In late February 2020, when all eyes were on Wuhan, China, my eldest son came home from high school with some surprising news. His Chinese language teacher, a native speaker in touch with friends and family back home, informed the class that the pandemic was over in her country. She said that things were getting back to normal.
It was strange. Only a few thousand people were said to have died of the disease in China. If Covid19 was the virulent pandemic that was widely being reported, then how could it be over in China, a nation of one billion people mostly crammed together in large cities? Either the Chinese government was somehow hiding a far bigger catastrophe, or our media was grossly overstating the crisis.
At first, I was just curious. But my curiosity would grow into obsession. It was the beginning of a process that ultimately would leave me bewildered, estranged from friends, community and once-normal sources of authority. I was entering an alternative universe of incomprehensible ethical priorities and objective reality. I was coming down with an acute case of Covid Alienation.
When the Covid19 crisis hit, my family was separated on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean. My French wife was in her native country with our two younger sons, ages 13 and 7, who were in school there for the winter, as is our custom. Because he was now in high school, our oldest son was home with me, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, USA. Despite the distance, I was not especially worried, though I did watch the news closely.
Then on March 16, Imperial College released its famous warning that Covid19 could kill 510,000 citizens of the UK and 2.2 million Americans. As the media blared the alarm and the world went into lockdown, I started searching the web in an attempt to reconcile the relatively low mortality rate in China with the forecast for a terrible global pandemic.
I came across an article by Stanford Professor of Epidemiology, John Ioannidis, published in the medical journal Stat, entitled, “A Fiasco in the Making? As the Coronavirus Pandemic Takes Hold, We are Making Decisions without Reliable Data.” For its prescience and the pointed questions it raised, it might be the most important piece of writing during the entire Covid19 crisis.
Dr. Ioannidis laid out all the key issues about infection fatality rates, case fatality rates, complexities when determining cause of death, and especially the lack of quality data that was making everything about Covid19 guess work, but Ioannidis also posed what I thought was the most essential question of all. With governments ordering drastic non-pharmaceutical regulations to stem the pandemic – lockdowns, enforced social distancing, school closures, etc. – Ioannidis asked, “How can policy makers tell if they are doing more harm than good?”
The first maxim in medicine is “first do no harm,” which we were potentially on the verge of violating. Ioannidis concluded his piece ominously, with worse case scenarios, declaring that “with lockdowns of months, if not years, life largely stops, short-term and long-term consequences are entirely unknown, and billions, not just millions, of lives may be eventually at stake.”
I scanned to the bottom of the article and soon learned that Ioannidis was the best of the best. His work is considered foundational in the field of medical meta-research. He had gained a reputation as perhaps the world’s best debunker of junk medical science. An article he once published on the misuse of data , “Why Most Published Research Findings are False,” is one of the top ten most often cited papers in the scientific community. The Atlantic had portrayed Ioannidis a as a heroic truth teller. Surely, I thought, now would really be his moment. It would be reassuring to know that a professional of his stature was stepping into the center of the debate.
But there would be no debate. I waited in vain for a response to the important issues Ioannidis was raising. I waited to see him on television or quoted in major publications. All I saw anywhere in the media were body counts, curves in need of bending, and projections for exponentially increasing death.
Journalist and emergent media critic Matt Taibbi describes something he calls “the moral panic,” which is increasingly used to drive ratings in our information age of intense media competition. “Scare the crap out of people,” says Taibbi, “and media companies get richer, while state agencies get more and more license for authoritarian crackdowns.” Written prior to Covid19, it is a perfect description of what was running on every news program, almost non-stop, both nationally and locally, and the unprecedented government responses all over the world.
Dr. Anthony Fauci astonished me at one of the endless White House Covid19 Task Force briefings, when he causally declared the disease to be ten times more deadly than the flu. I knew the moment he said it that he had no way knowing any such thing because the world lacked good data about the prevalence of the disease among the general population. Ioannidis had humbly acknowledged the many uncertainties due to the lack of good data. He ventured a range for what he admitted was his best guess at an infection fatality rate, but here was Fauci making an unequivocal statement that absolute calamity was on its way.
