Posts Tagged ‘COVID-19’

WHY THE SCHOOLS REMAIN CLOSED

October 14, 2020

It is well established that the risk of serious infection and complications in school-aged children is less than the seasonal flu. It has also been established that child-to-adult transmission of disease is much less common than adult-to-adult transmission. Europe, taking into account the data, has reopened schools without a reported uptick in child mortality to date. It’s been shown that school closures have resulted in a 30% decline in reading capacity, that in some areas only 50% of children are participating in remote learning, and the incidence of child abuse has significantly increased due to school closures. Some have expressed concerns that the nutritional health of the poorest children may be impacted by the loss of school meals. Older teachers might have to have special social distancing measures instituted or teach remotely, but for the rest, the risk is no greater than the seasonal flu. Parents without resources are struggling to return to work without daytime assistance with the kids. With all this, reopening for the children is a no-brainer, right? But politicians have no brains.

In fairness, it’s not that our political leaders lack brains (although one could make a valid argument for some exceptions), it’s just that they have political brains that overwhelm all other higher functions. Overarching policy since COVID-19 has considered mostly medical mortality risk over all other variables. While sensible policy would dictate a simultaneous and sober assessment of COVID deaths versus deaths and years of life lost due to lock-downs, the latter has been viewed largely through the lens of a solution, even though a very good argument could be made for the cure, namely lock-downs, being worse than the disease. For a politician, the political argument for school lock-downs is even more compelling than the for the population at large because, well, they’re kids.

The media gain eyeballs and clicks through hyperbole, and in this case it’s taking a threat and fanning the flames of fear. It’s a form of low-grade terrorism with real cost. The larger price for keeping schools closed is not apparent, except via actuarial table and postmortem (in the larger sense of the term) analysis that likely won’t happen for years. Imagine the heyday the media will have with each schoolchild death, inevitable in any wide-scale infection. An example of this is already out there with respect to the rare complication of Kawasaki-like disease, a serious inflammatory illness that can affect the blood vessels of children. No politician is willing to weather this assault in the name of science or for any other reason.

As long as we continue to have politicians without backbones and an ill-informed and agitated electorate, I don’t see the situation changing any time soon.

COVID: WHAT TRUMP’S TRYING TO DO AND WHY IT’S FAILING

October 12, 2020

If the polls are to be believed, even allowing for the 2016 poll fiasco, Trump has lost ground over the last couple of weeks and is the underdog. Two events seem to have arrested his resurgence: His debate performance (mostly a referendum on his demeanor) and his infection with COVID-19. The debate probably hurt him less than the latter, as Trump is Trump and it’s baked into the cake. So why does he double down on his behavior with respect to the pandemic? With the Left versus Trump, this can be explained by the simple laws of political physics: Every overreaction has an equal and opposite overreaction.

No one can deny that COVID is the worst pandemic of our lives, the worst since the Spanish flu of 1918 (although about 1 million have died worldwide to date versus an estimated 50 million in 1918, likely due to our medical advances). The disease is highly transmissable but a mixed bag with respect to mortality, depending on age and risk factors. And, because of the times we live in, it has been politicized. Trump perceives his opponents are supporting lock-downs for purely political reasons, namely to suppress the economic recovery prior to the election. I believe he was being honest when he stated his early, ill-advised overly optimistic views of the virus were for the purpose of preventing “panic.” Later, however, I believe he used his inconsistent masking and social isolation practices and over-the-top optimism to counter the opposing political narrative supporting a second economic lock-down. It is reasonable to assume the Left’s use of alarmist tactics that accentuate the dangers of the pandemic and minimize the evidence refuting the need for a second lock-down is not simply for altruistic reasons. Remarks about maintaining school closures until “after the election” also give credence to this view. While many might criticize this conclusion as horribly cynical, good people (that is, most liberals) can be influenced to accept a more dire prognosis than the facts would otherwise support if it fits their belief system and is repeated often and loudly enough. It is clear from the rhetoric that at least some of the anti-Trump crowd feel that he is a greater risk than the pandemic or economic malaise. With the conflicting messages, you see some people wearing masks outside with no one in sight, while others ignore reasonable masking and social distancing precautions, usually but not exclusively along political lines. The middle ground of minimizing lock-downs to save the economy along with sensible masking and social isolation often gets lost in the kerfuffle. Sadly, Trump’s policies with regard to the pandemic have been mostly laudable but overshadowed by his personal remarks and antics, culminating in his contraction of the disease. It is worth remembering he closed the borders to infection earlier than the progressive contingent would have (and was criticized by Biden for it as xenophobic), and provided assistance and ventilators to the states that needed them and was praised for it by both blue and red state governors. He also supported the medical community in the unprecedented development of vaccines in record time. Still, Leftist politicians like NY Governor Cuomo, who encouraged riding the subways and sent infected old people back to the nursing homes, were given a pass, or even lionized. A reasonable counter-argument could be made that had Trump set a good example more people would have masked and isolated and the curve further flattened. But, especially early on, the evidence for masking was mixed (and, in fact not recommended), and later on half the country would be unlikely to view him as a role model, regardless. Furthermore, the politicians and media on the Left demonstrated a pattern of willingness to ignore or minimize the contribution of large, poorly-isolated gatherings if for the purpose of social protest. So Trump, in typical fashion, overshadows his own poorly reported successes with a politically disastrous campaign by trying to counter the alarmist Left with an unrealistic optimism that doesn’t resonate with the voters.

