Florida

Florida Governor Calls Special Legislative Session to Defeat Vaccine Mandates

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (pictured) has called a special legislative session in which lawmakers will try to effectively outlaw vaccine mandates (whether they are imposed by private businesses or local governments) throughout the state. In particular, the session will likely revolve around the discussion of four bills that would increase the fines on companies and government agencies which introduce mandatory vaccination measures. The Guardian has more.

The special legislative session will be about “a combination of policy and politics”, said Aubrey Jewett, a Political Science Professor at the University of Central Florida, adding that DeSantis is following Trump’s lead in being staunchly against mask and vaccine mandates.

According to an agenda released by the Governor’s office, a body of legislators dominated by Republicans will consider four bills to impose penalties on businesses and local governments that require workers to be vaccinated against Covid.

“No cop, no firefighter, no nurse, nobody should be losing their job because of these jabs,” DeSantis said in a media release, echoing a previous plea for first responders from other states to relocate to Florida if they do not wish to be vaccinated by mandate.

“We’re going to be striking a blow for freedom,” DeSantis said.

Resistance to vaccine mandates and other public health measures to combat Covid has spread in Republican states and among Republican politicians using it to buttress their pro-Trump bona fides and attack the Biden administration.

By Sunday, the U.S. had recorded nearly 763,000 deaths from Covid, out of more than 47 million cases. Florida has recorded the third-highest state death toll, with more than 62,600, behind only California and Texas. Around 58% of the population is fully vaccinated.

On Friday, a conservative federal court in New Orleans refused to lift a stay it imposed on a Biden administration rule which says businesses with 100 or more employees must insist on vaccinations or masks and regular testing from January 4th.

The administration has said it is confident the rule is legal and will ultimately prevail.

DeSantis has railed against vaccine mandates but is vaccinated himself, according to media reports.

Worth reading in full.

The Sharp Decline in Infections in Florida and the Southern U.S. Shows Once More That Covid Surges Peak and Decline Naturally Without Interventions

The Delta surge in England has remained muted, even as restrictions have been lifted and schools have returned. In Florida and other Southern U.S. states it has been more severe, but it is now clear that it peaked in mid to late August and is now in many places in steep decline. Florida, Mississippi and Georgia are famous for having lifted restrictions either last autumn or in the spring and not imposing new ones in response to the arrival of Delta. In Florida the Governor actively opposed the imposition of mask mandates by school districts. Yet new daily reported infections in the Sunshine State have been in steep decline for weeks – see the positivity graph above. Declining daily reported infections for the three southern states are shown below.

These states show what an unmitigated surge of the Delta variant can look like. They demonstrate, once again, that the epidemic peaks and declines naturally with no need for interventions.

The big question now is, is Delta the last variant, does it represent a kind of evolutionary endpoint for SARS-CoV-2, or will another variant capable of partial immune evasion and thus causing a surge emerge in the coming months?

The worldwide graph of reported infections (below) clearly shows the three variant-based waves since autumn 2020 – B.1.177 (20A.EU1, the ‘Spanish’ variant) in autumn 2020, Alpha in spring 2021 and Delta in the summer.

Delta Surge Peaks and Declines in U.S. States

Some of the U.S. states which have been experiencing a Delta surge appear to have peaked. The chart above shows that Missouri has not seen sustained growth in daily reported infections since August 4th, Arkansas since August 7th, and Louisiana and Florida since August 13th. Since none of these states imposed new restrictions to try to combat the Delta variant, this demonstrates that a surge driven by the Delta variant, like those of previous variants, is self-limiting and, contrary to the predictions of the models, does not continue growing exponentially and infecting everyone not previously infected. Not everyone is equally susceptible. Will the modellers now adjust their assumptions to the realities observed on the ground?

Florida’s Delta Surge Slows Towards a Peak

Florida’s Delta surge appears to be peaking. The chart below (from this very useful site) shows that, as of the week ending August 12th, the weekly increase in the percentage of Covid tests coming back positive has slowed almost to zero, meaning it should begin to drop soon. Indeed, the positive rate and new reported cases have already begun to fall in the north east of the state.

Since Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis has refused to impose any new restrictions at all during this surge, having allowed the state of emergency to end in June, the Sunshine State looks set to confirm once again that coronavirus surges are self-limiting and it is not necessary to impose draconian restrictions on the population to prevent hospitals being overwhelmed or ‘hundreds of thousands’ of deaths.

