This article is a bit of a departure from our usual offerings. First, these are my words only–I am not speaking for The Periscope Group. Second, I am talking about an international issue, while the Periscope Group tries to focus on local issues.
Those disclaimers aside, we have never seen anything in our lives approaching the COVID-19 outbreak, and I have noticed so many noteworthy things about it. In particular, there has been almost no pushback on the public health policies that have been enacted–even though they greatly affect our lives and threaten our economy and even our lifestyles. You aren’t even allowed to question or discuss it, it seems. The vast majority of people appear to believe that an almost complete shutdown is necessary, to the extent that you are completely shamed if you so much as suggest that another way might also work. The level of panic and worry is off the charts, evidenced by hoarding and the seemingly commonly held belief that you will catch COVID-19 if anyone comes within 6 feet of you, and that you will likely be killed by it.
The histrionics are approaching absurdity. What is going on here? Can we inject some common sense into this discussion?
It is certainly important to control this epidemic, but epidemic control cannot be the only factor when determining a strategy. We cannot let the control of the epidemic cause irreparable or long term damage to our economy (by causing short-term and permanent joblessness and loss of businesses), our compassion (by preventing us from visiting loved ones in the hospital or nursing home), our memories (by forcing millions to cancel parties, weddings, funerals, graduations, high school and college sports seasons), our education (by truncating the academic year) and our very traditions, culture, and rites of spring (by canceling, postponing, or prohibiting annual events like the NCAA basketball tournament, MLB spring training and regular season, the Masters Golf Tournament, the Summer Olympics, and even having friends and neighbors over to enjoy a barbecue and fire pit). Heck, we aren’t even allowed to get a haircut, massage, or tattoo, or go to the gym! And everyone seems to think that this is the best, and only strategy, and no one seems to be questioning the efficacy, or constitutional legality, of any of it.
Opponents of my mindset will argue that I’m not taking the epidemic seriously, that I’m not a doctor, and that I want people to suffer and die. And, how would I feel if I have COVID-19 and I transmitted it to someone else? The coup de grace of their argument is, if we can save just one life, then all of this is worth it.
Fair enough. Believe it or not, I think that lives are important too, and I would feel terrible if I transmitted COVID-19 to someone. I also think that, as a society, we should do our part to prevent the spread of communicable diseases and contribute to overall public health. But can I ask a question? When have we ever in our history treated any other public health threat in this draconian manner, with complete disregard for any other factor, for this long of an indefinite time period, using such freedom-robbing measures?
For example, according to the CDC, in every year since 2010 between 12,000 and 61,000 Americans died from the flu. Nowhere do I remember more than some cursory news stories about it being “flu season”, but there were never any quarantines, and certainly never any suggestion that it was worth shutting down the economy to save even one of those lives, not to mention all of them. If you are supporting the COVID-19 shutdown, can I count on you to advocate for a similar shutdown during next winter’s influenza season? Put another way, are those sicknesses and deaths acceptable to you, but COVID-19 sicknesses and deaths are not?
I’ll throw out another example, In an average year, around 35,000 Americans are killed in automobile crashes. For those of you that are shaming people for going to Walmart or Festival Foods, are you also lobbying the government to outlaw automobiles, or to change the speed limit to 10 mph? Why are those deaths acceptable to you, but COVID-19 deaths are not?
Sorry for the confrontational tone, but I am obviously making a point. It’s difficult to admit, but in both of those cases, as in many others, as a society we have accepted a certain number of bads (injuries, sicknesses, deaths) in return for certain goods (convenience, efficiency). We arrive at some sort of balance. But for some reason there is no balance in the COVID-19 discussion and strategies.
As of this writing (Saturday, March 28th) there still aren’t any reported cases of COVID-19 in Manitowoc County. This is obviously great news. Certainly, this could be due to a variety of factors, including the strength of our health care system, the cautious behavior of many of our citizens, our relatively low population density, lack of testing, etc. Even so, doesn’t this seem strange? Despite the shutdowns, there are still huge crowds at places like grocery stores and WalMart–Don’t you think someone would have caught it by now?
I am going to throw out two admittedly more daring thoughts about why this might be the case. The first is that there are really no cases of COVID-19 in Manitowoc County. The second, on the other side of the spectrum, is that there are a lot of cases of COVID-19 in Manitowoc County, including people who are showing few symptoms or have already healed completely. Perhaps it’s been around for much longer than we’ve known? Of these ideas, the second is clearly more likely and believable than the second. But if either of them are true–which I am considering to be more and more likely with every passing day–then our complete shutdown of society isn’t accomplishing a blasted thing.
To wit, if no one has COVID-19, then the histrionic fear that many are showing any time anyone gets within 6 feet of them is totally unjustified–The only way you would be able to catch it would be from another person who already has it! By definition, if none of the people that you would normally come into contact with has COVID-19, you are not going to catch it from them.
In the other case, if a lot of people have or have already recovered from COVID-19, then either the cases have been milder (or at least not life-threatening) as we may have initially thought. If this is the case, then being deathly afraid of catching it also is not justified, provided that you are not in, and have no contact with, one of the vulnerable groups. You are much more likely to get a severe, or deadly, case of COVID-19 if you are in one of these groups. For example, approximately 80% of COVID-19 deaths in the US have been in people 65 years or older. When younger people have died, often there are other factors, such as having had a chronic disease, having been a smoker, etc. If you are not in these groups, it is simply not very likely at all that you will die from COVID-19–and you might not even get very sick.
What would I suggest? I think that we could accomplish just as much by aggressively targeting the vulnerable population and by keeping them away from the general population. Note–The vast majority of the responsibility for this would fall on the vulnerable people themselves. It may not be fair to them, but it’s also not fair to the rest of us to put our lives on hold when only a small group of us are likely to have a serious case of COVID-19. It wouldn’t be business as usual for the rest of us, though. Yes, society would “reopen”, but the rest of us should be more aware of social distancing and general hygiene. In particular, frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned much more frequently. And, we should carefully monitor our contact with individuals in the vulnerable groups. I’m pretty sure that this would do virtually as much as the almost complete shutdown–It’s much what was done to greatly lessen the effects of COVID-19 in South Korea. To be fair, South Korea also did a lot more testing, which would help greatly here in the USA, if for no other reason than to get more actual data that we could use. Absent this data, imaginations tend to run wild. Not that we’ve actually seen any of that, of course!
This pandemic is serious, and our response to it must also be serious. But it also needs to be reasonable and not play on our fears or take away our constitutional rights.