Biden Administration’s Shambolic Position on Covid’s Airborne Transmission Renders Their “Personal Risk Assessment” Absurd

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

As readers know, “Covid is airborne” (“Ten scientific reasons in support of airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2“). Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem possible to get the White House to adopt this messaging, which in addition to simplicity, has the great merit of being true:

The White House, apparently, prefers to speak through its actions, doubling down on Vax-only by holding its very own superspreading event, hailed as a paragon of “thoughtful” risk assessment:

(Wen’s “new normal” is a virtually psychotic dystopia, given that “living with Covid” implies Long Covid, as well as vascular and neurological damage, both in “mild” cases.)

I don’t see how it’s possible to be “thoughtful” about risk without a collectively agreed upon theory of transmission, a theory the Biden Administration resolutely refused to provide; it’s like being “thoughtful” about fire safety when phlogiston and oxygen are competing paradigms. For example, here’s future MSNBC personally Jen Psaki on masking:

Of course, Psaki cannot — will not — say: “Covid is airborne; of course we support masking.” So she fobs the matter off to the CDC, which is ludicrous, because Walensky is a creature of the White House.

In this post, I will demonstrate the Biden Administration’s shambolic position on airborne transmission, looking at the White House Office of Science and Technology, the CDC, and OSHA. Then I’ll conclude with a few remarks on personal risk-taking, and how the White House, by not adopting a scientifically proven theory of transmission, has made risk assessment much for difficult for poor shlubs like us whose return to normal doesn’t (we hope) include Covid parties.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

From the New York Times, “The White House emphasizes the importance of indoor air quality as the pandemic moves into a new phases“:

Alondra Nelson, chief of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said last week that the guidance was part of an initiative called the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge. In a blog post titled, “Let’s Clear the Air on Covid,” she cited the guidance and said, “Now, we all need to work collectively to make our friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers aware of what we can do or ask for to make being indoors together safer.”

“For decades, Americans have demanded that clean water flow from our taps and pollution limits be placed on our smokestacks and tailpipes,” Dr. Nelson wrote in the post. “It is time for healthy and clean indoor air to also become an expectation for us all.”

U.S. federal health authorities were initially slow to identify airborne transmission of the virus. It was only in October 2020 that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognized that the virus can sometimes be airborne, long after many infectious disease experts warned that the coronavirus traveled aloft in small, airborne particles. Scientists have been calling for a bigger focus on addressing that risk for more than a year.

The initiative is “really a big deal,” said William Bahnfleth, a professor of architectural engineering at Pennsylvania State University and head of the Epidemic Task Force at the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers. “It’s making the start that is often the most difficult part.”

CIDRAP comments:

Though some experts around the world have been arguing that point for years, and subsequently advocating for respirator use and enhanced ventilation systems, this is the first time the White House has formally acknowledged that aerosol transmission has been the primary driver of the COVID-19 pandemic. In doing so, it has turned away from the language used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Kudos to Nelson for a welcome breath of sanity. In her blog post, she writes:

The most common way COVID-19 is transmitted from one person to another is through tiny airborne particles of the virus hanging in indoor air for minutes or hours after an infected person has been there. While there are various strategies for avoiding breathing that air – from remote work to masking – we can and should talk more about how to make indoor environments safer by filtering or cleaning air.

As many pointed out, the simple message “Covid is airborne” does not appear, nor does the word “aerosol” (except in a footnote. The footnotes are interesting, because they show Nelson or her staff have been doing their own reading, and not relying on CDC blather). In addition, Nelson organized a virtual event entitled — Come on, come on! Covid is airborne!— “Let’s clear the air!” Here it is:

(First guest, Zeynep Tufecki, which is encouraging. Also Joseph Allen and Linsey Marr.)

Nevertheless, I think we can say that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is on the right track. (That’s a separate issue from whether Biden administration policy on ventilation is any good at all; and absent a clear statement that “Covid is airborne,” why should people be spending money on HVAC as opposed to, say, plexiglass barriers or deep cleaning?


We come now to the CDC which, on “Covid is airborne,” is just as stupid and horrid as NC readers would expect it to be.

Here is the menu structure of the CDC’s home page on Covid MR SUBLIMINAL Who did this?:

Notice, there is no menu item for Covid transmission whatever. No menu item like “How Covid spreads,” or “How You Can Catch Covid.” So I used the Search tool, and came up with this[1]:

This indigestible lump of prose has been hailed as CDC’s concession that “Covid is Airbornel,” but you can tell whoever wrote it did so while they were having an awesome sulk. Some problems with it:

1) If you can get from “SARS-COV-2 is transmitted by exposure to infectious respiratory fluids” to “aersols” let alone to “Covid is airborne,” you have my sincere congratulations. Personally, I think the headline is meant to sound so authoritative people will simply press the Back button.

