President Trump has announced, in a brief statement at a news conference this afternoon (Friday, May 22, 2020), that churches and other “houses of worship” are to be considered essential, calling upon Governors to allow churches to open.
The President stated that he identified houses of worship “as essential places that provide essential services” – which they certainly are! – and called on governors “to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now, for this weekend.”
In a statement which is certain to be controversial, he asserted that “if they don’t do it, I will override the governors,” although it is unclear by what authority or by means of what practical mechanism he would do that.
Now, I generally tend to be on the side of “States Rights,” but to be frank, many of the governors have seemed to be using their heads for little but hat-racks in this crisis, and that’s putting it as gently as I possibly can. Kudos to the President for expressing a truth which earlier generations would have held to be self-evident! It’s just a shame he had to.
He further noted that “In America, we need more prayer, not less.” To all of which I can only say, about darned time! The fact that, as the President pointed out, many governors have considered bars and abortion centers to be “essential,” but left out churches, is something that has stuck in my craw for a good while, now! Again, kudos to President Trump.
In addition, Dr. Deborah Birk, chief of the national Covid-19 task force, has pointed out that nationwide, new hospitalizations and emergency room admissions for both influenza-like illnesses and covid-like illnesses have been declining throughout the past month, according to CDC data. In fact, across the country, she points out that we are “below baseline.”
Maryland, sadly, has been lagging behind: it remained stubbornly “orange” when most other states had turned various shades of green: Dr. Birx reports that the CDC has been “calling out” the “high plateau” in Maryland for some weeks, now. But even the Old Line State has dropped to yellow, at least, over the last week. That is excellent news! The CDC website confirms this overall improvement, stating that
“Nationally, levels of influenza-like illness (ILI) and COVID-19-like illness (CLI), as well as the percentage of specimens testing positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, continue to decline. Mortality attributed to COVID-19 also decreased compared to last week but remains elevated above baseline,” noting cautiously, as always, that numbers “may increase as additional death certificates are processed.”
This doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods, as of yet; and of course, there is always the chance for the dreaded “second wave.” But it is certainly encouraging to see some significant progress, at long last! Other pieces of data from the CDC website:
“Two indicators from existing surveillance systems [as mentioned above – the “Outpatient Influenza-Like Illness Network (ILINet)” and the “National Syndromic Surveillance Program (NSSP)”] are being used to track outpatient or emergency department (ED) visits for illness with symptoms compatible with COVID-19. Nationally, the percentages of visits for ILI and CLI decreased, compared to last week. Levels of ILI are below baseline nationally for the fifth week and in all 10 surveillance regions.”
Again, not out of the woods yet! But at least the trees are getting smaller and further apart…
As regards mortality, “Based on death certificate data, the percentage of deaths attributed to pneumonia, influenza or COVID-19 (PIC) decreased from 18.5% during week 19 to 12.0% during week 20 but remained above baseline.” Nonetheless, a drop from 18.5% to 12.0% is a drop of more than a third, and encouraging!
While noting that “the percentage remains high compared with any influenza season,” the good news is that this is “the fourth week during which a declining percentage of deaths due to PIC has been recorded.” With respect to testing, as mentioned above, percent positives – specimens testing positive for Covid-19, as a percentage of total tests – are also declining. Taken as a whole, things are certainly looking more positive.
In separate but related news, Dr. Anthony Fauci – the same guy who just last week “warned members of Congress that the United States could face even more ‘suffering and death’ from the coronavirus if some states rush to reopen businesses too early” – now says that “Stay-at-home orders intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus could end up causing ‘Irreparable damage’ if imposed for too long.”
Ya don’t say? Glad he’s finally noticed! But why the sudden switch? I am inclined to agree with one commenter who pointed out that “He’s getting nervous that the nightmare he set in motion might be so bad he’ll have to take responsibility for it and so he’s backtracking.” That comment continues, “This guy is a complete disaster and is responsible for the destruction of millions of people’s lives,” but I’m not sure I’d go quite that far.
