Volume > Issue > Countering the COVID-19 'Expert' Narrative

Countering the COVID-19 ‘Expert’ Narrative

INDUCED PANIC HAS CRUSHED LIVELIHOODS & LIBERTIES

By Michael S. Rose | June 2020
Michael S. Rose is Associate Editor of the NOR. He is author of Goodbye, Good Men (Regnery), Benedict XVI: The Man Who Was Ratzinger (Spence), and Ugly as Sin (Sophia Institute Press). His writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, The Catholic World Report, and elsewhere.

Is the COVID-19 pandemic a hoax? No, it is not. People have been sick. People have been dying. In some places, such as New York City, people have been dying at an alarming rate due to complications from this novel coronavirus. That does not mean we shouldn’t critically examine the public policies that have suffocated our civil and religious liberties in recent months. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t analyze the data and scientific claims used to inform unprecedented policy decisions that have led to the shutdown of the economy, the loss of 39 million jobs, and an increase in serious mental-health problems, suicides, and domestic violence.

COVID-19 spawned not just a health scare but a civil crisis portending a possible shift toward government by a powerful few, many of whom are not elected by the people — health officials, for example. By the end of March, most state governors and their health officials had converged in a cone of uncritical consensus to issue executive orders aimed at “mitigating” the spread of COVID-19. The goal, we were repeatedly told, was not to save lives but to “flatten the curve,” to blunt the surge of cases and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed with seriously ill patients. Mitigation efforts include ordering people to stay in their homes, restricting travel, and closing schools, churches, restaurants, bars, and all businesses deemed “non-essential.” Within a matter of weeks, citizens in many states found themselves subject to “a highly invasive and burdensome lockdown with no end in sight and nothing to prevent the lockdown from being reimposed at the whim of public-health officials,” wrote Joel Hay, professor of pharmaceutical economics and policy at the University of Southern California (National Review, April 6).

Virus-mitigation efforts brought out the gestapo tendencies in public officials. Many state governors appeared to be in competition to see who could cause the most dramatic removal of basic constitutional liberties and impose the harshest penalties for noncompliance. In Maryland a violator of the stay-at-home order is subject to a fine of up to $5,000 or a maximum one-year jail sentence. “We are no longer asking or suggesting that Marylanders stay home; we are directing them to do so,” Gov. Larry Hogan said at a March 30 press conference. He added that arrests for social-distancing offenses send “a great message.” Similarly, those in violation of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s 30 executive orders face fines of up to $1,000, and offending non-“life-sustaining” businesses could suffer licensing penalties. (Gov. Whitmer, by the way, allowed Michigan’s abortion centers to remain open, saying that abortion is a “life-sustaining” procedure.) In Ohio, where the worst-case scenario is a $750 fine and 90 days in jail, Hamilton County prosecutor Joe Deters said he’s “given the green light” to Cincinnati police to arrest and pursue felony charges. “[Scofflaws] are attempting, in my mind as a prosecutor, to commit serious physical harm to people, and that is felonious assault,” Deters told Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Jason Williams (April 4). “So fine, sit your butt in a jail. You can sit there and kill yourself. I don’t care, but you’re not going to kill my kids and you’re not going to kill my neighbors’ kids. I’m done with this nonsense, so we’ll see what happens.” To be clear, this Ohio prosecutor equated stay-at-home violations with capital felonies such as murdering children.

As if that’s not enough of a self-indictment, Deters goes on in the same interview to rail against anyone who would dare to go to church. “If I was the governor I would tell these churches, the first attendees at your church is going to be the National Guard because we are stopping this right now,” Deters said. “No one is asking you not to pray. It can be done remotely. It’s not a problem, but if it applies to [other violators], it should apply to those churches, too, and they need to just stop it.” Yes, without any consideration of church leaders and congregants managing their risks, he likened church attendance to murder.

