The mandated shutdown over the COVID-19 is causing more deaths and illness than it is preventing.
The shutdown does appear to be “flattening the curve” and slowing the spread of COVID-19, but very few are talking about the cost of the shutdown in terms of lives lost, businesses ruined, and societal implications.
To give examples locally, the number of people having cardiac arrests at home in the Pueblo area is a fairly constant number month by month. It was 84 in January, 85 in February, the shutdown started in March, and the number increased to 94, and in full shutdown mode in April the number jumped to 175.
To put this into perspective, as reported by the Chieftain on September 4, “There have been 34 total coronavirus-associated deaths in Pueblo County to date.” There are similar results when one looks at overdoses. In January Pueblo County had nine overdoses, in February 15, in March 18, in April 24, and then in May it was 53. The calls to the suicide hot line number followed a similar pattern. Similar patterns are happening across the nation.
On July 29 the Colorado Sun reported “perhaps most alarming is an increase in deaths due to drug overdose, which rose to 119 in April from 67 in April 2019. On August 17 the Colorado Sun reported that in Denver “cardiac arrests at home more than doubled in the two weeks after statewide stay-at-home order was issued.
There will also be lives lost from canceling cancer screening and treatment, patient’s fear of seeking routine medical treatment, canceling “elective” procedures, and the psychological effects of unemployment. The economy is how life is sustained. To many it is a source of meaning and sustenance. To many owners and workers, every business is essential.
I’m an emergency room physician, director of many EMS agencies, and appointed to the state board that oversees EMS guidelines, so I have been following information about the COVID-19 pretty closely. It has been frustrating because recommendations and data interpretation have been changing on a regular basis.
Data can be interpreted in different ways, but there should be full reporting of the data to allow people to make decisions. In Italy, the initial death rate reported was about 10 percent of those infected with COVID-19 died. What was left out of most reporting was COVID-19 was very lethal to a small subset of the population — the elderly infirm — and a minor health problem to nearly everyone else. The median age of deaths in Italy was 80, with nearly three co-morbidities such as heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, etc. The Imperial College of London estimated that nearly two thirds of the patients would have died of their co-morbidities by the end of 2020 without the virus.
Death reports should include the nursing home percentage that is greater than 50 percent in many countries and 80 percent in many states. Many are left with the impression that everyone is equally at risk and Draconian measures are justified. This is not true. The American College of Science and Health on June 23 estimated that the infection fatality rate for the 10-19-age group was 0.00032 percent. This means that out of a million people in that age range that got the infection, 32 would die.
The British Medical Journal just reported that death from COVID-19 among children is exceedingly rare. The study of COVID-19 patients “admitted to 138 hospitals in Britain found that less than one percent were children, and of those fewer than one percent — or six total — died, all of whom were already suffering illness or underlying health disorders.”
To put those numbers in perspective, we must remember that people — sadly, including school children and young adults die all the time. As of August 1, 15 children in the U.S. died of COVID-19, and about 13,000 of other causes. In the 15-24-age category, death by drowning is twice as common as death due to COVID-19.
To the elderly infirm, COVID-19 is very deadly. Nursing home administrators have taken drastic steps to avoid COVID-19 from entering their facilities with overall fairly good success, but even this has unintended consequences. Many nursing home patients have not seen their loved ones in months, and many are dying alone and lonely.
The shutdown has been somewhat capricious. Liquor stores, pot stores, were deemed “essential” while private doctor’s offices were not. Large grocery stores with many customers were alright, but small businesses with few customers had to shut their doors. Protests were alright, but church services were not.
News of “new cases” induces fear, but even the interpretation of what “new cases” implies is very controversial. The New York Times reported on August 29 “the standard tests are diagnosing huge numbers of people who may be carrying relatively insignificant amounts of the virus. Most of these people are not likely to be contagious, and identifying them may contribute to bottlenecks.”
At the end of July the World Health Organization (WHO) said that asymptomatic spread of the virus was rare. In other words, if you do not have symptoms of COVOD-19 you are unlikely to spread the virus to anyone. On August 25 the CDC quietly modified its COVID-19 testing guidelines to exclude people who do not have symptoms of COVID-19.
The shutdown may be saving lives lost to COVID-19, but there are more lives lost along with a wake of destruction left in the path of the shutdown that is not getting much attention. There needs to be a serious discussion about balancing the potential harm from the virus against the harm from the shutdown.
— Dr. Kevin Weber was an emergency room doctor and the medical director of the emergency room at St Mary-Corwin for 25 years. He is the director for 25 local EMS agencies (including Trinidad) and was appointed to the EMPAC (board that oversees EMS activity in Colorado) by the governor. He currently is the medical director of the ER at Spanish Peaks Hospital in Walsenburg.