Jacob Sullum reports that “recent COVID-19 trends suggest that initial fears of omicron were overwrought,” and, thus, that “focusing on infections rather than severe disease is more misleading than ever.” A slice:
Newly identified COVID-19 cases in the United States have “soared to near record levels,” The New York Times reports, adding that the omicron variant “has moved with extraordinary swiftness across the country, from New York to Hawaii, both of which reported more coronavirus cases in the past week than in any other seven-day period of the pandemic.” The Times notes that “Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Puerto Rico have also reported record caseloads.”
While the Times predictably emphasizes the most alarming aspects of the current COVID-19 surge, the story also includes details that suggest the initial fears of omicron were overwrought. “Hospitalizations are up, too, although not as much as cases,” the Times says. That’s a bit of an understatement: By the paper’s count, hospitalizations are “8 percent higher than two weeks ago,” which is much smaller than the 83 percent increase in the seven-day average of daily new cases during the same period. The seven-day average of daily deaths, meanwhile, rose by just 3 percent.
Although hospitalizations and deaths are lagging indicators, it has been a month since daily new cases began a steep climb in the United States. According to Worldometer’s numbers, the seven-day average rose threefold between November 29 and yesterday. Daily deaths, meanwhile, rose by less than 50 percent between November 29 and December 21. There has been a slight falloff since then, probably largely due to holiday-related reporting issues. Hospitalizations, which include cases where patients tested positive after being admitted for other reasons, have risen about 40 percent since late November. While case numbers are indeed “near record levels,” daily deaths and hospitalizations remain far below the peaks seen in mid-January.
The positive health impact of barring the 70 million or so non-fully-vaccinated Americans ages 5 and older from air travel is likely to be closer to marginal than overwhelming. Airplane trips thus far during the pandemic have been almost preternaturally safe from COVID spread. Existing vaccine mandates, meanwhile, have failed to move the needle on vaccination rates.
In fact, as Reason‘s Christian Britschgi pointed out in October, discouraging comparatively safe air travel makes people more likely to use far more dangerous automobiles, a substitution that had measurably negative effects after the post-9/11 security measures adopted by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
“The added hassle the agency’s pre-flight security screenings added to air travel encouraged people to substitute driving for flying, resulting in an estimated additional 500 auto deaths per year after 9/11,” Britschgi wrote. “That almost certainly outweighed whatever terrorism-caused deaths the TSA’s security screenings prevented.”
Such cost-benefit analyses are extremely unlikely to move the types of people who favor strenuous pandemic restrictions. Many (mostly Democratic) politicians, public health officials, and voters have a visceral anger toward the minority of Americans who have yet to avail themselves of the lifesaving vaccines. The punishment of the refuseniks is the point.
“Older Americans are falling victim to fraud, physical violence and neglect as family isolation and staffing shortages erode safeguards” – so reports the Wall Street Journal. (DBx: But, we are to believe, this news is not as bad as it seems – the reason being that the direct cause of these people’s sufferings isn’t Covid-19.)
But the early information ranged from sketchy to biased. In the early days, the number of Covid tests was limited, so physicians only tested those who were sick enough to show up at hospitals. This skewed the early data toward showing Covid as being deadlier than it actually was. With no randomized testing, the actual lethality was impossible to know.
This bias interacted with the media and politicians’ incentives to create a perfect storm of incentives. The media had an incentive to repeat the worst fatality projections and to play down the bias behind the projections because bad news attracts viewers, and viewers attract advertising dollars. Heavy media coverage of the worst Covid projections alarmed voters, and that forced politicians to respond. But the politicians’ incentives were skewed toward a heavy-handed response.
There were two ways politicians could have been caught making mistakes. Politicians might not have imposed lockdowns when lockdowns were needed. If they erred in this way, the error would have become quickly and clearly evidenced in body counts. Angry voters would have looked for someone to blame, and the politicians would have been the clear choice. Conversely, politicians might have imposed lockdowns when lockdowns were not needed. If they erred in this way, the error would have remained mostly hidden. Unemployment and business closures would skyrocket, but politicians could point to the millions of hypothetical deaths that “would have occurred” were it not for the lockdowns.
