How panic porn led to hysteria, failed policies, and an inflated death toll.
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One of the reasons I love history so much is that it is ruthless in its revelations. The truth will out. With the truth comes clarity, and with clarity comes understanding. Vis-à-vis the pandemic, already we are beginning to see the forest for the trees. Posterity will know that the core civil liberties previous generations fought for were needlessly trashed, and that the techno-pharmaco-politico-corporate authoritarianism we were subjected to, which has increased the power of the state over our lives and bodies in the name of stopping a disease that will almost certainly be with us into the indefinite future, was driven largely by the mainstream media and Democratic party. One need not be a partisan to understand as much.
Many people remain psychically stuck in March 2020, which is when a non-negligible swath of the country transitioned to an alternate reality where covid was tantamount to the bubonic plague. Our government officials, public health experts, elites, punditocracy — basically everyone with a left/liberal agenda in a position of power and/or a significant platform — intentionally whipped up hysteria and fostered internecine hatred by exploiting psychosocial patterns; leveraged the virus to justify undemocratic rule by unaccountable bureaucrats; and abused their cultural capital to arbitrarily label dissenting views as “misinformation” and propagandize a cycle of content reinforcing fact-free narratives at the expense of the greater well-being of the country.
It cannot be overstated how harmful the mainstream media has been throughout all of this, a conglomerate of laptop-class types who’d spent the previous four years consumed by a marrow-level dread that Trump would somehow become president again and continue to occupy a good 75% of their headspace for another four years and were willing to do just about anything to thwart that nightmare scenario, and who realized early on that the virus could be used for political purposes against their bête noire in the White House.
Elite outlets like the New York Times went out of their way to foment panic and ignore positive news, shaping an alternate reality in which the grim reaper was omnipresent and leading paranoid corona-totalitarians to behave as if the world were one big infectious disease ward. Coverage fixated on two numbers that were being tallied in real-time: The count of Americans who had (reportedly) died from covid, and the number of new cases.
There were very real consequences to this sensationalism. The endlessly propagated numbers inflated the actual severity of the virus and exacerbated public fear, and that excessive fear is why many folks so readily acquiesced to restrictions that the organizers of the Great Barrington Declaration predicted would have a catastrophic impact on society.
But that doesn’t excuse those who let themselves devolve into delirium, and who continue to twist themselves into pretzels with desperate rationalization after desperate rationalization as they try to defend the dramaturgy they shaped their reality around, a game of tawdry theatrics that even now many are loathe to give up.
I spent the pandemic in Los Angeles. It was absurd. People called 911 to report backyard gatherings and those who weren’t wearing masks. In Venice Beach, the L.A. Department of Parks and Recreation filled the ramps and half-pipes at a skateboard park with sand. Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies arrested a man for ignoring the state’s stay-at-home order while the dude was paddleboarding, alone, on the ocean.
“Snitches get rewards,” Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti told his city’s residents. “We want to thank you for turning folks in.
It wasn’t just Los Angeles. People everywhere were losing their minds.
An April 7, 2020, article in the Tampa Bay Times perfectly encapsulated the lunacy:
“They called the police on homeless people standing outside a Mobil in Gibsonton, and because they saw people shake hands at Petrol Mart in Thonotosassa. Someone called the cops on a Michael’s craft store for being open, and on employees at a jewelry store on Dale Mabry not standing six feet apart. Someone called about a lone man selling flowers on the side of the road. Another said that a neighbor had opened his home gym up to the neighborhood.”
The hysteria was unreal. And unnecessary. Wisdom by temperance in the face of uncertainty was what was needed, not frenzied catastrophizing. The truth was always there, readily available in government documents and hospital records and scientific papers.1 Throughout 2020, studies offered reassuring data that, if nothing else, showed that the response to covid was far out of proportion to the actual risk it posed. This is a virus that, at the peak of its winter virulence, killed 3 in 1,000 of the Americans it infected—and that’s according to the National Institutes of Health.
