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Op-ed

These questions must be asked about how our nation should handle COVID-19. Public policymakers need to give us answers.

Sweeping implications

Photo by William Campbell-Corbis via Getty Images

Epidemiology is one thing, but public policy is another.

When it comes to coronavirus/COVID-19, we take the publicly urged precautions seriously at my house, and recommend you do, too. We have disinfected our home while upping our Vitamin C & D usage. Since my gym was closed, I haven't left my home except for work in nearly a week. Our kids haven't been with their grandparents. I trust the proven experts when it comes to my health, and the health of my loved ones.

However, public policy requires a broader set of questions and considerations because it has sweeping implications. This is why our Constitution makes the president the CEO of America, and not the surgeon general.

Since shows like mine began doing the job the White House press corps is supposed to do, by asking skeptical questions to get real answers for the public rather than play China PR flack, many have asked me to compare and contrast an average flu season with the current pandemic. People are seeking some perspective on a virus most of them didn't know about just a few weeks ago, but is radically changing their lives now.

Here is the official CDC report on last year's flu season. It's pretty easy to understand. You don't have to be a renowned expert to get the gist of it. Please, I urge you, to read it for yourself. Draw your own conclusions.

In the midst of the report under the header PNEUMONIA AND INFLUENZA ASSOCIATED MORTALITY (for some reason the CDC groups the two afflictions together for a death rate), you'll see this key data point:

"Nationally, mortality attributed to pneumonia and influenza peaked two times at 7.7% during the weeks ending February 23rd and March 16th."

What this means is during those time periods last year, 7.7% of the people who contracted pneumonia and the flu ended up tragically dying. And that was with precautions we don't have yet for COVID-19 — vaccines, public awareness, etc. And yet, there was no call to "flatten the curve" during those spikes to save an overwhelmed medical system. Furthermore, CDC estimated 65 million Americans nationwide were afflicted with the flu during the 2018-19 flu season. In fact, the National Center for Health Statistics said 7.1% of all deaths in America the week of March 7, the week before we starting shutting our country down en masse over coronavirus, were due to flu and pneumonia.

By comparison, as of Sunday at 6p.m. ET, the current U.S. death rate from COVID-19 was 414 deaths out of 32,356 cases reported, or 1.27% of those whom we've confirmed have it so far have sadly perished. Of course, given the limited testing it's likely many more Americans than this currently have been exposed. And 50% of those 414 deaths were from two states alone (Washington & New York).

Please pray for them, their hospitals are overrun, particularly in Seattle and New York City. But we also need to separate the pathology of the virus from the psychology of the public policy we're being preemptively asked to submit to. With any diagnosis, a patient is within his rights to ask if the cure is worse than the disease. In this case the cure we're specifically addressing is the shutting down of our way of life — the public policy antidote.

However, given the available data, our cataclysmic response just doesn't make sense and merits further questioning. That isn't a conspiracy theory, and this isn't my data but the government's. These are the primary push-backs I've gotten to the questions I've asked thus far. Surely, there must be better counters? For this is the actual data being reported to us from the government currently shutting us down.

Also, I'm not arguing epidemiology but public policy in light of it. I don't work in the medical field and am not questioning medical experts. But I have worked in the public policy field full-time for almost 14 years. Questioning those who craft public policy is my job and my area of expertise. Oh, by the way, medical professionals from esteemed institutions such as Stanford and Yale are asking similar questions.

Also, we learned over the weekend that using Italy as our baseline for domestic fear is worthless, because the Italians have admitted their own data is unreliable. Which led to them having a far greater mortality rate than even Asian countries on Wuhan's doorstep, when a fellow European country leading the way in testing, Germany, currently has just a 0.3% rate of death among those who contract COVID-19.

By all means, seek out wisdom in a multitude of counsel. I'm just a data analyst. I don't make data, or acquire it, but research the data that's out there. And here's some questions that data is begging a self-governing people to ask:

How do we "flatten the curve" when we don't know when the curve started?
Awareness is not an origin date. Gravity existed long before the apple fell on Newton's head. So when you see these alarming curve graphs that show massive spikes in American coronavirus cases, what is the context? We don't know when the virus arrived. We don't have a patient zero. The earliest documented case of Wuhan flu we have now is Nov. 17. China wouldn't even notify the World Health Organization of COVID-19 for almost two more months. There are almost 370,000 Chinese citizens attending college in the U.S. alone, not counting all the other visas we issue from that country. How many of them went home for Christmas break and then brought coronavirus back with them in January without knowing it because their government lies to them, too?

This isn't like a football game, when there's a mad rush to the concession stand right before and after halftime, therefore if we space out the flow of customers throughout the whole game it puts less strain on the system. We don't even know when halftime is. Nor do we know when the game began, let alone when the parking lots letting in the fans were opened. It is quite possible COVID-19 has been here for weeks, if not months, before the public was made aware of its presence.

How objective is the current rate of positive tests?
A contact with one university hospital shared with me over the weekend they had so far tested 1,117 people for coronavirus. Among them, 68 came back positive, which is 6%. However, only one of those cases was symptomatic to the point of opening a patient file. Keep in mind this is at a time when the anxiety over this pandemic is at its zenith. It's new, it's all we're talking about, and the other socio-economic costs of the societal shutdown aren't yet fully felt. That will also include a lot of people who don't even have the virus rushing to get tested out of fear, whether they're symptomatic or not. In other words, those most likely to have it and/or respond positively to the hysteria are the ones rushing to get tested — and even with that weighted sample they only came back with 6% positive for coronavirus.

So when you see breathless headlines like "U.S. passes 30,000 coronavirus cases" do we know out of how many tested? Do we know how many are currently in need of a hospital bed? Florida has the second-largest elderly population in America, yet on Saturday Gov. Ron DeSantis said it had 18,000 available hospital beds, including 2,000 for the ICU. And this was after spring break went on as planned, and millions voted in a primary election last Tuesday. Florida has hardly been a sleepy hamlet recently, so why aren't all Florida's elderly suffering like they are right now in New York and Washington?

How come last year's flu spike, which was far more dangerous based on what we currently know about COVID-19, didn't merit draconian government action?
There were no calls to "flatten the curve" for 15 days last March when deaths from the flu/pneumonia spiked to seven times what the current death rate is for COVID-19 according to CDC. And those traditional afflictions are far less discriminatory about the demographics they infest. Plus, we have vaccines and public awareness for them we don't have for COVID-19, and still we had far greater mortality numbers than what we're currently seeing from coronavirus (and far more systemic, too).

Based on the current trend line, what are the odds that at any point COVID-19 will end up stressing our infrastructure to the level of even last year's flu/pneumonia season, aside from the self-harming measures we've taken to shut down our way of life?
Jobless claims are growing by the millions. Businesses, particularly small business, are going under in droves. Trillions of taxpayer dollars are being pumped into the economy to keep it from tanking. The stock market is back to where it was under Obama. Livelihoods and retirements ruined. Then there's the graduations, proms, and all the other once-in-a-lifetime memories that have been erased. Absolutely survival comes before any of those things, but unless in the coming days coronavirus tragically morphs into the worst viral infection in our nation's history, will it place more of a burden on the average American than the socio-economic cost being preemptively paid already has?

I don't know the answers to these questions. But these are questions I believe need to be asked in light of the monumental societal toll currently being paid. Then there's the freedom and autonomy we are having over, and history proves liberty once given away is difficult to get back.

One last thing…
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