The Great Covid Misconception

This is the third article I’ve written about Covid-19 and it is less the introduction  of an important development, and more the restating of key facts that remain unacknowledged.  

Every issue of controversy spawned through Covid-19 is rooted in one misconception.  That misconception is the idea that the virus is randomly deadly or poses a risk of death to a large portion of the population. In the Covid-19 Media Project (1) I use CDC samples to establish the risk of death for healthy people and people with serious underlying medical conditions.  The risk of death for healthy people is essentially zero.  Healthy in this context means the absence of major underlying medical conditions which represents about 80% of the population. (2)  From the CDC study cited in Covid-19 media project, we also know that of those who had underlying medical conditions, 93.5% survived.(3)  20% of the population has underlying medical conditions, 6.5% fatality rate for people with underlying conditions means 1.3% of the general population has a risk for mortality.

1: http://orioncs.net/covid-19-media-project/ The article establishes risk and analyzes 8 popular stories exposing the tactics used to mislead the public and create an exaggerated idea of how dangerous the virus is.  

2: Sources in Covid-19 Media Project, Section Risk, sub section: Proportion of People with Underlying Medical Conditions and a better estimation of people with underlying medical conditions.  The three main causes of complications with Covid-19 is heart disease, diabetes, and COPD.  This represents 18.3% of the population when more than one comorbidity is accounted for (people who have diabetes and heart disease or any combination of the 3).  I call it 20% to account for less prevalent diseases that also contribute to complications.  

3: 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 In addition to this study establishing that 94% of people who died had underlying medical conditions, of those who had underlying medical conditions (2650), only 6.5% (173) died.  This sample likely reflects a low representation of the people who die from underlying medical conditions, since data from Italy showed 99% of people who died had underlying medical conditions and the state of Oregon’s 101 deaths up until the end of April, all had underlying medical conditions.  This isn’t to say since April they’ve had people without underlying medical conditions die.  The report I read was dated to that time and I haven’t looked for other reports to see if the trend continued.     

The same as with influenza Covid-19 is also associated with anomalous deaths of seemingly healthy people.  How does a virus function?  The virus enters the body and uses the reproductive mechanism of the cell to copy itself and infect other cells, and the volume of the infection determines the severity of symptoms.  This is the same in all people.  What determines the outcome is your body’s response to the virus.  

It can take days or weeks for your entire immune system to be engaged against the virus.  The virus infects the body and reproduces faster than your immune system can destroy it.  This results in worsening symptoms.  As your immune system becomes familiar with the virus your immune system will reverse the trend, destroying the virus faster than it is able to reproduce.  As the volume of the infection decreases so do the symptoms until the virus is eradicated from the body.  A person cannot be reinfected because antibodies for the virus remain, marking the virus for destruction before it has an opportunity to meaningfully reproduce if reintroduced.  

Either your immune system is able to overwhelm the virus or it cannot.  Seemingly healthy people dying of the virus are anomalous, there is something different about them that is not the same in the other 10,000 healthy people who were infected and recovered.  Where do I get this 1 in 10,000 healthy people infected with Covid-19 will die ratio?  

On the upper end, estimates put a general mortality rate at between .5 to .8%, whereas the general mortality rate based on serology studies is .1 to .2%. (4)  I’m less concerned about what the general mortality rate actually is than I am with understanding who is at risk.  The general fatality rate doesn’t necessarily represent the general danger of the virus, it represents who has been infected with the virus.  Changes in the amount of deaths from the seasonal flu do not necessarily represent that the flu infected more people, it represents who was infected and how effective the vaccine is.  If there was no vaccine for the flu which is about 60% effective, the flu, which has a mortality rate of between .1 and.2% would produce comparable if not greater numbers.  Based on general mortality numbers Covid-19 poses about the same danger as the flu but without a vaccine.  

4: Robert Sanders, 4/24/2020 “Study Challenges Low Fatality Rate for Covid-19”, Berkeley New. https://news.berkeley.edu/2020/04/24/study-challenges-reports-of-low-fatality-rate-for-covid-19/ In the article the researcher who I quoted explains data from cities in Italy that show a higher fatality rate of .56% in one town.  The fluctuating fatality rate is meaningless because it isn’t measuring the fatality rate of the virus, it is measuring the quality of health of people in the towns.  Italy which has a median age of 48 years old, has more old people and age predisposes people to have underlying medical conditions that lead to complications.  

