BY KARL DIERENBACH
The biggest killer of the 2019-2020 flu season won’t be COVID-19;
it will be irrational fear and the illusion of control.
COVID-19 is equivalent to a bad flu. This has been said often over the past year and for good reason: People hear stories about a motorcycle crash victim being declared a COVID-19 death, and they feel COVID-19 may be over-counted. They hear stories of seniors quickly deteriorating and dying of loneliness, and they suspect many excess deaths may not have been directly caused by COVID-19.
We have spent years looking for an end-of-days pandemic, and, not finding one, we decided to manufacture our own. In fact, we could have done this for any bad flu season (I’ll show how later), but we chose 2020. Perhaps it is human nature that when things are going well, we look for an exit.
To be clear, COVID-19 is not a hoax. It is real and it causes real-world damage and real-world heartbreak, but it is not the killer it has been made out to be. Also, the medical profession has performed admirably with respect to direct care of patients. They learned from mistakes early on and developed treatments and protocols that have steadily reduced the deadliness of COVID-19. The speed at which vaccines have been developed is truly amazing.
Conversely, the public health response to COVID-19 has been an abysmal failure. At every turn, the effects and danger of COVID-19 have been exaggerated, and the collateral damage of government mandates and government- and media-induced panic has been swept under the rug. Official after official has turned a blind eye to once-accepted standards only to follow the virtue signaling, have-to-do-something crowd. The worst example of this tendency was last summer, when public health officials condoned mass protests as public health events.
How did we do it? How did we turn a disease that is equivalent to a bad flu into a worldwide disaster? We overreacted; we changed the way we detect viruses; we changed the way we record deaths; we tried to control the uncontrollable; we used COVID-19 as a political tool; we destroyed (literally and metaphorically) tens of thousands of lives with panic, lockdown, and restrictions; and we set in motion events that ensured the devastation will continue for years.
These are bold statements flying against the prevailing narrative. But they are also supportable with data.
2019-2020: The first season of COVID-19
To begin, there is evidence presented below showing COVID-19 caused at most around 114,400 deaths in 2020 (through September 26), which is far below the CDC figure of 205,101. And after September 26, the panic remained–it still remains–and the misattribution of deaths has only gotten worse. We are stuck in a fear-driven cycle, where we look for COVID-19 everywhere and unsurprisingly find it everywhere. This leads to more panic, more searching, more misattribution, more panic, more searching, more misattribution, and so on. To break the cycle, we must closely examine how and why we fell into it in the first place.
Why am I looking at the data only through September 26? Two main reasons: seasonality and data integrity.
Regarding seasonality, it is clear now that COVID-19 is a seasonal disease (meaning that there is some sort of stimulus based on geographic location, climate, and other factors that leads to an increase in transmission in a region) and should be treated as such. Across the northern latitudes, COVID-19 waned during the summer months, only to grow again in autumn. This happened, for example, in the northern states of the U.S., in Canada, in the United Kingdom, in Germany and Sweden, and even in South Korea and Japan, where they did relatively little testing. It happened regardless of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs), such as lockdowns, mask mandates, gathering restrictions, and business and school closures. Note that the summer hump in the U.S. data was largely due to southern states that have a different seasonality pattern than states farther north.
Those responsible for mandating NPIs all took credit for the downturns that occurred in late spring. However, looking back at the synchronicity of the downturns in many parts of the U.S. and Europe, it is clear that forces other than government mandates were at work.
As a seasonal disease, the most reasonable comparison for COVID-19 is to other seasonal diseases, with the most relevant being seasonal influenza (the flu). The CDC tracks seasonal influenza starting at the 40th week of a given year, which for the 2020-2021 season started on September 27. Therefore, the first season of COVID-19 ended on September 26, 2020.
It is critical to view COVID-19 in the same manner we look at other diseases. We do not tally deaths across multiple years for flu, measles, heart attacks, auto accidents, or almost any other condition. If we did, flu deaths could be in the hundreds of millions if we went back far enough. The yearly seasonal totals for deaths from flu establish a baseline of what our society will tolerate without locking down, masking, or closing schools or businesses, along with providing guidance as to the proper response to COVID-19. A close examination of U.S. mortality data through September 26 enables an apples-to-apples comparison between COVID-19 and the flu.
With respect to data integrity, recent CDC data is often incomplete, as many of the data sources mentioned here display significant lag. The CDC publishes statistics on COVID-19 and other selected causes of death. However, this data is based on death certificates received and processed by the CDC. This process takes time; the CDC typically publishes such data about three weeks after the fact. However, the most recently published weeks are continually revised as more data arrives at the CDC. By selecting September 26, this analysis can be both relatable to a typical flu season and use stable CDC data.
Of course, CDC-published levels of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths for the current 2020-2021 season have exceeded published totals for COVID-19 during the 2019-2020 season. However, at the time of this writing most U.S. states have apparently peaked, and there have been dramatic decreases in the published numbers of cases and hospitalizations. Rather than try to predict the future course of COVID-19, this article’s intention is to analyze available data and uncover data integrity issues to help provide a more accurate picture of the true costs of COVID-19 during the 2019-2020 flu season. These data integrity issues can then be used to evaluate the true severity of COVID-19 during the 2020-2021 flu season.
Additionally, in the current 2020-2021 season there have been remarkably low levels of flu in the United States and much of the rest of the world. If this trend holds, any evaluation of the harm of COVID-19 during the 2020-2021 season must include factoring in a mild flu season.
