Random Thoughts on COVID-19

Originally, when I heard the reports of the SARS-Cov-2 virus and the outbreak of COVID-19 coming out of Wuhan, China, I didn’t expect this to be a big deal in the United States. (Dr. Anthony Fauci didn’t even think so either.)

Why did I not initially think this would materialize here?

This would not have been the first time that a nasty virus originated in Asia (MERS, SARS, Hong Kong Flu). And, in each previous case, very little of note materialized in the US.

But in late February, I ran into a friend at the gym, who works in infectious disease control: he remembered me from the NICU days when I worked out at the Planet Fitness in Lexington. We made some small talk. Then the issue of C19 came up.

Him: “Are you ready for this coronavirus?”

Me: “I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal. It’s all hype. This is not a new thing.”

Him: “Trust me: this is going to be a national clusterf**k. The health officials on the West Coast didn’t have the right training. We don’t have the testing capacity. There’s no way to contain this now.”

Me: “What do you think is going to happpen?”

Him: “The whole country will be shut down.”

Me: “Is this by design?”

Him: “Yes and no. If they had the training and tests ready, we could have stopped this. But to be honest, a lot of folks in government WANT this to go to s**t. They want control of your life.”

A few days later, a friend of mine on FB, whose wife is an anesthesiologist and whose politics are VERY right-leaning, issued a warning to everyone in our FB group: SARS-Cov-2 is indeed a Big Flippin’ Deal and this is a major threat to a large part of America. He said “social distancing” is the only way to deal with this, as the testing capacity simply was not there.

I’m pretty good friends with a pathology professor on one of my social media lives. I flat-out asked her, given my situation–I’m 53, have asthma, have had multiple bouts with pneumonia (one of which almost killed me), and have lungs that are crap–if I was overreacting by wanting to work from home.

She advised me to do exactly that.

Ergo, since March 10, I’ve been working from home.

Not long after that, most of the country was shut down, with only “essential businesses” open. It’s a given that the economic blowback is going to be nasty. Heck, it already IS nasty.

In just a few short weeks, the United States went from being the greatest economic superpower the world has ever seen–with full employment–to what will likely amount as, at the very least, a collapse that will feature unemployment exceeding Great Depression levels. Hopefully, that unemployment will be short-lived.

Think of it this way: the greatest economic superpower in world history as been brought to a grinding halt by a microscopic enemy. This is worse than a massive WMD strike.

And of course, almost immediately, many Americans became concerned about (a) whether we are overreacting, and (b) when can we re-start the economy?

Others, from Christian circles, railed about the government frowning on–even banning–large gatherings, as this would preclude regular church assemblies. Some pastors defied these orders, others livestreamed their services, while others cancelled services altogether and complained of persecution.

Many, from the right, are contending that the shutdowns will kill more people than the virus would, and that we should never have shut anything down.

Stoking that anger was glaring inconstency from government over what constitutes “essential business”.

Abortion clinics were not shut down, so slaughtering babies in utero is “essential”? Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) called abortion “life-sustaining” in her decision to keep abortion mills open.

In Kentucky, chiropractors, dentists, and dermatologists are “non-essential” whereas abortion mills are “essential”, all while “elective medical procedures” have been suspended. (So abortion is not “elective”?)

The shutdown of “elective procedures” has had blowbacks all its own: physicians, nurses, and technicians are being furloughed; dentists are being hit particularly hard.

And while the ban on gatherings of 10 or more people is a measure to promote “social distancing” and has legitimate scientific basis–as several “clusters” of C19 outbreaks occurred from church gatherings–some state and local governments sought to ban “drive-in” church services, a ban which has no scientific basis, as there have been NO outbreaks tied to drive-in services.

(FTR: I don’t endorse drive-in services; I just don’t see a good reason to shut those down.)

Meanwhile, the GDP, as well as tax revenues going into state coffers, is collapsing. The blowback from this will be severe.

Toward that end, the questions arise: do we save the economy or do we save lives? Which approach actually saves the most lives?

Along those lines: can we save lives while at least mitigating the economic carnage?

Even then, it’s fair to ask whether the shutdowns were necessary. Sweden–yes, SOCIALIST SWEDEN–did not even shut down the way we have.

They informed people to socially distance themselves, gave them the proper advice to do the right thing, and–for the most part–they have.

(The downside: the story of Sweden on this is not all rosy, as their death rate per million people is more than twice that of the U.S. On that front, the United States is actually pretty solid.)