Deters isn’t alone. By now, many of us have seen citizen cell-phone videos of silly arrests of stay-at-home offenders: the lone paddle boarder chased down by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s boat, the father tossing a softball with his six-year-old daughter in a neighborhood park in Colorado, the man forcibly removed from a Philadelphia city bus — by eight uniformed officers! — for failing to wear a mask. The examples go on and on, becoming even more absurd in the face of executive orders in numerous states releasing inmates from prisons due to COVID-19 concerns.

All of this has bred a 1984-style snitching culture. In New York City and Los Angeles, residents are encouraged to call the cops on transgressing neighbors. “How do you report places that aren’t enforcing social distancing?” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio asked in a short video he posted to his official Twitter account (April 18). “Now it is easier than ever. When you see a crowd, when you see a line that’s not distanced, when you see a supermarket that’s too crowded — anything — you can report it right away so we can get help there to fix the problem. It’s simple: just snap a photo and text it to 311-692. We will make sure that enforcement comes right away.” Two weeks earlier, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that “snitches” in his city will get “rewards” if they tattle on neighbors who could be violating stay-at-home orders. “We want to thank you for turning folks in and making sure we are all safe,” he said.

Other cities are relying on technology instead of neighbors. Forty-three law enforcement agencies operating in 22 states are using drones donated by the Chinese company Da Jiang Innovations (DJI) to enforce social-distancing edicts. Police in Elizabeth, New Jersey, for example, are using the drones to surveil residents “in places where patrol cars can’t easily reach, such as spaces between buildings and back yards” (National Review, April 20). In Westport, Connecticut, city authorities proposed going one step further: using flyover drone technology to monitor residents in public places for COVID-19 symptoms, such as high fever, sneezing, coughing, high blood pressure, and rapid heartbeats. The drones were touted as being able to spot people sneezing or coughing from up to 190 feet away. The drone program, however, was scrapped after pushback from Westport residents, who objected to the obvious invasion of privacy. (Not to go unnoticed: In 2017 the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warned that DJI was “selectively targeting government and privately owned entities…to expand its ability to collect and exploit sensitive U.S. data.” And in 2019 the U.S. Department of the Interior grounded its entire fleet of DJI-manufactured drones, which had been used to surveil U.S. land, due to concerns that China was using the drones to gather data on critical U.S. infrastructure. Evidently, that’s no longer a concern for some municipalities.)

 

What happens when people want to demonstrate against stay-at-home orders? These governor-imposed lockdowns make it difficult — and illegal. They take away our constitutional rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. On April 14, for example, a group of a hundred demonstrators gathered outside the General Assembly in downtown Raleigh, calling for North Carolina businesses to reopen. They were disbanded by masked policemen. “I have a right to peacefully assemble,” a 51-year-old woman said as officers led her away, her hands bound with a zip tie (The Raleigh News & Observer, April 14). North Carolina had a total of 132 COVID-19 deaths at the date of the woman’s arrest.

Catholics deprived of attending public Mass exercised their own form of protest. A number of national petitions respectfully begged the U.S. bishops to find ways to provide the sacraments to the faithful. As of April 17, more than 27,000 Catholics had added their signatures to an open letter at the website WeAreAnEasterPeople.com; another 20,600 had signed two separate petitions at LifePetitions.com. Access to the sacraments — most notably Confession, Holy Communion, and, in many areas, Anointing of the Sick — was restricted or suspended by every major diocese in the country upon recommendation of state governors and their health officials. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s March 24 executive order made it a criminal offense to attend church services of more than ten people, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail or a fine of $2,500. (Northam’s concern for human life is highly selective: Two weeks later, on Good Friday, he signed abortion legislation that allowed non-physicians to perform first-trimester abortions and removed essential informed-consent requirements, including the opportunity to view an ultrasound.)

