The San Quentin Ethics Conflict

California’s First Court of Appeals has ordered San Quentin State Prison to transfer or release about 1,700 inmates. That’s 50% of the prison population there, an edict based on the theory that San Quentin officials have not done enough to protect inmates from the pandemic. “We agree that respondents — the Warden and CDCR — have acted with deliberate indifference and relief is warranted,” the court said in its opinion last week.

50% was the figure recommended by a team of experts after they investigated the viral spread that has killed dozens and sickened hundreds at San Quentin’s maximum security facillity. The inmate reduction could be achieved through a combination of transfers and early releases, the court said.

The California Department of Corrections opposes the order. “Since March, the department has released more than 21,000 persons, resulting in the lowest prison population in decades. Additionally, we have implemented response and mitigation efforts across the system,” it argued in a statement. “As of today, CDCR’s COVID-19 cases are the lowest they have been since May (493 cases reported today, and over 14,000 resolved), with San Quentin recording only one new case among the incarcerated population in nearly a month.”

The Wuhan virus has infected more than 200,000 prison and jail inmates. Nearly 1,300 have died as a result, according to a New York Times database.  Civil rights organizations have argued for the release of inmates across the country, using the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment as their justification. San Quentin presents a particularly tough ethical trade-off. In its opinion, the court ruled that the state prison system had shown “deliberate indifference” to the safety and health of San Quentin’s inmates by not taking sufficient measures to protect them. This, the court wrote, was “morally indefensible and constitutionally untenable.”

If the order stands, many of the roughly 3,400 inmates incarcerated at San Quentin will need to be transferred or released, essentially making the safety of convicted criminals a higher priority than the safety of law abiding citizens and the rule of law. The prison confines many convicted of violent crimes, with about 30% serving life sentences. One way to reduce the prison’s overcrowding would be to execute those in the largest death row population in the nation, but the state’s social justice warrior governor, Gavin Newsom, signed an executive order halting the death penalty. In July, he ordered officials to expedite the release of up to 8,000 lower-level offenders nearing the end of their sentences.

The crisis at San Quentin was triggered after state prison officials transferred inmates there from another infected facility. Now, the court announced, “The Eighth Amendment violation currently existing due to insufficient space for the necessary physical distancing will continue unless and until the population at San Quentin can be reduced to the 50 percent level.”  The court’s list of acceptable options includes releasing older inmates currently ineligible for an early exit because they were convicted of violent crimes. The opinion calls that policy unjustified because “such inmates’ heightened vulnerability to the virus and reduced risk of dangerousness to the public.”

My reaction to that is, “Easy for them to say.” This is an excellent example of the importance of having more conservative judges and courts.

It is appropriate for the courts to oversee prison management to ensure that all reasonable steps are being taken to make convicted criminals’ stay in prisons as safe as possible. However, when the trade-offs come down to the health and safety of the prison population versus that of the rest of the nation, the prison population’s welfare must take the inferior position. Releasing prisoners, especially those convicted of serious crimes, before their sentences have been served is not an ethical option.

That it is viewed as one by any judges shows the corrupting influence of the increasing opposition to punishment as part of society’s response to law-breaking generally. This opposition is largely fueled by the sly reframing of the issue as a matter of racial discrimination: since a disproportional number of prison inmates are African-Americans (as they commit a disproportional number of crimes), the size of the prison population must be a racist phenomenon. It is circular reasoning at best, but gaining traction with the public and receiving undeserved and irresponsible support from the news media and prominent Democrats and progressives.

It is not “cruel and unusual punishment” for those who have been convicted of crimes to face the inevitable increased risks to their health and safety naturally resulting from being incarcerated, including the enhanced dangers posed by a pandemic. It is, however, unjust to force the law-abiding public to face the enhanced perils of having criminals, many of them prone to violent crimes, released into the general population before they have served the statutory punishment meted out by the justice system as the penalty of their defiance of the law.

The increased risks of infection caused by being incarcerated during a pandemic are not a “cruel and unusual punishment.” They are the predictable results of being found guilty of committing serious crimes, and the path to avoiding the threat is, or should be, easy. It is also completely within the control of the individual: obey the law. Not a single law-abiding citizen should be placed at increased risk of damage to his or her life or property to protect convicted criminals from their increased risk of infection. They chose to become human viruses in our society.

This is an easy utilitarian calculation, again nicely summarized by the completely ethical motto of “Baretta,” the popular 70’s TV show: “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.”

