Not Happy with D.C.’s New COVID Rules

At all. Since D.C. didn’t release any ward-level data, hopefully I’ll be able to post something about that tomorrow. Anyway, back to D.C.’s new COVID rules. To review (boldface mine):

Starting next Monday, D.C. will no longer require mask-wearing in most business settings, like bars, restaurants, or gyms, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and DC Health director LaQuandra Nesbitt announced Tuesday.

Masks will still be required in certain settings for all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, like schools and childcare facilities, libraries, public transportation, and congregate facilities. Private businesses will also maintain the authority to mandate mask-wearing. The decision to lift the mandate comes as a part of the city’s new “risk-based” response to handling COVID-19, Bowser said Tuesday, where risk levels correspond to an individual’s vaccination status.

If there’s no mandate, most private businesses won’t require mask-wearing. Even as other states and countries with equivalent or higher rates of vaccination are reinstating masking because, with a virus which has R0 of around 5, we really need at least eighty percent of all people–kids spread it–to stop chains of transmission: currently, D.C. is at 63.5%.

What’s also ridiculous is Bowser’s claim that they’re moving towards a “layering” strategy. Her honor probably heard this word and thinks it sounds good, but de facto ending most masking while not having cheap, affordable rapid testing or vaccination status entry requirements isn’t ‘layering’ because there aren’t any fucking layers.

In her remarks, she emphasized individual behavior, especially for at-risk people. She still doesn’t get it: the way this works is you protect other people from you. While they did discuss hospitalizations and deaths, long COVID wasn’t even mentioned (or as far as can tell, asked about by the local press–which was a complete fucking failure; send your damn science reporters).

Oops, I forgot to emphasize when the changes take place: Thanksgiving week, when people are traveling. What could possibly go wrong?

And a final point: the very first people in D.C.’s ‘general’ population to be vaccinated with mRNA vaccines are now at their least protected point–and they won’t be ‘boostered’ for at least 3-4 weeks. This is fine.

Here’s what some asshole with a blog wanted to see (boldface added):

For me, there are two metrics we should be using: the percentage of the total population that is vaccinated, and the prevalence of infections (i.e., how many people are infected). Let’s deal with vaccination first.

I’ve seen estimates of R0 for Delta in the U.S. of around 5*, so to limit infection–not hospitalization or death–I don’t think we’ll even put a dent in transmission until we hit 85% of the entire population vaccinated. And to prevent hospitalization and death, we should have an even higher rate among those aged fifty and older. So I think we shouldn’t really consider lowering our guard until 85% of the entire population is fully vaccinated.

Onto the prevalence of infections. If we had a highly vaccinated population, and the prevalence was one new case per 100,000 people per day, that would be a good place (and some asshole with a blog Twitter feed routinely refers to that as the “good place”). In a city like D.C., population roughly 700,000, that would be roughly 50 new cases per week, or 2,500 new cases per year. In terms of severe effects, including long COVID, that would likely be fewer than 100 hospitalizations per year, a handful of deaths, and, at most, a couple hundred cases of long COVID (long-term or permanent disability). While that’s obviously not ideal, that’s bearable.

So if we were to set a prevalence level of 1-2 new cases per 100,000 people per day, that would be good. It also has the advantage of if (or maybe when) that threshold is exceeded, of things not getting too bad: a doubling would be 2-4 new cases per 100,000 people per day. The reality is, between the lag in observing infections, assessing what is happening, and then altering policy (and then having people actually living those changes), there’s likely a month long lag in reacting. Compared to the upper bound of the CDC ‘moderate’ zone, which is around seven new cases per 100,000 people per day, any spikes with the lower threshold will be smaller and cause far less damage.

Long story short, we could, for once, be patient and wait a couple of months. But gotta have a holiday shopping season.

If you look around the U.S. and the world, not to mention next door in Montgomery County, MD, I see little reason to be optimistic about this. Here’s to hoping I missed something and I’m very wrong.

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2 Responses to Not Happy with D.C.’s New COVID Rules

  1. Pingback: The State of COVID-19 in D.C.: Getting Worse, and Relaxing Masking Can’t Help | Mike the Mad Biologist

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