Tuesday, June 22, 2021

The Cost of the Covid Lockdowns

The self-righteous prigs who proclaim their everlasting devotion to science have obviously missed the point. It is an old and hoary philosophical concept, one that we owe to David Hume, one that dates to the middle of the eighteenth century, that tells us that science and ethics diverge sharply. 

Science, Huma opined, tells us what is. Ethics, however, does not tell us what is. It tells us about “should.” Knowing what is does not necessarily tell us what we should do.

In slightly different terms, another philosopher, by name of Ludwig Wittgenstein, once explained that there is no such thing as a scientific fact about tomorrow. It is not a fact that the sun will rise in the East tomorrow morning. It is a hypothesis, to be proved or disproved tomorrow morning. As for the future of the climate, it is not even a hypothesis. It is a prophecy. Despite John Kerry's protestations, there is no scientific fact about what will happen to the planet if Kerry stops exhaling carbon dioxide. 

The same applies to those scientists-- we are thinking about Dr. Anthony Fauci-- who insisted that they held a monopoly on scientific truth. Fauci insisted that we all needed to obey his imperious edicts-- because if we did not, we would all die. Fauci told us what we “should” do, and he pretended that science was dictating his “truths.”

Anyway, the science led many states, many communities, even many countries to lock down. We should question the wisdom behind these policies, but we should understand that they were not cost-free. It’s one thing to ask whether the policies did or did not slow the transmission of the virus. It’s quite another to point out that the lockdowns produced other problems and other calamities. When dealing with real-life circumstances, we are obliged to measure risk versus reward. 

If life were one dimensional we could perhaps make decisions or formulate policy in win/lose terms. But life is multidimensional and we are sometimes, perhaps more often, obliged to make policy when the alternatives are-- bad or worse.

Consider this, from Brad Polumbo, of the Foundation for Economic Education:

Life under lockdown was hard for all of us. From economic destruction to social isolation, the costs of restrictive government policies intended to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 have been steep. But now, yet another study suggests that the benefits wrought by our collective sacrifice were negligible at best—and that stay-at-home orders may even have increased overall mortality.  

Let’s admit that we cannot lock down these points with absolute certainty. At the least, they tell us to shed some serious doubt on the notion that the lockdowns slowed the transmission of the virus. Or that they were a net benefit to the nation.

Polumbo continues:

In a new paper, economists from the University of Southern California and the RAND Corporation examined the effectiveness of “shelter-in-place” (SIP) mandates, aka stay-at-home orders, using data from 43 countries and all 50 US states. The experts analyze not just deaths from COVID-19, but “excess deaths,” a measure that compares overall deaths from all causes to a historical baseline. 

The authors explain that lockdown orders may have had lethal unintended consequences in their own right, such as increased drug overdoses, worsened mental health problems, increased child abuse, deadly delays in non-COVID medical care, and more. So, to find out whether stay-at-home orders truly helped more than they hurt, examining excess deaths, not just pandemic outcomes, is key. 

The psychological side-effects of the lockdowns were often “lethal.” People died from being locked down, being forced to shelter in place, being subjected to quarantines.

And their finding is no outlier. A number of other credible studies have similarly concluded that lockdowns were ineffective at slowing the spread of COVID-19. Plus, other research now shows that most COVID-19 spread occurred at home, not out in the world, making stay-at-home orders all the more absurd in hindsight.

Things are not as clear as they first appeared. Consider this Wall Street Journal article, about how the lockdown produced a proliferation of adolescent eating disorders. Sumathi Reddy documents the effect school closings and restricted outside activities had on children. She does not tell us what happened to children's minds when they were limited to Zoom learning, but most studies I have seen suggest that nothing good was going on. They were certainly not being educated.

Consider this case:

Before the pandemic, Basma O’Neill’s 15-year-old daughter was lean but healthy, with a robust appetite.

But after the coronavirus pandemic hit and schools closed in Graham, Wash., her daughter spent most of her time alone in her room. She wore pajamas and sweats, and ate at different times than her family.

She was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa in January; by February her weight was 86 pounds, down from around 118 pounds.

“I 100% believe the social isolation from the pandemic triggered the eating disorder,” Ms. O’Neill said.

Experts across the country who treat eating disorders in adolescents and young adults say they are seeing unprecedented demand for treatment that arose during the pandemic. Inpatient units have doubled or tripled capacity, wait lists for residential programs and outpatient services are months long, and the patients coming in are sicker than ever.

Experts say they have seen the biggest increase during the past year in anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder where people deprive themselves of food. Other disorders being seen include bulimia nervosa, where people binge on food and then try to get rid of it with laxatives or vomiting, and binge-eating disorder, where people consume excessive amounts of food in a short period.

I will raise the other important issue. Where were her parents during all this? How did they permit her to stay locked up in her room? Were they having family dinners or even outings with a few other families? It is fair to say that the lockdown was one contributing factor. Surely, parental neglect was another. 

Unfortunately, the case is not an outlier. Children across America developed eating disorders during the lockdowns. This would tend to suggest that the lockdowns and school shutdowns and the limits on socialization damaged children, but it also suggests that parents were not doing a very good job.

We will underscore that not all countries, not all cities, not all states, closed down their school systems. Not all of them were acting under the behest of the teachers’ unions, whose motives has nothing to do with science.

Tracy Richmond, director of the eating-disorder program at Boston Children’s Hospital, recently finished a study accepted for publication in the Journal of Adolescent Health showing hospitalization rates of eating-disorder patients at Boston Children’s more than tripled in the pandemic, with the inpatient numbers rising from three or four to more than 10 and as many as 16 at a time. Demand for outpatient treatment also has risen sharply, from an average of six case reviews a week to as many as 23.

So, therapeutically speaking, being alone with your thoughts is not such a good idea. Interacting with other children in social settings is a very good idea. When some therapist tells you to introspect and that exploring the workings of your mind and soul will cure what ails you, throw some skepticism back at him. 

Michaela Voss, the center’s medical director, said many of the adolescents they see had body-image issues or disordered eating before the pandemic. “And then lockdown happened, and they didn’t have anything else to do but to continue with those thoughts, and that’s when it got serious,” she said.

Other patients replaced social activities they had relied on for mental well-being with unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as excessive exercising or restricted food intake.

Jason Nagata, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco who specializes in eating disorders, said the rise in Zoom calls and social-media usage has caused some young people to focus more on body image.

We should approach these studies with a healthy skepticism. At the very least, science is based on skepticism, not on certainties. If you want certainties, look to dogma.


Anonymous said...

I sincerely hope our leaders have learned something from this fiasco but I fear they have not. Shutdowns/lockdowns are a terrible mistake. We are adults and supposedly free. Give us the information that you have, tell us what is unknown and let us as adults decide what we will do to protect ourselves. Masks don't work. Hanging garlic around our neck would have been more effective. 6 Feet of separation is silly and obviously doesn't work. Protect the elderly and the ill and allow the younger and healthier among us to make our own decision.

Sam L. said...

Anon, I suspect our "leaders" have learned to manipulate us. I, however, living in a rural area, have been able to pretty much ignore it. I got the shots. I'm doing fine. My "trust" in our leaders is zilch.

Anonymous said...

"I got the shots. I'm doing fine. My "trust" in our leaders is zilch"

Which is why I didn't get the shots.