this cat­e­gory.

Govern­ments Most Places Are Ly­ing Liars With No Abil­ity To Plan or Phys­i­cally Rea­son. They Can’t Even Stop In­terfer­ing and Killing People

The po­lice di­rectly ly­ing, at­tack­ing, re­strain­ing and kil­ling in­no­cent peo­ple rightly has got­ten peo­ple very, very an­gry.

But the re­sponse to the pan­demic hasn’t been that differ­ent, other than the lack of protests.

The WHO has lied re­peat­edly, to our face, about facts vi­tal to our safe­guard­ing our health and the health of those around us. They con­tinue to do so. It’s not differ­ent from their nor­mal pro­ce­dures. WHO de­lenda est.

The FDA has in­terfered con­stantly with our abil­ity to have med­i­cal equip­ment, to test for the virus, and to cre­ate a vac­cine. All of this con­tinues. It’s not differ­ent from their nor­mal pro­ce­dures. FDA de­lenda est.

Al­most all gov­ern­ment offi­cials in Amer­ica, and most other coun­tries (I won’t get into which ones are the ex­cep­tions) have done the same. They’ve joined in ly­ing about ev­ery­thing. They mostly act to de­mand sac­ri­fices to the Gods, strik­ing down ac­tions un­til some of those re­stric­tions will some­how have suffi­ciently ap­peased the Gods and they’ll look re­spon­si­ble and pi­ous, and maybe ev­ery­thing will be all right.

Dis­cus­sions don’t even con­sider tel­ling cit­i­zens the truth about what’s hap­pen­ing, or giv­ing them choices about how to re­act. It’s as­sumed that of course we should tell them what­ever will cause the ac­tions we think are right.

All such peo­ple are do­ing, is at­tempt­ing to find the in­can­ta­tions that will move them away from be­ing blame­wor­thy in the next week or two. That’s it. Se­ri­ously. That’s it.

It’s all they still have the abil­ity to do. Al­most no one with the abil­ity to model the phys­i­cal world, or who would care about the im­pli­ca­tions of their model if they did have one, has any power or au­thor­ity at this point. See the moral mazes se­quence. Iron­i­cally some cor­po­ra­tions (I won’t spec­u­late on which ones here, but I try to hold their stocks) are the most pow­er­ful ex­cep­tions.

Hold them all in the con­tempt they de­serve. Maybe even do some­thing about it.

Silence is Golden

All the data I’ve seen, and my phys­i­cal un­der­stand­ing of the virus, lead me to the con­clu­sion that peo­ple who are not talk­ing (and also not sneez­ing or cough­ing or singing or what not) are not go­ing to give off much virus. They’re an or­der of mag­ni­tude or more less risky than some­one who is talk­ing.

Direc­tion mat­ters, too. Don’t talk fac­ing some­one else, don’t face them when they talk to you. Our ears can han­dle it. Same with vol­ume, which should be kept to the min­i­mum nec­es­sary un­der the cir­cum­stances. Sing­ing or yel­ling is es­pe­cially ter­rible.

This is a pri­mary rea­son why when we fi­nally look at the data, mass tran­sit has not been any­where near as dan­ger­ous as it looks, and many cities with ex­ten­sive mass tran­sit around the world have had rea­son­able out­breaks.

Sur­faces Are Mostly Harmless

Early on, it made sense to be para­noid about sur­faces. It was es­tab­lished that the virus could ‘sur­vive’ for var­i­ous pe­ri­ods of time. So if you want to be ‘safe’ you need to clean in some form, or wait that pe­riod of time. That re­duces the risk to al­most zero, if done prop­erly.

Ab­sent that, we are sent into a con­stant frenzy of ‘deep clean­ing’ and view­ing sur­faces as deadly weapons that in­fect any­one they touch. Jobs are men­tally ranked largely by the num­ber of sur­faces they re­quire peo­ple to touch, and eco­nomic ac­tivity pre­vented if too many sur­faces might be in­volved.

That level of para­noia might con­tinue to make sense if this was ‘if one zom­bie slips past the line ev­ery­one dies.’ The pre­cau­tion­ary prin­ci­ple is a thing. That’s not what we’re deal­ing with.

