Wearing cloth masks outdoors, far from other people, in the wind, as is the fashion in Palo Alto

Thursday, August 12th, 2021

John Cochrane, the grumpy economist, can’t help but rant about covid incompetence:

Delta is the fourth wave of covid, and amazingly the US policy response is even more irresolute than the first time around. Our government is like a child, sent next door to get a cup of sugar, who gets as far as the front stoop and then wanders off following a puppy.

The policy response is now focused on the most medically ineffective but most politically symbolic step, mask mandates. All all-night disco in Provincetown turns in to a superspreader event so… we make school kids wear masks in outdoor summer camps? Masks are several decimal places less effective than vaccines, and less effective than “social distance” in the first place.* Go to that all night disco, unvaccinated, but wear a mask? Please.

If we’re going to do NPI (non pharmaceutical interventions), policy other than vaccines, the level of policy and public discussion has tragically regressed since last summer. Last summer, remember, we were all talking about testing. Alex Tabarrok and Paul Romer were superb on how fast tests can reduce the reproduction rate, even with just voluntary isolation following tests. Other countries had competent test and tracing regimes. Have we built that in a year? No. (Are we ready to test and trace the next bug? Double no.)

What happened to the paper-strip tests you could buy for $2.00 at Walgreen’s, get instant results, and maybe decide it’s a bad idea to go to the all night dance party? Interest faded in November. (Last I looked, the sellers and FDA were still insisting on prescriptions and an app sign up, so it cost $50 and insurance “paid for” it.) What happened to detailed local data? Did anyone ever get it through the FDA’s and CDCs thick skulls that even imperfect but cheap and fast tests can be used to slow spread of disease?

Last summer, we were talking about super-spreader events, and the idea that you don’t have to have disastrous lockdowns of everything but maybe packed all-night disco parties are a bad idea? (Reopen smart, I wrote at the time, for example here) Today, silence. Masks. Nice big symbolic masks. Period.

And then we indulge another round of America’s favorite pastime, answers in search of a question. Delta is spreading, so… extend the renter eviction moratorium.


In the talk “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” I hear, basically, resignation. We offered you vaccines. If you won’t take them, fine, we’re done. We’re back really to what quite a few people argued for and were pilloried for in March 2020. Let it sweep through, get to herd immunity, it peters out, bury the dead and go on with life.

The good news. A reproduction rate of 6 means Delta will spread really fast, peak really fast, and decline fast. The bad news: a lot of people will needlessly get sick and quite a few will die. The economy will slow down as people voluntarily pull back. Evolution got one more step ahead of bureaucratic bungling. A variant that transmits even more easily through vaccinated people can’t be far behind.

It did not have to happen. The vaccine was in hand, the lines were done, anyone could walk in and get the vaccine. All we had left to do was get pretty much everyone vaccinated before the new variant hit, and it would have been pretty much over. Something like $5 trillion dollars of extra debt, the economy closed for a year, thousands dead, thousands unemployed, huge pain and now we lose sight of the ball when all we had to do was pay a little attention, get some small incentives going for everyone to get vaccinated. (Aaron Stupple suggested, just pay people $1,000 to get vaccinated. 100 million people times $1,000 is $100 billion. Couch change in what the pandemic has cost us, or the upcoming $3.5 trillion “infrastructure” bill. That’s not much more than rail and transit subsidies alone.)


Of the many things we don’t know, just how much masks help or don’t help is one of them. You think with $42 billion dollars one could find out. Of the studies I have read and seen cited, I see a guesstimate of 20% reduction in reproduction rate. So if Delta has R0=6, masks might reduce that to 4.8. Even if a vaccine is only 50% effective in stopping transmission, then R0 among the vaccinated is 0.25.

Masks do much more to stop you from giving it to someone else than to protect you. Cloth masks are close to useless. Well-fitting N95 masks work much better in both directions. Neither comes close to vaccination. Wearing cloth masks outdoors, far from other people, in the wind, as is the fashion in Palo Alto, is just part and parcel of the pointless virtue-signaling so prominent here. If you do go to that crowded all-night disco, wearing an N95 mask might be a good idea. Of course if you’re even thinking about wearing a mask, you’re not going in the first place, which is why the whole mask-mandate business is a bit silly.


  1. Gavin Longmuir says:

    It is not just the mask-wearing that is silly. The whole Covid! Covid! Covid! extravaganza is a vast deliberate over-reaction.

    Did Barry Soetero worry about Covid when he invited 600+ of his closest friends (co-conspirators?) to party at his beach-front mansion? Did he worry about Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming before he plopped down $Millions on his little place by the sea?

    Now, UKGov has decided that the 25,000 bureaucrats & hangers-on flying in for this fall’s Global Warming fiesta will be exempt from the Covid restrictions which constrain mere UK citizens.

    The actions of our Political Class show that they know both Covid and Global Warming are merely convenient sticks with which to beat their dumbed-down peons into misery. And we peons just sit there and take it!

  2. Albion says:

    If we have learned one thing about government and the people who inhabit it, it is that they do not care one iota about the people they ostensibly ‘serve.’

    Of course it has always been a case of ‘one rule for me, another rule for thee’ but lately it has become so painfully obvious that it has become a joke, though seemingly one without a funny ending. It’s even got to the point that those in power can blatantly lie and no one will even mention it.

