LOCKDOWN 2.0 • The Myth & the Mantra

Models Should Inform Public Policy, Not Drive It

Posted In: Politics, National, State, Opinion,   From Issue 905   By: Robert E Martin

18th November, 2020     0

"Whenever the government of the United States shall break up, it will probably be in consequence of a false direction having been given to public opinion. This is the weak point of our defenses, and the part to which the enemies of the system will direct all their attacks. Opinion can be so perverted as to cause the false to seem true; the enemy, a friend, and the friend, an enemy; the best interests of the nation to appear insignificant, and the trifles of moment; in a word, the right the wrong, the wrong the right.”   - James Fenimore Cooper

Wouldn’t you know that as we were starting to get the wheels of our economy to a state of semi-normal, with The REVIEW actually able to publish a print-edition back to the normal amount of pages we were doing in March prior to the first state-mandated lockdown, last Sunday our ‘Go-It-Alone’ Governor through the auspices of the Michigan Department of Public Health, issued yet another 3-week lockdown….just in time for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

As we now embark upon this latest round of pain and isolation ordained by unsubstantiated and unilateral decree, I’d like to begin this missive with a fitting parable written by one of my facebook friends,  P.J. Barerra, who is the proprietor of The Liquid Lounge in Old Town Saginaw.

“Long ago in times of drought, famine or plague the High Priestess would ask for sacrifices from the populace. The citizens would offer up their young to the gods in hopes of ending the drought, famine or plague.  When the rains didn’t come, the crops grow, or the plagues end, the High Priestess blamed the populace for this failure,  for they must not have sacrificed nearly enough, so she demanded even more sacrifice from them and even more young were offered up to the Gods as demanded by the High Priestess. Finally, when the rains did come, the crops grew, or the plagues ceased, the High Priestess would take credit when it all ended; the populace, though, had nothing left to offer. Their young devastated and the old buried in the ruins.   Those that were left though, were ‘safe’

This latest 3-week lockdown is hitting bars, restaurants, entertainment venues, and the employees and artists that nourish our community and our creative spirit and sensibilities the hardest. The fact they have been targeted has prompted the Michigan Restaurant Association to file a lawsuit in Federal court challenging this latest order, especially insofar as the evidence does not justify the closure. 

Less than three percent of positive COVID-19 cases have emanated from bars & restaurants - not any proven deaths, just the purportedly ‘documented’ positive cases from the hospitality industry.

As has been repeatedly noted, there is no scientific evidence that lockdowns bring down the number of cases or deaths from the virus. Indeed, the World Health Organization has urged countries not to rely on such measures; and on November 12th Dr. Faucci himself stated that lockdowns will not form a solution to the problems this virus poses.

So now it’s good-bye Thanksgiving and soon enough farewell Christmas. After that, who knows?   We’ve heard it all before.   “Two weeks to slow the spread” and “fifteen days to flatten the curve” have long since morphed into a semi-permanent nanny state in which the very act of slowing and flattening ensures that the virus will go on indefinitely by guaranteeing a continuous stream of new “cases” with which to frighten the public and increase government power.

In defiance of all previous medical experience, the Covid “pandemic” has muzzled the population with face diapers, driven families asunder, forced elderly couples to die apart, punished schoolchildren with the false promise of “remote learning,” made Americans eye each other with suspicion and sidle away, and created a near-Stasi level of rats and snitches only too happy to inform on their fellow citizens.

The Myth and Mantra of COVID

As I write this, to date the world has experienced 1,353,862 COVID deaths. For the sake of comparison, we average 2,000,000 deaths per year from Sepsis. A total of 1,486,608 deaths have been caused by HIV/AIDS.  Indeed, measured by years of lost life, COVID was insignificant compared to ordinary flu, pneumonia, TB or other diseases.

The chief significance of COVID were the political lockdowns, quarantines of the healthy, and neglect of the sick in the name of reserving healthcare resources for COVID.  A probable majority of so-called “COVID deaths” occurred in nursing homes and “assisted living facilities,” where the average stay is around five months.  In reality, our bodily biomes are full of viruses, mostly innocuous or neutralized by the immune system and many of them are coronaviruses associated with the common cold.

