Wild overestimation of COVID deaths led to panic, Stanford researcher says

Americans who have lost their jobs and business owners on the verge of losing their life savings are growing increasingly impatient with the ongoing coronavirus-related lockdowns.

And despite the fact that some states are now moving towards reopening their economies, the fact is they’re moving slowly — and there really is no reason for them to do so, according to one researcher who says new data show the country has dramatically over-reacted to a virus pandemic that is simply not the destroyer of planets it was hyped to be.

In an interview Friday on Fox News Channel with Martha McCallum, former Chief of Neuroradiology at Stanford University Medical Center Dr. Scott Atlas, now a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute, discussed his column in The Hill titled,  “The data is in — stop the panic and end the total isolation.”

He wrote:

The tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be entering the containment phase. Tens of thousands of Americans have died, and Americans are now desperate for sensible policymakers who have the courage to ignore the panic and rely on facts. Leaders must examine accumulated data to see what has actually happened, rather than keep emphasizing hypothetical projections; combine that empirical evidence with fundamental principles of biology established for decades; and then thoughtfully restore the country to function.

To kick off her interview, McCallum asked, Atlas, “So, why should we stop the panic and end the total isolation, in your opinion?”

“Well, I mean, I think we’re in a different position now than we were a month ago, and that position is, we have a lot of evidence. We don’t need to just simply emphasize hypothetical projections,” Atlas said.

“We can combine that empirical data instead of ignoring it, we can combine that with our knowledge of fundamental biology decades we’ve known a lot about viruses, a lot about infections, and for decades even about this family of viruses. And then we can thoughtfully combine that evidence with the way to restore the country in a safe way,” he said.

Atlas isn’t the only scientist who thinks the reaction to the pandemic has been over the top.

In March, Dr. John Ioannidis, professor of medicine and professor of epidemiology and population health, as well as professor by courtesy of biomedical data science at Stanford University School of Medicine, warned that we were headed towards “fiasco” because shutdown decisions were being made with a dearth of evidence.

“The current coronavirus disease, Covid-19, has been called a once-in-a-century pandemic. But it may also be a once-in-a-century evidence fiasco,” he wrote March 17 in Stat.

On Friday, The Wall Street Journal called Ionnnidis the “bearer of good coronavirus news,” noting that he had found himself under attack simply for doing what Atlas is doing — daring to question the ‘conventional wisdom’ pushed by journalists without science and medical degrees that all lockdowns, all the time, are what’s needed to ‘bend the curve.’

The paper notes:

Dr. Ioannidis calls the coronavirus pandemic “the perfect storm of that quest for very urgent, spectacular, exciting, apocalyptic results. And as you see, apparently our early estimates seem to have been tremendously exaggerated in many fronts.”

Chief among them was a study by modelers at Imperial College London, which predicted more than 2.2 million coronavirus deaths in the U.S. absent “any control measures or spontaneous changes in individual behaviour.” The study was published March 16—the same day the Trump administration released its “15 Days to Slow the Spread” initiative, which included strict social-distancing guidelines.

“They used inputs that were completely off in some of their calculation,” he said of that model. “If data are limited or flawed, their errors are being propagated through the model. . . . So if you have a small error, and you exponentiate that error, the magnitude of the final error in the prediction or whatever can be astronomical.”

And the data used by these early models were wrong. Now, 26-plus million Americans are out of work, the economy is in tatters, and Congress is spending trillions of dollars to compensate for the fallout — like we’ve got it to spend.

For his part, Atlas says we now of enough data to get the country reopened while still protecting the known vulnerable population.

“Point number one is that the overwhelming majority of people do not have any significant risk of dying. This is showing all over the world. And in fact, what induced the panic was this overestimation of what’s called the fatality rate of the infection by the World Health Organization. But in reality, that’s a fraction,” he said. “So, if you take the number of people who are going to die and you divide it by the people who are infected, they got three to five percent of people, which is very high.

But now we know from data all over the world, including the U.S., that a massive number of people have the virus that were either asymptomatic. In fact, 50 percent of people that are infected have zero symptoms.”


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Jon Dougherty


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