November 12, 2020 Reading Time: 4 minutes

“We have found that students are responding well to our voluntary, convenient, and free walk-up testing sites.” The latter is from a press release produced at Penn State University, and that was released this week to the New York Times. It seems Penn State, much like U.S. universities in all 50 states, has an aggressive coronavirus testing program as a way of keeping close track of the virus’s spread on campus.

Please think about the fact that testing for the coronavirus in what is the world’s richest country is increasingly very convenient, and free. Please think about it relative to March and April when tests weren’t anywhere close to this accessible. Not too long ago a quick coronavirus test in the United States cost a privileged subject $400 and above, but in November of 2020 it’s more and more the case that the tests can be had for nothing.

From there, let’s travel to Indonesia on the other side of the world. This country can claim 270 million citizens versus roughly 330 million in the United States. Where it gets interesting is that according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, Indonesia has reported 11,000 deaths related to the coronavirus versus nearly 240,000 in the U.S.

At this point the Trump deranged will no doubt rant and rave about how “Trump did it,” that he has no empathy, and that his lack of it has resulted in many sadly quiet, unhappy homes around the U.S. Worse is that according to president-elect Joe Biden, what’s bad now is about to be really bad as the winter months force people inside only for the virus to be given new life. As Biden has put it, Americans face “a dark winter.”

Biden’s likely newspaper of choice, the New York Times, similarly engages in hyperbole. While it routinely reports that nearly half of all U.S. coronavirus deaths have been associated with nursing homes, it leads with splashy front-page headlines that give a rather different impression to readers. Or at least headline readers. The Tuesday, November 10 edition actually led with an alarmist header that included Biden. It read like this:


So the virus “rages” if the front page is to be believed, but on A6 those who bothered to look beyond the headlines were able to find the nuance that is not allowed on the front page, and that Biden the politician perhaps understandably can’t employ. You see, on page A6 readers who bothered would have seen the above-referenced press release from Penn State. Think about it again.

In the United States, testing is increasingly convenient to get, plus it’s more and more free. Just a few weeks ago the Wall Street Journal’s Holman Jenkins reported that over 150 million coronavirus tests had been administered in the United States. One guesses that number is dated at this point. That it is, and that the New York Times reports daily about a “raging” coronavirus is arguably related. And it doesn’t take a doctor or statistician to understand this.

Stating what should be obvious, the coronavirus “rages” in the U.S. only insofar as Americans have the curiosity and means to be tested for it. If you test hundreds of millions of people you’re going to happen on lots of cases. And even all those U.S.-based tests likely don’t scratch the surface. As Jenkins pointed out after the Kamala Harris/Mike Pence debate, her lament that 7.5 million Americans had contracted the virus was probably off by something like 70 million.

Bringing this all back to Indonesia, it would be fascinating to witness the perpetually alarmed explain the low number of “coronavirus deaths” there. Are Indonesians genetically immune to infection from the virus, do they religiously wear N-95 masks while studiously avoiding touching their faces, do they have their own “genius” Dr. Fauci equivalent whose gameplan has been brilliantly embraced by President Joko Widodo, or is it possible that Indonesia has a low death count precisely because it has a low testing rate?

You see, according to the Journal, testing in Indonesia has been very rare. 8 per 1,000 inhabitants kind of rare. Keep in mind that Mexico can claim 13 tests per 1,000 and even the Philippines can point to roughly 30 per 1,000. Readers with a little bit of common sense probably get where this is going.

The more a country tests, the more infections that country will unearth. Doctors and other experts can decide for themselves whether relentless testing is good, bad, or not terribly relevant, but it presumably explains a lot when it comes to virus spread in the U.S. Rich country that we are, we test a lot which means we have a lot of cases. One guesses tests here will soar even more if the testing procedures ever move beyond the uncomfortable method used now. And as even more Americans get tested, more coronavirus infections will be discovered.

Which is exactly as the CDC predicted early on. As the ever-helpful Jenkins has reminded readers on occasion, the CDC’s website alerted visitors from the outset that eventually everyone would be infected. Routine testing in the U.S. presumably supports this contention.

This is a long or short way of asking readers to cast a skeptical eye on dire predictions of “a dark winter” ahead by politicians, along with nail-biting headlines about “terrifying surges.” Probably more than politicians and sub-editors want to admit, their predictions and headers are really just statements of a not so dark or terrifying obvious.

Reprinted from RealClearMarkets

John Tamny


John Tamny, research fellow of AIER, is editor of RealClearMarkets.

His book on current ideological trends is: They Are Both Wrong (AIER, 2019)

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