March 25, 2020 8:37PM

Technology Makes Social Distancing Easier

Not long ago, many people decried screen time as an epidemic. But now that humanity finds itself in the midst of an actual disease pandemic, screens are proving to be a boon to the species. Progress in digital technology has perhaps never been more evident than in this moment of widespread social distancing measures.

Without today’s technology, “social distancing” would have meant isolation. From work, education and errands to leisure activities and socializing, technology is making “social distancing” possible with minimal sacrifice compared to what previous generations would have had to endure to achieve the same degree of physical separation.

It is of course true that looking at screens for prolonged periods has its downsides and that moderation is important. But the use of technology to help people stay connected and keep society running smoothly during this pandemic is turning the narrative that digital technology threatens human interaction and happiness upside‐​down.

Widespread reports have emerged of virtual dinner parties (warranting coverage in The Washington Post) and other virtual gatherings. It has become increasingly clear that social distancing should more aptly be called physical distancing — because those practicing it can still be social.

As bars temporarily shut down to prevent potential virus transmission, virtual cocktail parties and happy hours are taking off, meriting recent articles in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal covering the phenomenon. Happy hour gatherings, those fixtures of many young professionals’ lives, have transformed into digital social events involving split‐​screen video chats between participants as they each raise a glass from their respective locations.

Virtual gatherings, enabled by digital platforms like Zoom, Google Hangouts, Facebook Live, FaceTime and others, are helping socially‐​distanced people across the world to engage with one another and socialize.

Activities that normally involve congregations of people, ranging from book clubs and fitness classes to religious services and group meditation, are going online.

Physical distancing also does not mean cultural deprivation. Many of the world’s museums, including the British Museum in London, the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Louvre in Paris, offer virtual online tours. For those who prefer the presence of a tour guide, it is now even possible to take a live guided virtual tour at some museums (such as the third U.S. president Thomas Jefferson’s historic home Monticello), asking your guide questions and receiving answers in real time as you tour.

Unable to hold live concerts, musicians ranging from pop star Miley Cyrus to country singer Willie Nelson are holding virtual concerts. In a similar vein, theater‐​streaming services are stepping in to offer plays, ballets and Broadway performances online. New York’s Metropolitan Opera House now offers “Nightly Met Opera Streams” of past performances, set to continue for the duration of the opera house’s pandemic‐​induced closure.

And of course, movie streaming services can bring the magic of the cinema into your home. Technology has made it easier than ever to hold a physically‐​distanced “watch party” synchronized so that viewers in different locations see the same part of a movie at the same time. For those who like to discuss movies as they watch, technology also enables a running group commentary of each scene in real time.

If you miss traveling, know that Google has created an online experience whereby five U.S. National Parks can be toured virtually. Without leaving home, birdwatching enthusiasts can enjoy a live view of the birds of the Panamanian rainforest thanks to Cornell University’s lab of ornithology or watch puffins off the coast of Maine, courtesy of the private non‐​profit National Audubon Society. Similarly, live zoo webcams can bring the fun of observing nature’s creatures, from majestic lions to playful sea otters, into your living room.

What about errands? Shopping at home is easier than ever, and now that regulations on the production of hand sanitizer have loosened, perhaps it will even become available again soon. For those who prefer to try clothes on before they buy, many retailers now offer a free trial period for clothing purchased online and delivered to the customer.

Telehealth is being utilized on a scale never seen before, allowing patients to connect with medical professionals without leaving home. It may soon be possible to order a COVID-19 test online, with a medical professional remotely reviewing your symptoms, as some companies have already promised. (The FDA has just announced that it has moved to ban in‐​home tests, but hopefully it will reverse that decision given the testing shortage). The internet can also help with more mundane health concerns. For example, it is now possible to take an online eye exam to update your lens or contacts prescription, and multiple companies will ship sample frames to you to try on at home.

And, of course, online learning platforms let students learn without risking their health, while remote work similarly allows employees to keep being productive while slowing the spread of the pandemic. Even internships can be conducted remotely.

Some recent changes, like greater workplace flexibility toward remote work and improved accessibility of telehealth services, may prove enduring. “This is an inflection point, and we’re going to look back and realize this is where it all changed,” Jared Spataro, a Microsoft executive, opined in an online press briefing, referring to more organizations shifting toward openness to remote work amid the pandemic. “We’re never going to go back to working the way that we did,” he predicted. Whether he is right or not, it is clear that the pandemic has pushed humanity to use technology in innovative new ways, and that technology has made severe social distancing measures much more bearable.

