18 March 2021

Occupying a volume of doubt

There are standing-up-to-peer-review study results out that various COVID variants are more infectious and more lethal; there is not yet a variant which evades the current vaccines, though the measurable decrease in vaccine efficacy suggests that such a variant is possible.  Various variants are headed at being more than half the COVID cases everywhere the disease has not already been extirpated.

There are a couple of reported events -- not tendencies, emphatically not study results -- where vaccination cures someone's Long Covid symptoms.  That in turn suggests that Long Covid is indeed a case of someone's immune system being unable to entirely clear the virus.

Since there's an existing suspicion that the variants arise from long periods of infection in individuals, where mutations that make the virus more infectious have a chance to be conserved, confirming that Long Covid -- which about 10% of people who get COVID develop -- is a potential variant generator would be disturbing.

Having careful graphs of lethality versus infectiousness that suggest some of the variants are now about as bad as smallpox is likewise disturbing.  Anyone who thinks about it will recognize that it's hardly likely that the worst possible variant has already evolved.

Thing is, none of this is information to a private person.  (It absolutely ought to be information to someone with responsibility for public health or pandemic planning.)  Information causes change, and none of this changes what a private person should be doing. Those stay the same; get vaccinated as soon as you can, never leave your domicile without masking and staying masked the whole time, go inside nowhere you are not compelled by necessity to go, as much as you can, cover your eyes. The more readily you can do this materially, the more you should do it.  The more infectious the variant, the more important it is to do these things.

Vaccination makes you safer; safe, or at least safe from this specific disease, happens when the disease is extirpated and everyone is safe together. That's going to be awhile, and post-covid normalcy -- whatever normalcy remains to the Anthropocene --  must wait on extirpation.


Zeborah said...

That in turn suggests that Long Covid is indeed a case of someone's immune system being unable to entirely clear the virus.

I thought it was suggesting that, for at least some type of Long Covid (there might be multiple causes for what we're calling that), the virus had put the immune system on high alert, it had cleared the virus but was now in overdrive and doing autoimmune stuff, and the vaccine was so to speak giving it something to focus its efforts on and therefore stop attacking the body.

But regardless - since Covid itself is undetectable in people with Long Covid, it seems highly unlikely that they could be shedding it in any way. The variants cropping up are cropping up simply because of the sheer volume of people who've been infected, and beginning to predominate due to survival-of-the-most-infectious.

But on the gripping hand it still comes down to the same thing for us for practical purposes: avoid vectors for infection until we can get fully immunised (and maintain reasonable standards of hygiene thereafter, as there'll always be another pandemic and even the common cold isn't exactly fun).

Graydon said...

That's one of the hypotheses, yes. (There are a bunch, and it's nigh-certainly not all the same thing.)

COVID is undetectable but then again they can't puree the people, either; it's suspected that like ebola, covid may be able to sequester itself. (The US doctor who re-caught ebola because it was inhabiting the vitreous humour in one of his eyes and the recent case of sexually transmitted ebola where it had been in the transmitting party's testicles for several years are the leading ebola examples.) Incredibly tough to prove under the present circumstances.

I have been heartened by all the people talking about how they are going to keep wearing masks, dammit, since this is the first year in forever they have been able to get through a whole year with no cold. (The flu numbers are cheering, too; it's not that hard to keep the flu from spreading, at least not usual-flu.)

arborman said...

Much of what you say is correct, though I think the pressure cooker aspect of long isolation in a social species is starting to reach a head.

Our family have been as COVID smart as practicable with 2 young people in the house (and with the job I have). One is an 'elite' hockey player who has watched his dreams be sidelined for a year, the other is 11 and spent much of the year miserable since he couldn't spend time outside school with his friends or his grandparents. If schools hadn't been reopened I honestly don't know what the result would have been - the trajectory was not at all good last year.

Most of my adult friends are at the end of their tether but holding on until the vaccine reaches a point where transmission is unlikely and case numbers are dropping, and I admit I am in the same circumstance.

The likelihood that people will continue to distance and follow all the protocols after being vaccinated is effectively zero. Some will of course, but most are near the breaking point now. At some point in the not too distant future people will just say 'fuck it' and get on with their lives, and that point will not be long after the vaccine enters their bodies in most cases.