2) The author places inhalation, desposition, and touching mucous membranes all on the same plane, when in fact there is overwhelming evidence for inhalation, and little to none for deposition and mucous membranes. (I would urge that the last two are simply political concessions to “droplet dogma” goons.)

3) When the author says “three principle ways (not mutually exclusive)” they imply that the risk for all three is the same. In fact, airborne tranmission is overwhelmingly the main risk and the others are negligible.

4) The author does not mention superspreading events, which are the most dangerous to the community, and only happen through aerosol transmission.

CDC is, in other words, increasing risk for readers by obfuscating the major mode of transmission.

In fact, if you really want to reduce risk, one good first step is to distrust anything CDC tells you. For example, take their “local guidance and county check” — please! Here’s Cook County:

I picked Cook County because it’s a rapid riser county. CDC, naturally, says it’s perfectly safe to go there. Even more stupidly and lethally, county check/community levels are virtually useless in assessing risk. You don’t catch Covid in a county; you catch Covid in a venue. Because Covid is airborne, you are taking a lot less risk walking in Grant Park on a sunny, windy day thn you are drinking and eating in a small, crowded room, sharing air with many others. By erasing all this logic, CDC is actively endangering people.


OSHA guidance on Covid has a long and complicated history, and to the best of my understanding, no guidance has in fact been released. In January 2021, Biden directed OSHA to issue “emergency temporary guidelines” on Covid. The result was a 780-page document entitled “Occupational Exposure to COVID-19; Emergency Temporary Standard” (PDF). Here is what the draft had to say on airborne transmission of Covid:

In general, enclosed environments, particularly those without good ventilation, increase

the risk of airborne transmission (CDC, December 31, 2020; Tang et al., August 7, 2020; Fennelly, July 24, 2020). In one scientific brief, CDC provides a basic overview of how airborne transmission occurs in indoor spaces without adequate ventilation. Once respiratory droplets are exhaled, CDC explains, they move outward from the source and their concentration decreases through fallout from the air (largest droplets first, smaller later) combined with dilution of the remaining smaller droplets and particles into the growing volume of air they encounter (CDC, October 5, 2020). Without adequate ventilation, continued exhalation can cause the amount of infectious smaller droplets and particles produced by people with COVID-19 to become concentrated enough in the air to spread the virus to other people (CDC, October 5, 2020).

In other words, OSHA understands both ventilation and superspreading. More:

For example, an investigation of a cluster of cases among meat processing employees in Germany found that inadequate ventilation within the facility, including low air exchange rates and constant air recirculation, was one key factor that led to transmission of SARS-CoV-2 within the workplace (Gunther et al., October 27, 2020). An epidemiological investigation of a cluster of COVID-19 cases in an indoor athletic court in Slovenia demonstrated that the humid and warm environment of the setting, combined with the turbulent air flow that resulted from the physical activity of the players, allowed COVID-19 particles to remain suspended in the air for hours (Brlek et al., June 16, 2020). A cluster of cases in a restaurant in China also suggested transmission of SARS-CoV-2 via airborne particles because of little mixing of air throughout the restaurant (Li et al., November 3, 2020). Infections have been observed with as little as five minutes of exposure in an enclosed room (Kwon et al., November 23, 2020). Outdoor settings (i.e., open air or structures with one wall) typically have a lower risk of transmission (Bulfone et al., November 29, 2020), which is likely due to increased ventilation with fresh air and a greater ability to maintain physical distancing.

This is pretty good (and tactfully shows CDC’s tendency to ignore the scientific side of the house when issuing guidance).

Unfortunately, the Biden administration pulled that guidance and had OSHA issue a rewrite. The resulting subsitute, after some gentle revision from the White House regulatory office, was basically Vax-only propaganda. As of today, there is no standard:

In late December, OSHA pulled the non-recordkeeping portions of its COVID-19 emergency temporary standard for healthcare because it could not issue a final standard on healthcare workers’ COVID-19 protections within a required six-month time frame.

The agency said at the time that it would continue work to develop the final standard and reaffirmed those intentions with this week’s announcement.

Unbelievably, the emergency rule now only applies to health care workers (!!), and may not appear at all. From Bloomberg, today:

[OSHA] wants to issue the permanent rule as a follow-on to its emergency temporary standard for health care issued on June 21. But the law creating OSHA—the Occupational Safety and Health Act—gives the agency just six months to issue a permanent version of a rule after enactment of an emergency standard, meaning the time to do so arguably expired four months ago.

“That six-month date was December 21, 2021. With no final standard issued, by then the effective period for the ETS lapsed and OSHA rightfully announced its withdrawal,” Marc Freedman, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s vice president for workplace policy, said in the chamber’s comment letter.

But OSHA isn’t likely to ditch the initiative. With the Supreme Court’s January decision that effectively killed the agency’s shot-or-test mandate and OSHA’s Dec. 27 announcement that it wasn’t enforcing its temporary standard, the permanent health-care rule is OSHA’s lone Covid-19 rulemaking.

