COVID-19 and the Question of Competing Values

by Daniel A. Kaufman

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**Note: This essay goes up in the midst of another wave of Covid-19 in the US. In some places, it is a first wave and in others, a second.  Regardless it rightly disturbs us, and I think many will be tempted to dismiss what I say below, as if it is obviously refuted by what’s going on now. I don’t think so. Indeed, I would argue that the longer this goes on, the more relevant is the analysis I’m going to offer.  And my aim, really, is not to say that what I suggest should be done right now or at any particular time: that will always be a judgment call.  Rather, I want to encourage us to think about what we are doing from within a different frame and while prioritizing certain values that I think we have largely ignored or dismissed as insignificant.

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One of the subjects I took up in my recent Summer of 2020 essay is our Covid-19 mitigation strategy. My expressed attitude was one of increasing discomfort, something that has not changed. Indeed, at this point, I can no longer support our current approach to Covid-19, especially now that we seem to be undergoing a second wave; one that already is reversing the nascent, fragile “reopening” of our society that only just started, which means that the prospect of any kind of return to normalcy is pushed even farther into the future. We have reached – and passed – the point at which the harm being caused by our current mitigation strategy exceeds that which is being relieved by it. And while I think that case can be made across a number of different dimensions, what I want to focus on here – and what was the focus in the Summer of 2020 essay – is the harm we are doing to young people.  First, because I think this is the most significant of the damage that we are inflicting by way of our current mitigation strategies, and second, because it offers the best opportunity to compare harms across very disparate categories, which we sorely need to get better at doing. We privilege material well-being in a reflexive and unthinking way that sometimes causes us to get things seriously wrong, and this is one of those times.

Not that one can’t try to make the case on the purely material front. As far as I know, no one has made any serious effort to calculate how many people will get various cancers and other dangerous illnesses as a result of months of suspended routine medical services. Or how many of the elderly will die sooner and suffer greater, as a result of prolonged isolation (my mother’s dementia has gotten much worse over this period, to the point where she no longer wants to leave her bedroom, and I cannot travel to NY to be with her). I’ve seen no real analysis of the effect on public health of mass unemployment, loss of livelihood, unimaginable stress, etc. So, as far as I’m concerned, our public conversation regarding mitigation strategies has been deficient and derelict, even when considering only material values.

But it’s young people I want to focus on, here, and specifically, their psychosocial development and major life events, and the essence of what I want to say is easily summarized:

The psychosocial well-being of young people and their capacity to fully experience major life events is of enormous importance, and we (their elders) should be willing to endure significant costs in protecting and preserving them.

I am going to stipulate that real – meaning in-person – social interaction is essential to the mental health and flourishing of young people. (If the devastating effects on mental and social health of our reckless experiment with ubiquitous communications devices and social media on young people hasn’t demonstrated this to readers, then nothing I can say here will.) Kids, teenagers, and college-age students were already “socially distanced” far too much.  Covid-19 has made that much worse, and the terrible effects we’ve been seeing for years now, in terms of mental illness and social dysfunction, are simply going to metastasize to the point that we will have a full-blown youth crisis on our hands; the kind of crisis that cannot be fixed by any medical treatment or vaccine and in comparison with which Covid-19 will seem simple.

Young people also have the right – and the need – to fully experience and enjoy life’s major events. My daughter’s Bat-Mitzvah – and all the preparation leading up to it – had a tremendous impact on her, both with regard to her Jewish identity and her desire to pursue a career in vocal music. Attending a summer music program at NYU several years ago provided her first real taste of serious competition and instruction and helped her to develop the confidence – more, the sheer nerve – required to successfully navigate not just her future music education, but the crazily competitive environment of the professional music world. I could go on and on, but you get the drift.

Yet, now, her Prom has been taken away from her. Her High School graduation has been taken away from her. Her first semester at Indiana University will be a seriously diminished experience. Her first date with a boy still lies in her future. She wants to be involved in Hillel and the Jewish Greek system. Currently, IU’s plan is to fully reopen, with mandatory social distancing and ubiquitous mask-wearing at all times, but I easily could see this new wave of Covid spooking them, causing them to keep the campus closed and go fully online. How long will my daughter and everyone else’s daughters have to wait, before they will be permitted to have the life experiences and social lives that all of us older people have already enjoyed? And how long should she and they have to wait?

