Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Unmasking Texans

 Free To Choose,

  Texas Governor, Greg Abbot has rescinded the Texas mask mandate for public places like grocery stores, leaving it up to business owners to decide whether to request customers to wear masks or not. This is a complex political decision, and it is something of a gamble.
  Some business owners want to be off the hook for not requiring masks, like bars and strip clubs. Other businesses, in anti-mask territory, feel that they are being put on the firing line between customers who don't want masks, and vulnerable employees, as well as vulnerable customers. The grocery store chain HEB is the largest employer in Texas, and has shown real appreciation of it's workers and the risks, morbidity and mortality they faced by serving the public every day.
  Austin was masking well before the mandate. Austin has been ahead of the precautions curve for a year, since South By Southwest music festival cancellation was announced just about a year ago. That was SERIOUS. When school was cancelled the day before spring break was to begin, the traffic reduced to a small percentage of its usual crush, having already halved before that (in the estimation of a daily bike commuter).
  Rural Yoakum seems to have largely quit masking in stores in the last 6 weeks, including employees. HEB employees mask, though.
If you look at the graphs in the link below, you will see that Texas has had a first wave of viral infections and deaths in spring and early summer, with a lull in the fall (as vitamin-D levels rose while the virus spread in summer and stabilized in September, before falling in October). The big surge came with Halloween, as there were so many parties, then Thanksgiving, as families joined together for food, drink and fellowship, then Christmas and New Year festivities. All of this human social engagement was somewhat muted, but it was present, and more for some people and towns than others. 
  "Herd Immunity" is a condition when there are few enough members of a group that are susceptible to a contagious pathogen, that the pathogen has a hard time finding  a new host to infect before being eradicated by its  host, or killing its host. There are some members of any herd who are just not very susceptible to any contagious virus, and that percentage is hard to determine prospectively. Most defense against coronavirus infection happens in the nose and throat area, as a general defense, not requiring specific antibodies. That is what children do so well. That is why most people do not get very sick with the current novel coronavirus, because they stop it before it does it's special thing of attacking the blood vessel linings. Most people with mild coronavirus infection in the nose and throat area do not get a test at all. The current best estimate is that the actual number of infections is running about 6 times the number of reported "confirmed cases", which means positive tests.
  Somewhere between 50 to 60% of Americans have had COVID, mostly mild, and mostly over the fall and winter holidays, so immunity has not likely faded away. Coronavirus specific-immunity mostly fades between 6 and 12 months from infection, unless stimulated again by a little re-exposure. Some people get re-exposed to cornaviruses fairly frequently. As a doctor, treating a general medical population, I get exposed to this and that regularly. Jenny, my wife, who is a Birthday Girl today, is a school librarian. She sees every kid in the school and gives and receives and helps them pick books off the shelves. 
  Jenny and I MIGHT be in the group that is not very likely to get sick with a coronavirus, whether we catch a little in our noses or not. We don't really know. We take vitamin-D and a little zinc, as we have for years. 
  Vaccinations in Texas are up to about 6.8% ofTexans fully vaccinated, and many of them have had the virus already, so they are getting an immunity boost. Vaccine immunity is not as broad as natural immunity, especially since these current vaccines just target a few protein sequences on the viral spike protein, not every little part of the virus, as natural immunity does. There is some argument about how good the vaccine protection is against the South African variant, which has a lot of difference in it's mutated spike protein. They are clearly less effective against it. How that will play out for cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the broad world is uncertain, so there is argument.
  Spring Break is the week after next in Texas, and the mask mandate has been lifted. Young adult Texans and high school students and families are likely to vacation and congregate a lot, though not at South By Southwest. There was a surge in cases among Texas college students last year, and they were much disparaged for acting like young animals again, as they do every spring break. They spread COVID. In the fall at UT, Austin there was a lot of rapid testing for COVID at ground level, including football games, which required a negative test for students wanting a ticket. There was something like a 9% background positivity rate on those tests, on people with little to no symptoms. That meant that the virus was spreading quickly through the university population. We can presume that it pervaded that population pretty well over fall and winter.
  So Governor Abbott has more specific information about testing in special populations, like college students and school kids, than the rest of us do. He is under a variety of political pressures to move and stand still, and I'm sure he is tired of it. Texas just got whacked with the deep freeze ice week around Valentine's Day, and the biggest electric utility in Texas has filed for bankruptcy. There will be more.
This guy, who I have never particularly liked, but who is not stupid, really craves some kind of decisive victory, which will allow him to move the Texas economy forward, which is what his job and popularity depend upon.
  My guess is that Governor Greg Abbot is making the sprint to the finish, desiring to declare "herd immunity" or to declare that it is emerging as such, almost all the way there. A lot of people are afraid that we are going to get another spike of morbidity and mortality, like we did in December and January, but I really think that wood is mostly burned, already. 
Will there be some spike in cases from spring break, or will cases continue to decline on the same trajectory? 
  A small spike in positive tests in a population of young people, without a subsequent rise in hospitalizations and deaths would lead to a declaration of victory by the Governor of Texas. "Texas is Open For Business" would be declared. 
  That would be a big advantage for the Texas economy, and it needs it, as the economic damage from the big freeze is still being assessed. Texas needs a big infrastructure rebuild over this decade, and it needs an economy to do that.

