Benjamin Franklin once said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Never has this quote rung truer than in the year of coronavirus hysteria.
King Gov. Greg Abbott has, for the last four months, exercised unilateral control over the Texas economy, healthcare system, and virtually every aspect of the lives of millions of Texans with no end in sight. After rolling back reopening, imposing a statewide mask mandate, and banning certain medical procedures, he hasn’t ruled out a second shutdown, even though the first was never fully lifted. It is unfathomable that the governor is even entertaining the idea of this under any circumstances. Coronavirus shutdowns have proven to be one of the most self-destructive, unsustainable policies in our Nation’s history. They have disastrous costs, little if any benefit, and should be completely abandoned as policy.
The shutdowns, which have been in place since April virtually everywhere in America, have already devastated our liberty, economy, children, and public health. Everyday life resembles something out of a dystopian novel, with businesses closed, churches empty, people’s livelihoods destroyed, mandated face coverings in public, large gatherings prohibited (unless they are to promote Marxism), and elected officials still clamoring to relegate healthy people in their homes indefinitely. More than 50 million Americans are out of work, GDP shrank 5 percent in the first quarter of 2020 alone, and hundreds of thousands of small businesses were destroyed, with many more to come. Schools across the country that are not closed are opening with restrictions that will make them resemble prisons more than institutions of learning.
The effects on public health have been devastating. More than 600 of the nation’s physicians sent a letter to President Trump this week calling the coronavirus shutdowns a “mass casualty incident”, stating “[t]he millions of casualties of a continued shutdown will be hiding in plain sight, but they will be called alcoholism, homelessness, suicide, heart attack, stroke, or kidney failure. In youths, it will be called financial instability, unemployment, despair, drug addiction, unplanned pregnancies, poverty, and abuse.” A Cohort study found that stress cardiomyopathy increased five-fold since the onset of shutdowns. Loneliness, anger, depression, fear, panic, hopelessness, and anxiety were all exacerbated by lockdowns, mask mandates, and media-driven panic. All kill and are all overtaking more Americans than coronavirus.
It not so difficult to connect the social unrest and increases in violent crime we are experiencing across the country to Americans being locked in their homes, shamed for socializing to meet their emotional needs, and served daily helpings of panic porn by the media.
While the costs are immense, the benefits of lockdowns are nonexistent. A JP Morgan study found the lockdowns have no benefit over alternative mitigation measures, and COVID numbers virtually everywhere in the U.S. appear to have no correlation with the severity of shutdowns.
Indeed, it is unclear what benefit policymakers are even hoping to achieve. The idea that the government can stop an endemic virus through lawmaking is akin to stopping a hurricane through legislation. Any idea of control is illusory. While policy may delay some infections, there is little benefit from shifting infections in time if hospitals won’t be overwhelmed. Even in hotspots like New York City, overflow hospitals and ventilators went unused even at the height of the pandemic.
We now know the apocalyptic models predicting a dire scenario of the virus overwhelming hospitals and killing 2.2 million Americans were wrong, and early modeling from the University of Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, which estimated the IFR at somewhere between 0.1 percent and 0.36 percent, was closer to reality.
In late May, the Centers for Disease Control issued a new best estimate of the infection fatality rate (IFR) for COVID of 0.25 percent, much lower than the horrifying projections used to justify lockdowns. Though many early studies of immunity data were criticized for testing accuracy and small sample size, they nearly all converged on an IFR of about 0.2 percent. This is comparable to a bad flu strain, like 2017-18, which was 0.1 percent-0.15 percent and killed 11,000 Texans—3.5 times the current coronavirus death toll. Later studies of larger sample sizes of over 50,000 tests arrived at similar estimates and confirmed a remarkably low fatality rate for the virus. In addition to the much lower fatality rate, studies indicate that 40 percent to 60 percent of people who test negative for antibodies may have immunity. The coronavirus threat is serious and very real to the families who have lost loved ones to this terrible illness. But it is not unprecedented and poses a risk similar to others we have faced in the past without stopping life.
Instead of altering the response based on new information, policymakers continue to ignore science and embrace media-driven panic to push incredibly destructive mitigation measures in a futile attempt to stop the spread of an endemic virus that even shutdown proponents admit cannot be stopped by government action.
How should policymakers respond, knowing what we know now? They should first recognize that the economy is not theirs to close. Make recommendations for businesses to operate in a safe and sanitary manner, gather and provide accurate information to the public, provide all available resources to protect our nursing homes where nearly half of all deaths have occurred, and otherwise let people determine their own tolerance for risk.
Finally, in order to regain the trust of a battered constituency and provide needed stability to reduce unemployment and restore capital investment, policymakers must unequivocally and vocally reject shutdowns as an alternative under any circumstances.
Gov. Abbott and other policymakers should not cause more economic and human suffering and lasting damage to our social order to, at best, temporarily delay the impact of a virus that causes symptoms no more serious in the flu in most people. To promote public health, we should be assuaging fear, not spreading panic & destroying lives through lockdowns for a virus with a more than 99.75 percent survival rate.
The coronavirus threat is serious. But it is not worth dismantling the greatest society and economy in human history while turning everyday life into a dystopian nightmare. Americans have lived through smallpox, polio, tuberculosis, flu in the absence of antibiotics, yellow fever, and other novel viruses without totalitarian measures like those imposed in the last four months.
We have endured much larger threats in the past and persevered, and we can do so again if Gov. Abbott and other policymakers would simply allow us to do so.
This is a commentary submitted and published with the author’s permission. If you wish to submit a commentary to Texas Scorecard, please submit your article to [email protected].