Bridging the COVID Divide*

Sufficient data currently exists to support a bipartisan national COVID policy. Fractured America now has a path forward to address COVID’s harsh realities.” – The Lonely Realist

Mistake followed by mistake characterizes how Federal, State and local governments have dealt with the COVID pandemic. Politicians admittedly were facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis involving a host of fears and uncertainties that carried with them the potential for truly disastrous consequences. Mistakes arose because government officials tried to do the right thing using inadequate data … or had less admirable motivations that also relied on inadequate data. Their flawed efforts were not malevolent, merely misguided, and in the majority of cases based on the best of intentions. As with other actions based on the best of intentions, government officials led Americans down a road to Hell that, to the country’s detriment, was not successful in impeding COVID and furthered dysfunction and polarization (for example, a recent survey shows that 82% of Democrats view COVID as a major health threat while only 41% of Republicans share that view). Holding government officials responsible, however, isn’t a solution. It merely compounds the problem. Although it’s understandable that in fractured America, where each side believes the other to be the Devil incarnate, politicians’ actions often are regarded as selfish, dictatorial or worse. With both sides believing in the malevolence of the other, it has been impossible for the country to discuss, let alone adopt, a cohesive plan to address the pandemic. It’s now been almost two years and the time has come for agreement on a consensus policy, one that benefits America as a whole and accommodates a variety of views. Ongoing health and economic divisions caused by COVID are corrosive and, should they be allowed to continue, will compound. COVID is endemic …, and it is a certainty that there will be new disease outbreaks in America’s future. Further, accumulated data makes it clear that political gridlock no longer is necessary. Even though there remain unanswered questions about COVID, there now are sufficient facts to forge a path forward that both sides ought to find acceptable.

This is what we now know: 

  • Although COVID can be spread by contact, it is primarily airborne.
  • Being transmissible by personal proximity means that masks can be a highly-effective deterrent. N95 masks are protective and should be made readily available to all Americans. Cloth masks provide little or no protection and this point needs to be made as clearly and as often as possible.
  • Herd immunity, at least at this time, is unattainable because natural and vaccine immunity from COVID is not long-lasting.
  • COVID infections can be severe. In addition, long-COVID adds significantly to COVID’s health risks. Both are costly for America. It therefore is appropriate for governments to take steps to provide protection for the vulnerable, especially for those in high-risk categories.
  • COVID’s current Omicron variant is not dangerous enough to justify lockdowns. Moreover, the human and economic costs of doing so are disproportionately high. This was not true during the initial waves of COVID when draconian measures were justified.
  • A broad, easily-accessible government-funded testing policy is necessary to control the spread of COVID. Antigen tests are effective, mass-producible and can be self-administered. At this time, they provide the best step forward and government resources should be enlisted to make this happen as quickly and universally as possible.

The template for a commonsense national COVID policy follows from these facts. Specifically: 

  • The Federal government should emphasize to Americans the benefits of not spreading disease. Although this seems simple and a self-evident scientific truth, the point has been lost in the politicization process. It needs to be repeated and emphasized.
    • The Federal government should engage in an ongoing public relations campaign that encourages Americans to be appropriately masked in social situations and, as a necessary corollary, the Federal government should subsidize the manufacture and sale of N95 masks.
    • The Federal government should engage publicly-prominent health professionals to scientifically support mask-wearing, as well as vaccinations and self-testing, as part of a national education effort designed to limit the spread of all diseases.
    • The Federal government should provide free or subsidized vaccinations across the range of serious diseases that could materially impact America’s national interests, and not only COVID, pursuant to a healthcare policy that seeks to limit adverse health, economic and social effects.
    • The Federal government should promote the manufacture and subsidize the distribution of rapid COVID tests free-of-charge.
  • Local governments should require patrons who enter stadiums, theaters, nightclubs, and similar venues to certify that they have received a negative COVID test result within the prior 24 hours. Such certifications would be provided on a no-name basis and no individual consequently would be subjected to an intrusive checking mechanism. State and local governments could, of course, impose additional requirements, including mandating the use of vaccine passports as several countries and a few State and local governments have done.
  • During COVID surges, local governments should urge employers to permit employees to work from home if at all possible.

Additional constructive recommendations were made in several opinion articles published this past Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (here, here, herehere and here).


Although no country has yet adopted these measures, analogies to Sweden’s policies and experiences strongly suggest that an appropriate mix of government-funded safety measures, peer pressure, and laissez-faire policies would provide an acceptable, minimally-divisive and unintrusive outcome.


