The coronavirus pandemic, which has confounded medical experts and their efforts to quell it, also has created a baffling assault on reality by a large segment of U.S. society. The evidence-free opponents of vaccines, face coverings, social distancing, and other common sense public health measures are gaining a growing new coterie of off-kilter advocates.
The members of the latest counterfactual crew, alas, are privileged thought leaders. They have allowed their opinions to grow unmoored from common sense and hard evidence as they engage in what a health policy writer has, accurately, termed “magical thinking.”
These opinion-shapers — including broadcast satirists and columnists for major news organizations — simply have declared themselves weary of the pandemic. They’re vaccinated, boosted, and may even have gotten a mild Omicron infection. And because they’re just fine, thank you, they want the rest of the world to declare the pandemic is over, fini, kaput. It’s time to move on and return to their version of entitled normality, or “just live with it,” as they say.
It seems that traditional methods of communicating the severity of calamitous situations don’t permeate the consciousness of these advocates. They aren’t moved any more by those wrenching stories of individuals’ losses and grief. They can read past the pages and pages of death notices appearing in major newspapers across the country. They’re past the front-line reporting of how besieged doctors, nurses, hospitals, and clinics are with gravely ill and dying coronavirus patients.
The data (see graphic above, courtesy the New York Times) won’t sway them that coronavirus doesn’t give a whit about their feelings and beliefs. The virus spreads, mutates, and sickens and kills its human hosts.
A preventable infection takes deadly toll, still
That is what is happening apace, with the “milder” Omicron variant surge. Infections, cases, and hospitalizations are plunging, especially in spots like the Washington, D.C., area that were hit hard early. But the average daily deaths keep rising, averaging almost 2,700 a day — a 35% increase when measured in a two-week comparison.
These deaths, doctors confirm, are largely preventable if people would get vaccinated, boosted, wear upgraded masks, and, if they think they have been infected, get tested, isolate, and quarantine. Federal officials now have given full approval — no longer just an emergency-use designation — to the two most common vaccines for patients 18 and older. Based on information gathered in December, federal officials say that boosted Americans were 97 times less likely than the unvaccinated to die due to the coronavirus and 75,000 or more of us could die by month’s end because of the disease.
Instead, U.S. officials have released for 2020 alone their estimates of “excess deaths,” fatalities above what would have been expected by examining recent trend lines. This reliable method of calculation puts the pandemic death toll higher. As the Wall Street Journal reported:
“Federal authorities estimate that 987,456 more people have died since early 2020 than would have otherwise been expected, based on long-term trends. People killed by coronavirus infections account for the overwhelming majority of cases. Thousands more died from derivative causes, like disruptions in their health care and a spike in overdoses. Covid-19 has left the same proportion of the population dead — about 0.3% — as did World War II, and in less time. Unlike the 1918 flu pandemic or major wars, which hit younger people, Covid-19 has been particularly hard on vulnerable seniors. It has also killed thousands of front-line workers and disproportionately affected minority populations. It robbed society of grandparents, parents, spouses, sons and daughters, best friends, mentors, loyal employees, and bosses. Those lost include a 55-year-old Rhode Island correctional officer; a 46-year-old Texas dental-office receptionist who helped care for her granddaughter; a 30-year-old Iowan who fatally overdosed; and an active 72-year-old and grandmother of 15 who was Nashville’s first female city bus driver. ‘It’s catastrophic,’ said Steven Woolf, director emeritus at the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. ‘This is an enormous loss of life.’”
The newspaper also reported this:
“It could take years to fully realize the lasting social changes the pandemic and its human toll will yield. Major wars can redraw maps, shift the balance of global power and leave memorials in the nation’s capital. The pandemic is a reminder our biggest enemies are often too small to see.”
What the data show about coronavirus deaths and infections
What the newspaper found is that the pandemic took a terrible toll on older Americans, killing 700,000 of those 65 and older. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that its analysis of available data suggests that more than 200,000 residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facility and staff at such facilities have died due to coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.
The Wall Street Journal offers more grim analysis of the coronavirus’ deadly, long-term effects:
“Overall, the excess death toll includes about 140,000 people of prime working age — 25 to 54, according to the Journal’s analysis. Through the end of December, about 192,500 children under 18 have lost a parent or another primary caregiver to Covid-19, said Susan Hillis, lead author of a recent CDC report on the topic. Nonwhite children faced the steepest loss, she said. ‘This is a lot more than a ripple. It is a tidal wave,’ Dr. Hillis said. Another study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in July 2020, estimated that each Covid-19 death affects an average of nine close relatives.”
The pandemic, the newspaper found, laid bare whopping inequities in U.S. health care:
“The disparity showed in the deaths among prime-age workers, who are 25 to 54. Hispanic people make up 20% of this age group but 30% of its excess deaths, while Black people make up 14% and 25%, respectively. By comparison, white people account for 58% of the group and 35% of its excess deaths and Asian-Americans 8% and 3%, respectively. Experts say the disparities stem from many factors, including different rates of occupational exposure, access to health care, and pre-existing health conditions.”
Let’s not forget, too, that experts have tied the isolation, loneliness, economic and social disruption, and despair caused by the coronavirus to unacceptable spikes in deaths and injuries due to non-coronavirus causes, specifically the opioid abuse and drug overdose crisis (with an estimated 100,000 deaths last year — a record) and a big upswing in road deaths (38,680 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2020, an increase of about 2,500 from 2019, and deaths surged further in the first half of 2021).
And experts are still researching long Covid, the persistent harms of the virus that may have affected tens of millions of us and that some economists estimate may be side-lining the equivalent of 1.6 million U.S. workers.
We are not done with the coronavirus and the huge trauma it has inflicted on us all.
Please get tested, if appropriate (this is a capacity in need of much improvement and efforts are under way to do so), AND get vaccinated, AND get those booster shots AND wear those quality masks indoors. The upgraded masks make a difference (see illustration above) Officials are trying to make it as easy and convenient, as possible — and it’s free. If you’re uncertain about getting a booster or optimizing your mixing and matching of coronavirus shots, talk to your doctor. And, while you’re at it, ask about and get your annual flu shot.
Health officials, who already have shown that young people ages 5-18 can safely and effectively be vaccinated, soon will evaluate and potentially approve multi, low-dose coronavirus shots for kids younger than 5. Efforts to safeguard the young are lagging and grownups need to get youngsters vaccinated, too.
We cannot ignore disease and death and embrace nihilism and fatalism. We cannot allow anti-science fanatics to destroy centuries of progress with the viral spread of ever-wilder fantasies and conspiracies. Our health system, the envy of the world, cannot be a toy to be smashed and ruined by selfish belligerence.