Over the past several months, I’ve grown increasingly upset about how both our elected officials and the media have been trying to scare the shit out of us by spinning scientific evidence and filtering raw data related to the latest of seven coronaviruses that can infect people.
I’m talking about SARS-CoV-2 (which causes COVID-19), of course.
So in my final Healthy Living newsletter of 2020, I wanted to take the opportunity to share with you the data I’ve seen and invite you to draw your own conclusions — based on data rather than the fear mongering you’ve been hearing in the media.
I’ve decided to address COVID-19 because I’ve noticed that the longer this “pandemic” appears to be going on, the more afraid people get and the more our response diverges from the scientific evidence.
But let’s start at the beginning.
Like most reasonable people, I was concerned in the beginning because there was so much we didn’t know. But scientists quickly collected data to give us an idea of where this train was heading.
The more data that scientists collected, the clearer it became that COVID-19 poses a high risk for a certain demographic but a relatively low risk for everyone else (as you can see in the graph below).
Specifically, people with comorbidities — pre-existing conditions, such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure (to name a few) — are at much higher risk than anyone else. Many of these people died during the peak earlier this year, despite all the lockdowns and social distancing mandates that were supposed to flatten the curve.
On the other side of the spectrum, the age 0-18 demographic group has the lowest risk of getting sick, and they’re also unlikely to transmit the virus.
So it would only seem natural to try and protect the vulnerable and allow everyone else to carry on with their lives. But nuance isn’t something that most politicians (or the media) understand.
Instead, we decided to do something that has never been shown to work in the past, including:
- Scare the shit out of everyone with daily case counts and overblown death rates.
- Lockdowns that forced many businesses to close and go bankrupt.
- School closings that will likely have a sustained (negative) impact on entire generations.
- Mask mandates that have created an unbelievable amount of trash from disposable masks.
- Social distancing requirements that have isolated people and that have created potentially severe mental health issues.
- Mass testing using unreliable screening methods (PCR tests) that have cost billions in tax dollars.
While some of these measures might have been considered reasonable in the very beginning (when we didn’t know what we were dealing with), the scientific evidence of what works and what doesn’t has been pretty clear for several months.
According to the latest immunological studies, the overall infection fatality rate (IFR) of COVID-19 in the general population is about 0.1% to 0.5% in most countries, which is comparable to the medium influenza pandemics of 1957 and 1968. In contrast, one in four deaths in the United States is caused by cardiovascular disease.
Up to 40% of all infected people show no symptoms, about 80% show at most mild symptoms, and about 95% show at most moderate symptoms and do not require hospitalization. Mild cases may be due to protective T-cells from earlier common cold coronavirus infections.
COVID and Children
Children are at very low risk of catching COVID-19. If they do, they usually have only mild symptoms. Those compounded effects mean that kids are unlikely to transmit COVID-19, among other children or to adults.
The conclusion from these investigations is that child-to-child transmission in schools is uncommon and not the primary cause of SARS-CoV-2 infection of children whose infection onset coincides with the period during which they are attending school.European Center for Disease Prevention and Control
In summary, while there is evidence of transmission from adults to children in household settings, there is little evidence of this occurring within the school setting.European Center for Disease Prevention and Control
There is limited evidence within the peer-reviewed literature documenting transmission between adults within the school setting.European Center for Disease Prevention and Control
As a result, kids are safest at school and not at home.
Fun fact: The flu is easily transmitted among school children, and scientists don’t yet know why COVID is different. But it is.
So why the heck are we closing schools (again)?
Who Transmits COVID?
The primary transmission vector is working adults aged 18-40 who interact with each other. These are the people infecting kids — not the other way around (which means that teachers are safe at school).
Who Doesn’t Transmit COVID?
A recent study involving 10 million people in Wuhan, China found that none of the asymptomatic participants spread the virus.
And a meta-analysis of 54 studies that looked at household spread of the virus found that only 0.7% of asymptomatic people spread the virus.
In other words, asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic individuals are relatively unlikely to spread COVID.
Why is that?
There are a few reasons for why that could be.
- Their test was a false positive (more on that down below).
- Without symptoms, such as coughing, they’re less likely to spread the disease.
- The viral load is too low if you don’t feel sick (i.e., your immune system is killing the virus).
Whatever the reasons might be, the key point is that unless you have COVID and feel sick, you’re unlikely to spread the virus.
That’s why I think the general mask wearing and social distancing mandates cause more harm than necessary. If you’re sick, stay home — as you would with any other disease.
If you’re not, enjoy your life but keep maintaining proper hygiene (wash your hands, cover your mouth when you’re sneezing, etc.).
But What About the Rising Case Numbers?
In many jurisdictions, the number of people who test positive for COVID is rising. That leads many people to believe that there is a second wave.
But the data doesn’t support that theory. On the contrary, it appears as if the pandemic is over and it has changed to an endemic. If you think I’m crazy for saying that, bear with me and look at the data.
Let’s start with the obvious reason for rising case numbers: more testing.
We’re testing more than ever before. Countries like Austria have even started mass-testing with the goal to test the entire population.