Having had a very low infection rate throughout the spring despite imposing no restrictions, Florida has seen a large surge in infections during the summer since the arrival of the Delta variant, adding to evidence that surges are primarily driven by new variants which disrupt the previously established herd immunity by partially evading the immune response. The end of the surge after a few weeks of renewed spread therefore corresponds to the restoration of herd immunity. If this is correct, we should see new infections drop quickly across the state in the coming weeks.

Is It Better to Get a Given Amount of Covid Over With More Quickly?

The Delta variant has caused infections to surge in multiple countries, and is even driving up hospitalisations in some U.S. states, notably Florida. (Although that state has a vaccination rate only 10 percentage points lower than the U.K., vaccinations are not as concentrated among the elderly as they are here.)

What should we make of the surge of infections, and indeed hospitalisations, caused by the Delta variant? In a recent blog post, the economist Tyler Cowen argues that things aren’t quite as simple as many people – or at least many lockdown proponents – are assuming.

Cowen notes, “Even the growth of hospitalisations, much less the growth in cases, is a misleading signal for how well we are doing.” Why is that? As Cowen argues, “it is better to get a given amount of Covid over with more quickly rather than less quickly … subject to the constraint that you do not overwhelm your hospital system.”

All else being equal, the faster Covid spreads among people who do not yet have immunity (either from vaccination or natural infection), the shorter the time for which the healthcare system is under stress, and the faster immunity builds up in the population as a whole. Assuming, that is, your hospitals aren’t overwhelmed.

Interestingly, Cowen’s argument is not dissimilar to the Great Barrington Declaration. That document notes: “As immunity builds in the population, the risk of infection to all – including the vulnerable – falls.” And we should therefore allow “those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection”.  

I say “interestingly” because Cowen previously criticised the Declaration, claiming that it “strikes exactly the wrong tone and stresses exactly the wrong points”. However, he would presumably say the situation is different now (we have vaccines), and letting the virus spread among people who are voluntarily unvaccinated is not the same as letting it spread among people who haven’t yet been offered a vaccine.

I still maintain that focused protection trumps lockdown regardless of whether a vaccine is available, given the limited efficacy and substantial harms of lockdown. But it’s good to see Cowen acknowledge the case for building up immunity more quickly.

His observations raise the question of whether Western countries should have encouraged young people to gain immunity through natural infection in the spring/summer of 2020 (or at the very least not discouraged them through protracted lockdowns). If we’d taken a more relaxed approach then, we might have been in a better position entering the winter of 2020.

Lockdown sceptics will find several things to disagree with in Cowen’s blog post, but it’s still worth reading in full.

America’s Delta Surge

New Covid infections are surging in America, driven by the Delta variant. The states which reopened in the spring, such as Texas, Mississippi and Georgia, and defied the predictions of catastrophic exit waves, are now seeing surges. Florida, too, which reopened last autumn, is seeing a spike in infections, and hospital admissions are rising.

Reuters takes a look at how states are responding – which is by doing remarkably little, with the appetite for restrictions even in Blue states now that the vaccines are rolled out seemingly much lower than in previous outbreaks.

Why Isn’t It “All Over Bar the Shouting”? Why Aren’t We Back to Normal Yet?

Positive Covid tests as reported by Public Health England declined again yesterday to 29,622 after two days of going up a bit. ONS data, also out yesterday, confirmed that infections have peaked and declined in the past 10 days among people over 16 – though, unexpectedly, also showed a surge among the under-16s that appears not to have been picked up by PHE. Is this because parents have stopped testing their children and reporting it to PHE now school is out and holidays are approaching? Some have suggested the ONS is picking up ‘cold positives’ from old infections. Either way, all eyes are on the data to see what will happen next.

But should they be? After all, what now are we waiting for? All the vulnerable and more are vaccinated, and the vaccines appear to give a decent enough protection from serious disease and death. Or even if they don’t, there’s nothing more that can be done, so we might as well go back to normal anyway and the virus will do whatever it does, and the vaccines will do whatever they do.

