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One Size Does Not Fit the Virus

The attempt to protect everyone left the most vulnerable nakedly exposed

The nation and Connecticut are reopening fitfully and unevenly from a shutdown that many think should not have happened – many including Pulitzer-Prize-winning columnist Thomas Friedman of the left-leaning New York Times and Dr. David L. Katz, a Connecticut MD and an expert with a public health degree from Yale.

Our “one-size-fits-all” shutdown policy is strange in the face of a virus which afflicts different population segments in such wildly different ways. For those over age 65, who comprise only 16 percent of the country’s population, the virus has been devastating. This age group has sustained about 80 percent of nationwide deaths – 94 percent of Connecticut fatalities have hit people over 60.

Additionally, it is just plain common sense that people with serious prior conditions would be at greater risk, and that transmission would be greatest in densely populated urban areas and in communal residential settings for seniors. An estimated one-third of national fatalities occurred in nursing homes, and almost 70 percent of Connecticut deaths occurred in nursing homes and assisted living communities.

To have imposed a uniform stay-home-shutdown policy was like a shoe store selling only size-8 shoes.

Before the U.S. shutdown began, data out of China and Italy were unambiguous that the virus attacked the elderly and spared those younger. Moreover, the first U.S. outbreak occurred at a nursing home in Washington State.

Tragically, the attempt to protect everyone left the most vulnerable nakedly exposed. A central precept of medicine in the context of scarce resources is triage. God knows, we had scarce resources as the pandemic broke out. When everyone can’t be saved, triage means focusing policy, effort and resources in a manner designed to maximize survivors – in the case of this virus, that means protecting those most clearly vulnerable.

Instead, nursing homes were overlooked at best, and, even worse, in New York and some states, governors forced them to admit infected seniors. Will these governors be held to account?

From the start, many saw a targeted approach without a total economic shutdown as a better approach. Unfortunately, partisanship has developed, with most Democrats supporting the universal stay-home-shutdown policy and many Republicans the targeted alternative. So, looking at the targeted alternative through the eyes of Thomas Friedman may help.

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Trying to protect everyone, we left the most vulnerable exposed to the virus

A total shutdown was unnecessary, since most Americans' risk of serious illness is extraordinarily low

In the Senate hearing last week on the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Tenn.) challenged the preternatural influence of Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), saying: "You are not the end-all.”

Paul was rude, but right. The nation has become transfixed by Fauci and his approach to the pandemic, which Paul described accurately as a “one-size-fits-all” policy. Almost the entire nation has been ordered to stay home and socially distance, and almost the whole economy has been shut down. You can’t get more one-size-fits-all than that.

It is a marvel that the nation has followed such a uniform policy in the face of a virus which afflicts different population segments in such wildly different ways. Over three-quarters of all serious cases and deaths have befallen people over age 65, who comprise only about 16 percent of the population. And it is just plain common sense that people with serious prior conditions would be at greater risk, and that transmission would be greatest in densely populated urban areas and residential settings. To offer a uniform policy is like a shoe store selling only size-8 shoes.

The dramatic imbalance was clear before the U.S. shutdown began. Data out of China and Italy were unambiguous that the virus attacked the elderly and spared those younger. Moreover, our first reported outbreak occurred at the Life Care Center nursing home in Washington state, i.e., among seniors in a dense residential setting.

Tragically, the U.S. has failed to protect precisely those population segments whose high risk was obvious from the start. While the damage already sustained – both in terms of lives and livelihoods – cannot be undone, it need not be compounded. From the start, many people saw a targeted approach without a total economic shutdown as a better approach – and they still do.

Unfortunately, partisanship has crept into the debate over the best policy, with Democrats supporting Fauci and many Republicans the targeted alternative. Let’s look at the targeted alternative -- not as presented by a Republican or a conservative but, rather, by Thomas Friedman, renowned opinion columnist for The New York Times, a generally left-leaning newspaper.

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It’s Not Stimulus, if the Economy Remains Closed

It is not “stimulus” if there’s nothing to stimulate. Most states have been under stay-home-shutdown orders for almost seven weeks, and only a few plan to reopen before mid-May, so the “stimulus” bills are really just “bridge” bills – constituting a combined $2.7 trillion bridge to an uncertain future date when 30 million newly unemployed Americans can go back to work and businesses can re-open.

