Your theory doesn’t explain the prevalence of highly unusual Covid-specific symptoms among the mix that makes up Long Covid (I’m thinking of strawberries smelling like burnt tyres)
There’s a plausible mechanism with Covid: Other viruses cause fatigue syndroms as well, probably autoimmune related, and it’s plausible that the SARS-Cov-2 virus has properties that trigger this comparatively often.
There’s a second plausible mechanism with Covid: It affects blood vessels and lots of organ systems at once, so lasting damage causing fatigue seems to make sense. (Note that this mechanism makes less sense for asymptomatic infection leading to Long Covid, which some anecdotal reports claim is also happening).
You fail to mention that there’s a history of ignorant / narrow-minded doctors gaslighting patients with uncommon or not well researched actual chronic illnesses.
Some people’s Long Covid symptoms are too outlierish in their severity to be anything that develops normally. E.g., people who used to be highly into sports report that they get out of breath just climbing stairs, and that this persists for a period of years. My impression is that this sort of thing never just happens without an identifiable cause. (I’m uncertain whether that type of Long Covid can happen after asymptomatic infection. That would be important to know to ascertain the use of vaccines for preventing Long Covid!)
I’ve seen a bunch of reports that feel intuitively consistent with this. E.g., superspreading around the Euro finals (“the Wembley variant”) and accounts from weddings that I vaguely thought were outdoors, but that could be a false memory. I’d imagine that people would continue to get infected by family members (at least ones that live together) because the secondary attack rate would be really high with such an infectiousness profile. And I’ve also seen some claims from Israel or Australia about near-100% secondary attack rates, but they seemed really anecdotal, so I don’t know. (I expect that it’s already possible to gain a lot confidence about all of this by doing a systematic screening of sources/reports.)
BBC: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-57584295The Times: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/why-is-britain-now-the-capital-of-long-covid-grjpvzfvw There’s a good chance that the numbers are overstated because of methodological difficulties, but it’s not obvious, and the numbers are high enough that it would be worth concern even if they’re 50% overstated. Also, reddit is full with scary stories about Long Covid. Obviously that doesn’t mean much because you get scary stories in any data set with tens of millions of people, but I think it’s quite telling that a lot of people who self-declare as having Long Covid report having messed up senses of smell (e.g., strawberries tasting like burnt tyres). That’s not usually a sign of normal depression or burnout. It’s clearly Covid related, and it seems to happen frequently enough to produce reddit communities filled with such posts every day, and the media did report on it, and the symptoms seem to be connected (e.g., the people who report the long-lasting loss of sense/taste also have other fatigue-related symptoms, which seem to have gone up in people with past Covid as well).
I feel like we got sidetracked.
I do think that having a good track record is what makes people credible and rather listen to people who got COVID-19 right at the start
I got Covid right at the start (among others) and I posted above that my track record is winning the largest prediction tournament at the time.So let me repeat what I cared about conveying in this discussion, one last time: The person in the youtube video you linked to may have gotten Covid right in early 2020, but so did hundreds of people (but maybe not thousands). Out of the set of people with a good track record on Covid, this guy is now pushing an extreme minority position. In theory, he could have been right with that. But he’s wrong because his arguments are bad in an easily verifiable way. Once someone’s core arguments for a fringe position (fringe in reference to the best sources we’d want to listen to here, not fringe with respect to the media) get discredited, there’s no reason to continue treating the fringe position as though it still has a high chance of being right. By that point, we must be prepared to say “This guy went off the rails.”All I wanted to convey is that it makes no sense to continue holding a person’s specific opinion in high regards (good track record or not) when the opinion is highly contrarian* and just had its core arguments refuted. By continuing to argue as though the guy might still be right, you were employing a type of epistemology which, to me, seems doomed. I get the impression that you not only distrust the media consensus, but any consensus seems worthless to you when you see a single confident-sounding expert who stands out as having gotten something right when others had gotten it wrong. I think that’s too strong of an update, because lots of people got things right, and some of them may still be completely nuts and bad at reasoning, and we can spot that by checking things against a mental reference class of “consensus among the people we hold in high esteem.”*Again, I’m talking about contrarian with respect to the sources we’d want to listen to. That’s a subjective reference class, but since we’re both on this site and value track records, our takes on this may not be crazily different. It is my highly confident impression that <3% of Lesswrongers with high karma, and <3% of people who got Covid right in the early days, think that the Delta variant is less deadly in unvaccinated population than the original variant.
