Texas Ends COVID Restrictions

The Lone Star State is celebrating its independence in a big way.

Dallas Morning News (“Gov. Greg Abbott says it’s time to open Texas 100%, end statewide mask mandate“):

Texans will no longer be required to wear a face mask in public, and all businesses will be able open at full capacity starting next week, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday.

The Republican made the sweeping move — on Texas Independence Day — even though public health officials say restrictions are still critical to control the pandemic, which has killed more than 42,500 Texans.

Abbott cited growing vaccination rates for his decision, though fewer than 2 million Texans are fully inoculated against COVID-19 in a state of 29 million. The announcement puts Texas at odds with federal experts, who have said that even as vaccinations rise, people still need to wear masks, avoid crowds and socially distance.

Abbott also pointed to declines in hospitalizations, but experts warn that those are slowing and could reverse.

Texans will be in charge of managing their own individual safety, Abbott said, using practices learned during the pandemic.

Now, offhand, this strikes me as nuts. Why not wait another month or two for far more of the state’s residents to get vaccinated? And, as much as I despise wearing a mask, ending the mandate puts high-risk individuals at greater danger, since most of the benefit is protecting others, not the wearer.

There’s a caveat in the re-opening order:

County judges will be able to impose their own coronavirus restrictions if COVID-19 hospitalizations rise above 15% in their region for seven straight days. As of Tuesday, just one area in Texas met that criterion: the region including El Paso, according to state data.

The region that includes Dallas and Tarrant Counties was at 8.7% as of Monday.

Dallas County judge Clay Jenkins chastised Abbott on Twitter for lifting “all his state orders designed to protect you and those you care about” from coronavirus on the same day the county’s COVID-19 death toll topped 3,000.

“You should focus on what doctors, facts and science say is safe,” Jenkins urged residents, “not on what Gov. says is legal!”

County judges seem an odd choice for this power but having a threshold makes sense.

But there’s an argument that we’ve been thinking about this wrong. As logical as lockdowns and other restrictions are—you can’t catch a transmissible virus if you never go near other people—their actual effectiveness as public policy is debatable.

Indeed, Reason’s Zack Weissmueller argues, lockdowns don’t work. He cites the drastically different approaches California and Florida took to their Disney theme parks.

The media savaged Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) when he and a handful of Southern GOP governors pushed to re-open most businesses in early summer 2020. DeSantis’s strategy from the get-go had been to shield seniors by issuing executive orders to temporarily ban nursing home visitations and prohibit re-admission of COVID-positive patients. (New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, in contrast, forced nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients).

A couple of months later, with case rates fallingNational Review editor Rich Lowry asked, “Where Does Ron DeSantis Go to Get His Apology?”

But when cases surged over the summer, Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik delivered on the requested apology: “Sorry, you’re even worse than I imagined,” he wrote.

By the end of the summer, however, cases were falling in Florida, and rising in areas of the country that were in full or partial lockdown.

California, which had the nation’s most stringent policies related to COVID-19, began to experience a massive second wave in November. Florida was also seeing a spike in cases and deaths, though it was less severe.

While the California and Florida approaches to COVID-19 were vastly different, their outcomes began to look remarkably similar.

If some in the media had been too quick to condemn DeSantis, others had also been too quick to declare victory for Newsom. In April, the Atlantic had extolled California’s “dramatic success in containing the coronavirus pandemic.”

What is clear about the impact of Newsom’s policies is that they’ve taken a devastating toll on working-class California residents.  The Golden State shed eight percent of its jobs (compared to five percent in Florida). It also experienced the fifth-highest drop in GDP among U.S. states and a much higher drop in tax revenue.

California now has more total cases per capita and is approaching Florida’s total deaths per capita despite having a younger population.

The Worldometers COVID data bears this out as well:

Bizarre as it may seem, California, Florida, and Texas have incredibly similar numbers in terms of cases/million and deaths/million. And all three are doing slightly better than the national average in deaths/million despite radically different public policies.

Obviously, the single variable “lockdown policy” isn’t enough to do the comparison given wildly different conditions. By far the two worst states in terms of death rate are New York and New Jersey. While there’s much to criticize in how their governors handled the outbreak, the sheer population density of the New York City metropolitan area certainly contributed to the outcomes.

Still, looking at the states hardest hit by the virus reveals no obvious pattern:

Yes, there are a lot of red states, including my former home state of Alabama, in the bottom 11. But also a lot of blue states, including all four of the worst-hit. And there are plenty of comparable states among those faring best:

Granting that a lot of these states are low-population and/or low population density, the Dakotas are both among the worst-hit. My current home state of Virginia comes in at 11—essentially tied with Kentucky, which almost certainly had less restrictive policies.

The most obvious explanation isn’t so much that social distancing and the like don’t work but that people simply won’t comply with them in large numbers after awhile. Weissmueller again:

The contrast between California and Florida reflects growing evidence that lockdowns are not an effective strategy for managing a viral respiratory epidemic, despite early studies suggesting otherwise.

