Great America

Rage and Recriminations in the Wake of COVID-19

For the past two months, the country has been on a moral bender, intoxicated by fear and panic. As with most benders, the aftermath will be painful.

In the middle of my tiny neighborhood on the Connecticut shore, there is a nobbly, plinth-like stone about 2 feet high surrounded by a circle of grass and some simple decorative stonework. On one side of the stone there is a brass plaque to “the eternal memory” of the 26 men from the neighborhood who fought in World War I, “the great conflict between liberty and autocracy.” On the other side, a plaque commemorates the 17 men who fought in World War II “that mankind might live in freedom.”

Every year for the more than two decades we’ve lived here, the neighborhood has marked Memorial Day with a little celebration: some children parade, place flowers by the stone, someone makes a few remarks at the clubhouse across the street. This year, there’s been no talk of getting together for a Memorial Day celebration because getting together is verboten. Our ancestors fought for liberty against the forces of autocracy, “that mankind might live in freedom.” We cower in our homes, constantly told to “practice social distancing,” and not to venture out of doors without a mask. 

In a recent neighborhood survey, 86 percent of the respondents (but not your faithful correspondent) were in favor of people keeping “a minimum 6-foot distance” from one another (my emphasis), 60 percent were in favor of “limiting large group gatherings on common properties.” 

One respondent noted that she (I feel sure it was a “she,” though the posted responses were anonymous) would be “happy to wear a mask in the neighborhood” but wanted “guidelines.” For example, “should I wear one in my front yard?” I would say yes, she should. “What about when running?” Definitely when running. Also when showering or eating. 

Another respondent advised wearing a mask “when off one’s property,” while a third scolded that “Any event must have social distancing, even by children, have ample space for social distancing, and require masks.” 

I wonder what the 43 men commemorated on that neighborhood stone would have made of this Eloi-like display of conformity, egged on by bottomless docility, on the one side, and Nurse Ratched disapprobation, on the other. I do not think they would approve. 

Over the last few months, I have written many columns about what Kamala Harris would forbid us to call the “Wuhan virus.” It’s “racist,” you see, at least according to her. I wonder what she would say about calling German Measles “German Measles,” Ebola “Ebola,” or Lyme Disease “Lyme Disease.” Of course, all other instances are different, because the Chinese are not bribing you to change what you call them and besides, shut up. 

As I noted in one recent column, I drastically underestimated how many people would die from the CCP Virus (will that rubric satisfy the senator from California?). But I noted two things. First, the reported number of COVID-19 deaths is artificially inflated both because the government provides an incentive if the virus is listed as the cause of death and because the Left thinks there is political advantage in making the crisis seem as bad as possible. And second, the arguments of epidemiologists like Knut Wittkowski, Dr. Jonathan Geach, and Drs. Dan Erickson and Artin Massihi, urgent care doctors in Bakersfield, California, are correct. The Wuhan Flu is a respiratory illness that obeys Farr’s Law. It comes. It peaks. It recedes. 

Back in March, we were told ad nauseam that we needed to close up the country for “15 days to slow the spread.” The major concern, we were told, was to “flatten the curve” in order not to overwhelm the healthcare system. But the healthcare system never came close to being overwhelmed, not even in New York, notwithstanding Andrew Cuomo’s impersonation of the Angel of Death when it came to nursing homes. 

How long ago that seems. As it turns out, the 15 days were merely a softening up period. It was only after the nation got hooked on President Trump’s near daily press conferences that the Svengali-like Anthony Fauci, accompanied by his comely, Vanna White-like assistant Dr. Deborah Birx, dispensed ever-more alarming scenarios of the countless deaths that awaited us—the models said so!—unless we closed our eyes and hid under our desks until Saturday next. 

To date, there are nearly 100,000 deaths attributed to the Wuhan flu. Half of those are in nursing homes. Half are over 80. According to the CDC, in 2017-2018, 45 million people in the United States were sick with influenza, 21 million went to the doctor, 810,000 were hospitalized, and there were 61,000 deaths. Last year, flu deaths topped 80,000. Unlike this Chinese virus, which affects mostly the elderly and infirm, the flu is deadly for young and old alike. 

And this just in from the CDC: the mortality rate of the Wuhan flu is remarkably low: right in line, in fact (and as I suggested at the time), with the projection made by the Stanford epidemiologist John Ioannidis in February. While he acknowledged that there was much we did not know about the virus, he nonetheless said that “reasonable estimates for the case fatality ratio in the general U.S. population vary from 0.05 percent to 1 percent.” But with every passing day—and this was back in February—the evidence suggests that we will wind up on the lower end of that spectrum. 

“A population-wide case fatality rate of 0.05 percent,” Ioannidis points out, “is lower than seasonal influenza.” And here was my favorite bit: “If that is the true rate, locking down the world with potentially tremendous social and financial consequences may be totally irrational. It’s like an elephant being attacked by a house cat. Frustrated and trying to avoid the cat, the elephant accidentally jumps off a cliff and dies.” 

Ioannidis titled his essay “A fiasco in the making?” The last couple of months have shown just how prescient he was. 

Indeed, the most recent CDC guidance, though hedged with technicalities and alternative scenarios, basically confirms Ioannidis’s prediction. As Daniel Horowitz noted, the report should be “earth-shattering to the narrative of the political class.” But the guardians of The Narrative are strong. More likely, it will wind up in “the thick pile of vital data and information about the virus that is not getting out to the public.” 

What does it say? Among other things—and for the first time—it offers an overall death rate for the virus. And what is it? The horrifying 3.5 percent that the now-thoroughly discredited Imperial College model predicted? (Now “thoroughly discredited” but deeply influential on the projections of important people like Anthony Fauci.) Not hardly. Under the report’s most likely scenario, the number is 0.26 percent—almost exactly what Ioannidis said in February.

Back in March, I quoted the commentator Aaron Ginn, who speculated, “When this is all over, look for massive confirmation bias and pyrrhic celebration by elites. There will be vain cheering in the halls of power as Main Street sits in pieces. Expect no apology, that would be political suicide. Rather, expect to be given a Jedi mind trick of ‘I’m the government and I helped.’”

That will certainly be the dominant effort. But back in March, before the destruction of more than 30 million jobs and tens of thousands of shuttered businesses, before the missed graduations, and soaring suicide and drug-addiction rates, I wondered when it would be that people would cotton on to the fact that the real crisis here was not the disease but our politician-and-media fired panic over the disease? 

For the past two months, the country has been on a moral bender, intoxicated by fear and panic. As with most benders, the aftermath will be painful. But the symptoms this time will not be nausea and headache but shame at our credulousness and rage against those who exploited it. Rage. Look for it in a neighborhood near you in the coming weeks and polling stations across the country in November.