The ‘Flatten The Curve’ Bait And Switch?
Everything that ‘flattening the curve’ represented has been abandoned. Thousands have needlessly died. Millions are out of work. Our cities are burning.
Like the fires that ravaged Australia to begin the year, March 2020 seems an eternity ago. Back then, though one may scarcely remember, Covid-19 was just taking root in the United States. The media, together with our elected officials as if in lockstep, told us we had to shut down the schools, our businesses, and pretty much restrict our social assemblies including church and small gatherings. This was necessary to “flatten the curve.”
By following these instructions ("orders") we could expect to slow the spread of coronavirus. This was greatly important! At the time we were told that “the virus could not be stopped, however it could be managed.” The alternative was bleak. If the virus were to spread unchecked, hospitals would be overwhelmed and both people with coronavirus and those needing medical attention for other ailments would die from the lack of access to care.
As citizens we grappled with frightening scenarios as the media peppered us with graphics that depicted flattening the curve, such as in The New York Times. These and other similar graphs typically showed two curves. One of them represented the spread of Covid-19 without lockdowns. This curve peaked well above the capacity of the health-care system. The second, “flattened” curve was as comforting as it was compelling. It associated lockdowns with a peak hovering near capacity. The areas under each curve, representing the total number of Covid-19 infections, were roughly equal.
The flattening the curve scenario included two underlying premises. Both were accepted without sufficient scrutiny. They had to be. After all this was no time to deliberate. Lives were at risk.
- The first premise was that a certain amount of deaths and infections were inevitable. The best we could hope for was to delay the process. No one promoting flattening the curve talked of stopping the disease. No graphs were showing that if we locked down infections would go straight to zero.
- The second premise was that flattening the curve was always shown with the same level of flattening: just enough to not overwhelm the health-care system. This was a tacit admission that flattening the curve would be painful and that it would not be beneficial to flatten the curve beyond the level needed to prevent overwhelming the healthcare system.
Of course, it all made sense, and since most of us are decent and caring, millions of us accepted the narrative, the governmental overreach, and the unprecedented restrictions on our freedoms to earn a living and to peaceably assemble.
Flattening the curve was the bait. Then came the switch.
The "flattening the curve" narrative was quickly discarded – abandoned when the actual data became available for examination. That data failed to support the underlying assumptions used to implement the lockdowns.
In California, for example, more than 26,000 hospital beds available for coronavirus patients, but they locked-down when they had about 200 coronavirus hospitalizations on March 20. That was less than 1 percent of their coronavirus hospital capacity. It quickly became clear that the California hospital system was not under threat, yet the lockdowns remained and “flatten the curve” was abandoned in favor of “suppress at all costs.” To this day, some states that were locked down during the initial flurry of panic remain locked down despite the lack of any true threat to hospital capacity.
Arizona followed suit. In fact, Governor Ducey just renewed restrictions on numerous businesses and further delayed the opening of Arizona schools for the fall.
The data for these and other restrictions is less than compelling. Consider that Arizona's population is approximately 7,200,000. As of today, there have been 1,632 deaths attributed to Covid-19. While every death is significant, the percentage of Covid-19 deaths in Arizona represents just .0002 of the total population. The percentage of Covid-19 cases is likewise statistically small. Arizona Department of Health Services has reported 79,215 cases to date. This figure represents .01% of Arizona's population. Even if you do test positive, your survival rate is 98%, and even higher depending on your age bracket.
Since March the narrative of flattening the curve has been displaced. Without signficant discussion it has been replaced with “lockdowns save lives.” Many early shutdowns resulted in over-suppression, which meant any subsequent opening would be accompanied by an increase in cases and hospitalizations. Yet, since the idealogy of flatten-the-curve to slow infections has been abandoned, any uptick in cases is now spun by most of the media as apocalyptic. This can be seen in states like Arizona and Florida, where cases are surging and ABC, CNN, and CBS all frequently report record numbers of cases. This ignores the fact that Florida has more hospital beds available now for potential patients than before the pandemic started.
This curious phenomenon isn’t confined to the United States but has played out all over the world. New Zealand started talking of flattening the curve, but quickly enacted aggressive lockdowns and managed to stop the virus. Now, however, they are in a situation where they can open up internally, but because of their lack of immunity, the entire country must remain isolated from the rest of the world.
The greatest tragedy associated with abandoning flattening the curve to suppress at all costs is the massive number of non-coronavirus deaths that are a direct result of the lockdowns. The New York Times found that almost one-third of the excess deaths in New York and New Jersey were not from coronavirus. It’s almost impossible to make a reasonable estimate at this point, but some estimate this number to be in excess of 30,000 individuals.
Flattening the curve was sound logic when it was originally presented, and remains so today. That’s why so many people across the political spectrum originally bought into the idea.
The drift from flatten-the-curve to stop-the-virus-at-all-costs has been a disaster. The catastrophic blowback won't be calculated for several years. But right now we know that more than 40 million people have lost their jobs. This, together with the related angst and associated lack of social opportunities created a tinder-box that was set to flames when George Floyd was killed. Moreover, deaths of despair and child abuse are both likely rising as a result.
We should reject the most oppressive, most destructive bait and switch ever enacted and return to the principles of flattening the curve. We must also accept that nature can be brutal and more infections will happen. Yet we must push through. We must strive to reopen our society as much as possible and only implement mitigation efforts to the extent needed to avoid a clearly imminent threat of overwhelming hospitals.
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