A pandemic of ignorance
I’m disappointed, but not terribly surprised, that skepticism about the deadly effects of COVID-19 continues to rage, both locally and nationwide.
In March, I wrote about the potentially devastating numbers associated with the pandemic: If 10 percent of Americans contract the COVID-19 virus and 1 percent of those people die, that equals 330,000 American deaths. That’s substantially more than the 291,000 American combat deaths in World War II, for a frame of reference.
Nine months later, the Centers for Disease Control reports (as of Wednesday, Dec. 24, when this is being written) that the United States has had a cumulative total of 18,170,062 cases of COVID-19, with 321,734 deaths. Each day, almost 200,000 new cases and more than 3,000 new deaths are added to those totals.
The United States Census Bureau estimates the U.S. population at just shy of 330 million as of July 1. So, roughly 5.5 percent of Americans have contracted the virus (that we know of; it seems likely to me the actual number is much higher). Of those known cases in the U.S., roughly 1.8 percent have resulted in death.
Closer to home, the Arkansas Department of Health reports a cumulative total of 1,963 confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases in Carroll County, with 30 deaths. Those numbers represent an infection rate of 6.9 percent of the county’s 28,360 residents (as estimated by the Census Bureau on July 1, 2019) and a death rate of 1.5 percent of those infected in the county. The county has had one death for every 945 residents so far, and six of those deaths have occurred in the past two weeks.
I’ve been criticized by some over my own criticism of Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s relative inaction regarding COVID-19. I’ve said that schools should not be open and that restaurants should be limited to carryout and curbside service. That’s not a popular stance, but I stand by it.
How would I feel if “my” business was shut down? Well, the fact is, I’m a little surprised that didn’t happen. Our newspapers have felt the economic impact of the pandemic, for sure, but we’ve been able to find a way to keep going. However, we have closed our office to foot traffic and we all wear masks anytime we leave our individual work stations. I fully expected us to shut down, at least for a while, and I was prepared for that. I’m grateful that didn’t happen, but if it had, I would have understood. Nothing is more inconvenient than death, and you can’t put a price tag on a human life.
Speaking of death, I’ve seen some social media statements that the U.S. death rate is unchanged or has even declined in 2020 in comparison with previous years. That is patently false and a textbook example of the type of misinformation that now runs rampant in our society.
The fact is that the U.S. is on track to finish 2020 with more than 3.2 million deaths, according to the CDC. That would be the most ever and would be an increase of at least 400,000 — about 15 percent — over 2019. That’s the largest year-over-year increase since 1918, when our nation lost tens of thousands of soldiers in World War I and hundreds of thousands to the “Spanish Flu” pandemic.
Those facts may not be convenient for COVID-19 skeptics, but the truth is the truth.
While I’m discussing numbers, I’d like to talk about “recovered” cases in Arkansas. In our reporting on the virus, we haven’t emphasized the number of “recovered” cases in Carroll County, although we do regularly report the number of active cases in the county as listed by the ADH.
In August, I noticed that the ADH at one point was reporting more recoveries statewide than the total number of cases it had reported just 10 days before. That didn’t make sense to me, so I inquired about what looked like a discrepancy.
I received an email response from Gavin Lesnick, public information director for the ADH’s Office of Health Communications.
“There are a couple factors here to keep in mind,” Lesnick wrote. “One is how we define recoveries: After a 10-day isolation period after the onset of symptoms or from the date of test if a patient is asymptomatic, a nurse will attempt to call the patient. If the patient has not had a fever for at least a day and the symptoms are improving, the patient will be marked as recovered. If we are unsuccessful in reaching the patient, they will be marked as recovered 14 days after symptom onset unless they have been admitted to the hospital or are deceased.
“It’s important to note that the beginning of that process is based on symptom onset or the date of a test, not the date that new cases are announced. And even among the new cases that are announced on a given day, some of those were resulted on previous days.”
So, the “recovered” designation isn’t based on a negative test. In some cases, it’s based on nothing more than a failure to contact an individual who has tested positive for the virus. I recognize the tremendous challenge the ADH has in trying to keep up with the thousands upon thousands of cases in the state, but I’m dubious about the “recovered” numbers.
I believe some of the COVID-19 deaths in the United States and probably some of those right here in Carroll County could have been prevented if people had taken this public health emergency more seriously. I fear that some folks won’t do that until they or someone they love is personally affected.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a tragedy, to be sure. The pandemic of ignorance might be an even greater tragedy, and there’s no vaccine for that.