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, former chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, defended the criminalization of public Masses and dismissed the spiritual concerns brought up by the petitions of the faithful. He clarified that the actions taken by state governors did not constitute a violation of religious liberty — “and to argue otherwise puts lives at risk,” he stated. “No one right is utterly absolute,” and “that includes religious freedom.” As of this writing, only one U.S. bishop has rescinded his prohibition of public Masses amid a state-ordered lockdown. Bishop Peter Baldacchino of Las Cruces, New Mexico, wrote to his diocesan priests on April 15 that he was “revoking the suspension of public Masses” he had ordered in mid-March and would allow public Masses that adhere to the governor’s restrictions with services outdoors, in cars, or inside with no more than five people present. That’s weak tea but it’s something. Suffice it to say that the majority of U.S. bishops so far have done no thinking outside officialdom’s box.

 

In order to support their controversial responses to the COVID-19 crisis, governors have relied on data from health officials. And it turns out that their data were based on discredited projection models. A widely circulated study by Neil Ferguson, a mathematical epidemiologist with Imperial College London, was the first to be touted by the White House Coronavirus Task Force, headed by Anthony Fauci. Ferguson’s earliest projections showed that without mitigation efforts, two to four million Americans would die as a result of the spread of COVID-19 (Nature, April 2). Even with the mitigation strategy — social distancing and quarantining — it projected that one to two million Americans would die. It also suggested that “shutting everything down for 18 months” and waiting for a vaccine would lead to only a few thousand deaths. Even though mathematicians, epidemiologists, virologists, and biostatisticians cried foul over these grossly exaggerated projections, the White House task force and state governors jumped all over Ferguson’s eye-popping numbers. It is instructive to note that health officials and public policymakers did not make it easy for anyone to evaluate the empirical basis for their stay-at-home orders. We were just told to accept the reality that two million Americans might die even while abiding stay-at-home orders. That’s enough to scare most people into submission.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal (March 24), Eran Bendavid, associate professor of medicine at Stanford University, and Jay Bhattacharya, professor of medicine at Stanford, explained that “fear of COVID-19 is based on its high estimated case fatality rate — 2% to 4% of people with confirmed COVID-19 have died, according to the World Health Organization and others. So if 100 million Americans ultimately get the disease, two million to four million could die. We believe that estimate is deeply flawed. The true fatality rate is the portion of those infected who die, not the deaths from identified positive cases. The latter rate is misleading because of selection bias in testing.”

Selection bias involves testing only the most clearly symptomatic patients. Naturally, the percentage of positive tests will be artificially inflated when limited to these extremes. This inflation, however, advances the narrative that COVID-19 is not only highly contagious but very lethal to those who contract it. “If the number of actual infections is much larger than the number of cases — orders of magnitude larger — then the true fatality rate is much lower as well,” continue Bendavid and Bhattacharya. “That’s not only plausible but likely based on what we know so far.” Likewise, according to Scott W. Atlas, former chief of neuroradiology at Stanford University Medical Center, a recent Stanford antibody study “now estimates that the fatality rate if infected is likely 0.1 to 0.2 percent, a risk far lower than previous World Health Organization estimates that were 20 to 30 times higher and that motivated isolation policies” (The Hill, April 22).

Stanford biophysicist Michael Levitt, who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2013, told the Los Angeles Times (March 24) that his interpretation of the COVID-19 data also does not support claims of a massive wave of deaths in the United States. “To describe as stunning the collapse of a key model the government has used to alarm the nation about the catastrophic threat of the coronavirus would not do this development justice,” Levitt said of Ferguson’s debunked Imperial College study.

After Ferguson’s model was discredited, another grossly unreliable model was used to inform U.S. public policy. This one was produced by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). In the span of six days, IHME’s projections for the nation were revised first from 178,000 deaths (on April 2) to 136,000 (on April 5) and then to 60,000 (on April 8). And those numbers assumed social distancing, including stay-at-home lockdowns. “When we observe that the government is relying on these models,” National Review’s Andrew McCarthy wrote of the IHME model, “we mean reliance for the purpose of making policy, including the policy of completely closing down American businesses and attempting to confine people to their homes because, it is said, no lesser measures will do” (April 9).

