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It’s impossible to determine your personal COVID-19 risks and frustrating to try – but you can still take action

People want a simple answer. Is this action safe? But despite Anthony Fauci bouncing responsibility for COVID-19 risk assessment to individuals, your risk…

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Before the pandemic, an intergenerational tea party wouldn't have seemed a risky proposition. fotostorm/E+ via Getty Images

“How risky is being indoors with our 10-year-old granddaughter without masks? We have plans to have birthday tea together. Are we safe?”

That question, from a woman named Debby in California, is just one of hundreds I’ve received from concerned people who are worried about COVID-19. I’m an epidemiologist and one of the women behind Dear Pandemic, a science communication project that has delivered practical pandemic advice on social media since the beginning of the pandemic.

How risky is swim team? How risky is it to go to my orthodontist appointment? How risky is going to the grocery store with a mask on if no one else is wearing one and my father is an organ transplant recipient? How risky is it to have a wedding with 200 people, indoors, and the reception hall has a vaulted ceiling? And on and on.

These questions are hard to answer, and even when we try, the answers are unsatisfying.

So in early April 2022, when Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical advisor, told Americans that from here on out, each of us is going to have to do our own personal risk assessment, I put my head down on my desk.

Individualized risk assessment is not a reasonable ask, even for someone who does risk assessment for a living, let alone for the rest of us. It’s impossible to evaluate our own risk for any given situation, and the impossibility of the task can make us feel like giving up entirely. So instead of doing that, I suggest focusing on risk reduction. Reframing in this way brings us back to the realm of what we can control and to the tried and true evidence-based strategies: wearing masks, getting vaccinated and boosted, avoiding indoor crowds and improving ventilation.

A cascade of unknowable variables

In my experience, nonscientists and epidemiologists use the word “risk” to mean different things. To most people, risk means a quality – something like danger or vulnerability.

When epidemiologists and other scientists use the word risk, though, we’re talking about a math problem. Risk is the probability of a particular outcome, in a particular population at a particular time. To give a simple example, the chances that a coin flip will be heads is 1 in 2.

As public health researchers, we often offer risk information in this format: The probability that an unvaccinated person will die of COVID-19 if they catch it is about 1 in 200. As many as 1 in 8 people with COVID-19 will have symptoms persisting for weeks or months after recovering.

white-haired man in jacket and tie seated at mic with 'Dr. Fauci' on name plate
Anthony Fauci wore a mask in advance of Senate testimony. Shawn Thew/AFP via Getty Images

To embark on your personal risk assessment, as Fauci casually suggested, you first have to decide what outcome you’re talking about. People often aren’t very specific when they consider risk in a qualitative sense; they tend to lump a lot of different risks together. But risk is not a general concept. It’s always the risk of a specific outcome.

Let’s think about Debby. First, there’s the risk that she will be exposed to COVID-19 during tea; this depends on her granddaughter. Where does she live? How many kids at her school have COVID-19 this week? Will she take a rapid test before she comes over? These factors all influence the granddaughter’s risk of exposing Debby to COVID-19, but I don’t know any of them and likely neither does Debby. Given the lack of systematic testing, I have no idea how many people in my own community have COVID-19 right now. At this point, our best guess at community rates is literally in the toiletmonitoring sewage for the coronavirus.

If I assume that Debby’s granddaughter does have COVID-19 on the appointed day, I can start thinking about Debby’s downstream risks: whether she’ll get COVID-19 from her granddaughter; the chances that she’ll be hospitalized and that she’ll die; and the probability that she’ll have long COVID. I can also consider the risk that Debby will catch COVID-19 and then give it to others, perpetuating an outbreak. If she gets sick, the whole hierarchy of risks comes into play for everyone Debby sees after she is infected.

Finally, there are competing risks. If Debby decides to skip the party, there may be risks to her own or her granddaughter’s mental health or their relationship. Many skipped celebrations in many families could negatively affect the economy. People could lose business; they could lose their jobs.

Each of these probabilities is influenced by a cascade of fickle conditions. Some of the factors that shape risks are in your control. For example, I decided to get vaccinated and boosted. Therefore, I’m less likely to end up in the hospital and to die if I get COVID-19. But some risks are not in your control – age, other health conditions, gender, race and the behavior of the people all around you. And many, many of the risk factors are simply unknowns. We’ll never be able to accurately evaluate the whole volatile landscape of risk for a particular situation and come up with a number.

Taking charge of what you can

There will never be a situation where I can say to Debby: The risk is 1 in 20. And even if I could, I’m not sure it would be helpful. Most people have a very hard time understanding probabilities they encounter every day, such as the chance that it will rain.

The statistical risk of a particular outcome doesn’t address Debby’s underlying question: Are we safe?

Nothing is entirely safe. If you want my professional opinion on whether it’s safe to walk down the sidewalk, I will have to say no. Bad things happen. I know someone who tore a tendon in her hand while putting a fitted sheet on a bed last week.

