Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Most Common Sense Way To Stop Spreading the Virus (#masks4all)

Executive Order To Slow Spread. The President of the United States should issue an executive order immediately requiring everyone to wear surgical masks or washable DIY masks made from cotton t-shirts when they go out. Along with social distancing and widespread testing, #masks4all is likely to dramatically slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Experts Changing Their Minds on Masks. In our March 25 Morning Briefing, we wrote: “Hopefully, social distancing for a few weeks and widespread testing will allow us to return to our normal lives in a few weeks. Meanwhile, we should produce billions of surgical masks to wear when we venture out of our homes. Indeed, the government should mandate that everyone wear a mask outside their homes until the crisis passes. Authorities are doing that in many places in Asia now. ….

“Yes, we know: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend that the general public wear N95 respirators or surgical masks to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. In particular, the latter don’t filter or block very small particles in the air transmitted by coughs and sneezes. However, a friend in the medical supply business tells us that they are effective in stopping the release of those particles by infected people who wear them. Surgeons wear masks to protect patients from their mouth-borne germs, not the other way around. The CDC warning seems to be about saving the masks for the hospital workers. The solution is mass production in the millions per week.”

Subsequently, medical experts have changed their minds: They now think we should wear face masks. Their advice is laid out in a new report in Science magazine. Even the CDC is coming around, according to a March 30 article in the The Washington Post titled “CDC considering recommending general public wear face coverings in public.” Here is the relevant excerpt:

“CDC guidance on masks remains under development, the federal official said. The official said the new guidance would make clear that the general public should not use medical masks — including surgical and N95 masks — that are in desperately short supply and needed by health-care workers.

“Instead, the recommendation under consideration calls for using do-it-yourself cloth coverings, according to a second official who shared that thinking on a personal Facebook account. It would be a way to help ‘flatten the curve,’ the official noted.

“Such DIY cloth masks would potentially lower the risk that the wearer, if infected, would transmit the virus to other people. Current CDC guidance is that healthy people don’t need masks or face coverings.

“At the daily White House briefing Monday, President Trump was asked if everyone should wear nonmedical fabric masks. ‘That’s certainly something we could discuss,’ Trump said, adding, ‘it could be something like that for a limited period of time.’”

Models Support Universal Masking. A doctor friend claims that if everyone wore a mask, the pandemic would end in a matter of a few weeks. This view jibes with a March 2019 study titled “Modeling the Effectiveness of Respiratory Protective Devices in Reducing Influenza Outbreak.” Here is a very relevant excerpt:

“Outbreaks of influenza represent an important health concern worldwide. In many cases, vaccines are only partially successful in reducing the infection rate, and respiratory protective devices (RPDs) are used as a complementary countermeasure. In devising a protection strategy against influenza for a given population, estimates of the level of protection afforded by different RPDs is valuable. In this article, a risk assessment model previously developed in general form was used to estimate the effectiveness of different types of protective equipment in reducing the rate of infection in an influenza outbreak. … An 80% compliance rate essentially eliminated the influenza outbreak.”

Jeremy Howard, a research scientist at the University of San Francisco, found 34 scientific papers indicating basic masks can be effective in reducing virus transmission in public—and not a single paper that shows clear evidence that they cannot. In a March 28 op-ed in The Washington Post, he wrote:

“Masks don’t have to be complex to be effective. A 2013 paper tested a variety of household materials and found that something as simple as two layers of a cotton T-shirt is highly effective at blocking virus particles of a wide range of sizes. Oxford University found evidence this month for the effectiveness of simple fabric mouth and nose covers to be so compelling they now are officially acceptable for use in a hospital in many situations. Hospitals running short of N95-rated masks are turning to homemade cloth masks themselves; if it’s good enough to use in a hospital, it’s good enough for a walk to the store.”

DIY in Czech Republic. The March 30 issue of The Guardian reports: “Czech citizens have mobilised in a national effort to make and distribute home-made masks after the government decreed face-wear mandatory for everyone in an effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic. The government, led by the prime minister, Andrej Babi┼í, has trumpeted mask-wearing as vital in controlling the spread of the virus and has urged other governments to follow suit. The Czech Republic and neighbouring Slovakia are the only two countries in Europe to impose mandatory mask-wearing...”

Taiwan’s Masks. Wearing masks to eliminate the virus pandemic seems to be working in Taiwan, which has a population of 23.8 million. Taiwan is right next to mainland China, and lots of businesspeople and tourists travel between the two countries. Indeed, hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese work and invest in China.

As of yesterday, Taiwan had just 306 cases of COVID-19 and five deaths! Consider the following points gleaned from a February 10 VOA article titled “Taiwanese Scramble for Face Masks to Stop Deadly Virus From Nearby China”:

(1) The island nation has a dense population where multiple generations live under the same roof. The Taiwanese are prone to influenza and a contagious gastrointestinal illness that has killed small children. They also recall the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic of 2003. SARS originated in China and spread to Taiwan, killing 73 on the island.

(2) The disease-wary Taiwanese tend to wear surgical masks as a precaution against airborne pathogens at higher numbers than people elsewhere. In Taipei, a city of 2.6 million, 50% of people routinely wear face masks.

(3) The island’s 80 mask producers have raised production recently to meet rising demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic, despite a rationing of sales to ensure that no one hoards the supplies.

