Close window  |  View original article

Nothing To Fear but Sickening Lies

Coronavirus itself is not a serious threat. Lies are.

By Will Offensicht  |  March 8, 2020

"We have nothing to fear but fear itself" is the best-known phrase from Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1933 inaugural address - and for good reason.

A guiding principle here at Scragged is our belief in the Peter Pan theory of history - "This has all happened before, and it will all happen again."  Just as the fear of economic collapse paralyzed Americans in Roosevelt's day, fear of the coronavirus a.k.a. COVID-19 paralyzes many of us today.

While not being medical experts, we do know a little math, and everything we read about the virus suggests that it is not, repeat not, a crisis anything like the magnitude of the Spanish Flu of 1918 - to say nothing of the Black Death of the Middle Ages, or any of the imaginary world-destroying diseases from science fiction.

Unlike many other pundits, we have no motive to enhance clicks by hyping the story.  So for those still able to be persuaded by sweet reason, we'll summarize some facts.  With luck, we'll convince people not to run out and buy all the toilet paper in sight so there'll still be some left when we finally get 'round to doing the shopping.

But this isn't important merely for our own personal Charmin supply: the emergency quarantine measures various cities and states are implementing are grossly out of proportion to the documented danger. By themselves, they will cost the world economy far more than the disease itself.

In fact, as we're reported, our MSM reporters are gleefully hoping that the virus will kill enough people and damage the economy badly enough to hurt Mr. Trump's re-election chances.  As Eddie Glaude Jr., an African American Studies professor, gleefully said "And so it seems to me that this is an event that could take down the president."

And sure enough, we see lies pouring out faster than we can count them.  Mayor Mini Mike Bloomberg falsely claimed that the Trump administration cut funding from the Center for Disease Control.  Bernie Sanders and many other Democrats claimed that the coming vaccine would be available only to the rich.  There is no vaccine yet, so not even all of Mike Bloomberg's $50 billion fortune could buy him a single dose.

They aren't the only ones politicizing the virus.  Sen Schumer accused President Trump of not doing nearly enough - what more he should have done wasn't specified.  And the prize for irrelevant and pointless complaints goes to - where else? - CNN, which whined that Mr. Trump lacked diversity on his COVID-19 task force.  Just think, we'd have a vaccine by now if only Jesse Jackson and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had been included!

These denunciations are made all the more fascinating by PolitiFact's comparison of Mr. Trump's treatment of COVID-19 with what the Obama administration did about the H1N1 pandemic of 2009:

Obama’s acting director of health and human services declared H1N1 a public health emergency on April 26, 2009.

That was when only 20 cases of H1N1 - and no deaths - around the country had been confirmed. ...

By way of comparison, Trump declared the coronavirus a public health emergency on Jan. 31, 2020, also prior to any deaths in the United States[emphasis added]

Mr. Obama's actions were praised; Mr. Trump's essentially identical actions have met universal scorn.  Liberals are now saying that Mr. Trump has declared COVID-19 to be a hoax.  What he actually said was that their criticism of his handling of COVID-19 is a hoax, which is factually correct.

If it weren't for double standards, liberals would have no standards at all.

Just The Facts...

As of Saturday, March 7, 2020, the South China Morning Post's scorecard showed 104,812 worldwide cases and 3,560 deaths, which works out to a fatality rate of 3.4%.  This is about 100 times the 0.02-0.04% fatality rate of the annual flu which kills between 8,000 and 10,000 Americans every year, and sounds terrifying

What's missing is the fact that we have no way to know how many people have been infected by the virus.  Our flu kills about 6% of the people who are hospitalized for it, but only 0.02% of those who get it because most cases don't go to the hospital.

Many American locales are declaring COVID-19 emergencies.  California declared a state of emergency after finding 53 cases.  76 cases have been found in New York State and Gov. Cuomo declared a state of emergency.  Fox News listed Maryland declaring after finding one case, Florida after two cases, and the State of Washington after 70 cases and 10 deaths which is easier to understand.

We argue that this fearful response makes no sense at all, for two reasons:

  1. Tests for the virus are difficult, slow, and unreliable, so that we have no idea how many infected people are wandering around with no idea that they're carrying the virus.  We do know that they exist, and simple math indicates that there have to be a lot of them, which logically dictates that...
  2. The virus has a far lower fatality rate than the SCMP numbers suggest because there are so many more infected people who don't visibly catch the disease, or suffer nothing worse than a normal flu, and so aren't counted at all.