The models predicting the apocalypse, especially Report 9, which was used by Fauci and Birx to justify the most repressive restrictions, proved way off. Remember all the talk about hospitals being overrun? The fear that covid would overwhelm the hospital system was the reason that the government imposed lockdowns in the first place. “Flattening the curve” didn’t mean covid would necessarily infect or kill fewer people, it meant lengthening the time period over which the crisis occurred, so that hospitals could handle it without being pushed to the brink. But hospitals were never close to being overrun. In fact, inpatient admission rates went down in every month:
Nevertheless, New York City erected five field hospitals and Cuomo compelled the Trump administration to send the one-thousand-bed military hospital ship, Comfort, to New York Harbor, only for these to be closed due to being almost totally unused.
This rather remarkable fact was largely ignored by the media because the optics of such a large-scale public policy miscalculation by a star Democratic governor didn’t fit the consensus narrative — that covid warranted lockdowns and restrictions and segregation — and would’ve played into Trump’s hands. The unique political dynamics of the 2020 presidential election, in which Trump Derangement Syndrome blunted the Left’s critical faculties, led Democrats to embrace covid as a political strategy to beat Trump. Accordingly, corporate media outlets relentlessly stoked fear and panic. The worse things were made to seem, the more it undermined the Bad Orange Man’s chances of seeing a second term. I believe that in many ways, the economy was intentionally capsized.2
By Spring 2020, evidence emerged that the virus wasn’t nearly as severe as it was made out to be, but the Left was far too united in using this strategy to beat Trump to reverse course. As the much maligned former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson detailed in Pandemia, the fear mongering continued unabated, and the liberal intelligentsia set the tone.
“Can Coronavirus Survive in Your Refrigerator?” a San Francisco NBC affiliate asked on April 1, in a story that sounded like an April Fool’s parody. “Here’s What a Renowned Scientist Told Us. . . . Before you put the latest round of groceries in your refrigerator, take a few minutes to disinfect all items.”
On April 6, the public health director of Los Angeles County suggested residents avoid even going out for groceries. “If you have enough supplies in your home, this would be the week to skip shopping altogether.” That day, the county reported 420 new coronavirus cases among its 11 million residents.
An online tracking poll from the University of Southern California revealed how overblown public fear had become thanks to all the panic porn. The poll, which surveyed 9,000 Americans representing national demographics, found that people believed they had a 25% chance of dying from the virus if infected. That was approximately 100x their actual risk. This misperception corrected some over time, but it still remained around 12% until the poll ended in June 2021.3 People under 40 we’re especially misguided: They believed their risk of death was about one in five. For most of them, that estimate was off by a factor of at least ten thousand, according to Alex Berenson.
Argumentum Ad Misericordiam
One of the things that continues to bother me most about the seemingly forever-pandemic that certain left-wing types are dead set on maintaining is the excessive use of appeal to pity and argument by guilt. Argumentum ad misericordiam. Always, the Left justifies its embracement of covidian idiocy by way of histrionical invocations of the dead, with the point being that anyone who questions the propriety of pandemic mitigation measures, even now, long after vaccines have been available, is a heartless bastard.
The mainstream media has obsessed over covid deaths since the very beginning. The Times ran an unbelievably overwrought special edition when the tally reached 100,000. They never put the figure in its proper context, nor did they explain how those deaths were counted (more on this anon), or that covid almost exclusively targets the very old,4 sick, and obese.5
Hoping “to convey the human toll of Covid-19,” the Times also began a series called “Those We’ve Lost,” which echoed the “Portraits of Grief” series the paper ran after 9/11. Not only were they privileging those who died from covid, but they were making the pandemic seem far worse than it really was. Nearly 2,400 Americans die from heart disease every single day—are those deaths any less meaningful? Imagine if media organs trumpeted that aggregated figure for months on end. Fear of cardiac death would skyrocket.
Often, people will cite the fact that the US has the highest reported covid death rate per hundred thousand of any developed economy.6 The Times reported that “the share of Americans who have been killed by the coronavirus is at least 63 percent higher than in any of these other large, wealthy nations. . .”
I’ve detailed this point before in this newsletter: America’s covid death count has always been grossly inflated.
