fbpx

Opinion: Resistance to reopening is unfounded; restrictions are unconstitutional

OPINION

BY LEN CABRERA

It’s getting easy to tell who actually pays attention to COVID-19 data and who listens to media propaganda. Sadly, the Alachua County and City of Gainesville commissions’ policies are driven by the latter as they resist reopening our economy and society by issuing more restrictive regulations than the rest of the state. The commissioners are uninformed and unprepared, and they are violating due process rights. They need to be held accountable.

Don't Miss a Post!

Increasingly-politicized opponents of reopening the economy have been pushing “the sky is falling” hysteria, but there is no evidence that reopening is increasing the number of COVID-19 cases, even with increased testing. Georgia started opening its economy on April 24. On May 9, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp noted that hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Georgia were at the lowest level since the state started tracking them.

Below are daily case graphs for Georgia, Florida, and Alachua County, showing the trend lines before and after reopening. While the slopes look different, only the Florida pre-opening and Georgia after-opening slopes are statistically significant (each dropping about 16 cases per day). None of the other slopes are significantly different from zero. (If you want to reproduce the graphs, the Florida and Alachua data can be downloaded here. The Georgia data is here.)

The fourth graph reports daily cases per one million population to control for differences in population and allow the three areas to be compared directly (Population figures: Alachua, FL, GA). This provides the one thing COVID propagandists always leave out: PERSPECTIVE. There is no reason why Alachua County needs more stringent rules than the state of Florida. COVID-19 is not as prevalent in Alachua County as it is in the rest of the state (where Dade and Broward counties have nearly half the cases).

Alachua County commissioners will want to take credit for the low numbers (while pretending the numbers aren’t low so people will be terrified enough to demand a mask mandate), but the stay-at-home order had no effect, and their additional restrictions also had no effect on COVID-19 cases. In fact, Marion County has fewer COVID-19 cases than Alachua County despite having almost 100,000 more people. Marion County did not impose any additional regulations and pushed to open more aggressively than the state. They opened boat ramps on April 17 and asked to allow businesses to run at 50% capacity (including salons and gyms) on May 4 (Alachua County was at 1 person per 500 sqft until May 18). The graph below uses actual daily case numbers; adjusting for population will move the Marion County trend lines even lower than Alachua County’s lines. (The daily case data is the same file from above.)

In Alachua County, the daily new case rate is unchanged while, at the same time, testing has increased. Alachua County averaged about 180 tests per day in April and over 320 tests per day since starting to open on May 4. The positive test rate has decreased steadily since testing data by county was made available on the Dashboard. The average positive test rate in April was 3.5%. Since May 4, the average is 1.7%, and it’s only 0.66% over the last 7 days. (The Dashboard data was recorded daily by Alachua Chronicle, as it was reported each day, so you may not be able to reproduce the graph below. The slope is statistically significant, dropping almost 0.09% per day with p-value 0.00000026.)

Recently released CDC data also puts COVID-19 into perspective. The Weekly Counts of Deaths by State and Select Causes (2019-2020) was updated on May 13 to include COVID-19 deaths. These can be compared to deaths in previous years (2014-2018).

The CDC data show COVID-19 deaths through the first 19 weeks of the year (ending May 2): 54,409 in the U.S. and 1,284 in Florida. Those are horrible losses, but put them into perspective. During the same period, the U.S. had over 1 million deaths, and Florida had 79,504 deaths. That means COVID-19 was only responsible for 5% of all deaths in the U.S. and 1.6% of all deaths in Florida. That’s not exactly something worthy of destroying our economy and way of life.

In fact, for the first 19 weeks of the year, 1,407 Florida deaths were caused by flu and pneumonia (average for 2014-2020 is 1,313). So COVID-19 has not been worse than flu in Florida, but the Alachua County Commission wants people to believe we’re facing the Black Plague and must wear face masks (against recommendations from national, state, and local health officials).

Another way to provide perspective is to highlight just how little threat there is to young, healthy people. Avik Roy used CDC data to produce a chart showing deaths per million people by age. Using Florida Division of Emergency Management COVID-19 Data Reports (specifically page 3 of the May 18 report) and 2020 projected population by age group, the graph can be reproduced for Florida (using the same scale for comparison).

The above graph for Alachua County (death data here, population data here, but the age ranges don’t match) uses the same scale as the national graph to show just how little impact there has been from COVID-19. The working-age population (18-64) have almost no risk: 5.5 in 1,000,000 translates into 0.00055%. People in that age range are more likely to die from a bee sting, a dog bite, or a lightning strike. (This site provides a more humorous take that includes SCUBA diving, canoeing, and other “routine” activities.)

Some might complain that looking at total population is not a good measure for the risk from COVID-19. Using cases as the denominator produces the same result: those under 65 are much less vulnerable to COVID-19 than those over 65, and every age group is safer in Alachua County than the state of Florida. (FL data here; Alachua County data here)

Despite all this, we get sensational headlines from “news” sites that push the County Commission’s agenda. The May 16 headline, “Data reveal more COVID-19 deaths in county than reported,” is clearly supposed to panic readers. The deaths were people transferred from other counties, so it’s not some big conspiracy to cover up COVID-19 deaths, as the headline implies. The story also says all the cases had “underlying conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.”

Reporters almost seem gleeful covering COVID-19 deaths among young people, trying to counter the actual data (examples: CNN, Huffington Post, Washington Post, Time, MSN, Yahoo). A local May 18 story (“Coronavirus: How the youngest 25 in Florida died of COVID-19”) may have had the same intention but let the cat out of the bag: “Most suffered from asthma, chronic bronchitis, morbid obesity and hypertension — or some combination of all the above.” This is confirmed by data from New York City, where over 99% of COVID-19 deaths had underlying conditions. Britain’s National Health Service (see “COVID19 all deaths by condition” tab) also shows 95% of their COVID-19 deaths had a pre-existing condition.

