Commentary

Pushing fear

The COVID-19 peaks (right) on the annual mountain of death in the U.S./CDC

Stop the COVID-19 madness. Just stop the friggin’ COVID-19 madness.

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes this disease, is a nasty little pathogen, and everyone should take it seriously. But encouraging a moral panic rarely helps anyone with anything.

Yes, 500,000 Americans have died with the disease caused by the worst new virus to confront the human race in more than 100 years, but collectively as a species, we have done way better than we did with the Spanish flu of 1918 to 1920.

The Spanish flu killed 0.64 percent of the population, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A kill rate like that today would leave 2.1 million dead.

This pandemic is far from over and the death rate is sure to rise. But the daily number of COVID deaths has been falling steadily since early January, according to the tracking of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, and it is projected to continue to fall.

IHME has predicted a worst-case scenario of 616,000 dead by June 1 – 16 months into the pandemic in the U.S. To reach Spanish flu levels by 2021, people would have to start dying at more than twice the rate they are dying now.

Then, too, SARS-CoV-2 isn’t killing who the Spanish flu killed.

“An unusual characteristic of (the Spanish flu) virus was the high death rate it caused among healthy adults 15 to 34 years of age,” the CDC has noted. “The pandemic lowered the average life expectancy in the United States by more than 12 years.”

COVID-19 has so far lowered life expectancy by only a year, largely because its death rate has focused on those over 34 years of age.

The country will set a record for total deaths this year at somewhere over 3 million in part because of COVID-19, but the number of deaths per year in the U.S. has been almost steadily climbing since the 2.15 million of 1990. This is in large part a reflection of a still growing but aging population.

These are simple population dynamics any ecologist learns early.

What really needs to be examined if one is to quantify the damage done by COVID-19  is “excess deaths,” which reflects the number of people dying before they were destined to die or preordained themselves to die thanks to bad life decisions. That’s not blaming them.

Bad decisions plague us all. It’s a human trait. As someone who has spent a lot of his life in the Alaska wilderness, I’ve known way too many people – pilots, skiers, snowmachiners, rafters, climbers, the list is long – who suffered premature deaths because they made bad decisions, and I’m not embarrassed to admit it is probably only luck that has kept me from joining them.

Everyday killers

COVID-19 was implicated in a massive number of deaths in this country last year, but even if it was solely responsible for every one of those deaths, it still lagged behind cardiovascular disease and cancer – diseases we have for better or worse learned to accept as “normal” killers, according to the CDC.

Not to mention that death with COVID-19, as opposed to deaths from COVID-19, is all tangled up with heart disease, cancer and a host of this country’s other chronic diseases when one tries to sort out how deadly the latest pathogen to visit a pandemic upon humankind.

 As of Feb. 17, the CDC was reporting 94 percent of those who died with COVID-19 were reported to have medical “conditions or causes in addition to COVID-19. On average, there were 3.8 additional conditions or causes per death.”

In simple language, the vast majority of the dead were already medically compromised, and 61 percent were 55 years of age or older –  the Americans considered “old” before 50 became the new 40 and 60 the new 50.

Only 3,674 of the dead – 0.8 percent – were under the age of 35. Despite the mainstream media comparing COVID-19 deaths to the lives lost in World War II, the Korean conflict and the Vietnam debacle, there is no comparison.

The COVID war is not the Vietnam War which left approximately 54,000 American servicemen dead before their 35th birthdays. At current death rates, COVID-19 wouldn’t reach Vietnam death numbers for young, productive Americans even if the pandemic went on as-is for a decade.

For those under 35 with COVID, the better comparisons are with unintentional injuries, which killed 39,000 of them in 2019, according to the CDC;  drug overdoses, which killed about 23,000; and suicide, which claimed the lives of 14,527. The number of deaths there are, respectively, 11-, 6- and 4-fold greater than for COVID-19.

Deadly virus

Still, COVID-19 is not a disease to be taken lightly. It is not the flu, let alone the common cold.

CDC data shows two huge, COVID-linked spikes in expected weekly deaths in the U.S. in 2020 – one starting at the end of March and running through May, and another starting roughly in November and running through January.

