This article is being reviewed for publication in the Qualitative Sociology Journal.
In April as the Covid-19 hysteria approached its height I wrote an article called The Covid-19 Media project that established the risk of being infected with Covid-19 and contrasted that risk to the risk being promoted by the media, epidemiologists, politicians, and others who have an interest in the public perceiving the virus as being much more dangerous than it actually is. The article examines several stories representative of broader reporting at the time and identifies the tactics used to mislead the public and instances where assertions are completely false. The most effective component of risk exaggeration in these stories as well as others is the omission of who. Who is dying of the virus and who is at risk for complication is largely absent, ambiguous, or imprecise implying that the virus is a much greater threat to public safety than it actually is.
Table of Contents
Introduction pg 2
CASE 1: NPR “Who’s Sickest from Covid-19? These Conditions Tied to Increased Risk” pg8
CASE 2: Seattle Times/Washington Post “Healthy People in Their 30s and 40s Barely Sick With Covid-19, Are Dying of Strokes” pg15
CASE 3: Lilly Singh Podcast “Myth Busting Coronavirus (Covid19) with Dr. Fauci”. Pg 19
CASE 4: CNN “Bus Driver Posts Angry FaceBook Video About Coughing Passenger. He Died 3 Days Later.” pg26
CASE 5: PolitiFact “Images Show Covid-19 Victims Being Buried in Mass Graves in NYC” pg29
CASE 6: New York Times. “Worst-Case Estimates for Coronavirus Deaths in the US”. pg 35
CASE 7: NBC Nightly News March 2nd 2020 pg 37
CASE 8: Tony Evers Responds to Challenge of Executive Authority pg43
The media earns money by attracting attention. The media exaggerated the danger of Covid 19 because danger creates concern and concern attracts attention. It’s very provable by quantifying the danger of the virus and comparing that quantification to the risk implied by the content and presentation of media coverage.
Politicians’ perception of issues is based on how they can position themselves to the issue to improve their image. Politicians reinforced the exaggeration of the danger because they believe the exaggerated danger is politically advantageous.(1)
1: See case 8 Tony Evers for example.
People who see most subjects as too complex to understand adopted the opinions of people they like, those who reinforce their preferred reality and the popular reinforcement of a lie cements that lie as fact in the minds of the masses who do not know how to think for themselves.
People’s concern for a virus should be based on the consequences if infected with the virus. We’ve known the consequence of being infected with the virus is sickness and recovery for about 99% of the population since at least February based on data from China and Italy, and US data alone since about March.
In March the CDC released a study showing that 94% of people in the United States who died of Covid-19 had underlying medical conditions. The sample consisted of 7162 people featuring 184 deaths which at the time represented about 10% of all Covid-19 caused deaths in the United States. More importantly, of those who had underlying medical conditions in the sample 93.4% survived. (2) While this is only 1 sample, recently the CDC released data that confirmed this sample represents the characteristics of the virus, as 94% of Covid-19 deaths were coupled with the presence of at least one serious underlying medical condition with an average of 2.5 conditions present among that 94%.(3) These findings include all Covid-19 caused deaths from February to September.
2: CDC Report: Preliminary Estimates of the Prevalence of Selected Underlying Health Conditions Among Patients with Coronavirus Disease 2019 — United States, February 12–March 28, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. ePub: 31 March 2020. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6913e2 2692 people in the sample had underlying medical conditions. 173 died, which represents 6.6%, meaning even people who have underlying medical conditions have a 93.4% survival rate.
3: CDC 9/2/2020 “Weekly Updates by Select Demographic and Geographic Characteristics”. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid_weekly/index.htm?fbclid=IwAR3-wrg3tTKK5-9tOHPGAHWFVO3DfslkJ0KsDEPQpWmPbKtp6EsoVV2Qs1Q February 1, 2020 to August 31st “For 6% of the deaths, COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned. For deaths with conditions or causes in addition to COVID-19, on average, there were 2.6 additional conditions or causes per death.”
People without underlying medical conditions who die of the virus are very advanced in age or are anomalous. Uros Seljak of Berkeley who studied and published an analysis on the Italian data gave a very accurate and succinct conclusion of his findings: “if you want to know your risk of dying if infected with Covid-19, it is the same as your risk of dying in the next 12 months of natural causes”. (4)
4: Robert Sanders, 4/24/2020 “Study Challenges Reports of Low Fatality Rate for Covid-19”. Berkeley News https://news.berkeley.edu/2020/04/24/study-challenges-reports-of-low-fatality-rate-for-covid-19/ Extrapolating data from Italy Seljak reaches the conclusion that the mortality rate cannot be as low as serology studies suggest. He claims the mortality rate should be at least .5% based on the Italian data. The issue with that conclusion is the general mortality rate reflects not how many people were infected but which people were infected. By his own conclusion “Our observation suggests COVID-19 kills the weakest segments of the population”, and since 99.5% of the population doesn’t qualify as the weakest segments, then the general mortality rate only represents the proportion of healthy people infected compared to the proportion of the “weakest segments.” There’s no reason the proportion of people infected will always be the same especially since the general health of people in different areas varies and behavior varies which affects how and who the virus infects. Who the virus infects, not how many people the virus infects determines how many people die and the mortality rate. Italy has a median age that is nearly 10 years older than the United States, and age increases risk because it increases the probability that other medical conditions have developed and also through immunosenescence.
By Seljaks’ conclusion, in a year there are 1.75 million deaths from natural causes. (5) About .5% of the population is at risk of dying if infected by Covid-19. For the remaining 99.5% the risk is varying degrees of sickness and recovery with anomalous deaths in healthy people under the age of 70 who do not have serious health problems. There are two primary implications in this understanding. The first is legal. The constitutional basis for imposing restrictions is the use of police powers to mitigate a threat to public safety.(6) A virus that cannot harm 99.5% of the public does not qualify as a threat to public safety, it qualifies as a threat to public comfort, and each citizen can take whatever measures they feel are appropriate individually to mitigate that risk.
5: CDC Deaths and Mortality 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm 1.75 Million includes leading causes of deaths considered as natural causes.
6: Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 1905. (https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/197/11) Justice Harlan writes in the majority opinion “Upon the principle of self-defense, of paramount necessity, a community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members.” The epidemic of disease deemed to be a threat to public safety in this case was smallpox. Smallpox has a 30% mortality rate and was randomly deadly in that a healthy person of any age regardless of health could die from the disease. This is in sharp contrast to Covid-19 which is not randomly deadly and is only potentially deadly to a very small segment of the population who already has at least one foot in the grave.
The consequences to the general public interacting as they normally do and more people being infected is more sickness and recovery. In that sickness and recovery immunity develops which limits the viruses ability to maintain itself and find new hosts. The consequence of restrictions is ensuring the availability of new hosts which prolongs the duration of the virus. The longer the virus is present the more likely it is that those who are at risk of dying if infected will become infected. The virus’ longevity caused by healthy people being prohibited from interacting with healthy people may lead to the virus remaining with us in perpetuity as those who have been infected lose immunity over time. The longer the virus remains the more likely it is that the virus will mutate and become something that qualifies as an actual danger.
The virus was initially promoted to the public as being randomly deadly, where even though the chances of a healthy person under the age of 70 dying from the virus were exceedingly slim, it was promoted that anyone who contracted the virus could die if infected. As this idea became increasingly unsustainable the narrative changed to people with underlying medical conditions and the elderly are at risk for complications which requires the general population to take preventative measures to contain the virus to protect these segments of the population. As expressed above, even these ideas incorrectly project risk onto a much broader portion of the population than those who are actually at risk for a severe outcome. The idea implies that anyone over the age of 65 which represents 40 million people or even those who have high blood pressure which represents 70 million people (large cross section of blood pressure and age) are at risk for a severe outcome, when those who are at risk of dying from the virus represents about 2 million people who have already opened deaths’ door and are about to enter the room.
People have gone to great lengths to distinguish Covid-19 from the flu when in fact the comparison is accurate in terms of symptoms as well as who is at risk of dying from the virus. The flu has never killed 200,000 people in the United States but the flu is seasonal. An estimate of 80,000 people died of the flu in the 2017-2018 flu season, the bulk of which occurred during a 12 week period, whereas Covid-19 statistics represent about 30 weeks. There is also a vaccine for the flu and the bulk of recipients are people who are at risk for complications if infected. The vaccine is typically about 60% effective, meaning without the vaccine the flu could potentially kill well over 100,000 people in a flu season. Without a vaccine if the flu lasted as long as Covid-19 has a bad flu season could produce comparable numbers over that span.
All of this was known in March when restrictions began and probably before that being that virus had already been in Wuhan for three months.