But the CDC classified anyone who died with a positive test as a “COVID death.” Depending on how many actual infections there were, false positives were frequent. A test that harbored 1% false positives — the lowest estimate — would produce 50% false results in the case of an infection rate of 2%.

You just can’t trust the numbers.  But as Mark Twain wrote: “It is easier to fool the people than to convince them they have been fooled.”  This principle applies overwhelmingly to politicians. Once they have made a mistake, it is nearly impossible for them to admit error. It is far more popular to double-down on the error than to retract it. And that’s what is happening now.

Governor Whitmer has repeatedly bypassed the legislative branch of government to enact these edicts, which have been found to be unconstitutional by the Michigan Supreme Court.  Now, she is using the MDHHS as a means of continuing to go it alone.

However, there is one rather significant problem with this approach. 

Statutorily, the MDHHS authority to enforce in this instance is only in the case of an “epidemic” and according to the CDC, Michigan hasn’t been in epidemic category since June.  The CDC guidelines for epidemics reference a 15 out of 100,000 for meningitis, which has a 70% fatality rate and near the same attack rate compared to covid19, which is less than 1% for both. So for Covid19 to be considered an epidemic you would need an average attack rate over 2 weeks of 1,050 out of 100,000.

Michigan's population is over 9.9 million, so you would need state wide daily infections of over 100,000 new infections a day over 2 weeks for the ‘Epidemic’ powers to apply.  To date, according to Worldometers, Michigan has had a total of 303,058 cases, 6,218 new cases, and total deaths of 8,573.

The important number is the Infection Fatality Rate.  Even with the rising case rate, the death rate is decreasing and has been decreasing.  COVID-19 is real and should be taken seriously by all, but all the breathless hair on fire, we're all going to die reporting serves only one purpose and that is to scare us. Precautions should be taken, vulnerable should be protected, the sick treated quickly and effectively.

We know more about COVID-19 than we did back in March and today all these lockdown decisions are being based entirely on models using detected cases that are based upon an outrageously high PCR-CT threshold. Models should inform our decision making, not drive it.

Jay Bhattacharya is a Professor of Medicine at Stanford University, where he received both an M.D. and a Ph.D. in economics. He is also a research associate at the National Bureau of Economics Research, a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research and at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, and director of the Stanford Center on the Demography and Economics of Health and Aging. A co-author of the Great Barrington Declaration, his research has been published in economics, statistics, legal, medical, public health, and health policy journals.

Here's some excerpts from a presentation he recently made that was sponsored by Hillsdale College.

1. The COVID-19 Fatality Rate

In discussing the deadliness of COVID, we need to distinguish COVID cases from COVID infections. A lot of fear and confusion has resulted from failing to understand the difference.

We have heard much this year about the “case fatality rate” of COVID. In early March, the case fatality rate in the U.S. was roughly three percent—nearly three out of every hundred people who were identified as “cases” of COVID in early March died from it. Compare that to today, when the fatality rate of COVID is known to be less than one half of one percent.

In other words, when the World Health Organization said back in early March that three percent of people who get COVID die from it, they were wrong by at least one order of magnitude. The COVID fatality rate is much closer to 0.2 or 0.3 percent. The reason for the highly inaccurate early estimates is simple: in early March, we were not identifying most of the people who had been infected by COVID.

“Case fatality rate” is computed by dividing the number of deaths by the total number of confirmed cases. But to obtain an accurate COVID fatality rate, the number in the denominator should be the number of people who have been infected—the number of people who have actually had the disease—rather than the number of confirmed cases.

In March, only the small fraction of infected people who got sick and went to the hospital were identified as cases. But the majority of people who are infected by COVID have very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. These people weren’t identified in the early days, which resulted in a highly misleading fatality rate. And that is what drove public policy. Even worse, it continues to sow fear and panic, because the perception of too many people about COVID is frozen in the misleading data from March.

So how do we get an accurate fatality rate? To use a technical term, we test for seroprevalence—in other words, we test to find out how many people have evidence in their bloodstream of having had COVID.

This is easy with some viruses. Anyone who has had chickenpox, for instance, still has that virus living in them—it stays in the body forever. COVID, on the other hand, like other coronaviruses, doesn’t stay in the body. Someone who is infected with COVID and then clears it will be immune from it, but it won’t still be living in them.

