The Other Problem

COVID-19 is exposing a more serious problem than the virus

I venture to say there is a problem more serious than the virus and the virus is exposing it. Let me use Georgia as an example.

The eighth week of the 2020 flu season in Georgia was at the end of February. That is actually the half-way point for the 2019-2020 flu season, but for COVID-19 benchmarks, let’s go eight weeks into 2020 for the flu/pneumonia season.

By the eighth week of flu starting at the first of the year, there were 2129 hospitalizations from the flu based only on positive tests and not additional suspected cases. Likewise, under the same standard, there were 17 deaths.

We just finished the eighth week of COVID-19 in Georgia. In the eight week period, there have been 4322 hospitalizations and 899 deaths. Just look at the deaths. In eight weeks, the flu killed 17 people and COVID-19 killed 899 just in Georgia.

Let me now pull back the curtain so you see the problem.

Some people reading this right now will not believe the numbers. The numbers are both based only on positive tests, not additional presumed tests. The numbers use the same standard at the Georgia Department of Public Health. I am relying on that agency’s numbers and not Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers.

But some people won’t believe it. They have a friend or a friend of a friend who swears they know someone who died of something and it was coded as COVID-19. Therefore, all the numbers are invalid. Or they read that hospitals are getting money for coding deaths as COVID-19 so the numbers are rigged.

Likewise, someone else thinks we should ignore the COVID-19 numbers because they are downplayed by a Governor who wants to reopen the state and actually the number is double that.

All I can do is give you the data. Whether you believe the data or not is up to you.

COVID-19 is exposing the greatest threat to our republic — a lack of trust in people, institutions, and the press. No one believes anything anymore unless it confirms their prior views.

That part is known. What is not really appreciated is that the people, institutions, and the press deserve the loss of trust, but now people are putting their trust in people and memes even more untrustworthy than those who came before. People are trusting those who now have a financial or political incentive to shape information. That not only amplifies the distrust in existing institutions but fosters even more distrust and uncertainty.

Look at CNN. If you have not heard, Joe Biden’s accuser’s mother called in to Larry King Live back in the early nineties about the assault on her daughter. It is real-time corroboration of Tara Reade’s story. CNN took the video down off the internet and conspiracists immediately presumed CNN was complicit in helping Biden.

Except CNN didn’t really take it down. They own the copyright to it and now if you want to see the clip you have to go to CNN, watch an ad, then you can see the clip. CNN didn’t take the ad down. They monetized it.

Feel free to disagree with CNN, but stop spreading the lie that they took it off the internet. They still have it on the internet and are now making money off it. It is a savvy business decision. Unfortunately, I have seen hundreds of people suggesting a grand conspiracy. Because so many on the right do not trust CNN, they will believe the lie instead of the network.

Or take Fox News. How many people on the left are convinced Fox News killed people by downplaying the virus? The New York Times ran an article suggesting as much and many in the media who hate Fox played up that article.

Or look at the story over the weekend about a surge in calls to poison control after the President suggested disinfectant should be studied to see if it could be injected. The actual story had nothing to do with the President, but many in the media reported that it did.

We see this phenomenon on Twitter all the time. Someone spreads a rumor that is false and it gets thousands of retweets. The correction only gets a few.

Social media expands distrust. A media that makes money through clickbait does the same. Provocateurs do as well.

Our entire society is now arranged to maximize distrust and the results are coming in. A lot of people simply do not trust the scientific data on COVID-19. I know too many people who think the virus is overstated. They hear from sources that the antibody tests show massive amounts of people already have it and have not heard any of the stories about the flaws in the studies or the antibody tests.

They are going to lower their guard, get sick, and spread the illness.

Concurrent, on the other side, there are a lot of people who refuse to acknowledge the economic problems of continuing to shelter-in-place. There are members of the media who simply will not challenge Democrat politicians on the overreach of state regulations.

All of this is dividing people further.

The solution is simple. Media institutions need to do far better jobs of covering the full facet of stories like COVID-19. So often the media is in a left of center bubble that it never even knows about right of center concerns until those concerns have hardened. Then the reporting on those concerns often sounds belittling and partisan.

Likewise, we need more reporters willing to be honest brokers. Consider Nancy Pelosi just yesterday suggesting she would have taken a harder line than the President in stopping travel with China in January. Numerous reporters just regurgitated her statement. Few pointed out that in January Pelosi voiced her opposition to the President’s travel ban and wanted to block it. Thankfully, some did, but they were in the minority.

On the right, there are not enough willing to just deal with the facts of the virus and the data. Instead, rightwing voices are more often giving credibility to pseudoscientific hacks like Dr. Oz who will tell them what they want to hear. Likewise, you may want to watch this video from Dr. Dan Erickson (no relation). I have had literally dozens of people send it to me and he provides good information on why he thinks it is safe to reopen Kern County, California. Erickson says the local and state health directors agree with him.

The problem is neither agree with him, despite what he said. The local health director’s office held a press conference to dispute that statement. The state has subsequently done the same.

But Erickson lays out some solid data that suggests it is time to start reopening. Unfortunately, it is being taken as evidence there should have been no shelter-in-place at all. Given how overwhelmed some hospitals are in parts of the country despite shelter-in-place, the evidence suggests it was the right policy decision, at least for a time, even if that time has passed.

My saying that should not be controversial, but it will be because so many people are cherry-picking where they get information and only listening to those with whom they agree. There just is not enough trust out there for consensus nor are there any political leaders attempting to build that trust.

We are looking at the collapse of integrity in public institutions and the press and the rippling effects in society the collapse of integrity and trust are having. Sadly, instead of the media daring to be self-reflective, they are increasingly becoming partisan. Likewise, the alternative outlets stepping up too frequently start out lacking integrity.

None of this is sustainable and it should trouble all of us.