Some have argued that the seasonal flu often kills more people. To date, COVID-19 has killed 60,000 Americans whereas the CDC estimates that the flu typically kills between 15,000 and 40,000. In 2018, the estimate was closer to 80,000.

The problem with that comparison: (a) the COVID numbers are actual counts whereas the flu numbers are algorithmic estimates; (b) the COVID numbers include the effect of social distancing; and (c) even in 2018, the seasonal flu did not overwhelm ICUs in urban areas: you did not have the meltdowns in multiple Western countries with advanced health care systems.

Complicating matters is the inconsistent message we have received from our own government.

As of today (4/30), government is effectively telling us that we MUST wear masks if we go to stores or to work, in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Trouble is, that’s not what they were saying before.

And while people have to eat and therefore must be allowed to get groceries, I can also tell you that grocery stores are quite dangerous from a social distancing standpoint. Wal-Mart has better protocols in place now, but I can tell you that this was not the case two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, you have pastors at prominent churches, who have been crying persecution, as government bans on group gatherings of 10 or more have effectively shut down most in-person church services.

First, for the record, I will make the following stipulations:

(1) I DO believe that the social distancing mitigation strategies–IN GENERAL–were necessary and HAVE saved lives.

(2) I also believe that our government has exceeded its Constitutional authority in its quest for control over our lives.

Those two statements can be true at the same time.

The shutdowns need not have been Draconian, and in fact most businesses could have stayed open, with hygienal and social distancing measures in place.

(3) Government shutdowns amount to a Constitutional taking of private property for public purpose. At the same time, the Fifth Amendment requires that government compensate us for this taking of our property. The realist in me says we will never be compensated for this, and that the current “stimulus” is akin to “bread and circuses”.

Having said all of that, here is where I stand:

  • I’m for saving lives first. Public action on this must focus on saving lives.
  • I am willing to sacrifice my economic well-being to save lives.
  • I do believe that, minus social distancing, we’d have at least 5 times the number of cases–and deaths–that we have now.

Skeptics will contend that 90% of the COVID infections are mild and are no big deal. And while that is true, the problem is that remaining 10%.

And COVID is killing people in very weird ways. Yes, the COVID pneumonia that results in respiratory failure is prominent. But many are also dying of blood clots, or organ failure due to those clots. Cytokine storms–which were a major culprit in the 1918 flu pandemic–are also prominent in COVID infections, claiming a number of lives.

And then there’s the issue of when (or whether) we will develop immunity. What made COVID-19 dangerous is that it is a novel coronavirus: humans had no prior exposure and therefore no immune response.

But then one can fairly ask (a) are we ever going to get a vaccine for this? (b) What about herd immunity? (c) Does social distancing help or hurt along those lines? (d) Will this virus come back in multiple waves? (e) Are there other treatments for COVID that are effective?

So far, there appears to be a vaccine in the making, but I am not putting any stock in it anytime soon. For the record: I’m a pro-vaxxer; I just think it’s going to take time–at least a year, possibly two–before we know if this vaccine is going to be any good.

The issue is what are we going to do for the next 3-6 months? A vaccine is not going to be in play for that horizon. The issue is what can we do in the near-term?

The concept of herd immunity is not difficult to understand: for a lot of viruses, if a large number of people have antibodies and are immune, then that protects others in the population. So getting people vaccinated or otherwise exposed to the virus so they’ll develop antibodies, should–in theory–help stoke that immunity so that this “novel” coronavirus will lose its novelty.

The problem? We’re not sure that having antibodies necessarily gives you immunity. There have been reports of people surviving COVID-19 and then getting re-infected. Even the WHO is now sounding the alarm on this.

If that report is true, then this could be a gift that keeps on giving: we will almost certainly get multiple waves, and–unless we have the testing capacity in place to quickly shut it down–any future outbreak will cause major disruption. Nursing homes will be dangerous places for the foreseeable future.

And given the economic carnage–which will be very substantial–skeptics will question the veracity of the math models that predicted mass deaths, whether all of these shutdowns were worth it.

First off, I generally question all macro-level predictive math models coming from scientists of any stripe. Why?

As we have seen–more times than I care to count–predictive models at the macro-level are usually a fool’s game. Whether it’s climate change, whether it’s virology, wher it’s macroeconometrics, predictive models are usually off by very large margins.

