COVID-19: OPENING AMERICA
Published by John Krol on April 27th, 2020 (Last edit: 5/17)
The following are my thoughts and conclusions based on facts, data, and science combined with some common sense and critical thinking. I hope they will inspire you to use your own good common sense and critical thinking skills. There are many, many links (underlined) to articles, videos, etc., and I'm sorry I wasn't able to include them all. But it's easy to Google for additional examples, so have at it! You are most welcome and encouraged to share this information on your favorite social media platform and add your own thoughts and comments to keep your family and friends fully informed.
At the beginning of March, I began following the coronavirus much more closely, after noticing certain parts of charts were either being explained in a particular way or wholly ignored in news reports. Since I work with numbers and spreadsheets all day, I found where the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University shares its datasets, and I started downloading. One of the first things I noticed was that the mortality rate in the U.S. plummeted significantly and steadily in the first two weeks of March (before social distancing and stay at home orders), from 7.2% to 2%. Since then, with mitigation including social distancing and stay at home orders as well as higher testing rates, it has increased to its current rate (on 4/27) of 5.7%. This was my initial cause for questioning the efficacy of lockdowns and social distancing.
(Clicking the chart below will show data for Spain, China and Italy)
Add to that the fact that millions of people continued traveling through December and January, bringing hundreds of thousands of international travelers in and out of the U.S. How many were infected and how many coronavirus deaths were there here during that time? We can't know because we weren't counting then. And more importantly, no one was aware that anything was different. Doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, CDC, no one noticed anything unusual in all that time.
In the past couple of weeks, I began downloading state data daily, so I had the option of comparing whichever state data I wanted to study. Because there were so many unknown variables, I needed to find the most reliable indicator. Confirmed cases didn't include asymptomatics or those who self-resolved. The mortality rate depended entirely on the number of confirmed cases. After much debate, I decided on the hospitalization rate. I then started observing that the hospitalization rate was decreasing steadily in most states, which was a good sign. New Jersey's hospitalization rate was declining at a rate that projected it would be near zero in a week or so. Other states, such as South Dakota and Colorado, were still hovering or leveling off. Below is just a sampling; I'm able to chart by any of the data being recorded. The Hospitalization Rate data stops at 4/27 because many states stopped reporting that data after 4/27. I didn't see any reason given for the omission, so I leave that for you to ascertain.
The statistics we get are often incorrect, and inconsistencies in reporting data distort analyses. Lately, we've been learning about more and more errors in data collection, as well as incentives to falsify data.
For example, Pennsylvania has gone back and reduced their death count more than once in the past week. Colorado has also reduced the number of COVID-19 deaths and changed the way they report moving forward. Illinois indicated clearly at their 4/20 briefing that they list everyone who tests positive and dies, no matter what the actual cause, as a COVID-19 death. The CDC guidelines for classifying cause of death are troubling with provisional death counts which include "presumed" or "probable" deaths due to COVID-19 in their cause-of-death classification and definition of deaths. "If the certifier suspects COVID-19 or determines it was likely (e.g., the circumstances were compelling within a reasonable degree of certainty), they can report COVID-19 as “probable” or “presumed” on the death certificate (5, 6). COVID-19 is listed as the underlying cause on the death certificate in 94% of deaths."
And we've come to find that hospitals get paid more if Medicare patients are listed as having COVID-19 and get three times as much money if they need a ventilator. USA Today recently fact-checked the claim. Of course it's about money. Makes perfect sense, since hospitals have shut everything down and laid off medical staff to focus on treating coronavirus patients, which has caused them incredible financial loss. Unfortunately, this blurs the picture and blocks our ability to fight the virus properly.
The lies and deception in the media aren't helpful, either. The news failing to report the urgent care director lying about long lines for testing, and CBS using footage of an Italian hospital when reporting on New York hospitals and promoting a fraudulent sobbing nurse video, among other examples, are significant reasons why viewers don't believe everything they see in the news.
