A coronavirus wave is building, but we must reject another round of lockdown hysteria

Cases are on the rise again, likely thanks to some combination of the Delta variant and low vaccination rates in some areas.  Some experts are claiming it’s time to mask up and hit the “reset” button even after President Biden has taken a victory lap.  “Mask solidarity” is apparently a thing.  Now is not the time to revert to the mean of the past year:  The future of the economy and fundamental principles like Freedom of Speech and Association are at stake.

The numbers are striking:  Since June 20, the 7-day average of new coronavirus cases in the United States has increased by a factor of more than three, from 11,134 to 35,035 on July 19, all in a span of less than a month.  In addition, cases per day have increased even more dramatically.  Also on July 19, there were 55,828 new cases reported, a volume not seen since April.  In fact, the numbers overall are close to what we saw during last year’s “summer surge,” on July 19, 2020 there were 62,275 cases reported. The number of hospitalizations has also increased to 24,923 up 26% in one week and 50% in two.  Deaths have always been a lagging indicator, but even they are rising to an average of 258 per day, up about 13% from a week ago.  Even Wall Street has noticed, with stocks sliding sharply on Monday at the fear of a prolonged spike.

The experts are blaming both the new Delta variant which spreads more quickly and Republicans who refuse to get vaccinated, and, much as it pains me to admit it, there is likely some truth to these claims.  First, the Delta variant now accounts for more than 50% of all cases in the United States and cases were relatively stable before the variant emerged. This also appears to be backed by recent studies.  For example, scientists examined 62 cases of the Delta variant and found viral loads about 1,260 times higher than infections during the original wave last year.  The Delta variant also spreads more easily in younger populations.  “This year’s virus is not last year’s virus,” explained Dr. Catherine O’Neal from  Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  “It’s attacking our 40-year-olds. It’s attacking our parents and young grandparents. And it’s getting our kids.”

The vaccination picture is a bit murkier, however.  Vaccine rates in red states do lag behind blue states, sometimes significantly.  For example, there is no deep red state that has achieved an over 50% vaccination rate, but many blue states have:  Vermont leads  the country at 66.9%, Massachusetts at 63.1%, Maine at 62.8%, Connecticut at 62.3%, and Rhode Island at 60.5%.  The highest percentage for a Republican leaning state is New Mexico at 56.2%, and the bottom five are red states including Louisiana, Wyoming, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama.  No state, however, has less than a third fully vaccinated.

On top of that picture, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky claims that more than 97% of the people recently hospitalized have been unvaccinated.  “This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” she said at a briefing last Friday.  The Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, also reported that 99.5% of deaths are among the unvaccinated, adding that people getting vaccinated as quickly as possible “is our fastest, most effective way out of this pandemic.”  The mainstream media is also on the unvaccinated bandwagon, with CNN’s resident propagandist, Stephen Collinson, claiming as early as last month, even before the surge, “An emerging scenario, for instance, of a nation divided by Covid — between vaccinated Democratic states and skeptical and sickened conservative bastions — is deepening an already bitter political estrangement.”  Others have taken the cue, for example here’s NBC News, “The top states that have seen the greatest growth in new Covid-19 cases over the past 14 days are dominated by states that Donald Trump won.”  The New York Times declared “More Red State Trouble.”

At the same time, the Delta variant is spreading everywhere, all 50 states plus the District of Columbia are reporting increases in cases, some 48 states and DC are seeing at least a 10% week over week climb.  The bluest of the blue regions of the country are not immune.  Los Angeles County, for example, has seen an increase of 300% since July 4, slightly larger than the national trend.  USAfacts.org provides a map by county of the 7 day average of cases per 100,000 people.  There is some concentration of cases in red areas in Missouri and Georgia, but otherwise the spread is reasonably uniform across the map of the United States, see for yourself below.

