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Odd Lots

  • Research shows that ivermectin works. Here’s a paper published this past July in The American Journal of Therapeutics. I’ve read in a number of places that ivermectin is one of the safest drugs known. No, the FDA hasn’t approved its use against COVID-19. The Pfizer vaccine wasn’t FDA approved either until a few days ago. I can’t help but think that people are dying needlessly because of all the government screaming and yelling about people taking horse medicine, when taking horse medicine is a vanishingly small phenom. If ivermectin has no serious side effects, why not let doctors try it? What’s the downside?
  • Here’s a 30-page review of evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of ivermectin in treating COVID-19. Again, if it’s a safe drug that’s been on the market and widely studied for 30+ years, why not let people try it?
  • It’s become harder and harder to find evidence of the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) in combination with zinc. I’ve looked. The early clinical experience emphasized that the two work together or not at all. I find it weird that nearly all the studies I’ve seen test HCQ either alone or with azithromycin–but not zinc. Clinical evidence shows that the combo doesn’t work well on late and severe cases, but rather when symptoms first appear. Still, if ivermectin works as well as recent studies show, HCQ’s moment may have come and gone.
  • I may have backed the wrong horse. Recent research seems to show that the Moderna vaccine generates twice the antibodies as the Pfizer vaccine does. Now let’s see some research on the rates of breakthrough infections versus vaccine type.
  • Here are some recent stats on the prevalence of breakthrough infections. The real eye-opener would be to know which vaccine is best at preventing breakthrough infections. That said, the chances of breakthrough infections occurring is very low. If you don’t read the paper, at least skim down to find the odds chart. Cancer risk is 1 in 7. Breakthrough infection risk is 1 in 137,698. I like those odds.
  • Ugggh. Enough virus crap. Let’s talk about something else. My pre-2000 pandemic penny jar (a thick glass bottle that once held cream from Straus Family Creamery) continues to fill. Last week I got a 1950-D wheat penny. A few days ago I got something a little odd: A 2 Euro cent coin from Ireland, dated 2002. It’s almost precisely the same size as a US penny, and if I didn’t look closely at coins I might have missed the fact that it was 19 years and an ocean away from home. Getting pennies from the 1980s is an almost everyday thing now. The penny jars are clearly still out there and still emptying into the McDonald’s till.
  • We lived near Santa Cruz for three and a half years and never visited its famous Mystery Spot. It turns out that mystery spots, roads, hills, and holes are all over the place. Here’s another interesting compendium. Yes, it’s bullshit. Yet I get the impression that it’s often very clever bullshit, and I wouldn’t mind getting a look at one or two.

Odd (COVID) Lots

  • Here’s an excellent summary of studies of SARS-CoV-2 mask effectiveness from Swiss Policy Research. It’s not an article so much as a list of research studies and papers from mostly European sources, all with links. A number of very clear graphs indicate how infections have mapped to mask mandates. The news is all bad for mask fetishists: Masks do not appear to have any significant effect on the spread of SARS-CoV-2. Be sure to watch the video, which supports my long-term contention that masks propel aerosol viruses via jets around their edges. Given how far air from those jets travels, I’d guess that being next to a person jetting around a mask is more dangerous than standing the same distance from somone not wearing a mask at all.
  • Here’s another solid item from Swiss Policy Research on COVID-19 treatment protocols. The US seems peculiarly reluctant to actively treat the disease with known protocols like zinc plus an ionophore or (for no reason I can discover) ivermectin. Yes, ivermectin does work. There is some recent research suggesting that HCQ + zinc will not work, but against that is a fair amount of research, some pioneered by Dr. Zev Zelenko in New York. Here’s the study to which Dr. Zelenko contributed.
  • If masks don’t work, what’s the best thing to do? Our doc suggested taking quercetin plus 50mg zinc gluconate every morning as a preventive. Quercetin is a strong ionophore that escorts zinc into cells where it can stop viral replication. Note that not all zinc is created equal. The bioavailability of zinc oxide is essentially zero. Stick with sulfate or gluconate. Quercetin is OTC; we use the NOW formulation that includes bromelain. Whether quercetin is as strong an ionophore as HCQ is something I’ve researched and found nothing useful. I find it interesting that quercetin is used in Erope to treat existing infections, and not merely as a preventive.
  • Nitay Arbel posted a link to a study suggesting that the Moderna vaccine’s protective effect is longer-lasting the the Pfizer vaccine’s. If you’re interested in pandemic science at all (as opposed to pandemic politics) bookmark his site and check it regularly.
  • Here’s a paper that discusses the differences between ivermectin and HCQ against COVID-19. The TLDR summary is that ivermectin acts against both early cases and more advanced cases, while HCQ+zinc work far better in early cases than advanced cases. HCQ alone doesn’t work at all. I’d suggest bookmarking the page because it contains a huge number of links to pertinent research of all kinds.
  • If you’ve never supplemented zinc before and are confused by all the options, this page will lay it all out. It’s a subtler business than I originally thought.

