Tag Archives: parties

Birthday Parties as Virus Vector

Just how much Covid was spreading behind closed doors last year? Quite a lot, as a new study with a simple yet creative approach found out.

A study found a connection between birthdays in 2020 and increased Covid risk.
Meghan Dhaliwal for The New York Times

At the height of the pandemic, it was easy to worry that strangers would give you the virus. But a new study of what happened after people’s birthdays suggests that people we trust were also a common source of viral spread.

Private gatherings have been harder for researchers to measure than big public events — they’re private, after all. And there has been a fierce debate for months among epidemiologists about just how big a factor they have been in how coronavirus moved from person to person.

But a team of Harvard researchers used a creative method for finding them: Using health insurance claims data, they looked at the Covid rates of families in the two weeks after one of them had a birthday. Overall, their paper, published in Jama Internal Medicine, found that a recent family birthday increased Covid risk by nearly a third in counties where the virus was widespread.

Their theory is that the increased risk is almost certainly explained by birthday parties. Though the insurance claims don’t show whether any individual Covid patient had actually held a birthday party, several aspects of the data strongly suggest a connection.

For one, when researchers looked at other days of the year by randomly assigning birthdays instead of using actual birthdays, or examined diagnoses in weeks before birthdays, they found no such pattern. But, perhaps more significantly, they found the biggest infection risk in the weeks after the birthday of a child.

“My wife and I, we certainly didn’t see the need to gather indoors for our birthdays,” said Anupam Jena, a professor of health policy at Harvard Medical School and one of the paper’s co-authors, who said the study was inspired by his own daughter’s birthday. “Our kids might be more disappointed.”

Birthday parties, of course, often involve groups huddling in close quarters, perhaps to watch a child blow out candles on a cake.

The study considered data from last year, when Covid was much more common and fewer Americans were vaccinated. But its conclusions are still relevant for Americans who are unvaccinated today — a group that includes all children under 12. That may be especially true as the new, more contagious Delta variant begins to circulate in more states.

Many political debates about managing the pandemic have centered on what to do about public spaces — like whether restaurants should be allowed to open, or whether masks should be required. Public officials have had a harder time policing people’s behavior at home. They’ve also struggled to measure its effects.

K.J. Seung, the chief of strategy and policy for Partners in Health’s Massachusetts Covid response, who helped set up the contact tracing system, said it has been hard for contact tracers to clearly demonstrate that people were contracting the virus in small private gatherings.

Public exposures, like at a factory or a wedding, were easier for them to track. Individuals often didn’t share the nights they had a cousin over for dinner or drove a friend home from work, whether out of shame or forgetfulness — and if they did, they were reluctant to name names.

“Small social gatherings are the most difficult locations to trace,” he said. Yet “when we talked to contact tracers around the country, they were like: Yeah, people are getting infected at these small gatherings.”

So much behavior around the pandemic — including mask use and the uptake of vaccines — appears to differ by people’s political party. But the study found that birthdays led to increased Covid infections by similar levels in Republican and Democratic areas of the country. This suggests that although Democratic-leaning households may have been more likely to wear a mask while walking the dog, they may have differed less than Republicans in their comfort having a trusted friend over to visit.

“There was definitely this element of your home is a safe place and therefore when you have your friends and family over in your home, it just doesn’t feel risky,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University, who described the paper as “creative” for finding an unusual way of capturing disease transmission that is otherwise hard to measure.

For many Americans, birthday parties have gotten much safer in recent months. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it’s safe for fully vaccinated people to gather indoors without wearing face coverings.

But for those who remain unvaccinated, the study is a reminder that even activities that feel the most safe pose a threat of infection. In many parts of the country, unvaccinated people are clustered by region or social group, meaning that birthday parties — and other such festive, private occasions — can still be risky.

Author: Margot Sanger-Katz
Read more here >>> NYT > Top Stories

Decentralized parties: The future of on-chain governance

Decentralized governance, a facet of decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs), is perhaps the most valuable application smart contracts could bring to humanity. DAOs can be thought of as living organisms on the internet, entities that would function autonomously according to distributed consensus mechanisms.

Managed by a community through voting, DAOs are self-governing systems with a built-in treasury. Although they still depend on community members for certain tasks — offering an economic incentive from the liquidity pool in return — DAOs are almost entirely automated.

Despite their potential, DAOs do not rank among the most popular decentralized technologies. Perhaps their reputation hasn’t fully recovered from a 2016 hack: The first decentralized venture capital fund — known as “The DAO” — was compromised, causing the fork of the Ethereum blockchain and subsequent creation of Ethereum Classic (ETC).

But what many may not know is that the various yield farming protocols, nonfungible token platforms and decentralized exchanges we see today are dependent on DAOs for governance. A new breed of self-governing organizations is likely to take over in the upcoming decades, not only in business but also in the political sphere via decentralized parties.

Related: Decentralized technology can help protect democracy around the globe

DAOs: A bit of context

Decentralization is measured on a spectrum. Some maximalists suggest the decentralized governance of Bitcoin (BTC) itself is enough to be considered a DAO. However, the term wasn’t officially introduced until 2013 by Daniel Larimer and only came to fruition years later with Dash.

One of the most active DAOs today, Dash was the first protocol to establish decision-making on top of a blockchain consensus protocol. Back in 2015, the Dash Foundation decided to create a pool consisting of 10% of the mining rewards to foster the growth of the network.

Even though there are now several forms of decentralized governance, DAOs are mainly used to vote on protocol upgrades and the allocation of pool funds. They have yet to step out of the crypto bubble and transform the decision-making process in the real world. That is where the real potential of DAOs lies, in making democracy not only fairer but also more flexible and efficient.

Last month, a ground-breaking new law was passed in Wyoming, effectively recognizing DAOs as limited liability corporations (LLCs). As regulation catches up to technology, we may see these LLC DAOs progressively introduce decentralization into businesses and organizations.

Disrupting the political system

Political decentralization is the only way citizens can have a definitive say in the governance of their communities and lives. The desire for change in the political landscape is palpable and reflected in the growing voter absenteeism in many nations. Though decentralized parties will initially lack political influence, the craving for empowering technologies and purer forms of democracy will stimulate adoption over time.

The elimination of centralized power authorities would help protect citizens from government overreach and corruption, reduce bureaucracy and improve the speed at which laws and policies are passed.

We can use blockchain technology to help improve the voting process. Blockchain voting systems are currently being tested by several nations worldwide and have already been used in the United States: in West Virginia during the 2018 midterm elections and in Utah during the 2020 presidential election.

Related: Blockchain voting is the alternative for trusted democratic elections

Is decentralization of power the future?

But what if distributed ledger technologies could do more than just improve voting systems? What if they could elevate democracy to a new level, creating a self-governance system where everyone would have a say?

That is the dormant potential of decentralized parties: to take down the hierarchical structure and bring a paradigm shift to the political system.

The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.

Andrey Sergeenkov is an independent researcher, analyst and writer in the cryptocurrency space. As a firm supporter of blockchain technology and a decentralized world, he believes that the world craves such decentralization in government, society and business. He is the founder of BTC Peers, an independent media outlet.