Never before has the entire shape of our economy and society been so driven by statistical modeling.
Only a few months ago, a model predicting millions of deaths from the coronavirus resulted in governments around the world collapsing the world economy. Even now, when those estimates are known to have been wildly exaggerated, advocates of extending the lockdown of society press new models to argue that “the premature relaxation of social distancing” is “likely to cause significant increases in the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the United States.”
It seems that every day a new public health expert is touted by the media for predicting that easing the lockdowns will result in tens of thousands of deaths.
Make no mistake, the so-called “re-openings” are still just another form of lockdown. For the near future, businesses and churches will still be limited to a fraction of their capacity, large public gatherings like concerts, games, and rallies will still be prohibited (except for leftist protest marches), many schools will remain closed, and we are still told to shun physical proximity or contact.
If we’re going to allow models and modelers to dictate the entire nature of our society, one would hope that the models are as complete as possible. Yet the epidemiological models that have so transformed our world are seriously incomplete, and therefore fundamentally inadequate.
Balancing the Equation
Any medical therapy is supposed to be tested for both efficacy and safety. There have been several studies examining the effectiveness of the lockdowns in combating the spread of the COVID-19 virus, with mixed conclusions. So far, however, none of these studies or models have analyzed the safety side of the lockdown therapy.
In response to questions from physician Sens. Rand Paul and Bill Cassidy, Dr. Anthony Fauci admits this side of the equation has not been accounted for in the models now driving our world. As noted in an open letter recently signed by more than 600 health-care professionals, the public health costs from the lockdowns — described as a “mass casualty incident” are real and growing.
These models are estimations based on existing research. The constantly changing projections of coronavirus deaths are extrapolations from research on previous epidemics. Yet modelers have no excuse for leaving evaluations of the lockdowns’ massive costs to public health out of their models. Let’s look at just a sample of the data available on the dangers to public safety of the lockdown therapy.
To begin, it has long been known that unemployment has very deleterious effects on public health, particularly due to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Unemployment also adversely affects mental health. This is not just feeling a little down about losing a job. Unemployment directly increases mortality by increasing suicides. One study found that being unemployed “was associated with a twofold to threefold increased relative risk of death by suicide.” An even more recent study has put the increase in lockdown-related “deaths of despair” at 75,000 in the United States alone.
While increasing suicide rates adds directly to the fatality figures, unemployment has many other negative effects on public health. One study concluded that the increase in unemployment in the early 1980s reduced the collective life spans of Americans by two to three million years. Extended unemployment can reduce average life span by up to two years. Applying that to the more than 40 million unemployed in the United States right now and the results are frightening.
If epidemiologists don’t care to take account of this toll, another profession must. A study just released by a group of South African actuaries estimates that the net reduction in lifespan from increased unemployment and poverty due to a national lockdown will exceed the increased lifespan due to lives saved from COVID-19 by the lockdown by a factor of thirty to one.
In other words, each year of additional life attributable to isolating potential coronavirus victims in the lockdown comes at a cost of 30 years lost due to the negative public health effects of a lockdown imposed by the South African government.
The Negative Effects the Experts Don’t Mention
The negative impacts of the lockdowns on public health are not only due to increased unemployment and poverty. Expecting the millions of COVID-19 patients predicted by the early models, so-called “non-essential” or “elective” medical care was put on hold.
For many, these terms bring to mind some model’s nose job. What was actually postponed, however, would be more correctly described as preventative health care. The official Centers for Disease Control guidelines explicitly forbade “preventive care visit/screenings” and annual check-ups. Even if you have symptoms of illness, your care is pushed into the second tier, and then only if you are an established patient. Heaven forbid that you are trying to see a doctor for the first time.
The negative effects of delays in securing preventative care are well established. For example, a Veterans Administration study found that a delay of even one month in obtaining treatment for cancer increased mortality by 20 percent. Another study found that each 30-day delay in diagnosing breast cancer increased mortality by 10 percent. Such figures can be replicated across a whole range of diseases, even though they are not due to the Wuhan virus.
A less obvious source of damage to public health comes from the closure of schools. Missing school will not directly lead to many deaths, but lack of education is associated with significantly shorter lifespans. On average, college graduates live nine years longer than those who drop out of high school. Furthermore, any disruption in education due to school closings affects poorer students the most.
It is not enough to analyze the public health costs of the lockdowns on the population as a whole. Modelers should also examine on whom those costs fall. Amy Barnhorst, a community mental health expert at the University of California, writes:
The economic consequences of the shutdowns will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable — people living just above the poverty line, people with chronic medical and mental illness, people of color from poorer communities. They will also be the ones with the least say in all this. For those who can work from home, afford a laptop for every kid, and pay the delivery fees for takeout and grocery delivery, not reopening for an extended period is the obvious choice. We can avoid almost any coronavirus exposure risk by sacrificing relatively little. … Haircuts may not be essential for people getting them, but they’re certainly essential for hairdressers.
Contrary to the PR slogan, we are not all in this together.
The failure of public health experts to take account of the public health costs of the lockdowns, despite the availability of a vast body of research to support such an accounting is an appalling — ultimately deadly — oversight. Securely employed members of elite society’s telecommuting wing, they fail to see that half the poor and working-class are now facing public health crisis as well as economic devastation due to the lockdown strategy.
We need less insipid pro-lockdown propaganda extolling the virtues of the “essential” workers, and more serious analysis of the enormous public health toll the lockdowns are imposing on them. Otherwise, we may come to see the era of coronavirus as simply the time where pro-lockdown elites sacrificed the working class to protect themselves.