During recent oral arguments on President Biden’s vaccine mandates, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor made a sensational claim.
“We have hospitals that are almost at full capacity with people severely ill on ventilators. We have over 100,000 children, which we’ve never had before, in serious condition, many on ventilators,” she said.
In fact, as later confirmed by CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky, that number was far closer to 3,500. Sotomayor had inflated the figure by almost 3000 percent. It is still unclear where she sourced her misinformation.
If one of the nine highest legal minds in America could be so wrong about such data, what hope does the public have?
As we know, Covid-19 can be a deadly disease. But the level of panic we’ve seen in some quarters since Wuhan put itself on the world map has been well out of touch with reality. At least some of the fear-porn can be blamed on the way our trusted sources have collated, interpreted and reported key data.
So it is with great relief that we have begun to see public health officials and media outlets moderate their discussion around hospitalisation numbers.
Actually, “moderate” might be too soft a term. It turns out that Covid hospitalisations have long been inflated — and not just by Sotomayor.
“A reasonable proportion of cases being classified as Covid hospitalisations are actually people with other reasons for admission. Heart attacks, births, falls, none of that stops just because there is Covid,” NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard admitted last week.
“They come into hospital, they have a swab taken and it confirms Covid. This shows us it’s out in the community, but we aren’t necessarily seeing that as the primary reason for all of the admissions,” he said.
Indeed, according to the Daily Mail, “data shows as many as 50 percent of ‘Covid patients’ in the state’s hospitals were actually admitted for other reasons”.
Until recently, it was mostly the “conspiracy theorists” among us suggesting this. Reported numbers were artificially high, they said, since cases “of” Covid were not being distinguished from cases “with” Covid, as they should be. Such claims were met variously with apathy and jeers.
Within days of Hazzard’s remarks, White House Chief Medical Advisor Dr Anthony Fauci went on record with a similar correction:
If you look at the children who are hospitalised, many of them are hospitalised with Covid as opposed to because of Covid. And what we mean by that, if a child goes into the hospital they automatically get tested for Covid and they get counted as a Covid hospitalised individual, when in fact they may go in for a broken leg or appendicitis.
In the days since, even left-wing media outlets have joined the chorus. CNN’s Jake Tapper called the conflated hospitalisation numbers “misleading,” arguing that, “If somebody’s in the hospital with a broken leg and they also have asymptomatic Covid, that should not be counted as ‘hospitalised with Covid’, clearly.”
A generous reading of the situation might be that the inflation of Covid hospitalisation numbers is only a recent phenomenon. But there is no reason to assume our various jurisdictions haven’t been afflicted by this data quandary since the beginning of the pandemic.
And if we’ve been wrong about the inflation of hospitalisation numbers, we must at least consider whether the same might have been true regarding Covid death tolls.
Surprisingly, during a recent appearance on Fox News, Rochelle Walensky was unable to confirm what percentage of America’s Covid deaths were directly caused by Covid.
“Do you know how many of the 836,000 deaths in the US linked to Covid are from Covid or how many are with Covid but they had other co-morbidities? Do you have that breakdown?” the host asked Walensky.
“We’re following that very carefully,” she answered, adding that “those data will be forthcoming”. If the answer was 100 percent, why didn’t Walensky simply say so?
This same question has hung over Australian data since 2020, when The Conversation made it clear that:
the COVID-19 death toll publicised daily on Australian state and territory government websites and reported to the press does not differentiate between the two. It includes all people who’ve died with SARS-CoV-2 … in their body.
Without accurate information on Covid-19 — whether for hospitalisations or deaths — how can our response be commensurate to the threat? To put this in other words, have we been subjected to two years of unnecessarily heightened panic?
While you ponder that question, excuse me as I fetch my tinfoil hat.