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Combating COVID-19 with Data

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

When the COVID-19 crisis began, it induced panic because of a lack of information about the disease and how deadly it was. Since then, data has been collected while much of the country has remained in lockdown.


That data now appears to support the case that the worst is past us and it is time to re-open America.

A huge national contingent of people make a vague claim that the lockdown "saves lives" yet never quantify it.  So let’s do that.

Using data from the LA County Department of Health and the NY City Health Department, the odds of catching the virus appear extremely low in most major metro areas, and the chances of dying from it are significantly less for those aged 65 and younger.

The population of LA County is 10 million. There are 16,500 confirmed cases, or 0.165%, and 729 deaths, or a 4.4% mortality rate.

Anyone thus has a 0.165% chance of having the virus. 

In order for an individual to contract the virus that results in symptoms, they must:

1) Come within 6 feet of someone who 2) Has the virus, and 3) Actually transmits it to you, and 4) It becomes symptomatic

Since we begin with 0.165% even having it, and the probability drops even lower with each step above, the probability of contraction has dropped to an absurdly low level such that keeping the entire population in quarantine seems unnecessary.

When we then factor in the mortality rate of 4.4%, the total population of LA County that has died as a direct result of the virus is 729 -- which is 0.007% of the county population.

Seventy-five percent of that are people aged 65 and older, who can remain quarantined as they are at higher risk, and not out and about nearly as much as younger folk anyway.


Thus, the deaths in the general population in LA County is 185, bringing the mortality rate of the general population to a whopping 0.0018%.

To make comparisons, 847 people died in car accidents in LA county in 2017, and 2 million were injured.

Who would like to suggest that we ban cars?

Logically, the data makes sense.  Why continue the quarantine if the incubation period -- known to be approximately 14 days -- has now long been passed? If someone has obeyed the quarantine, why are they staying in when they know they don't have the virus and risk is as low as the math suggests?

Next, how can anyone advocate for any policy in an absence of data? The inference the “Lockdown Forever” people make is apparently that one life is too many to lose. Do they want the lockdown to continue so that zero lives are lost to the virus?  

Then why not put everyone on permanent house arrest to prevent all the other ways people die if saving lives is all that matters…and take away sharp objects while we’re at it?

One might logically assume that Lockdown Forever people don’t actually think the number isn't actually zero, although never underestimate a non-thinker.

So what is the number that would make them happy?

Let's look at 2017-2018 US flu data:

Cases: 45,000,000
Deaths: 61,099

If Lockdown Forever’s claim is that we have to "save lives", then why aren't we locking everything down every year to save 61,099 lives from regular flu and the 45 MILLION from catching it?  We'd save lives EVERY SINGLE YEAR.  


Should we assume that since they’ve never advocated for a lockdown each flu season, then 61,099 is an acceptable number?  

Likewise, since the CDC has a 95% certainty range that goes up to 96,000.  So isn’t this is an acceptable number as well?

You see where I'm going with this. 

If Lockdown Forever doesn't quantify the number of lives to "save", then the insistence on saving lives has no parameters on which it can be judged and therefore be balanced with all other concerns.

Speaking of other concerns, here's a study of binge-drinking during the Great Recession:

"There was in the prevalence of frequent binging, from 4.8% in 2006–2007 to 5.1% in 2008–2009 (P < 0.01), corresponding to 770,000 more frequent bingers (95% CI 390,000 to 1.1 million). Non-Black, unmarried men under 30 years, who recently became unemployed, were at highest risk for frequent binging."

Maybe we save an unnamed number of lives, but how many will get lost to alcoholism, drug addiction, domestic violence, and suicide as a result of being unemployed?

Let’s start combating COVID-19 with data.

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