Why No Spike as States Reopen?

This morning on the Sunday talk shows, Alex Azar pointed out that in states that have reopened ahead of the others, like Florida and Georgia, there has not been an increase in COVID cases and deaths:

“We are seeing that in places that are opening, we’re not seeing this spike in cases,” Azar said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “We still see spikes in some areas that are, in fact, closed.”

However, Azar said identifying and reporting new cases takes time. …

“It’s still early days,” Azar cautioned in an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation.” He said data will take some time to come in from states that reopened early such as Georgia and Florida.

I find this puzzling. I have taken it as given that when the states’ stay-home orders are finally withdrawn, the Wuhan virus will begin spreading more rapidly, manifested by more people getting the disease and a tiny percentage of them dying. This follows from the assumption that the states’ drastic shutdown orders have, to some degree, slowed the disease’s spread.

My problem with the shutdown orders wasn’t that they couldn’t slow the rate of infection; I assumed they did. My argument has been that 1) the cost of the shutdown orders in human sickness, death, poverty and misery is far too high for any marginal benefit they might confer, and 2) temporarily slowing the disease’s spread is of little or no value, since the shutdowns must inevitably end, and when they do, the disease will still be there, continuing to infect people.

If the rate of infection actually fails to rise when the shutdowns end, it implies that my view of the shutdowns was too generous. If infections don’t increase, it suggests–proves, arguably–that the shutdowns were absolutely useless, as they failed even to slow the spread of the Wuhan virus.

So what is going on here? Glenn Reynolds says, “It’s looking like this is going to turn out to be a seasonal virus that will fade away over the summer.” And might come back in the fall. Perhaps that is right; the weather is certainly warm in Georgia and Florida. Also in Texas, which is rapidly getting back to normal without any apparent problems.

Another relevant fact is that resuming normal business and social activity won’t significantly increase traffic in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, where a large percentage of COVID fatalities–over 80% in Minnesota, where I live–have taken place. The shutdowns were always irrelevant to nursing homes, sadly, and lifting the shutdowns will be, too.

Or maybe it will just take a few more weeks for the anticipated “spike” to show itself. That’s my guess. But if that doesn’t happen, those who have abused their positions by imposing devastating shutdowns will owe the rest of us an abject apology.

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