Monthly Archives: August 2021

Reasons to be Cheerful

Rare it is that I find myself almost 100% onboard for an article at Reason.com, even if it is one of the relatively few right-wing sites I think is worth my time. But Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Reason.com, 40 Ways Things Are Getting Better hits it out of the park, even if I have a few quibbles, notably…

1. Home entertainment. OK, I would sure have this on the list…but #1?

5. Information access I’d have been tempted to put the Internet #1. The quality of elite medical care [distributed on their #13 (AIDS care) #15 (mental health treatment), #23 (cancer care)] would be the other contender.

8. Attitudes toward LGBTQ people and their treatment under the law. Top five for me.

And I’d put a lot of tech–phones, computers, cameras. Machine Learning in my top ten too.

Musical accompaniment here is either Ian Dury or The Beatles depending on your proclivities,

Posted in Etc, Readings, Science/Medicine | Leave a comment

DeSantis Admin Obfuscating Florida COVID Death Rate and End-Running a Court Order on Masks Mandates in Schools

Grim Reaper at the BeachBecause all that matters is getting reelected and then running for President.

The Miami Herald has the goods on the COVID data–Florida changed its COVID-19 data, creating an ‘artificial decline’ in recent deaths:

As the delta variant spreads through Florida, data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest this could be the most serious and deadly surge in COVID-19 infections since the beginning of the pandemic.

As cases ballooned in August, however, the Florida Department of Health changed the way it reported death data to the CDC, giving the appearance of a pandemic in decline, an analysis of Florida data by the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald found.

On Monday, Florida death data would have shown an average of 262 daily deaths reported to the CDC over the previous week had the health department used its former reporting system, the Herald analysis showed. Instead, the Monday update from Florida showed just 46 “new deaths” per day over the previous seven days.

The dramatic difference is due to a small change in the fine print. Until three weeks ago, data collected by DOH and published on the CDC website counted deaths by the date they were recorded — a common method for producing daily stats used by most states. On Aug. 10, Florida switched its methodology and, along with just a handful of other states, began to tally new deaths by the date the person died.

If you chart deaths by Florida’s new method, based on date of death, it will generally appear — even during a spike like the present — that deaths are on a recent downslope. That’s because it takes time for deaths to be evaluated and death certificates processed. When those deaths finally are tallied, they are assigned to the actual data of death — creating a spike where there once existed a downslope and moving the downslope forward in time.

Meanwhile DeSantis’s people at the FL. Dept of Education (motto: “you raise ’em, we infect ’em”), working at arms-length from the state’s Chief Obstacle to decent COVID policies, are doing an end-run around a court order so as to to really stick it to school districts trying to protect their students with a mask requirement. Yes, really, Florida withholds funds from two school districts requiring masks — despite court decision against state ban on mandates:

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran announced late Monday that the Florida Department of Education has withheld the monthly salaries of school board members in Alachua and Broward counties who voted to impose mask mandates that only provide for a medical exemption from a doctor. The state actually withholds the equivalent in funding of the members’ salaries.

I am sure that our very educated Governor (Yale College, Harvard Law) could, if he wanted, explain how the rule of law is for suckers, not the manly types who plan to inherit Trump’s mantle and govern with the mailed fist. But that is the unspoken part of the act.

More likely he would argue that since the injunction against enforcement of DeSantis’s anti-mask-rule order doesn’t technically forbid the Florida Dept. of Ed from just happening spontaneously to implement the DeSantis policy of fining counties for having a mask requirement, without formally relying on the Governor’s order. So, that’s all alright until another court issues a more far-reaching injunction.

And indeed, as a formal legal matter that argument about the limited reach of the original injunction might be accurate. (It’s a little hard to tell from the news reports of the decision.) But the question then is whether the mask-requirement-in-schools issue is one for which this sort of legal hardball (or sophistry?) is morally appropriate. I appreciate that there might be deep issues of principle where such an action might even be praiseworthy — don’t do something horrible until there is no legal argument left unturned, and then resign rather than sign the order sending people to the camps. I simply cannot conceive of the masking rule as such a deep question of liberty and principle; we require K-12 students to have various immunizations, and to wear clothes, indeed many public schools have quite strict dress codes.  But here, the DeSantis admin is using these arguments to advance their play-to-the-base electoral scheme to block life-saving health measures.  Even if this is a valid technicality, it is being harnessed in favor of a policy that will — there’s no way to sugar-coat this — kill people.

