We Will Not Comply

by Ray Gillenwater, SSC | May 13, 2020

starting strength gym storefront denver

A society is a living organism whose survival depends on productivity. Production and the exchange of goods and services is what facilitates the continuity of any large group of people. It has been this way since the beginning of our species and this law of nature persists in its currently extrapolated form whether or not we acknowledge it. If a society’s lifeblood is blocked, even partially, then we are collectively having a stroke. If rectified immediately, a stroke patient can make a full recovery. If tissues are starved of blood and oxygen for an extended period of time, irreparable harm, tissue death, and/or systemic death is the result. Saving a limb at the expense of the organism is a foolish trade-off to make. 

This is why questions like, “How do we stop COVID-19 deaths at any cost?” are so extraordinarily short-sighted. “Any cost” implies that an unlimited budget exists, and it most certainly does not. 

In the United States, we have collectively agreed to have a stroke for our own safety. Stay home, stay safe, right? Translation: Stop producing and reduce the flow of society’s lifeblood to avoid spreading COVID-19. A continued discretionary stroke is the costliest collective decision, and perhaps the deadliest, that we have ever made. This should not be a surprise to you because the same people that are making these decisions are the same incompetents that dismissed the threat of a pandemic in January and February, recommended against the use of masks in March, and then panicked in April. Trust them at your own peril.

Quantifying the COVID-19 Threat

Facts, not feelings, should inform our decision-making process. Let’s evaluate the data. At time of writing, May 11, 2020, there have been 14,753 deaths in New York City over the course of 49 days (between March 27 and May 10, 2020). These are deaths with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis. This dataset is worth examining to discover themes that can inform our risk assessment.

Look closely for the purple bars that indicate the number of healthy people that have died. 

It is worth noting the death toll among the young and/or the healthy:

  • People with no underlying illness account for 0.6% of all deaths (97 total)
  • People under the age of 18 account for 0.05% of all deaths (8 total)
  • People under the age of 45 that that were confirmed to have no illness, or had an unknown illness status, account for 0.8% of all deaths (122 total) 

Healthy people under the age of 45, or those with an unknown health status, make up less than one percent of all deaths. 

It is also worth noting that all people under the age of 45, even those with existing conditions, make up a small percentage of deaths:

  • People under the age of 45, including those with existing conditions, accounted for 4% of all deaths (591 total) 
  • If you include seniors in that equation: All people (healthy and unhealthy) under the age of 65 accounted for 11% of all deaths (1,596 total)

The visualization above shows you the disproportionate number of deaths from the elderly and those with existing illness:

  • 74% of all deaths with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis are age 65* and above
  • 75% of all deaths with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis had underlying conditions
  • 99% of all deaths with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis had an underlying condition or an unknown underlying condition status

This is worth repeating: 99% of all people that have died to date in New York City had an existing illness or an unknown illness status. An underlying illness is defined as diabetes, lung disease, cancer, immunodeficiency, heart disease, hypertension, asthma, kidney disease, GI/liver disease, and/or obesity. The average life expectancy in New York state is 78.

These data indicate that there are specific groups of people that are at a high risk of death by COVID-19. The government should be clearly communicating who is at risk instead of stoking fear across the entire population. The risk of becoming seriously ill should not be conflated with the risk of death – the measures that must be taken to avoid death are and should be more extreme than the measures required to avoid illness. 

A shelter-in-place recommendation for those that have a health condition or are approaching the end of their life is likely to cause less net harm than a broad-brushed shelter-in-place order for hundreds of millions of low-risk people. Extraordinary harm will result from forcing healthy people to be unproductive for an extended period of time, as I will outline below. Causing material harm to innocent people that are not at risk of death by COVID-19, is a serious moral error. 

The Real Existential Threat

We are in the midst of a fiscal emergency. The United States Debt is $25 trillion. Our Gross Domestic Product – the amount of our cumulative annual production – is $21 trillion. At its peak in WWII, our debt as a percentage of GDP reached 113%. We are currently at 116%. Our Debt is expanding faster than our GDP and the current estimate is that 2020 will be a record year for the budget deficit: $3.8 trillion or 18.7% of GDP. For comparison, the deficit hit 9.8% during the Great Recession in 2009.

The government can borrow from future tax revenue and distribute it to us so that we can temporarily support ourselves, but it is impossible to argue that this situation is sustainable, especially since our previous fiscal situation was already “unsustainable” according to the Government Accountability Office.

This is why an extended shelter-in-place order is a dire situation. We cannot collectively afford to continue our way of life with half of all small businesses shut down, because small businesses account for 99.7% of all companies in this country and employ 47% of all people in the private sector.

Our economy is contracting. We are in a recession right now, and we may be headed towards a depression. The government is spending more money than it ever has while simultaneously setting new unemployment records, which means decreased tax revenue. This is an extraordinarily dire situation.

Aside from the mid- to long-term consequences, we will face short term tragedy as tens of thousands of innocent people become collateral damage due to suicide and drug abuse. The Well Being Trust has made projections on what they call “deaths of despair” which indicates 27,000-154,000 additional deaths from drug use and suicide, depending upon how quickly we get back to work. All modeling is guessing, but there is a clear historic correlation between unemployment and self-inflicted death. The government closure of businesses has caused 20.5M lost jobs in the month of April alone.

Overdose. Suicide. Lack of medical care due to fear, closures, or inability to pay. Poverty. Hunger due to food shortages and/or reduced income. Psychological suffering. For those of you that are in favor of an extended lockdown, have you quantified these risks? Have you quantified the COVID-19 risk? Have you carefully weighed them against each other before concluding that your preferred course of action is to coerce people into their homes for an indefinite amount of time? If so, please share your analysis. I’m concerned that most people have come to a conclusion about this situation based upon their impression of it instead of their own rigorous assessment. 

How We Are Responding

Two of our gyms are still closed and are scheduled to reopen May 18, 2020. We will wait until the 18th and then we will reopen. After May 18th, we will not comply with any further government orders to close our gyms, for the reasons outlined above and because our businesses are not yours to close. Our gyms are where people go to resolve underlying conditions that make them susceptible to death by COVID-19 and a variety of other illnesses. Remember this list? Diabetes, lung disease, cancer, immunodeficiency, heart disease, hypertension, asthma, kidney disease, GI liver disease, and/or obesity. We can help mitigate Type II Diabetes, improve immune system health, increase heart/lung function, and combat obesity. We are essential, whether or not the government acknowledges it.

We will not attempt to force anyone to do anything and we firmly reject anyone’s desire to control us. If a coach is worried about being around other people, they are welcome to stay home – and if a job is available for them when they’re ready to come back to work, we will do our best to accommodate. We are providing one of the safest places to train in the industry, but if a member doesn’t want to join us in the gym, we will cancel their membership at their request in line with our standard policy: no cancellation fees plus a prorated refund of the rest of that month’s dues. 

As of May 18, 2020, we are designating ourselves as an essential business and we will behave accordingly. We will not comply with extended orders that prevent us from being productive. If you are at low risk of dying from COVID-19, I hope you will join us.

Discuss in Forums

Starting Strength Weekly Report

Highlights from the StartingStrength Community. Browse archives.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.