Part 3: Caveats of my Covid plan.

MY PHASE 1: Starting now, passing legislation similar to that of S. Korea, which gave the government authority to collect mobile phone, credit card, and other data from those who test positive to reconstruct their recent whereabouts. That information, stripped of personal identifiers, is shared on social media apps that allow others to determine whether they may have crossed paths with an infected person. This is necessary, since we are so far behind S. Korea in our capabilities to test and trace, and our understanding of how a respiratory virus spreads. Pass such legislation immediately, then institute a 14-day “hard lockdown” of any city or town with any known infected persons I believe would better serve our populace, even starting now, than what we are doing now. In addition, prolong the current rules of closing “non-essential” businesses and group activities, and required wearing of masks of the asymptomatic (protection for others rather than the wearer) for 14 days!

Caveats: Could the US and all the state governments actually agree on and pass legislation similar to that of S. Korea? How long would that take? Would Americans accept such measures? What I am calling a “hard lockdown” means NO travel (other than essential commercial distribution) allowed by any means to or from any city or town with documented cases for 14 days. How could travel be prevented? How can closures and mask wearing be enforced? If after the 14 day hard lockdown, cases start to increase in a specific city or town, will the people accept a new 14 day period, after their brief taste of freedom and raised expectations? Before I answer those questions, I want to give some examples of the dynamic between virtue and freedom.

Takimag.com: In the Athenian democracy, virtue trumped freedom, according to Plato, especially as the democratic mob had put his mentor Socrates to death. Today, in the name of freedom, dour, self-appointed social justice warriors who cannot conjugate a verb correctly have shut down free speech in Western universities. In the name of freedom, Democrats in the U.S. Congress tried to hold up the stimulus bill in order to extort funds for “national minorities and gender pay equities.” In the name of freedom of expression, CNN complained that the presidential task force against the virus lacked diversity. Nancy Pelosi demanded special LGBTQ provisions in Trump’s $2 trillion package, delaying it’s passage. The impeachment farce was a deadly distraction just at the time early action needed to be taken on Covid-19. Joe Biden called Trump a racist three weeks ago for banning flights from China. NBC invited the billionaire hedge funder Bill Ackman to tearfully predict that “Hell is coming,” while having shorted the market the day before and cashing in a cool 2.6 billion greenbacks. (Under normal conditions that would merit jail, but people’s minds are elsewhere.) In fact it’s a depravity of freedom that has large parts of the world’s media praise the communist regime for coming clean in mid-February, rather than late December. And it is a bigger depravity to condemn those who point the finger at the Chinese as racists. And then one has virtue, like the hundreds of thousands of volunteers against the virus, the thousands upon thousands of front-line defenders who risk their lives daily, and of course the Germans giving the rest of Europe ventilators and a chance to survive. 

What has democracy been historically but demagoguery, in the main? “To hear these defenders of democracy talk,” wrote Joseph de Maistre in his Study on Sovereignty, “one would think that people deliberate like a committee of wise men, whereas in truth judicial murders, foolhardy undertakings, wild choices, and above all foolish and disastrous wars are eminently the prerogatives of this form of government.” For our Founding Fathers, who intended this country to be a Constitutional Republic, democracy meant mob rule. In truth, we are essentially passionate animals, and therefore often irrational when our comforting expectations are thwarted, or when things don’t go as we wish.

Phase 1 is the hardest part. Could my plan work? Could the US and all the state governments actually agree on and pass legislation similar to that of S. Korea? Realistically, based on what I see taking place, the wrangling we have experienced already, and the adversarial relationships between the parties, the president and the media, I would say “no”. How long would that take? Even if agreement was reached eventually, the lockdown would continue even longer than curently projected. Would Americans accept such measures? Very doubtful. What I am calling a “hard lockdown” means NO travel allowed by any means to or from any city or town with documented cases for 14 days. How could travel be prevented? Imagine police or even National Guard roadblocks, checking license plates, turning back hundreds of drivers, chasing (even shooting?) those who try to get away. How can closures and mask wearing be enforced? Fines (like $1,000 in Laredo, Tx), cutting power to or padlocking scofflaw businesses, arrests (if the courts are even open). If after the 14 day hard lockdown, cases start to increase in a specific city or town, will the people accept a new 14 day period, after their brief taste of freedom and raised expectations? Once again, not likely. Police will already have been fatigued by the first 14 day lockdown. To summarize, I think my plan would be better, if enforceable, but I don’t think enough of our populace has the civic virtue, maturity, trust in authority, and self discipline to obey the directives of a hard lockdown nor, especially, the measures probably required to enforce it. Therefore, we have what we have.

