A roundtable on the Coronavirus and the policy response

Great Barrington Declaration Scientists with Gov. DeSantis in Florida

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, on the one-year anniversary of the lockdowns, invited back the scientists behind the Great Barrington Declaration, signed at the offices of the American Institute for Economic Research, for a roundtable on the Coronavirus and the policy response. It is exceptionally educational, and points to the reality that the lockdowners have lost the debate for lacking any evidence that their soul-crushing policies are good for public health. These heroic scientists departed from the media/government narrative when it mattered most. As a result, some states followed their point of view and their views have shown to be correct during the worst policy year of our lifetimes.

The entire event was recorded. Complete transcript below. https://lbry.tv/%24/embed/GBD-with-Gov-DeSantis/b5f456ed0bb5c3fab313eb42c079f588c7156d7d#amp=1

Gov. DeSantis:

Jay Bhattacharya is Professor of Medicine at Stanford University and research associate at the National Bureau Of Economic Research. And then we have Dr. Martin Kulldorff, a biostatistician, epidemiologist and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. We had both Martin and Jay over the summer, at the end of the summer, talking about kind of the state of play with the COVID-19 pandemic, evaluating some of the policy choices that had been made in different parts of the United States, as well as around the world, and covered a lot of good ground. Now we’re six, seven, eight months down the road from that and I thought it would make sense to bring them back as well as to bring Professor Gupta and Scott Atlas.

Gov. DeSantis:

So first, we asked both Jay and Martin, did our lockdowns effective? Do you recommend that any state or country do lockdowns going forward? And I think both of you advise strongly against it. So here we are, six, seven, eight months down the road. Martin, you stand by what you said and have you been proven to be correct?

 Dr. Martin Kulldorff:

I do stand by it. I think it’s obvious by now that these lockdowns and contact tracing and masks, they were not able to prevent a resurgence of the disease during the winter. And the problem is that the belief that the pandemic will be suppressed through these lockdowns meant that in a lot of places in the world, people did not use focused protections of the old. They thought that the lockdowns would protect the old, but they didn’t. So they didn’t put in the standard public health message to actually properly protect the older high-risk people. And I think that’s very tragic and it has led to many unnecessary death among our older citizens.

Gov. DeSantis:

Jay, do you stand by what you said and how do you think the last six, seven, eight months have had born out?

Dr. Battacharya:

I think the lockdowns are the single biggest public health mistake in history. I think the lockdowns have, as Martin said, have failed to protect the vulnerable. The lockdowns have led to many, many, many unnecessary deaths, both directly as a result of the lockdowns, And also indirectly through this misplaced faith in the ability of the lockdowns to protect the vulnerable. We should instead have adopted a policy, and most places, should have adopted a policy that got rid of lockdowns and instead focused on people we knew to be truly vulnerable to disease, older populations, people with certain chronic diseases, adopted policies, actually much more similar to what Florida has done, rather than the state where I live, California, which has relied on lockdowns to a disastrous effect.

Gov. DeSantis:

Professor Gupta, across the pond, I know that they’ve instituted a lot of lockdowns in Great Britain as well as throughout Europe. You’ve been critical of that. Do you stand by your criticism? How’s it going in Britain now? Are you still on lockdown? And what do you think the ethicacy of those lockdowns have been in Britain?

Dr. Gupta:

We are still under lockdown, even though we’ve vaccinated the bulk of our vulnerable population. So people are at the moment suffering all the costs of lockdown without there being any obvious benefits, should this have been the case in the first place that there were any benefits. Myself and many others, including Carl Hennigan, have been warning consistently that these policies are detrimental, that they have a very high cost and that those costs should be visible and on the table before any decision is taken. Focused protection of course offers a kind of solution to the stark truth that we in the UK cannot afford lockdowns, nor indeed as indeed is the case most of the world. And the other reality is that an imperfect lockdown is actually closer to a let it rip strategy than a focused protection strategy, which I believe is easier to implement.

