American Pravda: Covid-19, Its Impact and Origins After One Year

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by Ron Unz, The Unz Review:

As We Rapidly Approach a Million American Deaths

More Than a Million Dead Americans?

Winston Churchill famously observed that in wartime the truth must be surrounded by a bodyguard of lies. Many of my own long and most controversial articles have followed a somewhat analogous presentation, with the opening sections that sometimes run hundreds of words or longer often being rather innocuous or even somewhat off-topic. These are intended to serve as a bland or sugar-coated introduction to the far more dangerous material that then follows, which might otherwise tend to alarm and deter the casual reader if introduced too quickly.

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Although I think this approach has its benefits, there are disadvantages as well. An unknown number of casual or busy readers may abandon the piece at that early stage, finding it too uninteresting to continue through to the more explosive elements. So there is probably some value in extracting and highlighting some of the latter for a different sort of audience, and this may be especially true with regard to the current Covid-19 outbreak in America, which recently marked its first anniversary.

Almost exactly one year ago on March 16th, 2020, the local public health officers of the San Francisco Bay region, including Dr. Sarah Cody of my own Santa Clara County, suddenly imposed a sweeping lockdown order upon their nearly seven million residents, a government action unprecedented in American history. At that point, our country had suffered perhaps a dozen recorded deaths, and relatively little public attention had been focused on the growing danger. But experts believed that the virus was rapidly and invisibly spreading, and this dramatic Bay Area decision was quickly copied elsewhere, first in Los Angeles, then throughout the entire state of California, and soon afterward in other large states such as New York and Illinois. A temporary lockdown of three weeks was gradually extended to several months, with masking and social-distancing suddenly becoming a major part of everyday life throughout much of our country.

Not long afterward, federal health officials released a shocking warning that the new disease might eventually claim as many as 100,000 to 240,000 American lives. For over a century, nothing like that had ever happened in our country and with existing deaths still merely numbering in the dozens, these gigantic “worst case” estimates were ridiculed by various ideological camps and disbelieving individuals as absurdly inflated and alarmist. Yet today the official Covid-19 death toll stands at around 550,000, a figure more than twice as high as the upper bound of that supposedly exaggerated projection.

From the very beginning, “Covid Skeptics” have fiercely disputed such official totals. They have noted the considerable confusion between “dying from Covid-19” and “dying with Covid-19,” plausibly arguing that such postmortem diagnoses are often ambiguous, with many deaths of infected individuals having primarily been due to other factors. But it also seems quite likely that many Covid-19 deaths may not have been officially recorded as such. Given such problems of both over-counting and under-counting, the most reliable metric would be the total number of “excess deaths,” those above and beyond the normal figure for a given period. But considering these much more solid estimates for the actual death toll suffered during our current epidemic actually reveals a picture far worse than those official numbers.

Two months ago a large team of nearly a dozen Wall Street Journal reporters published a 2,000 word article entitled “The Covid-19 Death Toll Is Even Worse Than It Looks” which carefully analyzed the worldwide losses, finding that the CDC figures for total deaths during the first 11 months of 2020 suggested some grim conclusions:

In the U.S. alone, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show more than 475,000 excess deaths through early December, a time frame that also included about 281,000 deaths linked to Covid-19, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The pandemic led U.S. deaths to climb at least 10% last year. Typically U.S. deaths grow about 1.6% a year as the population grows and ages.

Since that date, our official count of Covid-19 fatalities has nearly doubled, so if the same ratio of “excess” deaths has remained unchanged, well over 900,000 Americans have now died as a consequence of the epidemic. I have seen other estimates that are significantly lower, but even these still indicate that we have suffered nearly 800,000 additional deaths during the first twelve months of the disease outbreak, amounting to the greatest loss of life in American national history, far surpassing the combined total of all our foreign wars, and even exceeding the four bloody years of our Civil War, though admittedly relative to a much larger population base.

Moreover, the sluggish implementation of our national vaccination program ensures that these totals will continue to climb throughout much of the remaining year and are almost certain to break the million mark. Last spring, predictions that more than a million Americans would die despite our unprecedented disease control efforts might have been dismissed as total lunacy, but such numbers are now on the verge of becoming our actual reality. We should hardly be surprised that the CDC has estimated that by mid-2020 American life-expectancies had already dropped by a full year, their greatest decline since World War II.

A leading data website provides a convenient graph of the monthly mortality figures:

The public health measures implemented to control this severe epidemic have remained controversial in various political quarters, and I have become somewhat agnostic regarding the relative impact of the different policies such as lockdowns, masking, and social-distancing. Indeed, a very long and comprehensive recent analysis argues that lockdowns—at least the rather intermittent and half-hearted ones used throughout the West—have had little impact upon ultimate deaths. But it seems almost undeniable that without some combination of these various approaches, our national death toll would have been far worse.

I am equally ignorant of the competing merits of the different types of vaccines that have been rushed into production to control the illness, but without such vaccines, the bulk of our entire population would surely become infected over the next year or more. Although the impact of the disease is very sharply age-skewed—with the death rate of those over 60 being more than a hundred times higher than those under 40—the overwhelming majority of studies have indicated an average community fatality rate of around 0.5% to 1.0%. So simple arithmetic indicates the vast human consequences of achieving unvaccinated “herd immunity” in our population of 330 million.

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