If your contention is correct, why have so many individuals and businesses voluntarily complied with the “social distancing” orders/recommendations for even longer than 14 days? I alluded to that in Part 1. I can’t get a haircut across the street but I can drive anywhere I want. HARD restrictions and requirements–wearing masks and no driving out of your city–are more likely to be pushed against, especially if combined with cellphone and credit card tracking and other “privacy violations”. No populace in the world is more protective of their illusions of privacy and freedom, especially compared to Asian cultures.

MY PHASE 2: See the official “roadmap to reopening.” It makes a lot of assumptions about increasing our ability to test for and track infections, and provide medical care, and has fewer negative economic repercussions than Phase 1.

My “not road map” to Reopening, Part 2. Plan considerations.

I don’t know if my ideas are logistically or politically possible, or if they are, whether the stupid or selfish or irresponsible folks among us would destroy the plan, and who am I anyway? I am a nobody, just a guy…who thinks a lot. Before I break down my alternative plan (not a road map, for reasons discussed in the previous post), I want to explain why I would start it from right now, April 4, 2020. It is both useless and counterproductive to criticize what has already been done or what we failed to do.

Why? January 22, 2020, from Smithsonianmag.com: For now, the Center for Disease Control has declared the immediate health risk the virus poses to the American public to be low. The infected patient, a man from Washington state who recently returned home from a trip to Wuhan, China, began experiencing symptoms last week, and was quickly hospitalized. He remains in isolation at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Washington. This week, millions of people will be traveling to China for Lunar New Year on January 25. However, as Qin and Wang report for the New York Times, many have begun to cancel their trips to the Wuhan and surrounding regions. Until we have more information, it’s really hard to know how worried we should be,” says Josie Golding, an infectious disease expert at the Wellcome Trust, in an interview with the BBC. Already, comparisons to SARS have fueled some fear, she says. But a lot has changed since then, she adds. Now, “we’re a lot more prepared to deal with those types of diseases.”

Were we? From Newsweek, April 3, 2020: As of this morning, over 245,000 cases have been reported in the U.S., by far the highest tally in the world. More than 6,000 deaths have been recorded in the U.S. and over 9,200 people have recovered, according to Johns Hopkins University, which has been tracking the outbreak using combined data sources. Over 53,000 people have died globally since the outbreak of coronavirus began in Wuhan late last year. There have been over one million confirmed cases globally, with almost 212,000 recoveries.

So the reality is, the normal human cocktail of hubris, wishful thinking, shortsightedness, and “business as usual” scurrying about has allowed a faster and wider distribution of this a lot more prepared to deal with those type of disease.” My plan will be heavier on human psychology, crowd behavior and economic/health long term tradeoffs and lighter on immediate public health considerations than the official “road map”.

We are already in official phase 1, and I believe we have been in it too long already. There comes a point–I call it the “crossover point”–when the financial and emotional damage to families and individuals (from the imposed conditions) will kill, or irreparably harm, more people than would have died from the disease itself. Neither I nor anyone can prove when that occurs. In part, the reason for the government’s distress is a widely accepted estimate that up to 240,000 Americans could lose their lives even with current measures against the virus. That’s computer modeling, but according to the Washington Post, several White House staffers have doubted the accuracy of the figures. One source said  Anthony Fauci told others there were too many factors at play to come up with an accurate estimate. “I’ve looked at all the models. I’ve spent a lot of time on the models. They don’t tell you anything. You can’t really rely upon models,” he said to members of the task force, according to the Post. So why do I think that the more draconian and lengthy shutdowns do more harm than good? Government officials and the experts they call on are, understandably, more afraid of blame for underestimating the severity of the virus than for overestimating the severity of the disease. Why? Damage from the “cure” takes a much longer time to manifest than damage from the disease. Blame for deaths from the virus is NOW, blame for deaths, business failures and other damages takes longer. Human beings always opt to “kick the can down the road”, government officials even more so.

“Down the road” is the explicit economic threat: a depression-like downturn rivaling the 1930s—prolonged double-digit joblessness, an unprecedented economic contraction, and widespread bankruptcy. The reason for the grim economic outlook is, oddly enough, the government’s very concentration of its financial cannons on the economy. When the government shows it has a convincing regime in place to restrain the virus — massive, population-wide testing, and a way to trace and quarantine those with whom victims have been in contact — the markets will gain confidence, and a floor will be created underneath the economic collapse. Until then, we are looking at the current freefall.