It’s much more practical to ask: What can I do to reduce the risk?

young girl shows off her 'I got my COVID-19 vaccine' sticker
Getting vaccinated is one important way to cut your risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19. Zou Zheng/Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images

Focusing on actions that reduce risk frees us from obsessing over unanswerable questions with useless answers so we can focus on what is within our control. I will never know precisely how risky Debby’s tea is, but I do know how to make the risks smaller.

I suspect the question folks are really asking is: How can I manage the risks? I like this question better because it has an answer: You should do what you can. If it’s reasonable to wear a mask, wear one. Yes, even if it isn’t required. If it’s reasonable to do an at-home antigen test before you see your vulnerable grandparents, do that. Get vaccinated and boosted. Tell your friends and family that you did, and why. Choose outdoor gatherings. Open a window.

Constantly assessing and reassessing risks has given many people decision fatigue. I feel that too. But you don’t need to recalibrate risks of everything, every day, for every variant, because the strategies to reduce risk remain the same. Reducing risk – even if it’s just a little bit – is better than doing nothing.

Malia Jones does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Government

Cruise Line Drops Pre-Cruise Covid Testing Rule

The major cruise lines walk a delicate line. They need to take the actual steps required to keep their passengers safe and they also need to be aware of…

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The major cruise lines walk a delicate line. They need to take the actual steps required to keep their passengers safe and they also need to be aware of how things look to the outside public. It's a mix of practical covid policy balanced with covid theater.

You have to do the right thing -- and Royal Caribbean International (RCL) - Get Royal Caribbean Group Report, Carnival Cruise Lines (CCL) - Get Carnival Corporation Report, and Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCLH) - Get Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. Report have been doing that with very meticulous protocols-- but you also have to show the general public you're taking the pandemic seriously. The cruise industry has been under the microscope of both public perception and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) since covid first appeared.

That's not because you're likely to get infected on a cruise ship than at a concert, sporting event, theme park, restaurant, or any other crowded space. It's because when you get sick at one of those locations nobody can pinpoint the source of your infection

Cruises last from 3 days to 7 days or even longer and that means that some people will get covid onboard and that will be blamed on the cruise industry. To mitigate that Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian have rigid protocols in place that require passengers 12 and over to be vaccinated as well as pre-cruise covid tests taken no more than two days before your cruise leaves.

Once cruise line has dropped that testing requirement (at least on a few sailings) and that could lead Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian to follow. 

Sina Schuldt/picture alliance via Getty

Holland America Drops Some Covid Testing

As the largest cruise lines sailing from the U.S., Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian don't want to be the first to make major covid policy changes. They acted more or less in tandem when it came to loosening, then dropping mask rules and have generally followed the lead of the CDC, even when that agency's rules became optional.

Now, Holland America cruise line has dropped pre-cruise covid testing on a handful of cruises. It's a minor move, but it does provide cover and precedent for Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian to eventually do the same.

"Holland America Line becomes the first US-based cruise line to remove testing for select cruises. Unfortunately for those taking a cruise from the United States, the new protocols are only in place for certain cruises onboard the company’s latest ship, the Rotterdam, in Europe," Cruisehive reported.

The current CDC guidelines do recommend pre-cruise testing, but the cruise lines into following those rules. By picking cruises sailing out of Europe, Holland America avoids picking a fight with the federal agency just yet, but it will be able to gather data as to whether the pre-cruise testing actually helps.

Holland America has not changed its vaccination requirements for those cruises which mirror the 12-and-up rule used by Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian.

Some guests have called for the end of the testing requirement because they believe it's more theater than precaution because people can test and then contract covid while traveling to their cruise.

The Current Cruise Protocols Work

Royal Caribbean President Michael Bayley does expect changes to come in his cruise line's covid protocols, and he talked about them during Royal Caribbean's recent President's Cruise, the Royal Caribbean Blog reported.

"I think pre cruise testing is going to be around for another couple of months," Bayley told passengers during a question and answer session. "We obviously want it to go back to normal, but we're incredibly cognizant of our responsibilities to keep our crew, the communities and our guests safe."

People do still get covid onboard despite the crew being 100% vaccinated and all passengers 12 and over being vaccinated, but the protocols have worked well when it comes to preventing serious illness.

Bayley said that the CDC shared some information with him in a call.

"The cruise industry sailing out of the US ports over the past 12 months and how many people have been hospitalized with Covid and how many deaths occurred from Covid from people who'd sailed on the industry's ships, which is in the millions," he said, "And the number of people who died from COVID who'd sailed on ships over the past year was two."

That success may be why the major cruise lines are reluctant to make changes. The current rules, even if they're partially for show, have been incredibly effective.

"Two is terrible. But but but against the context of everything we've seen, that's it's truly been a remarkable success." he added.

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International

Tesla Rivals Challenge Its Lead as Nio Sets Encouraging Record

Tesla’s rivals are not even coming close to producing and delivering EVs at the same rate as the Austin, Texas-based market leader.

