California mandated masks. Florida opened its restaurants. Did any of it matter?

“the science on masks is clear: They work. Even experts I spoke with who think harsh lockdowns may have been counterproductive say indoor mask mandates were clearly effective.

“Indoor masking guidance was proven to be effective,” Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the John Hopkins Center for Health Security, told me. “When you look at it all, I think that is probably going to be the one that shows the most effect. … Most things can be done safely if people socially distance and wear a mask indoors in an unvaccinated setting.”

The available research supports that conclusion. In a study published in March 2021, CDC researchers examined case and death rates at the county level after mask mandates were put into place and found the mandates were associated with slower transmission.”

“An earlier study, published in June 2020 in Health Affairs, had reached the same conclusion. Its authors estimated that mask mandates had averted some 200,000 Covid-19 cases by mid-May; at the time, the US had counted less than 2 million cases, indicating that the mask mandates had a meaningful effect in slowing the virus down early in the pandemic.

Some commentators have questioned why dire warnings about what would happen when Texas lifted its mask mandate for good in March 2021 never materialized. But the mandate’s rollback took place in a very different context from the spring of 2020.

For one, many more people now have protection from the virus, between vaccinations and prior infections. More widespread immunity was already an obstacle for the virus.

But on top of that, because the pandemic has become so politicized, people have already sorted themselves into their different camps, experts indicated — and so a state mandate might not have changed behavior. By now, you are already either a mask-wearer or you’re not. A government mandate probably isn’t going to affect someone’s behavior in June 2021 as much as it would have a year ago, especially after enforcement has been nonexistent.”

Teen Cigarette Smoking Went Up Following Flavored Tobacco Ban

“In newly published research, she looked at youth smoking rates in San Francisco, which banned flavored tobacco products—including flavored cigarettes and flavored vaping liquids—in June 2018. Previous research suggested the ban actually increased cigarette smoking in 18- to 24-year-olds while decreasing overall tobacco product use in 18- to 34-year-olds. Friedman wanted to measure the ban’s effect on high school students under 18.

Using data from the 2011-2019 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), Friedman was able to look at under-18 cigarette smoking rates in Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, and Florida’s Broward, Palm Beach, and Orange counties. This allowed her to compare youth smoking in San Francisco with districts that did not ban flavored cigarettes and vaping products.

“Comparing recent smoking rates by wave revealed similar trends in San Francisco vs other districts prior to 2018 but subsequent divergence,” writes Friedman of her findings. “San Francisco’s flavor ban was associated with more than doubled odds of recent smoking among underage high school students relative to concurrent changes in other districts.”

“While the policy applied to all tobacco products, its outcome was likely greater for youths who vaped than those who smoked due to higher rates of flavored tobacco use among those who vaped,” she adds. “This raises concerns that reducing access to flavored electronic nicotine delivery systems may motivate youths who would otherwise vape to substitute smoking. Indeed, analyses of how minimum legal sales ages for electronic nicotine delivery systems are associated with youth smoking also suggest such substitution.””

Marijuana and Pregnancy: What Does the Science Say?

“Studies on marijuana use during pregnancy are inconsistent and inconclusive. But cannabis is not known to be teratogenic—that is, to cause birth defects—in humans. The bulk of scientific evidence suggests that risks posed to developing fetuses are relatively minor and babies exposed to marijuana in utero still fall within normal ranges of outcomes.