This was cross‐​posted on Human​Progress​.org.

March 25, 2020 5:53PM

Libertarianism and the Coronavirus Pandemic

In recent days, there has been snark from some quarters about the current crisis somehow catching libertarians flat‐​footed. The argument goes that the need for a big government response disproves a political ideology that is often, though in somewhat oversimplified fashion, summarized as favoring “small government.” A better description would be a government limited in scope but sufficient to meet that scope.

Libertarianism, properly understood, encompasses certain core functions as the proper role of government. It is not the libertarian view that government should be ineffective at protecting individual rights or dysfunctionally paralyzed in the face of a massive threat to people’s lives. Government has a role to play in responding to the pandemic in much the same way it is the government’s job to prosecute murderers or defend the country from invasion.

At the same time, libertarian principles and insights can provide some guideposts for how to respond in this unprecedented global emergency.

One thing to keep in mind is that some limits on government power are even more crucial now. Emergency powers should be limited in duration and limited to directly addressing the present situation based on the facts as best we know them. Such policy responses shouldn’t be larded up with a pre‐​existing wish list of unrelated concerns. It is essential to preserve constitutional liberal democracy and resist excessive long‐​term concentration of power in the executive.

Social distancing measures should rely on voluntary compliance to the greatest degree possible, and most people have been voluntarily complying. Even when enforcement is necessary, simply breaking up gatherings without citation or prosecution is possible and preferable in many cases. A heavy‐​handed reliance on coercive enforcement might not only be unnecessary in some regards, it can also backfire by sparking protest non‐​compliance, and it might also be redundant to all the other measures already in place. With so much shut down, the only place most people have to go is to one of the essential businesses left open such as grocery stores. You don’t need to order people to stay home—except for the list of exceptions—if they already have almost nowhere to go that isn’t on that list of exceptions. For that reason, some states have so far rejected compulsory “stay at home” or “shelter in place” orders. There is no need to fuel further panic or distract police from their more important duties to worry about safe and benign activities like taking the family dog for a walk.

At the same time, many jurisdictions have moved to suspend petty arrests altogether, mostly for victimless crimes, in an effort to reduce jail populations. Also under consideration are proposals to release many of those individuals currently in jail awaiting trial for minor offenses. This is a welcome shift that should prompt us to reconsider the necessity of some of these laws, many of which have long been the target of libertarian ire.

Another insight comes from Nobel laureate, libertarian icon, and Cato Distinguished Senior Fellow, the late F. A. Hayek. In works such as The Constitution of Liberty, he wrote that good laws should be general, equal, and certain. That is a principle that is relevant even in something as far removed from the libertarian ideal as the emergency economic responses currently under consideration. Rather than targeted industry bailouts and micro‐​managed interventions, policy responses should be clear, simple, system‐​wide, and with a defined end date as soon as possible. Simple universal payments to individuals are also preferable to corporate bailouts. It is not feasible for the government to abruptly order massive shutdowns of so much economic activity without some kind of compensation, in much the same way we require just compensation for eminent domain. It is proper for the government to own the consequences of its orders and to soften the shock of this sudden disruption. But in doing so, it’s best to follow the KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Libertarian criticisms of bad regulations have proven especially prescient. A crucial government failure has been the FDA’s inflexible and heavy‐​handed bureaucracy, which has held up tests and prevented thousands of private and academic labs from quickly increasing testing capacity. For most of February, the FDA required everybody to rely solely on tests produced by the CDC and refused to grant permission to other labs. This proved to be catastrophically flawed when the first round of tests produced by the CDC didn’t work and had to be replaced. This failure is a large part of why America’s coronavirus testing response to date compares so unfavorably with South Korea’s.

Another example of a libertarian response to the pandemic has been the quick need to suspend many occupational licensing restrictions, such as by letting doctors practice interstate and upgrading the permissions of nurse practitioners and doctors’ assistants. Even mundane and trivial regulations of the sort that only libertarians would have worried about before have suddenly been cast aside. Two months ago, who would have thought it an urgent concern to suspend alcohol regulations so that restaurants can serve beverages to go for home delivery by rideshare drivers?

