Points of View on COVID Policy Making

Points of View on COVID Policy Making July 30, 2021

Domenico and Melanie Bettinelli are high on my shortlist of people whose opinions I respect immensely, so I wanted to comment on Dom’s post today, “I Will Not Go Underground.”  He provides important background to his comments:

We have followed the general recommendations for keeping us safe from the coronavirus COVID-19: wearing masks in public before a vaccination, hand sanitizer, limiting trips out, and so on. In April of this year, Melanie and I got our vaccinations as soon as we could. When restrictions were lifted in May of this year, we began venturing out more. As soon as our older children could be vaccinated, we got their shots too.

In other words, we do not fit the profile of the conservatives who “refuse the science” and refuse to go along with what’s best for us.

Then he writes:

We can’t keep living in fear. Life itself is risky. Where some may say why take any chance, I respond because you can never be completely safe. As a society, our risk matrix is completely out of whack. We have paralyzing fear of things which will not hurt us (if you’re vaccinated and are average health, even if you get COVID, it will be like having the flu, not life-threatening), but not of that which can really hurt us.

Unless we learn to live with COVID in the same way we learned to live with the flu, measles, polio, and other infectious and potentially deadly diseases for which we have vaccines, we are going to live forever in fear and under government-directed measures that don’t protect, but strip us of our freedom and our dignity.

The comparison with measles and the flu is particularly apt since the CDC’s recent internal communication released by The Washington Post contains a slide placing the Delta variant of COVID-19 in approximately (and it’s a very rough approximation on the graph on p. 16) the same fatality zone as the measles, and just above ordinary flu.  Caveat that the log scale graphic is very, very vague.  Trigger warning: Slide 16 is not going to help you worry about chicken pox.

So I wanted to talk about why I think my post from yesterday is more cautionary than Dom’s post, even though I think he’s basically right (but so I am I, kinda).  I think it’s because I live in Gunlandia.

My state’s shutdown lasted weeks, not months, and was very selective.  Re-opening was industry-led (the restaurant lobby, for example, developed its own standards for reopening and compliance was encouraged but not mandated), with some local governments imposing stricter requirements, but very little in the way of statewide restrictions.

As a result, for most of the past year, my family’s been living in Choose Your Own Adventure mode.  We can choose to patronize businesses that are more strict with precautions or those that are more permissive.  Three of my kids had in-person classes (with varying precautions in place), and my one college student whose school reneged on in-person classes to disastrous effect . . . is no longer attending that school.  We pulled the plug on sending our tuition money there.

We’ve been careful?  We’ve been selective about risk/benefit decisions?  My husband and I have avoided quite a lot of higher-risk social activities? But we have not been “underground.”

Frankly we’ve been appalled by some of the stories we’ve heard of lockdown policing in other parts of the country.  It’s hard to believe people tolerate such draconian measures.

So if you’re living in the region of the country that’s lit-up red with a fresh wave of Delta activity (in my case: local to me there’s a resurgence of cases but we aren’t yet red-zoned), well, it’s like being someplace with a measles outbreak, I imagine.

Normal life here for the flu involves varying levels of caution depending on how bad local flu outbreaks are. Sometimes a school will get hit so hard with an outbreak that the school will shut down for a few days, sanitize like crazy, and send home reminders not to come to school feverish.  Most of the time the precautions consist of begging parents to send in hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes.  When I was teaching while sick (there aren’t enough sick days to account for the weeks and weeks that one can spend coughing and sneezing through the winter), I’d make the kids push their desks back away from my desk and whiteboard, and I’d refrain from going desk-to-desk hovering.  Interestingly, I instinctively went for about six feet of distance.  No idea why.

So anyway, writing from a part of the world where people err on the risk-taking side, I tend to notice the need for increased caution as cases start picking up.  If I lived someplace more prone to heavy-handed mandates, I’d probably be dittoing the Bettinellis.

In any case, let me be unequivocal: I think coercive measures are a terrible idea on every level.

File:Palestine sunbird (Cinnyris osea osea) male.jpg

Photo of a hummingbird by Charles J. Sharp, courtesy of Wikimedia, CC 4.0. Not a metaphor, just a beautiful picture.

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