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Sources: Politico, New York Times

36 thoughts on “The San Quentin Ethics Conflict

  1. No surprise. I’ve pointed out time and time again that the left does not have ordinary people’s best interests at heart, and just sees them as one more group of pawns, menials, and cannon fodder that it can move or sacrifice as necessary to get and keep power.

  2. An issue not talked about much is the effects of the Wuhan virus pandemic on the staffs of correctional facilities. Most jails and prisons are understaffed or at best marginally staffed. The loss of a couple of correctional officers per shift in a county jail can stress its ability to maintain normal operations and impact the safety of the inmates and remaining staff. My county’s jail places staff members on a 14-working-day at-home quarantine if they test positive for COVID. So far, careful intake screening and use of PPE have kept staff losses (and inmate transmission to the population) within reasonable allowances, but it is a tenuous margin with no reserve of manpower to draw from. Fortunately they ha

  3. (finishing last comment) Fortunately they have the ability to isolate some of the infected inmates. Running a jail is never easy, much less so during a pandemic.

  4. “The Wuhan virus has infected more than 200,000 prison and jail inmates. Nearly 1,300 have died as a result, according to a New York Times database.”

    I just did some number crunching based on the New York Times numbers I got today from the link you provided.

    NYT Quote today, “In American jails and prisons, more than 252,000 people have been infected and at least 1,450 inmates and correctional officers have died.”

    Prison population in the USA is estimated at 2.3 million people.

    252,000 people in prisons have been infected with COVID-19, that’s 10.96% of the prison population infected.

    1,450 people in prisons have died from COVID-19, that’s 0.58% of the infected that died.
    ———————————————————————————–
    Population of the USA is estimated at 328.2 million people.

    According to the CDC numbers obtained this morning 8,680,611 have been infected with COVID-19, that’s 2.64% of the population infected.

    According to the CDC numbers obtained this morning 225,084 have died from COVID-19, that’s 2.59% of those infected that died.
    ———————————————————————————–
    There is a difference in both percentage of infected populations (8.32% difference) and more notably there is a difference in the percentage of infected that died; the general population death rate percentage is 4.66 times higher than the prison population death rate which I thought was interesting. Takin into account that prisons are large populations contained in small places the difference in infection rate didn’t surprise me a lot but looking at the numbers and taking absolutely no other factors into consideration (like elderly) it could be argued by someone with an agenda that prisoners get better treatment for COVID-19 than the general population gets.

    • It’s a testing thing.

      We know, generally, the number of dead people with some degree of certainty. We have no conception under God how many Americans have actually had Covid, but we do know that the case mortality rate is nowhere near 2.5%.

      My guess is that the Covid situation at these facilities was so bad they tested everyone, and that both radically increased their case number, and brought the case mortality rate to something approximating real.

  5. Devil’s advocate questions: If a prisoner is serving a seven year sentence, and they are unexpectedly released after six years, and we think that’s dangerous, why would we think it’s not dangerous to release them after seven years? Do we expect them to ever not be dangers to society? If not, why isn’t every sentence a life sentence? What do we intend to happen to people who are imprisoned for between one and ten years?

    Speaking of expectations… logistically, let’s say we release much of the prison population. Now we have a bunch of people who are no longer receiving free meals and must therefore get jobs to feed themselves… during a pandemic recession… with criminal records. …What, exactly, do people expect will happen?

    It’s a separate question from whether it’s safe or ethical to leave people in prison, but it may turn out to nullify the benefits of releasing them or even create a worse problem. I suspect many people are aware of this issue, but I doubt anyone’s taking responsibility for it.

  6. I’m going to straddle a fence on this one;

    I think the entirety of the issue was decided in one line, if the line actually represents the truth:

    “The California Department of Corrections opposes the order. “Since March, the department has released more than 21,000 persons, resulting in the lowest prison population in decades. Additionally, we have implemented response and mitigation efforts across the system,” it argued in a statement. “As of today, CDCR’s COVID-19 cases are the lowest they have been since May (493 cases reported today, and over 14,000 resolved), with San Quentin recording only one new case among the incarcerated population in nearly a month.”

