Skip to main content

If Data Is Supposed to Be Our Guide, the Great Coronavirus Shutdown of 2020 Should End

According to the most widely cited model projecting the course of the coronavirus outbreak, today is supposed to be Oklahoma’s peak in daily deaths. Now is a good time to go back to the beginning of the Great Coronavirus Shutdown of 2020, review the goal of our policy, and assess our current status. If our policy should be “data-driven,” as we are constantly told, then let’s actually look at the data and determine our next policy steps accordingly.

Spoiler alert: according to the terms set out by those advocating for the shutdown policy, the policy’s continuance is no longer justified.

The stated goal of the shutdown policy was to “flatten the curve” so as to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with COVID patients. The fear was that the virus would spread so fast that at its peak, the number of cases would exceed the overall capacity of the healthcare system. If that peak could be stretched out over a longer period of time, lives would be saved. This concept was illustrated through a rather cartoonish graph.

There were reasons to be skeptical from the beginning. The curve-flattening graphs rarely had any real numbers attached to them. Instead, a wide range of context-free numbers were tossed around by public health officials and in the media. The flatten–the–curve strategy also included some massive assumptions that policymakers seem to have accepted uncritically, or at least felt they did not have the time to examine closely. The dotted line that represents our “healthcare system capacity” should have been a red flag. What is this vague term even referring to? Does it include only hospitals? Just ICU beds? Will it fluctuate as the government surges resources and hospitals prioritize cases? None of these questions were answered, and from the outside, it appears they were not even seriously asked.

I will confess that my own skepticism of the shutdown policy included these questions, but was more focused on whether the graph-makers were drawing the dotted line too high, or overestimating the policy’s ability to bend the virus curve below it. That is, my concern was that we would undertake this massively disruptive and economically disastrous policy without any certainty that it would actually flatten the curve enough to prevent the overwhelming of hospitals. Assessing those certain costs against the highly speculative benefits of the shutdown, I was unconvinced. I feared we would have the worst of all worlds: a broken economy, lost liberty, and overburdened hospitals.

The opposite has transpired. In Oklahoma, we have never come close to our hospital capacity, and our curve has been basically flat. Our worst day so far saw just 18 percent of dedicated COVID ICU beds occupied by COVID patients. The Oklahoma Health Department reports these numbers every day, and from my review we have cumulatively had just north of 550 hospitalizations, with around 300 currently hospitalized. According to a recent report from a high ranking elected official, Oklahoma hospitals have 5,887 total beds, 991 ICU beds and 1,111 ventilators available for use by COVID-19 patients.

I do not wish to litigate here whether the shutdown policy was wildly successful at flattening the curve or whether it was wildly misconceived for the threat we actually faced. That is a very important debate to have, and I suspect 1889 Institute will contribute thoughtfully to it. I also suspect the reckoning will be ugly.

But it is important to note that some version of one of these two alternatives is correct. Whichever it is, the salient takeaway for Oklahoma policymakers should be that the threat our shutdown policy was implemented to prevent—indeed, the only thing offered to justify it—is not currently a threat. Hospitals are not overwhelmed.

If data is to be our guide, it’s time to end the shutdown.

Benjamin Lepak is Legal Fellow at the 1889 Institute. He can be reached at

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.

Popular posts from this blog

Dear GT Bynum, Let the Children Play

I live close to a large City of Tulsa park that has a golf course, walking trail, green spaces, and a couple of playgrounds. My (almost) three-year old son loves the playgrounds, and often begs us during walks in our neighborhood to detour to “for-chun” (LaFortune Park). This seemingly innocent request can become a hassle when we don’t really have time, but we indulge him as much as possible. It’s good for kids to play outside, especially with other kids they might not otherwise come into contact with. But sometimes we have to contend with an upset toddler who doesn’t understand why we can’t go to the playground right this minute. I’m not complaining, every parent of young kids deals with similar stuff. But during the COVID lockdown, we’ve had to contend with an altogether different LaFortune Park situation with our son. As part of the mayor’s shelter-in-place overkill, all city-owned playgrounds were closed “ indefinitely .” This wasn’t a guideline or suggestion, the city meant busine

When It Comes to the Cox Center, “What if I Get to Meet a Movie Star?” Isn’t Good Enough

In a recent   post , 1889 Institute expounded on the fiduciary duty of elected officials “to act in the best interest of the people of the state as a whole,” a “high duty, executed as a public trust … wherein one puts the people’s interest above one’s own.” This fiduciary duty must not stop with elected officials. Once an elected body or an elected official – the legislature, a city council, the governor, or a mayor – has taken final action, the faithful implementation of each enacted law, policy, or program falls to an army of bureaucrats. Thus, a fiduciary duty to execute laws and policies with diligence and integrity, tantamount to that of elected officials, must extend to government employees. Recently, I had a few moments to sit down and watch a show with my children. Unsurprisingly, my son picked a series entitled “The Stinky and Dirty Show.” I was naturally skeptical that the show would yield any real value. However, as I watched, I found myself pleasantly surprised. Each episod

COVID Inspires Tyranny for the "Good" of Its Victims

The Christian philosopher, C.S. Lewis, once said, "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies." The moral busybodies C.S Lewis warns of reminds me of those who would have Americans give up their liberty to combat COVID-19.   A recent Oklahoman op-ed compared COVID-19 to World War II, stating that the number of deaths from COVID-19 is approaching the number that died fighting for this country and the freedoms it protects. This comparison is, of course, nonsense. This suggests that a virus with a high survivability rate is an equivalent threat to the Nazi and Japanese regimes that brutally murdered millions. The piece uses wartime rationing of meat and cheese, a sacrifice necessary to ensure men on the front lines had adequate nutrition, to justify Americans accepting counterproductive lockdowns in exchange for additional stimulus c

The High Duty of Elected Officials and Ways They Fall Short

With an election just completed (the alleged voting, anyway), a legislative session coming up, constant talk of spending to offset the impacts of COVID-19, and elected officials trying to mandate our way out of a disease, the duty of elected officials in their official positions is worth considering. The 1889 Institute recently published a booklet for state lawmakers that discusses various issues and possible solutions. Included in that booklet is a short discussion of the central duty of elected officials, which is expanded here. What is the central, over-arching duty of an individual after having been elected to public office? Public oaths of office give a strong hint, and the Oklahoma Constitution is a good place to start. Article XV includes the oath of office, which states that an Oklahoma public official swears to “support, obey, and defend” the constitutions of the nation and the state, that the official will not take bribes, and that the official will discharge duties as best