Tuesday, March 16, 2021

New York Magazine: two big articles on COVID19 ("The Lab-Leak Hypothesis", and "How the West Lost COVID19".


Corcoran Hall, GWU, where I attempted organic chemistry in 1963

Let’s cover two very strong and detailed New York Magazine articles about Covid19, in the Intelligencer series.

The first is Nicholson Baker, Jan 4, 2021, “The Lab-Leak Hypothesis”, with the byline “For decades, scientists have been hot-wiring viruses in hopes of preventing a pandemic, not starting one. But what if…”?

Let me make the biggest observation from this piece of all.  Somehow, he says that Wuhan is the only foreign lab the US has supported for significant time, cut off by Obama, apparently resumed briefly under Trump.

The booklet article comprises fourteen (roman numeral) sections.  The last starts with “Here’s what I think happened”.  It starts with the Mojiang Mines incident in 2012, with a sample winding up in Wuhan Virology Lab (and other places), attracting the attention of Peter Daszek and Shi Zhengli. A SARS-like coronavirus sample called BtCoV/4991 (also called RatG13, as in videos by Peak Prosperity’s Chris Martenson, May 4, 2020) was studied extensively, resulting in papers. However, the Mojiang virus does not seem to have been as transmissible, particularly before or without symptoms, person to person. A change called furin cleavage accomplished that (when the spike protein opens up the receptor).

Now other sources have told me that furin cleavage does occur in nature, even in influenza, particularly in persons or animals with more than one simultaneous viral infection. And there is other evidence that humans, in China, maybe Europe and even the US, had mild cases in late 2019.  It ‘s possible that the virus was transmissible among humans by the early fall of 2019 if accidentally introduced, and that increased contagion happened with a mutation in a human, maybe immunocompromised.  We’re seeing that pattern with variants, which have become more troublesome since this article was published.

Still, workplaces have accidents.  In my own career in IT, there were two mishaps that were particularly troubling, one in 1976 and another in 1991, and either one might have become career ending.  Lab accidents will inevitably happen.

And there is a lot of other reliable reporting of coincidental news from China in late 2019, including the October 2019 communications blackout at the virology lab.

Personally, I was a klutz in the lab myself, dropping chemistry (at GWU) as a major in late 1963 (just before the assassination) after an accident where I cut my hand severely, while working in my first job in rheology at NBS at the old Van Ness Street location. I wound up in math. The computers.  Then my own brand of journalism.  But I remember the trips with a dolly to the oil shed.

The other big article is more recent, March 15, 2021, “How the West Lost COVID19”, by David Wallace-Wells.  The byline is “How did so many rich countries get it so wrong? How did others get it so right?”

One important point:  the real lighter for the epidemic in the west was northern Italy.  It spread out much more quickly than from China.  In Italy, the virus had a minor mutation (from a “D” to “G”) which seemed to make it more amendable to superspreader transmission events, although it didn’t change the clinical course.  That says that the virus is capable of engineering itself a lot to escape defenses, just in nature.

The countries that suppressed the virus quickly were either (1) isolated (New Zealand) or relatively low population density countries (Australia), or (2) willing to subject citizens to automated contact tracing and mandatory strict quarantines and isolation (South Korea, Taiwan), or frankly authoritarian (Vietnam, besides China itself).

Just how remarkable is SARS_CoV2 for a respiratory virus for causing long term damage to many organs in protracted cases?  Measles can do that, but our vaccine for it is nearly 100% (I got measles in 1950 before my 7th birthday;  maybe it did affect my coordination and strength later).  But most viruses that cause long-term damage and auto-immune disease are enteroviruses (sometimes arboviruses).  

The regard that governments should have for disruption of individuals, suddenly, is something we haven’t covered systematically enough.  It goes beyond surveillance, as Electronic Frontier Foundation would see it.  It certainly causes job losses.  In China and maybe other countries, it has led to personal property destruction, too. The argument for becoming so strict on individuals, rather than hoping for herd immunity and vaccines, is what if the virus really is much more deadly, down the road.  What if it caused an airborne-transmitted variety of "AIDS"?  Or maybe sterility in most people? ["Children of Men", 2006 film.] Or inevitable intellectual decline in most of the infected?  We don't know that this couldn't happen.  (But arguments like that were hurled by the religious right at gay men in the 1980s.  You can't prove a negative, and "there is always a first time".)  We were shocked by how quickly we were thrown into personal crises by unimagined circumstances, and that we could individually be held responsible for the possibility that our contaminated bodies had become deadly weapons (the mask issue). Perhaps that could force us into top-down localization, which China already has. 

The far Left, Umair Haque of Eudaimonia, has scolded Americans for their hyperindividualism and unwillingness to identify with the common good of the larger group, and blamed capitalism.  Indeed, it’s quite disturbing, that in retrospect, the whole pandemic, with its Goldilocks property of being a mild disease for maybe a majority of people but deadly for some, and catastrophic life long for others (the long haulers), could have been imagined as designed to conquer the West with communism with a plausibly deniable biological attack.  That is what drives some of the fury on the right, having lives they did not earn taken away from them.  There is also the implication that letting people make up their own minds as to how to behave (like on masks) could have resulted in a "survival of the fittest" scenario which can be viewed as a preview to eventual fascism. 

The enclosed video comes from New York Magazine on April 30, 2020, when students volunteered to be infected with SARS_CoV2.  The magazine is definitely defined as part of mainstream media commentary, and is not advancing extremism in broaching a very sensitive topic for some people. 

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