    Whether this was an issue a few months ago is debatable, whether it is now is not: You do not empty anything the size of that prison over a single new case per month. There was a case in Brandon, MB back in June where a Maple Leaf hog plant had 70 cases over the course of a month, Unions were calling for the plant to be shut down for a week and deep scrubbed. I can’t stress how stupid that idea was enough: That plant processes 20,000 hogs a day. If it processed 140,000 fewer hogs, what do you think that does to the food chain? Over 70 cases. Ridiculousness. Better heads prevailed, the plant did not close, there hasn’t been a new case out of it in months.

    That said… I don’t think we can have a case regarding prisons where I can’t bring up how morally bankrupt the American Republican attitude towards incarcerated prisoners is. As for quotes like;

    “It is not “cruel and unusual punishment” for those who have been convicted of crimes to face the inevitable increased risks to their health and safety naturally resulting from being incarcerated, including the enhanced dangers posed by a pandemic.”

    Or

    “The increased risks of infection caused by being incarcerated during a pandemic are not a “cruel and unusual punishment.” They are the predictable results of being found guilty of committing serious crimes, and the path to avoiding the threat is, or should be, easy. It is also completely within the control of the individual: obey the law.”

    Frankly, bullshit. Dying in prison from the most deadly flu outbreak in the history of America is “foreseeable”? Do you even actually believe that? And even if it were not facially absurd, and even if this court, and years of rulings and precedent didn’t agree with me, that attitude still fails some very basic tenants of judicial theory; If you’re in prison, serving a 30 year sentence as your punishment for your crime, then the court of Jack Marshall doesn’t get to add on extra miseries, harms and death at whim.

    Organizations incarcerating people have a fundamental responsibility for the basic well-being of their inmates, and whether or not additional harms are likely or not does not mitigate their failures every time harm occurs.

    • The specific may not be foreseeable, HT, but the reality that one is going to be less safe in prison than out of it is. Your chances of being murdered in prison are much higher than out of it; for some crimes, the likelihood of being at least attacked approaches certainty. Being confined in close quarters is going to make anyone vulnerable to diseases if they break out. One avoid the risk by not committing a crime; one consents to it by doing otherwise.

      • I would love for you to enunciate your standard.

        Because it seems like you’re saying that your standard for what inmates in American prisons can stand for is whatever they get. “The specifics may not be foreseeable, but the reality is that one is going to be less safe in prison than out of it” So… We just throw our hands up and call it a day?

        There HAS to be a limiting principle to that. If a volcano formed out of a mountain directly beside a prison, and a slow lava flow way approaching the prison, is that an “unforeseeable specific situation” that is encapsulated in “prison being more dangerous” than society at large, or do you evacuate the inmates?

        Once you admit, as you have to, that there is a limiting principle on “Fuck those guys”. Then maybe we can talk about the most prolific, deadliest pandemic in the last 100 years.

        • The standard is conditions that can be improved without releasing the inmates and rendering the law unenforceable and the law abiding threatened by increased crime. Prison rape levels rise to cruel and unusual punishment because they can be reduced.

            • It can’t be effectively mitigated against in a prison—putting everyone in solitary is cruel, and the costs of effective social distancing are prohibitive. Nor is the virus “deadly.” Flu outbreaks in prison are worse too. The point is that releasing the prisoners should not be an option.

              • The 1400 dead people might dispute your take on the deadliness of the virus, at least if they weren’t too dead to do so.

                And your definition just moved again: It’s now *not* cruel and unusual punishment if it costs too much to deal with it?

                • Read the various SCOTUS cases defining 8th Amendment standards. Prison is not required to be safe and pleasant. Reasonability includes reasonable expense. It is not reasonable to lavish fund on people who have forced us to lock them up. Your definition is apparently like the definition of “safe cars” that means occupants must survive crashes at any speed. Why shouldn’t the fact that being in prison makes one more at risk of infection be one more reasonable incentive to avoid breaking laws? Why should I be placed at risk of being a crime victim to protect a felon from such a risk? I can’t avoid my risk, but avoiding his was 100% within his power and autonomy.

                  Your first statement is pure appeal to emotion. First find out how many of those casualties involved convicts who should have been executed anyway. How many were so dangerous that they couldn’t be released? Whose fault is that? What is your standard Do you really think for a non-cruel form of incarceration for dangerous prisoners?

                  • “Why should I be placed at risk of being a crime victim to protect a felon from such a risk?”

                    Has an obvious answer: Because there is no right to safety. The government isn’t liable for failing to protect you. Pardons do not create liability for the pardoner if the offender reoffends. This isn’t even controversial. There are however rights that you have, and maintain, even post-conviction, and the government cannot infringe on those rights. And if the government cannot find a way to incarcerate you in a way that doesn’t infringe on the rights you have, then the usual outcome is prisoner release.

