Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Government's short-sighted strategy to COVID-19 pandemic destroying America

Would you agree to buy a new motor vehicle without knowing the price? Of course not. Your options are many — sedan, convertible, sports car, SUV, minivan, pickup truck, etc. in many different sizes with different features, including different safety features. Most people do not buy the “safest” vehicle because of both price and the fact that other vehicles may have features they value more.

Yet, when it comes to options regarding how to deal with the COVID-19 virus, most governors give the people no or, at best, few options. People voluntarily engage in all sorts of risky sports — many of which are much more likely to kill anyone under 65 than COVID-19 (as I described in my column last week). Less than 100 people (out of a population of 328,000 million Americans) under age 24 have died from the virus. It is much more dangerous for them to ride an electric scooter or walk across the street, yet the government has shut down almost all schools in the United States for a virus that is not going to kill the students.

We can see the lives lost to the virus. Every night on TV we are shown people being taken to the morgue. What is rarely mentioned is that the average age of death of the victims is well into the 80s.

What is not seen are all the lives lost to the restrictions being placed on the people — the careers destroyed, the damage from students not being in school, the damage to people who have spent decades building businesses that are now being destroyed by government mandate, the psychological damage from people being cooped up and unable to have normal human interactions with friends, family, business colleagues or even dating, etc. What price do we put on the loss of freedom?

The great French economist Frederic Bastiat (1801-50) had many important insights, and one of his most famous works was titled “That Which is Seen and That Which is Not Seen.” Bastiat was a master at making a point by telling a story. A store owner’s young son accidentally broke a window, and the store owner then paid a glazer to fix it.

Those who can see only the first-order effect say: “This is good because it gave the glazer a job and income.” Those who can see beyond the first order understand that the shop owner will now have less income to buy other goods such as a new pair of boots, thus depriving the cobbler of a job. The glazer, if not employed repairing the broken window, most likely would be spending his time putting windows in new structures — thus creating new wealth.

Those who say we can offset the cost of the government mandated shutdown of productive economic activity by just giving business people and individuals money to replace their losses stemming from the shutdown fail to understand that passing out money without creating wealth, over the long run, makes everyone poorer by debasing the currency.

In my fantasyland, I would make it a requirement that all of those who demand expenditures and restrictions on our behavior to mitigate the virus detail precisely the long-run cost of each restriction or proposed expenditure. If America had a better educated, less ideological and more responsible media, they would be insisting on such information rather than accepting what can be immediately seen as the only fact.

An old friend and fine economist, Jack Albertine, who among other things was executive director of the Joint Economic Committee of the Congress, sent me a note regarding my column of last week, parts of which I repeat here:

The data is clear, the U.S. lockdown did not measurably change the mortality rate in the United States. In addition, the models were wrong, period. Their predictions failed empirically. “Elective” medical procedures were banned so as to allow hospitals to have the capacity to deal with the avalanche of COVID-19 admissions. This was again in response to the models’ predictions. First, “elective” medical procedures are called elective because they are not required to stave off immediate death. They, however, are critically important to maintain the health of the population.

Additionally, the longer elective procedures are put off, the more they become not elective at all. So, we endangered the health of millions of people and to what purpose? The predicted avalanche never came. Hospitals have much unused capacity, and, as one who served for nine years on a hospital board, elective surgery and other procedures are huge money makers for hospitals. So now we have a financial crisis in hospitals.

In Texas, 67 percent of the counties have no COVID-19 virus deaths (which may be typical of many states). New York has suffered 88 deaths per 100,000 people, while Texas has suffered only 2.3 deaths per 100,000. So, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is sensibly, rapidly eliminating unnecessary restrictions and getting his state back to normal, as are a number of other governors — while those who cannot think beyond stage I and who neither understand nor appreciate the importance of economic growth and liberty are depriving their citizens of both.



Is India a COVID-19 Anomaly?

The world's second-most-populated country has hardly been touched by the virus. Why?  Because the virus overwhelmingly targets the frail elderly.  Very few Indians live that long

As of this writing, the total number of confirmed cases of China Virus in India sits at less than 50,000 with about 1,700 deaths attributed to the COVID-19 virus. With the second-most populous nation on the planet still classified as a developing country, many are wondering why India’s pandemic numbers are so low.

One would think that, in a nation that struggles with high poverty rates and low levels of healthcare access, the spread of the virus would be rampant and widespread. However, that does not appear to be the case.

Some claim that India’s rapid social distancing and stay-at-home mandates are the reason. Yet in a country as densely populated as India, with notoriously massive poverty slums, such massive lockdown measures are near impossible. If anything, one would expect to see deadly virus hotspots in these slums. Even so, the numbers suggest otherwise.

