Getting Back on Track

There are certain things we have to rely on the government to handle. Epidemics are near the top of the list. We place our trust that it will act in our best interest. Across the world, with few exceptions, this trust is misplaced. The government claims to be led by exceptional leaders backed up by elite experts. Together they will do the things individuals are unable to do for themselves. We provide the money they tell us they need, and they use it to protect us. Like with the military, we expect those involved with potential epidemics to have plans and the where-with-all to assess the situation in a timely fashion. Starting with its beginning in China and traveling across the globe, Covid-19 exposed much of the world’s leaders as moribund.

It started with President Xi’s Chinese Communist Party’s failure to follow international norms, allowing the disease to circle the globe. Ignoring the disease’s unique characteristics, a large number of nations adopted crushing lockdowns. To be sure, the epidemic was going to cause economic damage in certain areas, such as travel, hospitality, and live entertainment. These would remain hobbled until they could adjust. However, many Governments went much, much further. Economies came to a screeching halt. Like a car on a freeway that suddenly jams on the brakes, the pileups ensued.

Good generals look at each situation as unique. In the movies the “Desert Fox” and “Patton,” we see Rommel and Patton out front with their binoculars evaluating the actual situation. They made their plans on what they saw—no relying on preconceived ideas or past procedures. There was no waiting for subordinates’ reports. They realized every battle is singular.

Right from the beginning, some people looked at the actual Covid-19 data and drew up plans based on what was there. From Asia, through Italy and even New York, the data always said the same thing. This disease affected the elderly and those with underlying conditions. For healthy people under 60, it was no more dangerous than seasonal flu.

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Real Data

The last few days have made me aware of a Covid-19 data point due more attention. In the past, I thought some at-risk would prefer to be with loved ones in a hazardous circumstance rather than separate from their loved ones. Aware they have a finite time left, they may choose not to spend it in isolation. So long as they didn’t endanger others, I felt this was their decision to make. Our job was to offer ways to protect the endangered to the best of our ability. My assumption was only a small number of people would turn down help to segregate from those able to infect them. Two things caused me to reassess. The Wall Street Journal reported widespread European elderly resistance to be locked down. Across the continent, seniors were demanding the right to determine not to be quarantined. They claimed the right to chose how and with whom they lived out the rest of their lives. Elder organizations cried ageism. To be sure, overall European rules tend to be more stringent than ours. Still, the numbers and senior organizations involved are illuminating.

Checking in with friends and family in the days after Mother’s Day, I was stunned to learn how many inter-generational gatherings took place. When asked why these well-seasoned citizens took such a risk, the answer was they didn’t want to miss a holiday time with their families. They were going to decide how they spent their limited time. . They surely have earned the right to make this choice. When Grammie makes clear what she desires, the family feels guilt for possibly infecting her and feeling guilty if she spends her last days alone. Obviously, in these situations, Grammie rules.

I can understand where older people are making a risky choice are. As you get closer to the end, the time has a much higher value. Looking forward to the things you love is increasingly precious. I hope to have at least a few more robust years. I’m in my early eighties with good health and no underlying conditions.

On the other hand, my wife though younger, recovered from lung cancer in the last two years. This past weekend, we were supposed to be in Dublin, Ireland embarking on a cruise to Iceland. After returning to Dublin, we planned to meet our son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter for further time in Ireland. We canceled a summer family gathering with our kids and grand-kids on the California Coast. We have to wonder, will we ever get to do these things in the future? Zoom is lovely, but it doesn’t replace hugging your grand-kids. Time is indeed different for the elderly.

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It’s An Ill Wind…

Maybe the President will be right, and by the fourth quarter, the economy is humming along. Everyone will be back to work and spending as if nothing ever happened. The 30+ million unemployed were just on an extended paid vacation. That’s one scenario. It’s the one most hope proves to be true. Of course, maybe not so many go back to work. Their old jobs and employers no longer exist. A negative wealth effect rules out discretionary spending. The media highlights continuing deaths among the at-risk. As a result, many are still reluctant to go to a restaurant or get on a plane. It’s hazardous to travel. Children and their parents realize they lost a year of education. They’ll never get it back. Maybe people will be unhappy.

When things aren’t turning out as well as hoped, we ask what went wrong and why? Remember, the Iraq invasion was supported across the political spectrum until it wasn’t. As things went awry, people felt misled. Was it mishandled? They wondered why they wasted so much money and resources? The lives that were lost. There were revisionist answers. Will this be how the Covid-19 epidemic lockdown plays out? Will, the voices of opposition, drowned out during implementation suddenly have a megaphone? Saying “I told you so” is always satisfying to many. If we experience a slow climb out of a steep hole and people realize their pain is the result of a colossal overreaction, they will be looking for someone to blame. Remember, the last two presidents claimed to have opposed the war from the beginning.

