Elon Musk Is Dangerously Wrong About Coronavirus and 'Fascism'
I believe we’re all entitled to our opinions.
Except when those opinions are A) factually wrong and B) dangerous to public health.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk expressed an opinion this week that ran afoul of both A and B.
Twitter – not just – was abuzz with Elon’s latest musings. For those who missed it (consider yourself the controversial executive had this to say about the state-ordered shelter-in-place mandates many of us are now living under: “This is the time to think about the future, and also to ask, is it right to infringe upon people’s rights as what is happening right now?”
“I think the people are going to be very angry about this and are very angry. It’s like somebody should be, if somebody wants to stay in the house that’s great, they should be allowed to stay in the house and they should not be compelled to leave. But to say that they cannot leave their house, and they will be arrested if they do, this is fascist. This is not democratic. This is not freedom. Give people back their goddamn freedom.”
He later added: “So the expansion of the shelter in place or as frankly I would call it forcibly imprisoning people in their homes, against all their constitutional rights, but that’s my opinion, and breaking people’s freedoms in ways that are horrible and wrong, and not why people came to America or built this country. What the f—. Excuse me. It’s outrage, it’s an outrage. It will cause great harm not just to Tesla, but to many companies. And while Tesla will weather the storm there are many small companies that will not.”
There’s so much wrong there, I don’t know where to begin. First of all, the shelter-in-place orders in the San Francisco Bay area, where Tesla is located, do not say people cannot leave their homes. Rather, nonessential businesses are closed, certain public areas are closed, and large gatherings are banned.
As far as I know, there is no shelter-in-place order in America that says people cannot leave their homes. Where I live, we are allowed to leave for exercise and walking pets. As well as travel to essential businesses (the grocery store), or to take care of loved ones who need assistance. I believe we’re even allowed to drive for leisure.
Musk is also wrong when he implies shelter-in-place orders are unconstitutional. According to an op-ed published by a news outlet based just up the road from the Bay, The Sacramento Bee, the government has “broad power” to do what needs to be done during a public health crisis to stop a disease. The op-ed, written by a law professor, cites precedent in American history going back to shortly after the Revolutionary War. It also cites the Supreme Court, which has upheld compulsory vaccination and a state’s right to establish quarantines.
He’s also wrong on principle. I may have the right to do whatever I want within the bounds of the law, but I don’t have the right to hurt you in the process. So I don’t have the right to get you sick because I want to get my hair cut. Or because I want the Tesla I bought to get built so I can take delivery.
Finally, Musk doesn’t understand why we need the lockdowns in the first place. We need them because even though roughly 80 percent of coronavirus cases do not lead to hospitalizations, 20 percent do. And that’s enough that our healthcare system would be overwhelmed if we simply let the virus rip through the population. Which not only would lead to more deaths from COVID-19, but also lead to more deaths from other medical issues, since care wouldn’t be available.
Musk tried to back up his point by using data to show that California’s hospitals have plenty of capacity at the moment. But he’s actually accidentally making the opposing point – the hospitals have capacity because social distancing and shelter-in-place orders are slowing the spread of coronavirus. In short, shelter-in-place is doing exactly what it is supposed to do.
Also, we need to socially distance because this virus can be spread by people who don’t know they’re infected, whether they’re asymptomatic (infected but not showing any symptoms) or presymptomatic (infected, but not showing symptoms just yet). It’s hard to quash a virus when it’s not obvious who has it. More testing will help, but we’re not there yet. We stopped SARS in its tracks in part because we knew who had it (it was only contagious once symptoms appeared) and could isolate them from the rest of the population.
Remember, this is a disease that no one was immune to when it made the leap to humans. Even now that some folks have had it and recovered, we don’t know yet what level of immunity, if any, they have, and for how long. Oh, and it doesn’t just affect the elderly and those with underlying conditions. It has hospitalized and even killed perfectly healthy adults in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. Perhaps not as many younger, healthy people have been as hard hit, but enough have to show that just being young and in good shape does not make you immune.
This isn’t the flu. Not only is it literally not the flu – it’s a coronavirus, meaning it belongs to the same group of viruses that in some cases cause the common cold and in other cases cause severe diseases like SARS and MERS – it’s deadlier. Anywhere from a 1 percent to 5 percent case fatality rate. It’s killed more people than the flu does during most flu seasons in a shorter amount of time, and that’s WITH shelter-in-place orders in effect in much of the country.