Gov. DeSantis:

Dr. Atlas, you were on the coronavirus task force at the white house for a time. I think the two things you were very forceful about was we shouldn’t have locked downs and we should have opened schools. That was counter to the prevailing narrative, certainly in Washington. And I know that they tried to rough you up for speaking those views, but you were very clear on that. Do you stand by your position then? Do you think the experience has born you out?

Dr. Atlas:

Yes. I think it’s clear for people who care about the data that the lockdowns, as we had talked about many, many times, were extraordinarily harmful. There’s no question that 40% of people didn’t get chemotherapy, up to 78% of cancers didn’t get diagnosed. People forego medical care for emergencies, all because of fear. And we have a massive public health price to pay as we go forward. Then we look at the data and the data is really clear that the states in the US we have the comparison. We happen to have done the experiment because of Governor DeSantis here, and we can compare what happened.

Dr. Atlas:

And when we look at that, the actual results, the facts of having an open state, which was Florida versus these other states we see when you look at things like excess mortality rate, which is the number of deaths over what you would have expected that year and you take it during the pandemic, it turns out Florida beat 70% of the states. These other states did severe lockdown. So when you look at Florida compared to California, like to point out California did 50% worse than Florida because of its severe lockdowns. And there are many statistics like this. The lockdowns were harmful. They were the opposite of what should have been done. We said it from the beginning and there’s a massive price to pay. It’s not just that they failed to stop the infection. The lockdowns actually killed people, destroyed lives, destroyed families.

Dr. Atlas:

And in the end, vis-a-vis the schools, our country, more than any other country, frankly, was willing to sacrifice its children out of fear. And this is really one of the historic epic tragedies really of what happened during the pandemic management. It was advocated by many of my other task force members to do the lockdowns. They got what they wanted and it’s a failure.

Gov. DeSantis:

So sometimes people will say, because I think what Scott points out are obviously some of the negative impacts when you do lock downs. And some will say the cure can never be worse than the disease. But I think if you look at how this has progressed, the virus has progressed in lockdown states, what is it actually curing? Has it actually stopped the spread in any meaningful way? So would you say that, yeah, lockdowns are bad, but they are stopping the spread? It just seems to me that it just hasn’t even stop the spread in any place. So it’s not a cure at all. Yeah. Obviously it’s providing huge negative impacts, but there’s really not a lot of positive to balance it out when you compare the severe lockdown states to other states which weren’t locked down or other countries like Sweden, which had adopted a different approach.

Dr. Battacharya:

I mean, the international evidence and the American evidence is clear. The lockdowns have not stopped the spread of the disease in any measurable way. The disease spreads by aerosol, by droplets. It’s a respiratory disease. It’s very difficult to stop. The idea of the lockdown is incredibly, in some ways, beguiling. If you just stay apart far enough, like rats in cages, we won’t spread the disease. But humans are not like that. In fact, what’s happened instead is we’ve exposed working class people, we’ve exposed poor people to the disease at higher rates. The lockdowns have … I call it trickle down epidemiology. We created this sort of this illusion that we can control the disease spread when in fact we cannot and have failed to do so.

Gov. DeSantis:

Martin?

 Dr. Martin Kulldorff:

Yeah. Already in the beginning of 2020 in February, when we saw the outbreaks in Italy and Iran, it was very clear that this a virus that going to be spread worldwide as a pandemic. And Dr. Gupta is correct that lockdowns is just a form of let it rip, but at a little bit of a dragging it out more. And by dragging it out more, it actually makes it more difficult for all the people to protect themselves because they have to do it for a longer time. So we have the let it rip is not a good strategy. Lockdowns is let it rip at a slower pace. But the solution that we should have implemented from the very beginning is to utilize the fact that for COVID, while anybody can be infected, there’s more than 1000 fold difference in mortality risk between the oldest and the youngest.

 Dr. Martin Kulldorff:

So for old people have to be very careful because this is more dangerous than the annual influenza. But for children, this is less dangerous than the influenza. So we should have utilized that feature of COVID to protect the old with focus protection while letting a younger people live normal life to avoid all the collateral public health damage from lockdown, which are enormous. And I agree with Jay that this is the biggest public health mistake or the biggest public health fiasco in history, unfortunately.

