By way of reminder, we have been visited with three distinct disasters. The first is the COVID virus itself. The second is the economic devastation that has been caused by a dramatic and unnecessary over-reaction to the virus. And the third is the threat to civil liberties that is posed by a thoughtless granting of sweeping emergency powers to the government.
What I would like to do here is bring you a bit of good news regarding the first rock that was dislodged at the top of this particular avalanche — meaning the virus, and possible treatments. And then I would like to discuss, for your edification and pleasure, why this news that is manifestly good news is not being treated by many as though it were good news. Even though it is.
And as per the @IHME_UW projections, here is what happened in New York State (as of April 5). It is a comparison of the projection over against what actually happened. In New York State, 69K hospital beds were projected as needed, and what were actually needed were 16.5K. The projection for needed ICU beds were 12.3K beds, and the beds that were actually required were 4K. For links to follow on this and related issues, check in with @AlexBerenson.
Good Old Hydroxychloroquine
First, let’s get the big picture. How is the United States doing over against some other countries afflicted by the virus? Here is a set of comparisons, using unjiggered numbers. The important thing to remember here is that not only must we not compare apples and oranges, but we must also not compare per capita apples to raw numbers apples.
Now on to an interesting possible treatment for the virus. Before citing a few anecdotal reports, I want to begin by referencing a survey that was taken from thousands of COVID treatment providers (over 6,000 physicians), across 30 countries. If you want to look at it more closely, that report can be seen here. For my purposes here, the bottom line is that hydroxychloroquine was chosen by these physicians as the most effective therapy from a list of 15 options. So this is not some quack remedy that some have been driven to in their desperation. It appears to show real promise.
Now for some anecdotal reports. Sorry about the sound quality on the first one.
On this next one, the anecdotal stuff about hydroxychloroquine is in the first half, various talking heads opinions in the second half.
One of the comments alluded to the fact that Trump had touted this treatment as one that he was really optimistic about, while Dr. Fauci, for his part, was being cautious because there had not yet been clinical trials that tested the drug. But since the FDA has fast-tracked their approval for the use of this drug in treating COVID-19, we are now in the middle of a large-scale and very sloppy clinical trial. We are about to know a whole lot more about it. In that this kind of treatment has been around for years as a regimen for malaria, and we pretty much know the side-effects, to be too cautious or hesitant on this front is like having a oven fire in your kitchen, and taking a couple of minutes to look for an expiration date on the fire extinguisher.
In a surprising development, we now apparently have a thing called “right-wing medicine,” or “Fox News cures,” and so in the interests of even-handedness, here is a critical NYT look at this particular treatment for coronavirus.
When Good News is Bad News
So why wouldn’t this promising good news be taken as such? Why are so many people being so quick to give it the back of their hand? Why will they continue to be dismissive for as long as they can, and then, when they have to give that up, pretend that they never were dismissive?
The first is the old media rule that “if it bleeds, it leads.” Disasters sell newspapers, and calamities draw high ratings. When people start to say things like “follow the money,” I do not object to this — it is an admirable rule — so long as they follow all the money. For example, it is not just true that the sales of a coronavirus vaccine, when it is released, will likely be robust. That is true, and so a certain kind of conspiratorial mindset turns to the obvious plotting of Big Pharma. But maybe it was the executive team at Zoom. Or the clandestine machinations of the manufacturers of Purell.
Drug companies are not the only ones with something to sell in a crisis like this. The media is also in sales, and what sells most briskly for them is bad news. If it bleeds, it leads.
The second and third reasons both have to do with Trump, but in different ways. The first of the two is the derangement syndrome aspect of it. If Trump is for it, then there is an automatic, visceral, knee-jerk, ingrained, reflexive, and rooted reaction which requires that the journalist (for the purposes of our discussion, let us call him that), is against it. In this world, Trump is a execrable buffoon, and if he is advocating something, then Science and Reason both together demand that we start shouting before he has finished his sentence. The prospect that he might be on to something is remote, distant, and scarcely to be credited.
The third is a cold and hard political calculation, and is not part of the derangement deal. It is cynical, but not barking mad. Let us say that we pop out of this thing in another month or so. That means that we will emerge right when the presidential campaign is starting to hot up. If the all clear is sounded as soon as I expect, the national conventions will be held this summer, and then we will be catapulted right into the campaign. And there is no way to keep everything from being political in a political season like that.
If Trump making happy noises about hydroxychloroquine proves correct, then we can just forget about it and move on. But if it proves a dud, and there were a number of his political opponents on the record rebuking, admonishing, and otherwise chiding him for his cheer-leading, then that would make a very fine campaign ad. The competing narratives on all this will be “Trump saved us from the most dire crisis we have ever had,” on the one hand, and “Trump bungled the coronavirus response,” on the other.
But There Are Limits to Hydroxychloroquine, and There Limits to This Good News
Unfortunately, hydroxychloroquine is not a preventative or a cure for stampeding politicians. When are we going to put some research dollars into that? When it is time for an elected official to cover his butt, he will in fact do so, regardless of how much hydroxychloroquine we have in the system.
And hydroxychloroquine will not rebuild your small business either. That’s a limitation also. It cannot rehire the workers you laid off.
And finally, this wonderful little drug will not prevent the ecochondriacs from declaring that you breathing CO2 your nostrils, just like God designed it, is contributing to a global emergency. As P.J. O’Rourke summed up the views of the Greens, “way too much of you, just the right amount of me.”
So what you need to do is to start thinking of this quarantine as your 30-day trial for government by panic-driven computer modeling in a time of crisis. How’d it go?