While studying the numbers, I've always reminded myself of the unknown variables. After looking at studies in L.A. counties and New York, it became clear that the number of cases could be many times (28-55 times) greater than reported. In fact, New York antibody testing results show that antibodies were present in nearly 25% of all NYC residents. This data sends the mortality rate well south of 1%, at or very near to that of the annual flu.
Models & Projections
The models first projected up to 2.2 million deaths without mitigation. They were revised down to 100,000-220,000 with mitigation. Soon after that, their predictions came down once again to 90,000, then finally over 60,000 - which is the same as the number of deaths suffered in the 2017-2018 flu season. If you haven't checked the CDC's data regarding our annual flu, it's probably a good idea to have a look.
To say these predictions were incredibly inaccurate would be an understatement. But these forecasts, along with media hype, had everyone scrambling, in a panic about hospital overcrowding, not enough PPE, ventilators, etc. Hospital ships and medical teams were deployed, but extremely underutilized and now being pulled. Field hospitals were built across the country, costing hundreds of millions of dollars, also underutilized or unused and now being shut down. Plans for the deconstruction of the "alternate care facility" built here at McCormick Place in Chicago are underway. It saw 29 patients. The number of ventilators supplied to a number of states far exceeded the amount hospitals really needed.
Ventilators and Doctors' Statements
On the subject of ventilators, it was interesting to read and watch testimony from a variety of front line critical care docs. Some had the idea they were treating the wrong issues and that the way ventilators were being used might be causing more harm than good. Others had quite a lot to say about the entire COVID-19 situation and why they believe stay at home orders aren't a good idea. Doctors Dan Erickson and Artin Massihi of Accelerated Urgent Care have certainly prompted quite a bit of dialogue on this issue.
Short video clip from ABC News 23
Full Press Conference (removed from Facebook, YouTube & Vimeo)
Infection Testing, Antibody Testing, Vaccines
Many have stated we should stay at home until testing is better, or more available. However, testing for the infection is only useful for finding, isolating, treating, and contact tracing. For example, if you test 100,000 people for infections and 19,000 test positive, you can isolate, trace, and help them recover, which is great. However, what do you do with the 81,000 negatives? They're good today, but what about tomorrow or a week from now? They can become infected at any time, and unless you test them every day, it won't be helpful. I believe testing for antibodies is a much better strategy, as that will give people the reassurance they need to go back to living their lives. Waiting for a vaccine is entirely out of the question. It's not going to happen until after many months of testing and still can't guarantee you won't get it. Tens of thousands still die each year from the annual flu, even though we get flu shots every year.
To Mask, or Unmask?
Mask is a term we just can't get away from these days! At first, we were told not to wear masks, then a month or so later, we were told it's okay. As long as they were cloth masks. Leave the good ones for the healthcare workers. Cloth masks are to protect others, they said, and by doing that, they provided a new path for virtue signaling and a new cause for shaming people for not wearing them. "Only murders don't wear masks!" But the question then and now remains, just how effective, if at all, are cloth masks?
While searching for answers, I found this recent Rapid Expert Consultation from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. In their conclusion, they indicated, "The extent of any protection will depend on how the masks are made and used. It will also depend on how mask use affects users’ other precautionary behaviors, including their use of better masks, when those become widely available. Those behavioral effects may undermine or enhance homemade fabric masks’ overall effect on public health. The current level of benefit, if any, is not possible to assess."
COVID-19 ON SURFACES: The CDC changed the wording on their website on May 11th with no announcement. "The new coronavirus "does not spread easily" from touching surfaces or objects, according to updated wording on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) website." Read the entire article announcing the update here.
