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Last week, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer doubled down, extending the Michigan lockdown until mid-May. The new executive order is in modest ways an improvement on its immediate predecessors, which I described two weeks ago in a post entitled “The Wicked Witch of the Midwest.” One can now operate a motorboat; buy paint for one’s house and seeds for one’s garden; and even travel to a second home. In other ways, however, ”the temporary requirement” that everyone “suspend activities that are not necessary to sustain or protect life” is pure idiocy. It still rules out elective surgery while allowing abortion – presumably because, in the world of Gretchen Whitmer and today’s feminists, the not-yet-born are not really alive. Our governor has even had the effrontery to defend abortion as “life-enhancing.” In Michigan (and in some other states), some must die so that others can enjoy themselves.
Given what we knew and what we did not know, when the lockdowns began, it may have made sense for a brief time to systematically minimize human contact. The Wuhan coronavirus is exceedingly contagious, and we then possessed no herd immunity. On the Diamond Princess, virtually everyone was exposed, 18% of those on the cruise contracted the virus, and nearly 10% of those who did contract it died. In Wuhan, China and in northern Italy, the epidemic overwhelmed the health system – and there was reason to fear that the like might happen here. The aim of the lockdowns was not to prevent the spread of the virus. Given how easily it could be contracted and the absence of a vaccine, it was not even possible to impede it for long. Our aim was modest: to delay its onset and slow down the spread in the hope that our hospitals and health professionals could cope.
We know a bit more now. We know that most of those who contract the disease are asymptomatic; that the asymptomatic are, nonetheless, contagious; and that those most apt to die are elderly individuals and others with underlying health conditions. In Michigan, the mean age of those who die is 76 and the average age is 74.5. In Italy, where half of the population is over 47, I read that 99% of those who died suffered from other comorbidities. In New York, 94% suffered from at least one comorbidity and 88% suffered from more than one. Those who go on cruises on ships such as the Diamond Princess are, as one wag put it, “the newly wed and the nearly dead.” It was the presence of a great many old folks on the voyage that explains the high mortality rate.
We do not have a precise fix on the mortality rate among those in the larger population who contract the disease. Estimates based on real evidence vary between .1% and .8%, but it is clear that fewer than 1% of those who become ill die, that the age-structure of the population determines the morbidity rate, and that we are better situated than the Italians. In the United States, half of the population is under 38.5.
We also not have a precise fix on the rate of contagion. In Santa Barbara, it may be as low as 15%. In the city of New York, it may be as great as 25% — and, of course, if the lockdowns really did slow the spread, those figures may understate the real rate. Moreover, the disease is apt to spread more slowly where the population is not dense.
Nor can we be certain regarding the price we will pay for the shutdown. How many will die or be permanently damaged because surgery was delayed? We do not know. How many businesses will collapse? How many individuals will go bankrupt? We do not know. Will the federal debt grow to a level that will cripple the country down the road? We do not know. The only thing that is clear is that the price will be exceedingly high and that the longer the lockdowns go on, the worse things will be. A policy that may have been rational to begin with is surely irrational now.
There are four things wrong with Gretchen Whitmer’s latest executive order. First, time tells, and her extension of the shutdown greatly compounds the damage already done. Second, if it had a legitimate purpose, the shutdown long ago served that purpose. Our hospitals and our healthcare system were not overwhelmed, and we are now better equipped for the onslaught to come. Third – and perhaps most important – the latest executive order is predicated on a patently false premise. Its aim is not only “to prevent the state’s health care system from being overwhelmed.” Its purpose is also “to suppress the spread of COVID-19.” This last aim is beyond our capacity, and the time will never come, even if a deus ex machina were to deliver to us an effective vaccine next week, when we will “suppress” its spread. After all, there are flu vaccines, and every year the flu nonetheless infects something like 10% of all Americans. If the lockdown is not to end until the coronavirus is suppressed, it will never be lifted. Utopian ends inevitably give rise to tyrannical measures.
The fourth defect requires further discussion. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders apply with equal force to every county in the state. But what might make some sense in Detroit, the county in which it is situated, and in the nearby counties makes no sense elsewhere. Take a look at this map of the state and run your cursor over the various counties.
In some of these counties, as you can see, the number of fatalities exceeds 1,000. In quite a few others, no one at all is known to have died from the Wuhan coronavirus. In counties where the spread is still rampant (if there are any such counties), a brief extension of the shutdown may make some sense. Elsewhere, it is patently absurd. And where there is no public health rationale for maintaining the lockdown, Gretchen Whitmer’s policy is nothing less than tyrannical. Thanks to the lady’s punitive instincts, her penchant for posing and preening before the cameras, and her desire that Joe Biden make her his running mate, we in Michigan are committing suicide for fear of death.Published in