Our Leaders Are Bad At Math

What was the basis of panic that led the lights to darken on civilization? The most important date here might be March 11, 2020. That’s when Congress itself flew into an unwarranted panic, and acquiesced to a lockdown at the urging of the “experts.” State governors followed one by one, with few exceptions, and the rest of the world joined the lockdown frenzy. 

In February, people were aching to know the answer to the following. Would this “novel virus” have familiar patterns we associate with the flu, seasonal colds, and other predictable and manageable pathogens? Or would this be something entirely different, unprecedented in our lifetimes, terrifying, and universally deadly?

Crucial in this stage was public-health messaging. In previous pandemics from post-1918 throughout the 20th century, the central messaging was to stay calm, go to the doctor if you feel sick, avoid deliberately infecting others, and otherwise trust the systems in place and keep society functioning. This was long considered responsible public-health messaging, and this was pretty much where we stood throughout most of January and February, when publications regardless of their political outlook maintained sobriety and rationality. 

Something dramatically changed this time. They pushed panic, tapping into a primal fear of disease. The reality of pandemic, as it turns out, has been familiar. The severity of its impact has been radically disparate across demographics, hitting mainly the elderly and infirm with 40% of deaths tracing to long-term care facilities with an average age of death nearly equal to the average lifespan. It is regionally migratory. It follows a seasonal pattern from pandemic to its endemic equilibrium. 

What has been different has been the messaging that has almost universally been structured to create public frenzy, from the New York Times’s February 28 urge to “go medieval” to Salon’s latest demand that we panic even more. 

My own sense of impending doom began on March 6 with the cancellation of South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, an action of the mayor alone, and completely without modern precedent. I wrote about it on March 8. Four days later, President Trump gave a nationwide address that ended with a shocking announcement that all flights from Europe would be stopped to keep the coronavirus out even though the virus had been here since January. The next day, on March 13, the administration issued what amounted to a shutdown plan for the nation

This timeline, however, misses a crucial step. 

We should be grateful to Ronald B. Brown of Waterloo University for his extraordinary paper that appears in Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness (Vol 14, No. 3): “Public Health Lessons Learned From Biases in Coronavirus Mortality Overestimation.” It also appears on the website of the National Institutes of Health with a date of August 12. Our author’s thesis was that the wild overreaction and unprecedented lockdowns of life began with what was a terminological mixup that led to a misplacement of a decimal point in a report from the National Institutes of Health. 

It was a seemingly small error but it provided the basis on which Anthony Fauci testified at the House Oversight and Reform Committee about the seriousness of novel coronavirus spreading across the globe.

Go to the American Institute for Economic Research to read the rest…

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