Original Sin

BY MICHAEL BETRUS

The Cruise Ships

On January 20, 2020, the Diamond Princess left Yokohama, Japan at full capacity for a fourteen-day cruise. On January 27, a passenger was diagnosed with COVID-19. By February 4, the cruise itinerary was cancelled. On that day, 10 people positive for COVID-19 were released for medical care, and by February 6, 41 people tested positive. The Diamond Princess began its lengthy quarantine.

On February 11, 2020, the Grand Princess ship sailed out of San Francisco/Oakland to several ports in Mexico. It returned to San Francisco for a next voyage on February 21. A 71-year-old man from California disembarked the February 11 cruise positive with COVID-19 and passed it on to passengers or crew on the February 21 cruise.

The Grand Princess stayed at sea in the Pacific for four days awaiting its fate by the U.S. government. When the ship entered the San Francisco Bay on March 9, it was covered on the news like the Bronco chase. News media painted a picture as if the leper colony from Ben-Hur was porting in. But what was actually discovered? Really nothing.

Imperial College COVID-19 Model

Professor Neil Ferguson of the Imperial College authored a COVID-19 model in early March 2020, predicting 500,000 deaths in Great Britain and 2,200,000 deaths in America unless the populace enacted strict social distancing, broad testing, and quarantining for those positive with the virus. It became the foundational document and roadmap for Great Britain and the United States, countries that would effectively lock down their citizens to prevent an overwhelming of healthcare facilities all at once.

According to Ferguson’s Imperial College model released on March 17, 2020, the following would happen in America in 2020 if extreme lockdown measures were not employed:

However, that model was implausible, given one important actual study we all had access to before this model came out: the cruise ship data. The cruise ships provided a perfect study of how the virus spreads, who and how many are likely to get infected and hospitalized, and who is not likely to survive. People who ignored that data went on to create the worst world social, educational, and economic collapse in modern history. Looking back at the data from the two cruise ships, see the comparison between what the Imperial College model predicted and what actually happened:

Based on the Imperial College infection rate of .81 and their fatality rate for each age group, the Diamond Princess and Grand Princess cruise ships should have resulted in 155 deaths. Remember, the Imperial College worst-case scenario was one in which no precautions were taken. This is effectively what happened on the cruise ships because the passengers were infected and spreading before practicing distancing/quarantining/masking, and they had inferior healthcare remedies, compared to the care that someone with symptoms would receive in normal conditions.

SARS-CoV-2 was spreading weeks before the lockdowns occurred. The illnesses, hospitalizations, and fatalities were in motion before we ever locked down. Locking down as we did would only work in a small, contained environment, not unlike what we saw in the movie Outbreak. Had we never locked down, it’s highly probable that everything-COVID-19 that occurred would have anyway, just quicker. We knew from the cruise ships that most people who were infected were asymptomatic, and we knew which outliers–only the elderly or those with known and usually combined co-morbidities (severe obesity, hypertension, diabetes, respiratory weakness)–were at risk.

Policy leaders exercised sweeping one-size-fits-all mitigation tactics and lockdowns. Had we done nothing except insulate the vulnerable (remember, a good half of all COVID-19 deaths are to patients in care facilities, including one of my family members), I believe we would have had far fewer excess deaths since March 2020. The most common lockdown policies are closing schools and closing restaurants–two things that are proven not to be sources of SARS-CoV-2 spread. A much less common lockdown and effective policy would be to protect long-term care facilities.

In April 2020, data from the cruise ships and aircraft carriers led me to model 238,000 deaths from COVID-19 in America. We will see over twice that as the pandemic winds down. When you consider overcounting (even the CDC has admitted overcounting) of 25-35% and that COVID-19 has pulled forward deaths of many very ill people who were likely to not survive much longer with or without COVID-19, that number is close to the real death impact of SARS-CoV-2 twelve months into the lockdowns. That’s certainly not minimizing the loss of life to those people and their families; it is contextualizing the general population impact of the pandemic relative to the severe lockdowns.

The cruise ships and aircraft carriers provided a closer simple-extrapolation model than anything the Imperial College or the IHME predicted. They predicted that we would never reach pandemic levels like those seen from the Spanish Flu (1.8 million deaths in today’s population). Would we have closed down businesses for a year-plus, prevented healthcare to non-COVID-19 patients, and fractured the education of 50+ million kids with that risk? The cruise ships gifted us this sound prediction. Unfortunately, the best COVID-19 scientific experiment to date has been ignored.

Michael Betrus is the author of COVID-19: Lockdowns on Trial.

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