By late 2020, it became clear that early case fatality rates were overstated, but it was too late for politicians to change course.
But when looked at as a percentage of their overall population, no place took as big of a hit as Washington, D.C, which lost more than 3.4 percent of its prepandemic population in just 12 months.
At the other end of the spectrum, Texas gained about 310,000 residents during that same period, while Florida (211,000), Arizona (98,000), and North Carolina (93,000) also saw significant in-migration.
Migration from high- to low-tax states—especially those in the Sun Belt—has been going on for well over a decade. But the trend picked up during the pandemic, as Democratic states tended to impose the strictest lockdowns and school closures while those governed by Republicans allowed most businesses and schools to stay open after spring 2020.
California’s net outflow surged 75% between July 1, 2020 and July 1, 2021 compared to the same period from 2018 to 2019. New York’s out-migration doubled. On the other hand, Texas’s inflow increased by 40%, and Florida’s swelled by more than half. The flight out of Illinois also accelerated.
(DBx: Well now…. I wonder what these results of voting-with-feet imply about the supposed widespread desire of people to be protected by government from the ‘negative externality’ of other-people’s breathing.)
Starting at the 28-minute mark, Jan Crawford here is excellent. (HT David Henderson)
The Editorial Board of the Wall Street Journal sensibly notes that, if Biden was sincere on Monday when he said that for Covid there is “no federal solution,” some of Biden’s mask mandates should be withdrawn. A slice:
When President Biden’s public utterances make the news, it’s sometimes hard to tell whether he’s signaling a substantive shift or merely wandering off message. On a call with governors Monday to discuss the Covid-19 pandemic, this is how Mr. Biden started his remarks: “There is no federal solution. This gets solved at the state level.”
Oh? During the 2020 presidential campaign, Mr. Biden pledged “to shut down the virus, not the country.” He also slammed President Trump in a debate, saying: “Anyone who is responsible for that many deaths should not remain as President of the United States of America.” Mr. Biden’s policies have followed that approach, as when his Education Department inserted itself into state and local debates over school mask policies.
The Biden Administration has also issued broad federal rules to require that tens of millions of workers be vaccinated or regularly tested. The mandate from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration applies to private companies nationwide that have 100 or more employees. Next week the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments over whether this is a lawful use of government power after lower courts have split on the question.
How is this possible? Athletes, and all of us, were told that if everyone were vaccinated, Covid cases would plunge and we could return to normal life. Yet there were more U.S. Covid cases on Dec. 24, 2021, than there were on Dec. 24, 2020.
The idea of “Covid zero” has failed. Accordingly, the Covid testing policies put in place by pro sports leagues have also failed. After over a year of rigorous testing, we know that pro athletes are not in danger from Covid. Nor are their coaches, trainers and staff. Most of these athletes testing positive are asymptomatic, and, according to Allen Sills, the chief medical officer of the NFL, asymptomatic football players are not spreading the virus.
It’s time for new Covid policies based on new data. Given that Covid isn’t going away, we must learn to live with it, as we have long managed to do with the flu. Earlier this year, a member of the Washington Football Team was initially put on the Covid list, making him ineligible to play. After subsequent testing, it was determined this player didn’t actually have Covid; he had the flu, making him eligible to play. What sense does that make?
Just one fifth of the weekly rise in Covid inpatients was caused by people admitted to hospital because of the virus, figures suggest.
The most up-to-date NHS data show that on December 21, there were 6,245 beds occupied by coronavirus patients in English hospitals – an increase of 259 from the previous week.
But within that increase, just 45 patients were admitted because of the virus, with the remaining 214 in hospital for other conditions but having also tested positive – so called “incidental Covid” admissions.