Our Failed COVID Response

A February headline in the Washington Post read, “Mask Mandates didn’t make much difference anyway.” A month later, the New York Times gave us this: “Do Covid restrictions work? Yes, but they didn’t make much of a difference.” 

The tone is a bit flippant, isn’t it? It’s as if these headlines are referring to something inconsequential everyone once believed, but later proved untrue. Remember how they used to make us stay out of the pool for an hour after we ate? Turns out that was hooey. LOL!

Maybe it’s wishful flippancy, given the flood of news about the knock-on costs of COVID policies—massive learning losses, an adolescent mental health crisis, a surge in homicides, skyrocketing overdose and alcohol-related deaths, and inflation, to name a few. I imagine many would love to put it all behind us, tucking “COVID Response” on the shelf between “Carrots Don’t Improve Your Vision” and “Cracking Your Knuckles Doesn’t Make Them Bigger.” 

The past two years have been far too disruptive and divisive to move on without a backward glance. From what I can see in my own world, even those who earnestly supported and complied with COVID measures have begun to wonder how much of it made sense, or if any of it did. 

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  • This is an excellent piece. The unhinged reactions to it are evidence of how much this piece was needed in The Dispatch.

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  • Obviously a lot of truth in here but also a lot of hindsight bias and a lot of downplaying that delay + having vaccines that sharply reduced death surely did ultimately save 000,000s of lives. My broad conclusion given the data is that there was a real trade-off through 2020 and 2021. Certain things like mask mandates were certainly more marginal than their emphasis, yet a lot of the costs of COVID responses attributed here to policy were also the consequence of voluntary behavioral adaptation to living with the virus too. Our policies could have been much better at every turn, thanks FDA, but delay really did have value given the vaccines arrived. And that some headbangers then still wanted lockdowns for the small number of immune compromised to be protected or because their risk tolerance was absurdly low doesn't change that fact.

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  • Is it time for us to face up to the fact that all our efforts and all the restrictions were for nothing? Other than the vaccines, nothing we did had any effect or made any difference. I mean in the long run. Testing mattered a little in some situations and masks even less so. But, on the whole, the only thing that got us out of COVID was the vaccine.

    I don’t completely like the tone of this article, but the substance is correct. Our useless interventions were in vain and some were iatrogenic. With 1 million dead, we are left with the inescapable conclusion that we utterly failed. Again, excepting the vaccines, which were resounding successes. I see little evidence to support the idea that we would have had many more deaths had we done anything differently. In fact, if more people had gotten the vaccines, we would have had fewer.

    If we had done literally nothing (policy-wise, not at the individual level) except develop the vaccines, and then 100% of people took them, I think we would have had fewer deaths.

    But policymakers had to be seen to be “doing something” and like so many areas of life, wasted effort makes us feel better about our inability to control circumstances.

    “Early in the pandemic, he often received calls from hospitals, asking if he had room for COVID patients who were not sick enough to stay in the hospital but had no place to shelter safely.

    He didn’t. So, where did they go? Home, to their crowded, multigenerational households. A perfect illustration of what the Zoomocracy failed to understand: So often, the problem was not what people wouldn’t do, but what they couldn’t. In this case, isolate.

    Public health practitioners, for pennies on the dollar, could have targeted resources to meet actual needs, mitigate actual risks. Their work is context specific, and doesn’t fit neatly into 280-character tweets, but a few examples: They might have paired positive tests with offers of hotel vouchers for people whose living situations do not permit them to isolate. Or created a pool of resources for workers who do not have paid, or even unpaid, sick leave. Or figured out a way to help nursing home workers who move from job to job, and live paycheck to paycheck. “

    This is the underrated elephant in the room. In 2020 I spoke with a Spanish language contact tracer. Most of the people he called were very poor. He said they didn’t want to know because there was nothing they could do. They had to work. They lived in multigenerational small apartments. They lied about their contacts or hung up on him or ignored his advice. Not because they didn’t care. But because if they quarantined for two weeks, their families wouldn’t eat and they would lose their jobs. Plus they had nowhere to go.