Could it be that many COVID-19 deaths have simply gone unreported? That’s a plausible theory, as roughly only 22% of all deaths in India are ever certified by a doctor. However, the trouble with this theory is that if it were so, one would expect to see a sudden spike in the number of overall deaths across the country — but that has not occurred. So, even if there has been underreporting of COVID-19 deaths, the overall number of deaths has not seen any significant increase.

Maybe India’s hot weather can be attributed with slowing the spread of the virus, though many experts note there is no evidence yet supporting such a conclusion. Can this apparent anomaly be attributed to environmental, genetic, or cultural differences, or a combination of all three? Whatever the reason(s), what this anomaly does show is that there is much yet to be learned about this novel virus.



Flawed Models Show Why COVID-19 Policies Must Consider Total Mortality

Policymakers need to scrutinize their epidemiological models.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government has been heavily influenced by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation’s computer model, which has projected from 60,000 to 240,000 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S.

This epidemiological model is now being criticized as flawed and misleading as a source of public information and for government decision-making. Besides the institute’s model, all other COVID-19 models are grounded in important assumptions about which there is currently little knowledge.

Approaches other than models are needed to properly understand this pandemic.

One approach that has not been explored in any detail is the examination of deaths from all causes in addition to deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Two major databases that track COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S., but not total mortality, are WorldOMeters and the Johns Hopkins University Hub. These trackers show major variation in COVID-19 mortality risk.

For example, as of April 22, WorldOMeters showed 47,681 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. (50 states and the District of Columbia) with a rate of 144 deaths per 1 million people.

However, note that 71% of the deaths have occurred in six high-risk states (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Louisiana, and Michigan) with 17% of U.S. residents and a death rate of 624 per million.

Ten percent have occurred in five medium-risk states (Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Maryland, and Indiana) and the District of Columbia with 12% of U.S. residents and a death rate of 124 per million, and 19% have occurred in the remaining 39 low-risk states with 71% of U.S. residents and a death rate of 40 per million.

It remains to be determined, however, whether these COVID-19 deaths have actually increased the total U.S. deaths this year. The best data on both COVID-19 deaths and total deaths in the U.S. come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s National Center for Health Statistics.

During the five weeks ending Feb. 1 through Feb. 29, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 282,084 total deaths, which were 96% of the expected deaths based on concurrent 2017-2019 deaths. During the five weeks ending March 7 to April 4, the CDC reported 273,798 total deaths, which were 96% of the expected deaths.

Of the 9,474 COVID-19 deaths reported during these 10 weeks, 78.5% were among people over age 65, 21.4% were between the ages of 25 and 64, and only 0.1% were ages newborn to 24 years.

Those death counts through the end of March are preliminary, but they do not indicate that the total number of deaths in 2020 is greater than the comparable number of deaths during each of the three prior years.

Once the number of COVID-19 deaths and total deaths during the entire month of April are known, it will be clear whether there has been an increase in the total number of U.S. deaths this year.

One reason there may not be an increase in total deaths is because some deaths are being classified as COVID-19 deaths even when COVID-19 is not the underlying cause.

Normally, mortality statistics are compiled in accordance with World Health Organization regulations specifying that each death be assigned an underlying cause based on the current 10th revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases (ICD-10).

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that COVID-19 deaths are being coded to ICD-10 code U07.1 when COVID-19 is reported as a cause that “contributed to” death on the death certificate, but is not necessarily the “underlying cause.” Also, some of those deaths do not have laboratory confirmation of COVID-19 infection.

Thus, it’s possible that the focus on COVID-19 deaths has resulted in a lower number of deaths from seasonal flu, pneumonia, and other causes, compared with the number that would normally occur this year.

The CDC has stated that the number of flu hospitalizations estimated for this season is lower than total hospitalization estimates for any season since the CDC began making these estimates.

Furthermore, it’s possible that the lethality of COVID-19 is no greater than that of the seasonal flu.

A new Stanford University survey indicates that the population prevalence of COVID-19 in Santa Clara County, California, ranges from 2.5% to 4.2% and that the number of infected persons is 50 to 85 times the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

This preliminary finding suggests that at most 0.1% of infected persons will die from COVID-19, comparable to the seasonal flu death rate. Several other new studies indicate similarly lower fatality rates for COVID-19.

Americans need clarity. The federal government response to the coronavirus pandemic should not be based on flawed models, but rather on a localized public health approach that focuses on the high-risk areas of the United States and also on the high-risk elderly and those with comorbid conditions.

The emphasis should be on changes in personal behavior, such as staying at home for work or school if ill, covering coughs or sneezes, hand-washing, and avoiding those with respiratory symptoms.

Above all, the pandemic and COVID-19 deaths must be put in proper perspective, given the unprecedented societal and economic disruption of the current national lockdown.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is hereHome page supplement


No comments: