The following op-ed was written by Mike Sennello in response to an article published by Hearst Media on July 30th. This op-ed was submitted to the publication on August 1st, though it is expected to be ignored.
The July 30th, 2021 edition of The Greater New Milford Spectrum (New Milford, CT) ran an editorial released by the Hearst Connecticut Media Editorial Board entitled “Mask-wearing mandates in school should remain” (sic). The piece could most charitably be called a wholly ascientific, entirely partisan, rag, and one which does nothing more for vaccine hesitancy than provide a reason not to get one. My response to this political nonsense will be the actual science, the actual data, and an open invitation for you to draw your own conclusions.
According to findings published in the American Journal of Physiology-Lung, Cellular, and Molecular Physiology, children produce much less of the protein ACE2, which seems to be used by the SARS-Cov-2 virus to infect cells. This is something our own Dr. Jeremy Levin has alluded to when it comes to young children and is part of ongoing speculation in the scientific community as to why children seem to be less encumbered by the disease, and as to why they tend to not catch and spread the disease at nearly the rate that adults do. The massive uptick in production of this protein during puberty would add to speculation as to why children of pre-pubescent age don’t catch the disease, transmit the disease, or are affected by the disease at nearly the rate of even young adults, and the onset of puberty is something, again, our own Dr. Jeremy Levin has speculated as being part of the link between these factors.
The predictable result is that, in the last 18 months (as of 8/2/2021), a total of 340 children under the age of 18 have died in the United States, less than half the number who died of pneumonia, and only 153 more than died of the common flu. Ignoring that the overwhelming majority of these deaths happened prior to the release of vaccines (and that nearly a third were over the age of 14, an age which has already been approved to get vaccinated), that works out, in a linear regression, to 227 deaths per year, and accounts for 0.056% of all COVID deaths over that 18 months. It should also be noted that 124 of those deaths are from ages 0-5, and very, very few children in CT public schools this year will fall into that age category. For the sake of argument, we’ll ignore this consideration, but it should obviously be noted when talking about policy related to school-aged children.
According to the US Census Bureau, preliminary data from the 2020 US Census indicates an overall population of 331,449,281 in the United States, and estimates from 2019 indicate that children under the age of 18 account for 22.3% of the population or roughly 73.9 million people. This means that the previously-mentioned projection of 227 deaths per year (which is declining hyperbolically) would yield an annualized risk factor of 0.00000307, or a 0.000307% risk of death due to COVID, or .307 per 100,000, which is the metric usually used in comparing risks of death by various means. It also equates to 1 in roughly 325,000, or roughly the odds of getting a $50,000 winner in the Powerball by purchasing just three tickets on the same draw, and roughly equivalent to the odds of winning the $20,000 prize in the Win-For-Life lottery.
For comparison, .307 deaths per 100,000 is roughly 1/10th the number of people who die each year in the US from falling down the stairs. That means you are 10 times as likely to die from falling down the stairs as your kid is of dying from COVID, again, all according to data originating from the CDC.
Here are some other ways you can die, and their risk factor in Connecticut compared to COVID in children (.307 deaths per 100,000):
You are roughly 28 times more likely to die from “Falls” than your kid is of dying from COVID;
Twice as likely to die from drowning;
Ten times as likely to die from homicide;
More than 100 times as likely to die from “poisoning”;
And roughly five times as likely to die from choking, and almost all of those deaths are choking on food.
Let’s dig further into the data on the matter.
Connecticut is one of the most-vaccinated states in the US, with over 70% of the entire population having received at least one dose, 63% being fully vaccinated, and with over 94% of all adults 65 and older fully vaccinated (100% having received at least one dose), and having certainly crossed the 80% threshold for one dose for all adults earlier in July. It should go without saying that these vaccines also appear to be accurately characterized as “miracles” given their effectiveness both in the nominal and relative senses. It should also go without saying that immunity is probably meaningfully more common than just the vaccination percentage, as the extreme transmissibility of the disease likely means enough people have had the disease to make it worth considering immunity due to exposure as being seriously under-represented in this analysis.