Agency officials have said several times they intend to issue the permanent rule before end of 2022. OSHA took those written comments as part of that process.

On the other side, unions and other worker groups are concerned OSHA will water down the emergency health-care standard’s requirements. The AFL-CIO and National Nurses United have sued to compel the agency to issue an appropriate, and permanent, measure within 30 days of the court ordering it to do so.

“Rather than weaken the ETS and OSHA’s own enforcement stance, OSHA should prioritize and strengthen safety protections based on the ETS and experience of the COVID-19 pandemic,” wrote Debbie Hatmaker, chief nursing officer for the American Nurses Association.

Among the changes OSHA is considering is how much the final rule should align with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and how to allow employers to incorporate CDC guidance issued after the rule is issued. The regulator raised the idea by declaring that employers following the CDC guidance at the time of an inspection wouldn’t be cited for not adhering to older guidance specified in the standard. And the agency continues to get requests to extend the scope of the rule beyond health care to other essential industries such as food production.

Obviously, given the quality of CDC’s work, OSHA guidance should be controlling. Since making CDC guidance controlling is the stupidest and most lethal outcome, no doubt that is what will happen.


Here is what somebody who understands that Covid Is Airborne does when they want to assess risk. They check the concentratrion of CO2 to see how much air they are sharing in the venue (not the county ffs):

And on the Acela, what a shame:

Here is another example (at a WHO conference, interestingly):

I stashed away, and sadly now cannot find — readers? — a chart that mapped the percentage of CO2 in the air to the amount of other people’s breath you are breathing in (and a proxy for your risk of infection, since Covid is airborne). In lieu of that chart, and as a logical substitute for an expensive meter, I offer this chart, which is reasonably intuitive:

If you can’t spring for your own CO2 meter, then the logic on this chart is what to use.

Now, of all the Federal agencies discussed, which is likeliest to help you assess risk most accurately? Surely The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, since they at least understand that Covid is accurately. Surely not OSHA, politically hamstrung as it seems to be. And surely not the CDC. Because the CDC cannot commit to the scientifically proven theory of transmission — Covid is airborne! — you cannot, following their guidance, know how to prioritize purchasing a CO2 meter, categorizing the venues in which you will spend time, avoiding splashes to the nose, mouth or eye with a faceshield or even a plexiglass barrier, or washing your hands frequently so that if you touch your mucuous membranes, they’re clean. n fact, it probably has been already. What kind of “thoughtful” personal risk management is CDC enabling here? The CDC’s advice is actively bad, and if you follow it, it could be lethal. Meanwhile, we have three different agencies pursuing three different theories of transmission, making the whole situation even more shambolic. Thank you, adults in the room!


[1] For good measure, and just to make sure nobody misses the point, CDC has a second version of this page, but more sloppily drafted.


Just in case anybody didn’t get the memo, here it is:

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Screwball

    From the last Tweet

    Declare a win over Covid and move on.

    I can only imagine the outrage if this was the Trump administration. I can only conclude, not only on COVID, but the war, the economy, inflation, etc., the narrative managers get stellar grades for herding the serfs to accept all the lies.

    Well done! Orwell would be proud.

    1. Basil Pesto

      This is what I’ll call the Stoller Gambit. Matt was advocating for the Biden admin to do this late last year. They since have, and Stoller continues to give them shit for not doing enough to pretend the pandemic is over (!!!) (and if you happen to think, in accordance with, yknow, literally all of the evidence, that it’s ongoing and is never just going to magically end by itself, this apparently constitutes radical safetyist faucism). Part of me wonders if he’s been triggered by his arch-nemesis China’s general combination of rationalism, humanism and competence in dealing with this problem in the most obviously superior way.

      Very strange how this virus impedes peoples’ ability to think straight, whether infected or not.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I must admit I thought Stoller was being ironic when he first started writing about ‘declaring victory and moving on’. There is an argument of course to say that a second phase of fighting Covid would have been for the politicians to deliberately step back, and let the scientists and engineers just get on with fighting it as a technocratic problem, kind of like we’ve dealt with water borne diseases for 150 years. But the politicization of public health organizations throughout the western world has made this impossible.

        I thought that I was immune to shock at things that go on in the world, but the manner in which even people on the left seem to be willing the Chinese to fail with Covid (and by implication, have several million people die horribly) is something to behold.

        1. GM

          A lot of people showed their true colors in the pandemic.

          It was very sad to watch.

          You have a situation in which the ruling elites literally commit mass murder against the working class on a scale that exceeds the Holocaust (it actually does at this point, and we are only getting started), and using that to transfer wealth upwards (both directly from the dead and disabled — a lot of people will get foreclosed on because of LongCOVID and being unable to work — and from everyone else through the bailouts).

          The reaction of the “left” is not only to never mentions that but to start talking how letting it rip and getting infected is in your best interest.

