337 Pandemic Panic

Anyone saying “listen to the science” actually means “listen to the scientists I endorse,” for it’s scientists who speak and they often do so discordantly.  Thus we must discern which of them best explains what actually is—what’s the truth of things.  It’s up to us to check their data and evaluate their logic.  Doing so means we’ll frequently find courageous dissenters more persuasive than the proponents of a reigning consensus.  For nearly a year we’ve endured what’s arguably the worst pandemic since the Spanish flu, watching COVID-19 kill multiplied thousands of people and upend economies and polities around the world.  Getting accurate information, attending to responsible authorities, and coming to personal conclusions regarding it has been, to say the least, quite challenging.  But there is no good reason, when evaluating hydroxychloriquine as a therapeutic medication, to trust a bureaucrat such as Anthony Fauci rather than 6000 practicing physicians effectively using it to treat stricken patients.  Why not take seriously a distinguished Yale epidemiologist, Harvey Risch, with scores of scholarly publications, who thinks Fauci’s refusal to approve hydroxychloriquine caused many thousands of deaths?  Why not follow the 43,000 epidemiologists and health care professionals who signed “The Great Barrington Declaration,” proposing we deal aggressively with threatened population groups while allowing the rest of the country to return to normalcy?  Thus I’ll review several publications which all, to one degree or another, affirm the gravity of the pandemic while questioning the policies crafted by our public health and political leaders.  

Alex Berenson, an experienced investigative reporter who worked 10 years for the New York Times, was initially persuaded the country “might face an outbreak that would kill millions of Americans and potentially destabilize the nation” (p. 1).  So he stockpiled food and purchased N95 masks, preparing to survive the perilous times the experts predicted.   Then, as an investigative reporter curious concerning dubious data, he began checking the evidence and detailing his findings in a series of self-published booklets, beginning with Unreported Truths about COVID-19 and Lockdowns: Part 1: Introduction and Death Counts and Estimates (Kindle Edition, 2020).  (One benefit of publishing his findings in an ebook is this:  virtually every paragraph links the reader to the current, scholarly, in-depth, chart-studded, on-line publications he cites.)  Berenson quickly found that London’s Imperial College, in concert with the World Health Organization, had early “terrified politicians around the world and spurred what became a nearly universal lockdown.”  When carefully perused, however, the quality of their “research” shocked him and he began publishing his findings.  Initially the only outlet he had was his Twitter account, with only 10,000 followers.  But his posts attracted the attention of billionaire Elon Musk, who retweeted one of his them.  “Suddenly I found myself as one of the few people with any journalistic standing challenging the apocalyptic reporting that dominated media outlets like the [New York] Times.”  

The more scholarly studies he read the more skeptical he became—not regarding the virulent virus but the policies enacted to curtail it.  He quickly discovered the coronavirus “was more than 100 times as likely to kill people over 80 than under 50.  Yes, 100 times.  People under 30 were at very low risk.”  The median age of those dying is in the low 80s.   Still more, as is true of pneumonia, the elderly who were dying would have quite probably died within another year because of their other ailments.  So why, he wondered, enact shutdown policies harming whole populations rather than protect the most vulnerable?  Why shut down schools when children were almost never harmfully infected?  It was also clear, early on, that the virus was significantly less deadly than advertised—far less than the scare-mongering media proclaimed!  He saw how wildly exaggerated were the forecasts rendered by both medical “experts” and the politicians who quoted them.  They also changed their stories!  We were first told we needed to take extreme measures in order to “flatten the curve” and then informed even that was not sufficient—we needed to “stop the spread” of the disease!  The allegedly infallible officials had crafted simulations that dramatically failed in virtually every  way!  Nevertheless, shutdowns were mandated and masks prescribed.

Berenson followed up his initial publication with Unreported Truths about COVID-19 and Lockdowns: Part 2: Update and Examination of Lockdowns as a Strategy  (Blue Deep, Inc.. Kindle Edition, c. 2020).  As COVID-19 cases spiked in last summer, many governors decreed draconic lockdowns of all but “essential” activities.  “What went all-but-unnoticed in the push for lockdowns was the fact that major public health organizations had for decades rejected them as a potential solution to epidemics.”  Both the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization had earlier published lengthy guides dealing with influenza, citing ample “laboratory studies, clinical trials, and real-world evidence.”  They had counseled against lockdowns because they consistently proved ineffective!  Nothing in the past had effectively throttled, much less stopped, the spread of influenza epidemics.  So why would anyone think COVID-19 would be different?  Just because!  The “experts” just claimed it must be!  What happened, Berenson thinks, is this:  “Faced with a risk of hundreds of thousands or millions of deaths, the public health experts who for decades had counseled patience and caution flinched.  They found they could not live with acknowledging how little control they or any of us had over the spread of an easily transmissible respiratory virus.  They had to do something—even if they had been warning for decades that what they were about to do would not work and might have terrible secondary consequences.”  And this, I think, is the heart of the issue:  we’ve grown so accustomed to controlling our environment—and relying on the government to do things for us—that we cannot acknowledge some things are beyond our control!  

