#When will we learn from our COVID frauds and failures?

“When will we learn from our COVID frauds and failures?”

We were swindled, fooled, bamboozled and lied to during the pandemic. The public-health establishment misled the American people about the value of masking, closures and social distancing. No one has accepted blame. Understanding how badly we failed is not only an inevitable part of the “told you so” process but, more important, a lesson for next time. Just ask the Swedes.

Sweden had zero excess deaths associated with COVID-19. The United States had the most excess deaths of all nations. New York had more than Florida. That’s the whole story right there in a handful of words.

Let’s unpack it.

The key element of misdirection in the American swindle was case counts, those running numbers on screens telling us how many Americans had tested positive for COVID. If you’re curious, it looks like some 60% of us have had COVID at some point, with most of us experiencing mild or no symptoms.

How high the case numbers went in your neck of the woods depended a lot on the amount of testing taking place. More testing meant more “cases.” For me, when I had a very mild set of symptoms all clearly in line with COVID, I never even bothered to test. Like most people, I just sat around the house for a few days until I got better. My spouse, who had no symptoms, never got tested, either. Neither of us was included in the ever-growing case counts that dominated the headlines for years.

A mobile COVID-19 testing van is open for walk-in clients in the Brooklyn borough of New York.
Experts believe 60% of Americans have had COVID at some point.
AP/Bebeto Matthews

Not that it matters. The case count tells us very little. Hospitalization totals are useful for managing caseload but often are indicative of protocols like testing patients upon entry to the hospital. Many hospital treatments changed, too. Initially, many COVID-positive people were hospitalized and put on respirators. Before long, many doctors realized infections associated with long-term respirator use were killing people, too.

Eventually, hospitalization numbers went down. That stat, too, only told you so much. Since COVID proved fatal primarily to the elderly, many hospitalizations began with something else only to end with COVID. My own father suffered a blinding, massive stroke, went into hospital and caught COVID there, to officially die of respiratory failure. I’m not sure if he counted as a COVID death or not.

Now the bad news: Modern medicine can’t cure death. Everybody dies. Most Americans who don’t die earlier in life in accidents typically die after the age of 77. In 2020, heart disease and cancer each killed about double the number of people that COVID did.

In this Jan. 15, 2021, file photo, CVS Pharmacist Gerard Diebner administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a nursing home resident at Harlem Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation.
COVID proved much more deadly to the elderly, especially those with underlying conditions.
AP/Yuki Iwamura

The only statistic that really matters, then, when talking about the roughly two years of the pandemic is “excess deaths,” deaths beyond the usual couple of million that occur every year.

Sweden had zero excess deaths. The United States had the most excess deaths of all nations. New York had more than Florida.

Sweden did very little in terms of halting work and school or forcing masking and social distancing. America did quite a bit more. The US states, known for their COVID “efforts,” particularly New York, had excess deaths worse than or similar to do-little Florida. These states expended an awful lot of effort and angst and suffered great collateral damage (addiction, suicide, unemployment, social unrest, failing grades) for very little benefit.

People go shopping without face masks at a shopping center in Gothenburg, Sweden, Sunday, May 16, 2021.
Sweden largely carried on as normal during the pandemic, even as COVID infections rose.
AP/Martin Meissner

And we were lied to by the COVIDians. In July 2020, The New York Times stated Sweden’s “decision to carry on in the face of the pandemic has yielded a surge of deaths without sparing its economy from damage. Sweden’s grim result — more death, and nearly equal economic damage — suggests that the supposed choice between lives and paychecks is a false one: failure to impose social distancing can cost lives and jobs at the same time.”

Tsk, tsk, said the media. And they’re still saying it. Despite Florida having 148 excess deaths per 100,000 to New York’s 248, Politico’s May 1 headline read: “Florida lost 70,000 people to Covid. It’s still not prepared for the next wave.”

Much as Florida did, Sweden allowed restaurants, gyms, shops and most schools to stay open. People went to work; some voluntarily masked, some not. Its decision stood in stark contrast to the United States, where, by April 2020, the CDC recommended draconian lockdowns, throwing millions out of work and school.

America is the only major Western nation that still demands a negative COVID test for entry, including from its own citizens. America is the only nation where every COVID therapeutic, such as new antiviral drugs that lessen the severity of a positive case, is filtered through the lens of partisan politics.

In addition to leaving our economy in shambles, America’s COVID strategy apparently did not consider the age disparity in excess deaths. Globally, most COVID deaths occurred among persons age 77 and older. People exposed to COVID in their 70s have twice the mortality rate of those exposed in their 60s and 3,000 times that of COVID-exposed children. But everyone was made to wear a mask as though everyone were at equal risk of COVID and without solid evidence that mask mandates significantly lower viral spread in the community.

Transporter Jo Navarro, right, prepares to move a body of a COVID-19 victim to a morgue at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles.
A transporter prepares to move a body of a COVID-19 victim to a morgue at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles.
AP/Jae C. Hong

The data were clear in China from the pandemic’s early days. Death rates for elderly Chinese then, who were not social distancing, and elderly Americans, who were social distancing, were very similar. Swedish intensive-care-admission rates showed sharp declines after early pandemic peaks despite a lack of state-imposed shutdowns.

Age-specific solutions were needed for a virus with age-specific effects. We ignored or overlooked the data. We are paying for that mistake now. Saving lives or saving the economy? Both, please. Ask the Swedes.

America’s pandemic response was wrong across the board. Its failure is attributable in part to red-blue politics and a pathetic desire for control by Democratic governors.

Travelers wearing protective masks as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus move about the a terminal at the Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, April 19, 2022.
Florida had 148 excess deaths per 100,000 to New York’s 248.
AP/Matt Rourke

It was also exacerbated by Americans’ underlying health, which is worse than in most other developed countries. Our underlying health woes are exacerbated by income inequality and high rates of poverty and maddening levels of obesity, diabetes and “deaths of despair,” especially among the underclass. Black Americans were hit harder by COVID than white Americans. The poor were hit harder than the well-to-do.

Whatever we did, whether we masked or locked down or stayed open and maskless, we still would have suffered because of these underlying issues. Fixing the next pandemic means fixing America first.

Peter Van Buren is the author of “We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People,” “Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan” and “Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the 99 Percent.”

Originally published in The American Conservative

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