Thursday, April 30, 2020

Math and More Questions

I’ve been working out math problems all day, trying to answer some questions. I’m not satisfied with the results. I think I’m getting more questions than answers. Some of this has to do with lack of accurate data—same problem everyone else has right now.

I’ll share some of the data anyway, and then just ask the questions.

This chart compares different populations and the number of deaths attributed to Covid-19. All I’ve done is divide the actual number of deaths by population in millions to find deaths per million people. 

in millions
Covid-19 Deaths
as of April 30, 2020
Covid-19 deaths
Per million
       30.54 M
Harris County
      4.6 M
    328.88 M
 7,597.78 M
      60.46 M
New York State
      19.44 M
New York City
       8.75 M
   10.1 M
     5.4 M

There's a lot of difference between New York and pretty much everywhere else.

This is a snapshot. It doesn’t tell you the death rate of Covid-19. For that you need to know how many people were exposed to and contracted the disease. Then you divide that number by how many deaths.

So, in the absence of that data, everybody’s trying to make guesses.

I took a good look at the video getting a lot of attention this week of two ER doctors in Kern County, California. They’re making the case for opening up. And their non-numerical arguments for that are persuasive—like how we lose immunity strength when we avoid all exposure to germs. And that the costs to society at large—and to overall healthcare and people’s well-being—because we are focusing on this single health issue are something we need to be talking about.

Dr. Dan Erickson (left) and Dr. Astin Massihi
screenshot found here

Drs. Dan Erickson and Astin Massihi are doing Covid-19 testing on everyone that comes in to their five ER centers, if I’m understanding them correctly. Not just for possible Covid-19 cases, but everyone who comes in for anything, which gives them their own raw data. Their numbers show that 6.5% of those they test (several thousand) test positive. I’m unclear whether that means people actually have it, people have antibodies because they had it, or a total including both. Then they point out how many have been tested in California. Dr. Ericksen says,

We have 33,865 Covid cases, out of a total of 280,900 total tested. That’s 12% of Californians were positive for Covid.
Then they extrapolate that 12% to the population at large. But that’s not accurate for a couple of reasons. Most tests, beyond their own sample, have been done on probable cases, not a random sample. If we were randomly testing populations, that information could be extrapolated to the community the sample represents. But most of our testing has been done on people with symptoms. That leaves out all people who are asymptomatic or have such mild symptoms they don’t get a test—or don’t qualify to get tested, in many places. Also, according to some, current tests tend to have a high false positive rate. 

They use this extrapolation as “the best we have” right now with the lack of data. But, while their arguments are valid, and a conversation worth having, we really can’t deduce death rates by this extrapolation. If you assume the sample covers everyone, then it looks like more have been infected than have been, and your death rate calculations will be far lower than reality—just as death rates appear far higher than reality when you only count verified cases. Too many assumptions.

As they say, the more testing, the better. We just don’t have the right sample sets yet.

We know the death rates are much lower than what the data shows. But how much lower? Because, if it’s in the range of a typical flu year, then we can let people take precautions and then take their chances—the same way we do for the flu.

What we also don’t know is, what will the contraction and death numbers be when we get through this season? By that I mean probably the year. Flu seasons tend to go from fall through the following spring, not the whole year. By the time it comes around again, it’s a different flu, which is why there’s an annual—different from the past year—flu shot. So we can count annual flu deaths and that data is relatively solid. Not all cases get reported, but deaths caused by flu would be.

We don’t know season length of this virus. We don’t know if it will mutate enough to make herd immunity a moot point or a proper goal. Either way, we’re nowhere near the 60-80% required for herd immunity, meaning enough people have had it that the virus has a hard time finding a new host.

Anyway, we don’t have a stopping point at which we can look at the different approaches and say one worked better than another.

Among all the questions, I’d also like to know a few more things:

·         If it’s true that urban areas are more likely to be hit hard, how do you explain the discrepancy between Houston and New York City? Houston’s shutdown was mid-March, close to New York’s. New York had a few more cases by then, but not that explosive a difference.

