The Plague Dissident #2

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The Plague Dissident #1

I remember the exact moment when I realized that I had a very different attitude toward the pandemic than many others. It was in the late Spring of 2020. I was walking down College Mall Road and I noticed something very odd. People were driving their cars while wearing masks. The first time I saw it, I thought that people might be in a rush. Didn’t have time to take a mask off as you moved around town. But then I noticed people wearing masks in all sorts of odd places: out for a jog, watching their kids at the park, even fishing at the lake.

By the summer of 2020, it was pretty well known that COVID rarely spreads outdoors and seemed to be most commonly spread in places where people are close together like supermarkets, restaurants, and gyms. I never read an empirical study, or even a news report, that seriously suggested that you would get COVID by yourself in a car or just by jogging by someone. Still, the masks were everywhere, even in places where state governments said that you could take off masks for exercise and walking outside.

I also began to notice how I was different when I would publicly write about COVID. Like many plague dissidents, my approach to COVID mitigation is all about trying to protect at risk groups and allowing low risk people to live their lives normally. This seems completely intuitive to me. Yet, many people who read my blog posts and tweets had very negative, and often personal, reactions. Not all of them, of course. I still appreciate that Phillip Cohen and Nicholas Christakis were able to disagree with me in ways that were scholarly and not personal. Still, it did get personal many times, which reinforced the feeling that I was a heretic.

It really came together for me when I heard about the Great Barrington Declaration. The Declaration was written by three extremely accomplished epidemiologists of varying political stripes and offered a message that resonated with me: because of the very uneven impact of COVID, the focus should be on the elderly and other at risk populations. Like me, they also argued that lockdowns or mass quarantines might have huge harms that are not balanced by small gains for low risk populations. I thought that might be able to make COVID discussion more nuanced, but it didn’t. It just became a lightning rod for controversy. Even mentioning the arguments of the Declaration was enough to make people mad.

I have many truly unconventional beliefs and I’m used to disputation. I am an open borders advocate, for example. When I publish my arguments in news websites, I literally get angry phone calls and rather aggressive emails. Still, I was hoping that pushing for a more moderate approach to COVID might be welcome because my position does not rest on controversial facts. Rather, it follows directly from very well established patterns of harm, information about how the virus is most likely to be transmitted and the simple idea that if some groups are at very low risk, they can accept the risk and live normal lives. So I am still surprised that my views still remain heretical. I thought that people might be relieved to know that much of society can continue as before as long as we help the elderly, minorities, and those with underlying conditions like diabetes. But that is not the case.

My guess is that this will all be a vague memory about one year from now. At that point, most people in the developed world will either be vaccinated, acquire antibodies from infection, or simply don’t want vaccination. The public pressure to bring COVID lockdowns to an end will be high. People will forget all the heated arguments about COVID, much in the same way that the average student today barely remembers the Great Recession of 2008 and has no cognizance of the 2003 Iraq War. Even highly educated adults don’t know about the massive death tolls of the 1957 and 1968 epidemics that killed millions worldwide. Lessons will not be learned.

+++++

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