Adjusting to COVID

The numbers continue to tell the story. This past week COVID cases fell another 13%. The 7-day moving average for cases has fallen to 61,387, a 76% decline since its peak of 255,562 on January 11. The moving average has declined for 49 of the last 54 days, including the last nine days in a row.

We are now vaccinating more than 2 million per day; 9% of Americans have been fully vaccinated while more than 17% of Americans have received at least one shot.

More states are opening up with Texas, Mississippi, West Virginia, Arizona, and Connecticut announcing rollbacks in one form or another this week. Texas and Mississippi joined 13 other states which already had lifted mask mandates and other restrictions and have already been open for business.

Adjusting to the New Paradigm

Some folks are adjusting to the news by taking steps to return life to normal. Others continue to preach continue caution because they’re not sure what to do next. Maybe we should prepare for the next great flood or whatever other emergency the future portends? Maybe we should continue to lockdown until there are no more threats? Others want to hold back the damn of freedom for a little while longer because extending the crisis is useful to them. Let’s look at a few examples.

Our church pastor wrote this in our bulletin this week after we’ve moved from outside services to inside:

We will continue to do our best to minimize risks of the spread of the disease in the church and to ask you all to join us in this work.  But please remember, love of our Lord, offering Him our worship and thanksgiving and loving our neighbors as ourselves are far more important than avoiding illness.  It is easy to forget that in our world right now, and I pray we don't forget it here.  Please give one another the benefit of the doubt, even when he or she clearly sees things differently than you regarding our current predicament.  This virus will eventually subside; your neighbor's soul is eternal.  

He reminds us that perhaps we’ve become so concerned with safety and avoiding all risks that we forget safety, while important, isn’t paramount.  Others risked a whole lot more in defense of their faith than we are risking now; the vast majority among us are at extremely low risks of dying from COVID. We should adapt and find a way to practice our faith.

Mike Rowe, the TV celebrity of “Dirty Jobs” fame, in a recent interview made a similar point rather succinctly; he said: “Safety Third”. His point is that if safety was truly first, our cars would go no faster then 25 MPH; we wouldn’t climb mountains or go whitewater rafting or engage in any activity other than those which were absolutely essential to surviving.

But for some reason when it comes to COVID, our risk tolerance is way out-of-whack from what we would accept for other life activities. I get it if you don’t want to go whitewater rafting or jump out of an airplane yourself, but at least don’t criticize and allow others the choice to pursue their passions and live life to the fullest.

When I was college I studied logic; I learned about opposing alpha and beta risks. You can decrease one of those risks, but only at the expense of increasing the other. In other words, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Do you remember any politicians who said we can universally insure everyone while simultaneously improving the quality of health care and lowering costs? That’s just not possible. We can’t improve all at the same time. If we prioritize one of those three risks, there will be a tradeoff with at least one of the others (but it sure is nice to believe we can have it all, especially when there are such nice people who tell us what we want to hear). Similarly, our legal system has two inherent risks: a guilty person goes free or an innocent person is convicted. You cannot minimize one risk without increasing the other. In America, we weigh the scales to protect against the latter risk. That doesn’t mean we want guilty people to go free, but allowing some guilty to go free is a cost we are willing to bear to minimize convicting innocent people. In communist countries very few guilty people go free, but then many innocent people are also convicted. You can’t minimize both risks.

So, as a society, we can have the goal of saving every single life from the risk of COVID (as many have tried to do this year), but it will come at extremely high costs because we are increasing many other risks. Are the tradeoffs worth the cost of minimizing COVID deaths? We tolerate a significant number of highway deaths each year because to further minimize highway deaths would create more problems than we solve. We take reasonable precautions: we license drivers, regulate speed limits, install divided highways, etc., but we still can’t get deaths to zero. We could do better though. We could cut interstate speed limits by half and save thousands of lives, but commerce would grind to a halt. We could install dividers on every single road in America and eliminate head-on collisions, but that would bankrupt states and municipalities. We choose to accept some loss of life because of the opposing costs and risks. Similarly, when we take the approach to minimize COVID deaths at all costs (let’s call it the Fauci model), the opposing beta risks go up: loss of jobs, increased rates of depression and suicide, decreased quality of education for our kids, a lower quality of life in general. These other risks have skyrocketed in the last year.

By focusing solely on the COVID risk, we increased the risks associated with other medical conditions, risks that are entirely preventable. For a period of time we stopped treating many other diseases, stopped doctor visits, stopped vaccinating kids, stopped performing diagnostic tests (MRIs, catscans, colonoscopies, mammograms, etc.), and even forced some hospitals out of business. More people died last year because they were not treated or screened timely. Does CNN have a counter for those lives lost? We may have saved many of them from COVID, but does the policy make sense?

