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Do well behaved countries do better against Covid-19?

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Just as low interest rates can be a sign of a monetary policy that was previously too tight, lockdowns can reflect Covid-19 policies that were previously ineffective.

I’ve argued that we need easy money, not low interest rates, and that we need masks, testing and voluntary social distancing, not lockdowns. Others are beginning to agree:

While the culpability could appear to be on a so-called “rushed reopening,” one expert said the blame should instead be placed on the lack of a comprehensive testing and contact tracing system in the US.

And there are increasing suggestions that lack of mask wearing is the big failure:

Jerks are everywhere. But it’s fair to say there are more jerks in the northeastern US than in Utah or Oregon. And people are more likely to follow the rules in Japan, Korea, and Germany than in most other countries. (China’s a bit different, but then they have much more draconian polices.)

Update: Tyler Cowen linked to a related paper.

What about that “shortage” of masks? There are now so many masks that the price has fallen to three cents:

But with the coronavirus now largely controlled in China and production lines back on track, the face mask shortage has subsided, and prices have dropped from 1 yuan each all the way down to 0.2 yuan, Pan said. He still has 2 million face masks in stock, waiting to be sold, at his warehouse in the eastern Anhui province.

On the other hand, I’ve also argued that lockdowns are not the primary cause of our depression. Look at retail sales in Denmark and Sweden:

That data comes from this paper.

A study by Lisa B. Kahn, Fabian Lange, and David G. Wiczer shows the same pattern in the US:

We use job vacancy data collected in real time by Burning Glass Technologies, as well as initial unemployment insurance (UI) claims data to study the impact of COVID-19 on the labor market. Our data allow us to track postings at disaggregated geography and by detailed occupation and industry. We find that job vacancies collapsed in the second half of March and are now 30% lower than their level at the beginning of the year. To a first approximation, this collapse was broad based, hitting all U.S. states, regardless of the intensity of the initial virus spread or timing of stay-at-home policies. UI claims also largely match these patterns. Nearly all industries and occupations saw contraction in postings and spikes in UI claims, regardless of whether they are deemed essential and whether they have work-from-home capability. The only major exceptions are in essential retail and nursing, the “front line” jobs most in-demand during the current crisis.

PS. The recent drug test out of the UK looks to me like the first really promising result during this pandemic. I know that other tests have been reported as positive, but the data always looked iffy to me. This data really does look pretty strong. If true, we may see death rates fall faster than case rates in the future, a process that may already be underway, even accounting for the increased testing rate.

Not sure why this isn’t a bigger news story . . .

HT: Sam Bowman, Razib Khan

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mrobold
17 days ago
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Orange County, California
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Masks, not lockdowns

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It’s becoming more and more obvious that we completely blew it, with a wide variety of villains (including me.)

We went for lockdowns, when the actual solution was masks, testing and voluntary social distancing. If we had done those things in early February then the death total would likely be less that 115, not 115,000. Yeah, I know this would have been politically impossible in the USA, but it still needs to be said. We blew it.

A new study suggests that masks alone will keep R0 below 1.0, if worn by just 50% of the population. If you have near 100% usage as in some East Asian countries then R0 will be far below 1.0.

The study found that if people wear masks whenever they are in public it is twice as effective at reducing the R value than if masks are only worn after symptoms appear.

In all scenarios the study looked at, routine face mask use by 50% or more of the population reduced COVID-19 spread to an R of less than 1.0, flattening future disease waves and allowing for less stringent lockdowns.

I like this graphic:

At least as recently as May, a major US manufacturer had 7 million/month in surgical mask production lines inactive, due to stupid government policies. (Probably due to price gouging restrictions.)

And what can you say about a country that doesn’t even have the police wear masks?

Americans have been spoiled for far too long.