Graydon said...


I don't think you're wrong about what people are likely to do.

I do think we've got several clear examples that incomplete countermeasures make the situation worse -- I mean, compare Ontario and Taiwan! -- and I'm not at all sanguine anybody really knows what's going on with the various varieties of the disease.

arborman said...

I think there are a lot of fascinating future academic papers on the deafening cognitive dissonance currently happening in (largely) Anglosphere political discourse right now.

For about 40 years the notion that nominally free markets are inherently, unfailingly good and should have absolute primacy has enjoyed near total dominance of public discourse. Yes, many dissident views exist, but the argument has always been in the frame defined by classically liberal economics, as interpreted by the high priests of corporate and oligarchical power.

Until COVID comes along and what is good for those corporate priests and oligarchs is clearly, utterly not good for everyone else. Here in Canada the political alignments most closely associated with the oligarchical orthodoxy have struggled most obviously with the notion they serve anything other than the 'market' and the (naturally deserving) rich.

There are no absolutes, but the strongest correlations of COVID rates and political alignments are not hard to connect. Ontario and Alberta are the champions of the cognitive dissonance Olympics in this category. US states are a grad student's nightmare of comparative studies in this field.

We now see a lot of water muddying efforts to make discussion about anything other than that reality (current political economy is not about helping most people). It is about killing as many as necessary to help the powerful keep or increase their power.

If I were to have some kind of traumatic brain injury that caused me to return to academia I could see spending the next couple of decades in comparative analyses of actions, rhetoric and outcomes in the pandemic and over the next few years.

Graydon said...


The Anglosphere is the most completely mammonite, and while it's clear you can do fine if you're capitalists -- Singapore! -- it's pretty clear that you can't make it work if you're mammonites, because there's no way for a mammonite to construct "public health"; public anything is anathematic.

It makes me think that the next few years of Canadian politics are going to be about preventing anyone from noticing the stark choice between the politics of keeping the loot and the politics of being able to deal with emergencies. It looks like the loot is winning; it also looks like this is a terrible harbinger for effective public responses as the agricultural collapse accelerates.

Dorothy J Heydt said...

"There are a couple of reported events -- not tendencies, emphatically not study results -- where vaccination cures someone's Long Covid symptoms. That in turn suggests that Long Covid is indeed a case of someone's immune system being unable to entirely clear the virus."

That's interesting. I've seen articles describing the symptoms of Long Covid, and they're similar to the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which I've had since 1984.

I had my second (Pfizer) vaccination last week. How nice it would be if the vaccine cured the CFS while it was at it. :)

Graydon said...

+Dorothy J Heydt

Excellent news that you're vaccinated!

Curing CFS right away, alas no, or at least nigh-miraculous if it happens, but there are apparently some folks looking at CFS, Lyme disease, and a few more of the novel tick-borne diseases getting thoughtful looks about the RNA delivery mechanism Pfizer and Moderna are using. And COVID is at least going to be grounds for a lot more research effort to understand long-term viral consequences, so we may hope something useful comes of that sooner rather than later.

arborman said...

A close friend of mine has been a cancer/genetic researcher for decades, and he is almost wild-eyed at the breakthroughs that have been happening with the global push for a COVID vaccine. Most particularly he is excited at the very real prospect of vaccines for a variety of cancers that were in the realm of SF until this past year.

Graydon said...


I recall seeing as completely non-COVID medical news that there's a trial of adult in-situ somatic cell genetic modification going on, to correct some particular cause of blindness.

If we can collectively keep from starving, we're on the brink of an age of wonders.

arborman said...


Hasn't it always been the case? Most of our childhoods were spent with the near certainty of sudden nuclear annihilation on the whim of others, while at the same time seeing earth shaking advances in technology and science. At least the childhoods for those of us who came of age in the 20th century.

Now we are on the brink of climate collapse while also seeing earth shaking advances in tech and science - especially medicine, but other realms as well.

I am at root an optimist (harder now than 25 years ago, but not I suspect harder than in 1943 or 1916).