Even so, such steps incorporate compromises that could – and would – be faulted, likely by both sides, although a substantial majority of Americans would welcome them. Leftists would conclude that America’s governments are not doing enough to protect constituents while rightists would view these steps as an excessive expansion of big government. Since there would be no government mandate requiring an individual to take any affirmative action – only recommendations that everyone “do the right thing” –, these policies would provide a workable template for minimizing COVID consequences.
They would encourage trust and, hopefully, create societal peer pressure to indeed “do the right thing.” The national adoption of such a program would not end the pandemic. Nor would it heal divisions or end political infighting. Moreover, there would continue to be deaths, long-term health problems and economic damage. During surges, cases and deaths undoubtedly would increase. However, given Omicron’s more muted health effects and the fact that a substantial majority of Americans either have had COVID or been vaccinated against it and therefore have some level of immunity, hospitalizations and deaths ought to decline to a level that society could tolerate as the cost for greater social harmony and the avoidance of continuing adverse economic effects … and, as a consequence, America should be able to avoid overloading its healthcare system.


Data about COVID will continue to accumulate, which will allow governments to find ever-more-effective ways to address disease prevention …, with the understanding that there always will need to be a balanced response that doesn’t defer to the policy demands of one faction or another. Moreover, until the world as a whole is able to effectively gain control over COVID, mutations will occur and inevitably travel to America, reinfections will persist, and there will continue to be no possibility of societal consensus. As TLR recently stated, the hope is that COVID-19 will mutate into a cousin of influenza or, better yet, into the common cold. Until and unless that happens, America needs a plan to minimize COVID’s pernicious impact on Americans’ physical, political, economic and social health.

Finally (from a good friend)

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* Today’s TLR was inspired by the January 5, 2022 Points of Return by John Authers.

3 Comments
  • jeffcsiegel
    Posted at 12:03h, 09 January

    I’m glad to see “the middle view” has moved closer to “the right view.”

    It still has a long way to go but is getting better.

    Millions of Americans a week, masked, vaccinated, boosted or not, continue to get Covid. Overwhelming they are experiencing something like a bad cold. Getting and recovering from a disease is almost always better than a vaccine. Hopefully this will be the case with this one. As they get tired of continuing Covid rules, and ask “when does it end?”, hopefully more people will get closer to “the right view.”

    What the government should do:
    1. Free vaccines and support for vaccine manufacturing in this country.
    Not just for Covid. Vaccines for the Flu and many other diseases should be easy to get and free. We need manufacturing in our country, so we don’t have to rely on the Chinese when supplies are tight.

    2. Better Testing.
    The last government was criticized by the press for not testing well enough. Today the press has given the current government a pass on wide-spread testing failures. The UK sent everyone testing kits to their home. We can do similar things.

    3. Support and speed trials of therapeutics, and new vaccines.
    After quick actions from the CDC and FDA, early on pushed by somewhat crazy political leaders, now they are back to their default too slow too cautious approval cycle. It took months to approve the last two therapeutics or recommend boosters. It takes a day to change the mRNA formula to protect against new variants (or even the Flu) but instead we are giving folks a third or forth dosage of a vaccine that has little measurable effect against the current variant.

    4. Realize it is hubris to think the government can solve this problem.

    What the government should NOT do:
    1. Close schools for any reason.
    Closing schools has done enormous damage to the social fabric of kids. Anyone who closes schools cares less about kids than they claim.

    2. Take away folks freedom to work because the choose to not get vaccinated.
    Discriminating against these folks is simply un-American. Economically it leads to inflation and other bad outcomes.

    3. Force people to do things.
    People have the right to make their own decisions for their own health. We’d increase health and limit mortality significantly if we forced most Americans to lose weight. In a free country we instead allow people to make their own decisions, even if we think they are the wrong ones.

    Mostly people should take the vaccine, but it isn’t risk free. I know people who have almost gone blind, and almost died after taking the vaccine. The CDC reports thousands of deaths from it. Statistically it makes sense for those over 50 to take it. The data on younger folks is weaker. Present the data and allow people to make their own decisions.

    4. Limit gathering
    Statistically there is very little risk to the (mostly) young people who go to night clubs, concerts, or sports events. Using government power to bully these people is a horrible idea. If you care about data, look at death rates in states where governments have bullied folks in this way, and states where they haven’t. These things simply don’t work.

    5. Use ID cards.
    It is puzzling that the same folks who hate the idea of requiring an ID card to vote, or to prove you are a citizen, want ID cards to get into a rock concert.

    6. Require Masks
    Most masks are as effective as a screen door on a submarine. Pretending they are effective has led to a massive decrease in the trust and credibility of government “experts.”

    It is possible that N-95 masks may work but the data is still mixed. Anyone concerned for their own health should wear only a N-95 mask when inside and very close to many people.

    If you require masks, when does it end? Will regular folks ever be allowed in public without one? Will all health care workers need to wear space suits until the end of time? Will kids never get to see faces that they need for their mental development?