The biased reporting is only one sign of the politicization of COVID-19. Drastic changes in state-reported deaths are ripe for conspiracy theorists. For example, on April 14, New York City’s death toll jumped by over 3,700 after Mayor Bill de Blasio decided to categorize “presumed coronavirus cases” over the previous months. (New York state’s May 18 data shows 6,185 deaths on April 14; the five days before and after that date average under 2,000 deaths per day.) More recently,  Colorado lowered its COVID-19 deaths by nearly 24%, from 1,150 to 878.

Anyone looking at the data frequently has noticed these irregularities and inconsistencies. Florida has not been as bad, but it’s still there. For example, on May 2, the Dashboard reported 1,364 deaths. Using the data published on May 20, May 2 had 1,314 deaths. The CDC data show 1,284 deaths by May 2.

Even the coronavirus task force coordinator, Deborah Birx, has questioned the CDC’s system for tracking virus data. She said, “There’s nothing from the CDC that I can trust.” This is the same Dr. Birx who, on April 7, infamously said deaths with COVID-19 are counted as deaths from COVID-19.

Locally, the Alachua County Administrator for the Florida Department of Health, Paul Myers, admitted all COVID-19 deaths in Alachua County had at least four co-morbidities: “It’s at least very curious to me that we’re counting these as COVID-19 deaths.” He has repeatedly said that Alachua County meets the requirements for Phase 1 opening, but the county commission continues to put additional restrictions on top of the state guidance. Myers said the “baseline for influenza-like illness in Alachua County’s about 2.5%” of emergency room visits year-round. His graphs show Alachua County is about there now, so it won’t be possible to see any downward trend in cases.

The data may be of questionable quality, but they consistently show several things: (1) young, healthy people are not at much risk from COVID-19, (2) Florida has not been affected by COVID-19 as much as the rest of the nation, and (3) Alachua County has not been affected as much as Florida. David Wallace-Wells argues the response to COVID-19 didn’t address the age disparity. There is no reason why there should be any restrictions on young, healthy people. Those who are at risk should be trusted to take their own precautions. We shouldn’t have uniform restrictions placed on the entire population. “Homogenous intervention in the face of heterogeneous risk is just cruelty passed off as equality.” (Nathan Nahas)

The one universal truth of the COVID-19 era was noted by Barack Obama: “More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing.” (HBCU commencement speech, May 16, 2020, see transcript or watch 1hr, 44min into this video).

He probably didn’t mean that as an attack on Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, who seems the biggest proponent for ignoring the Constitution for our own good. Consider this timeline of Fauci-isms courtesy of Steve Deace:

January 26 Nothing to fear from coronavirus
February 28 Coronavirus is akin to severe seasonal flu
March 8 “No reason to be walking around with a mask”
March 11  Coronavirus could be “10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu”
March 15 We need “15 days to flatten the curve”
April 1 Pushed to extend lockdown using discredited IHME model
April 10 Claimed he’s always been skeptical of models

Locally, our political leaders aren’t any better. Governor DeSantis continues to do press conferences claiming there’s no such thing as non-essential businesses, but his emergency orders say otherwise. The state legislature has been in hiding, more than willing to let the governor continue a perpetual state of emergency. County and city leaders are abusing their newfound powers to destroy businesses on a whim, without even feeling the need to stay up-to-date on COVID-19 developments.

In the May 18 District 1 telephone town hall hosted by City Commissioner Gigi Simmons (transcript), Simmons was asked how to get an antibody test. She didn’t know the answer, and Dr. Adrian Tyndall  (UF College of Medicine) said “the antibody tests are really kind of in development.” Actually, FDA-approved tests have been offered by Quest Diagnostics, LabCorp, and other private providers for over two weeks. There is no reason why this information should not have been known by someone hosting a town hall, but it wasn’t the first time local officials revealed their ignorance and unpreparedness. A May 7 column highlights examples of Alachua County and Gainesville commissioners not knowing “the most basic information about how COVID-19 is affecting Alachua County.” Just yesterday, City Commissioner Helen Warren said, “‘I’m wondering if the data somehow can show how many people were tested that day.” That information has been on the state Dashboard since March 19.

Other states have enforced their constitutions. Wisconsin’s Supreme Court overturned the governor’s “Safer at Home” order because it was “unlawful, invalid, and unenforceable.” Ohio’s legislature refused to reign in their governor or department of health, but a judge just ruled that gyms cannot be forced to close. In the ruling, the judge said the department of health director “acted in an impermissibly arbitrary, unreasonable, and oppressive manner and without any procedural safeguards.” Attorney General William General Barr issued a memo saying “If a state or local ordinance crosses the line from an appropriate exercise of authority to stop the spread of COVID19 into an overbearing infringement of constitutional and statutory protections, the Department of Justice may have an obligation to address that overreach in federal court.” Unfortunately, U.S. Attorneys don’t seem eager to do anything with that memo.

It’s time for citizens to reclaim their sovereignty and hold these inept politicians accountable. The governor, Alachua County Commission, and City of Gainesville Commission are essentially passing regulations on a whim, often changing them within days–or within hours. They are violating the U.S. and Florida Constitutions and the Florida statute governing public health emergencies (381.00315), as outlined in this column. Any business that has been affected should take legal action. Local attorneys who have already filed suits against Alachua County include Childers Law (352-335-0400) and Eagle-Glenn Law (352-316-7091).

6 Comments