By: Mark Glennon*
Illinois is No. 1 on this measure in the fight against coronavirus!
Governor JB Pritzker and many of his supporters recently sent that message on social media by spreading the chart below. Loads of Illinoisans praised it on Twitter with comments like, “Thank you Governor and your administration for leading us through this crisis.”
But take a closer look because it’s more hooey passing as “science and data.” Ironically, Illinois actually does have genuinely good news to report on the virus, but it may convey a different lesson, so it’s a good time to consider a broader perspective on Illinois’ shutdown rule.
The chart Pritzker and his staff circulated was taken from a recent Fortune article. It shows which states are seeing the largest reductions on COVID cases:
Illinois’ new coronavirus cases are down by an average of 936 per day compared to two weeks ago, the biggest decrease in the nation. That’s the main point the chart conveys.
Multiple problems should be obvious.
First, Illinois also had, according to the article and at the time it was written, the nation’s fourth-highest total case count. Illinois was merely coming off a particularly high base case count compared to other states, making the big drop mean little. The chart and Pritzker’s message didn’t show that.
The article itself says, “Many of the hardest hit states in the Northeast and Midwest…are seeing new infections trending downward.” Those Northeast states got hid hard early and started bending the curve earlier. The chart doesn’t tell us that or that Illinois is among those states hit particularly hard.
More fundamentally, the chart measured just total case numbers, not adjusted for population of the state, so it’s only natural that the biggest moves, whether up or down, would be mostly in the biggest states like California, Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York and Florida.
And what happened to Pritzker’s earlier message that new case numbers don’t mean much? He said that several times beginning in early May. New case numbers, he said, are “less important to keep an eye on, because the truth is we haven’t tested everybody in the state and no state has and the numbers that get reported are really a function of how many tests we do.” That’s true, but he is apparently happy to cite them when they look nice.
Presumably, the real point Pritzker is trying to make is that his lockdown order has worked and we need to stick with it.
But has it worked? Is it still working?
Is it working now? Illinois has legitimately good, recent news – trends are very favorable. Hospitalizations are down by half and deaths by 40 percent since their peaks.
But is that due to Illinois’ shutdown order?
If you try to match which states and countries have fared well with which ones have or had strict lockdown orders you will be frustrated. And it’s not hard to find experts saying lockdowns haven’t made much difference, or did more harm than good.
Stanford University Nobel laureate Prof. Michael Levitt says governors who locked down their economies likely cost more lives than they saved. Marko Kolanovic, a physicist and a strategist for JP Morgan, who reviewed results from many locations, found that lockdowns had little effect. Falling infection rates since lockdowns were lifted suggest the virus “likely has its own dynamics” which are “unrelated to often inconsistent lockdown measures,” he concluded.
Wisconsin may be the best case study because its lockdown order came to a hard stop on May 13 when it was voided in court. As we wrote recently, a study this month concluded that had no effect on the course of the virus, and Wisconsin remains among the states that best have the virus under control.
But suppose that’s wrong and that the positive trend in Illinois is attributable to the shutdown order. That still leaves the most important question – whether it was worth it, in terms of both the economy and lives. On that, consider the recent work by three academics published in The Hill concluding that the shutdown will cost Americans millions of years of life:
The policies have created the greatest global economic disruption in history, with trillions of dollars of lost economic output. These financial losses have been falsely portrayed as purely economic. To the contrary, using numerous National Institutes of Health Public Access publications, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Bureau of Labor Statistics data, and various actuarial tables, we calculate that these policies will cause devastating non-economic consequences that will total millions of accumulated years of life lost in the United States, far beyond what the virus itself has caused.
Finally, why did Pritzker cite the nearly meaningless new case numbers to show Illinois’ improvement instead of hospitalizations and deaths, which legitimately show that the virus is receding rapidly?
Perhaps because those numbers show how wrong the science and data were that he used to build his case for extending the shutdown order and his for his highly controversial reopening plan. As we detailed earlier, those numbers show that the virus had already peaked before he announced a new, later projection of that peak. His projections were wrong before he even announced them.
I for one have an open mind about many aspects of shutdown orders and about how Illinois should respond if the virus surges again — and it might. But I already know for sure that my opinion shouldn’t be based on anything the Pritzker Administration says and that its reopening plan made no sense from the start.
*Mark Glennon is founder of Wirepoints.
Read more about COVID-19 and the impact on Illinois:
- Pritzker has no excuse to extend his shutdown of Illinois. His own data says reopen.
- New study finds ‘no evidence’ of COVID outbreak in Wisconsin after lockdown order voided; other metrics continue to improve
- COVID-19 Appears to Have Peaked and be Declining in Illinois – For Now
- COVID-19 spreads to half of all Chicagoland retirement homes. How did this happen?
- COVID-19 deaths and pre-existing conditions. What Illinois’ data says about who’s at risk
- Facing Growing Defiance, Pritzker Thumbs Nose at AG Opinion, Insults and Threatens Dissidents
- Pritzker’s overly-restrictive shutdown rules make Illinois a national outlier
- Half of Illinois’ deaths linked to retirement homes. Five key facts you should know.
- Wirepoints analysis reveals 92 percent of Cook County COVID-19 victims had pre-existing conditions
- With New FDA Action, Gov. Pritzker and Dr. Ezike Have No Excuse for Further Stonewalling Antibody Testing
- Pritzker’s top-down reopen strategy will fail large parts of IL: He should expect pushback
- Governor Pritzker’s Plan to Reopen Illinois Makes No Sense
- Illinois’ COVID-19 crisis: Daily data update