Governor DeWine addressed Ohioans on July 15, 2020 with an update on the COVID19 pandemic. His address was laden with data presented out of context, demagoguery, and panic inducing language.
Governor DeWine said that Florida, Arizona, and Texas will become our "tragedy" if we don't act now. What tragedy is he speaking of? Cases are increasing in those states, but are hospitalizations? Are their hospitals full? Hospitalizations in Arizona may be flat-lining. Texas hospitals are not full, at least not in Houston, and Florida isn’t quite an ash heap either. What about deaths? As it stands today, deaths per one million: AZ (342), Ohio (265), FL (218), TX (130) (source: http://worldometers.info). More cases do not equal more deaths and does not necessarily equal more hospitalizations either.
The increase in cases in Texas and Arizona can at least partly be attributed to border crossings from Mexico.
According to Kyle Lamb, from July 5-July11 the United States conducted 4,595,942 COVID19 tests. In 2018, 2019, and 2020 combined, the United States conducted 4,473,648 influenza tests. Why are we surprised that number of positive cases are increasing based on the unprecedented number of tests being conducted?
Governor DeWine attempted to downplay the fact that more testing necessarily means more positive tests by stating that our current hospitalizations are nearing the peak of April/May. Well, did the healthcare system collapse then? It did not. Hospitalizations were trending up but have just recently decreased and there are plenty of beds available in Ohio. Even with the increase in cases, there has not been a significant spike in ICU hospitalizations or ventilator use.
Younger people are also accounting for a larger percentage of new COVID19 infections and are less likely to be hospitalized. The majority of Ohio's total cases are in the age ranges of 20-29 and 30-39. The total deaths in those age groups combined is 34, with 511 total hospitalizations out of 25,217 cases. That is a 0.13% fatality rate and a hospitalization rate of 2.02%. DeWine also stated that the "virus is spreading with vengeance." The use of the word vengeance is nothing more than inflammatory language to scare you into submission. If anything, this is happening because of his decisions to shut us in our homes. Lock downs only delay the almost inevitable reality that many people will become infected with COVID19. Speaking of infections, instead of testing everything that moves for COVID19, why not a mass antibody study to understand how many of us have already been infected?
With much of the focus on the spike in new cases and the fact that most of the new cases are in demographics that are largely unaffected by the virus, have we forgotten about the most vulnerable population? Governor DeWine stated that over 3,000 Ohioans have died from COVID19. Although every single death is tragic, for context, 57% of those deaths occurred in long-term care facilities (1,777 deaths since April 15, I could not find total LTCF deaths). For more context, about 74,000 Ohioans reside in long-term care facilities out of a total state population of 11,690,000. That is 0.6% of our state population. Therefore, at a minimum, 57% of Ohio COVID19 deaths have come from 0.6% of the population. This virus is more deadly the older you are and especially if you live in nursing home. We locked down the state and our most vulnerable still died. It is quite clear what populations this virus poses the biggest threat to and yet, where is our focus? Were all of the sacrifices Ohioans had to make in vain? What does this suggest about the lock down strategy?
Governor DeWine hides behind the so-called experts claiming that “we have done everything they said we should.” Well, which experts said that lock downs were the best option? Not all experts thought lock downs were a good idea (see: here, here, here, here). The virus does what viruses do, the virus will spread regardless of lock down or no lock down. Here is a comparison of Sweden and Michigan, done by Steve Deace, which illustrates opposite public policy decisions—no lock down and lock down, respectively---in a country and a state with similar populations. It should be obvious that when you lock an entire population inside to flatten the curve or to prevent them from becoming infected and then you “allow” them to venture out into nature that they will then become infected, therefore spiking the curve. It’s also not conclusive that staying inside slows the spread either. At one point, 66% of New York’s cases were from people who were staying home.
It could be possible that shutting otherwise healthy and low risk populations indoors only delayed the inevitable event that the uninfected will eventually become infected. The objection to this might go like this: “It was a new virus that we knew little about so we had to shut everything down until we could know more.” So, we had to risk economic ruin with little data? Why couldn’t we take what we already knew about viruses and allow low-risk populations to continue on with life and isolate the high-risk populations? Weren’t infections still happening even with lock down, stay-home orders in place?
