Restoration PAC | First Right podcast, episode 61 | Michael Betrus
Doug talks to Michael Betrus, researcher, COVID policy analyst and Brownstone Institute contributor.
Doug Truax: Welcome to the First Right podcast, a weekly conservative news show brought to you by Restoration PAC. I'm Doug Truax founder and president of Restoration PAC. Today we have a chance to meet another COVID19 era hero. Michael Betrus, Michael is a writer and researcher of public policy. He cut through the media censorship to publish a book and several well-read summations of lockdowns, and whether they worked, he also graded the governors on lockdown policies. Michael, welcome to the show!
Michael Betrus: Thank you.
Doug Truax: All right. So let's hear a little bit about your background, definitely what you were doing before COVID hit, because that's a, that's an important part. We're getting all the COVID stuff for sure, but like to get a little snapshot of your background
Michael Betrus: Years or so, and, and, and also had, you know, a day job and what kinda got me into this was recreationally, I was following the cruise ships. There were two cruise ships that were quarantined off of Japan and California. And I I'd actually, I've been on one cruise ship and it was the one that was quarantined off California. And so I followed that with a little bit of interest. And if you remember, it was kind of covered, like it was the Bronco chase when it was pouring into Oakland and, and then nothing really happened. So I thought that was odd. You know, Wuhan had lockdown and, and, and it was getting a lot of attention. And then about two weeks later, the Imperial college released their model that predicted in a do nothing scenario. Like the cruise ships. We would have over 2 million deaths in America by summer 2020.
So I took the Imperial college model inputs and plugged them into the demographics of the cruise ships. We should've lost 155 people on those two cruise ships and we lost 10. So I thought, wow, this is incongruent, right? It you know, it feels like the model was kind of off the rails. And then, you know, days later we locked down and had 40 million people unemployed. And that's what prompted me to write my first book Lockdowns on Trial and have done a lot of analysis on this ever since, and then wrote the second book, The Science versus The Lockdowns.
Doug Truax: Yeah. So that's a, I have a similar story too. I happen to be in Utah when this all started happening and the numbers were coming out like what you were saying. And then, so I, they were putting the numbers of people in hospitals, in Utah. And then I, the number looked, you know, it's not, it's, it's an important number, but it looked kind of small. So I looked up the population of the state and I did the math on that. And I'm like, whoa, this is we're going to be fine. We don't need to freak out about this. But to your point, everybody had math all over the place. And nobody was really, you know, at the helm here saying, this is right, and this is wrong. This is the math we're going to go with. And so as you look back on this now, and we progressed into that window of time where, you know, as a conservative, I would say, Hey, don't give the government any power more than they already have. Obviously, what were you thinking as you watch this kind of roll through different states and everybody's got their different attitudes and, and you're thinking, I think that these numbers are wrong in general.
Michael Betrus: Right? Well, so it's, it's really how we see the numbers, right? I mean, the numbers were, they kind of are what they are. I think they're, I estimated based on some analysis that the inflation on this is probably 30% or so. So if we've had a million recorded COVID deaths, that number is closer to probably about 700,000 in terms of dying from that, that's, that's a large number, right? That's bigger than the flu. That is, you know, there's no question COVID-19 is a pandemic. What's interesting about this though, is the underlying condition age stratification, right? What we did was we apply these one size fits all mitigation, things, methods, closing schools, restaurants, et cetera, but COVID, it really wasn't an equal risk to everybody. It was highly age stratified. If you, if you took the vulnerable people, if you took basically everybody over 65 and the people that were even overweight, we really didn't have a pandemic.
That's a mathematical term. It's 7.4%, I think, of additional excess stats. And so by applying these one size fits all mitigations, and I tell you like the school thing is the mountain that I'm dying on over the us. I just can't believe we kept in certain states, you know, kids out of school for 17 months Doug, 17 months. And so, so, you know, we have these, these different policies across all these different states. The, you know, th the CDC never did any randomized clinical trials, not on therapeutics, not on masks, not unreal, really not on anything, but we do have great data samplings from states that had different mitigation methods. And so I would challenge anybody to look at at case hospitalization or death charts for any of the states, and then be able to identify from those, which were the states that had the tightest lockdowns, where it's highly correlated even more than age is the obesity percentage in the states.
