The Sheep and the Border Collie

Contrary to the media and the “the end is near” alarmists, the coronavirus is not going to be “disastrous.” It’s another in a long line of viral infection outbreaks. It is already in the wild, and it will continue expanding until it runs its course – which will occur when there is enough herd immunity to stem its growth.

It is very likely there are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people who have already contracted COVID-19 in the United States. Because the symptoms for most healthy adults tend to be very mild, most are probably not even aware they have contracted the virus. The “official” numbers likely reflect those who have exhibited serious symptoms related to the disease, and those in close contact who exhibited any symptoms, resulting in positive tests. The real number of cases is almost certainly greatly higher than the published data.

As with any outbreak of disease, the outbreak should be taken seriously. But the reaction should be proportionate to the reality of the disease, and not the fear of the public (particularly fear being driven by a sensationalistic media). The original reactions of most government officials and medical professionals were correct. Individuals should take the same precautions they take during any other viral outbreak – practice good hygiene, wash hands often, cover coughs and sneezes, and stay home when feeling ill. Very vulnerable members of society should be protected as much as possible. Recommendations like closing nursing homes and assisted living centers to non-essential visitors make perfect sense.

Efforts should be taken to ensure that healthcare centers and providers have the materials and machines needed to address the outbreak, with government removing any unnecessary roadblocks that may be preventing this from happening. Note that I suggested government merely remove the roadblocks and not attempt to take over the healthcare system. In spite of the agendas of Marxists like New York mayor Bill de Blasio, government does not need to nationalize healthcare industries. The last thing we need is to have a hidebound, governmental bureaucracy tie up the process. Let private industry do what it does best, which is quickly, flexibly, and nimbly responding to market demand.

Much of the population has not experienced any real adversity in their lives, and they are desperate for someone else to take control and reassure them everything will be OK. These folks expect government to shield and protect them from any adversity.  These individuals believe that every disease or malady must have a cure, and the lack of any cure must be the result of governmental inaction or greedy corporations unwilling to invest in a cure. They can’t accept the fact that certain diseases just don’t have a cure, and must just run their courses.

Short of vaccines, most viral diseases don’t have cures. People who contract the diseases must let the disease run its course until the body’s natural immune system produces enough antibodies to destroy the virus. The only thing medical science can do is engage in palliative care by treating some of the symptoms as they appear. Some symptoms will be so severe they will kill the host, usually people with existing medical vulnerabilities. This holds true for coronavirus, influenza, and even the common cold. Coronavirus tends to be more contagious and has a higher mortality rate than common strains of influenza, but also has milder symptoms in healthy adults (and children appear to be largely immune to experiencing any substantial symptoms of COVID-19).

Because of the media-driven sensationalism, the public, led by the usual “activist” suspects, has decried the “lack of action” on the part of government.  Pressure has been placed upon government to “do something,” “ANYTHING!” to deal with this “crisis.” There are even people demanding that the government put everyone on lockdown, essentially house arrest, for the next few weeks.

The federal government and the states have reacted in various ways to these demands. Most recently, the politicians have put many states on partial lockdown, restricting the types of businesses that may operate, their hours of operation, and the maximum size of public gatherings.

When governments attempt to engage in such far-ranging and severe restrictions of commerce and civil liberties, it is the prerogative, if not the duty, of the population to ask what these governments hope to accomplish by these measures, and if these measures will actually be effective. Nobody should blindly and unquestionably accept the dictates of governmental “authorities,” particularly when their actions appear to be driven by political, and not practical, considerations.  The definition of specific, quantifiable goals must be established, and metrics and empirical data used to validate effectiveness of any restrictions.

We have to face the reality of this infection, whether we like it or not. The virus exists in the population, and will continue to spread until herd immunity slows, and eventually halts its progress. The current business restrictions are mostly window-dressing, with so many loopholes that they probably won’t impact the rate or timing of the spread of coronavirus, and some of them may actually accelerate it. While closing restaurants, bars, and other entertainment venues may limit the spread of the virus in those venues, there are enough supermarkets, drug stores, and other businesses open that the spread of the virus will likely not be contained. In fact, people standing cheek to jowl in a supermarket checkout lane or waiting to pick up their take-out order in a restaurant are more likely to spread the virus than if people were casually enjoying a restaurant meal at private tables in which each are separated by several feet.

