"We need to find some way of striking that compromise, to not insist that my preferred activities are risk-less and high value while your preferred activities are high risk and and valueless."

One of the other things I wish we could be more consistent with is identifying who it is that we are placing at risk.

Early on, whenever someone wanted to do something (playgrounds/haircuts/restaurants/visit friends), they would say they understand the risk the virus poses to them, will be careful, but ultimately believe they will be safe. This was met by a loud chorus of people who would tell them that while they may not personally be at great risk, by being around other people they could easily wind up unwittingly killing someone else's grandma. The motto was, we all have to refrain from doing our personal high value activities, and by doing so we will prevent the death of someone else's grandma.

Fast forward to the protests, and suddenly the risk/value changed from societal risk vs personal value to personal risk vs societal value. If you point out that protests are likely to increase, at some level, the spread of COVID you would hear the same people tell you that these protesters understand the risk to themselves and are willing to undertake that risk to protest a societal ill and hopefully change it for the better.

That's fine and well, but we shouldn't allow some people to make decisions based only on their personal risk while demanding others make decisions based on some larger societal risk.

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Here's a thought about the risk vs. value tradeoff:

Yesterday you retweeted a thread from @TheAgeofShoddy about how, left and right, our response to COVID has largely been filtered through a political lens (particularly the lens of the upcoming election), and that this has significantly hampered our ability or willingness to rationally and effectively respond to the virus.

I would submit that these decisions themselves represent risk vs. value tradeoffs. Namely, that the value of getting [Trump/Biden] elected justifies the risk of pushing reductionist and likely inaccurate narratives about COVID. I don't think anyone is going to come out and say it (since that would be counterproductive to the supreme value of getting [Trump/Biden] elected), but I'm sure it's at least a subconscious factor in a lot of COVID-related commentary.

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Found this through Jim Geraghty's Morning Jolt newsletter. I used to follow you when I was on Twitter - I always thought you were one of the few sane ones (even when I disagreed with you) - and I'm looking forward to reading your writing again.

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The notion that protests (and their concomitant riots, lootings, arrests, and so on) caused, for all intents and purposes, zero new infections, seems nonsensical on its surface, regardless of whether one believes "they were all wearing masks" (which was certainly not the case).

However, apparently the argument is not that zero infections resulted, but that they were somehow offset by non-protestors engaging in lower-risk activities (like not going out to restaurants and bars in the affected areas) and thus experiencing a net negative transmission rate compared to a non-protest alternate universe.

That strikes me as something of a stretch, but I wonder if it has any (scientific) legs? Besides the simple case of someone avoiding going out because of protests in the area, are we sure that many of the protestors would have gone out anyway and thus experienced similar risks, just engaging in other activities?

Also, if "negative effective infection rates" is a thing, could it have applied to the crowded beaches, Wisconsin voting, anti-lockdown protests, church congregations, and so on, that we were so stridently told would result in huge spikes in infections, hospitalizations, and deaths? Besides not wanting to be in the area of a protest, is there enough difference to matter, in the sense that many "might" have decided to stay indoors (and thus not engage in higher-risk activities) due to all the dangers posed by the non-protest, "high-risk", activities?

Is anyone actually measuring this sort of thing, scientifically speaking?

Finally, I've seen many claim that "contact tracers are not being allowed to ask whether people have attended protests", which sounds fairly problematic, except I don't know whether they're being allowed to ask about any specific activity in general. Is it true that, as implied, tracers (in at least some areas) are told to ask whether people have gone to (say) church but not a BLM protest? Or is the claim just more cherry-picking to push a narrative?

Thanks for your thoughtful and helpful posts!

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I think it's at least as plausible that the protests had a multiplier effect on transmission (at least in areas where there were no or nonviolent protests). Some percentage of people who had been carefully limiting their social interactions felt like suckers after seeing mass protests greeted with indifference or approval by the same people (or class of people) who had told them to stay inside if they didn't want to kill grandma. The response was likely some combination of (to use the rubric of this post) "The risks for my favored activities must be lower than I was led to believe if mass protests are safe" and "I'm not going to sacrifice my high-value activities to offset the risk caused by my political opponents' high-value activities".

At least that's the theory I tell myself because I'm uncomfortable with an explanatory vacuum!

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