In summary, we need to look at COVID-19 effects per season to allow us to look at the cost-benefit analysis of what to do in reaction to COVID-19. For example, during the 2017-2018 flu season, the United States saw an estimated 61,099 flu deaths. As a country, we made the decision that 61,099 deaths over the course of a flu season did not warrant a drastic change in lifestyle.
Why is that? Two reasons: the changes would significantly decrease the quality of life, and it would be an exercise in futility. Since we have reasonably made such choices regarding reactions to previous years’ flu deaths, it is necessary to look at COVID-19 per season so that we may apply the same standard. Looking at COVID-19 differently has warped our perspective and justified a response that has killed tens of thousands of people and damaged hundreds of millions of lives.
The first season of COVID-19: How we turned less than 114,400 COVID-19 deaths into 205,101 COVID-19-labeled deaths
Again, it is likely that COVID-19 caused at most 114,400 deaths in the last flu season (through September 26, 2020), far below the CDC figure of 205,101. That’s about twice the 61,099 the CDC estimates died during the 2017-2018 flu season. When COVID-19 first hit, instead of projecting calm and trying to mitigate the effects of COVID-19, we panicked. We saw makeshift hospitals in Wuhan and ventilator rationing in Italy and became primed to overreact as soon as COVID-19 came to the United States in any significant numbers. Also, in our panic, we assigned a lethality to COVID-19 that was far from reality. A study claiming more than two million Americans were going to die by the end of August 2020 if we did nothing became a catalyst for worldwide lockdowns. Testifying before Congress, Fauci seemingly confused case fatality rates (CFR) with infection fatality rates (IFR) and greatly exaggerated COVID-19’s lethality.
When New York was hit hard, all perspective was lost. Even though we’ve had flu outbreaks that caused hospitals to set up tents to handle overflow in the past, this time we made the knee-jerk assumptions that everywhere COVID-19 hit would be like Wuhan or Italy. The USNS Comfort hospital ship was sent to New York City, and thousands of temporary hospital beds were set up in fear of the coming wave, yet these assets went largely unused. The pattern was repeated across the country in places like Denver, where emergency hospital beds in their convention center never saw a single patient.
Though these measures were universally considered to do more harm than good before COVID-19 hit, in a fit of panic and an uncontrollable urge to do something, our health officials and politicians adopted lockdowns, business closures, social distancing, contact tracing, and forced masking as the frontline response to COVID-19. In one of the most devastating policy responses, we paid hospitals to find COVID-19.
In perhaps the most significant panic-fueled move, the CDC changed how mortality statistics are gathered, and COVID-19-labeled deaths became ubiquitous. Previous to the change, COVID-19 needed to be an underlying condition in a chain of events that directly led to the immediate cause of death for the death to be considered a COVID-19 death. Under the new guidelines, instead of having to be an underlying cause of death, if COVID-19 was merely a contributing factor, the death would be labeled a COVID-19 death. Thus, an Alzheimer’s patient on death’s door who was pushed that last step through the doorway by COVID-19 would now be a full-blown COVID-19-labeled death. Never mind that flu was never treated this way, and such a change made COVID-19-labeled deaths incomparable to any other mode of death; these deaths were now COVID-19 deaths. This change in record-keeping became the fuel to power long-term panic, and as we became more efficient at finding COVID-19, we also became more willing to put COVID-19 on a death certificate, regardless of its level of contribution to the death.
But how did the CDC get to 205,101 COVID-19-labeled deaths from what would have been at most 114,400 deaths if they had documented COVID-19 in the same way as flu?
The first major cause of over-attribution of COVID-19 is in the context of nursing home, residential, and hospice deaths. To understand this factor, we must keep in mind that COVID-19 does not kill quickly like a heart attack or stroke. The median time from symptom onset to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is 8–12 days, and the median time to ICU admission is 9.5-12 days.
Considering this time frame, what does it mean when a person dies from COVID-19 in a nursing home, in hospice, or at home? On the surface, it would seem that people who die in such locations are doing so after choosing not to go to a hospital for life-saving treatment. This choice may be conscious or the result of a Do Not Resuscitate order. In other words, these are very frail people who are recognized as being near the end of life and thus have standing instructions to not take extraordinary measures to prolong that life.
This view was bolstered by a study in Sweden that reviewed the medical records of a group of patients who had died with COVID-19 outside of hospitals and found that in 85% of those deaths, COVID-19 was not the direct cause of death and that severe fragility was present in 97% of the deceased. If a patient catches COVID-19 and it is decided that the patient is of such fragility that it is better to forego hospitalization then to fight COVID-19, it can be reasonably concluded that COVID-19 was not the cause of death. To believe otherwise is to believe that people are out there catching COVID-19 and deciding not to fight it even though if they did beat COVID-19, they would have a significant amount of quality life remaining. This seems doubtful.
CDC data currently indicates 30.8% of COVID-19-labeled deaths occur at a nursing home or long term care facility, a hospice facility, or the decedent’s home. Removing 97% of these deaths from the CDC total under the assumption that these patients were severely frail and had pre-existing comorbidities that rendered COVID-19 treatment undesirable reduces the number of CDC COVID-19-labeled deaths from 205,101 to about 143,800. This approach is bolstered by other data showing high percentages of pre-existing underlying health conditions in COVID-19 decedents, such as from New York City (99%), Italy (98%), and England (95%).
Regarding deaths in the decedent’s home, whether the death was by non-COVID-19 medical emergency (heart attack, stroke, etc.), accident, or due to a decision not to seek treatment for COVID-19 due to frailty, the death would likely not be considered a COVID-19 death under pre-COVID-19 attribution methods.
