Proof that coronapanic is specific to COVID-19?

To the Swedish MD/PhDs, e.g., Johan Giesecke and Anders Tegnell, most of the world’s reaction to coronavirus is irrational panic. To the Karens with whom I am friends on Facebook, hiding in a bunker while waiting for the next batch of governors’ orders is an entirely rational, even “scientific”, response to a disease that has killed a significant number of people.

I wonder if we can look at how Americans respond to influenza as a way to determine how much of the COVID-19 shutdown is rationally motivated.

Influenza kills 80,000 Americans, mostly elderly, in a typical “bad” year and up to 225,000 (population-adjusted) in an exceptional year, such as 1957-58. Influenza infection can also leave victims with serious long-term health effects, such as impaired heart function. From the CDC:

Sinus and ear infections are examples of moderate complications from flu, while pneumonia is a serious flu complication that can result from either influenza virus infection alone or from co-infection of flu virus and bacteria. Other possible serious complications triggered by flu can include inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis) or muscle (myositis, rhabdomyolysis) tissues, and multi-organ failure (for example, respiratory and kidney failure). Flu virus infection of the respiratory tract can trigger an extreme inflammatory response in the body and can lead to sepsis, the body’s life-threatening response to infection. Flu also can make chronic medical problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have flu, and people with chronic heart disease may experience a worsening of this condition triggered by flu.

So let’s says that COVID-19 is 5X as bad, for both lethality and long-term effects on survivors, as a bad flu.

What happens when the flu season arrives in the U.S.? Do we shut down schools in communities where flu is “spiking”? Do young healthy adults don masks, saying that though they aren’t at risk they want to protect the elderly? Do people work from home whenever they’re able to? Do we establish any limits on retail or restaurant capacity, ban indoor dining, or limit hours?

In my experience, the answer to all of the above is “No.” From what I have seen, Americans tape up “It’s flu season; wash your hands” signs in a few places and continue with life as usual.

A rational and consistent group of humans, therefore, would respond to COVID-19 with something like 5X the actions taken during flu season. We would see 5X as many “wash your hands” signs. Children who lost 3 minutes of schooling during flu season (time spent washing hands instead of studying) would lose 15 minutes of schooling during COVID-19. Or maybe two windows would be opened in every classroom and mixing of students in the cafeteria would be curtailed in favor of lunch at desks. Instead, the reaction is 120X. Children lose 360 minutes of schooling (school entirely shut down) per day rather than 3 minutes. Children lose their social life, playgrounds, etc.

The same analysis could be done for adults. If they’re hiding in their bunkers 5 days per week currently, that would be consistent with their flu season response if they had previously hid 1 day per week during flu season.

Our universities are always in the vanguard

From the above article, the 20th century’s best ideas are alive and well:

Typical penalties include writing letters of apology, performing community service projects, meeting with advisers, and completing educational research papers about public health—not to mention the shame most feel after having been shown to have placed their fellow students at risk.

Readers: Does the above way of looking at coronapanic make sense?


41 thoughts on “Proof that coronapanic is specific to COVID-19?

  1. Last time I checked there is a vaccine every year that mitigates the effect of the flu, so that it does not (ideally) overwhelms hospitals. The flu also normally has a lower incidence of death and complications. If it were not for the fact hospitals are, or risk being, overwhelmed, this whole coronaplague thing would look really overblown, even with the higher mortality risks. But since it can seriously affect the healthcare system I fail to see how we could avoid some restrictions (which, incidentally Sweden had and has to the maximum of the legal power of the government to impose, plus many advisories to further restrict movement/contact on a voluntary basis, which has been broadly embraced by the citizenship).

    • I don’t know about this “hospital overwhelming situation”. Take for example what’s going on here in California. Last year we were told we had to shut down for 2 weeks to “flatten the curve” so hospital beds were not overwhelmed. We shut everything down then built a bunch of temporary hospitals which were not used. After encouraging race riots and electing Kamala the virus has gotten just as bad as it had before. Now we hear about hospitals being “over run” but all of the temporary hospitals, which were never used are gone. The hospital ship is gone too! If they were worried about increasing hospital capacity why wasn’t it done? They had 9 months to do this but across the country all I see is hospital capacity reduced.

