Source: Alan Koczela
We depend on experts for advice. We always have. This is understandable given our inability to effectively process and disseminate all the information that bombards us. Our minds are not supercomputers with software that sift and rank information in nanoseconds. We cannot psychically communicate our discoveries with the rest of the hive. Instead, we develop a system of experts that focus their efforts on different topics and tell us what they learn through various institutions, such as the media, the church, or the office water cooler.
But what happens when our experts fail? The public health community’s response to COVID-19, aka the “Boomer Flu,” provides a cautionary example. Many have noted COVID’s terrible effectiveness in killing the elderly and infirm. However, what are the responses of our public policy experts? Quarantines, testing, and other proscriptions of minimal effectiveness and mass inconvenience
For example, the focus on testing is farcical. Granted, testing information is useful, particularly in developing programs for the next pandemic. However, what’s the benefit from testing for treatment of the pandemic? If I have a cold, my doctor tells me to self-quarantine. If I have the flu, my doctor tells me to self-quarantine. If I have any contagious disease, my doctor tells me to self-quarantine. Whether I have a confirmed or suspected case of the Boomer Flu, my doctor will tell me to self-quarantine. Healthcare professionals can still record information about suspected COVID-19 cases. When tests become available, the suspected cases can return for testing or someone could visit the suspect and conduct the tests. The focus on testing is a waste of time, and wasted time is something we can’t afford.
Another example is our method of quarantining. In the U.S., a volunteer self-quarantine (“VSQ”) appears the method of choice. Yet, a VSQ is largely ineffective. Imagine a low-income parent who must work. Sick or not, this person will work. And, what type of jobs do these parents typically have? My guesses are janitors, warehouse workers, cashiers, or any low-paying job that involves close contact with the public. Financially distressed people with jobs serving the public suggest VSQs are a recipe for disaster. Yet, VSQs remain a cornerstone of our response.
The above examples indicate the public health elite are largely clueless on what to do. Instead of instituting helpful policies, they’ve opted for the ol’ roust ‘em strategy. This strategy was once popular with law enforcement. For example, there’s an uptick in crime, so the police installed roadblocks, roust the poor and implemented responses that created the impression that the police were doing something. Of course, these policies looked good on TV, caused mass inconvenience, and were minimally effective. Our public-health experts have adopted such a response to COVID-19: lots of doctors on TV suggesting ineffective policies and often shifted the blame or the public’s attention to nonsensical issues, like the lack of testing supplies. The blame shifting and misdirection are designed to hide the public heath elite’s incompetence in developing strategies that make a difference.
I know it is easy to complain. Any fool can quickly list the problems of the world. So, let this non-credentialed, occasionally employed deadbeat from Baltimore provide some suggestions. These proposals are based on the World Health Organization’s website, as well as the Italian experience. The reports indicate that COVID-19 deaths are primarily confined to those over 60 or people with underlying medical conditions. My modest proposals include:
(1) Seal nursing homes, hospices, retirement communities and intensive care units (“ICUs”) by limiting access. Like the British, install field hospitals nearby. The field hospitals would only accept COVID-19 cases. Apart from freeing up hospital beds, this allows medical professionals to treat only those most at risk. In addition, create disinfecting areas for staff, where sterilized uniforms are provided. Also, ban everyone not a resident or staff, including families of the sick. Outside vendors would wear sterilized gear to limit exposing residents to COVID-19. Beyond the sealed area, the facility could create a non-contact visiting area with windowed partitions, and end-of-life rooms where families could say their last goodbye to loved ones.
(2) Encourage retailers to require masks, gloves, and hand-sanitizer for all employees that stock goods or interact with the public. This would mitigate the problem of infected employees spreading the disease because their financial condition delays or prevents self-quarantine.
(3) Implement a parallel vaccine testing/manufacturing program. The government should encourage vaccine manufacture as soon as there are positive preliminary results from animal studies. This is a high-risk and high-cost option. However, acting sequentially with animal testing, then human testing, and, finally, vaccine manufacture is incredibly time-consuming.
(4) The government would finance these proposals through government expenditure, such as building field hospitals, or through government grants, such as creating end-of-life areas.
(5) Expand the team of experts responsible for solving this crisis. Very little of the solution to this problem will come from treatment, which is the expertise of doctors. Most of the solution will come from risk-management. This means the team must include a broad array of experts in federal and state laws and regulations, vaccine development, and manufacture and creating government programs. Medical schools do not teach all the knowledge required to stem a pandemic and doctors are not the font of all wisdom. Like everyone else, the mental capacities of doctors are limited and some things are beyond their ken.
Please notice that none of my proposals include testing, and the quarantines involve the uninfected, rather than the sick. Policies must alleviate the crisis, instead of providing screen-time for the few lucky doctors with friends in the media or government. I am sure others with credentials could provide better suggestions. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard any from our public health elite.
There will be consequences for our public health elite’s inadequate response to COVID-19. Deaths for those under 50 will be insignificant. In fact, there are no recorded deaths of a child under 10, which is amazing given the Center for Disease Control (“CDC”) estimated 266 children under five years of age died during the 2018-2019 flu season. The typical symptoms of the Boomer Flu are relatively mild, with most suffering a fever and persistent cough that is treated with over-the-counter medicines. Against this backdrop, the current COVID-19 policies inadequately protect the vulnerable, while causing an extreme burden for the financially unstable. The coming recession created by our public policy elite will needlessly cause Americans to lose their jobs and homes. From this fiasco, the public-policy elite will lose the respect of the public. Widespread loss of confidence in public-health experts is a severe problem.
Over the last several years, experts in other fields, particularly in the media and public policy arenas, have lost credibility. Experts in the public-health profession are suffering a similar fate. The decline began when the medical profession claimed every societal problem as a public health concern, from domestic abuse to gun violence. While vexing problems, these communal tragedies are only tangentially related to healthcare and are best handled by other experts. The incompetent and ineffectual policies for the Boomer Flu, advocated by the public health elite, suggest these folks will soon share the fate of the media elite and public policy elite: becoming the butt of jokes by late-night comics. If this happens, America will be worse for it.