A June 2020 paper in Nature claimed that lockdowns would save 3-4 million lives worldwide, but it assumed that as they stretched on, lockdowns would remain just as effective as in the early days of the pandemic. After it was published, places with stringent lockdowns, including California, the United Kingdom, and Italy, experienced second waves.

A possible reason is that lockdowns become less effective over time because the public grows weary of the social isolation and starts gathering in private households on a more frequent basis.

According to contact tracing data in New York, 74 percent of cases were contracted inside people’s homes.

Big city mayors who promoted aggressive lockdowns are beginning to change tack even amidst large caseloads. Chicago’s Lori Lightfoot and Washington, D.C.’s, Muriel Bowser have pushed for re-opening restaurants for indoor dining, and San Francisco and L.A.’s mayors have allowed outdoor dining to resume.

A January 5 study by a research team at Stanford compared countries that shut down “non-essential” businesses with ones that took less restrictive public health measures, like only banning large events and discouraging international travel. It found “no evidence that … [more stringent] lockdowns” contributed substantially to bringing down the case rate.

I guess we’re going to see a big natural experiment in Texas.

FILED UNDER: COVID-19, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. SKI says:

    Wait, you are basing your beliefs on what the science is telling us, and this article, on the opinion of a tv producer? Someone with no demonstrated expertise at putting these kind of facts in context? At determining what is correlation vs causation? What is the point?

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  2. Paine says:

    Ahh.. Lubbock. I lived there for about five years. Lots of good restaurants which helps as there isn’t much to do in town other than to go out to eat. I read some local media coverage of Abbot’s talk and it turns out he that photo was taken at a small Mexican restaurant that I ate at on occasion.

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  3. Jen says:

    Well, Gov. Abbott has certainly succeeded in shifting the narrative from his appalling handling of the state’s electricity crisis!

    I understand the desire to move on, but throwing the gates open fully, right now, before people are fully vaccinated seems incredibly stupid. The danger right now are virus variants that could render vaccination less effective, and saying “everything open, no state mandate” once again puts the most vulnerable at risk.

    I’ve seen friends post that a number of national businesses have posted signs that state they will continue to enforce a mask mandate in their stores, despite the governor’s decision. And once again, front-line, minimum wage workers will bear the brunt of people’s jerkish behavior.

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  4. Houston and other parts of Texas are still Covid-19 hotspots. This seems unwise.

    Also, its my understanding that in Texas the County Judge is kind of like the head of the county government rather than an actual jurist.

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  5. Tony W says:

    I can’t imagine a scenario where I visit Texas ever again. And I have family there.

    They’ve always been a bit crazy, but this is beyond the pale.

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  6. Mikey says:

    Moves like this always remind me of Lord Farquaad in “Shrek:”

    “Some of you may die, but it’s a sacrifice I am willing to make.”

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  7. Kathy says:

    In some diseases, the pathogen can be defeated by the vaccine after infection. Texas will let us know whether this holds true for COVID 19 or not.

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  8. steve says:

    Having lived through this up close and personal and do a lot of reading on the topic there are some observations to make here.

    1) The deaths in the NYC metro area mostly occurred when the death rate from Covid was about twice what it was by the end of May. We had the bug surge of Covid come from Europe via the Northeast. If the death rate for Covid was the same throughout this period then those top 4 states are in the middle of the pack. The worst states list is dominated by red states. By far.

    2) The NYC/Fl nursing home comparison has gotten old. At the end of March NYC had hospitals turning cafeterias into ICUs. Florida had not had its big surge yet. The only other option was to turn away patients. Also, I hire ICU docs who train in NYC. AFAICT, at least from the upper level academic places, they were not discharging patients whom we would now consider infectious. Finally, Florida ended up 17th in the country so not exactly a strong performance AND they had the advantage of having their surge later in the year. If nursing home pts were dying at the same rate in the fall as in the spring then Florida is easily in the top 10.

    3) Nonetheless, lockdowns have worked. They did save millions of lives. But, I agree that they dont work forever, especially in the US. Up in coal country we have stores with signs saying “No masks allowed” or “Masks not required”. People miss seeing each other so gatherings start happening. For what it is worth, if I were in charge after the initial lockdowns I would have emphasized masks, distancing and not having large indoor gatherings and saved lockdowns fo when things were getting out of control.

    4) Yes, 74% comes from home contacts, but they have to get into the home to begin with.

    Steve

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  9. Jim Brown 32 says:

    People are looking that the virus gets a vote. We know now that it is indeed a winter seasonal virus. Its probable that CV-19 was simmering in China during the summer and when winter came—that’s when it surged.

    Im less convinced of holiday gatherings causing the recent surge to the degree we experienced in the United States. Obviously it was recklessness that exacerbated everything–but I Covid surged everywhere across the US–good public health policy or not.

    Abbott is probably making a bet that he can: Divert attention away from the electricity debacle while being “Maga Bold” for the faithful–and not have any adverse effect.

    Covid aint going to disappear–but it is going “chill” if last year’s pattern holds up. Its not a bet I would make–for ethical reasons–but I think he does have the odds in his favor. Particularly, with 7 full months of vaccinations before next winter.

