I think it is indisputable that America’s reaction to the relatively mild Wuhan virus has been excessive, if not hysterical. Polls suggest that most Americans grossly overestimate the extent to which the virus is fatal, especially to those who are less than 80 years old and not in compromised health.
Why have Americans been systematically misinformed, and why have many states taken actions so plainly disproportionate to the risk? Many believe that COVID hysteria has been ginned up for a political purpose; that is, to give the Democrats something to talk about in this year’s election. My organization tested this idea in our quarterly poll, conducted just a week ago.
The results have not yet been published, but here is how Minnesotans–probably a pretty good cross section of Americans, if anything leaning a bit to the left–answered this question: “Which of the following comes closest to how you see the future of COVID-19 in our lives? Or in other words, when do you think COVID-19 will no longer be as big of an issue?” These were the answers:
* 38% — IT WILL CONTINUE TO BE AN ISSUE NEXT YEAR AND BEYOND, EVEN AFTER A VACCINE IS DEVELOPED
* 27% — IT WILL GO AWAY ONLY WHEN A VACCINE IS DEVELOPED
* 20% — IT WILL GO AWAY AFTER ELECTION DAY
* 8% — IT WILL GO AWAY ONLY AFTER MOST OF THE POPULATION HAS CONTRACTED IT
* 7% — DON’T KNOW
A substantial minority, 20%, believes that COVID hysteria is politically driven, and will disappear after the election. My view has been that this is too cynical, but here is a data point suggesting that the cynics might be right.
Of all the foolish actions taken in response (or allegedly in response) to the COVID virus, the closing of our public schools is among the most irrational. For school-age kids, COVID is not as dangerous as the average seasonal flu–which is to say, not dangerous at all. Nor is there any evidence to support a meaningful risk of students transmitting the virus to teachers. Nevertheless, in defiance of all evidence, schools have been shut down across America, as hard-left teachers’ unions hold kids hostage to a series of political demands.
In Los Angeles, America’s largest school district, a local radio show obtained a tape of a conference call among LA school administrators that included Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. The participants discussed the question when Los Angeles public schools might reopen. First the recording; you have to wait through the usual radio chatter to get to the tape at around 2:23. Then the relevant transcript.
This is what Dr. Ferrer said:
We don’t realistically anticipate that we would be moving to either tier 2 or to reopening K-12 schools at least until after the election, in early November. When we look at the timing of everything, it seems to us a more realistic approach to this would be to think that we’re going to be where we are now until we are done with the election.
This raises obvious questions. What does the election have to do with the reopening of the public schools? And what does Dr. Ferrer mean when she says that “we’re going to be where we are now until we are done with the election.” Who is the “we” who will be “done with the election”? Teachers and administrators? LA County officials? Democrats? What exactly is the relationship of these groups to the election, that they need to be “done with” it before kids can go back to school?
I don’t know how to answer these questions except by saying that the cynics might have a point.