Letter To The Editor: On stopping The Spread Of COVID And Misinformation In Los Alamos

By CHARLIE STRAUSS
Los Alamos

Judging from recent letters to the editor, there seems to be people who question the effectiveness of masks and vaccines because they don’t understand the point of these precautions. I’ll take a stab at explaining this from a different perspective.

Every person that dies of COVID, got the disease from someone else, who in all likelihood, did not die of COVID. And every person who has gotten COVID has gotten it from someone else. and so on. Many, perhaps as many as half, don’t even know they had it, yet they spread it.

So if you have had COVID, then, on average, you are personally the agent that caused the infections and deaths of exponentially more people downstream. If you took actions to lessen your own chance of infection and the chance you would spread it, then good for you; your conscience can be clear since you did what we all expect from people who care about others.

Mr. Day’s letters to the Daily Post, audaciously argue that since the rest of us have kept the infections down via masks and vaccinations we should not be indignant when he encourages others to freeload on that and forego precautions. His prior letters were refuted due to his arithmetic errors and parroted internet memes. His latest letter fares no better on perpetuating false information.  https://ladailypost.com/letter-to-the-editor-mask-mandates/

Notably, he cites a quickly retracted study that erroneously claimed masks cause harmful CO2 inhalation.

https://www.reuters.com/article/factcheck-masks-children/fact-check-masks-do-not-expose-children-to-dangerous-levels-of-carbon-dioxide-idUSL1N2P929B

Mr. Day compares a few infected school children to removing several sheets of paper from reams stacked 35” high. He considers this a visual example of the insignificance.

But he missed the point. Pandemics are an exponential spread. Disease experts like to talk about things like R-naught but the simple version is that when each infected person can infect more than one other person on average then you will get exponential growth. Diseases are suppressed when that person-to-person amplification is removed. Things like a factor of 2 in the subsequent number of people one person directly infects are staggeringly large changes in the exponent.

Bizarrely, Mr. Day calculates masks would reduce his chance of infection and then blasts this as insignificant. Yet even much smaller changes can easily be the difference between a growing and diminishing spread. This is why simple things like masks and outdoor meetings matter a lot. And while it’s useful to look at the number of children infected in a closely coupled group (a school) it is perhaps even more useful to simply count the number of quelled outbreaks in schools. It’s not just about how many pages of the ream were infected but how easy it was to nip the exponential growth both in the school, and the follow-on in social groups of the parents and staff.

Other arguments in Letters-to-Editor assert that if vaccines are not 100% effective they are not worth having, again missing the same point. Vaccines don’t prevent you from being exposed, nor prevent your cells from being invaded or prevent the virus replicating within your body or even prevent you from expelling virus particles. But they reduce the effectiveness of the virus, the probability of cellular infection, the amount of replication, and duration and magnitude to which a person can infect others.  This is how convert this from exponential growth to decay.

While that’s all you should need to care about, there is an incentive for the individual; with a lower replication rate in your body your chance of death is lower.  The CDC finds infected vaccinated people die at least 11 times less often than infected unvaccinated.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/09/10/moderna-most-effective-COVID-vaccine-studies/ The disparity is even larger looking at hospitalization. Even that is likely an underestimate since the reduced symptoms may mean the infected vaccinated people go uncounted and it appears that cases with preexisting conditions that dominate the hospitalized.

But the best news is that those vaccinated folks are spreading the disease to fewer people, perhaps none at all, and that is keeping this from reaching overwhelming levels. Their consciences can rest easy compared to the unvaccinated person who will be responsible for all the downstream infections and deaths they caused, as well as the risks and fears they imposed on everyone, including tying up the health care system from delivering care to non-COVID patients.

Perhaps too much emphasis is on the lethality metric. Pathogens have other effects.  Rubella, for example, can cause encephalitis and major birth defects. COVID-19 is suspected to cause lasting effects on the brain, heart and other organs, and it is plausible this will increase public health care costs for decades to come.  50% of COVID survivors have lingering symptoms beyond 6 months.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/long-covid-50-percent-lingering-symptoms/2021/11/12/e6655236-4313-11ec-9ea7-3eb2406a2e24_story.html  Similarly, Measles cases are up and vaccinations are down this year, a likely consequence of the vocal anti-vaccination proponents.

I’m not sure I should even address the folks that say masks trap bacteria. Gosh… indeed they do. And where did that bacteria come from? Aren’t you glad it got trapped? They also trap viruses in water droplets too. That’s the point.  (And If you are still alarmed, perhaps going without pants and underwear is also the right decision for you.)

There’s all sorts of social compacts we agree to that subgroups both large and small don’t like.   For many many types of problems, it’s better that we all do something one way than if everyone chooses their own approach. I’m glad others drive on the right side of the road; and it’s nicer when property owners pay bills for the sewage system rather than front yard septic tanks or the canyon.

So once we have a large consensus on the path forward, it’s time to stop sabotaging the accepted plan even if you think you have a better idea. It’s hard to sympathize with those encouraging freeloading on Los Alamos’s high vaccination, especially when arguing it’s a “social liberty” but not a social responsibility. https://ladailypost.com/letter-to-the-editor-week-2-seeking-social-cohesion-around-social-liberty/  One can hold one’s own council, and choose one’s own actions, but repeatedly spreading false information or failing to appreciate that it’s about preventing spread not just one’s individual risk, can cause actual harm to a community. Going past reasonable disagreement to sabotaging the success of a plan in progress unilaterally takes away everyone’s freedoms, and literally puts many people at risk.

As for personal freedom, everyone will be personally more free when this pandemic ends. The sooner that happens, the sooner we’ll all agree it’s better to have these restrictions on “social liberty” behind us. Unless someone can actually implement a better idea than vaccines and masks, it’s the folks that fight these that prolong this and they are taking away everyone’s freedoms and causing more illness, death and lingering ailments, lower US productivity, and high costs for everyone.  

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