Even if we were to lock down every individual in the United States and eradicate coronavirus from our country, we would merely be put in the position we were in a few months ago. Just one infected person coming to our shores would start the infection process over again, since society would not have yet developed the immunity needed to fight the virus. We’d just be kicking the can further down the road.

Any attempts to halt the spread of coronavirus at this point will be futile. As long as there is no immunity in the population, the virus will continue to spread. We might (and the key word here is, “might”) be able to limit the pace of the spread to ensure that our medical institutions are not overwhelmed with an influx of seriously-ill patients. However, considering the fact that the vast majority of infected individuals exhibit rather mild symptoms, it is unlikely our medical care facilities will be that overwhelmed. There are always doom and gloom prognosticators, but their dire predictions almost never pan out.

Regardless of what government does, and in spite of alarmist and sensationalized media coverage, this outbreak will not abate until enough people develop the natural antibodies to coronavirus required to develop enough herd immunity to halt the progress of the disease. Eventually, the virus won’t be able to find hosts without immunity, and will die out of its own accord. This is the natural progression of virtually all viral diseases, and will be the natural progression of COVID-19, whether we like it or not.

It is fair to also ask how these governmental restrictions on lifestyles and businesses will impact the lives of Americans, and whether these restrictions cause consequences more serious than the coronavirus itself.

Closing bars, restaurants, theaters, and any other venues considered “unessential” also impacts the jobs and wages of those dependent upon these venues.  Often, these are the people in the lower-paid segments of society, who are now being deprived of their livelihoods.  Many of these businesses are small, individual or family-run businesses, and may not be able to survive any extended closing.

Downstream businesses will also be affected.  If restaurants, theaters, bars, and other businesses are required to close, this will also adversely affect their suppliers.  We can keep going downstream to the landlords, distributors, transporters, and producers who will also have their livelihoods impacted by these business closures. 

The federal and state governments claim that anyone economically affected by these business restrictions will be made whole.  But by whom?  Someone has to pay for the missed wages the government will pay displaced workers, the grants and tax credits offered to closed businesses, and the unemployment benefits paid out to workers who permanently lose their jobs at businesses that couldn’t weather an extended closing.

The funds needed to make those affected “whole” don’t’ appear by magic.  They have to come from somewhere. This money will come from our tax dollars or increased financial deficits in the federal budget.  In essence, we will be paying ourselves, through our tax dollars, to make ourselves “whole” (minus the government’s administrative cut, of course). 

The claims by government that lost wages, lost jobs, and lost businesses will be paid for is a ruse.  These costs may be paid.  But they’ll be paid by ourselves, to ourselves.  No magic money fairy will swoop down to reimburse us for the costs of these governmental actions.

The stock market dropped precipitously since the coronavirus outbreak began.  This was due far more to the uncertainty of how governments will respond, rather than the impact of the disease itself.  This will probably throw us into a recession or depression, and will adversely impact the retirement savings of almost everyone who holds a 401(k) account, not to mention the ability of businesses to acquire the capital needed to grow.

Unfortunately, there will be no mechanism available to determine which, if any, of the government’s actions were effective in arresting or delaying the spread of this virus, and which were merely superfluous window-dressing.  If the spread of the virus abates quickly, or if the effects of the virus are less severe than predicted, many people will make the assumption the eradication of the disease correlates with the government actions, when in fact any such relationship may merely be coincidental.

If the virus doesn’t abate quickly (and in all likelihood, it will continue to spread at an increasing rate for a while), the hysteria will continue to grow to demand the government puts even more draconian restrictions on public movement and commerce.  Some won’t be satisfied until there is a complete lockdown and everyone is subject to marital law. 

