“Security without liberty is called prison.” Benjamin Franklin
My favorite Founder, the author of the above quotation, is perhaps the least appreciated, despite being regarded as the “First American”. He was a man of many talents, not the least of which as a political writer, influencing many colonials against British policies. His sage words about security in regards to liberty are relevant for our time, and the circumstances of our current dilemma with the pandemic.
Our politicians in this dilemma have failed the critical test of leadership by promoting panic rather than composure. Whether that is so because they themselves lack the fortitude to lead rather than compel, or perhaps because they have a more sinister agenda can be debated, but ultimately the draconian dictates practiced as measures for security prove Franklin’s adage.
While we are bombarded daily in the news, as mass media thrives on the negative and promotes a right think mentality, there is good old Ben again wisely advising that “If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking.” So let us think and practice some composure, which requires a look at the data, most of which is readily available to all of us.
We need to understand some basic data about COVID19. It is unquestionably a dangerous virus as manifested by about 290K deaths in the US as of today. Given that the vaccine has just been approved, even with aggressive production and distribution, projections for the death toll to reach 400K by Q2 of 2021 are plausible.
However, compare this with the CDC’s original forecasts of the death toll here in the US based on the March 16, 2020 projections from the Imperial College London’s report for 2.2 million deaths in the United States, upon which the CDC based its recommendations for lockdowns, among other measures. True, we need to put our trust in science more than politics, but when these scientists miss by a factor of more than 500%, they should not be surprised that our trust has been understandably shaken; they become suspect to the point of appearing more political than scientific. Any death is concerning, but from a policy viewpoint both the projection and reaction to it are empirically irrational.
Add to this the reports from many doctors regarding the protocols to determine the cause of death in the reported mortality; often it’s reported as “COVID related”, meaning it was a comorbidity to other causes, or even worse reported as a COVID death if pathology determines the person was infected with COVID at the time of death even if that wasn’t the cause. Why would a hospital do that? One incentive for doing so is increased government funding under the practice of back-stopping hospitals stressed with caseloads. Ever hear of unintended consequences?
Clearly hygienic protocols such as masks and hand washing are effective; anyone who questions that is likewise irrational. Given that this virus is now known to be airborne, the efficacy of social distancing is suspect. Note that indoor activity requires the facility to have adequate ventilation filtration and air exchange as a result of this realization about how the virus can spread. These protocols are simple common sense and should not be politicized either; compulsion again is a poor policy as it engenders negative reactions contrary to intent. Good move by President Elect Biden for backing off the mask mandate, showing his realization of this time proven phenomenon.
It is informative to put this disease in a comparative context, so a look at the CDC’s report on the causes of death in the US gives us a better appreciation for what we are dealing with. The latest data is for 2018 as the 2019 data is still being vetted. It is appreciated that the CDC is being careful about this and taking the time to get it right, although their reaction to the COVID projections lacked that discipline. Here are the categorical death totals:
Heart disease: 655,381
Accidents (unintentional injuries): 167,127
Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 159,486
Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 147,810
Alzheimer’s disease: 122,019
Influenza and Pneumonia: 59,120
Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome and nephrosis: 51,386
Intentional self-harm (suicide): 48,344
Please note that there are two critical categories not included in the above that the CDC also records, and that is death from alcohol and drug abuse; for alcohol they estimate about 95K/year, and for drugs more than 67K/year. These numbers are not included in the suicides or accidents noted above, although why they occurred could be related to either.
I added COVID19 deaths, without exception to comorbidity, to the above in making some comparative contextual observations. Also please note that while tobacco smoking is the cause for about 480K deaths per year, they are accounted for in the diseases noted above, like cancer and cardiovascular. What stands out here is that approximately 62% of all these deaths are caused by those very diseases, and the majority of those manifest themselves in the senior population, making them that much more susceptible, i.e. at risk to CIVID19, influenza and pneumonia. Now compare the fact that when we include COVID19 in all the death data, it accounts for about 11%, truly awful, but compared to the big killers, fractional.
What is also telling is that the overall death rate has been fairly consistent over the last decade, so it will be informative to look at the 2020 and 2021 statistics to put COVID19 in a context that hopefully will be more informative than what we have currently.
