Failure to contain the deadly pandemic has led to dehumanizing statistics and a new White House plan to simply let millions of Americans die
UPDATE 9/15/20: 98 former Stanford medical colleagues denounced Dr. Atlas' falsehoods, misrepresentations of science and 'herd immunity' strategy...
By Ernest A. Canning on 9/8/2020, 1:41pm PT  

The COVID-19-related tale that the President spun last month, during his lengthy RNC acceptance speech, wasn't even close to the truth. His administration is not "focusing on the science, the facts and the data" in order "to save as many lives as possible." His new "plan" will not permit everyone, other than high-risk Americans, "to safely return to work and to school". (Emphasis added).

To the contrary, with the U.S. COVID death toll already approaching a gruesome 190,000, Trump's Orwellian "plan" is to depict his abject failure to save lives as a smashing success. In addition to recklessly and dangerously claiming to prepare for a Nov. 1 date for the release of a COVID-19 vaccine prior to the completion of clinical trials, the White House has now adopted a pseudo-scientific and lethal strategy that could kill millions of Americans.

It is one thing for epidemiologists, in their medical literature, to describe "herd immunity" as a naturally occurring phenomenon, where, as the result of an epidemic --- as opposed to a safely developed and fully-tested vaccine --- a large number of surviving individuals acquired long-term immunity to a communicable disease. Epidemiological literature tracks instances where the number of naturally immunized survivors reached a "threshold", which, in turn, led to a decline in the incidence of future infections to such a disease, creating an "indirect immunity" for a community at large.

It was an altogether different proposition when the new White House "Covid Health Advisor", Dr. Scott Atlas, recently proposed a strategy to create a naturally occurring "herd immunity" to the deadly COVID-19 virus in the United States. Aside from, somehow, attempting to protect a small group of high-risk individuals --- the elderly, the sick and the immune-compromised --- Atlas' proposed scheme, echoed by the President, would allow the deadly virus to spread quickly to everyone else as they "return to work and to school."

The notion that you can protect a small group of high-risk individuals, while allowing the deadly virus to spread to everyone else, ignores the science of community spread. Children who acquire the virus at school, for example, can serve as a major source of COVID-19 infections for their more vulnerable parents and grandparents. Moreover, while risk levels may differ, coronavirus infections have led to deaths within all age groups. The death toll is not confined only to those with already-compromised immune systems. As Kristin Urquiza said, when tearfully addressing the Democratic National Convention, her previously healthy 63-year old father's "only preexisting condition was believing in Donald Trump."

Atlas is a Senior Fellow from the libertarian Hoover Institution. He is a radiologist, with no professional expertise in epidemiology or in treating infectious diseases. Like many Trump sycophants, he has frequently appeared as a contributor on the President's favorite propaganda outlet, Fox "News".

His proposal to create "herd immunity" was promptly embraced by our science-eschewing President and by his Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, according to The New York Times, which cited a recent appearance on Fox in which Trump moronically averred, "Once you get to a certain number --- we use the word 'herd' --- once you get to a certain number, it's going to go away."

Horrified medical experts were quick to describe the Atlas/Trump "herd immunity" strategy as "dangerous". But it's much worse than that. Given deadly uncertainties and the potential for a genocidal death toll, the Atlas/Trump "herd immunity" strategy is patently insane.

While it may not entail the same deliberate desire to commit mass murder, an effort to create a naturally occurring COVID-19 "herd immunity" is as mad as Adolf Hitler's infamous "Final Solution" --- at least in terms of the massive lethal results.

Yes, it is that insane...

Deadly uncertainty and genocidal numbers

As explained by professionals at the Mayo Clinic, the theoretical concept of achieving "herd immunity" without a vaccine is based on the idea that, if a sufficiently large number of infected people survive COVID-19 and develop long-term immunity, the spread of the deadly disease will decline to the point that the whole community becomes immunized. But, at this stage, the Mayo Clinic observes, epidemiologists don't know whether those who survive one or more COVID-19 infections will develop long-term immunity or how many would have to be infected --- and, consequently, how many Americans would have to die --- to reach a potential COVID-19 "herd immunity" in the U.S.