The CDC stated (more like admitted) that less than 6% of covid deaths had COVID-19 as “the only cause mentioned on the death certificate.” The other 94% of deaths occurred “with conditions or causes in addition to COVID-19” and, on average, had “4.0 additional conditions or causes per death.”7
Nevertheless, people genuinely think that the US has had so many covid fatalities because Americans have been uniquely selfish in refusing to follow unscientific restrictions. Negative, Ghost Rider. The death count has been egregiously inaccurate the entire pandemic due to the failure of the proper authorities to distinguish between people who died with covid and people who died from covid. Even CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and Our Lord and Savior Tony Fauci acknowledged that many people who were in the hospital and covid positive were not in the hospital for covid, they merely tested positive when they were there for something else.
The finality of death belies the complications involved with determining its cause. The pathways to mortality from disease can be multivariable, so much so that cause of death is often open to interpretation. As one coroner put it, “In many deaths from diseases, where you have multiple comorbidities, ten different coroners or physicians could possibly give you the different versions of the ‘immediate’ and ‘due to’ causes of death.”
There’s plenty of academic literature on the difficulties of determining cause of mortality and the issue of death certificate accuracy. Studies at various academic institutions have found errors in cause and/or manner of death certification to occur in approximately 33% to 41% of cases.
The bottom line is that physicians don’t always agree on a cause of death. Indeed, agreement between a panel of physicians reviewing autopsy findings is often as low as 50%.
With this in mind, reflect on the absolute soup-sandwich of uncoordinated messaging and policies that streamed from our noble overlords, including federal agencies, Congress, and state governors, and which led to an over-classification of deaths as being caused by covid.
The public health establishment directed state governors to put a halt to elective medical procedures, and in so doing they created a financial crisis for hospitals. Congress then responded to this crisis by offering healthcare providers economic assistance in the form of generous economic subsidies and bonus payments for any case that could be classified as covid. CUNY Professor Christian Parenti offers a rough timeline:
On March 1, 2020, the CDC issued “Interim Guidance for Healthcare Facilities: Preparing for Community Transmission of COVID-19 in the United States,” which called for “inpatient facilities [to] reschedule elective surgeries as necessary and shift elective urgent inpatient diagnostic and surgical procedures to outpatient settings.” Under this guidance, state governors then used their emergency power to call for the suspension of elective procedures.
Then, on March 18, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced “that all elective surgeries, non-essential medical, surgical, and dental procedures be delayed during the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.” CMS recommended that “healthcare providers should encourage patients to remain home, unless there is an emergency.” Screenings for lung, prostate, colon, and breast cancer were found to diminish by 56%, 74%, 75%, and 85% respectively.
From March 1, 2020 to June 30, 2020, hospitals lost an estimated $202.6 billion. Without patients, hundreds of thousands of employees were laid off or furloughed, including nurses and other medical staff. In some cases, entire hospitals were forced to close. According to the New York Times, by the end of April 2020, 1.4 million American healthcare workers had lost their jobs.
This led to a veritable crisis for the healthcare system. Things would’ve been even worse if the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act hadn’t been passed on March 27, 2020, which provided $100 billion for the Provider Relief Fund (PRF), a program designed to support desperate healthcare providers.8
Importantly, the PRF pays 120% of the cost for any Medicare, Medicaid, or uninsured patients classified as covid cases. And because covid is such an age-stratified disease, with the elderly most at risk, this money subsidized many of the treated cases.
This is where things became perversely incentivized. This PRF money was originally awarded based on confirmed laboratory-analyzed tests, but the CDC, in all its wisdom, published guidelines in early April 2020 stipulating that “‘confirmation’ does not require documentation of the type of test performed; the provider’s documentation that the individual has COVID-19 is sufficient.”
Read: A confirmed laboratory test for the illness is not necessary.
According to the Provider Relief Fund’s FAQ page, the money is given “for individuals with possible or actual cases of COVID-19. HHS broadly views every patient as a possible case of COVID-19.” That same FAQ page notes that “A presumptive case of COVID-19 is a case where a patient’s medical record documentation supports a diagnosis of COVID-19, even if the patient does not have a positive in vitro diagnostic test result in his or her medical record.” [Emphasis added]
The Washington Post reported on April 16, 2020, that the CDC had updated its website to explicitly state that “cases where the infection was not confirmed by a test may now be counted.” The Post goes on to note the following:
“But attributing a death to the virus can be a judgment call, experts say, and potentially a vexing one as indications emerge that the disease damages not just the lungs but also the heart, kidneys and other organs. As a result, the overall tally — a benchmark broadcast constantly on cable news and elsewhere — is a less concrete figure than it appears. The inconsistent counting methods also raise questions about the ability to draw comparisons from state to state, and they play into a political debate about the reliability of the numbers.”
