Note: I offer my deepest sympathy to anyone who has lost a loved one, or suffered great physical or mental hardship, during the 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic and Lockdown. I am very sorry. This post is meant to focus on how we can best respond as a nation to the threats to our health and to our economy. It in no way seeks to diminish the pain of anyone’s personal loss.
I have no expertise in the areas of Infectious Disease or Healthcare Statistics, so I must rely on others who do.
Here are some important facts, all taken from either the CDC or Johns Hopkins University publicly available websites, for 2017 or 2018, before the Coronavirus pandemic:
Total number of deaths in America from all causes: 2,839,205
Within that total, Heart Disease: 647,416
Within that total, Cancer: 599,100
Within that total, Seasonal Flu 34,000 to 61,000
Within that total, Age 65 or Older 2,067,404 (74%)
So three quarters of all U.S. deaths usually occur in people age 65 or older.
Within that total, approximately 110,000 were attributable to Drugs or Alcohol, and over 480,00 were attributable to cigarettes. So almost 600,000 of the deaths were caused by personal behavior on the demand side and by a mostly regulated (with the exception of illegal drugs) supply chain, permitted and taxed by federal and local governments.
Here’s a figure I had not focused on before: According to Johns Hopkins, between 250,000 and 440,000 of the deaths in that total were caused by medical errors or infections contracted while in U.S. hospitals. Hopkins states that U.S. Hospitals are therefore the third highest cause of death in the U.S.
Let that sink in. Going to the hospital for any reason is very dangerous and can cause death.
Now, as I write this in late May the Coronavirus is reported to have killed 100,000 in the U.S. Since most of the deaths were among older people with pre-existing conditions, it’s hard to imagine that these are all extra deaths which should simply be added to the above totals. I recognize the tragedy of death earlier rather than later, but surely many of these deaths would have occurred anyway and been listed in one of the above categories for 2020. There is no way to know for sure, but I’m going to imagine that perhaps half of the deaths are genuinely attributable to the Coronavirus alone, in people who otherwise would have lived beyond 2020 were it not for the virus.
Now think about what we have NOT done for the approximately 1 million deaths a year caused by hospitals, tobacco, alcohol, and drugs, compared to what we HAVE done for the approximately 50,000 deaths actually caused by the Coronavirus so far in 2020.
We are in the process of destroying lives, families and businesses because of this virus. Income which cannot be recreated. Businesses which will not be hiring. Educations which will be postponed or not happen at all. How much illness and death will be caused by the government imposed collapse of families’ incomes?
And how many extra or earlier deaths will there be because people are not seeking or getting treatment for non-Coronavirus issues, also leading to layoffs in healthcare as well?
We were told to lockdown everything to “flatten the curve” so that the healthcare industry would not be overwhelmed. We did it. And we did it so well that many hospitals are now largely empty and filing for bankruptcy, along with the looming bankruptcies of many employers in entire industries: food service, hotels, entertainment, oil and gas, food suppliers, airlines, etc. Having achieved that great healthcare success, why are we still continuing so many harsh economic and social restrictions?
After studying many reports and projections on the Coronavirus, I believe that our best experts should certainly continue their research, but I also find it hard to believe that we can really know anything definitive yet about the net impact of this disease, beyond the gross hospitalization figures, because:
- The cause of death–Coronavirus or pre-existing condition–is reported differently across states and countries.
- No one knows how many people actually have or had the disease, so mortality rates are skewed by more or less testing.
- No one knows how many deaths would have occurred anyway due to age and underlying conditions.
- No one knows how many extra deaths will be caused by the lack of normal treatment for non-Coronavirus conditions.
- No one knows how many extra deaths will sooner or later be caused by the current economic devastation, from suicide to closed healthcare providers.
To my non-medical mind the only data which seems to be believable and actionable are the number of new hospitalizations with patients who have tested positive for the virus. And that is the one data point most associated with preventing a local or regional overload to the healthcare system, which was the original reason for the actions we took. Every other piece of data, until it can be studied in hindsight, seems suspect at best, along with any projections–up, down or sideways–derived from that data.
I of course know that all death is bad. But look at those figures again. I think the only reason we’ve reacted with such force is because of the suddenness of the virus and its potential to overburden some parts of our healthcare system. With the other, larger killers, we’re like the frogs in the slowly heating water. For an equal response, why don’t we lock down every winter over the seasonal flu? Why isn’t everyone associated with the tobacco industry and its products being locked up? If hospitals kill at least 250,000 people a year, why are administrators and government regulators not doing something at least equal to the Coronavirus lockdown in hospital facilities? Because deaths caused by the flu, tobacco and hospitals are part of the “normal” background noise, and take place largely out of sight.
Unless and until more definitive data arrives, my layman’s conclusion is that the Coronavirus appears to be in the same ballpark as the seasonal flu–plus or minus. Probably more contagious, but in healthy people about as deadly. And, after more than two months of lockdown, we should reopen economic life as quickly as possible, while practicing the common sense deterrents that we’ve all memorized. We go to offices, sports events, concerts and restaurants during the flu season. We should do so now as well, while washing hands, masking if we want, and not attending if we don’t feel well, or are sneezing or coughing.
And we should all operate with kindness. Those who feel more cavalier about reopening should remember that this virus really does kill people. It is not a myth. It is real, and a genuine menace for many, some of whom we will run into in our daily lives. So in this time of reopening, we must social distance and abide by the other recommendations that should minimize the risk of infection.
We should test for the virus and for its antibodies often and across the country, as soon as we can, which will not only limit the spread but also give us much needed data. Those with difficult conditions or advanced age should of course take extra precautions. More data will be good and may lead to different conclusions or actions. For now, the best course seems to be to open up in general, but use common sense personal precautions until we know more. Presumably this activity will produce an uptick in cases, so watch closely if actual Coronavirus hospitalizations increase in a local community to the point of threatening the system.
Now here is a final figure. According to the Guttmacher Institute, abortions kill at least 850,000 babies every year in the U.S. If we add those deaths to the above figures, then total deaths become 3,690,000, and abortion becomes the number one cause of death in our country. And death by abortion is the result of personal choice, not of an unseen viral enemy. We choose to do it.
If some governors are implying that we are murderers for wanting to go to a restaurant with our friends, because supposedly all lives matter, then what about those babies’ lives? On average for the last 40 years in the U.S. we have killed over 100 babies an hour, every day and every night, 24/7. One hundred babies killed every hour. Why aren’t we having daily press conferences about those deaths, which are many orders of magnitude greater than anything we’ve seen from the Coronavirus?
As a nation, we are frogs in the pot over aborted babies. But do we seriously think that God doesn’t notice? Do we think He is pleased?