The next major cause of over-attribution of COVID-19 is in the context of non-respiratory deaths. COVID-19 is caused by the virus “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2” (SARS-CoV-2) and is a respiratory disease. Accordingly, the vast majority of deaths where COVID-19 will have a causal relationship to the immediate cause of death will be respiratory. Accordingly, a lack of respiratory illness listed on a death certificate will be a strong indicator that the decedent died “with” COVID-19 and not “from” COVID-19.
The link between respiratory illness and COVID-19 is so strong that the World Health Organization (WHO) would only permit a case to be classified as “suspected” if there is an acute respiratory illness or infection. In other words, you could not assume someone had COVID-19 unless there was a respiratory component.
The challenge is that such details are generally only accessible through examining death certificates, which are considered personal and confidential by many governments. For example, the CDC data on causes of death disaggregates death certificate data and may record multiple conditions from individual death certificates such that the total number of listed causes of death far outnumbers the total number of deaths. However, a limited number of death certificates from Florida were released to the public. Also, information has been gathered for this article by querying a database containing details of 2020 Colorado death certificates.
For Florida, about one-third of the released COVID-19-labeled death certificates did not list a respiratory factor, and for Colorado, the percentage was 30%. However, most of the death certificates that did not list a respiratory factor in Colorado were among the cases where the death occurred at a nursing home or long term care facility, hospice facility, or the decedent’s home. For decedents who died in hospitals, the portion of Colorado death certificates that did not include a respiratory factor was 12.6%.
What do “with COVID-19″ death certificates that do not contain a respiratory ailment look like? In a query of Colorado death certificates, 8% listed Alzheimer’s or dementia in Part I of the death certificate, meaning it was an underlying or immediate cause of death. In the released Florida death certificates, 4% of the COVID-19-labeled deaths included Alzheimer’s or dementia without mentioning “pneumonia” or “respiratory.” Since there is no causal relationship between COVID-19 and either Alzheimer’s or dementia, a death certificate that lists a causal chain including either Alzheimer’s or dementia and COVID-19 is likely not a death “from” COVID-19. This is presented as evidence to support the contention that COVID-19-labeled death certificates that do not list respiratory ailments as an underlying or immediate cause of death should not be consider deaths “from” COVID-19.
Using the figure that 12.6% of death certificates are not deaths “from” COVID-19 due to lack of respiratory conditions, this further reduces the number of actual COVID-19 deaths from 144,200 to about 125,700.
The final major cause of over-attribution of COVID-19 is also the simplest: It is the CDC policy change, previously discussed, stating that if COVID-19 is listed as a contributing factor, the death is to be considered a COVID-19 death. The CDC recently estimated that of deaths attributed to COVID-19, 9% of the death certificates listed COVID-19 as a contributing cause (as opposed to the underlying cause). Using the 9% figure from Colorado further reduces the number of actual COVID-19 deaths from 125,700 to about 114,400
However, when the Florida House of Representatives performed a death certificate analysis, they found about 18% of Florida death certificates did not list COVID-19 as an underlying cause of death. And Minnesota lawmakers found that 40% of thousands of reviewed Minnesota death certificates did not list COVID-19 as the underlying cause of death. If the nationwide percentage of “COVID-19 deaths” where COVID-19 is not an underlying cause of death is close to the Florida percentage (18%), the number of COVID-19 deaths would be reduced from 125,700 to 103,100. If the percentage is close to the Minnesota percentage (40%), the number of COVID-19 deaths would be reduced from 125,700 to 75,400.
There are other indicators that the number of actual COVID-19 deaths is even lower. Relative to past years, the latest CDC data shows fewer non-COVID-19-related fatalities from chronic lower respiratory disease then would be expected based on past years. This could be an indicator that some of the expected chronic lower respiratory disease fatalities are being improperly moved into the COVID-19 category.
In addition to the nursing home residents who pass at their long-term care facility, there are many other long-term care facility residents who are moved to a hospital and die there. For example, outbreak data in Colorado indicates that a significant number, perhaps around 25%, of long-term care facility residents are transferred to a hospital before passing. It is reasonable to assume that some of the long term care facility residents who are transferred to a hospital before death are of such frail condition that their death should also not be considered a COVID-19 death. The long-term care facility may reasonably transfer terminal residents to a hospital in an attempt to prevent additional infections at the long-term care facility. However, since there is no direct evidence of this being the case, this element is not factored into the reduced COVID-19 totals.
Additionally, some jurisdictions may be extremely loose with the definition of a COVID-19 death. Oregon, for example, considered any death to be a COVID-19 death where the decedent was hospitalized within 14 days of a positive COVID-19 test and subsequently died in the hospital or within 60 days of discharge. As long as the death certificate lists COVID-19 in any way, the CDC will count these deaths as COVID-19 deaths.
A review of the CDC’s data listing co-causes of death reveals 704 falls classified as COVID-19 deaths, 2 “Sequelae of war operations” deaths, and 85 vehicle-related accidents. The Illinois Department of Public Health has stated that any death where COVID-19 is present is a COVID-19 death. Dr. Deborah Birx, who was the response coordinator for the White House coronavirus task force, has said the federal government is classifying all deaths of patients with coronavirus as COVID-19 deaths, regardless of cause. Finally, a review of Florida death certificates revealed notations on COVID-19 death certificates such as “Asymptomatic positive COVID-19 swab” and “COVID-19 6 months ago.” Such annotations clearly indicate that the doctor certifying the death did not think COVID-19 was directly related to the death and that there may have been pressure to put COVID-19 on death certificates despite no causal relationship to the death.
