Life is about evaluating tradeoffs. Do I drive to California or fly to California? Many choose to drive for fear of flying even though you are 86 times more likely to die in a car crash than in a plane crash. With those odds, why would anyone feel that they are safer in a car? The coronavirus panic falls into a similar category, where we are making decisions, not based on data, but on emotion and media-hype.
In separate studies last April, Stanford and USC found that coronavirus infections are significantly higher than reported: by 50-85 times in Silicon Valley and by 28-55 times in Los Angeles County. The recent Moscow wastewater study estimated that there were 36 times as many coronavirus infections as reported, consistent with the Los Angeles findings.
If there are roughly 50 times as many people infected as thought, then the infection fatality rate goes down precipitously. It appears the overall IFR is between 0.1-0.3 percent – about three times as deadly as the flu. Those numbers are consistent with Japan’s findings from coronavirus infections onboard the cruise ship Diamond Princess back in February of this year.
Yet, unlike the flu, coronavirus targets mostly the elderly. Massachusetts Department of Public Health reports that the average age of deaths in confirmed COVID-19 cases is 82 years old.
As longtime readers know, I strongly support Sweden’s approach for handling the coronavirus: protect the elderly and those at risk, quarantine the infected, and allow life to go on as normal – schools open, restaurants open, businesses open, no masks. Deaths in Sweden peaked in early April and have steadily declined since.
In my May column, I predicted that Sweden would never experience a second wave of deaths unlike the rest of the world. Thus far, I have been proven right. They are currently averaging two coronavirus deaths per day across their entire country. It was excellent decision-making based on empirical evidence, pushing back against the emotional, politically motivated approach by the rest of the world.
In my last column, I pointed out that according to the CDC among 15-24 year-olds the coronavirus has killed a total of 157 out of 43 million in the U.S. to date. I argued that with those kinds of odds, colleges should be kept open for live classes.
While the threat of the coronavirus to college students is insignificant, the threat of the virus to primary and middle school students is infinitesimal. The National Bureau of Economic Research reports that “the estimated IFR is close to zero for children and younger adults.” According to the CDC, among 5-14 year-olds a total of 16 out of 41 million kids have died of the coronavirus in the U.S. since February.
But based on the emotional responses to the Moscow School District Superintendent’s online question and answer session, you would think that we were leading our children to certain death if we sent them back to school.
Compare America’s stance on education to Sweden’s. Swedish schools remained open during the coronavirus outbreaks. Denmark and Norway reopened schools in April, and Finland in May. A joint study released by the Public Health Agency of Sweden reported that the “outbreak investigations in Finland has not shown children to be contributing much in terms of transmission, and in Sweden a report comparing risk of COVID-19 in different professions showed no increased risk for teachers.”
Is a fatality rate of 16 kids out of 41 million worth shutting down America’s schools? Apparently, because America’s teacher’s unions have shifted into “Every Child Left Behind” mode, self-identifying as “unessential” workers – but please keep those paychecks coming.
I close with the summary from that joint study of Finland and Sweden.
“Closure or not of schools had no measurable direct impact on the number of laboratory confirmed cases in school-aged children in Finland or Sweden. The negative effects of closing schools must be weighed against the positive indirect effects it might have on the mitigation of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Coronavirus has an overall 99.96 percent survival rate. The probability of someone in the age range of 5-24 dying from coronavirus is infinitesimal.
We need to make decisions based on facts rather than over-dramatized media hysteria. Schools need to remain open.
Dale Courtney served 20 years in nuclear engineering aboard submarines and 15 years as a graduate school instructor. He spends his spare time chasing his six grandchildren around the Palouse.