A Recapitulation of My Purpose in Writing about Coronavirus Issues

By March 31, 2020 Commentary

Many people feel very strongly about the potential harms from coronavirus illness and what the appropriate mitigation actions are.  I have been asked me why I have attempted to make more public my perspective.  It really is very simple.  The people who are losing their jobs by the millions are mostly low-income workers, living paycheck to paycheck.  It is hard for most of us to even imagine what this means for them.  And these people have no real political voice; they don’t make big campaign contributions, they don’t have lobbyists, they don’t have large Twitter and Facebook armies to push their agenda.  Who is going to help be sure what is happening to them gets considered?  It certainly hasn’t been so far.

And that is my basic concern, there is no real attempt to have the hard discussion about what measures result in the least harm to the whole population.  Everybody sees these big numbers of projected deaths, which I have attempted to demonstrate are greatly exaggerated.  That is so prominent and pushed so hard by the media.  And the enormous damage being done to the lives of these low-income workers is basically ignored–it seems far off.

My life experience tells me it is best to try to keep emotion out of gathering and understanding information, analyzing it in a logical way and making a rational decision.  But I get pretty angry about two things.  One is how the Minnesota legislature, and probably every other state legislature as far as I can tell, are just sitting by like they have no responsibility to be conducting hearings, gathering evidence and making the decisions about appropriate responses.  We are a democracy, not a country that allows one individual to determine what happens in a state.

The other item that always makes me very angry is the use of misleading, inaccurate and incomplete information by politicians, and we have seen plenty of that in regard to coronavirus.  The figures being used by some politicians and widely published in headlines in the media for potential deaths in particular are absurd.  There are several posts here relating to that issue.  I think that is being done to justify the extreme mitigation measures being taken.  The risk to the average person has been greatly exaggerated, sowing anxiety and fear.  And the economic harm has been understated, with many politicians implying that we will just immediately bounce back once things are opened back up.  That is simply fantasy.

I keep emphasizing two additional issues, as well, and I just must not be articulating them very well.  The mitigation measures are designed to delay, not prevent, infection, serious illness and death.  This virus is here, it is going to be here, people are going to be exposed, some are going to be infected, some of those will get seriously ill, some will die.  It is going to happen, and all the mitigation measures are designed to do is spread that out.  So don’t imagine that the virus is or can be eradicated.  And if this variant isn’t seasonal, are we really prepared to indefinitely shut down the economy and society.  There will be nothing left, there will be chaos.  If it is seasonal, are we going to do another shutdown when it reappears in the fall? We need to have a longer term vision and plan for what the virus is likely to do and for how we adapt to its presence.

The second issue is understanding that there are a variety of mitigation of spread tactics, and each needs to be considered on its own for its additional benefits and costs.  It isn’t all or nothing.  Each added measure is incremental, and has incremental benefits and costs.  If more moderate measures, which tend to have lower economic impacts, spread out the infections enough, then adding extreme ones has a very high incremental cost for the incremental benefit.

I would like to go back to writing my boring daily health research and policy blog, but I feel it is incumbent on me and everyone else who feels the same way, and everyone who has a different perspective, to push for a real discussion of appropriate measures.  It is my judgment that we are doing almost irremediable harm to our economy and the lives of too many of our fellow citizens.  That has to be taken into account and it simply isn’t right now.  And I don’t want to hear that lazy “you only care about money over people” refrain.  This is about weighing the impact on some lives versus the impact on other lives.  And there are a lot more lives being affected on one side than the other.  I am not saying, and I don’t think any rational person is saying, do nothing.  But there is a cost to every incremental mitigation measure and those costs need to be a factor in the decision to take those measures.

And if you are a Twitterhead, share your story at #thecureisworsethanthedisease

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