·         Does it occur to anyone else that public transportation has a lot to do with the spread of the virus? During the NYC shutdown, they have kept their subways running. (My germ senses are making me shudder.)
·         How much lower would the death data be if we took nursing homes out of the data? Less than half? If so, why have we shut down society instead of super-protecting nursing homes?
·         Sweden did some social distancing but no shutdown. Norway, by comparison, did a full shutdown. There are differences, but are they differences in timing only? How many inevitable cases have hit Sweden already but will take longer to eventually hit Norway? Do shutdowns stop cases from happening or simply postpone them?

Mark Ramsey, my SREC Chairman, compared Sweden and the USA graphically this week on Facebook, with this explanation:

Graph of the day. USA and Sweden. As identical as possible, except for Y-axis, which is different mostly due to extreme difference in size of the population, and increased testing in the US. Based on the SHAPE of the two bar-graphs, has turning off a VAST PART of the US economy been significantly better than Sweden, who simply had recommended practices and a VERY FEW closures? Has it been "worth it"? The initial models were very very wrong, and we now have millions of tests to calibrate the risk with. The answer needs to change accordingly. (data from at 13:00 CDT, 4-28-2020)

Comparison graphs of Sweden and USA
from Mark Ramsey on Facebook

Then there are some political questions. I hope this virus hasn’t actually become political. Maybe it’s more of an urban/suburban/rural difference—which, again, doesn’t explain Houston vs. New York. Is it the prevalence of cars instead of mass transit in Houston? By the way, California’s deaths per million is about 31. I didn’t have today’s data, so I didn’t include California on the chart, above. But I’m guessing driving instead of mass transit is a reasonable explanation there too. Also sunshine.

Facebook friend Leslie May has been looking at the politics and the data the last couple of days. She said this yesterday on Facebook:

CHANCES OF CONTRACTING OR DYING OF COVID-19.... overall, Democratic-governed states are more urban with an average population density of 123 people per square mile....
average population density of Republican-governed state: 71 people per square mile
for all Democratic-governed states, the average rate of COVID-19 cases reported per 100,000 residents is 414
for R-governed states, the average is only 180 (less than half)
the average mortality per 100,000 in D-governed states is 23
the average mortality per 100,000 in R-governed states is 7, less than 1/3
by the way, Harris County, Texas, rates are 130 reported cases per 100,000 residents, and 2 deaths per 100,000 residents, lower than the average STATE....Texas as a state is 93 reported cases per 100,000 residents with 3 deaths per 100,000 residents.
Today she adds a map and more questions and data:

Wondering why certain states have no stay home orders (labeled 1 on the map below), others just "recommendations" (2 on the map), and some STILL have them in place (3 on the map)? Here's what our country looks like as with the "order" status / party of the governor superimposed on the actual cases per 100,000 people in that state. Also looked at where cases are increasing, decreasing or about the same.
7 states, all with R governors, are under NO stay home orders: SD, ND, OK, WY, NE, IA, AR. SD, WY, OK are in the lowest category on the map for number of cases/100,000. The others are, pardon the pun, "all over the map."
4 states are under stay home recommendations, including TX. The others are KY, UT and CT (kinda another outlier in the northeast, although cases decreasing may explain it). 2 with D governors, 2 with R.
39 states are still under stay at home, 22 D governors, 17 R. Oregon, Montana, Minnesota, NC, WV and ME are low in cases/100,000. Only WV's governor is R, although if memory serves, I think that is a relatively recent development.
In terms of increasing, decreasing or about the same number of cases, I could see little rhyme or reason to how that influenced these decisions -- for those in the middle with recommendations, TX and KY about the same, UT increasing, CT decreasing.
Finally, Harris County, TX, has 6161 cases, or 134 cases /100,000 residents, with 109 deaths or 2/100,000 -- about the same size geographically as Rhode Island with 8247 cases, 778/100,000 people, 251 deaths, or 24/100,000 residents. RI has twice the death rate of Harris County per capita.
Graphic from Leslie Joan May, from Facebook

Texas starts opening up tomorrow. There’s a mixture of “hurray”s and “no no no”s. I lean toward the hurrays. But I’m not rushing to a theater any time soon. And I’m still wearing a mask at the grocery store, and carrying hand santizer, wipes, and gloves for use as needed.

