Hydroxychloroquine and President Trump’s obsession with it has been something of a running joke during the COVID19 Crisis, to the extent jokes are possible in such a dismal climate. But I want to flag your attention to this new study published in The Lancet, which has dire findings about the impact of hydroxychloroquine and the hydroxychloroquine in combination with the class of antibiotics the President has repeatedly endorsed. Here’s the study and here’s a write-up of the study in The Washington Post. Let me start with an arresting quote: “for those receiving hydroxychloroquine and an antibiotic — the cocktail endorsed by Trump — there was a 45 percent increased risk of death … ”
That is, to state the obvious, a very bad number.
We’re getting a mix of information about the state of the COVID epidemic in the United States – much of it contradictory. I wanted to take a few moments to pick apart these seemingly contradictory realities which are happening at the same time.
The first fact is that the initial experiments with easing the strictures on social and economic life have not generated the spikes in new cases that some predicted. Georgia is the clearest case of this. Neighboring Florida is another. We don’t know yet why this is the case. Perhaps we need to wait longer to see the impact. Perhaps continuing mitigation efforts are more effective than anticipated. Perhaps there are cultural, social, epidemiological or even climatic factors that make these states less susceptible to the kinds of outbreaks we saw in New York and other urban centers in the North. But we’ve seen enough data to say with some confidence that the worst predictions are not coming to pass, or at least not quickly.
But there’s another reality that is worth considering. COVID cases across the United States remain notably stable. We may be past the apex but the top looks something like a plateau.
Today we’re excited to announce that we’re adding a new member to our team. Zoë Richards will be joining TPM next week as a Newswriter in our New York (for now virtual) office. Welcome, Zoe. And many thanks to all our members for your support.
One of the most remarkable dimensions of the COVID19 Crisis is the way the most garish or clownish versions of class division and privilege are pushed so aggressively to the fore. As we’ve discussed earlier, billionaires are eager to get back to work or rather eager to get you back to work. No less remarkable, they’re eager to talk to reporters or go on TV and make their argument. Now we have hedge fund chief Ricky Sandler, CEO of Eminence Capital, who has announced that America needs to get behind herd immunity. On a CNBC appearance yesterday he lamented “how the politicians and the media and the academic community and the scientific community have taken hold of this debate,” and announced it’s time to push on to herd immunity.
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As we discussed yesterday, the issue of mask wearing has become both politically charged in the US partisan political climate and a matter or real controversy among public health experts. There have also been hints, inferences from different countries’ mitigation strategies and some initial studies suggesting that mask wearing is not only effective but possibly more effective than even some advocates of their use anticipated.
Let me try to walk through some of the ins and outs of this debate.
Imperial College London has a new report out looking at the COVID19 outlook in the United States and broken down by states. The main focus is on reopening and increased mobility and how this affects transmission rates. They are also clear that they don’t account for other behavioral modifications like mask wearing. So their predictions should be considered “pessimistic”.
Very early in the crisis I was working on a post about masks before the US made its big shift in favor of masking. This was partly based on my own observations but I was also reading the commentary of the Turkish-American sociologist Zeynep Tufekci. The story seemed to be one of American but also really Western complacency and arrogance. The general wisdom seemed to be: ‘yes, they wear masks in Asia. It’s a good system of social signaling, demonstrating that you take the epidemic seriously. And certainly there’s no harm but masks don’t actually work.’
Then we decided masking does work.
If you’re trying to make sense of the ‘re-opening’ debate, here’s one resource that is worth looking at: Google’s COVID-19 Mobility Reports. This is just a slice of the oceans of data Google has at its corporate fingertips. Mainly it’s from geo-tracking data tied to your cellphones. In another conversation we can discuss the pros and cons of Google having access to this data and access to it as its own property. For now, it’s a valuable and fascinating resource for government officials and public health planners because it uses anonymized cellphone tracking data to produce very reliable and granular data on social and economic activity. As I said, Google has always had this and related data and it’s one of their core business assets. But they’ve made an edition of it available for the COVID19 Crisis.