False positive results from COVID-19 testing may also contribute to the over-counting of COVID-19. When testing levels are very high, even a low level of false-positive results will produce significant raw totals. Additionally, PCR testing has been under intense scrutiny for returning positive results for people who are likely not suffering from an active infection. This is due to the PCR test being performed in such a way that it may be detecting RNA fragments (non-replicable) and not live viruses. If a patient dies due to a non-COVID-19 related ailment yet tests positive due to a PCR test picking up a non-active past COVID-19 infection, COVID-19 may end up being listed as a contributing factor, and thus the death becomes a COVID-19 death.
Of course, in response some will claim the assumptions made here are based on too little data, but how do you think we got here? It is important to note that the U.S. is using a death reporting system that was not designed to track a pandemic. The system was never intended to provide real-time feedback to be used as a basis for short-term policy decisions. Yet in 2020, the system was modified to over-count (relative to how data was gathered in previous years) COVID-19 and then used as the basis of massive restrictions on freedom and rights. Now, to determine the true effect of COVID-19 relative to other diseases, the data must be disentangled.
Furthermore, modeling has been abysmal and wholly void of predictive value. For example, the Colorado COVID-19 Modeling Group advising Colorado Governor Jared Polis lists over 90 input variables for their model of COVID-19 in Colorado. Some of them, like variable “pS3” (“fraction of individuals symptomatic in age category 3” estimated to be 0.561205), are absurdly estimated to 6-digit precision. Moreover, for critical but unknowable parameters, they just guess without citation, such as when they “assume that 33% of an individual’s contacts are with household members.” The Colorado model’s output essentially ranges from “nobody dies of COVID-19” to “everybody dies of COVID-19.” Politicians use the worst-case scenarios to justify NPIs, and whatever happens in the real world, the modelers claim they called it.
Given the paucity and shoddiness of the models and data used to justify NPIs and mandates, the data presented and discussed in this article is a paragon of quality.
In summary, place of death, non-respiratory deaths, and contributing factor data indicate that COVID-19 deaths prior to September 27 have been over-counted relative to historical norms by at least 40%, lowering the total of COVIE-19 deaths to at most 114,400 deaths if we recorded COVID-19 deaths as we have recorded flu deaths in the past.
Moreover, COVID-19 deaths may be far fewer than 114,400 due to factors such as COVID-19 not being listed as an underlying cause; fewer chronic lower respiratory disease deaths; frail facility patients being transferred to hospitals, not for treatment, but to remove COVID-19 from the facility; extremely wide time frames for including a past COVID-19 infection on a death certificate; COVID-19 listed on death certificates due to political pressure; and overly-sensitive testing.
Given the overall level of panic, newly altered and ad hoc record keeping, ubiquitous and overly sensitive testing, and monetary incentives to find COVID-19 cases, it is likely that the actual number of COVID-19 deaths, that is the number of deaths we would have labeled as COVID-19 using the criteria used for flu in the past, is far less than 114,400. Therefore, in the most recent flu season, COVID-19 was at most twice as deadly as the 2017-2018 flu season, and it is possible that it could have been much less, perhaps even as low as the 61,099 flu deaths of the 2017-2018 season.
If there were far fewer COVID-19 deaths, why are there so many excess deaths?
This brings us to the next major issue: the CDC calculates that there were 292,478 excess deaths through September 26, 2020. This value is arrived at by totaling the number of observed deaths through September 26 and subtracting what the CDC calls the “Average Expected Number of Deaths.” However, relative to year-over-year trends, the CDC underestimated the number of expected deaths in 2020, which led to an exaggerated number of excess deaths. That is, if the predicted number of deaths is lower than it should be, excess deaths would by definition be greater than they should be.
Another method of determining the number of expected deaths is to take year-to-year total death changes over a significant period of time and extrapolate what we would expect to see in 2020. Using data from the CDC’s WONDER database for total deaths from 2010 through 2019 and extrapolating to 2020 yields a total number of deaths predicted (if COVID-19 never happened) for 2020 of 2,925,599. According to the CDC, in 2018 and 2019 the U.S. averaged 74.8% of its eventual yearly death total through week 39. Multiplying the 2020 predicted number by 74.8% produces a value for expected deaths through September 26 of about 2,188,300.
The CDC shows 2,433,910 observed deaths through week 39 (September 26) of 2020. Subtracting the 2,188,300 from the CDC observed deaths total yields about 245,600 excess deaths in 2020 through September 26. However, even this number is likely too high, as last season (2018-2019) saw a remarkably low number of deaths in the United States. When this happens, the following year is typically worse than average as nature catches up.
The total excess death of 245,600 includes all causes. Subtracting the 114,400 COVID-19 deaths from the total excess deaths results in an estimated 131,200 non-COVID-19 excess deaths.
When presented with such assertions, there are generally two objections: first, even if non-COVID-19 deaths are happening, that’s better than what would happen if we did nothing; and second, there is no way our reaction to COVID-19 could cause that many deaths, so we must be under-counting COVID-19 deaths.
As to the argument that even if NPIs, such as stay at home orders, closures, and masks, do some harm, they still prevent COVID-19 deaths, the short answer is that once COVID-19 reaches a certain prevalence in a community, NPIs appear to become ineffective.
To understand the effect of NPIs on the progression of COVID-19, one must first understand the progression of viruses in general. They do not uniformly flow through a country or region and do not hit with equal intensity when they do hit. For example, in the 2017-2018 flu season, there were several cities in the United States that were hit extremely hard, to the point where people were being treated in tents and elective surgeries were canceled.