It’s been months. We don’t have con­crete ex­am­ples of in­fec­tion via sur­faces. At all. It in­creas­ingly seems like while such a route is pos­si­ble, and must oc­ca­sion­ally hap­pen, get­ting enough virus to cause an in­fec­tion, in a live state, via this route, is very hard. When you wash your hands and don’t touch your face, it’s even harder than that.

Mean­while, those who re­fuse to touch sur­faces like a pizza de­liv­ery box end up in more crowded lo­ca­tions like gro­cery stores, re­sult­ing in or­ders of mag­ni­tude more over­all risk.

And yet, de­spite be­ing this cer­tain, it’s damn hard to stop san­i­tiz­ing pack­ages. And it’s even harder to be this force­ful in writ­ing. Be­cause what will hap­pen if I don’t make the sac­ri­fices?

Screw it. Un­til I get very un­ex­pected ev­i­dence, sur­faces are mostly not a thing any­more. If lots of peo­ple touch stuff and then you touch it, sure, wash your hands af­ter and be ex­tra care­ful to not touch your face in the in­terim. Other­wise, stop wor­ry­ing about it. Save that worry for where it counts.

Food Is Mostly Harmless

You do have to worry about eat­ing meals, be­cause it is some­thing we do so­cially. It is an easy way to end up spend­ing an hour in­doors, in close prox­im­ity to oth­ers, while talk­ing and oth­er­wise in­ter­act­ing. That’s risky.

The food it­self is at most min­i­mally risky, even if it doesn’t get heated enough to re­li­ably and fully kill the virus. You don’t have to ruin all your food. Peo­ple are of­ten avoid­ing foods that seem risky. Once again, it makes sense that it could be risky, but in prac­tice it’s been months and it does not seem to work that way. The pre­cau­tions peo­ple are tak­ing will in­ci­den­tally be more than good enough to guard against con­tam­i­na­tion of food at suffi­cient lev­els to be worth wor­ry­ing about. I mean, sure, don’t eat at a buf­fet, but it’s not like any of them are go­ing to be open, and even then the (also mostly safe) sur­faces are likely scarier than the food.

As we cov­ered in the sec­tion above, sur­faces are also not very risky. Dish­wash­ers treat­ing restau­rant plates like toxic waste is not based on a risk calcu­la­tion, it’s based on our moral prin­ci­ples re­gard­ing pu­rity.

Your risk is from the waiter, or from the other din­ers, be­ing in that room with you for a while. Thus, take­out, de­liv­ery and/​or eat­ing out­doors.

Out­door Ac­tivity Is Rel­a­tively Harmless

Note the down­grade from mostly to rel­a­tively. One can­not sim­ply do what­ever one likes as long as they are get­ting fresh air.

Out­door ac­tivity does seem like a large drop in risk rel­a­tive to do­ing the same thing in­doors. My best guess is there is some­thing like 5-10 times as much risk in­doors ver­sus the same ac­tivity out­doors. That’s with huge un­cer­tainty, but it seems clear on mul­ti­ple lev­els that this makes a huge differ­ence. When­ever you can, if there are things that will hap­pen out­side your quaran­tine pocket, move those things out­doors.

The com­bi­na­tion of quick and out­doors and not-in-your-face prob­a­bly effec­tively adds up to safe, es­pe­cially if you add in masks. Dur­ing the peak epi­demic in New York things were so in­tense that it would have been rea­son­able to worry about mi­asma. Now, I would do my best to keep my dis­tance and avoid talk­ing at each other, but mostly not worry about in­ci­den­tal in­ter­ac­tions.

I do ex­pect there to be a spike in cases as the re­sult of protests and civil un­rest.. To not see one would be sur­pris­ing, and would up­date me in fa­vor of out­door ac­tivi­ties be­ing al­most en­tirely harm­less.

Also, we should be test­ing po­lice officers ev­ery few days wher­ever there are protests and ca­pac­ity al­lows it, and track­ing which officers had how much close con­tact dur­ing those protests and which officers did things like wear­ing masks. No mat­ter its other fea­tures, this is a nat­u­ral ex­per­i­ment we should not waste, and also it will be im­por­tant that the po­lice not spread Covid-19 to the protesters or each other if such events con­tinue. If we track care­fully we can learn many things, like how much it mat­ters for spread which protests were silent ver­sus vo­cal.

