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A Swiss cheese approach to pandemic safety

A Swiss cheese approach to pandemic safety


Antivirus: a weekly digest of COVID-19 news

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Photo credit should read CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images

Lately, I’ve been thinking about pandemic safety and Swiss cheese. It’s an uninspiring cheese, but it’s a good visual metaphor for a layered approach to infection control.

This ‘Swiss Cheese Model’ has been around since at least the 1990’s, when it was proposed as a way of thinking about how accidents happen. During the pandemic, it’s been pressed into a different kind of service, used to visualize disease prevention instead of accidents.

In a pandemic as widespread as this one, no single action can keep a person from getting sick. There will always be flaws (holes) in any approach. Washing your hands won’t keep you from breathing in the virus — and wearing a cloth mask won’t completely protect you if you’re stuck in a stuffy room with an infected person. But stack them together with some layers of ventilation and robust testing, and you’ve got yourself a game plan. (Or a really boring cheese plate. Either way.)

The hope is that the holes in one approach will be covered by the strengths of the others. Some layers have more holes than others, and some, like vaccines, don’t exist yet.

The problem is that we seem to keep holding out for a single, solid piece of cheese instead of accepting our hole-y reality. Here in the United States, we just set a record for number of daily cases, adding 99,000 cases in a single day to a total that’s now more than 9 million. At this point, we need everything, anything that we’ve got to beat back this thing that’s stolen all our lives.

we keep holding out for a single, solid piece of cheese

It’s not easy. We’ve been at this for months and we are all deeply fatigued. We’re ready to see our friends, or go outside without a mask, or work out at a gym, and instead we’re juggling the masks, hand sanitizer, filtration systems, mental tape measures, and Zoom. Having a single thing to do or remember instead of layering up would be easier than running through our long list of COVID calculations every day.

It’s even worse because each of those Swiss cheese layers we’re wrapping ourselves in only get us to safer. They still don’t get us to safe. There’s no easy app to rate your home’s ventilation, no strict list of rules for forming a pandemic pod, no judge to rule when COVID disputes crop up between friends, or families, or co-workers. The endlessly frustrating answer to seemingly all pandemic-related questions is ‘it depends.’

Scientists are working to figure out more concrete answers. But as rapid as research is, it’s still not going to be able to satiate our deep hunger for certainty “in these uncertain times”. Until this is over, we’re going to have to snack on all the layers we can, stacking every new intervention together until we find a combination that sticks.

Here’s what else is happening this week.


A room, a bar and a classroom: how the coronavirus is spread through the air
This is a fantastic visualization of how the coronavirus might spread in different settings, and with different interventions. Unsurprisingly, the more layers of precautions, the better. (Javier Salas, Heather Galloway/El Pais)

Why You Shouldn’t Worry About Studies Showing Waning Coronavirus Antibodies
There’s been a lot of talk about antibodies recently. This story breaks down what’s useful in those studies — and what isn’t. (Apoorva Mandivalli/The New York Times)

Low risk or dicey? Two new reports paint different pictures of COVID-19 danger while flying
“The risk (of contracting COVID-19 on a flight) is low, but it’s not zero,’’ Christopher Sanford, a founder of the travel medicine clinic at the University of Washington Medical Center told USA Today. “The answer is a big fat ‘it depends,’’
(Dawn Gilbertson/USA Today)


Gilead’s Covid-19 Drug Is Mediocre. It Will Be a Blockbuster Anyway.
Veklury, the drug formerly known as Remdesivir was approved by the FDA last week. But approval doesn’t carry the same potency that many people think it does. “F.D.A. approval doesn’t guarantee a certain level of benefit — all it says is that there is some benefit,” Aaron S. Kesselheim, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School told The New York Times. The drug isn’t the silver bullet many have hoped for. But it’s still going to sell extremely well. (Katie Thomas/The New York Times)

Regeneron halts trial of antibody treatment in seriously ill Covid patients
Both Regeneron and Eli Lilly have now stopped testing their antibody treatments on seriously ill COVID-19 patients. They will continue testing these treatments in patients with milder cases, where the drugs may still have some benefit. (Hannah Kuchler/Financial Times)

A newsletter highlighting the COVID-19 research, developments, and stories that matter. Subscribe here!

