COVID-19 a Danger to Individuals but Not an Existential Threat to Society


We’ve published variations of this graph in the past, but the perspective never grows old. This data, provided by John Butcher of Cranky’s Blog fame, shows how the COVID-19 virus stacks up against other causes of death in Virginia (using 2017 data, the most recent available). The number is almost as high as it was for the flu and pneumonia.

But… but… but one can argue that if it weren’t for the extreme lockdown measures put into place by Governor Ralph Northam, the COVID-19-related deaths in Virginia would be much higher. That may be true. However that argument takes us into esoteric territory. One could argue that we haven’t “prevented” the COVID-19 deaths so much as displaced them in time. That was precisely the logic behind the “flatten the curve” strategy — to spread out the infections over time to avoid overwhelming the healthcare system.

We have not hollowed out our economy or restricted the number of medical procedures in hospitals to combat other causes of death. We accept deaths from cancer, heart disease, diabetes as part of the human condition. We allocate resources to cure and treat those diseases, but we don’t shut down the economy — and by doing so undermine our ability to support the healthcare system — in order to stamp them out.

As a society, we need to take reasonable precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19. We should ban large gatherings — potential super-spreader events — and we should throw cordons around nursing homes. Employers should adopt stricter hygienic measures than they have employed in the past. And individuals, particularly those at risk, should continue to self-isolate and armor up with face masks and protective gear when they venture into public spaces.

If the media had hyped septicemia (the cause of 1,249 deaths in Virginia in 2017) the same way it has hyped COVID-19, no one would dare set foot in a hospital. Septicemia is entirely preventable through better sanitary practices and epidemiological controls in hospitals. But no one is running around with their hair on fire, publishing daily septicemia body counts, and working the public into a froth of worry about septicemia.

Bacon’s bottom line: Let’s ratchet down the alarmism. COVID-19 presents a real danger to vulnerable individuals but not an existential threat to society. Let everyone, based upon medical condition, life circumstances, and tolerance for risk, undertake protective measures they deem prudent. Let employers take prudent measures to protect their workers. And let commercial establishments do the same.

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43 responses to “COVID-19 a Danger to Individuals but Not an Existential Threat to Society

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid19/excess_deaths.htm

    I still like looking at the CDC data, which now getting some static. This chart shows “excess deaths,” the number vs. the three-year previous average for that week. Starting with the week ending March 28, excess deaths were recorded. They clearly will be for a while. This is based on filed death certificates, so the lag time can be significant. The tallies will grow.

    This, to me, is a good measure of the problem. Most of the COVID deaths are deaths WITH (due to commodities), not deaths OF. But the variation from the base can be blamed on COVID-19. Note two years earlier, probably a flu spike end of 2017 into 2018.

  2. People have faced these situations many times in the past. For example, imagine the discussion in Kyoto between Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “Well, maybe they only had the one.”

    • Actually a better example than you realize – hidebound leadership unwilling to adapt in the face of changed circumstances, worried most about maintaining power and actually caring little about the people. Nobody would give the Emperor the bad news….(that sounds familiar, too…)

  3. Is that graph comparing 3 months of data to 12 months of data?

  4. How is Northam’s approach is decidedly middle of the pack compared to other states. Or are you enforcing the usual “Virginia” parochialism. If you want severe, check out Delaware.

  5. Even many of the ‘skeptics” are not advocating things like spectator sports events, movie theaters and the like…

    it might be interesting to see how many go back to the casinos in Las Vegas as the same time we look at churches.

    If things go haywire – I don’t think too many will be surprised…

  6. How is Northam’s approach “severe? It is decidedly middle of the pack compared to other states. Or are you enforcing the usual “Virginia” parochialism. If you want severe, check out Delaware.

    • Agreed. Virginia left many things open (with limited capacity) which other states closed. Some places only recently let people just walk in the park!

  7. I don’t understand the long lines at food banks. Stimulus checks have been distributed. There is unemployment insurance. There is federal augmentation of unemployment insurance. I’m told that about 2/3 of the people collecting the combined state and federal unemployment benefits are making more than when they were employed. So, why are the lines at food banks longer than ever?

    I don’t understand the resiliency of the homeless to this disease. People living on the streets in cramped conditions with limited access to hand washing or medical care don’t become hotspots. Good but why?

