Gov. Kate Brown recently extended, again, the state of emergency regarding COVID-19, citing only a vague reference to a “fourth wave.” The Oregon Health Authority website reveals that daily case numbers for early May are level or slightly declining, as is the death rate from COVID-19. Hospitals are not overwhelmed — far from it. In the whole U.S., cases have dropped 30% in the past two weeks. We have breathing room to reevaluate state policies for handling the pandemic.
Any scientist knows that the science is never “settled.” Years ago, two of my published papers were challenged by some Japanese biochemists. While not thrilled, I welcomed their observations, because that’s the way science works. Ideas and models should be freely criticized. However, in this pandemic, the so-called science tends to become political and policy makers often care more about looking good than about the welfare of the citizens.
I have read seven published studies, including one in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and another in The Lancet, which conclude that lockdowns do not significantly reduce overall critical cases or mortality. We are all aware of some negative effects of the lockdown, but it may be worse than we thought. For example, hospitals are reporting a 30% to 50% increase in admissions due to alcoholic liver damage. The Observer (Oct. 24, 2020) reported a 70% increase in opioid deaths compared to the previous year. Unemployment is closely correlated with increases in spousal and child abuse. The OHA website gives us the number of deaths in Oregon, week by week, compared to the previous five-year average for those weeks. Since September 2020, the total number of “excess deaths” is now 4,925, while the total COVID deaths are half that, at 2,481. One suspects the lockdown is responsible for a large part of those non-COVID excess deaths. A European study comparing “hard-lockdown” and “mild-lockdown” countries suggests the same.
The OHA lists a total of two people younger than 20 having died of this coronavirus, yet our public schools were closed until recently, with heartbreaking loss in educational progress. Since longevity and income are correlated with educational achievement, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests this generation of schoolchildren will cumulatively lose more years of life than was lost by all COVID-19 victims. Another study by researchers at Johns Hopkins and Duke University predicts that “unemployment shock” will result in 0.8 million additional deaths over the next 15 years. One might be skeptical of these statistical predictions, but they are still sobering.
Those who maintain that lockdowns are helpful have some explaining to do. Even Dr. Fauci expressed puzzlement at the dropping death rates in Texas and Mississippi after these states opened up in March. There is little correlation between state lockdown policies and infection rates: compare Florida and California.
Anyone who wants the vaccine can get it. Our young people are not at significant risk from the virus. There are now effective protocols for lessening the severity and recovery time of a COVID-19 infection. In light of all this, Kate Brown should rescind her emergency order and trust Oregonians to use common sense in handling the risk, while they get back to school and work.
Tom Herrmann is a fourth-generation Union County resident and retired EOU professor who lives in La Grande with his wife, Swannee.