Do­ing a block party, or oth­er­wise so­cially in­ter­act­ing ex­ten­sively, whether for fun, busi­ness or jus­tice, is again vastly safer than do­ing it in­doors, but still some­thing to look out for. Nom­i­nally do­ing dis­tanc­ing dur­ing the event will help, but only par­tially. If it’s packed and you can’t dis­tance, or peo­ple are talk­ing at each other a lot with­out a lot of dis­tance, or yel­ling or singing a lot, I’d worry.

Masks Are Effec­tive, And Even Cloth Ones Are Al­most Enough

Sur­gi­cal are bet­ter and N95s are bet­ter than that, but even cloth masks on both ends of an in­ter­ac­tion are al­most cer­tainly good for a 25% re­duc­tion in risk and prob­a­bly 50%-75%. We need to re­duce risk by about 75% on av­er­age to beat this thing, so such masks by them­selves are close to be­ing good enough.

This is one rea­son I’m op­ti­mistic about us get­ting a han­dle on things. Mask poli­tics are a mess, be­cause of the way it was botched, but I ex­pect this to get sorted out grad­u­ally over time. Mask re­quire­ments are also a good way to tell which places are tak­ing rea­son­able pre­cau­tions in other ways.

Six Feet Is An Ar­bi­trary Num­ber, Peo­ple Aren’t Treat­ing It That Way, And That’s Terrible

A six foot rule is way, way bet­ter than noth­ing. It’s easy to re­mem­ber and fol­low. If you had to choose a boolean ‘ex­actly this close’ rule, six feet apart seems about right. It bal­ances ‘risk falls ac­cord­ing to what is likely an in­verse square law’ with ‘at some point peo­ple won’t obey the rule.’ And yeah, maybe peo­ple are not equipped to han­dle any­thing other than a boolean risk switch.

But then peo­ple go com­pletely in­sane and think the six foot rule is real.

By peo­ple here, I mean al­most ev­ery­one. In­clud­ing when it counts.

Bi­den and San­ders de­bated with plat­forms ex­actly six feet apart. Wait­ing lines are six feet apart. Las Ve­gas marked out places to sleep in park­ing lots six feet apart. Res­tau­rants will have to keep peo­ple six feet apart. Con­stantly, peo­ple do their best to stand six feet apart like they’re play­ing The Dis­tance Is Right and try­ing to get as close as pos­si­ble with­out go­ing un­der. Some­times with a tape mea­sure.

If you think this is a straw man, and Every­body Knows the rule is only a rule of thumb, I as­sure you that you are wrong. It is cre­at­ing a paradigm of mag­i­cal safe-ver­sus-un­safe bi­nary think­ing. Thus it is crip­pling our abil­ity to think about the phys­i­cal world.

Herd Im­mu­nity Comes Well Be­fore 75% In­fected and Par­tial Herd Im­mu­nity Is Su­per Valuable

See On R0 for de­tails. Here’s the sum­mary ver­sion.

Peo­ple’s rate of ex­po­sure to oth­ers cor­re­lates su­per highly to their rate of ex­pos­ing oth­ers to in­fec­tion.

Differ­ent peo­ple take and cre­ate differ­ent or­ders of mag­ni­tude of in­fec­tion risk.

Those tak­ing more risk are pro­por­tion­ally more likely to get in­fected.

There­fore, it would be shock­ing if a 50% im­mu­nity rate via ran­dom in­fec­tions didn’t by it­self cut down on fu­ture risk by 75% or more, which is suffi­cient for herd im­mu­nity in most places. If any­thing it’s prob­a­bly closer to 25% in most places.

Even if you don’t fully get there, such effects are ad­di­tive with our efforts el­se­where. So if we’re close to the crit­i­cal point in gen­eral, which seems right, even a lit­tle bit of im­mu­nity goes a long way – the first 5% in­fected has to cut down fu­ture risk by far more than 10%.

This is the most im­por­tant rea­son why New York and the North­east are do­ing so well. Our poli­cies need that ex­tra boost to get over the finish line.