What is also noteworthy is that the non-disease related deaths due to suicides, alcohol and drug abuse (although I would consider those to be psychological and mental disorders) are about equal to COVID19. This is an important consideration as the economic consequences of lockdowns will likely increase those numbers.
While we are told that there is a “second wave” the data does not necessarily support the recent spikes as anything other than just that. What it shows is that testing has increased astronomically, while the death rate has fallen precipitously. That should surprise no one if they understand that the more you test, the more you will find, and as positivity increases, and protocol treatments improve survivability, the mortality rate falls. Setting arbitrary parameters for lockdowns without a rational consideration of the data is counterproductive. For instance, Governor Cuomo of NYS recently mandated closing indoor dining in NYC (like outdoor dining in winter is a reasonable option) due to recent spikes in positivity testing. Restaurants were found to be a 1.3% contributor to the spike, whereas family gatherings (like Thanksgiving and the Holiday Season) were 76% contributors. Strange that he did this considering his admonitions to Mayor De Blasio about how schools are the safest place for kids to be, so keep them open. Clearly the Governor needs some math and logic lessons, not to mention better consistency and stronger composure; shoot-ready-aim is not good leadership.
According to the CDC’s records of the seasonal influenza, a virus that has survived and evolved for as long as mankind can recall, we get some interesting takeaways. The first seasonal influenza vaccine was made available in the US in 1930. It did not have an overwhelming reception as few opted in until 1945 when it became broadly accepted. It would be interesting to know why just after the war that happened. Some have theorized, maybe correctly, that it was because it was the beginning of the Baby Boom.
The flu vaccine has had varying success, but never more than about 68% efficacy, often less, but certainly not up to the 95% reported for the COVID19 vaccine. Excluding the Spanish Flu of 1918 and just looking at the seasonal flu from 1930 to now, the mortality rate is usually in the 60K range, with a high of 116K in 1957, and 100K in 1967; if we ignore those highs, looking at the 90 year period during which we had a flu vaccine, that’s about 5M deaths from seasonal influenza. COVID19 isn’t going away because we have a vaccine, and like the seasonal flu, the virus will, as has already been seen, mutate requiring constant updates to the vaccine; but still, 95% efficacy is a lot better than 68%.
If locking down the economy is the answer to dealing with contagious diseases, then you can make the case that we should have been locking down the economy every winter; even considering the coming winter with even more deaths, the logic for lockdowns fails. Locking down an economy put 30 million people out of work; that’s just not economic stress, that’s increased stress on the health of the entire population. While we have a vaccine starting mid-December for essential workers such as healthcare, those over 65 years old and those at risk due to chronic illnesses, it will not be significantly distributed to the majority of Americans until Q2 of 2021; are we to lockdown until then?
Despite government efforts to counter the effects of shuttering an economy, neither stimulus nor QE have provided a long range solution to even reach the time frame for vaccine viability. Defaults and bankruptcies are at an all-time high and growing. Many small businesses, which account for the majority of US employment, will likely never recover, and many are already gone.
The massive monetary inflation of the US dollar to provide easy credit, i.e. debt, puts it in imminent and understandable danger of losing reserve currency status, a loss of a trading advantage that will further exacerbate its purchasing power; why we are told that will not cause inflation is bizarre. The government’s proposition that stimulus, proverbial helicopter money, will provide growth is at best disingenuous; in reality it’s welfare for Wall Street. It is not a coincidence that as the likelihood of a second tranche fades, the indices fall, which should inform even the financially challenged what this scheme is all about.
Further, consider the thinking behind lockdowns that COVID19 is “contagious/harmful enough”; at best that is a vague, non-scientific phrase. More telling against lockdowns is that the survival rate according to the CDC for those 69 years old and younger is 98.5%, which is even higher the efficacy of the vaccine. For those older than 69, the survival rate falls to 86.6% mostly due to the decline in resiliency and/or the onset of other ailments.
I understand that there are those that have doubts about a vaccine that was developed in under a year and whose developers negotiated liability immunity while promoting it as safe, clearly a contradiction. While I support getting the vaccine, it is a personal choice. If you force someone to do it against their will while granting immunity to big pharma against any negative side effects, you are creating the very reason for people to be suspicious of it.
So as we move through these difficult times of our lives, we need to be of a more positive and composed mentality, or as best expressed by Mark Twain, another of my favorite Americans, “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”