Masks as Inadvertent Variolation

Yesterday’s post on the effectiveness of masks reminded me of something I had taken notes on over a year ago: masks as variolation. The insight wasn’t original to me, but alas, I don’t recall where I first saw it.

Variolation, if you’re not familiar with the term, is the process of generating immunity to a virus by exposing people to small amounts of the virus. It was invented for (and named after) smallpox (variola). The process, however, can be applied to other viruses. I wonder if wearing a so-so mask within a population carrying SARS-CoV-2 would allow the inhalation of enough virus to cause antibody generation via a mild or even asymptomatic infection, but not enough to cause a full-bore and possibly severe symptomatic case.

This isn’t where I saw it, but an article in the New England Journal of Medicine from late 2020 makes precisely this point. In my article on masks I was talking about the aggregate effectiveness of masks, which depends on how many viruses you inhale through the filtration medium–and how many viruses are squirted out through jets at the edges of your mask when you exhale. No mask is perfect. A lot of them are worthless, but quite a few are effective enough to reduce viral load by some percentage, which obviously varies by the type of mask and how it’s worn.

Which brings me to my pet peeve, which is pertinent here: The media never talks about COVID-19 deaths. They only talk about cases, which can include mild or asymptomatic infections–or, in truth, false positives on the fluky PCR test. What the media absolutely will not talk about is natural immunity, that is, immunity conferred by an actual infection with the pathogen. We know such infections happen. We have no idea how prevalent they are. My hunch is that many or most of these new cases are not cases as generally understood (a sick person!) but positive tests from people who have had an infection and threw it off, perhaps thinking it was a cold or without even knowing they’d had anything at all.

I’ve seen studies indicating that natural immunity is stronger and longer-lasting than vaccination immunity. This post on The Blaze mentions some of them. What this means is that the “exploding case count” the pornpushers are screaming about could well be a count of positive-test people who now have natural immunity and will probably never contract the disease again.

How could this be? Simple: The vaccine gives you a quantity of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, which teaches your immune system to recognize the virus by its spikes. An actual COVID-19 infection teaches your immune system about the whole damned virus, spikes and everything else.

Obviously, nobody wants to catch the disease, since the panic industry has pushed what I call “mask-it or casket” porn, typically just-so stories of some guy who claims the vaccine is fake and then dies of COVID the next day. The vaccine is not fake; Carol and I got it as soon as we were eligible. (I do wonder whether we would test positive under PCR. It might be worth the cost of the tests to find out.) What I’m talking about is that huge unknown: how prevalent natural immunity is–and how we came to get it.

Masks don’t protect you completely (as the government seems to imply) but they protect you some–and maybe enough to generate that natural immunity without suffering from the disease itself. That’s variolation.

As several of my friends have found, even mentioning “natural immunity” on Twitter or Facebook will get you banned, most likely because natural immunity argues against all the panic, and argues in favor of our hitting a degree of herd immunity (also a ban-attractor) soon or even already. Remember: A case is a positive test, symptoms or no symptoms. It’s very rare to contract the disease again after you’ve had it and thrown it off. It’s much more common to contract it after vaccination. (We’re ready for that, though given the prevalence of comment harpies, I’ll share details only with people I trust, and then one-on-one.)

Now, this notion of masks as variolation is just speculation. I bring it up because it exposes a huge gap in the coverage of COVID-19 that we’re getting from conventional online sources, who are censoring all mention of natural immunity and its related topics. It’s also why I keep my own instance of WordPress on my own hosting service rather than an account on the WordPress site. I don’t talk about controversial topics very often, but when I do, I don’t want the conversation to be suppressed.