    As of Feb 2019 81% of American adults owned a smartphone. Yet Virginia will need more than 1,000 additional contact tracers to follow up on those who came into proximity with an infected person. Can’t the vast majority of contact tracing be done through technology rather than labor?

    King Ralph and Money Train Layne seem to be sticking with their $2b tax shortfall over two years despite the fact that we fell $700M short in April alone. What’s their angle? Is it as simple as the taxpayers being the pigeon in this game of liar’s poker?

    And the big one – for the adherents of maintaining the early April level of lockdown … maintain that lockdown until when? Until a vaccine is developed, tested and distributed?

    • re: “what I do not understand”

      on the food supply. Ostensibly because the restaurants and schools and other venues serving food closed down – it’s bulloxed the supply chain and now farmers are dumping milk, euthanizing poultry and hogs and cattle are standing around instead of being slaughtered…

      but “we” actually were eating all that food before – right?

      and all this food that is being given away from Food Banks – WHERE is it coming from?

      AND – why can’t all that dumped milk and euthanized poultry and pork go to the food banks?

      very confusing…..

      • Maybe. I assume the reason farmers are dumping milk and killing chickens is because the outbreaks in the processing plants have reduced the economy’s ability to turn raw agricultural product into consumable food. My local grocery store never has chicken wings anymore and asks customers to limit themselves to three steak / beef items per visit. I’ve also noticed that prices, particularly for pork, are considerably higher than pre COVID19. However, there’s still plenty of food even if not the usual variety.

        People hoarded toilet paper for no particularly good reason. Perhaps those who are unemployed are trying to save some of the stimulus / benefit money by visiting food banks. That would make a lot of sense given that unemployed people don’t go to work and have the time to wait in lines for food. It would also make a lot of sense if people (correctly) assumed that the current level of benefits can’t be maintained indefinitely and the government money may end before the rehiring gets fully underway.

        • re: ” because the outbreaks in the processing plants have reduced the economy’s ability to turn raw agricultural product into consumable food. ”

          Can you now explain to Jim Bacon and company that this is NOT because of the “government shutdown” and instead the virus?

          re: stimulus money and food banks.

          Yup. People are not stupid – they are hedging their bets as to how long the economy will be down and how long the govt will send them benefits… give them credit.

          re: toilet paper, paper towels and other

          Yes… what in the DOODAH is WRONG with people?

          This stuff is just now starting to come back – and my bet is that some folks now have a years supply overflowing their closets…

          and.. these are the ones that folks say the govt should let “decide” what is safe or not? these folks are why we need rules… like restricting how much the can horde while others have none.

  8. Jim Bacon. I have been having problems posting comments from my IPhone. There a flaw in the system? Maybe my phone?

    • This is the first report of such a problem. Let me know if it persists. Hopefully, other readers will chime in if they experience the same thing. If I get two or three such reports, I’ll get our web host to look into it.

    • Maybe you have a virus. Get tested immediately. If positive, quarantine the iPhone for 14 days. Report your infected iPhone to Virginia Contact Tracing. They will manually notify anybody who you may have communicated with using that iPhone over the past 10 days. How old is your iPhone? Does it exhibit any ongoing problems? Even if it is old and has technical comorbidities … don’t worry. The Genius Bars in the local Apple stores have not been overwhelmed because we have successfully flattened the curve. If your case is severe they will work on your iPhone there. Until you execute these processes remember that your iPhone should “stay off, stay safe”.

  9. WuFlu? Jim, you are perilously close to being afoul of the POPC (pronounced “pop see”). This is the Posse Of Political Correctness. Headquartered in San Antonio the POPC has determined that “Chinese Flu” and “Kung Fu Flu” constitute hate speech. Can WuFlu be far behind? If they determine that WuFlu is hate speech and you used that term deliberately they will “investigate” you. Do you think I am kidding ….

    https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/san-antonio-bans-racist-chinese-virus-ted-cruz-a9505881.html

  10. Ripper. Great advice! Should I try bleach or bug spray or one of those masks that Donal Trump has started wearing?

  11. “Let’s ratchet down the alarmism. COVID-19 presents a real danger to vulnerable individuals but not an existential threat to society.”

