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Silenced as a Writer When it Counted

A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.

John F Kennedy

As soon as authorities began locking down entire nation-states, closing borders, shutting down schools, and shuttering businesses, it was obvious to me that the cost in terms of human suffering would be immense. 

East woman peeking in the gap between the black ribbons with the inscription prohibiting

In the Wealthy World

Millions of small businesses (which employ half the US’s working people) would fail, hundreds of millions would be unemployed, stress-related illnesses like heart attacks, strokes, and cancers would skyrocket. 

In the Developing World

People whose parents grew up in dirt-floor shacks now live themselves in homes with indoor plumbing. It’s impossible to stress how much extreme poverty has dropped in poorer parts of the world over recent decades. But that reduction in grinding generational poverty was the result (however much leftists strain to deny it) of global free trade which brought employment, infrastructure investment, and stable currency inflows to those places. With the rich-world lockdowns grinding economic activity to a halt, only the most economically illiterate person would be unaware that the rug was being pulled out from under them just as they climbed into the middle class.

I Spoke Up

On Medium, I posted a thoroughly documented essay, with links to mainstream news and politics sites as well as academic medical research about stress illness (recall that when I’m noit a poet or fiction writer, I’m a biomedical copy editor), demonstrating the death and destruction that the lockdowns could be expected to cause. 

I also squawked about these effects on my social medium of choice.

In the meantime, my trilogy of post-apocalyptic novels which center around a rogue bacterium escaping from a lab and sweeping the planet, were selling only slightly better than first novels usually do. I decided to run an ad relating them to the current outbreak of a virus. 

I Was Silenced

Within 12 hours, Medium had pulled down my essay saying it was contrary to public health. Hunh. Funny, since I was blowing the whistle on a grave threat to public health resulting from an ill-thought-out public policy. I edited the article, toning down its conclusions, and reposted it. Within 12 hours, it had been pulled down again. It was only after 800 Yale epidemiologists, physicians, and public health experts signed a statement challenging the lockdowns, that Medium allowed the third posting of the essay, even more watered down, to remain.

At the same time, Amazon rejected an ad (which I’d revived after running it a year earlier without any difficulty) for Machine Sickness, the first book in the series. The headline for the ad read, “Exploding From a Lab” and the ad mentioned a GMO microbe. The ad was banned because, to quote Amazon’s e-mail, “It is Amazon’s policy to not advertise content in which our audiences may see a controversial topic, person, or event.” Needless to say, that’s a ridiculous deception. Anyone can go on Amazon and be served ads for thousands of books full of the most controversial, hate-soaked, diatribes, filled with transparent lies and misinformation.

I also noticed that none of the stand-alone posts I made on Facebook, objecting to the lockdowns and pointing out the lives that they would destroy and stunt, had any reactions or comments, meaning that they were not being served in people’s feeds. Then, I observed that Facebook would appear to time out every time I attempted to comment on any post pertaining to Covid-19 in any way.

Death to a Writer

For anyone, it’s upsetting to be told shut up, your opinion doesn’t matter. For people locked into their homes and unable to communicate in any other way, it’s even more stressful. But to a writer, it’s a taste of death. I have a gift to write. It gives meaning and purpose to my life, especially since I became disabled from my earlier profession. While millions of people became depressed due to the unwelcome changes resulting from lockdowns, the despondency and helplessness I felt was profound.

One of the Lucky Ones

I am not one of the hundreds of millions of people around the world who lost jobs and livelihoods, life savings and generational enterprises, marriages and homes, as a result of the lockdowns. I am, God willing, not one of the tens of millions who are dying and will die of stress-related illness or untreated conditions due to these lockdowns. I’m certainly not one of the billion or so people who will slide into extreme (less than $2 a day) poverty as a result of the global recession we are having. And make no mistake, we are having it. The only real question at this point is, how long will it last?

How Many More Like Me?

But I have to ask, how many others were muzzled as I was? The reaction was chillingly instantaneous. The “correct” viewpoint was passed down from on high with no dissent tolerated. Relevant to my experience, the only acceptable stance was “Lockdowns do save lives, and the virus did not come from the virology lab in Wuhan.” I am not the only one to observe that there is good evidence that lockdowns kill more people than they save, and certainly far from the first to regard the proximity of the Wuhan lab and the first outbreak as suspicious. (You’d have to be an idiot not to wonder about that!)

The mass use of the internet has been changing the world for about twenty years now. Ten years ago, it was a tool for mobilization of mass movements in color revolutions, occupiers, tea partiers, and ethnic Springs around the globe. The fact that an American could read what a reporter in Turkey was writing or see Tweets by the millions from Egypt made us aware of our common humanity in ways nothing ever had before. And the publication of videos like “Collateral Damage” or the Abu Ghraib torture photos by Wikileaks, and reporting on programs like “Operation PRISM” by the Intercept gave the world hope that the unspeakably corrupt abuses the powerful committed in silence could be prevented by speaking their truth.