Despite ample evidence (suppressed in the mainstream media) of a problematic Biden past as least as bad, and probably worse than Trump’s*, it seems the majority of Americans may be willing to allow the Democrats to consolidate power by changing the rules (the failure to admit they wouldn’t pack the Supreme Court or “pack the country” with additional liberal states is telling). Kind of like adding innings to baseball or allowing 4 strikes if you’re not winning as much as you’d like.

Trump’s political malpractice and an electorate infused with ideologically-driven ignorance may be the downfall of an America that has changed the world for the better, and will leave future generations much poorer spiritually and economically.

*Biden has plagiarized, lied about his educational standing, been accused of sexual molestation (not investigated), been implicated in corruption via son Hunter (not investigated), made overtly racist remarks at least as incendiary as Trump’s, supports the untenable Green New Deal while simultaneously denying it, refuses to comment on packing the Supreme Court, and has publicly lauded criminals over law enforcement. Harris likely rose in the ranks on the “casting couch,” prosecuted marijuana users while laughing about it, and also publicly supports criminals over law enforcement. There’s a lot more if you look for it.

COVID AND TRUMP—THE MEDICAL AND THE POLITICAL

October 3, 2020

So now he’s got it. The public reaction is as expected, and a bit unexpected. Many anti-Trumpers have unsurprisingly wished him ill, if not death, and have made snarky remarks about hsi getting what he deserves, and “karma.” What is surprising is that some far Leftists (Rachel Maddow comes to mind as an example) have appropriately wished him and Melania well despite their disagreements with him and oft-professed outright hatred. And, in fairness, Trump did set himself up for criticism with his off-and-on support for masking and do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do tepid support for social distancing. The argument on the Left, however, that the pandemic is on its face a Trumpian failure of management, like most Leftists arguments, loses validity when we actually inject facts. Despite Trump’s intermittent, and sometimes over-the-top proclamations of optimism with respect to the virus (motivated, per Trump, by a wish to prevent panic), he did restrict travel from China and then Europe (and was criticized for it) at a time both sides were uncertain of the virus’ eventual impact here. It is conveniently ignored by the Left-dominated media that Pelosi was sightseeing in Chinatown in a virtue-signaling show of her lack of Chinese xenophobia for the cameras, Biden was actively labeling Trump xenophobic, Cuomo was sending infected old folks back to the nursing homes, and Cuomo or de Blasio (or both) were telling people to ride the subways and have a good time. Trump gets zero credit from these same media sources for providing the support requested by the state governors of both political stripes (for which he was publicly thanked by them) and ramping up ventilator production, a resource that ended up never being overwhelmed. So his handling of the pandemic is a mixed bag with, as usual, his deeds outshining his words and personal example.

Medically, the president falls in a “high risk” category for complications by dint of age and (over-) weight and has a roughly 1-5% chance of this depending on whom you ask. So, God-willing, he’ll have a mild infection and rapid recovery. I’ve found Ben Shapiro’s analyses to be sober and factually grounded, and I agree with him that Trump’s medical course, considering human nature, is likely to affect policy with respect to economic lock-downs going forward, even though it should not be dictated by anecdotal evidence but by the data.