Masks Can’t Work–But Not for the Reasons You Think

I’ve been pondering this issue since last fall, waffling constantly about whether I should write about it at all. I was sure that any number of other people would make the point I’m about to make, but I haven’t seen it. Maybe it’s too simple. Maybe people are past caring. I don’t know.

Here’s my point: Consumer-grade masks can’t stop SARS-CoV-2. It’s impossible. But not for the reasons you might think.

First, some background. Surgical masks were originally developed to protect vulnerable patients from pathogens exhaled by doctors. They were not designed to protect healthcare workers from patients. Some people recognized this early on, in memes stating (rather too confidently) “My mask protects you. Your mask protects me.” In a perfect world, that might be true. Such a world does not and cannot exist.

The key word here is perfect.

In order to be effective, a mask must meet these requirements:

  1. It must be made of a material allowing the flow of air while seriously restricting the flow of droplets and aerosol virus particles. Such masks are uncommon. The only ones I know of are N95 masks, without exhalation ports. (Exhalation ports render an N95 mask pretty much worthless, as this study showed.) And I’d just as soon reserve N95 masks for front-line healthcare workers.
  2. A mask must fit close to perfectly. I don’t know how anybody expects one mask design to fit all the infinite varieties of human faces. Fit often requires that the mask straps be very tight, so tight as to be nasty uncomfortable. A couple of loose straps over your ears won’t do it, especially if your face is unusually long or wide.
  3. The mask must be worn perfectly. If adjusted for comfort, even a perfectly fitted mask will leak like a sieve and ceases to be effective.
  4. Touching the filtering medium of your mask is a no-no. If you’re in an area with aerosol virus particles floating around, those particles will accumulate on the outside of the mask. Touching them transfers them to your fingers, which can then easily transfer them to food or tissues.

The primary failure mode for masks is leakage. When the whole mask fetish first became a thing, we bought some masks and I did some experimenting. I put a mask on as best I could, dipped a finger in a glass of water, and held the wet finger around the edges of the mask while I breathed normally. I could easily sense jets of air at several places around the edge of the mask, no matter how I adjusted it. These jets did not pass through the mask material, and if the wearer is contagious, the aerosol virus particles will be sent in several directions with significant force. I was surprised, in fact, at how much force was behind the jets from even normal breathing.

Think about jets of air for a moment. Even a tiny amount of air will move quickly if forced through a small hole or gap. Those jets leaking around the edges of your mask will carry aerosol viruses a long way. Sure, droplets quickly fall to the ground within the standard distance of six feet. SARS-CoV-2 travels as both droplets and as aerosols. Droplets are big enough to be trapped by the mask’s filtration medium. Aerosols are so small that most go right through it, absent expensive materials like those used in N95 masks. Cloth masks depend on the nature of the cloth. Cheap surgical masks barely stop them at all. Woodworking masks are completely worthless. Hold that thought; I’ll come back to it.

I’ve found some interesting videos. In this first one, a woman takes a hit off her vapestick, puts her mask back down, and then exhales. She immediately blows two jets of smoke right into her eyes, and then starts choking. Bad idea. The takeaway is that smoke came out the edges of her mask in a hurry. Obviously the mask was not being worn correctly. Hold that thought too; I’ll come back to it.

Here’s another, better video, in which a man wearing several types of masks inhales from a vapestick and exhales while wearing the masks. (I can’t tell whether he’s wearing the masks correctly or not, though it looks correct to me.) Smoke or vapor (I’m not especially familiar with the technology) streams out from the edges of the mask on every side. The smoke or vapor is there there simply to help you visualize how leaky cheap masks are. Clearly, my mask doesn’t protect you, and your mask doesn’t protect me. (The video was originally posted on YouTube several times, and taken down every time. It’s now on BitChute. The Powers obviously don’t want you to see failure modes in enforced conventional wisdom.)

Even a high-quality mask will leak around the edges, especially if you have a nonstandard face. We needn’t mention gaiters, which have no mechanism for preventing significant jets through the gaps on either side of your nose.

Now, I told you all that to tell you all this: Suppose a high-quality, perfectly fitting mask worn perfectly traps a significant number of aerosol particles. Here’s the extra-large economy-sized question:

How do you guarantee that all mask wearers are wearing effective masks that fit well and are worn correctly?

