Thursday Reads

Laurette's head with a coffee cup,, Henri Matisse

Laurette’s head with a coffee cup, by Henri Matisse

Good Morning!!

I live in a 10th floor apartment that looks out at a busy street. Over the last year, I’ve looked out to see very little traffic, even in the rush hour. Now that Massachusetts has opened up again, the view of the street is nearly back to normal, with cars slowly moving slowly bumper to bumper in the hours when people are commuting to and from work. But is the pandemic really over? How much of a threat is the Delta variant of Covid-19? And what about the new variant, Delta Plus?

Dhruv Khullar at The New Yorker: The Delta Variant Is a Grave Danger to the Unvaccinated.

Lineage B.1.617.2, now known as the Delta variant, was first detected in India, in December, 2020. An evolved version of sars-CoV-2, Delta has at least a dozen mutations, including several on its spike protein that make it vastly more contagious and possibly more lethal and vaccine-resistant than other strains. In India, the Delta variant contributed to the most devastating coronavirus wave the world has seen so far; now, it has been detected in dozens of countries, including the United States. In the U.S., it accounts for a minority of cases—but it is rapidly outcompeting other variants, and will likely soon become our dominant lineage.

Much of what we know about Delta is preliminary, and based on reports from India and, more recently, the U.K., where it now accounts for more than ninety per cent of new cases. Four-fifths of British adults have received at least one shot of a covid-19 vaccine, and more than half are fully vaccinated—but the variant has spread widely enough among those who remain vulnerable to fuel a quadrupling of cases and a doubling of hospitalizations in the past month. The vast majority of Delta-variant cases seem to have occurred in adults under fifty, whose rates of vaccination remain lower than those of older people. Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the U.K.’s full reopening, originally scheduled for June 21st, would be postponed.

Earlier this year, scientists estimated that lineage B.1.1.7—the Alpha variant, first isolated in England—could be some sixty per cent more transmissible than the original version of sars-CoV-2. Now, experts believe that the Delta variant is sixty per cent more transmissible than Alpha—making it far more contagious than the virus that tore through the world in 2020. It hasn’t yet been conclusively shown that Delta is more lethal, but early evidence from the U.K. suggests that, compared to Alpha, it doubles the risk of a person’s being hospitalized. Even if the variant turns out to be no deadlier within any one person, its greater transmissibility means that it can inflict far more damage across a population, depending on how many people remain unvaccinated when it strikes.

It’s a long article, so check it out if you’re interested. Here’s the conclusion:

In a sense, Delta is the first post-vaccination variant. Pockets of the human race—perhaps five hundred million people out of 7.6 billion—are protected against it, despite its transmissibility; for them, the pandemic’s newest chapter is something of an epilogue, since the main story has, in effect, already concluded. But, for those who remain unvaccinated, by choice or by chance, Delta represents the latest installment in an ongoing series of horrors. It’s a threat more sinister than any other—one that imperils whatever precarious equilibrium has taken root. In a partially vaccinated world, Delta exposes the duality in which we now live and die.

From the BBC article:

India’s health ministry says studies showed that the so-called Delta plus variant – also known as AY.1 – spreads more easily, binds more easily to lung cells and is potentially resistant to monoclonal antibody therapy, a potent intravenous infusion of antibodies to neutralise the virus.

The variant is related to the Delta, an existing variant of concern, which was first identified in India last year and is thought to have driven the deadly second wave of infections this summer in India.\The health ministry says the Delta plus variant, first found in India in April, has been detected in around 40 samples from six districts in three states – Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh. At least 16 of these samples were found in Maharashtra, one of the states hardest hit by the pandemic.

Delta plus has also been found in nine other countries – USA, UK, Portugal, Switzerland, Japan, Poland, Nepal, Russia and China – compared to the original highly contagious Delta strain, which has now spread to 80 countries.

The Cup of Tea, Mary Cassatt

The Cup of Tea, Mary Cassatt

It’s still not clear how serious the thread of Delta Plus is.

“You need biological and clinical information in order to consider whether it is truly a variant of concern.”

This means India needs more data to determine whether the variant is neutralised by antibodies generated by available vaccines or infection by another variant of the coronavirus.

Also, extensive data is needed about the increase in transmissibility, diagnostic failures – routine tests not picking up the variant – and whether the variant is causing more severe disease.

“You need to study a few hundred patients who are sick with this condition and variant and find out whether they are at greater risk of greater disease than the ancestral variant,” Dr Kang said.

Still, in places in the U.S. where many people are unvaccinated, it seems that these variants are nothing to fool around with. There’s much more information at the BBC link.

This is from Science Magazine: Delta variant triggers dangerous new phase in the pandemic.

