The Great Barrington Declaration

Michael Siegel

Michael Siegel is an astronomer living in Pennsylvania. He blogs at his own site, and has written a novel.

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49 Responses

  1. Damon says:

    [ThTh1]: OK…gonna take all these arguments at face value. Now, read these:

    And some juicy quotes from where I got it: “The bureaucracy was so intent on enforcing the lockdown in against a hot spot that they callously let four babies die.” and ” People weren’t meant to live this way, but the bureacurts don’t want to be blamed for COVID deaths and the price they are willing to pay for that is an increase if all sorts of non-COVID deaths.” And that’s 100% spot on correct–because that’s the first thing ‘crats do—cover their own asses. So, tell me how that’s gonna get balanced out? You even have idiots saying that you should wear a mask in a restaurant between bites of food. Where will the insanity end?Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Damon says:

      People say that the statistics are inflated–“they keep saying that this guy who had COVID-19 and died from a tree falling on him was a COVID-related death”–and then they turn around and say that anyone who died during a lockdown died because of the lockdown…

      “You even have idiots saying that you should wear a mask in a restaurant between bites of food.”

      They’re not idiots, you should be doing that, and honestly you shouldn’t be eating in a restaurant at all.Report

      • Damon in reply to DensityDuck says:

        Right. I do martial arts multiple times a week with physical contact between half a dozen different people each time….for the last 3 months. I’m talking sweating into my face, breathing on me, etc. You think I’m worried about covid 19 in a restaurant that’s 50% occupied and I’m 6 feet from anyone? Please. You opinion is just that. How many people are you prepared to make unemployed because you think everyone should be in Vault 111?Report

    • Michael Siegel in reply to Damon says:

      This is incredibly hysterical and terrible reporting. Deaths among children are down during the pandemic. Down significantly. For every child who dies in an accident at home, others don’t die in car accidents or other incidents that claim far more lives. There are serious concerns abut vaccinations and food supply. This isn’t that.Report

      • Damon in reply to Michael Siegel says:

        No, but it’s examples of bureaucracy going too far. Car accidents are one thing, but here you have action by a gov’t to prevent medical care. That’s a active activity where someone is taking action to prevent the saving of a child’s life, not a car accident where there is no causal link. Sorry, responsibility’s a bitch.

        “For every child who dies in an accident at home, others don’t die in car accidents or other incidents that claim far more lives” Tell that to the parents who’s lost their kids due to being denied care. You explain to them why their child died for “the good” of the rest of us. I’m sure they will understand.Report

        • Michael Siegel in reply to Damon says:

          Seriously, dude? OK. You explain why hundreds of thousands of people have to die of COVID for the good of us all. Every choice we make in this pandemic involves trade-offs. What you’re trying to do is to take a few deaths and proclaim that they outweigh everything else.Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Siegel says:

            It’s the trolley problem.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Michael Siegel says:

            Maybe Damon is going that far but too often the response to people saying, “Hey, there are costs to the lock down, some of which can be measured in death or suffering by folks due to reasons other than Covid,” the response is, “SO YOU WANT EVERYONE TO DIE FROM COVID!? YOU WANT TO KILL GRANDMA?!” Which really isn’t fair.

            I saw a stat that said 20% of child abuse victims are identified via the mandated reporting systems in schools. With schools closed, those victims go unidentified. That’s a cost. A very very real cost. Does it mean schools should re-open? I don’t know. The calculus is really complicated. But it does mean A) that the calculus needs to be done and there is nothing callous about acknowledging that fact and B) that it is wrong to say the only people who want schools to open are selfish parents who want their kids out of the home.

            I’m a teacher. And a parent. I’ve spent my entire adult life working in service of children. I went two school for more than half a decade to become better at it. And yet I’ve been told — REPEATEDLY! — that I want kids and teachers to die when I talk about the costs of keeping schools closed in full or in part.

