Guest Column

Around the 10th of each month, The Bulletin runs a guest column from Rich Belzer …month-in, month-out. Local guest columnists selected by The Bulletin typically have an undeniable expertise in the subject matter they write about either through work experience, credentials, education, or all of them.

On the other hand, Belzer writes about subjects for which he has no apparent direct experience, credential, or expertise.

His columns, overwhelmingly political, are nothing more than thinly veiled hit pieces targeting Republicans and conservatives.

This time is no different. In his July 10 column, Belzer praises Gov. Brown for Oregon having the fifth lowest COVID death rate nationally, which is commendable. However, he attributes that achievement, without proof or citation, to the restrictions Gov. Brown imposed on the Oregon economy and its citizens.

In an attempt to prove his point, Belzer cherry-picked three states with Republican governors (Texas, Florida, South Dakota) that had higher COVID death rates than Oregon, but where less restrictive social and economic measures were enacted. Using this perceived correlation of death rates and restrictions as his premise, Belzer goes on to calculate how many more Oregonians would have died using those three states’ death rates; 4,900 more Oregonian deaths using Texas rates; 4,700 more using Florida rates; and 6,900 more using South Dakota rates.

Belzer then declared Gov. Brown a hero for imposing those severe restrictive measures on the Oregon economy.

But he did not stop there. He also stated those Republican governors made purely political calculations in deciding to use less restrictive measures as quoted from his column: “those who survive are likely to complain about a shutdown of the economy while dead people don’t have much to say.” How patently callous, absurd, and sophomoric, but not surprising.

So let’s play Belzer’s game and run the same comparison using states enacting very restrictive COVID measures, even more restrictive than Oregon’s. We should expect to see very low death rates as a result according to Belzer’s thinking and premise.

I’ll choose New York, New Jersey, and California, all with Democrat governors. According to the death rates published by the Becker Hospital Review, these Democrat states’ COVID death rates when applied to Oregon would have produced 8,700 more Oregonian deaths using New York death rates; 4,000 more using California rates; and 9,700 using New Jersey rates.

If he were intellectually honest, Belzer would insist we believe these Democrat governors to be even more craven than the Republican governors he chose in his analysis.

Fortunately, rational thinking people know better. Science tells us that the demographics of age and other underlying health factors were the main drivers of COVID deaths. States with different demographics require different responses.

Did more restrictions save more lives? According to the Becker Hospital Review, the data would appear to be inconclusive. But typical of his past guest columns, Belzer’s once again displayed his pattern of cherry-picking data, foisting a false premise, and then spinning a fanciful yarn resulting in an out-of-context, one-sided guest column. Pushback is required.

Was Gov. Brown’s COVID response as heroic as Belzer believes? Perhaps. I guess we’ll hear come next election from “those who survived and are likely to complain about a shutdown” and the relatives of “dead people who don’t have much to say.”

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Bill Rich is a CPA and recently retired CFO of an international food and beverage manufacturer. He lives in Bend.

(5) comments

CentralOregonFred

You can tell his bias and preconceived conclusions with his use of "Democrat" to refer to Blue State governors, as if he's trying out for a role as a cable news pundit. But his assertions that public health matters don't work do not stand up to scrutiny.

Most of the deaths in the NE States of NY and NJ occurred in April and May of 2020 when they were the among the first affected States and caught off guard by infections coming over from Europe. In fact, NYC's health commissioner's poor advice to initially adopt a Red State-like "herd immunity" approach kicked off the explosion in cases and deaths in the region. After that initial period, deaths leveled off. California is a large and diverse State that was doing well until the winter of 2020, when widespread refusal to follow public health measures in the Central Valley, San Bernardino County (I visited there at the time) and Orange County drove the cases. All of these are solid Red areas.

It's probably best to compare us with our neighboring State of Idaho. Oregon has had half the per capita deaths than our neighbor to the East. Malheur County has been one of Oregon's hardest-hit counties by the misfortune of its proximity to Idaho. There's no doubt that the public health measures Oregon put in place saved lives. Not only does our direct experience show that, but at this point there are ample epidemiological studies confirming the effectiveness of public health measures used by Oregon in mitigating the effects of highly contagious, potentially serious infectious disease.

kindergentlerbend

A recently published study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine posits more than 900,000 Covid-19 caused deaths in the U.S. We are only beginning to understand the true horror of the pandemic, which already has reduced the life span of Americans. That effective, consistent mitigation measures have reduced the human misery and death associated with the virus is now becoming clear. Unfortunately, the same states that opted to ignore the public health crisis are now choosing to neglect the need to vaccinate.

