As the media turns its attention back to COVID-19, there is a renewed push to shut down the economy. Some states have even begun to scale back reopening plans for their economies; others continue to delay opening. It is essential to look past their catastrophizing and focus on the facts of COVID-19.

One fact to consider: while testing has risen 23%, the rate of positive results has only risen 1.3 percentage points to 6.2%. Even as alarmists point to the rise in cases, they still admit that the boost in testing has played a role in the rise in the total number of known cases. Therefore, the total number of positive cases is not of much use in this case, as it only paints a partial picture. The rate of increase in total positive cases is a more meaningful measure, and it has barely increased. Even more important is who is getting infected. The data show that recent cases are primarily younger people. But that’s a good thing; these are precisely the people that are key to building herd immunity, which is the only long-term solution for fighting COVID-19 and is inevitable anyway.

While the news readers reporting “surges” of people testing positive for coronavirus renew calls for lockdowns, they neglect to tell the whole truth, which is that the numbers surrounding COVID-19 inspire optimism. According to the COVID Tracking Project, the average weekly deaths from COVID-19 has been in steady decline nationally since April. Oklahoma has followed this trend. The primary justification for lockdowns has been to prevent deaths from COVID-19, but if deaths are falling, then that rationale largely evaporates.

There is also reason to believe that total death numbers are overstated. States have been caught claiming COVID-19 for deaths that were blatantly not COVID-19 related. In May, the Washington State Department of Health confirmed a report that revealed they were recording non-COVID deaths, such as those due to gunshots, as COVID-19 deaths. Part of the reason for this was negligence on the part of the Washington State Department of Health, but part of it is how hospitals over report COVID-19 on death certificates. This over-reporting is to be expected when hospitals are given a 20% premium for COVID-19 Medicare patients from the CARES Act. This extra money incentivizes hospitals to record COVID-19 among the causes of death even when it was unlikely it contributed at all. In their June 24th update of COVID-19 data, the CDC made the following statement on comorbidities, “For 7% of the deaths, COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned. For deaths with conditions or causes in addition to COVID-19, on average, there were 2.5 additional conditions or causes per death.” 

Despite these encouraging numbers, Tulsa mayor GT Bynum is considering issuing an executive order mandating mask wearing and restricting indoor gatherings. Other cities and states have already implemented a mandatory policy of wearing masks in public. Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has also gone on the record, stating he would use executive powers to mandate wearing masks in public. Some states have even begun to roll back their plans for reopening the economy, forcing bars to close once again. This is a step in the wrong direction. New York Governor Cuomo recently threatened to shut down New York City again. The City has pushed back, issuing this statement, “These businesses are allowed to be open per the Governor’s guidelines and we don’t believe imprisoning people or taking away their livelihood is the answer.” Cuomo is also delaying the fourth phase of New York’s reopening, keeping malls and movie theaters closed. It is already clear that the lockdowns were not as effective as claimed. States that did not issue lockdown orders suffered less job loss and fewer deaths per million than those that did.  

The American people must not let themselves be alarmed into a second economic shutdown. Even as the media pundits and political class push for more restrictions and shutdowns, the numbers do not support such measures. We have made substantial strides in recovering from the recent debacle of shutdowns; don’t let that progress be erased because of the fear of a few “very smart” people.

Spencer Cadavero is a Research Associate at 1889 institute and can be reached at scadavero@1889institute.org.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.