In our last blog, we discussed the poorly thought out decisions by our government officials, some done out of believing “the experts” who have been wrong at nearly every turn to outright choices based on politics and political posturing. As if the deaths of our seniors is not a large enough scandal that needs to be addressed, what is coming next could make the death rates in nursing homes seem small in comparison.
Sadly, much of this could have been avoided by common sense and leadership rather than politics and polls. In fact, the deaths that will occur not only in the weeks and months ahead but in years to come could be a larger scandal that Americans should not forget about when looking to our so-called government experts for guidance in future crises. Let’s break these down one by one.
The infamous computer models. They have been all over the place - and wrong most of the time. Like we wrote in a previous blog, these models are only as good as the information entered into them and are subject to research bias based on politics or personal agendas. The model that was most cited initially in this crisis was the one that came out of Imperial College London which placed the death toll from the virus in the United States at over 2 million and in Great Britain at 500,000. This model and its proponents issued dire warnings that social distancing needed to begin immediately, and face masks would need to be worn for up to 18 months. However, Professor Michael Levitt, a Nobel Prize winner for Chemistry in 2013 said that this model was very wrong, and the lockdown that would follow because of the information it presented would be an unmitigated disaster.
According to Levitt, “I think the lockdown saved no lives. I think it may have cost lives. It will have saved a few road accident lives, things like that, but the social damage – domestic abuse, divorces, alcoholism – has been extreme…and then you have those who have not been treated for other conditions.”
Although Levitt is not an epidemiologist, he used the numbers gathered from the early outbreak in China (before the country buttoned up the coverage) and made his own predictions based upon his own scientific calculations. “For reasons not clear to me,” said Levitt, “I think the leaders panicked and the people panicked. There was a huge lack of discussion.” He acknowledged that in some cases, a lockdown may be effective, but he describes them as “medieval” and feels the epidemiologists exaggerate their claims so that they get press. And, why quarantine the healthy? But it was not just Levitt that had those criticisms of the model.
David Richards, the co-founder of the British data tech company WANdisco, said the Imperial College model was, in his words, “a buggy mess.” Describing the data as looking more like “a bowl of angel hair pasta than a finely tuned piece of programming.”
Said Richards, "In commercial reality, we would fire anyone for developing code like this and any business that relied on it to produce software for sale would likely go bust.” Researchers at the University of Edinburgh also ran this widely cited model and had similar criticisms, issuing reports that stated that every time they ran the model, either on different computers or the same computer, they ended up getting different results.
Four experienced modelers noted that the code was “deeply riddled with bugs” and had “huge blocks of code” which is considered poor practices in the world of modeling. A trained physicist and strategist for JP Morgan, author Marko Kolanovic, said the world governments had been frightened by “flawed scientific papers” into imposing lockdowns that were “inefficient or late” and had “little effect.” He pointed out that the falling infection rates since lockdowns were lifted suggest that the virus “has its own dynamics” which are “unrelated to often inconsistent lockdown measures.”
When looking at Europe and the virus and lockdowns, the models and the actual outcomes are surely not compatible. In Denmark, when schools and stores were reopened to the public, the infection rates dropped and in Germany, the rates remained the same or dropped as well. There are several conclusions that can be drawn from this but one thing is for sure, there are concrete negative outcomes that will occur both short and long term because of the lockdown and the accompanying economic collapse that may make the death toll from COVID-19 look minuscule.
In previous blogs, we looked at the disastrous decisions made in many states of sending COVID patients back into the nursing homes, making them boiling Petri dishes of the infection. When it comes to domestic violence, if the nursing homes were Petri dishes, the family home has become a hotplate for violence.
Once the governments imposed the lockdowns, this put families together under the most stressful of circumstances. In the house were one or both parents who had lost their jobs and wondering where the money was coming from to pay the mortgage, utilities, or food bills. In a Forbes article in late 2019, they cited a CareerBuilder survey that found that 78% of U.S. workers are living paycheck to paycheck. That’s eight out of ten families who could ill afford this shutdown.
