Some Covid Links

by Don Boudreaux on March 1, 2022

in Current Affairs, Reality Is Not Optional, Risk and Safety

University of Queensland law professor James Allan, writing at Law & Liberty, powerfully criticizes the Covidocracy. Two slices:

The Chief epidemiologist of Sweden, Anders Tegnell, likes to say that his country’s approach to Covid was shaped by the October 2019 World Health Organization’s and Britain’s then pandemic playbooks, which in turn had been based on almost a century of data from the 1918 Spanish Flu onwards. Don’t lockdown. Don’t shut down the economy. Realise people will change their behavior spontaneously. Trust them. Focus protection on the vulnerable rather than pretend “we’re all equally vulnerable.” That sort of thing. But somehow, in the course of about a month or two at the start of 2020, virtually all countries not rhyming with “Eden,” abandoned that century-old playbook, including the WHO itself.

Little more than a month later, and the Science™ had shifted towards a weld-them-into-their-apartments, Sino-inspired approach. Elected politicians developed a hankering to outsource decision-making to a public-health clerisy and to treat the modelling emanating from Imperial College London (and elsewhere) as Holy Writ. None of these people, of course, had the slightest clue how a modern, twenty-first-century free-market economy worked. Nor did any of them bother to model what the effects of incredibly heavy-handed lockdowns would be on welfare and on deaths from non-Covid causes—to say nothing of public debt, mental health, lost years of schooling, suicides, and domestic violence. There was not even a basic across-the-board cost-benefit analysis. Such factors were neither here nor there as far as the preponderance of our Fourth-Estate legacy journalists was concerned. The masking, lockdown, “fear is in the air” freight train was leaving the station, and they were on board! Heck, when it came to “nudging” the general public into accepting what the retired British Supreme Court Justice Lord Sumption called “the worst inroads on our civil liberties in two hundred years,” the media class wanted to drive that train, not just be a passenger.

…..

Meanwhile, a certain degree of cynicism has crept into the general public, many of whom had been terrified out of any ability to undertake sane risk analysis. I go out on a limb here, you understand, but some of this cynicism might be able to be traced back to the unbelievable hypocrisy of the governing elites. Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Britain is found to have attended boozy parties during the height of his government’s overbearing “you-can’t-go-out” lockdowns. Myriad politicians who ordered all and sundry to wear masks were filmed without ones themselves—the list here being lengthy but including Georgia’s Stacey Abrams, New Orleans’s LaToya Cantrell, or California’s Gavin Newsom. And let’s just take it as read that untold numbers of virtue-signalling Hollywood types were part of the “do as I say, not as I do” club. If, as Antonin Scalia was wont to say, hypocrisy is the compliment that vice pays to virtue, then the accolades have been anything but thin on the ground in Tinsel Town.

And who can forget Imperial College modeller extraordinaire and advocate of uber hard-line lockdowns, Professor Neil Ferguson, the man whose models again and again overstated the eventual Covid realities by orders of magnitude, getting caught breaking British lockdown when his rule-infringing romps with his mistress became public? Or British Cabinet Minister for Health Matt Hancock, a hardline lockdownista, breaking the rules to see his mistress, ultimately forcing him to resign? I doubt these qualified as essential services.

Wall Street Journal columnist Allysia Finley wonders why so many governors refuse to give up the emergency powers they grabbed in the name of fighting Covid. A slice:

New York’s Kathy Hochul on Feb. 14 extended the state emergency through March 16. Her declaration asserted that “the rate of new COVID-19 hospital admissions has been increasing over the past month to over 300 new admissions a day.” In fact, state data show that daily new hospital admissions fell to around 300 from 2,100 in early January.

She also justified the extension on the grounds that vaccines are less effective at preventing infection from the Omicron variant. In that case, then why require vaccines for healthcare workers? Thousands of healthcare workers in New York quit or were fired for failing to comply, leaving many hospitals short-staffed during the Omicron surge.