But look what happened to Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. Exile and imprisonment. Then the authorities got wise. They called the heads of the social media and search engine companies to heel by subpoenas before Congress in which they were implicitly threatened with regulatory harassment. That was the stick. They they were awarded multibion-dollar database administration contracts and top-secret access to the intelligence infrastructure of the Empire. That was the carrot.

And now, the World Wide Web is no more. It’s no longer a web, but rather a managed cascade, in which government actors pour true and false information and rhetoric in the top, and it’s managed by a massive unseen army of search technicians and moderators, operating sluices and stopcocks to make sure that the information and ideas they want amplified flow freely and the ones they want suppressed languish in stagnant pools.

A Lot

What heartened me in my despair was that I had already begun to assemble a censorship-resistant information flow. I’ll write more on this later, but one of the biggest ways was by e-mail subscriptions to viewpoints I disagreed with as well as those I agreed with. I saw that what entered my e-mail inbox from the right and the left was very different from what I saw on curated and credentialed press sites. The people who reached out to me in response to comments I made, and in response to this blog, assured me that I am not alone in recognizing the obvious. It also made it plain that that recognition has almost no correlation with whether one likes Trump (I don’t) or hates him (I also don’t). What it does correlate with? That’s a topic for a later column.

My inboxes have been crowded with e-mails from people who’ve seen my words and reached out in support. E-mail newsletters and blog subscriptions reflecting diverse dissenting viewpoints keeps me grounded in the reality that the approved worldview is only one of many potentially valid ones. 

I’ve wandered far from my original point here, but I think it was a necessary preface to what I need to say.

Which is this:

The Cage Has Been Slammed Shut

In the internet environment of ten years ago, the harms of lockdowns could have been debated and recognized almost instantaneously. That this didn’t happen is a horrible, inexcusable mistake that our children will pay for. That this didn’t happen is totally down to the authoritarian measures taken by governments since. I’m referring to restrictions on internet expression, both legislative (hello, EU GDPR) or extralegal (we know you’re on the line, DNI, we can hear you breathing). 

These measures were adopted in the wake of the 9-11 attacks when Bush was in office, expanded under Obama, and now they continue in the time of Trump. Those three Presidents had little to do with the application of these dystopian instruments. And whoever is elected in November will have little say in their application as well. 

Similarly, those who believe they are completely spontaneous and self-motivated in protesting the death of one of thousands who have died due to police brutality, one of the millions of victims of violent racism around the planet, are not. The speed at which they spun from “stay at home” to “hit the streets” makes that obvious. The violent emotions resulting from confinement and loss are being released in a coordinated campaign of distraction.

Keep Your Head Clear and Your Principles Consistent

My science fiction series is premised on an event which leads to a great apocalyptic unraveling of all political power systems around the planet. Lacking such an event, the political power systems will continue. 

All I can do as a citizen of Planet Earth is observe them carefully and heed discussions of them by people I know are cogent and thoughtful, throwing out the chaff and keeping the grain. All I can do as a writer is maintain a set of consistent principles and respond to my observations according to those principles.

Words That Should Be Replaced: 4. Supply Chain

Supply Chain Supply Net

This is the fourth installment in an ongoing series.

You’ve been hearing lot about supply chains

…in the economic news regarding international shipping of goods, and components of goods. Because international borders have been slammed shut in response to the SARS-COV-2 virus, many things are in short supply or completely unavailable.

This phrase is deceptive. The supply of goods (and services, for that matter) isn’t a chain.

A chain would be a simple thing. Store needs sprockets to sell. Factory needs a battery to make a sprocket. Battery needs lithium mined from the earth.

 

Mine > Lithium > Battery > Factory > Sprocket > Store

 

But that simple model is ludicrously unsuited to describing the real-world functioning of creation of even the simplest item.

The mine, for example, requires machinery.

The machinery requires fuel and lubricant and humans to maintain and service it. The fuel (let’s say diesel) requires its own oil wells and refineries, tankers and distributors.

The mine requires human labor.

The human laborers require food and clothing. The food and clothing requires fertilizer, factories, stores. They need protective equipment, which has to be manufactured as well. They need medical care, so hospitals and doctors are necessary. They need entertainment and communication, so theaters and sports arenas, televisions and smartphones are necessary…

 

Then the lithium is extracted from the mine.

It needs to be refined, so it goes to a lithium refinery where humans (with needs of food, clothing, medicine, entertainment and communication) operate machinery (needing fuel, lubrication, and maintenance) to pack the lithium into appropriate containers (also made in factories, by humans).

 

The lithium must travel to the factory

(using some sort of machinery or maybe on foot, but probably a truck or train with needs), and then other humans (with needs), wearing different protective equipment, use different machinery (with needs) to assemble casings, wires, and other components along with the lithium to make the batteries.

 

So, rather than a simple, linear chain, you’ve got something more like this for the first step alone:

 

And the lithium batteries are needed for each of the humans’ communication and entertainment needs, and also for the machinery that’s used at each step of the process, and for the medical functions that keep the humans functioning…

 

Web of creationA slight disruption at any stage would disrupt the whole elaborate system.

