Enough is enough, it’s time to open up

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Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

Lockdowns are closing in on a full year soon and based on messaging from most governors, restrictions are not nearing an end. Schools are still closed in over half the country, and in the other half, we have many students learning remote. It’s disastrous; kids are falling behind and failing at an alarming rate. Small businesses are still crushed, and many governors are waving capacity restrictions on them like a magic wand any time “cases” rise over an arbitrary percentage. 

Over the past sixty days, the United States has averaged over two thousand COVID-19 deaths per day. But have we? The United States loses nearly 8,000 people every day each year to all causes. For that same past sixty days, we are exceeding that average by 800-1,000 per day, which means over half the COVID-19 deaths reported would be happening anyway. Many of those people are dying with the SARS-CoV-2 virus but not from it, or from it but would be losing their life soon anyway. There’s no doubt COVID-19 is real, but is it or was it ever significant enough to lock down hundreds of millions of Americans since last March?

South Dakota was condemned for nearly a year for not locking down. They did finally get their wave, and November was a difficult month for South Dakotans. In December South Dakota crept into the top six in COVID-19 deaths per million. By year-end deaths dropped down to almost nothing, and they will be falling out of the top ten and behind perennial locked down states like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, likely even Michigan, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. If lockdowns work, why aren’t all these states blowing away South Dakota and Florida in COVID-19 activity? Why are tightly restricted states not doing any better (and in most cases worse) than less restricted states in excess deaths throughout the pandemic?

Two mRNA vaccines are available and that should be the beginning of the end of the lockdowns. Johnson and Johnson is planning to release a more conventional and effective viral vector vaccine that appears a better candidate than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines available now. The vaccines should be administered nearly real-time to states receiving them. Those same states enforcing strict lockdowns, including Michigan, California, Illinois, New York, Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, are all doing a dismal job of distributing the vaccines they have received. 

What we’re seeing is states are very effective at issuing sweeping lockdowns at the wave of a wand to try to shut down COVID-19 impacts. What they are ineffective at is working to end the lockdowns. Not one of the states issuing harsh lockdowns has come close to administering even half their vaccines into at-risk people. Not one. Who has? Highly criticized South Dakota, the most consistently open state through the COVID-19 period. South Dakota leads the nation in vaccine administration, having delivered a U.S.-high of 65% of their vaccines to their residents.

States have been caught flat-footed. CARES Act funds allocated but not yet spent on things like gifting universities that suffered no hardships from the lockdowns should have been allocated to gearing up for vaccine distribution. States had months to plan for this, and when the vaccine baton was handed to them, they have walked rather than run to the finish line.

As the vaccines are rolling out, many in the healthcare industry are refusing to take them. Healthcare workers in long-term care facilities and hospitals in California, Texas, Ohio and Georgia and many other states have been reported to passing on the vaccine opportunity. Even payment incentives of up to $1,000 and even free breakfast at the Waffle House is not proving to move the needle.

Now what? Hospitals are not overwhelmed, save for the few in each community when COVID-19 hits, and then for only three to four weeks. Nationwide, 71% of all hospital beds are occupied and 63% of ICUs, numbers barely enough to keep hospitals open. Hospitalizations are so low overall that many newly minted ER doctors can’t get jobs.

COVID-19 poses no measurable risk to those healthy and under 65, and most who are older than that do not have specific underlying conditions. If healthcare workers, teachers, even at-risk Americans won’t take the vaccine, that is their freedom of choice. It is highly unlikely the Emergency Use Authorization will be employed to require people to get vaccinated. Governors and county/city leaders must yield to the choice of their residents. Kids are very close to now losing a year and a half of education, while at virtually no risk to COVID-19, and less than they are the flu. Hundreds of thousands of businesses are on life support. It’s time for state leaders to act on the will of the people and open up.


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Michael Betrus
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