    • The Lonely Realist
      Posted at 18:22h, 09 January

      TLR’S REPLY:

      What the government should do:
      1. Free vaccines and support for vaccine manufacturing in this country.
      INTERESTINGLY, YOU’RE SUPPORTING LARGER GOVERNMENT. THAT IS NOT A GOAL OF TLR. AMERICA’S GOVERNMENT ALREADY HAS INJECTED SIGNIFICANT SUBSIDIES AND ITS BUDGET DEFICITS HAVE GROWN ACCORDINGLY. THE FREE ENTERPRISE/INSURANCE INDUSTRY WAS BUILT TO ADDRESS THIS. MORE GOVERNMENT IS NOT THE RIGHT ANSWER UNLESS IT’S THE ONLY ANSWER.

      2. Better Testing.
      The last government was criticized by the press for not testing well enough. Today the press has given the current government a pass on wide-spread testing failures. The UK sent everyone testing kits to their home. We can do similar things.
      THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION TERRIBLY MISHANDLED THE DEVELOPMENT OF TESTS AND DID NOT ADOPT A TESTING POLICY. THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION HASN’T GREATLY IMPROVED ON THAT RECORD. MORE AND BETTER IS NECESSARY.

      3. Support and speed trials of therapeutics, and new vaccines.
      After quick actions from the CDC and FDA, early on pushed by somewhat crazy political leaders, now they are back to their default too slow too cautious approval cycle. It took months to approve the last two therapeutics or recommend boosters. It takes a day to change the mRNA formula to protect against new variants (or even the Flu) but instead we are giving folks a third or forth dosage of a vaccine that has little measurable effect against the current variant.
      OVERLY-LONG FDA APPROVALS HAVE BEEN ENDEMIC FOR TOO MANY YEARS. THE CURRENT APPROACH IS AN IMPROVEMENT. MORE EFFICIENCY MOST CERTAINLY WOULD BE BETTER, BUT THIS IS NOT A COVID ISSUE.

      4. Realize it is hubris to think the government can solve this problem.
      “THE PROBLEM” HAS NO EASY SOLUTION. ONLY DIFFICULT ONES. FEDERAL, STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS ALL-TOO-OFTEN HAVE BEEN WORKING AT CROSS-PURPOSES. THAT NEEDS TO END. THAT WAS THE MESSAGE OF TODAY’S TLR.

      What the government should NOT do:
      1. Close schools for any reason.
      Closing schools has done enormous damage to the social fabric of kids. Anyone who closes schools cares less about kids than they claim.
      THE DECISION TO CLOSE SCHOOLS IS MADE BY LOCALITIES/SCHOOL DISTRICTS. NEITHER THE FEDERAL NOR STATE GOVERNMENTS HAVE THE AUTHORITY TO ADDRESS. LOCAL SELF-DETERMINATION IS THE RIGHT APPROACH. IF YOU ARE OPPOSED TO THE POLICY ADOPTED IN YOUR DISTRICT, CHANGE THE SCHOOL BOARD. THAT’S HOW DEMOCRACY WORKS.

      2. Take away folks freedom to work because the choose to not get vaccinated.
      Discriminating against these folks is simply un-American. Economically it leads to inflation and other bad outcomes.
      EACH EMPLOYER HAS THE DISCRETION TO MAKE THAT DECISION. THAT’S WHAT CAPITALISM AND FREE ENTERPRISE (AND AT-WILL EMPLOYMENT) STAND FOR. GOVERNMENTS DO NOT HAVE THE POWER TO EITHER REQUIRE VACCINATIONS OR REQUIRE EMPLOYERS NOT TO REQUIRE VACCINATIONS …, AND BOTH SIDES OF THE POLITICAL CURCUS ARE IN VIOLATION OF THESE FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY IN ATTEMPTING OTHERWISE.

      3. Force people to do things.
      People have the right to make their own decisions for their own health. We’d increase health and limit mortality significantly if we forced most Americans to lose weight. In a free country we instead allow people to make their own decisions, even if we think they are the wrong ones.
      THAT’S TRUE, THOUGH ONLY UP TO A POINT. POLIO AND SMALLPOX VACCINATIONS HAVE BEEN A MAINSTAY OF AMERICAN HEALTH POLICY, AND FOR GOOD REASON. PUBLIC HEALTH SHOULD HAVE THE SAME PRIORITY AS DEFENSE AND PUBLIC SAFETY. IN ADDITION, WHEN AN INDIVIDUAL MAKES A DECISION THAT ADVERSELY IMPACTS OTHER AMERICANS, THAT PERSON SHOULD BEAR RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE CONSEQUENCES. THAT SOLUTION SHOULD BE EXPLORED.