I’m the only one who recognizes the contradiction between the actual danger of the virus and the promoted exaggerated danger. Unfortunately even those who take the position that the danger is exaggerated and the restrictions are unnecessary typically do so without the ability to articulate why the danger is exaggerated, why restrictions are unnecessary, and why the restrictions are illegal. Their aversion to the popular misconceptions are a product of either their own material interests being affected, or their subscription to different authorities who have an interest in opposing restrictions. As usual, people on both sides are committed to strong opinions about an issue that neither understands. Instead of the debate being substantive about the risk of being infected, the debate evolves with whatever new item is introduced into the subject. Mask effectiveness, testing accuracy, the extent to which the death toll has been inflated, forced vaccination conspiracy theories, the effectiveness of drug treatment, among other issues that draw attention away from the root controversy which is individual risk if infected. (7)
7: If people understood the basis for why they should be opposed to restrictions they wouldn’t be arguing the effectiveness of masks because it undermines the point that the virus is not a danger. It doesn’t matter if masks effective because what it is or is not preventing is not a danger either way, and by arguing effectiveness it legitimizes the position that the virus is dangerous. The same as Trump supporters believe and promote the idea that hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment for Covid 19. In doing so danger is legitimized by implying that finding a treatment is priority. Most substantively, those who have taken issue with the accuracy of testing fail to realize how they are directly arguing against their own position. The case mortality rate was held artificially high because of a lack of testing, where those who were not in groups that were at risk for complications through at least May displaying symptoms of Covid-19 were not tested. The increase in testing since about August with a decrease in hospitalizations and deaths is evidence that the virus is less dangerous than was projected when there were fewer tests. People take positions against information that supports their position. Academics see these controversies as opportunities to obtain funding for research and media opportunities where they can publish papers about the effectiveness of masks, treatment, and test accuracy which adds to the befuddlement of the herd.
The risk of being infected for 99.5% of the population is sickness and recovery with the exception of anomalous deaths among the healthy population which is not uncharacteristic of other viruses like the flu that are not considered public safety concerns. I am presenting 7 stories analyzed in the April article Covid-19 media project to demonstrate how risk has been exaggerated by the media where the stories are representative of what was being reported during this time. Criticizing media stories is picking low hanging fruit but these are the stories that mold the minds of the masses. Furthermore, I’m not nitpicking insignificant details for inaccuracies but showing how the implied general ideas being projected are in conflict with reality.
CASE 1: NPR “Who’s Sickest from Covid-19? These Conditions Tied to Increased Risk” 3/31/2020 Allison Aubrey (8)
8: Allison Aubrey 3/31/2020, “Who’s Sickest from Covid-19? These Conditions Tied to Increased NPR https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/03/31/824846243/whos-sickest-from-covid-19-these-conditions-tied-to-increased-risk
The CDC published a study that showed 78% of ICU admissions and 94% of people who died of Covid had underlying medical conditions which was reported by NPR. After revealing the research was consistent with data from China and Italy, the reporter did everything she could to undermine the significance of the findings as it related to risk including misrepresenting and omitting aspects of the study that were relevant to points being discussed in the article.
The study consisted of 7162 people including nearly 200 deaths. At the time there were about 122,000 cases and roughly 2000 deaths in the United States. While 200 deaths may seem like a small number it represented nearly 10% of all deaths that took place in the United States at that time, and it was consistent with data from other countries where the virus had been widespread for months.
In the third paragraph the article explains the data is consistent with what has been observed in China and Italy, but provides the quote before quoting another section that states these findings “highlight the importance of Covid-19 prevention in persons with underlying medical conditions”. While I do not necessarily fault NPR for quoting the researcher, the researcher shouldn’t limit the context of what the findings are telling us about the risk of Covid-19 to healthy people, but as we proceed, it’s clear Allison Aubrey reviewed this report skimming for points that would reinforce the idea that Covid-19 is a great danger to everyone.
“The report includes a snapshot of cases among children and teenagers, and it adds to the evidence that people of all ages are vulnerable to infection.”
“The analysis concludes that about 23% of the COVID-19 cases were among children and teens (under age 19). But only a small number of these young patients were known to be hospitalized. The CDC documented 48 hospitalizations among this age group. Eight young patients were sick enough to be admitted to the ICU.”
23% of cases being among children and teens is not an accurate depiction of the proportion of children who have been infected by Covid-19 as she asserts. This report came from a data pool that was over 70,000 cases, and 7162 cases were selected for analysis because these cases contained information concerning the presence of underlying conditions.
“Case report forms were submitted to CDC for 74,439 cases. Data on presence or absence of underlying health conditions and other recognized risk factors for severe outcomes from respiratory infections (i.e., smoking and pregnancy) were available for 7,162 (5.8%) patients”. (9) 23% of the cases for which there was data on the existence or absence of underlying conditions out of that 7,162 were children, not “about 23% of the COVID-19 cases were among children and teens”. She misrepresented the data to imply that children represent nearly 1/4th of Covid-19 cases. The actual known rate of infection among children is 1.7%, and they are hospitalized at a rate of .3% for children 0 to 4, and .1% for children 5 to 17. (10)
9: CDC Preliminary Estimates of the Prevalence of Selected Underlying Health Conditions Among Patients with Coronavirus Disease 2019 — United States, February 12–March 28, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. ePub: 31 March 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6913e2.htm?s_cid=mm6913e2_w 4th paragraph
10: CDC 4/17/2020 Hospitalization Rates and Characteristics of Patients Hospitalized With Laboratory Confirmed Coronavirus Disease 19. COVID-19-NET, 14 States March 1st through 30th. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6915e3.htm
The article is about who is the sickest from Covid-19 based on other medical conditions, and Allison inserts information about children grossly misrepresenting the proportion of children infected, and then does not include the number of children who had underlying conditions who were hospitalized. The implications of which are healthy people even children are getting sick and being hospitalized. (11)
11: Yes children are becoming sick and being hospitalized but it is an exceptional occurrence that is presented as a normative outcome.
Her second effort to minimize the significance of the findings was quoted in the portion of the report “The analysis was limited by small numbers and missing data”.
What data was missing? There were missing onset dates that had to be estimated, which has nothing to do with the analysis of the presence of underlying conditions and their impact on hospitalization and fatality. What else was missing? Information on children who died with or without the presence of underlying health conditions. It wasn’t missing, it was absent because to that point, no child had died of Covid-19 in the United States. If we are informing on the risk of children, that is a point that is important for a parent to know which was not included.
She includes the quote from the report that the research could change as more data becomes available, which of course undermines the significance of the data to healthy people. The data is consistent with what other countries who have more experience with the virus have observed. There’s no basis for the idea that the proportion between those who are admitted to ICU and die of the virus will change as more data is collected since it hasn’t changed since the virus spread and is consistent with data collected in two other countries. (12)
12: The newly released CDC data spanning from February to September confirms that this data was accurate in March as I argued in April.
The last two paragraphs are inserted to restore the idea of risk to healthy people. She states “it’s important to note that about 60% of cases evaluated in this analysis were among people who did not have documented chronic conditions. Healthy, younger people can be vulnerable, too.”
The same as when she quoted 23% of cases in the analysis were among children was incorrect, 60% of cases being among people without underlying medical conditions is also inaccurate because the sample was culled from the larger body of data because patients’ medical history was included. She does clarify in this portion that “60% of cases evaluated in this analysis” were people without underlying medical conditions but the statement still implies that 60% represents a proportion of the general population which it does not.
60% of cases consisting of people without underlying conditions doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t tell us how many of those people were hospitalized, how many were in ICU, or how many died. To say they are vulnerable implies a risk for a severe outcome that is not represented in what she is citing. 60% of cases being people without underlying medical conditions does not distinguish healthy people by age to support the descriptive younger. The report doesn’t mention age groups of the 6% of people with no underlying medical condition who died in the study to know how young people are represented in that 6%. There’s no reason for “younger people can be vulnerable too” except to imply that the virus is still randomly intense and deadly, when the only implication of the study being that people with medical conditions are people who have risk for a severe outcome.
The article concludes by citing another report that 40% of people who were hospitalized were under 55 and 20% were under 45. That report provides no insight or perspective into the research reported in this article. The only purpose of inserting it is to undermine the findings that healthy people have a very limited risk of a severe outcome if infected with Covid-19. That statistic doesn’t tell us anything because it doesn’t distinguish between healthy people and people with underlying medical conditions.
Another important detail from the report to provide context for people with underlying medical conditions is that of those who had underlying medical conditions (2650), 52% (1388) were not hospitalized. Of those who had medical conditions, only 13.5% (358) were admitted to ICU. And of those who had medical conditions 6.5%(173) died, meaning 93.5% recovered. Instead people with medical conditions come across this article and think if they are infected they’re dead. Healthy, young people, many of whom have no risk of death leave the article with the impression that they could die if infected.
More importantly, while she makes every effort to exaggerate the risk of young, healthy people being infected, she fails to include relevant contextualizing details. Details like all data collected represents only a small portion of people who are actually infected since some cases are asymptomatic, most cases produces symptoms not severe enough for people who are infected to seek treatment, and some people who do seek treatment are not tested (at the time) because they’re not in a group who is at risk for complications and testing supplies are limited.
If we chop the article up we could award points for portions that inform and negatives for portions that exaggerate risk. This is not an accurate representation of the impression left because although there is an opportunity to understand risk, the article drowns out that opportunity in exaggerating risk by misrepresenting data, failing to include data that provides context, calling the data that informs of risk into question, and inserting other information not related to the article in an effort to exaggerate the risk for healthy people.
