Andy is the host of “In the Bubble”, a podcast that aims to help us understand our new global pandemic “normal” through interviews with leading scientists, cultural icons, and political leaders. He is also the author of the recently released book, Preventable: The Inside Story of How Leadership Failures, Politics, and Selfishness Doomed the U.S. Coronavirus Response.
In 2000 The Journal of Legal Studies identified Richard as one of the most cited legal scholars in the 20th century. Richard’s books include Takings: Private Property and the Power of Eminent Domain, and Simple Rules for a Complex World.
During the debate Richard argues that the number of coronavirus deaths in the US is highly overestimated. In September 2020, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released statistics indicating that 94 per cent of people who died from the coronavirus had comorbidities, or underlying health conditions contributing to their cause of death and that “for 6% of the deaths, COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned.” This Reuters article provides detailed information about how to understand these CDC statistics, which are influenced by standards that govern the filling out of death certificates. In the Reuters article one medical expert compares listing COVID-19 with comorbidities on a death certificate as similar to including hemorrhagic shock and liver laceration on the death certificate of someone who has died of a gunshot wound. On ABC’s Good Morning America, Anthony Fauci, Director of the Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also alluded to the CDC data and confirmed that the 180,000 deaths “are real deaths from COVID-19.” This VOX article looks at why there might be so much skepticism around COVID-19 death rates.
During the debate there is considerable disagreement between Andy and Richard on the importance of face masks as a tool to control the spread of the virus. Richard argues that Nordic countries have done a good job of controlling the virus without mandating face masks. While it is true that Sweden actively discourages face mask wearing, the country has one of the highest per capita COVID-19 death rates in the world. Both Denmark and Finland, countries that have successfully contained the virus, have recently made face masks mandatory where social distancing is not possible.
During the debate Richard and Andy discuss the merits of hydroxychloroquine as part of an effective COVID-19 strategy. Hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug, is a disease-modifying antirheumatic medication. According to rheumatology.org, there is little understanding of why it is effective at treating autoimmune diseases and that, “it is believed to interfere with the communication of cells in the immune system.” The FDA has cautioned against the use of the anti-malaria drug outside of a hospital setting or clinical trial. This article looks at three large studies of hydroxychloroquine, all of which showed that there were no benefits for COVID-19 patients treated with the drug.
During the debate Andy identifies Africa as a COVID-19 success story, with only 30,000 deaths in a population of 1.4 billion. Scientists are still trying to figure out why this is the case. You can read some of the theories of why Africa has had such low COVID-19 death rates here and here.