 

Supply chains are more like supply nets.

A net is woven of multiple lines looping back on themselves and interlocking. If one of those connections is disrupted, the net won’t hold fish as well, and if the net isn’t mended promptly, the whole thing will unravel.

Just like an ecology, an economy is a mesh, web, or net.

The idea that we can merely prime the first step in the chain and get it moving again is a childish level of foolishness. The intricate interrelatedness of every single bit of our economy is the underlying source of sustenance and flourishing for everyone on the planet. And every single connection is vital to it.

 

So, instead of supply chain, say supply net.

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Words That Should Be Replaced: 3. Mindfulness

Mindfulness Relaxed Focus

This is the third installment in an ongoing series.

Mindfulness is one of those words that’s become a pop-culture buzzword.

It’s used to tell people that they ought to calm down and focus on the present moment. Not only that, they should make a lifestyle out of calming down and focusing. Cool people are mindful. Not being mindful, in fact, is a spiritual failing.

True, calming down is often a good idea.

Wild parties, sporting events, exercise, violent attacks, and imminent physical danger are probably the only occasions when it’s advantageous to be emotionally and physically agitated. Yet, those are also times when it’s a good idea pay attention to what you’re doing.

More importantly, the word “mindful” has the word “mind” as its root. The human mind is unique precisely in its ability to consider things that are not happening in the present moment. What makes us human is our ability to consider things that occurred in the recent or distant past and apply them to the near or distant future.

Mindfulness is often equated with meditation.

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Photo by madison lavern on Unsplash

But having practiced several different types of meditation in my life and studied many more, I’ve noticed that one of the features of all of them is disregarding the contents and constructs of the mind. In fact, by settling into a pattern of stillness and focusing on one’s environment and breathing, you could say that meditation is more accurately about “bodifulness” than mindfulness.

A less value-laden, nonjudgmental way of talking about the meditative state of being is simply to describe it: relaxed focus.

Next time you see or read the word “mindfulness,” try substituting the phrase “relaxed focus” instead.

How Many Poor Children Will Lockdowns Kill?

The unbelievable media chorus

in favor of continued forced lockdowns, despite the lack of any credible evidence whatsoever that they work, continues.

The latest UN report

On the effect of lockdowns on the world’s children estimates that hundreds of thousands of children will die as a consequence of this economic suicide that we are allowing to happen.

Some bulleted excerpts from the report:

Extreme Poverty to Rise

  • At a household level, the collapse in income threatens the livelihoods of millions of house- holds with children around the world. Inputting the forecasts from the IMF optimistic scenario into an IFPRI poverty model4 indicates an increase in extreme poverty (PPP$1.90
    a day) this year of 84 to 132 million people, approximately half
    of whom are children, compared to a pre-pandemic counterfactual scenario.
  • While children are not the face of this pandemic, its broader impacts on children risk being catastrophic and amongst the most lasting consequences for societies as a whole.

 

Reversal of Progress on Infant Mortality

  • The global economic downturn could result in hundreds of thousands of additional child deaths in 2020, reversing the last 2 to 3 years of progress in reducing infant mortality within a single year.

 

Loss of Crucial Learning and Development

  • The potential losses that may accrue in learning for today’s young generation, and for the development of their human capital, are
    hard to fathom

Covid Rarely Kills Poor Children. Measles Does.

  • The share of symptomatic children who lose their lives to the virusin China has been estimated as 1 in 25,000, which is 30 times less
    than of the middle aged and 3,000 times less than the elderly.
  • …measles immunization campaigns have been suspended in at least
    23 countries that had cumulatively targeted more than 78 million
    children

 

Children’s Mental Health

  • The effects of physical distancing measures and movement
    restrictions on children’s mental health represent another cause
    for concern. …For children facing extreme deprivations, acute
    stress can impair their cognitive development and trigger
    longer-term mental health challenges

 

Nowhere to Go

  • Enforced shutdowns, curfews and movement restrictions have led to
    the sudden closure of refugee camps and residential institutions,
    and the dispersion of slum-dwellers, including children

I don’t want to read any more about how “we’re all in this together,” “quarantine has let us focus on what’s really important,” “we all have to adjust to the new normal,” or any other delusional, privileged, wealthy-country platitudes. This is harming millions of children and killing hundreds of thousands.

It needs to stop.

Words That Should Be Replaced: 2. Conspiracy Theory

Conspiracy Theory Unsanctioned Premise

This is the second installment  an ongoing series.

The phrase “conspiracy theory” passed into common usage following the 1964 Warren report on the assassination of JFK.

The phrase was amplified in the heavily manipulated, non-social, media of the time as a form of ridicule. Later, it came to be applied to any theory that contradicts received, official, orthodox, or approved analysis, information, or justifications.

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For a story to be labeled a conspiracy theory, it is totally beside the point whether it actually involves a conspiracy.

