2:00PM Water Cooler 2/9/2023

2:00PM Water Cooler 2/9/2023 1

With all NPIs, when you start digging into the research evidence, the picture isn’t always clear cut. Take masks. From a basic science perspective, masks work—they filter the particles that we breathe. High filtration masks, like N95s, work better than surgical or cloth masks. Masking provides quite a bit of protection for the people wearing them against respiratory diseases, and can also help reduce transmission from an infected person to others.

In theory, then, if every person in the world had worn a high-quality mask 24/7 for a few weeks the COVID-19 pandemic would have been, if not over, then at least substantially slowed. But in practice, the intervention that we implemented was not some perfect ideal of mask-wearing, in which everyone consistently wore a well-fitting N95 in every situation. During surges, not everyone masked indoors, not everyone wore N95s, and those who did wear a mask may have worn them imperfectly (we’ve all seen people wearing masks with their noses uncovered, or even with their masks hanging around their necks).

I think the picture is quite “clear cut.” “We” ran a massive social experiment — much like we’ve done with vax — to see if we can degrade the basic physics of masks to a level of non-performance by having WHO and CDC initially discourage their use, then periodically and randomly shifting policy, never providing simple instructions for purchase or use, not having public figures model them, allowing a constant drumbeat of business-friendly punditry to discourage them, and ulimately by shaming and mocking mask-wearers. The experiment, obviously, was a massive success, and a template for future mitigations for climate change. Of course, we could simply have mailed them out to every American citizen, along with test kits, but that would be far too simple.

• Maskstravaganza: “How Liberals Killed Masking (Unlocked)” (podcast) [Death Panel]. “We look back at how such a basic intervention as masking during a pandemic became increasingly scrutinized, undermined, and ultimately stigmatized in mainstream discourse over the last three years.” • Good, but long and complex. It occurs to me that we’ve had two other long deliverables lately: The first being Jeff Gerth’s four-part demolition of RussiaGate in the Columbia Journalism Review; the second being Hersh’s 5000-word Nord Stream story. These two stories, and Death Panel’s podcast are all works of contemporary history; there seems to be a demand for a “usable past,” one at least not dominated by bullshit. These three pieces — by no means CT — are all, in their own way, examples of how to analyze a SCAD (“State Crime Against Democracy”), though the State has a different role to play in each sequence of events.

• Maskstravaganza:

At least Maddow could have mentioned the only masker was Sanders.

* * *

• “FDA nixes EUA ambitions for Eiger’s COVID treatment, proposes full approval pathway instead” [Fierce Pharma]. ”

In March, Eiger reported that peginterferon lambda reduced the risk of ER visits longer than six hours by 50% compared to placebo. A total of 84% of treated patients were at least partially vaccinated and the company said that the treatment was also found to be effective against the Omicron variant. Regardless, Eiger says the FDA relayed that an EUA was unlikely to be granted in the ‘current context of the pandemic.’ Instead, the agency suggested the company consider an additional pivotal trial so it could take the full approval route, unlikely to be the most tantalizing option given the cost of a new trial. The company said that as a result, it’s considering all options for peginterferon lambda, including emergency authorization outside of the U.S. and ‘strategic options for continued development’ of the therapy. ‘ • What the hell does the “current context of the pandemic” mean?

* * *

• Hospital Infection Control at it again:

* * *

• Ouch:

A toned-down version of the “birds aren’t real” CT, perhaps.

Case Data

NOT UPDATED BioBot wastewater data from February 6:

2:00PM Water Cooler 2/9/2023 2

For now, I’m going to use this national wastewater data as the best proxy for case data (ignoring the clinical case data portion of this chart, which in my view “goes bad” after March 2022, for reasons as yet unexplained). At least we can spot trends, and compare current levels to equivalent past levels.

• “Is wastewater the answer for tracking all disease outbreaks?” [Jeremy Faust, Inside Medicine]. “The problem is that a neat correlation between detected levels of SARS-CoV-2 RNA and case counts has not been precisely worked out. Even if a good correlation can be worked out, the ratios may change with new variants and other factors. Still, qualitatively, it’s pretty clear that when SARS-CoV-2 wastewater levels go up, reported Covid-19 case counts follow suit. That knowledge has been powerful. The CDC now has a national wastewater surveillance system online that anyone can browse.” • Yeah CDC has such a site, and users can indeed browse it. When it’s up. Or when the data from the treatment plant in your area isn’t greyed out. Or if you don’t live in the South, which is hardly participating in the program at all. Given CDC’s performance for everything else in the pandemic, I wouldn’t be surprised if they put some nimrod in charge, to sabotage the program with bad management.


