RALEIGH — The pandemic and the government’s general response has exposed a curious paradox.
We’re more anxious, health experts agree. Schools and businesses remain closed, so parents are left without jobs and, or, child care. The list of what we’ve lost is voluminous.
We’re drinking more and exercising less, at least in gyms, data show. Politicians are using government lockdowns and suppressions under the guise of “keeping us safe.”
But it’s the healthy who pay.
RunRepeat, which specializes in shoes for athletes, in August surveyed about 5,000 gym members worldwide and found less than 31% had returned to their gyms. In a new study, a survey of 6,812 gym members found 23.93% of U.S. members reported their gyms have yet to reopen or are permanently closed.
Bars in North Carolina, for all intents and purposes, are mostly closed — some seven months and counting. Yet retail sales at state-run Alcoholic Beverage Control stores are increasing exponentially throughout the state. Sales to bars and restaurants, also by the monopolistic system, are understandably down.
In Wake County, for instance, retail sales as of Sept. 1 exceeded $12 million, with mixed-beverage sales — bars and restaurants — at just less than $2 million, the ABC says in a report. Last year at the same time retail sales were nearly $8.5 million, with mixed-beverage sales at $3.3 million.
It’s a similar pattern throughout the state, regardless of the size of the respective ABC board. As an example, in Angier, in Harnett County, retail sales — which make up the bulk of sales — are up nearly 90%. Sales in Gibsonville, near Greensboro, are up more than 90%.
Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, closed bars, clubs, movie theaters, and gyms in mid-March. On Sept. 4, he opened gyms and bowling alleys to 30% or less of capacity. But the bars and movie theaters remained closed, until he moved the state into Phase 3 of his reopening plan Oct. 2. He allowed bars to reopen, but only at 30% and only for outdoor seating.
Theaters have similar limitations, and now so do movie-goers.
The Regal theater chain says it is shuttering all 536 locations in the U.S. for now, reflecting, NPR reports, “’an increasingly challenging theatrical landscape. …” Regal is the second-largest film exhibitor in the U.S., after AMC Theatres, the story says.
Private bars in North Carolina are closing by the day, even with Cooper’s stunted reopening plan. Allowing bars to open at such limited capacity is pointless, the N.C. Bar and Tavern Association (NCBATA), says in a social media post.
To have 20 customers, a bar would need to have at least 60 seats outside, or 3,000 square feet of patio space, the trade group says. Out of 93 bars surveyed by the NCBATA, just six qualify to have more than 20 customers. Fifty-nine have a dozen outside seats or fewer.
“This is a slap in the face,” says NCBATA President Zack Medford, who founded the group. “Serving food does not protect you. … Ninety percent of the bars in North Carolina can’t possibly afford to open under this new guidance. Many have no outdoor seating at all. We urge the governor to incorporate the proposed NCBATA Health & Safety Guidance and allow bars to open indoors at 50% capacity — just like our competitors.”
The governor bases his closures and suppressions on “science and data,” though the numbers he cites are typically opaque and without context, largely failing to attribute COVID-19 cases to nursing homes or meatpacking plants. To specific indoor events, including church services, or to farm workers living in close quarters.
Cooper’s critics say the media is complicit in promoting the governor’s agenda, focusing on his talking points yet failing to ask questions about the detrimental effects of the shutdowns. Even as the positivity rate approaches the magical 5% established by the World Health Organization, the number, writes the John Locke Foundation’s Joseph Coletti, was implemented as a benchmark for adequacy of testing, not for closing or opening an economy.
It’s the healthy who pay. Tens of thousands of scientists and medical practitioners say as much.
These medical professionals have published a treatise they call the The Great Barrington Declaration, writing of “grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 policies.” They recommend an approach they call Focused Protection — allowing people at minimal risk of death to live normally to build immunity to the virus through natural infection while better protecting those who are at highest risk.
“Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short- and long-term public health,” they write. “The results (to name a few) include lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings, and deteriorating mental health — leading to greater excess mortality in years to come, with the working class and younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden. Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice.”
Who then are we protecting? That should be the principal question. Yet few journalists ask it, and the N.C. governor rarely responds to inquiries from Carolina Journal. (CJ has been granted permission to ask Cooper just one question during his regular news conferences, which began in March).
This week the website Science writes that dozens of studies have reported many of the sickest COVID-19 patients are people with obesity.
“[I]n the first metaanalysis of its kind, published on Aug. 26 in Obesity Reviews, an international team of researchers pooled data from scores of peer-reviewed papers capturing 399,000 patients. They found that people with obesity who contracted SARS-CoV-2 were 113% more likely than people of healthy weight to land in the hospital, 74% more likely to be admitted to an ICU, and 48% more likely to die.
“The largest descriptive study yet of hospitalized U.S. COVID-19 patients, posted as a preprint last month by Genentech researchers, found that 77% of nearly 17,000 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 were overweight (29%) or obese (48%),” according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
“[E]xercising and, separately, losing even a little weight can improve the metabolic health of a person with obesity, and, in doing so, reduce their chances of developing severe COVID-19 if they become infected,” says Science, quoting Stephen O’Rahilly, a physician-scientist who directs the MRC Metabolic Diseases Unit at the University of Cambridge. “If you’re 300 pounds, even losing a modest amount is likely to have a disproportionate benefit on how well you do with coronavirus infection. You don’t have to become a slim Jim to benefit.”
Cooper encourages people to exercise — outdoors. North Carolina is in the South, but it still gets cold. Exercise will need to move inside during the winter. But, the RunRepeat survey says, 20.58% of gym members globally reported that their gyms are still closed — 18.28% have yet to reopen while 2.30% have permanently closed.
“With that said,” the RunRepeat survey says, “COVID cases continue to rise globally while some places have already had to pause or even reverse their reopening transitions.
“The next three to six months, when membership sign-ups typically increase, will be vital in determining whether we see many more gyms close for good or not.”
N.C. ABC stores, which made $1.2 billion this past fiscal year, will remain open.