Prior to the CDC publishing the data in September, I used the following to support this sample that I often cited in an effort to establish risk. I included it in the criticism of this article since part of that criticism related to the reporter and researchers implying that this sample was not necessarily representative of Covid-19 despite it being consistent with what was observed in China and Italy. I’ve kept these two supporting articles which are unnecessary because the data recently released by the CDC highlights what we knew about the virus at that time. The article highlighting Oregons’ Covid-19 deaths and underlying conditions was a later addition that did not appear in the original article.
I found a local media report from Oregon, where upon their 101st death on April 20th, every person who died in Oregon to that point has had an underlying medical condition. (13) In Italy, 99% of people who died had at least one underlying medical condition. (14) Still no one draws the obvious conclusion that healthy people dying of the virus are anomalous and the risk of being infected should be associated with sickness not death.
13: KTVZ Channel 21 News, Associated Press, 4/29/2020 “Oregon Covid-19 Deaths Reach 101; All Have Had Underlying Conditions. https://ktvz.com/news/coronavirus/2020/04/29/two-more-oregon-covid-19-deaths-raise-toll-to-101/
14: Tommaso Ebhardt, Chiara Remondini, and Marco Bertacche March 18, 2020. “99% of those who Died from Virus had Other Illnesses, Italy Says”. Bloomberg https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-03-18/99-of-those-who-died-from-virus-had-other-illness-italy-says
CASE 2: Seattle Times/Washington Post 4/24/2020
“Healthy People in Their 30s and 40s Barely Sick With Covid-19, Are Dying of Strokes”
Ariana EunJung Cha (15)
15: Ariana EunJung Cha 4/24/202 “Healthy People in Their 30s and 40s Barely Sick With Covid-19, Are Dying of Strokes” Seattle Times/Washington Post https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/healthy-people-in-their-30s-and-40s-barely-sick-with-covid-19-are-dying-from-strokes/
The media often presents the exception as the norm. During any flu season there are enough healthy victims to put a few on TV every day and if the public didn’t already have familiarity with the flu, they would think the flu is killing healthy people in droves. The title assertion is completely false and leads people to the conclusion that Covid-19 randomly causes strokes in young healthy people.
The article explains what a stroke is (an interruption of the flow of blood to the brain) and mentions stroke victims in Wuhan who were sick and elderly. The article introduces a researcher who is preparing to publish a study on strokes in Covid-19 patients. The article quotes the doctor who reveals the mystery.
“Chou said one question is whether the clotting is due to a direct attack on the blood vessels, or a “a friendly fire problem” caused by the patient’s immune response.”
“In your body’s attempt to fight off the virus, does the immune response end up hurting your brain?” she asked. Chou is hoping to answer such questions through a review of stroke and other neurological complications in COVID-19 patients treated at 68 medical centers in 17 countries.”
The article states that 12 people over a 3 week period who were treated for blood clots in their brain were infected with Covid-19. Then she says that 40% were under 50. This is an effort to exaggerate the perception of the number. 40% of stroke victims infected with the virus over a 3 week period appears greater than 5 stroke victims infected with Covid-19 over a three week period were under 50. What’s interesting is, this is not the experience of a single hospital, this data comes from a network of 14 medical centers in Philadelphia and NYC.
“Eytan Raz, an assistant professor of neuroradiology at NYU Langone” embellishes the figures further stating “We have never seen so many in their 50s, 40s and late 30s.”
The article proceeds: “Raz wondered whether they are seeing more young patients because they are more resistant than the elderly to the respiratory distress caused by COVID-19: “So they survive the lung side, and in time develop other issues.””
The article mentions Mount Sinai who has also experienced an increase in strokes during the referenced three week period. Mount Sinai is the largest medical services provider in NYC and they experienced a doubling in strokes during this period to 32. The researcher from Mount Sinai is quoted in the article “Mocco, who has spent his career studying stroke and how to treat it, said he was “completely shocked” by the analysis. He noted the link between COVID-19 and stroke “is one of the clearest and most profound correlations I’ve come across.”
There were 5 from the other medical centers who were under 50, and this article concludes by mentioning 5 who were ages “33, 37, 39, 44, and 49”. There are 795,000 strokes each year. (16) 2% occur in people ages 40 to 59. 15,900 people in this age group have strokes every year. People 20 to 40 years old represent .45% of strokes for a total of 3577 per year. For the lower age range we experience roughly 10 strokes per day. Since people have strokes at these ages there are people who are at risk of stroke who are infected by the virus and have strokes. In 3 weeks time there is an average of 210 strokes occurring in people under the age of 40 in the United States, and while based on population alone NYC representing .3% of the total population should see about 1 every month, it is much more likely that NYC experienced 3 during a 3 week period than it is a virus that has infected hundreds of thousands of people in that age range and has not caused strokes, causes strokes in young people.
If Covid-19 in these ultra rare instances caused these 10 strokes of people under 50 during a 3 week period, it is still a product of their immune response or personal predisposition to stroke, not the virus randomly causing strokes in young healthy people as the article and these researchers are making every effort to purport. Young healthy people are not dying of strokes because of Covid-19 except by some genetic predisposition absent the healthy population. These researcher representatives of these organizations presented a disingenuous version of what was observed to promote their research and these organizations. They’ve grossly exaggerated the risk of death to healthy people to further their personal interests and have played a role in fueling the hysteria. With the exception of Dr. Chou.
16: American Heart Association Prevelence of Stroke by Age and Sex https://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@sop/@smd/documents/downloadable/ucm_449858.pdf
Lily Singh, 3/27/2020 (17)
17: Lilly Singh 3/27/2020 “Myth Busting Coronavirus (Covid19) with Dr. Fauci”. Lilly Singh Podcast, https://youtu.be/F2YKKba6ps0
There are two relevant points made by doctor Fauci as it relates to exaggerating risk that take place in the first few minutes of the podcast. The remainder of the podcast is primarily related to prevention like transmission, the effectiveness of masks, social distancing, and other points of risk mitigation based on the idea put forth in the beginning: that the virus is randomly deadly and randomly intense. I’m not a regular watcher of this podcast but was attracted by the title when the video appeared in my recommended youtube videos.
The first myth he was tasked with busting is the comparison of the virus to the seasonal flu. He recites his line from other programs that the virus is 10x more deadly than the flu and this is the greatest distinguishing characteristic. 10x more deadly is built on the baseless assumption that only twice as many people are infected as have been confirmed. Baseless because there were no serology studies available at that time to assume a probability of infected people. There were however, the studies from Italy, Wuhan, and the United States that showed near totalities that the people who die have underlying conditions, with rare deaths among seemingly healthy people the same as the flu. This contextualizing piece of information goes unmentioned leaving the listener with the perception that the virus is randomly intense and randomly deadly.
To further distinguish Covid-19 from the flu, Dr. Fauci lied to the public stating “We’ve never seen hospitals running out of beds and ventilators the way we’ve seen in Europe and in New York because of the flu”.
First we have seen hospitals run out of beds because of the flu, recently, in the 2017-2018 flu season, where there were reports of hospitals rescheduling non-essential surgeries to treat flu patients, hospitals treating patients in hallways, and in California they erected tents to treat the sick as bed space was overwhelmed. (18)
18: Amanda Macmillan, 1/18/2018 “Hospitals Overwhelmed by Flu Patients, Hospitals Are Treating Them in Tents.” Time https://time.com/5107984/hospitals-handling-burden-flu-patients/ The fact that a lack of bed space caused California to erect tents to treat flu patients is evidence of degree or (the way we’ve seen in NYC with Covid-19) because there was never a shortage of beds in NYC.
We also saw examples of hospitals not only in New York, but hospitals across the country in the 2014-2015 flu season running out of bed space. The report I’m citing, the media in the absence of a new virus to exploit emphasized the deaths of healthy people from the flu, recapping the deaths of 17 children who died in the past week (at the time of the cited story), a 40 year old mother of two, a 26 year old newly wed health care worker, a 23 year old man from Massachusetts, and a 12 year old from Wisconsin, who were among those who put faces on the flu deaths. (19) Something I’m including because it seems like people in this country have forgotten the flu kills healthy people every year, at about the same rate as Covid-19. (20)
19: NBC Nightly News 1/16/2015 “Hospitals Across the US are Overrun with Flu Patients”. https://www.nbcnews.com/video/hospitals-across-u.s.-are-overrun-with-flu-patients-385536067882
20: I cannot find data on flu deaths where healthy people are distinguished from people with underlying medical conditions to know the exact rate. The statement “at about the same rate” is based on the bulk of fatalities for both virus being among the very sick and the very old, and knowing that the flu kills healthy people. 2019-2020 flu season claimed the lives of 188 children. CDC 8/21/2020“2019-20 Season’s Pediatric Flu Deaths Tie High Mark Set in 2017-28 Flu Season” (https://www.cdc.gov/flu/spotlights/2019-2020/2019-20-pediatric-flu-deaths.htm) While such findings would have been newsworthy in the past it went unreported by national media likely because it undermines the danger Covid-19 required to maintain public concern. The following are URLs to the stories reporting 2017-18 record for pediatric flu deaths, whereas there are no national stories about 2019-20 season matching that record. Time(https://time.com/5301749/pediatric-deaths-flu-season/) NBC (https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/child-flu-deaths-his-record-high-2017-2018-n881381), Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2018/06/08/flu-killed-172-children-this-season-the-highest-death-toll-in-nearly-a-decade/)
At the time Fauci made this statement, NYC, the location of the greatest number of cases due to the greatest population and density, had beds available, including 307 ICU beds, which should be equipped with ventilators and or ECMOs. (21) 3 days later on March 30th, while the media was still churning out stories about shortages of beds and ventilators, there were 392 ICU beds available in NYC. (22)
21: Josefa Velasquez, 3/28/2020, “New York Hospital ICUs Nearing Limit as Covid19 Surges”. The City https://thecity.nyc/2020/03/new-york-hospital-icus-nearing-limit-as-covid-19-surges.html
22: Nolan Hicks and Julia Marsh 3/31/2020 “Coronavirus in New York: City Has Fewer than 400 Intensive Care Beds”, New York Post https://nypost.com/2020/03/31/coronavirus-in-ny-nyc-has-fewer-than-400-free-hospital-beds/
In order for a shortage of ventilators to have occurred it requires that a person dies because they didn’t have access to a ventilator, and that did not happen. While different hospitals experienced different demand and the media follows the hospitals with the most demand, as a whole, the city of New York during these periods never came close to a shortage of ventilators. Yes, you can find different hospitals that are extremely tight on resources and project the idea that there is overwhelming stress on the city’s healthcare resources as a whole, but we have the ability to transport people to other hospitals where the resources exist.
