The Enduring Panic Over SARS-CoV-2

In this blog entry, I cover several items concerning the on-going COVID-19 pandemic. Even as the virus fades, the panic endures. I first clarify the distinction between cases and infection rates, then I make some observations about the global and regional patterns of community spread, describe the character of the virus and its mode of operation, critique social media framing of frontline doctors and therapeutics, and criticize the recent vote in my city to start schools in virtual mode. As I have argued in past blog posts, we are in the midst of an unprecedented moral panic, one that is destroying the American way of life.

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People continue to mix up infection rates with case frequencies. As a scientist who cares about the integrity of knowledge, this drives me up the wall. Rate and frequencies are not the same things. We see a similar confusion when trying to grasp COVID-19 deaths. People say there is a high death rate without distinguishing case fatality rates (CFR) from infection fatality rates (IFR). (I have discussed this on my blog before. See, for example, Hunkering Down for No Reason.) We need to correct this misunderstanding because without properly grasping the difference between these statistics we cannot proceed on the basis of rational risk assessment. Without rational risk assessment we cannot go back to a normal life. And we have to get back to normality. Not a “new normal.” Normality.

The infection rate has to be estimated because not everybody who is infected is tested. This is also true for calculating death rates; historically, not all viral deaths are identified by testing. The CDC does this with influenza every year. So, this year (October 1-April 4), the CDC estimates between 39 and 56 million flu illnesses, with between 24 and 62 thousand deaths (that’s a lot of death the media failed to tell you about). In contrast, the case rate is determined by the number of positive tests. Authorities don’t estimate that; they count positive tests results. Thus, case frequency is a function of testing. President Trump has been criticized for pointing out this fact. But he is right about this. It is not a technicality. It matters a lot.

Positivity rates represent the fraction of tests that come back positive, calculated by dividing the number of positive tests by the total number of tests (you can in turn calculate these in terms of population). The President is interested in this number and so should you be. A large proportion of the population can be infected but the number of cases low because they have not been detected through testing. This was the situation back in March and April. More testing will raise the number of cases while the infection rate may be falling, rising, or stable. Moreover, the positivity rate can be high because there is a greater likelihood of detecting cases if a larger proportion of the population is infected. At the same time, the IFR hasn’t changed much during the entire period, as I have shown in numerous blogs. This virus is deadly, but not particularly deadly. The evidence suggests that it is less deadly than it was at first.

It is helpful to clarify several things at this point. First, testing positive does not mean the person is ill. There is a distinction between SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 disease. For example, children test positive for the virus but are rarely ill. Second, viral tests are different from antibody tests. A person can test negative for the virus and positive for the antibody. This is because he either had the virus (and even the disease) and now longer does, or he was exposed to one or more coronavirus in the past. Third, a person who has tested positive for the virus may not test positive for the antibody, which does not necessarily mean the person has no immunity to the virus. T-cells, for example, develop a memory of a particular virus or viral group. Remember, if the body can produce no immune response to this virus, then a vaccine for this virus is not possible (industry propagandists talk out of both sides of their mouth on this point). Generally speaking, declining positivity rate with the same amount of testing means the infection rate is falling. Crucially, a declining positivity rate can occur even while the total number of cases is greater because of a greater number of positive tests. In other words, more cases does not necessarily mean the rate of infection is increasing.

I am a criminologist, so I find a similar problem in determining the “dark figure” of crime—that is, how much crime is there really? We can never know for sure, but we do know to be very careful with the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) published by the FBI. The UCR is compiled from crime reports submitted by thousands of law enforcement agencies across the nation. The more crime police detect the more cases of crime they may report (they may also report more arrests and greater clearance rates). This does not necessarily mean there is more crime (or that they will report more crime). The Justice Department publishes a different measure, the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). The NCVS draws population inferences using probability sampling. Both use rates, but I trust you see the difference. What we know is that, for some years, the rate of crime in the NCVS goes down while the rate of crime in the UCR goes up because the police report more cases, which can be a function of community awareness and engagement, public fear, better trained officers and more diligent record-keeping, not an actual rise in crime.