DeSantis is a menace.

Posted in 2022 Election, COVID-19, Florida | Leave a comment

Giant Study Finds Vaccine Much Safer than No Vaccine

Largest real-world study of COVID-19 vaccine safety published. They compared “884,828 vaccinated individuals aged 16 and over [who] were carefully matched with 884,828 unvaccinated individuals based on an extensive set of sociodemographic, geographic and health-related attributes.”

This study focused on adverse events that may develop in the short to medium term after vaccination, and those with clinical significance. The study did not focus on common immediate symptoms such as redness and discomfort at the injection site or fever. Symptoms that occurred within 6 weeks of the vaccine (three weeks after each vaccine dose) were defined as an adverse event of the vaccine if they occurred more frequently among the vaccinated group compared to the control group.

The results were clear:

The vaccine was found to be safe: Out of 25 potential side effects examined, 4 were found to have a strong association with the vaccine.

Myocarditis was found to be associated with the vaccine, but rarely—2.7 excess cases per 100,000 vaccinated individuals. (The myocarditis events observed after vaccination were concentrated in males between 20 and 34.) In contrast, coronavirus infection in unvaccinated individuals was associated with 11 excess cases of myocarditis per 100,000 infected individuals.

Other adverse events moderately associated with vaccination were swelling of the lymph nodes, a mild side effect that is part of a standard immune response to vaccination, with 78 excess cases per 100,000, appendicitis with 5 excess cases per 100,000 (potentially as a result of swelling of lymph nodes around the appendix), and herpes zoster with 16 excess cases per 100,000.

In contrast to the relatively small number of adverse effects associated with the vaccine, high rates of multiple serious adverse events were associated with coronavirus infection among unvaccinated patients, including: Cardiac arrhythmias (a 3.8-fold increase to an increase of 166 cases per 100,000 infected patients), kidney damage (14.8-fold increase; 125 excess cases per 100,000), pericarditis (5.4-fold increase; 11 excess cases per 100,000), pulmonary embolism (12.1-fold increase; 62 excess cases per 100,000), deep vein thrombosis (3.8-fold increase; 43 excess cases per 100,000), myocardial infarction (4.5-fold increase; 25 excess cases per 100,000), and stroke (2.1-fold increase; 14 excess cases per 100,000).

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What is the Superlative of Shrill?

Grim Reaper at the BeachCharles M. Blow was shrill the last time he considered Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.  I asked him to be more shrill.  Charles M. Blow delivers:

Ron DeSantis, How Many Covid Deaths Are Enough?

As The Times reported on Wednesday: “More people in Florida are catching the coronavirus, being hospitalized and dying of Covid-19 now than at any previous point in the pandemic.” The Times continued, “This week, 227 virus deaths were being reported each day in Florida, on average, as of Tuesday, a record for the state and by far the most in the United States right now.”

[…]

… DeSantis is playing to an electorate beyond the panhandle. As long as he is still mentioned in the same breath as Biden, even if the coverage is negative, he is playing well among Republicans. As long as he is fighting Washington and Democrats and experts, it doesn’t matter to entrenched Republicans that he’s not fighting the plague.

Some bodies must be sacrificed to appease the gods of partisan resistance.

To keep the spotlight, DeSantis is employing many of the same tricks as Trump: fighting with the media about coverage, deflecting blame onto Biden and convincing his followers that folding to facts is the same as forfeiting freedoms.

As DeSantis said in early August, “We can either have a free society, or we can have a biomedical security state.” He continued, “And I can tell you: Florida, we’re a free state. People are going to be free to choose to make their own decisions.”

Yes, Florida, DeSantis is allowing you to choose death so that he can have a greater political life.

Posted in COVID-19, Florida | 9 Comments

Thank You Gov. Ron DeSantis!

