One Year Later: Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding’s Warnings Echo

Epidemiologist Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding warned a year ago that COVID-19 was not being taken nearly seriously enough. Since then, the pandemic has played out with destructive force.

Now, with the one-year anniversary passing this week, the original tweet from Dr. Feigl-Ding echoes:

Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding warned the nation
[Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images]

HOLY MOTHER OF GOD – the new coronavirus is a 3.8!!! How bad is that reproductive R0 value? It is thermonuclear pandemic level bad – never seen an actual virality coefficient outside of Twitter in my entire career. I’m not exaggerating… #WuhanCoronovirus #CoronavirusOutbreak

That tweet and the thread that followed are no longer available on Twitter but can be seen in an archived copy here.

The public response to the novel coronavirus continued to be…well, less than urgent. In January, when Feigl-Ding tweeted that, Trump had already assured the public the virus was under control, as documented here by CNBC.

Yet Dr. Feigl-Ding was warning, less than a week later, that the pandemic was not under control. A year later, the effort to get COVID-19 under control is still underway.

NY Mag followed up on Feigl-Ding’s tweet two months later, acknowledging that the Harvard epidemiologist had been correct to broadcast concern, and addressing the negative response. At the time, his concern was waved away by many who suggested it was wrong to raise the alarm, that it might not be so serious, that he was exaggerating.

In fact, the Twitter thread was featured in a piece for the Atlantic, specifically titled to suggest it was misinformation. An exerpt follows, showing the criticism Feigl-Ding faced.

Unfortunately, there were some mistakes. While Feigl-Ding included quotes and screenshots of the paper, which was preliminary and not peer-reviewed, he omitted some context, primarily that other infectious diseases such as measles also have very high R0 numbers.

However, a year later, these tweets no longer appear alarmist. In fact, in December, CNN reported that there had been one COVID-19 death for every thousand U.S. citizens. That’s not one death for every thousand cases, or one for every thousand hospitalizations. That is one person dead of COVID-19 for every thousand people who exist in the United States. That is 331k deaths in a country with a total population of around 330 million.

Feigl-Ding’s tweets, dismissed as alarmist, were a warning, and the U.S. failed to take it. Instead, deaths continue to rise — the CDC now shows over 423k deaths.

Dr. Feigl-Ding has continued to try to warn the public, despite this initial attack on his efforts — he’s since shared information with his Twitter following about what the U.S. needs to do to open schools safely, our best bet for using available vaccine supplies to do the most good, and the dangers of relying on a ‘herd immunity’ by infection.

A year ago, Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding’s warning was not heeded, and with the evidence in, it’s clear he was not wrong, excessively alarmist, or jumping to conclusions. This pandemic isn’t over yet, and we still have the opportunity to listen to experts and take good advice, if the nation will only do so.

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