How to complicate a public health message

If you take public transportation in Sweden, you have to wear a mask to keep from spreading Covid. Unless if it’s between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. or between 6 p.m. and 7.a.m. Or unless you have a reserved seat. Or unless you were born after 2004.  

I believe that wins Sweden the prize for the most complicated Covid regulation on this planet. Or any other. 

There is a certain logic to this. Germs don’t move from person to person outside of rush hour. They’re also very fond of reserved seats, so if you have one they’ll stay with you and you don’t need a mask. Besides, you spent extra money for that seat, and germs travel in inverse proportion to how much money people have. 

If you were born after 2004, your math isn’t up to figuring this out. Automatic exemption. 

I’ve heard a rumor that the Covid virus doesn’t like pink. I’m not a big fan myself, so I can understand this. So if you wear pink–well, that’s not enshrined in law yet. I’m just saying: You might not need a mask then either. 

Relevant but slightly odd photo: This is Fast Eddie (he sneaks into the text later) in motion.

Yes, Sweden’s made an admirable mess of its public health advice. Its public health agency started out by telling people that masks weren’t effective against Covid. In fact, it said, they could be dangerous. In April, the chief epidemiologist wrote the European Centre for Disease Control (which is based in Stockholm), warning it not to recommend masks. It would imply that “the spread is airborne,” which would “seriously harm further communication and trust.”

To hell with science, we’ve got to protect communication and trust.

And when those annoying scientists established that the spread is primarily airborne? It stuck by its wrong advice with admirable pigheadedness. While other countries began emphasizing masks, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist was still swearing blind not only that the case for them was weak but that they could actually increase the spread.

In December, the country finally required masks on public transportation. Except when–

Yeah. See above. You can’t expect me to retype all that. 

About half of the country’s commuters still hop on their bus or train barefaced–including the head of the public health agency, who forgot that it was rush hour. 

In one municipality after another, some bureaucrat will still pop up and forbid employees to wear masks–in schools, in libraries, in places of that sort.  Because if masks were dangerous once, they’re dangerous now. Eventually the bureaucrat has to back down and the whole Punch and Judy show starts somewhere else. I don’t know that anyone’s calculated how many people are exposed to the virus while everyone waits for the bureaucrat to back down.

So basically, when the government’s advice was wrong, the format was right: It was straightforward and simple and it gave people something they could do, which is how public health advice should work. When their advice was right, though, the format became incomprehensible.

My thanks to Bear at Scribblans for giving me a shove in the direction of this fast-moving train. 

 

Covid clarity, British style

On Monday night, the government announced that if you’re over 70 and haven’t been contacted about vaccination, you can sign up in one of three ways, the third one being by calling your GP. 

The next night, GPs in the southwest said (by way of the nightly news), Please don’t call us. We’re already coming unglued. 

It’s a small thing (unless you’re trying to hold a GP’s office together), but it’s a reminder that in spite of the vaccinations going well, we’re still governed by incompetents. 

 

Clarity, South Korean style

South Korea has started testing symptomatic pets for Covid after finding its first pet-case, in a kitten. Animals that test positive will have to be kept at home for fourteen days, or if the owner is in quarantine (the country has quarantine facilities for anyone who tests positive), they’ll be kept in a quarantine kennel or cattery. 

The resident cat here at Notes, Fast Eddie, has written a very forthright letter to his Member of Parliament to protest, and also Larry the Cat, who works inside and outside 10 Downing Street. I tried to explain that South Korea’s a whole different country from Britain but he doesn’t see what difference it should make. 

You never win an argument with a cat.  

 

Hopeful things that aren’ vaccines

In response to a recent post, Mabel Kwong commented on the need to not just vaccinate against Covid but also treat it, so I’m including one potential treatment and other ways of responding to it. 

An experimental antiviral drug developed in Canada could cut recovery time in Covid patients who aren’t hospitalized. It’s called peginterferon-lambda, and may it be as effective as it is hard to pronounce. 

In a small test, patients who got a single injection were four times more likely to recover within a week than people in the control group. They were also less likely to need hospital treatment. The effect was clearest in people with the highest viral loads–the people who are considered most likely to pass on the disease.

A large trial is planned.  

And doctors at Imperial College London and the headteacher at a secondary school argue that government guidance to schools should emphasize air quality, not just masks and hand washing. They point out that the airline industry has taken the issue seriously and the risk of catching Covid on a flight is now lower than in an office building or a classroom. And I’ll go ahead and admit that this is news to me.

Airlines are circulating a mix of fresh and recycled air through High-Efficiency Particulate Air filters, and since I’m admitting ignorance, I might as well say that this is the first time I’ve known what HEPA stands for. 

Where permanent HEPA filters aren’t possible, portable ones can be used. 

There’s a lot of pressure on the government–understandably–to reopen the schools. If there’s any discussion about HEPA filters, or even opening the windows, it hasn’t leaked out yet.

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In the US, a study hints that banning evictions and utility shutdowns reduces the spread of Covid by 4% and deaths by 11%. 

The study can’t prove it, though. This isn’t the kind of thing where you can do a randomized study, assigning people to groups that either do or don’t get evicted and creating a placebo group that gets evicted but thinks it doesn’t. All the study could do was compare counties that banned evictions and utility shut-offs with ones that didn’t, so other factors might well have affected the numbers. 

Still, when you look at people going from living in apartments to sleeping in homeless shelters or moving in with family, both in overcrowded conditions–

Someone who wasn’t involved in the study but who got herself quoted anyway said, “Housing is healthcare.”