- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2023

It’s no surprise that a lot of people are trying to push the whole COVID-19 experience down the memory hole. An inquiry seeking to establish what went right and what went wrong would probably prove embarrassing to too many people who are now near-mythological figures in the American culture canon.

Nonetheless, an accounting is in order. The people responsible for keeping us safe and preventing the coronavirus from spreading got too much wrong for any of us to be satisfied with their performance. We need an investigation, not because we’re looking for a scalp or two to hang on the wall but because the next time something like COVID-19 makes its presence known — and there will be a next time — we need to be better prepared.

There’s a lot we need to do differently. We should encourage people to remain calm in the face of unfolding uncertainty and not to stay away from hospitals and doctors if they feel sick. During COVID-19, the media, U.S. public health officials, doctors and politicians did neither, thinking that would help contain the virus and keep it from spreading.

It didn’t, and according to a new report from the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, it led to more people dying from things other than the virus than projected. Measuring the Death Toll From Non-Covid Causes, a study undertaken by University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan and Rob Arnott, founder and chairman of Research Affiliates, attempts to explain why the rise in deaths among Americans under the age of 50 was higher from non-COVID causes than from the virus itself.

It’s an astonishing conclusion drawn from a thorough examination of death certificate data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2020 and 2021 that also includes preliminary data from 2022. By measuring the excess deaths that occurred over the normal trend line over the specified period, Messrs. Mulligan and Arnott found at least 250,000 Americans died unexpectedly from causes not related to COVID-19.

Some might argue that’s an undercount but, staying with what the two were able to determine through their research, the largest rise in non-COVID deaths occurred among adults 18 to 44. Their death rate rose by 27% above the projected trend line, settling out at about 60,000 people. Alarmingly, Messrs. Mulligan and Arnott conclude that most of the excess deaths from the start of 2020 through the end of 2022 were not caused by the virus.

Instead, they say, the major forms of excess deaths for this cohort came from alcohol, drugs, murder and car crashes — all of which, except perhaps car crashes, might have surged through a population group not considered “most at risk” from COVID-19 because of the draconian lockdowns imposed throughout the country.

These researchers have uncovered much worth looking at. Aside from the impact the social isolation caused by the lockdowns had on mental and physical health, there’s the economics to consider. According to them, nearly $2.5 trillion in foregone output and productivity were lost because of excess deaths not related to COVID-19.

Ominously, the two researchers predict those costs are likely to rise in the future because of the days of schooling lost to the nation’s children while schools were closed by politicians at the behest of the teachers unions despite the lack of any evidence it was better to keep children home.

The Mulligan-Arnott findings call into question the efficacy of global lockdowns as a strategy for dealing with pandemics in the future. They suggest, as indeed people suggested at the time, the safer and more cost-efficient path would have been to protect those deemed most likely to die from the virus while allowing natural immunity to build as a result of exposure among those more likely to survive an infection.

None of this is to say COVID-19 was not dangerous, especially in its earliest forms. As is often said, “Don’t just stand there, do something.”

What the Mulligan-Arnott study tells us is that just doing “something” not only isn’t enough, it may be the wrong thing. Next time, we have to do the right thing more of the time — and that can’t happen if we’re unwilling to unpack what was done wrong during COVID-19.

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