The Sun-Sentinel has the data: Florida’s COVID-19 resurgence: State reports 901 new deaths, bringing 7-day average to pandemic high:

Florida reported another 901 previously unreported COVID-related deaths on Thursday, sending the 7-day average soaring to the highest it’s been through the pandemic. Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control also showed 21,183 new cases.

The 901 deaths is the highest number reported in Florida, which has been releasing death counts in batches based on the date the deaths occurred. The 7-day trend based on the date the death was reported stands at 242, according to the Sun Sentinel’s analysis of the CDC data.

But, hey! Things are even worse in Alabama and Mississippi, so not to worry, right?

As of Wednesday, Florida ranked third in the nation for both average daily COVID cases and deaths per 100,000 population.

Posted in COVID-19, Florida | Leave a comment

UM’s Alex Azar Appointment Gets Deserved Flack

Alex Michael Azar II in caricature © 2020 DonkeyHotey, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It doesn’t quite rise to the level of ‘man bites dog’ but when the president of your local chapter of the American Association of University Professors objects to the hiring of someone as any sort of Professor, it’s at least unusual. But here comes Scotney D. Evans, an associate professor in the School of Education and Human Development, with a statement (written with graduate student Thomas Kennedy) opposing the UM Business School’s hiring of former Trump Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar as a researcher and adjunct professor in UM’s Business School. They have some cogent points:

Hearing that the Miami Herbert Business School hired Alex Azar, former President Donald Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary, we both reacted with a mix of horror, disgust and sadness. With all the amazing, diverse and socially responsible policy experts out there that can really motivate and inspire students into “ethical citizenship and service to others” with “a respect for differences among people,” as stated in UM’s mission statement, they choose this guy? There are a lot of important reasons why Azar should be unemployable by any reputable organization that values common humanity and equal rights for all.

Trump’s family separation policy is one of the most shameful stains on the moral character of this country in recent years. Stephen Miller, a senior policy advisor and director of speechwriting for Trump, and other Trump cronies like Azar helped enforce a policy that resulted in children being ripped from crying mothers’ arms to be placed in facilities where sexual abuse and mistreatment were rampant. Unaccompanied minors who were coming to this country looking for a better life did not fare much better, as they were also placed in detention facilities in which they were routinely denied hygienic products and basic necessities. Our very own community became a flash point during the Trump years because of an infamous detention center for migrant children in Homestead, Fl.

I (Thomas) have worked on campaigns to close and prevent the reopening of that detention facility and heard firsthand the awful conditions that children were subjected to, including a military style regimen in which they were not allowed free movement, afforded very limited call time, given inadequate access to lawyers and were mistreated and abused by staff. The for-profit detention of immigrant children under horrid conditions outraged many of us, but unfortunately, those who were involved in implementing these horrible policies have not suffered repercussions. Azar was complicit in implementing these detention policies during the Trump era, and was responsible for the administration of immigration detention centers, including the one in Homestead.

This hire directly contradicts the university’s espoused commitment to racial justice. You can’t be against racism and hire Azar. In addition to being complicit in the racist Trump policies described above, he also botched the COVID-19 response that disproportionately harmed and killed Black people, and he tried to sabotage the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid which greatly benefit people of color. Being anti-racist as an institution means taking a strong stand against racist policies and those who have a hand in creating or upholding them. Alex Azar was directly involved in creating, implementing and rationalizing racist discourse and policies while employed by the Trump administration.

This hire reminds us of the saying – “don’t listen to what they say, watch what they do.” University statements against systemic racial injustice are meaningless without decisive action against racist policies and the public figures who propagate them. Frankly, we’re dismayed that more faculty, staff and students have not strongly vocalized opposition to this hire. Are faculty in the business school on board and willing to ignore Azar’s role in toxic policies? Is the harm that Azar helped cause simply being waved away and whitewashed under the guise of welcoming a diverse “marketplace of ideas”? As University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Professor and activist David Shih has suggested, the marketplace of ideas fails when we cannot make objective choices about racism.

We believe in free discourse and think our campus benefits from a variety of beliefs and opinions to encourage a healthy and diverse learning environment. We also believe that people make mistakes and should be afforded opportunities to repent. But Azar was complicit in some of the most horrific policies enacted during the Trump era. His hire was a huge mistake.

Posted in Trump, U.Miami | Leave a comment