            So, maybe Damon is being hysterical but let’s not pretend that he is the only one acting as such.Report

            • Gabriel Conroy in reply to Kazzy says:

              For what it’s worth, I know a couple who are both public school teachers (well, one has left the profession after about 15 years in the job, but the other is still a teacher), and they both mostly agree with your approach. They’re not hyper “open up everything and let god sort ’em out” people. Instead, they, like you, argue that there’s balance of risks, costs, and benefit that need to be considered and there should be a way to engage in cautious and mindful reopening.

              For the record, their school district, the largest in the state, has gone to all-online classes. They also have two school-age children.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

                I’m reluctant to criticize any district’s decision without knowing the particulars. There are many places where I would anticipate the calculous pointing towards keeping schools closed. And others where it probably points the other way. And equity challenges emerge when nearby districts take different paths (especially if that is informed by resource availability, funding, and the like). Again, I don’t envy anyone making these decisions.

                There are also questions about how restricted an environment is too restrictive and at what point (if any) is a highly modified school environment worse for children than a less modified one or an all-remote one. And we can’t point to existing research because it doesn’t exist.Report

              • gabriel conroy in reply to Kazzy says:

                Thanks for clarifying your position, Kazzy.

                As a (somewhat relevant) aside: a couple of days ago, I walked by a day care center on the way to work. I saw many small children (3, 4, 5 year olds), and they were all wearing masks. Something about that made me sad. I mean, it’s probably not a bad thing. But it’s just sad they have to wear masks.

                ETA: I’m not criticizing the decision to make them wear masks or the wisdom of it. But I’m just thinking it’s sad, or somber, or something.Report

            • DensityDuck in reply to Kazzy says:

              You say “there’ll be costs” and you know, that’s fine, but one of those costs really truly is people dying who would not otherwise have died, and you do your argument no favors by pretending that isn’t a thing that very much matters. You can say “well it should be everyone’s choice” and hey, that’s great, but you know that choice is gonna get made for people. Bosses will be all “I know you’re worried about your family’s health but we just (clicking noise with teeth and tongue) really need to have the whole team together right now.” Companies will say “we recognize that our employees have concerns about the current medical situation but we cannot provide support for remote work and we do not authorize the use of sick time or disability in this instance.” You know that’s how it would go.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to DensityDuck says:

                Are you responding to me? Because no where did I say “It should be everyone’s choice.”

                I understand the costs. I know people who’ve lost loved ones. I do not handwave that away. GC gets it right: we must consider all costs and make smart, informed decisions. There is no easy answer.Report

        • George Turner in reply to Damon says:

          What you’re brushing up against is “proximate cause” as it would be used in court. The car accidents, if they could be blamed on anyone, would be the fault of some drunk or inattentive driver, or perhaps no one would be at fault at all. A court would never find that “a booming economy with jobs caused this accident.”

          But for a baby denied required medical care specifically because of Covid, then yes, it would find that the hospital’s denial of known care did materially contribute or cause the baby’s death, and the hospitals defense would be to say that they had no part in making that decision, it was the result of a government mandate.Report

  2. Brandon Berg says:

    ThTh4: My first question was whether they could just boil off the water, leaving the waste behind, but apparently the actual water molecules, which contain tritium instead of ordinary hydrogen, are radioactive. Based on some cursory research, it seems that all the waste water stored at Fukushima contains less than 3g of tritium. Global tritium inventory is about 20 kg in equilibrium (mostly in the ocean), and half life is about 12 years. So releasing all the water at once would increase the amount of tritium in the ocean by well under 0.1%, and this surplus would be reduced by 1/2 every 12 years. Furthermore, they plan to release it in several stages a few years apart.

    I don’t see any reason for global concern here, but maybe there are concerns about excessive local concentration? I’m not sure how long it takes for something like this to dissipate.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      but radiation! RADIATION! RADIATION!!