Lest you think that last bit of reasoning is liberal claptrap, it comes from the editor of one of the most respected conservative partisan outlets, National Review. And may I remind the right-wing protest crowd that several of the governors who have been strong on shelter-in-place are Republicans (DeWine in Ohio, Hogan in Maryland, and Baker in Massachusetts)?
What this is all about for Musk is building Teslas. The plant in Fremont, California, is shuttered since it’s not deemed essential. It’s located in a county that has extended shelter-in-place through the end of May.
I understand why Musk wants to get production restarted, so that his company can fulfill orders. But in a time of pandemic, when a highly contagious virus is moving through the population and we can’t even tell who’s infected, maybe Tesla can wait to make its deliveries?
Look, NO ONE likes the lockdowns. Do you think governors who ordered the lockdowns like losing the tax revenue? I miss my favorite restaurants, and takeout/delivery isn’t the same. I’ve seen Good Will Hunting so many times on cable that I can now solve complex mathematical formulas and I’m speaking with a Southie accent. My retirement accounts are uglier than that mutant rebel chief from Total Recall (another recent cable favorite). I miss my family and friends and it was quite sad baking an Easter ham just for my lonesome.
But I get it. I get why this has to be done. And the thing that drives me crazy about the anti-lockdown crowd, like Musk, is that they’re falling for a false choice. It’s not about making a choice between lives and the economy. If we open back up too soon and a second wave of virus-related hospitalizations hit, no one is going to want to go shopping or to the movies or the bars anyway.
Even now, people are apprehensive. It’s obviously anecdotal data, but just yesterday I spoke to two sports fans who said they’d not want to go to a ball game or concert just yet, knowing that a large crowd could lead to a super-spreading event. One of those people was my Baby Boomer father, so, sure, he’s in a high-risk group based on age. But another was a friend in his early 40s who’s in good health, as far as I know.
Actually, I suspect I do know why certain pols on the right want to re-open the country, science be damned. They’d rather not expand unemployment for folks put out of work by the pandemic. Ideology is driving the decisions, not science. If you don’t believe me, see Iowa – the governor there won’t give unemployment to anyone who quits their job because they’re afraid of contracting the virus.
If you want to complain about certain aspects of the orders, fine. Michigan’s governor may have gone a bit too far in that state. But the science is clear – if we don’t lockdown, the pandemic will be much worse. And the opinions of a raving CEO aren’t equal to scientific fact. Just because Musk can say that people are angry and they shouldn’t be ordered to stay home as much as possible doesn’t change the fact that every key scientist working on this says we need to shelter in place, at least for a while, to slow the spread of the virus until we can increase testing and tracing, and that we’ll still have to wear masks, socially distance, and perhaps avoid large crowds even after the lockdowns are lifted, unless we get an effective therapeutic drug/drug combination or a vaccine. It completely and totally sucks, but it’s reality.
Musk is so determined to get his cars built that he’s missing the bigger picture. We don’t need Teslas right now, we need testing. We need to be at home a little longer to help keep the hospitals at a manageable capacity.
Shelter-in-place orders aren’t “fascism”. They’re meant to keep us safe. And the more we lockdown now, the less we’ll have to lockdown later.
This is basic stuff. One needn’t be an epidemiologist or virologist to understand it. One needn’t have even done well in science and/or math growing up. One just needs to put aside one’s selfish desires and listen to the experts.
Elon Musk is far too smart to be this stupid.
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According to Worldometer, almost 25,000 of the approximately 68,000 deaths in the U.S. attributed to the Wuhan coronavirus have occurred in New York state. If one adds the death counts of the two other states with suburbs of New York City — New Jersey and Connecticut — just about half of the U.S. deaths are accounted for. A great many of the remaining deaths occurred in nursing homes. I haven’t seen the recent nationwide percentage. However, according to this report “deaths at long-term care facilities now account for 44 percent, up from just over a third last week, of all coronavirus fatalities in the state [of Illinois].” Similarly, “more than 40 percent of coronavirus-related deaths in Texas have been linked to nursing homes and assisted living centers — a spike from just 30 percent two weeks ago.” And in Minnesota, it has been reported that “80 percent of known COVID deaths take place in long-term care.” If one factors out deaths in New York and the two states that surround New York City, and then factors out nursing home deaths using a 40 percent figure, the U.S. death count is in the neighborhood of 20,000.
The pattern of coronavirus deaths has been evident for quite some time. It should have better informed the response to the pandemic. Had it done so, the nation would have adopted a more targeted, less blunderbuss response, and the U.S. economy would likely be in considerably better shape.