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Multiple Stanford Medical Professors Question If COVID-19 Is Really “As Deadly As They Say”

Right now, tensions are high as several countries enforce strict lockdown measures, closing all non-essential businesses and encouraging or mandating that people stay in their homes unless they need to step out for something essential, like food. According to the the numbers coming daily from the media, the death rate from COVID-19 is quite high, having recently passed the 4% mark. Given the infection rate and how fast it’s spreading, it’s not surprising that many people are concerned, and lockdown measures are being enforced.

But what are the experts saying? Well, opinions seem to differ. And as this outbreak continues, some interesting points are being made. One of the latest comes from Dr. Eran Bendavid and Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, two professors of medicine at Stanford University who recently published an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “Is the coronavirus as deadly as they say?”

They make it quite clear that if the projections being given by the World Health Organization are correct, then “the extraordinary measures being carried out in cities and states around the country are surely justified.” But they also make the point that “there’s little evidence to confirm that premise – and projections of the death toll could plausibly be orders of magnitude too high.”

“Fear of Covid-19 is based on its high estimated case fatality rate – 2% to %4 of people with confirmed Covid-19 have died, according to the World Health Organization and others. So if 100 million Americans ultimately get the disease, two million to four million could die. We believe that estimate is deeply flawed. The true fatality rate is the portion of those infected who die, not the deaths from identified positive cases.”–Dr. Eran Bendavid and Dr. Jay Bhattacharya

Insufficient Data

The means that right now we don’t have enough data to make a fatality rate claim. The number of infected people has to be larger than the current denominator of the fatality rate (number of confirmed cases), especially given that some people with the disease are asymptomatic. And if the number of infections is larger than the number of cases, and it could be a lot larger, then “the true fatality rate is much lower as well. That’s not only plausible but likely based on what we know so far.” The professors go on to provide examples for their claims:

Population samples from China, Italy, Iceland and the U.S. provide relevant evidence. On or around Jan. 31, countries sent planes to evacuate citizens from Wuhan, China. When those planes landed, the passengers were tested for Covid-19 and quarantined. After 14 days, the percentage who tested positive was 0.9%. If this was the prevalence in the greater Wuhan area on Jan. 31, then, with a population of about 20 million, greater Wuhan had 178,000 infections, about 30-fold more than the number of reported cases. The fatality rate, then, would be at least 10-fold lower than estimates based on reported cases.

Next, the northeastern Italian town of Vò, near the provincial capital of Padua. On March 6, all 3,300 people of Vò were tested, and 90 were positive, a prevalence of 2.7%. Applying that prevalence to the whole province (population 955,000), which had 198 reported cases, suggests there were actually 26,000 infections at that time. That’s more than 130-fold the number of actual reported cases. Since Italy’s case fatality rate of 8% is estimated using the confirmed cases, the real fatality rate could in fact be closer to 0.06%.

Experts who are making these claims may be attacked, but it’s important to note that this does not mean they are saying Covid-19 is not an issue. Obviously, what’s happening all around the world, especially in Italy, with regards to overwhelmed health systems and more, is quite an eye opener. It highlights how our healthcare systems are not designed to respond to such a crisis. I believe this is because they are predominately based on a for-profit model. If instead they were based on a for-health model, this type of crisis would have been better prepared for and measures would already be in place to tackle such issues.

Proper Forecasts Are Of Critical Importance

Despite the seriousness of the issue, the professors make the point that “a 20,000- or 40,000-death epidemic is a far less severe problem than one that kills two million. Given the enormous consequences of decisions around Covid-19 response, getting clear data to guide decisions now is critical. We don’t know the true infection rate in the United States. Antibody testing of representative samples to measure disease prevalence (including in those who have recovered) is crucial. Nearly every day a new lab gets approval for antibody testing, so population testing using this technology is now feasible.”

If we’re right about the limited scale of the epidemic, then measures focused on older populations and hospitals are sensible. Elective procedures will need to be rescheduled. Hospital resources will need to be reallocated to care for critically ill patients. Triage will need to improve. And policy makers will need to focus on reducing risks for older adults and people with underlying medical conditions.

