Freedom… or Murder?

Here in Utah, as well as elsewhere in the United States, we’ve had demonstrations by generally right-wing individuals, who are demanding that government open up the economy – immediately!

These individuals claim that the government has taken away their freedom to work, to go to school, to travel, to shop, and to do as they please. And they’re correct. Government has largely limited those rights… for a reason. They also cite that our laws allow people to smoke and drink, and those practices kill over half a million people annually. Obesity kills even more, but, with the exception of second-hand smoke [which is now why most public places forbid smoking], all of these practices primarily harm the individual indulging in them. Rights are what we’re allowed to do that won’t harm other people, but laws are restrictions on those rights designed to protect people from harm caused by other people.

And that’s why there are lock-downs all over the country. People walking around with the virus, knowingly or unknowingly, can kill other people. Coronavirus is one of the more contagious viruses to appear. And it kills lots of people. Individuals can spread it for days, if not weeks, without even knowing that they’re doing it. At present, there’s no effective treatment for it, and no vaccine against it. The fatality rate ranges from slightly less than one percent to well over five percent, depending on the age and health of those infected. In just the United States, in less than one month, the coronavirus has killed over 40,000 people – and that’s with social distancing and lock-downs.

In major cities, bodies are piling up faster than they can be buried. Police, firefighters, medical response personnel, doctors, and nurses continue to get sick. Virtually every reputable scientist who’s looked at the data shudders at the idea of “opening up the economy” any time soon.

There’s little doubt that an “open-economy” right now would be a medical disaster. As I write this, the official count of U.S. coronavirus cases is approaching 800,000 known cases, with over 42,000 known deaths. That’s a fatality rate of five percent, or one in twenty people, but, of course, there are likely more than a hundred thousand, if not more, minor cases of coronavirus that aren’t being reported or included. But there are more than 52 million Americans over age 60, and the mortality rate for this age group from coronavirus is running over 5%, as it also appears to be for minorities and those with certain medical conditions.

But what the “freedom lovers” don’t seem to understand is that even a million cases of the coronavirus would only account for 1/3 of one percent of the population. Because this is an extremely contagious virus, if social distancing and lock-downs are abandoned too soon, the virus will definitely reach more than one third of one percent of the population.

Let’s be really conservative and say it that with “immediate freedom,” the coronavirus reaches only 17 million people – five percent of the U.S. population and as half as many people as the seasonal flu infects. Even if fatality rate is “only” two percent, the death toll would be 340,000 people, but given the number of minorities and people over 60, the fatality rate is unlikely to be as low as two percent.

So… the cost of the “immediate freedom” these demonstrators demand would likely start at 340,000 deaths, and require medical care for several million Americans. If the coronavirus really got out of control and infected a quarter of the U.S. population, the death toll would be well over a million, and the U.S. public health system can’t handle anywhere near those numbers… or bodies.

Now… these protestors claim that they just want freedom where there aren’t many known cases. Great. That’s just fine for a month or two… until the contagion flares up in dozens of hotspots… and we have to start all over again.

Then, there’s the basic moral question – should these demonstrators be granted “rights” that can and will kill and or hospitalize hundreds of thousands of Americans, if not more? And if they are, shouldn’t they also be held legally responsible for the deaths they cause?

8 thoughts on “Freedom… or Murder?”

  1. Sam says:

    Something that’s been making it’s way into the mainstream political discourse about COVID-19 here in Australia is the concept of an acceptable casualty rate.

    Rather than try to eliminate the virus to manage it instead.

    The main argument I’ve heard put forward is that a vaccine or effective treatment is not guaranteed and may be more than 18 months away even if possible. Therefore a balance has to be struck between the damage to the economy and people’s livelihoods and the health impacts of the virus.

    It feels to me like the discourse about saving lives is becoming less of a qualitative argument and more of a quantitative one.

    I disagree with those protesters. However I feel that if governments around the world start loosening up their economic restrictions and allowing the virus to spread but at a slower rate and it’s not murder then what is?