For example, when extensive evidence was brought to light showing that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, various actors in the government, intelligence community, and mass media all had incentives to support the claim that it did. They didn’t conspire; they didn’t have to. They just had to refrain from pulling the brake on the train and go along for the ride. Those who mentioned the actual available evidence were labeled conspiracy theorists, marginalized, and shouted down. Eventually, everyone was forced to concede that Iraq had no WMD and that the evidence of this was freely available it all along. Baghdad was already in ruins.

Conversely, if an official, approved, or orthodox organization embraces a notion, it can never be labeled a conspiracy theory.

An example might be the idea that the Soviet Union had conspired with thousands of artists, writers, actors, broadcasters, and journalists to infiltrate literature, news, government, civic organizations, and entertainment during the Cold War. That theory led to the persecutions and blacklists of the McCarthy Era. That was never referred to as a conspiracy theory, because it was held by a sizable faction of the US government, including law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Congressional hearings and criminal charges were made based on it. Many lives were ruined.

This is not to say that there are not actual conspiracy theories.

Some of those theories are probably correct (i.e., conspiracies do exist). But most of the time, the phrase is used as a pejorative without any precision or accuracy. It is far more accurate to use a phrase that makes it clear that the idea being discussed is challenging to a belief considered authoritative.

Whenever you hear or read the phrase, “conspiracy theory,” substitute the expression, “unsanctioned premise” in its place.

More Murderous Consequences of Lockdown

We’ve already seen

here, here, and here that lockdowns will cause stress-illness deaths in wealthier nations that rival the death toll of the virus itself. Reuters recently joined the chorus of saner voices pointing out that more people will die as a result of lockdowns and those consequences are being ignored, although they wrongheadedly focus first on suicides, which are a much smaller proportion of deaths than the stress-illness deaths that will skyrocket due to unemployment.

We’ve also seen that experts such as Stanford epidemiologist John Ioannidis and 800 Yale physicians, public health PhDs, and epidemiologists have decried the lockdowns as not based on valid evidence and likely to have serious unintended consequences. I plan to go into what the limited evidence available suggests does mitigate the virus in a future column.

Look at Their Actions, not Their Words

In the meantime, Neil Ferguson, whose initial modeling of the pandemic yielded insanely inflated numbers, and who advocated the most extreme of lockdown measures, fostering a global authoritarian panic, has resigned in disgrace. He was caught violating the lockdown rules he himself helped create by having sex with his married girlfriend…whose husband was ill with coronavirus symptoms. That demonstrates that the questionable motivations of advocates of these measures go all the way to the highest levels.

Lockdowns Hurt the Global Poor

It brings me only sorrow to report that predictions are emerging of the effects the advancing recession will have on the developing world.

Starvation

The BBC brings us a report estimating that 30 million people will starve in “biblical” famines caused by the deliberate disruption of the web of economic interdependency that sustains humanity. This is in addition to people killed by the virus itself.

Tuberculosis

And a report Developed by Stop TB Partnership in collaboration with Imperial College, Avenir Health, Johns Hopkins University and USAID predicts that low- and middle-income countries that lock down will have as many as 1,367,300 additional tuberculosis deaths over the next five years as a consequence. That’s not taking into account either hypothetical interactions between tuberculosis and Covid-19, or the decrease in TB prevention public health programs resulting from the cuts in government revenues due to the recession/depression.

First, Do No Harm

I enjoyed this Venn diagram, which describes my perspective on this pandemic to a “T”:

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This virus is no joke. Especially for people who are older, obese, and/or have a variety of common diseases, it can be lethal. Most such people at risk will self-isolate. But now that we know that deaths and serious illnesses in children are rare and in young adults are uncommon, one has to ask if the forcible closing of businesses, recreation and exercise facilities, and even public streets is appropriate. The risk to young healthy people of going out in public (maintaining arms-length spacing and avoiding large gatherings) is much lower than many things (for example, driving a car) that people do on a daily basis without any hesitation.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the most rational way to approach the situation is for younger people to get back to work and into public settings, building a herd immunity, so that older folks can eventually sit in the parks and feed the pigeons again.

But to do that, humanity will need to push back against the brutal top-down control that is being imposed.

Are you brave enough to speak out?

Words That Should be Replaced: 1. Healthcare

Healthcare Medical Care

 

This is the first installment in what I plan as an ongoing series.

I chose this particular word for the first one in the series because it’s near and dear to me, because of my 30+ years as a chiropractor.

The word “healthcare” as commonly used today means the sale of medical goods and services, or the sale of services that manage payments for medical goods and services (such as government and corporate medical plans).

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Yet, those services would be more accurately referred to as “illnesscare”

or more neutrally, “medical care” instead. With very few exceptions, when you visit a clinic, doctor, or hospital, you’re seeking treatment for an illness or injury. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact it’s great that medical care is available! I’m just pointing out that medical treatment is only a small part of the process of caring for your health.

What do you do to avoid illness or injury?