While we can welcome these wins, there is no doubt that we have also seen extreme impositions on personal freedom. Libertarians can find that loss especially painful. Even when these new rules are sadly necessary and justified by the facts, it is a cost we should carefully weigh as we eventually move to unwind restrictions and return to some kind of normalcy. In the name of saving lives from the immediate threat, governments around the world have suspended most international travel and heavily curtailed consumer freedoms and freedom of association. The acute loss of freedoms we’ve long taken for granted underscores how valuable they truly are. And some freedoms, like freedom of speech and the right to privacy, should remain sacrosanct and defended tenaciously even in the face of an emergency.

While much of the policy response so far has been in good faith (if often inept), the propensity for power grabs by authoritarian populists should not be discounted. Preserving the rule of law, checks and balances, and constitutional liberal democracy is essential. Elections should proceed on time and with whatever accommodations prove necessary. Legislatures and courts should be kept open for essential business, including by remote participation if necessary, and foundational constitutional structures should remain in place. We have no need of a dictator in the United States nor in other countries around the world.

And perhaps most importantly: emergency rules and powers should extend only for the duration of the emergency, and be repealed at the earliest feasible opportunity. We should be wary of the ratchet effect, where governments tend to retain powers and keep open programs long after their original justification has disappeared.

Freedom is precious, and in the grand sweep of human history it has often been fleeting and tenuous. Right now we are facing the greatest threat to a free and open society that most of us have ever witnessed, at least in the United States, if not in many other nations that have been through worse scourges of totalitarianism and major wars. So libertarians will continue as they always have, ready to defend the principles of human freedom at every turn.

March 25, 2020 3:12PM

Against the “Noble Lie” – COVID-19 Edition

The main political conflict in recent years is between experts or elites and non‐​experts. For lack of a better word, the non‐​experts are called populists. Their complaints have been specific: Elites and experts are arrogant, they have different values, they condescend in annoying ways, they ignore the sometimes legitimate concerns of populists, among others. Experts say that they should be listened to because they’re more knowledgeable. We see it in debates on every issue from climate change to trade, immigration, and everything in between.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposes another criticism of experts: They lie with noble intentions. And the consequences of those noble lies are quite negative.

A recent New York Times op‐​ed by Zeynep Tufekci exposes the danger of noble lies when it comes to limiting the transmission of COVID-19. She details the claims by public officials and health experts that masks don’t limit transmission. She wrote:

Many health experts, no doubt motivated by the sensible and urgent aim of preserving the remaining masks for health care workers, started telling people that they didn’t need masks or that they wouldn’t know how to wear them.

Those claims were simply untrue. Yes, healthcare workers need masks, but masks also reduce transmission outside of hospitals and clinics. Sick people who wear masks reduce their likelihood of transmitting the virus and healthy people who wear them reduce their likelihood of becoming infected. Tufecki pointed out the obvious contradiction: If masks don’t work, why do healthcare workers need them?

Noble lies are those knowingly propagated by elites or experts to advance a bigger agenda. I can’t think of a single noble lie that has led to better outcomes and most have done more harm than good. The arguments against mass use of face masks were noble lies intended for the good reason of attempting to reduce the mass consumption of face masks to conserve them for healthcare workers. However, they backfired quickly. Ultimately, that failure will cause even more harm down the line.

One source of harm is how social enforcers of new anti‐​COVID‐​19 norms respond. Enforcing these norms through pressure to not gather in large crowds, proper hand hygiene, to maintain social distance, and to stop shaking hands is positive. Those social enforcement mechanisms work best when everybody is basically on the same page about what works but they follow the norms to varying degrees. But if lots of people don’t trust the advice and they disagree about proper methods to limit the transmission of the disease because they’ve been misled by noble lies, social pressure will be contradictory and less effective at altering behavior.

Health experts, epidemiologists, medical researchers, scientists, and other experts have knowledge and experience that is valuable in containing COVID-19 and eventually wiping it out. They will eventually discover a vaccine and treatments that will benefit all of us. But without widespread trust in them, their jobs will be harder. Noble lies will reduce that trust and make it less likely that people will heed their advice and warnings. If some percentage of their guidance is a lie and we all know that they are sometimes lying, people will be less likely to listen or will cherry‐​pick which advice to follow. People will be more likely to consume snake oil, listen to grifters, and fall back on prejudices or other biases that will end up hurting themselves and others. And this will all happen rapidly in the current media market where information is cheap and available at a cost near zero, as it currently is.

