There have been accusations of First Amendment violations in orders that prohibited church gatherings due to Coronavirus. Some have claimed that those orders violated religious freedoms because they included churches. Those people were wrong, but now New York Mayor Bill De Blasio has gone a step beyond what the law allows.
In a televised address, De Blasio told New Yorkers, “A small number of religious communities, specific churches and specific synagogues, are unfortunately not paying attention to this guidance even though it’s so widespread. I want to say to all those who are preparing for the potential of religious services this weekend: If you go to your synagogue, if you go to your church and attempt to hold services after having been told so often not to, our enforcement agents will have no choice but to shut down those services.”
De Blasio then said that law enforcement had been instructed “if they see worship services going on they will go to the officials of that congregation and they will inform them that they need to stop the services and disperse. If that does not happen, they will take additional action up to the point of fines and potentially closing the building permanently.”
To be clear, quarantines and orders limiting public gatherings are both legal and constitutional. The understanding of the need for quarantines goes back beyond the understanding of germ theory. The CDC notes on its site that the word “quarantine” dates back to the Middle Ages and literally means “40 days,” which coincidentally, is about how long it’s going to take to slow the spread of COVID-19.
In the past, however, many quarantine actions were undertaken by state and local governments. In the current health crisis, we see a similar pattern as governors and city leaders take the lead on restricting movements to slow the infection. In fact, states have much broader quarantine powers than the federal government. Vox has a good explanation of quarantine law and a rundown on various state laws here.
New York Mayor Bill De Blasio is one of these local leaders. To be clear, De Blasio is within his authority and is doing the right thing to ban public gatherings. As David French and Sarah Isgur discussed on the Advisory Opinions podcast two weeks ago, if the government issues a blanket ban on public gatherings in an emergency that includes but does not single out religious gatherings, it is not a violation of the First Amendment or religious freedom.
A popular meme going around the internet says that quarantines only apply to sick people. This is also incorrect. Quarantines apply to people who might be infected. Sickness is not required.
Where De Blasio crosses the line is with his threat to permanently close churches and synagogues. Once the emergency is over, the city would have no authority to keep houses of worship open. If the City of New York tried to enforce such an unconstitutional order, it would lose.
Until the outbreak is stopped, however, De Blasio does have the authority to shut down religious services and fine those who flout the order. I hope that he does use these powers because the situation in New York is beyond the pale. Christians should have more consideration for their fellow man than to risk the deaths of thousands simply because they insist on meeting in person.
That does not mean that the faithful can’t continue to worship in small or virtual groups. Online services have become the norm around the country over the past few weeks as Chris Queen wrote two weeks ago.
When the plague has subsided, many Americans will rejoice and thank God in churches around the country. There will be more Americans alive to do so if churches and businesses don’t act stupidly in the meantime.
I'm frequently critical of President Trump and it’s usually for good reason. However, I try to be objective and give the president credit when he does the right thing. That was the case yesterday when he ordered an extension of the federal call for social distancing to April 30.
By yesterday, Mr. Trump seemed to be taking the crisis more seriously. Speaking to reporters at the daily Coronavirus press briefing, the president said he would extend the federal social distancing guidelines to the end of April. The guidelines, originally set for two weeks, were due to expire on Monday.
As he spoke to reporters, Trump seemed like a different person from the president who wanted to fill churches for Easter only a few days before.
President Trump told reporters, “The modeling estimates that the peak in death rate is likely to hit in two weeks, so I’ll say it again: the peak, the highest point of death rates, remember this, is likely to hit in two weeks.” Two weeks from yesterday would be Easter Sunday.
So far, the US has reported 2,582 Coronavirus deaths per tracking site, Worldometer.com. There were 362 new deaths reported on Sunday, March 29, which was down from 525 on Saturday. The site cautions that Sunday’s data may be incomplete due to delayed reporting from New York. Coronavirus deaths have been doubling every 2-3 days.
“Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won,” the president continued. “That would be the greatest loss of all. Therefore, the next two weeks, and during this period it’s very important that everyone strongly follow the guidelines.”
“The better you do, the faster this whole nightmare will end,” the president told the country.
The credit for Trump’s turnaround almost certainly goes to Drs. Fauci and Birx. The two medical experts are frequent fixtures are the press conferences and have won the respect and admiration of the country.
Speaking to CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday, Dr. Fauci said, “Looking at what we’re seeing now, you know, I would say between 100 and 200,000 (deaths)” from Coronavirus in the US. Fauci said that the US would have millions of COVID-19 cases.
“Whenever the models come in, they give a worst-case scenario and a best-case scenario,” Fauci explained. “Generally, the reality is somewhere in the middle. I’ve never seen a model of the diseases that I’ve dealt with where the worst case actually came out. They always overshoot.”
The worst-case scenario presented by the models would be millions of deaths. At the press conference, Dr. Birx said that models predicted “1.6 and 2.2 million fatalities if we didn’t mitigate.” Fauci called that worst-case scenario “not impossible, but very, very unlikely.”