          Only the WSWS has provided adequate coverage. I’m not a fan of them being Trotskyists but on that issue there should be no disagreement between anyone actually on the “left” — this is class warfare as clear cut and impossible to ignore as you can imagine.

          And yet…

          Truly despicable and extremely depressing to watch…

          1. GP40-2

            How did the population come to be split between those who think Covid/long-Covid is no big deal and that all restrictions should be lifted and those who think it is deadly serious and that going back to pre-Covid normal is akin to mass murder? Surely an examination of available data should be able to settle this debate once and for all.

            1. Verifyfirst

              Bloomberg article this morning:

              “…we can’t agree on a common set of facts because we haven’t created the data to understand where we are…”

              We’re Fighting Covid With Faulty Data


              NC has had a lot of discussions about data, measurement and definition problems in looking at Covid. Myself, I’m not sure good data would matter unless it was amplified by political leadership.

              1. Basil Pesto

                The ironic thing is, this “public health as personal responsibility”, while obviously crap to begin with, is made impossible with the meagre data we have now. I mean, CDC turned a whole map green for fuck’s sake. Hard to take personal responsibility when you have no intelligence to determine what the hell is going on.

              2. Acacia

                Agree with your last point, though in this instance doesn’t it seem that data is lacking because, once again, “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy”…?

      2. Lambert Strether Post author

        > Stoller continues to give them shit for not doing enough to pretend the pandemic is over

        Needs a link.

        > Very strange how this virus impedes peoples’ ability to think straight, whether infected or not.

        It does. (This is a general observation, not a response to your comment.)

        1. Basil Pesto

          of course, see here: starting with my nested reply first. His tweet:

          I don’t think student debt relief or the failure to pass Build Back Better or really any of the leftist complaints are why Biden is flailing. He was elected to deal with COVID and he screwed it up. We got half ass theater and whininess from Fauci.

          granted this is in perfect tense, but the fact he’s making this observation in late April suggests to me that he still thinks it obtains, especially when read in tandem with this:

          There was a discussion yesterday on Biden sinking among young voters. My random instinct is that the right pointed out early on that COVID restrictions were bad, and Dems fought it. But the right was correct.

          this seems to be a commonality with the libertarian (centre-)left (including Kaminska and Taibbi, the latter of whom pathetically went to Vinay Prasad as an apparently informative covid source when in fact he is a degenerate charlatan who couldn’t care less if you or your family live or die as long as he can flog his pamphlets about the tyranny of disease control): fully subscribed to the vax-and-done flavour variant of the GBD hellscape that we’re all currently living in. And from Kaminska and Taibbi in particular, this is a huge disappointment, because they are very capable and non-lazy journalists who could easily do interviews with Leonardi and Greg Travis and David Berger à la WSWS, do it without the Trotskyist slant, be confrontational/questioning if they wished, and run them accordingly. But they choose not to. I mean, Kaminska unironically follows Martin Kulldorf and vanishingly few actual anti-covid scientists. What can you even say to that? It’s incredible self-delusion

          They apparently seem to believe the most stupid strawman conceit imaginable, let’s call it the We CaN’t StAy lOcKeD dOwN fOrEvEr school of thought: that there’s a group of people who want properly executed lockdowns not because they can solve the problem – which they can, if properly executed – but just for the sake of it. Acting like they can’t work is tantamount to arguing that quarantine doesn’t work – I can’t think of a more stupid line of argument, ignoring literally 1000s of years of human history and knowledge accumulation.

          They are actually in one sense directionally correct, to be strictly fair: they understand that Fauci is a shonky tosser, as are many of his colleagues, and that the authorities have effed up massively, including top-down lying that makes Joe Rogan and the Ivermectinists look like the irrelevant distractions that they actually are. But, bewilderingly, from that starting point they conclude not that we’ve not done enough to fight SARS2, but apparently that we’ve done too much bc muh freedumbs. As I cannot stress enough, these libertarian types are so dim, so devoid of imagination, so ignorant of basic human/medical history, that they truly seem to believe that the only thing that can rob us of our ‘freedom’ is the state, and not an out of control SARS pandemic. I mean, it’s just astonishing, I don’t know what to say at this point. Again, people have lost the ability to think straight, pozzed or not, and I’m glad you agree.

          (apologies for the parenthesising. hyperactive and angry trains of thought whenever I commit to this topic)

  2. DonCoyote

    Offering this up, from Axios:

    How the pandemic is changing home design

    Of course, not a word or even a whisper about ventilation. Moar/bigger is the bottom line.

    Based on the results of the America at Home Study, Garman Homes of Raleigh, North Carolina, built a 2,600-square-foot concept home called “Barnaby” that reflects what consumers want, which includes more access to outdoor space and room to exercise.

    Please, sir, may I have more opportunities to breathe heavily indoors (without improved ventilation)?

    As the Useful Idiots podcast says, I read this so you don’t have to.