(If macro models were reliable, then the human race would be near-extinct from Climate Change, what few would have survived would have been decimated by Ebola, and those survivors would be broke from all the hyperinflation.)

So with C19, I found myself initially skeptical for those reasons.

But what changed my mind? It wasn’t what the friend of mine from the gym said. It wasn’t what the anesthesiologist’s husband said. It wasn’t even what my pathologist friend said.

You know what changed my mind? It was what we had going on in real-time: Italy, Spain, France, and England–each a Western nation, each with a modern health care system–had COVID-19 meltdowns, as hospitals were overwhelmed with patients needing ventilators.

In those regions, physicians were having to literally decide who lives and who dies, as there were more patients than resources.

So yes, we had a legitimate threat in COVID-19, and yes, social distancing was/is necessary.

The critics, however, are right to call to account a government that has used a meat axe approach to shutdowns when a scalpel would have minimized the pain.

What do I think should have happened?

We already had established social distancing standards and hygienal protocols. It would have been a simple matter to require businesses to comply with those protocols as a matter of Due Diligence in order to continue operations. What would that look like?

  • Every employee who can work from home, is now working from home;
  • Increase spacing of cubicles; convert as many to offices as possible.
  • For offices that have two or more people, ensure that they are spaced at least 10 feet apart and not facing each other;
  • Provide appropriate cleaning agents in plenteous supply.
  • Ensure that employees get tested every two weeks. Positives need to stay home for at least 3 weeks.
  • All meetings need to be held electronically.
  • Manufacturing plants and warehouses must ensure proper separation and hygiene to promote a clean environment.
  • All medical and dental establishments may stay open, provided they have PPE.
  • All elective procedures may proceed, with the understanding that those can be shut down if locales end up with an “all hands on deck” situation.
  • All nursing homes are in full lockdown. All visitation is electronic. Employees must be tested every week.
  • Gatherings of 10 or more people should be highly-discouraged, with the warning that, if such a gathering results in an outbreak, the organizers could be liable for civil or even criminal charges.

Would that have prevented all shutdowns? No. It would have saved lives while minimizing the economic pain.

As for churches and other places of worship?

While respecting First Amendment rights, I’d put them on notice about being “That Guy” who started a major outbreak by being reckless. I would strongly advise them to limit gatherings to no more than 10, keeping people distanced. That may require having multiple services and/or reverting to livestreaming. If outbreaks occur–especially if they result in fatalities–then shutdowns may be on the table. I’d call churches to remember their heritage in saving lives, and use that to encourage livestreaming.

As for me? I was gung-ho about doing church from home. Why? I took it as an opportunity to do Church the way Christians in persecuted regions have been doing it for decades.

I told folks on Twitter to look at this as a firedrill for the day when churches WILL have to meet this way due to REAL persecution.

I hope I’m wrong, but my cynical side says we are on the front-end of a post-Christian generation that will last at least 50 years and will become severe. If we end up with Totalitarian government, we will experience real persecution. Otherwise, encroachments on religious freedoms are still imminent.

The day is coming when it will be on you to lead Bible study/worship in your own home. This is a good time for you to take stock in whether you are ready for that day.

If you are not, then this would be a great time to get into Inductive Bible Study.

What is more ominous to me than the medical or economic fallout is this: in both the secular world and even within the Church itself, I do not see a lot of humility.

Within the Church, I see little desire to seek God and repent for any personal or collective sins. And there are many of both.

No, I’m not the one who’s going to tell you that this is all about abortion or homosexuality. Yes, those are big deals, but those are far from the only “national sins”.

Materialism, anyone? How about trying to serve God and Mammon? How about racism? How about the monetizing of the Gospel?

How about the deluge of narcissist and/or sexually predatory pastors in the evangelical ranks? How about the ranks of clergy who are using porn? How about the coverups of sexual abuse?

In all of this COVID-19 pandemic, I have seen close to zero movement from pastors about any of this. And that doesn’t square with what we see in Scripture.

Jesus called attention to those aware of the collapse of the Tower of Siloam, which killed 18 people. His warning: “Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will likewise perish.”

In Revelation, we read of a world that gets hit by plague and calamity, and yet, at the end of chapter 9:

The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.

And no, I’m not saying that we are in the middle of Revelation 9; I am, however, pointing to a troubling dynamic that we see now, that is representative of a people hardened to the point where they care not about the things of God.

