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Wednesday, March 24, 2021

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

This past weekend the news was filled with stories of thousands of spring breakers failing to adhere to a Miami Beach COVID-19 induced 8 p.m. curfew. These maskless college kids were bound and determined to enjoy their spring break after spending a year in some sort of restriction or outright isolation. Despite the repeated use by news outlets of some variation of the word “Shock!” there was really nothing surprising about 21 year olds wanting to socialize. “Super Spreader!” was the other common headline. But was it accurate and how should we define super-spreader?  

One would hope the American media, long hailed as the example for the world of a free press in action, would make sharing complete and accurate information the number one priority in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. Sadly most news outlets are more interested in generating clicks online than in distributing full and complete facts. Fear generates interest and return visits, so spreading fear has become the media’s great achievement in the COVID era. 


The 2021 Daytona Bike Week ran between March 5 and March 14. In a normal year roughly 500,000 motorcycle enthusiasts descend upon Daytona, Florida, for Bike Week. This year that number was estimated to be about 300,000, still a huge crowd. My wife and I were among them. Virtually no one wore masks. Not on the public roadways, not at the motorcycle dealerships, not at the concerts and most certainly not at the restaurants or bars. 

Because I personally attended and because we’ve now completed the CDC’s recommended self-isolation timeline following any possible exposure, I thought it would be interesting to study the impact of 300,000 people gathering to eat, drink and be merry in these strange times of March 2021. Can it safely happen or was this a disaster in the making? I decided to focus only on facts. 

When measuring from the conclusion of the first weekend of Bike Week until the CDC’s recommended 14 days later, the number of reported COVID cases in Volusia County, Florida, (home to Daytona) stayed about the same. No meaningful increase in cases. Despite hundreds of thousands of people from all over the country, including some of the most infected areas like New York and Michigan, and despite the fact that the Daytona crowds clearly opted for no face masks, there was no spike in cases. 

There are other statistics that I would argue are even more important. The media has been great about scaring people with the number of positive COVID-19 tests, but has been sorely lacking in keeping the public appraised on the number of hospitalizations and deaths. This may be because those numbers aren’t terribly high and the fear factor that drives people to seek out even more news might vanish if those statistics were put at their fingertips. If people test positive but suffer no ill effects, should we worry?

Let’s take another peek at Daytona Bike Week. Despite hundreds of thousands of people socializing in small spaces, both indoor and out and despite the fact they wore no masks, Volusia County, Florida, positive infection numbers did not increase. A deeper dive will show that the number of hospitalizations has actually dropped since the start of Bike Week by 14%. A CDC-generated graph of the number of COVID-related deaths shows a steady downhill slope as well. In fact, the percentage of tests showing up positive has also dropped steadily. By every measure, Volusia County numbers got better during and immediately after Daytona Bike Week. 

The point is that the epicenter of people gathering and socializing saw very positive trends in their COVID numbers while several states with the tightest restrictions, such as New York, Maine and Michigan, are generating big gains in infections. Thankfully, the resulting hospitalizations and deaths in those states are far lower than predicted. Those are essential numbers much of the media leave out.

The number of cases in 21 states is increasing. If you stop reading there it may alarm you, but the number of hospitalizations and deaths are not increasing in most of those states, so people are testing positive but not getting sick. I should also point out that Florida, host to the spring breakers and motorcycle enthusiasts, is not on the list of states with an increase in COVID-19 cases. Maybe Florida should be the example for the rest of the country. Live and prosper. Don’t let fear rule the day.

A closer look at factual information may very well ease some of the fear so many are feeling about going out in public or returning to the workplace.

Fact: A study released earlier this month found that of more than 70,000 COVID-19 patients hospitalized between March and December 2020, nearly 51% were obese and 28% were overweight. That’s 89% of hospitalized COVID patients were overweight, most morbidly so. If you are exposed to COVID but aren’t really overweight, you’re probably not going to get seriously sick.

Fact: Many schools around the country have remained closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the fact that children aged 5 to 17 are by far the least likely to have serious health consequences from contracting the coronavirus. Adults 65-74 years of age are 1,100 times more likely to die if they get COVID. From 75-84 that factor increases to 2,800 times and if you’re 85 or older, you are 7,900 times more likely to die if you test positive for COVID than school-age kids. In fact with the total number of COVID-related deaths in the U.S. approaching 600,000 less than 150 of those were children age 14 or under. According to the CDC, only 0.2% of all deaths were younger than 25. Your child should be attending in-school classes every day, especially if they aren’t overweight nor have a pre-existing condition.

Fact: 93% of COVID-19 deaths nationwide have occurred among those ages 55 or older, and among those, more than 87% were over 65.

Fact: Make no mistake, 600,000 is a lot of people but it was as recent as June that major American media outlets were predicting 1.7 million COVID deaths. It seems we are beating the odds. Temper your worries if they result from media predictions. Most are not even loosely rooted in science.

Fact: If you’re the average working age in the United States and not terribly overweight, your chances of having serious illness or death as a result of COVID are tiny. Despite this many state governments have refused to let people operate their businesses as usual. According to Yelp.com’s Local Economic Impact Report, more than 100,000 businesses have permanently closed down. COVID-19 isn’t killing middle age or young people, by and large, but it is killing the businesses they own.

The reason all these facts are so important is that as a society we are letting unfounded fear overtake common sense. Unless you are older and/or obese, you shouldn’t be living in fear. You shouldn’t be forced to close your business and you shouldn’t be on the brink of financial ruin. Despite many politicians thinking you should stay home while they promise to rescue you and despite the media doing all in its power to strike paralyzing fear into your heart, America should be open for business. 

America’s history is one of standing up to challenges and overcoming them. Nearly 90 years ago, the 32nd president of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, uttered the words, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” America’s 46th president and our media itself would do well to heed that advice rather than continuing to sew the seeds of fear. Those seeds serve no one well. The facts would seem to indicate that the primary super spreader in recent weeks was not Daytona Bike Week, but rather the administration and the media’s repetitive insistence that we must run and hide from the coronavirus when more than a year’s worth of data shows a different approach is far healthier and far more effective.


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