By Karl Dierenbach March 9, 2021 Rational Ground
The biggest killer of the 2019-2020 flu season won’t be COVID-19;
it will be irrational fear and the illusion of control.
COVID-19 is equivalent to a bad flu. This has been said often over the past year and for good reason: People hear stories about a motorcycle crash victim being declared a COVID-19 death, and they feel COVID-19 may be over-counted. They hear stories of seniors quickly deteriorating and dying of loneliness, and they suspect many excess deaths may not have been directly caused by COVID-19.
We have spent years looking for an end-of-days pandemic, and, not finding one, we decided to manufacture our own. In fact, we could have done this for any bad flu season (I’ll show how later), but we chose 2020. Perhaps it is human nature that when things are going well, we look for an exit.
To be clear, COVID-19 is not a hoax. It is real and it causes real-world damage and real-world heartbreak, but it is not the killer it has been made out to be. Also, the medical profession has performed admirably with respect to direct care of patients. They learned from mistakes early on and developed treatments and protocols that have steadily reduced the deadliness of COVID-19. The speed at which vaccines have been developed is truly amazing.
Conversely, the public health response to COVID-19 has been an abysmal failure. At every turn, the effects and danger of COVID-19 have been exaggerated, and the collateral damage of government mandates and government- and media-induced panic has been swept under the rug. Official after official has turned a blind eye to once-accepted standards only to follow the virtue signaling, have-to-do-something crowd. The worst example of this tendency was last summer, when public health officials condoned mass protests as public health events.
How did we do it? How did we turn a disease that is equivalent to a bad flu into a worldwide disaster? We overreacted; we changed the way we detect viruses; we changed the way we record deaths; we tried to control the uncontrollable; we used COVID-19 as a political tool; we destroyed (literally and metaphorically) tens of thousands of lives with panic, lockdown, and restrictions; and we set in motion events that ensured the devastation will continue for years.
These are bold statements flying against the prevailing narrative. But they are also supportable with data.
2019-2020: The first season of COVID-19
To begin, there is evidence presented below showing COVID-19 caused at most around 114,400 deaths in 2020 (through September 26), which is far below the CDC figure of 205,101. And after September 26, the panic remained–it still remains–and the misattribution of deaths has only gotten worse. We are stuck in a fear-driven cycle, where we look for COVID-19 everywhere and unsurprisingly find it everywhere. This leads to more panic, more searching, more misattribution, more panic, more searching, more misattribution, and so on. To break the cycle, we must closely examine how and why we fell into it in the first place.
Why am I looking at the data only through September 26? Two main reasons: seasonality and data integrity.
Regarding seasonality, it is clear now that COVID-19 is a seasonal disease (meaning that there is some sort of stimulus based on geographic location, climate, and other factors that leads to an increase in transmission in a region) and should be treated as such. Across the northern latitudes, COVID-19 waned during the summer months, only to grow again in autumn. This happened, for example, in the northern states of the U.S., in Canada, in the United Kingdom, in Germany and Sweden, and even in South Korea and Japan, where they did relatively little testing. It happened regardless of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs), such as lockdowns, mask mandates, gathering restrictions, and business and school closures. Note that the summer hump in the U.S. data was largely due to southern states that have a different seasonality pattern than states farther north.
Those responsible for mandating NPIs all took credit for the downturns that occurred in late spring. However, looking back at the synchronicity of the downturns in many parts of the U.S. and Europe, it is clear that forces other than government mandates were at work.
As a seasonal disease, the most reasonable comparison for COVID-19 is to other seasonal diseases, with the most relevant being seasonal influenza (the flu). The CDC tracks seasonal influenza starting at the 40th week of a given year, which for the 2020-2021 season started on September 27. Therefore, the first season of COVID-19 ended on September 26, 2020.
It is critical to view COVID-19 in the same manner we look at other diseases. We do not tally deaths across multiple years for flu, measles, heart attacks, auto accidents, or almost any other condition. If we did, flu deaths could be in the hundreds of millions if we went back far enough. The yearly seasonal totals for deaths from flu establish a baseline of what our society will tolerate without locking down, masking, or closing schools or businesses, along with providing guidance as to the proper response to COVID-19. A close examination of U.S. mortality data through September 26 enables an apples-to-apples comparison between COVID-19 and the flu.
With respect to data integrity, recent CDC data is often incomplete, as many of the data sources mentioned here display significant lag. The CDC publishes statistics on COVID-19 and other selected causes of death. However, this data is based on death certificates received and processed by the CDC. This process takes time; the CDC typically publishes such data about three weeks after the fact. However, the most recently published weeks are continually revised as more data arrives at the CDC. By selecting September 26, this analysis can be both relatable to a typical flu season and use stable CDC data.