BTW, it’s am minor point, but I feel like the media is biased to fail to identify new variants as more deadly, because of racism concerns. Every single media article about the South Africa variant said “there’s no evidence it’s more deadly.” They were saying this before there was enough time to know with confidence (and “no evidence” was technically false because there were anecdotal reports of children being more affected).
You’re right, I think I phrased my point poorly. What I should have said is “If there’s no reputable or intelligent-seeming person making some claim for a long time, and then comes along some lone contrarian, that contrarian better make a good impression – otherwise it probably doesn’t make sense to invest a lot of time steelmanning their claims and digging into a hypothesis that wouldn’t even have occured to us without this person.” Maybe you’ve seen more people talk about Delta deadliness concerns being overblown. But based on my media diet as well as based on all the conversations I’ve had with EAs and rationalists about this, the view that Delta might be a less infectious (but more contagious) variant has never come up.It’s true that media consensus isn’t great to go by, as we’ve seen with all the instances Zvi documents in his post (mask wearing, possibility of lab escape, etc.).
Delta progresses more quickly, and all else equal, that should make you less worried about R than you previously were. But I find it plausibly that it’s doing both: it’s scarily infectious and it progresses more quickly. Depending on the methodology of estimating R, it doesn’t necessarily lead to overestimates if one variant progresses more quickly. Your methodology could be to simply trace infections and count how many times a virus was passed on from the earlier generation’s host. There’s some evidence of scarily high infectiousness. From Australia, we see that it apparently happened twice that there’s CCTV footage of people walking past each other (without mask) and infection happening within 15 seconds of passing. This wouldn’t be too surprising if that’s all the footage we had about scarily quick infections from major outbreaks in the US or the UK – large numbers imply bigger coincidences. However, the Australia outbreak is young and scarily quick infections happening twice implies that they must be rather common. One thing I’m confused about is the UK’s recent case numbers: They seem to have slowed down a lot. It’s too early to tell and I think there’s a good chance the growth picks up again, and it’ll look very different next week. But there’s a chance that the UK is close to the ceiling already, which would be good news, and probably some evidence that experts overestimated the R of Delta variant, because many experts were predicting >100k or even 200k daily cases over the summer, and this may not happen if the apparent slowdown is real. (Alternatively, maybe society is really segmented by now and many people are intent on not catching the virus, so saturation is only reached within populations that are comfortable with quite a lot of risk. This could still lead to a slowdown, but not for ideal reasons.)
It’s really not that difficult to ballpark IFR estimates (especially now that everyone knows that there’s no giant iceberg of asymptomatic cases). The Delta variant has been around for a while. You can play word games but it’s fairly obvious what I mean by “scientific consensus.” I mean that >100 media articles I’ve read in the last couple of months, from various mainstream UK sources, I’ve never seen anyone seriously entertain the hypothesis that the Delta variant is less deadly than previous variants. I’m not saying to blanket endorse the media’s perspective on what’s the scientific consensus. That would be strawmanning me. I’m saying that when you claim that the consensus is wrong (edit: or that it very well might be), at least have more of a reason than “Intuitively, those numbers look too low on the chart.” At least have an argument for what, specifically, the mainstream experts are getting wrong. The video doesn’t have that since it fails to pass the Ideological Turing test for people who are concerned about the Delta variant.
Losing time suggests that there’s an action I’m currently not taking that I should be taking. It’s likely that the same action I take now is twice as expensive in terms of COVID-19 risk in a month (given COVID numbers where I live)
Having accurate beliefs can be beneficial in unanticipated ways. There’s no point in needlessly delaying epistemic updates. I’m saying that there’s something off about how much credibility you give to confident-sounding contrarians on youtube (with some credentials, admittedly, though not that it matters). (Esp. once some of their core arguments get debunked.) Again, I’m not making a blanket argument about contrarians always being wrong. I’m making the specific argument that contrarians who are right don’t tend to make easily visible mistakes.