      I think the biggest sum-up of how a little learning is a dangerous thing was when the TSA introduced backscatter-imagers at airports, and people pointed out how this “concentrated the dose in the skin”, and forgot to learn about the fact that the allowable levels for skin-concentrated doses are orders of magnitude higher than full-body exposure…Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      1.2 M tons of water is a… wait for it… literal drop in the ocean.

      Things to keep in mind (which the nuclear engineers and scientists do):
      1) How much is being released at a given time.
      2) Where/When is it being released (weather, currents, depth, etc.). You want it to not head straight back to inhabited areas or popular fishing grounds.
      3) What kind of radiation are we talking about here, alpha or beta particles?
      4) Half-lives, anyone? Are we dropping just tritium and helium isotopes, or some of the nastier stuff?


      Nuclear science isn’t necessarily simple, but the math involved in safe exposure is. You just need to know what you are dealing with. What messes the layperson up is the presence of very big and very small numbers.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        1.2 M tons of water is a… wait for it… literal drop in the ocean.

        Right, but to be clear, the volume of water is totally irrelevant here, except in that it’s too much to keep holding in tanks. What matters is the amount of tritium contained in the water: about 3g. This is a surprisingly large proportion (0.015%) of the amount of the total tritium contained in the world’s oceans. That’s still not enough to be worrisome if distributed spread out enough, but if you were to drink a glass of water containing 3g of tritium, you’d probably be in for bad times.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          It’s not totally irrelevant. If I dropped 3g of tritium in the ocean, it would take a while to dissipate and dilute to safe levels.

          Having 3g distributed among 1.2 M tons of water means we have already diluted it a lot, and thus it will dissipate even faster in the open ocean.Report

          • Brandon Berg in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            Does this matter much in practice? Like if you dump 1.2 million tons of water containing 3g of tritium into the ocean, how much of a head start does that give you on dilution, compared to just dumping a teacup full of water containing three grams of tritium? I would expect it to diffuse pretty quickly, on the scale of minutes or hours, but I don’t know much about fluid dynamics.Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to Brandon Berg says:

              Depends on where you dump it.

              Drop it somewhere where currents are pretty stagnant, and it might cause some harm before it dilutes.

              Drop it at the edge of one of the circulation currents, and turbulence will do a pretty good job of diffusing it in a matter of hours.

              But having it already diffused among 1.2 M tons of water means you could cart the whole lot out to the ocean at once and drop it in and it wouldn’t have enough concentrated radiation to give a minnow a sun tan.Report

  3. Michael Cain says:

    ThTh4 (the first one): Yeah, given that it’s tritium and a low-energy beta decay, the danger level is tougher to evaluate. I’m inclined to downplay the risk, but OTOH, I voluntarily choose to live and participate in outdoor activities at >5,000 feet above sea level, in an area with higher-than-normal radon levels.

    ThTh4 (the second one): Now let’s see you do it where the water’s a hundred feet deep! Eg, the Manhattan side caisson for the Brooklyn Bridge.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain says:

      Coffer dams are only useful in shallow areas, which is why even for bridges, it’s all about location, location, location!

      IIRC, for the Golden Gate they built massive steel tubs that they inverted and sunk. The tub was fitted with an airlock and they pumped fresh air down there while crews worked.Report

  4. Jaybird says:

    The big problem with Covid is that the whole “safe at home” thing is not evenly distributed.

    Maribou and I don’t go out to the grocery store every week. We have our stuff delivered. Every two or three weeks, the pharmacy calls and I go out to the pharmacy. She is able to work from home. I am able to work from home a couple days a week (and go in). There was a period there in the summer where I went to Costco a couple of times. It was nice.

    Otherwise… we don’t go out. We have seen our friends (that we used to see monthly) a grand total of twice since January. We have seen my Mom twice since January. Our exercise consists of walking around or jogging.

    And that’s it.