    Is murder just a numbers game?

    Looking at the statistics here in Australia, if we maintain our current restrictions for another 3 months and ramp up our testing regimen I think we could effectively eliminate the virus within our borders. However some state governments have already relaxed some restrictions and the federal government is talking about easing some of their restrictions within 4 weeks.

  2. Ryan Jackson says:

    Even conservative estimates are… not great.

    As a thought experiment someone asked if I could use the USS Roosevelt as a control group to estimate the affect on the US as a whole. You can’t really, but for an experiement I started there.

    Looking at just the USS Roosevelt, taking into account everyone was exposed and it’s a closed group. We see an infection rate of 13.57%. Since the population of this sample is over 383 we can trust this number to be 95% accurate no matter how big a true group we have. (Sigma 6 and LEAN methodology)

    I looked for census stats with age break down and while I’m sure I COULD find the more recent stats the ones that I could find at the time were for 2018 so a population of 327.14 million people.

    Cross that with a 13.57% infection rate and we’re looking at 44,392,898 people infected if we have no precautions and just let it run it’s course. Going fully conservative and assuming the potential 5% error in favor of ignoring the virus we still see 28,035,898 people infected.

    I kept wanting to give the benefit of the doubt so I used the death rate in South Korea where they’re largely on top of this. Breaking down by age group we end up with a death rate of approximately 2% like so many want to parrot.

    So let’s go back to that earlier number. With over 44 million people infected we would see a death toll of 883,418. If we want to go super optimistic again with only 28 millions then we have a death toll of 557,914.

    So everyone screaming that they want other people to put themselves at risk so they can get haircuts, go golf, etc… They’re saying they don’t care if half a million people die…

    Why I so strongly dislike people bringing up the 2% death rate as some sort of small matter.

  3. Michael Creek says:

    Covid death rates as calculated are based on false statistics. Normally they are calculated by Deaths/Total Cases x 100. But, for any particular patient, the outcome will, eventually, be death or recovery. On this basis, the death rate should be calculated as Deaths/Total Recovered. The patients still in treatment/lockdown are in an unresolved state. On this basis, Death rates are being understated, sometimes wildly so. The USA, on this basis, has, as a snapshot, 45013 fatalities and 82620 recovered cases, giving a fatality rate of 55%. The 686 thousand active cases are yet to be resolved. One hopes that the majority of these cases will recover, but at this stage actual death rates are horrendous.
    On this basis, based on information available from some other countries rates are:
    Australia 1.5%, S. Korea 2.89%, Germany 5.2%, Spain 25.7%, Israel 4% and China 6%.

    I would think that, in many cases, the statistics for recovered cases are lagging the true situation, but, even so, the statistics for places like Spain, Italy, UK and USA are truly frightening.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      I’m not sure I follow that, but even if it’s conceded, some early antibody testing shows as much as 85 times as many asymptomatic exposed persons as the number of known cases. Seems to me that implies that the death rate might be as small as 1/85th of what we think it is…or about twice as bad as average flu (and that’s not even having a vaccine). Even if that’s extreme, it’s still likely to be far smaller a fraction of those exposed that die than initial estimates.

      Mind you, the vulnerable (and most others) I know are VERY careful, far exceeding guidelines; so I’m thinking more about the economy (although I and most of those I know are ok there too) given that that too will have a literal body count of its own. So, lip service to “one is too many”, but what about tens of thousands or more one way vs the other?

  4. Wine Guy says:

    I don’t see this as a ‘Freedom-or-Murder’ situation. This is a ‘Doing the best for the most while taking into account outside concerns’ situation. Statistics are what they are: numbers to use to prove or refute points.

    No matter how one cuts the statistics above, the numbers are horrible. People shout about economics and freedom… until they or a loved one have a health issue (could be COVID, could be TB, could be Ebola… doesn’t actually matter). If they change their tune, then their beliefs about economics and freedom aren’t beliefs, but rather convenient excuses.