On 3/31 Politico reported that the NYC Health Department had 3700 ventilators not including ECMOs for the worst patients. (23) At this time, 3/31, there were 66,000 confirmed cases of Covid in NYC. There are no reports as to the percentage of people who have been put on ventilators in the US. (24)
23: Sally Goldenberg, Amanda Eisenberg, and Danielle Muoio, 3/31/2020 “Everybody’s in the same boat’: Coronavirus drives New York’s hospitals to breaking point” Politico. Also source for 21,000 hospital beds in following paragraph in addition to 3700 ventilators cited as wells as unused temporary care structures. https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2020/03/31/everybodys-in-the-same-boat-coronavirus-drives-new-yorks-hospitals-to-breaking-point-1269943
24: WGRZ Staff, Associated Press, TEGNA, 3/31/2020 “WNY/NYS Coronavirus (Covid-19) Updates March 31st” https://www.wgrz.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/wnynys-coronavirus-covid-19-updates-march-31-2020/71-329056a3-11a1-418a-ad5d-ab8a0bbed489
A small Chinese study found that 12% of hospitalized patients required invasive ventilation.(25) The general rate of hospitalization is 20% of confirmed cases. (26) NYC has 66,000 confirmed cases at the time (3/31). 66,000 confirmed cases should have resulted in roughly 13,200 hospitalized at a 20% hospitalization rate. Which bear in mind, is not 66,000 cases resulting in 13,200 hospitalized on 3/31, but is spread out over a 6 week period. According to the NYC health department there are 21,000 hospital beds in the city. 12% of 13,200 means over the course of a month, the city should not have had demand for more than 1584 ventilators in a city that has 3700.
25: Alex Hogan, 3/31/2020 “Ventilators are in High Demand for Covid-19 Paitents. How do they Work?” Stat News https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/30/covid-19-ventilators-how-they-work/
26: Bloomberg Surveillance 4/16/2020 “20% of Covid-19 Paitents Require Hospitalization: Johns Hopkins Farley” https://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/2020-04-16/20-of-covid-19-patients-require-hospitalization-johns-hopkins-farley-video
I’m not saying that they didn’t require more because no one is publishing the data which probably won’t come out for some time and will only be revealed through the review of insurance billing. I’m sure the reports of some hospitals being in tight supply is accurate, but there was never a problem of shortages over all, or even close to shortages. At most you had a logistical challenge that is easily overcome. There never was a shortage of ventilators and the shortage of hospital beds or ICU beds was exaggerated by focusing attention on specific hospitals during periods when they were most in demand in NYC. I’m not saying there will not be shortages of bed space in the future. Bad flu seasons have produced shortages on their own, so even a moderate flu season combined with Covid-19 will almost certainly require more beds than currently exist in most areas.
There have been various reports concerning the overuse of ventilators in Covid-19 cases. The doctor is tasked with bringing oxygen levels up when patients are not getting enough oxygen since low oxygen will damage organs and lead to death. This is most of the reason why ventilators have been overused globally and has also probably led to fatalities in patients that could have recovered if not for incubation. Ventilators can harm the lungs and lead to additional infections. (27)
27: Megan Williams, 4/17/2020 “Ventilators are Being Overused on Covid-19 Paitents Globally World Renowned Critical Care Specialist Says”. CBC https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/ventilators-covid-overuse-1.5534097
In the United States some doctors work in an overt or covert incentivized environment. There is an incentive for the hospitals to ventilate and probably some incentive for doctors to use ventilators on patients. The difference between a Covid-19 pneumonia patient who is in ICU and one who is in ICU and put on a ventilator, is charging Medicare $13,000, versus charging Medicare $39,000. (28) It would be difficult to audit or find cases of unnecessary incubation given the medical justification of low oxygen levels, but some of that probably occurred motivated by profit while it also isn’t difficult to imagine patients who had high probabilities of dying being put on ventilators before they died to triple their hospital bill. Purely unprovable speculation but a reasonable suspicion nonetheless. The assertion profit motivated incubation may be evidenced by the comparison of mortality statistics of ventilators in the United States versus China and the British national systems. (29)
28: Michelle Rodgers, 4/24/2020 “Fact Check: Medicare Pays Hospitals More Money for Covid-19 Paitents” USA Today https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2020/04/24/fact-check-medicare-hospitals-paid-more-covid-19-patients-coronavirus/3000638001/?fbclid=IwAR3UlBwVPcar2oVNJFQ75LznmR-sn3TXjoiOIeT6Jjinq_fwIUcl3a5lZts
29: British and Chinese studies have shown ventilator mortality to be 66%. A study in the US has found that of roughly 1100 patients who were put on ventilators, 88% have died. The issue with the findings is 71% of the patients are still on ventilators but of those who either recovered or died, 88% have died. If the mortality rate remains unchanged it suggests a greater use of ventilators in the US than other countries that could be responsible for the greater incidence for mortality. Motivation could be profit.
The points are Fauci lied when he told that woman we haven’t seen hospitals overwhelmed like in NYC because of the flu, as we have in 2014-2015 season, and in the 2017-2018 season. He lied when he said we haven’t seen shortages of ventilators like we did with Covid-19. Based on the observed proportions of hospitalizations with the virus and the need for ICU and ventilators, there never was anything close to a shortage. As I previously pointed out, to qualify a shortage requires a person dying because they needed a ventilator and there were none available. Based on the statistics of the virus the demand for ventilators at any given point is unlikely to have ever reached more than 50% of the ventilators possessed by the city.
This is the person who the American public relies on to think for them about this virus, and he is lying to them along with the media. Part of his motivation is this opportunity to feel important, where his importance relies on the public’s perceived danger of the virus and their dependency on him. I’m sure he probably has other ties that are valuable to business interests, probably nothing overt, but probably nothing could be better for Gilead who manufactures Remdesivir than his endorsement. An endorsement he made despite conflicting findings on the drug’s effectiveness.(30) He makes false statements, uses words associated with dramatic impressions that are uninformative, (31) and quotes statistics absent their complete context to cause the public to associate the virus with random death, instead of probable sickness and recovery.
30: Hannah Kulcher and Donato Paolo Mancini, 4/29/2020 “Fauci Praises Remdesivir After Data Shows it Speeds Recovery”. Financial Times https://www.ft.com/content/1625275b-9981-49f4-b788-661f8243890d Article cites Lancet study where researcher concludes ““Unfortunately, our trial found that while safe and adequately tolerated, remdesivir did not provide significant benefits over placebo,”. This study consisted of 238 participants with a control group and was peer reviewed. The study that showed it was effective was not peer reviewed.
31: Statement supported by contents of Case 7.
Fauci told Lilly Singh “people should never shake hands” even without a virus like Covid-19 in circulation. Without Covid-19 and the fear porn that has taken shape around it if he was on television and told people they should never shake hands, the people of this country would never listen to another word that came out of his mouth. Mainly because people have been shaking hands and having personal contact since the beginning of human civilization which shows his views to be extreme and unduly imposing on the quality of the human experience.
CASE 4: CNN “Bus Driver Posts Angry FaceBook Video About Coughing Passenger. He Died 3 Days Later.” 4/3/2020 (32)
32: CNN 4/3/2020 “Bus Driver Posts Angry FaceBook Video About Coughing Passenger. He Died 3 Days Later.” https://youtu.be/KF2vUoH2u6k
CNN aired a story of a bus driver who made a video post about a woman coughing on the bus and the driver died of the virus days later. The story was clearly intent on implying that you could be coughed on and die of the virus shortly after. The driver appeared sick in the video and he probably did not contract the virus from the women who coughed on the bus and died 3 days later. There is a 2 day to 14 day incubation period before the onset of symptoms. It is extremely unlikely that he was infected and experienced symptoms on the third day that were instantly deadly.