With this in mind, one can begin to understand that when New Mexico locked down in the spring, the fact that cases didn’t explode may have been because COVID-19 simply had not arrived in significant numbers. But the narrative for New Mexico was that their interventions protected them. In September, New Mexico was literally lauded as a model for how to control the spread of COVID-19 on the day their cases began to skyrocket. Fast forward three months, and by mid-December, New Mexico had more COVID-19-labeled deaths per million people than Texas. New Mexico’s control was an illusion, and all of their actions, including lockdowns, roadblocks, business closures, and mask mandates, couldn’t keep them from being hit worse than their neighbor Texas.
At the time of this writing in March 2021, South Dakota, which due to their lack of mandatory NPIs had been derided as a place to die as COVID-19 exploded, was waning along the same path as their neighbor North Dakota, which did have a mask mandate and other mandatory NPIs. Additionally, the Los Angeles area, home to some of the harshest lockdowns in the U.S., was the new epicenter of the epidemic as COVID-19 exploded in Southern California.
Numerous studies have indicated that lockdowns are not effective. Yet when your only tool is a hammer, you swing it at everything.
One explanation of why NPIs are ineffective is that the minimal amount of contact with people outside of a household is still enough contact to allow COVID-19 to spread while ensuring that by staying home, once COVID-19 gets in a household, it reaches everybody. This is bolstered by recent New York state data indicating that 74% of recent COVID-19 cases are contracted in homes. In one of the most deceitful data presentations of the COVID-19 crisis, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo labeled spread within a household as “Household/Social Gatherings” to imply that house parties instead of families spending time at home were the source of spread.
Mask mandates have also been ineffective in stopping the spread of COVID-19. Although masks have been touted as better than a vaccine and we’ve been told that if we would achieve 80% mask usage, COVID-19 would plummet, real-world data consistently shows that even 95% or higher mask usage doesn’t prevent COVID-19 from intensifying. New Mexico was at 84% mask usage in September and reached 90% in December, but that did not alter their fate. Cases have climbed in state after state, seemingly unaffected by mask mandates.
Since NPIs are ineffective, the argument that COVID-19 would be worse without them rings hollow. Remember, the comparison isn’t between NPI harms and COVID-19 harms. COVID-19 is happening, whether or not we implement NPIs. The question is, “Are the harms caused by NPIs greater than the reduction of COVID-19 due to the NPIs?” Since the reduction of COVID-19 by the NPIs is minimal at best, and, as we will see, the harms are great, the answer is an emphatic yes.
The second argument, that the excess deaths must be COVID-19, was expressed by Dr. Anthony Fauci, who, when asked if he thought all excess deaths should be counted as COVID-19 deaths, responded, “Unless you can find another reason, which I can’t think of, of there being these excess deaths.” In other words, the denial of the existence of non-COVID-19 excess deaths is based on ignorance and lack of inquisitiveness.
Despite Fauci’s lack of understanding, it is quite straightforward to explain how COVID-19-related NPI’s could be the culprit with respect to a minimum of 131,200 non-COVID-19 excess deaths.
At the start of the COVID-19 crisis in America, there was intense panic. Across the country, emergency room (ER) visits plummeted, and people delayed or altogether skipped seeing a medical provider due to fear of catching COVID-19. ER doctors everywhere described seeing fewer patients, and the ones they were seeing were far worse off than typical pre-COVID-19 patients. When such delays involved acute conditions, such as heart attacks or strokes, the delays often proved to be fatal. In New York City, the effect was severe. NYC typically saw 20 at-home deaths per day pre-COVID-19, but in April 2020, that number jumped to 200.
This effect likely continued as the COVID-19 panic wore on. Constant anecdotal stories of young people dying with COVID-19, continued lockdowns and closures, mask mandates, and social distancing all continued to instill an atmosphere of fear. Under such conditions, people will hesitate to go out, they will hesitate to go to a hospital, and even a few hours’ hesitation can make the difference between life and death.
CDC statistics support these assertions. Through September 26, 2020, cerebrovascular disease deaths were up 7.2% over their 5-year average (adjusted for population growth), accounting for about 7,900 non-COVID-19 excess deaths. Ischemic heart disease deaths were up 1.8%, and heart failure deaths were up 5.2%, accounting for roughly another 8,100 non-COVID-19 excess deaths.
Moreover, there were 27,300 more Alzheimer’s and dementia deaths than the population-adjusted average over the last five years would indicate. Similarly, the CDC shows 18,800 excess deaths from hypertensive disease and 11,100 excess deaths from diabetes. These figures indicate lack of adequate treatment for dementia, high blood pressure, and diabetes during the COVID-19 panic resulted in another 57,200 excess deaths.
That’s 73,200 of the 131,200 excess deaths that are clearly identified by the CDC. The remaining 58,000 excess are likely from a host of different sources. The lack of data for the remaining excess deaths necessitates moving from CDC statistics to estimations based on a range of sources. This is presented here, not as proof of exact numbers, but as evidence of the existence of viable potential sources of excess deaths.
For this analysis, I combine two sources of information to project potential totals for the entire U.S. The first source is the database of Colorado death certificates, which includes death certificates through the first 47 weeks of 2020. The second source is the CDC’s WONDER database, which contains detailed causes of death for the United States for deaths through 2019 (at the time of this research). For this comparison, I looked at 2010-2019 death certificates and estimated expected 2020 values (absent COVID-19) for various causes of death. Using Colorado to extrapolate nationwide data likely underestimates national data, as Colorado is generally one of the healthiest and youngest states.
