The Gold Coast random COVID testing debacle
A tragicomical farce in three acts
There have been many moments throughout the past two years of the manufactured COVID-19 crisis when I have wondered whether I fell asleep and woke up on the set of a remake of Idiocracy.
However, I now believe that all previous episodes of this phenomenon were merely rehearsals for the event which I am about to relate to you. Grab the popcorn and settle in.
Act 1: An Unbelievably Idiotic and Pointless Study is Designed and Conducted, at Taxpayers’ Expense
In late January, the Gold Coast Public Health Unit conducted two surveys of randomly-selected households (117 in the first survey, and 143 in the second) across the suburbs of this city of roughly 700 000 people – a city which, incidentally, has been my home for the past three years until I left it two weeks ago.
Medical and nursing students from Bond, Griffith and Southern Cross universities assisted the Public Health Unit staff in doorknocking at homes whose addresses were randomly selected by a computer, and requesting residents to submit to PCR testing, supposedly to determine the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community.
Anyone who has been paying the slightest attention to the ongoing COVID clusterf*ck will be thinking, at this point, “Why on earth would the Public Health Unit be using a PCR test for this purpose?”
Good question. I’m glad you asked. Let’s enumerate the reasons why no genuine public health expert who had two functioning brain cells left in their head would think that this study made any sense.
1. There is no justification for testing asymptomatic people
Only 4 of the 117 people tested in the first survey, and 6 of the 143 tested in the second survey, had any symptoms consistent with COVID-19. According to the Commonwealth Department of Health, people with no symptoms do not need to get tested:
In other words, the Gold Coast Public Health Unit blew approximately $20,000 up in smoke (based on QML’s price of $88 for a self-requested “COVID-19 PCR test” – note that this is a scientifically inaccurate description of the test, as one cannot perform a molecular test to detect a disease; the PCR test is intended to detect fragments of SARS-CoV-2, the virus associated with COVID-19).
And that figure doesn’t include the salaries of the employees of the public health unit who spent their time undertaking this ridiculous exercise, at taxpayers’ expense.
2. A reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (commonly referred to as PCR) test is a completely unsuitable procedure for diagnosing an active infection with SARS-CoV-2
As I have discussed in detail in a previous article, a positive PCR test result does not equate to infection. Viruses are intracellular pathogens (that is, they can only make us sick if they manage to get inside our cells and hijack our cellular machinery in order to make more copies of themselves) and hence detection of viral particles in bodily fluids – which are, by definition, found outside cells – such as those collected in the nasal and/or oral swabs used for the SARS-CoV-2 PCR test – does not mean that any symptoms the person has are caused by the virus detected:
3. The Gold Coast Public Health Unit did not specify the cycle threshold used in its PCR testing
Again, as explained in depth in a previous article, PCR is essentially a manufacturing technique for DNA. It allows researchers to take a tiny amount of genetic material and rapidly make millions or even billions of copies of it, in order to study it in detail.
In the case of an RNA virus such as SARS-CoV-2, the RNA in the sample must first be converted into DNA, which is then put through repeated cycles of heating and cooling in order to amplify it. Each cycle roughly doubles the amount of viral genetic material present.
The number of cycles that the sample will be put through in order to determine whether it is ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ for SARS-CoV-2 – the ‘cycle threshold’ – varies between different tests.
A higher cycle threshold means that there are very few copies of viral RNA in the sample (and therefore, presumably, less likelihood of both clinical illness and capacity to infect others), while a lower cycle threshold means that the sample contained more copies of viral RNA.
In an evaluation of one RT-PCR test currently being used in Australia, cycle thresholds of up to 40 were held to constitute a positive finding (i.e. presence of the virus) while cycle thresholds of 40-45 were considered to require further testing.
