When paddle boarders in Malibu are being arrested for ignoring stay at home orders, one might begin to question whether we have gone too far. In the face of unparalleled media coverage, full of dire predictions and daily death counts, it’s difficult to remember how we got here in the first place. While every death from Coronavirus is tragic, especially to the loved ones of the deceased, it is important to maintain context. In 2018 the flu infected over 35 million Americans, killing over 60,000, including an estimated 480 children. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) currently estimates Covid-19 has infected 350,000 Americans, and is responsible for approximately 10,000 deaths, including 3 children.
The closing of the US economy has shattered retirements, bankrupted family businesses, increased homelessness, suicides, drug abuse, child abuse and spousal abuse. A study from Harvard University concluded that the financial crisis of 2008 resulted in over 260,000 excess deaths. Before we deepen this self-induced recession, let’s take a breath. We seem to have lost some perspective. Let’s recap the series of events that got us to where we are today.
In the beginnings of this pandemic, mortality estimates of between 3-4% were reported from China and the World health Organization (“WHO”). These, and President Trump’s initially tepid response to the pandemic, created an opportunity for media outlets to not only politicize Covid-19, but tap into growing public anxiety. Ratings for the major cable news outlets immediately skyrocketed by as much as 200%. Models predicting millions of deaths were disseminated by academics aiming to have their work noticed. Politicians all over the world started to outflank each other, each posturing to prove their “leadership” qualities. Public policy became heavily influenced by the media, media then used public policy responses as evidence of the legitimacy of their reporting. Contrarian viewpoints are being rebuked on television and social media as being insensitive.
Notably, the initial mortality estimates between 3-4% have been dramatically revised. First, down to 1.4%, then .66%, less than one-fifth of the original WHO estimate. It’s hard to imagine if we had this information a month ago, that we would have decided on this same path. The problem is, it’s too late for those in power to re-evaluate everything. Nobody wants to back down at this point, high powered reputations and political careers are on the line. One might argue that we had to take extreme measures a month ago in case the initial mortality statistics were correct. However, extreme downward revisions of initial mortality rates are common, during the 1976 swine flu pandemic exaggerated initial mortality estimates encouraged rushed vaccinations which ended up being more lethal than the virus itself. More recently, during initial stages of the 2009 H1N1 Swine Flu pandemic government agencies and experts initially estimated a mortality rate 10-50x higher than the true mortality rate. Currently, multiple studies from Telluride, Colorado, the town of Vo in Italy, the Diamond Princess Cruise ship, and DeCode Genetics in Iceland, indicate that the Coronavirus mortality rate will end up closer to .1%, similar to the common flu. Despite this information being available for weeks, consistently referenced by leading epidemiologists including Stanford’s John Ioannidis, and comprehensively summarized in the recent Wall Street Journal article, “Is the Coronavirus as Deadly as They Say?”, it remains conspicuously absent from cable news outlets.
With a rapidly declining mortality rate, the media shifted the narrative. A new storyline emerged that the youth were dying from Covid-19. The story of a 34-year-old man in Los Angeles dying from the Coronavirus went viral, among other highly anomalous reports. It was soon demonstrated through multiple studies and confirmed by the White House Coronavirus response team that the virus presents an incredibly low risk to the young. Cable news outlets were once again forced to shift their focus. Reports about Do Not Resuscitate, or “DNR” orders being contemplated by hospitals began overwhelming the airwaves until this emerging storyline suffered a blow when Dr. Deborah Birx, Head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, directly and publicly disputed these claims. Cable news outlets immediately pivoted to reporting on the nations critical lack of ventilators, bolstered by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s public proclamation that his state of New York was in desperate need of 40,000 ventilators. It is currently estimated that 19,000 ventilators may be needed for all hospitals in the US at the peak of the Coronavirus outbreak, a decrease from earlier estimates of 32,000. The US is estimated to have between 160,000 and 200,000 ventilators at our disposal. Despite this, the media continues to inundate the public with warnings of ventilator shortages, causing many, especially the elderly, to worry about being denied lifesaving medical care.
The next major storyline that still permeates today is the shortage of personal protective equipment, or “PPE”, for healthcare workers. What is neglected in reporting is that much of the PPE is being used by anxious individuals making inessential purchases of such equipment, and by the hordes of panicked flu patients showing up to hospitals demanding testing and admittance. Normally, a very small fraction of individuals experiencing flu-like symptoms go to hospitals, most stay at home and take care of themselves. Currently, the vast majority of patients showing up at hospitals for Coronavirus testing are diagnosed as having flu-like symptoms, but not the Coronavirus. These panicked people inundating hospitals and demanding needless testing continues to take up much of the PPE needed by health care professionals. So, while there is merit to this reporting, it is quite ironic that without the media’s sensationalism of this pandemic, this problem might not exist.
The next wave of reporting focused on the inevitable shortage of hospital beds. This led to the conversion of commercial spaces into make-shift hospitals and the arrival of the United States Naval Ship “U.S.N.S.” Comfort, being docked in the NYC Harbor, and the arrival of the U.S.N.S. Mercy in Los Angeles. As of today, the U.S.N.S. Comfort currently is serving only 20 patients, despite its 1000-bed capacity, and the U.S.N.S. Mercy, along with its 800-person medical staff, is tending to 15 patients. While it is undoubtedly true that some hospitals have been inundated with Coronavirus patients, notably those in New York City, the vast majority of hospitals in the United States are under capacity. In 2018 the flu was responsible for approximately 800,000 hospitalizations in the US, 400,000 more than the average flu season. As of the writing of this article there are 41,000 hospitalizations for Coronavirus. So, it remains true today, that the 2018 flu season created 10x more unanticipated hospitalizations than has Covid-19, yet this important context is not reported on. Here is an excerpt from an LA Times article published in 2018, entitled “California Hospitals Are Facing a War Zone of Flu Patients,”“Hospitals across the state are sending away ambulances, flying in nurses from out of state and not letting children visit their loved ones for fear they’ll spread the flu. Others are canceling surgeries and erecting tents in their parking lots so they can triage the hordes of flu patients”. Instead of providing context, the media tells us we are living in unprecedented times.
When the facts on the ground aren’t scary enough, the media turns to the academic models as evidence of how bad things will be in the future. The first widely reported model came from the Imperial College of London. It was credited with laying the foundation for the current mitigation measures in the UK and the US. Dr. Neil Ferguson, the author of this model, has recently changed his initial prediction of 500,000 deaths in the UK, to 20,000 deaths, after predicting that a 3-month quarantine would be needed for just a 50% reduction. Once cited hourly for its predictive value, this model is no longer seen on media outlets. The media has moved on to new modeling from the University of Washington, which is currently being relied upon by the White House to guide their continuing Coronavirus response. Having been released only last week, this model is already surprisingly inaccurate. The model predicted there would be over 70,000 Coronavirus hospitalizations in New York as of April 5, yet there are currently approximately 15,000. Earlier this week, this model was on the front page of the US Government website healthdata.org, but as of today it is gone, replaced with a new back page called Covid-19 Estimation Updates. So, that model lasted all of 5 days before being taken down. When previously popular models end up being decidedly incorrect, instead of reporting on their inaccuracy, the media moves on to the next model, perpetuating the cycle of hysteria.
People are dying, we are going through troubled times, but we must be guided by evidence. Effective measures need to be implemented to protect the immunosuppressed and elderly. A comprehensive analysis of the evidence leads to the conclusion that we can do this while also avoiding the devastation to tens of millions of American families created by our current Coronavirus strategy.
Written by: Brett Oppenheim, Esq.
Edited by: Yasmine Tanres