Virus Tolls Similar Despite Governors' Contrasting Actions

It's Time for the Truth • One Year After Lockdowns Began

Posted In: Politics, , Opinion,   By: Robert E Martin

16th March, 2021     0

By the Associated Press

Nearly a year after California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the nation’s first statewide shut down because of the coronavirus, masks remain mandated, indoor dining and other activities are significantly limited, and Disneyland remains closed. By contrast, Florida has no statewide restrictions. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has prohibited municipalities from fining people who refuse to wear masks. And Disney World has been open since July.

Despite their differing approaches, California and Florida have experienced almost identical outcomes in COVID-19 case rates.

How have two states that took such divergent tacks arrived at similar points?

“This is going to be an important question that we have to ask ourselves: What public health measures actually were the most impactful, and which ones had negligible effect or backfired by driving behavior underground?” said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Though research has found that mask mandates and limits on group activities such as indoor dining can help slow the spread of the coronavirus, states with greater government-imposed restrictions have not always fared better than those without them.

California and Florida both have a COVID-19 case rate of around 8,900 per 100,000 residents since the pandemic began, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And both rank in the middle among states for COVID-19 death rates—Florida was 27th as of March12th; California was 28th.

Connecticut and South Dakota are other examples. Both rank among the 10 worst states for COVID-19 death rates. Yet Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, imposed numerous statewide restrictions over the past year after an early surge in deaths, while South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, issued no mandates as virus deaths soared in the fall.

While Lamont ordered quarantines for certain out-of-state visitors, Noem launched a $5 million tourism advertising campaign and welcomed people to a massive motorcycle rally, which some health experts said spread the coronavirus throughout the Midwest.

Both contend their approach is the best.

As new COVID-19 cases decrease nationally, governors in more than half the states have taken actions during the past two weeks to end or ease coronavirus restrictions, according to an Associated Press tally. Some capacity limits ended Friday in Maryland and Oklahoma. Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Wyoming are relaxing restrictions in the coming week.

In almost all cases, governors have lauded their approach to the pandemic, while critics have accused them of being too stringent or too lax.

California’s slow reopening is expected to gain steam in April. But Republicans in California are helping organize a recall effort against Newsom that has drawn nearly 2 million petition signatures from people frustrated over his long-lasting limits on businesses, church gatherings, and people’s activities. He also faces intense pressure over public school closures and the glacial pace of getting them reopened.

Newsom asserted that California has been a leader in combating the virus while delivering his State of the State address this past week from Dodger Stadium, where the empty seats roughly equaled the state’s 55,000 COVID-19 deaths.

“From the earliest days of this pandemic, California trusted in science and data, and we met the moment,” Newsom said. He added: “We’re not going to change course just because of a few naysayers and doomsdayers.”

In his own State of the State address, DeSantis asserted that Florida was in better shape than others because its businesses and schools are open. Florida’s unemployment rate ranked below the national average, and significantly lower than California’s, at the start of this year. “While so many other states kept locking people down over these many months, Florida lifted people up,” DeSantis said.

Determining which approach is best is more complicated than just looking at statewide policies and overall case rates.

Like Florida, Missouri had no statewide mask mandate, ended business restrictions last June, and has a cumulative COVID-19 death rate similar to California’s. In the absence of statewide orders, many of the largest cities in Florida and Missouri imposed their own mask requirements and business restrictions. In Missouri, that meant about half the population was still subject to mask mandates.

Republican Gov. Mike Parson has touted “a balanced approach” to the pandemic that left many public health decisions up to local officials and allowed Missouri’s economy “to come back strong.” New COVID-19 cases and unemployment are both low, and consumer spending has returned to pre-pandemic levels, Parson said this past week.

State health director Randall Williams believes residents heeded Parson’s call to voluntarily mask up when Missouri’s coronavirus cases spiked last fall to some of the highest levels nationally.

Public health experts said individual choices could help explain the similar outcomes among some states with loose or strict orders from the governor.

Some people voluntarily were “being more vigilant in states where the guidelines are more relaxed,” said Thomas Tsai, an assistant professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Yet in states with more government mandates, “people generally in public were wearing masks and following the guidelines, but in private they were letting down their guard and less vigilant,” he said.

Imposing strict measures, like forbidding families from visiting grandparents and friends from gathering, is like taking an abstinence-only approach to combating drug use and sexually transmitted disease, said Adalja, of Johns Hopkins University.

As Edward Peter Stringham notes in his Pandemic assessment of actions taken over the past 12-months, one year ago, between March 13 and 16, 2020, began what most of us would agree were the most difficult days of our lives. We thought our rights and liberties were more or less secure or could only be hobbled on the margin. We took certain things for granted, such as that our governments would not – and could not – order us to stay home, close most businesses and schools, shut down travel, padlock churches and concert halls, cancel events, much less lock down society in the name of virus control. 