In a rare peek at official thinking, James Bullard, president of the St. Louis Fed, told Bloomberg last week that the jobless rate could climb to 30% next quarter and that the economy could contract by 50%. That was not counting for the impact of hundreds of billions of dollars thrown at companies by Congress as support to hold on to their workers. But even so, private estimates after the legislation are similar — Goldman Sachs forecasts a 34% economic contraction and 13.2% unemployment in the second quarter, and Deutsche Bank 33% and 12%. Although no one placed the forecasts in historical context, if we reach anywhere near those numbers, it will be far worse than the Great Recession, and nearly the magnitude of the Great Depression.

History has many examples. The current lockdown strategy is a bleak choice of (allegedly) fewer short term deaths against a much larger long-term death toll. The following examples, both negative and positive (S. Korea), are the basis of my belief that a 14-day “hard lockdown” would have been preferable to the multiple months of uncertainty we are experiencing.

Italy, for example, already had a 135 percent debt-to-GDP ratio before the crisis. It is hard to imagine how it will be able to borrow more without a commitment from other European countries to jointly be responsible for more Italian debt—something the northern European countries are still strongly opposed to. The ECB is already printing money like crazy, and another Greece-like situation will make it ramp up the printing presses even more. We have been down this path many times before, where the cure could be worse than the disease. The German hyperinflation of 1921-1923 created a resentful, impoverished middle class which ultimately led to Hitler’s rise to power. How many victims of financial ruin will end their own lives? In the modern era, for every one percent increase in the unemployment rate, there has typically been an increase of about one percent in the number of suicides. A study conducted by Brenner in 1979, found that for every 10 percent increase in the unemployment rate, mortality increased by 1.2 percent, cardiovascular disease by 1.7 percent, cirrhosis of the liver by 1.3 percent, suicides by 1.7%, arrests by 4 percent, and reported assaults by 0.8 percent. How many lost lives out of 300 million in the USA does a 10 percent, 15 percent, 20 percent unemployment rate represent? 

South Korea has emerged as a sign of hope and a possibly model to emulate. The country of 50 million appears to have greatly slowed its epidemic; it reported only 74 new cases today, down from 909 at its peak on 29 February. And it has done so without locking down entire cities or taking some of the other authoritarian measures that helped China bring its epidemic under control. “South Korea is a democratic republic, we feel a lockdown is not a reasonable choice,” says Kim Woo-Joo, an infectious disease specialist at Korea University. South Korea’s success may hold lessons for other countries—and also a warning: Even after driving case numbers down, the country is braced for a resurgence. New case numbers are declining largely because the herculean effort to investigate a massive cluster of more than 5000 cases—60% of the nation’s total—linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a secretive, messianic megachurch, is winding down. But because of that effort, “We have not looked hard in other parts of Korea,” says Oh Myoung-Don, an infectious disease specialist at Seoul National University.

South Korea learned the importance of preparedness the hard way. In 2015, a South Korean businessman came down with Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) after returning from a visit to three Middle Eastern countries. He was treated at three South Korean health facilities before he was diagnosed with MERS and isolated. By then, he had set off a chain of transmission that infected 186 and killed 36, including many patients hospitalized for other ailments, visitors, and hospital staff. Tracing, testing, and quarantining nearly 17,000 people quashed the outbreak after 2 months. The specter of a runaway epidemic alarmed the nation and dented the economy. “That experience showed that laboratory testing is essential to control an emerging infectious disease,” Kim says. In addition, Oh says, “The MERS experience certainly helped us to improve hospital infection prevention and control.” So far, there are no reports of infections of COVID-19 among South Korean health care workers, he says.

MY PHASE 1: Legislation S. Korea enacted since then gave the government authority to collect mobile phone, credit card, and other data from those who test positive to reconstruct their recent whereabouts. That information, stripped of personal identifiers, is shared on social media apps that allow others to determine whether they may have crossed paths with an infected person. This would be part of my phase 1 plan, since we are so far behind S. Korea in our capabilities to test and trace and understand how a respiratory virus spreads. Passing such legislation during a 14-day “hard lockdown” of any city or town with any known infected persons I believe would better serve our populace, even starting now, than what we are doing now.

Caveats: Could the US and all the state governments actually agree on and pass legislation similar to that of S. Korea? What I am calling a “hard lockdown” means NO travel allowed by any means to or from any city or town with documented cases for 14 days, along with the current rules of closing “non-essential” businesses and group activities, and required wearing of masks of the asymptomatic (protection for others rather than the wearer) for 14 days! How could travel be prevented? How can closures and mask wearing be enforced? I will address those questions in Part 3.