The panic, one year later

James Freeman:

A year after the World Health Organization declared a Covid pandemic and government health authorities encouraged politicians to order societal shutdowns, America has only begun to pay the staggering cost.

Matthew Impelli writes at Newsweek:

Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a professor at Stanford University Medical School, recently said that COVID-19 lockdowns are the “biggest public health mistake we’ve ever made…The harm to people is catastrophic.”

…Bhattacharya, who made the comments during an interview with the Daily Clout, co-authored the Great Barrington Declaration, a petition that calls for the end of COVID-19 lockdowns, claiming that they are “producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health.”

Newsweek shares a more recent email from Dr. Bhattacharya:

We will be counting the catastrophic health and psychological harms, imposed on nearly every poor person on the face of the earth, for a generation.

At the same time, [lockdowns] have not served to control the epidemic in the places where they have been most vigorously imposed. In the US, they have – at best – protected the “non-essential” class from COVID, while exposing the essential working class to the disease. The lockdowns are trickle down epidemiology.

Dr. Bhattacharya and the tens of thousands of other medical practitioners and scientists who signed the declaration have been arguing against lockdowns for months:

The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection.

Adding insult to the injuries caused by politicians who rejected this sensible approach is that the relative risks were largely understood at the dawn of the lockdown era. It was already clear that for most people the virus was not a dire threat. A year ago today, the Journal’s Betsy McKay, Jennifer Calfas and Talal Ansari reported:

Roughly 80% of cases of Covid-19—the illness caused by the novel coronavirus—tend to be mild or moderate, and more than 66,000 people globally have recovered. But those who are older or have underlying health conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease or diabetes, are at a higher risk.

Instead of focusing on the protection of the elderly and those with particular vulnerabilities, credentialed government experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci continued to suggest school closures and broad limits on business activity as appropriate responses in areas where the virus was spreading.

This column’s March 10, 2020, edition warned about the cost of lockdowns and noted:

To this point the coronavirus has taken a heavy toll on the elderly but not so much on kids. Many children may have such mild cases that nobody ever even realizes they’re sick.

This column also suggested that “President Donald Trump should first ask his economic team to estimate the costs and benefits of coronavirus countermeasures” and noted that the “unintended consequences of such interventions are not just financial.”

Pro Publica’s Alec MacGillis writes this week about adolescent mental-health disasters in the small town of Hobbs, N.M. He notes that across the U.S., while the lockdown was catastrophic, the virus was never a huge threat to the young:

The median age for COVID-19 fatalities in the U.S. is about 80. Of the nearly 500,000 deaths in the U.S. analyzed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of early March, 252 were among those 18 or younger — five hundredths of a percent of the total.

Mr. MacGillis then describes a number of local tragedies in Hobbs, including the story of 11-year-old Landon Fuller, who took his life after riding his bike to a field near his house:

“I think the big question we all have is why, and we will never know the reason why,” his mother, Katrina Fuller, told an Albuquerque TV talk show in July. “The only thing that I was able to find was in his journal, was that he had wrote that he was going mad from staying at home all the time and that he just wanted to be able to go to school and play outside with his friends. So that was the only thing that I can imagine what was going through his head at that time.”

At the same time, shutdowns necessitated massive government spending of borrowed money to offset the loss of normal economic activity. So U.S. children were handed a massive additional debt burden at the same time their ability to generate future income was reduced.

In the last year the United States has added more than $4 trillion in federal debt, and that doesn’t even count the historic Biden spending surge, which kicks off today with his signature on the massive new stimulus plan.

Yet as the country was locking down last spring, Dr. Fauci described the impact on Americans as “inconvenient” and later acknowledged that he did not do cost-benefit analysis and really had no idea what the consequences were for students: “I don’t have a good explanation, or solution to the problem of what happens when you close schools, and it triggers a cascade of events that could have some harmful circumstances.”

In March of last year, Dr. Fauci told National Public Radio that the U.S. “would not have a vaccine available for at least a year to a year and a half—at best.”

Thank goodness he was wrong about that. Dr. Fauci’s other errors have been much more painful for Americans to bear.

I know three people who died from COVID. Freeman’s conclusion is nonetheless absolutely correct. The federal and Wisconsin government’s performance against COVID ranks among the worst government failures in history. Educators say it will take years for children to recover from the lost fourth quarter of last school year. Some people — for instance, those whose businesses were ordered closed because they were “nonessential,” and then their businesses closed for good — will never recover.

 

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