He made waves last week when he said he wouldn’t attend the White House Correspondents Dinner because the risk of infection was too high for a man in his 80s. (Our 79-year-old president attended anyway.) But there he was on Saturday morning rubbing elbows at a pre-event brunch with the media’s A-list
Nary a mask in sight. However, other photos from the event make clear why Fauci thought the risk at the brunch was worth taking. You can’t tell from Spicer’s photo, but…
— White House Insider (@whcinsider) April 30, 2022
…the brunch was held outdoors. They’re in a tent that’s not enclosed on the sides.
I’ve written hundreds of posts about COVID since the start of the pandemic but can’t recall any studies measuring transmission in a *semi-enclosed* space. We know fully outdoors is extremely safe; fully enclosed with poor ventilation is highly risky. But what about a space that’s enclosed on top but not on the sides? To what extent does a tent redirect upward-floating viral particles back down towards the people underneath?
You can view Fauci’s attendance both ways, then. On the one hand, even a tiny risk of catching COVID in a tent would seem to outweigh the benefit of having to pose for selfies with Don Lemon. Hasn’t this guy gotten enough adulation from the press since 2020 that he shouldn’t feel the urge to make a personal appearance at their annual celebration of themselves?
On the other hand, do we want normalcy or don’t we? Leana Wen defended Biden’s decision to attend the dinner notwithstanding the jeopardy inside the ballroom:
The mitigation measures at the dinner mean Mr. Biden is likely to avoid severe disease if he gets infected, she said. If he wants to avoid infection entirely, she added, he should not go.
“However, that is not what living with Covid looks like, and I think that it is very important for him to model that ultimately what Americans should care about is avoiding severe disease,” Dr. Wen said, adding, “Especially if there are precautions such as testing and vaccination, he needs to show that we can resume our prepandemic lives.”
That’s all Fauci did here, no? He managed his risk thoughtfully, eschewing a high-risk event while allowing himself the pleasure of a low-risk one. He refused to let COVID deny him something he really enjoys, watching reporters squee in his presence.
Or maybe he just wanted to show off that snazzy Bond villain blazer-and-turtleneck combo. If you’re going to lead an agency that may or may not have helped cause a global pandemic, you might as well look the part.
Fauci is vaxxed and boosted (probably twice), of course, so his risk of dying if he caught the virus would be low. But “low” doesn’t mean “zero”: A few days ago WaPo published an analysis of COVID deaths showing that vaccinated elderly people are a growing share of COVID deaths, especially if they have underlying health problems.
Rates of death are still higher if you’re unvaccinated (one in around 33,000) than if you’re boosted (one in 500,000). But because Omicron was so much better at punching through immunity than previous variants, even some older people who were up to date on their shots couldn’t escape a bad outcome during this winter’s wave. According to the Post, vaccinated people made up 42 percent of all COVID deaths in January and February compared to 23 percent last September, when Delta was dominant. Of the deaths in January and February, nearly two-thirds came among those 75 or older, a heavily vaccinated group. And a group that includes Fauci, not to mention Joe Biden.
— Dan Diamond (@ddiamond) May 1, 2022
Cases are rising across the U.S. again, not explosively but steadily enough that the numbers lately are twice what they were just a month ago. That’s probably the handiwork of Omicron’s BA.2 variant, which is hyper-infectious but mercifully hasn’t sent many people to the ER yet. (“What we’re not seeing is a lot of stress on hospitals, and that’s very encouraging.”) Daily deaths are now under 350 per day, the lowest since last summer. All of which is what Fauci meant recently when he said we’ve exited the “pandemic phase” of COVID.
Could we re-enter, though?
“This virus has probably got tricks we haven’t seen yet,” virologist Robert F. Garry of Tulane University said. “We know it’s probably not quite as infectious as measles yet, but it’s creeping up there, for sure.”
The latest member of the rogue’s gallery of variants and subvariants is the ungainly named BA.2.12.1, part of the omicron gang. Preliminary research suggests it is about 25 percent more transmissible than the BA.2 subvariant that is currently dominant nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC said the subvariant has rapidly spread in the Northeast in particular, where it accounts for the majority of new infections…
The omicron subvariants keep coming: Scientists in South Africa have identified BA.4 and BA.5, which have mutations that were seen in earlier variants and are associated with immune evasion. Caseloads there are rising.
Scott Gottlieb also recently flagged the uptick in South Africa’s Gauteng province, where Omicron was first identified:
If COVID rising again in Gauteng, South Africa; it’s likely driven in part by emergence of B4, B5 omicron variants
Experimental evidence indicates vaccine induced antibodies don’t neutralize B4, B5 as well as B1, B2 and immunity from prior B1 infection may not be as protective https://t.co/vbDYYSD1Ve
— Scott Gottlieb, MD (@ScottGottliebMD) April 22, 2022
The more that scary sublineages of Omicron proliferate, the more scientists will start leaning on Pfizer and Moderna to update their vaccines, abandoning the formula that was based on the spike from the ancestral Wuhan strain and switching one that targets the spike on Omicron instead. That would be a gamble since it would mean we’d be unprepared for any new variants that might arise from that ancestral strain, but if those have been driven to near extinction by being outcompeted by Omicron, the odds of that happening get smaller by the day.
I’ll leave you with this. It wouldn’t be a proper celebrity event without the A-listers going barefaced while the servants mask up.
Why are the servants masked??? pic.twitter.com/4usM7rkcjw
— NevilleTheCat (@FearTheFloof) May 2, 2022