COVID19: Hysteria or Crisis?

The death toll in the U.S. as a result of COVID is equal to the U.S. death toll of WW1 and WW2 combined, but in half the time. This is not even mentioning the people who got sick but survived and are now dealing with long term complications and financial stress as a direct result of being sick with COVID19. Was (and is) our reaction to the COVID19 pandemic hysteria? Or was/is it a reaction commensurate with a real crisis?

This post is adapted from a comment I left on this article on The American Conservative.

The issue, I think, is that COVID19 became politicized. Trump, in a very un-Machiavellian move, decided not to capitalize on the emergency by granting himself more power, instead saw it as a personal attack on himself. As a result, he downplayed it, which led the left, in their anti-Trump hysteria, to up play it. The consequence, of course, was that the right has pretended that 600k+ deaths in less than two years is either not a big deal (at best) or some kind of hoax (at worst); the left, meanwhile, have become doomsayers and taken every opportunity to milk this crisis for everything it is worth.

This phenomenon can be observed in how whether someone wears a mask or not, or how whether someone is vaccinated or not, are taken as political statements, regardless of what the data say about these issues. There is a right answer to the question of whether or not wearing a mask (or getting the vaccine) is helpful and whether or not mask mandates (or vaccine mandates) are a way for the government to expand its power. However, the fact that people adopt the answers to these questions that are accepted by their preferred political affiliation should, in itself, be extremely troubling, because it indicates that the disagreement is not a good faith difference in people’s interpretations of the facts and data, but a form of identity politics and virtue signaling.

There are two things that are important to remember while assessing whether or not the reactions to the pandemic were overreactions.

First, it is difficult (if not impossible) to determine whether the measures we have taken to reduce the spread of the virus has helped: since we don’t have a control group (a world in which no measures were taken) to compare the infection rate and death rate to. What we can do, however, is compare influenza rates between years to see how the measures we have taken helped with the spread of that disease (and attempt to extrapolate to COVID): and the data show that the rates of influenza dropped precipitously during the COVID measures. This is not definitive proof that the measures we took to slow the spread of COVID were effective against COVID, but it certainly suggests that things could have been a lot worse had we done nothing.

The second thing to remember, though, is that it was not COVID that caused our current economic issues, but the measures we took to slow the spread of COVID. Just like how most symptoms of an illness are not directly caused by the pathogen itself, but by our body’s attempt to fight the illness, our economic issues that have resulted from the pandemic are mostly as a result of our own attempts to fight the disease.

Only with these two things in mind can we accurately assess whether or not our reactions were commensurate with the threat and whether or not we should have done more or less to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

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