Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided an update on its “best estimate” for Americans’ fatality rate of 0.4% for those showing COVID-19 symptoms. …
Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided an update on its “best estimate” for Americans’ fatality rate of 0.4% for those showing COVID-19 symptoms. The CDC also estimates 35% of people infected with the virus never develop symptoms, which implies the infection fatality rate (IFR) for the disease is around 0.3%. Based on that current estimate, one could say coronavirus is about three times more deadly than the seasonal flu.
That’s worrisome, but it is far lower than the scary predictions the CDC made in March, which assumed an IFR of 0.8%. That would have resulted in about 1.7 million deaths in the U.S. About the same time, Imperial College researchers estimated a worst-case scenario, based on an IFR of 0.9%. If that had been accurate, we’d have seen 2.2 million deaths. These models were the basis for a lot of policymakers’ decisions, some of which were total lockdowns of the entire population.
One of the reasons these estimates turned out to be so glaringly wrong is also one of the reasons some policymakers — fortunately not in Wyoming — enacted strict lockdown restrictions. Without government interventions, they assume, people would simply carry on as if there were no pandemic.
While there are plenty of anecdotal cases of people acting recklessly — such as in April, when 25 young adults were found partying in a confined space in Lovell — data shows people were responding voluntarily to the pandemic prior to any government restrictions.
A Columbia University study looked at human movement in six metropolitan areas. Using data that tracks foot traffic counts at 5 million points in bars, restaurants, stores, airports, shopping malls and other locations, the researchers found declines in movement that began in early March — before lockdowns were imposed in the cities the researchers examined. This pattern of voluntary social distancing is also consistent with studies of cellphone tracking data.
When Imperial College and the CDC first estimated how the virus would spread and how many would die under a “no intervention” scenario, it created an unrealistic model in which people are unwilling and incapable of taking any steps on their own to protect themselves from the disease, and only through government action would people be kept safe. It’s a lot like looking at a beach at low tide and assuming that everyone sunbathing on it will drown at high tide unless the government closes the beach.
Unfortunately, as it comes to light that these early IFR estimates were wildly wrong, those who championed the lockdowns that have decimated the world’s economy argue the reason we didn’t realize the nightmare scenarios of those earlier, flawed models is only because of government intervention. This is only partially true. Surely government orders did keep more people safe than they would have on their own, but they also eliminated individuals’ ability to decide if such protections were best in their own circumstances. In those cases, government action might have caused more harm than good.
Sweden had no lock downs, and the results are far from disastrous. The country closed universities and prohibited large gatherings, but for the most part, its citizens were left to decide for themselves the best way to respond to the pandemic. The country’s deaths per capita from coronavirus are about the middle of the range among its neighboring European countries. Its gross domestic product, meanwhile, increased 0.1% in the first quarter of this year, while the U.S. saw a contraction of 5%.
Wyoming was right to leave a lot of room for such individual decisions, and we’ll be better off in the long term because of it. To be sure, even at 0.3%, deaths from COVID-19 will be in the hundreds of thousands. It’s a terrible loss of life. But a lot of unnecessary panic was driven by faulty models based on a faulty assumption.
This won’t be the last crisis this nation faces, and we’d benefit from questioning the notion that all rational, safe actions come solely from government intervention.