The first category includes diseases that in normal times cause significant mortality but are not tracked in the CDC excess deaths database as a COVID-19 comorbidity. In Colorado in 2020, deaths from diseases of the liver (ICD-10 codes K70-K77) appeared in Part I of 1,760 death certificates, while an examination of the WONDER database would indicate that Colorado should have expected to see about 1,021 such deaths in the same time period. As Colorado comprises 1.75% of the population of the U.S., if this pattern were to hold across the U.S., it would indicate 39,000 excess deaths due to diseases of the liver across the U.S.
Similarly, deaths from Parkinson’s disease (ICD-10 codes G20-G22) are up 12.2% according to Colorado death certificates, and this would represent about 3,200 excess deaths across the U.S.
Colorado death certificate data indicates cancer (malignant neoplasms, ICD-10 codes C00-C97) deaths are up 8.7% in Colorado, which indicates about 39,000 excess deaths across the U.S. However, this contradicts CDC nationwide and CDC Colorado cancer mortality data, which shows 2020 cancer deaths are in line with averages over the last 5 years. There are reports of missed and delayed cancer treatments and an increase in the percentage of newly-diagnosed patients having advanced stage cancer. This discrepancy is troubling, but given the reports of missed screenings and treatments, and since the 8.7% is derived directly from Colorado death certificates, it is likely the more accurate measure.
In total, Colorado death certificate data indicates potentially another 60,600 excess deaths (21,600 if cancer estimates are not included) due to diseases of the liver, Parkinson’s disease, and cancer across the U.S. through September 26. Again, these numbers are presented to show possible sources of excess deaths and how diminished care and/or lack of timely diagnoses for certain diseases could lead to the quantities of excess deaths we are currently seeing.
The next category is intentional deaths: suicide and homicide. As to suicides (ICD-10 codes X60-X84), there is evidence pointing to troubling trends. In London, an ambulance crew reported a 68% increase in suicides and attempted suicides. In Canada, there are reports of seeing suicidal thoughts quadruple. However, there isn’t strong evidence showing these trends translating into an increase in actual suicides. Colorado 2020 death certificates show the number of suicides is down by 2.8%. In all, Colorado had seen 34 fewer suicides through the first 47 weeks of 2020 than the 2010-2019 trend indicates. Projecting that trend across the U.S. through September 26, 2020, would indicate about 1,000 fewer suicides.
As to homicides, it has been a violent year. Many cities are seeing massive increases in murders. A recent survey of 20 U.S. cities showed a 50% increase in homicide rates. A report from the FBI indicated nationwide in the first half of 2020, murders increased 15%. Colorado has seen a similar increase, based on death certificate data. From the death certificate (ICD-10 codes X85-Y09) and past CDC WONDER data, it appears that homicides are up by 40.5% in Colorado. In all, Colorado saw 88 more homicides than recent trends would suggest, which would indicate 5,900 more homicides across the U.S. through September 26, 2020. Of course, there was significant rioting and unrest across the country in 2020 that wasn’t directly attributable to COVID-19. However, the added stress from COVID-19, coupled with forced idleness, likely added to the intensity of the incidents. Nonetheless, whether COVID-19-induced or due to other reasons, the increased homicides represent another source of non-COVID-19 excess deaths.
There is both indicative and empirical evidence that there has been a massive increase in overdoses nationwide. In the first 47 weeks of 2020, Colorado saw 1,160 death certificates listing overdose in Part I (this figure does not include drug-induced suicides). This indicates a 27.6% increase in the number of overdose deaths for Colorado for 2020. If this trend holds across the country, it represents about 15,000 excess overdose deaths nationwide through Sept. 26, 2020.
The 27.6% in overdose deaths is reasonable in light of many reports from throughout the country and beyond. Nashville, TN, saw a 42% increase in drug overdoses for the first half of 2020. San Diego County, CA, saw a 126% increase in accidental Fentanyl-caused overdose deaths. British Columbia saw opioid deaths in June 2020 that were 138% higher than June 2019. Through Dec. 19, San Francisco, CA, saw a 41% increase in drug overdose deaths. The CDC itself recently acknowledged “a concerning acceleration of the increase in drug overdose deaths, with the largest increase recorded from March 2020 to May 2020, coinciding with the implementation of widespread mitigation measures for the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Changes in the rates of suicides, homicides, and drug overdoses may explain why there has been a concentration of excess deaths in the 25-44-year-old bracket. This bracket has seen non-COVID-19 excess deaths outpace COVID-19-labeled deaths by a 3.6-to-1 margin, more than any other age bracket. In Colorado in 2020, death certificates show a 35% increase in drug overdoses and a 62% increase in alcohol-induced deaths among 25-44-year-olds.
The total excess deaths through September 26 from suicides, homicides, and overdoses indicated by the Colorado death certificate data potentially indicate another 19,900 excess deaths across the nation. Combined with the 60,600 excess deaths related to non-CDC-tracked COVID-19 comorbidities and the 73,200 excess deaths identified by the CDC, that’s a staggering total of 153,700 (114,700 if cancer estimates are not included) reasonably-identified non-COVID-19 excess deaths. This total sufficiently accounts for the 131,200 non-COVID-19 excess deaths discussed earlier.
The big picture regarding COVID-19 and our response to COVID-19
First, I looked at COVID-19 deaths and the way they have been exaggerated and found evidence that, at most, 114,400 of the 205,101 CDC COVID-19-labeled deaths would have been considered COVID-19 deaths if we calculated COVID-19 deaths in the same manner as we have calculated flu deaths in the past.