We all know the answer: You don’t. Masking is a collective exercise. It’s gotta be almost everybody or it might as well be nobody. There is no enforcement mechanism that will render a mask-wearing public immune to SARS-CoV-2. I’m pretty sure there’s no enforcement mechanism that will keep a mask-wearing public from exhaling massive numbers of aerosol viruses. Post mask cops on streetcorners, checking mask types and adjusting them to fit correctly and well? Really? Most of the public doesn’t like masking and will do the minimum necessary to meet a mask mandate. I’m thinking a lot of them will wear their masks as loosely as possible, just for spite.

My conclusion is this:

Enforcing an effective mask mandate on the public is impossible.

I can already hear the crowd screaming at me: “The perfect is the enemy of the good!” Well, yes. In this case, the chain of contingencies leading to effectiveness is so long that anything less than perfect is just about no good at all.

“But if a mask stops even one virus…”

The fifty billion other viruses gleefully jetting away around the edges of your mask might want a word with you. Or maybe they’ll just laugh.


Note well: This is a controversial topic, and as with all such topics, I require heroic courtesy from all commenters. Screaming at me won’t convince me of anything; it just makes you look like a moron. I’d appreciate that if you take issue with something I’ve said, take issue with the point I actually made.

Odd Lots

  • The major social networks are now suppressing any mention of research that supports the effectiveness of ivermectin and HCQ against SARS-CoV-2. I’ve given up, as it’s a bad use of my time to try to slip information past those insufferable busybodies. So I guess I have to be content with Contra here and MeWe, which so far hasn’t given anybody any grief about discussing COVID treatments and related issues. Feel free (in fact, I encourage you) to spread these links around any way you can.
  • There’s what looks like a very good free PDF guide to home treatment of COVID-19, from The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. It aligns with the reading I’ve done of peer-reviewed research on the topic.
  • Another very good site for laypersons on COVID-19 treatment is The Front Line COVID Critial Care Alliance, a group of physicians who are trying to make sure people have someplace to go for information that isn’t vetted by a cadre of arrogant billionaires whose sum total of medical experience is putting bandaids on their owies.
  • I read a book last week from an Arizona physician who gathered over 500 medical research papers on topics that bear on the COVID-19 issue. The Defeat of COVID is sometimes a bit of a slog, but the citations are solid gold. If you have more than a passing interest in the topic, I encourage you to get it. You’re sure not going to see any of this research linked on the social networks.
  • One thing you have to remember is that the panic-porn industry is talking solely about cases. A case is a positive test. Period. A case does not have to be symptomatic. They aren’t talking about deaths because deaths don’t seem to be rising. Certainly deaths in Arizona are not. (Click through to the graph and it’ll be obvious.)
  • The CDC is withdrawing its support from the PCR test, which can be “cranked up” to absurd sensitivity. Here’s a direct quote from an article in the British Medical Journal: “Another problem with relying on PCR testing alone to define a COVID-19 case is that, owing to the sensitivity of the test, it can pick up a single strand of viral RNA-but this doesn’t necessarily equate to someone being infected or infectious.”
  • There are a fair number of studies of ivermectin as treatment for COVID-19. Here’s one from Antiviral Research, a journal published by Elsevier.
  • Ditto HCQ. Here’s one from the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents, with this money quote: “Risk stratification-based treatment of COVID-19 outpatients as early as possible after symptom onset using triple therapy, including the combination of zinc with low-dose hydroxychloroquine, was associated with significantly fewer hospitalisations.”
  • To close out this COVID-19 issue of Odd Lots, a blatantly obvious bot-distributed hoax campaign on Twitter was not flagged by their supposed fact-checkers. I just did a Twitter search on “I just left the ER. We” and got quite a few laughs out of people making fun of the hoax, and (by implication) Twitter itself. Really, go look. It’s hilarious.
  • Had to fetch down a sample of the merriment:
    “I just left the ER . We are officially back to getting crushed by vegetables. Arugula is running rampant and it’s MUCH more transmissible than the original lettuce. 99% of our ICU admits did NOT eat a steak. Virtually ALL of them wish they had.”

  • (Many thanks to Bill Meyer for some of these links.)

The Ionophore Experiment

A year and some months ago, when the whole COVID-19 thing was just getting out of second gear, one of the doctors I see recommended that Carol and I take zinc and the OTC supplement quercetin every day. The explanation was simple: Quercetin is a zinc ionophore. Ionophores are chemicals able to transport certain ions through cell membranes through which those ions would not ordinarily pass. Zinc is known to attack viruses of all sorts, especially cold and flu viruses. Quercetin attaches to zinc ions and escorts them through cell membranes, into the cells where viruses replicate. Zinc stops virus replication cold.