Scientific consensus opinion is that Delta is more deadly, not less. The guy in the video says otherwise, but his specific arguments are flawed. This isn’t difficult to check/verify: He didn’t factor in that the death rate is automatically lower in a vaccinated population.Without the evidence he thought he had from the UK data, all that’s left in support of his position, that Delta is less deadly, is this: “Intuitively, deaths are climbing really slowly in Israel compared to case numbers.”By itself, intuition about deaths climbing slowly doesn’t seem like anywhere close to a good reason to question expert consensus. (It also wouldn’t make me think that Australia may have its own less deadly subtype of Delta.) I feel like if your plan is to wait 2-4 weeks to check my predictions against reality, you’re losing time unnecessarily. There’s enough info here to update sooner. Maybe we have different intuitions about how weird the slowly climbing death rate is. I think it’s not weird at all – it’s always gone this way. You can compare the situation in Israel now to how things were in the UK throughout June, see the charts here, specifically comparing how the rise in case numbers came early than the rise in death numbers. Or, to give another example, back in early 2020, people kept pointing out that the case fatality rate in South Korea seems really low, and that this means the virus isn’t that bad. But that was just the lag from cases to deaths, and after South Korea’s outbreak went beyond its peak and people had time to die, the case fatality rate went up by multiples! Regarding predictions: Israel only has 1k cases and they do extensive testing, so there’s not a lot of underreporting. This makes predictions a bit difficult because the variance is high. Probably we’ll see at least 4 average daily deaths in three weeks. But most importantly, and most confidently, I’ll say that as long as cases keep rising, deaths will eventually go up as well – that’s the prediction of the model that Delta isn’t weaker.I have a good track record on Covid predictions. I won the first big forecasting tournament on Covid on Metaculus and got 3rd in the second installment of the tournament. I live in the UK and therefore have a headstart (except vs. people in India) on following Delta developments closely. I’m also a bit addicted to virus news and spend 2h per day on that.
The weekly average of deaths went from roughly zero, to one, to two. That’s going up. Soon it will be at three or four if things continue like that. That looks like normal growth, deaths always lag behind surprisingly much when case numbers are growing exponentially. It also took the UK a really long time to from 7 weekly deaths to even just 10, but now the weekly average is above 50.
Actually there was some talk at least 9 days before I made the above comment: npr.org/2021/07/09/1014744345/pfizer-is-pursuing-a-booster-shot-and-new-vaccine-targeting-the-delta-variant
Chris Martenson is one of the people who got it right back in January and his latest video is quite interesting
I watched the video and I think it hard to convey just how bad it is. The guy is also annoyingly smug (the first ten minutes of the video are just him reading headlines and saying the word “dangerous” in a mocking voice) while being wrong about his important claims.
The tl;dr is that while Delta has a significantly higher r data from Israel suggests that this doesn’t translate into increased deaths. This suggest that the virus is less harmful
Vaccines work great at preventing severe disease and deaths. Obviously one of the highest-vaccinated countries will have fewer deaths now – that says nothing about how deadly the Delta variant is in an unvaccinated population.And then he goes on to talk about how there are more vaccinated people aged >50 in the UK hospitals than unvaccinated people, and he thinks that’s strange or even implies that it could mean something bad about vaccine efficiency. He doesn’t understand base rates (9/10 people over 50 are vaccinated in the UK!). Doing the analysis right, we see that Delta is probably significantly more deadly than Alpha, which itself was more deadly than the original variant. We also see that Delta affects children more.(Edit: I initially thought he’s also wrong about not factoring in that the majority of Delta variant cases in the UK haven’t had enough time to run their course, but I think the chart he used actually factored that in and was considering cases with a known outcome. So I deleted a paragraph above – one fewer mistake than I initially thought!)
I feel like your model doesn’t explain why getting the 2nd dose of the vaccine after 8 weeks instead of 4 weeks increases efficiency. I think this is the case, and if so, it suggests that the 2nd dose adds something on top of the first one, falsifying your assumptions.
IIRC the delta variant, according to Indian accounts, is significantly contagious for three weeks from the date of infection as opposed to the usual two.