And that's just, you know, it's not a message that the CDC has, or the media has really communicated out as is the high risk of obesity. If you're not, you know, you know, very old and, and even I learned through this, right, I'm not a healthcare expert. I've I I've analyzed this from a data perspective. I didn't realize how important having a healthy lifestyle is to stave off things like this, but I'm a pretty fit guy. And I climb mountains for hobby, but I tell you, I'll, I'll always be watching my health from now on.
Doug Truax: Yeah. Right. It opened her eyes to that side of it. But to your point about the CDC, and I've said this before on a show is like, I used to think for years, well, you know, we're a big powerful country and we've got this thing called the center for disease control. And if there's a problem, there's some really smart people over there. I think they got like 30,000 employees or whatever else, but there's some smart people over there and they're going to figure it out. They're going to do all these tests. I'm going to tell us what to do, and it's going to be great. We won't have to deal with this, you know, in this crazy way, like, we've read historically with these pandemics, but you're so right. It was just this narrow it down to who's most vulnerable. And let's really talk about doing the right thing for them first and foremost.
And then everybody else will get to later. And to your point, if we were to do it that way, we wouldn't even been talking about the kids at all. And that's the hard part for me too, is this kid thing. And so, you know, I guess what you're saying is like, it's on the people who impose these things to demonstrate this actually works. So back to the schools, then have you ever seen any proof at all or anything that, you know, that helped in any way to do that to our kids for all those years or all those months?
Michael Betrus: So what's interesting is that the prior to COVID the CDC and the WHO had created pandemic playbooks, and so COVID-19 would really fall under a high level category, two out of category one through five. So kind of think of it like hurricanes. And the assumption that would be made is that kids would be the primary spreaders of COVID or a pandemic influenza, because if you're a parent, you know, that, you know, kids are the primary transmitters of the flu, that's just real. And so what happened through this as the playbooks that recommended in a category to that possibly closing schools for three to four weeks at the time that there was a community spread, you know, there, the peak, these things come in waves and communities and staying isolated. If you're sick, that's obvious, that's good. That's a good one, possibly wearing masks in public, if you are sick or symptomatic.
And, but, you know, the WHO even came out and said, there's a mechanistic plausibility behind the face masks. And what that means is that it feels like it should work, which it kind of does, but there wasn't any data. There was no studies prior to COVID and there really is aren't any studies after COVID that validated that doing masks did anything. And so we locked down schools for a very long time. Then we rationed it off where they had to social distance David's wives done some excellent reporting on how flawed that model was and some of those calculations. And, and then about two months ago, I did a, a study with a couple other guys from rational ground on this. And so we looked at the 10 or 12 states that had mask mandates in schools. And then we compare that to the 10 or so states that didn't have any that actually banned mask mandates.
And so you would think that if, if you're a fan, if you're batting mat, if you've got a mask mandate, the results should just simply be better. It should be somewhat obvious. And so what we found was in the states that had a mask mandates, they averaged at the time that we were at our peak in the U S this was the first week of January. We had 4.2 pediatric hospitalizations per 100,000 in the mask mandate states in the states collectively. And these are millions, the sample sizes in the millions. And then the, in the states that banned mass mandates, the average pediatric hospitalizations were 4.9. So when you consider that the pediatric hospitalization inflation is at least 50%, that's not my number, that's that's numbers from other studies and, and possibly even the CDC. And so you're really talking about a rounding error between the two, if mask mandates work, it should be demonstrable, right. I don't know what that number is. It should be twice as much, five times, 10 times, but when you're talking about it being, you know, less than 10% or something accounting for inflation, it, it, you know, it just, it really invalidates a lot of these policies.