Eat well, stay active, get plenty of sleep, drink water, laugh with your friends, wear your seatbelt, wash your hands, get massages and spinal adjustments, brush your teeth, get a little sunshine? Wouldn’t all those things be more accurately referred to as “healthcare”? Those are things you do while you’re healthy in order to care for your health. And they are actions that are under your individual control.

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Why is this important?

Because it refocuses the discussion of health and well-being to include the elements of personal responsibility and creative initiative, instead of framing it as something you passively pay to have done to you.

Anywhere you hear or read the word “healthcare,” replace it with the phrase “medical care.”

800 Yale Professors Agree

This lengthy letter signed by over 800 Yale professors, most of them qualified in Public Health, Medicine, and Epidemiology, has just been published:

Read it for yourself.

The Yale letter agrees with many of the points I made in my previous post, which Medium censored twice before (so far) allowing to remain posted. Specifically:

  • Science needs to guide messaging to the public, and no government official should make misleading or unfounded statements, nor pressure others to do so.
  • Policymakers should base decisions on social distancing measures and closures on the best available science.
  • Mandatory quarantine, regional lockdowns, and travel bans have been used to address the risk of COVID-19 in the US and abroad. ​​But they are difficult to implement, can undermine public trust, have large societal costs and, importantly, disproportionately affect the most vulnerable segments in our communities.
  • Voluntary self-isolation measures are more likely to induce cooperation and protect public trust than coercive measures, and are more likely to prevent attempts to avoid contact with the healthcare system.
  • Where mandatory measures are used, steps must be taken to ensure that people are protected from job loss, economic hardship, and undue burden.
  • Individuals must be empowered to understand and act upon their rights.
  • The effectiveness of regional lockdowns and travel bans depends on many variables, and also decreases in the later stages of an outbreak.

 

Also of major import, John Ioannidis, a world-renowned scientist, qualified in the Departments of Medicine, of Epidemiology and Population Health, of Biomedical Data Science, and of Statistics at Stanford University, has published an urgent communique available here . It is offered in open access, pre-publication, because of the time-sensitive nature of its contents.

The paper’s abstract is brief and pithy:

“The evolving coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic1 is certainly cause for concern. Proper communication and optimal decision-making is an ongoing challenge, as data evolve. The challenge is compounded, however, by exaggerated information. This can lead to inappropriate actions. It is important to differentiate promptly the true epidemic from an epidemic of false claims and potentially harmful actions.”

One particular item of his long list of bullet points is relevant to the censorship of my previous article:

  • Of the multiple measures adopted, few have strong evidence, and many may have obvious harms

I’m nobody. Just a biomedical copy editor, science fiction author, and disabled chiropractor. But I can recognize when actions are not justified by the research available. Now, world-class Ivy-League epidemiologists and public-health experts with a bird’s-eye view are forcefully stating the same thing I observed from my mousehole.

Will you listen? Will you make your voice heard as a voice of restraint and reason? Or will you join the mass, lemming-like rush over the precipice?

The Powerful Reasons Covid-19 Lockdowns Could Cause More Deaths Than They Prevent

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Photo courtesy Anthony Tran on Unsplash

Why we should be fundamentally more like South Korea and less like China

March 24, 2020: This content was originally published 3/22/20 on Medium. Medium pulled it down because they claimed that it violates their terms of service against “Health claims or advice which, if acted on, are likely to have detrimental health effects on persons or public safety.”  On the contrary, this article is an attempt to point out serious detrimental health effects on persons and public safety resulting from public policies not based on scientific evidence.  Even after editing to make the headline less attention-grabbing and the final paragraph less rabble-rousing, Medium censored it a second time. Read it and judge for yourself.

 

The Trigger

The coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2 exploded out of China to circle the globe.

At every level of society and government, responses have been rapid and dramatic. Borders are being slammed closed, businesses shuttered, gatherings, shows, and events canceled, projects put on hold, and schools shut down. Governments make promises to “make people whole,” but we all know there’s no way to make up for the 1.1 trillion in lost business income, or the 20% of people predicted to file for unemployment  (according to the US Secretary of the Treasury as quoted in US News and World Report), especially since the employers being directed to pay lost wages have no customers coming through the doors, and the governments that are promising payouts are facing massive drops in tax receipts as buying and selling and earning come to a screeching slowdown.

 

What the Hell Are We Doing?

 

Thousands of new viruses every year emerge, move from person to person, and spread around the planet unnoticed. But this one was different. We all know the grim litany of facts by now: it has a case fatality rate somewhere between an estimated .3% (per The Lancet) of all infected  and 3.4% (per early reports cited in The New York Times) for people ill enough to be tested, a much higher rate than most respiratory viruses. It can be transmitted by well-seeming people for an unknown amount of time, with the average infected person infecting two to three others, per The Scientist (or maybe more, per a biophysicist publishing out of Los Alamos National Laboratory ). It’s believed that 80% of people with COVID-19 have mild or asymptomatic disease, 14% have severe disease, and 6% are critically ill (link to The Lancet ).