That doesn’t mean we should use a ‘herd im­mu­nity strat­egy’ but it does mean that ev­ery­one try­ing to scare us with ‘we’d need 75% in­fected’ is ei­ther straight up wrong or a fear-mon­ger­ing liar.

Yes, We Know Peo­ple Who Have Been In­fected Are Immune

Every­one say­ing we don’t know this is do­ing so to scare peo­ple, or doesn’t know how knowl­edge ac­tu­ally works. Usu­ally both.

It’s true we don’t know how long this lasts, and it may ex­pire rel­a­tively soon (e.g. a year from now). But any­one, such as the WHO, who claims to be an ex­pert and says we don’t know this? De­lenda est.

Our Lack of Ex­per­i­men­ta­tion Is Still Com­pletely Insane

I don’t even see the need to bother ex­plain­ing, at this point, why run­ning ex­per­i­ments on will­ing sub­jects is a moral im­per­a­tive and ev­ery­one stand­ing in the way of it de­serves a slow and painful death. That is all.

We Should Be Spend­ing Vastly More on Vac­cines, Test­ing and Other Med­i­cal Solutions

In ad­di­tion to be­ing the right thing to do to save lives, if you look at the stock mar­ket, it would ob­vi­ously be the right thing to do purely to col­lect cap­i­tal gains taxes and use that to pay off the ad­di­tional costs. Again, we’re com­pletely dys­func­tional, and go around re­peat­ing rit­u­als like ‘give away a few trillion dol­lars to help the econ­omy’ with­out do­ing the things that would ac­tu­ally phys­i­cally help, and wor­ry­ing about ‘wast­ing money’ or ‘over­pay­ing’ and other con­cepts that don’t mat­ter even a tiny bit right now.

We can’t even, in a le­gal sense, get out out of the way of those ac­tu­ally do­ing the thing.

If we ac­tu­ally cared we’d have a vac­cine within a few months. We don’t, so we won’t.

R0 Un­der Amer­i­can-Style Lock­down Con­di­tions De­faults To Just Un­der One, Which New York Es­caped Via Par­tial Herd Immunity

This Is Not A Coin­ci­dence Be­cause Noth­ing Is Ever A Coin­ci­dence.

When­ever some­thing lands al­most ex­actly on the only in­flec­tion point, in this case R0 of one where the rate of cases nei­ther in­creases nor de­creases, the right re­ac­tion is sus­pi­cion.

In this case, the ex­pla­na­tion is that a con­trol sys­tem is in play. Peo­ple are pay­ing tons of at­ten­tion to when things are ‘get­ting bet­ter’ or ‘get­ting worse’ and ad­just­ing be­hav­ior, both legally re­quired ac­tions and vol­un­tary ac­tions.

When things are ‘get­ting worse’ we take ‘ac­tion’ by for­bid­ding and forcibly stop­ping ac­tions, and pri­vately tak­ing a mix of ar­bi­trary and more sen­si­ble pre­cau­tions, un­til we plau­si­bly have things un­der con­trol and cases shrink­ing. Any­thing be­yond that, peo­ple won’t sup­port.

When things seem to be ‘get­ting bet­ter’ there is es­ca­lat­ing pres­sure to loosen up, to ‘re­open,’ re­gard­less of cur­rent lev­els, un­til once again equil­ibrium is reached.

New York broke out of this, at least un­til Me­mo­rial Day, due to a com­bi­na­tion of herd im­mu­nity and the mem­ory of things be­ing so bad. For a while its R0 has been around 0.73. We’ll see if that can be main­tained.

The De­fault In­fec­tion Fatal­ity Rate (IFR) Is 0.5%-1%, Depend­ing on Conditions

A lot of things mat­ter.

Age and co­mor­bidi­ties have huge effects.

Ini­tial viral load prob­a­bly mat­ters. Small risks are even less risky than they ap­pear, es­pe­cially if you wouldn’t ex­pose oth­ers who are high risk.

Vi­tamin D mat­ters. Po­ten­tially quite a bit. But you prob­a­bly have to take it be­fore be­ing in­fected, you can’t wait and then macro-dose, it won’t work the same way. Sup­ple­ments are a good idea for ba­si­cally ev­ery­one un­til this is over, es­pe­cially if you might be defi­cient. You’re in­doors all the time, it’s a prob­lem, fix it with a pill.

