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You’ve heard the apocalyptic claims. Imperial College in London – in a claim that would later get walked way back to far less fanfare* – estimated as many as 2.2 million U.S. deaths, depending on how drastically the population is locked down, locked out, and locked in. To reduce that figure to a “mere” 1.1 million, we would need to live a gulag life “until a vaccine becomes available (potentially 18 months or more),” they said. The CDC has issued an estimate of as many as 1.7 million American deaths.
Yet with lesser measures in place now – and for a very short period – the market has crashed, we are experiencing more unemployment claims than at the height of the Great Recession, and there looms a real possibility of a worldwide depression. And there are those who say those measures aren’t nearly draconian enough.
Do we really need to destroy the country to save it?
Consider that China has had fewer than 3,300 deaths even though the virus struck a country with a lousy healthcare system wholly unaware. Their epidemic peaked over five weeks ago, with almost no new cases now. So with a vastly better health care system, the U.S. can expect a per capita death rate about 666 times higher than the Middle Kingdom? Seriously, Imperial College?
You can quit reading right there. But please don’t. The utter insanity here is worth documenting, as well as knowing why even the lower bound U.S. estimates are nonsense.
EPIDEMICS ALWAYS FLATTEN AND DECLINE ON THEIR OWN
Fact is, the epidemic worldwide, far from “growing exponentially,” is slowing. And that was to be expected per what’s called “Farr’s Law,” which dictates that all epidemics tend to rise and fall in a roughly symmetrical pattern or bell-shaped curve. AIDS, SARS, Ebola, Zika – all followed that pattern. So does seasonal flu each year. COVID-19 peaks have already been reported in China, South Korea, and Singapore.
Importantly, Farr’s Law has nothing to do with human interventions such as “social distancing” to “flatten the curve,” and indeed predates public health organizations. It occurs because communicable diseases nab the “low-hanging fruit” first (in this case the elderly with comorbid conditions), but then find subsequent fruit harder and harder to reach. Until more or less now, COVID-19 has been finding that fresh fruit in new countries, but it’s close to running out. So while many people assume that China contained its epidemic with draconian regulations, we actually have no evidence of that. Even the New York Times admitted South Korea recovered far more quickly with measures nowhere on the scale of China, although of course the Times still attributes that to human intervention, which assigning no role to Mother Nature.
When the coronavirus epidemic ends and the public health zealots inevitably slap themselves on the back for having prevented their own ridiculous scenarios, don’t buy it. This isn’t to say that thorough hand-washing several times a day and not sneezing and coughing in others’ faces won’t help: It will. But without the authoritarian and economically-devastating measures the U.S. and other countries are taking that are wrecking the world economy, there will be no Apocalypse Now or in the future. The streets are empty not because of direct effects of the disease, but from fear and from government dictates; as in a cognate of “dictatorship.”
Mind, right now we’re seeing a spike in cases because only now is testing becoming readily available in the U.S. due to a delay in the CDC developing its own assay. This availability is almost universally hailed as only good, but has at least two bad aspects.
First, we’re now picking up a lot more asymptomatic people who will be counted as “cases” just as much as people on death’s door. This will further contribute to hysteria. Second, many who test positive will suddenly develop “nocebo” symptoms; the opposite of placebo. As I observed long ago, nocebo symptoms come from the mind but can be very real. They definitely can mimic COVID-19 symptoms. It’s a good guess that hospitals are seeing their share of the “worried well,” people who were feeling pretty well before they tested positive and suddenly truly feel deathly ill. And they’re not the only ones suffering as a result. This adds to the burden on severely stressed hospital workers already overwhelmed with patients whose symptoms do result from COVID-19—or from the many other ailments and injuries that haven’t stopped afflicting people while our attention is focused on this particular virus.
On the positive side (no pun intended), the more you test, the lower the death rate becomes because the denominator grows faster than the numerator. Rather than the 3.4% rate the WHO put out, the current crude U.S. death rate is ABOUT 1.6% and will probably drop to less than half that as we’ve seen so far in South Korea at 0.6%. Then as testing continues, the rate will drop even further. For the Imperial College figure to be correct, U.S. deaths would have to be 0.66 percent and every American would need to be infected.