Gov. DeSantis:

Dr. Gupta, do you agree that just, put aside all the damaging effects of lockdowns, just taking them on their own, did they prove to be an effective way to stop the spread or slow the spread of the disease ultimately?

Dr. Gupta:

Well, what’s interesting is if you take the data from a single region, I’m just reiterating what Scott just said, you can always fit a model which says lockdowns work. Look, cases went down. And you can fit a model which says, no, they didn’t work. It was herd immunity. That’s what caused cases to go down. And with some seasonality, you can fit the data from any one region by any one of these models.

Dr. Gupta:

Where we get the power to discriminate between them is when we can compare. And that is something that the Florida situation has allowed us to do. And looking at Florida in comparison to if you do a proper case control study with California, or looking at Sweden, comparing Sweden against the UK, it’s very hard to continue to believe that lockdowns work to the extent that people wanted them to work. Now, it’s not my area of expertise. So I think you’ve heard it from the experts that they don’t work, but all I think is that whether they work or not, and despite the fact that we actually don’t have … Mathematical models can’t tell us whether they work or not. The data can. And in either case, it’s focused protection that would be the strategy, whichever way the chips came down.

Gov. DeSantis:

Martin, can you mentioned the contact tracing. So I guess the lockdown model was locked down, but then when there’s an infection, you would just do contact tracing. You’d be able to basically slow or stop the spread. How do you evaluate the efficacy of contact tracing? And I know in public health there’s times where, like with a sexually transmitted disease or something like in Ebola or whatever where that would be something that could make a big impact. This is a respiratory virus, transmitted presumably by aerosols, by droplets. Many of the people who get infected don’t have severe symptoms. Has it worked ultimately?

 Dr. Martin Kulldorff:

No. But you’re right, there are certain infectious diseases for which contact tracing is a very, very important tool that epidemiologists and public health officials use to control a disease. But to think that it can be used for a pandemic is naive to the max. We don’t even know how it got in the United States to begin with, the first cases. We don’t know the first cases in Italy, the first cases in UK, et cetera. So when you even don’t know that and when there are many people are asymptomatic and so on, to think there’s a sort of widespread common in the community, then contact tracing does not work, but is actually worse than that because it’s counterproductive and it reduces the trust in public health, because we have a situation now that people who are contacted by the contact tracer, they don’t want to provide the information. They see as useless and they don’t want to tattletale on their friends and so on. So they refuse cooperation.

 Dr. Martin Kulldorff:

So that’s going to have dire consequences, let’s say five or 10 years from now. Maybe we have a different disease, something like Ebola, for example and where actually contact tracing is critically important. Then because of what happened now during the pandemic, people are going to cooperate less. So the contact tracing during this pandemic is actually damaging the long-term ability for public health to do its work for other infectious diseases.

Gov. DeSantis:

Do you agree? I know the task force was talking a lot about contact tracing initially. I think even on the task force, there was eventually a recognition that maybe this wasn’t as effective, but what are your thoughts on how the contact tracing has been?

Dr. Atlas:

Yeah, I mean, I think as I learned quite a bit from Martin and Jay on contact tracing, this was just the wrong time, the wrong type of disease to do that. We already had at the CDC early on was estimating that probably 10 fold higher number of people were infected than was reported. And once you have tens of millions of people with an illness, that’s not the time you start contact tracing. And I’m not an expert on contact tracing. The gentlemen on the panel are, but that was just a completely wrong strategy and unfortunately, the wrong model on how to deal with this. So there was a tremendous amount of not only misallocation of resources, but I think the problem became the fear, the fear in the public. It was sort of like the fear was another contagion I used to say because we had a dramatic impact of the need to get tested, the rush to get tested, this sort of obsession about testing where as testing was very valuable. Just the point of testing is to save lives, not to document every infection in low-risk people.