I found myself yelling at Fauci through my television, “You don’t know that! You can’t know that!” He was either speculating wildly, or worse, he was deliberately alarming the public. Combined with the horrific images coming out of New York, people went into panic mode, and accepted the lockdowns without question.
Why wouldn’t they? In virtually all of the major media, there was no dissent. A medical catastrophe was upon us, the likes of which the world had not seen in a hundred years since the Spanish Flu, and unprecedented action was called for. Implicitly, in such a perilous situation, disagreement was irresponsible, uncivil and dangerous. Or is it?
Ordinary folks like me know that if one doctor gives you a dire diagnosis requiring drastic action, say an amputation or a lobotomy, then a second opinion is a pretty good idea. While the world followed the alleged science straight into an induced coma, I searched the web for some critical thinking.
Pop up Covid19 podcasts appeared, notably “Unherd,” based in the UK and “Perspectives on Pandemic” in the USA. While the hosts of these shows seemed like unknowns, they interviewed a parade of the world’s top disease specialists from the most prestigious universities, and the health ministers of Sweden and Norway. Alex Berenson, a former New York Times reporter, carried on a regular skirmish via Twitter against those he branded, “Team Apocalypse.” Given the power of Information-age media, these skeptics were fighting a guerrilla war they were bound to lose.
As Western Civilization went medieval, locking people up in their homes as if time of plague, we used information-aged video chat to communicate. I spoke regularly to my wife in France, where an entire nation was under de facto house arrest. She had to carry papers if she wanted to go out and buy a baguette and the police were blocking the roads, practices not seen since the Nazi occupation. My brother-in-law, a salt farmer on ‘Ile de Ré, was chased from the air by a police helicopter as he attempted to pursue his livelihood. The French media reported that the state was buying a new fleet of drones to better enforce the quarantine.
Up to a point, the debate, had there been a real debate at all, would have been in the field of medical science, and arguments would have been based on data. But soon one solid fact emerged from Italy that should have changed everything. Or so I naively thought.
Italian health officials had analyzed their mortality data and were reporting the median age of Covid19 deaths in Italy, which was 80, with multiple comorbidities. This profile of the typical Covid19 victim would be nearly the same the world over. It is one of the few, hard, indisputable facts in the whole debacle.
With such a revelation, I thought that surely all the draconian responses would cease. The data was pregnant with meaning, yes? Covid19 was mostly killing people who were about to die. Wasn’t that obvious and didn’t this fact matter?
Much to my amazement, apparently not. As a society, we seemed willing to cast untold millions of people into poverty, lock citizens in their homes, add trillions of dollars in debt, see businesses wrecked and dreams destroyed, shutter places of worship, stop educating children, turn our cities into urban wastelands, crush the tourist industry, suffocate restaurants, ban concerts, let theaters fail, close sporting events, postpone medical screenings with the inevitable consequences, abolish tactile human contacts like hugging, kissing and shaking hands that help bind humans to humans, cover faces in masks, and subject our people to the obvious psychological consequences that will result from all of this, all for chance to prolong the lives of those with little time left. On top if it all, we were repeatedly told that this was the “new normal” and to get used to it; it would need to continue indefinitely until a vaccine could be developed and distributed.
When I objected, people said I was the one who was crazy and immoral.
I wondered, had anyone consulted with these seniors, who we proposed to save by destroying the world? Some of these elder citizens, many wasting away in nursing homes, had risked their lives for us as young men in places like Korea and Vietnam. It’s hard to believe that many would now, in old age, willingly put themselves first ahead of their grandchildren, yet that is exactly what we were forcing them do. The assumption seems an insult to the character of the outgoing generation. The sad truth is that many would die anyway, alone, in quarantine.
Moreover, everyone seemed ready to abandon liberty for a maximum level of security. What did this portend for Western Civilization? When New Hampshire’s Governor Chris Sununu shut everything down, I posted on Facebook that he was also announcing a change in our sate motto, from “Live free or die” to “Shelter in place or die,” to better reflect 21st Century values.
