Faithful readers will note that two topics are not commanding my (and hence your) attention in this almost daily blog. One topic is the Middle East, the other is the Coronavirus, the Pandemic etc. etc. My disaffection and weariness with the Middle East may require an explanation at one point in time but my inattention to the coronavirus deserves immediate attention. There is simply to much alarmist attention being paid, and such has been the case since March of 2020. Alarmist reports not based on science and, quite frankly, not at all helpful. But today, along came The New Yorker with a jam-packed fact filled recently released scientific study, excerpts will be provided. By the way an excerpt means: a short extract from a film, broadcast, or piece of music or writing. It has the cutest of synonyms: part, section, piece, portion, snippet, clip, bit, sample; reading, citation, quotation, quote, line, passage, extract. So, here is a snippet coming to us from a December 17, 2020 article “Reconstructing a Pandemic “ “Last Friday morning, I received a phone alert from the Boston Globe: epidemiologists and genomicists had traced COVID-19 infections at a Boston biotech conference in late February and estimated that, by October, the conference had led to between some two and three hundred thousand cases, across twenty-nine states and multiple countries. That was the headline, but the substance of the paper, which appeared in Science, was a careful tracking of a mutation of the coronavirus that had appeared among patients who were infected at the conference, which was held by the drug company Biogen, and then moved through Massachusetts and to other states and continents. These are the kind of empirical facts that have been in short supply, and they provide a glimpse of not just a cluster of infections isolated in place and time but a branch of the pandemic as it spread through the world and through the year. One of the authors of the article: Jacob Lemieux, an infectious-disease physician and postdoctoral researcher at Harvard and the other author, Bronwyn MacInnis, the director of pathogen genomic surveillance at the Broad Institute’s Infectious Disease and Microbiome Program were interviewed emphasizing hat: a hundred and seventy-five people from several countries gathered in a hotel at the end of February, before anyone wore masks. It was just a normal event in the course of the modern world. Eight months later, that meeting had led to the infections of a quarter of a million people, give or take. MacInnis tilted her head back and looked straight upward while she thought through what she wanted to say. She said, “It certainly captures my imagination. The two looked a little worn out, having spent the day trying to explain a paper about the processes of superspreading to reporters who were primarily interested in how many infections could be traced to the conference. “In the initial version of the paper, we didn’t have a number—we didn’t want to go there,” Lemieux said. “People kept asking, ‘How many cases? How many cases?’ So we did our best, as scientists, to flesh this out.” Lemieux noted that, though the paper offered an estimate of the number of infections, it also included half a paragraph of caveats, most of which acknowledged the incompleteness of databases of coronavirus genomes and the imperfections of the calculations, including Lemieux and MacInnis’s, that rely on them. “What we’re trying to point out is it’s a big number,” Lemieux said. “It’s bigger than we would have expected.
Despite the fact that the vaccine is rolling out “we are just beginning to see clearly how high the stakes have been, both in every public gathering and in every effort to regulate them. Although researchers have suspected since early in the pandemic that the virus’s spread has been shaped by “superspreader events,” in which some branches of the disease spread much more explosively than others, no one knows whether the cause is the viral load in a host or the situations in which a host encounters other people—or some combination of the two.” The Biogen virus evolved into a lethal strain, extremely contagious. This is extremely bad news. Listen to this: “Lemieux and MacInnis’s team eventually estimated that the viruses descended from the conference were responsible for between thirty and forty per cent of cases across the state by Halloween.”
But this is the bottom line and it is most chilling: “We expect a certain pattern to a catastrophic event like this, but the pandemic has upended it; the vaccine has arrived before we fully understand the disease. When I replayed the tape of my conversation with Lemieux and MacInnis, I could hear in MacInnis’s voice, in particular, a current of awe—that, a year in, we were still discovering how contagious and unpredictable the virus can be. In the recording of my own voice, I heard futility—that, no matter how brilliant the scientists studying it, the virus had a head start.”
In other words we have no idea how the virus spreads but we do know this, particularly in California. Stay at home orders do not work. Despite that fact my phone just came with an emergency alert informing us that all Californias are on a stay at home order. A song comes to mind: When Will They Ever Learn???
Thank goodness i moved a day early. I am safe in my apartment, all, all alone and so quite probably safe. But who knows – not science, not anybody.
Here is the link to the New Yorker article: https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/reconstructing-a-pandemic?utm_source=onsite-share&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=onsite-share&utm_brand=the-new-yorker