    As I told my wife (who was researching which vaccine would prevent transmission): Right now, EVERY vaccine is shooting 100% preventing hospitalization and death. If people are vaccinated, and covid only makes you mildly ill AT WORST, at that point–it really is no different from the flu or the cold.

    What we HAVE learned is that many of our previous year flu death were entirely preventable and we were basically calloused and didn’t give a shit because 20-70K per year are nothing but numbers on a page. What I would hope is that this situation going forward would be something like how we handled seatbelts. Car manufactures had to be dragged kicking and screaming to take on the initial costs in order to save extra lives–now we take them and air bags for granted. The greatest Golfer ever is alive today because of them.

    We can engineer more safety into our public spaces to account for airborne viruses–and we should.

    *oddly before Covid, I got tired of getting the crud from air travel and had been considering wearing a mask. I had been wondering where to get them. I think I’ll be good on them going forward. Will never step on a flight again without one.

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  10. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Texas – if our de-regulation doesn’t kill you, our science denial will!!!

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  11. KM says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    What we HAVE learned is that many of our previous year flu death were entirely preventable and we were basically calloused and didn’t give a shit because 20-70K per year are nothing but numbers on a page.

    We can’t underestimate the heavy weight of cultural and historical influences here. Because the cold and flu have been so ubiquitous for humanity, we’ve just stopped noticing that we can prevent it and accept infection as “normal”. For many people, it’s just something that happens and isn’t considered an infection vector that can be traced and easily prevented. Traditionally there was very little you could do so the learned helplessness of it all has become fundamental in our conception of “harmless disease”. Countless generations of folks getting mildly sick and moving on has internalized in our collective mindset that “only the elderly or sick die from this” and “it’s no big deal for normal people”. You see it in things like the (thankfully changing) attitude towards childhood diseases like chicken pox or measles. It can theoretically kill you but it won’t so stop whining about getting sick and it’s weird to try and prevent the seemingly inevitable. A non-illness variant of this mindset is how some places and groups disdain umbrellas and believe you are meant to get wet when it rains.

    COVID denial relied on this mindset that liberals were overreacting to something natural and you’re supposed to die for getting sick if you’re frail so what’s the big deal for the rest of us? You see folks stroll around with “99.9% Survive!!” signs and wonder why they’re willing to sacrifice that extra percentage just to not be inconvenienced. They deeply, deeply, DEEPLY believe that someone dying of a disease is normal and even if it can be prevented, it’s not worth the society disruption of changing mindsets and habits. Losing lives is better than changing traditions and attitudes, either to an emerging disease, an existing one or even things like climate change.

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  12. Liberal Capitalist says:

    OK… if there was HUGE vaccine use, and nearly everyone was vaccinated, then sure.

    But not only is there not enough vaccines (yet) and there is still strong MAGA anti-vaccine mindset (even though Don & Melania have already gotten their vaccine)… I just don’t see this going well.

    As a side note: It would be very interesting to see how the non-masked CPAC attendees do.

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  13. @Doug Mataconis:

    its my understanding that in Texas the County Judge is kind of like the head of the county government rather than an actual jurist.

    Correct.

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  14. Not the IT Dept. says:

    As Steve says above, “lockdowns” don’t work in America because they require intelligent people to enforce and abide by them. (We can argue that “lockdowns” were never really tried here as opposed to other countries who see citizenship as involving responsibility and not just whatever you damn well please.)

    The company I still work for although I’m semi-retired has several professionals who regularly go to annual conventions and seminars, and we’ve already decided that actions like Abbott’s will affect our decisions to attend in future years if those events are held in Texas.

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  15. Even if he thinks that the shutdown needs to totally end, lifting the statewide mask mandate makes no sense–it is an almost zero-cost mitigation activity.

    And it is just shirking responsibility to shunt that off to the country level.

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  16. Kathy says:

    @KM:

    About childhood diseases, I’ve heard from several doctors they are terrified when an adult gets them. Children’s immune systems are different. Getting measles when you’re five is far less dangerous than getting it when you’re in your 20s.

    So, even if childhood diseases never killed any un-vaccinated children (and of course some do die), vaccination would still make sense, because you can’t count on every child getting those diseases.

    As to lockdowns, they worked wonders in some countries. Most places that implemented them well, did see serious reductions in transmission.

    It’s true that the epidemic was mishandled from the start. We should all have masked up in February 2020, not April. It’s true, also, this was the first fast moving pandemic transmitted through the air in living memory.

    the thing to do now is not to look for people to blame or punish, but to note the failures, determine how to prevent them in the future, and make better preparations for the next one. I’ll advise people not to wait for the slow majesty of government to do that, either. I intend to stockpile N95 masks as son as they become available again, plus hand sanitizer, wipes, disinfectants, etc. The good thing is they have long shelf lives.

