The numbers don’t support panic

By Edward Achorn

During the last several days, politicians and the news media have been pushing hard on a COVID-19 narrative. Americans, they suggest, should be terrified of rising “cases” of the virus.

In Rhode Island, Governor Gina Raimondo proclaimed that field hospitals might have to be opened, though standard hospitals never came close to being overrun, and her experts’ projections last spring were preposterously inflated.

The governor also declared that social gatherings of more than 10 people are now verboten. She, further, barred parents from attending their children’s school sports events.

The First Amendment, of course, protects the rights of Americans to peaceably assemble. Government may only (under strict limits) block our rights in dire emergencies. In the United States, politicians may not dictate arbitrary rules as they go along.

The numbers simply do not support panic, lockdowns and unconstitutional decrees.

Rising ‘cases’ in perspective

The rising “cases” cited in screaming front-page headlines are almost entirely because vastly more tests are being administered. More tests, more positives.

Most of those positives involve young and healthy people who have little to no risk of dying or even being hospitalized because of COVID-19.

Dr. Andrew Bostom, an epidemiologist and Brown medical professor, found that 100,000 college students at 82 institutions have tested positive for the coronavirus. Of those, only 15 have been hospitalized. Only one death may (or may not) have resulted from the disease.

Nationwide, emergency room visits seem to have stabilized after the big peak in the spring and a lesser bump in the summer. According to news accounts, people with COVID-19 are filling up hospitals in rural areas that avoided the virus previously. But the numbers do not appear to support what some in the media brand a “coming tsunami.”

In Rhode Island, the state with which I am most familiar, the percentage of positive results in tests has gone up slightly — to 2.9 percent. But that percentage is four times lower than it was back in the spring. See the chart above.

As Dr. Bostom notes, that percentage has remained almost flat since June. It may go up slightly in the fall, just as flu may rise seasonally. But there is nothing in the numbers that suggest an oncoming onslaught.

Similarly, deaths and hospitalizations have remained remarkably stable for months. Deaths here:

These trends, too, argue against the panic narrative. Hospitalizations are up slightly (yellow line), but intensive care unit use (red) is basically a flat line:

Hiding test data from public

And who even knows what these positive results mean?

Dr. Anthony Fauci admits the chances of spreading COVID-19 are miniscule in people with a measured cycle threshold of 35 or more, using the “gold standard” for testing, the rtPCR test. Other doctors say the risk is minimal at lower numbers, such as 30 or above. In light of that, the so-called “cases” cited by the media may overstate the danger to the public by ten times, some analysts believe.

For some reason, though, Rhode Island adamantly refuses to release the cycle threshold numbers appearing in the tests being conducted.

The importance to the public of having this information could hardly be greater. Why hide this data?

The governor is further advising people to take their holiday events outdoors if possible. (In New England? In November and December?) She says family members should wave to each other instead of hug. They should wear masks at such family gatherings. They should use hand sanitizer during the exchange of gifts. They should sit six feet apart from each other. Etc.

And now they must limit their family gatherings to 10 people or less.

Is this degree of intrusion into people’s lives really justified by science?

Protect the public

We know how COVID-19 works. It pretty much spares the young and viciously attacks the old and sickly. In Rhode Island, more than three-quarters of those who die are nursing home patients. That number has held remarkably steady for month after month.

What should we do to minimize the risk of COVID-19 to the public?

I would focus resources on protecting those who are most vulnerable. I would frequently test medical professionals and those who interact with people in nursing homes — staff, patients, visitors. Viruses, of course, are exceedingly difficult to contain even under the most stringent conditions.

I would open the state up instead of further locking it down. (There are serious health and other risks associated with lockdowns — which, incidentally, do not stop the disease.) Most people can both live their lives and take reasonable precautions.

I would strongly encourage anyone showing possible symptoms to stay home. The disease is spread overwhelmingly by people with symptoms. I would encourage handwashing, which may be the most effective tool we have against the spread of viruses.

The spike of last spring — which, while horrible, was far less deadly than projected — has long been over. The numbers show it. Why must our officials preach fear?

This is a new approach in our country. (We did not lock down during past flu pandemics.) We once believed leaders had a responsibility to calm the populace (using data) rather than stoke panic in a pandemic.

I long for such leaders.

(Read Edward Achorn’s books about American history.)


  1. I, too, long for the days when Americans did not feel helpless against an unseen enemy and I long for leaders who will inspire us to be brave in the face of such adversity. Here’s to hugging AND hand-washing!


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