The “Science” of Coronavirus

Amid decreasing deaths and hospitalizations from Coronavirus, California’s leading politicians are considering re-opening the state’s economy. Despite repeated promises that these crucial decisions will be guided by the best available science, there is deep cause for concern. 

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, recently estimated that if Los Angeles County residents fail to adhere to current stay-at-home orders, the county would see a 95.6% Coronavirus infection rate by August 1st. That would be over 9.5 million Coronavirus infections, which is 5x as many infections as have been reported worldwide. That alone is a staggering prediction, but it leads to an even more concerning conclusion. Assuming the 1% mortality rate approximated by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) model, Los Angeles would experience 95,000 Coronavirus related deaths, almost 10x the amount of deaths reported in New York. Based upon these predictions Los Angeles Mayor, Eric Garcetti, has issued some of the nation’s strictest stay-at-home orders. The science upon which Dr. Ferrer’s conclusion is based has not been made public, and therefore has not been properly reviewed.

Director of Public Health Dr. Barbara Ferrer, center, speaks during a virtual press briefing in Los Angeles on Thursday, March 19, 2020 with Los Angeles county and city officials to announce additional public health orders in response to coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo Courtesy of County of Los Angeles)

Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz, of California’s 36th Congressional District, recently stated that, “we know this according to the science, that we have an assumed 8% of people who have been exposed and have developed immunity to the virus.” If he is correct, then California has approximately 3.2 million Coronavirus infections, with just over 800 related deaths, equating to a mortality rate of .02%. The Congressman’s estimation of a .02% mortality rate would mean the Coronavirus is only 1/5 as deadly as the flu, which is in direct contrast to the prevailing assumption that the virus is much deadlier than the flu. This is a startling conclusion and could likely change the course of California’s mitigation measures. However, the Congressman has yet to share publicly any science supporting his conclusion. 

Governor Gavin Newsom recently stated that he believes Coronavirus cases in California will peak in mid-May. However, comprehensive tracking by the LA Times indicates California’s Coronavirus related infections, hospitalizations, and deaths have been declining for days. Even the IHME model, often criticized for overly pessimistic predictions, indicates that California has passed its peak. Why is Governor Newsome basing California’s stay-at-home orders on unrevealed evidence that is directly contrary to public data?

Gavin Newsom
 Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

California’s leading politicians have made some rather remarkable statements about the Coronavirus. Important decisions are being made that affect our lives, and our livelihoods. It’s insufficient to say decisions are guided by the best available science, such evidence needs to be shared publicly so it can be properly vetted. That is a basic function of our democracy, and a virus doesn’t change that. 

Written by Brett Oppenheim

Edited by Yasmine Tanres