On a WhatsApp chat with my wife, still in France, she informed me that the police kept stopping her when she tried to exercise, completely alone, slightly beyond the permitted one-kilometer limit. From other parts of France, my wife’s brother and sister excoriated her because she had irresponsibly stepped out into the fresh air, completely alone, and potentially brought Covid19 back into the house, endangering their elderly father. Then, on video with me, my wife tried to get me to quarantine the groceries. I refused, insisted that everyone was insane, and we argued. My wife was now fighting a two-front war, with her panicked siblings on one side and me, her skeptical husband, on the other. Soon, she got so fed up being locked inside that, after assembling the necessary paperwork, she and the two boys headed back to the United States, in a long surreal journey over a completely empty highway across France to Paris, to catch one of the few flights out.
Answers to the big questions remained frustratingly hard to come by months into the crisis. How deadly is Covid19? Dr. Deborah Birx stated at a White House task force press conference that Covid19 deaths were being interpreted “liberally.” Indeed, if there is a scrap of the Covid19 virus found on the deceased, or if a doctor filling out a death certificate merely suspects Covid19, then it is recorded as a Covid19 death. Dying with Covid19, or possibly with Covid19, is considered the same as dying of Covid19. Death by other diseases is not recorded this way. Annual flu deaths, for example, are often put down as pneumonia and must be estimated in hindsight.
Weirdly, in the middle of the Covid19 crisis, the CDC retroactively changed its methodology for estimating prior flu seasons. It downgraded its morality estimate for the 2017-2018 flu season from 80,000 to 61,000, as if Covid19 was not looking serious enough by comparison.
Italy’s National Institute of Health would report that of the many recorded Covid19 deaths in that country, only 12% had perished via “direct causality” of the virus. In the United States, the CDC would report that the number is 6%. This is not to suggest that some people with heart conditions, diabetes or some other ailment did not have their lives cut tragically short by Covid19. Rather, the point is that the mortality data requires clarity rather than deliberate exaggeration. A key question still begs to be answered: How much time is actually lost from a typical Covid19 victim’s life?
In November, a statistician at Johns Hopkins University, Genevieve Briand, discovered some peculiarities in CDC total mortality data, which shows no significant increase in mortality among the elderly in comparison to younger people during March and April, 2020, when recorded Covid19 deaths in the United States were peaking. One would have expected to find a big spike in elderly deaths at this time relative to other age groups, but curiously, there isn’t one. Meanwhile, Briand finds some unusual decreases in causes of death from all the other usual diseases, such as heart attacks, flu and other respiratory infections. As I thought obvious from the Italian data, it appears that most elders who are said to have died from Covid19 have really passed away from some other malady, or that Covid19 has been taking the lives of people who would have died in coming days or weeks, from something else, anyway. To be sure, cause-of-death data remains a confusing muddle in need of much more professional analysis and clarification.
Briand made the mistake of overstating her case, or not being clear with her language, when she suggested that there were no meaningful excess deaths in the United States during the Covid19 pandemic. It was enough to get her paper unpublished and an excuse not to address the important issues she raises. [i]
Authorities who follow the approved narrative can make epic errors and exaggerations that lead to catastrophic consequences, without losing their status, but those who challenge the narrative will have every blemish put under a microscope, and when no fault is found, one will be invented.
During the course of the pandemic, Dr. Ioannidis was focused on the infection fatality rate of the disease. People need to know how likely it is that they will die from Covid19, should they catch it, and to what extent, when and where, extreme measures might be justified. To calculate this figure, population-wide antibody studies were necessary to learn what percentage of people had caught and survived Covid19. Such data would also suggest the degree to which herd immunity might be building.
