OffGuardian Errors on Coronavirus? FRN responds to reader’s objection


The below features comment from reader Vijay Vallamudi in quote boxes, with FRN’s brief responses to his points raised. His objections to OffGuardian’s coverage are well-intentioned, we’ve vetted his interactions on Disqus and Medium, and he seems genuine. Our responses to his points are below each point.

The article in question appeared first on OffGuardian and was reproduced on FRN days later. 

While we aren’t experts on this subject of virology, pandemics, or public responses to these, we’ve accurately covered any number of ongoing wars, crises, and world events and there has never been an exception where the military-media-intelligence nexus wasn’t involved. There has rarely been a case where we’ve had to retract a story entirely, aside from updating facts, figures, locations and other ‘fog of war’ elements that come as a part of war coverage. 

As we’ve been featured in US Senate Senate Intelligence Committee reports on the subject of propaganda and democratic processes, have been targeted and smeared directly by Atlantic Council projects, and have nevertheless survived to tell the world about the situations in Ukraine, Syria, Venezuela and beyond, and members of our editorial team have often been featured on foreign televised media to give expert assessment of these world events, we believe we are at least in the position to speak to the media-intelligence aspects of this phenomenon, which several of the experts in the referenced article above have described as ‘hysteria’. 

We encourage a robust conversation about this pandemic, its consequences on public health, civil liberties, economic justice, transparency, and fundamental challenges it poses to whatever democratic institutions may still exist. – J. Flores


Vijay Vallamudi writes:

This is why both the media and alternative media like OffGuardian are not completely right.

There’s an unfortunate tendency to focus on immediate mortality numbers and whether it is 1% or 0.1% or 0.01% without asking:

Is this virus, unless contained in some way, going to overwhelm hospitals which will then naturally lead to a worse outcome for all healthcare?

Currently both the mainstream media and the alternative media who questions the mainstream are *both* shrilly focused mostly on death rates, not on net hospitalization rates.

What does *net* hospitalization rates mean? It means the numbers coming into hospitals vs numbers leaving per unit of time.

Imagine a bathtub where water is gushing in at a high speed, but there’s also a drain that is emptying it out at a high speed. The question of whether the water in the bathtub will rise is not one of how fast the water is gushing in, but the NET flow in.

If the NET hospital flow is positive for an extended period of time, hospitals will get overloaded and patients who could otherwise be saved – for the sake of argument say it was 100% who could be saved – would die.

FRN Responds: These comments appear not to really contemplate the very statements of the 12 experts from which these objections arise. The hospitalization rates are indeed addressed, and otherwise the entire dynamic can be inferred.

For example, Dr Sucharit Bhakdi  explains that “We are afraid that 1 million infections with the new virus will lead to 30 deaths per day over the next 100 days. But we do not realise that 20, 30, 40 or 100 patients positive for normal coronaviruses are already dying every day.

The thought experiment like that about numbers who could be saved in Vallamudi’s objection “for the sake of argument say it was 100% who could be saved – would die” is a good starting point to dig in.

It seems that not for the sake of argument, but in actual fact, some 95%-98% of people treated are ‘saved’, but details of that treatment versus the real severity of their situation is a detail to be yet addressed. We know from the position of policy so far, the hospitals may find that someone is positive, and may anyhow release them on their own recognizance if  their symptoms subside without available antivirals or mechanical ventilation.

It seems from putting together all available numbers, and assessing the statements from the 12 experts, that a number over 90% would ‘save themselves’ without hospitalization.

We just have no idea on the real number of people carrying coronavirus antibodies who might otherwise test positive on *a* coronavirus antibody test, and there is indication that many tests being performed were not specific to *this* SARS-2019 strain. This is flu season, and coronaviruses and SARS have been around for a good while, so a person with *a* flu may have a fever and these other rather non-specific symptoms, and be scared into hospitalization by a media campaign that seems to  indicate that this will kill people without hospitalization and access to medical care.

So no, 100%, or 95% that can be saved, would not remotely by the figure of those that would necessarily die without hospitalization. Besides the inherent logical fallacy there, in addition there are just too  many reports, backed by the data and logical inference, that people below the high risk age groups/pre-existing condition groups (heart disease, etc.) recovered at home already – going back even to December perhaps even November in Europe.

What about this thought experiment – would hospitals be overrun with people experiencing common flu symptoms if there was not a 24 hour media campaign reinforced by violence-enforced curfews? It would appear that the sorts of flus that people would stay home over for a few days or a week, are now causing people to queue up for hospitalization.