As it was in the Iraq War, both our major political parties, with a few individual exceptions, backed the lockdown. Both parties joined in the most massive peacetime spending orgy in history Common cause explains why there is so little criticism from politicians or their media allies. The President makes the unsupported claim he saved millions of lives by his underwriting the lockdown. The only discernible Democratic criticism of his actions is he isn’t maintaining it longer, and he needs to spend more. They agreed on the shut-down and that they would throw money at it.

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Was this Trip Necessary?

Sooner or later, the question has to be asked, did we need to shut down most of the country? Did 30 million and counting Americans have to lose their jobs? The supporters of the lockdown uniformly answer, of course, it saved lives. The chorus they sing is you can’t let people die to rescue the economy. Morally we have to put lives over money. But was that the choice? What if we trashed the economy and it turns out that net-net our actions caused more deaths than it saved? What then? I think we are going to find out sooner than later. You might not like the truth.

The first thing is the lockdown was never primarily about saving lives. It was just about flattening of the Covid-19 hospital admittance curve. Spreading out the infections would prevent hospitals and our healthcare system from being overwhelmed. The idea was if they have the resources to treat those admitted, the medical community might save them. Doctors in hospitals save lives. How many TV shows make this point? The only problem is Covid-19 was different from the start. Rather than killing both young and old, coronavirus kills primarily the elderly and those with underlying conditions. We have known this since the first data came out of China and the Far East. Statistics out of Italy confirmed this. New York shows the same thing. Three charts illustrate this crucial point:

Like a laser, the data pointed out where we had to concentrate our efforts. Additional protection had to be provided for the elderly and compromised. Where are the highest concentrations of the aged? Nursing homes, rehab centers, assisted living, and retirement communities were easy to find. Surely testing, gear, and support had to be rushed to the front lines. This course of action isn’t brain surgery. In any epidemic, these would be at the top of any list of the vulnerable. Plans for this should haw been in place. Others with underlying conditions putting them at high risk needed notification and help. Doctors know who these people are. They write their prescriptions. These groups would be the likely ones to end up in ICU’s in any pandemic. In this case, better than 4 out of five in the ICUs were above 65. If you wanted to keep our medical community from being overwhelmed, you do your best to make sure the elderly don’t get infected in the first place. This chart brings all this home:

How did we and a good part of the world get detoured from a targeted approach? Scenes of Italy’s state-run medical system crushed by sick unattended patients horrified people. Taken by surprise Italy never got ahead of the epidemic. They never had a chance for a targeted approach. At the same time, Neil Ferguson and the Imperial College in the UK announced their model’s findings. If we didn’t take drastic action, Covid-19 would kill 2.2 million in the US and a half million in the UK. If it bleeds, it leads has always ruled the media. Unattended dying patients and the prediction of millions more inspired a media-fueled public panic. Politicians mostly folded. Prime Minister Boris Johnson initially supported a targeted approach in the UK, but promptly did an abrupt about-face. President Trump in the US caved and recommended a full lockdown. Schools and businesses shut down. “Shelter in Place” wasn’t just for those at real risk but for everyone not deemed essential. With millions out of work, governments turned on the printing presses and spent Trillions they didn’t have.

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A Word of Explanation

Why an “A Plan to Move Forward-Export Version”? It has to do with the middle of the night realization. The vision of ever more harm done by the continuing lockdown kept me awake. We needed a way out before the injury gains permanence. I had a plan for a proactive approach to determine when most people could go back to their lives. Getting it out to a broader audience isn’t easy for an old blogger. Maybe a major news outlet would help. After going down the list, only The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) showed promise. At least they had entertained the idea we might be running off a cliff. Hence, the more formal “Export Version.”

Alas, the only thing I received from the WSJ was a 4/6/20 email noting they had received the OP-ED. That was it. Rather than tossing this version of the plan, I thought it better to post it here. It just might be more accessible and quicker for people to understand. Since the WSJ submission, others such as Dr. Scott Atlas and Dr. John Ioannidis have made many of the same points. Just not a practical, comprehensive plan for right now. The test of a program is if we had it all over again, would we shut down the world? Would we put 30 million and counting out of work? Wouldn’t a more targeted plan have been vastly better? Remember, on March 20, the day California became the first state to issue a lockdown order; I proposed an alternative route in the “Some Thoughts” post. Ruined lives keep me up at night. Every day the depression gets worse and the road back longer. How can I get the word out? Any Ideas?