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The Brilliant Ones Are Baffled

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AP Photo/Alex Brandon

The headline reads, “Dr. Deborah Birx Puzzled by New Coronavirus Cases in Lockdown Cities like DC, LA, Chicago.” As we read on in this brief post, we find her saying, “I’ve asked the CDC, and the CDC is working with the local areas in Chicago, and this area and L.A. to really understand where are these new cases are coming from and what do we need to do to prevent them in the future.” Really?


Of course, Governor Cuomo was similarly “shocked” to learn that 66 percent of hospital admissions for coronavirus in New York City came from people who had stayed at home in response to his lockdown orders. Really?

The governor might be excused for his bafflement since he was listening to “experts.” In crass medical slang, an “expert” is just some “S.O.B. from out of town with slides.” In short, an expert is someone who has taken the time to organize his presentation, but the audience has no up-front way to assess the value of what the “expert” has to say unless it possesses a degree of expertise as well. Neither the president nor the governor have such independent knowledge. Both of these leaders are powerhouses in the political arena, but they’re way out of their depth in medicine. This means that it’s really easy to make an appeal to authority and take Fauci and Birx at face value.

When Cuomo and Birx discovered that the prescription failed, it was time to apply Einstein’s Maxim. “Insanity is doing something a second time and expecting a different answer.” You locked down, and it didn’t work. Perhaps you should listen to the Red Team this time. Uh… you didn’t wargame this? Really?

Of course, the answer was right in front of them (us) all the time. But the virology team that recommended the lockdown spent its career researching HIV/AIDS. That’s a blood-borne disease, while SARS CoV-2 is airborne. Blood-borne diseases are relatively easy to contain since their transmission is limited to well-defined risky behaviors. Airborne diseases aren’t so cooperative. 


When the Diamond Princess was quarantined, almost four thousand healthy people were stuck in a closed environment with a few infected people. They were “locked down.” Sound familiar? Hmmm… When healthy people were stuck with infected people, they got sick. Overall, about 20 percent got the bug. That’s higher than NYC even now. So why would a couple of researchers who know so much about viruses miss this key point?

Epidemics aren’t about the details of protein coats, genomes, and binding sites. Those are what Fauci and Birx specialized in. But epidemics are about people getting infected and passing the infection on. By the time we started talking about lockdowns, we knew four salient facts. First, COVID-19 is a respiratory pathogen. While it can be passed by contact, it’s usually passed by droplet or aerosol. Second, it was already “in the wild.” That means that it has long since escaped containment. Third, as a coronavirus, it is easily neutralized by UV light, including sunlight. Fourth, it was primarily fatal in the sick and elderly population. The Kirkland, Washington nursing home disaster and Lombardy (Italy) had already made this very clear.

An epidemiologist would have looked at these basic facts and made a few recommendations. First, anyone known to be ill with COVID-19 should be isolated. This is the basic element of quarantine. You take sick people out of circulation. Next, you use standard infection control measures in taking care of them. This protects caregivers. Then you do “track and trace” to identify sources and new infections. This is Epidemiology 101. Fauci and Birx utterly failed this test. 


The only public health step remaining was to make certain that the elderly and infirm, the only high-risk group, were protected. But you don’t do it by locking them up in closed spaces with poor ventilation. You don’t do as Governors Cuomo and Whitmer did by deliberately mixing ill patients with uninfected nursing home populations. That’s Diamond Princess déjà vu all over again. 

NYC’s rent-controlled apartments have large numbers of elderly in rickety lodging that has poor to non-functioning ventilation and air filtration systems. If they’re locked down, someone has to bring them their groceries and medicines. Since the disease is in the wild, that guarantees that they will be exposed to the bug, and they’ll spread it to their neighbors.

Rather than preventing grandpa from taking his morning jaunt around the neighborhood, the lockdown put him in a virus incubator. Outside, playing dominoes with friends or watching the girls go by, he would be safe. But inside?

Grandma is no different. She needs to be able to walk to the neighborhood deli where she can talk with her friends from the old country. A cup of coffee on the sidewalk where air circulation whisks away any trace of the virus is good, not harmful. But the lockdown took away those safe places and substituted the worst of all possible worlds.

The lockdown was proposed by the “brightest minds,” who in fact were total idiots about practical epidemiology. They persisted in believing that a virus already in the wild could be contained by locking up the people who didn’t have it yet. The only way that could work was if everyone remained in solitary confinement with no food or water for 14 days. I think that just might have other effects that aren’t so good.


The brilliant Doctors Fauci and Birx proposed a “solution” that ran directly opposite to proven best practices. It ignored major facts already known and demonstrated. They persist in believing that they have acted in the best interests of America. Should we be surprised if they are baffled by the real world?

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