Doug Truax: Yeah, it's amazing. And I think, you know, you made the point in your article, we'll get to grading of the governors here in a second, but you made a point in that article that I thought was really great is that if you impose these lockdowns, it's on you, whoever impose these locked down to prove that this worked better for you than it would have not by, by not imposing them. And there's been none of that. And that's why I'm so thankful. There's I think, you know, you're on the tip of the spear on this thing, but this whole piece of going into the data and looking at what actually happened, and putting aside the media hype on this, it's going to be a whole, there's going to be a whole wave of this going forward. And, you know, you're, you're the one that really set this off and I really appreciate you doing it.
And so we'll, let's talk about the governors and the states. And one thing I want to ask you, and this isn't so much data. And so I'm just going to ask your opinion on this a little bit. So what is it about these governors then that say, well, you know, we're going to do all these things, even though there's no data behind it. And these other ones that say that they don't, and then they also happen to break down quite largely between red state governors and blue state governors. And then, so my thought too, on that is, is this coming down now to some politicians just wants you to feel better about this mentally and other politicians want to actually solve the problem. And so you have these groups of these lockdown people that just went crazy with no numbers, and they're just doing it primarily to make their population, you know, it's like a virtue signal. I want you to see that I'm trying to make you feel better all the time. Do you feel better? And if you do, let's just keep the masks on or keep doing all this craziness. So that's just my conjecture at a high level. W what are your thoughts on, on how you see that playing out? And it's almost like the motivations behind what these people are doing or we're doing,
Michael Betrus: You know, if I knew the answer to that. So, first off, I want to say, you could read both of my books and see most of my interviews and not know who my voted for. Right. I, I didn't to say political or freedom oriented analysis. I tried to provide a lot of data and let the readers or viewers really kind of make their, just, you know, make their minds up. But it's highly correlated that that Republican led states had far less restricted, you know, restrictions or rules than, than Democrat led states. That's, that's just what it is. And Republican led states certainly had more kids in the classroom than, than Democrat led states. And so, you know, why is that w election implications freedom, you know, from my perspective, is this, isn't a freedom argument. It's a data argument. It's so it's a balance of risk and consequence locking kids out of school, right?
There's if, if there were health benefits to that, you, you can make that argument. And if there weren't consequences to keeping them out where, you know, the loss learning and social development and, you know, athletics and activities, et cetera, you know, if you could, if there weren't those trade-offs, you know, it's a simpler argument, but there are trade offs in everything, right? I mean, it's all our policies that we have. Everything is about the greater good. And so, so what I found was in, in analyzing these different states and in my, my article grading the governors, which was a book excerpt too, is again, you can't find correlations between tight restrictions and COVID outcomes. You just can't. In fact, when you look at the age stratification and Florida's large population, and there, there may the second oldest population after main, but Main's a very small isolated state, Florida, anything less than number one is sort of a win for Florida, right.
In terms of leading and COVID deaths. And, and they were right at the national average, you know, for exceess deaths, they're hovering right around California. And so we see in some places, is that in these tight restricted places, let's take California. They, they, they were below the national average and deaths, but they're right at. And at the time that I wrote did this analysis last year, they were far above the national average and access that. So you're trading off things, right? You can lock down everybody, but if they die from something else, whether it's missed healthcare or depression or overdoses, then what have you really gained? And so the, what I term lockdown to us, you know, it's sort of a balance between, for every two COVID deaths, we really had a lock-down death. And so then you start really looking at the trade-offs the lockdown dust, the average age was about 48 and the average age for a COVID deaths was hovering close to 80.
And so, so in terms of life years lost, the lockdowns would probably cause more harm than COVID did. That doesn't mean, you know, I lost a relative to COVID in a care facility in Detroit, in the first wave in April. And I kept my 90 year old mom under wraps in Detroit, you know, for really two years now, having her keep a low profile because I, I do respect what COVID could do. It's it's really, these one size fits all mitigations. And so in the grading, the governors, the governors that I first off nobody would have gotten an a, but we're on a curve, right. We grade a kids on a curve now. And so we're grading governors on a curve, on a curve. I thought that Kristie Noemm and DeSantis, you know, they stood up, they resisted the lockdowns as much as probably was politically and media wise feasible Wyoming and Nebraska did a pretty good job.