Governors have another incentive to extend states of emergency: The Family First Coronavirus Act, enacted in March 2020, increased food-stamp benefits subject to states of emergency at the state and federal levels. This is one reason average food benefits nationwide have doubled during the pandemic. Democratic lawmakers in Connecticut last month extended the state emergency declaration through June, citing the need to preserve access to an additional $30 million each month in federal food-stamp funds.

Mr. Newsom is right that the virus has become endemic, and Americans are learning to live with it permanently. But he’s trying to have it both ways. “This pandemic won’t have a defined end,” he said on Feb. 16. That makes it the opposite of a emergency.

Reason‘s Matt Welch rightly complains that “[g]overnment can’t stop moving the COVID-19 goal posts.” Four slices:

The goal posts on pandemic policy haven’t just been shifted, they’ve been uprooted, hitched to a helicopter, and transported to a different county. Joe Biden as president-elect on December 4, 2020, said, “I don’t think [vaccines] should be mandatory.” His spokeswoman Jen Psaki on July 23, 2021, added, “That’s not the role of the federal government.” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky stated unequivocally on July 31 that “there will be no federal mandate.”

Biden announced a federal vaccine mandate on private employers with 100 or more workers five weeks later.

“I’ve tried everything in my power to get people vaccinated,” the president maintained. “But even after all those efforts, we still had more than a quarter of people in the United States who were eligible for vaccinations but didn’t get the shot…. So, while I didn’t race to do it right away, that’s why I’ve had to move toward requirements.” Look at what you made him do.

…..

Benchmarks for lifting restrictions have been serially rewritten or quietly dropped, often with little explanation. Major policy promises have been made and broken within the same week. And you can’t just blame the capriciousness on the shifting viral facts on the ground—bureaucrats have been agonizingly slow to recognize advances in knowledge that support policy loosening yet lightning-fast when reacting to any new source of fear. It took the Biden administration and his fellow Democrats in New York no time at all to put the clampdown on the omicron variant, but it took the CDC and most coastal state governments more than a year to internalize that people are not catching COVID-19 outdoors.

By making a zig-zagging series of arbitrary and far-reaching edicts, officials have squandered public trust in allegedly neutral scientific institutions and effectively abandoned persuasion for coercion. Instead of a light at the end of the tunnel—or even endemic coping at the end of pandemic panic—we’re being offered a future of politicians reluctantly handing out a carrot or two before reaching once again for the stick.

…..

Vaccinations have helped decouple infections from hospitalization and death, especially with the more infectious but less lethal omicron variant. Yet elites kept focusing on case rates instead of serious illness, sowing panic and clampdowns in the process. “Massachusetts is the most vaccinated state in the country and yet here we are in a surge of COVID that is just as bad as where we were last year at this point,” University of Massachusetts Memorial Health Care President Eric Dickson said in an NBC Nightly News scare story in December. At the time of Dickson’s startling claim, the Bay State’s seven-day average of deaths was 17, compared to 51 the year before.

All of which contributes to the suspicion that governmental interventions will just stretch out forever. “It is good policy and practice to establish off-ramps for interventions that aren’t meant to be permanent,” Johns Hopkins epidemiologist Jennifer Nuzzo wrote in November 2021. “We should be able to answer what conditions would enable an end.”

But politicians and public health officials, particularly in Democratic-controlled institutions, are increasingly unable to spell out any such conditions. For them there is no end in sight.

…..

Colorado, a purple state with a libertarian-leaning Democratic governor, has taken a considerably different approach. “There was a time when there was no vaccine, and masks were all we had, and we needed to wear them,” Democratic Gov. Jared Polis told Colorado Public Radio in December. “The truth is we now have highly effective vaccines that work far better than masks. If you wear a mask, it does decrease your risk of getting COVID, and that’s a good thing to do indoors around others. But if you get COVID and you are still unvaccinated, the case is just as bad as if you were not wearing a mask. Everybody had more than enough opportunity to get vaccinated…. At this point, if you haven’t been vaccinated, it’s really your own darn fault.” Was that so hard?