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  17. gVOR08 says:

    While I appreciate the extensive discussion of the epidemiological benefits of shutdowns, I’m not sure I see the relevance. Abbott’s calculations probably only incidentally considered infection and mortality rates. His calculations involved:
    – Polling, one would assume shutdowns and masks are unpopular in TX.
    – Vaccination, curves will come down no matter what I do.
    – Demographics, the sick and dying are disproportionally poor and minority. And those beaners in El Paso don’t vote for me anyway.
    – Finance, old people in nursing home donate little to me, while hospitality can be milked for a lot.
    – Blame, I left the County Judges some discretion, so they can take the heat if hospitals crowd up again.
    – Credit, Biden will get the credit for normalcy unless I find a way to grandstand.
    – And finally – Freedumb!!!

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  18. Gromitt Gunn says:

    Doug is correct. In Texas, every County elects a Commission, which has four Commissioners who each represent a district and the County Judge who is the County’s CEO and also presides over the County Commission while also being as a voting member.

    Municipal judges, district judges, and justices of the peace fill different local judicial roles.

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  19. Scott says:

    In Texas, the COVID rise and fall follows a pattern. The sharp rise in the summer followed the high heat that drove everyone back indoors in the air conditioning. Same as in the late fall when it got cool and people went indoors. I think coincidentally the summer COVID season began with Memorial Day, Father’s Day, 4th July activities. The pattern was there. Fall upturn started around Thanksgiving, etc.

    The last surge pretty much scared everyone. However, Abbott is a weak governor, a real weathervane. My gut feeling is that many people are angry about this but there will be no consequences. Most will continue to be cautious until at least summer depending on the vaccination rate. Too many people know folks who had COVID, including my neighbor, a retired healthy Army Col in his 50s who just got out after spending 9 days in the hospital and is still on oxygen.

    If Abbott wanted to make a statement, he could’ve let business open to full capacity but keep the mask mandate but no…. because he is dumb and weak.

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  20. Hal_10000 says:

    The most obvious explanation isn’t so much that social distancing and the like don’t work but that people simply won’t comply with them in large numbers after awhile.

    This, I think, is the obvious variable. If you look at cell phone mobility data, you’ll see people stayed indoors even when there was a not a shutdown order and came out even when there was. Throughout this pandemic, I’ve been responding to, “X is doing way better than Y on COVID” with the caveat “so far”.

    Getting rid of the mask mandate crosses me as a bit dumb here though. Among other things, it’s a minor inconvenience. And repealing the mandate is going to cause a bunch of Karen/Kevin types to run into stores that have mask requirements and start screaming about their rights.

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  21. Not the IT Dept. says:

    If anyone doubts that this is totally political, go to Abbott’s twitter feed and look at the comments under the announcement. Rootin’ tootin’ cosplaying cowboys celebrating the end of tyranny. Or something.

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  22. Scott says:

    @Not the IT Dept.: You mean the same ones who are complaining that rural areas are not getting their fair share in vaccine distribution?

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  23. Moosebreath says:

    @Mikey:

    “Moves like this always remind me of Lord Farquaad in “Shrek:”

    “Some of you may die, but it’s a sacrifice I am willing to make.””

    And of course the people making such moves loudly proclaim themselves to be pro-life.

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  24. Andy says:

    Here in Colorado, our nursing home and elder care facilities were locked-down from the beginning – and locked down in the actual meaning of the word. There was some limited outside socially distanced visitation over the summer, but that ended in the fall.

    I’m the legal guardian for my sister, who is institutionalized in a memory care facility due a form of dementia that strikes younger people. I haven’t seen her since August. The facility she lives in has procedures and restrictions that would make a military MOPP planner proud. When the winter season started to spike, they instituted even more restrictions based on state and county guidance and only the most essential personnel were allowed in the facility.

    Despite all these efforts, Covid still got into my sister’s facility along with hundreds of dozens of others along the Colorado front range, killing hundreds and infecting thousands. My sister got Covid but fortunately, she was asymptomatic. 12 other residents weren’t so lucky and they died – 1/3 of the residents who got infected.

    I monitored what was going on at my sister’s facility very closely as well as what was happening in other facilities on the Colorado front range. I can’t think of any measure that they should have taken but didn’t take. Eldercare facilities had the most stringent prevention regimes in the entire state – much more stringent than what is nominally called “lockdowns” elsewhere, yet it wasn’t enough.

    So I’m skeptical that the “lite” lockdowns of businesses and other government mandates had huge effects, especially when “essential” businesses stayed open. All the Costcos in my area, for example, had Covid outbreaks and remained open and they were just as busy as ever despite capacity restrictions.

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  25. reid says:

    @Not the IT Dept.: I saw Abbott’s tweet announcement and thought it was such a ridiculous, “thank me, your benevolent king” way to phrase it.

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  26. Michael Cain says:

    There’s lockdown, and then there’s the actual situation on the ground in areas that are supposedly locked down. I suspect that if we could collect enough real data, we would find that all of California, Florida, and Texas had similar actual contact patterns. New York and parts of New Jersey may well have been even worse. For example, they seem to keep discovering things like “secret” funeral ceremonies attended by hundreds with no masks or social distancing.

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  27. James Joyner says:

    @SKI:

    Wait, you are basing your beliefs on what the science is telling us, and this article, on the opinion of a tv producer?