Presenting bad news with good, the president also veered off-script to accuse New York health authorities of something “worse than hoarding.”
“I want the people in New York to check Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, that when a hospital that’s getting 10,000 masks goes to 300,000 masks during the same period, and that’s a rapid period, I would like them to check that because I hear stories like that all the time,” Trump said. “We’re delivering millions and millions of different products, and all we do is hear, ‘Can you get some more?””
Actor Lou Diamond Phillips responded to the charge on Twitter, pointing out that 1,000 nurses changing their masks between treating 30 patients per day would use 300,000 masks over 10 days. The dramatic increase in the usage of medical products is tied directly to the dramatic increase of infectious patients.
At the end of the day, however, President Trump stepped up and made a very difficult decision. Keeping the economy in hibernation for another month as we approach a presidential election was not an easy thing to do, but, when the evidence of the spreading outbreak was considered, there was really no choice at all. When given a choice between a recession or millions of dead Americans plus a recession, the president acted wisely and against the wishes of many in his base. He deserves credit for that.
The number of Coronavirus cases in the United States surged past 100,000 on Friday afternoon. The US is now the world leader in acknowledged cases of the disease after having passed China and Italy earlier in the week. Globally, there are currently 606,000 confirmed cases.
The buried lede is that the United States has added more than 100,000 cases in a single month since the CDC announced “community spread” of the disease in this country on February 26. There were 60 known cases then. As I write this, the current count is either 102,636 or 105,019 depending on which site you look at. (The official CDC count lags behind because it only reports between Monday and Friday and the numbers close out on the previous day.)
In reality, the spread of the infection is probably much worse than even the 105,000 estimate. Inan Dogan, research director of Insider Monkey, worked backward from the 205 deaths reported in the US on March 19. Assuming a 0.8 percent death rate and armed with the fact that a COVID-19 infection takes about 24 days to resolve, Dogan calculated that there must have been about 25,625 infected Americans on February 25 (205 divided by 0.8 percent). That implies a far greater spread than the 60 confirmed cases that the government acknowledged at the time.
Dogan’s mathematic model, which appeared on Yahoo News on March 20, estimates that the number of infected people doubles every three days. From the 25,000 infected on February 25, the contagion would have grown to 100,000 on February 28. He used his model to predict 800 US deaths 26 days later on March 26. Historical statistics show that the death toll was actually 1,295 on that day.
The good news is that on March 14, many state and local governments began instituting defensive measures such as social distancing, closing schools, and stay-at-home orders. Dogan notes that these tactics have slowed the spread of the disease so that it is no longer doubling every three days.
The bad news is that the disease is running its course on the 1.6 million Americans who were already infected. Using the model, Dogan predicts that the US death toll will reach 12,800 within 24 days of March 14. That day would be April 7.
In three weeks, Dogan warns, we could be seeing 1,000 deaths per day unless we take “strict measures,” similar to the lockdowns that were able to slow the spread of Coronavirus in China and Italy.
“The attacks on 9/11 killed around 3,000 people. We will be reporting a 9/11 every three days,” Dogan says. “This is a mathematical certainty.”
Whether one wants to quibble with Dogan’s assumptions or not, it seems obvious that the number of American infections has been drastically undercounted. The shortage of test kits, which is still a problem, means that only likely Coronavirus cases have been tested. That also means that hundreds of thousands of people with mild symptoms have not been tested.
On my social media timelines, I’ve noticed an increasing number of people reporting fevers and coughs in recent days. Most of these people have not tested positive for COVID-19 because they have not been tested at all. Several have posted that they were advised to self-quarantine and not seek treatment unless they had trouble breathing.
The development of a new 5-minute test kit by Abbott may help to illuminate how far through American society COVID-19 has spread, but it is too late to stop the disease from running its course through those who have already been infected. With no approved treatments and shortages of ventilators, the waves of infections and deaths are far from cresting. We are in for several bad weeks.
In the meantime, if you don’t have symptoms, protect yourself by staying home when possible, maintaining your distance from others, and washing your hands frequently. There is now evidence that the virus can survive outside the body for considerable lengths of time. Just how long varies by the material, but you should clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces such as countertops and doorknobs. In my house, we have also instituted a quarantine area for incoming groceries and other items. If we need the item quickly, we disinfect and discard the outer packaging.
In the past few days, a movement has emerged to end the shutdown and get America back to work. These people argue that the lockdown was a mistake and that, as the president has said, “We can’t have the cure be worse than the problem.”
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) became the face of the movement when he told Tucker Carlson, “My message is that let’s get back to work. Let’s get back to living. Let’s be smart about it. And those of us who are 70 plus, we’ll take care of ourselves, but don’t sacrifice the country.”