Moreover, the bridge isn’t even fully built. Many citizens have not received their $1,200 “stimulus” checks, and many small businesses haven’t received Payroll Protection Program loan funds intended to cover eight weeks of payroll. Many never will, because the program is oversubscribed.

So a bridge designed to span an eight-week gulf isn’t complete, even as the gulf is extending to ten weeks and more. So, "stimulus” is a cruel misnomer. Many workers and businesses will not survive or be able to revive. States that prolong the shutdown based upon “an abundance of caution” are creating an overload of tragedy and danger instead.

For some areas, an extended shutdown may make sense, most obviously the immediate New York City area. In other areas, particularly rural areas where social distancing is inherent, it probably does not.

We should remember that the objective of the extraordinary stay-home-shutdown measures was to flatten the curve, not eliminate it.

Even in hard-hit New York, Governor Cuomo has acknowledged that the curve has flattened. The US Comfort hospital ship sent to New York City never reached capacity and has departed.

The spread of the virus has been slowed and kept within hospital and medical capacity, so flattening has been achieved, and extreme measures should be lifted – and soon.

We should reopen the same way we shut down, namely here and there, based on conditions on the ground, except, of course, in reverse sequence, starting where conditions are the best. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of NIAID, and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams have said as much in White House briefings.

However logical, this may not be easy. As the crisis has unfolded, a natural and admirable spirit of unity has developed. However, unity should not be translated into uniformity. The nation is not uniform, nor are individual states.

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It’s Not Stimulus, If There’s Nothing to Stimulate


We should Re-Open The Economy The Same Way We Shut it Down: Here, There and, Then, Everywhere -- And Soon.

The Hill, April 16, 2020... It is not “stimulus” if there’s nothing to stimulate. With almost all states having ordered citizens to stay home and most businesses to shutter, the coronavirus “stimulus” bill passed by Congress and signed by President Trump on March 27 is really a “bridge” bill -- a bridge to an uncertain future time when people can go back to work and businesses can reopen.

If the shutdown goes too long, some workers and businesses may not survive or be able to revive. If it goes too long, the $2.2 trillion may be exhausted in the “bridge” phase, leaving nothing for an actual stimulus phase. A prolonged shutdown based upon an “abundance of caution” may carry instead an overload of danger.

The president has reiterated a very general hope to restart the economy on May 1 and,, on Wednesday, he said some states may be able to open earlier. Other states have leapfrogged beyond that, however, and adopted much longer shutdown periods; Virginia, for example, has a shutdown order through June 10. That may make sense for some areas, most obviously the immediate New York City area; in others, particularly rural areas, it probably does not.

We should remember that the objective of the extraordinary stay-home measures was to “flatten the curve” of infection, not to eliminate it. Once the spread of the virus has been slowed to keep it within hospital and medical capacity, that goal will have been achieved and extreme measures should be lifted. In his daily briefings, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) has said the curve of infection appears to be flattening in the New York City metropolitan area, the acknowledged epicenter of the crisis.

As we approach the time to reopen the country, the larger question is how we should restart our economic engines. We should reopen the same way we shut down -- namely, here and there based on conditions on the ground but in reverse sequence, starting where conditions are the best. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams have said as much in White House briefings.

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Time for CT State Employees to Give Back

Republican American, CT Examiner, Journal Inquirer - April 4-6 ... For the second time in roughly a decade, over 100,000 private sector workers in Connecticut have lost their jobs, while not a single state employee has been laid off in either nstance. For almost the entire decade, state workers have enjoyed contractual no-layoff guarantees, presently extending to 2021.

Not only that, following the Great Recession, state workers got three 3 percent annual pay raises, and, now, they are to get a 3.5% wage hike in just three months – on the heels of a 3.5% pay raise last July 1st.

That’s unfair, almost cruelly so in face of the unfolding economic ravages of COVID-19.

Union leaders talk about “sacrifices” by state workers. That's shameless disinformation.

Governor Lamont should place a call immediately to Daniel Livingston, the chief negotiator for the State Employee bargaining Alliance Coalition (SEBAC) representing unionized state workers, and demand that workers forgo the July 1st pay raise and that retired state workers give up cost of living increases for the next decade at least.