    I’m not basing anything on anyone’s opinion but on a year’s evidence of the results of public policy decisions. We’ve had wildly different approaches to this pandemic and yet no obvious correlation in results as measured by the metrics that matter: per capita cases and deaths.

    “The science” can tell us how viruses are transmitted and what habits and procedures work best to stop the spread. With a novel virus, they’re in some sense making educated guesses based on what we know about similar diseases but we should absolutely base policy decisions on the best scientific guesses available. But it’s one thing to have massive lockdowns for 2-3 weeks and another altogether to have significant restrictions for months on end, now stretching over a year. It may simply be that not enough people are going to comply well enough over that period to make much difference—in which case the known pain associated with the procedures may be a bad tradeoff.

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  28. Gustopher says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    People are looking that the virus gets a vote. We know now that it is indeed a winter seasonal virus. Its probable that CV-19 was simmering in China during the summer and when winter came—that’s when it surged.

    The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, in South Dakota, in August was a massive super spreader event that brought people together from around the northern central US to share their viruses and then take them home. It was a big driver in the spread of covid.

    It’s not a seasonal virus.

    If the virus were seasonal, dependent on cold, Brazil would be doing great. It is not.

    It does better indoors, with bad ventilation, and close proximity. Like the bars and restaurants of Sturgis, SD.

    Social distancing in the winter is harder — you can’t meet people outside as often. That’s a large chunk of the rise, with holidays being add-on events. The difficulty of safely socializing is seasonal.

    Does that make sense? You’re not wrong that winter has been worse, but it’s because socializing moved indoors. This virus is infectious enough to be a major threat in warm weather.

    (The virus may be even more infectious with cold, dry air — but it’s plenty infectious in the summer)

    And now it’s time for my 20/20 hindsight, possibly wrong opinions:

    We’re social creatures, on average. Harsh social distancing is a functional policy for a short period, but we should have moved to a safer socializing and given people better tools to manage the winter.

    There should have been a lot of education on how to open up your household’s bubble while minimizing risk — merge bubbles, but very limited and monogamously (for lack of a better word).

    People were going crazy this winter (literally suffering mental health effects from too much isolation), and many gave up completely. That was foreseeable, and it’s importance was underestimated ahead of time.

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  29. Hal_10000 says:

    @Gustopher:

    We’re social creatures, on average. Harsh social distancing is a functional policy for a short period, but we should have moved to a safer socializing and given people better tools to manage the winter.

    This, I think is critical. We approached this saying, “how can we prevent the disease from spreading” without saying, “how can people socialize in relative safety”. We had a great article on the OT blog about how universities massively failed their student by not planning relatively safe social activities (outdoor concerts, etc.) and so people socialized in their dorms and spread the disease. We had parks shutdown and so people partied in basements. I think the big lesson going forward is not “what stops the disease”. It’s “what stops the disease and is sustainable”. Because you pass all the laws and edicts you want; people still gonna people.

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  30. Sleeping Dog says:

    Lock downs in and of themselves couldn’t stop the spread of the virus. Where lock downs worked they happened in conjunction with isolating the population from potential vectors (New Zealand, Australia, Taiwan, etc.) and/or copious testing followed by forced quarantine and removal from society of infected individuals, China, Viet Nam, So. Korea.

    In the spring, much of Europe successfully flattened the curve via lock downs and other measures, but when the virus returned, the citizens did not have the resolve to return to the successful behavior of the spring and like the US the virus bloomed again.

    Since the US has never been serious about testing and quarantine is a joke, lock downs would never be more than partially effective.

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  31. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner: I think you’re playing a dangerous game of skepticism, and then drawing conclusions from the skepticism, when you aren’t knowledgeable enough to control for other factors.

    You’re using policies on the books as a proxy for compliance, for instance, assuming that compliance rates will be the same across populations.

    You are assuming the virus is the same everywhere — the LA variant is more contagious, and is largely centered in California, but spreading.

    You’re not accounting for density. State by state is a poor approach, you would want to look at county by county, matching similar density counties, but even there you have the problems of proximity to density as people don’t stay in their county.

    We know the virus is airborne. We know that it spreads in close contact and prolonged exposure in poorly ventilated areas. This is known.

    We know that masks make people safer in medium ventilated areas (if there is very poor ventilation and a lot of crowding, you’re pretty much screwed after a long enough period)

    We also know that vaccines are a few months away. Even if the measures we have can’t stop the virus from spreading, even if it just slows it, that’s good enough.

    Shorter: if common sense worked, there would be no hard problems in life.

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  32. Bill says:

    The mood was great at happy hour last night, the manager was giddy to get rid of the fn tent he’s had in front of the place since September. It was used to increase the square footage of the place (so they could fill up the inside) and rarely used, another loophole exploited.
    Some of my FB “friends” are upset, as usual, because Abbott is just Trump in a wheelchair to them-but I reminded them that they can still wear masks and they’ll be perfectly fine as masks work….right?