  2. Back to the old “it’s just like the flu” conversation: Current COVID related deaths in NC – 5,800… Flu related deaths for the past 5 years – about 1,000.

    • I said let’s guess at a badness ratio of 5X and you come back with a statistic of 5.8X. Is NC taking more or less than 5.8X the actions it takes in response to flu season?

    • Walking through the village last night… restaurants full of diners with supposed seating limits but in many cases it would be difficult to see how they put more seats in. Retail stores with signs stating 10 people allowed in the store having 30+ by my count. So – nope, pretty much Sweden with warmer weather down here!

  3. Looking at the deaths from COVID compared to flu does make some sense. The key difference is the percentage death rate of the infected vs the total number of deaths. The flu has about a 0.1% death rate of the infected and COVID around 3% to 4%. Just as long as you are willing to accept the increased in death rate there is no need to shutdown or have any restrictions. COVID is natures way of clearing out the weak, old and sick from the population, just like the seasonal flu, it is just more effective.

    Here is a summary from John Hopkins

    A interesting comparison would be Australia’s response to the US. How can a bunch of kangaroo and freedom loving Aussies do better than the US and Canada?

    Looking at the data, it would suggest that you have to implement at least a 2 month shutdown and bring the cases to almost zero to really control the virus. Half baked measures like in California and elsewhere may not even significantly reduce the number of dead. You might as well follow Sweden and just deal with the dead bodies.


    “In comparison, the worldwide death toll attributable to SARS CoV-2 was about 865,000 by the end of August 2020. Given the global population of about 7.8 billion, this translates to an interim pandemic mortality of about 11 deaths per 100,000 people. Even if the total number of deaths were to triple, the mortality rate would be comparable to that of the 1968 pandemic, and it would be about two-thirds of the 1957 rate.”
    – Vaclav Smil

  5. We could have forecast a lot of this in March of 2020. Back then, the MIT Technology Review published their article about how we were never going back to normal, and included a graph that showed how we would wind up having a sequence of shutdowns every time the ICU occupancy rate spiked. They made a nice graph out of it, with the strict social distancing (and we would have to say lockdowns and business closures) that looked like the duty cycle of an oxygen sensor or something. They forecast that would go on for the next 18 months, back in March. So by August of this year maybe we’ll be in the clear.

    “Under this model, the researchers conclude, social distancing and school closures would need to be in force some two-thirds of the time—roughly two months on and one month off—until a vaccine is available, which will take at least 18 months (if it works at all). They note that the results are “qualitatively similar for the US.”

    I think the real question is: “What is America going to look like in August?”

    • One thing the media never mentions is that intensive care hospital suites/beds are expensive and therefore are designed to operate near or at maximum capacity. I read in the paper recently that NYC was building overflow ER beds in convention centers, etc in anticipation of overflow patients caused by the second ‘wave’. Did I hear an echo? Didn’t they do this once before. Javits was outfitted as overflow space at the beginning of the pandemic and saw minimal business.

  6. > Influenza kills 80,000 Americans … in a typical “bad” year

    No, not even close. In 2001 only 257 death certificates listed the flu:

    During the 2003 flu season “manufacturers were telling us that they weren’t receiving a lot of orders for vaccine,” Dr. Glen Nowak, associate director for communications at CDC’s National Immunization Program, told National Public Radio. “It really did look like we needed to do something to encourage people to get a flu shot.” So the CDC invented the loose term “influenza-related” (not “influenza-caused”) which estimated (not actually counted) ANY deaths where the flu MAY have been a factor.


    • Maybe the numbers for flu deaths are inflated, but so are COVID-19 deaths. Of the official COVID-19 death count, only 6% are really listed as caused by COVID-19. The others have multiple other comorbidities.

    • Whatever the figures are for flu, you have to factor in that the most vulnerable part of the population will mostly have been vaccinated, so that the natural IFR (to be compared with CV19 this year) is only apparent when a new strain appears that the previous year’s vaccine doesn’t protect against: probably worth an order of magnitude.

      And +1 for @Brian’s IEEE Spectrum reference which confirms a back-of-the-spreadsheet analysis I undertook at about the same time regarding the 1968 flu outbreak.

