One Finite Planet

One Finite Planet

‘99 Percent’ of Virus Cases Are ‘Totally Harmless’?

Date Published:

Aside from the fact that society does not normally accept harming 1% of the population as an ‘acceptable risk’ (e.g. we ban toys that present a choking hazard even though 99% of children would not choke on them), which is the main reason people object to the statement, what is the actual basis for the claim? How many cases would be far from harmless without lockdowns and distancing measures? How harmless are the cases that do not kill?

  • As happens, when reducing cases to the simplest statistics, the claim overlooks all harm from the virus other than death
  • The mortality rate from Covid-19 can be kept below 1%, by the use of lockdowns and other measures to keep case numbers low. But without lockdowns, cases would be more severe resulting in more fatalities, and the medical system would be overloaded, resulting the nearly 20% of patients who require hospital care, then potentially facing death.

Summary: Harm levels are only at low levels because of steps taken to keep cases low. Any suggestions that steps taken to keep Covid-19 under control are disproportionate because having taken that steps, death rates have been kept low, is similar to advising someone with appendicitis that going to hospital is was an overreaction because almost no-one dies from appendicitis these days.

Harmful outcomes from Covid-19

Dying is not the only risk

Nietzsche’s original line “From life’s school of war: what does not kill me makes me stronger” has been referenced many times.

Nietzxche: Twilight of the Idols

However, this not mean that every experience that does not kill you is a positive experience. Victims of abuse, soldiers with PSD, and accident victims among others can suffer great harm, yet remain alive. Although only around 1% of those with access to medical treatment who are diagnosed with Covid-19 die, around 20% have severe symptoms and require medical treatment in order to survive.

Even the cases with ‘severe’ symptoms do not begin to tell the full story, as the symptoms we focus on are those specifically related to respiratory failure, even though Covid-19 is a neurological disease.

In severe cases, or cases involving the elderly and/or with patients with underlying conditions, respiratory failure from Covid-19 can result in loss of life within weeks. However the damage to other neurons has the potential to result in the premature loss of life from conditions such as Parkinson’s disease in future years.

Think of respiratory symptoms as the indicator of danger to those who risk death during the disease, and loss of smell as the indicator of permanent damage that may shorten the life span of the young.

Who will lose more years of their life? They elderly who die now but had less year left to live, or the young who may die early as a result of damage to their neurons while infected? It is too early to be certain, but it should not be assumed to be the elderly.

You cannot collect actual data of long term outcomes for survivors of Covid-19 until time passes, but it is already known that the impact of the virus on the human body is complex and affects a number of organs including:

  • kidney damage
  • heart damage
  • damage to the brain
    • thinking abnormalities
    • psychological problems
  • emerging consequences

Even people with mild disease in terms of symptoms, can have quite prolonged effects.

Dr Norman Swan

Long term health problems, even for those not requiring initial hospital care, is still a significant concern.

Examples of Delayed Effects

Many survivors of Covid-19 have long term health problems, even those in their 20s who are less likely to die from Covid-19 can have lifelong health problems. As I said earlier, it is too early to have been able to collect data, partially as we are still learning what to look for! I will add some examples of effects here.

This case isn’t the first to connect the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, to neurological problems indirectly caused by infection, nor is it the first to show this happening in people who only had mild-to-moderate initial symptoms. Many infections can trigger this type of overreaction by the immune system against the brain, which is called autoimmune encephalitis and is fortunately rare.

But according to the doctors, there’s never been a case of autoimmune encephalitis known to cause the exact set of strange symptoms seen here. That raises the possibility, they wrote, “that this may be a novel form of autoimmune encephalitis induced by infection with SARS-CoV-2.”

The frightening case is yet another reminder that we’ve just scratched the surface of understanding covid-19’s range of effects in people.

Covid-19 Sent a Healthy 40-Year-Old Man Into Life-Threatening Catatonia

Mortality Rate

No Fixed number: Zero to 100%

Contrary to many beliefs, Covid-19 itself does not have a mortality rate.

As has happened with even young and healthy health care workers, a sufficiently severe infection from an environment with many infected people can kill anyone, of any age, any level of health, regardless of available medical care.

Mortality rates are a result the virus in combination with a given environment. Change any of the key variables for environment, and the mortality rate will change.

