The “Red Flag” of COVID-19 Prevalence

Many moons ago, some asshole with a blog noted:

…the overall goal was to use massive federal spending to place significant swathes of the U.S. economy into what multiple commentators, including Paul Krugman, referred to as a ‘medically induced coma.’ And not for a month either, but for as long as it took.

If that is your framework, you stop worrying about fourteen-day declines which allow you to tentatively reopen some businesses in order to keep them afloat. Instead, you focus on crushing the curve, and, critically, the prevalence of COVID-19 (the proportion of the population that is currently sick). Everything else is commentary. Prevalence is what should determine if various activities are safe, and, as importantly, it will determine if people feel safe partaking in those activities. Nobody cares if something is less dangerous than it was two weeks ago if it is still reasonably dangerous.

Since an AEI-backed plan that would result in massive federal intervention in the economy is an impossibility, we’re left with second-best options of relative improvements leading to partial reopenings. When massive federal intervention is off the table, then we’re left with these other metrics, such as decline for a couple of weeks followed by hoping for the best, because there’s no way to support the economy long enough to reach a meaningful low level of prevalence.

If you don’t trust the Mad Biologist, then listen to Saskia Popescu (boldface mine):

Other public health specialists weren’t so forgiving of the White House’s early response to the pandemic. Saskia Popescu, an epidemiologist and biodefense professor at George Mason University, said the “15 days to slow the spread” guidance demonstrated “a lack of awareness for managing outbreak response.” The initiative should not have been tied to a timeline, she said, but instead tied to a specific task like reducing daily new infections to a certain level.

“Simply put, 15 days is not enough to address so much of what we were facing in March 2020 and this plan really reveals an administration and national plan that was quite superficial in response,” Popescu said in an email to CNBC.

“Truly, for many of us in public health, this was a red flag — an indication that the administration had an unrealistic view of pandemic control measures and was not aware of the reality — a pandemic cannot be solved in 15 days and any strategy needs to include a serious amount of work resource, and personnel,” she added.

One year later, and our elected officials are still making the same damn mistake again and again: tying loosening restrictions to arbitrary dates and not to how many people are infected with COVID-19. At this point, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to conclude that the only indicator they’re using is “Are there news stories about people dying in hospital hallways?” Anything not quite that bad is grounds for relaxing restrictions. And so, we are at the point described by Atrios: “Can the vaccine machine beat the irresponsible relaxation of covid measures?”

This is enraging.

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1 Response to The “Red Flag” of COVID-19 Prevalence

  1. Pingback: In Case You Missed It… | Mike the Mad Biologist

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