Saturday, April 25, 2020

Straight Thought on the Coronavirus

Today seems to be the day for straight thought. This time from Holman Jenkins. Regarding the question of whether or not the virus could have been stopped, by the American president or by China, Jenkins offers a sober assessment.

Since most people who have the flu do not bother to see a physician, we and China could not really have known the extent of infection:

Columbia University once found that 20% of flu sufferers and 5% of cold sufferers bothered to see a doctor. This is why the Wuhan virus was destined to go world-wide even if China had been upfront or an American president had been clairvoyant. Every bit of data since has confirmed it. Infectious respiratory diseases are a fact of nature.

Beijing was finally driven to action by the same consideration that drove other countries to action—when the number of infected people and the duration of their cases overwhelmed a local hospital system.

At first, many officials were trying to avoid a large scale public panic:

We started off sensibly. “This is not something [American families] generally need to worry about,” said CDC’s Dr. Nancy Messonnier in mid-January. “It’s a very, very low risk to the United States,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci a week later.

Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York, urged residents to go about their business normally as recently as March 11.

As coldblooded as it seems, these were the right statements at the time. Under “flatten the curve,” changes in public behavior aren’t needed until they are needed. Roll that around in your mind a bit. The better we do at equipping local hospitals, the less we need to bankrupt local businesses and their workers to slow the virus as it runs its course through society. That was the idea we started with.

But then, we overreacted. And we stocked the nation, and especially places like New York City, with far too much equipment. This made it impossible to treat other medical problems:

 If we meant what we said, we’ve overshot in many places. Beds are empty. A ventilator shortage did not materialize. We failed to set aside enough capacity to treat other medical conditions like strokes and heart attacks. This is costing lives.

And then the non-expert experts stepped forth to sound the warning. The end was nigh. The sky was falling. It was going to get worse and worse and worse. We had to mobilize all of our resources, even shut the country down, lest the virus precipitate the calamity that fossil fuels were doing.

What happened? From Bill Gates to your local editorialist, a new priority waddled to the fore. We decided that, whatever contributes to killing Americans at a routine total rate of 8,000 or so a day, it shouldn’t be the coronavirus.

Accidents, yes—6% of deaths. Heart disease, yes—23%. Flu and pneumonia, yes—20%.

These deaths are allowed but not deaths from the coronavirus even at the cost of economic ruin for millions. Of course the media and public are free to decide now they never wanted flatten the curve; they wanted to be spared the virus altogether. But explain how this is to be done. And explain why. The Economist magazine says we can’t restart the economy without an “unprecedented” $180 billion testing regime. Unprecedented is an interesting word because China, a country of 1.4 billion people with eight cities larger than New York, either must have developed such a system with nobody noticing or hasn’t found it necessary.

With its porous southern border, with its nine million overseas citizens who can come home whenever they want, the U.S. isn’t New Zealand. Even so, I wonder if New Zealand a year from now will think it was sensible to seal itself off from the world to avoid a disease that may not be more deadly for the average person than the flu and certainly will not be extinguished elsewhere.

Some more straight thought for your weekend.

1 comment:

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

I wonder if we’ve become a nation of snowflakes now, somehow to be spared nature of phenomena like SARS-CoV-2. There WILL be another one, and it will spread quickly in dense, urban populations. The world of virology is the new wilderness... where the wild things are.

Someone will have to take the blame for this. The snowflakes will never blame themselves. Some group ripe for shaming. A scapegoat,

My bet is the obese. The more obese, the better. Especially the white obese people. They’re the worst. The Deplorables. The Trump voters.