It has now been nearly two and a half years since the world became aware of a new coronavirus, which was subsequently named SARSCoV-2 or Covid-19. While very little was known about this novel virus in January, 2020, we know a lot about it now.
Along the way, there has been a lot of misinformation disseminated by public health officials and the media, much of it for political gain. Unfortunately, this virus was first discovered in an election year and many of the sources of this misinformation were influenced by their displeasure with the Trump administration. They let their political bias affect their judgment and the country has suffered greatly as a result.
Scott W. Atlas, M.D. is a Stanford University Medical School professor and Hoover Institute fellow who was hired by the Trump Administration in July 2020 to advise the president on the Covid pandemic. This Washington outsider, with no political agenda, was forced to deal with the already entrenched White House Corona Virus Task Force and its bureaucratic physicians, Dr. Deborah Birx, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and Dr. Robert Redfield.
His recently published book, A Plague Upon Our House, describes the frustration he experienced trying to bring scientific analysis to the Task Force. He relates his futile attempts to steer that ship away from the destructive course they had chosen with lockdowns, school and business closures, and testing of low-risk youth while not sufficiently protecting those at high risk in senior living facilities. Though he had the support of President Trump and others, he was unable to sway the locked-in policies of the other medical members of the team, especially Task Force Coordinator, Dr. Birx.\
In his book, Dr. Atlas presents the scientific evidence that answers key questions about the pandemic and refutes several myths about Covid-19 that have been widely disseminated.
Myth #1 – Mathematical models are reliable indicators of future pandemic spread.
Early in the crisis, many researchers around the world used mathematical models to predict how the pandemic would spread. Most egregious were the predictions of the Imperial College of Neil Ferguson and colleagues. For Sweden, they predicted 30,434 deaths if lockdowns were implemented, and 66,393 deaths if left unmitigated. After a full year of ignoring Ferguson’s strategy, as of March, 2021, Sweden had a total of 13,496 deaths.
Oxford University’s Professor Sunetra Gupta, one of the world’s most renowned epidemiologists and modelers, authored a 2001 piece in Nature subtitled “Scientists sometimes use mathematics to give the illusion of certainty.” In this article she warned of the dangers of relying on mathematical models. Her prescient warning, however, was not heeded and many grossly inaccurate predictions came out of these models. Dr. Birx frequently used these models to justify her pandemic policies, often inaccurately believing her policies were working if the actual numbers were lower than the model predictions.
Myth #2 – The risk of death from Covid-19 to children was the same as adults.
This myth was discredited many times early in the pandemic, but the media continued to promote this misinformation. The actual data as early as April 2020 showed the rate of death for people under eighteen was zero per 100,000. In New York City in the 2020 summer, 99.94 percent of deaths occurred in people over eighteen; only one child without underlying conditions died, comprising 0.005 percent of 18,988 deaths. CDC later calculated those under twenty to have a 99.997 percent chance of survival.
Myth #3 – Children often transmitted asymptomatic disease to adults.
This myth was often used as an excuse for closing schools – mostly by the teachers’ unions. They claimed it was not safe for teachers to go back to classrooms for fear of contracting Covid-19 from the children. While children are often transmitters of influenza, the same is not true of Covid-19. An early contract tracing study in Iceland, published in April 2020 in The New England Journal of Medicine, stated, “We have not found a single instance of a child infecting parents.”
A Swiss study found that school was the source of only 0.3 percent of infections. Sweden kept its schools open throughout their pandemic surge, without mask-wearing or social-distancing mandates. They experienced an extremely low incidence of significant Covid-19 and zero deaths in nearly 2 million school children ages one to sixteen. Sweden’s teachers showed no increase in age-adjusted risk of severe Covid-19. The European Centre for Disease Prevention reported a seventeen-country study and concluded that “Open schools were not associated with accelerating community transmission.”
The media widely disseminated the news of a surge in Israel’s cases after reopening of schools. This report was later discredited, but the media never publicized the correction. The same thing happened in South Korea, but again was discredited. The corrected analysis showed no evidence of a child passing the infection to an adult, but this was not widely reported.
Myth #4 – School closures were necessary to protect children.
As we have already discussed, children were at extremely low risk for serious infection with Covid, much less than seasonal influenza. Yet the harms of closing schools are still being calculated. They include poor learning, dropouts, social isolation, suicidal ideation, mental health illness and drug abuse, and parental child abuse. Since schools are the primary source of discovering child abuse, the number of missed cases of abuse skyrocketed with the closure of schools. In just two months of school closures in March and April of 2020, a Florida study estimated that approximately 15,000 child abuse cases went unreported, or 27 percent fewer than expected. The authors admitted their numbers were “likely underestimated.”
