This column appeared today in the Chicago Tribune
By Dennis Byrne
After this headline, “Sorry, Illinois, but Florida is doing this reopening thing right,” appeared above my May 8 chattering in this space, emails began showing up. “Dear Moron,” one opened. Another closed, “here’s hoping that you and your family die.” In between, an assortment of slurs, aspersions and denunciations arrived. Some quite clever.
The volume only increased as Florida, along with other states, began experiencing more new cases. Especially Florida, where experts declared that the Miami area was now the world’s pandemic “epicenter.”
Some emails even sounded gleeful that Florida’s caseload was spiking. Never mind the humanity. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot was right, they said, when she gave it to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “fumbling” by reopening the beaches. “God help us all,” she intoned.” A Twitter hashtag, #floridamorons, piled on.
Well, there’s this:
As of Wednesday morning, cumulative deaths attributed to COVID-19 are: Illinois, 7,218; Florida, 4,409, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Florida Department of Health, respectively.
Florida’s population of 21.48 million is almost double of Illinois’ 12.67 million. Yet Illinois has suffered 2,809 more deaths than Florida. Maybe Florida has been doing something right.
Critics now will fill my inbox with more directives, explaining why new cases, hospitalizations, test results and other data are more important than deaths.
But deaths are the key statistic. It’s the ultimate failure, the tragedy that causes the most pain, for the patient, family and the heroic health care providers. It’s the loss of a life.
I didn’t start this grudge match about who got it right, or who’s to blame. I was asked to respond when Lightfoot butted in, uninvited, while her own lockdown regulations were just as questionable as DeSantis’. A case in point: the lengthy closing of the lakefront to walkers and bikers when science says the risk of transmission is lower outdoors. Follow the science? Bah. Lightfoot is as qualified to judge what other states do as President Donald Trump is to brag that he can halt the violence in Chicago.
Truth is that no one knew from the start how to deal with the novel coronavirus. Not Trump. Not his Democratic, progressive or woke critics. And clearly not the epidemiologists who seem to have gotten so much wrong. Yet, they still want us to take their warnings as biblical. When they can’t accurately count the infected or calculate the fatality rate.
I could say that Miami’s troubling increase in new cases is the result of all those Democrats from New York and Chicago who fled their own epicenters and brought the disease (and their woke politics) with them. But I can’t; I don’t know. Certainly, the hypothesis that interstate travel was as significant as the arrival of infected travelers from China and Europe deserves study. I suspect a federal grant already is in the works.
We all have been stumbling around, and too many are letting their partisanship, self-interest or ego rule. What we should be learning — among many lessons — is that “science” is fragile and fallible. Especially today’s “end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it” science. Science, as demonstrated by our struggle to understand and deal with the unique coronavirus and COVID-19, sometimes is fouled by incomplete or poorly collected data, unproven hypotheses and, simply, wild guesses. Automatically accepting “science” findings as a done deal is a fool’s game.
Even worse is the assumption that “infallible science” can’t be challenged by or balanced with other policy considerations. Most notably missing in this equation is the impact of the pandemic lockdown on jobs and the economy. A truly scientific approach would weigh the epidemiologists’ policies as compared with rigorous scholarship about their negative, even dangerous, impacts on the economy. What is the calculus, for example, on whether the psychological and learning damage from keeping children out of school is more destructive than their transmission of the virus? Sadly, asking this question will get you assigned as a Trump supporter who cares only about the stock market.
So far, Lightfoot has demonstrated a troubling grasp of how to balance health and economic needs. Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a billionaire with no firsthand acquaintance with checking accounts drying up and pink slips arriving, has demonstrated that he hasn’t an inkling about the misery that he has caused.
So, in Lightfoot’s words, “God help us.”