Concentration of cases in the United States courtesy of USAfacts.org
Concentration of cases in the United States courtesy of USAfacts.org

In other words, as has always been the case, we don’t know for sure precisely why the virus is spreading more rapidly now than just a few weeks ago.  This doesn’t mean that the Delta variant and vaccination rates aren’t partly or even mostly to blame.  Certainly, any objective analysis is going to include those two factors, but to put this in perspective:  We still don’t know why the spread of the virus slowed so much from February into March, when cases precipitously dropped some 75%.  At the time, it was widely believed increased vaccine distribution was a critical factor, but even the red states today have a higher rate of vaccination than all states then.  In addition, the “experts” at the time seemed to have no idea cases would suddenly drop.  Back then, Dr. Walenksy warned of “impending doom” and President Biden referred to Texas as populated by Neanderthals.

Fast forward barely three months, and that same President Biden was taking a coronavirus victory lap.  Addressing the country on the Fourth of July, he said “This year, the Fourth of July is a day of special celebration, for we are emerging from the darkness of years; a year of pandemic and isolation; a year of pain, fear, and heartbreaking loss.  Just think back to where this nation was a year ago.  Think back to where you were a year ago.  And think about how far we’ve come.  From silent streets — (applause) — from silent streets to crowded parade routes lined with people waving American flags; from empty stadiums and arenas to fans back to their seats cheering together again; from families pressing hands against a window to grandparents hugging their grandchildren once again.  We’re back traveling again.  We’re back seeing one another again.  Businesses are opening and hiring again.  We’re seeing record job creation and record economic growth — the best in four decades and, I might add, the best in the world.”

Two weeks later, however, and we’re back to coronavirus again.  I do not write this to criticize the President, merely to point out the obvious:  It is the height of hubris to believe we can control the comings and goings of a virus or predict them with anything near the certainty the mainstream media normally presents.  Surely, Biden wouldn’t have taken a victory lap if the “experts” thought cases would increase 300% in a couple of weeks.  It is true that there have been some experts citing concerns over both the Delta variant and vaccination rates, but most believed the spike would come in the fall, not later this same month.  For example, according to CNN in June, “doctors say it could cause a resurgence of Covid-19 in the fall — just as children too young to get vaccinated go back to school.” 

Unfortunately, the resurgence appears to be happening right now.  Even Mr. Collinson isn’t optimistic for President Biden, writing on Tuesday, “If Joe Biden’s July Fourth fireworks marked a moment to declare the darkest days of the pandemic over, Monday was the day when reality dawned that the nation’s fight against Covid-19 is quickly sliding back in the wrong direction.  A hybrid version of American life that will pass for normality for the foreseeable future is coming into view, in which most of the vaccinated live and many of those who refuse their shots get sick or die.”  The stark melodrama of the choice of words aside, the increase in cases is real.  The question is:  What can we really do about it?

Of course, you can get vaccinated.  While there is some truth to the idea that conservatives are anti-vaccine, that’s not the whole story.  A recent poll from the Kaiser Foundation found that 61% of the unvaccinated are not Republicans; that 61% is made up of Democrats, Democrat leaning independents, and unaffiliated independents.  People in general are skeptical, as they have a right to be when Democrats regularly lambasted the safety and efficacy of the vaccine less than a year ago, and for the first time in history we’re told we’re supposed to mask up and social distance even after receiving the vaccine.  The messaging has been poor to say the least and the technology is also new.  This, however, doesn’t mean the vaccine doesn’t work or the mRNA process isn’t a breakthrough.  It does and it is.  I understand that many people have read or seen horror stories of side effects after getting their shots.  To that, I would say just one thing:  No vaccine can be perfectly safe, but these negative statistics are likely developed using the same suspect techniques that transformed a virus with about the same death rate as the flu for healthy, younger individuals into a worldwide terror.  If you doubt the stats on the virus, you should doubt the same type of stats on the vaccine.

