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Some Covid Links

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Writing in today’s Wall Street Journal, John Tierney – looking back to the time when AIDS first arrived on the scene – observes about Covid-19 that [2]

if we had paid attention to history, we would have known that once a disease becomes newsworthy, science gets distorted by researchers, journalists, activists and politicians eager for attention and power—and determined to silence those who challenge their fear-mongering.

Here’s another slice from Tierney’s superb WSJ essay:

When AIDS spread among gay men and intravenous drug users four decades ago, it became conventional wisdom that the plague would soon devastate the rest of the American population. In 1987, Oprah Winfrey opened her show by announcing, “Research studies now project that 1 in 5—listen to me, hard to believe—1 in 5 heterosexuals could be dead of AIDS in the next three years.” The prediction was outlandishly wrong, but she wasn’t wrong in attributing the scare to scientists.

One early alarmist was Anthony Fauci, who made national news in 1983 with an editorial [3] in the Journal of the American Medical Association warning that AIDS could infect even children because of “the possibility that routine close contact, as within a family household, can spread the disease.” After criticism that he had inspired a wave of hysterical homophobia, Dr. Fauci (who in 1984 began his current job, as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases), promptly pivoted 180 degrees, declaring [4] less than two months after his piece appeared that it was “absolutely preposterous” to suggest AIDS could be spread by normal social contact. But other supposed experts went on warning erroneously that AIDS could spread widely via toilet seats, mosquito bites and kissing.

Robert Redfield, an Army physician who would later direct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the Covid pandemic, claimed [5] in 1985 that his research on soldiers showed AIDS would soon spread as rapidly among heterosexuals as among homosexuals. He and other scientists became much-quoted authorities for the imminent “heterosexual breakout,” which was proclaimed on the covers of Life in 1985 (“Now No One Is Safe from AIDS”) and the Atlantic in 1987 (“Heterosexuals and AIDS: The Second Stage of the Epidemic”).

In reality, researchers discovered early on that transmission through vaginal intercourse was rare, and that those who claimed to have been infected that way were typically concealing intravenous drug use or homosexual activity. One major study [6] estimated the risk of contracting AIDS during intercourse with someone outside the known risk groups was 1 in 5 million. But the CDC nonetheless started a publicity campaign warning that everyone was in danger. It mailed brochures to more than 100 million households and aired dozens of public-service announcements, like a television ad with a man proclaiming, “If I can get AIDS, anyone can.”

Writing at National Review, Dr. Joel Zinberg correctly points out that (as the headline to his piece describes the situation) “Journalists Face Disaster as COVID-19 Deaths Drop. [7]” (HT Michael McAuley) Two slices:

The COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. is ebbing, but you would never know it from the headlines. Bad news, accurate or not, sells. And in the case of COVID-19, it also supports the journalists’ prejudices.

The seven-day moving average of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations [8] peaked and started to decline in early September. Nationwide, COVID-19 hospitalization rates have decreased 17 percent [9] over the past two weeks. Only 19 states had any increase, and many were small. The remaining 31 states and the District of Columbia saw hospitalization rates decline. But that hasn’t stopped journalists from publicizing localized exceptions to the good news.

A recent article [10], for example, starts with the statement, “Coronavirus patients are flooding and straining hospitals across the U.S.” and goes on to describe how some states are promulgating “crises standards of care” to guide health-care providers on how to allocate limited resources. The article cites as evidence high ICU utilization, ranging from 77 percent to 90 percent of capacity, in seven states: Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, and Texas.

Yet the most recent government data [11] shows other indicators of pandemic severity and health-care capacity look pretty good in those seven states. New COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100 beds were lower compared with the previous week in five of the states, with only small increases in Idaho and Montana. New COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population were lower in Georgia and Texas and essentially unchanged in Idaho. Test positivity rates (a rough indicator of how widespread disease is and how quickly it is spreading) were lower in all the states other than Montana. New COVID-19 deaths — a lagging indicator — were up in four states, down in another and unchanged in Georgia and Texas, which both showed declines in the three other indicators.

The ICU capacity figures cited in the article also lack context. What is the normal utilization level for the ICUs in those states? Most trauma-center and tertiary-care-center ICUs routinely functioned at 80–90 percent of capacity [12] even before the pandemic. And ICU beds are not a static resource.

…..

Yet, while the unvaccinated may be foolish or misinformed, there is little evidence they have crowded out others. Some people delayed necessary care during the pandemic, but that was usually the result of fear, exacerbated by stay-at-home orders and other lockdown measures. Few if any people were unable to obtain emergency care if they sought it out.

Anyone who has worked in a hospital knows that ICU beds are a scarce resource and that ICU physicians often need to choose which sick patients get available beds and which do not. Perhaps the pandemic has made these choices more acute in limited locations for limited amounts of time. But triaging ICU patients is not a new phenomenon.

