Love, Luck, Self-Destruction
a whole feelings dump
This week’s newsletter is a little fragmented. I’m juggling a lot of thoughts about COVID, the US, and the planet.
First and most important - I was wrong about the risks involved in COVID reinfection. As my friend and colleague Jessica almost immediately pointed out to me, I misunderstood a recent study on the individual effects of reinfection. Here’s the analysis from an actual epidemiologist: “A few weeks ago, a now infamous VA pre-print was released comparing the risk of poor outcomes (e.g. death, health problems) among those with reinfections to those with primary infections. The viral pre-print sent shockwaves through media, as the study was widely misinterpreted to say the health risks from reinfections are worse than risks from primary infections. This is not what the study showed. The authors did not compare reinfections to the same person’s primary infection. Instead they compared people with reinfections to a separate cohort of people with primary infections (see figure below). Because of this, the only thing we can conclude is that being infected again is worse than not being infected again, which is expected.” Source
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I read this sentence and I can’t stop thinking about it. ”The virus is evolving and we aren't.” COVID changes and we keep on making the same half-assed efforts to stop it, including vaccines that are almost but not quite right, confusing or nonexistent mask policies, and minimal testing. Instead of trying new things, we’re doing the same old things less well.
The emotional aspect of the COVID pandemic has been especially present in my life the last couple of weeks. Last week’s newsletter on infections that just keep coming touched a nerve in a lot of readers. I hurt some feelings that I didn’t mean to. I don’t think anyone “deserves” COVID, no matter what choices they make. I’ve personally avoided it thus far through a combination of luck and care. Care alone will not protect you. You need care and good luck. That’s one piece.
Another piece - I saw an old friend on facebook flying unmasked on a lengthy international flight. This is a person whose judgment I’ve always trusted, who has a knack for explaining difficult things to me. And there they were, posing on the plane with their kids, all naked faced. Again and again and again, people I love and trust make choices that seem selfish, self-destructive, or, most often, both. I started this newsletter in part to process that feeling and I’m clearly not done yet.
I’m still working on a follow-up I promised weeks ago about COVID and the limits of government power. It’s not quite ready for publishing, but I’m thinking about the fact that our international system was designed in many ways to prevent coordinated international action, not promote it. And COVID is not the only time it has harmed us. If anyone has thoughts on that (or anything this week), I welcome them.