From the very beginning of the corona virus outbreak I was skeptical of the disease models that were being used by our Federal health authorities; their predictions seemed much too dire. And as the discussion of lockdowns by epidemiologists and other medical experts as a way to control the Covid-19 virus ramped up, I was concerned about the potential for devastating effects on the economy and the ruination of many people's lives.
When the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued a public health order to close bars, restaurants, gyms, theaters, and casinos to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, effective at 8:00 a.m. on March 17 for the duration of 30 days, I went to Governor Polis' web site on March 18 and added a long comment questioning the wisdom of such a one-size all severe draconian reponse to the virus based on disease models that could be deeply flawed, and urged him to look closer at the risk reward calculation that the state was making, as I thought the economic cost far outweighed the medical benefits.
A month later, with the Colorado unemployment rate jumping from about 3% to over 7%, a level not seen since 2013, I wrote a letter to the editor of the Boulder Daily Camera on April 21, which was published on April 26th.
Plan to open economy is not enough
For over a month we have been under state lockdown, driven by COVID-19 pandemic models that predicted that the health care system would be overwhelmed. These models have been consistently very wrong, overestimating deaths by as much as an order of magnitude. Nationwide, there have been over 40,000 deaths as of this writing, and every death is a tragedy, but this is not as high as the 80,000 deaths in the 2017-2018 influenza season as reported by the CDC. There are now studies of randomized testing of asymptomatic individuals, with good-sized data sets, that indicate about 5% of the general population has antibodies to the virus. For Boulder County, that would equate to over 16,000 cases. That would give the county a mortality rate of about 0.1%, where the majority of deaths are those with at-risk conditions.
The cost of the shutdown to businesses and workers has been devastating in our county, and has affected revenues for our city and county governments to the extent that furloughs have begun. Funds for the first round of bailouts have been exhausted, and it is not likely that the additional funds will stem the destruction. Unemployment claims have been unprecedented.
Gov. Jared Polis’ “Open America” plan is more aggressive than some states, but not enough. Showing good judgement, he is allowing counties to transition through the stages at different rates. In terms of health, level of education, population density, and median age, our county should be a candidate for a fast transition. It is imperative that Boulder County and its cities be still more aggressive and begin to roll back the restrictions on our businesses and citizens immediately, something akin to Sweden’s strategy of banning mass gatherings and allowing all other activities, trusting citizens to manage risk while providing support for those at risk who must self-quarantine.
When the County extended the stay at home orders beyond what the State had ordered, while at the same time the City of Boulder ordered all offices continue to be closed until 6/1, I wrote the following email to the city council:
Kenneth Stickney <firstname.lastname@example.org>Apr 27, 2020, 12:05 PM
Dear Council Members
With the closing of the city offices until 6/1, it would appear that council is in complete agreement with the stay at home notice from the Boulder County that is more stringent than either the Administration or the Governor have put in place. All of this assumes that stay at home directives are an effective way to save lives. Assumptions should be scrutinized when policies with serious consequences are being made. In a WSJ opinion piece by a former CEO of Cypress Semiconductor, his correlation analysis found that for various states and countries, a lower death rate was not correlated with how soon stay at home directives were issued. Sweden, which has been accused of reckless Covid policies, continues to have lower death rates than 6 of the hardest hit US states, and is about average for Europe, and they have only eliminated large gatherings and suggested people at risk shelter in place.
I think we need to look at analyses that question the assumptions behind the directives, and consider other options if the facts warrant it. Too much is at stake.
My point of this post is to show that I have been a skeptic for some time of the response of our state and local governments to the Covid-19 pandemic. It has been an overreaction with one-size fits all health care procedures and draconian lockdown orders (violating our civil liberties). The health measures could have focused solely on the at risk population, and let the rest of us work out our own risk-reward calcuations. Our state and local elected and administrative officials should be held accountable for this.