Questioning the dogma

If droplets were the main mode of transmission, as public health experts insisted until yesterday, all of the measures they promoted for the past year would have been successful.

They were not successful.

But because of a sigma against questioning the dogma of experts, reinforced by social media bans and algorithmic disclaimers, we had to pretend as if they were, and as if the main problem was lack of compliance.

The official narrative led some people, many people, to eye with suspicion anyone who fell ill, and to blame them for their own misfortune.

Questioning the narrative, even when armed with overwhelming evidence, would have you labeled anti-science, ignorant, uncaring, un-Christian, or all of the above. If you held no degree, you had no basis from which to speak. And if you were credentialed, you were a quack, an outlier, obviously not trustworthy because you did not adhere to the party line.

Meanwhile more people died because the CDC sent them into the world assured that six feet of distance, hand sanitizer and a mask would protect them. When the death toll kept rising, the only answers from public health were to be more compliant with the failed measures, add more layers, and urge new levels of mandates and restrictions.

People saw this happening and decided the answer was to take those same measures to the Nth degree, masking alone on outdoor walks, or while driving solo in cars. If you saw someone out of compliance, you were justified in filming yourself barking at them and calling them murderers.

Instead of a plan to protect the most susceptible populations, we kept the least susceptible ones away from their instructors, peers, and playgrounds.

Rather than allowing people to assess the risks and make their own decisions, we left everything to the CDC, forced people out of work, and borrowed billions from the next generation.

And when a truly miraculous technology arrived, politicians and public health officials decided to undermine public confidence by first saying they wouldn’t trust anything developed under the former president, then by insisting everyone had to keep using all the same methods as before, and finally by pausing the rollout because of literally one-in-a-million adverse reactions.

Antisocial behavior. Learning loss. Destroyed jobs and businesses. Broken faith communities. Lost lives. All so that we could pretend the experts knew what they were talking about when they so clearly did not.

But despite an entire artifice of government being built upon this foundation of sand, the CDC, health officials and politicians can continue to reverse themselves with complete immunity because “everybody knows this is a novel situation and the science is evolving.”

They can never be held to any one position, but we must always be beholden to their latest directives. It’s a wonderful system if you have nothing at stake, you don’t mind the truth being a casualty of censorship and you’re fine with losing your right to representative government.

A wonderful, wonderful system.


Did the mandate help?

Leadership from the Shelby County Health Department is crediting the mask mandate for a reduction in the infection rate. Below is a clip from today’s Joint Covid Task Force news conference.

“There have been two time periods where we had… the reproductive rate pushed below one. The first was last July, after the initial face-masking orders went into place across the county and throughout the City of Memphis, and that – just simply wearing the mask – drove the reproductive rate of the virus down by interfering enough with the transmission of the virus that Rt (or reproductive rate) dropped below one.” – David Sweat

Unfortunately, there are a few problems with this interpretation.

First, the infection rate began falling in the middle of June.

As you can see from the yellow line, the early peak of the reproductive rate arrived a little more than halfway between June and July.

Mr. Sweat chooses careful wording to draw our attention to the point indicated by the yellow circle. But it’s clear the 1.0 threshold was crossed in the middle of a downward trajectory that stretched about a month.

Second, Sweat provides no explanation for why the mandate stopped working as well in August, what caused the rate to fall once again between October and March, nor what is driving the increase now.

The mask mandate has not been lifted or significantly altered since it was implemented in July. If it was responsible for the (continued) decrease last summer, why didn’t it prevent new increases in the second half of the year or in recent days?

Third, Tennessee’s reproductive rate has for the last year been nearly identical to Shelby County’s, despite the lack of a statewide mask mandate.

While Shelby County’s numbers are also reflected in Tennessee’s, we would expect these lines to diverge if mask mandates had any significant impact.

And finally, all of these numbers flow from the assumption that we’re detecting significant changes in the number of people infected.

But that assumption is complicated by the finding that known cases of COVID-19 represent only a fraction of total infections, as reported today by the Daily Memphian and earlier by the Commercial Appeal:

The study found that about 27% of the population had antibodies for the virus. If that number held throughout the entire population, that would mean about 270,000 people have actually been infected with COVID-19 in Shelby County.

As of Friday, there had been 89,960 known infections in Shelby County, meaning the local data could be off by a factor of 3. Experts such as Jain have always estimated that the true number of infections was much higher than the known infections. 

If we are only aware of a third of what’s happening with the virus, it’s possible that what we thought were significant ups and downs were just statistical noise.

To be fair to the other side of the argument, I will take note of a report the CDC released last month crediting mask mandates with reducing case growth rates by between 0.5 and 1.8 percent.

Even if we assume the study is accurate, though contradicted by numerous examples, it still comes down to a philosophical question:

Should (unelected) government leaders hold the authority to impose a mandate, for an indeterminate period of time, on an entire population, more than half of whom now carry at least some level of immunity, for a chance of improving one health outcome by less than 2 percent?

