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“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.” - Ronald Reagan, 10/27/64
Things are never as satisfactory and stable as they seem, even in the best of times. Currently, with the coronavirus crisis in full swing, the outlook is grim and difficult choices will be required.
A. Disease/response – Media reports have typically compared the coronavirus pandemic to the Spanish flu of 2018, which was far deadlier, while failing to mention the Asian flu (1957) and Hong Kong flu (1968) pandemics.
Your faithful scribe previously described how the Asian flu was handled on the Princeton University campus in 1957, which provided quite a contrast with the current approach. A new challenge to the healthcare system, Section A, 3/16/20.
There was a flu vaccine available, but it was in very short supply – only the football team and some members of the administration had been inoculated. The initial plan of putting beds in the student center was abandoned due to the shortage of nurses in favor of putting beds in the infirmary corridors, etc. And “the number of cases allowed outside the infirmary [was] almost double the 25 originally set as a safe figure.”
There was apparently no thought of suspending classes, let alone shutting down the campus. Scheduled football games were played, but a weekend dance and several musical concerts were canceled.
The death toll in the current pandemic has been far lower to date, arguably thanks to the lockdown strategy that has been followed this time, but it’s a bit early for a victory lap. The media v. flatten the curve, Holman Jenkins, Wall Street Journal, 4/28/20.
Americans took steps to counter the 1957 and 1968 novel flu pandemics but nothing like indiscriminate lockdowns. Adjusted for today’s U.S. population (never mind our older average age), 1957’s killed the equivalent of 230,000 Americans today and 1968’s 165,000. So far, Covid has killed 57,000. Before patting ourselves on the back, however, notice that we haven’t stopped the equivalent deaths, only delayed them while we destroy our economy and the livelihoods of millions of people.
As of April 30, the Wall Street Journal reported these coronavirus pandemic statistics: GLOBAL - Confirmed cases, 3.2 million; Deaths, 227 thousand; UNITED STATES – Confirmed cases, 1.04 million; Deaths, 61 thousand.
Wow, 30% of global cases have taken place in the United States (roundly ten times the incidence rate for the rest of the world) with a nearly 6% death rate (only marginally lower than the global average)? However, the reported data are neither accurate nor comparable from country to country.
Some countries don’t seem to be trying to report accurate statistics. Thus, a recap (situation report 101, 4/30/20) from the UN’s World Health Organization attributes over 90% of the global death toll to Europe and the Americas with the rest of the world (over 70% of global population) accounting for less than 10%.
There are also controversies about the number of coronavirus deaths in the US, stemming from the fact that coronavirus patients typically have other health problems as well. Compare these sources:
• How accurate is the US coronavirus death count, Dr. Mark Abdelmalek et al., abcnews.com, 4/29/20.
Experts are urging leaders to take measures right now to preserve data and medical specimens so that science has the chance to determine the precise number of people who succumbed during one of the most severe global pandemics in memory.
•Funeral directors [in New York City] doubt legitimacy of deaths attributed to pandemic, letter from Project Veritas, 4/30/20.
For example: Brooklyn funeral director: “They are padding numbers; medical examiners too busy to investigate.”
•Recent study: all-cause mortality rate lower than in recent years, Crowder, blaze.com, 4/28/20.
We don’t recommend the Crowder video, but the lack of an obvious spike in all-causes mortality carries some weight.
As for the number of US coronavirus cases, the advent of antibody testing is providing evidence that millions of people unknowingly contracted the disease without exhibiting major symptoms. This suggests that (a) future spread rates may decline faster, and (b) the death rate may be lower, than was previously expected. Study shows much lower coronavirus fatality rate than prior estimates, Spencer Neale, Washington Examiner, 3/31/20.
The findings, published on Monday by the Lancet medical journal, estimate the fatality rate of those infected by the coronavirus is 0.66%, which is still higher than the seasonal flu death rate at 0.1%, but much lower than estimates proposed by world leaders as the COVID-19 outbreak spread across the globe. The World Health Organization said in the beginning of March that the global death rate for the novel coronavirus was 3.4%.
Or more recently: Stanford study indicates virus spread may be 85 times higher than thought, newsmax.com, 4/18/20.
Simply put, Stanford's study estimates that 2.49% to 4.16% of people in Santa Clara Country had been infected with Covid-19 by April 1. This represents between 48,000 and 81,000 people, which is 50 to 85 times what county officials recorded by that date: 956 confirmed cases. Similar efforts to estimate local antibody prevalence have launched in places like Miami-Dade County, Florida; San Miguel County, Colorado; and Los Angeles, California. The National Institutes of Health has a similar effort underway as well.
