Thursday, April 01, 2021

Americans Misinformed About COVID Hospitalization

A recent survey found that more than one-third of Americans overestimate by as much as a factor of ten the probability a person with COVID-19 will require hospitalization.

Researchers involved in the Franklin Templeton/Gallup study asked Americans in December what “percentage of people who have been infected by the coronavirus needed to be hospitalized.” The correct answer is not precisely known, the authors note, but the best available estimates place the figure between 1 and 5 percent.

Many people’s perceptions of the data, however, were completely off.

“Less than one in five U.S. adults (18%) give a correct answer of between 1 and 5%,” the study authors said. “Many adults (35%) say that at least half of infected people need hospitalization. If that were true, the millions of resulting patients would have overwhelmed hospitals throughout the pandemic.”

The authors of the study say the conclusion is clear.

“The U.S. public is also deeply misinformed about the severity of the virus for the average infected person,” the study’s authors stated.

Why Are Americans so Misinformed?

The obvious question is why Americans are so wildly misinformed about the true risks of COVID-19.

One possibility is that Americans are receiving information that is skewing their sense of reality, and research confirms this hypothesis.

Studies have shown that US media in particular created a climate of fear by publishing a deluge of negative news in 2020. One Ivy League-led study found that 91 percent of US stories in major media were negative in tone (compared to just 54 percent in non-US media)—even when the virus was in retreat and positive results were being achieved.

‘Those who overestimate risks to young people or hold an exaggerated sense of risk upon infection are more likely to favor closing schools, restaurants, and other businesses,’ the authors note.

“The negativity of the U.S. major media is notable even in areas with positive scientific developments including school re-openings and vaccine trials,” researchers noted. “Stories of increasing COVID-19 cases outnumber stories of decreasing cases by a factor of 5.5 even during periods when new cases are declining.”

As I noted when the study was released, a global pandemic isn’t exactly a cheerful topic. Yet this fact alone doesn’t explain the discrepancy between US media coverage and non-US media. Nor does it explain why negative news trends continue even during positive developments—such as declines in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, as well as vaccine breakthroughs.

The steady drumbeat of negativity was described as “panic porn” by some media critics.

“Enough with the ‘life will never be the same’ headlines,” HBO pundit Bill Maher said back in April. “Everything looks scary when you magnify it a thousand times.… We need the news to calm down and treat us like adults.”

That didn’t happen, however. Months later, as the virus had receded and scientists concluded COVID was not as deadly as previously thought, the media were still engaging in panic porn, characterizing Florida’s laissez-faire approach to the pandemic as a “death march.”

In his work Crisis and Leviathan, the economist Robert Higgs observed that crises have been utilized to mount the biggest government power grabs in modern history.

Why media and public officials engaged in panic porn for months is a discussion for another day. What’s apparent is that the phenomenon severely skewed Americans’ sense of reality as it relates to the actual dangers of COVID-19, a virus that does not require hospitalization for up to 99 percent of those infected.

Unfortunately, authors of the Franklin Templeton/Gallup study say, the disconnect has real-world consequences.

“Those who overestimate risks to young people or hold an exaggerated sense of risk upon infection are more likely to favor closing schools, restaurants, and other businesses,” the authors note.

Lockdowns: A Policy of Panic

The harms of these lockdown policies are well-documented: severe mental health deterioration, mass social unrest, health procedures deferred or foregone, soaring global poverty, increased suicide, extreme loneliness, and many others.

FEE’s Brad Polumbo recently testified before the US Senate on some of these dangers, noting that doctors across the world warn lockdowns have resulted in an “international epidemic” of child suicide.

These were policies born of panic.

“When people feel fear, they’re much more willing to accept anything that makes the world seem a little safer,” Sean Malone noted early in the pandemic in an episode of Out of Frame.

For far too long Americans were told they must sacrifice liberty by embracing lockdowns or risk mass fatalities. This was always a false choice, and a dangerous one. The reality is, passing sweeping legislation during panics is a recipe for bad outcomes. But all too often, that is precisely what happens.

In his work Crisis and Leviathan, the economist Robert Higgs observed that crises have been utilized to mount the biggest government power grabs in modern history. During the Great Depression it was the New Deal. Following the 9-11 attacks it was the War on Terror and the Patriot Act (and everything that came with them). In 2020 it was the lockdowns.

Each of these historic encroachments was driven by mass panic. In each instance, only in hindsight did it become apparent that the greater danger we faced was fear itself.

This isn’t to say there are not real threats in the world. The pandemic, terrorism, and the Great Depression were all genuine threats.

It’s only to say we must reject panic in our decision making, and those who would have us abandon freedom for the false promise of safety.


Technology, Not Government, Beat the Pandemic

The legacy of the COVID-19 era is largely characterized by a series of governmental and para-governmental failures. The Chinese Communist Party’s failure to tackle the virus before it became a pandemic, the inability of governments around the world to curb international spread, and the World Health Organization’s concerning behavior with respect to the Chinese government turned what could have been a limited epidemic into a global pandemic of disturbing proportions.

Perhaps most concerning from an American perspective, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was seemingly unprepared for a pandemic, even in the context of two serious and global novel coronavirus outbreaks in as many decades.

The CDC stepped in early to implement widespread testing, but contaminated the very test kits they themselves produced. At every level of government, officials stood by powerless as the virus tore through the population, disproportionately affecting persons of color.

On the state level, we have seen the New York governor bungle his pandemic policies surrounding nursing homes, and then attempt to cover up the unimaginable human suffering which resulted. The Los Angeles mayor boldly declared “Snitches get rewards”, while encouraging citizens to report each other for breaking quarantine. Meanwhile, Hollywood continued business as usual: production of music, films, and television was deemed ‘essential’.

However, though blunted by the dark curtain of the ineptitude of the public sector, the light of private enterprise has continued to shine brightly. Remdesivir, a drug developed by Gilead Sciences originally for investigation in the treatment of unrelated viruses, was found in trials to yield improved outcomes when used to treat moderate to severely ill COVID-19 patients within mere months of the virus going global. The U.S. community hospital system, more than 2/3rds of which is composed of privately-managed facilities, buckled under the strain of the pandemic, but held. Other systems around the world were not so fortunate.

Any vaccine seemed far off in those first few months. The U.S. government, in “Operation Warp Speed,” tellingly turned to the private sector and not their own agencies or proxies to develop a vaccine and other desperately needed COVID-19 technologies; more than $10 Billion was spent across multiple firms. In a monumental scientific achievement, the first ever mRNA-based vaccine to receive regulatory go-ahead was approved in December 2020, just over a year after the virus first emerged. Another mRNA vaccine followed later that very month.

Many have proven squeamish about the new technology in these vaccines, but they may be relieved by recent news. Recently, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine received FDA emergency use authorization. Although another example of scientific progress in that it is one of the first adenovirus vector vaccines to see widespread use, it induces immunity through a more traditional and direct mechanism than seen in the mRNA vaccines. Administered in a single dose, it will likely see greater compliance. As added bonuses, it is easier to store and transport than the other approved vaccines, and was developed on a not-for-profit basis. As expected, the market has offered consumers choice.

That both the Trump and Biden administrations have botched the rollout of vaccines does nothing to reduce the stunning achievements they represent. The innovation and flexibility of the private sector has proven invaluable through this pandemic, not only through the development of vaccines, but also testing, treatment, and ancillary services. As we enter an era where governments are likely to play a much larger role in healthcare, we would do well not only to remember public sector failures, but also the private sector successes in this era, lest we have a rude awakening during the next global crisis.



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