Then I looked only at potential non-COVID-19 excess deaths using CDC and death certificate data. Of the 245,600 excess deaths the U.S. experienced in 2020 through September 26, I have shown that 153,700 could be reasonably assumed to be non-COVID-19, leaving 91,900 COVID-19 deaths.
This exercise is not intended to be an exact representation of the number of deaths seen in each category. The data that is available does not allow for such certainty. But this analysis does demonstrate that COVID-19 deaths are being over-counted, and there are very reasonable explanations for the non-COVID-19 excess deaths we are seeing.
The counter argument that excess deaths indicate under-counted COVID-19 deaths is much weaker. It is primarily the refuge of lockdown supporters who are unwilling or unable to contemplate that their preferred response may be more deadly than the disease itself. “It must be COVID-19” is more of a defense mechanism than a data-driven stance. To preserve their apparition, they maintain that the most notorious, most studied, and most tested-for disease in the history of mankind, one that governments will pay premiums for, if confirmed or suspected in patients, is somehow being missed by the most interconnected health officials ever to exist. It’s not that they can’t imagine it; it’s that they won’t imagine it.
Given all of the potential sources of excess deaths from lockdowns, along with countless other potential sources (one Virginia children’s hospital saw a doubling of burst appendixes in children), it’s not unreasonable to believe that we have seen well over the 153,700 non-COVID-19 excess deaths created by the atmosphere of fear and panic formed by the overreaction to COVID-19 and correspondingly have experienced many fewer actual COVID-19 deaths than the 114,400 estimate.
Worse yet, we will see the lingering effects of our overreaction stretch years beyond 2020, as the full weight of our folly is revealed. This analysis has concentrated on fatalities that have occurred during the first flu season that included COVID-19. However, the true price that we are paying for our fear-based reaction is far greater and includes:
Even more troubling is that many of these effects disproportionately affect lower-income people who work in “essential” but low-paying jobs, such as grocery store employees. What does it say about us if we go to restaurants and sit unmasked at tables enjoying ourselves while waiters and waitresses with masks on move about the room? If we wear masks to protect others, the diners are not protecting the wait staff, but the wait staff is ordered to protect the diners. Are we creating a caste system?
When we look back on 2020, COVID-19 will not be the story. The story will be how we reacted to COVID-19, how we took a disease that was at most twice as bad as our worst recent flu season and doubled its lethality through panic.
We could have just as easily produced a pandemic out of the 2017-2018 flu season
It is undeniable that we are recording COVID-19 deaths in a way that is fundamentally different from how we have recorded influenza deaths in past flu seasons. All of the discussion so far has been an attempt to look at the ways COVID-19 has been exaggerated in order to develop a meaningful way to compare COVID-19 to a bad flu season.
But there is another way to make that comparison. Instead of trying to see through the haze of COVID-19 reporting to see how many COVID-19 deaths there would be if we hadn’t panicked, looked under every rock for an indication of COVID-19, and changed our measurement system, we can look back at 2017-2018 and see what would have happened if we panicked back then like we have today.
Before proceeding, it is important to note that the way we currently calculate COVID-19-labeled deaths and the way we have calculated influenza deaths in the past are both legitimate methods. However, they are radically different methods, and the difference causes serious problems to arise when comparing COVID-19-labeled deaths to flu deaths. What we are doing now is equivalent to suddenly deciding to call “singles” in baseball “home runs” and then becoming amazed at all of the home run records being broken.
Therefore, to compare the two, we need to either apply the flu method to COVID-19, as discussed above, or apply the COVID-19 method to flu as follows.
During the 2017-2018 flu season, the CDC estimates that 44,802,629 people had symptomatic influenza disease. The CDC also estimates that the number of people who get sick from the flu each year varies from 3% to 11%. Previously, the CDC estimated the total number of people infected, including symptomatic and asymptomatic influenza illness, to range from 5% to 20%. This indicates that the CDC believes about 60% of all influenza illnesses a year are symptomatic. Applying this 60% value to the 44,802,629 symptomatic cases for 2017-2018 yields a CDC-derived estimate of total influenza infections of 74,671,048.
The population of the U.S. at the beginning of 2018 was 325,927,236. Therefore, approximately 22.9% of the population of the U.S. had the flu at some point in the 2017-2018 flu season.
Now, what if during the 2017-2018 flu season, we panicked and everyone who had the flu when they died was considered a flu death? And also, what if we considered any death within 60 days of a positive flu test to be a flu death? New York City Health considers any death “within 60 days of a positive molecular test” for COVID-19 to be a confirmed COVID-19 death. Finally, what if we used a flu test that could return a positive result for up to 12 weeks after onset of symptoms? The Korean CDC found that recovered patients can have COVID-19 detected in upper respiratory specimens for up to 12 weeks.
Accordingly, hypothetically one could contract influenza on day one and return a positive test on day 84 (12 weeks later) and then die on day 144 (60 days later) and be considered a flu death in New York City. The 144 days represents 39.5% of a year, during which a death could be considered a COVID-19-labeled death.
If we applied the 39.5% window to a population infected at a rate of 22.9%, we end up with a 9% chance that any individual that passed away during the 2017-2018 flu season could have been considered a flu death. In the 2017-2018 flu season, the U.S. experienced 2,843,104 deaths.
So if we tested everyone constantly and were able to detect flu like we are currently detecting COVID-19 and we listed flu deaths in the same manner as New York City lists COVID-19-labeled deaths, we could have seen a staggering 255,879 flu deaths during the 2017-2018 flu season. If we drop the 60-day window aspect and just consider what would happen if we tested everybody at time of death, such that the 12-week window applied, the chance of testing positive at death falls to 5.3% and the corresponding flu deaths to 150,685.