In my view, no longer. At this point, there is no denying that our mitigation strategies overwhelmingly serve the purpose of protecting those in their late 50’s and 60’s and older, for when you remove this population from the statistics, what’s left are numbers that no one would ever lock down anything over.

coronavirus covid mortality us by ageScreen Shot 2020-06-23 at 6.18.52 PM

Indeed, if we still had mandatory retirement (as we used to), our mitigation strategies today would be entirely different. The reason my students are going to have to suffer a masked semester (or year) and be forbidden from engaging in any of the sorts of social activities that are the entire reason for having a residential campus in the first place is because of the risk posed to us – older and elderly faculty and staff – not to them. Yes, I am aware that in this most recent wave, more young people are being affected and some even severely. But this will always be the case to some degree – college students living in dorms are prone to meningitis, of which, periodically, there are outbreaks – and I would argue that the risks to them from Covid-19 remain sufficiently low that they are not a credible reason for continuing to impose the extraordinary constraints on young people’s lives that we are.

Beyond privileging the well-being of the old and older over that of the young, which is wrong in itself – you don’t sacrifice someone who hasn’t had his or her turn yet for someone who has – our current efforts at mitigation reflect the overwhelming prioritization of material well-being over all other aspects of human flourishing.  And it is here that I think we need to be the most careful in our thinking, as it is so easy to get things wrong.

In one respect, it makes perfect sense to prioritize material well-being over other forms of flourishing, as it is the predicate on which they rest. It is difficult to flourish socially, professionally, etc., if one is seriously ill and impossible if one is dead.  But it is essential that we remember that the reason we care so much about material well being is so that we and our loved ones can flourish in these other ways. So, what are these things worth? What is someone’s Bat Mitzvah worth? Or prom? Or High School graduation? Or first romance? The answer is everything, for not only are these the things that make up a life, they are what life is for.

The balance, then, must be this. When the threat to material well-being is so great that our capacity to flourish is undercut, it must be prioritized above all else. But when material well-being becomes an end in itself – when the very pursuit of it is what is undercutting our capacity to flourish – we have to recognize that things have taken a wrong turn and change course.

If we are not at this point already, we are rapidly approaching it. Those in my age cohort and older need to step back so that our children can fully live their lives.  We need to quarantine so that they no longer need to. If my retirement meant that my students could return to college and their lives in a normal fashion, I would do it in a second. I’ve already had my chance to do those things, and I can’t bear to think that now I’m taking away theirs, just so I can stick around the office a bit longer than the decades I’ve already been there.

**The featured image is of Victoria Kaufman at six years of age (bottom right) with her Daisy Troop.

34 Comments »

  1. The bar mitzvah, prom and high school graduation aren’t examples which move me much. I refused to be bar mitzvahed, didn’t attend either my high school prom or graduation ceremony. Rites and ceremonies bored me then and they still do.

    However, I understand your daughter’s desire to attend college. Part of the experience of college is socializing with other kids your age and with similar interests and intellectual focus, as much in the dorms and campus as in the classroom and that cannot be done online sitting in your bedroom in your family home.

    You say that Indiana University plans to open in the fall. As I’ve told you previously, my grandson, Gabriel, will begin the University of Miami in the fall and plans to study music just as your daughter does. The last time I spoke to my son, Chris, a few days ago, he was fairly sure that Miami would open as scheduled and was making plans to drive Gabriel there. So maybe what you write is a bit pessimistic about the possibilities of university life going on not exactly as normal, but at least with campuses functioning for students. This long lockdown and tragic plague makes pessimists out of most of us. I hope that both Victoria and Gabriel can begin their college experience in person this fall.

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    • I can be moved by things that move others even if they don’t move me. That you didn’t want a Bar Mitzvah or Prom is entirely irrelevant. The point is that millions of pre teens and teens do.

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      • We’re all moved by different things. I can imagine things that move many people that probably do not move you.

        In any case, I sincerely hope that your daughter can begin her university studies on campus this fall.

