The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Pump the Brakes

At a recent news conference during which he announced near-draconian measures (school closures, shuttering of bars and restaurants, cancellation of any event with more than 10 people, etc., etc.) NY Governor Andrew Cuomo was asked whether the potential economic and societal damage caused by those measures (and related federal measures) had been weighed against the threat of COVID-19. With righteous indignation, Cuomo responded that when human lives (particularly the most vulnerable) are at stake, other costs have relatively little weight.


Every day humans make and very often accept the consequences of decisions and policies that result in life or death. Consider two examples:

Every year, approximately 39,000 people die in auto accidents—young, old, children, minorities, men, women. That's over 150 people—a day! Yet, there are no media scoreboards for automobile deaths, no mass wringing of hands, and absolutely no attempt to ban cars or demand that they drive single file at 20 mph separated by 10 car lengths. As tragic as each of the automobile deaths are, our society is willing to accept them because car travel is an integral part of our daily lives and cars themselves are a major economic engine within our country.

Every year, there are about 70,000 deaths from drug overdoses. That's almost 200 people—a day! Yet, there are no media scoreboards, no mass wringing of hands and although there have been decades-long policies to outlaw drugs and interdict them, in recent years, there have been attempts by a majority of Democrats and a significant minority of Republicans to reduce the penalties for drug use and distribution. As tragic as each of the overdose deaths are, our society is willing to accept them in order to avoid a police state.

So yes, Governor Cuomo, it is important to weigh the unintended by still very real damage (e.g., small business bankruptcies, mass unemployment, loss of life savings, economic damage to a middle class that has recently been doing very well) caused by our collective reaction to COVID-19.

No doubt, some consideration of these things has been done (witness the usual Congressional bills that "protect" the constituencies that have been impacted), but it now appears that no leader (including Donald Trump) has the political courage to say, let's step back and consider the costs associated with shutting down the U.S economy. Worse, it appears that the "temporary" restrictions that have been put into place will now last not for weeks, but potentially, for months. No politician wants to be the first to say—enough! They fear a fear-mongering media that is out of control and will second-guess any "uncaring decision" that "kills the elderly."

We're heading toward a very bad place and no one in leadership has the courage to say, let's pump the brakes on policies that may very well attenuate the spread of the virus but at the same time, wreck our economy.


There is a growing chorus of voices that have watched the COVID-19 hysteria grow and are willing to ask why. But because such questions are now politically incorrect, those voices never make it to mainstream media outlets. Michael Fumento writes:
What’s always lost in epidemic hysterias are two things: perspective and data that’s readily available but ignored because it doesn’t serve the agenda of the budget-hungry health organizations and headline-happy media – with their “experts” who are often designated as such by the direness of their predictions.

For perspective, at least 22,000, and perhaps more than 50,000, Americans have died from this season’s flu so far, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a recent year, it estimated there were 80,000 flu deaths. Worldwide, flu grimly reaps about 291,000 to 646,000 annually. As in all past hysterias, you hear about exceptional cases such as Tom Hanks and wife. But how many famous actors have gotten the flu? Who knows? Nobody cares.

Alarmists will say the comparison isn’t fair in that we have some natural immunity to the flu, plus a flu vaccine. Yet, the opposite case can be made: These people are getting the flu and dying of it even though many of us have some natural immunity to it and there’s a readily available vaccine.

Further, the direct economic impact of COVID-19 (again as opposed to that caused by hysteria havoc) is muted in that even more so than the flu it’s a disease of the old and infirm. An analysis by China’s Center for Disease Control & Prevention found that most deaths occurred in those age 80 and over, which is rather startling given the relatively small number of Chinese that old. Nobody younger than 10 died. Further, almost all those elderly dead had “comorbid” conditions of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or hypertension. (Interestingly, because of the overlap in potential victims we can expect fewer flu deaths this year.)

In watching the hysteria grow, it appears that an irresponsible media is happy to parrot any "expert" prediction no matter how outrageous. That's why we hear about the "potential" for millions of dead. Fumento continues:
Regarding those dire predictions of future cases, as with all those aforementioned panics it’s sheer nonsense. Far from an exponential explosion, COVID-19 cases are following the normal pattern of “Farr’s Law.” First promulgated back in 1840 and taught in Epidemiology 101, it states that all epidemics tend to rise and fall in a roughly symmetrical pattern or bell-shaped curve. AIDS, SARS, Ebola, Zika – all followed that pattern. So does seasonal flu each year. In America, it usually appears in September-October, and is completely gone by April-May.

Importantly, Farr’s Law has nothing to do with human interventions and predates public health organizations. It occurs because communicable diseases nab the “low-hanging fruit” first (in this case the elderly with comorbid conditions) but then find the fruit harder and harder to reach.

Therefore, coronavirus will, and indeed is following Farr’s Law, too. But rest assured, wherever it does health authorities will take credit instead of saying the disease followed its natural course.


I commented on the H1N1 virus of 2009 a few days ago. Sarah Hoyt continues the discussion and poses a few comments and questions that are relevant to this post:
The World Health Organization declared swine flu [H1N1] a pandemic in June 2009. President Obama didn’t declare it a national emergency for four months, until October 2009 ...

In contrast, the WHO declared coronavirus a pandemic on March 11. Two days later on March 13, President Trump declared it a national emergency. Two days versus four months. Yet if you watch cable news, it’s Trump who doesn’t know what he is doing and is dropping the ball. What a difference a president makes.

Given the mass hysteria, supply hoarding, event cancellations and abject panic in America over the coronavirus, the numbers must be far worse now compared to the swine flu pandemic a decade ago. Let’s see if that’s true.

Swine flu caused 60.8 million illnesses, 273,304 hospitalizations, and 12,469 deaths in the U.S.

Worldwide, swine flu may have killed up to 203,000 people, more than the number thus far infected with Coronavirus, and the vast majority of those infected recovering uneventfully.

Why wasn’t virtually every major sporting event in 2009 cancelled given these numbers? Especially with swine flu preferentially affecting the young?

How did the media react in 2009? The NY Times praised Obama’s leadership. From a May 1, 2009 article,

A week after his administration first received word about a deadly flu spreading across Mexico, President Obama convened his cabinet on Friday and instructed every agency to play a role in preparing the United States for a pandemic.

The president’s comments came at the end of a weeklong balancing act in which his public words and actions were carefully measured to summon a sense of urgency without setting off a panic. It was no coincidence, his aides said, that he played golf the day his administration declared a national emergency.
Imagine if Trump played golf last week. I’m sure the media would just mention it in passing as an example of President Trump trying to avoid setting off a panic.

Otherwise the two presidents did much the same, convening their cabinets, creating a game plan, and insisting on interagency cooperation. Was media reaction the same? Hardly.

Good luck finding a description of Trump’s response to coronavirus from any newspaper or cable news show comparable to how they reported on Obama as he faced the swine flu pandemic. What a difference a president makes.

Swine flu came and went, leaving a far greater swath of destruction compared to the current coronavirus outbreak. The economic and societal disruption from the reaction to coronavirus is likely to be far worse to whatever damage the virus does. Yet the reactions are far different, flames of panic stoked by the media.
The response from the politically correct crowd would be that we've learned and are trying to damp the spread of COVID-19. There is some truth to that but as I noted in the body of this post, there are costs as well. When Hoyt writes: "The economic and societal disruption from the reaction to coronavirus is likely to be far worse to whatever damage the virus does," she's not far off the mark.