Scapegoating social gatherings
With Thanksgiving on the horizon, politicians and public health officials have warned against gatherings among family and friends, calling them a major driver of new coronavirus infections. And they are right that you should minimize your risk this week.
Data on infections, however, suggests that the biggest drivers of infections are not small gatherings, but rather the usual culprits: long-term care facilities, food processing plants, prisons, restaurants and bars.
So why have social gatherings become such a popular target for politicians? In part because they are the path of least resistance.
For some politicians, it’s easier to point to the individual actions of private citizens rather than enact the politically fraught public health rules that may actually make a difference, like closing businesses and mandating mask-wearing.
In some states, this disconnect is leading to draconian policies that aren’t backed by science. Vermont, for example, has prohibited neighbors from meeting for a socially distanced and masked walk, but is permitting them to dine indoors at restaurants before 10 p.m. Minnesota has barred people from different households from meeting indoors and outdoors, even though evidence has consistently shown outdoor events to be relatively safe.
My colleague Apoorva Mandavilli, who reported this story for The Times, said the takeaway should not be that celebrating Thanksgiving is safe this year.
“What the story is saying is that social gatherings are not the primary source of the spread,” Apoorva said. “But we can also do our part, and especially now that we’re in the situation where the virus is everywhere, really, staying home is the safest thing to do.”
More good vaccine news
The drugmaker AstraZeneca announced that an early analysis of late-stage clinical trials showed that its coronavirus vaccine was effective in preventing Covid-19. The results suggest that the world may soon have three effective vaccines, after Pfizer and Moderna announced positive result this month.
Scientists from AstraZeneca, which has been developing the vaccine with the University of Oxford, said there were no serious safety issues with its product — a reassuring sign after trials were briefly paused this fall when a participant developed a neurological illness.
Participants in the company’s trial were given one of two regimens: either a half-dose followed by a full dose a month later, or two full doses a month apart. Researchers discovered that the half-dose regimen was 90 percent effective, while the double full-dose regimen was only 62 percent, for an average effectiveness of 70 percent.
However, it may be difficult to compare how well AstraZeneca’s vaccine works with those by Pfizer and Moderna, because the companies took different approaches to evaluating them. Researchers for AstraZeneca counted infections by swabbing participants weekly. That most likely would have turned up more infections than the trials run by Moderna and Pfizer, which tested only people who developed coronavirus symptoms.
One difference does stand out: AstraZeneca’s vaccine costs about $4, a fraction of the price of the others, and the company has pledged to make it available at cost around the world until at least July.
Nine states — Arizona, California, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Vermont — are reporting more than twice as many new cases a day as they did two weeks ago. Officials warn that it will only get worse if people disregard warnings about travel and gatherings during the holidays.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced new restrictions and issued a grim warning that the state was on track for a further resurgence of the virus.
Bulgaria, after enforcing a strict lockdown in the spring and largely containing the spread of the virus, is now confronting a surge in infections that is straining an already underfunded health care system.
Seoul is closing nightclubs and banning late-night restaurant dining as South Korea tightens guidelines to battle an uptick in infections.
What else we’re following
What you’re doing
We are not able to safely travel to visit our four adult kids on the West Coast, or their grandma in Ohio, for the holidays. So one of the things we plan on doing together is planting a red amaryllis flower bulb indoors on Thanksgiving. (We mailed them to each home.) We will keep track of how they are growing and blooming through these darkest months of the year.
— Malinda Bergamini Chapman, Ticonderoga, N.Y.
Let us know how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.
Email your thoughts to email@example.com.