President Trump’s complaint is not that testing causes infections (he’s not stupid). His point is that, instead of focusing on declining positivity rates, even when the number of cases is rising, because there is more testing, the media’s focus on the total number of cases misleads the public. Heads up, progressives: a lot of people know Trump is right about this and you are antagonizing them. They also understand why the media is misleading the public. For the same reason, the media has shifted its attention from deaths to case frequencies. The declining positivity and IFR rates do not fit the narrative the media pushes. One has to be willfully ignorant of reality to pretend that the establishment media is not hellbent on destroying the Trump presidency. Accurate observation of reality should not depend on whether you are a Trump supporter.

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SARS-CoV-2 in fast allen Bundesländern
SARS-CoV-2

When looking at COVID-19 patterns, regionally and globally, one may draw an inference that lockdowns and masks have reduced community spread. If there is an effect, this is likely due mostly to lockdowns, the authoritarian practice of quarantining healthy people, albeit it depends on how persons are locked down. However, to the extent that these practices are effective, they appear only to have delayed community spread, not prevented it. I recognize that this is a funny way of putting it but the nature of herd immunity makes the virus appear to want to run its course. If this is true, then the sooner we establish herd immunity, the quicker we can get over this pandemic, and it doesn’t look like we will get there with lockdowns and masks. Rather we get there with a significant portion of the population getting this virus and developing an immunity to it. That is, of course, true by definition. But it appears to be really true. H1N1 and H3N2 strains of influenza, which were markedly more deadly in the past than COVID-19, remain present in the annual viral mix without the same death rates, even if they continue to kill tens of thousands of Americans every year.

Fortunately, for the same reason H3N2 influenza type is not as deadly as it was in early periods (recall the Shanghai flu and the Hong Kong flu), community spread of SARS-CoV-2 is naturally limited by the fact that coronaviruses have always (or at least for decades) been with us and, for many of us, our immune system recognizes the generic type and attacks it. For those who are infected, most present without or with very mild systems and subsequently develop some degree of immunity from it (again, otherwise vaccines wouldn’t be a possibility—which also means, at the same time, vaccination is not really necessary for healthy people albeit potentially harmful for unhealthy people). When herd immunity is established in a country or a region, buttressed by previous exposure to coronaviruses, community spread slows and eventually the virus loses its foothold (but remains in the viral mix). Our immune systems remain our first and best protections from pathogens.

This is why those countries and regions that did not lock down or wear masks, assuming these work to some extent, until after there were a significant number of cases are now seeing declining cases and deaths, whereas those countries and regions that locked down early but have now lifted their lockdowns are seeing a rise in cases and deaths (although not nearly at the rate seen in early spring). For example, and this is not something Governor Andrew Cuomo can take credit for, because New York was hit early and hard, the virus burned through the population and now is at low levels. By the time New York locked down, the virus had already done its damage. (Sweden did this on purpose and they had zero deaths on August 11). The midwestern, southern, and western states that locked down early at best delayed community spread. They are not seeing rising rates (without the corresponding frequencies of deaths). Might we have already been through the pandemic if these states had let the population get the virus? If so, locking down was a mistake.

Locking down was a mistake for another reason. The virus does not do well in heat and sunlight. It’s hot and bright in the South. The colossal error of sending people into enclosed spaces with drawn curtains and air conditioning should be obvious. But science and common sense have been tossed to the wayside in the context of mass hysteria.

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What are people dying of really? Influenza and other viruses kill a lot of older people, people with cancer, etc. But when a person with cancer dies from a rhinovirus, this is not the sole cause of death—or even the listed cause of death. Who dies from a cold? Consider the individual at the end of his days in a case where influenza plays a proximate role in his death. His grandkids visited him one weekend and he picked up H1N1 from them. He never had it before. His immune system is failing. This happens with age. He underwent chemotherapy to combat his stage IV cancer. If he were younger and healthier, then influenza probably wouldn’t kill him. To say that he died from influenza when it’s age or health conditions that made him susceptible to dying from influenza or some other pathogen (bacterium, fungus, etc.) misleads younger and healthier people into believing the virus is lethal to them in the same way. Obfuscation of fact creates unreasonable fear. And the fact is that healthy children and adults under 60 are very unlikely to be affected by SARS-CoV-2—indeed, influenza is more dangerous to children than is coronavirus. Low-level risk becomes obscured by the myopic and sledgehammer focus on official death without qualification—and a media that feeds on sensationalism.