This sounded familiar, and it was. About that time I had begun hearing of the work of Dr. Zev Zelenko, a New York physician who had begun treating early COVID-19 patients with a drug cocktail consisting of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), Zinc, and an antibiotic. Dr. Zelenko has a wonderful metaphor describing the cocktail’s operation: Zinc is the bullet. HCQ is the gun. Sure, it’s a little more complex than that, but despite metric megatonnes of anti-HCQ bullshit in the media, the cocktail works.

I’ve seen quercetin described as a zinc ionophore in many places. HCQ is also a known zinc ionophore. It’s a prescription drug that must be taken under medical supervision to avoid certain side effects. However, people I know personally are taking it every day and have for years for autoiummune disorders. I’m not sure how you measure the effectiveness of one zinc ionophore vs. another, so it’s unclear how “strong” an ionophore has to be. Everything I’ve read suggests that quercetin is strong enough to kill viruses wholesale by escorting zinc into cells.

Quercetin has, at best, mild side effects. It’s found in many foods, including kale. Alas, I won’t eat kale, so I take it as an extract in a gelcap. Carol and I followed the physician’s advice, and we’ve been taking 800 mg of quercetin once daily in a formula that includes bromelain. We also take 50 mg zinc daily in the form of zinc gluconate. I’ve talked about this before here on Contra, though it may have been a whole year ago or more. I bring it up again because Carol and I have noticed something unrelated to COVID-19: Neither of us has gotten a cold since we began taking quercetin plus zinc.

And that, my friends, is worth something. My long-time readers have heard me bitch about catching colds and feeling miserable down the years. I get one or sometimes two bad colds a year, and a scattering of sniffles that last for a few days and vanish. We get flu shots, but we still got the flu really bad back at the end of 2017. So the experiment is this: Even though we’re fully vaccinated, we’re going to keep taking quercetin plus zinc, and see how long it is before either of us catches a cold or flu. (We’ll still get our flu shots. I’m a strong believer in vaccination.)

Now, a lot of the country is still hiding out, though here in Arizona mask mandates are mostly a thing of the past. So it’s possible that we ducked colds for the past fourteen months by simply not rubbing shoulders with people much. Those days are past. We shop at big stores like Safeway and Target and Costco even when they’re crowded and nobody has masks. In other words, we’re more or less back to normal life. And my experience of “normal life” prior to COVID was (at least) one cold a year.

Carol and I aren’t worried about COVID anymore. Is it possible that we don’t have to worry about catching colds either? I’m turning 69 in a week. I’ll recap in another year. There’s still no cure for the common cold, but if two OTC supplements can stop colds before they start, man, I call that a revolution–and one helluva birthday present!