Some claim that the BCG vaccine helps, but a new study pours cold water on that theory:

The Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) tuberculosis vaccine has immunity benefits against respiratory infections. Accordingly, it has been hypothesized that it may have a protective effect against COVID-19. 12 randomized controlled trials are currently underway to test this hypothesis, but their results shall not be available before at least five months. Instead, this paper uses a nationwide natural experiment. In April 1975, Sweden discontinued newborns BCG vaccination. The vaccination rate fell from 92% to 2%. I compare the numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations for cohorts born just before and just after that change. I find no statistically significant differences, and I can reject small BCG effects. Thus, receiving the BCG vaccine at birth does not seem to have a protective effect against COVID-19.

Again, masks, testing and voluntary social distancing (including no hand shaking). Do that and we can avoid a second wave this winter. But I doubt we will.

HT: Razib Khan

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mrobold
26 days ago
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It's true that we could probably have been fine with just masks, no lock downs, assuming people would wear them. As a person living in Orange County, CA - Scott knows that's now what would happen.
Orange County, California
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Amazon bans police use of facial recognition software for a year

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Amazon bans police use of facial recognition software for a year

Enlarge (credit: Thomas Winz / Getty)

Amazon is instituting a one-year moratorium on police use of Rekognition, its facial recognition software, the company announced on Wednesday.

"We’ve advocated that governments should put in place stronger regulations to govern the ethical use of facial recognition technology," Amazon wrote in its blog post announcing the change. "Congress appears ready to take on this challenge. We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules."

Amazon says that groups like the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children will continue to have access to the technology.

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mrobold
26 days ago
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A whole year!
Orange County, California
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IBM quits facial recognition, calls for federal regulation of police use

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IBM CEO Arvind Krishna speaking at a conference in 2016, when he was SVP and Director at IBM Research.

Enlarge / IBM CEO Arvind Krishna speaking at a conference in 2016, when he was SVP and Director at IBM Research. (credit: Brian Ach | Wired | Getty Images)

IBM is walking away completely from the facial recognition business, CEO Arvind Krishna announced yesterday in a letter urging Congress to act against police misconduct and regulate the way technology can be used by law enforcement.

"IBM no longer offers general purpose IBM facial recognition or analysis software," Krishna wrote bluntly in the letter. "IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms, or any purpose which is not consistent with our values and Principles of Trust and Transparency."

IBM is admittedly already in the middle of a massive restructuring, shedding business units and conducting layoffs, so it is possible that facial recognition was a segment of the company that might have been on the chopping block for unrelated reasons. Even if that is true, however, it doesn't make Krishna's reasoning wrong.

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mrobold
29 days ago
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Orange County, California
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IBM will no longer offer, develop, or research facial recognition technology

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

IBM will no longer offer general purpose facial recognition or analysis software, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna said in a letter to Congress today. The company will also no longer develop or research the technology, IBM tells The Verge. Krishna addressed the letter to Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Reps. Karen Bass (D-CA), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).

“IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any [facial recognition] technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms, or any purpose which is not consistent with our values and Principles of Trust and Transparency,” Krishna said in...

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mrobold
30 days ago
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Orange County, California
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Senator wants to know if police are using Clearview to ID protesters

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A crowd stands on one side of a fence from a tan-colored truck.

Enlarge / Police using facial recognition software could possibly identify thousands of Americans nationwide as participants in protests against police brutality and overreach. Including this group in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on June 5. (credit: Scott Olson | Getty Images)

Secretive facial-recognition firm Clearview AI is facing new questions from lawmakers, in addition to lawsuits, as concerns about its software are amplified during the wave of nationwide protests against police brutality.

Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) today demanded to know what law enforcement agencies are working with Clearview potentially to identify protesters who are out in support of black communities and against police violence. "As demonstrators across the country exercise their First Amendment rights by protesting racial injustice, it is important that law enforcement does not use technological tools to stifle free speech or endanger the public," Markey wrote in a letter to Clearview (PDF). "The risk of such omnipresent surveillance also runs the risk of deterring Americans from speaking out."

Law enforcement agencies in several cities where protests have taken place are using digital surveillance tools. According to a BuzzFeed report, many law enforcement agencies in and near Minneapolis—where current national protests began after police were recorded killing George Floyd—use Clearview and other similar platforms to identify individuals.

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mrobold
30 days ago
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Orange County, California
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