It may be time to reset expectations on when we’ll get a Covid-19 vaccine
Experts are finding it increasingly unlikely that we’ll see a vaccine that’s safe, effective, authorized and widely available by next spring. That’s not a bad thing — with something that can affect billions of lives, it pays to be cautious. (Helen Branswell/STAT)

Moderna says it’s preparing global launch of Covid vaccine as it takes in $1.1 billion in deposits
Even as timelines get pushed, drug companies are pressing forward with manufacturing their vaccines in anticipation of approval. That’s also not a bad thing — if the drug is safe and effective, being prepared for an approval could help ease demand and get more people vaccinated faster. (Berkeley Lovelace Jr./CNBC)

Temperature sensors will help keep COVID-19 vaccines potent
Take a peek inside the tech that will help safely distribute whichever vaccine is eventually approved. (Nicole Wetsman/The Verge)


What We’re Voting for: Public Health
There’s an election in the US next week. The outcome matters to any number of causes, from platform regulation to democracy itself — and in the middle of a worsening pandemic, the future of public health in the US will be decided at the ballot box. Nicole Wetsman has an editorial at The Verge about what’s at stake for public health in this election.

Additional reading:

America Is About to Choose How Bad the Pandemic Will Get
(Ed Yong / The Atlantic)

More than numbers

To the more than 45,683,708 people worldwide who have tested positive, may your road to recovery be smooth.

To the families and friends of the 1,190,516 people who have died worldwide — 229,710 of those in the US — your loved ones are not forgotten.

Stay safe, everyone

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed 7 minutes ago Better on the inside

Thomas Ricker7 minutes ago
This custom Super73 makes me want to tongue-kiss an eagle.

Super73’s tribute to mountain-biking pioneer Tom Ritchey has my inner American engorged with flag-waving desire. The “ZX Team” edition features a red, white, and blue colorway with custom components fitted throughout. Modern MTBers might scoff at the idea of doing any serious trail riding on a heavy Super73 e-bike, which is fine: this one-off is not for sale. 

You can, however, buy the Super73 ZX it’s based on (read my review here), which proved to be a very capable all-terrain vehicle on asphalt, dirt, gravel, and amber fields of grain.

Richard Lawler12:25 AM UTC
The sincerest form of flattery.

I had little interest in Apple’s Dynamic Island, but once a developer built their spin on the idea for Android, I had to give it a try.

Surprisingly, I’ve found I actually like it, and while dynamicSpot isn’t as well-integrated as Apple’s version, it makes up for it with customization. Nilay’s iPhone 14 Pro review asked Apple to reverse the long-press to expand vs. tap to enter an app setup. In dynamicSpot, you can do that with a toggle (if you pay $5).

DynamicSpot app on Android shown expanding music player, in the style of Apple’s Dynamic Island in iOS 16.
DynamicSpot in action on a Google Pixel 6
Image: Richard Lawler
Richard LawlerSep 22
TikTok politics.

Ahead of the midterm elections, TikTok made big changes to its rules for politicians and political fundraising on the platform, as Makena Kelly explains... on TikTok.

External Link
Richard LawlerSep 22
The Twitter employee who testified about Trump and the January 6th attack has come forward.

This summer, a former Twitter employee who worked on platform and content moderation policies testified anonymously before the congressional committee investigating the violence at the US Capitol on January 6th.

While she remains under NDA and much of her testimony is still sealed,  Anika Collier Navaroli has identified herself, explaining a little about why she’s telling Congress her story of what happened inside Twitter — both before the attack, and after, when it banned Donald Trump.

Richard LawlerSep 22
But how does it sound?