I would lay most of the blame for the economic devastation and social damage on Neil Ferguson, author of the hopelessly buggy and unreliable Imperial College London model that predicted up to 2.2 million deaths from Covid-19 in the US and 500,000 in the UK and sparked shutdown-mania; but Fauci has certainly contributed, and he may be beginning to realize that, and getting worried.
He might also be getting some push-back from within his own profession. In related news, Fox News reports on their website that,
“More than 600 doctors signed onto a letter sent to President Trump Tuesday pushing him to end the ‘national shutdown’ aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, calling the widespread state orders keeping businesses closed and kids home from school a ‘mass casualty incident’ with ‘exponentially growing health consequences.’
“The letter outlines a variety of consequences that the doctors have observed resulting from the coronavirus shutdowns, including patients missing routine checkups that could detect things like heart problems or cancer, increases in substance and alcohol abuse, and increases in financial instability that could lead to ‘[p]overty and financial uncertainty,’ which ‘is closely linked to poor health.’
“‘We are alarmed at what appears to be the lack of consideration for the future health of our patients,’ the doctors say in their letter. ‘The downstream health effects… are being massively under-estimated and under-reported. This is an order of magnitude error’…
“The letter continues: ‘The millions of casualties of a continued shutdown will be hiding in plain sight, but they will be called alcoholism, homelessness, suicide, heart attack, stroke, or kidney failure. In youths it will be called financial instability, unemployment, despair, drug addiction, unplanned pregnancies, poverty, and abuse.
“‘Because the harm is diffuse, there are those who hold that it does not exist. We, the undersigned, know otherwise.’”
I have said all along that Covid-19 is serious, and should not be underestimated – but neither should the consequences of the measures taken to combat it. It’s nice to see people with far more medical and scientific background than I have, expressing the same view!
With regard to Ferguson, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that he terrified the world based on a piece-of-crap model. One computer data modeling expert said the Imperial model coding is a “buggy mess that looks more like a bowl of angel hair pasta than a finely tuned piece of programming,” according to the UK’s Daily Telegraph.
“In our commercial reality, we would fire anyone for developing code like this and any business that relied on it to produce software for sale would likely go bust,” David Richards, co-founder of British data technology company WANdisco, told the Telegraph.
The Telegraph also reported that scientists from the University of Edinburgh say that the findings in Ferguson’s model were impossible to reproduce using the same data. The team got different results when they used different machines, and even different results from the same machines.
Michael Bonsall, Professor of Mathematical Biology at Oxford University, added that “Models must be capable of passing the basic scientific test of producing the same results given the same initial set of parameters… otherwise, there is simply no way of knowing whether they will be reliable.” That’s putting it gently.
And the Imperial College’s claim, that it was just one of many models used to make decisions, is a similar chunk of fecal matter; a couple of months ago, everybody was talking about the Imperial College model, and touting it as the gold standard – specifically as the justification for shutting everything down.
And on top of a garbage model that couldn’t give the same result twice when run with the same data set, he was conducting an adulterous in-person affair, when everyone else was supposed to be locked down and social-distancing, putting her and her whole family at risk. In other words, either a) he didn’t believe his own model, b) he somehow thought he was immune, or c) he just didn’t care. Not what you’d call a reliable or believable individual!
Again, I am not saying covid-19 is not real or serious, or that we don’t need to take reasonable precautions. It does seem to be highly infectious (though how highly infectious is also up for debate: it seems to be most infectious with people who are in close contact for sustained periods, which is hardly unusual), and its effects can be weird and unpredictable.
Some people respond very badly to it. There are horror stories coming out of some hospitals, in some places, which are not just figments of the imagination. But there are also people who “should” have reacted badly who have done fine (suggesting to this admitted layman that there is probably a genetic component that we don’t understand yet).
I have friends (including a dear old college friend) or acquaintances who have it, who have had it, and/or who are suspected of having it. And sadly, it’ll be a long time before I feel truly comfortable shaking hands again, or getting closer than six feet to anyone I don’t know well and interact with regularly. If anyone! For someone like me, who likes handshakes and even hugs, that is a tragedy of its own.