These families have car payments and kids in college. Some of these families who spent their life savings opening up a small business when the economy was running on all cylinders have lost everything and will not get it back. Now, sitting together under one roof, adults stressed, children angry for losing social contact with friends at school, gyms closed, no kid’s sports teams…it’s a recipe for violence. Yet, those politicians and media talking heads who preach the importance of “social distancing” and keeping the businesses shutdown continue to collect their paycheck, have their insurance paid for, tutors in place for their children, and continue to have money put into their retirement funds don't feel the pressure of the average American family.
And it appears that those in government get to pick winners and losers with no real thought, or is there? For instance, liquor stores are open and gyms are closed, even though alcohol use, according to the CDC, results in 88,000 deaths annually. Cigarette sales go on despite the same CDC reporting the tobacco use results in 480,000 deaths annually, four times the current death toll of COVID-19. Is there sense to this? Only when you consider the tax rates on these products.
But as families sit isolated and stressed about finances, jobs, school, and retirement, the results have been predictable and its just getting started. Nationally, the spokesperson for the National Domestic Violence Hotline reports victims are experiencing “more frequent and more extreme violence.” Across the country, domestic violence programs and police departments report double-digit increases in calls for help. The results are similar locally.
Rhode Island – The Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence has seen a 29 percent increase in calls to helplines during March 2020 compared to this time last year.
Connecticut – Early April saw a 52% increase in domestic violence hotline calls compared to a similar period in early March, according to the president and CEO of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Karen Jarmoc. In an interview with the Hartford Courant, Jarmoc said that the state’s 227 licensed emergency beds for those fleeing domestic violence “are now completely filled” and that 29 other victims were being housed in hotels “for their protection.”
Massachusetts - Massachusetts police departments said there have been significant increases in domestic violence reports in March when social distancing measures were enacted. Boston police reported significant increases in domestic assaults in March. Through April 5, the department reported 259 aggravated domestic assaults, up from 210 in the same period last year. Simple assaults increased by more than 20 percent in March.
Exploding Rates of Suicide
Using research that is based on histories of economic downturns, Aaron Reeves of Oxford University said that suicide rates rise about one percent for every percentage point increase in unemployment. During the recession of 2008, when the unemployment rate reached 10% in the United States, the suicide rate jumped resulting in an increase of nearly 5000 more deaths.
During the Great Depression, when millions of Americans lost their jobs and retirement money, over 40,000 Americans who took their own lives. In the two years that followed, the suicide rate in America spiked to its highest recorded level ever, more than 150 suicides per one million people annually. The unemployment rate during that time peaked at 25%.
Today, the unemployment rate is hovering around 15%, and should it rise to 20%, the number of suicides could be shocking. Reeves told Reuters News, “Sadly, I think there is a good chance we could see twice as many suicides over the next 24 months than we saw during the early part of the last recession,” Reeves told Reuters. That would be about 20,000 additional dead by suicide in the United States and Europe.
And this may already be underway. In a report by Southcoast Today, Bristol County, Massachusetts is already experiencing a rise in the number of deaths by suicide compared to this time in previous years, according to statistics provided by a local suicide prevention group.
Reverend David Lima, the chairperson of the Greater New Bedford Suicide Prevention Coalition, said the statistics provided by the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office on May 15 indicated that 29 people took their lives in Bristol County so far this year. These numbers are much higher than they were at this time last year and surpass the numbers at this time in 2018 when there was a spike in suicidal activity.
The Crippling of Public Health Programming
We tend not to pay attention to those public service announcements that play on our favorite television shows or are on the sides of buses that run through Pawtucket or Providence, but they are there and they do have an impact. All local health departments run programs that treat chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, strokes, and even dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. They also help to prevent childhood problems like lead poisoning and abuse. These programs are also responsible for getting out seniors for flu shots every flu season and stemming the spread of tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases.
Now, with the economic crash, fewer businesses are operating meaning little income tax revenue is flowing into local, state, and federal coffers. There is a loss of property and sales tax revenues that will continue as small businesses fail. This loss of income will destroy these public health programs.