However, researchers from Harvard University have pointed out that
“Following complete resolution of symptoms, people can have prolonged positive SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR test results, potentially for weeks… At these late time points, the Ct [cycle threshold] value is often very high, representing presence of very low copies of viral RNA… In these cases, where viral RNA copies in the sample may be fewer than 100, results are reported to the clinician simply as positive. This leaves the clinician with little choice but to interpret the results no differently than for a sample from someone who is floridly positive and where RNA copies routinely reach 100 million or more. A positive RT-qPCR result may not necessarily mean the person is still infectious or that they still have any meaningful disease. First, the RNA could be from nonviable or killed virus. Live virus is often isolable only during the first week of symptoms but not after day 8, even with positive RT-qPCR tests. Second, there may need to be a minimum amount of viable virus for onward transmission. For infection control purposes, the utility of the assay is greatest when identifying people who are floridly positive and at risk of further transmission.”
According to these researchers, patients with a cycle threshold of greater than 34
“likely do not have meaningful or transmissible disease.”
The godfather of the US COVID-19 response himself, Dr Anthony Fauci, stated that “if you get a cycle threshold of 35 or more, the chances of it being replication-competent [i.e. capable of causing infection] are miniscule”:
However, as stated above, a test with a cycle threshold of up to 40 is approved for use in “diagnosing COVID-19” in Australia.
Remember, each cycle in the PCR process roughly doubles the amount of viral genetic material present, so the difference between 35 and 40 cycles is vast.
Dr Kary Mullis, who was awarded the 1993 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing the PCR technique, cogently explained why PCR is utterly unsuitable for diagnosing infections:
Since the Gold Coast Public Health Unit did not specify the cycle threshold used for its PCR test, we can only assume that it followed the guidelines issued by the Doherty Institute, and considered anything up to 40 cycles to be a positive result.
And that means that some, if not all, of the randomly sampled people proclaimed to have “tested positive for COVID” were in fact not infected with SARS-CoV-2 – in the sense of having actively replicating virus in their airways – and could not by any stretch of the imagination be considered to “have COVID-19”, or present a transmission risk to others.
4. The Gold Coast Public Health Unit failed to take positive predictive value into account
Again, as previously explained, positive predictive value is the probability that following a positive test result, that individual will truly have that specific disease.
Even when a test is extraordinarily sensitive (meaning it’s good at detecting the virus when it’s there i.e. not generating false negatives) and specific, meaning it’s good at ruling out the virus when it’s not there i.e. not generating false positives), the positive and negative predictive values of the test vary depending on the prevalence of the disease that’s being tested for in the population.
As the prevalence of the disease declines in a population, the positive predictive value decreases, meaning there are more false positives for every true positive.
As the Public Health Laboratory Network pointed out in June 2020:
So the Gold Coast Public Health Unit randomly tested 260 people, 250 of whom had absolutely zero symptoms, and without any attempt to calculate the positive predictive value of the test, pronounced 31 of them to “have COVID”.
Remember, 21 of these individuals had no symptoms of viral respiratory disease. How does one “have COVID” – which stands for COronaVirus Disease – when one has no symptoms of disease? By definition, if one has no symptoms, one does not “have COVID”.
Furthermore, while stating that in the week between the first and second survey, “the rate of infection had halved”, they did not factor in the apparent reduced prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in the community in order to produce a revised estimate of the positive predictive value of the test. They simply ignored this vitally important metric altogether.
In summary, the supposed “experts” at Gold Coast Public Health Unit squandered taxpayers’ money to deploy a test that is entirely inappropriate for detecting active infection, with an unspecified cycle threshold, on mostly asymptomatic people, without any attempt to calculate the positive predictive value of the test, and then concluded that their survey had identified many more people “with COVID” in the Gold Coast community than was commonly believed.
Perhaps most egregiously, they recruited individuals who are studying to become doctors and nurses to assist with this blatantly fraudulent study, which contravened the Commonwealth Health Department’s advice on testing and ignored basic principles of epidemiology. Impressionable students have been groomed via this disgraceful exercise into believing that it’s perfectly acceptable to conduct studies that contravene all principles of ethical and evidence-based research design. Well done, Gold Coast Public Health Unit!