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Tesla's rivals are not even coming close to producing and delivering EVs at the same rate as the Austin, Texas-based market leader.

Electric vehicle makers have been struggling over the last two years to produce and deliver cars, trucks and SUVs despite obstacles such as supply chain disruptions, semiconductor shortages and factory shutdowns caused by the covid pandemic.

The industry's leading EV manufacturer Tesla  (TSLA) - Get Tesla Inc. Report on July 2 said that plant closures at its Shanghai gigafactory in April and May and supply chain disruptions led to a smaller number of deliveries than expected in its second quarter ending June 30 with 254,695, which was 26.7% higher than the same period in 2021, but 17.7% lower than its record of 310,048 delivered in the first quarter of 2021. Analysts were originally expecting about 295,000 deliveries.

Tesla's production declined to 258,580 vehicles in the second quarter compared to 305,407 in the first quarter. It had produced 305,840 vehicles in the fourth quarter of 2021.

Tesla's rivals are not even coming close to producing and delivering EVs at the same rate as the Austin, Texas-based market leader. But they keep trying.

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Tesla Rivals Struggle to Produce and Deliver Volume of EVs

Tesla rival Nio  (NIO) - Get NIO Inc. American depositary shares each representing one Class A 蔚来汽车 Report on July 1 said that it had delivered 12,961 vehicles in June for a 60.3% year-over-year increase and its highest number of monthly deliveries ever. The company also reported 25,059 EVs delivered in the three months ending June 2022, increasing by 14.4% year-over-year. Nio has delivered a cumulative 217,897 EVs as of June 30.

NIO on June 15 rolled out its ES7, a new mid-large five-seat smart electric SUV, which is the first SUV product based on NIO's latest technology platform Technology 2.0. NIO also launched the 2022 ES8, ES6 and EC6 equipped with the upgraded digital cockpit domain controller and sensing suite, enhancing the computing and perception capabilities as well as digital experience of the vehicles. The company expects to start deliveries of the ES7 and the ES8, ES6 and EC6 in August.

Chinese EV maker XPeng  (XPEV) - Get XPeng Inc. American depositary shares each representing two Class A 小鹏汽车 Report on July 1 said it delivered 15,295 vehicles in June, a 133% increase year-over-year; 34,422 in the second quarter ending June 30 for a 98% increase year-over-year and 68,983 in the first six months of the year for a 124% increase year-over year.

The Guangzhou, China-based company said in August it will begin accepting orders for its new G9 SUV with an official launch in September.

Beijing-based Li Auto  (LI) - Get Li Auto Inc. Report on July 1 said it delivered 13,024 EVs in June, a 68.9% increase year-over-year and 28,687 in the second quarter ending June 30 for a 63.2% increase year-over-year. The company on June 21 began taking orders for its Li L9 SUV and recorded 30,000 orders as of June 24, according to a statement. Test drives will begin July 16 with deliveries beginning by the end of August.

GM Follows Behind Tesla and Other Rivals

General Motors  (GM) - Get General Motors Company Report had 7,300 EV sales in the second quarter, according to a July 1 statement. The Detroit automaker's sales included deliveries of the BrightDrop Zevo 600 delivery van, GMC Hummer EV pickup, and the resumption of the Chevrolet Bolt EV and Bolt EUV production.

GM said the Cadillac Lyriq production is accelerating, with initial deliveries in process. Orders for the 2023 model year sold out within hours and preorders for the 2024 model opened on June 22.

The company said it will gradually increase production of the Cadillac Lyriq and GMC Hummer EV Pickup in the second half of 2022. 

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Spread & Containment

Tesla EV deliveries fall nearly 18% in second quarter following China factory shutdown

Tesla delivered 254,695 electric vehicles globally in the second quarter, a nearly 18% drop from the previous period as supply chain constraints, China’s…

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Tesla delivered 254,695 electric vehicles globally in the second quarter, a nearly 18% drop from the previous period as supply chain constraints, China’s extended COVID-19 lockdown and challenges around opening factories in Berlin and Austin took their toll on the company.

This is the first time in two years that Tesla deliveries, which were 310,048 in the first period this year, have fallen quarter over quarter. Tesla deliveries were up 26.5% from the second quarter last year.

The quarter-over-quarter reduction is in line with a broader supply chain problem in the industry. It also illustrates the importance of Tesla’s Shanghai factory to its business. Tesla shuttered its Shanghai factory multiple times in March due to rising COVID-19 cases that prompted a government shutdown.

Image Credits: Tesla/screenshot

The company said Saturday it produced 258,580 EVs, a 15% reduction from the previous quarter when it made 305,407 vehicles.

Like in other quarters over the past two years, most of the produced and delivered vehicles were Model 3 and Model Ys. Only 16,411 of the produced vehicles were the older Model S and Model X vehicles.

Tesla said in its released that June 2022 was the highest vehicle production month in Tesla’s history. Despite that milestone, the EV maker as well as other companies in the industry, have struggled to keep apace with demand as supply chain problems persist.

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