I am not saying take no precautions: speed limits, guardrails and other safety measures are reasonable, but only if not taken to extremes. Social distance, wash your hands regularly, wear a mask if believe it helps, and do all the simple things within your control that we’ve been told are important. But the measures government has imposed on us have gone too far and gone on for too long. I know many don’t like to look at economic costs versus lives, but the loss of jobs, livelihoods and businesses brought on by COVID restrictions may have actually hurt more people, led to the destruction of more lives, caused more loss of life from suicide and domestic abuse than were saved from COVID by those restrictions. Many studies in the past year have highlighted the unintended consequences of government imposed economic restrictions. What have we really saved with all the lockdowns, curfews, and the rest when just as many or perhaps more people are dying as a result of the restrictions?

Furthermore, government has also infringed upon upon basic civil liberties, civil liberties that we fought a revolution to obtain, civil liberties that we fought world wars to maintain. These liberties are simply being taken away and with little resistance. The heroes of the past year are those few political leaders who have resisted the temptation to impose mandates and increase their power; they have instead allowed people to decide for themselves. Everyday people, businesses, schools, churches, and others will take (and have taken) precautions on their own without government mandates. We saw people wearing masks and social distancing even before governors stepped in to mandate those policies. People left to their own devices won’t always make the right choice, but they are closer to the problem than our governors, so I can confidently say on the whole they will make better choices about their own lives than their political leaders.

A Case Study

I can easily demonstrate how government choices made things worse by examining the numbers from a few states. Let’s use Florida as our control group, the state that took for most of this past year took the placebo in this grand COVID experiment. California and New York, on the other hand, took a markedly different approach. We’ll look at four measures for each of these states.

First, Oxford University measured the stringency of restrictions among all countries and states. This measure tells us how heavy a hand government took in each state. Florida is currently ranked as the 9th least stringent among U.S. states; it is a state with a velvet touch in regard to COVID. New York is ranked 46th and California 50th, both states with iron fists (i.e. among the most stringent states).

The media has told us over and over and continues to tell us that the states which had the lightest touch have callously traded lives in exchange for a more free society. But is it true? One might believe that the heavy handed states are supposedly the most compassionate because they have empathy and care about lives. In fact, many have said such a thing. Just this week, we’ve heard former presidential candidate and skateboarder extraordinaire Beto O’Rourke say that the lack of a mask mandate is akin to killing people:

Note that the Texas governor didn’t say to stop taking appropriate precautions; he simply said the government won’t require you to wear a mask any longer. He even encouraged people to wear masks, but said it would be an individual choice. O’Rourke tells us this new policy means that Texans are going to suddenly throw caution to the wind, implying that they are all too stupid to think for themselves (this, in fact, is what most of these politicians think of your ability to run your own lives; they think you need them to direct you).

We’ve heard this same hyperbole throughout the last year:

Somehow, these dire predictions never manifest themselves; those who make them move on to newer and more dire predictions and hope you will forget about the last failed prediction.

The data simply doesn’t support this theory that government mandates are all that stands between us and the abyss. The data says that states with high stringency ratings haven’t had fared any worse than states without mandates. New York, despite its restrictive policies ranks second nationally in deaths per capita (2493/million). Florida in contrast ranks 27th (1472/million). So, Florida is less restrictive and had far fewer deaths from COVID. How is it that a state with more restrictions had so many more deaths than another comparable state?

Well then look at California, you might say; they’ve done better than New York. California, in fact, has a lower per capita death rate than Florida ranking 30th (1367/million). But then, Florida has one of the oldest populations (therefore among the most vulnerable) in the U.S. while California has one of the youngest (therefore among the least vulnerable). Given these this factor along with the fact that they’ve imposed countless more restrictions to stop the spread of the virus, shouldn’t California be doing orders of magnitude better than Florida, not just slightly better? Have California policies really saved more lives than Florida? Are they working at all? I’m not sure how one would quantify such a number, but given these results, I’d say the number of lives saved by California policies has to be very small at best while the cost has been very high.

We can also look at COVID cases per capita. There is not much difference in these three states. California comes in at 27th (91,042/million); Florida is 29th (90,368/million), and New York 31st (88,371/million), all in the middle of the pack and all near the national average (also, remember that New York was hit hard early in the pandemic before testing ramped up, so their case total is actually much higher than has been reported). So, Florida without a mask mandate, has had roughly the same number of cases as the other two stringent states. How does that happen? Do you find it interesting that Florida got the same results without having to impose all these empathetic and well-thought out government policies designed to save us from the virus and ourselves?

If we look further, we will see there is no a strong correlation between mask mandates and deaths per capita. Thirteen states have had no mask mandates; two of them ranked in the top ten of deaths per capita (Arizona at 6th and South Dakota at 8th), but most were in the bottom half (Florida, Alaska, Montana, Idaho, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Missouri). New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts have the highest death rates while also having mask mandates and being among the most stringent on the Oxford scale. This tells us that some factor other than mask mandates are more significant in determining the impact of COVID in a state.

