South Dakota, that sound you hear behind you is footsteps.

Oklahoma can be Number One in the policy response to Covid-19. We’ve done fairly well to this point compared to other states, but to take us to the top, our leaders will need good, accurate information, must ignore hyperbole (often outright falsehoods) from the media-politico controversy machine, and should trust individual Oklahomans to do what is best for themselves and their families.

Oh, and it would help to have some courage in the face of criticism (or ear plugs to tune out the whining).

Fortunately, 1889 Institute has compiled a very helpful webpage containing the cold, hard facts about SARS-CoV-2. Based on these facts, not hysteria and virtue signaling, we recommend some straightforward policy responses. The page is here for anyone who wants to arm themselves with knowledge, rather than bask in the newly virtuous habit of broadcasting how afraid and ignorant one is.

For example, did you know that the evidence for widespread masking limiting disease-spread is, at best, mixed? The World Health Organization notes (see page 14 of this report) that there is no scientifically-verified evidence that masks slow the spread of influenza virus, which is some 50 times larger than the coronavirus that causes Covid, meaning masks are likely even less effective at trapping or blocking SARS-CoV-2 than they are influenza. WHO only recommends masks due to “mechanistic plausibility” (this jargon essentially means it seems plausible that masks would block spread of droplets, even if there is no evidence, so mask use is only recommended on a faint hope it might make a difference).

Likewise, a May 2020 CDC publication notes: “Although mechanistic studies support the potential effect of hand hygiene or face masks, evidence from 14 randomized controlled trials of these measures did not support a substantial effect on transmission of laboratory-confirmed influenza.” 

Our page contains other salient facts, which in a rational world would inform policymaking. Children are at vanishingly small risk from the virus, not just for death but for becoming infectedspreading the virus to others, and in the severity of symptoms if they contract it. You would think this would inform our school re-opening policy, particularly given the host of negative, documented maladies we know children suffer when the schools are closed and they are kept from social interaction with peers. Not to mention the imposition visited on working parents and their employers by school closures.

On the other hand, individuals with comorbidities (much more naturally prevalent in elderly folks) are at comparatively great risk (it should be noted, though, that approximately 90 percent of even the most at-risk demographic, those older than 90, still survive Covid, and around three-quarters of those 90-plus have mild or no symptoms). This relatively greater risk should also inform policymaking when it comes to how the government prioritizes resources and educates the public about risk. A sensible policy would seek to protect those in nursing homes (which are particularly vulnerable, accounting for more than half of Covid fatalities in 30 or so states) through frequent testing and worker screening as well as N95 mask wearing. Our state government went to extraordinary lengths to acquire testing supplies and PPE; it should deploy those resources where they can actually make a difference.

These examples just scratch the surface. Our leaders will have to cut through much clutter to land on verified science when making policy. 1889’s page is our effort at making such data-informed policymaking easier.

But it’s not just elected leaders. The public has a responsibility to inform itself, too. How else will you judge whether your leaders are pursuing policies that will actually make a difference or whether they are simply engaging in hygiene theatre?

You likely would not know the things highlighted on 1889’s page if you rely on media personalities whose livelihood is more profitable if you are kept afraid. And it’s not like these talking heads are founts of scientific knowledge. A friend recently remarked to me that there is a reason the people we see on TV got journalism and communications degrees instead of STEM degrees, and it usually doesn’t have to do with their being bored by the ease with which they cruised through their survey Stats class. As a business major and lawyer, I was only mildly offended at the implication of his comment.

Degree-snobbery aside, I haven’t subjected myself to more than an airport lounge layover’s worth of cable news in several years, but I see enough clips passed around to have a pretty good idea of the ill-health such a news diet produces. Do you really trust Brian Stelter or Don Lemon to fully grasp any technical situation more scientifically rigorous than a modestly challenging Lego set? Then why do you get your pandemic information from their ilk?

Stop imbibing the apocalyptic mania. Empower yourself to rationally evaluate the situation. If you do, I suspect you will reach the same or similar policy conclusions as we recommend. To wit:

  • Do not lock down again, under any circumstances.
  • Keep schools open.
  • If need-be, furlough vulnerable public education employees, perhaps with partial pay, for a month after school restarts.
  • Publicize what makes one vulnerable (comorbidities/age) and encourage them to shelter.
  • Frequently test those in nursing homes and screen workers interacting with vulnerable populations. 
  • Encourage N95 mask-wearing for vulnerable populations and caregivers.
  • Encourage social distancing but reduce the distance consistent with WHO guidelines (3 feet, not the 6 feet that has incomprehensibly become the standard).
  • Encourage frequent hand washing.
  • Publicize facts about risks and let individuals decide for themselves whether to wear a mask. Let businesses set their own policies on whether to require patrons to wear masks.
  • Mask mandates should be avoided except, perhaps, where social distancing is not possible, such as on public transportation.
  • Encourage anyone showing any symptoms at all, including lost sense of smell, unexplained fatigue, or anything like a cold to simply stay home until they can receive a doctor’s advice that they are no longer contagious (it makes little sense to impose blanket 14-day quarantines for the infected, since some are contagious for a shorter period, and some longer). If being out is necessary (such as to see a doctor), wear a mask and stay away from large groups in small areas. Older people should be especially avoided.
  • Encourage caregivers for the vulnerable to shelter as much as possible and take special precautions. Only N95 masks are likely to provide protection.

These uncomplicated policies would make Oklahoma not just Top Ten, but Number One in Covid policy.

Benjamin Lepak is Legal Fellow at the 1889 Institute. He can be reached at blepak@1889institute.org

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.