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HOWEY: Occam’s razor and Indiana’s COVID comeback

Gov. Eric Holcomb and Health Commissioner Kristina Box have said that most of the community spread we are now witnessing comes among family and friends.
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

INDIANAPOLIS — "Occam's razor" is described by Britannica as "the principle that, of two explanations that account for all the facts, the simpler one is more likely to be correct."

Presidents, governors and epidemiologists were presented with the novel coronavirus in January. It began killing Americans and Hoosiers in March. On Feb. 7, President Trump told author Bob Woodward, “You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed. And so that’s a very tricky one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”

By April, the epidemiologists came to this conclusion: Wearing a face mask blunts the spread of the virus.

A Vanderbilt University study in Tennessee, where about half the counties had enforced mask mandates, discovered that in hospitals where patients came from counties where more than 75% of patients were under mask mandates, there was virtually no change in the level of hospitalizations since July 1. And in hospitals where less than 25% of patients came from counties with a mask mandate, hospitalizations as of Oct. 23 had risen by more than 200% during the same period.

On April 3, Trump said, “The CDC is advising the use of non-medical cloth face covering as an additional voluntary public health measure. So it’s voluntary. You don’t have to do it. They suggested for a period of time, but this is voluntary. I don’t think I’m going to be doing it.”

Since then, President Trump has rarely worn a mask in public. President Trump made fun of opponents for doing so. He's held a series of MAGA rallies where his supporters are packed tightly together, many not wearing masks. A USA Today report revealed spikes in COVID cases in cities after recent MAGA rallies in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Pennsylvania.

In July, Fox News’ Chris Wallace asked Trump, “The CDC says if everybody wore a mask for four to six weeks, we could get this under control. Do you regret not wearing a mask in public from the start, and – will you consider a national mandate that people need to wear masks?” Trump responded, “No. I want people to have a certain freedom, and I don’t believe in that, no. And I don’t agree with the statement that if everybody would wear a mask, everything disappears.”

Had Trump taken that CDC advice and used his bully pulpit to become a mask proponent, instead of the 70,000 COVID cases a day we’re currently seeing in the week leading up to the election, the daily infection rate could have been under 10,000, leaving him poised for reelection.

Compare that to the consistent messaging of Gov. Holcomb, who said on March 16 at the advent of the state shutdown, “This is the beginning. This is real. To those who think we may be overreacting, I can assure you we are not. The state is taking unprecedented actions to slow the spread of COVID-19, and every Hoosier should follow the precautionary measures.”

On March 26, Holcomb was thinking long term: “I hope this will remind us that this isn’t just a marathon. This is a triathlon. This is something that will require us to not let up. We need to do more, not less.”

On July 1, Holcomb tweeted, “Wearing a face mask is one of the simplest, most effective ways to slow the spread of the virus, but we need everyone to do their part to keep our state safe. That’s why we are asking all Hoosiers to mask up and speak up about how wearing your mask can save lives.”

On July 27, Holcomb signed an executive order mandating face masks, saying, “This is time sensitive now. This is the next prudent step that we as a state need to take.” It’s an order that persists today, though compliance is spotty because, in part, there are no penalties for not wearing a mask.

On Sept. 24, the governor announced Stage 5. Bars and restaurants have reopened. Correspondingly, Indiana has gone from 400 to 800 COVID infections a day to a staggering 3,624 cases on Thursday, while the death toll surpassed 4,000. The number of Intensive Care Unit beds available has gone from 36% on Oct. 14 to 26.8% on Thursday. Medical officials are warning us that the overwhelming of medical systems we've been witnessing in Wisconsin, Utah and Texas are just around the corner.

Over the past 37 days the infection average has jumped 114%. Some 1,733 Hoosiers are hospitalized with coronavirus, the third-highest total since Indiana State Department of Health began releasing that data in April.

While most stores require masks, Holcomb and Health Commissioner Kristina Box have said that most of the community spread we are now witnessing comes among family and friends. Universities and colleges, which ardently require masks and social distancing, have avoided outbreaks.

Mask wearing has become a partisan wedge issue and a government infringement on personal liberty, instead of a simple act of humanity for those you come in contact.

For many Hoosiers, the question comes down to, who are you going to listen to, the president, or the governor?

And like Occam's razor, the reason why hospitals are swamped and front line nurses and doctors are fatigued and stressed can be simply found by the actions of our leaders.

The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.