Connect with us

Spread & Containment

The last holdout in housing data has turned; ‘recession watch’ for next 12 months remains

  – by New Deal democratLast month I wrote that:“the biggest news was what happened with units under construction. The total declined slightly, as…




 - by New Deal democrat

Last month I wrote that:

the biggest news was what happened with units under construction. The total declined slightly, as did single family units. But most significantly, for the first time since February 2021, multi-family units under construction also declined.

Why is this so important? Because, as this long term historical graph shows, total housing units under construction, although the most lagging of housing construction statistics, have also had to turn down before recessions begin. … multi-family units under construction, which typically turn after single family units, have also usually (except for 2008 and the pandemic) turned down before recessions have begun.

“It will take another couple of months’ worth of data to be more confident, but it certainly appears that the turn I have been waiting for in the housing market has finally happened. This is an important reason why, while I have removed the ‘recession warning’ from the end of last year, the ‘recession watch’ remains, pending a return down of several short leading indicators like vehicle sales and the stock market.”

So, let’s go directly to what happened with units under construction this month. 

Units under construction declined across the board. Total units declined 12,000 to 1.676 million, the lowest since April 2022. Single family units declined 5,000 to 674,000, the lowest since May 2021, and multi family units declined 7,000 to 986,000 for the 2nd decline in a row from July’s peak of 1.001 million:

With the addition of this month’s data, “it certainly appears that the turn I have been waiting for … has happened.”

Let’s update th more leading permits and starts.

Permits (gold) declined 68,000 to 1.473 million annualized. This number is about average for the last 12 months. The more leading and less noisy single family permits (red), however, rose 17,000 to 965,000, the highest since May 2022. Meanwhile the much noisier housing starts metric (blue) rose 81,000 to 1.358 million, still close to its low readings for the past 12 months:

Multi-family permits rose 12,000, and multi-family starts declined 75,000, both in ranges last seen at the beginning of 2021:

Finally, here is my updated graph of the YoY change in mortgage rates (blue, inverted, *10 for scale) vs. the YoY% change in housing permits (red):

As I have repeated for the last 10 or more years, interest rates lead housing permits. One year ago mortgage rates peaked at just over 7%. Just in the past few days, they have come within 0.1% of 8%. If this persists, we can expect permits to fall from about 1.4 million annualized to about 1.250 million in the next several months, which would be the lowest sinc 2019 except for the immediate pandemic lockdown months.

To reiterate: with increasing confidence I can say that the entire housing market has finally turned. If mortgage remains remain at their current levels, the likelihood of a recession at some point in the next 12 months has increased substantially. 

Read More

Continue Reading

Spread & Containment

COVID-19 vaccine mandates have come and mostly gone in the US – an ethicist explains why their messy rollout matters for trust in public health

Vaccine policies fall on a spectrum, from mandates to recommendations. Deciding what to use and when is not so much a science but a balancing act between…




Proof of COVID-19 vaccination was once required to access many venues during the pandemic. skaman306/Moment via Getty Images

Ending pandemics is a social decision, not scientific. Governments and organizations rely on social, cultural and political considerations to decide when to officially declare the end of a pandemic. Ideally, leaders try to minimize the social, economic and public health burden of removing emergency restrictions while maximizing potential benefits.

Vaccine policy is a particularly complicated part of pandemic decision-making, involving a variety of other complex and often contradicting interests and considerations. Although COVID-19 vaccines have saved millions of lives in the U.S., vaccine policymaking throughout the pandemic was often reactive and politicized.

A late November 2022 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that one-third of U.S. parents believed they should be able to decide not to vaccinate their children at all. The World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund reported that between 2019 and 2021, global childhood vaccination experienced its largest drop in the past 30 years.

The Biden administration formally removed federal COVID-19 vaccination requirements for federal employees and international travelers in May 2023. Soon after, the U.S. government officially ended the COVID-19 public health emergency. But COVID-19’s burden on health systems continues globally.

I am a public health ethicist who has spent most of my academic career thinking about the ethics of vaccine policies. For as long as they’ve been around, vaccines have been a classic case study in public health and bioethics. Vaccines highlight the tensions between personal autonomy and public good, and they show how the decision of an individual can have populationwide consequences.

