Days of Change

To Wuhan Flu, Thanks for Nothing | March 20, 2020

“Do I have coronavirus?”

On February 26, I did a Google search on that as a joke while I was on a long road trip. This was some time after the Diamond Princess cruise ship had been locked down and cases were popping up in the US. Foreign travel to the US had been restricted, but the word pandemic was about to be placed on COVID-19, making it no longer isolated to China with travel-related infections.

By about March 11, the concept of flattening the curve came into play. President Trump gave a speech. A couple of days later, there was a White House press conference and New York State was pulling kids out of school. Last week, flattening the curve just reminded me of a line from the Dukes of Hazzard theme.

By today, crisis mode has been invoked. If your state hasn’t cracked down on personal movement, it probably will soon. The plan is to essentially ride out the progression of the virus, but not let it “go viral” and infect 100 million people before May. On the plus side, anyone who got coronavirus and recovered is essentially vaccinated. They can’t spread it. But without a vaccine, the people who are at risk could overload hospitals.

Now, if you believe this economically disastrous plan of shutting down the economy for 6 weeks will lead to socialism in the US, it will only if everyone thinks this is a great system. Right now, everyone hates it and a government handout may not give them a job back. What we need to think about is what can we do in the future.

Human touch and freedom of movement aren’t the enemy. Crowded cities and below-market rate air travel probably are. Most of the seeder cases of COVID-19 were in the last 2 months from international travel. We can’t stop all air travel, but we can stop bailing out airlines. When they start to fail, we’ll be left with fewer airlines forced to charge higher rates. People will have to save up more for European vacations, but it’s better than millions going on unemployment.

On the population density front, my behavioral sink post detailed the work of John Calhoun. While it is disputed, (because he used rats and it would be illegal to do this to humans) there was a consistent theme. Even when scarcity of food and clean bedding wasn’t an issue, rats just stopped giving a crap when they lacked “social distance” and fighting was not for survival. They stopped reproducing and the population died out.

In the case of a contagion, social interactions are problematic, but social interactions in dense cities are far worse. You run into more people, people you don’t run into regularly and from further away than when you live in a small community. These contacts have the opportunity to spread something to the most new people, much like the person who comes back from Italy and everyone they run into had not been exposed to coronavirus before.

Instead of crazy, multi-week lockdowns every couple of flu seasons, we should work for solutions that are better for many reasons.

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    March 2020
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