Someone recently accused me in comments of being a bully because I call the people who want ongoing lockdowns bed-wetters. That gave me a chuckle, since it’s bed-wetters who want to tell everyone else where they can go, how many people they can be with, which businesses can open, who has to wear masks in which situations, etc. – and they want anyone who defies them arrested. That’s a bully.
Thanks to the bed-wetters, the hysterical response to the coronavirus will likely cause more harm (including more deaths) than the virus itself. Why don’t the bed-wetters see that? I think the best explanation lies in a couple of concepts from disciplines outside medicine.
The first is a concept in software engineering called separation of concerns. In simplest terms, it means each of the major functions of the system lives in its own little code box and is designed and maintained by an expert in that function.
For example, I recently coded a user interface that displays data that’s retrieved from a database by a web service. Someone else coded the web service. And still someone else designed and maintains the database. We don’t need to know much at all about each other’s jobs … and good thing, because the IT field is too huge and too complex for anyone to learn it all.
Most of the time separation of concerns is a good thing in IT. But sometimes the separation causes problems, such as when a database administrator decides to make changes to a database table, and those changes cause applications to break.
Separation of concerns exists in medicine as well, and that separation can produce lousy treatments. I remember my dad’s cardiologist insisting he MUST TAKE HIS STATINS! because his cholesterol was high. Never mind that Dad was slipping mentally and statins are known to cause cognitive issues. The cardiologist’s only concern was bringing down the cholesterol score. Dad’s brain health wasn’t his concern.
The second concept is from economics: the seen vs. the unseen. The brief explanation is that actions always produce secondary effects — often unseen, and often unwanted.
Suppose we raise the minimum wage to $20 per hour. Some low-skilled people will clearly earn more money. That’s seen. But employers will hire fewer people and, when possible, replace what are now too-expensive employees with kiosks and other technology.
As a result, it will become more difficult for an unskilled person to snag that all-important first job. That’s the unseen. Nobody reports on the people NOT hired because of the new wage. (Thomas Sowell wrote a terrific book on the seen vs. the unseen titled Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One. Stage One is the seen; the unseen effects show up later.)
If a new virus starts killing people and you ask a pandemic expert – we’ll call him Dr. Foolchi – what to do, he’s likely to recommend shutting down human contact as much as possible. The infection rate may slow down as a result, and in Dr. Foolchi’s area of concern, that means he succeeded.
But here’s the problem: Dr. Foolchi isn’t an expert in economics, or in cancer treatments, or in the effects of stress on heart disease, or in depression. If people lose their jobs, die from cancer that wasn’t detected in time because medical offices were closed, have heart attacks from the stress of being unemployed, or slip into a depression from lack of human contact and begin abusing drugs … well, those aren’t his concerns. So if you’re in a position to set government policy and you ask Dr. Foolchi how to respond to the virus, you need to keep in mind that he probably doesn’t know if a shutdown will create bigger problems than the one it supposedly solves.
Unfortunately, many of those bigger problems fall into the unseen category. Sure, we all know unemployment has spiked since the shutdown – which has prompted many self-righteous ignoramuses to declare I care more about lives than money! But as many economists have pointed out, it isn’t a matter of lives vs. money. It’s a matter of lives vs. lives, because those unseen effects will kill people.
In a recent post, Dr. Malcolm Kendrick explains how financial stress likely caused a huge spike in heart-disease deaths after the Soviet Union broke apart and millions of people became unemployed. The lockdowns are causing similar financial stress. He concludes with this:
We were persuaded into lockdown with the promise that hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved in the UK – and millions worldwide. We were never warned about the many millions of lives that could – and, I fear, will – be lost as a consequence of lockdown. I consider that to be negligent. Especially as, in this case, the patient in question was the entire population of the Earth.
An article in the U.K. Daily Mail offered this warning:
More than 200,000 people could die because of delays in healthcare and other economic and social effects all caused by lockdown, a government report has warned.
The great majority of the deaths – 185,000 – are attributed to an extended wait for treatment in the longer term.
But up to 25,000 deaths would have come in the first six months because of healthcare delays, according to experts at the Department of Health and Social Care, Office for National Statistics, Government Actuary’s Department and the Home Office.
With lockdown measures in place and hospital priorities shifted, patients have likely missed out on life-saving care for heart attacks and strokes and early diagnoses of diabetes and kidney disease.
The University of Oxford discovered just last week that 5,000 fewer heart attack patients had attended hospital between March and May.
Granted, the numbers are speculation. But let’s say the estimate is exaggerated and only half that number will die in the U.K. because of lockdowns. That’s still 100,000 people. As of today, the U.K. is reporting a total of around 46,000 COVID deaths. If 100,000 people die from the unintended, unseen effects of the lockdown, then the lockdown killed twice as many people as the virus itself. That’s a lousy tradeoff.
And there’s this warning from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy:
According to a modeling analysis commissioned by the Stop TB Partnership, a lockdown that disrupts TB diagnosis, treatment, and prevention services for 2 months, followed by the 2 months it would take to get normal TB services back up and running, could result in a rapidly growing pool of undetected and untreated TB patients. Over the next 5 years, that could produce an additional 1.8 million TB cases and 342,000 deaths globally.
Under a worst-case scenario of a 3-month lockdown and 10-month restoration period, global cases would rise by 6.8 million, with 1.4 million excess deaths, the analysis found.
Hundreds of thousand of deaths – perhaps a million deaths – just from delays in diagnosing and treating tuberculosis. Dr. Foolchi and his colleagues around the world probably didn’t think of that one. It’s not their area of concern.
And there’s this warning from UNICIF:
An additional 6.7 million children under the age of five could suffer from wasting – and therefore become dangerously undernourished – in 2020 as a result of the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF warned today.
According to an analysis published in The Lancet, 80 per cent of these children would be from sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Over half would be from South Asia alone.
The estimated increase in child wasting is only the tip of the iceberg, UN agencies warn. COVID-19 will also increase other forms of malnutrition in children and women, including stunting, micronutrient deficiencies and overweight and obesity as a result of poorer diets and the disruption of nutrition services. UNICEF reports from the early months of the pandemic suggest a 30 per cent overall reduction in the coverage of essential – and often life-saving – nutrition services. In some countries, these disruptions have reached 75 per cent to 100 per cent under lockdown measures.
Now add in the stress and depression caused by the countless small businesses destroyed, the unemployment, the loneliness, etc., etc., and I’d say the cure has been far worse than the disease.
These unintended consequences weren’t caused by the virus. They were caused by the bed-wetter reaction to the virus. They were caused by shutting down major portions of the world economy so we can all shelter in place and be safe and blah-blah-blah. Early on, when little was known about the rate of infection and death, a temporary lockdown made sense. But continuing to act as if the coronavirus is airborne AIDS makes no sense whatsoever at this point.
So to all you STAY IN LOCKDOWN UNTIL WE HAVE A VACCINE AND WE’RE SAFE! bed-wetters out there, screw your I care about lives! virtue-signaling. What you mean is that you care about your life. You don’t care about all the people around the world who will die from what amounts to mass hysteria. You’ll happily sacrifice those people if ongoing lockdowns mean there’s an itty, bitty, tiny reduction in the odds that you (or your 81-year-old grandma) will catch the virus.
If you’re not elderly or fragile from some underlying condition and want us all to stay in lockdown until a vaccine comes along, that means you’re willing to have other people die so you don’t catch a cold.
And if you think I’m a bully for pointing it out and calling you a bunch of bed-wetters, well, I really don’t care.
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