The “public health” response to COVID has been awful. Ever since cases first appeared in Wuhan, the reaction has been marked by mistakes, reversals, outright lying and even political manipulation. We need a thorough accounting.
Mistakes are forgivable. In the early days, everything we knew came from the Chinese government, and while we now know that Beijing lies about everything, we knew less then. In fact, it not only lied about the disease’s origins, its nature and its spread, it kept the Wuhan airport open for weeks, allowing (deliberately?) the disease to take hold all over the planet before anyone else knew it was coming.
And in a fast-moving situation with imperfect information, mistakes are inevitable and hence forgivable. Nobody’s perfect.
Likewise, reversals aren’t necessarily bad. You make a decision based on what you know. Later you know more, and you change. That’s not just forgivable, it’s laudable: You’re supposed to change your mind when you realize that you were wrong. (Of course, it’s better if you explain why you made the change and if you don’t pretend that your first, incorrect, decisions were based on unshakable and incontrovertible science only to pretend that your new approach is, too.)
But lies and political manipulation are different. Those are a betrayal of trust, and they’re especially serious because trust is the public-health community’s greatest asset. The record here has been terrible, and we need investigation and accountability.
Early on, public-health officials minimized COVID’s dangers, with Anthony Fauci telling people that it was safe to go on cruises. Maybe that was just a mistake. But then Fauci told people not to wear masks because they didn’t help, changing his position within a couple of weeks to become stringently pro-mask. The earlier statement, it turned out, wasn’t based on his scientific opinion but on a desire to reserve masks for health-care workers — a worthy goal, but that doesn’t justify the lying.
Public-health officials then pushed lockdowns to the max, telling everyone to stay in their homes and not to gather in even small groups, but after George Floyd’s death they suddenly announced an exception: It was fine to gather in huge groups if you were protesting on behalf of Black Lives Matter.
Racism, they told us, was a “public health” problem, too. That’s doubtful in itself — racism is a behavior, not a disease — but if the threat of COVID was serious enough to shut down the economy and the schools, then that wasn’t the best time to be gathering in groups. After all, sexually transmitted diseases are a public-health problem, but they weren’t issuing quarantine exceptions for people to protest those.
As lefty journalist Glenn Greenwald recently observed, “This was a pivotal moment in the pandemic’s history: For four months, the message was clear and unrelenting: everyone must stay home. Those who leave — even to go to a deserted beach — are reckless sociopaths. It flipped overnight to endorse a mass protest movement liberals liked.”
This is what I mean by lies and political manipulation. People noticed, and the public-health establishment’s credibility — already damaged by the mask reversal — collapsed.
But it gets worse. Despite a blanket denial from Anthony Fauci, it turns out that “gain-of-function” research at the Wuhan lab that seems to have produced the fatal coronavirus was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, headed by one Anthony Fauci.
And as economist Garett Jones recently pointed out, a group of “public health” scientists encouraged Pfizer to delay the release of its COVID vaccine until after the election — which it did. As even Democratic pollster/pundit Nate Silver commented, “I doubt the same letter would have been sent had 2020 not been an election year or had a Democrat been in office.” Yeah, so do I.
Economist Tyler Cowen reflected, “No, this was not a conspiracy in the strictest, most intentional sense (it didn’t need to be!), but it did kill thousands of people and manipulate our politics.”
He’s right. If vaccines save lives, then delaying the release of a vaccine by months cost lives. To “manipulate our politics.”
It’s time for a rigorous investigation — perhaps a Truth and Reconciliation Commission with subpoena power — to get to the bottom of how our public-health authorities have mismanaged this pandemic. There’s certainly no chance that the existing establishment will do so.
Glenn Harlan Reynolds is a professor of law at the University of Tennessee and founder of the InstaPundit.com blog.