    Growing numbers of sources says that government induced alarmism is a part of the public health care fighters of pandemic playbook. It is often intentionally done.

    Why?

    Because pandemic fighters need to get the public’s attention, and get the public to do as they say, something that they otherwise would not do. Here Fear is an important ingredient to success. And grossly overestimating deaths works beautifully here in these pandemic cases because the human psyche is easily frightened by invisible killers all around us that we cannot see. This jump-starts our primal fears, especially as we feel helpless when confronted with invisible killers.

    So the kill rate of new pandemics are often made out to be ten to hundreds of times more lethal and dangerous than the pandemics actually become. This has happened over and over in recent past. The Imperial College of London modeller who jump-started this rampage of fear of Coved 19 was notorious for grossly over estimating the lethality of pandemics. And despite that fact his March 16 estimates of 2.2 million deaths in America, without remediation, was believed enough to start a stampede of unwise actions, leading to shutdown of entire economies.

    There is a second reason for these misinformation campaigns. It is most always far safer to greatly overestimate the threat then to underestimate it. Typically, great fault is rarely found when one’s estimate is grossly high because the modeler or predictor has a strong defense for it, that their actions prevented the horrible result predicted. And proving a negative is inherently difficult.

    In contrast, effective criticism most always hits those who under estimate, and are thus proven wrong. When more die than predicted, the predictor opens himself up to the charge that the dead would be alive, had there been good information, and instead died by reason of the lack of good information. Here the modeler has set himself up for blame game. Far better to grossly over estimate, then later claim success for having saved us from mass causalities. Then, too, it is far harder to prove a negative.

  12. Reed. We are talking maybe three months. Sending out an alarm makes sense and likely saves lives. The problem globally, and on this blog, is the anti-intellectual, anti-scientific thinking that creeps up when individual portfolios or hard right opinions are challenged. Sort of like climate change deniers morphed into new monsters.

    • Peter – that is your opinion, which you are entitled too but there are other opinions, quite the contrary worldwide, that should be considered. Here is only one of many.

    • Here’s a question I have Peter. Why should I listen to someone who is not an epidemiologist views over the views of hundreds/thousands are actual epidemiologists?

      That’s the problem. Some folks latch on to others they like because they like how they “reason” – even though they lack the deeper in-depth knowledge of people who have been academically trained in that field and spent decades doing that work.

      Even if there were educated similarly – if you have a thousand guys agreeing on the science and one guy who disagrees – why do some gravitate to the one who disagrees?

    • “Reed. We are talking maybe three months. Sending out an alarm makes sense and likely saves lives.”

      Peter, its not the Alarm, its the gross exaggeration of it, and the knee jerk over reactions to it, that did so much unnecessary harm. The biggest mistake were most (nearly all) of the lock downs. Three months is a long time if you have lost your lifework in that three months or soon will, a livelihood or your business that took you decades to build, and now you’re 55 with wife, kids, no business, no job, left with nothing to keep you going, maybe a suicide. This is happening all over country. And it did not need, too. There were so many ways to protect everyone fair better, not threaten a nation.

      Just as bad is that many of these unnecessary lock downs now make it much harder to step down from, and open up from, where they occurred.

      As stated, there were and are far better ways to deal with these pandemic problems, protecting the vulnerable, while also protecting everyone else, many of whom have been ruined by this lock down approach.

      Why were we, and our ‘experts” unable to see this and know this, like others did? Why have we not learned from the past? Why were we so incredible unprepared, especially our so many of our”experts.” I have heard no good answers from those in charge here. But I have heard plenty for other people not in charge here. This for example:

      to be inserted.

      It is amazing, the silence by those in charge, and of by so many us in the face of carnage we have caused to so many people younger and/or less fortunate than ourselves who have made this mess.

      • Here is above insertion:

      • Here is another highly informed expert and actor who got this right for his country.

      • As more and more evidence is collected and analyzed all over the world, we are now getting a progressively clearer view of this Coved-19 virus and its pandemic, and its potential impacts in different locales in all their complexities.

        So we are beginning to better grasp essential questions and an emerging array of possible answers and solutions depending upon the profile of places, and populations. Hopefully now we are growing our knowledge and skills that will empower us to better get past this pandemic while doing the least harm and the most good for all the different sorts of people caught up in this pandemic.