Of course, Jesus predicted that this would happen: “because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.”

It’s like our country has been overrun by Nietzchke, Ayn Rand, and Peter Singer, all at the same time. And a large sector of the Church has bought into one or more of them.

The world is burning down, and the Church is in little or no position to provide the Answer.

Like Capt. Chesley Sullenburger–who parked US Airways 1529 in the Hudson River after a double bird strike–I’m a “long-term optimist but a short-term realist.”

I’m not hopeful for the short-term.

15 thoughts on “Random Thoughts on COVID-19

  1. Amir, I was wondering when you’d get around to commenting on COVID-19. I hope you and your family are doing well.

    I work at a hospital and have survived two rounds of layoffs so far. Gov. Northam’s ban on elective surgeries ends at midnight; I hope that stems the medical layoffs.

    I take this virus seriously. I underwent a coronary procedure last fall shortly after turning 60. I also deal with some health issues. I’m wondering if some mystery respiratory bug I had a few weeks before the you-know-what hit the fan was a glancing blow from COVID-19. If so, I’m grateful I was only out of action briefly.

    I also agree with you that governors went too far, and some of them appear unwilling to give up their newfound power over citizens’ lives without a fight. Something is seriously wrong when more than 30 million Americans have lost their jobs while abortion clinics, liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries remain open. The definition of “essential” has been turned on its head.

    Regarding repentance and the church, I see a remnant taking that seriously. However, the church as a whole has wounded itself through a host of sexual abuse and financial scandals. I wouldn’t mind if this pandemic brings the era of megachurches and celebrity preachers to an end.

    And with that I’d better get to bed.

  2. I think I had it back in Feb, too. I typically get sick every January-February. It’s like clockwork: it starts with lots of throat drainage, it gets into my lungs, and then I’m coughing hairballs for the next 6-8 weeks.

    This time: late January. I had light drainage for a day, then 2 weeks of the worst dry cough I ever had. Violent as all get-out, but nothing was coming up. I didn’t feel congested, but I felt like someone was sitting on my chest. I had to go to my inhaler–I’m an asthmatic–a few times. Then whatever I had, it went away abruptly.

    I remember, when the cough was really bad, going to urgent care to get swabbed for flu and strep. I tested negative for both. But the nurse told me that she had a lot of patients coming in with my condition, and it was “something viral going around.”

    I’m convinced that I had C19. I can’t wait until they make the antibody tests generally available.

  3. i think i had it middle to end of december. i went to an urgent care on weekend b/c i got a fever, and i NEVER get a fever. didn’t even last a day. got swabbed for flu and strep. negative both. didn’t go away. went to md; she gave me a script for a z-pack and told me to fill it b/c it was before christmas … she told me she didn’t want me needing it christmas day and not having it. turns out i didn’t need it. but it did last a good couple weeks, started with a fever, and then went away. used my rescue a lot, too.

    i have no faith in a vaccine for this; won’t take it if they develop it unless it’s forced on me. (i’m in the ‘freedom-to-choose’ vaccine camp and never take the flu shot).

    it is absolutely shocking to me that, in a matter of literally days, people all over the world submitted to their respected govt’s and bowed to them. the fear propaganda has been effective, and now people are tattling on one another, terrified that we’re killing each other by standing five feet apart rather than six, etc. truly, people are sheep.

    the church … interesting times. as i read the scriptures, the truth that ‘there is nothing new under the sun’ comes to mind as our culture seems to be written, literally, in black and white.

    had an interesting discussion on authority in bible study this morning – very well led by out teacher, who is excellent (a compliment i use sparingly). the topic of us submitting to gov’t authority came up and included a comment on persecuted christians being arrested b/c of their choice to disobey their gov’t authority and submit to prison and beating and torture b/c of it. i mentioned about wives submitting to their husbands as their ruler (gen 3:16) and the teacher said he wouldn’t touch that land mine today. i found that esp interesting b/c the group decided it was okay for christians to choose to be beaten and imprisoned for disobeying their gov’t and meeting together and telling others about Jesus – again that they were choosing to disobey and therefore accepting the consequences. but telling wives to submit to their husband, that he is to rule over them, is (implied and straight out denied by many mainstream christians as) not acceptable. i am grateful for 1 corinthians 7, giving us freedom to separate from unsafe spouses – but not the freedom to remarry. try teaching that to the church. i think one of the reasons the church doesn’t want to teach that is that they like the power they have over women … if they teach that women are to obey their own husbands over their pastor/priest/church doctrine, then the church loses power. anyway … interesting.

    the church has taken grace and forgiveness to places God never intended, using them as liberty to do that which one desires at will. that, too, though, is also addressed in the bible … nothing new under the sun. Regarding repentance and the church, I see a remnant taking that seriously. … that has always been true, too, has it not? narrow the road, and all that.