A universal quarantine may not be worth the costs it imposes on the economy, community and individual mental and physical health. We should undertake immediate steps to evaluate the empirical basis of the current lockdowns.

Another Stanford Professor Causes A Stir

John P. A. Ioannidis, a professor of medicine and epidemiology, recently published an article entitled “A fiasco in the making? As the coronavirus pandemic takes hold, we are making decisions without reliable data. In the article, he also argues that there is simply not enough data to make claims about reported case fatality rate.

He states that rates, “like the official 3.4% rate from the World Health Organization, cause horror — and are meaningless. Patients who have been tested for SARS-CoV-2 are disproportionately those with severe symptoms and bad outcomes. As most health systems have limited testing capacity, selection bias may even worsen in the near future.”

He states that the real death rate of this virus could be five or more times lower, at 0.025 percent to 0.625 percent.

In the most pessimistic scenario, which I do not espouse, if the new coronavirus infects 60% of the global population and 1% of the infected people die, that will translate into more than 40 million deaths globally, matching the 1918 influenza pandemic.

The vast majority of this hecatomb would be people with limited life expectancies. That’s in contrast to 1918, when many young people died.

One can only hope that, much like in 1918, life will continue. Conversely, with lockdowns of months, if not years, life largely stops, short-term and long-term consequences are entirely unknown, and billions, not just millions, of lives may be eventually at stake.

Ioannidis also recently published an article in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation titled “Coronavirus disease 2019: the harms of exaggerated information and non-evidence-based measures.” In it, he also provides evidence and figures for the fact that existing coronaviruses already infect tens of millions of people worldwide every single year, and that some of them may have a higher infection rate and mortality rate in the elderly than what we are seeing happening now. You can access a version of the full paper here.

But, Better Safe Than Sorry?

With limited data, we don’t really know. What if things turn out really bad, and this pandemic is indeed as bad as some are making it out to be? Would we not be relieved that such measures have been taken? I for sure would be glad, and with such a pandemic, better safe than sorry always seems to be the right choice, no matter what the cost. That being said, what about the consequences of what we are doing, how many lives these lockdowns have and will disrupt? What about people and their ability to provide for their family, or even go outside and socialize? The thought that there are already existing diseases and viruses that may pose a greater threat really gets me thinking.

Futhermore, there are some more controversial opinions out there that are being flagged as false news, despite the fact that they’re only opinions. Why are fact-checkers flagging opinions of people as false news? One of the latest examples I recently wrote about comes from Dr. Ron Paul, physician and long time politician, who stated the following:

People should ask themselves whether this coronavirus “pandemic” could be a big hoax, with the actual danger of the disease massively exaggerated by those who seek to profit – financially or politically – from the ensuing panic.

That is not to say the disease is harmless. Without question people will die from coronavirus. Those in vulnerable categories should take precautions to limit their risk of exposure. But we have seen this movie before. Government over-hypes a threat as an excuse to grab more of our freedoms. When the “threat” is over, however, they never give us our freedoms back. (source)

In today’s day and age when we are so misled by our governments and health-regulatory agencies, it’s only natural for more and more people to start asking these questions. It really gets interesting when experts in the field, like the three Stanford medical professors cited in this article, start to express the same type of sentiments, that this outbreak is likely not nearly as bad as it’s being made out to be.

The Takeaway

I can see both sides of the coin, and at this point it’s hard to know what to believe. At the end of the day, lives are being impacted in a great way from lockdown measures, and that’s not to say that lives aren’t being affected by COVID-19. If you are experiencing fear and anxiety, it’s a great time to reflect on your life, and perhaps try to maintain a calm state within yourself despite the chaos happening outside of yourself. This is easier said than done.

Furthermore, it’s a great time to reflect and be grateful for your health, because you never know when it can be taken away from you. We take so much for granted here on planet Earth, and a crisis like this always serves up multiple lessons for the human race to learn from.



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