This means it should be unsurprising that adverse outcomes have absolutely plummeted in Connecticut in the past few months. In the entire month of July, there were a total of 14 COVID Deaths in Connecticut, and the 7-day running average of daily deaths is a whopping 1, and has been for the past 6 weeks. It is true that new variants have arisen, but, despite their higher transmissibility in some cases, they both appear to be less lethal, and the existing vaccines all have remarkable effectiveness against them, as our own Dr. Jeremy Levin has intimated at the past few New Milford Town Council meetings. The July total of 14 is down from the June total of 25, and down from a peak in April of last year of 121. If a two-month average of 20 is used to forecast a projection of COVID deaths on an annualized basis (linear regression), that works out to 240 deaths per year in a state with a population of 3,605,944, again, according to the 2020 Census. Ignoring that this number is trending continuously downward, that works out to an annualized risk factor of 0.00000566, or 0.00566%, or 5.66 per 100,000.
Recalling that, to date, COVID deaths for children under 18 have accounted for 0.056% of all COVID deaths, that 240 deaths-per-year projection for CT would project 0.13 deaths for the entire state for children under 18, a number which will likely go down as vaccine- and natural-immunity build-up improves over time.
For the record, the data here in New Milford relating to all of the aforementioned metrics, according to our own Dr. Jeremy Levin and according to New Milford Health Department Director Lisa Morrissey is better than state averages.
According to 2019 US Census Bureau estimates, 20.4% of CT’s population is under 18, which equates to roughly 736,000 people. A generous projection of 0.13 deaths per year out of 736,000 people equates to a risk factor of 0.000000177, or 0.0000177%, or 0.0177 out of 100,000. Remember the comparable risk-of-death analyses discussed earlier, which suggest you are almost 500 times as likely to die from “falling” than your kid is of dying from COVID-19 in Connecticut based on recent COVID death statistics. To further put this risk in terms we can understand, a risk factor of 0.000000177 (and, yes, I do have to count the zeros), is a risk of 1 in roughly 5.65 million, which is only half the odds of winning the million-dollar-prize in the Powerball. To put it in even easier to understand terms – and this is according to the CDC – the odds of getting struck by lightning in any given year are ten times those 1 in 5.65 million odds. We are officially talking about comparing something to the risk of getting struck by lightning, and having the latter be MUCH more likely.
It’s true that these figures might be very different for the adults these children will be around. I live in New Milford, where I can just about guarantee – though it will always be speculation – that all or very nearly all of our teachers and administrators have been fully vaccinated, and any adult who has chosen/will continue to choose not to get the vaccine has made that choice, has performed their own risk calculation, knows the risks, has had the opportunity to get the vaccine themselves, and accepts the risk not getting the vaccine presents to themselves. And I say that in a town where – according to our own health director – double-dose vaccination of those over 65 has now statistically exceeded 100%, and our adult population has certainly eclipsed the 70% “herd immunity” threshold both commonly bandied about in common parlance and throughout the whole of the scientific world, but which has also been repeatedly referred to by our own Dr. Jeremy Levin during his presentations to the New Milford Town Council. I was the one who brought up this concern myself in very public settings back in March of last year; I’m aware of this concern, and, apparently, so are the overwhelming majority of adults in New Milford and throughout Connecticut.
But why the talk about death? Why not look at other factors? The answer is very straight-forward, and, for me, something I’m willing to explicitly state: death is a binary, and other outcomes tend to scale with death. What is meant by a “broken bone” might be different depending on the bone which is broken, where it is broken, how it is broken, etc. Death is death, and you are either alive or dead, and there’s no confusion as to what “death” means.
Additionally, as death is ostensibly the “worst” outcome, it can be used as a goalpost; no outcome needs to be considered as “worse” than death for these statistical purposes. That also means that whatever other outcomes might fit into the paradigm between “nothing” and “death” will tend to “move” with death: if some sort of organ failure (even if it results in death) accounts for 10% more outcomes than death, then that will be, very generally, true for all risks of death given the same viral input.
Why, then, did the Hearst editorial only mention cases? Do cases tell you anything about the outcomes? They do not. It’s become common knowledge at this point that virtually everyone who goes to college will at some time catch HPV, even if they eventually get over it and never show any symptoms, and thus never test positive. So why hasn’t Hearst called for the utter and complete abolition of all forms of post-secondary education? We all know the answer. For all intents and purposes no one dies from HPV, which indicates Hearst, here, actually cares about what matters: outcomes.