In summary, if we had treated the flu back in 2017-2018 like we are treating COVID-19 now, we could have seen 150,000 to 250,000 flu deaths and a corresponding level of panic. In other words, if we overreacted to the flu in 2017-2018 like we are overreacting now to COVID-19, we could have had the same level of panic, harm, and death.
Whether looking at COVID-19-labeled deaths and adjusting them downward to calculate what COVID-19 numbers would have been if we treated it like all other diseases, or if you look back at flu and imagine what would have happened if we panicked like we have with respect to COVID-19, the result is the same: a season of COVID-19 is not that different from a very bad flu season.
What does this all mean moving forward?
The story of 2020 won’t be COVID-19; it will be our reaction to COVID-19. COVID-19 is comparable to a bad flu season–at the very worst, twice as bad. Yet we made it into a worldwide panic-filled disaster.
When COVID-19 waned in the summer months, in a fit of unrivaled stupidity and wishful thinking, we claimed we were slowing the spread. Even rapid seasonal spread in November and December into the teeth of strict NPIs (lockdowns, mask mandates, etc.) in California and New York could not convince us we were wrong.
We consciously set up a system of counting deaths that ensured COVID-19 would be credited with far more deaths than warranted. The inflated fatality numbers would spread fear and ensure compliance with even the most absurd actions. In Ohio, wrestlers were told they couldn’t shake hands before they wrestled.
Instead of treating COVID-19 rationally, we panicked and killed tens of thousands of Americans, put hundreds of thousands more in jeopardy due to missed healthcare and emotional and financial hardship, stunted the education and future of millions of kids, and allowed tens of thousands of seniors to die in isolation, all to protect those in between childhood and old age from a disease that, for anybody modestly healthy under around 60, was comparable to the flu. It is an incredibly disturbing act of societal selfishness.
If in March 2020, instead of predicting 2.2 million COVID-19 deaths for the U.S. by the end of August 2020, the experts predicted 100,000 per year, we would have warned the vulnerable, advocated for better hygiene and personal responsibility, and carried on with our lives.
Unless we recognize and accept our mistakes and reverse course, the suffering will continue, and it will get worse. Unchecked, we will only get better at finding COVID-19 and attributing deaths to it. Thus the 2020-2021 flu season is likely to be a repeat of the 2019-2020 flu season, with falsely-attributed COVID-19 deaths keeping the world paralyzed with fear and resulting in continued mitigation measures killing tens of thousands more people than COVID-19.
Hopefully, our new-found talent for classifying any death of a patient with COVID-19 as a COVID-19 death will not extend to vaccines. Otherwise, we may find ourselves claiming all of the people who die after receiving the vaccine are vaccine deaths. This would be tragic, as the idea of the vaccine may be the only way to cure us of our irrational fear of COVID-19.
And we must be cured of our irrational fear, lest we start to make every future flu season into a suicidal effort to stop the unstoppable.
One last statistic: The age distribution of COVID-19 deaths matches the age distribution of death in general. The older you are, the more likely you are to die in general, and the older you are, the more likely you may die from COVID-19. That is, if there were a magical disease that ended everybody’s life two weeks earlier than it should have otherwise ended, it would have the same age distribution as COVID-19. It is as if COVID-19 gives everybody it infects a shove in the back. If you are standing in the middle of a soccer field, you simply stand back up and continue with your life. However, if you are standing next to a cliff, the shove is enough to push you over the edge. We have hurt people far from the edge to protect the people on the edge who, in the end, were often unprotectable.
So what should we do? Not much. In fact, it’s time to get the government at all levels out of the business of “ending” COVID-19 through restrictions. Coordinating the deployment of vaccines, researching treatment options, and collecting and disseminating data are all acceptable roles governments can play in the pandemic. Everything else should stop. Forced closures, capacity limits, and mask mandates all need to end immediately. Given accurate information, enough people will make reasonable behavioral choices such that government dictates are unnecessary. It really is that simple.
But don’t just take my word for it. This is the position recently adopted by Dr. Anthony Fauci when he basically said mitigation efforts have no effect on the course of COVID-19. On Dec. 1, 2020, Fauci was asked directly (at 35:00) why several states with different mitigation schemes and different mandates all move in unison with respect to cases. Fauci’s response was that “once you get things really bad… people do start mitigating.” The importance of this statement cannot be overstated. Fauci, arguably the chief architect of our national response to COVID-19, believes that whether you implement restrictions or whether you allow people to make their own decisions, the outcome is the same.
Of course, Fauci had no choice but to answer in this manner. If he responded that the virus is following a natural course, then he would have to admit that mitigation isn’t effective. That would cut to his core, destroy his credibility, and basically make him guilty of promoting societal suicide. Therefore, in Fauci’s mind, mitigation must be effective and must be the only way COVID-19 can be slowed, absent a vaccine. Fauci suffers from the illusion of control. For him, when states start to turn the corner, it must be because of mitigation, and where mitigation was seemingly absent, such as in South Dakota where there was never a state mask mandate, the only logical conclusion is that there must be unseen mitigation.
In the end, whether you are Fauci and believe all downturns are due to mitigation, or you believe that the disease is simply taking a natural course, the result is the same: government mandates are ineffective. The fact that Fauci possesses the cognitive dissonance to not recognize the implications of his belief system is amazing, yet not unexpected, in a high-level career bureaucrat.
In the end, the most harm isn’t coming from COVID-19; it’s from us. We are the disease, but we are also the cure. It is our choice.