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          • The Black Lives Matter protests move many people, but I gather that they don’t move you. If I’m mistaken, please correct me. While I personally am not spontaneously moved by protest marches (group think almost always turns me off), I am moved by the fact that so many others are moved by them because it’s a good cause in my opinion.

            I’d say that what moves you and what moves you that others are moved even if you aren’t immediately moved yourself has a lot to do with core values, many of them political values. I’m not going to bore you with a harangue about why bar mitzvahs turns off, but bar mitvahs for me are like radical protest demonstrations for you.

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          • Ok, I’m not going to keep going around on this. That other people’s children, as well as my own, be able to experience significant, once in a lifetime events, moves me regardless of whether they are things I care about. That doesn’t strike me as particularly controversial.

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      • I don’t get the short term thinking. There s/b a vaccine within a year and life will go on. While things like confirmation and Bat Mitzvah will be important in the future if one remains active in the community, does anyone even think about their HS prom/graduation a few months after they happen (I realize a few people peak in HS but for most of us…?). In the early 1940s millions of folks had to postpone college and romance for quite a while. Life happens.

        We are still in the first wave (there can’t be a second wave until the first bottomed out) precisely because of the short term thinking in your post. Too many states shut down too late and opened too early. We opened on a plateau that was too high. Had we done a hard shutdown when California and New York did and stuck to it until the numbers were reached we would be in the position of much of the rest of the developed world (except Sweden). BTW, one can’t minimize the lack of national leadership.

        Focusing on mortality is problematic as Covid 19 is appearing to not be like a cold or flu. There seems to be broad long term effects in many cases. We ran a long term experiment on our kids back in the last century and we are still dealing with the fallout. We don’t need to find out that that asymptomatic kid in 2020 is developing serious neurological deficits in 2035.

        I do sympathize with your point on retirement but “die, old man, die!” seems a bit harsh. I don’t get folks hanging on instead of using the benefits one accrues in retirement to find other outlets.

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          • Sorry if I triggered you. I found the phrase humorous when I was 15 and still do at 75. Your mileage clearly differs. Two adventures with cancer and a near death experience with a poisonous spider bite among other risky things have reinforced an innate gallows sense of humor.

            Seriously though, lung damage is being found in young folks who had mild symptoms or were asymptomatic. There is simply no way to game this.

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          • Nah, it’s my fault. I’m overly sensitive right now. My father is 92 with congestive heart failure and my mother is 88 with dementia. In New York. It’s not a fun time.

            As for the second point, I think it has to be about balancing the question of the likelihood of this happening to someone and the arresting of young life. As I pointed out, there are any number of things that stalk this age group, but we don’t and shouldn’t arrest their lives on account of them.

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        • Al, how frequent are these complications in mild symptom cases for young people occurring? Seems like it could be a rarity largely explained by underlying congenital problems on the face of it.
          Also, it seems as though you’re also gambling with the ‘wait for a vaccine’ strategy. It’s entirely possible that there will be no vaccine, as there has never been a vaccine for a previous coronavirus.
          Whatever we choose for here on out, we have to act on uncertain information and take a substantial risk. But given the inevitability of this predicament, it seems all the more pressing to take all the dimensions of what we stand to lose into account, which is Dan’s main point. Social harms can be just as severe as physical ones, and just as difficult to reverse.