Ioannidis finally got some publicity, in the form of harsh criticism for his Santa Clara study, which suggested an infection fatality rate for Covid19 of 0.17, similar to the flu, which generally falls between 0.1 and 0.2. He was lambasted for relying on Facebook to recruit test subjects, as if the world’s most accomplished critic of poor medical research methodology suddenly did not know what he was doing. The real question was why a federal government that was spending $1 trillion on the pandemic could not find money to gather the critical data, in the most rigorous way possible through random sampling, rather than force Ioannidis and his team to fund this vital research on what was obviously a shoestring.
Ioannidis explained that much more data was needed, since fatality rates can vary greatly across different populations. In a peer reviewed paper published in October by the World Health Organization, Ioannidis finally crunched the numbers, which are from 62 localized peer-review studies and 8 preliminary national studies. He found that the inferred median infection fatality rate for Covid19 is 0.23, a little worse than a bad flu, and for people under age 70, it is 0.05, which is less than the flu. Furthermore, these findings would seem to be worst-case estimates about Covid19’s deadliness because they are at least partially based on the sort of highly questionable mortality data referenced above and are drawn from studies undertaken in particularly hard-hit regions of the world.
A couple weeks after arriving home, my wife was still quarantining our groceries, but she is a former journalist with Radio France, and soon started asking questions and having doubts. She monitored the low Covid19 mortality in our state. “All of the deaths are in nursing homes,” she kept noting.
Images from in Wuhan, northern Italy and New York were horrific. The reasonable assumption from anyone watching television was that their town could be next. Infections had spread like wildfires through nursing homes and hospitals in the worst-hit areas. Again, Ioannidis had been prescient when he stated back in March that other, less deadly, coronaviruses were known to have a case fatality rate of 8% when allowed to feast on the elderly in nursing homes or hospitals.
Hospitals in the United States, prepped for the Covid19 pandemic, were perversely empty and some were going broke. At the same time, 43% of Americans were missing medical appointments. Diagnosis for 6 common cancers dropped 46%. During March and April, emergency room visits declined throughout the United States by 23% for heart attacks and 20% for strokes. In big cities, the numbers were even more pronounced. In Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, hospitalizations were down 33% for heart attacks and 58% for strokes. Clearly, media and government authorities had people too scared to go to the hospital for fear of catching Covid19; instead, they died at home of something else.
A Yale-Virginia Commonwealth study, which seems to have accepted reported deaths attributed to Covid19 at face value, found that 35% of all 87,000 excess deaths in April and March were not directly attributable to Covid19. If true, it suggests that in two months, 30,450 Americans may have died as a consequence of the lockdowns.
Meanwhile, childhood vaccinations in the United States are down 26%, as parents have kept their children away from medical facilities, wrongly concluding that Covid19 is more dangerous to their children than measles or whooping cough. Vincent Nelson, Chief Medical Officer at Blue Shield, warns that the nation is “on the precipice of a severe immunization crisis among children.” Preventable and practically eradicated diseases, like polio, can potentially return at these worsening immunization thresholds.
As early as mid-April, hints of the looming waves of poverty, despair and death from economic disruptions, lockdowns, business failures and unemployment were also appearing. My small city of Portsmouth, NH, is normally a rich and vibrant destination, flourishing with art galleries, theaters, history museums, and a multitude of restaurants. Now it looked like a ghost town. A public works sign flashed in our eerily empty downtown, “A mask is all we ask.” This, of course, was untrue. Citizens were being asked to give up almost everything.
The still bigger, more common, and more offensive lie, that would appear on yard signs in front of the fine homes of well-meaning people everywhere was, “We are all in this together.” In fact, the terrible burdens of the Covid19 response would fall on the very poor, the working poor, and small business owners, all of whom were apparently “non-essential.” Most white-collar workers would muddle through remotely from home just fine. As Indian-born Oxford epidemiologist Sunetra Gupta repeatedly emphasized, “Lockdowns are a luxury for the affluent.”
And, of course, children would pay a terrible price. A Canadian teen produced a hauntingly powerful short film, “Numb,” about life for school-age kids in lockdown. We were decidedly not “all in this together.”