    As more than one person has observed: we know they are lying and they know we know they are lying and yet they still do it.

    We are possibly living through the end of any faith in our elected rulers but in parallel we now have absolutely no faith in the media who once maintained they were the voice of reason as well as a necessary check on the abuses and excesses of big government. Now the hacks are just faithful little lap-dogs, sniffing the crotch of the famous and untalented and hoping for crumbs falling from over-filled plates.

    As I tell my wife, we are in Kali Yuga — the age of decay and misery, because Kali relates to hypocrisy. It seems all we can do is try to save ourselves, because politicians won’t.

  3. McChuck says:

    Anybody who, at this point, still thinks that the vaccines are both “safe” and “effective” is either woefully or willfully ignorant.

  4. Altitude Zero says:

    Since even the CDC admits that you can obviously still get and transmit Covid when you are vaccinated, how are vaccines supposed to give us herd immunity, I mean even theoretically? And doesn’t this also mean that the vaccinated are a greater threat to the unvaccinated than vice versa, since the vaccines prevent more serious symptoms, so that there will be a lot more vaccinated people wandering around feeling OK but still shedding the virus? Not being sarcastic here, I’m honestly confused about how this is even supposed to work.

  5. Isegoria says:

    When the original strain spread with an R0 of approximately 3 — each case generated three more — the simple models projected that it would continue to spread until two-thirds of the population had immunity — and each case would then generate just one more. You could achieve such herd immunity with two-thirds of the population having complete immunity, or more than two-thirds having less than complete immunity. A 90%-effective vaccine applied to three-fourths of the population would achieve the same two-thirds immunity.

    If the delta variant is twice as communicable, with an R0 of approximately 6, then we’d have to reach five-sixths immunity, which is just barely doable with a 90%-effective vaccine, if you vaccinate 93% of the population.

  6. Altitude Zero says:

    So are any of the vaccines 90% effective? Or do we know?

  7. Sam J. says:

    Altitude Zero says,”Since even the CDC admits that you can obviously still get and transmit Covid when you are vaccinated, how are vaccines supposed to give us herd immunity, I mean even theoretically? And doesn’t this also mean that the vaccinated are a greater threat to the unvaccinated than vice versa, since the vaccines prevent more serious symptoms, so that there will be a lot more vaccinated people wandering around feeling OK but still shedding the virus? Not being sarcastic here, I’m honestly confused about how this is even supposed to work.”

    You’re absolutely correct and the dangers you noted are 100% real. There will be NO herd immunity from the present vaccine. Look at this link from the radical conspiracy theorist station PBS.

    “This chicken vaccine makes its virus more dangerous”


    From the article,”…“With the hottest strains, every unvaccinated bird dies within 10 days. There is no human virus that is that hot. Ebola, for example, doesn’t kill everything in 10 days,”…”

    “…“Previously, a hot strain was so nasty, it wiped itself out. Now, you keep its host alive with a vaccine, then it can transmit and spread in the world,” Read said. “So it’s got an evolutionary future, which it didn’t have before.”…”

    This is of course exactly what the covid(corona) vaccine produces.

    I think lots of people are confused by the sequence of of virulence of corona or covid. It does not have to be that way. There’s a very clear logical explanation for exactly what we see.

    1. There’s a vast amount of evidence that corona was engineered.
    2. There appeared to be a lot deaths at the beginning.
    3. A viral researcher said that engineered viral weapons break down their lethality even faster than natural viruses so that would account for it’s strong virility in the beginning and it’s rapid decrease in vitality such that some people are saying it was a scam and there was no danger ever. WRONG. I personally know someone who got corona and he told me he almost died from it.
    4. The new vaccine they have is making the corona stronger and more virulent because it DOES NOT defeat it. It allows it to mutate in the vaccinated host so even stronger versions of corona can persist.

    It’s a crime that this is going on. Read the link I provided above about the same sort of vaccine used on chickens. Nice little profit center for the vaccine makers cause now instead of burning out the virus it makes it so none of the chickens survive if they have not had the vax.

    There’s also the problem with Search “Pathogenic priming”.



    Will the same thing happen to humans? Maybe.

    It may well be that all these deaths from the vaxed is from pathogenic priming.

    I know that I will not be vaxed unless it is under the most extreme extremities.

  8. Hoyos says:

    “Ugh, why can’t you rubes just let the government stick experimental shit in your body whenever they ask. No, you can’t ask how it was made. Of course there are no side effects*. Hey! We haven’t been juking the stats for months to be questioned.”

    In seriousness though, this is not an ugh-we’re-so-stupid moment. Their have been so many lies, obfuscations, and fun house mirrorings of reality that’s it’s all really about control and the ability to discomfit hated enemies.

  9. Slovenian Guest says:

    “BTW the data out of the UK continues to show Delta is less dangerous. A lot less-dangerous. It’s about one fifth as likely to kill you overall, and about half as likely if you’re over 50. It is also less-likely to send you to the hospital. This is the expected progression of a respiratory pandemic virus. While it appears on that data the vaccines confer some personal protection it is by no means perfect and nowhere near the 95%+ claimed, especially in people over 50.

    Further there is no evidence Delta is more-transmissible; its secondary attack rate in household and non-household settings is nearly identical to Alpha.”

    via the ticker guy

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