If it takes weeks for an infected person to develop symptoms, and many never do, then quarantines are absolutely pointless.  The horse won't just be out of the barn, he will have left the entire state before anyone knows to bar the door.

Testing Problems

The numbers are even weaker than they appear because of severe problems with testing in the United States.  This blog post explains that the term "cases" can include people who should be tested because of their circumstances but haven't; who have been tested but the results aren't in yet; and also - finally! - those who've been tested and the test found the virus.  So a "case" includes mostly people who just have the sniffles.

As we understand the SCMP chart, all 104,812 of their cases tested positive for the virus.  That sounds more solid, but there are issues with the test itself:

... the basic test for the coronavirus is called the PCR. A positive result is taken to mean the patient "has the virus." He is now a confirmed case. However, the PCR has many problems.

The procedure itself is tricky, and unless done perfectly, with great care to avoid contamination, the result is useless. But even when the test is perfect, it says nothing about whether the patient is ill or will ever become ill. Why? Because the PCR never comes to a valid conclusion about how much virus is in the patient's body actively replicating. And in order to start talking about illness and disease, millions and millions of virus must be at work replicating inside the patient.  [emphasis added]

The post goes into detail about testing problems.  It's worth reading whether it's exactly accurate or not, because once you understand how problematic testing can be, you'll see that the fatality rate has to be a lot lower than 3.4% - maybe even somewhere down around the normal flu, which, don't forget, kills a small town worth of Americans every year to no great concern.

What's more, America in particular has very little ability to test for the virus because of FDA regulations.  The New York Post has reported that the FDA has been slow to approve tests.  American labs are happily cranking out test kits by the millions and exporting them to other countries, because using them here would be illegal!

The few FDA-approved tests are quite tricky and very few labs have been approved to use them.  Obviously, this limits our ability to test for the virus and calls every estimate of the number of American cases into question.

It also makes any COVID-19 growth charts meaningless.  As you'd expect, scientists and doctors are hard at work at expanding test capabilities, and perhaps even our soporific bureaucrats may be moved to action and legalize their use.

The moment that happens, the number of reported cases will immediately explode along with criticism of Mr. Trump because we'll be doing so much more testing. This will cause a heart-stopping spike in known cases, even though nothing actually changed except our knowledge.  This occurred in Korea after the Koreans increased their testing capabilities.

Recall that it's been amply demonstrated that just because someone tests positive for the virus doesn't mean that the person will become ill or that the person will be able to spread the virus.  Once we start testing people in the millions, we'll have more positive results than we can count - most of whom will never get sick, and many of whom aren't meaningfully contagious.

We know, however, that a person can spread the virus without seeming to be sick.  Reuters tells us that a woman left Wuhan for her New Year's vacation and infected 5 relatives without showing any symptoms.

Initially, the young woman tested negative for the virus, but a follow-up test was positive.

All five of her relatives developed COVID-19 pneumonia, but as of Feb. 11, the young woman still had not developed any symptoms, her chest CT remained normal and she had no fever, stomach or respiratory symptoms, such as cough or sore throat.

Testing her would have done no good at all - she spread the illness while testing negative, even though she was in fact infected.  Watching her for signs of illness or quarantining her for a time would have been equally pointless - she never did get sick.  Whatever sampling and testing regimen was first used on her completely missed the virus she had to have had in order to be able to spread it, a disheartening example of a false negative.

We have no idea whether the test returns false positives or how many there might be, but since just about every other medical test suffers from both positive and negative errors, this one probably will too.  That means thousands of false-positive people locked away in isolation wards to no useful purpose, some of whom might catch the virus from being around all the other sick people when they otherwise wouldn't have.  Well before COVID-19, Patient Care Link tells us "In American hospitals alone, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that HAIs [Hospital-Acquired Infections] account for an estimated 1.7 million infections and 99,000 associated deaths each year."  Adding the highly-infectious COVID-19 to the mix makes it even more desirable to stay away from the medical system unless you simply can't breathe.

The Most Realistic Fatality Rate

Infecting 5 people while testing negative is proof that not all cases of virus infection have been found.  The CDC was initially reluctant to test anyone who hadn't had contact with someone from China, but relented when the test showed the virus in someone who had had no contact of that sort.

