People around the world are trying to diminish the spread of coronavirus. A quick look at actions and their results provides useful evidence of successful measures.
- It’s not just masks. America is solidly in the middle ground of countries in terms of mask usage, with approximately 59% of those responding to an international poll asserting they are always masked when venturing outside. (We also have an abnormally high number of people who never wear masks, a full 14% in the same poll.) The US has the highest number of cases in the world. Stepping away from the US, Mexico’s mask compliance is better than ours, with 85% and 2%, respectively… and Mexico is consistently in the top five countries for new cases and new deaths. Masks are useful tools, but they are part of a comprehensive plan, not the plan itself.
- Heat doesn’t mean safety. There were many statements about the virus dying off naturally during the summer months. Those were easily debunked as early as April.
- Draconic measures work. People are looking at New Zealand and praising its response, but few are considering exactly what that response entailed. Borders were shut down firmly, to the point of separating families. A family member wasn’t allowed back into the country if they’d been away on a short business trip. Not only were the local lockdown rules strict – people could leave their houses only to go to the doctor, for manual exercise, or for groceries – but enforcement was tight. There were more than 800 violations in the first two weeks, and of them more than an eighth were prosecuted. There were many warnings provided, but word quickly spread that the government was serious… moreso when a cabinet minister was demoted for violating lockdown, demonstrating that the rule of law applied to all equally. It wasn’t just New Zealand which moved strongly against the virus; in Kenya, police had shot and killed at least a dozen curfew violators, including a 13 year old boy, by April 16… before the disease had even taken hold in the country. Kenya is currently listed as having only 491 cases per million people. A similar death sentence was threatened in the Philippines for curfew violators, with the result of curtailing, not ending, the spread. Vietnam immediately placed anyone suspected of having the virus into prison, in an isolation ward, and was able to drastically slow the spread of the disease into their country. The question is not whether aggressive measures will work, the question is which measures are appropriate for a free society. Even New Zealand, which has emerged as a model for strong response with a free citizenry, retains a strict travel policy that is ravaging an economy which was partially dependent on tourism.
- Testing. Testing. Testing. The best way to determine where the virus needs to be eliminated is to find out who carries the virus. This has been the hallmark of every successful country outside of New Zealand. Focusing on getting tests processed quickly, on making tests available at little to no cost for the consumer, and using contact tracing to identify people who need to get tested has resulted in low caseloads for places like South Korea and allowed other Westernized countries to manage their outbreaks, limiting them to levels where their health services could reduce deaths.
- Adapt to new information. When the disease first started to spread, the focus was on surface transmission. After investigation, we learned that the primary vector was direct air transfer. After further investigation, we have learned the virus almost certainly aerosolizes. Each of these developments should lead to a shift in the approach to minimizing the transmission. In areas where the response has been dynamic, the virus has been more easily controlled. Failing to adapt has been a key reason for Mexico’s continued high infection rate.
- Reinterpret data. When all else fails, governments can simply enact more restrictive rules for what constitutes a case of covid-19 or a death from the virus. A recent study in the UK showed that people who had contracted the virus and subsequently died risked being counted as having died from covid-19 even if they’d been hit by a vehicle; this methodology is obviously flawed… and it’s also nothing new. It’s how physicians have counted other deaths for years (which is why flu death and smoking death figures are often astronomically high.) At issue is the contribution of the disease to the death; while it’s fairly obvious that a car veering off the side of the road is independent of the struck person’s disease, it’s also apparent that dying due to heart failure while struggling to breathe and unable to get sufficient oxygen can be pinpointed to the illness. Things like fatal strokes, which have been demonstrated to occur far more frequently in recent covid-19 victims, allow governments to interpret figures differently… and they do. The disparity between the less restrictive numbers and the more restrictive ones used by most of the EU is expected to lead the UK to revise its methods this week, which should immediately bring their death count down to be more in keeping with other European countries. Will this actually change the number of infections or the broad numbers of deaths? No. But it will change the official tally.
- When all else fails, lie. Singapore’s numbers aren’t bad. They’re #44 on the list of countries being struck by the coronavirus, if you check the Worldometer site. One of the ways they kept their numbers down was by immediately limiting the activity of their migrant worker force – more than a million people – and moving them all into cramped dormitories, per the UK Guardian. As the numbers of covid-19 cases rose among the people being forced to live amidst infected individuals, those cases were often addressed as being not from Singapore but from the home country of the immigrant… or they were simply ignored until the people died. A similar approach was rumored to be in effect early in the United States, where border states’ numbers were suspected of being kept low by bypassing normal processes and expediting the return of immigrants to their home countries.
Simply getting new leadership isn’t the key, nor is wearing masks. Not even testing. If we’re to avoid relying on the last two options, which are terrible and will result in thousands of additional deaths, we need to embrace everything that works to stem the actual spread of the disease. We know what those factors are. It is up to individuals and governments alike to take the steps they can.