Our review of Apple’s new AirPods Pro can tell you everything about the second-generation buds. To find out how you’ll sound talking to other people through them, just listen to Verge senior video producer Becca Farsace.

The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 22
Our list of the best entertainment of 2022 keeps getting bigger.

We just added some notable entries to our running list highlighting the best games, movies, and TV shows of the year, including Return to Monkey Island, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, and Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. Sorry in advance for your free time.

The best entertainment of 2022

Everything to play and watch this year

Andrew WebsterSep 22

Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13

The best instant cameras you can buy right now

We found the best cameras for your budget and needs

Sheena VasaniSep 22
The Verge
Richard LawlerSep 22
The Bootleg Ratio.

Policy Editor Russell Brandom digs into a phenomenon we’ve all seen on social media before:

I call it the Bootleg Ratio: the delicate balance between A) content created by users specifically for the platform and B) semi-anonymous clout-chasing accounts drafting off the audience. Any platform will have both, but as B starts to overtake A, users will have less and less reason to visit and creators will have less and less reason to post.

And now it’s coming for TikTok.

Russell BrandomSep 22
The latest Alex Jones defamation hearing is not going well for Alex Jones.

The Infowars host has already been hit with millions of dollars in damages for spreading lies about Sandy Hook — but today’s hearing suggests he could be on the hook for even more.

Dan SeifertSep 22
Here’s a look at a few Pixel Watch watchfaces.

Google is ramping up the marketing machine ahead of next month’s Pixel 7 and Pixel Watch event and has released a short video (via 9to5Google) highlighting the design and showcasing some of the watchfaces it will have. Most of them are quite simple, with just the time being displayed.

These videos always look great from a marketing perspective, but I think they poorly reflect how I actually use a smartwatch. I want the computer on my wrist to show me useful information like weather, calendar appointments, timers, etc, which means it’s never as sparse or simple looking as it is in these ads.

External Link
Please stop trying to order the Hummer EV.

GMC is closing the order books for the Hummer EV truck and SUV after receiving 90,000 reservations for the controversial electric vehicle, according to the Detroit Free Press. It just can’t seem to keep up with demand, so the GM-owned company has decided to stop taking orders until production picks up. Maybe if the Hummer’s battery wasn’t the same weight as a whole-ass Honda Civic, it would be easier to manufacture, but I digress.

GMC is the latest automaker to run into the problem of EV demand far outstripping supply. Ford also is having difficulty making enough F-150 Lightnings and Mustang Mach-Es to fill all its orders. Waitlists for most available EVs are longer than my arm. Things are going to be tight until the auto industry is able to bring more battery factories and assembly plants online, and unfortunately that could take a while.

External Link
Alex CranzSep 22
The Verge is hiring!

The Verge is almost always hiring, and right now we’re looking for a big Verge fan with big journalism ambition to join us as a fellow for the next year. We’re also hiring a Space Reporter to join our Science team, a Designer to work with our Art team, and a Senior Editor focused on Search. Come apply to work with us!

Fellow, The Verge


Tesla recalls 1.1 million vehicles to prevent drivers from getting pinched by the windows.

The issue is that the windows would not recognize certain objects while closing, which could result in “a pinching injury to the occupant.” It’s a pretty enormous recall, covering some 2017-2022 Model 3, 2020-2021 Model Y, and 2021-2022 Model S and Model X vehicles.

Tesla said it would issue a fix via an over-the-air software update. Notably, nobody has been been injured or killed by Tesla’s ravenous windows, but I wouldn’t recommend sticking your fingers in there just to see what happens.

External Link
Adi RobertsonSep 22
Congress is trying to make Google pay news outlets for links again.

The controversial Journalism Competition and Preservation Act — which would let news publishers negotiate payments for being linked by sites like Google — suffered a setback earlier this month thanks to a surprise Ted Cruz amendment trying to limit the platforms’ moderation options. After some negotiations between Cruz and sponsor Amy Klobuchar, it’s back for markup today, and it’s got critics even more worried than before.