What we need to test for, then, are antibodies or other evidence that someone has had COVID. And even antibodies fade over time, so testing for them still results in an underestimate of total infections.

Seroprevalence is what I worked on in the early days of the epidemic. In April, I ran a series of studies, using antibody tests, to see how many people in California’s Santa Clara County, where I live, had been infected. At the time, there were about 1,000 COVID cases that had been identified in the county, but our antibody tests found that 50,000 people had been infected—i.e., there were 50 times more infections than identified cases. This was enormously important, because it meant that the fatality rate was not three percent, but closer to 0.2 percent; not three in 100, but two in 1,000.

When it came out, this Santa Clara study was controversial. But science is like that, and the way science tests controversial studies is to see if they can be replicated. And indeed, there are now 82 similar seroprevalence studies from around the world, and the median result of these 82 studies is a fatality rate of about 0.2 percent—exactly what we found in Santa Clara County.

In some places, of course, the fatality rate was higher: in New York City it was more like 0.5 percent. In other places it was lower: the rate in Idaho was 0.13 percent. What this variation shows is that the fatality rate is not simply a function of how deadly a virus is. It is also a function of who gets infected and of the quality of the health care system

But the bottom line is that the COVID fatality rate is in the neighborhood of 0.2 percent.

2. Who Is at Risk?

The single most important fact about the COVID pandemic—in terms of deciding how to respond to it on both an individual and a governmental basis—is that it is not equally dangerous for everybody. This became clear very early on, but for some reason our public health messaging failed to get this fact out to the public.

It still seems to be a common perception that COVID is equally dangerous to everybody, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. There is a thousand-fold difference between the mortality rate in older people, 70 and up, and the mortality rate in children. In some sense, this is a great blessing. If it was a disease that killed children preferentially, I for one would react very differently. But the fact is that for young children, this disease is less dangerous than the seasonal flu. This year, in the United States, more children have died from the seasonal flu than from COVID by a factor of two or three.

Whereas COVID is not deadly for children, for older people it is much more deadly than the seasonal flu. If you look at studies worldwide, the COVID fatality rate for people 70 and up is about four percent—four in 100 among those 70 and older, as opposed to two in 1,000 in the overall population.

Again, this huge difference between the danger of COVID to the young and the danger of COVID to the old is the most important fact about the virus. Yet it has not been sufficiently emphasized in public health messaging or taken into account by most policymakers.

3. Deadliness of the Lockdowns

The widespread lockdowns that have been adopted in response to COVID are unprecedented—lockdowns have never before been tried as a method of disease control. Nor were these lockdowns part of the original plan. The initial rationale for lockdowns was that slowing the spread of the disease would prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. It became clear before long that this was not a worry: in the U.S. and in most of the world, hospitals were never at risk of being overwhelmed. Yet the lockdowns were kept in place, and this is turning out to have deadly effects.

Those who dare to talk about the tremendous economic harms that have followed from the lockdowns are accused of heartlessness. Economic considerations are nothing compared to saving lives, they are told. So I’m not going to talk about the economic effects—I’m going to talk about the deadly effects on health, beginning with the fact that the U.N. has estimated that 130 million additional people will starve this year as a result of the economic damage resulting from the lockdowns.

In the last 20 years we’ve lifted one billion people worldwide out of poverty. This year we are reversing that progress to the extent—it bears repeating—that an estimated 130 million more people will starve.

Another result of the lockdowns is that people stopped bringing their children in for immunizations against diseases like diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), and polio, because they had been led to fear COVID more than they feared these more deadly diseases. This wasn’t only true in the U.S. Eighty million children worldwide are now at risk of these diseases. We had made substantial progress in slowing them down, but now they are going to come back.

Large numbers of Americans, even though they had cancer and needed chemotherapy, didn’t come in for treatment because they were more afraid of COVID than cancer. Others have skipped recommended cancer screenings. We’re going to see a rise in cancer and cancer death rates as a consequence. Indeed, this is already starting to show up in the data. We’re also going to see a higher number of deaths from diabetes due to people missing their diabetic monitoring.