Perhaps no projections have been more overblown than those regarding California. In late March, Gov. Gavin Newsom warned that 56 percent of Californians would be infected by the virus — that’s 25 million people — and by “infected” Newsom meant very, very sick. Mayor Garcetti echoed Newsom’s predictions, warning that Los Angeles would be short of medical supplies and hospital beds as the virus mows down thousands in southern California. But as of April 25, six weeks after these dire prognostications, the entire state with a population of 40 million had only 1,676 coronavirus deaths. To date, Los Angeles has experienced no shortage of medical supplies and no shortage of hospital beds — and neither have San Diego, San Francisco, or San Jose. On the contrary, health workers are facing layoffs, furloughs, and cuts to salaries and schedules because of lack of patients in hospitals in California and elsewhere.

 

Reports show that accurate projection models were available — to health officials, governors, and the White House task force; but the reliable data were jettisoned in favor of Ferguson’s panic-inducing projections. The misleading data were uncritically accepted and then magnified by a media that thrives on emotion-driven content. “There is mass confusion with regard to the statistics, and the media has utilized this to bring fear and panic to the population,” Michigan immunologist Martin Dubravec wrote in the flagship publication of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS Online, March 30). “Statistics on who has been exposed, who has it, who is seriously ill with it and what are projected numbers of deaths have been incredibly wrong.”

This mass confusion has led to widespread fear, and that fear has been easily manipulated by politicians to impose police-state control. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is one of the few governors to refuse issuing a stay-at-home order for her state. “What I’ve seen across this country is so many people give up their liberties for just a little bit of security,” she said in an interview with Fox News (April 19). Noem claimed other leaders with “too much power” during this crisis could be “how we lose our country.”

Bluntly stated, fear of contagion is giving the government cover for its assaults on freedom. And politicians are ready to capitalize on pandemic panic. At a virtual press conference on April 2, Gov. Newsom spoke of ushering in a new “progressive era” in the Golden State, saying, “Absolutely, we see this as an opportunity to reshape the way we do business and how we govern.” In an April 15 press conference, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo admitted that he’s thinking along the same lines. “Life as we know it will never be the same,” he said. Instead, he suggested, we need to move to a “new normal” that — oh, by the way — includes indefinitely continued restrictions on businesses and personal freedoms. The COVID-19 crisis will be over, Cuomo said, “when people know ‘I’m 100% safe and I don’t have to worry about this.’ When does that happen? When we have a vaccine.” Ohio’s Gov. Mike DeWine similarly stated on April 14 that “the truth is that [life] won’t be like it was until we get a vaccine.” Cuomo, DeWine, and most other governors are parroting Dr. Fauci and multibillionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, both of whom have said repeatedly that “life will not return to normal until a COVID-19 vaccine is available.” If Fauci and Gates have their way, not only will these vaccines be mandatory and tracked, we will need to carry proof of health — immunity passports. “Eventually we will have some digital certificates to show who has recovered or been tested recently, or when we have a vaccine who has received it,” Gates explained early in the pandemic’s U.S. trajectory (GatesNotes.com, March 19). If implemented, these “digital certificates” will likely have tracking codes that will allow police and other government officials to determine if you have violated your permission to travel. Of course, violators will be prosecuted. And that’s according to Gates himself.

Arbitrary lockdowns, shuttered churches, depression-level unemployment, mandatory vaccines, immunity passports, tracking devices, drone surveillance, civilian snitching, and stiff penalties and jail time for violators — is this really how we want to live?

 

One paramount question has arisen in the wake of the response to COVID-19: Do social-isolation controls like stay-at-home orders even work? Do they “mitigate” the transmission of viral diseases? This is an important question, as health officials at any time could revoke our civil liberties due to a new “spike” of COVID-19 or another novel coronavirus — or any infectious disease, for that matter.

