Government Responses to COVID-19 Spread Defy Logic
* Editors Note, March 16, 2020 – Hours after IV Words published this post on March 15, N.D. Gov. Doug Burgum announced statewide school closures due to coronavirus. By that time, every state around us – Minnesota, Montana and South Dakota – had already announced closings. Fargo Public Schools sent announcements to students and parents shortly thereafter. As of today, about 30 states have shuttered schools for the purposes of social distancing in the hope of at least slowing the spread of the virus.
“Discretion is the better part of valor” is a bit of wisdom based on a line from Shakespeare’s “King Henry the Fourth, Part One.”
“Caution is preferable to rash bravery,” Falstaff said in the play.
Another way of saying it these days is “Prudence is the better part of valor.” Either way, the old saying means it’s “wise to be careful and avoid unnecessary risks.”
Seems to me too many people are OK with taking unnecessary risks with the coronavirus pandemic right now.
If social media comments are any indication, most people in my area believe coronavirus concern and talk of shutting down public places is “overreaction” and “hysteria.” Anyone who dares suggest taking precautions like shuttering restaurants, bars or, heaven forbid, schools, is ridiculed for an inability to “remain calm” and for “feeding the hysteria.”
Suggesting preventative measures is nothing of the kind, especially since health experts seem to agree on at least one thing: the most effective way to stop the spread of coronavirus is social distancing.
To heed another old saying, this one from Benjamin Franklin, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Stripped-Down Coronavirus Facts
Let’s start with the basic facts of the coronavirus pandemic and its spread in the United States:
- This virus has never infected humans before.
- Coronavirus is spreading across the world.
- Health officials confirmed the first U.S. case of coronavirus on Jan. 20, 2020.
- As of the date and time of this writing – March 15, 2020, 2:40 p.m. CST – there are 3,377 confirmed cases of coronavirus in 49 states, with 63 deaths.
- Testing availability and protocols are inconsistent.
- The most effective way to stop the spread of coronavirus is social distancing, defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others.”
Given those facts, the actions, inactions and recommendations of federal, state and local government officials begin to defy logic.
Stay 6 Feet Away From Other People. Except…
Take a look at that last bullet point in the previous section again.
- Stay away from congregate settings. Check!
- Avoid mass gatherings. Right!
- Practice social distancing by maintaining approximately 6 feet between yourself and others. Gotchya!
At the very least, and by definition, a school day is a mass gathering in a congregate setting, with hundreds of kids bumping into each other in the crowded hallways, sharing water fountains and bathrooms and eating together in common areas.
By whose definition? one might ask.
Why, by the CDC’s definition, that’s whose!
The following is from the CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service Field Epidemiology Manual:
“Settings and patterns of human congregation are risk factors and determinants for infectious and other diseases in communities because they can modulate the scope and extent of spread through modes of exposure and transmission (e.g., person-to-person, airborne, foodborne, waterborne, and vector-borne). Except for households, which are the elemental unit of human congregation, among the most notable community settings associated with regular, nonrandom congregation are educational institutions and workplaces.” (Emphasis added by IV Words.)
So, the CDC says avoid congregate settings. The CDC specifically includes educational institutions in its definition of congregate settings. Yet state and local governments say there’s no need to close schools, pointing to advice from public health officials.
“Counter to Narrative.” And Logic.
If total befuddlement hasn’t quite set in, reports from a state government press conference on Friday, March 13, should do the trick.
During the press conference on Friday, March 13, N.D. Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler outlined the circumstances that would need to exist to close schools during the coronavirus pandemic. She said that, “…even if there are cases in a community, the schools remain open. The threshold is when there’s a confirmed case in the school. If a case is discovered in a student or school employee, the school will be shut down for 72 hours…. a second confirmed case would result in a school closure for 14 days in that community.”
Infectious disease experts are saying people can be infected for up to 14 days without showing symptoms and be infecting others during that entire fortnight. Which means if you wait until a student or school worker shows symptoms, that person could have infected dozens, if not hundreds, of people already. Those people are going home to their families and friends and running into postal carriers and baggers at the grocery store. Those people, in turn, infect more people and those people infect more people and….
Waiting for someone to show coronavirus symptoms before taking action is not a logical strategy. Do that and it’s game over. The whole city’s population is infected in a snap, then the whole state.
As for shutting down a school for 72 hours after a coronavirus case is confirmed? To say there’s no logic in that is more like making a bad joke that causes everyone to scoff and roll their eyes. The one confirmed case, while carrying the virus without symptoms, would have already infected dozens, if not hundreds, of people….
It’s how pandemics kill, and keep killing.
According to the Intelligencer, “A recent CDC projection estimated that the U.S. coronavirus epidemic could infect between 160 million and 214 million people over a period of more than a year — and kill anywhere from 200,000 to 1.7 million people in the country.” That’s worst-case scenario, but even the scaled-back or mitigated scenarios for the spread of infection are scary.
The same story that included Baesler’s comments reported N.D. Gov. Doug Burgum “…admitted that this decision (to keep schools open) is rather contrary to what people are seeing. Around the country, common even in North Dakota, major events are being canceled and leaving schools open can appear counter to the narrative.”
It appears to be counter to the narrative because it is. Worse, it’s counter to any semblance of logic.
Cancel the track meet but keep the schools open? It’s what one might call taking an unnecessary risk. And with coronavirus, that can be deadly.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on “Meet the Press” this morning that U.S. citizens “should be prepared that they’re going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing.”
Sounds a lot like what Will and Ben were saying in their times. In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, their words are just as wise today.
An ounce of prevention over here, please.
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