Some Covid Links

by Don Boudreaux on January 9, 2022

in Current Affairs, Legal Issues, Reality Is Not Optional, Risk and Safety, Seen and Unseen, Video

Dan McLaughlin is dismayed by Associate Justices Stephen Breyer’s and Sonia Sotomayor’s attitude toward unvaccinated workers. A slice:

The raw transcript fails to capture the scorn dripping from Breyer’s voice when he said “unvaccinated others.” It is certainly a turn of sorts for the Court’s liberals to argue that it’s acceptable for workplace laws to drive out employees because other people might quit rather than work with them. Just imagine the response if this had been said by a justice about, say, people with HIV. In 1987, Justice William Brennan was sticking up for a teacher with tuberculosis. How liberal attitudes have changed.

The irony, of course, is that the entire conceptual framework of unvaccinated people being a risk to the vaccinated is obsolete with the Omicron variant, which spreads with as much ease between vaccinated people as unvaccinated. That does not make vaccination irrelevant; the greater ease of spread means that you are taking a greater personal risk to yourself by remaining unvaccinated, because it’s harder to avoid the disease, so it’s all the more urgent to build your immunity to serious illness. But it does mean that this sort of rhetoric about the unvaccinated as toxic subhuman presences in the workplace is already outdated in 2022.

Samuel Chamberlain is among those who are unimpressed with the knowledge about Covid – and even about the law – expressed by some U.S. Supreme Court associate justices during Friday’s oral arguments over Biden’s abominable vaccine mandates. A slice:

Perhaps more disturbingly, Sotomayor said at another point in the argument that “I’m not sure I understand the distinction why the states would have the power” to institute a rule like the one being pursued by the Biden administration, “but the federal government wouldn’t.”

Especially the first half of this long essay, from December 2020, by David Cayley is quite incisive. (HT Geoff Graham) Two slices:

From the very beginning of the pandemic, there has been a steady drumbeat of scientific criticism of the policy of total quarantine – the name I will give to the attempt to keep SARS COV-2 at bay until a vaccine can be administered to all. The first instance to come to my attention was a paper by epidemiologist John Ioannidis, a professor of medicine at Stanford, particularly expert in bio-medical statistics. He warned of the “fiasco” that would result from introducing drastic measure in the absence of even the most elementary data, such as the infection mortality rate of the disease and the costs of immobilizing entire populations. What some of these costs might be was spelled out in a May 16th article in the British journal The Spectator by Ioannidis’s colleague, Jayanta Bhattacharya, writing with economist Mikko Packalen of Ontario’s Waterloo University. Entitled “Lives v. Lives” it argued that the deaths that would be caused by lockdowns were likely to far outnumber the deaths averted. They projected, for example, a massive increase in child mortality due to loss of livelihood – an increase completely out of scale with the effects of the pandemic. They also pointed out that lockdowns protect those already most able to protect themselves – those in comfortable situations for whom “working from home” is no more than a temporary inconvenience – and endanger those least able to protect themselves – the young, the poor and the economically marginal. By summer a stellar group of Canadian health professionals had recognized the same dangers as Bhattacharya and Packalen. In their open letter to Canada’s political leaders, they pleaded for “a balanced response” to the pandemic, arguing that the “current approach” posed serious threats to both “population health” and “equity.” This group included two former Chief Public Health Officers for Canada, two former provincial public health chiefs, three former deputy ministers of health, three present or former deans of medicine at Canadian universities and various other academic luminaries – a virtual Who’s Who of public health in Canada. Nevertheless, their statement created barely a ripple in the media mainstream – an astonishing fact which I’ll return to presently.

