This post is a time capsule of thoughts about COVID-19 in early April 2020 of largely well to do Americans. This is during the widespread lock down around the United States. Why bother recording these views? For lots of reasons, but here’s a few
- To try and dig into the more insidious ideas
- As part of an effort to track the distortion and disinformation
- To remind my future self what it was like
At the time the lock down is in early days, but also in full swing. People are getting restless. Millions of people have been made unemployed. Tens of thousands of Americans are dead. Hundreds of thousands have been confirmed to have the disease. The economy has shrunk double digits.
In the following excuses, I’m not claiming the people that had these views are ‘bad people’, ‘stupid’ or arguing in bad faith. It seems they have got to these positions from a variety of directions – the desperate need to ‘normalize’, perhaps some guilt, being in a bubble, not wanting to admit failure personally and/or nationally. That doesn’t mean it’s okay or in any way strengthen the arguments.
Understanding requires thought, effort, introspection and at times changing your mind. It can be painful and embarrassing. Right now it is especially important because of whats at stake.
This Is The Best We Could Hope For
The strength of this point varies. There are people that seem to think the Trump Administration has done a good or even great(!) job. The main argument I see though is not quite this, it’s more ‘what happened is the best we could expect’. Specific thoughts …
“Obama would have performed no better”
This is a bizarrely wrong. There was a pandemic during his term, and by and large his government did a pretty reasonable job of keeping it in check.
That the Trump administration has systematically de-funded, removed officials and disabled the mechanisms that were there to protect the US from pandemics. Once people had the disease he downplayed the problem, did nothing, said it will go away, and then crowned it all with ‘it’s a hoax’. He then did a 180 and announced a national emergency and the country largely locked down. From there he held daily briefings where he promoted dangerous, largely ineffective drugs. Under cut medical experts opinions. More recently he has been claiming that citizens in some democratic states should ‘liberate’ themselves from the lock down. Now he’s pushing reopening, and claiming that he has the authority to force states to reopen, and then backtracking (by giving ‘permission’).
Um. If you can’t see that this has made things worse than they need to be, I don’t know what to tell you. If you can’t see that inciting people to ignore lock down protocols and worse is creating new problems, again I don’t know how to explain the obvious to you in any other way.
More specifically though there are studies that show that if Trump had responded 2 weeks earlier (he had months) there would have been 90% less deaths.
Or how about this back of the envelope calculation – the US has 4% of the world population, but we have around 30% of confirmed cases. If we had had an average response, you would expect a number somewhere near to the 4% number. That makes our response of the order of 8 times as bad as the average response.
To try and make it more clear I claim that the Trump administration has been poor at all points:
- Before the pandemic – de-funding, removing key personal, shutting down efforts
- At the start of the pandemic – claiming it’s not a problem, it’s under control, it will go away, it’s a hoax, doing nothing to prepare
- At the shutdown – covering up the lies, corruption and malfeasance, confusing the efforts – making states compete, claiming ‘miracle cures’,
- During the shut down – slow to help, choosing winners and losers, removing oversight for 2.2 trillion dollar bailout, claiming we need to ‘get back to work’ as soon as possible
- Supporting people breaking the shutdown, supporting insurrection, claiming absolute authority whilst no responsibility, slowing passing of packages for petty partisan reasons, having an original package which was a corporate bailout
We still have these corrupt idiots making things worse, for lulz, for corruption, to cover what they have already done. That they are actively making it harder for us to get out of this mess.
“Europe it’s just as bad”
It isn’t, although it’s true in certain European countries it’s not good. In particular Italy, Spain and France are not doing so well, and the Uk is heading up the list.
The rest not so much. So plastering the whole of Europe like this seems a bit weak.
Germany has had bad outbreak, but is showing how with good management and lots of tests it is controllable.
If you look at the trajectories of the disease in any of these countries, the US is worse even now – look at the FT tracking page for example. And that is what you would expect seeing as the US has a uniquely corrupt and inept ongoing effort.
