In the UK, France, Ontario and various other jurisdictions COVID case counts have risen at an alarming rate in the past few weeks. Unfortunately, mandatory masking and strict lockdowns seem to be the only tools governments feel they have in the face of case count surges.
It can be argued that the increasing case counts may be an artifact of more testing. Or a product of the sensitivity of the tests themselves; but the actual case numbers keep going up.
Our media, God bless them, at a national level seem to be entirely focused on case counts to the point where, in this CBC story on Ontario’s numbers, there is simply no mention of the “death count”.
Why could this be? Well, take a look at these two graphs from Ontario:
If you look at the top graph the sky is falling and masks, social distance, lockdowns, school closures and “stay at home” all make a lot of sense. If you look at the bottom graph, COVID is over.
In Montreal over this last weekend up to 100,000 people marched against mandatory masks. The mainstream media downplayed the turnout and suggested that there were all sorts of conspiracy theorists, Qanon believers, far right and Trump supporters marching. There probably were. But I suspect the vast majority of the marchers were responding to the disproportionate response of the Quebec government to graphs which look very much like Ontario’s.
People are more than willing to go along with governmental measures they can see the point of. “14 days to flatten the curve and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed” made sense back in April. And the measures taken then may well have worked. But it is mid-September and the hospitals and their ICUs are not even slightly overtaxed.
So what is going on? Let’s simply dismiss the loonier conspiracy theories about Gates wanting to inject everyone with micro chips and Soros wanting to impose unlimited lefty control and the UN pushing Agenda-21 under the guise of the virus and a host of other wingnut positions. The more reasonable position is that the media reports “newsworthy” stories and low or no deaths does not make the grade and, politicians and public health people were completely overwhelmed at the start of COVID. With the best will in the world they relied on models which, it turns out, wildly over-estimated the spread and the severity of the virus. Now they are like cats up a tree. Easy to get up, not so easy to get down.
Here’s the problem: politically, opening up too soon and seeing a rise in actual deaths, is seen as fatal. All the more so when case numbers are rising. The precautionary principle has taken hold and politicians see a huge downside to anything but the most draconian measures. After all, what happens if the death count goes up?
Add to that political calculation the fact about half the population is heavily invested in the idea that COVID is very dangerous for everyone and that there is no precaution too stringent to protect us. That part of the population wears their masks, stays home and hopes there will be a vaccine before Christmas. In terms of the graphs above, these people remain in the last week of April. These are the people who look at case rates and demand everyone mask up.
The rest of us have moved on, taking sensible precautions for the locations in which we find ourselves, but trying to resume a normal life. We tend to look at “case fatality rates” and try to get statistics broken out by locality and demographics. Vigilant but optimistic.
For the moment, case counts and masks seem to be winning the day. Lockdowns are being re-imposed. Halloween looks to be cancelled and Thanksgiving may be limited to immediate family. Christmas, whatever happens, will be muted. “Out of an abundance of caution,” seems to be the prevalent sentiment. The fact that the hospitalization rate and death count curves have flattened and, in fact, fallen is not cutting through yet.
I suspect it will be the New Year before the tide turns. People have been scared witless and it will take a while for them to calm down. Even as the general population begins to gain perspective, the economic damage will only be starting. Everything from supply chains to commercial real estate to personal debt will have to re-calibrate to a world which has, effectively, lost a year economically.