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More Panic Porn

Here’s a letter to Stars and Stripes:


To support their panicked conclusion that omicron is so very dangerous that we cannot hope to live with it as we live with the flu, Emily DeRuy and Harriet Blair Rowan offer only one piece of evidence related to omicron (“Think COVID is becoming like the flu? Here’s how much worse it still is,” Jan. 19). That evidence is a statement from UC-Berkeley emeritus professor John Swartzberg, who told them that “Omicron is more deadly than the flu,” and an assurance from another professor that this statement is correct.

Perhaps omicron is indeed more deadly than the flu (although other scientists believe otherwise). But is omicron so much more deadly that we cannot live with it as we live with the flu? Neither of the professors say.

The rest of these reporters’ alleged evidence that omicron is scarily more dangerous than the flu is of the dangers of Covid generally and not of omicron specifically. An example is this passage, which they present as their key piece of empirical evidence:

More than 5,000 people across the U.S. died of COVID the last week of 2021. That’s more than three times the number of people – 1,626 – who succumbed to influenza during the deadliest week of the alarming 2017-18 flu season.

Yet as CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said last week, most people who are dying from Covid-19 in the U.S. are still dying from the delta variant, not from omicron. This reality was even more stark in late December. So to cite a Covid death count from late December in support of the assertion that omicron is significantly more dangerous than the flu – so much more dangerous that we cannot return to normal existence – is journalistic malfeasance.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030