It’s also interesting to set the bar in this way – because some other countries in Europe have done a bad job, that’s the best we can expect here.
I’ll discuss the Uk more – because it has some parallels to here.
“The Uk is as bad as here”
The Uk is doing a pretty terrible job and is slowly marching up the list of countries in a bad situation.
I think much of the blame lays at the feet of Boris Johnson and the tory party. That whilst not as base, or purposefully stupid – it is kind of Trump lite administration. It’s initial plan was to ignore the problem. Herd immunity! It took weeks before they decided that 250,000 extra people dying was probably not a great idea. So then they locked down. Much like in the US then weeks were lost, and that has put them in a bad position.
The Uk does seem to be doing a better job of covering peoples costs, and enabling companies to be able to keep people’s jobs than here.
Even with this ineptitude the Uks trajectory appears significantly better than the USes.
“What Trump Said/Did Made No Difference”
The claim here is that Trump saying ‘it won’t effect us’, ‘it will go away’ and then later ‘it’s a hoax’ made no difference.
This is leaving aside the not doing anything for months or disabling the mechanisms that where there to handle the situation.
Seems like a bizarre position, but there is a simple and easy counter point. Leading up to the lock-down, the vast majority of Americans were doing nothing. They weren’t stocking up, or wearing masks, or social distancing. This was whilst there were many reports about the outbreaks in the US, and how serious the situation was in other countries.
Then Trump announces a ‘national emergency’ – and all of a sudden everybody is buying toilet paper, companies are adopting work at home policies and so forth.
It’s almost as if most people need the word of somebody in authority before they will do anything. Before it is real. Even though there is plenty of evidence – they act as if it won’t effect them.
It should be somewhat ironic they take this action from Trumps ‘authority’. Somebody who lies consistently. Somebody who only days earlier claimed it’s all a hoax. Craziness I know.
Leaving all that aside, it show’s that the president doing the right thing earlier would have had a massive effect and that’s ignoring all of the effects of purposefully downplaying the situation.
Just to make sure there is no confusion here – China has some blame for this situation. They tried to downplay the problem when it started in Wuhan district. They claimed it was not transmitted between humans. They did not release the genome until significantly later than they could have done. They have wet markets (so do many other countries) and they help such virus transmissions from animal to humans.
This is not good.
Once identified they went into a massive lock-down program – some 50 million people not being able to leave their homes except for a few hours a week. This response has appeared to have largely worked. China is now on a charm offensive around the world supplying money and supplies.
Other countries response to the situation is on them though. It isn’t China’s responsibility to protect Americans from external threats. That is the US governments. If the US governments response is terrible -which it is – that is not the fault of the Chinese. That is the fault of the US government.
American culture makes a pandemic particularly problematic – because it relies on people worrying about other people, instead of individual rights. Even this is a bit overstated – Americans dealt with significant restrictions to their liberty during the second world war for example.
The overarching problem with the ‘it’s China’s fault’ narrative, is that it’s a very alluring explanation for everything, because it requires no introspection, or blame closer to home. It allows blame for a faceless entity, that there is already plenty of animosity for.
You can’t fix the problems if you blame the wrong things. You can easily cause way more harm. It’s easy for some to make the leap from ‘it’s China’s fault’ to it’s ‘the Chinese peoples fault’, to Americans of Chinese descent being attacked in the US. This has already happened.
It’s their fault it started
The Chinese Government and officials have some fault as already stated.
When ‘it’s China’s fault it started’ is claimed, it’s also quite easy to see the chain of logic that then implies that (or nearly) everything is their fault.
If this is pointed out, it might be claimed that, that all that was stated was that ‘it started there’. I’m afraid unless the person arguing is prepared to admit that the majority of the problems in the US are due to the US response, I’m not going to find that very convincing.
The Chinese numbers are false
This comes up a lot as part of the it’s Chinas fault narrative. It’s kind of odd for a few reasons
- It isn’t backed up by anything specific. How wrong? In what way?
