Bill Bennett: Why are we panicking? This virus is on track to kill fewer people than the flu

Bill Bennett: Why are we panicking? This virus is on track to kill fewer people than the flu

Via Jonah Goldberg, a reminder that loyalty to Trump doesn’t explain all coronavirus misinformation. The Trumpy line here would/should be that the president acted heroically to save lives by recommending an unprecedented shutdown of the economy to head off a killer pandemic.

Bennett’s line, essentially, is that Trump got suckered by a bunch of hype for a disease that just isn’t that dangerous except to people who are old or have some sort of underlying health problem. Which can’t be more than — what? Fifty million Americans? A hundred million?

Coronavirus politics is a rare case of populist interests conflicting with Trump’s interests. Normally when that happens, righties side with Trump. When he clashes with Iran, for instance, principled nationalists like Tucker Carlson might scold him for succumbing to the interventionists in his orbit but most Republicans think it’s fine because it shows strength. In the present case, though, populists’ suspicion of experts is leading some to grasp for arguments that the pandemic isn’t as bad as scientists say even though implicitly that’s a knock on Trump for going along with those same experts (for now). Here we have Bennett noting that the projected 60,000 deaths from coronavirus are about how many there are in a bad flu season. Trump let the egghead scientists talk him into shutting down the economy over that? Watch, then read on.

I can’t believe we’re a month into this, staring at graphs that look like this, and people like him are still trying to shoehorn COVID-19 into templates for the good ol’ flu. Comparing flu deaths during normal times to coronavirus deaths during a shutdown of the global economy to limit transmission is so glaring a case of comparing apples to oranges that an educated person can’t possibly do it in good faith. It’s like holding a three-point contest where one player shoots from normal range and the other shoots from under his own basket on the other end of the court, and they hit the same number of shots, and coming away thinking, “I guess they’re equally good shooters.”

Let me remind you of what fever rates look like right now in the United States via the Kinsa “health weather” map:

The blue line is the fever rate during normal times, when the flu dominates. The orange line represents the fever rate right now thanks to historic, unprecedented, economy-crushing measures of social distancing aimed at slowing coronavirus. Despite driving that orange line down about as close to zero as it can realistically get, we’re still momentarily seeing 2,000 deaths from COVID-19 per day in the United States from infections that (likely mostly) originated during the red “atypical” period in the graph. I’d be curious to see a model of what would happen to the flu if we shut down the economy and stayed locked indoors for a month or two every winter during flu season. How far would flu deaths fall every year? Ninety percent, maybe?

There’s no way Bennett doesn’t see that flaw in his argument. He has to be pandering willfully to the Fox audience, deliberately misinforming them in order to score a point on experts like Fauci.

Pay attention to the numbers he gives in the clip too. He says at one point that there’s a “two-tenths of one percent chance that you’re going to get” COVID-19. I don’t know where he heard that. Best estimates are that two to five percent of the country has *already* gotten it and fans of the Oxford model of the disease suspect the share is much higher than that (with many more cases being asymptomatic). Is he … calculating based on the number of confirmed cases (551,826) relative to the total U.S. population (330 million)? That’s around 0.2 percent, but everyone understands that the number of confirmed cases is almost meaningless. There are many, many undetected infections out there that aren’t being accounted for in testing, and that rate of 0.2 percent is obviously a moving target, not a constant. The only reason it’s as low as it is right now is because the country has been social distancing for a month. Send everyone back to work tomorrow and everyone’s odds of getting infected will begin to take off.

And by the way, no, it’s not just very old people who are at risk:

Starting at age 45, if you’re sick enough to need to go to the hospital, your odds of dying are around one in 10.

And all of this assumes that the official death toll from COVID-19 accurately captures everyone who’s died from it. We know that it doesn’t. There are many, many more people who’ve dropped dead in their homes in New York City over the last month than there usually are in the months of March and April, and few of them get counted as coronavirus deaths because they haven’t been formally tested before or after death. Even if everything else Bennett said was correct, he’d still be lowballing the threat from the disease.

But it isn’t correct. He’s basically spouting nonsense numbers at the audience. It’s inconceivable that he doesn’t know it.

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David Strom 9:21 PM on February 02, 2023