Beyond our fascination with COVID-19

Tuesday, 20 October 2020 01:44 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


WHO has been having quite a run. While curiously disagreeing with The Great Barrington Declaration (see below), WHO has made news by:

The Head of Health Emergencies Program confirming an IFR (Infection Fatality Rate), the only really “relevant” number re COVID lethality to be .14% (they said one in 10 around the planet had been likely infected, that’s 750 million, if we have lost just over one million, the math brings us to that number). 

Dr. David Nabarro, the WHO’s Special Envoy on C-19 said in a globally followed interview with Andrew Neill, “We really do appeal to all world leaders: stop using lockdown as your primary control method.” Despite some of our local experts here clamouring for “lockdown” as a means of control, their medical instincts seem to have been befuddled, as such “locking down” as we’ve now proven pretty obviously worldwide, just “delays” or temporarily “suppresses” the virus. A little kindling, and it comes flaring back. So, we have to manage it, and defang it instead.

Nabarro went on to point out several of the negative consequences of lockdown, devastating tourism industries (not irrelevant here by any stretch of the imagination) and increasing hunger and poverty. “Look what’s happening to poverty levels. It seems we may well have a doubling of world poverty by next year. We may well have at least a doubling of child malnutrition.”

*WHO has now published Professor John Ionnidis of Stanford’s now peer reviewed study based on seroprevalence, showing the IFT consistently across countries, not just in the larger numerical sweep as above, is far less than was expected, and far more akin to influenza, when averaged out.

Bolstering this are the latest survival rate estimates from the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) for C-19:

  • Age 0-19…99.997%
  • Age 20-49…99.98%
  • Age 50-69…99.5%
  • Age 70+…94.6%

If on review, anyone can indicate why Sri Lanka should be coming psychologically or emotionally unravelled because 1800 or so cases, or rather 1800 or so “positive PCR tests” which are not the same as cases (“cases” require symptoms which need medical attention) have emerged, it would be fascinating to hear.

And how could all these clusters erupt with COVID guidelines in place, unless one is assuming Brandix, which has a factory which has been one of the epicentres has been playing loose with COVID guidelines (masks, social distancing, hygiene), and there is no reason to say so, then irrespective of whether people came from overseas or were local, how did they so rapidly infect so many people? I would love to hear the theory of transmissibility by which this took place.

Or could it be, the tests are skewing perceptions, particularly as the vast majority are indicated as being asymptomatic? As Professor Gupta of Oxford states: 

“We are of course also able to test for presence of the virus, and there is much attention on this with ‘test and trace’ strategies. However this test, known as the PCR test, is of limited value as it cannot tell us whether someone is infectious and can pass on the disease, whether they have the virus but cannot pass it on, or indeed whether the virus has been destroyed by the immune system and only fragments remain (which are being detected and triggering a “false positive”). This means that we need to make public health decisions based on only partial information, and in a changing environment, and is why assumptions of how many people have been infected and are immune are so important (and we have to follow symptoms not just tests therefore).”

Best not to create a “quasi-lockdown” through terrorising proclamations

As a UK doctor pointed out, “We now live in a land where students are locked up or kept from school, colleagues are taking their own lives in despair, where businesses are being ruined by state edict or else via panic as people just “stay home,” where grandparents are being banned from hugging their grandchildren…all in the name of containing a virus that does not kill 99.9% of its victims.” The inmates have taken over the asylum.

While we want everyone to be careful, scrupulous with measures, even with mitigating strategies like masks, there are uncertainties, and we are virtually “betting” our national solvency and health on them.

While masks can be very helpful, we must be judicious as to where and for how long we wear them. Here are some medical challenges to the orthodoxy from global medical sources that I invite those providing guidelines here in Lanka to make sure we address and not ignore:

1) Humans breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Oxygen is 20.9% of what we breathe in, but only 16% of what we breathe out. Global regulatory agencies indicate that oxygen-levels below 19.5% are dangerous. 

Carbon dioxide is .04% of the atmosphere, but 4% of the air we breathe out, a 100-fold difference. Carbon dioxide toxicity begins when those levels are 10%. Masks, particularly as you walk, exercise, exert, but even generally, lower oxygen levels and raise carbon dioxide levels, and so cannot be healthy for sustained use.

2) SARS-COV-2 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets from infected individuals hacking, coughing, sneezing, in close, sustained contact with others we are told (10-15 minutes at least). It does not to date appear to spread through regular breathing from people in typical social interactions.

