‘Turning a corner’ on pandemic? The hard numbers disagree.

casesurgecovidoct-300x175Numbers can tell a persuasive story, but will even overpowering figures shock Americans into taking the steps needed to deal with the coronavirus cases surging across the country?

By many metrics, it is counter-factual to contend, as President Trump insists, that the nation is “rounding the corner” on the Covid-19 pandemic and “the country is learning to live with it” — as opposed to getting sick and dying from it. Let’s take a look at a bunch of the metrics:

The United States’ new coronavirus case count exceeded 70,000 in a day for the first time since July.

On Oct. 23, the nation hit its highest daily number of coronavirus case since the pandemic began, recording at least 81,400 new infections. That passes the record set in summer’s Sun Belt surge.

As the Washington Post reported:

“Covid-19 hospitalizations increased in 38 states over the past week and are rising so quickly that many facilities in the West and Midwest are already overwhelmed. The number of deaths nationally has crested above 1,000 in recent days. The last time the country hit a new daily record for coronavirus cases — 76,533 on July 17 — just four states accounted for more than 40,000 of those cases: Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas. This time, 14 states account for that same [big chunk] of cases. And 22 states have broken their records for single-day highs of cases in the past two weeks … More than 8.3 million Americans so far have been infected with the coronavirus, and at least 222,000 have died, according to a database maintained by The Post.”

The pandemic’s toll likely is much understated, the New York Times noted, reporting on “excess deaths” in 2020:

“The coronavirus pandemic caused nearly 300,000 deaths in the United States through early October … The new tally includes not only deaths known to have been directly caused by the coronavirus, but also roughly 100,000 fatalities that are indirectly related and would not have occurred if not for the virus. The study, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is an attempt to measure ‘excess deaths’ — deaths from all causes that statistically exceed those normally occurring in a certain time period. The total included deaths from Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, that were misclassified or missed altogether. Many experts believe this measure tracks the pandemic’s impact more accurately than official Covid-19 death reports do, and they warn that the death toll may continue an inexorable climb if policies are not put in effect to contain the spread.”

The pandemic’s toll for the year could hit even more grievous highs, researchers have warned in online publications of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA network). There, editors warned:

“The importance of the estimate by [Dr. Steven H.] Woolf [of Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine and others] —which suggests that for the entirety of 2020, more than 400 000 excess deaths will occur—cannot be overstated, because it accounts for what could be declines in some causes of death, like motor vehicle crashes, but increases in others, like myocardial infarction. These deaths reflect a true measure of the human cost of the Great Pandemic of 2020 … these deaths [if they occur would] far exceed the number of U.S. deaths from some armed conflicts, such as the Korean War and the Vietnam War, and deaths from the 2009 H1N1 (Swine flu) pandemic, and approach the number of deaths from World War II.”

Want the coronavirus toll tallied in a different way for alternative comprehension’s sake? The New York Times also reported on the work of Stephen Elledge, a Harvard geneticist, and his calculations, which go like this:

“’Think of everything that a person does in a year,’ said … Elledge …’Who among us would not give anything to have one more year with a parent, a spouse, a son or daughter, a close friend?’ In the new analysis, which has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, [he] added up those years. He tabulated the ages of Americans known to have died of Covid-19, and tallied the number of years they might have lived had they reached a typical life expectancy. His calculations show that the coronavirus has claimed more than 2.5 million years of potential life in the United States since the start of 2020. Nearly half of those years were taken from people under the age of 65. The numbers, Dr. Elledge said, magnify a dimension of the pandemic’s toll that can’t be captured by absolute deaths alone, and underscore the importance of taming the virus to protect everyone, regardless of age.”

For those financially inclined, Harvard economists — including a former U.S. Treasury Secretary — have developed evidence-based estimates of the economic damage of the pandemic, reporting in JAMA:

“The total cost is estimated at more than $16 trillion, or approximately 90% of the annual gross domestic product of the U.S. For a family of four, the estimated loss would be nearly $200 000. Approximately half of this amount is the lost income from the Covid-19–induced recession; the remainder is the economic effects of shorter and less healthy life. Output losses of this magnitude are immense. The lost output in the Great Recession was only one-quarter as large. The economic loss is more than twice the total monetary outlay for all the wars the US has fought since Sept. 11, 2001, including those in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. By another metric, this cost is approximately the estimate of damages (such as from decreased agricultural productivity and more frequent severe weather events) from 50 years of climate change.”

The economists argue for aggressive public health responses to the coronavirus, saying these have high economic returns. They also contend that the government, especially the federal government, needs to take a lead role in assisting Americans:

“[T]he immense financial loss from Covid-19 suggests a fundamental rethinking of government’s role in pandemic preparation. Currently, the U.S. prioritizes spending on acute treatment, with far less spending on public health services and infrastructure. As the nation struggles to recover from Covid-19, investments that are made in testing, contact tracing, and isolation should be established permanently and not dismantled when the concerns about Covid-19 begin to recede.”

In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also their struggles to access and afford safe, efficient, and excellent health care. This has become an ordeal due to the skyrocketing cost, complexity, and uncertainty of treatments and prescription medications, too many of which turn out to be dangerous drugs.

The shambolic federal response, rife with misinformation and actions based on officials’ “gut” or “hunches” or extreme theorizing, has not worked, and course corrections have become a matter of life and death — ours. Please vote as if your health and life depend on it, because they do.

Public health experts are urging Americans to redouble their coronavirus-fighting measures, including high hygiene with aggressive hand washing, distancing, avoiding crowds and close, confined spaces, and, of course, covering of the face. The face covering guideline has been extended to those on buses, planes, rideshare cars, and other means of public transportation. And authorities are cautioning that shorter exposures may be riskier than previously believed.

Still, for those resisting common sense measures that protect them and those around them, a few more data points: New research underscores the importance of face masks and the risks of foregoing them, as reported in the New York Times:

“Universal mask use could prevent nearly 130,000 deaths from Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, in the United States through next spring, scientists reported … The new study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, also offered a rough estimate of the pandemic’s toll in the United States: perhaps 500,000 deaths by March 2021, even with social distancing mandates reinstated in most states. Other experts cautioned that, as with any model, the new estimates are based on many assumptions and should not be seen as predictions. ‘It’s not a prediction or forecast, because we can will this number out of existence,’ said Shweta Bansal, an infectious disease modeler at Georgetown University who was not involved in the new work.”

Indeed. We have lots of work to do to defeat the coronavirus and get our country to a far better place than it was before. We cannot stop now. We’re in the middle of our fight.

Patrick Malone & Associates, P.C. listed in Best Lawyers Rated by Super Lawyers Patrick A. Malone
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