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Senator Rand Paul had the best five minutes in the first two hours of the hearing in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee today. It is clear he has been abiding by shelter-in-place orders because his hair and beard look dangerously close to qualifying him to join the cast of Duck Dynasty. However, his questions could not have been more on point.
The doctor in Rand Paul took over for the questioning. He began by challenging Dr. Fauci on the media narrative that there is no evidence that patients who survive coronavirus have immunity. To be helpful Paul pointed out the following:
- In experiments, rhesus monkeys infected with COVID-19 can’t be reinfected
- Studies have shown plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients neutralizes the virus in lab experiments
- The entire premise of convalescent plasma treatment, mentioned by several on the panel as a potential treatment currently in trials, is that recovered patients develop immunity capable of killing the virus
- Recovering patients across the board are showing significant antibody response
- We know SARS and MERS, coronaviruses with similar clinical presentations, confer immunity for at least 2-3 years
Paul then stated that his view is that the truth is the exact opposite of the media narrative. There is very good evidence that recovered patients will have some durable immunity. And recovered workers, in industries like meatpacking, should be reassured there is a strong likelihood they will not get reinfected. He then referenced that Dr. Fauci had said publicly that he would bet it all that survivors of COVID-19 have some form of immunity and asked him to set the record straight.
Dr. Fauci responded that it is indeed likely. Then he added the standard disclaimers that we won’t know for sure and for how long for years. He did concede you could make a reasonable assumption that recovered patients have some immunity. Paul concluded saying maybe a better way to frame the issue of immunity was to say in all likelihood recovery indicates immunity for some period of time. The public needs to hear Paul’s presentation, but you can confidently bet on the fact that the media narrative won’t change.
Then Paul moved to the topic of children returning to school and students returning to college. He pointed out that discussing mortality rates becomes necessary in determining public policy and those rates for ages 0-18 are near zero. He then pointed out the mortality in New York between the ages of 18 and 45 was 10 per 100,000 cases. What he didn’t note is that these cases are often explained by underlying conditions such as diabetes, cancer, or obesity.
He also said we need to observe with an open mind what has happened in Sweden, where children have continued to go to school and almost no restrictions were placed on businesses or the public. He pointed out the mortality rate in Sweden is lower than in many other European countries and there is really no one arguing the country’s results are not acceptable.
Then he tore into modeling. Paul said the models have gotten more wrong than they have gotten right. In his home state of Kentucky, there have been fewer deaths from COVID-19 than from an average flu season. He called the experience outside of New York and surrounding states relatively benign and the idea of a national approach ridiculous.
He then took on the narrative that we must listen to the health experts head-on. Explicitly, he challenged the reliance on the opinion of one man, Dr. Fauci.
Really the history of this when we look back will be wrong prediction after wrong prediction after wrong prediction starting with Ferguson in England. I think we ought to have a little humility in the belief we know what’s best for the economy. As much as I respect you, Dr. Fauci, I don’t think you are the end-all. I don’t think you are the one person that gets to make a decision. We can listen to your advice, but there are people on the other side saying there is not going to be a surge and we can safely open the economy. The facts will bear this out. But if we keep kids out of school for another year, what’s going to happen is that the poor and underprivileged kids who don’t have a parent that can teach them at home are not going to learn for a year. I think we ought to look at the Swedish model. It’s a huge mistake if we don’t open schools in the fall.
While I believe this was a shot from Paul at Democrats and the media for over-reliance on Dr. Fauci as a tool to drive some standard approach to the virus response nationwide, Fauci did respond. He said he never made himself out to be the end-all in all of this. That’s debatable.
He has been a ubiquitous presence in the media to the exclusion of other experts and doctors who are actually treating patients. He testified from home, yet someone leaked the theme of his testimony to The New York Times. Headlines trumpeted this was Dr. Fauci’s testimony, yet it was often the other experts, Admiral Brett Giroir, Dr. Robert Redfield, and Dr. Stephen Hahn, who provided the detailed information regarding testing and treatment that the senators were interested in. And in the first two hours, Democrats gave Dr. Fauci every opportunity to utter some version of the previously leaked phrase “needless suffering and death.”
Senator Paul gave voice to many in the public who are more than ready for a local approach. People who understand that our political leaders are not accountable for how a virus behaves. They are simply accountable for doing the best they can to provide the resources and services to manage potential outcomes and keep the public informed.
According to Admiral Giroir and Dr. Redfield, state leaders are actively engaged in the process of resource planning to guide the production of needed supplies and allocation of resources for surveillance and contact tracing. As the leaders of the tactical response, these men have emphasized that the response will be data-driven. Not model-driven. As Vice President Pence reiterated so often as the Task Force leader, the response is locally driven, state-managed, and federally supported. As it should be.
Dr. Fauci is not the only voice we should be listening to. At this point, predictive models have proven to be nearly useless. And Senator Paul hit the head on that nail with a sledgehammer.