COVID-19 is here to stay. Reflecting on the ethical considerations surrounding the rise – and unfolding fall – of COVID-19 vaccine mandates can help society better prepare for future disease outbreaks and pandemics.

Ethics of vaccine mandates

Vaccine mandates are the most restrictive form of vaccine policy in terms of personal autonomy. Vaccine policies can be conceptualized as a spectrum, ranging from least restrictive, such as passive recommendations like informational advertisements, to most restrictive, such as a vaccine mandate that fines those who refuse to comply.

Each sort of vaccine policy also has different forms. Some recommendations offer incentives, perhaps in the form of a monetary benefit, while others are only a verbal recommendation. Some vaccine mandates are mandatory in name only, with no practical consequences, while others may trigger termination of employment upon noncompliance.

COVID-19 vaccine mandates took many forms throughout the pandemic, including but not limited to employer mandates, school mandates and vaccination certificates – often referred to as vaccine passports or immunity passports – required for travel and participation in public life.

Sign on window reading 'New York City requires you to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter this business,' with a person sitting at a desk inside the room
COVID-19 vaccine requirements were intended to protect the health and safety of the public. Seth Wenig/AP Photo

Because of ethical considerations, vaccine mandates are typically not the first option policymakers use to maximize vaccine uptake. Vaccine mandates are paternalistic by nature because they limit freedom of choice and bodily autonomy. Additionally, because some people may see vaccine mandates as invasive, they could potentially create challenges in maintaining and garnering trust in public health. This is why mandates are usually the last resort.

However, vaccine mandates can be justified from a public health perspective on multiple grounds. They’re a powerful and effective public health intervention.

Mandates can provide lasting protection against infectious diseases in various communities, including schools and health care settings. They can provide a public good by ensuring widespread vaccination to reduce the chance of outbreaks and disease transmission overall. Subsequently, an increase in community vaccine uptake due to mandates can protect immunocompromised and vulnerable people who are at higher risk of infection.

COVID-19 vaccine mandates

Early in the pandemic, arguments in favor of mandating COVID-19 vaccines for adults rested primarily on evidence that COVID-19 vaccination prevented disease transmission. In 2020 and 2021, COVID-19 vaccines seemed to have a strong effect on reducing transmission, therefore justifying vaccine mandates.

COVID-19 also posed a disproportionate threat to vulnerable people, including the immunocompromised, older adults, people with chronic conditions and poorer communities. As a result, these groups would have significantly benefited from a reduction in COVID-19 outbreaks and hospitalization.

Many researchers found personal liberty and religious objections insufficient to prevent mandating COVID-19 vaccines. Additionally, decision-makers in favor of mandates appealed to the COVID-19 vaccine’s ability to reduce disease severity and therefore hospitalization rates, alleviating the pressure on overwhelmed health care facilities.

However, the emergence of even more transmissible variants of the virus dramatically changed the decision-making landscape surrounding COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

The public health intention (and ethicality) of original COVID-19 vaccine mandates became less relevant as the scientific community understood that achieving herd immunity against COVID-19 was probably impossible because of uneven vaccine uptake, and breakthrough infections among the vaccinated became more common. Many countries like England and various states in the U.S. started to roll back COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

With the rollback and removal of vaccine mandates, decision-makers are still left with important policy questions: Should vaccine mandates be dismissed, or is there still sufficient ethical and scientific justification to keep them in place?

Vaccines are lifesaving medicines that can help everyone eligible to receive them. But vaccine mandates are context-dependent tools that require considering the time, place and population they are deployed in.

Though COVID-19 vaccine mandates are less of a publicly pressing issue today, many other vaccine mandates, particularly in schools, are currently being challenged. I believe this is a reflection of decreased trust in public health authorities, institutions and researchers – resulting in part from tumultuous decision-making during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Engaging in transparent and honest conversations surrounding vaccine mandates and other health policies can help rebuild and foster trust in public health institutions and interventions.

Rachel Gur-Arie 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.

