COVID-19 a danger to individuals but not an existential threat to society

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We’ve released variations of this chart in the past, but the perspective never gets old. This data, provided by John Butcher of Cranky’s Blog, shows how the COVID-19 virus compares to other causes of death in Virginia (using 2017 data, the most recent available). The number is almost as high as for the flu and pneumonia.

But… but… but it’s safe to say that without the extreme lockdown measures put in place by Governor Ralph Northam, COVID-19-related deaths in Virginia would be much higher. It may be true. However, this argument takes us into esoteric territory. It could be argued that we did not “warn” COVID-19 deaths so much as we moved them in time. This was precisely the logic behind the “flatten the curve” strategy: spread infections over time to avoid overloading the healthcare system.

We have not gutted our economy or restricted the number of medical procedures in hospitals to tackle other causes of death. We accept death from cancer, heart disease, diabetes as part of the human condition. We allocate resources to cure and treat these diseases, but we do not block the economy – and in so doing, compromise our ability to support the health system – in order to eradicate them.

As a society, we must take reasonable precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19. We should ban large gatherings – potential super-spreading events – and we should throw cords around nursing homes. Employers should adopt more stringent hygiene measures than in the past. And individuals, especially those at risk, should continue to self-isolate and put on face masks and protective gear when venturing into public spaces.

If the media had bragged about sepsis (the cause of 1,249 deaths in Virginia in 2017) the same way they bragged about COVID-19, no one would dare set foot in a hospital. Sepsis is completely preventable through better health practices and epidemiological controls in hospitals. But no one is running with their hair on fire, posting daily sepsis counts and making the public worried about sepsis.

Bacon’s result: Let’s reduce alarmism. COVID-19 presents a real danger to vulnerable people but not an existential threat to society. That everyone, according to their state of health, the circumstances of life and their tolerance for risk, take the protective measures they deem prudent. That employers take prudent steps to protect their workers. And let the commercial establishments do the same.

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