One simple way to determine if stay-at-home orders are effective is to compare COVID-19 deaths in states that have had a lockdown order to those in neighboring states that do not (see the charts below). Admittedly, these comparisons have their limitations. However, the statistics are consistent, clear, and revealing. As adjusting for population is essential, the most important statistic to consider is “deaths per million.” This allows for per capita comparisons. These statistics are taken from April 25, 2020. The states that are identified as “no lockdown” had not received a stay-at-home order by that date. Those that are identified as stay-at-home states have had a lockdown order of more than a month by April 25 (data from worldometers.info/coronavirus). Remember, these are comparisons of neighboring states:

State Days in lockdown COVID-19 deaths COVID-19 deaths per million
Louisiana

Arkansas

34 days

None

1703

48

 

365

16

 

Illinois

Iowa

 

36 days

None

 

1874

112

 

146

36

 

Colorado

Nebraska

 

32 days

None

 

674

53

 

122

28

 

Idaho

Utah

 

32 days

None

 

56

41

 

33

13

 

Taking a look at the deaths per million, statistics show that, in every case, states that issued a stay-at-home order had a much higher death rate. If that geographical comparison doesn’t seem fair, due to population density or other factors, consider these “no lockdown” states in comparison to states with relatively equal population and population density:

State Days in lockdown COVID-19 deaths COVID-19 deaths per million
 

Population 2-4 million

Kentucky

New Mexico

Iowa

Nebraska

Arkansas

Utah

 

.

32 days

33 days

None

None

None

None

 

.

205

93

112

53

48

41

 

.

46

44

36

28

16

13

Population 600,000-900,000

Delaware

Vermont

North Dakota

South Dakota

 

 

33 days

32 days

None

None

 

.

112

46

16

10

.

118

74

21

12

Again, statistics demonstrate that, in every case, states without stay-at-home orders fared better than their lockdown counterparts.

There are two very interesting outlier states, one on each end of the spectrum. On one end, New York (lockdown ordered on March 22) accounts for 40 percent of total COVID-19 deaths in the United States with 21,908 as of April 25. That’s 1,117 deaths per million. On the other end, Texas, which outsizes New York in population by over ten million and has had a stay-at-home order since April 2 (but reportedly has the lowest compliance rate in the country), had only 621 deaths as of April 25. That’s just 23 deaths per million — similar to North Dakota, which has a population of 760,000.

This analysis leads to a corollary question: Might we have seen similar results in rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths if the state governors hadn’t issued executive orders that restricted our civil liberties and tanked our economy? Could the response to COVID-19 have included far fewer restrictions on our daily lives and saved an estimated 39 million jobs and countless businesses from going bust? Expert epidemiologist Knut Wittkowski thinks so. As former head of the Department of Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Research Design at Rockefeller University in New York City, Wittkowski has been modeling epidemics for 35 years. In an interview with the Press and the Public Project (April 6), he posited that COVID-19 could be “exterminated” if most people were allowed to lead normal lives while the most vulnerable in society were protected until the danger had passed. As with all respiratory diseases, he said, the only thing that stops the disease is herd immunity. “About 80% of the people need to have had contact with the virus, and the majority of them won’t even have recognized that they were infected, or they had very, very mild symptoms, especially if they are children,” Wittkowski said. “So, it’s very important to keep the schools open and kids mingling to spread the virus to get herd immunity as fast as possible, and then the elderly people, who should be separated, and the nursing homes should be closed during that time, can come back and meet their children and grandchildren after about four weeks when the virus has been exterminated.”

Wittkowski is not alone. A common working hypothesis among virologists, epidemiologists, statisticians, and biophysicists (including Stanford’s Atlas, Levitt, John Ionnides, Bendavid, and Bhattacharya) is that the virus has been in the U.S., especially on the West Coast, for much longer than health officials seem willing to recognize. Huge numbers of infections and deaths have not hit the West Coast communities that have the greatest number of inbound travelers from China. According to virologists, that may be because many people have already had the novel coronavirus and California already has herd immunity.