      Mostly people should take the vaccine, but it isn’t risk free. I know people who have almost gone blind, and almost died after taking the vaccine. The CDC reports thousands of deaths from it. Statistically it makes sense for those over 50 to take it. The data on younger folks is weaker. Present the data and allow people to make their own decisions.
      TLR WAS UNABLE TO LOCATE PUBLIC HEALTH DATA SUPPORTING “THOUSANDS OF DEATHS DUE TO COVID VACCINATIONS.”

      4. Limit gathering
      Statistically there is very little risk to the (mostly) young people who go to night clubs, concerts, or sports events. Using government power to bully these people is a horrible idea. If you care about data, look at death rates in states where governments have bullied folks in this way, and states where they haven’t. These things simply don’t work.
      THERE’S A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN “BULLYING” AND URGING NON-INSTRUSIVE HEALTH SAFETY PROCEDURES. APPROXIMATELY 20% OF THE COVID DEATHS IN AMERICA HAVE BEEN “YOUNG PEOPLE.” THAT IS FAR FROM “LITTLE RISK.” COVID IS NOT “A BAD COLD.” PEOPLE DON’T DIE FROM COLDS.

      5. Use ID cards.
      It is puzzling that the same folks who hate the idea of requiring an ID card to vote, or to prove you are a citizen, want ID cards to get into a rock concert.
      YOU MAKE A VALID POINT. GOVERNMENTS SHOULD NOT BE BULLYING AMERICANS IN EITHER GROUP FOR POLITICAL OR HEALTH REASONS.

      6. Require Masks
      Most masks are as effective as a screen door on a submarine. Pretending they are effective has led to a massive decrease in the trust and credibility of government “experts.”
      YOUR INFORMATION IS INCORRECT. THIS IS NOT A SCIENTIFIC CONCLUSION. IT IS A ONE THAT POLITICALIZATION HAS CAUSED.

      It is possible that N-95 masks may work but the data is still mixed. Anyone concerned for their own health should wear only a N-95 mask when inside and very close to many people.
      YOUR INFORMATION IS INCORRECT. THE ONLY PROBLEM WITH N95S IS THAT THEY ARE EXCEEDINGLY UNCOMFORABLE.

      If you require masks, when does it end? Will regular folks ever be allowed in public without one? Will all health care workers need to wear space suits until the end of time? Will kids never get to see faces that they need for their mental development?
      TLR HAS NOT AT ANY TIME SUGGESTED REQUIRING THE WEARING OF MASKS. MASK-WEARING BY ALL AMERICANS MOST CERTAINLY WOULD REDUCE DISEASE, BUT THAT’S NEITHER A POSSIBLE POLICY NOR ONE THAT AMERICA SHOULD ADOPT.

  • jeffcsiegel
    Posted at 09:03h, 11 January

    I enjoy the back and forth and will make just a few controversial points.

    Vaccines Support
    Markets breakdown in certain areas – we sometimes pay farmers not to farm for a good reason. There are broken economic incentive for vaccines. Traditionally a relatively small vaccine market (<10 Billion Globally) with unsure payoffs has led to companies to not investing in it. They don't know if we'll have a bad flu season and need to start manufacturing a year in advance, so they do one of two things. Either focus R&D on more profitable areas or try to make the process as cheap as possible by doing things like moving manufacturing outside of the country. This is bad for us, since countries have proven they prioritize their own people not the market during disruptions. Government doesn’t need to own this, but it needs to guarantee to buy vaccines with local infrastructure in advance to make sure we have supply. This should cost much less than 1% of the 700 Billion we spend annually just on Medicare.

    Deaths by Vaccine and Mitigations
    https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/adverse-events.html
    “During this time, VAERS received 10,688 reports of death (0.0022%) among people who received a COVID-19 vaccine.”
    Reported mortality by state is about 0.3%
    That is much higher than the (non-zero) risk of death by vaccine.
    Additionally, mortality by state has not varied significant. We did a grand 50 state experiment of different “expert-driven” mitigations such as lockdowns and masks mandates. Mitigations don’t work.

    Deaths by Age
    What do you think is a young person?
    Statistically everyday regular old non-COVID Pneumonia is a greater risk to folks under 30, than COVID, and even that risk is quite low. It is comparable to deaths by drowning.
    You must go over 40 before you see even 10% of total mortality related in some way to COVID. Deaths by drug overdose is much more important here.
    Provisional COVID-19 Deaths by Sex and Age | Data | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention https://data.cdc.gov/widgets/9bhg-hcku?mobile_redirect=true

    Unfortunately, scare mongering has even caused decision makers like Judge Sotomayor to buy into the discredited false narrative that “we now have 100K children in hospitals in serious conditions, many on ventilators.”

    Misunderstanding risk is causing us to seriously damage a generation of young people.

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