For the rest of the country, the scenes playing out in restrictionist states look alien, dystopian: kids shivering while eating lunch outside in frigid Portland, Oregon; high schoolers in New York City (where the positive COVID rate among regularly tested unvaccinated kids was less than 0.3 percent this fall) still holding debate tournaments on Zoom; glum TV commercials warning parents that “without the vaccine, when your child’s teammates take the field, they’ll miss out. Or when their friends go off to the movies, a concert, or get a bite to eat, your teen will miss out.”

Asked about some of those images in December, White House spokeswoman Psaki replied, “I will tell you, I have a 3-year-old who goes to school, sits outside for snacks and lunch, wears a mask inside, and it’s no big deal to him….These are steps that schools are taking to keep kids safe.”

Yet the evidence that Psaki’s kid is actually safer because of such precautions has proven damnably difficult for the CDC to produce. America’s school masking guidance is a global outlier—the World Health Organization recommends against masking children aged 5 and younger, and only a handful of countries in the European Union were masking elementary school students in fall 2021. In trying to persuade the public that it’s actually rational and prudent, the country’s public health agency has never once cited a masking study that included a meaningful control group. Officials are operating on intuition, and as a result tens of millions of children are degrading their physical comfort, social development, and language acquisition. All to avoid contracting and spreading a virus they are far less susceptible to than are vaccinated adults.

Misrepresenting science to produce a preferred policy outcome is a terrible way to build trust during a pandemic.

Reason‘s Jacob Sullum reveals that “[t]he CDC’s explanation for its reversal on school mask mandates is transparently dishonest.” A slice:

Especially in light of this history, the CDC’s explanation of its dramatic reversal on school mask mandates cannot be taken at face value. “We’ve been reviewing the data on COVID illness in children for two years of a pandemic,” CDC epidemiologist Greta Massetti told reporters on Friday. “And we have seen that although children can get infected and can get sick with COVID, they’re more likely to have asymptomatic or mild infections.”

Massetti was understating what the evidence shows. A year ago, based on data collected before vaccines were available to anyone, the CDC itself estimated that the COVID-19 infection fatality rate for people younger than 18 was 0.002 percent. “A (pre-vaccine!) analysis from Germany shows that if a child is infected with COVID—with or without preexisting conditions—there is an 8 in 100,000 chance of going to the intensive care unit,” University of California, San Francisco, epidemiologist Vinay Prasad notes. “According to the same study, the risk of death is 3 in 1 million, with no deaths reported in the over-5 age group. These risks are astonishingly low.”

More to the point, the CDC has known about these “astonishingly low” risks for a long time. If they are a sound reason to question the wisdom of school mask mandates, that was true when the CDC began recommending that policy more than a year ago, and it has been true every day since.

Immediately after noting that children face little risk from COVID-19, Massetti reverted to the misleading gloss favored by Walensky: “We know that when schools implement layered prevention strategies, that they can prevent…transmission of the virus that causes COVID 19.” We don’t actually know that, especially as it relates specifically to mask requirements. But assuming that it’s true, how is this claim relevant to the CDC’s new position that children need to wear masks only in the redefined “high-risk” counties? After losing the thread of her argument, Massetti reiterated that “schools can be safe places for children” because “children are relatively at lower risk from severe illness”—something the CDC has understood all along.

Brian McGlinchey is correct: “Public health erred on the side of catastrophe.” Two slices:

The masses who’ve chanted “I trust science,” as they praise each government intervention and idolize those who impose them, are likely unaware that, before Covid-19, the well-considered scientific consensus was against lockdowns, broad quarantines and masking outside of hospital settings—particular for a virus like Covid-19 that has a 99% survival rate for most age groups.