A useful analogy here is the AIDS epidemic. Persons with AIDS may die from many things. Pneumonia is a common condition (a quarter of a million Americans have died from pneumonia and flu-like illness this past spring and summer). Pneumonia in turn has many causes—viral, bacterial, fungal. Is it not AIDS that underlies the many possible proximate causes of death that ultimately kills the person? Perhaps this is a subtle ontological problem, but if we don’t talk about the risks associated with AIDS then we are not being honest with the public about this disease. A death certificate that says a person died from pneumonia doesn’t tell us why pneumonia was able to invade and ravage this person’s body so easily. Yet, with SARS-CoV-2, children are being traumatized and shut off from others over a virus that is very unlikely to harm them. We don’t do that with most other pathogens. And there is nothing particularly remarkable about SARS-CoV-2 beyond possibly pathogenic priming (and this is not the only virus capable of autoimmunity).

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The novel coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2, is an RNA virus. It appears to be a modified version of SARS-CoV, which appeared in 2002. (When I say modified, I do not necessarily mean engineered by man. But given the reality of gain-of-function experiments, it is possible that this virus was engineered for some benevolent or malevolent purpose.) RNA, like DNA, is genetic material carrying instructions for the unfolding of living things. Viruses cannot reproduce on their own. They must break into cells and hijack their gene-replicating machinery. A feature of all coronaviruses are protein spikes on their surface that activate ACE2 receptors. ACE2 receptors are doors that open the cell. The protein spikes pry open the doors and the virus enters the cell. The SARS-CoV-2 virus first enters the cells of the nose and throat. ACE2 receptors are present in other organs (the digestive system, circulatory system, etc.). The male sex hormone testosterone may increase the number of ACE2 receptors. This may explain why men are more affected by this disease than women and why children, especially young children, are rarely affected by it. 

Tools to Study SARS CoV 2 Host Interactions | News & Announcements ...
SARS-CoV-2 entering a cell

SARS-CoV-2 is less deadly than its predecessor SARS but replicates more rapidly. Its lower level of lethality is related to its success, since living hosts enable community spread. Viruses that quickly kill a large proportion of their hosts ten to be self-defeating. Indeed, with SARS-CoV-2, infection is usually so mild that most infected people won’t feel sick at all. According to University of California—San Francisco researchers, more than half of infected persons examined never experienced or showed signs of any symptoms at all. Monica Gandhi, a professor at the University of California-San Francisco, recently punctuated the significance of asymptomatic cases: “If we did a mass testing campaign on 300 million Americans right now, I think the rate of asymptomatic infection would be somewhere between 50 percent and 80 percent of cases.” Data show that only one in five persons showing up to the hospital described or presented with cold-like symptoms. Sulggi Lee, another UCSF professor, concludes: “The majority of people who have COVID-19 are out in the community, and they are either asymptomatic or only mildly ill.”

While SARS-CoV-2 does not seem to be unusually cytopathic (it is not particularly aggressive—influenza is far more so), it does appear to affect the immune system in a novel way in that the immune system mobilizes more aggressively against SARS-CoV-2 than against influenza. The immune response may go awry provoking the development of a severe pneumonia known as acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS. Treatment of ARDS requires therapies that subdue an overactive immune system. Too much immune suppression, however, could make it difficult for the patient to clear the infection. It is unclear whether this is a feature of the virus, the result of pathogenic priming from vaccination, autoimmunity from whatever source, or a combination of all of these (the phenomenon is seen in other viruses and vaccines).

