COVID Is Worse Than We Think
We have new data on excess deaths. It's horrifying.
1. Excess Deaths
If you go back through my COVID writings over the last year, you’ll note that I’ve been pretty careful not to make predictions concerning the total number of deaths coming our way. Instead, I’ve emphasized a few larger precepts for thinking about COVID:
People generally do not understand the geometric progression of viral spread.
After our medical learning curve flattened out, about 1.6 percent of diagnosed cases ended in death.
Given that they were trying to come up with projections for a once-in-a-century event, the course of which was highly dependent on societal choices, the models did a pretty fair job of ballparking.
Certainly a lot better than the autodidacts like Richard Epstein and Sad Calvinball.
But the biggest thing I’ve hammered, over and over, is that the official number of COVID deaths was almost certainly undercounting the actual number of people killed by COVID—possibly by a sizable percentage. And that we would need to wait for a large, forensic examination in the months and years after the pandemic was done to know the real butcher’s bill.
Well, we have the first big piece of data, the NVSS 2020 mortality numbers. I’m going to show you the table and then we’ll talk about it.
So here’s what you need to know:
From 2015 until 2019, the annual number of deaths increased steadily, with the increases being: +30k, +69k, +26k, +15k. That’s an average increase of +35k every year.
From 2019 to 2020 the total number of deaths increased by 504k.
But the total number of deaths attributed to COVID are only 345k.
So we’re looking at an excess death increase of close to 160k.
That is . . . not good. Here are some possible explanations:
By total coincidence, 2020 was just a really, really bad year for deaths. Like 2017 on steroids.
All of the circumstances surrounding COVID resulted in a large number of ancillary deaths: For example, people didn’t get routine or needed medical care, which caused problems. Or they were reluctant to seek medical attention for non-COVID matters, which caught up with them.
A lot of people died from COVID or because COVID exacerbated existing problems and those deaths were not counted as caused by COVID.
The truth is probably a mix of all three. But if I had to guess, I’d suspect that the last of these is the main driver of those extra 160,000 deaths: I would guess that we have so far undercounted a bunch of deaths that were are least in part driven by COVID.
The other thing to look at is how consistent the numbers on the big killers were in 2020. Heart disease and cancer deaths were basically unchanged. There were small-ish increases in deaths from strokes, Alzheimers, and diabetes. (Which would fit in with our theory about increased deaths because people couldn’t get normal medical care in 2020.)
One other thing to note: There’s been a lot of loose talk from COVID skeptics about how suicides were on the rise because of masks and social distancing and “lockdowns.” Suicides actually decreased in 2020, going to their lowest number since 2015.
This mortality data is only the first word on the subject of excess COVID deaths. We’re going to need teams of researchers combing through death certificates, conducting interviews, doing fancy regression analyses, and whatnot.
But this data is highly suggestive of the idea that the true death toll from COVID will be noticeably worse even than the horrors we’ve accepted.
I don’t have a lot to say about the new Georgia voting law that hasn’t already been said, except that the reaction to it nicely illustrates the difference between right and left these days.
On the left—and I’m going to use this term inexactly, as a rough approximation of “anti-Trumpers”—there has been some overreaction, including from President Biden.
There has also been a pretty clear-eyed appraisal of the law and a pushback on criticisms of it which are excessive. Lots of pushback, actually.
So while some of the left made bad-faith cases, much of the left countered these bad-faith arguments and stayed grounded in reality.
Meanwhile, it’s clear that even if the Georgia law isn’t Jim Crow Part Deux, there are aspects of it that are bad and the raison d’etre for it is obviously a pernicious lie. And what we want in democracy is for the citizenry to object to laws that they do not like—even if the laws are only “normal bad” and not “Jim Crow bad”—which is what the left has done.
Having corporations express the views of their employees and customers—which is what Coca-Cola, Delta, and MLB did—is appropriate. It’s almost the definition of democracy and a healthy public square.
Meanwhile on the right, the reaction has been . . . different.
The right has defended every single aspect of the Georgia law, totally and completely. There has been no admission that this or that part of it might be pernicious.
Instead of grappling with the portions of the law that are not good, the right first pivoted to complaining about the media.
Then the right went into victim mode attacking the corporations who politely and legally expressed their views of the new law.
And finally the right is seeking to use the levers of government to punish those corporations for expressing their views of the new law.
Don’t get sucked into false equivalency. Don’t revert to the old battle lines. Don’t accept bad-faith pandering.
I don’t know how you can possibly look at this and believe that both sides are equivalent.
Large parts of the anti-Trump left argue in good faith and refuse to use any club at hand. In response to a new law, the anti-Trump left seeks to effect change by argument and the efforts of private individuals and corporations to bring attention to a law which, while not Jim Crow, nonetheless has some bad aspects.
The right, on the other hand, continues to push the Big Lie about 2020, reflexively defends every part of the law, refuses to push back against bad arguments from its side, makes bad-faith criticisms about the prerogatives of its opponents to express disapproval, and then seeks to use the power of the state to punish entities that express disapproval.
One of these sides is largely democratic. One of them is largely anti-democratic.
It’s not hard to tell which is which.
3. Labash vs. Metaxas
For the life of me, I have no idea why Metaxas would agree to go one-on-one with the legendary Matt Labash, in print, on any subject. Let alone the subject of Trumpvangelicals. Here’s Labash starting off the exchange:
Many years ago, I profiled a Christian professional wrestler named George South. He fought as a “heel,” or a bad guy. But not wishing to do his Christian testimony any harm, he would sport JOHN 3:16 on the seat of his banana hammock—the very same britches that he might fish a pair of brass knuckles out of to coldcock a referee while he wasn’t looking. I asked George how he accounted for the mixed messaging. He essentially said that sometimes you just have to climb into the squared circle, face the darkness, and hit someone over the head with a chair for Jesus.
On the surface, you and I have much in common. You’ve written biographies of Martin Luther and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I went to a Lutheran elementary school, and like Bonhoeffer, am no fan of Hitler’s. We have both spent much of our lives in evangelical circles. (I grew up Southern Baptist in Texas throughout the ’80s, and still go to a nondenominational evangelical church, or did, before Covid-19 turned us into a viral petri dish. Now, we worship in our sweats, remotely.) We both, without apology, pledge allegiance to our Lord and Savior, J.H. Christ.
That said, even though you are a Christian brother and coequal partner in the search for truth, a part of me wants to go George South on you, and hit you in the head with a chair for Jesus. (Figuratively, of course.)
Why? I’ll tell you why: Donald J. Trump. Yes, I understand he’s not president anymore, even if he seems to be having trouble grasping that fact. But for all the disk space he takes up in the consciousness of Republicans and evangelicals, the intersection of which is around 82 percent, he might as well be. While Trump had the lowest approval rating of any president since Gallup started keeping track in the 1930s, he scored 97 percent approval with the adoring crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). This, after two impeachments and him headlining an insurrection. That alone is hardly surprising. When you run a cult, the cultists tend to see things your way.
As they say in sports entertainment: Holy. Shit.
This is not for the faint of heart. Read the whole thing.