Politically, there’s mostly downside. Most obviously, as mentioned, his lip service to masking and social isolation while serving as a less than stellar example has given fuel to those that have criticized him. It is true that the evidence for the value of masking came late and remains mixed, but it is reasonable to do both in situations where people are likely to be in close contact, especially indoors. The criticism of the Left rings hollow with hypocrisy, though, as we’d be hard pressed to find a single outcry from their ranks during the frequent mass protests. Additionally, Trump will be denied the opportunity for live rallies for at least 2 weeks and could miss out on the next debate opportunity. Overall, I don’t see the president’s illness as affecting those that have already made up their minds whom they are voting for. For the likely vanishingly small segment of the population that remains undecided (and that could determine the result in a close election), it seems unlikely to help him in the face of the constant Leftist anti-Trump drumbeat. That being said, a small portion may give a sympathy vote.

Barring a serious change in the president’s health, the election may have already been decided, and it’s just a matter of waiting for the results to roll in.

THE PLEA OF A NEW VICTIM

May 11, 2020

I used to be just an old white guy. Well, I’m still an old white guy, but now my views have more weight. Because now I’m a victim.

Yes, I fall into the high risk category for death if I get COVID. Sure, I can’t go anywhere, but it’s not so bad. Because my high risk status places me at the top of the COVID discrimination pyramid and gives me gravitas. And in the shifting world of intersectionality, that’s power.

In this new universe of which I’m a part, my performance matters little, if at all—only my words. I no longer have to watch with arched eyebrows as Governor Cuomo speaks passionately of his concern for life over dollars; if the polls are to be believed, he is revered. Naysayers proclaim that he and Mayor de Blasio locked down NY late, much later that Trump’s immigration ban. To that I answer, harrumph! (because that’s what old people do), and “Trump.” You counter that Cuomo had insufficient ventilators and PPE to manage his state’s disaster and made a panicked call requesting larger amounts of the former than required (supplied by the Feds). Who’s to blame? One word answer—Trump. How about the governor’s decision to keep the cramped subways open and return infected old folks to their nursing homes, establishing hot spots in those venues? You’re not listening. The buck stops in the White House, since Trump foolishly belittled the virus in late January and made a series of inane statements thereafter. You’re making the common error of judging deeds; it’s the words that count. And as a newly christened victim, I’m fine with that. Because that’s what I do: write words.

Don’t allow yourself to be misled by the 14% unemployment rate, greater than the Great Depression. Or the bread lines. Or the shattered society. If we can save one life, we should maintain the lockdown. Because a life has no dollar value. Those who tell you otherwise are just shills for the Dow. Yes, everyone on both sides of the aisle was unprepared for a predictable pandemic, from the Feds on down, and everyone, early on, underestimated the fallout from the virus; still, it’s on Trump’s shoulders. Why? Because, well, he’s Trump, and the Russian hoax and the impeachment hoax didn’t work. COVID, while it’s killing us, can also be the savior. If we open up and more people die (as is anticipated and inevitable), it’s on Trump. And if we stay closed, and the economy continues to tank, plunging the country and the world into a Great Depression filled with death and despair, it’s on Trump. We intersectionalists can’t lose. All we need to do is say it loudly and persistently enough, and people will believe; because it’s Trump. What’s that you say, in the back? Biden is losing it? Pshaw! I say (because that’s what old people do); he’ll be choosing a black woman for a running mate, and that kind of intersectionality, as anyone bestowed with the wisdom of victimhood can see, is unstoppable. A new Democrat leadership can double down on the proven fiscal policies of printing, borrowing, and confiscating (sorry, I mean taxing) more money to fix this. And all while you’re not working, and magically earning more in unemployment checks that you would on the job! And we can even extend the largess to people who are here illegally (I mean undocumentedly, if that’s a word; sorry, I’m new to this intersectionality thing).

So my plea to you young, healthy people: Stay home. Save one life. But don’t fall prey to the delusion that this selfless act diminishes my superior victimhood by even one iota. We all may share in lost ballgames, concerts, plays, movie theaters, and yes, Souplantation (I may never visit my daughter in LA again, knowing I can’t grab soup and salad there on the way south), and many of you have lost your livelihood, but you can’t lay claim to my insurmountable mortality risk. Remember, I’m old, and you’re not.