The issue of fairness and social justice does not involve only the element of shared sacrifice in times of hardship. For
almost two decades, Connecticut state employees have enjoyed amongst the highest pay and benefits among state workers nationwide.

Their compensation has been
significantly higher than that of state’s private sector workers in all years – good and bad. In 2010, the state’s Commission on Agency Options looked at 2008
compensation data and found average state worker wages of $65,746 and benefits of $39,752 versus average private sector wages of $59,313 and benefits of
$14,861 – for a staggering compensation premium of more than $31,000, or 42%.

In 2014, scholars at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Andrew Biggs and Jason Richwine, looked at 2009-2012 data and found that very same premium of 42%, which was the highest of the 50 states. The next highest premiums were 35%, 34% and 26% for Pennsylvania, New York and Illinois, respectively.

In 2019, AEI’s Biggs compared private sector compensation to public compensation at all levels of government in all 50 states. From 1998 to 2017, private sector worker compensation grew only 38%, lagging compensation for federal workers, state and local workers, and teachers which grew 67%, 44% and 40%, respectively.

Biggs found that Connecticut state and municipal workers’ compensation grew 77% over this period compared to a 6% increase in the state’s private sector. In 2017, Connecticut public sector workers enjoyed a whopping 51% compensation premium over the state’s private sector workers.

This is a gross social injustice, but it is more than that. Public sector compensation has overwhelmed the state budget
and economy.

Public sector workers should embrace this reality and realize that it imperils their own jobs, wages, and health care and retirement benefits.

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Balancing Virus Response With Its Economic And General Health Consequences


Connecticut is Not New York City, Where Strict Shutdown Policies Are Needed. CT Governor Lamont Should Issue and Follow Evidence-Based Connecticut-Specific Guidelines For Continuing His Schools and Business Shutdown and, Ultimately, For Lifting It.

CT Examiner, Republican American, CT Hearst newspapers - March 22 -26 ... The coronavirus is not the only threat we face. As I wrote in The Hill on last Thursday (3/19) and The Wall Street Journal editorialized last Friday, the 20th,, we may face a far greater threat from a collapsed economy, which would devastate everyone’s financial resources and their medical condition.

This should be of special concern in Connecticut which entered the current crisis already economically anemic and financially shaky.

While this may not be popular to say, we should rethink shutdown policies in Connecticut. Actually, it may not be unpopular. A new Pew Research
Center poll
shows that 70 percent of Americans see the virus as a major threat to the economy, while only 27 percent see it as a major threat to their own personal health.

It should be a priority to keep people working and return to work the tens of thousands suddenly being idled. The Connecticut Labor Department received 56,000 unemployment claims in the first four days this past week versus a weekly average of 2,500.

A deep recession or depression would bring an inevitable deterioration in public health along with economic pain. It would push us backward down the Preston Curve, which demonstrates that life expectancy varies directly with income level: wealthy societies are relatively healthy, poor ones less so.

We should balance the “incidence curve” with the Preston Curve, putting as much effort into moderating economic devastation as we put into flattening the incidence, or infection, curve to keep coronavirus hospitalizations below hospital capacity.

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The Double-Barreled Coronavirus Threat: Death by Virus or by Ensuing Economic Disaster


The Hill, Thursday, March 19, 11:30amThe ultimate infection and mortality rate from the coronavirus (COVID-19) is unknowable at least for weeks, but the economic fallout is not. We appear headed into serious recession, if not depression. Bad economic times also affect public health and, ultimately, we might see more deaths from a deep economic decline than from coronavirus.

On Monday, China released its economic data for January and February, when COVID-19 erupted and the country went into lockdown. The data were much worse than analysts forecast: China’s factories slumped 13.5 percent, retail sales fell 20.5 percent and home sales plummeted 34.7 percent. This, in an economy that has experienced 9.4 percent average annual growth over four decades of uninterrupted year-over-year quarterly growth.

On Wednesday, Deutsche Bank forecast a full first-quarter Chinese GDP decline of 32 percent annualized. The bank predicted a second-quarter drop of 24 percent in Europe and 13 percent in the U.S. from first-quarter levels – a decline the Wall Street Journal said “would be the biggest in recorded history.” That is why the stock market has plunged more than 30 percent and U.S. Treasury interest rates have fallen to near-zero levels. (To avoid any confusion, Wall Street is an indicator; this is not to say it is in need of a bailout.)

