April 15, 2020
MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey
Time to Re-Examine the Coronavirus
A waggish friend of mine suggested recently that if we had been wise and prescient, we should have invested in toilet tissue stocks—not the paper kind, but the Wall Street kind (although the paper kind is certainly good to have in these times!). I went him one better, declaring that practically speaking I was well-stocked with the real thing; my experience with the devastation wrought by Hurricane Fran back in 1996 having taught me a lesson: to keep a supply of “essentials” at hand for just such crises and emergency situations. I added that if I were to run out, well, since I had an estimated supply that could possibly last the rest of 2020, then—to quote the late George H. W. Bush—we “would really be in deep do-do!”
I don’t think it will come to that. In fact, increasingly I am coming to the conclusion that despite the actions by the president and various states, some things about this crisis—this national emergency—are just not right, don’t pass the proverbial “smell test.”
Let me offer some cautionary examples. First, there is the almost total reliance on human-created “models”—models that depend entirely on the data entered into the computer by fallible human beings. You recall that when Dr. Fauci and Dr. Berx first appeared at those regular late afternoon briefings with the president, they cited models (as did the president) indicating that because of this outbreak the United States might have as many of 240,000 deaths. Now that figure—the newest model—is down to less than 60,000 and continues to drop. In other words, about the same number of deaths annually as deaths due to the complications of the influenza virus.
It has been those various models over time that have dictated our approach, nationally and regionally by state, to this pestilence. Indeed, mitigation was factored into those guestimates originally….
Of course, that is all we had, we are told. But given what has transpired we are indeed justified in asking: “what went wrong?” or rather, “what went right?” Certainly, severe mitigation measures—business closings and shutdowns, suspensions of travel and immigration, “stay-at-home” orders, personal safety measures (e.g. face masks, distancing, frequent hand washing, etc.)—have all had an effect. But is that all? Have we followed the right path in this? Have we taken the correct steps? Indeed, the percentage of deaths for those infected is actually around 1 to 2%, approximately the same as for the flu annually….
Certainly, we are told that COVID-19 is more contagious than regular flu, that it spreads more quickly, and, yes, there is no vaccine yet available to counter it (although there are some very promising drugs readily available, including hydrochloroquine, despite the shrill complaints of Democrats ). All true. We also know that the vast majority of cases and resultant deaths have occurred with the elderly who already have other health issues or compromised immune systems and who live clustered in assisted living centers, retirement homes, and in nursing homes; or with folks in dense population areas where people congregate and come into professional contact very closely on a daily basis.
What has been the solution to this outbreak? Based on dubious and ever-changing models our governors and local officialdom have effectively shut down wide sectors of our economy dead in its tracks. Indeed, our economy has been effectively crippled. And some of those actions, while certainly understandable, raise more questions than they would seem to answer.
Let me offer an example, a glaring one.
I shop for clothes many times at a local Kohls; I like their merchandise. They also have other items, bedding, appliances, whatever. The local Walmart, not more than a mile from Kohls, offers the same kinds of items—clothes, bedding, appliances, whatever. But the Walmart is open (with new capacity regulations), while the Kohls is completely shut down, its employees laid off (including a desperate neighbor of mine, now reduced to unemployment payments to survive).
What’s the difference? Walmart has a pharmacy (I go there as it is open on Sundays) and a grocery department, and both are considered by the state of North Carolina as “essential,” but Kohls has neither of those. Thus, the local Kohls is shuttered and sixty people are laid off. And that situation is multiplied thousands of time across both North Carolina and the United States.
For a month anyone—without a safety mask—could enter Walmart, browse its aisles, and purchase anything, no problem at all. Now, of course, there are certain limitations, but you can still ramble down the long aisles. Not so at Kohls, its lights are dark.
My query, then, is this: at the beginning of this shut down, why didn’t we allow the same policies for Kohls? If there was to be a limit on the number of customers in the store, well and good. If there had to be 6-foot distancing, well and good. All employees wearing safety masks, well and good. But that’s not what happened, and to me it seems grossly unfair. And we can think of dozens of other stores and businesses—deemed by North Carolina’s governor to be “non-essential”—where this would equally apply. It has been economically devastating.
Think of the differences economically, and with—I would suggest—no appreciable difference in risk.
Restaurants and the food service industry present another problem, as by their very nature restaurants, especially those that are sit-down affairs with no take out service, have been hit extremely hard by the virus and the resultant closure directives. And many of that industry’s employees are hourly wage earners, only a paycheck away from “going on the dole.” Yet, could there not have been a reasonable course of action, say, temporarily limiting the number of occupants, intense cleaning of surfaces, staff with face masks, perhaps even spacing tables a bit further apart—while keeping the businesses open and employees working? Could that not have been tried?
Hard to implement, difficult to achieve? Yes, admittedly so. But let me suggest—let me offer the view—that good and reasonable alternative precautions might well achieved similar results compared to what we increasingly see now. Such approaches would have necessarily varied from county to county, city to city, and from state to state. Obviously, New York State would have enacted far more stringent limitations. But the result, overall, is not or should not have been, to strangle our economy, but to reasonably and rationally curb the infection, with the least pain to the most people. And being without a job, unemployed, without income is arguably a greater pain than risking infection when reasonable—underline “reasonable”—precautions can be taken.
It is beyond doubt now—given the frenetic response by the media and certain politicians—that there is a decidedly political aspect in all this. We see this every day: only take a peak, if you can stomach it without retching, at the coverage by CNN or even by some of the ideologically obscene local television stations manufacturing hysteria…who trumpet COVID-19 as “the end of the world as we have known it,” and, of course, the ultimate fault of Donald Trump, who either acted too quickly (the media template back in January and early February) or too slowly (their narrative currently). And, of course, we are reminded, there is a deeply and darkly “racist” bugaboo in this whole business—it kills more black and helpless minorities. Again, the fault no doubt of President Trump. “Never let a crisis go to waste,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago once presciently said. He was profoundly correct, as every foul Never Trumper, “woke” social justice warrior type, and Democrat Party apparatchik knows fully well. Rather to destroy the economy and send us into Depression than see that hated “man with the yellow hair” get credit for any success….
And no doubt, the political aspects of this virus, for it does present an inescapable political face, have influenced actions to counter it.
Austria, which saw the Coronavirus rise in that country about the same time as here, has now begun to “re-open” for business, progressively and prudently, in stages. It is time now for the United States to begin a similar process, reasonably, prudently, and progressively…the sooner the better for all concerned.