As everyday life across America is turned upside down from the coronavirus crisis, and massive business closures are plunging the economy into a free fall, one of the former New York Times reporters is expressing concern about what he considers erroneous models dictating an aggressive strategy.
Alex Berenson has been analyzing the crisis data for several weeks and concluded that the strategy of shutting down entire sectors of the economy is based on modeling that doesn’t line up with the realities of the virus., FoxNews reported.
Berenson is a former reporter who worked for the Times from 1999 to 2010 primarily covering the pharmaceutical industry. He has recently gained fame again with a book, “Tell Your Children The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence.”
Berenson does not deny the existence of a coronavirus and does not advocate a conspiracy theory about plans to limit freedom. Instead, he argues that the models used in response to the crisis were incorrect, and it becomes clearer by the day.
"In February I was worried about the virus. By mid-March I was more scared about the economy. But now I’m starting to get genuinely nervous," he tweeted this week. "This isn’t complicated. The models don’t work. The hospitals are empty. WHY ARE WE STILL TALKING ABOUT INDEFINITE LOCKDOWNS?"
Hospitals, of course, are not empty in places like hit New York, and rumors are circulating about overworked doctors and emergency rooms, Berenson said.
Fears that the virus is significantly more contagious and deadly than any ordinary flu strain are the driving force behind the current government approach both in America and globally.
Symptoms vary widely: some patients reporting only minor discomfort yet others dealing with crushing physical pain and struggling to breathe, forced to go on ventilators.
But Berenson looks wider. He initially challenged the model put forward by Imperial College in London. This model is used to advise the US government on its strategy for the virus.
“That was March 22 or 23, and ever since then I’ve been paying incredibly close attention to the modeling and trying to figure out whether it lines up with what we’re seeing in reality -- and the answer is it hasn’t lined up at all," he said.
Recently he has been focusing on discrepancies within the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) model. This model was re-examined as it revised its indicators several times. It once predicted more than 90,000 deaths by August but recently issued a new estimate that has the figure closer to 60,000. Officials say it is a model that's moving with what the country is doing.
"We believe that our health care delivery system in the United States is quite extraordinary," Dr. Deborah Birx said at a White House press briefing on Wednesday. "I know many of you are watching the Act Now model and the IHME model— and they have consistently decreased the number, the mortality from over almost 90,000 or 86,000, down to 81,000 and now down to 61,000. That is modeled on what America is doing. That’s what’s happening."
Dr. Anthony Fauci said the indicators show that social distancing efforts are working.
But Berenson argues that social distancing and other measures are already included in these models. As for further evidence, he says that outside of places like New York, there was no predicted health crisis.
“Aside from New York, nationally there’s been no health system crisis. In fact, to be truly correct there has been a health system crisis, but the crisis is that the hospitals are empty,” he said. “This is true in Florida where the lockdown was late, this is true in southern California where the lockdown was early, it's true in Oklahoma where there is no statewide lockdown. There doesn't seem to be any correlation between the lockdown and whether or not the epidemic has spread wide and fast.”
He has also claimed that the decrease in the number of cases observed in different states occurred before quarantine had an effect - since it took several weeks to take social distance measures because of the interval between infection and the onset of symptoms.
Berenson blames the model for a response that effectively closed large sectors of the economy and caused significant financial damage to the Americans. On Thursday, it was announced that the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose to 6.6 million.
Berenson says a more balanced and focused approach would be the right answer in the initial days of the crisis. “There was incredible pressure to do something ... so these lockdowns all cascaded, every governor tried to outdo the next. And no one stopped and said ‘OK what about Japan, they don't seem to have a terrible epidemic, they wear masks, maybe we should wear masks,” he said.
According to him, measures such as protecting people especially at risk, banning large gatherings such as concerts and sports events would be appropriate. But now he fears that it may be too late for officials to say they overreacted.