I am victim, hear me roar.

THE NEW POLICE STATE

May 1, 2020

The old maxim “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” has always been demonstrably true, and now, to validate it anew, American citizens are being treated as an experiment on their own soil.

Our initial introduction to the villain in this experiment, the corona virus, was scary enough to warrant an initial overreaction. As more accurate knowledge about the danger from the pandemic unfolds and its deleterious effects on the economic lifeblood of our country, our ruling class is reacting inversely. One can argue to what extent this is motivated by power-intoxication, paranoia, politics, or foolishness abetted by virtue-signaling, but the effect is the same: the institution of a police state. Examples abound. In Michigan stores could sell some products but not others (i.e, furniture and seeds), a video went viral of a policeman in Oxnard hassling a 93-year-old couple for sitting on a beach chair instead of the sand. Here on California’s Central Coast, signs proclaim that the beaches are for walking, but not lying or sitting (thus far I haven’t seen local law enforcement enforcing these asinine requirements). This week, it hit home for me when I went to target shoot sponsored by a private gun club at a state-owned gun range where the members are older, wearing masks, and social distancing, and were told to leave due to a spanking new Fish & Wildlife directive. Powerful rulers and petty bureaucrats alike have convinced themselves that they have more wisdom than we do and translate that foolishness into silly, ineffectual, and often harmful regulations. The closed beaches in LA county led to increased beach-goer density in Newport beach and Oxnard (although posted aerial views suggest people still managed to effectively socially distance). In other words, we’re witnessing an acceleration of business as usual, government creep, now on steroids and moving into dangerous territory.

There are those who’ve adopted the mantra, “if even one life is saved,” as a valid rationale for this nonsense. But, as Ben Shapiro stated more eloquently (and at considerably more length) than I on his radio show, rational public policy always has to be based on a careful valuation of opposing variables. Otherwise we’d set speed limits at 35 and shut down every flu season.

I don’t think the government has more wisdom than we, the citizens, in looking out for our health, physically and economically, and their current policy trajectory illustrates this. Further, they have a vested interest in increasing their power, so don’t expect whatever gains they achieve in this regard on the coattails of this pandemic to completely recede when it’s over.

Beware; your liberty, which has been slowly eroding over decades, is now diminishing in chunks like a calving glacier: the true “climate change.”

PERCEPTION AND TRUMP’S CHANCES IN A POST-COVID WORLD

April 30, 2020

A left-leaning friend (yes, some still talk to me) sent me an article citing the evidence that Trump is sun-downing politically. It references the polls that almost universally favor Biden over Trump in the upcoming election, and the real possibility of a spill-over of fortunes to the Senate. While polls (like climate and COVID models) can be completely misleading (witness the 2016 election), the ubiquity of the results raises real questions as to whether the president, and the Republican party, can remain in power.

As is always the case, perception, rather than reality, will rule the day. There’s no question that Trump himself, with the help of derangement-fueled media bias, has sorely, and potentially fatally damaged his chances. It appears that the more he’s in front of the camera, the more opportunity for a faux pas. But let’s look at both sides of the issue.

In the pre-COVID world Trump was able to offset his missteps, while frequent, with large, well-attended rallies populated by enthusiastic fans (the 30% alluded to in my prior rant) which also aided in generating campaign funds, and, according to some political pundits, served to convert a silent cadre of independents. This, of course, no longer exists. Trump’s attempt to get the daily pressers to do double duty, as informer/leader-in-chief and campaigner, seems to have backfired. The main selling point of his campaign, the ballooning economy, has deflated with a prick of the corona virus. So right now it’s Trump versus Trump, and Trump is losing. The question is, will the American public be able to see past this to the other side? The opponent, Biden, is older, has demonstrated on multiple occasions signs of early cognitive failure, likely dementia, and has tracked so far left he’s not close to the man he was. There are allegations of sexual impropriety that will likely never be proved, and will be suppressed by the “mainstream” media but highlighted by the Trump campaign. Ditto for improprieties related to Ukraine and his son Hunter. He is supported by a party that not only engages in policies that favor big government, more regulations, and more debt and are demonstrably antithetical to the business community, while extolling these policies as solutions. The Republican party engages in these same policies, to a lesser extent, while decrying them, and succeeded in at least reducing regulations under the Trump administration.

