Opinion: Panic ensures bad public policy

Alachua County’s new cases by day from the state’s COVID-19 dashboard



For politicians, public hysteria is like blood in the water to sharks. Both incite rabid feeding frenzies: sharks eat anything they can sink their teeth into, and politicians trample any constitutional protection to increase their power. Even those who aren’t statists will succumb to pressures to “do something” without regard to existing law, the constitution, or unintended consequences. There’s no time for debate, no time for dissenting views, no time for nuanced policy that would acknowledge real-world data. Instead, hysteria is driven by unverified (and continuously wrong) model predictions, constantly echoed by complicit media outlets.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was bludgeoned by national media to lock down the state like New York and California. Most of these people have probably never been anywhere in Florida other than maybe Miami or Orlando, and they surely cannot name more than three counties. DeSantis claimed he was all about local governance, but now he refuses to distinguish between the 67 different counties in the state.

According to the Florida Department of Health COVID-19 Dashboard, Florida has 9,008 cases, 1,167 hospitalizations and 144 deaths. (Those numbers come from the 6:30 p.m. update on April 2nd and reflect a full month of recorded data from March 2nd to April 1st.) 50% of all Florida cases are in Dade* and Broward counties, 25 counties have fewer than 10 cases, and 8 counties have no cases. Yet DeSantis signed Executive Order 20-91 to apply a “safer-at-home” order to the entire state, instead of the hot spots. There are no established rules to define varying levels of precaution, just a one-size-fits-all lock down. The rule doesn’t distinguish between Dade County (2,886 cases), Dixie County (0 cases), or Alachua County (95 cases). 

The incessant rattling off of new cases and deaths, like we’re tracking the score in a game or polls in an election, serves to reinforce hysteria. There is no context given, either to other diseases or to the size of the population. Florida loses about 29,000 citizens to heart disease each year (2,400 per month). Dade County’s 2,886 cases aren’t so scary when you realize it has a population of 2.7 million, so only 0.1% of the population has been diagnosed with the virus. (In Alachua County it’s 0.035% – that’s 35 per 100,000 people.)

Despite rhetoric from county and city officials, Alachua County’s outbreak is actually fairly mild. Look at the bar graph of new cases shown above (from the Dashboard‘s “Cases By County” tab). There is no exponential growth in cases. In fact, it doesn’t even have a positive trend line; just an average of 6 new cases per day. This is not because of the draconian social distancing or stay-at-home measures. Those started on March 23 and would take at least a week to see any effect (based on the coronavirus incubation period). 

While everyone is terrified of catching COVID-19, the death statistics show there’s not much to fear for those under age 65. Across Florida, there have been no deaths under age 24 and only 2 for people aged 25-34 (0.1% of the 1,350 cases or 0.0001% of the population of 24-35 year olds). For all age groups below 55, the death rate is less than 0.3% of cases (0.00006% of the population); it’s 0.8% for those aged 55-64 (0.0004% of the population). If you’re terrified by these odds, you may as well not drive a car, step into a shower, or even get out of bed.

The mass hysteria (and bad public policy) on coronavirus is due to exaggerated computer models that have been consistently wrong, always over-estimating the number of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. The panic started with a prediction of 2.2 million deaths, a number that was repeated by President Trump on Sunday. That’s dropped down to 100,000, but with a standard error of 62,000 because they clearly have no idea what to predict. (100,000 ± 62,000 means deaths can range from 38,000 (normal flu) to 162,000.) 

The prediction for 100,000 deaths comes from The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (part of the University of Washington). They also projected Florida would need 2,612 beds (2,017 to 3,522) on April 2nd. The actual number used was 1,167 beds (according to the Florida Department of Health COVID-19 Dashboard). The same organization claimed New York would need 56,183 beds on April 2nd. The actual cumulative number is 20,817. Models that are already over 100% greater than the actual numbers should not be trusted for predictions 30 days out.

Politicians need advisors who can stick to actual data, not fantasy models. They need to be able to ignore media sensationalism and establish rules for identifying hot spots so those areas can be treated differently than low-risk areas. There is no reason to destroy the nation over such a trivial threat to nearly 80% of the population (those under 65**). People need to look beyond the hype and push back on political overreach. 

* I know Dade County officially changed its name to Miami-Dade County in a referendum to waste taxpayer money and help the self-esteem of insecure Miami residents, but it was Dade County when I lived there, and it’s listed as Dade County on the Dashboard.

** Just looking at the numbers. I’m not saying to not take precautions for those 65+, but we need to balance the risk of destroying the economy against the relatively small risk coronavirus poses to those under 65. The silly response “you don’t care about old people” is just demagoguery to avoid real debate.

  • Yep, the hysteria is off the chart, a real leftist dream: only the government can save us! Mostly exaggerated claims. We don’t hear them shouting from the rooftops the numbers, thousands, that have had it, recovered and moved on. Glory hounds holdings these stupid town halls love it of course. They can save us! So far it’s no worse than the flu, might evolve into something equal to one of the worst flu seasons,at the same time totally wreck the country, making it more like Greece or Cuba. Thank you for all the government assistance! We’ve had enough of this babysitting.

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