Here is CDC’s interactive map by county set to community transmission (the “red map,” which is the map CDC wants only hospitals to look at, not you.) The map is said to update Monday-Friday by 8 pm:

2:00PM Water Cooler 2/9/2023 3

The previous map:

2:00PM Water Cooler 2/9/2023 4

NOTE: I shall most certainly not be using the CDC’s new “Community Level” metric. Because CDC has combined a leading indicator (cases) with a lagging one (hospitalization) their new metric is a poor warning sign of a surge, and a poor way to assess personal risk. In addition, Covid is a disease you don’t want to get. Even if you are not hospitalized, you can suffer from Long Covid, vascular issues, and neurological issues. That the “green map” (which Topol calls a “capitulation” and a “deception”) is still up and being taken seriously verges on the criminal.


From the Walgreen’s test positivity tracker, published February 9:

2:00PM Water Cooler 2/9/2023 5

-0.6%. Still on the high plateau, equal to previous peaks.

• “Almost 1,000 people wait up to 13 hours for COVID-19 testing in Maryvale” [Arizona Central]. • Over, totally over.


SITE DOWN Wastewater data (CDC), February 4:

2:00PM Water Cooler 2/9/2023 6

Less grey, though still too much; a lot less red.

February 3:

2:00PM Water Cooler 2/9/2023 7

NOT UPDATED And MWRA data, February 4:

2:00PM Water Cooler 2/9/2023 8

Minor uptick, north and south.


Lambert here: It’s beyond frustrating how slow the variant data is. Does nobody in the public health establishment get a promotion for tracking variants? Are there no grants? Is there a single lab that does this work, and everybody gets the results from them? [grinds teeth, bangs head on desk]. UPDATE Yes. See NC here on Pango. Every Friday, a stately, academic pace utterly incompatible with protecting yourself against a variant exhibiting doubling behavior.

Variant data, national (Walgreens), January 30:

2:00PM Water Cooler 2/9/2023 9

Lambert here: XBB overtakes BQ. CH down, reassuring, because a Tweet in Links, January 11 from GM drew attention to it (“displays such a high relative growth advantage”) and in Water Cooler, January 18, from Nature: “CH.1.1 and CA.3.1 variants were highly resistant to both monovalent and bivalent mRNA vaccinations.”

Lambert here: Wierdly, the screen shot about has been replaced today by data from “10/7/2022.” (It’s clearly not current data; BQ.1* and XBB do not dominate.

NOT UPDATED Variant data, national (CDC), January 14 (Weighted Estimates Only*):

2:00PM Water Cooler 2/9/2023 10

BQ.1* takes first place. XBB coming up fast. (For BQ.1/XBB and vaccine escape, see here.) CH.* now appears, a week after Walgreens. Here is Region 2, the Northeast:

2:00PM Water Cooler 2/9/2023 11

CH.1* appears, but slightly below the national average. XBB utterly dominates, making clear that Region 2 (New England) varies greatly from the national average.

Here are all the regions, in a series of uncaptioned, legend-free and confusing pie charts:

2:00PM Water Cooler 2/9/2023 12

It almost looks like, with respect to variants at least, there several pandemics, not one. The Northeast, where XBB (blue) dominates, and the other regions, with different proportions of other variants, but XBB not dominating. Odd. (Yes, I know the colors are the same as on the bar chart above. However, there are two charts, one bar, one pie, and on a laptop one cannot see both at same time. Just another example of CDC blithering at the level of the smallest detail.)

NOTE * CDC used to have a “Nowcast Off” radio button, which I used because of my bad experience with CDC models like Nowcast. CDC explains (I think) the change in the following note:

Weighted estimates (provided for all weeks except the most recent three weeks) are variant proportions that are based on empirical (observed) genomic sequencing data. These estimates are not available for the most recent weeks because of the time it takes to generate the unweighted data, including sample collection, specimen treatment, shipping, analysis, and upload into public databases.

Sublineages with weighted estimates less than 1% of all circulating variants are combined with their parent lineage. When the weighted estimate of a sublineage crosses the 1% threshold and has substitutions in the spike protein that could affect vaccine efficacy, transmission, or severity, it may be separated from its parent lineage and displayed on its own in the variant proportions data.

