Saturday, June 27, 2020

The Hucksters Con The Con Man: Viral Inactivation In A Phoenix Church Ain't All That

Trump's Tulsa rally having proven a disappointment (supposedly because of ticket sales from people hoping to minimize attendance), he moved on to a Phoenix church. Said church assured its membership that they had a state-of-the-art air purification system:
June 23, 2020 – On Sunday we made a post for our congregation to inform them we are doing everything we can to foster the cleanest, safest environment as we resume church services. We have heard Coronavirus and COVID used interchangeably. Our statement regarding the CleanAir EXP units used the word COVID when we should have said Coronavirus or COVID surrogates. We hope to alleviate any confusion we may have caused. We have done our best to direct all CleanAir EXP questions to the company executives who are best suited to answer and have provided the following clarity; CleanAir EXP is at the forefront of air and surface purification testing and technology – it is our understanding that they tested with a third-party Certified Biosafety Laboratory on the best coronavirus surrogates available. The company found that their technology leads to a 99.9% elimination of airborne coronavirus surrogates. So while they do not eliminate COVID-19, their coronavirus surrogate testing results are significant for the future of clean air.
We’re proud to be their customer! This is one of many examples of how we’re committed to fostering the cleanest, safest environment for our church congregation and facility event rentals.
So, how do it work?
When particulate levels reach an unacceptable amount, the sensor activates the EXP Purification Unit installed in the air duct of your HVAC system. ... These high-energy oxygen ions help cluster particulates together. This clustering effect allows your existing air filter to capture microscopic particles that would normally pass through.
In other words, the system generates ozone that is recirculated through the HVAC system (which can't possibly harm asthmatics at all) only when the sensors detect too many particulates in the air. In other words, by the time the system kicks in, viral particles have already spread.

What's ironic here is that a recent Nature paper found that far-UV light inactivates SARS-CoV-2 analogues (beta-HCoV-OC43, a virus that causes the common cold, and alpha HCoV-229E). This process "would result in ~90% viral inactivation in ~8 minutes", which isn't great for enclosed public spaces, but better than nothing. The manufacturer, Ushio, appears to be the first to market with a far-UV lamp of any kind for public space use. Something like this might make a substantial difference in disease spread, but once again, we don't have solid evidence that's the case. Inactivation in the lab is one thing, in indoors human settings another. The Phoenix church looks like they got conned by someone repurposing an anti-allergen system as sterilizing. (In fairness, ozone will inactivate viruses, but the time appears to be much longer [47-223 minutes] than for far-UV light.)

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The Case Against Cloth Masks

I have been a substantial advocate for mask-wearing in public places, even unto wearing cloth masks as a substitute for the much more effective N95 respirators. I even for a time sewed a number of cloth masks from the HK Mask site pattern. Much of this was based on research showing that surgical masks could reduce influenza transmission, and even homemade masks could be of some help in reducing disease spread.

Without getting too much into the weeds, it's useful to pause a moment and describe what it is we're trying to measure and do. Slate Star Codex in March ran a very good summary of the scientific literature regarding mask-wearing and why one might or might not choose to wear masks. The first order of business is defining how transmission occurs:

Epidemiologists used to sort disease transmission into three categories: contact, droplet, and airborne. Contact means you only get a disease by touching a victim. This could be literally touching them, or a euphemism for very explicit contact like kissing or sex. Droplet means you get a disease when a victim expels disease-laden particles into your face, usually through coughing, sneezing, or talking. Airborne means you get a disease because it floats in the air and you breathe it in. Transmission via “fomites”, objects like doorknobs and tables that a victim has touched and left their germs on, is a bonus transmission route that can accompany any of these other methods.

More recently, scientists have realized that droplet and airborne transmission exist along more of a spectrum. Droplets can stay in the air for more or less time, and spread through more or less volume of space before settling on the ground. The term for this new droplet-airborne spectrum idea is “aerosol transmission”. Diseases with aerosol transmission may be spread primarily through droplets, but can get inhaled along with the air too. This concept is controversial, with different authorities having different opinions over which viruses can be aerosolized. It looks like most people now believe aerosol transmission is real and applicable to conditions like influenza, SARS, and coronavirus.

Sifting through the papers, Scott Alexander writes,
I think the evidence above suggests masks can be helpful. Masked health care workers were less likely to catch disease than unmasked ones. Masked travelers on planes were less likely to catch disease than unmasked ones. In per protocol analysis, masked family members are less likely to catch disease from an index patient than unmasked ones. Laboratory studies confirm that masks block most particles. All of this accords with a common-sense understanding of droplet and aerosol transmission of disease.
And that's where I was as of March.

Never before in my 45 year career have I seen such a far-reaching public recommendation issued by any governmental agency without a single source of data or information to support it. This is an extremely worrisome precedent of implementing policies not based on science-based data or why they were issued without such data. ...

... When people state that CDC recommends cloth face mask use you have to understand there was much more going on than science and public health protection with this recommendation. I urge you go online to the CDC website yourself and you’ll not find one piece of information supporting that cloth masks are effective in reducing respiratory virus transmission.
Osterholm flat out accuses the CDC's stance change coming, in part, from arm twisting. ("Well, I signed [the MASKS4ALL open letter recommending public mask wearing] because of pressure from peers"). There's a great deal more there, which I recommend everyone read or listen to. I find him persuasive on the state of ignorance we live in regarding the efficacy of masks (and how much they can help in situations likely to transmit infection), but I will continue to wear masks in public and recommend others do as well.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Missing Space Between "Believe All Women" And "Believe Women"

I was seriously considering writing a rejoinder to the silly claims that #BelieveWomen didn't in fact mean #BelieveAllWomen coming from Susan Faludi in the NYT and Monica Hesse in the Washington Post. We are to believe these days that, apparently now that Joe Biden is the presumptive Democratic nominee, Tara Reade's accusations meet with condemnation and contempt if they aren't outright ignored.