My answer is no.

Highly effective and safe vaccines are now available to any adult. If health officials want more shots in arms, they should stop talking down their effectiveness and start promoting their benefits.

Every minute the health department spends defending masks is a minute it could be spending reassuring people about the benefits of the vaccines, some of which authorities have even paused. If they are worried about vaccine hesitancy, they will find the answer by taking a look in the mirror.


Ending the mandate

The Shelby County mask mandate is back up for discussion and local journalists are questioning whether the Health Department might lift the rule.

The mandate was imposed on July 3, after Tennessee Governor Bill Lee gave that authority to the state’s six local health departments.

Shelby County Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph said lifting the mask mandate “is something we would consider,” but added that, “the mask is the simplest tool that we have that’s shown to be most effective, and we would need to have good reasons to get rid of it.”

According to Fox 13, “Dr. Randolph said this decision would be based on data.”

Well, let’s take a look.

Measuring compliance

A study by the University of Memphis School of Public Health measuring mask use and compliance before and after the mandate found that mask wearing jumped from 52 percent in June to 92 percent in July.

When Fox 13 did a follow-up story on September 9, a fresh survey had found 96 percent of people observed wore a mask the previous month.

The University repeated the study in September, October, November and December and found “sustained high levels of compliance (95-96%).”

Unfortunately, such high levels of compliance with the mandate did not prevent the new case rate from rising.

Between the Sept. 9 news report and the local peak in December, new cases rose 705 percent, from 109 to 883 (7-day averages).

Statewide mandate

The day following our local new cases peak, Gov. Lee gave a primetime address responding to heightened pressure to impose a statewide mask mandate.

In his speech on December 20, the governor limited public gatherings but declined to impose a statewide mandate.

Based on his refusal and the recent detection of new variants, health officials were predicting disaster in the new year.

Instead, from that date through this week, new cases in Tennessee fell from 9,024 to 1,049, dropping 88 percent.

The bottom line

In summary, the Shelby County mandate did not keep local cases from rising by a factor of eight, and the absence of a statewide mandate did not stop statewide cases from falling to a tenth of the previous level.

And despite highly-effective vaccines now being available to any adult in Shelby County, the health authorities are as committed as ever to your continued obedience with the most visual and symbolic aspect of their dictates.

There is no exit strategy.

Meanwhile, health officials continue to ignore their own mandates during news conferences.


COVID-19 update

This will be my final regular update reporting COVID-19 numbers for Shelby County. You can find all of the data used to build these charts and graphs on the Shelby County Health Department COVID-19 data dashboard.

One year ago this month, Shelby County reported its first known case of COVID-19, as well as the first death attributed to the virus.

There have been 90,110 reported cases of COVID-19 in Shelby County, as well as 1,546 deaths. The Commercial Appeal reports today that the true infection rate may be three times the number of cases, meaning 270,000 people in Shelby County have been infected recently enough to have antibodies present.

The Health Department has released its 19th directive, effective today, relaxing rules and restrictions on restaurants.

I have called for all such rules, mandates and restrictions to be lifted, and for health officials to return to an advisory role, allowing individuals to take whatever informed precautions necessary to keep themselves and others safe. I’ve done this for a few reasons:

  • Lockdowns, mandates and restrictions have had little effect on the spread of the virus, as noted in recent articles in Newsweek, The Associated Press, The Las Vegas Review Journal and elsewhere. I made the case using state and local data in a previous post here.
  • With a full year behind us, we need to return to our system of representative government and stop allowing ourselves to be directed by unelected authorities. Theirs should be an advisory role. We cannot allow emergency rule and restricted liberties to continue indefinitely.
  • County health officials have not demonstrated an ability to professionally manage the one job we needed them to perform well. If they could not do that, they certainly cannot run your business.
  • If the virus does not behave differently from week to week, it makes no sense to keep tweaking the guidelines.
  • The idea that citizens should be expected to read, understand and comply with 20-page directives issued every few weeks is not practical, and it’s a terrible burden on small business.

The time is now.


Shelby County Assessor of Property Melvin Burgess used an additional $180,000 from the county’s depleted general fund balance to blast out what look like political mailers to every home in the county.

Some were so confused by the mailers that they tossed them immediately into the garbage, not realizing they contained their official 2021 property reappraisal notice.

Burgess also changed the official website address for the Assessor’s office to

Just to illustrate how utterly ridiculous this is, I’ve registered the domain name and have it set to redirect here. That’s literally all the Shelby County Assessor’s office had to do if the goal was to create a web address that is “easier for the public to remember.”

Their explanation for the new web address makes no sense, and they also keep changing their story as to why they needed the additional funds for these mailers.

Also, if the size of the mailers was increased to include more information, why do they provide less information than in previous years?

This is a waste of taxpayer dollars.