        At the same time, we are learning first hand about the HIGHLY UNSETTLED nature of the science surrounding this particularly pandemic.

        Perhaps, right now, the most important questions in the world are:

        1/ How do we protect our most those most vulnerable to the virus and limit the harm we might inflict upon by ill advised actions,

        While at the very same time,

        2/ How do we protect our most vulnerable to lock-downs and limit the harm we might inflict upon them by ill advised actions.

        These twin question raise two collateral questions that have yet to answered with the required specificity:

        1/ What is the real risk of death and harm from this virus to people in a whole complex array of circumstances within which we find those people, and

        2/ What is the real risk of death and harm from lock-downs to people in a whole complex array of circumstances within which we find those people.

        This 30 minute interview of Professor Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University throws great light and clarity onto these complex questions and potential approaches to best answering them.

        See:

    • The real problem globally and on this blog is that certain parties will take loose scientific hypotheses and proclaim scientific fact. Those hypotheses will then be used to further political philosophy. While I doubt anybody wants the lockdown to ruin Trump’s re-election chances I think a lot of people like the idea of a guaranteed salary from the government whether a person is working or not. Maintaining the lockdown with no end in mind makes it easier for Pelosi, et al to keep writing checks. The more normal this situation seems the more a guaranteed income seems normal as well. Never waste a crisis.

      Remember way, way back in March when the virus could live on metal surfaces for up to four days and make those surfaces infectious? That “science” went by the wayside. Remember when the WHO declared the death rate for those infected to be 3.4%? That “science” has gone by the wayside too.

      • As flawed and unsatisfying science can be and is in the middle of a pandemic that we really are learning about as we go along – there still is a fundamental difference between opinion from science and opinion from folks who do not have scientific background other than what they read.

        No one should view one statement from a scientist as uncontested fact. There is a process called peer-review that the purpose is to vett different scientific thought.

        People do not understand how science works. They don’t understand the essential nature of models either.

        ergo the advice for masks and contact surfaces has changed as we have gained more knowledge and insight, but make no mistake that knowledge and insight is not what ordinary folks “think” – it comes from groups of scientists… no blogger created the 6-ft rule… and as we go along, that might change – scientifically – not by bloggers.

        In terms of the “lockdown” – it’s the science advising that – and yes, epidemiologists are NOT economists but people are arguing with the virus – the virus does not give a rats ass – if it destroys the economy so ignore it and go back to stadium sports or other dense congregations and see what it gets you. Argue all day that it’s not good for the economy – true – but what is the reality? You just need someone like Pelosi to blame for it?

        That just plain bogus… to the bone… but it works for folks who want to think that way and the Dems are dumb enough to not realize that parroting the epidemiologists and science is a bad strategy with the “open up now” folks.

        We are destined to learn the “hard way” on this… we seem to be far more willing to argue that work together to figure out how to open up without killing thousands of people.

        true enough – divided, we will fail.

  13. “Let everyone, based upon medical condition, life circumstances, and tolerance for risk, undertake protective measures they deem prudent.”

    How is an at-risk person supposed to safely get groceries if somebody carrying Covid can just walk in, sans-mask, coughing up a storm behind them in line?

    Reminder: masks mostly prevent you from spreading the disease to others, not other spreading the disease to you.

    • How does such a person get groceries now?

      I see no problem with the state demanding that people wear masks, where appropriate, in areas of public accommodation. Obviously, you can’t eat while wearing a mask so there has to be some common sense. I’m spending time on the eastern shore of Maryland where you have to wear a mask in any retail setting, including grocery stores. I also do all the shopping for my family so I’m in the store pretty often. Wearing a mask in a grocery store is hardly an imposition. And … even from a libertarian standpoint … the state can make you wear pants, shoes and a shirt in a grocery store so why not a mask?

      If wearing masks in retail stores were the extent of the lockdown we would have no economic problem.

      The right answer is a combination of education, sensible regulations like wearing masks in retail stores and personal choice.

      The biggest question will beK-12 schools where under aged Americans may be forced by law to congregate indoors.

      • Masks are to protect others from you. Right?

        So it sounds like the advice to go hide under the bed has switched for the vulnerable to, yes, go to the grocery store where the young/healthy who might be infected will wear a mask to protect you.

        correct?

