He never uses the words “get infected,” but Daily Beast editor Justin Baragona is right to focus on the line “Herd immunity is our friend.”
Does Hegseth have any idea what the death toll would be from a true herd immunity strategy?
Maybe he’s just exaggerating for effect. Let’s watch, then we’ll do some math.
Fox News' Pete Hegseth calls for people to go out and get infected by coronavirus: "Now that we are learning more, herd immunity is our friend. Healthy people getting out there — they are going to have to have some courage." pic.twitter.com/PCSHm9yUAW
— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) May 7, 2020
I’ve ranted twice in the past few days about asking people to expose themselves and their families to infection without evidence that we’ve made meaningful progress in containing the epidemic so I won’t rant again. A few points, though.
1. Hegseth sneers at the idea of experts insisting that hundreds of thousands of people could die. Meanwhile, we’re creeping up on 75,000 dead after seven weeks of an almost coast-to-coast lockdown and are surely going to pass 100,000 dead soon, possibly this month. Trump’s own experts place the upper bound of their estimate on the total death toll at 240,000, and that assumes a degree of sustained social distancing that Hegseth himself wouldn’t condone. The only reason he has to scoff at hundreds of thousands dying if we follow his plan is if (a) he believes in actual magic, that the next phase just won’t be that bad for whatever reason, or (b) he’ll say anything to convince people to take a risk.
2. When he refers to the courage being shown in Texas, I assume he means the Dallas salon owner who briefly went to prison for violating lockdown and has now been released. The reason her case became famous isn’t just because her punishment was draconian, it’s because her defiance was rare. As far as I’m aware, Texans have been overwhelmingly compliant with lockdown orders. And now that those lockdown orders have been lifted, they’re avoiding local businesses out of an abundance of caution. (For now.) If Pete wants to get people excited to shop again, he’d do better to pressure Trump to get a test-and-trace system in place than pep-talking wary consumers by assuring them that Davy Crockett definitely would have gone to the mall.
3. Let’s talk herd immunity. I ran these numbers a few days ago based on the latest data from NYC showing that just about 20 percent of the population has COVID-19 antibodies.
Nearly 20 percent have been infected and just about 19,000 have died. If that ratio continued, with a thousand people dying for roughly every percentage point in prevalence gained (or one death for every 84 people immunized), NYC alone would still have 40,000 deaths to go before herd immunity is achieved. If that ratio held for the entire country (and if my math is correct), we could reach 60 percent immunity at the cost of … 2.4 million dead.
I sympathize with the “reopen now” crowd despite my policy disagreements with them. We’re facing an historic economic crisis alongside an historic public health crisis. Three million more people filed for unemployment last week. Urgency is warranted. I don’t sympathize with the “reopen at all costs” crowd. And increasingly, listening to people like Hegseth, my impression is that’s the real message they’re pushing. Not “reopen now” but reopen now and stay open no matter what. Whatever happens to the case count and the death toll, keep shopping.
It’s a fantasy, and a weirdly self-defeating one. Unless you’re going to march people down to Applebee’s at gunpoint, consumers will adjust their behavior and stop going out as the situation worsens. The logical solution would be to put measures in place before reopening that’ll prevent the crisis from deepening to such a degree after we reopen that people will get spooked and give up. That’s test-and-trace. But the “reopen now” group doesn’t want to wait for that and the “reopen at all costs” group just … doesn’t care. They’ve talked themselves into believing that the economy will somehow be in better shape as hundreds of thousands die and millions have to leave the labor force for weeks at a time after getting infected than it would be if we held back now and focused on setting up a surveillance system.
As it is, we’re going to end up with a 50 percent economy, at least to start:
The partisan gap in the latest CNBC battleground state poll shows a divide between delusion and reality:
Is it safe to go to a:
Nail salon: 77% R; 9% D
Dine-in restaurant: 70% R; 5% D
Bar: 52% R; 4% D
Large sporting event: 37% R; 2% D
Is the economy in a recession?
50% R; 89% D
— Brian Klaas (@brianklaas) May 6, 2020
By the way, was Hegseth broadcasting at home in the clip above? Why not at a crowded diner in a state that’s partially reopened? I think he’s smart to take precautions, not just for himself but for any vulnerable people he’s in contact with and to whom he might pass the virus if he’s infected. But it’s hard not to notice given the advice he’s passing out.