  7. Your analysis presupposes that a college-educated woman is smarter than a parody of medieval ignorance:

    Your analysis also presupposes that disease mitigation is the only motivation for lockdowns. There are state governors with emmies to win, and founders of Amazon with divorce-settlement losses to recoup. There are plenty of regular people who prefer to work from home and plenty of shut-ins who like social distancing.

    The effects of mass media in sculpting public opinion cannot be ignored. If mass media can make the chemical castration of children publicly palatable, hyping up a cold virus is not that hard.
    Transgenderism and coronapanic are related mass mental-illnesses.

  8. @LinePilot… Before you toss the numbers around you really need to learn what those numbers mean.

    The number of flu deaths and COVID deaths cannot be compared for a very simple reason: they mean completely different things: a “flu death” is death which is caused primarily by flu, as confirmed by clinical signs. A “COVID death” is a death from pretty much any cause (usually from serious terminal stage comirbidities) with a notoriously unreliable test based on junk science* and faked peer review produces positive reading.

    Olny 6% of COVID deaths didn’t involve comorbidities (official CDC number, by the way, and most involve two and more). To anyone who understands basics of statistics it means that the real mortality from COVID isn’t significantly different than from flu. The complications are also similar.

    A notable lack of appreciable excess mortality from all causes confirms this point: most “COVID deaths” aren’t. It’s such a dread disease that vast majority of people need a test to tell if they are ill, LOL. And it’s so deadly that they got to blatantly cook the books to even produce a blip above the backround noise.

    * see

    • Junk science from eurosurveillance is not the same as common US PCR test – which is based on CDC assay.

    • Right – pretty sure the people who die from the flu had just the flu and no other symptoms that lean to death. And double right – no excess deaths in the US at all compared to what we would expect for the year.

      What I am looking for is that all those people who cherry-pick science will leave the COVID vaccine for others. Probably just junk science anyway.

    • I’m extremely happy to leave the vaccine for others, since I’m in a cohort with a 99.9%+ survival rate. Even though I believe the vaccine risk to be relatively low, and have voluntarily consumed many other vaccines, we have almost zero data today (even less than we do about covid outcomes!). It makes no sense for me to take an unknown risk to avoid a 0.1% risk.

      The only problem with leaving it for others is that I live in the land of freedom down under, in which I’ll be banned from flying on the national airline, and subjected to an extrajudicial two-week solitary confinement in police custody every time I reenter the country. So I can “choose” to inject largely-untested medicine, or I can “choose” to forfeit the right to come and go. Vive la liberté!

      Thus I’m busy scouting for a nurse who’s willing to put the vaccine down the sink, but sign my “health passport” anyway — which is of course lose/lose. I have to pay for a vaccine I don’t want, need, or benefit from, and someone who actually wants the vaccine won’t get it.

    • philg,

      Sweden does not have excess deaths this year. The United States had about 300,000 excess deaths by October 2020. If those excess deaths are not attributable to Covid, then what made all those extra people die? It is not a question of how many people would have died if there was no Covid. The question is if Covid is not the cause in the increase in deaths this year in the US, what is?

    • 420bday: As noted above, determining “excess deaths” is not a scientific process. I can scientifically conclude that COVID-19 actually saved American lives by postulating that 10 million Americans would have died in 2020. I can scientifically conclude that COVID-19 killed 3 million Americans by postulating that 0 Americans would have died in 2020, absent COVID-19. I can come to any conclusion that I desire simply by changing my estimate of baseline deaths. As we see from the Swedish data, there is quite a bit of variability from year to year, even in a population of more than 10 million.

      The problem is compounded in the U.S. by the fact that it takes us years to figure out who died and when (great news if you want to collect an extra 10 years of Social Security on behalf of a dead relative!). The CDC’s purportedly accurate tally of 2018 deaths was published in January 2020:

      (Sweden is different because they have a national ID card and a big central computer with medical records. They don’t accept the miraculous benefits of hosting millions of undocumented folks…)

    • philg,
      Whatever the cause of death, it looks like we will have about ten percent more deaths this year in the US than last year. US death rates vary about one percent year-to-year, so this increased mortality is very significant. Wild hypotheticals on the data’s validity or predictive value do not answer the question usefully — if it wasn’t the Covid that killed all these people, what did?

      It is just as perverse to ignore these deaths as it is to blow them out of proportion when discussing coronapanic.