This pattern has continued – most recently with the Great Barrington Declaration. This was a statement, issued on Oct. 6 by Martin Kulldorf, a professor of medicine at Harvard, Sunetra Gupta, a professor of theoretical epidemiology at Oxford, and Jay Bhattacharya of Sanford, whom I introduced a moment ago. Their statement deplored “the devastating effects on … public health” of the present policy and advocated “focused protection” – a policy of protecting those at risk from COVID while allowing everyone else to go about their business. In this way, they reasoned, immunity could gradually build up in the healthy population, without endangering those who are particularly vulnerable to the disease.
This brings up the third and decisive point: the definition of public health.  Can this definition be confined to the prevention of a single disease, however much of a challenge it poses, or must it be conceived as taking in all the various determinants of health? If the second definition be accepted, then I think a case can be made that the policy of total mobilization against COVID has been a catastrophe. Consider just a preliminary sketch of the consequences. There has been widespread and potentially fatal loss of livelihood throughout the world, especially amongst economically marginal groups. Businesses that have taken years to build have been destroyed. Suicide, depression, addiction and domestic violence have all increased. Public debt has swelled to potentially crippling proportions.  The performing arts have been devastated. Precious “third places” that sustain conviviality have closed. Fear has been sown between people. Homelessness has grown to the point where some downtown Toronto parks have begun to resemble the hobo camps of the 1930’s. There have been surges in other diseases that have gone untreated due to COVID preoccupation. Many formerly face-to-face interactions have been virtualized, and this change threatens, in many cases, to become permanent – it seems, for example, that “leading universities” like Harvard and U.C. Berkeley have enthusiastically adopted on-line teaching in the hopes of franchising their expertise in future. The list goes on. Is this a worthwhile price to pay to avert illness amongst healthy people who could for the most part have sustained the illness? The question, by and large, has not even been asked. We don’t even know how much illness has been averted by our draconian policies, and we probably never will, since the experiment of comparing a locked down population to a freely circulating one would be impossible to conduct. In the absence of such an experiment most discussion will founder on the elementary distinction between correlation and cause – that a lockdown was introduced and the disease abated does not prove that the lockdown was the cause of the abatement.

George Leef applauds Novak Djokovic for resisting the Covidocracy.

Wesley Smith is rightly terrified of the wish of Ezekiel Emmanuel, Michael Osterholm, and Celine Gounder to keep society terrified of respiratory diseases. Two slices:

The authors would then use the fear generated to force massive investments in public health infrastructure and increased bureaucracies. The end result would be health technocracy without end.
No one opposes the keeping of statistics, proper monitoring of diseases, development of new vaccines and therapeutics, improving ventilation at schools and workplaces, and creating greater access to testing and effective masks for those who want them.

But these authors are after much bigger game than that. They are paving the way for imposing a public-health technocracy on society that would use continual emergency declarations — based on aggregate peak week respiratory illness statistics — to constrain personal freedom in the name of preventing illness.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, John Judis and Ruy Teixeira describe just how ‘the science’ is (not) being followed in the fight against Covid.

el gato malo rightly criticizes the WHO for further damaging its credibility by exaggerating the risks of omicron.

Noah Carl reports on a new paper in the New England Journal of Medicine the authors of which find that, in Carl’s words, “natural immunity to the original Wuhan strain reduces the risk of severe disease from Alpha or Beta – conditional on infection – by about 90%. And if you assume that Alpha and Beta are more virulent than the original Wuhan strain, the risk reduction is even greater.”

Gloomsters who wanted to impose severe restrictions in Britain admit they were wildly wrong about 75,000 Omicron deaths.

Nick Comilla decries “the tyranny of the risk averse.” Three slices:

By overreaction, I mean things like ongoing restrictions, lockdowns, curfews, mask mandates, etc. For instance, in Quebec, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in the entire world, they are going into a second curfew with restrictions that are more stringent than the first lockdowns. They are the only area in North America to enforce a literal government ‘curfew’ to try and (once again) slow the spread of the virus. People are not allowed to leave their homes after 10pm – not even to walk their dogs. The reasoning for this – which seems to be one of two justifications left for people who are in favour of restrictions – is the idea that we need to resort to restrictions whenever there is a ‘rise in cases’ in order to ‘free up hospital capacity’. The other remaining justification for restrictions is the view that the mitigation of Covid is essentially a social responsibility, and that measures should be in place that impact everyone so that the most vulnerable won’t contract the virus – namely, the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions.