Returning to the theme of Hanlon’s Razor which has preoccupied me for the past two weeks, are we to conclude that these “experts” are merely incompetent, or are they malicious? Surely any individual who has gained the qualifications to be employed in a public health unit could not be unaware that a PCR test is not fit for the purpose for which it was used in this survey.
It seems to me that malice is a more likely explanation than incompetence. In either case, their employment should be terminated immediately as they are not fit to hold any publicly-funded position.
Act 2: Politicians and Bureaucrats Seize on the Results to Push Their Agenda
In a joint press release issued by the Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, and Health Minister, Yvette D’Ath, Ms Palaszczuk concluded that the survey had demonstrated that:
“Initial results indicate COVID-19 is considerably more common in the community than reported and that many people who are infectious may not be aware.”
Ms D’Ath echoed her fearless (or is that clueless?) leader, stating that:
“As we know, the true number of cases in the community is likely to be much greater than what is reported to Queensland Health due to the number of cases confirmed through at-home testing.”
Again, anyone with even the most cursory knowledge of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 knows that these statements are arrant nonsense.
A systematic review and meta-analysis of household transmission studies found that the risk of developing an infection due to presymptomatic transmission (shedding of infectious virus before one develops symptoms of respiratory infection) and asymptomatic transmission (shedding of infectious virus despite never developing symptoms of respiratory infection) combined was 0.7%.
That is, seven in every 1000 individuals exposed to a person who had detectable SARS-CoV-2 in their respiratory mucosa, but had not yet or did not ever develop symptoms, will get infected with SARS-CoV-2 themselves.
And this laughably low risk of transmission is almost entirely attributable to presymptomatic transmission:
“The evidence that asymptomatic transmission exists at all is tissue thin.”
Likewise, the notion that a person with no symptoms of respiratory infection is a “case” of anything except scientific malfeasance is absurd.
How would you judge the competency – and indeed, the sanity – of your doctor if s/he diagnosed you with the flu merely because your nasal swab contained particles of influenza virus, if you had no symptoms of respiratory illness and were in fact perfectly well? Yet this is the level of idiocy demonstrated by the minister charged with developing health policies in this state.
So do the Premier and Health Minister of Queensland know that they are misrepresenting the results of this study as indicating that there’s a significant pool of “silent spreaders” of COVID, lurking in the suburbs of the Gold Coast?
Given the complete scientific illiteracy of most politicians, it’s highly likely that they don’t have the faintest idea how ridiculous their fear-mongering is. That’s a vote on the incompetence side of the Hanlon’s Razor ledger. On the other hand, to have held high public office in Queensland for the past two years and remain ignorant of the key facts of SARS-CoV-2 transmission points to a concerted effort to remain ignorant, which is a vote on the malice side of the ledger.
I don’t pretend to know whether the Premier and Health Minister are incompetent or malicious, but once again, either option disqualifies them from presiding over policy decisions that affect the lives of over 5.2 million people.
The Chief Health Officer, Dr John Gerrard, drew the following conclusion from the Gold Coast survey :
“This is a reminder that basic prevention measures such as vaccination, social distancing, hand hygiene and coming forward to get tested remain central to us getting through this phase of the pandemic.”
This statement is, again, arrant nonsense. There is precisely zero evidence that social distancing has had any impact whatsoever on preventing the spread of SARS-CoV-2, and the US CDC states that
“The risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection via the fomite transmission route [i.e. contact with surfaces on which an infected person has coughed or sneezed] is low, and generally less than 1 in 10,000, which means that each contact with a contaminated surface has less than a 1 in 10,000 chance of causing an infection.”
For a doctor to not know that “social distancing” and “hand hygiene” have next to zero effect on the spread of a virus spread through aerosol transmission is simply unforgiveable. Is the man a fool, or is he malicious? Again, either choice disqualifies him from holding any kind of public health office.
As for “vaccination”, none of the currently-available COVID-19 injections prevent either infection with or transmission of the currently-dominant Omicron strain of SARS-CoV-2. In fact, there is considerable evidence that they increase the risk of infection, rendering the Premier’s claim that “fully vaccinated and boosted Queenslanders… are benefiting from the protective effects of the vaccine” farcical.