Just recently Breneson has issued Unreported Truths About Covid-19 and Lockdowns: Part 3: Masks  (Blue Deep, Inc., Kindle Edition).  He sincerely wishes masks worked!  They would, indeed, afford significant relief from the pandemic killing so many of us.  “But they don’t.  Not the ordinary cloth and surgical masks that nearly everybody wears, anyway.  Despite everything the media and public health experts has told you, they don’t work.  More accurately, we have no real evidence they do—and plenty of evidence they don’t.”  The World Health Organization had once stated it clearly:  the “WHO stands by recommendation to not wear masks if you are not sick or not caring for someone who is sick.”  Yet these same  health experts insist we wear them and Joe Biden proposes to require them of everyone.  Massive numbers of us have mutely complied!  Why did 85 per cent of those infected insist they either always or nearly always wore masks?  As virus still spreads we’re entitled to ask:  “How can that be, if masks work?”  

“The answer is,” Berenson says, “that the evidence that face coverings do any good turns out to be even more porous than masks themselves.”  To understand why we need to delve into the details regarding droplets, aerosols, and viruses.  A mask may well arrest the movement of a droplet (which may carry a virus) but is much to porous to stop an aerosol (which also may carry a virus).  Only what is called a respirator (the NP95s used in medical facilities) effectively stop aerosols and viruses they carry.  Most of the particles we breathe in and breathe out are tiny.  Inasmuch as “80–90% of droplets were smaller than 1 μm [micron], “masks have almost no chance of catching most of the particles we exhale.”  One of the scholarly studies Berenson cites “combined the results of the 10 trials into a single “meta-analysis”—a review that looks at each study and figures out what they say as a whole.  Their conclusion—published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, a Centers for Disease Control journal—was straightforward:  ‘We did not find evidence that surgical-type face masks are effective in reducing laboratory-confirmed influenza transmission, either when worn by infected persons (source control) or by persons in the general community to reduce their susceptibility.’”  

Just before Berenson published his booklet there appeared a “large randomized controlled trial that specifically examined whether masks protected their wearers from the coronavirus.”  It was published on Nov. 18 and covered almost 5,000 people in Denmark last spring.  The trial was carefully designed and executed, with half the participants told to wear high-quality surgical masks . . . .   The other half were not asked to wear masks.  Participants were followed for a month to see if they had been infected with Sars-Cov-2.”  The study’s conclusion?  “Mask wearing ‘did not reduce, at conventional levels of statistical significance, the incidence of Sars-Cov-2 infection.’”  So why are we shamed  (or bullied through treats of fines) into wearing masks?  Rather cynically Berenson suggests they help fuel the contagion of fear and sustain the illusion our rulers are doing something significant to save us.  “Masks are warnings none of us can escape.  This virus is different.  This virus is dangerous.  This virus is not the flu.  We had better hunker down until a vaccine is ready to save us all.  But the worst reason of all is that mask mandates appear to be an effort by governments to find out what restrictions on their civil liberties people will accept on the thinnest possible evidence.  They are the not-so-thin edge of the wedge.  Today, we must wear masks.  Tomorrow we’ll need negative Covid tests to travel between countries.  Or vaccines to go to work.”

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In The Price of Panic: How the Tyranny of Experts Turned a Pandemic into a Catastrophe (Washington, D.C.:  Regnery Publishing, Kindle Edition, c. 2020), Jay Richards (a business professor at the Catholic University of America), Douglas Axe (a biology professor at Biola University), and William Briggs (an economist who’s published over a hundred scholarly papers), collaborate to evaluate the evidence and analyze the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.  They endeavor “to sift prudence from propaganda.  And they have, George Gilder says, “written the definitive account of the most egregious policy blunder in the history of American government.”  The authors  acknowledge the lethality of the pandemic but are astounded at the concurrent, worldwide, destructive panic of medical experts and national leaders.  