Even worse, the noble lie does serious damage to expert culture as one noble lie can justify more lies that are increasingly less noble. Experts will justify less‐​noble lies on the precedence of previous lies that were nobler with no natural limiting principle. And they judge the nobility of the lie by the intent of the liar, which is a dangerous trap. This cycle can only destroy expert credibility.

A common justification for the noble lie is that people aren’t taking the current COVID-19 crisis seriously enough, so experts are justified in trying to “scare people straight” with a lie. The major problem, if the goal is to change other people’s behavior with additional information, is that they won’t be scared straight as soon as the lie is known. Thus, the noble lie will backfire.

Scaring people straight works better when scary truths are revealed rather than when lies are peddled. Emily Oster, economist and author of two superb books on pregnancy risks and raising young children, points out this problem in another area of medicine: alcohol consumption by pregnant mothers. She highlights a report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics with the headline finding that “no amount of alcohol should be considered safe in pregnancy.” Oster points out that the report itself contradicts that statement. She further details to another problem:

Reasonable people can differ, but when we lump together all levels of drinking—without really clearly focusing on what we should be concerned about—we risk losing sight of the groups that actually need help.

Heavy drinking during pregnancy is a big risk but exaggerating it means that the public can lose sight of the people most negatively affected. Perhaps some pregnant mothers can’t limit themselves to a small amount of alcohol so, for them, the better advice is not to drink at all, but that does not translate into a warning that no expecting mothers should imbibe ever. Exaggeration could mute the actual message: Drinking a lot while pregnant can do serious, permanent harm to your baby.

Experts and elites are more trusted when they tell the truth and expose non‐​obvious tradeoffs. Every action has tradeoffs, even those that are obviously a net‐​benefit. For instance, arguing in favor of lockdowns, quarantines, and travel restrictions while acknowledging that those actions will severely disrupt economic activities and lead to other, different health problems and early deaths. Those extra health problems and deaths may be worth it, but being open about that tradeoff and making the case honestly is the best that experts can do.

This doesn’t mean that experts should consider every non‐​expert objection and weigh them equally when considering a response. Anti‐​vaxxers can be safely ignored during the COVID-19 crisis, for instance. But it does mean that experts need to present the facts honestly and openly. Populists may not believe them, but it’s better to make an honest case for an action that isn’t believed than it is to make a dishonest case that is later exposed as the long‐​term costs in lost credibility are high. The present value of trust in experts is too valuable to be squandered on an ephemeral change in behavior bought at the expense of a lie.

As a libertarian, my preference is for as few government rules and regulations as required to build and maintain a free, peaceful, and prosperous society. In the areas where rules and regulations are necessary, they should be well‐​considered and guided by experts who understand the issue that is being regulated. There should also be consequences for making errors and rewards for being correct. Trust in those experts is fragile in even the best of times, but crucial for widespread popular acceptance which is necessary for the enforcement of any new policy. When some experts commit noble lies, it damages their credibility and limits the extent of their wiser (compared to non‐​experts) recommendations.

Tufekci ended her piece with this prescient warning:

Research shows that during disasters, people can show strikingly altruistic behavior, but interventions by authorities can backfire if they fuel mistrust or treat the public as an adversary rather than people who will step up if treated with respect. Given that even homemade masks may work better than no masks, wearing them might be something to direct people to do while they stay at home more, as we all should.

Experts should commit themselves publicly to always telling the truth and to banish the noble lie from public debate. By limiting the transmission of noble lies, hopefully we can do something to limit the spread of COVID-19.

March 25, 2020 12:05PM

Libertarians and Pandemics

A journalist asked me yesterday how libertarians feel about governors exercising all these rarely used “police powers” to shut down businesses and otherwise try to limit the spread of the new coronavirus. I’ll save my answers for his article, but just as I hung up the phone somebody sent me this tweet. In two minutes Steve Baker, perhaps the most libertarian member of the British Parliament, expressed the conflicting feelings I think many of us have about the exercise of power in an emergency.

March 25, 2020 11:43AM

MAT Regulations Relaxed During COVID-19 Pandemic—This Should Catalyze Further Reform

In order to facilitate social distancing among people in treatment for opioid use disorder, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration relaxed some onerous regulations surrounding the use of buprenorphine or methadone in Medication Assisted Treatment.

For health care providers to prescribe buprenorphine in an ambulatory setting to patients with addiction, they must apply for an “X waiver” on the narcotics prescribing license they get from the DEA. This is an onerous process that has resulted in a paltry number of practitioners with the waiver. Many addiction experts have called for the DEA to remove the requirements and last summer legislation to that effect was being discussed in Congress.