Fear is hard to shake – especially when there is, to be fair, legitimate justification for that fear. But except for those who are already heavily invested in the status quo / dominant narrative, there is a growing consensus that this thing was thought to be quite literally orders of magnitude worse than it actually is – and most of that was based directly on Ferguson’s badly flawed Imperial College model.
As a result, a whole lot of world governments reacted like the proverbial Chicken Little, running around shrieking that the sky was falling, and much of that can be laid directly at the feet of Ferguson and his piece-of-crap model. As can the public health consequences delineated in the doctors’ letter, above.
If Ferguson can’t be charged with a criminal offense for contributing materially to tanking the world’s economy, causing fear, anxiety, depression, and despair to millions, and probably contributing to a bunch of otherwise-preventable deaths (again, as delineated above), he should be sued for it; and if that doesn’t work, either, at the very least he should never find work in his field again.
I respect science and scientists, when they’re doing their job responsibly and well. But in the words of one commentator, this crisis has seen far too many “pointy-brained lab coats in ivory towers,” who “found themselves anointed with the inebriation of power.” And it has not gone well.
To conclude this lengthy epistle:
As I have commented previously, and will doubtless comment again, there are two birds which make very poor models for our reaction to this coronavirus pandemic: one is the ostrich, sticking his head in the sand and pretending / claiming that it’s a hoax, and/or nothing much to worry about; the other is the aforementioned Chicken Little, running around and shrieking that the sky is falling. Eschew them both, my friends!
So to reiterate: don’t be an ostrich. As noted above, SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19 is an “influenza-like illness,” or “ILI.” But it is both more infectious, and more virulent, than an ordinary influenza virus. How much more infectious, and how much more virulent, are things which are still somewhat up in the air, but no responsible scientist or doctor I have heard or read suggests that it’s nothing to be concerned about.
On the other hand, don’t be Chicken Little, either. This is not the Black Death. We have not seen – and I’m going to go out on a limb, here, and say we are not going to see, even if there’s a second wave – Public Works dump-trucks rumbling down our neighborhood streets, with loudspeakers blaring, “Bring out your dead!” While some populations are obviously more vulnerable to this than others, the overall chance of survival for those infected appears to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 98%, or higher. As I say, there are some groups that are more vulnerable.
I am in a higher-risk group, myself, partly because of my age (the best outcomes appear to be for those under age 45, and I am 54) and partly due to some medical issues. So I am all for taking reasonable precautions – and I hope I would be, even if I were not in a higher-risk category. Prudence is always a good idea. But there is a difference between reasonable precautions and hysterically sobbing “just stay home!” – or burning down churches.
The fact is, there is more to life than simply avoiding dying. Let’s face it, living itself has a 100% fatality rate: no one, but no one, gets out of this life alive – physically, at least. As most of y’all know, I’m a clergyman; I believe that the death of the physical body is not the end of the story!
But life is also about those things that make it worth living, and a lot of that includes sharing our lives with other human beings. Cowering in our bunkers may be existence, but it is more questionable whether it truly constitutes life, the fullest sense of the word. By all means, let us take reasonable precautions, as I say; and let us strive to protect the more vulnerable among us.
But please, friends, please: do not buy into this notion that eschewing hugs and handshakes, keeping a 6-foot “social distance,” and wearing face-masks are the “new normal.” There is nothing “normal,” new or old, about them.*
Think of them, rather, as temporary tactics, “best practices” – disciplines, if you will – that we may be adopting out of necessity for a time, a season of our collective lives… but they are not, should not be, must not be allowed to become, “normal” – or we will lose something that is fundamentally human.
Don’t let that happen.
* And to be quite brutally frank, whether people like the idea or not, this virus is going to remain a problem until herd immunity is achieved, whether by vaccines, people being infected and recovering, or some combination of the two; in that sense, these measures may “flatten the curve,” but they may actually work against the long-term benefit of the “herd” as a whole.