Skittish

I believe that you missed the point of the guest column. The author is pointing out that one can use the same logic and techniques to show the opposite result, which is suggesting the data used is picked to support a political point. He is not saying that public health measures do not matter, but that the point of Mr. Belzer's column is to make Republicans look bad. He is finding the evidence that suits his particular point of view versus the other way around.

In regards to public health measures, those researchers who study Covid have looked at worldwide statistics and have been unable to find any evidence that the mandatory restrictions worked any better than voluntary restrictions when comparing more restrictive countries to less restrictive countries. There have been other studies, which I cannot find at this point, which have also compared all 50 states. Again there was no difference between the more restrictive states and the less restrictive states.

It is better to have more data to compare than last data as this makes for a stronger analysis as the confounding factors are hopefully randomized. Now, I am not saying that the mandatory restrictions had no effect, but we simply do not have any evidence that they had any positive effect. Then considering that the mandatory restrictions caused economic harm which then leads to loss of insurance, loss of work and other medical issues, there is certainly a negative effect from the mandatory restrictions that has not been accounted for in analysis by Mr. Belzer. In fact, the average American life span has decreased dramatically in 2020 beyond what can be accounted for by the deaths attributed to by covid, pointing to but not proving, that the restrictions were highly detrimental. Therefore based on the current information, it is more likely in my estimation that our governor has caused more harm than good.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33400268/

CentralOregonFred

You can tell his bias and preconceived conlcusions with his use of "Democrat" to refer to Blue State govrnors, as if he's trying out for a role as a Fox News pundit. But his assertions that public health matters don't work do not stand up to scrutiny.

Most of the deaths in the NE States of NY and NJ occurred in April and May of 2020 when they were the among the first affected States and caught off guard by infections coming over from Europe. In fact, NYC's health commissioner's poor advice to initially adopt a Red State-like "herd immunity" approach kicked off the explosion in cases and deaths in the region. After that initial period, deaths leveled off. California is a large and diverse State that was doing well until the winter of 2020, when widespread refusal to follow public health measures in the Central Valley, San Bernadino County (I visited there at the time) and Orange County drove the cases. All of these are solid Red areas.

It's probably best to compare us with our neighboring State of Idaho. Oregon has had half the per capita deaths than our neighbor to the East. Malheur County has been one of Oregon's hardest-hit counties by the misfortune of its proximity to Idaho. There's no doubt that the public health measures Oregon put in place saved lives. Not only does our direct experience show that, but at this point there are ample epidemiological studies confirming the effectiveness of public health measures used by Oregon in mitigating the effects of highly contageous, potentially serious infectious disease.

kindergentlerbend

I am definitely not a professional number cruncher like CPA Bill Rich. But, I’ll take a stab at some retail analysis.

Mr. Rich rightfully acknowledges that there are variables that can confound results.

So, I thought that I would look at the history of the pandemic and see how I could eliminate, at least, some variables as a way to compare the 7 states under consideration on a more equitable basis.

I went to the excellent CDC page:

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid19/index.htm

I saw right away that the virus had invaded some states earlier than others. For example, South Dakota reported its first deaths the week of May 2, 2020, whereas the first death in the nation occurred in California on Feb. 6, 2020.

To eliminate any distortion in the results due to some states experiencing a head start in infections and deaths, I chose to look at the point in time after the virus had overrun the nation. For this I used the 4 months Nov. 2020 through Feb. 2021--the high point in virus deaths. Furthermore, it would have been a time by which the states had already established their mitigation policies.

In terms of Covid-19 mortality rate (deaths per population), these are how the 7 states ranked from best to worst:

Oregon--0.0354 %

New York--0.0523 %

Florida--0.0607 %

New Jersey--0.0776%

Texas--0.1003 %

California--0.1096 %

South Dakota--0.1562 %.

So, I do agree with Rich Belzer that Governor Kate Brown has been heroic in her efforts to reduce deaths and minimize the impact of virus sickness on medical staff and capacity in Oregon.

One variable that I was unable to tease out is based on my own observations working as a respiratory care practitioner in the San Francisco Bay area. There we had a large demographic that was significantly more vulnerable to the ravages of the pandemic, namely the Latinx community. Out of necessity they continued to work--and worked in the riskiest jobs--and often lived in multi-generational households. It was an honor to care for these and other victims of the pandemic.

Let’s learn the lessons, get vaccinated, and do better next time.

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