(4) Demand for surgical face masks—to prevent cough-borne COVID-19 droplets from landing on others—has surged throughout East Asia. That’s particularly true in Malaysia and Thailand, which get high numbers of Chinese tourists. Malaysia, with a population of 32.3 million, has had 2,626 cases of COVID-19 and 37 COVID-19-related deaths. Thailand has a population of 69.7 million, 1,524 cases, and 9 deaths.

We will survive this crisis. But let’s not lose our minds, our jobs, and our businesses without considering our options and the consequences of our actions.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Stock Market Fears Virus of Socialism Almost as Much as COVID-19

I’ve been asked several times since last week’s stock market correction whether the selloff might not be just about the COVID-19 virus outbreak. Might the emergence of Bernie Sanders as the Democratic party’s frontrunner—and the possibility that it will be a “democratic socialist” running against Donald Trump in the general election—in part explain the stock market rout? The S&P 500 peaked at a record high of 3386.15 on Wednesday, February 19. It plunged 12.8% to 2954.22 on Friday, February 28. There were lots of headlines about the spreading virus that coincided with the plunge in stock prices. However, also coincidently, Bernie won the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, February 11.

Sanders took New Hampshire with the support of a majority of the voters aged 18 to 29, winning 51% of their votes. Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg trailed him with 20% of the youth vote, followed by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren at 6%. On Saturday, February 22, Sanders had another big win in the Nevada primary. Last week, Sanders had the momentum, and the market plunged.

But then on Sunday, March 1, Joe Biden handily beat Sanders and the other contenders in the South Carolina primary, with lots of support from black voters. CNN enthusiastically reported: “Former Vice President Joe Biden’s blowout South Carolina win reshaped the Democratic presidential campaign and positions him as the surging moderate alternative to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in a 48-hour sprint to Super Tuesday.”

On Monday, March 2, Joe Biden welcomed former rivals Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Beto O’Rourke into his camp in a show of force by the Democratic party’s establishment against frontrunner Bernie Sanders the night before Super Tuesday. Buttigieg and Klobuchar dropped out of the race and threw their support behind Biden, whose decisive win in South Carolina on Saturday appears to have cemented his status as the moderate alternative to Sanders’s democratic socialism.

On Monday, March 2, the S&P 500 jumped 4.6%. The DJIA soared 5.1%, the biggest such gain since March 23, 2009. The Dow’s 1,293.96-point gain was its largest one-day gain ever.

Is it possible that stock market investors may fear Bernie Sanders almost as much as they fear the coronavirus?! Yes, it’s possible. After all, the widespread view is that the virus pandemic will probably abate in coming months. Monday’s stock market rally might also have been fueled by news reports—such as Reuters’ March 1 report—that China’s efforts to halt the spread of the virus are paying off.

Socialism, on the other hand, is a virus that won’t go away even though extreme versions of it have immiserated and killed millions of people since it started to spread after infecting the French during the French Revolution. The philosophical founding father of socialism was Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He inspired Maximilien Robespierre, literally the first politician to execute socialist principles. He headed the Jacobin terrorist group that led the French Revolution during the eighteenth century. He was a big fan of the guillotine. Rousseau said lots of crazy things, but here is my personal favorite:

“There is therefore a purely civil profession of faith of which the Sovereign should fix the articles, not exactly as religious dogmas, but as social sentiments without which a man cannot be a good citizen or a faithful subject. While it can compel no one to believe them, it can banish from the State whoever does not believe them—it can banish him, not for impiety, but as an anti-social being, incapable of truly loving the laws and justice, and of sacrificing, at need, his life to his duty. If anyone, after publicly recognizing these dogmas, behaves as if he does not believe them, let him be punished by death: he has committed the worst of all crimes, that of lying before the law.”

Look it up; it’s in his seminal book The Social Contract (1762), which is appropriately posted on the Marxist Internet Archive. (Hat tip to Mark Melcher and Steve Soukup, my friends at The Political Forum. Read their excellent and provocative book, Know Thine Enemy: A History of the Left, Volume 1, 2018.)

Investors fear Bernie because he wants to cut off the head of capitalism by raising taxes significantly on the rich and using the funds to provide free everything to everybody else. He also wants to regulate everyone. On his website, he promises college for all. He will cancel all student debt and medical debt. He’ll expand Social Security. Medicare will be for all. His program includes housing for all and universal childcare and pre-K. He will embrace the Green New Deal: “Reaching 100 percent renewable energy for electricity and transportation by no later than 2030 and complete decarbonization of the economy by 2050 at latest.” In effect, he will either privatize or destroy the health care and fossil-fuel energy sectors. He will break up any company he deems to be a monopoly.

All we need to know is that Sanders is a fan of Fidel Castro. He said so in a town hall meeting on Monday, February 24:

“[W]hen Fidel Castro first came into power ... you know what he did? He initiated a major literacy program. It was a lot of folks in Cuba at that point who were illiterate. And he formed a literacy brigade ... [they] went out and they helped people learn to read and write. You know what? I think teaching people to read and write is a good thing.

“I have been extremely consistent and critical of all authoritarian regimes all over the world including Cuba, including Nicaragua, including Saudi Arabia, including China, including Russia. I happen to believe in democracy, not authoritarianism. ... China is an authoritarian country ... But can anyone deny—I mean the facts are clear—that they have taken more people out of extreme poverty than any country in history? Do I get criticized because I say that? That’s the truth. So that is the fact. End of discussion.”

Getting everything for free trumps freedom, according to Bernie. No wonder investors are reacting to him as though he is going to infect us all with the virus of socialism.

No wonder that stocks soared on Wednesday as Biden’s major victories during Super Tuesday sparked a massive rally led by the health-care sector