    Personally, I think the patchwork approach forced on the states by the Pres is the problem. Because there is no decisive leadership from the top, there are now 50 ways the states are dealing with reality. If Trump would say “this is how it is” AND ENFORCE IT – that would be better, even if we didn’t agree with him.

    But he refuses to take responsibility for anything, even his own statements.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      We’re a federal government consisting of a union of states. There’s limits to what the federal government is allowed to enforce on the states; that accounts for a big part of the difference between our response vs that of oft-cited places like Singapore or South Korea, which have more centralized government and far less tradition of civil liberty. Note how the “I have the authority” line changed, both after most governors got on board with the phased plan, and probably as it was made clear to Trump that the main things he could do would be federalize the National Guard, or use all the conditions with which federal funds are given to states, to coerce compliance. And you think you’re seeing protests now? If the guy that’s most simpatico to the protestors went that far against them, they’d likely decide that neither side was close to their expectations, which could get ugly.

      There’s also vast differences between the more populated east or west coast states, and some far less densely populated central or northwestern states. The former have to take measures that would be excessive for the latter; NOT on

  5. Wine Guy says:

    I understand your argument – and I even mostly agree.

    My points were 1) if Trump had shown decisive leadership from the very beginning, much of the patchwork response would have not occurred and the US would have had a coherent/consistent approach to COVID-19; and 2) he hasn’t ever shown such leadership and the lack of it forced the governors and city leaders to make decisions – which forced more leaders to make decisions… which lead to name calling, finger pointing, and a complete lack of leadership at the national level when it was badly, badly needed. The fact that he undercut Fauci – or at least needed correction by Fauci – on a daily basis for weeks only made things worse.

    And the ‘vast differences’ between heavily populated states and less populated states is that the smaller states have smaller resources to deal with what could quickly become an overwhelming problem.

  6. Michael Creek says:

    Australia is not an authoritarian country. We have a conservative prime minister and 7 states/territories, mixed between labor and conservative/liberal. We are a country of about 25 million people and have/had free movement. We trade extensively with China and with USA, we have a lot of tourism, both inbound and outbound.
    On January 23rd we began screening Wuhan arrivals and advising them to report if they had symptoms. After several cases of Covid, on Jan 31 we directed that foreign nationals from China must spend 2 weeks in another country before entering Australia. Australians repatriated from Diamond Princess were quarantined for 2 weeks. 29th Feb, people returning from Iran had to self quarantine for 14 days outside Australia. Travel bans on South Korea (5th March) and Italy (11th March).
    On 13th March a National Cabinet of Prime Minister and all 7 State and Territory Heads was formed. Advised by Health chiefs of Australia and its states.
    15th March, all international arrivees must self isolate for 14 days. 18th March Human Biosecurity Emergency declared, giving great powers to federal health minister. 20th March borders closed to all non residents. 21 March social distancing required. 23rd March closure of bars, restaurants, clubs of sport, gymnasiums, cinemas, churches. Restaurants and Cafes only to serve “to go” patrons. Severe restrictions on social gatherings. 25th March only 4 acceptable reasons to leave home * to buy essentials;*medical or compassionate reasons; * exercise (groups maximum 2) and work or education purposes.
    Schools are largely closed with classes given via the internet. Small at school classes for vulnerable children or for children unable to care for them, e.g. Doctors/Nurses

    At this stage these restrictions seem to be working. On March 27th over 450 new cases were declared. On April 24th only 13 new cases were declared and the average for this week is about 12 per day.

    National Heads of Government of all persuasions are very pleased with the National Cabinet. Talk is now of elimination of the virus, not so much of ‘flattening the curve’. Gradual relaxation of measures is now being planned and implemented.

    To the USA I would say, “Stay the Course” and you can get results very quickly. If you don’t get on top of this thing then you will have 12 or more situations like Italy inside your borders, with Doctors consigning patients to death. New York repeated a dozen times.

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