Of course, CDC-published levels of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths for the current 2020-2021 season have exceeded published totals for COVID-19 during the 2019-2020 season. However, at the time of this writing most U.S. states have apparently peaked, and there have been dramatic decreases in the published numbers of cases and hospitalizations. Rather than try to predict the future course of COVID-19, this article’s intention is to analyze available data and uncover data integrity issues to help provide a more accurate picture of the true costs of COVID-19 during the 2019-2020 flu season. These data integrity issues can then be used to evaluate the true severity of COVID-19 during the 2020-2021 flu season.
Additionally, in the current 2020-2021 season there have been remarkably low levels of flu in the United States and much of the rest of the world. If this trend holds, any evaluation of the harm of COVID-19 during the 2020-2021 season must include factoring in a mild flu season.
In summary, we need to look at COVID-19 effects per season to allow us to look at the cost-benefit analysis of what to do in reaction to COVID-19. For example, during the 2017-2018 flu season, the United States saw an estimated 61,099 flu deaths. As a country, we made the decision that 61,099 deaths over the course of a flu season did not warrant a drastic change in lifestyle.
Why is that? Two reasons: the changes would significantly decrease the quality of life, and it would be an exercise in futility. Since we have reasonably made such choices regarding reactions to previous years’ flu deaths, it is necessary to look at COVID-19 per season so that we may apply the same standard. Looking at COVID-19 differently has warped our perspective and justified a response that has killed tens of thousands of people and damaged hundreds of millions of lives.
The first season of COVID-19: How we turned less than 114,400 COVID-19 deaths into 205,101 COVID-19-labeled deaths
Again, it is likely that COVID-19 caused at most 114,400 deaths in the last flu season (through September 26, 2020), far below the CDC figure of 205,101. That’s about twice the 61,099 the CDC estimates died during the 2017-2018 flu season. When COVID-19 first hit, instead of projecting calm and trying to mitigate the effects of COVID-19, we panicked. We saw makeshift hospitals in Wuhan and ventilator rationing in Italy and became primed to overreact as soon as COVID-19 came to the United States in any significant numbers. Also, in our panic, we assigned a lethality to COVID-19 that was far from reality. A study claiming more than two million Americans were going to die by the end of August 2020 if we did nothing became a catalyst for worldwide lockdowns. Testifying before Congress, Fauci seemingly confused case fatality rates (CFR) with infection fatality rates (IFR) and greatly exaggerated COVID-19’s lethality.
When New York was hit hard, all perspective was lost. Even though we’ve had flu outbreaks that caused hospitals to set up tents to handle overflow in the past, this time we made the knee-jerk assumptions that everywhere COVID-19 hit would be like Wuhan or Italy. The USNS Comfort hospital ship was sent to New York City, and thousands of temporary hospital beds were set up in fear of the coming wave, yet these assets went largely unused. The pattern was repeated across the country in places like Denver, where emergency hospital beds in their convention center never saw a single patient.
Though these measures were universally considered to do more harm than good before COVID-19 hit, in a fit of panic and an uncontrollable urge to do something, our health officials and politicians adopted lockdowns, business closures, social distancing, contact tracing, and forced masking as the frontline response to COVID-19. In one of the most devastating policy responses, we paid hospitals to find COVID-19.
In perhaps the most significant panic-fueled move, the CDC changed how mortality statistics are gathered, and COVID-19-labeled deaths became ubiquitous. Previous to the change, COVID-19 needed to be an underlying condition in a chain of events that directly led to the immediate cause of death for the death to be considered a COVID-19 death. Under the new guidelines, instead of having to be an underlying cause of death, if COVID-19 was merely a contributing factor, the death would be labeled a COVID-19 death. Thus, an Alzheimer’s patient on death’s door who was pushed that last step through the doorway by COVID-19 would now be a full-blown COVID-19-labeled death. Never mind that flu was never treated this way, and such a change made COVID-19-labeled deaths incomparable to any other mode of death; these deaths were now COVID-19 deaths. This change in record-keeping became the fuel to power long-term panic, and as we became more efficient at finding COVID-19, we also became more willing to put COVID-19 on a death certificate, regardless of its level of contribution to the death.
But how did the CDC get to 205,101 COVID-19-labeled deaths from what would have been at most 114,400 deaths if they had documented COVID-19 in the same way as flu?