Truth in advertising: The more I look into CCP Virus economic restrictions and regulations on mask-wearing, the more skeptical about their anti-virus power I become. That’s not to say that I believe they have no mitigating effect at all, or even that they have only marginal impacts in absolute terms.
But when it comes to the lockdowns and shutdowns, the evidence keeps telling me that the differences in virus-related outcomes so far between states and countries that have imposed the most and the fewest contain too many inconsistencies (especially during the current second virus wave) to dismiss. And of course the case for them becomes even weaker upon considering the kinds of economic and public health costs they’ve inevitably exacted, and which I’ve been writing about since March.
In terms of mask-wearing, as I’ve explained before, my objections center not on those non-virus costs (because there seem to be none) but on what I’ve called the fetishization of this practice, and the illusions it seems to be breeding.
I’ve been hesitant to weigh in more fully on the debate over lockdowns per se because apples-to-apples comparisons are so difficult to find. Too many entries concentrate tightly on differing restrictions regimes and too few take into account crucial variables like population density and weather and median age of inhabitants After all, all else equal, localities where people are tightly packed together are obviously going to face greater spread challenges in particular than those in which they’re few and far between. Ditto, especially when it comes to the current second wave, for localities where winter begins earlier and settles in more persistently. And it’s by now well-established that the elderly are by far the most vulnerable segment of any population.
Within these United States, however, I think I’ve found two states that have taken radically different anti-virus strategies, and that are pretty similar demographically. And their experiences make a pretty convincing case for the anti-lockdown (and mask) side.
The two states are New Mexico and South Dakota – both largely rural and therefore both thinly populated. Only 17 inhabitants are found per square mile in the former and just ten in the latter. And those in percentage terms, the gap is wide, clearly both are dominated by wide open spaces. (The national average is 87.4 – all these figures come from the 2010 Census.) The median ages of their people as of 2019 is similar, too – 38.6 years for New Mexico and 37.7 years for South Dakota. (The national average was 37.7 that year.)
An initial examination indicates that New Mexico and its Democratic Governor has performed considerably better against the CCP Virus than South Dakota and its Republican Governor – who’s sometimes villified for all but fostering a death cult.
Since the pandemic’s arrival in the United States in sometime near the beginning of this year (or was it late last year?), New Mexico’s cases per million have been just over half those of South Dakota (98,386 as of today, versus 52,435, according to the reliable Worldometers.info website). And its death rate per million has been much lower, too – 837 per million versus 1,256, according to the same source.
But the biggest difference of all? New Mexico has been one of the states that has locked down and restricted most extensively, according to the New York Times‘ compilation of this information. It’s latest batch of restrictions started last month, when Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered non-essential businesses to close, and put into effect a two-week stay-at-home order. There’s been some relaxation since then, but The Times reports that all but one of its counties remains in the most restrictive lockdown phase. Moreover, mask-wearing is mandatory.
In South Dakota, meanwhile, Governor Kristi Noem has never ordered a lockdown or mask mandate.
And given this striking contrast, the differences between the two states’ anti-CCP Virus approaches don’t look nearly so great.
Moreover, they look even less impressive during this second wave period. Even though the pandemic’s human toll in New Mexico has been lower than in South Dakota overall, recently the trends have tracked surprisingly closely.
South Dakota’s current case surge began October 6, when the seven-day average of daily recorded new infections was 409. This figure peaked November 14 (having risen by 256.48 percent during those five weeks), and since then has fallen by 40 percent, to 875 as of yesterday. (These figures come from the Washington Post ‘s excellent searchable database.)
New Mexico’s current case surge began three weeks later (November 1), at a seven-day daily average of 767 new infections. It peaked just three weeks later, on November 23, at 2,671 – and its rate of increase was only slightly slower than South Dakota’s. Since then, through yesterday, it’s down a little faster than South Dakota’s (43.69 percent).
Also undercutting the “death cult” charges: South Dakota’s weather began turning colder about two weeks before New Mexico’s, and has stayed colder since. The patterns for both states have been pretty choppy, but you can see the details at this database. (I looked up the info for Pierre, South Dakota, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, specifically.)
Over the next two weeks, the U.S. government will be releasing data that will provide a much clearer, up to date picture of the CCP Virus’ state-level economic toll (through November for employment, through the third quarter for growth) – and an indirect indication of its non-virus health (especially mental health and substance abuse-related) and social costs (e.g., domestic violence, children’s educational achievement). These figures will permit pronouncing a much more comprehensive, convincing judgment as to whether policy cures implemented for the virus have been better or worse than the disease.