For example, a 2006 paper published by the Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center—focusing on mitigation measures against another contagious respiratory illness, pandemic influenza—reads like a warning label against many of the policies inflicted on humanity in the face of Covid-19:

  • “There is no basis for recommending quarantine either of groups or individuals. The problems in implementing such measures are formidable, and secondary effects of absenteeism and community disruption as well as possible adverse consequences…are likely to be considerable.”
  • “Widespread closures [of schools, restaurants, churches, recreations centers, etc] would almost certainly have serious adverse social and economic effects.”
  • “The ordinary surgical mask does little to prevent inhalation of small droplets bearing influenza virus … There are few data available to support the efficacy of N95 or surgical masks outside a healthcare setting. N95 masks need to be fit-tested to be efficacious.”

The point of that and other pre-2020 research into pandemic mitigation was to be prepared, in times of crisis, with policies that reflected a well-reasoned and dispassionate weighing of costs and benefits.

However, when the pandemic arrived, panicking public health officials and academics threw out the playbook and took their policy inspiration from the government that was first to confront the virus. Sadly for the world, that was communist China.

…..

Lockdowns and other mandates weren’t the exclusive driver of many of the various harms I’ve described; general fear of the virus also contributed to some of them. However, it should also be noted that public health officials—and media that overwhelmingly emphasized negative stories—whipped up a level of fear that led people to overstate the level of danger actually posed by the virus.

There’s one more way in which characterizing lockdowns and other mandates as “erring on the side of caution” plays a psychological trick: Since the phrase is embedded with the notion of good intentions, it conditions citizens to be forgiving of the bureaucrats and politicians who imposed them.

Note, however, that in most everyday usage of “erring on the side of caution,” the choice to “err” is made voluntarily by individuals who bear the consequences of their own decisions—or by others, like an airplane pilot or a surgeon, to whom we’ve voluntarily and unmistakably granted control of our well-being.

The grim impacts of lockdowns and other mandates, however, were coercively imposed on society, to say nothing of the fact that so many of the edicts represented gross usurpations of power and violations of human rights.

On top of all that, the edicts were reinforced by Orwellian censorship and ostracism leveled at those who dared raise questions that have now proven valid.

Overreaching public health officials and politicians—and the journalists-in-name-only who served as their mindless, unquestioning megaphones—have fully earned our withering condemnation. Indeed, holding them accountable is essential to sparing ourselves and future generations from repeating this dystopian chapter of human history.

Australian medical student Dray Felen decries lockdowners’ myopia. A slice:

Medical students should never have been removed from hospitals. We could have helped in the chaos of soaring case numbers and a pressured health system. We still can.

Medicine cannot be taught online. As the great Sir William Osler, often quoted as ‘The Father of Modern Medicine’ once said: ‘Medicine is learned by the bedside and not in the classroom.’

It is easy to criticise the decisions that were made when one has the benefit of looking down the retrospectoscope. It is very clear that many of our myopic decisions that ‘temporised’ the present situation, often ineffectively, will have long-lasting consequences.

When it comes to investing in and training the future workers of society, there is no substitute for experience. This is not unique to medicine. Children have been ripped out of classrooms and forced to ‘learn’ online, without in-person interaction with their peers for months on end.

What will this do to their socio-cognitive development?

Incoming university students across all disciplines have been relegated to the mysterious and impersonal ether of the ‘online classroom’. Many of them don’t even know what their campus looks like let alone developed new friendships, connections, and a sense of identity.

We want to be part of the solution, not excluded from it. You will need us to be as skilled, curious, and compassionate as possible as we walk into this brave new post-Covid world. Certainly from your future doctors and from the rest of society too.

It’s a big step in the right direction for New Zealand.

A policy of Zero Covid in Hong Kong hasn’t worked very well. (HT Jay Bhattacharya)

Jason Hughes tweets: (HT Jay Bhattacharya)

Health care should be in service to humanity, not the other way around.

We could have saved lives and trillions of dollars by focusing on supporting and bolstering capacity of our health care systems instead of forcing the population to sacrifice everything to not overwhelm them.

Add a Comment    Share Share    Print    Email

Previous post:

Next post: