In the very early days of COVID-19, even before the worldwide spread had begun prompting its classification as a “pandemic,” one group of researchers put out a devastating prediction of what they said was about to happen.
“One critical report, published on March 16, 2020, received international attention when it predicted 2,200,000 deaths in the USA and 510,000 deaths in the UK without some kind of coordinated pandemic response. This information became foundational in decisions to implement physical distancing and adherence to other public health measures because it established the upper boundary for any worst-case scenarios,” Lancet reported at the time.
The report came from the Imperial College London and prompted much action in the U.S., including, as cited above, the distancing that has become de rigueur, but also widespread lockdowns and masks mandates.
That prediction never happened. The U.S. last week marked a grim milestone — 1 million Americans dead either from or “with” COVID-19 — but that’s less than half of what the college said would happen. In Britain, the total stands just above 190,000 dead, according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering.
Now, of course, no one really knew anything about this coronavirus when it emerged. And sure, one could argue that it might be better to take more action rather than less to avert catastrophe. But it can also be argued that an overreaction — prompted by such a dire prediction — also led to disastrous results in the U.S. and global economy, and perhaps we all should have waited for actual data before setting a course.
Either way, we now know far more than we did way back in March 2020. We know that the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 primarily hits the elderly and those with comorbidities. Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft who has become a philanthropist seeking to end the scourge of malaria, summed it up best last week: “We didn’t understand that it’s a fairly low fatality rate and that it’s a disease mainly in the elderly, kind of like flu is, although a bit different than that.”
We also know that we’re likely to live with the virus for quite some time, perhaps forever, as we do with the flu. But with the U.S. closing in on the ever-changing “herd immunity” numbers, and with at least 200 million people vaccinated against the virus, we also know we’re approaching a time when the virus will be stable.
And we know that COVID-19 — just like most other viruses — is getting weaker with each mutation and that the omicron variant is the least deadly yet, causing many to have only mild symptoms if they have any symptoms at all.
Finally, it turns out that nearly 60% of adults and about 75% of children have coronavirus antibodies, indicating that they had been infected with COVID-19 and its variants, according to data collected from a study of blood samples across the country and released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In December 2021, just 34% of Americans had such antibodies.
That’s a lot of throat-clearing to get to this: Why would the White House predict — as it did last week — that 100 million COVID-19 cases will hit America unless the federal government receives billions in taxpayer funding to combat the virus?
Forget that, when he took office, President Biden pledged to “shut down” the virus and that more than 600,000 of the million-plus dead died on his watch, what would prompt such a breathtaking prediction?
The answer is simple: money.
“The White House is sharing these estimates as officials renew their push to get Congress to approve additional funding to combat the virus and as the nation approaches a coronavirus death toll of 1 million,” CNN’s Kaitlan Collins said.
The Daily Mail also reported that Mr. Biden is seeking approval from Congress for more funding, upwards of $22.5 billion, “to allow the federal government to continue to purchase tests, therapeutics and continue other virus surveillance and prevention measures into the future.”
While the prediction was roundly blasted by Republicans and conservatives, even one former Biden official ripped the White House.
“I’ve seen no data which supports the possibility of a fall or winter surge in the U.S. resulting in 100 million cases. No one should make that kind of statement without providing the assumptions behind that number,” said Michael Osterholm, a former member of Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board.
“Any modeling that looks beyond 30 days out is largely based on pixie dust. I worry that the White House has gotten way ahead of their skis on this one,” Mr. Osterholm said.
But it’s never really been about truth and accuracy, has it? Mr. Biden wants billions more to spread around, even though Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. immunologist, said last month that America is out of the “pandemic phase” (a bold statement he almost immediately walked back, presumably after someone in the White House said he should).
No, it’s always been about fear for the White House — and ratings for the media. So frightening Americans with dire — but unsubstantiated — predictions are all about the money.
As they say in those goofy PSAs, “the more you know,” huh?
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times.
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