All that changed with a federal document issued March 13, 2020, and declassified three months later. It was the lockdown guidelines. Over the following days, governors panicked. People panicked. Bureaucrats were unleashed. All the powers of the state at all levels of society were deployed not on the virus but on the people, which is all that governments can really control. The lockdowns were nearly universal, implemented around the world but for a few holdouts, one of which was in the US (South Dakota). 

A year later, most states are opening up while those still clinging to lockdowns can no longer control people. Regardless of warnings from the top that going back to normal life is too dangerous, most people have decided to be done with the whole dreadful episode. 

All year we’ve asked ourselves the question: why did this happen? Pathogens are part of life now and always have been. For the better part of a century, social and economic outcomes from new viruses were ever less disruptive. Public health had a settled consensus that disease is something to mitigate through doctor-patient relationships. Taking away people’s rights was out of the question. The last time that was tried in very limited ways in 1918 demonstrated that coercion only distracts, divides, and delays. This is why lockdowns were not attempted for another hundred years. Wisely so. 

In the severe pandemic of 1957-58, officials explicitly said:  "[T]here is no practical advantage in the closing of schools or the curtailment of public gatherings as it relates to the spread of this disease.’’ It was the same in 1968-69, 2006, 2009, and 2012-13. 

Then came 2020 and SARS-CoV-2. The 24-hour news cycle and social media kicked in. Shocking images from China – people dropping dead in streets, police dragging people out of their homes or otherwise sealing whole apartment units – were blasted onto cellphones the world over. Then a part of Italy seemed to erupt. To many, it felt like a plague, and a primitive disease panic took over political culture. 

We know now that the US had sent a delegation to Beijing in mid-February 2020 to get lessons in how properly to control a pandemic, even though the information coming from the Chinese Communist Party has been unreliable at best; there simply is no evidence that their lockdowns in Wuhan were actually responsible for beating back the virus. Obviously so. No disease in history has been suppressed by reliance on brute force over intelligent mitigation. 

It’s extremely telling that the lockdowners have stopped seriously arguing that the lockdowns worked. Justin Fox writing in Bloomberg goes to great lengths to justify the lockdowns on grounds that Covid-19 was more deadly that the Hong Kong and Asian flus of the past, due to exaggerated death data relative to the death data of 2020. In truth, we do not actually know enough about the data to make this assessment. The problems of testing accuracy raise gigantic questions both about case and death data. It will be many years before we can sort out the mess. That people are still arguing death rates from 1918 is telling. 

Regardless, pandemic central planning, even if you believe in it, relies on knowing the severity of a particular disease before the evidence is in. That is simply not possible.

Viruses don’t come with severity and prevalence labels. What’s more, there is no escape from the circumstances of time and place. SARS-CoV-2 hit different countries in different ways based on demographics and the population’s immunity profile. Africa, Asia, and America all had very different experiences with the virus regardless of policy. 

What’s most revealing about the article is Fox’s passing comment:  “[I]t was not crazy to rely on more-primitive measures. How successful those measures have been will remain a matter of much research and debate…. In the U.S. it’s much harder to know how many lives all the testing and quarantining and mask-wearing and lockdowns have saved.”

All of which is to say: he doesn’t know. This is the new line of the lockdowners. They can’t cite broad-based evidence of any correlation much less causation between lockdowns and virus control. There simply isn’t any, and meanwhile AIER has assembled 31 serious papers showing no apparent connection between lockdowns and better disease outcomes. 

Let’s imagine an alternative scenario in which lockdowns actually did work on one pathogen. Would they be worth it? Public health, as Martin Kulldorff continues to explain, must consider not just one ailment but the whole well-being of the community, not just in the short run but the long run. Even if Covid-19 was controlled via coercion, was it worth it to wreck so many businesses, force missed cancer screenings, keep kids out of school for a year, shatter so many communities that depend on houses of worship, lock people in their homes, and hobble the ability to travel?

These are egregious actions, and contrary to all the policy practices we associate with free societies that respect human rights. So in one sense, the argument about whether lockdowns “work” – they do not – is beside the point. For the sake of social and economic functioning as well as human rights, disease mitigation must not be managed by political actors but rather medical professions. 

When the Great Barrington Declaration,  appeared in October, millions found the statement to be a breath of fresh intellectual air. Finally some good sense! Others were scandalized that some were willing to dissent from the lockdown orthodoxy. In the end, a full year after this terrible experiment began, it is almost time to declare a narrow victory: the Declaration was right and the lockdowners were wrong.

The lockdowners are in retreat just as is the virus, and exactly the way that the authors said it would, through the acquisition of population immunity via natural exposure and vaccines. 

Even if this battle is won, there are so many ahead of us. We have a broken federal budget, a broken monetary system, and a broken and demoralized population that never imagined people could be so ill-treated by their own political class. The trauma of 2020 will be felt decades hence. The healing will only come from honesty and truth, and a thorough rejection of the folly, duplicity, and deception that has defined our era. 



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