  3. Alyosha

    So I did get the intended meaning from the published statement on transmission, but I do this sort of thing and read such statements professionally. I agree though, the headline and structure would lead a non-professional to conclude that the most important exposure pathway is via droplets. My reading would be moderate risk for surfaces (wash your hands and no risk) and moderate risk for respiratory droplets (because of aerodynamics), but significant risk for aerosols (because of how they act in indoor air). Given what I do for a living and that my wife has to have her immune system turned off so it doesn’t kill her, the last two years have been incredibly angering and frustrating. This is not a matter of “personal responsibility” but public health, and we’ve bungled it as a public health response from day one to …. however many days its been now.

    OSHA has several problems here, and one is that it doesn’t have any standard for Indoor Air Quality. I have to use a combination of recommendations from various sources like ASHRAE to discuss IAQ. The only applicable OSHA regulation would be the 5000 ppm CO2 PEL (8 hour average), but that’s not what this is about. Plus it’s not just this that is highly politicized with OSHA, most of the OSHA regulations are 40 years out of date in terms of science. And, if OSHA issues a final rule it will only go into effect in states that do not have a state OSHA program. For states that do, they’ll have some period of time (usually 6 months) to either adopt the federal OSHA rule or institute one of their own that is at least as restrictive as OSHA.

    I think I’ve mentioned this before, ASHRAE recommends that indoor CO2 concentrations not be more than 700 ppm above exterior CO2 concentrations. You can assume exterior concentrations of about 450 ppm, though this may vary a bit seasonally and in heavy urban environments.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > So I did get the intended meaning from the published statement on transmission, but I do this sort of thing and read such statements professionally. I agree though, the headline and structure would lead a non-professional to conclude that the most important exposure pathway is via droplets.

      Thanks for this comment. I think the intended meaning is the obfuscation, and that the wording is the result of internal factional struggles at CDC, and nothing to do with science or public health whatever.

  4. Rolf

    That CDC explainer. I don’t know what to say … except why bother? This sort of word salad is tantamount to describing GSWs by the risk of “contact penetration of vital internal organs by lead particles having sufficiently high kinetic energy“. Would that qualify as a “thoughtful risk assessment”?

    1. JBird4049

      Isn’t that the point? Make it so clinical, dry, and long that it looks like something ordained by nature any outside of human control.

      One can see the same thing in other documents like police reports or news releases: The officers questioned a suspect. Three firearms were discharged. The suspect was taken to the hospital and pronounced dead.

      Usually, they don’t lie. They just leave out agency and the reasons for what happened. Everything just happened for some reason, somehow. That means nobody had agency, which means nobody is responsible for anything, and therefore cannot get in trouble for anything. The various government agencies and departments are too concerned about image control, ass covering, and probably either making money or satisfying their patrons that they have nothing left for their job of keeping us alive and healthy. This is all camouflaged by the obfuscating, desiccated pile of honest lies.

  5. Ernie

    Lambert and others: I just somewhat randomly ran across what looks to be an extensive and authoritative FAQ on “Protecting Yourself from Covid-19 Aerosol Transmission” put together by a list of “[s]cientists and engineers with many years of collective research experience related to indoor air quality, aerosol science, aerosol disease transmission, and engineered control systems for aerosols.” I haven’t had time to dig in too deeply yet, but it looks like a badly needed source for good information on the subject.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > “Protecting Yourself from Covid-19 Aerosol Transmission”

      The author list is very good. We’ve linked to this before, but I linked again, since as a FAQ it does update.

  6. Verifyfirst

    “Covid-19 was third leading cause of death in the United States in 2021, CDC reports”

    These are just the “official” numbers–I’m going to guess heart disease and cancer–the two causes shown as causing more deaths–are orders of magnitude more accurately counted.

    “More than 415,000 people died from Covid-19 in 2021, while about 605,000 people died from cancer and about 693,000 people died from heart disease”.

    It’s really not much of a stretch to think Covid, including Covid-induced deaths down the line–if accurately counted, was in fact #1. Not to mention the much larger disability numbers.

    And yet, no one cares. It’s apparently more dangerous than polio ever was, but if a case of polio pops up in a remote village in Pakistan, WHO is still today all over it and it makes international news. Huh?

    My own rule of thumb is–if it kills less people than Covid, I no longer have to care about it. And that pretty much eliminates everything–childhood illnesses, car crashes, gun violence, food poisoning–lets stop wasting resources trying to fight all that stuff, cuz who cares? Not us, obviously.

    1. Skunk

      There has long been an attempt underway to eradicate polio. That’s why occasional cases are important to public health authorities.

      With SARS-CoV-2, the best approach by far would have been to take rapid, early action to try to contain the initial outbreak. SARS-CoV-1 was contained partly because the few initial cases were taken seriously, contact-traced, and in that case the genie was put back into the bottle.

  7. Mikel

    It just occurred to me. We should start a rumour that Covid has life saving particles in the aerosols.