All marketing oversells benefits and undersells risks. Vaccine makers really, really want to give the impression that their vaccines have led to herd immunity, as it rapidly emerges anyway. Take 5000 units per day of vitamin-D to support your immune system, with or without vaccine! 
Number of Injuries Reported to CDC After COVID Vaccines Climbs by Nearly 4,000 in One Week

  Inflating asset bubbles has been the psycho-economics game to keep wealth perceptions cheerful in the investor class. 
"Everything Bubble" is the term. "Inflation" measures are things like toilet paper, gasoline and hamburger at street level, so inflation of housing, stock and bond "valuations" is not "inflationary". They don't need to be deflationary as long as the bubbles can be maintained, or rolled over into some other dominant asset, something without inherent "valuation" metrics can serve; something like Bitcoin, perhaps...
​  ​They know they can rig the bitcoin market with their big megaphone, at least for a while. And they have done it loudly and clearly. But when they want to take profits and get some despised fiat dollars for their bitcoin, as they all will, because that’s what they’re in business to do, who will be there to buy?
​  ​These are big positions, and they’re tough to get out of without blowing a huge hole into the price, that then triggers a cascade of selling. And when this happens, there is suddenly no liquidity, and the bottom falls out. Bitcoin has become legendary for this.
​  ​But now the amounts are much bigger. So maybe they’re hoping that, when demand suddenly vanishes, the despised Fed will step in and bail them out of their bitcoin by buying their bitcoin and handing them billions of despised fiat dollars in order to prevent their highly leveraged and interconnected funds from taking down the financial system or whatever.
​  ​And that day, ladies and gentlemen, the day that the Fed bails out the biggest most leveraged bitcoin gamblers because the price collapse of bitcoin is threatening to take down their highly leveraged funds, thereby threatening to collapse the entire financial system – that will be the day bitcoin has truly arrived.

​  Bitcoin uses as much electricity as The Netherlands, and is gaining on the larger economies, because it must use exponentially more electricity as the remaining mathematical coin-solutions become more and more complicated and expensive to derive, and the entire global Bitcoin-mining computer enterprise has to keep up and confirm every new transaction. 

  There is a limited number of Bitcoin "solutions" remaining, each more energy-demanding than the last. When will the last solution be derived, and at what energy cost? Is that even going to be possible? If not, when will the game be over, and who will hold the empty bag?​
There are only 21 million bitcoins that can be mined in total.
Once bitcoin miners have unlocked all the bitcoins, the planet's supply will essentially be tapped out.
As of February 24, 2021, 18.638 million bitcoin have been mined, which leaves 2.362 million yet to be introduced into circulation.
Once all Bitcoin has been mined the miners will still be incentivized to process transactions with fees.

Awaiting Next Crisis


  1. Seems to me that if Covid primarily killed old people then death rates in the near future should be lower by the numbers killed by Covid.
    But then those premature deaths due to Covid might be offset by all the people who didn't  die of the flu in 2020.
    Seems to me that medical statistics should be added to the list of things  you don't want to see being made along with sausage and bills in congress.

  2. Happy birthday to your wife. My wife used to sell books to school librarians and she always used to tell me what nice people they were and I'm sure your wife fits into that category as well.

    1. Yep, my wife is very nice, and helpful, and everybody likes her.

  3. Not only nice, librarians also respect our rights to privacy. In our town in California they were not keeping records of what readers had checked out in the past to forestall warrants requesting the reading history of citizens.

  4. Jenny had a happy birthday.
    There is more good perspective in today's post.
    I think we will understand this battle to control COVID treatment options better in retrospect, but I may be wrong on that.