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What COVID Says About Our Values

Updated: Jul 17, 2021

Virologist Walter King, a member of Dover Dems' Executive Committee, considers whether committing to democratic values might curb the alarming spread of COVID-19. His guest opinion was published in the New Hampshire Union Leader today.

Russell Tate for United Nations COVID-19 Response

In July of last year, I expressed my hope that Granite Staters would continue their practice of physical measures to control the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and to be prepared for the delays in the implementation of a vaccine program. Unfortunately, since that time, our daily case rate has risen dramatically by approximately 3000%, and the vaccine rollout is significantly behind schedule.

A small amount of this increase can be attributable to the addition of rapid antibody-based testing. Unfortunately, at this point, we have lost the ability to control this pandemic by physical means; only through the acquisition of herd immunity by vaccination can we expect to bend the curves of cases and deaths.

Now comes a dire report from the Wall Street Journal (January 14) that the true death toll looks to be much worse than official reports. They showed that the pandemic-led U.S. deaths climbed at least 10% last year. In this report, they show that in “the U.S. alone, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show more than 475,000 excess deaths through early December, a time frame that also included about 281,000 deaths linked to COVID-19...”

This represents an additional 194,000 deaths over and above what is directly attributable to COVID. Typically, U.S. deaths grow about 1.6% a year as the population grows and ages. Cerebrovascular diseases like strokes are up, as are deaths from diabetes and high blood pressure, and people avoiding hospitals and rationing medicine is likely a factor.

ICU room simulation at Central JavaHospital. Mufid Magnun/Unsplash

Medical experts have known that COVID is a multi-organs disease, so a spike in these cases is not entirely unexpected. However, a spike in deaths among patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia has been particularly acute, highlighting the risk of nursing home lockdowns on already fragile residents.

Put another way, many of the deaths would not have happened if COVID was not in our society. Why these deaths are not reported as COVID-associated deaths is unclear.

Applying this national excess death ratio from the Wall Street Journal to Granite Staters, these “excess” deaths add over 600 deaths on top of the currently reported 900 COVID deaths. This assumes there is no change to the ratio of excess deaths to normally anticipated deaths. However, with the arrival of a new, more transmissible variant of the virus, B1.1.7, that could sweep the United States in coming weeks and become the dominant strain as soon as March, this may not be a safe assumption.

Nationwide, an additional 92,000 could die from the virus over roughly the next three weeks, according to the CDC. If the curve does not flatten until we achieve herd immunity, the number of deaths would increase dramatically. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) projects almost 3 million deaths by May of this year without factoring in the “excess” death numbers. This amounts to almost 1% of the population of the United States. These are terrifying numbers indeed.

Microscopic image of an isolate from the first U.S. case of COVID-19, - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The reason behind these troubling trends is clear. More and more people are disregarding the public health warnings about high-risk behaviors, such as traveling during the holiday seasons and gathering in family groups, and attending super-spreader events. Perhaps the year-long duration of the pandemic has frayed our patience and being social creatures, there is a limit for some on how long we can remain vigilant and isolated.

But if the ultimate cost of our social nature is the deaths of millions of our fellow citizens, one must ask if this ultimate expression of freedom of choice represents a clear and present threat to our values that bind us together as a society. Have we reached that point? We should remember that other values, such as compassion, respecting the dignity of all people, and freedom from fear are also critical and promote a civil society.

Read Dover Dems Statement of Values here

About the Author

Walter is a retired research and development executive who worked at several leading global healthcare companies including GE Healthcare, Whatman and Abbott Diagnostics. He developed FDA-cleared products for several cancer and prenatal genetic diseases as well as infectious diseases. He is an emeritus member of the American Association for Cancer Research. He completed his college and graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Chicago respectively and completed his postdoctoral studies at the Columbia University Medical Center. In his retirement he serves on the City of Dover Energy Commission and is a member of the New Hampshire Democratic Committee. He is a member of the Dover Democratic Committee and serves on Dover Dems’ Executive Committee.

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