Indeed. They even use New York City as an example of what happens when you start counting the deaths of people only suspected of having covid-19: “The city’s tally soared past 10,000 as the change added more than 3,700 fatalities.”
Thus it was, less than a month after the pandemic began, CDC guidance and the Provider Relief Fund’s rules allowed financial coverage for cases that were merely presumed to be covid. Consider the implications: The government created an economic crisis for the healthcare system and then proceeded to dangle economic relief that would be dispensed only for covid cases, confirmation of which was not required.
It is worth pausing here to underscore that nowhere were the incentives to inflate numbers stronger and more powerful than in the US, with our incredibly expensive health care system.
In 1960, Americans spent $27 billion on health care, or about $235 billion adjusted for inflation. That figure represented 5% of our overall economy at that time. US health care spending grew 9.7% in 2020, reaching $4.1 trillion or $12,530 per person. As a share of the nation’s GDP, health spending accounted for 19.7%—more than energy and real estate combined.
The coffers had to be filled some way. Covid incentives continue to be happily accepted, and in the process all the data and figures used to tally cases and deaths have been flagrantly distorted.
But it’s not only hospitals that have been incentivized. FEMA even offers financial assistance for covid-related funeral arrangements—up to $9,000. To qualify, the death certificate must “attribute the death directly or indirectly to COVID-19” or “be accompanied by a signed statement from the original certifier of the death certificate or the local medical examiner or coroner from the jurisdiction in which the death occurred listing COVID-19 as a cause or contributing cause of death.”
For our public health mandarins, the Twitter blue checks, and the Democratic elite, every day is another day to assail those of us who believe there’s more to life than obsessing about covid deaths and acting as though the apocalypse is nigh. They scour the country for anomalous fatalities and crowded ICUs, cherry picking isolated examples and using them to craft narratives around the virus that are predicated on propaganda, wild speculation, and mass hysteria. The Science™ is their rallying cry, an invocation used to silence heretics and assuage the cognitive dissonance that stems from trying to convince oneself of the absurdities of the official narrative.
These people, these would-be authoritarians, spazzes, and hypochondriacs, are not worthy of your concern. Ignore them and return to normalcy. Decline to participate in the pathologized-totalitarian science experiment with no off-ramp, and have the courage to maintain a grounded perspective. Remember that the question of whether or not the pandemic has “ended” is not an empirical one over which these individuals have any epistemic authority. It is yours to answer.
It was known in March 2020 that, per a major controlled study in France, there was no excess mortality — zero — from this coronavirus compared to other flus. In fact, a comparable Chinese study conducted in February 2020 confirmed the same thing: SARS and MERS were both much more lethal and did not occasion the destruction of the economy, to say nothing of the extremely regressive padlocking of schools and what really sorta maybe kinda seemed a lot like the government consolidating wealth and power in some good old fashioned highway robbery at the expense of, well, everyone outside the elite class.
As political strategist James Carville once said, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Carville was advising Bill Clinton in his ‘92 presidential run. At the time, the economy was in a recession under George HW Bush. Carville told campaign staffers to hammer on the importance of the economy at every chance they got. When the economy is good, an incumbent president has a great chance at re-election.
For context, the Head of the Health Emergencies Program at the WHO basically (and accidentally, it would appear) confirmed an infection fatality rate of 0.14%, which is comparable to the flu. The IFR will always vary depending on the study and the data involved, but the point is that covid is nowhere near as big of a public health threat as it was made out to be, especially relative to other risks.
Consider: In Western European countries, deaths from covid have been almost exclusively among the elderly, especially the extremely elderly. Denmark has almost 6 million people; during the first 18 months of the epidemic, 26 Danes under the age of 50 died of covid. That’s barely one per month.
It’s worth mentioning that the United States has markedly more covid deaths in people under 60 than other advanced nations for one simple reason: Our obesity rate.