My maternal grandparents were Lebanese Christians who came to America in the first decade of the 20th century. They settled in Atlanta, Georgia, where my mother and her older brother, Tom, were born. When my mother was a toddler, her mother died.
My grandfather was a peddler who made a subsistence living selling dry goods to hillbillies from the back of a horse-drawn wagon. He and his children were very poor and lived in what was easily the roughest, most notorious, and least desirable part of the city.
One day, when he was about 12 years old, Tom vanished without a trace. My mother and her father frantically searched far and wide. But, after a week, my anguished grandfather gave up. Tom was gone, apparently for good, and his possible fate at the hands of persons unknown was terrifying to contemplate.
A few days later, as my mother continued her solitary search, she heard her name being called again and again. She looked around and then up. That’s when she saw Tom shouting and waving to her from a high window in a grim-looking stone building.
No medical authority has ever maintained that the lockdown would somehow deliver us to a safe harbor free from future infections.
The building was called the “Pest House,” and it was where indigents with suspected communicable diseases were forcibly quarantined. As Tom later explained, a policeman had grabbed him off the street and marched him to the Pest House on suspicion that he might have a contagious disease. Which disease was never made clear.
Nevertheless, Tom was to be held until a public health doctor deemed him to no longer pose a risk of infecting others. His pleas to be allowed to get word to his father were ignored. It is a matter of speculation as to how much longer he would have been held incommunicado if not for my mother’s discovery of his whereabouts.
Whenever my mother would tell the Pest House story, she would shake her head at how off-handedly callous and indifferent the public health system had been to her big brother. But, she would sigh, that was just how things were handled back then.
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have reflected many times on what happened to my Uncle Tom. He had been imprisoned and treated harshly with fewer due process rights than those of a common criminal. His offense? Being poor and sickly looking on the streets of Atlanta.
But, compared to the wanton, unwarranted, cruel, and industrial-scale destruction of lives, jobs, livelihoods, and businesses being caused by today’s ongoing, ill-conceived, and utterly destructive societal lockdowns in states across America, the Pest House’s quarantine-the-sick public health strategy was enlightened, rational, and benign.
The mantra among the governors who continue to preside over the destruction of their states’ economies is that they are following “the science,” which purportedly requires that the lockdowns remain in place to prevent another wave of COVID-19 cases. They contend that the lockdowns must continue until the number of COVID-19 cases decreases to an acceptable level and their states have adequate testing facilities and “armies” of investigators to track and trace any future infections. As they say, they don’t want to give up the progress already achieved against COVID-19 by reopening too soon.
Well, if that’s their true goal, then the governors are on a fool’s errand. Why? Because no matter how long we shelter in place, there will be future major outbreaks of COVID-19. We know this because COVID-19 is caused by a coronavirus designated as SARS-CoV-2. Reasonably assuming that SARS-CoV-2 propagates like the coronaviruses that have caused seasonal influenzas, it will be with us for many years and will continue to infect and kill hundreds of thousands of Americans.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between October 1, 2019, and April 4, 2020, there have been between 24,000 to 62,000 deaths related to the seasonal influenza. There is no scientific basis to expect that SARS-CoV-2 will not return annually and do the same or worse.
Admittedly, we have not — for very sane, sound, and obvious reasons — attempted to halt the spread of the seasonal flu by staging annual shutdowns of the economy. But, by the same token, the whole rationale behind the current lockdown was not to eliminate or permanently prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2, but to “flatten the curve” so that our medical facilities wouldn’t be overwhelmed. The idea was to spread out the COVID-19 burden over time, during which our medical infrastructure could prepare for the onslaught. No medical authority has ever maintained that the lockdown would somehow deliver us to a safe harbor free from future infections.
So the governors really need to stop with the “losing gains” blather. Many more COVID-19 cases will occur, and prolonging the devastation and misery of the lockdowns won’t change that immutable outcome.
As for the idea that we have to stay locked down until the states have the testing capacity and investigators to enable tracking and tracing of future COVID-19 cases, we are told that SARS-CoV-2 is airborne. Isn’t that why we are being told to socially distance in public and wear masks? Moreover, now that between 5 percent to 15 percent of Americans are estimated to have already been infected, just how are we to track, trace, and confine future outbreaks? Isn’t the metaphorical cow already out of the barn, and won’t SARS-CoV-2 continue its airborne spread? If so, just how will those supposedly necessary armies of investigators be able to effectively track and trace future outbreaks?
