I’ve been asked by several people to comment on the recent Phase One reopening of Montana:
Because of the bifurcation of American politics into pro and anti-science camps, the Democratic Party need not outperform to appear outperforming. The bar is so low with today’s Republican Party—beholden to Trumpism—that any randomly picked person off the street corner is likely to outperform our Steve Daines, our Greg Gianforte. I am thankful neither person was Montana’s Governor during this global pandemic; the needed social distancing orders would have been delayed and partisan-driven, the reopening of our state premature.
The Governor’s team certainly has information that the layperson does not, which should humble, to an extent, external criticism.
It’s also true that a dismal federal response is driving states to make decisions that they might otherwise not. For instance, pressure to reopen the economy would be far less if the federal commitment to small businesses and their employees had been greater.
I’m also not a typical politician. I dislike blatant opportunism. (For example, jumping in a U.S. Senate race only after the stock market has crashed, a global pandemic has set in, the incumbent’s approval numbers have weakened, and a “palatable” moderate has been confirmed as the presumptive presidential nominee.)
Moreover, the tests have apparently been limited to virus testing – versus antibodies testing, which can identify those previously infected. (By some estimates, 30% of virus tests yield erroneous results, false negatives or false positives.)
In turn, we know the scope of tested symptomatic virus carriers in Montana, while having little to no grasp of asymptomatic virus carriers, untested symptomatic virus carriers, or those previously infected and recovered.
Summary to date:
- 1.14% tested in Montana
- Potentially, 30% test inaccuracy
- Little to no antibodies testing
It’s tough to second guess someone when there is such asymmetry in information. As a common citizen, I am not privy to all of the data. But, it’s difficult to see the wisdom in opening up Montana’s economy and our schools, independent of social distancing (given the tenacity of the virus in the air and on surfaces), without more virus testing, antibodies testing, infrastructure to contact trace, and understanding of asymptomatic carriers.
I’d strongly recommend waiting until late May or early June (given 28 March Stay at Home order) – or later if new information affects that decision – before moving into “Phase One” of reopening Montana. (There’s a basis for this: for the median-size family staying at home, that would give the virus ample time to transmit member-to-member and to manifest symptoms prior to contact with others.)
By late May or early June, additional testing could occur, contact tracing capacity could be built out, and we could learn more on asymptomatic carriers and how long they can shed the virus (important but yet unknown). Finally, out-of-state workers – for instance, for the questionable Keystone XL oil pipeline – could be told to stand down.