Several hundred physicians recently buried the pandemic narrative of staying in economic lockdown, which is still being espoused by several governors, media personalities and, until recently, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the senior advisor to the White House Coronavirus Task Force

Long the outspoken media commentator on Covid-19, Dr. Fauci has been the federal government’s voice for caution about re-opening the economy to allow all those Americans to return to their “non-essential” jobs. The mainstream media enjoyed the contrast with his ultimate boss, President Trump, who has been itching to end the economic shutdown.

Then came a May 19th letter to the President from a wide variety of about 600 medical doctors that expressed “alarm over the exponentially growing negative health consequences of the national shutdown.” It called the shutdown a “mass casualty incident,” and stated that financial uncertainty and poverty are “closely linked to poor health.”

The whole reason for shutting down the economy and Congress spending—printing, actually—trillions more dollars to sustain the public was to slow the spread of coronavirus to avoid the health care system from being overwhelmed. It was never about stopping the virus, much less waiting for a vaccine. Rather, by slowing its spread, and “flattening the curve” of infections, people could be continuously treated without anyone neglected.

Part of the economic lockdown was to forbid non-urgent or routine health care since space was to be on the ready to treat victims of coronavirus. Now, more than two months after most states shut down their economies, the doctors wrote that 150,000 Americans per month would have had cancer detected from routine screenings that did not happen. Millions more people, they wrote, have missed routine care to check against heart disease, stroke and even child abuse – all because they were prohibited by emergency public health powers imposed by governors.

The doctors’ letter thrashed Dr. Fauci’s narrative, and he has since changed his tune. One week before this letter appeared, Dr. Fauci warned a Senate committee about the risks of re-opening the economy too quickly. Now, he’s echoing the 600 medical doctors.  Dr. Fauci just warned about the “irreparable harm” and health consequences from extended lockdowns.  He said, [n]ow is the time, depending upon where you are and what your situation is, is to begin seriously looking at reopening the economy, reopening the country to try and get back to some degree of normal.”

It is easy for lifelong bureaucrats with rock-solid job security and media personalities who make seven-figure incomes to prattle about public health and staying locked down as a society when millions of other people lose their jobs. Long after the coronavirus curve was flattened and our hospital system was spared from being overwhelmed, what is the rationale for continued economic shutdown?  The daily number and rate of Covid deaths is clearly declining.

Early on, in February and March, our nation’s policy makers feared the worst and temporary lockdowns made sense. What we learned since is comprehensive economic lockdowns make no sense when the small percentages of the general population—seniors and those with underlying health conditions—were most vulnerable to Covid-19. Protecting these groups should have been the focus, not forcing the general public to indefinite unemployment.

While most of the country has been in economic shutdown, more than 100,000 Americans are now reported to have died from coronavirus, several thousands of which a the result of emergency orders in some states that required nursing homes to accept infected patients. And, since Americans still must buy groceries to eat, crowded supermarkets certainly negated the efficacy of closing supposedly non-essential businesses that probably would have been less crowded.

When the history of Covid-19 is written, two big takeaways are: (1) the experts often guessed and speculated about the virus as much as any layman, and invoked “science and data” when they used neither; and (2) power often corrupts politicians, but emergency powers absolutely corrupt certain politicians. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Washington State Governor Jay Inslee are two of several examples of executives still lording it over their citizens with capricious economic restrictions masquerading as public health, long after they were warranted.

The letter by the 600 medical doctors offers a valuable reminder that other expert knowledge and experience exists and must be expressed and heard. Expertise that is counter to the prevailing wisdom on an issue, be it about Covid-19, climate change, or any other salient issue that demands societal transformation, is vitally important to avoid mass groupthink and damaging public policy.

Author

  • Peter Murphy, a CFACT analyst, has researched and advocated for a variety of policy issues, including education reform and fiscal policy, both in the non-profit sector and in government in the administration of former New York Gov. George Pataki. He previously wrote and edited The Chalkboard weblog for the NY Charter Schools Association, and has been published in numerous media outlets, including The Hill, New York Post, Washington Times and the Wall Street Journal. Twitter: @PeterMurphy26.