While the Covid-19 pandemic rages on, other major killers of Americans — threats posed by vehicles and guns, as well as searing weather and nasty critters like mosquitoes — have not stopped. People need to be aware and safeguard themselves as they can from these risks.
The data keep growing and the news, for example, continues to be glum about the coronavirus lockdowns and road mayhem. As NBC News reported:
“Motor vehicle fatalities surged by 23.5% in May, as drivers took advantage of open roads to push to autobahn speeds, a situation made easier by the fact that authorities in many communities were pulling back on enforcement, in part, to avoid risking the possibility of their officers becoming exposed to the coronavirus. According to the National Safety Council (NSC) report, the May numbers mark the third-straight month that U.S. motorists were at a higher risk of dying from a crash …”
The safety council noted this about the spiking road toll:
“At a moment when the country should be reaping a safety benefit from less traffic, the roads are riskier, threatening to reverse traffic safety gains made over the last few years … the country had been experiencing a leveling off and small decline in overall fatalities. Further, employers are sending employees back to work, meaning commutes are resuming – and motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of workplace deaths.”
The group, among other recommendations about resumed motoring, traffic, and commuting, urged extra caution for drivers dealing with pedestrians and cyclists.
Alternative options for getting around may have grown in popularity due to Covid-19 and worries about mass transit and buses, as this blog has noted. Local transportation officials have encouraged the public to explore ways to reduce traffic, pollution, and infection risks with not only walking, bikes, and scooters, but also altered streets with reduced pathways and increased open-air areas for shopping and dining. At the same time, people may be dealing with new distractions like face coverings, or with well-known nemeses of their focus and attention like cell phones and texting, loud music, or animated conversation.
New Yorkers got a public and stark reminder of the risks of what seem to be casual, fun transportation options when Nina Kapur, 26, a reporter for CBS2 in the city was killed while riding as a passenger on a suddenly swerving rental scooter. Police said the fatality occurred on the same day as a Queens case in which a scooter driver suffered a head injury and was found in the street. Both incidents are under investigation and both involved rentals from Revel, an electric scooter enterprise that also operates in the District of Columbia and several other big cities.
Revel shut down its NYC rentals after a 32-year-old rider crashed into a median light pole and was killed.
Colliding public health crises
Gun violence persists as a plague on communities of color, which also have been hit hard by coronavirus infections and deaths. This bleak reality could provide an impetus for real and significant public health actions that could significantly benefit the besieged, an activist group says.
The Everytown for Gun Safety group, heavily funded by the billionaire and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has called the confluence of the deadly and debilitating coronavirus and gun violence “colliding public health crises,” noting:
“Since the onset of Covid-19, the country has seen a rise in gun violence: The number of gun deaths trended higher during the peak coronavirus outbreak period of March through the Memorial Day weekend in May than during the comparable time frame in 2019. This resulted in 354 additional firearm deaths. Unprecedented increases in gun sales, combined with economic distress and social isolation due to Covid-19, are intensifying the country’s long-standing gun violence crisis. The pandemic highlights the deadliness of weak gun purchase and access laws that allow firearms to fall into the wrong hands and also sheds light on existing structural inequity. The coronavirus puts vulnerable populations, including women, children, and communities of color, at heightened risk.”
The group has used federal sunshine laws to extract concerning data on how gun sales and problematic background checks have exploded since earlier in the year and the onset of the pandemic. This has heightened risks for suicides, accidental killings of youngsters finding unsecured weapons, domestic violence, and other bad happenings, the group said. As Politico reported, based on the FBI information:
“Internal FBI data reveal a jarring new stat: The number of people trying to buy guns who can’t legally own them has skyrocketed. That came as part of a surge in gun purchases in the first three months of 2020, compared to the same time period in 2019. And the change has raised concerns about gun safety.
“In March 2019, the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) ran background checks on 823,273 attempted gun buys (the system immediately greenlights the vast majority of transactions). This past March, however, NICS processed more than 1.4 million background checks –– a massive spike. The most dramatic shift, though, might be in how many people the system blocked from buying guns.
“In March 2019 and February 2020, the NICS system blocked about 9,500 and 9,700, respectively. But in March 2020, it blocked more than double that amount: a whopping 23,692 gun sales. [The] NICS web site says it only blocks gun sales for a narrow number of reasons: because the would-be purchaser has been involuntarily committed to a mental institution, for instance, or because the potential buyer is subject to a restraining order for stalking an intimate partner. Federal law bans people in these categories from buying guns. But the NICS background check system has gaping loopholes (even the gun industry’s lobby group has pushed for reform). And those loopholes mean any spike in gun purchases likely includes an increase in gun purchases by people who can’t legally own them.”
Chicago continues to be an epicenter of the gun violence epidemic afflicting many big cities, with 15 people shot and two critically hurt in a recent, shocking drive-by outside a South Side funeral home, as the Washington Post reported:
“Chicago is going through one of its most violent years in recent memory. Compared with this time in 2019, shootings in the city are up 47%, going to 1,637 now from 1,110 in 2019, according to Chicago Police Department data. Homicides have increased by 51%, spiking to 414 as of Sunday from 275 at this time in 2019. [The funeral home incident] was Chicago’s worst in recent years.”