It all began, of course, when a deadly virus spread from China.  Then doomsday forecasts, largely propounded by the World Health Organization, the Imperial College London, and the Institute for Health Metrics & Evaluation at the University of Washington.  The WHO relied on the Imperial College work which “predicted the new coronavirus would be about as deadly as the Spanish flu of 1918 (which killed between 18 and 58 million).  They predicted the coronavirus would claim 40 million lives worldwide, including 2.2 million in the U.S., if nothing were done to slow the spread.  Forty million deaths?  Terrifying!” (p. 78).  “We now know these models were so wrong they were like shots in the dark.  After a few months, even the press admitted as much.  But by then vast damage had been done” (p. xiv).  Then the models’ proponents, rather than confessing and correcting their errors, “began to massage the data” and  rationalize their declarations.  In this they were aided by a “gullible, self-righteous, and weaponized media that spread their projections far and wide.  The press carpet-bombed the world with stories about impending shortages of hospital beds, ventilators, and emergency room capacity.  They served up apocalyptic clickbait by the hour and the ton” (p. xv).  And social media websites promoted the fears by hyping the threats and censoring dissenting evidence concerning the pandemic’s true lethality. 

For context, the authors provide a historical record of pandemics—running from the ancient world to the present.  Placed in perspective, the current pandemic is rather routine—something we could have absorbed as part of life and addressed aggressively with every medical resource.  They also remind us of the sheer inevitability of death.  Every day 1,700 people die cardiovascular disease, 1,600 die of cancer, and nearly 700 die just from medical mistakes.  We’re accustomed to people dying—but dying of the new virus somehow became different!  That difference was the contagion of fear ignited by statistical projections!  Most of them predicted some 50 million deaths and such scary numbers naturally alarmed us all!  So we granted “emergency powers” to various authorities not because of “a catastrophe that had just happened, but rather a prediction about what might happen” (p. 17).  In New York, one of the very worst sites, experts predicted the city would need “140,000 hospital beds, only about 18,500 were in use.  Many thousands of field-hospital beds that had been brought in by ship or laid out in temporary shelters sat empty” (p. 111).  Predictions failed astronomically!  What really happened was “the first pandemic of panic.” (In our postmodern era, wherein we’re assured we “construct” rather than “discover” truth, such irrationality might be expected!). 

Some of the panic was spurred along by semantic equivocations.  For instance, it was decided to report anyone dying with the virus would be identified as dying from the virus!  The CDC reported that in only 7 percent of the victims was the virus the sole cause of death!  An Italian study of 355 COVID-19 victims showed that they “averaged 79.5 years of age and were in poor health.  More than a third had diabetes, and just under a third had ischemic heart disease.  A quarter had atrial fibrillation.  A fifth had active cancer, and over a sixth had either dementia or a history of stroke.  Of the 355 people, only three were in good health before catching the coronavirus” (p. 57).  Inflating numbers proved popular in the media, so the numbers of positive tests were called cases and easily conflated with significant infections.  

Richards, Axe, and Briggs carefully examine public health policies (i.e. lockdowns, distancing, masks) and show how problematic and potentially harmful they all are.  Countries or states that refused to lockdown fared as well as those who did so.  Copious charts and graphs fill the book, citing evidence and insisting we think logically.  Unfortunately, when we panic the “thinking parts of the brain stop functioning well” (p. 140).  We have no evidence the policies decreed by politicians actually helped curtail, much less vanquish, COVID-19.  Yet we have ample evidence how they harmed great numbers of people (students and middle aged adults who were hardly at risk of dying).  And the harms were enormous!  For example, though you’d never know it by watching the evening news, a United Nations agency says disruptions in the world’s food supply chains may have caused 300,000 deaths per day!  “In other words, more people around the world could die every two days from our response to the pandemic than those who died from the entire pandemic itself” (p. 139).  

The unintended consequences of the lockdowns will soon become clearer as we understand the follies of the small group of narrowly-focused “experts” who misled us.  We failed to consider a basic economic precept:  “Highlighting unintended consequences is perhaps the greatest gift economics has given to humanity.  ‘There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one,’ wrote French economist Frédéric Bastiat.  ‘The bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen.’  He explains:  ‘Yet this difference is tremendous; for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa. Whence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good that will be followed by a great evil to come, while the good economist pursues a great good to come, at the risk of a small present evil’” (p. 168). 