 

Scientists such as Neil Ferguson, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at Imperial College London, acknowledged as early as January that it’s impossible to contain the virus from spreading everywhere; everything being done is with the stated goal of “flattening the curve” (website link) so that more of the minority who get extremely sick from the virus will be able to get Intensive Care when they need it.

 

So, now, the luckiest few people are working from home. These are those fortunate enough to have skills and occupations that are easily transferred into an online work environment. They’re overrepresented among journalists, editors, and content moderators, so curated media platforms are full of eerily identical “Ten Things That You Need to do When You’re Working From Home” articles like those in the link.

 

The rest—the vast majority— are not working, according to scientists at the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at the Imperial College of London. Everyone’s trying to homeschool children (despite expert opinion that school closings will be ineffective, as published in The Lancet), using an internet that, due to unprecedented use, periodically slows to a crawl. We’re talking here about waitresses, paralegals, receptionists, retail clerks, salespeople, ushers, janitors, gig musicians, sex workers, taxi drivers, mechanics…the list goes on. All those unglamorous people working in occupations you don’t like to think about.

At the same time, they’re trying not to think about what they’ll do when next month’s rent is due. Their landlords, forbidden to file evictions, are trying not to think about what they’ll do when next month’s mortgage and next year’s property tax come due. But they know it won’t be pretty, since they haven’t collected rent from laid-off workers. All these people know that Texaco and Delta will get billion-dollar bailouts, but they’ll be lucky to get one paycheck’s worth of assistance, weeks or months too late to do any good in the crisis.

 

So many people have poignant stories about the personal, heart-wrenching effects of these measures. Here are some that I’ve learned about first-hand:

  • The high school senior whose senior trips, senior proms, and graduation walks are canceled.
  • The hairdresser who’s finally saved enough money to open her own one-chair hair salon, only to have customers too afraid to come in the door. She’s watching her life savings go up in smoke.
  • The mother whose daughter who lives in a foreign country is pregnant, with her first grandchild, and who learns that borders are shut to unnecessary travel and flights are canceled. (Full disclosure: I’m talking about me.)
  • The retiree who was planning to become a “snowbird”, spending summers in the north and winters in a milder climate, whose Spring flight home was canceled and who has to face blistering Summer heat, far from family and friends.
  • The adult child whose mother is dying, far away, and cannot go to be by her side, and would not be allowed as a visitor in the hospital anyway.
  • The young man who was just diagnosed with cancer, in a city where he moved for a new job, and now faces chemo and radiation with no friends or family to support him—in a hospital gripped by grim panic and smelling of fear.
  • The foreign visitors, French and Hong-Kongese, exploring a small town in India, abruptly told they must leave the country, but refused boarding on trains, lodging in hotels, and seating in restaurants. Finally, taken in by a saintly good Samaritan, the four of them huddle in one room.

 

There are hundreds of millions of individual stories. But all those stories and circumstances don’t tell the story of the damage of a thousand cuts being inflicted on everyone, everywhere, by social distancing. Fewer “hellos” and “thank yous”. Fewer smiles. No lunches in the breakroom, no shirts versus skins games, no coffee with the girls. All the little bumps of oxytocin and dopamine that we take for granted as we go about our day: missing in action. Those social interactions are not trivial. They lower our blood pressure, reduce our cortisol levels, and strengthen our health in numerous ways.

This isn’t airy-fairy, lacy-spacy speculation. If you have even the slightest doubt that the effect of this stress is real and measurable and will be intense, have a careful read of this paper published at the US National Center For Biotechnology Information, as a special direct-access article, by the US Department of Health and Human Services:

Ten Surprising Facts About Stressful Life Events And Disease Risk.

TL;DR: the effect of stress on your risk of dying is real, quantifiable…and major. Bigger than smoking. Bigger than obesity.

 

Strokes and Heart Attacks

 

Strokes and heart attacks, grouped as cardiovascular disease, are the one of world’s biggest killers. To give you an idea of how lethal cardiovascular disease is: In 2018, the most recent complete year, CDC reports that there were 3,830,366 cardiovascular deaths in the USA alone. Check out this map at the CDC. And around the entire world, 14,996,617 deaths are due to cardiovascular conditions according to World Atlas.

Put that together with the research showing that job and financial stress increase the risk of an apparently healthy adult having a heart attack or stroke by 1.16 to 1.6 times that of an unstressed individual. (Nature Reviews: Cardiology; paywall)

Apply the midpoint, of 1.38 times, to everyone in the entire world, since everyplace on the entire planet is locking down due to COVID-19, do some simple arithmetic, and you come out with 5,698,714 excess deaths from cardiovascular disease alone, as a result of the lockdowns.

But it’s probably going to be even more than that. Remember? Because ICUs are going to be maxed out even if the lockdowns work as intended? (Also remember, WE DON’T KNOW if they will work as intended. None of this has been tried before, because there’s never been an identical situation). So a lot of non-fatal heart attacks are going to become fatal heart attacks—when the patient can’t get Intensive Care.