If we can be sensible while getting people back to work, I think that’s a win.

I don’t think it was ever our intention to hold everyone housebound until there was no more risk. We were told 2-3 weeks, and maybe a little longer (it’s been 4 weeks tacked on to the original 3 already) to “flatten the curve.” That never meant fewer people would contract the illness; it meant fewer would get it at the same time. The number that would eventually get it was expected to remain the same. See my question about Sweden and Norway above. So my question is, what's the rationale for making it take longer but not limiting the actual number who get it? Is that goal, whatever it is, worth economic collapse, with associated famine, hunger, poverty, and hopelessness?

One advantage of time has been the possibility of finding treatments that work. The new drug remdesivir was announced this week as a successful treatment. Because it’s new, it will be more expensive than hydroxycholoquine plus zinc plus Z-pac (one meme I saw showed $1,000 instead of $20). Still, it’s great news. Enough for a stock market bump upward.

Others treatments are coming. Even a vaccine may be coming soon, which would be in record time. So this could mean that the pause was of some value beyond guaranteeing our hospitals wouldn’t be overwhelmed, which it turned out was not the case even in NYC.

This morning Ben Shapiro talked about a new data piece on his show (haven’t tracked it down elsewhere yet) that there’s not a single case in which a child has spread the illness to an adult. I don’t know how they know that, but that’s great news. If true, then schools and play dates will start looking safe again. And maybe we’re in time for summer sports leagues.

At the very least, I think we need an absolute rational explanation for every infringement on our freedom from this point forward. “For your safety” won’t do. Neither will “The public can’t be trusted.” We need something like, “Here's the data that shows this (X requirement) limits spread of the disease by (X)%, and it is imperative that you not spread this disease in (X location) before (X time).” 

Failure to provide that information might just lead us to believe that fear and control are a goal when what we really want are freedom and innovation.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Open to Hope

A year or so ago I took the 5 personality traits assessment—Dr. Jordan Peterson’s version, at, to learn about myself. Mr. Spherical Model took it too, so we could understand each other better. 

word cloud on openness, screen shot from here

I think I’m pretty self-aware, but there were some surprises. One was that I am moderately low in neuroticism. The words don’t mean exactly the everyday meanings. In this case, it doesn’t mean I’m free from anxiety and worry (people who know me well would say, “obviously”). But it does mean I tend to be positive and hopeful. And I measured nearly average in extroversion, rather than extremely low, which I would have expected. I’m a classic introvert, but I’m not shy, so I guess that’s how this comes out.

The other surprise, because I am clearly conservative in many senses of the word, is that I am extremely high in openness. Higher than all but a few in a hundred.

My assessment tells me: “The closest synonym for openness is creativity,” which I am in some limited ways, I think. But there’s also this that doesn’t seem to fit me: “High levels of openness are, furthermore, necessary for entrepreneurial success, and often prove useful at the top of hierarchies, even in very conservative occupations such as banking, accounting and law, which need creative people in leadership positions to provide new vision and direction.”

I don’t prefer to be at the top of a hierarchy; I don’t want to be low either. I prefer to be independent when possible. I guess a whole combination of other personality things come into play. I am willing to restructure when needed, and lead when I must.

But I do notice one thing about my openness: I don’t dismiss very many ideas out of hand. I explore ideas. I like working with the abstract. I like making connections that maybe aren’t obvious to others.

One of the places openness has shown up in my life is in healthcare. I’ve experienced a lot of, shall we say, disappointing healthcare during my lifetime. I’m, right now, in good health, but it’s a razor edge. If I eat a wrong thing; if I fail to get enough sleep; if I breathe in some pollen, mold, perfume, or whatever; if the weather suddenly changes—then I’m no longer fully functional. No little errors or vices allowed.

