Derek Thompson for The Atlantic has a followup on that recent uh-oh of a COVID-19 immunity study.
First, our immune system is a mysterious place, and the KCL study looked at only one part of it. When a new pathogen enters the body, our adaptive immune system calls up a team of B cells, which produce antibodies, and T cells. To oversimplify a bit, the B cells’ antibodies intercept and bind to invading molecules, and the killer T cells seek and destroy infected cells. Evaluating an immune response without accounting for T cells is like inventorying a national air force but leaving out the bomber jets. And, in the case of COVID-19, those bomber jets could make the biggest difference. A growing collection of evidence suggests that T cells provide the strongest and longest-lasting immunity to COVID-19—but this study didn’t measure them at all.
So, the study likely remains an important piece of answering the immunity question, but only partially addresses what our immune system does.
Combine new estimates that 40% of the coronavirus infected are asymptomatic and carry a 75% chance of transmission (via Paul Bausch), with suggestions that it can make men infertile, and maybe now the maskless tough dudes will take it seriously?
If you weren’t depressed enough, a new study suggests that post-infection immunity to SARS-CoV-2 could be lost within months.
Blood tests revealed that while 60% of people marshalled a “potent” antibody response at the height of their battle with the virus, only 17% retained the same potency three months later. Antibody levels fell as much as 23-fold over the period. In some cases, they became undetectable.
Interesting news to drop right before James Hamblin’s discussion of various herd immunity models, wherein he issues this caveat.
Models like Britton’s and Gomes’s also assume that, after infection, people obtain immunity. This is a clear caveat that all the researchers make. COVID-19 is a new disease, so no one can be sure that infected people become immune reliably, or how long immunity lasts. But Britton noted that there are no clear instances of double infections so far, which suggests that this virus creates immunity for at least some meaningful length of time, as most viruses do.
It’s getting to be time we start thinking of the coronavirus as the setting, not the story.
Three coronavirus stories that struck me this week: Jacob Stern for The Atlantic looks ahead at the mental health impacts still to come; Melinda Wenner Moyer for The New York Times looks at potential damage to the brain (pair with this earlier piece); and Yochai Re’em for STAT offers a look at having COVID-19 symptoms lasting for more than three months.
Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope.
Neurologists are on Wednesday publishing details of more than 40 UK Covid-19 patients whose complications ranged from brain inflammation and delirium to nerve damage and stroke. In some cases, the neurological problem was the patient’s first and main symptom.
I didn’t need this, Gruber.
Pairing together two pieces on how two different groups of people are holding up under their respective strains right now: Crystal Milner for STAT photographed “family, friends, and others in my community of Southern California and spoke with them about how being Black in the U.S. affects them, especially right now”; Ed Yong for The Atlantic interviewed “public-health experts who have been preparing for and battling the pandemic since the start of the year” but are “very tired, and dispirited by America’s continued inability to control a virus that many other nations have brought to heel”.
Shannon Mattern’s longform look (or would it be listen?) at urban auscultation passes along a comparison between doctors learning to listen to the body that I know I’ve read somewhere before, but I’ll be damned if I can remember where. Anyway, as I brace for tonight’s likely followup to last night’s cosplay mortar fire, I just wanted to include here one part.
This context quickly revealed the limits of efforts to instrumentalize and objectify hearing. The meters couldn’t replicate the way human ears perceived loudness, and they had trouble tracking fluctuating sounds. Bell Labs’ Rogers Galt, who reviewed urban sound surveys for the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America in 1930, emphasized the subjective, situational nature of aural perception. Whether a sound was perceived as noise, he wrote, depended on how long it lasted and how often it occurred, whether it was steady or intermittent, who made the sound, who was disturbed, and whether the sound was understood as necessary. 23 “Noise” was a product of acoustics and psychology.
Whether or not cities actually were too loud, measurable “noise levels,” with their positivist certainty, “became the sign of how bad the situation was.” Public health concerns were taken seriously only after noise exposure could be quantified. Leonardo Cardoso, in his study of sound politics in São Paolo, argues that the seemingly objective measurements produced by sound-level meters came to “replac[e] our ears as the authoritative hearing actor” and ultimately conditioned our hearing to a world that the instrument could validate. “Through the minuscule repetition of a series of exposures to sound that are allowed to exist thanks to the [meter’s] validation, this technological being” has reshaped our own organic perceptual instruments. 25 We became attuned to what the machine is capable of sensing.
The U.S. buying up the world’s available stock of remdesivir, leaving other countries in the lurch for at least three months, sure sounds like the global pandemic equivalent of a war crime to me.
Max Nilsen reports that the new coronavirus surge in the U.S. has a “simple explanation”: American exceptionalism. That might be my phrase for it, not his.
Amid all of this, one particular difference stands out between the American and European approaches. Many states were happy to reopen after simply “bending the curve” — that is, slowing upward growth and ensuring spare hospital capacity. These states went on to expand economic activity at an elevated plateau with lots of ongoing transmissions. In contrast, European countries mostly waited to reopen until they crushed the curve or reached its far slope, with substantially lower incidence or dramatic reductions in the viral spread. It’s not the only explanation for a growing gap, but it’s a compelling one.
So many great things in Monday’s edition of Social Distance about vitamins and supplements and other kinds of horseshit.
Handshakes are not valued equally among all the social and cultural groups that practice them. According to Yuta Katsumi, a cognitive neuroscientist who currently researches memory but has conducted several studies on people’s evaluation of handshakes, everyone he studied appreciated a handshake. They were taken as a sign of goodwill and trustworthiness and business competence. However, Katsumi saw one group’s brains light up more than all the others when they witnessed a good, firm handshake: men, and white men in particular. “There’s a good amount of evidence that handshakes are a male activity,” Katsumi says. “If you do an observational study, male-male interactions involve a handshake much more frequently than female-female or mixed-gender interactions.” A quick Google search will reveal articles cataloging multiple strains of gendered handshake angst. There are worries about grip strength, chronicles of boardroom handshake snubs, advice columns urging women to engage in flesh pressing and for men to tone down the macho bone-crusher routine when dealing with their colleagues.
And while findings from past epidemics can give researchers like him a good place to start, they’re not exact parallels. In general, studies specifically on the long-term, society-wide impacts of pandemics are limited, according to Taylor. It was only in the last 20 years that academics began looking at the psychological aftermath of the 1918 Spanish Flu — one of the deadliest pandemics in modern history and one that often gets compared to the current crisis — and even then, he says, its similar timing to World War I complicates the findings.
Amy McKeever details some of the weirder symptoms of COVID-19 for National Geographic, and explains why some of them perhaps were to be expected and how some of them might be just coincidence.
A huge number of people will need to receive a vaccine in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus and establish herd immunity — the point at which most of the population is protected against an infectious disease. To achieve herd immunity against Covid-19, experts estimate that around 70% or more of the population may need to be immune. And, since no vaccine is 100% effective, the more people who are vaccinated, the better. Getting a vaccine to all the people who need one will take a massive effort, both in the United States and around the world. There has never been a global immunization campaign on the scale that will be needed to distribute a Covid-19 vaccine.
In this edition: reopening America, learning to be a contact tracer, the trouble with fixating on immunity, inside Trump’s brain, and Wall Street’s death cult.