Hospitals, BA.2.86, schools, Twitter, teaching
I've been locked out, and I know we're through
Quick update about COVID and a couple of more personal things:
In last week’s newsletter I bucked the general trend of COVID pessimism and suggested that things might soon be on the turn:
And it’s worth remembering that EG.5.1 itself wasn’t exhibiting a huge growth rate (perhaps 5% per day when it first showed up), so it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to me to see this wave coming to an end in the next few weeks.
Well, that aged pretty well! This week’s hospital numbers showed a definite downturn. Of course, this may be a fluke which doesn’t last, but there are similar trends showing in other countries, which is encouraging. So, fingers crossed that the numbers return down some way towards their previous lows before we return to growth.
Further, if this is the peak for now then it’s quite striking that the level is below the level of even the previous troughs of the last two years. There’s a nice piece this morning by Jim Reed on the BBC website which illustrates that, along with a good explanation of why growing levels of immunity in the population have informed the JCVI’s thinking on a vaccination strategy focused on the vulnerable.
The other part of last week’s post was a discussion of BA.2.86 growth rates based on Danish data. Well, here’s the corresponding plot for the UK. There’s one point which is a big outlier (when a care home outbreak was investigated, so testing wasn’t random). However, if you ignore that, there is an excellent linear fit to the other four points, just as theory suggests there should be:
This fit indicates a 29% weekly growth rate (under 4% daily). This is pretty good news I think - it’s probably not fast enough to cause a significant wave by itself, and may well be outpaced by other variants. So whatever causes the next (winter) wave, it may well not be the BA.2.86 variant which has been the focus of so much recent hype.
There was a pretty striking report about declines in mental health in school children over the pandemic (see the Guardian here). Obviously it’s hard to separate out the effect of the lockdown and of worrying about the virus (and its effects on loved ones) itself, for example, but an interesting conclusion which helps separate this out was:
Even partial school attendance during lockdown put students in a better place to adjust to returning to school full-time than no attendance at all, the study found.
So, I’m still pretty happy that I picked the right side of the argument on schools (see this Telegraph piece from March 2021).
On a more personal note: I’m locked out of Twitter, and feeling surprisingly relaxed about that. I had deactivated for a couple of weeks, because the antisemitism was getting a bit much and because I was busy. But when I reactivated, my account was put into a kind of limbo: it exists, but I can’t access it to post or send DMs, and I don’t know if and when that will change. I’ve put in an appeal, but haven’t heard anything back, and don’t know if I will.
But like I say, I’m fairly relaxed about that. I’ve been finding a lot more interesting stuff to read on Substack lately anyway, and am happy posting long-form stuff here myself. But if anyone asks (and even if they don’t!) then perhaps you can point people at this post to explain where I am.
People have offered me Bluesky invitations, and while it’s very kind, I don’t really see the attraction. Firstly, I don’t see a lot of point in trying to do public engagement on an invitation-only platform - perhaps if it opens generally and reaches some kind of critical mass then I might revisit. Secondly, it feels a lot like jumping from frying pan to fire - I don’t really see a lot of point in leaving a platform where I don’t like the owner to jump to another platform whose owner has loudly and explicitly endorsed RFK Jr for President.
One reason I’m busy is that teaching starts tomorrow. I definitely enjoy that part of my job, but I’m lecturing Probability to a very large first year class (the biggest audience I’ve ever had), which is going to take up a large amount of both my mental and physical energy between now and Christmas.
Anyway, I was pleased to find a nice West Wing quote to start my lecture slides:
Wiseass all you want, but you're coming of age in the 21st century. A century in which I promise you mathematics is going to play a starring role.
(This is President Bartlet talking to Zoey about her college options). Except of course, I realised that the final episode of the West Wing aired on 14th May 2006, nearly 17½ years ago, so there may even be people in the audience born after it ended. Nothing like working in a university to make you feel the passing of time!
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