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All That and a Bag of Mail

It’s Friday Outkick mailbag time and it’s also time for us to get back to work as a nation.

The April unemployment rate just hit 14.7%, the highest since the Great Depression and we may ultimately surpass the all time rate in this country. And the craziest thing is we did it all voluntarily to try and combat a virus that likely kills .1 or .2% of the people who are infected.

Let me repeat this because most in the media won’t — based on the antibody studies in the San Francisco Bay area, Los Angeles, New York City, Boston, and Miami, all of which have shown similar results — the death rate for this virus appears to be somewhere in the neighborhood of .1 or .2. Meaning 99.9 or 99.8% of the people who are actually infected with this coronavirus recover without any issues at all.

If you are young and healthy you need to be back working in this country.

Now.

Okay, with that platitude out of the way let’s hop into the mailbag.

Joseph writes:

“Clay,

Once again thanks for being the rare voice of reason.

I’m an emergency physician- you’ve actually taken a couple of calls and emails from me in the past (I’m also an attorney admitted to practice in my state and have taught health policy and medical ethics in law school and med school).

As you have correctly pointed out, Covid19 seems to be really two or possibly three “diseases.” 

In young people, its generally asymptomatic or a very minor illness.

In older (nursing home) patients- it CAN be serious and of course even fatal. 

In younger or middle-aged patients who are morbidly obese, or have SEVERE immune compromise, they are at risk also.

This means that patients/people who are AT RISK should be protected.  But the rest of the population should indeed be generally resuming business as usual.

Finally, a word about “testing.”   Lots of political leaders and other “thought leaders” seem to be beating this dead horse of mass testing.  Only about 10% of those WITH SYMPTOMS who are tested actually show positive, but only a fraction of those are ill.  So what are these patients told? Go home, “self quarantine” – which they should have been doing already if they are mildly symptomatic.  There isn’t any treatment for these patients. 

The only testing that is clinically useful at this point (unless you are hospitalized with severe illness) is an ANTIBODY test, which confers presumptive immunity (not proven but highly likely unless this virus is totally different from every other viral infection known to history).   

One final thought – these “corona-bros” who demand that society/economy be completely shut down until a vaccine is developed should go to the CDC.gov website and review the data on efficacy of our flu vaccine for the last 3-5 years.  The success rate is dismal.  And that’s for people who actually GET the vaccine.” 

I have heard from a ton of doctors throughout this entire coronavirus mess, both strangers and friends of mine, and the vast majority of them have been saying things like Joseph emailed. The media chooses to feature doctors who mostly spread doom and gloom. The reasonable doctors in this country, which is the vast majority of them, look at this data and wonder what in the hell we are doing as a country.

Think about it, we shut down the country to avoid trying to overload hospitals and in the process we forced doctors and nurses in most of the country to go on furlough and start taking massive pay cuts. Instead of overloading hospitals in this country we have nearly bankrupted them due to lack of use.

I’ve got friend who are highly successful surgeons and we’ve sent them home and forced them to shut their businesses — forcing them to send all their nurses and employees home — for no reason. And yet their stories have gotten almost no attention.

You know where it’s hard to socially distance? The foodbank line.

For better or worse I tend to be hyper rational, even about issues that most are responding to emotionally. I think many of you reading this right now are the same as me, that’s why you seek out Outkick, because you reject the pervasive fear porn in this country.

I’m trying to send a message to my audience by going out to eat in restaurants with my family. That message is pretty straightforward, I have looked at the data and am willing to take my family out to public restaurants and public beaches. Whatever you think of me, I care about my three boys more than anything in the world. I would never do something that puts them in harm’s way.

But I can’t put them in bubble wrap either.

Rather than just sit around and share my opinions on the radio or Twitter or TV, I try and live it every day. We have to be logical and rational when it comes to dealing with issues of fear in this country.

Unfortunately politicians and media are mostly driven by the tides of public emotion. Which means we don’t have much rational thought and analysis, it’s all emotional & anecdotal. That is, the media — and most people they serve — tend to focus on individual cases as opposed to looking at the larger data trends. Oh, look at this mom or dad or grandpa or grandma who is sick, look how sad it is for their family, as opposed to looking at the big picture and stepping outside of anecdotes.

Anecdotal stories, by and large, tend to be about outliers. That’s why they typically work, because they present something that is rare and grab our attention. The problem is these anecdotes mostly don’t reflect reality. When the media focuses on a child who tests positive for the coronavirus or an otherwise healthy person who died of the coronavirus suddnely, it sets artificial impressions in the general public. It makes the public believe these are representative cases, as opposed to outliers.

This country desperately needs a non-partisan statistics and probabilities expert to share data with the masses.

For instance, this is the single most important graphic you can see about the virus right now.

It demonstrates quite clearly that the overall infection rate from the virus is declining, but that the number of tests being run is increasing.