After the 2008 recession, local health departments in the United States lost over 23,000 positions due to budget cuts. Without these public health programs, there may be more cases of the flu this season resulting in preventable deaths of seniors, STDs, which have been on the rise among seniors, may spike even more, causing additional deaths.
Knowledge about stroke intervention, diabetes and heart disease will be reduced. Again, the shutdown and its subsequent impact on public health prevention programs may not be known for months or even years.
Scott W. Atlas, a physician and senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute has some alarming data about the “other” health effects of this shutdown. According to his numbers, those with chronic health conditions who were not able to see their medical provider due to the “quarantine” is extremely troubling.
Atlas, in consultation with colleagues, came up with these numbers:
Among neurologists, half of their patients have not appeared for treatment of disease which, left untreated, risks brain hemorrhage, paralysis, or death;
Emergency stroke evaluations are down 40 percent;
Of the 650,000 cancer patients receiving chemotherapy in the United States, an estimated half are missing their treatments. Of the 150,000 new cancer cases typically discovered each month in the U.S., most – as elsewhere in the world – are not being diagnosed, and two-thirds to three-fourths of routine cancer screenings are not happening because of shutdown policies and fear among the population;
Nearly 85 percent fewer living-donor transplants are occurring now, compared to the same period last year;
More than half of childhood vaccinations are not being performed, setting up the potential of a massive future health disaster.
And what are the results of these treatment delays? According to Atlas’ report, the COVID-19 deaths will be minute compared to the loss of life as a result of missed appointments and treatment. His report stated:
These delays are resulting in 8,000 U.S. deaths per month of the shutdown or about 120,000 years of remaining life;
Missed strokes are contributing to an additional loss of 100,000 years of life for each month of the shutdown;
And, if even 10 percent of vaccinations are not done, the result is an additional 24,000 years of life lost each month.
These unintended consequences of missed health care amount to more than 500,000 lost years of life per month, not including all the other known skipped care.
As unemployment rises due to the shutdown and people sit home, lacking outlets like the gym, social outings, and other sports, this set into motion a domino effect of lost income, stress, and an increase in unhealthy lifestyles such as drugs and alcohol use. As a result, people die earlier.
University of California professor Till von Wachter, is a researcher in the field that looks at the effects of job loss on individuals and families. Von Wachter states that his research suggests that past surges in economic downturns indicate that displaced workers, on average, lose a year and a half of their lifespan. According to him, if the jobless rate rises to 20%, this could translate into 40 million years of lost human life.
Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, who researches health policy at Stanford University, said that he “worries” that governments have not clearly thought out the impact of what a lengthy shutdown and loss of economic activity will do to individuals and families. “The coronavirus can kill,” he said, “but a global depression will as well.” Bhattacharya is among those urging government leaders to carefully consider the complete shutdown of businesses and schools. “Depressions are deadly for people, poor people especially,” he said.
If we only consider unemployment-related fatalities from the economic shutdown, that would total at least an additional 7,200 lives per month. Assuming these deaths occur proportionally across the ages of current U.S. mortality data, and equally among men and women, this amounts to more than 200,000 lost years of life for each month of the economic shutdown.
Interestingly, multiple federal agencies and bureaucrats are now lining up to warn of the impending “historic wave of mental health problems approaching” to include depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide as a result of the economic collapse and shutdown of activities such as work, school, gyms, dining out, professional sports and other social events.
Remember their warning on the coronavirus based on the “models” that hospitals needed to be kept open so that critical care units could be kept available to handle the number of critically ill patients that by and large never materialized except among the vulnerable population of seniors? And based on this, governors sent COVID positive seniors back into nursing homes resulting in an unconscionable amount of deaths?
These federal agencies, like the CDC, who are warning of this “historic” problem, are the same agencies responsible for the shutdown that is resulting in this “historic” problem. Do you sense that something is wrong, very wrong, here?
This is a crisis of the government’s making and we are now expected to look to them for guidance during this next crisis? Personally, it is a frightening consideration. If these "leaders" handle the upcoming mental health and public health crises like they have handled the coronavirus pandemic and its draconian lockdown, heaven help us.