        The thing about teachers in K-12 is that, yes, they start out as young and healthy 25 year olds – but if it is a career, they stay there for 20,30 years at which time, as they get older, many will also acquire health conditions… that make them vulnerable also – just like seniors.

        You will actually find this throughout the work force. Young and healthy will be working side-by-side with 55 year olds with health conditions.

        Next time you’re in a grocery store – look at the checkers. Some are young and healthy and others are seniors…

        The “defiant” types argue that they have “freedom” and should not have it taken away by forcing them to behave in ways they do not want to.

        correct?

        • You have to wear shoes in a grocery store too. And pants. Unless someone thinks the state is overreaching by forbidding nude shopping I don’t see masks as a particular intrusion. Moreover, there is virtually no economic harm.

          Groceries can be purchased online and delivered. Or picked up curbside. What does that have to do with offices and restaurants reopening? Or beaches?

          A sensible proposition like extending unemployment benefits to people over 50 who were working in front line jobs would make sense to me. Costly but sensible. Meanwhile, unemployed younger people could backfill. The world has changed and some jobs that were appropriate for 50+ people may not be appropriate for awhile. Unfortunate? Yes. Unfair? No.

          Shutting down society and our economy because there is a relatively small percentage of people who are vulnerable and working in front line positions makes no sense. Providing extended unemployment benefits for such people while letting everybody else get back to work would be a much better idea.

          By the way – since quite a few states reopened in contradiction to what liberals describe as “science” I assume it’s guaranteed that those states will devolve into a bubonic plague like chaos of widespread misery and death. After all, “science” said not to reopen. right?

          • re: ” You have to wear shoes in a grocery store too. And pants. Unless someone thinks the state is overreaching by forbidding nude shopping I don’t see masks as a particular intrusion. Moreover, there is virtually no economic harm.”

            there is a bunch of “stuff” we are “forced” to do.. I don’t understand a lot of the “anti” stuff.

            “Groceries can be purchased online and delivered. Or picked up curbside. What does that have to do with offices and restaurants reopening? Or beaches?”

            If someone has job at a restaurant or beach and they are 55 and have health conditions? How do you separate out all the folks who have health conditions from the workforce?

            The median age of the workforce is 43 – and about half of the folks that are older – still in the workforce have health conditions.

            “A sensible proposition like extending unemployment benefits to people over 50 who were working in front line jobs would make sense to me. Costly but sensible. Meanwhile, unemployed younger people could backfill. ”

            The world has changed and some jobs that were appropriate for 50+ people may not be appropriate for awhile. Unfortunate? Yes. Unfair? No.”

            haven’t heard anyone else advocate that and it may have merit though – again – some of the over 50 crowd are THE experience ones in the workforce… often shift supervisors, etc.

            Are you going to send all the over 50 folks at other workplaces home – teachers, insurance folks, hospital workers, fire & rescue? The workforce is older and have vulnerable health conditions more than folks seem to realize.

            “Shutting down society and our economy because there is a relatively small percentage of people who are vulnerable and working in front line positions makes no sense.”

            The numbers I see are about 50% of the workforce.
            where do you get “small number” from?

            ” Providing extended unemployment benefits for such people while letting everybody else get back to work would be a much better idea.”

            Maybe, but again a lot of the older folks in the workforce are the experienced workers.. that supervise and train.

            And again – you plan on doing that for things like stadium sports and move theaters, etc .. only allowed for people who are young or have no health conditions – everyone else stay home?

            “By the way – since quite a few states reopened in contradiction to what liberals describe as “science” I assume it’s guaranteed that those states will devolve into a bubonic plague like chaos of widespread misery and death. After all, “science” said not to reopen. right?”

            It’s risky business and not only “liberals” but a lot of scientists are also concerned – unless you think all the scientists are “liberals” also, eh?

            “liberals” , by the way, also want to open – but they want to do it with testing and contract tracing especially for workplaces. If they do it for the white house, and meat-packing, and ford assembly lines, and other manufacturing then why now for workforces in general? Isn’t that the way to identify the infected and remove them from the workforce before they infect others? If you do not do that, you end up having to close the business – like meat packers – no? Is that a “liberal” thing?

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