Human progress seems to come in waves of euphoria and depression, and each is in many ways a reaction to the other. At our pinnacles we delude ourselves into thinking we have overcome our fragility; in the abyss we underestimate our inner strengths and resiliencies. This is amplified by a media fueled by partisanship and outrage, and social media where everyone gets a big microphone unfiltered by professional standards, objectivity or reason. (This is not to suggest that the professional media has universally adhered to respectable standards.) As Peggy Noonan observed in Patriotic Grace, we now read for confirmation, not information.
The decision to shelter in place and to place the economy on pause is a first for this country and was greeted with reluctance and skepticism, and eventually fear. Based on projections we expected the mortality to be much higher than the flu, and we were told we were unprepared with enough supplies and thus we needed to flatten the curve; intentionally lengthening the duration of the outbreak in order to reduce peak loads on certain hospitals.
Shuttering large swaths of the economy is a huge unquantifiable cost we would only consider in such a dire health care scenario. It appears that new information reflects a significant overestimation of the mortality. When we referred to the mortality, we compared the number of deaths to the number of DIAGNOSED cases and compared that rate to the last flu which measures the number of deaths to the number of ESTIMATED cases, understanding that many who have the flu never see a doctor. As new studies estimate the number of cases that are never diagnosed the mortality rate drops significantly – more in line with the seasonal flu. How Many People Already Have COVID-19? These studies are small samples and may be regionally biased, but the comparisons should at least be based on the same criteria.
Secondly the shortage of respirators also seems over estimated. From National Review, The Ventilator Shortage that Wasn’t:
Now New York appears to have passed the apex. Deaths, a lagging indicator, crested at 799 on April 9 and hit 606 on April 16, the lowest figure since April 6. Hospitalizations are also declining, and on April 16 also hit their lowest level since April 6. Cuomo today has so many ventilators he is giving them away: On April 15, he said he was sending 100 of them to Michigan and 50 to Maryland. On April 16, he announced he was sending 100 to New Jersey.
If we were better informed on mortality and supplies would we have decided to pause the economy with its huge costs?
We will never know how effective the shelter in place orders were, but they likely saved lives and the heightened hygiene being practiced would likely have saved lives with any flu and will continue to benefit for years to come. Without a vaccine available and with treatments rushed through normal processes we still do not know how it will end. There is still a case to make for quarantines for the most vulnerable, and new measures to consider for large crowds and public spaces.
We cannot undo the decision made but the new data should help us design an appropriate reopening strategy. Better and faster testing would make us all more comfortable with steps back to normal.
In a Remnant Podcast (Episode 194) with Jonah Goldberg, guest James Pethokoukis suggested the importance of getting the back to work strategy correct; it would be insufferable to lead to a second surge in critical patients. He recommended that panel be bipartisan, professional and different from teams handling other issues.