 

Cancer

 

Cancer is not just one disease, it’s many, and so research on stress and cancer doesn’t focus on the blanket diagnosis of “cancer.” Like other studies, studies on stress and cancer focus on one individual type of cancer at a time. That research is pretty undeniable though. Peer-reviewed, indexed oncology journal articles are linked below. It’s found, among other things, that:

 

9.6 million people, per year around, the world die from cancer, per Cancer Research UK. Multiply that by a conservative (based on the above) 33% increase, and you come out with 3,168,000 excess cancer deaths as a result of the major stressful life event of being un- or under-employed, financially strapped, isolated, and deprived of the things that give your day-to-day life meaning.

 

HIV

 

Each stressful event increases the risk of death from HIV in infected people by about 50%. (JAMA; Paywall) HIV is estimated by the World Health Organization to kill 770,000 people yearly. So, there’s an additional 385,000 deaths, a cherry on top of the gruesome sundae our well-meaning governments are preparing for us.

 

Deaths Among the Elderly

 

 

This isn’t really a separate category of death, so it’s not added into the total, because many of the deaths from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and HIV will be deaths of elderly people. But much of the fear around COVID-19 focuses on those over 65, who do have a much greater risk of being hospitalized and of dying if they become ill with the virus.

In over-65s, major stressors like serious financial problems and natural disasters increase mortality by a quarter to 2/3. This study described in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology found that one of the strongest effects came from having a seriously ill family member, and the effect increased with multiple stressors. In other words, just when elderly people are likely to experience a wife, husband, lover, or best friend becoming seriously ill with COVID-19, they are being subjected to social isolation, financial uncertainty, and the loss of contact with those their networks of support. Figuring this out takes a even more back-of-the-envelope calculation than the others: Consider the World Health Organization’s findings that 63% of the 54,500,000 deaths every year are those of people over 65. That comes to 34,335,000 deaths a year. An increase of roughly half would mean 17,165,500 people dying worldwide due to the stress of COVID-19 lockdowns.

 

Miscarriages

There’s very little evidence or information about the outcome of pregnancies among women who are ill with the virus.

But there is data, published in the journal Early Human Development, from populations who’ve been subject to catastrophes and natural disasters, showing consistently that miscarriages increase, resulting in more male fetuses being lost, causing an decrease in the ratio of males to females in the birth cohort.

 

Exercise and Mortality

 

Another factor that will cause added deaths that result from Covid-19 lockdowns is the fact that gymnasiums are being compelled to close by many municipalities, states, and national governments. At the same time, people are being advised to stay at least 6 feet away from other people, which means in many of the world’s more crowded cities, which kind of by definition contain a majority of the population of the countries they’re in, people will need to simply stay inside at all times in order to comply. It’s well-established that the risk of mortality is reduced by a wide variety of physical sports and exercise activities. According to a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, that reduction varies according to the sport or activity, but it appears to average to about 25%. That’s all-cause mortality, meaning that if you do activities like swimming, racquet sports, cycling, and aerobics, you are much less likely to die in the next year than if you don’t do those activities. Some of that mortality is accounted for in the cardiovascular deaths listed above, but not all of it.

So, how many additional people will die due to withdrawal from exercise and sport? We don’t know, because that depends on how many people are exercising currently, and how much of that exercise is dependent on gyms, courts, and other forbidden settings.

But: there also are probably many people who are getting life-saving exercise from jobs at businesses which are now closed. This effect of employment-associated exercise would naturally be greater for poorer people and for more people in poorer countries.

 

 

So, How Many Will Die of Coronavirus?

 

To determine if the cure (lockdowns) is worse than the disease (the pandemic), you have to know the damage done by both.

As of this writing on March 24, 2020, worldwide, COVID-19 has reportedly killed 16,591 people, according to the Coronavirus Dashboard website. If everyone, everywhere, all of the world’s 7.8 billion people, became ill enough with coronavirus to visit a doctor and be tested, at a mortality rate of 1.4%, 109,200,000 would die.

 

That won’t happen. Again, according to The Lancet, most people who are ill with suspected coronavirus are not ill enough to be tested, by governments’ designation of eligibility. Washington State, site of one of the US’s earliest outbreaks, found that of those people with respiratory symptoms who do get tested, 93% of those tests are negative. And Washington directs health care providers to test only symptomatic individuals, and recommends against testing younger people with mild illness. (Both links to the Washington Department of Health official website). Nobody knows for sure how many people are exposed to the virus, have no symptoms (or maybe they think their hay fever is acting up for a few days), and go on with life. But with colds, that number can be more than half of those exposed. The Lancet article linked/cited above estimates that, in the very worst-case scenario, 60% of those exposed will get sick. China’s Wuhan outbreak is now declining, according to a WHO epidemiologist quoted in the Times of India. And yes, China’s totalitarian state did lock down drastically, but South Korea’s is declining too per the CDC, and they were far less stringent (as described in a South Korean English-language news site, EN24) in the restrictions they imposed; they focused on near-universal testing and tracing of infected people’s contacts. (It’s worth noting here that the USA’s failure to test widely for the virus was due to the CDC’s strict constraints on which tests were permissible to use, and its refusal to authorize private labs, as described in an Associated Press article, to use their own, validated tests). Korea predicts a .3% decline in GDP growth due to this pandemic, to a 2% growth rate,  as reflected on Statista, as opposed to other countries which are predicting a major recession, as reported in Forbes.