One third of all tenants in the United States could not afford their April rent. Eight months later, 5.8 million Americans are facing evictions or foreclosures. In my relatively prosperous state, the New Hampshire Foodbank reports that 1 in 7 citizens don’t know where their next meal is coming from, and 55,000 people are food insecure, an increase of 69% since the appearance of Covid19.
The toll on mental health is equally staggering. The CDC would report that symptoms of depression among the American population were up 31%, stress related disorders were up 26% and drug use was up 13%. Shockingly, more than one in four young people between the ages of 18 and 24 had recently contemplated suicide. Having turned communities into hopeless death cults, was it any wonder that people were depressed?
The UN reported that hundreds of thousands of children could perish in 2020 during the global economic downturn and tens of millions of people could fall into poverty. Other experts projected that 265 million people could face “acute hunger,” according to the New York Times. World Vision warned that 30 million children were being brought to the brink of death. Here were exactly the kinds of gargantuan consequences from global lockdowns that had worried Dr. Ioannidis from the beginning.
There is infuriatingly little evidence that the massive non-pharmaceutical interventions – masks, social distancing regulations, and lockdowns – do any good at all. Yes, Sweden, which kept most schools and restaurants open, has per capita Covid19 fatalities worse than its Nordic neighbors, but Sweden fared better than countries that went into severe lockdowns, like Belgium, Italy, Spain, the UK, and France. And in Norway, which is so often compared favorably to Sweden with regards to Covid19, people did not generally wear masks nor did their authorities advise them to do so. In South America, Peru locked down hard but has a higher death rate from Covid19 than Brazil, which did not. “This is an incredible tragedy,” declared Sucharit Bhakdi, the Thai-German former head of the Institute for Medical Microbiology and Hygiene at the Johannes -Gutenberg University in Mainz, “because all of these adopted measures are actually useless and meaningless.”
While it takes an awful lot of confirmation bias to conclude that most non-pharmaceutical regulations are working, other possible correlations pertaining to disease spread seem far more compelling. Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Africa have been largely spared the ravages of Covid19, suggesting existing regional immunities in these places and/or smaller elderly populations for the disease to target. In searching for helpful non-pharmaceutical approaches to fighting Covid19, various practices at nursing homes and hospitals in relation to disease transmission seem far more promising than the fixation with public mask wearing, for instance.
The medical mask is unquestionably the symbol of the Covid19 calamity. Decades of studies had found no benefit to public mask wearing in preventing the spread of disease. As late as May, an article appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggesting that masks might be useful in clinical settings, but of course public mask wearing was pointless. Several months later, a Danish study, that followed thousands of people, found no statistically meaningful benefit to the wearer against Coviid19.
Mask wearing inside might still theoretically provide benefit to others, but medical researchers disagree about this, and there are studies that suggest prolonged mask-wearing can be unhealthy. The truth is that there is no scientific consensus on the subject. Yet, today, for anyone to suggest that wearing a mask in public might not be an essential safeguard against Covid19, is to invite near universal scorn and condemnation among educated people. Such is the power of uniform messaging.
A primary utility of the mask in the time of Covid19 is political. It was political in the sense that Democrats were far more zealous about mask wearing than Republicans, especially after President Trump began assuming an increasingly less alarmist position. As a messaging device, however, the face mask is about far more than partisan politics. Is the ultimate virtue signal. It is worn everywhere in public, even in situations with no possible medical purpose whatsoever. My wife and I marveled at people wearing masks alone in the car or walking by themselves in the woods. Our favorite were the motorcyclists wearing medical masks but no helmets, which is legal in New Hampshire, though declining to wear a mask outdoors downtown is not.
Those who wear masks signal that they 1) are kind and caring, and 2) “follow the science.” Those who don’t wear masks are obviously selfish and stupid. Here was an unprecedented means of social control. My choice was to wear the mask and implicitly support all the measures that I believed were doing great harm or suffer abuse and alienation from my community.