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    • Some experts (Prof. John Ioannidis, Stanford U Medical School in Youtube videos/seminars) agree with you that the lockdown is excessive. Other experts (Prof. Yehuda Carmeli, see this interview in Times of Israel, https://www.timesofisrael.com/under-50s-have-little-to-fear-but-even-vaccine-wont-save-millions-of-elderly/ ) are saying that “many millions” of elderly persons will die around the world during next 2-3 years of COVID-19, and locking down to try to save that many persons is never excessive or unreasonable. In-person higher education is certainly threatened by this uncertainty. I have written an essay on this issue called “Death of the Classroom and Birth of Internet Centered Higher Education” which I am supposed to present in an online Zoom lecture in Fall at University of Prince Edward Island (I can send you an electronic copy to your university email if you want to read it, about 7000 words right now, must be shortened for performance.) All universities have to start considering fresh air or open air classroom arrangements combined with more hybrid instruction where online systems are supporting what happens, or other innovations in student accessibility to professors and ability to give attention to each other. Professor Laurence Steinberg, in “Expecting Students to Play It Safe if Colleges Reopen Is a Fantasy” (NY Times, June 15, 2020) also explains why youthful risk-taking behavior makes mitigation and containment measures almost certain to fail at undergraduate levels. I am expecting mandatory retirement pressure from the university health care providers and insurers who will not want to pay for our risks, and even more retirement from professors who discover how much work it really is to transfer your classroom lectures into an online course with reasonable student engagement and interaction that is transformative. My own view is that the proper solution is to teach to a few keen students (philosophy majors) in person in a safe class and record that class to be broadcast online to a larger section of students doing the course online at the same time, interacting with the in-person students in online forums. This protects us all by lowering numbers in classes or allowing students who want to switch back and forth from online education to in-person education to manage their own risks better with the flexibility. In a southern climate, your outdoor classroom would work best in summer and early fall, so it might also require adjusting the whole summer schedule and offering many more courses where outdoor classrooms could be used on non-rainy days. I live on a remote island (but still only 600 miles from New York City) that has had under 40 cases of COVID-19 in a population of about 142,000 people (all cases associated with travel and return to Island with virus). So the lockdown really works when it is pursued by respected public health authorities, and you may be getting frustrated at a lockdown that is not working because too many people disrespect public health authorities and advice, or and the length of time off work drags on endlessly. So your argument may be directed an ineffective or failing lockdown which is not working and so therefore ought to be turned into a lockdown of persons who are not at the disobedience/risk-taking stage of youth entering universities and wanting in person experiences to seem normal again, over 50’s who can actually follow a lockdown plan and save themselves responsibly. This is another case of “value pluralism” (Isaiah Berlin) where the value of liberty for youth and the value of security for elderly are at odds, and we probably should not expect a morally simple answer to moving forward.

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  2. This argument still strikes me as weird. Lots of young people are “locked-down” by everyday illness or economic circumstances, and still live happy lives. As to the elderly, at the nursing homes here they are regularly locked down anyway when they have outbreaks of gastroenteritis or influenza. Mortality is only the worst outcome

    https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6927a3.htm?s_cid=mm6927a3_w

    shows that half of covid-19 patients presenting to Boston Medical Center could be sent home, but the remainder needed admission for oxygen supplementation etc. Thirty percent of patients were under 40, and 27% of these were admitted.

    Turning ethical, obviously the relevant facts will vary from place to place. Like in Victoria, Australia, they have just started a second round of lockdowns. The first round of lockdowns was extremely successful (down to 0 cases), but there has been an exponential increase over the past couple of weeks, starting in part from security guards having sex with infectious people from overseas quarantined in hotels. So, were the young security guards just exerting their rights to the good life? Should Victoria just let the number of cases keep doubling every few days, leading to the literal decimation of the aged?

    We in Queensland have had zero cases for a few weeks, and have relaxed most of the restrictions. We have now closed our state borders to Victorians – they were coming up here with their kids to have a beach vacation (school holidays). Are we doing the wrong thing there too?

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    • As i don’t see anything here that confronts the actual arguments in the piece, I have nothing to say about it. I don’t believe the strategy I suggest need entail any more fatalities. Also, as I said at the beginning and you seem to have ignored, my main interest is to encourage people to stop ignoring certain important competing values.

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  3. For mandatory retirement, I’m a bit on the fence. I’m not so sure that we really used to have it. I suspect it’s more like: it used to be allowed but now isn’t, because age discrimination is illegal. We may need to consider those who don’t have the retirement savings or other resources and who might need therefore need to work. We might also consider the more psychic ways that working can be beneficial.

    I realize I’m addressing only a minor point from your overall essay.The mandatory retirement concern is real. I won’t automatically reject it. But I think it’s stated a bit too simplistically in the essay.

    I will say that for the main point of the essay, which is that we should balance the needs of younger and older with a frank acknowledgment that the older often have had the experiences we’re denying the younger–it’s a good one and one we should all heed. I’m not sure how to strike the proper balance. If it really is true that a vaccine will be developed within one or two years, then I can see the argument for continuing aggressive lockdowns despite their differential impact. Of course, we don’t know that there will be a vaccine or whether it will be effective. And we don’t know that it will take “only” a year or two to create and distribute it. And the loss to the interests of the younger, even in that scenario, would be grave.