The important data point here is the percentage of tests that are positive.

But the data point that most in the media are focusing on is the number of positive tests. As our daily testing has doubled over the past month, the number of people testing positive has fallen by half. That’s a profoundly good story that reflects substantial progress.

Yet instead of sharing that accurate story most in the media are covering the number of positive tests staying the same as evidence that things aren’t getting better in the country. The media just focusing on the number of positive tests is doing a profound disservice to the general public. I’m not sure if it’s willful intent to share fear porn or if most in the media just aren’t smart enough to see what they’re doing; I think it’s likely to be some of both.

Worse than that, many members of the media — and politicians — are screaming that we need more tests and then complaining when the vast increase in testing shows more positive results. THAT’S THE RESULT OF THE INCREASED TESTING!

If we testing one-tenth of the people our numbers would be down dramatically. The more people you test the higher the rate of positivity will be. The fact that less than 10% of our tests are now positive in this country suggests we are near the peak amount of tests we need to give on a daily basis.

I mean, after all, we hit a point of diminishing returns with testing at some point, right? Does it make sense to test hundreds of thousands of people a day if only 5% are positive? Far from being too few tests, when our national rate of infection is around 10% that suggests we’ve almost hit the requisite number of tests.

That’s especially the case when many states now require no symptoms in order to be tested.

Honestly, what we need now is more antibody tests and less coronavirus tests.

So let’s be hyper rational here now that we’ve hit a 14.7% April unemployment rate. That rate of unemployment is likely to go higher still in May and potentially in June as well before it starts to come back down. We may well go above 20% unemployment. (Hopefully we will see a V shaped curve and the recovery will be rapid — that’s what the stock market is betting on right now — but we really don’t know what will happen because there’s no precedent for this).

So what options do we have on how to deal with the virus?

To me there are two clear options: 1. wait for a vaccine and continue to shelter in place, potentially for years. or 2. begin to work towards herd immunity and re-open the economy.

To me this is an incredibly easy choice to make — you have to re-open the economy across the entire country and begin to work towards herd immunity.

Re-opening the economy doesn’t mean you can’t still work towards a vaccine, by the way, we can continue to have some hope that one day soon there will be a vaccine that eliminates the risk of the coronavirus, but in the meantime we need young and healthy people out working and circulating in our country. Young and healthy people have a nearly zero percent chance of dying of the coronavirus. That risk is even lower if they happen to live in warm weather climates, where it now seems clear the virus spreads much less efficiently.

We will be studying our response to the coronavirus for years, but increasingly I am of the opinion that the right choice to make was likely what Sweden did, don’t shut down the economy and work on herd immunity from the moment the outbreak begins. I think Sweden is likely to have a less calamitous outcome than we are, especially if this virus re-emerges in the winter. If that happens then sheltering will have left us more vulnerable in the winter than we would have been if we’d never sheltered in the first place.

Final thought, we won’t have the data for many months, but the most interesting data will be looking at total deaths for 2020. Given that a huge percentage of people being counted as coronavirus deaths are dying of co-morbidities, what will the total number of deaths look like in 2020 compared to total deaths for the past decade or so? (Focusing on coronavirus deaths alone, again, makes no sense because those are difficult to tally. I’m talking about total deaths overall in the entire country).

My bet is that the death rate in the United States for 2020 isn’t going to look very much different than the death rate in most other years. That is, 2.8 million people die every year, roughly, in this country, around 7500 every day.

Most people dying of the coronavirus are older than the average age of death in this country. That is, the coronavirus mortality overwhelmingly is occurring in people 75+. That’s who ordinarily dies in this country.

I think it is highly unlikely that we will see any substantial deviation in total numbers of deaths in 2020 as compared to past years. But unfortunately we won’t have this final data until well into 2021. Why is that data important? Because we voluntarily shut down the best economy in the history of our country to turn it into, potentially, the worst economy in the history of our country.

Think about it, we went from 3.4% unemployment in February to, probably, 20% or higher unemployment by May’s unemployment report. It will take years, potentially decades, for us to reverse the decisions we made in the space of a few months. Was it the right decision? It’s hard to know until we see the actual death tally.

What has consistently troubled me for the past couple of months is the lack of contemplation of any other external factor other than the coronavirus. And also the single-minded agreement on our decisions.

Almost no one stood up to the idea of shutting down the economy and telling people to stay home.

We didn’t have any real debate in this country at all. It reminds me of the decision to go to war in the Middle East after 9/11. Times of crisis can create consensus, but often that consensus is wrong. Political conflict is good and healthy, debate in a democracy is vitally important, the marketplace of ideas helps to ensure we don’t engage in radical decisions that create terrifying consequences.

The entire purpose of a democracy is to create as many different voices and opinions as possible.

Consensus scares me far more contentiousness.