Deaths were also up in the summer when death rates historically creep downward, but the summer increase pales when compared to the other two peaks. There were enough deaths to reduce U.S. life expectancy from the 2019 estimate of 78.8 years to the 2020 estimate of 77.8, but only time will tell whether this changes the trend in the long term or is but a bump on the graph.

The life expectancy of American white women fell from 55.3 in 1917 to 43.20 in 1918, it was back up to 57.4 in 1919. White women are, on average, the longest living of Americans, but the changes in life expectancies for men and minorities followed the pattern of those of white women in 1918.

Black Americans, then as now, had lower life expectancies. The life expectancy for a black man fell to a startling 29.9 in 1918, just slightly below the century-long low of 29.1 in 1904. By 2019 that number had more than doubled to 72.3 years. 

Many people don’t truly understand how well off the species – no matter gender or skin color – in this country in the new millennium. But still some die because life is a death sentence.

COVID-19 painted some new peaks on the annual mountain of deaths in the U.S., but it didn’t alter the mountain.

At the worst period in April, according to the CDC, there was a 41 percent jump in excess deaths. The number of people expected to die – 56,000 – increased by 23,000 to 79,000. By the end of January, according to the CDC, the difference in deaths between the expected and the actual was down under 5 percent.

Prevention

How many might have been able to avoid infection if their personal risk management had been better will likely never be known, but personal actions can shift the risk level up or down.

“Increased distance and fewer close contacts are two key measures to reduce transmission in the coronavirus pandemic. Increasing the distance between people and reducing the number of contacts reduces the risk of being infected by people who were unaware they were infected,” warns the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. 

Norway has a SARS-CoV-2 infection rate among the lowest of Western countries. Its death rate of 11.2 per 100,000 is three and half times smaller than that of Alaska, which just happens to boast the third lowest death rate in the U.S.

Only Hawaii and Vermont are doing better. Hawaii kept its rate low much the same way Norway did; both put strict controls on who they let into their territory and how. And they did a good job of isolating those who became infected to prevent them from spreading the disease to others.

Norway’s risk protection measures were simple.

“Distance is still the most important factor in preventing infection,” agency spokeswoman Line Vold stressed. “Face masks do not replace other infection control measures.”

A Norwegian analysis concluded that distances of a meter or more “reduce the risk of infection by an estimated 80 percent. Face masks used in the population only reduce the risk by approximately 40 percent.”

“This means that the risk of infection can increase if we replace the recommendation for a distance of at least one meter with the use of face masks,” Vold said. “It also shows the importance of people continuing to keep at least one-meter distance to others than their closest contact, so that the virus does not spread.”

A University of Vermont study published in January warned that mandatory masking in the U.S. appears to be suffering as a prevention measure because of the failure of Americans to limit their contacts.

The key risk factor driving transmission was found to be the number of daily contacts with other adults and seniors, a university media release summarized; “those who wore masks had more of these daily contacts compared with those who didn’t, and a higher proportion contracted the virus as a result.”

It is now clear the risks of your contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus can be minimized by your behaviors, but many people are poor at risk assessment and management. Sometimes because they worry about the wrong risks.

The chances of being killed by a bear in good bear habitat have been estimated at 1 in 2.1 million. The lifetime odds of dying in a motor vehicle accident are a well-documented 1 in 106, according to the National Safety Council.

Despite this, many Alaskans fear being attacked by a bear, and almost nobody fears driving. In fact, there is so little concern about what could happen while someone is behind the wheel that so-called “distracted driving” – ie., not paying attention to what you are doing – now kills eight people per day, according to the CDC. 

Among most Americans, there is likewise so little concern about heart disease – despite the one in six odds of dying from it – that most people don’t even think about prevention until after being diagnosed with the disease. If they cared about prevention, the CDC estimates the number of deaths per year could be cut by at least 200,000.

Government officials and physicians have been trying to scare them into taking heart-disease prevention measures for decades, but it hasn’t worked. And now there are mixed-signal messages aimed at trying to scare them into taking better COVID-19 prevention measures.

Is it possible there are approaches that might work better?

