This weekend, two years ago, I published the first ad in the Star Tribune expressing alarm at the policies which were being adapted to fight the CV-19 epidemic. The themes set forth in that ad have guided my education and advocacy efforts and my subsequent op-eds in that newspaper from the start of the epidemic. And the concerns expressed and the rationales for those concerns have been largely proven correct. Respiratory virus transmission is impossible to stop; a lesson New Zealand, Hong Kong and China are still learning. Attempts to suppress the spread are futile. Such measures usually lead to unintended (perhaps, but certainly predictable) consequences which can be more devastating than the virus itself. Normal life is upended, worsening health for those who are most ill, isolating the already lonely elderly, destroying educational and social development for children, leading to more drug and alcohol abuse and greater mental health issues. These harms go on for years and decades. None of this was mysterious or unknown. Any thoughtful, calm, rational response would have recognized these basic facts and issues. But instead we were served a hysterical, lemming-like over-reaction, which in the end did not stop most of the population from being infected and many from incurring serious disease.
On behalf of the public, I would like an apology from those responsible for the disastrous handling of the epidemic response.
Our public health experts owe us a very, very large apology for seeming to be completely ignorant of basic tenets of respiratory virus disease and epidemiology. This group and our political leaders were the worst of the worst during the epidemic, in large part because they planned and implemented the terror campaign. Every message and pronouncement invoked danger and safety; people were basically encouraged to never leave their homes and never interact with any other persons. Citizens were led to believe that if they contracted the virus they would certainly be hospitalized, die or transmit it to some vulnerable person. In their monomaniacal obsession with CV-19, these public health dunces also completely ignored the broader health of the citizenry, to which they have done immense and lasting harm. They hid data, made up data, and ignored research all to support their beliefs, and they were just beliefs, about how best to address the epidemic. The actions of the public health authorities we are told to rely on were disgraceful and frankly all but a few should be fired.
Our medical community should apologize for complying with orders to shut off access to care for non-CV-19 patients; for refusing to consider alternative treatments which might have helped some patients; for punishing physicians and other clinicians who dared to question the official line; and for endorsing measures, like closing schools and masking children, which were known to have harmful effects which likely outweighed any benefits, and which were not adopted in many developed countries. Many medical societies and practitioners were enthusiastically anti-science–unwilling to even actually consider what the data and research were finding.
The media should apologize for eagerly cheerleading ignorant and dangerous government policies and for never fulfilling the fundamental role of media in a democracy–questioning the wisdom of government actions, revealing government chicanery and ensuring that the public had all the relevant information, especially that information the government worked hard to obfuscate. Instead the media joined in the terror campaign, happy to spread fear and enjoy rising ratings and more revenue. The media ignored, or even bashed, alternative analyses or policy recommendations. It literally worked hand-in-hand with governments to promote the official message with unquestioning obeisance. It never pushed for full transparency. How different the response might have been if the media had met its obligation to be a questioning voice for the public.
The politicians who (mis) led us during the epidemic should apologize (actually some should follow the Japanese tradition and commit hari-kari) for being themselves, i.e., stupid, devious, panicky, incapable of real leadership. These politicians took upon themselves the exercise of emergency powers which undercut democracy and led to dreadful decision-making which could and would have been avoided by the use of typical policy-making processes–robust discussion, consideration of evidence and alternatives and debate over the best course of action. They willingly and enthusiastically endorsed the terror campaign. Our own Governor was a classic case, the inestimable Incompent Blowhard and Prevaricating Weasel, using a model known to be flawed to terrify Minnesotans into believing tens of thousands of them would die even if we followed his complete shutdown orders; at every briefing promoting fear; lying about the effectiveness of his suppression orders; hiding and massaging data to support those orders, even when he had evidence they made no difference; and never, ever once taking responsibility for the consequences of his actions. Unfortunately, he fit right in with most of our other Governors and the federal administrations during the epidemic.
And even the general public owes an apology to those who were pilloried for almost the entire epidemic for daring to suggest that CV-19 could not be suppressed, that suppression measures would do immense damage to the wider public health, to public and personal finances, to our economy, to education, to social relations and eventually to science and medicine; and that we would and could adapt to CV-19 and the sooner we accepted that, the better. These wiser heads were assaulted as uncaring anti-science buffoons. People who had a different risk perspective were shamed. I personally received mail, emails, tweets, etc. accusing me of putting money over people, of killing grandma and many people expressed the hope that I would contract and die of CV-19. (Somehow I appear to have miraculously been one of the small group of Americans who have never been infected. I think this is partly due to the evil wishes of this cohort of morons.) Now the conventional wisdom has swung, largely because the current party in power sees dismal polls and is motivated to put the epidemic behind it and because the citizenry is just worn out. But a thank you to the non-professional researchers and analysts who tried to provide an alternative perspective and who served up better data and analyses would be in order.
I don’t expect any of these mea culpas to occur. But if the apologies aren’t forthcoming, it reflects an unwillingness to acknowledge error. And a failure to acknowledge error makes it unlikely that any learnings will be gleaned to guide the response to future epidemics. At some point there may be commissions, but as is typical, those findings will be ignored and quickly forgotten. So some years or decades from now, when we inevitably are hit with another respiratory epidemic, more likely than not we will condemn ourselves to the same futile, stupid and costly attempts to suppress the unsuppressible.