The Costs of Taking COVID More Seriously

Pretty interesting graphs - drawn from the Oxford Covid-19 Government Response Tracker (OxCGRT) - that show virtually no relationship between COVID deaths per capita and unemployment rate

* No relationship between restriction stringency and COVID deaths per capita

* Meaningful relationship between restriction stringency and unemployment increases

* Meaningful relationship between Democrat vote share and unemployment increases

* No relationship between Democrat vote share and COVID deaths per capita, even when excluding the early hit states like NY, NJ, CT, and MA

* Virtually no relationship between COVID deaths per capita and median age of state, population per square mile of state, urban population percentage of state, or income per capita of state

It honestly blows my mind that - in addition to the completely expected conventional wisdom of the Reddit, Twitter, and the mainstream media bubble - polling reflects that voters broadly believe that Democrats handled COVID better than Republicans. We know that Democrat voters massively, histrionically overstated the risk of COVID to the point that they estimated the hospitalization risk at more than an order of magnitude over what it actually was. We know that the benefits of any restrictions / Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) was so weak as to be statistically indiscernible, whereas the economic costs were clear, unambiguous, and statistically significant. We know that the resistance to school openings was misplaced and political, and that children are at virtually no risk from COVID. We know that states with Democrat governors had slightly more deaths per capita than their counterparts, while also having significantly higher unemployment than their counterparts, and that the strictly partisan “American Rescue Plan” stimulus bill allocated funds based on unemployment (creating windfalls for NY, CA, NJ, MA, IL, etc at the expense of red states). We know that Biden did virtually nothing different from Trump on COVID, has overseen as many deaths at this point as Trump did prior to the election, didn’t even increase performative / virtually useless metrics like mask compliance or lockdown stringency, and that the entire time he wore a mask as president was completely unscientific grandstanding given he was already vaccinated. Yet somehow, misleading media convinces the masses that the difference was night and day

Now that COVID seems to be largely resolved domestically, we can see with a bit more perspective. There are currently about ~600,000 deaths attributed to COVID (via somewhat dubious methodology), which reflects about 0.18% of the population. The median age of death (from/with) COVID is ~78, compared to a US life expectancy that averages between 78.04 and 78.84 over the last decade; nota bene that 56.5% of US COVID deaths have been among men, who have a lower life expectancy averaging ~76. The second highest risk factor after age is obesity, with 79% of those hospitalized with COVID being overweight or obese and morbidly obese COVID patients 60% more likely to die or be intubated, and moderately obese COVID patients 30% more likely to die or be intubated. Additionally, 94% of COVID deaths involved one or more comorbid conditions with an average of 2.28 comorbidities per decedent, and a history of smoking nearly doubling the risk of disease progression

In totality, the end result of COVID in terms of mortality was that, generally speaking, the oldest, fattest, sickest, least risk averse, 1 out of every 550 Americans would die before mass availability of vaccinations, at a median age of death on par with our average life expectancy. For those under 18, it was decidedly less deadly than the seasonal flu. For the ~85% of the population under 65 - and especially the ~66% under the age of 50 - there was extremely little risk (and even overall there was less than 1/10th of the risk that polled Democrats seemed to think). If you had told people that in March 2020, I struggle to imagine how anyone could've used this to scaremonger the innumerate masses into an outright existential panic that was used as a pretext for everything from massive wealth redistribution to radical changes in election laws to drastic expansions of the power of the state to disrupting a year and a half of many children's education and socialization, and so on

In retrospect, it's clear we should've adopted polices proscribed in The Great Barrington Declaration and centered on Focused Protection of the vulnerable instead of ineffective, dysfunctional universal restrictions that treated everyone the same - despite vastly different risk profiles. Instead, we did a poor job of protecting the vulnerable, disrupted the development of our nation's children for a year, cratered small businesses, let the government run roughshod over civil liberties, and spent insane amounts of money to exceedingly little benefit. It was very convenient that this virus was only a meaningful risk to people who were a very tiny component of the workforce; our utter failure to take that into account, and to try to treat all people as interchangeable, is breathtaking. By back of the envelope calculations, going with the GBD approach + Operation: Warp Speed while foregoing all of the other ultimately ineffective NPIs would've easily resulted in national savings of $6 Trillion - or 3x the cost of the similarly doomed and quixotic Iraq War. Even if this had resulted in a doubling of COVID causalities - which beggars belief and is a wildly generous overestimation of the (demonstrably ineffective!) NPIs' efficacy, this would put the marginal cost of life saved - of, generally, very sick and very fat people at the very end of their lives - at $10M, or more than 10x the lifetime earnings of the average American. (My actual estimation is that it's closer to $30-60M per septuagenarian death avoided)

All of this said, the idea that we should have taken COVID more seriously is so alien to me as to be barely comprehensible