The DEA requires all patients to be seen in person before they may be prescribed a controlled substance. With medical clinics engaging in social distancing by seeing patients for only urgent matters, thinning staff, reducing hours, and minimizing the number of patients in their waiting rooms, patients on buprenorphine treatment face understandable challenges. Last week the DEA temporarily suspended the requirement that MAT patients see their prescriber in person, allowing for the use of telemedicine. This should ease the burden. Removing the X waiver requirement so that all licensed narcotics prescribers can prescribe buprenorphine to the patients with addiction, as recommended by the National Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, would ease it further.

While patients on buprenorphine face challenges during the COVID-19 epidemic, patients receiving methadone treatment have it even worse. Among the many onerous requirements placed on operators of methadone clinics is the one requiring patients to take the methadone each day in front of a clinic staff member. This makes it difficult to participate in the program even under ordinary circumstances, especially if the nearest clinic is miles away. And the long queues of patients that form waiting to get inside the clinics each day are not examples of social distancing. NASEM recommends reforming methadone regulations to allow community health care practitioners to prescribe several days of methadone to patients they see and follow in their offices, as doctors in the U.K., Canada, and Australia have been doing for decades. Clinical researchers at Boston University reported on the success of a government‐​approved pilot project in the primary care setting in 2018.

In response to the pandemic, SAMHSA informed states that methadone clinics may dispense up to 28 days of Take‐​Home methadone to their “stable” patients and up to 14 days of take‐​home methadone to patients who are “less stable” but the program believes “can safely handle this level of Take‐​Home medication.”

All of these moves are moves in the right direction. They clearly foster addiction treatment compliance. When this crisis passes, making the measures permanent should be a no‐​brainer. But reform should not stop there. These temporary measures should serve as catalysts for repeal of the “X waiver” and a complete revision of the DEA’s antiquated, stigmatizing approach to methadone treatment programs

March 25, 2020 10:47AM

The Coronavirus Is Not a Good Argument for Protectionism

Protectionists have been emboldened by the Trump administration’s approach to trade policy, and some are now using COVID-19 as an argument to support their cause. In most cases, it’s not worth responding, but I don’t think of economics columnist Noah Smith as an economic nationalist, so if he is saying things along these lines, I feel like it merits a response. Here’s what he said in his column yesterday:

Offshoring Left the U.S. Unprepared for Coronavirus

But a new problem threatens to reverse even this tepid progress: a shortage of personal protection equipment. Medical workers who do coronavirus testing need to wear masks, gowns and other items to prevent them from being infected after dealing with large numbers of infected patients. Another problem is a shortage of the cotton swabs used to carry out the tests.

It seems almost unthinkable that shortages of these simple materials could hamstring the medical system of the country with the biggest economy on the planet. Economist and long‐​time policy adviser Larry Summers wondered how this could happen:

The reason is offshoring. Over the years, the U.S. has outsourced the production of items such as masks, mostly to China — which is now reluctant to allocate any of its production capacity to the U.S., given its own needs and the deteriorating relations between the two countries. Making these objects is technologically somewhat challenging, but it’s also a low‐​margin, commoditized business — there’s little in the way of network effects or brand value or patents to yield big profits. So it made sense for the U.S. to focus on higher‐​value things at the beginning and end of the supply chain — medical services that make use of masks, marketing and distribution, and innovation of technologies used to create better masks.

This was an example of thinking on the margin. Economics predicts that businesses decide what to produce based on what makes a little bit more profit. The siren song of marginal profit drew the U.S. relentlessly away from mask production.

The problem is that when the economy suffers a huge shock such as a war or a pandemic, the margin vanishes. The U.S. economy is projected to shrink by 30% or more in the second quarter as a result of the coronavirus, and the necessity of doing mass testing has created an abrupt shift in the demand for protective equipment and swabs. What made economic sense yesterday doesn’t make sense today.

Eventually the U.S. will reconfigure its economy in response to these shocks. Domestic mask and swab factories will open, or existing facilities will be repurposed to make them. But that will take time, and the U.S. needs more testing now. Lockdowns can suppress the virus, but only at great economic cost; as soon as restrictions end and people go back to their jobs, coronavirus will come roaring back unless the country has a strict regime of widespread testing and contact tracing in place. Thus, every day that the economy fails to provide enough masks and swabs is another day that it has to remain in shutdown.