Read More

Continue Reading

Spread & Containment

Collaborative study focuses on using computer algorithms to find molecular adaptations to improve COVID-19 drugs

As the COVID-19 pandemic scattered and isolated people, researchers across Virginia Tech connected for a data-driven collaboration seeking improved drugs…



As the COVID-19 pandemic scattered and isolated people, researchers across Virginia Tech connected for a data-driven collaboration seeking improved drugs to fight the disease and potentially many other illnesses.

Credit: Photo by Peter Means for Virginia Tech.

As the COVID-19 pandemic scattered and isolated people, researchers across Virginia Tech connected for a data-driven collaboration seeking improved drugs to fight the disease and potentially many other illnesses.

A multidisciplinary collaboration spanning several colleges at Virginia Tech resulted in a newly published study, “Data Driven Computational Design and Experimental Validation of Drugs for Accelerated Mitigation of Pandemic-like Scenarios,” in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters.

The study focuses on using computer algorithms to generate adaptations to molecules in compounds for existing and potential medications that can improve those molecules’ ability to bind to the main protease, a protein-based enzyme that breaks down complex proteins, in SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

This process allows exponentially more molecular adaptations to be considered than traditional trial-and-error methods of testing drugs one by one could allow. Candidate molecule adaptations can be identified among myriad possibilities, then narrowed to a few or one that can be created in a laboratory and tested for effectiveness.

“We present a novel transferable data-driven framework that can be used to accelerate the design of new small molecules and materials, with desired properties, by changing the combination of building blocks as well as decorating them with functional groups,” said Sanket A. Deshmukh, associate professor of chemical engineering in the College of Engineering. A “functional group” is a cluster of atoms that generally retains its characteristic properties, regardless of the other atoms in the molecule.

“Interestingly, the newly designed functionalized drug not only had a better half maximal effective concentration value than its parent drug, but also several of the proposed and used antivirals including Remdesivir,” Deshmukh said, referring to a measure of compound potency.

Moving through all the phases of the study would not have been possible without extensive cross-departmental collaboration. 

Four Virginia Tech faculty members – Deshmukh;  Anne M. Brown, associate professor with University Libraries and the Department of Biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences;  Andrew Lowell, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry in the College of Science; and James Weger-Lucarelli, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine  — are among 13 co-authors of the published study. 

Deshmukh group’s expertise in developing transferable computational models and frameworks for accelerated design of drug-like small molecules and materials, and Brown’s extensive computational expertise in protein structure-function relationships meshed seamlessly as a baseline for the study.

“Sanket’s group had a molecular repurposing framework, and I have experience with exploiting protein targets,” said Brown. “Combined with Andrew who does the synthesis, which is to make the compound, and then James doing the testing and the viral assays, we formed a fantastic collaboration.”

But the faculty members stress that it was the graduate students and postdoctoral students in the laboratories who made the study possible. Nine of them are co-authors: Samrendra K. Singh, chemical engineering, Kelsie King, genetics, bioinformatics, and computational biology; Cole Gannett, chemistry; Christina Chuong, biomedical and veterinary sciences; Soumil Y. Joshi, chemical engineering; Charles Plate, chemical engineering; Parisa Farzeen, chemical engineering; Emily M. Webb, entomology; and Lakshmi Kumar Kunche, chemical engineering.

The professors said the students communicated well with one another without any prompting from their mentors.  “I think one of the great things to see is the students really talking with one another and collaborating with one another as well without us having to say ‘Do this,’” Deshmukh said. 

Finally, the functionalized molecules were tested against live SARS-CoV-2 in a veterinary college laboratory by Weger-Lucarelli and his team.

“Initial virtual screening of the existing database identified a parent compound that was expected to inhibit the protease of SARS-CoV-2,” Weger-Lucarelli said. “Then the data-driven framework altered the structure of that molecule to enhance that activity. We compared those side by side to show that this new compound that was expected to be more potent against SARS-CoV-2 than the parent compound was, in fact, more potent against SARS-CoV-2.”

The process to develop and test a functionalized molecule against COVID-19 has many potential applications even beyond mitigation of COVID-19. Studies are ongoing among the team to employ the same type of research to find functionalized molecules that may be able to treat hepatitis E, dengue fever and chikungunya, the latter two being mosquito-borne illnesses.