Zinc prob­a­bly mat­ters once you’re in­fected.

Med­i­cal care mat­ters. To­tal break­down of med­i­cal care in prac­tice leads to sev­eral times the fatal­ity rate un­der reg­u­lar cir­cum­stances. High qual­ity treat­ment at cur­rent knowl­edge lev­els can prob­a­bly drive death rates down fur­ther, so the ra­tio be­tween full suc­cess and com­plete break­down can be rather large – some­thing like an or­der-of-mag­ni­tude differ­ence be­tween 0.2% and 2%.

I don’t have a strong opinion at this point about par­tic­u­lar med­i­cal treat­ments be­yond the above.

I’ve been us­ing 1% death rates in my pro­jec­tions and calcu­la­tions in or­der to be con­ser­va­tive, es­pe­cially when deal­ing with New York. New York’s hos­pi­tals were at least some­what over­whelmed at the peak. The death rate prob­a­bly trends to be some­what lower than 1% oth­er­wise, but it’s not clear. Amer­ica in gen­eral could be as high as 1.2% IFR with­out mak­ing the data stop mak­ing sense. Beyond that, a lot of things get con­fus­ing and other data needs to be in­creas­ingly off. New York’s data stops mak­ing sense be­low about 0.6% IFR, whereas in other places it could get much lower with­out any­thing break­ing.

Typ­i­cally in Amer­ica, 33% of Deaths and 90% of In­fec­tions Are Missed

Those two num­bers move in lock­step, of course, once you pick an IFR that you be­lieve, and a model for how de­layed are deaths and how de­layed are in­fec­tions.

Any­one who claims an over-count has an agenda to min­i­mize things. Most who merely doesn’t be­lieve a sub­stan­tial un­der-count merely put stock in offi­cial num­bers with­out think­ing to ad­just them, or think that with­out know­ing the proper ad­just­ment one should ad­just zero, even if one knows di­rec­tion and can guess at mag­ni­tude.

Peo­ple Don’t Mod­ify Be­hav­ior In Re­sponse To Re-Open­ings All That Much, When Given a Choice

Thus, Schools Are Go­ing To Be a Huge Problem

Be­cause that last bit of the first bold state­ment is im­por­tant. When given a choice.

School is prison. Pri­sons do not sim­ply re­lease pris­on­ers be­cause they choose not to be there.

The good news is, while we did not have the com­pas­sion or good sense to re­lease our (mostly com­pletely un­nec­es­sary) pris­on­ers, we did at least close the schools. But they are not happy about it and tried to fight back.

Even un­der lock­down, many stu­dents I know about are buried un­der moun­tains of ‘home­work’ and forced to ‘at­tend’ ‘classes’ that take their en­tire day and lead to eye strain, so that this prison at­mo­sphere can be ap­prox­i­mated while we wait for the ac­tual pris­ons to re­open. Even now, schools threaten stu­dents with life ru­ina­tion, should they not spend the bulk of wak­ing hours sig­nal­ing their com­pli­ance to ar­bi­trary au­thor­ity.

When schools re-open, they won’t be op­tional. Kids will be forced, at the bar­rel of a gun, to re­turn to their cells. So de­ci­sions about this mat­ter a lot.

Also, the idea that ‘six feet equals safe’ is com­bin­ing with re­open­ing schools to cre­ate a fu­ture dis­aster, be­cause if you’re in a con­fined space all day then six feet to­tally won’t save you. Split­ting the class in two means the morn­ing class in­fects the teacher who in­fects their af­ter­noon class, and so on. Mag­i­cal think­ing has re­placed think­ing about the world, and we’re go­ing to pay dearly it.

Poor peo­ple who are forced back to work for fi­nan­cial rea­sons already are a prob­lem in many places, and with the end of ex­tended un­em­ploy­ment and with re­open­ing, it will get much worse. But busi­nesses mostly will act mostly re­spon­si­bly for other rea­sons, even then, so I be­lieve it mostly won’t be that bad.

But, Say­ing “Reopen­ing” Doesn’t Do Much

Where is the spike in places like Ge­or­gia and Texas?

