The Way We Were

Seismic changes in life are rare, yet they happen. They often come in the form of war or invasion. Perhaps this pandemic is an enemy invasion, something we’ve been battling since the first humans interacted with nature.

Life has changed. The world, growing smaller every day, has changed. And things will never be the way they were.

But that does not mean the virus will forever control life. Science and diligent research will find a solution to control this variety. And the lessons learned in our response will guide our preparations for future outbreaks.

This points out the danger of ignoring facts in pursuit of political gain. There has been a marked decline in recognizing the value of science and the scientific method, replaced by anti-vaxxer style hysteria, mumbo jumbo pseudo-science, and rejecting the path of informed enlightenment. Some would return to the dark ages of religious-based faith healing despite all evidence to the contrary.

Religion has its place. But praying to some entity—assuming there is one—makes little sense if this same entity sent the plague of the virus in the first place. Or allowed it to happen. If you want to pray for something, pray for the understanding that medical research and science are the solutions to the immediate problem. Pray for effective planning and preparation for the next pandemic.

Leaving blame aside for the moment, now is not the time to cut funding for organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and others. While they have a broad mandate, they have limited authority over their member nations. Such organizations can be the basis for better recognition and response to these situations, given a re-evaluation of member nation responsibilities to the rest of the world.

Now is the time to measure what they did right, what they did wrong, and make sure we equip them to respond rapidly and effectively to future pandemics.

The WHO was formed after World War II because back then we had the foresight to recognize that a seismic shift had changed the world. We knew we would face more globals issues, some of which might involve pandemics. We need to rekindle our foresight and look to the future through the filter of rationality and reason, not as adversaries of other countries but as fellow humans.

Now is not the time to resist such efforts, now it the time to re-double them. And the United States should be leading the way, not retreating into the delusion of isolation.

The lessons learned here should force us to increase our efforts to prepare for such outbreaks and encourage us to foster a closer relationship with the rest of the world. Viruses and diseases do not recognize borders. If we pull back from international cooperation, we will lull ourselves into a false sense of security.

Like it or not, we cannot isolate ourselves from the world. Any serious efforts at restarting and growing the economy will depend on both international trade and travel. It is the reality of the times we now live in.

An illustration of this disdain for facts and reasoned analysis is the false—and dangerous—comparison of the COVID-19 virus to the flu. While I empathize with those struggling in these difficult economic times, a rush to reopen the country may come at a staggering cost of lives.

Flu comparisons are inaccurate, misleading, and a dangerous basis to justify reducing measures to control the spread. The total number of dead, while staggering, has been limited by the stringent measures. This is not the flu. With the latest figures out of hotspots such as NY, the death rate of COVID-19 surpasses that of cancer, heart disease, and car crashes. All leading causes of death in the United States.

The flu is a poor comparison to put the COVID-19 threat in its proper persective

“The number of new deaths reported in the US in the week beginning March 16 was 678 percent higher than the previous week. In New York State, the number grew thirty-six-fold the same week. By comparison, the worst one-week increase during the 2017-18 flu season was 24 percent, and during the 1957-58 Asian flu was 48 percent. Although the growth in COVID-19 deaths is now slowing, the number of new deaths last week was still more than double that of the week before.

Strikingly, in the state of New York, the number of people who died with coronavirus last week was more than any other cause of death — in fact, more than twice the average number who die in a week from all causes combined.”

In its simplest terms, the CDC estimates between 24,000 and 62,000 deaths from the flu last year. Accurate numbers are difficult to come by due to a variety of factors, including multiple symptoms and pre-existing conditions, i.e., heart disease, cancer, which may have been a factor in the deaths.

Many deaths involve people who had the flu but may have died from other complications. Yet, for our purposes, these estimates are valuable to put things in perspective. But, we must remember these numbers are far from absolute. Using such uncertain factors to derive certain actions is dangerous and fraught with peril.

But if we ignore the complexities and just make a raw comparison as some in the media would have us do, COVID-19 has killed over 30,000 in the US since they identified the first case in January. And these numbers are likely under-reported. The true tally may not be available until we can undertake a full analysis of the pandemic, and that can’t happen until it is over. That may take months, if not years.

THIRTY THOUSAND in less than four months. Even if this rate were to decline by 20% a month, by the end of the year, another almost thirty thousand people would die. Such a rapid decline is unlikely since the peak is still uncertain. Without stringent measures in place to control the spread, what would that number be? And what number of dead Americans are we willing to sacrifice if we just shrug our shoulders and say, “it’s no worse than the flu.”

We’ve tested less than 1% of the population of the US. As of today 3,420,394 tests have been conducted. Of those,

665,970              tested positive

2,754,424          tested negative

10,821                pending

Now there are a lot of factors to consider, but if the rate of positive test results is consistent it means almost 25% of the population might test positive. That is almost 80,000,000 Americans. A 1% mortality rate would kill 800,000 Americans.

Almost as many casualties of the World Wars, Viet Nam, Korea, and the Civil War combined. That’s the potential scope of the problem we need to consider.

Things may never be the way the were. But with a measured and rational approach, we may get to a place we want to be.

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