Misreporting the Coronavirus

BRANDON J. WEICHERT | THE WEICHERT REPORT

There’s been a helluva lot of misrepresentations and fear mongering going on in the reportage of the coronavirus outbreak. Using data from China, South Korea, and Italy, the Imperial College conducted a widely-referenced study which attempted to extrapolate the path the disease outbreak would take once it made it to the United Kingdom and the United States.

Led by Dr. Neil Ferguson, the study made the case that the disease outbreak was exponential in its growth and based on available data at that time, Ferguson’s team provided a range of potential numerical outcomes for mortality rates. On the high end, for the UK, it was 500,000 and in the US, it was 2.2 million. He provided for other scenarios where the death rates were slower, but all of this was predicated upon the governments in London and Washington, D.C. taking decisive action to “flatten the curve.”

Recently, Ferguson came out and said he and his team at Imperial College were revising their predictions down. First, this is good science on display. The study was never definitive; it was the best guess based on available data from other outbreak sites that were much farther along than the United States and Britain. Second, despite what many (particularly my friends on the Right) are claiming: the good doctor did not admit to misleading people about his study.

There was an incredibly irresponsible (and painfully short) report in The Daily Wire by Amanda Prestigiacomo stating that Dr. Ferguson claimed his initial model “was wrong” (though they’ve since corrected that headline). In fact, the statistical analysis that was presented was based on the idea of the governments in both countries not acting to curb the spread. Again, the Ferguson model presented a variety of mortality rates, if the British and American governments took certain actions. Ferguson never said he was wrong, though (and he was not. The data is becoming obsolete due to changing circumstance, though).

Many policymakers glammed onto the worst-case scenario. That’s actually good policymaking. In a disaster, you want to be prepared. You also want to be able to respond quickly and decisively. That means having your resources where you need them. By embracing the worst-case scenario model, the British and American governments have been able to move at greater speeds than they would have if they had done nothing.

Both the Boris Johnson government and the Trump administration have acted decisively. Social distancing measures have been enacted. Though, they have not been seriously enforced. Still, the actions of their citizens during this crisis have been sufficient to slow the spread. And the crisis is still ongoing.

Fact is, as we’ve seen in places like New York City, even under current conditions the hospitals are swamped. There are ventilator shortages, personnel are being overworked, and the Trump administration is working to send a US Navy hospital ship up to New York Harbor because, apparently, there is some kind of a bed shortage at New York hospitals.

Despite “quarantine” and social distancing having been in effect in New York City, it has hardly been stringent. New Yorkers are still flying down to Florida and elsewhere en masse. As they do, they take with them the disease. Many Americans who’ve been claiming (wrongly) that this is nothing more than another seasonal flu-type disease have continued to misrepresent the facts–and they now cling to the Imperial College’s revision of this predictive model as proof-positive that those of us saying we should be concerned of the pandemic from China were overreacting.

We were not. This is a big deal. Everyone knows it but many are too afraid to point it out. The Left, meanwhile, continues overhyping everything in an attempt to drive down hope and increase despair, believing that they can crash the economy and usher the hapless Joe Biden into the presidency.

Those claiming the disease outbreak was not exponential are wrong also. That is proven by the available data. Most pandemics are exponential in their growth. When finished, though, their growth appears as a bell curve. There is a peak in the outbreak followed by a rapid decline. We might–might–have seen a peak already. We won’t know for several weeks, since the data is retroactive in nature. That doesn’t mean that we should reopen before or even shortly after Easter (which is two weeks away). The Pentagon has placed a stop-order on all domestic travel until May 11.

At the very least, we should hold off until about that time. Though, most medical experts maintain that the Trump administration’s desire to reopen around Easter is premature. The modeling still suggests we will be nearing peak COVID-19 outbreak around that time–which means we do not want to flood the hospitals with more sick people than they can handle (which, if we reopen America and allow for normal travel, etc., we will be putting many more regions at risk).

The key to mitigating this disease is in the testing phase. And that was where the beloved Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lost BIGLY. The South Koreans proved that testing is the curative for stemming the spread of the novel coronavirus. The CDC, despite having all of the heads’ up time in the world, was not ready. The Left attempts to blame Trump. They can do that all that they want because he is, ultimately, the president and the “buck stops” with him. But he did not cause this testing delay. It was unimaginative CDC officials–bureaucrats–who caused this and that’s where everyone’s ire should be trained. Yet again, just as with 9/11, we had ample enough warning to prepare and our bloated bureaucracies chose instead to sit and watch the threat come closer and closer.

Here is what ProPublica reported about the CDC’s haphazard response:

The documents — mostly emails — provide a behind-the-scenes peek into the messy early stages of the U.S. response to the coronavirus, revealing an antiquated public health system trying to adapt on the fly. What comes through clearly is confusion, as the CDC underestimated the threat from the virus and stumbled in communicating to local public health officials what should be done.

The article further states:

For much of February, the CDC kept a tight grip on who should be tested for the coronavirus, a strategy that has been criticized by epidemiologists for limiting the ability to track the spread of the disease.

In a Feb. 19 presentation to state health officials, the CDC described the definition of a person who ought to be tested: You had to have had close contact with someone confirmed to have COVID-19, or to have traveled from China and then had respiratory symptoms and a fever at the same time.

However, the CDC’s own guidance from a month prior, distributed to the states on Jan. 17, had a footnote that said that “fever may not be present in some patients,” such as people who had taken fever-lowering medications, according to one of the documents obtained by ProPublica. That caveat was not on the slides presented to the states in mid-February.

The report goes on to describe failed testing programs, insufficient resources, and painfully ignorant staffers all combining to kill whatever effective CDC response there should have been at that time. There was also rampant miscommunication between the team members in the field, state-level CDC outposts, and the CDC headquarters. It was a case of the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. Valuable time was lost during this period in which the disease propagated throughout the metropolitan urban centers of our country (where it then propagated beyond those high density urban areas).

When I think of the CDC’s lax response to the outbreak of the pandemic I think of this scene (with the CDC being the hapless security guard):

Courtesy of New Line Cinema.

So, they dropped the ball. And now we’re coming up from behind. Even now, the number tests remain insufficient. But the testing is now moving in a positive direction. This, in turn, creates a positive feedback loop where we can identify the sick, separate them from the rest of the population, isolate them until they are no longer contagious, treat them without causing more sick people to effectively break our ailing hospital system.

The idea that the president should just reopen the country before our national testing is at an acceptable level is absurd. Yes, we need to plan for the day when life resumes and our economy reopens. No, we should not be reopening until we have adequate testing first, followed on by either a reliable treatment protocol (the chloroquine and Z-pack cocktail sounds great), all while pouring resources into developing a safe and viable vaccine.

Again, the reason that we shut the country down–and why anyone not respecting social distancing in all but the most severe circumstances–should hang their heads in shame. Any one of you could be carriers for this pernicious disease. While you may not feel symptoms, genetically, other people afflicted may have underlying conditions that become exacerbated by the COVID-19 strain, which either kills them or requires them to be hospitalized for long periods of time–which effectively helps to break the hospitals.

Closing the country down and focusing on getting the testing up-and-running needs to be the priority. As South Korea proved, once you have viable national testing available, the disease outbreak can be more effectively managed and the country can resume normal life. This will not occur, however, until we manage to test the population and isolate the sick. Better testing takes time to develop (as does a cure). Many Americans are at risk of losing their livelihoods and their way of life. If you want to be mad at anyone, be angry with the CDC for having sat on their hands for as long as they did before finally getting their testing going.

©2020, The Weichert Report. All Rights Reserved.

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