When Did ‘Flatten The Curve’ Become ‘We Reserve The Right To Panic’?
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I&I Editorial

It was some time in an entirely different age, more than a full season removed from today, that we were told we had to shut down most of America to flatten the curve of coronavirus infections. Now it seems that is no longer good enough. So the suffering will continue, but not the sort that government officials are warning us about.

“If you look at the curves of outbreaks, they go big peaks, and then come down. What we need to do is flatten that down,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in early March, just before the lockdown cascade began.

Within days, Kaiser Health News reported that “such steps will help mitigate a surge in cases that could overwhelm the hospital system.” At roughly the same time, Drew Harris, a Thomas Jefferson University population health researcher, told National Public Radio that delaying the spread of new cases of coronavirus over the course of weeks or months was needed so the health care system could “adjust and accommodate all the people who are possibly going to get sick and possibly need hospital care.”

Eventually, after a grueling three months in which the economy was pitched over the side as if it were useless cargo to get rid of in a raging storm, our elected officials began lifting restrictions. But now we’re being threatened again with closures.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has already re-closed bars and nightclubs in seven counties, is threatening to use a “dimmer switch” on the flickering economy, and says “I am committed to intervening,” which means “augmenting the orders and advancing even more restrictive ones.”

Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who was an early “reopener,” has ordered bars closed across the state. Florida, also among the first states to lift restrictions, has “rolled back” its reopening.

Other states are also slow-walking their returns to normalcy.

The media as one would expect are cheerleading a reclosure campaign with daily headlines screaming about spiking, soaring, and surging cases across the country. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a San Francisco Democrat, favors a federal mask mandate, and Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, says he will require all Americans to wear masks if he’s elected. They say their position is based on “science,” but the objective is to create a climate of fear.

It’s true that coronavirus infections continue to increase in the U.S. But while they’ve been growing, daily deaths have been falling.

Yes, deaths are a lagging indicator. Maybe the death spike is coming. Driven-mad-by-spite Paul Krugman seems to looking forward to one. But there’s no way to know this. It’s been made clear the experts can’t accurately predict the future.

Let’s say this time will be different, though, that deaths won’t follow cases. Why would that be? One answer, and maybe the only one that matters, can be found in looking at who is being infected. It’s not senior citizens fueling the numbers. In Florida, for instance, those 25 to 34 are “by far,” says Gov. Ron DeSantis, the leading age group in testing positive. In Texas, positive tests in the 20-29 age group have been skewing the numbers.

Why is this important? Because the risk in the young is low.

In May, “the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that the risk of death for people with COVID-19 symptoms is just 0.05% among patients younger than 50,” says Reason’s Jacob Sullum. “That risk rises to 0.2% among 50-to-64-year-olds and 1.3% among people 65 or older.”

Florida pediatrician Dr. Jason Foland says most 30- and 40-year-olds “don’t actually have very bad symptoms – it’s just like the common cold.”

The U.S. flattened the curve in April. And even though, as the Miami Herald is telling us, “younger, less sick coronavirus patients (are) surging through hospitals,” Miami-Dade hospitals have reported “far more beds available than beds filled with COVID patients.” Officials in Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth are also saying they have sufficient hospital capacity. Conditions in Los Angeles are tighter, but the county is still two to three weeks from running out of hospital beds.

Also being left out of what has been called “Lockdown 2.0” is the possibility that the virus is growing weaker. This is not our hope but the opinions of a number of physicians, among them Dr. Donald Yealy of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who has said “we need to change our mindset and focus not exclusively on the number of cases, but on the severity of illness. We shouldn’t just be counting those who have a diagnosed infection. For the vast majority of people testing positive, their illness is mild, or they don’t even know they have any symptoms of COVID-19 infection.”

But better to err on the safe side, right? Well, we’ve tried that and the results indicate the lockdowns weren’t justified.

Decisions based on fear of the unknown are often the wrong choices. We hope governors and mayors who are considering another month, or two, or three, of the grind we’re just beginning to emerge from will look at latest data and go forward rather than backward. Of course we continue to cover the most vulnerable, and we keep practicing the protective habits we’ve formed. But we can’t make the same mistake twice in a little more than 100 days.

— Written by the I&I Editorial Board

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