When the coronavirus variant now called Delta first appeared in December 2020, in the Indian state of Maharashtra, it did not seem all that remarkable. But when it descended on New Delhi a few months later, its impact was devastating, with almost 30,000 cases reported daily in late April. “Suddenly … it is dominant and completely sweeps away Alpha,” which until then was most prevalent in the city, says Anurag Agrawal, who leads the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in New Delhi.

New Delhi seemed unlikely to suffer a big new outbreak because so many of its residents had already been infected or vaccinated, Agrawal says. But those protections seemed to barely slow Delta, which is more transmissible and may evade immunity, he says: “It went from a 10-foot wall around the city to a 2-foot wall you could just walk over.”

From New Delhi, the variant has quickly spread, and it now looks set to sweep the globe in what could be a devastating new wave. In the United Kingdom, Delta already makes up more than 90% of all infections; it has driven COVID-19 case numbers up again after a dramatic decline and led the government last week to postpone the final stage of its reopening plan. A Delta-driven resurgence in Lisbon prompted the Portuguese government to enact a 3-day travel ban between the city and the rest of the country. The variant may account for 90% of all COVID-19 cases in the European Union by the end of August, Andrea Ammon, the head of the European Centre for Disease

Prevention and Control, warned today. “It is very likely that the Delta variant will circulate extensively during the summer, particularly among younger individuals that are not targeted for vaccination,” she said. “This could cause a risk for the more vulnerable individuals to be infected and experience severe illness and death if they are not fully vaccinated.“

Melinda L. Cootsona, Black Coffee Ode to RD

Melinda L. Cootsona, Black Coffee Ode to RD

Delta also appears also to be causing surges in Russia, Indonesia, and many other countries. In the United States, where its prevalence is now estimated to be at least 14%, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared Delta a “variant of concern” on 15 June.

Read the rest at the link.

One more lengthy story to check out at CNBC: Covid is already deadlier this year than all of 2020. So why do many in U.S. think the problem’s over?

As the U.S. pushes ahead with its reopening, easing mask mandates and lifting public health restrictions, much of the rest of the world is seeing an alarming surge in the number of Covid-19 infections and deaths.

The stark contrast underscores how unevenly the coronavirus pandemic has spread, now hitting low-income nations harder as they struggle with access to vaccines, the rapid spread of new variants and heavily burdened health-care systems.

It also shows why, even with nations such as the U.S., China and the U.K. recording relatively low Covid infections and fatalities thanks to a mass vaccination drive, the global health crisis is still far from over.

To be sure, more people have died from Covid this year than in all of 2020, according to data compiled by the World Health Organization. The official global death toll stood at 1,813,188 at the end of 2020. More than 2 million people have died as a result of Covid so far this year.

There’s much more at the link. I’m very glad I’m fully vaccinated, but I’m still not going to keep taking precautions.

In other news, we’re learning more about the Trump gang’s efforts to use the justice department to attack their political enemies. 

The Guardian: House investigates possible shadow operation in Trump justice department.

Top Democrats in the House are investigating whether Trump justice department officials ran an unlawful shadow operation to target political enemies of the former president to hunt down leaks of classified information, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The House judiciary committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, is centering his investigation on the apparent violation of internal policies by the justice department, when it issued subpoenas against Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell in 2018.

Simon Quadrat Man Drinking Tea

Simon Quadrat, Man Drinking Tea

The use of subpoenas to secretly seize data from the two Democrats on the House intelligence committee – and fierce critics of Donald Trump – would ordinarily require authorization from the highest levels of the justice department and notably, the attorney general.

But with the former Trump attorneys general Bill Barr and Jeff Sessions denying any knowledge of the subpoenas, Democrats are focused on whether rogue officials abused the vast power of the federal government to target Trump’s perceived political opponents, the source said.

That kind of shadow operation – reminiscent of the shadow foreign policy in Ukraine that led to Trump’s first impeachment – would be significant because it could render the subpoenas unlawful, the source said.

And if the subpoenas were issued without proper authorization from the attorney general level, it could also leave the officials involved in the effort open to prosecution for false operating with the imprimatur of law enforcement.

The sharpening contours of the House judiciary committee’s investigation into the Trump justice department reflects Democrats’ determination to uncover potential politicization at the department.

And from Media Matters: “From POTUS”: Trump wanted Justice Department to investigate a QAnon-linked election conspiracy theory.

The ongoing release of materials on former President Donald Trump’s attempts to subvert the 2020 election has shown the extent to which the White House pushed for the Department of Justice to investigate far-out conspiracy theories linked to the QAnon movement. And the latest example might also show that false stories circulated in far-right media made their way to Trump himself.

The Detroit News reported last week on emails recently released by the House oversight committee showing some of the Trump administration’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. On December 14 — the same day when the members of the Electoral College met across the country to formalize Joe Biden’s victory — White House aide Molly Michael sent an email to acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen with the subject “From POTUS.”

Peasant Girl drinking her coffee, Camille Pissarro

Peasant Girl drinking her coffee, Camille Pissarro

The email contained a PDF file of a report from a right-wing investigator on an election counting error in the small locale of Antrim County, Michigan, and a set of talking points apparently written by the report’s author declaring that “Michigan cannot certify for Biden” due to a “seditious conspiracy to undermine the election process and the will of the American people.”

Two minutes after that email was sent to Rosen, another unnamed person in the attorney general’s office forwarded the documents to the U.S. attorneys in Michigan, asking them to “see attachments per Rich Donoghue,” Trump’s newly appointed deputy attorney general….

According to The New York Times, the private group that conducted this report, Allied Security Operations Group, is a sponsor and financial backer of the website, which had also “posted content from a source with links to” the QAnon conspiracy theory. The author of the report was also a former Republican candidate for Congress from Texas, having lost in a primary in 2016.

Meanwhile, a new poll by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group shows how deluded Republicans are about the 2020 election: Theft Perception. Examining the Views of Americans Who Believe the 2020 Election was Stolen.

Key Findings

  • Republicans widely support Donald Trump and believe his claims about a stolen election. While Republicans support all elements of the ‘Stop the Steal’ narrative in high numbers, the overall electorate largely rejects these claims and propositions.
  • Among Republicans, 85 percent believe it was appropriate for Trump to file lawsuits challenging election results in several states, and the same proportion believe that vote-by-mail increases vote fraud; 46 percent of Republicans believe it was appropriate for legislators in states won by Joe Biden to try to assign their state’s electoral votes to Trump.
  • Republicans most committed to both Trump and the narrative of election fraud share a few other views in common: extreme antipathy toward Democrats and immigrants, belief that racism is not a problem, support for nationalism, belief in traditional family values and gender roles, and preference for a very limited role for government in the economy.
  • While a voter’s willingness to reject an election without evidence of fraud might suggest an embrace of authoritarianism, a key measure of authoritarian leanings — support for a “strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with Congress or elections” — is only weakly correlated to support for Trump and for the stolen election narrative.

More stories to check out today:

The Washington Post: In sentencing regretful Capitol protester, federal judge rebukes Republicans.

CNN: New videos show Capitol rioters attacking police line from officers’ point of view.

The Washington Post: Inside the extraordinary effort to save Trump from covid-19.

The Washington Post: Tension grips Michigan as Trump’s election attacks continue to reverberate.

NBC News: Michigan Republicans eviscerate Trump voter fraud claims in scathing report.

Raw Story: Florida students required to register political views with the state to promote ‘intellectual diversity’

Task and Purpose: The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is tired of ignorant bullsh*t from people who don’t like to read.

That’s all I have for you today. Have a terrific Thursday everyone!

20 Comments on “Thursday Reads”

  1. NW Luna says:

    • dakinikat says:

    • dakinikat says:

      Oh, and if you want to dive into something interesting try this:

      High-Powered Lawyer Roy Cohn Disbarred

      Today’s news in 1986!

      Cohn, 59, one of New York’s most influential and controversial lawyers, has been a familiar face from the time he was grand inquisitor for the red-baiting McCarthy 30 years ago.

      The onetime boy wonder had been facing disbarment since last July, when a lawyers’ disciplinary committee found him guilty of misconduct and recommended that a five-judge panel exile him from the profession.

      The matter had been held up for a time after Cohn’s lawyer last year described him as being terminally ill with liver cancer. But in recent months Cohn has proclaimed himself to be in complete remission.

      and looks like Sidney Powell is next about the same thing as Ghouliani and she’s been running a fraudulent charity.

  2. dakinikat says:

    Wonderful art selection! I’ve never seen that Matisse. I love it!

    Republicans are just a cult right now. The leaders of the party should be ashamed of themselves for letting those people believe such utter bullshit. My guess is all be the crazy Republicans in congress got vaccines. I also bet the majority of them really don’t believe the election was stolen too. Why the freak don’t they just stand up and say so?

  3. dakinikat says:

  4. quixote says:

    Amazing post. Plague in the first half, lunatics in the second. 😛

    Plague: the Delta variant is a huge concern. If you imagine the transmissibility of the original strain as 1 person infects 1.5 people (not quite right, but close enough for illustration), then the Alpha (UK) variant transmits at approx 1 person -> 3 people.

    It takes a few days after infection (and before symptoms show in the case of covid) before a person is shedding enough virus to be infectious. Say, five days for the sake of argument.

    Then in one month, the original variant would spread from 100 initial infections to 1139 others (6 cycles of 5-day periods to become infectious). The alpha variant would spread from 100 to 72,900 in one month. The delta variant from 100 to 1,562,500 people.

