Unanswered Questions from the COVID-19 Pandemic

As pandemic restrictions are being lifted across the U.S. and much of the economy returns to what it was, a number of questions remain unanswered about how the disease was spread and exactly what happened.

Most recently, emails from director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci were released detailing his response to questions on whether the virus came from the Wuhan research lab or from nature. The lab origin theory was originally dismissed in 2020 as a fringe theory but has become more accepted as a viable option as the virus' origins haven't been completely explained and the wet market origin thesis is in dispute.

Investigative Economics previously published stories on how numbers on preliminary deaths from the CDC fluctuated wildly in the early months and sometimes indicated death counts far above the reported amounts or mortality rates far below prior years. Nursing home deaths were sometimes listed below prior year averages, and Europe got the larger brunt of the disease, at least in the beginning, not the U.S. When the alarm over the virus’s impact was first being rung in March of 2020, incidence rates largely held steady, rather than increasing dramatically.

  • Disappearance of the Flu

During the pandemic, the flu completely disappeared as a symptom or a cause of death. In previous years, the flu could sometimes reach over 3,400 positive tests in a week. At most the 2020-2021 season hit 566 in December.

In 2018, there were over 1,600 influenza-related deaths in one week. At most, there were 44 a week in the 2020-2021 season.

Disappearance of the flu has largely been attributed to mask requirements and social distancing measures taken to prevent COVID-19, but certain states also saw the flu disappear despite having now mask mandates.

  • COVID Hospitalizations Are Below that of the Flu, or Far Above It

Deaths from COVID-19 has topped 600,000, far more than the number that die annually from influenza and pneumonia-related diseases, which can range from 40,000-100,000 a year. Anecdotes of hospitals overwhelmed during the pandemic indicated that the disease was leading to a wave of hospitalizations.

Yet hospitalizations for COVID could be below that of the flu. The 2017-2018 influenza season had 808,129 hospitalizations according to the CDC, while COVID led to either a cumulative 776,361 from the COVID Tracking Project, 185,657 from COVID-NET data on laboratory-confirmed tests, or 5.6 million based on CDC statistical modeling

Based on the COVID Tracking Project data, the rate of COVID deaths per hospitalization would be 594,802 over 776,361, or 77 percent.

For the flu it would be 61,000 over 808,129, or 8 percent.

  • COVID-19 Death Rate Was 1.8 Percent, Largely Affected Elderly

The average mortality rate for COVID-1—the number of those who died relative to the number who tested positive—was only 1.8 percent.

While that is significantly higher than the general mortality rate, which can range around .8 percent, it is still much lower than many serious diseases or other general risks.

Deaths due to COVID largely affected the elderly. While the mortality rate there was much higher—sometimes around 18 percent for those 85 and older—the general mortality rate of that age group is also much higher, sometimes 13 to 14 percent.

The difference in mortality rates may still be considered significant, but it is uncertain if it would warrant some of the extreme measures of the pandemic.

  • Certain Countries Didn't Experience the Pandemic Until Late in 2020

The COVID-19 outbreak is considered a true pandemic in that it affected countries across the globe, from the U.S. to Europe, Asia, and South America.

But originally, many countries in western and central Europe saw no sign of the disease. Originally, death rates in Germany, Hungary, Norway, Luxemburg, Denmark, Austria, Finland, Greece, and Poland saw no discernible change despite massive death tolls in neighboring countries like France, Spain, Italy, England, and the Netherlands.

It wasn't until the 40th-43rd week in, around October or 4 months after the U.S., U.K. and some of Western Europe saw the full brunt of the disease, that those countries would see any kind of increase in mortality according to data from the Human Mortality Database.

Some of those countries, like the Netherlands and Sweden, would revise their mortality rates and show a distinct spike in deaths around the same time as France and Spain.

  • No Proper Explanation for Disease Disappearance

Positivity rates and death rates from COVID-19 have plummeted precipitously over the last four months, but a proper explanation for the disappearance is still lacking. Some have pointed to the prevalence of vaccinations and masks as the cause of the decline, but the decline began in early January, before vaccinations were prevalent.

In the U.S., masks were widely used for months before the decline in rates with no noticeable effect on the disease or death rates.

  • Some States Never Had a Mask Mandate, Still Saw an Absence of Influenza, and a Spike in COVID

Each state had its own approach to rules on when and where masks were required, but certain states never had any mask mandates.

Missouri in particular had no rules to require a mask outdoors or indoors. Similar to other states, they saw a spike in COVID cases beginning in October that disappeared beginning in early January.

Missouri would also see the almost complete disappearance of influenza, similar to other states, despite having no mask mandate.

  • Childhood Mortality Decline

The COVID-19 virus largely affected the elderly and adults. Children were largely unaffected.

Yet, potentially as a result of pandemic restrictions, child mortality was down throughout 2020 despite some assumptions that it would be up because of missed vaccinations and reduced prenatal care.

  • VAERs and Adverse Reactions to Vaccines

Reports of blood clots from the Johnson and Johnson vaccine led to that vaccine being put on hold out of an abundance of caution, but the pause may have been unnecessary as the blood clots weren’t necessarily tied to the vaccine, which was considered safe.

A larger number of reports of myocarditis and heart inflammation led to an emergency meeting of the CDC, but no pause on vaccine distribution.

But the reporting system, VAERS or Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, is not a reliable measure of vaccine safety and the CDC says that the system regularly contains errors.

  • Reliability of PCR Tests

One of the common tests for COVID-19 is the PCR test or polymerase chain reaction test. While the World Health Organization has mentioned the possibility of false positives through the test, it was the inventor of the test, Kary Mullis, who pointed out that the test could be used to “find almost anything in anybody,” although he was discussing the use of PCR tests in relation to AIDS at the time.

Quotes from Mullis have been used in combination with statements from the World Health Organization about false positives to question how effective the testing mechanism for COVID-19 truly is.

How the test is used has also led to an ongoing debate as to whether the test has a fatal flaw related to false positives. The PCR test can show positive results for the existence of the virus, indicating the person is “infected,” but it may be a dead or dormant virus, implying the infected is asymptomatic, not infectious, or both.