    The administration and CDS would pass guidelines to filter air so quickly that our heads would spin.

  8. allan

    I stashed away, and sadly now cannot find … a chart that mapped the percentage of CO2
    in the air to the amount of other people’s breath you are breathing in …

    Not a chart, but a fairly simple approximate formula:

    Rebreathed fraction = (ppm in shared space – ppm outdoors)/(ppm in average exhalation)
    = (ppm reading – 450)/35,000

    on a 0 to 1 scale.
    The reciprocal of this, 35,000/(ppm reading – 450),
    is the number of breaths you can take (statistically speaking)
    before the next lungful you draw in consists purely of other people’s breath.

    Ex. 1,781 ppm on the Acela translates into

    (1781-450)/35,000=0.038 = 3.8% rebreathed fraction,
    or locking lips with your fellow passengers every 13 breaths.

  9. QR

    The scope and scale of official malfeasance regarding covid is great indeed.

    Another example: belatedly I realized that the CDC’s “updated” recommendations on the linked Safework page refer to Delta. So does MN’s official spin excusing breakthrough cases, which references “more-transmissible Delta variant” (

    Neither federal nor state page references any post-Delta variant.

    Yet five months after Omicron emerged, this is generally referenced and officially published as current, reliable, scientifically sound guidance.

  10. Basil Pesto

    Interestingly, ran a genuinely good story, with good scientists, on airborne transmission on the weekend. I doubt Rupey has had a come to Jesus moment ( is the online masthead for all of news corp’s Australian papers), more likely it’s just a case of one capable young reporter’s work breaking through. Still, it’ll be interesting to see if such stories appear on Fox News or, perhaps more instructively, the WSJ.

    Still, while the importance of disseminating the fact of Covid’s being airborne is important, I have reservations about the #CleanTheAir etc hashtag activism. Like, clean the air by all means, but this stinks of just the more acceptable face of the hubristic and moronic “Living With Covid” ‘strategy’, which simply will not work (or, taking optimistic projections for the 10 year outcome of the virus at face value, will have taken an unconscionable toll by the time it has and the intrinsic threat of the disease is markedly reduced. If that happens.). Cleaning the air will probably make the optimal end goal a lot easier to attain (that is, elimination – but bear in mind that elimination is a technically straightforward objective that could be achieved in less than a year in the developed world). But vaccines gave us the opportunity to do that too with pre-delta variants, and we squandered them under the mistaken belief that they would allow us to “live with the virus”, which they haven’t (on the timescale that matters – 5-10 years at least – all that this round of vaccines will have done is caused a temporary blip in the mortality/morbidity for 2021. Hooray.) My fear is that this clean air aim is something of a chimera that is ultimately only going have the result of turning the heat down a few levels on the stove on which we’re boiling the frog (NC readers might draw an analogy between this and the misguided belief that electric vehicles – worthy though they may be – are hardly capable of stopping global warming by themselves). I certainly have doubts that ‘clean air infrastructure’, whatever it looks like, will be as effective at stopping outbreaks as, say, water hygiene infrastructure has been at stopping cholera outbreaks, for example.

    1. GM

      “Cleaning the air” is another distraction.

      I don’t know if that particular political con trick has a specific name, but the strategy is quite ingenious — we propose something that sounds good and everyone can rally behind, then some effort is spent towards it, but the tiny flaw in the plan is that what is actually called for is so enormous in scale (in this case retrofitting all the infrastructure) that of course the problem that is supposed to be solve never gets solved because there was never any hope of ever doing enough to solve it through that route.

      So a lot of energy gets wasted towards it but with no meaningful progress.

      The end result is that the major problem persists but the strength of the opposition to that has been diminished as it has spent its bullets.

      We saw games of that nature being played repeatedly.

      Vaccination was supposed to solve the problem. Instead all it did was to lock in mass infection.

      Lots of people pushed to rapid tests. All that this achieved was to push infections away from the official stats and ensure mass undetected spread.

      In both cases there is strong suspicion that the outcome was foreseen by that powers that be in advance, and that’s why those “solutions” were pushed so hard.

      But well meaning people fell for the ruse too and played the role of useful idiots.

      “Clean the air” will be like that too.

      We know what works — lock the F down, nobody leaves there home under threat of imprisonment, mass test everyone daily (again, under threat of severe legal repercussions if resisting), isolate the infected, preferably in centralized quarantine, and then the virus goes away. That solves the problem in a couple months, depending on how far it has been allowed to go, and a tiny fraction of the cost of retrofitting all indoor spaces.

      Nothing else has been shown to make a meaningful difference.