“Another direction we’re going in is that we’re targeting proteases and enzymes from other viruses and trying to design other new molecules,” Lowell said.

The algorithm process also has potential in non-biological uses, Sankit said. The “approach is very versatile and is being applied to functionalize and design other materials such as metal organic frameworks (MOFs), glycomaterials, polymers, etc.,” the paper states.

The assembled interdisciplinary team is planning to continue its collaborations.

“None of us could do this work without the other people in this collaboration,” Weger-Lucarelli said.

“This is a great example of  the synergy between going from computational prediction to chemical synthesis to testing in viruses,” Brown said, “and how we at Virginia Tech are really emphasizing that interplay between these three areas and taking that to the next level to develop strong collaborative teams.”

Read More

Continue Reading

Spread & Containment

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory press announces the release of the medical revolution of messenger RNA by Fabrice Delaye

Cold Spring Harbor, NY – Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press (CSHL Press), a publisher of scientific books, journals, and electronic media, today announced…



Cold Spring Harbor, NY – Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press (CSHL Press), a publisher of scientific books, journals, and electronic media, today announced the publication of The Medical Revolution of Messenger RNA by science and technology journalist Fabrice Delaye.

Credit: Endpaper Studio, George Restrepo
iStockphoto: Christoph Burgstedt

Cold Spring Harbor, NY – Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press (CSHL Press), a publisher of scientific books, journals, and electronic media, today announced the publication of The Medical Revolution of Messenger RNA by science and technology journalist Fabrice Delaye.

Many people think it took just ten months to develop a vaccine against the virus that causes COVID-19. What most don’t know is that it was made possible by using messenger RNA (mRNA), the molecule that instructs cells to make a viral protein that stimulates the production of antiviral antibodies, and that this breakthrough technology, which Nobel Prize winner Thomas Cech calls biology’s equivalent of putting a man on the moon, had been in development for three frustrating decades—decades preceded by thirty years of fundamental research. In fact, two scientists, Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman, won the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their pioneering work in messenger RNA.

Karikó and Weissman are among the many prominent scientists interviewed by veteran science journalist Fabrice Delaye for his book The Medical Revolution of Messenger RNA, which tells the story of how mRNA’s medical potential was finally realized, setting the stage for a coming revolution in which our own bodies will generate the therapeutic molecules we need. Though it’s now thought to show promise for the treatment of everything from cancer to cystic fibrosis to cardiovascular disease, mRNA was long overlooked by mainstream molecular biologists. The path to recognition of its therapeutic possibilities was littered with broken careers, lawsuits, and opportunities missed by pharmaceutical companies. For the scientists who persisted through years of academic and commercial disappointment, the COVID-19 vaccine was a huge vindication and an important step toward a new generation of therapies.

When mRNA-based vaccines came to the rescue during the pandemic in seemingly record time, Delaye realized that their development could not have been as simple and quick as people wanted to believe. But when he tracked down the origins of mRNA technologies, he uncovered a dramatic story that had never been told. Building on decades of contacts and his unique grasp of the science and the stakes involved, Delaye interviewed more than fifty mRNA scientists and entrepreneurs worldwide. His book documents the long, harrowing, unlikely but ultimately triumphant road to a discovery with the potential to revolutionize medicine far beyond the pandemic.

For more information visit

Fabrice Delaye is a science and technology journalist based in Switzerland. He was U.S. correspondent at the daily Swiss newspaper L’Agefi, science and technology editor at magazine Bilan, and is now a reporter-at-large for in Geneva. He is a graduate of the Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris and has a master’s degree from the Swiss Institute of Technology in Lausanne, EPFL.

About Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press is an internationally renowned not-for-profit publisher of books, journals, and electronic media, located on Long Island, New York. Since 1933, it has furthered the advance and spread of scientific knowledge in all areas of genetics and molecular biology, including cancer biology, plant science, bioinformatics, and neurobiology. It is a division of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, an innovator in life science research and the education of scientists, students, and the public. All revenue from sales of CSHL Press publications supports research at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Read More

Continue Reading