A 2020 review looked at longitudinal studies on “the impact of prenatal cannabis exposure on multiple domains of cognitive functioning in individuals aged 0 to 22 years” and found that “evidence does not suggest that prenatal cannabis exposure alone is associated with clinically significant cognitive functioning impairments.” Researchers did note some differences—”those exposed performed differently on a minority of cognitive outcomes (worse on < 3.5 percent and better in < 1 percent)" — although "cognitive performance scores of cannabis-exposed groups overwhelmingly fell within the normal range." A 2016 review of studies on potential ties between in utero marijuana exposure and adverse birth outcomes—things like low birth weight and preterm delivery to miscarriage and stillbirth—found "maternal marijuana use during pregnancy is not an independent risk factor for adverse neonatal outcomes after adjusting for confounding factors." Instead, any increases in adverse outcomes appeared "attributable to concomitant tobacco use and other confounding factors."" ... ""The best new evidence on this comes from a 2019 study out of Canada," Oster writes. Matching women who used cannabis with demographically similar women who didn't, researchers did "find evidence of worse birth outcomes among the cannabis users," including "an increased risk of prematurity and NICU transfer. The increases are moderate but statistically significant: preterm birth occurred in 10% of cannabis users and 7% of non-users." An August 2020 study from the same authors found marijuana use correlated with slightly higher incidences of intellectual disability and learning disorders, as well as higher chances of having autism spectrum disorder. "The percent increase is large—about 50%—and significant," Oster points out, though the researchers do note that the overall incidence rate is still small. Though the researchers tried to demographically match participants between groups, it can still be hard to totally compensate for the ways marijuana users may differ from non-users." ... "The biggest problem is that it's hard to isolate specific factors like marijuana consumption. The population of women who not only use marijuana during pregnancy but are also willing to admit to researchers that they do may differ from those who don't." ... "A review of evidence published in February 2020 "points to the possibility of lower birth weight, diminished IQ and more behavior problems among children whose mothers used cannabis during pregnancy, but notes it is very difficult to separate the marijuana use from other demographics or other variables,"" ... " With the limited evidence available, it may make sense for most pregnant women to avoid marijuana to minimize possible risks to their offspring. But the best choice for one woman and her baby won't be the best choice universally. For women who have extreme morning sickness that makes getting adequate nutrients through food and vitamins difficult, and for whom marijuana mitigates nausea, using cannabis might make sense. Likewise, women with certain mental health conditions helped by marijuana may deem it safer than their usual prescription drugs."

Will Biden’s Tax Plan Discourage Work? We Already Know the Answer.

“the international experience shows that a child allowance is not anti-work. The vast majority of countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development already provide an unconditional child benefit, and most have a higher labor force participation rate than the U.S. In fact, research suggests that parents receiving allowances actually work more: “After Canada enacted a national child allowance in 2006, employment rates for mothers actually increased across the board,” according to one report. In 2016, Canada increased its annual child allowance to $4,800 per young child and $4,000 per older child — and the economy added jobs.”

Study: Smoking bans saved countless lives — could they have increased drunk driving?

“While there is still some debate around the potential increase in drunk driving, there is a vast, peer-reviewed, scientific literature around the harms of secondhand smoke inhalation, and around the massive health benefits associated with the sharp decline in smoking in part due to smoke-free policies.

We know that smoking bans have been effective at reducing secondhand smoke exposure. Bans in restaurants, bars, and other hospitality establishments have the added benefit of ensuring that workers are not forced to carry the health costs against their will simply due to their place of employment. Bans have also been effective at reducing smoking and “reducing opportunities to smoke, changing smoking norms, and reducing smoking rates.”

Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, cancer, and death. Research has shown that heart attack admissions “rapidly declined” after the implementation of 100 percent smoke-free laws.

All of this to say that if there was in fact a small increase in fatal drunk driving accidents as a result of these bans, the bans were still worth it.”

How superspreading is fueling the pandemic — and how we can stop it

“On average, people with the coronavirus infect about two other people; most pass the virus to just one other person, or to no one else at all.

But some people go on to infect many more — often before they even get symptoms. Many of these transmission chains begin with superspreading events, where one person (usually in a crowded indoor space) passes the virus to dozens of others. Early contact tracing studies suggest these events have been a large driver of transmission around the world. By some estimates, 10 percent of people have been causing 80 percent of new infections.”

“To understand what might kick off a superspreading event, let’s review some basics about how this virus, SARS-CoV-2, spreads. Researchers have found that it often spreads through microscopic droplets created when an infected person coughs or sneezes — or even speaks — and another person breathes them in. These disease-containing droplets are a large part of the reasoning behind staying at least 6 feet away from people and wearing a mask in public.
But scientists are finding that the virus likely also spreads through even tinier, longer-lasting particles from breathing or speaking (or flushing a toilet) called aerosols. These are so small they can linger in the air after an infectious person has left — and may contain infectious virus particles for up to three hours. And they may be a key element to superspreading events: An infected person could seed a poorly ventilated indoor space with virus without even getting physically close to all the people they end up infecting.

