Mask wearing is bad, then its good. Lockdowns are critical, then they aren’t, then they are, again. Hydroxychloroquine is the panacea, then it isn’t. It’s hard to know what to believe when it comes to Covid information and what strategies make sense.
In California you can’t even dine outside, let alone inside, unless you’re a politician. In Texas you’re told to avoid travel, unless you’re the mayor of Austin. In New York schools are dangerous, unless you send your kids to private school. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says hair salons are dangerous, unless she’s getting her hair done. With all this hypocrisy coming from government officials, who are we to believe and what is really necessary?
Jay Bhattacharya, epidemiologist, healthcare economist and health policy expert at Stanford University, seems as well qualified as anyone, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, to give us truth without bias. Recently, he spoke at a Hillsdale College Free Market Forum and he simplified our understanding of the Covid pandemic to date. He discussed the following topics:
- The Covid-19 Fatality Rate
- Who is at risk?
- Deadliness of the Lockdowns
- Where to go from here
The Covid-19 Fatality Rate
After initial misinformation in early March, we assumed the “case fatality rate” in the U.S. was roughly 3 percent. In other words, nearly three out of every hundred people who were identified as “cases” of Covid-19 in early March died from it. This data came from the World Health Organization (WHO) which has lost much of its credibility since when they tried to cover up China’s involvement in this pandemic.
Since then we know the Covid fatality rate is about 0.2 to 0.3 percent. In other words, two or three out of every thousand with Covid infection will die of the disease. This is a huge adjustment in the fatality rate because we now know that many people who are infected are asymptomatic and up to 80% will have mild disease.
The most accurate method of determining the true prevalence of the disease is seroprevalence testing. This means obtaining blood samples from the general population and testing for evidence of antibodies that indicate exposure to the virus. A study of this type was conducted in Santa Clara County, California by Dr. Bhattacharya and his colleagues and led to our current understanding of the true fatality rates. (see Epidemiologists Reject Political Correctness)
Who is at risk?
Covid-19 infection is not equally dangerous for everyone. We learned early on that the elderly and sick were at much higher risk than children and young people. Yet this important discovery has been muted by politicians who even today insist upon closing schools where infections are practically non-existent. This has been largely influenced by teachers unions. Dr. Bhattacharya says Covid-19 is less dangerous for children than seasonal flu. In fact, more children have died this year in the U.S. from seasonal flu than from Covid.
However, it is much more deadly than the seasonal flu for older people. The Covid fatality rate for people over 70 and up is about four percent – four in every 100 of these people will die from Covid infection; most of them with serious co-morbidities such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and chronic lung disease. These huge differences in risk between younger and older people should have major implications for health policy makers, but unfortunately, politics has often swayed decision makers more than science.
Deadliness of the Lockdowns
According to Dr. Bhattacharya, lockdowns have never before been tried as a method of disease control. Nor were lockdowns part of the original plan. The initial rationale for lockdowns was that slowing the spread of the disease would prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. This never materialized. Yet lockdowns continue today and in some places are expanding. These seem to be mostly in states governed by Democrats.
The price of these lockdowns has been economic recession – with devastating effects on human lives. Ignoring the economic hardships for the moment, Dr. Bhattacharya says the U.N. has estimated that 130 million additional people will starve this year as a result of the economic damage from lockdowns. He notes that in the last 20 years we’ve lifted one billion people worldwide out of poverty. But that process is being reversed with lockdowns.
Lockdowns have also contributed to fewer children receiving immunizations against disease such as diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), measles and polio. Parents have feared going to their pediatricians because of Covid when these other diseases are far more deadly. Eighty million children worldwide are now at risk of these diseases.
Many adults with cancer failed to receive regular chemotherapy for fear of Covid. Others skipped recommended cancer screening. These changes in normal behavior will result in higher rates of cancer disease and death. The data is already showing these effects.
Mental health statistics may be the most alarming. A CDC study in June found that one in four young adults between 18 and 24 had seriously considered suicide. Young people are not meant to live alone and interruption of normal socialization is having devastating impacts.
Where do we go from here?
The Great Barrington Declaration is a policy statement co-authored by Dr. Bhattacharya along with Dr. Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University and Dr. Martin Kulldorff of Harvard University. The full statement can be read on their website www.gbdeclaration.org. To date it has been signed by over 43,000 medical and public health scientists and medical practitioners. Here is a brief description of their philosophy:
“The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus thorugh natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection.”
It can be summarized in the following points:
The Great Barrington Declaration:
- Protect the vulnerable – especially in nursing homes; they should use staff with acquired immunity and perform frequent testing of staff and all visitors. Retired elderly people living at home should have groceries and other essential delivered.
- Allow everyone else to resume normal activities
- Open the schools – children are at minimal risk
- Eliminate lockdowns – they do more harm than good
- Resume arts, music, sports and other cultural activities – Those at more risk may choose not to participate if they wish.
These general policies should be accompanied by sensible precautions – hand washing, staying home when sick, wearing masks in close proximity to those who are sick or vulnerable. The end of this pandemic will occur when herd immunity has been achieved. This end-state will be reached sooner as vaccines become readily available.
Dr. Bhattacharya concludes, “We know the people who are vulnerable, and we know the people who are not vulnerable. To continue to act as if we do not know these things makes no sense. . . We shouldn’t be afraid. We should respond to the Covid virus rationally: protect the vulnerable, treat the people who get infected compassionately, develop a vaccine. And while doing these things we should bring back the civilization that we had so that the cure does not end up being worse than the disease.”
(Author’s note: I signed the Great Barrington Declaration today.)