From the beginning, I had decided that resisting the reckless responses to Covid19 was a hill that I was willing to die on socially, and die I did. In mid-March I began publishing arguments and emerging data on Facebook. I was, of course, ridiculed and attacked. One woman couldn’t believe I was the same guy who had attended church fellowship with her when we were teens. Another, a man who admitted that he had always enjoyed my company in the past, now saw my true colors and unfriended me, as did many others.
The most astounding attack came from someone who I considered a close friend. I invited her via email to a surprise birthday party for my wife, which would be outside, with plenty of space. Thirty people might attend. Masks would not be required. Rather than politely decline the invitation, as some others did, she invited her friends on Facebook to shame me and ruined the surprise for my wife.
I had chosen to be unusually persistent about posting information about Covid19 on social media because of the near-total blackout of anything but hysteria and pseudo-science in traditional media. Real science requires debate. Every important fact and credible dissenting opinion needed to be circulated as far and as wide as possible, which of course was intolerable during a public emergency, according to the censors at Google and on our local city Facebook page.
Two Bakersfield California emergency room physicians had their press conference critical of lockdowns removed from YouTube for “violating community standards,” after it had gone viral. An interview with Dr. Ioannidis was similarly removed, as if there was something seditious about one the greatest scientific minds of our time speaking out in a public health crisis that his entire life experience and training had perfectly prepared him to address.
Professor Knut Wittowski, another accomplished researcher, was also censored. In the removed material, his eyes fill with tears as he reflects how we had let our seniors die in nursing homes and took our children out of school and locked them up. “I don’t know where the government finds these so-called experts who don’t understand the basics of epidemiology,” he despaired, treasonously.
Amazon had tried to suppress Alex Berenson’s self-published booklets on its platform, which is particularly nefarious given the record profits that company was raking in during lockdowns.
Matt Taibbi pointedly writes, “The people who want to add a censorship regime to a health crisis are more dangerous by leaps and bounds than a President who tells people to inject disinfectant. It’s astonishing that they don’t see this.”
Indeed. Citizens were told that the entire purpose of all the lockdowns was to wait for a vaccine by the same authorities who had suppressed debate, grossly exaggerated fatality rates, emptied hospitals during a medical crisis, flip-flopped on mask wearing, and generally gave precious little consideration to the harm interim non-pharmaceutical measures would do. Now we are supposed to place our faith in these same authorities who tell us that a vaccine, developed at “warp speed,” is safe. Is it any wonder that 40% of people won’t trust a Covid19 vaccine?
Why were we always “waiting for a vaccine?” Would not an effective covid19 treatment serve the same purposes, and perhaps more safely, effectively and/or cheaply? Indeed, anti-inflammatory drugs in combination with other medications, seem to have made significant progress against Covid19, but news coverage is all about vaccines. Why isn’t the medication given to President Trump being distributed?
As the crisis wore on my moderately left-of-center wife sometimes sounded like a libertarian conspiracy theorist. She kept pointing out the close ties that some French officials have to big pharmaceutical companies. The web is full of conspiratorial-sounding stories connecting Dr. Fauci to big pharmaceutical interests. Mainstream news sources may dismiss such claims, but the New York Timesreported the same sort of thing about Trump’s vaccine czar, Moncef Slaoui, and it will have been the Trump Administration that actually oversaw the development of the vaccines. Special interests do regularly hire lobbyists and try to extract profitable favors from government, do they not? When it comes to government and industry, it is a fine line between a “conspiracy” and business-as-usual.
Spring turned to summer, when I would once again be permitted to run on the beach, an activity the authorities had deemed unhealthy for reasons understood only by them. Hope was in the warm air. Schools had been open in most of Europe for the spring and they had never closed in Sweden for students aged sixteen and under. The data clearly showed that Covid19 was less dangerous to children than the seasonal flu and that kids were unlikely transmitters of the disease. Fatalities where we lived were about as low as anywhere in the United States. In June, the American Academy of Pediatrics called for schools to reopen in the fall, which we considered imperative. Our school board created a four-phase plan, in which phase one was total remote learning (as they call it) and phase 4 was a return to normal. They were clearly leaning toward enacting phase 3, consisting of social distancing and mask-wearing, which we were not happy about but could accept as a compromise. Parents who preferred to keep their kids at home would have the option of total remote learning.
