RALEIGH – Do you have cabin fever, yet? Perhaps you’re lucky if that is all you have, as hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of North Carolinians struggle with the inevitable and dooming consequences of the shutdown policies prescribed to treat the coronavirus pandemic panic.
The current ‘Stay at Home’ order is effective through April 29. Unfortunately, it appears the governor is being advised that the shutdown order should be extended through the end of May, lest hospitals be overrun with COVID-19 patients.
A team of experts assembled from UNC, Duke University, RTI International, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of NC and NoviSci, have created a ‘composite model‘ that they compare to a weather forecasting tool. According to the model, the panel emphasizes, if shutdown policies are lifted at the end of April, news waves of coronavirus infection will lead to hospitals being overrun by May.
The report was released Monday, and touted by Governor Roy Cooper as cause for concern, perhaps laying the groundwork following the expert advice and extending the economically disastrous shutdown policies for another month.
At the same time another set of ‘models’ were being updated from the Institute for Health Metrics & Evaluation, a standard bearer for referenced outbreak modeling during much of the current crisis. Their update actually served to give some hope nationally, and here in North Carolina, that hospitals would not be overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases.
This is the problem with models. Which models will government officials look to when making decisions that dramatically affect the lives of each one of us? Probably the ones that paint the scariest picture, as has been the case for the entire crisis, and as is consistent with public officials’ inclination to overreact in a a typical C.Y.A fashion.
All models are wrong; some models are useful. We see this time and again with data science projections that run on incomplete data and/or faulty assumptions.
Climate alarmists perennially tout models that show us all burning up, until the boiling point finally comes and goes with nary a bubble to be found; then it’s on to the new model for renewed fear. It was the models that convinced Wall Street and credit watchdogs that Mortgage Backed Securities were fail-safe investment vehicles with which to leverage the entire financial industry. We know all too well how wrong those models were.
So of the models available to Governor Cooper, which one is useful? It appears Cooper is more inclined to heed the more fearful models; the models that confirm the efficacy of shutdown policies by offering selective counterfactuals; the models that incite more draconian measures for longer; the models that impose an unprecedented burden on the livelihoods of North Carolinians; the models that seem to justify the premise that the government, on behalf of the collective, can subvert your individuals rights and property at will.
The actions many of us have taken — social distancing, staying home and washing our hands frequently — are saving lives. We will beat this as long as we keep doing our part to flatten the curve.https://t.co/dzqhduOgOS
— Governor Roy Cooper (@NC_Governor) April 6, 2020
Meanwhile, North Carolina has the second worst spike in unemployment claims while at the same time enjoying one of the lowest case proportion and death rates in the country.
Still, the panel’s projection indicates a roughly one-out-of-four chance that hospitals run out of beds in May WITH CURRENT SHUTDOWN ORDERS IN PLACE. If those social distancing measures are lifted in late April, the model spikes to at least a 50 percent chance hospitals are overwhelmed by early May. What the report does not make clear is whether that means the state will be short by one bed or 1,000 beds. That would be an important data point for policymakers, no?
While model projections are, by definition, not certain, the economic realities currently plaguing North Carolina and the country are. And we know the cure those debilitating ailments.
To their credit, the expert panel with the scary model is aware enough to mention these realities in their report, if only in passing, and encourage their incorporation into public policy. They also reference the inherent limitations in modeling.
“Modeling is really just best estimates. And, the more detailed the data is that goes into the models, the better the estimates will be. Ours are informed by very granular information about North Carolina: the North Carolina population, the North Carolina healthcare system,” said Dr. Pia MacDonald, senior director and senior epidemiologist at RTI International, who contributed to the report. “The estimates are only as good as the people who are moving the levers and the data going into the models. That’s very important.”
Very, very important. And even with data purported to be more applicable to North Carolina, it is still victim to the tunnel vision of public health experts that err on the side of worst-case scenarios and solutions that require collective coercion.
A spokesman for Cooper confirms that he is inclined to extend to heavy hand for longer.
“Modeling is one of many tools the state is using to make informed decisions to keep people from getting sick and to save lives. Right now people need to stay home and keep their social distance. Of course, we all want more of normal life and we will continue to consult health experts, consider public safety and evaluate how and when that can happen.”
‘Of course you want the state to respect your liberty to lead a productive life and provide for your families, because the current policies are ruining your life, but we know best, we have models, after all, and we’ll let you know how and when you can be free again. K, thanks.’
Be prepared for an extended ‘staty-at-home’ edict from Governor Cooper.