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US Election - Pandemic Response | Munk Debates

EPISODE #45

US Election - Pandemic Response

Be it resolved, America’s pandemic response can, and will only, improve when Biden is President.

Guests
Andy Slavitt
Richard Epstein

About this episode

Flouting mask wearing as means to help control the pandemic. Forcing states to secure critical medical supplies and bootstrap their own testing capacity. Touting hydroxychloroquine as a key COVID therapy. These are some of the more memorable features of the national pandemic response of the United States to date. A response that has led the US to have the largest number of COVID deaths globally – 200,000 and counting. But millions of Americans believe that President Trump’s approach to the pandemic has been realistic, if not visionary. They say that stabilizing COVID cases and a declining death rate prove that President Trump was right not to panic, that the virus is not an existential threat. Joe Biden, his Democratic challenger, believes otherwise. He supports nation-wide mask wearing, targeted lockdowns, and a go-slow approach that privileges public health over the economy. The November 3 vote in America is as much a referendum on the future course of the pandemic in the U.S as it is a vote for either candidate. Who wins will determine the trajectory of the virus, the economic recovery, and the fate of tens of thousands of lives.

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Guests

Andy Slavitt

"Trump has surrounded himself with fantasies, hallucinations, quick fixes, silver bullets, magical thinking. Biden has experience, including people who have managed the Ebola crisis. They will manage this down so Americans feel safe again."

Andy Slavitt

"Trump has surrounded himself with fantasies, hallucinations, quick fixes, silver bullets, magical thinking. Biden has experience, including people who have managed the Ebola crisis. They will manage this down so Americans feel safe again."

Andy served as the Acting Administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) under President Obama from 2015 to 2017. Prior to that, Andy oversaw the successful turnaround of healthcare.gov and served as a Group EVP of Optum. Andy is currently Board Chair of United States of Care and the founder and General Partner of Town Hall Ventures. Host of the podcast, In The Bubble; Andy is making it his mission to give Americans critical information in real-time and also hope for a path forward during this global pandemic. Andy is a graduate of UPenn (BA and BS) and Harvard University (MBA). 

 

Richard Epstein

"The problem with the Biden campaign is that politics is going to be intermingled much too much with the science, and that is going to prolong the coronavirus situation."

Richard Epstein

"The problem with the Biden campaign is that politics is going to be intermingled much too much with the science, and that is going to prolong the coronavirus situation."

Richard A. Epstein is the inaugural Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law at NYU School of Law. Prior to his joining the faculty, he was a visiting law professor at NYU from 2007 through 2009. He has served as the Peter and Kirstin Bedford Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution since 2000. Epstein is also the James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor of Law Emeritus and a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago. His initial law school appointment was at the University of Southern California from 1968 to 1972. Epstein received an LL.D., h.c. from the University of Ghent, 2003. He has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 1985 and has been a Senior Fellow of the Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at the University of Chicago Division of Biological Sciences, also since 1983. He served as editor of the Journal of Legal Studies from 1981 to 1991, and of the Journal of Law and Economics from 1991-2001. From 2001 to 2010 he was a director of the John M. Olin Program in Law and Economics at the University of Chicago.  

 

 

Show Notes

Andy is the host of “In the Bubble”, a podcast that aims to help us understand our new global pandemic “normal” through interviews with leading scientists, cultural icons, and political leaders.  He is also the author of the recently released book, Preventable: The Inside Story of How Leadership Failures, Politics, and Selfishness Doomed the U.S. Coronavirus Response. 

In 2000 The Journal of Legal Studies identified Richard as one of the most cited legal scholars in the 20th century. Richard’s books include Takings: Private Property and the Power of Eminent Domain, and Simple Rules for a Complex World. 

During the debate Richard argues that the number of coronavirus deaths in the US is highly overestimated. In September 2020, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released statistics indicating that 94 per cent of people who died from the coronavirus had comorbidities, or underlying health conditions contributing to their cause of death and that “for 6% of the deaths, COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned.” This Reuters article provides detailed information about how to understand these CDC statistics, which are influenced by standards that govern the filling out of death certificates. In the Reuters article one medical expert compares listing COVID-19 with comorbidities on a death certificate as similar to including hemorrhagic shock and liver laceration on the death certificate of someone who has died of a gunshot wound. On ABC’s Good Morning America, Anthony Fauci, Director of the Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also alluded to the CDC data and confirmed that the 180,000 deaths “are real deaths from COVID-19.” This VOX article looks at why there might be so much skepticism around COVID-19 death rates. 

During the debate there is considerable disagreement between Andy and Richard on the importance of face masks as a tool to control the spread of the virus. Richard argues that Nordic countries have done a good job of controlling the virus without mandating face masks. While it is true that Sweden actively discourages  face mask wearing, the country has one of the highest per capita COVID-19 death rates in the world. Both Denmark and Finland, countries that have successfully contained the virus, have recently made face masks mandatory where social distancing is not possible. 

During the debate Richard and Andy discuss the merits of hydroxychloroquine as part of an effective COVID-19 strategy. Hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug, is a disease-modifying antirheumatic medication. According to rheumatology.org, there is little understanding of why it is effective at treating autoimmune diseases and that, “it is believed to interfere with the communication of cells in the immune system.” The FDA has cautioned against the use of the anti-malaria drug outside of a hospital setting or clinical trial. This article looks at three large studies of hydroxychloroquine, all of which showed that there were no benefits for COVID-19 patients treated with the drug. 

During the debate Andy identifies Africa as a  COVID-19 success story, with only 30,000 deaths in a population of 1.4 billion. Scientists are still trying to figure out why this is the case. You can read some of the theories of why Africa has had such low COVID-19 death rates  here and here

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