Because consensus is the hallmark of totalitarianism, not democracy.

Darren writes:

“Some governors have said “no sports” through September. What kind of circus would it be for say, the LA Chargers, to temporarily relocate to (random cities) St Louis or Birmingham?”

I don’t think it would be much of a circus of all.

I hope it doesn’t happen that pro teams have to move out of their home states in order to play their seasons, but I think it’s a possibility and I don’t think it’s that difficult to manage either. Football teams already travel for eight games every year, would it really be that hard to relocate a team for a season?

I don’t think so.

I can easily see, for instance, one of the LA teams doubling up with the Raiders in Las Vegas. And I can also see another LA team relocating to, for instance, Arizona or Texas to play their season.

(San Antonio hosted the Saints after Katrinia, it seems like they could easily do that again).

I hope it doesn’t come to this, but if some states won’t allow games to be played then I can see those pro teams relocating. This isn’t an option, clearly, for college football teams like USC, Stanford, or California. Which is why I think some college football teams could end up being forced by their governors not to play this year.

Having said all of this, four months is a long way away.

Think about all the things that have happened in this country since the first week of January. That was four months ago. It has only been two months since Rudy Gobert tested positive and sports shut down. Think of all the things that have happened since then as well.

There is still much to be determined over the next several months and I’m pretty optimistic the weather is going to have a significant impact on viral spread in this country. Which is why I continue to think bumping the start of the NFL and college football season up might make way more sense than pushing it back.

Sean writes:

“Does a football season without fans diminish the significance of the accomplishment for winning teams? It’s not even the same sport without fans.”

I disagree completely with this.

I watch the vast majority of football games on TV. As long as the games are played, I don’t really care about fans being present for the games.

I do wonder, however, what colleges and NFL teams are going to end up deciding with fans.

I could see colleges, for instance, allowing donors with luxury suites to attend games since the luxury suites essentially allow social distancing based on the way they are constructed. They could then limit the crowd in the stands to college kids, who bear virtually no risk from the virus.

That way you’d have the highest end fans — who pay the most money — and the lowest end fans — who pay the least — in the stadium for games. The college kids could spread themselves out around the lower bowls of stadiums and you could leave the upper decks empty.

Honestly, I think that would be kind of awesome for the college kids.

People talk about how social distancing could make the stadiums less fun to attend, but I feel like the opposite. When I go to a sporting event with my kids I absolutely love when those games aren’t very crowded. I’d love to have an entire row or multiple rows for just my family. Heck, I’d pay more for that, within reason.

We could spread out then and my kids don’t end up with some giant sitting in front of them that I have to worry about blocking their view for the entire game.

When I go to baseball games with my kids I love when the stadium isn’t very crowded.

Am I unique in that?

To me a sporting event is like an airplane, if I can sit down on an airplane row and no one else is there, it’s fantastic. I’d rather have my space in both places.

Unless people are paying to come see me, I’m in favor of less people everywhere, honestly.

Dr. Evil Tweets:

“Clay, do you think the continuing lockdowns are motivated now by a political angle, i.e. how many governors, if any, want it to continue as long as possible to impact the election?”

I think the challenge with Donald Trump is pretty much anything he says liberals feel compelled to oppose, even when Trump makes sense. It’s like the warm weather angle. There’s tremendous evidence warm weather restricts the spread of the virus, but because Trump said it it’s like the media won’t acknowledge it’s true.

But I don’t buy into the idea that most Democrats are willing to tank the economy just to beat Donald Trump.

Here’s what I think is happening: as a general rule I think liberals tend to be more emotionally driven and I think conservatives tend to be more business driven. Now, again, these are broad generalities, there are certainly exceptions in both parties to this general rule.

So liberals are going to respond to health concerns more and conservatives are going to respond to business concerns more.

It’s easier to see direct health impacts from a virus than it is to see the direct health impacts from the economy collapsing because the latter takes longer to reveal itself. The cause and effect is more clear from a virus — person gets sick, goes to hospital and may die — than it is from an economy collapsing — person loses job, unemployment runs out, can’t afford to feed family, falls into depression/children suffer/may embrace dangerous and unhealthy life choices or even turn to crime. The economic collapse takes months to play out and it’s mostly out of public view, I can see the health collapse, the economic collapse takes longer to materialize and is less direct.

But the bigger issue here is that Trump is so polarizing to many liberals that whatever he endorses, even if it makes sense, is immediately repudiated by the left wing.

So now we have Democratic governors who are either angling for the vice presidency — Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer and New Mexico’s Michelle Grisham — or angling for prominence in the Democratic party — California’s Gavin Newsom, Illinois’s J.B. Pritzker and Oregon’s Kate Brown — who want the attention of being the longest hold out because it makes them look like anti-Trump stalwarts.

