Reason beats fear in Michigan's fight against COVID-19

This column originally appeared in the Detroit News.

Fear is a powerful driver. It’s part of our biology, our brain chemistry, hardwired inside us to keep us safe. But it’s a poor way to manage a crisis.

We see fear’s effect on our local communities, and it’s devastating. 

Schools are closed while union bosses fight to lock the doors “until it’s safe to return.”  Our kids pay the price academically, socially, emotionally, physically. 

Small businesses shuttered by executive order are folding permanently, and by the tens-of-thousands. Their employees’ jobs are gone forever, families and entrepreneurs suddenly unable — by government fiat — to make ends meet. 

Meaningful elected representation in Lansing no longer exists. The governor has seized near-total control of the levers of government and refused the constitutional voice provided by local elected representatives.

Fear will keep local communities in line, Governor Gretchen Whitmer believes. Fear of fines. Fear of closures. Fear of poll numbers. Fear of headlines.  

There’s a better way forward, and it works for government leaders and news consumers alike.

Reason.

Instead of merely reading the headlines, one might be best served by asking the “next question” and, truly, genuinely relying on the science.

Headlines are everywhere about school districts locking kids out of classrooms because they fear kids might contract the virus. Ask the next question. What if they do?

The science, the CDC, the Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and study after study (after study) indicate that the risks to children’s physical health, social and emotional wellbeing — not to mention education — are far greater with them locked out of school than inside the classroom.

The science surrounding COVID-19 and children is even more evident — they rarely contract it, and when they do, they generally have mild symptoms. Childhood COVID-19 deaths are so rare, the state doesn’t even have a reporting category for them on its coronavirus tracking website.

Maybe you saw the headlines earlier this month about teens in Michigan suddenly testing positive for COVID-19 after attending unofficial proms and parties, and, be afraid, "all right before school starts."

Scary stuff. Ask the next question. “Are they sick?” Turns out, if you read the article that no, actually, all those teens testing positive after doing things teens do are either asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms.

Maybe you heard the governor’s latest warning that the state is reporting north of 90,000 cases of COVID-19. Big number. Scary stuff. Ask the next question. How many of them are sick? The state doesn’t tell us, but they admit only about 20,000 infections are “active,” meaning they tested positive or experienced even a mild symptom as far back as early July. Only 600-some of those are in the hospital, and fewer than 100 on ventilators in a state of 10 million.

A report from MIRS News in Lansing found that out of ongoing outbreak investigations last month, better than 50% of them were in nursing homes, where Whitmer continues to import other patients with COVID-19. She vetoed a bill that would have stopped the practice. So much for science and data. 

Keep in mind, so-called “outbreaks” are usually identified via contract-tracing, which is causative and not dispositive. We need contract-tracing for sure. However, without genomic testing, we’re guessing at the source of outbreaks.

Why the governor recently issued a new executive order closing bars and opening casinos is anyone’s guess. The answer certainly isn’t “reason.” It’s almost like she wants you to be afraid. 

Greg McNeilly is chairman of the Michigan Freedom Fund.

 

 

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