    • Oh, it’s still true. What I’m finding, though, is that the remnant appears a lot thinner than even my most cynical estimations would have indicated.

      • In addition to that. Evangelical worship is so cringe for the most part. Not to mention the architecture. I am disappointed. And I wonder if that’s also a symptom of a thin remnant.

        Maybe I am looking too much on the outer layer. But such a thing is perhaps also fruit of what is already within. As Christ also said cleanse the inside that the outside may also be clean(Matthew 23:26)

  4. “There are no solutions; only trade-offs.”-Thomas Sowell

    Nowhere is that more true than this pandemic. In fact, in every pandemic I have looked at, economic damage occurs. Loss of life and economic hits are the essence of a pandemic. In fact, in 1918 and 1968, you had the added complication of a war (World War I and Vietnam respectively). You can’t shut down the economy in time of war because that is where our military gets its supplies. Yet, you still had the big economic crisis of 1968, and many businesses elected to close in 1918.

    For me, I am okay with shutdowns to slow the spread of the virus and give hospitals time to catch up. However, as a recent Real Clear Politics article stated, we have gone from flattening the curve to trying to crush the curve. Pelosi and her gang want to keep the economy shut down til the end of August, and give out $2,000 checks to every American during that time. Are these people insane? Are they trying to bankrupt the government and crush our economy? Yes, you will avoid all deaths immediately in that way, but the death and starvation from that kind of program would outweigh anything Covid-19 would cause!

    You have to monitor these things so that you know when you have accomplished your goals, the curve is flattened, hospitals have their supplies, and the economy is left with a chance to recover. As far as every statistic I have looked at, we have achieved our goal. Why are the dems so opposed to reopening now? Because they have a limited set of values, and they conceive of them quite narrowly. They can’t see how all these things are related, because, to them, there *are* solutions, not merely trade-offs.

    This as come up nowhere greater than the religious freedom issues. I had the same reaction that Amir did to shutting down drive in services. Also, while I don’t agree with churches meeting in person at least during the rise of the disease, I am not going to condemn the churches that do. Every church has a different context with different members that are more or less susceptible to the virus. I have also seen a massive rise in anti-Trump derangement syndrome on the part of the left. I had a guy at work the other day using profanity and talking about “Godless Republicans spreading their germs without masks on.” After I compared such an attitude to what he thinks Trump is doing, he walked away mumbling profanities and junk. But, I have heard insults of Trump in the break room for not wearing a mask during his press conferences. I have to wear a mask at work, and I know perfectly well why he doesn’t wear a mask during those press conferences. They are terribly hard to breathe in and talk in. Plus, there are some people who question whether wearing a mask helps or hurts.

    My whole big thing is: we are all grown adults. Can’t each individual be responsible for taking proper precautions? I mean, if you have a mask on, you are (theoretically by your own actions) protected from those “Godless Republicans” spewing their germs. If people chose not to wear the mask, and get sick, that’s on them. In the same way, if people believe the mask protects them and it actually doesn’t, they have no one to blame but themselves for not digging deeper. I mean, I have a vitamin D deficiency, and that makes me extremely susceptible to this disease. I have upped the anti on remembering to take my supplement, adding a vitamin C supplement and a zinc supplement. But I am not going to demand that everyone take vitamin D supplements during this time, and then bankrupt the government by buying vitamin D supplements for every American. It is a matter of personal responsibility. You the individual are responsible for your own health and what precautions you are going to take.

    It is the same thing with churches. Let churches make their own decisions as to whether they are going to meet. They are certainly responsible for the consequences, but they are in the best position to decide whether to meet. The arrogance of the left in all of this has been astounding. You are the little child, and they know what’s best, so you had better listen to mommy and daddy. Then again, some Christians have been toying with Ayn Rand’s objectivism and anarchism by arguing that, if the government does anything, it will take all power. Anarchism is no better than tyranny. But that tends to happen in a secular context, because there are not enough values in that worldview to balance those things out.

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