Based on that range .1 to .8%, and in consideration of the CDC sample that 94% of deaths were people with underlying medical conditions, the risk of a person without underlying medical conditions dying of the virus is (6% of .1%) .006% to 048%.  This means 6 out of 100,000 healthy people (1 out of 16,666) to 48 out of 100,000 (1 in 2083) are at risk of dying from the virus.  At a 93.5% survival rate for people with underlying medical conditions 1.3% of the population is at risk of death from Covid-19.  If all healthy people were infected with Covid-19, on the low end if 6 out of every 100,000 healthy people infected died this would represent 19,800 healthy people in the United States. On the high end 1 in 2083 means 158,425 healthy people would be at risk of dying if they were infected with the virus.  Who is at risk of death from among the general population?  1.3% of people with underlying medical conditions, plus .006% (1.306) or .048 (1.348) of healthy people.

To complicate the statistics the distinction between age groups is frequently referenced.  However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that older people are more at risk of dying from the virus than younger people.  Healthy young versus healthy old there will be some discrepancy from the slow deterioration of the immune system with age, but that isn’t what higher fatality rates for older people represents.  The older you are the more likely it is that you’ve developed other medical conditions.  The correlation is less about age and still more about health.  The same can be said of obesity as a correlation, where being obese doesn’t necessarily increase risk in and of itself, but being obese does increase the liklyhood of serious underlying medical conditions like diabetes or heart disease that increases risk for a severe outcome.   

The virus poses no risk of death to over 98% of the population.  It is not randomly deadly.  It’s important to know this because this means 98% of the population can be infected and the consequence will be varying degrees of sickness and recovery.  Acknowledging this has numerous implications.  

The case of Jacobson v. Massachusetts established the constitutional reasoning for restricting rights in a response to an outbreak of disease.  The defining and functioning explanation is: “in every well-ordered society charged with the duty of conserving the safety of its members the rights of the individual in respect of his liberty may at times, under the pressure of great dangers, be subjected to such restraint, to be enforced by reasonable regulations, as the safety of the general public may demand”. P29 (5)

5: Wendy K. Mariner, George J. Annas, and Leonard H. Glantz. April 2005.  “Jacobson v. Massachusetts: It’s Not Your Great-Great-Grandfather’s Public Health Law”.  American Journal of Public Health.  National Center for Biotechnology Information.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1449224/ 

In another portion Justice Harlan stated “the community has a right to defend itself against an epidemic of disease that threatens the safety of its members”.  

When can liberty be subjected to restraint? Under the pressure of great dangers…as the safety of the general public may demand.  When an epidemic of disease threatens the safety of its members.  In Jacobson v. Massachusetts, the plaintiff was disputing a 5 dollar fine for refusing a smallpox vaccination.  Smallpox is an example of a disease that threatens the safety of the general public.  The average mortality rate is 30%, and it is randomly deadly where any person who is infected could die of the virus.  It also caused permanent long term injuries like scaring and blindness.  This doesn’t mean that in order for a virus to be considered a threat it has to be as dangerous as smallpox, but we should acknowledge what an example of “great danger” and a threat to public safety is.  

A virus that cannot kill 98% of the population cannot be considered a threat to the safety to 98% of the members of the population.  Sickness and recovery is not a threat to safety, it’s a temporary threat to comfort.  You cannot use police powers to control the spread of a disease that does not pose a threat to the safety of the public.  Quantifiably so, because 98% of the public has no risk of death.  

The second qualification of Covid-19 not being considered a sufficient threat to public safety is the same people who are at risk of death from Covid-19 are at risk of death from the flu(6), and the flu has never been sufficient cause to impose restrictions on the rights of the general population.  

6: Actually fewer people, because while people with advanced underlying medical conditions are among those who are at risk of death from Covid-19 the same as the flu, the flu actually poses a greater risk of death to children than does Covid-19.  

Understanding that the virus is not randomly deadly, and is rarely deadly among the general population, healthy as well as the sick, lies at the heart of all restrictions.  No one has filed a lawsuit presenting data and challenging the qualification of a threat.  If they did, the supreme court would likely find that Covid-19 does not qualify as a risk to public safety.  

