There’s a certain kind of person who believes all public policy should be farmed out to public health officials. For those people, I’d like you to listen to Dr. Anthony Fauci, speaking virtually before the Senate on Tuesday:
“I have never made myself out to be the end-all and only voice in this. I’m a scientist, a physician and a public health official. I give advice according to the best scientific evidence,” Fauci said in his testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
“I don’t give advice about economic things. I don’t give advice about anything other than public health.”
This was in response to questions by Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul. A doctor himself, as well as a COVID-19 survivor, Paul has been one of the voices most critical of those calling for extended economic shutdowns in the face of the coronavirus crisis.
In a clip from Tuesday’s hearing, his questions illustrated perfectly why a lockdown in perpetuity isn’t workable:
Sen. Rand Paul: “I don’t think you’re the end all. I don’t think you’re the one person that gets to make a decision.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “I have never made myself out to be the end all and only voice in this. I’m a scientist, a physician and a public health official.” pic.twitter.com/Nqlg3zOqn3
— CSPAN (@cspan) May 12, 2020
So, how does the country reopen? In his remarks, Paul pointed out that the coronavirus death rate for those under 18 in New York “approaches zero,” and pointed to the model of Sweden, where schools were never closed and the death rate has remained lower than some European countries that did close their schools.
“The mortality per capita in Sweden is actually less than France, less than Italy, less than Spain, less than Belgium, less than the Netherlands, about the same as Switzerland,” Paul said, saying that it wasn’t “an unacceptable result.”
Paul said, instead, that schools ought to open on a district-by-district basis.
As for modeling that projects the progress of infection, Paul noted how consistently wrong it was.
“The history of this, when we look back, will be of wrong prediction after wrong prediction after wrong prediction, starting with Ferguson in England,” he said.
Neil Ferguson, for the uninitiated, is the epidemiologist at the Imperial College in London who was behind the model that predicted up to 2.2 million coronavirus deaths in the United States if no mitigating strategies were put in place.
Ferguson led the United Kingdom’s stay-at-home effort, although he resigned from the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies last week after it was revealed he had broken the rules he’d helped craft when he hosted a visit to his home by his married lover.
“I don’t think any of us are certain when we do all these modelings. There have been more people wrong with modelings than right,” Paul continued.
“We’re opening a lot of economies around the U.S., and I hope that people who are predicting doom and gloom and saying, ‘Oh we can’t do this, there’s going to be this surge,’ will admit that they were wrong if there isn’t a surge because I think that’s what’s going to happen.”
Paul also cast, rightly, a critical eye on the ability of experts to forecast what’s best for the United States.
“I think we ought to have a little bit of humility in our belief that we know what’s best for the economy,” Paul said.
“As much as I respect you, Dr. Fauci, I don’t think you’re the end-all. I don’t think you’re the one person that gets to make a decision. We can listen to your advice, but there are people on the other side saying there’s not going to be a surge and that we can safely reopen the economy. And the facts will bear this out. But If we keep kids out of school for another year, what’s going to happen is the poor and underprivileged kids who don’t have a parent that’s able to teach them at home are not going to learn for a full year.
“I think it’s a huge mistake if we don’t open the schools in the fall.”
And yes, as Paul pointed out, states like Kentucky have never really reached the pandemic point as places like New York, Boston and Detroit have. Kentucky had 6,853 coronavirus cases as of Wednesday morning, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. It had 321 reported deaths versus 2,335 reported recovered.
“We have less [coronavirus] deaths in Kentucky than we have in an average flu season,” Paul said. “Not to say this isn’t deadly, but really, outside of New England, we’ve had a relatively benign course for this virus nationwide, and I think the one-size-fits-all, ‘we’re going to have a national strategy and nobody’s going to go to school’ is kind of ridiculous.”
Bottom line, Rand’s statement was four-and-a-half minutes of cold water splashed on the face of those who believe the experts should be the policymakers, especially when those experts are specialists as opposed to generalists.
Yes, obviously, we should listen to experts like Dr. Fauci. No one’s saying we shouldn’t. That’s why he was on Capitol Hill in the first place. He should be warning us about health risks. The most dire mistake, however, would be to think that he ought to run things outside his ken.
Fauci’s warnings, for example, shouldn’t be used as a justification for keeping states mostly closed until a vaccine is developed. We’d deal with economic damages far worse than anything we would face on a human scale if we continued to operate in such a fashion. Beyond that, we should consider a study from the Well Being Institute that estimated there would be an additional 75,000 so-called “deaths of despair” — stemming from alcohol and drug abuse and suicide — from the impact of the coronavirus.
Speaking with reporters after the hearing, Paul summed up the problem best.
“There’s a spectrum of everything. And I think he’s on the overly cautious end of the spectrum,” Paul said, according to Politico.
“I don’t think he’s doing it because he’s a bad person, but if we’re overly cautious and we wait until all infectious disease goes away … we’ll wait forever and the country is going to be destroyed.”
Unemployment is now at 14.7 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and that’s almost certainly not where it’ll plateau. According to an April 2020 paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, only 38 percent of small businesses expected to be open at year’s end if the economic crisis continued more than six months.
Is the country prepared for over 60 percent of its small businesses to close? Will that magically fix itself with a vaccine? That vaccine, by the way, is at least a year to 18 months off, if you want to go by Fauci’s testimony. How many of our small businesses will be left then?
In the early days of the coronavirus crisis, we had people calling for lockdown policy to be dictated at the federal level. We ought to thank our lucky stars that never happened. A one-size-fits-all policy, dictated by the most cautious elements in government, would drive us deeper into the mire. We’re seeing states start to reopen, which is a good thing.
We’re making tentative steps toward our slow lurch back to normal. No one says it’s going to happen overnight. However, to wait until a vaccine or a treatment magically appears is beyond overcautious.
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