Gov. DeSantis:

Contact tracing, effective or no?

Dr. Battacharya:

I mean, I wrote a paper called On The Futility Of Contact Tracing. So you probably know my opinion about this. The problem is that even in the early days of the epidemic, I did a study in Santa Clara County in April of last year. And we found 50 times more infections than cases in April of last year. How do you do a contact tracing program with a disease like that, where you just don’t identify so many cases? It was already way too widespread, even in April for it to be effective. And certainly now, it’s just punitive.

Gov. DeSantis:

So schools. Now, I know there were places like Sweden who never had remote learning, at least for the I think K-8. Here in Florida, we’ve been in all year in person. Parents have the option. If they choose to do virtual, they’re allowed to do it, but everyone is offered in person. Other states like Georgia have also done a lot. But yet we have some states in this country where you have virtually no access to in-person education, California being one of them. I know Maryland and some of these other ones. So we’ve now been doing this for a year. Is there any basis to keep kids locked out of school? Jay?

Dr. Battacharya:

We should open every school in the United States immediately with no restrictions. What we’re doing to children is of robbing them of their birthright.

 Dr. Martin Kulldorff:

There’s absolutely no public health reasons to prevent children for go to school in person. It’s not dangerous for children to be in school and it’s not dangerous for teachers either. The only exception is that if you’re a teacher and you’re above 60, maybe you should be allowed to do online teaching until you have the vaccine. But other than that, there’s no reason to do that. We knew that already in the summer, because of what happened in Sweden during the spring during the height of the pandemic, the schools were open. Out of 1.8 million children ages one to 15, who were all in school or daycare, there exactly zero deaths among children. The teachers had lower risks than the average from other professions. I mean, if a child is sick, has a runny nose or cough or fever, that’s good for them to stay home. But in Sweden, there was no social distancing in the schools and there was no masks in the schools. Despite that, it was perfectly safe for both children and the teachers.

Gov. DeSantis:

Dr. Gupta? Kids in school?

Dr. Gupta:

To me, this is the most heartbreaking element of what’s happened. And there’s evidence that schools don’t, which has just been discussed, that they don’t really contribution that much transmission. Children are safe, which is important. Teachers are safe, et cetera, et cetera. But even if schools were a kind of [inaudible 00:18:51] for the dissemination of infection, I think we should have gone down the route of focused protection and still kept the schools open. I don’t see how, as human beings, how … We are morally responsible to keep schools open, to provide the children with that atmosphere, with the opportunities of education. Also for underprivileged children, it’s actually a lifeline.

Dr. Gupta:

So to withdraw those things from children is really unconscionable, given that we could have protected those who are vulnerable, even if the schools, I’d say, happened to be a place from which the virus was able to disseminate. So I cannot even begin to comprehend what kind of mindset would inflict what we’ve inflicted on the children. And even by letting them in there, to force them to wear masks and distance socially, all of that to me is in direct violation of our social contract.

Gov. DeSantis:

Scott, I know you came here with us over the summer and we obviously had embarked on opening schools. That was actually very controversial at the time, even though the data really wasn’t in dispute I don’t think, but I think it was just a political issue. And you were very clear, kids needed to be in school.

Dr. Atlas:

Absolutely. I mean, I couldn’t agree more with everything that’s been said. It is really unconscionable that there are any schools that are not in person. This data is not new. This is not something we’ve learned. This was data that we knew in the spring and the late spring. The data was in all over the world. It’s been validated of course since then. It’s been validated by studies at places like Duke in the United States, Brown University, but all over the world, all over Europe and including even here in Florida. And the reality is that the kids have extremely low risk from COVID-19. There are enormous harms from keeping in-person schools closed, and there’s nothing more important to the United States or any country than educating our children. It happens to be icing on the cake, as we say, that children are not significant spreaders to adults. But that’s really just icing on the cake.

Dr. Atlas:

Read more :

https://www.aier.org/article/great-barrington-declaration-scientists-with-gov-desantis-in-florida/amp/

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