They kept kids in school. I think Wyoming kept kids in school more than any state in the country. The states that I thought were so poor at this, when you look at California and New York and Illinois and Michigan, these are states that have the tightest lockdown measures, and they really didn't have better outcomes than their neighboring states or, or the national average. And so, you know, there's a point when you have to, like, there's a lot of forgiveness that we can have for what happened in March and April. Right. I get it right. I mean, let's say there were unknowns. I, I didn't see the unknowns because of the data I was studying, but let's go with that. By summer of 2020, it was just painfully obvious that kids should all be in class with normal protocols. That just was obvious. And we just resisted it at night.
You know, I think one of the things we'll end up evolving into this discussion is talking about the media implications, but that's where I really think this came from. I think the media drove so much fear and so much endorsement for like a, COVID a zero COVID type of environment that the governors had free reign. It didn't nobody help any, nobody in the media really held the governors accountable for collateral damages. It was all about zero COVID, right. It was like a race to see, you know, let's, let's mask everybody up, but, you know, five and then at two, and then, you know, I mean, it got to be crazy. And so fortunately we're on our way out of it.
Doug Truax: Yeah. It got to be ridiculous. And, and also too, when you talk about the governors, I am a conservative, so I have an opinion about this, but you know, the Democrats are owned by the teacher's unions. And so that just prolonged everything. And even in the face of the common sense of it all. Cause I live in Illinois and I, and I saw it happen all the time.
Michael Betrus: Actually. Let's, let's talk about that for just a second. We'll talk about the teachers' unions. One thing that's really amazed me through this whole journey is for example, I'm not a climate change expert. I'm really not. I have some opinions, but I'm not an expert on that, but I've become an expert over data. And if I don't know that anybody will ever see articles or studies where 97% of scientists agree. And so with all the data from COVID out there in the open, I'm surprised this is the, the mountain that everyone's died on and how much they've overplayed their hands. And so you look at teacher's unions and, you know, specifically you look at, you know, the big ones are Chicago and Los Angeles where the, the, you know, the two that made so many headlines for so many, you know, wanting so many things in order to, to go back to class.
I just wonder, do parents know, like I live in Dallas, that kids were going to school with normal protocols, you know, they weren't actually distanced, they weren't wearing masks. You know, you take Florida. I wonder, I bet you, most parents in those communities, didn't dig into this enough to say, well, wait, they're all the kids, they're doing athletics and they're not wearing masks. And they're, you know, they're not. So you know, all the, all that stuff is normal and in these other states and nothing's happening, I wonder maybe. So why would the teacher's union? I can't understand this. I mean, I get, it comes down to money, but I'm surprised that this is the card they played with so much public data available.
Doug Truax: Yeah. I think that there's a high level of confidence on that side, on the Democrat side, that a lot of people are not going to watch alternative media too. Like the mainstream, the typical mainstream, well, I even try to use mainstream media anymore, but this, you know, I think there's still a lot of people out there moderates in particular too. They're like, well, if I, you know, I can check CNN and it'll be okay, I'll figure it out. But to your point, if they're not even talking about what the, you know, the great news coming out of Florida or Texas or whatever else, I keep people in the dark and I was good. I'll go ahead. You guys say something?