I’ve never been of the mind that our fiscal trajectory is sustainable, even pre-COVID and post-Trump. I felt his interventions were necessary but insufficient to right the ship, and the robust surge in our economic fortunes would peter, kind of like the course of the virus itself. You don’t assure long-term economic prosperity by buying it with ever-increasing debt and promises of unmet entitlements left to future generations to sort out, if possible. To me, it appeared that the economy was a sick patient given the appearance of robust health with the use of adrenaline and steroids. The idea of fiscal austerity as being essential to continued liberty, a cornerstone of our Founding Fathers’ principles, had fallen by the wayside. Now, on top of all this we have the stress of an acute infection, real and metaphorical as it relates to the economy, piling unprecedented acute debt on the chronic. In the past, we dealt with this by manipulating interest rates, printing money, borrowing, and taxes. Now, interest rates are already low, money is being printed during a contracting rather than an expanding economy, we’ve already borrowed more than we should, much from our enemy, China, and the engine for generating taxes, fueled by rampant and now anemic consumerism, is sputtering now and for an indefinite future. Meanwhile, untold numbers of people who supported the boom with their buying are without sufficient cash reserves for an emergency, or their retirement nest egg, much less wholesale consumerism.

I don’t know that leaders of either party are up to the task of dealing with this crisis, but the choice is clear: Does the country want to change leadership on the basis of an act of God that is decimating the economy, from a man and a party that has demonstrated the ability to rejuvenate the economy at least in the short term, to a man and a party that, based on their expressed policy preferences, can only accelerate economic decline? It will depend on external events but also on how Biden is perceived, if and when the wraps are taken off him. I can’t imagine he’ll do well in a face-to-face debate; expect the Democrats to try and limit his exposure. It also depends on how many more missteps Trump makes, and the course of the virus and economy, both not presently working in his favor. And it depends on how effectively the media can paint Trump as evil, stupid, and racist, with many of these aspersions already “baked in the cake,” as it were.

Perception is everything.

COVID-19: WHERE DO WE STAND NOW?

April 27, 2020

It’s been a time of daily bad news, daily pressers with presidential blather, and distracting back-and-forth that misses the mark, culminating in a moratorium by the president (after a well-intentioned but mind-numbingly ignorant remark about COVID treatment he later tried to characterize as “sarcastic”) at the behest of his advisors (if that’s a thing). To understand where we’re at, we have to look back on the path we’ve trodden. A few voices began to sound an alarm in January, perhaps a little earlier. The most paranoid of the experts warned of a potential catastrophe. Most of us paid minimal attention to an apparent distant threat; we’d seen it before. Life went on as usual. Subsequently, the president pooh-poohed the threat as trivial. No one, right or left, seemed to care much, with even his opponents recommending unfettered socialization and the avoidance of “xenophobia.” A short time later, still minimizing the threat, Trump nevertheless closed immigration to Chinese nationals, then Europe. As expected, his opponents decried the moves. Trump, unable to stage campaign rallies, and now in the midst of a global crisis, decided that daily briefings were in order, and used them for dual purpose: to inform the public and to campaign, by extolling his performance. As usual, it was a mixed bag. He did some things right, some things not so right, and exaggerated, misspoke and at times lied, as all politicians do, but in the typical immature and hyperbolic Trumpian fashion. The “mainstream media,” heavily left-leaning and a mirror of Trump, presented some reasonably critical questions but also frequently felt compelled to bait him, as usual. Trump, as usual trolled them back. Business as usual is not good during an existential threat. The TDS on both sides increased exponentially, along with the virus.

Trump, never one to learn from his political missteps, more recently began downplaying the probability of a second wave of infection, at odds with some of his medical advisors. My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that he’d been intentionally promoting a doggedly optimistic viewpoint, both for perceived morale-boosting and for personal/political gain, and, as usual, overplayed his hand. However, it’s important to never lose sight of the fact that experts, while clearly more expert than Trump with regard to medical matters, are often wrong (and have thus far promoted inadequate but improving models that overestimated the damage). It’s also important to recognize that there is little cost to the doomsayer: If correct, they’re in an “I told you so” position, and if wrong, they can seek refuge in a “Thank God, you can never be too cautious” bunker. On the other hand, the optimist is sticking his neck out if things go south. It’s also easy, though intellectually dishonest, to hide behind an “if even one life is saved…” rubric, as demonstrated daily by NY Governor Cuomo.