CNN didn’t share his medical history, but in his video he is walking in detroit which even if it was warm for the day wasn’t above 50 degrees. He was wiping himself down as he walked and talked perspiring. He was heavy and seemed short of breath. Perspiring while performing a non-aerobic task on a cool day is a sign of hypertension, meaning the driver who appeared obese, may have had heart problems, at least high blood pressure, and could have had other weight related diseases like diabetes. The story is aired to scare people into thinking they are going to die using public transportation, when the driver probably had underlying medical conditions and does not represent a risk of death for healthy people, despite this being the impression projected.
The segment cuts to the mayor who is telling the story and encouraging others to watch it. As Andersen Cooper did before him, he praises his courage in serving the people of detroit. Yes, he died of the virus, but to refer to driving a bus as a courageous act on the front lines suggests a level of danger that greatly exceeds the actual risk of dying of the virus. As mentioned, even people who have underlying medical conditions have a 93.4% survival rate, whereas healthy people have essentially no risk of death.
This frontlines narrative continued in an interview with a bus drivers union representative where Cooper listed a few different professions of people who were on the front lines. By doing so he implies that anyone who is out in public is on the front lines. To win the war you stay indoors and watch the news for updates, which is good for the news who earns money through your viewership.
The bus driver reinforces this fear based narrative. He rightfully asserts that bus drivers see more sick people than anyone, picking people up and taking them to and from the hospitals, grocery stores, etc. He stated he was glad that the issue of the virus for transportation workers was finally addressed. He was disappointed it had to come to this and transit lives matter. No doubt, public transportation workers probably have as good a chance to be infected as anyone else, probably more than health care workers since the bus drivers are more likely to be exposed to infected people who do not know they are infected. The danger of being infected is grossly exaggerated.
The report concludes with typical union grievances concerning the failure of the Detroit DOT to protect the workers lives against the threat of Covid-19, which is the song of random death he was being called to sing. Cooper closes stating the implications of listing other occupations previously, by saying everywhere is the front lines.
CNN exaggerates the risk by presenting an exception as the norm and reinforcing the idea that the virus is randomly deadly. Even a 50 year old man with underlying medical conditions dying of the virus isn’t likely. As I mentioned previously, the study I cited for 94% of people who died having underlying conditions, also showed that only 6.5% of people infected with underlying conditions died, and the risk of mortality increases with age. Age itself is not an indicator of increased risk. Age increases the likelihood of the presence of underlying conditions which is why the mortality rate increases with age. The same as being obese doesn’t necessarily predispose people to experiencing a severe outcome with Covid. Being obese increases the liklihood that you have a serious underlying medical condition. Having an underlying medical condition doesn’t necessarily increase your risk of death. What determines your risk of death is how advanced that underlying medical condition is.
CASE 5: PolitiFact “Images Show Covid-19 Victims Being Buried in Mass Graves in NYC” (Mostly True) Samantha Putterman, 4/10/2020 (33)
33: Samantha Putterman, 4/10/2020, “Images Show Covid-19 Victims Being Buried in Mass Graves in NYC” PolitiFact https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2020/apr/15/facebook-posts/fact-checking-posts-about-mass-graves-nyc/
It should come as no surprise that attention has only been brought to NYC’s Hart Island used to bury unclaimed bodies during the efforts to maximize the fear of a virus that presents almost no risk of death to healthy people. Pictures of a bulldozer and plain wooden boxes being covered in dirt is an impression that reinforces that idea.
I first learned about Hart Island through a Facebook post. A person copied the picture from the internet and posted it claiming they’re burying Covid-19 victims in mass graves. I found an NPR article that did contextualize the assertion, which included an explanation that the island has been used to bury the unclaimed dead for over 150 years.(34) It also quoted the mayor as saying the bodies being buried there on that day, were bodies that were there for weeks, predating the recent surge in deaths.
34: Meg Anderson 4/10/2020 “New York City Mass Graves on Island are Not New, but Are Increasing During Pandemic” NPR https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/04/10/831875297/burials-on-new-york-island-are-not-new-but-are-increasing-during-pandemic
Politifact rates the claim mostly true that the images shown are Covid-19 victims. The reviewer cites a change in policy where unclaimed bodies that used to be held for 60 days were now only being held for 15 days, and 25 bodies per week being transported to the island had increased to 25 bodies per day. NYC had the capacity to store about 900 bodies.(35) What is mostly true is that bodies that accumulated from people without the means or concern to bury these bodies occupied space that was required for the increase in deaths from Covid-19. It is mostly, and probably completely false that the images showed bodies of Covid-19 patients being buried in mass graves.
35: V.L. Hendrickson 3/30/2020 “New York City Expands Morgue Capacity by 75%-Can Now Handle 3600 Corpses at a time”. Market Watch https://www.marketwatch.com/story/new-york-city-expands-morgue-capacity-by-75-can-now-handle-3600-corpses-at-a-time-2020-03-30
Past that date, since Covid-19 deaths have increased, are Covid-19 patients being buried en masse on Hart Island? No. Because the only bodies being buried on Hart Island are unclaimed bodies, and there is no reason to believe that a greater proportion of Covid-19 bodies are unclaimed than deaths from other causes.
An increase in deaths from any cause can rapidly put stress on any city’s ability to store bodies primarily because the turnover is a fairly quick process. Claimed bodies which make up the majority of bodies may be released within as little as 24 hours. (36) This implies that in most deaths that do not include suspicious circumstances the mortuary may be picking up the body within a few days. A few hundred additional deaths per day will quickly put a strain on the morgues capacity.
36: Tarrant County, Texas, Medical Examiner. https://access.tarrantcounty.com/en/medical-examiner/frequently-asked-questions/how-long-will-it-be-before-the-body-is-released.html
There is a story about a woman in NYC telling her personal experience living across the street from where a refrigerated trailer was storing bodies. Like the first impressions of the Hart Island story, the reader views this account as an extreme measure without precedent to manage the accumulation of bodies because of Covid-19.(37) In 1995, a heatwave in Chicago that resulting in a few hundred additional deaths required the city to bring in refrigerated trucks. (38) Heatwave victims as well as other unclaimed bodies from different causes were buried in a mass grave.(39) Surges in deaths caused by drug overdoses led to Summit County in Ohio bringing in refrigerated trucks on 3 occasions due to morgues overflowing with bodies. (40) In influenza pandemic planning guides, refrigerated trucks to store bodies are in the protocol so it is a fairly common practice that people are unfamiliar with, and this lack of familiarity is exploited to increase the perceived danger of the virus.
37: Simon Shuster, 3/31/2020 “I Still Can’t Believe What I’m Seeing. What It’s Like to Live Across the Street From a Temporary Morgue During the Coronavirus Outbreak”. Time https://time.com/5812569/covid-19-new-york-morgues/
38: Bonnie Miller Rubin and Jermey Gorner “Fatal Heatwave 20 Years Ago Changed Chicagos’ Emergency Response”. Chicago Tribune.
39: Judy Pasternak “Chicago Heatwave Victims Buried Together”. Los Angeles Times. http://tech.mit.edu/V115/N32/chicago.32w.html
40: Josh Katz 6/5/2017 “Drug Deaths In America are Rising Faster than Ever” New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/06/05/upshot/opioid-epidemic-drug-overdose-deaths-are-rising-faster-than-ever.html
NYC has had a serious issue with the virus but the rest of the country has not. The characteristics of NYC predispose it to rapidly transmitting a virus and it is much more difficult to quarantine the sick and elderly than it is in other places. 76% of New Yorkers commute with other people, subway, buses, trains, taxis, and carpools. (41) The number of people who interact with the same objects creates a great probability for objects to be interacted with by an infected person, and then multiple non-infected people who infect themselves. Obviously people in close proximity to other people increases the probability of being infected.
41: Wikipedia “Transportation in New York City” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transportation_in_New_York_City
Total confirmed Covid-19 deaths in NYC is 13998. (42) The 2017 -2018 flu season killed 4749 people in NYC. (43) This doesn’t represent a fatality rate that is nearly 3x higher because we have vaccines for the flu, and usually those who have the greatest risk for complications are vaccinated against it. Without the vaccine it is reasonable to presume the flu would produce comparably the same results over the same period of time. How communicable the viruses are comparably also determines how many people will die of it, where Covid does have an edge over the flu in transmission which produces more deaths.
42: NYC Health Department. Covid-19 Data. https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/covid/covid-19-data.page
43: NBC Channel 4 New York 3/31/2020 “As NYC Nears 1000 Deaths, How Does Pandemic Compare to the Typical Flu Season?” https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/as-nyc-nears-1000-covid-19-deaths-how-does-it-compare-to-typical-flu-seasons/2352180/
Of course so does a state policy of forcing senior centers to receive infected residents. The state claims the rampant spread of the virus through senior centers was the result of infected workers bringing the virus into these facilities, but it is inconceivable that this policy did not increase the spread and cause elderly people to become sick and die. It’s also inconceivable that the states who did not protect seniors from this risk did so unknowingly. The elderly are known to be at risk for complications. If you believe the virus is dangerous and especially dangerous to older people, your first priority will be to protect the elderly. The first cases in this country were in Washington state at a senior center. You would have to have the presence of mind to ask the question what is in the best interest of elderly people if someone in an assisted living facility is infected. The very first idea has to be where you can house elderly people who are infected with the virus to avoid returning them to the senior center to avoid other at risk people becoming infected. It is impossible to me that you could be planning a response to a virus that kills sick and elderly people and fail to see the implications of putting infected people back into buildings to live among other elderly people.