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In short, it’s the media treatment of this pandemic, a pandemic without mortality rates higher than normal flus of the season, that is causing the rush on hospitals – not the severity of symptoms in and of themselves.

Hospitals in Wuhan (but not in the rest of China), Qom, Teheran, Lombardy, Madrid, New York are in that situation where hospitals are overloaded like they never were before even during surges in annual flu epidemics.

This is not fiction or conspiracy. It is the reason why Wuhan had to build emergency hospitals; why tens of thousands of medics from the rest of China poured in to help. It is the reason why Italy turned to Russia for help. Why extra spaces are being requisitioned in New York at this scale to try and handle the overflow.

A reason for the overflow is that once you require hospitalization for COVID-19, the average length of stay is in weeks (2+), not days (as say in flus). So even when there are surges in flus, you can discharge them quicker – so NET rates don’t go up as fast.

This means that EVEN IF natural mortality rates – the % of people who would die when there is access to healthcare – was 0%, the effective rate – % who would die when access to healthcare is compromised because the NET hospitalizations overwhelms the system leaving large numbers untreated, would go up.

For example the mortality rate if you get acute appendicitis is near 0%. But it would be closer to 100% if you didn’t have hospital care.

Or for situations, alternative news outlets are more familiar with: the impact of US sanctions in healthcare of target countries causing mortality rates to go up.

So the question should be asked: if COVID-19 going to swamp my healthcare? How much and for how long? And how can we mitigate it?

FRN Responds: Again, response and seriousness are not intrinsically correlated. It is certainly no fiction that people are pouring into hospitals because they have symptoms of *a* flu, but there the overall numbers of people with seasonal flus over past years like 2019 is not greater this 2020 year. In fact, as FRN has covered, it is lower in Russia, as OffGuardian has covered, it is lower in Europe.

Likewise, it is no fiction that governments have closed borders, have shut-down the economy (we suspect it was going to be shut-down at any rate), and are enforcing curfews. And like the public hysteria – these are not fictions. These are not imaginary, and yet they are social constructs.  They have been reified. There is a difference.

“A reason for the overflow is that once you require hospitalization for COVID-19, the average length of stay is in weeks (2+), not days (as say in flus)”

Its easy to confuse changes to standard treatment procedures on the one hand, to what in fact would have otherwise been proscribed or necessary on a case-by-case basis outside of the context and institutional hue and cry over this virus itself, on the other. ‘Require’ is the operative word – whether it is medically required or institutionally required are very big differences, and so far it appears that while there are absolutely cases where this was medically required, institutional requirements appear to day to be the reason for the stay  length.

Also, if we follow upon the logic necessarily deduced from the rest of the universe of factors, such a prolonged stay appears to be related also to a policy of creating the appearance of a shortage of hospitals. Those familiar with the way HIV was dealt with in Africa, and how the prevalence of antibodies was conflated as being a co-morbidity factor with a whole array of probablistically unrelated fatal illnesses, would understand this point instantly.

The same way you use the numbers and terms can and should be turned on its head, that Covid-19 is not ‘just’ a flu and that the ‘flu’ is not as serious as Covid-19. All flus are not serious flus, but yet serious flus also require prolonged hospital stays. More Covid-19 positive cases are being treated as serious flus separately from documented symptoms, as a matter of policy aside from actual medical need.

“This means that EVEN IF natural mortality rates – the % of people who would die when there is access to healthcare – was 0%, the effective rate – % who would die when access to healthcare is compromised because the NET hospitalizations overwhelms the system leaving large numbers untreated, would go up.”

It seems you’ve made the best argument against a public hysteria, so that people with very lethal flu symptoms regardless of the type or strain of flu virus or otherwise, would be screened for treatment instead of waiting behind others with standard immune responses like fever, to a flu, even if to this specific virus, when resting up at home would do the trick.

And what about all those who still require hospitalization for heart-attacks, broken arms, emergency surgeries related to cancer, heart disease, and so on? The entire system is strained a result of – by the numbers and data we now have – not the virus itself, but the way that the authorities have fueled a ‘run on the hospitals’.

If the purpose of this, what Mike Pompeo called a ‘live exercise’, is to promote the view that we need more hospitals and better on-hand equipment for some future event where there is a more lethal plague, then fine. It is well known that neoliberal austerity has destroyed public health institutions in Europe, and has prohibited them being developed in the US in the first place. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be where the public discourse is going – instead – towards censorship, and further police state measures.

When looking at the reasons for something, we try and look at the actual outcomes.

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