    Lost in the news was that Michigan and San Francisco are also weaning their captives off the lockdown and preparing to open up their regions. Let’s not forget to lay into their leaders equally!

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  33. Raoul says:

    The truth is that the United States never implemented a true national strategy to prevent infection and a virus being a virus our disease commonality LCD would probably average out across on a broad spectrum. IOW, the effects of a stricter containment regime will be affected by their more lenient neighbor. One cannot categorically state that one approach is better than another since the sample pool has been contaminated. One can look at other countries that have had a more uniform approach and draw better conclusions. In this sense, the Asian countries have done better with a more robust and proactive approach in trying to contain the virus.

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  34. James Joyner says:

    @Gustopher:

    You’re using policies on the books as a proxy for compliance, for instance, assuming that compliance rates will be the same across populations.

    I’m doing nothing of the kind. I’m assessing, post hoc, whether the policies had the desired effect.

    You are assuming the virus is the same everywhere — the LA variant is more contagious, and is largely centered in California, but spreading.

    Again, I’m not.

    You’re not accounting for density. State by state is a poor approach, you would want to look at county by county, matching similar density counties, but even there you have the problems of proximity to density as people don’t stay in their county.

    Right. As acknowledged in the OP, univariate analysis is highly problematic. But it’s a fair rough cut as a conversation starter.

    We know the virus is airborne. We know that it spreads in close contact and prolonged exposure in poorly ventilated areas. This is known.

    We know that masks make people safer in medium ventilated areas (if there is very poor ventilation and a lot of crowding, you’re pretty much screwed after a long enough period)

    Again, acknowledged in the post. That was indeed my starting position. I was vaccinated this morning and plan to continue to wear my mask in public for quite some time.

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  35. SKI says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m doing nothing of the kind. I’m assessing, post hoc, whether the policies had the desired effect.

    And our point is you, and the Reason author, are incapable of making such determinations based on the information you have and don’t have.

    It is akin to looking at the facts that (1) the United States has a hybrid health insurance system and (2) a very high rate of obesity and concluding that (1) causes (2). Theoretically it might but you don’t have nearly enough information to determine if they are casually linked, merely correlated or just coincidental.

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  36. Gustopher says:

    @Hal_10000:

    I think the big lesson going forward is not “what stops the disease”. It’s “what stops the disease and is sustainable”. Because you pass all the laws and edicts you want; people still gonna people.

    On the other hand, any nutritionist will tell you that it is far easier for some people to understand “don’t eat X” rather than “eat X only in moderation.”

    So, honestly, I have no idea what the most effective guidance would be for the most people. Clear, sustainable guidelines are hard.

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  37. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m doing nothing of the kind. I’m assessing, post hoc, whether the policies had the desired effect.

    Either I am misreading or you are being unclear above, or some combination.

    But, the same policy will be complied with by different populations differently. You’ll wear a mask when told, and Bill will go licking doorknobs or whatever. Some states have more people like you, others have more Bills.

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  38. DrDaveT says:

    @Hal_10000:

    I think the big lesson going forward is not “what stops the disease”. It’s “what stops the disease and is sustainable”. Because you pass all the laws and edicts you want; people still gonna people.

    Yeah, this has been a tough one for me from a policy point of view. I’m all about outcomes, and accounting for actual human psychology, and all that good stuff when it comes to needle exchanges, or availability of birth control to teenage girls, etc. But a big part of me wants to just yell at the people who won’t control their spreading behavior to knock it off, rather than accepting it as a fact of human behavior that policy needs to account for.

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  39. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Gustopher: The flu can spread in summer as well. I know, Ive gotten it in summer. Its a virus so it’s sensitive to the season…but if presented an opportunity it will do what it does. The temperature and humidity allows the virus the opportunity to endure longer in the air and on surfaces. This is why we had the difference between California and Florida…its cooler and drier there. Also, human have less vitamin D in their system in winter which is a key pseudo-hormone for proper immune system function.

    I spent 30 minutes talking to a neighbor outside yesterday and sweated out a t-shirt at 84 degrees.

    This articles makes a strong case that the research supports seasonality.

    https://qz.com/1961313/the-coronavirus-in-winter-may-be-worse-than-scientists-thought/

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  40. Nightcrawler says:

    @KM:

    COVID denial relied on this mindset that liberals were overreacting to something natural and you’re supposed to die for getting sick if you’re frail so what’s the big deal for the rest of us? You see folks stroll around with “99.9% Survive!!” signs and wonder why they’re willing to sacrifice that extra percentage just to not be inconvenienced. They deeply, deeply, DEEPLY believe that someone dying of a disease is normal and even if it can be prevented, it’s not worth the society disruption of changing mindsets and habits. Losing lives is better than changing traditions and attitudes, either to an emerging disease, an existing one or even things like climate change.

    As I’ve said before, it’s really good these people weren’t in charge during the polio epidemic, or we’d still be having telethons for paralyzed children. Here are the stats today’s GOP would have hammered on:

    * 95% to 99% of cases are asymptomatic
    * 99% of symptomatic patients have only mild to moderate flu-like symptoms
    * “Only” 1% of cases involve paralysis. Out of this subset of patients, “only” 1% have permanent paralysis, and “only” 5% to 10% die
    * So yeah, ~99.9% survival rate.

