How much do the virus pundits know?


As someone who used to be paid to give an opinion — and who now does it for free — I am not always right.

But I am not always wrong, either.

Stu Bykofsky eats his own column, sliced into a Wawa hoagie. (Photo: Philadelphia Inquirer)

My biggest strikeout was the 2016 election, in which I declared Pennsylvania was a lock for Hillary Clinton, and that would guarantee her victory. 

The second biggest miss? I predicted the Eagles would lose the Super Bowl, adding that I would eat my column if I was wrong. I was wrong and ate the column, but the truth is I thought if I picked the Eagles to win it would jinx them.

That is my story, and I am sticking to it. It is also the truth and that column got more comments — most of them, “Drop dead, Stu” — than any other in recent memory.

The difference between “official” pundits and you, theoretically, is that the pro is basing his or her opinion on a bedrock of fact. Most of us do, but not all.

I’ve written more than two dozen columns on the Wuhan flu, coronavirus, COVID-19 — the name keeps changing. The facts keep changing, too.

Just weeks ago, it was reported that kids pretty much are immune from the virus. In recent days — bang — we learn of a serious inflammatory syndrome that shares features with the often-fatal Kawasaki disease. 

Actually, both things can be true. COVID can usher Kawasaki in, but just in a handful of cases.

I was watching last week as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was staging his daily briefing, when he got struck almost dumb by some numbers. (Some of this was political theater because he knew the numbers before he read them off his Power Point.)

Cuomo was shocked by stats that say two-thirds of those infected were staying at home, where you are supposed to be safe. The story sank like a stone, oddly.

Maybe there’s just too much COVID info out there, but this stat turned everything we had been told on its head, and needs further exploration, which I have not seen. (Maybe there was some, I can’t see everything.)

This was dramatic as the majority of deaths being rung up at nursing homes.

The 66% figure was “shocking to us,” said Cuomo. “This is a surprise. Overwhelmingly, the people were at home. We thought maybe they were taking public transportation, and we’ve taken special precautions on public transportation, but actually no, because these people were literally at home.”

Got that?

In addition to wearing a face mask, washing hands, and social distancing, we are being told to stay home!

Home may be where the heart is, but what if home is where the disease is?

This disease has been great at throwing curves, keeping us off balance. Two-thirds of Americans fear opening up the nation too fast. What if they’re wrong?

I still believe in erring on the side of caution, but I really hope science is pursuing answers to why so many are getting sick at home. To be a good pundit requires good input.

17 thoughts on “How much do the virus pundits know?”

  1. I’ve heard it said, a doctor, staying in house lowers one’s immunity. One way to build immunity is exposure, but not everyone. We may all be susceptible to catching it but like a friend of mine’s wife, late 70’s, 2wk quarantine after testing positive, full recovery no symptons. Like most she wore the mask while shopping. Her daughter had it first with fever (reason for all, including my friend, to be tested, he being negative). Daughter fine except for first day fever. Hope I explained that clearly!

    1. As we all have come to know, life is a crap shoot. Reminds me of the story of the king who had a son and wanted to protect the newborn prince from life’s dangers. So the king kept the prince locked in the castle for 21 years. On his 21st birthday the king let the price out, and he died of excitement.

  2. Dear Stu,

    Most people are staying home because just about everything is closed (here in the city at least) and there is very little to do out there –except for people still working of course. So is it really such a surprise that most people who have been infected are staying home?

    I’ve basically only been going out for groceries, but when I go go out, I ask the people I encounter if they know of anyone who has come down ill. So far in the last two months or so, I got one positive answer from a salesperson who had a cousin in NYC. Nor do I know of anyone among personal friends and acquaintances who have come down with the virus. Of course I would not think of this as more than a random sample, but you would think that the sales people would be in some considerable danger of exposure. Its not that I doubt the statistics in the media, though.

    This is no doubt a very nasty and sometimes deadly virus. My impression is that even the experts are struggling to understand what is going on. It would certainly help if there was more testing, but often this seems not to be available–its taking much time to simply develop capacity for testing. In addition, they keep finding new severe forms of the disease, and it is not clear that anyone knows how best to treat the sever cases. Suppression of the spread of the virus by shutdowns of business obviously has very negative economic consequences. Its not clear that this will even reduce the total number of cases instead of just spreading them over a longer period of time. But lacking a vaccine, no one seems to have any better ideas. Slowing the spread of the virus does at least allow more time for the medical people to consider and test out different approaches to treatment of the sever cases. But the longer the infections are spread out in time, the greater the expected economic damage from the shut down.

    The epidemic, in short is a great tragic mess.