At any rate, hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) has unique properties that make it the ideal drug for treating SARS-CoV-2. HCQ has well-known antiviral properties. But it is also widely used for the treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder. The same mechanisms that tame while not over-suppress the immune response in arthritis patients appears to allow HCQ to better strike the balance that prevents cytokine storm that occurs from an overreaction of the immune system while allowing the patient to develop an immune response to the virus. Whatever one thinks of their politics (it was a diverse group), the doctors whose video was taken down on social media (“America’s Frontline Doctors”) were merely confirming clinical and scientific findings showing the efficacy and safety of HCQ, a decades old medicine with wide therapeutic applicability. That explains the effort to discredit them—that and the fact the Trump promoted them. Is Facebook going to take down posts sharing an article by a professor of epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health? “I am usually accustomed to advocating for positions within the mainstream of medicine, so have been flummoxed to find that, in the midst of a crisis, I am fighting for a treatment that the data fully support but which, for reasons having nothing to do with a correct understanding of the science, has been pushed to the sidelines,” writes Harvey A. Risch, Professor of Epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health (see Newsweek). “As a result, tens of thousands of patients with COVID-19 are dying unnecessarily.”

In June, Trump’s doctor prescribed the President hydroxychloroquine as a prophylaxis. That same month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), an organization long ago becoming the poster child for regulatory capture, revoked emergency authorization for the drug for Covid-19 patients claiming that it was “unlikely to be effective” and carried “potential risks.” The National Institutes of Health (NIH) halted clinical trials of the drug. The CCP-controlled WHO pushed the same anti-HCQ line. Progressives, as they always do, came out in force in support of restrictions of the drug, repeating industry propaganda. This is the big flaw of progressivism: adherents accept corporate governance and bend institutions to its logic. In the typical ad hominem fashion, the professional (pseudo)skeptics picked on one doctor in particular, pediatrician and Christian minister Stella Immanuel, who has said some rather bizarre things (although not bizarre to anybody who believes in angels) to distract from the fact that thousands of people have died who wouldn’t have had the industry adopted HCQ (along with azithromycin, or doxycycline, and zinc) at the beginning of the pandemic. (For an example of professional skepticism see Science-Based Medicine, an organization run by, among others, corporate shills and disciples of James Randi Steven Novella and David Gorski.)

If you haven’t noticed, there’s a big problem in our country with folks with limited understanding of science approaching corporate science—a product of the medical-industrial complex—with wide-eyed religious-like faith. This is a near-universal feature of progressivism. You see it in the hysteria over healthy people resisting quarantine, masks, or vaccination. These would-be tyrants want the government to force people to be jabbed by government agents or to exclude and stigmatize those who refuse to be jabbed. They tend to speak of humans as disease vectors. These zealots are effectively uncompensated shills for the pharmaceutical industry. They efforts are not without their rewards, though. Their compensation is the attention and strokes they receive on social media from their fellow woke scolds. And getting off on lecturing people for free thinking. It’s a psychological wage. They even manufactured the mythic creature “Karen” to distract the public from their pathological busybodyism.

This is where we find ourselves. People who oppose the use of hydroxychloroquine in COVID-19 patients and as a prophylaxis to slow community spread are supporting government policy and industry action that are sickening and killing people with risk factors that heighten the lethality of this virus. A piece to this is of course what people are calling Trump Derangement Syndrome, or TDS. Because Trump advocates effective and safe pharmaceutical interventions, said interventions are judged unfit for human consumption. If widespread use of drugs Trump endorses substantially reduces death, if these interventions allow us to go back to school and work, if opening society gets the economy back on track (and under the current administration it was humming), then Trump may look good just around the time the public votes for President. For many people, the singular focus of contemporary politics is vanquishing Big Orange Man to the netherworld.

There are those who will claim to stand outside such infantile politics. The “level-heads” push back against the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine by citing studies that do not show a statistically significant difference between treatment and control groups. Their argument is deceptive. It depends on when and how the medicine is administered. Therein lies the tragedy of industry and corporate media propaganda against HCQ. If you wait until the patient is very sick, then HCQ won’t help very much. Early administration of HCQ is highly effective—with studies of early administration showing reductions in mortality by half or more—as well as HCQ being an effective prophylaxis. In other words, industry opposition to off-label prescribing of this drug is killing people. And they’re doing it for the sake of profit. Why should this surprise people? They do the same thing when they poison the environment.