    Source: https://www.healthline.com/health/poliomyelitis

    This is why other countries are looking at the U.S. in horror and asking, “Don’t they care?” The answer is, no, about half this country doesn’t. They’re horrible, irredeemable people. If you told them that you’d lower their taxes if they slit their neighbors’ or even family members’ throats, they might not have the stomach to do it themselves, but they’d watch someone else do it, shrug, and go on with their day.

    I realize that splitting the U.S. into different countries isn’t anywhere near as easy as either side makes it out to be, but it needs to happen, and it’s going to happen, probably within the next decade. It’s the least bad of two really bad choices.

    I know that complete safety isn’t possible. I don’t expect that. But right now, when I’m in public, I reflect on the fact that about half the people I see would be willing to have me killed if someone offered them money or a tax break in exchange. Not just me personally, but anyone.

    I don’t want to live in a society where ~50% of the population consists of sociopaths/psychopaths. Let them have their own country where they can all kill each other.

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  41. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @KM:

    You see folks stroll around with “99.9% Survive!!” signs and wonder why they’re willing to sacrifice that extra percentage just to not be inconvenienced.

    My guess as to why is because “one death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic” works to explain disease and Stalin equally well.

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  42. Mister Bluster says:

    @Bill:…Abbott is just Trump in a wheelchair to them

    You really need to stop drinking the toilet water.

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  43. DrDaveT says:

    @Bill:

    but I reminded them that they can still wear masks and they’ll be perfectly fine as masks work….right?

    After all this time and press, have you somehow still not grasped that the primary benefit of wearing a mask is not that it prevents you from contracting the virus, but that it greatly inhibits your ability to spread it to others? Which, in turn, protects everyone (including you) by reducing the number of sick people around… ? No? Still don’t get it?

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  44. Andy says:

    @SKI:

    And our point is you, and the Reason author, are incapable of making such determinations based on the information you have and don’t have.

    I think in general, that’s true, but the argument works both ways considering those who claim that lockdowns are decidedly effective suffer from the exact same information deficit.

    And so the debate usually becomes about cherry-picking whatever supports one’s priors with those on the left being unreasonably certain about the effectiveness of lockdowns while those on the right are unreasonably certain of their lack of effectiveness.

    The actual answer is that we don’t really know how effective government lockdowns were generally or specifically. We can’t experiment with counterfactuals and we can’t control for the huge number of variables. And, just as important in my view, we have very little data to show which policies were comparatively more effective than others, especially compared with the costs and other tradeoffs of those policies.

    Like most of these debates, I find myself on the sideline wishing everyone was a lot less certain and more appreciative of the glaring unknowns and uncertainties (and the tradeoffs when it comes to policy).

    There are a few exceptions, however, where it might be possible to dig a bit deeper. I mentioned elder care facilities earlier, which had actual lockdowns (not lite or pseudo lockdowns) over an extended period. These are facilities that have a much higher level of government regulation, much greater compliance with government directives and more supervision by health authorities – especially compared to other businesses like restaurants, gyms, religious centers, offices, etc.

    We can, for example, count the number of eldercare facilities that had outbreaks and compare that number to the number of those that didn’t have outbreaks. We could then (and I would hope health authorities are doing this), figure out if there are substantial procedural or other common factors that would explain why some facilities got outbreaks while others didn’t. That could be a good opportunity to learn something more about the disease and what is actually effective in slowing it down. But if nothing else, we’d have a decent ratio for how effective the most stringent standards were.

    I’ve done some cursory research, but haven’t found much actual research on this. We have decent data on the number infected, the number of deaths, and the number of eldercare facilities that had outbreaks, but no one (that I can find) has gone further than that.

    For example, the Covid Tracking project data states that approximately 32k long-term care facilities in the US had outbreaks of Covid. A CDC report with the latest data I can find says that in 2016 there were 65,600 providers in the whole country, serving 8.3 million people. The number of providers has no doubt gone up in the last four years, but outbreaks in 32,000 facilities is still likely close to 50% of the total. Chew on the implications of that.

    Finally, I think it’s also pretty shameful how little effort is and was being made to help elder care generally in the various federal relief bills despite the longstanding clear and obvious need and the undeniable fact that Covid has hit this population harder than any other and accounts for 35% of the deaths from this disease. The latest $1.9 trillion bills passed by the House, for example, has a pittance for elder care services, many of which still do not have consistent access to PPE.

    So this all makes me quite cynical.

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  45. SKI says:

    @Andy: Absolutely. I have not claimed that lockdowns are the proven solution.

    The actual studies that will provide more illumination are coming from actual experts but they will take time to properly control for variables. And no single study will be dispositive. We just aren’t good at being patient or accepting that some issues are so complex that they aren’t solvable by pundits.

