COVID19 mini-update, August 31, 2020: Dr. John Campbell on strongly reduced infection fatality rates; not all of hi-tech immune from economic fallout

(1) Dr. John Campbell summarizes revised mortality estimates from the Oxford Center for Evidence-Based Medicine. Their new IFR (infection fatality rate) estimates, 0.3% to 0.5%, are actually about the same as the numbers for which Prof. Hendrik Streeck came under fire fairly early in the epidemic.

He also discusses the headline that “only 6%” of deaths in the USA are directly attributable to COVID19. What that means is that in 6% of cases, there is nothing but COVID19 on the death certificate. Viral pneumonia and ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome) on the death certificate make up some of the remaining 94%, even when these are clearly consequences of COVID19. I believe it is safe to say that the death rate from COVID19 is inflated, but not by a factor of 16.7.

Dr. Campbell also provide some context by comparing with deaths attributable to smoking (nearly half a million a year in the USA). While the percentage of smokers has gone drastically down (to 15% or less of adults in many Western countries), we are still paying the ferryman for smoking decades early.

(2) It is generally assumed that the hi-tech sector is fairly immune from the economic fallout of COVID19. Hi-tech is an outsize chunk of the economy in “startup nation” Israel. To be sure, it’s weathered the storm much better than retail, outside dining — not to mention the death blows our tourism and entertainment sectors have gotten — and some individual startups that cater to telecommuting and distance learning needs may even benefit from the crisis. But not all are unscathed. I saw a segment on our main TV news channel (embedded below) in which a lady who used to have a senior position with the Israeli branch of a German tech company (I suspect I know which one) until the branch got closed. She is keeping her head above water by turning to her childhood recipes and cooking empanadas (Argentinian-style turnovers/dumplings) in her home kitchen and delivering them around the neighborhood.

An inside source told me that, while her particular company (let’s call it Acme) is “making do”, their bottom line is affected by the economic woes of Acme’s corporate customers and prospective customers, which leads them to pare down their expenses or to avoid taking on new financial obligations unless assured to be revenue-positive in the short term — even if they really would benefit from Acme’s product.

Not even academia is fully immune: I was forwarded a letter from the president of a private college. Said president apologizes for not lowering tuition despite all teaching being via Zoom, and explains that the faculty, support staff, and administration (himself included) all took pay cuts to ensure the normal functioning of the college (including need-based tuition accommodations).

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