Nowcast estimates (provided for the most recent three weeks when the “Nowcast on” option is selected below) are model-based projections of variant proportions for the most recent weeks to enable timely public health action. CDC uses the Nowcast to forecast variant proportions before the weighted estimates are available for a given week.

Someone who can interpret The Great Runes can look at this; but I don’t have time today.

As a check, since New York is a BQ.1* hotbed, New York hospitalization, updated February 8:

2:00PM Water Cooler 2/9/2023 13

Hospitalization data for Queens, updated February 5:

2:00PM Water Cooler 2/9/2023 14


Death rate (Our World in Data):

2:00PM Water Cooler 2/9/2023 15

Total: 1,137,929 – 1,136,960 = 969 (969 * 365 = 353,685 deaths per year, today’s YouGenicist™ number for “living with” Covid (quite a bit higher than the minimizers would like, though they can talk themselves into anything. If the YouGenicist™ metric keeps chugging along like this, I may just have to decide this is what the powers-that-be consider “mission accomplished” for this particular tranche of death and disease).

It’s nice that for deaths I have a simple, daily chart that just keeps chugging along, unlike everything else CDC and the White House are screwing up or letting go dark, good job. (Though CDC may be jiggering the numbers soon. Lower, naturally.)

Stats Watch

Employment Situation: “United States Initial Jobless Claims” [Trading Economics]. “The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose to 196 thousand in the week ending February 4th, from the previous week’s nine-month low of 183 thousand and above market expectations of 190 thousand. Still, the latest figure suggested the labor market remained tight, which could contribute further to inflationary pressure in the world’s largest economy.”

* * *

The Bezzle: “‘Sam? Are you there?!’ The bizarre and brutal final hours of FTX” [Financial Times]. Wild, wild stuff; I would imagine somebody’s pitching it in Hollywood right now. “‘Nobody had gone through a disaster before, so people were breaking psychologically,’ said someone close to them. ‘It was never more apparent to me how young all of them were than in the 72-hour period before bankruptcy.’”

The Bezzle: AI = BS:

The Bezzle: AI = BS:

The Bezzle: “Big Tech and Generative AI” [Tanay Jaipuria, Tanay’s Newsletter]. Author is a VC. “Today, I’ll discuss what the big tech companies – Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple – had to say about their plans for Generative AI in their most recent earnings call last week.” In particular, Google: “[CEO Pichai] also hinted that their most powerful language models will come to search in some experimental formats. Language models like BERT and MUM have improved Search results for four years now, enabling significant ranking improvements and multimodal search like Google Lens. Very soon, people will be able to interact directly with our newest, most powerful language models as a companion to Search in experimental and innovative ways. Stay tuned.” • Most would agree that over the last four years Google Search results have gone right down the crapper. Thanks, AI!

The Bezzle: “Google confirms AI-generated content isn’t against Search guidelines” [9to5 Google]. “In a new post to the Google Search Central blog, Google clarifies its stance on AI-generated content and how Search treats that content. The short version is that Google Search guidelines don’t directly ban AI-generated content. Rather, Google will reward ‘high-quality content, however it is produced.’ The company defines ‘high-quality content’ based on ‘expertise, experience, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness,’ or ‘E-E-A-T.’” Which explains why NC gets no Google hits, I suppose. More: “While Google won’t penalize AI-generated content directly, it does say that using AI to create content that carries the ‘primary purpose of manipulating ranking in search results’ is still a violation of policy, but that not all use of automation is considered spam.” • Swell. Let the games begin. (Does make you wonder if Google plans to auto-generate mountains of AI-generated crap by itself, then search that, in a sort of closed loop. Certainly simpler and cheaper than crawling a bunch of stupid websites.

* * *

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 74 Greed (previous close: 74 Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 79 (Extreme Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Feb 9 at 1:41 PM EST.

Our Famously Free Press

Day One of the Hersh Watch:

Nothing from state media as of this writing:

2:00PM Water Cooler 2/9/2023 16

“Why Substack?” [Seymour Hersh, Substack]. “Here, I have the kind of freedom I’ve always fought for. I’ve watched writer after writer on this platform as they’ve freed themselves from their publishers’ economic interests, run deep with stories without fear of word counts or column inches, and—most importantly—spoken directly to their readers. And that last point, for me, is the clincher. I’ve never been interested in socializing with pols or cozying up to money types at the self-important cocktail get togethers—the star-fucking parties, I always liked to call them. I’m at my best when I swig cheap bourbon with the servicemen, work over the first-year law firm associates for intel, or swap stories with the junior minister from a country most people can’t name. That’s always been my style. And as it turns out, it’s the ethos of this online community as well. What you’ll find here is, I hope, a reflection of that freedom. The story you will read today is the truth as I worked for three months to find, with no pressure from a publisher, editors or peers to make it hew to certain lines of thought—or pare it back to assuage their fears. Substack simply means reporting is back . . . unfiltered and unprogrammed—just the way I like it.” • OK, but now let’s have a second source.

