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Score Settling on COVID
We are far from closure on the pandemic
It is probably premature to be doing post-mortems on the pandemic, but President Biden’s recent comment is bound to set them off. See Noah Smith, for example.
I feel like I have a lot of scores to settle.
The vaccines were developed within days. That is terrific. I see Operation Warp Speed as ramping up production before they had been tested, which was a smart move. But I see not doing human challenge trials as a major mistake, which delayed the deployment of the vaccines by months.
I am appalled by the lack of scientific curiosity among those responsible for public health, at the CDC and elsewhere. Very early during the pandemic, they were saying to wipe down surfaces—remember the hand sanitizer shortage?—without once testing to see whether COVID could be spread through surface contact. There were no attempts made to understand why COVID super-spreader events all seemed to take place indoors or to draw inferences from that. I honestly think that I was offering better public health advice based on my observations than what the experts were telling us. As early as March 20 of 2020, I was calling for the public health bureaucrats to be fired.
I give President Trump a bad grade. He could have elevated Scott Atlas and sidelined Birx and Fauci, but he did the opposite.
The teachers’ unions were awful. I will grant that there were many parents who wanted their kids to learn at home or to have them masked in school, and those parents might have had their way in some districts. But the teachers should have been willing to come to work and not make kids wear masks.
Colleges also over-reacted. And they should not have charged full tuition for Zoom learning.
Affective polarization is out of control. Remember how in February and early March of 2020 Democrats were downplaying the virus as a show of solidarity with Chinese Americans and to demonstrate resistance to Mr. Trump? And remember how some on the left questioned the “Trump vaccine” before becoming scornful of anti-vaxxers when Mr. Biden took office? Meanwhile, Republicans’ hatred for Biden seemed to be the main driver of anti-vax sentiment.
It seems to me that Florida, with its highly vulnerable population, did a decent job of limiting deaths from the virus. New York did not. The mainstream press did not report it that way. They get a bad grade.
Politicians and public officials took advantage of the crisis to take more power and spend more money. Enacting “stimulus” was irresponsible. There was nothing for people to spend money on until after fear of the virus had subsided, at which point the pent-up savings unleashed inflation.
Early on, I would have been ok with a severe two-week lockdown, with food delivered by the National Guard. Knowing what I know now, I would not endorse that approach. But it would have been less harmful than the rolling partial lockdowns that ensued.
I do not give out bad grades to everyone. In addition to Scott Atlas, I would say that Zvi Mowshowitz and Robin Hanson contributed positively to COVID discussions. But they were even further from positions of influence.
Overall, I think that the public and the press have been much more forgiving of public officials than I would be. I think we need a serious conversation about when a public official can declare an emergency, how to end the emergency declaration, and limits on powers that can be exercised. As just one example, I believe that if a leader violates an emergency decree (think of Governor Newsom and the restaurant), that should cause the decree to be immediately and automatically revoked.
If it were up to me, there would be an honest and open-ended post-pandemic inquiry commission. My guess is that such a commission would lead to significant reforms and clipping of the wings of politicians and other public officials. Which is why we won’t see one.