Luckily for me, Cathy Young in Quillette wrote a fair piece examining Reade's accusations. She found them as vaporous as I do, unearthing a trail of exaggerations from a "serial fabulist", while noting Biden's hypocrisy in endorsing the convict-upon-accusation standard implicit in the "Dear Colleague" letter.) Excerpt:
Even leaving aside general questions about Reade’s credibility, some of which are discussed below, her specific story about Biden never made much sense. Reade has offered several iterations of what happened to her in 1993, when she was a staff assistant in then-Senator Biden’s office. According to the most recent and damning version, first made public less than two months ago, Biden pushed her against a wall, kissed her, got his hand under her skirt and jammed his fingers inside her—all this in a public space in the Russell Senate Office Building, in a hallway where she had seen him talking to someone else moments earlier. (She claims that Biden steered her to a “side area,” but no one has been able to find an alcove or other space in the building’s hallways that would offer the required level of privacy.)

Friday, June 5, 2020

Democrats' Tough Road Ahead To Diminish Police Violence

Trump provides a convenient scapegoat for a lot of sins on the national scene, but it's significant that George Floyd was killed by a blue city police force in a blue state. (Both Minnesota senators are Democrats, and Minnesotans have not sent a Republican to the Senate since Rod Graham retired in 2001. Tim Pawlenty, the last Republican governor, ended his term in 2011. The office has been held by Democrats ever since, including the current governor, Tim Walz. The mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey, is likewise a Democrat, albeit as a member of the uniquely Minnesotan Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party.) There's a number of reasons for that, and why these killings keep happening in such places. In some cases, Democrats are in a particularly bad position to implement needed changes:
  1. Ending qualified immunity. Among these, this is the least likely to result in division. Justin Amash has lately announced a bill to end the disastrous judge-made doctrine of "qualified immunity". This makes it difficult to pursue civil rights cases against police unless someone else has shown there was a pattern of such abuses. Because of the Catch-22 of qualified immunity, it is almost certain such cases will never proceed. Recently, the Supreme Court refused to hear one egregious case, which means legislative action is necessary. Justin Amash recently drafted a bill on the subject, and has lately found a Democratic co-sponsor in the House, Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass).
  2. Ending 1033 transfers and demilitarizing the police. There is substantial evidence that giving military-grade hardware to police increases civilian casualties. New efforts to dramatically reduce these transfers have lately started from Rand Paul (R-KY) and Brian Schatz (D-HI), but the problems there are the usual ones of politicians not wanting to look soft on crime, and lobbying efforts by the powerful Fraternal Order of Police (which, see below). In fact, it's never been safer to be a cop, and this military hardware is counterproductive to actual policing.
  3. Ending the War On Drugs. A study that came out last year purported to show that, once you controlled for violent situations, the number of black people shot was on a par with the overall population rates. Yet this contains a significant, circular flaw. Drug prohibition has chased procurement and distribution of some drugs underground. Accordingly, contract disputes become deadly. The mass of drug enforcement takes place selectively in predominantly black neighborhoods.

    Ending this will not be easy. Joe Biden, the Democrats' standard-bearer going into November, shows why: he has been one of his party's most enthusiastic drug warriors. While the terrain has changed since the Reagan administration, the appetite for meaningful reform has mostly been piecemeal and incremental.
  4. Reducing the scope of the law. The more laws there are, the more to enforce, and the more need for police interactions with the public. This can have fatal consequences — and there are no better examples of this than Eric Garner, whose cigarette sales evaded New York's insanely high taxes. Those taxes, since raised yet again, are a strong Tell that the technocratic Democratic Party is of no mind to dial back such laws, and indeed still thinks mankind is perfectible by way of the legislature.
  5. Ending police unions. This is the biggest nut, and the one the Democrats will have the most trouble with. Democrats' historic affinity for unions, and public employee unions particularly, will make a showdown with the Fraternal Order of Police all but impossible. The squabble a few years back over private prisons shows how this is likely to unfold: on the one hand, yay that organizations like CoreCivic have had fewer prisoners sent their way, with the recognition that private entities shouldn't create incentives to jail people; yet there is no analogous understanding that public employee prison guard unions spend vastly larger sums on lobbying to the same effect.

    As noted above, police unions oppose not only demilitarization, but also ending asset forfeiture, body cameras, and in California, a public records law that would provide much more transparency to police activity. For all these reasons, Peter Suderman at Reason has called for an end to police unions, on some very solid grounds:
    Forthcoming research out of the University of Victoria's economics department finds that the introduction of collective bargaining produces somewhat higher compensation for police officers. It does not correlate with a reduction in total crime—but it does eventually correlate with higher numbers of killings by police, especially of minorities.
Not even Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, alleged scourge of public employee unions, had the guts to apply public employee union restrictions to police and fire unions. Democrats are in even worse shape, with stronger headwinds. The median Hillary voter is a greater danger to black people than even the Klan, nowadays.

Update 2020-06-10: Scott Greenfield, from a couple days ago:
Also, more from Jacob Sullum in Reason: banning chokeholds, use-of-force restrictions, making it easier to fire bad cops, increasing police transparency, and abolishing qualified immunity.