Class Warfare

“More Than 400 Writers Guild Members Call on MSNBC to Reach ‘Fair Contract’ With Union” [Hollywood Reporter]. “The Writers Guild of America East is putting some additional pressure on MSNBC to expedite contract negotiations. More than 400 members of the union — including star members Tina Fey, Lilly Wachowski and David Simon — are calling on the cable news brand to agree ‘to a fair contract that includes the pay and protections [MSNBC union members] deserve’ in a petition released on Wednesday. The WGA East’s bargaining unit at MSNBC, a group of more than 300 writers, producers, fact-checkers and others, has been negotiating with MSNBC and NBCUniversal management for over a year on their first contract since the union’s certification via a National Labor Relations Board election in August 2021.”

“The Big MOOP at Burning Man” [New York Magazine]. MOOP = “Matter Out of Place.” Interesting description of Burning Man: “MOOP of a different sort threatens the playa: a proposed geothermal exploration project about ten miles from the dry lake bed where tens of thousands of techno-utopianists and Silicon Valley executives in booty shorts gather each summer…. The festival began in 1986 with a small crowd watching as an eight-foot effigy (the “man” of Burning Man) was set ablaze on a San Francisco beach; today it’s a cultural institution not unlike Disney, if Disney Adults were into ethical non-monogamy and psilocybin. There are offshoot Burning Man festivals in Africa and Asia, regional “leadership summits” for Burners, a journal in which attendees ruminate on the festival’s “diaspora” and a massive economy of RV vendors and private-jet charters expressly affiliated with the Nevada event. In Black Rock City, no money exchanges hands and the tenets of radical self-reliance and decommodification reign supreme. A “gifting economy” encourages participants to bring supplies — sunscreen, egg sandwiches, back rubs — which are presented to and traded among revelers. But Burning Man the organization, which has expanded to become a de facto manager of the region as much as the producer of a yearly eight-day rave, exerts significant cash investment and political muscle to further its interests.”

“How To Be A Scab” 101:

News of the Wired

“I, too, have flown a giant balloon over North Carolina” [North Carolina Rabbit Hole]. “Today, stratospheric balloon flights are an incredibly common thing. Meteorologists around the world launch them twice a day from some 900 locations to make precise weather observations and forecasts. Detailed information on wind patterns make it possible to know where balloons will end up. Even so, flights can easily go awry. The Chinese government’s official excuse for their balloon’s walkabout over the United States was straight out of the Diplomatic Mission to Alderaan Playbook. China stated that its ‘research’ balloon had merely had drifted into this country’s airspace by mistake—a mistake that’s apparently occurred several times before. Even if this seems ludicrous, it is possible. I know this. Because nearly a decade ago, I too lost a stratospheric balloon over North Carolina.”

* * *

Contact information for plants: Readers, feel free to contact me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, to (a) find out how to send me a check if you are allergic to PayPal and (b) to find out how to send me images of plants. Vegetables are fine! Fungi and coral are deemed to be honorary plants! If you want your handle to appear as a credit, please place it at the start of your mail in parentheses: (thus). Otherwise, I will anonymize by using your initials. See the previous Water Cooler (with plant) here. From RM:

2:00PM Water Cooler 2/9/2023 17

RM writes: “Ice fog last night at 8 above this morning.” We have seen this tree before, but this is lovely shot. I often return to the same site over and over again.

* * *

Readers: Water Cooler is a standalone entity not covered by the annual NC fundraiser. So if you see a link you especially like, or an item you wouldn’t see anywhere else, please do not hesitate to express your appreciation in tangible form. Remember, a tip jar is for tipping! Regular positive feedback both makes me feel good and lets me know I’m on the right track with coverage. When I get no donations for five or ten days I get worried. More tangibly, a constant trickle of donations helps me with expenses, and I factor in that trickle when setting fundraising goals:

Here is the screen that will appear, which I have helpfully annotated:

2:00PM Water Cooler 2/9/2023 18

If you hate PayPal, you can email me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, and I will give you directions on how to send a check. Thank you!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email