President Trump has cited the city’s problems as a reason why, as in Portland, Ore., he has ordered a deployment of federal forces. Governors and mayors have opposed the unilateral federalizing of law enforcement activities by the president, questioning the need and constitutionality of the practice. Local officials say the presence of camouflage-wearing, helmeted, masked, and unidentified federal forces — personnel drawn from various areas of the federal Homeland Security agency — is unacceptable and inflames existing problems rather than resolving them.
The Everytown group argues that proven policies and practices rooted in public health best could address both gun violence and the coronavirus:
“The increase in gun deaths during this pandemic has shined a light on our nation’s shortcomings, while also illuminating the path forward. Our work must include implementing proven policies that protect ourselves and others, including strengthening our background check system, promoting secure gun storage, funding community-based violence intervention and suicide prevention programs, passing Extreme Risk laws, and instituting policies that separate domestic abusers from their guns.
“We must also invest in the essential work of rectifying the ills of economic, social, and structural inequity — while ensuring access to fundamental services such as health care and domestic violence and mental health services — to protect our most vulnerable communities. The benefits of instituting evidence-informed policies are manifold: In doing so, we invest in the cost-effective strategy of prevention, improve the plight of all Americans across the country, and ultimately save lives.”
Natural menaces: familiar but deadly and debilitating, still
They are seasonal, recurring, and familiar menaces: heat waves and mosquito infestations. They still cause huge harms to Americans — and appropriate responses to them have been complicated by the Covid-19 pandemic, experts say.
Here’s what CNN reported about the risks of summer torpor and the coronavirus:
“[S]ome fear that the collision of Covid-19 and extreme heat could be a dangerous combination. Extreme heat can threaten anyone, but many of the same groups who are at greatest risk of serious illness from the coronavirus are also the most vulnerable groups to heat exposure. With indoor gatherings known to facilitate the spread of Covid-19, cities and relief organizations are adjusting how they keep people safe in this new normal. And with millions across the country out of work and the virus forcing vulnerable people to stay in their homes, experts say the pandemic is compounding the heat risk for those who are already struggling …
“Though it tends to get less attention than other weather events, extreme heat can and, tragically, does kill. It is one of the most deadly types of weather-related events in the US, killing an average of 702 people each year, according to Paul Schramm, the climate science team lead at the Centers for Disease Control. That’s more than are killed in hurricanes, floods and tornadoes in most years, he says. When high temperatures combine with stifling humidity … it can overwhelm a person’s ability to sweat and cool down, leading to spikes in body temperature that can damage the brain and other organs. And when temperatures stay high with little cool down overnight, the heat risk can rise even further. The threat is greatest for the elderly, young children, people who are overweight, and those who work outside or exercise during the hottest part of the day.”
The independent Kaiser Health News Service reported this about insect problems and the pandemic:
“Monitoring and killing mosquitoes is a key public health task used to curb the spread of deadly disease. In recent years, top mosquito-borne illnesses have killed some 200 people annually in the U.S. But that relatively low toll is due in part to the efforts of public health departments to keep the spread at bay, unlike in other countries where hundreds of thousands are sickened and die each year …
“This is a physical job that can’t be done by telecommuting from home. Keeping track of mosquitoes and the diseases they carry requires setting up traps and searching backyards and commercial lots. Public health workers patrol irrigation ditches and overturn the backyard tires, plastic bins and garbage that can hold standing water where mosquitoes breed.
“Around the U.S., more than half of public health departments combat mosquitoes … But a joint investigation published this month by KHN and The Associated Press detailed how state and local public health departments across the U.S. have been starved for decades, leaving them underfunded and without adequate resources to confront the coronavirus pandemic, let alone perform the other work like mosquito control they are tasked to handle at the same time.”
Not good. In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the injury and worse that can be inflicted on them by car, motorcycle, and truck wrecks. As families struggle with coronavirus-related sickness and death, as well as the financial mess the infection has made of the nation’s economy, it is unacceptable and unthinkable for them to deal, too, with gun violence and how it can worsen suicide, domestic abuse, and cause unintended injury and death to children. With all of us staying safer by sticking close to home, the summer heat is not as myth-makers falsely suggested killing the coronavirus. No, the heat and pesky skeeters only are adding to our health perils.
We could ask more from our leaders and government officials. We’ve been disappointed by their response to Covid-19 and more. But we all have work to do, individually and collectively to:
- drive with greater focus and caution
- protect our friends and neighbors Second Amendment rights while also talking with them about ensuring the safety, security, and proper use of firearms
- safeguard ourselves and the vulnerable or at-risk around us from heat, checking in on each other, ensuring we’re well hydrated, staying as chill as possible, and avoiding unnecessary risk
- protecting our communities from infestations, including by checking around properties to eliminate standing waters where mosquitoes breed, wearing light, protective clothing, and safe anti-bug sprays.
Holy cow, let’s get lots of this particular summer behind us, safely, shall we?