Lockdown Logic

It’s Sunday, May 9, 2021 just after 10am and I am in my office chipping away at things I didn’t get to the last few weeks.  I don’t usually golf on Sundays since I almost always golf on Saturdays.  I usually need a day or two off in between rounds to help me forget the mediocrity of my play so that I can show up to the next round genuinely thinking ‘today might be my day’.  Unfortunately in Doug Ford’s Ontario there is no golf on any day right now and my dog Henry is exhausted from all the walking so I have to choose between another few hours staring at my tiny phone screen or actually sitting down and trying to be productive (notwithstanding my pledge to stop working weekends this year).

For those of you that live outside of Ontario you may have missed the story that my province has outlawed outdoor activities like golf, tennis, and pickleball.  All the things us older folks do to stay in shape because it is not safe for us to go rock climbing or play competitive basketball (looking at you Tal).  The government tried to make it illegal for parents to take small children to the playground and that decision was met with immediate outrage and a reversal before Premier Dougbob Squarepants had his show cancelled.  Unfortunately, there has been no reversal on other outdoor activities that many consider perfectly safe.  My only guess is that Mr. Ford has discovered that any decision he makes will be criticized so he is just going to stop making decisions.

Follow the Science

It was grade 10 biology when it became perfectly clear to me (while dissecting a frog) that I would have no future in any science that involved living organisms.  This clarity also reinforced to me the comfort and safety of math – so much structure and logic.  Notwithstanding my limited knowledge of science, I understand the ‘scientific method’ and hold the scientists that solve hard questions in high regard.  So, I was comforted when politicians said that their decisions during this pandemic would be guided by science and not politics. 

In March of 2020 I was on board with a ‘two-week shutdown’ in order to arrest the spread of COVID-19 and to give hospitals time to build up supplies and beds to ready themselves for what was ahead.  In my April 2020 commentary I was already starting to wonder if locking down had gone too far and if we were making too big an economic and mental health sacrifice to fight a virus that was going to be unstoppable until we found a vaccine or achieved herd immunity, both of which would be expected to take more than a year at the pace we were going.  Although I did get to golf last summer (keeping me sane), my limited freedom came to a screeching halt in December.  In my commentary this January I was much more impatient with continuing lockdowns and only saw the negative impact that the effort was producing.

The sad truth that we have learned in the last year is that science doesn’t have clear answers on what we should be doing, and the decisions of the government are all political.  Liberals lean towards paying people not to work and tout the idea that Universal Basic Income is the solution to all our woes while Conservatives try to keep the economy running choosing winners and losers in the business world and in deciding who is an essential worker doomed to go into work and risk getting ill.  In the meantime, there are all sorts of casualties including the small business owner that would easily be able to limit customers and perform 100% contact tracing as well as our youth that have had their education mangled and their non-essential part-time employment snatched away.

Those that are good at math and those that are not all have intuitively concluded the lockdowns don’t make sense for our youth.  That divides us into two camps – those like me who know it doesn’t make sense but force my kids into lockdown because it’s the rule – and those that know it doesn’t make sense and don’t adhere to the lockdown rules for their kids and maybe even themselves.  I am not sure if the politicians realized that their rules are only going to work if it has the support of the people and I was shocked to see a month ago that they thought the right idea was to move towards a police state to ‘enforce’ the rules rather than reaching an agreement with citizens on what rules will be accepted.

Who We Save and Who We Sacrifice

I came across a study recently about the costs and benefits of the lockdowns.  To save you some time, here is the news:

“We find that the benefits of protection are disproportionately higher for older people. Consider two extremes: the 18-year-old and the 85-year-old. If the 18-year-old dies, he loses 61.2 years of expected life. That’s a lot. But the probability of the 18-year-old dying, if infected, is tiny, about 0.004%. So the expected years of life lost are only 0.004% times 35% times 61.2 years, which is 0.0009 year. That’s only 7.5 hours. Everything this younger person has been through over the past year was to prevent, on average, the loss of 7.5 hours of his life.”

Now you might argue that if we don’t lock down our youth then they might bring COVID home to the more vulnerable.  Yes, but shouldn’t that be a risk that each family chooses for themselves?  I haven’t seen my mom in 14 months.  This is a conscious choice to not be the one to bring illness to her or any of the other few hundred residents in her home.  If I had to take a risk of getting COVID in order to lessen the burden for my kids I would (and I have for the one child working in food service).

Now you might argue that if we don’t lock down our kids and then people my age get sick and need care at the hospital, then we might overrun the hospital which isn’t fair to our healthcare workers.   Let me start by saying that, like our scientists, I also hold our medical workers in high regard and I am sure this past year has been the most difficult any of them have experienced in their lifetimes (unless they left the system for safety or to protect their own loved ones).  Unfortunately, after a year of COVID-19 and no reasonable argument that we could afford to wait for a vaccine, we have failed to develop capacity and protocols to reduce our vulnerability to this menace that is circulating around us.  As a society we have made choices over the last 50 years that lead us to today and we cannot pivot to smaller retirement homes, more nurses, and most importantly more ICU beds – but at the same time no one wants to accept the unfortunate consequences that come from priorities we chose.

It is morbid to think about choosing who we save and who we sacrifice but not talking about it, pretending that we can save everyone, and then lamenting each death lacks wisdom.  For all of us, one day our time will be up, and we can’t look to the government to prevent that from happening.  Should the government outlaw obesity or smoking which are clear co-morbidities for those contracting COVID-19?  What will we do when the next virus arrives? What do we owe each other in society and how to we choose between personal freedoms and the collective good?

These are hard questions and take time for discussion – I can’t help but think that we have been caught flat footed without any real idea of what is important to all of us and maybe the answer is so different for many of us that we were only living an illusion that we were all part of the same society.

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