Most of the arguments, on either side of the Covid debate, are petty bad, which is why I have criticized both sides, whether it’s criticizing RamzPaul, who is vehemently anti-quarantine, or Nassism Taleb on the other extreme. People get basic facts wrong, make reasoning errors, or make comments that contradict empirical reality.
On the anti-quarantine side, here is a really stupid argument you sometimes see:
It's not A vs B.
A = deaths from COVID-10
B = deaths from suicide, violence, "elective" visits like cancer checks, heart disease, stroke risk, diabetes, immune disorders, etc that cause massive deaths when economy closed
Do people think "B" is not real or is less than "A"?
— James Altucher (@jaltucher) April 29, 2020
Unlike getting infected by a virus, people choose to commit suicide (if it’s not your choice, it’s called a murder). Cancer, heart disease, and car accidents claim more lives, but you don’t get cancer merely by shaking hands or touching surfaces. Cancer and heart disease take years to develop whereas infection by a virus is an instantaneous event. People can change their behavior by eating healthy and exercising, to lessen the risk of heart disease and cancer, but it’s not like you can stay home indefinitely to avoid getting a virus.
But even experts say things that are possibly wrong.
Dr. John Ioannidis argues that Covid-19 has a morality rate equal to influenza. The obvious objection is, how does one account for all the excess deaths in Italy and other epicenters, that generated all of this media attention and concern in the first place? As the video above shows, he blames hospital/nosocomial infections due to overcrowding. Italy’s hospitals were overcrowded so nurses and patients were infecting each other. But there are two problems here: First, why were the hospitals crowded in the first place? Blaming infection within the hospitals confuses correlation with causation, so although nosocomial infection may result in increased deaths, it does not account for all of them or possibly even most of them or explain the root/underlying reason (a lot of people presenting to the hospital with symptoms of the virus, which then leads to the overcrowding and secondary nosocomial infections and deaths). Ioannidis does not give specifics as to how many excess deaths in Italy and elsewhere are due to nosocomial infection, but we cannot assume it is all of them. Second, the original January report from China to the WHO in January counters this nosocomial theory, too:
Since December 2019, a total of 41 cases of pneumonia of unknown etiology have been confirmed in Wuhan city, Hubei Province, China. Wuhan city is a major transportation hub with a population of more than 11 million people. Most of the patients visited a local fish and wild animal market last month. At a national press conference held today, Dr Jianguo Xu, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, who led a scientific team announced that a new‐type coronavirus, tentatively named by World Health Organization as the 2019‐new coronavirus (2019‐nCoV), had caused this outbreak.1
These were people who reported to hospitals with pneumonia, not nosocomial disease.
Although 41 cases is not many, an outbreak of pneumonia in otherwise healthy middle-aged people with no obvious risk factors, was enough to warrant attention and action. Even if the morality rate is low, it the rate of complications such as pneumonia for even middle-aged people with no obvious preexisting conditions, is higher than that of the baseline influenza rate. Although young and middle-aged people are significantly more likely to survive Covid compared to the elderly, the complication rate (such as severe lung disease) among middle-aged people is still much higher than that of influenza even if most of these people still survive. Just looking at survival stats overlooks complication rates.
But on the pro-quarantine side, a common argument is that businesses began closing and people stopped shopping weeks before the lockdowns, the implication being that people are choosing to quarantine and businesses were choosing to close instead of it being imposed on them, out of fear of getting sick.
Indeed, observed in State after State (early/late closing or no stay-at-home orders) across consumer spending, small businesses open, time spent at work, hours worked at small businesses. People changed behavior before public policy:https://t.co/Z2QTq7zFWM pic.twitter.com/ZSDGCpyLYl
— COVID19 Digest (@Covid19Digest) May 9, 2020
Although it is true that the shutdowns and layoffs precede the official state orders, the conclusion that people were rationally acting out of self-preservation is dubious.
So as shown above, ‘the early closing states’ saw a sharp decline in activity about 10-15 days before the official orders on March 19th. So the decline in activity began around late February. What happened in late February? For those who don’t remember, the stock market began to crash, falling about 10% from Feb 21st to March 1st due to virus fears. This generated considerable media coverage and made millions of individuals and thousands of businesses owners who would have otherwise been oblivious or indifferent to virus, suddenly acutely risk averse. In late February, the number of cases in the US was still very low [even as recently as March 1st, there were only 75 confirmed cases in the US and zero in New York] and the news cycle was overwhelmingly dominated by the 2020 election. The virus was in the news but in the periphery, only until the market crashed and it was thrust to the fore. And then on March 12 after the market had already fallen 25%, Trump gave his infamous Oval Office address recommending social distancing, and that set everything in motion [which, imho , in hindsight was a stupid thing to do, by setting precedent for indefinite and future shutdowns that will never be walked back on and future generations will pay for].