  3. HAPPY TUESDAY !!!
    Science is a beautiful thing, as I like to say. Every building that you see, is from proven engineering, fact, data or something called “FIRST”. The Twin Towers was a new design. No solid core in the building is why it collapsed so easily. Prior to that design, everything was all steel or all concrete. After the Towers came down, “core construction” took over. ( Blue Cross, the Liberty Towers, to name a few. The point of this history lesson is that in this case of COVID-19, there is no proven data for this particular strain of flu. The name indicates the first of its kind. The specialists are taking an educated guess. It’s a far better chance of being correct, than a civil engineer explaining the flu.
    As for retirement homes, etc. STAY AWAY ! They were never designed nor expected to combat any pandemic. They are “care” facilities. That is why the numbers are so alarming and the Feds and everybody else missed it. When in quarantine, as Tom pointed out, you are not 100% safe. Anybody can be a carrier. That’s why when people say ridiculous things like, I’m healthy and I’ll take care of myself and I don’t need a mask or quarantine, they are telling us that they think that they know what they’re talking about, but it’s the complete opposite.
    From the official Chester County Health Department. Both Chester and Delaware Counties have a death rate of almost 80% of the counties total number of deaths.
    stay well

  4. I saw an old George Carlin stand-up bit where he addressed (coincidentally) the issue of immunity from disease. A typical Carlin bit: insightful, vulgar, funny as hell. But one of the points he made was right on target: the human body has a built-in defense mechanism against disease that is able to fight off virtually every attack it suffers on a daily basis. His point was by isolating ourselves, incessantly washing our hands and wiping down everything we touch, we are interfering with our body’s defense systems. I have gone out every day since this ‘crisis’ began — to stores, to Lancaster County to sightsee, to the huge Shady Maple Farmers Market, to Geno’s Steaks in South Philadelphia, to the Navy Base to sightsee, etc. etc. I wear a mask only where I am mandated to do so, reluctantly I might add. I am exposing myself to disease to strengthen my body’s immune defense system. I see it as being the same as exercising the body to stay fit.

    1. 1HAPPY TUESDAY !!!
      Vince,
      I glad for you that you aren’t turning into a hermit. I’m glad that you’re still alive to post your replys. Apparently, you are in excellent health. You were in the news business, but not in the production of newspapers. If you were, you would probably be dead from all of the cardiograms found in the ink. ( and them news guys all wore hats made from that day’s paper !)
      Me, kinda-sorta like you. I’m out and about. Doing politics and stuff. Right now, I’m at a cemetery doing ‘Flags In”. Other than that, I’m a prime candidate for the virus ! Bad lungs, heart repair, 4 joints, et al.
      stay well.
      Tony
      P.S.
      next time you go to Lancaster County, go to Landis Valley. Google it. A historic farm/village. Pick the right day and you may meet my wife. She volunteers there working the gardens

      1. Tony: thanks for the info on Landis Valley. By the way, I started my career (after returning from my two years in the Far East) at the old, original Philadelphia Bulletin. Was there from January 1964 to June 1967. Never did sniff the ink, though. And thanks for the flag work at the cemeteries. I’m sneaking up on age 80, so I don’t mind getting out and about as every day is a gift.

  5. I always look for simplistic answers for complex questions. For instance, when asked what the weather stations are saying about today’s weather I respond by opening the window and sticking my head out and return with my prediction. In a courtroom, each side brings in a famous psychiatrist to challenge the statements of the other highly credentialed doctor. In today’s world, we are bombarded with schooled scientists whose chosen field is looking at pandemics, viral infections, etc. They have the expertise and use the latest equipment to inform us just what we are to expect and how to act for survival yet they differ in many ways on an individual basis. If you seek a consensus on the overall situation which I would think is at least an intelligent answer you would have to call a meeting of the best minds from the WHO, the CDC, NGIRD, IONA, ICEID, and the NCHDSTP all of whom have issued opinions that vary substantially. I will issue my own consensus shortly after I get results back from Punxsutawney Phil and sticking my head out the window and I will throw in tomorrow’s weather.

    1. If you laid all the scientists working on this ‘crisis’ end to end, they’d fail to reach a conclusion.

        1. Tony,
          FYI
          My GG Grandfather, a Civil War Navy Vet, is buried at Old Cathedral Cemetary. According to my son (the family historian), he was injured aboard the USS Steamer Suwanee on a remarkable trip from New England to California around S America. The plot he is in, is his in-laws. A Civil War headstone under the name Freeman Fox was commissioned in 2005 by a distant cousin of mine, who died a few yrs ago. My GG Grandfather fought for 40 yrs for some compensation for his injured eyes. My son does not know if he ever was compensated. He served from 1865-67.
          I don’t get around much anymore, but some day I’m going to ask my son to take me there.
          Thanks for your work!
          Tom

  6. HAPPY WEDNESDAY !!!
    Tom,
    Seaman Gillis is entitled to a grave marker from the Veterans’ Administration. The choice of upright or flat is yours, barring any limitations from the cemetery. The choice of stone is limited to the stone used for the Civil War Vets. The stone itself is free. The installation usually entails compensation. You can get more accurate info on the V.A. website. After all, I’m just just a deplorable Trump lov’n’ republican. What do I know……………
    Do get yourself out to Old Cathedral soon. You’ll be glad that you go. Get hold of a Civil War Flag Holder and Flag from the V.A. office or any Post, or ME. I’ll meet you there, brother.
    Tony

    1. My best friend (?) told me that when I die he’s going to have the doctors give me an enema, then I can be buried in a shoe box.

      1. Vince,
        Since you were in the news business, you frequented the pubs. Get a purple sack from crown royal. Get cremated and put your ashes in there. Then you can be left around the house, used as a bean bag for hop scotch……….
        not an enema, that’s a bunch of………….
        Tony

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