It was therefore with shock and outrage that we learned, in mid-August, that our schools would not be reopening, except one day per week. So many families had opted for in-person school (imagine that!) that the six-foot social distancing guidelines, suggested by the CDC, could not be maintained.
Not sending our boys to school in the fall for full-time school was completely unacceptable to us. France, for all the terrible authoritarian measures it had taken, had at least learned that comprising education was a price too high. Their schools had been open in the spring and were scheduled to reopen again in less than three weeks. Our family was fortunate to have an escape route through which our boys could continue to be educated, as normal in a healthy society. Some friends in town, who could afford it, would be sending their kids to in-person private school. Families without such options, were stuck.
We scrambled to pack and rent out our house. My wife and the boys flew out while I waited for my visa. I had to file my application in Boston, where I made my way across the Common and Downtown Crossing, formerly vibrant places I have known my whole life, now thinly populated with people in masks and the homeless, suddenly more prominent with the streets so empty. It was all like walking through some slow-moving science fiction film that I desperately wished would end.
A few weeks later, tenants were moving into our house as I drove our family van to a friend’s, who had kindly offered to garage it while we were away. As I pulled in, it was impossible not to notice the ambulance in front of a neighboring house, also owned by friends of ours. I watched their middle-school- age boy walk into the ambulance. At least he was walking. His mom had told me how in April he had become so depressed in isolation that he had gone on medication. Now he had tried to kill himself. He was the second child I knew who had gone over the edge in the Covid19 crisis. The other had been hospitalized. It had been hard to find a program for this suicidal kid since everyone was so worried about Covid19.
I still loved individuals in my small city, but as a community, I found its behavior detestable. How could people be so myopic and afraid? Why could they not see the terrible damage their fear and single-minded focus were doing? Though I could produce rational answers to these questions, rationalizations could not quell my anger nor reopen the schools. With strangers now living in my house, I headed for the airport, a Covid19 refugee.
Finally, in October, there came a clarion call for commonsense, hearable to those who know how to listen, and those who believe in evidence-based medicine and holistic public health. It is called The Great Barrington Declaration, authored by Dr. Martin Kulldorff, Dr. Sunetra Gupta and Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, eminent medical scientists and public health experts from Harvard, Oxford, and Stanford Universities, respectively.
The idea, as Kulldorff said, is based on “epidemiology 101.” The Declaration calls for a 3-month focused protection period for the most vulnerable, which includes the old and people with serious health conditions. Nursing homes would be staffed by those already immune or tested constantly. Older workers unable to do their jobs remotely, who tend to be working class, would receive paid furloughs, rather than risk exposure out in the public, as many currently must.
Meanwhile, everyone else, who the science tells us is less at risk of death from Covid19 than they are from the common flu, would go about their lives as normal in order to build up herd immunity. The plan would end the terrible damage being done to people relatively invulnerable to the disease, treat the working class more justly, and at the same time, limit the duration in which the elderly and truly vulnerable must remain in isolation. This is what “we are all in this together” would actually look like.
Covid19 alarmist will warn that the disease has frightening characteristics. Some people, called “long haulers,” have persistent symptoms and may experience permanent damage to vital organs. A responsible government would be able to inform its people about these risks, and the extent to which anti-inflammatory treatments have been mitigating them. But that is not what we have. The young and healthy, therefore, would have to be a little bit brave. We’d have to be willing to take a small risk so that students can return to the classroom, so that our neighbors will not lose their small businesses, so that we can build up herd immunity in order to protect the aged and vulnerable, and so that people can stay employed and not fall into poverty. Those who are too afraid to take the small risk can stay home. The rest of us should go out on the town unmasked, to restaurants, bars, sporting events, theaters, live music, and places of worship, to laugh, sing, cheer, hug, dance, kiss each other, and be human again. And civilized. It would be cathartic.