- 10% wrong, 10,000% wrong, the deaths are too low, too high, more people have it, it’s spreading more quickly?!?
- It’s a lie so it backs up their fault
- Doesn’t say anything about the trend
- If they have 2 times as many people as they reported, but it’s still under control… then it’s still under control, and way less than the US… so?
It wouldn’t surprise me the if the numbers from China are off. Maybe by a significant percentage. Probably to make it seem less bad. The same can be said about the US numbers – with deaths of people who aren’t tested, not appearing for example.
The bottom line though is unless their numbers are of in some dramatic way (and there is some huge coverup) and/or they don’t have it under control. I’m not sure what difference it makes.
For the moment it seems to me they do largely have it under control, and whilst their numbers might be off, they are not orders of magnitude off – and they would need to be that to be even close to the US.
It was created in a Lab in China
This can be read a few ways…
- It was purposefully created in a lab in China to destroy the west! It’s a Bio weapon!
- It was created maliciously for unknown reasons in a lab in China.
- That it was in a lab in china (doing something nefarious) and it escaped.
- The Chinese were inappropriately ‘playing with nature’ and this is what happens.
- It was in a lab in China doing something useful/neutral, but it accidentally escaped.
Trouble is the evidence doesn’t support it was made in a lab. The Pentagon says so. There are articles from respectable scientific papers, like Nature that say so. The genetics of the virus seem to make it very unlikely.
It appears true that the virus did not appear in the ‘wet market’, but that is where it widely spread from. It’s also appears it could be true that there is a lab where some tests on corona viruses in bats were performed. The lab isn’t close to the wet market though, it’s 7 miles away on the other side of the city. This casually looks suspicious – but it’s still a very unlikely vector. Labs, even with poor protocols, are specifically designed to constrain such outbreaks, whereas bats can and do easily transmit in the outside world. Through the air, defecating and urinating as they fly. Through people in going into caves.
Unfortunately this idea is now being pushed very hard from a variety of outlets. It’s easy to see why because it’s an easy way to move the blame on China from ‘it was an accident that happened in China that they handled badly’ to ‘they created it – it’s all their fault’. It may take years to determine where it originated and never be sure.
I would also note this ‘it was made in a lab’ is a common trope. For a long while there was a theory that AIDs was man made through experiments on monkeys. Many years later it was shown to be false.
They are going to die anyway
Ugh. Yes we are all going to eventually.
In this line of thought old people are disposable. If not casually disposable, they are more disposable than people younger. If you follow the logic then babies are more valuable, than teenagers, which are more valuable that middle aged people who are more valuable than old people.
If you push this logic you’ll get push back, because typically people see themselves as valuable. So ‘old people’ means people significantly older than them. So not themselves.
You might also hear the argument that they know some old people who ‘do not want to be constrained by the virus’. That they have made their peace and so they should be able to do what they want to do. They lived a good life.
Where to start
- If some people are okay with something it doesn’t mean everybody in that group must be okay with it
- If some old people don’t mind dying ‘for the economy’, that doesn’t mean all old people are or should be
- It’s irresponsible – doing so may overload the medical system, spread the disease
- The elderly are the most vulnerable (!), they need the most protection
- Not all the very elderly are in the best position to make good decisions in this situation even for themselves
- Doesn’t seem to take into account what this really means
- It seems like a pretty horrible/lonely way to go
In this line of argument, the economy is being destroyed, and that the ‘cure’ (the lock down) is worse than the disease.
First to say there aren’t two binary choices, human life or the economy. That the economy does have an effect on human life, but a shut down of the economy does not mean as much death and suffering as COVID-19 running unrestrained. That even simplistically there is a spectrum from those two extremes.
There are some hard decisions here. Trying to stop the maximum amount of suffering of COVID-19 might cause more overall suffering. That being said COVID-19 suffering – living through the symptoms or dying is pretty high. Dying has to be up there in terms of suffering. In this balance I’m applying Utilitarianism – which has it’s problems, but doesn’t seem like a bad place to at least start thinking about this.
