Hunkering Down for No Reason

According to the Wikipedia data most commonly cited by the news and talk shows, as of May 17, 21 people have died in Brown County, Wisconsin from COVID-19. As I have shown on my blog, Freedom and Reason, this number is likely exaggerated given that authorities are counting all person dying with COVID-19, or SARS-CoV-2, the virus underpinning COVID-19, as COVID-19 deaths. But let’s accept this number for the moment. 

Using the same source, the number of confirmed cases in Brown County is, as of May 17, 2,034. We calculate the case fatality rate, or CFR, by dividing the number of deaths by the number of confirmed cases. Doing this, we find that the CFR for Brown County is just over 1%. We know—the media have stopped reporting this and irresponsibly never assume it in their reporting—that based on research by Stanford University and the University of Southern California (as well as conducted by scientists across Europe) that the figure of 2,234 is but a proportion of the actual number of cases in Brown County. This is because most people with the virus are not tested. In other words, the infection fatality rate, or IFR, is lower than the CFR. Much, much lower.

Anybody who reports on the lethality of SARS-CoV-2 who does not tell you this is either ignorant or lying. Why I keep hammering this point is because I want you to know what is actually happening so you can cut through the tangle of ignorance and lies and base your behavior on reason instead of fear.

I am now going to show you that the SARS-CoV-2 viruses is not nearly as dangerous as you have been told and that the lockdown policies are irrational, should never have been implemented, and must be discarded. The good news in Wisconsin is that the state supreme court stopped the extension of Governor Evers’ stay-at-home order. And while it is disappointing that Evers is scrambling to produce a new order that would lockdown the state for 150 days, it seems now that such an order is highly unlikely to survive the court’s judgment. You may have noticed that, with the economy in a tailspin, the lockdown rules are not benign. We cannot end them soon enough. Already the damage they have caused will last for a long time.

Okay. Here we go. Because of population density, we should probably not assume the upward end of the range of these studies, which produce an actual infection rate as much as 85 times higher than the confirmed case counts. I will use a conservative estimate of tenfold, which is much less than the lowest range of these studies (at around 25 times). This is the calculation I worked with back in March when I knew the government and the media were wrong in their statements and reporting about the lethality of the virus. Remember, and sorry to appear boastful, but studies subsequent to my estimates not only confirm the spirit of my calculations, but show that my estimates were well below the estimates of the best studies produced on this subject to date. In other words, I was more right all along then I knew. As I have explained, I did not want to exaggerate the numbers and so my calculations are modest even if I am not.

Based on my method, I am estimating 20,240 actual cases of COVID-19 in Brown county out of a population of 264,542 (as of last year), or 7.65% of the population. Keep in mind, scientists are confident that more than 20% of New York’s population has already had and survived SARS-CoV-2, so my estimate may be too low. At any rate, this calculation yields an IFR of 0.10%. I know you understand basic math, but I must emphasize the result—that’s one-tenth of one percent. The number of people dying from this virus is not one in a hundred or greater, which is what the media have been telling you, but more like one in a thousand. And that is using a conservative estimate.

The IFR is likely much lower than this. Even if we take the lower end of the range the scientific studies are finding and assume around 19% of the population has the virus we find a IFR of 0.04%. The more people actually have this virus, the lower the actual fatality rate. That’s why the number of confirmed cases rising is not a reason to panic, but a reason to celebrate. It means the actual fatality rate is lower than the case fatality rate and, moreover, that the confirmed number of people with antibodies is rising and thus we are progressing towards herd immunity, which is absolutely necessary to acquire if we want to minimize the impact of SARS-CoV-2 when it joins the seasonal flu in the fall. Remember, according to the CDC, influenza is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths each year in the United States. I am wearing one of my many Sweden caps today to emphasize the point that the Swedes did the right thing by keeping their society open. When American reporters are aghast at Stockholm reporting more than a quarter of its residents having contracted the virus they are ignorant to the fact that this is what Sweden’s epidemiologists wanted to happened.

The news gets even better. Given what I put to the side earlier, that a proportion of those counted as dying from COVID-19 actually died with COVID-19 and not from it, the fatality rate is even lower than that. Moreover, only a small proportion of the population is at risk of dying from the virus. In other words, the IFR for healthy adults and children is vanishingly small. The vast majority of persons who contract SARS-CoV-2 are symptomatic or experience on mild to moderate symptoms with no complications. Most of those who do experience severe symptoms will recover. Those who are elderly or who suffer from compromised immune systems or obesity are at risk and our resources should be focus on protecting these vulnerable populations. One strategy in this area is to more aggressively promote proper nutrition, exercise, and immune-boosting activities. That means going outside, getting plenty of sunlight and fresh air, and engaging in social activities with others. We also need to encourage children to leave their bedrooms and their devices and get outside and play to steel themselves for the future. But right now, for the vast majority of the population, there is no reason not to go to work, attend schools, or recreate outside in all the myriad of ways Americans have done so for decades—without masks and scornful looks.

What becomes clear when one applies basic scientific reasoning to this problem (a capacity that seems to have escaped those who in charge of governing populations and those who hunker down in terror upon hearing their messages and following their orders) is that (a) this virus is not so dangerous that we had to shutter society, (b) now that we know that it is not particularly dangerous we must end the lockdowns immediately, and (c) those who continue to shelter-in-place and demand people wear masks and all the rest of it are operating on the basis of an irrational fear and need to strive to raise the level of their scientific literacy and become better consumers of news.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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