Drowning in Coronavirus Research, Part 33

By July 3, 2020 Commentary

It wasn’t just some scare tactic when people said the lockdowns will cause deaths, for most age groups, more deaths than coronavirus.  A research letter to the Journal of the American Medical Association makes that point.  (JAMA Article)   The authors examined weekly death data from the last 6 years and compared causes of death.  Coronavirus deaths would include any mention of the virus anywhere on the death certificate.  They compared observed deaths from March 1, 2020 through April 25, as reported by June 10, with deaths in the preceding periods.  The five states with the most coronavirus deaths were analyzed as well.  Just astounding numbers.  505,000 deaths in the study period; 87,000 deemed excess deaths.  56,246 were coronavirus, or 65%.  But in 14 states, the excess deaths from non-coronavirus causes were more than those from coronavirus.  Let that sink-in.  When I and others opposed lockdowns it was partly because this is what we thought would happen.  And in the 5 states with the most coronavirus deaths, there were large increases in excess deaths due to other causes; a 96% increase in diabetes deaths, an 89% increase in heart disease deaths, a 64% increase in Alzheimer’s deaths, and 35% increase in cerebrovascular (stroke) deaths.  And in New York City, the heart of the state whose Governor is acting like some kind of genius or authority and scolding others, when he presided over the state with the highest death rate in the world, there were 398% excess deaths due to heart disease and 356% related to diabetes.  Nice job gov.

And here is a second JAMA article on the same topic but running through May.  (JAMA Article)  These authors compared all deaths and then the combination of pneumonia/influenza/coronavirus versus a baseline.  Their baseline was only 5 years.  And they had to estimate total excess deaths because other than coronavirus, the CDC numbers have a significant lag to completeness.  Their estimate of excess deaths does not seem consistent with the findings of the first paper.  They also assumed that CV deaths were undercounted.  Thus, out of 122,300 excess deaths they attributed 78% to coronavirus.  The proportion attributed to CV increased over time, which is consistent with both my comment below and likely strongly increased likelihood attributing a death of a person to coronavirus as the epidemic wore on.  According to this study, only 12% of excess deaths in Minnesota were not attributed to coronavirus.

Please note that on either study there is no adjustment for lower than expected deaths from things like car accidents and work accidents, or other causes that would have declined due to less driving, less people at work, etc.  It those deaths had occurred at baseline rates, the percent of CV deaths would have declined.   And after seeing some detailed work on death certificates in Minnesota, and the number of times it is not the primary cause of death, I am more dubious about this work.  And because the second study does not focus on causes of death, it misses trends in deaths for disease like heart disease and diabetes that the first study picks up.  To do this work properly, you would need to focus on trends in specific causes of death.

The state of Minnesota releases results from a small antibody prevalence study among 983 blood donors from June 8 to June 20.  (AB Study)   1% to 2% of the sample tested positive, but it is not representative of the Minnesota population.  If it were properly adjusted, about .6% would be positive.  But there was no adjustment for the likely strong other differences in blood donors and the general population.  Blood donors are not old, for example.

This paper talks about the possible evolution of the virus into a form that is less dangerous to people.  (Virus Evol. Paper)    The paper says this is why the epidemic appears to be lessening.  Let me just say up front that I don’t think the virus has changed substantially.  People are constantly sequencing it and I don’t think anyone has identified a clear change.  And the virus is not fatal enough to people for evolution to push it to a milder form.  For 99.9% of people it is non-fatal.  So while it is possible that evolution of the virus is making it “weaker”, I think it is more likely that it hit the most susceptible population first and now only has people more resistant to infection and serious illness left.

There are some issues with testing reports.  Negatives apparently get reported less frequently than positives skewing the positive rate high.  Not all states are careful to be sure they aren’t counting the same person as positive twice.  And many “cases” may be deemed such without a positive test.  According to an article, which clearly sensationalizes the issue beyond what it deserves, a revised definition of a case, adopted by Texas, may be a partial explanation for increasing case counts.  (Case Def. Article)   Avoiding the sensationalism, it is apparent that if you read this new definition, both case and death counts might include non-cases.  (Texas Def.)

A quick update of data from day care centers.  Almost 1000 now included in the survey.  Way less than 1% of children have gotten infected.  (Day Care Survey)

More mask nonsense.  Here is the CDC publishing a study finding little value of face masks in stopping transmission of influenza.  (CDC Article)   Here is the money quote, from the abstract, saying that in regard to both hand-washing and mask-wearing, “evidence from 14 randomized controlled trials of these measures did not support a substantial effect on the transmission of laboratory-confirmed influenza.”  What more can I say about the lack of science behind mandating mask use for prevention of respiratory virus transmission.  This article also summarizes some research on the subject.  (Mask Article)

This study was widely mis-used in the panic purveying press to try to tell people that children can be as infectious as adults.  (CDC Article)   The study came from Switzerland and involved symptomatic children.  Since almost all cases in children are asymptomatic, it doesn’t mean much.  The abstract says “children do not seem to drive transmission of (the virus)”, but then goes on to say that since 12 of 23 symptomatic children did shed virus “transmission was plausible”.   In the text, the authors again note the rarity of any coronavirus infection and particularly symptomatic ones in children.  Against the “plausibility” of transmission by children are several contact tracing studies showing that children were not responsible for transmission.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Matthew Fisher says:

    Thanks for keeping up with the posts. The article on excess deaths is noteworthy.

    One thing I’m baffled by… In the early days everyone was talking about ramping up makeshift hospital capacity to deal with the surge. The navy ship, McCormick place in Chicago, etc. Most of that capacity was never used. Now months later we see some increase in cases and the go-to response is to shut down again? Governors, you’ve had FOUR MONTHS to prepare for this “surge”, what have you done with that time? If we were well prepared, we’d have no need to even discuss reclosures. This assumes the fundamental goal is to prevent overwhelming hospitals, whereas folks like Gov Walz have no clearly articulated goal or benchmark (he never has), so I guess in that scenario you can just close and open based on however you feel that day.

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