                    I argue that letting Covid go unchecked through prisons was cruel and unusual. Courts across America, including this one, seem to agree, because they’re are ruling as such.

                    “How many were so dangerous that they couldn’t be released?”

                    Doesn’t matter. Look, even people on death row have rights, you don’t get to torture people for shiggles on their way out, and if, as you say, these people were so dangerous that they shouldn’t have been released, then that provides additional incentive to get their incarceration right.

                    “What is your standard Do you really think for a non-cruel form of incarceration for dangerous prisoners?”

                    I think the question is: “Is your standard a non-cruel form of incarceration for dangerous prisoners?”
                    To which the answer is: Yes. Obviously. Jesus, do you not?

                    • I don’t regard accepting increased risks of infection from pandemics among prisoners as cruelty. I can’t find it right now, but there are stats that show that the average mortality of prison inmates is significantly worse than outside of prison. As I said: we try to minimize the effect within reason, but do I consider that increased rate of death “cruelty”? I do not. It’s part of the package.

    • Of course having to face a pandemic while incarcerated is not cruel and unusual punishment – once they are released, they are still in a pandemic! The organization of the prison may or may not be able to do better than they have been at shutting down the spread, but since the rule – stringently enforced in California – is stay home, minimize contact, and don’t go out, logically prisoners should be Champs at social isolation. They have extremely controlled access to the outside world, and one can argue that they are ultimately safer from the pandemic than the general population is. I wonder where the risk factor of being forced to stay in a prison falls in comparison to, say, a person spending most their time at a college campus, an elementary school, a retail store, a hospital, or, God forbid, a nursing home.

      At best, this is a reflex sympathy move, with no regard for what comes next; at worst, it’s a policy play disgused as one – the left does not like prisons, so what a great way to get people out of them.

      • “Of course having to face a pandemic while incarcerated is not cruel and unusual punishment – once they are released, they are still in a pandemic!”

        The point just landed on the runway behind you. I’m not saying it’s cruel and unusual to keep someone incarcerated while there’s a pandemic going on, I’m saying:

        1) That asserting that it was foreseeable is ludicrous.

        2) That it IS cruel and unusual punishment to fail to safeguard your prison against the spread of Covid.

        You said it yourself:

        “They have extremely controlled access to the outside world, and one can argue that they are ultimately safer from the pandemic than the general population is.”

        So why is the community spread rate so high? Why are so many inmates dead?

    • When you make the choice to commit a crime, you’re choosing to potentially put yourself in an environment where inevitable health outbreaks will be higher. Those who choose to work in large populations also have to assess that risk. Why should a criminal be any different?

      We have a family member in a CA prison. He noted inmates are purposely trying to infect each other to get out of their cells or prison. So another risk you take in commiting criminal acts is to surround yourself with others who may purposely harm themselves or others. That reality should give potential criminals a reason to rethink their actions.

      • I said it to Jack above, but sure I’ll say it to you too;

        “When you make the choice to commit a crime, you’re choosing to potentially put yourself in an environment where inevitable health outbreaks will be higher.”

        What is the limiting principle on that? Because the standard of “fuck those guys, they’re in prison” obviously has limits, otherwise, why not just shoot them all and be done with it? I mean, they committed a crime right? The punishment is more dangerous than life outside a prison, right?

        Once you come to the inevitability of there *being* a limiting principle “When you make the choice to commit a crime, you’re choosing to potentially put yourself in an environment where inevitable health outbreaks will be higher.” becomes a truistic, meaningless bumper sticker.

        So very directly: How shitty can conditions in a prison be before they reach your standard of “cruel and unusual”?

        • How shitty? I suppose we could start with prison rape, transmission of STD’s, violent fights and murder. But no one in the moment seems to be upset about that. The left certainly isn’t focused on that. In fact a few women have been raped in prison globally when men who identify as women were put into womens units. To even mention how unfair that is, is to invite the label of the dreaded transphobe.

          So perhaps the heart of this dilemma is like many others. Where do we draw the line? Should prisoners be given lollypops and a puppy because they had bad childhoods or mental illness? Or should they should be severely punished to right a wrong they committed against society? But that sounds like a false dichotomy doesn’t it?