    And there are people who look at that and say “man… you’ve seen friends? You’ve seen your mom? You go to the pharmacy?!?” and I look up and see that I’ve done a *LOT* compared to a lockdown and only very little compared to 2019.

    The question of “how long can you keep this up?” keeps flitting around and the answer is something like “longer, but not indefinitely”.

    So… can we make it to a vaccine? Depends on when the vaccine gets here.

    I know that I’m one of the lucky ones who can work from home, get my stuff delivered, and not go crazy without seeing people.

    But I can only do this for a while longer.
    I can’t do it indefinitely.Report

    • fillyjonk in reply to Jaybird says:

      Yup. I have eased off a bit in recent weeks, making a few runs to a larger grocery in a more-populous area and also going to one other store (like a big craft store) at the same time. but still masked, moving fast, avoiding close contact.

      Because I didn’t think i WOULD make it, emotionally, until a vaccine.

      I have been hearing rumblings of “this winter is going to be very bad, be prepared to stay in even more” and I kind of want to cry – already I am not traveling to see family for T-giving or Christmas (no safe way to do so) and….yeah, if I can’t do more than get groceries once a week it’s gonna be really hard to make it through the winter months.

      I also found out yesterday I lost a cousin (we weren’t that close but still) to COVID this week.Report

  5. LeeEsq says:

    Pandemics are hard to fight because like wars normal rules don’t apply. You can’t really do the entire voluntary compliance thing that libertarians want because viruses don’t care about this. If an infected person doesn’t want to take safety measures, they can infect a lot of other people or if they are healthy get infected and go on and spread the disease. Covid-19 really isn’t a joke. The partner dance scene has been basically shut down globally because of Covid-19. There was a Shag convention in September in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. So far that resulted in dozens of infections and twelve dead.Report

    • Chip Daniels in reply to LeeEsq says:

      “Fancy a Shag, baby?”
      “I wouldn’t be caught dead!”Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to LeeEsq says:

      If people had just worn the damn masks when around other people and stay out of bars and crowded restaurants, we could have gotten all this under control months ago. In Tokyo people ride the subways and it’s fine because they wear masks, then a handful of assholes go to the bars and clubs and take their masks off, and that’s pretty much the only thing keeping it alive.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        BUT LIBERTY!!!!

        Because masks are such an imposition that we’d rather shutter businesses.

        There is a guy on my neighborhood who is so offended by being told to wear a mask in the grocery store that he wears a pair of granny panties on his head.Report

  6. Pinky says:

    I have some confusion about herd immunity. Note that I’m not recommending anything, and I’m only commenting about a misunderstanding I have. But I’ve noticed that once an area has been first exposed, the next surge in cases doesn’t seem to result in a surge of deaths. Some of this is due to reporting, I’m sure, and some of it is that college kids may account for recent surges. Of course, there have also been improvements in our treatment methods, and fortunately there have been very few examples of health care system being overwhelmed. Nevertheless, this pattern of later surges being less fatal seems to be holding across regions. And viruses are notorious for sometimes just stopping. So should we be even be talking about herd immunity, which I understand as the benefit of very high exposure rate? Are we not seeing a benefit in even fairly low previous exposure?
    Caveat caveat caveat, vaccine reasonable precautions, et cetera. I’m just trying to understand this.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Pinky says:

      I think it has to do with the different levels of symptomatic. There are people who consider themselves to be asymptomatic who aren’t asymptomatic, they’re just not particularly incapacitated by their symptoms. It’s just a cough. I probably had too much black pepper with breakfast. It’s just a cough. It’s cold outside. I don’t have covid, that kills people. I just have a cough. Back to work.

      And other people get the covid and it does long-term heart/lung/brain damage.

      And yet other people get the covid and it kills them.

      The variance between symptoms means that a lot more people might have the covid than we thought. And wide-spread testing means that we’re catching a lot of the “yeah, my allergies are really acting up and in new ways!” people are being recognized as having the covid that wouldn’t have been under the old testing regime.

