Juan Cambeiro

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Engineering the Apocalypse: Rob Reid and Sam Harris on engineered pandemics (transcript)

Thanks for doing this, and I had a similar experience of being deeply affected by this story.

I'm by no means a biosecurity expert (I do have a bio background and forecasting experience related to COVID). Overall, I was also impressed and I have no especially strong criticisms of the content here except to say that his bullishness on UVC light and the BCG vaccine as important parts of "hardening society against future pandemics" seems unwarranted. 

UVC light: even if you could somehow get the technology to work and  get regulatory approval, this would almost only work against fomite transmission — and fomite transmission only constitutes a very small percentage of transmission events for SARS-CoV-2, which is also likely the case with other respiratory viruses we have reason to worry about

BCG vaccine: there was a lot of talk in early 2020 that it might confer some protection against SARS-CoV-2 by providing general non-specific protection against respiratory disease, and this was largely based on the observation that countries that mandate the BCG vaccine as part of their childhood immunization programs seemed to be far less hard-hit. But given epidemiological trajectories since then, e.g. India experiencing a huge COVID wave in spring 2021, this observation no longer seems to hold (or, at the very least, the correlation is far weaker). The jury is still out on whether the BCG vaccine provides at least some limited protection against COVID, but the evidence in favor of it almost certainly isn't strong enough to advise spending billions on vaccinating everyone with it as opposed to, say, investing more in universal flu vaccine programs and building additional vaccine manufacturing capabilities 

What EA projects could grow to become megaprojects, eventually spending $100m per year?

I think the gist of this idea might be something like a massively-scaled up prediction platform that focuses on recruiting subject-matter experts and pays them to make predictions on questions relevant to their expertise while perhaps additionally discussing important/neglected trends in their fields. 

How are resources in EA allocated across issues?

This is interesting, thanks. Do you plan on making funding/people allocation estimates using this methodology in the future? If so perhaps it'd be worthwhile for us to expand Metaculus forecasting on future EA resources to include questions on future funding/people allocation, with the aim of informing efforts to address the gap between ideal future portfolios and expectations for what future portfolios will actually be.

I'm Linch Zhang, an amateur COVID-19 forecaster and generalist EA. AMA

What news sites, data sources, and/or experts have you found to be most helpful for informing your forecasts on COVID-19?

Will protests lead to thousands of coronavirus deaths?

In an earlier Twitter thread, Trevor Bedford says "my rough guess would be that an infected individual would on average transmit to one further individual each day in the protest setting" — so I think he was using 0.9/0.95 as the R0 to estimate the impact of the protests. https://twitter.com/trvrb/status/1269395234762285056 But I don't think this is a safe assumption and I'm concerned that the R0 might be significantly higher than ~1 in a mass gathering.

In any case, the most reliable modeling I've seen (and that Trevor cites) estimates that the current overall background R0 in the U.S. is already back above 1. :/ https://covid19-projections.com/#current-us-projections

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Will protests lead to thousands of coronavirus deaths?

I'm not convinced that we would have already seen a significant uptick in reported/confirmed case numbers quite yet (weren't the largest protests this past Saturday?). The median incubation period is ~5 days, most people don't get tested at the time of symptom onset, and the PCR test turnaround time still seems to still be at least a day or two. Perhaps most importantly, most of the protestors seem to be relatively young and so many may be asymptomatic or may have mild cold/flu-like symptoms. I'm more interested in (and concerned about) any secondary transmission events that may involve older family members that protestors might live with/come into contact with. Many of these older folks would presumably have more serious symptoms and so would be more likely to show up in confirmed cases/hospitalizations data over the coming weeks.

I think perhaps the most informative case for the determining the effect of protests on overall transmission might be New York City. In recent days it has been at record lows in terms of confirmed cases/hospitalizations/test positivity rate, it has one of the highest number of tests per capita of any state/country, it has seen large protests, and it is has not reached the phase of reopening that involves activities known to be high risk (for now, it's just construction/manufacturing and curbside pickup — no schools, dining in restaurants, bars, etc.). I'm keeping an eye on this Metaculus question (which has already been mentioned elsewhere): https://pandemic.metaculus.com/questions/4590/how-many-confirmed-new-covid-19-cases-per-day-will-there-be-in-new-york-city-for-the-week-of-june-15th-to-june-21st/

As for scapegoating, I agree that it's likely and it's extremely unfortunate. I think few (if any) of us would disagree that this is a just cause. But it is nevertheless concerning that there are mass gatherings in the middle of a pandemic, whatever the reason for them might be. A big concern of mine is that the credibility of messaging by the public health community may have taken a huge hit. Many public health professionals were (rightly) telling everyone to stay home as much as possible and then seemingly disregarded their own advice to participate in/support the protests. If (in my view, when) a second wave comes, will public health messaging to again stay home be viewed through a far more partisan lens than has already been the case?

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Will protests lead to thousands of coronavirus deaths?

I don't know why the discussion is being limited to the R0 being 0.90 or 0.95. Is it not plausible — indeed, likely — that the R0 might be 1, 1.1, 1.2 or even much higher? Anything above R0=1 would imply a cascade of transmission events that would result in far more deaths than any figures these analyses are showing, and it seems reasonable to be very concerned about that even if these transmission chains are stopped or burn out at some point in the near future.

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Will protests lead to thousands of coronavirus deaths?

Trevor Bedford's back-of-the-envelope calculation estimates 200-1100 deaths per day of protests. Note that his analysis assumes an R0 of 0.95, which is definitely not a safe assumption. https://twitter.com/trvrb/status/1269533303536664576

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Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

There doesn't seem to be any local transmission in the US yet - so for now, I guess it probably wouldn't help much (though it would still help prevent the spread of the common cold/flu!).

If/when there is local transmission, following this advice will be very important.

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