    (I also suggest that the death statistics might not fully account for how the younger are affected by covid19. I’m not sure we know whether they’ll suffer serious long term effects even though they might survive. The alleged incidence of Kawasaki syndrome among children and the alleged “cytokine storm” among 20 and 30 somethings should give us pause, if they represent a real pattern. Even so, your main point that we need to balance interests remains a good one.)

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    • Of course we used to have mandatory retirement. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act was added in 1967.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_Discrimination_in_Employment_Act_of_1967

      Eliminating it did not eliminate age discrimination, of course, it merely re-targeted it from the old to the young. Indeed, the aging workforce is part of the reason why young people’s career and earning prospects are so shitty.

      Re: your last point, the relevant question is how common/likely this is. As I pointed out, there are a number of vary dangerous things out there that target youth populations, but we generally don’t impose such severe restrictions on them, unless the likelihood/occurrences are somewhat high.

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      • I agree with your rejoinder to my last point.

        For the first point, about mandatory retirement, the most I could suss out from the few seconds I spent skimming the Wikipedia article is that in some fields, there was mandatory retirement as a practice. The 1967 law outlawed most of those practices. But before that, there doesn’t seem to have been a law requiring that all persons retire once they’ve reached a certain age, although certain laws (perhaps social security and maybe the railroad retirement laws?) probably forbade some people to work in order to receive benefits. So in a sense, I guess I’m operating under a different definition of mandatory retirement, while you’re probably operating under a more historically accurate definition.

        I do agree that we (as a polity and society) engage in age discrimination against the young in many ways, and I agree that that’s usually a bad thing, though I suppose it depends on the issue.

        At any rate, thanks for engaging my question/comment.

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  4. I want to say in response to this piece that, whatever criticisms or overreaction come in the various threads, here and elsewhere, that the assertions you make here are incontestable. They are what some would call common sense. There is a real sadness’s and lyricism in the piece too. It is an entirely separate question if anybody or any institution will take your points into account.

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    • Yeah, I got some hate on Twitter. One guy accused me of “demanding that Disney World be opened” and tagged Massimo, in some sort of juvenile effort to “get me in trouble,” but other than that, things have generally been quiet.

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  5. I still find myself very much conflicted over this dilemma. The main reason I think is an uncertainty between what conditions we might actually be choosing between. I don’t think normal conditions for teens and college age young people are among the options. The virus is real and very contagious. Any plans that ignore this reality will likely end up being up-rooted. Here is an example from Dan’s home state of Missouri:

    https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/08/us/missouri-arkansas-summer-camp-covid-19-trnd/index.html?utm_term=link&utm_content=2020-07-09T04%3A15%3A05&utm_source=twCNN&utm_medium=social

    Sitting masked in half-empty classrooms will also be a major departure from normal schooling. Many teachers well below retirement age are going resist returning to classroom teaching.

    I have a couple biases that leave me hesitant to endorse any attempt to return to normal schooling schedules at this time. One is that I myself suffered from what was almost certainly a chronic post-viral condition that took 4 years of my life (age 23-27) . Throughout that period I would have regular set-backs unable to walk more than a couple blocks without collapsing in exhaustion. I eventually recovered (gradually over years), but I wouldn’t wish any similar condition on anyone. Ed Yong, a good science writer has a very good article in the Atlantic detailing what looks like potentially long lasting post-viral effects in covid patients. With the transmission rates of this virus I think the potential consequences are pretty awful for both young and old.

    Danielle Allen’s group from Harvard laid out an actionable plan for reasonable return to something in the proximity of prior normal conditions, but this plan hinged on massive expansions of our testing capacity and investments in the structural changes necessary to make that happen. The group clearly stated we would be in the spot we are now if didn’t go that route. We haven’t gone that route cases have been exploding, and thus we are in a spot with only terrible choices.

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    • In our city, k-12 and the universities are opening in the Fall, with mitigation protocols in place. While there is some tisk, the alternative is worse. 4-5 more months of quarantine and there won’t be much of a city left.