The fatality rate is the number of known deaths divided by the number of known cases.  Even making the heroic assumption that all the people who were said to have died of the virus actually had it, the fatality rate depends on how many non-fatal cases are detected.  If twice as many people were infected as were reported, the fatality rate is 1.6%.  If they're only picking up 1/10 of the cases, it's 0.33%.  This death rate is greater than our annual flu, but a lot less scary than the oft-quoted 3%.  Indeed, The Guardian quotes an expert who believes that most cases will be mild enough not to be detected at all:

John Edmunds, professor of infectious disease modeling at LSHTM [Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine], has warned that the disease could become widespread in the UK. "It doesn't mean to say that everybody is going to be seriously ill," he has added. "The vast majority would have mild illness, a cough and a cold, then recover and be perfectly well."

There is one and only one situation where we have any reason to believe that reported numbers might mean something.  We'll look at the 3,711 people on the Diamond Princess which was put in quarantine in Yokohama on Feb. 3, 2020, at the end of a cruise.

A Hong Kong resident had traveled to Japan to board the ship.  Many passengers went ashore in Hong Kong and mingled with the crowds there.  The Hong Kong resident fell ill and was taken off during the cruise.

USA Today reports that 705 passengers and crew were found to have been infected, that is, tested positive for the virus.  More than half showed no symptoms at all like the Wuhan woman who infected her family.  Many of the rest had only mild symptoms.  The SCMP reports that 7 have died.

If we assume that the Japanese didn't miss any infected people, the infection rate is 19% of the 3,711 people on the ship, or about 1 in 5.  A cruise ship is a good environment for spreading an airborne virus because most of the crew and all the cheapskate passengers are in rooms without windows and require air circulation to keep breathing.  The ship's air conditioning system is not set up to filter viruses, but its sanitation and water supply are firmly first world, unlike many places where the infection rate is higher.

The 7 deaths represent .18% of the ship's overall population. That's comfortingly lower than the published 3.4% rate of fatalities among those who tested positive around the world, and these data were collected in an environment just about ideal for spreading viruses.

If everyone in America is exposed over time, a .18% fatality rate among 350 million works out to 630,000 deaths over several years as the virus spreads.  The CDC tells us that around 647,000 Americans die from heart disease each year, and the world doesn't stop.  Tacking on a few hundred thousand more deaths wouldn't be ideal, obviously, but neither would it be a major upheaval on its own.

Indeed, COVID-19 appears to be another disease that, like heart attacks, affects older people, and to about the same degree that heart attacks favor older people.  So far, it looks like most of the people that have actually died of coronovirus were people who were highly likely to die of something else in the near future.  Again, we are not making light of their deaths, but if a 78-year-old dies of coronavirus instead of dying at 80 of a heart attack, it's hardly grounds for panic.

On a more positive note, although there are many things we're supposed to do to cut our risk of heart attacks, holding back COVID-19 is a lot simpler: Keep Calm and Wash Your Hands!  But saying so doesn't sell newspapers or drive anyone to vote against Orange Man Bad.

The Virus of Summer?

Although the SCMP states "Coronavirus 'highly sensitive' to high temperatures, but don't bank on summer killing it off, studies say," optimists hope that the virus will be like our annual flu and essentially disappear during the summer.  This will give us time to prepare before it comes roaring back during our 2020 Thanksgiving and Christmas national virus exchange program as college kids come home for vacation.

What data we have suggests that it spreads fastest at 8.72 degrees Celsius, or 47.7 Fahrenheit.  Chinese experts caution that it's spreading in Singapore which is close to the equator, but Singapore is such a wealthy first-world city that air conditioning is nearly universal.

It's winter in Iran and the virus is spreading rapidly; we're looking forward to seeing what happens when Iran heats up in a few months.  Egypt, which is hot all year 'round, has 48 infections, but 45 were on a Nile River cruise ship which presumably has air conditioning.  We want to know what happens in equatorial Africa.

Suppose the virus can't spread at 80 or 90 degrees F.  Will Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer shut down House and Senate air conditioning to both Save the Planet and Stop the Virus?  Will rental regulations be changed to require that landlords burn more fossil fuel to heat apartments to a virus-killing degree?  Will, dare we say it, global warming we recognized as a good thing?  How uncool!

The point is, the coronavirus is so new that nobody has the slightest idea what will actually happen, except that the world almost certainly will not end.  Yet cries of panic resound everywhere, based on no facts or on "facts" demonstrably false.

No, coronavirus isn't a serious threat.  The real threat is a media that views its job as stampeding people mindlessly in a leftward political direction, without regard for the consequences.  Alas, no vaccine is in development to cure that terminal condition.