We are told that you are more likely to become infected by prolonged exposure to someone who has a heavy viral load. So, is such prolonged exposure more likely to occur in public places or by sheltering in confined spaces? Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the spiritual leader of the gubernatorial lockdown caucus, recently expressed consternation at a recent study showing that, of the 1,000 new COVID-19 patients admitted to New York hospitals over the last week, 66 percent had been staying at home and 18 percent came from nursing homes.
“Overwhelmingly, the people were at home … which is shocking to us,” said Cuomo.
But, however shocking, the study necessarily prompts the uncomfortable question as to whether the lockdowns are either effective or necessary. Now that we have wrecked our economy and too many governors like Cuomo are continuing their destructive lockdowns, it comes as no small irony that the sobering and negative answer to that question is beginning to emerge.
Appearing on Sunday’s Meet the Press, Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, courageously spoke truth to the public health establishment’s power when he warned that the coronavirus can’t be contained, not even with massive testing. He confirmed the assessments of other experts that, within the year, 60 percent to 70 percent of Americans will have contracted the coronavirus.
“We have to understand that we’re riding this tiger, we’re not directing it,” he said. “This virus is going to do what it’s going to do. What we can do is only nibble at the edges, and I think it’s not a good message to send to the public that we can control this virus in a meaningful way.”
“Contact tracing and testing are important, but they won’t stop [the spread of the virus],” he said. “We can’t give people a false sense of security that we’re going to do more than we can, but we also have to figure out how to live with this virus, and that’s what we’re not doing.”
Although others have offered the same assessment only to be banned by YouTube, MSN.com, and similar platforms, this is the first time that the uncomfortable truth has been broadcast in the mainstream media. That alone is a sentinel event and a step in the right direction.
Since we can’t halt its spread, can we live with the coronavirus? We most assuredly can.
First, despite initial predictions of 2.2 million COVID-19 deaths in America and a correspondingly disastrous infection fatality rate, as of this writing there have been 79,180 COVID-19 “related” deaths, yielding a fatality rate similar to that of the seasonal flu.
Second, the general population is not at risk. COVID-19 deaths are overwhelmingly confined to persons age 65 or older and/or with comorbidities such as diabetes and heart disease. For example, Pennsylvania health officials have just reported that 79 is the average age in that state for persons suffering COVID-19 “related” deaths and that 11.7 percent of the deceased had four comorbidities, 22.7 percent had three, 27.2 percent had two, 22.6 percent had one, and 11 percent had none. These statistics are commensurate with the data from across the country and around the world. In short, unlike the 1918 Spanish flu, which wiped out 675,000 Americans of all ages and physical conditions, COVID-19 threatens discrete cohorts that are readily identifiable and can socially distance themselves without having to shut down the country.
Third, we have highly successful, effective, scalable, and inexpensive drug treatments (e.g., hydroxychloroquine and methylprednisone), which, if administered in the early stages of COVID-19, will save lives without the use of hospitals, ICUs, or ventilators.
In short, we can most assuredly live with the coronavirus without having to shelter in place. The only question is whether or not the governors who continue to keep their states shut down will allow their citizens to reclaim their lives.
As with too many other so-called blue states, Gov. Tom Wolf recently extended his lockdown of Pennsylvania to June 4, 2020. Although he has allowed some counties to start very limited steps to reopen, vast areas of the Commonwealth, such as Dauphin County (where the state capital is located), remain closed. This prompted the chairman of the Dauphin County Board of Commissioners to publish a letter last Friday stating that “enough is enough” and that he has “no faith” in Gov. Wolf’s “ability to do the right thing.”
“It is time to reopen the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and return our state to the people (as prescribed by our Constitution) and not run it as a dictatorship,” the chairman wrote. “This decision has ruined the livelihood of millions of hard-working Pennsylvanians in exchange for 0.4 percent of our population. I have great sympathy for those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. I also have great concern for the families that now have to struggle with financial concerns, mental health stress, addiction and more because of the shutdown. Again, our governor has pitted groups of Pennsylvanians against one another.”
The proposition can’t be stated any better than that. However well-intentioned in the beginning, we now know that in the long run the lockdowns won’t make us safe and are destroying jobs, livelihoods, and the economy. If we are to survive as a feasible, cohesive society, the lockdowns must end immediately.
The evidence is in, and the verdict is clear.
It’s time to stop the madness.
George Parry is a former federal and state prosecutor. He blogs at knowledgeisgood.net and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.