My critique goes for the reluctance of staff and teachers to go back to school in a normal way, which I focus on in the next section. Disregard for the emotional and psychological health of children and their proper social development among public employees charged with such matters ought to disturb all of us. I know some will take umbrage at this, but the abuse of parents and other staff and teachers who want to return to normality is contemptible. I have been patient in watching the hateful rhetoric and emotional blackmail coming from those whose livelihood depends on my taxes. Frankly, I feel some shame for helping legitimize some of the voices dominating the discourse out there in the past. People have to become more vocal against this countermovement against liberty and democracy. Crazy can become tyranny in the face of silence.

(Note: the website of pediatrician and Christian minister Stella Immanuel offers a prayer to remove a generational curse originally received from an ancestor but transmitted through the placenta. Do you think this prayer also works to remove the generational curse of white privilege that I have been afflicted with by the deeds of my ancestors?)

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I am a teacher and researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. I hold degrees in psychology and sociology, including degrees at the masters and doctoral levels. My areas of expertise are criminology and political economy. Among the skill sets associated with these areas of expertise is working knowledge of demography and the logic of epidemiology. I tout my areas of expertise to let readers know that I am capable of reviewing the scientific literature on the current pandemic across a wide range of disciplines. I have reviewed the literature and determined that returning to as much of normal life as possible—and probably no walk of life is more relevant to this case than the experience of public school—is not only reasonable but vital to our future.

It is of course no problem to cherry pick studies that contradict the consensus. I don’t mean here the faux-consensus surrounding the narrative the teachers unions peddle with their talking points. I mean then consensus that emerges from the literature that hardly anybody who talks about this subject cares to read. It’s not as if teachers haven’t had a lot of time on their hands lately or lack access to the Internet to do the hard work on this. They don’t care to do the hard work. Cherry picking doesn’t help us make the right decision. Indeed, it’s a tactic in confusing rational judgment.

When I consume science, I look for evidence that allows me to develop if possible critical assessments of the stories people are telling. This is so I can weigh the arguments and information in order to determine the voracity of these stories. I need to constantly challenge what I think I know or what I am being told is the consensus opinion. I also feel a need to constantly challenge what you think you know or are being told is the consensus opinion. To be sure, when you understand how religious-like thinking works you also understand why it’s so difficult to break through false narratives that sweep up people and carry them into the currents of mass hysteria, for example over COVID-19 (or the moral panic surrounding systemic racism). Some give up in the face of the intensity of faith belief. But I have been critical of religion my whole life knowing that I won’t be able stop religious thinking. That I can’t change most people’s minds doesn’t mean I haven’t changed any minds. If I persuade one person to change his mind, then there is value in the exercise. And I know I have changed minds.

When I listened to the voices from my community during a recent school board listening session on how to go back to schools (shamefully, the board voted 5-2 to start the semester virtually), I was delighted to see parents and professionals using critical thinking and independent judgment to arrive at reasonable conclusions. I thank them for momentarily pulling me back from the brink of misanthropy (I am still teetering). But I also heard spokespersons for the teachers union repeating talking points with which I was already quite familiar and that are cringingly unscientific and religious-like. I know the strategy deployed on that side. I know about how the line was organized. It was propaganda. While I have changed some minds about this, I have clearly not changed enough minds. I noted the night before on my Facebook page—I was anticipating the process and the outcome—that propaganda illustrates a story that we believe we already know or what somebody wants us to believe we already know. Propagandists do not want people to consult information that calls into question the story they want others to believe. Hence the lockstep narrative, the repetition of points, and the mocking and ridiculing of alternative interpretations and their bearers. I know how the union works to exclude and marginalize non-union voices.

