The COVID-19 lockdown has its benefits: a chapter a day of the unabridged version of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, a study in fear and redefined “normal” values, among many other lessons.
Lately I’ve seen face coverings stenciled with “I can’t breathe.” The beauty of the statement is its dual meaning. It can be a nod to George Floyd, an arrestee who apparently suffocated at the hands of a rogue law enforcement officer or it can be a statement of the wearer’s condition behind the mask. More generally, it can be a statement about the suffocation of society as a whole.
Free speech is the bedrock of our politics, but media manipulation is now rampant. Under the guise of fact-checking, our modern day newspapers — YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter — have become the arbiters of what constitutes a worthy opinion or fact in contrast to “misinformation.” Scientists were certain that something heavier than air could not maintain flight. The misinformed Wright brothers proved them wrong.
Vladimir Lenin recognized that the media are propagandists and their information presented should be “easy to digest, most graphic, and most strongly impressive.” With COVID-19, the media create irrational fear with daily charts of deaths and case numbers without corresponding recoveries. They fail to mention that many deaths were of patients with serious underlying conditions or who were already in hospice and had weeks to live and coincidentally tested positive. The raw numbers are unaccompanied by the CDC’s instruction to classify a death as COVID-19 even if merely suspected or, in some cases, with a negative test. There is no corresponding warning with blinking lights that the tests have false positives or that the daily report of “increases” includes old tests that were not previously reported.
As Lenin noted, “ideas are much more fatal than guns.” Thus, where propaganda and media bias do not succeed, censorship will. Currently, a vocal physician is being silenced and investigated for questioning the motives and possible over-reporting of COVID-19 as the cause of death. Censorship is our polite version of “disappearing” dissidents. We are not Communist China and cannot allow the treatment of Dr. Li Wenliang, a Wuhan ophthalmologist to be the “new normal.” In December 2019, he courageously warned his colleagues on social media about the new SARS-like pneumonia cases but knew that he “would probably be punished.” Indeed, Chinese officials forced him to sign a letter accusing him of “making false comments” that had “severely disturbed the social order.” Fortunately for scientific advancement of our relentless search for COVID-19 treatments and mitigation, many questioned the official story about the novel coronavirus coming from a pangolin at a Wuhan wet market.
Censorship, corrupt scientific inquiry, and media bias have no place in medicine. It is not clear that lockdowns are scientifically sound. Curiously, social justice protests are allowed despite lockdowns. One epidemiological analysis concluded lockdowns in Western Europe had no effect on COVID-19 deaths. Additionally, studies show severe psychological effects of quarantines. The 5 states with the most COVID-19 deaths from March through April showed a 35 to 400 percent increase in deaths from various non-respiratory underlying causes, including diabetes, heart diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, and cerebrovascular diseases. Some 80,000 diagnoses of five common cancers may be missed or delayed by early June because of disruptions to medical care caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most reviews conclude that masks do not slow down the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (that causes COVID-19). Studies show non-medical masks do not stop aerosolized droplets less than 2.5 microns. A group of 239 scientists from multiple disciplines from 32 countries have recently agreed that SARS-CoV-2 is spread by such small droplets. They recommend improving indoor ventilation infection controls as the key protective measure. Handwashing and social distancing—but not masks—were advised. The CDC recommends masks.
Faced with a global pandemic, physicians were exploring hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), which had been favorably studied during the 2003 SARS epidemic, as a prophylactic or an early treatment. Numerous reports of HCQ’s efficacy on thousands of patients continue to mount. Once the media labelled it “Trump’s drug,” the fix was in. The long-awaited randomized clinical trial showing no benefit was gleefully reported by the media. However, the media were silent when the study was found to be so corrupt that it had to be retracted. Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital’s large 3-month observational study that showed a significant reduction in mortality in hospitalized patients with HCQ and validated HCQ’s over 60-year record of safety garnered little media attention.
These (purposefully) chaotic times are an opportunity for a movement toward government control and the suppression of individuality. Lockdowns keep us apart and stifle the free exchange of ideas and social communion. As Eric Hoffer explained in True Believer, a mass movement deliberately makes the present “mean and miserable… . People whose lives are barren and insecure seem to show a greater willingness to obey than people who are self-sufficient and self-confident.” Becoming a psychological cripple is not an option.
Is this chaos a new form of plastic surgery? When the bandages (masks) are removed will you be a changed person?
Dr. Singleton is a board-certified anesthesiologist and president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS). She graduated from Stanford and earned her MD at UCSF Medical School. While still working in the operating room, she attended UC Berkeley Law School, focusing on constitutional law and administrative law. She interned at the National Health Law Project and practiced insurance and health law.