Michael Betrus: No, I agree. And so one of the, one of the pieces I talked about how in the media chapter of, of the lockdowns science versus lockdowns about that, it was the greatest campaign, greatest advertising campaign in history, right? And so you can't really blame people. It wasn't just CNN, right? Nobody hardly watches CNN, but you know, it was, it was almost dark things, social media, it was on Facebook and Facebook would ban things that, that, that, you know, sort of were aligned with some of the thinking that I'm talking about are opening schools, things like that. And, and so in a way, I don't, I don't blame people for wearing masks today. I, I don't, I try to educate them. That's really my charter on this. And people were afraid to send their kids to school or they feel like, you know, their five-year-old should get, you know, three shots. I more feel sympathy for those people who for, for not either being blessed with critical thinking or just getting access, easy access without having to go through all the research I've done to get that data
Doug Truax: That is so kind of you, they have not been blessed with critical thinking. That's a good one. I got to remember that. Yeah. I just, I just, it's crazy to watch. And I think that there's also, you know, just in my, you know, you talk about social media and by anecdotal interactions and things like that. I think there's definitely a spot in here for, you know, the constant virtue signaling around, well, if there's one person out of a hundred, that's concerned about this, then we'll address the other 99 of us have to do this thing, you know, and it's just gotten out of control. And I just think it's so much people just giving up so much of their freedom in exchange for people, you know, the opinion of other people about, well, do you think I'm a good person and stuff like that, we just got this. We're going to dial back the virtue signaling and just be more critical about our thinking and bad things that happen in the world. Just like what you said about the pandemic. It was never going to go to zero. It's a viral, it's a, it's a respiratory viral infection. It's not going to go to zero. You just have to deal with it. But instead, you know, I dunno, it's been crazy. I was going to ask you to, oh, go ahead. Yeah.
Michael Betrus: So, you know, on the virtue signaling and the masks, you know, I did, I opened up the book with a chapter called the science BC before COVID. And then I went into the science AC after COVID and then facemask science, BC, and AC. And so the, the reason that facemasks haven't worked is the pore size in a cloth or a surgical mask are 300 to a thousand times larger than a viral particle. I would challenge anyone, anyone, you know, I'll I put my house on it, but I'd easily put a capital girl gift card on it to, to show that that that mask mandates and wearing masks has resulted in sustained suppression of the virus. There's not a place in the world that that's happened. You know, you look at what's even happened in Hong Kong and, and South Korea lately and Australia a little bit ago. I mean, there just, isn't a place that you can point to, to say, oh, that worked, that worked and we should do that. And so I wish that I, you know, really, I wish that more people knew that. So they'd feel comfortable forget the politics out of this It's more peace of mind. It's feeling safe just to go on or a restaurant or to, you know, your kid's school or a shopping mall.
Doug Truax: That's right. That's right. I've had a lot of the, you know, COVID doctors that I think are heroes on talking about therapeutics, you know, early on and the right drugs and things like that and how many lives they've saved. And it's just, it's, you know, they're depressing conversations in a way to your point. It's like, well, how many people died that didn't have to die because we were, we were doing things that didn't really make any difference. And we should have been looking over here, you know, back to what you said about the grading of the governors and all that. I mean, there's, there's things that worked and things that didn't, and the people that, you know, blocked down so hard that it's on them to say, well, what, where were you even getting this? You know? And if they can't come up with it, and that's the other thing I was going to ask you about too, is the data in general, you know, you made reference to, you know, people in the media, the media, and it's hard to figure out exactly what's going on.
And if they would have known more, they would have, you know, acted differently. You know, what do you, what do you think about the suppression of data out there in the media or in the scientific establishment? I mean, you've got your hands on a lot of it, because that's what you do. You're a smart guy like that, you know where to go, what to do. W what did you look back on it? And, and even now the suppression of that data, you got any comment on that in terms of, you know, maybe it is too darn hard at this point for people to go out and just figure these things out. If they're not, if it's too hard to get.
Michael Betrus: Yeah. Well, yeah. Yeah. I mean, you said that a lot of, a lot of suppression on this, so it's really like, how do you interpret the data? The data is all in front of us. It's just, how do you see it? I see it through a different lens, you know, about proportionate risk and balancing risk and consequence. Some people just see that through a different lens. You know, I thought it was a great comment, Jay, Bhattacharya made a, I think about a year ago or something, but, but he did, I think it was a round table with the Desantis and the other great Barrington declaration docs. And it got banned on YouTube. And I th I think he made a comment like, you know, I'd love to talk to the 24 year old intern that decided that what we were giving, you know, discussing was misinformation.
And so it's a very surreal time that we've got so much suppression I've been blocked. I think only one of my interviews is of a block so far, but, you know, I try not to get too aggressive. I really, you know, again, my charter is to really educate people on this, but I tell you 84% or something of all the COVID news was negative, even when we had good times. And I documented this. And at the time that the EU was doing running around 55%, we were at 80, 84, 86%. And so again, you can't really blame people. Why we, the media chose to suppress so much that the tech companies, even, even today, I mean, I had, I had reviews of my first book blocked by Amazon for seven months. And I know this because I've gotten letters from readers from five different continents, you know, it's crazy.