Odd Lots

  • Mercury has a tail. Whodathunkit? With all that solar wind blasting over it, the poor planet’s already thin atmosphere is constantly being driven outward, forming a tail over 24 million kilometers long. That makes ol’ Merc the biggest comet in the Solar System. You can’t see it visually; if you’re used to astrophotography, shoot through a sodium filter to make the tail more visible. Some good shots at the link; check it out.
  • NASA’s OSIRIS-REx probe has left asteroid Bennu and is headed for home as fast as limited fuel and orbital mechanics allow. It’s got 300 grams of asteroid dirt to drop, after which it will head into a parking orbit. NASA is considering another mission for the probe. Nothing crisp yet, but there’s still some life in the device, so why waste it?
  • Having listened carefully to 60 million stars in toward the galactic center, the Breakthrough Listen project has found no sign of alien intelligence. We may be the one impossibly unlikely fluke that solved the Drake Equation.
  • Relevant to the above: Our dwarfy next-door neighbor Proxima Centauri spit out a flare a couple of years ago that was 100 times more powerful than anything we’ve ever seen out of our Sun. If too many dwarf stars are in this habit, it could bode ill for the chances of life elsewhere in our galaxy, where we have red dwarf stars like some people have mice.
  • I stumbled across a British news/opinion site whose USP is going against the grain of conventional wisdom. Given the current drain-spiral of American media, it can be useful to have a few overseas news sites on your bookmarks bar. This one is definitely contrarian. It’s also sane and not prone to the often-comical frothing fury we see in news outlets here.
  • Tis the season to be stumbling, in fact: I stumbled upon Reversopedia, which is a compendium of things that we don’t know or can’t prove. The entries are odd lots for very large values of “odd.” E.g: “Why is space 3-dimensional? And is it?” I love that sort of thing because it makes me think about matters that could easily become the central gimmicks of SF stories.
  • Bari Weiss posted a solid article on Substack saying what a lot of people are thinking but afraid to say out loud: That vaccinated people don’t need masks, especially outside. Social pressure against mask skeptics is intense. Masks have become a culture-war thing, which is both absurd and dangerous: Antivaxxers are asking what is actually a sensible question: If the vaccines are real and not just saline solution, why do we have to keep wearing masks?
  • Substack (see above item) is an interesting concept, rather like a blog site that you can get paid for. A lot of articles can be read for free, and subscription fees for many writers are $5/month. It’s not a gumball machine for articles, but rather a gumball machine for writers. A lot of writers who would be anathema in big national vehicles can write there, gather a following, and make a living.
  • Is sleeping with your TV on ok? Short answer: No. (And I’m wondering how old the stock photo in the article is, given that it shows a glass-screen TV.)
  • IBM has just created a proof-of-concept chip with a 2NM process. IBM’s published density numbers for this node are 333M transistors per square millimeter, whew! They say 2NM will improve performance by 45% at the same power.
  • I haven’t said much about my book project Odd Lots lately. It was a classic “odd moments” project accomplished in moments scattered across the last year or two. I just got the first proof copy back from Amazon and will be cleaning it up as time allows. Most of what’s wrong are OCR errors of old writings for which I no longer have disk files and had to scan out of magazines. I expect to post it on Amazon before the end of May.

The Question That Nobody’s Asking

I’ve been scratching my head a lot lately, and I need to stop before I wear through my scalp. (My natural armor has been mostly gone for thirty-five years.) It’s a natural, nay obvious question, which I’m putting in bold and giving its own paragraph:

If masks prevent SARS-CoV-2 infections, where did the current explosion of cases and deaths come from?

Take a look at the screenshot below. This is from the Arizona Department of Health Services’ COVID-19 dashboard. The graph is deaths by date of death for the entire state of Arizona. The curve starts heading toward the sky during the last week in October.

AZCovidDeathsGraph-500 wide.png

Maricopa County, where we live, issued a mask mandate on June 19, 2020. That was right about when the first near-vertical slope in the graph began. It took a few weeks for the mandate to catch on, but by August 1, it was pretty much universal. That’s about when the curve started to fall. There was a certain amount of crowing that the mask mandate had brought the pandemic under control in the state.

Then the end of October happened.

Now, I’ve been watching not only whether people are wearing masks in retail outlets and offices (they are) but also what kinds of masks and how they’re being worn. Over time, the masks are getting better. I’m actually seeing KN95 masks with some frequency, and it’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve seen a useless “train robber” bandana mask anywhere. Mask adherence in the state is at 90%, which aligns with what I’ve seen, if perhaps on the low side. That’s a mighty high rate.

So again, my question: With mask adherence at 90%, why is the curve still so high? Note that the graph is of the days deaths happen, not when they are reported. Death reports are not all received by the state on the days deaths happen, and reports from rural areas can take a week or more to get to AzDHS. What looks like a falling curve at the right edge of the graph may simply be due to lag time in reporting.

There is certainly some inflation of death counts due to the problem of “with COVID but not of COVID.” Some. I don’t think that kind of confusion can cause the numbers we’re seeing here. And it’s inevitable that a certain amount of fraud happens; I’ve seen the news stories describing gunshot suicides, car accidents, and victims of alcohol poisoning described as COVID-19 deaths–some without a positive test for the virus. However, if there had been enough fraud to cause this explosion in deaths, somebody somewhere would have said something.

Wouldn’t they?

Ok. Although I’m open to other theories, I think it’s significant that something happened in the last week of October: Arizona temperatures crashed hard. We had a long, lingering summer here. Mid-October was still giving us 90+ degree days. That went down into the 60s and 70s in a big hurry.

It’s long been known that viral respiratory diseases become much more prevalent in cold weather. Why this should happen isn’t known with certainty. One theory is that influenza and corona viruses have a coating that becomes more rugged in colder temps, giving the virus a longer survival time in air and even in sun. Dry weather favors viruses for reasons that, again, are far from clear.

