As a frequent media commentator on conspiracy theories, Nick Pope has received numerous questions about the various Coronavirus-related conspiracy theories currently doing the rounds. While wishing to avoid giving the oxygen of publicity to most of this, Nick has compiled the following list of Coronavirus facts and issues that may actually offer some hope in the days ahead:
1. With testing, concern over false negatives has arisen, but the issue of false positives may also be an important factor.
2. It’s important to check which figures are listed as being “confirmed” as opposed to “confirmed and presumptive”. If someone tests positive for Covid-19, is asymptomatic or only has mild symptoms, but then dies of a heart attack (or anything else), many nations count this as a Coronavirus death.
3. Different countries count their figures in different ways. This BBC Future article is informative, though even here they don’t really address relative population size, which is another factor in making more populous nations such as the US seem harder hit:
4. Initial estimates of US dead in the 2009 H1N1 pandemic were around 40,000. Once better data were available, the CDC revised the figure down to 12,000.
5. Finding more infections is – counter-intuitively – good news, because it suggests the CFR is much lower than initial estimates.
6. If there are more infections than people suspect, herd immunity may already be kicking in, which is why developing a reliable antibody test is so important.
7. When viruses mutate they can become more or less lethal, but increased virulence puts a downward pressure on the transmission rate, because sick hosts infect less people than healthy ones. Simply put, successful viruses don’t kill their hosts.
8. We’re constantly being told that Covid-19 isn’t the flu, and while that’s true, it’s important to at least be aware of the flu figures. In the US, the CDC estimates that so far this season there have been at least 39 million illnesses, 410,000 hospitalizations and 24,000 deaths from flu:
9. We need to consider ‘secondary deaths’, i.e. those people dying from heart attacks, cancer, strokes, etc. because either they’re too scared to go to the doctor or hospital, or because they can’t get into the system at all.
10. For the future, one way to free up capacity in the medical system is to cut back on elective surgeries.
11. While the science isn’t exact, many viruses break down in higher temperatures and a number of coronaviruses show marked winter seasonality.
12. While finding a vaccine would be a big step forward, it’s not a universal panacea. We have a flu vaccine, but in many previous years its effectiveness has been very low:
13. Pushing the “everyone’s at risk” line ensures people are sufficiently fearful that they’ll abide by lockdowns, but while “everyone’s at risk” is technically a true statement, the degree of risk varies immensely, with a staggering proportion of the deaths involving people who are elderly and/or have pre-existing health conditions (often multiple ones) that have severely compromised their immune systems. Rather than the current ‘one size fits all’ strategy, resources should be concentrated on those who are genuinely at high risk, with longer voluntary self-isolation.
14. For the future, when the hysteria subsides and when people have more time to look at the actual data, and when they realize this virus has overwhelmingly killed people with pre-existing health conditions, people may change their behaviors. While many pre-existing health issues are just bad luck (in a genetic sense), others arise from lifestyle choices. Smoking, illegal drug-taking and obesity massively stack the odds against people who catch Covid-19. If people address such issues to stack the odds back in their favor, hundreds of thousands of lives will be saved over the years to come.
15. Covid-19 has led to better cleaning of public areas and more public placement of hand sanitizer, frequent and thorough hand-washing, less touching of one’s face, and people learning to stay at home when they’re sick. If this becomes the norm, hundreds of thousands of flu deaths will be prevented over the next few years.