Instead of Policing Thanksgiving, Governments Should Get Their Own Act Together
Home-based gatherings and small-group socializing are at the root of the most recent spike in COVID-19 cases, say state leaders. Hence a new round of restrictions on when people can leave their homes, how many non-household members they can have over or meet up with, and other measures meant to once again slow the spread. Bars, restaurants, retail shops, and other places of business are also being targeted under new orders—but, these days, it’s mostly private socializing which authorities are blaming. It’s now become conventional wisdom in government, pundit spheres, and among at least some of the public that curtailing any and all socializing is a sound solution.
Hold up, says The New York Times (not exactly known to be a bastion of government-critical thinking about coronavirus containment). Where’s the evidence for all of this?
Small gatherings can of course lead to people infecting one another—just like the virus doesn’t get more deadly after dark, it doesn’t care how many people you’re with or how close you are with them. A small group here and a small group there and the virus can easily keep finding new hosts.
But that doesn’t necessarily explain the recent surge in cases in all types of areas all over the country, health experts told the Times:
In dozens of statements over the past weeks, political leaders and public health officials have said that while previous waves of infection could be linked to nursing homes, meatpacking plants or restaurants, the problem now is that unmasked people are sitting too closely in kitchens and living rooms, lighting thousands of small Covid fires that burn through their communities….
But many epidemiologists are far less certain, saying there is little evidence to suggest that household gatherings were the source of the majority of infections since the summer. Indeed, it has become much harder to pinpoint any source of any outbreak, now that the virus is so widespread and Americans may be exposed in so many ways.
To the extent that we have data, they implicate prisons, health care facilities, and nightlife spots as superspreaders:
Most states don’t collect or report detailed information about the exposure that led to a new infection. But in states where a breakdown is available, long-term care facilities, food processing plants, prisons, health care settings, and restaurants and bars are still the leading sources of spread, the data suggest.
An analysis of nearly 800 nursing homes in six states experiencing the biggest surges, including North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, found that these homes are still hot spots of viral transmission and that little has been done since the spring to reduce that risk….
In Colorado, only 81 active cases are attributed to social gatherings, compared with more than 4,000 from correctional centers and jails, 3,300 from colleges and universities, nearly 2,400 from assisted living facilities, and 450 from restaurants, bars, casinos and bowling alleys.
In Louisiana, social events account for just 1.7 percent of the 3,300 cases for which the state has clear exposure information.
So why the focus on banning social gatherings of more than 10 people, instituting curfews, or even banning all indoor and outdoor inter-household meetups (as Minnesota did this week)?
Perhaps they let authorities look like they’re taking strong and swift action while shifting responsibility away from their own failures.
Of course they want people to blame their neighbors
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