What they did do, is spent taxpayer money on unnecessary spectacles to promote the seriousness and danger of the virus to the public. Erecting temporary hospitals to treat Covid-19 patients that were unused or largely unused. (44) Everyone in the country knows that a ship was brought into NYC to treat patients, but most people do not know that this ship treated an average of 8 patients per day while it was in the harbor. (45)
44: Amanda St. Hilaire, 5/21/2020, “What Happens to Wisconsin’s Covid-19 Overflow Contingency Plan”. Fox 6 News. https://www.fox6now.com/news/what-happens-to-wisconsins-covid-19-overflow-contingency-plans
45: Gidgit Fuentes, 4/27/2020 “Hospital Ship Comfort Ends NYC Covid-19 Mission After Treating 182 Paitents” USNI News https://news.usni.org/2020/04/27/hospital-ship-comfort-ends-nyc-covid-19-mission-after-treating-182-patients
The death toll was inflated by adding probable Covid-19 deaths. Covid-19 and other respiratory infections like influenza produce the same symptoms and typically cause death through pneumonia. There’s no way to distinguish between a person who died of the flu, Covid, or any other respiratory infection without testing.
We have the same demographics for complications, the very sick and the very old.
For those who contend that Covid-19 is more deadly, even if we accept that conclusion, the relevance of that assertion is who that increased probability of death applies to. This isn’t to say these people are expendable, it is to say those people need to take the precautions they feel are necessary to protect themselves. It is also very important to understand how sick a person has to be to be at risk of dying from Covid. The risk of mortality for healthy people is the same as the flu which is essentially 0. Whereas the media and every interested party in the exaggerated danger of the virus has led people to believe the virus is randomly deadly.
The politifact rating of mostly true that the people being buried on Hart Island in the photo being mostly true is most mostly false and an effort to reinforce dramatic impressions. Dramatic impression refers to descriptions, sounds, and imagery producing emotional responses, and people associate that feeling with the cause of that result. When they see people in critical condition, mass graves, bodies in semi trailers, young people dying of strokes, people mourning; what they feel when they are seeing that becomes attached to the virus that produced the result. When people are bombarded with these kinds of impressions and every single account is exaggerated and embellished they become afraid of the virus and are willing to do whatever they hear will keep them safe. This is why the CNN story includes the Mayor of Detroit telling everyone they should watch the Jason Hargrove video, because it moves you to see a person who was alive days before warning about the virus, who is now dead because of the virus. Some may contend that these are appropriate responses and associations with the virus, these impressions are devoid of context. They fail to inform on who is dying and why. Context is intentionally omitted because the virus is more valuable when the danger is ambiguous.
CASE 6: New York Times. “Worst-Case Estimates for Coronavirus Deaths in the US”.
Sheri Fink, 3/13/2020
The aim of the article is to present the worst case scenario for Covid-19. What the article presents is a worst case scenario that is no longer a worst case scenario based on preventative measures taken at that time which the article mentions. The only purpose this serves is to exaggerate the danger of the virus. Direct exaggeration is apparent in details and omission.
“Between 160 million and 214 million people in the United States could be infected over the course of the epidemic, according to a projection that encompasses the range of the four scenarios. That could last months or even over a year, with infections concentrated in shorter periods, staggered across time in different communities, experts said. As many as 1.7 million people could die.”
As I expressed in the introduction I do not dispute that as many as 1.7 million could die if 100% of the country is infected. What is important is who those 1.7 million people are. The numbers in isolation imply that a fatal outcome if infected is random. If the article explained that roughly 1.7 million people die of natural causes in a year’s time, and if these people are infected they will likely die it immediately changes the perception of the virus where the public understands that the virus kills the “weakest members of the population”. It provides context to the risk and danger.
One model creator states the arbitrary nature with which either variables are accounted for or how findings are presented. First he states “We’re being very, very careful to make sure we have scientifically valid modeling that’s drawing properly on the epidemic and what’s known about the virus.” Then he contradicts his first statement stating “You can’t win. If you overdo it, you panic everybody. If you underdo it, they get complacent. You have to be careful.” If you are trying to make scientifically accurate models what are you overdoing or under doing? You can’t be objectively creating models and accurately reporting the findings if your intent is to produce behavior in the population that seems to be in between panic and complacency. The reporter records the answer but is unable to recognize the contradiction and report the implications of the answer.
The reporter uses what I presume was also a no longer relevant estimation of as many as 21 million hospitalizations in a nation with only about 1 million hospital beds. We also have to consider the duration of hospital stays since we wouldn’t go from where we are today to 21 million overnight. 21 million relies on over 100 million people becoming infected over time. While 1 million beds would likely be insufficient even over time, it doesn’t mean we’d require 21 million beds as the article suggests. The number is mentioned to leave a dramatic impression.
The reporter quotes a modeler who asserts that covid 19 is only slightly less severe than the Spanish Flu of 1918. Readers may look up the spanish flu or they may already have a conception of the Spanish Flu, and the association is largely false based on the distinguishing characteristic of the Spanish Flu from other viruses. The Spanish Flu was as likely to kill a person aged 15 to 34 as it was to kill a person over 65, with people 40 to 55 having a peculiar lower rate of death than both older and younger people. Based on the age groups and people who have a risk for mortality because of preexisting conditions, Covid19 is much more similar to the seasonal flu than it is the Spanish Flu.
The story reports one “experts’” model is arbitrary, or is being presented arbitrarily. She reports a worse case scenario that is no longer a worst case scenario. She provides an exaggerated number of hospitalizations compared to hospital beds without providing context for how those hospital beds would be required, if that exaggerated number of people required hospitalization. She references Fauci encouraging public consent for impending restrictive mitigation policies. She compares the virus to the Spanish Flu which produced severe outcomes indiscriminately across age groups whereas Covid-19 does not. The one area where the modeler provided parameters for fatality he provided them generally. The article as nearly all others is an exercise in risk exaggeration.
CASE 7: NBC Nightly News March 2nd 2020 (46)
46: NBC Nightly News March 2nd 2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_NghhPK72MM 1:15-7:23
I initially positioned this review first but placed it at the end because it is the least substantive review in respect to content. The criticism focuses largely on the repetition of words that are functionally meaningless like outbreak and pandemic that are used to leave dramatic impressions. If you watch the broadcast from the perspective of a person who is newly exposed to information about Covid it isn’t difficult to understand how these impressions can create concern in the viewer without substantively informing on risk.
The broadcast begins: “breaking news, the Coronavirus death toll grows as 4 more people die in Washington state”. The screen cuts to an elderly woman being wheeled on a bed into the ambulance. The anchor states the audience will be hearing from a top expert who is tasked with fighting the virus and they air a clip from the interview with Fauci stating “outbreak proportions and likely pandemic proportions”. After mentioning other headlines Lester Holt qualifies Fauci as the top expert in the country and quotes outbreak proportions a second time.
The anchor cuts to a field reporter’s summary of Washington state, he mentions the death toll climbs and states that dozens of residents and first responders are now under isolation. The mood is reinforced through imagery of first responders and the sound of an ambulance backing up. He mentions several patients are in critical condition, already suffering from underlying health conditions, but not to add context for healthy people, instead to emphasize the increased risk of those in critical condition.
The report cuts to a woman whose mother is sick. She said she’s very scared and shows the mother sick in a hospital bed. This short interview serves no purpose of informing, but will cause the audience to think about their own relationships and the condition of older loved one’s in their own family.
The reporter mentions the possibility of a national emergency being declared, schools being shut down, and then flashes to a graphic of a map of the United States of 106 cases highlighting the states in a virus print where there are reported cases. It is a dramatic impression that at the time did not provide any information to the public regarding risk, because even if there are cases reported in your state you could be 100s of miles from a confirmed case. For example, Texas was highlighted at that time. If there were cases in Dallas or Houston a person living in El Paso would be 600 miles from any confirmed case. The graphic was more of a tool to exaggerate the area of infection at that time to exaggerate individual risk.
The audience is exposed to the word outbreak, they hear of deaths, they see ambulances and people being carted off by first responders; they see a middle aged daughter fearful her elderly mother’s health is going to produce fatal complications with the virus. This increases concern by prompting the audience to consider people who they know who could be at risk.
NBC interviewed the head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease about the Coronavirus. Before going to the interview the anchor introduces the segment and states one of the nations top health officials expects a pandemic. The program cuts to footage outside of the national institute of health while a narrator introduces Fauci as a the top expert on the subject and quotes him as saying “the Coronavirus is spreading, and America may have to take drastic action.”
The reporter before the sound fades in can be seen greeting Fauci with visible reverence like a firefighter just saved him from a burning building. There is an expectation created mentioning outbreak and pandemic multiple times combined with the general dramatic impressions and the reporter’s body language: that here is the man with all the answers who is going to keep us safe. The reporter asks in concerned tones “what are we dealing with with this Coronavirus Covid-19?”
Dr. Fauci replies “We’re dealing with clearly an infectious disease and we have reached a level of outbreak proportions and likely pandemic proportions’. The headline on the screen reads “Fauci: Coronavirus likely to become pandemic”.
