atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#7083: Congitive dissonance

So, we have this pandemic thing going on.

I don't trust what the Chinese are telling us. They're communists, and by definition, they lie. Demand for funeral urns is up drastically in China, contrary to what they're saying about their fatality rate etc. They don't want the world to learn that the vast majority of their people live under third-world conditions. "Not giving you the straight dope" is standard operating procedure for communists.

The American media are trying to make this thing look as bad as possible, because they want it to bring down Trump, so they also are not giving us the straight dope. (See above re: communists.)

The Democrats, at best, view the thing as a crisis to be exploited, and at worst look at it as an opportunity to put on their human-face-stomping boots. Not only do they want this thing to be as bad as possible, but they are actively taking steps to make it as bad as possible, such as by trying to limit the President's ability to emplace travel bans.

Meanwhile, on our side, we have a whole slew of people explaining that this thing isn't nearly as bad as it's portrayed. But then we also have right-leaning folks who are screeching about the apocalypse, and "reports from the trenches" from right-wing sources saying, "We're all basically screwed."

I'm looking at all this and shaking my head, trying to make some sense out of it, and not getting very far. The best I can do is this:

1) Populations which exercise basic sanitation are less at risk than populations which do not. In other words, if you live in a country where people routinely wash their hands after using the restroom, and before handling food, you are probably a lot safer than the guy who lives in a country where his local butcher takes a dump behind the bushes, then goes right back to cutting up chickens for sale in his market stall.

2) The older you are, the more risk you've got of a negative outcome. This is true of nearly all viral infections, though, so that's not news.

3) The death rate, in America, for this thing is almost certainly being highly overstated. There are too many people in this country for whom a high death rate is advantageous for it to be otherwise. Notice, please, that whenever there is news that someone has "tested positive" we are NEVER told if they are even symptomatic. With the development of the 5-minute tests, though, more people will be tested. You can expect this number to change rapidly then, and it's going to drop precipitously, at which point it will be ignored.

Notice also that the high death rate in Italy is presented as a simple number. They're not talking about demographics at all, nor are they talking about how Italy responded earlier in the pandemic. I'm talking about the "Hug a Chinese" campaign they had, when everyone was freaking out about how "racist" it was for Donald Trump to bar travel to and from China. Italy has seen a lot of investment from China in the past decade, so there is a large amount of travel between China and Italy; and to make it worse, Italy's population is aging. The older you are, the harder this thing hits you.

4) One consistent thing about the reporting of the pandemic: about 80% of the people who get the thing experience either mild or no symptoms. Maybe 5% of the people who get it have severe symptoms. If you do not need hospitalization, you have nothing to worry about. Once you need admission to the hospital, all bets are off. Do not expect anyone put on a ventilator to survive, as the survival rate for patients requiring ventilation is about 15%. (Out of 100 patients put on ventilators, 15 live.)

5) Lastly, we need to acknowledge that--in light of that last bit--the "in the trenches" reports are skewed towards dire prognoses.

--abandoning ordinal format now--

The real takeaway from all this is really a simple one: WE DON'T KNOW WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON.

We don't have any good data about this thing. The really good data isn't going to be available for probably a year; in March of 2021 I expect we'll have a decent idea of how bad this thing actually is. Right now we have the various political entities on the left trying to spin the thing to their advantage, because that's what they do, and none of the damned numbers include a statistic that we cannot, by definition, measure, at least not before comprehensive testing can be done: the number of people who are exposed to it and who don't get sick.

That's why the data from Diamond Princess are so crucial: a couple thousand people crammed aboard a cruise ship--a largely closed environment with everyone in pretty close proximity--so we have numbers showing who got sick and who tested positive out of a tightly-defined number. As well as a fatality rate. But it's one case and may not apply to the larger population.

So what do you do, in the absence of data?

When you're talking about human lives, you pick the most pessimistic assumptions that seem reasonable and you act on them. So, we know that this virus is pretty easily transmissible between people; you invoke "social distancing" to help mitigate that. You remind people to wash their hands frequently with soap and water--and I've said from the very beginning that this one simple thing is the easiest and most efficient way of preventing the transmission of disease; it's 90% of the fight, right there.

With an infectious disease, quarantine is reasonable and proper. This disease may not warrant it, but we don't really know that...yet. We won't know that until next year, in all probability.

The government deciding to issue "shelter in place" orders--it is probably overkill. But under the "most pessimistic assumptions" rubric, it's not unreasonable. And we do see that, in places where "shelter in place" is being ignored (like New York City) there are a great many more cases than in places where it's not ignored.

And by doing things that may expose you to the disease, understand that you're rolling the dice with your life. The base stat is that you have an 80% chance not to get it...but that's modified by a whole slew of things you can't control. Former smoker? That reduces your chances of getting away with it. Being in poor physical condition subtracts from that 80%. Have some underlying condition you don't know about? Minus. Are you currently ill with something else? Minus. Heart disease? Minus. Diabetic? Minus.

...enough of those minuses and you're on a ventilator in a hospital, and your chance of surviving is now 15%.

We think.

This is why the government is doing what its doing. Do you think the states like foregoing all the lovely tax money they get from a roaring economy? Somehow I doubt it. Closing entertainment venues (as "non-essential") costs the states an enormous amount of money. Closing "Non-essential businesses" costs them lots more money. Not only in taxes, but now they have to start paying out unemployment, too. There are plenty of state functions which are shut down, and the state still has to pay all those employees. And on, and on, and on.

It may not be warranted. It probably is not warranted. But it's the safest thing to do because we don't know what the limits are with this thing. I don't like it; it rankles me that I need to carry a special piece of paper in my truck when I'm going to and from work. It irritates me that I need to worry about getting stopped when I'm going out to the store. I'm worried that we're doing all this for nothing and wrecking the economy over something that may turn out to be no worse than the common cold. I'm sick of having to reassure my wife that just because there is no toilet paper in the stores right now does not mean there will never be any again. I detest seeing the empty shelves at the stores because people are panic-buying and hoarding supplies they don't need. But I temper all that with the knowledge that because we don't know, this is safer for everyone.

I explain all this to put my reaction to this into perspective.
"If you are from an infected area, please don't come here."
"No, fuck you. I do as I want."
"Seriously, please, we don't want to spread this disease."
"I said no and fuck your people!"
"OK, check points enacted."
In Chicago, they've closed all the parks and recreational areas. In New York City, they're bustling with activity. Chicago is, so far, contained; NYC is not.

I understand why Florida is doing this. Right or wrong, I understand.

The center of the situation is our fundamental freedoms versus public health, and when it comes down to that I have to hearken back to the time before vaccination existed. My mother used to tell me about what it was like, in summertime, when polio was going around; people practiced "social distancing" automatically, without being told to by the government. Houses where polio struck were quarantined, no ifs, ands, or buts. There was no test except "Little Billy has the symptoms" and so the authorities assumed everyone in the house was contagious, period.

The same thing goes for the argument that "we need to flatten the curve". It may or may not do any good, but the consequences of guessing wrong are a lot more dire than doing it just in case. We've seen that if the medical system is overwhelmed the fatality rate skyrockets. We don't know if that would happen here in the US but it's safest just to act as if it would, so that's what we're doing.

Every way I look at this thing, it comes down to a simple proposition: if COVID-19 is a slightly worse cold than usual, we're overreacting and it's a bad thing to do. If COVID-19 is much worse than that, some of our precautions are laughably inadequate. The problem is, we really don't know which it is.

And when you're not sure....

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