No surprise, there are also arguments on the other side. Epidemiologists caution against drawing conclusions from early rounds of antibody tests, Cassidy Morrison, Washington Examiner, 4/30/20.
•Epidemiologists caution, though, that the results might not reflect the entire state's population. The test results from New York in question were gathered from testing people at big-box retailers and grocery stores, but the sample was relatively small, with about 3,000 people.
• The accuracy of antibody tests also remains in question. Manufacturers have pushed over 150 more antibody tests onto the market with little vetting from the Food and Drug Administration. In fact, the FDA said April 17 that the agency “does not review the validation, or accuracy, data for these tests unless an [Emergency Use Authorization] is submitted.”
These and other technical issues about the coronavirus will predictably be debated for years, and SAFE doesn’t claim to know the answers. But there isn’t much doubt about one thing, which is that the initial US response to the pandemic was dominated by medical concerns with healthcare “experts” basically calling the shots.
Overall US guidelines were promulgated and publicized at the federal level, under the aegis of an interdepartmental Coronavirus Task Force, with governors of almost all states (South Dakota is one of the exceptions) imposing various versions of lockdown policies. Closing schools and “nonessential” businesses – encouraging social distancing - limiting the size of public gatherings - advising (or even ordering) people to “stay home” - requiring masks in public places - encouraging delays in elective medical treatment (unless related to the coronavirus) - etc.
These measures have effectively shut down a major share of the overall economy, creating rapidly rising unemployment (over 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in the past six weeks). The shutdowns occurred without a clear-cut understanding as to when they would be reversed, and many of the closed businesses may never be reopened.
The federal government has also approved a slew of economic relief measures, which between spending and loan programs will add up to a total of some $9 trillion. Discussion continues as to the perceived need for additional economic relief.
Government aid can ease distress in the short term, but this country won’t keep going for long without a functioning economy to supply the goods and services that people need or want. Relying on the government to run the economy (aka Socialism) has never worked very well, and it won’t work in the United States. Why economic freedom is vital to beat the coronavirus, Kay Coles James, townhall.com, 3/26/20.
Americans initially supported the handling of the pandemic response by a wide margin, but as time passes they have started to wonder. Here’s a sampling of some of the questions that are surfacing:
Tens of thousands of Americans are dying from the coronavirus, including at nursing homes etc. where they should be safe, so how do we know that lockdown strategies have actually saved lives? And by the way, what’s happening to the health of millions of people who have effectively been informed that their functions are nonessential and encouraged to “stay home” with nothing much to do but binge-watch TV, order takeout food, etc.
Our leaders keep coming up with new restrictions to harass us, while moving the goalposts on getting back to normal. Isn’t it funny, too, how comfortable some of them seem to be with calling all the shots and leaving us in the dark?
Where in the Constitution does it say government officials can wield this kind of power, don’t “we the people” have something to say about what’s going on. And if we call to ask questions, will there be anyone at the other end to answer the phone?
There have even been scattered instances of civil resistance, such as a rally of protestors at the Michigan legislature to express dissatisfaction with the high-handed orders of Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The taped speeches by former Sheriff David Clark and Katherine Henry, Esq. sound reasonable, but the nonobservance of social distancing, “lock her up” chanting, and carrying of weapons provide obvious fodder for the other side. Video (2:11), youtube.com, 4/30/20.
There has also been a bit of pushback in the typically moderate state of Delaware. See, e.g., a 4/30/20 letter to the governor from all 15 GOP members of the Delaware House of Representatives.
More government aid is not the answer. Enhanced unemployment benefits, and new government loans and grants, while buying some time, cannot take the place of a functioning economy. Reengaging Delaware’s economy needs to be a top consideration, yet your re-start plan lacks any sense of urgency or predictability. *** Delawareans are desperate for action.
The following day, a crowd of protestors reported to be in the “hundreds” gathered outside of Legislative Hall, although no legislators were present, and there was a smaller demonstration in Wilmington near the governor’s office. Whether the protests will have any effect remains to be seen, but in previous statements Governor Carney has indicated that he isn’t contemplating any major changes. Carney urges patience on reopening in Delaware, Matt Bittle, Delaware State News, 4/21/20.
“I don’t want to reopen the economy a day too soon and I don’t want to delay it a day longer if I can avoid it,” Gov. Carney said. “I want everyone to understand the science around the decision making.”