      Which is what makes it really bad. Just because this guy has a really mild case of the covid, doesn’t mean he’s carrying a mild strain of the covid.

      Maybe he just has blood type B-.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Pinky says:

      My question is about these so-called second surges. Have any areas seen two massive surges? It looks to me like specific definable areas are seeing big surges at some point but then things die down. NY/NJ is more open now than it was in March/April when everything went haywire. And while NJ is seeing an increase, it is no where near where it was in March/April and doesn’t look like it is going to get anywhere close to that. The “national” surges we are seeing seem more like the virus hitting different regions at different times. The first surge was the NY-metro area. The summer surge was Florida, Texas, and California. Now we’re seeing it hit other areas that were minimally impacted those other times.

      Some of that I’m sure it due to the mitigation strategies but I don’t know if we can chalk all that up to it. It just seems like to distinct a pattern to explain away with behaviors, especially since behaviors have varied in different places. Is it possible we reach some form of herd immunity sooner than we expect? Perhaps because of inherent immunity, perhaps because asymptomatic exposure is higher than we understand, perhaps because Covid is just different?

      I just keep hearing reports of “NEW SURGES!!!” but every time I look, it is really a first surge in a place that never had a real surge.

      I also think we are really, really underselling the cost of school closures or limited re-openings on kids. I remain shocked that the APA’s recommendations had so little traction, though at least this lays bare that meeting the needs of children is not the primary driver of public education policy in this country.Report

      • Gabriel Conroy in reply to Kazzy says:

        The midwest, where I live, seems to be experiencing a “second surge.” Like Pinky, I think we need to be aware of the many, many things we don’t know. (For example, we can test a lot more people now than we were able to during the first surge. For another example, things, thankfully, don’t seem to have ever been as bad here as in your neck of the woods.) That said, things seem to be surging again.Report

    • Michael Siegel in reply to Pinky says:

      Two reasons the second surges haven’t been as lethal: improvement treatment (which means the initial restrictions saved lives by kicking infections down the road); and more testing, which means we get a real read on the infection rate. In the early days, we only tested people were seriously ill. Now we test everybody.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Michael Siegel says:

        We’ve discovered that ventilating is really convoluted euthanasia and oxygen treatment works pretty well.

        Hard to believe that there was so much static around ventilators back in April.Report

        • DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

          I mean, remember how it was a crime against humanity that Trump wasn’t using some kind of Wartime Production Act power to force every factory in America to mass-produce ventilators? Remember how that was cited as an Obvious Failure Of Leadership?Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Michael Siegel says:

        It is hard to overstate your second point. In March, my ex-wife was diagnosed. Like, she got sick BEFORE things shut down and was diagnosed pretty much as the local lockdown went into effect. Because none of us really knew what the hell was happening at the time (including her being pre-symptomatic) we had direct exposure at my son’s birthday dinner and then the boys were with her for 6 days. And as a single parent, when they are with her, they are WITH HER. These 6 days included a couple days after initial exposure up through her first two days of showing any symptoms. The boys then came to my house (again, we had no idea she had Covid or what they hell we should be doing about it). She got a confirmed diagnosis later that week. I attempted to get myself and my sons tested and we COULD NOT get tested because we had no symptoms. This was despite us having direct exposure (and them having intense, extended direct exposure and me then having intense, extended direct exposure to them). I called the state “Covid Hotline” and was told I was considered the “worried well”: I didn’t feel sick, had reason to be concerned, so unless å doctor prescribed us a test, we weren’t getting tested. They encouraged us to tighten our quarantine for a certain period of time (which we did) and absent any symptoms emerging in that time, we could resume normal life.

        Fast forward to today and I’ve now been tested 3 separate times… twice for work (one administered onsite via a mail-away spit test and one administered at my doctor) and once so I could visit a friend (administered via a drive-up CVS window). I also got anti-body tests for myself and my sons (those were back in May and all came back negative, which means we likely never got the virus despite our exposure risk but can’t be certain).

