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End harmful policies that don’t work

OPINION

BY LEN CABRERA

Floridians are currently subjected to a patchwork of county emergency orders, all enforced under the umbrella of a twice-extended emergency order made by single person, Governor Ron DeSantis. The order ignores provisions of Florida statute 381-00315, outlining public health emergencies, and 252.36, on specific powers of the governor. Worse, it grants Alachua County Commissioner Hutchinson near-dictatorial powers to destroy our lives and livelihoods with lockdowns, capacity limitations, and a potentially harmful and ineffective mask order.

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While the national media pretend Sweden doesn’t exist, they also continue to praise lockdown-forcing, mask-wearing states and countries that are now experiencing surges in coronavirus cases, actual real-world evidence that these policies don’t work despite all the models that claimed they would.

Hong Kong was praised by CNN, NPR, and Vox for universal mask-wearing, which they said  effectively stopped the spread of COVID-19 as late as July 3. The NPR article even touts an Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) model that shows “the more universal face masks are worn, the more deaths can be prevented.” (That’s the same IHME that over-predicted deaths and scared politicians into lockdowns in the first place; lockdowns that did nothing to reduce mortality according to a study of 24 European countries.)

As we reported before, models of mask wearing assume they work; that’s why their results show they work. Unlike the model world, the real world now shows that IHME was wrong (again). Despite all the mask wearing, Hong Kong is now facing a large-scale outbreak that may collapse the hospital system.

Similarly, Japan was praised by the New York Times for face masks stopping COVID-19 back on June 6 but now has another surge in cases, breaking their daily case record on July 29. The Philippines had “one of the world’s longest stay-at-home orders” (mid-March to May) and the highest level of mask wearing (>91%), yet they’re back on lockdown because a surge in cases is threatening to collapse their healthcare system.

In the U.S., California and Hawaii are two of the most stringent lockdown states. California has had a stay-at-home order since March 19 and a mask mandate since June 18 (Los Angeles has had a mask mandate since April 10). Hawaii’s mask mandate dates back to April 20. Yet both of these states have seen massive increases in the number of COVID-19 cases over the last month.

The state of Victoria in Australia, “once heralded as a global leader in containing COVID-19,” is now sending police door-to-door to make sure people are isolating, imposing curfews, and requiring permits to go to work, all to “prevent a national second wave of infections.”

These policies DO NOT WORK, so why do Commissioner Hutchinson, the rest of the Alachua County Commission, and the Gainesville City Commission insist on continuing them (or even making them more stringent)? Don’t say it’s just because these policies might help. They don’t. In fact, they don’t seem to make a difference in stopping coronavirus, and they are actually harmful.

In addition to the economic damage (which politicians and bureaucrats ignore since they’re still getting paid), there are significant health effects from lockdowns that surpass coronavirus. The CDC has warned of “significant public health consequences” if schools don’t reopen this fall. Director Redfield said that suicides and drug overdoses have surpassed the number of COVID-19 deaths among high school students. The UN Secretary General says that school closures are a “generational catastrophe” and “could waste untold human potential, undermine decades of progress, and exacerbate entrenched inequalities.”

Today, The New York Times wrote that the biggest infectious diseases (tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV) are thriving because of the lockdowns. The disruption in screenings and supplies will likely result in an additional 6.3 million cases of TB and 1.4 million additional deaths. Even more can die from hunger, according to the UK Guardian.

Prevent Cancer Foundation released a survey suggesting that one-third of Americans have missed cancer screenings, which could result in tens of thousands of unnecessary cancer deaths. The press release said, “People should understand that they are more likely to die from cancer that has progressed as they sit at home to prevent COVID-19 … than they are to die from COVID-19.”

City and county commissioners who claim to care about equity must be aware that interventions that purport to prevent anyone from being exposed to COVID disproportionately harm low-income families. They constantly cite the “equity gap” in test scores between black and white students in Alachua County; what do they think those scores will look like when high-income kids are being schools in “pods” with private tutors while low-income kids are picking up worksheets from the bus stop?

Interventions that limit the occupancy of businesses and impose other barriers like face mask mandates also disproportionately hurt small business owners. Publix just announced record 2nd-quarter profits. Ask your neighborhood small business how much they LOST in the 2nd quarter of this year; many will not reopen, further increasing multinational companies’ market share.

Sadly, politicians want to be seen doing something, even if doing nothing is a better policy. Sweden basically followed the “do nothing policy” and was vilified by the media. On May 30, Wired said Sweden’s experiment “well and truly failed.” In June, The National Post said the Swedish model “failed” and “realized no gain,” and The New York Times said Sweden was a “cautionary tale” for the world.

The media failed to recognize that Sweden’s peak daily deaths occurred in mid-April have fallen steadily since. What a difference a month makes. According to Worldometers, Sweden has had single-digit daily deaths from COVID-19 since July 19 and averaged less than eight per day since July 1. That’s a country with over 10 million people (roughly half the size of Florida). According to Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, lockdowns have no historical scientific basis. Sweden had no lockdowns, no school closures, little mask usage, and very few restrictions at all.

If Florida and Alachua County are going to recover from the disaster of coronavirus interventions, they will need a minor miracle: politicians who can admit a mistake and stop trying to do something when doing nothing is better. They should remove all restrictions and trust the vulnerable population (over 75 or diabetic/obese) to take appropriate precautions.

Over 60% of all COVID-19 deaths in Florida have been people over 75, who make up less than 10 percent of the population; 73% of deaths are people over 70. The case fatality rate for those under 75 is only 0.61%; 0.31% under 65; 0.16% under 55. Based on population, only 2.38% of all people in Florida under 75 have tested positive for COVID-19, and only 0.015% have died. Florida’s life expectancy is 79.7 (76.9 for males, 82.6 for females). The median age for COVID-19 deaths in Florida is 79 (77 for males, 81 for females).

It’s time to stop pretending COVID-19 is more destructive than the response. Our politicians need to end harmful policies that don’t work.

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