THE ITALIAN JOB
So how many deaths can the U.S. reasonably expect? If it’s not the Chinese model, it appears to be the Italian one. At the least, the media tell us, “Italy’s Coronavirus Crisis Could Be America’s.” Really?
That country so far has had over 7,500 deaths out of a population of 50 million, but it appears cases peaked on March 21.
Still, at this point that’s a stunning 9.5% crude death rate, by far the highest death percentage in the world. Which of course is why the media choose to focus on it, rather than other countries such as Germany with only about 240 deaths out of a much larger population.
But why is this happening in Italy? Partly it’s because Italy just doesn’t have a particularly good health care system. Even more specifically, last year the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security ranked the U.S.the best-prepared country in the world to handle a pandemic in late 2019, whereas Italy came in at only 31 – below Mexico.
As Forbes recently noted, U.S. hospitals have vastly more critical care beds than Italy, which in turn has more than South Korea. And you don’t even want to hear about China. Not because they eat bats, but because “bed” pretty much equals “floor.”
Beyond that, Italy has the fifth oldest population in the world (whereas the U.S. ranks 61). We already knew from Chinese data that COVID-19 is overwhelmingly a killer of the old and infirm. An analysis by China’s Center for Disease Control & Prevention found that most deaths occurred in those aged 80 and over.
Further, almost all those elderly dead had “comorbid” conditions of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or hypertension. Similarly, almost everyone who has died in Italy has been over age 70, and virtually all had comorbid conditions: In fact, half of those who died had three or more. Almost nobody under 50 has succumbed and almost all who have also had serious existing medical conditions. This is a condemnation of the nation’s health care system; not a portent of America’s future.
And it appears a major factor may be how cases are recorded, which makes the assumption that dying from COVID-19 is the same as dying with it. Given the strong overlap between the population susceptible to flu and COVID-19, it’s certain that many who actually succumbed to flu are marked as coronavirus cases. We can expect that in the U.S. as well.
IF IT’S NOT THE HEAT, IT’S THE HUMIDITY
Yet another U.S. advantage is that the epidemic hit it later than Italy (and Asia, of course) and spring is in the air. Respiratory viruses usually hate warm, moist, sunny weather. Hence flu arrives in the U.S. in the fall and disappears by April or May. We know the “common cold” is rare in summer and many colds are caused by four different coronaviruses.
SARS was a coronavirus and simply died out between April and July, 2003. The media and public health officials desperately want you to think this coronavirus is different, but the evidence so far is that it follows the usual pattern with scientific publications such as “High Temperature and High Humidity Reduce the Transmission of COVID-19.”
The media and public health alarmists also cite MERS-CoV as an exception, but there’s evidence that it is also complains: “If it’s not the damned heat, it’s the humidity!” This year, the flu peaked in February. So it’s possible that even now weather is affecting U.S. coronavirus spread. Will it come back in autumn? Probably. But by then many in the population will have had exposure immunity, hospitals will be better prepared, the worried well problem will be reduced because it will no longer be a “new” virus, and we’ll have time to see if anything in our arsenal of antivirals and other medicines is truly effective. (No, there will be no vaccine available.)
Meanwhile, we apparently have a new definition for “American exceptionalism.” Ignore what’s happening in the entire rest of the world; ignore epidemiology; ignore virology; ignore common sense; ignore history. America, as Johnny Cash sang: “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.” Just as SARS was supposed to (it killed zero Americans) and just as forecasters (seriously) predicted more American AIDS deaths than there were Americans.
Meanwhile, the harsh measures encompassing much of the country are simply unproven – beyond knowing that hermits don’t get contagious diseases. South Korea didn’t need them and Sweden hasn’t used them even as its neighbor Norway has been praised for early implementation. For its efforts, Norway has reported over twice as many cases per capita and suddenly suffers its highest unemployment rate in 80 years.
But as always we follow the dictates of the public health zealots, the media and power-hungry pols. Shame on us that after all these years we are once again ignoring reality for the dubious benefits of hysteria.
*Note: As this article was being written, Neil Ferguson, the head of the Imperial College study, simply threw his model away. Along with the U.S. one of 2.2 million deaths, he predicted the U.K. would have as many as 510,000 deaths. In an oral presentation he reduced the U.K figure slightly… to 20,000. So the model that launched a thousand articles wasn’t worth anything more than the pixels it appeared with.