An adult must look at all the variables and risk when determining policy. This means not only how many additional lives might be lost by loosening restrictions (a rough guess, at best), but what the damage will be with continued extreme social distancing and economic near-standstill. People forget (or never recognized) that, despite an apparently booming economy, there was an ailing patient on steroids underneath. Unfettered and growing debt, papered over by printing, borrowing, and rampant consumerism at the expense of saving, with ongoing unpaid-for entitlements pushed forward to future generations, were a third rail that neither side, left or right, would touch. Now, on top of that we’re piling a huge additional debt. What’s worse, we’re doing it in an environment where there’s little hope for short- or intermediate-term tax generation to alleviate it. If the virus disappeared tomorrow, there would still be indeterminate delays in the economic recovery related to ongoing social distancing and natural human fears that will impact sectors of the economy for months or years, and some likely forever. So, in my mind, the reasonable position is that the recession is already baked-in. The only question is whether we can avoid another Great Depression.

This is a rather gloomy forecast, and while doomsaying, as I mentioned, is always a safer bet, it does not win friends (unless you’re invested in the climate change issue, but that’s another story). People want to seek out people who give them hope, and (believable) optimism. In fairness, there are still a lot of people (Congressman Dan Crenshaw is one I heard recently) who believe we’ll have a vigorous bounce-back). I, however, can only offer a glimmer: If, perhaps, we stop focusing on every inane thing the president and the press say, step back and look at the big picture, and adjust policy accordingly, we may be able to keep the Great Recession from deepening to a depression. A depression isn’t just about money and Wall Street. It’d about quality of life, purpose, and the lives all over the globe that will certainly be lost if we retreat to the economic state of the 1960s or earlier. It behooves us to attempt to eschew becoming one ot the 30% that defend Trump at all costs, the 30% that attack him no matter what he says and does, and hang out with the remaining 40%, likely the only adults left in the room.

Our lives depend on it.

THE ONGOING BATTLE RE LIVES VERSUS LIVELIHOOD

April 20, 2020

I’ve been forwarded material decrying the reaction to COVID as a political “hoax,” with deleterious outcomes far below that predicted by the models and reportage aimed at magnifying the risk, in the name of consolidating power and undermining Trump. I think we need to turn a sober eye on these accusations.

It is true the models were poor, and in retrospect, the evidence is suggesting that the response was more overreaching than warranted. It is also true that some politicos have used the crisis to exercise unbridled and sometimes unwarranted power (the Michigan governor being the most recent and extreme example of this). It’s also true the media has hyped the situation by showing the most extreme examples (which catch the most eyeballs), but this is always the case. The left is using the pandemic to try to unseat Trump (big surprise) just as they’ve been using every incident, big or small, real or unreal, since he took office. Do I believe this is an “evil genius” attempt to consolidate power? No, I don’t.

First, I don’t think the people we elect to harass…I mean govern us are any smarter, in the aggregate, than the rest of us. Seeing the devastation in Italy and Spain, and then in New York, it doesn’t surprise me that alarm ruled the day amidst visions of a “worst case scenario” and supportive, though now known to be poorly predictive, models. Underreacting would also cost much more than overreacting politically, and potentially in terms of lives lost (although if the economy flounders badly and long enough, the cure may indeed turn out to be worse than the disease). Just as I don’t feel Trump is either a moron or playing 3-D chess, I don’t think the progressives are playing a long game in which pursuing policies that further cripple the economy as the route to new found power or their vaunted “transformation” of America, though I have no doubt they’ll continue to use the economic fallout to their political advantage if they can (“never let a good disaster go to waste”).

