Thursday, April 23, 2020

Reborn On The Fourth of July?

A little gallows humor:  What do Julius Caesar and America as we knew it have in common?  Both died on the Ides of March (March 15).  That date was, indeed, roughly when America began to shut down to one degree or another.  But will America be reborn on (or before) the Fourth of July?

There is much debate lately about how and when to ease lockdown/shutdown restrictions and re-open the country for business.  Unfortunately, neither side seems to do nuance very well if at all.  Opening up everything or nearly everything all at once overnight would of course be reckless and cavalier, risking a resurgence of the virus (and associated deaths) and eroding much of the progress that has been made thus far.  But continuing the status quo indefinitely (or even simply taking too long to ease restrictions) is also not very wise either since that will do irreversible economic damage and likely will still not conquer the virus entirely.  Thus, if we wait too long, there may not be anything left to re-open by then, at least for small businesses.  And that's to say nothing of the adverse consequences to civil rights and liberties, mental health, and community cohesion as well.

(And you know, slopes are much, much slipperier than they appear, as Orwell spins in his grave.)

Even the supposed effectiveness of full lockdowns (compared to far less extreme restrictions) in terms of slowing or stopping the spread of coronavirus has been called into question by more recent studies comparing those locations that had lockdowns and those that did not, or differed in the timing.  The results strongly imply that the observed declines in COVID-19 deaths (and thus the number of infections three weeks prior) was actually driven by the more moderate social distancing measures that were in place earlier, not the lockdowns, based on the timing.  And if there somehow was any extra effectiveness of the most extreme measures such as lockdowns, it is most likely only a short-term effect that eventually reaches a point of diminishing returns after which the "cure" really DOES become worse than the disease.

Perhaps the much-maligned Swedish mitigation strategy of moderate social distancing (not to be confused with the mythical "do nothing" strategy) really isn't so crazy after all?

Thus, a careful and gradual but fairly speedy easing and re-opening is what is called for, in order to minimize the damage from both the pandemic itself as well as from the restrictions in place to suppress it.  The timing should vary by state and locality as well as exactly which types of restrictions to be eased and which types of businesses to re-open.  It would probably be best for all states to wait until at least May 1 or two weeks post-peak (whichever is later) before making any major changes (though baby steps can and should be taken sooner).  Some states have already peaked in early to mid-April, while others will not peak until early May or so.  Hospitals would also have to not be overwhelmed as well.  And testing will have to be signifcantly ramped up along with contact tracing and individual quarantining as well in order to move forward into the later stages of reopening.

And of course we need a far more massive stimulus, and the Ten Steps to Prosperity that Rodger Malcolm Mitchell recommends.  Because even if we re-opened tomorrow, consumers will still be too cautious to come roaring back right away, and the damage is already done.  Especially a significant and permanent UBI, which would cure even the worst depression a lot sooner than not implementing a UBI.

Trump's latest guidelines for reopening are surprisingly reasonable now, likely because he finally consulted with experts rather than just going with his gut as usual.  But his administration is really lagging on providing coronavirus testing kits, which would clearly hamper any reopening.  So they really need to speed that up.  It was, after all, due to the Trump administration's recklessness and negligence that this pandemic got so far out of control here in the first place, and it is estimated that up to 90% of the deaths could have been averted had they acted sooner and not screwed up so monumentally.

Thus the TSAP recommends that all states gradually lift lockdowns and partially reopen by Memorial Day (with many states doing so in early May) and fully lift all significant restrictions (except perhaps for restrictions on very large gatherings of, say, 500+ people) by the Fourth of July at the latest.  But states like Georgia that seek to re-open salons, barber shops, gyms, casinos, bars, and stuff like that while it is still April (and they haven"t even peaked yet) are really being foolish, as those riskier businesses should really be the very last ones to re-open after all the others do.  They should really wait another few weeks for those types of places and make sure they actually have a plan rather than flying blindly.

At the local (county and municipal) level, some hotspots may choose to still maintain tight restrictions or reimpose them in the event of a resurgence of the virus, but these restrictions should be exactly that--local.  In a similar vein, states may also impose modest, New Rochelle-style "containment zones" or "red zones" where local outbreaks or large clusters are observed.  As we move past the initial crude "sledgehammer" phase of suppression and into the more refined management phase, we need to be careful in how we calibrate such measures to avoid doing more harm than good in the long run.

As for school closures, that should really be decided locally for the most part.  While school closures are known to work very well in the short term in slowing the spread of infectious diseases in general, the longer-term effects are unknown, and children and teens seem to be at relatively low risk from this virus as well as not a particularly major vector for spreading it to adults.  Certainly they should at least plan on reopening in September at the latest absent evidence of a large second wave of the disease.

Regardless of the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of lockdowns, simply going straight from red to green overnight would be utterly foolish, since it's really still too soon to safely encourage a massive influx of tourists when the "all-clear" signal is given.  So we should thus go from red to orange, then yellow, then green, and we really only need a few weeks (not months) of orange and/or yellow in between.   And even green does not preclude very mild restrictions and common-sense precautions as well.

We have already flattened the curve.  Now let's keep it flat, without also flattening the economy as well.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Is The Cure Worse Than The Disease?

We know that the Trump administration clearly bungled its response to the coronavirus pandemic.  Scratch that, they failed miserably in practically every way possible to contain or suppress this virus, and now the proverbial genie is out of the bottle.  But what if the proverbial stopped clock can be right twice a day, particularly the claim that "the cure is worse than the disease" as far as shutdowns and lockdowns are concerned?
As is typical for Republicans, Democrats, and LOLbertarians alike, no one seems to do nuance, nor do they understand Monetary Sovereignty apparently. And the Donald is clearly no exception to the rule either.
That said, there are reasons to be concerned that longer-term shutdowns and lockdowns (some pundits even predict up to 18 months!) can cause a depression that NO amount of federal money can solve until well after such drastic measures are lifted. Because we didn’t quash it early on when we had the chance, there will likely be a long battle against COVID-19, to be sure, but the current “sledgehammer” phase of the battle cannot last indefinitely. Sooner or later we will have to ease or lift restrictions and pivot to case-based interventions rather than population-based ones once any of the following occur: A) the epidemic is largely under control, B) we reach the point of irreversible damage to the economy, or C) the epidemic exceeds 1% of the population and “flattening the curve” thus becomes impossible. Whichever comes first. And at least one of these three will happen within a few weeks from now at most, for better or worse.   Lockdowns and shutdowns are best thought of as a short-term tactic, not a long-term strategy. 
That’s to say nothing of the cost in terms of individual liberty, which is at *least* as priceless as life itself, as well as the cost in terms of mental health at least in the long run. Economic depression is not the only kind of depression to worry about, after all.
And even for hardcore communitarians who believe that individual liberty is worth absolutely zilch, one also can argue that the social consequences of long-term lockdowns and social distancing are ultimately corrosive to community as well.
And as of early April, option C likely already happened at least in parts of the USA, particularly the greater NYC metro area, plus several other hotspots around the nation.  Given how most people who catch the virus experience mild or no symptoms, it is very likely that the number of reported cases is off by a factor of ten or more.  Which, of course, makes the case fatality rate lower as well.  In any case, the peak will likely happen sometime in mid to late April in much of the country, with some areas in May.
Thus, there will come a point of diminishing returns where the cure really DOES become worse than the disease.  When exactly, no one knows for sure.  But a good ballpark estimate would be "weeks, not months".

Thus, the TSAP does NOT support the more extreme measures lasting more than a few weeks, nor even the less extreme ones lasting more than a few months at most.  And for NO length of time do we support arresting or jailing or shooting people for leaving their homes, suspending habeas corpus or the Constitution, or any form of martial law.  Period.
DISCLAIMER:  The TSAP are NOT doctors, epidemiologists, or otherwise experts on this matter, so please take our predictions with a grain of salt.