Mental health problems are in a way the most shocking thing. In June of this year, a CDC survey found that one in four young adults between 18 and 24 had seriously considered suicide. Human beings are not, after all, designed to live alone. We’re meant to be in company with one another. It is unsurprising that the lockdowns have had the psychological effects that they’ve had, especially among young adults and children, who have been denied much-needed socialization.

In effect, what we’ve been doing is requiring young people to bear the burden of controlling a disease from which they face little to no risk. This is entirely backward from the right approach.

4. Where to Go from Here

Last week I met with two other epidemiologists—Dr. Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University and Dr. Martin Kulldorff of Harvard University—in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. The three of us come from very different disciplinary backgrounds and from very different parts of the political spectrum. Yet we had arrived at the same view—the view that the widespread lockdown policy has been a devastating public health mistake. In response, we wrote and issued the Great Barrington Declaration, which can be viewed—along with explanatory videos, answers to frequently asked questions, a list of co-signers, etc.—online at www.gbdeclaration.org.

The Declaration reads:

As infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists we have grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 policies, and recommend an approach we call Focused Protection.

Coming from both the left and right, and around the world, we have devoted our careers to protecting people. Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health. 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.

Keeping these measures in place until a vaccine is available will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed.

Fortunately, our understanding of the virus is growing. We know that vulnerability to death from COVID-19 is more than a thousand-fold higher in the old and infirm than the young. Indeed, for children, COVID-19 is less dangerous than many other harms, including influenza.

As immunity builds in the population, the risk of infection to all—including the vulnerable—falls. We know that all populations will eventually reach herd immunity—i.e., the point at which the rate of new infections is stable—and that this can be assisted by (but is not dependent upon) a vaccine. Our goal should therefore be to minimize mortality and social harm until we reach herd immunity.

The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection.

Adopting measures to protect the vulnerable should be the central aim of public health responses to COVID-19. By way of example, nursing homes should use staff with acquired immunity and perform frequent PCR testing of other staff and all visitors. Staff rotation should be minimized. Retired people living at home should have groceries and other essentials delivered to their home. When possible, they should meet family members outside rather than inside. A comprehensive and detailed list of measures, including approaches to multi-generational households, can be implemented, and is well within the scope and capability of public health professionals.

Those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal. Simple hygiene measures, such as hand washing and staying home when sick should be practiced by everyone to reduce the herd immunity threshold. Schools and universities should be open for in-person teaching. Extracurricular activities, such as sports, should be resumed. Young low-risk adults should work normally, rather than from home. Restaurants and other businesses should open. Arts, music, sports, and other cultural activities should resume. People who are more at risk may participate if they wish, while society as a whole enjoys the protection conferred upon the vulnerable by those who have built up herd immunity.

I should say something in conclusion about the idea of herd immunity, which some people mischaracterize as a strategy of letting people die. First, herd immunity is not a strategy—it is a biological fact that applies to most infectious diseases. Even when we come up with a vaccine, we will be relying on herd immunity as an end-point for this epidemic. The vaccine will help, but herd immunity is what will bring it to an end. And second, our strategy is not to let people die, but to protect the vulnerable. We know the people who are vulnerable, and we know the people who are not vulnerable. To continue to act as if we do not know these things makes no sense.

My final point is about science. When scientists have spoken up against the lockdown policy, there has been enormous pushback: “You’re endangering lives.” Science cannot operate in an environment like that. I don’t know all the answers to COVID; no one does. Science ought to be able to clarify the answers. But science can’t do its job in an environment where anyone who challenges the status quo gets shut down or cancelled.

To date, the Great Barrington Declaration has been signed by over 43,000 medical and public health scientists and medical practitioners. The Declaration thus does not represent a fringe view within the scientific community. This is a central part of the scientific debate, and it belongs in the debate. Members of the general public can also sign the Declaration.

Together, I think we can get on the other side of this pandemic. But we have to fight back. We’re at a place where our civilization is at risk, where the bonds that unite us are at risk of being torn. We shouldn’t be afraid. We should respond to the COVID virus rationally: protect the vulnerable, treat the people who get infected compassionately, develop a vaccine.

And while doing these things we should bring back the civilization that we had so that the cure does not end up being worse than the disease. 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

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