No Exit Strategy in War With COVID-19
By Rob Koons.
We've been through all this before. After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the U. S. launched a "War on Terror," a total war with no defined target or conclusion. In World War II, we knew exactly what we were trying to achieve: the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
In contrast, the "War on Terror" was a war to end all threats of terrorism against the United States, an impossible objective. After trillions of dollars spent, the loss of over 5,000 lives and 50,000 casualties, and at least 160,000 civilian deaths in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Middle East is no friendlier or more stable than it was.
Now, we are engaged in an all-out war against COVID-19, which will not end until we are all "safe." We can never be "safe" from deadly viruses any more than we can be "safe" from terrorism. A war without an exit strategy is a recipe for disaster.
We are told by the experts in epidemiology that we must keep the country under nearly total lockdown until the viral infection is past. Will that ever happen? We've been suffering annual bouts of influenza for over 100 years with no end in sight. A total lockdown will slow the spread of the virus to a crawl, keeping the key R-0 statistic below 1 (meaning that each group of 100 viral carriers is statistically expected to infect fewer than 100 additional victims).
However, as soon as the lockdown is relaxed to any significant degree, R-0 will surpass 1 again, resulting in another total lockdown. The R-0 for the influenza virus oscillates below and above 1 every year, and we can expect a similar perpetual oscillation of R-0 for the coronavirus. We can expect no end to the lockdown — just brief periods of limited relaxation.
But, the experts insist, we can just wait for a COVID-19 vaccine. For how long? The quickest we've ever been able to create and verify a virus was five years (for Ebola.) What will be left of our country after five years of nearly total lockdown? This can't be rushed: An unsafe vaccine given to everyone would be a catastrophe.
Secondly, there is no guarantee that we will ever be able to find a vaccine. We've been seeking a vaccine for AIDS and for hepatitis C for 40 years without success. We've never discovered a verifiably effective vaccine against a coronavirus. Vaccines for coronaviruses, like the common cold, SARS and MERS, are notoriously difficult to find, thanks to the unique, RNA-based chemistry of this virus family.
Finally, even if we do find and deploy a vaccine, it won't be 100% effective. Like the influenza virus, COVID-19 is constantly evolving. A vaccine that works pretty well one year may completely fail the following year. For instance, the flu vaccine in 2004 was only 10% effective. Therefore, we will always face the tragic dilemma that opening the economy will cost lives, at least in the short run.
We should certainly listen to experts, including experts in epidemiology. However, no group of experts deserves our uncritical confidence. It was experts in foreign policy and counter-terrorism who recommended our disastrous adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. Harvard's best and brightest initiated and directed our failed Vietnam strategy in the 1960s.
Public health experts (including Dr. Anthony Fauci) were telling us late as February that they had the COVID outbreak under control. We need to question the experts, probe their thinking for blindspots, fallacies, and suppressed assumptions. I have yet to hear a logically coherent exit strategy from Fauci, Dr. Deborah Birx, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb or any of the other public health experts, on the left or the right.
In the absence of a sensible exit strategy, we should end the systemic lockdown immediately, re-open schools and houses of worship, retail stores and restaurants, gyms and recreational facilities.
The sensible course of action is to focus our attention on the most vulnerable in our society, especially those in nursing facilities, who make up a quarter of COVID deaths. Those who test positive for the virus can be quarantined, but the healthy must be free to conduct their normal lives without interference.
In a large, continental nation like the United States, with 7,000 miles of border, the permanent extinction of the virus is impossible. We must learn to live with the COVID virus, just as we have learned to co-exist with influenza. Vaccines and improved treatment will help, but we will undoubtedly continue to lose Americans every year to this scourge until the end of time.
Failing to come to grips with this stark reality will not save lives; it will destroy our freedom and prosperity in a vain attempt to repeal the laws of nature. The proper role of political leaders is to manage popular expectations while moderating groundless fears.
Rob Koons is a professor of philosophy specializing in logic, metaphysics, philosophical theology, and political thought. He is the author and editor of six books, including "The Atlas of Reality: A Comprehensive Guide to Metaphysics" (with Tim Pickavance, Wiley-Blackwell, 2017). He has been active in conservative circles, both nationally and in Texas, including the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the National Association of Scholars, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the Philadelphia Society, and the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture. Read Rob Koon's Reports — More Here.