We’re seeing daylight after the onset of the pandemic now. Coming back, not quite to the normal we knew, but toward more functional than a shutdown. We don’t know all the data we would like for a complete picture, but it’s enough to conclude some things in general.
It has been a scary thing. The illness is real. It has taken many lives. But it has not taken anywhere near as many lives as we were told were likely—the scare that caused the world to shut down. In fact, the Imperial College model used to make that call was so wrong that it takes one’s breath away. Looking into it, people who do the technical work and coding for such things report they are appalled at the sloppy work and wonder how anything so full of trash was ever given credibility.
That’s a question I’d like answered at some point. How did a model by a British doctor who had been wildly inaccurate in every data model he’d ever produced—a person who violated his own lockdown protocol to carry out an adulterous affair—how did this person’s model get put forth as credible in the first place, let alone so credible that the world shut down over it?
The good news is that the virus was much less virulent than the model predicted. And the changes society made to keep it from spreading at overwhelming rates accomplished their purpose.
But the accomplishment may not be in lives saved, but in deaths postponed. Because the virus spread slower, but not halted. Slow and steady wins the race, as the fable says. So the virus will still make it’s way through the population. The two advantages to a slower spread are preventing the hospitals from getting overwhelmed, and giving time for development of treatments.
Both of those goals are worthwhile, but it is debatable whether they have been worth what they have cost us. It isn’t a matter of saving lives vs. saving an economy. It is postponing lives lost in this particular way vs. losing lives in other ways as a result of the economic and social shutdown.
There are tradeoffs with almost any decision. Do you risk X to get Y? Do you know enough to judge whether the risk is worth it? Leaders in policy-making positions have to make this kind of decision every day.
But one thing I think we’re observing from this pandemic response is that there have been generally two categories of response: coercive or cautious. There has been very little cavalier, incautious response. So let’s look at just the two ways.
I’m in a state with a cautious response. We did do a statewide economic pause—with most businesses closed or working from home. Food, electricity, and emergency hospital care were still available. People began wearing masks a week or so into that time. And now that we’re nearly a month into slowly opening back up, most people in stores and more crowded places (by these new standards) still wear masks.
While Harris County, which contains most of Houston, has a comparatively high number of cases for the state, it has a low rate per population. Some of the darker spots in the graphic are actually smaller populations with a fairly low number of cases that wreak havoc on their stats.
|Covid-19 cases per 1,000 residents in Texas, by county, as of May 28, 2020|
Interactive graphic from Texas Tribune
The news from the Department of State Health Services today says that Texas is approaching the million tests milestone. With the increase in testing, positive responses are down in the 3% range. Hospitalizations for the virus peaked three weeks ago and have remained flat for a month. Active cases are down over 600. We’ve had our first two-day decline: down 391 Tuesday, down 216 more Wednesday.
In other words, even though we worried about a spike in new cases following phases 1 and 2 of opening up—which was certainly a common and logical expectation—we had a temporary rise, but that spike did not happen.
It may be that we’re coming into the hot humid weather that this virus doesn’t like. Florida's outcomes are similar to ours.
But New Zealand, in their fall/winter season, just announced that their last Covid-19 patient left the hospital; they have zero active cases. So it may be that the virus has simply run its course, at least for now. It’s unknown whether we’ll get another surge in the fall. That will depend on whether there has been sufficient mutation of the virus to become essentially a new strain—like we get with the annual flu, which, if I understand correctly, is the ever-present remnant of the 1918 flu pandemic. So, that information is still unknown.
But, if the virus has actually been running its course, and we’ll be done with it, then some lives actually were saved by our slowing the spread. I’m open to that possibility. I know I’ve personally felt safer in public when people around me wear masks. Since I’m badly affected just by a common cold, I have to say the mask wearing and better hygiene by everyone has actually made me personally feel safer. But, I don’t think I have the right to ask everyone to wear masks forever (they’re not comfortable, and they cover everyone’s smile) just so I feel a bit safer.
So, for now I’m willing to look at mask wearing as a gesture of goodwill. But you don’t shame people for failing to step up to a particular level of goodwill just because you’re willing to step up there. Shaming is the opposite of a gesture of goodwill. And besides, you can’t coerce people into actual goodwill.
Which brings us back to the coercive version of leadership. Our county judge, Lina Hidalgo, is a handy example. She has tried mandating mask wearing—stopped by the governor. She has attempted to shut down parks. She has attempted to keep businesses closed longer than the governor’s recommendation—even though our hospitals have plenty of capacity and our population has not been hard hit. She has tried letting felons out of prison out of her compassion while simultaneously threatening to jail regular citizens for daring to go about their lives in some way she’s not willing to permit.
