by Jon Sanders
Research Editor and Senior Fellow, Regulatory Studies, John Locke Foundation
My colleague Jordan Roberts writes today about the mental damage being inflicted upon people during COVID-19. A CDC survey finds that, as Roberts writes, “Anxiety and depressive orders, substance abuse, and thoughts of suicide are up, especially among younger and essential workers.” The high numbers of young adults (age 18–24) dealing with mental damage are especially distressing.
The sad takeaway is that the mental damages done by lockdowns, shutdowns, and government and media stoking panic for power and clicks are real, expensive, and will be long-lasting. I’ve written about media selling fear during this time, and WRAL provided a telling example just now.
“New coronavirus cases climb to over 2,000 for first time in August,” WRAL’s headline blares. Readers here probably won’t be surprised that new coronavirus tests also “climbed” to their highest number in August. But WRAL’s third paragraph is exemplary:
North Carolina reported 2,008 new cases of coronavirus on Friday, the first time that daily number has topped 2,000 this month.
The rolling, seven-day average of new cases has been in the 1,200 to 1,300 range for about a week.
On Monday, the number of new cases reported dropped to less than half of that average, but the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services attributed that anomaly to a delay in reporting from one of the commercial testing labs.
Apparently, when the number is a monthly low, it’s an anomaly, but when it’s a monthly high, it’s Headline News. (By the way, as discussed here months ago, the reason for using a 7-day rolling average is to “smooth out any one-day wrinkle in the data.”)
Testing and known cases are strongly correlated, as I’ve discussed frequently, including earlier this week in rebutting the Cooper administration’s claim that the statewide face mandate worked … several weeks after it was implemented (but strangely at the same time the Cooper administration was saying our numbers didn’t support reopening schools fully). I put these graphs of tests and known cases back to back:
It’s for this correlation that I have found myself in the strange situation of applauding more testing while at the same time warning about the Cooper administration using cases disingenuously without the testing context to justify keeping the state under severe economic and personal restrictions.
Unfortunately, Cooper’s August 5 order overtly paved the way for higher case numbers irrespective of testing to be weaponized against North Carolinians (see highlighted portions):
should there be an increase in the percentage of emergency department visits that are due to COVID-19 like illness, an increase in the daily number of laboratory-confirmed cases, an increase in the positive tests as a percent of total tests, or an increase in COVID-19- related hospitalizations that threaten the ability of the health care system to properly respond, or should the State’s ability to conduct testing and tracing be compromised, it may be necessary to reinstate certain restrictions so as to protect the health, safety, and welfare of North Carolinians
On Wednesday, Aug. 19, Cooper made an interesting announcement :
Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen a decrease in the number of people asking to be tested. We know that robust testing is key to reducing spread and keeping our communities healthy. So the state has focused on ways to increase the number of tests. Today, the Department of Health and Human Services is announcing a new effort to provide more free testing sites in communities where it’s needed. Cost should not prevent people from getting a test, particularly if they have symptoms, have been exposed, or work in high risk jobs.
Why are fewer people seeking tests? Are we to believe that they’re suddenly too expensive? Or are fewer people getting sick and feeling the need to get tested?
A dedicated effort to target tests to “communities where it’s needed,” and “particularly” to people who “have symptoms, have been exposed, or work in high-risk jobs” would presumably bring about more cases as well as a higher percentage of tests returning positive.
On a public-health side of things, those are good. But Cooper has made it crystal clear there is a political side to testing, and that he would use either more cases or a higher percentage of tests returning positive as reason to “reinstate certain restrictions.” It’s very distressing when those data are so easily manipulated to bring out certain outcomes, even to the point of erasing over 220,000 previously reported non-positive test results.
For Cooper, the political side is to keep all restrictions in place or, worse, continue adding more. We’re under more restrictions now than we were three months ago, without reason.
And according to WNCN news anchor Vanessa Ruffles, on Monday, Aug. 17, the Cooper administration isn’t even thinking about the state getting back to normal at any time in 2020:
In a 1-on-1 today, NCDHHS Sec. Mandy Cohen told me we’ll likely achieve relative normalcy early to mid-2021.
Cooper’s not-yet-Phase-2 order is set to expire on September 11. Don’t expect any improvement whatsoever if Cooper and Cohen are now plotting into summer of 2021! (But just for “relative” normalcy.)
Last month I included a chart on county deaths per capita. Here’s an updated one.
The Cooper administration insists upon treating every area across the state with the same extreme restrictions on people, small businesses, and education. I ask again, are such one-size-fits-all orders warranted?