Superspreading also appears to be more likely with SARS-CoV-2 because people typically have the highest level of the virus in their system (making them infectious) right before they develop symptoms. (This is very different from other severe coronaviruses like SARS and MERS, where people were most infectious seven to 10 days after they started feeling sick, when they were more likely to be in isolation or in medical care.) So thousands of people with active Covid-19 infections continue to go about their lives not knowing that they could be spreading the disease.”

“Some individuals seem to develop higher amounts of the virus in their system, upping their odds of transmitting it to others.

And given that the amount of virus in the body tends to shift over the duration of infection — rising until around the onset of symptoms, then declining — the chance that someone is a likely superspreader changes over time.”

George Floyd’s Horrifying Death Highlights Stark Racial Disparities in the Use of Police Force

“In a 2017 analysis of data from 20 states, researchers at Stanford University found that “white drivers are searched in 2.0% of stops, compared to 3.5% of stops for black motorists and 3.8% for Hispanic motorists.” After the researchers controlled for stop location, date and time, and driver age and gender, they calculated that “black and Hispanic drivers have approximately twice the odds of being searched relative to white drivers.” They were also twice as likely to be arrested. The study found that “black and Hispanic drivers are searched on the basis of less evidence than white drivers, suggestive of bias in search decisions.”

After surveying drivers in the Kansas City area in 2003 and 2004, Charles Epp and two other researchers at the University of Kansas classified police encounters based on the legal justification (or lack thereof) and the amount of discretion involved. They found that black drivers were no more likely than white drivers to report clear-cut “traffic safety stops” (e.g., for running a red light or stop sign, driving at night with headlights off, or exceeding the speed limit by seven or more miles an hour) but were nearly three times as likely to report seemingly pretextual “investigatory stops” (e.g., for an unilluminated license plate, driving too slowly, or no reason mentioned by the officer).

During investigatory stops, Epp and his colleagues reported, black drivers were five times as likely as white drivers to be searched. They were also more likely to be handcuffed and threatened with arrest, and more likely to describe the officer’s demeanor as rude, hostile, or insulting. Blacks perceived investigatory stops as less legitimate than traffic safety stops, while whites made no such distinction. The more stops black drivers had experienced, the less they trusted the police, an effect that was not apparent among white drivers.”

Do more guns facilitate more deaths? Video Sources.

Homicide Harvard Injury Control Research Center. Havard T.H.Chan School of Public Health. FIREARMS AND FAMILY VIOLENCE Arthur Kellermann, Sheryl Heron. 1999. Emergency Medicine Clinics of North America. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0733862705700924 Firearm possession and violent death: A critical review Wolfgang Stroebe. 2013. Aggression and Violent

Dozens of cities across the country are imposing curfews. Do they work?

“It is unclear whether ordering emergency curfews — that is, telling people they must stay at home and avoid public areas after a certain time in the evening, and increasing public police presence to enforce it — is effective in reducing unrest. Criminologists note there doesn’t appear to be an abundance of research on the matter. But some experts have raised concerns about the way curfews are likely to be enforced in communities of color and argue they could exacerbate the very dynamics that gave rise to the unrest in the first place: namely, that they will encourage confrontational policing at a time when people are demanding the opposite.”

““Curfews are an extremely blunt tool that should only be used sparingly and as a last result. They give police tremendous power to intervene in the lives of all citizens,” he said. “They pose a huge burden on people who work irregular hours, especially people of color in service professions who may need to travel through areas of social disturbance in order to get to and from work at night.””

Why some labs work on making viruses deadlier — and why they should stop

“The scientists who do this kind of research argue that we can better anticipate deadly diseases by making diseases deadlier in the lab. But many people at the time and since have become increasingly convinced that the potential research benefits — which look limited — just don’t outweigh the risks of kicking off the next deadly pandemic ourselves.”