Editor’s note: This commentary is by Aimee Stephenson, of Burlington. She has a doctorate in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics from the University of Vermont.
As Vermont begins to re-open, I am hopeful to see more of my friends beginning to relax. Fear is a funny thing. Similar to our perceptions of risk and safety, fear is deeply personal. Getting over fear and moving toward a feeling of safety again is something each individual must reconcile within. But what will help us along the path to getting over our fears? For me, there are three things I find helpful. The first is learning more and gathering additional information to rationally and logically assess a situation. The second is knowing I am not alone in the conclusions I draw. The third is doing something with these ideas, which usually entails communicating with others. That is what I am attempting here.
Although it was only a few months ago, it seems like a different world when our political leaders justified their executive orders with phrases like “flatten the curve” and “abundance of caution?” Armed with only erroneous models and absolutely no real data, they declared a state of emergency to grant themselves enormous power with incredible latitude to exercise it. They claimed a “data-based approach,” but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Even now, with their models disproven, there is little attention given to the data we actually have from the pandemic. If our political leaders are earnestly taking a “data-based approach,” then why is it OK to ignore this data, and in doing so subject us to irrational and absurd precautionary measures that continue to strangle the economy and demoralize society?
So what is the real data from the pandemic telling us? As tragic as the situations were in New York and Italy, we now know that 70%–80% of COVID-19 deaths occur among those over 70. This same data also confirms that the risk of death for the population under 50 years of age is close to zero. Yes, I am very aware there are some heart-wrenching stories about younger individuals succumbing to COVID-19, but these cases are extremely rare.
The stark reality is that across the board, regardless of age, 93% of all COVID-19 deaths have been in individuals with an average of 2.5 pre-existing medical conditions. This is an incredibly telling statistic. Even with the older population, deaths are predominantly among those who are quite sick already, or at the very least, those who cannot be deemed healthy. If you are under 50 without health issues, you do not need to worry about the coronavirus any more than you worry about getting in in your car every day.
Yet the media and our political leaders would have you believe the opposite — not only is infection both imminent and probable, but if infected, death is almost a certainty. We have the data now to know this is an extremely unlikely scenario for the 71% of Vermonters who are 50 or under. While it is not clear how many Vermonters have pre-existing medical conditions, it is probably safe to assume many are healthy and would be unlikely to die from COVID-19.
There is a whole other side of data from the pandemic that relates, not to COVID-19, but to the economy and society. The unemployment rate has skyrocketed higher than it has been in nearly 100 years, millions of Americans are struggling financially, businesses of all kinds are at risk of closing, and our personal freedoms have been taken away and are severely threatened moving forward. We are at the mercy of a very small number of people hoarding enormous power, and as a result of their policies, suicide and child molestation rates are on the rise. And unlike COVID-19, the economic and societal fallout from the pandemic is both universal and pervasive. No one, not even the very rich, have been able to escape these impacts.
What’s even more horrifying is how little some around me seem to care about what we have lost and the real damages we have suffered as a result of the incredibly disproportionate and inappropriate reaction to the pandemic. I’m astounded by the complacency, and even more so, the willing submission in the hopes that the government will protect us from the coronavirus. Our government can no more protect us from an airborne illness than they could protect us from Hurricane Irene. Vermonters need to realize it is not the virus we need protection from but our own government. The evidence and despair are all around us on a daily basis, and no mask or 6-foot rule will save us from these policies.
Perhaps my situation is incredibly rare, but I don’t know a single individual who has had COVID, much less died from it. But I can say that 100% of my friends, co-workers and acquaintances have been impacted, some staggeringly so, by the economic fallout of the government edicts we are living under. Pointing to the incredible inequality in this country made starkly worse by the pandemic, Margaret Atwood recently warned that a “French Revolution” scenario is inevitable if the American political system does not change. Well I, for one, feel the proverbial heads should roll. Are there other rational and logical Vermonters who feel the same? We need to stand together and make our voices heard by the very few who are currently micromanaging our lives with what seems like an endless stream of dictatorial executive orders and addendums.
Your voice is urgently needed now so we don’t go any further down the “abundance of caution” rabbit hole. The re-opening restrictions are so severe, it’ll be a wonder if businesses of all kinds survive this unnecessary prolonging of the crisis. I am also appalled by the changes being discussed for schools in the fall, all in the name of “accommodating COVID-19 safety precautions.” School in shifts or entirely online, insisting kids wear masks, keeping desks 6 feet apart? These are completely absurd, irrational and pointless guidelines. And lest us not forget, before it is too late, that these are currently “guidelines,” not outright laws. I fear legislation is right around the corner. Now is the time to speak up.
While I am hopeful my friends are relaxing, I am even more hopeful to see many of them shift toward anger and indignation over the current situation. More and more they are realizing there is little to fear about COVID-19, but there is a lot to be angry about. Our political leaders have perversely taken advantage of the power provided through “state of emergency” statutes. If anything productive comes out of this crisis, let’s hope it is a reform of these laws. Governors in other states are being sued over their stay-at-home orders, and many are losing — look at Wisconsin. Whether our political leaders honestly believe they are protecting Vermonters, or their egos are too big to admit their mistakes, they have painted themselves into a corner and this whole situation is an atrocity. The media and the political class are the ones we truly need to fear and the ones we need to protect ourselves from.