There wasn’t one, be­cause the ac­tivi­ties peo­ple re­sumed as a re­sult of the ‘re­open­ing’ aren’t im­por­tant. The places that re­opened seem like crazy things to open, like tat­too par­lors and gyms, but they aren’t get­ting much ac­tivity, aren’t packed and are tak­ing pre­cau­tions.

What’s dan­ger­ous? Again, so­cial in­ter­ac­tions, and su­per-spreader events. Su­per-spreader events are still not al­lowed. So­cial in­ter­ac­tions mostly are pri­vate de­ci­sions that can’t be stopped un­der our cur­rent level of will­ing­ness to en­force law, even be­fore loss of so­cial or­der. Our abil­ity to en­force law cer­tainly isn’t go­ing to in­crease any time soon.

The peo­ple de­cide how locked down they ac­tu­ally are go­ing to be. The mes­sage ‘you are not safe’ is the key part of the lock down mes­sage. Peo­ple heard it, and what they hear next isn’t go­ing to change their per­cep­tion of safety much. They’ll say ‘screw it’ and do stuff any­way mostly on the same sched­ule re­gard­less of gov­ern­ment de­ci­sions. This war is go­ing to be fought el­se­where, un­less and un­til there’s a ma­jor sec­ond wave, and likely even then.

Right now, the peo­ple are say­ing ‘not as much as be­fore’ even be­fore the effects of demon­stra­tions and loss of civil or­der. We’ll see what hap­pens, but con­trol sys­tems are definitely in place. I’ve already ad­justed my path of be­hav­ior based on my ex­pec­ta­tion that things will fol­low a worse path in June than I pre­vi­ously ex­pected. That won’t mat­ter much be­cause I’d be tak­ing lit­tle risk ei­ther way, but it’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive of oth­ers.

Again, the prob­lem is when peo­ple must be open, for rea­sons of gov­ern­ment man­date or eco­nomic need, or other obli­ga­tions, that we have dan­ger. The other obli­ga­tions are real. Not look­ing at them won’t make them go away or stop them from hav­ing effects.

It’s Out of Our Hands

There was a win­dow where peo­ple in au­thor­ity could do things, and those things would mat­ter a lot. That is, they could have done things if they had the abil­ity to do things. Which they didn’t. So they didn’t do them, in­stead try­ing to avoid blame from week to week in the hopes it would all work out some­how. Which it al­most did, in some im­por­tant senses, and still al­most might in gen­eral.

But what lit­tle poli­ti­cal cap­i­tal and will there was or might have been is long gone, now. Even be­fore the protests, in the face of the eco­nomic pain, there was lit­tle abil­ity to stand in the way of re­open­ing. Either we do it smart, which we’re not ca­pa­ble of do­ing, or we do it dumb and hope in­di­vi­d­u­als and pri­vate cor­po­ra­tions find ways to make it smart, and/​or that dumb is good enough. And they might make it smarter! And it might be good enough!

Maybe. We hope. But it’s clear that we’re not go­ing to do any of the things that have worked el­se­where. Nor we can we keep our dumb clos­ings go­ing. It’s over.

Where do we go from here? I think that’s still up in the air. Largely it comes down to the phys­i­cal situ­a­tion. If it turns out the dumb strat­egy works, then it works. We can still slowly scale up our test­ing and other efforts, im­mu­nity can slowly in­crease, and we hope we can sus­tain enough mod­ifi­ca­tions to bring it home. Or we might have a lot more in­fec­tions and deaths left than that, un­til the herd im­mu­nity effects bring it home mostly on their own.

There are worse things. Stay­ing locked down for an­other year, for ex­am­ple, be­cause we won’t ac­cept that bad out­come, would be far worse. Robin Han­son talks about this ex­ten­sively, how we should be prepar­ing a plan B to do pure miti­ga­tion. And of course he’s right, if it’s do that or do what we’re do­ing. It’s an odd choice, though. Be­cause if we could do the things he sug­gests, then we could also do the first best solu­tions, and we wouldn’t need to fol­low his sug­ges­tions.

Pre­dic­tions Updates

Pat­tern is that the per­centages in the state­ments are Scott Alexan­der’s origi­nal pre­dic­tions. When I say I bought, sold or held, that’s what I did in the linked-to post.