Wittkowski’s herd-immunity plan was, it should be noted, enacted in Sweden. The Scandinavian country of 10.8 million (two million more than New York City) decided against any kind of stay-at-home order or lockdown. “The strategy in Sweden is to focus on social distancing among the known risk groups, like the elderly. We try to use evidence-based measurements,” Emma Frans, an epidemiologist at the Karolinska Institutet, told Euronews (March 26). According to Derek Robertson, reporting for London’s Guardian from Malmö, Sweden, “Here, schools, gyms, and (fully stocked) shops remain open, as do the borders. Bars and restaurants continue to serve, and trains and buses are still shuttling people all over the country. You can even, if you wish, go to the cinema” (March 30).

According to Sweden’s reasoning, absent reliable data on what proportion of the population has already been exposed and successfully fought off the coronavirus, it’s worth questioning the value of social-isolation controls. As Fredrik Erixon, director of the European Centre for International Political Economy in Brussels, wrote in The Spectator (April 4), the theory of quarantining healthy people rather than the sick and the vulnerable “is pretty niche, deeply illiberal — and, until now, untested. It’s not Sweden that’s conducting a mass experiment. It’s everyone else.”

That hasn’t stopped others from rushing to condemn Sweden for what has been called its “Russian roulette-style COVID-19 strategy” (Guardian, March 23). It bothers the social-isolationists that one prominent country in the world hasn’t mass quarantined its population. It bothers them because when this pandemic is over, Sweden may well be living proof that the stay-at-home orders that ruined economies were ineffective. As of this writing, according to the country’s health officials, most of Sweden’s intensive-care cases are elderly. Seventy-seven percent have underlying conditions such as heart disease, respiratory disease, kidney disease, or diabetes. Moreover, there hasn’t been a single pediatric intensive-care case or death in Sweden, and only 25 intensive-care-unit admissions for COVID-19 have been Swedes under age 30.

Nevertheless, when Sweden’s death toll from COVID-19 reached 1,000 on April 14, histrionic headlines around the world renewed denunciations of the country’s contrarian approach. For example: “Sweden: 22 Scientists Say Coronavirus Strategy Has Failed As Deaths Top 1,000” (Forbes) and “Sweden’s Relaxed Approach to the Coronavirus Could Already Be Backfiring” (Time). An official from the World Health Organization (WHO) publicly reprimanded Sweden on CNN, saying it is imperative that Sweden “increase measures to control spread of the virus, prepare and increase capacity of the health system to cope, ensure physical distancing and communicate the why and how of all measures to the population” (April 10). But those articles and WHO’s denunciation fail to acknowledge that many comparably sized European countries that have instituted strict stay-at-home policies have fared the same or worse than Sweden. Statistics from April 25 reveal the following:

Country Days in lockdown COVID-19 deaths COVID-19 deaths per million
Sweden

Switzerland

The Netherlands

Belgium

None

43 days

26 days

22 days

2192

1599

4409

6917

217

185

257

597

Why aren’t 22 scientists denouncing Belgium’s or the Netherlands’s coronavirus strategy? Why focus on Sweden? Sweden never claimed that its plan would prevent the country from experiencing deaths from the virus. In fact, Anders Tegnell, the country’s chief epidemiologist, told The Guardian (March 30, two weeks before the date of the statistics above), “Of course, we’re going into a phase in the epidemic where we’ll see a lot more cases in the next few weeks, more people in the ICU, but that’s just like any other country — nowhere has been able to slow down the spread considerably…. There’s no evidence whatsoever that doing more at this stage would make any difference.”

