Sunday, April 26, 2020


There was a fact mentioned in a Washington Post story this week that deserves more attention.
[President] Trump at times has compared the death toll from covid-19 to the toll from the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009. The CDC estimates that more than 12,000 people died of that virus from April 2009 to April 2010.... That’s an estimate, based on observed illness totals and documented deaths. It’s similar to the annual estimates the government compiles to determine how many people died from the seasonal flu.... In the 2018-2019 flu season, for example, the CDC estimates that roughly 34,000 people died of the flu, a figure that could be as low as 26,000 or as high as nearly 53,000.

It’s a scientific estimate that is higher than the observed death toll. (Only about 7,000 flu deaths were directly recorded that flu season.)
I've emphasized the last two sentences of this passage because your right-wing relatives probably believe that the dangers of COVID-19 are being exaggerated, and that it's no more deadly than the seasonal flu. William Bennett spoke for these people.
Fox News contributor Bill Bennett offered perhaps the most high-profile comments on this in recent days, doubting this is even a “pandemic.”

“If you look at those numbers, and see the comparable, we’re going to have fewer fatalities from this than from the flu,” Bennett said, citing the latest projections. “For this, we scared the hell out of the American people, we lost 17 million jobs, we put a major dent in the economy, we closed down the schools ... shut down the churches, and so on. You know, this was not and is not a pandemic.”
People who believe this believe that the COVID-19 death numbers are being bumped up to make the disease seem worse than it is. They're responding to reports that some people are being classified as COVID-19 casualties based on the likelihood that the disease caused their deaths, without a firm diagnosis. (New York, for instance, added more than 3,700 people to its COVID-19 death toll who are presumed to be victims but were never found to be positive for the virus.)

But being suspicious of this -- as Rush Limbaugh, Tucker Carlson, Brit Hume, Mark Levin, and other right-wing media stars are -- and arguing that this proves that the flu is just as bad every year as COVID-19 requires you to believe that flu deaths are counted very, very strictly. In fact, as noted above, only 7,000 flu deaths were recorded as flu deaths in 2018-2019, and yet the CDC assumes that roughly five times as many Americans died of the flu that season.

If there are good-faith reasons to assume that the flu kills far more people every year than the number of people who are officially recorded as flu fatalities, then there are good-faith reasons to classify some people as COVID-19 casualties even if they were never subjected to a test for the coronavirus that was positive (especially when so many Americans can't get tested at all).

Your right-wing relatives believe that the authorities never make assumptions about flu deaths, and believe that the authorities are making all kinds of unjustified assumptions about COVID-19. They're wrong.

I believe this report from the Financial Times, which argues that our current numbers are a significant undercount.
The death toll from coronavirus may be almost 60 per cent higher than reported in official counts, according to an FT analysis of overall fatalities during the pandemic in 14 countries.

Mortality statistics show 122,000 deaths in excess of normal levels across these locations, considerably higher than the 77,000 official Covid-19 deaths reported for the same places and time periods....

To calculate excess deaths, the FT has compared deaths from all causes in the weeks of a location’s outbreak in March and April 2020 to the average for the same period between 2015 and 2019....

According to the FT analysis, overall deaths rose 60 per cent in Belgium, 51 per cent in Spain, 42 per cent in the Netherlands and 34 per cent in France during the pandemic compared with the same period in previous years.

Some of these deaths may be the result of causes other than Covid-19, as people avoid hospitals for other ailments. But excess mortality has risen most steeply in places suffering the worst Covid-19 outbreaks, suggesting most of these deaths are directly related to the virus rather than simply side-effects of lockdowns.
Not only is this far worse than the seasonal flu, it's far worse than the official death tolls suggest. But your right-wing relatives will never believe that.

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