The Known Key Variables: Infectious Dose, Medical Conditions, Treatment

The actual mortality rate for any given environment is the result of several factors that are rarely homogenous within that environment, nor do these factors remain constant as time progresses. This means caution should be used in extrapolating statistics are likely to be representative of what will happen in the future.

‘Infections Dose’: is the amount of the virus entering the body around the time of original infection. Medical workers are typically at a greater risk of high ‘infectious dose’, as they are in close contact with severely ill people carrying high loads of the virus. At the other end of spectrum, an infection from just on person who themselves have a less severe infection and may even be asymptomatic, is far less likely to be severe. It seems low level infections, as are more typical of environments where contacting people with the virus would be rare, appear to be extremely unlikely to be fatal to anyone without significant pre-existing medical conditions.

The more the environment comes to resemble a hospital ward with several people ill with the virus the greater the chances of a high ‘infectious dose’. Keeping case numbers low within the environment plays a significant role in the severity of cases.

Medical Conditions: One ‘medical condition’ seems to be age itself, but as people age, so does their likelihood of having acquired other medical conditions. Even in an environment where the most likely ‘infectious dose’ would result in few mortalities, for those with pre-existing medical conditions Covid-19 can be the last straw.

Treatment: Some people require hospital care, some require ventilators, and the treatment available while in hospital has improved as treatments are become proven and disproven.

US Cases.

At this date on 7th July 2020, there have been 3,041,035 confirmed cases in the USA with 132,981 deaths. While this at first suggests a rate of just over 4%, many of those cases are still ill, and calculating the deaths against the 1,458,047 ‘closed cases’ (those who recovered or died), gives an even worse 9% mortality rate.

However, not so fast!

Not all cases of covid-19 are confirmed cases. In fact according to the New York Times:

At least 2.8 million Americans have been infected, and public health officials have said the real number of infections may be 10 times higher.

New York Times

If 10 times more people have been infected, that would suggest the actual mortality rate would be around 1%. In fact, the WHO estimates the fatality rate as below 1%

While the World Health Organization has said the global fatality rate is likely less than 1%, the WHO also said about 20% of all people who are diagnosed with coronavirus are sick enough to need oxygen or hospital care.

From CNN

So all things considered, provided:

  • being sick enough to need oxygen or hospital care can be considered a ‘harmless’ outcome
  • what would happen without current and planned lockdowns can be ignored

Then it could be argued that at least if ‘coming out the other side’ is the only criteria for ‘harm’, the figures seem correct. But is dying the only harm, and more importantly, would these figures remain correct if there were no lockdowns?

What Would Happen Without Lockdowns?

If a threat has no precedent, the worst outcome can seem inconceivable.

Imagine someone declaring: over 99% percent of all airplanes land safely, so why do we pay pilots?

People can conceive a plane crashing, so the threat is real.

People understand that while their plane trip may be low risk, the real risk is still present and it is the steps to avoid that risk that make them safe.

People understand that take away the pilot, and there is a conceivable risk that is no longer being managed.

People have seen footage of planes crashing making the picture real.

But with Covid-19, the line can become “the medical system could handle all the cases, so why did we need a lockdown?”

There is no precedent of a country that ignored filling hospitals and failing to address the threat by introducing lockdowns and social distancing.

This means their is no precedent for Covid-19 without lockdowns and social distancing. The outcome of Covid-19 when hospitals are full is inconceivable as people have never experienced what happens in society when there is a pandemic and no available medical treatment. The only precedent is when medical treatment is available, so they assume this precedent still applies.

Yet, that threat of hospitals being overrun is real. The very reason for lockdowns is to enable the 20% of people who might die without treatment to get treatment.

With an available and functioning medical system, almost all 20% of people infected by Covid-19 who then need oxygen or hospitalisation because of the virus survive. But if the hospitals are already full, almost all of those people die. Then the outcome becomes nearly 1 in 5 people die. That is why we have lockdowns.

If you need oxygen and all medical facilities are busy, you die.

To declare that lockdowns seem unnecessary since the outcome in terms of deaths when there are lockdowns ensuring there are hospital beds seem tolerable, is just like declaring the cost of the pilot and air traffic control etc all just makes flights more expensive as planes almost never crash.

Table of Contents


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