Friday, May 22, 2020

Coronavirus - Evidence and Restrictions

  • When learning topics of theoretical interest, one should learn from established science. There's enough established science that's interesting, why bother with the speculative stuff? However, when something is practically relevant but the facts are not known, you can't just wait for things to be proven. You need to use the best info and probabilities you have and act accordingly. This is something many people fail to realize.
    • For example, the WHO initially said there was "no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus". Even if there had been no solid evidence, it would still make sense to suspect human-to-human transmission and take proper precautions instead of "not recommend[ing] any specific health measures for travellers" and being "against the application of any travel or trade restrictions on China" (link).
    • The WHO recommendations about masks was even more "radically conservative". They continued to insist for months that there was no evidence that wearing masks would help prevent the spread of the virus. But one can't wait for a double-blind study to test whether masks work. One needs to look at the empirical data available, such as the reduced spread of the virus in mask-wearing countries, or the best arguments available, such as the plausible reduction in the spread of droplets when people wear masks.
  • If people had acted earlier in those cases, many lives could have been saved. But it doesn't mean we should now go the opposite extreme and recommend everyone remain in total isolation for months.
    • There is reasonable evidence that the virus primarily spreads from being indoors with someone for a while or from things like shouting and singing (besides coughing and sneezing of course). People who are careful could still meet outside in certain cases.
    • Many people who live alone are both very unlikely to have the virus and very unlikely to spread it to the elderly or other high-risk people. Such individuals shouldn't feel like they're in solitary confinement but should be able to meet with specific individuals in a careful manner. 
    • Governments should not just add every restriction possible and think this will keep people safe. There's a Talmudic statement "כל המוסיף גורע" - "whoever adds [restrictions], detracts" since people will treat all restrictions in the same manner and not be careful even for the important ones. Government policies need to focus on strongly enforcing important restrictions while allowing other low-risk activity to resume.

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