Beyond getting vaccinated and taking necessary precautions if you are in an at-risk category, however, there isn’t all that much you can do, except resist the urge to succumb to what is likely to be another round of lockdown hysteria.  Los Angeles County for example has already reinstated a mask mandate even for vaccinated individuals.  Representatives in New York City are also pressing to follow suit.  Councilman Mark Levine tweeted, “Cases are rising in NYC (up 2x+ in past 2 weeks), driven by delta.  Indoor mask use in NYC is falling—in delis, stores, subways, movie theaters etc.  We need to reverse this trend.  It’s time to renew the indoor mask mandate, including for those who are vax’d.”  He also called for “mask solidarity,” whatever that is.  So far, the Biden Administration has resisted this trend, but cracks are showing.  Surgeon General Murthy said it was “very reasonable” for local officials to reimplement masking policies.  Children over 2 years old are expected to be masked up in school.  CNN is also all-in on masking up again, declaring “It’s time to reset and put masks back on, expert says.”  They claim it is time to push the “‘reset button’ on pandemic response and for much of the country to put their masks back on.”

Once masks are back in fashion, how long before there are calls for additional lockdown strategies as well?  In other words, why stop with masks?  The evidence is now in and overwhelming supports the notion that, at best, the lockdowns did little if anything to actually slow the spread at best, and, at worst, had significant unintended consequences including a spike in opioid overdoses, suicides, and unrelated health issues like heart attacks, strokes, and cancer that went untreated.  Much maligned Florida, for example, has resisted much of the lockdown approach and yet has a lower age-adjusted mortality rate than 39 other states.  They have also performed better than average in excess mortality, the number of deaths above the average which includes deaths from other causes.  In fact, the excess mortality figure in Florida is lower than much more restrictive California.  As John Tierney notes for City Journal, “If the treatment group in a clinical trial were dying off faster than the control group, an ethical researcher would halt the experiment.”  It’s time to forever halt the experiment.

We should also halt the ongoing experiment in the government sponsored suppression of speech in the name of “misinformation.”  Once upon a time, the mainstream media would be outraged at the idea of politicians and the Democratic National Committee policing speech and colluding with the social media companies to flag posts they consider erroneous.  They certainly wouldn’t have been pleased if a President not named Biden claimed the social media companies are “killing people,” only to walk it back by saying, actually it’s twelve people on social media who are killing people.  It doesn’t help their cause that the Biden Administration itself lacks any and all credibility on the issue.  They themselves regularly pushed false stories about Russian bounties and Russian disinformation, and, perhaps needless to say, the vaccine itself back when Trump was the one pushing it.

Less than a year ago, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were the skeptics.  “There is very little we can trust that comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth…so, no, I would not trust his word” on the vaccine then-candidate Harris told CNN’s Dana Bash.  Pressed whether or not she would get a vaccine approved while Trump was in office, she said “Well, I think that is going to be an issue for all of us.”  Then-candidate Biden also said he didn’t trust Trump.  As Politico reported “Joe Biden questioned the Trump administration’s process for approving a coronavirus vaccine.”  The New York Times reported “Biden, Seizing on Worries of a Rushed Vaccine, Warns Trump Can’t Be Trusted.”   This “misinformation” was broadcast far and wide, and yet now they wonder why some people might be skeptical.  Someone in the media might also bother to ask them if they should’ve been banned from social media at the time and, if not, why.

Others might also be skeptical of the wildly different media reactions to Democrats falling sick from coronavirus.  Last week, Democrats from the Texas Statehouse fled to Washington, DC on a private plane in a pure political stunt.  Despite FAA regulations, they did not wear masks.  Now, six of them have tested positive for coronavirus.  I have yet to see the event described as a superspreader, complete with diagrams of the likely trajectory of the virus, as we saw with an outdoor announcement for Supreme Court Nominee Amy Coney Barrett last fall.  In addition, these Texas Democrats met with Vice President Kamala Harris and other senior staff, but none of them are quarantining and the White House is silent on whether any staffers have been infected.  Press Secretary Jen Psaki is refusing to say, admitting there have been breakthrough infections yet refusing to disclose the details or label it a “superspreader.”  I wonder why…

In summary, there’s no shortage of things to be skeptical about, but we can’t afford to allow a spike in cases, something we have seen many times before over the past close to 18-months of the pandemic, to be another excuse to revisit lockdown hysteria and enable political operatives to police speech for their benefit.  Fair minded Americans of both parties should demand better when the future of the economy and fundamental principles like Freedom of Speech and Association are at stake.  We cannot allow this to be the world’s first never-ending pandemic.

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