Unwarranted optimism and the new strain


Seems fitting for the first non-pandemic post to be about the pandemic.

So let me own up to a reasoning failure. I have found that I’m not really capable of expecting the pandemic to get worse. In May, I understood rationally that there could be another wave of infection, but I wasn’t really able to anticipate it. Then there it was. In September, I could have given you no reason to be certain the worst was past, but I felt that it was. But it wasn’t. The worst came back and got worse and is still with us. Maybe now cresting.

Now the vaccine is available, and is going into people’s arms; not as fast as people would like, but faster than almost everywhere else in the world, except Israel, which for some reason is lapping everybody else by a factor of ten. So does that mean it’s over? Maybe. But also there’s a novel strain, already present in the United States, which some people think is 50% more transmissible! Is there a reason to think we couldn’t have yet another period of rapid growth of cases and deaths in the months before we have time to achieve mass vaccination? There’s no reason! That could totally happen! It is right there in the interzone, neither inevitable nor impossible. And yet I can’t really bring myself to treat that possibility as real.

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8 thoughts on “Unwarranted optimism and the new strain

  1. Or maybe the vaccines don’t stop transmission and only protect against infection for six months.

  2. Ralph Dratman says:

    Why is it, do you think, that you cannot bring yourself to treat the possibility that things will get worse as real?

  3. Richard Séguin says:

    There is a real possibility. In fact, it could get much worse than it is now, especially with the new variant gaining a solid presence here. Moreover, I think vaccinations will not go as hoped, increasing the possibility. The present CDC target groups, working medical professionals and long term care patients and caretakers, are easily identified in well defined physical spaces and thus easily identified and vaccinated. The next level within the CDC plan, is not as well defined. Those over 75 certainly are easy to identify, but those within the top-tier of essential workers are not. Not only is the top-tier not well defined, many will claim to belong to that group (and who’s going to verify that?), but they cannot be identified in a small finite number of physical locations or group associations. The next level down consists of those over 65, plus an undoubtedly huge number of next-tier essential workers. Again, many many will claim to be members of that level of essential workers (and the lobbying will be fierce), and they are similarly impossible to easily identify. Then finally there is everyone else. I expect a fair amount of chaos. Although I think that Wisconsin’s plan will be similar to the CDC’s recommendations, I can’t find a well defined vaccination plan anywhere. Who is going to be responsible to administer vaccinations to all these groups, and where? I don’t see a definite plan. Although I’m over 65 (but less than 75) and have other risk factors, I’m afraid that it might not be until fall that I finally get vaccinated. Others with far less risk than my own will undoubtedly be vaccinated long before me.

    This does sound quite pessimistic on my part, but I don’t let it control me. I have learned over the years not to dwell too much on regret of past disappointments and stupid decisions on my part because that does not help going forward. Similarly, I’ve learned not to dwell too much on awful future possibilities because it does not help going forward. If something bad happens, I’ll just deal with it the best I can. I refuse to be disabled by worry about the future.

  4. poppopk says:

    The problems we are likely to face go far beyond the new strain of SARS-CoV-2 in the UK. There’s also a new strain in South Africa. It hasn’t been identified here. From what I’ve seen, the SA strain is likely to be worse. However, these two strains are only warning shots. The virus is mutating fast enough to make me concerned that we might have a serious wave of infections AFTER we’ve achieved herd immunity (possibly a long way off if the dominant strain is much more transmissible, especially considering the strength of the anti-vaxx contingent). So far, we haven’t run into ADE (antibody dependent enhancement) of COVID-19 infections. That was probably a significant issue in the Spanish Flu. It may not turn up here, but if it does …

  5. poppopk says:

    Reblogged this on The Razor Blade of Life and commented:
    Unwarranted optimism is probably useful much of the time, especially for folks who have projects demanding substantial commitments of time and effort. It is sometimes dangerous, and the history of epidemics suggests caution.

  6. Tom S. says:

    Hello poppopk,

    technically the CoV-2 virus does not mutate THAT much, compared eg. to Influenza or HIV, the”catastophe on rails”. Virus transmission in the early presymtomatic stage would also imply that these viruses did not yet have to escape immune system action by acquiring mutations. It is more a numbers game based on the total number of infection events: with millions and millions of infection events the mutational space eventually will be sampled with the outcme of unpleasant mutants.

  7. burrobert says:

    Firstly, I read that until recently the deadliest day in US history was 11 September 2001. A month or so ago this record was broken and I believe every day since has had a higher death toll than 11 September 2001. Secondly, it seems that letting the virus run rampant, as has happened in the US, UK and a few other places, not only results in lots of deaths and long term disability, but also provides opportunities for the virus to mutate. The three or four mutations that have been detected so far seem to be more infectious than the original strain and there is also the possibility that current vaccines will not work as effectively against mutations. Thirdly, from an intellectual viewpoint it is fascinating to compare the approaches each country has taken. Countries such as China and Vietnam have demonstrated capabilities that seem to be beyond the US and UK. There are plenty of opportunities for research papers there. I am writing this from the antipodes where we are living what our Premier calls a “covid-normal” summer of sun, beach and cricket. However, it still feels a little like “On the Beach”, waiting for doom to descend from the north.

  8. […] As I said last week, it is temperamentally hard for me to expect the worst. Probably Trump will slink away and the inauguration will happen without incident and the idea of renewed armed rebellion against the United States government will slink away too, albeit more slowly. But — as last week — I don’t have a good argument that it has to be that way. […]

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