That at first blush it would seem better to err on side of maintaining life, than on the pleasures of ‘the economy’.
In this argument we are asked to consider all of the suffering due to the lock down.
- Physical abuse
- Mental abuse
- Lack of liberty…
Some of these are hard to gauge, but it’s put as these are worse than the shutdown.
If you look up the numbers for suicide, then they don’t come close, and it’s hard to see how they ever would.
Physical abuse – for example more spousal abuse, because more proximity? Um – I could believe it possible there may be more physical abuse because of the situation. But I doubt it’s anywhere near where COVID-19 is right now. Until something concrete is produced showing how much more this is over the typical situation… it would seem reckless to assume that it’s worse.
How do you even measure mental abuse as it relates to dying, or nearly dying and having reduced life span? I don’t know but it seems that this falls into a similar category as physical abuse.
I also wonder how much time and effort people put into solving physical/mental abuse when there isn’t a pandemic. If nothing or little – I guess I’d wonder about the sincerity of that being the actual issue behind wanting to reopen the economy.
Notice this is a form of Utilitarianism – it is saying our aim is to ‘minimize the overall suffering’. But it’s impossible to know if you have minimized suffering, and how do you measure suffering anyway? There can also be multiple minima, how are you going to choose? How are you going to measure?
Overall though it is balancing a theoretical unknown suffering against an actual known (and terrible) suffering. That releasing COVID-19 it’s exponential suffering! The other suffering is not.
This is an example of how once again the Trump administration has failed. That they have programs – but they took to long to put in place, and in many places are not operating efficiently, have the funds or work or well. The situation around Floridas unemployment for example. Corruption seems very likely – and there are already many examples.
Other countries have been much faster to put together programs so people can keep their jobs paid for by the government whilst the lock down is in place. In the US millions of people have lost their jobs. 17 million I think at a recent count. That is not a property of the lock down – it’s largely the governments slow, corrupt and inept efforts. That in many other countries the percentage job loses are much lower.
That reopening the economy now will not rapidly restore jobs. There will not be the demand until people are confident about their future and safety. They are unlikely to want or need the majority of products and services.
It’s only 1%!
In this argument the idea is that the economy should just reopen because COVID-19 only kills 1% of people.
- 1% of Americans is 3.3 million people(!)
- You are saying for ‘the economy’ 3+ million extra people need to die?!
- 1% may be an underestimate – 3.4% is still the WHO number, it’s 4% from current US figures
- 10-15% will need hospitalization
- We don’t have capacity for 30 million people to be in medical care – so many more will die
- Of those needing hospitalization the experience is apparently dreadful
- Many have damage to their lungs, that will shorten their life span and diminish their quality of life long term
Herd immunity might work. It relies on people who have caught CORVID-19 and have recovered are then immune. Some viruses provide no immunity, others a couple of months, yet others years, or tens of years.
At the moment we don’t know if people who have recovered from CORVID-19 have any immunity at all.
Until we are fairly confident about this basic fact, it seems reckless to rely on it for opening the economy.
Don’t Believe The Experts!
The models are wrong
Early models of COVID-19 in the US predicted 1 – 2.2 million dead. Some projections now predict 70 thousand. That’s a big difference. The first thing to say is the original models are if we did nothing, so that doesn’t mean they were wrong. Secondly it remains to be seen how many people die in the US – especially if some states reopen and the disease breaks out again.
Not all models are equal. Models are built on assumptions. Just because the result isn’t the same as the model doesn’t mean the model was wrong if the circumstances are not the same.
By varying the assumptions you are able to see likely possible outcomes. That’s useful.
Really the question though is what is the alternative? A model takes our best knowledge, and guesses and predicts mathematically based on that. How else am I going to predict? Using my feelings?
Don’t trust the scientists
Umm ok. So who should I trust? You? The politicians? A talking head on TV?
