Op-EdAppeared in Twin Cities Pioneer Press on June 15, 2020By Twila Brase

Protests prove that government isn’t afraid to reopen society

State and local governments’ acceptance of widespread protests over the last couple of weeks is an admission that society is ready to reopen from its coronavirus-induced shutdown.

The mass protests (as well as local soft reopenings and recent Memorial Day gatherings) around the country have not shown an exponential increase in coronavirus death rates. The curve has flattened. Therefore it is time to reopen America.

Reopening is justified not only because the curve has flattened but also because the latest epidemiological data demonstrate that Covid-19 is not as deadly as first thought.

The CDC recently revised its death rate down to just 0.4 percent. That’s roughly an order of magnitude lower than the original World Health Organization estimate of 3.4 percent, which was used to justify widespread lockdowns.

Even this topline death rate overestimates the risk. Nearly half of all Covid deaths nationwide have come in nursing homes. In some states, including Minnesota, nursing home deaths account for over three-quarters of deaths. Over 80 percent of all Covid deaths have come among those aged 65 or older. The overwhelming majority of people who died had pre-existing medical conditions.

“Your risk of dying is the same as the risk for the coming month from natural causes,” said Michael Levitt, a Stanford professor of computer science and biophysics, and the winner of the 2013 Nobel prize in chemistry.

Because Covid appears to be as much a vascular disease (causing blood clots) as a lung disease, the elderly and those with diabetes and cardiovascular conditions face the highest risk.

It’s time to reorient our response to this disease from broad shutdowns to tailored protection of the most vulnerable. Public health officials can direct resources to those in nursing homes while letting the rest of us get back to living.

Preventing healthy people from working has well-documented consequences of its own. More than 42 million Americans have filed for initial unemployment claims over the past couple of months. Roughly one-third of small businesses say they will never be able to reopen. Each of these stories of unemployment and broken dreams represents its own tragedy, and for many, a loss of health insurance.

Poor economic prospects create bad public health outcomes of their own. Depression, substance abuse, domestic violence, and alcoholism all rise with unemployment. Hard alcohol sales have risen by 75 percent, according to one estimate. Research suggests that unemployment increases the risk of suicides by 145 percent. The national hotline for people suffering from emotional distress jumped 891 percent this past April from last year.

According to a 2014 article in Harvard Public Health magazine, unemployment “increased by 83 percent the odds of new health conditions likely triggered by job loss — stress-related conditions such as stroke, hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and emotional and psychiatric problems.”

We can prevent the worst of these medical and socio-economic outcomes by broadly reopening now. Yet some politicians and public health officials are trying to shift the goalposts from flattening the curve to waiting for a vaccine. That vaccine may never come. There’s still no vaccine for other viruses such as SARS, MERS, HIV, or even the common cold — and the flu vaccine is notoriously ineffective. If a vaccine is developed, it’s likely a year or two away and it may not even work.

The risk vs. reward tradeoff of maintaining lockdown restrictions is simply too great, especially as we’ve learned more about the disease’s relative lack of danger to most Americans.

It’s time to broadly reopen society. Not only are Americans ready, but government cannot arbitrarily lift a social-distancing shutdown requirement on tens of thousands of protesting Americans and continue to claim it must be imposed on everyone else.

Twila Brase, a registered nurse, is president and co-founder of Citizens’ Council for Health Freedom, a national patient-centered, free-market organization located in St. Paul and a partner of the Job Creators Network Foundation.