Thanks, Dubya: How Lockdowns Became Policy

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Since I keep hearing that prominent epidemiologists are or have been against lockdowns, I became curious this morning as to why our country has been employing them so extensively.

The answer to that very question exists in the form of a May 15 post by Jeffrey Tucker of the American Institute for Economic Research, which traces the origins of the policy to an effort by President George W. Bush -- spooked by H5N1 -- to ready the country for the next serious pandemic.

That effort, as noted by the New York Times, would give birth to the idea of "social distancing" that has been "the heart of the national playbook for responding to a pandemic," despite the fact that it was viewed at the time as "impractical, unnecessary and politically infeasible."

Tucker notes that "neither legal nor economic experts were brought in to consult and advise" in this effort, which was led by two physicians without expertise in pandemics. And the trademark social distancing? That had its origins in the published results from a computer simulation from a high school science project.

Lockdowns are a game being played with our lives. (Image by visuals, via Unsplash, license.)
Implementation of social distancing strategies is challenging. They likely must be imposed for the duration of the local epidemic and possibly until a strain-specific vaccine is developed and distributed. If compliance with the strategy is high over this period, an epidemic within a community can be averted. However, if neighboring communities do not also use these interventions, infected neighbors will continue to introduce influenza and prolong the local epidemic, albeit at a depressed level more easily accommodated by healthcare systems. [bold added]
This reminds me of a quip on Twitter to the effect of "day 100 of two weeks to flatten the curve." The lead author of the paper, Robert Glass (the father of the high school student), had no medical training.

D.A. Henderson, famous for spearheading the eradication of smallpox, and several other prominent medical figures wrote an article answering the Glass paper, which Tucker calls "a remarkably readable refutation of the entire lock-down model." That paper concludes:
Experience has shown that communities faced with epidemics or other adverse events respond best and with the least anxiety when the normal social functioning of the community is least disrupted. Strong political and public health leadership to provide reassurance and to ensure that needed medical care services are provided are critical elements. If either is seen to be less than optimal, a manageable epidemic could move toward catastrophe [bold from Tucker].
Do notice the myopic concentration in Glass et al. on stopping the spread of the pathogen to the exclusion of other concerns vis-a-vis the attention Henderson et al. pay to how fighting the pandemic fits in with other concerns. The former might be fine for an initial attempt to evaluate a new strategy; but it is folly in the realm of public policy.

Tucker goes on to note that the Bush administration sided with the lockdown advocates, in a victory unnoticed by the public at large.

With sad wisdom, he notes:
Dream up an idea for a virus-controlling totalitarian society, one without an endgame and eschewing any experienced-based evidence that it would achieve the goal, and you might see it implemented someday.

As if this debacle isn't bad enough on its own, it should give us pause: How many other disasters is our too-powerful government so mis-prepared to handle?

-- CAV


SteveD said...

Hey, now we can say, "I blame Bush.", and it's true not just a mockery of Obama.

Gus Van Horn said...

And ironically, Bush's biggest foot-soldiers are the likes of Gavin Newsom, Gretchen Whitmer, and Mario Cuomo.

And Biden, who recently mooted a national lockdown.