Careful, dispassionate analysis is totally lacking in coronavirus panic

When it comes to the coronavirus panic, what is needed now is a careful, dispassionate daily evaluation of the data.  It is indisputable that we are in the midst of a worldwide panic of unprecedented proportions.  When all is said and done, and understood, all the measures taken may indeed be seen as having been justified.  But I think that unlikely.

It's critically important that if data emerge — about lethality and extent of probable population penetration — that suggest that the socially, economically, and medically crushing measures taken so far are excessive and unnecessary, we allow that data to propel changes in those measures.  We are going to be in deep trouble soon because of these measures, even if we stop or slow the virus. 

The panic is being fueled by irresponsible, uninformed, stupid, and sensationalized media coverage, along with politically motivated scare commentary.  I read somewhere, for example, that now New York has had more deaths from the Wuhan virus than from the 9/11 attacks.  So what?  New York may also have had more deaths during the same period than from 9/11 anyway, as a result of annual flu or from heart attacks and strokes.

If New York had had more deaths from the Wuhan virus than from the normal flu over the same period, that would at least be somewhat pertinent.  But we hear nothing about that comparison in the New York context.  Though nationwide, total deaths from this year's annual flu still far exceed total deaths from the Wuhan virus.

We don't know the answer to the key questions that would facilitate assessment of the wisdom of the measures we are taking, compared with the harm those measures are causing: how lethal is the infection, and what percentage of the population is likely to become infected?

The media are fanning the flames of panic by eagerly reporting the percentage  of deaths measured by known cases, a percentage that's a near irrelevancy.  To gauge true lethality the denominator is not, or should not be, known cases, but total cases.  And we can't know that total without widespread random testing of the population, from the totally asymptomatic to the severely ill, testing that includes an antibody test that captures all those who have had the virus but recovered.

When all this random testing is done, we may be left with a disease less lethal than the common flu.  Or not.

But as of now, we have no idea of lethality or population penetration, and we are being force-fed data that propel fear.

We don't even know how reliable the death data are.  Have all the so far reported Wuhan virus deaths been caused by the virus-engendered pneumonia, or, in this panicked environment, were some of those deaths in fact caused by underlying comorbidities?

Fauci is an infectious disease man, not a total picture man.  It's his job to tell Trump what's needed to stop this disease or to render its outcome more bearable.  It's not his job to weigh the costs of the measure he recommends against the massive other harms those measures cause.  That task is the task of informed political authorities.

At some point, Trump is going to have to urge at least the gradual reopening of the economy, the resumption of some kind of normal life.  Continuing for very much longer with the present measures risks incurring harms that include widespread socio-economic collapse.  And a great many unrelated deaths.  And a permanently damaged economy and society.

When Trump takes those steps, as he will, he will be called an incompetent and a murderer.  Fauci may quit, because he is basically part of the global elite and would love nothing more than to be seen as having been instrumental in Trump's demise.

Meanwhile, Sweden is persevering in its calm approach and is taking a great deal of grief from European elites for it.  Sweden's approach does not include a total shutdown; it consists merely of urging the old and vulnerable to stay home, banning large gatherings (but not closing schools, stores, restaurants, and bars), and allowing all others to continue going to work and school while taking the usual precautions to avoid infection and infecting the vulnerable.  Its numbers at this point are no worse than other European nations' — in fact, much better than many.  Yes, other factors may make the Swedish experience inapplicable to ours and the rest of the West.  But we don't know.

We don't know lethality or penetration yet.  Everything else is noise.  In this vacuum of pertinent information, we have erred on the side of seeking maximum safety from this new threat while virtually ignoring the harms that seeking maximum safety causes. 

Maybe someday there will be a definitive study of whether our measures were sensible in light of the probable risk, or hasty and informed by bad "science."  But I doubt it.  The subject is too important to be subjected to rational analysis.

When it comes to the coronavirus panic, what is needed now is a careful, dispassionate daily evaluation of the data.  It is indisputable that we are in the midst of a worldwide panic of unprecedented proportions.  When all is said and done, and understood, all the measures taken may indeed be seen as having been justified.  But I think that unlikely.

It's critically important that if data emerge — about lethality and extent of probable population penetration — that suggest that the socially, economically, and medically crushing measures taken so far are excessive and unnecessary, we allow that data to propel changes in those measures.  We are going to be in deep trouble soon because of these measures, even if we stop or slow the virus. 

The panic is being fueled by irresponsible, uninformed, stupid, and sensationalized media coverage, along with politically motivated scare commentary.  I read somewhere, for example, that now New York has had more deaths from the Wuhan virus than from the 9/11 attacks.  So what?  New York may also have had more deaths during the same period than from 9/11 anyway, as a result of annual flu or from heart attacks and strokes.

If New York had had more deaths from the Wuhan virus than from the normal flu over the same period, that would at least be somewhat pertinent.  But we hear nothing about that comparison in the New York context.  Though nationwide, total deaths from this year's annual flu still far exceed total deaths from the Wuhan virus.

We don't know the answer to the key questions that would facilitate assessment of the wisdom of the measures we are taking, compared with the harm those measures are causing: how lethal is the infection, and what percentage of the population is likely to become infected?

The media are fanning the flames of panic by eagerly reporting the percentage  of deaths measured by known cases, a percentage that's a near irrelevancy.  To gauge true lethality the denominator is not, or should not be, known cases, but total cases.  And we can't know that total without widespread random testing of the population, from the totally asymptomatic to the severely ill, testing that includes an antibody test that captures all those who have had the virus but recovered.

When all this random testing is done, we may be left with a disease less lethal than the common flu.  Or not.

But as of now, we have no idea of lethality or population penetration, and we are being force-fed data that propel fear.

We don't even know how reliable the death data are.  Have all the so far reported Wuhan virus deaths been caused by the virus-engendered pneumonia, or, in this panicked environment, were some of those deaths in fact caused by underlying comorbidities?

Fauci is an infectious disease man, not a total picture man.  It's his job to tell Trump what's needed to stop this disease or to render its outcome more bearable.  It's not his job to weigh the costs of the measure he recommends against the massive other harms those measures cause.  That task is the task of informed political authorities.

At some point, Trump is going to have to urge at least the gradual reopening of the economy, the resumption of some kind of normal life.  Continuing for very much longer with the present measures risks incurring harms that include widespread socio-economic collapse.  And a great many unrelated deaths.  And a permanently damaged economy and society.

When Trump takes those steps, as he will, he will be called an incompetent and a murderer.  Fauci may quit, because he is basically part of the global elite and would love nothing more than to be seen as having been instrumental in Trump's demise.

Meanwhile, Sweden is persevering in its calm approach and is taking a great deal of grief from European elites for it.  Sweden's approach does not include a total shutdown; it consists merely of urging the old and vulnerable to stay home, banning large gatherings (but not closing schools, stores, restaurants, and bars), and allowing all others to continue going to work and school while taking the usual precautions to avoid infection and infecting the vulnerable.  Its numbers at this point are no worse than other European nations' — in fact, much better than many.  Yes, other factors may make the Swedish experience inapplicable to ours and the rest of the West.  But we don't know.

We don't know lethality or penetration yet.  Everything else is noise.  In this vacuum of pertinent information, we have erred on the side of seeking maximum safety from this new threat while virtually ignoring the harms that seeking maximum safety causes. 

Maybe someday there will be a definitive study of whether our measures were sensible in light of the probable risk, or hasty and informed by bad "science."  But I doubt it.  The subject is too important to be subjected to rational analysis.