Dispassionate observers who follow the continuously-emerging data and clinical evidence surrounding the Chinese COVID-19 pandemic know that extending business shutdowns and stay-at-home mandates will not ameliorate its longer term medical effects, but will slow America’s ability to deal and live with the virus, while inflicting terrible hardships on millions.
Most people, especially the officials who mandated shutdowns, generally look only at COVID-19’s arithmetic numerators – the numbers of identified infections and virus-related deaths. The essential arithmetic denominator – the total number of infections – remains unknown, because COVID-19’s most common symptoms are no symptoms at all. Seventy to ninety percent of infections are completely asymptomatic. Many others experience only mild, common cold-like symptoms.
Furthermore, COVID-19’s mortality rate, mathematically-extrapolated from broad testing in California and elsewhere, is predicted to be similar to, perhaps slightly higher than the seasonal flu outbreaks through which we routinely live without shutdowns. Studies completed in Europe reveal COVID19’s threat to children to be near zero, and anyone under 60 has little risk of dying from the virus. The death rate in the Netherlands doesn’t exceed 0.1 percent until age 70, after which the risk increases modestly.
In most COVID-affected areas, more than 98 percent of all deaths were elderly residents of long-term care facilities, and other people with one or more serious comorbidities. But infection isn’t an automatic death sentence for otherwise-healthy seniors.
Ironically, COVID-19’s lethality and its impact on public health may prove less severe than earlier pandemics through which America remained open. The current U.S. population is 330 million. The Center for Disease Control reported 1.1 million worldwide Asian flu deaths in 1957-58, including 116,000 from an American population of only 157 million. Like COVID-19, Asian flu was dangerous for the elderly and people with underlying health conditions, but seldom fatal in children.
In 1968-69, Hong Kong flu killed about 1 million globally, including 100,000 Americans from a population of 200 million. Most deaths occurred among people 65 and older.
In fact, the only thing “unique” about COVID-19 is the fearful overreaction to it. Shutdowns were impulsive, ultimately short-sighted policy decisions driven primarily by wildly-exaggerated COVID-19 mortality estimates, media hype and, later, political calculation. Shutdowns will make little to no difference clinically, because they were never intended to reduce or eliminate infections, but were designed merely to spread them out to avoid overburdening America’s health care systems. The infection curve did flatten, but, now, America reopened or shutdown, the disease is a constant. COVID-19 must run its course.
Recently, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pontificated, “The faster we reopen, the lower the economic cost, but the higher the human cost, because the more lives lost. That…is the decision we are really making.”
“Economy v. lives” is a false dichotomy. Cuomo heartlessly, dishonestly – or stupidly – implies that the economic and social devastations of lockdowns are not “human costs.” If precipitous declines in productivity and spending, lost businesses, massive unemployment, tens of millions unable to pay bills or feed families, missed diagnoses and treatments of other serious illnesses, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and suicides are not “human costs,” then what, precisely, are they?
Officials like Cuomo and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf who appear intoxicated with “emergency powers” now, never seemed to care when, every year, fewer than half of Americans chose to get seasonal flu vaccines. In the same spirit, given prompt, factual, apolitical information about similar diseases, all Americans should have the autonomy to make personal decisions about their own health and safety without totalitarian government diktats posing as “life or death” exigencies.
Humans, including elected officials, make mistakes, but stubbornly repeating and institutionalizing them shows lousy judgment – or, perhaps, in this case, attempts to exploit a medical excuse to fundamentally transform America.
Poverty and despair take lives, too. Small businesses are failing. Most Americans are suffering, but the self-employed and working poor, especially minorities, are the people most grievously affected by shutdowns. In a free nation, working to earn an honest living must never be charged or punished as “civil disobedience.”
Clearly, COVID-19 is not the existential threat many initially feared. Shutting down the economy and violating people’s civil liberties will do massive harm to American society – and take more lives than the virus.
Trust the people. Reopen the nation. Protect the most vulnerable, of course, but #MakeAmericaFreeAgain.