Given what I have been reading and hearing from this group of staff and teachers, I confess that I am deeply concerned about the future of public education. I am losing confidence in an enterprise that I have been supporting with my money, time, and energy. I have trusted this system with my children. It won’t take much pondering before other people start to consider that a great deal of money may be bound up in the wrong place. If children can be properly educated by sitting in front of a screen all day, then why do we need public education? All this money going to buildings and people who don’t do what they were built and hired to do—shouldn’t the government instead invest in the construction of apparatuses that ensure that children are in their seats at home receiving their daily programming—extend the surveillance system into our abodes? Maybe the government should give the public back its taxes so it can invest in home educational systems or spend the money instead in private systems prepared to do what educational system are supposed to do. Yes, I hear the rebuttal: “Well, this is just a temporary situation because of the coronavirus.” But this line only highlights the irrational thinking behind the shuttering of our institutions.

This argument I hear teachers making about how just one death is one death too many therefore we cannot return to school until COVID-19 is over applies equally to influenza. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC): “People with flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. Most experts think that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.” Sounds like COVID-19. Then the CDC tells you that “you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Some people can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, those people may still spread the virus to others.”

Why haven’t we been wearing masks for years? How could we have been so irresponsible? We know that influenza is more lethal to children and adults under 60 than COVID-19. Yet, we’re shutting down schools for COVID-19, but not for influenza. Given that influenza rages through the population every year (tens of millions of infections), and vaccines have only some efficacy in controlling community spread (some years much less than others), and given that influenza kills many people every year (tens of thousands) how can we ever go back to school? Why didn’t we stop going to school years ago given the fact that at least one person has died every year from influenza? Why is this connection never made? Are we going to be consistent? This also applies to adenoviruses and rhinoviruses (yes, those are deadly viruses, too). And to bacteria and fungi.

It’s as if teachers suddenly discovered that the viruses that constitute the annual mix of pathogens (coronaviruses are not novel) carry lethal potential. Viruses have always carried this potential. Teachers have always been at risk of contracting a virus and spreading a virus that could kill them or others. In fact, this has already happened. Every year it happens. Children bring home pathogens that kill relatives and they have been doing this long before this particular coronavirus came on the scene. That the grim mantra of death is repeated over and over again by teachers tells us that either common sense is being suppressed for some ends or that the capacity for seeing the obvious has gone missing. Either way, how can we trust the judgment here? No. You can’t. They’re irrational. They are lost in fear.

Here’s another absurd argument we hear all the time: Expecting public schools to be open and educating children as part of the institutional frame that allows parents to go to work to financially support their families, that prepares children for productive lives in an advanced economy, and that facilitates the normal socialization of humans in mass society equates public education to daycare or treats it like babysitting. Teachers delegitimize their profession and undermine their esteem by comparing themselves to daycare employees and babysitters (no offense to daycare workers and babysitters, who also perform a vital role in a complex society). The school board should not enable such self-sabotaging rhetoric. But it did.

A popular post shared on Facebook by Alan Moore “Teachers for Justice” (his page glorifying anarchistic violence against the republic) contains a list helping teachers rationalize their desire not to do their jobs anymore. “You are not hurting children by wanting the safest possible school arrangement for students and their families. That is a healthy sense of caring for the wellbeing of others,” one items goes. This item follows: “You are not leaving working parents with no options by asking to teach from home. That is setting healthy boundaries between problems that are your responsibility and problems that are government/society’s responsibility.” Do I need to spend any time pointing out the massive contradiction between these two affirmations/rationalizations with respect to harm and safety? Or how teachers are in fact leaving working parents with no options by asking to teach from home? How about the next item: “You are not ignoring children’s mental health, nutrition, and special service needs by insisting on safety. That is, again, setting healthy boundaries between problems that are your responsibility and problems that are government/society’s responsibility.” In case you missed the contradiction, Moore makes sure you finally get it. The list, which has been shared about three dozen times, has one comment thanking Moore for recognizing the problem of “emotional blackmail.” Ironic. The list is a paradigm of emotional blackmail.