These justifications don’t hold water for various reasons. At best, they’re delusional, at worst – as this essay will argue – they’re hysterical and harmful.
Once the argument about overall risk collapses, the narrative shifts to ICU capacity. But even before Covid, it was not unusual for ICU’s to run at 80-90% capacity. A more logical approach would be to expand ICU capacity, rather than hold the rest of society hostage as if daily life is beholden to ICU capacity. Even during the initial wave, expanded capacity initiatives like field hospitals and the Comfort ship were sent away early while cautious restrictions remained in place. Part of moving on to an endemic perspective is accepting that expanded capacity will sometimes be needed, and that we ought to adjust to that reality, rather than to the idea that we interrupt normal life whenever cases rise. Putting an entire province on curfew and closing indoor dining and bars, for example, seems disproportionately cruel and nonsensical when nurses are still allowed to work with Covid and we’ve shortened isolation periods because we’re finally recognising human impact. Either we’re in a singular emergency or we’re not: you can’t expect people to suddenly ‘play emergency’ because of rising ICU occupancy.

As for protecting the elderly, aside from the reality that it’s been two years and vaccines are widely available, there is a significant and growing body of evidence that mitigation attempts and the consequences of them result in more life years lost than gained. We can’t afford to press an emergency brake on society every time ICUs near capacity limitations, or every time more people over the age of 80 die, because the consequences of these never-ending mitigation measures on society at large are dire and exponentially worse. Being neurotically hyper-focused on one issue is blinding us to all the adverse consequences of trying to mitigate that issue. Lockdowns and their consequences have been a disaster for the human race. Wherever you look – increased domestic and child abuse, deteriorating mental health, an increase in drug overdoses – every segment of society is suffering long term damage from the hysteria of the past two years. Children have lost nearly two years of learning and normal educational developmental trajectories. Loss of income and businesses lead to deaths of despair. It isn’t selfish to say we can’t afford to do this. Those concerned with trying to mitigate harm to the elderly need to come up with ways to do so that don’t cause lasting and profound damage to everyone else.
Who is the one throwing a fit? People who are rightfully angry about every aspect of their lives being disrupted for two years or the people who endlessly clamour for this to continue at every turn? Acknowledging that this was a ‘tough call but the right thing to do’ is a Kafka-trap of a phrase as it doesn’t invite any room for questioning. The sentiment presupposes its own necessity and moral superiority. It doesn’t give others any room to object, to say ‘I don’t consent’ to being overprotected. It acknowledges the difficult part – ‘tough call’ – but only to minimise or downplay it. Other phrases came to mind: for your safety and the safety of others. Out of an abundance of caution…. what occurred to me was that I never asked to be kept safe. In fact, myself and many other people are quite well adapted to certain levels of risk as we were not raised in what Jonathan Haidt refers to as ‘antifragile’ environments. The cancelled concert in question, by the way, required proof of vaccination to enter and if you felt so inclined, you could of course wear a mask while you were there. What’s more, it’s hard to imagine that the average age of attendance was much higher than 35. These cancellations came during the onslaught of the Omicron media-panic and were followed by more cancellations and more restrictions. The concert was going to be, by all measures, as safe as it could possibly be. The alternative to cancelling it was simple enough: if you don’t feel comfortable, as with anything else, don’t attend. Problem solved.

It’s time for the public and public policymakers alike to admit that sometimes ‘an abundance of caution’ is an overabundance of caution.

Kate Andrews observes that “Covid has made America more divided than ever.”

Telegraph columnist Janet Daley is correct: “Inept Government decisions are the real root cause of our problems.” A slice:

So, for example, a cursory reading of the coverage of the staffing emergency which has hit hospital and primary healthcare services is simply that it is an inevitable consequence of the omicron variant of Covid which spreads so rapidly that it is now infecting unprecedented numbers of NHS employees.

But that is not really true, is it? It is not omicron which is responsible for all these staff absences since the illness it causes in healthy people generally amounts to no more than a mild cold – when it produces symptoms at all. Many of the huge numbers of staff unable to report for work are not staying away because they are sick but because they have been ordered to isolate if they test positive for Covid, even if they are completely asymptomatic.

In this interview, Jay Bhattacharya discusses the overlooked harms of lockdowns.

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