Last February, before the uncontrolled ravages of COVID-19 first spread across the U.S. like a wildfire, Harvard Epidemiologist Mark Lipsich, M.D. told James Hamblin of The Atlantic that, if our nation's "leaders" did not take immediate action, "most" Americans could be infected with the virus.

When interviewed by Brad Friedman on June 16, Dr. Purnima Madhivanan, an epidemiologist who serves as the Director of the National Institute of Health (NIH)-funded Global Health Training Program at the University of Arizona, estimated that 95% of the U.S. population is "susceptible" to contracting the coronavirus. "This virus," she said, "is unprecedented in the combination of how easily transmittable it is, and in the range of symptoms." She described the "potential" for growth in the number of confirmed cases as "exponential".

Per the Mayo Clinic, assuming long-term immunity could be achieved, experts estimate that at least 70% (approximately 219 million people) of the U.S. population would have to become infected with the coronavirus to achieve "herd immunity". Responding to the Atlas/Trump proposal, cardiologist Dr. Jonathan Reiner estimated, in a Tweet, that some 250 million Americans would have to be infected with COVID-19 in order to achieve "herd immunity."

Historically, those estimates are deeply troubling. "It took us two years and three waves, infecting 500 million people, killing 50 to 100 million people [worldwide], to reach 'herd immunity' for the 1918 influenza [H1N1]," Madhivanan told Friedman.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that the 500 million people who were infected by the H1N1 virus globally between 1918 and 1920 represented 1/3 of what was then the world's entire population. The CDC estimates that, globally, the 1918 pandemic killed 50 million people, or 10% of those who were infected by it at the time.

So, how many Americans would have to die in order to create a naturally occurring "herd immunity" in the United States? The answer to that question depends upon the death rate inflicted by COVID-19, which is, by no means, set in stone.

During her interview in June, Dr. Madhivanan cited a 1% rate. If between 219 million and 250 million Americans were infected by COVID-19, one-percent of those infected Americans --- between 2.19 and 2.5 million --- would have to die to achieve "herd immunity" in the U.S.

That, however, is a conservative estimate. Global statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) suggest that the COVID-19 death rate is significantly higher than 1%. As of September 6, 2020, there have been 26,726,982 confirmed infections worldwide, including 876,152 deaths. That means that, on a global scale, the virus proved fatal for 3.3% of those who were infected.

If that 3.3% rate of death were applied to Dr. Reiner's estimate of 250 million U.S. coronavirus infections, the Atlas/Trump "herd immunity" strategy would amount to a death sentence for 8.25 million Americans. That's 2.25 million more than the 6 million European Jews killed during the Holocaust; albeit, a figure that is still less than the 11 million total (Jews and non-Jews), murdered by the Nazis.

That we are even making such comparisons should highlight the madness at play here.

Of course, the ravages of COVID-19 are not confined to deaths. Many who survive, including young, previously healthy people, suffer lasting complications, including lung disease and fibrosis that can require surgeries and organ transplants.

These serious, non-lethal consequences have arisen at the same time that over 25 million Americans are at risk of losing their healthcare coverage due to pandemic-induced layoffs. Another 20 million Americans could also lose their coverage if the Trump Administration's legal effort to overturn the Affordable Care Act, now awaiting a hearing at the U.S. Supreme Court, is successful.

Dangerous dehumanizing ideologies

If only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that's only statistics. - Soviet Dictator Joseph Stalin, Jan. 20, 1947.

It is tempting to brush aside the words of a sociopath, like Stalin, who was responsible for the genocidal murder of millions. But, in this instance, Stalin was simply pointing to the dehumanizing impact of statistics that, along with an extreme ideology, made that genocide possible.

For sociopaths --- be it Stalin, Adolf Hitler, or as Lance Dodes, M.D. asserts in The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, our current President --- callous indifference towards the death of others is a given. Thus, when a reporter recently confronted Trump with the rising COVID-19 death toll, he coldly responded, "It is what it is."

Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities. - Voltaire.

The real danger arises when ordinary citizens are drawn into the sociopath's orbit by what Phillip Zimbardo, a Stanford University Professor Emeritus, describes as the "process of dehumanization". The process, Zimbardo asserts, is facilitated by a deference to authority and by ideological propaganda that depicts other peoples as less than human.

The psychic distance created by the process of dehumanization, in Zimbardo's view, drives ordinary, upstanding citizens to commit atrocities. Indeed, many who have undergone the process of dehumanization, he asserts, actually view their commission of atrocities as virtuous. In his book title, Zimbardo described the transformation of civic minded individuals into perpetrators of atrocities as The Lucifer Effect.

The process of dehumanization had a direct bearing on how Nazi ideology led to the Holocaust.

In Ideology, Perception, and Genocide, author Richard A. Koenigberg, Ph.D., observed that, rather than recognize the humanity in every precious individual then residing in Germany, Nazi ideology objectified the entire population of Germany as one "living organism", made up of healthy cells (Aryans) and malignant cells (Jews), who were likened to a virus. Hitler's "Final Solution" to save this insane ideological construct was to kill off the virus (genocide).

As noted at the outset of this article, it is one thing for epidemiologists to recognize the existence of "herd immunity" as part of naturally occurring, biological phenomena. It's quite another for either a physician or a President to go so far as to advocate widespread exposure to a deadly virus in the hopes of creating "herd immunity."

One can see, in the advocacy for "herd immunity" as a strategic response to COVID-19, advanced by Atlas and embraced by the President, a dehumanizing ideological construct that is appallingly analogous to the insanity of the "Final Solution". The fact that its mere utterance as a strategy did not immediately trigger widespread revulsion is a testament to statistical desensitization and the extent to which the Trump regime has aspired to normalize absurdities.

During a September 3 segment of All In with Chris Hayes, the MSNBC host lamented statistical insensitivity. After reciting how, day-after-day, over 1,000 American lives are now being lost, Hayes said: "Think about that for a moment. It is horrifying the degree to which the Trump administration has normalized this level of loss in a way that has trickled down throughout society."

Hayes' concern was shared by his guest, Alex Goldman, who previously served as press secretary to MA's former Democratic Governor Duval Patrick. Goldman told Hayes that, at the outset of the pandemic, he'd found that "the statistics were almost overwhelming many ways dehumanizing." To counter this, Goldman created a Twitter feed, @FacesOfCovid, which Hayes described as an " the numbness we've developed to this ongoing tragedy" and as "just one small way to puncture our complacency about the sheer toll of this."

Goldman said he'd created @FacesOfCovid, spotlighting the lives of individuals who have died from COVID-19, "to affirm that these people were more than a statistic."

That affirmation of their humanity --- the highlighting of the tragedy and grief felt by friends and family on the loss of each precious life --- also represents a refutation of the sociopathic advocacy of "herd immunity" as a strategic response to a deadly pandemic. People who fall within the high-risk of death category, should they contract COVID-19, are not defective cattle, to be culled from a "herd".

Like the "Final Solution" before it, "herd immunity", as a strategic response to COVID-19, must therefore be seen as not merely repulsive, but also insane.

UPDATE 9/15/20: In a Sept. 9 letter, ninety-eight (98) of Dr. Atlas' former colleagues at Stanford, who described themselves as "infectious diseases physicians and researchers, microbiologist and immunologists, epidemiologists and health policy leaders", denounced "the falsehoods and misrepresentations of science recently fostered by Dr. Scott Atlas".

The Stanford medical experts noted that "encouraging herd immunity through unchecked community transmission is not a safe public strategy. In fact, this approach would do the opposite, causing a significant increase in preventable cases, suffering and death..."

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Ernest A. Canning is a retired attorney, author, and Vietnam Veteran (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968). He previously served as a Senior Advisor to Veterans For Bernie. Canning has been a member of the California state bar since 1977. In addition to a juris doctor, he has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science. Follow him on twitter: @cann4ing