Special Notice 31

By William J. Dodwell    April 20, 2020

 Last week Professor Yitzhak Ben-Israel of Tel Aviv University and advisory board member for Teva Pharmaceutical Industries released a study that negates the need for COVID-19 business shutdowns and home shut-ins.

See https://townhall.com/columnists/marinamedvin/2020/04/15/israeli-professor-shows-virus-follows-fixed-pattern-n2566915 

Also see https://www.dailywire.com/news/israeli-study-suggests-lockdown-has-no-effect-on-coronavirus-timeline-say-israeli-space-agency-chair

          Here’s my analysis.

Challenge to the conventional wisdom

If Ben-Israel is right, government mandated stay-at-home orders and economic closures have been a colossal waste and inconvenience.  His findings reveal that the Chinese novel coronavirus infections in the U.S., UK, Sweden, Italy, Israel, Switzerland, France, Germany and Spain display the same pattern in which they peak in the sixth week, subside sharply in the eighth week, and then fade away thereafter REGARDLESS OF QUARANTINE POLICY.

This flies in the face of Dr. Fauci’s and Dr. Birx’s mantra of “mitigate, mitigate, mitigate” and renews some credence to the “do nothing” approach.  The study shows the coronavirus has its own life cycle that plays out independently of disruptive interventions, such as lockdowns.  Apparently, this means infections rise, peak and fall on their own, even in the absence of human assemblages.  Until now, experts have claimed infection denouement occurs because of improved mitigation. Is it really improved?  Ben-Israel’s study indicates the decline in infections is entirely inherent in the DNA of the virus according to a fixed timetable. Lockdowns do not “bend the curve”. However, he does recommend moderate mitigation through social distancing, masks and hygiene to prevent contagion, apparently where the virus is in proximity to human clusters.  He notes this practice has minimal economic impact, unlike massive lockdowns.         

COVID-19 death toll does not warrant the cost of massive lockdowns

If the coronavirus mainly abates on its own, why not let it run its course unimpeded like flu viruses, despite the absence of a vaccine?  Yes, the coronavirus is more contagious and virulent, and it requires more hospitalizations that threaten capacity.  These have been the reasons for unprecedented mitigation through coronavirus lockdowns not considered for SARS, West Nile, H1N1 and seasonal flu.  But, although the coronavirus may be more severe, the number of deaths from COVID-19 generally is not higher than for seasonal flu. So, why incur such a huge cost for COVID-19 mitigation through economic closures that have no effect on the life of the coronavirus? The coronavirus morbidity rate as a percent of cases is unknown until testing determines the total number of coronavirus infections (the denominator). That result will truly establish the comparative severity of the virus.  When that denominator is quantified, the coronavirus death rate is expected to compare with that of other pathogens, which is much lower than currently reported rates.

Ultimately, the tradeoff consists of the incremental deaths resulting from no lockdown over deaths occurring during lockdown. Those extra deaths should be assessed as a percentage of the population as compared with that of other pathogen outbreaks.  De minimis results do not justify the severity of mass economic shutdown, especially considering the short life cycle of the virus which limits damage.  At the same time, the burden is on the vulnerable populations to self-quarantine or risk death while everyone else returns to normalcy, except for soft mitigation practices while the virus lasts.

I submit the fear of contagion, regardless of high case numbers, also does not warrant national lockdowns any more than the flu does.  This is true especially considering the vast majority of coronavirus infections are asymptomatic or only mildly uncomfortable. More importantly, morbidity is relatively low and, according to Ben-Israel, infections stop on their own after about eight weeks. As such, even if lockdowns are effective, infections do not warrant lockdowns.  If lockdowns are feckless, as the study finds, they are moot and a quasi-do nothing approach seems a reasonable option. What’s more, this laissez faire strategy permits herd immunity to set in to complement the natural expiration of the virus.  No lockdown necessary.

Trump’s lockdown relied on a grossly flawed UK model of projected U.S. deaths

Neil Ferguson, a researcher with Imperial University London developed a model that indicated doing nothing about the coronavirus would have resulted in 2.2 million U.S. deaths.  On this basis, President Trump, in concurrence with his medical team, decided to put the nation in lockdown mode.  But experts subsequently rejected that figure out of hand.  I too reported it suspect by the fact it is about 100 times Ferguson’s death projection for the UK, despite the U.S having only five times the population. (Ferguson lowered his initial UK death estimate by 96%.)  So, President Trump’s lockdown is not only unjustified on the basis of Ben-Israel’s study, it also is unwarranted because it was predicated on a terribly erroneous statistical model. 

Nonetheless, the 2.2 million projected deaths have become a political straw man by which to tout the faux effectiveness of mitigation by citing the difference between that wildly inflated figure and actual deaths, that are currently projected to be only about 60,000.  But whatever the number of lives saved through mitigation, lockdown did not contribute to it, according to Ben-Israel.  Therefore, he calls for quickly getting back to work en masse while continuing non-economic mitigation practices, such as social distancing, the wearing of masks, and hygene.

No “new normal”

If Dr. Ben-Israel’s thesis is valid, speculation about a “new normal” characterized by government-mandated sacrifice and economic destruction is misguided. The uniform independent genetic course of the Chinese novel coronavirus over an eight week life cycle renders lockdowns unnecessary. The need for moderate mitigation practices in the future would depend on the recurrence of the virus, which may not happen.  In any case, never again should the nation have to endure undue government intrusion on individual freedoms, or suffer ineffective economic closures. Other pandemics such as SARS did not require that interference, and those pathogens have not recurred.  Quite possibly, the coronavirus will not return either.  Life went on after 9/11 and again after the 2008 financial crisis.  It should continue unchanged in the aftermath of COVID-19.  The people must see to it.

To be sure, COVID-19 is a serious blight. Those who fear it have the choice to self-quarantine.  But any collective remedy must be risk-proportional and selectively focus on the vulnerable.  Even Dr. Ben-Israel’s study aside, mass lockdowns that derail nearly the entire populace and severely damage the economy in reaction to deaths that likely constitute a small sliver of the population are not justified. Now, in view of Dr. Ben-Israel’s evidence documenting the lockdown’s irrelevance to the duration of the virus, avoidance is a compelling option.

Hysteria and politics have created much wrong-headed thinking.  Fortunately, a backlash against abuse has emerged.  Eventually, a likely vaccine and cure will render the issue academic.

©2020 William J. Dodwell
Subpages (1): Special Notice 32