2021年8月3日 星期二

Lock Florida down now!

Time to revisit the 2020 playbook.
A health care worker at a Covid-19 mobile testing site operated by the Florida Department of Health in Manatee County.Octavio Jones/Reuters
Author Headshot

By Paul Krugman

Opinion Columnist

When you're a wonk trying to be a pundit — or for that matter any kind of technocrat who wants to have real-world influence — it's usually not helpful to push for policies that you believe would be right in principle but have no political chance of becoming reality.

The prime example for me has been health insurance. If our goal is to make sure that everyone has adequate, affordable health care, why not just pay for everyone's care? On policy grounds, I've never disagreed with the proposition that we should have Medicare for all; there's even a pretty good case for direct provision of medical care along the lines of Britain's National Health Service. Why bother with a Rube Goldberg device like Obamacare, which uses regulations and subsidies to nudge private insurers into covering most people?

But the politics are impossible, and not just because of special interests: You'd have to persuade the 170 million Americans with private insurance to accept something completely different. Even though most of them would probably be better off, that's too heavy a lift. So incremental reform, possibly evolving over time into single-payer, is how it's going to have to be.

Sometimes, though, it may be helpful to talk about what a government really should be doing, even if there isn't a snowball's chance in Miami Beach that they'll take your advice, simply as a way of highlighting the wrongheadedness of what that government is actually doing.

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Which brings me to current pandemic policy in red states, the subject of today's column. Imagine for a moment that Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida were to have a sudden attack of conscience — if he were suddenly to admit to himself the carnage his Covid denial has created — and were to do an abrupt about-face, trying to limit the damage. (Like I said, a snowball's chance in Miami Beach.) What would he do?

The answer, I'd submit, is that he'd call for an immediate, fairly strict lockdown: mask requirements, a ban on indoor dining, the works.

To see why, let's revisit the logic behind the lockdowns we had in 2020.

In the early days of the pandemic, effective vaccines seemed like a remote prospect, and it looked like a good bet that almost everyone would eventually come down with Covid-19. Even so, it was important that we "flatten the curve" in an attempt to avoid having too many people need hospitalization all at once so as not to overwhelm the health care system. And lockdowns did that.

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As it turned out, however, we had a scientific miracle: Remarkably effective vaccines became available faster than anyone had imagined possible. But this miracle didn't mean that the lockdowns had been a mistake. On the contrary, it meant that they were an even better idea than we realized, because they bought time to get vaccines developed and distributed. People who managed to avoid getting infected during the pandemic's first year, then got their shots, are now likely to dodge the virus altogether or suffer only a mild case. Infections deferred were infections avoided, after all.

Unfortunately, the U.S. vaccination drive, while very successful at first, eventually ran into a wall. Politics wasn't the only reason vaccination slowed to a crawl, but it was a large part of the story — and the resurgence of Covid associated with the Delta variant has been strongly concentrated in a few red states, of which Florida is the most important.

What I haven't seen too many people pointing out clearly is that thanks to this gratuitous policy failure, Florida and a few other states are basically back where the whole country was in 2020.

On one side, soaring case loads are overwhelming the hospitals. On the other side, there's good reason to believe that salvation awaits for those who manage to avoid getting infected in the next couple of months. At this point it's not a matter of developing and distributing vaccines; they're available. Now it's about getting people to take them. But there are growing signs that this is going to happen — that the great vaccination pause will soon be over and vaccination rates will surge again.

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Partly this is happening via individual choice: Despite Tucker Carlson's best efforts, the realization that not getting vaccinated is a huge mistake seems to be seeping through. Vaccination rates are rising again, especially in states with large numbers of new cases.

Employers are also taking a hand, with a growing number of private companies and some government agencies starting to require that their employees get vaccinated. These localized mandates won't cover everyone, but they'll probably help establish being vaccinated as the new norm.

So once again we're in a situation where making it through the next couple of months may well mean avoiding ever catching this thing.

The implications for my imaginary, conscience-stricken DeSantis are clear: He should call for a brief but intense lockdown that drastically reduces the number of new cases, sparing the hospital system from overload and buying time for vaccine resistance to crumble and his state to achieve something like herd immunity.

Needless to say, actual DeSantis will do the opposite, refusing to acknowledge the danger and doing all he can to prevent an effective response to the Delta surge. But I hope that my thought experiment at least has the virtue of showing how bad his likely behavior will be.

When do we get bumper stickers saying, "DeSantis denied, people died"?

Quick Hits

Remember when we were doing better than Europe?

These days, density is (slightly) your friend when it comes to vaccination.

Anti-drunk-driving in the infrastructure bill.

Andy Slavitt on how things have changed in the past month.

Feedback If you're enjoying what you're reading, please consider recommending it to friends. They can sign up here. If you want to share your thoughts on an item in this week's newsletter or on the newsletter in general, please email me at krugman-newsletter@nytimes.com.

Facing the Music

Covid wouldn't let you fly, but it did let you sing.YouTube

Mother, should I trust the government?

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