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.
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.
The second argument, that the excess deaths must be COVID-19, was expressed by Dr. Anthony Fauci, who, when asked if he thought all excess deaths should be counted as COVID-19 deaths, responded, “Unless you can find another reason, which I can’t think of, of there being these excess deaths.” In other words, the denial of the existence of non-COVID-19 excess deaths is based on ignorance and lack of inquisitiveness.
Despite Fauci’s lack of understanding, it is quite straightforward to explain how COVID-19-related NPI’s could be the culprit with respect to a minimum of 131,200 non-COVID-19 excess deaths.
At the start of the COVID-19 crisis in America, there was intense panic. Across the country, emergency room (ER) visits plummeted, and people delayed or altogether skipped seeing a medical provider due to fear of catching COVID-19. ER doctors everywhere described seeing fewer patients, and the ones they were seeing were far worse off than typical pre-COVID-19 patients. When such delays involved acute conditions, such as heart attacks or strokes, the delays often proved to be fatal. In New York City, the effect was severe. NYC typically saw 20 at-home deaths per day pre-COVID-19, but in April 2020, that number jumped to 200.
This effect likely continued as the COVID-19 panic wore on. Constant anecdotal stories of young people dying with COVID-19, continued lockdowns and closures, mask mandates, and social distancing all continued to instill an atmosphere of fear. Under such conditions, people will hesitate to go out, they will hesitate to go to a hospital, and even a few hours’ hesitation can make the difference between life and death.
CDC statistics support these assertions. Through September 26, 2020, cerebrovascular disease deaths were up 7.2% over their 5-year average (adjusted for population growth), accounting for about 7,900 non-COVID-19 excess deaths. Ischemic heart disease deaths were up 1.8%, and heart failure deaths were up 5.2%, accounting for roughly another 8,100 non-COVID-19 excess deaths.
Planes and trains, which have continued to operate throughout the pandemic, would suddenly be off-limits to the unvaccinated. The only places where restrictions would be relatively eased would be those still fully locked down, such as many live-event venues and schools. Yet even there, the passport idea depends on keeping the underlying restrictions in place—giving officials an incentive to do so for much longer as leverage to overcome vaccine resistance.
The vaccine passport should therefore be understood not as an easing of restrictions but as a coercive scheme to encourage vaccination. Such measures can be legitimate: Many schools require immunization against common childhood illnesses, and visitors to some African countries must be vaccinated against yellow fever. But Covid vaccine passports would harm, not benefit, public health.
The idea that everybody needs to be vaccinated is as scientifically baseless as the idea that nobody does. Covid vaccines are essential for older, high-risk people and their caretakers and advisable for many others. But those who’ve been infected are already immune. The young are at low risk, and children—for whom no vaccine has been approved anyway—are at far less risk of death than from the flu. If authorities mandate vaccination of those who don’t need it, the public will start questioning vaccines in general.
Effective public health relies on trust. The public has lost trust in officials in part because they’ve performed poorly—relying on lockdowns to disastrous effect—and in part because they’ve made clear their distrust of the public.
I wrote a few months ago that I feared we would all be carrying these things [vaccine passports] by the end of the year and I see nothing to change that forecast. This is not because they are a good thing but because the Government is in a pickle of its own making by exaggerating the threat of Covid to the point where millions are too fearful to return to normal life without some reassurance. The certificates are, presumably, intended to provide it.
Lockdownism, the ideology that now dominates public life, is no different. One of its central elements is forgetting the past, including the very recent past. Before 2020, nobody spoke about ‘lockdown’, ‘social distancing’, ‘the R-rate’, ‘self-isolation’ and so on. Yet we now talk about these concepts as though they have existed for decades – almost as though they are immutable facts about how we have always dealt with infectious disease, rather than a series of ideas dreamed up on the spur of the moment and imposed in a panic. We are encouraged to forget that things used to be different and that we used to live our lives freely, accepting that there were nasty diseases out there that might kill you if you did, but this was a risk worth taking because the alternative was worse.
What I do know, however, is how my intellectual and personal commitment to liberty and conservatism would handle rising tyranny, because that actually has been tested over the past year. I know that I would stand up for what I believe is right, and that I would even do it in the courtroom, at the risk of alienating myself and potentially even at the risk of my job. I know that I would continue to look at the world around me in light of those things that I know to be true – in an actual crisis, I would maintain an understanding of the nature of markets, rather than having an emotional response to the lack of supply, or “price gouging.” Faced with a loss of income, I would maintain my understanding of the dangers of national debt and inflation, rather than asking the government for handouts. Faced with a virus that I do not understand (and this only describes a period of about a month between March and April of 2020), I would maintain a solid belief that there is no problem so big that the government cannot make worse. I would not view this as somehow the exception to the rule – the problem so important that suddenly our governments become competent, that individuals with power become focused solely on the interests and needs of others, and that incentives and temptations are somehow miraculously canceled by the sheer force of my own fear.