We can’t keep making major policy decisions based on fear and panic alone

March 20, 2020

Washington Examiner – Opinion
By Rep. Ken Buck & Rep. Andy Biggs

The coronavirus is a serious disease that we are fighting to bring under control. But we also need to combat fear. 

Americans have viscerally responded to this challenge. Our worries have been stoked by the news media, resulting in the type of panic that is gripping America.

Is fear or hard science leading our government’s response? Mayors and governors are ordering curfews, closing all “nonessential” businesses, halting political gatherings, and suspending religious services. Now, government officials are issuing guidelines against congregating in groups larger than 10 people.

While quarantining the sick is an important part of stopping this epidemic, these authoritarian limits are inhibiting our basic constitutional freedoms to worship freely and petition the government. Now more than ever, we must remember our founders wrote the Constitution to protect essential freedoms not only in good times but also to limit the arbitrary use of power by the government at all times, even during pandemics.

In fact, the Continental Congress thought exactly of this when it offered the First Amendment, to ensure that Congress shall make no law abridging our civil liberties, which includes our right to assemble in groups of any size. Emotion and worry are never good reasons to suspend our constitutional liberties.

Most local and state officials are making these major, life-altering decisions without a full picture. It’s important to remember that the coronavirus is not nearly as fatal as Ebola, SARS, or H1N1, which didn’t produce similar government overreactions that we see now.

The best example we can study is the case of the Diamond Princess cruise ship, where every individual on the ship was tested. Of the 697 people (roughly 17%) who tested positive for COVID-19, unfortunately, seven died. Our hearts go out to the victims of this disease everywhere. 

What makes the Diamond Princess situation so important is that it indicates that in a closed environment, among thousands of people, approximately 1% of those who caught the virus succumbed to it. That is a rate consistent with recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention flu reports — millions contracted the flu, hundreds of thousands hospitalized, and tens of thousands died of complications.

On the Diamond Princess, the average age of all passengers was 58, and 33% were 70 or older. Notably, all seven of the passengers who passed away were 70 years or older, and several suffered from serious medical conditions besides the virus. 

We should all make a conscious effort to avoid passing the disease on to others, especially our elderly and medically compromised population. These precautions are supported by a study that appeared in Stat News that found if these numbers were projected onto the general public, the total death rate would be just a fraction of a percent and would almost exclusively affect high-risk populations.

Italy was the perfect storm for a disease with an increased mortality rate among the sick and elderly. Its medical system was not set up to handle this kind of crisis. Italy has an aging population filled with individuals with underlying health conditions. According to a study by the country’s national health authority, 99% of those who died there from the coronavirus had previously suffered from other medical conditions.

When you take a look at the numbers instead of just the headlines flashing across the TV screen, the average American faces a much lower risk than previously assumed.

If this teaches us anything, it’s that we are making major policy decisions that look to spend hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of taxpayer dollars based on worries alone. If cable news told data-driven stories of the pandemic, do you think we’d still be rushing to crowded grocery stores, fighting each other over toilet paper? 

We need to focus our resources on the most vulnerable, which means prioritizing elderly and sick populations.

Right now, we need thoughtful leadership that reduces fear among the American people. We need to look at ways to incentivize healthy people to get back to work, and we won’t do that by simply writing $1,000 checks to every single American. 

If there’s one thing we learned from the sluggish Obama economy, it’s that incentivizing people not to work creates an economic downturn. Big bailouts also won’t cut it, the workers who need our help are at the local mom and pop shops, not Microsoft.

It’s our responsibility as members of Congress to promote calm and examine the situation strategically, using facts, not hyperbole. We can’t let fear cripple our economy and push our nation over the brink. We need to instill confidence in the American people and get our economy back up and running.


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