 

 

 

 

 

20 replies »

  1. Your article is not accurate, COVID has become the leading cause of death in the US, surpassing cancer and cardiovascular disease. The real issue is protecting hospitals and workers from becoming overwhelmed and run down which has happened and if people did not take proper precautions to social distance and wear masks could have been much worst. You would like to think we learned something from the Spanish Flu, but unfortunately the government downplayed it then much like ours did and even forbid writing about it in the papers as anything more than a common flu. The Spanish flu was no doubt more devastating in the number of deaths and age of victims, but in other ways COVID has been in its own way devastating since it is often transmitted by people without symptoms and has been effecting people very differently. While it does mostly kill older adults, there are other examples — there was a body builder in peak shape who spent more than a month in the hospital and is a shel of his former self. A nurse in her 40s died leaving seven kids behind. You can find many stories of younger people suffering serious ilness and death. Giving up modern conveniences is a small and prudent sacrifice to protect healthcare workers, the elderly and others who were seriously made ill or died even though not within a high risk category. Had the virus been more predictable and everyone who got it became sick it may have actually been easier to contain. A reason Ebola and other more deadly viruses have not spread to anywhere near the extent that this one has over the past year. Fear is in the unknown and we now know more about the virus and that masks and social distancing are very effective. Had we known at the beginning of the pandemic what we know now, we may have been able to successfully reduce impact without such harsh lockdown measures, but hindsight is 2020 and not everyone follows the rules and gives the same respect to others and wears masks leading to a greater need to shut things down completely. COVID parties are just an example. The leaders making those decisions were doing there best to protect people from death and to protect the healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed, and I think a little deference should be given for such a monumentally difficult decision where people are going to die in even larger numbers than did if measures were not taken. I can only imagine how challenging it has been to be in the shoes of the governors of this country the last year.

    • COVID-19 deaths have not surpassed those of cancer or heart disease. it isn’t even close: https://usafacts.org/articles/top-causes-death-united-states-heart-disease-cancer-and-covid-19/

      and our death rate is significantly higher than that of Sweden, which didn’t crackdown that hard, and way, way higher than that of Norway which controlled its borders and traced/tracked pretty thoroughly but also didn’t crack down very hard in-country. it has a far, far lower death rate than the U.S.

      end of discussion.

      outliers, sad as those infections and deaths might, are outliers. they are like the victims of lung cancer who’ve never smoked. sometimes life just isn’t fair.

  2. Thanks for publishing the graph. You would think this summary of excess deaths would be easy to find and published often, as this is the key bottom line metric.
    Thanks for digging it out.

    Died of Covid or With Covid doesn’t really matter. Excess deaths have occurred and Covid is likely the a major contributor to that change. The lockdowns are probably a minor contributor. See the increases in ODs and suicides.

    It will be interesting to see this graph at the end of 2021 and 2022. I suspect it could show the excess death count going negative. In other words, will it show evidence that deaths have been brought forward from those years.

    • Excess deaths tell the tale. It does not matter if it’s “with” or “of” at this point, the 500,000 excess deaths are all due to covid. It will be interesting to see if the next few years excess deaths drop below the levels pre-covid and then rebound to follow the pre-covid trend line a few years after that.

  3. Great perspective peice, Craig.

    A little less than a year ago, while much was not known and I had serious doubts about the Whuhan Flu being real, I recall saying that excess deaths will tell the true story of this pandemic. Excess deaths are up, bigly. The pandemic was and is real. Old and infirm are more at risk than the young and healthy. Staying away from the sick is still the best way to avoid getting sick. Masks have their place but are not as good as staying away from others, they are not a panacea or a cure. People are still as stupid as they were before this pandemic, in some or even many cases they seem to have managed to become even stupider…

    • I think it means that over 500,000 people, in this country, have failed to continue living due to covid.