      But the combination of desire to look for quick technofixes that allows to have our cake and eat it too plus at this point the well developed fear of being called an “extremist” if you call for lockdowns is doing wonders to the pro-uncontrolled COVID spread forces…

      1. Basil Pesto

        This reminds me of the point you’ve made before about the whole “vaccinate the world” vaccine equity thing. On the one hand, you’d have to be a massive turd to have any kind of in-principle objection to ~vaccine equity~. On the other hand, the idea that we’re supposed to vaccinate the entire planet at the same time (within about a 3 month window at most, assuming a strain-matched vaccine) and take no other mitigations is just such obviously, and yep that will solve the problem is just such fanciful bullshit nonsense. And this non-solution is meant to be more realistic, less extremist than the already extant, repeatedly proven solution that could have the problem pretty much licked in the developed world within 12 months? It’s just such unreal mindboggling stupidity. Even dim children can get their heads around the short term pain (competently executed lockdown with technical elimination as the objective) for long term gain (freedom from a relentless pathogen that is really just taking the absolute piss out of us at this point) concept.

      2. T_Reg

        I notice in writing about a lockdown that you are fine with “centralized quarantines” and imprisonment, while saying nothing about providing food to those locked down, not to mention a basic income to prevent people from financial ruin and homelessness. We tried lockdowns with only minor financial support (and accumulation of personal debt in back rent), and we’re lucky the outcome wasn’t a violent breakdown of society.

        1. Basil Pesto

          GM has actually made the point repeatedly over the past couple of years that effective lockdown strategy requires a downward redistribution of wealth, and an abandonment of austerity policy – ie temporarily pay people not to work (and food supply goes without saying too). Otherwise it won’t be effective as disease control, and in practice will just piss everybody off and turn them against the solution – and it really is, to date, the only solution.

          A salient example of this is Victoria, Australia’s successful elimination lockdown in 2020, compared with its lockdown to stall for time in 2021. The former had a Jobkeeper support payment system in place; this was removed by 2021 and the lockdown failed and was predictably nowhere near as well tolerated by the public.

          (We were instead told in Australia that Delta was simply too contagious to be stopped. This was a lie, as China showed repeatedly. We have been told the same for Omicron; this too has been a lie, as China ex Shanghai – who failed to lockdown timeously, deliberately – have shown repeatedly)

          1. GM

            Yes, exactly. Thank you for explaining it.

            And know I am catching myself in the sin of having repeated something so many times that I assume it is background knowledge when it is in fact not.

            Of course the downward redistribution is exactly why they are letting it rip. Can’t have that in a neoliberal system.

            1. T_Reg

              I should have taken the basic measure of reviewing older posts/comments. Instead, I just “flew off the handle”. I promise to try to do better in the future.

              1. GM

                No, it’s my fault, it needs to be repeated all the time. Lesson learned.

                And it actually goes back to the beginning of the pandemic.

                The people who were aware of the purely scientific aspects of the problem early on suffered from failing to understand the social aspect of what is happening when the first lockdowns came.

                I myself only realized, to my immeasurable horror, that they are indeed going to let it rip when I started following the business channels in March 2022 (when it became clear the economic crisis is going to be serious). Initially the talk there and in the press was about “GDP” and “the economy”, but then it shifted to one talking head after another being paraded on the screen and complaining, with what was sincere horror on their side, about how we can’t be paying people not to work. And only then did it click in my head. Before that I was the naive scientist who foolishly thought that endemic SARS will be such an unacceptable reality that everything will be done to stop it. How could that even be questioned? Well, the power structures had other ideas.

                In brief, we needed a 6-month long lockdown in the West once it had gotten so out of hand in March 2020. Victoria did it in 4 months with lockdown alone, but in the US it would have taken longer because of how much more spread there was. It could have been shortened with mass testing, but in March 2020 the Chinese had not yet demonstrated that you can do that, so nobody seriously considered it. And I am skeptical about the realistic ability to set it up in the US.

                Also, keep in mind that the US was the only country that mattered here — if the US let it rip, everyone else who is subordinated to the US had to let it rip too, because there would be no world in which e.g. Germany, with 100+ US military bases on its territory, let alone smaller countries on the periphery, would have put the US on the red list for travel. That was never happening. This is why South Korea and Japan never even tried to eliminate even though they had the social cohesion and functional organization to do it (recall how it was precisely the US military that sparked the first large Omicron outbreak in Japan).

                So the internal social dysfunction in the US doomed the rest of the world.

                In short, you had to stop everything for 6 months and clear the virus. This means:

                1) Pay people not to work, while mobilizing some portion of them, preferably the young, to man the life supporting systems. This threatens the foundations of the system of exploitation, in which people depend on having a job for their physical survival (and are controlled that way). Completely unacceptable.

                2) You had to take from the rich to pay these wages. Completely unacceptable, downwards wealth transfer.

                3) Cancel debts because the velocity of money has stopped. This threatens the other pillar of the system — interest is a key mechanism for how real wealth gets transferred from the poor to the rich. Completely unacceptable, downwards wealth transfer.. BTW, I am still surprised that someone like Michael Hudson has not been banging that drum non-stop for the last two years — the conclusion that the ruling class mass murdered many millions in order to preserve their privileges directly follows from and provides support for his ideas.