Other state governors are probably thinking along similar lines. Even assuming some of their lockdown policies are needlessly strict, they won’t readily admit it just because a vocal minority is growing restive. Reopening of states, cities, etc. will typically be deferred until coronavirus cases have clearly passed their peak, which still hasn’t happened in many places, and will take place in phases with a host of residual restrictions. Time for reopening, Michael Barone, Washington Examiner, 4/29/20.
In short, a consensus to reopen this country seems possible, but it can’t be achieved overnight. Even assuming a national course correction starting now, economic conditions would still be subpar when the elections take place in November.
B. China – China’s culpability for the coronavirus pandemic has been previously discussed. The disease originated in the vicinity of Wuhan (Hubei Province), alarmed doctors were silenced, misinformation that the virus wasn’t highly contagious was provided to the US and other countries with the apparent support of the UN’s World Health Organization, and travel from Wuhan was only blocked to the rest of China versus globally. The partisan divide keeps getting deeper, Section C, 4/20/20.
Far from admitting any of these mistakes, the Chinese government has tried to insinuate that this country is somehow responsible. Chinese official blames coronavirus outbreak on US military, Bob Fredericks, New York Post, 3/12/20.
“When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!” Zhao tweeted in English in one of a series of tweets critical of the US.
Also, offers to send US experts to review the situation in Wuhan have been repeatedly spurned, adding to a climate of deepening mistrust. China spurned CDC offer to send team to help contain coronavirus, Madeline Farber, foxnews.com, 1/28/20.
[US Health Secretary Alex] Azar said the U.S. has made repeated offers to send a team of CDC officials to China to help with the outbreak response. The offer was first made on Jan. 6, he said, adding U.S. officials have continued to urge more transparency from the country as the disease spreads. "This is a major public health issue, and we need the best public health people in the world right now [to respond].”
As various observers have noted, differences between the US and China did not begin – nor will they end – with the coronavirus pandemic. Simply put, China aspires to global domination, which at a minimum would entail taking the US down a peg or two. China is America’s foremost enemy, Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner, 3/18/20.
Among the differences (from a US perspective): Chinese conduct of international trade, including the theft of intellectual property as a means of catching up with and eventually surpassing other nations. Plans to subjugate the freedom-loving residents of Hong Kong, which became a genuine democracy while existing as a British-controlled territory. Plans to militarize the South China Sea, turning it effectively into a Chinese-controlled lake, and reclaim the “lost province” of Taiwan.
To divert attention from its role in the coronavirus pandemic and take advantage of an internal crisis in the US, China might conceivably gamble on some aggressive military move. A coronavirus outbreak on a US aircraft carrier, forcing the Theodore Roosevelt to proceed to port in Guam, was doubtless noted. Watch out in the South China Sea, Wall Street Journal, 4/23/20.
• With the world preoccupied by the coronavirus pandemic, China has been looking to exert more military control in the South China Sea. This week three warships from the U.S. Seventh Fleet, joined by an Australian frigate, responded by sailing into the disputed waters in a show of force. The danger is that Chinese naval officers misread America’s public mood and think they can embarrass the U.S. without escalation.
•Another potential flashpoint is Taiwan, which has won deserved international recognition for its handling of the coronavirus. That’s also infuriated China, which has increased military flyovers close to the island.
Blame China for allowing the coronavirus pandemic to get started, add in all the other elements in the picture, and the future for Chinese-US relations doesn’t look very bright. Even worse, what if China’s actions re the coronavirus were malicious rather than simply negligent? Occam’s razor – the case of the Chinese coronavirus, Richard Lawless, conservativehq.com, 4/29/20.
It’s been suggested that the US should hold China accountable for the coronavirus damage that has been done, but how? Simplistic ideas like canceling the $1+ trillion in US government debt that is currently held by China would predictably backfire; it would likely make more sense to focus on ongoing relations versus “demanding” reparations. How to hold China accountable for COVID-19, Riley Walters & Dean Cheng, dailysignal.com, 4/21/20.
Whatever approach(es) are selected in an effort to strike the right balance with China, implementation will be a long-term proposition. So as with the domestic coronavirus crisis, the current problems will still be around come November.
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Next week’s entry will shift from the foregoing problems to potential solutions. Among the sources will be the president’s virtual townhall on “America Together: Returning to Work,” which was broadcast from the Lincoln Memorial last night (Brett Baier & Martha MacCallum, Fox News, 7-9 PM), and reactions thereto. Regrettably, it's still hard to discern the makings of a credible recovery plan.
#Let us hope there is some common sense left in this country. – SAFE member (DE)