      • Steve o , you miss read his English. Died with covid means ( died with covid) not from it . No one knows how many people died due to covid. Im sure you know this but persist with your chosen narrative that ignores facts. The facts are people died from covid and people died with covid and we don’t know the exact number that was specific death from covid. Thus the current most accurate description is died with covid. Now I will also throw in here to confuse the issue.- more or less than 500 k could have died with covid because their is often not an accurate determining test at time of death that scientifically prooves covid. Under cdc guidelines Doctors are allowed to say symptoms are similar to covid therefore it’s death with covid but that has no bearing on truth because lots of diseases are similar to covid and people die without diagnosis of covid even when they had it because testing is prooven inaccurate and symptoms don’t always match. So best guess is 500 k died with covid and unknown how many from covid.

      • Steve o , as to your assumption to covid being responsible for all 500k excess deaths- could be . As to if i miss read or misread your English- i did not . You are basically right though. The people are dead and someday we may have a better understanding of why.

  4. A renowned doctor stated a week ago that whilst 500k deaths from COVID are reported and mourned, guess what…..Deaths from cancer, heart disease and natural causes have declined rapidly over the past year. Have we found cures for these? Absolutely not but he argued that around 50% of deaths attributed to COVID are undoubtably from other causes.

    Pre Biden, ANY deaths could be recorded as COVID because there was no requirement to do a COVID test on the body. Following Biden the test is mandatory hence the huge fall in cases but overall deaths remain the same but now attributed to other causes.

    Any further proof needed of the ridiculous stats, the UK announced yesterday there have been NO cases of Flu in the past 6 weeks, absolutely none. Middle of February and no cases of Flu in the UK…this must be a miracle from God because it is simply impossible.

    The CDC states that only 6% of all deaths attributed to SARS-CoV-2 listed SARS-CoV-2 as the only cause of death.

    Also, a CDC study of SARS-CoV-2 positive cases showed that 70% of those individuals wore masks “Always”.

    Gov. Cuomo admitted that 66% of SARS-CoV-2 hospitalizations in NY were of people who strictly followed “Stay at Home” orders.

    Herd immunity would have been reached by July 2020 had the fear mongers kept their lies to themselves. They have only succeeded in prolonging the inevitable and crippling the economy along the way.

    By the way, I challenge anyone to prevent death. It is inevitable!

    • You remind me of the old story of a pair of OBGYNs attending the birth of a wonderful, healthy youngster. One Doc is very old, the other very young. Young asks old: What is the prognosis? Answer: Death. Cheers –

    • Bryan,looks like your man Standing Tall came down with the ‘Rona,most likely while attending a potential super spreader event.
      And to think that at some point in his career he was an educator.Nothing like leading by example.
      He’s been fairly non essential for at least 6-8 yrs,so hopefully it won’t cost the state much.
      At least ben stevens is finally gone, so he/we got that going for us.
      Time for one political side to plug in a few brain cells,”Hey lets storm the National Capital!”

      • Dave MC , honest question for you . Are you a political operative/ tied to politics in any professional way ? Or are you just a very opinionated dyed in wool democrat anti republican regardless of wether the decisions are good or bad ? You are so often touchy and attack oriented around party lines. Im just curious in honest way . Partially because of your specific focus on party versus specific action. You tend to take a small action and attempt to overly exemplify it taking common msm narrative hook line sinker . Without dissecting the facts to understand what really occured and wether it was out of line with reasonable action. Im Not trying to be blaming towards you just trying to understand your vociferous misplaced energy . Is it genuine or is it some form of job ? What angle brings this out? Thanks

      • Dave Mc, what is a “Super Spreader” event? Is it like “Super Storm Sandy”? Maybe it is like the BLM town burnings, looting, and cop killings or is it the ANTIFA nightly storming of federal buildings this past year in the Northwest? Maybe you mean it’s millions of untested illegals Joe is encouraging to cross our Southern borders. Are those “Super Spreader” events?

    • It’s quite odd that during 2020 there were almost no seasonal Flu cases. Those that pursue the Covid narrative claim it is because everyone is taking steps to prevent Covid. Ie, masks, distancing. And that has stopped seasonal flu in its tracks. But since the country has had well over 20 million Covid cases, that argument does not make sense. Surely there had to be many many seasonal flu cases. Why have they not been reported? Could the $$$ that goes out for every case of Covid have resulted in some mis diagnoses? That couldn’t happen right?

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