Governor Stitt has declared that some businesses can open on Friday. By May 1, all enterprises in the state will be able to operate more or less normally. Eventually, at some unspecified date, Oklahoma will be fully operating again. But the question remains, and must be asked, “Was the shutdown and extreme social distancing even necessary?”
For several reasons, the answer is a clear and unequivocal “No.”
Let’s start with this little gem from a blog by an Oklahoma State University academic. “Harvard University epidemiologists determined that continuing extreme social distancing measures into the summer months could actually result in more COVID-19 deaths than a ‘do nothing from the beginning’ alternative.”
Now, it might sound like this only confirms the decision to open up now and not extend the shutdown into the summer. But in fact, the Harvard study has a lot more to say about how this epidemic has been handled than might immediately be obvious. The Harvard study recommends social distancing only be implemented when healthcare-related resources might be overwhelmed, in favor of developing “herd immunity” (a high level of general population immunity) as quickly as possible.
The recommendation by the Harvard epidemiologists, based on COVID-19 case history, is that government-mandated social distancing (shutting businesses) only be implemented when the number of currently confirmed COVID-19 cases are 39.33 TIMES greater than the number of ICU beds. That is:
IF 39.33 x (# ICU beds) < (# active COVID cases), then shutdown is justified.
The Harvard epidemiologists make a recommendation for opening back up only when the number of COVID cases is much reduced, but let’s focus on the shutdown threshold. Have we ever reached it?
Not even close. The IMHE COVID-19 model makers credit Oklahoma with 500 available ICU beds. An April 20 Oklahoma State Department of Health report credits Oklahoma with 1,024 total ICU beds, with 365 available. Obviously, ICU beds will be occupied by critical cases other than COVID-19, so let’s just credit Oklahoma with either 365 or 500 available ICU beds and apply the Harvard formula:
39.33 x 365 = 14,355
39.33 x 500 = 19,655.
These figures say that Oklahoma should only implement mandated social-distancing measures if the number of active COVID-19 cases exceeds (erring conservatively) either 14,000 or 19,000 cases.
The total number of COVID-19 cases Oklahoma has suffered so far is 2,894, FAR below either of the above case threshold conditions for shutting down. But actually, 1,772 have recovered, so the real comparison to be made is to the number of known active cases, which stands at 1,122. The obvious conclusion is that the shutdown in Oklahoma never should have happened, at least up to now. And, it shouldn’t happen again until the number of active, known cases gets far higher than it’s ever been to this point.
The very same point as the OSU blog is made in a recent The Hill editorial by a Stanford University M.D. that there is now more than enough data about actual cases to end the shutdowns across the country right now, not tomorrow, and certainly not a week from now. Fact is, bad decisions have been made in Oklahoma and across the country based on highly speculative information that has largely proven baseless.
We decried the closing of schools a month ago, based on data-aware judgments from experts. We recently pointed out that expert epidemiologists are concerned our actions are more harmful than helpful. We explicitly called for an immediate end to the shutdown. The evidence keeps stacking up that the shutdown was never necessary or desirable in the first place. So why are our leaders still acting so cautiously and talking about a staged opening?
Open up, fully, NOW!
Byron Schlomach is 1889 Institute Director and can be contacted at
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.