If businesses will always make decisions on the margin, then it’s government’s job to insure the country against big shocks such as pandemics and wars. The U.S. could have used trade barriers and government support to make sure that the entire supply chain for medical equipment stayed in the country. But government action against offshoring has long been stigmatized, including by Summers himself, who in 2012 lambasted offshoring skeptics as “Luddites.”

The coronavirus crisis should cause advocates of unrestricted free trade to rethink their blanket opposition to protectionism. An economy based entirely on far‐​flung supply chains is more profitable in normal times, but when a crisis hits, it can quickly become a liability. Items such as masks and swabs are too crucial to be left to the whims of international markets.

There is a valid but narrow point buried in his argument, but it requires a lot more nuance than what he is offering. It’s true that if you are in the midst of a geopolitical conflict with a particular country, you wouldn’t want to be dependent on them for certain essential products. For example, during World War II, we wouldn’t have wanted to be dependent on Germany for rifles or for penicillin.

So yes, you want to make sure that you are not getting all products that are, in some sense of the term, essential from a single country, which could be the subject of a geopolitical conflict, or could be susceptible to a natural disaster. (You also may want to consider whether it really makes sense to have that geopolitical conflict. There are concerns with China, but they could certainly be handled better than we are currently handling them.)

But that’s a very narrow proposition, and it doesn’t translate into “offshoring left the U.S. unprepared for coronavirus.” It also doesn’t necessitate a rethinking of support for free trade. Rather, it requires a country to take a look at what products are essential for security or public health or some other policy, and to make sure it has a diverse and reliable supply of those products. To be clear, that does not mean “reshoring” all production of those products to the United States. Offshoring has many benefits, and in fact helps ensure a supply of these essential products, because there are risks to having your own country as the sole supplier. We want to have good trading relationships with the rest of the world, because when (inevitably) something goes wrong with our own production, we want to be able to quickly get help from others. We are better off if this manufacturing knowledge is distributed around the world. We just want to make sure that we have sources of supply in countries that we can count on.

So is Noah right that offshoring is to blame here? No. Every country needs to have a plan for ensuring that it can get medical equipment when it needs it. But it’s costly and risky to seek self‐​sufficiency in this production, and it’s better for everyone to maintain a cooperative international approach to making these products.

March 25, 2020 10:30AM

COVID-19 Leads to Arrest Reductions

By Jeffrey Miron and Erin Partin

As COVID-19 spreads through the U.S., cities across the country are halting arrests for nonviolent offenses and releasing low‐​risk prisoners in efforts to reduce jail crowding and prevent the spread of the disease. Prosecutors in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Los Angeles County, Portland, and Nashville – along with many other cities – are issuing statements that arrests and prosecutions for low‐​level, nonviolent crimes (including drug offenses, theft, prostitution, traffic offenses, etc.) will stop.

Over 30 prosecutors issued a joint statement calling for public health officials and community leaders to:

• Adopt “cite and release policies” for offenses which pose no immediate physical threat to the community, including simple possession of controlled substances.

• Release all individuals who are being detained solely because they can’t afford cash bail, unless they pose a serious risk to public safety.

• Reduce the prison population to minimize sharing of cells and ensure that there are sufficient medical quarantine beds, and enough staff, to promote the health and safety of staff, those incarcerated, and visitors

• Identify and release the following people immediately, unless doing so would pose a serious risk to the physical safety of the community:

○ Individuals who are elderly;

○ Populations that the CDC has classified as vulnerable (those with asthma, cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes);

○ People in local jails who are within 6 months of completing their sentence; and

○ People incarcerated due to technical violations of probation and parole.

• Put in place procedures and advocate for reforms that enable past lengthy sentences to be revisited and support release for those individuals who can safely return to the community

While these are steps in the right direction, it begs the question of how necessary these arrests were in the first place. Of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in the U.S. in 2019, 1.9 million are incarcerated in state or local prisons. Almost 40 percent are serving sentences (or in pretrial detention) for non‐​violent drug or property offenses – the same violations that prosecutors are now opting not to pursue.

The costs of mass incarceration are well documented. If, as these prosecutors argue, there is little danger in halting the arrest and prosecution of low‐​level offenders during this national emergency, then what justification is there to renew efforts after the current pandemic is over? The mindset of mass incarceration stands contrary to the core ideals of America. It is long past time to break the cycle.