Last night, I couldn’t help but object to more panic talk on Ken Block’s Facebook page related to conditions in New York City. My point was only that we shouldn’t take conditions in one city to set policy for the entire country. We need to differentiate between a place where people literally can’t step outside without sharing a 5x6x8 box with other people for several minutes and other places in the country were the economy can keep moving.
This point grew into something more when podcaster Bill Bartholomew responded:
Justin, how many Rhode Island physicians, PAs, NPs, EMS, police, fire, military, DOT, commerce have you discussed this matter with? You sound like you are denying the severity of the virus.
I realize this isn’t entirely fair, but “you sound like you are denying the severity of the virus” is starting to feel a bit like “you sound like you are denying the wisdom of the party.” That’s especially true when Bartholomew rattles off a partially redundant list including wide-reaching government officials. How are physicians, PAs, and NPs different in this context? What do fire (as distinct from EMS) and DOT have to do with the severity of a virus? As for Commerce, it has been a PR arm of the governor’s administration since she took office. Nobody should expect cool analysis from an agency dedicated to implementing government-centric economic policy as boosterism for a particular politician.
To answer Bartholomew’s question, I’ve only “talked to” a few people who would fit on his list. One doctor with whom I’ve discussed the matter was spreading false information about the number of ICUs in RI relative to Italy. Even putting that aside, professionals in the thick of handling a problem are not the only people whose input is necessary. Their information comes with an understandable emphasis that must be filtered.
One filter that isn’t helpful is the filter of being “talked to” by media people. A doctor who thinks he or she might be quoted in a story is going to hedge, because the risk of being publicly wrong is so much greater than the benefit of being publicly right. So, instead, I’ve been listening to people discuss things in their own circles, and there are differences of opinion among them. We just don’t know enough about COVID-19, and that observation applies to those who wish to take it casually as well as to alarmists.
As to the severity of the virus, I think we’ve been misapplying judgement. It’s dangerous for some, less so for others. Death rates vary hugely from country to country, seeming to have a general correlation with how well the country is run. (Here concern is justified, because RI isn’t particularly well run.) Based on the latest data, it is around 1.4% in the United States. That’s a problem to address, but problems are seldom addressed well without calm and perspective.
Here’s a map showing each state by the number of cases per million of population. NY is an outlier (and NYC would be even more so if it were distinguishable). That may justify restrictive measures in NYC, in large part to contain the problem there, but that only puts more responsibility on the rest of the country to keep the economic ball rolling to limit the devastation.
And that gets to the grand point that nobody is talking about — the line dividing Americans’ perspective on the contagion. Here’s my view: We shouldn’t be a nation of sheep and sheep dogs. This shouldn’t be the government taking care of us. We’re all part of the solution: people out there doing what they do. Working. Stopping that isn’t preventing people from some sort of indulgence; it’s depriving them and the society of the benefit of what they do.
We the people have more to offer than staying home and being taken care of, and our reaction to something like this ought to recognize that fact. Instead, we’re being increasingly denied the ability to make our own judgments. The disturbing attitude that too many have accepted is “do what you’re told,” rather than “do what you can.”
Even if COVID-19 kills just 1% of those who catch it and if only 50% of the country ultimately does, that is a lot of people. But recognizing that fact isn’t the entire story. Changed daily habits like keeping some space, washing our hands, and resisting the urge to touch our faces can reduce that number without drastic steps. Focused attention and increased awareness of vulnerable people would do the same. Then we adjust the policy as circumstances merit.
Wanting to soldier on in your life isn’t an act of financial selfishness. It’s an act of courage. We don’t work only for money. If we’re really only something like children being permitted to play at gathering money and spending it, then what’s the point for any of us? That’s a big, big question in all of this panic, and if our answer continues to be what it has been, then I fear we’re facing a different sort of death… of the soul.