1. Bay Area lock­down (eg restau­rants closed) will be ex­tended be­yond June 15: 60%

I sold to 40%. I al­most cer­tainly lose, un­less there’s some­thing I don’t know. I don’t know what they are think­ing lo­cally, but given re­cent events, I’m guess­ing there won’t be any lift­ing of any re­stric­tions of any­thing, any time soon. Given how many other places are lift­ing similar re­stric­tions, and how lit­tle Bay Area in­fec­tion there ever was, I’d still say this could have gone ei­ther way based on what we knew at the time. But given how slowly ev­ery­thing is mov­ing, I was too ag­gres­sive.

2. …un­til Elec­tion Day: 10%

I held. I still think hold this.

3. Fewer than 100,000 US coro­n­avirus deaths: 10%

I sold a lot and it’s over. This is 0% now.

4. Fewer than 300,000 US coro­n­avirus deaths: 50%

I sold this to 30%. For most of May I was los­ing marked the mar­ket, since the news was over­all very good. There will be a pe­riod where the rol­ling av­er­age won’t get us to 300k. But re­cent news is turn­ing around, we are see­ing upticks, and no will to do much about it, and not much mar­gin to stay un­der 300k even if con­trol sys­tems cause ad­just­ments. I’d say this is back to about where it was be­fore. I’m guess­ing our baseline sce­nario is now 500k or so, with of course huge er­ror bars.

5. Fewer than 3 mil­lion US coro­n­avirus deaths: 90%

I held. Again, we saw very good news early, so to get to 3 mil­lion now we’d need full sys­tem col­lapse to hap­pen quickly. It’s definitely still pos­si­ble, but I’m guess­ing we’re now more like 95% to avoid this than 90%.

6. US has high­est offi­cial death toll of any coun­try: 80%

I bought this to 90%. Logic seems to hold, the po­ten­tial other can­di­dates aren’t in trou­ble, so I’d now buy a lit­tle higher.

7. US has high­est death toll as per ex­pert guesses of real num­bers: 70%

I bought this to 80%. Given China con­tinues to keep things un­der con­trol, and the 10% differ­ence was com­ing from China, this has to be closer to the an­swer to #6 than a month ago. Prob­a­bly buy it to 85% or so now.

8. NYC widely con­sid­ered worst-hit US city: 90%

I bought to 95%. Is there a world where this be­comes Min­neapo­lis? I think no, al­though at­tempts to frame it that way might be pos­si­ble. Things got re­ally bad in New York, and the com­mu­ni­ties that might break down in Min­neapo­lis aren’t that big a por­tion of the city by pop­u­la­tion. Los An­ge­les maybe? I don’t see it. I still like the 95% level, de­spite New York’s re­cov­ery, be­cause time passed.

9. China’s (offi­cial) case num­ber goes from its cur­rent 82,000 to 100,000 by the end of the year: 70%

I sold to 40%. I’d sell slightly lower now, again be­cause time passed and there’s no move­ment, and the clock is tick­ing.

10. A coro­n­avirus vac­cine has been ap­proved for gen­eral use and given to at least 10,000 peo­ple some­where in the First World: 50%

I sold this to 40%. From what I’ve seen news has been good and I’d no longer be will­ing to sell be­low 50%. As much as we’re to­tally failing to do what a real civ­i­liza­tion would do, we’re mak­ing progress.

11. Best sci­en­tific con­sen­sus ends up be­ing that hy­drox­y­chloro­quine was sig­nifi­cantly effec­tive: 20%

I sold to 15%, given stud­ies are ac­tively be­ing halted let’s knock that down to 10% now.

12. I (Scott Alexan­der) per­son­ally will get coro­n­avirus (as per my best guess if I had it; pos­i­tive test not needed): 30%

I sold this to 20% ‘at least’ and that ‘at least’ was do­ing a lot of work. Still is. Not sel­l­ing this to 10% or lower seems wrong at this point.

13. Some­one I am close to (house­mate or close fam­ily mem­ber) will get coro­n­avirus: 60%

I sold this to 40%, time passes and I’d sell it fur­ther.

