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Monday, December 07, 2020

Covid Update: Media Still Failing

Another quick update to dispel some recent media insanity around Sweden.

People keep writing me to say "haha, Sweden was wrong! Even Sweden says Sweden was wrong now!"

So, I go look at the facts, and there's just nothing like that going on.

I'm not sure exactly who in Sweden might be saying what (for every news quote you might send me, there's a counter-quote somewhere too--news has stopped even pretending to deliver the truth and now is just full on taking anything and everything out of context in order to sell a pre-ordained impression), but the broad picture is:

Sweden is having a winter wave, as we expected might happen because herd immunity levels are higher in the winter for various reasons. And they're recommending people be a bit more careful than they were, to spread out the peak, but the people on the ground are reporting that nothing's changed and "the streets and shopping centers were just as crowded last weekend (after introduction of the new guidance) compared to the weekend before (before the new guidance)."

My sense is the media is trying to pre-frame the end of Sweden's second wave as "phew--good thing they locked down in time!" so they don't have to rationalize so hard on round two to explain why Sweden is doing about the same as everyone else despite staying mostly open.

But the reality is, Sweden's still not doing all that much, and I predict nonetheless their second wave will crest soon and it will be over there, as well as everywhere else that isn't kicking the can down the road with extreme lock-downs (since middle-of-the-road lock-downs don't seem terribly effective).

Here's the same chart I've been posting and watching since April (except that I recently added Norway since people feel the need to compare Sweden to Norway as if they are practically the same place--they're not):

Note there's a clear, remarkably tight cluster at the top (which people endlessly rationalize away as a set of coincidences instead of accepting herd immunity), and then some outliers below. Note that Germany is starting to catch up to the pack as I predicted. Note that Sweden is currently at the bottom of the main cluster. Yes, to say that again: Sweden is currently doing better in terms of total COVID deaths per-capita than most of the other countries I chose to follow back in April. Note that the US was doing better for a while, but then caught up. (Really the US is just having a number of independent first-waves, and now some independent second waves, because it is a large and diverse country, so what we see there is an average much like we would see if we averaged all of the EU into one line.)

Here is the same chart shown on a deaths-per-day basis, linear scale, which makes it easier to compare the second waves:

Note all appear to be cresting lower than their first waves (as predicted) except Germany (as predicted) who had a very low first wave. (I don't recall making any predictions about Norway since I haven't been following it, though I probably would have incorrectly predicted Norway to have a catch-up wave eventually.)

The news is hyping the cases, but cases is still a stupid metric for the same reasons it was back in April, plus some new ones (like excessive PCR cycles -- it will be interesting to see what Florida's new PCR cycle reporting requirement reveals).

Ultimately even looking at reported COVID deaths is not the best metric -- longer term total excess deaths will be more indicative of a country's full scorecard handling of COVID-19. When I have a little more time, I will pull that data together in a non-stupid way (because so far all the sites I've seen have made one stupid mistake or another, like cutting flu seasons in half for one country but not another and then comparing...).

Anyway, the bottom line is: Sweden is still more open than almost anywhere else, and is still doing better than most.

My personal expectation is that COVID will be mostly gone by spring regardless of vaccines, except in the places that have really held it back like New Zealand, Hawaii, and the like. Will this make the latter the winners in the end? Maybe -- we'll see how long term total excess deaths pan out, and how well the vaccines work, and all of that. It is my guess that Sweden will have low uptake of the vaccines and so will continue to play the control in this long term experiment, but that's more politics and culture than science so who knows. (The political pressure for them not to do that will be huge, since if they instead fall in line then we can squarely claim COVID ended because of the vaccines and so lock-downs were necessary and it all wraps up nice and neat. Whereas if Sweden eschews the vaccines but it blows over there anyway, then we'll probably see some crazy rationalizations about Sweden benefiting from vaccine-induced global herd immunity or some such nonsense that most people will believe anyway because they're sheep.)

In other news, the UK has started sending everybody(?) 400IU/day of vitamin D, which is better than nothing but about 10x less than they should be, imo. HCQ continues to look very efficacious, but has been all but banned anywhere that can afford more profitable, less effective drugs. Some day someone will look back and count all the lives lost because we were too greedy to use cheap, effective solutions. And in the meanwhile most people will continue to believe they don't work (and some will die) because for some reason they still trust the news.

As with my last post, I'm not really interested in rebuttals anymore. If you would like to reply with testable predictions, I'm happy to hear them, however. (Note in the above, as far as predictions go, everything hinges on Sweden eschewing vaccines. If they don't, then both models produce the same outcome! Hence the political pressure for them to fall in line -- you've got to thrust a sword through Schrodinger's box before you open it!)

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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com