PERSPECTIVE: 100,000 US COVID-19 Deaths Compared to Other Crises
The US has passed a sad milestone as deaths from the COVID-19 virus just reached one hundred thousand lost lives.
Deaths from the virus include not only elderly patients with underlying health issues, but also seemingly average people with no history of illness that suddenly died from the spreading virus, and communities of color have been disproportionately affected.
Since the first COVID-19 death in the US on February 6, over 100,000 people have died in less than four months.
After 2 months of a national lockdown that has affected every aspect of our lives, nearly all 50 states have now begun to reopen their communities to start getting the country back to some level of normalcy, albeit one that must include some adjustments and restrictions.
In the past four months, containment of the virus has come only from stay-at-home orders and use of face masks, intense cleaning of shared spaces, and an almost complete suspension of travel.
These were the only ways of slowing a deadly virus with no vaccine or treatment.
The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Trump Administration set guidelines for states to meet three important indicators that the virus was under control before they could start a “Phased Come Back”.
The three steps are (1) a downward trajectory of COVID-like syndromic cases reported within a 14-day period, a downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period, and treat all patients without crisis care and robust testing program in place for at-risk healthcare workers, including emerging antibody testing.
In California, we have not experienced any weeks with a downward trajectory of confirmed cases; infact, this week we experienced the highest level of new cases since the beginning of the crisis.
But now that we’ve surpassed 100,000 US deaths, our country seems to be in a hurry to reopen the economy without having reached the guidelines set up to allow a safe and responsible path toward normalcy.
It just seems like everyone has agreed that enough time has passed and we owe it to ourselves to return to work and play as if the COVID-19 virus was a tsunami wave that has passed and the tide is returning to normal levels when, in fact, this virus is more like a flood that hasn’t yet receded.
And many have tried to dismiss the level of deaths from the virus as just another one of the risks we face in life that don’t keep us from living or working or cause a shutdown of our economy.
We’ve all heard Donald Trump and others compare deaths from the coronavirus outbreak with those from the common flu, car accidents, and even pool drownings, reducing the virus to a common ailment or unfortunate accident.
Granted, we live our lives with acceptable levels of risk, but death rates should be put into context to provide real comparisons.
- Annual deaths from the common flu, or the affluenza virus, are estimated between 24,000 and 62,000, depending on the severity of the year’s weather. But those deaths happen even with a nearly-universal vaccine and true herd immunity where as many as 80% of the population already has antibodies from previous exposures and the vaccines themselves.
- The US has one of the highest rates of suicides among wealthy nations. In 2018, 48,344 people died from suicide, about 132 per day
- Every year, tens of thousands of Americans die from gun accidents and violence. In 2017, the US had the highest number of gun-related deaths (39,773) since 1968.
- 36,000 people in the US died from car accidents in 2019, which was a 1.2% drop from the year before.
- AIDS, the deadly disease that has spread in the US since the early 1980s and has killed over 700,000 Americans since then, still kills about 13,000 people a year in the US
- And about 3,500 people drown in the US each year, and is the number one cause of unintentional deaths among children under 4 years old.
So now for comparisons; in the four months that the COVID-19 virus has killed over 100,000 people in the US, about 14,000 have died from the flu, 13,000 from guns, 12,000 from car accidents, 1,000 from AIDS, about 1,200 from accidental drownings.
And more importantly, and most significantly, unlike the coronavirus, those other causes of death are not contagious, meaning that none of those victims passed their inevitable cause of death on to anyone else, causing community spread and mass infection.
Some have also compared COVID-19 to the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak in 2012. Although MERS killed 800 people worldwide, only two cases were confirmed in the US and both recovered.
Others point to the Swine flu (H1N1) virus of 2009 that killed between 150,000 and 575,000 people worldwide, but only (not dismissive but small in comparison) 12,500 people in the US died throughout a year.
And the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus of 2003 killed an estimated 8,000 people in 29 countries, but the US only had eight confirmed cases and not one death.
So, no, this coronavirus outbreak is not just like other acceptable risks we calculate into our regular lives like the flu, car accidents, and swimming. Not even close.
It’s not just another thing we hope doesn’t happen to us or someone we know. It’s not a random occurrence.
The COVID-19 virus is a real threat to the world and the US, and it is still unchecked and incurable. The only reason that the death curve has flattened and lowered is that people stayed home, wore masks in public, and stayed six feet apart. Until a vaccine is created or until it passes through enough people enough times to create true herd immunity, Americans will continue to die. It’s inevitable.
We must start to return to work and our normal lives in a safe and responsible way. We must watch for increases in confirmed cases and spikes in deaths.
But most importantly we must act like this is still a real threat and act appropriately. Stay vigilant. Wear a mask. Wash your hands.
Please don’t make this worldwide virus into an American partisan fight. COVID-19 is color blind, unbiased, and non-partisan. It can, has, and will kill on its own terms.
Stay safe and be careful as we all return to as normal a life as possible for the foreseeable future.
And to the families of those that have succumb to the virus we extend our heartfelt condolences for your losses.
We wish you all continued health and a look forward to a return to life as we knew it before this virus. That day will come soon enough.