Moses raises the brass serpent
image found here
I’ve come to this relatively good health after a series of doctors have made pretty bad errors. That has left me less than trusting of standard medicine, and surprisingly open to trying things that are non-standard. I don’t want to talk about what those are; I don’t want the conversation to be about any of those particular things. The point is, because I’ve been open to some “weird” things, I’m pretty healthy—and mostly quite a lot healthier than people my age. Low blood pressure, not overweight, good skin, healthy heart, low cholesterol.

I think of it as something like the Bible story during Moses’s time, when there were poisonous snakes (fiery serpents, Numbers 21:6-9[i]). The people were told to look up at the staff prepared by Moses as God directed—a pole with a brass serpent on it, now a symbol for healing medicine. People who didn't look refused because of the simpleness; such a thing couldn’t possibly help. They didn’t want to be duped.

There’s another story in the Old Testament, 2 Kings 5. A Syrian called Naaman came to the prophet Elisha for healing. Elisha didn’t even come out to see him personally but sent a message telling him to bathe in the River Jordan seven times. He couldn’t understand how that could help, and he wasn’t going to do it. But his servant said, essentially, “If you’d been told to do something great, you’d have done it, right?” Yes. If he couldn't get a direct immediate healing, then he ought to have been asked to do something important, something of consequence. Anyway, Naaman was humble enough to be persuaded, did the simple thing that didn’t seem to make sense, and was healed.

Naaman washes in Jordan seven times
screenshot from video Naaman and Elisha, found here

I don’t want to miss out on something because of too much skepticism. I don’t want to say, “That would never work,” as though I already know everything, just because I can’t yet see how it could work.

Last week I had a brief interaction online with someone who I surmise was very low in openness. This happened when a friend read the story about a study that showed hydroxychloroquine was not working and could even be harming patients. As others have pointed out since, there were a lot of problems with that study, which I had questions about immediately based on what I’d read. But my friend had said, “So much for that idea,” giving up hope for that treatment possibility.

One of the obvious things about the study was that it didn’t combine hydroxychloroquine with both Zithromax and zinc. Zinc didn’t come into it at all. So I shared the video I mentioned April 6th of a NY doctor who had treated around 700 patients, all successfully, using the three in combination.

That doctor was interviewed by Rudy Giuliani. Someone responded to my comment that we couldn’t possibly believe that doctor, because Giuliani is a shrill for President Trump, totally partisan. Giuliani is the former Mayor of New York City. He has plenty of connections there. He has an online podcast on which he interviews people. He interviewed Dr. Vladimir Zelenko. I do not know the doctor’s political affiliation; since he is in NYC, I could guess with 80% accuracy that he votes Democrat. Who knows? It didn’t come up. It wasn’t relevant. They were talking about his data, how he got it, what he’d seen in his actual patients, how he came to combine the three things.

I was simply trying to engender hope. So I responded to the comment that there was other good news. I shared the story about Dr. Robin Armstrong, who had very good success treating residents of a nursing home in Galveston.

This commenter, whom I don’t know, came back and said we can't believe that, because Dr. Armstrong is a Republican activist. He is, in fact, a former state committeeman, which the Dallas news report mentioned, even though it wasn’t relevant to the story. He’s not a Republican doctor; he’s a doctor who happens to be a Republican. Did I find that the story was good news because he was a Republican?

I did happen to know who Dr. Armstrong was; I have heard him speak several times in person, and I find him calm, reasonable, and believable as a person. But I would have found the story to be good news even if he had been a doctor I’d never heard of before.

I don’t ask the political affiliation of my doctors before I decide whether to accept their advice.

Which is what I then told that commenter. He came back at me as the one who had made this political by only providing stories that were spewed by partisan hacks.