The Democrat who holds out the longest becomes the darling of the blue checkmark brigade on twitter.

The wildest thing about this, however, is that Trump has actually gone pretty easy on these governors over their decisions regarding the coronavirus. Other than Whitmer, who he has gone after just a bit in Michigan, he’s mostly left governor’s to make their own decisions about when to return to work.

If anything, you can argue that Trump has been too hands off in arguing the country needs to go back to work.

The economic collapse is now a much bigger story, to me, than the coronavirus.

Jim writes:

“How important is the UFC event this weekend to restarting other American sports?”

I think it’s important because it sets the precedent that sports can and should return.

Dana White deserves credit for making this happen.

But the larger issue is we need more leagues and commissioners sharing actual data about why they should return to play. The risk of serious illness or death to athletes from the coronavirus is INSANELY low.

If you are young and healthy — as almost all athletes are — you have more risk from the flu than you do from the coronavirus. I’m not saying that some them won’t test positive for the coronavirus — some will, just like Kevin Durant and Donovan Mitchell did in the NBA — but they will almost all have zero issues from the coronavirus at all.

If someone tests positive they don’t need to quarantine the entire team, they just need to pull those guys from playing and allow them to get healthy. The games can continue. I keep seeing blue checkmarks on Twitter wailing about what happens if someone tests positive — the answer is, not much, you treat it like the flu. Get the player healthy and bring him back to the games when he’s ready to play again.

One bit of data we need, by the way, is the MLB player antibody tests. I think we’ll probably find out that a decent percentage of MLB players have already had this virus and had no idea they had it. (That’s what the antibody data has shown us so far.)

I’m disappointed that only a few guys — MLB agent Scott Boras, for instance — have actually been willing to share this data publicly.

For instance, I looked at the data in my home state of Tennessee yesterday and saw that three people have died of the coronavirus who were age thirty or younger in the entire state. Now the reality is those three people probably all had serious underlying health conditions as well, but think about that for a minute, in a state of nearly seven million people with millions of people thirty years old or younger, we’ve seen three people die from the coronavirus total.

Three people!

This is important data when it comes to colleges opening back up or college sports being played in the fall yet I haven’t seen hardly anyone discussing it.

In fact, unless you follow me on Twitter you are probably reading this and had no idea. And it’s not like Tennessee is an outlier here, all states have similar data about the lack of risk to young people from the coronavirus. That data needs to be shared widely to allow more intelligent public policy decisions to be made.

Credit to Purdue president Mitch Daniels who is one of the few university presidents to publicly discuss this data as evidence for why kids need to be back on college campuses this fall. Now it may be that some college instructors or coaches need to work remotely, but college kids need to be on campus.

Andy writes:

“So over the weekend Michael Jordan revealed in the documentary that he really wanted to sign his first shoe deal with Adidas. However, Adidas wouldn’t offer him his own shoe but Nike did in so he signed with Nike. Can you think of a worse business decision in the sporting goods industry that has had such long lasting ramifications? That one deal basically made Nike the king of shoes and sports merchandise for decades whereas Adidas has languished at the back of the pack for years. I’m sure there’s some other horrible business decisions out there but I can’t think of one not criminally-related that ended up so bad for one company and good for the other.”

I think Adidas passing on Jordan is probably the single worst decision in the history of American sports business.

Because right now the market capitalization of Nike is $140 billion.

It’s impossible to know for sure, but it seems reasonable to think Jordan’s responsible for a huge percentage of Nike’s market cap. What percentage? We have no idea because there are so many different decisions that followed that one and Nike would have likely grown a ton since 1984 regardless, but I don’t think it’s crazy to believe signing Jordan has been worth tens of billions of dollars to Nike’s market cap.

And that if Adidas had signed Jordan instead of Nike they would have garnered tens of billions of dollars in positive revenue and profit outcome as well.

This is even more the case when you consider the relatively small cost involved in the decision. Adidas could have signed Jordan to a ten year contract for a few million dollars total. Instead they allowed Nike to overtake the entire industry based on that decision.

There are other decisions that have paid off in a big way — Jerry Jones buying the Dallas Cowboys for instance — but that required a substantial investment in the first place. This is the quintessential home run investment that truly changed the sports apparel industry forever and it cost almost nothing.

Furthermore once Nike had the big hit with Jordan they could afford to outbid other companies to sign other, younger athletes like Tiger Woods and LeBron James, keeping them from going to rival brands. What’s more, those younger athletes wanted to go to Nike because of what they’d been able to create with Jordan.

It’s a truly amazing story, deserving of an entire book by itself, honestly.

Thanks for reading the Outkick Friday mailbag.

Hope you guys have fantastic weekends.

Written by Clay Travis

Clay Travis is an author, radio show host, lawyer, TV analyst, and the founder and lead writer of Outkick (formerly known as Outkick the Coverage).
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