Though it’s little consolation for us now, we can learn from a small number of countries (Japan, Taiwan, Sweden) and states (South Dakota, Arkansas, Utah) which followed Bastiat’s prescription, thinking about the “great good to come” rather than the “small present evil.”  More epidemics are sure to follow, as the past decades show, so let us hope we will more wisely respond to the next one.  

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  John Schroeter’s COVID-19: A Devil’s Choice (John August Media, Kindle Edition, c. 2020) garnered high marks from distinguished scientists who applauded its commitment to dealing carefully with scientific data.  He believes Anthony Fauci and other public health “experts” unwisely, “under the pretext of public health and safety, advocated extreme social isolation measures, i.e., near-universal lockdown, to forestall the spread of infection until a vaccine can be found.  This strategy has had the two-fold effect of 1) precluding natural herd immunity, and 2) devastating the life-sustaining economy, and thus imperiling the health and wellbeing of vastly larger numbers of persons than a coronavirus could ever conceivably inflict” (p. 8).  Differing from Fauci, many distinguished epidemiologists “have publicly stated that had we opted for herd immunity at the outset, the pandemic would already be behind us.  Instead, we remain trapped in an open-ended nightmare scenario that not only promulgates fear and misery, but actively seeks to silence dissenting voices.  These responses not only have nothing to do with public health and safety, they actually exacerbate the crisis, deepening its effect in both the short- and long-term via widespread collateral damage.  Could there, then, be another agenda at work?  Come now, let us reason together” (p. 9).

The book contains sections of 100 “data-points”— short, succinct, factual arguments.  To think rightly we must first put things in perspective, and we know that people constantly die of health problems (hypertension, obesity, diabetes, respiratory weaknesses, heart problems) that are acerbated by by COVID-19 infections.  Smokers are especially susceptible, and folks breathing filthy air “are twice as likely to die” as those who aren’t.  Then too, unfortunately, many Americans “live unhealthy lifestyles.”  Consequently:  “Dying with COVID-19 (correlation) is not the same as dying from COVID-19 (causation).  And yet, health officials are making no such distinction” (p. 21).  Inasmuch as nearly half of the American people are deficient in Vitamin D, encouraging them to take ample amounts of it would have been a small, preventative step to helping the vulnerable to cope with the virus.  

We also need to acknowledge that epidemics never end until “herd immunity” is attained.  Any other measures are, frankly, illusions.  And you develop herd immunity by allowing the healthy to get infected, not by quarantining them!  So all the rhetoric about “flattening the curve” created an aura of managing the unmanageable.  It was little more than propaganda—much like that set forth by bureaucrats publishing “fire management policies” while the forests burn.  Flattening the curve, in fact, simply means delaying the dying.  Had we let the virus run its course “the pandemic would already be behind us, and the life-sustaining economy would be intact” (p. 17).  Indeed:  “Prior to the lockdown, according to antibody testing, herd immunity to COVID-19 was already well underway, and on its way to the necessary infection rate threshold in key populations.  Sadly, this process was interrupted by the ill-advised lockdown policies” (p. 19).  In fact, “more than two-thirds of newly reported COVID-19 cases are for those who have been sheltering in place!” (p. 29).  

Turning to the efficacy of masks, Schroeter cites “the declaration by the US National Academy of Sciences:  ‘Face masks are not designed or certified to protect the wearer from exposure to respiratory hazards.’  And yet, they are now being mandated for that very purpose.  Moreover, a number of studies have shown the inefficacy of the surgical mask to prevent transmission of viruses.”  This is because, as Dr. Rashid Buttar (who maintains a website on facemarks:  https://www.askdrbuttar.com/facemask/) explains, “the viral particles we’re trying to keep out of our bodies are so much smaller than the smallest pores of these masks.  ‘It’s like using a chain link fence to prevent a fly from entering your house,’ he says, ‘or a split-rail fence to keep mice out.  If our goal is to make people healthy, the first thing we should be doing is telling them to not wear a mask.”  Schroeter cites other scientific studies showing that masks (unlike respirators) simply don’t work to prevent respiratory influenza-like illnesses transmitted by droplets and aerosol particles.  “Dr. Lisa Brosseau, a nationally recognized expert on respiratory protection and infectious diseases and professor (retired), University of Illinois at Chicago, agrees. ‘I don’t necessarily discourage the public from wearing them if it makes them feel comfortable, but I hope they don’t think that they’re protecting themselves.’” (p. 57).   

So it goes!  We’ve panicked at the pandemic and are living in virtuality, not reality.