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How the virus spreads

Below is a brief timeline of news related to the belated acknowledgement that COVID-19 is an airborne virus and that aerosols are the dominant driver of spread, not larger droplets or surface contamination.

This admission by health officials is significant because it explains why hand washing, social distancing and masks did not work.

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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 stigma 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.