Most people who are ill with suspected coronavirus are not ill enough to be tested, according to government restrictions, in other countries. Again, consulting Washington’s Department of Health website, Washington State, site of one of the US’s earliest outbreaks, found that of those people with respiratory symptoms who do get tested, 93% of those tests are negative. And Washington directs health care providers to test only symptomatic individuals, and recommends against testing younger people with mild illness. Nobody knows for sure how many people are exposed to the virus, have no symptoms (or maybe they think their hay fever is acting up for a few days), and go on with life. But with colds, that number can be more than half of those exposed. The Lancet article linked/cited above estimates that, in the very worst-case scenario, 60% of those exposed will get sick.

 

Yes, it is Really That stressful

 

But is the COVID-19 lockdown a significantly stressful life event? US’s Department of Health and Human Services  lists the following four ways of designating an occurrence as a major or stressful life event:

  1. The amount of adaptation or change it requires of the individual. Stressful events are cumulative, with each additional event adding to the overall burden of change.
  2. Imminence of harm, intensity, duration, and the extent to which an event is objectively uncontrollable are all factors that contribute to the potential magnitude of consensual threat
  3. Psychological distress and strain when resources are inadequate and the individual has little control over the situation.
  4. Stressful events include interruptions of major goals, (Link to download textbook from Google Scholar) including goals to maintain one’s physical integrity and one’s psychological well-being

 

The lockdowns may even increase the number of people who become ill with COVID-19. While no large-scale studies have been done, Sheldon Cohen and others have performed studies that compared stressed people with non-stressed people when given a dose of cold viruses. (Link to text on Google Books) After a month of stress, 49% of people developed a cold, as compared to 36% of people who weren’t stressed. Un- or underemployment lasting at least 1 month was the strongest predictor of developing illness among those exposed to a cold virus

 

Remember, it is expected that this coronavirus will eventually be everywhere. By flattening the curve, we’re supposedly reducing the number of very ill people who die because they don’t get intensive care. But what if these governmental lockdown measures are really creating a greater number of Covid-19 deaths, due to people being immunologically weakened by chronic stress of income loss, separation from friends and family, and constant fear of death of themselves and loved ones resulting from the endless drumbeat of COVID-19 news and incessant reminders in the form of disrupted routines, empty streets, and absence of friends and loved ones?

 

Just the absence of friends and loved ones may increase risk of mortality. People who are isolated from other people are more likely to die and more likely to get sick than  people with an abundant daily network of social interactions. All the listicles and infographics about how to avoid feeling lonely during coronavirus cannot change that fact.

 

Non-Fatal Effects on Public Health

 

As reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, people who’ve experienced a stressful life event have a 20-25% chance risk of developing depression.  Other conditions that may be worsened are asthma, autoimmune diseases, and wound healing. Social isolation is in itself a stressor. More suicides, serious asthma attacks, and wound-infections will inevitably ensue. But how many?

And using social media is not the answer. Social media is not a substitute for face-to-face socializing. In fact, as described by journalists at NPR, social media makes people feel more lonely.

 

The World’s Poor

This article doesn’t even begin to address the fact that almost all of the countries affected by the pandemic so far have been among the wealthiest (whose residents can afford to fly internationally). Throughout most of the planet, people depend on jobs or micro-trade to support themselves and their families. They have no sick leave, no unemployment coverage (their governments are too poor), and no hope of ever getting Intensive Care if they do get sick. And almost all their income goes to food and shelter. If these lower-income nations mimic the actions of the globe’s wealthy nations, strangling their economies, the suffering will be measured, not just in heart attacks, cancers, and suicides (though all those will happen too), but also in starvation.

 

 

We Have Time to Turn This Around

 

Yes, wash your hands.

By all means, wipe down every surface people touch.

If you’re at risk, stay home.

Fist bump instead of hugging.

If you’re sick with any fever or respiratory illness, you have an obligation to quarantine! That’s what “quarantine” means by the way. It’s a word that’s being widely misused in this pandemic. It actually means: the sick person and their family stay home and separate from the surrounding community.

But recognize that the disaster being wrought by your Federal, State, and local governments is based on the politics of fear. There’s no proof that any of these measures will do any good.

And I just gave you plenty of evidence that they will do a lot of harm.

You don’t have to passively cower in your home and submit to senseless limitations.

You can let your voice be heard.

 

Address your voice to the policymakers and enforcers who are participating in this dreadful mistake: beg them to stop. Demand that they ease up on the restrictions.

Tell them: you’re wreaking havoc on your fellow human beings with no ultimate benefit to anyone.

 

Originally published 3/22/20; Updated 3/24/20