COVID-19: Is Reason Possible?

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck

A sure sign that the worse of this phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is behind us is that things are returning to normal.  No, I do not mean we no longer need masks, or that we are opening up. Rather many are focusing less on the pandemic itself and more on politics and trying to score political points by casting blame.

I wrote last month that, “Trump, the Governors, Republican and Democrat, and health officials are doing the best they can in a very difficult situation where there are a lot of unknowns.” That still generally remains my position today. Sure, some have attempted to play politics from day one, nor am I naïve enough to think that politics could ever be eliminated from the actions of politicians. This is an issue of degree and prominence.  After all, as I wrote in that post, the reasons we changed the standard naming convention and now refer to the virus as COVID-19 was entirely political.  

Still, for the most part, the President and the Governors in both parties put politics on the back burner, or at least a side burner, and focused on the problem.  Did they get everything right? Of course not, but they focused on the problems and made the best decisions they could with the information they had. We can always play Monday morning quarterback, but overall, they did a good job.

The main goal at the time was to flatten the curve.  The pressing concern was that the number of cases would rise so quickly that the medical system, particularly hospitals, would be overwhelmed. We needed to “flatten the curve” to give them time to catch up.  The CDC records the first U.S. COVID-19 death in the week of February 8th. Deaths peaked during the week of April 18th at 17,005. They then began to decline to the mid 3000s by the end of June. The curve was flattened. They did what they set out to do, and thus my conclusion that they did pretty well.

Perhaps it is a sign of the age we live in, but many find success and good new difficult to take.  Doom and gloom must always lurk right behind the next bend in the road. This attitude is particularly true of those in the news, whose product is more fear and hype than news.  It was always expected that as we opened back up, the number of cases would rise, as would the number of deaths. How could they not?  The goal had been to flatten the curve, not eliminate it.  

Some states opened up and, and as expected, the number of cases rose. But something strange happened. The ground rules changed. Hospitalization and death cease to be the focus; after all, they were still declining.  The number of infections became the major focus.  As the number of reported cases rose to new records, claims that we opened too soon became common. These were often accompanied by demands for mask mandates and new lockdowns.  Also, a huge controversy erupted over whether or not schools should reopen in the fall.

Two factors make this all problematic. The first is that record numbers of deaths or hospitalizations did not match the new records for cases per day. While deaths did increase some, they remained well below the highs of April.   Undoubtedly this is because many people who contract COVID-19 show little or no symptoms. Increased testing was finding more of these people. The second and somewhat related factor is this disease does not affect all age groups equally. According to CDC data, as of August 6th, 92 percent of deaths were in the age group 55 and above.  While everyone can get the disease, for those under 55, COVID-19 poses a very small danger.

A huge problem is the lack of perspective.  For example, in the age group 1-4 years,  only 15 children have died.  Each death is a tragedy, but during that same period, 8803 children in the same age group died from other causes. The normal deaths from flu season are between 60,000 to 80,000 depending on how well the flu vaccine works. The Asian flu of 1957-58 killed 116,000 in the U.S. Adjusting for differences in population, that would be a death toll of 220,000 today, significantly higher than the current number of COVID-19 deaths.  

It may be a fact that many do not want to hear, but as the saying goes, life is a sexually transmitted condition, the outcome of which is 100% fatal. Baring some medical miracle, death is a part of life and will remain so in the future.  During the COVID period, nearly 1.6 million people died from all causes. Demanding that politicians from either political party stop the virus is about at reasonable as King Canute commanding the tide of the ocean to stop.

According to CDC data, the number of new cases per day peaked about July 23rd and started to decline.  It looks like deaths may be following. As unpopular as it may be, this good news. We are not over with the virus, and it certainly could mutate into a deadlier form.  But still, it remains good news. But many cannot seem to accept this.

Finally, it is irrational to only look at things from only one side.  COVID-19 is a serious problem that is killing people. But there are many other things, including the shutdown, that are also killing people. Some see only economic effects from the shutdown.  Yet, we know that economic downturns have a human cost beyond economics and these result in increased deaths.  Social Distancing and Isolation also take a toll on people’s well being and health.  The Washington Post reported in early May that,

Three months into the coronavirus pandemic, the country is on the verge of another health crisis, with daily doses of death, isolation and fear generating widespread psychological trauma. Federal agencies and experts warn that a historic wave of mental-health problems is approaching: depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide. 

For the third world, the problems of lockdowns are far worse, as they have interrupted normal supply chains. As Time reported on an Oxfam report,

Disruption to food production and supplies due to COVID-19 could cause more deaths from starvation than the disease itself…  The report found that 121 million more people could be “pushed to the brink of starvation this year” as a result of disruption to food production and supplies, diminishing aid as well as mass unemployment. The report estimates that COVID-19 related hunger could cause 12,000 deaths per day: the peak global mortality rate for COVID-19 in April was 10,000 deaths per day.

For those wanting to help, I would suggest a donation to Food For The Poor.

Yet as the number of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths decline, fear and finger-pointing dominate the news, and the whole issue is becoming increasingly political.  That will help no one, except those who profit off of fear.

Aug 7th, 2020

One Comment to 'COVID-19: Is Reason Possible?'

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  1. Helen said,

    Statistical facts are well stated. As current society seems to like labels, I have labeled our current, global, societal situation as: ‘purposeful economic sabotage.’

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