Sweden’s strategy reveals that stringent restrictions on civil liberties have not necessarily produced better results. And that conclusion is not popular with those pushing social isolation. Any report that fails to recognize this important fact is misleading and dismissive at best. “As time passes,” said USC’s Joel Hay, who collaborated with the Swedish Institute for Health Economics for nearly 40 years, “it will become clearer that social-isolation measures like those in [other European countries] accomplish very little in terms of reducing fatalities or disease, though they crater local and national economies — increasing misery, pain, death, and disease from other causes as people’s lives are upended and futures are destroyed” (National Review, April 6).

 

While we’re talking about data-driven public policy, it helps to put the numbers in perspective. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 2.8 million registered deaths in the United States in 2017. That’s over 230,000 deaths per month on average. Of those, 17,000 people died each month due to respiratory illnesses like flu and pneumonia. By contrast, in the first four months of this year, 25,000 died nationwide from COVID-19 or related complications, an average of 6,250 people per month in the entire country. This year, the number of deaths from pneumonia and flu statistically appear to have severely lessened in the months of March and April, suggesting that many non-COVID-19 respiratory illnesses are being falsely attributed to the novel coronavirus. According to Minnesota Sen. Scott Jensen, himself a physician, the American Medical Association offers enticing incentives to doctors to over-count coronavirus deaths across the country. “Right now Medicare is determining that if you have a COVID-19 admission to the hospital you get $13,000,” he told Fox News host Laura Ingram (April 10). “If that COVID-19 patient goes on a ventilator you get $39,000, three times as much. Nobody can tell me after 35 years in the world of medicine that sometimes those kinds of things don’t impact what we do.”

Further, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics Mortality Surveillance System, in March 2020 there were a total of 193,000 deaths in the U.S. The average number of deaths for March over the four years prior to 2020 was 227,000. The difference between this year and the average for the past four years is -34,000. In other words, this year’s March deaths are actually down 15 percent when compared to totals from 2016 to 2019. And the total number of COVID-19 deaths during March was 4,053 — that is, 1.8 percent of the average number of March deaths over the previous four years. And no, this is not at all due to stay-at-home strategies. The first state lockdown occurred in California on March 19, but most other states did not issue their stay-at-home orders until the end of March or the first week of April.

Virologists say that, because of the inevitable spread of the virus, we should return to our normal daily lives as soon as possible. All the data suggest that policymakers need to focus on reducing risks for older adults and those with underlying medical conditions that compromise their immune system, not on locking down healthy people “until a vaccine is available,” whenever that might be. David L. Katz, former director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center at Griffin Hospital in Connecticut, endorses this view, which he calls the vertical strategy. The horizontal strategy of restricting the movement and commerce of the entire population, without consideration of varying risks for severe infection, he says, is too paralyzing (New York Times, March 20).

 

We need to consider the dangerous precedent set by this nationwide house arrest. We need to understand how much control the government has seized through the use of unreliable data and misleading explanations of research. We need to acknowledge that if this continues, we will lose our security, our safety, and our freedom. It’s bad enough to have our civil liberties revoked for an authentic and compelling reason; it’s quite another to have our freedom eviscerated on the basis of misleading data and fraudulent facts — whether by misfeasance or malfeasance.

If we can learn anything from this pandemic, says Dr. Dubravec, “it is that mitigation efforts that destroy our economy were some of the biggest boondoggles ever foisted on the American people. Even worse, they aren’t necessary. We have better ways to combat this virus. What will happen with the next epidemic? Will we do this for the next outbreak of flu? Or Strep? Or drug overdoses? What type of precedent will this set?” (AAPS Online, March 30).

If there must be a “new normal,” as many governors have chanted, it should involve better personal hygiene and public sanitation coupled with common sense, not imposed quarantines, restricted access to Mass and the sacraments, mandatory vaccinations, drone surveillance, immunity passports, and a snitching culture — the foundational practices of nanny states and totalitarian regimes. We ought to recall Benjamin Franklin’s famous words engraved on the Statue of Liberty: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

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