Finally, let’s look at unemployment numbers for Florida, California, and New York. There is a strong correlation between stringency measures and unemployment rates. Even without doing a statistical analysis is should be clear locking down business, closing restaurants, salons, gyms, stadiums, etc. for an extended period had a significant impact on employment numbers. We see that Florida which has been open 100% for the last six months has a 6.1% rate, well below the national average of 6.8%; California and New York are at 8.2% and 9.0% respectively. Florida ranks in the middle of the pack at 27th; New York is 46th and California 49th. We see other states which have the lowest unemployment numbers are also among the least restrictive.

After looking at these four measurements: stringency index, deaths per capita, cases per capita, and unemployment, which policy would you say has been the most effective in achieving the dual goals of protecting us from COVID while still allowing us to live our lives and preserve our freedom? Which policy has saved the most lives? Which policy has been the most humane? If you still insist, as Dr. Fauci has, that New York did it right or that California did better than Florida, please explain your logic to me.

StateCases/1MRankDeaths/1MRankUnemplymntRankOxford Stringency Index
New York88,73131*2,49328.24644
USA Avg89,5881,6236.8
*likely undercounted due to lack of testing Spring 2020

A Brief Lesson in Politics

A year ago, we took precautions in large part because we didn't fully know the risks of COVID.  But we now know that our individual risks vary greatly.  Some among us, those of school age for example, have almost zero risk.  Yet kids have had to endure more than most, largely because of poor decisions made by lawmakers.  Others among us, those who are older or have risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, asthma, etc. need to be more careful and act accordingly.  

Florida, South Dakota, Iowa, Sweden, and a few others followed the focused protection model as outlined in the Great Barrington Declaration, a document, by the way, written by scientists from Harvard, Oxford, and Stanford and co-signed by dozens more.  The "focused protection" model stands in stark contrast to the Fauci, Biden, Newsome, and Cuomo model, a model which has created more suffering while failing to achieve any better COVID results than were achieved by those who applied a lighter touch. 

Texas and Mississippi recently lifted mask mandates, joining the ranks of 13 other states which had no mask mandate. Joe Biden says their governors are Neanderthals (by the way, I thought Biden was the anti-Trump and avoided such incendiary rhetoric).  Arizona, West Virginia, and Connecticut are also easing up on COVID restrictions.  They must be hearing from their constituencies and they must have learned the lesson that COVID restrictions haven't been effective while causing more harm than good.  But Fauci, Newsome, Cuomo, Biden and others continue to follow the top down government control model; they continue to insist on wearing masks even after receiving the vaccine.  Please explain the logic of this.  We have a vaccine yet we still aren't allowed to go back to normal?

Dr. Fauci said the current level of about 60K cases per day must be reduced to much fewer than 10K; essentially, we have to get to zero cases before Dr. Fauci will concede that life can return to normal.   Ask yourself why we should listen to this man who nobody voted for and is clearly going outside his lane to make public policy. Ask yourself why they all keep pushing these restrictions. 

I will tell you why they pushing the same message over and over despite changing circumstances: because a crisis is needed to achieve political goals.  

A crisis is needed to pass a COVID relief bill which includes $350 billion in bailouts for states which got into deep debt before this pandemic (they gotta pay off their constituents).  The spendthrift bill couldn't be passed without a crisis to solve.  

A crisis is needed to remain relevant.  Without a crisis Dr. Fauci goes away because nobody cares what he thinks any longer.  Without a crisis, CNN and the other media outlets need to find something else to talk about; COVID is good for ratings.  

A crisis is needed to divert our attention from other problems like why is Andrew Cuomo being investigated for negligence in nursing home COVID deaths or why is Joe Biden shuffling people through "reception centers" at the border without bothering to screen for COVID (it is more important to import new voters into red state Texas).  

A crisis is needed to be able to control the people and expand the powers of government.  Once the crisis ends we will need to wait for (or manufacture another) to do all the things we want to do.  

And finally, a crisis is needed because the credit needs to be claimed.  It's not even two months into the Biden administration and COVID is disappearing; it's too soon because people may not give them credit for doing their part.  People may give the prior administration the credit if this doesn't go on for a little while longer. 

COVID Relief?

One last thought on the massive COVID relief bill being considered by Congress. For those who voted for Democrat promises of more money last year, let me tell you what you got. They promised $2000 stimulus checks, but they have been reduced to $1400.  They promised those who need checks will get them, but they have increased the phase outs, so fewer people will get payments now. 

The bill is $1.9 trillion but payments to individuals have been reduced while still including $350 billion to bailout our favorite failed blue states like California, New York, and Illinois who were mired in debt before COVID was a thing.  Nobody can tell you all that is in the bill which spends more money we don't have, including those voting for it, because it is thousands of pages.  So, as I said, let's create a crisis so there is no time to debate it, no time for the public to examine it and weigh in with their opinions.  Let's pass it now because we can't wait a day longer while people are dying.  Unfortunately, people will die whether we have this bill or not.  Maybe we shouldn't spend more money we don't have to achieve so little gain at such a high cost? 

3 thoughts on “Adjusting to COVID

  1. A motivating discussion is definitely worth comment. There’s no doubt that that you should publish more on this issue, it may not be a taboo matter but usually folks don’t discuss such issues. To the next! Kind regards!!


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