3) Masks are varyingly effective, but the more effective they are in blocking air flow, the lower the oxygen levels, the higher the CO2. Studies show these raise complaints of shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, suggesting this precisely. Danger mounts in the elderly, those with asthma and more.

4) You do not need to be six feet apart from a person and wearing a mask. WHO anyway prescribes three feet, not six (that was the same even for Ebola), for “social distancing.” Reputable publications like The Lancet have reported “scarce” evidence that masks provide any effective protection against respiratory infections. The Japanese no longer make them mandatory, but they are part of the culture, applied prudently as a social health norm, and Sweden never has required them, but again they try to follow overall hygiene and distancing guidelines.

5) Masks interrupt normal patterns of air flow, leading to pathogens being deposited on the chin, cheeks and near the eyes. And the pore size means COVID-19 passes quite readily through several different kinds of masks in everyday use.

6) Unless you are close to someone who is singing or speaking very loudly, as in a choir, the risk of airborne transmission is negligible. Coughing people usually aren’t singing. Superspreader events have taken place indoors, among individuals in close, prolonged, fairly intimate contact with each other. Sunlight is a potent killer of this virus, often destroying it in minutes.

7) Nursing homes are highly dangerous, 42% of COVID cases in Europe and the US overall have come from nursing homes, though they account for about .6% of the population. Of course, comorbidities, which tend to mount as we age, heart disease, diabetes, chronic lung disease, also make infection, illness and mortality more likely.

8) Masks can become virus traps, leading to heightened chances of infection when you touch them with your hands. CDC and other bodies have documented how well viruses can stay active on masks.

9) There is technically no “asymptomatic carrier,” insofar as having no symptoms for weeks, months or more. Hence The New England Journal of Medicine recently published an article from numerous researchers stating that outside a health care facility, masks offer little if any protection.

10) Even more controversial is obligating children to wear masks. They are highly unlikely to be infected, when infected their symptoms are far milder, and there seems to be no real instance of spread from them to teachers, parents or grandparents. Of course, extra care can be exercised when in particularly heightened physical proximity.

Amusing ‘tongue-in-cheek’ musings

So, we are to believe, “The virus only spreads in gatherings that we don’t endorse. So political rallies are fine in the US or anywhere else, nightclubs aren’t. Protests are fine, schools aren’t.”

It seems unclear how humans survived viruses all these millennia without being “masked.”

Lockdowns don’t work (compare Taiwan and Japan and Sweden to Argentina or tiny isolated New Zealand trapped into global isolation by its viral theology). But when the first one fails (see below), try three more!

If cases spike during mask mandates, it must mean people didn’t wear masks long enough or ardently enough!

Vitamin C and D should not be mentioned in our arsenal.

“COVID Science” feels free to ignore past established laws, and precedents of immunology, virology, biology. If you steadfastly ignore them all, you can assert, largely evidence-free, that “this virus is really different.”

Sending sick people into nursing homes to infect the most vulnerable and create a superspreader environment has to surely be relegated to among “worst ideas in history” status by now?

Studying “tests” posing as “cases” when your mortality needle isn’t moving, is a really expensive way to undermine your economy and way of life.

Since it’s alleged “herd immunity” is unethical and for kooks, we should stay locked up inside, until a vaccine arrives from somewhere, to offer us herd immunity.

We should keep making policy based on frightening models and ignore real-time data inconvenient to the narrative.

The best way to cure heart attacks and other ailments is to keep all those people away from health care while claiming we are doing what we are doing to “save lives.” In the US, at the height of the pandemic, mammograms fell 77%, they were still down 23% in September.

Drug use is up. Sign of moral decline? Or is it perhaps what happens naturally when you take away live music, arts and education, support groups, praying together, physical community, shutting natural joy out from our lives?

Year 2020 is the year we became obsessed with finding positive test results of a virus rather than focusing on the declining manifestation of the symptoms of the disease itself.

Since 65-85% of all transmissions happen indoors, the great idea we’ve had is to lock you down, make you stay at home, ideally in a poorly ventilated space, lose Vitamin D exposure from sunlight, lose daily mobility, increase mental despair and increase the likelihood of getting infected.

As an example of silly over-reaction, Liverpool England has had its hospitality sector shuttered again: number of COVID recorded deaths in the last three months in Liverpool out of a population of 550,000? 29! Oh, but keep watching those “tests/cases.” And UK levels of mortality 2019-2020 are comparable to 1999-2000.