From Trump and Patrick, others took up the message. Conservative radio talk show host Jesse Kelly tweeted that he would “happily die” if he had a “choice between dying and plunging the country I love into a Great Depression.” Another Trump supporter told me on social media, “Shutting down an entire economy costs trillions of dollars per quarter. That exceeds the statistical value of life from those who will die from the virus.”
I can think of many words to describe the prospect of disregarding the advice of medical experts and leaving hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans to die. Neither of those words is “pro-life” or “conservative.”
The whole movement is reminiscent of the scene in Monty Python and The Holy Grail in which a Medieval peasant tries to bring out a corpse for pickup and disposal. “I’m not dead yet,” the old man exclaims.
The hundreds of thousands of Americans that some are willing to write off aren’t dead yet either.
Erick Erickson calculated that a conservative estimate of the death toll would be about 900,000 people. To put that into perspective, that low-end estimate is slightly more than the annual number of abortions in the US.
But wait, there’s more. The Coronavirus doesn’t just kill. Anywhere from about 20 to 30 percent of cases are severe enough to require hospitalization. While the disease mostly kills senior citizens like Dan Patrick, a large share of cases serious enough to require treatment are middle-aged or younger. In one CDC study reported by Fox News, about 20 percent of patients, including in the ICU, were between 20 and 44 years-old.
Diedre Wilkes, a 42-year-old mammogram technician from Coweta County, Georgia, was one of the younger victims of Coronavirus. Wilkes, who had no known underlying health conditions, was found dead in her home last week. NBC News reported that Wilkes posthumously tested positive for COVID-19.
Statistically, the workforce is primarily composed of people who, like Diedre Wilkes, are vulnerable to the virus. While the 20-60 age group is not the most at-risk group for death from COVID-19, these people are at risk for serious complications that may require hospitalization.
The increased need for hospitalization is a major problem of the pandemic. Hospitals in New York City, which has been especially hard hit, are reaching maximum capacity. ICUs and morgues are full, reported the New York Times, and shortages of protective gear are hampering treatment and causing increased risks to health workers. When hospitals become overwhelmed, the death rate will go up not only for Coronavirus patients but for other health conditions as well.
Thinking logically, even if President Trump, backed by his medical advisors, reopened the economy and rescinded the stay-at-home advisories, the economy would not rebound. With the virus still spreading unchecked, many state and local governments would keep their own advisories and orders in place. Businesses might choose not to reopen or return to normal because they could see the threat to their employees and customers. Businesses that did return to normal might find that that employee sick calls increase sharply within the next few weeks.
Consumers may not be ready to return to normal either. A large share of the population would not immediately return to local restaurants and bars knowing that infected people could be sitting next to them. Few would choose to take an airline trip or a cruise and be in close proximity to a large number of strangers. No one is going to want to take a summer vacation to Disney or Las Vegas or New York as things currently stand.
The reason is that Americans aren’t stupid and most of us have pretty decent BS detectors. In a media-driven society where we are bombarded with crises du jour from both sides, we have to. If we don’t panic over alarmism about non-crises such as climate change or illegal immigrant crime waves then most of us probably have the wherewithal to determine that we should at least be cautious about a deadly infectious disease with no vaccine or treatment despite what the government says.
This will be doubly true as more Americans see people that they know falling ill to COVID-19. As the old saying goes, who should we believe, the government or our lying eyes?
About a week ago, a friend from a previous move was asking on Facebook if anyone knew anybody who had Coronavirus. Since then that rural county has reported two confirmed cases. The friend hasn’t posted much lately.
The bottom line is that the economy is not going to return to normal until the pandemic is stopped. After a few weeks, almost certainly not an entire quarter, things will start to get back to normal. Businesses and schools will start to reopen when the number of cases recedes, but there will be local outbreaks and quarantines until we develop a proven treatment and a vaccine. That could be more than a year away. Until then, we are likely to see a slower economy and higher unemployment.
Even if the economy could be restarted at the president’s whim, the country is more than the economy alone. The idea that Americans could or should write off what might be as much as one percent of our total population is reprehensible. It is no more moral for Jerry Falwell, Jr., who refused to close Liberty University, and others to advocate sacrificing legions of their countrymen for the economy than it is for Millennials to refer to the virus as a “Boomer Remover” and party as normal on Spring Break before returning to infect their parents and grandparents. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
Sacrificing your fellow Americans for the economy is morally on the same level as abortion for convenience. It is little different from euthanasia or assisted suicide except for the fact that the people who will die have no say in the matter.
Being pro-life is more than being anti-abortion. Life does not end at conception. It does not end when you leave the workforce or when you enter a nursing home or are put on a ventilator.
People who are truly pro-life will be reaching out to help their neighbors during this crisis. They will accept some discomfort and inconvenience as they practice social-distancing and near-compulsive handwashing. They will even accept some financial hardships to help save lives.
What they won’t do is prematurely return to business as usual and endanger millions of their friends and neighbors.