          So we say criminals of course should pay their debt but what is the best way? Right now what we have are institutions for correction. Other alternatives could be ankle monitors and house arrest but there are many flaws there. We could just have omnipresent cameras everywhere but then we all would be watched and many criminals act out anyway.

          It seems there’s a touch of the utopian here. It would be nice if prisons were “safe spaces” and no one was subject to increased disease conditions from the nature of institutional life. It would also be nice if gang rape, murder, and other realities of prison life was gone. But then everyone would have to be in solitary confinement, which is a serious human rights violation in the long-term.

          The system is indeed flawed and I’d prefer inmates to have a very different reality. My dream would be to ensure all kinds of social programs were available so criminals would stop repeating unlawful acts. But even those have failed at times. Not sure if you’ve ever volunteered at a facility but when I did, there were few inmates really serious about reforming. My bubble was burst at that point.

          So if you have a well-documented alternative to what we have for the prison system currently, that doesn’t essentially imprison the rest of society because we’re no longer safe from constant and dangerous criminal activity, I’m not only interested, I’ll help. Otherwise the most humane thing a person can do to avoid the complications and even failures of the system, is to do their best to stay out of it.

          On a side note…it has been really hard on our family to have a loved one in prison for what is likely the rest of his life. We worry for him and covid-19 hasn’t helped. But every single one of us believes he needs to be jailed and stay so. Even after more than 15 years behind bars he still has never said he was sorry. They don’t want him to suffer but he remains a danger to society and even our family. Few talk about the suffering families go through in this way as well.

          • So my question was:

            “How shitty can conditions in a prison be before they reach your standard of “cruel and unusual”?”

            And your answer was “[Somewhere between] prison rape, transmission of STD’s, violent fights [,] murder, [and giving them] lollypops and a puppy because they had bad childhoods or mental illness.”

            Which is I suppose tighter than where you started, but didn’t really answer the question, now did it? And you really hollowed it out when after describing the upper limit to normalize and explain away that limit, so I’m not even sure that’s your line. I understand that prison isn’t supposed to be a day camp or a spa stay, but when the government takes responsibility for the care of a person, which is explicitly part of what incarceration is, there is a certain minimum standard that needs to be explicitly defined. The courts, attempting to do just that, agree with me. So if you’re going to disagree with me, you’re going to have to have something more than rationalizations like “it happens all the time”.

            You talked about alternatives… ankle monitors and the like. I wouldn’t even go there. I’d start with competently run, not-for-profit prisons. America’s prisons are uniquely bad, and I think Americans have an awful hard time looking past their borders, because even a cursory glance at prisons outside of America put lie to the idea that that’s how they have to be.

            • I asked you for specific and well documented alternatives and you gave me “not-for-profit” prisons. Again, can you provide links or some proof that these are happening, working, and truly keeping society safe from violence and recidivism?

              You’re welcome to continue being rude to me in your answers. I like it when people make their biases transparent. That being said I answered your question clearly by saying murders, rapes, etc. Not sure how that wasn’t clear. One thing I did forget was how many prisoners are basically forced to join social race-based groups to survive. That type of division also causes emotional distress for inmates.

              HT we are not enemies. Hopefully our further exchanges can be made in the spirit of mutual care for each other and those we are called to advocate for.

  7. Jack,

    “It is also completely within the control of the individual: obey the law. Not a single law-abiding citizen should be placed at increased risk of damage to his or her life or property to protect convicted criminals from their increased risk of infection. They chose to become human viruses in our society.”

    I agree in principle, but we don’t live in a perfectly just society. Innocent people get arrested, convicted, and even sentenced all the time from minor offenses on up. I myself plead guilty to a traffic violation I never committed because I had no evidence to back me up I’ve also been cuffed and thrown in the back f a squad car for over and hour while my things were illegally searched. Obeying the law does not guarantee one avoids run-ins with law enforcement.

  8. Steve’s numerical analysis shows what I have been trying to tell people for the last several months, regarding the actual percentage of the entire population that is infected and also the percentage of those infected who die from it. Both percentages are pretty low,especially in light of the “hair on fire” rhetoric coming from the left.