Eventually, the virus will abate, like every virus before it.  And these desperately scared people will ascribe the disappearance of the virus to restrictive governmental actions, when the virus’ natural progression would just as likely be the cause.  With a lack of empirical data to gauge effectiveness, the public may reflexively accept greater governmental intrusions into their lives in the future.

Ironically, even though a frightened public may be currently begging the government to micromanage their lives, they will soon tire of the restrictions and begin to resist and openly defy them.  This will begin to occur in mere weeks, and not months or years.  As people exhaust their savings, they will demand to be permitted to go back to their jobs.  Cabin fever and social isolation will compel people to ignore restrictions and venture out in public again.  Small-business owners will rebel against restrictions that slowly (or quickly) strangle their businesses.  If stores can no longer source and stock goods demanded by the public, there may even be civil unrest.  Just as social pressure has forced the government to enact restrictions on commerce, movement, and assembly, the same public pressure will force the government to abandon these restrictions, even if the viral threat has not abated.

In essence, the government has less than a month before people start to rebel against the current restrictions.  The powers that be may attempt to engage in more incendiary propaganda to engender fear and compliance, but the impact of these measures will diminish rather quickly.

There is no doubt that coronavirus has the potential to be a serious malady, but it is unlikely the most dire predictions will come to pass.  Admittedly, any death from the virus is a tragedy, but unfortunately this is a natural process that regularly occurs with any viral outbreak, including regular seasonal influenza. 

Will coronavirus impact more people than influenza?  It may, and it may not. 

However, the fear of our nation’s medical system becoming overwhelmed by serious cases is largely the result of the Italian experience.  We cannot, and should not, compare our health care system to Italy’s antiquated and bureaucratic system.  Nor does our population mimic the health demographics of Italy.  The likelihood of coronavirus cases overwhelming our nation’s health infrastructure is remote, and even if certain areas experience problems, providers will quickly emerge to address the need. 

There will likely be a substantial number of coronavirus cases and deaths, with numbers that may exceed those of this year’s seasonal flu.  But even that is questionable, considering that many of those exposed will exhibit minimal symptoms, yet develop the personal immunity that will contribute to the herd immunity.  It is very likely that a much larger proportion of the population has already contracted the virus than documented, and that the viral curve is farther along on the horizontal access than expected.

From a long-term perspective, the social lessons coming out of this outbreak are troubling.  There are certainly evil individuals paying attention to the way the public is influenced by sensationalistic fear-mongering, falling prey to the herd mentality, paralyzing themselves with fear, demanding others reassure them, and blindly following the dictates of those presented as “authorities.”  The public so desperately craves the illusion of security that they are willing to ask the government to imprison them so they may avoid a perceived threat.  These are valuable characteristics that may easily be exploited by a nefarious individual.

The single-minded fealty given to the loudest alarmists is troubling.  There is no doubt that coronavirus is an infection that should concern each of us.  Obviously, we should all engage in the basic actions required to minimize or mitigate exposure to COVID-19, just as we should be every other viral infection.  We should also carefully assess the political responses to the outbreak, supporting those likely to be effective and exposing those that are merely examples of political opportunism or window-dressing.

A rational, balanced approach to the outbreak is necessary.  Succumbing to unwarranted hysteria by panic buying, hoarding goods, or blindly accepting the dictates of self-styled “experts” is dangerous and unproductive.  We must examine and adjust our personal actions to address the outbreak, while also critically and fully assessing recommendations and dictates emanating from our elected officials or medical experts.

There is no unanimity among medical professionals of the likely progression, impact, and effects of the coronavirus.  The politicians and bureaucrats crafting public policies to address the outbreak are far from infallible, and often driven more by political calculus and public pressure than actual need.  The press engages in sensationalistic coverage that emphasizes worst cases and anecdotal stories over actual facts.  And the public has been conditioned to be fearful, and is confused by conflicting information.

Nonetheless, it is the duty of every citizen to carefully assess that which is being requested and dictated.  Blindly accepting the dictates of every “expert,” “authority,” or politician out of fear or insecurity benefits no one.