The economy will remain in bad shape until consumers feel more confident that they won’t come to regret what they splurge on.
For example, should you take your mother out to brunch today, Mother’s Day? (If so, should you go to an indoor or outdoor venue?)
After all, you might all have a nice time. That could happen. Or maybe halfway through, your mother might blurt out that she knows your wife just came up with this idea of taking her to a fancy restaurant for Mother’s Day in order to kill her so she can inherit her house, which could dampen the general mood slightly.
There is a general problem that the economy largely thrives on people splurging to impress others. But why spend a lot of money to go out if you can’t be confident that the people you are treating really want to go out?
At present, nobody really knows what’s a good idea and what’s a bad idea.
Restoring consumer confidence and general Animal Spirits would do a lot for the economy, but The Experts haven’t offered a lot of practical hands-on disinterested advice about what it relatively safe and what is relatively risky. They spent all of February and March lying to the public about how it wouldn’t help to wear a mask and how the real danger was not washing your hands enough. Granted, I understand why they lied: America shamefully didn’t even have enough masks for emergency room personnel after having them sucked up off our store shelves by the Chinese who mailed them back to China.
But that history of lying is not confidence inducing.
Since then, we haven’t heard much from The Experts about what is more or less safe.
Here’s a self-published essay by a biology professor named Erin Bromage:
Dr. Bromage offers a lot of (perhaps overconfident) hands on advice. And then in the comments, people in all sorts of occupations, often self-employed — such as doggy daycare and home organizing — ask him specific questions and he dares to give advice: e.g., a 15 minute haircut doesn’t sound too risky but watch out for a two hour hair treatment.
I’m rather dubious, but
His overall impressions are pretty similar to mine: you know all that stuff they told you in March about how this is mostly spread by touching rather than by talking, so just watch your hands a lot and don’t bother putting on a mask? Well, they were mostly pulling your leg. This is largely spread by respiration indoors.
Bromage cites a lot of the same well-documented early super-spreaders events as Jonathan Kay and I have.
All these infection events were indoors, with people closely-spaced, with lots of talking, singing, or yelling. The main sources for infection are home, workplace, public transport, social gatherings, and restaurants. This accounts for 90% of all transmission events. In contrast, outbreaks spread from shopping appear to be responsible for a small percentage of traced infections.
On the other hand, I’m concerned about biases stemming from the track and trace methodology. I suspect successful tracings might be biased toward respectable events, such as wedding receptions and funeral, where people sign Guest Registrars or have formal invitations or the like, or at least many of the guests know each other.
This methodological bias might help explain why so many of the most notorious super-spreader events were so intensely respectable, such as the notorious choir practice that infected 45 of the 60 members of church choir. Choirs have lists of members. In contrast, for example, gay bars thrive on anonymity and the thrill of meeting strangers. The South Korean government, with their 1984ish competence, just traced a big new outbreak to a gay bar. The Western media, which has been excited by the Korean ability to track and trace, is suddenly not so sure it’s such a good thing when it turned out a recent super-spreader went to three gay discos in one night.
… Where are people getting sick?
We know most people get infected in their own home. A household member contracts the virus in the community and brings it into the house where sustained contact between household members leads to infection.
But where are people contracting the infection in the community? I regularly hear people worrying about grocery stores, bike rides, inconsiderate runners who are not wearing masks…. are these places of concern? Well, not really. Let me explain.
In order to get infected you need to get exposed to an infectious dose of the virus; based on infectious dose studies with MERS and SARS, it is estimated that as few as 1000 SARS-CoV2 viral particles are needed for an infection to take hold.
Does it really work that way? Or is it something like that on average 1 out of 1000 viral particles leads to an infection? Statistically, it works out the same, but humans don’t understand statistics that well, so they tend to turn statistical realities into moral yeses or nos.
Please note, this still needs to be determined experimentally, but we can use that number to demonstrate how infection can occur. Infection could occur, through 1000 viral particles you receive in one breath or from one eye-rub, or 100 viral particles inhaled with each breath over 10 breaths, or 10 viral particles with 100 breaths. Each of these situations can lead to an infection. …
Unlike sneezing and coughing which release huge amounts of viral material, the respiratory droplets released from breathing only contain low levels of virus. We don’t have a number for SARS-CoV2 yet, but we can use influenza as a guide. We know that a person infected with influenza releases about 3 – 20 virus RNA copies per minute of breathing.
Remember the formulae: Successful Infection = Exposure to Virus x Time
If a person coughs or sneezes, those 200,000,000 viral particles go everywhere. Some virus hangs in the air, some falls into surfaces, most falls to the ground. So if you are face-to-face with a person, having a conversation, and that person sneezes or coughs straight at you, it’s pretty easy to see how it is possible to inhale 1,000 virus particles and become infected.
But even if that cough or sneeze was not directed at you, some infected droplets–the smallest of small–can hang in the air for a few minutes, filling every corner of a modest sized room with infectious viral particles. All you have to do is enter that room within a few minutes of the cough/sneeze and take a few breaths and you have potentially received enough virus to establish an infection.
But with general breathing, 20 copies per minute into the environment, even if every virus ended up in your lungs, you would need 1000 copies divided by 20 copies per minute = 50 minutes.
I suspect a lot of people will take this as meaning that if you only spend 45 minutes, you are golden, rather than that 45 minutes is 90% as risky as 50 minutes.
But, who knows, maybe I’m misinterpreting.
In summary, I’m not hugely trustworthy of Bromage’s advice, but it’s exactly the kind of thing we need to argue over now.