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  6. I just came across this, which seems relevant: Immunity to Covid-19 could be lost in months, UK study suggests. Today, Florida set a record amongst ALL 50 States for the most new cases recorded in a single day. Daily cases are rising in 46 States; there are 13 States which have seen greater than 50% increase in new daily cases compared to 2 weeks ago (and of those 13, 5 States have a more than 85% increase, including California at 86%). My home State of MN had seen a 54% increase, and the hospital for which I work is tightening visitor restrictions it had loosened less than a month ago. I don’t see the situation improving any time soon.

    If the US had built a robust testing and tracing infrastructure over the past too many months, I would be a lot more sanguine about attempting to go back to some semblance of normality.

    I predict that many colleges that are planning on having students on campus will end up going fully online before the end of fall semester, and also that some will end fall semester early.

    I don’t even want to think about how strained our nation’s healthcare resources will be, come late fall and winter. Especially if it is a particularly bad flu season, or a more virulent strain of COVID-19 develops.

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  7. Thanks for raising these issues—they deserve such serious consideration. The two age charts are particularly revealing. There has been too much reflex and too little reflection in our responses to the coronavirus from the outset. (I believe it was April when Glenn Loury posted an interview with Heather MacDonald in which they discussed the costs of the decision to shut down the economy in terms of the interrelatedness of financial losses and human suffering. It was disconcerting to see the number of commenters who took the position that no such discussion should even have been published!)

    The deus ex machina of a vaccine may or may not eventually curb the pandemic, and, in any event, could be years away. Meanwhile, an entire generation of young people, whose social development has already been hindered by their life-long orientation to screens, may now (under “optimistic” scenarios!) be subjected to further impairment by having to relate to each other from behind medical masks for an indeterminate period of their lives. Anger and sadness revolve like binary stars. I look forward to your further posts on this.

    (P.S.: Speaking of sadness, very sorry for your mother’s worsening dementia, and in New York, no less.)

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  8. Dan, I understand you are a loving father, but arguing for geronticide is not helping you make your case. I suggest you read Nassim Taleb’s statistically informed discussion of COVID on twitter. Masks work and people who have had COVID are not immune and can be left with terrible health problems.
    In North Carolina now the group getting infected are 18-35. Being young it’s harder to get COVID but you are not immune. As for socialization of young people. I grew up during AIDS . My mother’s generation grew up with tuberculosis, which was much more dangerous. There are dangers in life.
    What I see is that you want to spare your daughter difficulties and dangers to give her an easy, enjoyable life, which of course is the province of a loving parent. But it is the precisely overcoming and dealing with dangers and adversity that impells us to maturity.
    The younger generation are immature and fragile due to overprotective parenting, with a delayed maturity and demanding and unreasonable expectations of society. COVID 19 will make them grow up, face the realities of death, illness, thinking of others …if you let them.

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    • I have not argued for gerontocide and nothing I have said even suggests it so your first point is inapt. As for the rest, it’s all a matter of how likely these effects negative effects are.

      It is discouraging to see someone so completely misread what I wrote. I’ve been getting this sort of thing on Twitter too, so I can’t say I’m surprised, but still…

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  9. Dan,

    I think the question of competing values definitely needs to be addressed, and in a more exhaustive manner so that all the factors involved and their inter relationships can be considered, so I’d say I agree, but in the current state of affairs addressing these issues in public is not an easy undertaking.

    The US is in a bad place like a lot of other countries that failed to act in a timely and comprehensive manner. They seem stuck swinging between over prevention and under prevention and failing to apply measures in a consistent and strong enough fashion to be able to get out of what should be a short term emergency mode (that should have been avoided in the first place) and move on to best practices in managing the epidemic in the longer term.

    Best practices like those followed in places like Iceland, New Zealand, Taiwan, and South Korea to name a few. Measures like extensive contact tracing, wide spread testing, including random testing of the general population to monitor infection rates and local flare ups, social distancing and masks when needed, and short individual or localized quarantines. By focusing on proven measures, I think those countries and their institutions are in a much better place to consider and implement a balance between all values involved, whether more easily described as material or psycho-social, or anywhere in between.

