How Panic Spread During COVID's Early Days

COVID rapidly became the most important health policy crisis in a century.

It was February 2020, and news reports were getting worrying about a new virus originating in Wuhan, China. Aside from my overall anxiety about the illness spreading, I was perplexed by some of the basic data being broadcast. The World Health Organization's (WHO) overall statement appeared to have apparent weaknesses. The excessively high risk estimations appeared to be deceptive. Worse, the claimed death rates were based solely on those who were unwell enough to seek medical attention, rather than the unquestionably far larger community of infected people. I was astounded that practically everyone had missed this fundamental methodological problem, despite the fact that the ensuing death rate of 3.4 percent was widely publicized. That is something that any reputable medical scientist should have pointed out. Their deafening quiet was perplexing.

A naïve conversation about statistical models erupted in the United States and throughout the world. These epidemiological models were presented front and center in news coverage to an astonishing and unprecedented level, with little perspective on the models' efficacy. Similar to other famous manias in history, such as the tulip bulb craze or the tech stock bubble, hypothetical extreme-risk scenarios were unquestioned and were given ultimate weight.

Simultaneously, common sense and well-established medical principles were being disregarded. Every second-year medical student understood that the elderly were nearly invariably the most vulnerable category of patients, because respiratory illnesses put them at the highest risk of death and significant effects. This, however, was not emphasized. The implication of reports and the public faces of official knowledge, on the other hand, suggested that everyone was equally in risk. The old, feeble persons with underlying comorbidities—conditions that compromised their natural immune defenses—were the ones at the greatest risk of mortality, according to the preliminary research. Other respiratory viruses, such as seasonal influenza, had this trait as well. The fact that children were at such a low risk was an uncommon aspect of this virus. This soothing and uplifting news, however, was never highlighted. Instead, public health professionals urged severe isolation of everyone, despite the evidence of selective risk associated with other respiratory infections.

The architects of the American lockdown strategy were Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx. With Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the CDC, they were the most influential medical members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

The task force quickly expanded to include a new chairman, Vice President Mike Pence. Birx will be the task force's coordinator, according to the White House. She had served as the United States' AIDS coordinator in the State Department throughout both the Obama and Trump administrations, and was so frequently addressed with the appellation "ambassador." Numerous government agencies involved in health, research, national crises and logistics, the economy, and a variety of other issues were represented on the task group.

At its inception, the task group dealt with a variety of topics. One of the first objectives, given the country's lack of preparedness for a pandemic, was to implement sufficient testing—a critical public health measure in early infectious disease epidemics. The manufacture and distribution of supportive medical equipment, such as ventilators, personal protective equipment for hospitals, and extra beds and employees to accommodate sick patients expected to overwhelm the system, were the second group of activities.

Dr. Birx, Dr. Redfield and Dr. Fauci—often called "the nation's top expert in infectious disease"—dominated all discussions about the health and medical aspects of the emerging pandemic. One thing was very clear: all three were cut from the same cloth. First, they were all bureaucrats, with a background in various government agencies. Second, they shared a long history in HIV/AIDS as a public health crisis. That was problematic, because HIV couldn't be more different from SARS2 in its biology, its amenability to testing and contact tracing, its spread and the implications of those facts for its control. Indeed, the three of them spent many years focusing on the development of a vaccine, rather than treatment, for HIV/AIDS—a vaccine that still does not exist.

It's also worth noting Dr. Fauci's history in regard to AIDS. He created headlines for his alarmist speculations in his 1983 JAMA editorial that AIDS could be transmitted by "routine close contact, as within a family household." It had already been known that transmission happened via fluids through blood or sexual contact. Less than two months later, on June 26 in The Baltimore Sun, Fauci publicly contradicted his own explosive claim: "It is absolutely preposterous to suggest that AIDS can be contracted through normal social contact like being in the same room with someone or sitting on a bus with them. The poor gays have received a very raw deal on this." That seemed like quite a flip-flop, with no new evidence or explanation given—more reminiscent of a politician than a reliable scientist.

Most of the others on the task team were preoccupied with many issues or lacked a medical expertise. They deferred to those designated medical experts since this was yet another obligation added to their portfolios. Under President Trump, Drs. Birx and Fauci usurped official policy and publicly campaigned for a total societal shutdown. Instead than focusing on safeguarding the most vulnerable, their irrational and unusually brutal reaction was implemented as if it were common sense, despite its expected, wide-ranging effects.

Over those first several weeks, fear had taken hold of the public. Media commentators and even policy experts, many of whom had no expertise on health care, were filling the airwaves and opinion pages with naive and incorrect predictions. This misinformation was going unchecked, and was indeed repeatedly endorsed and sensationalized. Some whom I had previously considered among my smartest colleagues and friends expressed great confusion and a striking absence of logic in analyzing what was happening.

I asked myself time and again, "Where are the critical thinkers?"

After more than 15 years a health policy researcher and decades in medical science and data analysis, I had never seen such flawed thinking. I was bewildered at the lack of logic, the absence of common sense and the reliance on fundamentally flawed science. The airwaves were suddenly dominated by computer modelers and folks who had no perspective on clinical disorders. I began witnessing, along with millions of other Americans, unprecedented responses from those in power and nonscientific recommendations from public health spokespeople: societal lockdowns, including business and school closures, stay-at-home restrictions on individual movements, and arbitrary decrees by local, state, and federal governments.

These suggestions were not only founded on panic, but they also contributed to the spread of panic. COVID quickly became into the century's most significant health-policy concern.

Follow us on Google News

Filed under

Recent Search