    You can see why the more transmissible variants quickly take over. And, remember, even if the variants don’t cause worse disease, that’s still an awful lot more very sick or dead people. At 3% hospitalization, it’s about 34 people for the original variant (the one that had NYers dealing with refrigerator truck morgues), and 46,875 in hospitals (of whom about one third die) with the delta variant.

    There’s some evidence that delta may be causing worse symptoms than the original and alpha variants. Which would mean proportionally more hospitalizations.

    Obviously, all those numbers assume no masks or any other preventive measures. Which, unfortunately, seems about right for parts of the US.

    So, as I say, the scale of the looming problem is mindblowing if the antivaxxers refuse to get their act together.

    And that doesn’t even get into the providing ground for other mutant strains which could escape the vaccines and cause giant problems for all of us. The more lifecycles you let the virus go through, the more mutations it can accumulate. (Most won’t make it worse, but you never know when one will.)

    And on that cheerful note….

  5. quixote says:

    By the way, while I carrying on about the plague, one of the scientists (Bloom) who published the piece about a month ago about how, zomg, we had to look a lot more at the lab leak possibility has come out with a big complaint about, zomg, deleted data.

    I don’t know who this guy is or why he’s at Stanford (I think that’s where he is). He clearly doesn’t know the first thing about phylogenetic sequence databases. (This was part of my research specialty in the high and far off times.)

    The way they work is anybody working on an organism can add sequences from their research.

    Obviously, I mean DUUUH, you want all the sequences relating to one organism in one place. Otherwise Scientist A is making changes in Database Q, while B is doing the same with P and C is duplicating the work but it’s hidden in R, and D makes a breakthrough but it’s in Database S which most scientists aren’t using. It would be a total mess.

    So if you put your results in the wrong database to start with, and given the speed with which covid research is happening, there are simple unnefarious reasons why that could be, when you’re getting things all sorted out at the end, you’ll put everything in the right place and remove it from the wrong place.

    That’s what happened with the sequences Bloom is complaining about. The final versions have been freely available right the way along, just in another database. He’s making a big deal about finding raw data using Google Docs (rolleyes!). He could have just asked the researchers involved. Phylogeneticists regularly send out raw data on request. Extremely raw data could have mistakes in it which are corrected in final versions.

    Making a huge deal out of finding the earliest back-of-the-envelope data and crowing that it’s different from final does not make you the Inspector Poirot of sequence data. It marks you as an amateur.

    And, the final icing on the cake, the extra-raw data he’s on about only shows an even closer relation to bats than the final set. I.e. it clarifies nothing about the origin story of covid.

  6. Beata says:

    A lot of you know that I have been living with a brain tumor for a long time. I got some bad news last Friday (why do they always deliver the bad news on Friday???) My condition has worsened. I don’t know what is going to happen next. The tumor is not treatable.

    It is strange to be coming out of the long pandemic with some hope for a return to normal life and then receive news like this. I am having a very hard time dealing with it.

    Anyway, I could use some good thoughts. Thanks.

    • Enheduanna says:

      Beata – I am so sorry to hear this. I hope they can provide you with the best care possible and you are able to beat this for a long time. Stay positive and strong – I know everyone here is sending positive energy your way.

    • quixote says:

      So sorry to hear that! I just … there’s never anything to say, is there? I wish there was. {{{Hugs}}}

    • palhar says:

      Beata, I’m sorry to read about your bad news. My bad news doesn’t compare to yours, but has been a downer for me.

      After I finish cataract surgery on my right eye June 30th (left eye done June 16th), I had been looking forward to ditching my glasses forever, except for readers. However, I found out Monday that I have early stages of macular degeneration which will cause vision loss eventually and there’s no cure. Ageing is a bitch!

      • palhart says:

        I type “palhart” and it has appeared as “pal hart”. Now, “palhar”.

        • bostonboomer says:

          That’s strange about your name.

          I had cataract surgery several years ago and enjoyed 20/20 vision for a long time. Now my vision has worsened. I also have early signs of macular degeneration.

          • palhart says:

            Let’s hope there’ll be a cure in the near future since so many boomers are apt to develop it.
            My doctor recommended AREDS2, PreserVision, which can slow the progression.

    • dakinikat says:

      Sending all I can your direction. I’m so sorry to hear that you have to face this. It’s time to get rid of cancer. No one should ever get this diagnosis again.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Oh no, Beata. I just now saw this. I’m so sorry to hear this news. I will be thinking of you and hoping for a good outcome. You deserve only the best. Please keep in touch with us.

      Sending you love and gentle hugs.

    • NW Luna says:

      I am so, so sorry to hear this Beata. I hope the progression will be extremely slow. With you in thoughts — wish I could be there in reality.

    • Beata says:

      Thank you, Sky Dancers. I appreciate your kindness.