During a Senate Homeland Security Committee remote hearing on May 6, one of the witnesses, Dr. David Katz, commenting about the lockdown in late March, said, "We may have closed the barn door after all of the horses were out." A new study of hard data demonstrates that those horses left long before the shutdown and shows just how illogical the lockdown was when it was implemented. It also shows that this virus is much more widespread and less deadly than we thought, yet the "experts" refuse to rethink their approach in light of new information.
We didn't start testing for COVID-19 until March, and testing didn't ramp up in earnest until a month or two later in most parts of the country. How many cases already existed when the panic set in during mid-March? According to a peer-reviewed study by Penn State, "the number of early COVID-19 cases in the U.S. may have been more than 80 times greater and doubled nearly twice as fast as originally believed."
The study, which was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, analyzed influenza-like illnesses (ILI) surveillance data over a three-week period in March 2020. Researchers calculated the likely excess cases that clearly were not the typical flu and estimate that "excess ILI corresponds to more than 8.7 million new cases during the last three weeks of March, compared to the roughly 100,000 cases that were officially reported during the same time period."
This finding is significant for several reasons:
1) Lockdowns missed the boat: By the time we locked down, this virus was already spreading far and wide. The CDC's own research on mitigating the spread of flu indicates that "the effectiveness of pandemic mitigation strategies will erode rapidly as the cumulative illness rate prior to implementation climbs above 1 percent of the population in an affected area." According to the Penn State study, the virus had already hit 4% of the nationwide population and 9% of New York residents. That explains why 66% of those who were hospitalized in New York were people who were already staying at home. Lockdowns were never going to work. According to the study, the overwhelming majority of states were already at more than 1% prevalence.
We know from numerous reports that the virus was already here as early as December. Last week, a study from Italy's National Institute of Health found that the virus was in the wastewater in Milan and Turin as early as December 18. Researchers discovered the virus in 40 samples of wastewater during standard checks of sewage treatment plants in northern Italy. Obviously, the U.S. has more travel to and from China than even Italy, so there's no reason to believe it wasn't here in December as well.
2) Testing metrics are meaningless given the enormous number of those infected with few or no symptoms: Given that there were 87 times more cases than what had been unidentified through testing in March, imagine how many tens of millions have gotten the virus since then? What this study shows is that the virus spreads like the flu, unlike SARS-CoV-1 in 2003, which was rare and deadly. This is the context the media fails to provide when trumpeting more cases in the southern states. Now that we have universal testing in hospitals and anyone can obtain a test anywhere else, we are discovering more of what already was spreading for a while. It's not surprising, now that hospitals are back up to capacity with typical patients, that a large percentage of them are testing positive for the virus, even though they don't have serious cases.
For example, Rhode Island health director Nicole Alexander-Scott said already in May, "We are now identifying more people who are in the hospital with COVID-19 as opposed to just people who are in the hospital because of COVID-19 or for COVID-19-related illnesses. Someone could have a sprained ankle and if they are screened for COVID-19 and their test returns positive … they may be in the hospital with COVID-19. We want to make sure we are capturing that data as well." (Emphasis hers.)
This was not true in March or April. My wife gave birth in a Maryland hospital in early April, at the peak of the virus, and was not tested.
This new study demonstrates that had we implemented universal testing at that period, along with the regular flow of patients, we would have reported exponentially more hospitalizations.
3) It's all about borders and quantity of initial introduction of a virus into a country: How much of the virus was actually introduced into a given region – country or state – likely played a large role in how bad the epidemic was. A new analysis of 500 regions in Europe shows that the areas that had a large spread at the beginning were the ones that fared much worse than those with little prevalence in March. The bottom line is that once a virus is brought in large numbers to a region, the effect of human mitigation is limited until it runs its course.
We see a similar dynamic from this Penn State study. States like Arkansas and Arizona had almost no prevalence in March, according to their research, while New York already had over 9%. California, Texas, and Florida also had much lower prevalence of the virus, even though they are the biggest states. This explains the ultimate death tolls diverging so widely between those states and New York and why those states are experiencing a longer, more drawn-out, yet milder curve, rather than an acute spike and then a precipitous drop as New York and New Jersey had.
Arizona has only become a hot spot after it reintroduced the virus from Mexico with a surge of medical tourism across the border.
While the virus peaked in the U.S. from late March to early April, fatalities in Mexico didn't begin to spike until May, which is when people with proper documentation to enter the U.S. began stampeding toward U.S. hospitals at the border.
Thus, the lesson is that the one thing you can do is prevent the introduction of a virus before it takes off. There's not much to do after it has already started. Yet our government refused to shut off international travel when it matters, but shuts down the lives of citizens when it will no longer help.