In the face of such drastic economic damage and associated public health deterioration, we should consider how soon and why certain of the recently adopted shutdown measures might be lifted to prevent economic Armageddon.

The general construct and rationale for our extreme measures is to spread out over time the incidence of coronavirus infections, to keep it below hospital capacity. If illness spikes above capacity, there is no treatment available for many of the afflicted, and the mortality rate spikes as the untreated die. This construct has become known as “flattening the curve,” keeping the rising curve of coronavirus cases below a straight line representing medical capacity.

Why not increase that capacity? Most of the policy discussion seems to assume that hospital capacity is relatively fixed, but China built two hospitals in Wuhan in two weeks; New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called on the Army Corps of Engineers to build new hospitals here. The sooner and the more we increase capacity, the sooner we may be able to ease some of the extraordinary measures and mitigate the coming economic recession.

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Bloomberg: Will The Candidate Measure Up To The Campaign Architect?


In the Democratic presidential debate Wednesday in Las Vegas, Michael Bloomberg the candidate badly underperformed Michael Bloomberg the brilliant campaign architect.

Architect will insulate candidate this time, preserving the hopes of many center-right Democrats that he can prevail over front runner Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), an ardent socialist whom they consider unelectable.

Before the debate, Bloomberg the campaign
architect had maneuvered Bloomberg the candidate into third place in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls. Most likely, former Vice President Joe Biden’s epic collapse will soon leave Bloomberg in second place behind Sanders, setting up the showdown that is the predicate of Bloomberg’s candidacy.

Not being on the ballot guaranteed Bloomberg’s survival post-Iowa and post-New Hampshire, and it insulates him from paying the normal price, in Nevada and South Carolina, for his dismal debate performance in Las Vegas.

There’s no such safety net for the other candidates, who failed to carry out their necessary debate mission — namely, to slow a surging Sanders. Instead, they attacked Bloomberg and each other in a badly moderated food fight. For former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), this was a missed opportunity to revive themselves following disastrous finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire.


So, unless pre-publication polling is totally wrong, Sanders will win resoundingly Saturday in Nevada’s caucuses. A big Sanders victory means yet another defeat, and perhaps a fatal one, for each of the other candidates. That includes Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Ind., for whom it would create a serious loss of momentum going into South Carolina where his lack of black support is sure to be fatal.

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Bloomberg’s Rise Surprises Pundits — Has It Surprised Trump?


When Michael Bloomberg entered the presidential race last November, he was scorned almost universally. Now, many Democrats hope desperately that he will be their savior, the only candidate who can prevail over Bernie Sanders, an ardent socialist they
consider unelectable.

After fourth and fifth place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, Joe Biden is toast, as is Elizabeth Warren, following her distant third and fourth place finishes.

Mayor Mike has rocketed into third place in the Real Clear Politics average of national polls, soon to pass plummeting Biden into second behind Sanders. This will set up a titanic civil war between Sandernistas and center-right Democrats.

None of this would have seemed remotely possible listening to political pundits last November. They dismissed Bloomberg’s bid, with several trite “truisms” about political tradecraft. First, money can’t buy the presidency. Second, his late entry would be fatal. Third, by skipping the first four contests, he would fall hopelessly behind. Fourth, his policy stands are all over the map, so he has no natural following or base.

First, his $50 to $66 billion (estimates vary) provide him a tremendous advantage, a massive war chest with which to beat Sanders now and Donald Trump in November.

Last November, few pundits stopped to think that, maybe, there was an obvious and compelling rationale for skipping the first four contests.

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Truck Tolls Won’t Work; New SEBAC Savings Should Fund Transportation


On Friday, January 31st, the Transportation Committee of the CT General Assembly held a public hearing on Governor Lamont's new 12-gantry heavy-trucks-only tolls proposal. Red Jahncke testified, along with many other members of the public. Above is the CT Public Affairs Network broadcast of Jahncke's testimony. The full nine hours of testimony can be accessed here: http://ct-n.com/ctnplayer.asp?odID=17098 Below is a transcript of Jahncke's testimony. In a few places, supplementary information has been added in brackets to clarify the testimony.

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