That would clearly make it harder, yeah. And good point about contact tracing. I guess the only thing that would be easier with a shorter incubation period is isolation after flights and getting down case numbers with a very tight lockdown. Everything else gets harder.
I tried estimating the chance that a new variant would arise in the UK in the next couple of months:
I think the risk of a new superbad variant arising in the UK is 6%. We’ve seen two game-changing variants so far (Alpha and Delta) out of roughly a billion Covid cases (extremely crude estimate). The UK will have roughly 10 million cases in the coming three months (extremely crude estimate). That would be 1% of the total so far, so a 2% prior for a new game-changing variant (since this happened twice already). Conditions for evolving vaccine evasion have never been better, which adds at least a factor 2, I would think. It’s more in expectation, so maybe 3.5. (Also, the Alpha variant happened in the UK, so maybe conditions are particularly favorable for virus evolution here for reasons I don’t understand.) OTOH, I may be ignoring that the virus has run out of low-hanging mutations. Overall, I’m going with a 6% chance.
Note that I don’t necessarily predict a new variant to be more deadly by itself. (But it would be more deadly given better resistance to vaccines.) It’s indeed scary that the same experiment will be run across many countries, so in absolute terms, the odds are much larger than what’s correct for the UK for the next couple of months. But the risks per country are heavily correlated (are there low-hanging mutations that increase transmissibility?), and overall I’m not sure I’d go above 40% for a new superbad variant in 2021. I think this is partly also influenced by having read some experts express a lot of confidence that the antibodies to the spike protein, especially from the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, are fairly hard to circumnavigate when you’re the virus, because probably all Covid viruses need some kind of similar-looking spike protein. Even so, you could get a variant where infection is reduced by 50-70% after two shots of Pfizer, instead of the 15-30% we see currently. That would basically guarantee that nearly everyone gets exposed to long Covid risks of having to go through one illness.
Interesting! Do you (or anyone else) have info on what this means about the incubation period? It would be useful to know if it got shorter! Not only for meeting friends or relatives, but also because it means contact tracing becomes easier and lockdowns more effective.
The best argument I can come up with against >100k cases: Cases will skyrocket in different US regions at different times. They will skyrocket especially in places with lots of unvaccinated people, which will lead to spikes in deaths, which will lead to lockdowns. Those lockdowns will keep the case numbers down. The main reason why the UK sees high case numbers is because the government doesn’t think it’s a big deal as long as few people are dying. (I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad way to look at it, given the economic costs of tighter restrictions.) Even that story^ feels extremely implausible to me. I just don’t see governors of Southern states going into lockdowns when deaths start to spike again, especially because they won’t spike as much as they used to. I’m not completely closing the door on 98%, but I think it’s more likely than not that I’d put 99% after a full day of serious thinking. As it is, if I had to bet on this right now without more thinking, I’d go with 98% while feeling a bit cowardly.
That’s a good point. However, last time I checked, the UK was slightly ahead even on only counting the percentage of doubly-vaccinated people. (Also, it’s possible that single-vaccinated people are substantially less infectious conditional on getting infected, which means that the UK strategy of focusing on first doses could actually be superior. I don’t know if this applies, but it’s not obviously wrong to me.) You could also point out that UK had more Astra Zeneca vaccinations, which are a bit less effective. That’s true but it just seems intuitively extremely implausible that the effect would be large enough. 100k cases is too low of a bar to make this question interesting. It would be somewhat interesting for 200k cases.
Vaccination of children has begun
That’s the only argument in your list that I find interesting. However, there’s not enough time to vaccinate enough children to curb the spread sufficiently. Also, I doubt most states are doing this. Maybe they’re just vaccinating children with comorbidities?
Reasoning: The US is about 4 times larger than the UK. The UK has more vaccinations than the US, and, most importantly, fewer low-vaccination regions where cases among the vaccinated might truly skyrocket. The UK has nearly 50,000 daily cases already, and that’s before reopening (and there are regions in the US with fewer restrictions presently). (And the UK will probably hit 200,000 cases and beyond.) The US is behind in the Delta variant timeline, but even a best-case scenario would get over 100,000 cases. Everything else would look like a miracle, especially given (very justified) restriction fatigue.