Ohio’s stay-home order began on March 24 and was effective until April 6 and was extended multiple times. You can see that even with stay-home orders in place, daily cases still increased. There was even a huge spike starting on April 18. Then, in May the seven-day average of cases begins to steadily decrease even with some business reopening and a lifting of restrictions. On May 26, the seven-day average was 579 cases. That number steadily fell to 382 on June 14. This was just before a sudden and steady increase in cases. Guess what happened on June 11? Anyone, regardless of symptoms, was allowed to get tested for COVID19.
The governor also said we should wear a mask to slow the spread so kids can go back to school and play sports because "the verdict is in" on mask use. Well, no it's actually not. There is not a consensus on mask use (see also here, here, here, here). Let’s also not forget that the all-powerful and wise Dr. Fauci originally said people should not be wearing masks out in public; so too, did the U.S Surgeon General. Please forgive some of us for listening to the experts.
However, there is some emerging evidence suggesting masks may work for COVID19 and that sounds good but there is some skepticism regarding the science.
Let’s say masks do help to protect you from becoming infected. If you have not been infected and built a natural immunity to the virus, you would still remain a viable host for the virus. Are you going to wear a mask forever? Probably not and if you do, that’s your choice. Let’s not forget that a mask alone does not protect you, just like a seatbelt is not the only safety measure we take for driving safety. The mask, if it is worn, is not the end all be all of safety. You still need to wash your hands frequently, not touch your face (wearing a mask certainly does not decrease face touching), sanitize frequently touched surfaces, sneeze or cough into tissues or your elbow, or stay home if you have a fever. You know, the precautions we take every flu season? Adam Finn, professor of pediatrics at the University of Bristol, said: "Most masks will do a much less efficient job of protecting the wearer from breathing in droplets and no mask will stop you infecting yourself with your hands. In fact, if you spend a lot of time touching and adjusting your mask and your hands are contaminated, they could even increase your risk of self-inoculation." Getting everyone to wear a mask is one thing and to have everyone wear it perfectly is impossible.
It’s been said that wearing a mask now is like putting a condom on at the baby shower. Ben Cowling, a professor of epidemiology and a mask researcher at the University of Hong Kong's School of Public Health agrees: "I think it's too late to do a lot for the current epidemic, because it's already spread such a lot, and then the cases that you're getting now are people infected two or three weeks ago. And the lock downs that are in place will hopefully really slow down infections," Cowling said. "Adding masks now I don't think would make a lot of difference to that trajectory."
Now that we know that there is no consensus on mask use, especially this late in game, why would sending children back to school be contingent on whether or not we all wear a mask? Given the data we have, there are no good reasons children cannot go back school or play sports. The virus is nearly harmless to children. Two people between the ages of 0 and 19 have died in Ohio out of 5,479 cases (0.03% case fatality rate). A recent study from Germany determined that children are basically a brake on the virus. The idea that we all have to wear a mask so children can go back to school is just dumb. The American Academy of Pediatrics said that school reopening plans should be centered on the goal of having students physically at school. Also, a recent panel of pediatricians on MSNBC all agreed they would send their children to school. Many other countries are sending and have sent their children back to school, so why can’t we?
One possible solution is to bring the children into the school and have teachers teach remotely; especially teachers that are in a higher risk demographic. In this scenario, children get all the benefits of being with their peers and high-risk teachers can still keep themselves safe.
Governor DeWine also dabbled in demagoguery. He basically asked us if going to a bar-b-que would be worth grandma or grandpa getting infected and perishing from COVID19. What utter nonsense. I think grandma and grandpa have earned the right to decide for themselves whether or not they want to attend family gatherings. Hell, anyone traveling to such an event risks being killed in a car accident. And therein lies the heart of the matter. There is no such thing as a zero-risk scenario in our world. He also gave us a choice between wearing a mask and going into lock down again. Are we to believe that those are our only options?
How much longer do we have to keep away from our loved ones? How much longer do we have to sacrifice the things that make life worth living in the first place and then made to feel like heartless beasts if we do decide that the risk of doing those things is acceptable? At this point we know who is at the highest risk of dying from this virus. Are we not capable of protecting them and still living our lives as we did before? And at what point do those people have to take responsibility for protecting themselves? There are hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, who have lived and continue to live with compromised immune systems every day before, during, and after the current pandemic and yet we never had to shut down our way of life to accommodate them. At what point does this end? What does victory in this battle against mother nature look like? How will we know it is “safe?” Is it ever safe?