Holding ourselves to a higher level of discourse in regard to Corona

Even though I oppose the shutdowns and mandatory quarantines, I’m tired of lame, logically flawed arguments being brought forward.

Z writes

Of course, the people in the skeptic camp could be the ones suffering from some form of madness that prevents them from seeing the threat. The trouble is, the great plague is not exactly lighting up the scoreboard. America has tested over 600,000 people suspected of having the virus. Over 500,000 tested negative. Of the positives, 12,000 needed hospital care. In a country of over 320 million people with 200,000 empty hospital beds at any one time, that’s not much of a crisis.

We keep seeing this trend of people who are held up as being smart, and are smart, repeating old, stale argument about the virus. These people are held up as being smart, and are smart, but are sounding like broken records.

Yes, we get it that:

100k is small relative to the US population of 330 million
12,000 is small relative to 100,000 or 330 million.

But there is no guarantee it stays at 100k (it is 370k as of writing this). The good news it the rate of new cases now seems linear rather than exponential. But the bad news is it’s still increasing. Often what seems to happen is, the trend will go linear for a week or so and then suddenly spike much higher rather than a smooth exponential curve. That is what happened with Iran. It looked like it was leveling off at 1k/day and then inexplicably grew to 3k/day.

The best case scenario, Covid 19 suddenly goes away, possibly due to herd immunity or mutating to a less lethal form, similar to the Spanish Flu, but with far fewer deaths. James Altucher, Zman, and Paul assume this will be the outcome, but there is no guarantee.

It’s also possible that this will become seasonal or persistent, similar to Polio or Measles, both of which were only eradicated due to vaccines that don’t have to be continually reapplied. This is because such viruses don’t mutate easily.

A shown above, polio and measles persisted for decades, until vaccines came along.

Or it’s possible that Covid 19 will keep mutating and become seasonal, similar to influenza, in which annual vaccination is needed, assuming a vaccine is found.

Another common argument is,”Not that meany people have died. Swine flu killed 18,000 Americans in 2009 and was soon forgotten. This is no different.” Here is Bill Gates again with the same talking points as a month ago, while claiming victory:

Maybe wait at least a week until declaring victory? There will be plenty of time for celebrating and ‘I told you so’ when this is over. Just repeating the same talking points over and over will not change anything. These are the same people who said 1-2 months ago that this was “not a big deal,” that “most cases are mild,” or “only a flu,” acting like they were right all along. It is not uncommon for things to seem like they are stabilizing at a fixed or declining # of cases/day, only for the number of cases to suddenly and inexplicably surge to new highs. Denmark is one such example of this, in which it seemed like things were improving, only to suddenly get worse.

People who focus on the absolute number of deaths relative to swine flu or past pandemics are ignoring the most important variable, the mortality rate, which is 1-4% ( about the same as early-stage testicular cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, or prostate cancer) versus 1/5000 for swine flu. That is why this is such a major public health concern in the eyes of policy makers and why everyone is overreacting, because 1-4% is high enough that people become concerned that they may actually die from this (including even major public figures such as Boris Johnson, who have access to the best healthcare in the world), and that is what leads to the overreaction. It’s the high morality rate combined with a high contagion rate, not the # of victims, that matters. Something with a 1% fatality rate (assuming optimal treatment, and puts 15% of those affected in the hospital) and can be spread through minimal effort and has already spread (as opposed to HIV, which is considerably harder to spread), is going to be treated as a major crisis by policy makers. We saw this in China. Why would the US government stand and do nothing as potentially tens of thousands or even a million people die of this.

Second, a 12-15% hospitalization rate is nothing to scoff at. The flu does not even come close to that, even among the elderly. As said before, 14% of young people still have to be hospitalized, suggesting a high rate of serious disease relative to the flu or cold, even among people who survive.

What about ‘most cases being mild?’ People who go to the hospital for breathing difficulties are often lumped in as only having ‘mild disease,’ but difficulty breathing during low exertion is serious and anything but mild if anyone has ever experienced it. It’s not like people who have asthma are carrying around inhalers as a fashion accessory.

What about the empty hospitals or surplus ventilators? Again, like above, morality rate and spread matter more than absolute numbers. So having empty hospitals will not change sentiment and psychology if people keep getting sick and dying of this at a fast clip. Also, paradoxically, it’s still possible to have a pandemic but have empty hospitals, owing to the large number of hospitals in the US, the long duration of the pandemic, and the fact that hospitals are open 24-7. If 10 million Americans get infected and 1.5 million of those end up hospitalized, but there are 6,000 hospitals in the US, it means each hospital gets 250 patients. But this is spread out over the duration of the pandemic,say, 200-365 days, so each hospital only gets one patient/day and to outsiders would appear empty. Even if the virus peaks at 100,000 hospitalizations in a single day, a typical hospital would still only get 16 patients for that single day spread out over 24 hours, some of whom would be discharged.You’re not going to see stampedes of sick people.

I oppose the shutdowns, and we might think, rightfully so, that people are overreacting, but we don’t get to decide how much people react. This thing has taken on a life of its own. All we can do at this stage is hope for the best, or at least try to understand the forces at play. We are probably all correct that this will eventually blow over and things will return to normal, but it’s worth asking: how did we to this point, how and why so many underestimated or failed to see the panic that would ensue from so few deaths, and, third, what will happen in the interim. Rationality has gone out the window long ago. We have gone from the wisdom of the crowds to being at the mercy of them. But, still, in spite of the insanity online and off, we need to hold ourselves a higher level of discourse and stop repeating tired or logically dubious arguments.