    In Canada there’s been some talk of competing values but it’s mostly presented in the media as a choice between the current often badly thought out or simply improvised status quo and a relaxing of those measures for the sake of various segments of the population’s economic or mental health. But on the positive side I think there’s at least a partial movement towards applying better practices in a more thoughtful fashion.

    I live in Montreal and our numbers are currently some of the worse when compared to other cities world wide, and seeing what happened here and in New York, and considering our relatively free health care, it makes me scared for the US and what’s happening in some states like Florida.

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  10. Now that it looks increasingly likely that school will remain fully online in the Fall — regardless of what people are saying — I stand by my analysis even more strongly.

    I remain amazed that there has literally been zero — none — discussion of the option of quarantining the old and the vulnerable, rather than quarantining everyone. But then again, we are essentially a gerontocracy, in which it is becoming increasingly apparent to me that we simply hate our children.

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    • I was thinking of replying anyway regarding that and since you mentioned it again I will.

      That option has been labelled the “mitigation strategy” and the UK was going to actually do that. From what I’ve read, they baulked when they realised the enormous amount of medical care required. I just looked up a couple of estimates – this is for Australia but no doubt relevant enough – the percentage of Covid patients in their 50s requiring hospitalisation was said to be 9.9%, 40s was 5.1%, 60s was 15.5%. These are much higher figures than the death rates you’ve quoted above.

      Assuming that is untenable it leaves us with a “suppression strategy” (Australia) or an “elimination strategy” (New Zealand) as viable options. I don’t know what I’d label the American strategy, but I think it’d be a four-letter word.

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  11. Dan

    “I remain amazed that there has literally been zero — none — discussion of the option of quarantining the old and the vulnerable, rather than quarantining everyone. “

    I think that’s been tried without much success. Sweden for example. Quebec too to a certain extent, at first the government said masks were useless, encouraged the general population to stay at home if possible and social distance, told seniors to stay at home and decreed a complete lock down of seniors homes and residences.

    It didn’t work out too well. Keeping whole sections of the population quarantined from the rest for any length of time isn’t really possible. The quarantined need services, they need to get to the hospital, homes have staff that come and go, creating vectors for the virus to find it’s way in. Seniors’ and residents’ mental health is badly affected as is their children’s, and in the mean time the virus spreads in the rest of the population, the viral pressure rises and it penetrates quarantines more and more and becomes too hard to manage. We ended up with extreme numbers of infections and deaths in public and private residences, elderly still living at home unable to effectively quarantine, the health care system nearing saturation with supplies running out, and in response the government had to impose confinement measures for the general population, including legal sanctions, before we got the numbers to come down so emergency measures could be relaxed. Our health services still haven’t recovered, staff too, especially nurses, and the conditions for their aides and care attendants are still appalling.

    As you mentioned deaths aren’t the only measure, so are long term health problems, and the mental issues that can rise both in response to high levels of preventative measures and confinement, and in response to the consequences of low levels of preventative measures and confinement, like mentally and physically exhausted staff and from the general population’s exposure to a system that’s losing control with emotionally traumatic consequences (e.g. New York city in the US). In a way our lax measures for the general population at the start, early and middle stages resulted in the crisis in seniors’ homes, and then in our health care system, and ended up forcing us to shut down most of the economy in an effort to regain some control and prevent the health care system form collapsing.

    If everyone could really confine themselves to their homes for 3 weeks the virus would disappear, 65% of 300 million, or about 200 million, that’s approximately how many US individuals would be needed, according to current calculations, to be infected to gain ‘herd immunity’ but it’s not an option because that level of infection would have serious consequences physically, mentally and economically on the health care system and individuals. So much is involved.

    What I called best practices in my previous comment maybe strikes a balance, I get the impression it’s where a lot of countries are heading as time goes by.

    https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/these-u-s-states-have-tamed-coronavirus-even-after-reopening-here-s-how-they-re-doing-it-1.5026577

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  12. Kaufman argues for a culture that cannot stomach the slightest inconvenience, most minor irritation, or slighest sacrifice in order to resist a much broader imminent danger to others. Typical. I am done with this website and Mr. Kaufman and the narcissism that he regularly represents. 1/4 step away from Trump culture.

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