        So, when we most needed a test, we couldn’t get one. And now I can pretty much get tested whenever I want for whatever reason I want.Report

  7. greginak says:

    Even if we were to push people to open up more we need to be able to test far more people and faster then we are. Yet the admins strategy is very much not that. Their lead “doc” Atlas is poo pooing testing. We can do a bit more to bring back normal life but only if we are actually doing things to make that so, not just PR bullshit.Report

    • Philip H in reply to greginak says:

      Exactly. If we had robust national testing, tracing, and quarantine standards along with national standards for masks and social distancing we could think about alternative approaches. And robust contact tracing is a medium term response to rising unemployment in other sectors. And like the OP notes, we don’t actually have European or New Zealand style lockdowns.

      Instead we have a hodgepodge of mediocre state responses where within states factions don’t agree. And we have case counts rising again and again.Report

  8. Saul Degraw says:

    My understanding of herd immunity is that it happens when nearly everyone is vaccinated, not when everyone gets sick, recovers or dies. So at best, the Great Barrington Declaration wants to make COVID endemic, not pandemic but the world is seeing spikes and some places might be going into second lockdown.

    This is not fun. I admit it. The idea of doing this for another year or year and a half is also not appealing but it might be the best option. Many places in the United States has been in form of semi-lock down since March. The decisions on what to close and what to keep open are not perfect. They can be influenced by local lobbies and special interests. But the fact that so many people think the U.S. semi-lock downs are equivalent to the hard lockdowns done in places like New Zealand, Spain, Italy, etc is really perplexing to me. At no point during the pandemic did I need a permit to go anywhere. The lines and shortages from the early days are largely gone.Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      My understanding of herd immunity is that it happens when nearly everyone is vaccinated, not when everyone gets sick, recovers or dies.

      Assuming effective vaccines. I am old enough that I was part of the herd immunity process for measles and mumps. The adult part of the herd was immune because everyone had those diseases as kids. I vaguely remember “measles sleep overs” where mothers intentionally exposed their children while they were young. (I am old enough that when I went back to graduate school the university did not make me do the “document your vaccination history or get the shots” thing. It was simply assumed that I had had both diseases as a child.)

      This only works reasonably well under a particular set of circumstances: lifetime immunity after you’re sick, the disease is mild in children, and the disease has been around for a long time. For a new disease with, say, a fatality rate of 0.5%, the price to obtain herd immunity in the US is about 1.5M deaths. Not counting the long-term non-fatal effects we don’t understand very well yet.Report

  9. [ThTh1] Mike Pence implicitly endorses the Great Barrington Declaration in his plans to keep campaigning at mass events and preside over the Senate at Barrett’s confirmation vote after five of his staff have tested positive for COVID.Report

  10. Road Scholar says:

    [ThTh1] I have a really hard time listening to the GBD/herd immunity crowd. I’m going to reveal a personal fact here about where I live. Last week some of you may have seen a mention of a nursing home in Kansas where all 62 residents are positive for COVID. Every. Single. One. Ten have passed so far and 35 staff are also positive. On a NYT tracker page we had/have the distinction of being the county with the fastest spread in the country. Norton county Kansas, population ~5300.

    I feel like we’re living through the scenario the GBD crowd is advocating. No mask mandate and usage is low. Schools have been open for in-person instruction with official masking and distancing but compliance is low (my kid is attending there) and school sports are doing their thing. The government’s response, apart from the health department, is to mostly pretend the pandemic doesn’t exist or is NBD.

    The clusterf*** at the nursing home illustrates the big weakness in the GBD. Protecting the most vulnerable is really, really hard and damn near impossible when the virus is spreading in the general public. Absent the ability to effectively do so they are, whether they intend to or realize it or not, actually calling for a massive culling of the herd.Report