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COVID Policy: Science or Wild-Ass Guesses?

There's been a lot of talk about following the science in forming policies on COVID-19. The scientific method is to make an observation, ask a question, form a hypothesis, test your hypothesis, then either accept your theory or form a new hypothesis.

In January, the World Health Organization reported there's no clear evidence of human to human transmission of COVID19 and that they were "reassured of the quality of the ongoing investigations and response measures implemented in Wuhan, and the commitment to share information regularly." Oops. They didn't test their hypothesis.

The World Health Organization didn't recommend healthy people wear masks, citing "no evidence," until April. Oops. No test.

The World Health Organization advised against travel restrictions to countries experiencing COVID19 outbreaks:

In general, evidence shows that restricting the movement of people and goods during public health emergencies is ineffective in most situations and may divert resources from other interventions. Furthermore, restrictions may interrupt needed aid and technical support, may disrupt businesses, and may have negative social and economic effects on the affected countries.

Sounds familiar. If you replace countries with counties, states or cities, I would agree with the part about social and economic disruption. While we can't test travel bans, does anyone think it really would have been a good idea to continue allowing travel from China and other highly infected areas to the US? (And BTW, if you think lockdowns are a good idea, shouldn't you agree with closing the border?)

Then we have the Murray models, which have wildly overestimated deaths and resources needed to deal with COVID-19 patients. Oops! They've used information coming out of New York and New Jersey and applied it to the rest of the country. Dr. Deborah Birx said during a press conference that the US is taking a liberal approach in counting deaths--if you die WITH COVID, not specifically FROM COVID, that's counted as a COVID death. Some have said that we're undercounting COVID deaths (e.g., people who die at home but aren't tested), but you don't need a positive test to be counted. "In cases where a definite diagnosis of COVID-19 cannot be made," says the CDC, "but is suspected or likely (e.g., the circumstances are compelling within a reasonable degree of certainty), it is acceptable to report COVID-19 on a death certificate as 'probable' or 'presumed'."

How about science showing shutdowns are doing any good? Yinon Weiss, a writer on Medium, doesn't find any correlation between how fast a state shut down and how many people died in the first three weeks following an early mortality milestone (one death per million population). Oops! Where's the World Health Organization's "no evidence" MO when you need it? But he does find some correlation between population density and COVID deaths.

How about science on mortality rates? Research from Stanford University suggests a mortality rate similar to the flu. OOPS.

Aside from common-sense measures like hygiene, social distancing and closing the borders--mostly poo-pooed by the WHO--public health policies have been based on wild-ass guesses. In fairness, COVID-19 is novel and the science wasn't there. But now that we're starting to get scientific results in, we need to form some new hypotheses and adjust the policies. 


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