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  46. Loviatar says:

    @Nightcrawler:

    I realize that splitting the U.S. into different countries isn’t anywhere near as easy as either side makes it out to be, but it needs to happen, and it’s going to happen, probably within the next decade. It’s the least bad of two really bad choices.

    emphasis mine

    I agreed with everything you said up to this point.
    I believe we’ll have a civil war within the next generation (20 years) and depending on the number of dead and the outcome we may then split into several countries.

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  47. Stormy Dragon says:

    @KM:

    They deeply, deeply, DEEPLY believe that someone dying of a disease is normal and even if it can be prevented, it’s not worth the society disruption of changing mindsets and habits.

    Oh it’s even worse than that:

    Just-world Hypothesis – Illness

    Most people won’t explicitly say it, but a significant chunk of people implicitly believe that disease is a result of being a bad person.

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  48. Kathy says:

    @Nightcrawler:

    This is why other countries are looking at the U.S. in horror and asking, “Don’t they care?”

    Not just the US. I think it’s more of a Western thing. As I said yesterday, the Western world has mostly failed miserably at containing this thing.

    Take Mexico. If possible, we’re doing worse and either gotten lucky, or the number of cases is grossly under reported. I stopped tracking how many tests have been conducted, but these are few. they’re done mostly as a diagnostic tool once people get sick.

    Take my workplace. Until June, lots of people worked from home. Now few do. When there have been cases at the office, we don’t close the whole office down, or even the department where the contagion happened, and test everyone. No, we test some, often days later, and move on.

    Masks are mandatory, but no one enforces this. The people higher up don’t even bother using one in public spaces, even after several of them have come down with COVID. We’ve had people die of it, too. No matter.

    In public spaces like the supermarket, mask compliance is better, but people can’t seem to keep their distance. That’s why I go in early and take as little time as possible.

    America is worse than most, but it seems more a matter of degree.

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  49. Bill says:

    @DrDaveT: I get it, I just don’t buy into it. I don’t hang out with a bunch of octogenarians or fat diabetics and such. But sure, keep hiding from an airborne virus…that’s really done wonders for the country!

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  50. Kathy says:

    Do I need to post daily reminders not to feed the troll?

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  51. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Andy: None of it is effective without testing. You can’t isolate an enemy you can’t get a fix on. It appears that the only industries that went all in on virus surveillance was the sports and movie/tv industry. Everyone else was really just winging it. Granted, the recommended procedures do work if implemented but are ham fisted at best.

    This country ought to be choking on the 5 min saliva tests–you should be able to go to walgreens and get a pack of 100 of them for 2o bucks. This is the main failure of the Trump administration– 1 year into this things–and we are still blind.

    There was only one vector into nursing homes after the initial outbreaks–the workers. Had we had the ability for them to test everyday with paid leave if they tested positive–Covid wouldn’t have spread like wild fire through the facilities.

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  52. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Loviatar: I don’t– wars require young people to wage. And today’s young people simply aren’t in that frame of mind. Even the conservative ones. The polarization today is mostly amongst the middle aged and elderly. What you may see is targeted political violence–but that is not even a distant cousin of war.

    Wars occur when young people are convinced that other people have to die in order from them to realize their vision for society. Today’s young are turning out in record numbers to vote–so a pretty good indicator they have not given up on using the system to reform the system.

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  53. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Also, its my understanding that in Texas the County Judge is kind of like the head of the county government rather than an actual jurist.

    Just in case, yes.

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  54. Jax says:

    @Kathy: It helps if you play “You Suck” by Consolidated every time you see them post. Speaking personally, I get too busy laughing at what we used to listen to to bother replying. 😉

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  55. Gustopher says:

    @Andy:

    I think in general, that’s true, but the argument works both ways considering those who claim that lockdowns are decidedly effective suffer from the exact same information deficit.

    We actually have pretty good data for lockdowns — in Europe, Australia and other places where the lockdowns were a lot more stringent and strictly enforced.

    We have good data on masks, and we have good data on ventilation.

    What we don’t have is good data on half-assed measures. Is opening restaurants to 50% capacity too much? I dunno. Is 25% better, or have we already screwed the pooch at less than that?

    Nursing homes don’t even make good tests because the staff aren’t locked up away from the community.

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  56. Gustopher says:

    @Jim Brown 32: “ This articles makes a strong case that the research supports seasonality.”

    How about this: covid is pretty fucking awful and easily spread even in its offseason.

    The problem of referring to it as seasonal is that boneheads who lick doorknobs than decide that since it’s warm, it’s safe, when that is not at all true.

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  57. Loviatar says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    I don’t– wars require young people to wage.

    Yes and no.
    I agree it takes the young to fight a war, but right now in this country, there is the real potential for the young to become radicalized. Once they begin to realize that their votes don’t mean much under a gerrymandered, anti-democratic Republican minority they may turn away from voting as a remedy to reform the system. Also, as we learned in Vietnam, Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq targeted political violence isn’t really targeted., a lot of people become collateral damage and a tit-for-tat revenge fight can easily morph into a full blown conflict. It doesn’t take much.

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  58. Kathy says:

    @Jax:

    I just ignore the trolls. They contribute nothing. In the past I donwvoted them.

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  59. Tony W says:

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