Distorting the news to censure the unvaccinated is unhelpful and unwarranted. The unvaccinated are primarily harming themselves. Unfortunately, many media outlets are misleading us all.

Northwestern University law professor John McGinnis critically analyzes recent eviction moratoria [13]. Here’s his conclusion:

The prospect of future moratoriums makes investing in rental property less attractive and so there will be less demand for the property and consequently less housing will be built. Thus, while the eviction moratorium may help some people in the short term, it will hurt many in the same class in the long term and increase homelessness as well.

The larger lesson of eviction moratoriums is that the Constitution’s decisions to protect vested rights and property against democratic abrogation is morally and economically sound. The Constitution is designed in the words of Justice David Brewer to protect Peter Sober against Peter Drunk. In reviving the original meaning of the Contract Clause, the Court would create a steadier and more prosperous polity in the long run.

Steve Templeton writes that “Exaggerating COVID harms in children and their role in disease spread in order to promote vaccination is a harmful and losing strategy. [14]” (HT Jay Bhattacharya [15]). Two more slices:

Unfortunately, it isn’t just masks that have been irredeemably politicized during the pandemic [16]. Public messaging about the susceptibility of children to severe disease and their role in transmission of SARS-CoV-2 were distorted for political purposes and financial gain from the beginning.

For me, this was completely unexpected. I had interactions with friends on social media early on, and I had thought that I could reassure them that evidence suggested their children would be OK. Not only did they not believe me, it seemed they didn’t want to believe me. They had been watching 24-hour cable news, reading The New York Times, and listening to NPR. What I was saying sounded absolutely nothing like what they were seeing, hearing, and reading. I had run into a wall of cognitive dissonance impossible to overcome.

This was incredibly frustrating, because early evidence did suggest that children were not susceptible to severe disease nor were they super-spreaders. The average age of COVID-19 mortality in the northern Italy outbreak was 81 [17], and reports from China [18] suggested children were much less likely to get severe disease. The fascinating DECODE [19] study in Iceland used viral sequencing to determine SARS-CoV-2 transmission patterns, even within families. An investigator in the study said in an interview that [20] “children under 10 are less likely to get infected than adults and if they get infected, they are less likely to get seriously ill. What is interesting is that even if children do get infected, they are less likely to transmit the disease to others than adults. We have not found a single instance of a child infecting parents.”

…..

When considering the global preponderance of evidence, it becomes difficult to imagine a positive effect from the reported zero to modest benefits of school masking and quarantining of close contacts on school transmission. The real benefits of these measures are unclear despite an onslaught of biased media coverage and politically-motivated messaging by government agencies. Yet the costs of disrupting education are clear. Education and child mental health are more important than a political victory lap for achieving high vaccination rates, especially a victory lap that’s based on exaggerated harms and only the appearance of safety.

“Why universities have disregarded the relevance of natural immunity remains something of a true medical mystery” – so writes Daniel Nuccio [21]. (HT Martin Kulldorff [22]) A slice:

A more plausible scenario is that many [universities and colleges] are shaping policy around the counsel of their lawyers, accountants, and PR departments. By embracing the edicts of unchecked executives, unelected public health officials, and a moral zeitgeist that can be summed up with the maxim “vaccinated good, unvaccinated bad,” they avoid an array of non-medical risks far more effectively than if they independently attempted to develop their own science-based policies.

Amanda Brumwell explains that “The harms of neglecting of non-COVID care will require an extraordinary effort to reverse. [23]” Another slice:

The first among these failures is poor messaging that caused confusion and fear among the general public out of proportion to the relative risk in many groups, discouraging caregivers and guardians from seeking out routine care for fear of infection with SARS-CoV-2. By encouraging the general public to avoid seeking care in order to protect health system generally from theoretical collapse, most public health messaging discouraged actual necessary service utilization while oddly placing responsibility for safeguarding the wellbeing of the health system on the average citizen (Saxena, Skirrow, & Bedford, 2020). Under more common circumstances, it would be expected that the health system would conversely seek to safeguard the wellbeing of the average citizen, including the youngest of these, due for routine immunizations.

Here’s the abstract of Phil Magness’s latest paper, “The Failures of Pandemic Central Planning [24]“:

This study examines the performance of disease modeling during the covid-19 pandemic, and its associated effects upon the public health measures adopted to mitigate its course. Specific attention is given to the failure of the Imperial College model, which severely overstated mortality in 189 out of 189 countries under both its “do nothing” and “mitigation” models, and 170 out of 189 countries under its extreme “suppression” model. The Covid-19 policy response is analyzed as a failure in central planning, with specific attention to the public health dimensions of the same. Public health is identified both historically and in the present day as being acutely susceptible to knowledge problems, which in turn foster the conditions for a public choice trap that causes proposed policy measures to become ineffectual or even counterproductive in disease mitigation.