Well, in Arizona we have dry weather in spades, year-round. Cold, not so much. In fact, a typical winter’s day here is probably about the same temp as a typical summer’s day in North Dakota. Given the uncertainty about what causes viruses to infect more readily in winter, could it be a conjunction of cooler (than usual) temps and extreme dryness? Or (and I like this one better) is there something about the effect of a fall in temperatures (the delta, not the absolute temps) on the human body that gives the virus free rein?

That’s the only theory I have that I haven’t already shot down. It wasn’t Thanksgiving gatherings; the curve took off close to a month before Thanksgiving. And for all that, I consider it pretty thin gruel. It’s dry here probably 340 days a year. It’s even drier in summer than winter.

The theory that people spend more time indoors than outdoors in winter doesn’t apply in Arizona. The reverse is largely the case: When it’s 110 degrees outside, most people stay indoors, or maybe stand up to their necks in the pool. Winter is when people jog, bike, hike, and work outdoors, getting lots of fresh air and plenty of sun (and thus crucial Vitamin D) on their faces, arms, and legs.

Again, where the hell did that near-vertical runup in deaths come from?

I’ll tell you where it didn’t come from: People ditching their masks. The fact that mask compliance is at 90+% during an explosion in COVID-19 deaths screams out something a lot of people don’t want to hear: Masks don’t prevent infection. If they did, the increase would have been a lot more gradual, and probably a lot lower in magnitude.

Let me put it in short, simple words: Masks have been sold as a means of stopping the spread of SARS-CoV-2. They’ve been sold hard. Mask skeptics get called a whole lot of dirty words, even though we wear masks as a courtesy to the rule of law. Faced with a graph like the one the State of Arizona itself puts out, what are we supposed to think?

The graph says something else, perhaps a little more quietly: There are no COVID-19 experts. We still have very little understanding of how this thing spreads and (especially) why it hits some people so devastatingly hard, and others barely at all. When our (often self-appointed) experts told us to put on masks, we put on masks. And then the graph went through the roof.

I wish I had answers. I don’t. Why two peaks instead of one? What had been going on between the end of July and the end of September? Were we doing something right? If so, what? And what did we start doing wrong in late October?

Nobody knows. Read that again: Nobody knows.

If I figure it out, you’ll read about it here.

Just-So Stories

Here come the just-so stories. I ran into one some weeks ago that reminded me of the category. Most people think of Just-So stories as fables about animals, as Kipling wrote, especially fables about animal origins; e.g., how the leopard got his spots.

But that’s mostly because of Kipling. Wiktionary’s definition of a just-so story is “a story that cannot be proven or disproven, used as an explanation of a current state of affairs.” In most cases that’s true. In broader and more modern terms, a just-so story is an urban legend with a moral admonishing people to obey some stated principle or face the (scary) consequences. You’ve all probably seen your share, though you probably didn’t think of them as “just-so stories.” Still, that’s what they are.

Here’s the story I heard: A woman described having some unstated number of people over for Thanksgiving dinner. It was held outside, in Arizona. Some (unstated number) wore masks. The 13 others did not. The people who wore masks did not catch SARS-CoV-2. All the rest did.

I assume she thought she was doing a public service by frightening people into wearing masks all the time, everywhere. I don’t think she was ready for the response she got: People called her a fake, a yarn-spinner…a liar. The reason is fairly simple: The story is too pat. All the people who refused to wear masks got sick. None of the people who did wear masks got sick. And this was during a dinner held outdoors.

Is this possible? Of course. Is it likely? No, if you know anything at all about COVID-19. Was the dinner indoors? No. Were the dinner guests all older people? No. (The older people wore masks.) Young people may test positive for the virus, but they rarely show symptoms and almost never become seriously ill. And with even the slightest breeze, exhaled viruses are dispersed in seconds.

Yet, it was…just so. Medical privacy laws make such stories conveniently unverifiable.

I don’t want to pile on her too hard here, and thus won’t post a link. (I also don’t want to give her any more exposure than she’s already gotten.) The point I’m making is that urban legends are still very much with us, and unverifiable stories should be treated as such: useless at best and misleading at worst. The best way to fight urban legends is not to spread them. The second-best way is to (politely) state in the comments (if there is a comments section) that the story is an urban legend and not be trusted. The story may well have been “just so” in the teller’s imagination. In the real world, well…probably not.

Odd Lots