Really? I made it partisan? I’ve collected other good news stories. But I did not further comment. This person was not willing to allow me to be hopeful about a treatment unless he approved first. I don’t need to submit to that.

It happens that I had become aware of—and hopeful about—hydroxychloroquine prior to any mention of it by the president. I had been writing about it March 19th, the day the president first mentioned it in his daily press conference. There were stories out of France and South Korea about its use. What we’re getting since is additional trial and error. Clinical trials are underway. I’m still hopeful about the hydroxychloroquine used in combination with both zinc and Z-pac. And there are other promising treatments being developed as well.

Back in March I read a story about how, during the 1918 flu pandemic, patients were treated outside when possible, and these patients seemed to heal quicker. There’s speculation about why: cleaner air, sunshine, some combination. The story speculated that maybe there’s something useful here for this current pandemic. Some comments following the article called it quackery, and called the author’s credentials into question. Other comments were supportive. Several said when they shared it on Facebook, it was removed. There’s a notice above the article that the publisher doesn’t fact check, and sends me to for accurate coronavirus info. Nevertheless, I tucked that story away as something hopeful to wait and see if more information might come out.

Camp Brooks emergency open-air hospital in Boston, 1918 influenza.
National Archives photo, included in this story

Last week, there was an announcement of studies showing that sunlight killed the coronavirus. Exposure to sunlight for a minute or two was enough. 

It’s not like sunshine as a disinfectant is a new idea. It’s been around long enough to be a useful metaphor for curing corruption of all sorts.

April 23, 2020 daily briefing, announcement about
heat, humidity and sunlight affecting SARS-CoV-2
screenshot found here

Anyway, this good news came up in the daily press briefing. Following the doctors’ explanation about this study and other things (heat and humidity also help against the virus), the President follows up with encouraging words. And, because he is who he is and says unscripted things, he uses the word “disinfectant,” talking about the possibility of using UV rays (sunlight) to treat Covid-19 in the lungs. Result: internet and media explosion.

I heard the briefing live; I was very pleased to know that leaving something in the sun for a few minutes was enough to kill off the virus. Yay! And when the President spoke, about using UV light inside, my thought was, “That’s an out-of-the-box idea,” but not necessarily a loony one. I was open to wait and see.

Dr. Birx, the expert we’re listening to for all things Covid-19, seemed unaware, but a few days earlier Aytu BioScience issued a press release about its work on using UV light in the lungs to treat Covid-19.  It is my assumption that this press release info had made its way into the President’s consciousness, but not Dr. Birx’s. And not the media’s.

Healight, explanation video on UVA treatment possibility.
screenshot from here

I haven’t seen whether President Trump has done a personality assessment. But I would guess that he is very high in openness. Reports from those who have talked with him personally are that he listens intently; he is curious and takes in as much information as he can get. After that, he confidently makes a decision about what actions to take.

There was nothing in what President Trump said that wasn’t related to UV rays as a disinfectant. Take a look at the transcript.[ii] If you heard “disinfectant” and thought only of Lysol and Clorox, and “inject” and thought only of a needle—not that light the dentist “injects” into your mouth to cure the material used in your filling, or not the scope the gastroenterologist “injects” to view your intestines during a colonoscopy—that is your failure to see things in more than one limited way.

Maybe the media tends to be low on the openness scale. That’s unfortunate, since curiosity and desire to learn ought to be hallmarks of that profession. Maybe it’s purposeful misunderstanding out of malice.

Nevertheless, I look forward to the possibility of learning whether researchers have success in treating this and other internal infections with UV light.

I am open to hope.

I’m hopeful that an effective treatment—or several—will be found sooner, rather than later.

I’m hopeful that we will accumulate even more mounting evidence that this virus is nowhere near as dangerous as originally thought, and it will eventually be seen as something on par with a bad flu year. That’s on top of the actual flu, so still a concern. But not a danger so ferocious that we must shut down the world and cower in our homes until we starve.