    • 420bday: I won’t disagree with you that a 10 percent increase in total U.S. deaths would be significant, especially if we set up the window correctly. Our shutdowns have dragged out the plague to last about a year. The virus arrived in the U.S. in December 2019, we’re now told? But widespread illness did not arrive to March 2020. To see if there were truly a lot of Americans whose missed out on more than a year of life, we’d have to look at deaths from March 2020 through March 2022 and compare to, say, March 2017 through March 2019 then adjust for population growth (almost all due to immigration!). If 2022 is like 2018, we won’t have accurate data regarding 2022 deaths until January 2024.

    • People talk about “excess deaths”, and almost always speak as though obviously those must be caused by covid, because covid is the new hotness being used to terrorise everyone.

      Several of the commenters have already pointed out that many of those covid deaths may not even be “excess”. One can certainly debate where the line for an “excess death” begins — if someone was going to die 24 hours later anyway, is that an excess death? 10 days later? 6 months later? — but these all involve a counterfactual that we cannot test.

      Likewise, although annual population-adjusted US mortality is a noisy number — and as Phil rightly notes, there’s no way to know how many would’ve died in a non-covid version of 2020 — let’s assume for the sake of argument that there are indeed considerable “excess deaths” this year.

      But we also need to consider “excess deaths caused by covid” vs “excess deaths caused by the reaction to covid”. A rigorous analysis is not simple, though some have made some simple first steps (see e.g. and

      To approach the question from the opposite direction, it’s not difficult to come up with many reasons why a significant number of excess deaths could’ve been caused by policy reactions rather than covid itself, especially the deferment of non-covid medical care. Even the NYT has begun to acknowledge this:

      Some people amusingly conclude from 2020’s low STD numbers that transmission has collapsed, instead of the more-obvious conclusion that it’s in fact going unchecked because testing has collapsed.

      We put millions of people out of work, with little hope for the foreseeable future. In many parts of the country, we subjected people to virtual house arrest, and tell them they can’t see friends or family. Every newspaper, TV station, and politician says 24/7 to be terrified that covid kills indiscriminately and is coming for them. Predictably, suicide has increased.

      Moreover, prior to 2020, it would’ve been a tautology that higher poverty = excess deaths. So if we’ve driven tens of millions of people closer or deeper into poverty, we would certainly expect that to result in excess deaths due to poverty-related factors.

      Last but not least, even the figures recorded as “covid deaths” must be viewed with some skepticism. Anecdotes are by no means conclusive evidence, but we should have a healthy skepticism given the number of “patient presents to emergency with injuries sustained in a car wreck, tests positive for asymptomatic covid, is recorded as a covid death” stories that one hears.

      Here is but one example of an excess death that was indisputably caused by covid policy: So if anything we shouldn’t be arguing about “if” but rather “how many”.

      TL;DR: assuming that all excess deaths are obviously caused by covid is to assume facts not in evidence.

    • phik: That’s a better point than the one I made. My cardiologist friends report that their patients are dying due to treatment deferred or withheld. Then there are all of the deaths from increased consumption of alcohol and opioids. All of the deaths from unemployment, social isolation, and despair. tries to calculate some of these. So even once we get the final numbers on March 2020-March 2022 it won’t be quite as simple as I suggested.

      Maybe Sweden’s paucity of “excess deaths” is due to the fact that they don’t have that many shutdown-related deaths.

  9. After a hundred(s?) of years dealing withe the flu, presumably we understand it. Since no one knew anything about COVID-19 prior to a year ago, who’s to judge what was and wasn’t an overreaction? Proud, ignorant contrarians? Also, we have no idea what the long term effects are, since the person with the longest history is at around a year now.

    • We knew how to deal with Covid-19. It is a cold you deal with it same as we have dealt with colds for thousands of years. If you have a disease of civilization then a cold kills you, but that is the price of living fat.

  10. What you say makes sense Phil.

    I suspect we will see a big push to normalize lockdowns and mask wearing during every flu season from here on out.

    • LS: If I were a governor, seeing how meek and desperate-for-safety Americans are, I would issue new orders weekly indefinitely. Restrictions on alcohol, private driving (especially for trips that I would deem non-essential), sexual activity (spreads HIV), voting (too dangerous to have people congregate at the polls, so I will just stay in office!), etc. Orders would go out at 2X the rate during flu season!

Comments are closed.