Last Thursday, when Mr. Spherical Model and I drove up to see our kids and grandkids for the first time in all these months, Hidalgo announced that the shutdown in Houston had to remain in effect until June 10. It took her an additional 15 hours to post the edict. Whether she has power to enforce it is another question.
Yet we have, safe, cautious, goodwill moves to open things back up—not a sudden mobbing of the public spaces and businesses. So coercion was never necessary.
Coercion has a purpose other than our safety.
There is a direct correlation between coercion and economic damage; the harsher the shutdown rules, and the longer they are left in place, the more unemployment and economic fallout, obviously. But there is no correlation between coercive long shutdown and low death rates, at least in the United States. In fact, there appears to be almost an inverse correlation. Texas, Georgia, and Florida so far are getting great numbers after opening up. In fact, after some brief worry in mid-March, none of these states had much to worry about.
The hardest hit states seem to be those with more coercive measures.
Texas is 15th in order of total deaths. But when you take into account population, it's down near the bottom, in 41st place.
|Rate of Covid-19 cases per 100,000 population, by state, as of May 28, 2020|
Original chart from Statista.com
I considered developing a graphic, to see whether there was a correlation by party and death rate. Maybe another day. I think we have the more typical urban/rural divide to explain many differences.
But I’m guessing that there are personality differences between the different reactions. People who are fearful submit more easily to more coercion. People who generally feel they’re in control of their own lives and destinies tend to resist coercion.
So, if you’re a power monger, a tyrant (or would-be tyrant), you stir up fear as a strategy to control your subjects.
Since you’re not a subject, but a citizen, you need to assert your own authority. In order to avoid being oppressed by a tyrant, you need to know as much as you can, to decide for yourself what you are willing to do for your own health and for others (two quite different values).
If you’re scared enough, you might trust government to decide for you when to attend church in person again. But if you’re capable of figuring out how to be as safe in a church as you are in Walmart or on a city bus, then maybe you don’t trust a government that keeps your church doors closed. Maybe you find something really wrong with how Chicago’s mayor sent authorities, swat style, to shut down a church.
Or maybe you can decide, without the help of an overseer, when to go get a haircut from a stylist who wears a mask and washes everything carefully between customers.
You might be living under tyranny if you are allowed to go to Walmart, but not to the beach and go out, alone, on a surfboard, because of the need to “flatten the curve.”
You might be living under tyranny if you’re allowed to take your family to the beach, but can’t sit on or picnic on the sand; you have to go directly from your car into the water. (Ben Shapiro suggested maybe he should use a cannon to shoot his children into the water from his car.)
You might be living under tyranny if golfing or skateboarding are considered risky for spreading a respiratory virus.
You might be living under tyranny if you’re allowed to walk on a path but not bicycle, because of the need to prevent spreading coronavirus.
You might be living under tyranny if you’re allowed to have online services broadcast from your church, but only if no one sings.
The stories pop up daily. Consider looking at each story and asking, does this make logical sense? And than ask, is this a cautious response or a coercive response?
One thing I think we’ll see is that coercive governments lead to much worse economic situations for their people, possibly combined with worse health outcomes. Again, some of the health differences will be because of urban density. And the density of Houston or Los Angeles is simply not the same as the density of New York or New Jersey. But, what if the coercive measures—for the sake of public safety—don’t actually accomplish public safety? What if your protective government enforces policies that put nursing homes at risk, and continue to run public transportation, but force you to lose your job or shut down your small business, stay in your home, and don’t leave for any reason except to get food? Are they keeping you safe, or keeping you controlled?
At what point are you willing to consider reasserting your own authority?
That’s what I’m suggesting. Breathe deep. Look at the actual real-time data for your location. Get a full picture—not just number of deaths, which goes up with no chance of going back down, obviously. But death rates per population, infection rates per population, intensity of infection for your demographic, and anything else that gives you something other than just the scariest numbers without context.
We can beat this thing. We’re doing that. And it seems to be letting up, possibly naturally without our doing anything but pray. (By the way, it looks to me that the worldwide fast day we had April 10 marked the beginning of the downward trend of the virus. Like this chart shows for Houston’s new cases per day.)
But can we beat the tyranny that has opportunistically used our fear for its evil purposes?
As plagues go, Covid-19 has been bad but not “Black Death” bad. But the government-caused economic and social devastation in the name of safety from the virus has been a worldwide plague not seen since—I don’t know. Pompeii? The flood?
Our recovery depends on reasserting our God-given rights to life, liberty, and property—to pursue happiness. It’s doable. Maybe in a relatively short time. But we have to throw off the fear to take away the tyrants’ power.