14. Gen­eral con­sen­sus is that we (April 2020 US) were over­re­act­ing: 50%

15. Gen­eral con­sen­sus is that we (April 2020 US) were un­der­re­act­ing: 20%

I sold the 50% to 30% and held the 20%. If any­thing it seems like con­sen­sus is even less likely now than the 50% that left for it be­fore. There won’t be a con­sen­sus. There will be a “con­sen­sus” that me­dia types like to claim but it won’t be real.

16. Gen­eral con­sen­sus is that sum­mer made coro­n­avirus sig­nifi­cantly less dan­ger­ous: 70%

I held be­cause this is so vague, so that isn’t an en­dorse­ment of the num­ber so much as a de­sire to stay away from am­bigu­ous mar­kets. In any case, we’re definitely about to find out!

17. …and there is a catas­trophic (50K+ US deaths, or more ma­jor lock­downs, af­ter at least a month with­out these things) sec­ond wave in au­tumn: 30%

I sold to 20% based on this be­ing a par­lay of many things. Will June count for this, if cur­rent trends con­tinue? Chances are it will come in un­der 50k deaths, we had 40k in May and are still de­clin­ing. By the time the spike from re­open­ing mat­ters enough for deaths it’s late June or we’re into July, so we likely beat 50k in June on offi­cial num­bers. And if the re­sur­gence starts in July or Au­gust does that count? Either way, chances here have clearly gone up un­der any rea­son­able defi­ni­tion. I wouldn’t still sell this.

18. I (Scott) per­son­ally am back to work­ing not-at-home: 90%

I sold this to 80%. Still seems rea­son­able – again, events seem to have sort of can­cel­led out.

19. At least half of states send ev­ery voter a mail-in bal­lot in 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion: 20%

I sold to 15% or so. I am not fol­low­ing the de­tails, but I’m guess­ing chances have gone up a lit­tle but not a lot.

20. Pre­dic­tIt is un­cer­tain (less than 95% sure) who won the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion for more than 24 hours af­ter Elec­tion Day. 20%

This is more poli­tics than Covid-19, and I don’t think the an­swer changed much.

Sup­port Longevity Research

I’ll end on a note I keep mean­ing to get to. Which is that if we care so god­damn much about Covid-19, there’s an elephant in the room.

The plane­tary death rate re­mains sta­ble at 100%. There is a force that kills ev­ery­one. It mostly kills older peo­ple, with risk in­creas­ing steadily with age. Even be­fore it kills you, it has var­i­ous only partly known and dev­as­tat­ing effects on your body, your mind and your qual­ity of life.

That force, of course, is ag­ing.

If we think Covid-19 deaths are bad, well, they look a lot like deaths from ‘nat­u­ral causes.’ Yet those are con­sid­ered good and right and proper, and not like the hor­ror that they are. We’re all go­ing to die. When some­one sug­gests this might stop, or it is bad, we get think­pieces about the ecolog­i­cal hor­rors of over­pop­u­la­tion or the psy­cholog­i­cal tor­tures of liv­ing too long.

Which is com­plete non­sense.

Can we sub­stan­tially de­lay or even pre­vent ag­ing through sci­en­tific re­search? We don’t know. We’re not mak­ing much of an effort. My guess is yes, we ab­solutely could im­prove our lifes­pans and slow down the nega­tive effects of ag­ing. Per­haps we could halt it mostly or en­tirely, given enough time. There’s lots of low-hang­ing fruit that isn’t be­ing picked, be­cause we don’t think that it’s all right to pick it. It’s fine to fix be­ing worse than the baseline of ‘ev­ery­one dies at this rate’ but not to try and lower that rate.

We are no differ­ent than the crew of the En­ter­prise-D, who mourn in­di­vi­d­ual deaths greatly and go to great lengths to find cures and safe­guard in­no­cents, but who con­stantly dis­cover ways to rad­i­cally de­lay or end hu­man ag­ing, just ly­ing there, and no one even both­ers to point them out. As in, oh look, this prim­i­tive so­ciety has found a cure for ag­ing that they’re us­ing to stay al­ive longer to seek re­venge, and maybe the lead is that they cured ag­ing and we should look into that?

Nah. That’s not the moral of this week’s story.

No won­der all good things must come to an end.