As Kulldorff says, focused protection is a textbook strategy. It is what normal public health practice would prescribe. Bhattacharya perceives a “scientific consensus” behind The Great Barrington plan, which he says is “the saner approach, the more moral approach, and the more scientifically-based approach.” To date 12,422 medical and public health scientists have signed the Declaration. Yet media and government authorities treat the Great Barrington scientists as a fringe group, out of step with mainstream science, when in fact the opposite may be true. Unprecedented and radical non-pharmaceutical interventions in people’s normal lives – lockdowns, school closures, the suspension of allegedly “non-essential” activities, indefinitely, while waiting for a vaccine, is the truly radical, theoretical, and untested approach. It seems far more likely that the real fringe scientists have been in charge from the beginning.
“Radical” and “untested” are also words that some would apply to the Covid19 vaccines that are suddenly ready at the end of the year. No, they are not completely untested, but vaccines are usually three to four years in development and in the US, the FDA normally requires over a year of observation for any new vaccine, though it can be expedited under an Emergency Use Authorization. Worryingly, it is no ordinary vaccine that the authorities have fast-tracked. Rather than introduce mild forms of a virus to establish immunity, a practice that goes back hundreds of years, some of the Covid19 vaccines will introduce foreign RNA into human cells. Professor Bhakdi is deeply concerned because the long-term effects are completely unknown and the vaccine will first be used on the old and frail. He points out that many people avoid genetically modified foods but are about to accept a not-fully-tested vaccination “that genetically manipulates the human body.” He argues that Covid19 is not a disease the requires a vaccine in the first place.
When French President Emmanuel Macron announced that Covid19 vaccines would be ready in January, Professor Eric Caumes, who runs a large public hospital in Paris and has not generally opposed the lockdowns, was taken aback. He had been unable to read any studies on the radical new and quickly developed vaccines, yet they were on their way. What could go wrong?
If the new vaccines end up harming people, a whole new and potentially enormous wave of secondary destruction from Covid19 could result, not only for those who might be hurt through inoculation, but also from a public loss in confidence when it comes vaccinations, in general, which would heap catastrophe upon catastrophe.
It seems there is little anyone can do at this point to change anything. The narratives based on allegedly sound scientific theories are firmly established in the public mind. The authorities are heavily invested in the methods they have pursued blindly from the beginning. Only a minority will resist.
Instead, we will suffer the consequences and adjust to our less happy lives. Here in France, our oldest son is now on half-time remote learning but at least our two other boys remain in full-time school. Much of France is still in lockdown, including restaurants, few of which will survive, which given the wonders of French cuisine, ought to be considered a crime against humanity. Meanwhile, the police keep stopping me for not wearing a mask outside.
In coming years, the truth will become clearer. Public policy experts and historians will increasingly wonder how civilization could have let a serious but manageable health crisis mutate into calamitous global hysteria with destructive consequences that will continue to play out for a generation or more. Almost every institution on which humans rely to make sound public policy decisions will be found complicit: media, political leadership, professional government agencies, universities and many of the scientists they employ. How could we have done this to ourselves?
The answers will be myriad and complex, but even now, it is clear that a single philosophical failing undermines virtually all of our vital institutions. We are a society that no longer values dissent. Those who disagree are no longer considered constructive and essential parts of a shared community. Rather, dissenters are treated as a public menace, to be ignored if possible, marginalized if not, and silenced or destroyed, professionally, if necessary. Herein lies the underlying cause of the Covid19 fiasco, of which the wise Dr. John Ioannidis tried to warn us. It is the root of our unmaking.
[i] The so-called “fact checkers” could only make feeble rebuttals to Briand’s key discovery, which is the lack of change in the proportion of elderly deaths during the peak of the pandemic in United States. Briand’s critics tried to argue that overall deaths could still be up during the period in question, because Briand was looking at percentages by age of overall mortality and not total deaths. But for Briand’s critics to be right, then the WHO, the CDC and virtually every medical authority in the world would have to be wrong that the disease is overwhelmingly taking the lives of the very old.