That would be Louisiana Democrat John Bel Edwards, who found yet another way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory when he declared onerous restrictions on some businesses would last past this Friday as part of his response to the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic. In place since mid-July and in full needlessly extended in early August, Edwards declared these would continue because, even as in his estimation the state had shown progress in keeping down infections and the resulting hospitalizations and deaths, looming bad weather would interfere with population testing for the next several days. Plus, educational institutions have restarted on-campus classes, adding another element of congregation that could spread the virus.
If this comes off as grasping at straws to continue command and control over the political environment, it is. Edwards still clings to the notion, believing a ratcheting down of disease metrics now can compensate for his botched performance to date, that government must indemnify everybody from any risk, rather than pursue policies that only intrude upon individual autonomy insofar as to protect the vulnerable while also placing that responsibility as well in the hands of free people making their own decisions.
His overboard response also serves a more blatantly political end. By unnecessary depression of the state’s economic activities, this puts pressure on the federal government to accede to demands for more state and local government bailouts and onto skeptical state legislators to raise taxes, as part of a campaign to institutionalize supersized state government, rather than concentrate on a prudent paring of unnecessary, counterproductive, and low-priority spending.
The act has worn thin over the last few months, but his latest justifications for its continuance are at best risible. Even if some testing locations shut down, ongoing test collection disruptions that have plagued efforts from the start never guided Edwards policy before. And school districts and the University of Louisiana System opened up classrooms over a week ago, so if students reconvening is such a big deal, why didn’t Edwards factor that in at the last renewal or announce last week an extension, waiting only until now?
As it is, what progress the metrics have uncovered has less to do with continued restrictions than with the increasing acquisition of herd immunity – a point driven home by Edwards himself, unwittingly, when he discussed results from a study of virus-positive individuals; three-fifths of them had no symptoms. As of today, tests equating to 38 percent of the state’s population had uncovered over 144,000 infections.
Doing the math and carrying forward the assumption that for two persons who had symptoms that three didn’t and thus never were counted, this means in reality 350,000 have had it or 7.5 percent of the population. This is statewide; in some places like St. John the Baptist Parish it’s closer to 9 percent.
However, this actually tremendously undershoots similar studies nationally and internationally, which instead look at antibodies in blood. These show far higher undetected infection rates; perhaps the most recent rigorous computation comes from a Swedish study which calculated 44 infections per confirmed case, although the lowest point along a two-tailed 95 percent confidence interval suggests 25.
Just taking the lower amount, Louisiana has reached herd immunity, even based upon a crude unadjusted standard of 80 percent. That actually well overstates the level, because of crossover immunity from other coronaviruses. That’s also suggested by the study’s infection fatality rate of the virus at 0.58 percent, relative to the immunity level adjusted for these other factors of 17 percent.
(This rate is about twice that for seasonal flu. Consider at that rate that it’s business as usual, but then double it and suddenly government has license to upend most people’s lives, drive a significant portion of the public into unemployment or business loss, and dictate behavior in public. There’s little logic behind any of this.)
These calculations don’t mean immunity has become universal across the state; later hit parishes probably haven’t gotten there. And policy still must account for the wildly different infection fatality rates; in the Sweden study, the rate was just 0.09 percent for anybody under the age 70, but 4.29 percent for those 70 on up.
Yet it’s quite clear what’s going on, regardless that Edwards policy ignores this: herd immunity, not restrictions, largely has caused the progressively-improving metrics. (Note that the restrictions have the impact of artificially lowering the immunity level needed as well.) Nor does Edwards pay any attention to the excess deaths restrictive policies like his appear to have produced.
Instead, he recklessly plunges ahead with restrictions well past their shelf life as helpful policy tools, with political motivations still having precedence over science and data in his calculations. Louisianans needlessly suffer more as a result.