The only context most people have for the word outbreak and pandemic is from Hollywood. The doctor hasn’t actually said anything but the impressions associated with these words are associated with movies they’ve seen. The word outbreak means the sudden or violent start of something unwelcome such as war, disease etc. It provides no insight on the chances of an individual becoming infected, reveals no insight into the spectrum of symptoms, and most importantly, doesn’t provide the individual with any understanding of what his risk is based on demographics in the unlikely event he contracted it. But it sounds scary when an expert in a lab coat uses dramatic words. The word is not informative but the public’s perception of the word influences public opinion.
The build up features dramatic impressions consistent with what people have seen in apocalyptic movies. It creates a sense of oh my god we’re living in a pandemic! Which isn’t to say that people don’t recognize the sensationalism in movies, only that their association with these words come from these movies and they are words they don’t use and have no context for. Instead of the reporter asking follow up questions they cut away to exaggerate the danger through implied inflation of the statistics. If Fauci thought his statement was informative he would have explained what those words meant. We have the sudden introduction of a contagious virus that has spread to multiple countries which is the same statement. There’s no value to that statement because people already know this. The words pandemic and outbreak are repeated and then solidified through Fauci’s credentials intended to leave dramatic impressions. These impressions create concern that attracts and reinvites attention for future developments.
After Fauci answers the question stating we’re dealing with outbreak proportions and likely pandemic proportions they cut to the flu total death statistics. After showing the flu statistics they state Covid19 is 10x more deadly and imply that since the flu kills as many as 650 thousand people, that Covid will kill millions. They fail to contextualize the statistic citing global statistics to a national audience many of whom will presume they are hearing national statistics.
Fauci states that the 2% confirmed case fatality could drop down to 1% and to some it would appear that he is attempting to reduce the danger. He has to account for mild and asymptomatic cases that are not confirmed, if he doesn’t, his opinion will be subject to scrutiny for implying the confirmed cases to death ratio is accurate. Second, the contrast to the news presentation builds credibility for him moving forward. Most importantly, whether the fatality rate is 1%, 2%, 5%, or .5%, the number implies the virus is randomly deadly at that rate.
The reporter in a dramatic voice fit for soap opera tv said “people are scared. When you’re on the subway and somebody coughs. Are they right? If someone coughs on the bus should you get off”? What he’s done is encouraged people to be fearful by stating that people are scared. The audience thinks if people are afraid it’s probably because there is something to be afraid of. A gazelle may never actually see or understand the threat but it runs because the other gazelles are running. By stating people are scared, coming from the news people accept it as fact, which causes other people to be scared and the fear of others to be reinforced.
This was only March 2nd, and although Fauci downplayed preventative measures at that time, he did lay the foundation in people’s mind for what would need to be done for them to be protected if the outbreak spread, which are the elements of lockdown that we’ve experienced. Uncertainty was added by Fauci stating this is a new virus and implying we don’t know anything about it, despite having 3 months worth of data from Wuhan. Every aspect of this broadcast was fear reinforcing, with the exception of people in critical conditions having underlying medical conditions which was immediately dragged into a place of elevated risk, without informing of how risk of death and serious symptoms generally eludes healthy people.
CASE 8: Tony Evers Response to Repbulican Challenge of Executive Authority (47)
47: Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers response to lawsuit challenging emergency powers. Evers posted this response on his Facebook page which was published by media outlets, many of which included excerpts but not the entire response. The link is to his FB page which contains the entire response as quoted here. https://www.facebook.com/GovernorTonyEvers/posts/republicans-are-exploiting-a-global-pandemic-to-further-their-attempts-to-underm/678129226269869/
The following is Wisconsin governor Tony Ever’s response to a lawsuit filed by the republican legislature regarding the inappropriate use of emergency powers under Wisconsin law. It is being presented as an example of how the danger of the virus has been exaggerated and exploited for political advantage. It is proceeded by an example of how republicans in Wisconsin have contributed to the exaggeration of the danger in failing to 1: substantively inform the public that the risk is grossly exaggerated, and 2: failing to use the oversight granted to them by Wisconsin Supreme Court to prevent restrictions imposed by the governor’s administration.
Emergency powers are granted to the executive branch of state government to respond to threats to public safety when time is not sufficient for normal legislative processes and deliberation. In the context of a threat to safety due to an outbreak of disease the first weeks of mitigation are the appropriate use of executive authority where deliberation and division could delay action required to protect safety. After the initial restrictions are in place the weeks and months that follow is time that can be taken for the public to have oversight through their elected representatives. The republicans in Wisconsin filed a lawsuit that Wisconsin statutes did not provide governor Evers the authority to unilaterally impose restrictions indefinitely.
TONY EVERS: Republicans are exploiting a global pandemic to further their attempts to undermine the will of the people. But what’s at stake goes far beyond political power–lives are on the line.
OS Response: Contrary to his first statement, what the republicans did with the lawsuit was not undermining the will of the people but allowing the will of the people to be expressed through their representatives; whereas Ever’s is usurping the will of the people claiming the policies he’s implemented solely on his own authority is the representation of the people’s will.
Republicans’ motivation for the lawsuit has three parts. The first of which will be demonstrated in the second half of this example is to position themselves to claim credit for whatever the administration claims they’ve accomplished for public safety. If the response to Covid-19 is purely a product of Evers administration, whatever accomplishments claimed will belong to the democratic party. The lawsuit positions the republican legislature to have oversight over the response, therefore anything the administration claims as accomplishments, can only be accomplished through republican approval and they are deserving of credit.
The second two parts of the republican’s motivation has to do with represented interests. 1st and foremost the interests the republicans prioritize were being harmed by restrictions. While industry generally supports both political parties there are some sectors that contribute more to one party than the other. The restrictions have benefited some industries while harming others. Restrictions harmed interests like oil, agriculture, tourism and others that support republicans more than they support democrats. (48)
48: The following links qualify the statement showing the proportion of contributions from Oil and Agribusiness to republicans compared to democrats. 2020 Election Cycle. https://www.opensecrets.org/industries/totals.php?ind=E01++ , https://www.opensecrets.org/industries/contrib.php
The third part of the republican’s motivation is the impact the restrictions were having on local small businesses who were vocal in their opposition.
TONY EVERS: Today, Republicans in the Legislature filed a lawsuit to effectively strike down our #SaferAtHome order and cripple our ability to respond to a pandemic that has already taken the lives of 242 people in our state. This isn’t a game. This isn’t funny. People die every day because of this virus — oftentimes painful and lonely deaths — and the more we delay or play political games the more people die.
OS Response: We know over 94% of people who die of Covid19 have pre existing medical conditions. The virus is not randomly deadly and those with risk factors like medical conditions and age (80+) should quarantine themselves. The healthy population’s infection rate does not increase risk to quarantined people. Evers furthers the idea that the virus is randomly deadly by asserting “people die every day because of this virus”, while omitting that the people who die because of this virus are typically people who have about a year or less left to live.
TONY EVERS: We’ve seen what happens in communities that don’t contain this virus through isolation measures like we have with #SaferAtHome. Look at Italy. Look at Spain.
OS Response: Look at Spain and Italy. Spain has a median age of 45 years old(49) and Italy has a median age above 47 years old.(50) This means a greater proportion of the population is advanced in age and more likely to have medical conditions or experienced advanced immunosenescence (weakened immune system with age). Nations with a greater proportion of elderly people will have a greater proportion of sick people, and consequently, a greater proportion of deaths than countries that have lower aged populations. The other aspect of the deaths in Spain and Italy is they have had a shortage of tests, the same as the US had a shortage of tests and most people who have been infected, have never been tested; those with no symptoms, mild symptoms not severe enough to go to the hospital, or those who have moderate symptoms without risk factors are not tested. (51)
49: https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/spain-population/ Spain Population Median age 44.9
50: https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/italy-population/ Italy Population Median Age 47.3
51: Madeline Heim 5/4/2020 “Covid-19 Testing is Widely Available in Wisconsin, but Some Doctors and Patients Haven’t Gotten the Message”. Post Crescent. There are many other stories featuring people in Wisconsin with symptoms suspected of having Covid-19 who were not tested. I chose to cite this story because it is dated from May 4th and demonstrates it was still an issue as late as May. https://www.postcrescent.com/story/news/2020/05/04/more-wisconsin-coronavirus-tests-available-but-not-everyone-knows/3035642001/
TONY EVERS: Read the reports of doctors rationing ventilators and having to choose which patients will live or die. Read the reports of needing refrigeration trucks for the deceased, or even worse, being left at home for days because the morgue is overcrowded.
OS Response: To date, in the United States there have been no reports of any Covid19 patient dying because there was no ventilator available. Second, the use of refrigerated trucks to store bodies is not a practice that begins with Covid-19 and has been used on other occasions when there has been a spike in deaths. Morgues overflowing because of Covid 19 doesn’t tell us anything about our individual risk of symptoms and death if infected, so what relevant information does the report provide? No useful information, only dramatic accounts that sensationalize the issue of storing bodies when something causes an increase in deaths. This is what Evers and others of his position rely on to persuade people without substance, dramatic impressions.
TONY EVERS: This is why we took bold action with our Safer at Home plan to keep Wisconsinites safe and healthy. It’s working. We have flattened the curve here in Wisconsin and have prevented the death of at least 300 Wisconsinites, and perhaps as many as 1400 lives.
