Was the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus so dangerous to so many people that extreme government lockdowns were justified? Did the fatality rate from COVID differ substantially according to people’s age and presence of co-morbidities, and did governors and other policymakers systematically take account of those differences? Did it make sense to close schools to in-person attendance for anywhere from a few months to over a year? Was mask-wearing indoors, even by people who had no COVID symptoms, an important contributor to slowing the spread of the coronavirus? And what really went on at those meetings of the Trump White House’s Coronavirus Task Force? Specifically, were the members carefully reading the numerous studies that were being published in the United States and around the world and adjusting their advice accordingly? Did it make sense for governors and other policymakers to focus only on COVID and ignore the major costs — including the costs to health — from lockdowns?
Dr. Scott Atlas, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, addresses all of those questions and more in his book A Plague Upon Our House. (Full disclosure: I am also a Hoover fellow and know Atlas professionally.) But he does so much more than that. He lays out how dysfunctional both the task force and the White House were in dealing with the coronavirus. Based on my own experience at interagency meetings in Ronald Reagan’s administration, I find Atlas’s many reports of people on the task force “going with the flow” completely plausible. It’s true that we have to take his word for what went on, but based on my experiences with him at Hoover, I do.
Beyond making his case with many facts, Atlas is a passionate man, and his book reads as if it were written in anger and frustration. Some readers might find that off-putting. I like it because he almost never lets his passion override his respect for facts and reasoned argument. Indeed, his passion is largely based on his view that lockdowns led to many deaths, destroyed millions of livelihoods, and caused needless suffering — a case he makes well.
These are the opening paragraphs of David R. Henderson, “Atlas’s Case Against the Covid Lockdowns,” Regulation, Spring 2022.
Atlas’s other major policy disappointment was on schools. What was well known by the summer of 2020 was the harmful effects that school closings and remote learning were having on children, especially those in poorer families. Yet, notes Atlas, no one at the task force meetings, other than him, ever talked about the huge downsides of school closings. As noted above, the data showed clearly how safe young people were in school and, by the summer of 2020, how children rarely passed the virus on to adults. Therefore, argued Atlas at one of the meetings, schools should be opened without testing and masks. He writes that no one at the meeting, including Birx and Fauci, mentioned contrary data. Instead, Birx answered, “There is a bell curve of epidemiologists, and you are on the fringe.” Pence then asked Redfield, whose CDC was responsible for issuing guidance, what he thought about the risks of opening schools. Redfield replied, “Let’s just say, the jury is still out.”
Read the whole thing.