                4) Move to a command wartime economy, in which the state tells corporations what to do. Again, completely unacceptable — corporations have to be more powerful than the state under neoliberalism. They got burned once with a temporary (and only partial) inversion of that relationship during WWII, they are not repeating that mistake.

                Again, in retrospect one had to very naive and misguided to think that it would have been allowed to threaten the existing power structures in such a way. And I was that naive and misguided. Some countries did some of the above. But the US? There was never a chance.

                Worse, it turned out the virus is actually useful from the perspective of our overlords — it will eliminate a lot of pensions and healthcare spending by drastically lowering life expectancy. So it was also in their active interest to let it rip.

                Unfortunately, almost nobody realizes the above to this day.

                What happened was that because most people in the West live in completely ignorance about and disconnect from the world around them (we again go back to the fact that most of them can’t locate Ukraine on the map), for most the first time they met the pandemic was when the economy came crashing in March 2020. They had no idea what SARS is (let’s face it, most have no idea what a virus is to begin with), and they had no idea what had happened in Wuhan, Iran, Italy, etc. And aside from NYC, most weren’t directly affected early on either. But the loss of income and employment were very real (because of the refusal to follow the steps outlined above) and that was how people first interacted with the pandemic. Which laid the foundations for tricking them into thinking that it will be in their interest to “live” with the virus — everything was done to frame this as a “livelihoods vs. the flu” issue, the long-term dangers were never clearly explained, and the alternative was never formulated.

                As I keep saying, if there was ever mass understanding of what happened, social order would fall apart, as the population, which in the US is heavily armed, would be out for blood, literally. The conclusion that follows is that from here on there can be no reversal of policy, because if you admit you committed mass murder in the past (which is what switching to an aggressive viral spread suppression system would mean), then the question logically comes up regarding who will be held responsible for that. So they will be doubling down on suppressing information instead and letting the virus rip, and they will presumably keep doubling down even if something quite a bit worse than what happened in India descends upon us at some point in the future…

                It’s really depressing

                1. Acacia

                  Depressing indeed, but you’ve given nearly the best summary of the epidemic that I’ve read to date. This could easily be hoisted up into a stand-alone article.

                2. Kouros

                  Remembering why the 1918 pandemic was called “The Spanish Flu” should clear things up. Spain, as a neutral country, had no problems mentioning about the flu, whereas the US, which was shipping soldiers to the western front, and with a lot of them taken by this flu that likely originated in Kansas pig farms, had taken the decision to “burry” such news. And burry they did…

      3. Lambert Strether Post author

        > We know what works — lock the F down, nobody leaves there home under threat of imprisonment, mass test everyone daily (again, under threat of severe legal repercussions if resisting), isolate the infected, preferably in centralized quarantine, and then the virus goes away. That solves the problem in a couple months, depending on how far it has been allowed to go, and a tiny fraction of the cost of retrofitting all indoor spaces.

        Indeed (and I recall Andy Slavitt, of all people, advocating the very same concept back in the early days; he found it reassuring that and end to the pandemic was always a maximum of 60 days away). However, that would require bringing the process of capital accumulation to a halt, and provisioning workers for the duration of the lockdown, since wage labor would halt for that time. And who wants that? (Well, China, apparently, but they don’t understand “freedom.”) Let’s not give the proles ideas.

        I think the basic prerequisite for any political action on Covid is being clear on how it’s transmitted: “Covid is airborne.” This includes the possibility of lockdowns. So to that extent I regard the White House Office of Science and Technology as encouraging; aerosol experts finally got to speak in a form adjacent to electeds. I also disagree on “useful idiots.” For example, anybody who prevents a classroom infection with a Corsi box could be saving a life. I don’t regard that as idiocy. In fact, the grassroots aerosol advocacy, Corsi-box building, masking support, CO2 measuring, is a mass movement — albeit, I grant, not visible as such. Yet — that I find encouraging, along with Amazon and Starbucks.

  11. fajensen

    I had this idea of writing a sci-fi story about the creation of Strong AI, where the quantum-based AI (for it’s own selfish reasons, because it simply picks a world where it will be safe) makes a world model where all manner of dire things will happen to humanity, and the powerful cabal of elites who created the AI, sets about deliberately creating all the conditions for the AI-predicted disasters, because, by doing that, they feel in control of the world and they even get to front-run everyone’s trip down to the singularity, which makes them very rich and powerful.

    Whenever someones actions deviates from The Model, it loses coherence, and elites are scrambling spec-ops and drones to cleanse the deviants and restore the known path to disaster rather than risk facing anything that is unpredictable.

    They are continuously marking the world to model, basically, rather than considering that The Model is just showing one possible universe and humans can just pick another one right out from infinity, simply by choosing to deviate from The Model.

    Then Corona happened, and I realised that there would be no market nor any interest for this kind of story because it is pretty much what is happening right now, only without any AI needed.

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