A recent study conducted by Stanford University found COVID-19 antibodies in 2.5 percent to 4 percent of all participants tested. This makes the prevalence of infections fifty-fold to eighty-fold greater than previously known infections, or orders of magnitude higher. This data changes the fatality rate of those infected from about 1 or 2 per 1,000 to 2 or 3 per 100. The CDC models projected COVID-19 to be ten times more deadly than seasonal flu. The results of this study reveal that it is probably only slightly more or just as deadly as seasonal influenza viruses. Research conducted by University of Southern California found similar results among samples from Los Angeles, about 4 percent of those tested already had antibodies. A New York City study found antibodies in nearly a quarter of people tested.

History of Pandemics

In the fall and winter of 2017-2018 the H2N3 virus, also known as influenza type A, facilitated the death of about 80,000 people in the United States. The H1N1 virus outbreak of 2009-2010, better remembered as Swine Flu was responsible for 200,000 deaths globally.

Looking further back in history much more devastating pandemics like the Black Plague, Smallpox, and the Spanish Flu (also caused by H1N1) killed tens of millions of people. The significant amount of deaths in past pandemics can be contributed to lack of knowledge of pathogens, lack of medical technology and antibiotics, lower rates of food production, and poor sanitation. It was not until 1861 that Louis Pasteur developed Germ Theory. Then it became widely accepted that microorganisms cause diseases.

At the same time the industrial revolution made it possible to improve living conditions and reduce spread of disease. The creation of running water and indoor plumbing decreased the amount of contact with human waste. The invention of the cotton gin and tractors, among other technology increased crop yields. Before this breakthrough famines and starvation were common.

Chronic Illness and Immunity

Undernourishment causes immune dysfunction by altering metabolism, increasing inflammation and causing gut dysfunction. The same perverse immune response occurs in obese individuals. The rate of obesity in the United States has risen from under 15 percent in 1960 to more than 40 percent today. Obesity is linked to many chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, strokes, diabetes, kidney failure, fatty liver disease, sleep apnea, hypertension, depression, pregnancy complications, and so on. Immunity also decreases greatly as one ages.

Data from one of the hardest hit countries – Italy indicates old age and underlying health conditions are indeed the two greatest factors in predicting COVID-19 mortality. The Italy National Health Institute’s study found that of people who died while infected with the virus, 99 percent of them had at least one chronic disease and roughly 50 percent had three or more chronic diseases. The median age of death was 80.5 years. This is contrary to hearsay and anecdotal cases of seemingly healthy, young adults who became critically ill or succumbed to the virus.

Most people who are infected experience mild flu like symptoms, such as cough, fever and weakness. Sore throat, aches and mild shortness of breath may occur. Many with strong immune systems will be asymptomatic. This is also the case even with many people that already have existing diseases. For the people that become critically ill from COVID-19, the cause is due to a condition called acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). ARDS is characterized by rapid onset shortness of breath caused by an adverse inflammatory response known as a “cytokine storm.” Cytokines inadvertently attack the body’s own cells, causing death of lung tissue. Blood vessels in the alveoli – the small sacs in the lung that perform oxygen exchange – leak fluid and inhibit oxygen from entering the blood. The result is stiffer, non-compliant lungs and a drop in oxygen levels in the blood also known as hypoxemia. ARDS commonly occurs in people with sepsis, pneumonia or any other medical condition in which the immune system is already stressed.

Central Planning Failures

It is inevitable that a marginal group of people will be hospitalized or die from COVID-19. Whether physical distancing mandates and shutdowns have worked to reduce the rate of infections versus allowing people to act independently is dubious though. It is impossible to know if every person is following these laws all the time or how many people would have voluntarily distanced, wore masks in public or avoided large crowds without these laws. Countries can be compared to each other but variables like travel restrictions, business regulations, mask wearing, testing, contact tracing, and criteria for recording deaths must be considered. Average lifespan, medical infrastructure, obesity rates, climate, population density, and cultural differences also matter.

This makes comparisons somewhat complicated. However, in places like Sweden, Brazil, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan had very minimal government intervention without seeing soaring rates of infections that would overwhelm hospitals or millions of deaths that the CDC models had predicted absent of government shutdowns. In fact, the outcomes in these countries were better in many cases than countries that had the strictest shutdowns.

Some evidence suggests shelter-in-place mandates are more harmful than helpful. A study from Indonesia found that exposure to sunlight correlated significantly with recovery in patients with COVID-19 due to increased immunity from vitamin D intake. In New York City a survey discovered that out of 1,200 patients hospitalized, 66 percent had been staying at home, not traveling or working. No correlation exists between death rates of states that shutdown early versus states that waited longer for shutdowns. South Dakota has not shutdown and also has one of the lowest death rates.

Bureaucratic regulations turned out to be harmful as well. The FDA banned the import of N-95 masks from China, which caused shortages in hospitals. The CDC thwarted private labs from developing testing kits, which could have helped to more quickly identify where outbreaks were occurring and prevent transmission by asymptomatic carriers. Meanwhile the CDC’s own testing kits were found to be contaminated with COVID-19, creating false positives and further delaying access to testing. Still even after months of new information contradicting model projections, demagogues persist with idea of controlling the masses.

Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste

The crisis has not gone to waste for the political class seeking opportunities to expand their authority. The news media buzzed non-stop about coronavirus leading to an irrational bug out among the public. Congress and federal agencies took advantage by expanding their own authority. Unconstitutional surveillance and spying powers included in the Patriot Act are now renewed. The EARN IT act passed in early March gives the federal government power to compel online service providers to violate privacy of internet users by breaking encrypted information. The DOJ attempted to petition Congress to suspend habeas corpus, allowing the indefinite detention of citizens without due process for any reason, even for publicly protesting.

Multiple rounds of stimulus consisting of trillions of dollars of new money were passed to bailout corporate cronies, payoff lobbyists and special interests’ groups. Governors, mayors and local judges implemented punitive executive orders. People have been cited and arrested for going to church, for surfing, playing in the front yard with their families, and giving haircuts. Suddenly businesses need to have permission to operate as if they are ruled by dictators and monarchs.

Economics of the Shutdown

One thing is certain, the suppression of economic activity will have profound negative effects. This is the unseen consequences created by draconian shutdowns by those that are too narrowly focused on “flattening the curve.” There is no such thing as an essential and non-essential business. The economy is connected like a web. The production of goods and services in one sector of the economy relies on the production of goods and services from other sectors. The change in supply or demand for a good or service in one industry will affect the supply an demand of other goods and services. For example, the decrease in demand for automobiles and airlines caused a steep drop in oil prices, forcing oil companies to lay off workers. Overall unemployment in the United States has already eclipsed 20 percent of the workforce in just three months since the shutdowns began.

The idea that there is a binary choice between sacrificing the economy and saving lives is a false dichotomy. There is a real human cost in terms of both lives lost and living standards. Unemployment has a high correlation with the incidence of suicides. Isolation is one of the worst things that can happen to someone who is already depressed. The number of suicides alone could exceed the number of deaths from the virus. Drug abuse and alcoholism will surge making the opioid crisis even worse. The number of divorces will predictably rise as financial strain puts pressure on marriages. A global depression will have grave implications for people in third world countries. Shutdowns compounded with disruptions in supply chains could mean starvation for people who are already poverty-stricken.

Through executive orders hospitals have been forced suspend elective procedures, leading to the furlough of nurses and other staff. Although some of these procedures may not be emergencies, they may be urgent enough that patients cannot risk delaying treatment. A report from Canada has estimated thirty-five people have died from forgoing planned cardiac surgeries. In the UK the NHS has also delayed treatment for thousands of cancer patients, which will lead to more deaths than otherwise.

Freedom is Essential

A truly limited and constitutional government has no legal authority to create sweeping mandates to suspend the bill of rights. Every individual has a right to life and liberty that cannot be taken away without due process. Microbes exist everywhere, it is a general condition of life. Sepsis accounts for over a quarter of a million deaths in the United States every year. These include infections from bacteria, fungi and viruses, many of which can be carried by someone unknowingly. Seasonal influenza’s lead to the death of tens of thousands of people every year, even with vaccines. Tuberculosis is an airborne bacterium that kills more than a million people every year. The spread of pathogens is inevitable as poor health is to the aging process. A healthy individual has no obligation to sacrifice their own liberty and well-being for the safety of unhealthy individuals.

We live in a world of scarce resources and life is full of risks that require us to gauge safety. Every single day car accidents kill on average a hundred people.  Yet people drive to work to make money, so they can feed themselves and their families, eat at restaurants, shop, attend concerts or sporting events and many other reasons. Living a fulfilling life requires taking chances, not just merely existing. Every individual assesses risk and makes decisions in their own self-interest. The idea that a few thousand people in government have a monopoly on knowledge to decide for everyone what is best for their lives in a one-size-fits-all approach is a superstitious belief.

Many people yearn to get back to a normal life. Protests have sprung up around the globe demanding freedom to live without asking for permission to do things. In a nation like the Philippines this means facing the risk of being shot or tortured. Some owners of businesses are opening their doors despite the threat of having guns pointed at them, receiving hefty fines or serving jail time. Fortunately, some American police officers are also refusing to enforce these laws, speaking out against them at the expense of their job. This kind of civil disobedience is honorable and worthy of commending. It is a way of pressuring politicians to change their behavior, as was the case in Texas. Hair salon owner Shelley Luther decided to defy executive orders and allow customers inside. She was thrown in jail on May 5th, but two days later was pardoned by Governor Abbott.

We must hold our elected officials accountable. Representative Thomas Massie was one of the few politicians who spoke out against bailouts and shutdowns. The congressman from Kentucky said “Like the governors who are wrecking our economy, the top folks in congress need to be replaced when this is over. Never again should they be called leaders.” This is a pivotal point in United States history. If we ignore the truth and continue allow the government to supplant our rights and flirt with unprecedented fascist style of rule, then tyranny will become normalized, prosperity will diminish, and we won’t be any safer. As Ben Franklin once said, “Any society that will give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.”