I believe that teachers, like everybody else, should enjoy the right to speak their minds and participate in decision making. I am a democrat. Of course I believe this. But teachers are also public servants who are ultimately answerable to a public who pays their salaries and trusts them with their children. Teachers should not have an outsized role in determining how we proceed. There is no contradiction in giving public workers a voice and expecting them to serve the public. The respectable occupation of garbage collection must of course allow workers the right to speak up about their occupation. But the garbage must nonetheless be collected. And roads laid and potholes filled. And bridges suspended and repaired.

The presentation of the conditions in the schools—the strict adherence to the absurd CDC guidelines—gave the game away (all this was virtual, of course), it was so obviously orchestrated to shame and scare parents who want to go back to face-to-face instruction. If I were one to have faith in people, I would have lost it on this night. Right from the git-go, it was theater. Just as the dissemination of images of teachers in masks, goggles, and shields, these images were designed with this purpose in mind. Many of these precautions are so unnecessary that, if you know the science, the presentation insulted. These were panic tactics. I was infuriated by the petty elitism expressed in the contrived commentary—it was so contemptuous of the values of democratic republicanism. If one ever wanted an illustration of small-scale technocracy, they found it here. Pubic health officials and experts have presumed to be our unelected rulers. And a panicked public has coronated their rule.

The school board should have acted in the best interests of the community. That would mean going back to physical school and in as normal way as possible. But it didn’t. Everybody who voted for virtual education can expect no support from me in the future. They not only let down our children, they also failed our democracy. The public poll showing parents overwhelmingly wanted to return to in-class instruction was dismissed as “out of date.” There was no effort to conduct a new poll. This is—at least it used to be—an open society that uses evidence in a pragmatic fashion to develop public policy that advances the common interests of the families that comprise it. What I saw that night was an insular and misinformed professional class proceeding on technocratic notions of how policy should be formulated, a petty elite delegitimizing their own profession—worse, undermining one of the most important institutions of modern society: public education.

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I was told the other evening that we aren’t making enough of a big deal about SARS-CoV-2. Really? I have kids and my friends have kids and the constant reporting about the dangers of this virus is terrifying them. We’re seeing a great deal of emotional and psychological difficulties in beings designed by nature to be free and social. The consequences of shuttering society and teaching people to see other people as disease vectors are terrible. It’s not disease and death that are novel. That’s the human experience. It’s the concrete societal reaction that is novel here. I’m 58 and we never responded to a virus like this in my lifetime. We never quarantined healthy people. We never forced people into masks—or goggles? face shields? What’s next? Mandatory vaccination? (Nuremberg, anyone?)

In 1968-69 the Hong Kong flu killed 100 thousand people in a population of 200 million. That’s proportionally a lot more deaths than what we’re currently experiencing. Did we lock down then? What I remember from the summer of 1969 was not doom and gloom amid a welter of constant reporting of unqualified official death from H3N2, but Americans landing on the moon and me and my sister playing with our friends. No, we didn’t lock down. When H3N2 came around the planet in 1957-58 it killed around 120 thousand in a population of 170 million. Did they lock down then? No, they didn’t. My father’s cohort enjoyed a normal senior year of high school.

I am told that SARS-CoV-2 is far more contagious and virulent than influenza. It’s not. Compared to SARS-CoV-2, influenza has a shorter median incubation frame (time from infection to symptoms) and a shorter serial interval (time between successive cases). That means that, all things beings equal, influenza spreads faster than COVID-19. Moreover, influenza is more contagious in asymptomatic carriers. Asymptomatic cases are not the major drive of COVID-19 transmission (which is why mask wearing is so obnoxious). However, because of less exposure to SARS-CoV-2 in the population, there are more super-spreader events with COVID-19. This explains the comparable R0. With influenza, past exposure limits such events. As for virulence, antibody research shows that the death rate from COVID is comparable to more severe influenza types (again, one needs to look at IFRs over against CFRs) and is less deadly than previous influenza types, such as H1N1 and H3N2. Moreover, influenza kills more people across the age range than COVID-19, which is lethal only among the very old, obese, and immunocompromised. It is also the case that doctors killed a lot of people in the early days of the pandemic, as the CFR has dropped significantly since then.

