Tuesday, October 27, 2020


Restrictions on normal human activities have undoubtedly saved American lives that otherwise would have been lost to the deadly coronavirus. The all-hands-on-deck approach to fight the pandemic can be quantified in terms of the trillions of dollars spent, but there been other costs as well. Lives claimed as collateral damage in the battle have been given only secondary consideration. It’s time to ponder whether it makes sense to rob Peter of life in order to save Paul.

Strategies to halt the virus spread have proved intermittently successful, but those efforts have proved a thorn in the side of every American, the virus-stricken and uninfected alike. It is that heavy price that President Trump chose to spotlight during Thursday’s 2020 presidential debate in Nashville: “People are losing their jobs, they’re committing suicide. There’s depression, alcohol, drugs at a level that nobody’s ever seen before. There’s abuse, tremendous abuse. We have to open our country. You know, I’ve said it often: The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself.”

The president’s dire warning over the side effects of the pandemic on Americans’ psyche is not simply campaign rhetoric. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported preliminary data showing drug overdose deaths have surged around 10 percent this year and are on track to reach 75,000. Mental Health America has found that the number of individuals seeking help for anxiety and depression between January and September has jumped by 93 percent over the same period last year.

The president didn’t mention the other consequences of locking down the nation’s economy: collateral deaths resulting from individuals untreated for existing health conditions owing to medical facilities reserved for coronavirus patients, as well as other kinds of disturbances to civic activity.

CDC records for 2020 comparing the number of excess deaths from various diseases to a baseline average for the period between 2015 and 2019 demonstrate how disruptions to daily life during the pandemic have victimized individuals who dodged coronavirus infection only to die of other afflictions.

From late January through Oct. 3, the agency counted 299,000 excess deaths across the nation. Of those, 198,000 were directly attributed to COVID-19. Another 101,000 were ascribed to the indirect effects of the pandemic, with Hispanics and adults of all ethnicities aged 25 to 44 the primary victims.

Those suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia were most impacted, with excess weekly deaths peaking at 1,796, or 36 percent above normal. Coronary heart disease claimed 2,016 additional weekly victims, an increase of 28 percent. Hypertensive disease was responsible for 1,159 more weekly fatalities than usual, a leap of nearly 68 percent. Diabetes deaths rose almost 45 percent, claiming an extra 723 sufferers.

The coronavirus cure hasn’t proved worse than the problem, but a close second. Clearly, the battle to defeat the disease must persist, but without the sort of societal disruptions that result in collateral deaths.

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