With all our delaying of lifting restrictions – planning to take an indefensible four months over it and in the event taking five, and then doing it half-heartedly, leaving strongly-worded guidance in place – it’s hard to believe that Florida ended all statewide restrictions in autumn 2020 and Texas and some other states did so in spring 2021. They saw no new surge after the winter – not until Delta arrived in the last few weeks, suggesting that it’s not lifting restrictions that causes surges (and thus it wasn’t imposing them that ended them) but new variants, presumably due to their partial immune evasion temporarily disrupting herd immunity.

But even so, Delta has shown that it’s nothing much to be afraid of, with the U.K.’s infection rate dropping following the lifting of restrictions on July 19th, having peaked by specimen date on July 15th at 60,665 positive tests. Scotland peaked over two weeks earlier at the end of June.

What more, then, is the Government waiting for? The only reason we were given for still being cautious was uncertainty over the threat from Delta, with Government advisers issuing warnings in the run-up to ‘Freedom Day’ of massive waves of infections and hospitalisations. We now know that this didn’t happen. Even if reported infections don’t continue to drop like they have in the last fortnight, we know that the threat was greatly overblown and the doomy models (which have always exaggerated the risk, as Sweden and South Dakota attest) can’t be trusted.

Is Christopher Snowdon an Anti-Vaxxer?

Christopher Snowdon is plainly an anti-vaxxer, however well he tries to hide it. “Existing Covid vaccines are simply not good enough at preventing transmission and infection,” he writes. Hasn’t he read the trial results, showing 95% efficacy against infection for the Pfizer vaccine and 74% for the AstraZeneca vaccine? Or the large population study from Israel showing Pfizer’s 92% efficacy? Or the study from Public Health England showing 67% and 88% vaccine efficacy against the Delta variant for AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines respectively?

On what does he base his bald assertion that they are “not good enough at preventing transmission and infection”? Clearly not the science. He doesn’t appear to feel it necessary to give a single scientific reference for a claim that flies in the face of all these respectable studies, leaving the baffled reader assuming he must have picked it up in some article he read on an obscure website somewhere, presumably by a pseudo-scientific sceptic in denial.

This, of course, is not the way to go about intelligently criticising someone’s viewpoint. Which is precisely my point. As it happens, I agree with Christopher that the current vaccines are not very good at preventing infection or transmission, particularly now the Delta variant is in town. But I’m also aware that that is not the current mainstream scientific position (though it is based on recent official data and reports). Rather, it is currently a claim being circulated among the very networks that Christopher pillories in his recent piece in Quillette, naming and shaming the “coronavirus cranks”.

It seems, then, that Christopher is not averse to a spot of ‘crankery’ himself. But how helpful really is all this name-calling, mudslinging and smear by association? Science does not advance by consensus, by everyone agreeing, or by closing down dissenters. Christopher himself is evidently sceptical of one of the key mainstream vaccine claims – that they are highly effective against infection and transmission – so inadvertently places himself within the ambit of his own polemic. Indeed, at one point he fires a shot at the ‘smileys’, as he calls sceptics, for being sceptical of the vaccines, arguing the jabs “have been tested in clinical trials and have demonstrated their safety and effectiveness beyond reasonable doubt in recent months”. Yet he himself goes on to doubt their effectiveness!

Governor Ron DeSantis Stands Firm Against Lockdowns as Covid Surges in Florida

The summer surge, driven by the Delta variant, is now underway in America, including reopened states like Florida, Texas, Mississippi and Georgia.

It is very welcome, therefore, to see Florida Governor Ron DeSantis standing firm against those calling on him to impose restrictions. He said:

If anyone is calling for lockdowns, you’re not getting that done in Florida. I’m going to protect people’s livelihoods. I’m going to protect kids’ rights to go to school. I’m going to protect people’s right to run their small businesses. …

We’re going to lift people up, We’re not locking people down.

Moment of Truth for Open U.S. States as Delta Surge Arrives

It’s been relatively easy since March for the open U.S. states to stand by their decision to roll back Covid restrictions as infections have defied the doom-mongers’ models and stayed low.

However, that is about to change for at least some of the states. The arrival of the Delta variant (see below) is now causing surges in infections in a number of states, including some which have reduced restrictions to a minimum, such as Florida and Arkansas (see above).

Delta variant is in green (CoVariants)

Short-lived surges driven by new variants come and go – the Delta surge is already peaking in the U.K., at least among the unvaccinated and in Scotland, showing there is nothing to fear.

The open American states will need to hold their nerve in the coming weeks as infections rise and they come under pressure to “do something” once again.