OS Response: I’d like to see the source and methodology for establishing that 300 to 1400 lives were saved through these actions on the date that statement was made.
Iowa who has not issued a state wide shutdown order has a rate of infection that is only 1.4x the rate of infection of Wisconsin. (52) Iowa, although smaller, is similar to Wisconsin in population distribution consisting of a few cities with over 100,000 people, many smaller cities and villages with 10s of thousands of people as well as rural expanses that are sparsely populated. Wisconsin is 1.8x the total population but distribution is similar. (Following numbers are dated to response 4/22 updated at end of section) If Iowa had the same population as Wisconsin, Iowa would have (3748 x 1.8= ) 6746 cases. The true difference between Iowa cases and Wisconsin cases (6746 – 4845) is 1901 cases. If we divide the Wisconsin cases by the proportionate Iowa cases we get 1.39. Iowa, a state without a statewide lockdown order has a rate of infection that is only 1.4x greater than Wisconsin.
52: Numbers are from 4/22 when I responded to this post. Iowa 3748,https://ktiv.com/2020/04/22/iowa-reports-107-new-covid-19-cases-7-additional-deaths/, Wisconsin 4845. https://wkow.com/2020/04/22/225-new-covid-19-cases-reported-in-wisconsin-4-more-dead/
Wisconsin has 4845 cases. If WI had Iowa’s rate of infection, a state of comparable size and distribution, without a statewide lockdown order, Wisconsin would presumably have 1901 additional cases. At Wisconsin’s exaggerated mortality rate at the time of 5%, the most lives that Evers could claim to have saved is 95.
Even this is exaggerated because most people who show symptoms in Wisconsin are being told they probably have Covid-19, but they are not being tested. This has two positive consequences for Evers and the democrats in charge in Wisconsin. 1: It reduces the number of confirmed cases to create the illusion that the lockdown is effective. 2: It increases the mortality rate to create cooked projections to assert how many lives have been saved through the lockdown.
TONY EVERS: Today legislative Republicans told the 4,600+ people in the state of Wisconsin who have contracted COVID-19 and the families of the 242 people who have died, we don’t care about you — we care about our political power.
Their lawsuit doesn’t mention saving lives. It doesn’t mention protecting our nurses, doctors, first responders, and critical workers. Instead it’s 80 pages of a lawsuit focused entirely on how to get legislative Republicans more power.
OS Response: Although the lawsuit did effectively strike down Evers emergency orders, this was a byproduct of gaining oversight over the response and not the primary purpose.
“Ryan Walsh summarized the objective of the case stating the lawsuit isn’t about whether stay at home “is a good idea. “Allowing Executive Order 28 to remain “would mean that the governor and DHS get to exercise unlawful authority for as long as they want while relying on data that they refuse to disclose, all the while denying the people’s elected representatives a role in addressing the long-term response to this pandemic.””(53)
53: Stephen Joyce 5/5/2020 “State Defends Virus Orders in Court as Lawmakers, Citizens Sue”. Bloomberg Law. https://news.bloomberglaw.com/coronavirus/states-defend-virus-orders-in-court-as-lawmakers-citizens-sue
While it isn’t entirely inaccurate to state that republican’s care about political power, it is important to identify what that power represents. It’s consistent with a democratic form of government for the elected body to contribute to policy that affects their constituents. For 100s of years in this country people think proportionate representation through multiple elected people is superior to electing one person and giving that person the sole authority to control public policy. Otherwise we would only elect a governor.
TONY EVERS: Apparently, instead of having us act quickly and decisively to respond to a crisis, Republicans would rather have us jump through hoop after hoop and ask for their permission to save lives. Folks, we don’t have time. COVID-19 will not wait.
OS Response: This statement was made on April 21st, where Covid-19 had been active in the United States for about 10 weeks. After the initial response through executive action there has been 10 weeks to include the people’s representatives in the response. There has been time.
EVERS FB: Today’s action by legislative Republicans during a crisis is a shameful response by people elected to protect and serve the people of our state. It is a disservice to those we represent, those who are struggling in this crisis, and the economy we will need to rebuild together. Wisconsin is a place for kindness, compassion, empathy, and respect, and today, Republicans have shown that even in the midst of a global pandemic, these values are beyond them.
Evers attempts to influence public opinion by referring people to stories of dramatic impression, like the sensationalization of Spain and Italy, or the difficulties in NYC in managing the storage of bodies. His assertion of lives saved is empty, and the general idea he is trying to convey is that forced lockdown saves lives and the republicans want people to risk death for profit and power. He has to direct his argument to the elements of covid-19 that have been dramatized because an objective contextualized fact based argument doesn’t support his position.
This response is a prime example of how the exaggerated danger of the virus is politically advantageous, where one side can claim they are keeping the public safe and the other side is not keeping the public safe.
The supreme court of Wisconsin sided with the plaintiffs and struck down Ever’s executive orders. Future orders could be repealed through a simple majority resolution passing both congressional chambers.
In August Ever’s issued a state wide mask mandate order. The republicans could repeal this order by passing a resolution but have not done this despite public encouragement. Some republican’s in an effort to appeal to their constituents created a pretext for not passing the resolution that allows them to maximize their political advantage on the issue. Republican’s claimed that they didn’t want to repeal the mask mandate because they believed if they did, Evers wouldn’t have allowed schools to reopen. They made these statements just days after Evers publicly stated that the state would allow school district administrators to decide how to resume classes. (54)
54: The Scott Webber Show “Scott Fitzgerald Laid Down a Marker on School Reopening With Evers”. WISN 1130 Transcript. The show may as well be a PR wing for the republican party. Webber argues that since Evers has lied before on public policy that he could be lying when he claims he will leave school reopening up to the individual districts. Webber fails to inform or recognize how the very groups he claims will apply pressure for Evers to issue a statewide school closing will be able to decide school reopening on the local level. The idea that Evers would issue a statewide closure or decide policy for reopening schools on the state level is absurd, but this republican propagandist is only concerned with convincing loyal republicans that the party is playing a game of chess to secure a higher valued objective. It ignores the obvious that the republicans could both oppose a statewide mask ordinance, as well as oppose an unlikely statewide school closing through simple votes. https://newstalk1130.iheart.com/content/2020-08-05-scott-fitzgerald-laid-down-a-marker-on-school-reopening-with-evers/?fbclid=IwAR2GGNhFV4U0uPCGazVcGNssi2kk6DyLwMMlN8TwpeJam_8UY-wZh195OEY
The reasoning is simple, although there is a large portion of the population in Wisconsin who is opposed to restrictions and the mask mandate, a majority of the population is for a mask mandate. Republican’s have more to gain by not repealing it regardless of whether they believe it is necessary, harmful, or illegal. Those who are opposed to the mandate are not going to vote for democrats because democrats are the primary source of these unnecessary restrictions. Those who support the mandate will not be offended by republicans for repealing the mandate. As previously mentioned, allowing the mask mandate to continue provides a basis for republicans to claim that they have both protected the public and taken action to protect the economy (through the May lawsuit). It’s always about image and never about convictions.
Politicians in line with the medias’ exaggeration of the danger quote statistics and use dramatic impressions in an effort to assert that the virus is randomly deadly. With the increase in testing there has been a decrease in hospitalizations and deaths compared to the first 4 months (February to June) when testing was limited and reserved for people in at risk groups or those with severe symptoms. Today most reports consist of reporting spikes in new cases, which causes fear and concern because most of the public suffers from the promoted misconception that the virus is randomly deadly and randomly severe.
In April, when I finished Covid-19 Media Project, (albeit with quite a few errors but none affecting the conclusions of the risk) I sent a copy of it to every state legislator in Wisconsin, as well as some out of state legislators and city council members in Milwaukee. I received no substantive responses from anyone. The point is, it is generally accepted without the need to qualify that Covid-19 is a threat to public safety and this misconception is being used to impose on the basic guaranteed rights of the people in this country. I am making a very compelling case that it is not a threat to public safety, and the misconception and injustice persists because in the absence of a qualitative rebuttal, facts and reasoning can be ignored.
The media has exaggerated the danger of Covid-19 and these 8 stories are examples of that exaggeration. The most prevalent element of risk exaggeration not only in these stories but in nearly all mainstream reporting is the omission of who. Who dies, who is at risk for complications, and what proportion of the population who represents.
A virus that presents almost no risk of death to over 99% of the population has been promoted as a public safety concern to advance the personal interests of the media, politicians, academics, industry, and others at the usual detriment to the general population. This is why I stated that it is quantifiable, based on the legal definition of public safety: “Public Safety refers to the welfare and protection of the general public”; less than 1% of the population having a risk for death cannot represent the general public.
The public’s perception of Covid-19 as it is with other issues is not based on fact. Roughly 200,000 people have died of Covid-19 in the United States and these records without context frighten people who are incapable of basic risk assessment. 1.75 million people die of natural causes per year and the majority of Covid-19 deaths consist of these people. If Covid-19 deaths are counted separate from the underlying conditions that produce the complications, there will likely be a near proportional decrease in expected deaths from heart disease, chronic lung diseases, and diabetes.
The manufactured image of Covid-19 is beyond 1984.
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