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Paying the price

OPINION

BY LEN CABRERA

The coronavirus hysteria started with computer models projecting millions of deaths. Even with all the lockdown measures, at the start of the month Dr. Fauci was saying we could have up to 240,000 deaths. Now that real-world data has caused multiple downward revisions of the model predictions, politicians are finally starting to talk about easing restrictions and re-opening the economy. While they were quick to trample the Constitution without thinking of the repercussions, they’re dragging their feet on “allowing” us to live our lives. That’s what happens when politicians don’t pay the price for their decisions.

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State and local leaders have been using emergency orders as a shield to justify all their actions, but what if the emergency order itself was illegal? Shouldn’t these politicians be held legally and financially responsible for the costs of their illegal decisions?

The Florida statute (381.00315) governing public health emergencies defines isolation for “an individual who is reasonably believed to be infected.” There is no provision for isolating the entire population. The statute also requires “rules to specify the conditions and procedures for imposing and releasing an isolation” (emphasis added). Furthermore, the statute only authorizes isolation and quarantine for “communicable diseases that have significant morbidity,” which we now know is not true for COVID-19.

COVID-19 was assumed to have significant morbidity, which is why the models were so wrong. According to the Florida Department of Health Dashboard (4/17 evening update), Florida has 726 deaths from COVID-19 after nearly 7 weeks of tracking (an arguably inflated number after  Dr. Birx admitted the policy of labeling all deaths with COVID-19 to be caused by COVID-19). Put that number in context: CDC data show the top 10 leading causes of death in Florida took over 152,000 lives in 2017, an average of 418 PER DAY. In terms of deaths per day, COVID-19 currently ranks about the same as diabetes in Florida.

Some may argue COVID-19 has “significant morbidity” because the case-fatality rate is significantly higher than influenza: 726 deaths from 24,753 cases is 2.9%. However, the number of cases does not count infected people who are asymptomatic and don’t get tested. A Stanford antibody study released this morning found the number of infected people is probably 50 to 85 times higher than the number of confirmed cases. Another study in the Netherlands found COVID-19 antibodies in 3% of blood donors. Applying that rate to the nation’s population means the number of infected people is 20 times more than the number of confirmed cases. That would make the morbidity rate between 0.03% and 0.14%.

So regardless of the thought at the time of the lockdown orders, data now show that there was no need for the order. In fact, the lockdown order may have actually made things worse. A study of 318 outbreaks in 120 cities in China found that 80% of the cases started at home. A study of 1,043 cases by Taiwan’s CDC found that all of them started inside their households. Our own CDC reports that data from Japan shows coronavirus transmission is 18.7 times greater indoors than outdoors. University of Bonn Professor Hendrik Streeck did a study of Heinsberg, Germany, and concluded: “There is no significant risk of catching the disease when you go shopping. Severe outbreaks of the infection were always a result of people being closer together over a longer period of time.”

Orders to wear masks in public are also potentially harmful. A study on how long coronavirus lives on common surfaces found it lives longest on the outer layer of surgical masks.

People will claim the lockdown orders saved lives, but that’s based on biased model predictions. Remember that the original models called for a million deaths in the U.S. with social distancing measures. Opponents of returning to normal claim more lives will be lost to COVID-19, but they are ignoring the loss of life that will result from continued lockdown.

In four weeks, the U.S. has seen 22 million unemployment claims… that’s more than the entire population of Florida. Given a work force of 165 million people, that’s a 13.3% unemployment rate, up from 3.5% in February. The St. Louis Federal Reserve predicts unemployment could hit 52 million people (32%). Former New York Lieutenant Governor Betsy McCaughey cites analysis from the National Bureau of Economic Research that shows a 1% increase in the unemployment rate results in a 3.3% increase in drug overdose deaths and a 1% increase in suicides. Florida’s 2017 deaths from suicides and drug overdoses were 3,227 and 5,088 respectively, so each 1% increase in the unemployment rate could lead to 200 additional deaths over the course of a year. That 2,000 to 4,000 more deaths, depending on how high unemployment gets. McCaughey says the “heavy-handed state edicts to close all ‘nonessential businesses’ need to be reassessed in light of the predictable harm to the lives and health of the uninfected.”

It’s time for the politicians who made these decisions to admit their mistakes and get us back to normal as soon as possible. Sadly, many are doubling down, like Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who extended their stay-at-home order (and restricted purchases of “non-essential” products like baby seats and gardening seeds), resulting in a drive-through protest in Lansing. Recently, Tucker Carlson confronted New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy about changing the lockdown goal from “flattening the curve” to “no more cases.” The interview is infamous for this interaction asking about the arrest of 15 people at a synagogue (10:40 into the video):

Carlson: “By what authority did you nullify the Bill of Rights in issuing this order? How do you have the power to do that?”
Murphy: “That’s above my pay grade, Tucker. I wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights when we did this.”
Carlson: “I can tell.”
Murphy: <laughter>

(Yes, that’s a state governor confessing on national television to violating his oath of office.)

Fortunately, Florida and Alachua County have not seen the level of petty tyranny seen in other states. The County Commission has limited their orders to occupancy restrictions, which they arbitrarily set at 1 person per 1,000 square feet and recently reduced to 1 in 750 square feet. Governor DeSantis, however, should take the blame for the economic damage because his order treats all 67 counties the same and he unnecessarily classified businesses as “non-essential.” 

About 50% of Florida’s COVID-19 cases and 85% of all deaths are in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties. There are 20 counties with fewer than 20 cases and 19 counties where the positive test rate is under 5% (state-wide rate is 10.3%). Florida’s death-to-case rate for people under 65 years old is 0.7% (realize it is much lower as a percent of those infected since many cases are never diagnosed). For people under 55, the rate is 0.3%. There is no reason to have any restrictions on people under 65. Trust them to take the proper precautions if they are interacting with at-risk family members. Trust people who are at risk to stay at home on their own. 

Sadly, it seems DeSantis and other politicians need more encouragement to undo their original mistakes. The Finney Law Firm just filed a suit against Dr. Amy Acton and the Ohio Department of Health because of business shutdowns without due process. Where are Florida’s civil rights lawyers? It’s time the politicians paid the price.

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