Kevin Roche: On the Moronic variant [with comment by Paul]

Listening to President Biden’s monomaniacal remarks on the Omicron variant, I found it hard not to conclude we are stuck inside an Escher lithograph. I commented on Biden’s primary theme of vaccination, but testing is also part of the loop. It isn’t only my friend Kevin Roche who finds the emphasis on PCR testing in particular misguided. Scott Atlas also writes about “the role and pitfalls of PCR testing and concerns about cycle thresholds” in his new book, as John Tierney notes in his City Journal column “Covid’s three blind mice.” Over at Healthy Skeptic this morning Kevin provides “A serious look at the Moronic variant.” He writes in part (very lightly edited):

Here is my assessment based on what we seem to know. In a widespread respiratory virus, variants come, some stay, some go. There are currently four common seasonal coronaviruses, they all manage to stay in circulation in varying proportions. Covid may eventually become one more of those, and it may have more than one strain as part of that rotation, as influenza also has. The Moronic variant is just one more of those strains. I see no evidence to suggest it is more transmissible.

Those of you who read the CSPI article (which hopefully is back on line and a reader did post in the comments a link to a twitter thread of the article) linked in a post earlier this week will understand when I say that I am very doubtful that Delta was more transmissible and I think the same logic applies to Moronic. The people most susceptible to a virus or a variant tend to be infected early on and some of those have large contact networks and so it can appear as though a strain is more infectious in its initial deployment phase, but it may not actually be.

If you look at the epidemic curves found on Worldometers or elsewhere, the curve this year at this time for South Africa, which is highly unvaccinated, looks just like the curve last year, at almost the exact same time. (Worldometers South Africa Chart) Looking at the curve you would not in any way conclude that the Moronic variety is more transmissible than its predecessors. In fact, the South Africa curve, because it is in a still largely immune-naive population, is a wonderful example of a typical progression of a seasonal respiratory virus.

I would assume that the peaks of future waves will begin to be lower in height and the ascent and descent not so steep as the proportion of the population infected grows. You may already see that in the active cases curve on Worldometers for the South Africa wave before this one. (And note also the clear seasonality shown in this South Africa chart, with a dual season, very similar to Florida for example.)

The evidence so far is that Moronic also may lead to less severe disease. Again, probably too early to assess that properly, and in heavily vaccinated populations it will be very difficult to track the effect properly. We haven’t been assessing Delta in the best analytic way, so right now I am assuming the same screwed-up approach will be used for Moronic. So aside from my base of skepticism to everything until good data and research are produced, there is nothing in the early data that tells me we should be unduly worried. I know the Covid-19 terrorists will be disappointed.

Which brings up the real issue with how this epidemic has been tracked and responded to–the excessive use and inadequacies of PCR testing. We are using these ridiculously oversensitive tests to call people cases and infected. I have pounded away from the start of the epidemic at the concept of adaptive immunity and what it really means for an encounter with a respiratory pathogen. People need to think about this and even our supposed public health experts rarely explain it properly.

Adaptive immunity does not stop exposure. Nothing short of enveloping yourself in Saran wrap will, as should be apparent from this epidemic. (Look, for example, at the wonderful impact masking has had.) Anyone at any point could have some virus or virus fragments in their upper respiratory tract. If they have been vaccinated or, even better, had a prior infection, they are likely to clear any viable virus very quickly. But if they are tested while that is occurring, they are a “case.”

We will never get out of this terrible cycle of futile and damaging responses to the epidemic as long as we keep this idiotic testing regime going.

PAUL ADDS: The current Worldometer numbers for new reported cases in South Africa at this early stage of the latest wave show a different pattern from previous waves, including the wave of last year around this time. Yesterday, there were just over 16,000 new reported cases. The day before, there were around 11,500. On November 25, there were around 2,500.

During South Africa’s first wave, the number of new cases never reached 14,000 in a given day. During the second wave, which occurred in December of last year and January of this one, it took almost an entire month for newly reported cases per day to get from around 3,000 to around 17,000. During the third (and worst) wave, which occurred this summer, it also took about month for new cases to rise similarly.

This doesn’t mean anyone should panic. Early indications, give reason for hope that the latest wave in South Africa won’t be all that deadly, at least among the vaccinated.

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