It’s past time to follow the money on coronavirus

Hundreds of billions of dollars is flowing, the media is making instant celebrities, and Big Tech is reaping huge rewards, can anyone say conflict of interest?

The media and the experts refuse to talk about it, but coronavirus is big business in the United States.

We’re currently conducting around 2,000,000 tests per day with the average cost of a test between $50 and $200.  That means someone is pocketing between $100,000,000 and $400,000,000 every single day from testing alone.  That’s up to $2.8 billion per week, $12 billion per month, $144 billion a year.

To put this in perspective, Pfizer, the largest drug company in the world, grossed $51.8 billion in revenue in all of 2019.  The total we will spend on testing alone is going to dwarf that number.

The vaccines are also going to generate huge dollars for the manufacturers and others.  According to HealthLine, each dose of the vaccine will cost between $3 and $37.  Each American will require two doses.  That’s between $1.8 billion and $44.4 billion to vaccinate 300,000,000 Americans.  $9 billion has already been spent and pledged as part of Operation Warp Speed.

The cost of the dose is only part of the expense.  The supplies, the manpower, the shipping, and the other supporting needs will also total somewhere in the billions, no doubt.

In addition, healthcare providers are being paid more to treat coronavirus patients.  Earlier this year, the CARES Act provided a 20% premium for hospitals.  The legislation set aside $30 billion in the first wave for all healthcare providers and $70 billion in a follow up wave more targeted to the areas hardest hit.

Senator Scott Jensen, a physician from Minnesota, noted on his Facebook page.  “Hospital administrators might well want to see COVID-19 attached to a discharge summary or a death certificate. Why? Because if it’s a straightforward, garden-variety pneumonia that a person is admitted to the hospital for – if they’re Medicare – typically, the diagnosis-related group lump sum payment would be $5,000. But if its COVID-19 pneumonia, then it’s $13,000, and if that COVID-19 pneumonia patient ends up on a ventilator, it goes up to $39,000.”

All told, we’re probably  looking at somewhere around $300 billion dollars on the healthcare side, excluding the production of Personal Protective Equipment, ventilators, etc.  The annual revenue of Pfizer, 6 times over and then some.

Healthcare isn’t the only sector making money.  Big Tech is also raking in even bigger dollars.

Amazon’s profits nearly tripled in the third quarter.  Digital Commerce 360 reports,  “Amazon.com Inc. registered its most profitable quarter ever in the three months ended Sept. 30 as its North America revenue increased by 39.3% year over year amid the surge in online shopping driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, the company announced.”

Google also had a great third quarter.  “In the third quarter of 2020, Google’s revenue amounted to 46.02 billion U.S. dollars, up from nearly 38 billion U.S. dollars in the preceding quarter,” according to Statista.  Facebook third quarter revenue exceeded expectations as well, up 22% year over year.

The media companies and news organizations are also benefiting.

Forbes reported, “Nielsen’s Streaming Meter…reported a sizable increase in streaming video usage in second quarter 2020.”  They continued, “The cumulative weekly time spent with streaming video in second quarter was 142.5 billion minutes, an increase of nearly 75% from the 81.7 billion minutes during second quarter 2019.”

News consumption increased markedly in the second quarter as well.  According to Forbes, “With many TV sets on throughout the day, coupled with late breaking information, news was the most popular TV genre viewed. Nielsen found that 47% surveyed had either watched or streamed the news. Other popular genres were comedy at 40% (an escape from the news), movies at 36% and drama at 30%.”

The pandemic has also made instant celebrities out of previously unknown medical professionals and others.  Cable news is booked hourly with experts getting their fifteen minutes of fame.  For example, MSNBC’s medical analyst, Dr. Vin Gupta, appeared this week to impart his expert advice to viewers.

“Just because you get vaccinated with that second dose does not mean you should be participating in things like traveling in the middle of an out-of-control pandemic, or that you’re liberated from masks,” Dr. Gupta opined. “Everything still applies until all of us get the two-dose regimen. We don’t think that’s going to happen until June, July.  We don’t know if just getting the vaccination prevents serious illness, or does it also prevent you from getting infection entirely?”

Quick question:  How is it possible we don’t know that even after we’ve started administering the vaccine?  Does Dr. Gupta himself not know it or does no one not know it?

Interestingly, these experts remain in demand whether or not their prior predictions have come to fruition.

The same people that ridiculed President Trump for predicting a vaccine would be available this year are still at it.  In May, Dr. Irwin Redlener scoffed at Trump’s prediction on MSNBC, sneering that it was “Trump in wonderland,” but he remains a fixture on the network.  He was on just this past weekend, “Discussing vaccine issues, including answering viewers questions” despite that he was completely wrong about the vaccine in the first place.

What are we to make of this?

If the subject was anything other than coronavirus, we would surely be considering the motivations of these players.  Oxford English Languages defines a conflict of interest as “a situation in which a person is in a position to derive personal benefit from actions or decisions made in their official capacity.”

This definition clearly applies to almost everyone in the media and many businesses urging continued lockdowns and other restrictions.  It also applies to healthcare providers pushing increased testing and vaccines, all of whom are reaping in billions of dollars.

The truth is:   They are not by any definition neutral observers providing advice independent of their own interests.  Instead, they are making recommendations that will ultimately benefit them.  This conflict of interest need not be exercised consciously either.

I don’t doubt that most of the experts and the media truly believe what they’re saying, but humans are nothing if not self-rationalization machines.  Your belief in your own righteousness does not make it so.

In normal times, this would be considered a huge problem:  We expect judges and other officials to recuse themselves when their opinion could redound to their benefit.  You don’t trust a stockbroker urging you to buy into a mutual fund that gives them a kickback.  It’s considered a violation of their duty to put your financial interests ahead of their own.  

These are not normal times, however.  Instead, we’re expected to meekly take the advice of those benefiting from that advice, without complaint or question.  It’s past time to start following the money.

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