School closures were especially harmful to children in lower-income and less-educated households. Researchers associated with the Centre for Economic Policy Research summarized last fall that “school and childcare closures have significant negative long-term consequences on the human capital and welfare of the affected children, especially those from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds.”
Dr. Atlas says, “The policy of reopening in-person schools has been supported by the data, time after time, for more than a full year. And the United States stands out, in abject shame even among our peer nations since the fall of 2020, uniquely willing to sacrifice its children out of fear for adults.”
Myth #5 – Wearing masks is an effective deterrent to the spread of Covid-19.
A quick look back at the public-health officials’ advice about masks should be revealing. Masks were first deemed ineffective and unnecessary by Dr. Fauci, and also Surgeon General Jerome Adams. Then shortly later they became indispensable. You don’t have to be a doctor to realize that’s counterintuitive. Doctors wear masks in surgery largely to prevent their own aerosols from contaminating the patient. They do not wear them to protect themselves from the patient, except in cases of HIV when blood spatter could harm the surgeon.
Covid-19 is spread by aerosols. Even Dr. Fauci was discovered to say to a colleague, “The typical mask you buy in the drug store is not really effective in keeping out a virus, which is small enough to pass through the material. It might, however, provide some slight benefit in keeping out gross droplets if someone coughs or sneezes on you.” The Covid-19 virus is about 0.12 microns in size, similar to influenza and far smaller than the pore size in surgical masks. Dr. Atlas says, “It should not be necessary to explain how absurd it was to even consider that a scarf or bandana would stop the virus.” Perhaps the most absurd statement ever to come out of the Task Force was from Dr. Redfield who testified to Congress that, “If every one of us wore a mask, this pandemic would be over in eight to twelve weeks.”
Myth #6 – Lockdowns are effective to slow the spread of the virus.
An initial period of “fifteen days to slow the spread” seemed justified to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. But this quickly became a policy of long-term lockdowns, largely under the recommendations of Task Force Coordinator, Dr. Birx. This misguided policy decision has had numerous harmful consequences:
- Half of the 650,000 cancer patients skipped chemotherapy during the first months of the lockdowns.
- Forty percent of stroke patients and half of heart attack patients were so afraid they did not call an ambulance; in March-April 2020, New York City alone had a 400 percent increase in deaths from non-Covid heart disease.
- Organ transplants from living donors were down 85 percent from the same period the last year.
- Two thirds to over 80 percent of cancer screenings were skipped in the first three months, including 70 percent of colonoscopies and 67 percent of mammograms. Over nine months, 750,000 to over 1,000,000 new U.S. cancer cases went undetected.
- Over the next fifteen years, the unemployment “shock” alone, according to a NBER study, will generate an increased death rate and reduced life expectancy disproportionately affecting African-Americans and women. That computes into a staggering 890,000 extra American deaths – from the lockdowns, not the virus.
These staggering numbers might almost seem justified if the lockdowns were effective. But the overwhelming evidence is to the contrary. Perhaps the best comparison is between the states of California and Florida. California was quick to institute lockdowns and among the slowest to remove them. Florida, in contrast, was among the first to remove lockdowns and open businesses and schools. Despite the fact that Florida’s population is much older, and therefore more vulnerable to Covid, Florida outshined California in nearly every measurable demographic.
- Florida did better than California in protecting its citizens from dying.
- The overall age-adjusted per-capita Covid mortality rate in Florida is 118/100,000 while California’s is 168/100,000.
- Florida did better at protecting its minorities
- Hispanics and blacks died at higher rates than whites in California; both at lower rates in Florida than whites
- Florida did better at protecting jobs for lower-income people.
- Employment for low-wage earners in California was down 38.3 percent, but up by 0.4 percent in Florida.
- Florida outperformed the overall U.S. for Covid deaths per capita.
- Florida outperformed 25 individual lockdown states in Covid deaths per capita
- Florida outperformed – by 40 percent – the overall U.S. age-adjusted Covid mortality
- Florida ranks number one of the ten largest states in lowest excess mortality
Dr. Atlas summarizes: “Lockdowns did not stop the virus or save lives. Massive lives were lost because of the lockdowns. Focused protection was the safer and more ethical strategy.”