I’m hopeful that we will be able to open up again soon. Very soon. I think many places should have done so by now. We may need to take some precautions for a while, but I’m hopeful that we can find creative ways to do whatever hygiene is necessary while getting back to work.

If you’re not hopeful about these things, maybe that’s a difference in personality trait and you can’t help it. But I would ask, until you can replace one of my hopes with something equally useful, stop insisting that I shouldn’t have these hopes just because they haven’t come out of mouths that meet your approval.

I’m not very hopeful our media can meet this request. Oh, well. I can at least keep tuning them out while I go about looking elsewhere for good news.

[i] This story is mentioned a couple of times in the Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 17:21, and Alma 38:18-22, adding respectively that “because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished” and “the reason they would not look is because they did not believe that it would heal them.”
[ii] I transcribed it for you: “So, I’ll ask a question, which some of you are probably thinking of, if you’re totally into that world, which I find to be very interesting. So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous—whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light. And [turning to one of the doctors] I think you said, that hasn’t been checked, but you’re going to test it? And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do, either through the skin or in some other way. And [turning again] I think you said you’re going to test that too? Sounds interesting. Right, and then I see the disinfectant—where it [the UV light] knocks it out in a minute, one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that by injection, inside, or almost a cleaning. ‘Cause you see it gets in the lungs and does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it’d be interesting to check that. So, that, you’re going to have to use medical doctors. But it sounds, it sounds interesting to me. So we’ll see. But the whole concept of the light, the way it kills it in one minute—that’s pretty powerful.”

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Is the Cure Worse Than the Disease?

There have been a great many confusing things surrounding this pandemic. This was addressed with good humor in a video online by humorist Adley:

Clarity would be nice.

We have shut down the economy, taking away people’s livelihoods, which brings on many social/emotional issues that are directly related to losing a steady income. And also taking away people’s other healthcare that is deemed non-emergency. Some things can be put on hold for a week or two, or maybe a month. But non-emergencies can get more urgent as days pass. Things like cancer treatments, heart disease care, joint replacement surgery, or even impacted wisdom teeth removal.

In the face of an emergency, we can be compliant. But we want to know that there’s a darn good reason for doing what we’re being asked to do. And we reserve the right to say when enough is enough.

I thought this would be a good time to look at this basic Spherical Model axiom and see how it applies during the pandemic:

Whenever government attempts something beyond the proper role of government (protection of life, liberty, and property), it causes unintended consequences—usually exactly opposite to the stated goals of the interference.

This pandemic response is an interesting case. There’s certainly some element of the proper role of government. But there also appears to be using that as an excuse for asserting power. So let’s take a look.

Asking the Question

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
screenshot from here
What is the stated goal of shutting down our economy, leading to 27 million unemployed and a self-imposed depression? To save people from dying from the virus. OK. But people have been confined long enough to begin asking, “Is the cure worse than the disease?” That question was actually put to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo yesterday, and here’s how that went: 

Cuomo: The illness is death. What is worse than death?
Reporter: What if somebody commits suicide because they can’t pay their bills?
Cuomo: Yeah, but the illness is maybe my death, as opposed to your death. You said they said the cure is worse than the illness. The illness is death. How can the cure be worse than the illness, if the illness is potential death?
Reporter: What if the economy failing—
Cuomo: Worse than death?
Reporter: Equals death?
Cuomo: No it doesn’t. It doesn’t equal death. Economic hardship—yes. Very bad. Not death. Emotional stress from being locked in a house. Very bad. Not death. Domestic violence on the increase. Very bad. Not death. And, not death of someone else. See, that’s what we have to factor into this equation.
But the illness doesn’t mean certain death. The illness is very close to certain survival. Except for a few with certain underlying conditions, “the odds are always in our favor.”[i] Just today a study announced that the state of New York has a 13.9% infection rate. That’s 2.7 million people statewide. Infection rate within New York City is probably 21.2%. But as an Epoch Times story reports today:

With about 15,500 current fatalities linked to COVID-19 in New York, the death rate, or mortality rate, would be 0.5 percent.
That means that in New York, the hardest hit place in the US, where the disease has killed more than most of the rest of the US combined, contracting the infection means survival for 995 out of every 1000 people. As diseases go, 0.5% fatality rate is high. Flu is about 0.1%. But 0.5% doesn’t equal death, as Governor Cuomo implies.

