Pandemic’s deadly toll rises each day. Why isn’t everybody taking it seriously?

dcflags-300x131Nineteen months after the coronavirus pandemic first began to rage, the nation has racked up mortality  and morbidity statistics that are tragic and horrifying:

  • 1 in 500 Americans now has died of the disease
  • People older than 85 make up only 2% of the population, but a quarter of the total death toll
  • Among those ages 40 to 60, the illness has killed 1 in 240 native people, 1 in 390 Latinos, 1 in 480 blacks, but 1 in 1,300 individuals who are white or of Asian descent
  • 1 in 330 residents of Mississippi and New Jersey has fallen to the virus, while 1 in 610 residents of the District of Columbia has died of Covid-19. In Maryland, 1 in 590 residents has been killed by the virus, while the figure is 1 in 700 Virginians.
  • 3 million children have tested positive for Covid-19 since the pandemic’s onset (and as of Sept. 9), with more than 243,000 cases added in the month’s first week — the second highest number of child cases in a week since the pandemic began. After declining in early summer, child cases have increased exponentially, with nearly 500,000 cases in the late August and early September.
  • The preventable costs of treating unvaccinated patients in U.S. hospitals totaled an estimated $3.7 billion in August, almost twice the estimates for June and July combined. The total preventable costs for those three months now stand at an estimated $5.7 billion.
  • With deaths mounting at 2,000 per day, and with the current pandemic’s toll likely underestimated but tallying at 672,000 coronavirus casualties as of Sept. 17, the nation imminently will surpass the 675,000 deaths attributed to the 1918 flu calamity — when the U.S. population was smaller, medical science was far less advanced, and even less careful mortality accounts were kept.

It is hard to fathom what the national reaction might be if nefarious state or individual evil-doers somehow caused a catastrophe that wiped out a population equivalent to the pandemic toll — taking out cities the size of Detroit, Washington, D.C., Boston, Memphis, or Nashville.

By August, this pandemic’s many months of slaughter had added up so much that its death toll, by some historians’ accounting, had exceeded that of the Civil War, infamous for having the highest American death toll of any war in history. The virus, earlier in the year — by February — cumulatively had claimed more lives in this country than the number of Americans killed in World War II, Korea and Vietnam combined.

Vaccines and boosters make a difference

At the same time, the Biden Administration’s  campaign to get more Americans to take safe and effective coronavirus vaccines trudges forward. It launched when Biden took office and 12 million in the U.S. had gotten at least one shot to now when  211 million Americans or 63.6% of the population older than 12 and eligible for vaccination have gotten at least one shot (as of Sept. 17), while 181 million of that group or 54.4% of the population is fully vaccinated.

Biden had pushed the idea that many vaccinated Americans, starting the week of Sept. 20, would start getting a third shot, particularly of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. The administration has said this would help ensure that the vaccines’ waning protection — as detected in industry and international studies — would not allow for worsening pandemic conditions, especially as the Delta variant has ripped through the country, especially in the South and West.

Federal experts have dampened this administration ambition, advising that the data show the vaccines maintain their capacity to protect patients from serious illness, hospitalization, and death. Pfizer booster shots may be recommended for those older than 65, those with immunocompromised systems, or at serious risk if they fall ill. But medical scientists have lined up to encourage that vaccine supplies be targeted most at getting more Americans and people globally powerful first-shot protection before amplifying safeguards for those already vaccinated.

Consequences of resistance to science and public health

Even as overwhelmed hospitals and exhausted health workers have battled the pandemic in recent days nothing less than desperate circumstances in hotspots including Florida, Idaho, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Montana, and Alaska, extremists — including prominent Republican leaders — have intensified their resistance to the administration and public health measures, including vaccination and face covering requirements, that have shown good outcomes in quelling the pandemic.

Those who oppose vaccination requirements somehow ignore how slammed hospitals can’t care for patients with urgent, non-coronavirus health needs and how they suffer. Hospitals in Alaska, Idaho, and Montana are confronting dire treatment decisions because they are inundated with coronavirus patients in awful shape. With their claims of their individual rights, they run over the needs of mostly unvaccinated patients who are seeing important cancer and other therapies canceled or postponed due to the consumption of resources due to the Delta surge.

Officials in some of the hardest hit areas are boasting about the good outcomes some infected patients have seen with monoclonal antibody treatments. The demand for this costly therapy has threatened to exhaust supplies, even as a less invasive and expensive alternative exists — preventing cases with relatively cheap, safe, and effective vaccines.

The distractions that have been peddled on conservative and social media, meantime, have hit pathetic lows, with unfounded claims for people ingesting not only a livestock deworming drug but also gargling with a well-known topical disinfectant that most consumers tint their skin brownish-red with when they suffer burns, scrapes, or cuts.

A chart-topping rapper took up invaluable expert time after she blamed her absence from a glittering  charity ball only for vaccinated celebrities in Manhattan. She said she was wary of inoculations because she claimed a cousin’s friend in Trinidad had, as officials in the Caribbean island nation would characterize it, suffered a sexual “flat tire” after getting a coronavirus shot. Experts in Trinidad and up to the White House debunked the claim that the vaccines cause impotence or testicular swelling in men.

In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damages that can be inflicted on them by an array of awful circumstances and things, including:

In these cases, a crowd of problem people and institutions — these can include doctors, hospitals, insurers, regulators, and politicians — may press victims to move on, settle, and they fast forget the lonely agony of the suffering. It can, however, take a long time for patients to recover from terrible illness or injury. Harms can last a lifetime. Patients may need medical services, as well as financial and other support for months or years. They also need closure and justice for wrongs done, as well as the sense that they may be able to help others avoid the problems that afflicted them.

We are not done with the coronavirus and the huge trauma it has inflicted on us all. The country got to savor this summer, even briefly, what the world might be like with this nightmare quelled more and greater normality restored. Please get tested, if appropriate, and vaccinated. Officials are trying to make it as easy and convenient, as possible — and it’s free. All medical interventions carry risk. But vaccines’ benefits long have been shown to far outweigh their harms. We cannot ignore disease and death and embrace nihilism and fatalism. We can quell the coronavirus and we must do so before it mutates again in ways that can be even more disastrous.

Photo credit: Coronavirus pandemic memorial exhibit, ‘United in Grief,’ at National Mall in Washington, D.C., by artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg / John Gonzalez, abc7News
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