Where's the science that determines how strict a lockdown we need?

Governor Gavin Newsom says he will reopen California by science, not politics:


Okay. So where’s the science that says what types of restrictions are effective in halting the spread of the virus?

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we are prohibited from traveling more than 5 miles from our homes for outdoor activities. Where’s the science that 5 miles is the magic number, and not 10 miles? Or 1 mile?

Where’s the science that shows that outdoor activity contributes meaningfully to coronavirus spread at all?

Where’s the science that shows it’s safe to buy a new cell phone at Target [which is allowed to stay open], but not Best Buy [which has been ordered closed]?

Where’s the science that says wearing masks in public is not sufficient protection for reopening retail shops? What would the transmission rate be if we enforced fines for not wearing masks and not maintaining social distancing, and lifted the other restrictions? What’s the cost/benefit analysis of this plan vs. the current lockdowns?

Where’s the science that says driving alone in my car to go watch the sunset along the coast produces any significant risk to anyone?

These are rhetorical questions. The state government is not relying on science to determine the terms of the restrictions. They are making things up as they go along, relying on their own best guesses and judgement, and falsely claiming to rely on science to avoid having to explain their actions to a weak and credulous local news media that has no incentive to push back.

I’m not questioning the need for enforcement of restrictions of some kind. But we shouldn’t allow politicians to get away with using “science” as cover because they’ve discovered that’s an effective way to deal with uncomfortable questions.

To the extent the governor is relying on science, I suspect it’s the same science that told us a month ago that ordinary people shouldn’t wear masks because they’re too stupid to put them on correctly.

Target sells food.

I feel like the OP isn’t really looking for a factual answer but, for the record, the science would come in two parts:

  1. Predictions of future results based on:
  • Historical data on other outbreaks, what was done, and how that affected things.
  • Mathematical models to predict the results of different policies in terms of things like average number of persons a person would come into contact with per day, impact of policies on the ability of people to get food and other basic necessities, etc.
  • Computer simulations to do the same
  1. Current numbers in the real world.

To discuss a different example, say that you want to build a cannon that can shoot a passenger-carrying capsule to the moon. First step is to perform a bunch of math, using your knowledge of the physics, mechanical properties of various materials, etc. to predict what would be required to accomplish what you want, whether that exists, what sort of effects it would likely have, and the error bars on the prediction. Then you build some working cannons and capsules, using the best possible configuration according to your predictions, and perform tests to see what the real-world results are. Following, you cycle back and forth between those two to arrive at a good answer.

I suppose you could call it something more like “engineering” than “science”, but it’s still a fairly rigorous process and very far from magic.

And, I would note that, in the case of Covid-19, there’s no particular shortage of reporting that covers how people are predicting what will happen with the crisis, on the basis of different policies.

I know what the science would look like. I contend that this science doesn’t presently exist. Hence, my frustrations with Governor Newsom and others claiming that their lockdowns are based on science and using that as a reason to shut down debate.

We don’t have the data to answer any of the questions I’ve asked (and I suspect that a scientific investigation would conclude many of the lockdown restrictions are pointless). That doesn’t mean that these lockdowns were a mistake, or even that they should be lifted! But it means you can’t claim these decisions were made on the basis of science.

The governor and public health officials are bumbling along like the rest of us, taking their best guess at what would be effective, and then claiming “I’m following the science” when anyone questions these decisions.

As a practical political matter, what would you prefer the governors say instead?

“This virus clearly poses a threat to human life but since it is a newly-discovered disease, we don’t currently have a good understanding of the nature of this threat or our capacity to handle it. Thus, we are implementing strict public health measures to minimize risk to the degree we are able. We are doing so in order to mitigate stresses on our health care infrastructure and buy time to gain enough understanding to define prudent public health policy going forward. Thanks for your patience.”

Do you really believe that would result in a better social outcome? People don’t follow leaders who declare “Yeah, we’re really just taking large guesses, but hey, nobody else knows what they are doing either, so we’re all in the same boat. #AloneTogether

Could you give us two lists - those which you consider are pointless, and those which are not?

I imagine that some restrictions would be intended to work in support or reinforce others rather than being effective on their own.

I’m interested in the policy <–> science debate. The linked article says Newsom will make policy based on science, which means he’s translating what science says makes a difference into broad areas of human and economic behaviour that he is able to control or influence as governor. Broadly, if science says that virus declines with distance from a source (lets say a sneeze), then the policy translation is that standing 2 metres away is safer than 1 metre, 10 metres away is safer still, but has other consequences and is, in policy speak, stupid. So let’s, as policy pick something in the effective-but-not-stupidly-so zone [EBNSS Zone].

I would imagine that to get any life sustaining food at Best Buy you’d probably have to be a Best Buy employee feeding coins to a break room vending machine.

The news says that Newsom is consulting with John Hopkins for modeling services.

Most of these questions are just arguing with the concept of a bright line distinction, which really never makes perfect sense but is required for having clear and consistent rules.