No one likes to think about death, and everyone wants to be careful and live long, healthy lives. However, throughout history, man has started every day with the understanding he will be facing danger and will be required to perform continuous risk-benefit analyses. We expose ourselves to such dangers as tripping/falling, auto accidents, medical emergencies, sinkholes, getting food poisoning...and yes, catching a virus. We don't cancel life simply because we might get sick. That risk has always been and will always be. There are 12.66 million people here in Illinois (2019) and we've seen close to 3,600 coronavirus deaths as of today (5/13). This means that each Illinois resident has a 0.028% chance of dying from coronavirus. That's 28/1000ths of a percent. We must adapt and learn to live with this virus. What if it's seasonal and returns every year on top of the annual flu? What if it never goes away or we're blind-sided by another new virus? We can hope that doesn't happen, but the experts have consistently been proven wrong throughout this pandemic. So why shouldn't we isolate and protect the elderly, sick, and other at-risk groups while encouraging the young and healthy to cautiously carry on? Remind them to wash their hands, don't touch their face, cover coughs and sneezes, and so on, just as we all should have been doing all along. Test the vulnerable and their caretakers, first responders and healthcare workers regularly. Then test the healthy when they show symptoms and for antibodies so they can be reassured when they know they have immunity.
We must move forward, stop being afraid to leave the house and live life.
There are too many unemployed right now (we're at depression-era levels), and our economy has suffered greatly. People are enduring deep depression and a multitude of psychological issues. They must get to work, businesses must open, and we need to get things back on track. Science, logic, and common sense dictate that if Jewel, Home Depot, Costco, Walgreens, liquor stores, pot shops, etc., can stay open safely, there's absolutely no reason small businesses, restaurants, churches and places of worship cannot open safely. When we go to those larger, "essential" businesses, we are at risk of getting the virus from hundreds of others. And if we are asymptomatic, we have the opportunity to infect hundreds of others. The risk is many times lower at small businesses, particularly those who accommodate only a few clients at a time. Let's pray the gradual reopening goes smoothly for the states that have begun, as they pave the way for the rest!
At every turn, someone is working hard to deny more freedoms and steal away more constitutional rights from us. Glad to see so many others noticing this and exercising their right to protest. There's even a lawmaker that has taken to the courts to block a stay-at-home order extension, and I'm sure more will come. It's not right to use this virus to make money, and it's not right to use it to strip people of their constitutional rights. I've heard the phrase, "It's for your own good," used a couple of times already in the news. Throughout history, I seem to recall those words being used by government leaders. I also recall things did not end well.
Eventually, the data more accurately reflects reality. What's interesting ("shocking" as he put it) is that Cuomo released some new, factual data at the beginning of May that shows the "stay at home" lockdown essentially backfired in New York, America's most active hotspot. An overwhelming majority of those hospitalized for COVID19 had been following the stay at home/social distancing requirements. Perhaps they should not have ignored all the studies done over many decades that indicate most people who get sick - get sick at home. Note that in the chart below, Nursing Homes come in second. And although their residents are most vulnerable, they've been in lockdown for at least two months - "stay at home" defines their situation. Read the details here.
I was also recently reminded of a very similar pandemic, featuring another highly contagious virus we survived. It started in December of 1968 and was called the Hong Kong Flu. Killed millions worldwide, 100,000 here in the U.S. In fact, Woodstock happened during the Hong Kong Flu. I was five at the time and don't remember much, so I asked Mom about it to find out what the response was, but she really didn't remember anything. Read more here to find out why.
We need to return to trusting one another, restoring our right to use our own best judgment when it comes to risk assessment, as we always have since the beginning of civilization. If we wake up knowing we are vulnerable, sick, or immunocompromised, we evaluate the risk and stay home, stay isolated, be extra cautious. If we're healthy and can be considerate of others by covering coughs, sneezes, wash our hands, maintain personal space, and so on, we venture out and accept the risk and live life.
Consider this: If we open everything tomorrow, many people are so afraid, living in such fear now, they will still stay in. And those are probably the people that should stay in! Schools, businesses, corporate centers...all will slowly open and bring back their students, employees, clients, etc. Maybe they sign liability waivers and releases. But none of that will matter the first time anyone gets sick at work or school. They'll close up right away and send everyone home, even if only for a couple of weeks, out of fear. Fear alone ensures we remain ignorant.
That's why we need to start now. It's going to be a long, hard journey, so we need to take those first few steps. They are always the most difficult, but that's the only way forward.