Lessons learned: Kevin Roche versus Star Tribune (2)

The Star Tribune published its lead editorial on lessons supposedly learned from the epidemic the weekend before last in its July 11 edition, i.e., the Sunday paper. They saved it for the Sunday paper in order to give it maximum exposure. They thought it was so good it deserved all the readers they could get for it. The lessons supposedly learned came via the execrable Andy Slavitt.

I flagged Kevin Roche’s Healthy Skeptic post responding to these supposed lessons here on Power Line. Kevin wrote another version of his Healthy Skeptic post for the Star Tribune. The Star Tribune has published this version of Kevin’s response this morning as the editorial counterpoint “Learn the right lessons from the COVID response.” Subhead: “You can’t place wholehearted trust in either political leaders or experts, including the one the Star Tribune Editorial Board recently praised.”

As I read Kevin’s response, the tone is slightly modulated from that of his Healthy Skeptic post to make it safe for Star Tribune readers without trigger warnings. Over at Healthy Skeptic Kevin notes: “I have had a lot of unkind things to say about the Strib over the course of the epidemic, but I am appreciative of their willingness to publish contrary opinions, and I am especially grateful to Doug Tice, who has been very good and decent to work with.” Kevin’s column is excerpted below the break:

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On July 11, this newspaper published an editorial commending to readers a book written by Andy Slavitt regarding the response to the COVID-19 epidemic. Slavitt may seem an inapt choice for such a book or editorial, given his frequent inaccurate predictions and observations regarding the course of the epidemic and his indefatigable support of suppression measures that have been shown to be largely futile and to have caused more harm than benefit to the population as a whole.

An article in this paper in October noted Slavitt’s support for a supposed virus-crushing — and soul-crushing — six-week complete shutdown of everything. He cited several nations that supposedly followed such a course with success, but almost every one of them, such as England, Italy, the Czech Republic, and currently Japan and Thailand, went on to have substantial waves of cases.

What is most striking in looking at epidemic curves from various areas is both their textbook shape and the visible lack of impact from differing suppression regimes. A recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research examined the effect of stay-at-home orders on mortality across 43 countries and all U.S. states and found no beneficial effect, consistent with several prior pieces of research.

Recently, Slavitt has been spreading fear and misinformation about the delta variant, claiming it is twice as infectious and has worse outcomes, referring to it as COVID-19 on steroids. The Public Health England, where delta has been the dominant strain for a number of weeks, publishes a regular technical bulletin on all variants of concern. The most recent of those shows that delta has a lower hospitalization and death rate than did the prior predominant strain, alpha or B117, and that its transmissibility is roughly the same as alpha. Pretty weak steroids.

But what is more striking are the lessons he would have us learn, particularly those regarding Americans’ character and soul. Slavitt refers to the ugly selfishness of many. I must differ both as to that characterization and regarding the primary lessons that should be taken from our response to the epidemic. Is it ugly selfishness that led many Americans to wish to keep their jobs? To not lose their businesses? To have their children continue with their educational and social progress? To be with elderly loved ones in their last days? To resent government orders that were promulgated in an undemocratic manner with little actual support in data or research? Slavitt apparently believes we should all just slavishly kowtow to these pronouncements as words delivered on high from the gods themselves.

In fact, there is every reason to disregard the government epidemic-suppression measures. Most people do not understand how unprecedented these measures were. Never before in a respiratory virus epidemic had restrictions such telling people to stay home, closing businesses or cutting off access to health care even been considered. These measures were justified on models universally found to be far off the mark. The large and growing body of research on the epidemic response almost universally finds that lockdowns made no difference in case spread, that closing schools made no difference, that social distancing and plastic barriers and constant cleaning have no value.

Just last week a Danish study found that Denmark’s mass testing and trace program, which included banning people from certain activities and places unless they had been tested, not only did not lessen spread, it may have increased transmission. Unprecedented, too, were the methods of case and death attribution, which fed a campaign to frighten the public. And research demonstrates that governments around the world adopted a panicked herd mentality; the most significant factor for predicting enactment of a suppression measure was whether a neighboring country or state had done so.

These suppression measures exacted a frightful toll on the population that will be felt for literally a generation or more and that ultimately will exceed the toll from the epidemic itself. Millions lost jobs; tens of thousands lost businesses. Domestic abuse, psychological problems and drug and alcohol use and deaths all rose to new heights. Children were horrendously affected, losing educational attainment, which in turn will damage their lifetime economic status. Many children simply abandoned education. We have a mental health and suicide crisis among children. They missed needed vaccinations and other health care, as did adults, leading to excess mortality likely to be sustained for several years. As always, minorities and low-income persons were affected the most….

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