In summary, the politicians and bureaucrats who formulate and implement COVID-19 policies in Queensland are either ignorant of basic facts about the transmission dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 virus, the tests used to detect it, and the effect of the injections that they have mandated on large swaths of the population, or they know these facts and are lying about them. Incompetence or malice? Perhaps only a court of law will be able to decide.
Act 3: Ignorant and Scientifically Illiterate Journalists Amplify the Misrepresentations
Australia’s publicly-funded broadcaster, the ABC, has made itself a complete laughing stock throughout the manufactured COVID crisis. And it continued its ignominious performance in its slavish stenography of the State government’s misrepresentation of the Gold Coast survey.
Tobias Jurss-Lewis, generously described as “a news reporter with ABC Capricornia”, inanely summarised the survey as indicating that
“Up to one in six residents have been living with COVID during the peak of the virus in the region.”
Remember, only ten out of the 260 people surveyed (i.e. less than 4%) had any symptoms of respiratory infection, which may or may not have been attributable to the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in their airways. The remaining 21 out of the total of 31 who tested positive had no symptoms whatsoever. They weren’t “living with COVID” – they were simply not sick and not infectious.
Mr Jurss-Lewis was at pains to emphasise that
“Most people in the study with mild or no symptoms were fully vaccinated.”
Given that all of the ten people who reported symptoms were at home minding their own business when the Gold Coast Public Health Unit knocked on their doors and asked to stick a swab up their noses, it’s pretty safe to assume that all of the purportedly infected had mild symptoms, regardless of their vaccination status. But stating that wouldn’t comport with the ABC’s rabidly pro-injection rhetoric, now would it?
Two other ABC “journalists”, Jessica Rendall and “crime reporter” Paula Doneman also weighed in on the Gold Coast survey, regurgitating John Gerrard’s nonsensical statement that “There were people walking around the Gold Coast who had no idea that they had COVID-19.” Um, that’s because if a person has no symptoms of COVID-19 then THEY DON’T HAVE IT.
Once again, are Mr Jurss-Lewis, Ms Rendall and Ms Doneman incompetent, or malicious? If they wish to cover a science-related beat, it is their responsibility as journalists to get themselves properly informed on what “COVID-19” is and is not, what PCR testing is, and what conclusions can and cannot be drawn from it.
If they fail to do this, and if they do not challenge politicians and public health bureaucrats who spout unscientific nonsense, they are not fit to call themselves journalists, and might consider retraining to take dictation for the Premier or Chief Health Officer. Or perhaps they don’t need retraining to fill that role; they appear to be eminently qualified already.
This entire debacle would be amusing if it wasn’t squandering gobs of taxpayers’ money, perverting the development of professional standards in nursing and medical students, and feeding into the fear-porn narrative that the public has been fire-hosed with for the past two years.
You’ll forgive me for being angered rather than amused by the stupidity and/or malice of the public health personnel, politicians, bureaucrats and journalists who formed the cast of this three-act farce – all of them comfortably funded out of the public purse whilst the policies they formulate, enact and spruik decimate the livelihoods and constrain the human rights and fundamental freedoms of many fellow Queenslanders.
We have been burdened, defrauded, infringed and imposed upon by these midwits and malfeasants for too long. The biosecurity theatre to which we have been subjected for the last two years has abjectly failed to stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2 or reduce hospitalisations and deaths from COVID-19. Peaceful mass noncompliance with the petty tyrants and their litany of nonsensical demands is the only way out of this nightmare:
And then, the people who have done this to us must be held to account. Those who were simply too stupid or incompetent to understand their errors can be forgiven if they sincerely apologise for the harms they inflicted. But those who knew that what they were doing was scientifically unjustified and ethically reprehensible, but did it anyway whether for personal advantage, professional advancement or social acceptance, deserve about as much mercy as they have shown.
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