It’s also important to understand that the virus is not randomly deadly because that has implications for the strategy in protecting at risk people from the virus.  There is no benefit from separating healthy people from healthy people because the consequence of healthy people being infected is minor sickness and recovery.  There’s also no benefit to at risk people because at risk people can quarantine themselves from the general population so the infection rate of the healthy population is not relevant to their risk.  

What is relevant is the duration of the virus.  When healthy people are prevented from interacting and becoming exposed to the virus there is always a new group of people for the virus to infect.  This prolongs the duration of the virus by ensuring there are constantly new hosts to infect.  Whereas the absence of restrictions and a healthy population who was becoming sick and recovering, rapidly depletes the availability of new hosts which causes the virus to die out.  The difference could be the virus lasting a month or two and the virus continuing indefinitely.  The difference in duration is the longer the virus lingers among the general population, the greater the likelihood that someone who has serious underlying medical conditions will become infected and die.  Not only are restrictions unnecessary and ineffective at eradicating the virus, the restrictions may be causing more Covid-19 deaths.  

Recently there has been a resurgence in cases.  Why is it even news that there is a surge in cases?  It’s news because the public has an inflated perception of the danger of the virus, many believing it kills 5% of the people it infects indiscriminately.  Otherwise it isn’t newsworthy, which is much of the reason we find ourselves in the place where we find ourselves: because the media earns money attracting attention, and exaggerating the danger of the virus attracts more attention.  Uros Seljak, a UC Berkeley professor of physics who I cited in footnote 4 stated “If you want to know what are the chances of dying from COVID-19 if you get infected, we observed that a very simple answer seems to fit a lot of data: It is the same as the chance of you dying over the next 12 months from normal causes…Our observation suggests COVID-19 kills the weakest segments of the population.”

States are reimposing restrictions and adding additional restrictions because people 8 months after the outbreak began in Wuhan, still do not understand the risk of being infected with the virus.  Each item associated with the virus relies on the misconception that the virus is randomly deadly, or poses a risk of death to a large portion of the population.  1.306% or 1.348% of the general population is at risk, and those among the 1.3% who have underlying conditions can take steps to mitigate their individual risk.  

Why is it news that there is a surge in Covid-19 cases?  Because Covid-19 is perceived as being much more dangerous than it actually is.  Although they are experiencing record amounts of daily cases, this doesn’t even mean that these are record amounts.  As late as May people who had Covid-19 symptoms if they were not in an at risk group were not tested even if they went to the hospital.  Part of the surge is more testing, but if the story was a record amount of flu cases most people wouldn’t care.  Since Covid-19 kills the same people as the flu, and produces the same symptoms as the flu, the only difference is people’s perception of the viruses.  

Masks are the new source of controversy, and the mandating of accessories to limit the spread of a virus is only legal if the virus poses a threat to public safety.  Covid-19 does not.  Instead of keeping the underlying misconception at the point of controversy, people begin debating the effectiveness of wearing a mask, and make questionable assertions about the health ramifications of wearing a mask.  Mask mandates are illogical and should be unconstitutional.  They are illogical because if the masks are effective then the act of anyone not wearing a mask does not increase the risk of others becoming infected who are wearing masks.  People do not wear masks because the virus does not pose a risk to their health severe enough to justify the discomfort.  More importantly, wearing a mask reinforces the misconception that the virus is more dangerous than it actually is.  It gives legitimacy to an opinion that is invalidated by the facts.

The democrats are too invested in the exaggerated danger of the virus that they’ve contributed to creating along with the media.  They’ve destroyed the economy and changed people’s approach to life itself.  Changed their approach by misleading people about the danger of a virus because they saw it as advantageous to their interests.  Most of this country is stupid enough to associate all the results with the president.  That isn’t a pro-Trump statement, if Trump was a leader and had a sound understanding of the virus, this country would already understand that the virus is not a threat to public safety.  The one thing he has going for him is he isn’t a democrat which is a statement that exceeds the scope of just Covid-19.  

It is a stupid to make behavioral changes without knowing the basis for those behavioral changes.  If people knew the risk of being infected with Covid-19 they would know the symptoms and their risk of mortality is comparable to the flu.  If they do not take these same precautions during flu season, then there is no reason to take them with Covid-19.  Nothing will change because people are led to strong opinions through mechanisms they do not perceive about subjects they do not understand.