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Standing By My AIER Essay (and Thankful to Bryan Caplan for Sharing It)

There’s a reason why I never had a Twitter account:

Mr. D___:

Although I’m not on Twitter, I was able to read the Twitter thread on Bryan Caplan’s favorable tweet of my most-recent AIER column. Thanks – I think! – for sending it to me. While many of the criticisms of my position are very harsh, none is very strong. Indeed, many of the critics seem not to have read my column at all.

At least when I last looked (about fifteen minutes ago), no critic takes seriously the possibility of better containing Covid by focusing prevention (as recommended by the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration) on the vulnerable rather than by wholesale lockdowns of society. No critic considers the strong evidence that lockdowns are not very effective at controlling Covid. No critic deals with Bryan’s argument that our response to Covid is vastly out of proportion to the greater danger that Covid poses to us than is posed by the flu.

I could list other of the critics’ relevant omissions. But I want here to mention one critical commission: the point about alleged hospital overcrowding. Even if, contrary to much evidence, lockdowns significantly reduce Covid’s transmission, and even if there were a case to be made in the past that lockdowns were necessary to prevent hospital overcrowding, the data now show that this issue is no longer live.

At this Department of Health and Human Services link you’ll find hospital-occupancy data, as of February 1st, 2021, for each U.S. state and territory. Specifically, you’ll find state- and territory-level data on “% Inpatient Beds Used (Estimate)” and “% ICU Bed Utilization (Estimate).” Only one state or territory – Rhode Island – had inpatient-bed occupancy of more than 81 percent. That state’s rate was 91%. Of all 59 states and territories, 53 had inpatient-bed occupancy rates of less than 80 percent.

A similar pattern holds for ICU bed utilization. In only two states or territories was this rate in the 90s (Rhode Island at 91 and Delaware at 90). Of all 59 states and territories, 46 had ICU bed-utilization rates lower than 80 percent.

I understand that these data do not necessarily capture the situations of individual hospitals or of locales within each state and territory. Perhaps some individual hospitals are still pressed for capacity. But at least at the state level as of February 1st, there is little evidence of American hospitals being overcrowded. (By the way, the situation was not much different in December.)

And because daily reported Covid cases have been falling now for four weeks, the situation today, on Feb. 8th, is likely even better than it was on Feb. 1st.

I stand by what I wrote in my AIER essay and am thankful to Bryan Caplan for sharing it on Twitter.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030