No – I’m going to trust credible sources which are mostly scientists. I will try to understand how they got their results and biases. I will try and get a range of their views. This is most likely to produce the most informed and accurate answers. In COVID-19. In climate change. In most things frankly.
What we have done has had no effect!
When it is pointed out that the early models haven’t produced the same result as what we are seeing is because the early models were about the outcome if we did nothing – the response is, ‘the things we are doing haven’t been going on long enough to have this effect’.
People are incredibly poor at dealing with exponentials. That unconstrained COVID-19 spreads exponentially, at one point in the US confirmed cases were doubling every 2 days! That being the case it really doesn’t take very long to make a huge difference in the outcome. Let’s say you are able to stop the exponential growth for just one week – by lock down. Simplistically speaking (because there are other effects), you are looking at 10th the amount of infections. Which currently means at least 10th the amount of deaths, although probably more as the medical system would be overloaded. It’s the difference between 100,000 people dying and over a million. That’s well in line with the difference between the ‘no change’ models and what we see.
I Already Had It!
I’ve heard multiple people claim they already had COVID-19, when that’s not really possible. They’ll say in December I got really sick. It was different from flu it was really bad. I’ve had it and I’m ok. The people making this claim are in the US or the Uk.
So … no. You didn’t.
You might want to claim this for a couple of reasons.
- You might really believe it (!)
- It removes the anxiety that you will get it, and downplays how bad it will be (you already experienced it)
- It feeds the conspiracy that it’s already everywhere
On the last point, that feeds into the further point, that if it’s already everywhere, and only this many people have died, then it’s not that bad.
You are wrong or at best incredibly unlikely to be right. It wasn’t in the US or the UK in December. Not everybody has it – of people being tested (who have symptoms) around 20% are typically positive.
In this argument America is claimed to be uniquely ‘free’. I’m not going to go into why this isn’t true – and in many important ways Americans are less free.
It is true that in American culture ‘freedom’ and individuality are seen as perhaps more important than many other cultures – even if the reality does not generally live up to the hype.
The belief that your individual freedom is the most important thing could lead you to believe, that any restriction on your freedom is inherently bad. A pandemic introduces a situation where you can’t just consider yourself – other peoples behavior can effect you. Other peoples behavior could kill you or a loved one. It’s a reality where you have to consider others. That the actions of people at large if restrained can have a huge positive effect.
This ‘idea’ seems as simple as ‘we are free’ so people have to die. That death is the ‘price of freedom’.
Well that’s a weird kind of freedom. That your acts of ‘freedom’ might kill me – the ultimate loss of freedom. So it seems your freedom is more important than mine.
Historically it’s not the case either – as previously stated, in the world wars Americans freedoms were seriously constrained, in what they ate, in what they did and their work. Do we look back on world war 2 and say it was unamerican because of these loss of freedoms whilst fighting an existential crisis? I’ve never heard anybody do such a thing. I have heard, I think quite rightly, pride around people enduring these and other constraints in order to be able to win the war.
That a pandemic is no different in terms of being an existential crisis. It is different in that the enemy cannot be reasoned with. That if you give it a way out it will explode exponentially and without qualm or restraint. From that perspective agreeing to restrict your freedoms is absolutely an American thing to do, such that in the future things can return to normal and ‘free’.
Americans will not accept ‘it’
The ‘it’ here is restrictions of liberty largely.
This can also be seen as part of ‘if the Trump administration tried to do something earlier they wouldn’t accept it’.
This seems so incredibly weak. All that needed to happen for the vast majority of people to change their behavior and accept it, was for the person who was claiming it’s not a problem and a hoax, to say it was a ‘national emergency’. Then it was real. If he had started out without the lies, and deflection surely it would have been much easy to accept the national emergency and sooner. People would be more accepting now presumably.
Arguing Americans won’t accept it seems weird – when for a fact the vast majority can and do right now. Even when they have been lied to, gas lit, deflected and more.