The coronavirus cure is worse than the disease -- I

(Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

(Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

UPDATE: Part II of The coronavirus cure is worse than the disease is found here.

America’s and the world’s economies are being torpedoed on the basis of rampant speculation.

Call it science, but it’s still speculation. That’s because every single analysis about the gravity of the coronavirus pandemic is based on a fatal  flaw:

There’s no way to satisfactorily predict how many people–what percentage of the population–will die from coronavirus.

That’s because you can catch the disease, but you may never know it. Neither will doctors, healthcare professionals or experts who are estimating the impact of the pandemic.

Covid-19 in some cases will produce minor or no symptoms. In another word, asymptomatic. How many actual cases, no one knows. Or will ever know. Test everyone who exhibits symptoms–whether of coronavirus or not–you still won’t find the cases that fly under the radar.

Without knowing the total number of actual cases, you never, not ever, will be able to determine the percentage of people who die from the disease. In other words, the fatality rate is determined by dividing the number of deaths by the total number of cases. In mathematical terms, without that accurate number as the denominator, you’ll never get a true percentage.

(Unless, of course, you test every single one of the 330 million Americans to discover every hidden case. Absurd. You can do a representative sample of the entire population, but as far as I know that hasn’t been done prior to launching the economy killing hide-in-place policies.)

This, of course, is my opinion. But I’m not alone in it. Here are some others:

  • How many people are going to die from COVID-19? A group of statisticians who work for the Human Rights Data Analysis Group notes that studies estimating the fatality rate range from “0.24 percent to 0.48 per cent,” on average, vastly below the estimates that have set off the economy-killing policies.

  • Lower death rate estimates for coronavirus, especially for non-elderly, provide glimmer of hope. “The chance of someone with symptomatic Covid-19 dying varied by age, confirming other studies. For those aged 15 to 44, the fatality rate was 0.5%, though it might have been as low as 0.1% or as high as 1.3%. For people 45 to 64, the fatality rate was also 0.5%, with a possible low of 0.2% and a possible high of 1.1%. For those over 64, it was 2.7%, with a low and high estimate of 1.5% and 4.7%. The chance of serious illness from coronavirus infection in younger people was so low, the scientists estimate a fatality rate of zero.”
  • How deadly is the new coronavirus? “The case-fatality rate is determined by dividing the number of deaths by the total number of cases. Epidemiologists believe the total number of infections with SARS-CoV-2 is underestimated because people with few or mild symptoms may never see a doctor. As testing expands and scientists begin using retrospective methods to study who has antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 circulating in their bloodstreams, the total number of confirmed cases will go up and the ratio of deaths to infections will likely drop.” [Emphasis added]
  • Will The Costs Of A Great Depression Outweigh The Risks Of Coronavirus? “Federal and state governments are making a massive gamble about a little-understood new virus. They are betting our future on the most extreme worst-case scenario without considering the costs.” The article cites an expert: “If we had not known about a new virus out there, and had not checked individuals with PCR tests, the number of total deaths due to ‘influenza-like illness’ would not seem unusual this year. At most, we might have casually noted that flu this season seems to be a bit worse than average. The media coverage would have been less than for an NBA game between the two most indifferent teams.”

Read these and other articles examining the death estimates and you will come to realize that they involve extremely intricate calculations and poorly supported assumptions. I’m not claiming that these articles totally vindicate my view, but they do reveal the shaky foundation on which federal, state and local governments have based policies that in the end may have more far-reaching, long-lasting and destructive consequences than Covid-19.

Related: Letter from the huddled masses. 

My historical novel: Madness: The War of 1812

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Filed under: Economy, Health

Tags: Coronavirus, death rates


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  • What you are basically attempting is a cost/benefit analysis of COVID-19. Is the economic cost of our war against the virus worth it? In attempting the math, however, you face the problem that you are dealing with more than one unit of value. The American economy is measured in dollars, but of course life is not. To prove that the cost of the war is too much, you must first come up with the dollar value of a human life. Once you have done that, we can begin to calculate how many we are willing let die to protect the economy.

  • In reply to jnorto:

    Quite right. Some have tried to do that, but none of the efforts are very persuasive. Some things can't be reduced to a mathematical formula. We have faced that issue multiple times, and so it goes today.

  • "Call it science, but it's still speculation."

    Call it ignorance, but it's still dangerous. "Speculation" from scientists is a lot more reliable that denials from barbers.

    Global warming, for example is really, verifiably happening, no matter what Exxon or an idiot president want you to believe. Whether flying cover for the fossil fuel industry or just burying your head in the sand, it's dangerous misinformation.

    This novel virus is EXTREMELY contagious, as evidenced by the explosion of cases across the globe. It took 3 months to record the first 100,000 cases, just 12 days for the next 100,000.

    It doesn't matter if we never know about every single case of coronavirus. Viruses by nature, mutate. Young people in China seemed immune to the virus, but now they're an at risk population in Italy.

    People will get sick, some will die. This is an invasion of our shores, an attack on our population. Isn't it incumbent on a nation to wage war against an insidious enemy about which we know very little?

  • In reply to Bob Abrams:

    The central issue isn't the degree of contagion but its fatality rate. Certain strains of the flu are highly contagious (did you get your flu shot this year? I did), but are not as deadly. The policies indeed are based on scientific speculation, flying blind, as it were, about the fatality rate.

    I knew someone would bring up global warming, although it is tangential to the subject at hand. No one is denying that the climate changes. Only a jerk would believe that climate is static. The question is the degree that the warming trend is fueled by human activity. It always legitimate science to challenge even given conclusions about something as extremely complicated climate change. Have we identified every possible variable that impacts our climate?

  • "Only a jerk would believe that climate is static." That would make most Republicans in Congress jerks.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Please list the citation of "most" Republicans in Congress who believe that climate does not change.

  • In reply to Dennis Byrne:

    "According to new analysis from the Center for American Progress Action Fund, there are 150 members of the 116th Congress—all Republicans—who do not believe in the scientific consensus that human activity is making the Earth’s climate change. Notably, since the previous Congress, the number of climate deniers has decreased by 30 members, in part because 47 former deniers retired, resigned, or were defeated in their 2018 re-election contests. However, even while voters express their clear commitment to climate action, nearly 60 percent of Republican members—who make up 28 percent of the current Congress—still do not believe in climate change and the urgent threat that it poses."

  • So far the fatality rate is relatively low because those who are sick are able to get the hospital care they need. What happens when the sick can't find space or a ventilator?
    The fatality rate of diabetes is pretty low with the right medicine and care but if everybody suddenly got it, the math and risk would change completely. Once we try your theory and it all goes wrong, it will be too late to go back.

  • My theory is that there must be a balance between preserving the nation's health and the nation's economy. So far, it is full speed ahead with one approach without being able to see the road ahead.

  • You posted bunch of links to very low fatality rates that are pretty misleading. They do no account for hospitals filling up and equipment shortages. I would ask you to please rethink your original post. Anyway, that is all. Most people rarely will reevaluate their opinions, so I don't have my hopes up.

  • In reply to Solitaire:

    This is what I was trying to say in the post: The low fatality rates are based on the fact that a solid fatality rate has not been established. That's because, thanks to the asymptomatic nature of the disease, not all the cases have been or will be identified. So all estimates of the rate are overstated. Any adjustment in the fatality rate will be on the side of a lower rate. Where the cost of treatment (e.g. at hospitals, etc.) was not include the linked articles clearly stated that.

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