To grasp the urgency of lifting the shutdowns, visit Central Park. At 5:45 am, maybe 100 runners and cyclists occupy it, spread over 843 acres. A large portion of these early-bird exercisers wear masks. if you yourself run towards an oncoming runner on a vector that will keep you at least three yards away, he will lunge sideways in terror if your face isn’t covered. The masked cyclists apparently think there are enough virus particles suspended in the billions of square feet of fresh air circulating across the park to enter their mucous membranes and sicken them.
These are delusional beliefs, yet they illustrate the severity of the paranoia that has infected the population, reinforced by the lockdown itself.
An increasing number of Americans want to continue the economic quarantine indefinitely lest they be “unsafe,” according to polls, a belief whose strength will make it that much harder to restore some semblance of economic normalcy.
It’s worth briefly reviewing the facts about outdoor viral transmission in order to assess the rationality of New York’s park users. The chance of getting infected across a wide open, windswept space is virtually nil, even if the imaginary carrier weren’t moving quickly past his potential victim. When it comes to viral infections, dose matters. Proximity to the carrier, prolonged exposure and being in an enclosed space are the biggest risk factors.
Even The New York Times, one of the most aggressive purveyors of virus hysteria, couldn’t avoid acknowledging this commonsensical truth about outdoor transmission. The director of Australia’s International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health told the paper: “Outdoors is safe, and there is certainly no cloud of virus-laden droplets hanging around.”
Two days later, the Times, back on its crusade to terrorize the citizenry, ran a full page of infographics under the headline: “Social Distancing: Why Six Feet?” A series of drawings showed the progression of pestilence emitted from a cougher across the six feet separating him from his unsuspecting victim.
You had to read the fine print to learn that this simulation was being run in a hypothetical room of 600 square feet.
Scientific analyses of how viruses travel usually assume indoor settings. A recent study from China confirmed that the risk of coronavirus infection occurs overwhelmingly indoors. The researchers identified only one outdoor outbreak of infection among over a thousand cases studied. Most transmissions occurred at home.
The Central Park paranoiacs, however, see threat everywhere. A burly middle-aged man occasionally sits on a bench overlooking ball fields in the northern end of the park. Upset that an unmasked jogger had run behind him, the man constructed a beaver dam of branches, torn from the surrounding trees, that extended behind the bench, so that no one could get within 10 feet of his back. Elsewhere in the park, a young jogger was running in the middle of the paved road, rather than in the left-hand runner’s lane.
She precipitately darted left without looking behind her first. I was approaching on a bike and was knocked down, resulting in a not inconsiderable head injury. The girl had been running in the middle of the road to avoid getting infected by her fellow joggers, she explained unrepentantly after the collision, and had thought she had seen some invasion of her viral-free zone coming from her right. In fact, there had been nothing around her that could have possibly exposed her to infection.
The public-health establishment is fighting desperately to maintain this degree of hysteria in the populace to prolong its newfound power over almost every aspect of American life. We are in a race between the ideology of safety-ism and the facts.
The future depends on which side prevails. The data are clear: The coronavirus danger is narrowly targeted at a very specific portion of the population: the elderly infirm. Individuals with no preexisting conditions are at almost no risk, nor are the young. As of April 23, 99 percent of all coronavirus deaths in New York City had preexisting conditions, where the presence or absence of such conditions was known.
Nursing homes are ground zero for the disease, since their populations are exclusively the elderly infirm. These vulnerable individuals must be intensively protected. But to cancel most of the country’s economy for a problem, however tragic, that is highly localized was a devastating policy blunder that must be immediately corrected. Lives are being lost to the overreaction. The economic bans must be lifted, and any true public-health expert would tell those Central Park joggers and cyclists to tear off their masks and breathe free.
Heather Mac Donald is a Manhattan Institute fellow and author of “The Diversity Delusion.”