Because enough people think in comparative terms, the establishment media pushes hard a narrative that COVID-19 is more like the Spanish flu pandemics than other influenza types (the strategy of repeating the mantra that this was nothing like the flu didn’t catch on, although one still hears it today). The dishonesty in CNBC’s article, “Scientists say the coronavirus is at least as deadly as the 1918 flu pandemic” is remarkable (this article is representative of several articles published on the same day). The opening sentence: “The coronavirus is at least as deadly as the 1918 flu pandemic….” The next paragraph: “‘What we want people to know is that this has 1918 potential,’ lead author Dr. Jeremy Faust said in an interview, adding that the outbreak in New York was at least 70% as bad as the one in 1918….” “Potential” and “70% as bad” is not “at least as bad.” In fact, it is significantly less as bad. And how does one get to 70% as bad? Later on they tell us that the death toll from the Spanish flu was 749,700 in the United States alone (comically, the article does not call it the Spanish flu). And that was when the US population was around 100 million. If this amount of death was happening in the United States we would be on track to amass some 2.5 million corpses. No, the Spanish flu was way worse. This is media sensationalism.

Those who defend the article claim that modern medicine must be credited with why the present pandemic is not as bad as the Spanish flu pandemic. But really, if we are going to credit anything, it should be modern sanitation and other advancements in social life won by the worker movement. Most of the gains in reducing death from disease (tuberculosis and measles, to take two examples) came not from medicine but from the work of labor in improving living conditions (see R. Lewontin’s Biology as Ideology). However, there are a couple of factors that push against the thesis that modernity has lessened the fallout in this case. First, given that there is a very clear correlation between population density and death associated with this disease, all things being equal, the fact that the degree of urban density is much greater today than in 1918 suggests a greater death toll from COVID-19. Just imagine H1N1 with no herd immunity in New York City. Second, it has become rather clear that vaccines have primed individuals for pathogenic response to a wide range of pathogens (foods, as well). SARS-CoV-2 seems particularly keen on tricking the immune system. One of the main reasons that people are suffering from COVID-19 is because of autoimmunity and associated inflammation. This problem, to the extend that vaccines are behind it, did not exist in 1918. Finally, we have an intervention today that would sharply reduce the number of dead by possibly as much as 80 percent, but at least by 50 percent—hydroxychloroquine plus zinc plus Zithromax. But the very medical industrial complex that people credit with such great gains has prevented the widespread use of this cocktail in the western world for the sake of profits. Authorities have used this in the Third World, which is why their deaths are between 1/8 and 1/12 the deaths that have occurred in the first world. For example the entire country of India, which has 1.2 billion people and in which COVID-19 is widespread, has had roughly the same number of deaths as New York City, which is about 19 million. India is not regarded as being very advanced in their medical systems. I don’t buy the progressive case.

The fear is unreasonable. We are experiencing a classic moral panic around a new focal point, but the dynamic is the same: people giving in to irrational fear and insisting others be paralyzed alongside them—and it’s wrecking the future of people who have a lot of future still in front of them. Thank goodness there are young people out there resisting this and getting on with their lives. I saw a young man in Walgreens yesterday violating the stand mandate to wear masks inside buildings. Nobody is saying you and I should join him. I am saying, let him live. Aren’t you wearing a mask? You’re safe, right? I was. I don’t want to pay the fine.

The political consequences of this hysteria are frightening. We are seeing the emergence of rule by public health, officials with their models and patents focused on one aspect of human life: merely a beating heart. We are becoming a corporatist technocracy in which all qualitative factors are being pushed to the margins. Animals don’t do well in cages. Meanwhile our people are being denied therapies shown to work throughout much of the developing world. Populations are being denied strategies that have allowed other populations to achieve heard immunity and get on with their lives. People are making a fetish of SARS-CoV-2, treating it as if it’s Michael Crichton’s Andromeda strain. While obeying certain experts, since they dint care to know for themselves what’s really going on. But they know Trump has to go.

Panic is a different kind of virus. It’s a virus of the mind. Is there a limit to the spread or duration of this one?

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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