One of the theories for California’s more benign course in this pandemic than places like New York despite its being a destination for Chinese nationals is hidden herd immunity from earlier exposure. There are some reports of and undiagnosed flu-like illness having made the rounds sometime in November or December. This theory is yet to be proved. However, we should keep in mind that California and other parts of the country that have done relatively well thus far may have benefited from the rather extreme social isolation. I know, it’s said that the models have already factored that in and still grossly overestimated the carnage. I’m not a statistician, but what if the models failed because they underestimated the positive effects of social isolation?

As a retired physician, reading the first-person accounts of nurses and doctors in the hardest hit hospitals, it’s hard for me to conclude that this is “just another flu.” I think the potential for a larger disaster loomed great with the knowledge we had at the outset, and I don’t fault the overreaction as many now perceive it, in hindsight. Still, if we don’t rapidly adjust our policies in the light of more recent knowledge and prevent a major economic disaster (if even possible at this point), I’m not willing to be as forgiving. I also don’t forgive the lack of preparation, on both the state and federal levels, past and present, for an eventuality that was clearly predictable.

Lastly, the crisis is not over yet, and there will certainly be many future opportunities to shine and to fail. I guess we’ll find out what we’re made of.

TIME TO OPEN

April 17, 2020

Mark Levin blusters. Those of you familiar with his daily conservative radio show know he really gets into it. On his more recently debuted weekly Sunday television show, he’s a sedate, calm interviewer, but he’s a different man when left to pontificating on his AM radio soapbox. While I agree with much, though not all, of what he says (after all, he’s smarter than me and has a background in constitutional law), he made an especially astute observation today during one of his rants. He pointed out that the states are behaving in a “have my cake and eat it too” fashion (my take). For example, the governors indignantly proclaim that they have the right to determine if and when to open the economy whenever they perceive Trump to be overreaching. However, they are quick to whine if they feel they aren’t getting enough money fast enough from the federal government. On top of this, they’re in a no-lose situation: If things are going well, they take credit (as does Trump). If things are going badly, they blame the federal government’s (read: Trump’s) intransigence. There’s enough blame for lack of preparation to go around, but in a crisis of national proportions, it’s easier to see the flaws in the federal government by a people less and less inclined to view the nation as a federation. I fear this centralization of thought will pollute the planning for economic recovery.

Trump just met with the governors this week to lay out a 3-part plan for reopening the economy, and has rightfully hinted that it will have to be regionalized to reflect the status of the medical threat in each area. I’m worried the approach won’t be granular enough. As is often said, the virus knows no state boundaries, and any successful effort will have to be implemented at the community level. The initial announcement plays at least lip-service to this idea, but color me dubious.

Ideally, a roll-out would be guided by antibody testing to minimize risk, but my opinion is that, at this point, each week of lock-down translates to many weeks or months of economic malaise, with the severity increasing exponentially. I doubt there is time for an absolutely safe, zero or near-zero risk approach, without disproportionately increasing the risk related to fiscal collapse. This implies a willingness to accept a component of medical risk, which is reasonable, if not mandatory in a time of war. Is this callous? I don’t think so. During WW II people willingly risked their lives to combat the greater risk of unacceptable tyranny. Every day, we accept risks as part of daily living, including driving, weighed against the alternative. Dr. Oz just walked back a statement about opening schools, citing an expert who estimated “only” a 2-3 percent increase in death toll. No rational person favors more death, but the toll in misery and death by lengthy delays to try and assure a “safe” return are real, difficult to compute, and often largely ignored in the course of virtue-signaling. It is also important to point out that the correlation between extreme social isolation as a tool and the death rates are murky, at best (note Sweden and Florida, for example).

I expect, if done sensibly, that the areas with the lowest prevalence of infection that is trending downward will be opened first in a multicentric fashion; it’s already been announced we’ll continue to employ an appropriate component of social distancing, with plans to retrench in the event of recurrent spikes. In all cases, older citizens, especially those with medical comorbidities, will be encouraged to maintain a stricter level of quarantine, to be lifted when new case volume and widespread antibody testing is available. Contact tracking has also been cited as a useful tool, but I doubt it will be possible to do effectively in larger, more complex metropolitan areas.

It remains to be seen if the powers that be, often motivated by arrogance, politics, and power, are able to relinquish enough of it to enable local communities to implement a rational and much needed resurgence. What do you think?

TRUMP AND COVID: GOOD JOB OR BAD?

April 14, 2020

The campaign battle, such as it is, has boiled down to one issue: Is Trump managing the crisis well? If you’re a Trump-hater (see my prior rant about TDS) then he’s doing a horrible job, is an incompetent, bumbling fool, and should be impeached, tarred-and-feathered, and run out of town. If you’re a pro-Trump apologist, he’s a man who took early action, is following the advice of medical experts, and is able to take the larger view, which includes the economy. As always, the truth lies somewhere in the fog-enveloped middle. Also as always, the search for the truth involves seeking out the facts.

What we know is that in early February the president discounted the virus as a serious threat, citing at the time the low number of US cases. We know on February 2nd he banned immigration of foreign nationals who had been in China the prior 14 days. We know that Dr. Fauci and other medical authorities initially expressed skepticism of the value of this intervention before coming on board. We know advisors produced a list of possible interventions by the third week of February that included closures and more extreme social isolation, but these were not adopted by the president until mid-March. We know supplies of masks and PPE were inadequate (and there were perceived mechanical ventilator shortages) and despite enlisting the private sector and a very rapid ramp-up of production, sites were still complaining of insufficient equipment. We know that prior and current federal and state administrations did not replenish depleted stores of medical equipment. We know that deployment of testing was slow, and initially delayed by CDC rules (which antedated Trump) that were not flexible enough to manage a pandemic. We know that the president, while generally following the recommendations of his advisors, repeatedly misspoke or lied (depending on what side of the aisle you reside), exaggerated, and reacted with thin-skinned vitriol to criticism deemed as all politically motivated, as well as firing individuals he felt were suspect. We know that the pandemic has taken a horrible toll, especially in the hardest-hit regions such as New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Louisiana, and Washington, but that the estimates from the pandemic models grossly exaggerated the carnage and that the medical systems in these areas have been sorely stressed but not overrun, as they had been overseas, most notably in Italy and Spain.

In assessing the president’s performance, first, it’s important to remember that our country is organized as a federation with a federal government intended to be an adjunctive source of leadership/guidance in a crisis, with the states taking the lead. One could reasonably argue that since the current crisis is unique, being multicentric and national in scope, a heavier federal hand is appropriate, but my concern is that we’ve gotten so used to a bloated, intrusive federal government that too heavy a power shift may become permanent, rather than temporary. Second, I don’t share the illusion that a different leader, of either party, would have shut down the entire US economy 2 weeks earlier with the state of knowledge and the level of infection we observed at that time. And, ironically, had Trump done so and succeeded in squelching the pandemic’s damage, inevitably the resulting economic damage would have been cited as due to “overreaction” and “poor judgment” by opponents and allies alike. Third, we are extremely bad at processing and reacting to anything that progresses exponentially, as we tend to think linearly. As an example, when trying to extrapolate changes related to technological advancement (which has just entered its exponential growth phase), experts and laypeople routinely underestimate the changes. In this vein, pundits negatively opining on the response of the private sector to this calamity, in the setting of ongoing shortages, are likely unfairly rating a prodigious effort in the face of an exponentially growing threat that makes days of delay seem like a week, or a month.

We have to make a concerted effort, difficult as it is and made harder by the reportage we use to get our data, to remove politics and ideology from the decision-making process. In other words, we need more “adults in the room.” I know, Trump’s antics don’t help, but I do believe he’s making a sober attempt, despite the smokescreen of his words, to tread that fine line between medical and economic disaster. He’s openly stated that choosing when to reopen the economy is the hardest decision of his life, and he’s right.

Taking all the above into account, my preliminary estimate is that Trump has done a fair, but not a poor or excellent job. “Preliminary” because, in truth, the final verdict will not be out until we’ve gotten to the other side of this. And it will reflect a summation of the damage from the virus and a battered economy. We probably won’t be able to finally assess the medical effects of this pandemic for a year or more, depending on factors such as potential viral mutation, herd immunity, and second or multiple waves. We won’t be able to assess the economic damage (barring the hoped-for “V-shaped” recovery) for much longer, with recession lasting months to years or, worst case scenario, a depression lasting years or longer. So ultimately the history books will assign a grade for President Trump. Whether you hate, tolerate, or love him, it’s in all our best interests that he succeed. I pray that God’s hand is guiding him, and that everyone finds the strength and emotional support to face the travails that are coming.