America Is Reopening, but the Pandemic Continues

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On the menu today: America has largely reopened now, but the coronavirus pandemic is still going on; the dissent and internal criticism at the World Health Organization grows louder; Georgia’s elections are a mess — apparently many people believe their local polling place is run by the Secretary of State’s office; and one Florida city might be getting a sudden influx of visitors at the end of August.

Good Luck, Reopened America!

Ready or not, the country is reopening.

In New Jersey, governor Phil Murphy lifted the stay-at-home order he issued March 21. New York City businesses are opening their doors. And in my neck of the woods, northern Virginia is entering “Phase Two,” meaning restaurants may have indoor dining at half capacity, and gyms and fitness centers can reopen indoors at 30 percent capacity.

Many of us on the right have enjoyed mocking the bejeebers out of public-health “experts” and public officials who argued all the way through the end of May, that any reopening constituted a selfish desire for haircuts and “experiments in human sacrifice” and killing grandma . . . and who then completely changed their tune once the George Floyd demonstrations began. These public-health “experts” and public officials deserve every bit of the ridicule and derision they’re going to get.

The lesson many conservatives took from the sudden about-face was that the threat of the virus had faded significantly, or maybe was never as bad at the government’s warnings made it sound, and that the lockdowns had been driven by power-mad governors who enjoyed the side effect of tanking the economy months before a Republican president sought reelection. If going to a protest was safe, then surely reopening businesses and returning to something resembling normal life is safe.

The possibility that’s getting less attention is that while daily new cases and deaths have declined, the virus is still out there and dangerous and that the protests weren’t all that safe. In addition to the cases discussed yesterday, an unspecified number of National Guardsmen in Washington, D.C. tested positive for the virus, a protester at a demonstration with 1,000 people in Stevens Point, Wis., tested positive, a protester at a demonstration with 800 people in Parsons, Kan., tested positive, a police officer in Lincoln, Neb., who worked the protests tested positive (this is separate from the National Guardsmen in that city who tested positive), a Texas National Guardsman assigned to protect the state capitol during protests tested positive, and a county commissioner in Athens, Ga., tested positive after organizing protest events in her city.

Our daily number of new cases continues to be around 19,000. That’s a smaller sum than most of the days in April and May, but that’s about where we were in mid-to-late March. Our number of active infections has plateaued around 1.1 million since mid-May. Our daily number of deaths has been around 1,000 per day since the beginning of June. These are better numbers than the spring, but not necessarily good numbers.

The above should not be interpreted as “Jim thinks the lockdowns should have continued longer.” Eight weeks was pushing it; I figured public obedience with those sweeping restrictions on public activity would last up until good weather arrived. We put our economy into a coma, destroyed businesses, put millions out of work, and made suffering patients put off important surgeries and other procedures deemed “elective” because they were not life-threatening.

Perhaps the most useful illustration going back to the beginning of the pandemic was this one that appeared in the New York Times: “If it were possible to wave a magic wand and make all Americans freeze in place for 14 days while sitting six feet apart, epidemiologists say, the whole epidemic would sputter to a halt.” Of course, human beings need to move around, they need contact with their families and loved ones, they need to eat, they need to go to the bathroom, they need to sleep, often with each other. Functioning as human beings requires us to work, which requires us to interact with each other. We were never going to achieve that impossible epidemiologist ideal of all-encompassing universal uninterrupted social distancing. But Americans made an unparalleled effort to stay home and avoid interactions, almost uniformly among all states, well before their state governments ordered them to do so.

Most conservatives remember the “fourteen days to slow the spread” slogan. The strictest restrictions on human activity were supposed to buy time for our leaders to come up with a better plan. We needed a way to live and work that would minimize and mitigate the risk of infection, because there was no way to eliminate the risk of infection.

Maximum lockdowns were never a realistic long-term option, but apparently quite a few governors thought they could go on as long as needed. The term “shelter in place” was previously associated with tornadoes and active shooters — the type of threat that is resolved within minutes or hours, not weeks and months.

The end of our patience was never going to coincide with the end of the pandemic. Yes, warmer weather will probably help some, along with more Americans spending more time outdoors. In some parts of the country, lots of people are still wearing masks; in other parts of the country, not so much. Ending idiotic policies about returning still-contagious patients to nursing homes will help reduce the death rate considerably.

But . . . the virus is still out there. The fact that people would rather play out an American version of China’s Cultural Revolution, complete with public “struggle sessions,” or go over footage of a cop shoving a senior citizen in Buffalo like it’s the Zapruder film, or remove the television show Cops from the airwaves — because having camera crews ride along with police officers is somehow enabling police brutality — does not change any facts about the virus and its spread. Ben Shapiro famously said, “facts don’t care about your feelings.” Many people effectively responded, “our feelings don’t care about your facts.”

Arizona’s largest health system said they’ve reached capacity for their lung machines. In South Carolina, six counties have hospital bed occupancy higher than 80 percent, and one is nearing full capacity. (Hospital officials point out some of this influx reflects the return of patients requiring elective procedures that were delayed during the quarantine.) Hospitals in Imperial County, Calif., reached capacity and started transferring patients to other counties. The major hospitals in Alabama are functioning on surge capacity and have two unused ICU beds as of yesterday.

Notice how much you hear about the coronavirus is directly comparable to how severely it is hitting New York City, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

The Dissent within WHO Is Getting Louder

Did you know that the World Health Organization endorsed wearing masks in public to prevent the spread of the coronavirus . . . just this past Friday? Up until last week, WHO declined to formally endorse that step of disease prevention. (Cue the mask skeptics on the right saying, “Hey wait a minute, maybe these WHO doctors and bureaucrats aren’t so bad after all!”)

Even doctors who like the WHO and oppose ending U.S. funding for the international organization can’t help but notice how frequently WHO is falling down on the job — first echoing China, then being reluctant to endorse masks, and now offering confusing and seemingly contradictory statements about the risk of spread from asymptomatic carriers. Even officials of WHO are wondering what the heck is going on with their leadership.

Lawrence Gostin, director of the WHO Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law, told the New York Times, “When they come out with things that are clearly contradicted by the scientific establishment without any justification or citing studies, it significantly reduces their credibility.”

Who Runs the Election Process Where You Live?

You’re going to hear a lot about the problems in Georgia’s primary election yesterday, particularly in “largely minority areas” — long waits, poorly trained staff, malfunctioning voting machines, and shortages of ballots.

You’re not going to hear a lot about how the voting hours, voting locations, supply of ballots, voting machines, and staff training are controlled by the counties. The county officials are currently claiming Georgia’s secretary of state Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, is the problem.

Who is stopping these counties from opening up more polling places? Who is stopping these counties from ordering more ballots, hiring and training more staff, or lengthening their hours for voting?

Elected officials at all levels benefit from the fact that so many Americans have no idea who does what at each level of government.