Like you get these people reaching out to you from all these different countries around the world that are thirsting for this information. And, and they would say, Hey, like Michael really liked your book a lot. And I just want you to know, I tried to do a review and here's the letter from Amazon, but they blocked it and said, if I try to resubmit it, you know, I, I might lose my account and this guy emailed me or emailed me and said, dude, I love your book. But like, I can't lose my amazon account. It's not,
Doug Truax: It's terrible, isn't it? Yeah. It is a surreal time. And it's almost like, I don't know, going on a limb here, but it's almost like the big media executives who are also Democrats who might have an interest in getting mal ballots out in the mail and more people to watch their shows and get ad revenue are all kind of thinking the same thing over this window, period of time we've been, and it's just been, so it feels so corrupt, you know, and, and the lack of the free speech of what you're talking about, you know, here, here you are a guy you're just talking about the data and what you see in it. And it's like, no, no, we're not going to talk about that. That's misinformation, you know, it's like, oh, okay. And then, and that comment by Dr. Bhattacharya, I think is the right one.
It's like, you know, yeah. What 24 year old intern is just making this stuff up now. And we gotta be real careful about this going forward. So last question then, so as, as we are going forward, what, what do you think? You know, we have our viewers and our listeners and they all want to, they're all thinking, oh, we got to avoid this next time. That's for sure. And so what do you think in terms of how do you keep things honest going forward? You know, tips when suddenly in the fall it's like, oh no, there's another variant. Everybody get in your, put your mask back on, you know, w what, what should, you know, our viewers in particular be looking for?
Michael Betrus: You know, it's such a good question on where does the future go with us to forget COVID for just a second, but really in general. And so we've got trust in public health is fractured. I don't think anyone would really disagree with that at this point. I think even the CDC would concede that there's the public health trust is fractured. I think at this point, you know, we've got so many medical experts that have cried Wolf and jumped sharks through this process. And so on the CDC level, you know, we're going to need a leadership change. That seems pretty obvious. I'll a little bit of an admission or a big admission that some of the policies they endorsed towards just simply wrong, that they should have done a randomized control trials on therapeutics and face masks. You know, we, we, we, we did none of that.
And, and so what I'd encourage everybody to do through this as, as again, it's like, I'm no expert right on climate change, but I'll probably do more research if this ever becomes a real active topic, because I I'll be more apt to want to gain my own knowledge. And so I think people should do some independent research look, you know, whether you're a conservative or a D or a liberal, I think it's worthy to fact check any complex thing with a couple of data points and perspectives from either side. And then you just need to think back, think broader. What really makes sense again, you can believe, oh my God, like we need to lock down schools and like our poor kids, and they're going to kill grandma, but you need to look back and say, okay, well, where is it happening? You know, a different policy happening somewhere else and what are those outcomes? And so, again, I think it comes down to critical thinking and, and what I've learned through this as a, there's a lot of people in power that, that some are really bright and, and some aren't, and maybe some that are, might have an agenda or something. So again, I think it's doing independent research as my recommendation for everybody going forward.
Doug Truax: Yeah. Amen to that good old days, you got to go out there and figure it out on your own, and you can't rely on some media outlet to tell you what to do. So we're good. Well, Hey, Michael, really appreciate you coming on. Love the book, the science of lockdowns there, it's in the background to encourage all of our viewers to go out and get it. I know that we really appreciate all that you've done. And now that you're out there, I hope that a guy like you, next time we run into this, you get a lot more visibility right out of the gate so we can make sure we do the right thing. So appreciate, appreciate you coming on.
Michael Betrus: Thank you.
Doug Truax: All right. That's our show for today. Thank you so much for tuning in and for supporting and serve the media. Don't forget that by working together and staying diligent, we conservatives can bring our country back to true greatness until next week. Let's all keep praying that God will continue to bless America.
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