Who 'Equates It With the Flu' Now? And Why?

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

As I noted in May -- which feels like an eternity ago -- it is wrong to dismiss or insult someone simply for drawing a parallel between corona and the flu:

Image by the CDC, via Unsplash, license.
[W]hile I agree that anyone who equates this with the flu is wrong, that does not mean that we can't learn from past experience dealing with flu pandemics, which have relevant similarities...

I'd even go so far as to say that the appropriateness of calling this a "really bad flu" depends on context. For example: by comparison to, say, Black Death, the coronavirus epidemic is much more like a flu in terms of the precautions individuals and governments ought to take. Pointing this out is not the same thing as poo-pooing the disease.
There were two types of people being wrongly lumped together by the crowd who would call us "COVID deniers:" (1) those who had not fully grasped -- or, yes, denied -- the dangers posed by corona, and (2) those who really were interested in learning relevant lessons from the past.

This is wrong, morally and practically. And it raised the question: Why would anyone do this? (More on that later.)

Fast forward to now, when our nation still (!) faces the question: Do we reopen the schools? For the record, I agree with epidemiologist Amesh Adalja on the answer:
"Schools ... were closed basically reflexively because of extrapolations from Influenza. And, we're finding that this virus behaves very differently than Influenza," he stated. "In influenza, children are major magnifiers of infection. And, we're not seeing that so much with this virus. We're not hearing about epidemics that are being started or outbreaks being started or driven by children."


"We know that there have been schools already open in the United States, in places like Montana and Idaho, and they seem to be operating okay," Adalja noted. "We know some countries didn't close schools. And, we also know that daycare centers for essential workers were open throughout this pandemic and we haven't heard about outbreaks there.

"So, I think that when it comes to opening schools -- because children are relatively spared from the epidemiology of this -- meaning, they don't transmit it, they don't seem to be driving outbreaks, and they seem to be spared from severe cases -- I do think this is something that's one of the first things that probably can open. And, I do think that we will see schools being opened," he predicted. [links omitted, bold added]
This jibes with everything that I, a parent, have seen about this disease. Furthermore, conservative commentator Daniel Horowitz notes just how different the flu -- for which we only sometimes, temporarily close schools -- is from corona as far as children go:
The reality is that every flu season, many more children die from this common ailment than have from COVID-19. And unlike with COVID-19, where the rare pediatric deaths are among those who have serious conditions, many of the flu deaths occur in perfectly healthy children. According to the CDC, "influenza is dangerous to children," and during the 2017-2018 flu season, which everyone forgets was considered a pandemic, the federal agency estimates that the actual number of pediatric deaths was closer to 600.


Moreover, other kids get seriously ill and develop side effects, such as blindness. One four-year -old girl in Iowa was left blind by the flu this past season. Even those who suffer no serious consequences are often bedridden for a week or longer with high fever, muscle ache, and incessant coughing, unlike with COVID-19, where almost every child who develops it is asymptomatic or very mildly symptomatic.


... [U]nlike with this virus, where children barely contribute to community spread, with the flu, children contribute substantially to the spread and pick it up most often from other kids in school. [links omitted, bold added]
At first, it might seem odd that the same people who started off telling us not to equate this with the flu seem to be ... equating this with the flu. But Horowitz gives us a hint of what is going on when he speaks of "the context and perspective that is lacking in the hyper-focus on the worst outcomes in any group of people in a country this size." That is exactly the kind of thinking that will lead someone to do this without batting an eye.

A brief pause, though, to state what ought to be obvious: It is just as wrong to equate corona with the flu in the process of overestimating risk as it is in underestimating risk.

Horowitz is right: There is either very bad or very cynical thinking going on here. I'd wager the former for the rank and file of the paternalists, who seem to suffer from anything from fear of the unknown to a lack of cognitive self-confidence in learning about new dangers and weighing risks, on the negative side of the ledger. But this combines with a legitimate concern: Since the government (improperly) runs everything, they do worry about being corralled into a situation they would not volunteer for. Thus they'll express their risk aversion as calls for "caution" that unwittingly exclude the many risks associated with, for example, not educating children. (The real solution to this problem would be to privatize education. This would have the benefit of making it easier for every parent to weigh their own risks and act accordingly.)

And those leading the charge to keep the schools closed? Some want power, and others want the prestige of looking like they care the most about children. With our society's dominant altruist ethical persuasion, this is too easy to achieve with measures whose unnecessary pain can be glorified as sacrifice.

The media-led stampede to keep the schools closed is motivated largely by a most shameful triad of character flaws: willful ignorance, power-lust, and the second-hand desire to look good, one's actual moral stature be damned.

-- CAV

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