By Jim Towey
Our country will soon hit a milestone. One million Americans will have died from or with COVID-19. Our prayers for the repose of these souls and the consolation of their families continue.
Unfortunately, the pandemic’s damage report extends far beyond the death count. The lockdowns and the $6 trillion in emergency relief spending have catapulted America’s economy into an inflationary and interest rate spiral. The war in Ukraine and its ripple effect increase the likelihood of a global recession. The elderly and disabled will pay a steep price for the economy’s retreat. So many were isolated these last two years under social distancing and no-visitation mandates, only to now find their savings and buying power imperiled by high prices.
Mental health, education, small business
The pandemic, and the ill-advised responses to it, have many more victims. Once healthy small businesses are now shuttered. How does one quantify the damage to the psycho-social development and educational formation of children inflicted by foolish school closures? Or the spikes in suicides, anxiety, and depression among the young and the old alike?
It is a sobering moment in America. Confidence in our nation’s public health authorities has taken a sizeable hit. I was the secretary of Florida’s Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services in the early-to-mid-1990’s and responsible for the state’s public health programs. The success of our efforts to vaccinate, prevent the spread of infectious disease, and educate the public required a bond of trust between government and the public.
That bond in our nation seems badly frayed. I have written before and reiterate here that in the early months of the pandemic, government leaders had every reason to err on the side of caution. We didn’t know what we were up against with the highly-contagious virus. But it wasn’t long before the data documented that morbidity was chiefly limited to the elderly, immune-compromised and obese. Officials at the federal level and in many states ignored such undeniable evidence. They eschewed “focused protection” strategies and instead meted out one-size-fits-all mandates.
William Shakespeare’s memorable words in Measure for Measure come to mind:
But man, proud man,
Dress’d in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he’s most assur’d—
His glassy essence—like an angry ape
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As makes the angels weep..”
One such “fantastic trick” of the public health experts was their decision to treat natural immunity from Covid as irrelevant. In so doing, they purposefully ignored centuries of science on immunology and fueled suspicions that government wasn’t shooting straight, particularly when studies came out showing that prior infection provided superior protection to vaccinations. To this day, Dr. Fauci and the CDC have not admitted this mistake or remedied it, further undermining public trust.
We know now that public health and epidemiology experts also placed undue emphasis on surface transmissions and social distancing. Purell rituals were touted as essential. That might have made for good personal hygiene, but it promoted false confidence and an irrational fear of germs – germaphobia – which has spread through the populace. I watched a man next to me on the airplane Monday scrupulously wipe down both sides of his tray table after boarding the plane even though all passengers around him were mask less. A public frightened and cowed by public health dictates cannot be blamed for their responses. When I see someone walking outdoors or driving alone with a mask on, I wonder whether those in government and the media who destabilized the public’s mental health will ever apologize for the damage their fearmongering has done.
And what can we conclude about the wisdom of mask mandates? They became such a flashpoint and political football that even today toddlers in New York City are still required to wear masks. From the onset of Covid, the CDC knew that N-95 masks were the only effective ones. But officials were more interested in requiring compliance with their policies than achieving public safety. A new study of 35 Eastern and Western European nations revealed last week that masks had no impact whatsoever on death rates. None. The public already had figured this out. That is why most airline passengers were quick to jettison their masks when given the option recently.
As we mourn one million deaths – and thank God and those whose vaccination efforts kept that number from growing larger still – we must focus our prevention strategies while protecting those at risk of death or hospitalization from new waves of Covid’s progeny. And with great urgency, we must restore trust in our nation’s public health system so that in the future, those “dress’d in a little brief authority,” exercise that power humbly and wisely.