In fact, as we went into this society shutdown, lacking even the data we have now, we feared the disease might kill 3-5%. That still means 95-97% survival of those who contract it, but that was considered too risky. It’s several orders of magnitude higher than the flu. So we shut down the world based on that fear.

What would we have chosen to do if we had known the rate was 0.5% in our worst hit area, and maybe equivalent to the annual flu for the rest of us? We didn’t have that information, but I’m asking it hypothetically.

Does shutting down save some lives? Probably. But denigrating anyone as heartless and selfish for wanting to risk going back to work is disingenuous. We don’t shut down the world because of the annual flu, or because of car accidents. Why this particular virus, then?

In government’s basic role of protecting life, liberty, and property, can government protect life from this virus at the expense of our liberty and property without limit?

Government’s Goal

Let’s state government’s goal a little more specifically. It is to slow the spread of the virus:

·         to prevent the medical resources from being overwhelmed.

·         to buy time for development of treatments, preventions, testing, and medical resources.

People have been pretty willing to accomplish those things. The first has been accomplished in most areas. New York is past their peak. New Jersey and some other areas are still facing bad times, but so far we haven’t faced what Italy did, having to choose who had to die for lack of resources.

Governor Abbott of Texas pointed out[ii] that, while we have a number of cases in our large cities, and at places around the state, overall, we have had a death rate of 17 per million population. This is while New York has had a death rate of 989 deaths per million. The US as a whole has had 131 deaths per million.

That shows that Texas has been doing something right—or has been very fortunate.

With New York’s mortality from the virus 58 times higher than Texas, should Texas continue requiring people to stay home until New York gets to our levels? Remember, that means taking people’s liberty and property. Can that be justified when the medical resources, even in New York, are not overwhelmed, and the spread has already been delayed?

Or can we balance saving lives from coronavirus while getting back to regaining our liberty and property?

It seems reasonable, in places like Texas, to slowly start going out. As Governor Abbott explained the opening up process:

If you’re going grocery shopping or whatever the case may be, you know that you’ve gone to the store and you’ve been able to do that without spreading the coronavirus. We want people, as they begin to go to the hair salon, or as they begin to go to restaurants, as they begin going to a movie theater—whatever they may be doing as we begin to open up businesses—maintain those safe, healthy, distancing practices so that we can assure that we can open up without spreading the coronavirus.
There will be some uptick in cases as we do this. But if we can maintain a manageable level, that seems more prudent than a siege mentality that locks us in our homes until we starve or get evicted. Whatever we’ve been doing has already been keeping the death rate low. Opening gradually doesn’t mean we necessarily kill more people. It means the Governor is keeping those two “slow the spread” goals in mind and is avoiding using the crisis to grab power.

The Governor is hopeful that by fall schools can open. Most people attending schools are less susceptible to severe illness. Those who are in higher risk groups (that includes me) may need to be hypervigilant longer than young, healthy people. And we can hope that treatments are available by fall so that we can find a way to normalize post-Covid-19.

Here in Houston the public health data shows that we hit our peak around April 4th or at the latest April 9th.

Houston Daily Case Count as of April 23, 2010
provided on Facebook by Leslie Joan May

Yet I heard on news that we’ll hit our peak around the first week of May, inconsistent with the data. That’s confusing.

The county set up a temporary hospital in a stadium parking lot downtown; not a single bed was used. It is being dismantled.

Nevertheless, yesterday our county judge Lina Hidalgo announced a new requirement that everyone leaving their homes needed to be wearing a facemask, starting Monday, for 30 days. Noncompliance can result in $1000 fine and jail time.

