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For the last few weeks, I have been—for the most part—hunkered down at home in south-central Michigan. I drive to my office on the Hillsdale College campus two or three times a week to teach my seminars (“Machiavelli, Erasmus, and More” and “The American Constitutional Convention”) via Zoom. I would like to be able to report that I have used the time I have not spent traveling to deliver talks and participate in conferences in Pittsburgh, at Arizona State, Louisiana State, Harvard, Boston College, and in Portland, ME, to write articles and book chapters and get a start on my next book. But I haven’t. Instead, I have begun reading Decameron with my wife; I have watched season three of “Babylon Berlin”; and I have read article after article on the internet.
I will have to confess that I have not learned much that I did not already know. Xi Jinping and his minions lie and are more than willing to sacrifice the lives of their fellow Chinese in a vain attempt to avoid embarrassment, and the like can be said of the Ayatollah Khamenei, of Vladimir Putin, and of their minions. The CDC is incompetent. The FDA is so wrapped up in red tape that it cannot respond to a genuine crisis. The World Health Organization is profoundly corrupt. The models that epidemiologists construct are not necessarily more reliable than those employed by climate scientists. Donald Trump tends to say the first thing that comes into his head. Michael Bloomberg is a stooge for Xi Jinping. Bernie Sanders is crazy. Joe Biden is senile. Nancy Pelosi and Charles Schumer are attempting to take advantage of a public health crisis to push a partisan agenda, and they resolutely attack the President for foolishness they are guilty of themselves. And, yes, the mainstream press is so irredeemably corrupt that their antics would be an embarrassment to the yellow journalists of yesteryear. I knew all of that before I entered my confinement.
I wish that I could say that I now know a lot more about the Wuhan coronavirus than I knew before the lockdown. But that is not true. Reading what the “experts” say about this epidemic is like reading what the “experts” say about the likely trajectory of the stock market. Those of us who are advanced in age are anxious about both, and there is no consensus about either. In the latter case, prognostication is for the most part always guesswork. In the former case, there are too many unknowns, and guesswork and anecdote are close to all that we have to go on.
Sure, the coronavirus is exceedingly contagious and we cannot rely on herd immunity. But how contagious? Here expert opinion differs, and the evidence is scanty. The same goes for the number of those infected and for the mortality rate. The statistics that we have are not reliable – even where the authorities who compile these statistics are thoroughly honest and decent. We are caught in the same sort of “fog” that we would be trapped in if we were at war, and it is virtually impossible to make intelligent public policy decisions in these circumstances. How much worse is this epidemic likely to be than the worst of the recent flu epidemics? If we only knew . . .
Still, there are a couple of things that one can discern, and here I wish to deploy the evidence from Michigan (such as it is). Take a look at this map. With your cursor, you ought to be able to touch on the various counties and learn how many Michiganders have been diagnosed with the coronavirus and how many have died with it (if not necessarily from it):
As you can see, something like 80% of those diagnosed with the disease and 80% of those who have died live in three contiguous counties – Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb – and most of the rest reside nearby or in the vicinity of Grand Rapids. What the three counties mentioned above have in common is proximity to the Detroit Airport, which is a major hub with a host of direct flights to Asia and to Europe. Southeastern Michigan would appear to be an epicenter for the disease for the same reason that New York City and the nearby counties on Long Island, in upstate New York, and in New Jersey form an epicenter. Had we cut off all international travel earlier than we did and had we shut down domestic air travel early on, this epidemic might have much more easily been contained – and we might have been spared the economic travails now underway. I do not mean to cast blame on anyone – except for Xi Jinping and his stooges at the World Health Organization who bamboozled us. I mean only to point to the conduit by which this epidemic spread.
There are two other patterns worth noticing. In Michigan, men with the disease are far more likely to die than women. The numbers change daily, of course, but the proportions – 57% men, 43% women – are stable. Moreover, senior citizens are especially vulnerable. As of 6 April, those over 60 made up 24.2% of the state’s population and 61% of the fatalities, and the median age of those who die is, as of yesterday, 75 (it has gradually crept up from 71). The fact that women over that age greatly outnumber men over that age adds to one’s impression that men are much more vulnerable. The reason is, I presume, genetic.
There is one other pattern that is evident. A disproportionate number of those who die are African-American. Blacks make up 17% of the state’s population and 40% of those who die from the disease. The local liberals in these parts trace this to racism, but that makes little sense. If anything, there is discrimination here in favor of African-Americans, not against them. The discrepancy no doubt has something to do with place of residence and a lack of social distancing. There is a large African-American population in Detroit, which is densely populated. It may also have a genetic component. The propensity to succumb to particular diseases often does have such a component. Eventually, we will know.
Nothing that I have said here should be surprising. The same patterns are evident elsewhere. Like the flu, the Wuhan coronavirus spreads through social networks, and the older and more decrepit one is, the more likely that, if infected, one will die.Published in