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  • Is the climate movement really any different?

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  • I read very few articles on this website besides for the newsletters I subscribe to and anything written by David and Jonah. But of those I have read, this is the worst BY FAR.

    Long on outrage and short on facts, this article lacks the usual fair and reasoned analysis I have come to expect from The Dispatch. Furthermore, it was not fact checked. One example--the author asserts that data on Covid policies were not collected during implementation. This is false. A simple Google search on any mitigation strategy will yield dozens of studies.

    To claim the interventions didn't work is also wrong. They may not have worked well, but where they were implemented and followed, many studies do show mitigation. (Just Google it!) Based on these studies, it seems that the New York Times's and other outlets' claims of mask ineffectiveness will be proved wrong. Consider that transmission of original Covid was more easily mitigated by masks than later variants, which evolved to evade masks. The media have a short memory.

    Another point: The author notes that the interventions failed because they were impossible to follow, not because people were selfish and rotten. This is manifestly untrue. In many cases, compliance itself became politicized, causing refusal to comply. The author decries politicization but doesn't explain its fatal consequences.

    One final point: The author expresses horror at burdening children with protection of adults. Why? Under ordinary circumstances, I would agree--but not when lives are at stake. Before we had enough data, closing the schools was reasonable to help save lives as originally thought (even if that may have turned out to be wrong). The closures dragged on for far longer than needed, but yes, we do place extraordinary demands on children to save lives.

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  • Agreeing with others: guess it would be too logical for us to form a bipartisan, semi-independent committee to assess all of this and develop new guidelines. Obviously our over-crowded planet with zillions of daily airline connections is going to see this kind of thing happen over and over again if we do not...

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  • Please consider a book on this topic, as we have to learn from this fiasco. If I read or hear one more knuckle-headed bureaucrat telling me to ‘trust the science’ when they roll out their unproven-knee jerk solutions, I will scream. Thank you for this thoughtful and insightful piece.

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  • It is my opinion reaction to the pandemic caused so much harm because we turned our backs on all the lessons of history. My government, Canada, suspended all human rights and tossed out all ethical considerations in a manic drive to stop the virus. We should have known it was a fruitless cause from day one because you can't stop a highly transmissable respiratory virus coming from an animal reservoir. Our military was allowed to use brainwashing techniques through our media to get us to comply and our media went along with that. Public health officials also chose to use totally unethical tactics of fear and shaming to stir up anger and blame in the population way out of proportion to the danger of the virus. No counter opinions of any kind were permitted to be expressed. Any doctor who dared to speak out against any aspect of the pandemic restrictions was in danger of losing his or her license to practice. People got fired from their jobs for expressing doubt. Any politician who expressed a counter opinion was promptly tossed rom his party. We weren't allowed to have funerals, weddings, attend church, enjoy any kind of social activity for a year and then our communities were split by the vaccine mandates. Informed consent was replaced by coercion and enticement to force acceptance of vaccines. Government did things like advise people to refuse to allow unvaccinated family members to attend Christmas dinner and our Prime Minister told us sitting next to an unvaccinated person would cause the vaccinated people to die and that anyone who was not willing to be vaccinated was an antiscience, racist, misogynist, white supremacist and further, he stated there was no room for such people in Canada. Anyone who spoke out against what the government was doing was immediately branded a far right antivaxxer lunatic and peaceful protesters were arrested, their bank accounts frozen, pastors were jailed for extended periods of time, and churches were literally seized and fenced in and locked up to prevent people from meeting. All of this could have been avoided if public health had simply informed us of the facts and then left us alone to decide what was best for each individual. Instead of being treated like adults with inherent rights we were treated like stupid cattle to be herded and beaten if we didn't submit. And this is still going on right now in my country with the unvaccinated barred from airplanes, trains, ferries and crossing into the USA. Quebec just passed a law stating the government can take children away from parents who refuse to vaccinate and mask. This is nothing more or less than insane and unethical crimes against humanity with no justification in any real science while causing far more harm than the virus could ever have caused. It's about time someone started asking questions about our response.

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