    The motivation of those pushing for COVID-release from the prisons is not the health of the prisoners, and certainly not the well being of the population in general, but a rigid belief that people should not be incarcerated for any reason. Any crutch they can employ to accomplish the total emptying of prisons and jails is one they will use. Prisoners get good health care, and excellent access to the providers. A request for treatment by a prisoner in CA has to be acted upon within a day, and they must be seen within 48 hours. Try getting that from your HMO. There are running jokes that senior citizens should get themselves arrested and incarcerated so they can live out their lives with good health care, regular meals and a solid roof over their heads. Certainly it would be a major step up for the countless homeless now populating the cities.,

  9. I completely disagree with you Jack, for reasons already mentioned by other commenters.

    That often when it comes to healthcare, or even food and shelter, criminals – whether factually guilty or not – are treated less barbarically than the law abiding – and those who have avoided punishment for their crimes – is a reason for treating the non prisoner population better, not for treating prisoners worse.

    That this is not widely recognised is a sad condemnation of US society. Society? No, a collection of dog eat dog individuals, who loudly proclaim their rights, while dodging any notion of concommitant responsibility. A Nation of Assholes.

    Reality wins in the end. The Gods of the Copybook Headings, with terror and slaughter remain. 230,000 isn’t it? Or is it higher, at current rates it’s easy to lose track.

    ” President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner boasted in mid-April about how the President had cut out the doctors and scientists advising him on the unfolding coronavirus pandemic…

    In a taped interview on April 18, Kushner told legendary journalist Bob Woodward that Trump was “getting the country back from the doctors” in what he called a “negotiated settlement.” Kushner also proclaimed that the US was moving swiftly through the “panic phase” and “pain phase” of the pandemic and that the country was at the “beginning of the comeback phase.”
    “That doesn’t mean there’s not still a lot of pain and there won’t be pain for a while, but that basically was, we’ve now put out rules to get back to work,” Kushner said. “Trump’s now back in charge. It’s not the doctors.”

    That was in April. Since then, another 200,000 Americans have died as the result of these policies.

    And the economy dived by over 30% anyway.

    What really saddens me is that assholery is even more infectious than Covid-19.

    When elderly Trump supporters were literally left out in the cold, after supporting the cruel and callously indifferent treatment of others, and ended up in hospital, so very many applauded at the Justice of it. That’s heartbreaking to me.

    While many victims would have been deliberately cruel, my bet is that the vast majority were misinformed or negligent at worst.

    Not that that matters. They are Human Beings. I don’t care what their motives are or were. Justice untempered by Mercy is really, really, *really* over rated.

    By all means oppose their policies and mitigate their cruelty, but never forget they are human too. Otherwise you become them with a different label, just another species of self righteous asshole.

    To use the Australian phrase… Bugger That for a Game of Soldiers. Save em all and let God sort em out.

    Which is why the Australian state of Victoria went from the catastrophic rate of infection of 740 per day, 4 months ago, to “double doughnuts” – 0 cases, 0 deaths, after 4 months of self sacrifice. And can now *really* start to open up, in accordance with scientific advice and, you know, Reality.

    • You cannot possibly believe that 200,000 have died “because of these policies.” They have died because of the virus, and I have yet to see any analysis that isn’t pure speculation and handsight bias indicating that any plausible policy in the US would have resulted in any fewer.

      • Now, we do have evidence, convincing evidence, that NYC policies, like keeping the subways open, and NY state policies, like dumping infected seniors in nursing homes, DID kill people necessarily, but those weren’t Trump’s policies.

        Now you have to explain to me why “scientists” should have any credibility when they many of them endorsed mass gatherings to protest a single police killing while advocating closing churches.

      • I thought of you when I read this:

        Dr. Deborah Birx, one of the experts advising President Trump, predicted that “if we do things almost perfectly,” there would be up to 200,000 deaths in the United States. “If we do things together well, almost perfectly, we could get in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 fatalities,” Birx told Savannah Guthrie on Today.

        Science!!!

  10. Somehow, Canada managed to have 1/3 the rate per capita of the US, in both cases and deaths.

    When Dr Birx said what she said, we knew less. Now it’s likely that “only” 60,000 would have died with only moderately incompetent handling of the virus. Like Canada’s.

    Now we’re looking at 400,000 deaths by year end, at current rates of increase.

    Per million :
    Canada 5,710 cases, 263 deaths
    USA 28,605 cases, 695 deaths

    Totals
    Canada 38mil pop, 2,000 cases/day, 216,000 cases, 10,000 deaths.
    USA 330mil pop, 68,000 cases/day,8.89 million cases, 230,000 deaths.

    See https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#news

    • Rebuttal: The US isn’t Canada. American aren’t like Canadians. It’s a useless comparison.