Why now, when the voluntary social distancing we’ve been doing has done its intended work already? Where is the data showing that wearing a mask when not near people avoids spreading the virus person-to-person?

This same county judge has been attempting to let felons (including violent felons in her first attempt)  out of jail because of the virus—because the virus spreads there. So, she would like to let felons back out on the street, not with a 14-day quarantine, because—where would they quarantine if they have to find housing first? Yet if we law-abiding citizens want to walk to the park without a mask on—away from all other humans, outdoors—we are the criminals.

Something is wrong with this picture.

People have been willing to wear masks. And do all the social distancing that has been asked of us. Mostly in the name of helping others rather than ourselves, regardless of Governor Cuomo’s accusations about heartless people who want to get back to work. Most people are reasonable and considerate. If they’re going to a place with a lot of contact (grocery stores, doctors’ offices, essential work around others), they’re going to be willing to wear a mask—now that government finally admitted that mask wearing helps to prevent spread both from the infected and to the uninfected. But being coerced to wear one in places where there is no need because there is no human contact with someone who hasn’t been in our house with us all along—that’s not even reasonable.

What if someone is already recovered from the disease and is no longer either contagious or susceptible? Are they exempt? No. They are considered criminal for not wearing a mask, even in places where they couldn’t spread it regardless.

To add to the lack of credibility, Judge Hidalgo wore her mask at the press conference yesterday, at least part of the time with her nose uncovered—unclear on the concept. One would assume that she is far enough away from others at a press briefing that wearing a mask, other than for demonstration purposes, would just make her harder to understand and would contribute nothing toward safety.

In a rather embarrassing lack of attention to detail, the graphic covering the story on the news listed things you can use as “homemade masks, scarfs, or bananas,” which had social media coming up with some creative responses.

Found on Texas State Rep. Valoree Swanson's Facebook page

The question is not whether masks might be effective in preventing the spread of the virus. The question is whether coercion is a valid way for government to encourage the practice.

Threats to Life, Liberty, and Property

What does coercion do? Does it protect life? Maybe a tiny bit under some circumstances. But our goal has never been to prevent all cases, or even all deaths (although we wish we could); our goal has been to slow the spread for those two purposes listed above. Since what we’re doing has already accomplished that, why this added coercion now?

If we don’t ask the questions, then we suffer significant loss of liberty and property for the sake of some vague sense that we’re preserving life when in reality we might not even be doing that.

Government isn’t in control of the existence of the virus. In an emergency—which this seemed to be—we were willing to take some drastic temporary measures to preserve life. But even under these circumstances, when government takes away a person’s business, that relates to the “takings” clause; government can’t take that without just compensation. And because government produces nothing, that just compensation comes from taxpayers—which means workers making income; it is a finite amount made smaller by the stay-at-home orders.

Has government done the right thing to shut down? We may not know until we have hindsight and a whole lot more data.

Is government doing the right thing when it continues a suspension of our liberties and the taking of our properties in the name of saving lives? Certainly not if it can’t connect the dots between its actions and lives saved. Certainly not if there are other ways to accomplish the saving of lives (special care for the most vulnerable, for example.) Certainly not if the “cure” is worse than the “disease.”

So, about government interference. Does the purpose—saving lives from coronavirus—qualify as a proper role of government? Probably. Does saving all lives from this virus at the expense of other possible causes of death and at the expense of our liberty and property qualify? The protests we’re beginning to see show that the people say no.

Are there unintended consequences to government stepping beyond its proper role? Yes. Some of them life threatening. Most of them threatening to our liberty and property—which amount to the living of our lives. When government “saves” our life by taking our “livelihood,” preventing us from “making a living,” is that really saving our life? In a few cases out of a thousand, possibly. But in an overwhelming majority of cases, the answer is no. Maybe we’re getting to the point where sensible people can assess their own risk and act accordingly.

[i] Yes, I’m quoting from The Hunger Games.
[ii] On Glenn Beck Radio, Wednesday, April 22, 2020. Behind a paywall, here