The more you test, the more cases you’ll find.
A more important issue is how testing is conducted. Most countries, including the United States, rely on RT-PCR tests that can detect the virus’s genetic material (usually in the mucus membranes of your nose).
In some circumstances, the distinction between background noise and actual presence of the target virus is difficult to ascertain.WHO
What you probably don’t know is that there are different types of PCR tests: quantitative tests and qualitative tests.
In layman’s terms, the quantitative test checks for the amount of genetic material of the virus (much like the HCG test your doctor does when you suspect that you’re pregnant).
The qualitative test is like a home pregnancy test that tells you “yes” or “no” without giving you any indication of how much of the pregnancy hormone (HCG) you have in your urine.
Depending on the lab that does the testing, they may use either one of these test types. The problem is that much like all screening (qualitative) tests, there is a moderate risk of false positives.
So you might think a quantitative test is much better. Not so fast. Quantitative tests use amplification or so-called cycle thresholds (CTs), and the higher the CT, the more likely the test picks up on genetic material from other viruses or previous COVID infections. So you might test positive because you had COVID a month ago but without symptoms.
The bottom line here is that all of these factors combined paint a much grimmer picture of the current situation than what it actually is.
How do we know that?
Because the death rate (even if you look at all deaths associated — as opposed to deaths caused by — COVID-19 doesn’t track with the case rate.
In other words, while the number of cases appear to be skyrocketing, the death rate is not (as you can see in the graphs I’ve included in this newsletter).
Yes, more people are dying right now, much like every year around this time — but not at a rate that matches the “infection rate.”
If you want to learn more about PCR testing and its problems, check out this article published by the World Health Organization.
What Is a Death Associated with COVID?
All of the deaths reported by the CDC and the media refer to deaths associated with COVID.
In a nutshell, anyone who dies and tests positive for COVID is considered a COVID death, regardless of what other factors were involved. So if someone dies of a heart attack but that person had COVID (even without symptoms), the death counts as a COVID death.
While that makes sense in some cases where COVID might be the final trigger that causes someone to pass away, it makes it difficult to assess the real risk of dying from COVID.
Case in point: 94% of the people who died with COVID had at least two comorbidities. That’s why the older demographic is much more at risk; they’re more likely to suffer from multiple illnesses.
In other words, from the over 330,000 people who died from COVID in the U.S., less than 20,000 did not have pre-existing conditions.
To put that number into context, almost 50,000 people committed suicide this year and over 650,000 people have died of cardiovascular disease.
What are we doing to flatten those curves?
But What About Our Overrun Hospitals?
I don’t know all the ins and outs of hospital operation, but I was told that in order to be profitable, a hospital has to run at about 90% capacity. Anything less and the hospital loses money.
So if you hear that our hospitals are at 80% capacity, that might not be something to freak out about.
Ohio was one of the states that sounded the alarm bell last month because of exploding case numbers and hospitals with no more capacity. But if you look at the actual numbers (hospital admissions and deaths rates), the picture looks entirely different and not so scary after all.
The bottom line is that COVID-19 isn’t much deadlier than the flu for most of the population and, in particular, for the younger demographic.
But even considering the risk for people with comorbidities, I question if that risk is worth shutting down entire economies, driving millions of people into unemployment, forcing businesses to close, preventing children from getting a proper education or making people spend the holidays isolated from their loved ones.
I think we’ve gone overboard. Even worse, we haven’t made any effort to improve the overall health of our population. If we had spent as much time and money five years ago on fixing our broken food and healthcare systems as we have in response to COVID, we wouldn’t have to worry about this virus now.
And you could say it was a lesson we had to learn. The problem is, I don’t think we’ve learned any lessons yet. That’s what frustrates me.
Nevertheless, here’s what I’ve been doing to cope with the current situation:
- I stopped reading the news and, instead, I started following the data.
- I continued maintaining a healthy lifestyle to support my immune system.
- I began appreciating the link between high blood glucose levels and the risk of COVID-19 infections (by wearing a continuous blood glucose monitor).
- I keep tabs on my respiratory rate and HRV using WHOOP.
- I hug and kiss my friends and family any chance I get, and make sure they don’t feel abandoned or isolated (as long as I don’t feel sick).
- I stand up against rules and regulations that lack any scientific evidence (e.g., I don’t wear a mask).
If you feel stressed about what you hear in the news, I encourage you to follow Dr. Frank, a data scientist who has been crunching the numbers from the CDC, states and other sources in an unbiased and unfiltered manner.
Since my wife has started following the data with Dr. Frank, the fear mongering from the media doesn’t bother her anymore.
You can only make good decisions and have reasonable discussions if you know the data.
So KNOW THE DATA!
I particularly recommend this video presentation from Dr. Frank, addressed to anyone who has kids in school. I’ll be sending a summary of this presentation to our daughter’s school, which decided, like most schools in our county, to keep the kids away from in-person learning for most of January — another lost month.
With that, I wish you all a wonderful and fearless new year!
Stay healthy and stand up for what you think is right!