      Now describe, without hindsight, what you think “moderately incompetent handling of the virus.” would be that was feasible and legal.

      • Looking at the Australian state of Victoria once more…
        Back in May, there were less than 10 cases daily in the whole of Australia Only 108 deaths in total,
        Then someone dropped the ball in Victoria. A multiple quarantine failure.

        5, 30, 100, 500 cases in 4 weeks, before lockdown was instituted.

        4 weeks later, cases were still in the hundreds, but no longer exploding exponentially, just dropping at a glacial pace.

        A fanatical lockdown was then instituted, similar to the most extreme versions in parts of the USA in 1918. (So yes, there is legal precedent)

        The result?

        “Why did some academic colleagues feel that making a target of us (and thereby unleashing a wave of both amateur and professional online trolls) was reasonable, but that a target of less than five cases per day by October 26 was not?

        The answer to that question holds important messages for science and its role in society

        We should not expect that we can beat this wave of coronavirus and then it’s over. We are entering the next phase and there are 10 keys to keeping it under control.

        Here is what our team had going for us.

        Firstly, our team was unencumbered by financial contracts. There was no financial nor other employee-employer relationship that influenced us to deliver DHHS a “preferred” solution. On such critical work, the arms-length (or at least 1.5m) freedom to agree and disagree with government in the collaborative process of model building is paramount.

        Secondly, our team is multi-disciplinary. Core members include public health physicians, epidemiologists, psychologists, mathematicians, computer scientists, economists and geographers. In addition, our group model building approach also engages further input from an even broader range of experts on the ground. Everyone’s input is equally regarded and equally challenged.

        As illustrated by the nature of the criticism our group has received, knowledge creation in the health sciences — and recognition of the authority of the knowledge creators — reflects the hierarchical nature of institutional medicine where challenges to authority are rare. Surely this is the antithesis of an enquiry-based culture upon which good science depends?

        Lastly, the computational approach we used — agent-based modelling — does not restrict what is possible in the future to only that which has occurred in the past. Has any other country demolished a second wave before? Who cares? Let’s go for it.

        Just like a football team that has never won a premiership but believes it could, we emphasise that if a strategy is set and a process is followed, we have a great chance of a win.
        In this circumstance, the team was Victoria, the process was what we all just did for one another, and the win is getting our lives back.”

        At the peak, the rate in Victoria was equal to the worst country on Earth. It’s now below 5 in Melbourne, and zero in the rest of the state (14 day moving average).

      • As regards the US and Canada – no, they are not the same. Just demographically very, very, very similar. More similar by far than Maine and Louisiana for example. More similar than Saskatchewan and Quebec.

        Canada is almost a Bonsai US when it comes to political structure (Federation of provinces/states with very independant governments and polarised Red/Blue) and Demographics, Rural/Urban.

        Not a perfect match, but at least as close as any other pair of countries. Enough to make comparisons more meaningful than with any other pair of countries, or even most pairs of states in the USA.

    • You’re not the first person to assert that there will be another 200k deaths before the end of the year, but it is an assertion I find baffling.

      I do numbers — there are roughly 60 or so days left in the year, and for there to be another 200,000 deaths this year that equates to over 3000 per day. The current 7 day average is around 800 per day.

      So this claim is basically asserting that our death rate is suddenly going to quadruple and stay that high for the next two months.

      To me that makes no sense — it didn’t when Biden claimed that during the second debate and it makes less sense now. What evidence is there that would lead one to such a conclusion?

      My understanding is that mortality rates have been going down and outcomes have been improving as our understanding of this disease increases and we develop better ways to treat people (which would make sense for just about any new disease).

      • The trouble with exponential growth rates is that they are very sensitive to initial assumptions.

        It’s not so much 10, 12, 15, 19 as 10, 20, 40, 80. You need to look at first, second and even third derivatives. Rate of increase of rate of increase of rate of increase.

        Then there are lags in reporting – the weekly dips over weekends are blindingly obvious – and even a tiny change to 3rd derivative can lead to an order of magnitude difference in total. There’s a 2 week lag from peak cases to peak deaths.

        400,000 deaths by year end is at the median, 250,000 by Thanksgiving, 300,000 at beginning of December, but there are too many imponderables.

        300,000 by year end is consistent with linear growth, or rather, constant growth of 0. We’ve seen long periods of this in the past, even slowly decreasing growth, down to 20,000 new cases per day just 2 months ago. Now it’s 80,000 and rising.

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