Onto the question of forcing children to wear masks in the classroom. It should be considered a fairly self-evident given that a huge percent of a child’s social development happens in the classroom, where kids are exposed to dozens of other kids at one time in a way that is only extraordinarily rarely replicated in the home, and which accounts for a huge chunk of the time these young children are awake. It should, thus, go without saying that in the many places where children missed an entire year of in-person learning or a large chunk of the school year, incalculable harm must have been done to at least the youngest of children, who need this classroom time to develop said social skills. There cannot be a more pertinent time to maximize the potential development of these skills – if for no other reason than to make up for lost time from the previous school year – than now. If nothing else, knowing what we know about early childhood development and body language/facial cues, forcing especially young children to continue to wear masks in the classroom will undoubtedly further this damage, and, as someone who has autism running throughout his family, I cannot imagine the harm this will do to those who have a proclivity to struggle with the subtle cues they need to learn in order to navigate the world as an adult. At the very least, though obviously begrudgingly, the Hearst editorial gets it right when they agree that in-person learning must be returned to in order to avoid any further social learning damage.
“Until enough people are vaccinated, though,” the editorial proclaims, “the danger will remain.” It is axiomatic that the risk of any outcome for anything cannot ever be zero. The definition of “risk” is such that “risk” can never be “zero” or “one”; it is always a positive fraction, no matter how small or large the denominator and numerator. Everyone performs risk calculations every second of every day, and the result of that calculation is a decision they make. Is this really an argument for mandatory masking until a zero risk factor is achieved? The next sentence of the article makes it implicitly obvious that this is the goal: “The currently prevalent delta variant will not be the last, and other, even more dangerous or contagious variants could develop in the months to come.” True. They may even be developed in a laboratory for the purpose of gain-of-function research, such as those conducted in China, where, according to the US Department of State, “The (Wuhan Institute of Virology) has a published record of conducting ‘gain-of-function’ research to engineer chimeric viruses”. Again, the nature of risk is such that it can never be zero, and performing a risk calculation based entirely on the speculation of future variants is a demand for zero risk, which is a perfect example of what has been dubbed an “impossible standard”, almost certainly grounded in bad faith. The next line establishes an at-all-costs standard, removing any veneer of good faith remaining: “It’s essential to protect as many people as we can,” of course implying, in context, that “as many people as we can” means a zero-risk standard, making it obvious that “protect” is being used as a smear to imply opposition to their prescriptive conclusions is opposition to “protection” of “people”. Be ready for the gaslighting.
I say be ready, because the gaslighting happens just a few lines later: “The urge to put the coronavirus crisis in the past is strong.” At what point can we say we’ve beaten the disease? Your standard, so far, is “never”, since yours is an impossible one. There is technically still a “risk” of small pox or a Variola variant nearly identical to small pox re-emerging and breaking out into the greater public, because, as explained, “risk”, by definition, can never be zero. But that is what Hearst is advocating, and it’s made most obvious just a few lines later: “But if we want to avoid the worst, we need to err on the side of safety”. As in, “even if the risk is equal to that of the monkeys-typing thought experiment, it’s technically not zero, so continue wearing the mask forever regardless of competing concerns/interests.” There is a huge difference between saying “have a standard and stick to it” and “COVID never happened”, and Hearst knows it. Should I mention the implications of the argument Hearst concludes with? “(T)he state made it through the year already with a mask mandate in place, and we can get through it with another if necessary.” This is exactly the argument the Kim family – as have all of the most ruthless dictators in history – has put forth when they say “you’ve made it through one day without x, you can survive another without x.” Would Hearst be willing to make “x” = “food”? If their answer is “no”, we know what type of “standard” this downright evil argument presents. And never-ye-mind that either the vaccines work or they don’t, and telling us nothing is going to change regardless of what improvements modern medicine brings about is telling us they don’t work, or, at the very least, that there is no point in getting them. Your words, not mine.
So why the ever-moving goal-posts? Why the double standard when it comes to this? We all know the answer. Yuri Besmenov would call it “subversion”. You might call it “partisan political hackery”. I might call it something much worse. They are the Ministry of Truth, and you are but an automaton, ever-fearful of the mighty power of the thinkpol, lest you be brought in to the Ministry of Love. “The Party seeks power for its own sake”.
Should mask-wearing mandates in school remain? You have the data now. And I think you know the answer, now, Winston.