Over the past few years I have experienced an eternal headache as I have navigated the rough waters of writing about Donald Trump. In the morning I might be doing rhetorical battle on Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere with a Trump supporter offended that I have deigned to criticize His Omnipotence, and in the evening I am dueling with some #Resistance fool upset that I do not share his belief that Donald Trump is a tyrant, and as such I have shown insufficient angst regarding Hitler Junior.
And so it has been with COVID. When the virus became a serious concern in March I broke with many people in supporting the lockdowns and in arguing that the virus was indeed a much more serious concern than the flu. Then, over time, the lockdown forever brigade began to fray my nerves.
In an age of Google and instant internet access for all, it is not difficult to find statistics and other reports about the virus to gain a better insight into what is truly happening. Yes, even months on from the onset of COVID we still receive inconsistent and sometimes contradictory information, so I understand there may be a level of deserved mistrust in the reporting. But as time has gone on, certain facts seem indisputable.
Yes, COVID is deadlier than the flu by quite a lot. At no point in recent memory have 2,000+ people died of the flu in a single day, as happened during the peak. Even now as the curve has flattened (more on that in a moment), the 700-800 daily deaths are 2-3 times what one would see at the peak of flu season. I have seen some estimates that 80-90,000 people might die in a particularly bad flu season, but that figure is wildly exaggerated as the peak number of deaths in the past decade is closer to 60,000, and COVID deaths have doubled that in just over three months.
Conversely, it is true that COVID is significantly less lethal for people under about the age of 60 who have no other underlying health conditions. Nearly 80% of coronavirus-related deaths in the US have been in people aged 65 or older. It is still more lethal than the flu for just about every age group except the very youngest, though, so one should not casually dismiss the seriousness of COVID – especially when one factors potential long-term health impacts.
Most importantly, COVID is especially non-lethal for children under the age of about 12. There have been about two-dozen deaths in this age category, and I believe almost all involved children who had some type of underlying illness. As a father I cannot imagine losing a child, so no death should ever be diminished. But not only is COVID not very much of a threat to the health of young children, contrary to almost every illness in history (I exaggerate, but kids are called “germ factories” for a reason) kids do not seem to transmit the virus much if at all to adults. What’s more, many other countries have opened schools and there have been no reported outbreaks due to these openings. There was a concern that there was a relationship between an uptick in Kawasaki-disease (or a similar syndrome) related to COVID, but the number of cases remained small, and it doesn’t seem as though this ever became a significant concern (though I am open to correction if people have updated data).
It seems as though we have two conflicting goals. On the one hand, we need to better demonstrate the seriousness of the virus to a subset of the population who continues to dismiss its significance. On the opposite end of the spectrum, those who continue to live in abject fear would do well to better understand recent studies and data. If one purports to be a believer in science, it seems strange to be personally paranoid about a virus that has almost no chance (assuming you are in the low-risk age group) of killing you or even leaving you with long-term disabilities, and has practically zero chance of harming your child if you are a parent.
It’s an admittedly difficult dance. I may not personally have much concern about the virus as it relates to me or my family, but neither do I want to be responsible for passing the virus onto someone who is higher risk. I was very happy to return to Church last week for the first time in three months – a return that was way overdue. Every other pew is blocked off, and everyone wore masks. And yet I couldn’t help but feel a little nervous as two women, likely in their 80s, sat in the next available pew in front of me. I wondered if I could hold my breath for an hour.
And that’s why those who think they are making some sort of political statement by not wearing a mask infuriate me. Oh, you aren’t some sheep who just listens to what others, including the government, tell you to do? Do you stop at red lights? Do you wear a seatbelt? Do you pay your taxes? If you answered yes, then I guess you are just a “sheep.” Wearing a mask is not about protecting you: it is about protecting others from you in case you are pre-symptomatic (as opposed to asymptomatic, which is somehow a different thing). Yes, authorities likely lied about mask-wearing at the outset of the pandemic crisis, and they deserve blame for that. But that’s no excuse now when we know better.
Incidentally, the anti-mask stance is an odd one for libertarians. In an age of video surveillance and facial recognition, mask wearing would seem to be an anti-establishment, finger-poke in the eye type thing. In fact, it is much more likely for masks to be outlawed as facial recognition becomes more ubiquitous. Indeed, masks are precisely the type of subtle protest used in authoritarian countries where video surveillance and facial recognition are widespread. It will be ironic when in a few years libertarians protest the outlawing of masks.
Once again, the flipside is also silly. I don’t wear a mask walking around or when I’m running. I don’t begrudge anyone who decides to do so, though I can’t imagine it being particularly healthy to run in a mask during the summer months. It doesn’t seem as though there is much of a call for people to wear them outdoors except in cases where sustained distancing is not possible, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that started happening because again, nobody seems to be reading anything.
Admittedly this has been a somewhat rambling post as I am just basically venting off three months of frustration. If there is an overarching message, it’s that I wish people really would take data seriously and really think before jumping on this or that bandwagon. For example, when you see cases jump in certain states, don’t just assume it’s the end of the world. Look more closely at the data. For instance, see Avik Roy’s thread about Florida. He shows that most of the cases are in a much younger population, and that even if hospitalizations are increasing, these are cases where most people are discharged and recover. (Incidentally, the thread also gives lie to the idea that Florida is hiding its data or is being insufficiently transparent when it’s the complete opposite of the truth – Florida has been more transparent than just about any other state).
Maybe my message is simply: be safe, be careful, but also don’t feel you need to hide in your cave.