A Letter to the Harvard President on COVID-19 Response (Wherein Coyote Actually Sortof Makes An Intersectional Argument)
I got this note from the head of alumni affairs (or something like that) at Harvard:
I write to share with you a message President Bacow sent this afternoon to Harvard faculty and staff. He also sent a similar message to students. His message is one he and I would like to extend to all of you.
This is an unprecedented moment for Harvard and for the world. The last week has brought uncertainty, but also great resolve and resiliency. I am heartened by the way members of the broader Harvard community, extended beyond the campus, are coming together to support each other.
I have never been prouder to be a part of the Harvard community.
Attached was a letter (sorry, no online version but roughly mirrors its content) from the Harvard President about bravely making the decision to send all the students k彩平台登陆. There is a lot of uncertainty in the right response to COVID-19 and so I am generally open to difference of opinion, but the smug tone of making a brave decision in the face of adversity just rubbed me the wrong way. So I wrote this in response. Note I am not an expert, just one person's opinion:
FWIW, since you sent this, I will say that I think what Harvard has done is exactly the wrong thing and its actions are a victory of virtue-signaling over rational responses.
In particular, it is clear that the mortality rates for people aged 18-25 from COVID-19 are trivial -- and would be even more trivial except that we don't measure most of the COVID-19 cases in this age group because they are so mild (this from the South Korean experience where they had more measurement and they found many asymptomatic cases in this age range). When in university, these students are gathered together in a pocket of other people in their same age range and also with minimal mortality risk.
By sending these kids k彩平台登陆, you have created a massive diaspora of folks from one of the US viral hotspots (Boston) all over the country. Students that would have been living with other low-risk people are now living with parents and grandparents who are very much at risk. Add to this the anecdotal evidence I see on the news and social media of young folks of college age flaunting quarantine and social isolation rules, and I believe that Harvard and other institutions have increased risk rather than decreased it. Also, given that Boston may have the best hospital network in the country, for those of your students who might get sick you have sent them from this location with strong medical services to one which almost certainly has an inferior medical network. Finally, given just how low the risk is to people of this age, it is amazing how panicked people in this age range are today, perhaps because they have a stronger presence on social media where there are panic positive feedback loops. An adult response would have been to tell the kids that they are going to be fine, and that their job was to stay clear of their family members who are far more vulnerable.
A better solution would have been to keep students in school and then to minimize their exposure to the older administration and professor body through online classes. Students if online but still at university could still have access to educational resources and could still hold group discussions that are much harder to do online.
I will add as a final note, because Harvard today seems to be inordinately focused on issues of class and intersectionality: I believe there is an ugly class issue built into the current panic. You can see a class gradient in the panic itself -- AJ's and Whole Foods in San Francisco have empty shelves, whereas everything is normal at the Family Dollar in rural Alabama. What I see are rich people with good amounts of savings and professional jobs at well-capitalized companies where they can work remotely asking that the jobs of low-wage restaurant, factory, and retail workers be sacrificed through quarantine for their incremental safety. I will make my assumptions explicit -- for a variety of reasons from under-counting asymptomatic cases to academic and media incentives that cause skeptical voices to self-censor or be overwhelmed, I believe the US potential mortality from COVID-19 is being grossly overestimated. One might say that it's better to be safe than sorry, but in public policy (I assume they teach this at the Kennedy School) there are always tradeoffs. What, for example, is the human misery and mortality associated with, say, 20% unemployment? I can't remember CNN interviewing many out-of-work restaurant employees about why we should quarantine cities for 2 months. I will bet you that those Harvard professors who are focused on intersectionality will be writing about exactly this a year from now -- and when they do, remember this old white cis European dude told you first.