Obviously, there’s nothing magic about recreating 6 miles from your house vs 5, but it’s fairly clear that staying close to your house will limit the mixing of people, which will limit the spread of disease. The actual number is some compromise where everyone has at least some reasonable outdoor space to use.

The reason Target is open and Best Buy is closed is that you can’t close grocery stores without major societal impact and you can close electronics retailers.

Obviously, the rules are an imperfect attempt to describe optimal behaviors. They are going to be more restrictive than necessary in some arenas, and less in others. And the science of understanding which are which is going to be fuzzy at best, since things are moving very fast.

Are you actually trying to understand the restrictions, or do you just want to be mad about it?

Ok, the OP mostly has rather ridiculous questions but I would be interested in anyone who’s able to actually demonstrate the effectiveness of the various plans. I instinctively feel that social distancing is a reasonable action but does anyone have more than “it’s so obvious”? Not theoretically, but “we see numbers that coincide with these safety measures”.

From a safetyness standpoint, I would expect that the more the better if you’re just considering disease transmission. If you could lock everyone in their own personal box, 50 feet away from every other box, with a two week timer, then everything would be wonderful (apart from the whole “starving to death” thing).

As best I can tell, from glancing at the California State releases, it looks like they probably asked some manufacturers how long it would take to produce enough equipment to start supplying the hospitals, then modeled out various measures to see if they could keep the growth rate slow enough that it wouldn’t cross over their supply needs until the production companies could come through.

Of course, on the other hand, that doesn’t really mean anything other than that we’ll be able to provide health care equipment to everyone who ends up in a hospital. It doesn’t really discuss the matter of keeping people from ever getting sick.

Either they’ve determined that most people get sick, no matter what, or they’re hoping that they can outwait the disease somehow or find some treatments that will be effective.

Why did you quote my post?

This isn’t discussed at an great detail in the media in my country, because the media in my country delights in danger and disaster and crises and conflict. Is yours any different? So I don’t blame ‘the government’ any more than I blame ‘the people’.

But my understanding is that my government has a range of possible options available, based on a range of possible scientific predictions, everywhere from ‘everybody dies’ to ‘nobody dies’. And those predictions all come from real science by real scientists who really work in the area.

So it is completely valid for my government to say ‘science told us so’. And also completely valid for me to say ‘science tells me something different’.

Governments and politicians have an absolute test for truth and validity: people vote on it. It’s not up to a bunch of magical religious types, or legal types with their own peculiar version of precedent and proof, or an other self-referential cabal: people vote on which science is convincing, and politicians accept the referees decision.

If you don’t like the science your government is using, you get the chance to vote later. You can complain now, but uncertain science is real science, even if you don’t like uncertainty.

There are a vast number of different things which could be done to fight Covid-19. It’s very important the the U.S. do the things which are most cost-effective and not do the things which have high costs and very little benefit. And you need data to determine this.

Look at this chart of New Reported Cases by Day in the U.S.:

Anyone care to extrapolate as to when this would hit zero? Two to three months? Do you think citizens will put up with the lockdowns for that long?

Because I was replying to it. You seemed to be assuming that the current plan is based on its having been demonstrated to be the best. That’s almost certainly incorrect. The best would be infeasible.

Models can’t say what is feasible, so that’s not how the plan was set.

Politics is more social science than hard science. You need to take people into account and their emotions.

That being said, my local Best Buy was open where I live for curbside pickup. Target is also open as per usual. I did pick up a couple of electronic peripherals at Best Buy, their curbside pickup was not busy. Target also has curbside pickup, but that is for everything, including food. I expect that Target’s curbside pickup is a lot more busy. Maybe without Best Buy, I’d venture into Target an extra time to get what I needed. Maybe not the best decision. Maybe others here would do better. But if I did that, others might to.

So where I live, Best Buy being open for curbside let the people getting electronics to do so in a fairly safe fashion.

That’s where political leaders come in. They look at the models, and then try to figure out how to make a feasible plan based on the modeling and their assessment of what kind of behavior they can manage to change in the populace.

Around here, there is a short list of “essential businesses” which simply cannot be closed. The food supply is essential. Best Buy ain’t.

I don’t know, but there are two related questions that are slightly more relevant and factual:

  1. What information and experts or advisors are each government center of action actually utilizing?
    For example, are they just using a reactive “keep the biggests current obvious pitchforks at bay” policy by placating whoever is complaining loudest?
    Is there an official pandemic team?
    Do they use medical or academic consultants? Military, police, other emergency management?
    Do they have a preexisting disaster scenario SOP in place?

  2. What high level protocols and procedures are available, and what are their sources and references?
    There’s a ton of administrative, health, think tank, and emergency organizations, surely they have some manuals?

No, I didn’t. I have no idea how anyone could construe anything I said in such a way, in fact. I specifically asked people to demonstrate how effective any measures have been with numbers rather than logic.