More lockdown data

I truly salute the Sri Lankan Government for its localised approach to the current cluster, focused, targeted, disciplined and surgical. To bolster that intent, some more reinforcing US data.

As reported in The Wall Street Journal, the firm TrendMacro (an analytics firm) tallied the cumulative number of reported cases of C-19 in each US state and the District of Columbia (Washington D.C.), as a percentage of the population. They then compared that with the timing and intensity of the “lockdown” for each jurisdiction. This was not based on official “policy” but what people did, observationally and via cellphone tracking data captured by Google and others, tabulated by the University of Maryland into a “Social Distancing Index.”

Tracking from the beginning of 2020 to each state’s point of maximum “lockdown” (which ranged from 5 to 18 April essentially), there was an inverse correlation! In other words, states with longer, stricter lockdowns had larger COVID outbreaks. The five places with the harshest “lockdowns” had the heaviest caseloads by a comfortable (or uncomfortable) margin – D.C. New York, Michigan, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

It could be argued they had the strictest shutdowns precisely because they had the worse caseloads. But the inverse correlation holds even outside states with heavy caseloads, and whether you adjust for population density, age, ethnicity, even presence of nursing homes, the correlation holds up. The only influencing factor seems to be intensity of mass-transit use.

The firm tried it on “openings” from mid-April onwards. This time extending from peak “lockdown” to 31 July. Though the correlation was not as acute, it was nevertheless evident. Those states that opened up the most, had lightest caseloads. Political rhetoric notwithstanding, Arizona, California, Florida and Texas were hardly the most “open” and these had the “case-demic” though hardly even there, any corresponding surge in hospitalisations or mortality over the same period.

The Lancet, referred to above, found the same pattern looking across countries rather than US States: “A longer time prior to the implementation of any lockdown was associated with a lower number of associated cases,” concludes the study. And shockingly, on the contrary, “lastly, government actions such as border closures, full lockdowns, and a high rate of C-19 testing were not associated with statistically significant reductions in the number of critical cases or overall mortality.”

The study has since enhanced those findings by sophisticated measures of actual social distancing and data from the re-opening phase.

There is something to be explored here, not a “fatwa” to preach or an evangel to endorse, but real curiosity and one that argues for careful, localised attention, adherence to prudent measures alongside social and economic functioning that keeps lives and livelihoods viable.

The Great Barrington Misunderstanding

Leading epidemiologists from Oxford, Stanford and Yale (with a further “assist” from Johns Hopkins) have laid out the case against inflicting and perpetuating the ghastly impact of lockdowns versus protecting the vulnerable and letting others relatively not at risk, run the economy and build up a wall of immunity for all of us. 

WHO and some of its acolytes seems to have construed this as a suggestion that we should send people out to get purposefully infected, to potentially ail and die. 

The number of signatures being garnered by the Declaration despite high jinks by Google in trying to “sequester” access (a tale for another time) is testimony to the unimpeachable credentials of the authors and the compelling approach of not shutting the whole world when a very small percentage are actually vulnerable from everything we know today.

I suggest rather than calling it “herd immunity” we should call it a “human resilience” strategy that optimises hygiene, prudent distancing, rallies the natural T-cell response or immune system response (via antibodies) already experienced clearly around the globe as we obviously haven’t tested 750 million people positive by any stretch of anyone’s imagination of those at nominal risk, welcomes a globally tested and truly safe and widely available vaccine when it’s ready, and safeguards “lives” in as broad a sense as possible, rather than continuing to have the unsupportable position  that only “danger” from this one virus matters, and all other harms and illnesses and suffering are somehow tolerable.

“Herd immunity” is not a strategy per se but building “human resilience” is the only option, it’s what has always happened across history. Compare that history with suddenly “foisted” ideas like “quarantine” and “lockdown” which since the Middle Ages were not part of any public health playbook.

Let’s rally our sanity, let’s galvanise our medical responses, our immune responses, and protect the entire constellation of living value as best as our technology, collaboration, and wits allow us to.

Let’s build on Sri Lanka’s success and keep the unwarranted ‘panic’ at bay, in balance. Our immune system has transcended far more than this viral interloper. It will again, if we let it, reinforced by our best considered public policy and the optimal targeted focus of our superb medical care when grounded in facts and data and not runaway ungrounded panic.

Recent columns

Perfecting the failure

Views -5     4-12-2020

Hope in dark times

Views -7     4-12-2020