Sunday, May 31, 2020

Were Minneapolis Rioters Locals Or Imports?

The mayor of Minneapolis initially claimed that everyone arrested during the recent rioting was from outside the area, which would be a spectacular claim if true. Unfortunately, it turned out this was not the case, something the local Fox affiliate discovered when they looked at the Hennepin County jail log:
Of the 45 people arrested for rioting, unlawful assembly, stolen property, burglary or robbery on May 29 and May 30 so far, 38 had Minnesota addresses, according to publicly available jail records reviewed by FOX 9.
I did my own look at the numbers, and the Fox 9 figures check out. Miscommunication? Wishcasting? Who knows, but quite a pratfall to have to walk that back. I had thought at first maybe outsiders were being routed to other jails, but the about-face indicates the initial reports were wrong all along.

Update 2020-06-01: Churning some more numbers from the data set I picked up yesterday:
  • Of the 74 people arrested on riot-related charges (as set out in the Fox 9 criteria), 63 were from Minnesota.
  • Of those 63 Gopher Staters, 36 were from the Twin Cities, but 27 — nearly half — were from other towns. Violence tourism is apparently a Thing.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Re: “Science By Press Release”

I have written skeptical comments about Moderna’s press release announcing success for their SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, but a listener letter from Episode 617 of This Week In Virology has backed me off a little from that position. I quote the letter in full here:

Jon writes:

Dear professors,

For background, I’m a mathematical physicist by training, but I invest in small biotechs as a hobby.    I remember first hearing about mRNA vaccines on a TWIV circa 2012 when I was driving to the Buffalo airport, and surprising my brother-in-law (a prof at MD Anderson in infectious disease) that something like that could work.

However, I have a bone to pick with you guys about your coverage of Moderna’s decision to issue its press release.  For reasons not widely appreciated in academia, brief press releases of so-called “top line data” are a standard and necessary practice, not something that Moderna has schemed up.

Unlike academic researchers, publicly traded companies are ethically and legally bound to consider at what point withholding trial results becomes unfair to either new or existing shareholders, especially when issuing new shares, as Moderna is now doing.   (The $483M the government is chipping in sounds like a lot, until you consider that they are already ramping up in a hurry to manufacture 1B doses/year, all of them still subject to clinical risk.)  Furthermore, as you know, a full release may jeopardize the investigator’s ability to publish the results or present them at academic conferences. (Note that this study was conducted in collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease).

The relevant legal issues are explained in the security and exchange commission (SEC) exceptions to the embargo policy of the annual American Society of Clinical Oncology annual conference website.  The conference website states:

After the abstract is submitted to and prior to the abstract information being publicly released in conjunction with an ASCO Meeting, the author, coauthors, sponsor of the research, journalists, and others must not
  • make the information public, or provide it to others who may make it public (such as news media),
  • publish or present the information or provide it to others who may publish or present it,
  • use the information for trading in the securities of any issuer, or provide it to others who may use it for securities trading purposes.
with an exception for minimal “top line” data releases required to fulfill SEC regulations.

SEC [securities and exchange commission] Exceptions

A publicly traded company may determine that it is legally required to disclose certain data or other information from a confidential abstract in advance of the public release date to satisfy requirements of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission or a corresponding regulatory body in a country where the company’s stock is traded (collectively, “SEC”). This need typically arises when there is a substantial likelihood that the information would be considered by a reasonable investor in the company to significantly alter the total mix of information made available to the investor.

In general, the abstract is still eligible for inclusion in the ASCO Meeting provided that the company submits to ASCO, in advance of the release, a letter signed by the company’s legal counsel that contains the abstract title, indicates the format/nature of the public disclosure, and advises that (a) public disclosure of the information is necessary for the company to comply with applicable securities laws, and (b) the information disclosed is the minimum necessary for such compliance…..

The emphasis was added by me.  So professors shouldn’t blame the corporate world for the brevity of press releases, unless they’re willing to forgo giving presentations! Science and Nature are also well-known sticklers as well.

More vitally, in the case of COVID-19 we are no longer waiting for phase 3 data to be published before we build factories and ramp up production.  It is therefore is entirely appropriate from an economic viewpoint that investors and others get an early peek at the interim data to decide where to allocate capital.  (I also worry that hackers will get at the data for insider trading if it isn’t released publicly ASAP.)

I should also point out that the company gave a fascinating and still-available 1-hour public webcast (slides + audio, slides only)  to discuss the release, which included a Q&A from big investment companies.   Later that day there was another webcast from an investor conference, again publicly available.  Don’t be put off by the websites asking for an email, just put “small investor” in the “occupation” box (and a fake email address if you like) and they won’t bother you.  (I presume their lawyers might have required them to collect email addresses in case they accidentally made a gross misrepresentation, because I’ve never gotten spam from such webcasts in the companies I follow.) 



Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Distribution Shifts and Demand, Not Hoarding, Is Causing COVID-19-Related Shortages

Shortages, gluts, and the concomitantly higher (in most cases) prices for certain goods continue with no end in sight:
Yet, as Will Oremus writes in Medium, in the case of toilet paper, the problem mainly is one of distribution channels:

In short, the toilet paper industry is split into two, largely separate markets: commercial and consumer. The pandemic has shifted the lion’s share of demand to the latter. People actually do need to buy significantly more toilet paper during the pandemic — not because they’re making more trips to the bathroom, but because they’re making more of them at home. With some 75% of the U.S. population under stay-at-home orders, Americans are no longer using the restrooms at their workplace, in schools, at restaurants, at hotels, or in airports.

Georgia-Pacific, a leading toilet paper manufacturer based in Atlanta, estimates that the average household will use 40% more toilet paper than usual if all of its members are staying home around the clock. That’s a huge leap in demand for a product whose supply chain is predicated on the assumption that demand is essentially constant. It’s one that won’t fully subside even when people stop hoarding or panic-buying.
In other words, there is no easy way around this. With eggs, retailers are even taking a loss on pricing. This is largely due to commercial egg producers trimming flocks after a brutal 2019 where they "on average lost 2.7 cents per dozen eggs produced". And this despite cost decreases in feed and fuel, two of the biggest costs of the egg industry. It will take a substantial increase in the size of laying chicken flocks to make up the difference, yet as Bob Krouse of MPS Egg Farms says, "Once we're through the coronavirus, it'll be back to business as usual" — that is, he's not expanding.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Spanish COVID-19 IFR

Well, that's terrifying (as usual, emboldening mine):
Torcuato writes:
Dear Twivers,

The Spanish Government has just announced the initial, preliminary results of its ENECOVID 19 serologic survey for SARS-cov-2. It is based on random, representative sample of over 60000 people selected by the Instituto Nacional de Estadística (akin to the US Census Bureau).  Rigorous stuff.

Everyone had a “quick” antibody test and most also consented to blood draws for an Elisa test (only a quarter of the samples have been analyzed so far though, so the Elisa results do not feature in the preliminary analysis). These will be repeated two more times, in 3 and 6 weeks’ time.

Formal publication is expected soon, but here are some highlights (alas, sans confidence intervals):

-Overall IgG prevalence of 5% nationally.

-Significant variation across provinces (from 1.6% to 14.2%).

-Among people who reported experiencing anosmia at some point in the previous two months, IgG prevalence is 42% (!).

The infection mortality rate was not specified, but here is my back-of-the-envelope calculation:

-Given that the population is 47 million, about 2,35 million are estimated IgG positive.

-PCR-confirmed deaths stand at 27100 (as of 5/13), but there is unaccounted for excess mortality (6000 as of 4/28), so actual number could be as high as 33000.

-If we are not too fuzzy, this gives a rate between 1,15% and 1,4%.

As a note, they mentioned in the press conference that in those individuals with Elisa already performed, the two kind of tests agreed 97% of the time, if I recall correctly (given the low prevalence, presumably they agree on a lot of true negatives). Official press note in Spanish:
This is probably the highest IFR (infection fatality rate) I have seen published anywhere.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Lockdown Or Not, Here We Go

Copied and lightly edited from a Facebook comment of a day or three ago.
In the stupid wars between Team Open Everything Up Yesterday (which, in practice, seems to have few adherents) and Team Stay Locked Down Until All Vital Services Are Closed And Everyone Dies Of Starvation Or Cholera, it seems to me the message needs to be something like:

Once containment was no longer possible, we switched to mitigation. That meant "flattening the curve" to prevent overloading our hospitals and (hopefully) allowing them to treat patients not infected with COVID-19. We have largely achieved that.

However, we can't stay locked down forever. The economy is the means by which we survive. The plan from Team Lockdown appears to keep it throttled indefinitely until ... what? Until we get a vaccine? What if we never get one? What if it takes four years (a typical vaccine development-to-deployment timespan)? What if it takes a decade? What is our goal then? In that light, indefinite shutdown is a demand for impoverishment if not outright death. We cannot print money forever without consequences. As the slow-motion closures of the meatpacking industry show, there are real and even mortal threats to society if the *only* weapon in our arsenal is the shutdown.

Simply put, we have to stay open, in some wise. Cellphone data makes it clear that people are leaving home in large numbers. Not all will participate with a reopening, even if given the clearance to do so. Restaurants particularly will be brutalized by the coming months: it is unlikely people will patronize them as they did before, and with restaurant margins being so thin to begin with, a reduction to half or third capacity is simply business failure by another name. We could say much the same of many other personal services requiring close contact (nail salons, hair salons, massage parlors, etc.).

There will be deaths. We must be frank on this point. And, we cannot dismiss them lightly, as do the people who say, "COVID-19 kills fewer people than heart disease did last year (and is unlikely to reach that total), so why are we so concerned about it?" It has already killed nearly as many people as suicide in all of 2019 last year*. Should we take these presumptive (but unknown) deaths more seriously because of that?

Parting thoughts:

  • Everyone should wear masks in public, no exceptions. If you're asthmatic and can't wear one, you're already in a high-risk group for COVID-19 complications and shouldn't be in public to begin with.
  • Keep the most vulnerable quarantined.
Here we go.

* 47,173 deaths by suicide as of 2020-05-09 from the CDC website, versus 47,128 from COVID-19 (provisional).