I have been criticized for commenting on issues surrounding COVID-19 without being an expert on infectious diseases. My comments on the virus involve assessing the different views of those who are medical experts. I delve into reasons the experts disagree. I then examine data to offer my opinion on which experts appear to have a better understanding of how to deal with the virus and how it might affect the economy.
The statistical tools used by economists are used in countless other areas to provide useful insights. In many cases infectious disease experts may not have the statistical knowledge or tools necessary to assess the impact of the disease on the economy.
The first step to understanding experts is to determine where they agree and disagree. Infectious disease experts tend to agree COVID-19 is very serious, highly infectious, and can be deadly. It can lead to a horribly painful death where victims spend the last weeks and days of their lives painfully gasping for each breath.
However, the experts do not agree on how pervasive the disease is, how many are likely to die from it, or the best way to treat it. All this information is critical in determining the impact COVID can have on each of us and on the economy and financial markets.
Censorship by the media and search engines routinely blocks information these corporations disagree with, leaving many unaware of the extent to which experts disagree over these matters.
Finding well-researched opinions that are contrary to the media’s accepted narrative can require a deep dive into the Internet.
Early this year, medical experts disagreed widely over how many would die from COVID. Our Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) forecast U.S. deaths would be 1.7 to 2.5 million. Such numbers would have overwhelmed many of our health care systems and would likely have produced a major negative impact on the economy.
Other medical experts believed deaths would be closer to 150,000 to 200,000. If correct, this would be closer to deaths from a bad flu season and the impact on the economy would be far less devastating.
After analyzing the reasons for their alternative forecasts, I concluded those forecasting the lower number of US deaths were more likely to be correct. This conclusion led me to expect the economic impact from COVID would be far less than most were anticipating.
As a result, I forecast a speedy recovery from the lockdown and a strong recovery in the stock market. Others, including the Federal Reserve and most mainstream economists, were forecasting a catastrophic recession and two to four years for the economy to recover. This misguided analysis and forecast led many people to sell their stocks and move to cash. A failure to know which experts are correct can significantly affect your financial health.
Even with the latest surge in COVID deaths, the reported number is close to 300,000. Those experts whose views were censored and widely criticized have been more accurate in assessing the number of deaths than those whose views were accepted as “conventional wisdom.”
After almost a year of experience with COVID, there are still uncertainties over the number of deaths. Without a standard definition of such deaths, death numbers remain unreliable. Anyone testing positive at the time of death can be listed as a COVID death. People testing positive but dying from drug overdoses or car accidents are often counted as COVID deaths.
As an economist, I wanted an analysis that would show the extent to which COVID deaths might have been mislabeled as deaths from other causes.
Dr. Genevieve Briand has produced such an analysis. She is the assistant program director in the applied economics master’s degree program at John Hopkins University. In her webinar, she describes using CDC data to compare deaths from all causes from 2014 to 2020. Her analysis shows how spikes in overall deaths from 2014 to 2019 have always been associated with increases in deaths for all other diseases. This is particularly true for heart disease, the leading cause of death.
Dr. Briand’s analysis shows this year the pattern is different. As deaths from COVID soared, deaths from all other diseases declined. The decline in deaths from other diseases almost entirely offset the surge in COVID cases. The implication is an overwhelming number of COVID deaths may have replaced deaths from other causes.
A brief summary of Dr. Briand’s webinar was reported in the John Hopkins student newspaper. As might be expected, her analysis was criticized for supporting “dangerous inaccuracies that minimize the impact of the pandemic.” She was also criticized for not being in the medical school.
Dr. Briand’s analysis has not been peer-reviewed. It is in direct conflict with our health experts at the CDC. Further statistical analysis will be necessary to determine who is correct.
Until we have the benefit of a more definitive analysis, my tentative conclusion is Dr.
Briand’s analysis is correct. Mistakes the CDC has made—forecasting deaths, the degree of effectiveness of masks, failing to develop standard COVID death criteria, lack of advice for strengthening immune systems, poor organization and handling of data—all make me skeptical our experts might somehow have done something right.